Disclaimer: Trollhunters belongs to Guillermo del Toro.
Jim's eyes opened.
Light was streaming outside of his cave. The din of cars and activity had already risen. His back pulsed angrily, reminding him of what had happened. His entire body felt like a semi-truck was crushing him, leaving him pinned down and unable to move. Turning his head to the side, ignoring how his body ached from sleeping on his face, he saw what had awoken him.
The buzzing phone clattered along the stones. Jim lifted a heavy limb, dropping his hand over the phone. With an inordinate amount of effort, he dragged the phone over to him and flipped it open. "Hello?" he rasped, surprised at the sound of his own voice.
"Jaeger? Where have you been? I've been calling you for two days now!" Claire's voice was angry and harsh.
"Two days?" he muttered. That couldn't be good for him. Probably explained why he was so hungry, too. Using his unoccupied hand, he felt along his back, blinking when he felt nothing more than a raised line. There was no pain from the action, just the same pulses beneath the skin that had been present when he awoke.
Jim let the hand fall back down to the ground. A healing factor. That was nice. Jim was willing to bet it wouldn't work on an empty stomach, though, so he needed to find something quick. This didn't feel like a normal, human hunger. It felt like a ravenous, all-consuming void was tearing at his insides.
At the edge of his consciousness, Jim was aware that someone was talking to him. He refocused on the sound of Claire's voice coming from the phone. "What?"
"Why are you whispering? Hey, are you okay?" Her voice had begun to transition from anger to something else. Not quite worry or concern, but something similar.
"What day is it?" he asked, trying to get a hand under him. The half-troll would need to grab something from the bag, it had what qualified as food in it.
"Uh, Wednesday?" Claire answered.
Jim froze. "What?" he said, panic rising.
"It's Wednesday. Why, has something happened?"
"Yeah, apparently I slept through Tuesday entirely. The last time I was awake was Monday night," he said, hissing the last part. With a heave, Jim pushed himself into a sitting position, wincing at the aching throughout the muscles in his body.
"What? I couldn't get a hold of you because you were sleeping?" Claire asked, incredulous.
"Not really. More trying to heal from getting my back ripped open. I think I passed out from the blood loss," Jim reasoned. He was trying to figure out what happened himself. "Maybe the pain from the alcohol put me into shock?"
Jim shrugged to himself, leaning over slightly to grab his ratty bag and drag it over to him. Its contents clanked together, and the half-troll was shocked to find himself salivating. With a speed he didn't know he possessed, the glass was in his mouth, crunching against his teeth. He put another bottle in as soon as he swallowed, glad to be relieved of at least part of the pain of his hunger.
"Jaeger!" Claire shouted from the phone. Jim frowned. Why would she say that? That wasn't his name.
Then he realized, yes, it was his name. He wasn't Jim anymore.
He swallowed the piece of glass in his mouth, somehow feeling more hollow than he did when he was hungry. Putting the phone back to his ear, he said, "Yes?"
Her questions came rapid-fire. "What do you mean, blood loss? Who did that to you? Where are you? What are you doing?"
"None of that matters," he answered tiredly. "I'm fine now, and no one other than me was hurt. What happened that you were trying to get a hold of me?"
A period of silence passed. Long enough to make Jim wonder if he needed to get her attention again. Then she answered, her voice ringing strangely empty. "Someone died."
"What?" Jim's thoughts screeched to a halt. He began cursing himself. "Who?"
"A boy named Jim Lake Junior. He was the same age as me, went missing on Saturday. Everyone's been looking for him, but yesterday they found way too much of his blood spread around a street for him to be alive." Her voice had cracked somewhere in the middle, and at first, Jim was surprised to hear the emotions in her voice. She had never met him in this timeline, had she?
Then the force of, oh shit he's dead, hit him. That was not in his plans. His mother, Toby, at least with him disappearing, they would have hope that he might come back to him. A false hope, but hope, nonetheless. This would utterly destroy them. His mother, to whom he was the only one left in her life that she loved. Toby, who already had issues with those closest to him leaving him.
Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. He wasn't exactly sure what to do now, but he should probably try to offer some form of comfort to Claire.
