It's the same room as ever.
Shadowy walls, shadowy bed, shadowy figure of a girl tucked beneath the covers. Lying in her own bed, attention fixed on that fairytale scene, Rose moves her fingers without seeing, typing out yet another description of the bedroom in the tower and the crumpled covers that indicate the absence which is her daughter.
Vision Omnifold is poor at taking direction, has a tendency to drift, but Rose has been practicing while dutifully taking down observations, session after session. Images from Derse are static and uneventful, especially compared to the water apocalypse of her daughter's other life; still, there's something soothing about this space. On the sleepwalking days, she gets to travel the moon, vision trailing after an unseen guide.
Roxy didn't look to stir this time, but as Rose considers returning to her work and as she goes to release her vision and alt tab her laptop, there comes a sudden commotion. From the window, the usual ambient darkness is pierced by flashing lights and the impression of sirens. Shortly after, a pair of hands appears over the ledge, dragging with them a dark, well-contoured shape which tumbles over the sill and ducks behind the wall, apparently breathing hard.
In all the time Rose has observed this room, only the dreamer from the other tower has ever visited. Hallowed as the children are here, carapaces don't tend to them, never seem to enter the towers. But could this be the purported Black Queen?
No, it's definitely not.
As Rose's focus returns, she easily sees a human girl – no, a young woman with dark hair and enormous spectacles, perhaps as old as Rose herself. Her smile is crooked and grim with satisfaction as she gazes around the room, and her eyes are very green. On her keys, Rose's fingers tighten in alarm.
The intruder pauses by the bed, presumably taking in the sleeper all of Rose's power won't allow her to see, then settles into a corner, head bent over something. Anxious and powerless, Rose continues to note her observations.
GG: hi rose my name is jade!!
The gloom is broken by glowing bright green when text materializes above the intruder's head. They're in the form of a pesterlog message and, at attention in her lap, Rose's fingers freeze, mid-word.
GG: this is probably really weird for you huh?
GG: dont worry im a friend!
GG: you can talk to me just write stuff
GG: give it a try :D
Is it a trap? If it is, it's certainly the most poorly baited trap the batterwitch has ever set for her. Feeling foolish and slow, Rose switches back into her familiar #b536da and taps out a response.
TT: How did you know I was watching?
Her word processor is definitely bugged.
GG: its kinda complicated...
GG: but youre not bugged!!
TT: Forgive me if I fail to take you at your word.
GG: good point
GG: ok i got it
The purported Jade sits up and away from what Rose now sees is an utterly incomprehensible compu-shoe, and produces something... something massive from her sylladex. It's a wall. Or a window. Rose's concentration almost slips as she recognizes the property of the Dersite archagent, and more importantly, one of the lost pieces of the sburb puzzle. Jade is already typing away.
GG: i just nabbed this from some miniboss npc >:D
GG: not bad huh?
GG: tough crowd :/
TT: I admit, you present a powerful argument.
GG: *blows smoke from barrel* i can do you one better
GG: you see my full name is. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
GG: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
GG: . . . . . . . . .
TT: You're Jade English, aren't you.
GG: . . . . . aw man yes indeedy thats me!
TT: My apologies. It seemed obvious, in retrospect.
GG: my reputation precedes me!!!!
GG: thats right im the one and only lady english batterwitch backstory expert and your soon to be number one ally in the whole world
GG: and im contacting you to ask
GG: are you ready to wreck some shit?? ;)
° ° °
By the time Rose's Vision Omnifold wears down, she has managed to wrangle a second semi-virtual meeting with the infamous prodigal Crocker - but not its time, nor its location. 「 youll see me when you see me dont wait up ;) 」 is hardly any way to run a revolution.
But it's fortunately true.
Now that she knows she's out there, Rose trips across Jade's presence whenever she lets her mind's eye drift. Sometimes she only observes, but sometimes, if she's lucky, Jade pulls out a computer, boots up pesterchum, and they manage to converse exchanging both knowledge and banter. Jade, Rose thinks and unthinks, is probably a little lonely.
° ° °
GG: do you believe in fate?
This time, Rose finds her tucked away inside some sort of mausoleum. No, Rose decides after looking around a bit harder, it's more like an incomplete pyramid, a pyramid mid-construction. Jade has even donned an appropriate hat for the occasion.
TT: In the context of Complacency, Sburb, or something else?
GG: umm all of them?
GG: youre a Seer right? do you think destiny can be defeated?
On Jade's screen, she can already see purple text blooming across the surface screen but it's some time before she gathers her thoughts well enough to reply truly.
TT: Truly? I believe nothing must be inevitable. But there are boundaries that are more difficult to overcome – limitations set by physics and obscure, unknowable forces.
