There are tales told to frighten children in every culture. Tales of the monsters under the bed, the man who only comes out at night, the ghosts prowling the dark streets. It is no coincidence that the creatures of these fables emerge once the sun has set; usually they are designed to act as a caution against the real, human dangers of night.
However, there is one story that Dave Strider remembers from his impressionable youth, a story that does not sleep. This one was intended not to keep children in their homes at night, but to stop them from crossing into that part of town.
Dave’s older brother would tell him all sorts of tales about the Trolls under the bridge into Prospit. They were malevolent grey creatures with large yellow eyes and orange devil horns, and blood in all the colours of the rainbow, but darker, like someone had mixed it with dirt. They were the demonic guardians of the boundary between the two main districts of the city, Derse and Prospit.
And everyone who was anyone knew this one thing about crossing the boundary: you didn’t do it.
Dave grew up with these stories, and now he is rewriting them.
He sneaks out at night, because he is the kind of child who never listened to the stories about monsters under the bed, the man who only comes out at night, and the ghosts of the dark. There is complete stillness in the streets and he becomes more alert with every sound, amplified by the silence. He looks twice around every corner as he approaches the bridge, conscious of the shadows in his wake.
The bridge is an imposing, modern structure, crafted from uninviting metal that would freeze your skin off on a night like this. It sticks harshly into the grassy banks of the river on either side, as though it is ripping apart nature itself. Dave takes a tentative first step onto the steep bank and his foot catches on a rock, and suddenly all the wind escapes his lungs and his stomach plummets and for a moment he thinks he will actually drop his lamp and fall into the river and be carried away and devoured by ferocious trolls and—
He rights himself, taking a deep breath and re-positioning his shades on the bridge of his nose. No need to worry.
Now he continues slowly down the slope, taking greater care with his footing. It’s hard to see in the dark, especially with his shades on, but his eyes have always been overly sensitive to any light, and he avoids particularly hazardous rocks with the dimmed help of the lamp he’s holding. When he reaches the bottom of the bank, and there’s water splashing up against his shoes, he takes a moment to let his eyes adjust and scope out the area. He can see the whole way under the bridge from here. There are no Trolls.
It’s almost disappointing that there are none of these mythical monsters under the bridge. Dave had sort of been hoping for something frightening. An adventure. Better than being cooped up at home all day because of his unfortunate sensitivity to light.
He’s just contemplating climbing back up the bank and turning away when he sees the manhole cover.
If this were a movie, the monsters would be down there for sure.
So Dave does the only sensible thing a sixteen-year-old boy who has ventured out of his house at one in the morning would do: he climbs the hell down that manhole.
His light doesn’t serve much of a purpose down here - the darkness is so all-encompassing that he almost feels as though it permeates his skin. He can see about a metre around him, but no further. Probably if there are Trolls down here, they have night vision, he reckons. With a sigh, he removes and pockets his sunglasses.
Almost immediately after there’s a hiss from the shadows and Dave can hear movement, and he’s not scared, no fucking way, but if there’s a Troll in here with him...
“Your eyes are red like mine.”
He takes a step back at the voice, speaking heavily-accented English. Surely he hadn’t heard correctly? Trolls had yellow eyes. Everyone knew that. But then there are fingers around his wrist, and they sort of feel cold like a lizard, but not scaly or wet or anything. The Troll - is it even a Troll? It sounded vaguely female, but how would he know? - drags him away, and he knows he could easily shake them off but he doesn’t want to. Instead he keeps his steps even and follows obediently. He moves his lamp closer to the hand that they’ve grasped, and by the light he can tell that their skin is grey, and they’ve got long, feminine fingers with yellow nails. In the light you can see a vague silhouette. He hopes she’s hot.
She pulls you around a couple of corners before you come to a stop, and you can hear her flicking on a light switch. It’s not a very strong light, thankfully, but just enough to see her by. She’s got two pointy horns - not curved like the devil’s, but sharp enough to kill. You can’t see her eyes because she’s wearing red cats-eye sunglasses. She has the grey skin just like you imagined, but she’s shorter than you and not really that scary at all.
That is, until she smiles and bares her fangs. They look like they could rip someone’s flesh apart in one motion.
And yeah, she’s hot.
“You smell human,” she says. “What’re you doing down here?”
“You’re a Troll,” Dave says dumbly.
She nods, still grinning insanely. “My name’s Terezi. Who are you?”
“Dave,” he says. And then, before he can stop himself, he asks, “what’s with the sunglasses?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” she says, laughing stupidly.
“My eyes are sensitive,” he snaps back. “But there’s no light down here, so what’s your excuse?”
Her smile fades and she reaches up to her face, removing the sunglasses. There are two large, red holes in her face where her eyes should be. “I’m blind,” she says.
“Shit,” Dave says, uncertain of how to verbalise his sympathy otherwise. “But uh. Hold on, you said my eyes were red. How could you know that if you—”
“I could smell it,” she says, “just like how I could smell that you’re human!”
He decides not to press any further on that subject. She puts her sunglasses back on and smiles slightly. “So why did you come down here, Dave Human? Were you looking to get killed?”
“Killed? Wha— no, I was just exploring. I mean, maybe you guys are told stories as you’re growing up about the Evil Humans or some shit like that, but I don’t know. When I was younger though, even now, everyone still hears stories about the Trolls. But no-one really knows anything for a fact.”
