AAR - Humble Beginnings

“So? What’s it you can do?” It was a simple question, but Abigail didn’t know how to answer.
Don’t get too close to these people now, she could hear her mama saying. If something seems too good to be true, it prolly is. Just look at me ‘n your daddy.
“I dunno.” She whispered honestly. She spent so much time trying to hide it that she never really tested what she was able to do. Not the way the other kids had anyways.
Like the troll, Dustin. He said he could make things better and magical or something. Or Miya, the orc girl asking all the question. She could talk to spirits, ask them for things. Everyone seemed to have an idea they could do something, but she just felt turned around and confused, like the little things she could remember doing had nothing in common.
“Don’t worry Abbey! We’ll find out together then,” She said, tusks poking from her toothy smile.
Abigail smiled back tentatively and turned back to the window.

“How’d it go?” Mama asked me in the beginning. At first it was fine. I told her I didn’t like it. I didn’t get along with nobody, not really, cuz she told me not to.
It’d make mama smile, and gimme a hug, and tell me it’d be ok. That soon I could quit if I wanted.
“It was prolly better than my day. Your daddy fragged everything up again…”
And that’s how it went.

Abigail didn’t know what to expect as the bus pulled up. It was stripped down, a fresh coat of a drab blue paint sprayed over the body, but still patches of rust poked through. She thought she could see the shadow of an outline where it said “School Bus” above the windshield. The bifold doors creaked as they swung open, revealing a massive troll that had shoved his bulk behind the steering wheel. He peered down at her with his one good eye, the other a milky white, a large scar running over it vertically. “You Abigail?”
She stared up at him, dermal deposits poking up like bony acne, one horn protruding from the side of his head, the other broken where it should have curved up. His left arm was missing at the shoulder, replaced with a crude prosthetic. All in all, it gave him a lopsided look, the left broken, the right whole. Mostly at least. “Yes…”
“Good, c’mon then kid, that’ll be the last ‘o you. It ain’t far to Puyallup from ‘ere, but traffics gonna be some sorta fuc- Some sorta pain.”
She climbed the stairs slowly, looking at him. As she got to the top, she saw the handle of a gun jutting up from the other side of him, well worn and massive to fit his hand.
“Abbey!” Miya shouted, and the young orc could feel her face burning. It had looked like she was the last one to be picked up, which wasn’t a surprise. Her family lived on the fringes of the underground. Getting to a spot for the van was a trip all on it’s own. “You ready to see it? Whaddya think it’s gonna be like?”
She shrugged and slipped down in the seat next to her. It had been a week since Ellipse had first brought them together to meet each other. But now T.R.O.L.L. was ready to actually start.
Abigail listened to the other kids imagined their future, her long black hair swishing against the chair as she followed the conversation. They built off of one another’s excitement until they were bouncing around the moving van. Fortunately for the driver they weren’t physically in the driver’s seat.
“You think it’s some rich orc that’s got nothing else to spend money on?” One of the girls named Tamara, asked.
“Yeah, maybe he’s as handsome as a keeb and’ll marry you too, and you two can live happy ever after like some sorta trid!” A boy teased. Abigail thought his name was Theo, an orc able to work with animals.
“No! I mean, he could’ve geeked some dumb trog on accident and is doing charity or some drek-”
“Language!” The driver bellowed from the front, a not-so-gentlethat they weren’t as alone as they thought.
“Are you chipping or something?” It was Grigori, one of the twins, jumping right back into the conversation where they left off. “Whos got so much money they’ll spend it on a buncha dumb orcs ‘n trolls. That only happens in the trids. And they’re stupid too.”
“Oh yeah?” Tamara jutted her jaw forward defiantly. “Well whaddayou think?”
“It’s prolly some gangers try’n’a get an edge on other gangers, ‘n we’re gonna be secret weapons.”
“That doesn’t sound like a dumb trid, brat?” His sister Feya said.
“What about you, Abbey?” Miya asked, red faced from laughter.
“I- I dunno…” she stammered, thinking about her mama. “What if it’s humanis or some corp tryin to get us or something?”
The laughter choked, and silence reigned for the first time since Abigail got on the bus. She wanted to sink back into her chair, wishing she had the power to stop herself from talking.
Miya was looking at her thoughtfully as she thought about the question. “Well . . . I guess we’d just have to not let them, huh?”
“Yeah!” Theo shouted. “And then if that Brackhaven choob’s there, I can tell him my da had a message for him ‘n put a boot in his hoop!”
“Not like there’s a whole lot in the underground anyways.” Dustin added. And just like that, they were all laughing again. This time Abigail almost joined them.

