Chapter 1: Author's Note (One of Two)
Hey everyone!! I had SO MUCH FUN writing "Running Stars"! (If you haven't read that, read it because this is the second book in the series and you will be HELLA lost.)
I can't wait for this adventure!!!!!!!
Also, check out HitTheWall's story "We Are Drowning", you can find it under my name as a coauthor. She's a tremendous writer guys, and the idea is awesome!
Chapter 2: Welcome
"I can't believe... wow!"
Karkat stepped away from the boy who was gawking at him. They stood just outside the closest tent.
The tents made the entire area look like a Hershey kiss factory, upside down cones shot high in the air, red and white swirls mocking the end of Christmas.
"Are you part of the circus?" Karkat asked. The boy's eyes lit up, and he nodded.
"Yes! I am. Tetrarch Dammek said this was the best place to go to get to Madam Belford's!" He smiled. "My name is Xefros." He flung out a hand to shake.
Karkat looked past him and ignored the offer, trying to put as little weight on his feet as he could.
"Can we go inside or something?! Typically when you find people who look like they are dying, you don't tell your life story." He snapped.
"Karkat, you're being rude." Terezi said. "I'm sorry Xefros. We're actually very glad you found us."
"No I'm sorry! I didn't realize. Come with me, I'll take you to The Sir! We are set to leave tomorrow!"
Karkat sneered. "Why does everyone we come into contact with have to have some vague name?!"
He looked behind him, back into the woods to see if Gamzee was anywhere near.
"Leave tomorrow?" Rose asked.
"Yes," Xefros said, leading them through a city of tents. "This is The Sir's traveling Circus! He is pretty great, he likes to help people out actually. I guess this started being a hotspot for runaways, so he came here! You guys are really lucky. I might be able to convince him to leave today. We just usually have a day where we do nothing. Everyone needs a break every now and then."
Karkat shook his head. They were passing by tent after tent, and this guy seemed to have no intent on entering a single one.
"Why the hell were you out by some pond so early?!" Karkat asked. The guy turned around to look at him.
"We have early mornings here being our shows start around eight. It's important that the stunt people stretch, that the mechanics like The Tetrarch make sure everything is set in place. It gets stressful, so I like to find peaceful places to just relax."
"And what do you do?" Kanaya asked.
Xefros' face slipped a little, his eyes searching the ground.
"I just clean. I'm not very good at anything they do here. I already finished last night. Tetrarch Dammek isn't here right now, he went with the other half of the circus to the stop after these two. I wanted to come but he insisted it was important I stay here in case there are any signs of Her. The Tetrarch is so good at the things they do here though! He tried to get me out of my shell by doing some really cool stunts! I felt like I was in a movie!"
His eyes lit up and he covered his mouth.
"Forget I said any of that."
Xefros paused, his eyes tracing over everyone present. His smile returned and he pointed towards a tent directly in front of them.
"The Sir is in there if you wish to speak to him."
"Wait," Terezi interrupted. "If you're a runaway, does that mean he won't turn us in?"
"Yeah! I mean, yeah he WON'T turn you guys in. Unless you're criminals. Well, sometime's he lets... what's that?"
Through his gamboling, his racing eyes had found their way upwards. His finger rose and pointed to an opaque smog that was brewing in the sky and crawling across the tops of the spineless trees. The rawky breeze pushed a deep breath of smoke into Karkat's lungs.
He looked in the woods again, and saw something move. Xefros gasped.
"There's that idiot." Karkat murmured. He stepped forward, his body almost trembling with excitement at his friend.
Gamzee walked towards him as well, though his pace was odd and his body seemed to lilt more to the crinkling of the burning wood than the to rush of safety. Karkat stopped in his tracks when he saw the mess on Gamzee's face. The white paint was caked on and smothered down the base of his shirt. Gamzee smiled and held his hand out.
"Gamzee what the fuck are you doing? Did you set that fire?!" Karkat shook his head. "You know what, it doesn't matter. We'll talk about it when we get away from here."
Gamzee looked down at the small items in his hand. He popped them into his mouth and swallowed. Karkat wrinkled his nose.
"Those better not have been berries." Karkat snapped. "You know some of those things are poisonous. Not to mention it's winter. Who the hell has ever heard of edible winter berries?! Forget it, come on."
Karkat walked further to him and grabbed his arm, ripping him away from the forest.
"Welcome to the circus." Karkat muttered.
They walked over together, with Gamzee moving slower than he was before.
"Hurry up you idiot!" Karkat snapped again.
Terezi joined them as they reached everyone. Xefros had gone pale in the face and seemed to be trying his hardest to divert his eyes from the clown. Karkat raised his eyebrows. The guy was at a fucking circus, clowns should be natural.
"Gamzee, did you do that?" Terezi asked. Gamzee laughed.
"Honk?" Karkat said. "Man, you're really fucking messed up."
"You did?!" Terezi asked.
"Don't listen to him." Karkat said. "He put something in his mouth and I think it's messing with what little brain he has."
He looked behind him, hoping there would be no more movement in the woods.
It was still, completely motionless.
"Come on, we need to get you guys to safety!" Xefros said. He looked at the tent in front of him and lifted a pinstriped flap. He walked inside, and Karkat followed him.
Surprisingly, it was warm inside, and a lot larger than he would have imagined. The ceiling pointing high in front of them. Karkat stepped up three small stairs and stood at the center of a blue stage. Bleachers were at the far end of it, and on the other side there were lights, both of them so bright, it seemed to burn a hole in the tent.
"Sir!!" Xefros said, running towards a man who was on his knees in the corner. In front of him was a cardboard stand that looked as though it had been stabbed to death. As Karkat crept creeper, he noticed the man was picking up knifes. The guy, who was clothed in a top hat and a suit, looked up. His mouth that sat under a plump mustache began to move. Karkat inched closer, hoping to hear what was being conversed.
"They ran away! We need to help them!"
Top Hat turned his head and his eyes widened. He reached for the cardboard box and pulled himself up, holding his back and biting his lip.
"What do we have us here." He said, his words falling into a whisper.
"See! We need to do something!"
The man waved Xefros off and approached Karkat.
"What are you doing here at this hour?" His eyes twinkled, the tent lights above swallowing the green hue.
Karkat tried to piece the words he wanted to say in place, but found himself almost speechless.
"The camp. Over there!"
He swallowed the saliva in his dry mouth. "They were trying to fucking kill us! There's this game too! And if we go home, they're going to kill us! If they find us we're dead!" He shouted. "We need to leave! They're going to find us!"
The guy stepped back, as though Karkat's words were slapping him.
"I expect an entire story if you wish to leave with us." He said. "I don't house criminals, so if you're some kind of gang, I will be keeping a record. I will decide if you need a ride or not. If you do, there is one catch."
Karkat looked at him, desire for hospitality strangling him.
"You have to work here for free. My circus is currently going through a financial crisis and I can't afford anymore performers. You will hide in plain sight. It's worked for years, and it won't fail me now."
Chapter 3: Shoe
"We've been in the car for so long." Kankri murmured. "I don't think I can handle this anymore."
"Kanny, stop complaining." Porrim said. She too looked bored out of her mind, her skin was the epitome of washed-out.
"AMPORA WILL YOU TURN YOUR SHIT OFF?!" Meenah screamed from the back.
"Is there any way we could stop by a bathroom?" Someone else said.
Kankri stared at the clock. It had been two hours, and so far everything still looked and felt the same.
"Are we even out of-" He was interrupted by the answer.
"Look at that, vwe're in Maryland." Cronus announced, refusing to turn down his music.
"Move Kankri." Meenah's hand pushed Kankri to the side. "Yo, blonde dude, you too." She said. Pointed glasses, whose name Kankri had picked up to be Dirk, scooted closer to Jake. Kankri turned around to look at Meenah when he was nearly hit with something.
It went flying across the bus and smacked into the built in radio. The music stopped, but only for a second before everyone's ears were back to bleeding from the augment of beats and odd noises.
"Can I have my shoe back?" Meenah asked, her elbows on the head of the seat beside Kankri and Porrim. He tried to ignore it, however irritating it was.
"I'll think about it. Maybe if you come and sit beside me." Cronus said, raising his eyebrows in the mirror as he picked up an untied converse and placed it onto his lap.
"What the fuck? No, give me my shoe back." Meenah said. She unbuckled her seatbelt and stood up, her back arched from the small frame of the bus. She stepped over Kankri's seat, then stumbled over the new kid's seat.
"Meenah, you're going to get evweryone in trouble, and me pulled ovwer."
"Then give me my shoe!"
"You threvw it at me!"
Porrim shifted in her seat.
"Cronus, will you just give her the thing?" She asked, crossing her arms.
"Absolutely not, she can sit dovwn, then I vwill consider it."
At this point, Cronus was trying to drive and oblivious to the fact Meenah was still behind him.
"Vwe're on the fucking interstate, givwe me a break." Cronus said.
Meenah stuck her hand out and grabbed for it, nearly falling over when Cronus lost control of the car and took a sharp turn. He pivoted to the gravel beside the road and looked at Meenah who had managed to grab her shoe.
"Vwhy do you havwe to be so cruel?"
Meenah clicked the button to the CD drive and pulled the CD out, snapping it on her leg. Cronus let out a small whimper as he watched his music clatter to the floor in shattered bits.
Jane began to look out the windows.
"How are we not going to get pulled over for this?!" She said, shaking.
"Just because we haven't yet doesn't mean we won't." Dirk murmured.
Meenah clamored back to her spot on the car to meet with a smiling school president. Kankri watched as Aranea did a slight applause.
"Good job Meenah, your reckless behavior saved us from listening to anymore of that idiot's music!"
Cronus pulled back onto the road, huffing.
"We should be there in about forty-five minutes." Horuss said from the back.
Chapter 4: Runaways
Karkat's eyes glazed over the food that was being set on top of a pine table inside of one of the few remaining tents. He sat down, the fold-up chairs comfortable compared to his long walk. His feet and hands were numb from the air, but the new socks covered his toes as they returned to his health. He had inspected them, and to his disbelief, there were no signs of frostbite. He felt almost tranquil, and as nervous as he was with the thought of someone finding him - as inevitable as it was - his stomach was busy crying out for something to eat. John sat down next to him and began to fold one of the paper napkins.
"We're leaving just as soon as the tents are down and everything is packed." Xefros said. "That shouldn't be too long, since we've been at it all day. We were going to stay another day or two, but the Sir is very empathetic to runaways! Would you believe helping others is an heirloom of their family?"
"Is it?" John asked.
"Yeah! His his Dad and Grandpa used to own this circus. So many people would run away. Today it is a trickier thing to do though. I hope he lets all of you come, since there are so many of you."
"Is he going to drop us off somewhere or something?" Dave asked, taking a seat across Egbert.
"Kind of." Xefros said. "We are going to be dropped off at a train in Tuscaloosa. It will take us somewhere I forgot again... sorry. But anyway, the main ending will be in Moorehead, Mississippi. We have to walk from the area we were in to there. It's kind of complicated. This is a state traveling circus though, so it shouldn't be that bad."
"Moorehead?" Karkat said. He was about to stuff a forkful of noodles into his mouth when his stomach turned to soil again.
"I don't know if we can do that." John said.
"Why don't we just take this guy on?" Vriska added. Karkat looked at her, shocked at the dark rings under her eyes and the paleness of her skin. "He's a wimp if he has to get other people to do his dirty work." She said.
"Who?" Xefros asked.
"Some asshole." Sollux answered.
The group sat in silence for a while, looking down at the table. Karkat tried to think of something to say to fill in the void fast, as he was the leader. He was supposed to have control.
There was a snap, and a sigh.
"I broke my fork." Equius said.
"I'll go get you another one." Xefros said. He got up and navigated to a box in the corner. Karkat ignored him and leaned in to the table.
"Guys, I have another plan."
"Oh great." Vriska said. "You mean like the plan to keep playing this game?"
