Chapter 1: three newspaper clippings and a hastily-written post-script
Despotism tempered by assassination – that is our Magna Carta.
— A Russian Noble to Count Münster on the assassination of Paul I, Emperor of Russia
JUNE 30/17, 1908 – EKATERINBURG, SOUTH OURALIA AUTONOMOUS PRECINCT. Reports are pouring in this morning from the easternmost districts regarding what was apparently a terrifyingly powerful explosion, believed to have taken place near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, Siberia. Leading scientists are as yet unable to explain the cause. The Venerable Oksandr Petrovich Samaroff, Speaker for the Electoral Council of the Federated Scythian Republics, has released multiple press statements, eagerly reassuring the Central Union that all is well and that the much-anticipated popular elections will continue to be held as promised over the coming weeks.
All currently available evidence seems to indicate that the event was in fact merely an environmental anomaly, a strange excursion from the usual course of things but nevertheless nothing to be taken as serious cause for alarm. Scientists and great minds from every corner of the globe have been invited to a public investigation of the site, scheduled to begin July 15/2. Interested parties are requested to forward requests for a researcher's permit to Dr. Leonid Kulik at the FSR Office for Development, address below.
JULY 6/JUNE 23, 1908 – PETROGRAD, UNITED NORTHWESTERN FEDERATED DISTRICT. In the nearly week-long stretch of time since the mysterious occurrence of the so-called "TUNGUSKA EVENT," no word has returned from the affected province.
Two days ago, Premier Chuluuny, speaking on behalf of the Great Khan from the Summer Palace, expressed the disapproval of the Kulun People's Republic regarding the current information blackout. Similar concerns have been put forth both from the Chrysanthemum Throne and the United American States. Speaker Samaroff once again reassures the people that the Electoral Council is working to investigate the situation with the greatest possible expedience. No news, the Speaker explains, must be taken to be good news. The area in which the event is believed to have taken place is in a remote region of Siberia, one still out of reach of the FSR's wide-spread telegraph lines. All is doubtlessly well, he assures us, and in a few weeks, life will surely begin its return to normalcy throughout the entire Edelian Hegemony.
JULY 14/1, 1908 – MOSCOW. Results from last week's elections have been officially tallied, as reported by our correspondent in the FSR capital. As expected, the increasingly unpopular Centrist party has been swept from office in seventeen out of twenty federated provinces. Earlier this morning, Oksandr Samaroff officially stepped down as acting Speaker of the Council and is not expected to run for reelection. A representative for Mr. Samaroff has declined to comment on the current situation. Governments the world over applaud the peaceful transition of power, while human interest groups herald a new era of stability, one founded on reason and tolerance, and countless others proclaim peace in our time. Today, we can only look on and share in the pride and excitement surely felt by the jubilant citizens of the New Federated Scythian Republics.
[Underneath the edge of the somewhat tattered collage of news clippings, it appears that someone has added a postscript. It is written on a piece of dirty stenographic paper, in bright black ink that jumps out from the newsprint gray of the three small articles above.]
No one expected that the giddy childlike glee would eventually end.
No one expected that they would rise up out of nowhere, an insatiable horde with unbeatable soldiers and voracious greed for expansion.
Nothing killed them. Nothing hurt them. The fools who thought they were monsters tried using silver swords on them; they died just as quick as the old campaigners who still fought with their Prussian-made pistols. Even the double-powered Yankee rifles that could stop a bear at fifty yards didn't do more than put them out for a while at most, and God help the poor bastard who was up against one of the strange laughing demons – the ones who more than any of the others seemed to eschew proper battle etiquette, the ones who had no concept of stealth and who always came bounding up covered in what even then everyone knew was rainbow alien blood.
The greatest tragedy of the entire war was that no one had expected them.
We were the heroes. We were the biggest bullies on the block. We were humanity, for God's sake. No one had ever pushed us around – we were still too vain and conceited to even know there was anyone else out there who could have done the pushing.
