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The Land of Dragons and Dungeons

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==> Dreamer: Remember

PAST carcinoGeneticist [PCG] 6132000 HOURS AGO opened memo on board YEAH THIS ISN'T IN THE LEAST BIT FUCKING PATHETIC.
PCG: HEY ASSHOLE.
PCG: COME ON, I KNOW YOU'RE THERE.
PCG: I MEAN IT ISN'T LIKE EITHER OF US HAS ANYTHING BETTER TO DO.
PCG: SERIOUSLY.
PCG: NOT ONE. SINGLE. FUCKING. THING.

How long have you been here?

You are vaguely aware that this is not real, that the hazy impression you have of stacks of books and blinking banks of lights in the echoing shadows and ancient, dust-covered furniture is an illusion being summoned by your mind. And yet in this moment, you are not sure what reality would be without these faded ideas, small details thrown into sharp contrast while sweeping brush-strokes of conception fill in the gaps between them. It's like a play, where the actors all take the stage and act out their parts until you forget that the towering castle or the endless forest is just paint and paste and plyboard and the seat is hurting your ass...

There is something you should be doing. No, more than that: you can feel the urgency, the expectation. Your mind shifts and in an instant you are aware of just how long you have been waiting.

CURRENT carcinoGeneticist [CCG] RIGHT NOW responded to memo
CCG: WELL IT'S ABOUT TIME.
CCG: I'VE BEEN WAITING FOREVER FOR YOU TO SHOW UP, YOU INCONSIDERATE NOOKSTAIN.

It feels natural to talk this way, silent save for the tapping of your claws on the keys, watching the words appear on the gently glowing computer screen. The alphabet is so familiar to you that you almost think you hear the conversation aloud as you read it.

A flicker of confusion, a passing fragment of reality: you can barely read your own tongue. You don't know this language, these symbols. What is a computer? Then the dream reasserts itself and you are once again pulled under.

PCG: SO SORRY I MISSED OUR APPOINTMENT.
PCG: OH, NO, WAIT, I DIDN'T.
PCG: YOU KNEW EXACTLY WHEN I WAS GOING TO SHOW UP, FUCKASS.
PCG: IF ANYTHING I'M THE ONE GETTING SCREWED OVER HERE.
PCG: HERE I AM, GOING OUT OF MY GOGDAMNED MIND WITH BOREDOM, AND YOU CAN'T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO LOG ON EVEN A TINY BIT FASTER?

You fucking hate this asshole. You can feel it, old and worn inside your chest, tried and tested and familiar as your own face. You can't stand him, he's such a fucking annoyance, always makes you mad, always screws everything up and acts like a complete fucking bulgelicker about it...

… and there's an echo here, another voice just out of time and as grey as yours is red, saying the exact same thing about you. It's yours. They're both your voice.

Of course they are. After all, the asshole is you. Well, Past You. Fuck, you're glad you don't have to be him any more.

CCG: SHUT UP AND STOP BEING SUCH A FUCKING WIGGLER.
CCG: I'VE BEEN HERE SEVEN CENTURIES LONGER THAN YOU AND YOU DON'T SEE ME BITCHING AND MOANING LIKE I'M SOLLUX FUCKING CAPTOR.

Sollux Captor is a name that brings to mind- not really a face, more an impression of another asshole, but one you care about. For an instant your mind is filled with blue and red, and then you're back in the dark, talking to Past You and just somehow knowing what you mean without ever having to really wonder why.

PCG: ...
PCG: SHIT, IT REALLY IS SEVEN CENTURIES, ISN'T IT?
PCG: YOU MEAN NONE OF THEM HAVE SHOWN UP YET?

You can remember it now. You've been here all that time. Longer. Here, in the dark and in the silence, waiting and waiting and so very afraid that nothing would ever change. It stretches out around you like the corridor between two mirrors, reflections of endless centuries spent in solitude because none of those fuckers came back for you.

Not that it's their fault. No, it's yours. And by you, you mean Past You. No reason why that nooksniffer should have to remain hopeful, seeing as how he got you into this mess. You spent this whole time knowing they weren't going to show up, so he can fucking well suck on it.

CCG: I HAVE BEEN ENTIRELY ALONE THIS WHOLE TIME.
CCG: AT THIS POINT IF ONE OF THEM DOES DECIDE TO COME IN I AM CONSIDERING THROWING THEM RIGHT BACK OUT AGAIN.
CCG: FUCK THEM AND FUCK THEIR STUPID RIVER OF SOULS.
CCG: IF I HADN'T HAD THIS CONVERSATION I WOULD PROBABLY HAVE GONE INSANE.
CCG: AGAIN.

