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Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis.

Faith is, moreover, believing in what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.

— Saint Augustine, Sermones 4.1.1

 

He sighed. His father would probably tan his hide for this if he found out – but he was certainly going to try his damnedest to keep what they were doing from ever leaving this room.

"Now look," he started out, definitely not nervous about his bleedingly obvious accent and definitely not scared. "First of all, how can these even be your gods? I've seen these guys on human art and stuff, they're some Greek gods or something—"

"I told you, Strider, whatever it is you're talking about came from the Dioskouroi!" the little troll interjected. "They say that our universe made yours, so if that's true it's not that strange that whatever cultures came up on this planet freeloaded off of ours—"

"Whatever, man," Dave interrupted in turn. "I don't want to argue with you about all of that crazy science stuff. I'm not going to start another argument with you over that 'universe creation' mumbo jumbo, because look, I know I'll lose. I admit it. Just go on and let me see!"

"Oh sure, right away, let me just go ahead and put my innermost religious convictions right up here on display for you to gawk at, human boy—"

"Sollux, come on! I promised you I wasn't going to say anything!"

For a second time, the other boy just sighed. "Fine," he muttered. "Come up here and sit behind me so I can start. And shut up. That last part is especially important."

Dave did as he was told – one of the rare occasions he could remember doing so without some sort of comment. But he had wanted to see this for a while. The soft, plush-looking comforter was only a bonus to being able to see something so secret and important to his friend.

When he had comfortably situated himself on the bed, and achieved – he guessed – a suitable level of having shut up, he saw Sollux finally open up the diptych's little doors and do that funny thing where he touched his thumbs to his index fingers and faced his palms in a triangle towards himself, which Dave guessed counted as the troll version of folding your hands. He had started talking now, anyway, very quickly and softly and under his breath in what Dave could at least recognize as some kind of Alternian, even if he had absolutely no clue what it actually meant – it was old, it sounded old, like the words of his father's missal or the chants and the masses he'd seen in the churches of Rome, and even here in Sollux's little hive with the little icon in front of his friend something about this seemed like the last time he'd been in his own kind of church. He could tell this was special.

He had been curious about this for the longest time – he liked hanging out with Sollux and learning about him even if he was a snarky heathen alien.

A snarky heathen alien who even now, after only six months of friendship, he was quite fond of.

He couldn't help it - he knew exactly what his father was going to say if he found out, but at that precise moment, sitting so close to him, hearing Sollux's little strange whispers and watching his nimble gray hands entirely too closely, he didn't care.

All he could do was shoot a despairing glance up at the ceiling, ask Mary to be patient with him, and shoot a little thought sideways to ask those funny twin gods to watch over him, too.

Chapter Text

Quid est mare? Refugium in periculis.

What is the sea? A refuge in time of peril.

— Alcuin's Catechism

 

Seuastis was the biggest seaport she had ever seen. It was certainly the biggest one on the Euxine, at least after the shimmering ports of the Sublime Gate in the south, and on the early mornings where she would sneak down to the Sailor's Town down by the harbor, the harsh confining narrow streets of the city gave way to forests of masts and cloud-castles made of rigging and sails – all of this, to her, for all of its vulgarity and all of its treachery, was nevertheless a thing of exquisite beauty. The ships here enchanted her in a way nothing else had before: they were tall and graceful and though none of them were exactly like the ones from her favorite stories, they recalled to her the dreams of pirates and captains and one day sailing away to live like a king in the little coves and islets and the sublime majesty of the open sea.

Not to say, of course, that this idyllic life on the waves would mean she'd be any less busy. She was only five sweeps old but she already had her entire future planned out: even then, she knew she had more irons in the fire than just about aaaaaaaanyone. Or she would, once she got old enough to get taken on as a deckhand, and she was a troll, after all, so from there everything would practically end up a blur as she rocketed up the chain of command—

"I said, what the fuck do you think you're doing here, girlie?"

