“Hey, guys! Dream Bubble incoming!” The gramophone-come-PA system hooted, the flower of metal giving Terezi’s voice a tinny quality. You nudge Rose in the ribs gently, and she turns, giving you a weak smile.
“I think I’ll miss this one, Kanaya,” She says softly, “I’m still not entirely comfortable with talking to our dead friends, and I’m not prepared to risk another counsel with the Horrorterrors.” Looking around the room, you see that Dave seems to have a similar attitude, reclining on a sofa and reading a copy of Gamebro with no sign of moving. Rose pats your hand. “You go; I’ll see you in a bit.”
Terezi and Karkat are standing quietly on the top deck, eyes upturned to the approaching sphere of dancing light. Even at this distance, you can feel the tendrils of the Bubble entering your mind, carrying half heard whispers and flickers of movement on the edge of your vision. Karkat sees you, and murmurs to Terezi, who turns the wrong direction and waves enthusiastically before Karkat pilots her to face you. You smile softly at the pair, and not for the first time you consider just how much Karkat has matured since the beginning of the game. While he still retains remnants of his font of unquenchable anger, he looses his temper less frequently, and has become a more thoughtful and careful speaker. You feel a strange surge of pride at that, and wonder where it comes from.
“Lalonde and Strider not coming?” He asks, and you notice the flicker of disappointment on Terezi’s face. You shake your head.
“I think they find the experience uncomfortable. As do I, in truth, but I feel the insights we could gain are worth a little discomfort.”
You move to stand beside the others, the sphere only a few meters away now. From the outside, it does indeed resemble a soap bubble, made of pulsing, living light. Karkat puts his hand on Terezi’s shoulder and squeezes.
“Here it comes.” He tells her. She paps his hand in mock irritation.
“I know, Karkles,” she chuckles, “I can hear it.” She puts her hands in front of her, and the Bubble seems to pulse brighter, colours more vivid around the area her skin nearly touches. It swells and engulfs her hands in light, moving along her arms, and you turn your face towards it, shutting your eyes.
“See you guys on the other side!” Terezi croons. You feel the Bubble engulf your body, and even with your eyes shut you can see pinpoints of light beginning to swirl around you. There is a sensation akin to falling; a lightness in your ribs and what remains of your stomach. The light flares, and the whispers steadily grow to a full on roar of voices, to loud and numerous to make out.
And then... silence. And darkness. And it is cold.
You open your eyes. The others are nowhere to be seen. Stretching out before you appears to be a desert, and you recognise it as the desert that surrounded your Hive. It is night-time; the stars are distant chilly pinpoints, and there is no moon in the sky. You turn, but instead of the familiar bulk of your Hive that you had expected to see, there are only sand swept ruins. Movement catches your eye, and you spot a piece of brightly coloured fabric, of the material that had once been curtains, rolling along the sand, carried by a cold wind. You stare at it as it flutters into the dark desert, and a strange sense of sadness begins to grow in your chest. A scrap of colour, fluttering across the cold sand; a semblance of life in a dead world.
No... not quite dead.
A figure detatches itself from the shadows cast by your ruined Hive, and begins to walk slowly towards you. As it draws nearer, you see that its hands are upraised in a sign of peace. The crunch of sand underfoot plays a staccato rhythm against the desert wind. And you know the figure. Details reveal themself as it, as she, draws closer; A carefully styled bob, a green dress.
The other Kanaya stops a few feet away, smiling. Her eyes are white from edge to edge, but her expression is tranquil. Seeing yourself from the outside makes you feel a little dizzy, and you sit down abruptly in the sand without quite meaning to. The dead Kanaya chuckles, and takes a few steps forward.
“I know you’re confused, because I would be.” She says, and you marvel at how her voice, your voice, carries in the wind. “It’s ok. You don’t have to be afraid.” She’s in front of you now, a hand held out. You take both the hand and a deep breath, and let her pull you to your feet. You finally find your voice.
“Where are we?” The other Kanaya smiles sadly.
“I am you from a Doomed Timeline. I could not enter the Game fast enough due to tensions within the teams, and was caught in the Vast Glub. You can see just how catastrophic the effects were.” She motions to the ruined Hive behind her. You nod numbly.
“Where are Karkat and Terezi? We entered at the same time...” She shrugs lightly.
“They could not come here; this Dream is intended for you.” She says, and a small butterfly of worry flaps a tentative wing in your chest.
“And... what was it you wanted to talk to me about, then?” You inquire, “You have gone through a great deal of effort to contact me alone.” The other Kanaya smiles.
“It isn’t me that wishes to talk to you, Kanaya. He is merely using my dream as a stage on which to meet with you.” She smiles again, but grimly this time. “He has been searching for you for a while, I believe.”