TT: Other limitations are set by our decisions. No force on Earth or beyond would lead me to abandon Roxy, and yet were I to choose to do so, Sburb has no way to enforce my role as her Guardian and in fact has gone out of its way to interfere.
TT: I'm speaking entirely hypothetically, of course.
GG: :( :( :(
TT: Well, then to take another example, and one less likely to evoke textual displays of sadness and/or disapproval, there is no structural reason for the two of us to meet in person, yet were it not for tactics and caution, there would likewise be no reason not to. Which scenario is destiny?
GG: it sounds to me like you are thinking of tracking me down rose
GG: do you want to meet me on the analogue plane?? :O
TT: I'll admit, this example may not be entirely hypothetical.
GG: :O !!
TT: I may have given it some thought.
GG: :O !!!!
TT: Jade. Please.
GG: hehehe ok well if youre serious about it i should warn you!! im pretty much impossible to find with regular human means but DONT WORRY
GG: i have considered all the angles and i have the solution!
GG: i will come find you :D
TT: Oh really?
GG: we will meet i promise!!
As Rose's clairvoyance abilities grow, her available time dwindles. The work she does with CotL, both writing and promoting, is important. If Jade's assurances and her own visions are to be believed, it will be instrumental to the human rebellion, frustrating their adversary and strengthening the resolve of their allies.
° ° °
When it finally happens, it happens like this.
Déjà vu. Light reflecting from a pair of circular spectacle and from a familiar crooked smile. A towering peaked hat, because some fans just hear "wizard" and run with it and that isn't anything surprising. There's long greying hair swept back and a long grey beard which spills over Rose's desk, and the overhead lights flicker in a way that would be dramatic if they hadn't been doing that on and off all afternoon. She accepts the custom, CotL-themed Manthro Chap.
Frigglish would look good with bright green eyes. Maybe lime-green. Maybe like. . .
To my dear friend.
It has truly been a pleasure.
The line moves on.
Not unexpectedly, the event drags late and even Rose begins to weary. Joints protest when she rises at last to her feet, thanking everyone for inviting her, yes, you've all been wonderful.
Some fans linger, but those that aren't deterred by pushy staff are eventually convinced by the sudden wash of darkness as the aging generator gives out at last. In the ensuing confusion and apologetic calls to order, Rose is escorted to the backdoor and handed into her car. To her frustration, there is no time for looking back, but as she pulls out onto the main road, she sees her on the side of the road, an older woman in a towering hat and hiking boots, cutting a striking figure beneath the golden glow of the streetlamps.
She pulls over and rolls down her windows. "There's a place not far from here that serves the best hot chocolate on the east coast," she says without preamble. "And I want to take you out."
"Oooh, Miss Lalonde." There is a senior citizen swooning across her hood.
Rose, who deals with Dave, doesn't flinch. "You're getting soaked."
"Well, in that case." Jade shrugs, and climbs in. "You're an elusive dame, Rose Lalonde. I had better keep an eye on you."
It turns out the woman who is both a stranger and Rose's lifelong friend is allergic to chocolate and personal space. Rose lets their fingers tangle and finds she doesn't mind at all.
"When you promised we would meet, I had thought you would mean soon."
"It has been soon! For you. I had, you know, marketing stats, meteorites." Jade waves her hand absently. "I came as soon as I could. You know, I'm a huge fan." She strokes her beard meaningfully.
"Do you have any questions for me?" Rose asks when the beard stroking begins to border on the erotic.
"What makes you think I have a question?" she returns. Jade's expression says she knows exactly what she's doing.
"All my fans have questions."
Jade blinks. "How many of them get answers?"
"I always have an answer."
"I see." Jade sits quietly for a while. It's different, in person. Rose isn't afraid the connection will break before she gets her reply. She can focus more on studying Jade's face, the blemishes she couldn't see in her visions, the lines of age, the slight way she bites her lip as she thinks. Before her eyes, Jade breaks out into a smile, as sharp and wicked as the first time Rose had seen her.
She winks outrageously. "Here's a question, then. My place or yours?"
Well, Rose did say she always had an answer.
° ° °
And that sets their new partnership for years to come, encrypted pesterlogs and hurried trysts. For a while, Rose still sees Jade darting about the Incipisphere, but Skaianet falls and some destinies are inevitable.
Now, everywhere she isn't drenched in blood, she's drenched in icy lakewater from her trip down the Falls and she remembers again: Jade is dead.
This was always that sort of revolution.
° ° °
Of course that isn't the end of it, but it draws in tightly.
She comes to her again, like a vision or a dream, not in the dead of night but with the break of day as Rose is beginning to doze off. Humans live on troll-time these days. Those that survive, anyway. Like the icy blue light that slides between the cracks of the ugly hotel blinds, her arrival is soft, silent, and sudden. Rose doesn't reach for her needles.
"Lalonde?" It comes out wrong, hesitation and tentative syllables.
