We gathered in front of the cave’s exit. It was impossible not to taste the anticipation and the eagerness of everyone around, all the small chat and the excited and nervous whispers of the creatures surrounding me. I, as always, kept about my usual ways and stood silent, not paying attention to anything but the cold wind brought by the sunset and the dark depths of the cave before us. A few minutes later, a cat creature strolled her way towards my side, sitting down and staring up at me. I glared from the corner of my eye; she grinned with both her mouths.
“You don’t seem all that excited about all this.” She growled softly, loud enough for me to hear her and to make out her words. Only her upper mouth moved, and the long white whiskers in her face flickered curiously with her fur. “You look a little upset, even.”
“Yeah, well, it’s just my face that got stuck like that.”
“So are you’re saying that you’re excited, despite not looking the part?”
I didn’t want to engage in small talk, but I was also not one to dismiss anyone so blatantly; I sighed, holding my crossed arms closer to my chest.
“Well, yes. It’s my first troll.”
“Mine, too.” She said, finally diverting her gaze from me and towards the cave. “Most of us are first timers, but I’ve heard of a few here that had their trolls killed and are aiming for a second chance.” I didn’t say anything. Nothing seemed appropriate. The silence stretched out for a while, until she finally whispered, “it must be hard.”
“…yeah.” I answered. It really must be.
Neither of us said anything for a long while. Soon, the growls and snarls and hisses of all the different creatures speaking to each other, sharing their fears, expectations and advices began to fade, until there was nothing but the cool sound of the leaves being ruffled by the now soft breeze of the night. Both full moons shone beautifully in the sky, lighting up the spot where we stood, and even though said light had an ethereal tone to it, we could all see as if it was still perfectly bright as day.
The first pack of grubs since the last group of adults left to outer space.
Two whole sweeps we all waited for this very moment, and now, all there was left was palpable tension.
After a very long time, no one could really tell how long – it could’ve been hours, it could’ve been a couple of minutes – we saw something moving deep within the cave. Everyone shuddered, taken back with apprehension and nervousness. The first grub crawled towards us, slowly but determined, and as it began reaching the entrance of the cave, it was clear to me that it did so with a heartbreaking effort.
Soon, we all began to notice that it was a redblood. I felt a shiver down my spine, wondered if it was the same maroon tone of blood as mine, and I clacked my claws nervously. The cat looked up, grinning again, waving her tail around.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if you were the one to pick the first grub?”
“Shut up” I snarled, and with a low purr mixed with what must’ve been a giggle, she did.
It was impossible not to hold back our breaths as the small creature was reaching the lights outside the cavern, the red blooded monsters and creatures like me all waiting to see if its body was the same shade of blood as their own. But, when the first moonlight hit its face, and the young one used one of its short black arms to cover its half-open eyes, we all noticed, with low gasps and wide eyes, that it’s blood was not maroon red at all. It was a shade of bright red, too bright even, like nothing anyone had ever seen.
It was a mutant.
We all looked at each other, and despite everything, the little grub kept crawling towards the exit of the cave, sheer determination plastered across its face. The murmurs came back with full force now, and everyone was now staring at it from the corner of their eyes.
We were not disgusted, only… confused.
Instead of fighting over the first grub like everyone thought it would happen, we simply didn’t know what to do with it.
“I’ve never seen any color quite like it!”
“It must be the only one to exist in all corners of the universe!”
“My blood is not as nearly as red, what now?”
“And he was the first to come out!”
“Regardless of his blood color, he still is the best one out of every single grub that may come out from this cave.”
“But does he even have a symbol?”
“He’d be culled right on the spot!”
“I’m not taking a grub that is fated to die on my hands!”
“What should we do?”
Suddenly, nobody was speaking. The grub had stopped its never ending walk, found a spot to rest before us and yawned, his open mouth forming a wide “o”, and we could all see the tiny little tooth that poked out from its red, red gums. The next second, he rested his head on the short grass and fainted from sheer exhaustion.
Nobody dared to break the silence for a long while.
“…whatever shall we do?” an orange blooded bird asked, truly concerned.
“We do nothing.” A tall seahorse answered, his voice firm and conclusive. “He is not in the blood caste. He belongs to no one. Its fate is to be culled as soon as possible, and as unfortunate as that sounds, there is nothing we can do for him.” A pause. The seahorse glanced at the young one, a pitiful look upon his magenta eyes. “Leave him. By the morning, either the musclebeasts or the drones shall take care of him.”
“He came trough before any of his kind,” I shouted, surprising even myself with my own words, loud enough so that the seahorse, a good distance away from me, could hear me. “faced all the tasks given him, survived them all, proved himself sturdy and brave and fucking worthy of living in this goddamn hellhole filled with murderers and maniacs and whatnot, proved that he was capable and strong enough to survive it all – and now we’ll just discard him as if he was defected?”
Not even the sound of the leaves could be heard now. It was as if the wind itself was holding back its breath, also waiting for an answer.
The seahorse waved his head and bowed it down, closing his eyes with sadness and sorrow, for he knew – and everybody else knew too – that my words were more than true.
“It’s shameful, regretful, and even painful to say, but there really is nothing we can do.”
He opened his eyes to look at the small troll, who breathed in and out with a beautiful serene look upon its face.
“I’m sorry, young one. I really am.”
After that shocking event, nothing else seemed to matter to me.
