“Everyone will have a favorite story [from Whom The Bell Trolls]. I think mine may be the novella introducing Fergus Underbridge: Troll Detective, a complex troll hero who navigates segregated cultures.”
–Carol Ervin, author of The Girl on the Mountain
In this excerpt, the titular hero Fergus Underbridge is a hardscrabble troll detective who lost his horns at the hands of poachers as a child. He’s awakened by a street urchin after knocking himself unconscious by overtaxing his magical abilities in the pursuit of a suspect in the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Dam, another troll living on the floating island of Magika. To find out what happens next, keep reading!
Something pattered Fergus’s forehead. Raindrops. No, not raindrops, not wet enough, a little too sticky. He opened his eyes. The saucer-shaped green eyes of a human boy stared back at him, his finger still tapping Fergus’s forehead.
“You okay, Mr. Troll?” The boy glanced down the street. “You’d better get up, you’re blocking traffic.”
The traffic bell of a magic carriage rang. At least four carriages waited beyond the first for the street to clear.
The bartender! The spell Fergus had cast on the man’s shoes had failed, and now his only suspect had escaped. If only he’d had his horns…
The boy stuck his hand out. “C’mon mister.”
Fergus almost chuckled at the notion of this boy, barely as large as his leg, helping him up. He rolled over and stood. The buildings swayed. No, it was Fergus that swayed. Head throbbing, he stumbled to the curb, sat, and waved the boy over to him. “How long was I out?”
“Dunno.” The boy took off his poor boy cap and scratched his head. “Those folks in the carriages looked pretty annoyed, though.”
Yet none of them had bothered to slide off their cushioned benches to check on the troll lying unconscious in the street. Nor had it occurred to the strolling ladies with their parasols or the men in their top hats. None but a child wearing a poor boy cap had even seemed to notice — a reminder that Magikans, for all their talk of tolerance, were blind to trolls who’d lost the ability to perform high magic.
Oh, boo-stinking-hoo. The big troll’s feelings were bruised because the pretty people didn’t notice him. Bullocks to that. Time wasted on self-pity was time wasted not searching for Mr. Dam. Fergus pushed himself up from the curb and crossed the cobbles back to The Mana Bar. He stood where Mr. Dam’s friends had likely waited for their carriages, after the birthday party.
The alleyway spilled into the street, about ten feet from the bar’s entrance. Fergus walked down the alley, checking the back doors of other establishments. Many didn’t have handles on the outside; those that did were locked. If Mr. Dam had left the bar by way of the alley, his only exit would’ve been to the cobblestone street.
Mr. Dam’s friends should’ve seen him come out while they waited, either by the front entrance or the back. He must have spent a good five to ten minutes in there. Longer than it would take to help a bartender move a few crates.
Back inside the bar, the floorboards groaned beneath Fergus’s feet. Conversations hushed, and those patrons who stared averted their eyes when Fergus’s met them. Samuel was gone, but Fergus didn’t need him anymore. Nothing in the bar’s main hall triggered alarm.
Fergus paced the back of the bar. Beneath shelves of manahol lay a security staff. Dust coated the magical self-defense weapon, save where a hand had gripped it.
Inside the stock room: more shelves, more manahol. Cleaning supplies, and more creaking floors. As he lumbered up the short aisles, his footsteps thumped the floor and echoed off the walls. In one spot, the thumping hollowed.
The problem with human detectives, short as they are, is they seldom remember to look up. Troll detectives, tall as they are, seldom remember to look down.
Fergus looked down.
A trap door. A manahol cellar. He pulled on the latch and flipped the door open to reveal stone steps, cut for human feet. Fergus took the steps sideways, snatching a mana lamp from the ceiling as he descended.
Beneath the mustiness of the air, a stench lingered. His two hearts pumped faster. His mouth dried as surely as the Shattering had swallowed the seas of the world. The stubs of his horns throbbed. Why? His body knew the stench, feared it. Yet Fergus couldn’t place it.
Row upon row of casks hid the cellar’s stone walls, and the cobbled floor was caked in a patina of dust wherever footsteps hadn’t brushed it away. Fergus knelt and lowered the lamp.
Four — no, five — pairs of feet, three human and a troll, had imprinted the dust. Two pair of the prints were boot marks with four zigzag ridges across the bottom. Fergus followed them to the center of the cellar, where the stench overwhelmed him. Fergus steadied himself, hand to floor. A different kind of dust met his fingers. Harder, sharper.
He pinched it between his fingers, sprinkled it in his palm, and shined the lamp above it. White dust and fragments. Bone fragments.
The stench, he knew it now. It was the stink of blood and steel and oil and dark machinery — sharp, sheering machinery burning against bone. Not just any bones. Troll bones. Troll horns.
To continue reading, find Fergus Underbridge, Troll Detective in the Whom the Bell Trolls anthology, available for purchase via the Amazon link below.