Death is something you welcomed with open arms.
After being enslaved for so long, to highblood after highblood, crazed seadweller who thought love was attention to insane blueblood who thought hate was torture, the endless void of death is a relief. You’re not really you in there, and you don’t think, but it’s a relief from when you were sharp as a needle and pricked yourself with understanding.
This lasts until a world gradually solidifies around you, developing along with your sense of self. Your memories trickle back slowly as the world fills in, sand, hardy plants, wild animals, and just as you remember your name your hive appears on the horizon. It’s low and wide, sandstone with jade accents, and the entire world seems to flow towards it.
You are the Dolorosa, and you have nothing better to do than to explore this empty facsimile.
The series of caves where your mother grub nested are still connected to the bottom of your hive. You take the stairs down slowly, hoping against hope that she’ll be there when you turn the final corner.
She’s not, of course. The cave looks unused and untended. You clear away some gravel from the floor and sit down, careful to not let the gauzy streamers of your shawl get caught on any rocks. When you were younger, you used to sit here by your lusus’ side whenever you needed to work through a problem. Now, though, your memory is faded and hazy, and you’re not sure what the problem is, let alone how you’ll work through it.
But it’s in your hands now. And you’re reasonably sure you have all the time you’ll need.
It takes you hours to go through the first level of your hive. Everything is bare and austere, but as soon as your memory disagrees with any facet of the hive, the hive changes to fit. At first it unnerves you, but having something familiar around is worth a little mind-bending discomfort.
There are touches you can’t quite place. Red accents in the décor when red was never really your colour. Sickles hanging by the door, when you’ve always used Sewkind. The nutrition block is full of vegetables, and the only meat you can find is in the freezer. You pull it out to defrost in case you’re hungry later, although you doubt you will be.
You continue to the next floor and find what must be your respiteblock. An entire wall is made of glass and faces east, and you don’t know of any other trolls who would face the sun with only gauzy jade curtains to defend them. The wardrobifier works when you test it, and all of the clothes are sized and coloured appropriately for you. You leave the door open when you exit the room, a safe place to retreat to if necessary.
All that exploring the hive does is madden you with hints of memories until you reach your sewing room. It’s much like your respiteblock in construction, but the interior shows that this is where you spent most of your time. There’s a slim green husktop in the corner with dust on the lid. You wipe it off and turn it on, then cross to your sewing table.
It takes up most of the room, with your bolts of cloth piled at one end and your ancient sewing machine at the other. Shelves in the middle store the plans you found and the ones you created for-
You try to chase that memory down, but thinking about it just sends it further away.
You edge around the table to the bolts of cloth and run your hands over them possessively. This you remember. Long nights of perfect seams and constant fittings, because anything less than perfection was not something you wanted to create. The joy of a finished garment. The triumph you felt when picking the perfect cloth, the right pattern, when everything worked and came together into something beautiful and lasting.
Tending the mother grub was your trade. The sewing was your life.
You absent-mindedly pick up a piece of grey fabric and twine it through your fingers. It’s a thick wool blend, rougher than you normally choose, and you puzzle over it as you go back to your husktop. All of the files you remember are on the machine, and Trollian is indicating several unread messages. Understandable, since you’re rarely online.
Less understandable, since you’re dead and alone.
You peruse the contacts list and ignore the messages. You can’t place most of these names, other than as highblooded contacts who oversaw your duties to the mother grub but didn’t want to dirty their hands coming to the desert. Three others are there, all offline, green, yellow, and most curious of all, grey.
A prickle of unease goes through you and settles in the pit of your stomach. You never approved of the way things were, really, but you were also clever enough to not shout it from the rooftops. Furthermore, your mind keeps putting these three names together in a way that belongs, and adds you to the mess, TA AC CG GA.
The cloth in your hand is the same shade of grey as candidGovernance’s handle. That means something.
You open twofoldAbolitionist’s unread messages.
TA: fuck dr ii’m 2o 2orry they were on u2 two quiick and ii couldn’t
TA: and now he’2
TA: and iit’2 my fault
TA: what am ii 2uppo2ed two do wiithout him
TA: what are any of u2 2uppo2ed two do wiithout him
Somewhere after the second line you started shaking, and now you’re shaking too hard to close the window. The five mustard-yellow lines stare at you accusingly, except that wasn’t a conversation you’d had on Trollian. There was a prison cell, dank and grey, flecks of blue-and-red light and blood on your hands blood everywhere a voice screaming in your ears-
You stand up and slam the husktop shut. Perhaps there are some things you don’t want to remember.
