Her first clue was when she missed her period.
After everything that happened however, it barely crossed her mind at the time.
The travel to New Jersey to was taking a lot longer than Blinky had predicted. For one, it was hard as hell to move an entire city’s worth of trolls from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic. Starvation, thirst, sickness, injury—there were a multitude of problems on their road to the new Heartstone and trying to get everyone to work together was giving her a headache.
The second reason, was, well, her. Battling Gunmar and Morgana back to back was harder than all her Biology and Chemistry finals combined. Even with the help of Ralph, her college roommate-turned-best friend, and Megan, his fiancée ( who could handle a battleaxe like a goddamn champ ), the victory was a hollow one. Several people, humans and trolls alike, lost their lives. Ralph lost the shadowstaff and one of his hands, a cruel twist of fate, straight from Morgana herself. While it hurt that they couldn’t come with her, it was for the best. Arcadia needed protectors who could walk both day and night. That wasn’t really an option for her anymore, now was it?
Barbara let out a deep sigh. She ran a few fingers through her hair. What was once smooth and lovely dark ginger had been replaced with coarse crimson hair that refused to stay in place, despite her best efforts.
She winced when one of her horns smacked against a low-leaning branch. Well, maybe not so low. She was almost two and a half meters tall after all. Not that she had measured herself.
God, and here she thought being the tallest girl in middle school was bad.
Her hands grew clammy as she began to think more and more about the changes. At least James never saw her like this. All that was left of him now was a ring and a note. Some high school sweetheart he turned out to be. Her boyfriend left a week before the transformation, no longer willing to deal with Barbara’s lack of time between pre-med and Trollhunting.
Well , she mused bitterly, just Trollhunter now . Dreams of being a doctor were dashed the moment she agreed to Merlin’s plan. Could she even use a stethoscope without eating it? Not to mention the blood. Unlike other trolls, even the mere scent of it left her gagging. She couldn’t eat cooked meat and she couldn’t tolerate rare either, meaning all she could digest were the metals and plastics they found on the road.
The scientific part of her warred with the illogicality of it all. Yes, she understood Merlin turned her into a half-troll, but how was that going to affect her chemical makeup? Was this truly permanent as he had said, and, if so, what the hell should she be eating to keep in good health? Part of her really wanted to study the changes, but the rest of her cringed at the thought of seeing how monsterous she’d truly become.
God. So many mistakes. If only they had killed Gunmar earlier. If only she hadn’t opened the bridge. If only she hadn’t tried to rescue Megan’s baby brother Jack.
If only she hadn’t picked up the stupid amulet in the first place.
But the time for ifs was over. She’d already seen what would happen if Merlin chose someone else. It had to be her. She was the Trollhunter. She needed to be strong.
She also really really needed to go to pee.
Searching the trees, she spotted a dense area of bushes. Barbara slowly dropped out of the group’s formation, heading over to relieve herself. The amulet flashed off whilst she settled amongst the leaves, taking in the view. Anything to get her mind off her body. She never looked down, too afraid of what she’d see.
This wasn’t her body. Maybe would day it would be, but that day was not today.
The cool summer wind shook the leaves above her. Gorgeous. The moon painted the sky in a lovely glow, the stars dancing across the universe. So many stars. She’d been raised in the city, so she only saw them briefly, or in few numbers. Here, away from human population, they blanketed the sky. Rolling hills and lush vegetation overlaid the vicinity, carrying the scent of redwood and other strange smells she had yet to identify.
Speaking of smells; it was hard to get used to her enhanced senses. Even though it had been a month, she still couldn’t get a handle on what each troll scent meant. Her old history professor ( and leader of the Janus Order. Seriously. How? The guy wore tweed suits for god’s sake ) Strickler had helped her before they set off for New Jersey, but she hadn’t practiced since. Part of her wished he’d come with them, but she knew he had other places on his mind. The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page , he quoted to her before he set off on his own adventure. Probably the Bahamas , she thought. That’s where she would go right now.
She could ask Blinky for help, but considering how busy he was as the new leader, she wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. While AAARRRGGHH!!! was available, she knew his abilities, vast and great as they might be, did not include teaching.
Once she finished her business, she returned to their merry band, trailing behind near the end. Mind lost in thought, she almost didn’t notice a familiar face at her side. Almost.
The scent of charcoal and green tea met her nose. It wasn’t strong like other trolls’, who ranged from earthy to sulfuric. Her’s was special. Barbara wasn’t sure if it was a changeling thing or something else.
“Nomura,” she addressed, nodding her head.
“Good evening, Princess,” the pink changeling acknowledged, stepping out of the trees. She was shorter than Barbara now, the top of her head level with Barbara’s chin.
“Surprised you’re not at the front of the pack, Nomura,” Barbara noted in an airy tone. “You normally like to be first.”
“First got boring fast,” she said dryly.
Barbara’s eyes narrowed. She took in the other’s slightly unkempt hair, one hand tucked under her other as if trying to appear standoffish, but Barbara knew better.
“Someone tried to hurt you,” Barbara said, voice flat. “Who?”
She drew closer, until they were mere inches away. “Yes, it does. You’re my friend, Nomura.”
The other flipped back her hair. “Am I now?”
“You helped me out of the Darklands. You gave me advice. You helped me against Gunmar’s army. You’re following us to New Jersey,” Barbara listed off on her more human hand.
“I tried to kill you too,” she pointed out.
“But you aren’t now,” Barbara replied,bumping into Nomura’s shoulder in a friendly manner.
The other threw her a wistful smile.
“Give it time,” Nomura declared. “I’m sure by the end of this trip you’ll want to strangle me.”
“No, Nomura,” she said in a stern tone, shaking her head. “Never.”
