A/N: Warning for descriptions of Blood, Violence, Injuries, Abuse and Death. Do not like, do not read. You've been waaarrrrnnnneeedddddd.
The nest was empty. Vendel appraised the distinct lack of troll whelp, before shaking his head and settling his hands behind his back. There was little he could do, except to wait for Blinkous to show up, or Aaarrrggh. It had been rather foolish to think that the young whelp would so closely adhere to the guidelines Blinkous had set down for her, forbidding her from leaving the nest at all until she was fully recovered.
She didn't seem disobedient by nature, nor rebellious; in fact, she listened to every instruction and followed it to the letter, whenever Vendel had instructed her in the days past on how to apply her own medicine -he'd noticed her stiffen when he'd laid hands on her before, a subconscious reaction- and to move certain limbs to see if there was any further damage, or how well she was healing.
He'd explained why she had to do what he had instructed, when she asked, and that seemed to be the crux of the problem at present; Blinkous fretted over her, but didn't pay much mind to her questions, brushing them aside with the promise that in due time, she would learn, and that for now, she must heal. She stopped to ask after the first day, but not in acceptance of the historians ruling, but with the realization that he wouldn't answer any of her inquiries.
Well, her scent was already many hours old, and the Market was bustling with trolls going about their business, covering her tracks quite neatly. He hoped she wouldn't get into too much trouble. Given most of her inquiries seemed to be about trolls themselves, he had to assume that whatever had erased the memories from her mind had also claimed anything remotely related to trolls and their culture. Which in turn meant, it was very likely she'd try to get into things.
Shaking his head, Vendel mentally prepared himself, just hearing someone entering the Heartstone; Blinkous no doubt, coming to check on the whelp Silver. He was certainly in for a surprise, and Vendel wasn't eager to interact with the soon-to-be-frantic historian.
Books fell to the ground in a heap when Blinkous rounded the corner, expression changing from a smile to shock and dismay in a heartbeat. Running up to the nest and gripping it's edge, he then turned towards Vendel, as frantic as the much older troll had predicted.
And his panicked shouting and angered demands would CERTAINLY help him find her.
"Blinkous Galadrigal! Is it truly that surprising that one of your clan would seek out information when it was refused her?"
Blinkous backed away a pace as Vendel loomed over him, taken aback and flabbergasted as the elder troll unceremoniously cut him off. He stuttered to reply, then slumped somewhat, losing most of his own vigor.
"No . . . no, you're . . .right." he admitted, wringing his hands.
"Well, then when you find her, you'd better handle things better. Now, be off!"
Vendel gestured sharply towards the doorway, and as Blinkous scrambled off, calling out for Aaarrrggh, he chuckled softly to himself, stroking his beard.
Blinkous may yet be too paranoid off the stray coincidence, and eyebrow-deep in his collection of books and training the Trollhunter, but he was by no means heartless. To find one of his clan so young, after so many years, must remind him of many old fears, and many old joys. Hopefully, he'd handle this situation well on his own. Parenthood could not and would not ever be easy, even for prepared parents . . .
Silver awoke abruptly, feeling herself lifted off the ground by a large stone hand. Latching onto it with all of her working ones, she glared into the face of an angry troll that stood more than three times her height. Cupped within his other hand was-
"Inkblotch! Hey! Put me down and give me back my cat!" She squalled, wriggling and squirming with all of her might.
"/Busagul/! You STOLE this cat! Your scent was all over my booth and my cages." His hand squeezed her torso in warning, agitating her wounds, forcing the air from her lungs.
She held back any hint of pain, bottling it up and snarling, the painless thrill of battlerush pouring through her as she screamed:
"I /DID NOT/!"
Snapping her teeth as deep into his hand as possible, she managed to land on her feet when the much larger troll roared in pain and dropped her. Darting forward and snatching Inkblotch from where the kitten had been dropped, she ducked when the troll swiped at her, the trolls uninjured hand practically brushing her hair. Falling into a low crouch, she quickly looked up at him and lunged forward not even half a moment later, headbutting him right in the gronknucks.
As soon as the much larger troll fell to his knees, groaning in pain, Silver wasted no more time, running away as fast as her stubby legs could carry her. Ribs aching, wounds sparking with dull agitation, she recognized the ensuing crash that typically followed when the edge of her battlerush had worn off.
Memories tugged at her mind, wisps of things familiar yet distant, distant, surrounded by fog, detached from her life, but looming up into it nonetheless.
