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Archon

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The year is 2614, and the Human race, as the UNITED TERRAN COALITION, has been at war with the ALTERNIAN EMPIRE for TWO YEARS. The UTC favors PEACE- and many trolls disavowed their empire and have flocked to the UNITED TERRAN-ALTERNIAN COOPERATION FRONT, called ALTERNIA REBORN. The UTACF offers AMNESTY and EQUALITY for those trolls who surrender peacefully, and many have turned around and joined arms with the Terrans against the IMPERIAL ARMIES and the HEMOCASTE SYSTEM.

Your name is JOHN EGBERT. You were once a humble COLONY SCOUT, searching for new worlds for the UTC to colonise with your aerospace academy friend, DAVE STRIDER. After finding the first troll, KARKAT VANTAS, in hiding on an Alternian colony world for fear of being culled because of his MUTANT, CANDY-RED BLOOD two Terran years ago, you fought your way with DAVE and a befriended KARKAT to a local starport and stole a SHIP that would take you OFFWORLD. You and DAVE have since enlisted in the United Terran Legion ARCHON PROGRAM and, at the age of 29, you are the CAPTAIN of ARCA COMPANY’S LEGION ARCHONS, with DAVE as your 1ST LIEUTENANT and SECOND IN COMMAND.

As an ARCHON, you are augmented to be FASTER, STRONGER, TOUGHER, and overall BETTER than the average soldier through chem therapy, implants, and AWESOME AEGIS COMBAT ARMOR.

You enjoy movies (apparently shitty ones, if Dave has anything to say about them), hologames, flying, and RUNNING FOR YOUR LIFE FROM ENEMY CAVALREAPERS AS YOU TRY TO ESCAPE AN EXPLODING SHIP, though you only really started liking that last one about a half an hour ago when your ship, the ASGARD, started getting shot at and boarded by enemy cavalreapers.

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The ship shook violently as the intercom buzzed: “ALL HANDS: ABANDON SHIP. REPEAT, ALL HANDS: ABANDON SHIP.” Warning klaxons blared, had been blaring for what seemed like an eternity now, as you and Dave stumbled for a bit before redoubling your efforts of getting to the hangar bays.

The AEGIS mark VI Advanced Combat Armour was designed with the augmented abilities of an Archon as a base requirement- connected to the occupant neurally, the suit boosted reaction time, strength, speed, and was pretty protective to boot, boasting ceramic-titanium alloy plating and energy shielding. It could enable an Archon to lift two metric tonnes for extended periods of time, doubled as an enclosed system in case of biological attack or an EVA, and could propel its wearer, in gravities of around 1G, to about 40mph speeds.

You and Dave were pushing the speed tolerances of your suits to their limits, black carapace-clad Terrans sprinting down the corridors of the dying Asgard as plasma hit the walls around you.

“Get it in gear, Egbert! Those assault shuttles are looking pretty fucking comfortable, and I want my ass to be in one of them ASAP!” Dave took a shot to the back, his shoulder lurching forward a bit as the Aegis’ shields took the brunt of the damage.

“I’m goddamned going, Dave!” You could hear the howls of the warbeasts the cavalreapers had unleashed as you and Dave hurtled a low-lying piece of debris.

The ship shook again, though whether it was from another enemy hit or the reactor going critical, neither Terran could tell. You took a hit yourself to the small of the back, your shields flaring before dissipating the plasma harmlessly. A minor annoyance at this range, but if the enemy got any closer, you knew you’d be in trouble.

Second Fleet, along with four attached Archons from Arca Company, had FTL jumped to the planet Karthick, where you were supposed to infiltrate and destroy an enemy sensor outpost, join Fourth and Seventh Fleets, and jump to Lowas for a planetary assault where Karkat had been sowing discord and rebellion for months. The leader of the Alternian Liberation Front, he’d been hard at work since the day you and Dave had discovered him two years ago.

Command had expected a few system defense boats- non-FTL capable, lightly armed and armored craft for patrolling and recon. What they had found instead was an entire Alternian battlefleet. Caught by surprise, Second Fleet had taken heavy losses. The Asgard, your and Dave’s posting, was about to become one of them.

“Do you think Jade and Rose are okay?” you asked, shouting at your commlink to Dave so you could be heard over the explosions rocking the vessel. They were the other two Archons posted to Second Fleet, and they hadn’t been able to respond yet.

The two of you took a corner so fast, your boots dented and disfigured the deck plating as you sprinted. Legs pumping, plasma flying, you and Dave continued down the next section of corridor.

You hoped your friends were still alive as you ran. You’d been through college, the Archon training programs, the augmentations, and two years of this bloody war together- and neither Rose nor Jade would ever be so kind as to let the enemy kill them in such an easy way as taking down their ship.

“Hell if I know, but we sure as hell won’t be if we don’t hurry!”

You and Dave had been fighting off boarders (the enemy beasts and their brown-blooded handlers, a few bluebloods and a monstrous subjugglator,) when the first call to abandon ship had rang out. Being closer to the hangar bays, you both decided to ride down to the planet’s surface in style aboard an assault shuttle because, as Dave put it, “I like my rides armed.”

“Bulkhead!” Dave said and sure enough, one of the bulkheads up ahead was descending.

You dropped, your momentum carrying you under the rapidly-shutting bulkhead. Dave did the same, sparks flying and shields flaring as the two of you slid through the narrowing opening.

With a resounding clang, accompanied by small clicks as the maglocks sealed, you and Dave rose and, as one, looked at the bulkhead which had bought you a precious few more seconds.

“Thank you, almighty bulkhead, both for not crushing me and being fucking useful for once,” Dave spat before shouldering his rail rifle. “C’mon,” he says, gesturing at the rest of the corridor, “hangar bay 12 should be right over yonder. That is, if the universe hasn’t fucking decided to spit in both of our eyes instead of just the one,” he added as you and he picked up the pace again.

Sure enough, the bay was indeed still there, several assault shuttle berths empty but at least two still intact and ready for use. It’s a big, almost cavernous space, even considering how few ships are left, and the fact that the bay doors are shut tight.

Oh. That might be a problem.

The things were huge and thick, each piece maybe a hundred feet end to end- and that was just this hangar bay alone. They were designed to withstand ship-to-ship and general space combat- the kind that was happening just on the other side right now. There were two floors to the bay: the ground floor and a walkway some twenty feet up accessible by maglift, for use in getting to a position to board the ships normally hung by the huge, empty docking clamps overhead.

“Halle-fucking-lujah!” Dave said, his Texan twang slipping into his voice for a moment. Despite his coolguy “swag,” he still slipped every so often.

In the corner of your HUD, your motion tracker pinged. “Incoming! 5 o’clock, low!” you called out, diving behind a nearby waist-high cargo crate for cover and taking aim down the corridor reading as rapidly filling with hostiles.

“And high,” Dave added, his rifle aimed at the second landing.

You felt a few taps on your pauldron and looked up to see Dave, rifle still pointed at the upper landing.

“Give me some cover! I’m going to go work my Strider charm and see if old Ms. Hangar won’t open up for me.”

“That’s fucking gross, man! She’s fucking ancient! Go,” you replied, stifling a giggle despite the gravity of the situation as Dave ran off to one of the consoles nearby.

The bulkhead for the corridor you were aiming at shuddered and began to slide shut just as boots and warbeast claws rounded the corner and came into view. The ship rumbled again, and you could swear your helmet audio was picking up decompressive thumps sounding off somewhere nearby; definitely an enemy hit.

“There! That should buy us some fucking time,” Dave said triumphantly from somewhere behind you.

The thick blast door shut with a clang, its fall accelerated by whatever hacking charms Strider had worked on it, and muffled growls and thumps could be heard as the trolls began to try to get through the door.

“The bay doors are sealed shut- looks like the crew didn’t want boarders using it to get inside,” Dave explained, tapping away furiously. “Smart, but we might be screwed. At least I can still reroute and shut the bulkheads.”

It was remarkably peaceful for a few moments, despite the hollow ringing echoing throughout the almost empty hangar (you and Dave were some of the last few out, having fought to buy time for everyone else to evac,) and the sounds of combat reaching your suit from elsewhere in the Asgard. It wasn’t long, however, before a glowing red spot appeared on roughly the center of the bulkhead, glowing brighter and getting wider by the moment.

“Uhhh…Daaaaaaaave….” you said after a bit.

“What, John? Kinda busy making sure we don’t get exploded here,” Dave replied, his gauntleted hands making as much noise as the use of a holo keyboard allowed.

“Remember how the cavalreapers have those heavy duty energy projector lances?”

“Yeah, they fucking suck, what about ‘em?”

The spot grew even bigger and sparks began to fly from the bulkhead. An explosion rang out in one of the far corners on the opposite side of the hangar- shit, a torpedo just hit near the hangar bay- and one of the clamps overhead fell, crashing to the ground with an echoing clang off in the corner.

“They might have one on the other side of the bulkhead,” you answered, watching the bulkhead glow a hot, cherry red as the trolls no doubt  bombarded it with plasma to breach it.

“Hostiles! 7 o’clock low,” you called out as more contacts painted themselves on your motion tracker from down another corridor. You hefted your rifle, an amazingly light (thanks to your suit and implanted synthetic muscles) little thing. The sight linked with your HUD as you took aim, zooming in 2x as you steeled yourself for the coming fight.

“I’ll get the bulk-“ Dave started before you interrupted him.

“Forget the bulkhead! Hurry up and get the doors open so we can bail!” you said, opening fire as soon as you saw orange horns come ‘round the corner.

The Fang Mk. IX rail rifle was a railgun: a kinetic weapon using superconducting rails, ferromagnetic rounds, and an electric current flowing between them. It hit fast, it hit hard, and it hurt like a son of a bitch when it was using fin-discarded, sabot rounds. The little things were like tiny arrows being shot out at upwards of two hundred meters per second in a fully automatic spray, thanks to advanced alternating micro capacitors.

One troll went down clutching at his throat, his face a mask of pain inside his helmet as brown blood gushed out onto the deck. A beast tried getting past its handler’s corpse before having its front legs sheared off by your rifle’s sheer volume of fire. It was one of the few ways to take them down- the bastards were armoured head to tail otherwise. The other trolls pushed past the fallen, a veritable horde of fangs, horns, and xenophobia.

Suddenly, the hairs on the back of your neck rose and you felt a tingle to your skin as the hangar’s atmosphere shields went up. Good- Dave was getting closer to overriding the console and getting the doors open. Plasma sailed by, blinding bulbs of hot, melty doom when they were that close to anyone without a combat visor.

It wasn’t much longer before a warning klaxon- louder than the general warning one that had been going on this entire time by dint of sheer proximity- rang out as the massive hangar bay doors begin to pull apart.

The trolls were confused, looking at the enormous metal slabs behind you- even the huge subjugglator that had lumbered into view. Dave took the opportunity to toss a grenade at their feet as he slid over to your cover.

One noticed and began shouting warnings to the others, but by then it was too late; one clink was heard as the grenade bounced, another as it landed and came to rest right beneath the forward clump of hostiles. It detonated as the trolls scrambled to escape the 4-meter fatality zone, and there was a concussive whump followed by the light, noise, smoke, and blood and limbs that were thrown from the blast zone.

The subjugglator roared in pain, clawing at the burning shrapnel embedded in its face. Indigo blood spattered the floor as he hefted his rifle and roared a challenge before ducking into cover.

“Captain!” Dave shouted. He decided he didn’t like the indigoblood and took aim, cracking off single shots at the huge troll.

You cranked off another burst at the subjugglator. It lurched, bleeding indigo from multiple chest wounds, but the giant kept coming slowly towards you and Dave, spraying superheated gouts of doom all the while.  You ducked back down as the other bulkhead blew, the door screeching as it slid a few meters into the bay. You primed and tossed a grenade of your own into the crowd gathering at the shattered doorway, and moments later you were rewarded with results similar to Dave's.

“John!”

You turned at that, reloading as you looked your friend in the…well, visor. You saw your own helmet in the reflection from Dave’s polarized visor, and it was covered in various shades of the hemospectrum. A crudely painted pair of buckteeth adorned the mouth guard. The skeleton jaw painted on Dave’s helmet was barely visible, covered by a huge patch of blue blood from where he’d head-butted an officer.

“We can either take ‘em all or make a break for it!”

You thought it over for a second as you let off more rounds at the indigoblood. You noted with satisfaction that your burst shredded one of its legs and it dropped to the deck with a roar as ruffianihilators moved to cover him.

“No dice,” you replied after some thought, tossing another grenade; one more explosion, four less ruffianihilators. “They’ll rush us if we try to leave now!”

Dave put down the massive death clown, drilling a burst into the highblood’s head before popping back into cover as you popped out to fire. The indigoblood made the deck shake as his massive form finally fell. Bastards always took forever to kill.

“I don’t know if we have enough ammo for that, though,” he said, feeding a fresh magazine into his rifle as you offed a pair of charging threshecutioners.  Their sickles clattered to the deck as they went down. “And melee combat might be a bad idea.”

“Wuss! You don’t hear me complaining about punching a few trolls,” you replied. You fought the urge to grin- and lost, grinning into your helmet anyways. Dave’s helmet cam, down in the bottom corner of your screen, showed you that Dave’s face was as stoic as ever in response.

“You just want to get close enough to grope ‘em, you sick fuck,” Dave retorts.

“It’s still not as bad as your puppet fetish!” A plasma round clipped your left arm and your shields glowed, dissipating the heat.

“I-hey man, that is purely for the irony!” He tossed another grenade. Lime blood splashed you as a pair of skirmislayers were sent flying from the blast- minus a few limbs.

“Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve still got pics that prove otherwise,” you said, reloading as Dave put down another skirmislayer. A threshecutioner made it close, started to swing his sickle at Dave, but you popped up in time to land a solid punch to his helmet before he could connect with the curved blade. The troll’s visor cracked and a few small shards flew into the rustblood’s face before Dave put a round between his eyes.

You shouldered your rifle and let more lead fly. Well, ferromagnetic, fin discarded, sabot rounds with tritium tips and kraken-pattern shafts, but that’s not as cool as saying lead.

“Fucker, you said you were going to delete those.”

“And you said you were going to delete those pics of Jade,” you said. Plasma scored your arm again, this time enough to throw off your aim, and a cavalreaper nipped back into cover before you could compensate.

“I will as soon as you stop checking out Rose every time she walks by,” Dave shot back as plasma grazed the top of their cover. Bits of molten metal spattered his helmet as he returned fire. “Besides, it’s not my fault Jade has such a choice-“

“Keep talking and I fill your sleep pod with shaving cream next time we’re on leave,” you warned, a mischievous smile forming.

Dave, to his credit, didn’t continue. He’s learned over the last few years that he should never fuck with your prankster side.

The crowd was thinning now- there were fewer and fewer trolls returning fire and coming through the doorways. Dave took down another cavalreaper with a projector lance, muttering something about “…fucking medieval shit.”

“There’s two boats here. I say we take one apiece, so the fuckers can’t take us both out at once,” Dave suggested after a bit.

You nodded. An enemy grenade sailed over the crate you were using as cover, and, reflexes aided by your augments and the Aegis suit, you grabbed it and in one smooth motion threw it back. There were a few shouts of distress from those on the other side of your barricade before it went off.

A bit of a horn plinked off your helmet as it fell.

“Planet surface can’t be worse than this! I’d rather bang a hot troll chick than take it up the ass from an exploding fusion reactor!” Dave continued, returning fire during a lull in the sea of plasma.

“Please!” you returned, taking a shot to the chest shields as you took down a warbeast. “I’ll be rolling in troll women by the time you make it to the surface!”

Dave snorted loud enough for you to hear it over the commlink. “Only because I let your granny ass land first, bucktooth!”

“You’re just mad because I get all the chicks ‘cause I’m ranking officer!” You laughed, taking single shots to conserve ammo. Jokes aside, you knew you’d need every shot you could get once you were on the planet’s surface.

“Badass, rebellious second-in-commands are what the ladies desire, not to mention this sweet Strider-“

You couldn’t hear his expected dick joke over the sounds of your rifle firing.

“-and that’s a fact!”

He went up and fired twice, taking down a rustblood, and remained standing, rifle slowly lowering before he was standing at ease, barrel pointed at the deck.

None of the trolls remained standing, having been put down with lethal efficiency by you and Dave. The two of you had weathered the storm, but as the continual shaking of the ship confirmed, a hurricane was coming up next. You pulled your visor back as you stood, looking to Dave.

Dave pulled his own visor back as well, his cherry-red eyes meeting yours. His face had a few light scars here and there, and he was pale- just like you, Jade, Rose- from extended time in the suits.

“If we don’t make it, Captain…” he started after a pause, but you wouldn’t have any of it.

“We’ll make it, lieutenant, and we’ll go out drinking with its women after,” you said, flashing him a happy bucktoothed grin.

Dave nodded before grabbing your wrist, the metal plating of your suits clacking together as you grabbed back and shook. Fuck normal handshakes, this felt more badass.

Another few seconds later, the engines of your assault shuttle- designed for two dozen but holding only yourself- spooled up and bathed the resistant deck in heat.

“What was the kill count?” you ask Dave as your eyes turn to the flight deck bathed in multicoloured blood.

Not a second later, Dave’s shuttle came online as he replied, “92 combined, with…bullshit, it says you got 9 more kills than I did!”

You laugh. “Be quicker next time,” you suggest.

With the practiced ease of someone who’d had the training in both realtime and through the neural lace in his head while he was asleep, you- John Egbert, Arca Company Captain of the Terran Legion Archons- disengaged the docking clamps and pulled your ship out of the Asgard’s twelfth hangar bay.

You risked a glance back at what was your home for the last 7 months, switching the screen from forward to rear cams as you set a course for the Karthick’s surface.

The burning capital ship, massive gouges and craters in her hull and flames fed by burning atmosphere bleeding from cuts she’d taken bravely, still had gun ports and turrets firing at enemy ships as she rolled to evade another torpedo. She failed, wasn’t fast enough, and you winced as your visor dimmed the plasma impacting somewhere near the bow.

The surrounding space was chaos- debris was everywhere, from the burning bits of destroyed fighter craft to the massive mausoleums of death that were the destroyed capital ships. Liquid fire and the flashes of firing ship-mounted railguns dotted your view as you scanned the area you had to fly through.

Suddenly, a set of coordinates pinged themselves to life on your HUD. You were confused for only a second before Dave chimed in. The engines aboard the Broadsword-class assault shuttles were loud beyond belief, so Dave had to subvocalize and the words appeared in a corner of your HUD.

1ST LT Dave Strider opened a private commlink with CPT John Egbert

Dave Strider: yo try to land within a hundred kloms of the coords i painted

DS: it looks like a clearing

DS: try to be all ninja about it too cant have the locals trying to buttfuck us and sacrificing us to the trees or some shit

John Egbert: weren’t we just talking about doing that to them?

DS: yo i said i would bang the locals not give their souls to treethulu or some shit

JE: ass.

DS: as much of it i can get with maybe a little whipped cream and strawberries on the side

JE: anyways, coords received. see you there, lieutenant! hammer out.

DS: copy that, katana out.

Callsign Hammer and callsign Katana: a team lauded as simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst. Equal parts brutal efficiency and dick jokes, but composed entirely of awesome.

That was how another Archon had described you and Dave before.

God, you hoped your ex wouldn’t get into too much trouble down on Karthick. Without you as the chaotically stabilizing force in his life (something ironic in and of itself, Rose had once noted), he had grown even more…well, Striderly. There wasn’t a much better way to describe it.

You opened the secure channel on the Legion commnet, as protocol dictated.

JE: this is captain john egbert; attempting emergency landing on hostile enemy planet karthick following destruction of the UTLN Asgard. here’s hoping i succeed.

Normally, a Broadsword would require both a pilot and copilot, but you had your neural lace to help you interface directly with the craft (and starting reentry tickled to no end!), so a copilot was unnecessary. You tightened the grav-harness as much as you could, the seat not quite being designed to completely hold your bulky frame. Even for an Archon, after all, you were big, standing at a little over 2.3 meters tall.

You aimed the nose of the craft towards the planet and hoped you would make it.

Chapter Text

What the crash instructors expected a student of the UTL flight school to think during a crash was the exact protocol and procedures required to deal with the crash in as successful a manner as possible. Precise instructions had been given on how to deal with the panic that follows getting hit by enemy antiaircraft fire, and how a pilot could mentally keep him or herself together long enough to land in as safe a manner as possible or calm him or herself down so as to die peacefully.

You, however, had been busy making out with Dave that day and the two of you had skipped class.

DS: john are you okay

DS: john goddamnit fucking answer me my dash tells me you got hit

JE: too busy crashing, talk later!

DS: fuck

A normal UTLN pilot would try to stabilize the systems and think about how to get the bird down as safely as possible.

You were trying to stabilize the systems and trying not to mentally freak the fuck out.

shit fuck shit fuck fuck shit fuck fuck fuck fuck

Wow. Losing battle.

That was what ran through your mind for a few seconds after an enemy AA beam hit your port wing’s missiles and detonated them, skewing the vessel off course and damaging a bunch of systems.

You were descending faster than you should have been, at a little over Mach Two, and if you didn’t get the retro thrusters and nosecone rockets firing, you would discover firsthand exactly why pilots called crashing while going this fast “pancaking.”

You tried to get the engines to compensate for the speed increase as orange streaks washed over the forward viewport, but they were unlinked by the explosion. Fuck!

Not even your original panic plan- turning the ship around, engines pointed at the ground, and basically reverse-thrusting until you could crash at a non-fatal velocity- would work because the maneuvering thrusters were dead too.

You were getting lower now, the shuttle aimed at a rather large mountain at a shallow angle and just a half dozen meters or so over the tops of trees now.

What the fuck am I going to do to get out of this one, you ask yourself as you start to feel the heat from the reentry seep into your suit.

Another alarm went off. Well gee, ship, thanks for letting me know.

Wait a minute. You were wearing Aegis armour, one of the most protective personal enhancement and defense systems in existence.

Dur.

You ran to the passenger compartment and grabbed an empty duffle before raiding the lockers and overhangs for ammo and rations and the like, your fingers tripping over themselves in your eagerness to get the fuck off this flying metal coffin. You stuffed them into your suit, your vest, your duffle, and anywhere else something would fit as fast as you could.

When the bag was filled, you zipped it shut and shakily made your way to the back troop bay door. It opened with a few taps at the keypad located just alongside, and you could see the tops of the trees a few dozen feet below.

You dug out one of the folding-wing backpacks paratroopers used from one of the lockers next to the door and strapped it to your back as best as it would go. Your suit auto linked it to your systems.

The treetops below were rushing by at a rather alarming rate.

Small bits of plating and such were being sheared off of the shuttle because of the speed you were still going, and you were leaving a trail of smoke and glittering metal fragments as your once-magnificent chariot went down.

Well, so much for stealth, Egbert. By the way, you are fucking crazy.

You smiled to yourself. Thank you, Head Dave, but that’s exactly how I made Captain. You wondered what Rose would say. Probably the same thing, but fancier.

You set your kinetic dampers and inertial compensators as high as the settings would go, overriding the safeties and cranking them up to around 400%. Those would keep you from being pulped inside the suit by the trees you were going to hit on the way down.

You took a look around the troop bay, hoping you were leaving the screaming metal death trap for something better.

Welp, here goes nothing, you thought to yourself.

The first two steps, your boots made contact with the inner, metal hull of the shuttle with light, metallic clangs. The third step, your boots met nothing but rushing air and you felt that wonderful feeling of vertigo as you plummeted into the forest below.

You counted, one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi before spreading your arms and legs and unfolding the wings mounted to your back.

The lightweight plating unfolded to become a sort of glider arrangement maybe 12 feet from tip to tip. You could feel yourself slow as you began to glide, still moving downward really fast, but not in danger of creating a crater when you landed. It looked like the plan was working!

At least, until a big piece of plating from the shuttle whacked you good, knocking the glider from your back- the suit couldn’t hook too securely to an incompatible system, after all- and you started to fall again, albeit this time at a low angle rather than straight down.

“FUCK YOU TOO, LADY LUCK,” you managed to scream. You set your shield emitters to 300% before tucking into a ball, your hands grasping each other in front of your shins while your knees tucked as close as your chest as you could manage.

As you fell, there was the far off sound of the shuttle impacting the mountain- man, you had cut it close!- before the far closer thump you heard/felt as your body, a giant, heavy, metal cannonball hurtling through the air at speeds lethal to unaugmented  people, hit the thick trunk of a tree, maybe a few feet in diameter. The sheer unexpectedness of the impact- hard to see anything when you were tucked that tight, after all- knocked a bit of breath from you. Splinters flew as you kept going, your armour relaying the scratchy sensations of further impacts to you via neural lace. You could feel, however, your speed slowing down by the massive path of wood before you (the things Rose would say about that!).

You kept hitting trees, dozens of them, for a time span that felt like forever but was really just a few seconds long, each tree slowing you down bit by bit until you hit the dirt and rolled.

The first, unexpected tree had taken a bit of your breath away- hitting the close-packed earth thumped you good and you grunted. The duffel was torn from your back at some point, but as long as it managed to stay intact, you were okay with that. Your shields had given up around the twentieth tree impact, but the plating of your armour was strong, and you kept taking whatever the local flora decided you needed to take. The dirt wasn’t too bad after the initial impact, the odd sensation of a hot slurry (dirt melted from sheer heat and friction, yick) washing over your back courtesy of the neural lace. Eventually, you slowed, and then outright stopped.

Sore from the experience, bruised in paces that should never have bruises, you stood, your joints creaking and shields depleted, before turning to survey the havoc you’d wrought as dirt, mud, and bits of brutalized trees fell from your armour.

You were at the end of a long, muddy furrow, perhaps a half meter deep, and your armour was still cooling from the heat built up by sheer friction from the impacts and the fall. The duffel, you noted with satisfaction, lay intact off in the distance, near where the shallow start of the furrow was, but beyond that, the landscape looked amusingly bad.

For as far as maybe a half a kilometer, the shattered remains of trees littered a straight line, angled upwards, huge chunks of wood and splinters creating a corridor a meter wide from where you had literally come crashing through.

Still sore, you tried to bring up Dave on a secure frequency. Thank God for private, encrypted comm relays! Those things were reserved for high level stuff, like admirals-coordinating-ship-movements kinda high, and special forces. Luckily for you, Archons were considered special forces.

But what was this? Dave had already left you messages!

DS: goddamnit please tell me you weren’t on that bird

DS: please tell me you lived

DS: you sprouted fucking wings like a bird or some shit and flew right

DS: fuck answer me you bucktoothed freak

You climbed out of the muddy ditch and jogged to the duffle, resetting your altered suit subsystems as you went; you wanted to grab your gear and get moving before the enemy closed in on your location. As you checked the precious cache of supplies, you breathed a sigh of relief at how intact and not-smashed-to-bits it was.

JE: this “bucktoothed freak” is your commanding officer, dave!

JE: and as your commanding officer, i order you to calm the fuck down!

JE: i jumped, i hit a few trees, and i landed, and it looks like all of my stuff survived the drop too, thankfully.

You hefted the duffle and its precious cargo in one arm: four spare rifles, four pistols, some single-shot flare guns, a few boxes of ammo, a crapton of ration cubes, and some basic survival gear- including a configurable multitool. The rifles and pistols were designed to fold into easy-to-store configurations, so a lot of the space in the duffle was left for the ammo and rations. Hell, most Terran gear in general was designed to be easy to store and carry around.

In retrospect, it was still kind of a pain to have to haul it around with one arm, since the straps broke when it was pulled off of your back.

One of the saved rifles cradled in your other arm, set to single shot mode, you set off to planetary north and headed deeper into the forest. The tree trunks were old, wide and tall, their bark gnarled as you ran in and out of cover between them underneath a yellow sun that sat directly in the center of the green sky overhead.

DS: dude what did i tell you about the buttfucking and treethulu

DS: i warned you but did you fucking listen no and now youre probably digging splinters outta your ass

JE: yeah yeah, very funny.

JE: how’d your landing go?

DS: fuck landing it wasn’t cool enough for my strider swag

Off in the distance, you swear to god you just heard another explosion at that moment.

JE: Dave….

DS: its all cool baby i jumped too

DS: i aint no ghost or some shit

DS: no ghostly form could handle this much win

DS: all gliding down through the sky like some fucking angel of badassery

DS: golden halo crowning my gorgeous head

JE: what do you mean, “gliding?” did you use one of the sets of wings?

DS: john are you fucking me did you not read the suit upgrade summaries

You vaguely remembered getting a message in your inbox about the recently-upgraded suits a day or two ago. You remembered telling yourself to read it before you passed out from exhaustion. (Blowing up enemy capital ships tended to do that to a guy.) In the end, you didn’t read it.

JE: we broke up a while ago, so no, dave, i’m not fucking you. no, i didn’t read the upgrade summaries.

DS: we got rocket thrusters configured onto our backs and calves, bro

DS: and close-range plasma blades

DS: fuck man the one thing you didn’t read and it coulda saved you from getting violated by the elder tree gods or some shit

You took a careful moment to stop, reread the last bit about the rocket thrusters that would have come in reeeeeeeeally handy earlier, and proceeded to smack yourself in the side of the helmet. Super facepalm, activate!

JE: fuck it, i’ll redeem myself later, i just need to get somewhere and run a suit diagnostic.

JE: i don’t read anything damaged, but it can’t hurt, right?

DS: just hunker down somewhere safe and wait until sundown

DS: then start heading for the coordinates

DS: even after we just landed as stealthily as a fucking gunfight in the middle of a hospital nursery the coords should still be viable

DS: katana out

JE: copy that, hammer out.

Chapter Text

You’d been marching for maybe an hour- battered, bruised, sore, and determined to get some distance between yourself and the crash site- when you ran into an odd spectacle. Almost quite literally.

It was getting later in the day, the local sun hanging lazily in the sky as you trudged on, when you’d heard a commotion- the baying of barkbeasts and the sharp jeering of trolls, shouting and yelling in Alternian. The sounds were close- close enough to make you mentally kick yourself for not being more aware.

“Prisoners,” you whispered to yourself. You dropped the duffle in the gnarled roots of a tree, tucked in enough as to be hidden, and tagged the location for later retrieval before you moved closer to try to see what was going on.

You weren’t exactly wrong about the noise being prisoners.

As you rounded the top of a hill, you sighted the disturbance below: a pack of barkbeasts was being led along by an indigo blooded subjugglator, his huge form dwarfing the beasts’ cavalreaper keepers that were following close behind him. The subjugglator had one of those heavy plasma cannons in one arm, the beasts’ leashes in the other. The cannon was big, bulky, and almost club-like; it was designed as much for firing as it was for clubbing, and you could attest to that personally. The cavalreapers- four in all- had their standard plasma casters slung, though one carried a shoulder-mounted energy projector lance as well. Oddly enough, they looked uncomfortable, but that was probably because of the one in front. It was a normal procession in times of war, especially considering how cruel some of the highbloods could get, but the one who led it, the one at the front of the group, was what baffled you.

A beautiful (no shut up John) blueblood with a mane of wild black hair falling down to her waist was being nipped in the heels by the barkbeasts. One of her horns ended in an upturned crescent-moon sort of shape and the other curved down into a short hook. Two fangs, practically shining in the dimming light of the dying day, were jutting beyond teeth that were as white as the rest of her scowl- she was being jeered on as a “heretic” and “blasphemer” (all human and troll UTCL soldiers were given implanted neural laces that allowed information transfer, so John and any other soldiers in the field had been “schooled,” so to speak, on each other’s languages). The female had her hands bound together behind her back, and her black uniform coat, personalized with a blue trim that was probably her blood colour, was ripped and torn in places- and you could make out a few cuts and scratches in those exposed patches. Her red boots, no doubt shined every time she left her quarters (highbloods were particular about appearances), were covered in mud and filth. She was petite, but she had a look about her that gave off one of those old “I will punch you in the face if you look at me funny” feels.

Huh. None of the hostiles were wearing much in the way of armour. The cavalreapers were wearing their uniform vests, plasma cartridges tucked into black duty vests with matching visored, black helmets, and the subjugglator was wearing some sort of black robe with purple polka dots.

You took a moment to decide what to do; trolls were not all inherently evil or bad- alien was not wrong, and human or not, she looked like a damsel in distress from one of your old vids (that are not shitty in any way whatsoever, no matter what Dave says), and you were damn well going to try to be a hero and rescue her.

From your position atop the hill, looking down on the odd entourage, you saw the giant take a swing at the blueblood when she stumbled and thus slowed. His fist marred her face and she fell. She spit a gob of cerulean blood into the dirt, and the barkbeasts went wild at the scent.

Aw, HELL NAW. Taking her prisoner, tying her up, and leading her out to the forest to be culled for whatever arbitrary reason was one thing- abusing a woman? CHIVALROUS JOHN TO THE RESCUE. Even though the human race had abolished gender roles and associated concepts back in the 2300’s. At this point, though, you were kinda just looking for an excuse to go be a hero.

You leapt off the hill, firing downwards mid-air and cutting down two of the unarmoured beasts before landing on (and crushing) the third. Situations like this made you glad the armour weighed nigh-on a metric fuckton. The subjugglator was taken aback, a random human soldier having fallen out of the sky before him, and the accompanying cavalreapers froze.

You took the opportunity to lash out at what you hoped was the highblood’s knee with an armoured boot. Oh man, classic brawl move.

The giant went down , clutching at the injured limb and grunting in pain, and finding his face at rifle-height, you let loose half of the rail rifle’s magazine right in his ugly painted face. The rifle bucked as indigo blood spattered your rifle due to sheer proximity and, deprived of a functioning brain, his head a leaking purple mush-mess from the point-blank barrage of metal, the subjugglator toppled forward. You took a step back to avoid being crushed by the corpse as it crashed into the dirt and leaves.

It was another second before the cavalreaper entourage brought their rifles to bear and started returning fire, a fusillade of plasma in retribution for yours of metal. You scooped up the stunned blueblood (wow, she was a LOOKER no goddamnit John focus) and fired blindly, one handed, at the trolls as you took cover behind one of the massive trees.

It was quiet as you deposited the blueblood and reloaded, back to the gnarled bark of the tree trunk- you didn’t want to look at her, to risk diverting your attention when it might get her killed, and no doubt the brownbloods would be taking tactical positions. With the most cursory of momentary glances to make sure she was still conscious (you noted with amusement her mouth was open in an expression akin to shock), you ran to the cover of another tree to engage the enemy.

Perhaps they were expecting a normal human; perhaps they were afraid from the easy death of the highblood; perhaps they were just confused.

It didn’t matter to you. Right now, hostiles were hostiles, protecting the blueblood was the objective, and you would act accordingly to achieve what you needed to. Trees became blurs as you left cover and hurtled towards the quartet of horns taking (bad) cover near each other behind more trees.

You dropkicked the closest one as he turned to you, felt the armour and chest of the troll collapsing beneath your boots from the strength your augments afforded you. Plasma soared over you as you fell, searing lances of light that missed only because you were being pulled down by gravity, and dirt erupted around you from the shots that missed but still managed to hit close. Your shields flared as you took a few hits while rolling to the side, back behind another tree. Rising to a knee, you checked your rifle- still intact, dur, it was designed with the sometimes brutal strength of an Archon in mind- and listened to the remaining three trolls chitter nervously.

<What the fuck was that?!”>

<I don’t fucking know, just keep your gun up!>

<That’s not normal, he put down a highblood in->

<Good fucking riddance! But where is he?>

<I saw him go behind this tree->

You heard the crunching of leaves beneath boots coming close and stepped out from behind your tree to find yourself with your rifle barrel right against the visor of one of the cavalreapers. The troll’s gold-ringed, brown eyes went wide, her mouth slightly agape as she registered the giant hole she was staring down, and she tried to bring her plasma caster up.

The gesture didn’t matter one bit as you pulled the trigger, watched in slow motion as the visor cracked and the face crumpled under the force of what were, realistically speaking, tiny metal spears, and her head became just the same sort of mess the highblood’s had- but with brown blood instead of purple. She fell backwards, her feet kicking up from the momentum as her blood gouted from the hole her face once occupied.

The remaining pair, a shorter male and a taller female, sent another hail of plasma your way. You sidestepped to the left, drilling three-round bursts as you went. The female frothed at the mouth before toppling backwards- she’d been in front, and thus had taken the majority of your shots. The last cavalreaper glanced at her falling, hole-ridden body, distracted for but a moment, and it was all you needed to close the remaining distance and slam your fist into the side of his helmet.

Even through the armoured gauntlet and the odd, almost organic troll helmet, you could feel his skull pulping beneath the sheer force of your wound up punch. He flew maybe a few meters before hitting a tree, pink and dark brown oozing from the cracks in his helmet’s filmy, almost biological plating.

You stood there, listening and checking your motion tracker to make sure nothing else was coming. You spent maybe a minute of cycling through the IR, UV, and visible light spectrums and different motion tracker ranges. Satisfied that nothing was coming for at least two hundred meters, you made your way swiftly back to where you’d deposited the blueblood.

She was tugging at her restraints vigorously, trying to break them with sheer force as her hair flew about wildly. Alas, the only thing she accomplished was some thrashing movements and suggestive-sounding grunting. She froze and her eyes fixed on you the moment she noticed you approaching.

<Don’t you daaaaaaaare fucking come any closer, you nookmunching, nubslurping, grubfucking-> she started, cursing you in Alternian as she bared her fangs. You’d long ago stopped fearing such displays- it was just like looking at a mouth full of incisors, really, and only subjugglators had teeth really capable of any harm. Her hair settled haphazardly across her face, angling off just above her nose and blocking off the entire left side.

<Before you get any more inventive,> you interrupted in her language, <at least let me untie you!>

You didn’t just pull you visor back; you slipped the entire helmet off, laid it to the side as you smiled at her in what you hoped was a nonthreatening manner, not daring to bare your other teeth (stupid buckteeth were always out there). You never knew with trolls! Some just looked for excuses to get violent.

Her visible eye squinted at you, and she was still tensed, as if ready to strike. You hoped she didn’t try- she was (beautiful gorgeous amazing SHUT UP JOHN) valuable. “You’re surprising, human. And good, I’ll give you that,” she added, speaking clear English and licking at the blood staining one of her fangs when she was done. “Even if your fangs look nubby and useless.”

God, her voice was an amazing thing to hear, especially after the events of the last twelve hours.

“Will you give me your name too?” you ventured, because why not, John? It’s okay to flirt with the hot alien chick in the middle of a forest, during a war, after getting shot down by her people and crashing onto a hostile planet. Nothing wrong with that.

“You don’t need names to take prisoners, huuuuuuuuman,” she replied, practically spitting out the word ‘prisoners.’ She slipped her bound hands out and under her legs, bringing them in front her and laying them on her lap.

“Maybe I don’t intend to take you prisoner,” you tried, slipping out a knife to cut her bonds.

Her eye jerked to the knife before returning to yours. “And why wouldn’t you?” She didn’t sound like she believed you- dur. Who really would, even in a situation like this? Terrans had generally been merciful, but some soldiers were unnecessarily cruel when dealing with trolls. Prejudice, after all, never died.

She was an Alternian prisoner- the best she would have seen at the hands of her kin was a quick death, and you thought she was too (beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, you already said that) useful to let die. If anything, she could have helped you and Dave get back to the UTC, where she would be granted amnesty and allowed to integrate into the Coalition. She just had to be helpful- intel, terrain information, a goddamned glass of cold water; at this point, you would have taken anything as an excuse to take her with you. To keep her close.

Wow. Bit creepy there, John.

Instead of voicing your thoughts, you just shrugged. “You looked like you were having enough of a time of it back there,” you said, jerking you head to the side to indicate the recent battle, “and that a change of pace would’ve been nice.”

Her eye narrowed even more, squinting to the point that all you saw was a slit of gold and a fleck of blue, but after a while she relented and held her hands out for you to cut free.

You did so with almost indecent haste, cutting at the bond feverishly. The first thing she did after rubbing at her sore wrists (pale and bloodless- they’d been tied tight) was to flick her hair back over her shoulder and out of her face.

You gaped, your mouth hanging just a tad uselessly as you took in her full visage.

She had the oddest eyes, one of which was the normal cerulean-blue surrounded by gold. The now-uncovered left one, however, had seven pupils instead of just the one.

They were odd. They were intriguing. To you, they were-

“Whaaaaaaaat? What are you staring at?”

“N-nothing,” you said, picking up your helmet as you stood. Get a hold of yourself, John! You can elope with the local later! You put away the knife, tucking it into place in its sheathe on your right boot, and offered her your free hand. She looked at it, then back you; it, then you.

“My name’s John, by the way.” You smiled again. “John Egbert.”

She hesitated for a bit more before finally taking the hand, hoisting herself up. She only managed a few seconds of standing unaided, however, before stumbling. She fell into you, her hands on your chest plate, before looking up with just the barest hint of a moment of weakness. Maybe she was tired, maybe she was weak- in the end, the result was the same. Your arms were up and she was in them, looking up at you while you looked down at her. To a casual observer, you might’ve been embracing her.

You couldn’t resist the urge to grin down at her- she was maybe 1.7 meters tall, quite a bit shorter than you- and say, “My my! Won’t even tell me your name and you’re already trying to woo me.”

Her claws dug into your cheek when she slapped you. Her hand was lightning quick, drawing blood as she blushed. Her cheeks and ears were flushed with blue. Your arms released her and she took a step back as you felt at the wound: three long scratches down your left cheek, shallow but still deep enough to bleed.

She smirked at you as you rubbed at your cheek, licking your bright red blood off of her nails.

Okay, maybe you deserved that.

“So what will you do with me now, John Egbert?” She stood, hands on her hips, looking to you for your answer as the sun began to fall faster. The trees cast longer and longer shadows now as the sun began to sink below the horizon.

“Ask you for your name again, of course,” you said after a moment’s silence. “Seems a bit unfair for you to have mine but for me not to have yours.”

She hesitated for a second, a half a moment of weakness on her face as her eyes dropped to the forest floor before she looked back up at you, her smirk back in place.

“Life’s rarely fair, Egbert, but you can call me Vriska. Vriska Serket.”

Chapter Text

Your name is VRISKA SERKET. You are 13 sweeps old and up until recently, you commanded a team of bluebloods as a COVERTRAUMATIC OPERATIVE. As a covertraumatic operative, you lied, stole, and shot your way through the UTCL and wreaked havoc wherever your boots walked.  You had always been praised for your works, but you didn’t believe in the HEMOCASTE SYSTEM because it was for idiots. Greatness was determined by action, not blood, and this view was backed up by the numerous feats of AWESOME you’d witnessed from lowblood foot soldiers and the incompetence of many highbloods. I mean, seriously, who worships a clown? You’d been rude and insolent before, but the highbloods had always turned a blind eye to it due to your (rather exemplary) service record.

The die had been cast and the line had been drawn this morning when one of your team had been executed in the mess hall by an arrogant subjugglator over some stupid matter or another. A brawl had broken out, and while you had been lucky enough to escape unscathed (of which the same could not be said for the four subjugglators-in-training you took down with various eating implements), your team had not, and you had been surrounded after they’d all been killed. The base projexecutioner had named you a traitor and you were to be taken into the forest and “slain by the same types of beasts you motherfucking walked with.”

You’d been marching for maybe an hour, two at tops, a subjugglator calling you all sorts of weakling names as you were nipped at by ravenous barkbeasts- “heretic” and “traitor” and “blasphemer” –all weakling excuses for lamesauce nookstains that couldn’t understand the idea that a troll should be treated based on what he or she accomplished, not what their hemocaste was.

Then, a black-armoured human had literally fallen from the sky, made short work of the highblood, and scooped you up to safety. You thought he was going to die- odds were four to one against and what could one human do?

