The dim seasons were the worst for the sea. In the distance, at daybreak, he could see the duskiness of the water, and the flatness of the shoreline. Seeing the normally violent waters so relaxed and tepid often soothed him, even though it meant that so many seadwellers were likely suffering because of it. Naturally, that idea didn’t particularly bother him.
He slept better during the dim seasons. In the dark seasons, when the shores would be rocked with storms, and the horizon would glitter with lightning reflecting off of waves, he felt so on edge that he was lucky to get an hour of sleep. He would wake up doused in sweat and sopor, having dreamt of something unspeakable, his belly unsettled and his mood sour. The smell of the rampaging sea drifted all the way up to the lonely mesas that he and Vriska had built their hives on, and it made him feel sick. He much preferred the muffled, dry scent of the western wind, which was thicker with the scent of earth and the slight chill of the mountains.
It helped him to work more quickly, as well. If the air was too humid, he often found himself making mistakes in his assemblages, and that was unacceptable. It upset him to ruin a project, but it seemed to happen all the time. He would often get irritated messages from his disgruntled neighbor about a hole he’d made in her hive with his reckless disposal of a destroyed robot chassis, and he hated apologizing, at this point, even though it was the respectable thing to do. If he’d had the sense to think of it, he might have realized that she was just messaging him about it at this point to pester him. But it wasn’t like him to realize things like that, even about her, whom he’d known all his life.
The less sleep he got, the more irritable and antisocial he was. Which was to be expected: anyone not getting a decent day’s sleep would be distraught, certainly, though no one seemed to take sleepless days as an excuse. His acquaintances learned, for the most part, to avoid him during the dark seasons even more so than they normally did, and Equius quickly fell into the pattern of building a surplus of robots during the dim seasons and spending much of the dark seasons fighting as many of them as he could until he was too exhausted to sleep for fewer than four hours at a time. That helped. A bit.
It was, however, “booooooooring” to stay inside all dim season, as his neighbor so graciously informed him. So, as if to make a point, he started leaving his hive for a brief, brisk walk every fifth night or so, just so Vriska couldn’t say that he was a useless hermit. Even though he found little to no point in leaving his hive so often, anymore, and he hadn’t for nearly three sweeps, now. So many of the herds had abandoned the canyons in the wake of a drought, and moved on to the plains, which were an excursion to get to, and one that he didn’t enjoy making the effort to complete more often than once or twice a sweep, if that.
And that was for a reason all his own.
His walks would bring him to the foothills, near the edge of the coast where the dirt turned to sand, and off in the distance he could see the young highblood’s hive, where he’d sometimes be settled out on the sand, staring into the calm sea, waiting for his lusus to return. Those glimpses of him were unsettling to Equius, and he would usually turn around immediately when he saw him to begin the trek back to his own hive, but sometimes he would be in luck, and Makara would be nowhere to be found, and he could look out at the gray ocean for a while himself, his nose crinkled, before he decided that perhaps it was time to return home to do all of those important things that he needed to do.
It was during the third dim season after his fifth wriggling day that he stumbled upon something extremely odd. When he found himself at the bottom of the path he’d forged down to the coast, he saw the shore devoid of Makara, but something adrift in the otherwise stagnant sea just a bit off of the beach. Equius paused. Normally he wouldn’t have cared about something like that, but upon lowering his sunglasses, he realized rather quickly that it was a troll’s body, nearly immobile on the surface of the ocean.
And it was a seadweller.
Against his better judgment, Equius stepped onto the beach. The sand under his metal cleats was disorienting and bizarre, but he tried to ignore the sensation, continuing on through pebbly sand until he reached the lip of the water. He peered out at the body, trying to figure out if it was alive, and as he stared at it, he slowly began to realize that it was a troll of extremely high rank. Probably the highest he had ever seen. No…definitely the highest he’d ever seen. Without a doubt.
Equius glanced toward the highblood’s hive, which was as still as ever, and then back to the small body. As much as he detested the sea, it was his duty, he supposed, as the only troll around or aware of the situation, to do something about it. So he quietly removed his shoes as quickly as he could so as not to waterlog them and strode with purpose into the ocean, hating the chill of the water and despising even more so the rancid stink of fish and decay that swelled up around him as the sea quickly grew a bit too deep and he was up to his neck in water, kicking his way over to the troll.