She laughs, and Dave decides that he likes her laugh a lot. “Well how about I show you around this place, Dave.”
It’s not a question.
“Where exactly is this place ?” he asks.
“Can’t you smell?”
At first he thinks it’s a strange smelling-instead-of seeing pun, but then he takes a moment and sniffs.
Yeah. They’re in the city’s sewers.
The smell is pretty weak so near the manhole, but he’s sure that once they get deeper in, if that is indeed where she’s going to take him, it’ll be worse.
“Fuck, I don’t know if I’d manage with this smell for too long.”
Terezi shrugs, as though to say “we deal with it”. Dave shrugs back, because it seems like the right thing to do.
She takes his hand with the lamp in it and points the light towards the entrance of the room they’re in - Dave hadn’t even noticed they’d gone through a doorway. She turns off the light switch and drags him out into network of sewer tunnels. He’s pitched into the darkness again, but with Terezi guiding him, Dave feels that the horrible death he’s going to die at the end of this adventure might not be as painful as previously imagined.
She’s pulling him down by the hand and occasionally there’s a staircase or some other obstacle, but for a blind girl— no, not a girl, a Troll , he reminds himself — she navigates it well. Eventually they reach another manhole, which she kicks aside with a clatter. There’s a disconcerting red light emanating from down there, Dave notices.
“This is Alternia,” she says, pointing a finger in the general direction of the light. “It’s our city.”
“What’s the deal with you guys?” Dave asks suddenly, before she can, as she inevitably will, convince him to climb down the manhole. “Are you, like, a mutation or something? Because you look—,” he glanced at her horns, “— pretty much human!”
She sighs, and kicks the manhole closed. “Is it storytime?”
“It’s storytime,” Dave agrees.
“We’ll go elsewhere to talk.”
She grabs him by the hand again and takes him around another convoluted route of corridors, before arriving at a quickly-flowing underground stream. She sits down on a stone wall just off to one side of the water and gestures for him to join her.
Dave joins her and flips his sunglasses out of his pocket and onto the top of his head so that he can sit down comfortably. “Go on then,” he says. “What are you? Aliens?”
Terezi snorts. “Aliens? Hardly, Dave. We’ve lived under the surface of the planet you so often refer to as yours for millions of years, longer than you have. We’re not related to Humans by any of your ridiculous genetic links .”
“So you’re like monsters,” Dave says flippantly.
There’s a long pause. Terezi appears to be focusing her gaze firmly on the stream. “Just because I don’t look exactly like a human, doesn’t make me a monster. You know, when I was younger, don’t think I didn’t hear stories too. About the Humans, living lives right above ours, who were out for our blood.”
Dave bites his lower lip in embarrassment.
“But I knew it wasn’t true,” Terezi says. “I knew that Humans were just like us, just creatures living normal lives. So one day I tried to go to the surface.” She points to her eyes. “That went well.”
Dave’s not sure how he can reply to that.
“So what are you really doing here?” she asks.
“I told you, I just wanted to see for myself whether the stories I was told were true!” He pauses. “I guess they’re not.”
Terezi nods, a smile forming at thecorner of her mouth. “And you’re species isn’t all bad either.”
Dave thinks maybe it’s too soon, but then again she’s pretty cute and he may never get the chance to make out with someone of a different species without it being weird, so he surreptitiously slides his hand over Terezi’s in preparation for the Ancient Art of Making A Move.
She bursts out laughing.
But she doesn’t push his hand away, and that’s a start.
They sit there together for some time, talking and swapping stories about their respective cultures. Dave learns about all of Terezi’s friends, and why she learnt English, and how she learnt it, and about the Troll system of romance. In turn, he tries to explain that humans don’t have “quadrants”, and he tells her about his friends, and his brother, and that red eyes are a genetic mutation amongst humans. For some reason, she’s worried by the fact that they’re red, and seems to think it’s caused by the colour of his blood. He tells her his blood is red, but that has nothing to do with his eyes.
And yeah, they make out a bit.
It would probably seem weird, and even completely out of line to anyone else, but Dave is quite sure that they’ve clicked and that’s all there is to say on the matter.
He loses track of how much time passes - it’s probably already morning, and his brother is wondering where he is. But that worry is rendered insignificant by the sound of approaching footsteps.
Terezi seems disquieted by it too. She lets go of Dave’s hand and stands up.
The footsteps get closer.
Almost as soon as Dave has gotten to his feet, they’re surrounded. These other trolls are mostly taller than him and Terezi, and their horns are all shaped differently. For the first time, he sees the “haunting yellow eyes” from his childhood stories. They’re no scarier than Terezi’s startling blind eyes.
They’re talking amongst each other in their strange Troll language, and scrutinising Dave. One of them turns to Terezi and asks her some questions - the only word he recognises is her name, so he gathers they know her.
She looks at him and shakes her head.
It takes him a moment, but Dave realises what’s going on. Before he can struggle, or even push his sunglasses down over his eyes, each of his arms is seized by a Troll and they pull him away. His mouth is dry and he can’t even shout for help. The Troll who had been talking to Terezi, a female with large glasses and asymmetrical horns, drags her away in the opposite direction.
Dave watches her disappear into the distance with quickly-sinking hope as the Trolls, who suddenly seem all the more monstrous, pull him down a manhole into Alternia.