Chapter 1: > Be Karkat
You are Karkat Vantas.
The purple moon has long gone past its zenith, and the green moon is only halfway over the horizon; Alternia's craggy plant life and tortured plains are painted in colorful shades, and a rare poetic soul might find the scenery beautiful. Hell, even you sometimes stop to take in the sights, if you’re in a good enough mood.
You are, in fact, in somewhat of a good mood. Sadly you also happen to be weaving your way underground back to your hive through one of the many secret tunnels built by an ancient cult thousands of sweeps ago, making you completely unaware of the beautiful spectacle of colors taking place outside. You're also in a bit of a hurry, so maybe you wouldn't have stopped to watch the moonrise this time anyway.
But today was a good day. You went to your best friend's hive one or two nights ago - it's hard to separate one night from another in this season - and had a good time, or as good a time as it's possible to have with a blithering junkie slipping on and off his sopor high. You napped with him in his 'coon, keeping him company for the short-lived morn when his custodian failed to show up. Then you sat with him for hours on a sandy dune overlooking the beach, grousing about nothing in particular with his head on your lap as you watched the horizon for his lusus and felt the waves push and pull at the blood in your veins.
From a safe distance, of course. From as safe a distance as would allow you to feel the prickly, stingy droplets and smell the salty wind. You're afraid a sea-dweller may have spotted you once, and since then you've done your best to stay the hell out of their sight.
Gamzee has been hells of understanding.
Now, though, you're stalking past the faded frescoes of half-forgotten prophecies, trying to think of a good excuse to give your lusus for taking so long to come back -- "Gamzee had the shakes" has been misused one too many times. He might not believe it again, even though it’s technically true.
You hunch a little more into your own shoulders and sigh. Progress on Gamzee's sopor slime addiction hasn't been all that great lately, and when you left his hive he was snarfing a green pie with just a little bit too much ferociousness. He barely held on for five minutes, staring up at you with eyes too bright, too focused, mumbling that he really, really needed that pie - but the real, non-addled Gamzee was there, closer than ever, as close as the sloshing waves you'd been watching, and you allowed yourself to be a complete mush and hug his lanky and stumbling self all the way back through the heavy sand, patting his hair and telling him how strong and brave he was and how close he was to being okay.
As you climb the uneven steps that lead to the back of your thermal hull, you make plans for the next visit. Gamzee will probably regress a little, he always does, but maybe you'll take Tavros along to give him an extra incentive--
Oh hey, there's a red flag sticking out of the thermal hull's bottom.
If someone were to ask you what the flag was about, you'd say it was a little thing you came up with to train your lusus, which is a lie. You'd also say that it helps him convey the kind of complex ideas most Custodians can't normally express, which is true. Depending on who was asking, you might even add that the colors and shapes of a flag had different meanings, and that the red one was a pretty personal sort of flag.
The flags are mostly ripped curtain strips and the shapes can be kind of hit-and-miss, but you are pretty good at deciphering them by now. This appears to be a "not home" kind of flag, with a little bit of "be safe". You pointedly refuse to acknowledge a surge of affection; after going all pale over Gamzee you simply will not allow yourself any more mushiness for at least a sweep.
You pick the flag to take a closer look and promptly captchalogue it into your stupid Encryption Modus. GodfuckingDAMNIT.
You let your card vault tumble noisily down the rough stairs, and show it a finger for good measure. No wonder you're always running out of curtains; this must be the thousandth flag and the thousandth card you’ve lost to your modus.
With a huge show of huffiness to the faded scripture you're surrounded with, you raise your nose, unlatch the back of your hull, and are immediately greeted by a huff of cold vapor in the face. You crawl onto a shelf and push a box of chilled roe cubes out of your way, awkwardly bolting the hull from the inside before pushing the front door open. After some more maneuvering you manage to turn your butt to the front and get your feet under you, jumping out of the freezing trap without issue.
This arrangement would bother most trolls, but you're okay with it. You're okay with lots of things that happen to keep you alive.
Before closing the hull you pull out a boxed leaf juice, and push the door shut with your hip while you fumble with the straw. You thoughtfully suck the bitter drink and consider introducing Tavros to the tunnels; it'll definitely beat pushing his four-wheel device over miles of desert. You'll probably have to run it through the geezers first, though--
And then you turn around and spot the Threshecutioner standing stock-still in the middle of the overturned mess of your food preparation block, the Threshecutioner who's probably been standing there long enough to watch you crawl butt-first out of your super-secret illegal escape tunnel.
You stand there like an idiot, straw limp in your lips as you take in the sickle and the black uniform and the green sign and the sheer fucking height of this kid who's clearly a couple of sweeps older than you, old enough to have some color in his eyes even -- and your mind goes, welp. This is it.
And then the greenblood sinks to his knees and lowers his torso until his forehead is touching the floor, and your mind goes oh fuck NO.
You hate zealots.
Chapter 2: > Karkat: freeze like a tool
You are Karkat Vantas.
You are standing frozen in the dismantled remains of what was once your meal preparation block, and there's a green-blooded Threshecutioner prostrate in front of you.
"Um," you say, inching back until your shoulder hits the thermal hull's door.
"Lower than the lowest," intones the young Threshecutioner, his voice betraying just the slightest hint of tremulous fervor, and you want to roll your eyes despite the discomfort that's settling heavy in the pit of you stomach. "Higher than the highest..."
"Stop," you say, and find yourself raising both hands in a placating gesture before it even occurs to you that he might take offense to being interrupted. "Look," you hesitate, the juice box sloshing as you move your hand, "Don't, okay? Just... you don't have to say all that shit, it's way too fucking long."
You press back against the door when the Threshecutioner raises his head — he's young, probably part of the newest training batch, yet to step off the planet — but he's looking at you with wide adoring eyes, lips parted in a tiny little smile, and it's just plain embarrassing.
"So," you interrupt the awkward silence, "why are you here? What do the geezers want?" But suddenly you remember that no, the geezers would never send someone to you in plain sight, they were all bugfuck bonkers but they had a method and they'd never put your location at risk like this—
"You were discovered," says the greenblood, lowering his head back to the floor almost mournfully, and you fucking knew it but it still comes at a shock. "You were spotted by a sea-dweller during a moment of communion—"
Great and almighty thinkpan-hemorrhaging fuck, is that what they call it? Seriously!?
"—and my unit was sent to cull everyone in your hive and near it—"
A strangled moan comes scratching out of your throat. It might be a curse, but you really can't tell through the sudden, high-pitched keening in your auricular channels. The juice box topples out of your numb fingers and you grasp your head with both hands, pressing your back even harder against the thermal hull, because the world suddenly started listing sideways.
"—but your lusus sent out a warning and most escaped in time," says the greenblood, still staring intently at the floor an inch from his sniffnode, and your body spontaneously sags down like a sack of bricks. Your blood pusher thuds against your auricular sponge clots, and you blink back the sudden burning in your eyes. It's probably safe to cry in front of this guy, but you'd still rather not.
You take deep steadying breaths. That's what the flag meant — your lusus managed to escape in time, it was out of the hive and safe. Somewhere else. You'll have to get that card back and see if there was anything more to it.
"My commander personally combed through every block of your hive for passages," continues the greenblood. You really wish he'd stop talking with his nose against the floor; the grovelling always makes you uncomfortable. "When he was done I was ordered to await your arrival while my squad searched the surrounding hives."
You nod to yourself and rest your forehead against your knees. Now that the mass-culling induced spike of horror has diminished, you're starting to feel pretty damn panicked about your own situation. You can't step out of your hive because it’s most likely surrounded by hungry little eyes, and your neighbors are probably having their own living quarters ransacked even as you sit here - and woe be to any who couldn't escape in time. You still have the apparently undiscovered passage behind your hull, but—
No. Going back to Gamzee — or to anybody else, really — is out of question. Anyone who knows you is a target. Your one remaining choice is to crawl into the Followers' catacombs, where the wrinkly old squatters will attempt to spoon-feed you their religious bullshittery forever, and despite the very real danger you're facing you are not looking forward to it.
But you're looking forward to being culled even less, so you'll just have to endure their constant scriptural bickering until they think you're ready to stroll out and proselytize to the peasants, somehow causing the Apocalypse. You're not looking forward to that either.
"So..." you mumble, trying to sound a little more forceful, or messianic, or at least less like a terrified wiggler, and failing miserably. "What now?"
"You will be sheltered in the Dark Hive," says the other troll. "The Grand Elder has planned for this eventuality. And after my body is found—"
"Your what!?" you choke out in a burst of spittle.
The greenblood's shoulders twitch, and it almost looks like a flinch. "After it is found, you will be sent to where the empire can't reach you," he continues, as dispassionately as if he were speaking of leaving behind a scrap of cloth. When he goes on, though, his voice has just the slightest edge of urgency. "Nearly all passages have been found, even the one you came in from. You were expected back, and I'd be culled anyway for failing to apprehend you. But planting my corpse will lead the Empire into believing we have a fearsome ally—"
"That's a bullshit plan!" you spit out, jumping to your feet in a surge of angry energy, your previous terror forgotten. "What the hell are those bastards thinking!? Isn't it enough that all my neighbors are in the culling row, you have to add your own color to the shitty murder picture? All to make the highbloods think we’re stronger than we actually are!? This is the most bulge-kickingly awful plan I've ever had the dubious privilege of having my auricular sponge clots assaulted by."
The greenblood raises his head at your outburst; his eyes meet yours, his pupils dilate, and then he slams his face back into the cement with a dry thud. You pointedly do not think of it.
"Look," you say, squeezing the bridge of your nose, "just... forget the shitty plan and come along with me. You're already a—" you hold back your distaste for the word "—a Follower, so you could just, I dunno, hide in the catacombs with the others. It'll suck hoofbeast teat, yeah, and you'll be surrounded by scripture forever, for which I can't even begin to apologize, but at least you won't be dying for the hell of it!"
You watch as the older troll's shoulders shake, as his hands tense against the floor and he turns his head just very slightly to and fro. God, he's squirming - fuck, what's there to be so torn about? Unless this poor kid also dreamed of being a threshecutioner his whole life and doesn't want to live forever in hiding either, in which case he really should just chop off your head and get on with his life, and you can't believe you're actually thinking this—
You're just really fucking sorry for this kid. You have no idea how new believers are converted, but it must involve an awful lot of manipulation you just don't think you're okay with.
But suddenly the young threshecutioner sits up on his heels, back straight, shoulders squared; he stares straight into your eyes, and the fucker was actually crying, his face blotched with green. But he's smiling, and it’s - it's a good sort of smile, it's actually a pretty brilliant sort of smile, and you find yourself tentatively smiling back.
"I won't die!" he says, voice cracking high as a wiggler's, and you freeze until his shoulders finally sag. "But you still need to leave," he adds. "And we can't be seen together."
"Oh," you let your own shoulders sag in relief. It seems the guy is willing to talk with you-you, not just second-coming-you, and that's a welcome change. "So what's the plan?"
He spontaneously produces a ton of captchalogue cards, placing them carefully on the floor in front of you. You've always hated the laying-shit-at-your-feet thing, but when he sits back he's still staring directly at your face without fear of your Sufferer-ness and smiling that small, undecipherable little smile. You crouch down to examine the cards and—
The top one is an Array Fetch Modus.
Your feelings must be written all over your face, because the other troll grins shyly and hunches into his shoulders like he’s unsure if he’s allowed to witness you being sylladex-inept. You try not to grin back as you empty it out—
Except you need to hack your thrice-bedamned sylladex before you can eject anything. Of-fucking-course.
You promptly give up and resign yourself to holding a handful of Encryption Modus cards mixed with a fuckton of Array Modus cards. The guy is just watching your sylladex shenanigans like it's the most fascinating thing in the world; he doesn't even offer help or anything. Goddamn zealots.
"Anyway," the troll starts, shoulders tense as if he’s still not sure he was allowed to look at you, "you must take corridor number 12. It's the only one— one of the only ones they didn't find. I'll leave in passage number five after I close yours and make preparations for, for my new... plan," he says, lowering his head solemnly. "Our paths will probably not cross again after this."
You nod gravely, suddenly feeling like a Troll on a Mission.
"Now go," he says, pushing the air with his hands as if trying to push you by proxy. "Hurry!"
You nod again, and nearly run for the stairs to your respite block — but then you suddenly remember one thing, run back to your thermal hull, wrench the door open, unlatch the lock on the back, slide belly-down over the middle shelf, knock all the chilled roe cubes down the passage’s stairs, and trip your way down until you reach the card vault you abandoned there.
You raise it in triumph, and then spot the greenblood staring wide-eyed at you from beyond the frosty shelves.
You feel an irrational need to justify your jumping around when you see his face. But he just smiles indulgently at you without a trace of judgment in his eyes, and you feel like an overgrown wiggler just kind of scurrying around in the middle of a life and death situation while a threshecutioner is trying to save your life — so you crawl back with all the dignity you can muster, and give your new ally a very serious-business nod before scurrying up the stairs for passage 12.
There aren't really twelve passages in your hive. Most of them are older than the current Mother Grub and you have no idea what the numbering scheme even is; when you built your hive, though, your nosy little minders went and chose a location for you where six hidden paths happened to stray close to each other, and when you were finished they secretly modified your walls to connect to them. Passage 12 just happens to be the one cleverly hidden behind your wash basin.
You run into your room, captchalogue your desktop computer and scoop up a handful of movies thrown carelessly on the floor. Your posters are shredded to pieces, your recuperacoon is shattered and there's slime all over the place; you trip and slide your way into your hygiene block to find your load gaper overturned and your ablution trap roughly ripped off the floor, with pipe water spraying all over the walls and you in a misty shower...
But the wash basin is still in place — it simply doesn't look big enough to conceal a passage even a young troll could squeeze through. In fact, it looks rather purposefully incapable of hiding anything.
You pull down the window latch, and it does exactly what it's supposed to do, which is fail to open. Only then do you turn back to the basin, carefully sliding it out along with a square section of the wall while the greenblood hovers at the entrance.
Vriska only wishes she had a hive as cool as yours.
You climb down the rickety ladder and dust rains down on your hair as your new friend pushes the heavy basin back into place. The light is cut off; your slimy shoes splash onto a fairly sizable puddle when you reach the bottom — leakage from the nearby water trap — and you walk carefully on the uneven ground until your eyes adjust.
Then you break into a run.
Chapter 3: > Be the Greenblooded Threshecutioner
You are a greenblooded threshecutioner cadet, and also a Follower of the Forbidden Teachings of the Signless.
The fact that you are part of the unit sent to cull the Signless Reborn can only be described as His Providence. You see no need to even be contacted by the Elders; your purpose is clearly to ensure the Descendant of Suffering's survival at any cost.
In fact, by the time their messenger arrives, you've already planned how to eliminate your fellow cadets the fastest way. They're all as inexperienced as you are, and with the extra training you received from the Elders you are sure you'll be able to kill them all, even your commanding blueblood, before succumbing to the inevitable wounds.
The message, however, outlines a wider-spanning strategy clearly superior to yours — a Plan which requires cunning and self-sacrifice rather than force of arms, a plan truly worthy of the followers of the Sufferer, and you are a vital part of it.
You are provided with endless amusement as you drop hints and suggestions in hearing range of your slow-witted commander, leading him to conclusions which he believes are his own. You never thought you'd use your Conversion Rhetoric lessons to lead idiots by the nose, but it's unexpectedly fun.
Sure enough, you are categorically ordered to stay behind in case the mutant comes back, and told in no uncertain terms to close all the passages back so the mutant will have no suspicions, and you make a face and drawl "yes, sirrrrrrrrr" with as much grudging obnoxiousness as you can fake while your commander sneers victoriously at you. You huff and puff petulantly in a display of impotent rage, and the other troopers snicker at you as they step out of the hive.
Soon you are left alone in the ransacked relaxation block, standing among the spill of multimedia crap normal young trolls usually surround themselves with. It does not even occur to you to question why the Carrier of Blood would bother with such mundane trappings; he has to fit in and play the part if he is to live among the people he’s fated to both save and destroy.
You climb to his hygiene block to check up on passage 12, but can't help stopping by his respite block on the way back down. You take in the half-smeared scrawls which cover the walls top to bottom, and the gaps where the ripped posters littering the floor were once pasted on. They're everywhere, angry multicolored spiked letters overflowing with all-consuming rage and all-encompassing pity, mysterious symbols and floating words and barely readable messages to people whose names you had to hastily rub or rip out so they wouldn't be targeted.
You knew about the writings before ever coming in. Apparently pictures of his respite block's walls are constantly taken as the Elders attempt to keep up to date on his visions, but they are among the Greatest of Mysteries and only allowed to be studied by Masters of the highest level. The Elders also speak widely and proudly that once during a Lesson in the Dark Hive the Child went into a Holy Trance and wrote Prophecies on the Mural depicting the Fourth Sermon with a Fluorescent Pink Marker, Yes That One On The Dais. To be surrounded by such Holy Writ is an honor, even if they don’t make a lick of sense to your barely initiated self.
You allow yourself a few minutes of contemplation and prayer before moving back to action. You close the passages, set traps back into place. You find the desperate message left by the Future Savior's lusus carelessly dropped inside the hull, completely ignored by the culling party, and arrange for it to peek from the bottom of the hull's back entrance as an extra warning. Clearly that was the passage he was expected to come in from; you stand back and wait, blood pusher pounding arrhythmically at the prospect of meeting your savior face-to-face.
You've spoken to some of the lucky few who have laid eyes on him. They all failed to give you a proper description, paddling and groping at the air with uncertain hands, lips opening and closing like confused sea-dwellers, their gazes distant as if picturing a color they had no name for. Eyes would grow misty; more than one dissolved into sniffling. They all described an unexplainable surge of protective, pitiful feelings.
You are still unprepared for the little figure which carefully crawls out of the thermal hull.
He is... blunt. No, rounded. Soft. There is not a single edge to be seen on him, no sharp ends. He is thin and round-faced, swimming in a baggy sweater, slouching slightly as he pulls out a beverage from the passage he just came in from with movements both careless and contained, graceful and subtle.
He’s harmless. Harmless and defenseless and so very, very soft and young and breakable, so much so that a part of you desperately wants to touch, to make sure he is real and safe. Suddenly you know why the Dolorosa chose a mutant wiggler over her prestigious duty. How could she not? How could anyone wish harm on a creature that inspires such intense feelings of pale pity?
The thought that the Sufferer had been tortured and executed for his teachings had once been a tragic but inspiring tale. Now, though, the knowledge that the Highbloods callously caused this child's previous incarnation so much pain sickens you to the core. Never before have you felt so strongly for the movement you're a part of; only now do you fully comprehend the vastness and righteousness of the mission you were given.
The Night of the World finally turns to you, his widening eyes lingering on your uniform — he doesn't know you're on his side, he was not warned of your arrival — and then he relaxes in quiet resignation.
You feel absolutely wretched. You drop to your knees and lower your face to the floor, knowing that you are unworthy of gazing upon him. You start to intone the prayer which comprises his True Name; he swiftly interrupts you, reassured of your harmless intentions, and softly chides you for wasting precious time with such frivolities.
His wisdom is truly vast.
He inquiries as to the reason for your presence, and you regretfully inform him of the dire circumstances. A moment of Communion was witnessed by an unfriendly sea-dweller, who immediately sent out warning of his existence. Your squad was ordered to cull all those in his and surrounding hives - and when he lets out a sudden, mournful cry, you quickly assure him that they escaped. It appears to minimally calm him down.
You peek at him from your supplicant position. He's sitting on the floor, his visage one of deep contemplation. He inquires as to the current plan.
He then vehemently disagrees with the plan.
Surprise makes you raise your eyes, and you witness his holy rage in action as he forcefully refuses to sacrifice your life - as if, as if, and you can barely even finish the thought, but it's as if he truly, genuinely, personally values an existence he wasn't even aware of a few minutes ago.
It's more emotion than a troll can handle. You hurriedly lower your head back down, all sorts of nameless feelings roiling inside your blood-pusher cavity. Romance beyond quadrants is an ideal all Followers strive for, and what you're feeling right now is strange and soft and wonderful and it must be heretical to even think of it this way but you feel so stupidly blessed to even be this close to a divine revelation—
Above your head, the Sufferer’s Scion innocently insists on your escape together, offers you a position as one of the Hallowed Guardians of the Scripture, and tears escape your eyes unbidden as you shake your head to yourself. It's not possible, of course, even if you were somehow deserving of such honor — your death is the cornerstone of the Plan, after all. But you really should not have expected the Comforter of the Weeping to accept this fact. Mentioning the Plan at all was a mistake.
There's only one thing to do. You steel yourself, take a deep breath, and lie to your Savior.
It's criminal and sinful, but he looks so happy that you'd be glad to damn yourself a thousand times over.
You push the section of wall hiding passage 12 back into place, until it's completely camouflaged among the exposed building units of the hygiene block. A muffled clang signals that both the lock and the corresponding trap have been activated. You step back, and with your nails you write a coded message on the wash basin's underside - a collection of completely random scratches to the untrained eye. With that, the main bulk of your work is done.
You make your way slowly down the stairs, stopping every now and then to scratch the walls in wide strokes with your scythe, more messages to be mistaken for the signs of battle. Followers who are about to die usually write or sing psalms describing His Righteous Fury, His Foretold Return and the Punishment of the Wicked, but you just don't feel any of that right now; instead, you write sections of lighter cantos and praises for the Sufferer's Compassion. You have, after all, witnessed it first-hand.
That done, you pull out one of the two items you were given when informed of the plan. It's a vial containing a mix of the blood of several elders, donated for this specific purpose, and that of some of the lusii from the Cult's breeding program. You raise it to the light to admire the shade. It's most likely not the correct one, but it should be enough to fool your targets.
You sprinkle it in one single, discreet spatter on the floor, and then carefully coat the blade of your sickle. Not too much blood, just enough to make it look like you managed one lucky hit. The rest of the beautiful bronze hue is drained at the meal preparation block, its vial washed and smashed among the remains of other breakables.
You decaptchalogue the other item you were given, a Cavalreaper's lance with its handle encased in a block of ice. This particular model, despite being one of the best, has long since been forbidden and pulled out of production. Its color and design as well are sure to give pause to any long-lived member of your race. It is, in fact, a replica, but a perfect one made by Alternia's best metalworker, and no one who sees it would ever doubt its authenticity.
You set it onto its frozen base at the bottom of the stairs, its sharpened point turned to the ceiling.
The next part is going to be a little tricky. You climb the stairs, measuring your position in relation to the deadly weapon. You feel a pang of fear which you promptly bury. You attempt to assuage your doubts by mumbling more cantos under your breath, and are mildly successful.
You jump onto the lance, arms spread, chest exposed. Your aim is perfect, and the absurdly sharp tip goes straight through your chest. Your death is nearly instantaneous.
The sudden impact of your weight onto the lance breaks the block which held it up; shards fly every which way, along with your sickle. Hours later they'll be fully melted, and it will not occur to anyone that any ice might have ever been involved in the grisly scene of your murder.
No, all that your blue-blooded commander will see, when your confused and terrified squad mate finally convinces him to personally check your body, is a Threshecutioner murdered by the Summoner's very own lance.
He will not recognize it, but the off-planet aristocracy will, and the pictures sent by the legislacerator on case — of brown blood on your sickle and a discontinued lance design — will make the whole empire flip the fuck out.
It will buy your cause precious time.
The plot thickens! I had so much fun writing this guy, I'm almost sad to see him go. But now you have a portrait of the average cultist. There's a reason Karkat isn't comfortable around them...
Chapter 4: > Karkat: Run down the wet tunnel.
Your feet kick up mud as you race down the narrowing passage, spattering your pants with gritty coldness. Your hand touches a trickling wet trail on the wall, and you can smell the cool humidity of the underground water reservoir which poises ready to flood the tunnel as soon as the trap by the wash basin is set off.
Sweat trickles under your clothes, an itchy, maddening trail over every ridge of your torso, and you slap your sweater over it, letting the fabric soak the offending drop. You are sticky and hot; you desperately wish you had set the water trap off, and you hate yourself for feeling this way.
You could seriously strangle someone for an ablution trap right now. A filled one, you correct yourself. Warm or cold water, it's all the same to you so long as it's clean.
Eventually you reach a crossroads — three round holes dug into the rock wall, just high enough for you to peek into, and barely wide enough for an adult troll to crawl through. It's as good a place as any to catch your breath and investigate something you found rather suspicious.
You sit down and decaptchalogue both your computer station and your husktop. The station sits depowered and useless on the uneven floor with no energy sockets nearby, but you manage to circumvent the issue by pulling out your information grub and installing it into your husktop, connecting it to what you hope is the correct tangle of dusty wires. You heave a sigh of relief when you turn the husktop on, in safe mode to save power, and it doesn’t explode in your face.
The culling party had gone through the trouble of smashing your recuperacoon and cracking your ablution trap, and yet your station had been sitting nice and whole and online in the wreckage of your respite block. You hadn't actually caught on to this fact in your hurry to escape — you'd captchalogged it completely on impulse.
You're pretty glad you did, though. It's always nice when Past Karkat does something right for once.
You don't find anything amiss while poking through your computer history and recent documents. It looks more like someone messed around on your desktop, clicking at random files. At least they didn't try and compile your shitty viruses... or maybe they did, but Safe Mode is sparing you from swimming through the morass of broken data. You're starting to think some bored cadet got tired of trashing your hive and decided to catch up with his peeps on Trollian—
You open Trollian with a shaky hand. Your grayed out contact list jumps out at you, the first thing any idiot would think to check.
You open Aradia's log history, and a message you never wrote sits accusingly as the most recent.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling apocalypseArisen [AA] --CG: hello. i know this is a bit sudden, but could you confirm your dwelling location. there's this thing I want to send you.
Your face goes numb and cold, tingling with lack of blood.
Seconds later, though, you start to feel irrationally annoyed that no one even thought to check your older logs to see how you typed. A guy would have to be profoundly stupid to even mistake you for the writer of this message! Look at Aradia, for example, she didn't even bother typing back. It wasn't like the impostor could do anything about it, right?
You check Tavros' log history.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling adiosToreador [AT] --CG: hello. i know this is a bit sudden, but could you confirm your dwelling location. there's this thing I want to send you.
-- adiosToreador[AT] is idle --
Aw, hell, did the dumbass actually copy-paste the same message for everyone?
-- adiosToreador [AT] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] --AT: hEY, kARKAT, aRE YOU STILL THERE,
AT: sORRY, i WAS
AT: iS THAT YOU,
And Tavros would be stupid enough to answer, you think, ice spreading in your gut.
- CG: hey. it's me.
CG: can you, though.
CG: send me your location, i mean.
AT: aRE YOU SURE,
AT: i MEAN
-- adiosToreador[AT] is idle --
-- adiosToreador [AT] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] --AT: nEVERMIND,
AT: i'LL SEND YOU,
AT: tHOUGH, i'LL HAVE TO APOLOGIZE FIRST,
AT: bECAUSE, uHH, yOU SEE,
AT: i DON'T KNOW IT WELL MYSELF,
AT: i NEVER RECEIVE THINGS, aND,
-- adiosToreador[AT] is idle --CG: hello.
-- adiosToreador [AT] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] --AT: i LIVE, uM, IN THESE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE FIELDS,
AT: tHE WIDE-OPEN GRASSY PLAINS i RUN THROUGH
AT: yOU KNOW HOW IT IS,,,,
CG: yes, i do.
AT: sO IT MIGHT BE UNHELPFUL,
CG: don't worry about that.
CG: just tell me what you know.
You start sagging in relief midway through the conversation as it becomes increasingly clear that Tavros wasn't buying the impostor either. He was still a godawful liar, but maybe this guy was too stupid to catch on.
With an ever increasing amount of uHs and uMs, Tavros described in extremely broad terms a location which may have been just about any beach-front cliff in Alternia, and offered helpful reference points such as a herd of hoofbeasts which went by every now and then, and a purrbeast which slept nearby sometimes. For Tavros, it was actually a pretty good attempt at misdirection.
And then the impostor shot out the name of the plateau he lived on.
Tavros hesitated for a little too long and was probably aware of it, because he uMMed without confirming or denying anything, and then said he had to do something downstairs before logging off.
You sit back and let out a shaky sigh. Tavros wasn't safe, but at least he was aware of it. You wipe your clammy hands on your sweater before opening all logs at once, scrolling through them as quickly as your shaky hands would allow.
Sollux, Kanaya and Terezi hadn't taken the bait, and Nepeta wasn't even online at the time. Equius' log was downright hilarious — he'd berated the impostor for contacting him without permission, and the guy had honest-to-god apologized, humbly accepting Equius' praise of his caste-appropriate humbleness. If you knew him to have anything resembling a sense of humor, you'd suspect Equius of screwing with the guy on purpose. Eridan's was a ridiculously long conversation in which he barely let the other guy get a word in edgewise; you only barely skim through it, but you catch him offhandedly call himself High Lord Snappertail, imply he’s Tavros' kismesis, give Gl'bgolyb's abyssal depths as his location and then propose red twice and black once. Might be worth reading through later.
Vriska's was short and to the point.
- AG: Well, there's my address.
AG: I aw8 your gift with 8ated 8reath!
AG: I hope you 8ring it in person, you and your little friends.
AG: My lusus looooooooves visitors. :::;)
And so was Feferi's.
CC: You've got some glubbing N--ERVE asking for my location, Mr. Guy in Karkat's Computer!
CC: But I'm not t)(at )(ard to find. You just )(ave to sink into t)(e sea.
CC: Come at me! My trident awaits. 38)
CC: And bring your lusus, so I may F--E--ED )(IM TO GL'BGOLYB!
There was no response, probably because the impostor was too busy shitting himself in terror.
You close Feferi's log window, revealing Gamzee's underneath, and your blood-pusher just about freezes when you take in the length of text. Gamzee would know when you're being impersonated, right? But what if he were too high on sopor to— what if he actually gave his— but he wouldn't— ohmygod.
You fruitlessly attempt to swallow the icy lump lodged in your throat before you force yourself to scroll back and read it from the beginning.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling terminallyCapricious [TC] --CG: hello. i know this is a bit sudden, but could you confirm your dwelling location. there's this thing I want to send you.
-- terminallyCapricious[TC] is idle --
-- terminallyCapricious[TC] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] --TC: aww, man, you shouldn't have.
TC: THAT'S SO MOTHERFUCKING SWEET OF YOU.
TC: you're the sweetest bro a guy could up and ask for. :o)
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] is idle --
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling terminallyCapricious[TC] --CG: will you give me your location, then.
TC: OF COURSE, MY BROTHER. :O)
TC: all up on the sandy dunes.
TC: AND THE SEA WHAT WE BOTH PLAY IN RIGHT IN FRONT.
TC: every fucking 12th perigee's eve the green moon rises up smack dab in front of my door.
TC: AND UP NORTH THERE'S THE OLD GALLOWS WHAT LEGISLACERATORS USED TO UP AND DO THEIR JOB ON WAY BACK WHEN.
TC: high on a rocky cliff.
TC: AND IT MAKES A CLOWN FACE WHEN THE MOONLIGHT HITS IT JUST SO. :o)
CG: i know the location.
CG: thank you. you were very informative.
TC: don't be taking too long, man.
TC: I'M ALL UP AND WAITING HERE, OPEN ARMS, ALL READY TO RECEIVE YOUR BEAUTIFUL GIFT.
CG: stay in place. i will come find you.
TC: i know you will :O)
TC: MY PALEBRO. <>
Your eyes hit the diamond and the screen tints red with tears.
Pale. He called you— he thinks of you— he—
You start curling in on your knees before you can help yourself, burying your chin against your chest and crying without even knowing why when you're feeling so stupidly, overwhelmingly happy.
You return the feelings. You always have, and you're just slightly surprised by the awareness that you did. You just, you took it completely for granted — you think back and can't remember a time when you two weren't moirails in everything but name. And yet, now that he's stepped forward and named it for what it is, you're just about overflowing with happiness and warmth and relief so stark you wonder if a part of you was afraid he hadn't felt the same. Which is frankly such a ridiculous thought that somewhere in the back of your head a part of you is laughing at your own stark flailing stupidity, loud and giddy.
You could hug the nearest threshecutioner, secret ally or not, and it takes you actual physical effort to stop hugging yourself. You wipe your face and blink back at the screen. There's more to read, time-stamped as nearly an hour later.
- TC: but to my pale bro i must make sure you remember...
TC: THERE'S SOMEONE ELSE YOU NEED TO UP AND LOOK OUT FOR.
TC: it's that thing, what's it all up and called...
TC: PRIORITY. :o)
TC: i'll be fine.
TC: I'LL TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING HERE,
TC: and then we'll meet again.
TC: <> <> <>
You catch yourself before you start typing diamonds back. You'd completely forgotten the husktop was offline. You're huddled in a humid cave deep underground, only halfway dry, with your station on safe mode, and giggling alone like an addled fool because you suddenly found out you've had a moirail all along.
There's no doubt in your mind that this is Gamzee, despite the weird typing quirk, and that he knew it wasn’t you. You touch the screen like a mushy dipshit and don't even care. You are completely, utterly certain that the last lines were directed at you, the you hiding here in the dark, not the fake you who was trying to fool him, and you don't even question this certainty.
Gamzee baited the culling party on purpose, and then asked for a favor. You put your station and your husktop back into your sylladex, then stand up without even bothering to dust your pants. You are giddy with pale love. Everything is clear.
You choose one of the three holes to crawl through. You're making a detour.
You did intend to introduce Tavros to the tunnels eventually.
A word to the readers: the next 2 or 3 chapters will consist mostly of Gamzee going through several states of batshittery. Archive warnings will be added when I figure just how fucked up he'll make this fic.
Chapter 5: > Be Gamzee
You are Gamzee Makara.
You are waiting.
Chapter 6: > Be Past Gamzee
Special thanks to Starcrossed Sky for looking over the withdrawal symptoms for inconsistencies and generally making sure they were well-handled. I just barreled in with old memories of superficial research in the first draft.
It's not even like two minutes after your good bro had left for his hive that you go and receive a motherfucking sign — a little voice way down deep in your heart that suddenly up and tells you:
Hey man, today is the day. Get that shit outta your system.
A brother's gotta follow what his heart's all up and telling him, is what you always said yourself. You amble up to your load gaper and stick your finger into your tube, and oh hey, a whole damn fucking lot of green spews out of your mouth, barely digested oozy chunks of sopor swirling all crazy and nasty.
You should have thought of this before, are the words all sloshing in the inside of your thinkpan when you lie back on the floor. Your motherfucking best friend was always up in your case about quitting the pies, and you wanted to make him happy, really you did. And you really should have thought of trying before now, when he wasn't all of being around being his tiny little breakable self where the thoughts in your head keep telling you about it over and over.
If you put the hurt in your brother, you'll just — you'll up and throw yourself into the sea, is what you tell yourself while you stare up at the ceiling, your guts all twisted up and cramping and asking for pie. And then you squeeze your eyes shut until they hurt because your thinkpan is trying to conjure up a thought of his little thin arm bent all out of shape, and it's horrible, and you're horrible.
You stand back up and start pacing around your hive, pulling pies out of the oven and sticking them back in, pulling them out of the thermal hull and sticking them back in, pulling them out of the cupboard and tossing them at the wall in a sudden spike of anger. The loud metallic crash is offensive to your ears. Your spongecase feels like a fucking tight helmet is squeezing it in, and you can’t take it off, can’t find the motherfucking thing no matter how hard you dig your claws into your scalp. A bunch of skittery lukewarm thingies are all of itching their way through your fucking hair roots, crawling down the back of your neck and into your motherfucking ears; you slap around at your own head, spattering yourself and your hands with trailing wet indigo.
You'll do it. You'll ride this one to the end, because your brother is already far on the way back to his hive where you can't put the hurt on him. And if your heart up and tells you to get your chase on, the sea is right over there, you'll jump in, you'll chase the fishes instead.
Little ants are suddenly marching up your arms and you toss yourself down when you get your notice on, rolling around in a panic until you catch on that your body's playing tricks at you. They're not flesh-eating ants invading your house, they're them sopor ants what are marching out of your thinkpan little by little and you imagine they're marching down your arms and away. You've got your achy belly down against the cold floor and you’re shaking, and it's weird, because you never felt cold before but that's definitely what you're feeling now, all up in the bad kind of chill, the chill what your brother feels when the wind from the sea blows too strong, all huddling in his turtleneck, curling up around you even though you're near as cold as the sea.
And just like a miracle, you can feel your brother all up and around you now, warm like a cooking oven, his bony legs under your head and his fingers carding through your hair and scritching with those blunt rounded nails what couldn't put the hurt on a wiggler's silky little cocoon. You can hear his voice far above your head, words all tumbling down like the little lost snatches of old conversations, when your thinkpan was up and showing you how easy you could choke a brother in a turtleneck and he was staring straight down into the Dark Carnival inside your eyes, smiling with blunt teeth and
And all of a sudden your blood pusher’s swelling up and pumping out pie oven warmth by the gallons, washing away the ants in your veins in one big gushing happy flood. Your whole body gives out this big surprise shudder from a soft chill, a good kind of one that comes out together with this purring noise you can’t remember when you last made, making you tremble all over and squeeze your eyes shut from the good of it. You raise a heavy uncertain hand and pat your mess of hair in search of those sweet dreamed up scritching fingers, and you can think of nothing other than how much you desperately want to kiss every single one of those knuckles, bury your face into his warm oven chest and kiss every single miraculous beat you hear—
All your worries and fears go poof.
You sit up, the only steady thing in a softly swimming world.
You need to get your chase on.
You need to get your chase on to your brother and let him know that you pity him stupid and that you're a shitty moirail what never could see the bitching diamond-wrapped present a brother was handing out to him all along because you were all hiding behind a wall of oozy green in fear of the thoughts in your head.
The thoughts that were getting your remembrance on about the danger your soft beautiful crystal-shiny brother was always, always in.
Your husktop chimes. Is it your bro? Did he up and make it home already while you were shaking on the floor getting your epiphany on? Did he get his motherfucking remembrance on all of the pale-tude you've had going since the beginning of motherfucking time itself?
You crawl towards your husktop, digging your claws on the floor to keep from sliding out of this wobbly little plank of driftwood what your hive appears to be floating on. He probably just wants to send out word that he's safe up in his fucking hive so you don't get your worry on, though. He always does that, all being a thoughtful bro at you.
It's okay if he doesn't remember yet. You'll remember for him. You'll send him all your diamonds and then you'll run to his hive and you'll have the biggest and most bitchtits motherfucking cuddlefest there ever was in all of the Empire and you'll kiss and kiss his bony little knuckles and his warm blood-pumper and his pale red tears — because if there's one thing your bro is a pro at, it's getting his cry on, and oh, he'll bitch so much if you ever up and tell him that, you laugh at the thought of it.