He turned it over onto its back, a bit stunned to see that she was female. A high-ranking female was rare, and usually meant…well. Equius knew exactly what it meant. It took him a moment to collect himself and carefully grip her by her shirt, tugging her back toward the shore by swimming awkwardly sideways. He’d never really swum, before. It was difficult, and strange. He didn’t like it, he quickly decided. He dragged the troll up onto the shore and quietly squeezed the disgusting sea water out of his shorts as he looked at her, slipping his shoes back on and shuddering at the feeling of pebbles digging into the soles of his feet, stuck to the wet material of his stockings. His charge’s hair was an absolute mess, tangled around her horns, face, and arms like a weird net. She was absolutely unconscious, but clearly still alive. The sensitive fins on her face were fluttering, trying to detect the water that was no longer there, and Equius stared at them, a bit curious.
He’d never seen a seadweller up close, before. He had only heard stories about Vriska’s encounters with her kismesis, who was apparently not much to look at, apart from being a rather gaudy dresser. A part of Equius had always secretly expected them to be better-looking than land dwellers, just in general. This one was…well. She was somewhat more attractive than Vriska, but that wasn’t too hard to do when you weren’t constantly sneering or neglecting your hair. Besides, Vriska was fine-looking in her own way. At least her horns were more intriguing than this girl’s.
Equius crouched beside her, staring at her face. She was out cold. What was he supposed to do with her? Warily, he glanced up at Gamzee’s hive, then thought better of it. He would be better off taking her back to his own hive. Even though that thought in itself was horrifying, as well. He wasn’t exactly used to hosting guests. Mostly because his hive took up nearly the entire mesa that it was built on, and there was no access to it aside from the narrow underground pathway between his own hive and Vriska’s. Even his feisty moirail had a hard time getting in, and she had only recently figured out how to bridge the gap between the foot of Vriska’s hive and the edge of Equius’s without using the long path.
Not many trolls would dare to try to make that jump, though. Vriska’s lusus was waiting hungrily below for all who failed, and Nepeta had been the only one brave enough to attempt and succeed the leap in sweeps (and that had been a fiasco in its own rite which had resulted in many, many soiled towels).
Equius squatted there anxiously for a good minute or two before he carefully tucked his arms under the troll’s body and lifted her as well as he could. She was light, of course. Slightly heavier than Nepeta, though presumably only because she was waterlogged. He stared at her a bit more, shaking his hair out of his face, and it made him more than a bit nervous to notice that nearly magenta tint to the fins on her jawline, and the faded purple of the symbol on her breast. He knew that color, and what it meant. He knew it well.
Equius carried her uncomfortably back up the dirt pathway toward the canyon, trying his best not to hurt her. It was difficult, as physical contact always was, and it made him extremely anxious, but he couldn’t just drag her or anything like that. It wouldn’t have been proper. He toted her uneasily up the road and as quickly as he could past Vriska’s hive: if she saw him out there with another troll, she would assume it was an offering for her lusus, and she would ask for it, that sneer ever-plastered to her face.
And he, naturally, wouldn’t be able to refuse her.
He crept past her hive and leapt fearlessly from the edge of the plateau over to his own front door. Bridging the gap was no big deal for someone with his caliber of strength. He stumbled inside, still clinging to the unconscious female, and he called for Aurthour, who was of course quick to attend to him. The lusus knew the gravity of the situation as soon as he saw the female’s coloring, and he gingerly took her from Equius, meaning to put her somewhere to be dealt with accordingly after Master Zahhak’s bath was run.
Equius scowled and muttered for Aurthour to tend to the female: he would run his own bath. Aurthour looked somewhat lost and confused at the strange demand, but Equius ignored him, losing himself up the south staircase. It would take hours to scrub the salt and sand—and most importantly, the horrific smell of the ocean—acceptably from his skin.
He bathed for a long time, as he had anticipated. He stayed in the tub, scrubbing himself until the water was cold, pressing his nose to his own skin and scowling at the lingering stench of rotting fish, even after the stinging cleansing powder and richly-scented oils had been scraped away. He washed his hair furiously, and it just felt greasy and gritty, even after he’d emptied his bath and toweled himself dry. Aurthour had come up a few times in the midst of the process to check on him, and each time Equius had scowled at him and ushered him away. He didn’t bother to come back once the trap was drained, and Equius had to dress himself and dry his own hair. He nearly tore his shirt several times in the process, and fresh stockings were out of the question.