You barricade yourself among bolts of cloth and the comforting whirr-thunk of your sewing machine.
Everything you make is grey, grey, grey.
You’re not sure how long it’s been when you notice the sky darkening. Something inside you says it’s been a lot longer than a day, that maybe the world is giving you a hint that things change and you can’t keep running from the past.
This realisation is particularly annoying. You always thought that you could rest when you were dead.
Even more annoying is that you can’t find anything to jog your memory. You have a puzzle with a border, but all the inside pieces missing. You take to carrying the scrap of grey fabric everywhere, wound around your fingers, or tucked up your sleeve if you need to use your hands.
TA’s messages disappear from your husktop. You leave it constantly running in case more arrive.
One day it makes a sound that you haven’t heard in a long time.
— guiltlessCustodian [GC] would like to talk to you. —
Accept or Deny?
You flex your fingers to stop them shaking and accept.
GC: 1 H4V3 B33N TRY1NG TO G3T THROUGH TO YOU FOR 4LMOST 4 P3R1G33 NOW.
GA: Pardon Me
GA: Do I Know You
GC: OUR D34THBUBBL3S JUST R4N TOG3TH3R.
GC: OH. 1 HOP3 YOU R34L1S3D TH4T YOU’R3 D34D 4LR34DY.
GC: SORRY >:/
GC: 1’LL G1V3 YOU 4 MOM3NT.
You suck in a quiet breath. It’s not quite a gasp, but it’s getting there.
GA: Is That Why I Do Not Remember Anything
GA: I Had Suspected
GA: And You Cannot Be A Memory As I Do Not Remember You
GC: YOU WOULD R3M3MB3R M3.
GA: So Certain
GC: 1 4M V3RY M3MOR4BL3.
GC: LOOK, M4Y 1 COM3 1N? 4LL TH1S S4ND H4S B33N G3TT1NG 1N MY H41R FOR TH3 L4ST P3R1G33 4ND 1F YOU 4R3 GO1NG TO 1NT3RROG4T3 M3 1 WOULD R4TH3R 1T W4S 1N TH3 FL3SH.
GA: You Know There Is A Series Of Caves Right Below My Hive
GA: I Am Sure It Would Have Been Adequate Shelter While I Was Occupied
GA: I Will Come And Unlock The Door
GC: WHY D1D YOU LOCK 1T 1N TH3 F1RST PL4C3 >:?
GA: I’m Not Sure
You honestly don’t expect to find anything when you open the door. This place has been empty of anything but you and your thoughts for so long that you’re convinced this is somehow still a memory, or perhaps a cruel trick of your mind.
The short, whip-thin legislacerator standing on your doormat is the biggest surprise of your death.
She looks up at you and tilts the red sunglasses she’s wearing down. Her eyes are teal, and she’s dressed in a clashing mix of bright red and her blood colour you would have sworn wasn’t possible. It may be blinding you, and the itch to dress her in more appropriate colours is almost as bad as the itch to defend-
You frown and press a hand to your forehead. No matter what you try, you just can’t fill this puzzle in.
“Everything alright?” the legislacerator asks, her voice as rough as the rest of her.
You lower your hand and press your lips into a thin smile. “I’m still adjusting, I’m afraid. Do come in.”
“What an excellent host you are,” she comments off-handedly as she strides past you. Her movements are long and lean, assured and comfortable, and you can tell this woman is a legislacerator to the bones. She stalks through your hive without an invitation, not raising an eyebrow at the bright red accents in a jadeblood’s hive.
If she can even see them through her glasses.
Finally she sits at the table in the nutrition block, leaning her cane against the chair next to hers. You take the one opposite after preparing coffee and sliding one, still black, across to your guest. You’ve never met a legislacerator who liked their coffee as anything other than black sludge.
She takes a sip and quirks an eyebrow. “Good deduction.”
“I am the perfect host.”
“I won’t argue.” She kicks off her cherry-red boots and sighs. “You also have amazing strength of will. Do you know how much sand I had to hike across to find you?”
You set your cup down, the drink inside untouched. “I do not. Nor do I know why you have found me. Not that I begrudge the company.” Although you do, a little. For some reason the sight of her, connected to the law, is raising your hackles. You don’t know why. You’re fairly certain Alternian law holds no sway here, and good riddance.