You scrape a bloodied claw on your husktop's trackpad, and your colorful-trippy-loud-headachey screensaver blinks out to show you those big grey letters what you were all of expec—
- CG: hello. i know this is a bit sudden, but could you confirm your dwelling location. there's this thing I want to send you.
oh no, no no no no no no no no no no no NO
You were late, late late late and you scream and throw youself back and claw at the crushing weight in your chest you were LATE. You were motherfucking LATE and they GOT YOUR BROTHER and your spongecase is pressing inwards and crushing your thinkpan and it's showing you all of what they did to him, his little broken arm and his twisted turtleneck and his red candy blood spattered which you never ever wanted to see or know but you see it and it's REAL. You can't stop screaming and you can't stop thrashing and you can't stop clawing at your head, you don't want to see it and you don't want to believe it and it's a LIE.
You don’t even know when you got back to your feet, but you’re ripping your thermal hull apart and tossing pies out of windows and doors into walls, punching the sink, bashing a bent tin into the nearest counter because it was their fault you didn’t wake up in time. You let the shiny green of sopor distract you from what you were supposed to do and where is your brother now WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER? You stomp on the tin and stomp and stomp until it’s a crumbled papery mess of metal, but when you lift your foot and look at the crushed surface Karkat’s face jumps out at you from the flattened lines and you stumble back, suffocating on your own scream—
Something yelps in a loud honk and slides under your foot and you’re thudding back onto the floor with your hands on your eyes, sobbing. You turn face-down and bash your forehead against the floor until your mind is nothing but static, static and floating images of your moirail sleeping peacefully with nothing but a single dripping wound to show for it.
When you next open your eyes, you are nothing but cold purpose. This world is a dud. The paint is rotten. Time to smear it all into a single big stain, to break, stomp and set it on fire. The Dark Carnival is on.
- CALM THE FUCK DOWN, GAMZEE.
Your husktop is upside down and closed where your thrashing knocked it away, and yet— and yet your brother is all of sending you a wicked message straight into your head, you totally see it even though you sort of don't.
- NO, YOU UTTER MESS OF A TROLL. YOUR THINKPAN DOES NOT HAVE A CONNECTION TO WIRELESS TROLLNET.
I'M HERE ON A VERY SPECIAL MISSION.
I'M HERE TO INTRODUCE YOU TO THE MAGICAL WORLD OF BASIC LOGIC.
"Karkat," you mumblewhine, swaying on your butt as you sit up, and you don't even recognize your own voice, it's such a raspy mess.
- YES, ME. MY APOLOGIES.
NOW SHUT UP AND RIDDLE ME THIS.
WHAT SHOULD BE ON THE WALL TO YOUR RIGHT BY NOW, AND YET IS NOT?
You look to the right, dizzy and stumped. There's nothing missing from it, not even a fucking poster. Motherfuck, but does your bro ask you some fucking weird questions sometimes. You try to hum thoughtfully to yourself, but the sound that comes out is a scratchy gargley thing.
You spot the mess of sopor you made on another wall and chance it. "...pies?"
- NO, YOU DUMBASS. THAT'S SOMETHING THAT SHOULD NOT BE ON ANY WALL WHATSOEVER. IT SHOULD BE IN YOUR COON. WE'VE TALKED ABOUT THIS.
THE COLOR IS THE SAME, THOUGH.
The color...? Green?
You stumble to your feet and trip to your discarded husktop. You open the lid with shaky fingers and nearly drop it twice. You squint at the time display on the bottom of the screen, spattered with your own indigo blood.
You look out the window, then back to the wall oposite, but the clock isn't lying.
The Green Moon isn't up yet. The Green Moon won't be up for a couple hours still, which means it isn't half an hour since Karkat stepped out of your door, frowning all sad and disappointed at the pie you were hurrying up to eat before your thinkpan came up with any more brother-hurting thoughts.
Motherfucker. It's like the moirail in your head even knows that the green moonlight hits your wall just so!
You drop your husktop and make it three steps to your door before you step on another horn and fall flat on your face. Motherfucking Mirth, everything hurts everywhere. You're a mess.
Basic logic, you think. Basic logic. You're in no shape to be running out right now, your body doesn't even remember itself without the pie. You need to get your rest on, and then you'll be able to speed out. Karkat won't be home before the moon is up, he never is and he always leaves at the same hour. You have that long to rest and think.
Best of it, some low-life thief invaded your brother's hive when he was out, and then got on the computer to maybe find a new schmuck to get his stalk on. Worst of it, there's a culling party there waiting for him what wants more kids to get their culling on at.
It's not a drone, though. Drones don't use Trollian. It's another troll, maybe more than one. That makes things that much easier for you.
You sit back up and pull your husktop onto your lap. Looks like Aradia got her messaging on while you were busy with your freakout.
-- apocalypseArisen [AA]began trolling terminallyCapricious [TC] --
AA: i'm sending this message to everyone in mine and CG's trollian list
AA: if you just received a message from CG in lowercase, DO NOT ANSWER!
AA: his vicinity has been crawling with threshecutioner cadets for hours
AA: at least 3 of his neighbors have been culled so far
AA: and i'm told his lusus sent out a weird cry which sent all the others into a panicked fit sometime before they showed up
AA: SOMETHING is going on in or around his hive
AA: and there's a chance his contact list is being farmed for more culling targets
AA: send me a message if you were contacted
AA: doubly so if you answered back and gave any hint of your location!
AA: if you know somebody else who might be in his list and not mine
AA: warn them straight away
AA: confirming 2 more ghosts from around his location, there's a hunt going on
AA: this is a mass culling
AA: not a peep from CG's ghost yet
AA: please note though that this is no guarantee of his safety
TC: HONK MY PSYCHOPOMP SISTER.
There's a sort of plan taking form in your achy pan, and you allow it to stew for the moment. Now is the time to send out word of your brother's safety.
AA: hey there, person who's not typing at all like TC?
TC: now my motherfuckin sister
TC: I AM ME.
TC: i am also full of this sicknasty thudding in my thinkpan.
TC: BUT MY BROTHER MIGHT BE NEEDING HIS BEST FRIEND THINKING WITH HIS MOTHERFUCKING SPONGE IN ORDER.
AA: so you're...
TC: off the motherfuckin pie
AA: good news I guess
AA: did you get the weird message as well?
AA: give me a moment
AA: alright, list of confirmed targets so far: GC, TA, GA, AG, CT, TC
AA: list of people who trolled the impostor: CT, AG
AA: list of people who should NOT have trolled the impostor: CT, AG
TC: JUST THOUGHT I'D UP AND LET YOU KNOW THOUGH
TC: that my karkabrother just left my hive a little while ago
TC: HE AIN'T GONNA BE HOME ANY MOTHERFUCKIN SOON.
AA: is GREAT news 0u0
AA: how long ago did he leave?
TC: about half an hour or something.
AA: okay, give me a sec
There was a pause.
AA: alright, good news!
AA: CG was hanging out with TC until roughly 30 minutes ago
AA: he wasn't in his hive at the time of the attack and probably won't be for a while!
AA: (i'm using a plugin to send messages to my whole contact folder)
AA: (so you'll be sent back stuff you already know, sorry about that)
TC: NO PROBLEM :o)
You click back on the offending impostor's chat window. You have got to get this motherfucking bastard out of your brother's hive.
You close your eyes and reach out.
You have only a general idea of where his hive is located in relation to yours, but a group of murderous semi-adults in pursuit of a stampede of terrified fleeing children is surprisingly easy to find. You pass them by without paying any notice; it's not like Karkat is going to know about it if a couple of brats are caught. You have your psychic sights set further — on that one smug little fucker chilling in the center of the pandemonium. He's the fucking boss. You can tell by the over-inflated sense of entitlement and self-importance surrounding the dark corners of his thinkspace.
Once you've got a good grasp on the feel of the monsters in those corners, you type back a couple of lines. You put on your best display of harmless, friendly sopor-headedness, as well as you can when your thinksponge is trying to punch its way out of its case. His emotional reaction is more immediate than the line he sends back: predatory glee, amused condescension, underestimation, self-congratulation. Lurking underneath it all is the fear of returning to his boss guys empty-handed, of being punished for not showing enough work. You've got the right bastard — the bossman couldn't resist personally snooping at your moirail's stuff, could he?
He’s definitely got enough for you to work with. On the other hand it might take more than you can give right now, and if you succeed you'll have to be on your feet in a couple of hours, withdrawal or no. You know just who to up and get your help from, though. You hate the thought of it, but it's for your palemate's sake.
You click twice on arachnidsGrip.
Chapter 7: > Past Gamzee: be in cahoots with Vriska
-- terminallyCapricious [TC] began trolling arachnidsGrip [AG] --
AG: N8t y8u t88.
AG: I kn8w what I'm d8ing, 8kay????????
TC: SIS I'M NOT IN THE MOTHERFUCKING KNOWING OF WHATEVER YOU'RE ALL BUSY WITH.
TC: i just wanted to ask if you were up to helping a motherfucker get his plan on.
AG: What, did Aradia ignore you when she spilled the whole thing out to everyone on our list????????
AG: W8, a plan?
You glance at Aradia's window. It's blinking. Eh, you'll read it later.
TC: I WANT TO GET THAT FILTHY RABBLE OUT OF OUR NUBBY HORNED BROTHER'S HOUSE
TC: and subjugglate the fuck out of all those motherfuckers
TC: SO I THOUGHT MAYBE A SISTER MIGHT WANT TO DONATE SOME MOTHERFUCKIN MANIPULATION TO THE CAUSE.
AG: F8ck y8u!!!!!!!!
AG: That plan is M8NE!!!!!!!!
Or maybe you'll read it sooner. Yep, your rust sister was all up and getting her complaint on about Spidersister sending out her address on purpose. Maybe blue sis has her heart in the right place after all.
TC: sorry, chica, i didn't see your motherfucking name anywhere in it :o)
TC: AND I ALSO DON'T SEE THOSE BASTARDS UP AND LEAVING ANY TIME SOON. )o:
AG: F8ck y8u
AG: F8ck y8u!!!!!!!!
TC: shhhh sister get your calm on
TC: TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
TC: you could do your manipulating
TC: WHILE I DO MY CHUCKLEVOODOOS. :o)
A few seconds go by before she answers you.
AG: Okay, then, since it looks like you're not getting aaaaaaaanywhere on your own :::;)
AG: 8ut you'll owe me, am I clear????????
TC: clear as pie. :o)
AG: Pies aren't clear!!!!!!!!
AG: So what's your silly plan, anyway?
TC: I SEND OUT MY ADDRESS
TC: and do my silly motherfucking junkie act
TC: I MAKE MYSELF LOOK ALL SORTS OF MOTHERFUCKING KILLABLE
TC: and all sorts of happy clueless.
TC: AND WHEN THOSE GUYS ARE THINKING THAT I'M THIS EASY MOTHER FUCKING LITTLE PREY
TC: you make them think it harder.
TC: MAKE THEM THINK IT REALLY MOTHERFUCKING HARD.
TC: make them big nasty barkbeasts want to chase this poor little harmless hopbeast
TC: THIS LITTLE HOPBEAST WHAT MIGHT ALL BE KNOWING WHERE A NUBBY-HORNED BRO MIGHT BE AT
TC: and who all a nubby-horned bro might know. :o)
AG: Not 8ad!!!!!!!!
AG: There might 8e hope for you yet.
AG: Step 8ack and leave it to a pro!
You sit back and let your eyes flutter closed, concentrating on the distant feel of the bossman at Karkat's computer. He's starting to feel uneasy. Your chucklevoodoos really get to people, even when you're just sort of mentally hovering around...
Something smashes into the poor fucker's mind like a goddamn war vessel, and you fall flat on your spinal column from the backlash. You lose track of him for a moment -- wait, no. He pushed you out. Fuck.
TC: BITCH WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK ARE YOU DOING
AG: SH8T UP!!!!!!!!
AG: I sh8uld 8e the one asking that!
AG: I th8ught I t8ld you to step 8ack, dum8ass!!!!!!!!
TC: you don't manipulate shit by pushing it off a cliff, spiderbitch.
TC: THAT'LL JUST DESTROY IT.
AG: F8CK Y8U F8CK Y8U F8CK Y8U
AG: F8CK Y8U!!!!!!!!
This won't do. This won't motherfucking do at all. Time to teach this bitch how to manipulate.
You sink into her mind, slow and careful. Finding her is not a challenge; you stalked her hive for a few hours on the aftermath of Tavros' accident, riding the crest of a particularly intense pie-binge while still struggling with the urge to rip necks apart, and the general location stuck with you. You may have attempted to use your chucklevoodoos on her as well, but were much too high to concentrate. It's not a problem now. She's too upset to notice even if you weren't being half as subtle.
Her fears are interesting. She's afraid you might not count on her anymore. She's afraid you'll think less of her for not being a perfect manipulator, for being overeager, for a moment of clumsiness. She's afraid you'll think her weak.
Fuck, you're not counting on her, you're using her. You couldn't possibly think less of her than you already do. And she's not weak, you'll grant her that, but she's pretty damn dumb. It's always so fucking hilarious when people are afraid for nothing.
TC: chica, i'm not sure you really know what you're doing.
TC: MAYBE I SHOULDN'T HAVE ASKED THIS OF YOU.
You fan her fears word by word, and grin to yourself as she flails around in her own mind.
AG: F8CK Y8U I C8N D8 TH8S!!!!!!!!
TC: shoosh, sister, i ain't gonna look down my windholes on my good spider friend like that.
TC: AIN'T NO SHAME IN HAVING TOO MUCH POWER AND TOO LITTLE THINKSPONGE.
TC: just kidding. :o)
AG: Ughhhhhhhh, sh8t 8p!!!!!!!! I'm j8st h8ving a b8d d8y!
TC: I KNOW, MY GOOD SISTER.
TC: we all get those motherfuckin days.
TC: WHY DON'T YOU TAKE A NICE DEEP BREATH
TC: and stop putting 8s everywhere?
TC: THAT SHIT MAKES FOR TOUGH READING.
As you send your messages, you start to ease up on your psychic pressure, letting some of the fear bleed out. She interprets the diminishing anxiousness just the way you expected her to -- as a surge of whatever passes for confidence in her head.
AG: 8ut only 8ecause you're clearly T88 HIGH to parse small words, you dum8 junkie.
TC: you don't have to go and bash a motherfucker like that. :o(
TC: HOW ABOUT WE JUST LET THE FAKER BE FOR NOW
TC: and try to tiptoe into the head of a lackey or something?
TC: I MEAN
TC: maybe they know what's really going on
TC: AND THAT FUCKER'S PROBABLY ON HIS GUARD RIGHT NOW.
For every line you send, you let go of a little bit more of her mind. You let her breathe easy, feel good.
AG: Heh! I was already on it 8efore you even thought of that!
You have your doubts.
Still, you sit back and put Vriska on the back burner, letting your mind hover around the other fucker instead. He's utterly terrified of something -- so much so, you could swear it's what actually expelled you from his mind -- but his fear gives you a grip on his thoughts regardless of whether he's aware of your presence or not.
You really just want to distract yourself. Your whole body feels like a honking pile of shit, and you figure it'll feel even worse when you start actually paying attention to it.
Then Vriska spares you the effort by giving you something else to laser-focus your attention on.
AG: I'm not sure how you're going to take this bit, but it looks like Karkat is some sort of mutant!!!!!!!!
Shit. That wasn't supposed to get out. You focus back on her. You'll have to break her mind from inside out before she goes flapping her piehole to anyone else.
TC: what's it to you, sister?
AG: W8, so you knew it already?
AG: Gee , and here I thought you'd 8e surprised! Stupid me.
AG: 8ut now I finally know what's up with his gr8y text! His 8lood is pro8a8ly a funny c8lor or s8mething.
AG: Why do these 8ast8rds even f8cking care, though? Uuuuuuuugh, I'm st8rting to get pissed off!
AG: G8ddamnit, shit, shit, sh8t!!!!!!!!
AG: Sh8t, n8 w8nder he w8s hiding!
AG: He des8rves 8etter th8n this!!!!!!!!
AG: Ffffffff, I'm st8rting to fr8k o8t over h8re, sh8t.
AG: sh8t sh8t sh8t sh8t sh8t sh8t sh8t sh8t
You hesitate, step back. Those are not the words of someone who'll sell your brother out. They are more like the words of someone who's afraid for his sake. Granted, it's probably the fear you're putting in her head -- but she seems to associate it with Karkat's danger, and in a way that makes it real.
You'll spare her.
TC: DEEP BREATHS, MY MOTHERFUCKIN SISTER
TC: we'll make it all better.
TC: WE'LL FEED THEM HALF TO YOUR SPIDERMOMMA
TC: and half to my subjugglating clubs.
AG: 8ghhhhhhhh, s8rry ab8ut that.
AG: Yes, that s8unds l8ke a pl8n!
AG: G8d, I really freak8d out for a m8ment there and I'm n8t even s8re why.
AG: I'm n8t half as cl8se to him as y8u are!!!!!!!!
TC: EASY DOES IT, SISTER
TC: we got a job to do.
AG: I'll dig ar8und for a little l8nger.
AG: Some of these guys sm8ll a rat and so do I.
AG: I mean, why send a ton of Threshecutioners and r8ise all this racket for one shitty little m8tant?
AG: Their words, not mine!
TG: THAT RIGHT THERE IS A DAMN GOOD MOTHERFUCKING QUESTION, CHICA.
You retreat from her mind, go back to stalking your main prey. This fucker's just downright pissing his pants and you swear it's not your doing. Do you let him be? Wind him up? Ease him down? Each option could serve your purpose in a different way, but ultimately you want controlled fear from him.
You start to shoosh the claws in his mind, just like you're Karkat and his terror is a bunch of fucking juggalos flipping their shit what you need to settle right the fuck down. Soon enough you can feel him dismissing his own fears without your help, shoving them down out of the way where he can make believe they're not there. It suits your purposes. You let him be for the moment.
TC: got any news, spidersister?
AG: These 8astards are so misinformed.
AG: H8lf of them doesn't care, they're just good little followers.
AG: And I c8n't get into the heads of the 8ther half!!!!!!!!
TC: JUST DRIFT IN ALONG WITH ANY OLD THOUGHT
TC: then sit still and quiet.
TC: I GOT BACK INTO OUR FAKER GUY THIS WAY.
TC: it wasn't that hard
TC: I'M DOING A WHOLE MOTHERFUCKING BUNCH OF WAITING HERE.
AG: Sh8t up, you're starting to s8und like Karkat.
AG: I'll give your tip a try l8ter, even though it's 8asically what I've 8een doing only lamer.
AG: I just found a guy who knows a little more than he wishes he did!
AG: Looks like Karkat's hive is full of heretical imagery or something.
AG: And just KNOWING what it means is grounds for culling!!!!!!!!
AG: Do you know anything a8out that?
TC: nah, sister, I been to his hive once and never saw any heretical shit there.
AG: 8ut how would you know it was heretical?
AG: May8e it looks super normal and innocuous unless you know what it means.
AG: This guy just happens to have heard of it and he's 8asically sweating a whole Equius there!
TC: SO WHAT'S THIS MOTHERFUCKING HERESY LOOK LIKE?
AG: Duuuuuuuuh, I d8n't know!
AG: It's not like I can see out of his eyes, that would have 8een too helpful!
AG: The Mother Gru8 had to nerf me SOMEwhere, you know!
AG: Anyw8y, that explains what the mass culling is a8out.
AG: They're erasing these heretic sym8ols and anyone who might have seen them.
AG: Silly Karkat pro8a8ly 8rought something romantic-looking to his hive and it landed him in a whole shitload of trou8le!
TC: better not go telling our ghost sister about it yet, sis.
AG: Wh8t makes y8u think I was going to t8ll her!?
AG: And it's not like we know that much to 8egin with!
AG: Just that Karkat has SOMETHING heretical in his hive, and we don't know what it is or what it looks like either!
AG: If Karkat sent someone a stupid heretical present, how are we going to know?
AG: If he gave you a stupid rom-com heresy poster, you might as well 8urn it already.
AG: Ughhhhhhhh, I'll just go 8ack to digging around in their heads.
AG: I'm making sure they remem8er how much they h8 this job and how 8ORED they are and how staying in the hive is a huge stinking w8ste of their time.
AG: And may8e I'll find another lucky threshie with heretical leanings while I'm at it!
TC: TIP TOES, MY MOTHERFUCKIN SPIDERSIS.
TC: be a sneaky little shit
TC: AND LET THEM GUIDE YOU IN WITH THEIR OWN FUCKIN THOUGHTS.
AG: I knoooooooow!!!!!!!!
AG: Geeze, stop telling me how to do my jo8!!!!!!!!
You wouldn't have to if she knew what she was doing in the first place -- but you keep that bit to yourself. Instead, you close your eyes and drift back to the distant hive, flitting around the minds of the threshie cadets. Vriska is doing a good job on the weak-minded; they're antsy and annoyed and sloppy in their jobs, and the only thing keeping them in line is fear of their commander. You'll need them to obey the big one when the time comes, though, so you let them be.
You hang around as she works her magic on a stronger cadet, inching along thoughts he already had, strengthening anti-authority ones little by little. He's not holding much fear; this guy seems to be too disciplined to make a good pawn either way, so you step back and poke some unease into Vriska's head when it feels like she's losing patience and maybe considering kicking his rebelliousness into overdrive. She backs off after a second of hesitation, moving on. You'll make a manipulator of her yet.
You move along the line of cadets who seem likely to give her trouble, twisting their little fear-knobs up or down according to whatever feels appropriate in your gut. Let their guards down, but not enough to let Vriska manipulate them into doing anything patently stupid.
Until you hit the one who's simply not fucking afraid at all.
AG: 8ack off this one!!!!!!!!
TC: you mean the stupid one with no fucking fear, is that it?
AG: Yes, that one exactly!
AG: He's m8re than just stupid, he's our own little treasure trove of inform8tion and also stupidly hard to get into so d8n't get me kicked 8ut!
AG: Shiiiiiiiit, he's closed off AG8IN.
AG: He's not 8udging!!!!!!!!
AG: It's all y8ur fault!!!!!!!!
AG: That asshole knew EV8RYTH8NG and he's H8LDING 8UT ON US!!!!!!!!
TC: I DIDN'T DO MOTHERFUCKIN NOTHING, BITCH.
TC: what all did you see in his thinkpan what got yours in such a twist?
AG: He's a c8ltist and he thinks Karkat is his GOD!!!!!!!!
Oh, motherfucking. You focus on the guy a little harder and wish you could sense more than his emotions.
AG: Do YOU know anything a8out that?
TC: SHIT, NOT ALL THAT MOTHERFUCKING MUCH.
TC: but when my brother showed me his secret he did all say some other people were in on it.
AG: Ughhhhhhhh, so Karkat's more than just em8roiled in heretic cults...
AG: he's their POSTER 8OY!!!!!!!!
TG: DOES OUR HERETIC THRESHIE GOT ANYTHING ELSE IN HIS HEAD WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW OF?
AG: Yeah, well, I was getting to ALL sorts of good stuff when this stupid clown stuck his 8ig red nose in and messed it up!
AG: I can safely affirm this guy is on our side.
AG: He was definitely thinking very hard about how to get the thresh group out of Karkat's hive!
AG: Also he calls him a 8unch of funny names.
AG: Seriously, what the hell is a Gru8loaf of Life?
TC: i don't even know, sister, these bastards are all motherfuckin nuts.
You lean back onto your hands, close your eyes and let your heavy head fall back -- and you return to yourself, to your pained mess of a body. It's tired and shaky and furiously craving sopor, and your toes and fingers are numb and throbbing enough to make typing complicated. Blood is still oozing out of the welts you gouged in your own skin, and one of your hands is swelling on the knuckles where you vaguely remember having punched... something. A pie tin, maybe.
You ache to your very bones. It's like the pain is oozing out lazily from your marrow, seeping into your muscles, tickling your skin with feverish shivers. Karkat's warm, hesitant fingertips trace your sweaty brow, and you lean into the touch, open your eyes. His are wide and worried.
Just five more minutes. Can you hold on for five more minutes? ...How about this, then -- five minutes, and then you can have one spoon. And then we can wait five more minutes. Is that okay? Or you can have it now, I mean, if you really need it that much. It's okay if you can't handle it. Let's take this one step at a time. You're doing good, Gamzee. You made it pretty far today.
His eyes are so pained, it's like he's feeling your symptoms more than you are. You stare at the anxious crease of his eyebrows, drink into his nervous smile. How is a dude even hatched with teeth so blunt, you think to yourself. How does he cut meat?
Your moirail is the poster 8oy of a heretic cult. It's dangerous business and probably kind of embarrassing to boot, so you don't hold it against him for having understated the size of his secret. He looks bashful enough, wet and shirtless and hugging his legs with shivering arms, looking dubiously at you from between his eyelashes. There's this bunch of nutters, too, he answers hesitantly, tugging at a loose strand on the hem of his pants, but it's not like I got to choose to tell them. And you ask, so you up and chose to let me know just now?, and you scoot a little closer to push at him with a salt-sticky shoulder, and he just mumbles some half-hearted curses under his breath, like he didn't just all and tell you about his miraculous blood. The blood which is apparently worshipped by a cult so heretic it's mass-culling level of forbidden.
This is some huge shit. Your bro is playing on the big leagues.
You close your eyes again and take a deep breath, feel the scratches in your chest stretch, the crusted blood tug and open. It's good pain. It grounds you. When you open your eyes again, your husktop screen looks realer than you remember reality ever being. It's like waking up from a lingering dream.
The faker's window is blinking, and so is Aradia's, pumping out a long stream of rust-colored drivel you don't really care for. Sol-bro is also sending you some stuff, but you have no time for him and his weird double boner bullshit -- you just noticed your mark has only sent you one single message since he pushed you out, and only after going idle for a while. You can't let him get bored of you. It's more than time to get your response on.
You click back on Vriska's window.
TC: ARE YOU READY TO GET INTO THE FAKER'S HEAD?
AG: Already on it :::;)
AG: Hahahaha, did you read it, though?
AG: Feferi trolled him good!!!!!!!!
AG: Didn't think she had it in her!!!!!!!!
TC: good for our sea sister
TC: NOW LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED
AG: Gee, you're no fun.
AG: Are you even reading any8ody else's messages?
TC: JUST GET INTO THE MOTHERFUCKER'S HEAD ALREADY AND PRIME IT FOR ME.
AG: Geeze, okay, okay...
You crack your knuckles. They make noise. You barely feel them snap.
You call the bastard fake impostor your brother. You send out your best clown smiley, and all the reference points to your hive you can think of. You furiously type instructions to Vriska, heedless of her whiny little complaints, and you croon and soothe all his misgivings to sleep. Your power is not to whisper into people's minds but you whisper nonetheless, and you don't know or care whether you're whispering to your own empty food preparation block or to him.
Check out this motherfucking little cretin, man, kicking back his NAIVE MOTHERFUCKING IGNORANCE and handing out his place to a powerful, stronger, older, SMARTER stranger on a motherfucking platter. Ain't he all gonna shit his motherfucking wiggler diapers when you show up with all your little MINIONS to lay down the law? Ain't he gonna CRY and BEG and LICK YOUR MOTHERFUCKING BOOTS when you up and teach him ALL YOUR MOTHERFUCKING SUPERIORITY? Lil' fucker's probably faking his blood color, no way a highblood's ever so stupid and soft on the head. MAKE HIM PAY. Your higher-ups will be SO FUCKING PROUD of you.
You add extra honey to your trap with a diamond. There. Now he thinks he's got dirt on a super heretic moirail sucker, and with your main Spidersister putting her convince on in his mind that these weak-ass fuckers will know all about where a heretic mutant gets his hideout in, you just have to kick back and enjoy some rest before you get to rid the universe of this one batch of moirail-hunting thresh-holes. Life is good. Time to relax. It's totally okay to let your guard down for now!
You know what's going on before you even catch the skittery little tickle in the back of your head. You're not surprised. That's how the spider plays. She really ain't subtle at all, is she?
Spiders are for stomping on. You become a war vessel and smash into the bitch's mind without the least bit of mercy, and you grind your heel in for a few seconds just to make it stick. That'll teach her to bite the hand that schoolfed her, you think, and then you fall flat on your back and nearly black out from the pain.
Fuck. You overdid it.
Your head is full to burst, your thinkpan so swollen it's pushing out the walls of your spongecase, and your guts are tying themselves into the most painful pretzels. You take shallow breaths, staring unfocused at the ceiling while Karkat fusses and mumbles and dries your sweaty brow ands asks all the while whether you ate anything funny or fuzzy-looking or if you even paid attention to what you ate at all, you shit-for-brains.
You squeeze your eyes shut and try to get one word, any word, past the rubbery blob that is your tongue; but when you open your eyes again the world is back to being sharp and Karkat is back to being away, and the light coming from the windows has shifted just enough for you to notice -- but there's no green light yet.
You sit back up. The ache in your body has intensified, but the pain in your head has ebbed. You can work with that.
You restrain the urge to punch the infernal, seizure-inducing screen-saver, and banish it instead with a fist to the keys. You're in a terrible mood and you know it, and you're in no condition to appreciate the flicker of shifting colors either. They remind you of-- no.
You'll have a better leash on yourself once the withdrawal phase is over. For now, though, you take the time to turn off your screen-saver, fighting your limp, rubbery fingers all the way. You'll turn it back on later, maybe -- there's nothing inherently wrong with it. You do like it. It distracts you from your bloodlust.
The taskbar clock says you were out for twenty minutes. It felt longer. While you were out, Aradia stopped messaging, and instead Sol-bro sent you a bunch of executables which are asking to be installed. You fight your trackpad until you can click the Yes button, and then you wonder why you didn't just hit the enter key.
You're starting to think you might not be doing so good.
Dismissing the thought with a mental shrug, you direct your attention back to your husktop. Sollux's files opened a very bare-bones Trollian window, and it's being invaded by nearly all the screen names you know.
For the next half hour or so, you are part of a bitchtits motherfucking chat party. You confirm the safety of pretty much everyone you give a shit about, and you send out word that your plan did work and the heretic threshie was the only one left in your brother's hive. You feel cold, then hot; you shake, then sweat. Your headache stabilizes into a constant thrum, like a defective bassline in your thinkpan.
You send one last message to your moirail then close your husktop with a snap, averting your eyes from your modus' stroboscopic flashing when you captchalogue it. Slowly and tentatively, you set your feet flat on the floor and unfurl your body, savoring the stretch of every bruise and the pull of each cut.
You feel wonderfully alive and real and shitty and pained. You've been chewed and spat out by some metaphorical behemoth, and every cell in your body is now awake and aware. You raise your chin and walk step by swaying step to the beach outside your door, and your shoes are clumped with a mix of blood, sopor and sand until the waves lap at your feet and they're suddenly clean again. And you keep walking, until the water hits your knees, your waist, the cuts on your chest.
Sea water was good for wounds, right? Or maybe it was bad and you're doing something very stupid. You're out of motherfucks to give, though. You left them all with Karkat. You bend your knees and sink in the water up to your horns.
The sting of salt feels good on your cuts. Maybe you're nearly a seadweller. Maybe indigo-bloods are also a sort of mutation, purples with too much blue. Maybe that's why you're all so fucked up in the head, stuck between land and sea. But Karkat is, like, tyrian with rust or something, and he couldn't be farther from the fucked up monster you are.
Your lungs burn, and so do your cuts. You want your moirail. But you rise back out of the water and take a huge lungful of the evening air, and you grin as you watch blood drip from your hair into the water and dissolve into transparency; you are a creature of the land after all.
The horizon is developing a sickly, greenish cast, and you amble back to your hive, set your wet butt down at the door. Your Strife Specibus spits your clubs out onto your lap. They look so motherfucking clean.
You settle down to wait.
Chapter 8: > join 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
So many quirks to track! I'm just gonna give Kaossparrow some extra thanks for doublechecking them all for me.
twinArmageddons [TA] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
apocalypseArisen [AA] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
AA: yay it works!
TA: we won’t know that untiil at lea2t one more u2er joiin2 iin.
TA: what the fuck ii2 takiing the2e bulgeliicker2 2o long two iin2tall one 2hiitty plugiin, damn.
grimAuxiliatrix [GA] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
gallowsCalibrator [GC] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
GC: LONG T1M3 NO S33, 3V3RYON3
cuttlefishCuller [CC] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
caligulasAquarium [CA] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
CC: )(ey, guys!
CC: It’s so glubbing ---EXCITING to )(ave everyone able to carp toget)(er like t)(is!
CC: I only wis)( it were in better circumstances. 38(
GA: The Occasion Is Truly Unfortunate
GC: Y34H >:[
AA: maybe circumstances which did not involve revealing that karkat knows the heir! >_<
GA: But I Also Wish I Had Known About This Chat Function Before It Would Have Come In Handy During Many Frustrating Conversations
GC: UH... K4N4Y4
CA: hahaha kan
CA: nevver change
AA: kanaya, this is the plugin you just installed!
AA: the one sollux sent you
GA: I Thought I Was Accepting A File Transfer
AA: you were!
AA: and once it was done it asked for permission to install
AA: did it not?
GA: I Thought That Was Also A File Transfer
GA: My Technological Illiteracy Continues To Be An Embarrassment Im Afraid
GA: But At Least There Was No Previous Chat Function For Me To Fail To Find
TA: well, there II2 a memo board.
TA: iin theory, iit would work much liike thii2 chat.
TA: but iit’2 a hot me22, ii wouldn’t wii2h iit on my own non-exii2tent kii2me2ii2.
TA: iit ju2t 2iit2 there hoggiing all the mem2pace, iit’2 not even u2able.
arachnidsGrip [AG] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
TA: 2o ii whiipped thii2 up real quiick.
AG: Helloooooooo, everyone!!!!!!!! :::;)
TA: iit’2 not my be2t work, but we’re kiind of iin a hurry.
GA: Arent You A Bit Too Cheerful For The Circumstances
centaursTesticle [CT] has joined 2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe
TA: ii mean, 2hiit, look at thii2, there’s no liine2pace between 2ubmiited text and program notiice2.
TA: fuck, thii2 ii2 a biig u2abiiliity ii22ue.
AG: I’m cheerful 8ecause I’m 8RILLIANT!!!!!!!!
TA: thii2 2hiit i2 unreadable.
TA: what the FUCK wa2 ii thiinkiing.
CT: D --> I thought the purpose of this group chat was to di%uss the matter of Vantas’ impending culling and how it might affect us
AG: His a8orted culling, you mean!
AG: 8ecause I’m putting a stop to it right here, right now! :::;)
CT: D --> How do you intend to a%omplish such a feat
GC: Y3S, 1NQU1R1NG M1NDS W4NT TO KNOW!
AA: yes please tell us what you expect to accomplish by making your hive the next target!
AG: I expect to feed my lusus with some hardier meat ton8. :::;)
AG: 8luuuuuuuuh, you’re just JEALOUS you couldn’t come up with something this good!
GC: OH, 1 C4M3 UP W1TH SOM3TH1NG GOOD, 4LR1GHT
GC: 1 C4M3 UP W1TH TH3 R3VOLUT1ON4RY STR4T3GY OF L4Y1NG QU13T 4ND LOW WH1L3 MR 4PPL3B3RRY BL4ST OV3R TH3R3 PLUMB3D TH3 D3PTHS OF TH3 1NT3RBUTT FOR 4NY CLU3S WH1CH M1GHT CONN3CT OUR TROLL14N H4NDL3S TO OUR R34L N4M3S OR LOC4T1ONS
GC: SO H3 COULD 3XTR4CT 4ND 3XT3RM1N4T3 TH3M
GC: W1TH GR34T PR3JUD1C3!
GC: 1M SORRY TO 1NFORM YOU TH4T YOU M4Y F1ND C3RT41N FORUM 4ND/OR G4M1NG 4CCOUNTS UN4V41L4BL3 FOR TH3 T1M3 B31NG
GC: HUSH, 1T W4S 4 S4CR1F1C3 W3 W3R3 4LL R3QU1R3D TO M4K3
CC: Yes, Vriska, it sharks t)(at we didn’t get any say or warning on t)(e matter but Terezi made t)(e rig)(t call!
AA: except you destroyed any advantage secrecy would have given you for a cheap scare
AA: and yes I will keep on harping on this matter until I feel you are properly contrite
CC: W)(ale, I’m SORRY I wasn’t magically aware of your GLUBBING S)(-ENANIGANS.
AA: the same goes for Vriska
AA: this isnt a FLARP game
AG: 8luuuuuuuuh to you t88!
AA: we are dealing with trolls old enough to be nominally employed in the fleet
AA: way too many of them
CT: D --> Is that true
AA: my sources say they are fitted with full threshecutioner apparel
AA: and theyre being mobilized to hunt and cull a great many people in karkats area for reasons which remain unclear
AA: we simply dont know enough to make any offensive moves
AG: What, so you’re willing to just let these guys na8 Karkat as soon as he arrives, is that it????????
GC: DONT M1S1NT3RPR3T US, VR1SK4!
GC: TRUST M3 WH3N 1 S4Y 1M G3NU1N3LY TH4NKFUL TH4T YOUR3 W1LL1NG TO PUT YOURS3LF 4T R1SK FOR K4RK4TS S4K3
GC: BUT TH4TS TH3 1SSU3
GC: YOUR3 PUTT1NG YOURS3LF 1NTO UNN3C3SS4RY D4NG3R FOR UNC3RT41N R3TURNS
GA: Its True Nothing Guarantees They Will Abandon Their Trap In Karkats Hive To Pursue You
GA: If Their Number Is As Great As Aradia Claims Then There Is Also The Possibility They Will Merely Detach A Part Of Their Forces To That Purpose
twinArmageddons [TA] is sending 2HIITTY PLUGIIN UPDATE.exe
GC: WH4T TH3 H3LL 1S TH1S F1L3
TA: bug fiixe2.
GC: WHY 4R3 YOU 3V3N TH1NK1NG 4BOUT TH4T?
AA: so thats where you were 0_0
CC: Forget t)(e glubbing bugs, Sollux, t)(e plugin is fintastic t)(e way it is!
GC: JUST 4S K4N4Y4 PUT 1T, WHO3V3RS 1N CH4RG3 WOULD H4V3 TO B3 1MM3NS3LY STUP1D TO MOV3 TH3 3NT1R3 GROUP OUT 4ND CH4S3 4FT3R 4 TROLL14N CONT4CT WH3N TH3Y COULD ST4Y 4ND W41T UNT1L TH31R M41N T4RG3T W4ND3R3D 1NTO TH31R W41T1NG 4RMS OF H1S OWN 4CCORD
GC: 4ND 1 F33L 1TS S4F3 TO 4SSUM3 K4RK4T 1S TH1S T4RG3T
GC: 4M 1 R1GHT, 4R4D14?
AA: in fact
AA: a spirit just came back to inform me that most hives in his suburb are merely being set on fire
AA: while a number of threshecutioners are laying an ambush in karkats
GC: 1 GU3SS TH1S GUY 1SNT 4LL TH4T SM4RT 4FT3R 4LL
GC: G1V1NG H1S T4RG3T SUCH H1GHLY V1S1BL3 W4RN1NG S1GNS
AG: Yeah, trust me, this guy’s a tooooooootal dum8ass.