"Shut up." Karkat snapped. "We can follow this circus to Missouri or whatever-"
"Mississippi." Terezi corrected.
"That's what I said."
Terezi tilted her head.
"I'm pretty sure you said Missouri."
Karkat looked away and continued to talk. "Whatever, that doesn't matter. Anyway, from there we can start trying to look into the identity of the guy. They can't need us for anything too special. We just can't be caught or else they will send us home or something."
"I don't see why we can't just tell the cops." Terezi said. He met with her eyes across the table again. "They can take care of it."
"No, they can't. Did you not hear about Maddi's house or see Cecil?"
"Guys," Feferi interrupted. "Can we stop being retarded for a minute and just enjoy the fact we're safe for awhile? We can figure it out when we're away."
"Finally someone with common sense." Karkat grunted.
"Here." Xefros said, holding out another fork for Equius. Equius grabbed it, but broke it on the first try.
"I must be nervous." He grumbled.
Karkat twisted more watery noodles around his fork and lifted them to his mouth. When the food connected to his taste buds, his mouth began to water. It had been so long.
"It's leftovers, sorry." Xefros said, twisting one of the colorful streamers from his arm around his fingers.
"So why are you here?" Vriska asked Xefros.
"Tetrarch Dammek and I... wait, nevermind. I'm not supposed to tell you!" He paused for a minute, then looked at everyone in the group. "Well... you're all runaways, so I suppose I can trust you."
"What's up with this guy?" Dave whispered to John. Karkat looked at the blonde, realizing he wouldn't have to share a room with him now that they were free.
Xefros continued, moving around the room and looking around.
"I'm only going to say a little bit because there are so many of you. That, and The Tetrarch hasn't exactly told me everything."
"Okay?" Karkat said, taking in another bite of the noodles.
"Oh yeah, water bottles are over there." Xefros said, pointing to an ice box in the corner. Karkat stood up to start heading over to it. "Anyway," He continued. "We went on the run after he hacked into something online. He wouldn't tell me what it was, but apparently, we needed to get to the bottom of it. That's when people started following us. It isn't hard to find people like me, honestly, being I don't have a family."
The end of his sentence came out more as a whisper, the words falling off at the end. His face didn't show any signs of being upset, but the way he held himself showed he was insecure about something. His pointer fingers were poking each other and his head was downcast.
"You don't have a family?" Nepeta asked, her olive eyes widening. "Why not?"
Xefros hesitated, his teeth pushing down on his bottom lip.
"It's nothing too bad. Dammek and I belonged in the Children's Home. He came in a little later than me. I was always there. When he met me, we seemed to kind of click! From then he said 'Xefros, it is my mission to make sure you don't get killed because you can't protect yourself.' Or something like that. I kind of forgot, it's been so long.
"After awhile, he got access to a computer where he began to hack into things. Someone had told him about a place called the Dark Web. He described it as 'The Deep Web of The Deep Web.'
From there, we were just always on the run. Well, after the one night he told us to break out of the orphanage because of some underground movement. Apparently someone told him to find this circus and to seek safety and anonymity while he uncovers whatever it is he is looking at. All I know is it involves some horrible girl who likes to kill people. Wait... I said I was only going to say a little bit. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to tell you everything I know."
Xefros shook his head. "Just finish eating so we can go. I'm going to leave so I don't say anything else."
Karkat raised his eyebrows as he grabbed two water bottles. The label on them was of one he had never seen before, but it didn't matter. Water was water.
Returning to the table where everyone was beginning to talk, he dropped one of the bottles in front of Terezi, then went to his seat.
"So we're going to take the lame way then?" Vriska asked, twirling her fork in the plastic bowl. "Like always."
"BECAUSE RUNNING AWAY FROM A CULT AFTER SETTING IT ON FIRE WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH!" Karkat snapped. Vriska smiled at him.
"Did Gamzee even kill anybody?" She asked, taking a side glance at the clown. Gamzee grinned.
"I don't know if I could be gettin some murder on all like that bros. I just didn't have my meds. I almost feel like I'm bein attacked!" He laughed, drunken eyes staring off at a tent wall.
"Shut up." Karkat said. "It's been long enough. Everyone hurry up and finish, we need to get a move on. We don't have time to shove girly denouements down our throats like we aren't in actual fucking danger here."
Vriska rolled her eyes. "Karkat calm down, we're fine."
"Yeah. Yeah," Karkat nodded. "Yeah, we're FINE Vriska. We are completely OKAY! In fact, why don't you just stay here and be totally FINE!"
"Uh," Tavros ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know that... that particular choice is a very good idea."
"She can't do that," Xefros said, entering the tent again. "We're about to leave. They have three more tents to take down, including this one... so I guess this means we are on our way! Just take your food with you. Some of you can stay in my trailer. The Tetrarch wouldn't like it if you went in his, so I guess that's that. You need to be in one of the two with the hidden rooms though."
"Hidden rooms? What is this? A fun house?" Karkat asked.
"Oh, no sorry." Xefros said. "It's basically just some closets with false backs in them. They are really cramped though, I don't think The Sir has had... sixteen people before.."
Karkat growled, impatience beginning to pump through him like water from a hose on a sweaty summer day.
"I'm ready, are you morons?!" He said, not bothering to look up at his group.
"I am." John said.
Xefros grinned. "Great! Come on, I'll show you to my trailer, they're about to take this tent down. We travel by these little carts that most of us call trailers. There are a lot of them, so we tend to travel by train, if that's okay."
"Where are we going after this, Xefros?" Rose asked. She too looked pale.
"Should I even ask where that is?" Karkat snapped. Xefros looked at him and rubbed his neck.
"It's uh... It's in Virginia. I heard they have a nice historical district!" He said.
"Great. Just great." Karkat sighed.
"Come on, we need to hurry, we're about to leave." Xefros said, turning around, his dark brown hair shadowing black as he entered into the early morning atmosphere.
Chapter 5: Rubble
"We should be there right about now."
Horuss' commentary from the back started out as a nauseating reminder they had a long way to go, but it soon changed into one of excitement. Kankri shifted in his cramped seat to leer out the front window as the bus bumped over a train-track.
"This right here?" Cronus scoffed. He was twisting his wheel towards a sharp turn off a backroad. The road in this section was dark, as though the black cement was recently dipped into ink, even in the break of the late morning's sun. "It's the only turn so vwere turning." He murmured when no one answered him.
Kankri tried to stay still, the sickness of an over-heated and close-knitted environment beginning to crawl on him at an alarmingly fast pace.
"Is that smoke?" Porrim asked, twisting her long hair in her finger.
"You're just now smelling that?" Meenah asked.
"No, it just seems to be coming from this road." Porrim said.
Cronus continued to drive the bus through a never-ending thicket of dead trees in snow.
"Vwe'vwe been on the same vwinding road for a friggen hour. I need to get this baby souped up." Cronus said, patting the dashboard with his finger-showing leather gloves. "Vwe better be close."
Smoke began to blanket the sky and stomp on the fresh air the closer they inched towards their destination. Cronus moved a hand off the wheel and reached into his pockets. He pulled out a gray and blue papered Dunhill box, plucking out two cigarettes, and handing one to the girl in the passenger seat. She took it without looking at him and held a lighter to it. Cronus placed his hand back on the wheel once he had the cigarette in his mouth and reached the other hand somewhere in the car.
The window beside him rolled down, and the hand went back on the wheel. He guided the bus in an accelerating flight, now ripping through the trees, cheap cigarette smoke brisk to fill any clean air. Kankri continued to gaze out the front window, heavy eyes tracking anything to enter his vision. It appeared to be the same thing as they dived deeper into a thick pool of twigs.
"Do any of you loserz want to battle ME off to a game?! How about you Meenah." Latula said, holding up a sleeping Mituna's Nintendo. Her eyes had a slight purple hue under them, but the slight sun that radiated from the windows lit up her smile.
Meenah's face brightened when she saw the device.
"Yeah, okay." She said, reaching her hand out.
"AWE YEAH! YOU GO GIRL!" Latula screamed, opening a Nintendo of her own and turning it on. “BUT I AM GONNA BEAT YOU LIKE A BOSS!”
Kankri watched Latula from the corner of his eye. He felt the surge of admiration fall from his fingers as he drug them to his hair and pushed the stray strands out of his eyes. Latula began to play the game, occasionally looking behind her to check on the competitor.
“The payphone should be about right here.” Horuss said, lifting his head from behind.
”I’m in front of the vwheel man,” Cronus said. “Don’t you think I vwould knovw a payphone vwhen I see one?”
“What? How did you do that?” Meenah asked, tapping excessively on her screen. Latula laughed slightly, a glint in her eyes ricocheting to her game.
"I'M THE BEST AT GAMES! I AM A PRO!" Latula yelled.
"Awe yeah, I just got one awesome lookin' sword thingie!" Meenah said. Latula bit her lip.
"Uh, yeah! I totes let you get that one."
"You missed the payphone." Aranea huffed from the back. Cronus coughed as she spoke, throwing his cigarette out of the window. The bus stopped, and he began to straighten his jacket.
“I meant to do that, I vwas just going to turn around.” He said, raising his chin in the air. He grabbed a few coins from a cup holder in between he and the girl. He opened the door, poked his head out, then seemed to think otherwise and shut himself back inside.
“Will you just get out?” Meenah asked, standing up the best she could and moving towards the door. She flung the gaming device at Latula who caught it and tucked it back into Mituna's hands.
”I was just getting ready to go.” Cronus said, crossing his arms. “Meenah, I can’t even believe you. It’s so cold out there and you are just forcing this bitterness on everyone. What kind of person does that?”
Meenah ignored him and wrapped her hand around the handle to the door. The moment the bus was opened, Kankri began to shiver.
”It is freezing outside,” He said, getting a glare from Porrim in the process. “I’m not going out there.”
Porrim crossed her arms, the piercing on her lip following her frown.
”Yes you are, stop being a baby.”
Kankri raised his eyebrows.
”I’m not being a baby Porrim, I am just having some common sense. Why send the entire group out there when one person can go?”
Meenah rolled her eyes.
”Maryam I’m calling your phone. Just compare it to Mouthy over there and see if it’s the right one.”
Cronus nearly leapt out of his seat as she shifted to close the door.
“Wait! You need money. A generous man like me wouldn’t make you pay.”
”No.” Meenah snapped. She shut the door and entrapped the vehicle in a transient cold. Her figure appeared to glide to the phone box. Kankri and Porrim looked at each other. He dished out his phone and powered it on, Porrim following suit. Her screen lit up, lighting the entire bus. She clicked a numerical sequence to unlock it, then looked out the window. Meenah was poking buttons and holding the phone away from her.
Porrim's phone began to ring the melody of a light instrumental tune Kankri had never heard before.
"Kankri, compare it!" Porrim said, shoving her device at him.
"That's what I'm doing!" He barked, trying to open the app with the phone number. He instantly saw three missed calls from his Dad, probably wondering why the school had presumably called. Kankri scrolled down and found the number his brother had called him on. Looking at the Porrim's phone, it was completely identical.
"This is what he called me on." Kankri mumbled, turning his phone back off. Porrim answered her phone and raised it to her ear.
"Yeah, that's the one."
She removed the device from her ear and powered it off. Through the frosted glass, Kankri watched as Meenah ran back to the bus. When she was close enough, she ripped the door open and slammed herself inside, knocking Mituna awake.
"It is FREEZIN out there." She shivered.
"I told you." Cronus breathed from the front.
As she went to sit back down, he started the bus again, this time driving faster down the road.
"The smoke is definitely coming from over there." Porrim said, leaning towards the front window. Dirk turned around and looked at her, his eyebrow raised for a brief moment.
"Maybe they're just having a camp fire or something!" Meulin said.
"I've never seen a camp fire smoke up like that." Porrim said.
"No Porrim, you need to have some faith!"