She whipped around when she realized she had heard a voice. She'd been quite content to daydream like she had been doing, and she certainly hadn't counted on being interrupted. Everything seemed to slow down for a moment as she took in the sight in front of her. At least it wasn't another troll – she had panicked, for a second, before noticing the horrible accent – but the voice evidently belonged to one of the three hulking human men who had been lurking behind her.

"A pretty girl like you don't belong down by the harbor, sweetie," one of them drawled, the big one to the left of the man closest to her. "What's a pretty little bug like you doin' alone down with all the big ol' sailor-men here?"

As she heard that hot, ugly voice, she couldn't help it – she might have still belonged to the age humans classified as a child, but she was old enough to know that she was no hiveduster and that she didn't need to put up with this sort of slander from some cocksure pink monkey. Her vice was pride, it always had been, and she wasn't about to apologize for it. A piss-drunk human wasn't about to get a rise out of her – no human would ever be able to claim that power over Vriska Serket – and she wasn't going to let them ruin her trip to the harbor. She just snarled and flipped him the deuce before whirling back around and stalking off towards the water.

When she felt a hand on her shoulder, pulling her back around to face the group behind her, time ground to a halt.

She felt her bloodpusher rev to life like she'd been hit by lightning. She saw the leer of his face and the way his lips were moving, spilling out noise in some barbarian tongue she had no real care to learn; she could tell her eyes had gone wide and she could tell too when they caught sight of her vision eightfold. Dropping down into a crouch, she grabbed the long, thin knife out of her boot and flicked out the blade with the precision and ferocity of a viper. Humans never expected someone her age to fight cold like this, but these ones looked old, too old to count on the fact that she was a troll; adult humans never realized that her lack of a lusus only made her sharp as glass and hot as gunpowder, they never counted on her to be cunning or strong or worth anything in a fight.

The hot red blood on her fingers, as always, reminded her that they were aaaaaaaalways wrong.

Time suddenly jerked back into motion, then, with a surprised gasp from the troll girl and a howl from the sailor who was now clutching a mangled knee. In the split second before the other two realized what had happened, she bolted off towards the water, knowing dimly what little good it would do for her but also hoping her pursuers wouldn't have the sense to call her bluff.

Chapter Text

A generous friendship no cold medium knows,
Burns with one love, with one resentment glows;
One should our interests and our passions be,
My friend must hate the man that injures me.

— Alexander Pope, Homer's Iliad,9.725

 

The racket coming from above decks was positively fuckin' obscene, if you asked him. That was the problem with ports like this – this was nothing like down in Dersaadet, up here was fuckin' all sorts of land-dwellers not knowin' fore from aft in the way they ran these incompetent little crapshoots, with the little piddlin' roachboats all crammed up between the really magnificent imperial cruisers, lettin' all the lowblooded scum make rackets like this fuckin' early as you please and interrupting his exceedingly important circadian fuckin' rhythm—

The noise from above didn't stop, so Eridan Ampora rolled over in his bed and groaned into the pillow. He was not currently on good terms with the concept of "morning."

At first it had just been a dull sort of thump. Fair enough – he didn't like it, but he'd had plenty of incompetent land-dwellers bump into the Revenge and even at a young age like this he had enough experience in multiple dialects of cursing to ensure that anyone intent on playing bumperboats with him would soon regret it. That sort of thing, in itself, wasn't really much cause for panic.

The first actual wave of alarm came when he heard the gunshots. Gunshots, like idiots hitting his ship, were again not in and of themselves a major source of worry for him. Most of his concern came firstly from the fact that the shots were generated with gunpowder, and secondly from the fact that they weren't coming from him.

When he realized this, he actually jumped up from the tangle of sheets he was lying in and hauled himself to his feet. He fumbled around the top of the bedside dresser for some kind of shirt, already cursing to himself and swearing more vehemently when he kicked his shins into the edge of the bedpost. His shirt was half-tucked and he was pulling his boots on at the same time he was busy sliding on a belt, and he was extremely certain that he looked like the worst kind of death warmed over; then again, he supposed, there were on rare occasions more important things like his ship to worry about than making a good figure.