"Did you know him?" he asked her, keeping his voice as gentle as possible.
"Not personally, no. I knew of him very well, and he had a major crush on me. I was always waiting for him to make a move, you know. He seemed like a great guy, but I wanted him to take the first step. And do you know how they said he died? An animal attack," Claire laughed, a tinge of bitterness to it. "There was nothing left. No flesh, no bones, just blood caked everywhere. And I asked Blinky. And you know what he said?"
It took him a second, but then the realization hit him with the force of a train. "Bular," he whispered in horror.
She thought Bular ate him?
"Yeah." Claire's anger was palpable. "I'm supposed to protect everyone. Now, there's a grieving family and school because I couldn't do anything about it!"
Jim's mind was working a thousand miles a minute. His blood was identified, then the news stations were fed a bogus story about an animal mauling. Which meant one thing.
The changelings knew who he was.
Well, that's problematic. "Claire," he started. Then took a second to think about his words. "There was nothing you could do. Have you ever seen Bular?"
"No, but that doesn't excuse this! My job is to protect everyone, to keep them safe from trolls like him! And I failed!" Sobs came out over the line as she wailed. "I let him die!"
"First of all, you didn't let anything happen. You were unaware of the attack until the report, weren't you?" Jim waited for her sound of acknowledgement before continuing. "I thought so. How were you going to stop something that you had no idea was happening? And, more importantly, how were you going to fight a troll the size of Draal with two swords bigger than you and millennia of experience killing Trollhunters?"
"I – I don't-"
"I think that now you understand how high the stakes are. This isn't some casual adventure where everything is guaranteed to be alright." Jim looked down at his own four-fingered hand. Clenching it hard enough to feel pain, he continued, saying, "I know that well enough myself. And now, you've learned it. From now on, use this as a motivator. Use what you're feeling now to drive you forward, to inspire you and keep you alive. The trolls never cared about humans before other than avoiding them. You're the only one who's going to do that. So, stay alive. Become the greatest damn Trollhunter to ever live and end anything that threatens the people you care about. Make the trolls care. Can you do that?"
A few seconds of sniffling went past. "Yeah, I can do that," Claire whispered. Jim smiled, for he could hear the steel in her voice, and he knew he succeeded.
"I'll let you in on a secret, Claire," he said.
"And what's that?" she asked, voice stronger now.
Jim tapped a finger against his leg, wondering if this would have the desired effect. "I'm actually just as young as you. I turned sixteen a couple months ago, in fact."
Claire gasped. "Really?"
"I wouldn't lie to you. The point is, though, if I can do this, then you can too. There's a reason that amulet chose you, after all. It doesn't make mistakes."
Claire stayed silent, pondering his words. Then she said, "Alright. I'll do it then. I'm going to be the very best."
"That no one ever was?" Jim smiled to himself. It was nice to feel like he was having a normal conversation again. He couldn't remember the last time he did.
She giggled. "You really are sixteen."
"Probably act more like a three-year-old, to be honest. Listen, if you ever need someone to just talk to, I'll be here, okay?" Jim said, something more than friendliness and concern lacing through his voice. He couldn't recognize it though and decided to dismiss it.
"I will," she said, letting out one final sniffle. "I have school in a bit. Talk to you tonight, though."
"Good luck. Remember, you're not alone. You have your friends, Blinky, Aaarrrgghh!, and me."
"After that? I think you count as a friend, too, Mr. Faceless."
A feeling of light warmth bloomed in the half-troll's chest. A grin slid across his face. Maybe he couldn't have what he used to, but he was content to simply be a part of her life. "I'd like that."
"Good, because you didn't really have a choice. Bye," she said, hanging up.
Jim sighed, though it was a different, more light-hearted sigh. How was she able to melt his heart without even seeing him?
Then he shook it off as he remembered his new problem.
The Changelings knew who he was.
The thing that shocked Jim the most was that his blood could still be identified as his own. It also inspired some sort of feeling within him, not exactly what he would call happiness, but a satisfaction that he still bled red, human blood. More importantly, though, Jim knew Strickler, and what he would do with this information. Specifically, the lack of information.
