TG: so i get that im completely fucking fascinating or whatever
TG: and you just cant help wanting to crawl into a bucket with me and hump until were drowning in hideous mutant alien babies
GC: D4V3 TH4T 1S TOT4LLY OBSC3N3!
TG: your mouth says no babe but your eyes say yes
TG: yeah thats what she said
TG: anyway thats not the point
TG: my point is
TG: what about you
GC: WH4T 4BOUT M3?
GC: 1 H4V3 S3LFL3SSLY D3VOT3D MY T1M3 4ND 3N3RGY TO H3LP1NG YOU SUCC33D, W1TH NO ULT3R1OR MOT1V3 WH4TSO3V3R!
GC: 1 D3F1N1T3LY DONT G3T 4NYTH1NG L1K3 GR4T1TUD3 OUT OF 1T >:/
TG: okay no what you just said was eighty percent bullshit but details
TG: you keep talking about how i have to step out of the shadows
TG: step up and do the hero thing my own self instead of letting other people take the spotlight
TG: but arent you basically doing the same thing
TG: isnt that your whole schtick
TG: girl behind the curtain and we need a whole new vocabulary to describe the perversions youre enacting on those strings
TG: that shitll get you fifteen to twenty rez
TG: were talking lasting psychological damage
GC: D4V3, 1 H4V3 NO 1D34 WH4T YOUR3 T4LK1NG 4BOUT >:[
TG: its a coolkid cultural reference
TG: i wouldnt expect you to understand
TG: but dont you ever get tired of being the dollar store version of a fairy godmother
TG: with your cheap walgreens costume waving around your shitty plastic wand
TG: that and some petty theft turns a loser with a sword into a loser with a sword and some fraymotifs
TG: i know you live to toy with unsuspecting dudes
TG: but i dont buy that someone like you doesnt want to hog the stage sometimes
TG: so i guess what im trying to say is
TG: does terezi pyrope ever get to be the hero of her own story
TG: or is she too busy trying to rewrite everyone elses
1. vriska serket
You do it backwards and meet her in person first. It's one of the few times you leave your tree--dangerous for a lususless troll like you, especially one barely out of the wriggling stage, but at four sweeps old you already know you're cannier than anyone around for klicks. Besides, this is the year Grubcon comes to your sector of Alternia, and everyone says it's the gaming con. You wouldn't miss it for the world.
For the most part you stick to the sidelines: you're one of the youngest trolls there, and small for your age to boot. It won't do to attract too much attention. You're nothing if not cautious--except then you see the gamebooth, full headset and pressure-sensitive controls, everything about that console a work of art, and you can't resist. This stuff is ten years ahead of its time. So you take your place in line, and when it comes your turn, you don't hold back, even though you can feel ten thousand troll eyeballs rolling back in their heads.
Of course you win. You don't play losing games.
The game's called Sweep, and it's a strategy game, two-on-two. Winners get to keep playing; top scorer gets to pick her partner the next time around. Conventional wisdom would say you keep your old co-pilot--he's solid, if not spectacular--but the next person to step up to the booth is a blueblood troll girl with a gleam in her eye, tall and lanky. She can't be much older than you are, but she strides forward confidently, like she's already decided the world is hers for the taking. "I've been watching you," she says. "You're pretty good."
"I know," you tell her, sizing her up. You wonder what she wants.
"You might even be able to keep up with me." She grins. "Tell you what. I'll let you be on my team this time."
You raise an eyebrow. "And why would I want that?"
She meets your gaze dead-on. "Because I'm going to win."
You study her. She's arrogant, sure, but it's the easy arrogance of someone who's never lost at anything she put her mind to--and, looking at the easy grace with which she handles the headset, the older trolls in the crowd who seem disgruntled but not surprised at her outburst, probably not for lack of experience, either. It's the kind of gamble you just can't resist taking.
Besides, you've never met a troll your age before, not face-to-face. "Come up here, then. And you'd better not slow me down." You flash her a grin of your own.
At the end of the night you're undefeated, and inseparable.
CG: SHE'S COMPLETELY FUCKING BATSHIT.
CG: LOOK, DESPITE WHAT I MAY SAY SOMETIMES I AM AWARE THAT YOU AREN'T STUPID
GC: 4WW K4RK4T, 1M BLUSH1NG >;]
CG: DON'T MAKE ME THROW UP.
CG: AND DON'T CHANGE THE FUCKING SUBJECT, EITHER.
CG: MY POINT IS, SHE'S BAD NEWS. I KNOW IT, AND YOU KNOW IT, AND EVERY SINGLE FUCKING PERSON WHO HAS EVER TALKED TO HER KNOWS IT.
CG: SO WHY HAVE YOU NOT DONE THE SMART THING AND GOTTEN THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER YET?