"SHUTH UP!" Mituna screamed from his seat. He tried to bury himself back in his covers, but instead resorted to resting his head on Latula. Kankri wasn't sure if Mituna could even see through his bangs to watch her play the game.
They curved around the road, red lights leaking out of the dead fingers of trees.
"That's a fire truck!" Jane spat out. The trees began to creep away revealing the air drenched in a thick smog. The firefighters were leaning against the truck, policeman looking around the few buildings that hardly stood. Cronus slammed through the opening, drawing the attention of everyone. The vehicle, not designed for such maneuvers, shook as it tore across a rugged terrain. He stopped the bus and opened his door. As though he had set off a chain-reaction, everyone began to pour out. Kankri shoved his way through the cold opening beside him, his heart clawing at his chest. His eyes raced as he tried to find any sign of his brother or his friend's. The crowed had gone silent as he and his peers began to examine the area.
He stampeded through the crowd of officers and men in uniforms, hoping to collect Karkat. He felt like everything was coming at him at once, throwing myriads of pain. The electronic voices and calls that blared out of the devices, the red lights, the sharp air, the tight smoke. All of it was nearly strangling him, claustrophobia taking a new form in non-concrete ways. He stepped further, drawing closer to a small building as Cronus staggered over the questions being asked to him by an officer. Kankri, though wanting to interview someone, and by interview he meant give a small lecture about the safety regulations that needed immediate change for the safety of his brother (and protection of his rights), instead found himself battling a war with curiosity. The buildings weren't on fire anymore, and they weren't completely collapsed.
His foot stepped on a twig, the crunch emitting a sound that went in hand with his arm being seized. The person who had grabbed him had their fingers wrapped around his arm so tightly, it made him wiggle in place. He tried to rip himself away, only to meet the eyes of a man in a dark hat. The man's coal eyes widened, and he released Kankri, stepping away and turning around. He lurched across the swamp of men, barely avoiding tripping.
"Sir!" Kankri said, struggling to catch up. The man, though in a suit, was moving alarmingly fast, as though he had been terrified of something he saw. Kankri pressed on, getting knocked and pushed by his friend's as they tried to investigate the scene. The guy looked strikingly familiar, but he couldn't place where he had seen him.
"You need to just go home and wait, I don't know what to tell you." A police officer said to Jane. Kankri hesitated, shivering as the winter gale bit his nose and whipped his fingers and cheeks.
"My brother was here! I can't just go home, don't you find it weird? They were here on a trip! It was a camp that was supposed to house them for a month." She argued. Roxy patted her shoulder.
"Don't worry Janey, we'll find your little brother, and my sister. The Mr. Officer doesn't care." She huffed.
"This is your job!" Jane said.
"Listen, if they said a month, then your best bet is to wait for a month. I'm sure they're fine. There is nothing we can do, there was never a camp here, the property was an old marine hospital and dining area. The man who previously owned it disappeared. Just go home, you're supposed to be in school. If you don't leave the property now, I will have to take you in for truancy." The officer, a man with a stern pair of glasses, scrunched his eyes together.
"Do I smell... alcohol?"
Kankri looked away from them and back to the bus. Guilt was ablaze, marking its burns on his chest.
"Come on." Meenah said, glaring at another officer. "We're going to find them, let's just look around later when no one is here."
She led the group back to the bus where they gathered back into their original spots. Kankri looked behind him one more time to see the officers continuing their aimless search.
"That was weird. Maybe your brother called from somewhere else?" Porrim said, joining his side on the seat. Kankri's eyes lit up when he realized who the man was.
"There is nothing for an hour out on this road, at least in the direction we came from. Plus, I am more than certain I saw the person in charge of the game there." He said.
"You saw the guy in charge of this and you didn't talk to him?" Aranea asked.
"He grabbed me, then ran off." Kankri said.
"Why these people?" Meenah whined.
Cronus pulled back out, and Kankri resumed looking out the window and watching the new snow flutter to the ground. They escaped the scene and began to ride back down the road. Kankri's eyes felt heavy as he tried to piece together what had just happened. His head knocked lightly on the window when they would run over a stick or hit a hole. The craving of slumber swung hard at him, though his indisposed stomach had other things to say, or, feel.
Then, just as his mind had grown blank and his coat warm, his body was thrown forward as he smashed himself on the seat in front of him.
"Look at that, it's a circus or something." Cronus said, pointing out the window at the boxcars on the traintracks.
"Weird." Aranea said. "I didn't know they even still exist after the elephants were taken away."
Kankri sat up and rubbed his eyes, wanting to drift back to sleep and dream about the future speech he was going to deliver to his friends.
He traced the faded name on one of the boxes, the giraffe painted on the front smiling as the letters wrapped around it, seeming to mock the caged presence circus animals felt.
Chapter 6: Boxcars
There was a bump, then a shake, and then a glide.
Karkat bashed his head off the window beside him, glaring at it with as much hatred as he could pull out of himself.
"It's an espionage to track down someone we refer to as The Heiress. She is an awful person who rules the world with whatever glittering shadow she was put into." Xefros said.
Everyone was sitting in the hindmost train compartment, the serene orange glow from the sun surging into the trainroom. Karkat had taken a seat that was closer to the window, assuming everyone was going to rest. However, his mistake had caused him to seem irrelevant in what he deemed Skittish Storytime by Stutter. That is, the guy who was telling the stories seemed to be frightened of speaking, or whatever.
The seats were set up so that there were two long rows, each by the windows on either side. There were two center benches that ran parallel, the seats positions so that they were facing each other. In the middle of them was an equally long pine table. It would shake on every bump sending those around it into a slight frenzy as they clamored to cobble it in its original spot.
He looked at the others, lilting to the motions of the compartment, as Xefros continued to talk.
"The Tetrarch is part of a revolution, since he said she was the one who put us here. That is, he and I. I guess there are others though! They aren't here though, they are in Moorhead, which is I think in Mississippi."
As though he had said something wrong, the guy's face went pale.
"Uh, you guys aren't planning on telling anyone right?"
"No Xefros!" Terezi said. "We won't tell anyone."
Xefros let out a breath of air.
"Thank goodness! I don't know if Dammek would like that. It's just, you guys really seem like you need help. I don't see why more people for The Revolution wouldn't hurt. Wait, you guys are coming to Belford's home right?"
Karkat moved over to meet them in the center of the train car.
"No, we aren't." He snapped. "We're going to find out what fucking retard drug us into this and get their trivial ass in prison. Then, we are going home."
Xefros' eyes widened, the strange brown color appearing somewhat burgundy in the light.
"Karkat," Terezi said, crossing her arms. "That's rude!"
Karkat lifted his chin up, ignoring her statement.
"And that goes for everyone."
"Woah," Vriska said, appearing to jump on her attempt to annoy him as quickly as possible. "Karkat, looks like someone is desperate to be a leader! I wonder what your Dad would think of this, being his situation.'
Karkat gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. She was so annoying.
"You're stunt to gain attention in every situation possible is really getting old." He said, biting the end of his sentence with a stern diction.
"What, I'm just saying. Maybe you would want to back off a little bit. Hang out and stop being so uptight all the time."
"We are on a BOXCAR on our way to be part of the circus you moron!" He said. "Just...just don't cause any problems right now, I need to think." He said, standing up and holding on to one of the pillars. "Where's the bathroom?"
Xefros joined his side and pointed.
"It's that door right there."
Karkat nodded and nudged his way towards a door at the end of the sector. As he reached for a bronze doorknob, the train hit another bump. He tried to catch himself, but his footing was lost and he was immediately sent to the floor, his head being protected by his left arm acting as a support, and his side colliding with the rigid wood below. He tried to drag himself up as his friends from the back began to cackle at him.
"Shut up!" He yelped. He held on to the doorknob and sent his wobbling legs upright. Escaping into the bathroom, he shut the door behind him and leaned against it. The ecstasy in reaching a semi-tranquil area was almost claustrophobic, as though he was missing out on not being outside and hanging out with his friends.
Nevertheless, it was crucial for him to weigh the matters that presented themselves upfront. They were the same problems that caused his stomach to burn with the tight fire. It was as though his entire body was on fire, now that he considered it. Was it warm inside?
No. He was just imagining it. Just like everything else.
The candle that hung on the wall glew, the wind from the door causing it to scuffle back into its war at keeping the small room alight. It produced a penumbra, something Karkat sunk into, a sigh escaping his annoyed lips.
He was the epitome of anxiety at the moment, and any flooding that would have this present itself to his friends would show them just how weak he was. He closed his eyes, remembering the erstwhile felicity of his brother's call that was covered by a thick layer of anger and spite. Not that Kankri didn't deserve it, he was being as annoying as ever. Still, Karkat never asked for it to disappear completely. He opened his eyes again when he remembered his brother's warnings for a blood disease. He couldn't remember the name, but whatever it was, he wanted no part of it. Bleeding for a longer time than usual would have everyone knowing he was but a child to be taken care of, rather than the strong, bold, and intrepid leader he was supposed to be. He would work with whatever he could to clear up the accusations, because as far as he knew
there was nothing wrong with him. And that, is how it would Stay.
Chapter 7: Where
He would be lying if he said he wasn't worried about the whereabouts of either of his sons. Kankri wasn't fit to be out of the house doing God-Knows-What while being beaten by God-Knows-Who. Karkat was at a camp, which was certainly dangerous because there was no way of telling if he had Hemophilia or not.
Signless rested his head on the back of the couch when his phone suddenly bleeped. His spine snapped back into a forward position to grab ahold of it, praying it was one of his sons.
pipefan413: I HAVE SOME SERIOUS BUSINESS TO DISCUSS.
Signless tilted his head and reached towards it, his gut twinging in sudden worry.
ichorinfidel: Who is this?
pipefan413: THIS IS MR. EGBERT. HAVE YOU SEEN MY DAUGHTER? SHE IS MISSING.
Signless reached a hand up to scratch his newforming beard.
ichorinfidel: No, I have not, but my son, Kankri is gone too. I got a call from the school that he wasn't present for any of his classes. He wasn't on the bus either.
pipefan413: IS THAT TRUE? IT ISN'T LIKE JANE TO GO MISSING. I'VE BEEN REALLY WORRIED. SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE PRESENT DURING THE BUSINESS TRANSFER. WE WERE RANDOMLY BOUGHT OUT THOUGH, WHICH HAS CAST ME INTO A POOL OF TURMOIL.
ichorinfidel: Who bought out your business?
pipefan413: FISH N GO.
Just reading the name made his stomach curl. Fish N Go. It was a mess of a business. He knew, that those with money were able to control almost everything. He was lucky he wasn't in more trouble after The Incident.
ichorinfidel: Oh, I wasn't aware.
pipefan413: THERE ISN'T A LOT OF TIME TO EXPLAIN. I HAVE A LOT OF BUSINESS TO DO. ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN LOT OF CHANGES. WE NEEDED THE MONEY, WE WERE GOING BANKRUPT. NOW I WORK UNDER HER FISHY ORDERS. HER DAUGHTER WAS SUPPOSED TO ACQUIRE IT TODAY, BUT I HAVEN'T HEARD ANYTHING SINCE.
ichorinfidel: Okay, just keep an eye out for my son, I'm going to call the cops and make sure they know.
pipfan413: IT APPEARS THERE ARE OTHER MISSINGS. THE CAPTOR HOUSEHOLD SAID THEIR SON IS MISSING.
Signless exited out of the chatting interface and scrolled through the contacts until he found his friend's number. He pressed the cold phone to his ear, and almost instantly, the ringing came to an end.
Signless hadn't talked to Psiioniic in too long. He almost missed their old communications. The man had one hell of a lisp that always caused him to slip over his words.
"Have you seen my son? I heard your kid went missing too. I'm about to go to the school and see if they are skipping or something."
"Mituna wasn't here for me to drive him to the bus. Latula is gone too, I called her mother to see if Tuna had snuck over again."
