Draal was knocked out of the way from another slash of Bular’s sword. He was prepared to block, he was prepared to defend this beast from his family but he was kicked out of the way.
Nomura took his place under the weight of Bular’s strike.
The Gumm-gumm prince growls at her with another slash, “You dare defy me for him?”
“I won’t let you hurt him ever again!” Nomura counters with her own swords and Draal sees a protective rage he has never seen before.
That’s when the rippling smoke and lights under Killahead Bridge sporadically flickers and a voice booms through the room.
“Bring me that impure,” a voice of nightmares commands.
Draal feels too slow, like all his past mistakes have decided to become a physical mass for this one moment as Bular gets the upper hand and tosses Nomura through the portal.
There was no other decision but to jump after her.
The Darklands, a place of jagged pillars of stone with a red atmosphere of doom takes over Draal’s vison as he enters. Immediately at the gateway opening is an army of Gumm-gumms. Draal hasn’t seen this many since the Deya’s battle at this very bridge.
He tries to get to Nomura’s side but the soldiers have already surrounded her.
As always, she’s graceful in her ferocity as she slashes them to stone and Draal charges his way through the pack of trolls to get to her side.
“What are you doing here, you idiot!” Nomura jump kicks at a troll and flips her way to Draal’s own circle of soldiers.
“I told you,” he yells back, axing at a Gumm-gumm with one hand and punching at whoever is too close. “I’m not giving up on you, Nomura!”
She has on that same face from that night ago, where he asked her to switch sides. She looks so scared and touched but she chose to back away from him. But now, that fear in her eyes is there but Nomura has on that small smile of hers that Draal just loves.
And then she roars with her sword held high and slashes in his direction. Nomura stabs a troll that was so close to stabbing Draal.
“Less talking,” she told him but softly she said, “You’re still my idiot.”
“I know,” Draal grinned.
But this moment ends too quickly, too horribly, as the Gumm-gumm king stomps loudly to gain everyone’s attention.
“Send her away,” he growls and barely spares a glance in their way. Gunmar continues his path to the gateway.
“No!” Draal screams and stays by her side as all the soldiers begin to crowd them into a tight ring.
That’s when the portal flashes and the last troll Draal ever wants in the Darklands is here.
Kanjigar the Courageous is here without the amulet of Daylight and he doesn’t give Gunmar any notice as he runs over to his son and his partner. He just punches his way through, stealing a lance and spearing his way through the crowd.
The numbers soon take over by the time Kanjigar reached them, Nomura was getting pulled away. Draal does his best to attack but each swing becomes more desperate and frantic and wild as Nomura is left with one sword and a bruised eye.
And they take her, they take her kicking and screaming away from him and Draal feels all the eyes watching them. The sheer weight of his failure of a protector being entertainment to an emotionless audience crushes Draal’s rationality as he frantically attack everyone around him.
“Draal, we have to go,” Kanjigar tells him but there’s no room to argue as he grabs Draal’s arm. He has to shove Draal’s face away from the fleeting sight of Nomura to see Gunmar at the portal.
Only a silver barrier of Barbara Lake protects the surface world from the Skullcrusher.
He wants to turn back, he wants to give his all to save Nomura and he’s about to turn around, forget about this whole damn war to just get to her. Draal wants to finally be with her, no matter any consequence but he hears her.
At the top of her lungs, so far away, Nomura screeches at him, “Go! Get out of here Draal!”
He doesn’t want to leave her but Kanjigar gives him a horrified look, awaiting Draal’s decision as the soldiers are surrounding him.
Draal can’t save Nomura, not at this moment but one day…
His feet are moving before he’s aware of it, running towards the portal as Gunmar is chained down by golden lightning. Kanjigar is at his side as they charge their way to the gateway.
One day, Draal promises, he will reunite with Nomura.
They make it pass the golden light and there’s a blast of energy that destroys Killahead Bridge and the rest of Bular’s sanity.