GC: SH3S NOT SO B4D
GC: 1 M34N SH3 1S 3XTR3M3LY D4ST4RDLY 4ND UND3RH4ND3D, BUT TH4T C4N B3 4 GOOD TH1NG TOO
GC: 4ND 1 4M PR3TTY D4ST4RDLY MYS3LF >:]
CG: IT'S DIFFERENT.
CG: YOU'RE DIFFERENT.
CG: I MEAN, SHIT, HALF THE TIME I THINK YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT JUSTICE SHIT YOU SPEW
CG: AND I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT SHE DOESN'T.
GC: SH3 W1LL UND3RST4ND ON3 D4Y
GC: 4S W1LL YOU
GC: 1 H4V3 F41TH 1N TH1S
CG: UH HUH, MORE CREEPY FAKE PROPHET MUMBO-JUMBO. MUST BE A DAY ENDING IN HROTH AGAIN.
CG: WHO THE FUCK LET TEREZI PYROPE AT THE COMPUTER?
CG: EVERY TIME I TALK TO YOU IT'S LIKE WADING IN BULLSHIT SO THICK IT COULD SUFFOCATE ME.
CG: I CAN'T EVEN HATE YOU FOR IT, IT'S TOO SAD.
GC: WHY K4RK4T
GC: 1S TH4T...
CG: OH FUCK NO
CG: DON'T YOU GO GETTING FUCKING IDEAS
GC: *P1TY* 1 SM3LL????
GC: SWOON >;]
CG: UGH, FOR THE LAST TIME, I WOULD NOT JUMP IN A QUADRANT WITH YOU IF YOU WERE THE LAST TROLL ON EARTH AND THE IMPERIAL DRONE WAS KNOCKING ON MY DOOR.
You think that's enough to throw him off this line of conversation--Karkat's a simple person, nearly guileless, which makes him really easy to misdirect. Normally you'd wind him up a bit more, but you have more exciting things to concentrate on today.
By now your fingers practically fly over the keys, and in a few seconds you have your window centered on tonight's defendant, a thin, nervous greenblood who uses his vulnerable appearance as a cover for his deceitful wiles. He goes through partners like Gamzee Makara goes through sopor, and yet he's still--miraculously, unbelievably--unscathed. But tonight, that's going to change. Tonight, unfortunately for him, you're his clouder.
AG: Geez, Terezi, aren't you ready yet????????
GC: YOU COULD H4V3 4 L1TTL3 P4T13NC3 >:/
AG: I'm surprised th8y don't all get aw8y from you, you're so slow.
GC: 4ND YOUR3 JUST R3CKL3SS
GC: YOUD B3TT3R NOT G3T YOURS3LF K1LL3D OUT TH3R3, YOULL COMPROM1S3 TH3 M1SS1ON
AG: Ughhhhhhhh, for the last time, I don't m8ke mist8kes.
AG: Don't worry a8out me, worry a8out catching that criminal.
"Criminal." You like the sound of that. It's not technically true--there's nothing illegal about serial betrayal--but MMO alliances are one of the few dependable bonds trolls of your age group can form. Vriska's too flighty for pity and too eager for hate, but you know you'll always have her back, and she'll always have yours. You are, as she likes to say, sisters.
Unlike your hapless opponent, you'll fight fair: this is nothing more than a normal Flarp match, just with all the safety brakes and guard rails turned off. Lethal, as the game should be. You've even left him the option of forfeiting--but somehow you don't think your criminal will do that. Despite his fidgeting, he's pretty cocky.
You lay your defendant a trap. He probably won't be taken in by strength masquerading as weakness, not as someone who leans so heavily on that facade himself, but in him you see the arrogance of a troll who has always believed he is the smartest person in the room. So you set out the pieces of your plan: a walled-off room, an enemy that seems almost unbeatable, the exit unexpectedly sealed. An easy out carefully buried into your weaving, visible only to a moderately clever mind. It should look accidental. Just a chink in the armor, a vulnerability you forgot to account for. You wait for him to take the bait.
AG: I'm done over here. ::::)
AG: These guys are chumps, that was easy!
GC: 1V3 4LMOST GOT H1M 1 TH1NK
GC: 1M S3ND1NG YOU H1S COORD1N4T3S
GC: YOULL W4NT TO G3T H1M OV3R B3FOR3 H3 P4SS3S OUT
AG: I know, I know!!!!!!!! Geez.
AG: Let Mindfang t8ke care of this. 8888)
And he does.
Vriska makes him drag himself the few klicks from his hive to hers, on a badly wounded leg, and he's too tired to resist. (The body can keep going long after the mind has worn out, she always says.) She doesn't let up--she pushes herself incredibly hard, enough that you begin to worry about her, but Vriska waves your concern off. You wait, eyes fixed on the monitor, for the signal that means mission-complete.
