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HOLD ON TIGHT, THE WORLD IS BURNING DOWN

Chapter Text

FEFERI PEIXES

W)(at MU----ST Be Done!

                The problem, she thinks, boils down to fire and water. She’s part of water, from the fins on her face to the webbing on her toes; she’s all wet, cold darkness, the deep abyss. It’s not so bad, reelly. What few conversations she’s managed with horrorterrors- mostly driven off by the angels these days, but still reachable if you know how- shows her that they’re not so bad, just different.

                Which is why it makes her so angry when the torchbearers pretend that they are! Ooh! Like just because their blood runs hot, just because their minds crackle with psionic power, just because their ancestors ended up finning the war, they are better than you. Better than water.

                Because that’s all it is, in the end. Fire and water. The highbloods run hot, name themselves after precious metals, bedeck themselves in shining rainment and hold high the red colors as the standards of society. Never mind that fire burns itself out, that they all die in such a short span of sweeps it’s almost shocking; no, there are drugs for that, and cybernetic devices. Never mind that trolls are naturally inclined to darkness, to water; the highbloods consider it a cross to bear, suffering that they offer the Signless and the angels as penitence for sins, and so the children of night cheerfully take up the banner of light. Torchbearers. Firehearts.

                Monsters.

                She cleans as she thinks, gets the anger out of her system with a broom and a mop. It’s a little piece of shit, really, a hive buried so deep in this great city’s underbelly that if you didn’t know where it was already you’d never find it. It’s perfect for a pair of cultists like her and her…

                She tries not to think about that. Quadrants were one of the few things the torchbearers didn’t burn up in their revolution; they changed a lot of how the world was supposed to work, but quadrants they pretty much left be. Except, of course, now a moirail is supposed to keep a lower troll in check, a highblood piece of ‘noblesse oblige’ wherein they adopted a favored servant as their moirail and kept them in line. Disgusting, condescending pieces of shit

                …Eridan’s flushed for her. She’s always known, even when he managed to flub that up by asking for her to be his moirail instead. He’s too much of a coward at heart, reelly. He backs away from anything hard, or too much, waiting to be given it instead. She does pity him, but not the way he wants her to.

                But she’s using him, isn’t she? And that’s…

                She puts the broom down. She can feel a cry coming on. Rare these days. But…

                She takes off her goggles, rubs her eyes. No. No tears. It hurts, she can’t kelp it, it hurts to be stuck in this situation, taking advantage of some poor dumb boy who just wants her to like him and doing the… the horrible things she does…

                But come on, you’re a big girl now. You’re descended from queens, Feferi. Come on. Come on.

                She chokes back a sob that’s almost a laugh and gets back to sweeping. Eridan will be home soon. With luck, he’ll bring a present back for her.

                Her presents these days cry. They kick. They squeal. What she does is ugly and so monstrous that it’s hard for her to think about it, a defense mechanism her mind throws up to save itself. If she ever reelly stopped to think about what she did to advance her research, she’d go mad. Eridan would have to kill her just to stop the screaming.

                But somebody has to do it. The torchbearers burned so much up, made it all into ash. Something happened when the Angeless dropped the green moon into the waters, killed the great ancient lusus of the queens, a being whose name Feferi still doesn’t know, for all that her research has made her possibly the most knowledgeable person in the Empire about horrorterrors. And wasn’t that quite a feat? The clockwork majyyks involved nearly killed the Angeless, she who was the ancestor of dear sweet Empress Aradia. But it dropped the moon into the sea like a meteor, obliterating nearly all life within it.

                And powerful mystical connotations, too, beyond the pure physical force of the event. Feferi had studied these things. All natural satellites were tied to water, their influence on ocean tides too important for them to be otherwise. And the lusus of the queens had been a water being. Perhaps, in slaying the seagod with a moon, while she was in her watery home, the Angeless had symbolically slain water with its own power, defanged it and set it down at fire’s feet as an offering…

                Feferi shook her head. Almost certainly true. Magic was symbolic at heart, but the symbolism always added up. Moon equals water, sea-god equals power over water, kill sea-god with moon to establish dominance over all of water’s power…

                She cleansed as she pondered, until an errant thought popped in- Wonder if Eridan will ever work up the courage to ask me to be his matesprit.

                She hoped not. The thought disgusted her. And yet…

                If he asked…

                She’d say yes.

                Not out of flushed feelings. Truth was, he was so needy and weird and off-putting she didn’t really like him at all, even as a moirail.

                But she could not deny to herself that it was her fault that he’d become what he had, that she had used him more poorly than he had used her. She he put on a pedestal. He she put through hell.

                Also, if he asked and she rejected him, he’d almost certainly leave her, and she couldn’t finish her work alone.

                So she’d do it because she had to.

                And that was the summation of her life right there. That was what it was worth, to be a descendant of queens, bearer of tyrian purple blood that, but for the manipulations of the torchbearers, would be the rarest blood in the universe; that her whole life has boiled down to her doing what must be done, because somebody had to do it.

                I did what I had to do.

                May the water forgive me.

Chapter Text

ERIDAN AMPORA

 

THE ORPHAN-TAKER

 

Today’s haul was a damn fine one, if you do say so your own lovely self. Opicus was a dick, but he knew where the best hauls were; it was getting hard to get a hold of good slaves these days, what with Commisslaughter Terezi helming the legislacerators and policeradicataors now. Give the blind bitch credit, she was skilled as hell at sniffing out crime and shit. Guess it made sense, considering all she ever did was sniff people and lick them, according to rumor. Traditionally creepy nickelblood.

 

And on that note, Eridan never got why the fuck tealbloods got called nickelbloods. Yeah the highbloods had their weird metal fetish, what with like goldbloods and ironbloods and, shit, like all the other blood names, but how did nickelblood make any fucking sense? Nickels were shiny, not fucking green!

 

Wwhatevver.

 

He was happy as he was- just a big ol pretty seadweller, just barely above the hordes of tyrantbloods who lived below him. Oh, shit, no, Fef didn’t want him saying that. “Tyrian” blood, she said. Like that was real or wwhatevver. About as real as magic, and that shit wasn’t real at all!

 

But he’d humor her. Was why he was bringing this big ol present in a sack home, wasn’t it? Gotta humor her. Fef, best thing ever happened to him, pitied the shit out of her… though he’d fucked it up and made her his moirail, and not his matesprit., cod fucking dammit.

 

Still… she was awful affectionate for a moirail. Maybe… maybe.

 

Maybe he’d work up the courage to ask.

 

But eh, no… he’ll just… let it be as it is.

 

And that’s just dumb, you fishy fuck, you’ve assaulted fortified locations where the city’s poor gather to defend themselves from the attentions of slavers like you without a single qualm. Why do you falter at the idea of really approaching Fef?

 

…Because if you failed in an assault, you just died. If Fef rejected you…

 

You don’t know what you’d do.

 

She’s everything to you. It’s why you do what you do, why there’s a young grub in your sack right now. Opicus mocks you for your habits, asks why you’re such a grub-fucker, and the rumor is that you’re just some kind of crazed pedophile… but, well, the funny thing is, being considered a child rapist is, believe it or not, better than letting them know the truth.

 

Feferi uses their blood to talk to horrorterrors.

 

And holy shit, even you freak out a bit at that shit; I mean, oh my god, Fef, what are you doing, but she always cries, tells him that she has to, and when he watches that tyrantblood streaming down her face he just…

 

Fuuuuuck he’s flushed for her so baaaaad.

 

Ah, well. It’s not like he does it every time. Most troll families are perfectly content to let grubs grow up the way they used to- finding a lusus and getting raised by them. Not all of them go for the Dolorosa method of adopting a grub personally, especially not lowbloods like most of their targets. More of a highblood thing.

 

Still, in their desire to emulate their masters and not get the shit kicked out of them, a lot of lowbloods do take grubs from the caverns, raise them at home like the Dolorosa did the Sufferer. Kinda disgusting, really, but… wwhatevver. Makes it easier to steal kids for Fef.

 

Gave you a nickname, too, related to your Ancestor. Your Ancestor’s a famous pirate who fought the Sufferer-supporting Mindfang, that traitorous bitch, a badass dude by the name a’ Orphaner Dualscar. Well, you’ve got a lot more than two scars, but you got a name a lot like his now- Eridan Ampora, the Orphan-Taker.

 

Heh, you kind of like it. Now admittedly you wish no one thought you were a pedophile, but at least it makes a convenient cover story.

 

And truth is, they need you. You’ve got a light in your veins, something Fef’s never been too comfortable with but she told you (when you freaked out and asked her if it meant you were a bad guy, a highblood), that it wasn’t wrong, just an emanation of Hope, that you’re some kind of living symbol and avatar of every wish ever made. That’s why you gleam, despite being a seadweller; despite being aligned with water, as Fef would put it, you’ve got the magic of the stars in you. It’s damn useful; lights up dark corridors, lets you shoot laser beams out of your fancy science wand you had Fef make with the help of some weird highblood she knows, a… jadeblood you think, though that’s damn high up the scale, why on earth would someone that rich even know who Fef is?

 

But you’re not home half the time, and you really hope that highblood’s not trying to be Fef’s matesprit, though the chances of that are “slim” and “none”. Maybe she’ll try to be her moirail and you can use the excuse to say you’re flushed for her.

 

Anyway…

 

In addition to all the fun stuff your science wwand lets you do, the science of Hope gives you a ton of other powers. But the biggest one, oddly, is that it makes you warm on the inside. Hope’s fire lights up your soul so much that, when you cover up the fins and wear a lot of heavy clothes and disguise your accent, you are warm enough that you can pass for a pretty high up caste; once you even pretended to be teal, which was ridiculous. Such high hot heat, felt through the skin, is an obvious sign of highblood nature; those lowbloods who suspect you to be pretending usually don’t dare risk defying you and finding out they were wrong, fearful of what might happen to them.

 

(As they should be. You’ve personally watched a highblood gathering torch a lowblood’s eyes right out of his head for the fun of it. Goddamn crazy firehearts.)

 

So yeah, you’re needed, even if the other slavers are a little weirded out by you- yeah, they may be bottom of the barrel feeding scum, but at least they weren’t child rapers. You weren’t either, but shit, “my moirail’s just an insane cultist and she’s just killing them guys, no seriously, she’s just stabbing them, no raping is happening here” just wouldn’t go over too well, you don’t think.

 

But wwhatevver. You have Fef and that’s more than you ever needed; it’s all you ever wanted, in point of fact.

 

And you’ll do wwhatevver she asks of you. No matter what.

 

Getting home’s a bitch. You an Fef, like literally all the other seadwellers you know who ain’t house slaves or somebody’s pet moirail, live in the sewers and underground of this fucking vast city, the capital of the whole damn Empire- Disciple’s Landing. Where the leader of the great rebellion that finally tore the heart out of your people came to rest, carrying the body of her beloved, preserved far past the grave through the artifices of that traitor E%ecuotr Darkleer. It was his devices that let the highbloods survive so long… what had Fef said? The fire was burning them out from the inside, eating away at ‘em. They couldn’t last. Not without something artificial feeding the fire. Not like lowbloods or seadwellers, they could live damn near forever without any help at all… course, what with highbloods working them to death and killing them for kicks, most didn’t make it as long as highbloods did.

 

Wwhatevver, none of that matters to you. You’re so far off the radar that you might as well be invisible, nobody in Disciple’s Landing aware of your existence except for some of your slaver buddies; sure, Terezi was dangerous, but she was more concerned with crime happening in parts of the city that mattered. You were in the ghetto of the ghetto, the worst part of the worst part, and in a city of two billion, that meant you were simply too unimportant to worry about.

 

Once Fef finished her task, though, you’d matter. You’d matter a lot.

 

And they’d all fear the name of the Orphan-Taker.

 

After you explained what you’d been doing with the grubs, anyway, didn’t want to be a famous pedophile or nothing.

 

Crap, took a wrong turn while thinking about that. Get back on track… a city of two billion is fucking huge. Like, seriously fucking huge, like it’s the only city on the damn planet because it drains the life out of the rest of it to support itself. As many people here as grains of sand on the fucking beach. You live underground, so far underground that sunlight’s not even a rumor, and you steal most of your food and electricity from those above you. Fef likes it, claims that it’s fitting you both live in an abyss of stone and water and cold. You like it because it means you’re below notice and the scrap metal hives down here all look alike, making it easy to get lost and confused.

 

But you always find your way back to her. You knock on the door of your little crappy hive. Or, well, you knock on the frame; your door’s actually just a bunch a’ capes you stole and strapped to the entrance for privacy. Compared to all the other junk spaces set in the sewers near your home, this actually means you an Fef have more of a door than anyone else.

 

…No answer. You head in fast as you can. Something's wrong, some sixth sense from your dozens of scrapes is telling you something's wrong and it's something wrong with Fef, oh, dead gods help...

And walk right into the trap that Opicus set up for you.

Chapter Text

The Three Things that Make Gamzee Happy

He keeps his hands on the clubs as he waits, down here in the dank and dark. Darkness truly belongs to the low- it is light, and fire, that is held on high, blazing away at the top of the hemospectrum as a torch to guide their people.

Darkness?

It belongs to seadwellers and monsters.

Like him.

He keeps tight grips on the clubs. He hears the beat in his head, low and pulsing and sick.

There is something ugly and twisted inside him.

He deserves to be down here.

(He lets the thought lift him up. For whatever reason ,letting it in- letting himself hurt- is one of the few things that makes him feel better. One of only three.)

He is hunting slavers. He likes slavers. To be more accurate, he likes the fact that no matter what he does to them, he never has to feel bad. Aradia’s predecessor, may she be forever warm, abolished slavery, but highbloods have long lives and longer memories; those houses that want lowblood slaves still get them. They just resort to more illegal methods to do so.

Not to intimate that they do any work, of course. No, it’s flowerbloods they send instead; mostly purples like Gamzee himself or icebloods, though he once saw a springblood, her sweet cerulean a new color Gamzee hadn’t seen before.

Flowerbloods, who prey on their own people. The lowest of the low.

Gamzee tries in vain to keep the smile off his face.

Yes, Gamzee loves slavers.

You’ve been tracking this group for a while now, about seven turns of this motherfucking plaent or so. They’re after a seadweller couple now. Probably moirails; matesprits and kismesis live together more often than moirails do but the house has a feel that speaks of pale. Or your crazy is starting to settle in. It’s kind of hard most days to tell how sane you actually are and how much of what you’re seeing is real. Only after a day in your palest’s arms do you recover any semblance of real sanity.

(You’re also totally trying a flushed thing, with some iceblood your moirail’s… well, he's not his matesprit, but there’s some weird connection there you can’t even vaguely suss out. You, much to your pride, have gotten pretty good at figuring out your moirail’s problems, and even helped him a bit with them, but whatever’s up with him and the nickelblood is just beyond your motherfucking apprehension.)

(Aww fuck you went and up and motherfucking got off topic. And switched your perspective on your own motherfucking self. You like to think “he” instead of “you” because, well, motherfuck, would you want to be you if you had any other choice? It’s why you are he half the time, even in your own motherfucking head.)

(Anyway, yeah, the girl's name is Equius and she is THE most UPTIGHT motherfucker on the planet and she thinks she owns you, which is more than a little weird- I mean, CoMe OfF iT mOtHeRfUcKeR, we’re BOTH just LOWBLOOD scum EVEN if YOU are TECHNICALLY above ME- but she religiously listens to what Nepeta says and under all her weirdness the mechanic has a good soul. Kinda odd, too. Surface her is just a big ol fucking hemospectrum worshipping sweaty douchebag, with so many fetishes she literally cannot remember them all, but underneath she’s this sweet cool kindness, like she’s some kind of fucking wizard, and the magic she practices is the stuff the cool darkness between the stars is made from. She’s cool rags pressed to burning foreheads, just up and motherfucking helping without expecting anything back. And her word is her bond; if she says she’s got your back, she does. She’s really kind of sweet. A proper MaGe of VoId, she is. She’s like your opposite. You’re so sweet and good and easy-going on the surface and underneath is just an OCEAN of RAGE, like you all up and claimed the title of PaGe Of rAgE, worshipper and servant of hatred’s deep end. Your relationship’s new and untested but… interesting. Fuck all you might be flushed for her.)

…Where the FUCK did time go? Goddamn miracle, the way time motherfucking slips out of his hands. He jumps up, blitzes across the dark sewer floor to the hive he saw the slavers enter in a movement so fast it’s less than a blur. There’s one seadweller, on the floor, back turned to you. There’s eight people in front of him, most tyrantbloods with only one landwalker among them, and a single tyrantblood who’s got a bloody nose and clearly ain’t with the other seven. And between the landweller’s hands…

Holy motherfuck, it’s a miracle. Some lowblood is holding a fire in her hands, obviously straining but yeah, fuck yeah, she’s making a fire with her hands. Psychic powers are so rare among lowbloods that it’s not just a motherfucking miracle, it’s a miracle of miracles to see this complete bullshit; and a firestarter? That’s… motherfuck you’ve not even HEARD of shit like that. Karkat’ll have to know. Lowbloods are always trying experimental shit to get their seat on top of the hemospectrum back; is this something like that?

(Fuck, is it a one-off or is something bad going on down here?)

He stares for too long. The slavers- the six seadwellers and one landwalker- see him; see the clown mask he wears, the horrid smile; see the symbol on his shirt, Capricorn but slashed with three neat purple lines. Souvenirs from a run-in with Nepeta, who thought you were a thief; girl's weak like most highbloods but she's quick as lightning. Almost as fast as you are. (Almost.)

“ Oh fuck it’s the clown!” one of them shouts. They know who you are.

(Everyone does. You’re the great hero cleaning up the sewers; the slaughterer of slavers, the foe of the evil, the Mirthful Messiah of Massacres (your formal title, given by some goddamn highblood rag(hey, wow, your mind trains goes deep you are now like three parentheses in. Better climb back out. 8o)). It is, of course, literally nothing else but you channeling your natural homicidal urges into something productive for society as a whole; but at least it feels good to be feared, and by people who deserve fear. You, at least, did not ask for your madness; you are, no matter how you feel, not totally responsible for what you do. THESE motherfuckers THOUGH, they DON’T have YOUR excuses. THEY are JUST bad PEOPLE, as KARKAT palest WOULD say.)

