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Withhold

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I recall sad summers and sad springs,

Rain dripping down and clearing everything.

All traces are lost to the water’s cool caress,

Perhaps these clean waters are for the best.

Still, my failures are my own.

So here I stand. I will withhold,

In this brook, just like a stone.

Jim woke with a start and immediately, as odd as it sounds, his soul felt … misplaced. It was like a weight had been taken from it. Stolen from it. Some deep part of him, immediately dubbed the weight as magic. And, for a moment, Jim almost felt compelled to bury his head back under his sheets and weep. And not just any weeping. No. No. Ugly weeping. Full on snot-avalanche down his face and puffy red eyes weeping, which would be accompanied with full on choking-sobbing that immediately made everyone within hearing distance uncomfortable.   

But, somehow, he snapped out of it when he noticed … he wasn’t in a cage.

Quickly, he sat up and exhaled like he was ridding himself of the air from that old life and that cage he had been placed in. Did he really … get to go back?

With a determined face, the teenager quickly grabbed his cell phone and looked at the date just to make sure this wasn’t all a dream or a cruel joke from Unkar the Unfortunate. His phone revealed all. It was that day again when this all began and he had found the amulet.

For a moment, he sat there dumbfounded. He wasn’t the Trollhunter. He wasn’t in a cage. He hadn’t screwed up and ruined everything. He hadn’t released Gunmar. He hadn’t fucked up!

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” hooted Jim as he fell back into his bed, elation pumping through his veins. Yet, as quickly as the feeling gripped him, it was gone.

But … his troll friends, what would they do without him? Who would bear the heavy burden of the title he rejected? Draal? Probably, but … hadn’t he said something about fate? That it wasn’t his fate to be Trollhunter? Then, whose was it? Would it even be anyones? In fact, what if Bular claimed the amulent when he wasn’t there to take it? What if he crushed it? What if he took it immediately to Killahead bridge? What if Jim had caused the same fate to happen again, but Gunmar was only released sooner with his entire army?

Rising to his feet, Jim wondered if he could pick the amulet up in his backpack without touching it or if he could secretly watch it until a rightful hand could pick it up. Or, better yet, what if the previous Trollhunter didn’t lose it at all? Yeah! Maybe Draal could have a little more time with his father. Maybe the right troll hadn’t meant to lose it at all? Perhaps, Jim’s fate wasn’t meant to be the new Trollhunter, but to know the future so he could save the current Trollhunter: Kanjigar the Courageous!

Looking at the clock and seeing how early it was, the teenager wondered if there was still time.

Nodding with his decision, the youth threw on a pair of pants and a hoodie to hide his scraggly appearance. Jim was already halfway out the front door when he stalled and looked back. Kanjigar died in the sunlight, right?

Groaning, wondering what he was going to do, the teenager quickly spotted the thick quilt his grandma made hanging on the back of the couch.

“Forgive me, grandma,” muttered Jim to himself as he grabbed the heavy quilt, stalling once more in thought. He needed a weapon or at least a distraction as well. His skills were best with a kitchen knife and a frying pan, but he felt those two items lacked in subtlety. Not that that stopped him from stuffing a frying pan and butcher knife into his backpack. With that, the teenager tripped out the front door, poorly equipped but ready for this.

Personally, part of Jim was starting to wonder if Kanjigar really was the right troll for the job, but then again it wasn’t like he could do nothing. If being around magic had taught Jim anything, it was that magic could be a vindictive bitch if left to loiter. He wasn’t going to completely leave everything to chance with Kanjigar. He would take the lesson Unkar had offered him and make the world a little better without completely interfering.

Kanjigar could deal with this. He just needed a little help this one time … and maybe a little forewarning about a few things to come.   

His mind scrambling together a plan, Jim was already half way to the canal. He had never pedaled so fast in his entire life and yet, the fog lifting, he was relieved to see the lack of stones in the canal’s bed. He still had time, especially if that was the sounds of a fight he was hearing.

Really, how did no one know of the troll world with how much noise they made? Then again, humans liked to be in their own little world. He was no different in that aspect as painful as it was to admit.

Jumping off his bike, Jim got onto his belly and peaked into the spillway. There, among the bridge’s support beams, was a battle. Part of him wanted to rush into the skirmish himself and get into the thick of things, but the lack of armor quickly reminded him of his place. In fact, he actually felt naked without it.