"What? No, no, don't hurt me--don't--you brought me here to torture me, didn't you? You're sick!"
You turn up the volume on your headset. This one is going to be good.
There's a shoving sound. "Oh, shut up, genius. No use in playing pathetic--we've got your number."
"I don't know what you're talking about--"
"We know about your machinations," you intone. "You've been so slippery, all this time, wriggling out of the consequences of your own failure, leaving your partners in the dust. It's a little too perfect to be coincidental, isn't it?"
Vriska huffs. "You didn't really think your little act would fool us, did you? We're smarter than that."
"Then--" His voice goes high, frantic-- "then you know how good I am. You know what kind of player I am. I can get you connections, I can get you up the ladder, I'll do anything, I swear--"
"You swear?" you drawl, into the microphone. "Like you swore to your partners, I guess. Your word doesn't seem to be worth very much."
"Yeah, really," Vriska says. "How are we supposed to trust you to keep your promises? You never had a problem stabbing anyone else in the back before."
"I--never--that was an accident--"
"We already told you that won't work," you say.
He falls silent.
You adjust your microphone, leaning back in your chair. It's a shame there's no video on this thing. "This is not a game, criminal. This is a matter of justice! You have violated the sacred trust of partnership and brotherhood countless times. You have thrown innocent trolls onto the culling block to save your own skin. Do you deny it? How do you plead?"
"Please--oh god, please no, don't feed me--"
"I think that's a guilty," you say softly, with satisfaction. It's been a very productive day.
The two of you play at justice for almost a sweep. You relish the games, you relish the first taste at what you hope will be a long career in the Legislacerators' service, and you relish having her at your back. And if Vriska seems less enthused about punishing the wicked than you, is sometimes impatient to kill before you have amassed the proper evidence--well. She'll learn, you have faith in that. You see what she is, but you also see that she doesn't have to be this way.
And for that reason--among others--you're glad when the two of you begin to actually make friends in Flarp. You've amassed enough enemies for a lifetime.
TA: 2eriiou2ly though ii dont get iit
TA: aa2 pretty good iill giive her that
TA: but niitram2 just terriible
TA: whatever ii thiink about that 2erket biitch 2he2 good at what 2he doe2
TA: and 2o are you
TA: 2o why havent you obliiterated them by now
GC: B3C4US3 FL4RP 1SNT JUST 4 G4M3!
GC: 1TS 4LSO 4 STORY
GC: 4ND TH3 STORY 1S NO L3SS 1MPORT4NT TH4N TH3 G4M3
TA: okay tz that made no 2en2e
GC: 1 WOULDNT 3XP3CT YOU TO UND3RST4ND >:]
Team Charge isn't as good as you, that's true, but they're interesting: Aradia is an amazing clouder, and Tavros a very imaginative one. They're creative. None of that, however, is why you play with them. You play with them because Tavros likes stories just as much as Vriska does.
She likes him a lot more than she's willing to admit to you--you'd lay a bet that the days when she's slow to respond to your Trollian messages, when she doesn't seem to be paying attention to your latest schemes, she's talking to him, letting herself be roped into his "path8tic" non-lethal adventures. He seems to like that kind better; you have no idea why. Neither does she, judging by her near-constant complaining. But Vriska is half bluster, half pretense. You know her almost as well as you know yourself, and you know that Tavros Nitram--the troll she can't help but care about despite his utter incompetence--will be good for her.
(Sometimes you wonder to yourself: what is it you are doing with Vriska? There's no strategic advantage in this; if anything you are destroying an asset to your team by trying to pare down her ruthlessness. Are you playing lusus now? No--you're not teaching her how to survive. You aren't teaching her anything at all.
You're writing a story of your own, maybe.)
You like Tavros a great deal, and Aradia quickly becomes one of your closest friends, but at first you don't know what draws you and Vriska toward Team Charge. Maybe it's curiosity: how does a team so obviously lopsided stay together? They aren't pale or flushed--Aradia already has a moirail, and one look at Tavros puts anything concupiscent right out of the question--and your troll understanding of friendship doesn't allow for that to serve as sufficient explanation. Alliances like yours and Vriska's depend on need as much as camaraderie, and you don't see how Aradia could ever need Tavros. You hadn't figured it out yet, about the stories.
Team Charge isn't matched at all, but they're complementary. Aradia takes systems apart effortlessly, wrenches them inside out just to figure out how they tick. She can master any game in half the time it takes normal players to learn the rules. Her mind's a computer: input variables, output correct (most efficient, achieving optimal results) path, repeat until process is complete. But there's something empty in that kind of gameplay. She walks swiftly to her destination, making only straight lines. Tavros, on the other hand--Tavros soars.