“Well, I wasn’t looking for you, specifically. Anyone, really.” She smiles honestly, her razor-sharp teeth making it a lot more intimidating than she probably intended. “That the person I found is both charming and lovely is a mere bonus.”
You keep a straight face. “I am sure that flirting while on duty is misconduct, legislacerator.”
“For you, doll, I’ll take a break.” She takes off her glasses and then does a double-take at your expression. “What?”
Before you know it, you’re on your feet, two thin needles in your hands. “You said you didn’t know me.”
Her eyes flick to the needles in your hands. “I don’t. Am I supposed to be afraid of those?”
“I never told you my name.” You stand at the ready, needles firm in your fingers. You may look a little ridiculous, but you’ve taken down legislacerators with nothing but a seam ripper before and you’ll do it again if you have to.
Why would you…?
You’re too busy blind-siding yourself with your memory to notice your legislacerator pick up her cane. Before you can react, she’s hooked aside your shawl to reveal your insignia.
Back to your senses, you grab the cane and pull it out of her hands. It’s easier than you expected, because she’s gone slack. Her face is a perfect storm of disbelief and hope, and the way she looks up at you is the only reason you stay your hand.
In answer she reaches back and fiddles with something at the base of her neck. After a moment, she pulls a necklace out from under the high collar of her shirt and hands it to you, mutely. The chain is a dull grey, iron perhaps, but it’s the symbol dangling from it that draws your attention.
There are two circles, arms reaching out and joined together in a way that reminds you of an ouroboros. No, handcuffs. The ones they use for heretics, your heretic-
-cuffed to a rock, the sizzle of flesh, his cuffs glowing white and melting down his arms, Psiionic beside you taking away his pain as he delivers his final sermon, he always said he’d die for his cause but this is real and the end and your heart is breaking with every second you buy him-
-the melted slab of iron, still in two rough circles bound together is all that’s left, and they throw it at your feet in the cell and laugh. You and Psiionic hold it together and cry for everything you’ve lost, everything this world has lost, and silently hope that his Disciple is able to carry on his legacy while the two of you pay for the sin of hope-
You’ve hit the floor at some point, your Signless’s legacy held so tightly in your hand you’ll be left with an imprint. You’re shuddering with sobs that you can’t control, and it’s only when your legislacerator presses some cloth into your hand that you remember she’s there.
You mop at your eyes, choke down sobs until you’re composed, and try to loosen your fingers enough to hand the necklace back.
She reaches out and wraps your fingers around the symbol, but gently. You’re holding it close now, not letting it cut into you. “It’s yours. I think you have more claim to it than I do.” She hesitates before asking, “You didn’t remember?”
“No.” You finally have your missing piece, and you’re not sure you want it.
You retreat back to your sewing block. No matter how hard you try, you can’t lose yourself.
Your legislacerator keeps bringing you food and drink, and makes you sleep when you undo a seam for the fifth time because you can’t get it right. Sometimes she’ll just sit and stare out the window through her thick red glasses. Sometimes she talks, telling you about what the Sufferer- he’s the Sufferer now, he was given a sign and title and that was the least he ever deserved- meant to her.
On the third day you finally ask her name.
She smiles and taps her glasses. “Redglare.”
A quarter-cycle later you emerge from the sewing block with cloth draped over your arm. Redglare is on the padded seating block, her glasses pushed up on her head as she reads a book with quiet ferocity. Every so often, after turning a page, she’ll nibble on her forefinger. You learned of her synaesthesia the first time she buried herself in your stash of cloth scraps and refused to come out, but at least she seems decorous enough to not lick your books.
She hears you and looks up, surprise and confusion tinging her features. You don’t blame her. You haven’t gone anywhere but your sewing block and your recuperacoon since remembering your grub, but you couldn’t wallow in sadness forever. There was enough of that while you were still alive.
“I wanted to thank you,” you say, and hold out the bundle of cloth. “And apologise for my initial reaction to your presence.”
“Neither is necessary,” she says, but takes the cloth anyway. When she shakes it out, your labour over the last few days becomes obvious.
You’ve made her a set of clothes based on the dress code of legislacerators. While they’re similar to her current uniform, you’ve added a few touches. The angles of the jacket and skirt complement her figure better. You’ve used black as the main colour to unite the teal and red so she isn’t a disgrace to snappy dressers everywhere. There are any number of hidden pockets, and subtle patterns that you know appeal to her synaesthetic senses.
