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This is the first thing Vriska remembers:

She's watching as her lusus' mandibles dig into another troll's stomach. Her arms and legs ache and she sits gratefully against the spider's bent legs, staring at the dead girl's dull eyes. They both have bruises all over their bodies.

The spider nips the corpse's wrist in two and turns to press the hand against her face. She takes it in her own hands and devours it.

When they're both done the spider's mouth presses against her again and cleans the blue blood from her face.

8

The drone that approaches them is rounded like an eye pulled from a socket and has a rainbow tint to its gray carapace. She approaches it fearlessly, and it takes a round grub from the bag it carries and presses it into Vriska's outstretched hands.

She pops it into her mouth. As the soft body bursts under her fangs information floods her mouth. She tastes in the sharp tang of blood a place she has never seen that she must go to, a place with small comb cells and a smell like the grub in her mouth and the drone who gave it to her.

Her lusus cleans her face where the juice ran down her chin. Then she breathes in deeply and tastes distantly the place she needs to go.

When day approaches her lusus stops her. The spider's legs stab into the ground, breaking through the soil. She digs a hollow in the dirt of the plain and tucks Vriska inside, settling on top to block the glowing light, and begins to spin thread.

Vriska wakes hungry and wriggles impatiently as her lusus' fangs clip her free of the web cocooning her. When she gets her arms free she stops and stares because the blue bruises have faded and there are no new ones replacing them. She touches her skin in confusion, and then smiles and hugs her lusus.

Once all the silk is eaten her lusus is willing to resume traveling, but not far. She stops them after they enter a forest and Vriska watches in awe as she strings thin threads across the open spaces between trees. Then her lusus pulls her beneath a bush and holds her still, and Vriska waits.

Somethings small and spiky hops into view and then into the web. It starts to thrash but her lusus is already jumping from their hiding place, spitting out more sticky thread to tangle around its spines and then delicately holding it with the tips of her foremost legs. Her mandibles find a gap between the barbs and it's split open, revealing two rusty twitching halves of flesh.

Vriska digs her hands into the wet guts and watches as the spider eats her damaged web, and when she finishes scraping the shell-bowls empty she licks her fingers clean. Her lusus does not make a new web to catch food for herself. Instead they continue toward the taste of small rooms in the distance.

A bigger thing gets in their way, something that looks a little like the body she ate. Her lusus pushes Vriska behind her and hisses, lifting her front legs and waving them. The sound makes Vriska scared but the big thing just grabs one of the jabbing legs and shakes it and twists it, her lusus bites and orange blood splatters the ground, it punches and carapace buckles and cracks to weep blue, and Vriska wails with fear and hate as it hits her lusus again and blue is getting everywhere and she wants the thing to stop stop hitting stop -

-stops with one hand drawn back and her lusus jumps to dig her mandibles into its neck, and it moves again but only to fall backward. It stays down after that as rusty orange pools around it, and Vriska wipes away pale blue tears and goes to touch gently at the wounds. Her lusus pats her reassuringly with one leg, and they continue.

She comes at last to the place she'd tasted to find a honeycomb hive building, the same shimmery gray and round shape as the drone. She rolls the memory of the smell in her mouth around, testing it cautiously against this new thing. There are other big things lurking around, like her spider, but they ignore her and her lusus doesn't hiss like it did to the terrible thing with orange blood. Instead her lusus ignores them and pushes gently at her back, urging her forward, and she follows the taste in the air to one of the open holes in the gray walls, climbing inside.

There are various corridors splitting off, the smell of each a little different. She goes toward the one that smells right, hunting for the scent each time the tunnels branch. There are holes in the walls, some with smooth edges and others ones that look torn, and other, tacky areas that are the same size as the open holes. One of the open ones smells exactly right, and she climbs into it, tumbling down into slippery green slime. A slophing sound comes from behind her, and she sees a thin seal has formed over the way she came.

On the wall in an alcove is a blue paste that smells like thinking. She grabs handfuls and stuffs it into her mouth until she feels she'll burst, and then she sleeps.

When she wakes she knows things, like words and she is aristocracy second only to the purple royals of the sea and how to build a hive and her lusus is starving to death and the empress and a map of the world and the trials mean she's worthy and the rest of her people live in space and the slime blocks the nightmares and rogue adults will try (tried) to kill her and the drones obey commands except for imperials and she should live near others like her but not too close and she has psychic powers and bluebloods are always backstabbing each other and her name is Vriska and things without blood are food too and she is a troll.

