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It wasn’t silent in the dark halls where the trolls were kept in their cages. One small troll was out of her cage, but she wasn’t having that great of a time. If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear the silence that she desperately wanted. If it weren’t for her breathing she could just close her, already shut, eyes and imagine she was back home with her family. With another quick CRACK sounding out from a vicious whip, she was reminded yet again that this was her reality now and now matter how much she wished and longed for home, it wasn’t going to come back.

The green blooded troll was sprawled out on the floor, near fainting point, shivering and flinching from the new wounds she just sustained. For a few seconds, it was nearly silent. Minus her heavy pants, almost whimpers at this point, and a list of other things. She could also hear him walking away, wiping blood off of the whip he was carrying. And speaking of blood, she could hear that dripping off the walls and the whip itself as she laid there, losing more and adding to the growing collection on the floor. She could hear her heartbeat, frantically racing in her chest for whatever reason there must be for it to do so. She could hear the mumbles he was saying as he watched her struggle in front of him.

Nepeta knew this was “pathetic” but really, why did he have to say that in front of the young troll herself?

This training was insane. It had only been a few weeks and while she was making remarkable progress in her fighting, it was a long while before anybody could bet on her. Until that she reached that point, it was training sessions before the main fights. The other trolls had the “luxury” of waiting in silence until their cages were opened and they were dragged out to fight or die while their masters made money off their pain.

Nepeta’s master was trying to get her to be faster at dodging and used to whatever pain may come from this harsh, risky lifestyle. She was pretty young so she wasn’t used to the pain as well as other trolls that were here for a few years, but she was quickly getting an idea of what she could expect. This from just her master and his one weapon of choice, what could be said for the trolls with sharp teeth, claws, and not to mention-the psychic powers that some possessed? If this was just level one, then she was in for a world built from blood and pain.

Needless to say, this session wasn’t her best. Her arms, back, legs, wrists...entire body, really at this point, was throbbing and she could feel the stinging on top of the dark bruises bound to be there at this point. The sweat and tears didn’t help the pain at all, making her gasp and cough whenever it spiked. She knew that she would have a hell of a time trying to prevent infection from the dirt that was caking her body, now mixed into her cuts, and knew that there would be fever dreams in store for her that night.

A tired yellow eye cracked open. Her bruised and bloody arms laid out in front of her as she watched her master stand there, whip still in hand. She could see her fingers shake through the haze that was quickly building up. The floor kept shifting around, making it hard to focus, but she managed to look up at his cruel face.

It wasn’t one that would give her the relief of a session ending. It was one of disappointment and frustration. It was one that meant simply that she would be spending a few more lashes through this and then more the next day instead of resting. It meant that she did poorly today and would be punished for it if she survived until the next training session.

With another sob, she broke and crashed to the ground, body almost completely giving up.

Eyebrows drawn together, he shook his head at her slowly, wordlessly. His fingers gripped the handle a bit more tightly and he considered his next move. The man was famous for training his trolls to the point of death, only the best would survive and those that did survive ended up the best in the ring and dominated any opponent they were put up against. If he continued, he wasn’t sure that she would survive the night.

On one hand, that would be good, push her to her limits and then some to see what she was really made of. It would give her an advantage in the ring and she would be better than ever before. On the other….He pursed his lips together in thought. He went through a lot to get this one and he didn’t want to lose her. After all, horns like hers were not only hard to grasp but they would be excellent to use whenever she headbutted her opponent. It would be a shame to lose his work, time, and hard earned money on a dead troll, but it wouldn’t be the first and won’t be the last.

He sighed, “decisions, decisions.” Her ear twitched up when he spoke. She was conscious. If that were the case…!

CRACK!!!

She reeled back with another howl of pain and sobs broke out soon after. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes and stepped forward. He wouldn’t be near her to comfort her on any level but it would give her something. If he got closer she could strike out and he really didn’t want any new scars and a dead troll on his hands again.

“Oh, come now,” he cooed as he crouched to her level. “That one would’ve been easy to dodge since you had the advantage of seeing what I would do for a few seconds. It was a gimme.” He shook his head, standing, and paused.

She flinched when he stood. “Ah, good, good. Use your senses to see what your opponent will do.”

If he listened closer, he would’ve heard her hiss at him.

He turned his back and put his whip on the hook in the wall nearby. It was drenched in green blood and wow, he really worked her tonight. If she survived this level of training then she would be a real sight! Maybe even face that prick’s purple blood. Nobody had even been able to touch that sonofabitch so far. If only she would get a bit stronger!

When he turned around again, the olive blood was beginning to stand! He gasped and clapped in excitement, laughing a bit. Despite her body shaking fiercely, sweat, blood, snot, and spit all dripping from her face, she was still standing. By now she was almost completely up, up to her back just needing to be straightened.

“Incredible!” He clapped again, turning and getting his whip once more. He was filled with excitement this time, no longer was this just a chore he had to go through daily. She kept surprising him and it gave him a lot to look forward to sometimes. “You’re ready for more?”

“I...I wasn’t taught to leave things half done,” she coughed and wiped her face. “I wasn’t taught to give up.”

