They live in the quiet places of the internet, lurking under conceptual bridges, and in shadowy corners. If you look at them, they will appear to have a human face, and a name, but this may have been taken from someone they ate. They are not easily distinguished from the other sprites, goblins and harmless creatures of mayhem who haunt the imaginary realms. What gives a troll away, is that they eat people. Unfortunately, by the time this is evident, it can be hard to escape.
Some communities will simply leave the slowest members to be eaten by trolls. A kind of natural selection blended with sacrifice that keeps the majority safe. Other tribes have specialist troll hunters, who spend their spare time sharpening weapons and baiting traps. The trouble with troll hunters is that they frequently catch an overconfident goblin by mistake. The internet realms are full of small, irritating but not very effective entities who will never actually eat anyone, they just like to flaunt their teeth. Some of them make roaring noises. This should be a giveaway, because the most dangerous trolls move quietly, they do not announce their presence with bombast and trumpet. They are just ‘little old me’ as they speak from the shadows and lure their victims under the bridges.
Of course the easy answer to trolls is not to go under bridges with them in the first place. There are philosophers who believe that trolls have a certain kind of magic, and once they cast their spells, the careless are drawn in. Seeing the face of the last person the troll ate, they believe there is a person to talk to, or maybe a boggart to tame, or a pixie to reason with. Somehow, they do not notice the very big teeth, at least, not until the chewing commences.
The creatures who suffer least from troll predation are the ones with wings, who float dreamily at too great a height for shadowy places, and who therefore seldom find themselves on the underside of bridges. They do not speak with trolls, but only with those who float about in the same airy realms. However, they are the trolls’ delicacy of preference, and when one is caught, special attention is paid to the tearing off of wings, and the slow, painful act of mutilation.
At many a camp fire, the question is asked, where do the trolls come from? There are tales of youths who set out to become kings or heroes, and, failing utterly, fell into anger and took to lurking about under bridges. It is sometimes said that the trolls do not kill, only maul their victims into hideousness so that they too must become trolls and hide from sight. Some say that it is the troll hunters themselves who ultimately become that which they have sought. One must not only guard against the hunger of trolls, one must guard against the danger of becoming a troll.
In the fabulous land of internet, we choose which face we wear, borrowing a visage from the gods and heroes, if we do not like our own. We are makers of masks, keepers of many identities, inventing names to go with the forms we have imagined for ourselves. Here, we can all be warrior princes, faerie queens, sorcerers and unicorns. The more masks we put on, the greater the risk that they will change when we are not watching, and one day a careless hand reaches for something that turns out not to be a cheerful hobgoblin hat at all. We accidentally pull on a skin one morning, through which we can feel nothing. We wake up thinking that those pretty, winged delicate things have no grasp on reality and we should chew some sense into them. We suspect they would be tasty, and we know it would be fun to make them squeal. We become the trolls.