Getting out is easy. She pushes her way through the soft seal, leaving behind thin ragged edges, and makes her way away from the mingled smells to fresh air. Her lusus is waiting for her outside. "Hi Mom," she says, hugging one leg.

16

Hives are to be built upward, but Vriska also orders a long tunnel running down behind the cliff face, opening into the bottom of the canyon. There, another opening leads back into the caves.

There are other children like her nearby, although none too close. They're older than she is, and she knows without seeing them that she can't trust any of them. She stays near her hive for several weeks, learning about the world, all the hundreds of things that are too minor or complicated to be in what she'd eaten. The same computer she uses to order her hive built can find games and movies and music, and there were even other children she can talk to without having to risk venturing out. Even knowing what they are and that they will kill her she is fascinated by the other trolls and she wonders if the same is true for them, because they can't seem to stop talking either, even though they must have been fed the same truths.

24

It doesn't go too bad, the first time she meets one of her neighbors in the blue flesh. He's older than she is, a player in a game she's heard about. He has a big stupid hoofbeast as a lusus and it shows when he attacks her head on, trusting his muscles. She brings her hands to either side of her eyes and sinks mental fangs into his soft head.

It's hard moving when she's controlling someone else. Half of her watching her move with strange eyes as she roots around on the ground for a rock to smash into his head.

When she returns to her hive she skips down the steps to her lusus, who cleans the bluegreen blood from her fingers and the splatters that hit her face before carefully wrapping up the gift in beautiful white spiderweb.

32

There's another hive nearby now, perched across the cavern. It's a boy with bluer blood than hers, she knows because she's talked to him on the computer. He breaks things all the time but unlike Vriska doesn't mean to. She doesn't have to be scared of someone like that.

She kind of likes him for that, and for how obvious he is in everything, wearing his higher-blood heart right on his sleeve. She doesn't like having him around but she'd rather him than someone like her being nearby. He doesn't even play FLARP.

And he's easy to manipulate, so easy even she can manage it. Vriska is good at the stabbing part of being a blueblood but she's still having trouble with convincing them to turn their backs to her first. She reassures herself that she doesn't really need it, not when she can just make them do what she wants. She's terribly good at that. It's like when things stumble into the webs her lusus weaves around her hive. Once they touch the strands they're caught. They don't need to be tricked into each step, tricked into moving around until they wrap themselves up. Just one misstep, into the first thread, and then her lusus tangles them up in a thousand more.

40

It's hard, being a kid, understanding that your parent isn't invincible. Vriska thought she'd figured it out when she first built her home. It's only when her lusus is gone for two days and finally comes back dragging herself because half her legs are missing or broken and she's nearly blinded by claw marks across her face that Vriska realizes how wrong she is.

Her lusus seems big and strong to her, but in the ecology of the caverns spiders are one of the lesser horrors. They're scavengers mostly, eating the bodies left behind from the trials or catching half-dead children who stumble into their nests. Sooner or later they run into something stronger.

Vriska splints what she can and her lusus reinforces the braces with her web. The rest will have to wait for a molt.

She blows up the cavern entrance, watches as rocks tumble in. Her lusus keens in shock, legs flailing, and Vriska grabs one of the unbroken ones and tries to push her back down, though she's too weak to do anything and it's only that her lusus is trying not to hurt her that lets Vriska hold on. "I'll do it!" she shouts. "I can, I can get them! I'm good at this."

And she can. She has irons in the fire already, it's easy to step up her game a bit more. And it's not too hard, really it's easier the more she does, more FLARP games means more angry survivors gunning for a revenge match mean more levels mean more winning, and it's so easy, like an avalanche gathering speed.

48

Vriska was never good at rationing. She could weave a plan and wait for someone to blunder in, and it's good enough for her mother so it must be good enough, but planning without a real goal in sight, without an end, that's harder.

So she knows she should store the bodies she gets from FLARP and feuds, ration them out carefully, but her lusus is hungry, she's always hungry except when she's eating. And Vriska knows she's overfeeding, her lusus is bigger with each molt, but the bigger the spider gets the hungrier she is -

Vriska gives her the bodies from the last game and thinks that all she has to do is let her back into the caverns and it won't be her problem any longer. Her lusus can get her own food (and die) and Vriska can do what she wants (without anyone to worry about or worry about her).