Any amusement from her master’s face was gone in an instant. He griped the whip and took two steps towards her, cracking it in the air to scare her. It worked and she dropped to a knee, holding up her arm in defense. “And apparently,” he slashed it across her, striking her arm and shoulder. “You weren’t taught to speak when it’s appropriate!” He slashed her again, and again, and again once more. By the time he was done to his last strike, she was on the ground again.

Her body just took the punishment, not even letting out a scream or the tiniest whimper. She just laid there. He continued on, yelling on about something, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care, she didn’t-!

Her yellow eyes squeezed tight and her tears eventually ran out. From getting over it or simply from not getting any water recently, she didn’t know. She didn’t care either, she just didn’t have the energy to do so at this point.

When she came to next, she was in her cage. This time it really was silent. Even the whip was done dripping blood. Nepeta’s breathing was something else but that was okay, it wasn’t nearly as harsh as it had been earlier. She shifted and grimaced as she opened up some of her wounds. Damn this was going to take some getting used to. She let her body sag against the wall of the cage from pure exhaustion and she tried to yawn, only making it half way. She was super hungry, thirsty, and she was pretty sure that she was going to faint again soon. Ah, well, she thought. At least the hunger and thirst would go away for a bit?

Her eyes gave a cursory glance around her settings and settled on a troll. That particular one had been present for her entire training session and hadn’t flinched. They’d been there for too long to flinch whenever a newby gets struck. Nepeta was kinda scared that she would turn out that way too, but at the same time almost hoped for it. Maybe they didn’t have as many nightmares as she did, maybe they didn’t have much to fear….maybe they didn’t have much to live for.

The troll near her sighed when they made eye contact, shook their head and shifted away from her, turning their back to her. It hurt, but it too was quickly becoming the norm around here. She realized that sooner, rather than later, she would care about only a few things. It was with a heavy heart did she realize that she might’ve been right about her earlier thought.

“Hey, kid,” the troll near her spoke up. She lifted up her head, eyes half lidded only, and blinked at him. Their head was turned to speak over their shoulder and continued on without waiting for her to respond probably knowing already that they wouldn’t get a response from her. “Next time, just stay down. Whoever told you not to finish things or whatever is an idiot. When you’re down, just stay down. It’s better to get punished later than die.”

He turned back.

Nepeta was torn. She was desperate to tell him otherwise, that they were not an idiot and that they should always do their best! That things would get worse if they didn’t, because their master didn’t seem to be merciful when he punished his trolls. That things would get better and one day they’d all escape and, and, things will get better than this! They had to!

But on the other hand...she was just so damn tired and didn’t want to do anything anymore. Sleep was calling her name and she was so inclined to listen she didn’t even feel her head tilt before she was gone.

 

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“No.”

“Nepeta, come, now.” Equius’s stern, yet reasoning, voice was on. He was staring at his computer screen at his desk, giving her half of his attention. “You’re almost done, look you’re halfway through that book.”

“Don’t wanna finish it!” She shook her head and pushed the book further away on the couch, tail flicking in annoyance even looking at it.

“Nepeta.” Okay, yeah, that was his total stern voice. Her ears twitched down briefly before popping back up as she gathered her stubborn courage. She met his brief gaze and gave him her best pout, to which he narrowed his eyes at her. “You need to read that for your summer assignment.”

“Why can’t I just do it later?” She whined and flopped down on his office couch, the damned book on the floor near her. “I don’t wanna do it nooooow.”

He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Because if you do not do it now you will not do it later and it will not get done. Besides, I know it can be boring, but imagine how it will end! There are so many possibilities in books, just read it and see.”

“I don’t care how it ends, Eq. I don’t care about these characters, it’s just soooo boring!”

He sighed again and turned away from his computer, giving her his full attention. “Just finish it, Nepeta.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.” He tried with the first reason that resulted with her sticking her tongue out at him playfully. He was not going to have any of that though and stood to walk over to his couch. “Okay, well, how about this. If I only did half a check-up or did only half my job, what do you think will happen?”

She pondered this, tail flicking differently now that she had something to think about rather than just being annoyed with the book. “The animals will get sicker?”

He nodded. “That’s right. And what will happen if the animals will get sicker?”

“They’ll get sickerer?”

“Some will, yes,” he chuckled. “And then?”

“They’ll come back or,” she paused briefly. “Or they’ll die?”

He nodded solemnly. “That they will. It’s important for me to do my job as best as I can and see it that I do it thoroughly so that none of the animals contract anything else or get worse.”

She seemed to take this into consideration, glancing at the book.

“Now,” he spoke quickly so that the thought she was having wasn’t lost. “What will happen if you do not finish the book and stop halfway?”

“I won’t finish it?”

“And?” he nodded, prompting her to continue.

“And...I won’t finish the homework you gave me?”

He nodded again. “This is true, but what else?”

She suddenly realized what this implied and jumped up on the couch. “I’ll lose my tv time tonight and won’t see the new episode of Adventure Time!” She started running in place on the cushion and dove for the book.

He chuckled a bit and stood, immediately being cut off and told to ‘shush up.’

“I gotta finish this, Equius! It’ll only be worse for me if I don’t!”

He smiled and got back to work. Every now and then his eyes would flicker over back to the tiny troll reading and it’d send warmth to him again to see her so absorbed in something. This, he thought, was nice.