You give them a grin over the head of the seadweller who doesn’t know that he’s the luckiest motherfucker who has ever lived. Well, for the next minute, at least.

And then you perform MiRaClEs.

With a cheerful greeting of “honk HONK!”, you crush the head of the one farthest to the left, flashing over to him with a club a’whirling before you even move. His brains explode, scatter tyrian purple almost pink on the walls; and oh God, there it is! The second thing that makes Gamzee feel good. Murder.

That dude’s companion freaks out and yells as she draws a crappy, broken raygun. You flick it up into her face just as she pulls the trigger; she burns her own face off, screeching all the while. Heh heh, fucking AWESOME. GoDdAMn it is good to be you sometimes. You start laughing as you keep on trucking, ignoring the screaming, flailing, blind, HURTING gunwoman because you want her to hurt a little more first before you kill her.

Firegirl tries to light up your life, sending blasts of fire from her hands that you dodge as easy as you’d walk down a clear street. Sweet little springblood, don’t you know? I’m the MESSIAH, bow DOWN. You grab her mind so tight with your powers that there’s nothing left of her but screaming. She collapses. You’re gonna take her back to the castle with you, give her to Karkat so the resident scientists can poke that shit. Probably Empress Aradia, she was always motherfucking into that science stuff. Well, archaeology, really, but all the motherfucking assassination attempts put paid to that.

Guy behind her, he’s all fun and games with his sword, and he’s actually good enough you go a round or two- end up just tossing a club into the face of the girl at the end of the line, blow tyrantblood out through the back of her head, to keep her from interfering. Fucking A. The big clown face on the club grins at you, wicked sweet. Clownubs, you call ‘em. Like boomerangs made out of bats, but they’re clubs made out of clowns instead. Fuck yeah. Admittedly you were high as a motherfucker on sopor when you came up with that, still enjoy a good ol' pie now and again when it's been a bad week with no killing and you need something to numb you inside. Got high enough that your blood was probably iron at the moment, heh heh.

With your free hand, still fending off big tough guy, you start strangling a dude. Motherfuck do you like strangling. …Too much, sometimes you dream of strangling Equius, and then you hate yourself, because fuck you’re shooting for flushed with her, not murder. Sure, she’d get off on it but Equius gets off on everything. You can’t kill people for no reason, Karkat taught you better than that.

But this dude, he’s a slaver, and you do NOT need to feel MOTHERFUCKING bad over his death. His eyes pop and bulge as the air leaves him forever, you still fending off swordy with one arm. One last member of the crew tries to spear you from behind; you beat her to death with the guy you just strangled.

Heh, you just beat a motherfucker WITH a motherfucker, how is that for winning. Karkat’s always threatened to try, though may the Sufferer bless his weedy mutant arms he’d never pull it off. Not that he wasn’t angry enough to do it, Karkat’s half as fucking angry as you are and THAT, my FRIENDS, is A lot OF fucking ANGER.

…Is that everybody? Almost. You get tired of playing with the swordsman, grab his fucking sword with your bare hand- and oh, that PAIN feels GOOD!- and break it with your club. Then, in the blink of an eye, you take the fragment you have in your hands and drive it right into his throat. He collapses, slowly pouring tyrantblood all down the floor in a shape vaguely reminiscent of a serpent. And, awesomely, his desperate insane flailing kills the girl who burnt her face off- two for one and with his own goddamn weapon!

MoThErFuCkInG mIrAcLeS, mAn.

Which just leaves the last two. One of them’s a slaver- the little seadweller on the floor. You’ve been watching and listening long enough to know who he is- the Orphan-Taker. Kinda a freak, and coming from you that’s saying something. He’s alive just because you wanted to kill the others first and you kind of wanted to know what was up in here, why he was on the floor.

Also you have no idea who in ten fucks the other one is. Probably somebody’s matesprit left ‘em for the Orphan-Taker or something, fuck all if you are getting involved in quadrant bullshit. Quadrant bullshit is always the WORST. You are so grateful that you got Karkat to take care of that shit for you.

“ speak up motherfucker,” you whisper to him as you put your bloodstained club beneath his chin, lift his head up slowly. “ I KNOW WHO YOU MOTHERFUCKING ARE. tell me why you shouldn’t die. YOU’RE GOING TO ANYWAY. but i might find it funny to hear you beg first.”

“ Don’t hurt Fef!” he says suddenly, words all broken string of sound with that goddamn watery accent. “ Kill me, fine, but Fef had nothing to do with it! She’s innocent!”

Then, miracle of miracles, he turns to her and says, in a broken, ugly, scared, but somehow STRONG voice, “ I’m flushed for you, Fef. Sorry it turned out this way.”

He looks back at you with what he probably thinks is tough defiance. “ Come on, then,” he says- and promptly breaks down crying. Huh. Fucking pussy. He’s glubbing for you not to kill him, all bravado suddenly forgotten as he realizes, oh fuck, yeah, you're totally going to motherfucking kill him. Please, please, don't kill me!

Heh! As if. You didn’t get known as the Scourge of the Sewers for not killing child rapists! You ready the clubs for a quick death- he impressed you a bit with that whole don't hurt my girl schtick, so eh, fuck it, you’ll kill him quick. He’s going somewhere cold anyway.

“ Wait!” The other seadweller leaps onto him- your hand almost clocks her but you stay it to see where this is going. “ Please. I’m his moirail. He’s flushed for me. Let me try to change him. They were going to kill him because he quit. Please.”

…fuck ME.

“ I think THAT’S a BAD idea,” you say, entirely truthfully. Really, you should just club this guy now, I mean fuck he’s some child rapist…

But she’s looking at you with horrified eyes, weeping tyrantblood everywhere. “ Please. He just left them. Give him a chance for this new life, with me.”

The Orphan-Taker’s mouth is shut- because she’s slapped a hand over it. Given that he’s famous for being a fucking idiot, along with all the child-raping, this is probably good survival tactics.

Or she’s full of shit.

(she is defying you)

(TAKE OFF HER FUCKING HEAD)

Karkat’s always warned you that if you think a situation might be less than clear- if you suspect someone’s innocent, or at least, that things aren’t what they look like- walk away. Don’t hurt anybody if there’s a chance you might be wrong. That’s how you stay sane, Gamzee, that’s how you stay good; you’re crazy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t channel it so long as you have rules to follow.

(but it would be so easy)

(THEY WOULD LOOK SO PRETTY SPRAWLED ON THE FLOOR)

(you know you will anyway)

(WHY DO YOU BOTHER TO FIGHT)

He twitches in front of them.

(must look so goddamn crazy)

His hand trembles on the club.

(KILL THEM FOR SEEING YOU AT YOUR WEAKEST)

He lifts it up without really knowing that’s what he’s doing

(yes)

(YES)

But through an act of supreme will, when he swings the club down, it passes near them instead.

“If I eVeR sEe Or HeAr ThAt YoU aRe BaCk On ThE sTrEeTs SlAvInG, bOtH oF yOu DiE,” you say, voice jerking up and down with the sheer amount of force you’re having to apply to stay sane, with the pretty tyrantblood on her face, and the sweet flowerblood leaking from his eyes.

“ That’s fine,” the girl says, and she gives you a smile as big as the world and, aww, fuck, you really are going to do this. You’re really going to walk away.

So before you lose your nerve, you grab the firestarter and book it, one foot in front of the other, going by secret ways back to the great palace that is your base of operations, with a smile on your lips as big as the one on your facepaint.

(At the very end, he almost struck them down. Almost he did, but by the barest of margins, he didn’t; he walked away.)

( And that is the third and best thing that makes Gamzee happy, because now he can tell his moirail that he did something good today, that he was good today, and that thought like no other gives him the strength to carry on.)

Chapter Text

EQUIUS ZAHHAK
Obey the Gods

You are STRONG. Seriously. You are the STRONGest woman in the world. You are so STRONG, in fact, that Nepeta- your dear moirail- has you as a bodyguard, and while you have issues raising your hand against the highbl00ds when they seek to harm your meowrai- sorry, please e%cuse the accident- moirail, Nepeta assures you that it’s needed. Nepeta is a rarity among highbloods- he is utterly without psionic powers- and he needs protection.

So you provide it. At least there is considerable historical background and legitimacy for defending one’s moirail, even from those higher on the hemospectrum from you. Besides, Nepeta ordered you too, and you always obey the highbl00ds. Always.

It’s why you started dating Gamzee. He is the most improper lowbl00d you have ever met, calm and placid and loving of all things. Completely wrong. He is a lowbl00d. He should be a raging titan of violence and idiotic vengeance, only barely kept in check by his higher-caste moirail. His sheer laidbackness is an insult to his hemospectrum caste.

But Nepeta asked you as a personal favor to date him. Karkat’s moirail, he explained to you, and Karkat wanted him to have someone. So you e%erted yourself to do as demanded by your moirail.

And Nepeta’s relationship with aforementioned High Lord Vantas… well, you would never think to question a highbl00d in any way, but it is acceptable for you, as a moirail, to question Nepeta in the context of a proper feelings jam. It is part of your function; in return for keeping you in check, you provide an outsider’s perspective on his problems. While a lowbl00d such as yourself could not possibly be wiser than a highbl00d, there is wisdom even in gutterbl00ds like you.

…The thought of a wise gutterbl00d sch00lfeeding highbl00ds requires you to seek a towel post-haste.

…With the sweat freshly removed, you return to your work. You are building a robot for High Lord Vantas, who has asked for aid in figuring out if there is a way to make a lowbl00d psychically powerful enough to create and manipulate fire. Such seems tr00ly absurd to you, but then again, that is why he is a highbl00d and you are a gutterbl00d- you are not wise enough to see why they would be interested such a thing. Of horse he has a good reason for asking you to build a robot replica of a lowbl00d troll, and it would behoove you not to ask questions cantery to the task at hoof.

You have been trying to add puns to your speech. Nepeta likes them and as a highbl00d what he likes is the most important thing in your world. You would personally find it foolish except that the very thought of saying such a thing to Nepeta, or any other highblood for that matter, makes you so sweaty you drop your wrench.

Fiddlesticks.

After once again drying off, and bringing a supply of fresh towels just in case, you consider your workshop. You have been blessed enough to be allowed to live in the grand Imperial palace, and your workshop has been dubbed “the garage” by highbl00ds. The thought that all of them know who you are and even respect you a little makes you gleam- a little from pride, mostly from sweat. You have also had the… distinction of battling some of those same highbl00ds in Nepeta’s defense, and despite your low hemocaste you have never lost a match. Gold and bronze blood both has stained your fists, after long, grueling battles and the roar of the highbl00d crowds exulting in their dominance over the lowbl00ded female who fights them…

…You should have brought more towels if you were going to be thinking these thoughts.

After a shower, and a resolute determination not to think any more such thoughts, you shift your mind towards Nepeta and High Lord Vantas… e%cuse the mistake, Nepeta wished for you to call him “Karkat”. Well, “Karkitty”, but then Karkat ordered you both not to use that name and your brain sort of froze up aaaaaand you’re going to need another towel.

Fiddlesticks.

…It’s complicated. You are unsure how it will work out, and part of you fears for your dear, sweet Nepeta. He is so innocent. He is a highbl00d dream, sweet, certain of self, but kind, as in control as anyone could ever be. Even some of this higher-ranking than him are not so in control, which is confusing but no, stop having those thoughts, you are running out of towels.

You are so pale for him it almost hurts. You would do anything to keep him from being hurt.

But Karkat is his favored edge. When Nepeta wants to cut himself he goes near him- and it’s confusing, what he and Karkat are. Karkat is the Empress’ matesprit, so it’s not flushed. Karkat has a kismesis in Commissioner Terezi, so it’s not black, either. And Gamzee is his moirail and Karkat has expressed absolutely no interest in the ashen quadrant.

…Perhaps they are like their ancestors. It was said that the love the Sufferer- you are not highbl00d enough to say his true name, you remind yourself, no matter how often Nepeta said it in his sleep and how used you were to hearing it from others at the castle- had for the Disciple transcended the quadrants. Perhaps that was not merely poetic hyperbole.

…Perhaps it has infected Nepeta.

Nepeta aches in many ways. Others do not see it, but you do, as his moirail. He aches for Karkat. He aches for peace. He aches because her pain courses through him- the woman who suffered her whole life, who built the church after the Sufferer’s death by her grief and rage. Many were her companions- the noble lowbl00d pirate Mindfang, the mighty highbl00d hero the Summoner, your own ancestor, repentant Darkleer- but it was the Disciple, full of rage and given strength by an unknown benefactor, who conquered Alternia, slew the Imperious Condescension, and overturned the system.

…For that reason alone, Nepeta has been hunted all his life. Lowbl00d terrorists want to gut him for his ancestor’s actions. Highbl00d traitors want to gut him to secure their own bids for the throne. You are merely grateful that now he has you to protect him, you and your sweaty, deviant, malevolent lowbl00d mind. Gutterbl00d is not always a disadvantage, not when it gives you the strength to oppose any who would hurt him.

He is asleep in the corner, curled up on a blanket. Robot duplicates of the Empress- done as a joke by Nepeta, who had you make them so he could give Aradia a gift for her Wriggling Day last sweep- watch over him in his sleep. You built several as a completely-not-creepy-at-all shrine to her; you are somewhat… black in your intentions towards her, would love to struggle against her powerful psionics, define yourself as her enemy, the most insolent lowbl00d against… against…

FUCK. You just shattered your hammer.

And fiddlesticks! You cursed! Even mentally, you should still be better than that. You are in the castle now, you can’t just throw around lowbl00d filth, no matter how good the looks on their faces would be, and…

And…

…You need another shower now.

You take a quick one and, to forestall any more lewdness, watch Nepeta sleep. He is the one being you have never been sexually attracted to. Just pale, as white and everlasting as your lusus’ milk, which Nepeta keeps drinking with that curious tongue motion of his. Obscene.

…But you let him do it without reproach. Nepeta has had a hard life. Let him have his quirks. Especially as it encourages others to believe him harmless. He is one of only two people who can sit on the throne- himself, and Empress Aradia. Nepeta has no designs on it himself and is content to throw his political weight behind the ironblood Empress.

Which is good, mostly because you are not entirely certain you could raise your hands against the Empress, but also because you know you probably couldn’t defend him even if he did take the throne. As it stands, he, Karkat, Sollux, Aradia, and Tavros formed a most powerful and useful organized defense against any one of their positions being threatened.

And you will be there to help Nepeta defend himself.

And, most likely, sweat inappropriately.

…Perhaps you could try standing near the Empress, casually, and irritating her through your ever-present dampness. Or shake some off on her, piss her off enough that she would hit you, send you flying with her mind alone, make you bend to her will… she would… she would...

Oh, fiddlesticks.

…Perhaps you should go see Gamzee. Nepeta is perfectly safe here, now, and Gamzee does not make you feel this way.

After all, he never does anything. You wonder why everyone acts like he has to be in Karkat’s presence twenty-four seven to function.

Or what he does during the day.

Probably nothing.

…But the thought of him being a real monster, but only by day, slaughtering left and right…

It just makes your toes curl and your breath catch.

Maybe you can try to make him angry tonight.

You pick up your tools and leave to seek the lowbl00d.

Chapter Text

VRISKA SERKET

Said The Spider to the Fly

                Tavros Nitram, your moirail, is the DUMBEST motherfucker in Alternian space. He may, in fact, be the dumbest motherfucker in space, period. He has the duuuuuuuumb. All of it.

                First off, he thinks you’re pale for him. Umm, fuck no. No, you want to jump his bones. Like, aaaaaaaall his bones. Possibly to a ridiculous extent. Like doing it four hundred and twelve times, or even eight times eight hundred times, would not be enough times. You are so flushed for him. Just like your ancestor, the noble Mindfang, who loved his ancestor, the Summoner.

                And oh god you could go on about Mindfang forever. She was so cool. Mindfang was a fucking genius, a pirate queen and captain, and she was so great she even recognized her true station in life- as a servant of the highbloods. She teamed with the Summoner, who she was totally into, and they had great sex and together had even greater fights (with other people, they were matesprits not kismesis) and…

                And…

                And dammit, you wish you could be her. Tavros ain’t like the Summoner at all. Damn cushy highblood lifestyle must have fucked him up. The Summoner was… well, he was hot, and he had massive muscles from the strain his flying put on them, and he was a military genius whose only serious weakness was an overreliance on his controlled animals. Mindfang took care of that right quick. Seriously, the Summoner was fucking awesome.

                Tavros?

                Tavros is a loser. He has nothing that even looks like a spine, he faffs about thinking about gogdamn f8iries all day, he’s wimpy and optimistic and he’s just… urgh! For a guy who’s second on the totem pole, beneath only Aradia, he’s damn p8th8tic! He’s supposed to be some kind of prince, the kind that takes your breath away, but he’s just… ahhhhhhhh!

                …You know, he doesn’t have anything that looks like a spine. He’s never had it hard, after all, just lived a sweet, cushy lifestyle. He’s got some mental powers, but he’s never really used them for anything but messing with a couple of Fiduspawn things. And he’s so uninterested in romance, he’s only taken you as his pale because you pushed him so hard!

                …Maybe you should push him again.

                H8rd.

                -

                Your sweet cerulean, your springblood, so named because it is at your caste that psychic powers begin to show up- rare, but there, the first hint that the ice of the winterbloods is breaking and good things can come about- is pumping in your veins so fast and hot one might be forgiven for thinking you’re an ironblood.

                Oh my Gog, you’re going to do this. You’re going to do this.

                He’s standing in front of you right now, on the balcony of his great estate. He’s rich, you know, a bronzeblood- second only to Aradia herself. There’s not that many bronzebloods, and he’s the only one Aradia likes, so his estate is completely freaking huge . He doesn’t know you’re here. Well, he knows the body you’re in is behind him- sweet, dear Sollux, who has no interest in Tavros in any way, but you took him over and walked over to his hive. Tavros is giving him a funny look right now, because Tavros doesn’t know that you can do this. In fact, no one knows you can do this; you’ve limited your mindfanging (as you call it) only to those people who are lower on the hemospectrum. Kanaya’s the highest up person you have ever mind-controlled openly.