Mama didn’t like it much when things started to get better. It was like when I got happy, she got sad. Or mad. Maybe it was both, especially when I started talkin’ ‘bout Miya being my friend.
“You’re just gonna leave me too!” she said, tin plates rattlin’ around on the floor.
She meant cuz daddy was always gone with “his real family.” You know, the Trogs. I didn’t know it ‘til he started sending my older and brothers ‘n sisters out to be “mules” or couriers or somethin’.
I didn’t like it, cuz they’d come back sometimes lookin’ like they was beat up ‘n stuff, ‘n Wendy would talk about it with me, ‘n we didn’t wanna do it. But when he told us we had to, I couldn’t say no. He was scary. Talkin’ to mama was always better, even when she was like that.
Before he made me start pickin’ up stuff for the Trogs, me ‘n Wendy were at the outflow with him, ‘n we were watching it go by. He was drinkin, ‘n said “if your mama don’t check ‘erself, she’s gonna end up down there with halfa you lot joinin’ ‘er.
They were fighting about us doin work for the Trogs.
I didn’t hafta do it long though, cuz Ellipse came by.

“I don’t think any rich people live here . . .” one of the kids muttered. The van had stopped outside a big, run down building. One of them said it looked like an old firehouse.
“Hi, kids. Welcome to your new home away from home. At least while you are in the program.” An old orc in a salmon shirt and a blue tie strolled from the firehouse, hands clasped behind his back. His tweed jacket look as old as he was, and Abigail recognized him as the one that had found her. “It isn’t much, but the owners are hard at work making it as comfortable in practice as it is in theory.”
He smiled warmly at each of them, gesturing for them to enter. Abigail followed the other kids shuffling through the rickety double bay door and into the chaos inside. Clutter was piled together in boxes around the cavernous main floor. Old posters dangled from the walls, frayed and sepia, one exclaiming to “Vote Dunkelzahn!,” relics from the squatters living there between the former and current owners. A metal machine flashed against the far wall, proclaiming “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” in flashing lights with music and bells chiming every few minutes.
“This is gross,” she heard one of the kids whisper.
To Abigail, it looked like a palace.

My mama wanted me to go to keep me from spendin’ time with Daddy. He thought we were ready to take over for the older kids ‘n all that ‘cuz they were ready for “real work.”
‘N that’s what I was doin’ fillin’ in for their routes. Me ‘n Wendy’d pick things up from sad looking people who hated me for takin’ what was in the bags. But that was better’n the others. They stared at me ‘n Wendy up ‘n down like they wanted to eat us, and bring ‘em to other people who look liked they’d wanted to eat us.

“You might be wondering ‘why?’ Why you, why this program?” His eyes scanned each face, lending a reassuring look to each child around the rusty picnic table in the middle of the room. “The founding principle is to give awakened orcs and trolls a chance, specifically to give you a chance. Our people have been forced to the fringe to scrape and claw out an existence. But we pride ourselves on our resilience and strength.
“This can be a problem for awakened. We can find ourselves ostracized from our own communities, and feared even more by those that don’t understand our people or our powers. With how quickly we mature, others have a hard time wrapping their heads around a 7 or 8 year olds with powers we have. Remarkably some of you have made it even longer. Faults in our system working in our favor, perhaps.”
A chill ran down Abigail’s back and shared a glance with Miya. She was even more glad she kept it all a secret.
“What we want, is to help awakened orcs and trolls, and you’re the first of them.”
“Who’s ‘we?’” Tamara asked.
“You haven’t met . . . Benny yet, but this was his idea. Then we have other supporters helping out in various capacities, all to help you succeed.”
They looked at each other, waiting for the price for signing on. Instead, Ellipse just smiled at them.
“Why?” Someone finally asked again.
“Because it’s far overdue.”