In the beginning, after all, the world had only laughed at the notion that the war might last beyond two months. They brought picnics and cameras and threw parties overlooking the battlefields, since most of the invaders didn't use guns; nobody realized yet that they didn't need them. No one had the sense to realize their poor, brave, valiant boys had gone up against the very legions of Hell.
Chapter 2: snake charmer
hehehe well, I figured I might as well post this now. I'll be gone for a little under a month starting on Tuesday, so here's something hopefully decent for the meantime. I hope everybody had a good New Year. :D
...aaand I'm super-tired right now so I really have no idea what else to say, lol. As always, thank you for reading. c:
Dave Strider was the smoothest bastard this side of the Nevsky Prospect. That much, at least, he was sure of.
He was currently extremely unsure, however, of whether or not he was going get through the rest of the day with his skin.
"I asked you, did you fucking say something to us, pinkskin?" a stupid-looking blueblood asked him, pinning the human's shoulder back up against the wall. "What makes you think you even got the right to fucking talk to the Particulars?"
"You are drunk off your nookwhiffing asses if you think I actually wanted to talk to you shitwits," he drawled, bringing out the hard, dagger-sharp pilot's accent and definitely not even grimacing as he felt the acute strain of tension building up in the bones of his left shoulder. It wasn't even really like he had never been in a spot like this before, and he sure as hell had enough experience with pissy highbloods like these. He was definitely not grimacing. "I was just saying that I couldn't believe the kind of mudbloods they let into the Particulars these days—"
"And I bet you think you're so fucking clever, talking in Alternian and everything to us, makes you feel like a big fucking preybeast!" The first troll just grinned and slammed the human harder into the brick wall. Dave had had bones broken before – not like this, but broken – but if the urgent sensation of pain coming from his shoulder was any indication he was about to have that exquisite pleasure again and extremely soon—
He felt a visceral snap from somewhere near his shoulder only a heartbeat before he heard the whisper-soft crackle of lightning shoot out in front of him.
When he looked up again to the big troll holding him, there were twin streams of blue pouring down from his eyes. The other troll was standing dumbstruck beside him, trying to figure out what had happened to his partner. Dave actually stood there for a second, still as death and high out of his mind on adrenaline from his screaming shoulder before he realized what had happened.
It was only when he heard a familiar voice hiss "Go!" that he remembered he had just been in the middle of a shakedown by the North Prospess Particulars. He laughed to himself, despite the white-hot agony in his arm, and made a mental note to thank those funny twin gods when he got home, before bolting out of the alley and hoping to his own deity of choice that he wouldn't end up being followed.
By the time he strolled through the door – well, in the end, at least he had managed to get home alright. No one had followed him, and his screaming arm was thankful for it; running had been a bad idea in the first place, but he had had no choice. Over the course of the winding rabbit-path he always took to cover his tracks, the merciful natural high of shock and alertness had begun to wear off. He kept going – what else was he going to do? – but he could tell as he had steadily slowed into a jog and finally into a quick walk just how bad a state his shoulder was in.
When he turned the corner into their little alley, he allowed himself a breath of relief. Soon enough, he was facing the familiar honey-golden door, and he was too distracted by his arm to feel the usual benign irritation at the fact that there was neither a "221" nor a "223" on this street – or any other numbers at all.
The smart brass handle turned smoothly under his shaking right hand. The door had been left unlocked, and Dave knew that meant Sollux must have been only a few minutes ahead of him. It swung open without offering any resistance, and if he'd been in a better state of mind – if he weren't becoming rapidly and painfully more aware of what exactly had happened to his shoulder – he would have made an effort to complain. He'd lived in this city long enough to know unlocked doors were invitations of most gracious kind, whether the house attached to them belonged to guildsmen or not – not everyone was hunky-dory chummy palsy with the guild, even in neighborhoods that had been built with guild rag from the bottom up; as far as Dave was concerned that was an entirely different matter to be concerned about but he didn't do their PR, he didn't do jack shit for the guild officially except maybe wining and dining their best safecracker and keeping the little goober out of the worst of harm's way—
...Anyway. As it was, he was only wobbling slightly in the wake of taking off his jacket – it was warm and snug, which would have been great under any other circumstances, but he had thoroughly cursed himself for thinking it was a good idea to try and pull what definitely felt like a broken arm out of the sleeve. He could barely feel his fingers by the time he had tossed the coat onto the armchair by the door.