                (Had to. She wanted you. The fuck? She wasn’t connected to Mindfang’s story as anything but a slave. She was worthless to you!)

                And this… this hurts… Sollux’s sheer power is incredible. He’s something like a god, or close to it, a grand bard playing doom with every tolling of his voice. You’re just a roguish speck of light dancing on the death power in him, trying to keep in control.

                But you’re doing it, and he doesn’t know who you are. He seeks you, hunts you, but the light dazzles his twin eyes and his mind simply cannot grasp you. Yet.

                Tavros says, to Sollux (to you), “ What are you doing here, Sollux?”

                You say nothing with Sollux’s lips, just rush forward and push him off the ledge.

                -

                The backlash is incredible. Sollux claims he was possessed and the evidence backs him up, much to your frustration- dammit, whyyyyyyyy does this always happen to you? Something always goes wrong. You forgot to clean up aaaaaaaallllllll the traces of your presence in his mind when you left, though thankfully they don’t have much to go on.

                Thankfully. You’d hate to have to kill Terezi, especially after all the things you’ve shared… you were her FLARP partner, years and years ago.

                But then you took her eyes and noooooooope, n8t g8ing to th8nk a8out th8t. Too painful.

                Anyway, you got other stuff to think about! Like how cuuuuuuuute Tavros looks in his little tank chair you had Equius build for him (and damn that girl is weird), and how the giant murderbeasts you got Nepeta to loan you are sitting on the bottom floor of his estate in cages, aaaaaaaand you should probably be concerned about the giant army that’s coming to kill Tavros.

                See, you t8tally pl8nned for this. Tavros is a looooooooser because he never had hardships in his life. But you fixed that right up! Now that he’s hurt all the other bronzebloods are gunning for him. He’s Aradia’s favorite because they used to be FLARP partners, and are still pretty good buddies- but if he dies, well, Aradia can’t complain too much. Trolls are more decent than they were, but hey, violence is still violence at the end of the day, and powerful people from all races like to try and kill each other.

                And here they come. You can see the first assassins sneaking over the walls.

                “ Tavroooooooos!” You yell, delighted. “ We got assassins coming! You should probably totally deal with them! That hovertank chair has guns on it, ya know, and a little place for your lance!”

                …There is no welcoming answer. You turn around, momentarily terrified that you’ve f8cked up and he’s be8n k8lled wh8le you’re b8ck was t8rned…

                But he’s still alive,which is good, but he looks so depressed, and that’s bad.

                “ Tav?” You say, bringing concerned eyes to his face. “ Tav?”

                “ Let them come,” he says, and looks away from you. “ I don’t care.”

                Oh no. No no no no no no no no. Oh Sufferer, Tavros, no

                “ Tavros, Tavros, don’t… don’t fucking do this, don’t commit suicide like this, oh fuck, Tavros-“

                He raises his head to you, with those great big del8cious h8rns, and shakes his head slowly.

                “ Uhh, I know you’re my moirail, so you are trying to encourage me,” he says, in that shaky, stuttery, weak way of his that you have always hated, “ but I, uhh, release you from those duties, and wish you well. Go on, Vriska. Leave.”

                Fuck fuck fuck fuck

                “ I’m not going to do that!” You yell at him, turning half a gaze back to the assassins- just now clambering down the wall’s opposite side. You have a little time, but so little… “ I’m staying here to defend you!”

                “ Uhh, I don’t want to be defended,” he says.

                Fuck fuck fuck fuck

                “ Tavros!” You scream, frightened beyond all tho8ght. You leap up to his hovertank and clamber aboard it, on your knees, reaching him. “ Tavros, come on!”

                He just closes his eyes and shakes his head, a petulant child, gogdammit what did Mindfang see in him, the Summoner’s some big fucking overgrown child

                (but you are not your ancestor, you are just a st8pid broad who plays pretend because your childhood was so fucking horrible, he’s not the Summoner, you’ve wasted your life on an idiot)

                In desperation, you kiss him. F8ck it.

                “ I love you!” you scream as you pull away from the kiss. Your eyes are screwed shut so tight that you don’t see his face, don’t know his reaction-

                And you bolt, running out to die fighting. F8ck it. Your life’s a wash anyway. Might as well go down bleeding someone else.

                You don’t look at him.

                You run out and there they are in the gardens of his estate, almost all seadwellers, the sort they like to send in waves for this sort of thing. The heavy guns- the jadebloods and olivebloods- they’ll be the next sent in, after this group tests the defenses.

                Well, you are the defense, and you can deal with the big stuff easy enough, but seadwellers are too low on the evolutionary chain for your mind to grab, so you just say ‘fuck it’ and start stabbing and is rolling your beautiful dice.

                You’ll die fighting and no one can claim that’s not a fine way to go. Mindfang died in her sleep. Fuck, maybe you can do the old bitch one better.

                (You so wanted to be her, her life was so much better than yours, servantslavedaughter of a monster spider; god there are so many pieces of you that just aren’t there, you exist in eight little fragments and every one of them is a screwed up little girl)

                You fight. Seadwellers are stronger but you’re faster and the dice are coming up eights, lucky you; summoned allies slash away while you fight, clearing room, giving you strength at your back.

                The cannon boom is so fucking loud that it deafens you. You just feel the blast as the big gun comes online, pounding like the hammer of an angry god on the anvil of the world. Something fuck-all big comes flying past you, and it’s accompanied by monsters of all shapes and sizes- weird Fiduspawn hoofbeasts, clawing meowbeasts, one or two of the great gargoyle monkeybeasts they have in the deep jungles.

                A seadweller is speared on its tip. Tavros nods to you as he passes you by and yells something you can’t hear.

                You find out later that night, after all the assassins are dead and he is safe, that it was ‘I’m flushed for you too’.

                (He’s a terrible lay but you can forgive him anything if it means he loves you back. Fuck the Summoner and fuck Mindfang; it’s time you lived your own life. You’ll teach him. Haven’t you already started? You should have broke his legs years ago.)

                -

                The next night, a missive comes in from Aradia herself, demanding both of you come to court.

Chapter Text

COMMISLAUGHTER TEREZI PYROPE

REPORT #1025-412-2422-612

Eleventh Month of the Perigree

                Diary, it’s been one fuck of a month.

                Wait, that’s not hardboiled enough. H3h h3h. Better restart.

                By the Signless’ heat Tavros’ place was fucking huge. The investigation was proceeding apace; Sollux, goldblood and computer genius by blood and trade, was furiously defending himself from accusations that he’d pushed Tavros off. Not that he hadn’t been the one who did it, that much was obvious, but that he hadn’t been himself.

                His words smelled like sweet truth. Also honey.

                I knew right from the start, Diary, that he wasn’t lying. No, I knew he was telling the truth- though I can’t blame my officers for not knowing that right off the bat.

                After all, none of them knew her.

                Now, I’d like to note that I’m pretty much a madgirl. Always have been, always fucking will be. I’m the girl who licked the Sufferer’s descendant’s face just to taste him at our first meeting. I’m the nickelblood who once fought the Empress in a FLARP contest for the fun of it (I lost, but it was fun!) I like being me, and I like my exuberance.

But… there’s always been one girl who could bring me down, make even my cackling stop.

Vriska Serket.

We’d been FLARP partners once, long time ago. Her a sweet little springblood without a past, me an up and coming middle class nickelblood with a promising headstart on a legal career. We were kids… just six sweeps of age.

                On reflection, I should have snooped into her past more closely.

                See, she always took FLARP too far. Trolls have gotten a lot better since the Signless excuse me, I’ve been hanging around with lowbloods too much. The Sufferer’s rebellion made us a lot better people than we were. But we still… well, there’s just something vicious in our hearts. It’s a desire for blood, for battle. It’s why justice is so important; it’s something to keep us in the rules, in the lines! It’s why I love it; my natural vigor seems to protect me somewhat from that core in us, and it makes me respect the law even more. Hell, respect it, I love it. I would bang the law if I could, totally.

Oh, but back to Vriska. See, while I’ve got a better handle on it than most trolls do, that doesn’t mean trolls as a society don’t have it pretty well in hand. But the grip is loose; take a wriggler and give it enough hard knocks and you’ll wake that beast in her core right up.

                It’s even easier if you do it to a lowblood.

                Anyway, while FLARPing one day, Vriska revealed that she knew the kids they were FLARPing with were keeping slaves. Well, that was a no-no, and I investigated myself- found out she was telling the truth. I did not, at the time, suspect that Vriska knew this because she was the one who had sold the slaves to them in the first place, which I later found out; no, I believed the spidergirl’s explanation, that she had lost some of her lowblood friends and decided to try and find them, and discovered them there.

                I was all set to turn them in, job well done and rather pleased with myself and Vriska both, when Vriska offered me a more… d3l1c1ous proposition.

                She said she knew where a great big monster was, some spider beast that fed on trolls, deep in the sewers. She told me that it would be funny and justice both to toss them in there, just get rid of them and pretend that an accident had happened- FLARP sometimes killed people, everybody knew that. Was one reason the highbloods had been trying to stamp it out, to no success.

                Jegus forgive me, but I believed her. I threw them in the pit in those stinking sewers and never questioned why the small glimpse of the beast I saw was white- lusus white.

                I didn’t question for three sweeps. I was…

                I was pale for her.

                How couldn’t I be? I could see her mind plain as day, see exactly where she was going with it. Poor little Vriska was so… broken. The more she tried to hide it the more obvious it became; I’m a genius when it comes to picking people out, figuring them out, a Sylph from the old stories when it comes to people’s minds and hearts. She was just so… odd, so mad, so full of little pieces and contradictions and above all else, that façade of bluh bluh huge bitch that she wore to cover up… something. I spent two sweeps trying to peel back that cover, sniff what was past it.

                I wasted two sweeps of my life, because I never did get even the merest taste of what was past that barrier. So much was like that, just gone without even the vaguest scent to trace. I never told her I was pale for her. I think I thought- in that foolish, teenage way- that it had to be obvious. Why else spend so much time with her? Why else worry about her, day in and day out, why…

                Why drive Kanaya out of her life? Risky as hell. Kanaya was higher than me on the hemospectrum. Why else would I push Vriska to let go of her moirail? Kanaya was flushed, not pale, and with her there I could never be Terezi’s moirail. So I tried to set them up, do what any good palemate does- make their palest happy.

Pale’s a hell of a thing, something possibly unique to trolls. Some of the species we’ve met and allied with have families, and the white quadrant’s a lot like that; like being brother, sister, but even more intense because we trolls choose it. To be someone’s palest is one of the… the…

Oh, Gog, I’m still pale for her. Being pale for Vriska Serket at seven sweeps was delirious agony and romantic entanglement, the very picture of a comedic romance. Being pale for Vriska Serket at twelve sweeps is like ripping myself to pieces with barbed wire.

                …I’m going to finish this tale if it kills me Strike that. It took me fourteen minutes to write that down. I don’t want to put this down, put down the truth of why I’m blind and why I know so much about one Ms. Serket. I don’t want to because it’s hard to write, because it’s painful to remember, and because…

Well, like I said, I’m pale for her. If I write it down, then someone might find it, and then she’ll get hurt.

But I cannot allow even personal feelings to interfere with the law. Someone has to know if this goes wrong tonight and she kills me.

…It’s oddly freeing to write that, now at least I know that I love the law above all things, I am true to it even in extremity

                I remember it very clearly- the last night I would ever see, in the most literal sense possible.

                Kanaya had been trying some of the stuff I’d told her- and hell, I’d almost accidentally become her moirail, I was over her so much. Vriska even thought we were pale, which was, if you’ve been following along, quite wrong.

                I was, as it turned out, quite wrong too, because Vriska had eyes only for Tavros. He’d taken her in after he found out who her ancestor was- Mindfang, the great pirate who had helped win freedom for the troll race.

                That kind of caught me by surprise. I was Redglare’s descendant, the woman who the Disciple- may she be ever warm- sent to recruit Mindfang into the rebellion once it became known that Mindfang was sympathetic to the Sufferer’s cause. At the time, in my haze of pale feelings, I had thought it terribly appropriate; Redglare was the woman who had pulled Mindfang from a life of low drudgery and bland pirating into a greater world of salvation and heroics. Very pale of her.

                I should probably ashamedly strike that out, but let’s all be honest here: kids in a quadrant are amazingly stupid most of the time, and I have no shame anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. >:D

                All the shame I have is wrapped up in Vriska anyway

                Anyway.

                So it’s the day that Kanaya confesses her love. Not night. That details really important, so remember it- we’d all had an easy-going night, kind of a three-way date with me mostly functioning as the pale wheel in the back making the whole fucking car work. (Seriously, moirails are overworked and underappreciated, I’m not just saying that as someone who is a hopeless pale idiot appreciates moirails)  

                It’s all winding down and now’s the time to pop the question. I’m so pumped and my eyebrows are waggling so much that my horns are creating minor vibrations in the air that transmit as radio waves. I’m in the room, behind Vriska, encouraging Kanaya to go through with it.

                DO 1T, I mouthed.

                …She did it.

                And Vriska’s first reaction was disgust.

                Oh, fuck me.

                Disgust, and telling Kanaya that the Dolorosa died a slave, and it was an awful thing her ancestor did but that was why Vriska had become her moirail- she was making up for it. She sure as f8ck wasn’t going to be fl8shed for her! That wasn’t the story! Mindfang had been terribly sorry for what she’d done after she’d found out who it was she’d had for a sex pet all those years, and for letting Dualscar kill her, and made pilgrimages but f8ck, I’m n8t f8cking fl8sh8d f8r y8u K8n8y8!

                And then Kanaya, tears in her eyes, kissed her.

                There was a pulse in the air. I later learned it was the not-noise that mind control makes. Vriska had, on pure reflex, mind-controlled Kanaya to get her off, get her away from her.

                Oh fuck oh fuck. Mind control in a highblood is watched like a hawk, get controlled all your life to keep you from controlling others.

Mind control in a lowblood is a death sentence.

                Legal rule 11-11-11. The only law I have ever broken.

                Vriska threw her out of her apartment right then, drove her legs into the burning sun. Kanaya fell from the rooftop; I haven’t ever seen her again.

                Heh heh. Yes, that was a joke. Need to lighten the mood somehow.

                …But I meant it in all possible ways. Kanaya died that day.

                And then Vriska turned to me, slack-jawed and freaked out, and…

                Slowly put her hand to her temple.

                I remember waking up to darkness.

                …I go now to confront her. I’m not sure what I’ll do… no, that’s wrong. I’m going to try to kill her.

                You will only ever find this report if I die. If I live, I intend to burn it. Not to protect Vriska, who will be dead by that point, but to… well, actually, yes, to protect her. To protect her name and her image. She will die, a victim of faceless violence, and no one will ever know the truth. Hopefully I will just stab her in the back, keep her from mind-controlling me, though the drugs I have purchased should offer additional protection to my mind.

                But if I die, and you find this paper… kill Vriska Serket.

                And to my department- it has been an honor to lead you all. I have been Commislaughter for only a short time, but know this- I’m proud of all of you. You are truly incorruptible.

Tell the Clown that I was flushed for him; a figure of such brutal justice has made me swoon, even if he does pop in and out of my office like some sort of ninja bat. Tell the Sufferer’s descendant… no.

                Karkat Vantas, I’m black for you. I always have been. And being in a kismesis with you has been the best thing in my life- the only quadrant I’ve ever had that really worked out. Thank you for taking a chance on a lowblood. And know this- you are as good as your ancestor, maybe better, you halfwit fuckass.

                Terezi Pyrope, in the name of her majesty the Empress Aradia… out.

END REPORT

 

                You get Vriska out in the open fairly easy; you just shoot her a message over Trollian (from gallantcopper to ArchGuardian, Libra to Scorpio) saying that you know who pushed Tavros off the ledge and to meet you in such and such a place in the sewers. Poor Vriska has always been so easy to manipulate; it’s not a challenge to kick a beehive over, or to flick a spider’s web and see it come running. She’s too violent and singleminded to go for other paths; too quick to assume that her sheer power will carry her through.

                Oh, Sufferer, Disciple, Empress, you’re going to do this. You’re really going to kill her.

                The air should be tasting like rain. It doesn’t, curse it, tastes like a fine clear day; the sun’s orange-chewy burning heat rising above the capital of the Empire. It should be raining, for a sad day, a water day, not a beautiful burning citrus fire day.

                And the sewer pipe smells terrible. It’s a disgusting scent and it almost blinds your nose- almost, but not quite. You crawl through the upper pipes as silent as the spiders that Vriska so adores. Funny. She’s so unlike a spider. Sure, she’s unpleasant and self-centered and deadly, but that’s not a spider at all; spiders build webs, those gossamer silk strands that smell like sugar, they remove pests, they are crafty and cunning. Vriska has never been any of those things. She builds nothing, she is blunt, she is stupid. Vriska would throw acid on everything she loves and then weep when she realizes what she’s done. She’s out of control, was never taught control by her lusus- and to this day you are furious that it was an earthquake and a sewer cave-in that killed the fat arachnid beast, you wish you could tear it apart yourself a thousand times for what it did to Vriska. The scales are out of balance; her death was too swift for what she did, and you can’t set it right.

                But isn’t that the way it goes? You round the sewer pipes and think, yes, that is how it goes. You can’t set it right. All you have ever wanted was to set Vriska right. She’s completely out of balance, she’s too far one way or the other. Too happy one moment, too angry the next, then too sad, then too calm. The scales in her soul are a mess.

Oh Gog, why are you so pale for her? Why do you want to just grab her big head of stupid hair and hold her until the screaming stops? Put her in some kind of order, give her life back to her? She’s never had rules, couldn’t afford to, had to just hurt and kill and scrabble to keep alive. It’s why she can’t control herself. How could she ever learn to, in desperation day in and day out? She’s a child, a great overgrown child with the power to destroy the world and in enough pain to make it seem like a good idea.

                …This is going to kill you if you go through with it. The scale of your soul tips towards despair, the bitter ugly taste of futility.