When the old man first showed up, my mama was real mad. Said I’d been careless ‘n I’d be taken away. Ellipse told her I’d not done anythin’, but I don’t think she believed him. She didn’t change her mind when she’d made it up..
But he said he saw me at school, which was strange since I only went once a week, ‘cuz that deep in the underground we didn’t get the best of things. It sounded like some sorta trick. But he didn’t make any promises, and didn’t ask for nothin’ either.

“Who wants to explain to the group a little of what you can do?”
Ember padding around the table restlessly, the only sound in the resounding silence. It hadn’t taken long for the german shepherd to move from barking at the kids to jumping on them, especially the boy Theo.
Miya raised a hand tentatively. “I can talk to spirits and ask them to do stuff. It’s nothing though, not really. Just little things, like one kept me warm once . . .”
Abigail could hear snickering at the other end of the table and wanted to glare at them, but she was too busy struggling to come up with her own answer. Instead Ellipse squatted down at the end of the table, looking directly at the orc girl.
“Summoning is far from nothing, Miya. As you and your powers grow, you will find that spirits are incredibly powerful beings to have on your side. A conjurer who is strong enough, and who knows which spirits to ask for help, will find nearly limitless amounts of aid. And you, Miya, the spirits are drawn to your aura for their own reasons.”
A rosy tinge crept up her cheeks as she broke into a big, toothy smile.
“Now. Who else?”
“I . . . Well, I liked learning about things, and trying to make them better.” Dustin started, building up courage as he went. “Mostly I just broke things, but sometimes . . . well it kinda worked I think?”
“I’ve seen your first attempts at alchemy and artificing, and was very impressed. I look forward to seeing what you can do with your enchanting skills! Who else?”
Abigail cringed each time another kid finished reporting about what they could do, earning Ellipse’s praise each and every time. All she could remember doing was making Brigit fall on her stupid face one time . . . or sense when her Mama and Daddy were in a bad mood . . .
Or there was that weird dream, when she fell up out of bed, and there was her sister, and herself, and her other siblings all sleeping, with sad, tired lights stretching into the distance . . .
“Abigail, are you still with us?” Ellipse was looking down at her along with the rest of the class.
“Huh?” She could hear kids giggling, and tried to sink in her seat.
“What about you?”
“Well… Nothing. Not really.” She mumbled
“You mean to say that the one that can do the most has the least to say?” She heard kids choking on their mirth, and start whispering. Some stared, something dark in their faces, while she stared at Ellipse, her mouth hanging open in amazement.
When she looked at Miya, she saw the same pained look there.

Like I said, I never wanted to go, but Wendy made me. She was mad ‘cuz I got to go, ‘cuz we both liked goin’ to school and all that. But she said she’d be more mad if I didn’t.
When Daddy said I couldn’t cuz of the Trogs, I was happy I would get to stay with Wendy. I mean, I was scared of daddy, but I was more scared goin’ off on my own like that. I mean, I didn’t know what they were gonna try ‘n do.
But then Wendy told him she didn’t need me, and could do it better on her own.
So he said ok.