Instead she climbs up the stairs and gets back on Trollian. It's easier to join big games, even if they're more dangerous, she can't get enough bodies from one on one sessions now that her lusus has grown so large. As long as her luck holds she'll be fine. It won't be that hard. Most spiders don't even live that long.

(She isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it she isn't hoping for it.)

56

Aradia's the first one she gets to actually know in a game of FLARP. She's the lowest blood imaginable, and maybe that's why she's stupidly friendly about it - maybe some people just don't know these things, not like bluebloods do. She's not trusting, Vriska knows no one who's lived to play FLARP a second time could be trusting, but she's friendly and they talk on the computer a few times about things other than the game or attempts to trick each other. Aradia writes she has a big round-horned sheep for a lusus, and she can be trouble because she'll eat anything (and Vriska wraps both hands around Aradia's throat, thumbs pushing down against her airway to choke her but not completely enough that she can't breathe at all, just enough, says I'll kill the stupid lusus for you Aradia if she's so much trouble would you like that would you like that) and hey Vriska are you still there? They aren't really compatible players, they both like narration and mysteries but Aradia wants to linger and keep exploring while Vriska wants to solve the problem and get the reward. But she knows other players for Vriska to meet.

Terezi is her sister.

They meet in person. Not for a game, to meet, and she shows Vriska the egg that would be her lusus (and it's harder protecting an egg than yourself but it's not stupid, Terezi's not stupid, Vriska would never) and the way she talks about her dragon makes Vriska pity her without resentment or contempt. She's her sister.

She doesn't know the names of the kids who show up one night when she's outside her hive. There's six of them, all sweeps older, and she manages a lucky roll but there's only so much luck can do and she's still exhausted and hurt from the game the night before. One of them stabs her and then one hits her with his mace and it's over, she's on the ground and there's no way she can get up again and over over over over over over over over, and he raises it again to crush her head and make everything stop for good when a white leg impales him through the chest. They weren't expecting her lusus and it's done in seconds and all Vriska can remember afterward is that they'd been crying.

Sometimes she thinks Kanaya is mocking her, with her green blood and safe plants and easy lusus and stupid calm. Whenever they talk she ends up losing her temper and screaming. Then she remembers that Kanaya's lusus will die even before hers and she feels bad but she doesn't want to apologize and admit why and then she thinks that it's different because there's nothing Kanaya can do or choice to make and then she wants to scream again.

Kanaya never gets upset back so she obviously doesn't care much, anyway.

Nirali's lusus is dead. Hers was one of the strange soft things of the ocean, eight-legged like Vriska's lusus, but unlike Vriska who found a solution and then kept finding them, when Nirali's stopped eating she never started again. Nirali says that's how they are, they put everything into protecting their charge for the time they have, and trolls like Nirali need that protection, she's high enough on the hemospectrum there's only a few like her on the whole planet and plenty who would have tried to kill her as soon as she built her hive over the superior purple of her blood.

When they meet Vriska almost drowns on the shore, gasping in air and water in the short seconds when the waves recede and fighting desperately not to be pulled deeper in. They both know whoever gets their weapon out first wins and in the end the battle is long and horrible and slow instead as they both bleed into the stinging ocean, until finally Vriska manages to dig fingers deep enough in Nirali's neck to rip, and how superior can her blood be when Vriska's soaking in it. Vriska spits out saltwater and purple and crawls out of the surf alone.

The problem with Eridan is the lusii. She knows they're doing the same sort of thing, but she sort of resents him because it's not something he has to do, and anyway killing trolls isn't bad like killing lusii is. He sneers at her and says that's fine, and sometimes "accidentally" botches the killing blows when he aims his crosshairs, so they end up thrashing around, dying by inches, and then she makes him bash his head into the deck and he tries to shoot her.

It's comfortably predictable the way things go with him. She's not sure if they're really kismesises or not but he's a good FLARP partner.

Sometimes her lusus tries to follow her when she goes to the ocean and she screams and cries and shoves and hits until the spider gives up.

64

When it's done Vriska picks up her arm and makes her way down. "It's okay Mom," she says when the spider hisses, "I got her back for it." She's feeling lightheaded from blood loss, but she'll live. She's felt like this before when a FLARP game went bad and someone else got the drop on her, and she didn't die then.