Shaking off the feeling of loss, Jim tried to mind the fight. Bular was starting to get the upper hand and even from here Jim could see Kanjigar’s armor flickering. He needed to intervene now. The best way to do that would be to distract Bular.

Reaching into his bag quickly, Jim pulled out a cutting knife and a skillet. Yeah, he should have thought his repertoire out a little more. Now, which one was more aerodynamic? The knife was the obvious answer, but it just didn’t seem as effective as say a skillet to the face.

Shrugging, Jim slung his quilt over his shoulder and proceeded to slide down the canal's incline. Once he felt he was within throwing distance, he prayed he would get his cookware back mostly undented because it really was a shame to break up a set, and then he let it loose.

The resulting clang was impressive and the teenager was almost proud when Bular barked in surprise, grabbing for his face. Bullseye, right in the kisser it would seem. It was unlikely that Jim did any real damage, but maybe the distraction would give Kanjigar the opening he needed to win this fight.

Unfortunately, a surprise pan to the face seemed to have the opposite effect. Instead of attacking, a bewilder look took over Kanjigar’s face as he turned to see where the projectile had come from. He then seemed to freeze up when he caught sight of Jim.

Oh, right … normal trolls hated being caught by humans.

Bular, regaining his composure from the surprise skillet experience, took this opportunity and suddenly slashed Kanjigar across his sword-bearing arm.

The current Trollhunter's scream echoed in the canal and then Kanjigar started to fall.

Immediately, Jim cursed himself, thinking he was going to see a collection of stone slam into the bottom of the waterway and scatter like so many marbles. Instead, even though one of his arms was now useless and dripping troll-blood, Kanjigar managed to grab onto a support beam and was now hanging there just by his fingers.  

The Gumm Gumm immediately smiled down at Merlin’s champion as if already claiming victory. Though he did take a moment to turn and glare at the human that had hit him in the face. Given the hood, he couldn’t make out many features … but all humans looked the same anyway.

Chuckling, Bular leaned down over the hanging Trollhunter, his feet threatening to stomp Kanjigar’s fingers. “Submit.”

Jim, barely hearing what was going on, already knew what the current Trollhunter was going to say. He was so glad he brought his grandma’s quilt.

“I will not submit.”

“We shall see about that. You will submit one way or another,” said Bular as he reached down to grab Kanjigar by a horn, likely to slam his head against the beam repeatedly until he was either compliant or an unconscious mass.

Kanjigar, ever defiant, merely replied, “I will never succumb … nor will the next Trollhunter.”

Bular’s eye went wide in realization … and then Kanigar let go.

Jim, muscles springing into action, was throwing the quilt over the falling troll just as he hit the cement with a dull thud. For a brief moment, Jim stood there over the quilt and the lump under it wondering how sun-stained the larger troll had gotten in the fall.

Bular, seeming to want to know the same answer as well, stilled with a hand still outstretched. Part of his mind hadn’t even questioned why a human was here until he heard a slight moan from beneath the quilt as Kanjigar shifted below the heavy fabric. So he was still alive … no thanks to the interloper.

The Gumm Gumm’s infuriated glare immediately fell on the said interloper. Suprisingly, instead of taking a step back in dread, the human kept his footing and instead pulled his hood down further.   

“Whelp! Why have you interfered?” suddenly growled Bular, interrupting the growing silence. “And why do you hide your face? Is it because I know you? Are you an impure?”

Beside himself, Jim almost snapped his head up in surprise. Bular … thought he was a Changeling? Well, he wasn’t about to correct him. It was best to throw the hulking gargoyle off his scent after all. If that got Strickler slammed against a wall with allegations, more points for Team Good as far as he was concerned.

“Did you not hear me, whelp? You seem too fearless for a mere human. Remove that hooded covering immediately so I will know who I will be snacking on tonight,” barked Bular, trying to take in every detail of the hooded being before him.

Beside himself, knowing he should keep his mouth shut but was just unable to, Jim shrugged, “Yeah, I’m going to have to pass on that dinner date. You are not my type.”