Signless stared off into the fireplace at the corner of the chilly room. He felt a weight press down harder on him.
"I don't know what happened." Psiioniic continued. "I was fired the other day. I didn't want to tell Mituna until Sollux had come home, yet somehow he seemed to figure it out. Maybe he was upset about that?"
"I don't know." Signless said.
"I hope this isn't my fault." Psiioniic said, his voice falling softer into the cackling of the phone.
"It isn't." Signless muttered.
"You don't know what I've seen Signless. It wasn't... good. There was a reason I was fired."
Signless clenched his eyebrows together.
"You didn't continu-"
"I did. After you were fired those years ago, everyone stayed cautious. Word got around about it, you know? Well, as the tech guy of the group I was supposed to be... You know what? I'll meet you at the school, I don't want to talk about this under an untrustworthy network like this. You never know who's Listening."
Chapter 8: Anchor
"Allodoxaphobia, is when someone is afraid of another person's opinions, are you suffering from that?" Meenah watched Porrim rip Kankri a new one as the two continued to bicker in the in front of her about what ever pointless topic they were onto this time. She didn't want to be near these idiots anymore.
However, they knew her location, and at least one of the blatherskites were likely to disclose it if they were ever separated. If the situation at hand had anything to do with her Mother's Job, then she was going to have to toughen them up, quite a bit. She already had the plan together too.
They were going to have to get through obstacles. No one was going to get through to anything if she didn't destroy the bonds at hand. Kankri, somehow, was already popular among the group. Seemingly, quite a few people knew him. He was readable to her though, and she didn't fall for his mundane acts. The guy was a blabber-mouth, and was educated on social justice more than she liked to admit, however, he wasn't the nicest. He had a backhanded way of making others feel important or liked when in reality, it was probably some ego thing that was designed to hide an aspect of him. If people liked him, he wouldn't look like the weak baby he was. Though his constant complaining was almost unbearable to everyone. He would have to lose everything.
Cronus. Nobody liked him anyway, he didn't matter.
Aranea wasn't so bad, but she didn't know when to shut her mouth about pointless details. Though Meenah had to admit, the girl knew some juicy things about the group. Things that would definitely come in handy. Porrim wasn't bad either, and Meenah guessed Meulin wasn't too bad. Just kind of annoying. Like really annoying.
Kurloz was a creepy dude, with his mouth all stitched up and shit. It was... it was weird. Meenah didn't mind Latula, but she was a little obnoxious in a way-too-loud kind of way. Her extreme attitudes and "radical" stunts could get annoying. Otherwise, she was okay.
Mituna, the fishiest one of them all, was abrasive in an entirely different way. He was easily provoked and easily... hurt? She didn't know, or really care at the moment.
As for the other guys, she didn't know them well enough, but they all looked easy enough to persuade into continuing her journey.
Meenah, the heiress to her mother's Fish N Go company, and future empress to the Underground-Watchu-Macallits, leaned back in her seat. Going off to find her little sister was tedious, if it meant spending a prolonged time with these losers, but whatever the case, Mouthy was right. She was sure her sister said Maryland before exiting the school during the election.
Cronus, from the front of the car, rolled up his window, and pulled a small device to his mouth. When the speakers crackled to life, it was revealed the thing was a microphone.
"So, vwhat's the plan?" He asked through a ringing voice.
"We are goin to get outa here." Meenah said, raising her voice, "but we ain't goin home."
Cronus' dimpled grin reflected off of the front mirror.
"More hangout time then, I see." He said.
"Is it goin to take you forebber to realize I'm not interested in you... in even the slightest?" Meenah asked, tilting her head of dark cornrows.
"I nevwer said you had to be interested in me, but that vwould be kind of nice." He said.
"No." Meenah responded.
"Okay vwhatevwer." Cronus said, his voice dropping. "It's your loss."
She almost laughed if the truth wasn't annoying as hell. He would act like he gave up, but would be back onto her within a day.
"So I think we need to go be interviewfin some of the locals." Meenah said.
"Wouldn't that show our location?" Aranea asked.
"I guess so, but come on Serket, how else are we supposed to find them?"
The Jane girl from the front turned around and raised her nose in the air.
"I think we should just go home, honestly, for all we know they could be fine."
Meenah looked at her and visualized how nice it would be to just... throw something at her. Like a pencil maybe. Or something heavier.
"They were somewhere around there. Let's just ask about the camp and tour the area."
Cronus cleared his throat and opened his mouth to talk. His eyes looked a little red, which wasn't surprising due to his stupid cigarette habit.
"Vwe are going to look around Cumberland, Maryland." He announced to the group. "Vwho vwants to be the guy vwhogoes up to the houses."
He paused for a moment, lowering the microphone, and taking a turn in the road towards a neighborhood. The houses were antebellum in their architecture and large columns held roofs high in the front. Grand windows were spread evenly among them, and the landscaping caused the grass to resemble a golf course with trees and flowers.
"I'll go up."
"Why you?" Jane asked. A breeze entered into the bus as Cronus rolled his window down. He flicked his lighter and placed a cigarette into his mouth. Ignoring Jane, he began to pull into a driveway to a small yellow home.
"Don't pull into their driveway," Latula blurted out. She coughed, then ran her fingers through her hair. "Because that would be a wicked bad idea!! They will see the bus and know our vehicle. EASIER TO TRACK BRO!" She said, pushing her glasses farther up her nose.
Cronus' eyes widened, and he pulled back out, the bus shaking. Everyone amongst Meenah grew silent as he parked behind an old blue doughnut shot and shut off the engine.
"I'll park here, at this shop, just vwait here. I don't havwe a lot of money for gas, so I havwe to turn this baby off." He said, patting the wheel. Meenah sighed and looked out the frosted window, happy to not be home for the acquiring the business that she knew would unfairly anchor her future down.
The car shook after Cronus opened and shut the door. He was able to just jump out, meaning he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.
A good way to get rid of his pathetic existence if the car would ever mysteriously crash.
Chapter 9: Buckle Up
He slipped out of the bus, realizing he had never buckled up. Letting a sigh escape from his lips, he realized just how little it probably meant to everyone.
Which was dumb, because it should. He was just like them after all, a teenager going through puberty. Things happen during puberty. Plenty of THINGS.
Damnit, why couldn't they just accept him?
He had volunteered to leave because he knew his Dad wasn't likely to report him missing for a few days, or weeks. Just depends on how long it took him to notice his son was actually gone.
As he approached one of the smaller houses, his stomach dropped.
He had left his ashtray in clear sight on his dresser in his bedroom.
Well, that secret wasn't a secret anymore... and his freedom was no more as well. He was definitely going to be grounded for that.
Cronus picked up his pace, happy that the sky was now brightening up. The soles of his shoes crunched on the ice present on the sidewalk. He made a turn, stepping atop the stone stairs and onto the sidewalk to a nice home. He pushed his hair back with his hands and walked up another set of steps to a clean white door. There was a stale Christmas reef hanging on it, so he did the homeowners a favor and plucked it off, dumping its carcass in the garden beside the porch. He made a slight glance to his bus, that was just barely visible from where he stood. Some of his friends inside were raising their hands like he had just committed a heinous crime.
Ignoring them, Cronus knocked on the door.
He waited for a second, listening carefully to see that someone would arrive. When this act proved to be a fail, he turned around. Without paying attention to where he was walking, his head connected to the rough wooden pillar in front of him. Rubbing his head and cursing at the thing that had brought him so much pain, he was struck with surprise when the door behind him opened.
"Can I help you?"
A woman raised her eyebrow. She peered around the door and eyed the area where the decoration had once been. Cronus looked the opposite direction of where he had placed the reef, and cleared his throat.
"Yes, actually, you can." He began, unable to look her in the eye. "My siblings vwere here for a camp, and I havwen't heard from them. Vwait, no I only havwe one sibling. My brother."
From the corner of his eye, he watched the lady shift in her position.
"Oh honey, I don't. We don't have camps around here in the winter. You could check with Florence, she always knows when things happen in this town because she thinks she's the best mom."
Cronus looked up and squinted his eyes.
The lady was short, and had graying brown hair and deep laugh lines.
"Nothing dear! What happened to your head? Are you okay? And is that cigarette smoke? How old are you?"
Cronus backed up slightly offput by the sudden nurturing nature.
"It's just a scar, and I'm eighteen. Vwhere does Florence livwe?" He asked, trying to escape. He didn't really know why, but the woman was almost... scary.
"She lives across the street hun. Good luck sweetheart!"
"Thank you! Finally someone vwho recognizes my kindness." He grinned. Cronus turned around and marched down her stairs and set for another pillared house. It was white, and was much larger than the home he had just visited. He stood at the side of the street as a truck rolled down the road. He rolled his eyes at having to wait, time taking too long. It was cold outside, and he was only wearing his leather jacket. It made him look like a badass, sure, but he was beginning to debate its significance.
Just as he was about to step out after the truck, he was taken back by a slosh of mud from the skirling wheels of the vehicle. It splashed him, the wet spongy and turbid liquid bespattering his face and jacket. He looked down at his apparel, shocked at what just occurred. His mouth fell open, and he lifted his hands out in front of him to gaze upon the filth that had covered him. The truck was flat out of the area, as though it didn't just smother someone in mud.
"Vwhat a fucking germ." He muttered, flicking the mud off his hands. Another car began to turn its way onto the street, and Cronus was quick to cross this time. It roared past him, even before he was fully on the sidewalk. Huffing at the rudeness, he realized there was no way he was going to be taken seriously now.
He stomped to the door, and rung the doorbell. Crossing his arms, he waited for the door to open. When it did, a bald man stepped out, slapping his newspaper open.
"Oh I see. Another one of you." He growled.
"Vwhat? Do you havwe an issue with avwesome-"
The door was shut instantly in his face. Cronus grumbled. He rang the doorbell again, the door opening once more.
"Will you get off my lawn? You can't have my couch or my daughter."
Cronus tilted his head.
"Screvw the couch, vwhat's your daughters age?"
The man glared at him, and Cronus shrugged.
"I don't havwe room for her in my ride anywvay. Vwell, unless I kick out one of those underclass idiots. I am not picky in vwho I givwe rides to." He shook his head. "That's not the point. I vwas vwondering if you knevw about a camp somewvhere around here, my brother is missing."
At the latter statement, the man's eyes lightened.
"Oh, that damn Nelly from 'cross the street sent you didn't she? I keep telling her, my wife and I don't know everything about this town. Anyway, I heard the Greyson's sent their kid to a camp some years ago. They have been pretty vocal about not knowing the whereabouts. Johna, I think it was? Maybe Jerom. I don't remember, but I would check with them." He said before shooting a glance behind him. "Do... do you need a ride or something? You look like you got into a mess."
Cronus shook his head.
"No, I'vwe got my ovwn ride. Vwhere do these keepers livwe?"
"Try 401 Walker Lane. It's just three streets down from here." The man said, already stepping back into the warmth of the house.
"Alright." Cronus responded. He turned around without thanking the man, and began down the stairs. He listened to the door shut behind him as he made his way across the street. His stomach curled with the fact his friends were going to have to see the humility that was coating him. And he was going to get his bus dirty. He shuffled his way back to the doughnut shop and walked behind it, the scent of the dumpster beside him rising in the air. The moment he opened the door, the voices of fifteen teenagers bickering arose.
"Vwovw, do you guys really need a guy like me to keep the peace?" He asked.
"Did you find anything out?" Latula asked.
"Yeah. that vwe havwe to go to someone else' house." He said, starting the engine.
Kankri let out a deep breath.
"Finally, some heat. I was feeling deprived of a privilege everyone should have, the ability to keep a well maintained temperature-"
"Oh my God shut up." Meenah interrupted.
"Even I am getting annoyed right now." Porrim added.
The three of them continued to talk amongst each other, Meenah and Porrim's voices growing louder, and Kankri's more stern. Cronus temporarily ignored them as he started back on the road, winding along alone on a deserted road.
