What was I supposed to do?

What would you have done?

You gonna sit there and tell me that you would've allowed either of those two crazy women use that monster to destroy the world?

You gonna sit there and tell me you would've been okay letting someone like Trellorv take care of that beast?

I had to do what I did. The whole world was in jeopardy. I couldn't take the chance of having any of them control that demon or angel or whatever the hell you wanna call it. All I wanted was serenity. All I wanted was solitude. And I couldn't even have that. …Could I have fixed the world with that creature? Yeah, sure, maybe. I could've raised that beast to do good in life. Could've raised him properly, unlike my father. And maybe that creature could've evolved into a wonderful angel. Or maybe it could've evolved into a beast like Trellorv despite its upbringing. Like I said…couldn't take the chance. So I killed it. End of story. And everyone else involved is dead too. So it's…it's just me now…

You wanna know what I've been doing since that day? Walking.

You wanna know what I'm doing right now? Walking.

I don't know where I am. I don't know where I'm going. I've been trekking through the woods near the mountains for days now, only stopping to sleep or eat fruit I find in the trees. Haven't eaten a goat or buffalo in a while. Haven't ran into other individuals, even by chance. I know this is a giant world, but…it's…

You know, back in the mountains, I felt contained at least. I felt like those giant rocks and stones around me were walls. Colossal, sturdy walls that protected me from harm. Even when storms struck, all I had to do was roll a boulder against a cave entrance and sit and wait for days. No need to worry about drowning from flooding waters. No need to worry about food since I kept my own stash of food in the caves during emergencies. I was alone, but I was protected. And I had this sort of calming barrier around me. But now? Now I don't have anything. Those mountains shielded me from the world for a long time, but even they couldn't stop people like Sonya, Tanya, and Trellorv from invading my space, from ruining my personal life. And ever since that fight, those mountains feel tainted now…to the point where I had to leave.

And now that I'm out in the real world again, I don't…I don't see anything. I don't see anyone. I hear noises. I can smell fresh air and plants. I can feel the sun on my sky. But this all feels…wrong. It feels empty…it's like someone spent eons constructing this fabricated environment and they were supposed to put dolls inside of it, to make it seem like a real world. But they forgot to put in the dolls.

Except for me, of course.

…So what now? Do I walk for all eternity? Do I just lay down and die? I've thought about just walking into a pond or lake, just letting my heavy body take me under, letting the water fill my mouth and lungs. But I can't do it. I've thought about bashing my head against a blunt stone until I bleed to death. Can't do it. I've even created a sharp tool composed of stone and placed it against my throat and arms on more than one occasion. But I was never able to actually cut myself.

So what do I do? Can't die. Don't feel like living. Don't wanna be alone. Don't wanna be around other people. I just…

I walk over to a huge oak tree and sit down with my back pressed against it.

I'm tired…

I'm tired of all of this…

Maybe I'll just…I'll just sleep…

Yeah…I'll just sleep for a while…


I hear crickets chirping when I wake up and feel insects crawling around my feet. Everything outside is dark, and I see the crescent moon when I look up into the sky. Mm. Guess I really was tired. Eh.

Back to walking.

I stand up and yawn before I turn and look to my right. Then I look to my left. I blink and shrug, before walking left, my heavy feet pounding into the soil again. It isn't until another ten minutes later of monotonous chirping crickets and trees rustling that I hear something new in the distance. I see various shadows against the ground, and I can faintly pick up the sound of fire crackling.

And then I see them.

Three more creatures all sitting together near a bonfire. They don't look like mercenaries or knights or anything—not from where I'm standing. I move a bit closer, pathetically trying to keep myself hidden from their presence. But between my oversized frame, my pungent odor and the noise I'm making with my footsteps, it doesn't take long before one of them turns around and yelps, startled.

"WHOA! Shit, forgot some of you trolls wander 'round here!" one of them says.

I stop walking. Who are these people? Robbers? Former pirates? Wanted criminals on the run? How the fuck am I supposed to know? How do I know they won't try to kill me in my sleep?

"Hey, buddy! Um, if-if we're intruding on your territory, we can leave. S'no big deal," says a second person.

I don't say anything. I just keep staring at them. Bile is rising in my throat. Part of me wants to just smash their skulls in. Part of me is tempted to approach them. But I don't know anymore…I don't know what these random people are capable of.

"Eh, I don't think he can understand us. Prolly best to just ignore him; he'll leave after a while," says the third person.

I don't leave. I keep staring at them.

"Think he's hungry?" the first person asks.