She didn't know how she knew how to fight that larger troll. She didn't know why she was so familiar with that rush of energy and strength that allowed her to brush aside pain, flowing through her, carrying her like a might river. Or her awareness of the resulting crash as it faded and left her to her painful wounds and crippling fear, invincible to vulnerable in a flash.
Fuzzy spots of darkness crowded the edges of her vision, pain overwhelming her body, Silver hurried to find some sort of refuge, some deep crack in the earth, small enough that groping hands would be unable to reach. Her vision darkening further, every movement sending a jolt of pain through her ribs, a throb through her healing scratches, stretching the edges of her sun-stained flesh.
Finding a corridor that appeared dimmer than most, she scrambled into it, completely unaware of her surroundings when her abused, battered body finally gave out, darkness overwhelming her mind.
Darkness . . .
An occasional glowing geode, dim and tainted, reflecting the sickly, blackened aura of this place.
Her rocky flesh was pale in comparison, easily giving her away, and she was yet too young and too weak to give a proper fight a try.
There were other whelps here, too. She could scent them sometimes, especially their spilled blood. She had seen how her fellow trolls were pitted against one another in bloody combat, sometimes one on one, but more often in large, blood-spilling royale's where only the strongest, or cleverest, or most underhanded of them survived to live another day.
Any whelp that survived five fights in a row was taken away, and never seen again.
The sulfurous, rubbery scent of goblins was almost always ever-present, so much it hardly registered to her anymore. Neither did the scent of blood, not unless it was particularly fresh. She had the feeling that this hadn't always been the case . . . some bare wisps of memory telling her of a place that smelled like old parchment and fresh ink and dried herbs, smoked meat and fire and . . . and fa. . . and something else. Something that made her feel safe, and welcomed.
The memories were far too distant and obscure for her to pay much attention to them. Not when she had to focus on the present.
Head spinning dizzily, one arm throbbing with pain, her eyes unfocused and vision fuzzy, the young whelp stared blearily up at the much larger troll whelp, cracking his knuckles and snarling as he paced closer, wary of a trap, eyes aglow in the darkness.
/E̵̸̡͘͡m͟҉̢i͞͏͘̕͡k̶̷͜͠o̴̕͢,̧͟ ̷͢҉̷͢, /the voice echoed in her ears, ringing with dizziness. Her vision swam. ̴̧̛́͝/E͜͡͠m̨̕i͏̧͜k҉o̷͏̷͝ ̧͡͏A̴̧͡͏k͘͞҉̷̧į̵̶͞v̢̀͞a̡͘͝, get̨ ͟up̵,̶ i̛ţ i̴s͠ not ͝your̢ t͠i҉m̷e̷ ̢t͞o̡ d̀ie͞./
The name meant nothing to her, the voices distorted, unfamiliar. She suddenly saw herself being tackled and pinned by the larger troll whelp, hands around her throat, snapping her neck. She gasped, but felt no pain. She still felt cold stone beneath her, sensed and heard the troll whelp snarling and growling, the footsteps as he approached, wanting to live but not wishing death upon her.
This was her first fight, and throughout it, there was only pain and misery. She had been kept far longer than any other troll whelp, covetously hidden away from the fighting, allowed to watch the bloody battles but otherwise isolated. There was always a goblin to accompany her, but she could not say whether she was treated better or worse than the other children. Rarely fed, rarely given water, with nothing but cold stone to curl up upon, no comfort given, only rough blows about her face and ears if she didn't follow a command fast enough.
/Oculus/, they called her. The goblins whispered the name from one to another. A name she did not understand, but had long-ago embraced as her own. She did not think the other whelps had proper names. Not anymore.
/Impure/, the goblins muttered to themselves, more than happy to beat upon the already much-abused whelps,
/Changeling/, shepherding the winners of the fights away, clearing away the dead or dying bodies of the unfortunate whelps that had been beaten or strangled or broken to uselessness.
/Forsaken one/, they hissed at her during resting time, disrupting her sleep, /Bound to fate and fateless bound!/
Once more, she saw the larger troll whelp lunge and snap her neck, even as he still approached her. Her head pounding with agony, Oculus lifted her head, seeing the whelp finally gathering himself to lunge at her, heard goblins hissing and cackling. Flooded with a sudden rush of adrenaline, she managed to roll aside just as the whelp lunged, and leaped upon his back, wrapping her small hands around his throat.
Gripping with both pairs of arms as far around as she could go, she tightened her grip and dug in her claws. Stone-skin gave way and she felt blood seep, felt the spasms of the whelps chest as he gasped for air. The scent of blood filled her senses, the gurgles as the whelp beneath her choked on his own blood in his desperate bid for air echoed in her ears. The whelp collapsed, half-rolling onto his side, but Oculus clung on, until the heaving body went still, and continued to hold on.