"Nani ga okotta?" Damara said from beside him. He looked at her for a moment.
"You knovw I don't understand that right?" He said, debating on whether he should pull out another cigarette. The shit was more addicting than he thought it was, and he missed the days when he would only put one in his mouth to look cool. Damara shifted her gaze back out the window.
He too redirected his gaze. He made a turn and parked the bus in front of a random house.
"You guys stay here, I'll be back." He said, ripping out the vehicle again. The frigid breeze struck him, the wetness of his clothes lacing the perfect breeding grounds for frostbite. He ambled down the street, trying to appear as though he knew what he was doing, kicking any stick or rock that came into his vision.
His eyes traced over the numbers on the mailboxes or the doors. Each house, at this point, seemed to look sadder than the last. Pointed roofs covered only a small portion of the drab sky. The snow that had fallen was gray, and the snowmen that had been built were melting to a deformed version of what they once were.
He turned when he found a house with faded red siding barely holding the walls together. On the door, drawn in what appeared to be a blue crayon, was the address of 401.
He lurched towards the door, his hand that had been stuffed in his pocket now entering back into the bleak atmosphere to offer a knock. Just as he did, a dog from inside the house began to bark. Footsteps cloaked their howls as the addition of a voice was thrown to tell them to stop.
The door creaked open, and a woman peeped out. Her glasses were too big for her face and seemed to magnify her eyes.
"Yes?" She asked.
"Is your son Jerom or something. Jeffery-"
"Johna." She said, her voice coming out more like a desperate growl, loud enough to potentially scare the dogs. "What about him?"
"I vwas at this guys house and he-"
She shook her head and raised her hands.
"I can't understand you, you're talking way too, too, too fast." She said, spitting out her words. "Come inside, inside."
Cronus lifted his eyebrow at her odd speech.
He realized just how stupid it was to walk into a strangers home the moment he did so. Her house was tidy, but smelt like dog fur. The T.V. was blazing, and a small mop-dog was hiding behind a corner, watching him.
"I don't have any tea or anything formal like that, but I do have orange juice if you would like some."
Cronus stuck close to the door, looking at the family photos and secretly envying the happy environment that was once there, but angered by it as well. How was it fair this guy got a happy family and he didn't?
"I'm good. I'm just here to ask about the camp. My brother vwent missing and vwe don't knovw..."
His sentence came to a strained end. The channel that was airing the news had five familiar faces on it. One of which, was his. The lady made a slight motion indicating her move. He quickly reached out, stepping in front of the view of the television.
"Are you alright?" She asked as her dog began to bark.
"Yeah!" Cronus coughed out. "I just havwe to be quick. The camp though, vwhere is it?"
She glanced away for a quick second before looking down at her hands.
"I don't know. It It It was in a a relatively normal place when I first dropped him off off off. Just a small town in Cumberland, Maryland. I filed a missing missing miss-ing person's file, but apparently the the camp never actually existed and the name of the man running it, said to be be Martin Yamsan, died in 1974. I've been tracking this for years, but they seem to be playing under the radar. It's a a a tricky scheme to kidnap people, I'm sor-sorry." She said, her voice falling quieter towards the end of the sentence. Cronus saw the lifelessness present in her eyes, which only made him wonder why he was never gifted a mother of his own.
"Vwhen did you send him there?" He asked.
"Two two years ago. Two years and three months months. There hasn't been a day the news news hasn't been on just in case. I'm sorry your your brother went missing, and I only only hope it wasn't to those people. I found found out about it one evening when he was acting out out of the norm because his sister passed passed away after the divorce. Suicide-ide."
She seemed incredibly bothered by what she was saying, her eyes fixated on her hands. "We we sent him there thinking it was a good way for therapy. I read the documents and signed signed them unknowing it was a faulty thing. The police didn't do anything anything either, which was weird to me me. The private investigator I hired was told to drop drop the ca-case. He told me, but said they wouldn't explain why. All they said was that he he would be fired. Nevertheless, Steve still works works with me. We've looked everywhere, and yet we still come up dry. However, you coming here has been a new opening. If you don't mind I get your number so you can help?"
"Uh, sure, but I vwon't be on for avwhile." Cronus said. The woman nodded, and turned around. While her back was turned, Cronus looked back to the television, glad to see it was off the topic. Instead, it now showed a celebrity smiling into the camera, her purple dress glittering. He wondered how his Dad had actually noticed in such a short amount of time that he was actually gone. His stomach began to hurt and his fingers began to tingle.
"Just write it down." The woman said. "But do tell me me, what brought you here young man? It isn't every day people come to me. In fact, most most most people like to remain silent on these matters. I believe it's what drives the world to the madness it is in in."
Cronus scribbled down what he believed to be his number and handed it back to the woman. He had to admit he was pleased to be asked by a girl for his number, even if it was for professional business... and from an older lady.
"I vwas told to come here from some guy three streets ovwer. My brother vwas last heard from in an area that caught fire. Vwe beliwved this to be the place, but some cubed guy said it vwas nevwer a camp. Yet it vwas caught fire."
Her eyes grew wider, mouth falling agape.
"There wasn't wasn't any any bodies was there there?"
"Not that I could see." Cronus shrugged. "Listen lady, I just vwant to find my brother."
Her eyes narrowed. "That's just like like the justice system system. To ignore the real problems. Keep me updated. They move though, they they never stay put. Just hope your brother escaped. I have reached out to woman all over the world who have had had had disappearances like this, and rarely is their child found. I can't believe I've let this this happen." She began to rub her head. Feeling awkward, Cronus inched towards the door.
"Just, don't believe what people tell you," she said. "I lost my son here two years ago, and yet, I was never able to find him again. I have searched everywhere, and I still feel lost."
Cronus nodded, his fingers feeling as though they were going to fall off. He never expected his brother would leave like this. As long as his brother was gone, he wasn't returning home. Even if it meant Eridan eventually dating Feferi making his future wife-relationship with Meenah awkward.
Chapter 10: Insects
Sollux, other than Karkat who had eventually joined the group, sat separated. His head hurt, and his muscles were so sore, he almost didn't want to move. After the electroshock therapy, he hadn't felt the same. He couldn't remember anything from that day, or the day before, as much as he wanted to. Karkat had explained to him what had happened, and it seemed to only make his body hurt worse.
"We should be getting food soon. Usually no one sits in here since this is the dining area." The X kid said from the far part of the room. "We come here three times a day to eat, though sometimes it's hard to squeeze in a meal during show weeks. I sometimes have to skip breakfast or dinner. No one misses lunch though, it's everyone's favorite part of the day. Just watch for Ansel, he's a little kooky. I don't mind him myself, but that's because I don't go anywhere near him."
Sollux focused on the wall in front of him. He wasn't going to communicate with any of the circus morons, mostly because he didn't give a fuck about them. He just wanted to return home to his brother and Dad. Even Bee, their dumb dog.
"TWO MORE HOURS UNTIL WE REACH OUR DESTINATION!" A man's voice roared from the speakers. "LYNCHBURG!"
He was tempted to look up the area on his phone before realizing it was still at the camp. Or whatever was left from Gamzee burning the place down. He really hoped he didn't get into trouble for all of this. Or blamed for it or whatever.
He jumped at the high squeaks of Feferi's voice.
"Oh, hey FF." He said, rubbing the sides of his head.
"What's the matter?" She asked, sitting down in front of him.
"Oh, the usual." He moped, looking at her through his blue and red glasses.
"Do you want to talk about your feelings?" She asked. "You look like really sad."
Sollux locked eyes with hers, their dark color matching her skin.
"I don't know." He said, shrugging. If he was to talk about his feelings, it would either be with her or Aradia. Feferi smiled.
"Stop being a retard and make up your mind Sollux!"
"Maybe I don't want to talk with them? Did you ever think about that?" He snapped.
Her eyebrows folded into an angry split.
"You're so frustrating!"
She paused for a second, twisting a strand of hair around her finger.
"It's kind of cute."
He lifted his head a little, confused at the remark. People didn't like him, he was a talentless idiot.
His eyes shifted over to someone in the group, whose eyes were set on him like an insect attracted to the light. Eridan sneered, his teeth gritting. Sollux ignored him, not caring for the scarfed hipster, and focused back on Feferi. His head began to pound as he began to think about Aradia, confused on his emotions.
Chapter 11: Stationary
Freezing rain from the winters harsh tears were spattered onto the frosted windows of the bleeding red caboose that swept through Cumberland, its metal hinges screaming as the wheels came to a grating stop.
Karkat, alike the rest of the group surrounding him, lunged towards the table to keep it from falling. It wobbled intensely in their hands before becoming stationary.
Exiting a breath, he glanced over to Terezi, who already had her nose in the air.
"It smells... really good actually!" She laughed, looking at him.
"I guess so." He shrugged, unknowing how to respond.
"Like, candy! Lots of it!"
Her red glasses glimmered in the light pouring from the aperture that was forming from the sliding door being pulled open.
Spaldon peered in from the front, suspended by the steep metal stairs below the stacked soles of his leather saddle shoes. He looked almost depressed with the way his coat was soaked in the rain. His eyes said nothing as his mouth opened to speak.
"Xefros, Dammek is at The House already. Apperently there was an issue with he and the twins, alongside some other members and they had to leave. He said he would tell you later. If he asks, I used code to tell you this."
Spaldon had took to raising his eyebrows throughout the last half of his sentence so his expression resembled more of a sneer. A rawky breeze crept inside the room, dancing softly with the warm zephyr.
"He's at Belford's?" Xefros asked in return, his mouth falling agape.
Spaldon nodded, holding his top hat as he did so. "Yes, we should be there within a few months. We have a lot to do before you can arrive."
Xefros' cheeks began to turn red as he fumbled with his hands. Karkat watched the moron, feeling a slight pang of empathy.
Spaldon shifted, his tongue licking his lips.
"It's going to be hard without the twins, they made for a good bridge in the act." He blinked, changing the subject, then turned back towards the outside. "Just wait here for your snack, they are going back into the Harris Candy Store to get some things for everyone. It's going to be a little while until we reach Lynchburg, so keep your patience in tact. We will have a good lunch when we arrive, then we can unpack and start setting up the tents. The motel is kind of sleazy, from what I've heard, but we're on a bu-"
Spaldon paused, then drug his hand to his forehead.
"Nevermind, why am I even telling you?" His eyes trailed over Karkat and his group. "You all will be assigned roles when we reach our destination."
Karkat looked back at Xefros. The guy seemed worried, with the way he played with his hands and how his gaze darted over areas of the caboose that seemed otherwise mundane.
He shook his head, Karkat Vantas wasn't weak, and he was a leader. This guy, wasn't a significant part of his life and didn't matter. He had better things to worry about than scooping around like an infant trying to make friends and change each other's shit-shutes.
Spaldon slid the door shut, and the winter waltz came to a stop as the warm air took dominance again. Karkat leaned back, his head resting on the seat. Terezi dipped her head so that her ruby-masked eyes were looking into his.
"Karkat, brighten up!" She said, nudging him. "You're being so quiet, if I couldn't hear your huffs, I would think you were dead!"
Terezi frowned for a second, but it was soon replaced by yet another grin.
"It's annoying when you're like this, but it's also kind of cute seeing you try to be all big and tough!"
He met her eyes, a shimmering pool of teal, lit up by what could only be the moon over waters.
"I'm not cute." He exclaimed, crossing his arms over each other. She moved back into her seat, watching as the doors were quick to reopen and send them into vulnerable pits reigned by some fucker named Jack Frost.
"Yes you are, you don't have to argue it Karkels. You're all crossing your arms, and raising your chin acting all tough and mighty. If you're trying to get attention, I am just SWOOOONING over here!" She said, her laughs becoming something of a shriek.
"Good, you should be. I am the leader of the group after all." He said, being clear to raise his voice for the last part.