"Why dont'cha go ask him?" the third person responds.

The second person shrugs and stands up, and I get the faint whiff of rabbit in my lungs as he starts to approach me. Huh…a cony. Haven't seen one of these races in a very long time.

"Uh, hey big guy! Um, we're not disturbing you, are we?" he asks.

I can't help but stare. Seems like forever since I saw one of these beasts. Anyone from afar would've assumed that this cony was just a giant, humanoid rabbit. He's got big paws like one, big footpaws, little tiny nose with whiskers on his face, small stubby tail—he's even got giant ears that I'm tempted to tug on, just to see if this cony is actually real. All he's wearing is a dark green tunic and baggy trousers to match; I swear he looks like he came out of some children's novel.

"Um…can you understand me?" he asks.

"Hmm? Oh…yes," I respond. "Yes, I can. And no, you're not disturbing me. I was…walking…"

"Really now? Well, um…are you fine with walking in our direction? It's kinda cold tonight. Fire's still going!"

"I'm not…sure if I should be around…others…"

The cony laughs. "What, you like a werewolf or something? You gonna transform into a half mountain troll, half wolf now that it's night?"

I know he's trying to joke with me, but I can't bring myself to laugh. I just keep staring at him.

"I'm not good around people…"

"Perfect! None of us are human; this'll be easy for you!" he jokes again.

I'm very tempted to knock all of his teeth out just to shut him up so I can enjoy the silence. …But he does sound nice. And he's not intentionally trying to upset me; it's not his fault that I went through all that turmoil last week. Mm…well. Suppose it won't hurt if I join them. And if they're hostile, that's fine. I'm a goddamn mountain troll. I'll just smash their skulls open with my fists if I have to. So I reluctantly walk over to the other two creatures sitting down by the bonfire, and just as the cony said, neither of them are human. The first person who spoke earlier is a murid. I stare at the humanoid rat creature with shaggy gray fur and a pair of trousers that look like they had been torn several times over. He's got bandages wrapped around his paws and footpaws, his fur is falling out, and besides his trousers, he's only wearing a brown shirt that probably used to be white or gray at some point.

"Hello, troll," he hisses, his voice raspy and wet.

"You ain't gonna cause us no trouble, right?" the third person asked.

I look at the third creature with confusion. The creature is a giant, fat frog with dark blue scales, many of which had yellow spots on them or a series of black stripes. He's only got four webbed, splayed toes and fingers, and his eyes are giant and yellow, glowing in the night. The beast looks up at me and snorts before he scratches around his brown tunic and shorts.

"What's a rana doing with a murid and a cony?" I ask.

"That ain't your damn business, is it?" the frog snaps at me.

"Hey, calm down, calm down. Guy's just asking a question!" the cony says, before he walks over to his log and sits back down.

I sit down as well, the ground rumbling so much the three creatures have to steady themselves so they don't fall down. I sit in front of the fire and listen to it crackle, while the murid—who's sitting on my left—scoots over a bit and nudges me with his elbow.

"You got a name there, troll?" he asks.

"Snorrv," I growl.

"Ah, lovely. Guess you must make quite the ruckus in your sleep!" the cony jokes.

I glare at him before staring into the fire, still pondering, still contemplating what to do with my life. The rana looks up at me and snorts again before he picks up a spear he had lying on the ground in front of him.

"Don't try no shit with us, troll," he warns me.

"I won't."

There's another awkward silence between the four of us, until the cony clears his throat and asks, "Sooooooo you from around here? I know we're near the mountains and all that, but it's just strange to see someone like you so deep in the woods."

I don't answer him. The cony notices my silence and meekly scratches the back of his neck.

"Right, right, prolly shouldn't pry into all that personal stuff. Eh, that's all right! We could always—"

"Not everyone likes havin' their ears chewed off. Leave the damn troll alone; he don't feel like talking," the rana snaps.

I look at the cony as his ears lower a bit. He smiles at me and lets out a self-conscious laugh.

"Sorry bud. Just, uh, just like to run my mouth I guess. If you want silence, I can give ya silence!"

I glance down to my left and notice the murid is sitting directly beside me. He nudges me twice with his right elbow before snickering.

"Big guy don't wanna talk. He wants to take a shit!"

The frog beast rolls his eyes. "C'mon, not this again."

"I'm serious. It happens all the time. It's gross and it's vile and it's disgusting…but it's gonna happen! Everyone has to take a shit at some point in their lives."

I know what this rat is talking about, and I hate the fact that he immediately senses it on me. Am I really giving it away that bluntly? Is it that obvious?

