On the nine hundredth day after the ship leaves the Green Sun, a giant interdimensional clock gear appears in front of Aradia Megido and Sollux Captor, and Dave Strider pokes his head through it and says, "Hey, ‘sup?"
It turns out the Scratched Earth is way bigger than Jade was guessing, and they’ve lost the new session’s players in it. When pressed, Jade says vaguely, "I thought maybe it'd be about the same size as the lands?" but since she plays marbles against Davesprite with the lands every other night, no one can tell what she means by this. So far from the Green Sun, she has no guidance to offer them.
So it's Rose who sets them all out, and it's Rose who tells Dave that they need Aradia desperately, and that "I suppose we can find a use for a Mage of Doom somehow," which is not a fact that Aradia repeats to Sollux when she hears it. It's Rose who figures out that since time is space and space is time, someone accustomed to traveling in the former can be persuaded to connect up to the latter with a little assistance. It's Jade, though, who catches her on the other side of the interdimensional clock gear and tackles her to the ground. Davesprite covers his eyes. "I swear we're not usually this embarrassing," the sprite says, but Aradia is pretty sure that that is not even close to true.
"You've really come into your powers," Aradia says, admiringly. "I'll go with Jade. Pick us out somewhere to hunt for the new players that fulfills the dangerous dicta of fate!"
"Yeah!" says Jade.
Rose dispatches them to Wales.
"Aradia," Jade says. "Aradia. Aradia. Oh my gosh. What is that thing."
"I don't know!" Aradia says. She beats her wings hard, and the Earth breeze kicks against them and sends her hovering right over its feline head. "It's about six feet tall," she reports, "and it's fifteen million years old. Does that narrow it down?"
Jade shakes her head violently. "But it's not supposed to be here! It's from--" She flails one arm wildly west, in the least dignified expression of her godhood Aradia's ever seen, which is saying something. "Um! Somewhere east of where Dave lives. But way way less east of Dave than we are right now. I don't know. I thought this was Wales! We're in Wales, right?"
Aradia nods, cautiously, as the cat lusus tips its head up and slavers at her. "That's what it said on all those signs."
"Okay, okay, so, this is a huge massive cat from the dawn of time that we've never seen before, right, yes," Jade says. "Oh my gosh, I'm sorry, I've just never had a panic attack before, because before it always used to knock me out, like, SNOP, just like that! but I guess that was Vriska? so I'm not really used to this kind of feeling. You can stop me any time! Seriously!"
Aradia smiles encouragingly down at her, and maybe it's that she looks away but that is the exact moment the giant cat decides that a troll with wings would make a good evening meal. She flickers forward in time to miss its giant teeth and ends up on its back where she evidently fell when Jade charged the thing like a-- well-- like a barkbeast faced with a cat five or six times its size.
"It's only three and a little bit times my size," Jade yells, encouragingly, and sinks her tiny, stubby human teeth into its neck. Whipkind, whipkind, why aren't the spirits cooperating-- and there, another Aradia flickers into existence in front of her to hand her the whip with an exhausted, exasperated smile. Oh! How nice. They live through this. Her future self tips her hat and vanishes back into the mists of time. Aradia winds up.
The cat screeches like an underwater monster when the whip lands on its posterior. It bucks Jade clear off it, leaving Aradia in sole possession of its back, and she winds up the whip again and laughs in sheer delight when it wraps around the cat's throat.
"I can hold it!" Aradia suggests at top volume, and Jade looks up at her blankly, wiping her mouth, and then says, "Oh! Oh! Right!" She levels her finger guns. Aradia has all she can do to keep its ravenous head in Jade's line of sight, but with a mighty jerk she frames it just in time for a bam! and then bam! and Aradia's straddling a tiny, furious monster the size of her palm.
She picks it up. "I wonder whose it is," she says, running a thumb down its evil little head.
Jade's ears are slowly perking back up. "I guess it's ours, now."
"Oh! No. Whose guardian it is, I mean."
"Ohhhhhh," Jade says. She leans in to peer at it again. "You mean because it's all white all over?"
"You've never seen a lusus before?" Aradia stares at her. "I thought they must be native to your planet."
Jade shakes her head. "Just mine," she says. "Just me now, I guess! Is there a way you can tell?"
"Well, they're huge, and they're white, and they are always very ferocious when threatened," Aradia slips the cat lusus into her bag, where it starts putting dents in the leather. "And they are usually terrible at being whatever they're supposed to be."
"Maybe there are lusii here because we're close to where the scratch players are," Jade says, hopefully. "Maybe they all have lusii. Maybe it's totally normal now."
Aradia frowns at her. "But why is it fifteen million years old and a thousand miles east?"
"Because," Jade says, triumphantly, "we took a giant needle and we dragged it all over the surface of the universe."
"Oh!" Aradia says. "Good point!"
"I know!" Jade says, and beams at her.
Wales is cold and wet when it's not being menaced by giant cats, and Aradia and Jade both agree on their second hour that it's unacceptable. Jade, it turns out, was raised on an island caldera, and believes that winter is a thing that happens to people who have done something horribly wrong. In return Aradia explains about the Punitive Winters of the Thirteenth Generation, when the Condesce used her temperature controls over the whole planet to make sure that a crop of particularly uppity grubs all grew up miserable and constantly fighting off pneumonia. This segues into a conversation about infectious pneumonia (the Earth variety, apparently) and autoimmune submission pneumonia (which Jade describes as "gross!" and then with equal volume "awesome!") and eventually ends up in a discussion of the best memories Aradia's been wandering through in her new part-time position as a psychopomp.
