Feb 2nd 2215
The halls weren't a pure white, even at their cleanest, but the monchrome of off-whites and grays, designed more for functionality than aesthetic, were well-cared for. Not exactly unexpected as that tended to be the norm for any functioning government building. The long stretches of halls lined with mostly empty 5' x 8' cells sat unnaturally silent except for the whistling of a haunting melody. It started slowly, then picked up speed as each musical phrase passed. Once the tune ended, a couple of moments of silence would descend, only to be broken as the song began slowly once again.
The notes wound down the hall, somehow teasing the overly-processed air. Nothing answered the tune. No one bothered to listen. Zelda Nomura didn't care. She just kept whistling so as to give herself some comfort in this new prison. She sat in one of the small cells, leaning against a wall as she tried to ignore the energy shield that kept her in place, just as she had for the last several days, or feeding cycles at least. She tried not to move often, nursing her cracked skin as she tried very hard not to compare the situation to her experience in the darklands all those centuries ago. The biggest difference was the light shining down from the harsh, florescent fixtures. Didn't they ever turn these blasted things off? She couldn't decide which was worse: perpetual darkness, or perpetual light.
She didn't know how long she'd been there as she'd stopped counting the feeding periods. In all honesty, she didn't know if she cared anymore. She couldn't even really entertain the ideas of escape. There was nowhere to go, after all. So she sat under the unforgiving lights and whistled, unable to stop herself from hoping for a response... because she knew he wouldn't leave without her. Just like last time.
With every day that no answer came, she grew more and more worried – more and more convinced that this really was the end... for all trolls. There was no way to know how many of them still remained – full or changeling – as they'd all been completely cut off from one another; from everything except the hallway outside their small rooms. She couldn't break through the walls (she'd tried) or the floor (she'd tried) or the ceiling (she'd tried) or the energy shield (she wasn't stupid enough to try that one). No one was in the room across from her and she couldn't hear even the barest yells or sobs from further away anymore.
Nomura had always been a solitary creature, but she'd grown to loathe this isolation. Not being alone, per se, but the solitary confinement – the lack of freedom to choose company or not. Part of her wanted to know what had happened to her fellow trolls... part of her really didn't. Part of her hoped they'd gotten away somehow – against all odds – but part of her still felt a vindictive sort of glee at their comeuppance (the prejudice had never really faded completely).
But more often than not recently, all of her emotion would retreat in her mind, smothered under a blanket of exhaustion and depression.
Not that she'd ever let it show. No matter how tired she was, she would prefer to go down fighting.
So she kept listening for an answer to her song, even if she no longer expected one.
Which was why the distant rumble interrupting the monotonous silence (beside her song) surprised her. She paused and listened, but nothing reached her ears for several seconds... and then... more rumbling. And more. It sounded closer than it had before. Was it coming her way?
Suddenly, the hallway was filled with smoke and she saw humans run past, yelling and shouting about a breach.
She didn't know what was going on, but that didn't stop her from falling into old habits and getting ready to pounce the moment the opportunity struck... if it struck.
A couple of minutes passed by with nothing happening except a bunch of distant yelling, and then gun and energy shots thundered through the halls, deafening in contrast to the former silence. Then, they cut off and the soldiers that had run by before literally flew backwards, past her cell with a loud boom. She just stared after them for a couple of moments before turning to see a single figure walk hurriedly down the hall. Her heart rose in her chest before she could stop it, and she leaned as close to the energy shield as she possibly could. The figure came through the smoke, caught sight of her and stopped, looking pleased.
The pink-skinned changeling just stared at the figure outside of her shield.
"How about I release you from there?" he asked, swiping a card of some kind through the lock outside her room.
She could only stare at him, wondering if she'd finally cracked. She could barely comprehend it. Merlin never did anything for others. They had all fully expected him to leave them to rot as far as she knew. So seeing him here... it had to be some sort of hallucination, right? Had pixies somehow gotten into the building?
