Gamzee goes swimming only once.
In the blackness of the caves, he crawls toward the smell of wet salt by instinct, until he reaches a pool leading out to the ocean. He can sense huge things moving and hear the splash of disturbed waves, and something comes close, a huge nose touching his side once and snorting air in and out. It half tickles and Gamzee grins blindly at whatever it is, rearing up and holding out his front legs to try to grab onto it. It bends its head, making it easy for his tiny limbs to climb onto it, and there he grabs tight to the fur between its horns as it submerges.
The rush of water over his gills is easier than breathing. They come out of the caves and below the surface, Gamzee sees for the first time. The sun hasn't gone all the way down yet and the water is lit up so brightly that everything seems to glow in green and blue, and above the sky is painted in red and pink and purple.
It's darker when they reach the shore. Gamzee is placed in a tidal pool where he stuffs himself on seaweed and smaller crustaceans until his belly's round and tight, and then he jams himself into the rocks, stilling as his skin stiffens and the pupa forms.
When he tears his old skin open with his new hands, his gills are gone. He splashes toward his lusus to try to climb onto it again but the goat bleats and honks, the angry sounds making Gamzee flinch, and shoves him back roughly onto shore.
Tinkerbull nuzzles him, but Tavros just wails louder. He's not scared, he's mad and it isn't fair and he doesn't want to be comforted. He wants retribution, he wants his lusus to run out and trample the wagbeast that showed up on his lawnring while he was out playing in the grass. It growled at him and he'd run back into his hive to tell Tinkerbull on it but no matter how loud he yelled Tinkerbull wouldn't make it go away.
Tavros is almost a sweep old and he knows what's supposed to happen. This is his hive and his lawnring and his lusus who's supposed to keep everybody away from it. It's his territory, not the wagbeast's!
But no matter how many times he tells Tinkerbull this and how many righteous tantrums he throws, his lusus never listens. The most Tinkerbull does is go out and sniff their face, and sometimes lick their head, and then he floats back to Tavros like he's done his job. Last week Tavros kicked one of the quackbeasts who landed in his lawnring to waddle around like they owned the place and it bit his nose, and then Tinkerbull had acted like it was all his fault instead of his lusus being lazy and dumb and not making them leave like he should.
And now there was a huge wagbeast outside and Tavros had thrown a rock but that hadn't made it go away at all.
He sniffles indignantly a few times and settles down to glare disapprovingly up at Tinkerbull so his lusus would understand that even if Tavros is too tired to keep shouting, Tinkerbull is still a terrible mean jerkface who doesn't really love him.
Tinkerbull, as usual, doesn't even look ashamed. He just nuzzles Tavros reassuringly again. Then he starts pushing him toward the hive's door.
Tavros flails. The wagbeast is still out there! Tinkerbull didn't make it go away and Tavros will never go outside again if it doesn't get off his lawnring, he will never do anything again, he'll just stay in his recuperacoon forever until he dies and Tinkerbull won't even care.
This doesn't shame Tinkerbull into being a proper lusus either, or even make the pushing stop, so finally Tavros crosses his arms angrily and stomps to the door. Fine, he'll go out and get eaten and then Tinkerbull will see how right he was and be sorry. Tinkerbull will cry and he'll realize that Tavros was so much smarter and that he should have let him eat all the grubcake he wanted.
When he opens the door Tinkerbull flies out to the wagbeast. Tavros doesn't get his hopes up, and as he expects, all that happens is the two looking at each other and Tinkerbull floating down to touch noses and nuzzle at the wagbeast's head, because Tinkerbull is a jerk.
Tavros trails after Tinkerbull sourly. The wagbeast is still going to bite him and it's still standing on his lawnring. If it was the wagbeast's lawnring then the wagbeast would have a hive on it, and the wagbeast doesn't, so there.
He stops a few paces away and reaches down to grab another rock, only for Tinkerbull to lightly kick his hand with a chastising whinny.
Fine. Tavros scowls with all the force he can muster and crosses his arms again, sitting. Fine fine fine. He'll let the wagbeast run all over his lawnring and maybe he'll let it into his hive too and it can be Tinkerbull's new kid if he thinks it's so great.
The wagbeast gets closer. Suddenly getting eaten and making Tinkerbull sorry doesn't seem like it's such a good idea. He starts to get up only for Tinkerbull to push down on his head.
"Tinkerbull, this, uh, this, it's, really uh I -"
The wagbeast is nose to nose with him. There's no way he'll be able to get away now. Tavros steels himself.
It licks his face.
Tavros is startled into a giggle. It sits back on its haunches, cocking its head.
After a moment, Tavros reaches out to touch it with his hand. The fur is soft under his fingers, and he feels the fleeting touch of something else, more insubstantial.
Tinkerbull settles down on the ground next to him, radiating approval.
"Okay," Tavros says slowly, petting it carefully. "You can stay, uh, if you want."
Feferi lacks for nothing. She is safe, terribly so, for none but her lusus' prodigal older daughter would ever harm her and risk an angry shout from Gl'bgolyb, her blood color gives her a hive as elaborate as she pleases, and the smallest scrap from her mother's meals is a feast.
Not that she feasts. Maybe it's that she was hatched to it, the whispers of hate and hunger. She knows the murmurs aren't her own thoughts, though if that's the protection of her blood or a personal quirk she can't guess. There's no one else to compare notes with on the planet, and Her Imperious Condescension hasn't visited to kill her yet. But Feferi, by birthright or personality, is if anything too good at rejecting them. At three sweeps she's rail thin, forgetting to eat because she's so used to pushing aside thoughts of an empty belly and a desire for blood. Her hunger is such a minor thing when the water that surrounds her pulses HUNGER with each great heartbeat.
