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In the end, everything is deep purple.

It creeps from the corners of her vision, coils like thick smoke in her throat, heavy enough to make her want to vomit as if her body considered such actions anymore. But everything has been streamlined and schooled into perfection, simple gears working a dark machine.

She is fueled by what might once have been rage, but now is more akin to Being.

She screams and screams until the noise finally claws itself to the surface, overriding her vocal cords until she howls like the world is ending too late for that Seer and her friend is dying in the past Seer and Jack stands before her like Cerberus gone apocalyptic rip him kill him make him suffer devour his heart gorge upon his feral brain

Magic explodes from the tips of her wands, deep purple lightning versus electric green infinity. Colors so lurid she can no longer see around the afterimage. She does not know how long they have been fighting.

She is so angry and she can barely remember why.

He teleports, and she feels lines of hot pain sinking into her back. She pushes herself into the sky to escape someone else’s fate feast on his organs rip out his eyes, but the claws tear far under her skin, scraping down her shoulder bone and burrowing into her hip. She feels these things abstractly, as though watching Jack mangling her body from beyond the Furthest Ring.

The Seer feels the eyes of countless gods.

Her bones lurch and grind as he pulls her back to the surface; her head cracks against the hard checkered floor. Her blood tingles and hisses, burning into her like acid, and she roars, scrambles to a dizzy lunge, but suddenly he is behind her again and pushing her to the ground.

Crushing pain spikes through her calf and she screams, staring sharp rage into the sword that pierces her through, pinning her useless human flesh to the floor.

She raises a wand, and faster than thought he knocks it clattering out of her hand.

crush his skull sink your teeth into his lungs

They have both evolved since the game’s inception. He is as mindless and mechanical now as They have made her, but he is better at it.

Animal claws press tight, send fizzling blood dribbling down her neck. He does not speak. He doesn’t have to.

As she feels dark purple fuzzing the edges of her vision, something shifts. The breath is sucked straight out the atmosphere; something theoretical pulls taut. A split-second of assault on the walls of reality until the dam is breached and time runs forward again.

The Seer is thrown backwards in an explosion of speeding spacetime, as dimensions twist just so and someone halfway familiar is standing in front of her sprawled legs, sword hefted on his shoulder. The bright red of his suit cuts straight through smog and shining magical fallout. His words reach her ears like she is listening to a faulty radio underwater.

“Christ Lalonde…almost...it all up...”

The Seer whips her head frantically, searching for her enemy – she finds a girl in matching red, hovering in midair with gently beating wings. Jack is still, claws frozen in a gesture of strangulation. He stands behind grand turning symbols, amputated from time. “Hurry I…hold him…”

No.

The boy tries to help her up - “I know you’re…explain later…” - but is instantly shocked back by the power crackling down her skin. As he stumbles to regain balance, shadows push her to her feet, supporting her injured leg.

No, this is wrong. They do not belong here. The girl doesn’t even belong in this universe and she is in the way.

She issues a guttural warning in the broodfester tongues, then charges forward.

The girl looks at her with wide eyes, then shouts one frantic word – “Jade!” – and someone pops into existence behind the Seer’s back with a crack and a flash of green light. Arms wrap under her own and she screams, drags her attacker forward with the rage of the dead and the dying and feels her own body folding in on itself. She reaches for the red luminescent table of runes that blocks her from her enemy, stretches her fingers to dispel its power –

And with the sucking force of a supermassive black hole and a tiny pop, everything changes. She is standing on LOLAR, surrounded by gentle light and color.

For one moment she stands suspended, arm stretched towards nothing. Then she falls to the ground, gasping for breath. It feels like her body has been forced through a small, flat tube and then reinflated, and she coughs out curses on the intruders, on this world, on the medium, on anything and anyone that can be crushed.

“It’s...be okay,” a soft, scared voice says behind her.

It doesn’t take much thought to let the shadows propel her, swivel her around and throw her at this disgusting girl who dares take her from her prey, who jerks her through worlds at her whim without her wands and she almost had him he was finally going to pay

“Kanaya she’s...to anything...god…!”