But he’d prevailed. You’d seen him literally send a troll flying with just a single punch.

You had tried to break your bonds- you hadn’t dared when the highblood could see your hands while you were being marched- but the human had come back. You’d expected an interrogouging; maybe a few kicks to get some information, or a bit of abuse for his own pleasure before he put a bullet in your head, but the stupid human with the useless buckteeth had simply cut you loose and asked you your name.

You would never admit it, but you were grateful to have been rescued, and that he had no intentions to capture yo-

No. You shook your head; contrary to what he’d said, you WERE his prisoner now, no doubt!

Even if he’d smiled and said he wouldn’t. Multiple times, in fact, as he’d checked you over with his human medical gear and tried to clean up your bruises and cuts. You’d felt like a mewling grub. Those stupid buckteeth. Even his helmet had them painted on, like having useless fangs was something to revel in.

“Is something wrong? Are you okay?”

You looked up at him- he’d stopped and turned to you, a look of concern on his face. Since he’d first taken it off, he’d pulled back the visor on his helmet and kept it there so you could see his face. He probably did it to mock you, to taunt you with the constant view of the face of your conqueror- never mind that he tried to tell you he “trusted” you by letting you walk behind him instead of the other way around. He was possibly more condescending than the Condesce herself! Ass.

“I’m noooooooot some weakling grub, Egbert,” you said, giving him your best scowl. “We need to keep moving; we’re not far enough away from the bodies yet.”

He nodded, hints of that infuriating smile tugging at his lips as he turned around and kept marching.

He made it a point to hammer home how weak he thought you were by asking you if you were okay every so often in what had to be the most mocking of tones you’d ever heard in all your sweeps of life. He’d even armed you, and as your hands cradled the handgun he’d tossed you, you felt a surge of what had to be disgust and hatred for the human who figured you still wouldn’t be anything even resembling a threat armed.

He wasn’t some kind, caring, dashing hero come to whisk you away to safety. And, Mother Grub help you, he sure as HELL wasn’t going to mean anything to you because you just knew he was going to shoot you at some point.

You were almost sure of yourself, which was terrifying because before he’d captured (rescued, some stupid little voice murmured in the back of your head) you, you had been sure of everything you did. If you were going to do something, why not do it with certainty and conviction?

So what was that odd feeling you got every time those bright blue eyes looked at you?

You chalked it up to fatigue and hunger and left it at that. After all, there were only so many trees in the forest you could stand looking at after so long, and the last thing you needed was to have the nubslurper here catch you staring at him.

You’d both marched for hours, the sun had long fallen now, and the landscape was shrouded in darkness as you saw the trees end and a clearing of some sort ahead.

You, as a troll, were blessed with great night vision- and you assume the human had been augmented to have the same.

“Hey, Vriska,” he said, stopping short of walking past the treeline. He crouched, and he was smiling when you got closer. He looked (gorgeous) hideous with those buckteeth.

“What, Egbert? Finally tired? I assume you’re about to pass out,” you spat back. Something has to be able to break that stupid grin of his.

“And do you a favour? Never!” He laughed. You noticed how bright his eyes looked even in the night. Probably augments. “We’re about to RV with one of my buddies, but I haven’t told him about you yet,” he explained, gesturing with his rifle at the clearing.

“What? Embaaaaaaaarrassed to have not had the guts to kill me?”

“Huh? Nah. He probably wouldn’t believe me if I told him! He’d probably say something about treethulu if I did,” he said, muttering the last bit.

Fuck if you didn’t understand that last bit. Humans were weird.

“Just be ready, okay? He might pull a gun on you, but I won’t let him shoot you, so don’t worry!” He flashed a grin before turning to face forward again. “Just tuck yours in your belt or something before we go.”

Gog, that insufferable grin! And what was with his tone? He sounded so…weak, and cushy! Was he just not done treating you like a weakling yet?!

He stood, hefting his big, cylindrical bag of supplies with broken straps under one arm and his rifle in the other. You’d tried lifting it earlier, but trying had knocked you on your ass and given him another reason to laugh at you. You tucked your pistol into your waist sash and followed your captor.

Another black-clad human came out of the woods to the left just as John (Egbert, not John, don’t use his first name, he can’t know he’s getting to you! Not… not that he is. You’re not weak enough to let him do that to you. Gog, you needed to rest- the fatigue was getting to you. You refused, however, to let that idiot know that you were tired.)

The other human pulled his visor back, revealing equally pale skin as John’s and a pair of bright red eyes. His head was topped with a mess of light, blonde hair. He carried a rifle of the same make as Egbert’s and an equally large pack, though his had the straps intact.

John (oh fuck it you weakling, I give up, you win this…for noooooooow!) laughed, dropped his bag, grasped the other human’s arm, and you heard him call the other human Dave as you got your boot stuck in a stupid tree root.

You grunted and managed to pull it free, stumbling out of tree cover like an idiot before the two humans. Welp, there goes your credibility as a badass Alternian special operative. Good going, Serket.

John laughed, turned from your stumble to Dave, but Dave was scowling, bringing his rifle up as you struggled to regain your footing.

“Hostile!” Dave shouted.

Shit shit fuck shit gogdamnit he tricked you, led you like a grub to a trap so you could make a fool of yourself before he killed you and-

“Whoa, no!” John’s face turned from happiness to horror as he yelled and stepped in the way of the rifle.

“Get out of the way John, there’s a-“

“No! She isn’t,” John said. His hand pushed Dave’s rifle down forcefully as he tried to explain the situation.

You were standing tall now, chin up and defiant to the end, because that’s how badass people died! Never mind the fact that your hands were shaking and you were clenching them so they wouldn’t. Never mind the fact that you were terrified for a moment and that you didn’t actually want to die.

Never mind that John had willingly stepped between you and rifle without a second thought to protect you.

He probably just wanted to kill you himself! Or you were valuable as a highblooded prisoner of war. Yeah, that’s it! Right. Nothing else. You were totally NOT deluding yourself at this point.

And never mind the fact that, in that singular moment in which John had stepped in the way of the gun, you were horrified at the thought that he would get shot. That he would get hurt.

Chapter Text

Your name is JOHN EGBERT, and your buddy Dave just tried to kill your freshly liberated troll.

“Are you fucking crazy, John?!” Dave was angry- which was saying something, considering how few emotions he ever let slip out from behind his coolguy façade. “You even gave it a fucking gun!”

“Her, Dave. Pretty sure she’s a woman. Unless she lied to me,” you added, seeing movement in the corner of your eye as Vriska gave you a shaky middle finger.

“What made you fucking think that was a good idea?!”

So you explained. You explained how she had been a prisoner, how you had rescued her, and her story about how she was going to be executed for challenging the highbloods.

Dave’s face was impassive during your tale, and Vriska was still scowling at him. Though, it might have been meant for you too.

He was quiet after you finished, and you gave him your most serious “don’t you even dare shoot her anyways” look (you feel rather confident that was the message behind your eyes at the time, and not something else) before you turned around to go check Vriska.

You tried to lay a hand on her shoulder, but she jerked it away and refused to meet your eyes before you could even say anything to her.

“Don’t fucking need yoooooooou to try to protect me, of all people,” you heard her mutter, the hugest scowl possible on her face.

You shrugged before returning to Dave.

“So?”

“Helmet on. Now,” was his reply, pulling his shades off and sliding his visor down with a clack.

You gave Vriska one last glance- she was staring at the dirt like her glare was going to stab it for her- before your own visor clamped down.

1ST LT Dave Strider opened a private commlink with CPT John Egbert

DS: dude what the fuck were you thinking

JE: she needed help! and i helped her. i keep telling you, dave…not all trolls are the enemy!

DS: doesn’t fucking mean you need to bring home another stray

DS: i am not some fucking foster home

DS: there are no tiny orphans hanging onto my limbs going

DS: strider strider feed us poor pathetic kids please

DS: well sure thing kiddos let me just fire up the magic give a fuck o maker over here

JE: dave. relax! she can help us!

DS: ill commit suicide without her help thanks

JE: you know what i mean! she was high up too, so she can tell us where we can get a shuttle or something!

Dave didn’t respond for a minute; Vriska was looking up at the two of you now, scowling just a bit less than before. After a bit more of a delay, you continued.

JE: trust me. please. it worked out with karkat, it worked out with equius, it worked out with tavros- she can help us. c’mon.

DS: fucking fine john but if she stabs me in my sleep i am fucking haunting you for the rest of my unnatural existence

You gave Dave a playful punch on the arm before you slid your visor back. He followed suit after a second.

You beckoned Vriska to come over, smiling at her as she stomped her way to you. Your smile seemed to amplify her scowl, and every step she took closer to you seemed to crank it up a notch.

“What, John?”

Your smile, against your intentions, broke into a grin at hearing your name. “Oh, so we’re onto first names now?”

She scoffed and tossed her hair back as she responded with a grudging, “Dooooooon’t get fucking used to it.”

“So what’s our plan here, John? Wait until she shoots us in our sleep, or give her a knife to stab us with instead?”

You rolled your eyes as you turned to Vriska. “If I gave you a map, would you be able to mark your base on it?”

She nodded, but crossed her arms. “You won’t be able to breach the walls, though. Those things are huuuuuuuuge, and you don’t have aaaaaaaanything even close to big enough to scratch them,” she said, her smirk back in place. Well, it was closer to a smile than a scowl now, at least.

“Then we go get bigger guns,” you suggested.

Dave scoffed, but Vriska was chewing at her bottom lip after you said that.

“It can’t be that simple, John,” Dave said. “We can’t just walk around the forest and go, ‘Oh! Look! A nice and neat pile of missile launchers! What fucking luck!’”

“We hav-“ you managed before Vriska interrupted. Her voice sounds quieter, more predatory. It shuts you up by the sheer fact that she hasn’t sounded like that once since you first met her.

“There’s a munitions dump nearby,” she said. Her eyes shot over to Dave as she smiled, baring her wicked fangs, before all eight of her pupils returned to you. You’re not sure what to make of her eyes- scary, or confident. “We could get some pretty big shit there.”

“We need to worry about the defenses there too,” Dave said.

Vriska spoke again, her voice louder - perhaps at the thought of being able to stick it to her highbloods? “No more than two dozen, probably cavalreapers and threshecutioners,” she said, her gaze shifting to Dave, “…and the walls there are grubskin-thin. If you had, say, some grenades, you could crack ‘em  wiiiiiiiide open.”

“There’s got to be a catch,” you tried, but she had an answer for that too.

“It’s hidden- only bluebloods and up know about it. It’s there so that, in the event of an invasion, we- they- could still resupply from somewhere if the local base was taken,” she explained.

“Sounds like we’ve got a shot,” Dave said, hand on his chin in thought. He was so caught up in thinking, he didn’t even have his shades on. He looked up at you, his red eyes boring into yours. “Think we can do this?”

You think you can- but a more important question came up first.

“Why,” you begin, your head turning back to Vriska, “…did you just tell us that?”

It’s not that you don’t trust her- you gave her a gun and let her have at your unprotected back, for god’s sake- but even for gratitude, this was pushing it. She had to want something.

“What the fuck do you- I just gave you privileged information, huuuuuuuuman, and this is how you repay me?“ she replied, indignant. Her arms dropped to her sides, her hands balled into fists.

“Answer me,” you say simply.

“Because I don’t owe thoooooooose assholes anything! Because they tried to have me killed because they were too weak to understand how the system SHOULD work! Because they’re the losing side in this gogdamned war!” she shouted. “Because…because…“ She was getting bluer and bluer now, her face flushing as she went through her rant.

“Because…?” you tried when she faltered.

“Because they have my fucking moirail and they’re going to fucking execute her soon!” She reached a climax, her voice spiking in volume. A few birds flew off, startled, from a nearby tree. She breathed heavily, her cheeks flushed a deep, deep blue as she continued in a quieter but no less angry tone. “I don’t care how you do it,” she said before straightening up and crossing her arms again. “Get her out, and I get you off world.

It was silent after she finished, her face an angry mask.

“What did she do?” Dave broke the silence, taking a step forward as he did so. His face was the same unreadable mask as it was before.

Vriska just glared at him, her hands quivering. Had her fists been any tighter, her own claws would have drawn her blood.

“Vriska? Please. We need to know,” you tried. You took a few tentative steps toward her, a light breeze reminding you of the three long scratches on your left cheek. Last thing you needed were your eyes shredded by her (pretty slim tender not the fucking time, Egbert) hands.

Her eyes shot between you and Dave before she relented, letting her arms fall to her sides again. Her hands were balled up into angry fists.

“She is- was- a medicutioner,” she allowed, her voice quieter. “And even though the nubslurping, hornless pink monkey was weak and he was going to die anyways, she took care of him,” she went on.

“Who?” You took yet another step and found your left hand on her shoulder, giving her what you hoped was a reassuring grip.

“One of your human soldiers. From the battle overhead.”

---

Your name is DAVE STRIDER, and you are taking over watch from John. The troll he’d picked up was sound asleep, and it was maybe local midnight, judging from the orange moon overhead. It- she- Vriska- had been exhausted, but she’d only let it show after she’d passed out in the camo-film tent John had set up for her. It had been a wild afternoon- your shuttle had been shot down, but fuck it if that little thing was going to stop you. You’d gathered supplies and jumped, gliding down like a some sort of wicked angel of death, and you’d made a zig-zaggy, serpentine path to the RV point to meet up with John and his new girlfriend.

You knew better than to call her that to his face, though- he’d make you regret it, and you knew it.

You stepped up to the tree he was perched in, the height giving him better visibility, and knocked at the gnarled bark. It was a second before he dropped behind you, landing in a crouch with an earthy thud and the rustle of leaves before rising to greet you, visor up.

“Get some rest, Cap,” you said after your own visor came up. Despite only needing to sleep for 8 hours out of every 96, Archons still enjoyed the rest. Better that than to get sloppy.

“You sure, man?” John’s face looked hard asking you that question, but softened up after. “I can handle watch.”

He still managed to look tired- had been ever since Vriska had spilled and you three had begun making plans for the 30 klick march to the munitions dump, then the 48 klick march from there to the base. You and John were super soldiers, Archons- getting to either of those locations would pose less of a challenge than getting Karkat to curse- but after Vriska had gone into the tent to rest (“The better to make sure you humans don’t get loooooooost tomorrow!” she had assured John), you’d brought up Vriska’s status as non-superhuman.

“I’ll up and carry her in one arm if I have to. We’re NOT leaving her behind,” he had said.

Stupid persuasive bucktoothed grin.

“John. Baby. Please. I know you like spending time “communing” with the trees, but I got this,” you reply.

John laughed as he slid from the branch and landed with a thump on the ground behind you.

You started to climb the tree, and, feeling like a goddamned ninja monkey or something, made it to John’s perch.

John was your bro- you wanted him to relax. This wasn’t because of any residual feelings from your relationship with him- the two of you had ended it on good terms and it was a clean break, though there were still a lot of people who would say otherwise. Besides, that’d been two years ago, on academy graduation day.

Your view afforded you a glimpse of Vriska waking up to berate John for something or other. John shut her up with a grin and a few words you couldn’t hear. She blushed and just sorta sat there for a second before coming back at him with a verbal vengeance.

He laughed at what you were sure was another bout of insults, which provoked a now-visibly flustered Vriska even more.

It might have been fraternization, but a small part of you missed what you and him had had, was jealous at the attention he paid to her.

“Fuck it,” you said, your gaze turning off to the distance to watch for anything that would prove a threat.

Chapter Text

Your name is Vriska Serket, and you absolutely despise humans. Especially the ones named John Egbert.

That was what you kept telling yourself, anyways, even when he was derpy and stupid and insufferable and pitiable beyond all belief.

“What the fuck do you want, Egbert?” you’d said when he came back to the camp. The orange moon directly overhead made his answering grin look even more damnably obvious as it stood out more.

“Just making sure you’re alright!”

Gogdamn his fake concern.

“As your vision bulbs can see, I am fine! Now fuck off!!!!!!!!”

“That’s not what I’d call you,” he had replied. Stupid, mocking grin!

“I…” you had choked out before feeling the heat rush to your face as you blushed. It had only taken you a minute to come back with more insults.

“I don’t need your stupid mockery, human! Last time I checked, you were on MY planet, needing MY help, so stuff that up your nook and diiiiiiiie on it!”

He’d taken a seat the base of a tree directly in front of where you’d decided to poke your head out of the humans’ stupid camo-tent that they had given you. Well, that John had given you, but that was beside the point!

“I’m sorry,” he said, bringing up a hand to cup his auricular cartilage, “…who was the one who needed rescuing earlier?”

You would kill to see that pitiful smile, only to throttle him because of it! Infuriating alien.

“I had a plan! I didn’t neeeeeeeed your help, you know!”

“Oh, right, and I suppose you were going to level that whole base by yourself too?”

“Don’t push me, John! I’ll do it to them and then I’ll do it to you!!!!!!!!”

He laughed. “What, back to first names again? Next thing you know, we’ll be calling each other things like “sweetie” and “honey” and deciding on the colour of the living room drapes!” He laughed even harder, throwing his head back.

The…the nerve of him! He was unfit to even use your name! The one that you had…erm…given him. But that was beside the point too!

You resisted the urge to throw one of your boots at him. You failed.

He caught it and grinned at you, proffering it as you felt your face burn.

“You might want this back,” he taunted, “…unless you plan to march barefoot.”

You darted out of the tent, snatching your boot before practically diving back in.

It was maybe 10 minutes later- eight of which you spent fuming at his japery and two of which you spent wondering what the hell he’d meant with his words- before you heard his voice again.

“Vriska.” He was quieter, more subdued. You poked your head out of the tent one more time to see him smiling, his buckteeth reflecting the soft orange moonlight. If he was planning to fuck with you again…

“We’ll get your friend back,” he said. “And we’ll get you both out alive.”

You…weren’t sure how to respond with that.

“I…thanks.” You resisted the urge to facepalm from how pathetic you’d sounded, and tried to salvage your dignity with an added, “You better!” before you retreated your head to the welcome Egbert-less-ness of the tent.

“Good night to you too, Vris,” you heard him say softly.

You wanted to punch him. You wanted to hug him. You wanted to do both!

You laid your head down and tried to go back to sleep instead.

Stupid human.

---

Your name is John Egbert, and you were currently staring through your helmet’s zoom function at a cluster of buildings that contained, if Vriska was right, (and she had assured you she was) enough firepower to crack the hull on a dreadnought. Considering the plating on those things was thicker than Dave’s skull (re: fucking thick), it sounded pretty good.

The 30 klick march had gone fast- Vriska had held her own, keeping up with a determination you’d been thrilled to see. You’d tried talking to her, but taunts from Dave to “Quit flirting with the hot alien” had shut her up with indignation rather quickly- though you swore you’d seen her blushing too.

You’d made camp on a sort of cliff, maybe 20 meters high, overlooking the munitions dump. It was a small compound- 5 meter high, 50m x 50m walls, two watchtowers at the eastern and western ends of the dump, and three small, one-story buildings of relatively similar size to each other. The walls were indeed thin- a few grenades packed into a bundle would crack it right open, just like Vriska had said. Everything was made of an odd, white, organic-looking material. You were waiting until nightfall to make your move- which was a good idea, considering that black armour was stealthier at night.

Counting the two trolls in the watchtowers, there were at least two dozen trolls, who all seemed to alternate between patrol, watchtower duty, and training. “Trolls are always training, so they don’t get culled for failure,” Vriska had explained. From the markings, Vriska had also been right about the troop compositions- an even dozen each of threshecutioners and cavalreapers, and at least one warbeast for every two cavalreapers.

“Probably in that building there,” Vriska said, inching up on her stomach to join you and Dave on the edge of the cliff and pointing at the building to the east.

“How do you know?” Dave gave her a skeptical look.

She flicked her hair- a habit she had, you had realized on the march over- and made an annoyed sort of clicking noise with her fangs. “Because I’ve been here before, Strider! Just a few perigees ago,” she said before turning to look at you with a toothy smirk. “If they’re still as sloppy now as they were then, you two should have no problem.”

“Won’t they have a highblood on base?”

“You killed him yesterday, John,” she replied. She squinted down at a group of threshecutioners before tutting and pointing them out to you. “See? They’re being slow, and the highblood would either be yelling at them oooooooor preaching to them about the Mirthful Messiahs.”

“What the fuck is a ‘Mirthful Messiah?” Dave sounded disbelieving.

“Long story short? Jesus Clowns,” you answered, remembering the detail from an updated briefing slate about the indigo blood caste a few weeks back.

“Basically,” Vriska agreed, nodding. “Nuuuuuuuutjobs,” she added in a sing-song mutter.

You offered her a folding pair of magnoculars so she could observe better. She snatched them from your hands, eagerly bringing it to her eyes and examining the camp.

“All you humans need to do is wait until nightfall and when the training group stops for the night, attack,” she said, turning to look you in the eyes again. “They’ll be tired and unfocused, so it’ll be even eeeeeeeeasier!”

You nodded, noting how much better she looked after a night of sleep and some food (or, rather, as close to food as ration cubes got).

“Then we’ll make our move tonight,” you said, turning your attention back to the compound.

Fun.

Chapter Text

Okay, no, definitely not fun. At least, that’s what you decided as you threw the warbeast off of you. It whined as it tried to rise, and you put a few more rounds into its head so it would stay down for good before you turned your attention to the asshole with the energy projector lance in the far eastern watchtower. He fired and you dove for cover behind the wall as the spot you’d been standing in erupted in a fountain of dirt.

You and Dave had set a wad of six grenades to some det cord and some tape and it had left a network of cracks stretching at least 2 meters square. With a prankster’s grin, you had set another charge and turned the cracks into a rather nicely gaping hole.

Now, you were taking fire from at least a half dozen positions and warbeasts were threatening to swarm your position. You were taking cover on one side of the hole, Dave and Vriska on the other. You looked up at him, and though all you saw was your reflection in his visor, you could tell he was looking back at you.

JE: give me some covering fire! that asshole with the lance needs to eat lead.

DS: copy

DS: would you like some fries with that

Dave popped out- Vriska, lacking Aegis armour, was hanging back with the pistol you had given her- and sprayed short bursts at whatever dared keep its head out as you followed suit and took aim.

The cavalreaper in the tower stumbled backwards and his corpse fell as you put a round square through his eyes. You would have felt satisfied were it not for another pair of lance-wielders that decided to pop up right then.

You cursed as you tossed one of your remaining frag grenades at the trio of warbeasts that came running into view before sliding back into cover.

A second or so later, you felt the grenade go off before seeing a bit of warbeasts come flying through the hole. Odd, rust-coloured blood spattered the ground where the bit of charred flesh landed.  Score!

DS: a half dozen threshecutioners charging at us

DS: fuckers just want to all up and dive headfirst into their doom

JE: fuuuuuuuuck!

You popped back out in time to see a line of sickle-wielding assholes sprinting at you. You killed one before the lances forced you back into cover, and Dave another two, but the remaining trio jumped through the hole and landed just to your right.

You turned as they rose, and Dave put one down point blank before you shifted your attention to the one swinging at your head.

The curved blade of the sickle came wickedly close, enough for you to count the notches, as you pulled your head back. She brought the blade back from the other direction and you ducked under it, coming up inside the arc of her swing.

You head-butted her, her snarl going from one of fury to one of pain as your helmet came crashing upwards into the bottom of her jaw. You stepped back to avoid another swing and gave her a good, solid thump in the face from your rifle, swinging up and knocking one of her fangs loose in a gout of rust blood that spattered onto your visor as you felt at least one bone in her face break. Her head whipped around and she went down. Her sickle clattered onto some of the rubble as she looked up at you, rusty eyes seeing an impassive helmet bringing down a rifle butt onto her forehead. She went down, either unconscious or dead, and you looked up in time to see Dave returning fire through the hole and Vriska- well.

Vriska was grinning wickedly at the threshecutioner- a real brute, bigger and taller than her- with one hand grasping her gun and the other touching to her temple. You watched as the threshecutioner haltingly, stumblingly, hesitantly impale himself on his own sickle.

As the body fell to the dirt, she gave you a feral grin.

Riiiiiiiight. Bluebloods were psychics. Okay.

DS: yo stop checking your psychobitch girlfriend out and help a bro put down some trolls

You popped out and oh fuck there was a threshecutioner right in your face. You pumped the trigger and he went down, flying backwards with a new trio of breathing holes in his protein chute. You put another burst apiece into a warbeast and its cavalreaper keeper before a stream of high energy particles from one of those asshole lance-wielders slammed into your shoulder.

You were whipped around, your right shoulder on fire as Dave took the bastard’s face off in a full auto spray. You landed on all fours in the dirt. Your shields had taken the brunt of the damage, but you knew something- namely, your flesh- was burning under the plating- plating that was now warped and mottled and fucking smoking.

With a beep and a tone, your shields began to recharge as you got back up to your feet. You picked up your rifle from where it had fallen in the dirt and reloaded, your back to the white grubcrete wall.

DS: fuck man are you okay

JE: did you shoot the douchenozzle in the face?

DS: damn straight

JE: then i’ll live. >:B

Vriska cast an almost concerned look at you, but you waved her off with a thumbs up before pivoting to crank off more rounds at the cavalreapers still returning fire. There were only about a half dozen trolls left, their return fire more of a smattering of plasma rather than the wall of bright, burny-melty death it was before.

You saw a cavalreaper going for a lance and drilled him in the legs. He stumbled, his face morphing into a mask of pain, before you put a round in his head as he fell.

Energy projectors were for capital ships and asshats, and asshats did not survive for long under your rifle’s sights.

Dave put down another two trolls with single shots, and you decided fuck it, I want to punch something. You shoved the rifle onto your back, the magnetic plating there securing the gun in place, before diving through the breach in the wall.

You rolled as you hit the packed earth, coming up with a fist ready for the nearest cavalreaper’s face.

The nearest troll happened to be less than a half meter away from where you came up, and he looked terrified as you brought your fist into his face. Plasma from his comrades burned away at your shields as his visor cracked. The force of your blow shot the visor shards into his face- a face that was pulped beneath your gauntleted fist.

Another threshecutioner, a few meters to your left, started to run at you, but you ducked the blade. Your leg swept out and knocked the troll off his legs, and you spun back around to bring your arm down like a hammer on his chest. The chest plate cracked, and you felt the flesh beneath- hot and squishy- under your knuckles.

Dave took a troll trying to climb the far watchtower’s ladder- like it would have done him any good to be up there anyways- and you were left facing the last cavalreaper in the face.

He bared his fangs at you before his sponge exploded out the side of his head with a bang.

You looked to your right to see Vriska holding your smoking handgun, a vicious smirk on her face.

Okay, maybe a little fun. Maybe.

Chapter Text

Your name is Vriska Serket, and you’re dealing with a big, baby grub.

Well, that baby being John Egbert, a titan that had beat two trolls to death maybe half an hour ago.

“What’s this one do?” He was staring, all stupid buckteeth and smiles, at a folded hunk of metal in the armoury.

“That shoots laser pulses, John.”

“And what about that one?” He bounded to the next workbench, pointing- apparently, they’d been developing updated versions of weapons here too- and poked around at a half assembled pile of metal and circuitry.

“Thaaaaaaaat one’s a plasma thrower.”

His eyes opened wide as he looked up at you. “What’s that do?”

“It’s like your flamethrower, except it throws plasma. Burns better,” you replied.

“Cooooooool!” He bounded off. His eyes had been wide ever since you two had stumbled into this section of the labs. Bright white lights glowed overhead and tables laden with weapons and parts had dotted this entire building’s interior.

He was like a child, all joy and happiness and everything else that was pitiable in a sentient being, his eyes wide as he asked question after question after question. It was hard to remember the fact that he’d been punching trolls to death a little while ago and had swathes of their blood across his armour like he was a subjugglator’s painting wall.

Your eyes drifted to the melted patch of silver on his right shoulder. You had actually felt- concern? Panic?- when he’d gone down, and something you didn’t even want to think about when he got back up.

“Vriska?”

You were jerked from your thoughts by John’s voice. You’d come to adore it and hate it in equal terms, the nookwhi-

“Earth to Vriska….”

“John, I’m a troll. That doesn’t mean anything to me,” you snapped.

“I’m sorry! I just want to know what this one does!”

“You’ve wanted to know what all of these did,” you reminded him.

“Last one! I promise!”

You sighed dramatically, making a show of moving from your position leaning against the wall to his near a table far in the back of the lab.

“This,” you say in what you hope comes off as an exasperated tone, “…is…”

You caught John’s big blue eyes turn to you. “What is it?”

“This is exactly what we need to get into the star base,” you breathed.

---

Your name is John Egbert and you have cradled in your hands a gun that shoots LIGHTNING.

Well, the translated technical logs had said something about pulses of plasma being sent into an excited state in a strict, projected electromagnetic tube, but fuck it, you have a gun that shoots lightning, and you are feeling AWESOME as Vriska watches you with an amused smile on her face as you obliterate targets on the other end of the shooting range.

You are Zeus. It is you.

The gun, which you just decided to name Zeus in and of itself because it was so cool, was a prototype- and the only one of its existence. Good thing, too, because it was fucking powerful! Something that took twelve high explosive grenades to accomplish took the Zeus one shot- but you had to be careful, because if it ever overheated, it was going to explode.

You’d thought she’d been joking- it’d fail, maybe, or melt- but no, seriously, it would explode.

Dave had been suitably impressed, and had gone off to delete the technical schematics while you went outside to go test it. It had a rectangular body, with an organic-looking stock and a large, metal tube as the barrel. At the base of the interior of the barrel, you had seen a large, blue crystal pulsing with power before Vriska smacked you upside the head and told you not to do that.

You and she had been growing easier and easier with each other, with her insulting you less and less and you…well, you weren’t doing much different from what you were doing before.

The far wall, some 30 meters off, exploded outward in a spray of grubcrete and awesome. You let out a loud whoop and turned to Vriska with a grin as she laughed- whether at you or at how powerful the Zeus was or what, you didn’t care, you loved hearing her laugh and that was that.

She had found herself a suit of armour in a locker near where you had found the Zeus- which was good, because while her uniform was stylish, it sure as hell wasn’t going to protect her from plasma. She’d slipped into an ablution trap in the barracks- troll words for shower- and had emerged a bit later clean, her hair wet and dripping and getting toweled off, wearing a skin-tight black bodysuit.

She’d blushed a bit as you gawked and whistled a catcall- you could see every bit of her thin body, and you weren’t complaining- not even when she threw her old, mud-caked boot at you in a slurry of Alternian curses.

“It’s for the armour!” She kept yelling at you as she attached a mottled black/gray thigh plate.

“Uh huh,” you said. You just couldn’t. Stop. Looking.

“Stop staaaaaaaaring! It’s creepy!” She turned her back to you as she hoisted a chest piece over her head and dropped it onto her torso before tightening at the various straps.

“Yeah,” you replied. Your voice had an almost monotone quality. Did…did human women look like that too? It’d been a while since you’d last known for sure. Like, a few years- while.

She threw her other boot at you, which you skillfully outmaneuvered like a drunken walrus (re: not at all, you didn’t want your eyes to leave that hot piece of Alternian-)

“John, quit gawking, I’m over here,” Dave said, striding into the room. His armour was clean and patched- though slicks of silver still shined through from all of the scratches and abuse the plating had taken.

“Nice to know I’m still worth cleaning up for,” you shot back. “But I guess I should get on that too, huh?” You looked down past the Zeus rifle cradled in your arms and at the various shades of the rainbow painted across your armour.

“I’ll say. You smell like an unwashed hoofbeast from here,” Vriska called. Her hair was resuming its poofy state as it dried, falling down her back in a cascade of black.

“Less talky, more sexy turny,” you replied. You successfully dodged the bit of metal she kicked at you.

“Did you check out your shoulder yet, bro? Shit looked sick when you got hit,” Dave said, gesturing at your shoulder.

You frowned and shook your head as you looked at your right shoulder. Silver under-alloy shined up at you from under the burned off paint, and the metal was warped and odd- and your suit had been pumping stims to keep the pain off ever since you’d taken the hit.

“Well? You want me to buy you dinner first? Off with it,” Dave said.

You giggled at that before starting to disengage your armour. It was like wearing a huge, 3D puzzle, and it took a few minutes before you managed to get the black plating off. The design necessitated that you take off the entirety of the torso plating to get at the wound. You were wearing a black bodysuit underneath, skintight like Vriska’s, but yours was a neurosuit designed to speed the communications between your nerves and the suit’s receptors.

Your bodysuit sleeve was messed up too- the material all waxy and…well, damp, somehow, despite being moisture-proof.

You touched at the sealseams and they disengaged too.

As you slipped the sleeve down your arm, the material came off with a wet schlock- like tape being pulled slowly from a surface it was stuck to. You could start to feel the wound start to sting- the micro doses of painkillers from your suit had stopped flowing into your system.

The skin was pale (well, more so than before) and blistered, leaking clear synthetic muscle fluid mixed with your blood. You resisted the urge to poke at it and failed, wincing as your finger drew sharp pain from the thing.

Vriska, armoured up and looking pretty spiffy compared to before (though you wouldn’t dare say that to her when you weren’t wearing your armour too for fear of retaliation) pulled up a chair and sat close, her helmet in her lap as she leaned in for a look.

“Naaaaaaaasty,” she said, a look of disgust on her face.

“Yeah, well, it feels worse. Dave, hand me an aid kit,” you said.

Dave obliged quickly, digging out an aid kit from one of the two gear duffles and handing it to you.

You pried it open with one hand, stabbing your arm with a hypo full of coagulants before wiping it down with an antibacterial cloth. It stung- stung like a bitch- and you winced as Dave laughed.

“Wuss.”

“I’ll make you eat this cloth if you don’t shut it,” you shot back through gritted teeth. You could take plasma rounds, energy projectors, and you’d even been hit with a car before (long story; you and Dave had been drunk and that’s all there is to say on the matter), but fuck if antibacterials still didn’t STING.

You stood, sealing the aid kit and beginning to take off the rest of your armour. The legs were still powered- each primary section had its own power cell so that one failure wouldn’t render the suit a useless piece of medieval armour- but it shut down as you disengaged it and, piece by piece, stripped down. You could feel the weight of the alloy plating on your legs now.

“John, why are you stripping?“ Vriska managed.

You laughed. “I smell like a hoofbeast, remember? And you’re not using it, so I’m calling the shower. Erm, ablution trap.” You stacked the pieces of the Aegis suit into piles so you would know which set went with which limb. “Don’t want them smelling me coming from a mile off.” You turned to Dave. “Yo, be a pal and wash this thing off, will you?”

He shooed you off with a wave of his hand. “Go take a shower, you dirty boy,” he muttered as he picked up a piece of plating. A splash of indigo decorated the plate.

The shower was a communal unit- no surprise, it was a military base- and the hot water stung your shoulder as you washed clean. It’s not like you really needed it- but the opportunity to take a hot shower in the field was rare, and you intended to take it.

Especially considering you might be dead by dawn tomorrow.

If Vriska was right, the base would be pretty packed with trolls- you had the Zeus, it was true, but not even ass-kicking lightning guns could stop you from getting swarmed.

You decide not to search for the troll equivalent of soap- god knows what that stuff might be like- before a question enters your head.

What would Vriska do once she freed her moirail?

Once again, it’s not like you didn’t trust her- far from it. Still, a thought lingered: what if she left you and Dave stranded on the planet? What if she or her moirail died? What if-

You shook your head, hot water spraying out in a shower of droplets. You’d learned before that you could ask yourself “what-if” questions until you were blue in the face and still nothing would get accomplished.

Besides, she seemed like a trustworthy sort. And if she wasn’t, you’d find another way. You always did. You were a man of your word, just like your dad raised you to be: you would get her and her moirail off-world safely.

The valve squeaked as you shut off the water, and a few remaining drops of water pitter-pattered as you tried to find a towel.

When you stepped out, bodysuit on up to the waist, Vriska did a double-take as Dave tilted his head to look at you over his shades.

All Archons were expected to maintain a minimum level of fitness- but sometimes, you got bored, so working out was nothing new to you. Add that to the natural Egbert family gene to be strong (thank goodness for that!) and you had one buff John Egbert.

You had decided not to scar Vriska and had put the bodysuit on from the waist down, the rest of the torso and arms dangling behind you- and as you pulled on and sealed up the top, you caught her looking.

“See something you like, Ms. Serket?” You grinned at her before Dave handed you a clean piece of plating and you started gearing back up, starting with the feet.

Vriska made a choking noise- it sounded angry- before looking away and blushing again. You were getting good at making her do that! Heh.

As you finished the legs and started on the torso plating, the completed sections hummed as the power cells activated. The heavy plating on your legs suddenly weighed nothing as they booted up.

“Nothing major fried, though you popped a pressure seal when you got buttfucked by treethulu,” he said with a smirk.

“Well, good thing we haven’t gone into a vacuum yet, ‘cos it’d suck to die of decompression,” you replied earnestly. The last piece clicked as you fit it into place and you nodded your thanks to him. You sat back down, helmet in one hand and holo displays of the local area projecting from the other.

“So how are the three of us…” Dave said, looking first at Vriska then you, “…going to take on 50 of them?”

You and Vriska grinned at one another before your eyes were both drawn to the Zeus, leaning against the wall behind Dave.

“We have a plan for that,” she said, grinning as wide as her fang-filled mouth would allow.

"Old Zeus over there has plenty of juice, and we'll be putting all of it to good use." As adorably scary as she looked right now, you knew you were grinning just as much.

Chapter Text

“COVER! COVER! FUCKER’S HUG-“ Dave yelled before getting swatted aside.

This was all going to shit pretty fast.

You’d been doing well- several large craters littered the landing field, courtesy of the Zeus, and trolls lay dying and dead everywhere as the air split with the fury of the cannon. Dave had his plasma blade out and was cutting bloody swathes out of the ranks of threshecutioners and skirmislayers; Kanaya had joined him with gusto, wielding the most wicked bonesaw you’d ever seen in your life at about a meter long, and Vriska was trying to hack into the projexecutioner’s FTL-capable shuttle so your motley command could fly it off world and back to Coalition space.

It was a huge, open area- dur, it was a star base used for ground vessels to get into space- with a massive landing pad in the middle for cargo vessels. Large, rectangular cargo containers lined the northern side of the pad, and two smaller- relatively speaking, anyways, they were at least a hundred meters across- pads were raised and off to the south. One was empty, but the other held your objective, your prize: a large, purple shuttle that belonged to the base projexecutioner- and thus had an FTL drive.

There was another grubcrete building off to the side- and from it had emerged the highblood in all his clowny death-ness.

Kanaya, Vriska’s moirail, had been found rather quickly- your wall-destroying had interrupted her execution in the nick of time, with the threshecutioner presiding quickly cut down and the rest scattered. She’d picked up a fallen medicutioner’s bonesaw- present to finish Kanaya off if she didn’t die from the first blow or two- and started hacking at anything that stood between her and Vriska. A hug later, one was hacking while the other was…well, also hacking, frantically trying to slice her way into the shuttle’s command console to release the docking clamps.

She was tall, just about two meters tall, with short black hair and one horn that came up to a point with the other curving back down into a small hook. She was thin, almost lanky, but damn if she wasn’t fast.

Eventually, it had gotten too hot for the unarmoured Kanaya to stay around the battlezone, and so she had run off to join Vriska while leaving you and Dave to hold off the archeradicators, skirmislayers, threshecutioners, and cavalreapers. She’d been terrifying to behold- a snarling whirlwind of blood and severed limbs, wielding the bonesaw with a grace you’d last remembered seeing from ballet dancers back on Earth (Rose had dragged you to the show, and you hadn’t enjoyed it. At all. Period.) Her medicutioner uniform was still intact enough to give her modesty at the least, but she was tall, spinney, and surrounded by death. It was like watching a hurricane and tornado’s illegitimate child…made of chainsaws.

You’d been doing well for yourself, perched atop a pile of rubble and pumping lightning into anything that wasn’t friendly. A troll had tried to stab your leg, and you’d literally kicked her into a nearby fuel tank after her knife had bent against your leg plating.

The resulting explosion had been quite satisfying, lighting up the area for a few brief seconds and sending a gout of flame up into the orange night sky.

The Zeus was getting hot now, but you dared not stop firing- not even as you finished gutting a tank and heard Dave’s cry.

“What the…” you managed before the sight in front of you choked out your words.

The projexecutioner was a massive thing, at least 4 meters tall and 2 wide, claws grasping at a giant club. Tattered robes clung to his frame, black with purple polka dots with pants of an inverted colour scheme. His hair was like a giant bush, a tangled mess from which emerged two long, straight horns pointing almost vertically. His face paint, normally messy on other highbloods, was in complete disarray, with his sunken eye sockets looking empty and fangs painted across his jaw. Not that he really needed it, though- his own, natural ones looked wicked enough already.

“Motherfucking MUTANTS and HERETICS!” it had bellowed as it brought the club down on Dave. Or, rather, it would have if you didn’t vaporize the top half of the club with the Zeus. The cannon bucked as the searing beam of lightning bit into the metal of the club just above the grip, and the head fell to the pad with a crash and a crater.

The massive highblood roared, a sound that rumbled deep to your chest and raised the hairs on the back of your neck on end. You pumped at the trigger again, but the Zeus didn’t respond- the barrel was white hot and you remembered enough from the technical specifications from the previous day that if it overheated, it would explode, and it looked to pretty close to be overheating now.

You flinged it at the subjugglator, but it only made half the distance before detonating in a shower of shrapnel and light so blinding, not even your visor could damp the flood of photons. You were forced to avert your eyes, bring your arm up to keep from being momentarily blinded.

“You will MOTHERFUCKING PAY for that heresy!” It threw the useless handle at you- an unrewarding gesture, the hunk of metal had landed somewhere to your left- and tried to bring its fists down on Dave. Dave rolled out of the way in the nick of time, avoiding the twin crushing blows of the giant.

You unslinged your rifle, running towards the scene of the one-sided battle and putting out as many rounds as you could before ducking as it turned its attention- and another fist- at you.

Archon or no, Aegis armour or no, one solid hit from those fists would have been the end of either one of you.

Your rifle seemed to act as the equivalent of a spitwad shooter, though, and the highblood just seemed to be getting even angrier.

You stood back up just in time for the other fist to clip your arm- the uninjured one, thank god- and you were sent spinning towards Dave. It was like getting hit with by an angry semi-truck loaded with concrete and fists.

“Fucker’s fast, John! Careful,” Dave said as he reactivated the plasma blade in his right gauntlet. You did the same- this was a close range fight, no doubt about that- and rolled to the side as the highblood’s fists slammed into the ground you had just been occupying.

The meter-long blade of heat and energy came to life, extending from a projector on top of your wrist, and you brought it up into a guard position…not that it would really help.

Dave sprinted in, almost faster than even your augmented eyes could track- and darted between the giant’s legs, slicing at the knees and spattering indigo blood from the shallow cuts all over the landing pad.

The giant roared and kicked, sending Dave crashing into a cargo unit next to you.

Your turn. You tried to run in, but fuck, you realized you weren’t nearly as fast as Dave as you just barely ducked a fist, the other one swinging just close enough for you to feel the air it displaced. You watched the scarred grey fingers swing by in almost slow motion before turning back to face the hello fist.

Your arms went up, and even with all your strength, even with all of your mangrit, even with your shields and the Aegis suit and your synth muscles and-

Even with all of that, you felt pain as he knocked you flat onto the landing pad. You felt your rifle crumple against your back from the force of your impact.

“PUNY little motherfucking BLASPHEMERS,” it bellowed as you tried to blink away the stars. It picked something up- a jagged support beam from one of the pavilions you’d destroyed with the Zeus- and hefted it like a sword, testing the razor edge on his finger and licking at the indigo blood that welled out as he made his way to you. His every footstep felt, sounded like an earthquake.