The last thing he managed to grab before bolting through the door was the pistols – pearl-handled, cold as death, bright as stars, they had been a gift from Dualscar himself. They could take powder but they were mainly one of the few electroweapons still working on this godsforsaken planet, and like hell he wasn't going to need them when he went topside.

As it was, he would be completely correct. There were very few things he hated more than being correct about this kind of thing. One of those things, incidentally, was the frequency with which this kind of thing had ended up happening to him over the five short sweeps of his life.

At present, though, the greatest of his problems were the two humans on deck and the little troll girl currently cavorting around in the rigging of his ship.

"Wwhat the bleedin' fuck do you think you're all doin' here?!" he shouted. Most humans these days – or at least the once who hung around the harbor – had at least a minimum of Alternian; he didn't really stop to think about controlling his accent at the time. "You should knoww better than to be up there in the sails of a highblood's ship," he snarled at the girl, who was now clinging perilously to the mast, "and you twwo should get damn wwell outta my sight before you learn wwhy grubfuck stupid humans like yourselvves don't mess wwith seadwwellers!"

One of them laughed then and turned to say something to the other human – of fuckin' course in one of the multiple miscellaneous human dialects, which, as any self-respecting seadweller would, Eridan had never taken upon himself to learn – before they both rushed him, wickedly jagged knives bared and flashing in the weak early sunlight.

Later on, he would learn that they had underestimated Vriska, too, and his opinion of human intelligence would deteriorate only further.

In the meantime, though, all he could concentrate on was the sudden shift in the angle of the deck and the cool, solid weight of the pistols that had suddenly appeared in his hands.

Chapter Text

Caelum, non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt. 

Those who cross the sea change their sky, not their souls. 

— Horace

 

John Egbert was very excited.

He had never been on a trip like this before. He was certainly anxious – he had been planning this for months, with the help of both sides of his family and a lot more luck than he had ever really expected to have. The past three days of his life had been spent wending his way down to the big city from the farm up north – big city, hah, well, it was what passed for big on this side of the world, at least!

As of right now he had been waiting in the terminal for almost three hours. He wanted to be early, he had protested, and just as he always remembered him doing, his father only laughed and smiled and nodded his agreement.

In retrospect, it might have been getting a little ahead of himself to arrive so early, just so he could end up waiting. But what could he say? This was the first time any of the Egberts in living memory would be going back to the Old World – and what a New Old World it was going to be! His father had been a surgeon during the Great War, but he had never seen duty overseas on account of his leg. They had heard all of the stories, they'd seen the newsreels and photographs just like anyone else; any time he would think about it or ask himself what might have been different, John could never find a real answer, other than thinking again, plainly and simply, how grateful he was that his dad never been called up to go.

He hadn't thought of that for a long time. And now here he was, waiting impatiently on a bench in New York's Peressor Seaport to catch an imperial cruiser to the Jewel of the North.

Sometimes, John had started to notice, the world was funny like that.

Anyway, to pass the time earlier, he had scrounged up the last of the change from inside his coat pockets and bought some of the cheap little magazines from the stand – even one in Alternian. (He had been feeling particularly industrious.) By now, though, he had run over most of them, and some of them even multiple times. He wasn't bored, not at all, but he could feel the first tingling prickle of idleness creeping over his skin, and if it was at all possible he wanted to avoid that fidgety, anxious feeling for now. Maybe it would be a good time to get a snack before he actually made his way over to the boarding area.

Reaching down into the messenger bag at his side, he rummaged around for one of the multiple baked goods he was sure were hiding in there. Sure enough, right inside the bag there was the familiar texture of a bundle wrapped in baking parchment – the tell-tale sign of a successful pastry hunt. Right next to the familiar package of sweets, though, there was an unfamiliar presence of a single slender envelope, which he was quite surprised to find.

Pulling both of the packages out of the bag, he set the little packet of food back down. His curiosity had been piqued, and he didn't want to get anything over the contents of the mysterious little package. Trying very resolutely to conceal just how intrigued he had become, he slowly opened the flap of the unsealed envelope – and he was greeted by two smaller envelopes falling out onto his lap.