CA: haha yes vvris speaks TRUTH here
CA: this guys a total fuckin dumbass seariously
GC: 4ND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW, MR BOYS3NB3RRY V1OL3T?
AA: dont tell me
CC: -ERIDAN, T-ELL M-E YOU DID KNOT -ENGAG-E T)(IS GLUBBING STRANC)(OR IN CONV-ERSATION.
AA: you were
CA: shell fuckin yes i wwas
TA: ahaha 2o that’2 where you were.
AA: shut up sollux i know youre still coding
CA: haha no seariously this guys a fuckin riot
CA: thinkin hes this big fuckin genius because he thought a contactin us under kars name
CA: but he doesnt knoww ship aboat kar
CA: and he doesnt knoww ship aboat us
CT: D --> That is a remarkable display of incompetence
GA: Youre Still Putting Yourself Into Unnecessary Risk As Terezi Put It
CA: swweet a you ta wworry but no
CA: cause i came up wwith this fuckin revvolutionary strategy
CA: its called
AG: So that’s why this idiot is feeling so smug and accomplished!
CA: by the wwavve fef gl’bgolyb wwill be gettin an extra snack tunaight
CA: just so you knoww
GC: TH4TS F41RLY CL3V3R
GC: 4S LONG 4S YOU C4N M41NT41N THE LIE WITHOUT CONTR4D1CT1NG YOURS3LF
AG: You’re just wishing you’d come up with the idea first!
GC: 1 4M, K1ND OF
GC: WH3N 1 R3C31V3D TH3 M3SS4G3 1 1MM3D14T3LY 4SSUM3D TH3 WORST
GC: 4ND SP3NT 4 SH4M3FUL 4MOUNT OF T1M3 FROZ3N 1N SHOCK
GC: YOU COULD H4V3 TOPPL3D M3 OFF MY S1TT1NG 4PP4R4TUS W1TH 4 DR4GON SC4L3!
CC: I was pretty s)(ocked and angry myss)(ellf!
CC: And I’m knot even t)(at close to )(im. 38(
GC: BY TH3 T1M3 1 R3COV3R3D MY W1TS 1T D1D NOT OCCUR TO M3 TO TROLL H1M B4CK
GC: MY PR1OR1TY W4S D4M4G3 CONTROL
AA: that was when she contacted sollux and me
GC: 1 H4D 4R4D14 CONSULT H3R GHOSTS WH1L3 SOLLUX D1D H1S H4CK3R TH1NG
GC: BUT R34LLY 1 W4S HOP1NG K4RK4TS GHOST WOULD TH1NK OF CONT4CT1NG H3R 1NST34D OF 4TT3MPT1NG R3V3NG3 OR BUGG1NG G4MZ33 FOR H3LP OR 4NY NUMB3R OF S1LLY TH1NGS A CONFUS3D D34D K4RK4T WOULD TH1NK OF DO1NG
GC: 4ND NOW 1 F33L TH3 OPPORTUN1TY H4S GON3
GC: 1 L34V3 TH3 LY1NG 1N YOUR 4CC3PT4BLY C4P4BL3 H4NDS, 4MPOR4
CA: too bad ter you cod run rings around this guy
GA: Speaking Of Gamzee
GC: Y3S, WH3R3 TH3 H3LL 1S H3?
AG: Who caaaaaaaares!
AG: F8rget that st8pid s8p8rhead, what use w8uld he even be????????
AA: oh wait
GC: G4MZ33 W4S TH3 L4ST TO S33 K4RK4T, OF COURS3 H3LL B3 OF US3!
GA: We Also Need To Make Sure He Didnt Give Himself Away By Accident Due To Sopor-Impaired Judgement
CT: D --> True
CT: D --> The highb100d’s safety is of utmost importance
CC: I’m wondering aboat Tavros, too. Is )(e still AFK?
AA: baffling news everyone
AA: ive just been told Karkats hive is full of secret doors
CC: Reelly? 38O
AA: and the culling party seems to be working under the assumption that he’s going to come in from one of them
AG: Ugh, yes, I can c8nfirm that.
AG: Karkat’s hive is full of shitty easily f8und passages!
CT: D --> That is highly irregular
AG: Yeah, what kind of passage just lies there where people can find it?
AG: Not any passage you can call secret!!!!!!!!
CT: D --> That is not what I meant
CT: D --> It is uncommon for lowb100ds to build their hives with concealed passageways
AG: Why? It’s not like the drones would even understand what the door is there for!
AA: no vriska hes right
AA: we are not given enough building material to spend in such frivolities
AA: you were able to build a ridiculous-looking castle with labyrinthine insides
AA: but i had to be very careful with my resources!
AA: the same goes for Tavros
AA: and i would have assumed Karkat as well
AA: though I dont know how big his hive is
GC: 1V3 B33N TO H1S H1V3 F41RLY R3C3NTLY
AA: really? 0_0
CC: W)(y, Terezi! T)(is is a public forum!
AG: Naughty girl!
CC: 3> 8D
twinArmageddons [TA] is sending PLUGIIN_UPDATE_0.2.exe
TA: there, now you guy2 can even giive a 2iilly name to the chat wiindow.
TA: ...what the hell diid ii come back to.
CT: D --> E%use me
CC: 3> 8D
CA: your fuckin demise thats wwhat
-- centaursTesticle [CT] is idle --
TA: 2hut up ED.
GC: BLUUUUUH 1 KN3W YOUR TH1NKP4NS WOULD FLY STR41GHT 1NTO TH3 B1OLOG1C4L W4ST3 SLU1C3
CA: thats high lord snappertail to you
TA: let me niip this bull2hiit iin the bud.
TA: ii wa2 there two.
CA: oooh kinky sol
TA: remember when he went MIIA on hii2 own wriiggliing day?
-- apocalypseArisen [AA] has renamed "2HIITTY CHAT PLUGIIN.exe" to "emergency meeting" --
TA: wiith that 2ad liittle away me22age about goiing 2omewhere he diidn’t want two bee and doiing thiing2 he diidn’t want two do or 2omethiing liike that?
TA: that wa2 when.
TA: ii know you guy2 all breathed a biig gu2ty 2iight of reliief when he went riight back two beiing hii2 u2ual 2tar2hiiny 2elf the very next niight but 2ome of u2 were 2tiill worriied.
TA: aliive doe2n’t mean unharmed and KK wa2 beiing damn cagey about where he’d been.
GA: It Does Sound More Ominous When Put That Way
GC: Y34H, 1T TURNS OUT M3, SOLLUX, 4ND G4MZ33 4LL H4D TH3 S4M3 1D34
TA: hehehe, tho2e two were ba2iically eyeiing each other liike famii2hed barkbea2t2.
TA: 2niiffiing each other’2 butt2 and all, liiterally iin one ca2e.
GC: OH BLUUUH.
TA: 2park2 flyiing every whiich way, heiightened rii2k of 2pontaneou2 pant2 combu2tiion, all the good 2tuff.
CC: 3> 8D
CC: 3> 8D
TA: but me and GZ, we were able two ju2t about control the 2iituatiion.
TA: mo2tly becau2e anythiing quadrant-related become2 exponentiially more awkward iin the pre2ence of a 2toned clown.
AG: 8ahahahahahahaha! Doesn’t it j8st.
AG: Stupid goddamn clown!!!!!!!!
AA: he still hasnt joined the chat has he?
GC: C4N W3 PL34S3 G3T B4CK TO TH3 TOP1C 4T H4ND?
AA: nor is he answering my messages 0_0
AA: im starting to worry
GC: R3 K4RK4TS H1VE
GC: 1TS B1GG3R TH4N YOURS BUT NOT 3NOUGH TO F1T 3XTR4N3OUS S3CR3T P4SS4G3S
-- centaursTesticle [CT] is no longer idle --
CT: D --> My apologies
GC: 1F 4S YOU S4Y K4RK4T 1S 3XP3CT3D TO COM3 1N FROM ON3 OF TH3S3 P4SS4G3S
CT: D --> I needed a towel
GC: TH3N TH4T M34NS H1S P4SS4G3S L34D OUTS1D3 4ND NOT TO OTH3R 1NN3R CH4MB3RS 4S 1N VR1SK4S H1V3
GC: 4ND H1S H1V3S 4RCH1T3CTUR3 DO3S L3ND 1TS3LF TO CONC34L1NG N4RROW 3SC4P3 CORR1DORS 1 TH1NK
AG: Yeah, these passages all lead underground!
AG: This guy even had some of them followed, 8ut they didn’t even try to go very far in.
CT: D --> That truly does fly in the face of architectural convention
AG: They’re all stupid and easily 8ored, trust me.
AG: I’m in the commander’s head and HE is 8ored out of his mind.
AG: So I’m taking the li8erty of making him 8OREDER.
AG: Until he decides following a lead is more fun than w8ing!
GA: That Does Sound Like It Could Work
GA: He Could Still Command Some Of Them To Stay Behind And Wait Though
AG: Not if I screw with their heads too!
GC: HOW WOULD K4RK4T D1G UND3RGROUND 3SC4P3 TUNN3LS THOUGH?
GC: UNL3SS H3 H4D H3LP
GC: OR P3RH4PS TH3Y W3R3 TH3R3 TO B3G1N W1TH?
Chapter 9: > Go back to being Karkat
You are Karkat Vantas and you know these pitch-dark tunnels like the back of your own fucking hand.
In fact, considering you can't recall any particular characteristic which would differentiate the back of your hand from anybody else's, it wouldn't be hyperbole to claim you know these tunnels better than the back of your own fucking hand. They're your secret to always being the first in line on the release date of each new rom-com: you don't have to worry about the burning sun when you can navigate safely where it won't reach and wait in the cool shade until it sets. Being part of the Cult does have its perks, otherwise you'd have culled yourself a long time ago. (You still haven't found any perk to being worshipped by them, though.)
This path in particular is quite fresh in your mind, since you often used it in the aftermath of Tavros' accident.
You've been running for longer than you care to think about, and your lungs are burning with the effort. At least your new sylladex contains several fresh water bottles — you've already severely depleted them for an extra burst of energy.
Too much, perhaps. The air whipping around your ears and horns makes you think of the beach, the idea of studying the back of your hand makes you think of Gamzee, and you skip every few steps because running is just such an inefficient way of covering distances that it makes you want to fly, to swim through the fucking air—
Until the sound of crunched gravel reaches your ears and it suddenly hits you that the tunnels aren't a secret anymore and you're so high on water and moirallegiance that you're making a goddamn racket.
It takes you several tripping steps before you can halt your momentum, but when you do you find that the noise is not actually your fault at all: it's continuous and growing steadily louder, and not at all like any creature's footsteps you've ever heard. You're pretty sure the approaching circle of weak, shivery brightness just barely highlighting the rock wall isn't a trick of your eyes either.
You freeze, because that's just what you damn do, but you don't have time to freak out before the dead half-light is close enough that you can recognize the squat, square shape approaching you on wheels. It — or rather, he — mirrors your very own look of startled disbelief.
"Karkat?" he stutters, raising the source of weak light — a bulky, flickering illuminating device bundled in a shirt — and yep, it's Tavros. There's no mistaking those horns, or the fairy bull peeking out at you from behind his head.
The two of you stand (or sit) still for a truly awful amount of time, staring open-mouthed at each other — you have to make a conscious decision to break the silence, since apparently Tavros can't be assed to be proactive even to fill awkward pauses.
"...How?" is all you manage at first. He's still staring in wide-eyed confusion, though, so you dredge deep into the core of your soul for more words to squeeze out. "How do you know about this tunnel, Nitram. For god's sake, who brought you here."
If Tavros turns out to be a cultist, you're just going to have to sit down and give up on everything.
"Uh," he mumbles, shrinking into his shoulders while his eyes glance wildly around. "I... I don't think this is the best place for a conver—"
You move behind him before he's done talking and push the chair in the direction you came from, as fast as you can without breaking into a run. "You can talk while you roll, I presume," you say testily. Tinkerbull is chilling in a pouch hanging from the back of the rolling device, and buries himself up to his horns when you glare down. You feel kind of awful, so you focus on the path instead of his watery silver eyes.
The muffled light shifts, and through the crunching of his wheels and your sneakers you hear something that sounds a lot like Tavros swallowing before he finally raises his voice.
"I, uh, got this message from a guy who—"
"Who was using my trollian handle, I know," you interrupt. "I got to take a nice long look at the vandalism perpetrated against my hive before absconding the fuck out, and that included my computer. He talked to everyone, not just you."
"Yes," he says, his voice growing more hesitant. "But, Aradia got everyone together in a, a thing where everyone could go in, and talk at the same time, and everyone was talking about how you were in trouble, so—"
"Yes, yes, yes!" you snap, pushing the chair a little faster to work off your anger. "And my trouble got everyone in trouble. Once again, my existence proves to be a blight upon the lives of everyone I know! I'm sure you were having some jolly good fun talking about how I screwed the whole lot of you by the simple act of being slated for culling—"
"I found the tunnel, on my own," he says, so softly you barely hear his words over your own.
You shut up entirely out of surprise, and only inertia keeps you moving through the following seconds. It's not everyday that Tavros has enough Rufio to interrupt one of your rants.
"I found it before... you know," he goes on, perhaps encouraged by your stunned silence. "It was during a FLARP session, I think, when I found this narrow entrance, behind a wall of moss and leaves..." his voice grows distant, dreamy. You can see him fiddle with the shirt he wrapped his lighting device with. "I had to turn sideways, to fit through, because of my horns, but it wasn't part of the scenario, so I didn't go in very far, because there was the time limit too. Anyway, I was going to go back, and explore later, maybe find some treasure, but..." he shrugs awkwardly, hugging his muffled light source. "At least this time I had an excuse, even if a terrible and sad one, to crawl in through the hole and explore—"
That's about when the tears explosively get the best of you, because oh my fucking god he had to crawl—
"Oh my fucking god," you sob, because you're nothing if not an uncreative little shit, "I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry, oh my god Tavros, this is all, all this, my fault, oh my fuck. I should have never talked to anyone and now everyone I ever talked to is on fucking cull row just because they talked to me and—"
He starts chuckling, hunching into his shoulders even as he cranes his head back to glance at you — you push the wheeled device off in a panic to slap both sleeves on your wet cheeks, and then you have to run and trip after the thing because it took off at a ludicrous speed. You grasp the handles and are dragged for several meters, while the light source falls off Tavros' lap and rolls under his seat while shedding its cover, tripping you at the same time as it blinds you.
Predictably, you fall flat on your face, while Tavros appears to get his device under control just fine without your help. He deftly turns it around and wheels back to stare at you with wide worried eyes, because you are such a pathetic fuck-up even a cripple feels sympathetic—
"It's not your fault," he says, soothingly. "I was going to be culled anyway, as far as I know, no matter what you or anyone did, because of my legs, remember?"
You lower your head back down to the ground. You are such a pathetic fuck-up that you use your crippled friend's sympathy as food for your self-loathing.
"You do know you had nothing to do, with my losing use of my legs, don't you?" he asks, ever so helpfully. "Because, if that happens to not be the case, then I guess I have to make sure you're aware that, all facts examined from all sides, it was Vriska from beginning to end."
"I know," you choke out.
"Tavros," you start, still sprawled face down in your misery, "The fact that I am a terrible person and also the cause of your current problems and that of a whole lot of other people is an immutable fact I am stating for the record. It does not mean unwarranted self-blame is what's taking place here."
"Uh, that does not seem very logically sound—"
"Shut up and let me feel miserable," you say, and hug the dirt for three more seconds. "Wait, no, fuck this, we don't have time for this, we're both in danger!" You push yourself up to your feet. "Where are you hiding?"
"Uh?" he asks.
"Did you even have a destination in mind when you left your hive, you quivering pile of uselessness, or were you hoping that if you got lost the threshecutioners wouldn't find you?"
"Um, mostly the latter," he confesses, hunching into his shoulders, "but I was also trying to go to Aradia's general direction, since she told me, in the big chat window, that if I went in her general direction I'd be safe, even if I didn't find her hive in the end..."
"That'd be because she was smart enough to not talk to strangers," you say, and when his brows furrow and he opens his mouth you raise a hand to interrupt him. "Look, no, sorry. I'm being an asshole because spouting the first pile of shit that comes to my head is how I deal with mortal danger. Ignore my drivel, it's the dribbling of a terrified loon." You sigh a deep calming sigh. "Anyway, Aradia's hive. Good call. It's always surrounded by spooky ghosts; even if you didn't reach her, they'd find you and hopefully take you there. And now that I found you, I can take you there."
"Then," he hesitates, gripping the light and the shirt as you set them back on his lap and turn his chair around, "are these tunnels yours?"
You set off at a brisk running pace. "No," you say, even though they technically are. "They've been here forever. I just happened to find them—" more like be introduced to them at an early age "—but they've been useful."
"...and you don't get lost in them?"
"I know my way around," is all you say, because you just bit your tongue.
Tavros did actually manage to stay vaguely on course to Aradia's hive, despite being underground with no reference points. Sadly the tunnels don't work that way — to get to Aradia's you'd have to backtrack a little, and to get there with Tavros you'll have to backtrack a lot. Moving in a direct line would have taken him to a dead end at best, and to a long flight of stairs at worst.
Narrow holes like the ones in passage 12 are right out, because there's no way he can squeeze through with those horns. Most of the shortest routes involve stairs, too. You mentally trace possible paths and just as soon discard them: too narrow for horns, too steep for wheels, unsafe, caved in. You'll have to settle for "smallest amount of stairs".
The first flight you find is a nerve-wracking experience. You lean his chair back as much as you dare, and he grips the wheels with both hands for extra steadiness; the contraption still creaks and shudders at every step, bouncing dangerously and probably uncomfortably for the troll you're carrying. They feel like four steps into hell.
Soon other issues present themselves which you hadn't counted on at first: stalagmites, narrow paths hugging crevices, a crack on the floor too deep and wide for his wheels — things you'd cross or jump over with barely a thought, but which his device can't traverse or avoid. He goes so far as to suggest being thrown past the crack; you'd refuse even if you believed yourself strong enough to so much as lift him from his seat.
"I'm, um, I'm sorry," he stutters weakly, hunched into his shoulders and once again hugging his bundled source of light. "I know I'm, um, a bit of a burden—"
You tune him out, panting as you run and push the creaky contraption against the uneven ground. You've backtracked more times than you care to think about, and are starting to reach the end of your rope. Never mind getting to Aradia — getting to her general direction is proving to be more of a challenge than you ever thought possible. You may just be farther away than you were at the beginning.
And then, because your day hasn't been shitty enough, something bursts out of a side corridor ahead of you — something neither of you heard over the sound of wheels crushing gravel, carelessly running shoes, panting breaths and the fearful pulse in your ears.
This something is a threshecutioner, and from the wild, predatory grin in his face you have a feeling he won't prove to be secretly part of the Cult.
He's panting nearly as much as you are — no doubt he heard you coming and hurried to reach you — but the glint in his eyes is as victorious as it is malicious. To your surprise, though, he pulls out a handheld communication device instead of jumping at your throats with a sickle.
For once in your miserable life, you don't freeze. Instead, one of your sickles flies out faster than you could put the action into words, and it traces a beautiful curve in the air before hitting the device straight out of his grip. It's a maneuver worthy of any action movie, made possible only by Tavros uncovering just enough of his illumination device to shine it straight into the guy's face.
The threshecutioner grimaces and covers his eyes with a forearm, but other than that he doesn't seem particularly flapped. With a careless flick of his wrist he has his own sickles out, and goes back to sneering at you through his squinting. You assume he's particularly invested in gloating.
You step between the threshecutioner and Tavros' wheeled device, in complete disbelief of both your previous stunt and your own sanity, and bring out your sickles—
Oh, wait. You recognize this weight, this texture, this grip.
These are your blunt practice sickles.
Ah, well. The universe's omniscient Fuck-You machine is once again online after its momentary hiccup, and you're back to being an embarrassing fuck-up for as short a time as it'll take you to die miserably.
"So," the threshecutioner growls, leering in your general direction. Tavros really is doing a good job shining that light at his eyes. "Which one of you is—" sudden confused pause— "Adiews To-ree-ey-door?"
"Uuh," Tavros warbles at your back. You try to push his device away with the sole of a foot.
"Congratulations," you say, pushing a little harder because the damn thing won't budge. "You found me. Was it you at Cancer Gnostic's computer?"
"Maybe, maybe not," the guy sings, though you suppose if that was him he'd know you just said the wrong handle. Maybe. Hopefully. Oh, who are you kidding, these guys are all dumb as rocks.
And then he bends his knees and raises his arms in the single most appalling stance you've ever seen — and you train regularly in a room surrounded by mirrors — and you have the sudden feeling the universe isn't done being suspiciously generous to you yet.
Chapter 10: > Karkat: dance
Sorry for the delay! I had computer issues, then my beta was swamped at school and I got a part-time job, so things were hectic for a while on the fic-writing front. Updates should go back to normal now. Hope you like the chapter!
The issue was already being heavily discussed about a sweep ago, although you didn't know it at the time. All you were aware of was that there was some disagreement among the Lore Masters and, because of the very teachings they claimed to follow, they couldn't very well resolve it the usual troll way.
Instead, every now and again you'd spot small groups gathered in corners, hissing so viciously spit flew out through their fangs. Whenever you were around they'd exchange mysterious little hints or coy asides which you (correctly) guessed were the continuation of a long-ongoing argument. It was all very passive- aggressive.
Throughout this bullshit the Grand Elder remained as impassive and impenetrable as a rock, and his face just as stony.
(You like the Grand Elder. He strikes you as someone who doesn't so much believe in the Sufferer as he happens to think the Sufferer was a Guy who said Sensible Things. He's also a huge, looming hulk of a giant, so people tend to shut up and behave when he's around, even though he's never raised a finger or attempted to assert his authority in any way.)
So it came to be that you were sitting through one of your customary Health Checks -- a fancy way to call Being Poked With Chilly Blunt Mystery Tools and Having People Stare At Your Ineffectual Teeth And Measure Your Negligible Height -- when the three Elders who'd wandered in along with the nurses staged a very pleasant discussion about the Corruptibility of the Sacred, the Inherentness of Kindness, the Cruelty Of The World and the Shedding of Hallowed Blood. And at a certain point the Grand Elder, who was as always writing down whatever measures the nurses were taking, suddenly went tense around the shoulders and you totally expected him to flip the desk and start beating the shit out of them.
Instead, he set his stylus down and turned around to look at you through his inscrutably dark lenses.
"Karkat," he boomed out, and behind him the Elders bristled, because you just don't call the Grubloaf of Life by a name that won't mortify him, "as I'm sure you are aware of by now, the Elders have been discussing over your head a matter which directly concerns you."
You nodded. The Elders huddled in their cloaks and looked bashful.
"This is an issue raised by the Messenger," he continued. "Out of my own misguided worries I decided to discuss the matter with my peers, instead of bringing it to your immediate attention. This has proved to be a mistake. It is time for me to rectify it."
Oh, the Messenger. Of course. Whoever this elusive figure was, the Elders couldn't reach a consensus about him. All you knew of him was that he showed up every now and then (never when you were around), spouted some cryptic bullshit, laughed at everyone, and then had long private conversations with the Grand Elder in which he may or may not have been fooling, ensorceling or bamboozling the Oldest of the Lore Masters.
Half the Elders thought he was a sham, the other half thought he was a prophet. The halves sometimes flipped. It depended on whose agenda his cryptic bullshit seemed to be furthering.
Personally, you thought the Messenger was a great source of Elder Bickering Entertainment, and if the Grand Elder thought he was reliable, then you were okay with him.
But if this matter worried the Grand Elder, then it worried you twice over, because the Grand Elder was unflappable. You leaned forward on your hands, and may or may not have widened your eyes as well.
"He believes, and I agree, that you must be taught to defend yourself."
You felt your breath catch in your throat. You could hardly believe what you were hearing.
"He also believes, and I also agree, that you must be taught by a seasoned expert."
Holy shit. Holy shit. You were going to be learning how to grief from actual people with actual limbs, not just your lusus!
"He also believes, and this is the matter that worries me, that your lessons must start immediately and be as frequent as circumstances allow, so that you may reach an acceptable level of proficiency in under a sweep."
Holy shit the Messenger was your new best friend-- Wait. Why would this worry him?
One of the Elders burst into tears.
"How dare he suggest we maculate the purity of those sinless hands with blood shed in violence!?" he said, pulling the sides of his hood down to dab at his tears before their color was seen. "To introduce him to battle is to irrevocably tarnish his soul!" The other two put sympathetic hands on his shoulder, their previous disagreement apparently forgotten. You just had no idea what drugs these guys were on sometimes.
"Clearly the Messenger has foreseen a Great Upheaval," oops, nope. Still bickering. "We dislike the notion as well, but if martial training will ensure the safety of the Carrier of Blood in dark times, then it is our belief that it must be done."
"Pah!" spat the third Elder, even as he papped the crying one gently on the shoulder. "The Messenger! Why rely on the words of an outsider, when we need but to look around ourselves? Our world is fraught with danger, and our young besieged by cruelty from all sides. We cannot shield the Night of the World from our reality, we can only prepare him for it. Only then will he be ready for his mission."
We, we, we. It was a clique war. You rolled your eyes and turned back to the Grand Elder, who had apparently been staring at you all along. Maybe gauging your reaction. You hoped. The Grand Elder could be a little creepy at times.
"It is your decision to make," he said gravely, and the Elders immediately bit down on their bickering. You even heard their collective intake of breath. "Do you accept training?"
You raised both fists above your head and said, "Hell yes!"
Your appointed teacher was a Mid-level Guardian of the Scripture known among the cultists as Blade Dancer.
All cult members had some title they'd respond to among each other, instead of whichever other names or titles they held outside of it. These usually, but not always, consisted of two words with no real character limit -- because trading kisMEsis for KISmesis totally made you a rebel to the norms of society.
Of course, it was just another part of the whole anonymity shtick all cultists took part in, involving grey hooded cloaks, dark shades and no visible symbols except for those of the Signless. It gave the Cult the reputation of being a group of identity-less zombies with a hive mind that ate thoughts for breakfast. It was true insofar as listening to their bickering made a guy feel dumber after a while.
Other than that, they were harmless -- and apparently wanted to be that way. Even if they had to live underground under cloak and shades.
Blade Dancer had glasses that made him look like a surprised bug, and he was positively tiny under his cloak. It was clear why he'd been your chosen teacher, even though, at the time, you had still nursed the vain hope of having a growth spurt. Soon. Any time now.
His first lesson consisted of ten minutes of introducing the basic tools of a Threshecutioner -- the sickle, yes, but also various types of footwear, which took you by surprise -- and then two and a half hours of gushing about some guy called Troll Nijinsky.
"He was a genius," he'd said with a distant look of nostalgia, and you could swear his eyes were glowing behind the stupid shades. "During a time when being a Threshecutioner meant little more than hook and pull, he made it into an art form. When it was little more than base savagery, he made it beautiful. Did you know? In the battlefields, armies would pause in their skirmishes to watch him turn his blades. The Condesce herself once demanded to see his technique at work! He displayed to her his most graceful forms, and she then set a host of Laughsassins on him and demanded he show them in practice. He incapacitated them all with nary a spatter on his armor! And then she appointed him the Thresh Master. After culling the old one, of course. But he was unhappy." He grasped his chest dramatically. "Oh tragic, tragic Nijinsky, so frail inside. One day he looked around himself and saw that his students were using his lessons with no passion other than that of killing. They did not believe in beauty for its own sake. No no no, they could not comprehend it. They could not understand his unhappiness in having to use his skills for conquest! And one day he went silent and would not move or talk. He was broken inside, it was all too much for him. But when they came to cull him, he was gone. Disappeared. Poof." He flicked his fingers. "No sign of him. It remains a mystery. He went into legend."
Halfway through the spiel you had pretty much guessed you were sitting in front of Troll Nijinsky, who was a huge narcissist and perhaps slightly delusional. He was also very, very good at Nijinsky style, probably by virtue of being Nijinsky.
The following lessons had been a bore and a chore, but during them you were never the Sufferer Reborn -- you were mostly an inept student, and it was as frustrating as it was a relief. You had to keep your legs straight this way, and when you bent your knees you had to do it this way, and your back had to always be straight, your shoulders had to be set, no slouching, it will not make you look cool, it will make you unbalanced, open your feet a little wider, no no no do not lean on your big toe, you will stay on the thin shoes until you can keep your weight on the soles of your feet, curve your arms, no, relax your arms, now curve your arms, no, you are tensing your arms, you are raising your shoulders, keep your shoulders down, back straight, raise your chin, yes, now bend your knees halfway down, do not let them droop forward, keep them in the direction of your toes, there, that is your basic jumping stance, keep your butt in. Now jump. Stretch those toes! Cushion your fall! You will destroy your knees! Again, again! Open Stance, First Position! Shoulders down! Chin up! Butt in! Look in the mirror! What are you cupping with those hands, relax those hands!
That's all you can think about right now, standing in front of a threshecutioner cadet presumably trained by appointed officials -- that and the tears Blade Dancer would shed at the sight of his droopy knees, extended neck and tense shoulders. He's apparently attempting a Forward Open Stance, Fourth Position, but his front knee isn't bent enough, his back knee isn't straight enough, his back foot isn't open enough and his front foot is leaning on its toe. He's so overextended he's got his weight smack-dab on his hips. It looks like he intends to do a Counterwise Hurricane, a suitably impressive move if useless in a real battle, but his arms are in the wrong position.
You relax your shoulders, raise your chin, set your feet at Closed Stance, Second Position and your arms at half-Second -- and you can clearly spot the moment the guy notices his chin is too far down.
It's common sense to protect one's neck in a battle. Common does not mean good. It leaves one's horns in grabbing range, for one thing, and unless one's horns are more than a foot long and point straight up, they're simply not viable weapons in a fight against any hand-held tool.
In Nijinsky style, keeping your neck straight is also crucial to keeping your balance in its flimsier stances. That sometimes involves compensating for a set of horns which may lean too far forward or back. Your horns will never be an issue; his, however, point forward. He can either raise his chin and show you a whole lot of neck to slice, or keep it where it is and be shown off by a six-sweeps-old.
He sneers and chooses to raise his chin... so far up he's leering at you through his nostrils. Is this guy even for real?
He predictably opens with the Counterwise maneuver, and the Blade Dancer in your head starts yapping just as soon.
No no no, what are you doing, look at that foot, it is flapping in the wind, no no no, do not brace the sole of your foot against your knee, that is a terrible thing to do, it will shoot your balance, your supporting leg is not straight enough, you are wasting muscle strength on it, what are you doing with your elbows, they have no support, stop tensing your pointy finger, no no no, why are you not turning your head, it will make you dizzy, remember your spotting lessons, your head is the last to leave and the first to arrive, no no no, you cannot complete the turn on strength alone--
Except this bastard can. Sloppy and terrible and with a ridiculous burst of strength, he surprises you by turning into a fucking hurricane of sickles and death rotating to a side which would momentarily befuddle even a normal battle-seasoned troll -- but you've seen this maneuver a thousand times from a much better fighter, and your dominant side also happens to be the opposite from pretty much every other troll ever except maybe your ancestor.
You shift into Forward Closed Fourth Position, which puts your head safely beneath the range of his blades, and with your arms in First you push the butt of your handles against his torso. Simple and basic. Now this tool is a fucking hurricane of sickles and death toppling over like the saddest spinning top.
He's got enough control of the fall to go down on his butt instead of his face -- but he sways on the floor for precious seconds, eyes rolling, all because he didn't practice his spotting. You don't wait around. You turn to push Tavros away...
...and stare straight into his light, because you are a dumbass.
"Shit!" You squeeze your eyes shut, but it's too late for that. You push anyway, blind, while Tavros babbles apologies and drops his shirt back over the burning glare, and you feel the contraption shudder and sink at one side right before he gives a loud gasp.
You feel the air move at your back and turn around at once, swinging your sickle blindly into the dark purple fog over your eyes. Your blood pusher seems to have jumped straight up into your throat. There's no way you can parry this strike, you have no idea where it's coming from--
Something yanks violently at your sickle, and only the terrified spasm locking your muscles maintains your grip. A millisecond later and your sickle feels ominously lighter in your fingers.
You pause in surprise and then think oh shit I'm dead why did I stop moving--
And then you see (oh thank god I'm not blind) a white little shape swoop straight into the receding dark patch in your sight, giving you something to focus on as well as causing your assailant to step back in bewilderment. Tinkerbull?
"Tinkerbull!" Tavros sobs at your back.
"Just run the fuck away!" you scream, keeping your eyes on the steadily clearing figure in front of you as it flails ineffectually. The momentary blindness seriously threw you off-balance; you settle into Lowered Second to compensate for the sudden unsteadiness on your feet.
"I can't," Tavros says, his voice oddly weak, and you're about to scream 'then WHEEL away' when he finally adds, "I think I'm jammed..."
You grit your teeth and glance down at the weirdly light sickle in your hand. It's broken, but not far enough down the blade to make it useless -- what are you thinking, it's a blunt practice blade, it was always useless. You spare a thought to your strife deck, but you're painfully aware of the fact that you threw away your one good sickle at the very first turn of this battle.
You take a deep bracing breath and jump at the threshecutioner, intent on grabbing his attention before he kills the diminutive lusus. Tinkerbull wouldn't have lasted more than a few seconds anyway, or at least that's what you will tell yourself later when you look back on this clusterfuck of a fight.
In a single light-footed leap you get straight past his flailing arms, and with an extra deep bend of a steady knee you are now out of reach of his knobbly elbows. He lowers his left sickle -- it's always the left -- and you raise both of yours above your head in an X, handles first, because your blades are useless and you need to maximize blunt damage anyway.
His military-grade sickle snaps like a twig between yours, and with a single push of your forward foot you curl into a ball and roll back out of his range, screaming inside. He has no such compunctions; instead, he stares at his broken blade with wide shocked eyes and bared teeth for a whole second before screaming loud and hoarse, jumping after you with all pretense of technique and finesse forgotten.
You can see his every move coming from a mile away. He's not merely telegraphing them, he's IMing troll blingee pictures and waving huge sparkly flags with each wide swipe of a flailing arm, each kicking leg and each floppy foot. Even though physically keeping up with his superior strength and speed is taking every cell in your body...
You're better than he is. You are not quite as fast and not nearly as strong, but six-sweeps-old little you is keeping up with an older, taller, stronger, uniformed and armed threshecutioner cadet with nothing but basic stances and basic strikes. You're expecting self-consciousness to kick in any moment, your body to feel awkward and heavy and over-awareness of your movements to break your concentration, but it's just not happening. Those sickles keep falling on you like hammers, one broken and one whole, but you keep being able to redirect them, one after the other.
That one whole sweep of pointlessly bending your knees, waving your arms, adjusting your posture and flexing your feet in front of a mirror over and over appears to have paid off.
And then you risk one step forward, sickles bouncing against his, and the threshecutioner takes one step back and looks surprised at himself. Your confidence soars; you rise on the balls of your feet to meet his strikes before they're halfway formed, you risk fancier footwork and it flows effortless and beautiful out of you. You turn and turn on the balls of your feet, always moving forward and never losing sight of him, and the added momentum make your blunt sickles heavier than your muscles would ever allow as they bounce and block every one of his increasingly more desperate swipes. He trips on his heels as he shuffles back. He is afraid of you.
You stop your turning with a schoolfeedledger-perfect wind-down, feet wide open and knees bent low, and you leap higher than you ever have, front leg folded and back leg trailing straight as a board; in the back of your head Blade Dancer is dabbing behind his glasses with a smile and saying remember to cover your torso during an Airborne Attack, but you're already on it, your forearms covering your head and chest. Your shadow is suddenly huge on the walls and ceiling; Tavros has once again revealed his illumination device, and you can't deny he has a great sense of dramatic timing.
The threshecutioner squeezes his eyes closed, jumps back and raises his weapons in defense -- but he's still in your range, and you kick the broken sickle straight out of his grasp when you snap your front leg straight. And then, as you descend and come level with his face, you aim for his temples and snap your arms open to knock him out with the blunt curve of your sickles.
Instead, you draw a glittering wet line from one side of his forehead to the other, and terrible lukewarmth spatters on your face.
You have no attention to spare for your perfect landing. Your eyes are glued to the broken, sharp edge of your otherwise blunt sickle, because it's coated in teal. Your blood-pusher plummets while your bilesac rises, and your blood flees from your facial capillaries in horror.
You drop both sickles and trip blindly backwards until you hit a wall. You can't breathe. You can't breathe.
"Karkat!" a distant voice calls, and
wait what are you doing where's the guy you're still in danger--
The illumination device flies straight past your face, burning a purple line in your retinas, and the resulting crash and strangled scream comes from way too fucking close to your ears.
You pounce back towards Tavros and nearly fall into his lap in your hurry to push, but his chair is swaying lopsidedly and it really, definitely won't budge, not even with Tinkerbull's help. It's stuck in a crack wide enough to make it troublesome and oh fuck you can hear the approaching snarl of your angry assailant.
You turn back to him, take a step forward and remember you just tossed your sickles down in a panic; they're glinting somewhere past the frothing, bloodied, furious face that's looming over you with one sickle raised high.
Your mind skitters, scratches, and freezes; you grab Tavros's chair and bow your torso over his head, and a line of fire crosses your back from shoulder to hip, spreading hot chill into your veins.
It awakens you. You turn on the attacker with a despair and fury you did not know yourself capable of, understanding that you can't save yourself and you can't save Tavros, and push him away pathetically, bare-handed, arms shaking from wrist to shoulder. He trips back in bewilderment, but only spares a second of confusion at the red blood coating his weapon before grinning at you with renewed viciousness. You open your arms wide and bare your teeth in return. You'll make his life harder to your very last second.
Then a soft breeze brushes the side of your face, and the threshecutioner spontaneously sprouts a lance through the chest.
He stands there, staring at you, red-coated sickle still raised halfway and an expression of mild surprise in his bloodied face. You glance at the lance, terrified and uncomprehending, before going back to his eyes.
And then he softly leans back and topples over with a sound like a sack of edible roots. His torso is awkwardly propped up by the huge fucking stick currently running it through, and it makes him look like a damaged puppet, crumpled and forgotten in some nightmare circus' corner.
Chapter 11: > Karkat: crash
You're standing in front of an impaled corpse, your weaponless arms open in a mockery of embrace, and your whole body is stiff with fear. The pain in your back is dull but insistent, throbbing in time with your pulse and slowly blooming with an insidious burning sting.
"Karkat, um," Tavros warbles at your back, and his voice is shaking with the same fear you're feeling. The lance was his — you were just saved by a cripple. It was a nice throw, though. "Are you okay?"
No. It has just occurred to you that you have a bleeding gash on your back and it's in Tavros' direct line of sight.