There's dust in her hair and dirt on her hands and she's far younger than she remembers. (Wholer too, in that she isn't a jar full of ash and burnt bone, however lovingly compiled.) She's not at all what Rose remembers. There's a wild loneliness about her eyes that hasn't had years to fade, and more selfishness in the sweep of her spine than she’s seen in a while, maybe never before. Nothing about her is bent or bowed.
It should be surprising to meet an entirely new iteration of Jade. Rose finds, some part of her had been anticipating it.
"That's right. Please call me Rose."
There's a sudden clatter as her impromptu guest dumps her things all over the suspect hotel carpet, and no, she isn't a ghost, and no, she's never met her before. This must be the first time. Ignoring Rose now, Jade fetches a cup from the bathroom and fills it at the sink. She grimaces at the livid pink but downs it like a pro.
"I'm here to pick up a package."
"You know, this is a private room," Rose hears herself say, still not rising from where she's propped up on the bed. "Although I suppose as a bold adventurer who knows no fear, you won’t be deterred by what remains of law or rules of personal property when a hero's reach—"
"Is infinite," Jade finishes, bemused and maybe impressed and definitely suspicious now. They're her own words."Spot on, Miss Lalonde."
"Rose. So by all means, make yourself at home. Can I offer you anything besides a place to park? An autograph? An interview? Perhaps something a little more... intimate?"
Jade just laughs. "Don't be silly."
"I would never," Rose vows, heartfelt.
"I can see that you know that I know that we know that you know who I am."
Her accent is heavy, 'v's and 'w's slightly rolled like the more posh sort of troll. Rose knows it will fade with time until it is barely traceable, knows her speech will take a bizarre bend away from the colloquial sooner rather than later. Jade studies her with narrow eyes with an expression Rose has come to think of as 'considering the brute force solution'. Like Rose is the more practical sort of physics problem and Jade is the only one with a slide ruler.
Rose has seen her look at queens this way.
It's as nostalgic as it is unsettling, having it directed now at her. It has been years since Rose has worried about her lipstick, her hair, but it's Jade. A Jade less familiar than any she has known.
"I would know you anywhere. You're Jade English, batterwitch backstory expert and my number one ally in the whole world." Rose breathes. Stops. Breathes again. "You're supposed to be dead, you know."
"I just want to know if I can expect any other post-mortem visitations or if this is it? Am I going to need to brush up on ectoplasm lore? I believe I've been diligent in monitoring streams and preventing their crossing."
"It's a dangerous time for a visit."
Jade shrugs. "That wasn't really up to me."
Suddenly weary, Rose blinks first. "Bullshit. It was completely up to you." One of them had her whole life yet to live, after all. "But thank you. You don't- I don't think you understand what it means to me to see you now. I don't regret a thing."
Jade's expression twists in confusion.
"You don't have to worry about him," Rose continues. "I still check in, and all your arrangements are still in place. He's doing very well, considering. He's..." Jade's expression, if anything, only looks more unnerved. "I still... I..."
To her horror, Rose finds that there are tears in her eyes, in her voice, she is all too aware that to Jade, she must be confusing and terrifying. A strange old woman, a murderer, alone and crying at the end of the world.
So the feeling of being enveloped in warm, confident arms, is more startling that it's familiar. But it's more welcome than either. Mankind doesn't have many days left. I missed you.
Jade holds her for longer than Rose cares to consider.
It's some time before she can pull away. "Look at me. You're probably the same age as my daughter, now."
"Roxy. She's very far away." She struggles to find the words. "You know about Derse? Oh, well, it's like Prospit, but inverted, and she's one of the dreamers. I can't go to her, but I can watch her and I-"
Jade flinches away when she stands suddenly, crossing the room to dig through her faithful desk. "I had wondered, you know," Rose says entirely composed now, fingers still searching. "All these years. Why me? How did you know? But it's this, isn't it. It's now. This was why she wanted my archives. Always two steps ahead of me."
Jade stares at her, unconvinced, but Rose presses the memory card into her hands.
"I suddenly understand everything. This is what you're here for, isn't it?"
"I guess so? I just know there's a package."
"This is it. You- well, a good friend of mine edited it for me. I think there's a Read Me? She's pretty good at technology, but it's been a joint project."
Jade frowns, confused, but gathers her things, prepares to leave. "I don't understand," she admits like it costs her, standing by the open window.
As recently as she had been in tears. Rose finds she's almost laughing now, "You have a lot of adventures ahead of you, I can't answer all your questions. It's complicated. But it will make sense if you let it."
Jade nods, reaches out for Rose's hand. Rose takes it one final time, unexpectedly touched. "Will I see you again?"
Mankind doesn't have many days left. But Rose doesn't need to lie.
"We'll meet again. I promise."