Preservers were very paradoxical creatures, if Trickleclaw's peculiarities were to be taken as typical of the species. For all its haphazard ways of speaking and answering questions, it could be very particular about specifics. Only recently had someone in the House Of Provisions created wax crayons of the excruciatingly correct shades of grey and ruddy brown to 'allow' Trickleclaw to draw a being it had first spoken of over a millennia ago yet never been able to accurately describe; its fellow Preserver, Shadowcast. That the unseen creature had black skin and brown eyes was known, after long-dead Primrose had established a Preserver-speak glossary of colors. And it was known to wear pearls atop its head, after much trial-and-error involving showing Trickleclaw various stones and gems to determine the meaning of the phrase 'bubblehards'. Now that it had the means to express itself, the specimen practically attacked the parchment with the tip of its artistic lance -- tak! tak! tak! tak! tak -- in order to put in all the dots it deemed necessary in order to complete the intricate patterns and shades of the wings.
The hard raps of the pencil provided an almost musical accompaniment to the soft scratches coming from the end of the desk opposite the pair. There, Inkstain was studiously making revisions to his latest book. The sound which continued even after the specimen looked up from its own work with a proud grin. “Skritchscratch Dig-Dig always making scribblemarks!” it chirped.
“Yes, he does. I remember back when-“ Thumbprint stopped herself before offering an anecdote from her younger years. Remembering too late the instruction that she must never say anything to pique the insect’s curiosity of the world outside Special Projects and Studies. Panic stricken, her eyes darted about the aviary, desperate to find something else to talk about with the specimen.
“I’d say that is enough of this for now!” Her father suddenly said, packing up his things with a suddenness and uncharacteristic clatter that made it clear he was abandoning his project in order to divert Trickleclaw's attentions. It worked. "On to our next task. My daughter, do you recall when you were just a little mump learning her letters?" He smiled with fatherly glee at his memories of old. "You were so proud the day you came home with a parchment in hand, on which you had written your name for the very first time.” His ‘above business’ packed and secured, he now was poking around in his ‘below business’ satchel.
“Vaguely,” Thumbprint answered, barely recalling any of what he said at all. So much of her youth had been spent climbing from one accomplishment to the next, never resting on a goal post long enough to take in the view of a day such as her father was referencing.
“Perhaps this will help.” He passed her the very parchment, and the memory did indeed become clearer. "The next day, your mother boiled up a couple of turtle eggs for my lunch, and I asked you to sign your name to them so I could should show how smart my daughter was to everyone at the Library. You had trouble writing in small print, so you could only put half your name on one and the other half on the other. I put them into a little box that you said looked silly."
"You know now that I wasn’t always going to the Library to do my writing." Inkstain removed himself to one of the larger cabinets, keyring in hand. Inside, a number of small, locked, doors only some of which he had opened in his daughter's presence beforehand. He unlocked one of the new ones, and reached behind a false back. Bringing out the very box he had been speaking of. Over a century old, and showing it in the deepened wood stain. "I can tell you now that I didn’t borrow the box. I got it at the marketplace for just this purpose." He removed the lid, revealing a glob of wrapstuff encasing two spheres.
Thumbprint had seen such an arrangement before, atop the table which introduced her to what Trickleclaw was capable of doing to an unwary watcher's eyes. But that container had been full of several, smaller stones. Her teacher placed this box down onto the desk, and motioned to the little red captive. Tiny hands clutching the rim, Trickleclaw put an ear to the globes one at a time. It stood, and shook its head enthusiastically, sending the brown strands that topped its headpiece flying. It declared, "Is snugsafe! Trickleclaw always make good wrapstuff!"
True blades were not permitted in the enclosure, but the keyring contained a blunt palette knife. This Inkstain used to pry one of the spheres loose, handing it to his pupil. “Go on, clean it up,” he instructed.