“Come and see.” She takes your hand, her own oddly chilly, and leads your unprostesting self toward the ruin.
A pane of glass crunches underfoot as you step into what was once your Hive. More torn, colourful fabric litters the floor. You can see a figure sitting on a ruined chaise longue, shadows obscuring their features. The other Kanaya gives your hand a squeeze.
“I’ll leave you two alone. Please listen to him, Kanaya.” She looks sadly at you with her whited out eyes, “I did. He really needs to tell you some things.” She lets go, withdrawing into the dark, heels clicking against broken glass and rubble.
The figure is still, and you begin to wonder if it is a person at all, or just a trick of the shadows. Then a voice rings out across the ruined room, painfully familiar but changed in a way you cannot put your finger on.
“Hello, Kan.” Says Eridan, rising from his seat. You take a few steps backwards as he walks into a pool of starlight formed through a hole in the roof. He is capeless and shirtless, but still retains his scarf. Across his abdomen runs a jagged line of purple, white stitches gleaming, where your chainsaw had torn into him. He stands perfectly still as you stare at him, then crosses his arms over his chest, white eyes fixed on you.
“Yes. I’m that Eridan.” His tone hints at irritation, and he raises an imperious eyebrow at you as you draw your lipstick from the pocket of you skirt. He scoffs and unfolds his arms, palms extended. “Please, Kan. This is a dream. I couldn’t hurt you even if I wanted to. Do you know how hard it was to do these stitches? So let’s just calm down.” You let your hands drop to your sides, forcing yourself to relax.
“What...” you begin, but he cuts you off.
“You know, you’re really hard to find. This you, I mean. I’ve run into plenty of other Kanayas, including our gracious hostess. Nice place you had.” He shrugs a shoulder at the wreckage around you, and you feel your fists ball.
“What do you want, Eridan?” You try to keep your composure, but Eridan seems to have retained his talent for getting under your skin, even in death. “And could you please get dressed? I understand your point, but it is a little macabre.” He shrugs again.
“Well, seein’ as my body offered no resistance to your chainsaw, my shirt didn’t survive either, and crop-tops really do nothin’ for my figure.” He grins, teeth gleaming sharply in the starlight. “You’re the one dreamin’, if you’d oblige?” You concentrate a moment, and the figure flickers like a heat haze. Then Eridan returns, fully clothed. He sniffs, adjusting his collar.
“Alright. Now, what do you want?” You keep your voice steady, trying to subdue the impulse to run. The image of Eridan’s bisected torso still lingers in your memory despite his new clothing.
“Can’t you guess? You were always a smart one, Kan.” Despite his earlier declaration of peace, you still feel ill at ease.
“No, I cannot guess.” You fold your arms over your destroyed stomach, eyes narrowing. But Eridan’s face crumples, not in amusement this time, but in what looks to be genuine distress. His imperious stance is gone, and he looks small and beaten in the starlight. He sighs deeply, as if the act of maintaining his old arrogance has exhausted him.
“I want to... apologise.”
“I’m sorry, Kan. You must think I’m a fuckin’ loser. Which I am.” The boy shrugs his shoulders under his ridiculous cape.
“Not at all, Eridan.” You pat his hand, and are surprised to find that you mean what you say. Yes, Eridan was a pompous, insufferable megalomaniac, but after a few of these counselling sessions, of him sitting in his pile of unbelievably shitty wands, you knelt delicately beside him, you have begun to feel genuine compassion for the Prince. On his own, just the two of you, he doesn’t seem to feel the need to preen and strut – all arrogance is eaten away by his crippling self loathing. On his own, shorn of the brash exterior he uses to mask just how scared and vulnerable he feels, Eridan was bearable - Almost likable.
These talks had begun by chance. You had actually been looking for Karkat when you stumbled upon the pathetic figure, all alone in a disused room. You’d never got on with Eridan before coming to the Veil, but there was something about him, looking as delicate and broken as his shitty wands, that made you ask him what the matter was. Since then these impromptu sessions have become a regular occurrence. Not that you need to say much. It’s a sad little thought, twitching in the light as it is exposed, but you truly think Eridan just wants someone to talk to.
You feel somewhat irritated at Feferi. Obviously, Eridan must have been a stressful Moirail to have to deal with, and she had persevered for sweeps. But her rejection and abandonment had left the Seadweller feeling lost and more alone than maybe any of them. But, you think, the Abdicated Empress could have handled the affair with a little more tact, and had the good grace to maybe wait a touch longer before moving on to Sollux. Eridan had felt betrayed and used; and you know what that feels like.
You shake your head to evict thoughts of Vriska, frowning unconsiously. Eridan looks at you, worry flickering over his face. You are not blessed with any extra sensory gifts, but you can almost hear his thoughts – “Please, please don’t leave me too...”