Either Merlin didn't notice her shock, or didn't care enough to acknowledge it. Instead he just turned his head to look down the smoky hall. "Do you know where the Trollhunter is?"
That's when her stare shifted to a glare. That was too much like Merlin for this to be a hallucination. "Why do I get the feeling that I'm simply a happy accident? A means to an end." Like usual. Of course, that's why she'd liked the kid so much. He'd been one of the few people who didn't think that way.
"Does it matter?" Merlin asked as the shield fell.
Nomura didn't answer.
The old man shifted away from her and strode down the hall, peering into the different cells. They came across a few statues, but no one else alive. Nomura could only glance at the remains grimly, thankful that the kid wasn't there. He'd beat himself up way too much over this.
"Are there any other trolls alive?" she asked quietly, needing to know the answer somehow.
"Yes," Merlin replied.
A slight weight lifted from her shoulders. "Where are they?"
"I'm sending them to Avalon," he said, holding up his left hand. On it, she saw a stone that glistened with magic. She'd never seen that ring before.
"You can open the gateway from here?" she asked through gritted teeth.
"Only after decades of work," he responded, putting his hand down again. "I've been planning on doing this for a while now."
"And let me guess, you weren't going to let the trolls have any say in it, were you."
"Do you have a choice?" he asked, shaking his head. "It was only a matter of time before the humans discovered you. I knew a solution would be necessary."
"Why didn't you just have us travel over to England? Isn't that where the known portal is?"
"And risk discovery? It was getting difficult enough to use the Gyres without humans –" he stopped as several men rounded the corner and lifted their guns to shoot. They didn't get a chance before Merlin had waved his hand, the staff of Avalon appearing in it as he swept it forward with that loud boom from before. The men flew to the opposite side of the hallway and stayed there, stuck to the walls in a heap. Merlin just continued forward and the staff vanished again. He hadn't been able to do that the last time Nomura had seen him... "It was getting difficult enough to use the gyres once or twice a month without humans suspecting something. A mass movement like that would have drawn all of the unwanted attention we were trying to avoid."
"That wasn't your decision to make!"
"Wasn't it?" Merlin asked before he stopped by a cell and looked inside. Another statue of a troll sat in the corner. It took Nomura a couple of minutes to realize that the troll was alive. She almost allowed herself to let out a relieved breath.
Sighing, the old wizard swiped his card through the reader that would open the cell and held out his hand to the troll, who finally turned glazed eyes up to him. Then those eyes widened.
"My dear, let me send you somewhere safer," he said as he held out his hand with the ring on it. The troll, Nomura wasn't sure of her name, lifted her hand slowly, as if not believing what was in front of her (Nomura could relate). Then her eyes drifted over to the changeling and paused for a moment. Nomura grit her teeth but otherwise didn't react. Then the troll seemed to take that as a good sign, as she steeled herself and she grabbed Merlin's hand. A portal opened beneath her and she fell through it, shrieking.
Nomura rolled her eyes as the portal closed. That was so like Merlin.
"There is a system of caves in Avalon that I've set this portal for. I am sending as many trolls there as I possibly can."
They took off down the halls again. Nomura rolled her eyes. Even when saving people, he was still an oblivious jerk.
"I've discovered your motto: Too little, too late," she said dryly, regaining her composure.
She saw him clench his jaw, but he didn't respond as he continued on his way.
"Why are you doing this?" she had to ask as they reached what would normally be a door, but now seemed to be a slab of metal. Merlin studied it for several seconds before he put the hand with the ring on it to the material. A large mass of energy spiraled from it, and when he took his hand away, he left perfect hole, at least two feet in diameter, cut through the block.
Nomura stared. The last she knew, he couldn't do that either. Was he sending everything to Avalon? Not that the trolls wouldn't mind the snacks, but still.
He stepped calmly through the door, waving his staff at the people on the other side. That boom was getting really annoying. The opposing humans all shot up to the ceiling and hung there.