She didn't release the troll whelp. He crumbled to stone in her grasp, leaving his blood on her hands as she fell forward among the shards.
A single goblin screeched, signalling the end of the fight. Shepherded away, she heard the stone scrap cleared away and two more young whelps lined up for the next round of fighting, hissing and snarling, fear in their voices and mock anger in their stances and thumping feet.
A goblin struck her across the back of her head, causing her to stumble and almost fall. Growling softly, Oculus spun on her heel and punched it in the face, snarling more openly, daring it try that again.
Glaring at her, it muttered hateful words in Trollish, but did not strike her again, standing upright, keeping his distance. Turning her back, she stalked off to a lonely crack in one wall, wedging herself within.
She did not cry, did not sob or mourn for the life she had taken. Nor did Oculus savor the victory, felt any relief at being alive, or fear that she wouldn't be so lucky the next time. All she could see, over and over and over again, was her own neck snapping and the young whelp being herded away to wherever fifth-winners were taken, the words Impure! Impure! Echoing in her mind.
It was far from her last fight. Time was difficult to judge, without a sun or moon or stars (she only learned what these things were later on, after she'd been taken away for good), and were primarily judged by sleep-cycles or feeding times. Three sleep-cycles later, she was dragged from her crevice and set to fight an opponent much smaller than she.
But this small whelp was fast and vicious, biting and clawing. It had taken a good hour before she managed to finish the fight, once more returned to her crevice, ignoring taunts and jibes from the goblins, feeling no victory or relief that she'd won, no horror or sorrow for the unfortunate troll whelp she'd slaughtered, closing her eyes and trying to sleep. . .
"Wa. . . p. . . .
" . . .ke u . . .S. . . er. . .
". . .il. .r . . .
". . .wake . . .
" . . .up . . ./
Jolting upright, Silver looked around in desperation, dream abandoned like ripped cobwebs as she rapidly checked her surroundings for any threat, any danger, ready to act, to fight, to run-
Blinking up into two large, deep pools of green concern, Silver froze up as confusion played out across her face as she took in the larger troll.
Aaarrrggh gazed down at the small whelp curled in the corridor leading to Rot-Gut's apothecary. She was so . . . well, so /small/. He'd known that Silver was a small troll, he'd helped to carry her down to Trollmarket, after all! And yet, seeing her curled up as she was, sleeping fitfully, her pain clear even as she rested, only reinforced this knowledge.
So little, only a little taller than Toby, with pale blue-white skin that was still littered with sun-stained spots and deep gouges, rent by her own claws, many reopened and encrusted with dried blood. Even more blood stained her lips and the teeth that protruded her lower jaw, but he couldn't see any wounds there. And of course, there were other, older nicks and scars left on her flesh from something or other, particularly near her throat, on her chest, and upper back, the scars gray-white and stark against her pale skin, crystal-like in appearance, but dull.
All this put together with her makeshift garment and curled, defensive sleeping posture, gave Aaarrrggh the firm impression that she was very young, and needed protection. Her actions and her scars spoke of a life fraught with danger, where habit dictated to always be ready to defend herself from harm, independent of help and seeking only to live another day, no matter the expense by all likelihood.
All this he realized almost immediately after finding her, but now, he hesitated on his next course of action.
Ever since Blinky had come to him, hollering about the whelp being missing before racing off to try and locate Master Jim, Aaarrrggh had begun searching the Market for her. His clan had a much sharper sense of smell than most trolls, and even hours-old and overrun but multiple other troll-scents, he had had little trouble in tracking her down.
He could also smell cat, now that he was right on top of her, and another trolls scent that clung to her body, and of course the blood. Fresh blood.
Uncertain whether or not to pick her up, nor how safe it was for the whelp to remain asleep with her wounds reopened, Aaarrrggh finally nudged her gently as he called out, "Wake up. Silver, wake up! Wake up! Silver! WAKE UP!"
The whelp jolted awake, her scent tainted with fear, body stilling as she looked around rapidly. She looked up at him, meeting his concerned gaze, her own eyes widening with fright and confusion.
Aaarrrggh shifted a little, uncomfortable all of a sudden. He could only imagine how frightening he must appear to the young troll, who clearly had a very rough life before she had been found, even if she couldn't remember it. He recognized how she scanned for danger, muscle memory dictating her actions, only confirming that her life had been far rougher than any whelps should be.
The fear faded from her features and from the air, and she smiled slightly up at him, much to Aaarrrggh's surprise. "H-hello."