Watching the delight spread across her face pulls you full-force from the last lingering strands of depression. You’ll never forget how you and the beginnings of the revolution died. But the revolution moved on, and so can you.
“How did you know my size?” She swaps her jacket for the one you made, and it fits her perfectly. “Dollface, this is downright magnificent.”
“I will take it back if you keep calling me Dollface in an attempt to sound hardboiled,” you say. “Go try the rest on so I can be sure they fit properly.”
She sticks out her tongue and swings herself off the seating block, collecting the clothes on her way. When she comes back you circle her slowly, checking the fit of all the pieces and making sure they look as you’d hoped.
You go to tug the collar into place, but freeze to a halt before you can. You thought the high collar on her other uniform was an affectation, but apparently not. The lower neckline on the one you’ve made reveals a scar writ large across her neck, curving under her chin.
“I’m so sorry.” You let your hands drop. “I can fix the collar higher. It’s no problem.”
Redglare grabs one of your hands and presses it to her cheek. “It’s perfect, Dollface. I love it. Stop looking like someone kicked your barkbeast.”
You’re caught between a laugh and a choke, and the noise you make ends up as both. “You’re still trying to sound hardboiled.”
She grins. “I don’t need to try, toots.”
— guiltlessCustodian [GC] has started trolling graciousAntecedent [GA] —
GC: ROS4, W3 N33D 4 PL4N.
GA: Redglare You Are Two Rooms Away I Am Sure We Could Discuss This Face To Face
GC: BUT 1 JUST GOT COMFORT4BL3 >:[
GC: 4ND YOU G3T CR4NKY 1F 1 S1T 1N YOUR F4BR1C P1L3.
GA: Yes Because You Try To Stuff Most Of It In Your Mouth
GC: 1T’S SO D3L1C1OUS.
GC: BUT 4NYW4Y!
GC: 1T 1S V3RY L1K3LY W3 W1LL COM3 4CROSS OTH3R D34THBUBBL3S.
GC: ON3S OF TROLLS W3 KNOW.
GC: 1 W4NT3D TO W4RN YOU.
GA: I Appreciate The Sentiment However I Do Not Understand The Need For Warning
GC: TH3R3 4R3 TWO R34SONS!
GC: F1RSTLY, W3 BOTH H4V3 3N3M13S.
GC: S3CONDLY, YOU H4V3 M4NY 4LL13S WHO D1D NOT D13 W3LL.
GC: TH3 MOR3 TR4UM4T1C TH3 D34TH, TH3 LONG3R M3MORY T4K3S. 4ND W3 C4N B3 STUCK ON TH3 OUTS1D3.
GA: Like When You First Arrived Here
GC: FOR YOU 1T W1LL B3 B31NG K3PT 4W4Y FROM TH3 4LL13S YOU C4R3D D33PLY 4BOUT. WH1L3 TH3Y 4R3 STUCK TRY1NG TO R3M3MB3R HORR1BL3 TH1NGS.
GC: DOLLF4C3? YOU ST1LL TH3R3?
GA: Are You Saying There Is A Chance We Will Intersect With The Sufferer
GA: While He Is Reliving His Death
GA: And I Won’t Be Able To Reach Him
GC: Y3S >:[
GA: To Be Honest
GA: It Is Not Something That Worries Me
GA: I Will Tear His Universe To Shreds If I Need To
GA: He Will Not Suffer His Death Again
GC: 1’M NOT SUR3 TH1S 1S 4N 4PPROPR14T3 CONV3RS4T1ON TO PUN 1N >:/
GA: How Do You Know All This
GC: W3LL… YOU KNOW TH3 H4NDM41D OF D34TH?
GA: The Quote Super Foxy Unquote One You Have A Literary Crush On
GC: Y3S H3R!
GC: SH3 TOLD M3.
GC: SH3 1S BR1NG1NG TH3 BUBBL3S TOG3TH3R 4S MUCH 4S SH3 C4N BUT 1T 1S UP TO US 4S TO WH4T W3 DO ONC3 W3 4R3 UN1T3D.
GA: I Propose A Three Point Plan
GA: Firstly To Enter The Foreign Bubbles We Encounter
GA: Secondly To Raise Some Hell
GA: Thirdly To Repeat As Necessary
GC: 1 L1K3 TH3 W4Y YOU TH1NK, ROOK13.
GC: PL4N 4CC3PT3D!
— guiltlessCustodian [GC] has ceased trolling graciousAntecedent [GA] —