You tried to move, tried to get out of the way as he raised the blade over his head, but there was a problem.

Fucker had not only put you down, he had embedded you a good several inches into the landing pad.

You coughed, and the inside of your helmet was spattered with your own blood.

Shit.

That blade was coming down now, faster and faster, your death in full view, almost in slow motion and VRISKA NO WHAT

She was in the way, pulling at your harness and trying to get you up and out of the ground as if the gesture would help, and you tried, put all of your mangrit into the action of getting your arm out of the reinforced grubcrete.

You grabbed her and rolled, but with a sickening noise and a small gasp from her, you knew you were too slow. Her eyes were wide as you looked at her, her face in shock and pain, her mouth a silent “o” shape that gaped at you. You let this happen, you did this, shit shit shit.

Too fucking slow.

If things had been going fast before, they were in overdrive now.

You cradled her in your arms and ran, saw Dave run back to try to distract the massive subjugglator as you took cover and examined Vriska. She was limp, making small noises that seemed louder to you by magnitudes than the crashing of the lumbering subjugglator.

no no no no no no NO NO NO

Her breathing was shallow, ragged, and you took a closer look at the reason why as Kanaya ran over, aid kit in hand as you set her down as if she were a cracked porcelain cup.

Hell, to you, she might as well have been.

Her left arm was gone, sliced off at the shoulder by that wicked improvised cleaver. Blood was flowing freely and pooling quickly beneath your knees as you knelt over her.

“Stupid…nookstain,” she gasped out, a weak scowl on her face as you pulled your visor back. “I…really liked…that arm,” she said before she closed her eyes. Her breathing was faint, but still there as blood gushed out of the stump where her arm had once been.

These weren’t tears, shut up.

You fixed Kanaya with your most commanding look. “Use the torch, cauterize it, then use the synth flesh to patch it up. If she dies…”

“I assure you, she will not.” She wiped a fleck of brown blood from her cheek before getting to work.

You nodded before turning just in time to see Dave dodge another fist.

Douchemongling death clown was going to pay.

You started running, picking up speed, ignoring the blue of Vriska’s blood on your armour, your arm, your visor, the pad, oh fuck that was her severed arm and

An Archon did not fear. An Archon did not falter.

And you jumped at the projexecutioner’s face, blade out, and stabbed into his shoulder to give yourself a way to hang on. You had missed his face, but the shoulder would do as you clinged to the shreds of cloth that remained of the asshat’s uniform. You were angry. You were tired. You wanted to see this troll’s blood.

“John! What the fuck are you-“

“I GOT THIS,” you yelled back through gritted teeth as the giant tried to shake you off. The highblood had dropped the cleaver and was grabbing at you with his claws. Every moment it spent paying its attention to you, however, it wasn’t spending on Dave, and Dave took the opportunity to dart in and out like a hummingbird and slice at whatever looked like it could be sliced.

The shaking, trying to hold on- it was like throwing yourself into hurricane-force winds naked and trying to fight them as your shoulders, ribs, arms, everything hurt, everything was sore, everything burned.

Dave darted by underneath and the highblood roared, clutched down at his knee, and that was all you needed. It stopped thrashing long enough for you to get a leg up on the massive corded muscle of the shoulder and push off of it, the blade cutting through tendon and bone and exiting in a sizzle of flesh. There was a roar as the subjugglator cried out in pain and clutched at his new wound- 3/4s of a meter was a deep cut, after all- but by then you were out of the way and had grabbed onto his wild mane of hair to find your true target.

His neck was as wide across as your chest, but even with all the bucking and shaking, you could see it. The sweet spot, all unprotected and out in the open.

You jammed your arm in there, the flesh giving way to sheer force as you withdrew your arm and lashed it in again, beating at the junction of spine and skull until the giant fell forward. You sent your fists in again, and again, and again, even after he fell to the pad with a crash, even after he stopped moving, even after you were covered in the death clown’s purple blood from neck to knee. The bone had turned to splinters, shards of white in a maelstrom of varying shades of indigo.

Dave practically had to pull you off the corpse as blood pooled into a small lake.

“Let’s go! Before more of the fuckers show up!”

You’d made your way to the shuttle, dodging plasma all the way. The lowblood soldiers had refused to come out while the highblood was in his bloodrage, but now that the projexecutioner was dead, they began to trickle from the woodwork to attempt to take their vengeance.

You sprinted, taking hits and not daring to stop until you felt the metal deckplates of the shuttle beneath your feet. You had felt the g-forces as the engines kicked in and you were taken far, far away from the scene.

You dared not look at what Kanaya assured was now a stable Vriska as you passed by the med bay on your way to the upper decks. The shuttle had been designed for the massive projexecutioner, but he had only required quarters and a throne in the center of the ship- the rest was standard sized.

As you walked, you didn’t feel satisfaction from the kill. You didn’t feel joy or victory.

You felt numb. It wasn’t until you heard a familiar voice through the comms that you were snapped out of it, bolting from the maglift and sprinting to the cockpit. When you’d arrived, you were still battered and dripping indigo, parts of your armour beaten or stripped clean off. That familiar voice turned to a familiar face as you made it to comms panel.

“—the UTLN Gorgon. Identify yourself, Alternian vessel, or you WILL be fired upon.”

You couldn’t help but smile as you pried your helmet off, as you wiped at a bit of your blood and grinned at a surprised face.

“Rose Lalonde, you wouldn’t dare shoot at your commanding officer,” you admonished.

This was good. They’d survived! Her and Jade!

“John! You- you look like Death!” Her normally impassive face was a mix of joy and concern.

“I hope not. Me and him, we had a disagreement,” you said, sitting in the cushy comms station seat. The concern on Rose’s face was almost palpable. “Got into a fistfight, made him look butt ugly. I won,” you continued. “Need a fighter escort, now,” you said.

“Are you ok-“

“Now, Rose. As in, five minutes ago, if possible.”

“Copy that. Needle out.”

You slumped back; let your helmet clatter to the deck as the shuttle bumped and rocked gently from Dave pushing the engines. You passed a glance his way, saw the Gorgon on the forward viewscreens- a dreadnought, it was laden with turrets, missile batteries, and so much hull plating it might as well have been a flying metal block.

“Don’t worry bro, we’ll hook your girlfriend back there up with some sweet life support,” you heard Dave try. “We got this shit on fucking lockdown, don’t you worry your bucktoothed face…”

Fatigue was setting in as Dave dodged debris and wrecked hulls- from your battle, or a new one?- and every time you blinked, it got a little harder to keep your eyes open afterwards.

Fucking clowns.

Your eyes closed, a smile on your face for whatever reason, and you passed out.

Chapter Text

The shaking of the docking clamps had woken you up, and you’d shoved the security team aside as you (very reluctantly) handed Vriska off to a medical team so you could step into the decontamination tube.

The de-con tube was a cylindrical room filled with all sorts of lasers, chemicals, and purge-fields to eliminate anything that might prove to be a contaminant in the ship. It had burned and stung all of the little cuts and scrapes and burns you’d accumulated during the last fight, but the blood at the very least was vaporized from your armour, and you’d shouldered aside the technicians and medics who’d tried to tend to you as you started towards the med-bay.

Vriska had tried to save you, had risked her life for your well-being without a thought to her own. You didn’t forget about things like that.

The only person you talked to was a concerned Rose, who met you shortly after you left de-con as you strode through the white-lit metal corridors of the Gorgon.

“John!”

You turned to the voice, but kept walking. She made her way to you through the small crowd following after you and matched your pace as you turned a corner.

“Rose!” You looked her up and down, almost crashing into an orderly in the process. Her short blonde hair bobbed at neck-length as she walked at your brisk pace, her purple eyes and lipstick standing out against her pale skin. The fact that she was wearing makeup wasn’t odd- the fact that she was suited up, her armour clean and fresh, was. She was an even 1.9 meters tall, and the helmet tucked under her left arm had a matching purple pair of lips painted on the mouth guard. Adorning her right pauldron was a Rod of Asclepius, denoting her as a medic. As far as you knew, she was the same age as you- 29.

“I retract my previous statement. You look like Death’s drunken slob of a father,” she said.

It was hard to tell from her quiet voice sometimes, but you knew she was joking. Of course those that didn’t know her didn’t know her own brand of subtle, sarcastic humour, and that had caused plenty of fights over the years- fights that Rose always came out on top of.

Little woman was scary sometimes.

“I’ll wash up when the missus comes home. You, on the other hand,” you replied, rapping a finger (and wincing as your shoulder flared in pain) on her chest armour, “…look like you’re about to head off to a party without your old pal Egbert.”

“We were about to send scouting parties down to retrieve the two of you,” she answered evenly, though you could see the concern in her eyes as she saw you wince. “Two crash sites, yes, but a destroyed munitions dump and EM flares from a nearby star base?” The corner of her mouth quirked up into a smirk as several crewmen saluted you as you passed. “I knew you two were simply stirring up more trouble, as usual.”

You gave her a tired grin. “We were bored! The Asgard was no fun,” you said as the med-bay doors slid open to admit you. Rose followed, but your hand stayed the advance of the crowd of technicians, orderlies, and medical aides trying to examine and question you.

“I’ll fucking say,” came a Texan twang. Sure enough, Dave was sitting on a med table, armour (or what was left of it) stripped down to his waist and bandages covering much of his torso. “No stripper poles, no bars, and the food came in these shitty little tubes that- ow!”

He winced, interrupted as Jade slapped him upside the head, her bucktoothed mouth frowning.

“Language, mister!”

Jade Harley, 28, was suited up similarly to Rose, a matching pair of buckteeth to yours painted on her nearby helmet and a bullseye on her pauldron- she was the team sniper. She was the most happy, upbeat, chipper little woman you knew- with her long, black, bushy hair and buckteeth, she was practically a giant squirrel at 2 meters tall. Piss her off, though, and she could put a bullet into your head from a mile and a half off in the middle of a sandstorm. Her rifle was taller than she was, and was so big, the charging lever on the left side doubled as a second handle.

You remembered trying to shoot it once. The bruises had taken a week to fade. How she dealt with it, you had no idea.

“Jade Harley, I just pissed off and then helped kill a 4 meter tall fucking death clown that was capable of punching the stupid grin off of John’s face,” he said.

“And? That doesn’t mean you need to curse like a sailor!”

Which was funny, because the Legion didn’t have sailors. Due to trolls having a natural affinity for and advantages in close combat, almost every soldier in the Legion- Archons included- was given cross-training in virtually every other field of the military. That meant that a ship, overcrewed as standard procedure, could take 75% casualties and still operate at a minimum of 75% efficiency. Theoretically, at least. Any given Legion trooper could patch his buddy up, repair the tank he’d been driving, pilot the tank himself, call in an airstrike to bomb whatever had destroyed the tank before, and then pilot the bomber itself- all thanks to the wonder that was near-instantaneous learning through neural lace. Muscle memory still needed to be built- learning-via-lace was by no means a replacement for training and sheer repetition- but the capability to perform was implanted in every soldier that passed basic training.

In the end, squad roles were taken up by those who liked to do them.

You left the two to their bickering- they sounded like a married couple already, hehe- as Kanaya came into view, her torn medicutioner robes replaced by a Coalition medic’s uniform. Stang, she’d gotten changed fast. Even her hair looked done up.

“Status update,” you said as she led you to Vriska’s bed. Not the most polite way to ask, maybe, but you were tired and you’d just gone through a David and Goliath situation, if David had punched Goliath to death in the back of the head.

“Weak, cull-worthy-“ Your eyes narrowed at that word, cull, “-but we are starting to pump in blood transfusions now. Her wounds are clean and bandaged, and she will live, though with some difficulty owing to her lack of an arm and-“

You waved your hand as you reached the bed, an effort to silence her as you looked over Vriska’s frail form. She was still breathing in shallow, slow and steady breaths. Her black bodysuit and armour had been discarded, and she wore a med-suit; a sort of sleeveless, legless unitard linked to the various medical equipments around her. Her skin was pale (for a troll), her eyes shut and her mouth still bearing a trace of her habitual scowl. She seemed so frail, so small compared to the ferocious woman who’d been cranking off crack shots like a gunslinger just a few hours ago. She barely took up the center third of the bed. Her shoulder had been bandaged- the strips of bio-adhesive nanite polymers would meld into her skin to seal the wounds in a clean fashion. It was like a slower, more thorough form of the synth flesh in field aid kits. You pulled up a seat, and Kanaya started speaking again.

“I would advise you obtain some rest, human, as she is weak and will not wake any time soon due to her rather large amount of lost-“

“I’ll wait.” You made sure your voice left no room for argument, and Kanaya, her lips pursed together and her eyes narrowed, left.

“And what has she done to deserve this attention you’re paying her now, hmm? John?” Rose’s hand was on your shoulder, squeezing the exposed bodysuit where your armour had been torn away.

“She’s the reason I’m not split in two on the planet surface right now,” you answered.

“Then it seems I owe her a great deal as well.”

You looked up to see Rose with a small smile, and gave her a tired one of your own in return.

“-hell to the fuck no am I wearing your doggy PJs, Harley!”

“But Daaave! I made them for yooou!!”

You and Rose just looked at each other for a minute before laughing at the outburst that suddenly rang through the med-bay.

“I suppose I should make sure those two don’t come to blows again,” Rose said, gliding away.

You shed your gauntlets, throwing the torn metal to beneath your chair before taking Vriska’s hand in yours. It was cool, limp- but you held on anyways.

The surge of adrenaline you’d felt from focusing on getting her to the medbay was passing now, the last dregs of it leaving you even more exhausted than before.

“Thanks, Vris,” you whispered, laying your head down on some of the vacant space on the bed. “But no way in hell am I leaving you alone after this.”

You smiled and you swear you saw that scowl deepen just a bit.

“I put on the PJs Jade, why the hell do I have to wear the ears too?!?” you heard Dave yell.

You closed your eyes with a grin.

---

“I understand the concept of efficiency just as well as any other troll, but would not having your own bed suit you far better than thieving the unused parts of hers?”

You jerked upright, awake from a quiet and even voice that much resembled Rose’s from nearby. You looked up, your neck more stiff than it was before (because let’s face it, everything in or on you was sore and stiff by this point) to see Kanaya leaning against a wall, arms crossed and wearing a poker face to match Dave’s.

You made a mental note never to play poker with her.

“I want to be here when she wakes up,” you replied just as carefully. You tried to wipe the cobwebs from your eyes. “How long have I been out?”

“A little over 2 day cycles,” she answered. “Most of which you spent snoring and muttering about clowns,” she added, a small and amused smile on her face.

“Fucking nookwhiffers,” you muttered.

It’s silent for a minute, the only sounds being that of boots in the nearby halls and the distant rumbling of the ship’s engines, before Kanaya speaks up again.

“Does she mean so much to you, that you feel obligated to wait on her until she opens her eyes again?”

God, why do women seem to like asking that question so much?

“Like I told Rose, yes, she does,” you answer curtly.

“I had asked her what your reply to her question was, but I had wanted to hear it for myself,” she said, moving to take a seat on the other side of Vriska’s bed. “Though, to be honest, you were more terse in response to my query than to hers,” she added as she took the seat and leaned forward, her chin resting on her interlocked hands as her jade lipstick-coated lips smiled once more.

Her fangs looked even more threatening than Vriska’s. Though, maybe that was bias speaking.

“It’s the truth, for whatever that may mean to you,” you say.

The most you’d spoken to Kanaya before now was a few short commands about aid for Vriska on Karthick- she was uncharted territory, and that warranted caution.

“It does not mean much until I see it demonstrated, Mr. Egbert.”

“Please, call me John. Mr. Egbert is my father.” SCORE! You’d been waiting to use that line for, like, ever! You resisted the urge to smile at the achieved witticism, because it would kinda ruin the effect.

“Very well…John.” She shifted, sitting back and crossing one leg over the other. “As she may have told you, I am her moirail- this means that-“

Oh! Troll quadrants. You’ve totally got this. You definitely didn’t, say, obsess over how cool the concept of hate-sex was. Or any of the other quadrants. Not at all.

“You are her balance. Her friend. Her other half. Something like that, at least.”

She blinked, perhaps surprised. “Yes, in a few words. I am surprised you know of what a moirail is, John,” she said.

You smiled mischievously at her. “Never underestimate a human, Ms. Maryam.”

“Please. Kanaya. If you are so intent on pursuing my moirail as a matesprit-“

You sputtered in an almost comedic manner. Kanaya’s eyes went wide.

“Is something the matter with my assumption?”

You laughed a bit awkwardly. I mean, you liked her, but matesprits? Vriska would never want that from a human like you. You had useless nubby fangs and you did nothing but make her curse at you and all manner of other things! You voiced as much to Kanaya.

It was her turn to laugh- a short, bark-like affair that was gone as quickly as it arrived. “John, I have known my moirail long enough to know when she’s flushed for another,” she said, smiling as she gestured a hand at Vriska. So…elegant! “And the sheer fact that she was willing to attempt to aid you in your moment of plight was no small thing. She has only ever looked out for herself…and occasionally I.” Her hand twisted back and came to rest on her own sternum. “In fact, you do seem the pitiable sort. Unless, of course, you do not feel the same way about her?”

“Well, maybe, I-“ you managed before you stopped yourself. Goddamnit John, you sound like a 13 year old again! And those were some weird times. “Yes, I do. But I still don’t know if she’d like what you’re thinking, or, for that matter, what I’m thinking,” you said more carefully.

“So be it. Think what you will, act how you will, but know this,” she said, standing and raising a single slender finger with a perfectly manicured nail. “If you hurt her, in any way whatsoever, I will see to it personally that you are held down whilst I saw your legs off.” She left no room for reply as she strode off. The door to the med-bay opened as your eyes tracked the sauntering troll, and you saw her meet with Rose, now dressed in a white lab coat.

You caught Rose’s eyes and she smiled at you quickly before the doors shut again.

You shivered as you sat back in your seat.

She seemed pleasant.

Chapter Text

Your name is Vriska Serket, and you’re bleeding heavily from the spot your left arm used to occupy, and your moirail Kanaya is staring at you with horror on her face, and that idiot John is leaking vision bulb fluid onto your face- tears, right, that’s what humans call it.

At least, that what you last remembered before passing out from what you assume was blood loss.

Right now, you’re lying in a comfortable bed, wires and tubes are connected to your torso and arms- correction, arm- and that idiot John is still at your side, only passed out and not leaking tears.

The room is lit by bright white lights, and all around you are shelves of medical equipment you don’t recognize. Something is beeping in slow, steady tones, and is hooked up to your right arm. You were wearing some weird white unitard thing, and…John was holding onto your hand like a grub.

You tried to move it, scowling as he resisted at first, but you were persistent and soon, your hand was free. Your persistence had the added effect of rousing John from his sleep.

He blinked a few times, yawning and rubbing at his eyes, and you felt your scowl soften- not by choice, mind you, you’re just surprised he’s still here.

And at how wrecked he looks.

His face is cut and scratched all over, though he’s not bleeding. It’s also covered in stubble, and the parts of his armour you can see- mainly the shoulders and upper torso- are torn up and beaten- and some of it’s been ripped completely off, as in smaller chunks and almost the entirety of his left shoulder and upper arm armour had been torn off to expose the back body suit beneath.

And he’s grinning his stupid bucktoothed grin at you as you look him over.

“Vriska!”

You can’t help but notice how pitiable his voice sounds, all rough and scratchy from disuse.

“No, John, I’m the pixie guardian of Pupa Pan,” you shoot back.

That just made him grin wider. “I have no idea who that is, but you’re awake, so it’s okay,” he said, his voice starting to sound more normal again.

“Of cooooooourse you wouldn’t know, your culture sucks,” you replied. Your own voice was quiet. “How long was I out?” you asked, bringing your arm up to snatch a wayward bit of hair and shove it back into place behind your ear.

“It’s been a week since Karthick,” he says. “Hold on, I’ll go get Kanaya!”

As he stood to leave, you closed your eyes and let your head fall back onto the pillow with a groan. A full week? Nookmunching clown had taken a lot out of you.

And, as you looked to your stump of a left arm, a lot off of you as well.

The wound was clean, a smooth stump that didn’t even show any discolouration. It was sore, but then again, a lot of you was, and itchy. You tried to reach a claw over to scratch at it, but the wires and tubing prevented you from doing so.

You scowled and pointed at the machinery as that doofus John brought back your moirail, his grin still huge.

“Hey, do me a reeeeeeeeally big favour and-“ you managed before Kanaya washed over you in a maternal deluge.

“How are you feeling? Has your temperature returned to normal? Has John touched you anywhere inappropriate-“

“Hey!”

“How is your arm- or, rather, lack thereof? Are you-“ she went on, oblivious to John’s interruption before you interrupted her yourself.

“Quit it, fussyfangs, and unhook me already. I’m fiiiiiiiine,” you said to her.

She fixed you with a venomous glare and pursed her lips. “No, you are not, as you say, “fiiiiiiiine,” Vriska. You are still recuperating from the sheer amount of blood we have had to replace, your-“

“Fussyfangs. Quit. It.” You tried to give her your worst scowl as she started poking your horn with a claw to make sure it’s still intact or something.

Kanaya tutted before withdrawing. “Very well, if you insist.” She turned to John, pointed a perfectly manicured claw at him. Little dramatic fashion queen. “See to it that nothing befalls her in my absence.”

John gave her a smile and a mock salute. “You got it, Kanaya!” That annoying voice you’d come to enjoy hearing had come back in full force.

Kanaya sauntered off (“Hey! Wires! Tube dealies! C’moooooooon!” But she’d ignored you) as John pulled his chair up closer, his blue eyes practically sparkling.

“So how’re you feeling?”

You sighed dramatically before shooting back a reply. “John. You were here a few seconds ago when I said I was fine, right?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“Just go ahead. I’ll give you a moment to rewind time for a few moments in your head and re-watch my answer.” You paused for a moment, and though you could hear giggles welling up in John’s throat, you continued. “Okay? Good. Now, what did I say? Did it sound like “I’m fine?” Because that’s what I am, John. Peeeeeeeerfectly fine.”

He was all out giggling now, making snorting noises like the adorkable idiot he was. “Okay, okay! A guy’s gotta make sure, y’know?”

You felt like punching him. Had those blasted wires not interfered…well, you still probably wouldn’t have, but that’s beside the point, you wanted to.

“Joooooooohn, quit being so pitiable. It’s…”

“C’mon. You know you love this awkwardly smexy body,” he said, gesturing with both hands at his battered armour.

“I…I…ug…” you sputtered before throwing your pillow at him. A wire disconnected and a machine beeped a sepulchral tone before John dived for it and reconnected the two.

“Be careful!” he said, grinning. “Kanaya’ll have my head if she thinks I’m not taking care of you!”

“And why does she think that I, the amaaaaaaaazing Vriska Serket, need a babysitter?” You sat up, taking the pillow John had picked up and given back to you and putting it behind your back for comfort. “If anything, I should be the one lording myself over you!” You gestured with your arm at your bed. “Go on, I’ll give you a moment to bask in my glory.”

He laughed, a clear peal like the indoctrination hall’s bell, tossing his head back as he did so. “Kanaya’s got it in her head that we’re going to be matesprits, so I can’t exactly let you die on me!”

Wait, what?

Matesprits?

WHAT?!?

“She…Kanaya…she said what?” Your voice was quiet. Angry quiet. Restrained quiet.

John, the poor fool, didn’t know that.

“Well, she said that the way you were acting, and the way I was acting, we’d be…um…Vriska, you’re bending the support rail,” he said, his tone changing from jesting to concerned and hesitant as your hand grasped and started bending the metal support jutting up from the side of the bed.

You could feel the heat on your face. Blushing was an understatement.

“Noooooooo, John!!!!!!!!” You threw the pillow at him again. “Make no mistake, I do NOT want to be your matesprit! I hate you! I hate the way your voice sounds! I hate the way you smile at me all the time like I’m some wiggler! I hate how your grin is always so gogdamn happy! I hate how you dote on me like a grub! I hate-“

“Vriska…” he tried unsuccessfully.

Oh, but you weren’t done making a fool of yourself yet. With how loud you were yelling, it was a wonder Kanaya hadn’t come running yet. The tirade was sudden and it was piercing, and you had no idea what made you snap at the man.

“I hate how you make me feel! Like I’m a gogdamned six sweep old! I hate how you keep making me blush, how you keep looking at me like I fucking matter to you!” An accusatory finger jabbed at his chest plate. It hurt- claw vs. metal plating was a pretty mismatched fight- but you weren’t through yet. “I hate how I care about you, how I want to you to be safe and okay all the gogdamned time! I hate you, John Egbert! I hate you!”

Your voice had been getting quieter and quieter throughout the second part of your deluge of hate and feelings. He was silent, looking at you with those wide blue eyes.

 “I hate you, John Egbert,” you whimpered, feeling the added burden and heat of tears on your cheeks. They felt like fire.

Well!

He was silent, and you looked away- you couldn’t stand to look at him, he’d probably burst into an idiotic grin or try to make a joke or he’d drag you into his big arms and hold you like he was suddenly doing now.

You tried to struggle, but he just held on. He was an armoured giant, but his arms held you in the softest embrace of your entire 14 sweeps that, despite surrounding you with cold metal plating, made you feel warm on the inside. He made shooshing noises like you were a wiggler that still needed her lusus to pap her to sleep.

Not that yours had ever done that, but that was beside the point.

A lot of things were beside the point.

“It’s okay,” the dork whispered to you as Kanaya came into view. You couldn’t see her face through the blurriness of your tears. “I hate me too,” he continued in a jovial tone.

You almost smiled before realizing that was exactly the sort of thing he did! “Stop being so gogdamned pitiable,” you said as you tried to punch him in the ribs. He giggled again, gogdamn him, as you hissed and retracted your hand.

“Yeah, I’m kinda still covered in metal,” he laughed before lying you back down. You glared at him with what had to be the most hateful, spiteful expression you could manage at the moment, what with your lips pursed and your eyes leaking vision bulb fluid (re: no hate or spite managed to make it through whatsoever).

Kanaya chose that moment to come forward, a smug look on her face as she addressed John.

“You promised me you would go clean up when she awoke, and it would seem to me she has awoken in quite a satisfactory manner,” she said, sparing you an amused glance as you flipped her off.

John grinned sheepishly and checked his own armour out before nodding. “Yeah, these greaves were kinda getting itchy anyways.”

Idiot.

He looked at you with a smile. “I’ve got to go, but I’ll be back after I’ve handled some other stuff!” He started to head for the door before turning back with a grin. “And I’ll even be wearing my civvies so you can punch me without hurting yourself!”

Kanaya shooed him and you laid your head back down before feeling her presence hovering over you. You opened one eye to affix her with a hate glare and saw her face covered in the most drippy, smug expression ever.

“Well, I believe that went as well as anything you are involved in tends to go,” she said, checking your wound.

You gave her the finger before closing your eyes again.

Chapter Text

Your name is John Egbert, and you are starving.

As Rose would remind you, however, you were not really starving- just very, very hungry. Despite the no-food policy in the med-bay- which Kanaya was now working in under Rose’s tutelage- Rose had sneaked you ration cubes so you could keep your strength up to stay by Vriska’s bedside.

In the end, though, ration cubes didn’t actually fill you up- they just kept you supplied with all of the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and what have you to keep yourself from starving out in the field. They were tasteless, minimal in size, and produced no waste- but they left you still feeling hungry afterwards.

At least they were chewy!

So the first thing you did after leaving the med bay was to go get food, because after a week on ration cubes, the fried-cheese-wrapped-in-more-fried-cheese deliciousness that was the chupaqueso was maddeningly tempting. A friend had explained the concept to you, though you hadn’t seen them in a while- probably off being a hero or trying to invade Alternia alone or something.

The mess hall was crowded, and you drew more than a few odd looks as you entered the line. You were a 2 and a half meter tall cyborg giant wearing battle-scarred Aegis armour with a grin plastered on your face- the Asgard had gotten used to you, but the Gorgon had yet to know you. Some tried to get little looks at the new Archon, others tried to glace at you when they thought you weren’t looking- a few just flat out stared.

As it turned out, a good half of Second Fleet had made it out of the system alive, returning with more ships and the entirety of Ninth Fleet, of which the Gorgon was the flagship. Fourth Fleet was going to jump in soon, and the battle group- designated Broadsword- would jump to Lowas for the originally planned assault.

You, as leader of the present Archons and indeed, all of Arca Company, would be at the frontlines.

As you left the food lines, you heard a Texan accent calling for your name.

“Yo, Egderp, over here.”

Your eyes scanned the sea of familiar faces before picking out a shock of blonde hair and shades in the back. Though the hall was filled, he sat alone. He was wearing a pair of combat boots and a crew uniform, the black outfit contrasting with his pale skin and hair.

You heard your names whispered around you as you sat across from Dave and dug in, the deliciously cheesy good-ness on your plate getting jammed into your mouth as quickly as you could manage it. Your helmet clattered onto the table, forgotten in the flurry of face-stuffing that was now occurring on your part.

“Dude, I cleaned up for you back on Karthick,” he said, rapping a knuckle on your armour. “At least try to do it yourself this time.”

You washed the chupaqueso down with some apple juice before grinning at him. “Dude, it was either change or eat, and I haven’t technically eaten in a week!” You started on your fruit cup next. “’Sides, this was closer,” you mumbled past a mouthful of fruit.

“Alright, man, just slow down, people are staring,” Dave said.

“They were doing that when I walked in,” you reminded him.

“Well, yeah, someone up top leaked my helmet footage of you punching a giant super clown to death.”

You frowned. “Who the hell did that? That’s court martial material right there,” you said, tearing into another chupaqueso.

“It was gonna get released for morale anyways, bro,” Dave said, “…it’s just that the someone who sliced it out was someone we know. A certain sociopathic medic.”

“Why would Rose do that?”

Dave shrugged. “Beats me, bro, but the crew love you for it. Just listen to ‘em.”

It wasn’t hard- your ear implants picked out strand after strand of conversation, and they all sounded one of two different ways: it was either something about you punching a space clown of doom to death with your bare fists, or something about you spending a week straight in med bay with a troll chick.

“At least four guys came by cheering me on,” Dave continued, “…and at least half the damned mess hall’s women want a piece of me now.” He rubbed at his left arm. “Jade gave me a wicked fucking punch before you got here.”

“Huh. Well, be careful man, you know how good she is with her rifle!”

Dave scowled- near imperceptibly, were it not for how well you knew him. “Don’t remind me,” he muttered.

Once again- long story short, you were both drunk on leave and Jade had caught wind of your shenanigans.

A lot of stuff seemed to happen when you two were drunk.

You pushed the tray aside after you finished eating and tried to change the subject.

“So, anyone we know in Fourth Fleet?”

“Yeah. Equius is tagging along with an arm for your girlfriend and some parts for your broke suit,” Dave answered, looking at you over the top of your lenses. “Shit, I don’t remember that fucker taking so many chunks out of it,” he said, his eyes scanning your armour.

“You were pretty busy not getting crushed to death by his fists,” you pointed out.

“How’s your girlfriend doing, anyhow? I’m assuming you’re here is because you needed a break from all the crazy alien sex.”

You laughed, gave Dave a playful punch on the arm. “Daaave! She just woke up, man!”

“Don’t get me wrong bro, I’ll be your wingman, but if I have to deal with any tentacles, it’s on your head,” he continued. “So, she just woke up, huh? Get a marriage proposal from her yet?”

“Well, the troll equivalent, yeah,” you said. You stood, one hand holding your tray and the other holding your helmet. “But dude, I’m gonna go shower or something.”

“What? Egbert, you just slapped me in the face with the biggest bro-tease ever and now you’re just gonna up and bail? Not cool, man.”

You laughed. “I’ll tell you all of the crazy sex stories later, promise!”

You disposed of your tray and headed out amidst murmurs and rumours concerning you, Dave, and Vriska, but you didn’t particularly care about them as you strode out with your helmet under one arm.

What you did care about, however, was the sudden appearance of Rose at your side as you left the mess hall.

“Crazy sex stories? In my med bay? John, you naughty boy.”

You’d nearly jumped at the voice coming from behind you- sneaky fucking ninja woman! She kept pace with you, her unbuttoned white lab coat flapping behind her. Her pink blouse and black slacks made you jealous for how comfortable they looked- the bodysuit was starting to chafe in all the wrong places.

“Oh yeah, crazy tentacles and slime everywhere Rose,” you replied, smiling at her. “I’d get a crewman to take a mop to it sometime soon before it starts to get sticky everywhere if I were you.”

“John, you and I both know that there is only one thing in the troll biology that even remotely resembles a tentacle, and only the men have them,” she said in her trademark snarky tone.

“Yeah? And how do you know what the females have got down there?”

For the first time in weeks, Rose didn’t shoot back a snarky reply- she merely blushed and looked away. “Medical examinations,” she muttered.

“You don’t medically examine women in your quarters, Rose,” you reminded her.

She laughed. “That aside, I trust your friend is okay?”

“Vriska? Yeah, she just woke up a little while ago!” You scratched at the itchy stubble on your cheek. “It was a tough decision between food and hygiene after that.”

“I see food won,” she said as the two of you stepped into a maglift.

“Well, as delicious as those flavourless, chewy wonder cubes are,” you said, laughing, “…they don’t exactly fill me up the way a normal meal does.”

The lift was quick- you emerged onto the crew deck a few seconds later.

Rose had further business to attend to (lord alone knew what that meant with Rose) and split from your company at the first junction- which was all right, considering your quarters were in the opposite direction she was heading.

Not a second had passed after the door had closed and locked before you were stripping your armour off, tossing the pieces into loose piles before peeling off the body suit and stepping into a hot shower.

You loved the feel, the warmth of each drop as you also felt the stinging of the cuts and bruises.

And you thought of Vriska.

She’d been so vulnerable, so fragile in those moments as she had spilled herself onto you. You were happy she felt that way- but it’d been so long since you’d last been in a relationship with anyone that you didn’t know what to do now (troll or human, female or otherwise).

You cared for her, you wanted to see her happy or, at the very least, content- and you’d been truly afraid that she wasn’t going to make it after seeing how much blood she’d lost.

Thank god for modern medical technology!

You resolved to take her out somewhere nice the next time you were on leave.

Chapter Text

Your name is Vriska Serket, and you’re currently being fitted for a robotic prosthesis by a childhood friend.

Equius was much the same as the last time you had seen him all those sweeps ago on Alternia before getting conscripted- long, silky smooth black hair; cracked, black, rectangular shades; broken teeth; a broken horn that, were it still intact, would look like an arrowhead much like the other one. He was dressed in a grey tank top, his engineering overalls down to the waist and tied off.

“Egdork punched you through a wall?” Your voice was skeptical as Equius tightened some bolts.

“Several, in fact,” he answered. His baritone voice was low and smooth. “Avert your eyes, please,” he said, tossing aside the wrench and grabbing a plasma torch.

You obeyed, looking to John, but he looked away to avoid the blinding light of the plasma. There was the smell of ozone and burning rubber as a few sparks jumped around in the corner of your eye. The scene was unfolding in the med bay- your temporary quarters until the procedure was done. It was nearly empty- but would fill soon as the planetary assault on Lowas took place.

You were to be quartered with John after the battle.

Speaking of John, your doofus of a matesprit (potential? Confirmed?) had rather infuriatingly decided, regardless of how much you told him not to, to show up to your arm fitting. He had argued his point of “I want to see my hot alien girlfriend become my hot cyborg alien girlfriend” and you had finally consented last minute. You could hardly keep from indulging him, could you? He and his dorky grin had shown up every day without fail at the same time at your bedside in the med bay, bringing with him games and vids (21st century actor Nic Cage: swoooooooon) to keep you company. You guessed you could let this one time slide.

It was only fitti-

You mentally slapped yourself for that.

Over the past few days, Kanaya and the Rose human had managed to fit a neuro-link interface onto you for your arm and a neural lace into your head- hell, fussyfangs had yelled at you not to scratch at the lace constantly until it had set in and healed.

“There,” Equius said as the sparks ended. “Now, please be patient while I upload the software.”

“Wait, that’s it?” You risked a glance at what was to be your new arm as John came up for a closer look.

“Not quite,” Equius replied, hooking wires up to the neuro-link and pulling up a terminal.

Not quite indeed.  The synthetic muscles, black and corded, still had bits of wire coming from various areas, and some of the muscles were only connected on one end. You had decided to add an armoured sheathe to it composed of carbon nanotubes, both because it would be more protective and because it looked far more badass.

“It’ll look like mine when it’s done, then?” John poked at it, his face intrigued, his blue eyes inquisitive.

“Again, not quite,” Equius said as he took a moment to re-adjust his shades before starting to type away at the keyboard. “You had opted for synthetic muscle replacement and a subdermal layer of plating. Ms. Serket, on the other hand,” he said as he connected one of the loose muscle ends to the elbow, “…must have an entire arm replaced. Yours could pass for natural, if only at a distance; hers will not.”

“Battle scars are hot,” you muttered.

John laughed. “I already told you before,” he said, looking at you. You felt one of his hands grasp yours. You let him. “Hot. Cyborg. Alien. Girlfriend.”

“I never said I was your girlfriend!” you shot back. He just grinned at you. “Dork.”

It was a few more minutes before Equius snipped all the loose wire ends and attached all of the muscles. Connecting the last one, one of the muscles in the hand, he disconnected the cables and stood up. He took a step back and motioned for John to do the same before gesturing at you.

“Please. Test your new attachment.”

You hopped off of the bed, your uncovered feet touching the cold deck with a soft noise.

It…it felt odd, having an arm again after a few weeks without one. You’d spent one of those weeks unconscious, but still. It somehow felt more fluid, more flexible. You sent it through a whole range of motions- overhead, across, flailing it around like an idiot- before focusing on the hand.

You could see each individual “muscle” and “bone” twitch and move as you clenched and unclenched your fingers.

You tested it a bit more before giving Equius a thumbs up. “I can dig it,” you said, smirking as John smiled.

“I am glad you can “dig it,” but I must still attach the plating you requested,” Equius said, picking up a curved piece of dark grey metal from his mobile station and hefting it.

“So continue. You were telling me about how he punched you through some walls like a weaksauce grub,” you said as he began to attach the plating.

John had been sent to board and destroy a cavalreaper ship that had rammed his previous ship, the Asgad or something like that, single handedly (inwardly, you were a little impressed. But just a little). Equius had been on the engineering deck and had tried to stop John from planting microfusion charges that would destroy the ship once it had been pushed out of the hull.

Equius had subsequently been punched through several walls as part of a massive fight the two had relished- the blue-eyed giant vs. the ludicrously strong blueblood- but in the end, John had prevailed. Equius had insisted that John kill him for his failure to defend his station, but John had cold-cocked him and dragged him back to the brig.

In the time since, he- once a staunch supporter of the hemocaste system- had come to realize how stupid it all was. John had persuaded him to enlist in the Legion and specialize as an engineer.

“And now we chill like bros and blow up robots and stuff,” John said, concluding the tale as Equius laid more plating on the hand. He rapped a finger on the- your- new arm. “And now we can go do that too!”

Which reminded you of another thing.

“I can totally one-shot people now, riiiiiiiight?” You let go of John’s hand- wow, you’d been holding onto it for, like, a half an hour now- and tapped Equius on the tip of his unbroken horn.

“Your arm is capable of lifting roughly one metric ton of weight and could conceivably punch a hole straight through the wall beside your bed,” he answered.

You smirked as you considered the implications.

“There. It is done,” Equius said, taking a step back to admire his own handiwork.

You clenched and unclenched the hand, turning with a wicked smile to John. “So, I can come with you when you assault Lowas, right?” You started batting your visual bulbs’ lashes at him; it got him every time. You think. “Dearest…erm, what did you call me? Girlfriend?”

John kept a straight face, looking at you for a few moments before laughing at you, and you scowled in return. “What?”

“That has a female connotation. I’m your boyfriend,” he said. Insufferable grin!!!!!!!! “But I guess so, I don’t see why not.” He crossed his arms before saying, “Only if you feel up for it, though.”

You rolled your visual bulbs- eyes, humans called them eyes, stop calling them that- hard enough to roll them right out of your cranial sockets. He took the hint, his hands up in surrender.

“Alright, alright! But we need to get you some more armour first,” he said. “That reminds me,” he said, striding off.

What the hell was the idiot doing now?

You played with your new arm a bit more before Equius made a choking noise.

“What is it, Eq-“ you managed before you saw.

John was coming back with a stout sort of open container with a handle on the top.

In other words, a bucket.

He was grinning as he handed you the bucket.

That word kept running through your head. Bucket. Bucket. Bucket. Buck-

“J-John!” you said, throwing your nearby pillow at his head. He ducked it and it landed somewhere on the other side of the room. “Wh-what the hell! We only just-“ You managed some more sputtering. Your face felt like it was on fire from how hard you were flushed right now.

He looked confused- what, what was there about a bucket that was confusing, you don’t even- before a look of realization crossed his face.

“Ooooooooh, right, buckets are, like, sexual for you,” he said as you gestured frantically at the infernal thing. Equius was wiping at himself with a towel, but it wasn’t helping. He was breathing rather heavily and looked like he might pass out.

“No fucking shiiiiiiiit, Egderp!”

But he just grinned again before setting it down and reaching into it.

Oh gog what what was he doing what was he pulling out

“I found your old uniform coat, though!”

Wait. What?

You repeated the phrase out loud.

“Well, the quartermaster was going to incinerate it, but I bargained with him and got your coat and boots back all clean and stuff!”

Sure enough, he pulled your coat out- bloodless but still missing the left sleeve from where the projexecutioner had sliced it off. What was odd, though, was that all of the other holes had been patched and fixed. Rather badly, you noted.

“I also tried making it look, you know, not like crap, so you could wear it again,” he said, his face sheepish as he pulled out your red boots too. He rather tactfully tucked the bucket bucket bucket bucket bu- gogdamnit, get a hold of yourself! He tucked the bucket underneath your bed (okay, that actually wasn’t tactful, John).

You could feel the raging inferno in your cheeks recede a bit as you looked over the garment.

This was actually…really thoughtful. You couldn’t remember the last time someone had done something this nice for you. You think it might have been when Fussyfangs had sewn you a dress, but that was a while ago.

“I…um…thank you, John,” you managed, eliciting his grin again. He nodded before giving Equius a playful pat on the arm.

“Relax, buddy, no pailing today,” he said.

Equius let out a small gasp before crashing to the deck.

You and John leaned over him to make sure he was still breathing. You smacked John on the arm. “You broke him!”

He smiled at you. “I’m sorry!” He paused for a second before speaking again. “You know, Vris, if he’s asleep…we could…you know…” His eyebrows waggled up and down.

You slapped him in the face, feeling your cheeks burn again.

“Ouch! I was just joking! Geez!” he said, laughing.

Chapter Text

Your name is John Egbert and you’re currently strapped into a drop pod (Single Occupant Orbital Insertion Pod. Thanks, Head Rose, geez) awaiting the order to launch.

The egg-shaped pod was covered in shielding and a layer of nano-ceramic plating that was designed to burn away on entry to provide extra sensor chaff. Maneuvering flaps and an accelerating thruster graced the top of the pod, and a ring of retro burners lined the nose.

They were dangerous- you could burn up on entry, or land in a lake or a canyon or hit the side of a mountain- but they had proven a worthwhile endeavour in the past and so you were now poised to drop onto Lowas with Dave and Vriska to investigate some strange, massive energy signature and ascertain the reason it was going off like a strobe-light.

Vriska grinned at you from inside her helmet- she’d been given a modified Aegis suit so she could use it without hurting herself, though tying all of her hair into a braid had been a nightmare (Jade had helped, as her own unruly mane had forced her to the same measures).