One of these envelopes was small and pristine, made of a crisp, bone-white cardstock that already betrayed it as being from his father. The other envelope, though, was emblazoned all over with foreign postmarks. The one covered in stamps looked more interesting, so he pulled that one out first and, still feeling quite like a boy on Christmas morning, he began to read:

HI JOHN!!!

I know it's been ages since we last saw each other - how are you?! I can't believe you're going all the way to Prospess!
What a goober you are, hahaha.What all are you planning to do while you're in St. Petersburg? I hear there's lots of neat stuff to do.
You better learn where a girl can have fun, so when I come to see you it won't be a total snooze! I've only been to troll cities
on this side of Siberia, so I've got no idea what it'll be like over by the capitals. In case you ever wonder, all the troll
cities up in Kamchatka are actually pretty tiny, and boring a hell - their vodka isn't even good. Don't even bother! :p

Anyway I won't keep taking up too much more of your time. I know you must be pretty excited for the hop across the pond!
Try not to do anything too dumb, like running into the troll magia or pissing off one of their highbloods. Make sure you
remember to write me!! I don't know how you're gonna take care of yourself once you get into a real city, haha. Oh, and -
I'm including my new address for you so you can let me know where you're staying! Your birthday is coming up in a few months now
and I need to know where to send your present. >:)

love always cuz!!

Jade <3

P.S. - Bec sends his love! woof woof :)

He couldn't help but laugh as he read the postscript. Jade was his cousin, who was currently going with her grandfather on a Grand Tour of the world. He might have known she wanted to get his address in Prospess! They only very rarely got the chance to see each other in person; her grandfather had owned one of the biggest world-wide shipping companies before the Great War, and unlike so many of his competitors, since the truce, instead of moping or bemoaning the tides of fortune, he had spent his time only working harder to rebuild, reconnect, and make even more contacts. It would be great if they could keep up through letters, he decided, and he made an enormously important-looking mental note to let Jade know where he was staying as soon as he found a post office close enough to his lodgings. 

As he was thinking about just how one would go about finding an Alternian post office, though, the smaller envelope seemed to wind its way back into his hands, as if of its own volition. John smiled again, and carefully folded Jade's letter back up to file it safely away. The second envelope was unmarked, but he had been acquainted with that sharp white cardstock since he was only a child; there was no need for any indications to be written on the envelope. Inside, just as he had guessed, was one of the plain, elegant cards his father was so fond of. The message covered only a single side – the card itself could have easily fit inside his palm.

I THINK I ALWAYS KNEW THIS DAY WAS GOING TO COME. YOU ARE SUCH A BRAVE YOUNG MAN TO BE DOING THIS ON YOUR OWN, AT ONLY SIXTEEN. I KNOW YOU WILL DO WELL IN ANYTHING YOU SET YOUR MIND TO.

TRY TO KEEP WARM AND SAFE WHILE YOU ARE IN PROSPESS. THE LALONDES WILL MEET YOU AT THE SAINTPETER LANDING BAY WHEN YOU ARRIVE. YOU HAVE A GOOD HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDERS. I KNOW YOUR MOTHER WOULD WORRY, BUT I THINK SHE WOULD ALSO BE RIGHT HERE BESIDE ME TODAY AS I SEE YOU OFF HERE AT THE TERMINAL. I'M SURE THAT AS SHE'S LOOKING DOWN TODAY, SHE'LL BE SMILING.

WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU.

For a moment, John almost forgot where he was; people were still flitting here and there throughout the terminal, signs clacked and loudspeakers buzzed as delays or transfers were announced, but after reading the few small words on the card in his hands, the rush and throng of the crowd around him had fallen suddenly to perfect silence. 

He sat there, for a few seconds more, his subconscious trying desperately to decide if the blush he felt was from his proud smile or from the tears on his cheeks.