Strickler's first priority would be finding more information. His blood had provided a link that was ready to exploit, especially with the announcement of his death. Both his mother and Toby were within the changeling's reach, and they were who he would go for first. It would also be his downfall. Jim knew that his mother had managed to capture the man's heart without even intending to and with him going in to the relationship fully intending on only using her to get to her son.
Yeah, he was pretty well covered. At the same time, though, for the first time in his life, Jim knew more than his old teacher. He had the upper hand in terms of information. And he fully intended to mess with Strickler's head. Sure, the man had been one of his greatest allies in the end, but right now, he was a dick and deserved what he got.
With that in mind, Jim began planning his next moves. Maybe he could get the location of the Inferna Copula while he was at it.
Strickler sighed at his desk, watching the children walk out somberly. Announcing the death of their peer had taken a toll on them, and it was quite obvious that they would be out of sorts for a time. Especially Jim's friend, Toby. While the situation with Jim had become complicated, and any fondness the changeling once had for the boy must now be thrown out the window, there was no reason to inflict further suffering on his friend. The only issue was that he had no relationship with him, and no means of assuaging his loss.
Massaging his temples, the head of the Janus Order contemplated what they had learned. A boy who had gone missing was found, in the center of town, able to throw Bular through a semi-truck and with much more trollish features than the last time he had been seen. Along with some strange copy of the amulet, if Bular was to be believed. Which, while the Gumm-Gumm was prone to scorn and arrogance, he rarely lied. That was the job of the Impure, and far beneath him.
The visit to Jim's mother last night had gone excellently, even if Strickler had to set aside his distaste at using the woman. Her life had been hard enough already, but Jim was now an unknown, and he needed contingency plans fast. Besides, he might be able to offer her some sort of comfort, as Jim clearly no longer would.
As a grieving teacher, visiting the mother of his favorite student to share in their misery would not be thought of as odd in the community. Loss had a strange way of bringing people together, and he planned to exploit that.
Still, this complication could not have come at a worse time. Strickler stood up and walked to his door, looking at the window to see Claire Nuñez walking around the corner, her head drooping. Although she was also going through a period of grief, there would be no comfort for her, though her suffering would be delayed for a time when Jim was assured to be a non-issue. He could rely on other members to try and obtain the amulet from her for now, while he reunited with his star pupil.
With backup, of course. Strickler pulled out his phone and scrolled through a directory of what changelings were currently in Arcadia, visiting or otherwise. He selected four and messaged them that they would be joining him in evaluating a new threat. For once, he actually wished that Otto was near, pompous fair-weather that he was. Polymorphing was always helpful when dealing with the unknown.
His phone began to ring. Strickler raised it to his ear as he answered, settling his free hand behind his back and walking to the window. "Nomura," he acknowledged.
"Stricklander. We have a problem with the goblins." If there was one thing he appreciated about the woman, it was how she always got straight to business.
"Last time I checked, that was not my problem," Strickler said, his voice clearly telling her to get the part where it became his.
She snarled into the phone, saying, "Well, forgive me for bringing their behavior to their attention. I suppose that you don't want to hear about their newfound fear of the mountains to the north, then."
Strickler narrowed his eyes. "What are the pests on about now?"
"They refuse to patrol the mountains, citing something about it being someone else's territory now. They're unable to identify the scent as belonging to anything, though apparently it's closest to azurite."
"Azurite? The blue mineral?" Strickler asked, peering through the blinds of his window, watching the children performing some outside activity. A rather chaotic game of soccer, if he deduced correctly. In which there were no penalties for physical contact, and the ball was being used more as a weapon than a means to score. His lips curled as he watched the coach attempt to stop the game, only for the whole field to freeze as the ball slammed into his face.
"So you did pay attention in geology," Nomura said scathingly. His smirk grew at her hissing voice. How she chafed at being a mere subordinate. It amused him. "Obviously, some sort of troll came out of Trollmarket."
Strickler scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. The goblins would have identified it as a troll in that case. And here I thought you knew them."
"Why would I spend more time with the slimy things than I need to?" she growled.
"I just assumed you were close. On account of how much you remind me of one. Do update me on any changes in the situation," Strickler said, laughing silently as he hung up on her. She was so easy to rile up, and it was so much fun. The changeling would take his amusement where he could get it.
