The transition to the dream bubbles was never a smooth one. There was only a moment of twilight between when she closed her eyes in the one world and opened them in the next, but that moment of twilight was almost unbearable. It was a sort of harsh static, the clingy kind. It left a taste of electricity in her mouth, even after the transition, and her limbs felt stuck to one another when she opened her eyes, as if the static was holding her and refusing to let go.
She of course recognized the static, it was Their hallmark, the hallmark of her now abandoned Masters. Though she had once made light of the stubborn throes in which their tentacles held her, she would never do that again. Even joking about the memories were enough to make them resurface, to make her mind stick and the gears of her brain jam. If she let herself remember too much, it would break her, this much she knew.
So when the moment of hazy, deadly, nauseating static passed, she tried to forget. She could never forget each disgusting second of their control over her, nor could she forget those interludes between the two waking worlds. She knew that they were trying to contact her, to pull her back into their world, where they could control her, but every miniscule sliver of time that was spent between the one set of eyes and the other was abhorrent to her, because in the back of her mind she knew that time was only adding up.
But naturally, she took the hit, time after time, because she had to. She needed to sleep at some point, and she had the warm fuzzy feeling that somehow she was helping the shades that were trapped in the bubbles that filled the void.
On one night in particular, after drifting through the tortuous static and into the dream bubble that would play host that night, she opened her eyes only to see a familiar sight: the spires and towers of a royal moon. Except immediately, she knew that this was not her home moon, this moon was bright and golden, gleaming in the reflected light of Skaia. In a way, the shining towers of Prospit were less comfortable than the equally dark towers of Derse. The mirrored surfaces made her feel exposed and threatened, as if at any moment there was a chance that her sins would be revealed and her person denounced.
As she floated out of the window of the bedroom she had found herself in and into the main roads and courts of Prospit, she felt a freedom that was totally alien to her. Unlike the skies of Derse, which drew and collected the same static that Rose so desperately wanted to avoid, the skies of Prospit were filled only with the cool, reassuring glow of Skaia, a glow that promised renewal, creativity, and potential.
Though the moon held seven towers, Rose was unable to locate anyone else in the bubble, and her surroundings were entirely silent, which would have been eerie if the brightness of the moon wasn’t so reassuring.
Then, from above her, she heard a timid voice which could only be addressing her.
“uMM, HEY THERE, i’M tAVROS"
When she looked up, she saw a troll, though not one she had met before. He was dressed in the yellow regalia of a Prospit dreamer, and on his head were a pair of massive bull’s horns. As he floated down to meet her face to face, their eyes met. Hers remained the soft lavender they always had, while his were totally white, a blankness that betrayed his nature as a dead self. She found herself lost in his eyes, as if she was looking for something there, even though she knew she would never find a thing.
After a few seconds of staring, she shook herself into awareness and responded.
“Pleased to meet you, I am Rose Lalonde.”
She offered her hand, which Tavros gladly took and shook. Rose found herself surprised by the weakness of his arms. She knew that the trolls lower on the hemospectrum tended to be physically weaker, but she had always assumed that all trolls were stronger than most humans.
When the two released their grip, Tavros spoke up again.
“i’M, uMM, PRETTY SURE YOU KNOW WHERE WE ARE
tO BE HONEST, i, uHH, DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT TO DO NOW
i DON’T GET TOO MANY VISITORS HERE"
A subtle frown graced Tavros’ gentle face, and Rose felt a surge of pity for the poor troll.
“Oh, well I wouldn’t mean to intrude of course, but as long as I was visiting this bubble, would you mind showing me around?"
The frown on Tavros’ face was replaced with a tentative smile. The two linked hands again and an instant later, they were standing on a rocky pillar, overlooking an ocean of sand. Tavros floated to the ground and sat down, dangling his legs over the edge of the pillar and Rose did the same. Though the winds of the land were strong, they were no more than a nuisance to the pair, who were able to remain safely seated on the pillar. Several minutes passed before either said anything. Rose was too caught up in observing the simple barren beauty of Tavros’ land, and Tavros was lost in thought.
The hypnotizing effect was broken when the sound of Tavros sobbing shattered the silence. Rose, shocked at Tavros’ sudden breakdown, just sat there, not sure what to do. She had played at being a therapist a thousand times before, but when someone really needed help, everything felt far too real. When Tavros’ chocolate-colored tears dried to a trickle, Rose gingerly put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m not going to insult you by asking if everything is okay, because I know it isn’t.
But these bubbles don’t have to be a place of torture if you don’t want them to.
As long as I’m here, know that I will be there for you, if you think talking will help.”
Tavros sniffled a little, and after a few deep breaths and false starts, he told Rose his story. He told her about growing up on Alternia, and dreaming to fly, he told her about Flarp games with Aradia, and the torment visited on him by Vriska.
The farther along he got, the harder he found it to keep talking, but he soldiered on. He told her about Vriska throwing him off the cliff, and the loss of his legs, and about her constant tortures during the game, which eventually ended in his embarrassment when he failed to kill her.