“Niiiiiiiifty,” she said.

The pod shuddered, mirroring the rest of the ship- mid-battle, the Gorgon was trying to put the hurt on as many Alternian ships as possible to clear a hole for the drop pods.

As for Vriska…well, it hadn’t really been discussed between the two of you, your status as matesprits. It had just sort of….happened. At first, the two of you had been what looked like friends- you visited her, you entertained her, you kept her company. You don’t know when it had shifted to something more intimate; at some point, you had gotten to handholding and grudging public admissions.

Not like it mattered. You had her, and that was what counted.

The pod rocked again as you reviewed your mission objectives on the team commnet.

CPT John Egbert started mission log Operation Marathon

John Egbert: okay, let’s just go over this one more time!

JE: especially considering i spent the briefing planning a date with vriska

Vriska Serket: Without my input? Ruuuuuuuude!

Dave Strider: and i spent it asleep

JE: you should probably work on that, dave!

DS: i fucking would if you two nutjobs didnt spend all of my sleep cycle watching shitty vids and giggling

VS: We’ve 8een doing faaaaaaaar more than that, Dave! >:::;)

DS: oh fuck no i dont want to hear that shit

JE: but dave! you said you wanted me to tell you my crazy alien sex stories!

DS: fuck that shit ill just go watch shitty porn if i want shitty sex stories

You snickered. You and Vriska hadn’t actually done anything like that- the farthest you’d gone was cuddling and watching vids. Dave, however, quartered in the next hab unit over, didn’t know that.

VS: Alriiiiiiiight! Enough of that. John, 8riefing, stat.

JE: sensors have been picking up massive EM spikes somewhere there shouldn’t be any- namely, the middle of buttfuck, nowhere.

VS: >::::D

DS: god fucking damnit

JE: we’re getting split off from the main invasion force and checking this disturbance out.

JE: last thing out fleet needs in an orbital cannon or some crap shooting at us from down there!

DS: sounds legit but is it just us

JE: as far as i know, yeah.

You were a bit sad Jade and Rose wouldn’t be joining you, but they had to lead the main assault on the capital city.

VS: Big deeeeeeeeal! Some8ody pro8a8ly left the lights on or something!

JE: let’s hope so! last thing i need is another fistfight with a death clown!

VS: Why, John! You don’t want to duel highbloods for the hoooooooonour of courting me?

DS: cut the flirting its making me sick over here

You snickered again. Dave was happy for you, you knew that, but the man had odd ways of showing it.

JE: any highbloods we meet won’t be a problem anyways! jade reverse-engineered a copy of the zeus from the schematics dave brought back.

DS: how many of those do we have?

JE: one, and i’ve got it.

DS: bullshit

VS: 8ullshiiiiiiiit!

JE: i called dibs, so you two can go ahead and suck it! >:B

VS: Why, John! So forward!

DS: not this shit again

The pod shuddered, kept shuddering this time- you were being moved into position for launch.

JE: alright people, let’s lock and load! shoot anything that isn’t wearing power armour and try to conserve ammo.

JE: we don’t know what’s down there.

DS: yippee ki yay motherfuckers

There was more rocking, some clanking- for obvious reasons, the drop pods didn’t have windows- and the pod shook one last time before you felt the familiar sensation of vertigo as it launched.

You were in free fall for only a few seconds- 5 at most- before you felt the frame of the pod reverberate from the acceleration.

The roar coming from outside the pod was deafening, the heat rising steadily- you could even feel it through the temperature compensators in the bodysuit. The shuddering wouldn’t stop, not until you landed, but a sudden jolt to the left told you when the course change for your fire team’s pods was.

Your neural lace pinged and you had a second’s warning before a private commlink was opened with you.

SPC Vriska Serket opened a private commlink with CPT John Egbert

VS: Soooooooo……..

VS: You said you were planning a d8!

VS: Care to share the details with your lovely matesprit, Egdork? >::::)

JE: well, i’m due for leave after this op, so i thought, well, why not?

JE: especially since i embarrassed you with that whole bucket thing!

JE: so when dave and i go on leave, i’m taking you with me!

JE: besides, Legion Special Operations delegated you to my command! so technically, i could order you to come with me anyways! >:B

VS: Joooooooohn……..

VS: While I find that disgustingly sweet…

VS: And funny! You’re neeeeeeeever going to 8e able to order me around >:::P

VS: That is also amazingly vague.

JE: well, you’ll see! it’s going to be a surprise!

VS: John. You can’t keep secrets from me.

VS: I know all of the secrets! Aaaaaaaall of them!

JE: not this one! hehe.

JE: brace for impact!

VS: I’m not done with this yet, Egdork! We’ll talk laaaaaaaater!

JE: i look forward to it. >;B

You braced, straightening up and tensing for the impact the timer in your visor told you was happening in 00:00:08. You jolted upwards, feeling your jaw being forced up from the sheer force of the retro thrusters on the bottom of the pod firing.

There was a bone-shaking impact that threw you forward and cracked your helmet against the other side of the pod, then…nothing. All was still.

You grunted, shaking your head as you straightened back out.

JE: everyone make it down okay?

VS: I’m fiiiiiiiine. 20 meters north of your position. I think I can see your pod!

DS: 92 meters north west

JE: rv at my position.

DS: fatass whats wrong with coming to us

You set the primers for the explosive pins on the hatch, hitting the helpfully-blinking studs with your fist.

With a loud and short crack, the pins detonated and the door was flung from the pod, coming to a clattering halt a few meters away as you extricated yourself from the vehicle. Your weapons were already stored on the suit, but you bent down to retrieve the Zeus MK II from its storage locker beneath your seat. The weapon was smaller now, maybe a meter from barrel to butt and possessing much of the same design. It now, however, featured a scope mounted on a rail, and ran off of power cells. Using it now no longer ran the risk of having it detonate in your face. It folded away, the rectangular body opening up to swallow up the stock, and you attached the weapon to a magnetic plate on your back before unfolding your rifle.

You turned around and took in the landscape, pulling your visor up and taking in what you saw.

You’d managed to land on a few dozen meters away from a body of water. Odd alien trees grew from dark liquid, and blue foliage carpeted the area around what was a small lake.

The ground beneath your feet was dark blue, to the point of almost being purple, and light grass, also blue, grew to maybe ankle length. The sky overhead was a lighter shade of the same colour, with pinpricks of light shining through wherever the grey clouds overhead didn’t obscure the sky. Sheer cliff faces and mountains rose off in the distance, with sharp pillars of light brown rock standing tall in the interim. You could see a few winding rivers of the same black liquid flowing. A breeze rolled across the land and ruffled your hair.

“While I like the colour,” a voice said behind you, “…this place is stiiiiiiiill kinda creepy. Wouldn’t you say?”

You turned to the source of the voice to see Vriska, visor up with one hand on her armoured hip and the other holding her gun aloft. She’d opted for a Stinger MK III SMG- fast, loud, and compact, it mirrored your matesprit well. It worked on the same principles as your Fang- but it traded accuracy and stopping power for sheer volume of fire. Instead of the standard issue Incisor MK VI pistol, she’d taken another Stinger and it was in a holster attached to her left thigh. A matching one adorned her right.

“John. Staring’s ruuuuuuuude,” she said, smirking at you as she holstered her smg and sauntered towards you. “And you’ve yet,” she continued in a hissing whisper as she circled around you, a gauntleted hand running across your back, “…to tell me about our impending date!”

You turned your head to grin at her. “Wouldn’t be much of a surprise if I told you, now, would it? Vris?”

Her expression soured as she took a step back, hands on her hips. “You’re no fuuuuuuuun, Egdork!”

Another breeze rolled by, its fingers just barely touching against your cheeks as it passed. “Of course I am! It’s the only reason you still tolerate me,” you responded. A bright point of light flared overhead- a capital ship reactor going critical- and judging from the lack of comm chatter on your end, it was an Alternian vessel.

“Hmph!” she said before her expression softened. She sauntered closer, somehow managing to make her armour-plated hips sway as she closed the already-short distance between the two of you. A hand came up; a finger traced your grinning buckteeth as she slipped in close, her face just a few inches from yours. Her fangs still shone just as bright, but they seemed huge now as she smiled at you. Despite being suited up for war, she still wore her cerulean blue lipstick. Your eyes traced the webwork of scars she had, needle-thing lines only marginally lighter than her blue-tinged grey skin that one could only ever see from this close, all the way to hers. Golden rings encompassed all eight of her blue pupils, and her eyes bore the mascara and eyeliner she habitually wore. Even prepped for combat, she still wore makeup. You could smell something sweet that you couldn’t identify on her breath as her lips parted and she whispered, “That’s not the only reas-“

“Yo, I hate to interrupt the crazy alien sex party, but we’ve got a power source to check out.”

Vriska reeled, drawing her intoxicating self away from you as a Texan twang pierced the moment. Her face hardened as she and you both turned to see Dave coming around a bend, Fang in hand and impassive face in position. The path he was on was barely noticeable, the blue of the dirt blending in with the surrounding rock with the ease of a chameleon.

You swallowed as Vriska clamped her visor down and drew her smg, nodding to Dave as he, then you followed suit.

JE: yeah. i suppose we should get moving. i’ll take point. Vriska, center; Dave, cover our rear.

DS: damn straight i got the rear covered

VS: Copy that.

SPC Vriska Serket opened a private commlink with CPT John Egbert

VS: We will resume this discussion l8r! >:::;)

Chapter Text

Your trio of landing sites was about a kilometer away from the objective- a distance which, running, would take your team at most a couple of minutes- if the objective wasn’t also a kilometer and a half below you.

Stupid topographical maps being wrong.

It actually wasn’t long before you found a path marked with strange carvings- two wavy lines, identical to each other with one on top of the other. It wasn’t troll-made; it was too rough, too primitive. The three of you chalked it down to natives and, because it seemed to go down instead of up, you took the path. It led you through a rocky corridor to a cliff, and in the distance, you could see your objective: some sort of structure.

“It looks like it’s pretty fucking old, John. You sure that’s what we need to check out?” Dave was the first to voice the doubt that you were all probably feeling, his visor coming back as more wind buffeted the cliff face below.

“That’s where the EM pulses are, so yeah!” You slid your visor back in kind, as did Vriska. “Maybe the Empire put something in them?”

“Well, it is the only structure around for miiiiiiiiles. It would make sense.” She smirked. “Maybe those musty old ruins have got something vaaaaaaaaluable in ‘em!”

“Could be. It’d explain why that ship’s landing,” Dave said.

Your eyes whipped up from the holographic map being projected from your palm to the ship in question swooping down in the distance- with a heavily armoured, pointed fore and a cluster of massive engines mounted aft-ward, it was easily identifiable as a cavalreaper frigate.

The vessel became bigger and bigger in your sight, descending towards and finally hovering over the ruins in the distance. Hatches, bathed in light, opened in the blocky mid-section of the ship and troops began deploying.

Vriska winced as the sonic boom from the vessel’s re-entry into the atmosphere washed over the cliff.

“Well, it looks like we’ve got company,” you muttered, sliding on your visor and magnifying the view.

“Standard platoon size- count 45 visible cavalreapers and 3 ruffianihilator leads,” you said, sliding your visor back up after the enemy forces had all deployed. “As well as at least 2 subjugglator overseers.” The black specks in the distance went about setting up a perimeter and swarmed over the odd, blocky structure like ants.

“Fuuuuuuuun!” Vriska grinned wickedly, a gleam in her eye as she turned to you. “I get to test out my new toys,” she went on, flexing her left hand.

You nodded, feeling the corner of your lip go up into the beginning of a tight smile as you shut your visor and sealed your suit.

Then, something occurred to you.

JE: dave, you said we got boosters in the legs of the suit?

DS: yeah and the back too

DS: we are like fucking birds all up in this shit

JE: awesome! now we don’t need to climb down.

VS: Jooooooohn……..what are you talking a8out?

JE: dave, get her up to speed. i’m heading down! >:B

You took a few steps back, folding your rifle and storing it on your back. You gauged the distance- a kilometer down, maybe a few hairs over that- but you’d handled orbital falls before, so it was okay! You gave a faux-salute to your two comrades- “What the fuck do you meeeeeeeean, “You can fly?!?”” “Vriska, just chill your tits and listen-“ “The status of my tits does not concern you, Dave! Rude!” –before accelerating.

With a running start, you leapt off of the cliff.

One moment, there was ground beneath your feet- the next, the bottom of your stomach dropped and you felt that delicious vertigo, that feeling you got from falling ludicrously fast. The ground was still a bit off, but it was getting bigger and bigger in your helmet. Slowly, you could make out first clumps of blue, then blurry edges, then the defined forms of rocks and things.

VS: John!!!!!!!! What the fuck are you doing?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Welp, here goes nothing!

About a hundred meters away from becoming a colourful splotch on the ground, you got your arms and legs into a rough cross shape with your feet pointing at the earth below you and activated your thrusters.

You felt the resistance in your shoulders as the boot and calf thrusters fired first, the rockets angling their exhaust down and outwards to keep from melting your legs. You felt like you were going to topple for half a moment of horror- like you were going to start spinning in circles and smash into the ground- before the rockets in your chest plastron and back shoulder plates fired too. Orange light bathed your visor as you felt yourself slowing down before finally, you slammed into the dirt.

On reflex, you bended your knees when you felt your feet connect to the ground to avoid your bones getting smashed to bits inside your armour from the force of the impact- one that would kill a normal human, surely, but Archons had enhanced musculature and reinforced, iron-dense bone. You ended up in a crouched position, hands planted into the earth before you, and unfolded your rifle as you sent a comm to Dave and Vriska.

JE: dave, it’s safe to fire off about a hundred meters up. vriska, do it from at least 150.

DS: copy that

DS: geronimo fuckers

VS: John, why do I have to do it from 150?

JE: because i don’t want my girlfriend to go out on our first date as a pancake. >:B

VS: Worried a8out appearances? Your concern is soooooooo touching, John! And here I thought you cared for my well-8eing.

JE: love you too, darling. now hurry up and jump.

You took more than a few steps away as you heard a whooshing noise above you. You looked up to see a bright point of orange coming down fast and naught but a second later, he slammed into the ground in much the same fashion. He creaked as he stood up straight, stretching and rolling his neck before moving to your side.

You looked up expectantly and saw your matesprit’s rockets flaring and soon she, too was ont eh ground.

VS: John, that was aweeeeeeeesome!!!!!!!!

JE: wait until we do it from an orbital space station. hehe >:B

DS: god you two get a room or some shit

You snickered inside your helmet. Turning to the ruins in the distance, you noted something with displeasure.

JE: these plains don’t have an awful lot of cover.

VS: John. Compared to us, the enemy miiiiiiiight as well 8e wearing card8oard and using water guns.

DS: and we got the zeus

DS: you know the one you wont fucking share

DS: hoarding asshole

VS: Yeeeeeeeeah!!!!!!!!

JE: i called dibs and you two know it!

Chapter Text

About a half a kilometer from the ruins, rock spurs had started cropping up, and your team had taken advantage of the cover they offered. You’d run from pillar to pillar, the stone shielding you from prying eyes as you closed in on the temple structure.

Up close, it had those same symbols you’d seen earlier carved on it- two wavy, identical, parallel lines. The rough, grey stone was covered in them. It was a tiered building, rising at least a hundred meters in a disturbingly similar Mayan-Temple fashion. There was an entrance on each side; a large, square opening that led into the massive structure. The base was massive- easily a few hundred meters to a side.

There’d been no one out on the perimeter, and nothing on the motion tracker. This was odd because you’d seen at least a platoon of cavalreapers disembark and enter the temple.

It didn’t help that in the corridor leading deeper into the interior, a cavalreaper was found- dead, bisected, his halves surrounded by a pool of his drying brown blood.

“It looks like they met resistance after all.” You’d voiced the first thing that had come to mind.

“Yeah, but from who????????” Vriska had spoken next, her voice quiet with unease. You could tell she didn’t like this.

“Couldn’t have been any of our troops. Our plasma blades cauterize as they cut, and this fucker’s bleeding.” Dave had knelt by the body to examine it up close.

You and your team had pressed on, keeping a tight formation in the corridor- 5 meters square at least, it was huge and totally devoid of cover and you didn’t like that. It wasn’t long, however, before you found more bodies- cavalreapers, a ruffianihilator, and even the massive corpse of a subjugglator. All were found with deep lacerations in pools of their own blood- the highblood was split from shoulder to hip. There weren’t any signs of combat- no plasma scoring, no scratches. Nothing.

And then, the main chamber.

It was massive, a huge chamber that somehow managed to seem bigger than the rest of the temple itself. The place was dotted by glowing globes from portable grub lights, but it was lit by…well, something else. In the center, etched onto the floor, was a massive circular design that intersected on itself over and over- a sort of spiral, circular thing- fuck it, it was a spirograph.

Oh, and there were bodies everywhere. The other two ruffianihilators, the other subjugglator, a great deal of cavalreapers- all dead from something that made your team stick close.

“Okay, what the fuck happened here? Did we miss the annual mass cult suicide or something?”

Dave’s eloquent words echoed in the chamber.

In the center of the spirograph laid a stone slab with the same wavy lines displayed prominently on it. It was sitting like a table on four squat, cylindrical stone legs and was lit overhead by...well, nothing.

The damned thing seemed illuminated for no reason that you could see, from no source that was visible.

More curious still was the presence of the massive warhammer seemingly floating over a pyramidal stone base. The rectangular smashing head was also bathed in light from somewhere above, and it would not freaking budge when you tried to move it.

The head was made of some sky-blue metal that shined in your spotlamps. The handle was carved from some dark, black metal and the pommel was a sharp stud.

Neither Dave nor Vriska could move it either.

Vriska tutted. “What the hell is thi-“

Suddenly, there had been a flash of green light on the far end of the chamber, the one you’d entered from. All three of you had turned in unison, guns up, but nothing had been there as the green light faded.

It wasn’t a healthy green, like that of a blade of grass or a leaf- it was a bright, sickly, glowing green that seemed almost stereotypically like radiation.

“I’m not reading anything on the motion tra- wait, there!” Something popped up just as you were saying that, and you turned to once again find nothing there but a glowing green silhouette of…what?

“Joooooooohn!” Vriska’s other smg was in her hand, and she discharged them both before you could even turn. Sparks flew as her shots missed.

There was- something. Something blurring in the shadows, something running just beyond the edges of your eyesight, right on the edge of the dark. Vriska was tracking it, both smgs chattering as she tried to track it.

She cursed as they clicked empty and holstered one to reload the other when SHIT FUCK WHAT.

There was a blinding flash of green, a blaze of light that just barely burned at your eyes and you were face to face with whatever it was that Vriska had been shooting at.

It was tall, over 4 meters, with a black carapace that dully reflected whatever light hit it. Huge black wings unfurled as it grabbed you by the throat and picked you up to its eye level. Its hand wasn’t crushing your throat- but it seemed like a restrained grip, like it wanted to keep you still but alive. You struggled, dropping your rifle in the process, but the clawed hand was firm.

It had the head of a dog, and fuck it was ugly. Its snout opened just a bit to reveal row after row of gleaming white fangs, and its beady black eyes bored into yours. It knew just where to look, even if your visor was down.

“These meddlers,” it snarled, the words coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. They seemed to hammer at your mind, seemed to bleed in from somewhere beyond your head and yet inside of it at the same time. “They died for their intrusion.” Your visor began to fog from the thing’s breaths. “You will join them soon!”

Its other arm came up and you could see a wicked, serrated black blade that almost seemed to drink the light that shined upon it from your spot lamps as you turned your head to look at it in the tightening grip of what you were convinced was a demon. The teeth were defined well by the shades and hues of blood that adorned it, and you could see it coming close, closer, fuck it was going to stab you in the fucking face-

It howled and dropped you, clutching at its left eye as you clattered to the ground. Blood covered half of your visor and you wiped it off before diving away as it brought the wicked blade down. The sword crashed into the stone and shattered it, sending bits of grey rock flying in every direction.

Dave had shot it in the eye.

“Fucker was talking too much,” he said as he helped you up. You unlimbered the Zeus as he dropped to a knee to take more shots at the flailing demon. Vriska was peppering it with her smg, but none of the shots seemed to do anything. She kept shooting regardless.

You looked down at the blood on your gauntlet one last time to make sure it had really been what you had seen before you shouldered the Zeus and took aim at the giant black beast. Its sword was tearing into anything in reach now- but curiously enough, the stone bed was undamaged even after multiple swings.

And the demon had red blood. As red as a human’s.

You pulled the trigger, felt the Zeus shake as lightning tore through the air and hit the demon. It was a direct hit, and you could see the demon stumble before you fired again. A cloud of dust seemed to envelop the thing as Dave switched to fully automatic and you raised your rate of fire.

This thing needed to die, because fuck if you were going to get stabbed by that asshole.

Volley after volley went at it until you could feel the excess heat bleeding off from the Zeus, and you gave the order to stop.

A brown dust cloud formed from vaporized stone and dirt covered an area a few meters square. You kept the Zeus trained on the center of the cloud as you took a cautious step towards the nebulous form to confirm the kill. Nothing could have survived that. Nothing could have withstood over 22 terawatts of pure energy from 10 meters away.

You were just on the edge of the cloud now, the Zeus’ cylindrical barrel poking through.

You saw something dark stir.

FUCK.

What happened next was a little fast.

A clawed hand swiped up at you, tearing off your helmet and launching you backwards to land on the stone slab. Your skull ached as you slammed onto the stone, and you heard your helmet clatter to a stop somewhere. There was a flash of green and you could see sparks fly from what had to be Dave and Vriska’s bullet impacts.

The demon was snarling, teeth bared and with a growl from hell permeating the air around it as it brought the sword up. You heard Dave’s voice as you saw the toothed blade coming down. You heard Vriska’s voice as you counted each blood-coloured edge slicing towards you. Their voices bled panic, but you couldn’t hear it as pain blossomed in your chest. A spurt of red mushroomed into the air as you felt the burning sensation of the sword plunging into your chest, slicing through your shields and metal plating like they were made of melted butter and wet cardboard.

You heard Vriska again as the blade came out- funny, now, how much lighter you felt. And how much more tired, to boot. You hadn’t felt this tired since the augments. You coughed as the demon looked to bring the sword down again, to coat it with more of your blood, but you heard- it was also funny how much more….echo-y everything sounded, how much fainter everything was- Vriska again.

You saw a blurry (everything was blurry at this point) flash and a jet of red and an echo-y scream. You felt warmth splash your face as a bright green flash indicated that the demon was gone. You saw Vriska.

“John, no, come on!!!!!!!!” She sounded pretty panicked, and her voice seemed to trail on through your consciousness like it was being stretched. “You’re alright, right? You’re okay, right? Right?”

You saw your own arm go up to her face (you couldn’t actually feel much anymore- maybe the blade had clipped your spine?) to stroke her cheek.

“Psh,” you felt your lips mumble. “S’okay, just a scratch,” you whispered to her. You saw Dave to your left, tried to give him a grin as he came running up.

Vriska said something else, but you couldn’t hear it- everything sounded clouded now, covered and muffled. Everything started to get blurrier.

“Just closin’ my eyes…” you managed to mumble before you did so.

---

It felt weird.

Okay, weird was not the word for this place- huge, empty, and black. Not just dark- black. You shivered a bit- it felt cold, but not the normal sort of cold. It was like the surrounding blackness was leeching off your body heat. You looked down to see yourself clad in a white tee with your favorite green slime on it and jeans.

>John.

“What?” Okay, THAT was weird. You didn’t hear it- not in your head, not with your ears, not with anything- but it screamed and thundered across your mind regardless. Why you answered, you didn’t know, but hey, why not?

You’d already died.

>Wrong. We cannot let that come to pass.

“Whoa, wait, what?” You hadn’t said anything about death, you’d just thought it. You felt your bare feet touch on something- the grey stone of the temple ruins?

>We thought it best to surround you with that which you know.

You whirled around, the words definitely having a voice this time- an echoing, deep voice that seemed to consist of thousands.

You saw Dave, fully armoured- but it wasn’t Dave, couldn’t be. You were dead and this Dave only had bright white orbs for eyes. The fake Dave opened its mouth.

>We have been waiting for a worthy champion, it said.

>We have been looking for an heir, said another, and you saw Vriska strolling up from the blackness in her uniform coat. It was ripped and torn- just like how it was when you’d found her- and her eyes were the same sort of shining white as fake Dave’s.

Behind the fake Dave and fake Vriska, you could see the temple ruins coming more into view- like the infinite blackness was just an obscuring fog being blown away.

“But who are you?”

>We are the beings that give you life, fake Dave answered.

“So…God?”

>We give you your lives that you may in turn give us ours, fake Vriska said.

“Okay, that makes no sense.”

>It will in time, when we speak again, said fake Dave. He took a step to the side and behind him appeared the pyramidal pedestal with the hammer floating above it.

>You and your friends, your allies, play a far greater role in this universe than you realize, fake Vriska said.

They both gestured at the hammer and you felt an odd, sudden weight on your shoulders- looked down to see yourself clad in your armour and covered in your own blood. The rather large hole in your chest was disconcerting.

>You will possess great power, said fake Vriska as you took a step towards the hammer. The blue head seemed to pulse with power as you stepped closer.

>But you will face great enemies, said fake Dave.

“What do you mean, ‘great power?’”

>It will be made clear to you in time, said fake Dave.

>Your friends are in danger now, and require your aid, added fake Vriska as she took a step towards you, her fanged smile identical to your Vriska’s.

No. It wasn’t as real. None of this was, you were dead, and-

>Rise, Heir of Breath, said fake Dave. You heard a ringing noise, accompanied by gunfire, explosions, and shouting in Alternian and English.

>You are dead no longer, for we give you the gift of Breath and the powers of a god, said fake Vriska.

You could feel the hammer bleeding more power, could feel heat rushing to your limbs.

>We will save you that you may in turn save us, said fake Vriska.

>>Now take the hammer, and go, they said in unison.

You stepped forward, felt your hand drawing towards the haft of the hammer.

No, you were dead, this was impossible! A god? You? No. Maybe Jade, or Rose, or even Dave, but you? None of this was real, none of this was-

Your hand closed around the smooth metal grip of the hammer and everything exploded in a flash of blinding white light.

Chapter Text

“---he right! Fuckers just keep coming!”

“Left! Left! Highblood on the leeeeeeeeft!”

You sat up, a finger prodding at the gaping hole in your chest plastron, and you felt…fine.

Perfectly fine. There was no hole. Plenty of blood, but no hole.

Unfortunately, now didn’t seem to be the most peaceful of awakenings.

Trolls poured into the room from two of the entrances, guns up and blazing. Plasma soared all around you as you rolled over and hit the dusty ground. Some of your blood, still wet and warm on the slab, stuck to your plates as you hit the ground beside Dave and Vriska with a thud.

The looks on their faces were those of shock, anger- and Vriska’s was smeared with her blue tears.

You gave then your best smile as you fumbled with very-much alive fingers to unfold your pistol. “Hey, what did I miss?”

You didn’t know how, but you were alive, so fuck logic and science and whatever else. You took what you could. Answers could come later.

“Bullshit,” Dave breathed. You popped up and took aim, and a threshecutioner was suddenly missing half of his head.

“B-b-b-but you were dead!” Vriska stuttered.

“I got better,” you said. They’d discarded their helmets before the attack but after you’d died- funny calling it that, you lived through your own death- and so were helmetless now. “But maybe we can talk about this later, when we’re not getting shot at. How’s that sound?”

Okay, dead you were not, and that meant you could still feel pain- so her slap burned across your face as Dave went up to shoot.

“Ow!”

“You fucking diiiiiiiied on me, jackass!” Oh god no, not more tears, not more- and she started tearing up again. “Do you know how fucking worried I was?!?”

“Angry make-up sex later, fighting now!” Dave was shouting to be heard. Plasma melted sand and dust to glass on the ground all around your place behind cover. “John, I don’t know how the fuck you’re alive,” he said, popping his magazine and reloading a fresh one, “…but we can talk about it later!”

You nodded.

>>The hammer, Heir.

You were startled as you heard…whatever the fuck it had been…heard their voices again.

>>Use what is yours, Heir. You are a god now.

“But…”

“John! I am soooooooo dumping you if you die again!” Vriska popped up, cracking off bursts of smg fire.

You looked over, past her, to see the pyramid with the hammer floating over it.

>>Yes, Heir. Use it.

You turned, grabbing Dave on the shoulder. “I’m about to go test something. If it goes wrong, make sure to scrape the black bits off before you bury me,” you said. Your words came out hurried, but you barely paid attention to them. That hammer was important, and you intended to find out why, goddamnit.

You snickered as you turned, aware that the phrase now meant you.

“What the fuck do you mean?”

Oh, right. Angry spider girlfriend.

Her eyes were narrow slits, both of her smg barrels red hot and smoking as she hissed the words at you.

You tried to give her your best reassuring smile. “I’ve got a plan. Trust me!”

“John, you just died in my arms, I don’t know what to-“

Fuck it. If you were a god, you’d get to see this pay off later and if not, well, at least you did it before you died.

Again.

You pulled her face in, feeling her lips on yours, feeling the warmth of her surprised breath as her eyes went wide. One of her fangs pushed against your lip, but before it could go any further (re: before you passed out from the sheer exhilaration) you pulled away.

Okay, you were DEFINITELY going to live, considering that meant you could do that again.

“John,” she said, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“I’ve got this.” You felt a grin on your face.

“Fucking damn it, what did I say about making out right now?!?”

You nodded, and your gaze went to that hammer.

“Covering fire in three…two…fire!”

You ran as Dave and Vriska let loose a torrent of fire. Out of the corner of your eye, you saw portable grub-shields; mobile cover for the infantry. You felt the concussive thump of a grenade going off as you reached your destination.

Plasma was soaring by, but you barely noticed.

The hammer was just as it was- untouched, massive, and floating.

>>Take it, Heir. Take it and show them your godhood.

And you took the hammer, grasping in your gauntlet-clad fingers the weapon none of you had been able to budge before.

And you felt…

ALIVE.

You were…aware, now. You could feel it, see it, hear the whispers of the air…of the wind…of the breath of the world.

You took the hammer from its place and the light above it dimmed.

“John!”

But you didn’t respond. You felt too…

Too good.

It was like there was a lightness to your every moment, like the air itself was cushioning you. Plasma that strayed too close was deflected, and you could just barely keep your feet on the ground.

You turned to the trolls, hammer in hand, and you felt your gun slip from your fingers to land with a clatter against the stone floor. Something in you felt that you wouldn’t need it.

Plasma flew at you, blinding bulbs that seared the air, and it..it fucking tickled. The whispers turned angry, and your hand came up. You made a motion, and the plasma bolts were slapped from the air, dissipated in a gust that you had apparently summoned.

A subjugglator roared and ran at you, his weapon adorned with a massive blade. He was maybe 3 meters tall- and rushing at you at full speed to smash you apart.

‘Been there,’ you thought to yourself with a grin as you felt the hammer move in your hand, ‘and done that.’

You swung the hammer and felt a satisfying solidity travel up your arm as the metal head impacted with and crushed the giant’s knee. It screamed in pain and you felt warm spittle land on your face as it came down, its face level with yours and its eyes filled with pain and fury. You brought the hammer up for an overhead swing and brought it down hard on the behemoth’s head. You could feel the head pulp through the haft, and purple blood sprayed onto your face as the body fell to the dust.

Sweet.

You looked up to see shock on the other trolls’ faces- as well as on the faces of your team. Your next target was at least thirty meters away, but that wasn’t a problem. More and more of your attackers, Alternian soldiers of all types, were turning to deal with you now.

A fully augmented Archon could leap to heights between 3 and 4 meters. You pushed off from a standing position and felt the air guide you, push you along- and you were there, slamming your hammer down on the archeradicator, thirty meters crossed like it was nothing with just one jump.

More plasma flew at you, but you swatted it away. You heard the whispers, felt the currents, and brought your hand up. The molecules composing the air stirred and you saw a cavalreaper heft an energy projector lance.

You hated those lances.

Your hand squeezed into a fist, and you could feel the troll in your gaze die as the air pressure around him spiked. Blood fountained and spread as the shriveled body fell.

Congratulations, John. You just juiced a troll with air pressure.

A skirmislayer ran at you, claws aiming for your face, and you took her out of the air with your hammer. The huge, blue head swept up with a speed you didn’t know you possessed and impacted the soldier, crushing her armour and chest cavity. You could hear the pain in her exhaled breath- quite literally, you heard it whisper of pain. The broken body tumbled through the air and landed in the dust some distance away.

---

Your name is Dave Strider, and you’re watching something batshit fucking insane happen to your friend John Egbert.

Operation Mopfucker (2x Irony bonus for calling it that) had gone to shit pretty fast- John had gotten impaled on that stone slab by whatever the fuck that thing had been- a demon? Vriska had actually managed the balls to cut off its arm and the demon had fled.

Fucker had looked at you and Vriska and he’d said something that, for once in your life, had worried you.

The thing was nearly bullet-proof- nothing had scratched its carapace, not even the Zeus- and it had managed to put John down like your friend had been made of wet tissue paper. And teleporting?

Fuck that shit. Neither the Coalition nor the Empire had that sort of technology. Not on a stable, personal level.

Before it had left, it had looked you in the eyes and with a voice that dripped of rage and malice, it had told you that it was coming back.

And it had fucked right the fuck off.

Vriska had cried. You had possibly shed a few manly tears for John’s heroic sacrifice (because bullshit to anyone who says you were crying just as much as Vriska at the prospect of having lost your friend).

But the demon’s teleporting had apparently jacked up the EM signatures around the place, and Imperial forces had descended on you in your moment of weakness.

Helmetless, out-numbered, out-gunned, you had tried to make a desperate last stand.

Then that dorky dumpass sat right the fuck up like he’d been taking a fucking nap and rolled right on over to you.

Forget the surprise, forget the whole “John! You’re alive! Fuck yeah!” feeling you felt surge through you. He was alive. You didn’t give a fuck how- but if he didn’t get it together soon, you had a feeling that Mr. Grim H. Reaper wasn’t just going to let you go scot-free. Thus, you’d told your best friend to get his dick out of his alien girlfriend and kill some trolls.

Then he went for that massive hammer, grinning like an idiot, and now…

Now, you had no idea what the fuck you were seeing.

Every Imperial soldier was focused on trying to bring down John Egbert- no surprise, considering he was a raging tornado of death spinning through the battlefield.

Literally.

You could see plasma getting deflected from his like they were errant spitwads as he took down a highblood in two swings of a hammer that none of you three had been able to budge before. You watched him leap three dozen meters through the air, a furious torrent of wind currents cushioning John and carrying him through the air to allow him to bring his hammer down on a troll.

Vriska had made a strangled noise as you both watched John squeeze his hand into a fist- and saw the end result of the cavalreaper getting juiced like a goddamned prune. Your gaze had shifted to Vriska’s because, fuck, are you seeing what I’m seeing?

When your eyes darted back to the scene unfolding before you- a second at most in total from the time you looked at Vriska’s face to the moment you looked back at John- you were just in time to see your friend slam a troll in the chest with the hammer, swatting her from the air like she was a fucking fly.

John, what the fuck happened to you?

Your grip on your rifle was tight, but you were far too entranced by what you were seeing to actually keep shooting.

The firing had stopped for just a half a second when John had swung his hammer- but it picked back up all too soon and you watched as more plasma was shunted aside like the volley was nothing more than a mere annoyance. Energy projector beams, lasers, plasma, even missiles were all cast aside as John calmly strode towards the remains of his foes- the latter detonating feet from him like he was in a shield bubble or some shit.

He still had that goofy grin plastered on his face.

He threw the hammer at someone, all casual like he was doing something like tossing a baseball or something, and you just barely registered the weapon hitting an archeradicator over the sight of what John started doing next.

“Bullshit…” you heard yourself breathe.

---

It felt GOOD to be a god.

You threw the hammer because why not? You’d just pick it back up later.

The winds were yours- the air itself obeyed your commands the way a servant obeyed its master; but, where a servant or slave might resent their owner, you heard only joy when you used your powers.

Powers. Heh. It was like being something out of a movie.

You punched at a troll- normally a problem considering how far you were from the nearest enemy, maybe another 10 meters- but the Breath (wow, you’d named it already! You were definitely a superhero now or something) knew the meaning your motions conveyed and moved to obey.

Fist-sized displacements of air jabbed at the troll, hitting him in the torso like blocks of cement for how dense they were. He spat blood as he fell but you were moving now, sprinting to close the distance. The tips of your feet barely touched the ground as gusts of wind pushed you farther, faster than any human would be capable of- even after augmentations.

The ruffianihilator whose face you were in looked scared as you stopped short of him, but he was an enemy, he had shot at Dave and Vriska, and…

…let’s be honest, you just wanted to see just what being a god was all about.

You gave him your best grin. “Boo!” you said, your fist jabbing at his throat. Normally not very effective, but your hand was encased in that super-dense air and pushed by hurricane-force winds. It wasn’t a jab- it was like getting hit with the force of a truck contained in a few square inches of space.

The troll’s head snapped back hard and you could see blue spill into the interior of his visor. A missile exploded to your right- being surrounded by a mini-tornado for protection was as useful as it was badass- and you made an upward motion.

The archeradicator’s missile launcher fell as its owner was thrown upwards on a vertical gust. He hanged there for a second before you brought your other hand up and slammed them both down.

The troll mirrored the motion and was slammed into the ground in speeds upwards of batshit too fast, cracking the grey stone and leaving an imprint in the earth.

The whispers got louder for a second, told you of something, and you whipped around to your left with a slapping motion. A charging pair of threshecutioners were thrown from their feet were sent flying through the air. You slammed your right hand down and they slammed, their momentum dragging, grinding them into the rough, ancient stone floor.

And so you fought, and killed. Dozens, perhaps- you didn’t keep count. The crushed and crumpled bodies littered the floor and inked in the grooves of the spirograph etched onto the floor with their blood.

A roar caught your attention, and you saw another subjugglator, this one at least four meters tall- probably this mission’s captarnisher. He bellowed a challenge and hefted a battle-club sporting a wicked blade before charging at you.

With an almost disappointed feeling, you noted that he was the last of your attackers. Wow, so few?

You grinned even wider; you always did love a challenge. You quickly retrieved your blood-spattered hammer from where it lay, caressed by the corpse of a cavalreaper, before running to meet the highblood’s challenge head-on.

The troll tried to bring the club down with a speed to rival Dave’s, but the Breath was with you, and your hammer was up in time. It slammed into the club from the right, cracking the alien metal and sending it tumbling away. You reversed the swing, bringing the other side of the head around to mash the highblood’s hand. You could feel the bones breaking under your hammer’s crushing maw.

It howled and slapped you with the injured member, and you were sent sailing away with splotches of indigo blood for your trouble. But once again did you use the Breath- it was getting more natural now, more instinctual- and you landed gently.

The captarnisher came at you again, screaming about “mirth” and “chucklevoodoo” and you readied your hammer in a defensive position.

You ducked the first swipe of the giant’s dirty claws and as he tried to recover, brought the hammer upwards to knock the highblood’s chin. His head snapped back as you whipped the hammer around one-handed to take out a knee, and the resulting momentum landed the captarnisher flat on his back. With all your strength, you raised the hammer overhead and brought its full might, fueled by your strength and the raging gusts of Breath that you now commanded, to bear on the chest plate of the highblood.

The first blow cracked a plate that had to be a quarter-meter thick and stole the tainted air from the captarnisher’s lungs. The second blow broke the plate in two and exposed a bare and already-darkening chest. The third blow…

The third blow was messy.

It was quiet as you hefted the hammer. It still dripped gore as you leaned the haft on your right shoulder and let it rest there. You let the air go, and with sighs of reluctance, the raging torrent of air around you subsided.

You walked as calmly as you could to a dumbstruck Dave and a Vriska that had stupefied look so devoid of anything but surprise, you laughed.

“Bro…what the fuck did you just do?”

Dave was quiet, his words dripping with emotion that you could now easily read from the air.

“What happened to you?”

Vriska was next, her mouth hanging open and her braid of black hair starting to come undone.

It was kind of silent- I mean, how did you answer something like that?

Well, until Vriska threw her gun and ran over to you.

She slammed into you and despite having just taken out an entire hostile expeditionary force by yourself, you were a bit overwhelmed and had to take a shaky step back to compensate for the sudden abundance of troll girlfriend burying her face in the spot where you’d been stabbed.

Despite it being your new weapon, despite how awesome it was, you let the hammer drop to the ground- shit it was heavy, it left a spider web of cracks around where it fell, head first and haft up- and you took Vriska into your arms.

“Don’t ever fucking die again,” you heard her mumble.

You felt…calm. When you’d been tearing up the Imperial forces, you’d felt GOOD, energetic, but this…this feeling would win any day. You…valued Vriska. You enjoyed seeing her face, her shining fangs, all eight of her pupils, her smirks, her awkward smiles when she thought you weren’t looking- all of it. To have her in your arms made you realize how glad you were that, however fucking weird it was, you were alive again.

You savored the moment, feeling her warm breath on your chest through the massive gaping hole on your chest armour.

Chapter Text

“So you mean to fucking tell me,” Dave said, his voice sounding both irritated and incredulous, “…that you’re not dead because something told you that you weren’t allowed to die yet?”

You nodded. It sounded ridiculous when he put it that way, but more or less, that’s how it was.

You’d left the temple behind in silence- Vriska’s hand in yours- and the hammer was nowhere to be found. Not that you hadn’t looked! –but the thing had vanished, and all that was left were the cracks from it hitting the ground.

The three of you were silent for a few minutes, and you enjoyed the walk across the plains. Normally, you wouldn’t be so relaxed, but in the distance, you could see troopships landing to begin the occupation- the battle overhead had been won. The winds you could feel took on a whole new meaning- you didn’t know how, but you felt, you knew that wherever you went, you were the owner of the winds.

>>You are the Breath of the Multiverse.

You smiled to yourself as you heard those words echo in your head. Off in the distance, the first shining rays of a yellow sun began to peek over the mountains.

“You…you know we need to tell the Council about this, yeah?”

Dave broke the peace. He had half-turned his head to you as he spoke. None of you had your helmets anymore; they had been lost in the confusion.

Your eyes wandered from Dave to the rising sun and you felt Vriska’s fingers tighten around your own.

“Yeah,” you said. “I’ll call it in myself, when the time comes.” Every Aegis suit came with three means of communication: the helmet, a vox-caster embedded in the collar of the suit, and a holo-emitter in the palm of the left gauntlet. You went with the gauntlet.

It was a few seconds before a shaky image came to life a few inches over your open left hand.

“John?” Rose’s voice crackled- interference from the troop landings and deployments occurring as she spoke- but you could understand her well enough. Her helmet was off, and you could see a few scrapes and cuts on her face. “John! You’re alive!” Her face went from her standard snark-mode to shocked in no time flat.

This surprised you a bit- which, considering how well you knew Rose, meant enough in and of itself. “Well, sort of! But I can explain that.”

“John, what do you mean ‘Sort of?’ Your biomonitor flatlined!”

You sighed as you remembered the squad-linked biomonitor. “Well, yeah, but-“

“And what, John, happened to your armour?”

“Rose, we need pick up. I’ll explain on the way.”

“But-“

“You’ll see.”

She huffed, and she both looked and gestured at something off to the side before returning her attention to you. “John, dear, when are you going to cease being so vague in your responses to my queries?”

You grinned at her as one of the numerous black specks in the distance- Hayate-class assault shuttles ferrying troops- peeled off and began heading in your direction. Dave threw down a flare and soon, your position was marked with a billowing red column of smoke. “When it stops being part of my personal charm,” you answered.