Satisfied that everything would soon be back under control, Strickler returned to his seat. He had a class next period, and he needed to grade these papers.
Jim was once again sitting high in a tree, though this time he was visiting a place much more important to him than the last building he had watched.
The half-troll let his foot swing back in forth in the wind as he stared down at his own house, and more importantly, the people in it. His heart ached for his mother, her eyes red-rimmed and puffy, and even more so that he could easily take away her sorrow. But still, he did not move from his position, and had no intention of doing so. Not until the other man was about to leave.
Ironically, he had no words for his mother, who likely deserved them the most. No, his words were for the man attempting to twist her with his words and actions, sitting across from her at the dining room table. Jim smirked, knowing that any plan of Strickler's that involved his mother would invariably backfire. Granted, she was much more emotionally stable last time, but the changeling had no magically-binding charms or anything else he could use to indirectly hurt her.
He had confidence in his mother.
A crack of wood sounded beneath Jim, and he flicked his eyes downward to find the disturbance. To his astonishment, he spotted a deer-like troll with glowing yellow eyes sniffing at the ground, its eyes flicking about erratically. A changeling, likely here with Strickler. Trying to flush him out, probably.
With a slight push, Jim fell out of the tree. He whistled through the air, near-silent until he landed directly on the changeling's back. It was able to let out a strangled cough before going still, though with a quick check, the half-troll was able to confirm that he was still breathing. Slinging the troll over his back, he jumped into the woods, setting the troll down and placing a large log across its chest to keep it down.
Jim flicked his ears and swiveled them, listening for anyone else. After a couple seconds, he heard two whispered voices and grinned to himself. The half-troll stalked towards them, not making a sound as he drew closer to their position.
"-don't get it," a rasping female voice said. "The amulet's in the hands of a little girl, ripe for the taking, and what are we doing? Getting poison ivy."
"Now, now," the other voice said, a tinge of condescension coloring it. "Our leader made the right call, paying attention to that which is unknown. After all, the amulet is in the hands of a little girl, just as you said. It's not going anywhere, and I'm sure even you could handle a teenager."
"I'm about to handle you, Raicard," the first voice hissed as Jim crawled into the branches above them. Both were smaller trolls, the female being larger with a broad torso and arms but small legs. The male was a ball with long arms and legs, reminiscent of goblins, though with less of a neck.
Jim stepping off the branch he was balanced on, falling foot-first onto the female's head, sending her down like a sack of potatoes. Raicard gasped before a gauntleted fist slammed into the side of his head, laying him out flat.
Jim was about to toss them into the woods with their compatriot before he heard the steps of another two changelings. Pulling his glaives into his hands and thankful that his helmet was already up, the half-troll whirled around, letting the glaives fly as he did. One cursed, but managed to duck beneath it, while the other grunted at the deep gash in their shoulder. Not allowing them to recover, he followed up with a spinning kick to the already injured one but was then forced to jerk to the side to avoid a strike from the other behind him.
The injured one roared, raising its uninjured arm and rushing at him. Jim narrowed his eyes, dodging the obvious feint and grabbing the foot that was launched at his groin. He yanked on the foot, crashing his opponent to the ground and then spun around to face the other, using the one he was currently holding as a club. However, this changeling appeared to be more agile, ducking beneath the unwieldy weapon that Jim let loose into a tree, and striking at the stomach of the Trollhunter.
Which accomplished little but the bruising of the changeling's knuckles and a slight pressure against Jim's abs. They both paused for a moment, the changeling staring into the expressionless mask that covered the Trollhunter's face. Then Jim slammed a fist down on the back of his head, knocking him out.
It took him a moment to cart all their unconscious bodies out into the woods, where it would take them some time to get back, no matter what they did. Once he was certain that they would not interfere any longer, Jim returned his house, when a memory occurred to him.