As he made his way through the hallway, he was really too busy trying to bolster his impervious coolkid mask to make much of an effort to complain at all.
The troll with whom he shared this hive was, as expected, in the culinary block when he came in, leaning back against the countertop and rubbing his funny mismatched eyes with the heels of his hands. Somewhere in the back of his mind Dave felt a sudden spark of guilt: he had known, or guessed for a while now, that Sollux's powers could come with the downside of nasty kickback if he used them without warning, so to speak. Evidently, his guardian angel had arrived only by the luckiest of coincidences, and hadn't had the chance to warm up beforehand.
He half-opened his mouth to apologize, trying as best he could to continue the pretense of a post-adventure raid on the thermal hull. When he saw Sollux's expression after looking over to him, though, he realized his stone-cold poker face must have been slipping.
"You idiotic little wiggler," the troll hissed, audibly irritated, though not doing a very impressive job of hiding the worry in his voice. "You were stupid enough to get yourself hurt before I even showed up to save your miserable ass, weren't you?"
"I'm fine," he insisted, trying to pull himself together and hide the way his voice was shaking. "They just banged me up against a wall, is all, no big deal."
"Dave, even I can see that something is wrong with your arm," Sollux deadpanned back. "Come on. Get your coat back on. Or just wrap it around you, I don't really care. I have zero idea of how to take care of a human and I'm not going to be responsible if you up and die on me or something."
"What are you going to do? Take me to a doctor?"
"Of course I am, idiot!"
"And you know a good doctor to take me to, yeah?" Dave asked with a laugh, his head swimming as with the effort of remaining upright. "You know a good human doctor to take me to? Do trolls even have doctors, Sollux?"
"Of course we do," he shot back. "They're miles better than the butchers you humans call doctors, too, and that's where we're going to go. Come on, I told you to put your coat on."
"Sol, it's practically the fucking middle of March already, I was just out and it's warm, you aren't my mother—"
"And humans are weak and squishy and can't even handle the little bit of cold that it is right now!" the troll replied, grabbing a black-and-yellow striped scarf off of the coat rack and pulling it around his neck. "I know you, Dave, you hate it when it's any colder in here than the inside of a fucking sauna, and it's not even thirty of your degrees outside, so shut up and put your coat on. I don't want to listen to you bitching about being cold for the whole trip."
"Listen," he began shakily, laying his good hand on the counter for balance as his head pounded. "You were only there for the end of this, but you know just as well as I do that there's not going to be any sympathy for a human who was stupid enough to pick a fight with some bluebloods for a dumb reason like—"
"Dave," Sollux breathed, quieter even than his already-quiet speaking voice and with a serious edge as sharp as glass, "you are going to come with me to a doctor. You are going to come with me to a guild doctor. I might know jack shit about human medicine but I'm not stupid enough to leave that go untreated."
Before the blonde young man could protest, he was standing shakily just inside their door and Sollux was slipping on that stupid bee-patterned jacket he'd had for ages. He looked authoritatively up to his charge, and Dave had to make an effort not to give a big goofy grin at the strange juxtaposition of bees and prayer beads and the thief's bandages and pilot's scars, everything done neatly and sharply and in elegant twos.
As it was, he failed pretty miserably.
"Don't laugh at me," Sollux mumbled resolutely. The mask he put up to hide how he cared was wearing thin and it just made Dave smile bigger.
"I never laugh at you," he pointed out softly. "Trust me, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here – or not at the same place, anyway – if it hadn't been for you looking out for me all these times."
"I guess I just have a weakness for pitiable bastards."
"And I've got a weakness for lisping aliens?"