She sighed. “’Charmed’ is not the word I would use to describe myself right now, John. Perhaps ‘irritated’ or ‘exasperated’- or even ‘peeved.’ Not charmed.”

Chapter Text

The room was large- a rectangular shape with a high ceiling at least a dozen meters overhead- and lining the sides of the room were the various insignia of the different specialization branches of the UTC Legion: the 409th Flying Vipers, specialized as pilots; the 501st Storm Strikers, specialized as rapid-assault storm troopers. You spotted the area depicting the Archons: an iron-clad fist rising upwards, gripping a lightning bolt with a longsword laid horizontally above it.

The floor, made of a decorative light-brown hardwood paneling, was decorated by a circular mosaic of the Earth- each piece of the mosaic represented one of the numerous parts of humanity that had all come together to stand as one. Ahead of you, there was a large, half-circular desk that was raised just a bit off the floor. It looked like natural mahogany- an extravagant touch to an otherwise already well-decorated room- and its four occupants shifted uncomfortably in the aftermath of your tale.

Well, two of them shifted. The other two flickered and crackled, their holo-projectors overcoming the vast reaches of space that their users would be present for the meeting- in a sense, at least.

“That’s a hell of a story, John,” Admiral Jane Crocker said, her hands meshed together and beneath her chin. You could hear her breaths whispering of disbelief. Her hair, deep black and as short as yours, was tied into a small ponytail. She had served with your father, and after he had died holding off an entire platoon bare-handed to allow the squad to escape, she had taken care of you and made sure you’d be looked after. She’d aged well- despite being middle-aged at 98, she still looked like she could kick your ass.

Hell, considering what she was, she probably could. Twice over, even if you were a god now.

“Moreso because of the fact that when we review the helmet cams’ footage, you are most definitely shown getting a nice new breathing hole in the chest,” added General Dirk Strider. His ridiculous shades aside, he could kick your ass too- his sharp features still bore a vigilance you couldn’t explain. He wore a duty cap, but only a minimal amount of his short blonde hair was restrained by it.

He was Dave’s older brother, and both he and Jane had been first generation Archons- products of a brutal process of augmentation that had a 75% fatality rate due to un-proven technology. They were from a time when humanity had been tearing itself apart in the Colony Wars, when the predecessor to the Coalition- the Confederacy of Independent Systems- was desperate to bring the violence to an end. They had survived a brutal training regimen, horrific acts of devastation still not made public, and an augmentation that had killed more than half of the participants, but produced soldiers so fast, so strong, so smart that it had been deemed worthwhile.

The ones who weren’t genetically compatible with the augmentations were still not spoken of to this day, half a century later.

Beside you, you felt the tug of tension from the air around Vriska at the mention of the wound. Your hand went to hers, and her fingers, bare and rough and warm, slipped in between yours.

“What interests me,” said Jake English, his voice distorted from the holo-projector’s speakers, “…is that dastardly-sounding demon you said was driven off. Sliced off its arm, you say?”

All eyes in the room turned to Vriska as she spoke up. Like you, she had worn the black and red dress uniform of the Archons to the meeting. Her black coat was bare except for her rank- a stylized, almost calligraphic ‘s’ laid over the Archon insignia- and she had decided to go with the dress trousers- red slacks with a black stripe running down the sides. The legs were tucked into knee-high black boots, shined and polished until they gleamed. You, after all, had done that for her. Her black hair was loose, and fell down to the small of her back in a wild rush of black. Her standard cerulean-blue makeup (which you discovered matched her blood and eye colour) adorned her face. Her free hand clutched her dress hat.

“Yeah. I lopped his arm off to get him off of John.”

“Good show,” you heard English mutter. He was stroking his moustache now, and the angle of his head rendered his square glasses opaque. His short black hair was unruly, and he was wearing- at least from the waist up- a white lab coat over a black tee shirt. He was the man who had designed and built the current version of the Aegis suits, superior in all aspects to the former marks: increased strength, speed, reflexes, neural speed; the addition of energy shielding to better protect against the plasma- and energy-based weaponry of the Alternian Empire; built-in failsafes to allow unaugmented beings to use the suits without killing themselves (before, people who tried would actually kill themselves because their bone structure wasn’t strong enough to handle the speed and power of the suits. As the wearer would convulse in pain, the suit would amplify the movements and so the wearer would die from their own throes). Aside from that, he engineered the new generation of information-delivering technology and the neural lace, as well as numerous other weapons and energy advancements. He had also been the donor of the genetic material used to create Jade. She, in turn, affectionately referred to him as “Grandpa,” though she had chosen to take her mother’s surname- Harley.

The woman next to him took a sip from a tall, cylindrical glass- you couldn’t tell what the liquid was due to the distance and the use of the holo-projector, but knowing Dr. Lalonde, it was most likely liquor. “Is it possible the Empire is planning to use them against us? It could be their idea of an Imperial supersoldier,” she said. She twirled at her scarf absent-mindedly.

She was a tall and elegant woman with short, neck-length blonde hair- though it was probably longer considering it was styled. She always seemed…off. Perhaps it was her constant buzzed state or her easy, half-lidded gaze, but you were never very comfortable around her- especially considering she had flirted with you a few months ago at a party and you were pretty sure you were the subject of her visual forays. Though she wore a basic white lab coat, it always managed to cling tight to her…um…frame. It made you uncomfortable to think about, considering she was Rose’s biological mother. She was also the person who was responsible for everything an Archon could innately do- she had created the various augments that were part of your body now. Enhanced, synthetic musculature that allowed the lifting of up to 500 kilos; ocular implants that allowed better clarity and near-nightvision; ceramic-carbide catalysts bonding to bones for an iron-dense skeletal system; implanted nodes in the base of the neck and on either side of the spine to allow for greater neurochemical transmission and thus increased reaction speed; the list went on. While these augments had existed before, Dr. Lalonde’s genius was presented with the fact that the augments were now nearly universal- the first generation Archon program’s high fatality rate dropped to nearly nothing.

“I doubt it. It had ripped an Imperial cavalreaper platoon apart before we’d even gotten there,” Dave said. He was wearing his dress uniform as well- black coat, red slacks with a black stripe tucked into his knee-high black boots. Come to think of it, all three of you were wearing the exact same outfit, with the only differences being the number of medals and the individual rank pins…though, you feel like you’d made some decent headway in convincing Dave to wear the dress skirt instead- for the irony, or course.

“That still leaves the question of what you’ve become, Captain.” Your eyes turned to see Admiral Crocker looking directly at you.

“While we’ve half a mind to cut you open and see what’s different-“ started Dr. Lalonde.

You felt Vriska’s fingers tighten. Her nails dug into your hand.

“-we feel that would be too…unpleasant.”

Your matesprit’s hand loosened again.

Dr. Lalonde sat forward, and even through the holo-projector, you could note the ample view of her…erm…assets. “We couldn’t let such a fine young man go to waste, could we?”

“It’d be codswallop!” Director English fiddled with his glasses for a moment before speaking again. “We’ll need to run some tests, though.”

“Tests, Director?” You didn’t quite like the sound of it, but it beat out getting a scalpel to the face in the name of science by far.

He nodded as General Strider spoke. “Despite our lack of a desire to do a bit of scientific slice-n-dice, we still need to address the fact that one, you came back from the dead. From broken to breathing in just a few minutes.”

Okay, yeah, that made a fuckton of sense. Being able to rise from the dead wasn’t exactly a common thing, even with medical technology being what it was.

“And second,” continued Dr. Lalonde with a smile that you couldn’t quite translate, “…we need to know just exactly how well you can…perform.” She punctuated the sentence with a sip from her glass.

“We do, however, also note how traumatic dying must have been, both for you and your teammates,” added Admiral Crocker. She gave a wry smile. “As such, we’ve seen fit to give you 2 weeks’ leave, effective at 0800 Standard tomorrow. You are, however, limited to the Sol system.”

“Following the conclusion of whatever shenanigans you may perform, you are to report to Nocturne Station.” Director English turned and spoke to someone out of view before returning his attention to you. “It’ll be in orbit ‘round Saturn by the time you’re back on duty, so it shouldn’t be too much of a trial to get there.”

You saluted as all four of the Council members rose. “Dismissed,” they all said in unison.

You turned on your heels and, Vriska in hand, left.

Chapter Text

The park was silent- though, considering it was the middle of the sleep cycle, that was to be expected. Cairo Station, considered a diplomatic hub for being home to one of the numerous Council rooms, was in orbit around Pluto. Following the liberation of Lowas, you’d made your report to the Council based on what you’d found, fought, and what had happened afterwards. They’d sent a vessel for you, and here you were following the Council session.

The park was big, with actual trees and grass and dirt in a quarter-mile square room with simulated sunlight and benches scattered every so often for off-duty personnel- like you- to rest and relax on.

All around you, you could hear whispers- from the breaths of the trees and plants, to your own, to just feeling the currents of the air around you. It was an unconscious thing- you didn’t think about it, didn’t focus on it. You just sort of…felt. It was weird.

A lot of things these past few days had been weird.

Dave had split off to go talk to Dirk and though both you and Vriska had gone back to your quarters to change, Vriska had decided to stay in the room when you’d told her you wanted to walk around.

Even how you walked and stood felt off now. Your feet felt like they were only barely just touching the floor at any given time. Your steps had an odd lightness to them, and you could almost feel like you had hundreds of tiny hands holding you up, keeping you straight, giving you support.

You remembered fancying yourself a god before, on Lowas, but…were you really?

Your thoughts were interrupted by the whispers- they were getting louder, and they told you something that was confirmed when you found a rather sudden influx of Vriska in your lap.

She leaned back and you could feel her warmth through her cotton jacket. Her head came to rest on your shoulder, and you moved your head a bit to avoid putting one of your eyes out on her horn.

She’d been far, far more intimate in the past week after Lowas- which you weren’t complaining about. She seemed to have really become flushed for you after you’d died and subsequently returned- though she was still as…well, Vriska-y as ever.

“John, why are you being so booooooooring right now?” She smiled up at you and the light reflected from her fangs in a dazzling fashion. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail and he was fiddling with the end of it.

You smiled as you wrapped your arms around her. “You know as well as I do that you’re the reason my life’s exciting,” you replied.

“Well, duuuuuuuuh. That’s because I have all of the adventures. All of them!”

The both of you sat there for a while, silent and, in your case at least, appreciative of the general atmosphere. You closed your eyes, but you could feel the disturbance in the air left by a crewman walking by somewhere behind you.

“So,” you began, “what did you think of the Council?”

“They’re a lot nicer than the leadespoilers I used to report to,” she answered. “They seemed pretty familiar with you. What’s your deal with them?”

“Admiral Crocker took care of me when my dad died,” you told her, “…and Director English gave his tissue to grow Jade. General Strider is Dave’s older brother, and Dr. Lalonde is Rose’s mom.” You noted her look of skeptical confusion. “It’s still not exactly normal, though.”

“Connections in high places. I like that,” she said. She started to fidget and you moved your arms so she could slide off of your lap and onto the bench. Her head came to rest on your shoulder and you settled back.

“What,” she asked suddenly, “…did you mean?”

“About what?”

“About the Crocker woman taking care of you.”

You felt a pang of discomfort- made evident by the air around you jumping up in speed- but you got a handle on it to answer. “My dad died a little while after I was born,” you replied quietly, “…to make sure the Admiral and her squad could get out of something safely.”

“What is a ‘dad,’ John?”

Your free hand- one arm was wrapped around Vriska’s shoulders- went into your pocket and you fished out your pocketpad. You flicked through the memory for a bit before managing to dig out a holo-pic of your dad. You held it up so your girlfriend could see it.

He was around the age you were now- maybe a year or two older- and he was wearing an older, bulkier mark of the Aegis suit. He was down on a knee, his armour battered and his helmet off, and he was holding up a massive rifle you recognized as an older Oracle-class sniper rifle.

“He was one of my parents. He…uh…looked after me, and took care of me,” you said.

She took the pocketpad and took a closer look at the holo-pic as she spoke. “So he was like your lusus.” She turned the picture this way and that, trying to get different angles on the man holding the rifle. “He looks a lot like you,” she muttered.

“Well, yeah,” you replied. “He’s responsible for half of my genetic makeup.”

Vriska’s eyes went wide and shot to you. “No waaaaaaaay! You lived with your ancestor?”

You laughed a little at how dramatic her gesture had been. “Yeah. All humans do!”

She pouted at your laughter. “You’re all weird is what you are.”

“What? Not everything starts out as a grub for us!”

“Well excuuuuuuuuse me for not knowing your weird alien biology!” She crossed her arms with a huff.

You reached your hand from her shoulder to her face. Cupping her chin, you turned her pouting face to yours. Her cheeks were hot to your fingertips as she raised an eyebrow.

“Then maybe I can help you learn,” you said. You smiled.

Her features softened and she loosened up, edging a little closer as she said, “Oh? And where do you propose we start?”

You could smell her perfume as you drew her in- it was sweet, yet light. “Well, first we-“

Suddenly, the pocketpad, still clutched in her hands, started to buzz and beep. Vriska cursed and jumped, and you tried to catch the little plastic square before it fell. You could swear you felt a wind- which was impossible, considering that the park was inside a space station- and the pad almost seemed to tumble into your hand.

Who the fuck could possibly be calling-

“My my, Captain. You look so surprised to see me.”

Your eyes widened as a flickering, scaled-down hologram of the top half of Dr. Lalonde came to life an inch or so above the ‘pad’s screen. Her voice- you could practically feel the slur in her words as they crossed paths with the whispers of air flowing around you.

“Well, I was sort of in the middle of something, Councilor.” Vriska’s eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms- and you could swear her very presence felt angrier than before- but the corner of her mouth twitched upwards to give her an angrily amused look. She raised an eyebrow.

“My apologies, then, Captain,” she replied. Her eyes, half-lidded, seemed to contain a spark of mischief- or was that just a trick of the light?

“It’s fine, Doctor.” Vriska started tapping a foot, her boot making small metallic sounds on the metal base of the bench. You tried to give her an apologetic smile, but her face didn’t budge a nanometer, and you straightened up as you turned back to the miniature representation of Dr. Lalonde in your hand. “Now, what’s this about?”

A sly smile slid across the Doctor’s face before she replied. A hand moved out of frame before coming back into view clutching a martini glass. “Well, John, I’m a woman of science, and half of science is the curiosity one feels regarding one’s surroundings,” she said, ending the sentence with a sip from her glass. The other hand came up under her chin as a support, and now that you were paying attention you could definitely hear a slur in her words. “And you, darling, are now quite perplexing in the views of science.”

You tried to risk a glance at Vriska, but her attention was elsewhere, her eyes tracking something above and behind you.

“I don’t really know how I can help you with that, Councilor,” you said.

She uttered a short laugh. “I’ve told you this before, dear: call me Roxy.”

“Erm…alright…Roxy,” you said. The name felt odd in your mouth- civilian or not, she was still your superior, and referring to any of the Councilors by name (besides Admiral Crocker, that is) was still new to you.

“Such a pity, John! You’ve known me for so long, and yet I still feel like you don’t know me at all.” She took another sip, exhaling in pleasure at the conclusion of the gesture.

“I’m sorry, Docto-“

“And we’re back to square one already! Goodness, John,” she interrupted. Her hand came away from her chin and she held up a single, manicured finger. “But we can easily fix that.”

“Um…”

She went on, her hand dropping out of the holo-frame. “Come to the labs, John. We can…explore you. Plumb the depths of that which you’ve become.” Her sly smile became a smirk.

“Doc- erm, Roxy,” you started, correcting yourself before she could do so herself. “We can do that in two weeks when my leave’s up.”

“But I’m feeling those pangs of curiosity now, John.” Her response was practically snapping at the heels of yours.

“Besides, the labs are empty right now- it’s the middle of the sleep cycle,” you went on. She took another, longer pull from her glass.

“All the better, John,” she said, her words smoothly following yours. “I’d have you all to myself. For study in the name of science, of course.”

“With all due respect, Councilor,” you replied in what you hoped was a firm tone, “I’m in the middle of something important right now. Whatever it is, it can wait for another two weeks.”

The smirk turned to a frown as you spoke, and when you were done, she slammed the rest of her drink. Whoa.

“So be it.” She turned off to the side and regarded it with cold eyes- eyes that made you feel just a little bit uncomfortable- before turning back to you with those half-lidded eyes and sly smile. “I’ll just be sure to be more…thorough…when the time comes then.”

The feed cut from the Doctor’s end, and you were left with an angry Vriska in the middle of an empty park.

Your prospects for survival were dropping so fast, you could hear it plummet.

“Are you doooooooone yet?” Vriska’s foot was still tapping, though at the rate she was going she might set something on fire from friction soon.

You set the ‘pad down on the bench and offered her a hand.

“Oh, come on. What did I do this time?” You could feel a cautious smile on your face in response to her…well, you couldn’t exactly tell. She looked angry, amused, and jealous all at the same time.

“John, don’t even try to tell me you didn’t recognize that for what it was.”

“How’s it my fault if she hits on me?” Your hand dropped when it became clear she wasn’t taking it.

Vriska huffed and pouted, her foot going still as she shut her eyes and looked off to the side. You sighed and opened your mouth to try to say something else, but before you could, the ‘pad rang again.

Vriska’s head snapped to the little rectangle, and she fixed her venomous gaze on it. Your hand reluctantly went to it, your fingers slowly wrapping around and lifting the ‘pad. It buzzed in your grip, and Vriska rolled her eyes as you saw the caller’s ID and answered.

“Egbert here,” you said as the holo-projector came to life with a soft beep. Well, you were already in a hole; it couldn’t hurt to dig at the sides a bit.

“Ah, John!” Director English came into view, his lab coat replaced by a simple white tee shirt. He sounded like he wasn’t expecting you to actually answer- whether that was a good or a bad thing, you couldn’t tell. “I was hoping to make a few queries, if you wouldn’t mind,” he said as he adjusted his rectangular glasses. His moustache was as flawlessly groomed as it always was, and he started to toy with one end of it as he waited for you to answer.

“Sure, Director,” you said as Vriska took a seat on the opposite end of the bench. You tried to smile at her when you caught her eye, but she huffed, crossed her arms, and began to pout again. “Go ahead and shoot.”

Director English frowned and leaned closer- the effect was that his face and moustache now dominated the projection. “Are you all right, John? You’re sounding rather knackered!”

“What? I’m fine, Director,” you answered. “I was just dealing with Dr. Lalonde and-“

“Lalonde? Why John, you devil, you!” His withdrew from the foreground of the projection and his face erupted into a wide, bushy grin.

You felt your cheeks get warmer as you sputtered an explanation. “Wha-no, not that! I was with Vriska, Specialist Serket, an-“

English only laughed before cutting you off at the mention of Vriska. “Ah, fond of the more exotic women, eh? Good show!”

You groaned and made a conscious effort not to look at Vriska for her reaction. “Look, Director, if that’s all, I’d just like to go, considering what I just dealt wit-“

But he cut you off again. Damn him and his…English-ness. “Ahhh…she’s a rather rough one in bed, isn’t she? No surprise, considering how her species gets on…”

You went into a shocked silence for a few seconds- I mean, the man was analyzing you…and her…and…no, just no- but the Director just took it as a cue to go on.

“I can help with that, old boy! A few supplements here and there and she won’t even be able to come close to handling you!” He started to dig around somewhere below the projected image, and you heard Vriska making a choking noise. You didn’t dare check to see if she was infuriated or amused, but it was loud enough for the Director to hear.

“Wait just a tick…is…John, lad, is Vriska there with you now?”

“Well, yeah, she’s right here, but we-“

“Oh, bloody sodding hell! I’m sorry John, I didn’t know I was interrupting something! I’ll let you get back to it, you lucky bastard!” He picked up another ‘pad, his own, and began tapping away at it. “I’ll just send the stims to your quarters and be on my way,” he said, his eyes fixed on the ‘pad.

“Thanks, Director, but I don’t-“

“Nonsense! I want to help, and you more than deserve it!”

“But we’re not-“

“I understand, you think you can handle it,” he went on, ignoring you as he picked up and checked a box, “…I was like that a few weeks ago with one of the members of the development team, lovely teal-blood by the name of Lamias, but bollocks to that! She’ll tear you to shreds if you’re not careful…”

Vriska was making odd noises, and a quick glance proved her to be stifling a bout of laughter herself. “Director English, I was just-“

“No need to share the details, Egbert! I’ll just send you this care package and be on my way.” He tapped at the pad a few more times. “There. An orderly will bring it over post-haste! And John?”

“What, Director English.” Vriska had a hand clamped tight over her mouth, but the odd noise was escaping every so often regardless.

“Mind the claws, boy. Mind them well!” And with that, the feed cut again, leaving you sitting there, stunned, with a guffawing Vriska.

She was laughing so hard, she was lying across her end of the bench, arms clutching her sides as she rocked gently back and forth.

“Vris, come on, it’s not that funn-“

She managed to stop for a half a second to look at you with tear-laden eyes- she’d been roaring with laughter- before breaking out again, cutting you off mid-word. You buried your face in your hands and sighed as she rolled off of the bench to land in the grass with a light, muffled thud. Not even that was enough to stop her, though, and she continued for a few more minutes after that.

She struggled to climb back onto the bench, her mascara smeared from the tears she’d shed during her bout. She was making short, gasping noises as she wiped at the tears. Your face rose from your hands and your eyes met hers for a second. She stifled another laugh and looked away, biting her lip.

“Seriously, it’s just not- I don’t even know- goddamnit, Director-“

She just kept…giggling. Just giggling and glancing at you.

“Is it really that funny?”

She looked up at you. “Yes!” It took her a bit of effort- not to mention a supportive arm from you- before she sat up again, leaning back against the bench and drying her face on her shirt.

“Ugh. This is why I don’t talk to the Director that often,” you said. A breeze rolled by- how? This was a space station- and you ran a hand through your hair- hair that was getting long, now, it was almost down to your eyes.

“Pft. He sounds like a nut,” Vriska said. She brought her hands up and under her head as she lay on the bench.

“No kidding. Guy’s nuttier than a jar of peanut butter.”

She gave you a confused look. “A jar of what?”

“Well, you take nuts, and you grind them into a paste, and you eat it with-“

Her face contorted. “Yuck. That sounds grooooooooss!”

“What are you talking about? It is, like, as awesome as food gets. Second to gushers, I mean.”

“Which is…?”

“I’ll show you later.”

It was quiet for a minute- you were enjoying the peace after the crappy situation with…just…why, English, why? Vriska’s eyes were closed and she had a faint smile as she laid next to you.

“That English guy was right, though,” she muttered, breaking the silence.

“About what?”

“You would neeeeeeeever be able to handle me, grubling!”

“Is…is that a challenge? Are you challenging me, Ms. Serket?”

“And what if I am?” One of her eyes opened and she fixed seven pupils on you.

“Well, I can’t let it go unanswe- oh come on, who the fuck is it this time?!?”

The pad was ringing. Again. You were seriously, honestly considering to just send the address a picture of your one-finger salute, but seeing who it was, the asshat would probably send you pictures of his balls or something later.

“What do you want, Dave.”

“What, no love for me? I expected a red carpet here, John, and now I’m hurt.”

From the holo-projector came the images of both Dave and Dirk. Their stoic, shaded faces looked almost comical squished right up against each other like that, and it didn’t surprise you that the younger sibling had gone to visit the elder one.

“You can deal with it later, General. What do you want?”

“You with Vriska?” Dave adjusted his shades as he asked- from the looks of it, he was still in his dress uniform, which was surprising- he seemed to hate it for being “a poofy, stuck up outfit that only pompous douchemonglers would get off wearing.” You still don’t know if he was serious or not, though, so it was a moot point.

“Am I going to regret answering you?” Vriska had rolled over now, her face supported by her hands as she watched the call with interest.

“Only if you don’t answer at all,” replied the elder Strider.

“Ugh. Fine. Yes. She is right here.”

“’Kay.” Dave’s reply was short.

“Do I really, really want to know why you need to know?”

“Nah, bro. It’s cool. Trust us,” Dave said.

“Um…okay.” You were awkwardly silent for a few moments after that, but it was okay because the Striders were too. You couldn’t tell what their game was- damned shades and irony.

“You touch her boob yet?”

What the fuck, Dave. Vriska, propped up on her elbows, simply waves you off to reply when you look to her.

“C’mon, John, what kind of man are you?” Dirk beats you to speaking.

“What the hell does that have to d-“

“Dude, she’s your woman. You should have definitely gotten to second base already.” Dave cuts you off, and you realize that you might as well let the pair alternate. You know you won’t be able to fend them off when they’re working together like this.

“I thought I taught you better than this, John.”

“Yeah. I mean, here I was, being a good wingman-“

“No you haven’t, wha-“

“-and I kept putting condoms in your room-“

“That was you?!?”

“-but apparently, you’re too much of a dumpass to get to it.”

“Do we need to revoke your Man Card, John?” Dirk peers at you over his shades.

“I think we do, Bro.”

“What are you talking about?!?”

“Just do it, John. Touch her boob.” Dave gets the last word in- that asshole, he is going to PAY for this- before the feed cuts from his end.

You have no idea what just happened, but Dave is going to find out very soon that a certain bucktoothed man was going to-

“He was definitely right,” came Vriska’s voice, cutting through your plans for infinite revenge in a calm and conversational manner. “That English guy, I mean. You definitely couldn’t handle me.”

“Listen, I’m not even going to go into that. I’m sorry that your first contact with the Council just turned into all of them either wanting to bone me or trying to get me to do the same to you,” you said.

“Not all,” she replied. “That Crocker woman hasn’t tried yet.” You heard movement as her hand started tracing the little circles on the bench, her blue-painted nail making skritch-scratch noises against the metal.

You know, there might just be some truth behind that old “speak of the devil” phrase the ancient Terrans had coined because just then, the pad began to ring once again.

The older woman’s face appeared from the projector, smiling and happy in the same way she always was. “Hello, John!”

“What do you want, Admiral?” You couldn’t help it- your voice sounded exasperated and like you didn’t want to talk, because after the last three calls you really just didn’t.

“Is something wrong, John?” She frowned, but the concern on her face was still kinda touching.

“Just go ahead, Jane.”

She raised an eyebrow, skeptical, but continued. “Well, to be honest, it regards both you and Specialist Serket. I was hoping-“

“Look, Admiral,” you interrupted, “…I just had Dr. Lalonde hit on me, Director English try to give me Human/Troll sex advice and “enhancements,” whatever those may be, and both the brothers Strider threaten to revoke my “Man Card” if I don’t touch Vriska’s boob soon. If it even somehow relates to any of those in any way whatsoever, then I really hope you’ll forgive me when I hang up.”

“What on Earth- no, John! Just…no! What did Strider ask? And English…I…”

“It’s fine, Admiral. Just…go.” You buried your face once more in your free hand, closing your eyes and waiting for her to get on with whatever it was she felt the need to call to say.

“Well, I’d understand it if you declined, but I was just calling to ask if you and Ms. Serket would like to come over for dinner sometime before I’m called away again,” she said, sounding a bit hesitant at the start. “I mean, it’s been quite a while, as far as I can tell.”

Your face rose in surprise. Oh…well. “Um…I’ll…”

“It’s quite alright if you’d rather not! I understand at the least that you’ve been through quite a bit already…”

“No, Admiral, it’s fine…just…well, let me ask Vriska.” Okay, now you just felt kinda bad. You turned to her to see her shrug.

“I guess. I mean, why noooooooot?”

You looked back to the Admiral’s face. “Well, she’s agreed to it, so…when would you like us over?”

The Admiral’s face visibly perked up. “Oh, I’ll just send you a note with the time and place on it…I was rather just asking on a thought, so I’ll double check.”

“Thank god you weren’t trying to, like, warn me about trolls or something like Director English.” Seriously, who even…ugh.

“I’ll have words with him, don’t you worry! To say nothing of Roxy…”

You exchanged pleasantries for another few minutes before Crocker cut the feed. You slumped into the bench, and Vriska sort of wiggled closer to lay her head in your lap.

“Soooooooo…”

“Oh god, not you too!”

“What? Ew, no, I ain’t pailing you tonight. Not even in your wildest dreams!” She stuck out her tongue, her synthetic arm coming up to poke a finger up underneath your chin. “I just wanted to know what we were doing tonight.”

Oh. Well, you weren’t really tired, and you assumed she wasn’t either. You hadn’t had that many plans- you never made them and they never worked out, either.

“I dunno,” you said, shrugging as you tried to think of something to do. “Maybe watch some vids?”

“Will they have Nic Cage in them?”

“If you want them to, yeah, sure,” you replied, taking a hold of her metal hand.

She grinned and her fangs shined up at you. “I’m in!”

Chapter Text

Two days later: your name is Vriska Serket, and you’re voicing your concerns over the lack of fabric that is supposed to be covering your back.

“Signless Christ, Kanaya, half of it’s missing!”

“I assure you, it was designed this way in order to present a more provoc-“

“What kind of nookwhiffer…!!!!!!!!”

Fussyfangs’ quarters were filled with mannequins, which in turn were covered in various swathes of fabric that were most likely dresses in different states of completion. You’d told her how you’d been invited over to the Admiral’s place for dinner with John, and she’d practically beamed at you before dragging you back to her place for what she said was, “a much needed change in attire.”

She tugged at a knot in your hair with a brush as you rolled your shoulders, feeling odd with how…exposed they were in this halterneck top. It was comfortable fabric, being the same blue as your eyes, but you just couldn’t get over the new sensation.

“I still don’t see what was wrong with my original outfit,” you muttered, wincing as she pulled at a particularly unruly part of your mane. “Ow! Watch it!”

“Vriska, humans have strict standards for social calls such as this, especially considering the role the Admiral has played in your new matesprit’s life…not to mention her status as your new superior.”

You blushed just a bit as she said “matesprit.” Sometimes, hearing John referred to you like that…well, it felt embarrassing! Here you were, the great and amazing Vriska Serket, tied to an insufferably pitiful human. Good thing Kanaya was focused waging a war on your hair, and thus was unable to notice.

“I was going to wear my best outfit!”

“Need I remind you that your best outfit consists of your patchwork, sleeveless officer’s coat- one that has been riddled with bullets and bloodstains- and your atrociously mismatching red boots?”

“It was only missing the left sleeve! And screw you, my boots are just as amazing as I am. They have all of the coolness, all of- OW, GOGDAMNIT FUSSYFANGS.”

Kanaya jerked at another knot, and she oh-so-casually tossed a few locks of your hair to the side- hair she had just ripped out with the gogdamned brush.

“I never have liked that joke,” she said as she resumed brushing, “…and I never will. I also cannot believe you would be endeavoured to wear destroyed clothing on a preliminary attempt of relationship.”

Okay, true, maybe wearing that outfit wasn’t the best idea in the galaxy, but what could you do? There weren’t many options for casual clothing onboard a military station such as this.

As for John…well, he’d seemed pretty excited- so much so that he had practically ignored half of the vids that night worrying about what might go wrong.

You’d stopped listening to him after he entertained the thought that his shoes would try to trip him up by tying themselves together.

You also still thought about what he was going to do on your supposed date.

“Well…I guess. Thanks for this, Fussyfa- OW.”

She smiled as she tossed to the side another few locks. “You’re quite welcome, dear.”

---

Your name is John Egbert, and you are telling Dave off for trying to suggest you go to the dinner wearing a pair of dog ears and a tail.

“C’mon bro, it’ll be hella ironic.”

“It’ll be “hella” stupid! I’m trying to look respectable, not like some perverted weeaboo!”

Dave was leaning against the wall opposite your bunk, watching as you held up two different shirts (“The blue one brings out your eyes…but this one I have right here has My Little Hoofbeast on it,” and so on).

“So how’s your psychobitch girlfriend?”

You sighed, pulling your arm through the sleeve of the blue one (“No, Dave, irony does not win this time”) and turning to him. “C’mon, man! First off, she’s not a psychobitch.”

“She threatened to throw me off a cliff if I didn’t magically resurrect you,” he replied.

“She was emotionally hurt!”

“Or she’s a psychobitch. Also, let’s not forget what she did in the mess hall on the Gorgon…”

You shuddered. No. You don’t think you could ever forget that. Bones were never supposed to make that noise, not even from xenophobic Legion soldiers.

“Okay, fine. Second, no, I didn’t touch her boob yet.”

“I said nothing about her boob, bro.”

You threw your arms up. “You and I damned well know you were going to!”

“Nope. That was all you. What, you projecting your insecurities onto me or something?” Damn him and his shades- they were an unfair advantage in snark-offs! “’Cos we both know Rose has the best handle on that Freudian shit out of all of us.”

You took the time to facepalm before starting to button up the shirt. “Okay, I walked right into that one.”

“Dived headfirst more like.” He shifted, his head turning towards your desk as he crossed his arms. “What, you kids have a movie night or something?”

You looked up from lacing your shoe to see him indicate a vid case on your desk: City of Angels, an old Nic Cage vid from back in the 21st century. “Well yeah, haha. What did you think we did?”

Dave’s eyebrow shot up. “You really want me to answer that?”

“Okay, yeah, no.” You looked around on your bed for your coat- what the hell, you’d just laid it dow-

“Yo.”

You turned around- Dave was holding it.

“Oh, thanks man,” you said, reaching out to grab it.

He pulled it away from your hand. “Not so fast, Egbert. Where’s this thing with you and her going?”

---

“What do you meeeeeeeean, what am I planning?”

She’d asked the damned question right out of the blue- gogdamnit, Fussyfangs! She was even following you down the corridors to John’s quarters, and you just couldn’t shake the woman off no matter how many turns you were taking.

“I simply want to know-“

---

“-what you’re hoping to get out of her.”

“Dude, chill.”

“Can’t do that ‘till you give me an answer, Johnny boy.”

You tried to snatch the coat out of his hands again, but he was always faster.

“Well, I don’t-“

---

“-really know what you’re asking me, Kanaya.”

“I am only asking why you are so interested in him. I-“

You rounded another corner, but she was still hot on your heels. Crewmen were turning to watch you pass- one troll in fancy/casual attire being chased by another, taller troll wearing a lab coat.

“Look, he’s pitiful! He’d fall apart without me, not to mention that-“

---

“-she’s really cool!”

“Ice cubes are cool too, John, but they never stick around for long.”

“Well,” you said, making a snapping gesture with your fingers, “I don’t really think that’s an issue!”

Dave’s shades were flung from his face to your bed as the Breath heeded your command. He looked stunned, his red eyes wide, and you took the moment to grab your coat as he scrambled for his shades.

“Sneaky, Egbert,” he said as he jammed the things back on.

You pulled the coat on, the black fabric brushing against the blue of your shirt. It matched your black trousers and black shoes, the type that click-clacked as you walked in them. “Well, I’ve learned a few new tricks! Anyways, I gotta go, she’s probably-“

---

“-getting pissed, Fussyfangs. Quit following me!”

You were practically running now, stepping between the station personnel in your way as you tried to lose her. Bob and weave, Serket, bob and weave!

There, that’s his door, he’ll be out in just a min-

“Not until you tell me,” she said, getting a good and firm fucking grip on your shoulders, “…what you see in this human that you haven’t seen since…well, him.

Her words stopped you cold. Oh, hell no, she was NOT going to bring up that guy.

“Look, he’s a nice guy, okay?!? And I might as well go for a change of pace, considering how much everyone hated me before.” You shook off her hands and dusted flicked your hair. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, he’s probably-“

---

“I’m just worried about my palhoncho, bro. You sure she’s not a nutcase?”

His voice…well, it managed to actually betray an iota of concern. That was blowing his emotion quota for the next week straight out the window. You tried to give him your most reassuring smile.

“Just relax, okay? I’ve got this feeling that she’s really nice deep down, and I’m gonna give her a chance! Now behave- I locked the dog treats out of reach, so don’t even try!”

He was unfazed as he responded. “Give me a minute to bark and whine at your feet.”

You laughed. “Alright, man, I’m gonna go, she’s probably-“

---

You tapped at the keypad and the door slid open, leaving you face-to-chest with your date for the evening: a clean-shaven titan wearing a bright blue shirt underneath a black coat with matching black shoes and slacks. His shirt was tucked, but the top button as undone.

Your voice practically threw itself out of the nearest airlock as you said, “-expecting me.”

Of course, being the superior one here, you said it in unison with the Egderp.

---

Your name is Vriska Serket, and HOW THE FUCK DO YOU SOCIALIZE WITH HUMANS.

Dinner had been pleasant- some sort of human wormnest (“It’s called fettuccini, Vris!” “What’s this white stuff?” “Alfredo sauce!”). Thankfully, conversation then was kept to a minimum as the three of you ate (“Vris, you…uh…use the fork.” “What, this thing with the prongs?” “Yeah, you just- no, you don’t stab it like that, you-“ “Shut up, I got this!”). Now, however, you were all sitting on a weird, curved, cushioned platform. You think you heard John call it a couch?

Crocker and John are just making small talk now, but you think you hear the conversation turning towards you and yep there it is.

“Did you enjoy the dinner, dear?”

Shit, c’mon Serket, you’ve destroyed entire platoons of soldiers before! She’s just asking about a plate of food.

“It was good. Yeah!”

Gog you sounded stupid. How do people do this on a regular basis?

Crocker- wearing a black blouse with white pants- smiled at you, but it was one of those smiles where the person doing it practically squinted at you. John did it all the damned time.

“Your cooking’s gotten better since Interitus Prime, that’s for sure!” John piped up and, whether knowingly or not, saved you from further humiliation. An almost imperceptible nod a second later indicated the former.

“Are you still hung up over that?” She was smirking now, and John laughed.

“I threw the pot at a Laughsassin and his face melted off!”

Wait, what? Her cooking could- oh gog.

She frowned. “Look, we were in a swamp, and the only intel we had was that we were doomed for crashing behind enemy lines.”

“Uh…what?” The words had creeped out past your lips before you could stop them. You fool!

Crocker opened her mouth, but John shushed her. “She won’t tell it right. Okay, we were crashed on Interitus Prime, right? Agri-world, but swamps around the equator.”

Crocker rolled her eyes, but John went on regardless.

“A lot of our food supplies had gone down with the escape pod, so we were kinda screwed on that front. We’re getting pretty hungry after a few days’ marching, so we decide to make camp and try to eat whatever we can scrounge.”

“This imbecile,” Crocker added, hiking a thumb at John, “…managed to land our pod in the middle of a bog, of all places. It sank rather quickly.”

John waved her off before continuing. “So she’s got this pot over a fire, right? And she’s just tossing stuff in, whatever we can find. Out of nowhere, this laughsassin drops down from the tree. I’m in the middle of stirring something that is congealing into what looks like Dave’s face combined with a slug, so on reflex, I just swing the pot at her. Next thing you know, she’s writhing on the ground.”

“At first, we simply thought that the boiling juices of our meal-to-be had burned her face,” Crocker said.

“Turns out, that congealed stuff ended up burning a hole straight through to her skull.”

You laugh on impulse, at the image of these two- who look rather similar, now that you think about it- staring at a dead troll with a pot and horrified looks. You, however, as Vriska Serket, are not to be outdone!

“Man, that’s noooooooothing!” You leaned forward, your hands starting to gesture as you began a tale of your own. “So this cavalreaper’s got his warbeast, right? And…”

All in all, the night actually goes better than you initially thought.

---

Your name is John Egbert, and you’re enjoying the scene unfolding before you.

The night had gone from polite conversation to drinking and outrageous stories- while you could hold your own, you weren’t sure who was further gone right now- the red-faced Jane Crocker (“John, we’re getting drunk together, just call me Jane already!” “Yes, Admi-Jane.”) or the blue-faced Vriska Serket. Both were sort of shlumped onto each other, hiccupping after every few slurred words, and trying to argue who was more badass.

It was almost touching. You, however, needed to get her the hell away from Crocker before either of them did anything stupid or dangerous (re: anything you and Dave would do while drunk) that would incur the wrath of Kanaya- and, from what you’d been hearing, the wrath of Rose by extension.

Good for her!

“-I could do at leeeeeeeeasht twishe as much as that!”

“Bring it on, Sherket! I’ll shee you to the fucking DAWN!”

Okay, no, that sounded awfully familiar to the start of the story of how you and Dave had managed to piss off half of the Admiralty Board, so it was time to step in.

“Maybe next time, Admiral,” you said. Christ, compared to how they looked, you could have been dry the entire night. “I think it’s time for me and Specialist Serket here to head back.” You managed to get a swaying Vriska’s arm over your shoulder, thought better of it, and just hefted her in your arms, taking care not to stab yourself on one of her horns.

Crocker was leaning against the doorframe with a smirk- or something resembling one at least- on her face as you picked her newfound rival up. “Ha! Giving up, Sherket?!?”

Vriska’s eyes were practically shut, but an arm shot up and you just managed not to get a mouthful of her finger. “I’ll be back, Crocker! I’mmuna blow you shtraaaaaaaaight outta the water!”

“Good luck doing that in SHPACE!”

Ugh. Did…did you sound like this too? When you were completely gone?

You tried again to disengage. “Thanks again for the dinner, Admiral. Good luck with the deployment!” You tried to take a step back, but Crocker managed a stumble and a half forward.

“John.” She was looking up at you, her eyes screwed tight as if in concentration. “Y’look jush like your father! Jush…jush like ‘im!”

Vriska flailed an arm outward. “Hey! No! Mine! Getcher own pair’a buckteef!”

You really, really hoped you weren’t like this.

---

Admiral Crocker was quartered in one of the Diplomatic Housing Units- housed in a separate subsection of the station, it had spacious living units that looked almost exactly like a replica of a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood. You were walking down a sidewalk, getting sympathetic nods and looks from the guard patrols you met on the way to the shuttle as you carried your totally tanked girlfriend in your arms.

“John. John! Jooooooohn~”

“I’m right here, Vris.”

A hand came up to smack you in the face. Ow!

“John, I love your face. It jusht looks sho piiiiiiiitiful!!!!!!!!”

“Haha, thanks Vris. Definitely the look I was going for.”

The tram station had 3 different cars- sleek, silver affairs with interiors to make luxury doubt itself. You, however, were an enlisted, and you’d be taking the far more utilitarian car.

You didn’t mind. The diplomatic ones were far too ritzy for your tastes.

You tried to lay Vriska down as gently as possible- she was muttering something as you did so, and if you focused, the air would carry the words themselves to your ears.

But you wouldn’t do that.

A thought occurred to you as the tram began its journey back to Central: what were Rose and Jade were up to? Last you’d heard, they were posted to help out Karkat with another rebellion.

They were probably fine.

Chapter Text

Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you are UP TO YOUR GOGDAMNED NOOK in REVOLUTION.

You popped out of cover low and raised your gun when you saw the filmy visor of an enemy cavalreaper just a few meters before you. He was startled- straightened up and tried to bring his plasma rifle up too.

You remembered enough from the digital schoolfeeding done through your new pan implant- you were wielding a Sickle Mk. III combat shotgun: loud and powerful, Egbert had suggested it to you in your last comm. It was a pump-fed weapon with an internal ammo supply. You would rack the slide to chamber a power cell, which would fuel the next shot and take in the excess heat. Small, aerodynamic metal shards were sliced from the metal block in the weapon and fired through the smoothbore barrel ringed with superconducting coils. It was, essentially, a big gauss cannon that fired a hail of razor-sharp flechettes.

So, when you squeezed the trigger, the cavalreaper’s head and shoulders were shredded in a hail of fury and noise. Flecks of his blood spattered the visor of your helmet as you racked the slide. The spent power cell was ejected out the side of the weapon- it glowed a bright red from the dissipated heat- and a new one was chambered.