You can feel the warm glow against your side, the light from the Door just in the edge of your vision, mocking you with what you can never have. Brief images flit through you, the shapes of times long past when you were not yourself, but were instead

a farmhand forgotten, but later a soldier, who marched to war and blood and death but in the depths of that hell found love and kindness, and later returned to be a farmer again in a land that never seemed to have changed. You never forgot, but the horror faded with time and with the laughter of the children, and you hardly ever resented leaving behind your dreams of glory...

a storyteller exalted, dreaming from childhood of worlds beyond the mundane and adventures that spanned the stars. You were famed for miles around, and the peak of your fame came when the Queen herself travelled to your town to hear you weave a tale. You lived out the rest of your days at court, beloved by all, and told none of the vague sense of unease that plagued your sleep...

an oracle betrayed, first drawn to the priesthood by your visions and your cursed knowledge. You trusted them and they used you, paraded you to the crowds like a mascot, threw you trinkets to placate you like a pet. Then your prophecy and your power became inconvenient and there were daggers when you least expected them, a false martyr with your name and your face raised in your stead...

a heretic condemned, filled with senseless fury at an unknown betrayal even as you publicly decried the authority of the church and its corrupt excess. You knew you were special, knew that you were important, but you kept the secrets that were entrusted to you by the Great Powers, spitting in the faces of your foes even as the crowds jeered and the flames began to consume you...

a revolutionary ascendant, wily in your vengeance as your dreams guided you to gather support before striking. The world called you by one name but you knew another, and the true name you bore was one that could build worlds anew if only you tried. Half a continent was in flames by the time they captured you; as the axe fell to your neck, you stayed strong in the knowledge that there was nothing they could do to stop the plans that you had wrought...

a madman abandoned, your mind full of strange certainties that you foolishly shared and your body marked with the sign of an accursed God. Those who cared about you turned to healers who could have done nothing even if you had been broken; they took a mind that was whole, if filled with alien thoughts, and in trying to repair it they tore it asunder. Torture gave way to neglect, and by the time you starved you had no sane mind left to care...

PCG: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU ON ABOUT?
PCG: THIS SEEMS LIKE A PRETTY NORMAL CONVERSATION SO FAR.
PCG: YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE, I'M AN ASSHOLE, WE'RE BOTH BORED AND LONELY, AND OUR SUPPOSED FRIENDS ARE A BUNCH OF UNRELIABLE BULGEMUNCHING FUCKHOLES.
PCG: WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

The others never remembered their lives. If they did, they would have come back long ago instead of continuing to ride the River, and you wouldn't be stuck talking to fucking Past You and redoing every stupid, inane thing you ever thought of to stave off boredom. You should have fucking had a better plan than this: agreed to do it in shifts or rotations, or at least come up with a definite number of goes round before you stopped and met up again. Maybe even done some more gogdamn test runs before committing to a plan that left the place completely fucking empty.

At least you can be sure that the tedium is nearly over.

CCG: CURRENTLY, NOTHING EVEN REMOTELY DIFFERENT HAS HAPPENED SINCE I WAS YOU, WHICH IS ABOUT AS FUCKING AWFUL AS YOU THINK IT IS.
CCG: BUT IN A FEW MINUTES I'M GOING TO NOTICE SOMETHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY AND START TALKING IN PURE, UNADULTERATED CRYPTIC BULLSHIT.
CCG: THEN WHILE YOU'RE STILL TRYING TO WORK OUT WHAT THE FUCK'S GOING ON, I'M GOING TO START PANICKING LIKE A HELPLESS GRUB AND LOG OFF.
CCG: AND THEN YOU'LL NEVER HEAR FROM ME, OR ANY FUTURE VERSION OF ME, EVER AGAIN.

You can remember sharply and clearly how much it had pissed you off to get that message from Future You- not only being a cryptic know-it-all as usual, but actually letting you know in fucking advance that he was going to do it! From this end, it just makes you feel relieved and a little smug. Finally you get to learn what all the gogdamn fuss was about, and Past You is just going to have to wait around like the bulgemunching little shit he is.

PCG: WAIT, WHAT?

Ha, ha, fuckass. Enjoy that confusion: it's not going anywhere in a hurry.

CCG: I FIGURE WHATEVER IT IS, IT HAS TO BE MORE FUCKING INTERESTING THAN THE LAST MILLENIUM.
CCG: WHICH ISN'T REALLY SAYING MUCH, AS WATCHING A DEAD SHELLBEAST RUN TEN CONSECUTIVE MARATHONS WOULD BE MORE FUCKING INTERESTING THAN THE LAST MILLENIUM.

Even dying would be an improvement, really. You'd settle for dying. You've seen all nine of the afterlives this place has to offer, and okay some of them are fucking shitholes, real and actual fucking hells, but at least they're full of people. Real, honest-to-gog people you can interact with. Most of whom are clearly stupid, seeing as how they're dead, but still better than temporally dislocated versions of yourself.

