Despite all the years spent fearing the inevitable, death is surprisingly calm.
Jim had always meant to ask Aaarrrgghh what it had been like to be turn to stone. The opportunity had never come up, the question too personal, reminding him of past failures, and now he doesn’t need an answer. He’s experiencing what it is to be undeniably and irreversibly dead.
When he opens his eyes he thinks he’s in the void between worlds, trapped in the amulet of daylight; it’s a twilight version of the training arena, a place he’s come to know down to the stones that make the base. The open sky above is endless, the splatter of stars bright, winking like they are long, lost friends, inching ever closer to whisper the universe’s final secret to him. There’s a feeling of belonging, true and infinite.
It’s all too quiet, too peaceful, and Jim has an inkling that he was in a place far different before this. He remembers fighting tooth and nail (for what he doesn’t know), flashes of war-torn streets, the sensation of falling, and the echoes of screams ringing in his ears. He remembers Clair’s face peering down at him, beautiful even in tragedy, and wonders a bit deliriously how it was raining when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He remembers seeing the sun one last time.
He looks at his hands and they’re human, only for him to blink and find them troll-like. They flicker, human to troll and then back again, losing and gaining fingers, like his body can’t make up its mind on whether to be made of flesh or stone. Merlin’s magic still bounds him, even in death, bounding him in this paradoxical existence.
Something in the air shifts, a body taking up space behind him, and Jim immediately slips in the a fighting stance, spinning on his heel. He’s about to summon his sword when—
“Welcome, Jim Lake.” Kanjigar stands before him, and for once he’s not made of light, but as real as Jim is (however real that may be). He nearly gives Jim a heart attack.
“Kanjigar!” At the sight of the troll, Jim’s heart drops. He’s known from the start he was dead, but this just proves it. “I knew it! I got myself killed!”
“Indeed you did.”
“I’m in the void! I’m stuck in the amulet with you!” He feels his pulse quickening. Could someone who’s dead have a panic attack? He’d be the first.
The former hunter lays a heavy hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Calm down, Jim Lake. A part of you will forever reside in the amulet, yes, but it’s not an eternal prison. Your soul may come and go, drawn in only when called upon.”
“I died,” Jim says, unconsolable. “I’m not in the amulet, but I’m dead.”
“You’ve done what no troll could do. It came at the cost of your life, but the world is all the better for it.”
Jim doesn’t answer. On the planes of Kanjigar’s chest plate, his reflection flits between two faces, but the expression is the same. Disappointment, guilt, panic, heartache, he sees it all, etched into the lines of his face.
“What about my mom? My friends? Claire? I can’t just leave them.” His family, his friends, he’d left them, broken his promises. Now more than ever, he wishes he could see them, tell them things he didn’t get to say, do things he didn’t get to do, live more than the limited life he had. He’s died too young, another tragic hero to put in the history books, and now he wishes he’d gotten his chance at a happy ending.
“You must leave them for now. Your time has come, just as all of ours have.” Kanjigar’s words are steady and sure, everything Jim is not in this moment, as if they are fact the moment he utters them. “Now you must rest and wait for them to join you.”
The thought of his friends dying doesn’t sit well with Jim. As much as he wants to see them, he hopes it’s a lifetime until he does.
“But there’s some good to come of this.”
“What could possible be good about dying?”
Kanjigar wears an expression like he’s expecting Jim of something, only Jim doesn’t know what. Then, for the first time he’s known the spirit, the dead troll does something he’s never seen. He smiles. “We’ve all been waiting your arrival.”
Like air shifts and soon they’re not alone. Deya the Deliverer stands tall behind Kanjigar, a spitting image of her statue at the training arena, the rest of Jim's successors at her back like an invincible army. Unkar the Unfortunate waves at him from the back. Another shift and suddenly there’s someone else beside them, someone Jim recognizes not as a trollhunter, but as a friend.
Vendel bows his head in respect, the wizened troll more serene and happy than Jim’s ever seen him. “My, you’ve certainly changed,” he says, voice like grating rocks during a hillslide.
And beside him…
“Trollhunter! Took you long enough!” Draal laughs, hearty and loud. He steps forward and soon enough is right in front of Jim; he has his arm back, no sign of petrified stone or hardened metal, and it’s like they’re back in his house after a successful mission, the only difference being that they’re eye-level now and Jim’s supporting his own pair of horns that come and go.
Except the last time he’d seen him, Draal was hurtling down into an endless pit, stone dead.
Jim doesn’t know he’s crying until the tears start to fall. His chest hurts like there’s a hand gripping his heart, squeezing until he can’t take it anymore. After all he’s been through, all the sacrifices he’s made, he’s finally in front of the one friend he couldn’t save. In this moment, he feels completely and utterly human. “Draal...” Without asking whether he can, he leans forward and rests his forehead on the hard shoulder in front of him. “I’m sorry…”
“There’s nothing to apologize for, Trollhunter. You proved yourself worthy of my life a million times over. I made my choice just as you have made yours.” Draal pats his back awkwardly. “Come on. Don’t make it weird.”
Jim laughs at that and it comes out wet and ugly. “I missed you too.”
Maybe waiting won’t be so bad.