"Silver, hurt?" he asked, slowly reaching out a hand.
She watched him with a wariness that he didn't think she noticed, and it broke his heart a little to realize just how guarded she was, and how difficult it must be to trust anyone, really. But to his surprise, she didn't pull away. "Y-yeah. . . who are you?"
"Aaarrrggh. Three R's. Friend." offering her his hand outright, Aaarrrggh found himself surprised once more that she took it immediately, and without any fear. It couldn't be easy for her to immediately trust something so much larger than herself, and from what he'd heard about her apparent memory loss, it was very likely that she knew practically nothing about trolls.
Despite this, she appeared comfortable with him, relaxing as much as her wounds allowed her too. In one hand she held a small cat, and he had to wonder if she'd stolen it. If so, the scent of another troll made sense, if it was an angry shop-keeper. Aaarrrggh was broken from his thoughts when he felt her stumble against his arm, clutching at it with two hands to remain upright on the stairs.
"Carry Silver?" He rumbled, offering his hand.
She looked up at him, really looked, expression vulnerable, uncertain; and then she nodded.
Gently picking Silver up, Aaarrrggh began to lumber off to Blinky's library. She tensed at first, then relaxed and allowed him to hold her close to his chest, tucked underneath his large head.
"Where are we going?"
He picked up on her soft growl, shrinking slightly in his grasp, face pressed into his fur. Aaarrrggh continued on, although he had to wonder why she wouldn't want to see the historian. Blinky wasn't a bad troll, he was in fact very kindly. Did she fear punishment for disobeying? Whatever the reason, Aaarrrggh didn't believe Blinky would be especially harsh with her, given how panicked he was when he'd first found his large friend.
A few trolls whispered and stared as he passed, but he paid them no mind, growling softly at one or two that strayed too close for comfort.
Reaching Blinky's library, they are first met by Jim. "Oh, hey Aaarrrggh! Oh!" The young human's eyes widened in alarm at the sight of blood, spinning on his heel, "Blinky, Aaarrrggh found her! She's in rough shape!"
Aaarrrggh felt Silver shift in his hold when Jim dashed back into the library, and a sharp flinch at Blinky's resounding cry. "Who's . . . he? Doesn't look like a troll."
"Master Jim. Trollhunter. Human. Found you."
She didn't give any reply beyond that, stilling in Aaarrrggh's grasp, alert.
Entering Blinky's home, they were met by the very same troll rushing towards them, various medical supplies tucked under his arms, clearly panicking but trying to hide that fact. Silver flinched straight back into Aaarrrggh's chest when Blinky suddenly got in her space, a low growl spilling from her lips.
Taken aback by this, Blinky froze, a few of his eyes darting up to his large friends, while the rest remained trained on the injured whelp. Slowly, he backed away. Clearing his throat, stalling for time, Blinky finally spoke:
"My apologies, Silver, if my services before were, erm, less than satisfactory. If you will allow me, I swear that I will do better, in the future."
Silver shifted in his grasp, then slid off his arm, walking up to Blinky as though her wounds were nothing. She laid a hand on one of his arms, and smiled. "Accepted, on both accounts."
Blinky must have noticed the faint wobble in her frame the same moment Aaarrrggh had, for the historian almost immediately steadied the whelp when she began to stumble, her five working eyes wincing shut.
"Can you walk?" Blinky asked gently, realizing that they were not quite within the sanctity library yet.
" . . .no."
"Carry Silver?" Aaarrrggh offered his large hand once more, and Silver nodded, allowing the much larger troll to pick her up, cradling her close as he followed Blinky into the library.
Jim and Toby were already inside, and both gaped at the sight of the wounded whelp. Blinky directed Aaarrrggh to place Silver on his own bed, applying medicines and bandages the wounds shut with tight leather wraps to help stop the flow of blood. He would offer the idea to help seal her wounds with boiling metal, but he suspected that she wouldn't know, or remember that particular normality of troll culture.
For now, Blinky's medicinal knowledge and care seemed to be doing the trick, for among the blend of herbs and magic in the salve he was applying to her wounds, were both anti-infection and painkillers; the young whelp was already relaxing, running a gentle hand over the small cat she'd hung onto this whole time.
Blinky vanished after he'd given as much care as he could at present, before returning a few minutes later with a container of water and some clean rags. Clearing his throat, he held both items up for Silver to see.
"We have public baths in the residential area of the Market, but I don't want you to soak in them right now, it'd wash away the medicine. But you are covered in blood, and I don't imagine you'd want to remain covered in it for that length of time."