“Apologise?” The word sticks in your throat, barbed sibilant tearing at the soft pallet. “After everything you did...” Your fists clench, nails cutting little green crescents into your palm. The Seadweller is staring at the floor.
You have never been the sort of person to feel emotions very keenly. In fact, your detached air coupled with your natural penchant for meddling is what made you “the village two-wheeled device for Auspiticing”. But now, you are furious. How dare he? How dare he? Stalking your dreams, pestering dead yous from Doomed Timelines, after it’s over, finished... and he comes to you in dreams for his... his fucking absolution.
“You assaulted Sollux. You killed Feferi, the girl I spent hours trying to help you move on from. You destroyed my Orb! The hope of our race! You killed me, Eridan. After everything I did for you!” Somewhere behind the rage, you are shocked at the volume and rawness of your own voice. As tears sting your eyes, the pool of starlight surrounding the hunched troll crazes at the edges, sending little strips of fuzzy light across your vision. “But isn’t that typical? Kanaya can cope, Kanaya can get on with things, so let’s just use her benediction as and when; talk her ear off then shoot her in the stomach, get her to sew you the perfect dress for some deranged seductive ploy, letting her think she means something to you...” You have never felt this enraged. All of the secret anger and despair that you bottled away, because the team needed you, because everyone had an important job to do and this was yours, flowing through you like a tide, tearing away at the chilly fortress of composure that you built around your heart; it’s queen and it’s prisoner . It was this tide that propelled you forwards that day, making you attack the dangerous, psychotic Juggalo, severing this idiot in two, spine snapping and intestines littering the floor like confetti from a 12th Pedigrees Cracker. You have always been there for anyone who needed it, but who was ever there for you?
You didn’t hear him move towards you, nor see him through your stinging eyes, but Eridan is in front of you and puts his arms around your shoulders, making subdued and tender sounds that would surprise anyone who had never looked past his irritating exterior. Your first impulse, a sensible impulse, is to pull away from him, run from this dead echo of your life and this dead echo of your killer. So you’re not quite sure why you find yourself clutching his shirt and sobbing into his shoulder. After a while, raw sobs descending into throaty, anguished noises that are somewhere between a cough and a cry, you feel him take a deep breath. When he speaks, his tone is careful and calm, as if he had rehearsed this speech, with only the telltale hitches giving away the fact that he, too, is crying.
“I know that I am the biggest fuckin’ idiot to have ever been hatched. I fucked up beyond all recognition, I know. No one on that fuckin’ meteor gave a shit about me, apart from you, and I...” He takes a long shaky breath, obviously trying to prepare his voice, but it comes out in a curiously childish, broken tone “I never meant to kill anyone.” You snap your head up, looking straight into his paper-white eyes, feeling the rage that had been ebbing away returning, boiling in the back of your throat. But before you can speak, a long fingered hand covers your mouth. “Please.” He says, “I really didn’t. When I used the Science Wand on Sol... well, it only stunned him, right? Then Fef... got up, and there was a look in her eyes that I had never seen before and... And I was scared, Kan, that’s the truth.” And you believe him. How can you not, seeing his face contorted in pure misery, shorn of anything else, like a child that had been running along so happily only then to fall and cut their knee? The world is a hard and unforgiving place, and learning that is the hardest thing of all. His voice is little more than a whisper modulated by hiccups of pain. “I didn’t know it would... It only knocked out Sol and he was a lowblood... and I was so scared and she was gonna kill me. I never meant to kill her! I just wanted her to stop looking at me! And then there was a great big hole and a chainsaw revv and I panicked even more...” He takes a shuddering breath, wrestling his voice from the edge of hysteria. “I didn’t mean to kill either of you... I fuckin’ worshiped Feferi, you know that, and you... You were the only one who ever even felt I was worth talkin’ to... that’s why... I wanted to apologise. When I found out you weren’t dead, I went lookin’ for your dreams, hopin’ I could explain...”
“Rainbow Drinkers do not sleep.” You whisper, and feel him nod.
“I don’t deserve your forgiveness, Kan, I know that. I just wanted you to know.” It is hard to tell where those pure white eyes are looking, but the tone of his voice assures you they are looking straight into yours. “Do you believe me?”
You exit the Dream Bubble before Karkat and Terezi, and thankfully have time to repair your makeup before they emerge, bickering loudly. You are glad that the two of them are so absorbed with their own affairs; you have no desire to discuss your own experiences with either of them.
Rose is sitting where you left her, and gives you a bright smile and you walk towards her.
“What did you find in your dreams, Ms. Marayam?” She asks playfully. You turn to her and give a shy smile.
“Absolution.” You say.