A dorky looking man who seemed to be losing hair walked in the caboose, and set down two plastic bags. A trace of vanilla and sugar strung itself through his nose. Instantly, Terezi reached her hand in and pulled out a purple lollipop.
Karkat watched her as she unwrapped it, her face dipped in excitement. He too reached inside the bag, annoyed at all the hands that were inside of it along him.
Eridan, was the only one who wasn't engaging in the almost violent feasting ritual.
"That's not fair, I wwanted that one." He pouted as Sollux laughed, unwrapping a chocolate bar.
"Sorry, I guess you should have been faster." Sollux said, raising his shoulders.
"This is comin from the lowwlife skum you are." Eridan murmured, a little quieter.
A voice he had not heard in awhile rung like a bell. He looked over at the tall girl who had taken a seat next to him.
"Oh, hey Kanaya." He said, being sure to drop at least a little bit of the repulsive attitude he had taken to.
"Did they say roles?" She asked, smiling slightly.
"When? You mean when that guy came in and got his mysterious attitude on? Seriously though, what's up with that?" He felt himself grow warm with irritation. "Why does everyone we come into contact with have to be all dark and hidden like this?! Is it that fucking hard to ask for a normal person?"
Kanaya laughed. "Well, we are in the circus."
He calmed down, taking a breath.
"Yeah, I guess you're right on that. Why were we this dumb to come to the circus? Wait, I guess that was my stupid idea. Like always. Why did I have to choose the circus?!"
"It was the only choice you knew at the moment, Karkat. In fact, though the outfits are a little atrocious, I think this might be an interesting, if not inspiring course of action brought to us by a smart leader."
Karkat leaned back, opening a thing of Cracker-Jacks. "Yeah, if you say so."
Chapter 12: Puppets
He moved from the table in the corner kitchen, the brightly colored walls seeming to add to the drab atmosphere. The news blared in a room just down the hall, but he wasn't watching it. Instead, he was trying to think up an alibi as to how he discovered his sons were missing. The authorities were gullible, but they weren't stupid.
His plan hadn't worked as well as he had expected it to. The man he hired to keep everyone in view had let them vanish, and now it was up to one of his puppets to figure out their location, and help drive the others into the main focus point. What mattered was how far he would get from this, and where he would end up. Whether or not his sons lived or died, wasn't of much matter to him, though the eldest was the most valuable. He needed someone to pass the company over to when he died.
Chapter 13: Exceeding Expectations
Signless drug his gray 1990 audi 100 into the parking lot of Alternia High School, one of the oldest schools in the state right after Parkersburg High School. Though it had been worked over numerous times, the exterior remained mostly the same as when he attended the school. What with the soaring brick walls and the flat ceilings that had pointed accents. The windows with the carvings around them and the original wooden front doors. The school colors, yellow and purple, were still on the flag that rested at the top of the school, and the same tree that was there when he was young, sat proudly beside the parking horseshoe, its roots threatening to swallow the road and anything that came into its path.
After twisting the key out of the ignition, Signless got out of the car, the snow-licked air pushing him closer to the warmth of the door. He began to move swiftly, his hands clawing at his brown waxed cotton jacket to keep it closer to him.
Somewhere behind him, someone had lisped out his name. He stopped, turned around, and saw a man huddling towards him.
"Psiioniic, there you are." Signless said as his friend reached him. "Why did you choose this place? You know, it really-"
"No offense or anything, but we can't do for one of your rants." Psiioniic interrupted. "Let's just get inside, and find a place to talk. Neophyte and I already contacted the teachers. They don't know anything."
"Neophyte?" Signless asked, resuming his pace towards the door. "Interesting, I think my son is flushed for her daughter."
He paused for a second, rubbing his chin.
"Did they also tell you your kid had to stay longer at the camp?" He asked.
Psiioniic glanced at him, and for the first time in a very long while, Signless saw the heterochromia iridum that took place within the man's eyes. One eye was blue, the other was a brown color, almost a muddy red in the light of the sun.
"Yes, they did. I again had a talk with Neophyte. She didn't recall signing the papers they said she did. I guess there was no contact number either." Psiioniic answered tugging a backpack closer to his back and returning his gaze to the school, raising his chin. He was pale, almost ghostly, as he reached for the door handle. Pulling it open, Signless was thrown back into nostalgia at the mural of golden angels on the school's front room's ceiling. Though his religion often made him feel at peace with a tenderness of never being fully alone, it now it seemed as though the angel's efflorescent faces and round cherry cheeks were mocking his turmoil. Their grins and soft fingers wove an ugly tapestry that forced him to look away.
"There wasn't?" Signless asked, his stomach twisting. He was going to be sick.
"No. So we contacted the authorities. They are looking into it, as is she. But I think there might be more to this than you think." Psiioniic muttered as a group of kids made their way passed them.
Psiioniic's eyes began to trace around them.
"Fish N Go."
Signless raised his eyebrows.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"When you tried to report what you found, a lot of the company was fired. She kept me though, showing some pity I didn't need. As the main tech guy in her place, I was supposed to regulate the traffic and keep her identity a secret."
"There's a lot you don't know. Now let's go to the Red Room. They don't have camera's in there, I hacked the school's security system last night."
Signless continued after Psii, stepping into a hall that was so bright, it stung his vision.
"Where's the Red Room?" He asked. "And how did you hack into the system?"
Psiioniic looked through him, his eyes unreadable, and his movement amiss.
"It's in the Annex, which is only accessible if you exit the school through the back. When you do, it's one of the rooms that is unused. Sollux went there for therapy before they shut it down after it caught on fire. It's obsolete now, and relatively close. We will have to pick a different meeting place after this though."
Signless shook his head.
"Why did you choose the school then?" He asked. "Couldn't we have just met at Neophyte's? If you're really concerned about safety, then a public setting filled with hundreds of kids isn't exactly what one would have in mind."
Psiioniic let out a sigh.
"Do you have to bitch about everything I do Signless? Are you suffering that bad? No, so stop."
Signless squinted his eyes at his friend as they continued down a mostly desolate hall. The stark white walls had posters spread like stars, one of which shone brighter than the others. Signless paused, and walked over to it, reaching his fingers behind it and plucking it off its tape. Kankri Vantas had glued one of the rarely taken photos of him to the red surface.
"What are you doing?" Psiioniic said, joining his side.
"Kankri really wanted the election."
Psiioniic rubbed his head.
"Just take it with you, my headache is acting up again, lets just get to the red room and then we can go have a tea party or something." He said, his lisped words cut short at the end of each syllable.
They made their way down the halls, more photos of Kankri splattered against the walls. The more he looked at them, the more they resembled "Missing" posters. He began to trace the floor, shadows of he and his friend bobbing lightly, but swiftly. They passed the gym, where screaming and fighting ran its way through the halls. They crossed paths with the library, the silence seeming to radiate outside of it.
"Here's the door we're going out of." Psiioniic said when they came to a sharp turn in the hall. Without stopping for a comment of any sort, he shoved the metal doors open, and raced outside. Signless picked up his pace and tried to catch up.
The annex, about a hundred meters from where he was, was built by the same architect who had built the school. It too, was tall and brick. However, if things were still like the last time he was here for Karkat and Kankri's shots, then it hadn't been upgraded since it was built. The pipes still dangled inside the building, and electric wire sprung out like unwanted roots in every room, creating something of a hazard. He supposed that was probably what caused the fire. Due to the lack of finances to get it remodeled (most of the school's money went to the sports team and traveling choirs) it had never been redone.
They grew closer ever yet, neither of them speaking a word. Their footsteps crunched the snow below them. Signless' cheeks burned.
They reached the door. Psiioniic pulled it open, and peered behind him.
"If they ask, we are implementing the new wireless data plan into the storage unit." He said, before turning back around and placing himself into a building whose only light was of the cloud-hidden sun glaring through the windows. Signless remained quiet, letting the door slam shut behind him. It pushed an icy current into the room, releasing a transient shiver through his body. He could see his breath in front of him, and all of the dust that fluttered through the room. It was as though the cold had many bodies, all of which were hosting a huge ball.
"Come on Signless." Psii said, stepping up on the stairs. Signless followed, both of them ascending what felt like an area where any noise was trapped into a small compartment and hidden away forever.
They walked down a hall, after reaching the top. Every door was made of metal, and was colored the same dull gray-blue as its surroundings, only one stood out.
"That red door down there leads to the red room." Psiioniic said. "Half of it was eaten away by whoever set it ablaze. It's usable though. I just wouldn't recommend us staying in there for too long."
As the door grew closer to him, Signless began to feel his stomach weigh more and more. Every step was another stone laid atop of him, every blink of an eye was a blink that brought him closer to vomitous anticipation.
When Psiioniic rested a hand on the knob, and found it locked, for some reason, he felt relief wash over him. However, Psiioniic instead took a glance down the hall before pulling out a key and slipping it into the hole. The door loosened, it's battle lost as it was shoved open. Signless approached the inside, his body urging him not to. Psiioniic was right. The Red Room, with its walls bricked and its floors crimson was, in fact, red. The only part that spoke otherwise was the thick black permanent shadow on the furthest half. Burnt wood had crept its way across the floors and ended, with its branches still reaching out to grab more. Other than that, the room was completely empty, though it seemed to be filled with a massive void in the shape of an elephant.
"Just sit down there." Psiioniic said, pointing to the wall to his left.
"What is it?" Signless asked, taking a seat on the floor. The attic-like stench stung his nostrils, causing him to want to leave as soon as possible. "And where did you get a key?"
"I picked up the key awhile ago." Psiioniic said, dismissing the question. He joined Signless against the wall, and opened up his backpack. Pulling out a laptop, he closed his eyes. "I left it up." He said, his voice growing small.
"What?" Signless pressed. He wanted answers. He needed answers.
Psiioniic let out a visible breath of air.
"What I found. My last laptop was destroyed by the Condesce, but pretending to be a supporter for her... company, I was able to see what I had shielded all these years. She doesn't just want to rule the market and economy. She wants all of the markets. All of them. That means engaging in darker things. I don't think she's the only one playing this game either." Psiioniic began to open his laptop.
"Be careful, it's visual, and there isn't a thing the authorities can do to stop it."
Signless gasped at a face that stared blankly into his. Lifeless and deformed.