“I’m doing this for me,” he spats with an unhinged rage in his eyes, spiteful and intense.
Bular swings down the sword at Draal’s right arm.
Draal wakes up gasping for air, his brain in battle mode as he reaches for the axe by his bed. Unfortunately he reaches with his right arm and there’s a long pause as he swishes his arm stub at the idle weapon.
In that break of tension, Draal’s able to calm himself, seeing how he’s just in his den with no danger in sight. He shags back into the mossy bark he sleeps in, his spikes blunted by the softness as he turns over to rub his face against it.
It’s been almost a month since the second battle of Killahead Bridge and Draal would occasionally wake up with the memories of that fight fresh in his head.
Guilt claws at his body, shame tightens at his throat, a sense of wrongness takes up the empty space where his right hand should be, but the strongest feeling is the longing for Nomura.
With the pieces of the bridge locked up by Vendel, it’s a unanimous decision to never open the gateway. Yet Barbara and Jim Lake have been experimenting with the Fetch to rescue Claire’s brother from the Familiar Nursery.
A small part of him whines how it’s unfair that there’s no attempt to save Nomura but the real unfairness is that Draal has not told them his idea of saving her. It’s a huge risk because of the whole opening the gateway for Gunmar argument but also Draal has no idea how his family will react.
Nomura has attacked all of them at one point. She’s the one who kidnaped Jim which probably puts her on Barbara’s bad side. For Kanjigar, well, Draal knows his father’s opinion of changelings.
Still, there’s been no progress at all from his research. Blinky has grown suspicious of Draal’s frequency in the library, rereading the Lakes’ notes on tracking spells and whatnot.
Aaarrrgghh is the only one Draal has confined with about his crazy plan.
“Fetch small,” he reminds Draal when he’s back in the library.
“I know,” Draal groaned, flipping through another spell book.
“Start small,” Aaarrrgghh suggested.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He has studied the Fetch already so he knows how corresponding his position to somewhere in the Darklands is a crazy labyrinth. That’s been a main problem with locating the Familiar Nursery.
If that’s difficult, how will he find Nomura? He doesn’t know how to even perform a tracking spell to find someone in a different void of space.
“My son,” Kanjigar greets, entering the library. “The Lakes and the humans have not arrived yet, what are you doing with the Fetch?”
“Protecting it,” he shrugged, “and I got a little curious about the whole magic experiment stuff.”
“As am I but I think one magical object is enough for me,” Kanjigar had the amulet in his hand out of habit. Since the fall of Bular he’s been walking without armor more than usual which isn’t saying much.
Draal looked to the amulet and then to his father, “Father, as far as I recall, no other Trollhunter has taken a spell caster path. Why is that?”
The hunter sat beside his son, gazing over the spell book and the Fetch. “The oldest Trollhunters called all magic besides Merlin’s as dark. A bit ridiculous since the wizard is as dangerous as any other. Later on with the assistance of a Lady Lake descendant, it is just a division of specialty.”
“But the gemstones were an exception.”
Kanjigar flipped the amulet over and the back flipped open to reveal five empty lots and the gem of day walking.
“It became a growing arsenal for the Trollhunters and very helpful as well.” Kanjigar closed the back and pocketed the amulet, “Personally I don’t use much magic because of how it binds with destiny.”
Aaarrrgghh nodded, “Destiny is magic.”
“Huh, haven’t thought of it that way,” Draal said.
“Magic tests fate, imbuing the user or caster with a power they must learn to control or otherwise their destiny will be,” Kanjigar trailed off, rubbing his chin, “well even I do not know how to describe it. Vendel has tried to teach me arcana and its leylines but since I have magic as an armor and weapon and not as blood, it’s different for everyone, as is destiny.”
Draal pushed the spell book away, “This is really confusing.”
“Magic priced,” Aaarrrgghh lectured, “Start small.”
He turned his attention back to the Fetch. It’s not like he or Nomura could squeeze through it so maybe he does need a smaller solution.