You were in a bombed out wreck of a hivestem- combat had blown half of the building right the fuck to hell, and were it not for your armour, you would be able to feel the warm rays of the red sun on your epidermal layer. Though you were only about halfway up the building, the huge gouge out of the structure gave at least a dozen floors access to the skies. You were being cautious, however, because those same dozen floors had nice, cozy elevated firing positions from which to shoot your mutant backside.

You took a few tentative steps forward, shotgun jerking back and forth, when there was movement above you- two floors up and a few meters to the left. You cursed- you didn’t have the range to take him out- but you were too far from cover. The enemy contact, an archeradicator with what looked to be a sniper rifle, was already scoping in on you and fuck, shit, you should have waited for the team, there they are in the doorway but they’re not going to make it fuck fuck

There was a simultaneous crack, bang, and shockwave as what was essentially a supersonic artillery shell tore through the troll and several of the floors behind him. He disappeared in a cloud of blue blood and metal fragments, and his weapon dropped with a clatter somewhere in the mess of the room. Part of the floor began to collapse in chunks and bits in a mini-rockfall.

You waved off your troops as they began to check you over, and tried to zoom in on the direction the shot had come from with your visor.

Half a kilometer away, a black-clad figure with a massive rifle blew you a kiss.

Sergeant Major Jade Harley.

SGT MAJ Jade Harley opened a private commlink with CPT Karkat Vantas

JH: how’d i do??

KV: GOGDAMNIT HARLEY, COULD YOU HAVE CUT IT ANY CLOSER? I SAW MY ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE FLASH BEFORE MY OCULAR ORBS THERE. THANK YOU OH SO MUCH FOR MAKING ME RE-LIVE MY ENTIRE FUCKING GRUBHOOD. NOW I’M FORCED TO THINK ABOUT HOW FUCKING AWKWARD MY WIGGLER DAYS WERE.

KV: BUT YEAH, THANKS. I THOUGHT THE FUCKER WAS GOING TO SPLATTER MY SPONGE ALL OVER THE WALLS FOR A FEW MINUTES THERE.

JH: haha!! my pleasure! i’ve been waiting forever to test out my new mods for hass anyways. >:B

KV: DARE I FUCKING ASK WHO HASS IS?

JH: my rifle! duhhh, silly!

KV: WHY IN SIGNLESS SUFFERING CHRIST WOULD YOU- NEVER MIND. JUST KEEP PROVIDING COVER FIRE.

Harley didn’t answer- she just let off another round, and more than one member of your team squealed as the floor shook from how hard some nookwhiffer was punched through it.

The planet of Halum was a mining colony that provided ores and minerals to the Empire. You’d been here for the past few months, funneling in supplies and loyalist troops to train the local population (mostly rust- and yellowbloods) before Command had sent the signal to begin the uprising.

You moved to the remains of a wall, trashed and broken, and looked out of a fenestrated pane to the streets below as distant artillery began to roar and shake. A bit of dust sprinkled onto your arm and somewhere, a bottle clinked as you observed the ebb and flow of combat.

The local psionic population, when pressed into combat, was a fucking terrifying thing to behold.

Flashes of rust and gold blinked rapidly like some sort of juvie flail party, and the hivestem across the street shook as a chunk of rubble dislodged itself.

Your hand shot up and you tried to get a comm channel open to warn the freedom fighters below about the rubble before you noticed the faint tint of maroon around the chunks of grubcrete. It wasn’t long before a troll floated out from behind the mess to greet you with glowing white eyes.

She was tall, even for a rustblood, her arms and legs crisscrossed with scars from long sweeps of hard labour. Her raven black hair flowed freely behind her in a mess of curls and tangles, with curved ram’s horns poking out from beneath that bush. Her black combat carapace, looted from a local armoury (unlike you own Aegis armour, provided to you courtesy of at least two pairs of buckteeth and a lot of angry shouting from having to hold still for a fitting), was adorned only by her symbol, painted in her blood colour, and numerous dents and scratches from hard combat. She gave a small smile as turned those white orbs to you, and you felt your shameglobes burn as a chill ran down your ribbed neural stem.

“Never doubt how hard something will fight for its freedom,” Aradia Megido said, her voice carrying across the dozen or so meters between you with a force fueled by grim determination and psychic willpower.

You nodded, and she floated off.

You dreamt of a free Alternia: a galaxy without the hemocaste system, without discrimination, where trolls and humans alike could live in some sort of easy peace without all of this senseless, shitty violence. It had been easy at first- you’d spoken, urged others to listen to you and your dream of a better future where one’s blood wouldn’t end up determining whether one would live in a palace or a fucking cave- but in the end, uprisings were won by blood. It made perfect fucking sense for this revolution of blood to require a heavy toll of it.

You shook your head and pulled your visor back to bark out orders. The building still wasn’t secure, and you needed to get to street level to better direct the troops.

Your troops.

“Alright, bulgelickers! Give me a fucking sitrep, now!” Your voice carried over the sound of a nearby explosion- a pair of goldbloods had just psionically crushed a starfighter- and one of your team turned to you. She was a human, and her cheeks were flushed as she spoke, short red hair matted to her face from the sweat of exertion.

“Captain! The troops groundside are trying to breach the artillery compound, but they’ve got a fix on our position and they’re gearing up to fire again. Sir!”

You scowled at the honourifics- you had to remind every single soldier who’d ever met you that you were one of them, fighting to free the galaxy of the Condesce’s salt-encrusted talons. “Cut the “sir” shit, Shimkal! And what do you mean they’ve got a fix on our-“

Your query was cut short as whatever deity governed your life decided to give you a double helping of the middle finger. The building shook again as rounds began to impact on one of the floors below you, and you could feel the grubcrete beneath your feet tilt to your right, and towards the building Aradia had taken a chunk out of earlier. The artillery guns had been tracking you all day, and this was just the latest in a long series of shit-stirringly infuriating antics.

You tried to think of a way out as what furniture and other living amenities that were still intact began to slide, and you could swear you saw your reflection give you a single finger salute as a mirror flew by.

“Shimkal!” you shouted. “Get on the comms, tell everyone to clear out of the streets below! Everyone else, we’re bailing out of this nubslurping excuse for a tactical position before gravity decides to get more intimate!”

As Shimkal shut her helmet and began spewing orders across the commnet, another soldier- a rustblood by the name of Niklos- grabbed you by the shoulder.

“Sir! We can fire ziplines through to the building across!”

You wanted to headbutt him for calling you sir, but he had a point. “Then what the fuck are you telling me for? Get it fucking handled before we-“

You were interrupted again as you stumbled- a particularly close spread of explosive rounds chewed away more of the precious supporting structure beneath you.

The hivestem was starting to fall even faster now as your soldiers began to fire the hooked ends of wire rounds through the walls of the building adjacent.

“Go go go! I didn’t start a revolution just to have all of you fucking die like wigglers in the middle of it! Move!”

Aradia appeared as your men and women began traversing the gap between death and safety, a glowing specter with hands upraised and an aura of crackling power.

“I’ll hold it. Go!”

It was only a few more moments before it was your turn- you grabbed the line and kicked off from the building, and you zipped past Aradia. She seemed as emotionless as ever, but not even she could hold up an entire building…not for long.

You hit the deck hard and rolled out of the way for whoever was after you. Most of the team had made it- though Niklos and two others had slipped up and fallen the 50 or so stories. Fuckdamnit, but why couldn’t they have just held on a little tighter?

There was a tremor as the screaming deathtrap of a hivestem you’d just vacated finally came crashing down. You watched from a fenestrated glass panel as the structure broke apart as it fell. If the others had survived the drop…well, they couldn’t survive the whole metric fuckton of rubble crashing down on their pans.

SGT MAJ Jade Harley opened a private commlink with CPT Karkat Vantas

JH: ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh karkat!!!

JH: are you okay?!

KV: OF FUCKING COURSE NOT, HARLEY. I AM ACTUALLY DEAD RIGHT NOW WITH BOTH OF MY MIDDLE FINGERS JAMMED FIRMLY UP MY WASTE CHUTE IN WHAT I HOPE TO BE A FINAL, SPITEFUL GESTURE AGAINST YOU AND YOUR HIDEOUS BUCKTOOTHED VISAGE.

KV: YOU’RE TRANSMITTING TO MY UNDEAD FUCKING SPECTRE, FATED TO HAUNT FUCKASSES LIKE YOU ACROSS THE FUCKING GALAXY.

KV: MY NAME IS KARKAT VANTAS, AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE FUCKING HAUNT ON HALUM.

JH: oh, calm down and stop being a dipshit! i was actually concerned!!

2nd LT Rose Lalonde has joined the commlink

KV: GOG FUCKING DAMNIT, DO NOT TELL ME YOU INVITED THAT SNARKY, SMUG DOUCHECANOE OF A MEDITEARER-

Rose Lalonde: Karkat. I see your recent endeavors as the newly appointed field commander of a race-spanning rebellion and resistance movement have not dulled your sharp tongue.

RL: Adorable, really, though you’re likely to slit your own throat at the rate you flail the little thing around.

KV: FIRST: FUCK YOU. SECOND: THAT’S ADORABLOODTHIRSTY TO YOU, GRIMBITCH. THIRD: FUCK YOU.

RL: Yes, quite, of course. Now, oh adorabloodthirsty one, what is our next course of action?

RL: As I see it, our objective remains unaccomplished.

JH: the liberation isn’t going to go that fast, rose!

RL: The liberation of Halum is our ultimate objective. Our current, and dare I say more immediate goal is the disability or destruction of the artillery currently tearing large gouges in our front lines.

RL: While I remain unsure about the two of you, I for one do not enjoy the constant threat of death courtesy of either falling rubble or high explosive grubmunitions.

JH: she has a point, karkat. we need to do something! :(

As if on cue with Harley’s words, the building you had taken temporary residence in shook as grubmunitions pounded the earth. You looked up and caught a glimpse of someone performing first aid in the flickering light before you decided on a course of action.

You were the leader, fuckdamnit.

KV: HOW MANY OF OUR DROPSHIPS ARE STILL UP?

JH: i can see four circling, but those cannons are triple a. :(

RL: All airborne assaults thus far have failed in spectacularly miserable ways. I fail to see what you would do differently.

Triple A (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) guns were multipurpose weapons that could bombard buildings and shred aircraft, all in one convenient package. Two other air assaults had failed, and the UTL fleet overhead was too busy dealing with Imperial warships to help.

KV: ALRIGHT, SHUT YOUR SPEWHOLES AND LISTEN UP.

KV: NEITHER OF THE OTHER ATTACKS HAD AIRBORNE PSYCHIC ASSETS CAPABLE OF TAKING OUT IN-ATMOSPHERIC STARCRAFT.

KV: WE LOAD UP AND FLY OUT WITH A PSYCHIC VANGUARD- THEY TAKE OUT THE SHELLS AND CLEAR OUT THE FLAK SO WE CAN LAND.

JH: and then we repay them for the favors they’ve been dropping on us all day! >:B

Chapter Text

As the gunship weaved back and forth, you wondered why your nookwhiffing, shit-for-sponge past self suggested an aerial assault.

The side doors were open, and when you weren’t shaking your head and muttering about how much of a nubslurping fuckwit you were, you caught glimpses of the ravaged cityscape flowing below. Entire blocks were leveled, the buildings reduced to smoking grubcrete rubble. Where once stood city hivestems, there was now only the shelled out husks of buildings- the remains jutted into the sky like skeletal fingers pointing accusations towards the heavens.

The artillery compound was at least a klom beyond the city limits, hastily landed to provide sky-shattering explosive rain for those rebels that dared to stand under open skies.

The gunship banked sharply to the left as another flak round detonated. Your grip tightened on the support rail as you grit your teeth- too fucking close.

KV: GOG FUCKING DAMNIT, ARADIA. I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOUR PEOPLE COULD KEEP THE FLAK OFF OF US. YET, HERE I AM, WITH FLAK STUFFED SO FAR UP MY WASTE CHUTE I CAN TASTE THE GRUBPOWDER CHARGES.

SGT Aradia Megido joined team channel OPERATION FUCKSLAYER

AM: wait why is the 0perati0n named fuckslayer

AM: 0_0

KV: IF YOU COULD KEEP YOUR PICOSECOND OF AN ATTENTION SPAN FOCUSED ON, OH, SAY, NOT LETTING THE ENEMY GIVE US NEW SPEW HOLES THROUGH THE JUDICIOUS APPLICATION OF SHRAPNEL, I WOULD REALLY FUCKING APPRECIATE IT.

KV: WHILE IT WOULD ALLOW ME TO PROPERLY CONVEY MY UTTER DISDAIN AND HATRED FOR YOU ALL RIGHT NOW, IT WOULDN’T EXACTLY FUCKING HELP ME WITH MY LIFELONG DESIRE OF NOT GETTING CULLED FOR BEING A FREAK-THAT THING I STARTED A REVOLUTION FOR, YOU KNOW.

AM: y0u cann0t p0ssibly expect me t0 want t0 help y0u if all y0u are willing t0 0ffer me in return is a slurry of verbal abuse

KV: VERBAL ABUSE THAT I WOULD NOT BE SPEWING WERE YOU NOT FAILING SO MISERABLY AT YOUR JOB OF KEEPING US FROM TURNING INTO-

JH: karkat! stop it! >:(

JH: i’m sorry, aradia! but there are an awful lot of shells getting through. could you try a bit harder?

AM: we will see

Your free hand gripped your shotgun even tighter as another round detonated not a dozen meters from your side of the bay. Were it not for the gunship’s (failing) shields, you’d be shredded into a gooey, candy-red mess right now.

Lalonde and Harley had taken to two of the other transports, so that one lucky fucking wiggler’s lucky shot wouldn’t kill off the entire chain of command.

Another transport sped by, and you saw Harley in the open bay door- one arm gripping the frame of the door, she was leaning halfway out and firing her monstrosity of a rifle at the next wall of explosive death hurtling its way through the sky at you with middle fingers up. The rifle was practically as big as one of the gunship’s mounted cannons. One arm held the grip; the massive charging lever, as thick around as your shotgun’s barrel, was in the bend of her ankle. It pushed the lever back to chamber the next round every time she fired, and the shitsponged part wasn’t that she was shooting it like that- even across the roaring winds ripping through the hatch, the constant buzzing drone of the engines and the dull, concussive thumps of the artillery shells detonations’, you could still hear her rifle firing.

She kicked the rifle’s barrel up to her shoulder to expose the magazine- spent, she ejected it and it tumbled away to most likely clod some poor idiot in the head down below. She slapped in a new one and went back to…well, to being Harley.

A troll screamed past, his eyes flashing and his hands outstretched as he fought with his mind to steer the incoming fire away.

The ship shook anew as more rounds came close to denying you a chance to see a free Alternia, and you were thrown to the back of the troop bay as the pilot pitched the nose of the craft up to avoid one.

A trooper gave you a hand up as the pilot sent a comm to you.

Tchet: Another half klom to the DZ, captain!

KV: IF WE DON’T MAKE IT ALIVE, THEN WHEN I SEE YOU IN HELL I AM GOING TO PREACH AT YOU SO HARD, YOU’LL THINK IT’S THE SECOND FUCKING COMING OF THE SIGNLESS CHRI-

Your words were interrupted as the pilot dived to avoid another shell. You decided not to continue the statement as the gunship leveled out again. The explosions stopped- a lull in the barrage, the gunners were reloading- and you decided to look over the compound map one more time.

Initial reports had placed the outer grubcrete walls at over a meter thick and several high, with at least a dozen main batteries. A few ammo dumps were scattered around, deep pits where the explosive larvae were kept. Estimates placed total enemy comp at a little 70 or 80 assorted archeradicators, skirmislayers, and cavalreapers.

Between the psionic trolls and the gunships’ bays, you had at least 60- 59, sorry; judging from the scream, a pysch had just gotten hit- as well as you and the Archons. The fighting would be close and desperate, where your shotgun would be most useful. If worst came to worst, you still had your sickle belted- a memento from your childhood, when your dream had been to grow up and become a threshecutioner.

Fat fucking chance of that happening now.

Your momentary sojourn into the land of Fuck You, Karkat, No Going Back Now was interrupted by a momentary blinding flash, followed mere moments later by a shockwave that threw you right on your ass again.

JH: this is orca one five! we are going down!

JH: i repeat: we are hit and going down hard!!!

The turbulence was making it hard, but you managed a grip on a rail to pull yourself up just in time to see Orca One Five veering off to port with a burning engine and a lot less plating. Jade wasn’t in sight as the burning vessel lost more and more altitude before finally passing out of sight.

KV: GOG FUCKING DAMNIT, WE WERE SHORT HANDED ENOUGH AS IT WAS. DID ANYBODY GET EYES ON WHERE THEY WENT DOWN?

KV: WELL? ANYBODY? DON’T HESITATE TO EJECT YOUR THUMBS FROM YOUR ASSES TO RAISE YOUR HANDS, NOW.

RL: I believe I saw her go down here.

You pulled up a tactical overlay of the area on your HUD and Lalonde’s coordinates pinged to life somewhere too fucking far away to be of any use. For fuck’s almighty fucking sake, what else was-

Tchet: Alright, crew! We touch down in 10 seconds! LZ’s hot; get ready to come out swinging!

Tchet’s voice rang out through the commnet and you could feel the gunship descending fast. There was a thunk of metal on stone as the craft landed.

Tchet: Touchdown! Hit it, troops!

KV: GO GO GO! LEGION ISN’T PAYING US BY THE HOUR, FUCKASSES!

You stormed out of the gunship’s drop bay and into the twilight of a fading day. The guns were even louder up close- massive fucking things that spat death high into the air- and Imperial forces scrambled to find cover.

You ducked down behind an empty grubmunition tank, still reeking of the pyro-conducive fluids used for transport and storage, as Lalonde’s gunship touched down next. Her troops disembarked, weapons blazing, as the ship’s gunners cleared a landing zone and cut down anyone too stupid to have their heads up.

There were muffled, dull thumps as the psionicss began dropping to the ground to enter the fray, eyes and hands flashing in violent patterns that could only show just how hard these trolls were willing to fight.

KV: FORWARD! TAKE OUT THE GUN NESTS AND PAY SOME FUCKING ATTENTION TO THE AMMO AND FUEL CANISTERS.

KV: LAST THING WE NEED IS SOME FUCKING DIPSHIT TO SEND US ALL TO HELL BECAUSE HE COULDN’T AIM STRAIGHT FOR TWO SECONDS.

And like that, the battle was on.

Chapter Text

You ducked behind cover again, sliding the last of your powercells into the shotgun’s receiver as a psionic threw something big and, from the sounds of the crunching bones, fucking heavy.

The assault had gained good forward momentum in the beginning but, short two dozen men, it had stalled at a secondary, inner gate leading to the rest of the compound. Lalonde was trying to breach the gates- she had always been better at close-range combat, all the human Archons were- and you were hanging back to give positioning orders to what few of your troops remained.

Aradia was a spinning fucking nightmare whirlwind of psionic fury and pain that none but the other psionics were even close to willing to be near.

You popped out of cover just in time to see the psionic cut down by a very, very angry subjugglator douchecanoe. He raised a cloud of dust as he came falling out of the fucking sky to land just in front of and then club to death the psionic. His drop shook the very ground, and you were not fucking terrified of him at all.

“Motherfuckin’ HERESY everywhere I set my MOTHERFUCKING SIGHT BULBS!”

He was wearing the full uniform- trashy, spotted plating and facepaint designed to make him look like the stupidest shithead this side of the Condesce’s nook. His weapon of choice looked like some sort of club- it was hard to see in the dying light, but clubs were popular amongst their ranks: bash enemy, clean head, rinse and repeat.

He was also the tallest fucker you’d ever seen, standing at one fuck taller than you cared to estimate and just as wide as you weren’t.

He stood up straighter and pointed his club at you when he noticed you standing there.

“And YOU! Motherfuckin’ MUTANT and BLASPHEMER!” He strode forward, his club moving upwards impossibly fast. Shit, fuck, move Karkat! Legs, motion, he’s still swinging, he’s bringing it down. Everyone in the area that could was indeed pouring so much fire onto the guy he should have ceased to exist, but that plating was thick and fuck fuck fuck fuck

And then his head exploded. Inexplicably, it popped and sprayed bits of purple everywhere, and it was a silent moment before the shockwave of the fired round reached the battlefield.

JH: boom!

JH: to the fucking DOME, son!! >:B

And then she was at it, cranking off round after round of high-explosive death lances at whatever enemy she could scope in on. Jade Harley was alive and kicking some fucking ass.

And you weren’t going to be outdone by her, oh no. With the nubslurper down and his trolls demoralized, it was time to push on that gate. The subjugglator’s body came crashing down as you sprinted forward, your shields flaring from near-hits and glancing blows. Bang, there was some asshole’s face; boom, another nookwhiffer’s chest cavity pried open for the world to see. The spent powercells, glowing from the heat dumped into them, flew as fast as you could pump as you moved forward, ducking into cover every so often for mere seconds before flying once more back out to pick more targets. The men and women under your command did their best to keep up, but you were Karkat Fucking Vantas and you were not to be outdone by anyone with buckteeth.

It wasn’t long, however, before you were out of cells and the gun became a high-tech bludgeoning tool. You flipped it in your hands, your fingers feeling the barest traces of warmth through the plating on your hands as you gripped the barrel and, with both hands and what momentum you had built up, you swung it at the nearest Imperial soldier. Her downward-curved horn cracked and broke off as the butt of the spent weapon slammed into her helmet. Her head whipped around and you brought the gun back around for the archeradicator to get a better view with her other eye.

You tore the sickle from your belt with your right hand, letting the now-bent shotgun clatter to the ground as you took another swing at her. The blade connected, and you could feel just how easily it cut through her arm and torso. You had kept the blade sharpened and honed, and constant practice with Strider had kept your skills somewhere resembling up to par. The monomolecular blade bit deep, and blue blood gushed as the archeradicator fell.

Your other hand went for your pistol as Jade sent out another comm.

JH: karkat! get out of the way!

JH: we’re going to open this fucker up and take the party inside!!! >:B

You’d learned- oftentimes painfully- to get the fuck out of the way when the girl had a shithive maggots plan to execute.

Just as well, because as you dived and rolled out of the way, you saw just how fucking painful not moving would have been.

There was a roar, a crash, and bursting through the outer wall came Jade’s nigh-destroyed gunship. Grubcrete flew everywhere as the metal hulk formerly known as Orca One Five shrieked past you in sparks, flames, and utter insanity and impacted on the gate. With your fucking luck, the gate would have held, but whatever fucking deity that had decided to make your life miserable had evidently decided to look the other way as the metal plating of the pre-fab gate buckled and was carried off by the overloading ship’s engines.

It hit an artillery gun and went critical, the fuel stores adding to the incendiary cocktail of munitions already aboard and detonating in a near-blinding flash that sent razor-white shards of metal screaming through anything squishy that happened to be nearby.

Girl knew how to make a fucking entrance.

You waved your sickle at the newfound hole in the enemy’s defenses.

KV: INTO THE BREACH.

KV: TIME TO FUCKING END THIS.

---

Your name is Aradia Megido, and you are currently using your psionic powers to slam an Imperial ruffianihilator through a grubcrete wall. His face bore only pain and terror as he crunched.

It wasn’t so different, this little war of Karkat’s. You had spent your wiggler days breaking through the dirt and rock outside your hive in a childish attempt at archaeology. Life had paid attention and had twisted your adult life around into a vile mockery as you served the Condesce in her mines, breaking the planet apart with naught but your mind to fuel the Imperial war machine. Perigee after perigee, sweep after sweep did you spend in those vile pits of waste and filth. You had been consigned to a life spent in anticipation of death for the sole reason that you had been born into a hemocaste deemed fit only to work and breed and die. Karkat’s rebellion had interested you because it might have given you hope once.

Perhaps.

At least bones were easier to break than rock.

The echoing screams of the lingering dead around you were far uglier than the whispers that had followed you throughout your life. It was those whispers that told you of a cavalreaper lining up a shot somewhere below you and to your left as you floated towards the breach in the walls one of the humans had created, and it was those whispers that urged you to crush her with a flick of your wrist.

KV: INTO THE BREACH.

KV: TIME TO FUCKING END THIS.

The words scrawled themselves onto the interior of your visor, the characters translated from the human language to Alternian as they did. You didn’t know what to make of them- they were so bipolar, bringing with them to the battlefield a grim determination to succeed and spending their free time in what seemed like carefree bliss. It reminded you of someone you knew as a wiggler, a yellowblood by the name of-

KV: ARADIA, I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU’RE AS MORBID A GRIMBITCH AS LALONDE, BUT WE DON’T EXACTLY HAVE THE FUCKING TIME TO SIT AROUND GRASPING AT OUR WASTE CHUTES. WE NEED TO GET A FUCKING MOVE ON AND DESTROY THE REST OF THE ARTILLERY GUNS BEFORE, OH, I DON’T KNOW, THE CITY GETS FUCKING LEVELED OR SOMETHING.

AM: i am n0t taking in the scenery

AM: i was simply c0ntemplating the differences between my serving in y0ur rebelli0n and-

KV: JUST GET THE FUCK UP HERE AND KILL SOMETHING ALREADY.

You looked further ahead to see that the battle had moved much deeper into the base. An artillery cannon was silenced as a psionic ripped it apart and sent the wreckage screaming into an Imperial gun nest.

The whispers grew agitated and demanded you join the fray and spread further the seeds of death.

You obliged.

Chapter Text

CPT Karkat Vantas opened a private comm with KILO ACTUAL

KILO ACTUAL: Kilo One One, Castle is asking for a status update. How copy?

KV: KILO ACTUAL, THIS IS KILO ONE ONE. WE’VE BREACHED THE INNER CAMP BUT WE’RE STILL FACING HEAVY RESISTANCE. WE’RE READING AT LEAST FOUR MORE GUNS STILL IN OPERATION.

KV: SCRATCH THAT. DOWN TO THREE.

KILO ACTUAL: Copy that, Kilo One One.

KV: UPDATE ON THE STATUS OF REINFORCEMENTS?

KILO ACTUAL: Castle reports nothing available, Kilo One One. Just hold tight and await further updates.

KV: EASY FOR YOU TO FUCKING SAY. YOU’RE NOT THE ONE GETTING SHOT AT.

Something else exploded- not exactly a rare fucking occurrence in the middle of a battlefield- and you cringed as the heat rolled over your temporary bulwark. The going was slower; what few Imperial troops remained (mostly the archeradicators that had been manning the guns) had dug in and they were being the grandest pain your 13 sweep old ass had ever tried to deal with.

A missile flared by overhead close enough for you to feel the heat bleed through your visor. You stuck your pilfered rifle over cover and fired blind, emptying the magazine in a fusillade of burning metal shards. You had a particularly choice set of words for the Human race (or a naffing metric fuckton, but who’s counting), but you could always grudgingly respect a race whose ideas for weapons all included things that could tear the enemy into bloody shreds with one pull of the trigger.

As it was, you ejected the spent mag and jammed a fresh one in before popping up to try actually using the fucking sights for once.

You zeroed in on some nookmunch hefting a particle cannon in a trench, started to squeeze the trigger, and his head exploded- which was fucking weird, because you hadn’t pulled the trigger yet.

The shockwave that followed a half-moment later answered the questions starting to pupate in the depths of your pan.

KV: GOGDAMNIT HARLEY, I COULD LEAD FAR MORE EFFECTIVELY IF I COULD ACTUALLY FUCKING KILL SOMETHING AND NOT HAVE SOME WRETCHED EXCUSE FOR AN AUGMENTED HOPBEAST STEAL EVERY ONE OF MY MARKS.

JH: you snooze, you lose karkat!!!

KV: I AM NOT SNOOZING, HARLEY. I’M HAVING ALL OF MY TARGETS SUCKED FROM BETWEEN MY FINGERS IN SOME DEMENTED GAME OF “MAKE KARKAT’S EFFORTS INEFFECTUAL TO UNDERMINE HIS SELF ESTEEM AND ABILITIES AS A LEADER OF AN EFFECTIVE MILITARY LIBERATION FOR-

RL: Perhaps the two of you could cease your flirtations for just a few minutes to heed the warnings passed along by those still fighting in the city.

KV: WHY THE FUCK WOULD I CARE WHAT THOSE BULGELICKERS HAVE TO SAY RIGHT NOW?

RL: Based on their reports, there are at least 5 enemy dropships approaching from different vectors, and at their current rate of egress, they will be upon us in…

RL: Roughly half an hour.

KV: GOG FUCKING DAMNIT.

You pulled up a map of the area with your position centered and to life pinged at least 5 different ships coming in fast from different angles.

CPT Karkat Vantas opened a private comm with KILO ACTUAL

KV: KILO ACTUAL, I’M GETTING REPORTS OF AN INCOMING ASSAULT FORCE, RE: 5 DROPSHIPS COMING FROM SECTORS ECHO, VICTOR, WHISKEY, AND ZULU. CAN YOU CONFIRM?

KILO ACTUAL: Confirmed Kilo One One, incoming from multiple approach vectors.

KV: FUCK. FUCK!

KV: WHAT’S THE STATUS OF THOSE FUCKING REINFORCEMENTS?

KILO ACTUAL:  Negative, Kilo One One. Castle has no word on reinforcements as of now.

KV: YOU GET OFF YOUR NUBSLURPING, FUCKPANNED, GRUBSHIT ASS AND SECURE ME SOME FUCKING REINFORCEMENTS. THESE ARE GOOD FUCKING MEN AND WOMEN AND I WANT TO SEE THEM LIVE, GOGDAMNIT. THEY FUCKING DESERVE AS MUCH FOR ACTUALLY MANAGING TO SECURE A FUCKING CITY.

KILO ACTUAL: We’ll see what we can do, CPT Vantas.

KV: SEE, SMELL, RUB IT ALL OVER YOUR FUCKING FACE AND JAM IT STRAIGHT UP YOUR FUCKING NOOK, I DON’T CARE. GET MY TEAM EVAC’D.

You disconnected from the comm to drill a burst into an uppity warbeast’s face as it leapt at you, but the corpse’s momentum slammed it into you and you went down. It flailed the entire way down as hot blood gushed onto your already battered armour. An earlier attempt on your rapidly-falling-into-shit life by a skirmislayer had left three long gouges across your chest plate where the claws had torn right through the shielding like it was an overcooked grubloaf.

CPT Karkat Vantas joined team channel OPERATION FUCKSLAYER

KV: ALRIGHT. ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, WE ALMOST PERFORMED WELL IN TAKING THE ARTILLERY BASE AND AS SOON AS WE CLEAR OUT THIS LAST BUNKER, WE CAN ALL TAKE A SMALL BREAK TO CATCH OUR BREATHS.

KV: ON THE FAR, FAR DARKER SIDE WHERE SKELETONS WILL DANCE ON OUR CORPSES AND SPIT OUR BLOOD AT EACH OTHER IN MACABRE FASHIONS IN SOME SORT OF FUCKWIT ATTEMPT AT MERRYMAKI-

JH: karkat!!!

KV: WE’VE GOT AT LEAST FIVE INCOMING DROPSHIPS FROM ALL SIDES. COMMAND TELLS ME THEY’LL BE HERE IN THIRTY MINUTES TO SKULLFUCK US WITH MISSILES AND PLASMA.

Reardon: Reinforcements, sir?

KV: NONE. WE ARE HIGH AND FUCKING DRY, AND WE’VE GOT TO HOLD OUT UNTIL WE’RE EVAC’D, REINFORCED, OR DEAD.

---

Fifteen minutes later, the last of the Imperial troops had been scoured from the camp and your remaining troops (the last 27 the enemy didn’t fucking kill) were scurrying about collecting weapons, ammunition, and materials to rebuild the barricades your soldiers had bled taking in the first place. Rose and Jade were trying to tow the remaining pair of artillery guns into defensible positions- they were still intact, so it would have been a big fucking waste of Her Imperious Condescension’s resources not to use them. With any luck, your troops might score a lucky hit and knock one of the dropships out of the sky with a big, fiery, flak-filled middle finger.

You were trying to direct people into positions offering maximum survivability and overlapping fields of fire- if the shitstain grubfuckers wanted their camp back, they were going to pay a steep fucking price for it.

KILO ACTUAL opened a private commlink with CPT Karkat Vantas

KILO ACTUAL: Kilo One One, we’re seeing a lot of activity down there. How copy?

KV: WE’VE TAKEN THE LIBERTY OF REDECORATING THIS SHITHIVE FOR MAXIMUM SURVIVABILITY: BARRICADES, BUNKERS, THAT SORT OF FUCKING THING.

KILO ACTUAL: Copy that, Kilo One One. Be advised, reinforcements are still unavailable.

KV: JUST MY FUCKING LUCK. NEXT, YOU’RE GOING TO TELL ME A DREADNOUGHT IS GOING TO FALL OUT OF THE FUCKING SKY ON MY FACE AND HAVE ITS CREW SHIT BULGE JUICE DOWN MY THROAT.

KILO ACTUAL: Kilo One One, we have a wing of gunships requesting to provide your team air support.

KV: WHAT THE FU- WELL, PATCH THEM THE FUCK THROUGH!

LT Tatiana Tchet has joined the commlink

Tatiana Tchet: Sir! My wing can provide groundside air support until reinforcements can arrive!

KV: I NEED SOME FUCKING NUMBERS, LIEUTENANT.

TT: The same 3 Damocles-class gunships we landed your team with, standard payload.

Standard though the payload was, that was still a lot of fucking firepower- each gunship had three dual-autocannon railturrets and a nose-mounted, rotary 30mm cannon. The payload would include at least 5 dozen HE missiles per gunship, which was icing on top of the already disgustingly well-armed grubcake.

KV: YOU’VE BEEN FUCKING HOLDING OUT ON US, LIEUTENANT. HOW SOON CAN YOU GET HERE?

TT: Well, sir, I’ve got a plan.

KV: FUCK IT, MIGHT AS WELL. WE’RE ALL PROBABLY FUCKED DOWN HERE ANYWAYS.

TT: Not entirely, sir! We can have two birds run interference while the third runs evac flights. We’ll get your team out and blow some of the fuckers right off the map while we do it!

KV: BOLD PLAN, LIEUTENANT. ARE YOUR PILOTS UP FOR IT?

TT: You fucking bet, sir!

KV: HOW SOON CAN YOU GET HERE?

TT: We’re almost done with the refuel and refit, sir; we’ll be in the air momentarily.

KV: ETA AFTER THAT?

TT: I’d say no more than 10 mikes, sir.

KV: THEN GET THE FUCK TO IT, LIEUTENANT.

Chapter Text

Your name is Tatiana Tchet. You’re a lieutenant in the Terran Legion and you enjoy drawing, reading, and blowing enemy aircraft out of the sky with a penta-barreled, rotary, rail-powered 30mm autocannon.

You looked to your left to see an Alternian psionic tear past you- no mean feat, considering you were already going pretty fast yourself.

KESTREL THREE FIVE: On your six, Tchet!

PIGEON FOUR SEVEN: Copy that, thanks for the heads up!

You gunned the engines, pulling the nose up to point straight at the sky. You felt the vertigo as the craft went fully vertical before you burned the port engines to bring the craft back down and around. You knew your bird- knew her limits and how she would handle any given maneuver- and so as the gunship twisted back around you disregarded the creaks and groans of the hull and spooled up the autocannon.

It was attached to a swivel mount that was linked to your helmet’s HUD; the holographic sight was projected directly onto the center of your visor and moved to track whatever you looked at. That meant that when you turned your head to look at the Imperial Harvester-class fighter, it was lined up nice and neat in your cannon’s sights. One pull of the trigger sent a hail of 30mm shells hurtling towards the fighter- a few detonated on the shields, but way too fucking many got through and turned the fine example of Alternian spacefaring engineering into a flaming wreck that tumbled to the ground at gravity’s behest.

You pushed the throttle- it was a death sentence for a pilot to stay still. In the skies, speed was king, and if you weren’t moving, you were dead. The TacNet was ablaze with the voices of soldiers and pilots alike- Captain Vantas’ voice, however, tended to stand a cut above the rest.

KV: IT WOULD BE REALLY FUCKING NICE IF, SAY, ONE OF YOU NUBSLURPERS WITH THE GUNSHIPS WOULD GIVE ME A STRAFING RUN AT THE PAINTED COORDINATES. I MEAN, IT’S NOT AS IF WE’RE ABOUT TO BE RUN THROUGH BY A FUCKTON OF SHITHIVE MAGGOTS IMPERIAL CAVALREAPERS WITH THEIR FUCK-BUDDY WARBEASTS HERE.

TT: Ten four, Captain! Coming in hot on your position.

You dived, throwing the nose of your bird straight down. There were more than a few sudden bouts of cursing from your three gunners- normally, you would warn them before pulling something like that- but the Captain needed someone to make it rain at the painted area fast.

A scant few dozen meters from the ground- the point where you could see the ground pounders below looking up at the giant, accelerating hulk of metal about to come down on them- you brought the nose up hard and burned the rear set of vertical thrusters. Objects crashed to the deck and there was some even more spiteful cursing that would probably give Captain Vantas a few new ideas for things to call dipshits.

You gunned it and the gunship jumped forward, throwing you deeper into the crash-padding of the chair so fast the rig actually had some slack to it before automatically readjusting and tightening to hold tight to your torso once more. The painted area came up on your HUD; it was a bright, candy-red stripe slashed across the ravaged earth a short distance in front of a trench containing Legion troops. The Legionaries were putting up a hell of a fight- Captain Vantas was practically pissing lead from a mounted gun- but the cavalreapers were closing fast and if they got into that trench, it wouldn’t end pretty.

Time seemed to slow down for you, as it always did in the heat of combat. Your left hand’s fingers danced over a holo-console: one button armed the port rack of high-explosive missiles, another released the maglocks that held them tight in their berths. Your gaze wandered over the enemy advance and rapid trigger-pulls from your right hand, wrapped around the joystick as it was, brought to life blue marks on the ground where the missiles would land. Your gaze was an instrument of death in and of itself, and one last touch upon a keyboard made of coherent light sealed the fates of the advancing charge of Alternians and their warbeasts.

Your view was obstructed for just a moment as blue-white streaks shot forth at speeds that were lightning fast even in your seemingly-slowed world. Even the staccato rick-racks of the rail turrets in the hold seemed slow, but always those missiles were fast, as if eager to send their targets to meet the Ferryman.

Time wound back up as you angled the nose skyward, and the only evidence of the fruits of your actions was a shuddering in the joystick as the ship shook and a few stray bits of earth went flying past the cockpit window.

You saw Kestrel Three Five streak past with a bogey on his tail, and you spooled up the main gun with a grin.

K35: I could sure use some help here!

P47: Just hold reeeal still, Kestrel!

The cockpit shook as the gun mounted under it roared to life and your bird leapt forward, talons out.

---

Your name is Karkat Vantas, and ALL FUCKING HELL IS BREAKING LOOSE.

A gunship streaked by overhead, leaving behind evidence of its passing in the form of a thunderous, ground-shaking series of explosions. Dirt pattered off your armour and visor as you turned your head to see the aircraft chase after an Imperial starfighter. The gunships had been outfitted with ground-support kits when you’d called them in- they were too heavy to carry any personnel because of all the extra ammo and it would have taken too long to refit them anyways.

So here you were, once again putting rounds into whatever Imperial soldiers found themselves unlucky enough to be caught in your crosshairs.

Your hands cradled a pilfered rail cannon- the troll who’d been using it, Rerdon, had been crushed to death by the wreckage of one of the starfighters flying overhead and you'd decided that the heavy weapon sure as shit wasn't going to waste. The trench was deep enough to keep everything from the shoulders down safe- but it was crude, it was shitty, and fuck you sideways if it wasn’t muddy from the blood that had run into it. Your sickle, notched and covered in the rainbow smears of countless Imperial soldiers’ blood hues, was wedged tip-first into the dirt at the edge of the trench- the better to leave your hands free to reload while the enemy was still fighting at distance. Tchet’s strafing run had bought you some time before the next cavalreaper charge.

Your lines were spread thin- 30 soldiers against an assault force in the hundreds? Fuck, but those odds were lopsided. As such, you were with two others and responsible for a stretch of trench somewhere in the too-fucking-much-for-too-few-people length.

Your hand, slick with blood- the top layer was a bright, cobalt blue from an archeradicator that had charged you with a bayonet- fumbled with a magazine as you ducked down to reload. One of the others went up to cover your position as you did so, and you jammed the mag in before coming up to hello warbeast.

For just a hideous fucking moment, the world slowed down. You could count every jagged, blood-stained tooth in its maw; you could pick out every nick and scratch in its armour’s plates; even the spittle coming from its lips was easily discernible as it leaped for your throat.

Then, it exploded in a fountain of gore that added to the fucking mess on your visor; you couldn’t stop, though, and your rifle was up in a heartbeat to put down the beast’s caretaker.

You cast a glance backwards and upwards to see a black-clad figure with a massive rifle. A nod from you was returned with a nod from her as she turned to the other side of her vantage point- the wreckage of an artillery gun- to put down some other unlucky dipshit.

A threshecutioner was gunning for your lines, sickles out in each of his hands with a wicked grin on his face as he zig-zagged towards your position. Your gun was up again, your finger squeezing the trigger when his arm was ripped off.

No. Fuck no. Not here. Pick some other fucking section of trench, you shit-eating, snarky witchbitch.

A spike buried itself in his bicep and he dropped the sickle and screamed- you heard it, a dozen meters away and in the heat of battle- and in the blink of an eye, the arm came off in a sickening fountain of blood as the purple plasma tether connected to the spike pulled.

She always fucking did this, always fucking you.

Another spike slammed into the troll from above, pinning him into the spoiled earth as the lunatic came twirling into your sight.

Egbert was a man and fought with his fists and brute speed and strength. Strider, the fuckmongling douchecanoe, used a blade. Even Jade just clobbered things with her rifle whenever she felt the need! But Lalonde? No. Fuck being normal, fuck being merciful.

She landed on a knee before you with a splash and a thud. From her wrists bled purple tethers of plasma, and you didn’t even need to look to know that they were connected to a matching pair of giant fucking metal spikes.

She looked back at you for a moment, and you felt something cold and dark stab at your mind.

She twirled around, pulling a spike from the corpse and slamming it into the ground. She used the momentum to launch herself through the air and closer to her prey. You could only really watch as she went to work.

She spiked a cavalreaper through the chest, pinning him to the standing remains of a ruined wall. His blood splashed the grubcrete as she spun and the other spike tore out his throat. Needles, she called them; devilwork was more fucking accurate.

A slide and an upward swing impaled a ruffianihilator and sent him arcing over her head. She yanked him downward and slammed him back into the ground before flinging him off of the spike and off into the distance. Lalonde rammed the spike under a skirmislayer’s chin and the troll went limp as she was swung overhead before getting slammed headfirst back into the mud.

Another threshecutioner tried to charge her from behind, ducked the spike that was a tooth from the maw of death itself, but he wasn’t quick enough to dodge its sister. It came from below and went straight through his chest to poke out of his back. He was floating for a moment before Lalonde brought the other spike up and back down in one fluid motion to pincer the greenblood. A twirl sent him flying and she was at it again, taking her toll on the assaulting Imperial forces and reaping their lives with all of the smooth efficiency of a grain farmer.

She would always come back covered in blood, licking it from the tips of her gauntleted fingers like some fiendish, demonic, blonde rainbow drinker. You had learned long ago not to get in her way when those needles were out- you’d nearly gone without a fucking face for a while.

A cavalreaper was her next target, and she spared him no expense. She sent him skyward with a spike in his gut and it was soon joined by its sister. Lalonde spun, like a ballerina of death with a tutu of blood and slippers shod in bone with her arms pointed straight at the sky. The cavalreaper was directly overhead, and for a split second he seemed weightless before Lalonde proved once again how deep the depths of her bitchery went.