The changeling had to grudgingly admit, she was impressed... and a little thankful. She was still wounded from the fall of New Trollmarket and wasn't sure how good she'd be in a fight. Of course, that made her wonder why Merlin wanted her along. She could hear and potentially see better than he could, but she would still think of herself as more of a liability than a help.
After a few more minutes of running around the floor, Merlin sighed. "Must be on a lower level," the old man muttered to himself. Then he knelt to the ground and put his hand on the floor. A glowing, circular slab of energy cut through the cement and another hole appeared. Without a moment's hesitation, he dropped through it. Nomura blinked for several seconds before following. The floor she landed on looked like a mirror image of the floor above – all cement and gray steel that had supposedly gone out of style a century ago (she wondered just how old this facility was) covered by the light-gray plastifirm (she also wondered what mook came up with that name). It was supposed be more durable than most materials made a century ago. Against anything but Merlin's portals, that might actually be true.
"You didn't answer me!" she growled at the man, bringing her thoughts back to what was important.
Merlin sighed as he turned back and began to tromp down the long passageway that mimicked the one above. "Troll kind represents the last true stronghold of neutral magic on the Earth. Trolls, much like humans, can use light, dark or natural magic and for many different purposes. But unlike humans, trolls are innately magic. When trolls leave Earth... so does magic. Oh, not immediately, of course, but... it will fade. Eventually Avalon will no longer connect to Earth and we will be cut off completely."
Well, that was news to Nomura. She blinked and thought through those implications as she dodged incoming shots from several men with plasma rounds. She hated plasma rounds. Thankfully, a boom sounded and they met the same fate as those soldiers from before.
"Then why didn't you..." she stopped and then her gaze narrowed. "You selfish little... you were keeping us here! You didn't want your source of power to leave, so you put it off! You put us all in danger! You're the reason we're here in the first place!"
It took all of her willpower to not jump forward and strangle the guy right then and there.
"It's not as simple as that!" he returned, but she didn't buy it for a moment. "In any case, I am here to rescue as many trolls as I can."
'Too little, too late,' Nomura thought again. Then the question of 'why' popped up again. Merlin never did anything unless it benefited him. That was just how he worked. Sometimes she wondered if he was really a changeling in some kind of disguise.
"So, why now?" she pressed. Then something caught her attention. "Behind us!"
Merlin turned and a blue mist shot out of his staff, blocking off view of the hall behind them completely, and the soldiers that had just rounded the corner. Then he nodded, turned and kept walking with that hurried pace of his.
"You're not getting out of it that easily. Why now? You could have left us all here and not wasted any energy. It would have even kept trolls on Earth longer. So why not just leave us to rot in our cells? And don't insult me by saying you actually care."
"Because I think I can prevent this."
Nomura froze, if only for the barest second. "What?"
"That is why I need to find the Trollhunter. I will send him to the past and with his future knowledge, he will stop this from happening."
That was too much for the changeling. Snarling, she grabbed him by the back of his shirt and then slammed him against the wall. "How much are you going to use that boy! You know how hard it's been for him! And you're going to send him into the past so he has to live through it all again?! I'm beginning to see little difference between you and Gunmar! Or worse, you and the humans who have trapped us all here!"
Merlin waved a hand as the sound of rushing footsteps reached them. Nomura didn't take her eyes off of the man in front of her. If they were going to die, then so be it, but she would have her answer. The soldiers chasing them cautiously stepped through Merlin's blue mist, and then gave a signal. A group of about twelve ran right by them. Must be a perception trick. Nice to know that could work on their new technology (because no soldier went around without some kind of enhanced vision these days).
Nomura didn't waver and Merlin didn't back down.
"What would you suggest?" he asked. "Trolls live on Earth for a reason. Their stone comes from the Earth, their food, their livelihood is all tied into the Earth. Even the Dark Lands were a proximity of Earth and it drove the gumm-gumms mad. I give it a couple of decades before the trolls either completely change in Avalon or die out."
"And with them, your magic!" Nomura didn't yell. She didn't need to. "You don't care for us, so don't pretend you do!"