Strickler had an odd habit of forgetting to lock his car. It wouldn't be too hard to reach; no one would be looking out their windows at this time, and they'd probably write him off as some weird cosplayer if they saw him. As quickly as he could, Jim dashed across the cul de sac, opening the back door of the old changeling's car as soon as he reached it. He slipped inside, scraping his horns against the top of the car before he dismissed his helmet to allow him more room. Also, the ability to talk to Strickler face to face. After all, they both knew each other. And it was about time Jim talked to someone who actually knew him.
Hiding as best as he could in the backseat, Jim watched as Strickler hugged his mother. His fingers flexed, itching for the handle of something sharp, but he forced himself to remain calm. It wouldn't do to kill one of his potential allies.
Finally, the man walked out the door, casting a look around the neighborhood as he did. Pulling out his phone, the older man frowned before making his way to his car. He opened the door, sitting gracefully in his seat, but paying no attention. "Where are they?" he muttered, tapping on the screen of his phone as he pulled the door shut.
Jim placed his hand slightly in front of his former teacher's neck before summoning his glaive. The flash of red light was enough to startle the old man, but he still when he felt their burning sharpness against his throat. "Hard to find trustworthy help these days, isn't it?" Jim asked, smirking as he put a tally in his mental scoreboard. He couldn't say that he had ever been able to surprise Strickler before.
The man sighed but didn't move. "Indeed, it is, though I doubt their integrity is the issue here. Are they still alive?"
"This time. I only have so much mercy left, though. And I happen to know that most of the Janus Order deserves little." Jim chalked down another mark as he saw the bead of sweat track down the side of Strickler's face. "Now, drive please. Somewhere remote, as I'm sure neither of us want to expose the secret just yet."
The half-troll's eyes flicked to Strickler's hand as he shifted his car into drive, then returned to the steering wheel. He knew that the changeling would have concealed weaponry, he just didn't know where in the car it was.
The changeling cleared his throat. "It is rather difficult to drive safely with a blade at my neck. I promise that I will take no untoward actions if you allow me a modicum of freedom, as I happen to want to live through tonight."
"I know. I also know both rule one and two, which tell me in no uncertain terms that oaths and promises are not something you hold in high regard," Jim said, though he dismissed the glaive. "Try anything and I can summon a sword that will go straight through your back."
Strickler drove in silence for a moment, probably trying to gather himself before opening his mouth. "I see you've changed quite a bit, Jim. Still trying to shoulder the weight of the world, though, much like Atlas. And you know where that got him."
"And what makes you think I'm trying to be the hero?" Jim asked. Hearing his familiar name from Strickler felt like an old friend returned to him, though he had a long way to go until then.
"Please. I know you." His eyes flicked to Jim's form in the mirror. "You appear to have been chosen, though I must say that is an unfamiliar look. I was under the impression someone else held the amulet."
"You also appear to be under the impression that you are in control of this conversation. This time, I control the chaos, Strickler. Now, I'm going to ask you a couple questions. Try not to lie; I've found that my new ears are pretty sensitive." He waited for Strickler to acknowledge him with a nod as he took a turn away from the city. "The first is why are you manipulating my mother? Beyond trying to obtain some sort of bargaining chip to use against me, of course."
"I have no other reason. You are unknown threat, and we need to neutralize you quickly, now that the amulet is vulnerable. The return of our Dark Lord is at hand, and nothing can be allowed to delay it," Strickler said with conviction powering his voice.
Jim snorted, knowing fully well what side Strickler ended up on and how fake that conviction was. "Yeah, good luck with that. You just answered my second question, but my third is why do changelings, based on a survival of the fittest society, follow a failed conqueror? That's never made sense to me. I mean, the guy clearly failed, and what's he going to do if you decide to break away? How is he even going to hear about it?"
"I thought you would know about his son. After all, he was the one who laid open your back," Strickler said, a slight bit of his confidence returning.
"You mean that whiny psychopathic toddler Bular? Didn't I throw him through a semi or something?" Jim asked, raising an eyebrow at the man. "Isn't he kind of more incentive to break off? I mean, look how he treats the people trying to help him achieve his goals. What makes you think the apple fell far from the tree?"
"Gunmar will reward us for bringing about his reckoning on the world. He will elevate changelings to the status that no other race ever allowed them." Strickler's voice only wavered a tiny bit, but it was enough to make Jim smile. He knew he was getting under his skin. Now, it was up to his mother and Claire to seal the deal.