"I-I don't…I'm not—"

"Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhh you do! You know you do! Trust me; I've met a lotta people like you. You got that…err, 'vibe' about you. Y'know, you like to walk around cuttin' all those silent farts, trying to hold it in. But I'm tellin' you right now: don't do that. Don't you sit there and hold in that bulky load of slurry. Cause it's gonna come out whether you like it or not. Best release it on your own terms, 'less you wanna shit yourself in public."

I look down at the murid as he glares at me. "Just my advice."

Suppose he's right. I don't wanna say anything. I don't even wanna be around these people. But I'm here now, and my body doesn't feel like getting up, even though I keep telling itself to. Shit…maybe I will feel better…maybe I should just explain what happened. I don't know these people. I don't even know their names yet. Hmph…fuck it. I keep listening to the fire crackling and stare at it for a while. I don't know when it happens, but my vision blurs, and I feel a few tears running down my face. I don't even realize that I'm balling my hands into fists until I look down and notice them. I take a shuddering breath and moan, and it all comes rushing back.

"I just wanted to be alone," I say, my voice breaking. "I'm…I don't like being around people. I thought the world was simple. And then I found out that my father—my caretaker—raped my mother. And when I was old enough, he-he tried to make me into a rapist like him. So I decided to cut his throat in his sleep. Um…I was…everywhere I went, I noticed how complicated and disgusting the world could be. So I spent years living in the mountains, all by my lonesome. I was just…it was a normal day for me a week ago. But then I…I met two women. These women—they were exactly the same. They wanted the same thing; they-they wanted to rid this world of all evil; they wanted to create peace. …They just wanted to be happy."

I sniffle and wipe my nose. "But these women, they faced different directions. They wanted the same thing, but they didn't want to work together to achieve the same goal—a goal they knew the other person wanted."

I close my eyes and take a long breath. "So they killed each other. Right in front of me. One woman tried to make me join her side. The other tried to make me join her side too."

"You chose your own side," the murid responds.

I nod and feel another tear coming out my left eye. "Neither of them was evil. They just…they were so determined to achieve their goals that they were willing to slaughter anyone in their path. Both of them were willing to kill millions just to get what they wanted."

"That sounds pretty fuckin' evil to me," the rana replies.

"No. I know what evil is. And when I saw it for myself, I fully understood why those women were going to such drastic lengths. Along with those two women was this swamp troll…this putrid, vile beast who was just like those women: he wanted to be happy. But, to him, happiness meant causing needless pain. It meant raping innocent women and gloating about it. It meant destroying an entire village and keeping some of its residents alive just so he could watch them cry and moan in pain and pray for death."

The rana actually stops and glares at me before asking, "What'd you do to him?"

"I smashed his fuckin' head in with his own club."

"Good," he says, before looking away again. "One less fucker like him roaming 'round these parts."

Eventually I settle down and wipe my face off. I look up at the trio of humanoid creatures and shrug again.

"There's more details, but it's all unnecessary at this point."

"Oh no, no, I get what you're saying, Snorrv! You like apples?" the cony asks.

I nod.

"Oh. Well, I like oranges. They're both fruit, but they're not the same. Guess we should kill each other now!"

He stares at me with a wide, toothy grin. I blink before forming a fist with my right hand. I know he's trying so damn hard to get me to crack a smile, but he just keeps aggravating me. Or perhaps I'm still just moody over the whole ordeal. Maybe it's a combination of the two. The murid looks at him and rolls his eyes before looking back up at me and nudging me hard in the abdomen.

"There, ya see? Feel a lot better now, dont'cha? Ain't so 'blocked up' anymore, aye?"

"I wouldn't use the word 'better' to describe how I feel now. Maybe a bit calmer than I was before."

The murid grins. "You know what, Snorrv, I think you were destined to find us."

The cony groans noisily and rubs his eyes. "Not this shit again…"

"You know what, you two assholes can keep going on and on about my viewpoints about fate, but you know damn well that the three of us—four of us—are still alive for a reason!"

"Why?" I ask. "Why should I still be alive? I'm not a hero. I'm not a maniacal villain who wants to destroy the world. I wasn't chosen to fulfill a prophecy. I wasn't blessed by the gods. I wasn't raised by demons to bring about Armageddon. I'm just some troll who was living in the mountains. Who the hell would care about my boring, normal life? I could die at any moment and the world would still keep spinning as if nothing changed."