Not long after the seahorse’s last sentence, other grubs began crawling out of the cavern by the dozens. The one right after the red mutant was a blueblood, its blood as blue as it could get, and just as strong as well. The first monster that claimed it had three of its fingers broken by the young troll, and the next one was sure that the grub had fractured its leg when it tried to cling onto him. Finally, a funny looking lusus who somehow resembled a musclebeast stepped forward, and when the grub laid its tiny eyes on him, they positively glowed. The facial hair that the creature had turned upwards, indicating a soft smile of affection; without a hint of hesitation, he picked it up and placed it upon its back. In the end, we could all see the bruises he bared, but none were as bad as the ones the others gained from their attempts of interacting with the small grub. It was obvious that he was the only one between us all fit to take care of it. With a salute to the rest of the group, he turned around and disappeared in between the tree branches.
And so the night went on; hundreds of grubs crawling out, being sorted by blood color and picked up and taken away to the beginning of the rest of their tormented lives. Many other redbloods came out from within the pitch black darkness, but I ignored them. And among all the fuss, the mutant one still slept.
When the sun was peeking out from the horizon, the remaining lusus had given up waiting for any more grubs, finally noticing that more young trolls would show up only the next night, and turned around to leave. In the end, all the grubs that managed to reach the end of the cave were picked and taken away, except for that one. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it.
The cat lusus held her own grub with her lower mouth, and used her upper one to speak to me again.
“What are you thinking?”
I sighed, and sat down on the floor. She sat down as well, and now I could look straight into her eyes without having to look down.
“I don’t know.”
“You didn’t unlock your gaze from that grub from the moment it stepped out into the moonlight. Surely there must be something going through your head.”
“Yes, there is. There is everything and nothing going through my head right now.” I told her, and in part, it was true. “It’s a messy jumble of words and thoughts that don’t make any sense to me. I simply don’t know what to think.”
“Do you want to keep it?”
“Yes, yes, god yes, I do. I dreamed of this moment my whole life, of being the one to pick the first surviving grub, even thought that the odds that it might be of the lowest cast possible was near inexistent, but still I dreamed. And despise everything, there it is. A redblood, the first to come out. It’s like someone heard my prayers. The toughest grub of the bunch, and I was sure to claim it as my own. And yet…”
And just like that, I stood, walked towards the little creature and kneeled before him. With a few smooth and soundless steps, the cat creature was right next to me, looking at the grub curiously.
“I’ve never seen anything like him before,” she said, amazed at the sight of the small creature sleeping peacefully, “but I’ve read about it in hundreds of cave walls. Stories about a troll with a blood so red that it frightened and disgusted the others of his kind. No symbol attached to it. Not honor. No lusus.”
She waved her head.
“No. No lusus would take him because no one had his blood color, and so an adult troll did. She took care of him much like one of us would, and the troll grew into a revolutionary. In the end, its name gained a symbol. I’ve seen it many times before.”
“A symbol? Wait – he has a symbol?”
“Yup. The one before him didn’t when he was alive, but the trolls gave him one after his death.”
Slowly, she scraped away the grass beneath her paw. When there was only dirt and plucked out roots, she used one of her sharp claws to draw two opposite circles in the earth, and connecting them both, two curved lines, one at the top and another at the bottom.
I stared, taking in the information and not knowing what to say.
“You think the stories are true?”
“They’re not a creation of a single troll, of one mind alone. They’re not made up, stories of make believe that you tell your troll before it falls asleep. They’re as true as it gets. Long forgotten, but that doesn’t make them any less real.”
The first sunrays began sprouting out from behind the trees and hives in the horizon, and the little grubs wriggled in discomfort. The cat hid her young in the fur of her back, and she turned back to stare at the mutant.
“You have to decide what you want to do in the next five seconds, or else.”
Never before I felt panic like I did that moment. In a swift motion, I picked up the grub from the floor and spooned him inside one of my claws, and the little one took the warmth of my veins with a content sigh and a twist of its body. I used my other claw to shield it from the light and stared, feeling my bloodpusher beat fast against the hard shell of my chest cavity and a burning feeling of tears behind my eyes.
“It’s a young male.” She said, looking at my claw and purring as she smiled contently. She seemed more than pleased with my decision and turned to look at me at the same time I looked at her. “What will you name him?”
“Karkat.” I told her, not knowing where the hell I came up with such name, but simply knowing it was the perfect name for him. “Karkat Vantas. He will be called Karkat Vantas, and trolls and lusi all around Alternia and beyond will know of him, of his braveness, of his boldness, of his deeds. And also of his kindness and mercifulness towards pitiable enemies, and the way he will be able to handle a close ranged weapon with the gracefulness of a dancer, a lover and a cold blooded murderer at the same time. He will be a leader, a friend, a myth.”
“Wow.” She whispered, never losing her smile. “Sounds like you got a handful of work with this one.” Then she looked at the horizon, at the bright, bright sun slowly making its way towards the skies. “You think it’ll happen, though? You think it’s possible?”
“Yes.” I told her with no hesitation, my voice strong and confident. I was sure of what I was saying, and I appreciated the fact that she didn’t laugh at me for reciting such foolishness, like any other lusus I knew would surely do, and instead she sighed, believing in my words without any further contest. “I don’t know why, but I am sure of it. This is not a wish. It’s a predicament. It’s going to happen.”
“Then good luck. You’ll need it, both of you. And I wish you the best, my friend.”
I got up, gently closing my claw around the young grub, and looked down at her.
“Who said we were friends?”
“I did.” And she widened her smile, all tooth, with both her mouths. “Are you denying it?”
The sun was now completely visible in the sky, and despite being breathtakingly beautiful, its light still hurt my eyes. The cat creature pounced past me and purred loudly.
“Come, now. We have some major building to do.”