                But, as you round the corner and see her below you, vainly looking all around with one hand raised to her temple, your will suddenly stiffens, the scales swing back into balance. You have always had rules.

                No matter who they hurt.

                (Your regret smells like ashes to your nose, tastes like ocean salt when you lick away the single tear you didn’t know you were crying almost absentmindedly. Oh, Vriska, I’m so sorry.)

                She won’t deserve this. You can’t truly blame her.

                Sometimes what is just is obvious

                (Be her moirail, fix her, she’s not to blame)

                But so dangerous

                (she has struck a highblood and possessed another, in a straight fight she’ll kick your teeth in and don’t you dare think that she wouldn’t, she cares for so few people, the care burned right out of her)

                That all that’s left is what’s simple.

                (kill her)

                Also legal, but it is not love of law that drives you, but love of justice. The two are not always synonymous.

                Neither is mercy.

                She doesn’t know you’re above her. Drop down, one sword strike through the bloodpusher, she dies spouting springblood.

                It is a cruel way to die, to die surprised. Unjust.

                Your hand is trembling on your sword cane.

                You leap down and grab her big head of stupid hair.

                You hold the knife to her throat.

                (You couldn’t do it. Killing her is bad enough at least let her die knowing she’s going to.)

                “ Vriska,” you say, choked with emotion, “ Vriska, why did you do it?”

                Vriska shrieks in surprise, wants to struggle but the edge of your sword is so sharp it could slice through stone. You hear the dull throb of mind control activating, and to your intense relief, you feel it slide off of you, the drugs percolating in your system keeping her from getting a grip on you.

                “ T-Terezi?” she gasps out, surprised. You keep tight if trembling grip on her and your sword both. “ Wh8t the f8ck?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”

                High drama and that weird accent of hers that somehow sounds like she’s saying eights. You almost want to sob with laughter. It’s just so stupid, here at the end of her life and she’s still doing what she always did, death is such a kick in the bone bulge; everybody dies in the middle of whatever they were doing and none of it is just. Nobody dies well. “ Vriska,” you whisper, hot and breathy into her neck, and it thrills some part of you to be this close to your moirail, some blind idiot part that is so far in the white quadrant for her it has no clue you’re about to kill her. You eat up the smell and taste of her, the last time you will ever get the chance; she smells like blood-stained children and sticky webs and madgirl twitches, opheliac and unaware of it, all these years after her lusus’ death. “ Vriska, why did you push Tavros off the ledge? I’m going to kill you, I just want to know why.”

                She stops, trembles. “ Does-“ she chokes out, you can hear the dry click in her throat and taste the fear in her voice, like wine gone rancid, “ does he know?”

                “ No,” you say, and it thrills that same stupid part of you that her relief is so palpable you can smell it, sweet fragrant hope. You hate the scent immediately.

                “ Good,” she says, and she’s so little-girl lost you have to shut your dead eyes to keep the tears back. “ Don’t tell him, please?”

                “ I won’t,” you say, choking. Oh Gog, oh Gog, Vriska. “ Why?”

                She chuckles, deep ugly tones. “ To m8ke him better. I was trying to… m8ke him flushed for me. And it worked! You c8n’t… you can’t say it didn’t w8rk.”

                Her official matespritship with Tavros has been the center of parties all week. So no, you can’t, and you don’t. It’s the last victory she’ll ever have. “ No,” you whisper, still smelling her, tasting her, flick a tongue out to lap rue and salty sweat and rose petal off her shoulder. “ No, I can’t.”

                She sighs, trembling but brave. “ D8 it,” she says, pulse pounding hard in her chest, still flushed with fear.

                You tremble and stall for time. It is the first and last time you will ever hold her; no one can blame you for wanting it just a little longer. No one, dammit! “ Vriska, do you remember? When we used to FLARP?”

                “ Wh8t?” she replies, confusion a reek of heavy ginger scent and spices, clouding and overwhelming. “ The f8ck, Terezi, I thought you were going to kill me?”

                “ Just,” Terezi says, jabbing her lightly with the sword, thin red line across the throat, “ do you remember? We were the Scourge Sisters, and you were a damn idiot, always trying to get killed-“

                “ Hey, I was the party juggernaut, somebody had to kill things Miss I’m a Genius but I have Fuck-All Attack…”

                Vriska’s grin smells like hope, like maybe there’s a way out. It’s the nastiest thing in the world to smell, hope, because it smells bittersweet; because it is a risk. Hope is the promise that if it works you’ll fly forever, but if it doesn’t, you’ll fall; worse than despair. Despair was slow, certain punishment, but somehow a relief in all that; at least it’s certain. Vriska was always one to roll dice but you’re not, you like law and certainty and dice bother you. You like to rig the game, you don’t like to play. Especially with your own heart and soul on the line.

                “ You were always a fool,” you whisper back, choked, “ Sufferer, you were always a fucking fool, you were always too far ahead and- and all I ever wanted was to grab you back, take you away from it all, hold you…”

                “ Terezi?” Vriska whispers, and her scent is ginger again.

                “ Why didn’t you kill me?” You ask, running away from revelation. Another second and you’d have told her how you felt. Probably don’t need to just drop that on her before she dies.

                “ Back when we were FLARPing? You were my partner, duh, you don’t kill your partner, everyone knows thaaaaaaaat!”

                “ No,” you hiss, though the pale part of you trembles at the word partner and wishes it was sister instead. You’ve always liked that word, loanword from alien races who have families. You wanted to be Vriska’s sister more than anything in the world. You still want it. “ When I found out about your powers.”

                “ Oh,” she says softly. After a moment, she says, “ Why’d you never tell? We never talked after that day. I blinded you, you know.”

                You bark out a laugh. “ Yes, I fucking noticed, thank you, Vriska.”

                “ Excuuuuuuuuse me.”

                “ Tell me first,” you say, and tug her hair hard for good measure. “ Why did you only blind me? Or did you think that would kill me?”

                Her sigh is rue and lavender and old, old regret. “ I felt bad. You were my… my friend. I almost fed you to Spidermom but I couldn’t, and… and Terezi, why are you doing this? I was your friend, right? Please, just… just g8t th8s ov8r w8th b8fore I st8rt cry8ng!”

                “ I’m pale for you,” you whisper into her hair, the only thing you can think of that will give you five more seconds before you kill her after that outburst. The tears dance on the edge of her words like the rain that should be falling.

                She pauses mid-choked sob, her breath hitches, and she says in the softest voice she’s ever used, “ For me?” like you’ve just given her the greatest present in the world. She’s been kicked so many times by life already that she bites preemptively these days, your mad wild spidergirl, but give her a gift or tell her she’s fine and she’ll just be… surprised.

                “ Yes,” you breathe, and keep tight your grip on the sword. With the secret out, this somehow feels easier. “ Yes.”

                …To your horror, she does start crying then. “ Then why the f8ck are you doing this?!? Just… let me go, Terezi!”

                “ No!” you shout, keep your grip tight and press the blade up against vulnerable neck. “ There’s the law and the rules, Vriska! You broke them! You killed Kanaya, you almost killed Tavros… I… oh gog, Vriska, I can’t let you live. Don’t you see? You’re out of control, you’ll always do this, you’ll always hurt yourself. If I don’t kill you now then you’ll get caught by someone higher up who’ll torture you first, and, and I can’t let that happen, Vriska, it’s better this way.”

                You wish you believed that. You wish her tears didn’t burn your nose with the pain in them, weeping and… dammit, now you’re crying, you’re almost unable to see.

                “ Terezi,” Vriska says, “ Rezi, come on, don’t… there’s another way.”

                “ What?” you ask, sure it’ll be something stupid and worthless. If there was another way you’d have done it by now.

                “ Be my moirail. Just… you want to hold me back, right? Well, you can! We all go home! Ple8se, Rezi, come on. You don’t have to do this.”

                Hope. Hope stinking up what little vision you have left, you’re going blind, Vriska was always stronger, stupid but strong strong strong, but…

                Moirails always affect each other. It is not a one-way relationship. You will give her rules…

                And maybe she’ll give you dice.

                You roll them.

                “ Okay,” you say, and hope flutters in your chest and stinks up your noise and you’re going to fall, there’s no way this’ll work, she’ll punch you as soon as you let her go and kill you here in the sewers and then she’ll be dragged before the high courts once they find your paper, to be tortured and killed as they decide. Tavros will defend her but Sollux will bring a complaint, and Aradia will not be well-disposed towards the girl. “ Vriska, when I let you go… please, please just stay here. I can’t see very well, I’ve cried too much. Ruined my nose. Just… please stay.”

                She’s not going to. You’re a damn fool.

                You let her go, sword dropping to your side useless.

                The dice fall. They tumble and bounce.

                You hear her turn.

                You wait for the hammer to fall.

                A hand touches your face.

                “ Shoosh,” she says, “shoosh, it’s okay, I’m here,” and you bawl.

                Sometimes the dice come up eights.

                -

                You have been unrequitedly pale for her for so long that the reversal in fortune keeps catching you by surprise. She holds you in the sewers and you cry in her shoulder, and she shooshes and paps you- which is kind of hilarious, all things considered (holy shit, there’s your sense of humor, welcome back to the fold)- and after laughing for a minute or two with her you run your tongue over her face.

                “ Ew, Terezi!” she says, but she lets you do it. You lick her and love the taste.

                (M1N3.)

                “ Vriska,” you say, “ we gotta go, I had a backup plan I have to get rid of in case you killed me. And… there’s something else.”

                “ Hmm?” she says, loosely holding you, every now and then still touching your face. It’s better than you thought it would be.

                (Part of you still suspects it’s a trick. Sweeps of longing and pain cannot be done away with in a moment; but every job must begin somewhere, every castle is built one stone at a time, every case report is written one letter at a time. It is enough to begin.)

                “ We’ve got to come up with something to tell Tavros,” you say, “ and justice has to be done. There has to be punishment.”

                You still can’t see (smell, taste, it’s all the same to you) but you can hear the surprise in her voice. “ You’re n8t still going to k8ll me, are y8u????????”

                “ Never,” you say fiercely, ,and she hugs you for it. You hug her back, her all bones and edges and that goofy pile of hair.

                “ So wh8t then?”

                “ An eye for two eyes, an arm for two legs. Vriska, I’m pale for you, but this can’t go on. You’ve dodged punishment for so long that you think you can’t be touched and we both know that the only thing that saved you tonight was luck; dumb, stupid luck, that I was the one who came down here, that I was even in a position to save you at all. We both know that there has to be a price.”

                She holds you hesitantly. “ Why?” she asks, and you nuzzle her fiercely. Please listen to me, I know what I’m talking about.

                “ I can make an alibi,” you say, “ but it needs blood for proof.”

                -

                It takes all night, during which you blow your nose and get your sight back, burn the note you wrote while admiring the lovely handwriting, repeatedly reassure Vriska that you’re there with her and this is the right idea, and gather medical supplies.

                You give her anesthetic and knock her out before you take her eye and arm, holding her hand all the way. She doesn’t totally believe your reasoning, but that’s alright; you love her just the same, you convince her to trust you. You rolled the dice she gave you; now she must stand on the scales you’ve given her. There must be balance, justice. Without some pain, Vriska will never believe she can be touched until it’s too late. It was almost too late tonight, but the dice keep coming up eights; you were there for her in time.

                (It stuns you that she agrees and she doesn’t do it meekly but, as she will tell you the next night, she has never had anybody trust her like that before. Everyone knows she’s the crazy little spidergirl, nobody trusts her. You did. Letting her go was the first act of trust she has received since she was a little girl conning people out of their lives.)

After she is finally out, you take her right eye and right arm, respectively. Half of what she did, returned to her as payment for what she did to you and Tavros both. You don’t take her left eye for the simple reason that it is seven eyes, and she only took two of yours; justice is fair. You don’t take her left arm for a different reason; hand/eye coordination will be more difficult for her anyway, you might as well make it a bit easier by leaving the eye and arm she has left on one side.

The procedure is gentle, at least as gentle as it can be; you leave some more scars artfully arranged around both wounds to make it look more realistic and use liberal applications of medical magiscience to keep her stable and out. You’d make a hell of a surgeon if your own preference didn’t lean towards planning.

 When she awakens, she is the hero of the hour.

-

OFFICIAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT INTO SOLLUX CAPTOR’S POSSESSION

Conclusion

I would like to commend one Vriska Serket, springblood and bodyguard by trade, for her actions in helping me deal with the culprit in this case. While we were, regrettably, unable to take the culprit in for questioning, Vriska Serket, by the loss of an eye and an arm, was able to eliminate the threat to both others and herself.

It is my official position that Sollux Captor is in no more danger, and that his assailant will harm no one ever again.

Signed,

-Terezi Pyrope

Commislaughter of the Alternian Empire

 

-

There is not a word of deceit in the report; it is all technically true. The best lies and the best truths both belong in that category.

You give her a kiss on the forehead as she goes to Equius for her new arm and eye and, on a whim, take out a double-headed coin you got off a cheater at a casino and show it to her.

“ Hey,” you say to her, “ you like gambling, right?”

She quirks the eyebrow over her socket, which is terribly disconcerting. “ Yeah, but what’s the coin got to do with it?”

You flip it into the air. Before it lands you lash out at it with your sword, snicker-snack; one side is terribly wounded.

You catch it and show the sides to her; one wounded, one whole.

“ Our coin,” you say, and grin while you do it. “ So, you wanna make a bet?”

And your moirail smiles at you and says fiercely, “ Always.”

You toss it in the air. “ Call it.”

“ Scars.”

 Of course.

But before it lands, Nepeta is running up to both of you.

“ Guys,” he says, breathless, “ meeting time. We want everybody.”

His olive eyes flick over both of you, and his tail twitches.

“ Somebody’s genetically engineering trolls as weapons. We think there’s an army of them.”

The coin lands on its edge, and you don’t even notice it because you can’t breathe.

Chapter Text

KANAYA MARYAM

Carpe Diem

                Daylight is so beautiful.

                You walk through the streets of the capital city, enjoying the feeling of the light on your skin. It is bright enough that your own natural glow does not show; and the heavy, perfectly sewn clothes you are wearing do not reveal that, when you walk, your bones do not match your movements.

                You are undead, and so it does not hurt, but the fact that every single bone in your body is shattered from the same fall that killed you does mean that you’ve had to come up with some clever costumes to keep others from finding out.

                You don’t mind the work. You rather like fashion, and truth be told, it was valuable training for what you do now. Everything comes down to tailoring, to sewing, to… stitching, in the end. Want to make a costume? You have to sew it together, stitch by stitch. Want to avoid getting caught, outed as a rainbow drinker? Come up with a new identity, piece by piece.

                Want to destroy one woman’s life, and take revenge on all of Alternia while you’re at it?

                Do it bit by bit. Every point in place.

                That was the problem with most people, you muse as you slip through the streets, heading towards a hidden sewer entrance. They didn’t  do their groundwork first, didn’t go through planning stages. You have been dead for sweeps, but only now do you begin to get your revenge, only now is your plan truly in motion.

                You slip into an alleyway, and your glow begins again, betraying you slightly; but it is no matter. All trolls shut their shades during the day, and even if there were some risk that someone would look out at precisely this moment to see you, you own all four buildings that can see into this alley anyway, bought under fake names and used as warehouses. There is no chance of being seen; you only come here on days the warehouses are closed, you boarded up the windows of the buildings personally, and you pay the local gangs to run a sweep every morning and evening for break-ins- but only a sweep every morning and evening. Your warehouses are too vital to the local drug dealers for them to risk pissing you off, and you have murdered many of those who broke the rules, so when you enter the sewers you are unseen.

                Actually, this sewer entrance is a perfect example of what you were thinking about. That took work, planning, dedication. You had to create your entrance bit by bit; finding it, buying up the land, getting the gangs to agree… all before you ever set foot in the place.

                Piece by piece, stitch by stitch. Like fine clothing, or good fashion, each piece building on every other piece. The warehouses give you gang connections that let you buy illegal goods three dozen worlds away, and a place to store those same goods for later use. The illegal goods themselves were bought with money from the warehouses and a dozen otyou operations you own, and the goods themselves, if they prove useless for your purposes, could be sold for even more money. All of it leading ever upwards, making you more powerful, improving your empire, giving you more and more.

                Like any good rainbow drinker, you are always thirsty. And greed was a thirst as real as the ache in you gut.

                Sewers were a problem, as the darkness revealed your light to the world. But, again, you had prepared; you pulled your cloak and cowl tighter and put your goggles on, hiding your features completely. The goggles themselves were of one-way glass, letting out none of your light. Lovely piece of equipment, your wardrobe. Loosed, it not only hid the odd movements of your body, but looked quite fashionable in a functional sort of way; good daily wear. Closed, it completely hid your body, and the material it was made from was tough enough for light combat. You'd sewn it yourself.

                The side tunnel you enter- unused for years, covered in webs both large and small- soon joined the main tunnels, and you walk among crowds of seadwellers. The sewers never really slept, not with so much illegal activity going on, and the eternal darkness seemed to mess with the troll sleep cycle; trolls weren’t meant to be dark perpetually. Your sympathies went out to the aquatic trolls; light was a precious thing.

But you have other things to worry about, pieces of your greater plan falling into place and needing personal attention. You take in two deep breaths; even muffled by your cloak, the scents were overwhelming, made your mouth water. Seadweller blood stank of brine, ugly with sea salt and sour to the taste, but blood was blood; you thirsted to drink down violet and tyrian, drown yourself in their sour-sweet. But… no. No, you could do that later. You had to find someone first.

A very specific someone, marked sweeps before for this, this last task, your slave of darkness.

You stalk the sewers, walking a very specific path you had seen a million times before, watched… and oh, it felt good, to have the pieces falling into place. You are so close now.

Your bloodpusher would skip a beat if it still pulsed. Excitement. Fear. Desire. Thirst.

