You’re the one who goes to him, to the Land of Heat and Clockwork. It’s the logical choice, you both agree, because the gates on his planet will lead to a planet that will never exist, whereas yours lead straight to him. All the same, you have the feeling you would have gone to him regardless of the effort on your part. You can no longer stand to look at the game on your screen, showing you John’s now eternally empty home.
Dave is standing by the gate when you arrive, arms crossed, shades obscuring his eyes. Even after you land on his roof, he doesn’t move, still as a statue, and stares. You stare back, waiting for something to give.
“Hey, Lalonde,” he drawls.
“Hello, Strider,” you reply.
His shoulders sag, and you take a few steps forward to close the gap. Dave is the first human you’ve seen in hours, since your mother vanished. The only human you’ve seen since two of your closest friends signed out of pesterchum forever.
When you’re finally standing close enough to touch him, you reach out and grab the sleeve of his suit. When he doesn’t stop you, you risk leaning your head forward to rest on his shoulder. You can feel him tense, but he doesn’t push you away. You have the feeling he needs this contact as much as you do.
You don’t cry and neither does he, but neither of you move for a good long while.
There is no more touching for a while, but you and Rose stay together.
It doesn’t take you long to discover your title – Knight of Time. You both immediately know what it means. You can go back and stop things from turning out for the worse. You can stop the troll from tricking John, he can bring Jade in, and then you can continue to protect both of them.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says as she knits. She does a lot of knitting when the two of you aren’t slaying imps, clicking her bloodied needles back and forth. You never see her finish any of her projects.
“Do you? I didn’t know you were a psychic. That was more J-” You stop before you say her name, but the clicking of needles halts. Silence.
“It’s not psychic.” The clicking resumes at full speed once again. “But it’s written all over your face, even with those ridiculous shades you’re wearing. And not yet.”
You purposefully pull your shades down so she can see you roll your eyes. “You haven’t even said what I’m not supposed to be doing. I mean, just because you’re good at reading brains doesn’t mean I am.”
She raises her eyebrows. She knows you know exactly what she’s talking about. “Not yet,” she repeats. “The more we learn, the more we- The more you can help them when you go back.”
You push your shades back up and get to work on another shitty comic. You know nobody reads it anymore, but if you keep drawing, you can keep up the illusion that maybe your readers are still alive.
After a bit of alchemizing, you and Dave both come up with a means of transportation to planet hop, allowing you to bypass the gates that will never work on Dave’s planet. You both make a stop by your Land, but it’s only long enough to ascertain that the imps have essentially destroyed your room. You find you don’t care. It doesn’t truly feel like home to you any more.
You captchalogue a few items that may be useful, then you and Dave continue to the Land of Wind and Shade. Neither of you know why you come back here. You know he’s not going to be here. But you have to check.
You ascend side-by-side to the seventh gate, unsure of what you’ll find. The gate leaves to a dank cave, deep underground, and there lays the denizen, asleep. There’s a moment of hope until you see the stain of red and the trace of green suit and rocket pack. A young salamander hangs by the remains, blowing frantic bubbles that nobody heeds.
You feel your breath catch in your throat, and you reach out blindly for Dave’s hand, but he’s already reached out to grab yours. He squeezes your hand tightly, and even now, you can’t stop yourself from wondering just who it is he’s attempting to comfort.
You leave Typheus to his snoring.
After the Land of Wind and Shade, you and Rose return to her Land, and begin going through the quests. You stay together despite all logic. Even if it would be quicker to split up and work separately, you don’t want to let her go. Not after seeing what was left of John. You don’t want to let that happen again.
Yet your progress is achingly slow. Rose’s world is home to a lot of puzzles, many of which take days to figure out. You both sleep and plan together on Derse, and she speaks to the horrorterrors for hints. You avoid them, but try to appreciate their help nonetheless.