The moons were nearly setting by the time he made his way back down to the ground level of his hive, where Aurthour had gingerly arranged the seadweller on a sofa with as many soft pillows as he could collect (Equius didn’t have many). She’d been bathed, and gently dressed in clothing that Equius often wore to work in. His face turned dark blue when he realized what Aurthour had done, and he nearly opened his mouth to protest, the centaur looking at him uneasily and indicating that he’d only taken the female’s clothes off to clean them. Besides that, these clothes were the only frocks the young blueblood owned that were devoid of his symbol. They were baggy on her, but they would have to do. It was unthinkable for a highblood such as her to wear a color below her status, after all. Equius knew that.
He scowled. It was better for her not to be nude, he supposed, running one hand heavily down his own face. Still, the fact that she was still unconscious unnerved him. It had been hours. She’d somehow stayed asleep through a bath, and through being redressed in strange clothes. It made no sense.
Equius approached her, staring, his arms folded across his chest. Aurthour had combed her hair neatly out of her face and braided it in a long, thick rope down her back. All of the jewelry that she’d been wearing before was nowhere to be found, and Equius could only assume that Aurthour had put it somewhere for safe keeping. His work clothes sagged on her arms and legs, and the fins on her face were still twitching distantly.
Equius frowned. He hated having visitors over to his hive. They disrupted his very strict schedule. And even with a seadweller of this rank here, he could still only barely muster up the strength to care at all. He wanted her out of there. And soon. But he’d made the mistake of taking her all the way up to the top of the canyon. Gritting his teeth, he slowly found himself beginning to pace. Aurthour watched him uncertainly from the corner, one arm held out hesitantly with a towel draped over it just in case. Equius tugged at his own hair, hating how it was still gritty with salt and sand in spite of his lengthy bath.
He paced for an hour. And still, she showed no signs of waking up.
The moons were setting. Knowing he would regret it later, Equius settled himself on the chaise and glared over at his unwanted guest, growing slowly more anxious as Aurthour found a blanket to swaddle him in. Eventually, he fell asleep with a terrible scowl on his face.
He awoke three hours later to the sight of huge eyes staring straight back into his. He jumped, startled, and she grinned at him broadly, her teeth sharp and vicious behind full black lips. In his most noble opinion, she was lucky that, in his shock, he hadn’t slammed his fist into her jaw and completely shattered it.
She was an entirely different sight when she was awake. She held herself with power and purpose, leaning toward him but nowhere near close enough to make contact with him, and the fins on her face were fluttering rhythmically, a faint hint of magenta glowing on her cheeks and the exposed shoulder that Equius’s work shirt was slipping down. The seadweller giggled, then cocked her head at him.
“This is your hive? It’s totally cool! I’ve never been on land like this before. Did you ferry me up here?”
Her voice was bubbly and bright: somewhat high-pitched, with just a hint of teasing. He was a bit stunned, honestly. She spoke quickly, and loudly, and her eyes stayed fixated on his face, as if he was doing the most interesting thing in the world. Equius could feel his armpits dampening, and he swallowed dryly.
“…Yes. This is my hive.”
“I’m Feferi! Do you have a name? Your lusus is so charming!”
“Heehee! What a name. It’s nice to meet you, Equius!”
The way she said it, her mouth opened a bit too vertically for his taste. It sounded more like she was saying “Ah-quius”, though it stood shakily on the fence between the two. Perhaps it was meant to be a pun, which normally would have charmed him, but under the circumstances, simply irritated him. He frowned a bit more deeply.
“Forgive me for correcting you, but. It’s Equius.”
“I heard you!” She seemed to be readying the word for launch before she finally spit it out again, her arms folding over her chest. “…Equius!”
She finally peeled her eyes away from his face, and he let out a strangled breath, scooting away from her and getting to his feet awkwardly as she looked around his main room. It was dismal, like most of the rest of his hive, and only partially decorated at the moment, but she seemed to focus on every tiny detail. It made him more than a little uncomfortable, honestly. Aurthour trotted up behind him with a towel, offering it to him gingerly, and he took it, wiping sweat from his face as Feferi looked back at him. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Are you sweating?” she asked, still grinning at him.
He swallowed hard. Dry, again. “…Yes.”
“Weird. Mind if I take a look around? I’d love to see what kinds of neat stuff land dwellers keep in their hives!”
“I’m not certain if—”
“Great! I’ll just be a few minutes! Don’t worry about a thing!”
And then she traipsed off in his work clothes, hoisting them up as she went along. Equius stared after her, having half a mind to follow her, but his instincts told him to stay put. Feferi was her name. Feferi Peixes. He’d heard of her, definitely. Through Vriska, who knew of her through her own kismesis: the Grand Quasiroyal Consort, Eridan Ampora. The two were moirails. And Feferi was the abdicated Empress-to-be.