You hurry through the sewers, no more remarkable than many down here, from the clown-faced cultists who still worshipped their forbidden gods to the seadwellers in many-coloured rags, trying to reclaim remnants of their royalty. You resolutely ignore the terrible fashion everyone is wearing; not their fault, not their fault, you can’t eat someone just because they’re wearing tacky clothes again. With Terezi investigating, it’s too risky anymore, she almost caught on to what you were doing last time (though she blamed Vriska for it, which is hilarious, wrong, and infuriating, you cannot think of the spidergirl without rage going through your soul in such a pulse that you glow bright as the sun, no thought about her doesn’t devolve into soul-burning rage, hatred as platonic and ugly as simple murder).

Distracted, you made a wrong turn; calming yourself quite deliberately, thinking not of betrayals and pain and falling forever in the burning light, you turn around and finally make it to the little shack in the sewers.

There are two inhabitants. One is not home. They were needing money recently, as the Orphan-Taker is out of a job; the Clown scared him straight.

(You are going to ask a lot of questions about him. He sounds… intriguing. Perhaps you will add him to your empire.)

The Orphan-Taker is thus trying to get a “real job”, which, for a seadweller, means manual labor or the army. As Eridan’s only real talents lie in murder, he is attempting to find someone to help him sign on with the Imperial navy, make some money that way for his new matesprit.

(He’d finally done it. You were so proud of him. You and him have never spoken in person but you’d watched him and Feferi from afar for so long that you had developed… pale inclinations towards him. It was why you sent Opicus and his gang, after all, to kick him around and knock some sense into him; he was just so abrasive, did he have no sense? An odd act, admittedly, most moirails didn’t send gangs to kick their palest’s teeth in, but you do what you must.)

( And why are you so pale for him? It’s just, well, he’s just such a romantic fuckup, like you and Vriska except he succeeded. Perhaps that is why you have make the decisions you have, and the thought is oddly thrilling; you have read so many tales of rainbow drinkers making their quadrant mates into rainbow drinkers just like them, turning them for love, but your existence has always been cold. You work who you have to, use the pieces you can to build, forge your empire out of what needs to be used, and you have never done anything for emotion since the day Vriska threw you out to die. Perhaps it will be nice to have someone you love, a palemate to bring with you into the light. And Feferi is… not bad looking, not at all, and your tastes have always run to women. Yes, perhaps there are many things you and Eridan can share- though the idea of sleeping with him is distasteful, you are pale for him and he is almost certainly a terrible lover. Maybe you can teach him.)

                Feferi is home alone.

                Good. You dislike tangling with darkness and doing it while arguing with Eridan that this is the best possible course of action to take would be difficult at the very least.

                But then again, you were the one who suggested, through multitudinous channels, the precise bar that Eridan is at, well aware that he will be held there for a specific amount of time, to be rejected after another specific amount of time, and then he will return home by the precise route you planned for him, enforced by a few gangs who owe you money.

                A smile graces your lips again, returned after disappearing at the thought of her. The pieces in place. The garment falling into the pattern, stitch by stitch. It is a pleasing moment.

                You enter the hovel.

                Moments later, outsiders will hear only screaming.

                -

                Eridan arrives home soon enough. Feferi is still slowly recovering from being dead, rising up in light to serve her dark gods; they are unhappy, and the bottom of the hovel, where her sacrifices were made, pulses with whispered anger, but they will calm down soon enough. The horrorterrors have few servants these days and will not be able to afford losing one as highly placed as Feferi; it is easier for them to communicate with lowbloods but Feferi is the only major lowblood cultist left in the capital after Terezi’s vicious sweeps through the sewers for the cults. Feferi herself only survived because you warned her beforehand, and gave her Eridan’s wand, which amplified his natural abilities and covered up the aura of dark magic lingering about the place, meaning Terezi’s officers couldn’t find the place. The fact that this area of the sewers is controlled by your people, and gangs friendly to your people, who would provide a convenient distraction to the officers that would allow others to get Feferi and Eridan to safety, was simply backup.

                Just another stitch in the dress, double-stitched, of course, as all the most important parts are.

                And Eridan is important to you.

                He enters with the weirdest look, somehow aware that something’s wrong; he’s preternatural when it comes to his matesprit. A good sign. A damn good sign. Trolls should care for their flushed quadrant, love them with all their being; a moirail protects you and backs you up but a matesprit is a deity at whose feet you worship. The relationship should always be of the highest kindness and chivalry.

                (Hatred, pure, platonic, not black but a raging not-color that is almost white with the intensity of its heat, pulses through you. Vriskavriskavriska… You push it back with pure force of will. Not yet.)

                You greet him gently.

                “ Hello, dear.”

                You are on him before he draws his wand, quick as light; oh, you’ll have to teach him to fight better than that. If you had your chainsaw out right now you could have cut him in half easy as pie; but you would never do that. Not to your palest.

                You fling your hood back with one hand, holding him down with the other and your own immense might. You give him a big, fanged smile as your light shines on him; light the both of you, he by birth, you by death. He is Hope and you are Space, the eternity, the all-around, the everlasting… you are an oracle and you will show him the way, steer him to new life.

He never belonged to the dark and the sea. He belongs to angels, to wrath and light.

Your fangs pierce his throat.

He tastes sweet.

-

He awakens the next sunrise. You spend most of that time moving him and Feferi out of their little shack and talking with Feferi, discussing her new position under you. Not in that literal of a sense (yet, you don’t move that fast; you have class, you are an elegant stalker of the day, after all). Yes, you are fine with her serving the horrorterrors, no, they don’t hate you now, come girl, it’s alright. Light and dark need each other, though people on both sides like to forget that. Fighting is fun, after all, and people- horrorterrors, angels, rainbow drinkers, trolls, and all others included in that word- like to look for excuses to do so.

But you intend to sew an empire together. You will do it on the back of your lusus’ enslaved, mutant-producing body, and on the fact that you are willing to do anything, use anything, to achieve your goals. You will have darkness, welded to you by Feferi’s hand. You will have light, wielded by your own hand. You will have an army by your willingness to hurt your lusus and you will take an empire by your willingness to kill everyone in order to do it.

And you will tie Vriska to a cross and never, ever, let her die.

                Eridan awakes on a slab, staring up at blinding light.

                “ Hello,” you say to him, and give him a gentle smile. Feferi is there, too, and while she doesn’t fully trust you yet, you have gone a long way towards convincing her that it’s alright. You hope she listens; this is good for everyone involved. You'll bring her and the horrorterrors around.

                “ What’s…” he says, groggy. For whatever reason it was harder to turn him; perhaps the light inside him resisted your outer glow. “ Fef?”

                She smiles at him too, looking down on him from her position on the right; his matesprit, after all, she goes to the right. It's why you're to his left; you're his moirail, though he doesn’t know it yet.

                And she looks at you… her skin glowing that faint tyrian, not pure white like you and Eridan, the darkness in her not quite overwhelmed or gone just yet. Which is good. You turned her so that you could enforce your will on her more easily; you'd hate to cleanse all the night from her veins, it would make her useless to you.

                Her eyes are unreadable, but she assents.

                “ I’m here,” she says, turning back to him, and smiling gently as she can with her shark teeth.

                “ Who are you?” he asks you.

                And on impulse, feeling free and mighty, a true goddess of the day, you say to him, “ I am your goddess, Eridan.”

                He blinks at that, and you do a little, too- where did that come from?- but then it occurs to you that you are a goddess. Have you not bred a new race into being, drawing them as frog slime from pools of incestuous genetic slurry and making life out of them? Mutant trolls who wield fire in their hands, who can burn away all who oppose you? Were you not spiritually transfigured at your own death, lifted up into a new, higher life form? Are you not even now inducting others into your own divine state, for your own purposes and needs, mastering their wills with your own sanctified bite? If all this does not grant you status as a deity, as a member of the godly tiers, what else could?

                You smile again as you understand. You are a goddess.

                And all trolldom will bow down to the sign of the Virgin.

                Eridan simply gives you an odd look; Feferi does as well. You don’t care. You’ve realized what you are and it lifts you up, sets you in a bit of a blissful state. “ There is so much I will tell you, show you,” you say to him, to them, to no one in particular. “ So much out there.”

                Eridan swallows and, as ever, looks to his favored object of worship. She, in turn, merely asks of you, meekly and humbly, “ What would you have us do?”

                You turn your gaze to the sky, to the brilliant white orb rising to take its place, and say with a thrill of joy, “ Seize the day.”

Chapter Text

Nepeta Leijon

The Love That Never Was

                You love Karkat Vantas.

                This is the steady sun burning away at the heart of your existence; Karkat is water, deep cardinal darkness, and you are in love with him.

It is not flushed. Or, more accurately, it is flushed and more, the two most perverse and obscene words that could be added to the word flushed. You are not only red for him, and for all that they talk of how holy the Disciple’s quadrant-surpassing desire for the Signless was, there is not a single person who knows who is not somewhat put off by it. Trolls do quadrants. Things that surpass quadrants scare them.

But still, you love him. You wake up every evening and you love him; you go to bed every night and you love him. It is the steadiest, clearest cut part of yourself, your true inheritance from your ancestor; the Disciple was so many things, but the only part that mattered to her (and thus the only part that matters to you) was her love for the Signless, the Sufferer, she loved him so much that she tore down the Empire that killed him with nothing more than her own two hands, some friends, and a lot of blood. It is holy fire in your veins, sun bleeding out of your pores; for all that trolls love darkness, you are a descendant of summer and brilliance.

You love him.

But he does not love you, and so at this meeting you do not mention it.

“ This meeting is pawled to order,” you announce, banging your gavel gently to get their attention. Hush falls over the brilliant red and white meeting hall. “ For the consideration of this council at this meeting, there are only two related issues: the possible presence of an army of mutated trolls, and steps to take in order to ascertain the threat. Karkat Vantas, you called this meeting and thus may speak first.”

Below your seat, Equius cricks her STRONG neck and glowers, the very picture of a purrfect bailiffighter. Moderails are important. Trolls, even normally calm highbloods such as yourself, are still a terribly violent and immensely high-strung race; you’ve heard your race described by an alien as ‘perpetual teenagers’, and while you’re not sure about how accurate that is, it was said with great conviction. Thus, Moderails- and their mighty bailiffighters- are necessary at all meetings, even ones with such mighty personages present as yourself (your title is Hierarch Leijon, which is kind of funny sounding), High Lord Vantas, and Empress Aradia.

Karkat takes the opportunity to speak. Your bloodpusher burns horrifically as he stands and speaks and dammit, focus. “ Alright, you fucks. My moirail found all this mess out to start with, encountering a lowblood troll who had psychic command over fire.”

Fuck. That’s bad. Trolls were not naturally fire inclined, were aquatic and dark by nature; the Angeless alone had ever had complete control over it and only highbloods have ever been known to even have the smallest piece of potential for pyrokinesis, much less the ability to actually use it. It didn’t help that trolls were highly flammable, and so intensely painful that most burned trolls couldn’t focus their psionic powers until the pain stopped.

Sollux is the first to react, raising his hand to speak; you point at him, too worried to do more. “ The fuck you saying?” he asks, casually hateful. Him and Karkat are great hatefriends who had almost become kismesis, but decided to stay a lighter shade of black. (You think of everyone in terms of relationships and quadrants, probably because you yourself are terribly lovelorn and will never have him; but at least you’re aware of it, and really, it’s alright. You’re fine.) “ You know that shit’s impossible.”

“ Not with genetic tampering,” Aradia replies, then catches herself when Equius glares. (Equius is so black for her it’s like tar.) “ Apologies, Moderail, I spoke out of turn.”

You give her a big kittycat grin.” That’s purrfectly fine!” you reply. “ If you wish the floor, you may have it.” Equius would be good for her, you think, which is why you ship the shit out of them.

Aradia gave a light nod of acknowledgement before speaking. “ Tests on the lowblood Gamzee retrieved have shown that it was manipulated to an almost impossible degree on the genetic level, from long before its birth; whoever did this is not only a genius at biology, but has access to high-tech equipment and at least one mother grub.”

Shocked gasps echo around the room; one of them is yours. After a moment spent as the cat who has his own tongue, you manage to reply, “ A mother grub? Seriously?”

Reproduction is, somewhat pawbviously, important to any species; even as the dominant race in the galaxy, your people have always taken care to hide, protect, and otherwise keep safe all of your mother grubs. There’s a whole hemocaste devoted to it, the one right below yours! Who on Alternia…

“ Yes,” Aradia replies grimly. Her eyes narrow. “ There is much evidence of… torture, and other unspeakable things. I believe whoever did it to be a highblood, but that is only a guess; I cannot think of who else would have access to the necessary tools.”

“ Is it necessarily a troll at all?” You say, still uncomfortable with the idea of anyone having the gall to do such things to a mother grub. It would be… matricide. “ Perhaps one of the Guela, or even a Jokaero that was biologically inclined…”

“ Perhaps,” Aradia said doubtfully,” but it seems that it would be so much easier for a troll highblood to do this. Still, we must keep all options on the table; we do not know enough yet.”

Vriska, from her position on Tavros’ lap, opens her mouth to speak out of turn and promptly gets whacked by Terezi for it; the moment is so hysterically pale that you chuckle aloud despite your fear of Vwhiskers. (She’s crazy. It’s as simple as that. But maybe Terezi can dampen her fire to a more manageable level.) You are not the only one; there are polite chuckles all around. Vriska sighs dramatically and raises her hand, flashing four fingers twice at you.

“ Vriska Serket has asked for the floor and shall be granted it,” you say.

“ I think that we are aaaaaaaall missing the most important th8ng here!” she announces with her usual hair-flipping grandeur. Of all people, she’s like you more than anyone else; she’s got the same sun in her, though for different reasons. “ What do we do about the army we th8nk is d8wn there? That’s not just going to go aw8y!”

Gamzee raises his hand; you point at him with your gavel. “ Gamzee Makara shall speak.”

“ I humbly motherfucking suggest that I scout around down there,” the former (perhaps current; Karkat is kind and loving and on one of your many stealthy trips around the castle you’ve heard what you think is mumbled prayer in two voices, one red and harsh, the other purple and soft). “ I can find them, then we can bring the wrath of the Angeless and us here down on them juggahoes.”

You and everyone in the room flinch involuntarily at the comment; dammit, Karkitty, you think, using the pet name you give him only in your own mind. Control him better, he’s breaking cover. Outlawed for how many sweeps now and trolls still fear the terminology of the priests. You shudder and are glad that at least the religion you run isn’t half as psychotic even on its worst days.

Aradia soon smooths over the gaffe, raising her hand. You quickly point to her. “ Empress Aradia has the right to speak.”

“ I think Gamzee’s suggestion is a sound one,” she comments. “ I believe we can also make this a political triumph for all of us, as we are all in sore need- with the exception of Hierarch Leijon- of some kind of victory to wave in front of the papers; we’ve been quiet for far too long. I suggest my matesprit’s palest scout them out, we tell some reportanglers, and then all of us go down there and beat the living cold out of all of them.”

“ Fuck yeah!” Vriska announces cheerfully, and is just as cheerfully admonished a second later by her palest’s cane. They are absolutely adorable; you and Equius may lose your spot as the palest of palemates at the castle soon enough.

(It is good Vriska found someone. It is better for Terezi, who has told you- when she’s drunk and hurting- that she has been unrequitedly pale for the spider sinner for sweeps. As someone who has loved from afar for far too long yourself, their relationship is a moment of triumph for you too. May flights of angels guard thy pale bower, Pyrope; you deserve it.)

“ I believe it is time for a motion. Any objections?” you ask, not expecting a reply- which is why Karkat surprises you.

“ Yes! I damn well don’t think this is a good idea!” He’s very loud right now but he’s not even close to shouting; Karkitty at full shout can deafen adults, kill small children, and in one notable instance destroy fine architecture. It is one of the traits he acquired more from his ancestor’s death, and that last, horrific shout, then from the ancestor himself. “ Gam, you know how dangerous this might be, why the fuck are you suggesting we send you and not some random policeradicator…”

“ Hey!” Terezi yells back from across the room, ignoring Vriska’s desperate tackle-pap. “ Those are my people and I’d prefer you treat them with some respect!”

“ They can’t have too much respect if they work for you!” Karkat retorts as Gamzee tries in vain to shoosh him.

“ Equius,” you say calmly before this shouting match gets any worse.  Terezi and Karkat are so black for each other that it’s hard for them to be in each other’s company without being… flagrant about it. You yourself have caught them making out in far too many corners, whispering insults under their breath as they did so. Terrible romantics the both of them.

(You’d be jealous but what you feel is so much deeper than that; you are simply happy for him. You love Karkat and the end of the world would not change that. Death would not change that. Compared to those things, his torrid spade desires are nothing.)

Equius promptly leaps into action, grabbing both of them in her massive paws. You have a moment to be grateful her ancestor built a strength dampener for a friend; she’d break them in half if she hadn’t been wearing it. Equius was so STRONG it was purffectly ridiculous.

(Part of why you made a good pair; you were the only member of your hemocaste born who had no psychic powers, though you were noticeably tougher than your fellows. Ridiculous weakness, merged to ridiculous strength- purrhaps that was how it should be.)

She holds them up and gently shakes them, then puts them down in their seats with a glare. Karkat and Terezi both rub the new damp spots on their clothes awkwardly.

“ Thank you, bailiff,” you say with a kitty grin, and Equius gives you that same sweet broken smile she’s always had.

Aradia politely raises her hand. You point to her. “ Empress Aradia?”

“ I’d like to make a motion to accept Gamzee’s plan as our course of action,” she states.

Ah. “ Any seconds?”

Vriska raises her hand. “ Me!”

“ All in favor?” you say, gut tightening. You hope they say no; you saw how scared Karkitty was, and…

Nope, everyone in the room is in favor but Karkat himself and you.

“ All against?”

Trolls could vote twice; malleable creatures, they liked to change their minds, and a Moderail’s job was to give them the chance. Tavros almost votes again when Karkat glares at him, but then seems to find his spine and keeps his hand down(which is terribly impressive, all things considered; you’d nefur considered him strong before.) Karkat raises his hand and, for the hell of it, and in a show of solidarity, you raise your own paw high.

But it is two against more, and that is enough.

“ The motion passes,” you say with no hint of sadness. Part of being a good Moderail is not reacting to losses in meetings. “ What time is best to begin, Gamzee?”