Chapter Text

Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward. Whoever cannot take care of himself without that law is both. For a wounded man shall say to his assailant, "If I live, I will kill you. If I die, you are forgiven."

 — the code of omertà

 

—it was his own fucking business, thank you very much, and he did not care to share his name with the likes of you, fuckass, thank you ever so! 

Even at thirteen of these human sweeps he had already amassed an impressive vocabulary of expletives. He didn't care; English and Russian just did not supply the right magnitude of verbal firepower for this kind of thing. And anyway, as it was, he was currently busy trying to keep quiet. 

This whole mess had all started out as the easiest errand anyone could have run, a little job casing the western end of this fancy new building that was being set up along the west side of the Field of Mars. He had it on the word of the only troll he'd trust with his life that inside was the sweetest haul the guild had ever seen – there was gold and iridium and incorruptible silver, plus a shitload of all the art and human cultural artifacts that would go for fortunes on the black market. Plus, it was the middle of Earth winter. Prospess was the summer capitol. No one in the entire guild, not even the Eyes at the branch down in Dersaadet, had guessed that she would have come today. 

Now he was stuck clinging to the battlements of this ridiculously florid neoclassical shitshack while the fucking Imperious Embodiment of Supercilious Disdain scintillated and strutted around down in the courtyard below, chatting and bubbling with her train of toadies and whatever diplomats she had picked up that day. They were probably doing something hilariously mundane like picking out curtains for the human art museum she was planning on putting in here. He would have absolutely zero problem with this as long as they continued to pay no fucking mind to the walls up above them! 

Clinging totally fearlessly to the dew-slick crenellations, he began to very vehemently berate himself, his mind running a staccato flurry of curses even he was afraid to voice aloud. At the moment, of course, this was mostly because of the fact that he was a thief trying to stay unnoticed by the relatively large group of people milling around forty feet below him. More than anything, he was trying desperately to convince his teenage self that he was going to get out of this alright, that he wasn't going to end up impressed into participation at the games and then vivisected for the entertainment of the public when the secret got out—

No. He wasn't going to think about that. He was calm. This was okay – dangerous, but okay. The situation was under control. What was the Boss always telling him? 

"Stop bein' so clingy." 

Jegus, no. That was not it. 

"Walk. Stab. Walk." 

Holy Mary in Heaven, no

"Quit fuckin' worryin' so much." 

 Yeah. Okay. Maybe. That sounded better. That, he could work with. Probably. Let's go with that. 

He made a quick inventory of anything that might even have been remotely useful on his person. This led him to the conclusion that under ideal conditions – ideal conditions, mind you – the impact velocity of his plummeting body, falling at the precisely correct angle, might have been enough to mess up her coiffure. Okay – okay. This was about flight, not fight. His knives would have been of absolutely zero discernible use to him in this situation. 

With everything Sollux had ever told him about their ancestors, he never wanted to think of anything even remotely connected to the idea of fighting her, anyway. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a half-finished balcony maybe twenty feet down and left of where he was currently hanging onto the building. While the distance, to him, seemed like miles, at this point it was probably his best chance for survival – he was already digging his claws into the soft plaster of the façade as he headed towards it. He was moving with exquisite care, taking literal pains to proceed as slowly and precisely as possible; as far as he could tell the gathering in the courtyard below was going on as usual, as if he hadn't been noticed at all. That was good. That needed to continue being the case. 

For a fleeting moment, he thought that he might just pull this off – he had just turned the corner to lower himself down to the balcony, and he'd even started thinking about just how he was going to tell Slick about his when he got back to the den – when, predictably, the axe fell. 

"What is that?" 

The next thing he knew his arms froze up and he could have sworn he felt his heart stop. He fell a distance of almost twice his height down onto the shoddy plywood surface of the balcony before cursing himself loudly and forcefully; he didn't have to turn his head to feel the hundred pairs of eyes all rise up to fix on him. 

The vague ache in his arm, he realized dimly, was coming from a badly skinned elbow. As he pulled himself up on the balustrade, cherry-bright blood seeping slowly down the thin cloth on his arm,  he suddenly realized what had actually happened, and time itself seemed to stop. 