Silver nodded and slowly slipped to the floor, leaving the small cat on the nest, and took the cloths and water herself, beginning to clean herself up. Blinky stooped down to help her, and after a moments staring contest, she nodded her head in consent of his help. Once Silver is cleaned up and Blinky has gone to dispose of the murky water and soiled rags, the whelp stands and crawls back onto the nest, taking the tiny cat in hand again.
She turned her gaze on Jim and Toby, head tilting with her curiosity. "So, who are you two?"
"I'm Jim Lake, this is my friend Toby D." Jim held out his hand to shake, and Silver accepted, nodding a little.
"Aaarrrggh tells me you're the Trollhunter? Sounds a bit backwards to me, whatever it means."
By the time Blinky returned, bearing food for all those present, Toby and Jim were knee-deep in describing Jim's adventures since the Amulet had chosen him, what they'd learned so far of troll history and culture, and some discussion about Trollhunters past, besides the threat of Bular and Gunmar, goblins, changelings, sunlight, the moon, stars and constellations . . .
On and on it went, especially after Blinky joined in the discussion. Aaarrrggh occasionally rumbled a reply to a question, or used his limited knowledge of English to help explain some aspect of a story point, but he remained largely silent. Observing Silver, he watched as a whole new side to her opened up.
He could see how much she craved knowledge, soaking up every word like moss soaking up water, ears pricked and eyes bright. She genuinely loved to learn, eagerly asking questions and listening with respect. She wanted to leave Trollmarket itself, and go above ground to learn about human tradition and culture as well, as she enthusiastically expressed, on top of her desire to learn what she'd forgotten of her own culture.
Whatever life she'd lived before, whatever scrappy reflexes she possessed, Silver wasn't merely a a thick-headed warrior or thief, but a student, a scholar, hungering for knowledge the way most trolls hungered for food.
And so, Aaarrrggh vowed to himself right then and there, that he would do everything in his power to keep her safe, as he had already vowed to protect his other friends from harm. It was a vow that he did not intend to break, and he would help Silver however and wherever he could.
Many hours later, Blinky and Silver was dead asleep in the library, and Jim, Toby, and Aaarrrggh had left Trollmarket and returned home. They all needed the rest, for who knew what the future would bring tomorrow. . .?
/Two Weeks Earlier . . ./
Strickler glared up at a much younger Changeling, who stared back at him much more passively, hanging upside down from a tree branch. They smirked at him suddenly, shifting their hands from their hoodie pockets to point finger guns at the history teacher, flicking them slightly in mockery of real pistols.
"So, whaddya want Chief? Was all the, you know, kidnapper-ing and secrecy really necessary?"
Well-aware of the teenagers need to act in-control and relaxed in any given situation, Strickler pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Get down from there. You were brought here to help us deal with a very serious matter, which could quite easily end with your demise if you don't cooperate."
Eyes flashing golden with fear, the teen shrugged (a very strange gesture from their upside-down perch) and didn't budge. "Oh, well, when you put it /that/ way. Go on."
Making a rolling motion with one hand, the teen steadfastly refused to move from their precarious perch, one hand curling back into their hoodie pocket while the other hung straight down, expression mild and without a care in the world.
"You know why you're here; we need your /abilities/ to aid us in stopping the Trollhunter and his companions before he can discover the bridge and learn how many of us are actually Changelings!"
The teenager mulled this over, eyes darting towards the setting sun's rays as they fell over distant hills and slipped between the trees. Debating how well refusing would work out for them, and what rewards they could reap if they agreed to help and remained cooperative.
At last, they looked back to Strickler and grinned, eyes aglow once more, this time with mirth and triumph.
"If I am to remain a captive against my will here in Arcadia, I demand candy and movie privileges!"
"Do you not realize that you have no choice, you insufferable brat? You either help the Janus order and Gunmar, or Bular himself will devour you!"
The teen visibly flinched at this, the wide smirk dropping immediately from their face.
/Good,/ Strickler thought to himself. /Perhaps know they'll-/
Their sharp yelp snapped Stricklers attention to the teen once more, their face twisted with agony, straining their arms for the tree branch so as to have a better handhold. However, another sharp convulsion swept over the teen and they lost their grip entirely, falling a good fifteen feet to the ground below.
Cursing aloud, Strickler lunged forward, but was too late to catch them. Unable to discern what was wrong, the elder Changeling began to gather the teen into his arms; secrecy be damned, the teenager needed a hospital! Striding off through the trees as they younger Changeling went limp, Strickler continued to curse internally at his own lack of decent research when it came to miss Melanie Belze.