[AN: This was the result of being challenged by my housemate to write a Thirty-Minute Short Story from a specific set of prompts. It… actually took almost exactly 45 minutes. The prompts were: ‘Character: little child troll. Item: grimoire. Theme: comfort. Setting: lost.’ I gave her a similar set.]
When the Cloister finally recovered the Spiteful Grimoire, they took great pains to render it unreadable. When their blind inquisitors could not destroy it, they had a blinded blacksmith bind it in adamantine coils and dispatched a sightless pilgrim to carry the chained book deep into the heart of the Seared Plane, to be lost forever amongst the unnavigable labyrinth of crystal obelisks that was all that remained of that thrice-cursed realm, with the dreaded tome’s impenetrable bindings clamped in place by a mage-tinker’s lock carefully engineered to endure for longer than a world’s lifespan and to be unsolvable by human hands.
Unfortunately, however, the hands of Little Moss the grotto troll were not human.
The Cloister feared the Grimoire for good reason. The mad archivist who first created it had brought together every curse and hex and jinx and incantation of blight she could find tell of in a lifetime of travelling amongst the superstitious commonfolk of six different lands, and recklessly bound them all in a single volume. So many hateful words in one place inevitably developed a will and a malice all of its own. Starting with the archivist, and then on down a long, long line of notorious owners, the Grimoire urged thought and action through the very words on its pages to anyone wicked or foolish enough to read them. Many began reading with the intent purely to know the contents for academic purposes, and found, by some malign arcane phenomenon, that by the time they had finished reading the words of their first curse they already had resolved themselves to put that curse to cruel use against whatever enemies, real or imagined, they may have.
Fortunately, however, Little Moss the grotto troll could not read very well.
The Seared Plane was no more place for a grotto troll than it was for any other living creature, containing no caves for shelter nor stagnant water to drink nor insects and vermin for food. Alas, Little Moss had been driven from her grotto in the comfortable mountains near the edge of the Plane by men with fire and blades and unshakeable faith in the righteousness of their cause, as many trolls before her were and many after would be. Unsure of her surroundings, and unable to find her way back to either home or family, Little Moss was in dire want of any source of help or comfort when she found the book, bound in strange metallic bands, secured by a complex puzzle device which, after a few minutes of curious play in the furred foreclaws of the young troll, sprang open to reveal a rune-engraved cover of dark animal skin.
More for distraction from the oppressive surroundings of identical, unnavigable crystalline obelisks than any other purpose, Little Moss opened the book and squinted at the letters whose meaning she could only barely decipher.
The Spiteful Grimoire trembled with malign intent as the little grey-furred creature carefully sounded out the heading of the first page: ‘A Spell to Break the Bodies of Those who Stand Against You’. It poured its malice and spite, pooled from countless pages of awful curses, and filled the words on the page with urgent, terrible meaning.
Little Moss narrowed her yellow eyes and wrinkled her horn-nubbed brow, and knew for certain there was meaning in these letters, lots of meaning. But most of it, try as she might, was lost on her. From the little experience of reading she had, she could only get the tiniest bit.
She straightened, and looked around the wind-blasted, hostile, uncomfortable realm she was lost in. She picked two large obsidian obelisks nearby, and stood up with her back against them, and read the spell from the book in slow, hesitant syllables.
The obsidian columns broke, great fissures bursting through them, the vast cracks carrying down into their roots and spreading until they met, and expanded into a cavern. A cave – almost a grotto – large enough to shelter a little troll from the harsh wind.
But the cave was not very comfortable even so, lacking the familiar foliage and dampness that Little Moss knew to mean home.
She flicked the pages of the Grimoire, and read their titles. As before, she could pick up a little meaning from some of the words, and piece together a shallow interpretation of the text. The book trembled in her hands, almost as if enraged at her failure to understand, but Little Moss knew that this was implausible, and besides, she couldn’t help it if she couldn’t get all the right meanings from complicated words.
‘A Spell to Have Your Opponent Entangled in Thick and Dark Woods,’ offered one page. Little Moss gazed up at her cold, hard new cave – perhaps an opponent, in her desire for comfort? – and read the spell. Thick, welcoming roots burst from the crystal ceiling and walls, crawled across surfaces and knotted themselves into a comforting nest.
Next, she found ‘A Spell That Any Living Thing Shall Swell with Foul Water and Burst,’ and the roots in one corner of the cave grew and split, and gushed forth a bubbling fountain that became a quiet, stagnant pool, just like Little Moss had been born in and lived in these past nine years. Her new grotto was complete: a comfortable haven from the cruel world outside. But how long could she live in such a place, without food? Little Moss didn’t even know how to hunt on her own, and her family were no longer with her. She hunkered down in the comforting dark, and fretted.
The book had stopped trembling in her hands. An almost pensive stillness had replaced it. Then, with a quiet but decisive movement, it flipped the page. ‘A Spell That Brings a Plague of Every Creeping Thing’. She read the words, and all at once a stream of spiders and beetles and rats scuttled out of dark shadows between roots. She watched, and then reached out a grubby foreclaw, scooped up a handful, and stuffed them into her mouth. She nodded. This would do. This could be home.
When the Cloister finally launched a successful mission to the strange, opulent structure of wood and stone and moss that had been reported growing within the Seared Plane, after eight decades of planning and arguing and failed attempts, they found a vast hive of countless trolls of all ages, living comfortably in the sprawling, unnatural grotto complex that had replaced nearly a full third of the Seared Plane, yet kept safely distant from prying human efforts by the inhospitable labyrinth of the remaining two thirds that surrounded the settlement like a citadel wall.
Baffled, but out of supplies and with no workable plan left to get them back home through that crystalline maze, the Cloister party accepted the hospitality of the trolls, and on the second day one brave cleric asked where this miraculous troll home had come from.
The trolls obligingly took them to their leader, the settlement’s founder who over the years had rescued many lost little trolls from the surrounding labyrinth. An aged, almost blind troll matriarch who kept with her at all times the book which, she explained, had let her do amazing things.
There were runes on the book’s cover, although oddly formed, as if the dark animal skin had naturally shifted itself, subtly, over many years, to reshape what was etched there.
‘The Comfortable Grimoire’ they read. And on the inside of the cover, in smaller runes: ‘Dedicated to Little Moss, Who Showed Us Better’.