They're passing out of the forest at last when Jade startles, her glasses skidding over with line after line of brightly colored text. She lets out an unhappy yip. "Oh," she says. "Uh, Dave has some points he wants to bring to our attention, he says. He says that I have to remember that on places that are not my special death island cell phone reception is kinda spotty. And that humans live in clusters of people and not to go gallivanting around the wilderness like some kind of wilderness explorer because there isn't a chance in hell I'm gonna find anyone worth finding in the middle of a misty forest glen." She tilts her glasses down. "It goes on like that for a while."
Aradia sighs. There's so much to learn about humans, even after three years of drifting in and out of their dreams, and their strange sociability is something she's known but didn't appreciate. It was very sloppy of her as a student of ruins.
"Also," Jade says, having finally finished scrolling, "they've found the new-game kids and they want us to go back."
"Oh," Aradia says, disappointedly. "Then why were we in Wales?"
Jade opens her mouth to answer, but Aradia's pretty sure that it's not her voice that lets out the visceral, gutteral, death-promising screech. Also Jade's suddenly got a lot taller, which Aradia only realizes belatedly is because Aradia's dropped into a crouch, an evolutionary instinct she didn't even know she had, which is actually quite fascinating except for that if it's an instinct she hasn't had the chance to try out yet it only means one thing and that thing is: "Drone!"
"What's a--" Jade begins, but Aradia's already tackled her to the ground and the human girl freezes all over. She's so practical, Aradia thinks, and then listens for the sound of footfalls. They're audible but far, perhaps a ten minute walk, and they're not moving towards the girls, so perhaps the drone is on another mission? They will have to seek it out.
Aradia counts a full sixty, and then sits back on her knees. "Sorry," she says, dusting a little of the dirt off Jade's poor tunic. "A drone is--"
"Oh, no, I asked Karkat," Jade says, cheerfully. She sits back up. "What? You gave me a whole minute! I like being prepared."
"How far is it?" Aradia asks.
"Half a mile?" Jade suggests. "I can take us there. No problem!"
Aradia gives her a thumbs up.
They pop back into the world in a place Jade identifies as "Glyncorrwg," which sounds suspiciously Trollish, but appears to be entirely human: human hives, human roads, human inhabitants, human telephone poles. There's only one exception, and that's the giant, terrifying Imperial Drone in the middle of the road.
"I am the Batterdrone," it roars in a general way to the huddled populace. "The Batterwitch calls for your peace and calm! Resistance will be met with thorough murder! Please resist!"
Jade squeezes her hand. "This looks like a job for Girl Adventurers Aradia Megido and Jade Harley!!!!" she whispers.
Aradia beams at her. "Maybe we can get t-shirts," she suggests, and kicks off the ground.
Her bag growls when she's directly overhead, and Aradia remembers, with a certain embarrassment, that she's still got the cat lusus in it. It's jerking now, and she gets a better grip on it only to be immediately dragged back towards the Batterdrone.
Back towards the Batterdrone?
"Hey!" she yells, and the Batterdrone lumbers around to face her. "Suck on a pail, mister!"
"Wow, we have got to get you swearing lessons," Jade says hurtfully from the ground, and launches herself at its knees.
The Batterdrone can't figure out which way to look, and takes a stumbling step forward, its barbs extracting from every carapaced surface available. "Prey," it says, its head twisting around to follow her. "Please mate, ERROR, please submit to the mercy of the Batterwitch, please desist from assaulting the knees of the Batterdrone."
Its head jerks right--so does Aradia's bag--and that's evidence enough for the practical experimentalist. Up she goes, up, up, up, faster, she's got to get her wings working harder, until below her the drone bellows out the terrifying screech, and her wings snap back to her body in another instinctual response she could have done without learning about. Okay, this'll have to be good enough! She turns her bag upside down. "Jade!" she yells, and this time Jade remembers her godhood quicker and bam! there's a six-foot-tall cat with razor sharp claws hurtling towards the Batterdrone at terminal velocity.
It turns out drones haven't actually evolved very good defense mechanisms against drop cats.
By the time Aradia's fluttered back to the ground, the humans are beginning to peek their heads out of their houses again, and a quick survey of their faces reveals not the slightest aura of paradox. Aradia looks sidelong at Jade. "I think it's possible the goals the Seer saw us fulfilling here were more personal than heroic."
"She's going to be really pissed," Jade confirms, and breaks out laughing, the corpse of the Batterdrone gently oozing at her feet. "Oh my god, she's going to be furious."
"I'm sorry. It must have been a lack of focus on my part." Aradia smiles at Jade, who is still hiccuping with laughter. "I'm glad we did this anyway."
"Me too," Jade confirms, reaching out for her hand. "I like you a metric ton."
Aradia takes it. "Good. It's been a really long time since I last had a friend."
"Oh!" says Jade, hurriedly. "Yes! That too!"
"Personal growth," Rose groans. "Of course."
"It's not all bad," Aradia says encouragingly. "I can take us back in time and do it again before the meteors wipe out all of human life. And Jade and I are already fast friends so I don't see how much personal growth can dictate the course of your next selection."
"Yeah," Jade says, her fingers wrapping around Aradia's wrist.
Rose sends them to Siberia.