He couldn’t help but cry again when he told her about Vriska dying the first time, and how he felt standing there, drenched in her blood, his ears filled with her screams for death. Rose could barely understand him through the blubbering when he told her about the paralysis he felt staring at her slowly dying body.
When it was obvious to Rose that he wasn’t going to say anything else for a while, she reached out both of her arms and wrapped them around him, holding him in a light embrace, their legs still swinging freely over the desert, swaying in the wind.
When Tavros didn’t respond, Rose lifted her left hand slightly and moved it up his neck, ending in his hair, which she gently ran her fingers through. After a few more deep breaths, Tavros started again, telling Rose about the last moments of the game, and life on the meteor. His story ended with the surge of false confidence that drove him to confronting Vriska once and for all, which led to his death.
The way Tavros talked about death confused Rose. He wasn’t upset to have died, it was simply a fact of reality, another thing to consider in the grand scheme of things.
But the story didn’t end with his arrival in the dream world. He described to her what it felt like to be ripped through the bubble back into reality, and his consciousness forced to inhabit the same spirit body as his tormentor. When he got to that part of the story, Tavros was visible disturbed, and he started talking slower, as if every word was painful.
Rose started to remind him he could stop at any time, and almost went as far as to plead with him to just take a break, but before she could get a second word out, she saw the look on his face, a look of pure determination. It was then that she knew that this story was going to be told, one way or another.
And so it was, in excruciating detail. He told her how his very soul burned when it inhabited that sprite, and how it felt like his mind was being invaded and torched at the same time.
But the worst part was the instant just before the explosion, the moment when the pain was the absolute most intense. He told her that in that moment he knew he never wanted to live again, that he felt so violated and torn that he was convinced nothing else would ever matter again.
And then came that explosion. Its searing flames were a welcome release.
Tavros looked Rose in the eyes when he told her the conclusion to the story. As he spoke of the sort of closure he felt when he finally got the chance to speak to Vriska again, Rose felt confused. When he was finally done talking, Rose cleared her throat to respond.
“So if you feel as though you’ve obtained some closure, why come back to it, time and again? Why not finally let all this go, and free yourself?”
Tavros almost cried again, but stopped himself, at least long enough to respond.
“bECAUSE EVEN THOUGH THOSE MEMORIES HURT ME SO DEEPLY THAT THEY JUST MIGHT DRIVE ME MAD
i WOULD GIVE ANYTHING TO GO BACK THERE rOSE
bECAUSE AT LEAST BACK THEN i WASN’T ALONE
nOW, ALL i uMM, ALL i HAVE IS MY MEMORIES”
With that, Rose could almost feel her heart breaking.
And then, in an instant, it did. Tavros’ story bought up Rose’s own memories, her own guilts and fears and insecurities. There in that place, she felt vulnerable and open, and she knew that if she ever wanted a chance for forgiveness, she had to speak to someone.
So she did.
“Tavros, do you suppose it would be all right if I shared some of my own story with you?”
Tavros looked up and nodded.
“i, uMM, i SUPPOSE i WOULDN’T HAVE MUCH TROUBLE WITH THAT”
And so slowly and deliberately, Rose told her own story, as dispassionately as she could. She knew that if she stopped, she might never be able to start up again. She had started her confession, and she had to stick to it.
As the story was told, a young girl found herself in contest with her own mother, a contest which obscured the true feelings that each felt for the other until it was far too late. It was that same girl who toyed with forces that were far beyond her control, at the behest and prodding of a man who meant her nothing but ill for her very universe. And it was those forces that still polluted the girl’s mind during every waking moment, reminding her of her helplessness and insignificance. Her pain was not firey like Tavros’ pain, it was a paradoxically sharp ache, a biting pain that weakened her mind and dug own her spirit. It was a cold pain that even now threatened to freeze her soul.
When she finished her story, complete with a description of the sticky static that she feared would never leave her, Tavros could only shudder in fear. The look on his face scared Rose. It was a familiar look, the same look John had given her when he first saw the monster she had become.
“I’m so sorry that you had to hear that.
If you never want to speak to me I would understand.”
But Tavros straightened up and shook his head vehemently.
“nO rOSE, THAT’S, uMM, THAT’S NOT AT ALL THE CASE
nO MATTER WHAT THE VOICES SAY TO YOU
oR HOW MANY BAD DREAMS, OR, uMM, TERRIBLE MEMORIES POP UP
yOU AREN’T THAT PERSON ANYMORE
yOU, uHH, YOU STOPPED BEING THAT PERSON THE MOMENT YOU DECIDED THAT YOU COULD BE SOMEONE ELSE
aND THAT DECISION MATTERED, TRUST ME”
With that, Tavros put his own hand on Rose’s shoulder, and leaned in, lightly kissing her on the cheek.
Rose let a single tear drip down her cheek before she responded.
“Thank you Tavros."