“ I’ll start this day,” he announces. You sigh inside yourself and make a prayer- angels, guide the heretic safely home.

You nod to him. “ Is there any other business to discuss?”

No one moves. Karkat touches Gamzee’s shoulder without realizing he’s done it. Your heart breaks again for him, leaks out the flame that hurts you so much.

I love you, Karkitty.

“ Then this meeting is adjourned,” you say, and a heavy heart bids a heavy hand to lift the gavel.

-

You spend most of the night after the meeting painting. You’ve gotten quite good at it; your religious paintings sell for quite a few caegars at auction, even when you don’t bother to point out to people that the Hierarch was the one who painted them (which necessarily makes them holy relics and spurs a buying frenzy). It’s part of how you support the Church, especially since Aradia had to get rid of some of the taxes that were feeding your coffers (couldn’t help it, too much burden to keep, but damn did you feel it when those taxes catpunned to vanish).

But that’s not what you’re painting right now.

Your shipping wall has went through so many changes. Once it was just drawings in blood and soot on a cave wall; now the materials and skill have evolved, but the wall has not. Still it lists loves and hates, pales and ashen; still it is centered on your own heartbreaking pairing, the one being you love.

Your eyes shy away from that central edifice, painted and repainted over the years. You still vaguely remember the young boy who, not understanding, drew Karkat Vantas all over his hive’s walls; love back then was new, and fun, hope springing eternal; but springs are water and water was never meant for you, sun child.

Still, you do redraw it from time to time. Where hope passes away sheer inertia may yet remain.

You update other, happier, pairings. Terezi and Vriska- you draw their moirallegiance as a great cerulean scorpion, bound by teal chains that form a diamond. You prefer to draw in symbolic terms these days; it’s not that you can’t draw trolls, Angeless no, but that you have learned to be… careful. You are in less direct danger than your friends- who would oppose the Disciple’s descendant, particularly when he has been so very careful to keep everyone happy and has the world’s strongest troll for a bodyguard?- but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in danger and it is best to always speak in symbol and metaphor. That makes it easier to cover your ass if it all goes wrong.

Your shipping wall, obviously, never comes up in politics, but it’s still good practice.

Tavros and Vriska goes up next- you haven’t had time recently to make them. Up it goes; a clockwork bull kneedeep in floodwaters. Vwhiskers is water, same as Karkitty; but whereas he is the ocean, deep and powerful, she is a flashflood and a tidal wave, the furious rain that washes away all. If Terezi can muzzle her, constrain those destructive tendencies, and turn all that incredible power towards the right ends, then Vwhiskers will end up a legend. If she can’t, then it will all end in tragedy and death, probably Terezi’s, and definitely Vriska’s.

But your shipping instincts- and they are rarely wrong- tell you that Terezi has never met a challenge she couldn’t match, and that Vriska herself is juuuuuuuust smart enough to listen to her. That it’ll be delicate, but it will all work out.

As for her and Tavros… that’s a lot more uncomfortable to your instincts, smells wrong. Tavros is too… he doesn’t have enough in him. He needs more. Vriska’s a lot to handle. And while Tavros has the capacity for more, has the potential to turn what is, at the moment, mere passivity into an incredible resilience, he hasn’t done it yet.

You hope he gets a moirail soon…

But him and Aradia always had a weirdly uncomfortable relationship, too close to be merely friends or rivals, too aware of each other’s problems to be flushed or even ashen. Perhaps…

You draw it quickly, a possible pair, and the image that appears is of a bull and a ram locking horns inside of a diamond. You giggle for far too long over it.

Hmm. That will be the next thing you address, then. Tavros needs to grow up and grow out; funny enough, losing his legs helped with that, which is severe therapy if you’ve ever heard of it, but it’s still not enough. He’s like good solid earth, Tavros is, but he’s too afraid of his own depth and his own emotions to be any more than he is.

But you are the Hierarch. Part of your job is to be everyone else’s Moderail; for all that you are Equius’ moirail, and she is your palest, your actual job is to provide counseling for all trolls. Especially ones who are too high-ranking to take advice from anyone else but the Hierarch himself.

You nod at the ship. Yes, this might work.

You head out of the room after that, pausing only to look at your own part of the shipping wall, which contains but two ships.

One is of you and Equius, in a million different styles; the first the crude drawing of your childhood, the newest a symbolic interlocking of an arrow and a claw.

The other is you and Karkat.

You head out.

-

By which you mean air vents.

You are small, very tiny, and even more physically frail than most of your fellows; highbloods aren’t known for physical strength in general but you definitely aren’t known for it.

That’s why you make up for it with Equius’ tech and an incredible knowledge of stealth. You’ve hunted since you were a child; and as it turns out, being sneaky is terribly useful even when you are the Hierarch and have people to do that for you. You are quiet enough that you could walk into somebody’s house, eat all their food, and walk out with them none the wiser.

(Sollux was so mad.)

The vents are old friends of yours, and a language of your own- written in your own olive blood- marks the walls and guides your progress. Equius’ sound dampeners, surgically imbedded into your ankles and wrists, muffle any noise you might make; and your own skill means they never have to work very hard.

You spy on the others.

Vriska and Terezi you pass first, in Terezi’s office, discussing- rather loudly, on Vwhisker’s part- on a rather familiar subject. You watch from a grate.

“ Of coooooooourse G8mzee’s the Cl8wn! Who else could it be?” the spider announces. Terezi cackles.

“ Gamzee’s a sopor-addled idiot who functions as Karkat’s bodyguard. He can’t be the Clown.”

You are mildly stunned. How the hell is it that Terezi doesn’t know that Gamzee’s the Clown? Equius doesn’t know, because Karkat asked you not to tell her (personal favor to Gamzee), but it doesn’t seem that well-kept of a secret; even Tavros knows it.

You shake your head at the wonder of it all.

Vriska brushes off Terezi’s statement, instead choosing to bound about the room. “ You’re in loooooooove with G8mzeeeeeeee!”

Terezi cackles at the sing-song and grabs her in a fierce hug. “ You’re a madwoman, spider.”

Vriska laughs but only struggles a little. “ You’re the mad blind g8rl!”

Terezi takes the opportunity to lick the shit out of Vriska’s face, sending the cerulean into convulsions. “ Heh heh!”

“ No you st8p that wh8t is wr8ng with youuuuuuu.”

So pale! Your heart bursts with joy for Terezi and you crawl quietly away, still hunting in the castle’s vents.

You find and catch a squeakbeast along the way and eat the little bastard raw; Equius would have fits if she knew, but you still enjoy the hunt and love the taste of flesh. For a highblood you’re remarkably uncouth, you think, your voice supplying Equius’ shocked outrage, and giggle as you clean yourself off.

Satisfied, you find your next few targets. Two are boring: one is just Tavros messing around with his flying tank and, at one point, managing to put a wrench in his eye, while the other is Sollux, taking a nap on a couch. You’ll need to send Equius to help Tavros before he ends up needing medical treatment.

But the third…

Aradia and Karkat are in a hall on one of the upper floors, near your room, actually. There are no guards near them; Aradia doesn’t need any and Karkat’s guards are on the lower floor. They speak in low, hushed tones that you strain to hear.

“ Aradia, I…”

“ He’ll be fine, Karkat. He always is.”

“ But… he’s just… I worry about him.”

A hug and a nuzzle, warm and loving, from rust to red. You don’t know how those two got together, because all your shipping instincts scream black for both of them, eternal hope and eternal despair rubbing each other the wrong way, but somehow it worked out. Somehow Karkitty’s outer cynicism and inner idealism met Arawrdia’s inner realism and outer idealism, and they are at peace with each other.

(You’d love to be jealous of her, too. You’d do almost anything to have a normal kind of desire, but your ancestor- may she be forever warm, may she burn for leaving you with this- was consumed by her love for the Sufferer; it has carried on all the years to you and it still hurts. You have had nightmares of deaths you never saw and loss you have never felt. And somehow, it has warped you; you think the pale only works out because E%ecutor Darkleer was a hell of a troll. He doesn’t get enough credit for fixing her; the Disciple had originally planned to kill herself once the new Empire was established. It was blue that stopped olive and you are still grateful, all these years down the line.)

He sighs in her grip, nuzzles back. “ Alright,” he says, holding her tight. “ I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“ Of course!” Aradia says cheerfully, and then, apropos of nothing, headbutts him (gently, though; it’s flushed, not black). Karkat stumbles backwards cursing.

“ Aww, what the hell, woman!”

The Empress of a million worlds giggles like a schoolgirl and absconds, leaving Karkat to chase her down to their shared bedroom. You smirk and sneak away, uninterested in moving your personal sneaking echeladder up from Snooping Kitty to Peeping Tomcat.

Heh, peeping tomcat. That’s actually pretty good.

You turn around and shit

(a shadow, it had glowing eyes, what were wrong with its eyes)

You snarl and hiss and ready roaring chainsaw claws. The noise is loud enough in the duct that your sound dampeners just give the fuck up and go take a dive off the handle.

The shadow is gone.

An instant later, the grate is ripped off its hinges by Aradia’s power, and you have some explaining to do.

-

You’ve all holed up in a vent-less section of the castle; you know all of them, and you know how you’d attack anyone if you were using the grates, and this is the most defensible room in the castle. Equius’ creations guard the door, great metallic guardians, and you all have your weapons ready. Normal troll guards are outside, and a contingent of Karkat’s elite troops, the Branded, lead them. All in all, it’d be a horrible place to try to break into.

But that also means leaving isn’t an option for the time being, so you all brought cots and pillows, because it’s getting terribly late; the sun’s starting to peak over the horizon just now, and damn are you tired.

Aradia sighs. She’s in the middle, where her psychic powers can be unleashed in any direction. “ Who’s taking first watch?”

“ Me,” you say quickly. After the thing in the vent you aren’t getting any sleep today.

“ I’ll stay up too,” your moirail says, even though you know she’s had the longest night out of all of you, hauling her stuff down here, picking up and running with Tavros’ stuff to get him in here quickly, setting up a guard, doing final checks on everyone and sniping at Aradia as politely as she can (okay that last one should really wait for a more appropriate time).

You nuzzle her, and then, firmly, pap her once. “ No.”

She gives you sad kitty eyes. This was a terrible mistake on her part; you are much better at it. You return the sad kitty eyes a thousandfold and she crumples under it.

“ Okay,” she mutters sadly, and you decide to toss her a line.

“ I’ll make sure you get up for Aradia’s watch,” you say, and she grins at you as she heads down to sleep.

You spend the rest of a night at watch or asleep, fitfully chasing shadows with glowing eyes in the vents in your sleep.

(Come the evening you discover that Gamzee’s gone and the perpetrator left a note.)

Chapter Text

Sollux Captor

Children of the Sun

                You, Solluxander Captor, bearer of a ridiculously long, celestial related name for the simple reason that you are a goldblood and thus expected to carry on fine societal traditions regarding star-worshipping cultural patterns, look over the note that you are levitating into the air. It’s in fine, delicate embroidery, absolutely gorgeous; really, you hadn’t thought paper could be so… refined. You weren’t much into refinement yourself, the bipolar thing meant your ups were too rowdy to be classy and your downs too crude to be elegant, but you could recognize it. The fine jade paper, written on with white ink, had been folded in half. To Karkat had been written on the front, in tasteful, perfect cursive.

                The fact that it had been set so carefully in the middle of all this carnage just made it weird.

                Your guards have been reduced to paste, everybody, even Karkat’s elite. There were chunks everywhere, highblood all over the floor, and what few details you can pick out made less than no sense. There’s one of the big fancy helmets Karkat’s dudes wore, but it seems to be attached to a more normal palace guard left hand. There’s a palace guard spear, and it seems to be fused somehow to the big sickles that the church warriors used.

The area around the carnage doesn’t tell you shit either. There were scorch marks on the walls, but also places that looked… cut, clean holes in the walls, like some impossibly powerful beam had simply slammed them head on. Other places were coated in chilling frost, and several of the bodies had been flash-frozen… or partially devoured by teeth that must have been as big as a lowblood’s arm.

Sollux, Tavros, and Vriska had been sent out to investigate when the guards hadn’t reported back. Tavros was covering the room’s entrances right now with Rufio’s main gun while Vriska rode side-saddle next to him, idly rolling dice in her right hand, waiting for something to hit.

Sollux opened the letter with his mind, slowly, hoping it wasn’t a bomb, though the air of… theater about it all made him think it wasn’t.

Once opened, the inside had a message, again in perfect white writing:

I have Gamzee.

“ Well 2hit,” you say, in the most tasteful way you can think of.

-

Everyone throws a shit fit like you wouldn’t believe when you get back in. Tavros and Vriska wait outside, using Rufio’s tech to scan for targets. You’re not too worried about them- Vriska’s death and Tavros is driving a tank. Fuck if you can think of what might be able to beat them.

“ All of them?” Karkat says, halfway between horror, anger, and sorrow. Your best hatefriend’s a good guy, but he gets caught up in his emotions too easy; normally Gamzee’d be the one who shooshed him down to business, but seeing he ain’t here, that job falls on you next.

“ Settle down, fuckass,” you say, and that shifts him a tiny bit closer to angry. “ There’s more to worry about then which of your favorite guards got killed. Like the fact that whoever killed them left you a fucking note.”

You float it over to him. Karkat reads it and the switch in him that keeps him from destroying the handle with the power of his flying off of it turns off; he suddenly enters a true rage the likes of which you’ve only ever seen once or twice before. Your hackles rise just looking at him.

“ I’ll kill them,” he swears ferociously, right as Aradia grabs the note with her mind to read it too.

“ Oh,” she says, and she turns a switch of her own off; now she’s Empress, and she is doing what she must. “ Sollux, take Vriska and Tavros and find the military. I want a sweep of the entire castle. We’ll stay here-“

“ LIKE FUCK I’M STAYING-“

She mentally grabs him with great swiftness, stopping him from doing anything but breathing, her eyes a blazing rust red. For all that he is her flushmate, Aradia is still an Empress; and Karkat might be a living saint but in a pure one on one fight, he’s weaker than any of you. Even Nep’s more dangerous, if only because the catboy’s sneakier than fuck; in war games he’s “killed” you more times than any of the others have, simply because you can’t fuck up what you can’t see.

“ No,” Aradia says coolly. “ This is a trap, nothing more. We need to-“

Rufio’s cannon is so loud that the backlash breaks the damn doors down.

-

“ She’s gone!”

He’s hysterical, he’s freaking out, and holy titballs, Tavros- Tavros!- just laid Equius out with one kick. Granted he has super metal legs now, but the mere fact he did it is-

“ What’s happening?” Aradia bellows, her power a furious rust-red swirling about her. The dust in the air whips around her in a frenzy; she’s lost some control. Karkat follows behind, free now, and everyone accompanies him. Nep hisses at Tavros and readies claws, which the bullboy ignores.

“ She’s gone!” Tavros screams again, and the tears pouring down his face are bronze waterfalls. “ They took her!”

“ Who? Who took her?” Aradia bellows again, facing off against Tavros; Nep in the middle switches between checking on Equius and hissing at Tavros. Terezi yells something from the back and is tackled by Karkat, who keeps her mouth shut.

“ They did!” Tavros yells, which is about as helpful as it was when he said it the first time. Nep apparently has enough and whirls on Aradia.

“ Aradia! Grab him, now!”

The Empress acts on the Hierarch’s advice, grips Tavros tight with her mind. Tav struggles like a stuck hoofbeast. Nep sighs and strokes Equius’ hair- the lowblood’s coming around. Good, she was so dependable you’d hate to lose the weird little pervert.

“ Aradia, you better act on those pale feelings you’ve been hiding, or Tavros will run off and get himself killed looking for Vriska,” Nep says, and his tone is so utterly unlike it normally is when he discusses “shipping” that you stare at him- he sounded tired, more irritated than anything else. That’s odd, you didn’t think Nep had a different way of being. You’re bipolar so you’re more aware of it than most, but almost everybody has at least two sides, and until this moment you’d swear that excluded Nep. Huh.

Aradia’s second side slips for a second, she almost moves from being Empress back to Aradia, but her control keeps it in check.

And oddly, she obeys, brings Tavros to her and paps his face.

“ Settle down,” she says, shooshing him gently. “ Tell us and we can help.”

Tavros, still enraged, calms down- very slightly. Aradia lets loose her grip a bit, and he tells her, “ Squeakbeasts. Squeakbeasts found her, they’re watching her right now, it’s two trolls and they’re carrying her down to the lower levels. They… they ripped her eye out.”

Terezi finally breaks free of Karkat’s grip, word of atrocities being committed on her palest springing the commisslaughter onto her feet. “ We go after them! We help her!”

Karkat nods. “ They’ve got Gamzee too, we can’t let this happen.”

Nep nods his own agreement.

Aradia looks around- a room in agreement. The cat goes with the crab, as always, following him without expecting a damn thing in return; the horse goes with the cat, too happy to be accepted to care. The scales itch to go after injustice and beloved both and the bull would do anything for that last.

The ram turns to the twins.

You nod to her.

(You loved her, once. Then things got very complicated, and… well, it’s alright. You do not languish, and you do not regret. What once was may never be, but you know that all things die, all things are doomed; and you prefer to live, now, and let death worry for itself.)

She sighs.

“ We go after them,” she says, and there is a flurry of activity as everyone gets their shit together.

-

                Nep takes off alone, to follow trails set by Tavros’ squeakbeasts through the vents. Tavros and Equius combined can’t get Rufio to fly, so the bronzeblood simply runs, lugging Rufio’s main gun over his right shoulder like a bazooka while his left hand bears Rufio’s lance; you and Aradia follow after him, flying under your own power. Karkat is with Equius getting suited up, and Terezi is rounding up a group of guards (the few that are left; apparently nearly the entire castle was overrun, when the hell did they have time to do that?) to join them. They’ll be the heavy support and backup; Nep and Tavros’ beasts are scouts; and you, the Empress, and Tavros himself are the vanguard.