For a moment you wonder whether the throw was aimed at the back of your head, but not even you can fool yourself so blatantly. Either it's dark enough that he thinks you're rust, or he doesn't care. You can live with both options.
You force your arms down, and it feels like bending boards. Now that you've begun the process, though, your whole body starts to sag on you, and the cut on your back upgrades from dull sting to full-on roaring burn. You sway on your feet, step back and lower your center of gravity. Blade Dancer would be so proud, except for the part where you panicked and threw your weapons down in a fit of whatever. You don't even know.
You hear Tavros calling you, a strange and muffled sound; Tinkerbull flutters close to your head, and his flapping wings provide you with a much needed breeze. You take a deep breath and deeply regret it when your wound screams in complaint.
"I'm okay," you lie blatantly, managing somehow to turn around and take a couple of swaying steps to his jammed device. He stares at you with wide worried eyes, which you ignore in favor of glaring balefully at his wheels. Some light would be welcome now; too bad your one source is now merrily burning out its last little filaments after saving your butt.
"You, um, you look terrible," he mumbles hesitantly, raising an unsteady hand, but he's not your moirail and has no business papping you.
Thinking of Gamzee gives you a burst of strength. You grasp both his wheels and squeeze out, "Help me here," through your strained throat, and your combined efforts finally allow you to clear the crack — only for you to stick a foot in it and hit the bottom half a meter down with a very painful jolt. Getting your leg out of the pathetic little hole becomes another huge production thanks to the sudden onset of sluggishness you're stricken with.
Reaching Aradia is right out. She's too far to risk in your condition: you can't remember which path you intended to take anymore, and you can barely stay on your feet. By the time you're back on the road you're not so much pushing the wheeled device as you're leaning on it.
It's a good thing that knowing these paths better than the back of your hand hasn't stopped being a thing. Aradia is too far to limp to, but once you get your bearings you find that the safest place you know is unexpectedly close.
You're so distracted with fumbling a working path in your brain that Tavros talking to you doesn't register until Tinkerbull flies up in your face.
"Karkat!" he's hissing — no, he's actually being surprisingly loud, and that kind of wakes you up from your torpor. You try to crane your neck over the back of his chair to look at his face, but your whole back is a stiff mess of cramping burns and ow ow fucking fuckety fuck it really fucking hurts oh god what is this cut.
Still, you manage to peek far enough to spot the gaping darkness of a sudden flight of stairs, moderately sized. And you nearly pushed a cripple down it.
"Tavros," you say — or rather you cough, because your mouth is sandy and weird. You poke blindly into your sylladex and it's nearly a miracle that you grasp a water container on your first try. You can't raise your head to drink, though, and not merely because of the pain; you want to but it's not happening. Instead, you squeeze the bottle with strength born of greed and inhale water for two glorious seconds before you're interrupted by the most painful coughing fit you've ever experienced.
Tavros is the one trying to twist his neck to peer at you now. You shake your head stiffly, water trailing down your chin and soaking your sweater.
"I can't stairs," you explain, voice still much too hoarse. "Can't... your device. Lift. Lift your device."
He looks back ahead and you hear him take a deep sighing breath, but you can't even work yourself into being offended. You have no time to, either, because his device suddenly blinks out of view and he plops ass-first onto the rocky ground, his legs freakishly boneless, his claws scratching deep bracing groves on the stone wall.
He turns his head around to smile at you. "I can go down like this," he says, patting the floor knowingly. You watch as he adjusts his thin, rubbery legs so they're braced two steps down, and then he pushes himself down one step and repeats the maneuver.
You lean on the wall opposite him and gently lower a foot. Your back is assaulted by rabid red-hot claws, ha ha, red-hot, get it, oh fuck. You take quick shallow breaths and wipe the sweat trickling down your cheek, then feel vaguely ashamed for making this look harder than a cripple does. You grit your teeth and lean your weight on the lower step, a maneuver which introduces you to a whole new world of pain — who knew you needed so many back muscles to use your legs?
After a few more steps your back becomes one single continuous burn, but if anything it encourages you to move a little faster. Tavros reaches the bottom and decaptchalogues his wheeled device while you struggle with the stairs; by the time you join him, he's already made himself comfortable on his seat. You're useless and your everything hurts.
You'd love nothing more than to crumple down in a faint, and the only thing keeping you on your feet is the threat of even more excruciating pain.
"I think I'm poisoned," you mumble, your lips feeling rubbery and numb, and then your own words hit you. You're poisoned. You're dying. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck everything is pain and cramps and your breath is stuck in your throat and you can't pull it in and you can't push it out you're suffocating because the poison is killing you—
"Oh, no," says Tavros, and you take some time from dying to shake a weak fist at him because fuck him for being so fucking mild, seriously, he might as well be drinking tea with his pinky sticking up for all the impact your very serious discovery made on him, and then you lean harder against the wall because you seriously think you're blacking out, yes, you're totally blacking out, water, you need water, water is good and it is always the answer—
You decaptchalogue the first card you find in your sylladex, and a small tube falls out of it, clattering to the floor with the most mundane and dry sound imaginable. You're momentarily distracted from your impending death by the utter strangeness of its design; it's neatly divided in half, one black and one white, and reminds you an awful lot of Sollux.
You stare at it in distant confusion. You have no clue what it is, what it does and what it's made of. The sound it made and the way it bounced as it fell didn't match its apparent weight. You can't begin to tell why it even fascinates you so; maybe you're just wishing it was water. That's about the only thing you can determine about this mystery object: that it contains no water for you.
You suddenly remember that you were suffocating — only now you're not, so it's kind of a moot point. You locate a water bottle and decaptchalogue it, but your neck is still too stiff to bend and your fingers have no strength to squeeze the bottle with.
"We need to find help for you," says Tavros, his voice slightly shaky. You'd nod, only if you could nod you could drink this water too. It taunts you. You cover the bottle's mouth with your numb lips and try to suck the water out, but all you manage to do is swallow air and subject yourself to another extremely painful coughing fit. Why didn't they think to pack a straw.
"Karkat, I'm sorry to nag," says Tavros, thoughtlessly interrupting your hacking with little regard to the uncontrollable spasms racking your mutant breathing apparatus, "but, um, it appears you need urgent help, and I have no idea where we are, so I was thinking, maybe we should give up on going to Aradia, and just find whoever is closest..."
"Yes," you rasp, and try to push off the wall with your shoulder — try being the operative word. You flat out can't. Your back is a gnarled mess of pain which refuses to move as you wish, and your legs appear baffled by the signals you're sending. You add a hand to help in the effort of pushing away, but unfortunately your remaining one can't handle the weight of the bottle; it slips from your fingers, hitting the ground with a slap and spilling water everywhere—
That of all things gets you to move. A gasp escapes your throat as you reach for the fallen bottle, quickly replaced by a pained cry when the movement stretches your wound. You squeeze your eyes shut and press a little harder against the wall, but now that you've unlocked your knees they're buckling despite all your efforts to not collapse.
Tinkerbull swoops down to the rescue, salvaging your bottle and part of its contents, and you follow him with thirsty eyes even as you slowly slide down the wall. You're mostly resigned to face-planting on the rocky ground when you feel a sudden, firm grip on your arm as Tavros guides your toppling body toward his lap.
Falling on those bony knees may just be the most excruciatingly painful experience of your life, surpassing by far the unfortunate occasion in which you slipped during practice and achieved a perfect 180° leg opening long before you were ready for it. Having your crotch muscles suddenly and violently stretched while your bulge hits the floor under your weight feels almost pedestrian next to this.
This is a conclusion you will reach in hindsight. Right now your body is impacting against an uncomfortably hard surface, and the shock of it runs through your wound in such a way as to make all the surrounding muscles, already cramped and stiff from poison, seize and pull and subject you to entirely new levels of agony. This in turn causes your body to convulse momentarily, affecting the mess of your back in several other novel ways, by which point your brain just gives up and blacks out.
Until you feel water soaking down your back, that is. It's like the sweetest of blessings. A thick voice is mumbling and sniffling close to your ear, and when you try to lift your head you hit something cylindrical. You're sitting on someone's legs and your head is on their shoulder while they gently run water on your wound.
"Karkat!" someone sobs, with a voice that is distinctly not Gamzee's. "I thought you were dead, tell me you're awake, tell me where to go—"
Oh no. This lap belongs to Tavros. Oh, Gamzee. Will he ever forgive your infidelity?
You manage to push off his shoulder, but that's about as far as you get before you're reminded of just why you fainted in the first place. You let your head fall on his chest, guide the bottle to your lips with a hand, swallow the little that is left, and you pity your moirail like you're blind but he will just have to deal.
Tavros captchalogues the bottle once you're finished with it, and then stares down at you with an anxious, tear-streaked face. "Um," he starts.
"Straight ahead," you whisper.
He pushes something light and weirdly smooth in your hands before wheeling on — the tube you just dropped, its white half now glowing gently. Figures that the cult would make sure you had the most bafflingly designed source of illumination ever. You raise it as far as your heavy arm can go, which isn't very high but is enough to let you see where you are. You're on track. Not much longer now.
The remaining trip is silent and ominous and, to you, full of weirdly blank stretches. At one point you have to leave the chair to brave another flight of stairs — thankfully a short one — which you climb on your butt like Tavros did, swaying and with your head light and floaty, but nothing else worth noting sticks to your mind. You might have been too zonked out to retain memories after that point.
It is during a moment of clarity, as you stare at the illumination tube ensconced in a fold of your sweater, that you suddenly wonder where you are and sort of notice you can't remember telling Tavros to take any turn; you do know your way around these tunnels, but you had no idea you were capable of navigating them while delirious.
You feel too heavy to look around yourself, lazy and nearly comfortable in the floaty haze drifting above the pain — but you can still recognize these walls from your angle, and so you're not the least bit surprised when Tavros tenses and freezes beneath you.
He's trembling. You'd pap him, but your hand feels ever so heavy and he's not Gamzee anyway.
"P-please don't cull us," he pleads, voice shaky and high, wrapping your shoulders protectively with a trembling arm. You turn your head a bit, just enough to peek at whatever he's looking at.
A gray-shrouded and be-shaded figure is stepping out from a hidden alcove, daggers in hand — which he immediately drops. Another figure runs out after him, takes one look at you, and starts hitting a completely nondescript section of wall while screaming for help.
Welp, you made it.
Welcome to the Dark Hive, you want to say to Tavros, but your mouth is full of dust.
Chapter 12: > join "vvris is a butt wwho smells my b"
Sorry, no illustrations in this chapter! It's a huge honking chatlog, there was really nothing to draw. I'll make up for it in the next one!
- -- adiosToreador [AT] has joined "vvris is a butt wwho smells my b" --
CT: D --> Regardless, I do not feel particularly amenable to the idea of possibly risking my life for a mutantb100d
GC: 1 R3FUS3
GC: TO B3L13V3
CT: D --> Even if that mutantb100d is him
AA: equius i expected better of you
GC: YOU 4R3 4CTU4LLY TYP1NG THOS3 WORDS
TA: fuck you.
TA: ju2t fuck you.
AA: hello tavros
GA: Ignoring For The Moment The Fact That We Are All Equally In Danger Except Possibly For Feferi Peixes
GA: Regardless Of Your Lack Of Enthusiasm At The Thought Of Helping A Friend In Need Who May Or May Not Possess Unusual Blood
GC: 3QU1US MY D1S4PPO1NTM3NT R1GHT NOW D3F13S D3SCR1PT1ON 4ND SO DO3S MY 4NG3R
GA: Banding Together To Ensure Our Mutual Safety Is Our Best Hope Of Survival And When I Say Our That Includes Yours Too
AT: wHAT IS GOING ON,
CA: cmon eq thats just fuckin unconscionable
GA: Yet I Do Not Feel Particularly Amenable To The Idea Of Possibly Risking My Life For A Prejudiced Hypocritical Blueblood Right Now
CA: hey tavv evveryfin is messed up
CA: vvris dropped a fuckin bomb in here and then vvanished
GA: It May Have Something To Do With How Youre Willing To Throw Him Under The Metaphorical Collective Transportation Device Now When Not Too Long Ago You Were Not
AT: uM, tHIS ALL SEEMS TO BE VERY SERIOUS,
AT: aND i HATE TO INTERRUPT, bUT,
GC: WH4T 4BOUT N3P3T4 3QU1US?
GC: C4N YOU LOOK H3R 1N TH3 F4C3 4ND R3P34T THOS3 WORDS?
TA: 2hiit, there’2 that two.
GC: 1 TH1NK NOT!
AT: i GOT A MESSAGE FROM KARKAT, bUT IT DIDN’T SOUND LIKE HIM AT ALL,
CT: D --> You are being deliberately obtuse
AA: thats why were all here tavros!
CT: D --> In any other situation I w001d not hesitate in showing him support to the best of my ability
GC: H3Y T4VROS
CT: D --> He displays a high level of intelligence and has no apparent malformities
CT: D --> E%cept perhaps for his bizarrely rounded horns
GC: SCR3W YOU H1S HORNS 4R3 P3RF3CT
TA: 2crew you, hii2
TA: oops, jiinxed. hehe.
AT: aNYWAY, aBOUT THIS MESSAGE i GOT, wHICH CAME FROM KARKAT’S TROLLIAN HANDLE BUT DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE HIS,
CT: D --> I sincerely believe that it would be more a%eptable for such a high fun%ioning mutant to serve the Empire in life rather than in death
AT: i MAY HAVE ANSWERED IT, bEFORE NOTICING SOMETHING WAS AMISS
CT: D --> Maintaining the purity of our genetic slurry would be a simple case of not a%epting his contribution
- -- twinArmageddons [TA] has renamed "vvris is a butt wwho smells my b" to "EQ ii2 a 2weaty douchebag" --
CT: D --> However in the current circumstances I can only assume he is being pursued for reasons beyond a mere mutation
GA: What Do You Mean Assume
AA: equius weve only been discussing this possibility for the last twenty minutes
AT: aND NOW i DON’T KNOW, wHAT TO DO,
CT: D --> I am aware of this fact
CT: D --> Allow me to be blunt in this case
CT: D --> And raise the possibility that he is involved in something e%tremely illegal
AT: iS KARKAT OKAY,
CC: Okay, I’m back! Sorry aboat that.
CC: W)(at did I miss?
CT: D --> Such as one of the rebel groups or heretic cults which proliferate among the lowb100ded masses
AA: equius dont make me fly over there and kick your ass
AT: wAS HE HACKED OR SOMETHING,
TA: dude, KK ii2 two 2mart two get iinvolved wiith tho2e nutter2.
GC: 1 C4NT H3LP T4K1NG NOT1C3 OF TH3 F4CT TH4T YOU N3V3R CONS1D3R3D TH1S POSS1B1L1TY B3FOR3 TH1S T4LK OF MUT4T1ON W4S R41S3D
CT: D --> In such a case this stops being merely about my safety
GA: As Terezi Said You Did Not Seem To Make Any Such Assumption Before Vriska Brought Up Her Findings
CT: D --> And becomes an issue of fraternizing with dangerous undesirables while allowing my moirail to do the same
AT: wHAT IS THIS ABOUT A MUTATION,
GC: M1GHT 1 R3M1ND YOU TH4T WH3TH3R OR NOT H3S 1NVOLV3D W1TH 1LL3G4L GROUPS DO3SNT M4K3 US 4NY L3SS 1N D4NG3R?
CT: D --> You may not believe me but Nepeta is my greatest priority at the moment
GC: W3LL N3P3T4 WOULD W4NT TO H3LP HIM!
CT: D --> I cannot overemphasize how much I hope she is delayed on her way
CT: D --> My only wish is for her to remain uninvolved in this debacle
GC: YOUR F33L1NGS 4R3 UND3RST4ND4BLE BUT FUT1L3!
GC: 4S SOON 4S SH3 R34CH3S H3R C4V3 SH3S GO1NG TO S1T DOWN W1TH H3R DR4W1NG T4BL3T 4ND LOG 1N TO L3T YOU KNOW SH3 M4D3 1T
TA: your moiirallegiiance ii2 2weet but you know what, ii’m ju2t goiing two let TZ talk, 2he’s on a roll.
GC: 4ND SH3LL B3 SP4MM3D BY M3SS4G3S T4LK1NG 4BOUT HOW H3R FLUSH CRUSH H4D H1S H1V3 1NV4D3D 4ND HOW H1S CURR3NT WH3R34BOUTS 4R3 UNKNOWN
GC: NOT TO M3NT1ON TH3 ON3 TH4T C4M3 FROM TH3 1NV4D3R H1MS3LF!
AT: oH NO,
AT: tHAT IS TERRIBLE,,,
AA: tavros didnt you read any of my messages?
AT: sORRY, i THOUGHT i WAS IN AN EMERGENCY,
GC: W41T WH4T?
CT: D --> Can you not wait
CT: D --> We are in the middle of an important discussion
CC: --EVERYONE S)(UT TH--E GLUB UP RIGHT NOW.
AT: bUT CLEARLY kARKAT IS IN GREATER NEED, sO TO SAY,
AT: oH, sORRY,
CC: --EQUIUS, BY ROYAL D--E--ECR--E--E I ORD--ER YOU TO STOP B--EING SUCH A GLUBBING DOUC)(--EBAG.
AT: mY BAD,
CT: D --> Uh
CC: NO ON--E IS CULLING KARKAT, P--ERIOD.
CC: Not you, Tavros!
GC: 1 W4SNT P4Y1NG 4TT3NT1ON TO YOU 4T 4LL, SORRY >:[
CC: You’re right, you’re in an emergency!
CC: But everyone just kept on carping right over you.
GC: WH4T 1S YOUR 3M3RG3NCY?
CC: )(e answered t)(e impostor by accident!
TA: how doe2 that even happen, how do you an2wer a guy by acciident.
- -- centaursTesticle [CT] is idle --
GC: GOOD QU3ST1ON
AA: tavros my very first message was asking everyone NOT to do that
AT: oH, i DIND’T READ IT,
AT: wHAT HAPPENED WAS THAT i OVERSLEPT,
AT: aND WHEN i HEARD THE TROLLIAN CHIME i WAS STILL IN MY COON,
AT: sO i TRIED TO HURRY OUT OF IT,
AT: bUT MY WHEELED DEVICE HAPPENED TO HAVE ROLLED DOWN THE RAMP,
AT: aND OUT OF MY REACH,
AT: aND IT ROLLED BADLY, SO,
AT: iT WAS FALLEN SIDEWAYS oFF THE RAMP,
GC: T4VROS YOU R34LLY N33D 4 D1FF3R3NT COON MOD3L
CC: Or at least a better w)(eeled device!
CC: Too bad we don’t know any seawety jerks wit)( a fin for mec)(anics O)( WAIT
AT: tHEN i TRIED TO CRAWL DOWN THE RAMP AFTER IT, bUT i SLID DOWN IT INSTEAD, bECAUSE OF THE SOPOR THAT WAS STILL ON ME,
CA: wwoww tav youre alwways gettin into all sorts a pickles
AT: aNYWAY, i WILL SPARE YOU ALL THE DETAILS,
GA: Too Bad This Sounds Like It Could Be An Entertaining Story
AT: sUFFICE TO SAY, iT WAS ALL EXTREMELY SILLY,
GA: In Retrospect That Was Uncalled For
TA: yeah, gee, KN.
GA: I Didn’t Mean To Imply That I Derive Amusement From Your Tragic Hardships
AT: iT’S OKAY,
TA: that 2ure ii2 what iit 2ounded liike, though.
AT: i GUESS SOMETIMES IT’S SO SAD, iT GOES BACK TO BEING FUNNY,
GC: 1 DONT 3V3N KNOW WH4T TO S4Y H3R3
AT: WHEN i FINALLY REACHED MY HUSKTOP, aND SAW THE GRAY TEXT,
AT: i THOUGHTLESSLY ANSWERED BACK, bEFORE READING ITS CONTENTS,
AT: aSSUMING IT WAS kARKAT, aND HE MAY HAVE BEEN IN A HURRY,
AA: im going to forgive you for that because its apparent that you were discombobulated at the moment
AT: aND THEN, tHIS STRANGER KEPT SENDING MESSAGES,
GA: Discombobulated Is A Good Word
AT: aND IN MY CONFUSION,
AT: i MAY HAVE ENGAGED HIM IN CONVERSATION,,,,
AA: but that right there i simply cannot excuse
- -- centaursTesticle [CT] is no longer idle --
AT: i REALLY AM SORRY FOR THAT,
AT: i AM MOST DEFINITELY REGRETTING IT RIGHT NOW,
CT: D --> My apologies
AT: tHOUGH i’M ALSO WORRIED ABOUT kARKAT, sINCE YOU SEEM TO BELIEVE THIS IS AN INVADER,
CT: D --> I required a fresh batch of towels
AT: aND NOT A HACKER, aS i’D FIRST ASSUMED,
CT: D --> Understandable
CT: D --> I had assumed the same
CT: D --> And reacted accordingly
AT: i SEE,
CT: D --> I believe it is appropriate to misdire%t the impostor by wielding your superiority in the hemospectrum
CT: D --> Being a mutant means he does not have the right to request the address even of a brownb100d anyway
GC: 3QU1US WHY 4R3 YOU SO P3RS1ST3NTLY T3RR1BL3
CT: D --> Treat this impostor as an inferior
CT: D --> He will assume you are cognizant of the importance of the hemospectrum in our society and praise you for it
AT: i DON’T THINK i CAN DO THAT,,,,
AT: i JUST DON’T THINK OF kARKAT AS INFERIOR AT ALL,
CT: D --> That is because of his force of personality
CT: D --> Which I recognize is praiseworthy
CT: D --> He is a credit to mutants everywhere
TA: ...facepalmiing really hard here.
CT: D --> Certainly if they were more like him they w001d not be systematically culled as they currently are
CC: I am embarrassed for the bot)( of us. 38(
CT: D --> It is a pity that the culling drones will not make e%ceptions but steps must be taken for the preservation of our race as a whole
CA: actually tav that aint a bad idea
CA: this assholes a lot like equius hell be all hot an bothered aboat it
CT: D --> Uh
CA: also if he asks about it
CA: youre my kismesis okay
AT: i’D RATHER
AA: eridan just what in the hell have you been telling that guy
- -- centaursTesticle [CT] is idle --
TA: yeah, man, what the hell.
TA: al2o, send a copy.
AT: i DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR KISMESIS,,,
CA: nah its a make believve kismesis thingy
CA: he asked me aboat the wwhole lot a you so i made up some shit
GA: I Dont Like The Thought Of That
CA: if youre uncomfortable hittin on the threshie just make shit up its knot like he knowws jack shit about you
GC: TH4T WORK3D FOR YOU BUT 1 DOUBT 1TLL WORK FOR H1M
AT: oH NO, iT IS A THRESHECUTIONER,
AT: wHAT IF HE DOES,
CA: just gotta make sure you dont contradict my covver
AT: wHAT IF HE KNOWS i CAN’T WALK,,,,
CA: vvris is my fake moirail howws THAT for a fuckin lie
CA: nah he doesnt knoww ship trust me
AT: oH NO, i’M JUST tOO SCARED,,,
AT: wHAT IF HE KNEW ALL ALONG,,,
AT: wHAT IF i LIE AND HE GETS ME,,,,
GC: T4VROS C4LM DOWN
CC: Deep breat)(s!
GC: YOU 4BSOLUT3LY MUST NOT T3LL H1M TH3 TRUTH
GC: DO NOT 4LLOW YOURS3LF TO 1MPLY 1N 4NY W4Y TH4T YOU R3QU1R3 4SS1ST4NC3 MOV1NG 4ROUND!
GC: L3T M3 G1V3 YOU 4 CR4SH COURS3 1N M1SD1R3CT1ON
GC: 1F YOUR3 4FR41D H3 M1GHT KNOW WH3R3 YOU 4R3 4LR34DY M4K3 SUR3 NOT TO T3LL HIM 4NYTH1NG TH4T CONFL1CTS W1TH TH3 TRUTH
GC: BUT 4T TH3 S4M3 T1M3 YOU SHOULD NOT CONF1RM 4NYTH1NG H3 M1GHT KNOW!
GC: B3 V4GU3 4ND L3T H1M F1LL 1N TH3 BL4NKS
GC: H1S OWN M1ND W1LL COM3 UP W1TH 4 L13 FOR YOU!
AT: i JUST,,,
AT: hAVE NO IDEA HOW TO DO THAT,,,,
CA: look man do you evven know wwhere you live
CA: like if i ask you for your address right noww cod you evven tell me
AT: uM, nO,
AT: nOT THE OFFICIAL LOCATION DENOMINATION,
AT: wITH THE OFFICIAL NUMBERS,,,
CA: wwell there you havve it
CA: tell the fucker you dont know your location or howwevver you landdwwellers call it
CA: cuz you nevver get sent shit so it wwas nevver a thing you had ta know
GC: 1 GU3SS TH4TS GOOD FOR A ST4RT
CA: you cant fuck that up if its the truth
GA: Yes That Is Reasonable Be Apologetic And Sound Helpful Without Being It
TA: liike a bureaucrat.
AT: i AM,
AT: DOING THAT,
GC: YOU KNOW
GC: T4VROS T4LK1NG TO TH1S 4SSHOL3 H4S F1LL3D M3 W1TH 4N 3NT1R3LY N3W S3NS3 OF URG3NCY
GC: P4RT OF M3 W4NTS US TO G4TH3R 1N 4 S1NGL3 S4F3 PL4C3 4S4P
GC: TH3 OTH3R P4RT TH1NKS TH1S 1S TH3 B3ST W4Y TO G3T US 4LL K1LL3D TOG3TH3R
GC: 4ND 1 H4V3 NO 1D34 WH1CH P4RT 1S R1GHT
AA: i know 0_0
AA: safety in numbers versus quackbeasts in a row
CC: I would love to get toget)(er wit)( everyone!
CC: I don’t t)(ink t)(at’ll be possible any time soon, t)(oug)(. 38(
AA: yeah that won’t happen for a while
GA: Tavros At Least Shouldnt Be Left Alone
GA: He Is At Too Great A Physical Disadvantage
AA: no i agree
- -- adiosToreador [AT] is idle --
CA: aww hell that cant be good
AA: okay im worried now 0_0
AA: oh grrr someones trolling me
CA: dont answwer the bad person
AA: wait this is tavros alt account
CA: you knoww im runnin outta juice here extended trollin is tiring
CA: brb shakin this dumbass off
GC: WHY 1S T4VROS 1N H1S 4LT
AA: he says he dropped his husktop and the plugin isnt working in his handheld device
TA: see, ii told you that mobile port wa2 iimportant.
TA: but you were liike noooooo, 2ollux, 2top your dumb codiing and come run around liike a headle22 cluckbea2t along wiith u2.
TA: good thiing iit’2 nearly fiinii2hed.
- -- centaursTesticle [CT] is no longer idle --
GA: Did You Get More Towels
CT: D --> Silence
GC: Y34H 1T SUR3 B3C4M3 S1L3NT 1N H3R3 4LL OF 4 SUDD3N
GC: D1D W3 S3R1OUSLY RUN OUT OF STUFF TO T4LK 4BOUT?
CC: I guess so! Our one source of info on t)(e going ons at Karkat’s has disappeared on us 38(
CC: I never t)(oug)(t I’d say t)(is but I wis)( Vriska would just come back already.
CA: wwell that wwas fun
- -- caligulasAquarium [CA] is sending file "wwhy yes i am CG an also a blitherin idiot.txt" --
CA: thank me later
- -- twinArmageddons [TA] is sending file "ChatBlock_for_Trolliian_2_0_1_6.exe" --
TA: now wiith handheld 2upport.
TA: thank me later.
AA: im adding his alt account to the chat now
- -- pupaPan1111 [PP] has joined "EQ ii2 a 2weaty douchebag" --
PP: oH NO GUYS,,,,
PP: i AM REALLY SCARED,,,
PP: i MAY HAVE SOUNDED UNNATURAL,,,,
GC: WH4T D1D YOU T3LL H1M T4VROS?
PP: iN FACT i THINK IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT i WAS BEING UNTRUTHFUL,
PP: aND i DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY TO HIM,,,,
GA: Tavros I Thought It Had Been Decided You Were Going To Say Something That Was Actually True Insofar As You Dont Know The Official Denominations Of Your Location
PP: yES, bUT,
PP: iN RETROSPECT i THINK i SOUNDED UNNATURALLY AWKWARD,
PP: i THINK IF i WERE THE PERSON ON THE OTHER COMPUTER, i WOULD BE IMMEDIATELY SUSPICIOUS,
GC: BUT YOUR3 4LW4YS 4WKW4RD
GC: 4NYW4Y YOU C4N 31TH3R FORG3T TH1S GUY 4ND L3T H1M H4NG OR COM3 UP W1TH MOR3 HOOFB34STSH1T TO S4Y
PP: oH, nO,
PP: hE JUST MESSAGED ME AGAIN,,,,
GC: 1 R3CCOM3ND TH3 FORM3R
GC: OH FOR TH3 LOV3 OF
GA: I Thought You Had Dropped Your Husktop
PP: i’M ON THE FLOOR AS WELL,
PP: aS IN,
PP: i TRIED TO PICK IT BACK UP, bEFORE i RECEIVED THE MOBILE TROLLIAN THINGY,
PP: aND FELL OFF MY SEAT,
CA: just tell him you livve in the fuckin middle a nowwhere fields thats not a lie
TA: not iin tho2e word2, though.
CA: make sure he knowws youre perfectly capable a usin your feet
CA: like throww in a comment aboat your frolickin around i made sure he kneww you wwere a frolicky kinda guy alwways runnin around evvery fuckin day
GC: B3 UNH3LPFUL WH1L3 G1V1NG TH3 1MPR3SS1ON OF B31NG H3LPFUL!
GA: Give Some Extremely Generic Reference Points
GA: If You Mention Cliffs Do Not Describe What They Look Like
GA: Maybe Add Some Moving Reference Points For Extra Befuddlement
CC: Yes! Like a bunch of catfish or some ot)(er animal that glubs around near your )(ive!
CC: T)(ere are so many out t)(ere, it doesn’t mean ANYFIN!
AA: dont talk too much
AA: be succinct and there will be less chances of giving something away
CT: D --> Do not neglect to mention hoofbeasts
TA: why iin the frozen fuckfiire hell2 would he even want two briing up hoofbea2t2?
CT: D --> Hoofbeasts are a noble race deserving of every troll’s contemplation
CT: D --> The intruder will certainly regard him positively if he displays respect for our glorious fauna
TA: that’2 the bigge2t piile of hoofbea2t2hiit ii’ve ever heard, what are you even on.
GC: 3QU1US 1M ST4RT1NG TO B3L13V3 YOU DONT QU1T3 UND3RST4ND TH3 S3R1OUSN3SS OF OUR CURR3NT C1RCUMST4NC3S
AA: maybe we should start by reminding you that you live right by vriska
AA: who gleefully gave herself away
CT: D --> I am perfectly aware of the circumstances and the consequences of her recklessness
CT: D --> I am also perfectly capable of defending myself and hiding my presence in the event of a hive invasion
GC: W3LL T4VROS 1S C4P4BL3 OF NO SUCH TH1NG WH4T W1TH B31NG STUCK 1N 4 D4MN WH33L3D D3V1C3
CT: D --> I also happen to have several fighting robots in my possession
CT: D --> Uh
TA: he’2 al2o kind of lackiing iin robot2, iif you don’t know.
CT: D --> I
PP: oH NO,
CT: D --> Guess that is correct
PP: hE FOUND ME,,,
TA: aw FUCK.
GA: Tavros Please Do Not Tell Me Your Hive Is Being Invaded At This Very Moment
PP: nOT YET, tHANKFULLY,
PP: bUT HE FOUND OUT THE NAME OF THE CLIFF WHERE i LIVE,
PP: wHEN i MENTIONED THE HERD OF BLUE HOOFBEASTS THAT PASSES IN VIEW OF MY HIVE,
PP: tO BATHE IN THE SEA,
CT: D --> Oh
CT: D --> The Legendary Water-Frolicking B100 Hoofbeasts
CT: D --> How happy you must be to live in view of such a magnificent and rare specimen
CC: --Equius, you utterly glubbing DUMBASS!
CT: D --> They are STRONG, yet for mysterious reasons they do not attack members of their own species despite sharing a territory
TA: EQ, what the 2weet barfiing FUCK.
CT: D --> Instead, they nurture and fiercely defend their young for the entirety of their lifespan
PP: yES, tHEY HAVE VERY GENTLE THOUGHTS,
CT: D --> They are only found in a very narrow strip of land
PP: bUT i’M FINDING IT HARD TO THINK KINDLY OF THEM RIGHT NOW,
CT: D --> Along which they migrate through the seasons
GA: Equius Are You Aware That Your Stupid Suggestion Is What Gave Tavros Away
CT: D --> Uh
GC: Y3S UH
GC: 1F BY UH YOU M34N
GC: SORRY T4VROS 1 4M 4 SW34TY 1D1OT
CA: oh man sorry guys
CA: but im laughin really fuckin hard right noww wwhat is this evven
CC: T)(is is no laug)(ing matter!
TA: QUIICK, TELL THII2 GUY HE2 GOT IIT WRONG.
CA: seariously i stop payin attention for twwo fuckin seconds and evverythin goes to FUCK
PP: i SAID i HAD THINGS TO DO,
PP: aND SIGNED OUT...
AA: you really should have done that ten minutes ago
PP: yES, iN HINDSIGHT,
PP: i REALLY SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT FIRST,,,
CA: just drop evverythin and run the fuck away
CA: aww ship i mean wwheel awway i guess sorry
GC: W41T H3 C4NT JUST WH33L OUT L1K3 TH4T
GC: TH3Y KNOW WH3R3 TO F1ND H1M NOW
GC: TH3R3’S TOO GR34T 4 CH4NC3 TH3YLL RUN 1NTO H1M ON TH3 W4Y TO H1S H1VE
TA: 2hiit, that’2 riight.
TA: he’2 dii2abled, they’ll cull hiim on the 2pot whether they know he’2 theiir target or not.
AA: way to go equius
CT: D --> I’ll have you know
CT: D --> That I am not responsible for the suggestions he followed
CT: D --> How was I to know his residence was so close to such a rare wonder of nature
CC: T)(e problem is t)(at you tossed in a completely unnecessary suggestion w)(ile )(e was in no position to pick and c)(oose!
CC: A life or deat)( situation is no place to indulge in your weird )(oofbeast obsession.
CC: )(onestly, I )(ad you pegged as a more discerning troll.
CC: I am severely disappointed in you. 38(
CT: D --> I
CT: D --> Apologize
CT: D --> In hindsight it has come to my attention that I may not have taken the matter of the brownb100d’s safety as seriously as circumstances required
CT: D --> I may have been e%eedingly self-indulgent
TA: and 2elf-centered.
CT: D --> Yes
CT: D --> Wait
CC: Yes. 38(
CC: Seariously, you’ve been acting like -Eridan two seasons ago!
CT: D --> That
CA: aww cmon that burns
CT: D --> Is e%eedingly harsh
CA: comparin me to the hoofbeast wweirdo that isnt fair
CT: D --> No
CA: i wwas nevver a total fuckin asshole like him
CT: D --> I correct myself
CT: D --> My behavior has been ine%cusable
CC: Remember your stupid glubbing doomsday devices?
CC: And )(ow you were going to kill ALL landdwellers?
CA: aww cmon
CT: D --> It is unbefitting of a troll of my station to behave in such a flippant manner
CC: And )(ow you brus)(ed me off w)(enever I tried to get you to talk about w)(at you were R--E--ELY t)(inking!?
CA: swweet glubbin cod im sorry aboat the genocide thing
GC: WOW OK4Y TH1S SUR3 1S 1N4PPROPR14T3
CT: D --> If the brownb100d will manifest his thoughts on the matter
CA: yeah it was fuckin stupid cant a guy be a silly 6 swweeps old little kid anymore wwont i evver livve that down
TA: oh fuck no ii’m NOT reading thii2 2hiit, you’re NOT haviing a fiight iin public and iit’2 all a fiigment of my 2iick iimagiinatiion.
CT: D --> I may be willing to
CT: D --> Humble
CT: D --> Myself
CC: You still don’t tell me nearly enoug)(!
CT: D --> As an apology
CC: Don’t you ever t)(ink I don’t notice, Mr. Ampora!
GA: Maybe You Two Should Take This To A Private Window
CA: already on it sheesh
CA: sorry aboat that guys
GC: 1M JUST GO1NG TO S1T H3R3 4ND SH4K3 MY H34D SLOWLY
AA: if anybody else feels the need to discuss their quadrant issues in this space
AA: please dont
TA: aw 2hiit, ii had thi2 huge fuckiing paragraph wiith all my ii22ue2 paiin2takiingly de2criibed for general 2crutiiniity and you forced me two delete iit, AA.
TA: how can you liive wiith your2elf.
AA: oh shoosh
GA: Why Are You Not Fleeing Yet Tavros
PP: i AM BACK ON MY DEVICE, aND MY HUSKTOP IS SAFELY CAPTCHALOGUED,
PP: aS WELL AS SEVERAL CHANGES OF CLOTHES, pERISHABLE AND NON-PERISHABLE EDIBLES,
PP: lUSUS SNACKS, aN ILLUMINATION DEVICE, mY fLARP RULE BOOKS,
PP: tWO dAGGERLANCES AND ONE lANCE,
PP: aND A BAG STRAPPED TO MY DEVICE FOR tINKERBULL,
PP: aND NOW,
PP: i AM ABOUT TO GO PLAY THE MOST EXTREME ROLE-PLAYING GAME OF MY LIFE,
PP: wISH ME LUCK,
AA: wait tavros!
GC: 1M 1MPR3SS3D!
AA: you really shouldnt be outside where you can be seen
AA: these threshecutioners will spot you from miles away on the plains!
AA: if you stand your ground for a couple hours i can pick you up and fly you to my place!
PP: dESPITE MY POOR SHOWING, iN MY PREVIOUS CONVERSATION,
PP: i AM NOT COMPLETELY STUPID,
PP: cOMING TO MY HIVE WILL ALSO PUT YOU IN DANGER IF YOU ARE SEEN,
PP: wHICH YOU WILL CERTAINLY BE, iF YOU’RE FLYING AROUND HIGH ON THE CLEAR SKY OVER THE PLAINS,
GC: OK4Y NOW 1 4M 1MPR3SS3D FOR R34L
PP: aND IT’LL BE UNNECESSARY DANGER,
PP: wHEN THERE IS A PERFECTLY SERVICEABLE TUNNEL NOT TOO FAR FROM MY HIVE,
PP: wHICH SEEMS TO LEAD TO YOUR HIVE’S GENERAL DIRECTION }:)
GA: Tavros You Sound Uncharacteristically Confident
PP: oH NO,
PP: i AM VERY MUCH TERRIFIED,
PP: bUT IT HELPS TO THINK OF IT AS fLARPING,
PP: sO LONG AS IT’S NOT WITH vRISKA, i CAN HANDLE IT,
TA: hehe, ii wii2h 2he was around two read that.
