Preosh Filona shifted uncomfortably under the eyes of the subjugglators, and tried to subtly move closer to her group's mentor. The other five trolls in her squad - it would have been six, but Eridan Ampora was missing - looked equally uncomfortable, and the blueblood squad beside them looked even more frightened, with the exception of their mentor. He was strutting along as happily as if he was aboard his own ship, a merry twinkle in his eye even as the subjugglators eyed him like a fresh cut of meat. Preosh platonically hated him on sight. She looked away from him, and wished she hadn't as her eyes caught a large patch of a colour very similar to her own blood on the wall.
The two sets of nervous trolls finally reached the foot of the Grand Highblood's throne. The enormous troll towered over even the tallest blueblood, and his fangs glimmered like a shark's. Preosh and her squad hadn't been fully debriefed on why they were being called to the Subjugglator flagship, or why their particular squad had been called. They were a bunch of trainees, there were plenty of other trolls who could have been called, ones with experience. Though she wasn't about to question the Grand Highblood about his methods. She didn't feel like becoming a stain on the wall.
Both groups came to a halt, waited to be told just why they were there. Instead, the Highblood just sat, his hands hooked on the armrests of his throne, simply smiling at them. The only thing giving away that he wasn't some terrifyingly huge doll was the fact his eyes did flash over each of their faces, and the movement from his chest as he breathed.
Preosh desperately wanted to take a step back, but she could feel the stares of dozens of subjugglators behind her and felt like she'd be stepping back into the mouth of a kraken. Even the annoyingly happy blueblood was starting to look tense.
The room was thick with silence and heavy with tension. Preosh swallowed and it sounded loud in her ears. She wanted someone to say something, or for this to get underway somehow. Just standing there in silence waiting for the subjugglators to do something was going to eat right through her protein chute. She glanced over to the group of bluebloods; they didn't seem much older than her group now that she looked. That made her nerves flare. What could they want with a bunch of recruits?
After far too long, the Highblood leaned forward. She swore she could smell blood on his breath from where she stood. He looked them over, and finally spoke.
"Now, I'm sure you're wondering what's going on. You are here because, until fairly recently, you had traitors in your midst. Now, calm down, I know you weren't aware. But each of your squads has had a member go missing recently, am I correct?"
"Yes... sir," the blueblood's mentor said. It was obvious that he wasn't too sure how one actually referred to the Highblood when speaking to him. "We did have a recruit who vanished one morning..."
Preosh blinked at the wall. Eridan had left, just vanished. The investigation for his thieving was halfway through, when they all woke up one dusk and he was gone. He had never come back; they had assumed he ran from the allegations because they were true and he was trying to save his life. Had he really been a traitor, part of the rebel group behind the Heiress?
She had never heard Eridan say anything about them, which she guessed made sense. But not even something that would slightly link him to them, and she had seen Eridan plenty of times in private. They had been close, she thought, he might have slipped something or any sort of hint to her.
Unless the bastard hadn't really cared, and was going to just leave one day when their relationship was founded. Of course, that could have explained his comments, trying to break it off because he knew that he would be leaving soon.
"A blueblood by the name of Equius Zahhak." The Highblood chuckled saying the name. It was a joke only he understood. "And a violetblood named Eridan Ampora." Somehow hearing Eridan's name in this context tore her between anger and sickness. She had trusted him, she had even pitied him. She had pitied a traitor.
"That shitbag?" she shouted, before she even realised she was speaking. The word bounced off the walls, mixing with the gasp of her mentor, who brought a hand to his mouth and winced.
The Highblood looked at her, raising an eyebrow. "Am I to assume you have information?"
Preosh stared up at him, mouth moving silently, before she forced herself to talk. "Uh. Yes, I was... quite close to him at one point."
"In what way?" The Highblood saw her expression and his lips twitched in a faint smirk. "Bad breakup?"
"... Yes, okay?" Preosh sighed. Her squad already knew, there was no point in her being shy about it.
"Well, do tell," the Highblood said, sitting back on his throne. Preosh looked up at him and wondered if he seriously wanted to hear about the details of her breakup or if he wanted her information. Choosing incorrectly at this impasse could mean her death. She swallowed, trying to buy herself some time, but even waiting too long could get her killed.
"He and I..." She decided by his tone that he did want details of their relationship to the point of the break up. "We became friends shortly after conscription, one thing led to another, and eventually we decided to enter into a relationship. He never said anything about... the rebellion to me. Nothing ever slipped out of his mouth about it. It was going pretty normal, until I realized he was an insensitive hypocritical jerk, and we broke up. He was being investigated for theft, and then he vanished. We didn't talk much after our relationship dissolved."
The Highblood arched a brow, a small smile on his lips. "Is that all you'd like to say on the matter?" Judging by his tone, that wasn't all she should say on the matter, but she really didn't know what else to add unless she wanted to talk about the thick of their relationship and break up.
She sighed. She'd rather lose her dignity than her life. "Okay, if you really want to know, he pailed half the ship and then had the nerve to call me loose."
Preosh's mentor, Icatus Gritch, looked shocked. "Wait, was that why he looked so tired all the time?" Preosh would have rolled her eyes, had she been in the presence of any troll but the Grand Highblood. She decided not to risk it.