"You insufferable prick," the troll murmured gently. Dave wasn't sure if it was infatuation or the dull thump of pain in his arm, but he hardly realized the fact of Sollux pulling himself suddenly up on tiptoe before he had already stolen a half-irritated kiss.
"That's insurance for the trip," Sollux grumbled, turning back around to unlock the door for them. "Now behave."
"Whatever you say, mama cluckbeast."
Even as Sollux ushered him out the door with an irritated little growl, all Dave could do was give a dizzy laughing grin.
Chapter 3: if you'd care to take a dare
hurraaaay I am finally back from the abyss of the internets! ahahaha. now featuring 100% more Trollian logs.
I guess there's not really that much to say about this chapter, other than "about damn time" and that I'm taking a fiction writing course this semester at uni so I've got no idea what I'm doing anymore, in terms of generally being a writer, hahaha. I did update the last chapter a little bit, but nothing at all in terms of plot, so don't sweat it if you've already read it. :D
If you have any questions, feel free to drop me an ask at my tumblr. As always, thank you for reading! :D
"I told you this was going to happen, you incompetent nookstain—"
"KK, where I take Dave to get patched up after he's been dumb enough to go picking fights with highbloods is none of your business!" he shot back hotly, already uncomfortable on the little bench and with very little patience left for Karkat's complaining. "There's no reason for you not to trust me on where I decide to drag my boyfriend for medical care, even if for some reason you've got some kind of hatecrush on the doctor!"
Karkat flushed red at that – redder than he should have, sitting outside of a medical facility as he was. He just snarled back and flipped Sollux the bird.
"Oh, fuck you for ever suggesting that, Captor," he said with a shudder. "There is absolutely no reason I ever wanted to have that image in my mind, thank you so very much."
"Every time we come here you end up pontificating for hours and hours about how utterly loathsome he is—"
"Yeah, and I'm sorry you can't understand how much of an unceasingly festering pile he is on the asshole of existence—"
"KK, I just – I actually care about what's happening to Dave," Sollux hissed softly, turning back to look at his friend. "Can you just fucking shut up about it?"
His voice must have betrayed him; the other troll's shoulders tensed and he bared his teeth in a scowl, but he nevertheless pulled back to sulk quietly on his own half of the bench. It wasn't that Sollux didn't know Dave was stupid. It wasn't that he didn't know how much Dave irritated Karkat. He had even learned a bit about human medicine from hanging around here so often and he was fairly certain that this wasn't going to be serious in the end. But he was worried.
He was terrifyingly, embarrassingly, infuriatingly worried.
They sat there together in silence then for what seemed like hours. He was nervous and anxious and he couldn't make himself speak. The crowd sped by around them, coming and going on either side, streaming endlessly through this part of the city – lusi and wigglers and human children with their guardians coming from the schoolfeeding pens, dignitaries and paupers alike flowing in one massive throng of bodies up from the palace quarter – and all he could do was worry, mostly about his stupid fucking idiot of a human getting himself into trouble with only a little bit of room left over for worrying about guild stuff.
When he noticed the buzz from his jacket pocket, he nearly jumped out of his skin. He had been so preoccupied with Dave he hadn’t noticed the copious alerts coming from his mobile Trollian client.
Barely trying to conceal a sigh, he resolutely flipped open the screen on his minihusk and opened up the application. He was at least grateful for the distraction, even if it was mostly missed messages.
-- arsenicCatnip [AC] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA] at 9:06. --
AC: :33 < *out of nowhere, the mighty huntress suddenly pawnces on her unsuspecting prey!*
AC: :33 < *but the f33rce lioness is only playing with the dear little kitten! she curls up on the cool cave floor and waits to s33 if the kitten will come back soon?*
AC: :33 < aw it looks like you really are gone!
AC: :33 < i just wanted to let you know i made it to dersaadet safely! i should be able to let you know more once i really get started on everything, but i also wanted to thank you fur s33ing me to the station yesterday cc:
AC: :33 < i guess i'll talk to you later!