And she was in Equius’s hive.
Wearing his work clothes.
He wiped sweat away, his chest tight as he slowly sank back down on the chaise.
And on the chaise he stayed.
Aurthour came in some time later to offer him an assortment of nutrient pastes, which Equius noticed had been sampled by his rather unwieldy hiveguest. Abhorrent though it was to eat after another, he resigned himself to it, only because she was his superior in every way. A matriarchal society ordered by blood color ranked Her Magisterial Elegance-in-Training far, far above a lowly Archduke Ultramarine male like Equius Zahhak. He knew this well. As someone who respected the caste system dictated by the hemospectrum, Equius could recognize the distinct tints of individuals within each caste, knowing even in his own elite caste the difference between the Duke, the Phthalo, the Navy, and the Ultramarine upper nobility bluebloods. And he recognized that, at the precise top of the broad spectrum of violets, far above himself, Tyrian purple sat proudly, and pulsed in the veins of this wild young female.
A large part of him wanted to find her and stop her from going through his things, but a more powerful part of him knew that it was her right to do so. He was no more than a servant to her, as far as the hemospectrum was concerned, and he knew his place well. Everything that belonged to him was also hers. He shuddered in embarrassment at the thought of her discovering his private collection of poetry. Or worse.
The only thing he could do was try to relax, though that in itself was quite a demand for someone like Equius Zahhak. Relaxation was simply out of the question on a regular basis, and it was growing more and more impossible by the minute as his already-high blueblood pressure was rising. He ate miserably. Aurthour trotted up behind him and rubbed his temples soothingly, running deft white fingers through his greasy, sandy hair. Equius leaned back in the seat, closing his eyes.
“…Did she say what had happened to her, Aurthour?” he asked quietly, the voice a strained murmur. Aurthour grunted softly in response, signifying a firm “no,” and Equius remained unfettered by it. He was only mildly curious about it, after all, and he was much more concerned about her being able to go back to the sea as soon as she could. Considering the rate at which she was exploring the entirety of his hive, however, it could have been quite a long time before that happened, capability or no.
His gut clenched at the thought that she might be exploring his hive to examine its adaptability for purposes of her own design. What if she liked it so much that she wanted a palace on land, as well as her own beneath the eastern sea? Equius choked at the thought of building a new hive. Of relocating, away from Vriska Serket. Of needing to tell Nepeta that he’d been evicted by the Empress-to-be herself. Vriska would laugh. Nepeta would not be impressed. Pushed around by a fish? She’d hiss and scowl, shying away from him when he tried to explain that he couldn’t help it. It was the order. It was how things were meant to be.
Not that Nepeta believed in any of that. Equius had himself convinced that it was because she simply needed to be taught to be better, and they’d gone over it several times already—or rather, he’d told her about his plans for her while she’d idly played with Aurthour’s tail from her stretched-out position on this very chaise lounge. She would someday learn that Equius absolutely had to follow orders from the seadwellers. Even if it was destiny for the two orders of trolls to be at odds with one another. That was how things were. A lifetime of struggle, and subjugation at the hands of those in the classes above your own. It was better to relent, even when it was shameful.
Only the slightest bit reluctant, Equius resigned himself to figuring that he would probably be better off trying to make Feferi at home while she was here. She would appreciate it, at the very least, and maybe she would even be lenient on him and allow him to keep his hive, after all. Aurthour took the tray of nutrient pastes away from Equius as he got up, muttering that he would be in his respiteblock if Her Majesty was seeking him. He scaled the towers of his hive until he reached his block, then settled himself at his husktop, waiting for it to boot up.
He would need help, if he was going to act properly. His manners were still rough at best, especially when it came to dealing with royalty, and he would need some advice to help him get through this visit with dignity.
-- centaursTesticle [CT] began trolling arsenicCatnip [AC] --
CT: D --> Nepeta
-- arsenicCatnip [AC] cannot receive offline messages --
Equius blinked, startled, then felt a little betrayed. She was always on when he needed her. For over a sweep, now, they’d been learning each other’s patterns and needs, and Nepeta was especially good about knowing when he was about to ask her something important. Upset, Equius glanced at the clock, then swallowed a bit of embarrassment. Of course. She was out for her twilight hunt. He never contacted her now. She wouldn’t have been expecting him, and that wasn’t her fault.