He swore again. 

He had could almost hear the roar of the Condesce's whirlpool-hungry grin. For a lightning-quick second, their eyes met, and he knew, he knew who she saw . 

Only a troll as stupid as Karkat Vantas – goaded by anger into sheer, vulgar fright - would have thought this an opportune moment to flip her a double salute, before bolting for his life off through the half-finished museum behind him.

Chapter Text

Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?

— Proverbs 27:4

 

Later on, even for all of her interest in the blooming field of psychology, if anyone had told Rose what all of this subconscious fixation actually meant she would have outright laughed in their face.

She had known the calling of the jade-blooded caste as long as anyone else. Her mother was the appointed ambassador to Prospess when Rose was only four months old. She had been speaking Alternian by the time she was five, and she'd gone on to have full command of the ayshaza by seven – displays of her calligraphy around her mother's private offices had, at the time, given even some midblooded dignitaries pause. Her formative years were spent at the first integrated schoolfeeding pen in the Western Hemisphere and yes, she had passed with flying colors even by the extraordinarily harsh troll standards of education. While other human children were busy frittering time away with spelling, pasting, and the Oxford comma, she had been learning sharpness, cunning, heat and cool. Saint Herodias' School for Wigglers – and she sincerely doubted that there was a Herodias even in the most generous hagiographies – had not been a place for the meek of survival instinct.

Rose Lalonde, despite her apparent introversion, was anything but meek.

The first time she saw the jade-blooded girl was the evening of June 12, 1922. Rose remembered it very clearly. She was fourteen years old. By that time, she had already lived in Prospess for over half of her life. She was walking home, as she did every day, her schoolbooks neatly collected into the dusty lilac satchel at her side and her bright black engineer boots making a sharp contrast to the rest of her otherwise sensible uniform. The route she took was easy and practiced, familiar to her as the plan of her bookshelf; even then, although she considered herself only a child, she knew she was one of exceptional independence, and she was not afraid like other children of walking home alone.

One of the landmarks by which she navigated her way back to the ambassadorial residence was the old convent of Saint John. Since the Great War and the flight of the Sisters Minoress it had naturally defaulted to the possession of the Condesce, and nothing more had been said of the property for as long as Rose could remember. Things had, apparently, changed, as evinced by the sudden presence of moving personnel and sizeable increase in activity on the building's front lawn.

Her walk slowed from "brisk" to "curious" as she approached the property. Upon closer observation, all of the trolls she could see were carrying things into the building – things in long ebony cases, things crafted of bright emerald and shimmering metal that even she had never seen before. Her curiosity had been piqued. By this point she had come to a complete stop, watching very intently through the cast-iron fence. She knew her mother would call her rude for gawking but she was watching them; she would never admit it even on pain of death but Alternian customs fascinated her, and even after ten years in troll school she knew almost nothing about their religion. More than anything else at the moment, she was almost certain she recognized the signs and seals on the crates and the venerable abbess stepping out into the front garden – and that could only mean that this had been decreed a cloister of the Order of St. Iperagia herself.

She jerked out of her wondering gaze when she heard a sedan pull up the street behind her. There was hardly time to wonder why it was there – there had been no pause between the vehicle being parked and the heavy click of the doors being unlocked, and she hardly had time to think before she saw a tall troll girl pull herself out of the back seat and felt her heart stop. The girl was elegant in her carriage, economical in her movement – but she caught Rose's eye like a phosphorous flare.

Rose Lalonde was not generally given to be swayed by passions. She knew, even as she saw it, that the abbess' hug was chaste and probably filled with all kinds of esoteric Alternian shades of nuance she could never understand. She realized that she was only a stranger, only a child, playing the busybody on her way home from school – she knew that she and the other girl would never interact, that their worlds would never intersect after this fleeting moment of not even talking to each other, and in a burst of stoicism born of desperation she could even accept it.

But in that instant, for the first time in her life, she knew the meaning of jealousy, and it burned like smoldering ash.