Chapter 14: Journal Entry One
Monday, January the fifteenth. I have to admit, this roadtrip is nowhere near as horrible as I would have first thought it out to be. Regardless of the fact Ampora has an abundance of his stupid musical CD's, I have been able to take the time to listen in on conversations and catch up on some intriguing drama that will surely come into handy sometime in the future. As the new president of Alternia High School, I am already feeling a surge of power from my peers, and I have to admit to some extent, it's amazing. Vantas, however, still seems to take a disliking to me. He glares at me when he doesn't think I am looking, and constantly has something to critique me on. It's so petty and it's starting to really give me a headache. It's completely obvious that under his blatherskiting excess mishandling of the English language, there is a whirlpool of annoyance that is eventually going to break out of him. I am tempted to get to know him and get him to like me, because for some reason, I feel like I need to gain his trust. It's important, as my mother would say, so make sure that your peers trust you, that way when misfortune raises its ugly head, you won't be the one missing an arm. Nevertheless, with the way people hardly want to listen to what I have to say, I see that same issue in him. I am not sure whether or not he notices it, but it might be fun to talk to him. We may have more in common than we think. I just don't know if I should because Meenah would be "all up in my fins" for it. Now, for the drama. For one, (this one is obvious), it seems Meulin and Kurloz are still playing the "we broke up" card, but we all know what they do in their spare time. It's not just sign language. They were spotted not long ago in the back of Kurloz's new purple Mazda MX-5 MIATA with the loud motor. It was late at night, so when I was cruising my neighborhood to get something from the Stop Mart, I happened to pass by the Makara mansion. I would have passed them if it wasn't for the bubbly laughter erupting from the night-clouded vehicle. It didn't shock me at all that she was smoking pot. Or that they were curled up together in a blanket. Whatever floats their boat. I need to stop with these stupid fish puns. With the way Kurloz looks at Meulin, anyone with a keen eye could tell you he is still deeply in love with her. Through her effervescent and ailurophilic demeanor, it's difficult to know if she still feels the same way about him. I still need to get to the bottom of him sewing his mouth shut though. Then, there is Latula. She's still super radical, and lots of people like her... she's so cool. She and Mituna have been together for so long, and to be honest, it's shocking she remained with him even after his brain-damage incident. He's still a big asshole, but he and she seem to get along so well together. Mituna often gets picked on at school even more than before, and he was even seen throwing things around in the library (much to my annoyance as the library student-helper). Meenah said he was trying to ride his skateboard down the stairs. She was going to let him, actually trying to get him to hurry up before anyone could stop him, but as fate would have it, Latula came looking for him and found him preparing for flight. She stopped him and prevented what could have been another brain-damaging incident. Cronus hasn't changed, is still a virgin, and is still completely single. Porrim and I, since dating, have been very distant, though shockingly, she made me a nice dress for the election that I really love. It was kind of her, but I still wish I never dated her. It's just too awkward now. That's enough on that subject!! Meenah, after being home schooled during High School, finally came back for her senior year, and somehow, though most people think she's destructive, she knows almost everything about everyone. That's probably thanks to me and the sources I gave her. She is the most popular girl in Alternia High, but she's still an outcast. That's how we became friends, though people are starting to like me much more : : : : ). It is confirmed Vriska's juvenile friends beat Kankri up after school, and they are now spreading rumors about him. Apparently he is now a "Rapey homosexual cross-dresser who messes with boys in the locker room and mutters dirty things under his breath." or the one that he's dysfunctionally retarded. He hadn't been showing up to classes on time anymore, and skips out of gym now. I feel a little bad for him, and that's probably why I want to be so nice to him now despite how annoying he is. He doesn't really talk about it, though he's probably posted on his Tumblr about how offensive it is to make fun of homosexuals or people with mental disabilities. You wouldn't be able to tell through his bible-worthy text anyway. Finally, the best of them yet, is the hilarious and pathetic romantic triangle between Damara, Rufioh, and Horuss. Damara has been suspecting Rufioh of cheating on her with Horuss, but she isn't sure yet. However, Meenah recently informed me that, indeed, Rufioh is a cheater. She told me not to tell Damara, because she apparently has a plan to make Damara "less of a weak little shrimp." In other words, she's probably going to bully the girl until she finally cracks and kills someone. Meenah has also been very wordy about no one contacting their parents, much to Jane's complaint. I think I know why that is too. Meenah, doesn't want to acquire Fish N Go. This is going to be one long trip. -Aranea Serket.
Chapter 15: Hours
"He said it would take us four hours and it's been seven fucking hours, that's a pretty significant change." Karkat snapped. Terezi watched him pout to the group, thinking about how funny it would be to really mess with him and tell him he was being too loud. She put off that thought when she peered through her ruby glasses at the crisp and deliciously colored blushing pumpkin sky. The sun, probably determining it was too cold to share its light to the world, would soon be going to sleep, leaving half of the world to shiver in the frigid abandonment. The night would soon be looked over with the light of a silver-milked bowl in the sky, its freckles hiding behind smokey oxford clouds and the arms of blue spruce trees.
"It usually takes this long." Xefros said. "They make a lot of stops and we happen to take awhile to get back on bored."
Her eyes brightened, the memory of a recent and suspicious death looming like coronal loops in her mind.
"Karkat, I have a series of unfortunate and potentially upsetting questions to ask you." She said, being sure to keep things professional. Her turned to her, his deep brown eyes widening. She knew there was something there, set deep within him, but he was too much of an egotistical dummy to calm down for once and be somewhat slower with things. His impatience in even his thoughts was sad, but somehow, kind of cute. She pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose. The way he acted made her want to get closer to him, like he was a tough, tough shell to crack.
"What?" He said, biting off the end of the word. She mentally sighed. She longed to comprehend him, but was having a difficult time understanding whether or not he wanted to get to know her back. If he really did like her. Latula was lucky. She was so cool and interesting. Guys always liked her. She was talented, funny, the best at games. Terezi was Terezi. Nothing interesting like that.
"It's about Cecil." She said, placing her elbow on the table and resting her cheek against it. The moment she said his name, Karkat's eyes widened and his cheeks flushed.
"Why the fuck would you want to know any of that?!" He asked, his eyebrows clenching. Whatever he was trying to hide to toughen himself up, it was working. She couldn't tell if it was purposeful, or if he really was just a huge jerk with no filter. Or was it both?
Bleh, curiosity was a hard curse to cope with.
"Karkat, calm down, I am trying to be professional about this. I know this is hard, but we have a murder on our hands." She said, reaching out and patting his shoulder. He looked at her arm, then looked back at her. Reaching up and plucking it off, he rolled his eyes.
"Alright detective Pyrope, what do you want me to tell you? I found Cecil dead in the lake looking like some kind of soapy cretinous swamp monster beat him with its cold, icy, and deformed dick."
She suppressed a laugh, but knew that the situation called for standards obtainable only by those most serious of her job. Like her mother. Still, she couldn't help but notice how worked up Karkat was getting about the entire situation, as though it really bothered him.
Or that he was the murderer.
That one almost made her laugh. Karkat acted tough, but she had never seen him grow physically aggressive.
"Do you think Martin would have done it?" She asked. Karkat crossed his arms.
"Do I look blind to you? Or do you need to take off your glasses to know for sure?" He paused for a second. Just as she was about to say something, he spoke again, this time, his voice quieter.
"I don't know who did it, but whoever it was, it seemed like they were trying to get rid of his group. It might have been the Game Instructor."
"Do you want a hug? You look distraught Mr. Vantas." She asked, planning on jabbing him in the stomach when she got close enough.
"No, I'm fine. I wasn't his friend." He said, pushing denial into his mouth by force.
Spaldon's voice over the intercom came fast and sudden as the train shook slightly and the table wobbled.
"Half an hour until we arrive at the train station in Lynchburg. Unpack everything, we'll have a Dream Party when all is done."
"Dream Party? What loser named that?"
Chapter 16: Book
Kankri blinked, his eyes stinging before watering. He hadn't realized how long they had been opened at the text in his hands. History, was a subject that always calmed him down. He didn't have a lot of friends, so the books served as a way to not only help him learn, but to give him a kind of faux conversation.
"So what did she say specifically?" Dirk said, from the front, his shoulders straightening. Cronus had hopped inside the car a few hours previous to this question, but got too caught up in the wind of arguments between Meenah and Latula. Apparently, while Latula was benevolently tapping away on her game, Meenah was trying to get a hold of Mituna to wake him up and otherwise cause an even bigger dispute. Latula didn't like that much and tried to tell Meenah to leave him alone. Kankri had tried to stick himself into the conversation, being as calm as he could to help them. Neither of them paid him any attention.
Cronus joined in , but it was only time before he would find himself being verbally attacked by the two girls. Kankri was sure to stick up for him, as Cronus should have rightfully been defended, but it seemed to do little to end what had started. The argument lasted at least a half an hour and Dirk had, the entire time, been asking about what all was said. To the annoyance of others, Cronus refused to talk until he was apologized to. When he expressed he was doing it out of the kindness of his heart (this happened when no one apologized) he told the group a crazy woman from a house down the road, had mentioned her son went missing at a camp and that she never saw him again. Kankri now, lifted his head, watching Cronus from the front to hear an answer.
"Hovw many times do I havwe to repeat this?" He asked, taking the vehicle on a sharp turn towards the woods.
"Until I get a decent answer." Dirk replied. Cronus let out an exaggerated breath, pulling the bus deeper into the street.
"She just said some useless shit about some camp and her son. She had this stupid speech impediment I vwas vwilling to ovwerlook and accept vwith howv nice I am."
Jane rubbed her temples.
"We get it, you think you're super nice or whatever. Will you just get on to the more important things?"
Kankri assumed she was still upset with missing whatever she was supposed to have been home for.
"I vwas getting there, calm dovwn chicky. Or do you need my assistance? I like helpi-"
"Ampora, if you don't get to the glubbin point," Meenah began. "I am gonna wring your neck."
Cronus let out a soft laugh that appeared forced. "Okay Okay! Sheesh ladies. So this vwoman I guess hired some PI guy vwho vwas told to drop the case for some reason." He said.
"Why didn't you say that in the beginning?" Dirk asked. "That probably would have been a slightly useful fact in comparison to you talking about her speech problems."
"Vwill all of you stop harassing me? It's draining." Cronus complained, slowing the bus down. He stopped it, and turned around in his seat.
Kankri looked out the window. They were parked at the end of a gravelled road, the trees at the end shooting their claws to the orange sky.
"Cronus why did you stop?" Kankri asked.
"Vwe don't havwe a lead and nobody is telling me vwhere to go." Cronus answered.
"We aren't going back home." Meenah said.
"Why not?" Jane asked from the front. "My Dad is probably worried sick!" Kankri turned around to meet Meenah's gaze.
"It seems to be in everyone's best interest to go home, Meenah. Don't you see? This is exactly the reason I told you that you weren't cut out for this role. This vindication is truly shocking, I know. Just let me take charge from here, I know what we need to do." He said. He spun around to meet Jane's annoyance that bubbled around her like a heavy aura, he closed his eyes.
"You, Jane, seem to have a crucial reason as to why you would want to return home. It's something that even in the negligible of our group, that the parents would want their children to return home. This is on important note too. Meenah. Wait excuse me, I would first like to alert the group about the potentialities of what my words may produce. I will be talking about some alarming issues at hand, some of which would obviously be quite triggering to a great majority of you."
He opened his eyes again to see Meenah's teeth were showing and her arms were crossed.
"Vantas, don't you dare."
He ignored her. This was an important lesson that he needed to make aware to the entire group. It was his job to maintain the peace, and he would keep it that way.
"Those triggering topics for the first chapter of the lecture include kidnapping, illegal driving of buses, and HEY!"
He had to break from the important topic when a book smacked him on the head hurting not only the skull it had tried to crush, but his neck. He felt the pain come soon after, throbbing like a heart beating in a chest cavity that was too small.
"Sorry Mouthy, I don't know what came over me." Meenah laughed. He glared at her, his face heating up. His friends began to draw away from his essay to mummer among themselves. Her voice continued, much to his exasperation.
"We need to stay here. Our siblings are lost and the police guys aren't goin to do anyfin to kelp." She resumed. "Even if it means stayin in this smelly bus listenin to Rufioh and Horse Dweeb get it on in the back." She looked around. "We can't just let the miniature versions of us remain missin. You heard the guys up there at the fire, they ain't doin shit aboat this. I have the bucks, so I can buy you weirdos some clothes or whatebber, but don't be expectin any expensive crab, because I am not doin that. We have food and stuff, we're fine. It won't take us that long. We just need to find a lead, and there we go." She said. Kankri's eyes searched the bus. Everyone was paying close attention to her and seemed to be completely engaged in what she was saying. He didn't understand how she could do that so effortlessly.
"Expensive crab?" Roxy asked through a yawn.
"I meant crap." Meenah said. "Like crap can also be crab? Get it?" She smiled. Roxy gave her a thumbs-up before resting her head on Jane's shoulder.
"I guess you're right." Jane said. "I just really wanted to be there for my Dad. Losing our company must have been so hard on him."
Meenah's face turned.
"Uh... yeah... movin along, I'm hungry. Who wants to be the one to buy all the food this time?"
Kankri pushed his hair out of his face. "Meenah that-"
He was about to start talking when spoke over him.
"Actually, I think I'll do it. I can't stand to be in this place for much longer."
Kankri took a breath in, trying to repress his anger.
"Drive us to that burger shack place down the road Ampora." Meenah said.
Kankri looked towards the direction of the voice. The same one that belonged to the winner of the school election.