The lessons came quick after that, with Ellipse giving each aspected student their own assignments and goals, and letting them work mostly independently. Abigail followed behind him for the first day, trying to hide from resentful glares of her classmates. They always found her, and followed her as she retreated.
The next day, she was cut adrift. She was supposed to bounce between groups from day to day, and they were supposed to teach her.
“You see, Abigail is one of the few awakened who is considered fully awakened. Kind of like myself or Ben.” Ellipse said. “It doesn’t make us better; no, instead you will be the masters of your disciplines. And while you learn from me, she will learn from you.”
The kids guarded their secrets though, and told her different things to confuse her. She pushed and pushed, and by the end of the day would climb into the van shaking with fatigue, head throbbing, blood smeared under her nose.
She said she wanted to stop, but Wendy urged her to keep going.
“They’re just jealous a you. I know I am,” she said, bumping into her with her shoulder, and smiling through her own exhaustion. Behind it was a strange look; she was telling the truth.
So she came back, moving from enchanting, to spellcasting, and finally to summoning. She thought she’d finally see friendly face.
“Hi Miya,” Abigail said, giving a little half wave. “Guess I’m s’posed to be workin’ with you today?”
“Fine. Shouldn’t be a problem for someone as talented as you.”
“Talen…? I don’t know anything about-
“Sure, whatever Nobody. I don’t care, but dunno why you keep lying about it.”
“Lie…? About being a full magician?”
“What else, Nobody.”
“Well, I dunno . . . I can, I guess, but dunno how . . .”
“Hah. Fine.” Abigail stepped towards her, but Miya stepped back. “All you have to do is reach out to a spirit, and pull it over. Shouldn’t be a problem for someone as great as you, right?”
And with that, she turned away.
Abigail stared at her back, mind reeling. I don’t get it. Why…? Was she mad cuz she didn’t know? ‘Cuz she was s’posed to be stronger?
Her mouth snapped shut, and she ground her teeth in determination. Fine, I can do this… I can do this.
She reached out with her mind, the way Ellipse had tried to teach her. Not far, and not for anything major. Just enough until she found a wisp of a spirit.
She grabbed hold, and tried to pull it back to meat space with her, but was shoved back. She ground her teeth together until her jaw hurt, and tried again. And again. And again.
Finally, frustrated, tired, humiliated, and scared, she tried to yank it through. This time when it pushed back, it pushed back hard, snapping her head backwards. She collapsed on the ground, chest rising and falling heavily.
It’s not fair, she thought, looking down at her shaking hands. Blood dripped from her nose, splattering against her hands and the floor. One of her eyes throbbed, run through with the blood red of burst vessels. Her vision blurred as tears welled in her eyes. “I didn’t want any of this,” she whimpered.
“Abbey? Are you okay…?” Miya asked, and something in her snapped.
And something snapped.
“NO! No!! Everythin’ sucks!” She screamed, voice cracking with the raw emotion. “I’m s’posed to do everythin’, when really I can’t do nothin’ and I don’t want to anyways! Everyone hates me, all cuz of something I don’t even want!”
“No, no, it’s ok…”
“No it’s not!” ‘N it wont be neither, cus nothin’ll ever be the same! I don’t wanna do this, but I can’t not, ‘n I’m losin’ everyone!” Her body was wracked with sobs, shoulders shuddering with each gasp. She tasted copper in her throat,, and her eyes were rimmed with red but she couldn’t stop. It paled to the turmoil inside.
The other students were trying to look anywhere but at Abigail, shuffling around awkwardly. Miya put her hand on Abbie’s back and rubbed it awkwardly, searching for help.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it… I was stupid. I wanna help you, for real this time.” Then she gave her a hug. Eventually the crying died down, turning to sniffles, and the frustration gave way to embarrassment. She heard other footsteps shuffle towards her, and a tentative voice.
“Hey… Abbey?” Dustin said. “I’m sorry… Just meant to say I forgot to show you something I- I learned from Eclipse about alchemy. I can show you later? If you want?”
She nodded mutely, pulling away from Abbey. When she looked at the others, they wore a look of shame on their face. All except Ellipse who looked like he’d planned this all along.

The problem was Ellipse was right. And if everyone at T.R.O.L.L. started hatin’ me, I started gettin’ scared ‘bout everyone at home. I started hiding even more of what I found out I could do ‘n what was goin’ on. Even bits from Wendy ‘n Mama. ‘Specially mama.
‘Cuz soon as things got better, she started thinkin’ she was gonna lose me too. So I had ta start actin’ sad again, and she got happy. It was weird. But it was like Ellipse said. T.R.O.L.L. was my home away from home.