The expression that overcame the dark troll was quite amusing, but Jim didn’t dare take time to enjoy it. Kanjigar seemed to be gathering his wits now and was struggling to his feet. So, Jim quickly made sure the quilt was evenly dragging over the slowly standing troll to keep him from burning in the sun. He had better things to do than banter with Bular anyway, like getting an obviously disoriented Kanjigar away from the base of the bridge. He’d rather lead him to the entrance of Troll Market, but with Bular above them like a haggard crow, that was unlikely to happen.

Instead, he would just have to find a nice dark place for the current Trollhunter to wait out the day … and maybe force him to listen to what a human whelp had to say.

Turning his back to Bular, even as the grim troll roared at him from above, Jim carefully touched the quilt with a reassuring grip. He then leaned in, keeping his voice low and calm despite how his heart was hammering in his chest. He wasn’t going to mess up this chance. He wouldn’t.  

“Come with me, Kanjigar the Courageous,” whispered Jim as he leaned down towards the quilt, trying to keep his voice even. Though, he honestly didn’t know if the troll would be able to hear him with Bular’s growls or for that matter walk upright. The quilt was big, but not that big. “But, maybe stay hunched over, big guy. If, you know, you like your toes.”

Kanjigar seemed to cringe at the warning before he crouched back down. He probably was injured, but at least he seemed able-minded enough to listen. Then, not waiting for a reply, Jim put a hand on what he presumed was the back of the Trollhunter’s arm and pushed forward slightly. The troll beneath the sheet groaned and stumbled slightly, seeming to fall to one knee.

Yeah, Kanjigar was definitely injured. He needed to get him out of the sun immediately. So, pressing as much authority as he could muster into his voice, Jim added, “Rise, Kanjigar the Courageous. If you do not rise, Bular will kill you.”

Panting, obviously in pain and probably sun-stained in some way, the troll struggled to his feet again.

“Follow me to the shadows,” said Jim with a touch of relief in his voice as he pushed against the troll’s arm again.

It was slow going, Bular barking threats in the background, but Kanjigar finally seemed able to keep a steady pace. He was even getting up the incline with little effort when Bular called out again.  

“Who are you interfere, whelp?! Why help the Trollhunter? Show me your face so that I may bring you a slow end!” demanded the Gumm Gumm, his voice enraged yet supringly even.

Kanjigar, as if remembering that there was a ‘changeling’ at his side, tightened and almost slid down the canal’s slope, but Jim merely squeezed his hand on the troll’s arm again as if willing him on. Really, who did Kanjigar think was helping him? Another troll? In the sunlight? It couldn’t have been that much of a shocker if Jim was a changeling … or, far more obviously, a human. But, he wasn’t about to open that can of worms.

“Whelp!” roared Bular. “I know you heard me! Show me your face!”

Stalling, head still down, Jim turned slightly wanting to slight Bular just one time in this life. He knew it was stupid, that he shouldn’t even acknowledge the beast, but he couldn’t smother the fighting spirit he had acquired as the Trollhunter. And so, Jim called back, “And what would the point of that be? We both know you are completely face-blind from one human to the next. So just accept the pan to the face and that this fight is done today.”

Jim could have sworn that Bular almost fell off the bridge in surprise, now knowing that he had been bested by a mere human. Not that the teenager took time to enjoy it. He instead turned all his attention back to the troll next to him and continued to lead him up the canal’s steep incline. Each and every step after that was stiff as if Kanjigar wanted to bolt like he was afraid that every second he spent with his ‘human’ guide meant he was one step closer to exposing all troll kind.

Finally, after what felt like literally forever, Jim led him out of sight of Bular, even as the Gumm Gumm screamed he was a liar. Not long after, Jim even found a nice large drain pipe. It wasn’t much but it would offer the good troll refute for the entire day. Jim also figured the troll could keep the quilt just in case.

Now, for the hardest part. Jim had to say his peace before he abandoned his old life. All the suffering he had caused in that other life, all the mistakes, he would not allow it to be repeated.  

Letting go of the Trollhunter’s arm, Jim quickly stepped out into the light, making sure that his hood was still low.

“You should be safe from the light now,” said Jim, going so far as he put his hands into his pockets and tuck in his chin. He knew that the troll probably had his scent now anyway, but it was easy enough to change his body wash and cologne.   