Tavros tells you that he dreams of fantastic creatures, of magic and flying; of worlds without quadrants or armies or war. He's an immensely talented writer, although his blood caste prevents him from following that as a profession. A couple perigees after you start playing, you realize that you're actually learning things from him: how to bring a scene to life, fully realized; how to make your opponent imagine that his enemy is ten times as terrifying as it actually is. He's got an extraordinary imagination, and that's the kind of thing that draws people to a troll, even a rustblood who'll probably be culled before he hits seven sweeps.
Aradia plays the game, then, so that Tavros can write the story. But Scourge still has one-up on Charge; you and Vriska understand that game and story are one.
Nothing works out the way you thought it would.
It's your fault; you'd been so sure of your plans, so ready to see the ways in which (you thought) Aradia and Tavros's friendship was beginning to change her for the better. (Closer to how you wanted her to be.) She'd become more amenable to this justice thing in the last few perigees, even, and you knew, just knew that one day you'd be standing shoulder to shoulder with her, partners in every sense. You'd been so ready--too ready--to envision that future, and not ready enough to entertain the possibility that everything might go wrong. When she'd messaged you a few perigees back--
AG: Hey, why are we 8othering with them, 8nyway?
AG: You know. Those chumps.
AG: That loser Tavros keeps 8ugging me to pl8y his stupid Fiduspawn g8mes or what8ver. He can't even Flarp properly!!!!!!!! It's path8tic.
AG: We should just put him out of his misery.
GC: YOU DONT ACTUALLY M34N TH4T
AG: Of course I do! You never t8ke me seriously!
AG: I'm s8ck of h8m and I n8v8r want to see h8m ag8in!!!!!!!!
GC: W3R3 NOT K1LL1NG T34M CH4RG3
GC: TH3Y H4V3 DON3 NOTH1NG WRONG
GC: 4ND B3S1D3S, 4R4D14 1S SOM3ON3 W3 WOULD BOTH R4TH3R H4V3 4S 4 FR13ND, NOT 4N 3N3MY
GC: W3 DONT N33D TO M4K3 TH1NGS MOR3 D1FF1CULT FOR US
AG: I g8ess you're right!
AG: Fine, we won't kill Tavros. 8ut we have to do another execution soon, my lusus is getting intolera8le.
You should have known, then, but you'd written it off as her letting out steam. Vriska is half bluster, half pretense, after all. She'd never wanted to like wide-eyed, weak little Tavros Nitram, who spent half his days dreaming. Of course she would go into the relationship kicking and screaming, spend one night spinning tales with him and the next fantasizing about his head on a pike. But the former impulse would win out eventually, of course; you had never stopped to wonder, what if it doesn't?
You'd committed the cardinal sin of gaming--Vriska's pet sin, and isn't that beautifully fitting: lost in the story, you'd forgotten to play the game. You'd forgotten that there was a game to be played, that reality wouldn't simply warp itself to your desires. Well, you won't forget this time. As you close Aradia's Trollian window and wipe your eyes, you've already begun weaving a new story, fitting the pieces together, planning your next move. You go through all your logs with Vriska and gather up the little inconsistencies, letting them reveal the portrait of the truth you've been ignoring. Here's the evidence, Your Honorable Tyranny. And here is the verdict.
It's poetic justice, that you'll be the one to bring her down: ends to ends, everything coming full circle, finished as it began.
When you're five sweeps old, yet too young for proper quadrants, a failed alliance is almost the bitterest thing you can imagine. It doesn't matter that you'd never desired or pacified Vriska, or she you; she was your sister, yours. And then she wasn't.
The ensuing bloodbath leaves neither of you unscathed. You end it only because you'd destroy yourself and her both otherwise. But you know that any truce has to be temporary, so you keep tracking her, you keep collecting evidence, and you never stop sharpening your sword; one day she'll slip up, you know, and when that day comes you'll be waiting with a coin and a smile.
(Sometimes you dream that you're standing shoulder to shoulder, weapons raised against an encroaching sea of enemies, and it doesn't take you long to figure out the rhythms of her fight again, nor to match them--
Sometimes you dream that she's as sharp-eyed and brilliant as you knew she could one day become, and all of her strength turned to the wrong purposes; she bests you one day, blazing a trail of murder in her wake, and when you finally catch up to her, your hands and coat still stained with innocent blood, she's smiling. She's beautiful, your nemesis, your fated, your perfect enemy if she can't be your perfect friend, and when you clash you feel the rightness of it, everything full circle, ended where it began--)
Nothing works out the way you thought it would.
You can feel her blood--the blood of the girl who would have been Hero of Light--seeping through your fingers, slicking your gloves. It's the only time you've ever smelled her still.