She pulled her arms apart, and it was another moment before the motion was transferred through the tethers and into the spikes.

The cavalreaper came apart at the waist, his spine trailing from his torso as his brown blood rained down upon Lalonde. His legs flopped away as she reeled him in, shortening the tether until she was looking him face-to-face. She always did this, she always toyed with her victims, and she always proved time and again how much of a douchemongling, shitsnark witchbitch she was.

The torso, still moving weakly, was kicked from the spike. He tumbled from where his shoulder dipped into the softened earth before sliding to a stop in the blood-soaked mud a few meters away from you; he left a fresh smear of brown blood that almost made you feel sorry for him.

You swore as a black blur thumped into the mud before you- Lalonde. You had a few choice words that, had they been said, would have conveyed your utter contempt for her very continued existence and both where and just how hard she could jam those “needles” of hers when her visor slid back to reveal her pale face.

“Consider that your first lesson in showmanship.”

Chapter Text

Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you are falling back hard.

The rail cannon was heavy in your arms- how long had you been carrying it?- and the ammo cartridges you still had for it click clacked against your chestplate as you fired from the hip. A skirmislayer went down clutching at the multiple new breathing holes you’d seen fit to bestow upon her. The suit compensated for the recoil, but your arms were tired and ammo was running low.

The last dregs of the magazine were spent putting a ruffianihilator down hard as he tried to snag a straggler.

You tried to ping him on the comms and tell him to hurry the fuck up and be grateful that you had saved his sniveling dipshit life, but your helmet had broken some time ago- an enemy grenade had cracked the lens and taken off a good portion of the armour plating on the upper left side. Broken though it was, however, it still provided basic ballistic protection…so, on your head it remained.

Lucky fucking you.

You held out a hand, saw the soldier- a troll, greenblooded from his shoulder symbol- reach out to meet it, but a mortar round went off and you were both blinded and thrown from your feet in a spray of mud. You tumbled, slid through the mud further towards the enemy lines. Your visor would normally have auto-compensated for the flash, but your helmet had been skullfucked into nonfunctionality and as such had decided to flip you both birds. One hand gripped that of the trooper you had been reaching out to; the other held onto the rail cannon for dear life. You hit a rock, had the breath knocked out of you, before rolling back into a trench. A bit of mud seeped in through a hole in the upper left of your visor- cold and wet and slippery, it began to drip into your hair.

Everything hurt, by this point; countless explosives, close calls, and relentless melee assaults had taken their toll on you and your forces. There were only a dozen of you left: it had been too hot to have a gunship land and evac anybody, so you’d erred on the side of caution and had decided to wait it out for reinforcements.

Reinforcements that never came.

You opened your eyes and stood, shaking mud off of the gun- tinged a rainbow of colours, all muddled by the brown mud- and your other came up to wipe off the mud covering half of your visor.

It was clutching the severed hand of the troll.

Fuck.

You tossed it away and heard it land in the mud with a wet schlop before trying to get out of the trench. The sides were slippery and falling apart, and the fucking rain wasn’t helping.

One of the gunships roared by overhead; they’d left to rearm and, just fucking coincidentally, everything went to a steaming, ploin-shaped pile of grubshit immediately after. One of them had been downed by some prick with an energy projector lance.

Fucking lances.

The things fired streams of super-agitated particles, and the nubslurping fuckwit had managed to hit one of the racks of missiles beneath Vulture Seven Nine’s starboard wings. Normally, that wouldn’t have been too much of an issue- the missiles were inert until armed and primed to fire.

Guess who had his missiles armed and primed for a strafing run called out by yours truly?

Vulture Seven Nine had tried to direct his aircraft towards enemy lines- and there’d been an explosion some ways off just as his vitals went down.

Plasma hissed and burned through the air as you zig-zagged up the muddy slope. Two troopers popped over the top of the wreckage of a downed Imperial Harvester to provide you covering fire. A hail of rail rounds streaked by, fired by the pair taking cover behind the crashed aircraft, and you swore you could see some of the raindrops get sheared right in half.

Someone behind you screamed.

One last running leap- or as close to one as you could manage, at least- brought you tumbling over the cover to plop back into the mud in friendly territory.

You closed your eyes, took a deep breath as you felt your legs burn. The servos in your legs had probably burned out by now; either that, or you were just tired as fuck.

Tired, cold, hungry, and pissed the fuck off.

The last one was more recent as there was the very physical avatar of blithering snark gazing down at you with a smug smile when you opened your eyes.

“So glad you could join us, Karkat.” You wanted to punch a few of her shiny white teeth out, but you were having trouble remembering how to not be a pathetic wiggler lying in the mud.

You flinched as Jade fired. The mud around you sloshed against your plates.

Lalonde offered you a hand up- you shot her a glare that you hoped she felt through your broken visor before trying to get up yourself. Bits of metal and earth were falling, dripping off of you as you shook off the rail cannon.

“Sitrep,” you heard yourself bark. Everything seemed so distant now- you just wanted to be behind friendly lines without quite so many people trying to shoot you at the same time.

Harley fired again. Small waves flowed outwards from her position atop a ruined bunker in the muddy slop at your feet.

“We’ve no shortage of weaponry, courtesy of our fallen allies, and Pigeon Four Seven had the foresight to airdrop an ammo crate on our position. We’re down to a dozen Legionaries, not counting Jade and myself, and they are positioned to provide overlapping fields of fire.”

Fuck. Say what you will, you’d learned that when Lalonde meant business, she was nearly always serious.

“Any word on reinforcements?”

The Archon shook her head. “Nothing. We’ve been trying the comms for an hour, but we believe they’ve decided to cut off our communications. The gunships were rearming and refueling last we heard from them, and will be in the air soon, judging from their progress before comms were cut. However, we think-“

A Legionary cut her off with an exclamation. “Another wave, incoming!”

“Fuck. Fuck! Where?!?” You’d barely gotten the chance to catch your breath and get back up to speed and the shithive douchewits wanted to push again?

They were going to learn sooner or later that you would never let them get away with it scot-fucking-free.

“North by northwest! Scopes are reading mostly threshecutioners and skirmislayers,” Jade said, sliding down the side of her vantage position to come to a stop in the mud. The rain seemed to have lightened up a bit, but it was still going hard enough to irk you- as much as everything else was, anyways.

“So why the fuck aren’t you up there, thinning their fucking ranks?” She was a sniper with a rifle the size of the ragesnake the Imperial forces managed to make you shit every time they tried to pull their bullshit that practically qualified as a small artillery cannon.

She shrugged. “I’m nearly out of ammo, and the dipshits have been chipping away at me all day. I want to get in on the ground action, where I can put down some hurt,” she said as you took stock of her.

Her visor was pulled back, and but the parts of it still visible were dinged and dented and partially melted away. Her armour looked cleaner than yours in terms of the elements, but it fared no better- small breaches in the outer layer of plating allowed the secondary, ablative armour layer to shine through in a dull silver colour. There were melted, mottled gashes from multiple grazing blows and near-misses. Her entire left gauntlet’s outer, energy dissipating layer of black was runny in some places and gone in others- heat runoff from her rifle’s barrel. Her hair was still in its customary braid.

She fought with a pair of handguns given to her by Director English- prototypes, they had rapid-charge capacitors normally reserved for a rifle jammed into a pistol frame and allowed for a rate of fire rivaling the Fang’s. It was durable enough that she could bludgeon a ruffianihilator with it- which you’d seen her do on multiple occasions- and designed with the biotechnological enhancements of an Archon in mind. You’d tried to fire it in Aegis armour once- it had nearly snapped your wrist. No surprise, considering the size of the rounds, but the higher power necessitated frequent reloads. Jade was just as elegant as Lalonde, but far kinder: whereas Lalonde ripped her targets apart, Jade was nearly surgical with every shot.

Lalonde looked just as bad, even considering how good of a scrapper she was- if you could call her witchcraft douchemongling fighting “scrapping” –and though she looked as snarky as ever, even she was growing tired. Scrapes and gashes from countless threshecutioner sickles and skirmislayer claws littered her Aegis suit, and light blue gas bled from a breach in her left side, just below her ribs. Blood of a number of hues ran clear up to her elbows, and it was hard to see any of the black coating of the plate through it. Her helmet was just as battered as Jade’s, but still working- as far as you knew, at least.

Aradia floated into view- if your squad looked beaten the fuck up, hers looked dying and dead. Most of her half-dozen strong cadre were outright missing pieces of their armour: spaulders, greaves, one lucky douchewit was missing half his torso plating. Aradia herself was down to her cuirass and greaves- her suits arms were just fucking gone, and what remained looked like it was falling apart. She'd practically been a phantom since the attacks started, but Gog help anything around when she appeared.

“I’ll take the northern side- Harley, you take the west.” Jade nodded as you turned to Rose. “Lalonde, I want you mobile. As much as I know I’m going to regret telling you to fucking do this, do what you do best and roam as much as you need. Aradia, cover our flanks- last thing we need is the grubfucking nubmunchers to take us from behind. And all of you? Try not to get in the fucking way of our guns.”

She nodded as well before turning to Jade. “How much longer do we have before they’re upon us?”

Jade rolled her eyes, estimating for a moment before saying, “Five, give or take a few minutes.”

You wiped some mud the rain hadn’t taken from your helmet off the visor before hefting the rail cannon. “You’ve both got your orders, get the fuck to it.”

Chapter Text

Your name is Aradia Megido, and the situation before you is rapidly deteriorating. Well…for the enemy.

It was so easy, what you were doing to them. A single gesture sent a cavalreaper spinning through the air; another cut his flight short and slammed him into the ground. Water dripped off your fingertips as the rain fell in sheets. It was cold, and the droplets left trails of ice burning across your epidermal layer. It was no trouble, of course- hardly much ever was. Your mind fueled whatever endeavours you set yourself to, and it was only aided along by the souls of the numberless dead shackled to your soul. You felt warmth from their echoes as you floated forward, a warbeast and its controller caught within a vice grip. It was a fight between your will and theirs, one master and servant against another…but where the beast and its reaper knew their places, you were never sure who had more control.

Just as the dead were content to be shackled, you were content to let the issue lie. Their will fortified yours, and blood rained down on the battlefield below as the pair you held broke. The smart ones ignored the blood rain, with a lucky few either too busy to take note or too grateful for the miniscule specks of warmth to care. The stupid ones looked up and screamed, and so made themselves out to be easy targets in the low-visibility conditions.

It wasn’t just the chilling rain you disliked. It always felt so cold, always felt so empty, always felt so…dead. Funny, then, that you would use the powers of the dead to alleviate that cold.

A quick gesture slammed several skirmislayers down- midrun, their bones crunched and broke and they went from being highly trained Imperial soldiers to crunchy meatsacks with metal shel-

You winced as plasma flared through the air at you, and the voices stirred. Their buzzing hurt, the words like spikes driving through your sanity. They screamed, louder and louder, until you soothed their scattered wits and killed the perpetrators. More whispering tendrils joined the crowd, and they called you to add once more to their ranks.

You felt warmth again as you ripped an archeradicator apart at the waist. It felt so good, so wonderful.

The killing made you feel better; every death was another voice quieted to a humble whisper once more, and it pleased you to no end that there was currently no shortage of lives to snuff out.

---

Your name is Jade Harley, and you giggled as a gaggle of skirmislayers went limp. A quick glance overhead affirmed to you that Aradia was at work before a burning beam of plasma sliced through the air and you decided that of the two, you would rather stay intact over spending further time being her rapt audience.

Judging from the crunching noises you could hear over the din of combat and the torrential downpour that was mangling your visibility to nil, any audience she had was likely to die at one point or another anyways.

A cavalreaper creeped into sight, hunched low and firing as he tried to advance up the muddy hell that was the hill. The Legionary that had been assigned to this swathe of runny earth had dove onto a grenade to protect you. Valiant, but you knew sure as shit you could have punted the explosive back into the invasion force with far better results.

Poor idiot.

Staccato bursts of rail fire split the veil of rain apart at the edges of your vision before you braced and hefted Hass- there’d been plenty of high-cal ammo in the crate one of the pilots- Tchet? Something like that- had dropped off prior. Though they were actually a little on the small side, a quick barrel change later and Hass was cranking ‘em off with minimal issues. Just as well- you had tried firing a standard cartridge and the recoil had slid you through the mud a good dozen feet. You’d swapped out the scope, the stock- Hass was looking like more of a DMR than the artillery cannon most people called him, and hell if you couldn’t get used to how much lighter he was. Granted, the weight was to offset the recoil, but that was beside the point.

“Another wave! Incoming,” screamed a woman’s voice over the commnet. She sounded scared, tired…but hell, you all were at this point. You, Rose, even fiery little “I’ll outperform you pathetic, driveling, fuckass Archons straight into next week” Karkat- the Imperial invasion force wasn’t your greatest enemy any more. That title proudly went to fatigue and her many, bitchy friends.

Round chambered, rifle up, you squeezed the trigger and saw that cavalreaper’s head pop six-some hours after the assault began. You could feel the ripples of the mud slosh up your calf-plates as the empty shell cycled out and a new one was chambered. The smaller loads almost weren’t enough to cycle the piston and rotate the bolt, but you were just barely saved from manual reloads. Just. Not that they were tough to do- just annoying, especially when you had enemy fire pouring on from all sides.

Another round, another head; this time, an archeradicator with a missile launcher. A follow-up shot detonated the spares he had on his back, and a roiling explosion briefly lit up the dismal day. The skies had been grey for God knows how long, but the rain was heavy enough for you to notice the difference in the amount of effort it took to keep Hass up.

Heads kept shattering, popping, and otherwise exploding as you pumped out cartridge after cartridge. Fifty-round drum magazines were convenient as all hell, and they helped ensure that if anything unfriendly entered your sight range, it died.

You were always surprised when Hass clicked empty- he had a digital ammo counter and was linked straight to your HUD, but it always snapped you back when you ran dry…and so you flinched when you heard that scrape-click.

Hass was built for combat duty alongside an Archon and, as such, was sturdy beyond belief with an interchangeability in the parts that surprised even you sometimes. As such, letting the empty magazine plop into a puddle at your feet so that you could slam a new one home was hardly going to put any wear and tear on the old bastard.

Of course, not even you were tired enough to notice the second plop at your feet, or…y’know, the beeping and flashing and shit. Imperial engineers had made some swanky gear before, you had to admit, but their grenades were flashy, showy, and for fuck’s sakes, why did it have a mini-strobe light?

Your first reaction was to dive away because, shields or no, a grenade at your feet was always a bad idea. Of course, being the tired idiot you were, your fatigued ass decided to make the leap-of-safety a good fifteen feet downhill and towards the enemy.

Way to fucking go, Harley!

You tumbled down the corpse-strewn slope, probably looking something like a misshapen rock bouncing across a lake of blood. Mud splashed a rainbow slurry of colours, and you slid another few feet before coming to rest at…the bottom of the fucking hill.

Shit.

And the first thing you saw past the sludge you were wiping off of your visor? A whole mess of angry Imperial infantry.

To their credit, their usual few moments of utter stupefaction at an Archon come tumbling from the heavens, covered head to toe in just about every blood colour in the spectrum, only lasted about half as long- which was bully for you because the fall had been a great opportunity for the rest of your body to pipe up and scream, “Hey! Fuckwad! We’re tired!”

A ruffianihilator raised a wickedly curved sword with a nasty hook on the end, and as she brought it down, your whole life flashed before your eyes as you screamed for mer-

Or, rather, you would be if you weren’t one of the most badass infantry units the Terran Legion had ever created.

As you rolled to the side, Hass clutched tight to your chest, you remembered snippets of your time in the training academy- post augments, you’d chosen to be a sniper and had been presently surprised to find yourself in a close-quarters combat class…and you were even more surprised that Grandpa English was the fellow directing the whole thing.

“As snipers,” he had said with a booming voice over the chattering of confused post-aug cadets, “You will be the lightning strikes that the enemy will have to contend with! Unseen, unnoticed, you will strike at them from miles away and leave them both panicked and none the wiser to your presence.”

He had tweaked his wicked ‘stache for a bit before continuing.

“However! You’re all going to be Archons, and thus significantly more badass than your average sniper. You will be directly supporting your fellow Archons in battle, ever at their backs and spitting lead, and I made damn sure that the new Aegis suits can take whatever unlikely hits the enemy will try to land. You will be in the thick of the fighting, sallying forth to sow a frightful toll upon the enemy. They will see your weapons and know fear! For what else is scarier than an angry superhuman with a stack of very, very large bullets?”

Of course, his speech had deviated quite a bit from there on out, with vague references to both General Strider and Admiral Crocker, but from then on out you were trained to use anything and everything you could be deployed with as a CQC weapon.

So you rolled, with Hass clutched tight to your chest, and when you came back up, the stupid SOB of a ruffianihilator got a good crack across his face from the butt of your rifle.

“Click,” you heard yourself say.

You stopped for just a moment to readjust the weight of your rifle before swinging again, letting the momentum build in a series of twirling arcs that would put some ballet dancers to shame.

The shorter variant Hass was configured to led to a rifle that was a lost less unwieldy- almost like a hammer, the barrel a short handle and the butt stock an unforgiving head. It took both hands to do this properly, however, and your free hand took hold of Hass after you knocked the ruffianihilator flat on her ass.

“Click,” you whispered again. You could almost hear English’ voice from when he was putting you through the motions of this particular fighting style.

A twirl and a spin later, the unfortunate Imperial on the ground was staring down Hass’ barrel.

“Boom,” you said, the faintest of smiles coming to touch your cold face as you squeezed the trigger.

“It’s important not to simply pull the trigger! There is a difference between the two. You must squeeze the trigger, softly, smoothly, not jerk it like some barbarian with a musket!” English’s words streamed through your head.

A cavalreaper ran up next, and man, sucked to be him because one sideways swipe dropped him, and the momentum carried up and over into a slam that shattered his visor straight into his face. You spun, and Hass knocked some troll’s teeth loose before you brought him to your hip to put a round through a skirmislayer’s gut.

An upward swing sent a threshecutioner up high before you slammed him right back down. A trio of his be-sickled buddies saw fit to charge you, and they went down, minus their heads, courtesy of Hussy-grade Terran munitions. One golf swing later, and an archeradicator went down clutching his bulge; the downward swing, angled to the side just a wee bit, snapped his neck as his corpse slammed into the mud.

You felt the scorching heat of plasma at your back and a twisting backswing broke the offending cavalreaper’s ribs. You spun Hass around, and she had two more rounds in her before she hit the ground.

“Harley?!? Where in the ever-bleeding Sufferer’s name did you fuck off to?!?!?!?”

You were taken aback for just a moment as Karkat’s voice screeched through your helmet’s speakers. Then you remembered his lack of a functioning helmet and responded.

“Bottom of the hill, knee-deep in shit and sinking deeper every second!”

You heard an explosion, but couldn’t look- you were kinda busy not dying as a trio of rounds ran up a cavalreaper’s torso, the upward movement courtesy of recoil.

“Why the fuck did you go ahead and get yourself stuck there?!? I mean, for shit’s sakes Harley, I didn’t think you were that stup-“

“Listen, fuckface! I don’t exactly want to be up shit creek without a canoe here! Get someone over here and pull me out!”

You didn’t stop moving, despite the protest of your weary body- you couldn’t afford to. You could feel the spent shells beneath your boots as you shot, crunched, cracked, and bludgeoned your way through the Imperial assault force.

“I can’t exactly do that right now, Harley- sorry to be a fucking bulge licker, but some of us aren’t fancy fucking Archons with all of the nubslurping it comes with! We’re having a hard time with this sector as it is, and we can’t afford to peel your sorry fucking mug from someone’s nook!”

You scowled, but okay- that was sort of impressive for the speed at which he delivered it. A quick glance upwards brought you only a view of the dismal skies and a complete and utter lack of Aradia.

A skirmislayer went down missing most of his torso before Hass clicked empty- you dropped the spent drum and reached for another one.

Fruitlessly reached for another one; apparently your ammo bandolier had come off sometime during your brief, face-first sojourn into the wonderful world of the hill’s muddy slope.

You slid Hass onto your back- the old chap was spent for now, and you unholstered both of the handguns Grandpa English had given you on your graduation day.

Another small smile touched your lips. “Alright, shortstack. I can dig myself out of this, no problemo.”

A distinct cry of “DEMON! HERETIC,” from behind you grabbed your attention- turned out to be a subjugglator and his retinue of little cavalreaper bodyguards. He roared, and spittle flew from his maw to splash your visor. Thank God it was raining- the upper castes didn’t exactly have high standards for hygiene, and if the shit had dried, it would have been a pain in the ass to scrape off. Covered in thick metal plating of a deep purple shade, he raised a battered war-club and his cavalreapers took a few tentative steps towards you.

“Challenge accepted.”

---

Thunk.

Lightning crackled across the sky, but the noise was almost nothing right now. Not compared to what else was bashing against your eardrums.

Thunk.

“Hngrh,” you breathed, the warmth of your precious breath leaking out from the effort to keep yourself upright fogging the inside of your helmet.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Your name is Rose Lalonde, and the only thing stopping this Subjugglator from bashing you into a small, colourful stain in the mud was a thick, metal plate you’d hastily pried from the runny ground. It mattered not what purpose the curved, purple slate had served previously- it was now your bulwark against an agonizing death at the hands of blunt trauma.

Thunk. You rolled with the blow, a bit more of your precious breath prying itself from between your lips.

“-can dig myself out of this, no problem,” crackled your barely functioning comms. Jade’s voice sounded strained, winded…but steely. Angry. Dangerous.

She was a big girl. She could handle herself.

You, however, were having a hard time with a raging mountain of meat and hate.

The Needles would have served you amazingly well here, but they weren’t the best option in a fight this close. You hadn’t even had time to tether them before Fuckface Supreme here decided that you were his club’s next bestest friend ever.

Thunk. You slid through the mud a bit, your legs burning. The kinetic sinks in your thighs and calves were heating up now; the one in your hands and shoulders were burning. You had to level the playing field somehow. If the sinks burned out…well, there wouldn’t be much of a corpse left to return to Earth.

Content to leave their superior to the task of cleaning up a lone heretic, cavalreapers and skirmislayers held their distance and stood idly by rather than risk the indigo blood’s ire.

You faced a precipice- leap and hopefully survive the plunge, or be pushed over the edge by Mr. Supreme and his minions.

Thunk. Fuck it. You would rather die on your own terms anyways.

The subjugglator roared and swung once more- but his club met only the metal plate with the Archon behind it gone. Instead, the Archon in question slid through the gap in her legs- servos whining from the burst of speed as you dug one hand into the mud to slow yourself down, a purple blade of plasma erupted from your free arm. It didn’t cut or slice- plasma was too hot to do that. It ripped and burned- and as you tore through the back of the subjugglator’s knee, you could smell the scorched flesh. The bitter scent damped by the rain, it reached your nostrils nonetheless…and whereas she roared in pain, you grinned in exhilaration.

Coming to a stop a half dozen metres away, you threw your free arm up- compressed air launched a Needle into the shattered sky as the plasma from your blade reformed into a tether. It shot up and hooked the Needle, and you slammed it into the mud. You yanked, and flew at the subjugglator’s massive form. The other tether came to life as you slammed the other needle into her neck.

But the mud was soft, and your aim off- from fatigue, from lack of skill, it didn’t matter- and instead the Needle bit into the giant’s shoulder instead.

You could feel the tremor of pain shake its way through the tether. Absolutely lovely! It was even angrier now.

You wrapped the plasma tether around your arm- could feel it burn as it snaked around your hand- but your shields could take it. You pulled, and with the aid of the Aegis’ suit’s servos, you flew at the titan, pulling the other Needle from the mud as you went.

Raindrops pitter-pattered at your visor, but those were nearly negligible compared to the roar of the wounded highblood and the wind screaming through the churning skies above.

You flew past it- close, but still off. The Needle inside of her shoulder was yanked out as you went by, and it was thrown to the mud as the furious subjugglator grabbed at you. The plasma from the now-useless tether bled out as you released it, and you scrabbled for a handhold to keep from flying off.

Your fingers found and grabbed hold of a handful of disgusting hair, and you swung around to the highblood’s back.

A quick glance around you showed the troubled faces of countless minions. They knew not what to do- and you were going to use that to your advantage. You leveraged yourself up and brought your arm back, swinging it and ejecting a Needle in a curving arc.

Purple light blazed as it looped around the massive neck of the death clown. The club bounced down to the mud as grubby fingers the size of your arm clawed at the tether. You caught the glint of metal and released your hold on the subjugglator’s hair to grab at it, pushing off corded muscles to reach it. You felt it in your fingers and gripped, and pulled it down.

The plasma tethers emitted light bright enough to seem like a single, continuous line, but in actuality, it was a loop. The plasma was emitted from a generator and was pulled to an electromagnetic signaler in the base of the Needles (which were an original creation). It hooked the Needle and looped back around to the origin- the armguard generator. It was a constantly flowing stream of heat and energy, and as you tightened the tether around the neck of the subjugglator, it was that stream that constantly stripped away any flesh that came in contact with.

Her fingers fell short as you pulled, tightening the lash and burning away more and more flesh. She roared and reached for you, punching and clawing and grabbing at your place on her back. Your shields gave out quickly under the hail of blows. A fist clipped your helmet and the force made your vision swim as chips and chunks of the plating flew off. Rainwater so cold it stung seeped in through the part of the hole now gracing the area the left part of your visor used to occupy.

“Shit,” you cursed under your breath, bright dots dancing across your eyes. You held on for dear life regardless, for only in the highblood’s death would you find any chance for survival.

John wouldn’t give up.

That thought alone made you grit your teeth and pull harder. Another hand found your leg and you kicked at it in- well, not desperation. A Lalonde never felt desperation.

But it was close.

You pulled for what seemed like an eternity, the hands grasping, pulling at you like hands from Hades itself- but you were much the same.

More plating gone: a bit of the torso plating, around the ribs; a shoulder plate.

But eventually, the subjugglator began to falter. Its motions grew weaker. It could not roar, and began to choke.

But you had neither the time nor the patience to wait for it to die on its own, and you had made it quite clear by now that it was your bitch.

So you tugged. Pulled. Yanked.

And with a searing roar, you burned through the highblood’s neck.

The head plopped right off and you fell to the mud, the neck having been your only hold.

A glance showed you an upside-down face of pain and rage buried in the sloshing earth. You would have given it the finger, but the rest of the several-tonne-body was coming down to join the head. You rolled, cutting the tethers to avoid slicing yourself in half, and shakily stood.

And you were greeted by a half-circle of assorted Imperial soldiers.

You pried your helmet off, giving your hair a shake as the useless thing fell with a splash. The cold rain felt good on your face- it woke you up, in much the same way the dull aches and pains all over did.

The rain sizzled as you cycled another pair of Needles out.

“Come and have a go, then,” you said with a small smile as purple plasma bled from your wrists, “if you think you’re hard enough.”

---

Mud splattered your visor- still on merely as a formality, as it was a cracked and broken mess that barely kept out the rain- as a grenade went off. One-hand reloaded a rail cannon with numb fingers as the other clutched the stained handle of a sickle.

Sickle, meet skirmislayer. Skirmislayer, go fuck yourself.

The disemboweled green blood’s corpse tumbled through the air. You dug the sickle back into its place in the barricade, within quick reach. It wasn’t yours- yours was currently buried under the steaming heap of barkbeast shit that represented your failure somewhere down the other side of the hill.

You racked the slide back with a trembling hand as you brought the cannon up to bear. Plasma sizzled through the air, carving paths through the rain that left steam in their wake. The staccato crack-crack-crack of rail rifles cut through the constant bellows and war cries.

An archeradicator with a missile launcher was cut in half from the stream of fire pouring from your arms. Your shoulder wasn’t numb yet- but fuckall if it wasn’t getting there. The plating on your shoulder was shining a glossy silver now, the thermal paint on the surface worn away from the friction of the buttstock.

A subjugglator roared. A legionary- Karrin?- shlopped up through the mud and planted a grenade in his throat.

The contact-explosive made short work of the highblood, but another one shouldered the corpse aside and took up his club for good measure. You let rip, the rail cannon bucking in your hands as the recoil took hold. A slurry of ferromagnetic slivers, accelerated to speeds somewhere in the realm of fuck, tore chunks out of the torso of a cavalreaper. Her warbeast howled before you put it down too.

It had been- fuck, you don’t know, hours? You couldn’t really check the chronometer with Imperials running up to slam their appendages into the barricades, but it had been too long.

It had been too long when Tchet’s gunship had turned into a burning metal heap that had gouged a furrow of death out of the advancing waves of Imperials.

It had been too long when Martiz had taken a plasma bolt to the throat and had clawed at her neck, trying to breathe through a ragged hold burned through her windtube.

It had been too long as you held her, her eyes wide with tears and pain and fear as she lay in your arms. She had been so small and young, barely a woman. Had this been her first deployment? Fuck, was it your fault she died?

It had been too long as she shuddered one final time before you laid her corpse into the mud at the foot of the barricade.

It had been too fucking long.

“Just a few more,” someone to your right called out. You’d nearly prostrated yourself to the high heavens when the legionary in charge of the satellite imagery- the skyfeeds- had told you that Imperial forces were going to back off and give you some breathing room before the final assault.

As the final Imperial went down, you spammed the comm channels for Lalonde and Harley.

KV: FOR THE LOVE OF THE GOOD, NUBSLURPING, NOOKMUNCHING GODS ABOVE! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE?!?

KV: LALONDE, GET YOUR WITCHBITCH REAR END BACK UP THIS HILL BEFORE I GO DOWN THERE AND PULL YOU UP HERE MYSELF BY YOUR FUCKING SMELLHOLES.

KV: HARLEY, IF YOU AREN’T IN SIGHT WITHIN THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS I WILL PERSONALLY ENSURE THAT EVERY WAKING MOMENT OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE IS FILLED WITH A NEVER-ENDING TORRENT OF SHAME, DISGRACE, AND EVERYTHING ELSE YOU MAKE ME FEEL WHEN I LAY MY SIGHT ORBS ON YOU.

Raindrops pitter-pattered on your helmet, washing clear lines of mud from your sight. Sight that was both Harley- and Lalonde-less, much to your growing dislike.

It wasn’t like them to go silent like this. Fuck them and their whiny little banter, it would have at least meant they were present.

You took a deep breath, readying your next verbal assault, when you heard splish-sploshing from behind you.

“Sir!”

Someone called your attention as you spun in place, your heel digging into the mud. What the fuck was-

Lalonde appeared, her short blonde hair dirty. You assumed everything else was just as filthy too, but only the back of her bobbing head could be seen. Her armour was in an even worse state than before- a dirty hoofbeast shit mound wrapped in tinsel and sprinkled with tiny pictures of Egbert’s dopy grin would still win out in sheer looks. Her left shoulder plates were missing, and three long gashes carved their messy way from the missing plates down and around to the opposite ribs. Gleaming silver metal shone through, and as she threw something over the barricade before coming over herself, you could see innumerable scorch and burn marks, the warped plating looking like some shitty wiggler’s claw-paints.

And the something she rolled over the top of the bulwark was an injured Harley, cursing and waving a handgun around, bellowing at the top of her air sacs.

“-UCKING END EVERY LAST ONE OF THOSE IMPERIAL NUBSLURPERS LIKE THE PIECES OF CRAP THEY ARE!”

Lalonde flopped over the barricade herself before hauling Harley upright and starting to drag her towards the heap of supplies in the center of the camp.

Harley was a terrific fucking mess, her hair stuck together in a ponytail through the sheer amounts of blood, mud, and fuck in it. A chunk of plating and bodysuit had been torn from her left arm, hanging limp and useless at her side, the pale flesh beneath bathed in scarlet. The crumpled plating at her right ribs wept more of Harley’s life juices, and you didn’t even want to examine the state of her legs. For fuck’s almighty bulge-licking sakes, she was missing an entire greave! The damned thing was supposed to be attached with at least two hard-points.

Her right arm clutched her pistol and waved it around even as Lalonde tried to treat her.

“Jade, the entire assault force is already dead.”

“THEN I’LL PLANT A NICE FAT SLUG IN EVERY FUCKING CORPSE’S HEAD AND WAIT IT OUT UNTIL THEIR BUDDIES SHOW UP TOO!”

“You would bleed out far before they arrived, dear. Now, hold still.”

She jammed a pair of needles into a gap between two of the crumpled rib plates. Harley hissed like an angry meowbeast as Lalonde gave her a dose of LIMB.

LIMB stood for Liquid, Injectable Medicinal Booster, as termed by both Director English and Doctor Lalonde. It was a chemical cocktail that filled the chest cavity of an injured person with a gelatinous, biomedical substance that numbed pain, stopped bleeding, and jump-started the healing process- or at least kept the injured party glued together until better help could be requested. It was cheap, quick, effective, and widely used, the troops referring to injuries as “Limbo Time.”

It also hurt like a son of a fucking gun (another odd Terran phrase you’d picked up- it made no sense, how did you pail a gun?) when it was first injected, demonstrated by Harley’s arm dropping the gun and slapping at the mud, Lalonde’s hand over her mouth to quiet the screaming.

As you knelt down beside her, you set aside the rail cannon and gently laid a hand on her injured shoulder.

She jerked back and hissed, prompting you to react the same way, but you sidled back over and took a closer look at her. Her bright green eyes were temped shut, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.

She was like that for a full minute before she weakly pulled Lalonde’s hand from her mouth.

“Karkat,” she moaned at you, “it fucking hurts!”

“Yeah, I know. Hold it together, Harley. I don’t want to have to haul your fat ass back to Terran space by myself.”

Lalonde raised an eyebrow at you, but said nothing as she stood and moved to treat one of the others.

Harley laid her head back against the side of the crate she was leaned against, her eyes closed. “Did Command say anything about reinforcements?”

“Nothing. Imperials still have the comms jammed.”

She was silent for a moment before she muttered, “So we are completely fucked, then.”

You nudged the side of your head, your finger coming away even dirtier than before- how much blood was she covered in?

She turned to look at you.

“Not if I can fucking help it,” you heard yourself say. You stood, hefting the rail cannon as you moved towards where Lalonde was treating Aradia.

“Someone give me a fucking ETA on the next wave!”

---

Chapter Text

Screaming fragments of metal, white-hot from the force of the blast, blew past your face. You felt pain on your cheek as a flaming talon swept across your flesh.

“Fuckdamnit! Someone get on those flechette guns already!” The order tore out of a raw throat, but you weren’t exactly in the best of positions to worry about some little wiggler shit like a sore throat.

The rail cannon had run dry hours ago- with leaden limbs you were lifting a shotgun. Range didn’t matter now; you needed to put down as many Imperials as fast as possible. You jammed more power cells into the feeding tube with shaking hands. Your left gauntlet was gone, bitten through by a warbeast. You had peeled the mangled metal off of your arm and bandaged it while Jade covered you.

Jade was covering the rear, a pile of ammo close to one hand and a pile of guns to the other. Her hair had come loose now, and her wild mane, dirty and disheveled as it was, was glorious to behold as the woman chanted her defiance at the enemy.

“Get some! Come and fucking GET SOME!”

Her rifle clicked empty and she didn’t even hesitate to fling it at bone-crushing speed to crack open a cavalreaper’s helmet. The troll dropped as another hail of rail rounds courtesy of Harley made dull thump-thump-thumps as each deadly sliver found a fleshy new home.

Karkat!

Aradia’s voice flashed through your mind and you felt something tug your attention forward again…hard, and with good reason: you only barely got your notched sickle up to parry the downward swing of a ruffianihilator’s blade.

Sparks flew as the force of the blow tore the sickle from your hands. You gritted your teeth as you brought the shotgun up and jammed it into his gut. Something nearby exploded and mud splattered you as you whispered, “Boom.”

The hole the shotgun left in the ruffianihilator’s front was small, at most an inch across. The hole you saw in his back as he fell, however, was the size of your head and was the most jagged, bone-dotted, disgusting slurry of meat and fuck you had ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on…and you had spent entire human years in the presence of Egbert’s hideous grin.

The recoil bucked the gun hard enough to almost tear it from your hand, but only just barely did your fingers cling to the pistol-grip. You brought your arm down and jammed the cutting edge of the sickle tip-first into the ribs of a skirmislayer. With a grunt, you slammed the little Imperial into the mud and, with a yank, you snapped the blade off in his body.

A flashing light plopped into the runny ground at your feet- oh fuckmothering shitwitches, a grenade. You rolled away from the portable, explosive rave-light (because holy fuck, it was blinking and beeping and it might as well have been throwing a juvie party), your fingers snatching up another sickle along the way.

The skirmislayer you’d killed reared up with a moan of cursed flesh and threw itself forward onto the explosive. The grenade detonated with a muffled thump and a few telltale wisps of smoke edged out from underneath the reanimated body.

You risked a glance up and around to thank Aradia, but she had her back to you, her attention already elsewhere.

You gripped the retrieved sickle and felt the mud drip off of it. Every threshecutioner’s sickle was crafted for him or her by a forgefiend, and this one was large and unwieldy in your hand- but not enough for you to throw the weight upwards to parry a charging cavalreaper’s lance. The momentum carried through into your next blow and the shotgun’s stocky body cracked open the cavalreaper’s helmet as she stumbled. The sickle came back around and the cutting edge wasn’t keen enough to slice- instead, the tip cut through the plating and hooked upwards, catching her lower ribs and lifting her up.

Caramel-brown blood splattered your helmet as she grunted. The lance fell and her hands scrabbled at the blade, but you levered it up further, the tip breaking back out of her chest as she elicited a cry of pain before you dropped her and sickle both.

Shit. Just…shit. What a fucking way to go.

You looked down at her and saw a single eye, wide with fear and pain and shedding tears in a solid stream down her paling cheek through her broken visor, smashed from the force of your desperate blow. Her fingers were still weakly grabbing at the sickle, hoping to achieve Gog-fucking-knows-what. She made barely audible gasps of pain with every rapid breath as more blood leaked out into the darker mud.

You gripped the shotgun and looked away as you put a round in her head. You didn’t dare look down at what she looked like afterwards.

A small mercy, but Gog forgive you, if you looked you would go insane.

You racked the slide, the spent energy cell glowing white with heat and steaming in the rain.

“Karkat!”

You heard your name to your left and you barely managed to turn your head before Lalonde slid past you, a pair of handguns spitting death at those who trailed behind her. Aradia floated into view to cover the barricade as Lalonde stopped just in front of you.

She handed you a combat knife- a wicked thing, the blade vibrated at ultra-high frequencies and basically sawed through everything it touched- and nodded at you.

“Have- have you heard- heard from command?” She panted as she spoke, a small dribble of her red human blood falling from the corner of her lip, her short blonde hair just as disheveled as Harley’s.

“Noth-“ was all you managed before you saw everything go to shit.

A subjugglator came bounding up the hill and vaulted over the fortifications, bellowing his rage. Aradia managed a half-turn before it brought the club down squarely on her, slamming her into the mud with enough force to shake your teeth. Bits of mud flew and spattered your unmarred cheek.

“NO!” you heard rip from your throat.

Jade, the fucking idiot, brought her guns to bear- and she might as well have been shooting spitwads at a battle tank. Blinding lines of light struck the armour of the subjugglator and flared, glancing off and sizzling away.

No…not the armour. As Jade threw more and more kinetic death, you could make out a faint shimmer where the rounds stopped just short of the actual plating.

This was shithive maggots. He had an energy shield.

He brought the club back up- Aradia’s rust-coloured blood mixing with the mud coating the lethal head- and the giant wielding it turned to bring it down on the immobile Harley.

Not something either you or Lalonde was about to let happen. You hefted the knife and threw yourself at the mass of muscle and hate. You had a crazy idea, and if it worked…

You tried to jam the knife into the subjugglator’s knee, one of the few unarmoured parts on the mountain of angry, bellowing fuck, and felt the resistance straight up your arm as all of the kinetic force blew back into your wrist.

You hit the power stud and felt the knife vibrate quietly- or, rather, you would have if your hand wasn’t on fire right now.

The leg lashed out and you went flying. You hit the mud a good half-dozen metres away, sloshing to a stop at the end of your own muddy furrow. Stars swarmed your vision, but not enough for you to miss Lalonde hurling herself at the highblood.

She skidded off the highblood’s back, spitting death from her handguns all the while. She had had the same idea you had.

Your burning hand scrabbled and grabbed at the handle of the knife- and you caught sight of your candy-red blood leaking out of the cracks between the plates on your fingers. The sight froze what little breath was still in your aeration sacs, but it no longer paralyzed you as it once did as a wiggler.

You scooped up the shotgun as you got close and let a hail of shredding metal shards slam into the shield- and you saw a dull spot of red appear on the calf plate in front of you.

Another kick, another slide through the cold mud. The remains of the shotgun were stamped into your cuirass from how hard the subjugglator has lashed at you.

The knife, however, was still gripped in your now-throbbing hand. You picked up a lance and charged.

A Knight in Muddy Armour was you.

The lance got further and just barely scraped the purple plating on the subjugglator’s leg.

Bingo.

What the Imperial had was a kinetic shield- which rendered a few of the UTC’s weapons useless until they chipped through it through sheer volume of fire.

Repeated pinpoint trauma to the field, however, would overload one of the shield emitters and maybe even the kinetic sink attached to it, if you were lucky. The fact that you could feel the pointed tip of the lance scrape the plating before it was more than enough for you to reach forward and slam the knife into a space just alongside the lance.

There was ore resistance, and fire exploded into your arm, but with gritted fangs you went on. You pushed the knife deeper in and leverage the opening in the shield wider.

Lalonde screamed- not a grunt, not a moan, but a legitimate scream- and your head turned to track her body as it flew through the air. Her pistols trailed behind her in what would have been a comedic manner if they were not joined by a small stream of Lalonde’s blood.

Your focus was off the highblood and on Lalonde for only a moment- but a moment was all the subjugglator needed to shake the weapons free and pick you up in one massive paw. His fingers, each as big around as one of your legs, crushed your arms to your sides and he brought you up to face him. His foul breath leaked out of his maw as he spoke. Your bones rattled with every word.

“And now, heretic, you will MOTHERFUCKING DIE.”

Shit fuck shit shit fuck you were going to die you were dead you were gone what the fuck is that bright light oh shit he’s squeezing harder FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

Your vision was swarmed with dots as you gasped for breath and you were flung to the ground.

Everything seemed to slow down as you saw a massive armoured boot rise. The noise of the battle was barely audible to your audial canals- though, considering one of them was smashed into the mud, you could understand their sudden failure. More railgun fire streamed through the air as who you assumed to be the final Legionaries held their last stand.

The highblood looked up at the disturbance and

Wait. Looked…up?

The railgun fire was coming down from above the subjugglator.

You could see a grey hull dip through the clouds as streaking comets burned against the sky. They slammed into the mud and even at a distance, you could feel it in your breaking body.

Reinforcements.

Something big, blue, and wicked fucking fast slammed into the subjugglator hard enough to push you a few inches through the mud. A foot in an Aegis boot stepped in and grabbed what proved to be a handle as more drop pods fell from the heavens.

Oh thank Gog.

Columns of hellfire, fingers of death itself leapt from the hulls of the capital ships above as Legionaries poured more and more fire into the Imperial horde.

Someone rolled you over. Your vision was going dark at the corners now. A helmet appeared and the visor pulled back.

Those fucking buckteeth. That fucking grin!

Captain John Egbert.

Chapter Text

2 Weeks Ago, Terran Standard Time

Nocturne Experimental Research and Development Station - Biomedical, in orbit around Saturn

You opened your eyes, and the bright fluorescent lighting above was an unwelcome punch in the dick. You groaned and tried to rub at your eyes, but a pair of blocky glasses got in the way and went tumbling off the tram.