-- arsenicCatnip [AC] signed off at 9:19. –
That was good to know, at least. He hadn't heard from Nepeta since he left her off on the train to the southern capital. He knew she would be alright on her own, but he still worried for her – he knew she could take care of herself, he had seen her in action, but they had been cavernmates and friends even before they both ended up working together.
"NP made it alright," he said, glancing over to the troll beside him. Sollux knew what it would do to him, and for a moment he saw Karkat actually smile, before the stoic mask of universal platonic hatred slipped coolly back into place. He just grinned and elbowed him in the side.
"Come on, KK, it's not like you have to be that way about her!"
"I'm not any 'way' about her, bulgesucker, she's just – we were like, five, okay?" The other troll's cheeks blushed red again and he looked very pointedly away. "Look, I'm just glad she got there alright. Did she say anything about what it's like down there?"
"No, I was apparently online without realizing and she left me a message about it," he explained. He pulled up the remainder of the notifications, casually flipping through his schedule alerts and similar detritus before he reached a panel with familiar violet text.
-- caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA] at 11:16. --
CA: you there sol
CA: hm appears not
-- caligulasAquarium [CA] is idle at 11:21. --
-- caligulasAquarium [CA] is no longer idle at 11:22. --
CA: look the next time you get on gimme a nudge
CA: nep got dowwn here okay but theres somefin reel fishy goin on
CA: hahaha howw do you like that three puns in one line
CA: anywway though
CA: dont wwanna say too much about it unless i knoww youre there
CA: but suffice it to say theres a good chance wwere gettin the wwrong kinda attention
CA: take care a yourself up in that icebox you stupid buzzer
CA: … <>
-- caligulasAquarium [CA] signed off at 11:23. –
"Damn," he murmured. All of his worrying from earlier was quickly cascading into panic. Any kind of "attention" was so unbelievably the opposite of what they needed – and what exactly did the "wrong kind" of it mean, anyway?
Karkat looked over to him. His best and oldest friend, of course, could tell something was wrong just by his expression – he didn't want to talk too openly about it, not even in front of the safest clinic in the city, but he was already cursing himself and his own incompetence and running over all of his actions from the past six months with a fine-toothed comb—
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"ED says he can't even talk about it openly," Sollux said. As always, Karkat had known something was wrong without even a proper explanation – but the worry and paranoia tugging at him was currently taking precedence over that. "Dammit. What are they even trying to find down there any more, after what they did the last time?"
Karkat snorted. "What else do you think they want?" he asked. "Spoiler alert: they want to paint the walls with this season's most popular palette, gutterblood guts."
"Yeah, but KK, how are they even figuring out where we are after that raid? No one made it out of the main hall – they should have thought the job was already done!" Pulling himself forward from the back of the bench, Sollux took off his glasses, put two fingers on either temple, and groaned a faint stream of curses. "I wasn't even there and I still know they did too much to just randomly come back now," he insisted. "What do they know? Or what do they think they know?"
In only a few seconds, he felt the warm touch of Karkat's hand on his back.
"You take on way too fucking much for not even being ranked yet, do you know that?" he said, surprisingly gently. "You're probably the best intelligence whiz kid this guild has ever seen. You know more than half of us that got out only did it because you had managed to hack the imperial security logs. You can relax. He just said that he wanted to talk to you about something, right?"
He nodded, too agitated even to speak. Karkat just nodded back.
"You know as well as I do that your moirail and I have disagreed about enough things," he continued. "But I'm sure he would say the same thing I'm telling you now. I'm sure everything is alright."
"If we've learned anything from this life, KK, it should be to never trust the feeling that everything is alright."
"You're like the scalded meowbeast that fears cold water," Karkat sighed, patting him lightly on the shoulder. "Look, I've said it before – hell, I've even said it to Strider – but it's a miracle from heaven you haven't already worried yourself to death. Sometimes, you need to remember to take care of you."