She barely sees the terrified face beneath her as her dark fingers close around that pathetic, delicate neck. She shouts mashed gibberish that even the gods wouldn’t find sensible, shakes her, digs her nails into the skin. The girl cries out, but she can no longer hear anything beyond the frenzied, impossible pulse of her own heart overriding the desperate fluttering of her attacker’s.

In a frantic burst of motion, the girl reaches out, clamping her lunchbox headphones over the Seer’s ears.

“—a ridiculous course of action, you know.”

Something buzzes in the back of her brain, sharp and annoying like stepping on a splinter.

“You are overemotional and reacting in a manner you will regret later.”

The Seer snarls, but the voice pushes on over her objection. “I understand that you are in pain, and angry, but this is not the target of your rage. You are not in your right mind, and quite frankly, this behavior is beneath you.”

She tilts back her head and roars an Eldritch warning, the Tongues echoing like thunder against pale clouds. She realizes that it’s raining, colorful strains of water dripping down her hair.

“Yes, that is very impressive. But I find you much more impressive when you are acting as more than a mindless snorting sock puppet.” The tone is no harsher than she remembers it, but worlds firmer.

The Seer looks down and finds that she has released the girl, who looks up at her with cautious concern. She is bewildered to find that she can now recognize the nuances of facial expression.

“You may, of course, choose to continue your path of decimation momentarily, though I believe that you will find this less necessary if you take the time to listen. But in the meantime, you should try playing the rain.”

The splinter turns to a knife. The Seer tries to clutch her head around the bulky headphones. Hunt him hurt him eat his heart-

“Stand up, please.”

Without conscious control of her actions, she obeys. The other girl scrambles to her feet.

“What do you want?” she asks the meddling voice in the Tongues, cautiously lowering her hands. Then her mouth adds, “I will give you what you want, if you ask it.”

“Rose, I don’t have any idea what you are saying, and if you will permit me to be honest here you sound ridiculous.”

The Seer scowls and shifts her gaze to the clouds. There is something that she was meant to do here, something important that someone said a long time ago. Left scratching at a tiny broken cat flap in the back of her consciousness, begging to be let in.

Jaspers wants her to play the rain.

The voice keeps talking, but the words sink into a buzz, pulsing softly against the dark corners and high walls of her mind. The Seer raises her hands to the sky. Liquid sunlight washes down her skin, pattering onto her cheekbones and running down her shirt. She breathes in, senses the intricacies like slender webbing, yarns of color and power twisting into and between each drop. Intense, unique, like notes in a song. She twists them together, knits them into melody. She sees faces of those she knows and those she has forgotten.

It takes time.

She does not know how long she stands, forgetting and remembering. Mourning. She stands until her arms ache and her eyes prickle with unfamiliar fire. She stands until the shadows retreat from her leg, leaving her lopsided with pain and quickly crusted scabs. She stands until she can no longer hear the voices of the Horrorterrors under the crashing sound of her own guilt and grief.

Something washes out of her, leaving her empty and hollow but almost clean.

Kanaya’s voice is warm in her ears.

Rose breathes deeply and writes a song.

 

The transition is painful. She lies on the parlor sofa, huddled under the undamaged blankets Jade found in the front hall closet. She tries not to think of early childhood, when she would catch a cold and sit by the fire and her mother would wrap her up like a cocoon with exaggerated tenderness. She shivers, and sweats, and flashes between heat and chill like she has some sort of satanic fever. Sometimes it feels like something is crawling around inside of her, scratching at her stomach and the inside of her vocal cords like thousands of tiny spiders until without warning she turns and heaves into the trash can by her head. What comes out is dark and sticky like tar. It leaks from under her eyelids, messily gluing her eyes shut until the flow has ceased.

It is not a pleasant process, purifying the flesh.