It wasn't fair, it wasn't like she'd killed him. Only everyone was acting like she'd done something terrible, and then Aradia had sicced all the other dead on her, she'd thought they were friends, she'd never cared about that before, and Vriska felt like she was going to die and she wanted it to stop and then she had killed one of them, and then Terezi had betrayed her, too, and now that bridge is burned with the rest.

She throws her arm to her mother, watches it vanish into the endless maw, then holds still as the spider cleans up the blood, carefully avoiding the forming scabs around her shoulder and the pit where her eye had been. One leg pats her reassuringly, and then pushes her to walk across the web toward the nearby hive.

"I can't see Equius," she says. "He's blueblooded, he'll kill me. That's what bluebloods do." It's what everyone does.

Her mother waves her legs, flexes her fangs fiercely, and Vriska keeps shaking her head. She thought it would go away when she killed Aradia, but even without seeing them she can't get the ghosts out of her head.

It hadn't been wrong, they were just trolls, trolls killed trolls all the time. She knew they did, she'd known ever since she'd woken with words in her mouth. And the Scourge Sisters, and FLARP, they'd killed people who were killing other people, only she couldn't always get to them, they feuded and killed each other too and the ones that survived were good at it, and sometimes it was easier to just...find people. People who weren't good at FLARP, people who didn't know what they were doing, or the friends of people like that.

It hadn't been wrong, they were blue like her and backstabbers, or green or yellow or purple or orange and vicious. They probably had, somewhere and someone, or if they hadn't killed other trolls it was only because they were too weak. Anything they said otherwise was lying. Trolls did that too. And even ghosts were still trolls.

She shakes her head so hard she loses her balance, and her lusus' jaws close around her chest before she hits the ground.

"Stop it stop it stop it!" She hits at the spider with her arm, the blows bouncing off harmlessly. "I don't want to see him! I'm fine stop being stupid let me go let goooooooo!"

Her lusus ignores her, climbing delicately up the cliff face. Vriska stops wailing as they reach the top and rubs her sleeve over her eye and cheek to clean off the blue streaks. Never show weakness in front of another person. Even when you're weak.

She can't really stand when her lusus sets her down, so she just slumps against one leg, and okay maybe this is worse than any of those other times, and her vision's dimmed to monochrome because even her one eye working is too much to ask isn't it and she starts laughing because it means she won't have to see all that blue at least.

"I'm here fine I'm here you can go away," she says, but her lusus bangs on the door instead, hard enough that probably if it'd been anyone else's hive it'd have broken. "Just go away don't you understand it's all - there isn't anything - if you die because of me now, it's all -"

His lusus answers the door and Vriska shuts up and tries to stand. The musclebeast stares at them, and Vriska knows what happens next: her lusus can probably kill his lusus and he can definitely kill her lusus.

But before that happens Equius is there in the doorway as well, expression hidden behind cracked glasses.

"I don't want your help," Vriska says, and the leg she's leaning against pushes her toward the doorway. She stumbles. Equius recoils, pulling his arms behind his back and it's his lusus that grabs her good arm so she doesn't hit the floor face-first.

He's staring at her. "I can't do anything about your eye," he says finally. "It's too delicate, I might..."

"I don't want your help," she repeats. She should probably pull away from the lusus supporting her if she's saying things like that, but even if she wouldn't collapse she probably isn't even be able to, it's a lot stronger than she is. "I killed her you know. She deserved it."

He doesn't know. "The arm is easier. I have the parts in the basement." She could give the name but she doesn't know if he'd kill her for that or be grateful and help because of it. If she wasn't so tired she could try reading his mind, but it's hard enough just thinking straight and it doesn't matter. The basement will be out of anyone's sight or hearing, he can kill her there. "You should, you should probably sit down. Aurthour?"

"Tell Aurthour to tell her to go back home," Vriska says, slumping down on a battered couch, and closes her eye so she can pretend he's done it. In the quiet all she can hear are the ghosts.

Equius' voice cuts in. "You'll owe me for doing this." Equius sounds uncertain, like he's reading lines from a script. She looks at him and knows suddenly that it's not even a trick, he's actually going to help her, and she starts laughing again because he cares so much about the color of his blood when he's even worse at this than she is.

(She just has to say Aradia, I killed Aradia this time, and maybe - but she can't actually do it, she finds. She could have let it happen, curled up in her recuperacoon and maybe died, but when it comes down to it - ) "Fine," she says, and passes out.