"You don't gotta be special. S'what makes people so interesting. Everyone's got a different kinda story to tell. It's just, most people only seem to care about those 'maniacal villains' and those 'chosen ones' who have to save the whole world. Rest of us are just cannon fodder in the background—which is a load of horse shit, if you ask me."

"So then why do you think the four of us were destined to cross paths?"

"Prolly because we've all, erm, 'experienced' things we originally didn't like to talk about."

"Such as?"

"I had to kill my pups."

Now that got me curious. "You owned dogs?"

"No, not literal pups…I mean my children."

The rana and cony suddenly stay silent. Considering how they all let me tell my tale, I figure it's only fair I do the same for this murid.

"Not much to say. My wife died after giving birth to our third pup. One week, I decided to take my pups to go see a festival in the winter, way up in that country Corvol. And we had the time of our lives. But when we came back, a blizzard decided to ruin our fun. All the people we were traveling with got lost in the storm or they froze to death. Wasn't anyone left 'cept for me and my pups. We hid in a cave for over three days, and it was there when I realized my pups all had frostbite."

The murid grunts as he stands up and turns around a bit. I look at his backside and wince. His tail had been amputated; there's nothing left except for a tiny stump no bigger than the cony's tail.

"Li'l hard for us murids to cover our tails, you see. Although I was the lucky one compared to my pups."

The murid sits back down and sighs. "You can prolly figure out the rest. My children were complaining that they were cold, that they were numb. They just wanted to go to sleep…they just wanted to be warm again. So…I took my knife, and I cut open their arteries. They were all shocked at first, but eventually I told them that the pain would only last a few minutes. So we all huddled together for warmth, and they all peacefully went to sleep."

The murid lets out a dry chuckle, and I can see that his eyes are watering a bit.

"Real funny…real funny how it works like that. Was just trying to please my children, trying to reward them for being such wonderful pups. And the gods decided to take them away from me. Guess that's what I get for being a 'loving' father."

"You think this is the crying game now?" the rana asks. "Not like your tale is any worse than the rest of ours."

"You've all lost children?" I ask.

"No. But maybe there is some reason why we're all here. Used to be part of some…I don't wanna say 'cult,' but it may as well have been. Couple dozen ranas like me, all brainwashed with dark magic. There was this naga who had a thing for toying with us. He was this powerful sorcerer, one who could control people's bodies once they were subjected to his dark magic. And I was one of those people. As was my sister. You wanna know what he did with that magic?"

"What?" I ask.

"He made us fight each other to the death. He made us lick each other's scrotums. He made us piss ourselves just so he could laugh at us. With me specifically? He forced me to fuck my sister. A lot."

I can't help but grimace at the thought of that.

"Sometimes he'd watch us and take too much pleasure in it. Sometimes he'd make us do it in front of the other ranas. Other times, he'd force all of us to engage in an orgy, and both my sister and I would get sodomized during the event. And while all this shit happens, we're aware of it. We know what we're doing, but we can't control our bodies. We just let it happen."

"How'd you escape?"

"Turns out this naga had a habit of burning out his dark magic—especially after orgies. After one of the orgies, he lost his grip on our minds, and some of us were able to escape. But he hunted some of us down, and came across me and my sister. Instead of controlling both our minds, he just gained control over hers. He told me if I didn't come back with him, he'd force my sister to kill herself."

I sigh. "I'm assuming you didn't go back."

"No shit. And the naga took much joy in making my sister cut her throat open. He didn't even bother taking me back. He saw how broken I was after my sister died—how ashamed and guilty I felt. And then he said, 'your sister was the only reason why I kept you. Without her, you're just another boring, useless frog. And I've no interest in boring, useless things.' So he let me go. He knew I wouldn't try to chase after and kill him. He knew I wouldn't come back and try to save anyone."

I watch as the rana shrugs. "Fuck was I supposed to do? The guy knew all forms of dark magic. I'm just a single frog who knows how to use a spear."

I'm starting to see a pattern here. I look over at the murid before glancing at the rana, both of them looking uncomfortable now that they've dug up past memories they probably would rather be forgetting. Then I stare straight ahead at the cony, and he scratches the back of his head meekly.

"Hey now, hey now, if you were expecting some fucked-up tale about how I was raped by my daddy or how my parents got killed, sorry! Ain't gonna find it here!" the cony responds.

"Oh. So you're just here for the fuck of it," I joke, with condescension in my voice.

"Nope! My tale's real short and to the point. Some years ago, I noticed I wasn't happy. Didn't know why. Throughout all my life, there would be days where I was just sad or angry at the world. And then I was sad and angry at myself. I would mull over people like you three—people who did nothing wrong in their lives, but suffered nonetheless because fate said so."