"Yes," he replied through his teeth. "When trolls fade, there's a good chance the rest of Avalon will fade too! And no magic on the Earth could have dire effects for all worlds involved! That is why we must send Jim Lake back in time again!"
Nomura blinked. "What do you mean, again?" It was getting harder and harder to not just tear this guy's throat out.
"I read it in the Amulet. He's gone back once before, although it was more of a vision than an actual trip, but he's had experience."
She drew him forward, turned him around and slammed his back against the wall as more soldiers ran by them. She was glad they couldn't seem to hear the two of them as well.
"And you'll guilt trip him into doing what you want just like you've guilted him into doing everything else in his life that has almost destroyed him! But who cares as long as you get to keep your powers!"
"It could save the world!"
"And it will shatter him!"
Merlin glared at her angrily. Then he took a deep breath and his composure returned. "Do you want to rescue him or not?"
Ugh, she hated it when people used calm logic against her like that. She always had.
"This isn't over," she said, bringing him close. Then she released his shirt and he dropped to the floor, landing spryly on two feet. Then, without another word, he turned and began walking down the hallway again.
Angrily, Nomura followed him.
They found a couple more trolls that hadn't turned to stone before they found a particular room a couple of floors down. Walking in there made even Nomura sick. Troll parts had been littered around the room. Test tubes and jars of all sizes contained various stones in the shape of organs and eyes and limbs. A couple of them held mostly whole, unconscious but alive trolls, and she saw a couple more on tables or in some of the tubes, but most were stone. None of them responded. Merlin quickly sent the live ones to Avalon anyway.
And then they found him. Jim Lake, still in his Eclipse armor, lay on a table, ruined instruments littering the various surfaces around him. Judging from the scratches on the armor (and the fact that they could scratch it was kind of terrifying), they'd been trying to cut the amulet out of Jim altogether. She didn't doubt that they'd tried to cut other parts of his armor off as well, as he was now missing an arm. She saw it to one side, still stone and covered in the familiar armor, albeit a stone version of it.
There weren't any scientists, but there were guards. Thankfully, Merlin was able to make quick work of them.
"Jim!" Nomura cried as she rushed up to him. He didn't answer. "Hey, kid... come on, little Gynt."
She wasn't expecting a response, betting that they'd put him under (although how they had anything that would work like that on trolls, she didn't know) or that he was unconscious, but to her great surprise, his eyes slowly opened. She sucked in a breath at the almost gray, dull circles that found her. She could still see a hint of blue, but...
"N-nomura?" he asked. His voice sounded harsh and raw, and he coughed a little after he spoke.
"Hey there, little Gynt. Sorry it took so long."
"Nnn, hurt," he muttered, eyes closing again. "Lots." That worried her. He never spoke of how much something hurt...
"Don't worry. We'll get them for you," the changeling said, looking for ways to get off the shackles holding him to the table. They were made of the plastifirm over a metal alloy of some kind, and she couldn't pry them loose. Fortunately, Merlin had the answer yet again, and she wanted to tear him apart. If he could do this so easily, why had he let it go this far?!
"Come on, kid. Let's get you outta here," she said, reaching for him.
She paused, looking to him. He lifted his remaining arm weakly and pointed to his legs.
Ignoring her stomach sinking, she took a closer look at his legs and realized that they, like the arm that had been cut off, were slowly turning to stone. She could only stare at them, as if not believing what her eyes were telling her.
No. No, no, no, No, NO! This couldn't be happening! This was Jim Lake! The human-turned-troll trollhunter who could outmaneuver anything! He had the amulet of Merlin fused to him and his life had been dedicated to protecting them and he hadn't ever lost like this... how could this happen?!
"Nomura," his voice reached her again, and she looked over at him. "Run. Be safe."
And wasn't that so like him? Here he sat, dying, and he was still so worried about the people around him.
She shook her head. "No, little Gynt. Not without you. It's about time I repaid my debt."
"It's okay," he said, giving her a comforting smile. "I'll get... to see Claire... again. And Toby. And... Mom." He frowned. "Probably not Strickler though."