Nimble fingers belonging to a certain coolkid darted out and plucked them from the air. You grabbed at them and, eyes still closed, tried to jam the rebellious lenses back onto your face.

You missed. Your name is John Egbert, and you have just succeeded in trying to blind yourself in the left eye with your own seeing implements.

“Whoa there John, no need to gouge out your eyes. I understand I’m a stud, but you don’t need to go that far out of sheer jealousy of my rockin’ bod.”

You grunted in reply as you sat back up, your arms and legs creaking. You were sore as hell, and you were pretty sure Vriska was too. “Pft, chyeah, whatever Dave. You look like just as much shit as I do.”

Dave pantomimed a gasp, his hand darting to cover his mouth as his shades continued to ward off any attempt to see his eyes. “Egbert! Harsh! We both know that the sheer power of my fashion sense alone is enough to completely wreck your attempts at trying to look like a hibernating bear’s ass at any given time.”

You tried again to rub the sleep from your eyes as a lumpy bundle wrapped up in your jacket stirred beside you.

“I still,” you heard yourself saying, “cannot BELIEVE you managed to get us banned from every single civvie station around Mars.” The words might have come out a bit muffled, on account of the hand blocking a good deal of your face, but Dave heard enough to shoot back an answer.

“They just couldn’t handle the Strider D, man. Wimpy little dumpasses is what they are.”

“Dave, you crashed an aircar into a club while screaming, “STRIDER IN THE SLIZZOUSE” and throwing credits at people.”

He pulled his shades lower, peering at you with burning red eyes over the edges of the hater-blockers. “Couldn’t. Handle. The Strider D,” he whispered.

Your palm met your face in a spectacular meld of disbelief and shame just as the stirring bundle next to you began to sit up.

“Whah ah wah,” she said, her fangs sharp white points against the red of her throat as she yawned.

“What? Speak up, I only know the language of the Ancient Party Masters.”

Vriska threw a balled-up hand- not quite a fist, fists required actual intent and focus- at Dave, but he made no move to avoid it as she missed entirely.

She nearly fell right off the tram in much the same way your glasses had attempted to, but you threw out an arm to catch her (whilst keeping the other wrapped around a safety bar for…well, safety. Worst trams EVER). She grumbled as she yawned again, completely nonplussed at the prospect of a 50-metre fall just a moment past. A bit of the jacket sleeve was stuck on one of her horns, the orange hook catching on the blue fabric as easily as a fishhook might.

“I’m going to Party Master the upside of your fucking head in a minute, Strider,” she managed to murmur in between Yawn II and Yawn III: The Revengening.

“That an offer?”

“Just answer her question, man. God. I swear, you’re like 5-year-olds.”

“Pedophile,” Dave murmured under his breath as Vriska snickered. You sighed, your palm and face getting more and more readily acquainted once again.

“We’re on a research station, Egbert. To research and shit.”

“Oh, how enlightening,” you grumbled as the tram pulled out of a tunnel.

The tram was a civvie design: the passenger slots were open-air, with naught but a safety-bar to prevent plummets to certain doom. It was on a rail a fair distance above the ground, and had been pulling you three through the domes and hab-centers for the few minutes you’d been conscious. The tram was going at a rather sedate pace anyways, and with good reason- apparently, eggheads really liked their nature crap. It was everywhere- I mean, c’mon, actual trees? What the hell.

The rest of the journey was spent in silence- Vriska’s hand curled into yours, the sharp tips of her claws brushing lightly against your palm as she sat back, eyes closed. Dave was fiddling with his ‘pad, playing some sort of, as he put it, “ironic hoofbeast game” as the tram streaked by the parks filled with civilians and off-duty personnel.

Vriska had enjoyed the time off- requests for leave were punishable by death in the Imperial armies, and life hadn’t exactly been a roller-coaster of happy fun-time since. Her own glasses were off, clutched tight within her metallic fingers, and her implanted arm caught the artificial sunlight in a gentle caress that swept the light into your eyes in the softest of ways.

A breeze rolled by and her hair shifted ever so slightly, the scent of everything she was drifting into your nose even as you thought to yourself that it was impossible for there to be wind in a space station.

Dave noticed and gave you an unspoken “Wimp” conveyed through a snort before turning his attention back to his hoofbeasts.

That was your reason for being here. To learn more about your powers, to try to understand them and maybe, just fucking maybe, make use of them.

It wasn’t long before the tram began to slow, immersing itself within the confines of a steel building. It had the trappings of un-worried civvie life everywhere: bits of garbage, a few errant posters and papers stuck haphazardly to a billboard. You noted, however, the lack of civilian traffic. A pair of figures dressed in white, one short and one tall, sat at one of the numerous benches lining the far walls from the disembarkation platform. As you came closer and closer, you didn’t even need to see them- the Breath told you everything first. A whisper of air brought the short, sharp tang of metal and logic, wrapped around by a soft, almost cloying scent that, while the first struck your senses, the second merely touched.

Director English and Doctor Lalonde.

A pair of orderlies rushed forward to offload the minimal luggage as you gave Vriska a hand getting off the tram. Dave was a big boy and could handle himself, but Vriska was still a lightweight, and was still feeling the effects of Dave’s party antics. It hadn’t taken her much of anything to get completely shitfaced.

She shuddered as she wrapped the jacket you had draped over her sleeping form tighter around her shoulders. It was a bit funny, seeing her trying to stand up defiantly while still shuffling weakly ahead.

“Ah! I was just beginning to wonder when you were going to arrive! I must say, I was getting rather bored.” Director English straightened up, one hand dusting off his bright green lab coat, his other outstretched towards no one in particular. The shorter of the pair, you were a good head taller than him.

You took it and, as always, English did his best to shake your arm right out of your socket. Jesus. At least it wasn’t Vriska who took the bait.

Dave nodded at the pair of Councilors, his expression remaining aloof as Vriska grunted.

“You’ve NO idea how excited I am! The things your newfound powers could unlock,” he chittered, releasing you from his piston-driven handshake to pull out his datapad.

Doctor Lalonde chose that moment to join the conversation in a sultry slur, swishing a tall glass of…something purple. No, red. Green? Fuck it. The thing kept changing colours and you couldn’t be bothered to keep paying attention. Her lab coat, in stark contrast to Director English’s, was standard white, but form-fitting and…well, stylish. An egghead with a fashion sense. Imagine that. In contrast to English, she was almost as tall as you are, but slender and lithe- all soft curves and inviting warmth.

“The discoveries we could make together, John,” she said before taking a sip. Sip being a polite term, of course- she might as well have been lapping from the thing like a dog at a bowl for how intense was her effort to get the drink down. “The knowledge we could…share.”

You felt Vriska start to shake, to convulse…but as she turned to you, a smile framed by her pointed teeth, you realized she was laughing. At you.

Jerk.

“The station seems pretty advanced. I haven’t seen anything like this before,” you commented. “What was it called? Nocturnal Station or something like that, right?”

“She’s the Nocturne Experimental Research and Development Station – Biomedical, lad. Best we could build, staffed by those we deemed intelligent enough and who would most likely not resort to tossing their poo at one another in boredom, and-“

“NERDSB,” Dave interrupted, his arms crossed over his chest. “You made the best civvie station in anywhere, and you guys named it Nerdsby.” He frowned, an honest-to-goodness creasing of his face that betrayed actual emotion- that of disapproval. “Worst. Name. Ever. Of all time.”

“So, uh, when do we get started,” you said quickly. You wanted to be done with this. Powers or no, people were dying in a war you could be helping to end.

English made a grand display of checking his watch as Lalonde stifled a laugh. “Just…about…now.”

---

1 Week, 3 Days Ago, Terran Standard Time

Nerdsby Station

You gasped for breath, your legs a blur as you sprinted for all you were worth. The machine could barely keep up, and smoke was starting to rise as the treadmill sparked and sputtered.

You’d been running for hours.

The stark white lab was huge, with scattered white tables covered in a bewildering array of equipment, booze, and papers. Behind a glass partition, Dave and Vriska watched with what you could have sworn to be admiration and just a little bit of desire.

But hey, that might have just been you.

“This is incredible, John! Your personal best was…” English said, slowly circling you with an array of holoscreens floating before him, “…several hours ago! Gadzooks, lad, it’s like watching you run three marathons at once! A finer physical demonstration of endurance I haven’t seen in…ever!”

You could hear Vriska and Dave say simultaneously, “Dibs.” Oh, the powers of your Mantle.

You’d been doing physicals for days, pressing yourself to see how far you could go.

Apparently, you were better at doing a lot of things now.

The smoke from the machine curled gently around your ankles before being whisked away by the motion of your feet. The Breath was sustaining you- each and every step felt feather-light as you kept running. At first, you hadn’t actually felt any strain: the Mantle had propped you up. There were limits, however- you were still mostly human.

Lalonde jumped back as something blew in the machine with a metallic screech- the metal slats forming the running surface of the machine slid back and shot out at projectile speeds to embed themselves in the wall behind you…and you yourself sent hurtling forward at roughly 70 kilometers an hour.

Instinct brought your hands up as you slid towards the far wall, but it was the Breath that saved you. Again. For the hundredth time during these tests.

A smarter man might have assumed that English and Lalonde had it in for him. That their childlike zeal was a mask for something else.

A smarter man was not you, because they were just really, really, really excited about testing and science.

Nerds.

You could feel it in your fingers, gossamer threads that were woven into the air itself. One hand tightened, pulled on the threads like a lifeline as the other reached forward and piled those lines into a cushion. A desk was thrown, the books and papers and booze (“Nooooo my booze,” Lalonde would later cry) were sent spilling through the air.

Your feet were wrapped in the gasps of your onlookers themselves as those selfsame threads were re-woven into claws that dug gouges out of the plasteel floor. Curled shavings flew, red-hot from the speed of your passing and the friction you created.

You stopped just short of the wall by maybe a few inches, and Lalonde gasped as you stepped back.

“What,” you managed to pant, “What’s with the gasping? I don’t, don’t think I like the sound, sound of gasping here Doc.”

English pointed at the wall behind you, then at the floor and the grooves you had left as Dave and Vriska came to join you. You turned around, sweat dripping from your entire body in a collective waterfall, and saw the damage.

Where your hand had stopped was the epicenter of a giant swirl of rant metal and destruction, all jagged edges and tetanus and holy fuck. It was circular, the swirls extending a few meters up and around. The floor tiles were scraped from the broken machine straight to the wall, and lo and behold, they were gouged out in a neat facsimile of the symbols you had found all over the temple on Lowas.

“Okay, so maybe,” you said, gulping down the air greedily as you wiped the sweat from your face in a sheet of liquid that splashed down somewhere (near Dave, as evidence by his startled curse and subsequent jump back), “maybe I’m not exactly house-trained yet.”

“John,” Vriska whispered, “that was so badass.” She tossed her hair back and smiled, one of those mischievous “I am planning ALL of the plans right now,” grins that you both loved and feared.

“Look out,” Dave said as he slapped an arm on your shoulder with a wet shplap, “he breaks a treadmill and suddenly he’s a fucking badass. How’s it feel, Egbert, to be the most powerful graffiti artist in Terran space?”

“Feels good, man.”

---

4 Days Ago, Terran Standard Time

You dropped into a slide, letting your forward momentum carry you, one outstretched hand gripping a solid wall of air that not even the incoming rail rounds could cut through as the other gripped and fired an assault rifle.

The end of your slide brought you to a barricade with a rail cannon mounted on a tripod and hooked up to a targeter. Now under the arc of the gun’s fire, you dissipated the shield and slammed your hand, palm-down, into the ground.

You twisted and the force coupled with your momentum flipped you over the barricade as you dropped the rifle to tear the mounted gun from the tripod with a screech of air and wrenching metal. The cannon came free and you hefted it, finger pressing down on the firing stud to send a hail of supersonic metal shards slicing through the air at the other turrets. One by one, the guns collapsed as you emptied the ammo can.

An angry hiss from the Mantle whispered to you of an incoming missile and you dropped the gun to turn to your right.

A blossom of fire and death streaked through the air at you. You managed to sidestep, barely, and could feel the heat of the missile as it went right on by, counted out in slow-motion the grooves and parts of the self-guided weapon…only to watch it curve around for another pass. Great. An anti-tank missile. These things had the explosive potential to decimate hardened, armoured targets- one of which you were much more fragile than.

You began to spin, and as you did, you sent out your will, casting it forth to call your hammer into being. In the blink of an eye, you wove together the threads of air surrounding you into a solid, stable creation- a massive blue warhammer too heavy to be held but which was lighter than a feather in your hands.

With a defiant cry, you managed to swing the hammer and bat the missile away, sending it whooshing off into the distance.

So. Fucking. COOL.

But more gunfire to your left and HOLY FUCK ANOTHER MISSILE SHIT

You let go of the hammer and it bled away into nothing as you fought panic to bring your hands up.

It was a curious thing, how your fingers traced those threads in the air with the power your Mantle bestowed. Currents and flow were now your bitch, and English had even shown you how the solar currents were bending around to just stream by Nerdsby.

(The name had stuck after Dave had used it, especially amongst any Legion personnel on the station.)

Your hands twitched the threads into place and the air around you shifted as you formed a net. Lines stretched taut as you tethered them to the missile, but they held as firmly as your will desired. You stepped just to the side as the missile slammed into your creation, and with another bellow, you threw the missile like it was a javelin.

It tried to alter course, tried to curve around to reacquire you, but you didn’t allow it. You kept it going straight, its course unchanging, and even as rail rounds dug gouges and furrows in the missile’s hull it flew true.

Right into the newly-activated bank of gun turrets. The ground shook as if possessed for a moment from sheer proximity and a wave of heat rolled over you before all was silent again.

Booya.

Your hands deftly scooped up the discarded assault rifle as bits of hot metal sizzled through the air from the explosion with practiced ease as you brought it to your shoulder and scanned the vast training room.

Nothing. All clear.

English’s voice rang throughout the ruined training chamber as an observation room began to slink out of the ceiling. You had been using this room for everything physical in relation to your training- which meant all of it. There was still a crater in the southeast corner where you had put every ounce of effort into pressurizing the air to make it denser. You’d ended up indenting the plasteel floor a half a metre down and about a dozen metres across. There were the gouges in the floor from where you’d come loose from a treadmill, and the swirly pattern on the wall from where you’d had to cushion your speedy rush to imitate a superhuman pancake. Various cracks and breaks spiderwebbing from all the places your hammer had been summoned only to go flying out of your hands because you weren’t used to how light it was despite appearances.

After a week and a half of sleepless nights training, you now had a far better grasp of your Mantle than you did before.

“Good show, lad, good show! I do believe you’ve succeeded in staying alive!” A lift dropped and your four onlookers took careful steps to meet you. “Unless, of course, Roxy’s gone and slipped me something again, in which case I sincerely apologise for confusing you as being amongst the ranks of the liv-“

“He means, darling,” Lalonde said as she took a step forward, cutting English off, “’Congratulations.’ Lord alone knows he’s taking his sweet time to say it.”

You grinned. You sort of wrecked shit. Hard.

“What now? More training?” You wiped the sweat from your brow- despite the increased risk of getting shot full of holes with live munitions instead of simunitions, you had opted to go without armour for the active sessions.

English shook his head. “I’m afraid not, m’boy. Karkat’s gone and gotten his ass in a bungle again.”

“What the fuck is a bungle, I don’t even“ Dave began.

“You’re to go and bail his bulge out of the fire. The Council’s already decided,” Lalonde said.

Dave took half a step forward, his hand tapping Lalonde’s arm. “The Council? So Dirk’s-“

Lalonde and English shook their heads. “No, child, no word as of yet,” Lalonde answered.

Dave spat a curse and settled back, behind the two Councilors. His face betrayed nothing but the faintest of scowls.

You unloaded the assault rifle as Vriska loped up. She always moved in one of two ways- either defiantly, with a certain pep to her step, or low and slow, like a predator. She had opted for the latter as she stood next to you, dressed in a tank top and fatigue pants, with her wild hair in a ponytail.

Something was going on with Dirk? Not good. But…first things first.

“When’s the next transport out?” If you made good time, you could reach Karkat in a matter of 2 or 3 weeks.

But Lalonde and English merely shook their heads again.

“Too slow, bucko. We’ve already arranged it. You’ll be using this lovely contraption we’ve constructed called a Warp Gate.”

“What in the ever freezing Hell is a Warp Gate,” you asked just as Lalonde began to explain.

“We have found a stable method of tunneling into subspace through realspace to get places faster and while we have a fleet en route, you know Karkat.”

“And,” English said, waggling a finger, “it would be a fine live combat test for your abilities.”

“When are we deploying then?”

“Dawn. We’ll equip you and send you off to the Chimera,” English continued. Lalonde gave him a curt nod and strode off to do…Doctor things.

You let out a whistle. “The Chimera? We’re sending First Fleet after Karkat?”

“The chap seems to have leapt headfirst into the fireplace, yes. Drawn the attention of half the bloody Empire.” He shifted his glasses before pulling out his ‘pad. “Get some rest, lad. You warp out in the morning.”

---

Several hours, two bad raps (courtesy of Dave), and one ruined dinner later, you were in your quarters trying to tick off what you would need for the op in the morning with Vriska dozing in your bed. From what the Director had forwarded you, the situation wasn’t pretty.

Karkat’s original goal- the artillery camp outside the city- had been taken, but it had been nothing but bait: an anvil moved into place with the troops that peeled off from the main force occupying the city acting as the hammer. Karkat had been trapped and, while having held them off for several days now, wouldn’t be able to last much longer.

You sighed, running a hand through your hair. “What the hell, Karkat.”

Vriska grumbled as she sat up, pulling the sheet around her up to her shoulders. “Psh, he’ll be fiiiiiiiine.” Her blue-tinted skin showed through in patches here and there where the sheet failed to preserve her modesty- most trolls slept either naked, or as close to it as they could be: a result of a childhood spent sleeping in sopor slime. Vriska normally went with the latter option, her version of undergarments being bandages she wrapped around her torso and waist.

You smiled at her reassuring tone. “You think so?”

“I know so! He’s way too fucking stubborn to lose to the Empire now.” She stood, dragging the sheet with her as she crossed the spacious room to you. A hand slid over your arm, her claws dancing lightly across a jumble of scars as her chin just barely came to rest on your shoulder. The rest of her soon followed, and you could feel her warmth as she pressed against your back. “At least, that’s how I remember him. Feisty.”

“Feistier than you?” You smiled, could feel her draw in the breath to laugh.

“Maaaaaaaaybe. I can’t just tell you that,” she said before she opened her mouth further, began to run her fangs across your shoulder before letting her cheek brush up against your arm. “Where would be the fun in that?”

Fun. Dating, you two had indeed been…but nothing too wildly intimate. Nothing that you bragged about in hushed tones to bros like Dave. Nothing too, as she kept putting it, ‘fun.’

You sighed. “Fun,” you said, “is not on the schedule for tonight.”

You could feel her scowl, so intense was it. “It’s never on the schedule, is it? I’m starting to think it never will be!”

You reached up a hand to run it through her hair, but she batted it away as she pulled herself back. Her warmth left you, and you turned to face her.

She let the sheet drop, her hands at her hips as she glared at you. You could feel yourself blushing as, aside from the few strips of bandages at her chest and hips, there wasn’t exactly much of anything else.

“What? See something you like? Because from the way you look, you oooooooobviously do!” Her scowl deepened as she crossed her arms.

You scrambled for words. “Of course I do, I-“

She cut you right the fuck off. “So what’s the matter? Is it the eye? The arm? The horns? We’ve been together for weeks and you haven’t laid a single hand on me! Why won’t you just maaaaaaaan up and come get some?”

“Vris, it’s not-“

“What is it not, John?!? Huh?!? Is it because I’m not human? Would you prefer I just go grab one of the crew and-

It was your turn to interrupt her as you dropped the ‘pad on the table and wrapped your arms around her. She struggled, but with her arms pinned to her chest, all she could do was awkwardly try to kick you.

Which she did. Ouch!

“Vriska.”

“Let the fuuuuuuuuck go of me, you big dumb-“

“Shhh. Vris.” You looked down at her, straight into her eyes. “Of course I want you. I’d go crazy without you.”

“Then why-“

“Because I don’t want to rush things, take it too fast, and risk driving you off.”

“Gogdamnit, stop interrupt-“

“You were doing it to me. Payback’s a bitch, huh?”

She stopped kicking you. She stopped struggling altogether.

You continued. “I like the way you smile. I like the way you scowl. I like the way you snore like a retarded moobeast when you’re asleep. I like the way you brush your hair over your shoulder, even when it’s right into my face and especially when it’s right into Dave’s. I love your eye. I love your horns, regardless of how many times you almost stab me in the face with them when we’re asleep. I think your arm is absolutely badass. So don’t you dare go thinking I don’t want you. I’m just waiting for the right moment.”

She was silent for a moment, her face turned away from you and her wild mane of hair obscuring your view. You could feel her every breath as her modest chest pressed against yours.

“Vriska?” Your voice was a whisper, barely audible as you spoke into her hair- not by choice, as there was a fucking lot of it.

“Yeah.” Her reply was equally quiet. “Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

You let out a long, low whistle. “Yeah.”

“Say “Yeah” one more time. I daaaaaaaare you. I double dare you. Say “Yeah” again and I will DELIBERATELY stab you with my horns tonight.”

“So I guess that means I’m not sleeping on the floor?”

She looked back up to you, a devilish grin on her face. “I was considering it, but then you said my robot arm was badass, soooooooo…”

You grinned at her. “Yeah?”

She kicked you in the shin once more for good measure.

---

You stood there, armoured up and decked out with all of the usual kit. Dave was tapping away at a holopad on his gauntlet, calibrating the plasma blade humming forth from his hand. Vriska was gearing up now, and had yet to rejoin you as you stood before the Warp Gate.

You had spent the night snuggling the shit out of each other.

Score one for Egbert.

English was prattling on about the inner workings of the gate- something about Outer Rings and voidways or something- as the Gate itself sort of vsshwumm’d before you. It wasn’t humming. It just felt more…sinister than that. And humming was boring.

“So you mean to tell me,” Dave said without looking up, his red eyes trained on his holopad, “you’re planning to have us jump through time and space to a location that would normally take us about a week to jump to normally almost instantaneously…because Cthulhu’s crew said it would be chill with them.”

English pondered that for a second as Vriska walked up, her hair in a braid with one hand cradling her helmet, the other her smg. He looked up, met all of your eyes.

“Yes.”

Well, fuck.

There wasn’t time for goodbyes- but English wished you the best of luck and told you specifically that the Chimera would have another package of enhancers and stims “for keeping up with Vriska on those late nights.”

You had cringed as Vriska held in her laughter.

Helmet secured, all three of you stepped into the portal all at once-

-and your companions were no longer there as you reappeared in that temple where you had died.

FakeDave and FakeVris were standing there, smiling, their empty white eyes glowing.

<You’ve done well to have learned to control your godhood so quickly, Heir.

A gargantuan voice that was many and one hammered into your skull with all the force of a brushing feather as FakeDave spoke.

“I had help. What’s this about? Why am I here again? Where are my friends?”

>Worry not, Heir. This will have occurred in literally none of your time at all. You will reappear at your destination when the conversation is over, said FakeVris.

She smiled in a manner unsettlingly close to Vriska’s.

You shuddered.

“That still doesn’t tell me what you brought me here for.”

<We were getting to that, Heir, from FakeDave.

>We come to warn you that two of your own will, in fact, die in the battle you travel to, said FakeVris.

“Whoa whoa whoa. The fuck? Who?”

<The Flower Sage and the Stone of Life, said FakeDave.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t know any flowers or rocks. I mean, Vriska’s pretty and all, and Dave’s pretty dense, but…”

>More than this we cannot say, Heir, said FakeVris.

<We have agreed to abide by certain…restrictions.

>Just know that not all is lost. Take one to the place of Frost, where snowflakes mantle those once lost. The Stone of Life sleeps there in death, brought there by the Heir of Breath.

<The Flower Sage will set the stage in the Garden of Light, but hurry thence or else you’ll face an age of darkness and Blight.

“I…have no idea what those mean. At all.”

>Um…s-surely you jest, Heir of Breath! FakeVris smiled nervously.

<Yes! He must be. Oh, what a laugh! Only you could turn something so serious into a laughing matter. Good show, mighty Heir, said FakeDave.

“No…really. Kinda blank here.”

FakeVris turned to FakeDave. >He’s joking, right? I thought the Mantles bestowed wisdom. Our kin said he would understand almost immediately what we meant.

FakeDave shrugged. <I guess not all of them. Can’t we just tell him?

FakeVris scowled. >We agreed to make this cool!

FakeDave facepalmed. <You’re starting to sound like his mate.

“Uh…guys?”

>And what of it! For eons we watch them do all sorts of badass shit, but all we ever do is float around and sort of belch wisdom at people! People who go insane because we normally look like their Cthulhu!

<Listen, I’m getting tired of you! I didn’t want this assignment after I realized it was you I would be working with, but-

>Oh, don’t you even dare bring that up again! After what you did-

“Guys. Seriously.”

<All I ever do is work my ass off. I even humoured you and came up with stupid rhyming riddles and-

>Like you ever do anything else! I literally have to tell you to do everything, or else-

“GUYS.”

><WHAT, HEIR, they both thundered in unison.

“You sure you can’t just…you know…tell me?

>Take Rose to Arduro, to a place the locals have named the Garden of Light. Her Quest Bed lies beneath the Grove of Ard.

<And take Jade to Glacialis, where your medical facilities are located. Her Quest Bed was recently excavated thanks to Director English’s efforts and it’s being studied.

“Uh. Thanks? Okay. Sorry I didn’t get it at first guys. I’m not exactly the brightest of the bunch.”

>It’s fine, Heir. At least YOU aren’t nearly as stupid as THIS belligerent asshole-

<Oh, do not even GO there! The things I’ve done for you…!

>Oh, yes! Thank you for driving Fl’Hpt off! I really appreciated that!

“Uh…”

FakeVris waved her hand and a doorway etched itself into the air beside you. >The door is to your left, Heir. Good luck, we’ll see you later, blah blah blah.

FakeDave threw his hands up. <What happened to “Bluh bluh, be professional!”

“Ooooooookay. Uh. Later, guys.”

You turned the knob and opened the door-

-and tumbled out into a lab bright with lights and bustling with technicians and service personnel. Vriska was peering down at you, hands on her hips as Dave offered you a hand up.

“What tooooooook you so long, John?”

You rubbed the back of your head. “I…uh…nothing. Nothing at all. Let’s go find out when we get to Halum.”

---

Chapter Text

Your name is John Egbert, and man, you’re right back in the thick of things.

The drop bay lights overhead flickered as Imperial gunners scored another hit on the Aela. Judging from the lack of people screaming over the ship-net, the shields were still holding.

The holocall picked back up, Commander Daedal shouting orders to her bridge crew as a crewman helped her back to her feet. The audio lagged for a few seconds, the projection a silently flickering image of the Commander waving her arms about furiously before the sound cut back in.

“-damage control teams on the service elevators and on standby for every single deck! Broadside batteries, pick your targets and fire at will, and for FUCK’S SAKES will someone SHUT THE ALARM OFF, I am AWARE that we are currently being shot at.”

The bridge crew behind her hustled as the diminutive Commander Emma Daedal braced herself against the wall to continue her conversation with you.

You remembered her well- and she you enough that she was the first to volunteer to burn through the Imperial blockade with her frigate to get reinforcements down to the beleaguered Legion forces dirtside. She was a short woman, a fun-sized tyke with delicate features and an adorable button nose who was entirely capable of putting you flat on your ass in two heartbeats and giving you an instant replay by the third. Her short blonde hair had been tucked inside her duty cap, but had come loose when the torpedoes had hit.

“Damnit, Egbert, we’re getting lit up! Can’t you pull some crazy Archon bullshit or something and take care of the fighter screen?”

You shrugged apologetically. “I can’t do much. My place is on the ground, Em- we both know that.”

Daedal jabbed a finger towards you with a scowl as the Aela rocked again. “Don’t you fucking “Em” me, Egbert! You still owe me for the last time you got me mixed up in your crazy special forces bullsh- fuck it, we’re almost at the d-point anyways. Ready up and I swear, Egbert…”

You couldn’t help but smile as she tucked a few stray strands of hair back under her cap. “Yeah, Commander?”

“You still owe me SO MANY fucking drinks.”

The feed cut out as Dave tapped you on the shoulder, the metal plating of his gauntlet making a tinny rasp that you found strangely loud above all of the commotion in the drop bay as the Icarus troopers of Minos Company girded themselves for battle. “Yo, I hate to be a ball buster, but are you done chatting up your ex? We haven’t made a pit stop in light-years and I’m pretty sure I could put out a building right now.”

Vriska came slinking into your peripheral vision, fiddling with her helmet and grumbling something to herself that you couldn’t quite catch as you answered Dave.

“We’re almost at the d-point, so bucket up and get to your pod.”

Vriska smacked you upside the head with a free hand. “John! We’re about to go into battle and you’re talking about buckets?!?” she sputtered, her brow furrowed and her cheeks flushed.

Your hands came up in a gesture of surrender. “No, Vris, I was talking about his helmet, I was just telling Dave to-“

“…get down and freaky with him before we go flying off to our deaths again,” Dave interjected, snapping his helmet on and retreating into the privacy of his armoured headgear. Goddamnit, Dave.

Vriska gave her helmet the nastiest look you’d ever seen before holding it noticeably farther away from herself. “You don’t mean you humans use these to-“

This was dangerous territory. You could either clear the misunderstanding (what was with her and her constant timidity about buckets and pailing anyways? She was acting like such a virgin! Most trolls were never that flustered about the subject when it inevitably accidentally came up,) or you could just leave her to stew in the implication that someone- two someones, really- had done the do in her helmet.

“Sure, Vris. We pail each other with our wargear. Hardcore, right?” A wink and a quick smile later and you popped your own helmet back on, air hissing as the helmet matched the suit’s interior air pressure. Your visor came to life to present you the image of Vris staring at her own helmet in confusion. It gave you a rare few moments to observe a still Serket.

Her wild mane had temporarily been tamed into a single large braid, random bits and tufts of hair sticking out here and there. She still managed to find time to put on her makeup despite the looming presence of a combat hot-drop, her pursed lips blue and her eyes lined with…whatever magical bullshit women put around their eyes to look sexier. You didn’t know about those sorts of things. Her armour was beat and scratched, and she had her Stinger SMGs attached to the magnetic plates on her hips. She’d been training much the same way you had back on English’s station, learning the ins and outs of Archon combat and getting used to her new arm. The plating around it was heavier- she would often miscalculate and hit something too hard, damaging the armour around her hand and by extension the arm itself. A holster strapped to her right boot held a handgun- a HARRIER MkIII, though troops usually just called it a Dirty Harry. Harry for obvious reasons, and Dirty because the thing fired solid slugs that could blow a hole the size of an apple through someone wearing an inch of armoured plating. It was one of the most powerful handguns in the Legion’s armoury, and if someone was pointing it at you, there was only one question to ask yourself- do I feel lucky?

You started to idly slide around her, and caught sight of a wicked knife sheathed at the small of her back- “wicked” meaning the length of your forearm. Yikes. Her head snapped up and quickly to both sides, looking for you before turning around to glare at you, eight pupils to your two.

“John, you’d better give me a straight fucking answer because I do NOOOOOOOOT want to think to myself, “Huh, I wonder who pailed in my helmet last” in the middle of a warzone.”

You held up your hands in what you hoped was a placatory manner, grinning as your visor retracted with a hiss. “I was joking, Vris! Easy!”

She jabbed a finger at your chest, the metal coating her hand clinking against your chest plastron. Her scowl was just…just so cute as she glared at you.

“You’d better have been, Egbert, or Signless Suffering Christ so help me, I will-“

The deck shook again, the lights flickering as Daedal’s voice came on speaker.

“Damage control teams to decks 31 A through H! On the fucking DOUBLE!”

You put on your best game face. “Vris, we’re almost at the d-point. Ready up and get to your pod.”

“What do you mean, d-point?” she asked skeptically.

Your visor snapped back on at the speed of thought as you answered her. “The drop point. You know, where we deploy?”

Vriska just rolled her eyes as she slid her own helmet on.

A short check later, you were geared up, Vriska and Dave were in their drop pods, and you were standing there facing yours. Configured differently, these pods were heavier than their standard-spec cousins in order to withstand the duress of extreme deceleration from a close assault drop. You glanced around- Icarus troopers weaved back and forth amongst each other, checking gear and pods and giving you quick nods whenever they noticed you observing. Some were making final adjustments on the huge ‘mechs attached to the launchers across the bay.

The Armoured Mechanised Infantry Assault Platform, or AMI for short, was a 4 metre tall walker with one arm hefting a rotary railgun bank, while the other torso appendage featured a grasping hand with an extending plasteel sword that vibrated at ultra-high frequencies so as to better cut through the alien materials Imperial forces favoured. A buckler, small for the AMI but big enough to go from neck to knee on you, covered the forearm. Missile racks rested behind the shoulders, ready to come up and spit high explosive death wheresoever the pilot desired. The thing was a walking testament to Humanity’s sheer unwillingness to lie down and take it from the Empire like a bitch. It was Director English’s recently finished answer to the assuredly ages old question of, “What the fuck do I do about all this subjugglator all up in my face?”

And you were leading an assault wave of them.

The Icarus troopers were definitely not a bad matchup, either. Equipped with short range jump packs and the same sort of vibroblade (on a far smaller scale, of course) the AMIs used, they were the best assault troopers to be found outside of the Archon companies themselves.

Another quick check and you were good. You strapped in and locked the pod. A screen mounted on the interior came to life, Vriska and Dave’s pod interiors coming into view as their pod doors shut.

CPT John Egbert started mission log Operation Shooting Star

Dave Strider: is that supposed to be a fucking pun

DS: goddamnit egbert you are beyond lame

DS: i cant take you anywhere

Vriska Serket: You know, I thiiiiiiiink I’m going to have to agree with Dave here, John.

VS: I mean, 8a8e……..

VS: That was pretty 8ad. I think I’ve made 8etter puns in my sleep.

VS: ::::T

John Egbert: look, we’re not here to talk about my inability to make good puns!

JE: we know the mission objectives: relieve whatever’s left of karkat’s unit, then help minos company push the imperial assault force right off the fucking planet.

JE: any questions?

DS: are we there yet

JE: no. any other questions?

VS: Noooooooo.

DS: we cool

You nodded to yourself before sparking up the tac-net. “Alright, Minos Company! We may be late to the party, but like hell are we going to show up empty handed. As you all know, we’re dropping in to relieve whatever’s left of Captain Vantas’ unit, and kick some Imperial ass along the way.”

A cheer rang out across the ‘net.

“Now, I’m not going to lie to you all- we’re going to be landing knee-deep in the shit this time. I mean, you might have been ankle deep once or twice, maybe wriggling your toes in it, but apparently we are going to be dropping straight onto the dance floor to go toe-to-toe with Her Imperious Condescension’s Seventh Explorecutioner Fleet.

Low grumblings crept across the ‘net.

“But hey, not all is lost. Big Bad Bitch may have brought her Sucksplorers, but we, as the advance assault force…well, it is our job to be the steel-tipped boot planted right up their ass when the rest of the fleet catches up. Situation’s this, ladies and gents: trolls straight across the planet, from lowblood workers and slaves to highblood sympathizers, are fighting for their freedom down there and we are going to be the shining beacon of light dropping from the heavens through the parted clouds. Their lives, their grubs’ lives, their entire futures are on our shoulders- so we can’t afford to mess this up.

The Sucksplorer fleet is supposedly comprised of the fastest, toughest, and strongest trolls in the entire Imperium, but that’s complete bullshit, so let me clear up a few things for you. Fast? No one likes a minuteman- they hit Captain Vantas hard, so they won’t even see us coming when we plant one on ‘em twice as bad. Tough? Their ground pounders might as well be wearing wet tissue paper for armour for how tough I’ve seen it be. Their heavies- those subjugglators- won’t go down easy, true, but I’ve seen Minos Company and you are all a damn sight faster than one of those lumbering fuckmuffins. Strong? They- I mean, come on, we’re just better. If they’re fast, we’ll be faster. If they’re tough, we’ll be twice so. If they’re strong, we’ll prove we’re stronger, bend ‘em backwards and kick their asses straight back to their home planet. Not just because we can be, but because we have to be. We have not this planet, not this system, not this sector, but an entire species of sentient beings who need us- and every time we win, it’s another good, solid swing at the Big Bad Bitch herself. We aren’t going to win just because we can, and we’re not going to win just because we want to- we are going to wreck the opposing force’s shit because we fucking have to!

Icarus troopers, you drop in ten when I do. AMI squads in five; you’re going to carve out a solid LZ for us. As you load up, I want you to know I’m pretty happy to have the chance to serve with Minos Company.”

Chapter Text

Maybe about sixty seconds after your pod launched, you were tagged by trip-A and as you tried to pull yourself from the burning wreckage of your pod, screaming through the AA-lit skies, the only thought that went through your head was, “Not again.”

Your name is John Egbert, and this is why you don't have nice things.

JE: tagged, going down hard.

DS: goddamnit john this happens every time

DS: see this is why we don’t have nice things

JE: dude, it’s not like i can just plan this shit out!

VS: John!!!!!!!! What did I tell you a8out this sort of thing?!?!?!?!

JE: vris, chill, i’ve got this!

You pulled up an altimeter- a little over 2000 metres to the ground. Okay, you could do this, this was definitely

The world went bright with stars as whatever higher powers there were all collectively dick-slapped you out of the sky.

DS: oh fuck

JE: god fucking damn, that hurt!

DS: no shit bro you just got bitch slapped around by a flak cannon

You blinked a single, manly tear of pure grit as your visor rebooted itself- the shell had overloaded your shields and had maybe, by chance, completely fucked up your suit.

Icons blinked themselves into life as a small, rapid beeping tone began to remind you of the fact that the heavens had seen fit to attempt to acquaint you with a flak shell. Readouts flashed blood red onto your face as your wounded armour tried to keep itself together.

First things first- you needed to right yourself, because tumbling uncontrollably through the air was getting to be real old shit at this point. You ignored the whining tones of the wounded system readouts as you brought up the maneuvering jets on your suit’s hardpoints.

Ready…set…

You tried to trigger the jets again, only to watch as a few sparks went up from your scarred plating. They shed just enough light onto your battered armour to show you the silvery grooves melted into your chest plastron from the acidic grub-flak. The marks, carved as if some massive fuckbagel had been toying with you like a doll, snaked around to your back and out of view, which your suit indeed confirmed was also sort of fucked up.

So your pod was wrecked, your armour was damaged, your maneuvering jets were gone, and your jump pack…

…had just exploded within the falling wreckage of your pod some hundred metres below you, if your helmet’s zoom function was to be believed.

A Falchion-class Terran interceptor flashed by, burning plasma chasing it through the skies as an Imperial Harvester pursued it.

Well…okay. This looked bad, especially with only about a thousand metres left to go before you became a colourful splotch in the dirt. If you were fast, you could grab another pod, ride its anti-grav trails down to the drop zone. If you were lucky, you wouldn’t get thrown too hard. Or you could try to do what one of the Archons from Sierra company had done and ride a piece of wreckage down…but he said it hadn’t exactly worked out too well with the landing, so maybe it was better not to tempt fate.

>Or you could…you know…use your godhood to your advantage and just fly.

A voice slithered its way through your consciousness in not an altogether unpleasant fashion. A familiar voice, at that.

JE: vris? say again?

VS: I didn’t say anything, John! And even if I diiiiiiiid, you should 8e worrying more a8out how to land without getting turned into a griddlegru8 on impact! >::::T

DS: what the ever loving fuck is a griddlegrub

JE: alright, alright! christ, just keep the squad-net clear.

>Oh, come on. And I thought I was leaving a good impression all this time.

That voice crept its way in again, but faint, as if someone was speaking at normal volume but while standing on the other side of a cracked open door.

>That’s because you’re awake. Our realm isn’t altogether entirely unconnected, but it would help if you were asleep or in the Bridge instead of hurtling through the sky and on course to slam into the ground.

Whoa, how did she-

>Dude! I’m in your head. Literally, I am sitting in your head and trying to talk to you.

Well, for how much the voice sounded like Vriska, it managed to act like her passably well.

>I’ll take that as a compliment.

Oh, right. She could hear you think. Wait, so did that mean she could see other stuff too? Like that one time you-

>Heir! Focus.

>And, as a matter of fact, I can. What you managed with that tea cup was, admittedly, rather impressive.

Okay. So…godhood? Powers? Throw me a metaphysical bone here.

>I’ll be frank with you, Heir. You can bloody fly. I mean, you’ve done it before already.

You had?

>I. I just. Hc’tib, Heir. Just fly. Go. Before you perish. Again.

The presence within your head became noticeable only after it left, the same way one noticed the changing of the tides only after the fact.

Okay, another klom to go. Magic flight powers…go.

You tried to slow yourself, tried to feel out the gossamer threads slipping past you. At your call, they twined themselves around your hands, these lines of air and breath. You could feel the same threads wrapping around your feet, your torso, your arms-

The world went white again as another flak shell detonated a scant few metres from you, throwing you again and sending you spinning. Déjà vu as your visor systems reset once more to tell you that there were spots on your left arm burned straight down to the carapace layer.

800 metres.

Breathe, John, you can do this. Those same threads twined around your hands and feet again, bring to a halt that spastic tumble through the air you had only just been perpetrating. You stabilized as you began to really feel the heat that had been building up from all the friction of your fall. You could see those threads, those lines- light blue and shimmering, dancing and flitting between your fingers. You gripped them and your top half lurched upward as sparks leapt from your hands. The air itself was your lifeline, slowing you down as you coalesced it around your hands. You used it to orient your feet towards the ground as missiles and plasma streaked by. A pod nearly clipped you, but you managed to nudge it just slightly with a little bit of focus and more than a lot of sudden panic.

You could make out figures on the ground far below. Pods threw up clods of dirt and mud as they landed, like metal drops in a giant brown lake. A glance upward showed a long trail momentarily illuminated in the tails of passing pods’ grav jets and the booming lightning flashing overhead as rain struck your now red-hot gauntlets and curled up and away as steam.

VS: Are you poooooooositively sure you aren’t going to griddlegru8 on impact, John?

DS: seriously i still want to know what a fucking griddlegrub is

JE: i’ve got this, guys! don’t sweat it.

400. You could see the thin lines of tracer fire and the burning swathes of plasma being thrown back and forth between the Legion assault force and the Imperials.

A green light winked into life with an accompanying soft tone as your suit notified you of the backup jets- thank God for redundant systems- were restored, some of which were still active. You fervently hoped the burners worked; it would be pretty sweet to have, you know, a backup option.

Although you couldn’t feel it, you could see the angry red streaks of heat bleeding from your slowing form.

Wait, was that…? Yes. You could make out Karkat’s hill, now, as a handful of defenders stitched lines of fire across any Imperial attackers that made it into their defensive circle. Icons winked into life on your HUD as IFF- Identification Friend or Foe- tags came into range.

There was a lot more Imperial red than Legion blue.

One Legionary fell below you. And another, and another.

At the speed of thought, you…well, called out to your hammer. The tug of your thoughts became an engine of will as you felt a familiar heft in your right hand. It wasn’t heavy, nor unwieldy- just…there. Substantial, but in the way a stream of air feels between one’s fingertips.

Arm extended, hammer out, you began to spin- like some sort of stupid top spin-jacking your way into the depths of idiocy incarnate- and as you built momentum, you took note of the enemy positions on your HUD.

100. Go time.