But whatever could that be?
He just wants to see Nomura again.
Jim got nominated for Spring Fling King.
How did that happen?
Somewhere between discovering his troll and magic bloodline and defeating an evil troll prince, Jim was apparently known to end Steve’s locker shoving days (more or less), fight with the principal, and be a fantastic Romeo. He does not know how that qualifies into being nominated at all.
But Toby and Claire talked him into the idea, how it’ll be a fun competition with no danger and how he deserves a little normalcy.
Sure, Jim can use a break from magical shenanigans.
But first there’s one last magical risk he needs to do.
He made a promise to Claire and he wants to do this, not just for her but to prove that it’s possible to take down Gunmar’s kingdom. Defeating Bular at the bridge was a big step in stopping the Gumm-gumms but Jim would like it if there were less attempted murders.
Now targeting the Familiar Nursery is a change of pace. They’re saving Enrique from a fate of dormancy.
After so many trials and errors, he and his mom finally think they finalized combining their tracking spell with Not-Enrique’s familiar spying trick. The hardest part was actually convincing the changeling to help them since he was the key factor on rescuing Enrique.
When they initially told him about the rescue mission Not-Enrique laughed at them and later yelled at them for being insane. If they succeed on saving the baby, the changeling’s connection to his community is effectively severed.
Not-Enrique was reasonably paranoid since the bridge fight, Strickler too from what Mom said. Other changelings might have gained knowledge about the treason but if Not-Enrique’s familiar is gone then that news will easily reach Gunmar or other enemies in the Darklands.
He was scared for his life.
Claire was the one to talk it over with him. It was always a begrudging relationship between the two ever since she learned about changelings. Yet over the weeks, each bribe for information turned into just hanging out with the changeling.
He was naturally curious at the stuff humans do and Claire apparently learned curses in changeling tongue. That said, Draal has taught them trollish swears too.
In the end telling Not-Enrique that he would be safe in Trollmarket or with any of them for protection was the honest answer.
Not-Enrique helped out Jim when he was kidnapped and Jim feels kind of in debt to him.
So the changeling agreed with a ‘fuck it why not’ attitude and they’ve been working together ever since.
Blinky and Barbara lead the way to the library section they essentially turned into their lab and workshop.
“Alright,” Barbara set the Fetch in the middle of the table, “attempt number eleven!”
The historian passed over a small mirror, customized to fit snug within the Fetch. Jim took his place on the other side of the Fetch and held onto it with his mom.
“So,” Not-Enrique hopped on top of the table, “we sure that this won’t explode like last time?”
“I believe it was attempt eight where it went boom,” Toby said.
“And on the last attempt, that’s when you said your tongue was both freezing and on fire,” Claire said.
The changeling rolled his eyes, “Whatever. Doc, what makes you positive this time around?”
“A fortified mirror for one, but with some convincing Vendel allowed us this,” she nods over to Kanjigar who presented a stone piece.
The Trollhunter set the piece on the side of the Fetch opposite of the changeling, “A single piece of Killahead Bridge, the gateway to the Darklands."
Barbara took a deep breath and Jim copied her. With one last glance around everyone in the room, she told Not-Enrique to begin.
The changeling held onto his side of the Fetch and leaned down to soak the entire mirror with his saliva. Once the spit sank into the mirror with a white swirl of fog, the Lakes began their spell.
Through the Fetch, Jim concentrated on what he knows about the tracking magic and summoning magic. He just had to imagine casting a line down into the unknown and trust the magic to find what he was looking for with Not-Enrique’s direction.
As the swirl of smoke cleared, the mirror showed baby Enrique. Like on previous attempts whenever they got this far, Jim felt that line go taut and catch something.
“Okay, that’s new,” Toby said in awe.
Right when Jim felt the line tugging at his being, the Fetch and the bridge piece glowed silver. The image of Enrique started to ripple like water and the mirror started vibrating. Then for the first time, Enrique noticed them. His giggles filled the room as he made grabby hands at them, his eyes meeting with Jim’s.