Everything is minor beside her lusus. Feferi pats her enormous, tiny beak, and one thin tendril, huge beyond imagining, cups her loosely, brushing against her with the force of a crashing wave.
Her lusus loves her more than life and almost more than death. For her, Gl'bgolyb has come from the abyssal depths and will stay in the hot hungry shallows as a shield until she reaches maturity, even if it means starvation.
It hasn't, and Feferi is making sure it won't. Today's whales are barely enough, but they're enough. They take the edge off Gl'bgolyb's hunger, keep her temper even. Gl'bgolyb tries to only whisper the truths unbearable to anyone of lower blood, but that's only to humor Feferi's request. Nothing will distract her from protecting her charge, but anything can distract her into a fatal grumble or hiss. It's happened before. There used to be rustbloods by the closer shore.
They're unworthy, Gl'bgolyb whispers. Not like her, Gl'bgolyb's perfect pinkblooded immortal child. If they weren't unworthy weakminded mayflies, they wouldn't burst apart when they heard Gl'bgolyb's voice telling them all her wonderful truths. If they deserved to live, they'd live. It's Gl'bgolyb's answer to every death, every injustice Feferi finds.
The things Gl'bgolyb tells Feferi used to scare her. She'd cried until the water smelled like blood, demanded Gl'bgolyb say something else, say what Feferi wanted instead, or at least stop telling her about the monsters and the terrible things they said.
A prophesy is a prophesy, Gl'bgolyb told her. The horrorterrors will not change it no matter how you beg, and they will not change what they are or that they are. To say something different would only be a lie. The words will never change. Even if you never hear them, they're still the truth.
Feferi understands the day when she finds an injured cuttlefish being tormented by a troll. It's exhausted and bleeding pink-purple, and it keeps trying to pull itself into a tight ball. The troll is poking it with her claws, pinching off little bits of flesh and chasing it every time it tries to swim away.
She asks the girl why she's doing that, and the girl says it doesn't matter, it's only going to curl up and die, and weak things like that should just be killed. She holds it in her claws and tugs at it thoughtfully, ready to rip it in half. She says Feferi can cull it herself if she wants, though. A lot of the sea trolls treat her like that, either out of respect for her blood or perhaps hoping she'll spare their lusus.
She says yes and the girl is only too glad to swim away and leave her with the squid. Feferi puts the trembling thing in a cage in her room and watches it curl up and go still, the bars holding it safe against the slight current. She wakes mid-morning to see it squishing itself between the bars of the cage, hungry for food.
So she can't do anything about the words the girl said or the words she had to say back, but she can still decide what happens. Dying can be sleeping, and a cage a bed to rest in for a few hours.
Gl'bgolyb tells her always of the horrorterrors, and Feferi thinks, determinedly, friends. Because if other trolls can call her mother a monster, then surely a monster, however terrifying it seems, can be like her mother. She has no power to change the words they use, just like nothing she does can change the words her lusus whispers, screeds of superiority and songs of endless blood, but if she can change their meaning that will be the same thing. Gl'bgolyb tells her the world will end, and she thinks, reborn, remade, sleeping off the violence to wake better. The purplebloods who swim near sometimes talk to her of what they want from their empress if she's somehow the victor and what might convince them to give her their support (culling, murder, murder, culling) so she grins at them with shark teeth and says sincerely, "Yes. Yes, when I'm Empress there will be culling of everyone unworthy, a thousand times more culling than there is now, culling that would appall Her Imperial Condescension."
Terezi doesn't know where she is. It's dark and her eyes are pits of stinging pain like she's ground hot sand into them, her mind is fogged and confused, she isn't even sure if she's awake and she doesn't know where -
She breathes in.
breathe you know where you are
She breathes, in and out, smelling the familiar greenery of the trees.
smell taste hear touch you know where you are
She's outside. The air is fresher and it's pushing against her and there's dirt on the ground. She's outside and she can't see and she doesn't know where -
daughter daughter you know where you are
daughter hello daughter hello clever dragontongued little daughter
breathe breathe breathe
She breathes. "I'm outside. I can't see. Mom, I can't see, I don't know where this is. I can't see."
Mom's right. There's no point in panic. She keeps breathing, through her nose and through her mouth. Familiar forest smells. She can feel heat in spots on her skin, like hot copper. That must be the sun. It's daytime, then, and that's sunlight. She must be under a canopy, and that's why it doesn't feel like that all over. The leaves are probably protecting her from the worst of it but there's no telling how long she's been out. She doesn't even know what time it is -
She holds out her arm, moves around carefully. The spots of heat are coming down almost straight. She can almost picture them, hot-coppergold blotches on grey that will be red if she doesn't find somewhere darker soon.
If she was sleepwalking, how far could she have gone?
Sense would say not far, but sense had never met her partner.
"Vriska," Terezi says. So Vriska was still alive.
boy with brown thoughts
"It was Vriska, Mom. I'm sure of it. Somehow." Terezi still feels lightheaded and groggy, she's still not entirely sure this is even happening, but it's easy to remember something so basic.
brown thoughts that woke me
said to call you out
to bring you out
and it will be important
that you should face the sky and learn lovely daughter
all of the things
"Vriska," Terezi says again, barely short of a scream. "I -"
Her hand clamps around the spirograph necklace. Only when she's holding it so tightly there's the faint creak of straining metal does she catch herself, forces her grip to relax slightly. Then she pulls it from her neck and flings it out over the water, hard enough that she can't even make out the splash wherever it lands.
"Uh," says Tavros. "Are you, uh, sure that, uh, that was a good idea? I thought uh, she said uh..."
He stops talking when she looks at him, flashing him a fanged grin full of manic blue glee. "It's fine! I'm the best, aren't I Taaaavros? It's not like I'd ever need her help. I never did."