Her skin is still grey, just paler and sicklier looking than before. When she had first let the Throes overtake her, she had felt a tiny, incessant itching in her hands – the whorls of her fingerprints changing. A small and redundant claim, in her opinion, but the Horrorterrors had made it clear: her own identity was lost the second she came into their service. Now they blur the line between itching and burning, moving as if faced with resistance. It doesn’t make any logical sense, of course, but her old prints are trying to reassert themselves. The game is fond of tedious symbolism.

When Jade isn’t changing Rose’s trash can, fighting off imps, or using her new skills to teleport all over the Medium, she spends a lot of time alchemizing things. This seems to be the fallback when there is nothing else to do, but even moreso now it seems like an excuse to be in a different room as much as possible. Rose does not resent her for this, but she wishes she could find a way to adequately voice her apology. She has never been good at being genuine. She doesn’t even know if she can speak English; she hasn’t tried. Her throat feels dusty, like heavy tomes of forgotten lore hidden in some monstrous library. This is no hyperbolic flourish. She knows their weight.

Instead of speaking, she types on one of Jade’s many computers, messaging Dave and various trolls but mostly Kanaya.

GA: It Cant Be Helped
GA: Circumstances Have Changed And Our Respective Groups Need To Cooperate In A More Intimate Manner Than Previously Achieved

TT: While I understand my own relative uselessness in this state, I’m becoming increasingly wary of time constraints.
GA: I Know
GA: And They Are Being Taken Into Account By The Time Players
GA: Your Only Goal Should Be Recovery Until We Can All Meet

TT: As much as I appreciate your concern, I don’t need to be babied. This has to happen soon.
GA: Rose He Will Still Be There
TT: How do you know?
TT: Never mind, that’s a frivolous question. Aradia was right; it makes logical sense. Still, it doesn’t feel prudent to wait.

GA: We Wont Wait Long
GA: Just Until You Can Be Moved Safely
GA: And Then We Will Bring Him Back

TT: Okay.
GA: You Should Not Feel Too Badly
GA: I Mean Yes This Is Partly Your Fault
GA: But Given The Circumstances Your Actions Were Not At All Unwarranted
GA: Just Unwise
GA: Are You Still There

TT: There’s something that’s changed about you, Kanaya Maryam.
GA: Well Yes I Am Now A Day Stalker Who Sustains Herself On The Blood Of Innocents
GA: Also I Glow In The Dark

TT: Touché.

Skaia doesn’t ever set on this world. Time passes by in a tipsy haze of sunlight and rainbows. Rose talks to Kanaya until she can no longer keep her eyes open, and then some, because when she can immerse her friend in such meaningless discussion she does not have to think about the little monstrosities creeping through her grey matter, prodding and whispering and reminding her that she is not free yet.

Even still, sleep comes difficult when she knows that she’ll find herself on Derse, in close range of the Outer Ring. Just sitting in her tower she imagines tendrils wrapped around her mind so thickly she can barely see straight. She is afraid that she will wake up dark again, identity and conscience eaten away.

Sometimes when she opens her eyes again she finds Jade’s headphones on her ears, and the impression she has not been facing the Horrorterrors alone.

TT: After discovering the MEOW code imbedded in my own subconscious, I retroactively took everything Jaspers had said about playing the rain as a metaphor for this goal.
TT: It made sense; he spoke of patterns and the roots of life.
TT: Now I am under the impression that it contained a double meaning, the second much more literal.
TT: The rain in my land seems to contain some form of “reset” code. Not to the extent of the Scratch. Instead, this would only pertain to the personal data of each player.
TT: But since I was working with the gods to subvert the game entirely through the corruption of my personal data, the rain doesn’t seem entirely effective on my malady.
TT: Which is just as well. It’s possible that a complete reset would have destroyed all progress I had made up the echeladder.

GA: So Youre Saying That The Rain Was Only Partly Effective
GA: This Is Something That Will Remain A Problem

TT: Yes.
GA: That Is Unfortunate
GA: But I Suppose We Should Be Thankful Anyway Since We Didnt Even Know If It Would Do Anything

TT: Whose idea was it?
GA: Jades

 

“Um…I wanted to try some fruitcake. I made eggnog, too.”