Her own ring held the same kind of knife. It was difficult making progress through the sticky mass. After some scraping, memory flooded into her nose. The smell of squid-ink, the hint of sea-salt used in the boiling water. The shape of the brush she had held in smaller hands. Badger hair, with a number of bristles sticking out crookedly to one side. It had a reed handle. More and more detail of that long-ago day had entered her mind's eye by the time she was able to make out the marks painted onto the rubbery shell. The ones needed to spell the word ‘Print’, in a hand she recognized as very much her own, for it matched the parchment she had been given. "I've learned to stop saying 'no' to impossible things," Thumbprint stated bluntly, trying her very best to contain her awe.
“Good. Because we’re going to eat them.”
"What???" Thumbprint’s eyes went wide. She had enjoyed cured eggs in the Banquet Hall, but those were preserved over the course of weeks or months, not one hundred and fifty years! She struggled to put up her 'game face' again. By this point in her apprenticeship, Thumbprint had become quite convinced her father went out of his way to stun her every now and then. In order to force her to learn how to disguise her true feelings from outside observers. But some shocks were just harder to deal with than others.
Inkstain, as usual, was nonplussed. Very used to such disguises, he continued as if he were talking about perfectly ordinary goings-on. "We’ve spent these past months showing the little one here that it can trust you. Now you must show the same. Trickleclaw says these morsels are as good as the day they were packed-“ Trickleclaw folded up its arms and nodded sharply, wide grin on its face. “-So I am going to finally enjoy this long delayed meal. And I invite you to join me. Primrose would approve. She started this private tradition, after all."
The mention of Trickleclaw's first (official) keeper was more than an anecdote. It was a previously agreed upon signal that Inkstain was giving his apprentice an order. One meant to go over Trickleclaw's head, so it may appear that her actions regarding the insect were fully of her own volition. But one meant to be followed to the letter, with no argument. Trickleclaw, dejected, was offering up its own argument in the form of defeat. Facing away from both trolls, it crouched, hiding crying eyes behind its wings. Shoulders shuddering as it heaved scratchy sniffles, the hurtful noise not unlike someone struggling through a melancholy song on a poorly tuned spike-fiddle. "I'm so sorry, I didn’t meant to hurt you..." She offered a finger to it, for comfort, only to have it waved away. She was surprised by how much that hurt.
"If we shan't go together, than I shall go first," Inkstain affirmed, drawing her attention back up. He'd already peeled the egg, and in two bites it was gone. He gave a theatrical smack of his lips, a flourish of delighted fingers. Though his daughter wasn’t sure if he was making the childish display for Trickleclaw's sake or her own. "Fresh as the day it was cooked."
"Is good! Wrapstuff is always good! Trickleclaw knows!" The little red fellow insisted, eyes to his elder keeper. Turning back to Thumbprint, it practically pleaded, "Please munch! Is good!"
"Very well, if it means so much to you," she answered. More to the point, it meant enough to her superior to make it an order. She cracked the shell with the blunt-edge, peeled the shell back. Her nose and stomach told her quite clearly that the flawless white flesh beneath was fresh and sound. Her rational mind screamed that it couldn’t be. Trickleclaw showed no such deliberation; it eyes huge and moist, an eager grin carved itself across the whole of its face as its anticipation grew. She held out the egg in salute -- a final attempt to delay the inevitable -- and slid it partway into her mouth. It was frightfully delicious. Perfectly cooked, precisely seasoned, just as her mother had always made them, and still did on the occasions when Thumbprint happened by her parents’ home in the morning to sample one. She couldn’t help but smile at the taste of memory.
Trickleclaw held its arms aloft. "BREEENEENEENEE! Trickleclaw is so happy for Hardfoot Dig-Dig!" Its joy was infectious, and Thumbprint found herself giggling, ever so little, before regaining control of herself with a light cough. With control came understanding. Life in Underhaven would be an utterly different thing if this experience were available to all citizens, and not necessarily for the better. "This is another one of those things that never happened, isn’t it?" She asked her father, after finishing the last of the one-item meal.
Inkstain shrugged, "This is a highly classified research facility, daughter. Nothing ever happens here."
But something had. Looking down at Trickleclaw, Thumbprint knew it clearly. She really did trust the little fellow more than she had just moments before. She offered it a finger to hold onto. It climbed right up her arm to her shoulder, and nuzzled it head and chest into her hair.