PCG: I DON'T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS.
PCG: YOU ARROGANT SHIT, I FUCKING HATE YOU.
PCG: I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY I HATE YOU, YOU'RE FUTURE ME.
PCG: BUT SINCE YOU ARE BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION THE MOST FUTURE ME THERE IS, I HEREBY DECLARE THAT I HATE YOU THE MOST.
PCG: OF ALL THE DUMBFUCK, EMPTY-PANNED, SHIT-SPEWING VERSIONS OF ME TO EVER POLLUTE THE COURSE OF HISTORY ACROSS FIVE SEPERATE UNIVERSES AND COUNTLESS AEONS OF LIFE
PCG: OF ALL THE SMUG, CONDESCENDING, BARELY LUCID PIECES OF VAPID EXCREMENT I HAVE EVER OR WILL EVER HAVE THE MISFORTUNE TO BE
PCG: YOU ARE THE WORST.
PCG: IT'S YOU. HAVE THE FUCKING PRIZE, JACKASS.

Normally you'd be frothing at the mouth over that, but now? You're so tense with waiting that you can almost taste what's going to happen. You can feel the pressure of it on the back of your neck and your digestive bladder is in knots, which are themselves full of fucking flutterbugs. For once in the entire history of the universe, you don't care at all about the shit you're giving yourself.

CCG: FEEL BETTER YET?

This universe is fucking stupid anyway. When it was first created, it spawned attendant planes of existence like that insufferable prick Dave Strider spawns obscene metaphors. Jade and Kanaya had provided some very long and complicated explanations which had made no fucking sense to anyone who wasn't an Asshole of Space, but personally you always thought it was because this universe was the result of four separate sessions of fucking about and sticking things where they didn't actually belong and generally breaking everything that could, in fact, be broken. Only made sense that the resultant reality would get the idea it was meant to fucking splinter off into dozens of weird extra dimensions and populate them with wannabe horrorterrors. Maybe a few actual horrorterrors, too- you still aren't sure those things didn't follow you here.

PCG: BETTER? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
PCG: HOW CAN YOU JUST SIT THERE AND JUST TELL ME THAT YOU'RE GOING TO VANISH
PCG: AND I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO KNOW WHY
PCG: AND THEN BE SO FUCKING HAPPY ABOUT IT!

Like he wouldn't have seven hundred years' worth of other versions of you to talk to. Grubfucking idiot.

CCG: I GUESS I'VE HAD A WHILE TO COME TO TERMS WITH IT.
CCG: YOU SHOULD BE GLAD I'M GIVING YOU ALL THIS WARNING.

At least you weren't going to have to read all thousand books of Lalonde's shitty wizard fiction a third time. It had been pan-rottingly awful enough from page one.

PCG: YOU COMPLETE ASSHOLE.

When was Past You going to shut the fuck up and realise you were basically better than him in every conceivable way?

CCG: AT LEAST I'M NOT A WHINY LITTLE

An alarm goes off and you jump in your seat before you realise- it's just the alert you set up centuries ago to let you know when one of those other assholes dies. You used to get excited about that, before you realised they weren't going to leave the River at this station. Now it's just an occasionally annoying...

Wait, shit, did it just go off again?

PCG: WHINY LITTLE WHAT?
PCG: WHAT?
PCG: OH FUCK, IT'S HAPPENING, ISN'T IT?
PCG: WHATEVER IT IS THAT MAKES YOU VANISH. IT'S STARTED.

You ignore your Past Self in favour of scrambling over to examine the alert, which is now showing three- no, four- of your comrades dead. John, Aradia, Kanaya, Jake.

Oh, look, there goes Roxy. What the fuck is going on down there?

CCG: YEAH...
CCG: THIS IS WEIRD. NOT WHAT I EXPECTED.
CCG: SHIT, THIS CAN'T BE GOOD...

Dirk and Dave go out at the same time. The alert is flipping its computerised shit and flying completely off the handle; those pirouettes are so fucking acrobatic that, in a different universe, they would be winning all of the gogdamn medals. Your world has narrowed to a blaring alarm and a growing list of familiar names. Jane. Jade. Gamzee.

PCG: WHAT? WHAT CAN'T BE GOOD?

They can't all fucking die at the same time, that's not even fucking possible. You watch as Rose falls, then Terezi, then finally Sollux. Figures that stubborn asshole would be the last to go.

CCG: ALL OF THEM AT ONCE. THAT CAN'T BE FUCKING COINCIDENCE.

Someone had to have planned this. Who fucking could plan this? They don't even know who they are when they're down there- the only person who knows is you. Shit, did you do this? Is there some demented Future You out there doing this, and that's why you haven't been able to speak to anyone further forward than right now? No, wait, that makes no fucking sense, you're not a Time player, you can't do that bullshit no matter how shithive maggots you get.