“What’s going on?” Draal asked as next to him, Claire looked like she was beginning to hyperventilate as she squeezed Toby’s hand.
Jim’s own breathing slowed and the steady beat of his heart was pulsing in his heads. One look at his mom told him that she was having a similar experience.
In their previous trials, Barbara would be the one to touch the surface of the mirror and see if they could breach it and grab Enrique. Just as she was about to do so, Jim stopped her.
“Mom, wait,” Jim tried to blink away the ache in his eyes, “I think Not-Enrique should be the one.”
A curious look was in her eyes, as if the variable never occurred to her. Both of them turned to the changeling in question and he just looked stiff and squint his eyes at his familiar.
Not-Enrique moved closer, placing his hands over the rippling surface. They all watched as his hands dipped in, catching Enrique’s hands and the changeling pulled. At the same time, Jim pulls the taut line through his magic.
The moment the human baby was pulled out of the mirror, the ripple effect returned into smoke and suddenly the entire mirror installment crumbled to dust. The silver light faded as the Lakes let go of the Fetch and panted out in exhaustion.
That odd line feeling in his gut is gone as he watches Not-Enrique carefully cradle his giggling counterpart.
“Enrique!” Claire gasps and rushes over to them, “You did it! You got him back!” The changeling gently handed over her brother and Claire presses their foreheads together, crying tears of joy. “Thank you, all of you. Thank you so much.”
“No problem Sis,” Not-Enrique he said quietly but instantly tried to backtrack, “I mean, Claire.” He faced away from her, rubbing his arm, “I know I’m officially no longer your brother or your problem.”
Claire effectively shut him up by bring him into her hug.
Eventually she hugged and thanks Jim too and while he’s so happy for her, proud that he and his mom were able to save someone from the Darklands, there’s an unsettled feeling in him.
Not-Enrique told them beforehand about how without a familiar in the Darklands, he lost his ability to shift. He gave up his human form and life for Claire and Enrique, that’s his permanent choice. He assure them how he prefers his changeling form but Jim can see now how sad Not-Enrique is finally realizing that he could never spend time with his familiar’s parents.
Jim can’t imagine himself in this scenario but at the same time he can.
What if there’s a day where they rescue the real James Sturges and sever Jim’s connection to his human form. Even so, there’s no guarantee of that happening since Jim is such an enigma.
Already he’s still has struggles with shifting. The first time he shifted by his own magic, he asked the Heartstone spear to give him a push, to feel the initiative of shifting. The thought about the spell Change Self was also in his mind. He’s able to do it without a gaggle-tack but sometimes when he’s too emotionally unstable he would revert back to his troll form.
He’s still trying to get used to this all, accept it and all that jazz but if Jim was given a choice, he would choose being human over being a troll.
It has been six years since his awakening.
The world has certainly changed when his body weakened to the point of being a part of a ruin’s rubble. The new lands and society of trolls and mankind is very different from the one in his memories.
It’s almost peaceful and beautiful.
Once again, Angor Rot longs for his soul so he could actually feel that serenity.
He wants his soul back to feel something other than vindictive bloodlust as he’s sent out to kill his kind, humans, and other magical creatures.
He craves for his soul back to feel something other than this numb empty weight in his coldness.
His body has been molded into a weapon, one where on every hunt he puts on a mask of bloodlust to feel something, anything at all.
Divided from his soul, he can barely feel his emotions sealed away. They’re so far away from him as he tries to catch the tailwinds of them whenever he thinks they would be powerful. The only emotions he has feeling is constant desperation and feral rage.
In his years of servitude, a few masters have commanded Angor to pretend to have feelings. Through those glimpses of emotions, it was the most the troll assassin has ever felt since losing everything. He still craves for his soul but the mask of anger has rooted in the emptiness of his soul.
If he pretends to enjoy the thrill, the dangerous hunt that has become the cycle of life, he could have a semblance of his old life. Yet that’s a farce, no longer he is a protector.