Slowly, Kanjigar peeked from under the blanket as if making sure the human wasn’t lying to him before he allowed the large quilt to hang off of his shoulders. He looked a little gray, but the sun-stain damaged seemed mostly superficial. Jim almost allowed a sigh of relief to escape him but decided to remain silent as the troll eyeballed him. It was certainly strange seeing his predecessor in the flesh.

“Who are you?” finally asked the troll, even though he seemed to be having an internal battle with himself, but it seemed that curiosity won out. “Are you really a human or are you a changeling? And why did you save me?”

Jim decided to forego the first questions and answered simply, “I saved you because you have a fate to fulfil, Trollhunter.”

Jim felt a little ridiculous leaning towards the magic and fate card with this coming conversation, but he guessed it would hold more weight than ‘I’m from an alternate time-line’ conversation.

“A fate,” said Kanjigar as he tried to take in every detail of the human, his eyes roaming about and his nose inhaling deeply. “Come into the darkness so that I may see the face of my deliverer.”

Jim was half tempted to do as he was told, Kanjigar’s voice holding a type of authority it never had in death. He now understood why Draal admired his father. There was just this air around him. Jim was almost envious. He never had that chiasmic glow to him as Trollhunter. If anything, he was just awkward and skinny legged. Then again, he didn’t weight half a ton.

“My face is not what is important Kanjigar the Courageous,” said Jim, ignoring the forming frown on the current Trollhunter’s face. “The warnings I am about to give you should be your only concern … and the rest can be forgotten about me.”

At this point, Jim kind of wondered if he should have brought a cloak for some proper pizzazz or at least a wizard’s hat, but his hoodie would have to do. It seemed good enough to keep the troll’s attention. Then again, Kanjigar might just be trying to get a better look at his face.

“My first warning is that Arcadia and everyone in it, troll and human alike, is in peril,” said Jim, trying to sound ominous while keeping his voice from squeaking. “For there are indeed changelings in Arcadia. Their goal growing with every brick … soon they will once again have Killahead Bridge. It is hidden behind the city’s mantel of what has been and is.”

Yes, that one was terribly cryptic, but he was pulling things out of his butt at this point. He barely crawled out of bed fifteen minutes ago and ran the whole way here, after all. He hadn’t really had a lot of time to think ahead.  

Kanjigar nearly rushed forward as if to grab Jim and shake him, but stalled when he was reminded of the light. “What? Who? Where?!”

Jim sorely wanted to say more, but he didn’t want to interfere more than was necessary. He might check in, but he didn’t want to change events too much. If things proceeded to quickly, Bular might feel threatened and take the bridge elsewhere.

“My second warning,” said Jim, resisting the urge to take a step back further into the sun as he watched a desperate gleam form in the Trollhunter’s eyes. “Is to beware the champion of the Pale Lady. For Strickler will rise him again with but a ring upon his finger.”

Okay, now Jim just felt stupid. He even put Walt Strickler’s name in there which might lead the trolls back to the school and maybe to him, but he was almost done. He could do this.

“The Pale Lady? Wait. You don’t … You don’t mean her assassin?!”

Once again, Jim ignored Kanjigar’s questions and decided to give the hunter a bit of advice as his last warning. Jim might have had many downfalls as Trollhunter, but he had gleaned some things he considered important. Such as counting on his friends.

“My last warning is to be mindful of your companions. For they will carry you and herald you to victory in these ends,” said Jim, his heart aching at the thought of all the friends he was given up. Blinky and Aaarrrgghh would be fine, and Draal at least got some more time with his dad. “And be kind to your son. Don’t push him away anymore … You won’t have forever with him.”

The last part was spoken softly, obviously not part of his warnings, but if it was possible, Kanjigar stepped back as if struck. “M-my son? You mean Draal? No, I can’t drag him into this.”

Jim ignored the plea and instead gathered control over his voice again. “Now, I have given my warnings and must away. Bear them well, for they are heavy.”

Then, before Kanjigar could ask him one more thing or make a grab for him, Jim turned and ran. He ran as hard as he could as tears threatened to prickle at his eyes. He ran away from the weight of the armor and the sword of Merlin. He ran from the trials and tribulations the title Trollhunter had come with. He ran away from Blinky, Aaarrrgghh, and Troll Market. He ran away from all the pain and the suffering. He ran away from the companionship of his friends and found family. He ran away from all that magic, leaving only a warning.

And so was the tale of James the Unbecoming.