PP: i DON’T,
CT: D --> Lowb100d
GC: 1S TH4T WHY YOUR3 T4K1NG TH3 FL4RP RUL3BOOKS 4LONG?
PP: tHOSE ARE FOR THROWING,
TA: haha, WOW.
CT: D --> Uh
AA: tavros i must join the choir of the impressed
AA: but before that
AA: does this convenient cave happen to have drawings on its walls?
PP: aCTUALLY, iT DOES,
PP: sOME REALLY OLD AND FADED SCRIBBLES, iF i REMEMBER WELL,
AA: follow the drawings
AA: youll be safe even if you dont find my hive
PP: tHAT SOUNDS STRANGE, bUT i’LL TAKE YOUR WORD FOR IT,
CT: D --> Lowb100d, I must
CT: D --> Apologize
CT: D --> For having a%cidentally induced you into revealing your address
PP: yOUR APOLOGY IS UNEXPECTED, bUT ACCEPTED,
CT: D --> I must also express my wonderment at your spirit
CT: D --> For a lowb100d, you have displayed remarkable STRENGTH of will
PP: tHANKS, i GUESS,
PP: yOU’RE NOT TOO BAD EITHER, fOR A WEIRD HOOFBEAST PERVERT,
CT: D --> Uh
TA: BROFII2T. NOW.
GA: Very Well Put Tavros
PP: nOW IF YOU’LL EXCUSE ME, i’M ABOUT TO GO TO THE CAVE,
GC: 3QU1US YOU H4D TH4T ON3 COM1NG 4ND YOU KNOW 1T
PP: i DON’T THINK THE SIGNAL WILL WORK INSIDE IT,
PP: sO THIS IS GOODBYE,
PP: fOR NOW,
GC: BY3 MR CHOCOL4T3 FUDG3 1 S33 YOU NOW 1N 4N 3NTIR3LY N3W L1GHT
- -- twinArmageddons [TA] has renamed "EQ ii2 a 2weaty douchebag" to "TV ii2 BO22" --
TA: lowblood2 repre2ent.
PP: hEHE, yES }:)
AA: we will meet again in time im sure 0u0
CA: asnd you haev no idea hoqw cojnfuased i am glkub
GA: Please Accept My Temporary Goodbye As Well
CA: oh shiy wwrogn wondow
GA: And Good Luck
CA: SHIT tavvs goi nalraedy
CA: i better see you agian you fuckin peice a shit
CA: fef says goodbey too
CA: *tyupos ahoy
PP: tHANKS, eVERYONE,
PP: tEMPORARILY, }:)
- -- pupaPan [PP] has left "TV ii2 BO22" --
- -- terminallyCapricious [TC] has joined "TV ii2 BO22" --
- -- adiosToreador [AT] has left "TV ii2 BO22" --
You are Tavros Nitram and you are surrounded by the Faceless.
Every young troll has heard the whispers about the Faceless — whispers, because they’re not to be spoken of out loud. They shouldn’t exist, and acknowledging their existence is giving them power; yet forewarning must be given, for the Faceless are like the encroaching morning mist, seeping into respectable hiveblocks and absorbing upstanding young trolls into their folds like an ever-growing swarm of zombies.
They have no symbols, because they were never meant to be; instead they shamble around in nondescript grayness, empty and identity-less. Their blood is also anonymous gray, and touching a drop of it will turn your arteries that same ashy non-color, infecting you with their nothingness. They are cunning and can pose as a perfectly normal and healthy troll, but that is no more than an empty skin they wear: for they are the Faceless, and their words are as empty as their true faces.
Or at least that was the general gist of the many creepytrollpasta tales Aradia used to send you before you finally let her know they made you unable to sleep at day. She called them interesting lies people made up for fun, and you call them terrifying lies people should never come up with — and yet you are surrounded by them, right here, right now.
They’re... well, they’ve grown in the telling, you admit to yourself. They all have faces, which are twisted and clenched in varying degrees at the sight of you. Or perhaps at the sight of Karkat’s blood-drenched back as he lies swooned on your knees. Its color is particularly bright and garish under the ghostly white light bathing the two of you, as a point of fact.
But mostly you’re worried about their concealing glasses and beaten-up grey cloaks, which look utterly mundane and terrifying in their realness. The Faceless may be made-up, but the existence of hidden communities of adult trolls preying on the young has long been confirmed and warned against by much more reliable sources than creepytrollpasta.co.al.
They step back, forming a sort of corridor you are clearly expected to wheel down. The two sentries you ran into stand at your back, but they make no attempt to push you in; seeing no other option, you wheel yourself through the revealed entrance and down the aisle of eerie heavy breaths and muttered lilting words, wringing hands and the ghosts of hovering touches.
Unfortunately your hands are shaking too hard for you to wheel for long and you roll to a halt, wrapping your shivering arms around your burden at a complete loss for what to do. You’re acutely aware of the hitching sobs you can’t quite disguise.
You just wheeled straight into one of the hidden nests of lingering traitors, the cowards and the desperate who would not heed the call of the Condesce and instead remained behind — an infection, a pustule upon the homeworld. And though you are a coward and desperate and most likely a traitor as well, you can’t help feeling alone and terrified and very, very much outnumbered.
Then the colorless mass around you shifts and ripples in a choir of rustles, and suddenly you are sitting helpless in front of an impossibly immense adult.
He towers over you, a massive pillar of shadow topped by horns long enough to betray many sweeps of life. Nothing you have ever so much as pictured in your mind’s eye has felt so solidly powerful, not even the very cliffs you built your hive upon: this troll is a thick wall of muscles barely concealed by the coarsely woven fabric he’s shrouded with, and he exudes raw power with each hissing breath.
On pure instinct you toss a daggerlance at the giant and huddle protectively around Karkat, sobbing openly and shamefully into his hair — but you’re startled out of it when the warm body in your arms suddenly draws a shuddering gasp; the hand resting on your chest presses down just a little bit, and you hear him mumble something into your shirt.
“Tavs,” is what it sounds like, a strained hiss through weak lips. “Tavrrss.”
You draw back enough to stare at Karkat’s half-smushed face against your chest, holding your breath and devoting every scrap of attention to him in this moment. It’ll probably be the last thing he says and the last thing you hear — and you feel as though the very walls around you are holding their breath as well, leaning over your head in a silence so expectant it’s oppressive, thirsty and desperate for those last, hopeless words.
“Safe,” he whispers, and his expression is full of wry understanding.
Once again you feel his hand grow momentarily heavier on your chest, just barely enough to be felt, and it suddenly occurs to you that it’s meant to be a reassuring pat.
You burst into renewed tears. You can’t help it.
You squint through watery brown at the colorless trolls around you and recognize your own pain in each of those crumpled, trembling faces. You blink up at the towering figure over your head — but he’s kneeling down, your daggerlance held between the fingertips of a huge square hand and offered handle-first as if it had been gently plucked out of the air.
“You’re not going to hurt him?” you blubber through dripping snot, trying and failing to stop clutching Karkat to your chest.
He sets your daggerlance down. He’s still taller than you when down on one knee, but from this diminished distance his face resolves into more than mere shadows: his skin looks somewhat papery, the grim set of his lips surrounded by lines deeper than his expression would justify. His dark glasses seem to glow at the edges, and a web of circuit lines shimmer under his hood at every slight movement; from the shadows framing his face falls a long waterfall of hair, straight and luscious.
He hunches a little bit closer to you, and you can tell he’s about to talk just by the tensing of muscles under his skin.
“He is our treasure,” he says, his voice booming deep and thunderous and soothing, and you start crying all over again, your fingers squeezing Karkat’s shoulder in a gesture which is probably more comforting to you than to him.
He reaches out with his immense hands and you shakily open yours, watching as he lifts Karkat as easily as if he were a tiny grub in the hands of a grown jadeblood. Your shirt is soaked in his blood; when you attempt to wipe your tears you find that your hands are also stained in bright, unreal red, sticky and crumbly where it’s drying on you.
From past the adult’s huge cloak approaches a group in light gray, sheets of lusus-white fabric spread in their arms. They wrap Karkat as if he were a piece of priceless crockery, the tall troll adjusting his grip with painful care; once finished they turn to the wall of sobbing shrouds, and it parts like they had it rehearsed.
But the group has barely taken a step when Karkat suddenly spasms, pushing one arm out of its white cocoon and nearly shoving his fingers up his caretaker’s nose; he mumbles something loud and unintelligible in a sudden burst, and you’d swear he sounded just as annoyed as his usual self. The tall troll’s expression is almost concealed by the angle of his hood, but you guess at a smile from the way his cheekbone moves, and he turns to glance at you, clear amusement in his face...
Which goes slightly slack as he stares, really stares, as if he’s only just noticed you. But it’s only for a couple of seconds; soon he’s bowing his head deeply, and you bow yours back because it’s only polite.
He finally leaves, with Karkat bundled in his arms and followed by the light-shrouded figures. You watch as hands reach hesitantly from the aisle of cloaks, tracing the air or touching the trail of white fabric like bereft wigglers, and here and there in the crowd rise impromptu choirs of mournful, rhythmic mumbling, sometimes at odds with each other.
But as the hulking figure disappears into a wall, a new silence takes over.
You look around, trying to find this new source of bewilderment. Did someone else arrive after you? The entrance appears to be sealed, and in fact it looks like it was never even there...
For a moment you forget what you were looking around for in the first place, arrested by surroundings you only just became aware of. You’re sitting under a large dome, an obviously troll-made structure which still shows remains of what may have been its original shape — here, a craggy patch of wall surrounded by sanded rock; there, a set of stalactites touching the floor in a delicate fall, flanked by support columns. Stone and metal stand together in a strange mix of technology and asceticism. The illumination comes from globes resting on intricately twisted iron, and though their silvery light was unsettling at first, you do feel it brings up the few colors present in this austere environment and gives them an unreal, dreamy tinge.
There are scribbles and drawings nearly everywhere, both faded and fresh. You ask Tinkerbull to take a closer look for you; he flutters about while you hitch a ride in his senses, pitter-pattering along the walls and up to the ceiling. The information you get back isn’t quite complete, but you’re reasonably sure you’re looking at some rather outdated mode of Alternian — the kind which is used for extra flavor in the margins of FLARP guidebooks. Every now and then you come across a metal plate inserted where the original patch of stone apparently fell off, the ancient letters and drawings pressed into the brushed surface to allow the original text to flow uninterrupted.
Karkat’s symbol figures rather prominently in these old writings. You would be surprised if you hadn’t already taken notice of the bright red and white tapestries hanging from the walls, each with his symbol figuring even more prominently in them. You still have no idea what’s going on, but you’re starting to think that maybe these people like Karkat a lot.
You turn to a nearby group to ask how they know him, only to find that their gaping faces are intensely focused on you.
You hunch into your shoulders. What if they’re upset at you? All facts taken in consideration, Karkat wouldn’t have gotten wounded if it weren’t for your inability to protect yourself, not to mention how you’d simply assumed he had the battle well in hand. In retrospect it wasn’t all that surprising that he’d faltered despite his apparent prowess; you felt pretty terrified yourself when your lance connected, even though it hit precisely where you were aiming for. You had never killed another troll before, and clearly neither had he.
The memory of the threshecutioner’s body slumped boneless like a plush doll, arms and legs askew and propped up by your lance like a mockery of a person... it was even more viscerally terrifying than the assailant had been while living. You shut your eyes and shudder in your seat.
When you open them again, you’re surrounded by kneeling Faceless, and they all look varying degrees of expectant and upset.
“Um,” you trail off, aware that you probably owe these people an apology — and Karkat too, for that matter — but unsure how to put it in words. Someone’s breath hitches; you really shouldn’t make them wait any longer. “I’m, I’m sorry...”
As it always happens when you find yourself in the spotlight, your mouth goes dry and your tongue suddenly feels enormous inside it. You swallow, mostly to buy yourself some more time to brace your thoughts; you fiddle with your fingers only to remember they’re sticky with Karkat’s blood, and it’s with a sudden numbness in your insides that you decaptchalogue one of your shirts to dry your hands with.
“I’m really sorry,” you repeat, and bow your head until your chin touches your chest because you don’t know how else to let them know how much you mean it. “Karkat only got hurt because he was trying to find a path for me, because my wheeled device can’t traverse certain kinds of terrain, you know, and he kept taking us back and forth through the tunnels and wouldn’t throw me past the cracks...” You twist your shirt in your hands as you rub the flaking blood off them; your blood-pusher is fluttering inside your thoracic cavity like the shiver of nervous wings, and it’s making you feel light-headed.
You’re staring intently at the bony knees appended to you when something white enters your field of view. But Tinkerbull is hovering right over my head, you think at first, then you blink and lean back a little and the white shape turns out to be a folded towel on a tray held by a troll with light-gray edges on his cloak.
The troll is kneeling by your wheeled device and the tray is in reach of your hand; you can only assume he is offering the towel to you. If he weren’t staring at the floor, you could maybe gauge what you were expected to do from his expressions.
Oh no, it only just occurred you that the cloaks make it really hard to figure out whether you’re speaking to a boy or a girl. What if you offend someone?
It’s with a shaky hand that you pick the towel — and it’s so very fluffy, it’s like sinking your hand into a woolbeast and staining it with your friend’s blood oh this poor towel — and try to track down your previous train of thought.
“Um,” you say, squeezing the towel in your slightly less sticky hands, “So maybe what I meant to say is... Karkat could have arrived here safely, but instead he chose to stick with me, perhaps out of a sense of obligation, which I get the feeling he has perhaps a little too much of, concerning matters that he shouldn’t feel responsible for, such as the crippled state of my legs, and... I’m sorry,” you squeeze out through your constricting throat. “I can see that he is very important to you. I’m sorry...”
You are startled out of your apology by the sudden awareness of something touching your device — a very subtle vibration of the frame, a slight shift of weight. A glance is all you need to verify that there’s a hood kind of hunched down over your foot, and there’s a set of long, adult horns much too close to your legs.
You panic for a moment: Is he eating your foot? Are you going to be drawn and quartered by a group of crazed squatters? But then the hood comes back up and the face under it is not dripping your blood from its chin nor clutching a piece of you in its mouth. In fact it looks kind of wibbly, even behind glasses. You belatedly notice the troll is holding your sandaled foot in his hands, and though you can’t feel the touch it actually looks rather gentle.
“By the Grace of Blood,” someone whispers shakily, and suddenly you’re surrounded by broken snatches of sentences.
“—has guided him to us! He has—”
“The Son of Sorrow has found—”
“—mightiest follower! But—”
You freeze on your chair and glance around with uneasy eyes, afraid that moving your neck will call even more attention to the fact that you’re freaking out really, really hard right now. You wish you could pull your foot back and hightail it out of this crazy den, because these weird, insane people are screaming to the roof, mumbling to the ground, pulling their hoods down, raising their arms up, and overall making an extremely confusing racket for no reason you can see. You assumed they were talking about Karkat at first, but now it appears they’re upset about five different people who apparently brought other people and then committed sacrilege, whatever that even means.
Little by little the noise subsides, though, settling into a low hum of frantic mumbling. From the tapestry of bowed bodies and clutched hoods sometimes rises a couple of heads, and they stare at you open-mouthed for a few seconds before going back to their background hum of gibberish.
Except for the guy who had your foot. He’s still holding your foot, and he’s staring up at you rather intensely.
“The Wind-herder has come to us at last!” he suddenly tells you, voice shaky and thick with emotion.
You’re about to say you’re glad for him when the rest of the room suddenly goes “Ooooooaaaaaaaaaah” in an eerie, frightening unison, raising their hands all at once before bowing down to the floor.
“But... his wings have been cruelly ripped out,” he chokes out, his lower lip trembling.
Your shoulders tense and rise as you gasp. “Is he okay?” you blurt out — and then you feel a little silly, because this poor herder obviously isn’t okay, what with having had his wings ripped out. Cruelly, even!
The troll outright chokes; his expression looks both pained and famished as he shakily curls back down over your foot, almost as if he’s trying really hard not to melt, and failing.
You wish you could feel what he was doing to your foot.
“Excuse me,” says a voice you don’t recognize. There’s a sudden shuffling of capes around you, looking much like the motion of the sea on a cloudy night; your foot is set delicately back onto its footrest before the one who’d been holding it joins the bustle. Everyone is still kneeling down in your general direction, but somehow a path has emerged between you and another long-horned troll on the other side of the room.
He comes right up to you before kneeling as well, bowing down to the floor and then rising back up to look at you with a severe, solemn face. You never thought you’d be something other than alarmed by being stared at so directly, but out of everyone currently surrounding you this guy is the least disturbing.
“The Grace of Blood requests the presence of the Brethren of Beasts,” he says.
It takes you a few seconds to get that he’s expecting a reaction from you.
“Is...” you hesitate, “is that me?”
He just nods, still very seriously.
“Ho—” your voice catches, and you’re suddenly really freaked out by this whole thing, “How did you know I’m able to commune with creatures? I mean,” you add, suddenly aware that you may be making tall assumptions, “if that’s what you meant by brethren of beasts, because there’s a chance you actually mean something else, though I’m not sure how it would relate to me in that case...? But yeah... I guess...”
Your voice dies in your throat as the troll’s face remains stony, and you glance back down at the towel in your hands. You can’t keep up with that stare much longer.
You gather your wits with a deep sigh before looking back to the base of the adult’s horn. “You mean Karkat wants to see me?” you finally ask.
He simply nods.
“Um...” You hesitate, and then nod back. “Lead the way...?” you say, and can’t help hating the uncertain way it came out. But regardless of your uncertain voice and your obvious weaknesses the troll rises, grey cloak swirling and fluttering around him as he turns and steps briskly down the path that has opened. You follow, and as you leave the block behind a voice rises sudden and loud behind you:
Hear, listener, of the twice-born,
Rider on the wind, the dragon-hearted,
His deeds and praises now I sing...
The voice grows muted as you’re led into a corridor, its walls busy with letters and drawings; some are simple and faded, others detailed and fresh, some in the blood colors of daylight beasts, others in colors so many, varied and bright you can’t help shuddering at the thought of all the wigglers that must have been culled for them.
The corridor opens into an even wider room, this one much more obviously built than the atrium; the walls are sanded-smooth, the horizontal layers of script and illustration almost geometrically set up. There are deep red tapestries and carpets with drawings and patterns and pillows scattered and piled willy-nilly all over the place, grey, black, and white, and there are candles and hanging orbs and stone basins draped with white. To one side is a wide stage of sorts, on which there is a chair and a completely incongruous curtain, too short to actually cover more than half a person; to the other, a handful of steps lead to a dais covered in red and gold carpet and topped with a mess of red shimmery fabric and velvet pillows. To either side of it there’s a trickle of water cascading from cracks in the stone, trailing down into a deep groove that surrounds the room and ducks under each entrance; behind it hangs, tall and imposing, a black rectangle of fabric with Karkat’s symbol in near-glowing silver. An upsetting number of people are crying and kneeling in front of the empty dais.
Your guide waits patiently as you take all this in, and then ducks into an entrance right by the one you came in from.
The next path is somewhat more complicated to follow — you’re at first in a hallway as smooth as the wide block you left, but then you take a turn into a dusty, raw one, and then another turn into a line of antsy and wibbly trolls in cloaks. The muted singing you left behind sounds closer, or perhaps it has grown louder; it definitely sounds like a lot more people are singing along.
Hail Twiceborn, Windchild
Dance upon the clouds, soul of fire,
Send us glory from above!
There is a bit of almost comedic confusion before the trolls on the corridor, too, part ways to allow you in, and eventually you reach a roomy, cleaner block furnished in shades of grey and white. You see many entrances other than the ones you came in from; each of them is guarded by a troll in light grey, or in grey with light hems. They don’t look at all menacing, but the lines of anxious faces you see beyond each archway don’t seem about to trample anyone.
Behind you, someone is being chided for faking illness in order to get into the room. These people may possibly be stark raving mad.
After wheeling past a few rows of seats, apparently made of... metal pipes and cloth? You’re finally led into a room bustling with muted, somber activity.
When the Thief freedom forbade
Love decried and happiness clave
And our Savior to fire sent;
There’s a... platformy... tray thingie in the center of the room, raised on spindly metal legs, and it’s draped with the red-stained white sheets Karkat had been wrapped in. Karkat is also on it, shirtless and propped up half-sitting as a team of light-cloaks spray misty water on his back and dab at his cut; the huge troll who greeted you is also here, hunched awkwardly over him like a giant carrionbeast and holding an almost comically small cup in his square fingers.
“Breathe,” he says in his deep booming voice, and Karkat does just that, taking several shallow, shivery breaths before the cup is tipped against his lips and he drinks as if he’d never tasted water before. Droplets trickle down to spatter onto the stained sheets, and you follow their trail through the red streaks on his torso; he coughs harsh and wet, his whole body twitching as his ribs expand and contract violently, and it suddenly, finally hits you that Karkat is a Mutant and that you should care but still don’t.
A Defender was hatched, lance in hand
From the first he worked the land
With nothing left to grow;
“Drink,” says the tall troll when Karkat’s coughing fit dies down; he tips a different cup onto Karkat’s lips, and he obediently gulps its contents. Greenish translucent liquid trickles from the corners of his lips, smelling strongly of crushed leaves.
Maybe you should be surprised, or horrified, or at least scandalized, but instead you breathe a tired sigh and settle back onto your device. The water they’re spraying on Karkat’s cut has an undefinably minty, cool smell, unnatural but not altogether unpleasant; it puts you in mind of the sea breeze when the moons are high.
“Breathe,” says the troll, as another tips a jar of water into the glass he’s holding. Karkat takes several belaboured sighs. You don’t like the abnormal rigidity of his neck and shoulders.
You have no idea why you’re in this room. There’s literally nothing you can do to help these people; you have no idea what they’re doing, and it’s not like you can maneuver your device around them to be of any help whatsoever in cleaning the wound, limited as your knowledge on the matter is. Your guide said Karkat had called for you, but he doesn’t look like he’s even aware of what’s going on around him right now. And the tall troll seems to have giving him water well in hand.
Then Karkat opens his eyes to glance at you sideways and you nearly backflip out of your wheeled device, invisible legs and all.
He grins. You attempt to grin back, but are not quite sure you are successful.
Walked his road into the state
Killed the tyrant on his way
To correct these wrongs;
“Hey,” he rasps out, before being afflicted by a much more violent coughing fit.
Everyone sort of freezes with their hands hovering in the air, including you. The tall troll puts the glass down to prop Karkat into a seating position, and he dry-hacks in the most painful looking way — stiff muscles half-bunched with each flinch, his shoulders seizing up in aborted hitches, blood spurting out in clotted gobs from the open wound. You wonder if the poison was a paralytic.
Tall troll pulls a weird mask with a tube on it from the other side of the tray, and Karkat appears to be as baffled by it as you are, trying to dodge its spray of mist even while coughing. He soon relents, though, allowing the mask to be strapped to his face and gulping down heavily; the smell of fallen droplets settling on the sheets remind you somewhat of fresh dewy wind, but with a chemical twinge to it.
As the panic settles down somewhat, one troll holds Karkat’s wrist with a look of intense concentration, while the others go back to washing off the renewed blood. Karkat gropes blindly at his side; out of an undefined impulse you grab that uncertain hand and allow him to flimsily squeeze your fingers when the adults spray something a lot stronger and sharper smelling on his wound. But then, when his back is finally mostly clean and the contrast between open skin and red flesh is upsettingly clear, someone approaches with a needle and string and actually starts sewing the wound shut. Like it’s just cloth.
Somehow that’s the tipping point of all the horrible things you’ve seen so far, and you squeeze your eyes shut and try to swallow back the acid that’s climbing up your nutrition chute.
Hail Cloudrider, Moonkisser
Dance upon the clouds, soul of fire,
Gambler's bane, mighty fighter!
“Hey,” Karkat says again, and you crack an eye open to look at him. His eyes are squinting in what you at first assume is pain, but there’s a sardonic little smile visible through the misty, near transparent breathing mask. You squeeze his hand. He seems to find it funny, because his lower eyelids twitch up a little.
“Sorry,” he says, his smile fading as he glances around himself. “I got you roped into this—” he gestures weakly with his other hand, his shoulders still stuck in unnatural stiffness. “...ridiculous... shit... thingie.”
Your eyes start to burn. “No,” you choke out, “I just... it was my fault, I gave myself away and—”
“No,” he says, sudden and loud, and you’re startled right out of your tears. “No, we’re not— ugh,” he flinches suddenly, and the troll sewing his back freezes in place; after a few quick breaths, though, he goes right back to speaking. “We’re not doing the. The thing. Stupid, stupid thing where I blame myself and you blame yourself and,” his breath quickens alarmingly for a while before he gets it back under control, “and then we argue about who’s more to blame for what. It’s stupid. Stupid dumb is what it is. I was stupid and you were stupid and stupidity got us both in a pickle. Fuck.”
The sewing troll tugs gently at the string attached to Karkat’s back (you flinch and avert your eyes) before snipping it off with a very small pair of scissors. Tape is brought and then carefully applied over the artificially closed wound; once again, the tall troll raises Karkat on his enormous hands, this time to allow the others to replace the stained sheets with clean ones. One side of the tray is gently raised, and soon Karkat is reclining on it, deflating with a shaky exhale.
Traveled far, and fast, and strong
At her castle last to land
On new wings of bronze
He looks... thinner, somehow, gaunt. The rings under his eyes are darker and deeper than ever, and his lips are nearly as grey as his skin. Even the effort of keeping his eyelids raised seems to be taking its toll on him.
“I’m not apologizing for that,” he rasps out. “I just... brought you right here. In their reach. Their view...” His voice trails into mumbling, and he blinks slow and languid at you.
You trip over your own tongue in your hurry to reassure him. “T-they don’t seem dangerous! I mean— well, they do, but they don’t feel dangerous...? They’re all very... very...”
You have no idea. They’re all very something, overwhelmingly so, but what that something is you can’t tell.
She his matesprit, new-fast forged
Calmed a time the righteous flame
Yet could not halt fate
“They mean well,” he murmurs, “but they really have no sense... of the ridiculous... of scale.” He smiles softly. “They could really... stand to be more discreet, I guess? Though they’ve repressed their feelings for so long... maybe it’s unfair to wish they were less spastic...” he trails off, eyes closing. You’re starting to think he’s fallen asleep when he suddenly adds, “don’t let them creep you out.”
It... might be a little too late for that, you’re about to say, but the wheezy little laugh that escapes him lets you know that yes, he is aware of the ridiculousness of what he’d just said.
“I mean, don’t...” he hesitates, “don’t buy into it. Their... thing. Their weird worshipful thing. They’ll try to mold you. They don’t mean to. But... they’re naive... sad wigglers... don’t be an ass. And by that I guess I mean be an ass. Don’t let them walk over you with their sad broken souls, push back as hard as you can and force them to stand on their own.” A breath. “...Metaphorically,” he adds.
“...I’m confused,” you confess.
For her crimes she had to die
Passing on in blaze of light
Love's lance through her breast
He open his eyes again, and they’re scarily sharp for someone who still doesn’t seem quite safe from death yet.
“Haven’t you been given the talk yet?” he says, so softly you have to lean over his mask and strain your ears to catch the tail end of the sentence.
You shake your head.
“You hear the singing?” he asks, lifting one finger very slightly in what he may have meant to be a generally encompassing gesture.
And he raises one of his arms — the stiff, weak arms he hadn’t been able to move a second ago — to grab and pull at his breathing mask with almost indecently casual speed. The face underneath it is just as drained as it had been before, and the lips pressed into a line are just as grey, but for a moment you simply can’t believe that he’s anything more than mildly indisposed.
“That’s your Ancestor they’re singing about,” he says, his voice as loud and annoyed as ever; and then his fingers slacken and his head falls back and the mask slaps crooked back onto his face, unable to hide the twisted grimace of pain he makes as his whole body starts to seize at once in dry, hacking coughs.
You all owe a big thank you to Kaossparrow, Starcrossed Sky and Cygnahime for helping me with the Summoner Song. And by helping I mean they did most of the job. Kaos alone owns way over half of it.
Chapter 14: > Tavros: be very confused
The block bursts into activity, and you're reminded that you're surrounded by cloaked trolls when they rush to the tray like a flock of very upset wingbeasts. You wheel back out of their way; you're completely out of your element here. You may also be completely gobsmacked, but you're trying not to think too hard about why right now. Instead you concentrate on scritching Tinkerbull between his horns, just to occupy your nervous hands.
The sound of breaking glass startles you, and you find that the tall troll who carried Karkat is also slowly retreating from the general bustle. He looks as imposing as ever, but there's something upset about him — something about the hand that's still sort of raised, the fingers that are still pinching crushed crockery and dripping tea.
He turns to you. “It appears we've both hit the extent of our usefulness,” he says, gravely. “Perhaps we should clear the precinct.”
He stands by like a quiet mountain while you maneuver your wheeled device, and pushes a button as soon as you turn back the way you came in from. An outlined rectangle in the stone slides gently aside, and you're reminded of the nondescript patch of rock wall that originally concealed this whole crazy place.
“If possible,” he says, once you're both back in the room with the funny tube chairs, “I would like to hold a private conversation with you.”
“Um, sure,” you say, half-shrugging. Out of all the caped people you've talked to so far he seems to be the least off-putting.
“Would you mind following me, then?” he asks.
“Ah, no,” you start, surprised, and then can't think of anything to follow with, making the sentence hang awkwardly unfinished in the air. You honestly weren't expecting that as a question at all; you were thinking about following him anyway, conversation or no, simply because you have no idea where else to go other than the eerie room with the singing people... and you'd rather avoid them. The sheer novelty of being politely requested such minor things is also throwing you off.
You follow him into what appears to be a mix of secret passages and shortcuts: opening walls, crossing arcs, wheeling down corridors empty and bustling. At one point a young adult walks by leading a line of children roughly half your age, and they all wave and cheer at the moving brick wall currently serving as your guide; one or two run right up to him to hang from his cape, squealing in delight, before their minder patiently calls their attention back. They stroll by you with their hands on each other's shoulders, skipping and singing — singing loud and happy and fearless, together in a single echoing voice, and their lilting unison is unlike anything you ever heard, imagined or even thought possible.
Roly-poly holly rolls
Down to where the river flows
Where the singing wingbeast goes
When he wants to caw-caw...
It's the most beautiful, uplifting bit of nonsense you've ever heard. You can but weakly return their cheerful waves, so overwhelmed with warm, delicate feelings that your eyes spontaneously well up with tears.
And then you do a double-take, because one of the kids looked like a sea-dweller. They're already moving out of your sight, though, turning into a side-passage while singing about barkbeasts and their bow-wows.
You turn back to the immense troll only to catch a soft little smile on his lips.
He merely nods to you before resuming the trip, leading you to a round block which turns out to be a platform which then descends and opens into some sort of workshop. He walks up to a table covered in funny instruments and flicks several switches before turning to you; suddenly you remember you followed him for a conversation.
“I hope you are not offended if I were to work while we talk,” he says, gravely. “There are tests I must run with haste; however, I would also like to hear the tale of how Karkat came to be wounded, and perhaps also of what drove him to lead you here.”
You flinch; you knew these people were upset with you.
“I'm sorry,” you say for perhaps the hundredth time today, but you haven't even formulated the rest of your apology when shadow falls on you and an enormous hand touches your armrest. You follow the limb with your eyes to find that the troll is looming over you like a gigantic tree.
“The apology is mine to make,” he rumbles out. “I did not mean to imply that I held you responsible in any way whatsoever.”
He straightens his back (you almost expect to hear creaking) and turns to his work table, decaptchaloguing oh sweet god he just decaptchalogued Karkat's bloody sheets.
“I am not sure how much you're aware of regarding Karkat's circumstances, or the place you are currently in,” he goes on, ripping strips of bloodied cloth and inserting them in vials and beakers and between little glass rectangles. “However, I assume you have noticed the fact that he does not fit the... hemospectrum as you know it.”
You nod, eyes glued on him as he hooks vials and beakers to machines, fills them with colorful liquids, inserts the glass rectangles into the slit on a huge, blinky metal box.
“Allow me, then, to impart some of what I know of the matter,” he says, pressing buttons and fiddling with sliders before sitting down on another weird metal tube chair.
He sits stiffly in silence for several seconds before it suddenly hits you that he's— hesitating. Nervous.
“Um,” you say, and the hulking giant of a troll sitting on that dainty contraption actually starts.
“Oh,” he breathes out. “A-apologies,” he says, “it has just occurred to me that I have yet to introduce myself.”
“Ah,” you gasp, flinching as well. “Um, I haven't either, I guess. I'm Tavros,” you lower your head.
He lowers his in return, a much more impressive movement when adding his glossy curtains of hair to the equation. “You may call me the Big Elder,” he says.
You really don't know what to say to that.
“Anyway,” he coughs into a huge fist, “You may have taken notice of... the strange behavior of... most of those who currently dwell in this hideout, when it comes to matters involving your friend.”
“...And also yourself.”
You nod a little faster.
You nod a third time, and then feel awkward about it.
“As Karkat has already told you, the cause of their behavior is the deep historical importance of your Ancestors.”
“But,” you can't help interrupting him, “But... I don't have an ancestor. I mean,” you fiddle with fingers that still feels somewhat blood-crusted, “Any one ancestor would be impossible... to determine...?”
You feel progressively more unsure of your own words as the Big Elder shakes his head.
“There was once a troll with your Symbol,” he says, his voice as grave and solemn as one narrating a dramatic movie. “And your horns, your face, your shade of blood. His deeds were so great, the Condesce had his name struck from the annals of history and bade all adults abandon the homeworld, so that no uprising such as the one he led could ever be repeated. His legend lives on, distorted by the passing of time and the recounting throughout the generations— but I am not speaking of dubious legends. I was there. I knew him.”
Your chin drops. Not that much, though, and not that hard. It just kind of... droops loosely open. Because what you've just been told is so enormous it's shot past awesome-incredible and wrapped back around to just plain-hard-to-believe-incredible.
It's just... it's too much like the setting introduction for a rulebook-standard FLARP campaign. Your Ancestor was Overwhelmingly Awesome! Go find his Stuff and be Awesome too.
“He was sympathetic to our cause,” the Big Elder continues, “though he believed our methods would not bring results as immediate as he desired. Thus he attempted to destabilize the Empire through force of arms, and his attempt was... a resounding success.” His bulky shoulders rise and fall in a soft sigh. “He may not have counted on the long-term consequences of his actions, though they were ultimately beneficial to us. Regardlessly, he is seen as a hero and as a friend to our cause and our people; he did not take our Vows, but our scholars have come to face his choice not to as a sacrifice he made for the sake of our movement.”
He raises his head so that his dark square glasses are staring straight at you. “He is known as our Ally and Defender, a Guardian sent to protect us and draw attention from us in our darkest hour — sent by the spirit of our Founder and, lately, also by the Greater Forces that watch upon our universe, whichever they may be.”
You scratch the spot between Tinkerbull's eyes entirely on automatic. This is unreal. You're pretty sure this guy isn't lying, and you're also pretty sure that the stuff he's saying is highly relevant to you, but the whole thing is skittering from your mind like it's overfull.
“...I can't deal with this,” you mumble to your lap, eyes staring past Tinkerbull and head buried between your shoulders.
“Karkat frequently can't either,” he says, kindly, “yet he's managed admirably since a very young age. But he would know your predicament well; that is why I believe he would not have brought you here unless you were both facing a truly dire situation. Even if you were not descended from one of the most prominent figures in our history, you would still have been recognized as the target of his personal regard, and thus would have been subjected to unwelcome scrutiny.”
You're so overwhelmed, you really can't do much more than intensely examine your own knees. What do you say? How do you react? You wish there was a script for you to follow. You're pretty sure it's offensive to just sit here with a blank face but you're so, so numb.
“What made him decide that you would be safer here?” he asks, his cavernously low voice somehow bracing and soothing on your nerves.
“It, I, well, it was when—” you swallow thickly, “I got a sudden message, from his trollian account, and, because of several embarrassing shenanigans, which I would rather not recount, I was several minutes late in responding, and so I hurriedly typed back before looking at the message he sent, which upon reading turned out to not sound like him at all, and in fact to not sound at all like any person I knew, and which was asking me to send him my location, in order to theoretically send me a vaguely described something...”
You retell to the best of your abilities the steps which resulted in your presence in this adult hideout: the chat plugin populated by Karkat's contact list (which you are careful not to name or otherwise give away), your botched attempt at misdirection, your decision to explore the tunnels in search of your friend rather than wait for rescue, your friend's suggestion to follow the cave inscriptions, your meeting with Karkat, the long trek back and forth in search of a path your chair could traverse, the sudden run-in with a threshecutioner, Karkat's battle and his wounding, your one contribution to the fight, his slow breakdown as he pushed you onwards until he couldn't anymore and you became the one to carry him instead.
Sometimes during your telling the Big Elder would stand up and check the machines, or walk around the table attending to several beeping sources at once; he nodded at times, and you were unsure whether he was reacting to your tale or to whichever results he was finding. Once or twice he brought out a very sleek-looking computing pad, tapping at the screen with a metal pen and practiced agility. You trail off when you reach the part where the two sentries spotted you; he turns his eerily glowing glasses your way and nods in grave acknowledgement, then silently sets a chunk of bloodied cloth and some vials into a metal box marked with a fractal.
You're barely starting to feel awkward when everything inside the box suddenly blinks out of existence with a pop in your ears and an actinic afterburn in your retinas.
“Thank you,” he says, apparently unfazed by the machine's behavior. “Not only you, but your online acquaintances as well. It is good to be reminded that one does not need to know of the Sufferer in order to act in accordance with His words.” And then his tone of voice shifts to something almost businesslike: “I have taken the liberty of contacting some of our trusted allies among the threshecutioner corps; they will support your endangered friends by whichever means are available to them. And in the meantime... I believe you require an ablution and a change of clothing.”
“Yes,” you say, perhaps a little too eagerly. “I... would like that very much.”
“It has been arranged,” he says, beckoning you with a gesture before turning around with an impressive and apparently unintended swirl of cloth. “I am afraid they are preparing a full Ceremonial Purification Ablution, though. Do you have any issue with being cleaned in the presence of four Elders, ten Attendants and six Guardians?” His lips quirk in amusement at your horrified face. “I might be able to talk them down to a Convention Ablution, but any lesser would be pushing the proverbial envelope. After all,” his voice softens, “the blood we are washing off you also requires respect.”
You finger the dried stain on your shirt, self-consciously. There are still flaky traces clinging to your arms, dropping in crusts on Tinkerbull's white fur with each movement you make. Contact with the air has burned the bright red into a deep rust; it looks almost like Aradia was the one to bleed on you.
Big Elder leads you out of the workshop and back through some of the passages you already took, his square glasses projecting a flickering light on his worn face. Other gray-clad trolls stare openly as you pass by. You are still too poleaxed to know how to react, but your mind settles on unease: these people expected a valiant hero, not... you.