He traded his soul for power with the intention of saving his kin but realized far too late in how he asked for too much and was manipulated to be a weapon.
His soul trapped in the Inferna Copula, always worn by a merciless master.
This current master is as productive as ever, making them travel across the world. Angor Rot is ordered to kill, to steal, to torture, and above all to never question his master’s decisions.
Angor Rot cannot feel, every emotion of his is a lie and a mockery to his old self. But if he could truly feel, he imagines that his murderous thoughts on his current master are justified.
He’s familiar with the magic of changelings, an echo of his own source of damnation. They both share a link to that pale magic but unlike Angor, the changeling embraces the cruelty and inhumanity. Changing skins and masks are the specialty that disgusts and baffles Angor. It’s all a soulless act by someone who rejects the morality and mortality they take granted of.
As soulless as the troll is, Angor longs for his shame to consume him after each cruel command.
Longing, that’s all he can do.
It has been six long years since the day James Sturges claimed his ring.
James then tells him that they’re heading to Arcadia, California. That he’s heading home.
Angor wordlessly follows and continues to attempt to swirl up any speck of emotion from his trapped soul. He doesn’t know if it’s real or false hope but Angor likes to pretend that he still has emotions, no matter how small.
They travel to the den of changelings, vastly more advance than the ones of South Asia and Europe. Like before, all are subordinates to this Director.
One changeling, a polymorph by the smell of it, has gilded platitudes falling from his mouth the moment the director walk briskly in.
“Director, I’ve followed all of your requests, your lab and office are prepared, and the traitor is stationed to your exact accords,” the polymorph said, leading them to the interrogation chambers.
Along the way, passing agents froze at the sight of their director and the fabled troll assassin. Everyone except the polymorph had a blank mask on that did nothing to cover up their terror as they walked by.
It’s almost pathetic yet from the way their leader is walking with an air of lightness, he’s enjoying it all.
Angor doesn’t shed any thought on any of the agents, they don’t matter to him. If anything he’s just James’ deadly shadow.
“Of course you did, any other way is disobeying my orders,” James Sturges commented easily, the smallest of cruel smiles on his face.
The polymorph fell out of step briefly and then was right at the director’s side. He laughed nervously, “Ha, yes, that’s right.”
James patted the other changeling’s shoulders, “Now don’t be so tense, Ottoman. You’ve done a swell job in my absence. Bular is no longer breathing down our necks and more importantly, you appended my figurehead for me.”
“Anything for you, Director Strange,” Ottoman grinned proudly.
If Angor Rot felt like it, he would roll his eyes. What a horrible choice of words.
James leaned far too close to the other’s face, his smile warping into a deranged grin, “Anything? That is very bold of you. Go wait in my lab. I’m so glad you volunteered to indulge in my latest research.”
The director already pushed his terrorized subordinate away, shooing him off as James walked his own way to the traitor.
Oh great, another experiment of Doctor James Sturges. Angor wonders how quick and painful it’ll be this time. On second thought, he’s likely planning a redo what he did with the last polymorph. In that case it’ll be slow agony.
Right now, all of James’ attention is on the changeling chained to the floor. It’s a mix of traditional and modern torture of depriving the victim of nutrients and binding him down in a closed environment.
This changeling in particular has iron shackles around his wrists and ankles. His wings are anchored down by a metal cage, stiff and uncomfortable. All in all, this troll looks miserable and terrified when James stands over him.
“Stricklander, I was always impressed by your work with the British royal family. From that point on I knew that the Arcadia division was in good hands,” James praised with his natural charm. The light cheerful tone drops immediately, “So imagine my surprise when I heard you’re dating my ex-wife.”
The moment this lady was mentioned, Stricklander forgone his stone terror and glared at the director. “Who are you really? A man who abandoned his family and suddenly reappeared as what, as a director of all things, taking over my position here just to be a petty estrange lover?”