                Ten minutes ago you’d have laughed at the idea of Tavros being a good vanguard but apparently there was a switch in his mind that said Violence and he’d flipped the fuck out of it when his flushed was taken from him. He lugs the gun like he doesn’t even feel it and he’s just being so manly that your brain isn’t sure how to handle it. When the hell did Tavros have enough mangrit to piss in a bottle? You wish you had that kind of physical strength- and it’s a bit silly that you don’t, you’re lower caste than he is!

                (A hot spurt of some emotion floods your mind, and what it is hits you a minute later… oh my bonebulge, I’m feeling a bit black for Tavros. The thought is quickly murdered for its heresy.)

                You head down, down, going towards the sewers, Tavros taking steps two and three at a time on his strong, strong legs. He keeps in contact with Nep and, when you pause to check around corners and otherwise keep ambushes off your trail, tells you how he’s doing; and apparently the Hierarch had foresight enough to keep an Equius-made communicator on him, and he’s sending messages back and forth with everyone else. Karkat, Equius, Terezi, and a smattering of guards (including Terezi’s second in command, Davest, who was a weird-ass troll but that’s neither here nor there) were moving and hadn’t encountered anything yet; Nep reported hearing odd noises, as did Tavros’ beasts, but otherwise no contact.

                You, in fact, were the first to figure out that contact would be made soon- because the voices of the soon-to-be-dead whispered it in your ear.

                The contact was made on the castle’s bottom floor.

                -

                There’s twenty trolls there, all of them with fire in their hands- son of a bitch. The room at the stair’s bottom was a maintenance room, full of junk to hide behind; if it wasn’t for Tavros’ beasts, you’d have walked right into an ambush despite your precautions.

                As the three of you hide around a corner out of sight, waiting for help to arrive, the bronzeblood gives the two of you a quick, almost military sweep of the area- who the fuck taught him that?

                (Probably Vriska, actually, didn’t she use to be a bounty hunter?)

                Your respect for him- and confused hatred- grows. Aradia herself is giving him a bit of a surprised glance, especially when he finishes his report by cocking Rufio’s bazooka in a rather… masculine way.

                (Dammit, no.)

                …You are not going to sit here and be this uncomfortable.

                You step out of the cover as smoothly as if you were going to work, Aradia grabs at you but you dodge even her mental grip- you’re the only one nearly strong enough to do so, and you manage it. The trolls in the room leap up to burn you alive.

                The room has an awful lot of junk in it.

                Your mind grips all of it and you compress it, hard as you can. Mutant trolls die choking their last words as cleaning supplies, wrenches, toolboxes, machinery, and what looks like a formerly-hidden porn mag go flying into the middle of the room, dragging them along with it. Thirteen voices scream their expiration in your mind, and the seven still living trolls have been bowled over by your attack, fire going awry as they fall.

                You blast the central pile back out, a thudding wave of mental might that handily kills the rest of them, splattered across the room in bright streaks of… orange? That’s a new one on you… all except for one.

                You grab that one’s shirt and lift him up with your mind, and your hold on his sleeves keeps his hands pointed down. You slowly walk up to him with a big grin on your face.

                “ Hello!” you cheerfully announce to him. “ I think you want to tell me a few things.”

                Then he opens his mouth and burns half your face off, flames roaring from his gullet.

                The last sound you hear is Rufio’s gun going off.

                -

                You wake up in the hospital the next night, and get filled in on what happened afterwards. Tavros and Aradia found something in the room’s wreckage, a note or some such that had been left for all of you in a nearly invincible safe; and Tavros had drilled the guy who got you. (You’re both angry at him and grateful and that’s a terribly worrying combination of things to be.) You, meanwhile, are going to be recuperating for a long while. Your wounds are healing pretty fast, all told; troll biology doesn’t do too well with burns, but you were in the middle of the castle; even half-depleted of living beings, it’s got the best medical staff in the Empire. The eye that got burned is never going to heal right; it’s a pale white now, where once it was blue.

                It is near morning when Tavros visits you.

                “ Hey,” he says, sauntering in just a little nervously. You wonder if he found Vriska; no one’s told you anything. “ How’s the face?”

                “ Not as ugly as yours,” you tell him, then bite your tongue. Dammit, stop flirting.

                He sits down next to you and arrogantly, casually, touches the unburned side. “ Not that bad,” he says, looking it over. “ Might have improved you some, I think.”

                “ Fuck you,” you hiss. He smiles at that and scratches behind your horns, which, if it wasn’t so terribly pleasant, would have made you kill him. As it is you struggle against his touch.

                “ Now, now, hold on hero,” he says. “ You know, I’ve had issues with you we haven’t discussed yet, tough guy.”

                “ Jealous of my pretty face?” you ask, still trying to wriggle away from his hand.

                “ No,” he says, “ the fact that you pushed me out a window.”

                Oh, yeah, that. You try not to think of that; it was the worst experience in your life.

                In your body and out of it, no more control than…

                No.

                “ Wasn’t me,” you say, a bit defensively- but hell, the topic makes you feel awkward, so fuck him.

                “ I know,” he says, and moves his hand a bit lower, cups your cheek. It’s tender and infuriating all at once, the blackest gogdamn thing you’ve ever seen anybody do; it feels like heaven. Who the hell is this guy? It’s not Tavros, it’s…

Maybe it is Tavros. You never really know people, and everybody has sides.

“ Then what are you so hung up on?” you ask, still struggling in vain. You wish you weren’t practically tied to the bed (a necessity in troll medicine, trolls tend to… freak out at inopportune times).

A little shyly, a little of who he normally is comes out and he looks away with a blush. “ In my head. But, uhh, not… here.”

                He taps his chest gently.

                Oh.

                Oh fuck.

                “ You cheatin’ on Vriska? I know I’m damn handsome, but-“

                “ Shut the fuck up,” he says, and it’s so funny to hear Tavros say it that you laugh at him, and he’s just so mad and…

                He’s a terrible kisser, but hell; you’ll teach him.

                -

                You drift in and out of sleep that day, because you are still caught up in the whirlwind of events. Lost an eye. Gained a kismesis. Vriska’s still gone, and Tavros told you- once you were done having a sloppy makeout- that the note said to wait. That if any of you left the palace in the next three days, Vriska and Gamzee would die.

                Now it’s just… you wait. You wait and you see.

                (Aradia refuses to countenance an attack. Her matesprit’s moirail and her moirail’s matesprit are in danger; and Terezi is in conference with her and suggested waiting. Terezi knows something, or at least that’s what Aradia suspects, anyway, and she told it to Tavros in the one feelings jam they’ve been able to slip in- a desperately needed one, from what the bull told you. Moirails and already in crisis, you’d sympathize with them if you had any clue what pale was like- you’ve never been that way for anyone before.)

                That day, out of the corner of your eye, in one of your few waking moments, you’d swear you saw Gamzee, and you think he was glowing, but it must have been just a trick of the light.

Chapter Text

TAVROS NITRAM

Lady and Knight

                You never thought you’d be here.

                You’ve been pale for Aradia for a long time. You like her, she’s your best friend, and you think she’s a bit too… uptight most of the time. Err, uhh, well, no, that’s not it.

                More like she’s too depressed all the time.

                Aradia’s not a happy person. Which is funny because she’s cheery and bouncy but, uhh, you’ve seen her face- her real face… no, you’re saying it wrong. You always cock up.

                (You have no idea what Vriska- who’s so strong and brave- sees in you.)

                You know that half that happiness is a façade, and that the other half of it’s a façade, too, but they’re pointed different ways. Aradia aims half her joy outward, to be the beaming, beautiful Empress the world can see. The other half she aims inward, trying to convince herself that she really is a beaming, beautiful Empress.

                You wonder why she bothers, really.

                (She had to stop archaeology long ago. Too many attempts on her life. Too many assaults. You were there for half of them and you can recall the look on her face when she decided to stop- something little and bright went out in Aradia that day, when she finally realized at an early sweep that she would never be free, a spark of fire that went dead and cold as the emptiness of space. It was a terribly determined look, yet a bizarrely hopeless one- the fundamentally ugly bravery of the doomed. It is the look witches bear when they know they will die yet go a’warring anyway, it is the look every outcast freak has right before the end, when the villagers finally come for him, and he decides to go down fighting. Aradia has spent more than half her life in her own final battle, has went out to meet the villagers that will bear her down head-on and tackled them. You could never understand that kind of fire, that kind of insane, suicidal strength that screams you will kill me but I swear to gods dead and dying I will kill you too. What little strength you have is like mountains, and earth, and the good solid conviction that if you fucks just leave me alone I’ll leave you alone too. To the extent that you are dangerous- and every day you realize more and more just how dangerous you really are- it is a danger you are fine with not directing until it is called for. Aradia has never had that option.)

                If only you could tell her.

                “ So, uhh, why are we taking Terezi’s advice?” you haltingly stammer instead, shying away from the deeper issues. Aradia’s problems are her own and they’re, uh, a bit too big for you to handle right now

                (Sorry Aradia)

                And you’re still not sure you’ll actually stay her moirail. You’re pretty certain that Aradia has better things to do than be the palest of some moron loser like you.

                “ Because Commislaughter Pyrope is rarely wrong,” Aradia says, and there is a hint of relieved irritation in her tone. You have never heard her say Terezi’s name like that, all formal and off-putting, and it hits you that Terezi is Karkat’s kismesis; red and black are a lot alike and for that reason tend to be jealous of each other, or at least, mildly annoyed.

                …Aradia’s problems are big, but maybe you can handle the small stuff. “ Umm, do you, want to talk about how you don’t like her?”

                The rustblood turns surprised eyes on you, making you cringe back thinking you’ve done something wrong (again), before sighing. “ Yes, if you… wouldn’t mind.”

                “ Uhh, sure.” Actually that makes you feel kind of great. Can’t help with big stuff but little stuff… yeah, you could probably, uhh, handle that.

                She shifts in your pile. It’s a stupidly luxurious pile of poofy pillows, which is not only alliterative but also really comfy. If the situation wasn’t so stupidly fraught with danger, and you weren’t so terrified for Vriska, a terror you have kept down only because you can keep watch (and because Karkat has doped you up with sopor slime, keeping you at some semblance of functionality- and why does he have so much ready-to-eat sopor slime in pies, of all things? Never would have pegged the guy as a stoner), you’d take a nap right here.

                She says nothing for long enough that you’re sure you’ve fucked up again, but then she says, “ I… dislike Commislaughter Pyrope,” she said slowly, “ because I’m not sure how one can be black for Karkat. He’s just so… good.”

                You give her a look that is probably pretty familiar to bulls about to get slaughtered, a look of utter confusion (you wear it a lot, its one of your favorite looks. If you could be more like you are in Rufio, if you could be the guy you were with the cannon saving your Vriska… but the sopor takes that away, the comfortable deceit that you’re braver than you are, and you’re left remembering how weak you really are. You’d actually be pretty mad at Karkat for doping you up if, you know, you weren’t doped up.)

                She sees it and something in her closes up, her face withdraws and she’s the Empress again, she’s gotta feel silly sitting in this pile, Empresses don’t need piles, but Aradia does, gogdammit (to use Terezi’s assistant’s phrase- weird fellow, Davest or something was his name), you are the only person in the entire fucking Empire who seems to realize that Aradia is just a troll at the end of the night. Maybe it’s because you are the Summoner’s descendant and you know how horrifying it is to be a legend to others. More than Aradia’s favoritism, it was your direct lineage to the lord of animals, to the rebellion’s greatest warrior, that has set you apart.

                You reach out to pap her. And that hurts, to take that risk; you are such a great coward at the end of the night, Aradia’s just a person but you are just a coward. Yet you cross that distance and you touch her face, you whisper shoosh, you do what pale demands of you despite the terror rampaging through your bloodpusher.

                (Vriska throws around lowblood slang like heart and it just fucking blows your mind, she’s so foulmouthed and she just doesn’t care, you’ve seen Equius practically explode with concealed rage/lust- because for Equius they’re the same thing- whenever Vriska talks, and you love her for it, you love how free she is, Vriska could stand against the world and piss on it and you… you have never been strong like that.)

                And she blinks at the first touch, she shakes herself at the second, and she is mad at you but your nervous terror means you’ve papped her three more times before you even registered her anger, and by the fifth pap she’s sighing and something deep and ugly and hurting is drawn out of her skin, she nuzzles your hand and you can tell she doesn’t mean to, strains her ears to hear you say shoosh.

                (Something in trolls was deep and needy for those touches, something so secret and shaming that of all the quadrants it is the pale that is spoken of least; oh, matesprits are holy and sacred, kismesis creates the great rivalries and boisterous loves that propel society forward, and even the clubs has its place in story and song as the overburdened but beloved arbiters of a chaotic society, but the pale… you discuss it rarely with yourselves and never with aliens. There is something in a warrior race that hurts to consider the need for such almost pointlessly gentle companionship. At least with matesprits they can swear that they’re just doing it for the fucking. With moirails there is no such defense.)

                She sighs, nuzzles into you and gives you the biggest hug, Aradia doesn’t hug people… but then you mentally smack yourself. No, no, the Empress doesn’t hug people.

                Aradia apparently does.

                You nestle into her arms and say, “ Uhh, you alright?”

                There is a long moment, and you’ve fucked up again, hold your breath like a goddamn prince of the breath holding championships, but luck is on your side.

                (Of course it is, Vriska is at your side, she is fortune, you miss her so much)

                She says, slowly, “ No,” and she sounds more than a little surprised to say it. It is a fact she has never let herself know, and she sounds… hesitant. Unsure.

                Like you.

                You put helpless hands to her face, and do the best you can to pap the demons away. After a moment, she starts talking again, as you simply rub hands over her, touching her, encouraging her in whatever way a little shit like you can encourage somebody who has lived through the disaster that is Aradia’s life the way she has. What does a little rich bitch like you have to compare to that?

                (and oh gog oh gog you have a kismesis. Oh gog oh gog what the fuck were you doing, did you think you were Rufio? You aren’t brave you idiot, you aren’t strong or… Sollux will fucking kill you as soon as he gets up, as soon as he realizes that you are too weak and he abandons you, the way Vriska will abandon you someday too. There’s not enough in you to keep anybody near you, and even Aradia will in time get over her infatuation and walk away from you. This is a faith you hold to with a bedrock fanaticism that would make the greatest zealot flinch in fear. You can no more help your self-hatred than you can choose not to speak with animals, it is just… it has always been part of you.)

                “ He hurts so much,” Aradia says, slowly, tongue stumbling over words she has never let herself say. There are no barriers as powerful as the ones we put inside ourselves. “ He hates himself for his freakishness, for not being good enough to be the Sufferer’s descendant, he fights himself past and future both. He is scared of the changes he has been through and the changes he will go through, not for himself- he’s never thought of himself- but for what it will mean for others. He is under so much pressure, I don’t know how he doesn’t boil over, he’s bursting and burning up inside, he’s so warm, he’s a raging fire and he’s raging against himself…”

                She shakes her head sadly. “ And Terezi hates him? How can anyone feel anything but pity for him?”

                “ Well, uhh, kismesis isn’t…” How did Vriska put it? She’d had a kismesis once, some seadweller or another. “ It’s like somebody you really want to fight but you want to, uhh, fuck them too. I guess.”

                She giggles, surprising you, she sounds so… young then. In a good way.

                “ It’s funny when you say fuck,” she says, and her smile is warm and gentle and she hugs you tighter. “ Vriska’s a good influence on you.”

                You blush, look away. “ Uhh, thanks,” you say sheepishly. You don’t really believe what she just said, but she’s your palest, you’ll believe anything she tells you to.

                She touches you gently, pops your eyelid open and looks deep into your brown eyes. “ What?” you ask, confused.

                “ Karkat has you doped up on sopor, doesn’t he? You should be angrier about what happened with Vriska. You should be mad, Tavros. I’ve seen you mad. You’re strong.”

                You flinch back, because to be told you are worth something is an accusation, and you are hurt by it.

                But then she shooshes you, and even as its coming you try to dodge- you try to dodge a pap from the Empress!- but it’s not really the Empress papping you it’s Aradia, your grubhood friend, she’s touching your face and something inside you is… it feels good, not earthshaking but good, warm like a campfire on a cold night. You nestle.

                She holds you tight as she comforts you, and in a voice that is neither Empress nor Aradia but Empress Aradia, she says, “ You are getting off the sopor. I’ll keep you calm. And we will get her back.”

                (You wake up so angry the next evening, so ready to go out and fight the Angeless herself to save Vriska that even Equius steps a bit lightly around you, and she basically tackle-paps you in the hallway. And you feel so horrifyingly ashamed but then she giggles that little giggle again and says no, you’re right, you should be mad, keep it, concentrate it, you think to yourself… maybe that’s an answer. Not to do what she says this one time, but that doing what she says forever is your answer. You don’t really believe in yourself but you believe in Aradia, you believe in Rufio and you believe in your animals, and maybe you don’t have to believe in yourself if you have someone to champion, someone to fight for.)

(And maybe she needs you too, for you are the one person in Aradia’s entire fucking empire who thinks of her as Aradia first and Empress second except Karkat, and it’s not his place to fix her. Red can do many things but it can’t be this- this support. Aradia’s a blazing fire and you’ll do your best, your stuttering, weak, shivering best to be the mountain underneath her.)

(Maybe you can champion Aradia and then you don’t have to worry that you are a fuck-up because she sure isn’t, and you’ll just follow her. Yeah… yeah. Maybe that could work.)

Vriska, we’re coming to get you, just stay strong.

(And your mind grabs the tiniest squeakbeast and sends it squealing down into the sewers, following the scent of rue.)

Chapter Text

Aradia Megido

Crown of Fire

                The Angeless looks terribly happy all the time. The paintings you have of her, most done by the Disciple herself and protected by stasis fields from the ravages of time and void shields to guard against the ravages of trolldom, always show her as smiling- great big iron smiles, happy and free. She looks like a wildfire left to grow unchecked in a forest, a brilliant burning spark of creation thrown against a world that was simply unprepared for her and reveling in it. She changed the world and she had set herself free from the god in the moon and she was free, and happy.