"Uh, yez?" Gartel Ravety broke in, shaking her head. "He told me he could get you to let him zuck you off for a better grade. I did tell him he waz being too zubtle." Lieutenant Gritch dropped his glasses. Gartel sighed. "I don't know what you're complaining about, Filona, you were fucking zpecial - he didn't zteal your ztuff and he bothered to remember your name! God, I hate the little whore. Platonically, I mean, zourzpade," she added, looking at Preosh.
"Technically, whores have to be paid," the blueblood teacher butted in, grinning. "If he didn't actually succeed in getting a better grade, that would just make him a slut." He glanced backwards at his own shocked students. "Don't you lot get any ideas. That offer's not open to my ugly students, you know."
Preosh half expected either herself or the blueblood to get a club through the head, but the Highblood actually let loose a quiet chuckle. The blueblood winked at her. Evidently he'd dealt with subjugglators before, if clearly not the Highblood himself.
"Did you not know his proclivities before you dated him? Or were you unafraid of his... to put bluntly, what he might be carrying?" The Highblood was obviously amused by her losing any dignity she had. "Actually, given he fucked half the ship, I'm sure you are your team are closer thanks to him."
Her group looked at her nervously, apparently not too happy with her. She had drawn attention to their group, but honestly he seemed in good humor about it, even if he just did accuse all of them of having a shared disease thanks to their once-teammate.
"I pitied him because everyone fucked him, but nobody liked him." Preosh looked at her feet. "I was a fool." She looked back up when she realised she'd broken eye contact, afraid that the Highblood had somehow moved in the split-second and was now close enough to snap her neck. "I hope you catch the little bucketdrinker soon, I'd love to see him on a flogging jut."
The Highblood kept his eyes locked with hers and smiled. She suspected it was what he took for charming, but it was more frightening than anything. "We do intend to catch him, and perhaps we can leave some of his flogging for you. Dependant of course on your assistance. Now we know a little more about Ampora, did any of you know Zahhak?"
"Yeah, I remember him," the blueblood mentor said. "I thought he was creepy at first, but he was actually really fun to mess with."
"'Mess with' in what way?"
"He took the hemospectrum to a new extreme. I suspect, now that I know his leanings, he was trying to cover his flagrant disregard of it. But he would get so upset if I didn't offer criticism or fault him for mistakes. Instead I was kind and offered him support." He smirked. "One time I complimented him after he'd broken something, while I was holding a stick. I've never seen anyone so disappointed to not get hit. He seemed ready to break things for that kind of attention. It was funny to say the least."
"Your name is Harkol, yes? Shuran Harkol?" The Highblood smiled. "Well, you're a troll after my own heart. I'll keep your name in mind. There are very few things in the world that are more rewarding than watching a youngling squirm. I know most of you are young, but I'm sure you will learn in time how funny that sort of action is."
The blueblood looked as if he had something to add, but he was debating with himself. "Equius was strong though, more than any other blueblood I have ever met. Quite skilled with delicate work when he put his mind to it, but also very strong. It worked against him sometimes - if he got carried away he'd break the bows, and once I surprised him while he was trying to drink and there was broken glass all over the place. I didn't do that again, I can tell you." He rubbed at a recently-scarred nick in his ear.
"I would expect so. You are too young to know the name Zahhak, but I do. Being strong is their forte, though obviously their bonds to the Empire are always weak. If I had known what names were showing up at this conscription I personally would have gone down there and slaughtered a fair share of them. As ancestor, so descendant." He looked thoughtful for a moment, and the trolls before him had time to hope the meeting was over before he leaned forward again.
"Now, the Empress promised a reward to anyone who brought forth useful information," the Highblood said, steepling his fingers and gazing at the group over them. Preosh braced herself for their "reward" being a swift death, and was totally unprepared when he continued with "You're all promoted."
Harkol's eyes widened. "What? Really? Um. I mean, thank you, sir?" A grin spread across his face.
"Yes, really. I can see there's no love lost between any of you and your former associates, so I'm assigning you to the special forces we're sending to bring them back."
Preosh's flail was in her hand before anyone could blink. She clutched it to her chest like a beloved pet and ran a finger along one of its two razor-sharp hooks. "Really? I get to drag Ampora back in chains?"
The Highblood smiled, "Quite a little firecracker aren't you? To answer your question, yes, you'll get to drag him back. We prefer alive to dead, for the record. This mission is my pet project." Harkol nodded in understanding; every troll in the empire had heard the news. "Getting them in chains is the Empire's first task before they can destroy any other colonies, or collect any allies other than the ones we already suspect they have. You'll be fully debriefed once your promotions are finalized. Of course the mission you are going on is more related to shadows and relative silence. It wouldn't serve any of you to spread the information you learn with your new position. We know who has the information and they will not be around long enough to endanger the sanctity of this Empire. Is that understood?"
The trolls around the room nodded. The threat was more than obvious, and none of them particularly wanted to meet their end via the subjugglator forces. The Highblood leaned back once more gripping onto his throne.
"Well, with that out of the way, you're dismissed. Gather what you consider important - you have some training you'll need, so prepare for it. You'll receive a message once you're ready to begin and everything is finalized. Which will be very soon, so make sure you are ready to go at a moment's notice. I am not known for my patient nature." The group nodded again. The Highblood raised a hand and the crowd of subjugglators behind them split apart, allowing them to exit.
Preosh was practically skipping as the two groups left and went their separate ways. She had got out of a meeting with the Grand Highblood not only alive, but promoted. This had been the best day of her life, but she expected it to take second place fairly soon, on the day she finally saw Eridan again. This time with a weapon in her hand.