I lean forward a bit and look at the cony's arms as he meekly scratches his nape again. Both of them have various scars around the wrists and near the arteries.

"One day, I tried to do something very stupid. Heh…let's just say I'm happy that I didn't succeed in what I tried to do."

"As I said earlier," the murid begins, "there's a reason why all four of us wound up meeting each other."

"Used to be more of us," the rana murmurs.

"What happened to the others?" I ask.

The cony shrugs. "Same as always."

"Oh."

"Yeah…but, uh, we're still here, and that's what matters!"

"But are any of you happy?"

None of them answer, which gives me a slight pause. The cony looks away for a moment while the rana just coughs. We sit in silence for nearly a minute before the murid scoots back over to his log and reaches for his rucksack.

"Hey, Snorrv. You ever eat durian?"

I look at the murid and blink. "What's durian?"

"Only the greatest fruit of all time!" the cony shouts.

"So long as you don't mind your breath smelling like garlic and moldy cheese for a week," the rana murmurs.

"Oh, shush. You know damn well you like durian as much as we do!"

I keep staring at the murid as he pulls out what looks like a spherical, greenish ball that's smothered in spines. A faint scent begins to fill my lungs, and I start sniffing myself, wondering if it's me who's emitting the odor. After the murid takes out the giant fruit, he removes a knife as well and sits the durian down on the log he was sitting on.

"Just keep in mind, smell's gonna catch you off-guard. It'll be worth it when you actually taste it though!" the murid exclaims.

It isn't until the murid makes several incisions with the knife and pries open the fruit that I understand what he's talking about. I swear I'm smelling Trellorv's feet again; I even look behind me just to make sure that he hasn't spontaneously come back to haunt me. I cough a few times and my eyes start stinging, but the other three creatures don't react to the smell at all. The murid reveals the inside of the fruit, which is very pale and white. He grumbles as he cuts one of the quarters of the durian in half, and pries that open as well. Inside of it is the meat of the fruit, a yellowish-white pod that the murid easily scoops out of the fruit.

"There we go! Ooh, this feels extra ripe!" the murid says, and I imagine he'd be wagging his tail merrily if he still had it.

"Fragrance ain't getting to you, is it?" the cony asks.

I cough again and wipe my nose. "I wouldn't call it a 'fragrance' exactly…"

"Oh good. That much we agree on," states the rana.

I keep watching as the murid keeps cutting up the durian, dividing it into eighths and cutting away the inedible portions of the fruit. After cutting each portion into an eighth, he gently slices open each pod and breaks it in half, revealing several more pieces of the chunky, yellowish fruit inside. He passes some over to the cony and rana before handing me a giant chunk of my own. I hold the strange fruit in my big hand and grumble, before looking ahead and seeing that the cony is already biting into some of his chunks.

"Hey, make sure you spit out the seeds," he warns me, before spitting one out onto the ground. "Can't eat that."

"All right."

I've eaten viler things before—especially during times where I was running low on water and food. Most people aren't supposed to eat rocks or bats, but…you know what, I'm just gonna eat this now. I open my mouth wide and shove the entire chunk of fruit in my mouth. I chew on it slowly and notice—

Oh.

…Oh.

…This…

…Okay…I get it now.

"So how's it taste, buddy?" the murid asks, as he chews on his own portion of the fruit.

"Like…like garlic and vanilla cream. It's…"

I swallow. I don't even care that I didn't spit out the seed. I just want more of it.

"It's almost heavenly."

"I know right? Amazes me how such a prickly, fetid fruit can be so delicious."

The murid tosses me more fruit, and I stuff it into my mouth again, on the verge of tears. I think back to Sonya's last words. And then I look down at this fruit. …And it makes sense now.

Heh…funny. It's funny where we find our inspiration, or what coaxes us to keep moving forward. Here I am, sitting with a bunch of people I don't know, who are all as damaged inside as I am. And now I'm sitting here eating durian. I'm sitting here eating fruit that looks like a spherical, intimidating cactus. And once you cut it open, you're overwhelmed by how revolting it smells, and you might even try to push it away just so you won't have to deal with its odor. And yet…in the center of it all is this gooey, sweet, distinct bit of flesh that is absolutely delicious and leaves you craving more, in spite of everything I just said. And that's…you know what?

That's okay. That's just wonderful.

…You know…I think I'm okay now.

I'm gonna be just fine.