The van pulled in while the kids were still milling around uncomfortably. Ember bounded past, stopping just short of the van to raise her hackles and growl. The side door flung open, and a troll, tall and skinny, unfolded himself from the van. Two sets of horns projected from his head, the first spiraling up and away, the second behind them, following the curve of his head.
“That sounds like some breeder nonsense,” He growled over his shoulder. “I’m game to hear ideas, but don’t need to hear about your games.”
“Look, Final Fantasy 7 was a classic, and getting the playstation would be a major cred boost for the team. And seriously, the way Cloud and Avalanche went up against Shinra, he was basically a run-”
“What the frag is this drek?” Benny asked, looking down at the children.
“Language, Ben,” Ellipse said. “Their grammar has room for improvement.”
“Sorry. What is this drek?”
Ellipse sighed. “It’s nothing too serious. A lesson on life as the awakened.”
“Dunno that that’s one they need to have. Not here.”
“Better here, now, among the safety of friends. The points already been made, though you are probably right.” Ellipse shrugged. “Kids, meet Benny.”
Abigail sniffed, wiped her nose, and stood up to get a better look at him. He pushed his shoulders back, standing up straight in his black, synthetic leather armor. It was worn and well used, with some bony, dermal deposits pushing holes through it. He bared his teeth, trying to smile, but it was like his mouth had forgotten how to smile.
“Looking real comfortable over there, hornhead. They’ll warm up to you in no time. Hey, by the way, where are my kids? Where’s Turb- I mean, Blitz?”
“Unless you’ve got some spare comms, decks, or RCC’s lying around with other tools it’ll be a little longer. Now please, if you don’t mind Cobalt Blue?”
“Gotcha, hoss.” He walked upstairs with the second troll silently following, leaving Benzine to face a mass of emotionally charged and confused adolescents.

In the weeks after Abigail’s breakdown a lot had happened to help build her back up. Miya and Dustin were true to their words, and others stepped up to to the roles Ellipse had assigned them.
Most recently Grigori and Feya were pushing her to practice spellcasting with them. They were working on illusions, and Abbey was still struggling.
“It’s easy, all you gotta do-”
“Shut up, brat. Not everyone’ll do things the way we do.” Feya said. “Makin’ illusions isn’t really ‘bout makin’ something. It’s all in your imagination, and using the mana to make ‘em come to life.”
“Ok… I still dunno.”
“Just try,” the twins said in unison. And she did, with the two of them reigning her in when she pushed too hard, or pushing her when she needed encouragement. By the end Abbey thought she understood.
The black van, with the mural of a dwarf riding a unicorn farting rainbows, pulled into the firehouse. Ember ran up to it, freshly dyed pink tail wagging and barking as usual, and the same three got out. Her smile faded when she saw them, covered in dried blood and black ichor.
The kids all stepped forward to get a look at the 3 men, but Ellipse stood in front.
“You all seem a little worse for wear.” Ellipse said but CB waved him off. “It didn’t have anything to do with our last discussion, did it?”
“Yeah, but we managed… somehow. I’ll talk to you about it soon.” He looked at his dog, and grinned. “What happened to you Ember? Did you kids know anything about it? You all learning a lot?” There was a chorus of yeah’s as the shock wore off. Abigail didn’t realize she was holding her breath, but she let it out when it was obvious Benny wasn’t about to collapse. “Like what?”
“Illusions!” Grigori shouted.
“Yeah? One of you want to show me?” Abigail felt herself get pushed forward. When she finally stopped, she was standing in the shadow of the lanky troll. He squatted down to get a better view. “Let’s see what you got.”
She held out a hand at a discolored Dunkelzahn poster, scrunching her face in concentration. Slowly, it peeled from the wall, and fell on the ground. When she stopped concentrating, it was back up on the wall. It didn’t look the most natural, but she was proud.
“Holy drek, that was good!” Benny said, grinning. “Better than I could do.” She stared, then burst out giggling with the rest of the class.
“No it’s not,” she said wrinkling her nose.
“It is, I swear. Ellipse has been saying I gotta work on that myself. Maybe you can show me some stuff.” He stood up, left her beaming. “I gotta talk to Ellipse for a minute. Keep it up, and I’ll see all of you tomorrow.”
When she left that night, she couldn’t wipe the smile from her face.

AAR - Humble Beginnings

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