Sollux was about to half-heartedly point out how he was halfway through his eighth sweep and that this should certainly accord him the status of being an adult who could make his own decisions when the same relatively high-blooded medic who had been at the reception when they arrived walked out of the clinic's inconspicuous front door.
"The operation was a success," he intoned, though not before they saw the sickening amount of bright red covering his apron and hands. Sollux practically jumped off the bench when he noticed it. "The patient is presently recuperating in the human mattress ward. You may see him, if you wish."
"And what exactly the hell did you have to do to him?" Karkat asked, before turning back to Sollux. "I thought you said he only had a broken arm!"
"His arm was indeed 'broken' as you both believed," the other troll confirmed. "However, the soft bone tissue of humans does not always break cleanly. There were innumerable small shards that needed to be extracted from the surrounding muscle and reoriented along the original plan to ensure a clean, serviceable heal. Operation was required."
He seemed to hesitate at that, and with an unspoken question from Sollux and an outright audible hiss from Karkat he swallowed hard before explaining himself.
"While it is unusual to see a break of this complexity in human bones," he explained, "fractures such as this rarely occur in this location by accident. You mentioned initially that the human had been in a fight. Would it be presumptuous of me to guess that this has anything to do with the dead blueblood they found this morning in the Essenian Quarter?"
Everything seemed suddenly to slow down. Sollux could feel his muscles coiling up, and he heard the slick sound of Karkat's knives suddenly materializing behind him. "Why are you asking?"
The medic spread his hands in a gesture of appeasement. "I ask only out of worry," he said quietly. "I rarely participate directly in the business of the guild and I understand it even less. My moirail is a full guildsman, however, and she sometimes spends time in that area on business. I have not heard from her in several days and I was only thinking of her safety."
"There weren't many other trolls around at the time it happened," Sollux assured him. "If you're curious, it was one of the North Prospess Particulars. I'm not entirely convinced he's going to be missed."
At the mention of that name, the orderly's posture relaxed somewhat. There was a nearly audible release of tension.
"The Particulars are a disgrace to the blood in their veins," he said, suddenly and disdainfully. "But if what you say is true, I appreciate hearing it. She is a capable troll and quite fierce, but...ah." He suddenly stepped back towards the entrance, as if he had forgotten the fact of why he had come out here in the first place. "My apologies. Surely you are anxious to see the patient."
When he opened his eyes, Sollux had to actively restrain himself from simultaneously crushing him into a hug and tearing him a blue streak a mile wide.
"Don't you dare do that to me, ever again, Dave Strider," he whispered into the human's neck, for what might have been the third or fourth time. Sitting like this was awkward, and he was paying very little heed to the bandages or the machinery or the hospital bed, but at the moment all he could think about was the fact that Dave was alive and breathing and awake and okay. "If you scare me like that again, I will kill you with my own hands, so help me any of your human gods."
"You're awfully worried over a little broken arm," Dave pointed out, his voice soft and unusually quiet through the haze of vanishing anesthetics. "Was Karkles riling you up again while I was out? He always seems pretty convinced that I can't handle myself."
"I fucking heard that, Strider—"
"KK didn't say anything," Sollux interrupted. "There's just a lot going on right now. I'm worried about NP, and my moirail, and basically everything concerning the giant clusterfuck going on in Dersaadet right now, and then you got hurt, even if it was only a broken arm or whatever..."
"Sollux." He turned his head to face the troll, but Sollux didn't move – he had pulled the chair as close up to the bed as he could and was lying more or less on Dave's good side at this point. "Sollux."
"You're worrying too much," Dave said simply, bringing his free arm around the troll's back. "It's creeping me out. I'm fine."
"Yeah, how very dare your matesprit care about you," Karkat drawled from the doorway, where he was keeping an eye on the hall outside. "While I guess I can't outright fault you for picking fights with bluebloods, sometimes, you really are an unspeakable douche."
"No one asked you, sweet cheeks," Dave answered coolly. "Anyway, now that I'm caught up on my beauty sleep – as it were – either of you two want to tell me what exactly is going on in Dersaadet?"