"What?" He asked, stippling his word, yet still trying to remain professional. She leaned in, closer to him. Close enough that he could see the various shades of deep blue in her eyes, and the sparkles of her caramel eyeshadow.
"Do you feel like you're being overlooked?" She asked. Kankri tilted his head, confused by her random burst of empathy. She either wanted something, or the act itself was synthetic. Otherwise she wouldn't be acting so coy about it as though she was admitting to a murder.
"What are you implying?" He asked. He really didn't like the way she was looking at him. As ridiculous as it even sounded in his head, it was like she was trying to read his mind.
"I just want to help. You seem to be in a constant loop of turmoil and frustration, and talking it out could prove to be a very cathartic mean of recovery that could hopefully cause you to learn to perform better in your public speeches, and possibly understand yourself on a deeper level."
He didn't really know what to say to that. She sounded almost like his Dad when the guy wouldn't stop going on and on about the fight or the car accident.
"My speeches are perfectly fine the way they are and carefully outline the rectitude of my general thinking, so thank you, but no thank you." He said, trying his hardest to bite back his tongue. Just being in her presence made him so angry. He preached forgiveness but held grudges like they were the most sacred objects known to man.
"No really, I insist. In order to overcome whatever problem you might be suffering as of now, you need to come to terms on your internal imbalances."
"I don't have any of those, again, thanks but I'm not interested. In the slightest."
He lifted his chin and took his focus off of her. He wanted nothing to do with Aranea Serket.
Chapter 17: Like Father Like Son
When he felt the school's annex doors slam from behind him, he noticed it seemed much later than three thirty. He looked up at the sky, his mouth falling agape. Psiioniic was already ahead of him, moving towards the back door of the school.
"Signless hurry up!"
Signless ran after him, and both men exploded into the school. Nearly running over various teenagers, they pushed passed the lockers and posters. Their feet slapped the tiled flooring and their lungs filled with the scent of the school's past lunch. Numerous windows from too high on the wall passed their views and too many kids created obstacles for their race.
They reached the front doors, pushing through them like bullets from a gun.
"What is that?!" Signless spat. The silver clouds that were brewing in the air, hovered with weight. They moved quick, like they wanted to swallow the entire town.
"Something's on fire." Psiioniic said, his pace turning into a sprint. "My house, it's probably been burnt down!" He screamed. His voice, however, came out only as a whisper from the crowd of school kids forming a circle around the front lawn. Wherever the fire was, it was at least a few blocks away.
"Come with me Signless, she must have hacked into something of mine."
Signless did as he said, following his friend to a yellow Toyota. The thing looked seemed to resemble a crushed leaf. Broken and beat around the edges, but otherwise, alike many others. He reached for the door, pulling at a locked handle. Psiioniic struggled to grasp his keys to get them in the car, cursing under his breath. Signless looked at the streets, noting that it must have rained since he was in he annex, they were soaked.
"Are you sure it's your house that's on fire?" Signless asked as the car unlocked. He opened the door, urgent to get in warmth.
"What else randomly catches on fire during a time like this?!" Psiioniic snapped through a lisp. Before Signless could get his seat belt buckled, his friend shoved the key into the ignition and ripped out of the parking lot, causing the vehicle to let out a scream in the process. He held on to his seat.
"Kill us on the road will you." Signless said, clicking his seat belt into place.
"Yeah, really." Psiioniic muttered. Despite the traffic that was building up, Psiioniic rammed his car onto the road, gaining the attention of various honks.
The sky looked like it had grown ill and given up on shedding color to the world. The cloud that masked it was elephantine and took up a great portion of the sky. It made the snow look like soot and the trees look like hands that sprung from the ground, trying to get a breath of fresh air. The people in their cars seemed irritable, as though they needed to get home to their own personal fire.
Though Psiioniic was driving fast, at least eighty, and far above the speed limit, it still felt slow. It was almost as though the fire had caused time to slow down, but the flame itself was allowed to burn faster than anything.
They turned a road, barely missing the curb. The car bumped, and shook, but that didn't stop the gas pedal from being pushed down. They roared through streets, the smoke becoming even worse.
"It can't be your house." Signless said, breaking a long anticipated silence. Psiioniic began to slow down as lines of officer cars created a boundary around the heart of the fire. Fire trucks wailed as they shed their tears atop the hill at the end of the road.
The Peixes and Ampora mansions were both neighbors, and were both crumbling to the ground as a fire ate its way through it. It boomed through the windows and whipped around the roof. It melted the snow, and the flooding that was once the Peixes extraordinary aquarium created the illusion of a waterfall that had burst into flames. Signless looked at the ground, the water had already reached them, though in small amounts. It hadn't rained.
Psiioniic's eyes were as wide as the moon as stared deep within the flames.
"Let's go to Dolorosa's, tell everyone who's joining us to meet us there." Signless said to him, resting a hand on his shoulder.
"Joining us?" Psiioniic said.
"We're going to start a movement and find the kids."
Chapter 18: Campfire
The Condesce, shifted in the back of a slick black vehicle, belonging to one of her current workers. Her home, with millions of dollars lost, projected itself like a campfire.
He had to have been the one to do it. His motive was likely to cure his debt. Or was it the other one? The one who was recently fired.
Maybe, it was none other than her notorious past hitman, trying to get revenge on behalf of his banishment.
Nevertheless, Condesce's eyes didn't move from the flames that poured out of both, she and the Ampora's mansion. The sirens began to hurt her ears, and the light was burning her eyes.
"Take me away." She said, simply. "And find out what Makara was doing at this time."
Chapter 19: I'm a Member
The day had been excruciatingly bitter, but that wasn't a problem for him, because like any other good crew member (it wasn't a club, as he had explained to the rest of the CREW an insufferable amount of times), he wore his coat.
The room that had been smothered by a deep gray paint and harsh black leather couches served as their hospitality until they knew what better to do.
"Deuce." He said to a fellow member, one whose memory lasted about the same time as twenty-five-cent bubblegum. When the simpleton didn't hear him, he did what any knowledgeable man would do, and got up from the couch to take a precious clock heirloom, rip it out of the hands of a minority, and progress to open the balcony window to throw it out and onto the cold cement.
He did just that, Deuce's hands releasing it almost immediately. Clocks were perhaps the most annoying things man had ever invented. He didn't need time, he made his own time.
Deuce appeared indifferent to the annihilation of the clock. Spades Slick, a well-dressed and clever man, narrowed his eyes.
"Aren't you going to say something?" He asked, tilting his head. His hat began to slide off, but he caught it before it did. He had spent extensive time in practicing that damn move. His head always seemed to involuntarily slop to the side in times of stupidity, just as his teeth always showed. It was actually really asinine.
Deuce just looked at him with his stupid baby-faced eyes like he didn't know what to say.
Then, as though he were the person below, unmistakably getting struck in the head by a mysteriously falling clock, he felt something boil from within him. It was something that pulled at him to take action.
"Where are the other morons?" Slick asked. Deuce thought for a moment, his eyes taking a surprising interest at the wall. His tongue flicked out from between his lips as his jaw clenched. He swayed, as though he was really putting his mind to the test. When his eyes flashed and the tongue resided back into its warm, slobbery chamber, Slick knew he was about to speak. He only hoped for a decent answer.
"I don't remember." He finally said. Slick let out a sigh that was loud enough to broadcast his annoyance.
"Well we need to find them. We need to kill that principal guy, he's on our list. Then we have another person, but this person is standing in the way of a lot of things." He said, a smile falling to his hands. "Once she's been wiped out, we can have an empire at last."
Chapter 20: Ronasynn Motel
"The Ronasynn Motel was designed and built by Brady Ronasynn in 1967, featuring all the new retro designs of that time." Aranea said, her voice nearly squeaking at the news. Kankri let out a sigh, growing irritated by her constant usage of obsolete facts.
"He grew up in poor family just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia in 1929. He quickly began to realize that his parents were losing their house, so they began to jump from hotel to hotel, all of which sent them spiraling into a deeper pool of debt. Time went by, and Mr. Ronasynn grew into a young man. His family still being hotel-bouncers and penny-scrapers, began to rely on him. Tragedy broke however when a gas pipe broke in the basement of a hotel they were staying in in 1943. His family escaped, but his father died trying to get the money they had saved up so they could by a house. The money was never recovered, and his father perished in the flames. That turned Mr. Ronasynn into a very ambitious being, stopping at nothing to help others who, like his family, didn't have much. He took a loan and built a motel out of it, seeing an opportunity with the way people were beginning to go on long roadtrips during that time. He had grown up in the depression era, so this was a big deal to him. It became very popular almost immediately. There was a bar with fountain drinks, rooms were ten cents to stay in a night, and breakfast through dinner was cooked and maintained. The staff of the motel even had bedrooms! Though they would now be deemed unsuitable for living in, due to their poor size and the fireplaces that are filled with asbestos. This man made quite the legend out of himself, and even had the local high school and university named after him. This hotel has been in plenty of books, and knowing it was so close to home, I just had to look it up!" Aranea finished. Kankri looked at the window to see her smile proudly to herself.
"Serket." Meenah said. "That was actually a decent story. Maybe you should learn less fishtails from now on so you get on with the interestin bits." She yawned, stretching her dark arms into the air, then allowing them to rest on her jeans.
"I don't know whether or not to take that as an insult or a compliment." Aranea responded. "And fishtails?"
Meenah sighed. "Fishtails, details. You know?"
Cronus pulled in to the driveway of a small shoebox-like building. It was constructed out of wood and had a balcony that looked more like a poorly constructed treehouse.
"It's sure going to be different." Cronus said, parking his car. "Sleeping in some sleazy motel. I thought you said this place was the hot kicks."
Aranea rolled her eyes. Kankri couldn't see it, but he could feel it.
"Yeah, decades ago moron."
In the mirror, Kankri could see that Cronus had placed his hand to his chest and dropped his jaw. The setting sun shone on his face, accentuating his features with a bloody red glow.
"You really are so feisty. It's really attractivwe vwhen you act like that." He said, his lips curling into a smile. Aranea let out a heavy breath, her shifting body making the seats of the bus crack. Cronus peeled around to look at everyone.
"Okay, who can go in this time?" He asked.
No one raised their hand. Kankri would have, but he didn't want to venture out into the cold and risk being noticed by anyone. It was likely his Dad had already reported him missing, due to his lack of capability to show up to school at a punctual manner.
"Vwhat's that?" Cronus asked.
"What's what?" Meulin responded, curling out of her blanket in the back seat. Her hair was a complete mess (as it usually was), and her eyes looked jaded, as though she had been asleep. Kurloz, next to her, was asleep. His mouth, red and swollen from the strings that were sewn into the holes, seemed to have skipped the possibility of an intense infection, that Kankri thought was inevitable. His painted face, orange from the sun, and still peaceful, continued to have a malevolent darkness to it.
"I hear music. And it's not mine." Cronus said. The bus went silent, and surely enough, the beat of what appeared to be a remixed song about an unknown topic surfaced. Cronus' eyes traced the seats, and the last place they came to was yet another slumbering member of the bus group.
"You, blondey." Cronus said, reaching his hand over to the seat behind him, and reaching for Dirk. He managed to grab an earmuff, and pull it away, only to smack it back on his ear. Dirk shot up just as the headset was about to collide into him, and ripped it off.
"What, the fuck man. Have you ever heard of personal space?" He asked, picking up his abused technology. Ignoring the question, Cronus pushed his hair back.
"Hovw vwould you, like to-"
"I'm not interested." Dirk interjected.
"Vwhat?" Cronus asked. "I mean, geez, I didn't evwen get the chance to ask. I vwas just going to see if you could check up in to the motel."
Dirk raised his head and peered out the window.
"Yeah, I can probably do that." He said, reaching for the door lever. "Jake, I think you should come with me."
"What?" Jake said, his voice soft from the lack of talking. "Oh, yes right, I'll come."