That certainly explains their reaction to your arrival. You're not sure what a sacrilege is, but if it's anywhere close to disappointment you're probably it.
In the end you just push those thoughts aside and concentrate on examining the ablution block you were guided to. It's a spacious, echoey chamber with smooth creamy-yellow walls and curved ceiling, filled with the soothing murmur of running water and draped with translucent curtains wall to wall; in front of the curtains stand four people — two very serious looking guys, not as tall as Big Elder but still somewhat imposing with the heavily ornate sickle and lance they each hold; and also a very... shrivelled one, weirdly stooped under many layers of cloth, with a fidgety child by their side that seems to be somewhere between 4 and 5 sweeps of age.
The two armed guys raise their noses and if you were a more cynical troll you'd call their expressions a fair attempt at expressing a profound state of constipation; you are not a cynical troll, however, and instead you just think they seem to be trying really hard to look like they're guarding. From what, you don't know. Peepers, maybe. The Big Elder pushes you gently forward, and the two of them bow simultaneously at the waist as if on cue.
The swaddled bundle of wrinkles steps forward with much swaying of cloth, and stretches its mouth wide open in a yellow, chipped smile that carves an even deeper map on its crumpled face; the child by its side seems entirely unaffected by the grisly display, holding a saggy-skinned hand like it's nothing to be surprised about. It stoops down even further for a couple of seconds, and the kid stares at you distractedly before starting with a squeak and following suit with a more graceful bow.
“This is Elder Plucker,” the Big Elder says, “and young Havera, who wishes to follow in her footsteps. They will assist you in your ablutions. Speedy Knot and Color Wash will forestall any interruptions.”
Plucker is not a word that inspires much confidence, but you have little choice when the two weirdly named guards pull the white curtains aside to reveal a water-filled stone basin sunk halfway into the ground. Beyond it, another curtain.
Elder Plucker shuffles her way into the enclosed cubicle, her head swaying under the apparent weight of her horns. The curtains fall back into place once you wheel yourself in; they're still going shoosh shoosh against each other when Havera lets go of the Elder's hand and starts attacking your sandals without any warning.
“Uh—” you want to complain, but instead you freeze.
Havera just raises her hands in a shrug, a sandal in each of them. “You can't take an ablution with your clothes on,” she says. “Them's the breaks.” And then she sets your sandals aside and starts pulling your socks off.
Elder Plucker just gives a wheezy little laugh, slowly shuffling around to face away from you. Her layers upon layers of gray wrappings sway hypnotically back and forth with each feeble movement; she's not even turned all the way around when Havera is done neatly balling up your socks and reaches for your waist clasp without any hesitation whatsoever.
You flinch with a mix of embarrassment and terror while Tinkerbull valiantly curls up against your belt — and then it hits you that this kid simply could not cause you the kind of harm you're unconsciously trying to ward off, and neither could the elder (who as far as you can determine can barely walk?).
Havera just raises an eyebrow at you, then steps back with arms akimbo and a very serious face.
“Look,” she says, “nobody likes a bath, but if you don't take one you'll be stinky all up everybody's nose and you can't sit on the Altar smelling like fish either because that's hells of disrespectful.”
“No, I understand,” you assure her, settling Tinkerbull into the crook of your arm while holding back a nervous giggle. You're amused despite yourself. “I, personally, would say that I like to take ablutions, but it's startling to be undressed for them by someone else, and, I really wasn't braced for the possibility.”
“Oh, I see,” she nods, her little mouth making a perfect circle. And then she adds, hesitantly: “Did I hurt your feelings?”
“No, that's definitely not a thing that happened,” you give her a little smile.
“Ah, that's better,” she says, straightening her shoulders and grinning at you. “Okay,” she claps her hands, all businesslike, “let's move on and take your pants off already!”
If you were a troll with a dirtier mind you would probably be disturbed and flustered, but being yourself the double meaning of those innocent words do not hit you until much later on; instead of being shocked, you just raise a hand in a calming gesture.
“I can do this faster by unequipping my clothes,” you tell her, captchaloguing your shirt and pants — and then feeling very drafty and embarrassed.
The girl gasps. “You have a syla-dessy!” and then she looks a little dubious. “But we needed those.”
“Um, those what?” you ask, momentarily discombobulated.
“The clothes, child!” laughs the shrivelled creature, who's suddenly right there (wasn't she supposed to stay turned around?).
“Yes,” explains the girl, still completely unfazed by the way her companion pokes thoughtfully at your legs, “it has the magic blood on them.”
You wordlessly offer your captchalogue cards to Elder Plucker — averting your eyes from the way they shiver in your fingers — who slowly and rather theatrically sets them on a cloth-covered basin sitting against the wall.
Then she turns to the curtains. “Grandy, you still there?” she calls out, and Big Elder strolls in, cloak flaring dramatically in his trail. (You thought he had left?) “I'm going to need some help here, I ain't a strapping young gal no more,” she mumbles as he approaches; there's a wide grin on her face, though, so you assume she's just joking about her obvious frailty.
He bows his head to her with a rueful-looking grin of his own, and then turns to you. “I will move you from the chair and into the trap if you require assistance,” he says.
You study the setup in front of you. The stone trap is sunk halfway into the floor, lower than your knees; its borders are thick and wide, crudely carved into many linked Karkat signs. It's not anything you haven't dealt with on your own, but not without a great deal of undignified crawling about, and tiredness is starting to catch up to you. You nod just a little bit to the Big Elder, feeling like a burden and halfway hoping he won't notice this display of weakness.
Instead, he picks you up just as carefully as he did Karkat ages ago: one huge square hand under your unfeeling knees, the other rough and calloused at your back. Tinkerbull hovers around his horns, watchful as he circles the trap, and he settles you down into the basin facing the fountain of bubbling water carved into the wall opposite.
It's hot but not enough to scald; the warmth seeps into your muscles, and you have to make an effort not to flop your heavy head onto the water-polished stone behind it. A globe glows above the water source, shimmery as if its own light were also liquid; it covers the walls and curtains in shivery-rippling reflections, and with the non-stop trickle of water on stone the whole atmosphere is unexpectedly soothing.
Your sleepyfloaty sense of comfort sort of sinks when the Big Elder grabs, or rather pinches, your wheeled device by the handle and raises it above his head to examine the wheels with a quizzical tilt of his really long horns.
“With your permission,” he says, as grave as ever, “I would like to examine your apparatus more closely, and perhaps make some adjustments.”
“Um,” you mumble somewhat, “I don't really mind, so long as it's not broken, and I also get to have it back in a timely manner, I guess...”
The device is captchalogued; he nods with a swish of hair before sort of striding, sort of sliding his way out through the curtains, his cloak flaring like he's the spookiest friendly ghost.
You turn your attention to the other two. Elder Plucker is shuffling somewhere behind your head, and though Tinkerbull says she's just spreading your bloody clothes on a big plate thingie you're sort of glad not to be looking; meanwhile Havera picks through the little bottles in a small carved box with an affected look of intense professionalism.
She soon has all the little bottles lined up to her personal preferences, apparently, because she carefully sets the box down before turning to you with a solemnly raised nose.
“Don't worry about your wheeled transport,” she says. “The Grand Elder is very responsible with people's things. Did your legs get hurt on the surface?”
You suspect she's been gearing up for that question for a while.
“Yes,” you say, nodding with a solemnity that mirrors hers.
“I see,” she nods thoughtfully, and the two of you nod back and forth for a few seconds. “I heard the surface is a very dangerous place.”
“Oh, it is.”
“Yes, right?” She sets a strangely-shaped iron plateau on the trap's border — deep, round on the bottom but flaring out in what seems to be a shell motif. “Nobody is ever happy on the surface, because of the hee-moh-spect.”
You sink a little bit in the water, blow some bubbles right under the surface. Hee-moh-spect. Hee-moh-spect. Your first impulse was to repeat the word the right way, just to gently let her know how it's pronounced; you don't know exactly what gave you pause.
She's just nodding to herself again, focused on the plateau; she's dripping measures of the colorful little bottles she'd been arranging into it, while Elder Plucker tips an enormous long-necked jug. The mix is thick and pearly and smells very pleasant.
The little girl draws breath, and Elder Plucker grins and raises an eyebrow over her dark lenses at you. Tinkerbull is resting on her head. It's terrifying.
“I learned all about the hee-moh-spect,” she says, enunciating the mangled word very carefully.
You tip your head back to get your mouth out of the water. “Really?”
“Yeeees,” she says, stirring the mix with a delicately wrought spoon. “It's a thing where the Thief Queen thinks a color is prettier than the other colors and so people who are that color get more presents, and if you're not they beat you up.”
You just gape.
“And it's just so sad,” she goes on. “Because if you're not a pretty color, everyone will say it's okay to hurt you, and if you are you can't do anything about it, and then the bad people just come to you and say it's supposed to be funny, and that you're stupid if you don't think it is, and if you say it's bad they'll get angry at you and beat you up too.”
She taps the spoon on the border of the plateau; it rings a musical note.
“Our Teaching Sister looked so scared when she was telling us about it. She was holding these papers and they were all shaking in her hand, and I could tell she was not looking at anyone because her neck was really still. And when we asked her questions she started crying, and then we had to all give her a hug. It was a mess!” she threw her hands up emphatically. “I'm never going up.”
You stare at your bony-thin legs as they float underwater. To this little girl, the hemospectrum is foreign. She's completely out of touch with reality.
“Did they beat you up because of color?” she asks.
You hesitate. Yes or no, it's too... simplistic, unfair even. You shift awkwardly in the water, and notice that it's gone still; the fountain opposite you has stopped running, and Elder Plucker is curved over the trap, turning bottles and sprinkling powder with pinched, flapbeast-like fingers. The water remains warm, but minty coolness spreads in the air. Your mind feels a little clearer after that. These people sure do know their smells.
“It's complicated,” you mumble. “She was— er—” you didn't mean to let slip the perpetrator was female, but oh well, “A friend... or at least I always thought of her as a friend, and, I'd like to believe that she thought of me as a friend as well... but while we were playing together one day she pushed me off a cliff, though it wasn't quite pushing as in with her hands, even though the end result was the same, which was me on the bottom of a ravine unable to feel my legs—”
Elder Plucker tugs at one of your arms, and you allow her to pull it out of the water. She dips the tips of her fingers into the mixture plateau and slathers your arm; it appears to be a very soft soap.
“So your friend betrayed you?” Havera asks, looking only politely curious. “Because she didn't like your color?”
“It's complicated, like I said...” you trail off, mostly because Elder Plucker went on to spread soap on your shoulders and started to squeeze them in a way that felt really surprisingly good; you almost dunk your head nose-first into the water before you notice you're nodding off.
Havera giggles, hiding her teeth behind a hand in a gesture that looks almost coy. “Sorry, I must be tiring you,” she says. It sounds like she's quoting from a book.
“No,” you try to blink sleepiness off your eyes; Elder Plucker helpfully moves on to your other arm, perhaps sensing you want a clearer mind. “I never tried to put this whole thing in words, I suppose, not even to myself, and now I kind of feel like it, if you don't mind listening...”
“I'm all ears,” she says, raising her nose and primly crossing her hands on the trap border.
“Um,” you blank for a moment before finding a loose thread to start detangling your thoughts from, “I suppose it could be said that color played a part, in that debacle, though I try not to take it personally, since all facts taken into consideration, pushing people off cliffs was everything she ever knew, and I have reasons to believe that the end result was not the one she'd been hoping for, even though it's madness to expect anything else from a fall that high... but, yes, I guess you could say her color is closer to the prettier one than mine, so she gets a lot of leeway for the silly, and scary, things she does...” you breathe a little shakily, then gasp when Elder Plucker pulls you up by the armpits and adjusts your posture so that your back is out of the water. She doesn't laugh or comment, just slathers your back; you try not to let it distract you. “Erm, anyway, before all this went down, it seemed to me and to some of my friends that she was making a fair attempt at not letting her color get in the way of our fun, and, though I haven't talked to her since then, I have learned from trustworthy sources that she has displayed as clear signs of genuine regret as one of her disposition and character are willing to display, whether publicly or privately...”
“So you're scared of her and don't want to see her again?” Havera asks, so engrossed she's forgotten her proper pose and is now sort of flopped on the trap's edge.
You are momentarily distracted from answering when the Elder pulls her layers of sleeves up, displaying two extremely wrinkled and skeletal arms all the way to the shoulder; she dumps a slab into the trap and reaches into the water to pick you up and sit you on it, turned sideways so your legs are on the border, your feet by Havera's elbow. You slide down until your chin is underwater, and have to grasp at the trap's edges with both arms so you don't sink any further.
The Elder soaps both legs, massages the feet (not that you can feel it) and carefully washes between each bony toe. It's been a while since you last took a good long look at your own two feet, and what you see isn't very heartening: your muscles are even more weirdly shrunk into themselves than you remembered them being, smooth and dry with misuse, and even your toe claws look atrophied, flat and translucent-thin.
You watch Havera's eyes turn somber as she takes in the state of your limbs, her previous cheer diminished as she hands Elder Plucker a tray of decorated claw-grooming tools. You haven't been able to groom your toe claws for a long time, and it shows; the Elder lingers at each toe, rubbing creams, scraping dead skin, picking at the underside of each claw, filing the chitin down into a roundish nub. Just as well for your socks, you figure, though they'd already been too weak to even pull strands.
By the time she washes the soap and creams off your feet with a shell-shaped ladle, they are barely recognizable, in a good way, sort of. They look healthy, even the filled-down claws. When she sets them back into the water — more gently than when she pulled them out — it feels weird that you can't feel the difference in temperature, like you were momentarily thrown back to those first few seasons after the incident.
Thinking back on that time reminds you of all the complicated thoughts and feelings you were dealing with, the reactions of everyone you knew, the decisions you made which you still don't know if were correct but which you fail to regret nonetheless. You remember Aradia and Sollux showing up with the device for you, remember Karkat bringing you all those mysterious pain-diminishing herbs and teas (now that you think about it this place explains a lot about that) with surprising frequency (yeah, the tunnels would explain that one too). You remember hearing, through the haze of near-constant pain, about some sort of confrontation between Terezi and Vriska, the results of which you never quite learned about; Gamzee sending you reams of messages you could make heads nor tails of; the friends of your friends who just sort of stepped in and then stuck around after the dust settled — blues and violets who you became somehow able to call acquaintances, and who you sometimes felt very close to despite having never met them in person or talked to at length.
You remember, in a very hazy and detached sort of way, bits and pieces of the last conversation you had with Vriska, sitting on your new-old device and reeling from the ghostly ache that was all you could identify from the waist down for seasons on end.
“I guess it wasn't so much about fear... though, it wasn't like I wasn't feeling any fear at all...” your fingers twitch involuntarily; the Elder has moved on to grooming your left hand, and the pressing of tools around your claws is uncomfortable and distracting. “When you're dealing with someone so high above you on the hemospectrum, there's always a shadow hanging over you, you're always kind of bracing for something bad, I suppose... but I guess my strongest feelings at the time were this, this really deep and bitter disappointment, not even quite betrayal, just... that I really expected her to not do such a thing, because, I really thought of her as a better person than that, and, if there was betrayal, it was of my expectations more than anything...”
Elder Plucker lets go of your hand and you look at the result, still somewhat immersed in your thoughts, while she circles around to the other side of the trap. Your hand feels tender and slightly achy, the calluses and thick skin around your claws softened and scraped out, the claws themselves filed... not into nubs, but into roundish tips. They look delicate and pitifully harmless — beautiful, even.
You've never once felt the need to claw anyone or anything for your own defense, and if you were ever in a position to do so you'd probably go for a daggerlance instead — but you still feel oddly defenseless and bereaved. It's a silly feeling; claws are meaningless nowadays except as a personal statement, and you've seen people on trollnet posting tutorials on how to groom yours into looking wild and ungroomed, so what if yours are looking a little underused? You dunk that hand back in the water and try to push the matter out of your mind.
“So,” you go on, hesitantly, “I'm not really as scared of her as I used to be, and, I'm not that angry anymore either... mostly I'm annoyed that, every time she sends me a message, she's apologizing for the wrong thing, in the wrong way, and then gets angry when I don't answer her back... and then she tries to mind-control me into messaging her back, which is just sad, because it just means she's holding a conversation with herself, which she must have eventually figured out, because she stopped trying after a while now that I think about it. And I actually... I miss her, kind of, and the fun we used to have, and I think she also misses me, from the volume of messages she keeps sending, but when all of this went down I made the decision, which I intend to stand by, that I wouldn't be her friend again until she knew what she really did wrong, and what she really should apologize for, because if not then she'll really never learn why we were sad, you know? And... I really hope she'll learn soon, because we're all supposed to stand together... we have a lot of stuff to do... so many irons...”
Your nose and forehead plop softly into the water, and you raise your head in hasty surprise; your horns haven't felt this heavy in a long time.
“Um, anyway,” you mumble uncertainly, head swaying as Elder Plucker attacks your hair with more pearly creams, “that's the story of how my legs stopped working, and it's kind of complicated but mostly about color, I guess—” you break off with a sputter as a sud trickles down your face.
The sud is followed by water rivulets; Elder Plucker seems to be upending one ladle after the other over your head. She lightly taps your drenched hair, and you obediently dunk into the water to get the rest of the soap off. When you sit back up, Havera is holding the soap bowl up to you.
You blink at it; Havera ducks her head and giggles.
“Are you going to wash your bee-woo or do you want us to?” she asks, and from the context you can only assume she's referring to your genitals. You hastily scoop up some soap, and sink in your shoulders until Elder Plucker forcibly turns Havera around and does the same, cackling wheezily all the time.
You slather yourself underwater and wince every time your movements make the water slosh. You don't really feel much of anything down there (which makes cleaning a lot easier, actually) but the embarrassment is just part and parcel of cleaning yourself in the presence of strangers. Tinkerbull hovers over the water, somewhat in the direction of their viewing angle, and you guess it kind of helps. You squint through the water, pale-murky with soap, but things seem to be in order down there: you cleaned where cleaning was required and your mating parts didn't spontaneously decide to pop out during it (which sometimes happens and which would have been very inappropriate in the circumstances).
“I'm... finished,” you mumble out lamely, feeling your ears go hot — and jump near halfway out the trap when a sudden clang echoes through the stone. The water pulls at you from both sides; you can see long narrow drains open at the junction between the trap walls and bottom. On the wall opposite, the fountain starts trickling down again. Havera sets a small plateau with a burning incense stick on the trap border, and it mixes with the minty scent into something warm and comfortable. These people really know their smells.
Elder Plucker turns over an entire jug of water on the back of your neck, washing off the few remaining suds that the draining water left clinging to your skin. Havera walks out through the curtains, and there are some indistinct talking noises before she awkwardly toddles back with a wooden stool almost as tall as she is, heavy and carved, soft on the seat, rough at the legs.
It's heavily styled with your symbol — or, whoops, your ancestor's symbol, most probably; it definitely looks a votive seat of some sort. It smells like it was freshly cut, and once again you're impressed with their proficiency with scents, though why they'd bother to make it look and smell brand-new, you can't imagine.
A fluffy white towel is draped over your shoulders, and you barely get enough time to register it's there before you're lifted from the trap and settled on the bench by wait you thought Elder Plucker was too old to carry your weight— but she taps the base of her back with a fist afterwards and you feel a little bad for forcing her to overstretch herself.
Havera once again goes for your feet without warning or invitation, but it barely startles you now. Instead, you get to work on drying your arms. This towel is so soft. And... your skin, too, it's all... soft. You get distracted just fingering the back of your hand. It feels like the peel of a fruit that's very soft and pleasant to the touch, you can't think which though. You don't think you ever got to eat the one, but if you ever get to hold it it'll probably feel the way your skin feels right now.
You're dabbing at your chest with a balled up towel tip, wondering if the difference is visually noticeable or merely tactile, when someone once again strides through the curtains. You hastily cover yourself.
This guy is new. Another elder, you guess. He looks really snotty; you immediately don't like him all that much.
“The Grand Elder has not finished his studying of your locomotion apparatus,” he says, and wow, even his voice is snotty. “We hope this replacement will conform to your needs for the time being.”
He decaptchalogues the sleekest-looking wheeled device you've ever seen. It's perfectly, symmetrically bent metal, softly curved and polished into mirrors; the seat and back are each a strip of thick dark hide, shimmering under the light. The wheels are gleaming new. This thing has never been used, how come they just have one lying around—
“I apologize for this bare-bones standard short-term locomotion apparatus model,” he says, his nostrils flaring in disdain of the device as he pokes it with a finger. It glides smoothly forward without a single creak. “I was given short notice, and this was shamefully the only truly presentable one of all we had available at the nursing block. I've brought up the need for polish a number of time, but does anybody listen? Of course not.” He sniffs. “A more appropriate one will be arranged as soon as we can.”
“It's beautiful,” you wheeze, then hide your face in the towel because you're crying. They actually have more than one lying around, it seems, unoccupied if you heard him right, apparently just sitting there in case someone— someone gets their legs hurt, in Havera's words, no wonder she seemed so unaffected by your inability to walk, sometimes people just get hurt and go around in wheeled devices instead. You don't get this place, you still very much don't get this place at all, but you suspect you're starting to like it, a lot.
They just have wheeled devices around to hand out.
What if yours— but no, that can't be.
You're brought back to reality by Havera awkwardly patting the top of your head. You peek at her over the towel; she's smiling at you as if you were crying over a slice of wriggling-day grubcake. You glance at the elder, and even he seems to look slightly less snotty. It's surreal.
“Do not settle for this apparatus,” he says, nostrils flaring again, before turning around with a dramatic cape swish (that looks quite purposeful) and striding out through the curtains. Guess he was full-on snotty after all?
Elder Plucker just waves a hand at the settling curtains as if fanning away an unpleasant smell, and wordlessly gives you a captchalogue card. You glance at the display in vague curiositywhat.
You hand it back while she cackles at your poleaxed expression.
“...not my style,” you mumble, wondering if Vriska drew the fashion plate for those clothes. She's the only person you know who thinks ripped sleeves are awesome, also what's with the red? You thought it was Karkat's super special color. You really don't get these people.
You decide to just equip your backup clothes without apologizing for it. You are a somewhat hardcore troll who possibly can't be tamed.
Elder Plucker picks you up from the bench with a grunt (the towel slides down to the floor. And it was so clean!), settling you down carefully onto the new device. As awesome as it was, you expected it to be somewhat lacking in the comfort department — but the hide adjusts perfectly to your weight and supports your back with enough give to mold around your shoulder blades. The Elder still goes through the trouble of adjusting your legs on your seat, settling your feet onto the footrests she and Havera somehow fold out from under the wheels. You wheel back and forth experimentally. It's light and moves smoothly under the slightest push. This may possibly be your wriggling day and Twelfth Perigee's Eve, at the same time.
“Um, what do I do now,” you ask the Elder, sheepishly. “I don't suppose you have a place where I can stay quietly out of the way, or anything like that, do you?”
“I'm sure it can be arranged,” she wheezes out, limping towards the curtains. “But first we need to go talk to Grandy.” You turn your chair around (it turns so smoothly!) and you're barely facing the cloth when it's pulled aside by the two guards; for your own peace of mind you assume the Elder or Havera gave them some sort of signal. They open the ablution block's doors with a certain degree of theatricality and follow you out on each side of your device while you, for once, struggle to not leave your companions behind rather than the other way around.
“I could take you to the Pupa's Recreational Block,” she says, waving her hand. She seems to use them like punctuation, each motion and finger wiggle expressing a different kind of emphasis. “And I'm sure you'd appreciate being around them more than being around us boring old people. Shoosh, don't question me. I'm old. I know shit.” You'd barely even opened your mouth. “Anyway. I suppose you want to know how Karkat is doing, right?”
“Um, yes,” you say. “Do you think there has been any improvement, since I saw him last, though? When we left he didn't look so good, now that I think back, so I guessed he was going to need a lot more time, to sleep all that off.”
The Elder purses her lips. “Child, I don't know how to put this to you.” She seems to think it over for a couple of seconds, chewing her tongue, before continuing. “Grandy is speedy when it comes to gadgetry, he really should have had your device finished. And when he says he'll have a thing finished he means it. Right now the only priority bigger than you is Karkat, so if anything made that guy put your device down then it was him.”
Your guts start to shrink into themselves. “So... you think Karkat is really, really bad off?”
She waves her hand again. “Charter wouldn't have hung around that long if it was that serious,” she says. “But it's probably at least a little serious, and that makes it worth checking out.”
You nod mutely, focusing on the two guards and the path ahead. The pace is maddeningly slow, and a couple of times you're tempted to ask the Elder if she doesn't want to ride on your lap in Tinkerbull's place. Should she really be walking around when she's making these creepy softy wheezy sounds under her breath? You glance at her from the corner of your eyes, and spot more flickering under the lenses. The glasses are definitely a sort of device. That might explain why everyone except for the kids uses them all the time.
This time you're paying a little more attention to your surroundings when you make it to the lift. Everything is made of metal and rough rock, and the iron-grey platform under you is etched with intertwined circles. It floats down smoothly with no psionic halo and no visible tendrils; you're tempted to look over the edge to see if you can find what keeps it afloat, but the platform has no railings and you're not familiar enough with your new wheeled device to try any dangerous stunts. Tinkerbull might have been up to it were he not asleep, and to be completely honest you're so tired that not even the excitement over new wheels and Karkat's uncertain state can keep your head from drooping heavily every now and then.
You are attentive, though, and when the platform starts to slow down you can tell this is not the workshop you previously visited. Many long horns start peeking over the edge of the descending platform, and you brace yourself as they're followed by grey-hooded heads, shoulders, angrily waving arms and long trailing cloaks.
The platform shudders to a stop in the middle of a square block full of square desks, shelves, thick tomes and the smell of old paper. In front of you several adults bicker and gesticulate in clear frustration, shaking sheets of paper at each other.
“Behold!” Elder Plucker whispers in your ear, her long bony hand making the abbreviated version of a long sweeping gesture. “The Council of Elders!”
They don't look all that different from a gathering of any old bunch of kids your age — even the part where, one by one, they spot you and freeze in varying degrees of fluster. You're too tired at this point to feel flustered yourself; after being bathed by a wizened old woman and a little girl you feel a lot more prepared to take these people on. It helps that none of them look as shrivelled and dry as Elder Plucker.
You hesitantly wheel off of the platform, glancing around until you spot Big Elder sitting at one of the tables, looking somewhat harried. He stops pinching the bridge of his nose when he notices you, his shades dropping somewhat skewed back in place, and straightens his back.
“Tavros,” he says, in a sort of surprised greeting. Some of the other adults around you mutter under their breaths, and you wonder if you're not imagining their displeased tone. Well, if they don't like your name, they'll just have to deal; you weren't the one who chose it.
You make a beeline for the Big Elder and do your best to ignore the others.
“Do you know if Karkat's doing any better, or if he'll be okay, in the long term?”
He doesn't answer at first, though you feel he's studying you intensely from under those dark lenses. The room is silent; here and there, some of the others fidget uncomfortably. You don't move, half-stubborn and half-frozen under his gaze, but eventually he turns on his stool to face you head-on.
“He is resting,” he says. “The healers have put him under full immersion treatment, and his spasms appear to be under control for the moment. However, the poison he's suffering from has no known antidote on our planet, and we have exhausted all our medical knowledge merely in alleviating the worst of his symptoms. Fortunately,” he quickly adds when your face starts to fall, “we have associates with access to much more advanced medical knowledge, and they believe the poison will run its course and fade as long as we can keep him alive through the process. The issue lies in determining how long that will take, as they can't predict how the poison will interact with Karkat's physiology; it is also compounded by the blood loss and the wound — two very serious matters on their own. Also...” his voice grows somber. “Our location has been compromised.”
You sag back on your device, and even after your shoulder blades hit the hide it still feels like you're falling. You clutch the armrests, take a few deep breaths. You don't need to be told. You compromised it.
“What's going to happen,” you mumble through numb lips.
“We'll move,” he says, simply. At the look on your face he rather ostensibly relaxes back on his seat, raising a corner of his mouth. “As we have oftentimes before. Our most worrisome issue lies in the timing, as Karkat is in no condition to be moved any great distance.”
“And so you would have him moved a preposterous distance instead!” spits out another elder, throwing his hands up. “Of course! Makes perfect sense!”
The whole room rises up in offended mutters.
“Don't be cute,” says a woman with sawed horns, angrily whipping a stack of papers at the speaker. “The transportation is instantaneous. It's not at all comparable to carrying him off in a tank through unstable tunnels!”
“The tunnels are perfectly safe!”
“No they're not,” says the Snotty Elder, dryly. “They're full of very ferocious adolescents in imperial armor.” He checks the computing pad in his hand. “I've just received a notice that their racket caused tunnel 274B to—”
“What do you know, you're just a charter,” said the first elder. “Who even let you in?”
Snotty made a face like he'd just swallowed a cartful of lemons.
“You're letting your mistrust cloud your judgement,” says another elder. “The Messenger—”
“The Messenger can kiss my wrinkly butt,” he says; some of the elders around you nod emphatically, while others gasp and cover their mouths and generally look offended.
“The messenger is a good friend,” says Big Elder, levely. “I would trust him with my life.”
The complaining elder uncovers a long nasty row of fangs as he grins, leaning down into the Big Elder's face — not very far, as the Big Elder on a seat is hardly a head shorter than him.
“Are you placing your life on the same level as His life?” he asks, his voice almost gleeful. “Eh, Grand Elder?”
“Fine, then,” says the Big Elder — who is also apparently the Grand Elder. He seems entirely unfazed. “I would trust him with Karkat's life — and you would do well to put your feelings aside for this matter. You're letting your ambition cloud your judgement. This petty rivalry exists only in your head.”
The entire room goes deathly quiet.
“Oooh, ice-burn,” someone says, but when the elder hurriedly looks around for the source, everyone is quiet and poker-faced. The elder himself seems beyond pissed; he pulls his hood down until only his gritted teeth are visible before turning back to Big Elder.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” he gasps out, shoulders heaving; behind him, someone manages to express eye-rolling despite wearing shades. “All I know is, I don't trust your judgement, and I don't trust that guy.”
“He's been an ally for almost thirty sweeps,” adds a soft-voiced elder, stepping forward. “What more do you want?”
Once again, vaguely discordant mutters spread through the room like wildfire, and elders sort of coagulate in pairs and trios as they gesticulate, first to the Big Elder and his opponent, then to each other.
“I'm not the only one who thinks this way!” the elder continues, his voice shrill. He points to Snotty, whipping his arm so fast his whole cape sways. “Didn't you once call him a frivolous airhead?”
“Hm?” Snotty raises an eyebrow at him.
“Don't you agree with me?” he says, sounding a little desperate.
Snotty just turns back to his pad with a dismissive shrug. “I'm just a charter, what do I know.”
The elder grits his teeth. “Plucker!” he barks, and you nearly jump when he whips his head to you; Tinkerbull wakes up with a start, and you gather him in your arms, shooshing under your breath.
“What about me?” she asks from somewhere behind you.
“Don't you have anything to add?”
“Well...” she drawls. “This whole argument is hilarious. Also, the messenger is hot. I think that's all.”
His arm sags, his chin crumples; he takes unsteady breaths, his hooded head turning this way and that, before sagging onto the nearest stool, face buried in shaky hands.
The atmosphere changes completely; the other cultists move forward almost as one, surrounding the sobbing elder with shooshes, patting his back and fanning him with papers and writing pads. Big Elder almost sheepishly offers a bottle of water, which the guy turns away from with all the dignified offense of a wiggler in a tantrum.
“How can you just— how do you— how dare you—” he gibbers out, his voice squeaky and wracked with sobs; his shoulders shake so high, one could mistake his gross sobbing for a particularly spirited chortle if not for the wrecked sounds he were making. The woman with sawed horns sticks a black square of cloth into the shadows under his hood, and he quickly nabs it out of her hand, slaps it over his face, takes a few shaky breaths and then blows his nose.
Elder Plucker leans into your line of sight like a particularly terrifying mask dropping from the ceiling. “Now this is more embarrassing than amusing,” she says, but her voice is soft. “Do you have any other questions you'd like to ask?”
You glance at the huddle of distressed elders; the crying one seems to have finally accepted Big Elder's bottle, drinking from it with his head thrown back and eyes pinched shut, his shades held by the earpiece in shaky fingers.
“Um, no,” you say. Even if you did, you don't think any of them would be up to answering.
“Wanna go rest, then? In that quiet, out of the way place you asked me for?”
You nod eagerly.
Snotty strides past her, nose in the air and a steaming mug in hand, and she grasps his cloak; he grimaces and staggers, leaning back as if trying not to stretch the fabric.
“What,” he says, glaring at her and yanking the cape back from her fingers.
“Care to show us his quarters for the day?” She sticks her chin at you.
He raises his pad and scrolls it with his thumb, his other hand still carefully holding the mug aloft, before turning to — wait, the guards are still on the platform. And so is Havera, sitting down and watching the whole display with an air of quiet boredom.
Snotty flicks his fingers at the guards. “Guide the Summoner to the Cradle of Righteous Rage, if you please.” He then turns to you. “There should be an extra padded mound for you, but if for whatever reason it's not there yet,” his nostrils dilate as if the mere thought offended him, “feel free to make use of the Carrier of Blood's altar. He won't require it for the foreseeable future.” And then he hurriedly strides off to hand the crying elder, now apparently pacified, the mug he'd been carefully holding.
“Think you can help him there?” asks Elder Plucker, and Havera cheerfully jumps to her feet, nodding emphatically. You wheel back onto the platform, and Plucker waves to you; the platform rises, slowly covering the baffling scene of a crying adult being consoled by people with clear advantages over him.
The prospect of rest is making your tiredness get the better of you, and you follow the guards' lead without paying much attention to the path you're following. At some point there was a huge block with water pools and cascades and a metal bridge, and it was all really pretty, but you were rolling on automatic and your clearest thought was to keep the place in mind for a later visit.
You do notice straight away when you make it to Karkat's cradle whatsit; the walls are sanded and carved in delicate arcs, and there's cloth and draperies hanging from the ceiling and the furniture, pooling on the floor in smooth folds. Red is a prominent color, but rather than feeling uncomfortably warm on the retinas it sort of straddles the line between cozy and elegant. The light-gray cloaked figures gathering red-stained bandages from a desk are also kind of a giveaway, as is the fact that the guards joined six others standing in front of the entrance instead of walking in.
You glance around the room, woozily at first, but then in growing confusion. Havera seems to have no trouble wandering in and poking around, though; she tugs one of the capes, and has a short mumbled discussion with its owner before skipping back to you.
“Looks like your paddy isn't here yet,” she says. “Healer Braider says Carver had an emotional breakdown and will need a night off before it's finished. But you can use Karkat's, it's all fancy but really soft.” She leans closer to you, shielding her lips with a hand as if imparting a great secret. “I slept on it once!”
It just confirms what you were already starting to suspect: this room truly does lack a recuperacoon, and you're expected to sleep on the thing that looks like an ablution trap overflowing with decoratively-stitched fabric. You side-eye it a little harder, but despite bearing the full weight of your mildly disapproving gaze it doesn't stop looking like an overly-decorated grubcake.
“Don't you get nightmares, though?” you ask Havera.
She looks momentarily as confused as you feel, but soon her face clears up, and she nods.
“Oh, yes!” she says. “Once I dreamed that my arm was made of rubber, and it was really scary, all floppy and weird. But that was because I slept on it. When I woke up Rhavik massaged it for me until it got better.”
She raises her pristine little arm on display, and you can but smile and nod in response. Havera has been by far the most approachable source of information you've been in contact with all evening, but you doubt she'll be able to answer the half-formed questions flying around in your tired head. Some of the light-cloaks are looking amusedly sympathetic at you; you smile back with a weak shrug, rolling your chair towards the grubcake-coon.
A couple of light-cloaks approach, and you allow them to fuss at the absurd thing and pick you up from your device. You don't pay them much attention; most of what little you can gather is wholly transfixed by the round, crystalline pool inlaid in the floor, and by Karkat's unconscious shape floating in it — hair swaying, eyelids translucent, the wide-slit gills lining his ribs gently pulsing in the current.
Chapter 15: > join "TV II2 BO22"
Warning: do not google search "dorsata" unless you're okay with huge fucking bees.
EDIT: Continuity mishap detected! I edited in an extra line, you might want to read it over again. More info here.
-- terminallyCapricious [TC] has joined "TV II2 BO22" --
-- adiosToreador [AT] has left "TV II2 BO22" --
TC: aw fuck, i went and missed my main tavbro.
AA: there you are!
AA: i was starting to get worried
GA: Hello Gamzee
CT: D --> Highb100d
CT: D --> It is a relief to have your safety confirmed
GC: WH4T TH3 H3LL 1S UP W1TH YOUR TYP1NG?
TC: NOTHING WHAT YOU SHOULD GET YOUR MOTHERFUCKIN' PAN IN A TWIST
TA: well, THAT ii2n't weiird at all.
TA: are you 2ure you're really TC and not 2ome jerkbulge at hii2 keyboard tryiing to be clever?
AA: no im sure!
AA: i have it on good authority that this is gamzee
TC: YEAH I'M PRETTY MOTHERFUCKIN' SURE I'M ME.
TC: last i checked that was still a thing that was true.
AA: hes just in a cranky mood because he quit sopor and is going through withdrawal
AA: am i right?
GC: 4WW, K4RK4T WOULD B3 TY1NG H1MS3LF 1NTO L1TTL3 H4PPY KNOTS R1GHT NOW
TA: talk about bad tiimiing, though.
CT: D --> Highb100d, this news is abso100tely delightful
GA: I Say The Same Though I Also Believe The Situation Is Less Than Ideal For Such Delicate Health Matters
GC: 1 D1S4GR33, 1 TH1NK TH3 T1M1NG COULDNT H4V3 B33N B3TT3R
GA: Still I Wish You The Best Of Luck I Understand That This Has Been An Ongoing Ordeal For You
TC: GRIMSIS I'M ALL OF TIPPING MY HORNS AT YOUR BESTWISHING FROM THIS HERE SIDE OF MY HUSKTOP
TC: as far as they go before all toppling me off like a sad jack hanging limp down out his surprise box. :o(
TC: BUT I AIN'T GONNA JUDGE THE TIME OF IT BECAUSE I AIN'T NO JUDGE AND TIME AIN'T MY THING.
TC: all i know is my bro needs me.
TC: HE'S IN MOTHERFUCKING NEED OF THESE MOTHERFUCKING CLUBS I GOT ON ME HERE.
TC: so i can auspisticize the fuck out of these motherfuckers what set their enmity on him when he wants it none.
TC: AUSPISTICIZE THEIR MOTHERFUCKING SKULLS RIGHT IN.
TA: thii2 ii2 2eriiou2ly freakiing me out
TC: until they get their thinkpans on to the understanding that he don't want nor need no black in his bloodpusher.