PCG: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
PCG: ARE THE OTHERS COMING BACK?

Why won't that asshole shut up? But he's right, they're all in the River right now, and if they've got any fucking sense at all they'll get their collective asses back in here to discuss this shit. That is, if they know what just happened. Shit. All of them at once, in a short space of time? Most of them probably don't have a fucking clue.

CCG: YES.
CCG: NO.
CCG: MAYBE.
CCG: SHIT, WHAT WAS THAT!

You freeze as something in the distance recesses of the complex clatters. The world that had shrunk around you suddenly expands again, and you are uncomfortably aware of how large this place is. You rattle around in here like a frozen seedpod in an old pie tin, and you always hated it for being huge and empty and dead and constantly reminding you of how alone you were.

Now you're thinking that maybe you preferred being alone, because there is only one real fucking entrance and exit to this place, and none of the others have come in through the Door.

PCG: WHAT WAS WHAT?

You listen, ears sensitive to any sound after a thousand years of near-silence. Something chill settles into your blood-pusher as you hear a soft rhythm in the distance, leather falling on metal.

CCG: I HEARD SOMETHING.

Footsteps.

PCG: SOMETHING? ARE YOU DELIBERATELY TRYING TO BE COMPLETELY FUCKING UNINFORMATIVE HERE?
PCG: WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU HEAR?

You heard footsteps.

CCG: SHUT THE FUCK UP, I'M TRYING TO LISTEN.

Nobody should fucking be in here but you. You glance over at the alerts again, but the fuckers are still in the gogdamn River and they're not coming out, oh fuck, oh shit, you're on your own up here except you're fucking not.

PCG: AND I'M TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON, YOU ASSMUNCH!

Run or fight? It's not the Noir demon, it's not Lord English, you know that, you dealt with that shit, so in theory you should be able to take on anything that isn't one of the others and win. Of course, in theory something that isn't one of the others shouldn't fucking be here, so maybe you shouldn't bet your life on that. Funny how now that you really do seem to be under threat you're suddenly all fucking concerned about survival.

CCG: WHAT'S GOING ON IS THAT SHIT JUST WENT CRAZY AND NOW I CAN HEAR...
CCG: OH FUCK
CCG: OH FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK

That's not just one set of footsteps.

PCG: NO, DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE.
PCG: YOU HEAR ME?
PCG: DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

You can feel the malice pouring from the darkness, the raw hostile intent of the intruders. You haven't been this fucking scared as yourself since you were in the Game. Staying is not a fucking option here: whoever orchestrated this, they knew what they were doing, and they'll be ready for you. Hell, they killed the others off, which means they probably want to have all of you here. Whoever they are, your sanctuary has become their trap for you.

There's only one way for you to really leave this place; the kind of physical manifestation that would let you walk the world as yourself would leave most of your power here, and you are pretty certain that whatever psychotic cult or demonic entity has invaded your sanctuary it would fucking love to snack on your unguarded essence. You suppose it's a good thing that the others haven't come out of the Door yet, but that doesn't mean you won't want some extra insurance. You find the tools that the purple Lalonde left behind and gather your power with one eye over your shoulder.

If Eridan knew what you could do in this new universe, he would fucking cry. Magic is fakey bullshit your divine ass, and a good thing too. You don't have time to do much. Just enough to be sure that you can find them. Oh, fucking hell, you hope you can find them. You can't afford to lose this place; this has to be a strategic retreat, not a surrender, or the entirety of reality is completely, irrevocably, incomprehensibly fucked.

Despite the encroaching footsteps, you take a moment to remember Past You, and complete a stable time loop in accordance with the bullshit rules of Paradox space and the somewhat more predictable rules of any memo you ever fucking opened, anywhere, ever.

CCG: I HAVE TO GO.
CCG: YOU'LL UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU'RE ME.
CCG banned himself from responding to memo

Duty discharged, you turn back to the Door. It's ajar now, the light spilling out from behind it blindingly bright, and the rest of the world is unreal as it reverts to painted backdrop. It's just you and the shining portal, that last step your choice and not one you ever wanted to make again. You can feel the approaching footsteps as much as you can hear them, a deep pulse of terror that ticks away like a clock and counts down to some unknowable yet malign deadline. When the time runs out, you lose. You can hardly breathe so instead you step forward into the swirling evanescence of the River, knowing that it will make you nothing but an idea, an existence at its most basic level riding the current of a million mortal souls. As the world begins to dissolve, taking your body with it, you're not sure which thought terrifies you more.

Knowing that you're going to remember, or fearing that you're not going to remember enough.

PCG: FUCK.
PCG: WELL, I GUESS THAT'S SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS OF SITTING AROUND WAITING USELESSLY FOR ME.
PCG: FUCKASS.

PCG closed memo.