Rose pushes herself up on her elbows. Jade is holding what looks like a brick, or maybe a turd ripped straight out of SBaHJ. The alchemiter probably shouldn’t be used to make things meant for consumption, especially not in conjunction with a drawing pad. Jade is smiling, maybe a bit cautiously but with genuine feeling behind it, and Rose feels another wave of hot guilt mixed with gratitude anyway.

“Thank you,” she says, slowly and clearly. She is unshowered and sick and smells like bile and dark magic, and there aren't many ways she could be more embarrassed.

Jade looks startled to hear her voice for a moment. Then she smiles. "It's not Christmas, but we can do a toast."

 

Rose is a being of forethought. She likes to plan, to iron out all possible wrongs so that she may inhabit the best of all possible worlds. Before her grimdark descent, she would never have guessed that she could be anything besides careful. But even then Rose knew that not everything could be predicted. For instance, in the midst of the chaos of the end of the world, she never thought she would form new relationships.

Granted, some are perfunctory. They need the trolls and the knowledge they grudgingly provide. But there is an exception to this general rule, and she took Rose by surprise when they first began to talk – really talk.

GA: It Still Needs Some Color In My Opinion
TT: As much as I appreciate the effort, we’ve probably wasted enough time as it is.
GA: Sorry
GA: I Just Thought That Maybe This Would Be A Good Chance To Talk And Perform Various Cultural Exchanges

TT: As it seems to have been.
TT: I must admit, I’m a bit surprised by how much conversational ground we’ve covered.

GA: Yes We Have Covered This Conversation With A Very Far Reaching Blanket Of Topics Indeed
GA: Made Great Strides In The Name Of Intercultural Unity And Understanding
GA: And Even Provided You With A Few New Outfits

TT: Yes, well done. After we finish standing around congratulating ourselves we might even get some work done here.
GA: The Color Though
TT: I gravitate towards the darkly mundane. It’s my natural state of existence.
GA: I Am Well Aware And That Is A Part Of Your Own Personal Style
GA: But If You Would Permit Me To Say I Think This Outfit Could Benefit From Another Splash Of Color
GA: I Know
GA: Tie That Scarf You Found In The Lab Around Your Waist

TT: Fine, I’ll humor you.
TT: Like this?

GA: Yes Exactly
GA: That Should Suit Your Sense Of Dramatics I Think
GA: You Look Perfect

TT: Is that so.
GA: Rose Only You Could Pull Off The Subtly Macabre This Well

Rose smirks in satisfaction, surprising even herself. She turns slow circles in the ruins of her room, allowing Kanaya to see every angle from wherever her vantage point happens to be. Playing dress-up with an alien from another universe has been surprisingly entertaining. It had started as an attempt to encourage Kanaya in their possibly crucial conversations (TT: Do trolls have names?), but eventually devolved into some sort of mutual enjoyment, though Rose is loathe to admit it when there are much more pressing matters that she should be focusing on.

She is having fun for what feels like the first time in a long time, and she doesn’t want to cut their conversation short just yet.

TT: Flattery.
GA: Perhaps
TT: Or have you learned the art of sarcasm more thoroughly than I had presumed?
GA: Well I Suppose That Will Be Your Responsibility To Gauge
GA: I Am Not Tipping My Hand This Time

TT: Well, then I will just have to assume that passive-aggressive one-upmanship is at play here.
GA: Not Necessarily Its Possible That I Genuinely Think You Look Perfect

Rose pauses, lifting her fingers from the keys. She breathes.

TT: Now you’re laying it on a bit too thick. It’s getting harder to confuse with your true opinion.
GA: Not Really
TT: Well then.
TT: If you are actually being genuine, I will give you the momentary courtesy of returning the favor.
TT: Thank you.
TT: Now we really do need to keep moving.

-- tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased trolling grimAuxiliatrix [GA] --
GA: Um
GA: Well Goodbye I Guess

 

Societal norms in regards to close friendship have changed drastically from one century to the next. In the eighteenth century it would have been not at all out of place for one heterosexual man to tell another that he loved him, or even wax poetic about him as the greatest joy in his life. Though a case could be made for latent homosexual tendencies in some of the private letters exemplifying the latter, one must overcome the temptation to superimpose one’s own belief systems and ideas of normalcy. Cultural relativism is key, and it is entirely possible for a close relationship of this nature to develop between modern day heterosexual men or women. There is a greater chance of this relationship being misunderstood as something more corporeal in the modern era, given the wider recognition and acceptance of homosexuality. Yet these relationships still exist, pure meetings of the mind, deep bonds that develop sans physical attraction in the spirit of their ancestors. Rose thinks this is very possible, and perfectly normal.

She takes long, thoughtful trips between mysterious islands and archaic stones.

 

Revelations later, she lays stretched on a couch and focuses on not puking. If she can make it a few more hours without any dramatic displays of illness, they will let her move around and the plan will proceed.

GA: I Really Look Forward To Finally Meeting You In Person
TT: And I you.
TT: I know that I’m not the most demonstrative friend, but rest assured that I understand.
TT: I mean, I know what all you’ve done and
TT: Hmm. This is harder than I had hoped.

GA: Its Alright Im Very Familiar With Emotional Constipation In My Friends
TT: Thank you.
TT: For that unfortunate image, and for everything else.

GA: To The Extent That I Have Actually Influenced The Current Course Of Events
GA: Which Is Actually Almost Negligible
GA: And Could Have Been Done Much More Effectively Besides
GA: But May Still Be Considered Of Some Value Depending On Your Personal View Of The Philosophy Of This Game

TT: Kanaya. I’m being genuine here and it’s taking an effort.
GA: Right Sorry
GA: Youre Welcome Is What I Mean To Say

TT: Good. We both know you’re not quite that humble. Not lately, at least.
GA: Touché

Rose lies down to sleep with the lunchbox headphones back on her ears. Kanaya reads her part of a troll romance novel. The characters seem bland to Rose, and the metaphors are much too blatant, and it could do with more thorough descriptive embellishment all around. But Kanaya reads in a careful, clear voice, barely stumbling, and it is clear that she loves this story. Rose listens until descriptions of darkly shining rainbow drinkers mingle in that half-asleep dreaming state she can still experience before she slides into her Derse body.

Rose falls asleep to Kanaya’s gentle narration of heroic passions and torn lovers. The voice lingers about her tower to chase demons away.

 

There is a gently sloping cliff protruding off one side of Rose’s island. It’s covered in the same substance that coats most of the ground here: white, like snow, and cool, but not as wet or as chilly as it should be.

It’s here that Dave and Aradia meet them. He stands slightly slouched, hands shoved into his pockets. He seems to better act the part when he’s wearing his suits. Aradia stands facing the oil-glistening sea. Her wings beat slowly and uselessly, as if by their own accord, punctuated with occasional moth-delicate flutters.

Rose does her best not to lean too hard on Jade’s shoulder as she is helped, over-cautiously, up the slope. Dave eyes her carefully, or so she assumes – his head doesn’t move for some time. Finally Aradia notices their presence and turns. She smiles nervously in greeting, and her eyes linger too long on Rose’s mottled gray hands.

“Are we all ready?” She looks the essence of command, tweaking her smile into fixed confidence.

“Yes,” Rose says, definitively. She meets their gazes coolly.

“Right.” Aradia doesn’t miss a beat. “We’re getting back the same way I got here. I’m assuming we’re all familiar by now with how the Furthest Ring works? I mean, to the best that it can be familiarized?” She looks to Jade specifically, not out of doubt, but necessity. As the accompanying space player, she is a crucial element in getting them all out safely instead of somehow finding themselves in a Horrorterror’s metaphysical belly. Space and time are no longer constant in such a place. She and the time players must tread carefully.

“Yep!” she says, maybe a bit too cheerfully. She squeezes Rose’s shoulder.

“Right, okay. So we go to Derse, then make our way along the Furthest Ring. Make sure to aim for the bubbles Feferi’s set up as much as possible, okay? She’s doing everything she can from where she’s at.”