CT: D --> Highb100d
CT: D --> It appears that
CT: D --> You have embraced your true calling
TC: WHEN MY MOTHERFUCKING BROTHER CALLS I'M UP AND READY TO EMBRACE ANY OLD SHIT.
CT: D --> But
GC: 1 S1MPLY H4V3 NO 3MOT1CON TO 3XPR3SS TH3 CONTORT1ONS MY F4C14L MUSCL3S 4R3 M4K1NG R1GHT NOW
CT: D --> Clearly it falls to me to open your eyes to the matter of Vantas' true nature
TC: make it entertaining and i'll forgive you.
CT: D --> He is a mutant
CT: D --> Erm
CT: D --> That is it
CT: D --> Mostly
TC: WELL THAT SURE WAS A MOTHERFUCKING RIOT TO READ.
TC: paint me surprised
TC: IN BRIGHT FUCKING MIRACLE RED.
TC: which is the color of his blood by the byes.
CT: D --> But
TC: THAT THERE IS A DOUBLE METAPHOR, TOUCH HIS BLOOD AND I'LL PAINT MY MOTHERFUCKING HIVE BLUE.
GA: So You Are Aware Even Of The Extent Of His Mutation
AA: you appear to be a lot more informed than us in this matter
TC : yeah i'm all up in the motherfucking knowing of all the harshwhimsies he goes through.
CT: D --> How can you brush this fact off so easily
AA: care to share what you know?
TA: okay, ii ju2t got a 2nap2hot from TC's webcam, iit really ii2 hiim.
-- twinArmaggedons [TA] is sending file "niice_clown.png" --
TA: warniing for freaky eye2.
GC: WOW, G4MZ33, YOU LOOK L1K3 SH1T
GC: HOW D1D YOUR F4C3 G3T CL4W3D L1K3 TH4T?
CT: D --> Highb100d, it is not my place to insist but
CT: D --> Please come to your senses
CT: D --> Someone of your station sh001d not be fraternizing with such a subtrollish deviation of nature itself
CT: D --> That is beyond disgraceful, not to mention dangerous
TC: SHUT THE FUCK UP, LOWBLOOD.
CT: D --> My
TC: aw, motherfuck.
CT: D --> Apologies
AA: yes PLEASE shut up equius
TC: i can't up and say that kind of shit to none, no.
TC: that ain't right.
TC: if any one fucker here is lowblood then what does that make my main bro karkat?
TC: and my tavbro, and my green chicas here, and the computer bother,
GC: 444W, SHUCKS >:]
TC: and my aradiasis too, you an upright sis, you don't deserve this kinda shit.
GA: I Appreciate That
TA: yeah man, you're pretty okay iin my book two.
AA: thanks 0u0
CT: D --> You were merely e%ercising your natural right to put us in our place
CT: D --> No apologies are required
TC: SHUT THE FUCK UP, TOWELFUCKER.
CT: D --> Uh
TA: oh man.
GC: WOW, H4RSH!
GC: 4S 4 L3G1SL4C3R4TOR 1 S4LUT3 TH4T B34UT1FUL 3FFORT
TA: be2t fuckiing thing iin thii2 log.
TA: and tru2t me, you were up agaiin2t 2ome tough competiitiion.
AA: okay everyone i understand wanting to verbally kick equius around but we really should get back on topic
AA: gamzee up until a while ago vriska was keeping us up to date on the goings-on at karkats hive
AA: picking information from the threshecutioners minds
AA: but once she told us of karkats mutation she stopped responding
AA: and a few minutes later she went idle
TC: yeah sis, we were kinda really getting our concentrating on to the motherfucking plan what we were putting together.
AA: but as far as im aware of she was attempting to convince their leader to leave the hive and
TC: THE PLAN TO GET THOSE THERE MOTHERFUCKERS TO FOLLOW OUR TRAIL OF MIRACLE DUST UP TO OUR HIVES
TC: and have ourselves a motherfucking party.
AA: urgh are you trying to tell me that you had anything to do with her absolutely stupid plan
TA: funny how thii2 ii2 the fiir2t we hear of that.
GC: HUH YOU KNOW VR1SK4 BR4GG3D 4 LOT 4BOUT H3R PL4N BUT TOTALLY FORGOT TO M3NT1ON YOU W3R3 4 P4RT OF 1T
TC: WE WERE DOING IT.
TC: we were making it happen.
TC: SHE READ A WHOLE MOTHERFUCKING BUNCH OF SHIT IN THEIR THINKPANS
TC: and put all them niggly little ideas to get them to do what we wanted.
TC: AND I
TC: and i
TC: MADE THEM FEAR NOT DOING THAT SHIT.
TC: made them get their unease on to not be getting some grubjuice to hand their bosses pronto.
TC: MADE THEM GET THEIR MOTHERFUCKING UNEASE ON ABOUT HOW THIS MUTANTBROTHER WAS ALL OF NOT AROUND WHERE THEY THOUGHT THEY HAD HIM.
TC: made them think what if that motherfucker wasn't about to get his motherfucking return on to his unsafe hive no more
TC: MADE THEM THINK REAL SERIOUSLY ABOUT FOLLOWING THIS SPARKLING TRAIL OF MOTHERFUCKING CRUMBS TO THESE OTHER HIVES THEY'D GOT THEIR KNOWLEDGE ON ABOUT.
TC: where it just got more and more clear on their pans they'd find these meek little grubs what would squeal anything they got their ask on about
TC: THESE NAIVE LITTLE FUCKERS WHAT DIDN'T ALL OF KNOW THEIR MUTANTBROTHER WAS NOT GETTING HIS MESSAGING ON THIS EVENING
TC: these stupid little wigglers what didn't know there was a big smart tough thresher on their brother's keyboard instead.
TC: AND YOU KNOW WHAT?
TC: it was easy.
TC: IT WAS EASY AS ALL MOTHERFUCK.
TC: and now when i send up my thoughts to his hive
TC: ALL I FIND IS OUR ONE MOTHERFUCKING MIRACLE ALLY.
TA: well fuck me.
GC: WH4T 4LLY?
CT: Oh God
AA: who is there and how do you know they're trustworthy
CT: Please tell me it's not Nepeta
AA: uh no i really doubt its nepeta
AA: you said it yourself that she left your hive recently and will be en route to her own for a few hours at least
AA: karkats is nearly a quarter planet away from you two it is logistically impossible without actual flight capabilities
CT: D --> That
CT: D --> Is true
CT: D --> Please ignore that outburst, I am not entirely sure what brought it on
CT: D --> E%cuse me, I must step off for a moment
CT: D --> It is nothing to cause concern please do keep doing your talking thing
GA: Well Be Here When Youre Back
GC: Y34H NO WORR13S
TA: ju2t go do your thiing, biig guy.
AA: i hope you feel better when youre done
AA: this ally
-- centaursTesticle [CT] is idle --
AA: what can you tell us about them
GC: 1NQU1R1NG M1NDS W4NT TO KNOW!
TA: he'2 kiind of zoned out, iit'2 weiird.
TA: btw ii'm 2tiill connected two your webcam, GZ, hope you don't miind iit iin the ciircumstance2.
TC: nah, i was just keeping a tracking eye up on that motherfucker.
TC: MAKING SURE HE AIN'T PAWING THROUGH MY GOOD BRO'S SHIT
TC: but he's being all kinds of respectful so it's chill.
GA: I Confess That Is Just Making Me Even More Anxious About This Supposed Ally And His Intentions With Regards To Karkat
GA: If He Displays No Interest In Karkat's Material Goods Then What Does He Stand To Gain From Helping Him
TA: ugh, why diid you have two briing that up?
AA: something other than vague assurances would be welcome right now gamzee
TC: I SEE YOU FUCKERS GOT NO MOTHERFUCKING TRUST IN MY MOTHERFUCKIN WORD.
TC: but i got the motherfucking certainty on me that this fucker won't touch me bro.
TC: BECAUSE THIS FUCKER
TC: is all up and being a follower
TC: OF THE FORBIDDEN IRON MESSIAH.
TA: oh FUCK.
TA: 2hiit, ii can't beliieve thii2, ii thought he wa2 2marter than that.
GA: Could You Perhaps Elaborate On Whatever Is So Expletive Inducing About This Development
GA: Not That The Word Forbidden Does Not Paint An Alarming Picture
TA: no, you 2ee.
TA: they're the grey cultii2t2.
CT: D --> I return
TA: ii gue22 you wouldn't know about them but they're kiind of an open 2ecret among lowblood2.
CT: D --> What
AA: we tend to avoid dealing with them outside of emergencies
AA: they possess advanced healing technology and knowledge though and they dont ask questions so it really is in our best interest to remain in friendly terms with the group
AA: theyre eerie but harmless which is in itself eerie i guess
TA: yeah, they al2o deal in all 2orts of semiilegal 2hiit for real cheap.
TC: yeah that does up and ring with the likeness of what all i know of them.
AA: i bought tavros' wheeled device from their used goods booth for five caegars
GC: 4R4D14 1 M1GHT H4V3 TO 4RR3ST YOU FOR TH4T ST34L
TA: rumor 2ay2 they'll even hook you up wiith pre-miixed genetiic materiial iif you thiink your paiil look2 too empty for the drone'2 ta2te2.
AA: oh that one is new to me
CT: D --> That
TA: for real diirt cheap two, but ii dunno how much of that ii2 true iif any.
CT: D --> Is e%tremely depraved
TA: ii dealt wiith them once and then never the fuck agaiin.
CT: D --> Are you saying
GC: 1M CUR1OUS NOW
CT: D --> You have willingly come into conta%t with these slurry-selling undesirables
GC: C4R3 TO SH4R3 TH1S T4L3?
TA: iit'2 not that iintere2tiing, ii ju2t needed some computer part2 ii couldn't get wiith my yellowblood credentiial2 and found out about the2e 2hadowy fuckers who miight be able to hook me up wiith 2econd-hand2 under the table.
CT: D --> You really should not
CT: D --> I am aghast
TA: ii'd heard of tho2e grey a22hole2, but only from 2care-wiigler tale2.
GA: This Is Fascinating
TA: wa2 expectiing a po22ee of rebelliiou2 bada22es iin a ba2ement wiith riickety furniiture and drug2 and led2 and 2hiit who ii miight po22iibly have to dariingly e2cape from, boy wa2 ii di2appointed.
GC: JUST G3T ON W1TH 1T!
TC: wow i'm already got my mirth on just at the honking thought of all this, brother XoD
TA: ii walk iinto theiir 2uper 2ecret 2tore whiich wa2 a crack in a cliiff face up a narrow fliight of 2taiirs high above the sea, you know, defen2iible and hard two fiind, pretty iimpre22iive 2o far.
TA: but iin2ide iit wa2 ju2t thii2 tool behind a counter weariing the2e 2tupiid looking 2hade2 and a grey hoodiie, and when ii walk iin he'2 like "2up" wiith thii2 wiide dorky griin.
TA: ii wanted two punch hiim.
AA: haha wow this sounds like its going to be great
TC: HONK HONK HONK.
TA: iit'2 not great, it'2 beyond lame.
TA: the 2tore wa2 2o goddamn pouncy iit wa2 dii2gu2tiing, all 2anded and paiinted wiith 2wirl2 and flower2 and decorated wiith crochet or 2ome 2hiit ii kiid you not.
GC: D1D 1T 4T L34ST H4V3 YOUR P4RTS?
TA: calm down, ii'm gettiing there.
CT: D --> I really cannot see how any good could come from this tale
GA: Can You Describe Those Decorations I Might Be Able To Tell If Its Really Crochet
TA: 2o when ii walk up two the counter my expectatiion2 are already plummettiing fa2ter than KK'2 2elf-e2teem after ii kiick hi2 a22 in troll counter-2triike.
TA: ii a2k hiim "2o what have you got on the liine of honeycomb fiilter2" and he 2ay2 "we got model2 E-1001 a two k for 25 to 30 caegar2 and the whole G liine except for the G-48 2ub2et for 50" and 2ome re2pect return2 becau2e G-48 ii2 the wor2t dii2a2ter iin the hii2tory of 2iiliicomb and ju2t haviing iit iin 2tock 2hould be ground2 for culliing.
TA: but ii diigre22.
CT: D --> I am not familiar with silicomb but the grievous tales of G-48's infamous design flaws are well known and I sympathize
CT: D --> Not to say that this whole debacle wasn't e%eedingly foolish in the first place but
AA: stop butting in
CT: D --> Fine
TA: ii al2o bought a bunch of other part2 whiich ii won't bore you guy2 wiith, and he riing2 2omeone two briing out the dor2ata plate ii a2ked for, biig deliicate rare part, iit wa2 rea2onable that the counter guy wouldn't keep iit on hiim, you know.
TA: we're down to haggliing the final priice when 2uddenly the cave wall behiind hiim 2liides open and ii'm liike, fuck.
TA: and out comes an adult, an actual to fuck adult, and ii'm liike FUCK FUCK DOUBLE FUCK HAGGLIING TIIME IIS OVER.
GA: Oh No That Sounds Terrifying And The Exact Opposite Of Lame
CT: D --> So not only is this illegal rea%ionary group involved with contraband, it is also involved with dishonorable fugitives
GC: D1D YOU D13?
TA: 2hup up and let me fiinii2h before you maniife2t your 2ympathiies.
TA: ii take off my gla22es and get ready to captchalogue the whole counter, bla2t the place and bolt, but.
TA: the adult ju2t 2ets the dor2ata plate on the counter all gentle liike.
TA: ii don't thiink you guy2 can under2tand thii2.
TA: ii don't thiink anyone wiithout an iintiimate knowledge of 2iiliicomb would under2tand thiis next part.
CT: D --> Oh
AA: get on with it!
CT: D --> Oh fiddlesti%
TA: looks liike EQ can iimagiine my conundrum, hehe.
GC: WH4T 1S 1T NOW? >:[
TA: iit wa2 a fuckiing dor2ata plate.
GA: What Is So Important About This Particular Piece Of Machinery
TA: you don't make any 2udden movement2 in the vicinity of a dor2ata plate.
TA: iin the pre2ence of a dor2ata plate, you only talk iin gentle whii2per2.
TA: you do not captchalogue a dor2ata plate, you loviingly depo2iit iit iin2iide your card a2 iif you were a devoted lu2u2 and the plate wa2 your preciiou2 2iilk-2pun wiigler and the card was iit2 cocoon.
CT: D --> I could never possibly handle such a delicate instrument
GC: Y34H 1 SUR3 C4N'T G3T TH4T
GA: I Can Picture Being In A Similar Position Involving The Presence Of A Vintage Singer Sewing Machina
TA: ii couldn't grab iit and run, and ii couldn't bear the thought of bla2tiing iit either.
GA: What Wouldnt I Do For The Sake Of One
TC: TOO MUCH INFORMATION Do:
TA: 2o ii ju2t 2tood there frozen 2taring at the adult and thiinkiing thii2 ii2 iit, ii'm fuckiing DONE and iit's all because of thii2 dor2ata plate.
CT: D --> Whatever came of this tale was the fault of your own irresponsibility
TA: and the adult 2teps back from the plate and glance2 at me and doe2 the mo2t hiilariiou2 double-take and then 2hiit get2 downriight 2urreal.
TA: and al2o really lame.
GC: Y34H 1M ST1LL W41T1NG FOR TH3 P4RT WH3R3 W3 4LL F1ND TH1S FUNNY
TA: you wiill now.
TA: the fucker ju2t 2tares at me and hii2 brow2 are so hiigh up they're above hii2 gla22e2.
TA: then he 2tart2 giibberiing under hii2 breath and, liike, turn2 to a corner and 2tart2 2obbiing liike hii2 lu2u2 ju2t got 2hot and mumbliing about hii2 bull2hiit reliigiion.
TA: the counter guy ju2t bliink2 at hiim and then turn2 two me and ii2 liike "waiit a 2econd wiill you".
GC: WOW WH4T TH3 H3LL
TC: fuck it sure hurts to chortle this bad when a fucker's innards are already up and twisted around XoD
TA: then he pull2 out a tea 2et and before ii know iit the three of u2 are driinkiing tea riight there iin front of the counter and thii2 bunch of tool2 in hood2 and gla22e2 keep comiing out of the wall two look at me and then walk back iin liike ii'm 2ome 2ort of ciircu2 freak they're triippiing over them2elve2 two ogle. ii 2wear half of them were adult2, iit wa2 crazy 2hiit.
GC: OK4Y 1 4DM1T TH4T 1S B1Z4RR3 4ND H1L4R1OUS
TA: the plate dude wa2 2tiill 2hakiing and cryiing into hii2 cup, he couldn't even talk.
GA: So Everything Went Better Than Expected
GA: That Really Is Amusing After All The Suspense
CT: D --> That was
AA: i told you guys these people are eerily harmless
CT: D --> Une%pected
TA: counter guy wa2 a total trooper, two. ii don't thiink he knew what wa2 goiing on eiither but he ju2t kept on brewiing thii2 A++ grade tea and 2erviing iit along wiith the be2t 2cone2 ii've ever had whiile we talked 2iiliicomb2 and hypothetiical metal deviice2, then he packed my 2tuff the proper way and gave me a dii2count for the iinconveniience along wiith the re2t of the 2cone2 for the triip back or 2omethiing liike that, 2ure wa2 generou2 a2 fuck.
TA: "oh come back 2oon we'll get a 2hiipment iin a couple periigee2" well hell iif ii diid, ii ju2t went to my hiive and freaked out iin 2afety.
TA: they gave me 2ome qualiity materiial though. ii'm so glad ii diidn't bla2t that plate.
TA: but liike ii 2aiid, ii really don't 2ee KK 2ufferiing theiir crazyne22 wiith much grace.
GA: That Is True
TA: on the other hand iif he'2 a blood mutant he wouldn't have a choiice, would he.
GC: NOT R34LLY >:[
GA: That Is Also True
TC: brother never did up and get the chance to make his own motherfucking choice in that matter none. :o(
CT: D --> I see
GA: Their Association Is Possibly The Only Reason Karkat Was Able To Pass Unnoticed For So Long
CT: D --> It appears I was corre%t about Vantas' possible involvement with undesirable elements
GA: I Do Not Envy Him
CT: D --> It is not surprising when you take the apparent e%tent of his mutation into account
CT: D --> There is truly no depth he as a mutant could not feel naturally inclined to sink to
TC: YOU SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH RIGHT FUCKING NOW.
TC: my brother never ever had a fucking say in this none.
TC: THEY FOUND HIM.
TC: they had their stalking up in from the motherfucking beginning
TC: AND THEY UP AND FOUND HIS TINY LITTLE GRUBSELF RIGHT AFTER HE ALIGHTED UNDER OUR MOTHERFUCKING MOONS.
GA: Gamzee What
TC: they had it all on the ready for his miracle arrival, they had it on their walls and on their prophecies
TC: AS TOLD BY THE FORBIDDEN TOMES AND THE MOUTH OF THE IRON MESSIAH HIMSELF
TA: oh god ii'm freakiing out what are you even 2ayiing
TC: i'm saying they knew a karkat was gonna be
TC: BEFORE KARKAT WAS.
TC: i'm saying there was a karkat once
TC: WAY THE FUCK BACK WHEN.
TC: i'm saying our inside guy's kissing the floor of our brother's hive
TC: RIGHT FUCKING NOW
TC: because he's his motherfucking savior come back in flesh and holy blood
TC: THE HOLY RED BLOOD WHAT THEY PRAY FOR EVERY NIGHT.
TC: karkat is the descendant
TC: OF THE IRON MESSIAH.
TC: it is him.
TA: thii2 ii2 2o freaky ii don't even know why
GC: G4MZ33, H33L
AA: this is amazing! i have so much to ask him when we meet again 0u0
GC: STOP BRO4DC4ST1NG YOUR WH4T3V3R TH1NG 1 C4N F33L 1T FROM H3R3 4ND 1TS NOT FUN
TA: KK ii2 up two hii2 neck iin grey cultii2t2 what do we do no wonder the thre2hiie2 went crazy about iit ii mean they're
TC: ugh, my bad
GA: Deep Breaths Sollux This Is An Outside Influence
TA: you know now that ii thiink about iit ii have no iidea why they're 2uch a biig deal?
TC: my pan is killing me and i don't much know what i'm doing even
TA: who the hell ii2 theiir me22iiah and why doe2 law enforcement even giive a 2hiit?
AA: yes that is a great question!
TA: tho2e guy2 are 2uper lame and ii 2tiill can't beliieve KK ha2 anythiing two do wiith them.
TA: ii mean, ii get that he'2 theiir leader'2 de2cendant apparently, but 2tiill.
TA: why not ju2t 2end a bunch of drone2 and carpet-bomb the whole area?
TC: the things i could tell you fuckers
TC: but ugh gimme five
TC: the screen burns
CT: D --> Vantas
GC: TH4T 1S 4 V3RY P3RT1N3NT QU3ST1ON BUT 1 R3S3NT TH3 M3R3 THOUGHT OF OUR L1TTL3 CH3RRY P13 B31NG C4RP3T-BOMB3D SO TURN YOUR MOUTH 4W4Y
GA: True That Is Normally Their Modus Operandi
GA: And If Their Intention Was To Investigate Him And His Contacts As It Appears To Be Then It Is Strange That They Didnt Just Spy On His Hive Until He Arrived And Then Captured Him Without Involving His Neighbours
CT: D --> Oh my God
GA: For That Matter How Did They Even Find Out Which Hive Was His And Who He Was
AA: what is it NOW equius do you need more towels or smelling salts or whatever because im quickly losing patience with your little scandalized histrionics
GC: TH4T 1S 4LSO 4 V3RY P3RT1N3NT QU3ST1ON
CT: D --> No you don't get it
CT: D --> If
CT: D --> Then
CT: D --> He is their leader
CT: D --> Adults on planet
CT: D --> Smugglers on planet
CT: D --> Adult smugglers
CT: D --> And slurry sellers
TA: ii thiink we broke hiim.
CT: D --> And he is their leader
CT: D --> It is him
AA: get a grip do you really think adults would take orders from a child
CT: D --> And I have lowered myself into talking to him
CT: D --> Thinking of it as an a%t of kindness
GC: 1 TH1NK 1M JUST GO1NG TO TUN3 YOUR SH1TTY BLU3 OUT
TA: he'2 not theiir leader you dumba22, at mo2t he'2 theiir long term project for a leader.
CT: D --> My skin is crawling
CT: D --> This is awful and outrageous
CT: D --> And
CT: D --> I let Nepeta intera%t with him
CT: D --> I should be culled for that
TA: look, go roll around iin towel2 or ma2turbate two your hor2e porn or whatever iit take2 two calm you down, 2o long a2 you 2top 2pammiing the chat wiith your dii2gu2tiing ca2teiist 2pew.
TA: we get iit, you're a blueblood douche and you thiink it'2 KK'2 fault whatever thii2 bunch of dumba22e2 chose two do iin hii2 ance2tor's name, WHATEVER.
GA: Yes Equius Youre Being Extremely Unfair In Your Assessment Of Karkats Responsibility
TA: hurr durr ii am bl00bl00d mcpropriiety and cla22ii2m ii2 my tiitle ii hump robots and lube them up wiith my 2weat look at my collectiion of glii2teniing anthropomorphiized mu2clebea2ts theiir anatomiically iimpo22iible giiant bulges make me go tiight iin my liitle 2hort-2hort2 HURR HURR HURR.
CT: D --> Stop
GA: And Sollux This Is Seriously Uncalled For
TA: look at thii2 deliicate liittle piiece of lu2u2 miilk-holding cry2tal contaiiner ii'm holdiing iin my giiant bl00-paw iimma driink the 2HIIT out of thii2 WHOOP2 THERE IIT GOE2 IIT'S NOW A BUNCH OF 2HARD2 BECAU2E II AM A FREAK OF NATURE.
CT: D --> Halt
TA: but iit'2 liike a totally natural sort of freakne22 not a mutatiion or anythiing TRUFAX ii am bl00bl00d liike FUCK man no genetiic funnybu2iine22 goiing on here nope.
CT: D --> Cease hitting your keys with your fingers at once
TA: 2o normal me and my creepofetii2he2 are hell2 of acceptable iin all the re2pectable ciircle2 ever.
CT: D --> Captor I am willing to over100k your puerile mockery of my difficulties in controlling my STRENGTH
CT: D --> And your baseless accusations of mutation are just that
TA: who the hell 2tiill actually u2e2 the word pueriile even.
CT: D --> I a%ept that my perspiration problem w001d be a source of amusement among the ignorant and uncultured
CT: D --> And that your views as a lowb100d w001d naturally clash with mine
TA: no 2HIIT troll 2herlock.
CT: D --> However
CT: D --> I cannot and will not sit idly by as you mock and misrepresent my cultural tastes any longer
TA: haha, what.
CT: D --> For too long have I merely chalked it up to being surrounded by a gaggle of uncultured ignoramuses but I have grown sick and tired of letting your barbs pass by without comment and so I must assert this fa%t
CT: D --> Nude art is not porn you uncultured ignoramus
GC: 1 SUR3 4M GL4D 1 D1DNT 4CTU4LLY TUN3 OUT H1S BLU3 TH1S 1S GOLD
AA: wow what brought this on
CT: D --> I do not care if the thought of an e%posed phallus makes you giggle and titter like a little wiggler watching an informative movie on reprodu%ion for the first time in their life
AA: no don't answer that i know what did but seriously
GC: SOLLUX 1 B3L13V3 TH1S 1S WH4T TH3Y 1N TH3 OFF1C14L 4LT3RN14N V3RN4CUL4R C4LL 4 BURN
TA: ooh, iit'2 on now.
CT: D --> But I am under no obligation to endure your childish and wrong-headed mockery of an art form I highly respect
CT: D --> Hereby I give you permission to laugh at it in the privacy of your respite block
TA: riight now ii'm iin the priivacy of my re2piiteblock laughiing at the notiion that ii'd need your permii22iion for jack fuckiing 2hiit.
CT: D --> But so help me if your infantile insults do not stop scrolling up this screen I will find a way to punch you via instant messaging if it'll require me to reassemble your mainframes into a robot arm from afar with nothing but the STRENGTH of my rage
AA: ahaha oh wow
TA: ii dunno, man, you 2tiill haven't 2aiid anythiing about whether you lube your robot2 wiith 2weat before you hump them, miight want to clariify that one before you try to knock me out by waviing your bulge at my 2iiliicomb2 from the other siide of the planet liike iit'2 one of ED'2 2hiitty wand2.
AA: okay this is getting extremely silly
GA: Should I Auspistice These Two
TA: fuck no, KN, thii2 just 2werved left 2traiight iinto no-no land.
CT: D --> I appreciate the thought, Maryam
CT: D --> In fact
CT: D --> Maybe I sh001d interpret all of Captor's previous antagonistic statements as black solicitations
CT: D --> Oh Mister Captor I was not aware that your feelings for me ran so pitch
TA: OH MY FUCKIING GOD NO.
GC: 1S TH1S R34L L1FE? >:O
GA: I Was Not Actually Being Serious This Is Very Sudden And Highly Unexpected
TA: NO NO NO NO 2TOP EVERYTHIING.
CT: D --> Shall I compare thee to a bright season's day
AA: but kanaya only you can bring peace back to this chatroom
TA: AA EVEN YOU.
CT: D --> Awfully muggy and disgustingly runny
CT: D --> Unbearably sunny
GC: OH WHO W1LL S4V3 TH3 3ND4NG3R3D P3OPL3 OF TV-112-BO22?
GA: I See It Seems I Have No Choice But To Comply To Your Heartfelt Requests
CT: D --> Quiet now, I can feel the spirit of slam poetry channelling through me
TA: oh my god are you gangiing up on me.
TA: ii hate you all equally and platoniically.
GC: 1 4M MOSTLY SURPR1S3D 3QU1US S33MS TO H4V3 D3V3LOPP3D 4 S3NS3 OF HUMOR WH3N W3 W3R3NT LOOK1NG
CT: D --> Captor I am afraid this relationship is not going to work if you keep displaying such worrying unfaithful tendencies
GA: Sollux You Go And Sit In That Corner
GA: While Equius Sits In This Corner
AA: swoon so effective
GA: Do Not Make Me Bring Out The Pointy Paper Hats
CT: D --> I demand a more scenic corner
TA: ii'm goiing two hiide under thii2 table and never come out agaiin.
GA: There Is A High Possibility They Would Summon Eridan And Then This Would Turn Into A Veritable Clusterfuck
GC: P3R1SH TH3 THOUGHT!
CT: D --> I apologize
CT: D --> However I seem to have hit the e%tent of my capacity for humorous diversion
GC: 1TS OKAY, YOU H4V3 T4K3N GR34T STR1D3S 1N B31NG L3SS OF 4 BUTT
CT: D --> I admit I have not been thinking clearly about Vantas' actual share of the blame
CT: D --> But that doesn't mean he does not hold a measure of indirect responsibility
CT: D --> And if he is not the true source of our current problems
CT: D --> I w001d very much appreciate knowing who or what is
TC: i feel you bro, all our pans are up and fogged with the
TA: hey GZ.
CT: D --> Highb100d
TC: and the unsurety is like a shitty spell what takes away our abilities what to think of things.
AA: feeling better?
GC: H3Y G4MZ33
TC: i dug out some ice from the thingy
TC: cold as shit but it gives me something to chew on at least.
GA: Welcome Back
TC: the thing i'm up to getting at is that i'm not going to hold a fucker's worries against him
TC: for sending his thoughts on out to this faraway treasure what your chest ticker is all of yearning to gather up in.
TC: is like if your soul of souls is screaming up at you to wrap around that one precious little fucker and keep all the bad out then how is the thoughtvoice in your thinkpan supposed to get across all clear like, you get me?
CT: D --> I
CT: D --> Don't think I do
TC: what i'm getting across is that i get you bro.
TC: i threw my pies out the window and my ice hull up into a wall all from the pain of this sharp diamond
TC: straight through my chest and up my throat
TC: screeching at me to do whatever however right the fuck now
TC: to find him and save him
TC: AND KILL EVERYONE WHO EVER TOUCHED HIM EVER.
TC: it shakes you up to the core, don't it.
TA: waiit, you mean you and KK are...?
CT: D --> Oh
GA: Am I Reading This Wrong Or Are You Implying That You And Karkat Are Now An Item
CT: D --> Nepeta is going to be delighted
TC: you fuckers got the know of it. :oD
AA: im so glad for the both of you!
GC: 1 DONT M34N TO B3 RUD3 BUT F1N4LLY!
GC: WH3N D1D TH1S H4PP3N 4ND WH4T TOOK YOU GUYS SO LONG?
TA: yeah man, you know iit wa2 bad when even the bliind giirl could 2ee iit comiing.
TC: yeah, all you motherfuckers know it's forever been a thing that is.
TC: it was only today that i done and put it on the table, so to be said.
TC: made wordfull all the wordless things what was floating between us.
TC: TOO BAD SOME MURDERFUCKERS CAME AND PUT A MOTHERFUCKING WALL ON THE WAY TO MY BRO'S ARMS.
TC: so i'm going to climb that fucking wall
TC: USING THEIR MOTHERFUCKING CARCASSES AS MY STEPPING BLOCK.
-- twinArmaggedons [TA] is sending file "dafuqii2thii2.png" --
TC: braid a rope from their filthy guts.
AA: we understand your feelings gamzee but please try not to fly off the handle when karkats not around
-- twinArmaggedons [TA] is sending file "ohgodthi2ii22onotokay.png" --
TC: AND BUILD ME SOME BITCHFUCKING STAIRS FROM THEIR SKULLS.
-- cuttlefishCuller [CC] has left "TV II2 BO22" --
-- twinArmaggedons [TA] is sending file "whyarehii2eye2red.png" --
TC: fuck i get it, i'm not okay, you don't gotta take a bunch of spy pics of a bro to show them off, that ain't cool. :o(
-- twinArmaggedons [TA] is sending file "arrtakethatkeyboard.gif" --
TC: HA HA FUCK.
TC: that one is legit funny.
GC: 1TS D3C1D3D, W3 N33D TO R3SCU3 K4RK4T 4S4P SO TH4T H3 M4Y 3X3RC1S3 H1S MO1R41L DUT13S UN3NCUMB3R3D BY 1MP3R14L THR34TS!
AA: can we come up with a plan that does not put the whole lot of us in danger
TC: to be true there ain't much for us what to do in regards with the rescuing he's in need of, now the threshers are out his hive.
AA: can that be a thing that happens i would appreciate it
GA: Wow How Did You Go From Happy Go Lucky Clown To Wild Mood Swinging Threatening Grisly Murder Clown
CT: D --> This is merely who he is without the sopor's influence
TC: he's got people what do rescuing for a way of living
TC: WHO'D LINE UP TO MAKE A BRIDGE OF ASSES ON A SEA OF FIRE
TC: for him to set his feet up on.
TA: oh yeah man, the grey cultii2t2.
GC: YOU H4V3 4 PO1NT >:[
CT: D --> I congratulate him on returning to a state representative of the attitudes appropriate to his station
TA: 2o iif you can tell u2 more about them and al2o the guy iin KK'2 hiive who'2 one of them, that'd be 2well.
AA: equius im going to assume you do not mean it the way you said it otherwise ill have to dock all these brand new points you just earned
TC: but it's on our motherfucking back to make the rescuing be a lasting thing and that's the why of my singing them
TC: A MOTHERFUCKING SIREN SONG
TC: to my doorstep.
GA: Not That This Isnt More In Line With Your Religion As It Is Usually Portrayed However If Previously Asked I Would Have Expected The Dynamics To Be Diametrically Opposite From What They Appear To Be
TC: can my religion be a thing we never talk about ever again
TC: BE HELLS OF THANKFUL FOR IT.
GA: I Apologize I Did Not Mean To Cause Offense
TC: never worry i just don't wanna
CT: D --> I shall make a point of never bringing up that abominable mockery of highb100d behoovior again
TC: right now
TA: he ju2t ran off, diidn't look two good.
GA: Oh No What If The Threshecutioners Have Already Reached His Hive
TA: wow, ii couldn't 2ee iit before but hii2 hiive ii2 a total me22.
CT: D --> What if he has already battled the threshecutioner corps which has caused the defacement of his hive
AA: no the timing is way off for that
GC: H3 D1D S4Y H3 THR3W 4 T4NTRUM OF SORTS 1 TH1NK
TA: ok, there he ii2.
TA: you ok over there?
GC: G4MZ33 W3 4R3 34S1LY 4L4RM3D BY SUDD3N MOV3M3NTS
AA: gamzee are you currently under attack by a confused group of time-displaced threshecutioners
GA: I Get It Theyre Not There
TC: I JUST BARFED OUT ALL THE ICE I ATE :o(
TC: and also my bilesack almost made it up my foodchute along with it :o(
TC: IT'S LIKE ALL OF THE SUDDEN MY GUTS HATE AT EACH OTHER
TC: and are playing at elbows on the backseat of my bellycar :o(
GA: Did You Catch Something
GC: 1TS TH3 SOPOR 1SNT 1T
GC: OR L4CK OF 1T
TC: let's just talk other shit like how you guys were all up and wanting more knowage on the grey fuckers what stalk on karkat, i can do that, just gotta get the warn on that this is all karkat bitching about them though.
TA: but KK biitche2 about everythiing.
TC: haha, yeah, you got the truth on there.
TC: like i already up and told you fuckers they were on the lookout for a little red wiggler and snapped him right up
TC: SOON AS FIND HIM.
TC: once they done that though it seems they were all a squabble over what to do with him.
TC: SOME THOUGHT HE WAS TOO PRECIOUS TO SHARE WITH THE HARSH MOTHERFUCKING WORLD WHAT WE LIVE ON IN
TC: only the ancestor had up and told them that sharing the good is spreading the good, you get me bro?
TC: SO THESE OTHER GUYS WENT AND TOLD
TC: we can't be going to up and be all
TC: MOTHERFUCKING SELFISH
TC: about it.
TC: in the end the biggest one decided that karkat should get to up and know the world
TC: LIKE IT FUCKING IS
TC: but that there was no bad in keeping a whole bunch of eyes from afar
TC: TO GET THEIR STALKING ON LIKE USUAL
TC: and having him visit them down in their caves every now and often so they could get their bask on.
GC: L1K3 N3P3T4?
TC: THESE FUCKERS ARE MOTHERFUCKING SERIOUS ABOUT BEING UNDERGROUND.
CT: D --> Please stop mentioning Nepeta in association to this highly illegal group
CT: D --> It makes me irrationally nervous
TC: no problem, bro.
GC: SORRY 4BOUT TH4T
GA: We Will Keep It In Mind
TC: they up and let karkat out at the world with the lusus what they bred to look after him so he could up and build his hive on his lonesome
TC: AND THEN THEY ADDED THEM SECRET PATHS TO IT
TC: going underground to where their hideouts and shortcuts and wallprophecies were at.
TC: AND WHENEVER IT'S UP IN THEIR FANCY
TC: they crawl up their paths to fetch him and drag him down to their big super secret hive
TC: WHERE THEY KISS HIS FEET AND CRY ON HIS TOES AND BEG HIM TO CHANGE THE MOTHERFUCKING UNIVERSE.
TC: they dress him in matesprit red and drape him with rainbow beads and sing about how he'll reveal the hemospectrum as the
TC: MOTHERFUCKING JOKE
TC: what it is
TC: BECAUSE HE'S THE LINK IN THE MIRACLE CHAIN
TC: what turns the line
TC: INTO A MOTHERFUCKING CIRCLE.
TA: doe2 that even mean anythiing though, or ii2 iit all ju2t cultii2t p2eudo-phiilo2ophiical bull2hiit?
TC: it means karkat can breath water, he's got gills what let him sink without drowning.
CT: D --> That
CT: D --> Is preposterous
CT: D --> And impossible
TA: okay ii 2ee how that could po22iibly maybe be kiind of a big deal DAMN.
CT: D --> It must be a deception imposed by this cult
CT: D --> I have seen him in pictures and he does not display the e%pected characteristics of a member of the seadweller castes
GA: Did They Mutilate His Ears Because They Look Normal
TC: YOU TELLING ME YOU EVER SAW HIM SHIRTLESS, MOTHERFUCKER?
TC: because I have.
TC: I GOT THAT KNOWING FIRST HAND WHEN HE DRAGGED ME OUT FROM DEATH IN THE SEA.
TC: they be real as real is, bright motherfucking red gills all up and lining his little ribs.
AA: you know some of my archaeological finds make a lot more sense now!
TC: I AIN'T TRYING TO GET MY CONVINCE ON TO ANYBODY ABOUT THE REALNESS OF ALL THIS PIOUS MOTHERFUCKING NOISE NOR ANYTHING.
TC: karkat doesn't buy it either, he thinks it all be made-up fairy tales from these sad mournful motherfuckers what saw a crazy mutation and built a bajillion thousand fucking years of hopeful sandcastles on top of it.
TC: BUT NOBODY'S HEARING NONE OF THAT.