"Think about it. For now, though, I'll see you around," Jim said.
Then, just because he could and the changeling definitely deserved it, the half-troll used his foot to launch the door off its hinges and hopped out as Strickler yelled in surprise.
Jim was still chuckling to himself as he ducked back into his little cave. It had been quite the long day for him, but he was very pleased with how it turned out. He had already checked to make sure that the changelings were gone from where he left them, though he had smelled goblins as he did. Operating off some weird feeling, he had rubbed his horns into the trees and scratched his nails across some of them. When he realized what he was doing, he had violently jerked himself away, but managed to stay in a good mood.
"Wish I had a camera," he muttered to himself. Strickler's face as he kicked off the car door was the most hilarious thing he had ever seen, and he dearly wanted to share it with someone else one day.
One day. When everything was better.
Jim sighed to himself, laying down. The location of the Inferna Copula remained a mystery to him, as he had realized asking about it would have given away his intentions. The seeds of doubt were a good enough result from the meeting. That and drawing attention away from Claire. They'd probably be searching for him much more earnestly now.
That wasn't something that the half-troll could deal with right now, though. "I really have to switch my rhythm," he muttered. "Being nocturnal would be much more helpful."
Closing his eyes, Jim sighed, trying to find some spot of peace to latch onto so he could rest.
He opened them to a room of black stone infused with veins of glowing green crystal, several Gumm-Gumms standing watch in two lines through the middle of the room, leaving an alley between them in which one could approach where he was standing.
"Magnificent, isn't it, my champion?" Jim turned his head to see Morgana sitting on a floating throne, the staff of Avalon in her emerald hand. Her helmet was off, exchanged instead for a golden crown with long spikes. It was the first time he had seen her features, and she was gorgeous.
As fair as a porcelain doll, and bearing a beauty far beyond any mortal capability, the moniker of Pale Lady was apt in Jim's eyes. She stared at him, something akin to affection in her eyes but far darker. She raised her hand daintily, its back presented to him.
Hatred reared its ugly head. Jim's left hand twitched in response, and though he felt something trying to manifest in his armored hand, it felt like it was blocked by something. Instead of doing what he truly wanted, Jim grasped her hand gently in his own and helped to pull her out of her throne as if she were a queen.
She stepped down next to him, her armor clicking against the floor. "Won't you escort me back to my quarters? I grow weary of this night, and our kingdom will remain in the morning," she said, leaning into him.
Jim felt himself nod and resigned himself to what would happen this time. Memories that felt like they were from ages past flitted through his mind; the fates of his friends, what he had done to his own mother, the fires of Arcadia as he ordered his new army to burn it.
The response of the world, screaming against them in revulsion, decrying their actions and calling them monsters. It hadn't helped them, of course. He couldn't remember much, just the crunching of bone beneath his feet and the warm wetness of blood sliding across his skin.
"What's happening?" he finally managed to rasp out.
Morgana tilted her head against him. "How do you mean?" Then she looked up into his eyes and frowned. "Are you having one of your episodes again?"
"Episodes?" he asked. "I – what is this? This isn't me."
"Oh dear," she muttered, pity lacing through her voice. "We've just consolidated our rule of the southeast states. Try to remember. You were glorious in the last battle, after all, ripping the top off that tank like it was made of paper! Then tossing it into the helicopter… I must say, the technological advances of humanity are near fantastical."
"I… I wouldn't do that. This isn't me," Jim said, starting to panic. He sat down heavily against the wall, sliding down it.
"Yes, but what would and would doesn't matter, Jim. This is your heart now, isn't it?" Morgana said, laying a hand on his amulet as she sat down next to him. "It's a part of me. So, you see, who you are doesn't matter."
The area grew dark, and Morgana's presence seemed to grow to fill the room, pressing against him and suffocating him. As he tried to gasp for breath, her voice filled skull, making it feel like it was ready to explode.
"You belong to me."
Sorry about that giant gap. I had health problems, including a problem with being unable to synthesize vitamin D, strep, flu, depression, and school in general, but I should be more productive now that I'm over that. Thanks for sticking with this.