“Where are my wands?” Rose asks, and her voice is barely hoarse this time.

There is a slight pause. Aradia and Jade exchange glances, and that’s all the explanation Rose needs.

“When we get to the other side,” Aradia says finally. Rose doesn’t bother with a response. It hurts her vocal cords, and it won’t do any good. They do not trust her so close to the Horrorterrors with weaponry in hand.

Dave shifts his weight to the balls of his feet. “So if we’re finished saying our last, tearful goodbyes to this bad trip of a birthday party, can we get on with the promenade? It’s downright unmannerly to proceed without getting guest of honor back.” His flat voice twitches southern by the end, and Rose makes a mental note to analyze his vocal tics for emotional tip-offs.

Aradia smiles ruefully. “Well, we’ll figure that all out once we get to base. That and our idea about the dreamselves and the Scratch. One step at a time.”

Rose is personally in favor of immediately scouring the entire Ring for signs of John, pulverizing anything that tries to stop her, dragging him back down to Skaia by his ridiculous sock hood, then indulging in generally embarrassing displays of relieved affection. She wouldn’t be surprised if this were a common sentiment among members of their current party. But Aradia has a point.

“Once we get in, contact with the other side will probably be sketchy at best.” She experimentally stretches her wings to their full extent. They shimmer like gossamer, and if Rose looks closely she thinks she can see tiny, moving strands of color swallowed by the red. Soap bubble beauty. She really is a lovely young woman, all luscious dark curls and curious confidence. “Kanaya will try to keep an eye out with her vision abilities, but there’s probably not a whole lot she’ll be able to do. Karkat will stand around acting angry and being worried.”

Jade laughs, then they go silent for a moment, waiting for someone to make the first move. It’s electric, this last few seconds before they abandon their own Session in favor of a deader one.

Rose feels Dave’s eyes on her. “What about it, ladies? We’re saying adios to this border like the BP’s got the dogs out. You ready to run, Esperanza?” His metaphors sound bizarre delivered so tonelessly, but nevertheless Jade giggles somewhat breathlessly.

So ready.”

He smirks, just the slightest bit. “Then say hasta luego, bitches.”

They take off.

 

In retrospect, this would be a more honorable way to die than possessed by a writhing legion of dark gods. At least in the eyes of the majority of humanity – pardon, sentient life. And as this majority is something with which Rose comes into contact on an everyday basis, its collective opinion on the subject of life and death actually does matter.

But what is honor anyway, if not an abstract concept with no real meaning? She muses over these things, with sluggish mind and tired body, as she is dragged through endless gloom, skimming over what look to be pits of grasping tentacles but may or may not be their own minds, through tunnels of intestine, in and out of dream bubbles that represent shadowed, wet creations of a horrorterror’s daughter. They move in a way that is either gliding, flying, or falling, in an endless expanse with no horizon or landmarks, turning simple circles in the psychophysical dark.

It is a ceaseless black parade of horror that makes Jade’s hand tremble in Rose’s own, but Rose is numb to all of this by now. She keeps the rasping, stabbing whispers in the cracks of her mind to a minimum by thinking logically about unrelated subjects.

Honor is a concept that was invented to give sacrifices meaning. It is much easier to rally a kingdom to conquering glory if they believe that there is a reason for their death. In the end they die anyway, and their towers fall, and a new hoard rushes in to slaughter and smash and destroy everything that they have built, and this is not helping keep her from thoughts of despair.

In the game, however, honor is given much more tangible meaning. As a God Tier being, John cannot be killed without honor. Not truly.

A stab in the back is not honor.

They stumble into gravity, falling on sharp rocks on an island in the middle of a stormy ocean. This place may be based on a dream or memory, but the lighting crackles like reality incarnate.

The others are gasping for breath. As the spacetime players they travel with arms linked, Aradia in the middle, and when they enter a bubble they do not let go. Rose feels useless and dragged, her tenuous connection to reality contained in Jade’s cold, sweat-slicked hand.

Jade, bent double with exertion and probably fear, looks up to give her a weak smile.