The air grew cold. Nomura regarded her with an unreadable expression. “I’ve heard never a lot in my lifetime, Princess.”
Barbara didn’t stand down; she locked eyes with the other.
“I promise,” she answered. “I won’t.”
The expression on Nomura’s face fell, only to be replaced with a calculative mask. For that second however, Barbara felt she got through to her. At least a little. It was hard to tell with the changeling. She could be so hard to read. Barbara knew in time she would get to know her better. All of them would.
Time. Wow, she had a lot of that now, didn’t she?
“You’re such a headstrong bitch,” Nomura chuckled wryly. “That’s what I like about you. But seriously, don’t get into my fights. I’ll kill you if you do. I don’t need to give them another reason to come after me.”
Her brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
Nomura paused, taking in Barbara’s form. She shook her head.
“You don’t…Well, it’s not important.” She switched the subject. “So, tell me, why have you been avoiding everyone lately?”
Barbara looked away.
Nomura continued, “I never see you without your armor on. It does come off, right? You’re not stuck in that thing forever, are you?”
“Of course it does.” She whispered, “It’s…a personal reason I suppose. Really, it’s probably more vain than anything.”
“It’s silly,” Barbara answered, cheeks burning. Did she really have to say it out loud?
“You won’t tell anyone? Blinky already has enough on his plate. I don’t want him burdened with my problems too.”
“Who’s going to listen to some changeling?” Nomura drawled. She leaned closer, her elbow knocking against the side of Barbara’s chestplate. “Fine, Princess. I promise . Now spill.”
“Well,” she began in a soft voice. “I guess it’s just hard for me. Everything’s changed so much. A year ago I was going into my final year of college and now look at me.”
“A hot ass bitch who don’t need no man?”
She couldn’t help but snort. “Is that what I am now?”
“Welcome to the sisterhood of hotties, Princess,” Nomura said, swinging an arm around her shoulders. Barbara couldn’t help but lean into the hold. It had been so long since someone had touched her affectionately, or rather, she allowed them to.
“Is that what we are now? Seriously though.” Barbara stopped, thinking about her next words. Finally, she admitted, “It’s this body. I know it’s stupid, but god it’s like I’m living in someone else’s skin. It’s…too big, too long, too much everything. I haven’t showered since,” she covered her face. “Well, you know.”
One of the trolls in front of them gave a sour look. Barbara glared. They turned away, speeding up until Barbara could no longer see them in front of her. Good riddance.
Honestly. She wished Nomura had come to her sooner. New Trollmarket would not be spreading racism under her watch. Blinky and her were going to have words.
Suddenly, a soft growl erupted from her throat as her anger rose. She quickly covered it with a cough. Another change she struggled to contain: her anger. All her emotions were heightened to the nth degree. It was like puberty all over again.
“Forget them,” Nomura stated, waving her hand before returning to cleaning her nails. “They’re just jealous.”
“It’s not right,” she rumbled, voice low.
“’Right’ isn’t exactly something troll society is known for,” she scoffed. “Arcadia, New Jersey—same difference.”
“No. It will be in our new home. If they don’t, they’ll have to answer to me,” Barbara warned.
Nomura raised a delicate brow. “I don’t think they’ll be very moved from a hybrid’s words.”
Her shoulders lowered as she remembered the subject of their conversation. “So even in troll society I won’t be accepted?”
“I didn’t say that. They just view you differently. But hey, who knows. You’ve done the impossible more than once. Hell, you even convinced me to join you nerds. Maybe you can change them.” Nomura looked up from her nails. “But enough about me. You were talking about showering? Ew. You must reek under there.”
“I know,” she said, covering her face with both hands. “Gah! It’s so embarrassing.”
“I don’t want to see the, um…” She licked her lips, eyes darting around for any onlookers. Finding none, she whispered, “Changes.”
“Well, I can tell you right now, all the definitely parts are there. Different, but there.”
“And that’s exactly why I don’t want to look,” Barbara replied solemnly. She had hoped things would be the same, but of course, nothing about her was the same anymore. “I just started to like my body and now it’s so different I barely even recognize it.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Nomura said.
Barbara threw her a glare. “Oh? And how would you know?”
“Have you forgotten what I am?” Nomura reminded.
It was as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over her. Barbara scrambled to make amends.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t—"
Nomura threw up a hand. “It’s fine. It doesn’t matter anymore anyways.”
They passed the next few minutes in silence. The pink changeling cleaned her teeth with her pinky finger in nonchalant manner, her expression unreadable. Barbara mulled around the questions in her mind before finally asking, “Was it hard?”
“When you took the place of your familiar. Was it hard to be human?”
Nomura’s gaze flew to the sky. “It sucked balls. Humans are so fragile and stupid. They live and die in the wink of an eye.”
Barbara couldn’t help but grasp at her chest, right where the amulet lay. It wasn’t like she had any family to go back to. Her mother died of cancer while she was in high school, her father following years later after a nasty car crash. She had aunts, uncles, and cousins, she supposed, but she hadn’t spoken to them in years.
Still, outliving Ralph and Megan was disheartening. They were one of the few people who knew her before the whole Trollhunters business.
How long before people forgot about Barbara the human altogether? Ten years? Twenty years? A century?
“I’m afraid of that too,” Barbara confessed. “Out living everyone I’ve ever known.”
“Everyone is, Princess,” Nomura reminded. “You don’t have to be a human to know that.”
“True,” Barbara replied.
“So,” Nomura began, wiggling her eyebrows. “Back to the armor question, if you don’t wear it all the time, what do you wear underneath it?”
Barbara couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s a secret.”
“Well, lucky for you, Princess,” Nomura whispered back, flashing a toothy grin. “Keeping secrets is my specialty.”