You and Rose become slightly more intimate as the days pass, but not in the adult sense of the word. You simply allow more physical contact between one another. You’ll brush your hand against hers, she’ll smooth back your hair, you’ll occasionally help with her knitting, she’ll place a hand on your shoulder as she looks over your comics and suggest ways to make them more ironic. It’s achingly simple. You haven’t kissed, but you wonder if you would have, had the situation been different.
Still, you’re getting nervous. You know this can’t last. You will have to go back and you can’t bring her with you, and she’ll be left here. The more attached she is, the harder it will be on her, and there’s no denying that you’re beginning to rely on her as well. The longer you stay, the harder it will be to leave. But you need to leave. You need to save John and Jade, even if you lose Rose. Both of you know that.
Your comics become less shitty as you get distracted. You forget to include the jpeg artifacts on one. You’re slipping, and you know the reason why.
To cope, you decide to fight Rose’s denizen. Alone.
You don’t know why you think this is a good idea. In fact, you don’t think it’s a good idea. It turns out to be a very Bad Idea. Even though your level is much higher than John’s was when he made the same stupid mistake, you are no match for a denizen. You get thrown around so viciously you can’t even make note of your health bar – everything just hurts. You see red, but not in the sense that you’re in a fit of rage. More in the sense that your blood is pouring into the water. You’re sure you’re about to die. About to let everybody down.
You see a flash of light and you’re under the sense that you’re being pulled away, even though you can feel yourself slipping. Is this what death is like? You hear a voice – a desperate voice – yelling at you. Telling you how unfair it is for you to leave. How you’re not allowed to die. How you’re the only person left.
You think it might be Rose. But no, that doesn’t make sense. Rose never yells.
You wake to the irritated clicking of needles.
After Dave recovers, he announces he’s going back to the Land of Heat and Clockwork. You know the end is coming. He doesn’t invite you, saying you still have work to do here. You suppose he’s correct, but you wish he wasn’t.
A week goes by, and you keep in touch, but it isn’t the same. Rather than sharing your victories, your stories are reduced to mere gloating. He tells you how he stole his denizen’s hammer, but the words are empty over pesterlog. There’s no more contact. Whenever you feel anxious, you can’t reach out and know he’ll be there. If you want to see his comics, you need to ask for the file. It’s lonely.
You prepare yourself for the day he finally leaves, knowing that the last person you care about in your world is about to vanish. You suppose there is the chance your mother may still be alive, but after weeks of no contact, you sincerely doubt it. It’s just you and Dave. The last two people in the world.
You finally receive the message you’ve been dreading.
TG: im going back
It’s odd, but you actually feel yourself relax, knowing the day has finally come. That everything you have spent the past few months doing is about to unwind… and if you’re lucky, it just won’t happen over again. At least most of it.
Dave tells you to go to sleep, so that’s what you do. You hold some hopes that it will work. That maybe you’ll go back and become your past self in full, and that he can come back, and you can keep what you had here with the bonus of your two best friends’ lives.
But even as you fade away, you know it’s not to be.
You are still getting used to having wings. Hovering is one thing, but actually soaring through the air is something you still struggle with sometimes. Maybe it’s just the idea of it. Air is John’s thing, not yours. Not even if you are part bird now.
When you leave Alpha Dave, you say you’re off to find Bro. That’s true, but you decide to make one stop first.
You arrive on the Land of Light and Rain, and it feels nostalgic, even though you’ve never been to quite this version of it before. As you scan the horizon, you see entire islands uprooted, the consorts scrambling around in terror. That’s where you find her.
Rose Lalonde is wearing new clothing and she has a different headset, but she has the same, self-confident grin across her face, even if her eyes are colder. You consider going down to see her again, to ask if there’s any remnant of the girl you knew. Your Rose. But her needles click together shortly before she decimates another temple, and the sound reverberates in your ears much too loudly.
It’s not the right tempo.
You clumsily return to the sky and you don’t look back. You figure it’s time to disappear as well.