Nomura let out a half-sob/half-laugh that she would deny to her dying breath.
"Is... that what you want, Jim?" she asked, using his given name.
He groaned a little. "'M tired."
She took a deep breath. "Then go to sleep."
"Sorry," he muttered. "'M I being selfish?"
"Nah," she responded, hoping she sounded more lighthearted than she felt.
"Jim, I can—" Merlin started, but Nomura turned and snarled at him. Surprised, he backed off.
"Who's that?" Jim asked, struggling to sit up.
Nomura shook her head, pushing him back down. "Just that idiot, Merlin."
"Oh," Jim responded. Then he sighed. "Gonna... sleep now."
The changeling nodded, forcing a smile onto her face that she hoped didn't look too fake or sharp. "Okay. You sleep now. You've earned it."
"Will be waiting... for you," he said as his eyes drifted closed again. "Be nice, k?"
"Goodbye, little Gynt."
"'Night, Nomura," he muttered as his breaths evened out again.
She just stood there for several seconds, noticing how at peace he looked for the first time in decades... if not longer.
"He isn't dead," Merlin said from behind her.
"I could still send him back."
Her fists clenched. "I'm telling you, it will break him... and I don't know if he'll be able to come back from it this time!"
"Of course he will! He's the Trollhunter!"
"That doesn't make him unbreakable! He isn't some perfect warrior for you to tear down and build up as you see fit!"
He glared at her from where he stood a couple of feet away while she shielded Jim. She was actually kind of thankful the ancient man wasn't just barging past her and insisting. Maybe he knew she wouldn't be kind to him if he tried. Although it seemed he could use magic to easily subdue her.
"Why don't you just go back?" she asked him angrily.
He frowned, frustrated. "I've tried. It doesn't work. I'm guessing my enchanted sleep prevents me from returning to my old body, and I cannot send a whole body back. It has to be Jim, and it will take me a little while to cast the spell. I need you to watch my back as I perform the ritual."
Hence why he hadn't sent her away.
She really hated this guy right now.
"You have the glamor you used to hide us before. Why not just use that now?"
"I could, but I can't use any concentration to keep it up as I'll be focusing on the spell that will, you know, save the world!"
Nomura snorted. Like he wanted to save the world. No, he just wanted the fame from such an act.
Then something occurred to her, and an idea came to her... an idea she did not like. An idea that made her want to shake the Trollhunter and curse him for having somehow burrowed his way into her heart. Before him, she hadn't even known she'd had a heart.
But it would be for him. It might save him some pain and heartache... and it would definitely let him rest... finally.
"Do you have to send the Trollhunter?"
Merlin frowned. "Well, he would be in the best position to—"
Clatters and clangs sounded from behind them and they both turned to face the door. They couldn't see it, but it would only be a matter of seconds before they would be spotted.
The old wizard clenched his teeth and said a spell, dragging Nomura to the side.
"I'm guessing the glamor spell is stationary," she said dryly.
"It's the most stable of the glamor spells. At least of those that can turn one invisible."
"And stop others from overhearing us too, I see."
"Don't move outside of it, or you'll disrupt it." It was invisible. So he was saying she couldn't move more or less at all.
Nomura felt a growl build in her throat, but she stayed put. "So, you want to send Little Gynt back, and you can't send yourself back, and I don't want you to put him through that again—" So she'd grown a little softer over the years. It was a luxury she'd rather liked when living in New Trollmarket.
"It would save his life!"
"He doesn't want you to save it!"
Merlin's mouth closed with a clop and he stared at Nomura, eyes wide and disbelieving. The changeling sighed and rubbed her forehead. It didn't do anything because she was a troll, but it was something she'd picked up as a human and hadn't ever bothered to break.
"He's tired and he's given you everything he has. Can't you just... let him go? He longs for his family, and as much as the trolls eventually accepted him, they were never his family. Besides Blinky and Aaarrrggh, I doubt they ever will be."