James scoffed with a laugh, “Ha, petty lover? Your position? Sure, I may not be the one to give you the leadership responsibilities but who do you think assigned you to be located here?”
As this mental chess match continues, Angor is ignored and left to understand this all. This has to be the most he has ever learned about his master. Never has this man ever talked about familial relationships, at least not out loud or near Angor.
If James used his influences to put this Stricklander into an area to keep watch over this ex of his, she must be of some importance. Although Angor finds that hard to believe, no one is important to this man.
Stricklander’s icy stare became fire, “This is about Jim isn’t it? You knew about both sides of him and you left them!”
With the rising anger, the prisoner rose up despite the straining weight on his wings and the poor state of his body.
James had a face of indifference and dryly said, “Wow you really taken up the role of father figure.” His neutrality shifted into curiosity, “And you know exactly what that boy is? How dangerous and uncontrollable he will one day be?”
“Jim is not an agent or an asset,” Stricklander growled.
“He’s not your son either,” James whispered.
Before the prisoner could spit out more fouls, Angor spoke up, “You’re not qualified as a father at all.” Both changelings turned to the assassin and he’ll enjoy the brief flicker of panic in James’ stoicism. “At least, that’s what I’ve come to learn.”
“That’s,” Stricklander stuttered, backing away with his chains clanging, “that is the killer of the Trollhunters.”
“Yes indeed,” James regained his charming smile and waved over to Angor. “This is what a loyal asset looks like, Stricklander, stronger than Bular but with the obedience of a goblin.” He snarled loudly at that comment. “Shush you.”
“You have the Inferna Copula,” Stricklander stated, still in a horrified daze.
“It’s a lovely ring,” he said, admiring the cursed jewelry much to Angor’s annoyance.
The changeling continued listing, “You have the ring, Angor Rot, command over our people, Bular’s gone, and then there’s Barbara and Jim and their mag-“
James quickly punched him but Angor heard the word. He remained passive as James glanced back at him, seeing what damage has been done.
“Angor,” James said casually as he shifted into his troll form with a dark blue light, clenching up his stony fists, “wait outside.”
Like any other command, Angor Rot must follow it.
From the beginning of this relationship, Angor Rot has schemed many times on how to get out of James’ control. Threatening close partners or people was always a good strategy but at the time, James never gave away that kind of information. Stricklander apparently knows a great deal about this family though.
But it’s all different now with this magical implication.
Angor shadowed James through his six year expedition for magical objects and people and more. None of its horrors has strayed James away but to see him now panicking over a secret son, this intrigues the assassin.
All of this time traveling the world, Angor should have realized James Sturges was running away from something.
Now what can Angor Rot do with this new information? One thing for sure, he wants more of it.
By the time James leaves the room, his knuckles are noticeably bruised. He appears sore and tired too, something Angor wishes to be the cause of but he’ll take what he can get.
James spits out a tooth, “Dispose of him.”
He walks off to his office and Angor can guess he’s excited to perform his own horror show all over again but with Ottoman. The assassin doesn’t waste a moment to duck inside the room and see the changeling in a poorer condition than originally.
He’s still breathing. Good.
Quickly, Angor takes out small ingredients from his hip pouches and grinds up a small powder in his hands. Stricklander flinches when Angor kneels down to press the salve onto tender stone skin. As the changeling hisses, Angor mutters the healing incantation. It’s a small one but it might be enough to bargain.
“James told me to dispose of you,” Angor said and while his tone was posed calmly, Stricklander paled in horror, coughing up dust from internal cracks in his throat. “Is there anywhere I can drop you off at?”
Stricklander stares at him for a while. There’s disbelief and pain as he looks at the hands tending to his wounds and broken body.
Finally he says, “I don’t trust you.”
That’s smart, Angor admits, but it’s not what he wanted. He ends the spell and exits the room, leaving Strickler to wallow in misery and pain. Back in the hallway, it’s far easier to use his intimidation on a hapless agent for information of this Jim and Barbara.