He sighed heavily and glanced at his trollslum, sweat beading along his hairline when he realized only one person was online that he might consider talking to about this. Though it was the very last person he wanted to contact.
He took ten minutes to consider before he realized he’d been left with no choice.
-- centaursTesticle [CT] began trolling terminallyCapricious [TC] --
CT: D --> Highb100d
CT: D --> Do you have a moment
Twenty more minutes passed without response.
CT: D --> You do realize that normally I w001dn’t think of contacting you for help
CT: D --> However
CT: D --> This is e%tremely important
When he finally answered, it was nowhere near the response that Equius had been hoping for, but quite near the one that he’d expected.
-- terminallyCapricious [TC] returned from idle –-
TC: WoOaHhH, tHeRe, MoThErFuCkEr!
TC: JuSt NeEd A sIcK mInUtE hErE tO pUt ThE fInIsHiNg ToUcHeS oN tHe MoSt KiCkIn’ Of AlL pIe-BaSeD mIrAcLeS
TC: hOnK hOnK :o)
CT: D --> Oh for goodness sake
CT: D --> I thought you were idling by the sea again
TC: nAh, BrO, nOt ToDaY
TC: tHe OlD gOaT aIn’T dUe BaCk FoR a WhIlE yEt, PrEtTy MoThErFuCkInG sUrE
TC: wHaT’s BoThErInG a ToUgH mOtHeRfUcKeR lIkE yOuRsElF, tRoLlSeF?
CT: D --> I require your opinion
CT: D --> Though it pains me to say it
TC: aWwW, dAnG bRo! YoU’rE cAlLiNg On YoUr OlD dEsPiCaPaL gAmZeE tO hElP a BrOtHeR wOrK uP sOmE tHiNkMaGiC oN a ReAl PaNfUcKeR oF a PiCkLe?
TC: I’m AlL uP aNd FlAtTeReD, bLuEsT oF aLl BrOs :o)
CT: D --> Yes, well, I suppose that is good
CT: D --> However, there are more dire matters at hand than your flattery
CT: D --> I must ask
CT: D --> Do you ever receive hiveguests
CT: D --> Of a
CT: D --> Damp disposition
A slight pause in conversation. Equius waited as patiently as he could on his side of the husktop.
TC: YoU mEaN lIkE a SaLtY sEaBiScUiT wAnTs To CoMe AnD pAl ArOuNd?
CT: D --> What
CT: D --> Who
TC: YoU tRyInG tO aLl Up AnD gEt YoUrSeLf InViTeD tO tHe FiNeSt SeAsIdE cHaTeAu To HaNg WiTh YoUr MiRtHfUl MaIn MoThErFuCkEr, My SaLtIeSt Of SwEaTsOaKeD bRoThErS?
CT: D --> E%cuse me
CT: D --> I most certainly am not
CT: D --> It w001dn’t be proper
CT: D --> And besides that
CT: D --> Who told you about my perspiration problem
TC: wElL iF yOu Be AlL gEtTiNg YoUrSeLf InVoLvEd AlL iN tHe WiCkEdEsT oF sErIoUs TyPeS oF rOuGhHiViNg WiTh YoUr RoBo PaLs AlL dArK sEaSoN
TC: yOu BoUnD tO bE gEtTiNg SwEaTy, EqBrO!
CT: D --> Oh
CT: D --> So you simply
CT: D --> Assumed
TC: I aIn’T sUrE i KnOw WhAt YoU aLl Up AnD mEaN, bLuE bUdDy
TC: ArE wE sTiLl TaLkInG aBoUt YoU cOmInG tO vIsIt :o?
CT: D --> We
CT: D --> Never were
TC: It’S aLl GoOd, My BrOtHeR
TC: jUsT gIvE mE tHe HoTtEsT oF mInUtEs HeRe To CrAcK tHiS tIn-WrApPeD mIrAcLe OuTtA tHe OvEn
CT: D --> Wait
CT: D --> I must ask you
-- terminallyCapricious [TC] changed their status to away --
CT: D --> Gosh darn it
CT: D --> Highb100d
CT: D --> Come back
CT: D --> I demand it
CT: D --> I mean
Equius sat at his husktop for a good ten minutes, flustered and trying to think of something to say. Eventually, another message appeared in his conversation with Gamzee.
-- terminallyCapricious [TC] went idle --
CT: D --> Shoot
He didn’t return for three hours, and by then, Equius was long gone.