The soldiers were swarming around them, but no one saw them, and the magic nudged the humans into avoiding the area where she and Merlin talked – at the foot of the table where Jim still lay, strapped.
"But then who would I send..." Merlin faded off as realization hit him. "No. That is not viable!"
"Why?" Nomura returned, practically hissing, "because I'm an untrustworthy changeling? I haven't even been able to change forms in almost two centuries! I hate Gunmar more than any other enemy – humans included – and I was around and awake at the time you're aiming for."
"You won't be in the right position to do anything!"
"I'll be smack in the middle of the Janus Order! I'll be in a prime position to do something!"
"He's turning to stone! Like the others!" someone yelled. Nomura and Merlin turned to look at Jim and the person in a white lab-coat standing over him, a pair of enhanced observation glasses on their head.
"Get that amulet off of it!" another person yelled. "Before that turns to stone too!"
"Too late!" the lab assistant who had been trying to get the amulet off in one final attempt drew their hands back quickly as the transitioning stone reached it, and swept over it, turning the amulet and armor itself into stone as well.
Merlin's mouth set in a grim line. "And thus ends the line of Trollhunters."
"Looks like you don't have much of a choice now," Nomura pointed out, trying to ignore how her heart had broken into pieces at the sight of Jim Lake Jr.'s statue.
The old man grit his teeth and stayed quiet for several seconds. Then he turned to her with a snap.
"Fine, but there are some things you need to know, and I need your word that you'll do them!"
Nomura's lips lengthened into a sharp smile. "You have it."
He recast the glamor shield before stepping forward and drawing some runes on her skin. Of course, he could move, but she couldn't. Nomura just rolled her eyes and let him do what he needed to do. She wasn't about to antagonize him more when she'd just won her argument. Now was not the time.
Then summoned his staff out of the air again and began to chant. The magic in the room began to rise. Then Merlin touched his staff to each of the runes he'd drawn on her skin – two on each arm, one on her forehead, one at the base of her neck, one on her stomach and one on each knee. Every time the staff touched the runes the magical aura thickened. Even some of the soldiers and scientists who were discussing Jim's body began to realize something was up.
Finally, Merlin touched the last rune on her knee and left the staff there. He finished chanting (in a language Nomura didn't know, so she assumed it was a magical thing) and then raised his staff high above his head. He must have broken the illusion bubble because Nomura heard everyone there gasp. But then the magic exploded and she knew no more.
Nomura wished she could close her eyes... but at this point, she wasn't sure she had any. Eyes, eyelids... nothing. She didn't think she had any physical features... which was probably a good thing because a headache would be the least of her worries right now. And she would most definitely have a headache.
Colors (some of which she wasn't sure actually existed) and shades and light and dark all swirled past her at blinding speeds. Each had its own complicated emotions. Each faded into the next so quickly she couldn't process it... it was too much. She tried to shut it out, but had no real way to do so... and it pulled at her, in all directions. She was sure it would tear her apart! So... overwhelming... too... much...
No! She had to do this! For Jim. She had to hold on for the little brat who had done so much for her – for everyone. She couldn't let go of that, despite the maelstrom around her trying to tear her down. She refused!
So she did the mental equivalent of gritting her teeth and pushed on, focusing on the end goal – on Jim and Trollmarket. If the maelstrom took some of her with it, then so be it, but she would return and repay her debt!
She pressed on.
Nomura forced her eyes open and groaned, sitting up in her... rather soft... bed. Gasping, she slapped her hands to her stomach and then neck and face and arms... Her hands met flesh, not stone. She looked down and stared in disbelief.
She was human again...
Well, in her human body.
Hurriedly, she scrambled for and grabbed the phone from the side of the table, flipping it on. Such an old, clunky thing, these smartphones. Then her grin came back in full force. It was even earlier than she'd expected.
She went over the list of things Merlin had made her promise to do before stretching her arms above her head and grinned. Too bad she'd never had an issue with outright lying.
AN: So, mainly canon pairings if any. Let me know what you think!