“You could help us, you know. If you accepted Them again.”

Rose’s breath comes up short. Jade’s smile widens as the imaginary wind whips her hair to frenzy. “They will bequeath unto you the power to save, conquer, or kill at your leisure.”

“Stop that,” Rose says.

“Stop what?” Jade blinks, and the dark miasma that crept around her ankles was never there.

“We need to keep moving,” Aradia gasps. Dave only nods, skin even paler than usual. They take one step after another, moving only small visible distances over the rock, but covering leaps and bounds of murky Ring-space. If it weren’t for Feferi’s afterlife intervention, they would probably be dead.

“Happily so,” Dave adds. “Each soul’s grandest wish is to become one with the great and terrible gods. Why struggle?”

At this point Rose decides that it would be best to stop listening to her friends for awhile.

They submerge themselves in blackness again. Rose has lost count of the number of times they have repeated this cycle. The Ring feels endless, and isn’t that its nature? Perhaps they are moving incorrectly after all, simply following the path laid out for them around and around and around again. Perhaps thousands of years have passed in the Medium, and they cannot feel it.

This creeping claustrophobia of time, out of all the horrors that surround them, is what causes panic to clog her throat.

Stop, she tells herself. Think logically and it can’t reach you.

They will make it through. They will find the parallel Veil, and they will meet the others. They will meet Kanaya, who has probably realized by now that it is impossible, even for her, to watch their progress. Who is probably working herself into all-consuming worry. Kanaya who is waiting for her.

“You can’t make it.”

Kanaya crosses her arms over her chest. She is an elegant creature, from the single blurred screenshot Rose has seen. High, proud cheekbones and eyes flashing dangerously under dark liner.

Rose musters up some mock-agony. “Oh, please, don’t throw me into the briar patch!”

“You think it’s my intention to spur you on through saying snarky opposite-things. You are mistaken.” She tilts her head, and there is hardness in her eyes. “You can’t make it. Not without Their help.”

“That may be so,” Rose says, and she smiles like the devil himself has caught hold of her skirt. “But I’d rather sink into oblivion than back into Their arms.”

“Is that the case?” Kanaya says, lifting one dainty eyebrow. “You are doing yourself a disservice. Your mortal companions will die.”

“Won’t we all?” She laughs then, and she is startled by the high, chilled pitch of her own voice.

Warm arms wrap around her shoulders. Sharp body heat and a suppressed chuckle press against her as delicate fingers trail down her back. “Come and rest, then, darling Rose.” The cold disapproval of the voice has mellowed and warmed until boiling, but the eyes are lifeless chunks of obsidian. She feels lips against the hollow of her throat.

Something inside of her spirals away, and the space behind her eyes goes white.

Someone a long ways off is calling her name.

A flash of orange light. She feels a thousand voices screaming in her head as the heat melts away, leaving her alone. She floats falls lives dies until she is surrounded by the black of the Ring again as Their startled feelers writhe in the distance, stung. She finds herself gasping for breath that doesn’t exist.

A creature floats in front of her. A ghost or a genie, with outstretched wings and killer shades.

They stare at one another for a moment. Then Rose swallows and nods her thanks.

“Say hi to Harley for me,” Davesprite says, and takes off in another flash. Sometimes the dead do not know their place.

She feels, fuzzing into existence, a hand in hers.

“-to fucking wake up already, or I will fucking-”

“Go!” she croaks out, just as she feels a backhanded slap across her face. Judging from her stinging cheeks, it hasn’t been the first. Jade’s expression would be comical, if Rose were the kind of idiot who found this situation funny.

“Rose! Rose, we’re almost there, it wouldn’t let us leave with you flopping around muttering spooky gibberish, but you’re okay, right? You’re-” She startles, looking around wildly. They are surrounded by a steadily growing rushing sound, louder and faster and they’re falling through –

The world goes unconscious, but they wake up.

The last thing Rose feels before passing out: warm arms gripping her flailing limbs tight, soft hair mussed against her cheek as the word safe reverberates into the crook of her neck.