TC: not the believers and not the empire.
TC: AND WHEN HE GOT IN THE WATER TO FIND ME MY DISAPPEARASS LUSUS ONE NIGHT
TC: he got his fear on of some other motherfucker what might or might have not been flitting around in the shadows where he couldn't be right up and seeing
TC: WELL IT TURNS OUT THE FUCKER WAS REAL
TC: dumbass probably flagged up a culling drone about this icky mutant neighbor what had gills but no fins
TC: AND THE NEWS SOMEHOW CLIMBED UP THE FOOD CHAIN UNTIL IT HIT SOMEONE WHO KNEW WHAT IT MEANT.
TC: fucker's probably dead by now, just knowing you can have a mix of sea and landdweller is hells of censored.
TC: THE THRESHERS WERE PROBABLY TOLD TO CULL ANYONE WHAT EVER COULD OF LAID EYES ON HIM TOO
TC: probably not knowing they'd be up and culled too when they were done.
TA: ...we are 2O FUCKED.
TC: WHICH'S WHY I CALLED UP THOSE FUCKERS.
TC: i'mma kill the shit out of them
TC: AND DITCH THIS HIVE.
GC: Y3S TH1S 1S 4LL V3RY WORR1SOME BUT
TC: there ain't nothing for me here no more, i'm finding my bro and there ain't nothing gonna stand between us two when i'm there.
GA: Does That Mean You Intend To Join The Cult
GC: 1 C4NT H3LP B31NG CUR1OUS 4BOUT WH4T YOU M34NT BY 4RCH43LOG1C4L F1NDS
TA: hehe ii gue22 tho2e mural2 you kept takiing piic2 of are actually about KK'2 ance2tor or 2omethiing.
GC: YOU M34N YOU FOUND 3V1D3NC3 OF TH1S CULTS 3X1ST3NC3 B3C4US3 1F SO TH3N WH4T GU4R4NT33S DO W3 H4V3 TH4T OTH3RS H4V3NT 4S W3LL 4ND TH4T K4RK4TS UND3RGROUND S4F3HOUS3 W1LL ST1LL B3 TH3R3 TOMORROW?
AA: yes to sollux
AA: as for the cultists safety
TC: IT'LL ALL BE THERE BECAUSE I'LL KILL ANY MOTHERFUCKER WHAT TRIES ANYTHING FUNNY TO IT.
AA: in my experience the murals that relate to them arent actually that easily decipherable
AA: in fact im pretty sure deciphering them is part of their entrance trials
GC: OOH F4SC1N4T1NG
AA: like a way of making sure only the more motivated ones make it to their hideouts
AA: most young trolls to go as far as seeking their location in the first place are in need of help and therefore prime convert material
AA: a planetbound adult would be motivated by self-interest to maintain their secret if he or she even bothers to investigate at all
AA: i suppose a spy could try and infiltrate the group but considering its been around this long i think if there were any they ended up embracing the cult for real eventually
CT: D --> How do you not find that notion terrifying
TA: waiit waiit
AA: and if they operate in cells then finding one wouldnt help finding the others
AA: anyway i think the fact that the murals are still around at all means whatever their security measures consist of are largely successful
TA: okay thii2 ii2 all really iintere2tiing but how do you fiigure out all thii2 2tuff from a bunch of old wall 2crawl2?
AA: oh well ive run across a couple of guys in my digs
AA: some of them showed signs of restoration work so theres that too
TA: waiit WHAT
CT: D --> Megido
AA: dont act so surprised ive told you about them before!
CT: D --> I expected better from you
TA: no that can't be riight ii don't remember any of that 2hiit and tru2t me ii'd remember fliippiing all my 2hiit2 iif ii ever heard about that.
AA: you were probably in one of your manic code binges
AA: and you never told me about your dorsata thing either so there!
TA: ugh, 2hiit, ii'm 2orry about that okay.
GC: TH1S CONV3RS4T1ON 1S ST4RT1NG TO SM3LL L1K3 OLD L4UNDRY >:[
TA: iin hiind2iight ii really 2hould have, ii'm not 2ure why ii diidn't, ii'm 2uch a dumba22.
AA: you know it now and i know it now so lets drop this before we veer off topic
AA: yes this is no place to air laundry sollux well handle this later
AA: but really they just said hello and sat there quietly
AA: they werent even adults like your dorsata guy
AA: when i talked to them they were calm and polite and open to talking about the paintings though in hindsight they were mostly being vague and leading so
GA: Maybe They Were Sentries
AA: yes maybe
AA: i wonder if they werent waiting for some sort of password from me actually
AA: actually if i think of those conversations as one-sided cult code talk that makes a scary amount of sense
AA: so many actuallys
AA: but really once it turned out i wasnt responding in their code or giving them their password they should have dropped it unless
GC: H3Y 1F YOU R3M3MB3R 4NYTH1NG SP3C1F1C 4BOUT TH3S3 CONVOS
AA: they were giving me hints?
GC: C4N YOU T3LL M3 L4T3R 1T M1GHT B3 R3L3V4NT TO MY 1NT3R3STS
AA: or maybe they just wanted to talk about tempera and flower-derived paints i dunno
AA: but hey at least they werent being pushy about converting me i guess!
AA: anyway tavros should be safe if he runs into one of them
AA: and sure thing
GA: Gamzee Do You Know Anything About These Sentries And Their Methods
TC: nah, my bro never up and bitched at me about these fuckers, probably never met them even.
TC: HE KNOWS ALL THEM SECRET PATHS SO BYPASSING ANNOYANCES WAS JUST A THING HE DID ALL NATURAL LIKE.
TA: that 2ure explaiin2 how he managed to go to TV's and back 2o often 2o ea2iily.
GC: 3QU1US 1M SURPR1S3D YOUR3 NOT M4K1NG TH4T MUCH NO1S3 4BOUT TH1S
GC: NOT TH4T 1T 1SNT N1C3 BUT 1TS 4LSO K1ND OF WORRY1NG
GA: I Wasn't Going To Comment But I Did Also Take Notice Of It
TA: ehehe ii hadn't notiiced but iit'2 true ii gue22.
TA: worldviiew rocked much?
GA: Are You Seriously Trying To Provoke Him Again
TA: AAUUGGHH II'LL JU2T 2HUT UP FOREVER.
CT: D --> Oh
CT: D --> No
CT: D --> It is true that I am currently attempting to put my thoughts in order with only moderate su%ess
CT: D --> But not to the point of mistaking a perfectly a%eptable display of platonic animosity for a solicitation
CT: D --> And I believe Maryam was merely engaging in what is widely known in some circles as "friendly ribbing"
CT: D --> You may rest assured that I am not likely to misinterpret any further displays, for humorous purposes or otherwise
TA: 2tiill ain't touchiing thii2 bro.
GC: TH1S SUR3 1S D1FF3R3NT COM1NG FROM YOU
TA: what, me backiing off or hiim beiing rea2onable?
GC: BOTH 1 GU3SS
TA: fuck you both.
CT: D --> I will assume these are also humorous attempts at "friendly ribbing"
CT: D --> Regardless I am relieved to know that Vantas regards the absurd role he has been forced into with due suspicion
CT: D --> And that he appears aware of the fact that he is a genetic aberration, albeit a highly fun%ional one
TC: bro if you gonna talk that motherfuckin talk don't do it where i'll read it.
CT: D --> On the other hand the fact that he is able to fun%ion underwater is a STRONG moral blow against seadweller supremacy
CT: D --> And c001d eventually serve as a weapon to undermine their rule
CT: D --> That is undoubtedly part of the long-term plans of this "cult"'s governing body
CT: D --> As such I find that the entire movement has become slightly less unpalatable
TA: oh my god.
CT: D --> Rather than an insane group espousing an insane cause they are merely an ancient political fa%ion making a display of embracing lowb100d values in e%change for their cooperation
CT: D --> I do admit it puts Vantas in an e%tremely delicate position however
TC: GOOD FOR YOU.
GA: An Even More Delicate Position Than If These Shadowy Conspirators Were Sincere In Their Worship
GC: Y34H 1 TH1NK 1 WOULD MUCH R4TH3R K4RK4T W4S L3G1T1M4T3LY 4 SP3C14L M4G1C4L SNOWFL4K3 TH3Y W3R3 UN1RON1C 4BOUT
GA: Certainly They Would Be Less Likely To Treat Him Like A Disposable Tool In Such A Case
GA: What Is A Snowflake
GC: OH 1TS 4 M1CROSCOP1C FR4CT4L M4D3 OF 1C3 OR SOM3TH1NG
TA: fuck 2nowflake2, we gotta fiigure out what these cultii2t2 are really about and
TA: ii wa2 goiing two 2ay "re2cue KK" but fuck iif ii know how we'd even go about iit.
TC: pretty sure at least half the top guys are as sincere as can all of be, and karkat says the big boss is a sensible motherfucker so there's that.
CT: D --> Perhaps i sh001d point out that for as long as Vantas is of use to their fa%ion they are not likely to cause him physical harm
TC: NOT TO SAY I WON'T BE UP TO MAKING MY VERY OWN PERSONAL MOTHERFUCKING INSPECTION IN TIME EVENTUAL.
CT: D --> And thus as previously determined their hideout remains the safest place for him
CT: D --> I certainly do not intend to take part in any harebrained rescue attempts
AA: okay i was browsing through my pictures folder to show you guys some of the cult frescoes and found a really interesting one
CT: D --> Though I am not adverse to providing mechanical t001s sh001d the need arise
AA: extremely interesting in fact
AA: mind-boggingly so id say
TA: ju2t 2top buiildiing up fal2e 2u2pen2e and 2end them already.
GC: M4K3 SUR3 TO BLOW TH3 COLORS SO 1 C4N C4TCH TH3 D3T41LS
AA: i was doing that when i found this gem
AA: the originals were a little faded so i didnt notice
AA: but with the colors blown
AA: well youll see
-- apocalypseArisen [AA] is sending file "SDCIC_413604.jpg" --
AA: my current theory is that this is an ancient abandoned temple and/or hideout
AA: apparently it was subjected to some natural disaster because it shows no signs of fire or weapons and has only a couple of corpses
AA: its surprisingly well-preserved whichs why the colors are not completely lost
TC: can i up and sit this one out, the colors hurt :o(
TA: holy fuckiing 2hiit the body iin the corner
AA: yes isnt it interesting!
AA: it was like that when i found this place
TC: WAIT WHERE THE MOTHERFUCK IS THIS BODY
GA: Its Really Beautiful The Decoration Is Very Harmonious
GC: ON TH3 TOP R1GHT CORN3R OF TH3 FLOOR
AA: and i found it after an earthquake and a rockslide unblocked a tunnel so i dont think its been tampered with
AA: the guy really did just lie down for a nap then died
AA: the other two i found in another room were hugging
AA: maybe they were moirails
AA: anyway heres a close up of one of the murals which i think is going to blow everyones minds away
AA: since nobody seems to have noticed the interesting detail so far
GC: OH 1 H4V3 >:]
TA: what iintere2tiing detaiil, all ii 2ee ii2 KK'2 2ymbol all over the place plu2 2ome geometry and liitle cartoon2.
TA: how many people had two diie for all the2e colors? ooh ii forgot, they make colors from flower2 and 2tuff, what a load of hoofbea2t2hiit.
GC: WH3N YOU S33 1T YOUR3 GONN4 SH1T BU1LD1NG UN1TS
-- apocalypseArisen [AA] is sending file "SDCIC_413612.jpg" --
TA: okay iit'2 KK'2 ance2tor biitchiing at tho2e three 2tooges holdiing iinvii2iible trays while beiing tortured, ii gue22 iit doe2 look liike hiim 2orta.
-- centaursTesticle [CT] ‘s computer has been punched through! --
GA: Holy Shit
GA: And I Think He Saw It Too
GC: HOLY SH1T 1S QU1TE TH3 4PROPOS 3P1TH3T TO US3 1N TH1S C4S3
TC: fiine, ii am goiing two 2tare at thii2 overexpo2ed mon2tro2iity for a liitle longer and hope ii have whatever 2ort of revelatiion you guy2 ju2t had.
TC: wow this be all kinds of novelty to me, not anything my bro ever told me none about.
GA: Yes I Cant Help But Wonder Why Karkat Never Brought This Up
GA: Though Considering We Have Never Met In Person I Suppose At Least In My Case It Would Be Easy To Disguise Any Reaction Upon Looking At The One Picture I Sent Him
AA: actually the answer for that question is pretty simple!
AA: let me dig up some other pictures
TA: HOLY FUCKIING 2HIIT THAT'2 MY 2YMBOL AND MY HORNS ON THAT GUY.
TA: OH MY FUCKIING GOD.
GC: TOLD YOU YOU'D SH1T BU1LD1NG UN1TS >:]
TA: HE LOOK2 LIIKE ME AND II LOOK LIIKE HIIM AND II THIINK MAYBE WE ARE RELATED?
GA: That Certainly Puts Your Anecdote About The Crying Adult From The Illegal Hardware Store In Perspective
GA: From This Image It Appears Your Look Alike Is Engaging In Some Heavy Mourning Of Karkat's Ancestor
GA: Which Would Certainly Make Him At Least A Positively Regarded Figure In The Movement
GA: As Well As My Look Alike I Suppose
GC: JUST C4LL TH3M 4NC3STORS 4LR34DY TH4TS WH4T TH3Y OBV1OUSLY 4R3
GA: But Anyway You Just Strolled Into His Store Being All Look Alikey So To Say
GA: He Probably Thought Some Major Destiny Thing Was Unfolding In Front Of His Eyes
TA: holy 2hiit, there'2 a guy who may or may not have been my fuckiing ance2tor and tho2e dude2 actually know about hiim.
TA: ii'm kiind of freakiing out hardcore riight now.
TA: freakiing out dor2ata guy 2tyle.
TA: counter dude really had hii2 2hiit twogether, ii'm iimpre22ed.
TA: holy 2hiit.
AA: dont bless your worshipper just yet mister religious figure!
-- apocalypseArisen [AA] is sending file "early_modern_period.png" --
AA: it seems their art style shifted heavily towards abstract ornamentation at some point
AA: theyre probably unrecognizable by now
GA: My God
GA: That Is Utterly Gorgeous
GA: Look At That Knotwork I Am So Making Myself A Dress Like That
TA: why am ii a black fuckiing 2hadow?
GA: Please Tell Me You Have Other Pictures In That Style
TA: ii mean not me, my ance2tor, holy 2hiit thii2 me22ed my head up really hard.
AA: ill just clean the best ones up and send you a compressed file
GC: WH4T 4 T4NGL3 OF D3L1C1OUS COLORS
TA: tangle ii2 riight, my 2iign ii2 unreadable.
TA: ii 2ee what you mean now, AA, counter dude wa2 totally fuckiing cluele22.
TA: and KK two, iif he'2 2urrounded by thii2 2hiit.
TA: dor2ata guy knew, though. wow what doe2 iit all MEAN ii giive up.
TC: THAT'S SOME PRETTIFIED MOTHERFUCKIN SHIT BUT I CAN'T KEEP MY STARE ON AT IT NO MORE.
TC: not on at these motherfucking letters either, it's just all swimming overbright style.
GC: 1D S4Y GO T4K3 4 N4P BUT TH1S 1S L1T3R4LLY TH3 WORST POSS1BL3 T1M3 FOR ON3 SO
TC: NAH SIS
TC: i've got a date with the threshers what to be readying myself up on for. :o)
TA: be careful wiith tho2e fuckers, man.
GA: Good Luck
AA: i still think engaging them is the dumbest thing you could do right now but at this point im just way past caring
AA: just try not to lose karkat his moirail so soon after he got one
TC: WILL DO.
-- terminallyCapricious [TC] has left "TV II2 BO22" --
TA: okay ii need two go hiide iin my coon and diige2t all thii2 2hiit ii've ju2t been fed.
TA: and then maybe 2ee iif ii can't fiind 2ome 2hiit on them onliine.
TA: a databa2e two hack or anythiing liike that.
GC: YOU GO DO TH4T
GC: WH1L3 4R4D14 G1V3S M3 3V3RYTH1NG SH3'S GOT ON TH3M
GC: 1V3 GOT 4N 1LL3G4L CULT TO 1NV3ST1G4T3!
AA: you sure about that?
GC: 1M 4 POOR BL1ND G1RL
GC: 1 N33D 4LL TH3 H3LP 1 C4N G3T >:]
GA: I Guess Ill Just Sit Here Consumed By Lust Staring At My Ancestors Gorgeous Abstractly Ornamented Gown
GA: Do Keep Me Posted Though
AA: yeah i think ill just keep this chat open for general situation updating purposes
-- caligulasAquarium [CA] is no longer idle --
AA: maybe try to get those other doofuses back in here
AA: oh look whos back
CA: i'm not actually back this is just a status update
CA: still freakin out
CA: but i ovvercame the blubberin stage an noww i'm just in standard baseline freakin out mode
CA: i'll catch up wwith the info later i can't do this shit noww i'm sorry
TA: well fuck.
TA: maybe for the be2t though, what wiith all the freakiing out we've been doiing.
TA: and wiith that ii'm gone two, see you guy2 whenever and try not two diie and 2tuff.
AA: see you
GA: See You
GC: S33 YOU WH3N3V3R, M4YB3
-- caligulasAquarium [CA] is idle --
-- twinArmageddons [TA] is idle --
GC: 1 JUST NOT1C3D F3F3R1 1S OFFL1N3
AA: im reasonably sure eridan would be freaking out much harder if anything suspicious had happened to her
GC: TRU3 TH4T
-- grimAuxiliatrix [GA] is idle --
-- gallowsCallibrator [GC] has left "TV II2 BO22" --
Chapter 16: > Gamzee: auspisticize your incoming guests
The horizon is this vast evil sopor-green stain spread sloppy as anything on the line between sea and sky, like someone up and leaked their recuperacoon all over everyone else's nice clean scenery. It's evil, glaring, stabby and acid, and for as long as you sit at your doorstep you up and glue your eyes to it, revelling in the briny breeze and the straining motherfucking headache the light gives you, embracing the roar of the crashing waves and these bitching withdrawal aches as your righteous punishment for allowing shit to hit the fan this bad.
You should have never let Karkat go swimming. You should have gone to his hive instead of him to yours. You know there's no point in this mental whining but being self-flagellating is amusing and you're bored. You should have killed all sea dwellers. You should have killed— what's this sound.
Crunching sand is a noise as familiar to you as the roaring surf, but you've never heard so much of it so loud before. You turn your eyes away from the burning green, and a bright red afterburn stain follows your focus like a reminder of what's at stake, tinting the approaching figures like they're cutting through a pink haze.
They're closer than you thought. There's a hissing in your ears you hadn't noticed over the crashing waves.
It's just a handful of threshies, not any kinds of impressive shit like you'd been expecting. They're all nearly full grown, some stretchy-gangly, some funny bulky, all of them sauntering up without any try at stealth, smirking, slouching and swinging their shoulders like they think they got the patent on swag. Not one of them seems to know the right way to walk on sand, and though most of the group is threading past the tide-line where the footing is firmer they just keep looking surprised when a wave laps at their threshie twirl-shoes. What a hilarious bunch.
You don't even need your hoodoos to recognize the square-shaped blueblood riding at the front, all smirky smarmy self-assurance up on the back of his six-legged steed-lusus. He looks like he can't wait to gloat at some helpless piss-leaking brat.
You snap a picture from your palmhusk as a treat to your strongbro. He probably wouldn't much like if you took one after you're done with the lot.
They climb the sand up to your house, so slow and awkward that if you stood up and got your abscond on it'd be four to one that you could escape the whole lot of them, lusus included, so long as no one knew how to shoot. Still, you hold your butt in place and school your face as placid as any, watching their gait and the stoop of their shoulders as they strut past the red haze and into the green blur of the moon, like a bunch of motherfucking invaders breaking through the protective Karkat-halo what used to surround your life.
The boss clops up to the front, and the threshies behind him shuffle and fan out and back into something that only sort of resembles a perimeter, standing around in mildly threatening poses like a truculent gang of oversized gnomes the likes of which not even Tavros would up and care to adorn his lawn ring with.
Bossman smirks down at you from his lusus' back, a forced expression of non-hostile contempt that can't even hide his wigglerish glee. You can tell he wants to fuck with your head a little before making some grand plot-twist out of his dumbass ruse, so you decide you might as well preempt that bullshit and show him how a professional mind-screwing is done.
You unfold your body, little by little, the stiff cords in your arms and legs straining and pulling, knots tightening, joints creaking, tendons heaving your limbs up like old faulty machinery. You apply your mental face-paint, school your front into a sedate smiling mask as you raise it up to stare into his eyes through your tired heavy lids; his douchey sneer wavers a little, and you belatedly remember that you clawed your scalp a couple hours ago and your hair is probably clotted purple all over.
But hey, that'll be just extra smoke and mirrors to your freak show.
"What done you took so motherfuckin' long, my sweet diamond-bro," you rasp out, twirl a club, all nice and calm. There's just a faraway tired ache in your arm, good. "Got my wait on for hours."
The disconcerted grimace on his face lingers for a couple seconds, shifts to petulant anger, twitches into a sorry attempt at victorious sneer. It's like watching a continental drift of emotions, like an Eridan made of geologies with an extra heaping of stupid pasted on.
"It appears you have caught on to your situation fairly quickly—" he intones, all dignified authority, but you ain't waiting around for his shit, this is your show.
"Looks like you up and got some miraculous change going all up on your motherfucking self," you sing out, but your voice goes hoarse and your chest rattles; you cough on the back of your throat, spit out a gob of gunk, takes a few stumbling steps forward. "But I can't up and say I'm down with your new style, it smacks up on of some outrageous douchelordness right there."
He tries to talk when you pause to breathe. "Under Imperial orders—"
"And what the motherfuck is up with your new writing way, my bro, it makes you sound all like some dumbass fucker what got a hold of your machine what to spy on shit and who tried to chat a moirail up without ever even trying to learn how to up and motherfucking pass for your own old self, the fuck was even up with that?" your laughter clicks in your burning throat, as dismissive and contemptuous as her own motherfucking Condescension herself.
"What?" the threshie says, and his face does a lot of mixed up geology as his thinkpan tries to parse your words. Behind him, glances are exchanged. A teal snickers. They won't dance as a group when the grief starts going, and that's just as well.
You twirl your club again, widen your grin in a display so obvious not even this dumb ass fucker could misunderstand it. "Am I gonna have to pap a bitch?"
"You will be culled and so will be everyone you know!" he snarls, all dignified offense, and you take it as your cue to whip your throwing arm and let your club loose at the fucker.
It flies off your hand with a righteous motherfucking snap of air, but your aim is so off it skins the paint off his shoulder pad and instead nails some poor sod standing behind him with a nasty-ass crunch. Fucker slaps the sand with his back and sprays green everywhere, and your club twirls an arc in the air and beans some other surprised fucker on the head like poc.
Your honking laughter catches even you by surprise, breaking through their shocked stillness just like your club broke into the churning sea with a mundane splop. Weapons are pulled, fangs are displayed; Bossman just stares at the green mess on the sand, the dumb fucker, and if you were any sure of your other arm you'd have flown your other club into his skull right then and there.
Instead you allow him to have his gander on at his own pace, and to turn his head back around to you with all the motherfucking dramatic slowness in the galaxy.
"You'll regret ever crawling out of the caves, wiggler," he says, theatrically low. Probably took his sweet time craning his neck back so he could think up this whopper.
"I don't see myself doing no such thing, motherfucker," you say, trying to grab another club. Your strife deck is empty, though; looks like you only had the two in it. Are the others in your sylladex? You can't even fucking remember.
"And why not?" says Bossman, his lusus shuffling forward as he lowers the blade of a sickle-tipped spear in your general direction. The gesture looks rehearsed, with a shitty-historical-drama sort of fakeness to it, and it makes you think of a dumber, second-rate Eridan all over again.
You change your club to your other hand and mentally brace yourself. "'Cause you fuckers need me," you say.
And on that cue, you grit your teeth and focus on the well-ventilated thoughtglob behind his eyes, plant the tiniest motherfucking seed of unease in his fertile little mind-soil. Behind your own, though, a flower of pain blooms sharp and hot spreading needle petals into your pan; you squeeze the handle of your club tighter and make sure none of that showed up in your face.
He freezes on his saddle, his face shuffling through different grimaces while his mind grasps around for a suitably impressive retort — even as it supplies him with what he thinks is the full extent of his folly.
You retreat before the sting in your eyes turns to tears. Stupid fucking headache, stupid fucking sopor.
"I know why you went and got your type on with our lot," you continue, as soon as his confused face starts turning into fake smugness. It shifts right back into confused. "You fuckers got your first ever adult mission, right? Find and cull this brat and anyone what ever might've got their ganderbulbs up at him, so motherfucking easy. But he wasn't sitting quiet in his hive when you got at it, noooo." You step further into the group. "And your bosses won't up and take your motherfucking word for mission done, will they? They want a motherfucking token, am I right?" You toss your club up, and make a quick glancing account of the other invaders while they track the pinwheeling weapon as it dances above your head. "And you'll never get it if you don't treat me right, my invertebrothers."
Your club flaps down in front of your face, and you snap it out of the air with a speed that's not quite under your control, your fingers closing awkwardly a little off of the handle. You sneer before you even notice. This is no good, you're so fucking off today.
Bossman rears back a little when you glance at him, his lusus raising a dainty hoof as it leans away, and it's so ridiculous you find your gabflaps widening back into a grin. Just as ridiculous is the way Bossman valiantly and visibly rallies his wits.
"Are you doubting our abilities in making you squeal like an oinkbeast?" he says, and his dramatic intonation is just a little bit warbly.
"Hell if that's not exactly what I'm up and doing right the fuck now," you shoot back, and something pounces at you from the corner of your eye — a cerulean, sickle in hand, his face twisted.
You step away from his swipe, crouch under a sloppy fist, and it feels like your thinkpan is lagging behind when you move. You remember practice with Karkat and the way he made it all look so fucking light and soft, but this motherfucker is heavy and flaily and off and can't find his footing in the sand. You kick some at his face, then kick his legs from under him, and when his head comes down you club it for good measure; your arm is heavier than you meant it to be, and his skull gives in like an overripe fruit, spraying blue all over you.
You turn around with a swipe of your club as soon as you hear the sand crunch at your back. Something snaps, someone screams; teal droplets float in front of your eyes as the guy grabs at the splinter of bone poking out of his arm. You club his knee as well, swing at his forehead, leap over his body before he's even done falling, bring out your sylladex and pray for another club as it shuffles and blinks at the corner of your eye.
A sickle flies in from the side, and you bat it out of the air without turning to look; your joints scrape together, and you can't hide a wince when your feet hit the sand, your calves turning into knots when you crouch under a sweeping blade. They just don't move like Karkat at all, and it's throwing you off, this is taking all your concentration, where the hell is your club?
Something pops off your sylladex like the lid of a shaken faygo, slapping a distant threshie on the face with a clang and a spray of bright acid green, and you seriously can't believe you still had a sopor pie on you, that was perfect fucking timing—
You fall on your ass and laugh the hardest you've ever laughed. No one even up and attacks while you do, which somehow makes the whole fucking thing funnier, like— what are you even worried about, why are you all of taking this whole thing so motherfucking seriously? These fuckers are so easily confused, Bossman himself outright had a motherfucking script in on his head he was all up and trying to follow, trying to make this thing his own personal flarp game while his cronies just flailed around using shitty TV threshing—
And just look at motherfucking you, all trying to up and dig a motherfucking club out of your deck when these motherfuckers were outright throwing their weapons at you. You're just kicking back all sorts of stupidity like it's the choicest faygo tonight, aren't you?
You rest your elbows on your knees and shake your head at yourself. Are you afraid of losing control? Are you trying to show off? Is there even anyone in this bunch of jokers you'd have a care to keep around, and what even the motherfuck for? To sing your praises? Is this a question of pride?
Are you too proud for sloppy and dirty?
You stand back up, dust the sand off your backside. Bossman points his shaky sicklespear at you, but you just raise a finger in an unvoiced request, look around yourself until you find the closest corpse. It's the cerulean one, and just as you expected it's lying on bluish sand, a sickle, and a couple dropped specibus cards.
They just stare as you crouch by the body, like there's even anything anyone would poke around a corpse for other than loot. Is this a flarp thing? Like some sort of flartiquette that says you don't attack during looting? Fuck if you give a shit. You get a low-rate army sickle, a sicklekind abstratus and a fistkind abstratus. Time to get serious, and by serious you mean time for hilarity.
You kick down at the sand, flashstepping away without caring where you'll land. When your momentum bleeds away you're standing on a spray of shallow water; a cloud of dust and sand is settling down on the corpse you just looted, and by your side, an olive threshie stares at you open mouthed.
You don't bother with him. Straight in front of you is the lusus' white rump, which is just too great to pass up.
You aim at that rump and flashstep again; this time the sickle buries itself halfway up that white ass, and indigo sprays all over your arm and face as it tries to kick back. You snap away, ears popping and skull squeezing in and the world blurring around you, and then come to a painful and sudden stop against the wall of your hive, forehead first.
You stumble back and turn around in a daze, blinking at the the colors you just spilled in the sand. The lusus is making a huge mess, screaming and kicking its legs in limping confusion until it collapses, baying in sobs; Bossman drops his weapon like a dumbass, hugs the curving neck in wigglerish distress. One of the threshies actually puts her hands to her head. Another is coming at you.
Your wild club swing connects to his neck, and you grab his sickle from midair as he falls, focus on the lusus as the beach blurs around you once again. Bossman is picking his sicklespear back up, and the look on his face is entirely genuine rage for once, but you pass him by and instead slash the lusus' head clean off.
Nobody can call you merciless.
When your dragging feet dig into the sand there's already a sickle flying at you, and you roll away and let it smack straight into the one sneaking at your back. You're still stumbling back to your feet when Bossman comes at you from above, dude can jump, his sicklespear aimed straight down. You kick away on automatic, but suddenly your collar is choking you, something is pulling you back from the back of your shirt; gravity is momentarily reversed and you can only twist your back and curl into a ball and there's a sudden draft down your spine before you splash into the shallow waves.
You shake your head and sputter out water, and spot part of your shirt still hooked into Bossman's sicklespear. He hardly pauses, all pretense up and motherfucking gone, and you respect that, appreciate the fuck out of his next leap, his weapon aiming right to the top of your head. You kick the water from under you, splash right up and at him, your own sickle poised and primed to hook and open him straight up from the bottom — which it does, groin to neck, bending armor and rending flesh with the help of his own weight and speed.
The sickle gets yanked out of your hand, and you look down and watch as Bossman turns into the air like a fluttering rag, limbs turned every which way, and splashes into the shallow water with your sickle still hooked under his jaw.
Your feet squelch on his body when you land, raising an indigo plume in the water. He thrashes under you, the handle of your sickle waving back and forth like a weird snorkel dancing amid blue churning bubbles, and you paw around underwater until your fingers find his weapon before jumping off him and stumbling to the shore, your head swishing drunk even though you're sober as fuck.
Your stunts are catching up to you, and you feel dizzy and heavy with muscle pain. The two threshies you avoided are back on their feet and standing on your way and you're so not up to this bullshit, you're so going to fuck their shit up and dance on their guts, you're tired and sick of everything. When they stop focusing on you you take the time to breathe a couple deep breaths, and when they go slack-jawed you guess Bossman just got back to his feet.
You point your new sicklespear at them before stepping aside just enough to turn your head back. Yep. There he is, standing in a growing cloud of his own blue swill, sickle hooked under his jaw, chest protector bent upwards, the side of his belly open with some glistening stuff bulging out which you guess are his guts. He's frothing blue, and the sickle's handle crosses his face in a vaguely hilarious way. He yanks it out, eyes bulging out in fury or pain, maybe; and then he decaptchalogues a spear, an actual one, tip long and straight and wicked.
You turn back to the other two, who seem to have recovered their wits and are now running into the hardened sand — running, not jumping, you guess they learned their lesson. You block a swipe with your sicklespear's handle, twist it up to catch another, whip it into their stomachs before swinging it around to catch Bossman's jab. He's wobbly on his feet, but persistent; it takes you a few more blocks before you can gather enough footing and wits to kick more sand at him, as much wet sand as hard as you can at the glistening innards poking out of his guts. You turn around to swipe at one of the clowns at your back; they're clearly not nearly as into the fight as Bossman currently is.
You climb up slowly, water lapping at your feet, and hook one of their sickles straight out of a guy's hand, whip it up and captchalogue it before hooking your tip around its owner's neck and giving a sharp tug. The head doesn't fall or anything, but the cut is deep enough to spray teal into her companion's eyes; the air snaps behind you and you jump aside on pure instinct, a blade cutting shallow on your side, and when you turn around to hook and pull your sicklespear is blocked by Boss' spear.
You swipe and jab at him as fast as you can go, but he blocks everything you throw. He's definitely spear-trained; the awkward thing in your hands isn't even recognized by your looted sicklekind abstratus. But even though you're weak and achy and dizzy and thirsty and chilly, you have an undeniable advantage in not being in the middle of bleeding out your own guts.
The waves hit your sneakers over and over as you slowly push him back into the water. A bigger surge hits the back of his knees, and you jump over it as he stumbles and nearly falls back. That's all the advantage you need; you turn the curved tip towards him and slash at his neck with all the speed and strength you can gather in both your arms. The spray of blood is sudden, wide and short-lived, and he finally sags into the foam.
You duck and roll out of the way of another flying sickle, turn back to the remaining threshie, whip the blade at his heel, and he falls down with a strangled scream and a spray of olive, his calf bunching up into a disturbing knot. You jump on his stomach, aim the blunt tip of your weapon at his neck, but he's shaking his head desperately, sort of tangling his fingers up toward you—
His shaky fingers eventually resolve into a shape, a particular shape you know by heart.
And just like that, the fight bleeds all out of you, and you're left nothing but a shaky tired mess.
Very carefully, you set the blunt tip into the sand, and use it as a crutch as you step down from him. You know who this is— this is the one who recognized Karkat's sign but stayed quiet, the one who wasn't so much a spy as a newcomer who knew he was in over his head. You'll tentatively qualify him as harmless; there's other stuff to be done before dealing with him anyway.
The waves have rolled Bossman's spear up the beach, and you grab it and toss it up away from the water along with your own before wading in. You spot his thresh captain booties as the water retreats, and from there you manage to drag him up a little ways out of the sea, enough not to be dragged back under. You dig up his sylladex, and by chance the waves bring you a very wet spearkind like it's some sort of apology.
You proceed to loot weapons and money and kind abstrata out of the other bodies, finishing the job on anyone still breathing. There's a fuckton of sickles, a couple gloves, a riflekind which its user never got the chance to shoot you with. You put some of them away and discard others before settling down to shuffle through the mess of Bossman's ejected deck.
You find a communication device. Just what you were hoping for.
It's pretty straightforward, just a couple of buttons for sending and receiving, the kind of shit you see in movies. You press the send button. "Hello," you rasp out.
When you let go of the button, the other one lights up. "11-XE Squad, is your mission complete?" says a very official, slightly staticky voice.
"No," you say.
"Then why the hell are you contacting us?!" Voice is suddenly very annoyed. "And why are you not at the coordinates we provided? Remember, we're tracking your movements!"
"Yeah, well, see," you say, cough a little, spit out some phlegm, "the target was all up and not in on his hive where he should of up and motherfucking been at, you dig. Everyone who was all of around him got culled all up and proper just like was said to get done, then some fucker stayed back to keep watch while the whole lot done and followed this hint up at someone what might have know where he was all holed up in."
"Uh, what?" Voice asks. "Wait, is this Spearman?"
"That fucker's dead," you say. "Everyone's done kicked the wicked shit. Except for me. Hard motherfucker to get a drop up on, I tell ya."
"I demand a full report," said Voice, "and stop talking weird! Any info you have matters."
"Dude, I ain't sure how long I can talk," you play up your rasp, add some laboured breathing. "And this shit's up and complicated as fuck, you got no idea what I done seen and heard. How's about someone picks me up and I tell you on base all calm and proper over a choice cuppa?"
"No!" Voice's suddenly upset. "Give your report now, or you will be culled!"
You drop the doodad and smash it under your heel, then pick your way over the corpses back to the one alive thresher, still lying down, the waves washing away the olive blood leaking from his fucked up leg. He watches your approach with wide scared eyes, and when you get close he offers you up a neat stack of sylladex cards, all shaky hands.
"Peace, bro," you say, dropping on your butt at a respectful distance from him. "I ain't no thief. If you feel up to getting your talk up on, though, I got some questions."
"Sure!" he says, perhaps a little too hastily. "Sure, I... I'll tell you anything you want."
"Yeah," you nod. "How did you fuckers know to find my bro's hive, for starters, and what kinda shit were you fed about him?"
"We— we were just given the coordinates and a vehicle with a digital map," he mumbles. "And weren't told much of anything! More like, 'he's a mutant with rebel connections, bring him alive if you can but dead's okay, search his hive for anything strange and kill anyone who might know he exists', and I had no idea who he was until I saw his wardrobe, I, I swear—"
You stop glaring at him, blink away the strain in your eyes. You're pretty sure he's not lying, but your voodoos are so strained your head is seriously splitting.
"I believe you, fucker," you say, and if your voice's a little growly it's because you're pretty sure you're about to come down with something annoying. "They wouldn't just out and say you were all being sent up to censorclean the shit out of my bro just to get that censorship on your faces when you got back."
The look on his face is indescribable. You just nod, then slap your knees.
"So I've got myself a motherfucking quest what to take up from now on, bro," you start, "and I can't be minding you up on it. I ain't no good at patching up, and I dunno if you gonna be alright lying on here where those fuckers probably got you all tracked up to, but if you got anyone what you think can come and sneak you away—"
He rips his sign token from his armor, tosses it at you with a grunt. When he drops his arm back down on the sand he's breathing pretty harsh.
"I have no one," he says, "and I'm not going anywhere, I don't think, but— if you can take that to... to the caves—"
His voice is drowned by a sudden, loud splash and a wall of water rising up from the sea, and you're jumping to your feet before you know it, you're crying before you can even tell; you know this sound, even though you've heard it so much less than you always wished you had, it rattles unmistakable in your ears.
Fat drops of bloody water rain around you, a foaming wave climbs up past the tideline and hits your ankles, and your new threshie bro, bless his motherfucking soul, pulls out a sickle and points it up like he would be any use at all with his torn-up tendon.
The old goat snaps his jaws down on him, sand and all, and your eyes follow helplessly as he throws his great white head back, tosses his prey up and gulps it down like you hadn't been getting your talk on together right fucking now.
Like all of this wasn't his fault.
Like Karkat didn't go into the sea over and over and over to look for his no-good useless motherfucking ass all because you almost died trying to swim after him the one time.
You pull out your new sicklespear and jump.
You should have just killed him in the first place.
Chapter 17: > Be the other group
You are now the other group of threshecutioners.
You really should be paying more attention.