                Aradia’s bitterness overwhelms her when she considers her Ancestor. If she had known how entrapped her descendants would be, would she even bother? Or would she have done it anyway, just to be free? Aradia alone knows that the Angeless did what she did not out of a desire to save trolls but a desire to save herself, that it had been pure burning desire not to be a slave to the old scratch mark on the universe that had driven her to do what she had done. The information is kept in records, passed down to her by those who had come before, other descendants from the great Ancestor of the ironbloods. It is part and parcel of the sacred Imperial Bestowment, the set of books and writings in a secret language of clockwork majyyks and gears that only her bloodline could read. They fit together in her eyes, as if she is some witch and time obeys her merest whim.

                Not much else does. Being Empress of an interstellar empire is… she’d compare it to herding meowbeasts, but that’s wrong. It’s like trying to maintain control of a runaway train, no rails and no tracks, having to keep throwing coal on the fire because if you stop you die but also trying somehow, vainly, to steer when there are three billion tons of weight behind your engine, all of which is pushing in different directions. The strain has been such that you have more than broken, you have died a million deaths; you are run by a multitude of voices, each of them bearing the burden of death. Here is little grub Aradia who died when you stopped exploring, here is new Empress Aradia who died when your first major decision killed thousands and you chose not to weep, here is trusting Aradia who died when a friend turned out to be the main member of an assassination conspiracy and you had him crucified on a burning stake in order to impress the amount of not fucking with you that other people want to do. Only two parts survive, the Empress as a whole and Aradia as a whole, both sides staying out of the other’s way. One is robotic, logical, and clean, the other is warm and bright and alive, and by keeping each other strong and leaving each other be those two sides are ‘you’ to the extent that you exist outside of the voices of your dead selves in your head, guiding you to avoid their mistakes.

                (You spoke together for the first time last night, as neither Empress nor Aradia but Empress Aradia. It scared the fuck out of you. Your two sides are never meant to touch but you both wanted Tavros, the Empress had to have a release valve for the pressure on her, Aradia wanted to save her friend. You don’t know if your two sides can touch, you are scared of what that steel and flint might spark, you are so… there is so much of you that’s just dead weight and you’ve carried it for so long. Some of your voices have stopped talking in your head, the Aradias who wanted Tavros and the Empresses who thought it would be a good idea to have a brownblood moirail for political reasons, and it is a wonderful feeling. By shutting up just a few voices Tavros has tightened your grip on sanity considerably. Aradia and Empress both are pleased by that.)

                You are currently heading towards the vaults on the uppermost floors of the castle. Most aliens bury their things deep underground, away from the light, but you are a troll, and as part of the sun worshippers you place your most precious things high.

                In the tallest tower of the largest castle in the Imperium, up into space itself and sealed in, as close to the burning stars she worshipped as she could get, the Angeless’ crypt is kept.

                You are going to get a gift she left you. You break the seals with the power of your mind and relock them behind you as you go. The confrontation that is coming tomorrow night will be the greatest personal threat you have ever faced in your career, and it is time- finally- to take the last gift your Ancestor left you.

                The tomb is an odd sight. It is piled high not with artifacts and relics, as might be expected, but with… toys. The Angeless was an incongruous figure at best, even in death. She loved games and toys because of a grubhood she was never allowed to have, was in her own odd way surprisingly immature; wise and smart, but always with a love of simple things in her soul, a desire to, from time to time, simply… forget. To play a grub’s game and pretend that the whole world revolved around it for just a little while.

(Aradia is bitter and the Empress is cold but neither half of you can really hate the Angeless. She suffered, too, and you, all of you, feels… sorrow for her. Your voices whisper their condolences and sing short prayers to her, begging the angels to be kind where life was not, but your two upper halves, uncomfortable with agreement, say nothing. Tavros is the only thing all of you has ever agreed on and it was the scariest experience of your life.)

In this hall of playthings, the real world does not intrude; this was her last rejection of the god in the moon, it was, in its own way, a curiously, mature statement despite its use of juvenile paraphernalia. She chose with her last testament to remember not clockwork majjyks and power and death but pleasure, joy, innocence.

(Aradia approves, the Empress has no real use for such things. For her there is no imagination or passion, only harsh realities and the practical implications of all things. She recognizes emotion, she knows its influence on others but she is cold, cold, she is the ash that is left when fire burns itself out. She is the end of the cycle and she loops back towards the beginning; just as the water heats to a boil to become scalding fire so too does the fire finally die and go back to ice, to become water and start the cycle all over again. Aradia is a raging wildfire and the Empress is ice, and that is half of why your two halves are uncomfortable with each other. The other half is the multitude of dead voices from your previous attempts at merging them, lying in your bed trying to fix your dual mind, which distracted you at critical points and almost got you killed, almost got Karkat killed, and so now she- you?- listen/listens to her/your dead selves and avoid/avoids it.)

You concentrate furiously on yourself for a second, fix the threatening split. Sometimes your mind goes mad in places you call yourself her and disassociate. For all that Tavros is a sniveling coward and weak (no no don’t say that you love him, you are pale for him, he’s just scared), you need a moirail far more than he ever does/did.

You force the time dislocation back down. Time is a funny thing for you at the best of times, a matter not helped by the constant presence of your dead selves, your separation into an almost-robotic self and a living self, and the fact that you are, for lack of a better term, completely bonkers. You actually kind of like Gamzee, because the clown’s as crazy as you are and it’s nice to have at least one other person in your group dealing with their own tangled up shit. It’s the same reason you kind of like Vriska, and why you’re glad she’s Tavros’ matesprit.

(You’ll have to talk to her soon, give her the talk. If she ever hurts Tavros you will turn the entire Empire into a device for her torture, and every you inside yourself agrees with this. Aradia will want to do it because she will have hurt her beloved Tavros, the Empress will want to do it because she cannot allow pain to her loved ones to come to pass, and the dead selves voice your/their agreement because you/they know what it is to lose a loved one because you/they/us were thought soft.)

Yet for all that, no part of you truly believes she’ll hurt him. It’s simply not in her nature. Oh she’s crazy and she cuts everyone around her all the time and she’s the closest thing to a ticking time bomb in troll form that you/her will ever meet (you shake your head to stop the voices), but she truly does love him, there’s something in her fury that wants a soul as gentle as Tavros. If you can just convince him to stand up, be strong, reveal to him the depths of power he already has- he’s so gentle and gentleness is so easy to turn into resilience, he could be a mountain if he wished to be- then what is in Vriska will become a raging torrent poured from him and not against him. She needs his stability in her life, but more importantly from your end (all of your ends), Tavros needs her dynamism in his life, needs the push she gives him to be more active than he is. Red isn’t pale but every quadrant supports a troll in some way, though admittedly the ‘giving a push’ thing is supposed to be the job of the black and pale quadrants, not red. Ah, well.

…You’ve been standing here for five minutes. You huff and hurry off, annoyed at her/yourself, and decide not to bother trying to fix the identity problem. You’ve been crazy a long time, and fixing yourselves is going to take a lot more time and probably involve more Tavros than has been going on at the moment.

(You/them take a moment to reflect on the admittedly humorous fact that as an Empress you often say “we”. You are one of the very few people in the universe who would also be able to say that even if you weren’t an Empress because, well, there’s a lot of yous/thems/selves inside of the body named Aradia Megido. You really are a “we”, at least in your madness.)

Anyway, you’re here for something else other than mental stability. You move your many selves, from times long gone and times present (and you’d have future selves if the universe’s rules allowed it in your head too, probably), all the alternate selves in your head, through the long rows of toys towards the big raised crypt in the middle.

There is only one part of the tomb that is not dedicated to simple innocence. This part is dedicated to mature innocence, to hope; it is devoted to the culmination of protecting those simple pleasures, towards a thought that things could be made better than they are.

It is her actual tomb, a glass coffin, her body eternally preserved by Executor Darkleer’s technology, and about her coffin on raised tables are a variety of items, as she sits in her moment of serenity amidst childhood dreams. Here are instructions on how to feed everyone on the planet, and notes on agricultural magiscience; here a warning not to harm the seadwellers too much, warnings you have tried to heed as much as possible. Here warnings of a great and horrible game that will someday strike at least one planet in the Empire, and how to survive it, how to subtly prepare for it; and there, on the last table, what you/we/us/they came to get.

Her needles, clockwork wands of death. You pick them up and swing them, Aradia feels the weight of them in her hands; the Empress calculates power and force.

You raise one and give it a single hard whip. Pure energy, brilliant rust-red, lashes out and slashes the floor with power.

The Angeless was well aware that her descendants might not favor needlekind, and so left you with these gifts that channeled energy into the forms most preferred by their users.

You have always thought it was appropriate to wield a whip.

(All the parts of you. Aradia likes the feeling of heroism; the Empress likes the feeling of command. And your dead selves agree that it is best to use the weapon you are best with, and so it is one of the rare things all of yourself agrees on.)

It is these ancient terrors you will bring upon the one who took your moirail’s matesprit from him, you and your… your friends.

(You care for all of them, it’s a disease eating you/us up, but it’s a… good disease and even the Empress is happy to have at least some people she can trust)

We’re going to save you, Vriska.

(That day, you lay with Karkat, and prepare for the battle to come.)

Chapter Text

Karkat Vantas

Firewater

                You put the pen down with a sigh, and wrap a bit of ice around your aching hand. Handwriting all these letters is such a bitch, it turns your claw into a damn pincer at the end, but they were your best, and their clades need to know what happened.

                (You could type them, but you will not send some crappy automated text over Trollian. They deserve better than that. You knew those people- happily little Jakegg, eternally hung over Roxlal, almost too cheerful Janber, ever composed Dirkri. You’ll miss them and you wrote their clades long letters about how you knew them and stories of who they were and you tell them exactly how they died. You will not pour lies from your fingertips, you will tell them truths; let the grief out, let the pain out. Trust that trolls are strong enough to take it- and then to move on. It is the greatest kindness you can do for the hurting and as the living god reborn you have so much experience helping others through pain.)

                Aradia sleeps behind you in your shared recuparoon. You’ve gotten very good at stepping out of it without waking her, at moving about without bothering the love of your life, though unlike most trolls who can claim such a skill it’s not because you’re cheating; it’s because of the insomnia, ever-present, that takes you from time to time. Aradia no longer awakens when you move, though knowing your flushed one, she’s probably just faking sleep. A lot of what binds the two of you together is your mutual need to play roles- her that of Empress, you that of High Lord.

But now is the daytime, and harsh thoughts belong to night; the day is a time when the gloves and the masks come off under the revealing sun, and for just a little while you are simply you. You look towards the window, see nothing through the shades but are aware that there is a thunderingly great sun high above, that the Dayguard are already dropping shots and missiles on any undead that choose to arise before gearing up their Sanctisaws to deal with any up-close problems. Just a recurrent problem, can’t do shit about it. The planet’s history is so bloody that there’s always going to be one more skeleton to rise when the sun gets up, to retreat when the dark arises and restful peace takes them again.

…You wonder what it looked like before, before Aradia’s Ancestor dropped a goddamn moon into the ocean, what the night was like, and if maybe, just maybe, that’s the cause of your insomnia. There’s something of water in you, brightest child that you are; fire in your crimson blood and high hot heat, but for all that there is something of tidal forces in you. You are water and fire and you are…

You are far too sober. You reach for a bottle quietly, before remembering that, hey, you forgot to get one. You cuss out your past self in your head as you get up, move past your beloved to the kitchen, wherein there are chilled bottles of sopor mixed with various drinks (but not fucking Faygo, jesus you love Gam and you are so worried for him and when you get your hands on that fucking witch who)

You drop the bottle because you are worried about your moirail. You snatch it out of mid-air by the dumbest luck, cuss out your past self even more furiously, and decide to step outside. The castle’s not safe, but the upper levels have been warded very heavily and Terezi swears you will all have the days you were granted in the note. Something in Terezi sees, something in Terezi simply knows, and you have learned to trust it.

( You hate her for it, like any good kismesis, because what a kismesis really is consists of a love that bites, of having someone who sets you off and keeps you who you are by virtue of being your antithesis. Terezi is too-smooth and know-it-all and wildwoman-wise; you are eternally worried, forever ignorant, and bear only the blunt force trauma of your personality. You are true blackmates for the simple reason that by your very existences you set each other off. If you are fire and water, then she is earth and sky; she is of trees and the breeze blowing secrets, while you are stuck doing the grunt work.)

A thought idly occurs to go see her and you take it up on that suggestion- Present Me, not such a bad idea.

Five minutes later, it becomes Fuck You Past Me, because her door’s locked and if you knock that’s just kind of douche. Woman might be asleep.

(You have never discussed the Past Me thing with Aradia except the once, because she seemed more terrified of you simply saying it than anyone has ever been of anything else. That had worried you sick, unable to figure out even how to begin to help her, so caught up in your flushed desires that you couldn’t begin to fix her. That’s kind of the point of pale, red is too wrapped up, too close, loves too much. Pale loves but pale also kind of hates, can get annoyed, is far enough away to see the flaws and close enough to want to fix them. It is good she has Tavros now. Your beloved has wounds so deep and you can’t fix them, because while red is love, flushed is love, it cannot heal. It gives a goal to fight for, a smile to see, but it does not fix, and that makes matesprits without moirails some of the most tragic and heartbreaking stories in all trolldom. Some alien species have red and pale mixed, a pink kind of love, and sometimes you envy them their lives, and how easy their relationships must be- no other species even has a quadrant system, it must be so much simpler!)

But while life sure as fuck isn’t a romantic comedy most of the time, sometimes it is, and she is your kismesis. And a bit of pure rudeness and not-giving-a-damn is a great way to show her you care.

Without preamble you barge into her room. She is not, rather unfortunately, naked; you’ve had that happen before.

(Once you came in while she was taking a piss and the fucking madwoman thought it would be funny to pee on you. You burned those pants as soon as you could to get the teal off of them.)

No, she’s… oh fuuuuuuuuuuuuu

“ Karkat?” she hisses, whipping her sword cane out so fast that just for a second you think you’re already dead, that you’ll fall apart if you take a step. Her face is soaked in teal tears, and her voice has that ragged edge it only gets when she’s been sobbing.

(Only three times have you heard it since becoming an adult, counting now. Once when twelve of her officers died at once in a coordinated attack from the mob, once when she thought Gamzee had bitten it.)

She turns away. “ Get out.”

…No, no, you won’t do that. You shut the door gently behind you.

“ Terezi,” you begin, and she hisses at you again. Some part of her never stopped being the wild dragon-girl, forest dweller and complete lunatic, the kind who dances naked under the trees and sings death songs to the sky. It is, in some part, why you care for her. As the god of an orthodox church it is nice to know a pagan or two.

(Also probably why you like Gamzee.)

You ignore the hiss and say, “ You can talk to me.”

Black is… black is black, it’s hatred and pity all at the same time. Pity’s just hatred, after all, maybe everything’s hatred in the end, but different forms. Caliginous relationships are about defining who you’re not by someone else and that doesn’t mean it’s just pure violence all the time; sometimes it’s this, too.

Terezi hurts, aches, and you do, too. You would cry yourself if you hadn’t already tonight, after laying with your Aradia; and Terezi has no Aradia, has no one but this odd crush on Gamzee’s alternate identity. Opposed, defined against; she is you but without.

You move towards her, and it is a sign of how long you two have been doing this that she lets you curl up around her back.

(So many trolls think kismesis must always fight, they miss the greater part; that to hate somebody, really truly hate them, is to make them a part of yourself. You hate Terezi so much that life without her is inconceivable. Without Terezi you would be missing some vital pillar of yourself, some central core of you that knows who it is because it is not Terezi. She is always so balanced, scales neatly aligned, confident in sacrificing ten lives for a hundred, a hundred for a million; in reaction and counterpoint you are always tipping the scales, defending the right of one to live, extending mercy and grace and benediction. Without each other you would never ascend the heights you have, and you would tear off your own fucking arms rather than lose her.)

You say nothing, because there’s nothing to say; you talk all the time but even you know when to shut the fuck up. But Terezi, your eternal opposite, she speaks instead.

“ I only had her for a day,” she whispers, and there’s so much unrelieved pain in that voice you flinch involuntarily. “ I wanted her my whole life and all I got was one day.”

…And what can you say to that? You stroke her instead, kiss her back, feel her bones as the still-too thin girl shifts against you, before your mind finally spits up something intelligent.

“ Drink this,” you say, and offer the bottle of cooled medication that you forgot you were holding, lifting it before her face.

She chuckles mopily, slips a snaky tongue down into sopor to taste the sleep inside before withdrawing it, serpent quick. (It is another sign of trust. Sopor wipes out her vision… but she trusts you enough to drink herself blind. Black is lover as well as foe.) “ Missing Gamzee?” she asks, and you nod.

(You can’t lie to each other. You’ve been together with her longer than any of your other quadrants, met over Trollian and then in real life and hated each other from the moment you met. Half your resources are just bent to making sure she doesn’t get killed in the incessant political fighting.)

You both stay there a while, just drinking, feel the calming influence of slime on your fire and your water, on your kismesis as she slumps a little bit, loosens up the tiniest bit. All in silence, until she finally says, “ He feels this way every day.”

That surprises you, and you turn your now well-greased wheels towards her. “ What?”

“ Nepeta. He feels like this every day. This… bereft, every day. Because he doesn’t have you.”

That’s a low blow. The Sufferer never loved the Disciple like she loved him- oh sure he loved her, but not like… not the way she did, where he was her sun and her star, the one thing that made life livable. The Sufferer was too busy fighting to notice but you’re not, you’ve seen the way Nepeta acts around you and it’s… frightening.

You are everything to him and it scares the fuck out of you.

“ The fuck am I supposed to do?” You growl, taking the bottle from her angrily and downing half of what’s left. “ Betray Aradia? Sure that’ll go over fucking well!”

“ What he feels for you is beyond quadrants,” Terezi hisses, grabbing the bottle forcefully and with some effort, given that she can’t see it or smell it very well. You hold on for sheer cussed fuck you-ness. “ He doesn’t want to be your matesprit, your moirail, your ashen, or your-“

With a grunt she elbows you hard, finally making your crab claw slack its grip on your alcohol. You punch her back, hard blow right to the bony little shit’s fifth ventrid, and she gasps as she pulls her prize out of your reach.

“ Your, hah, your black. He wants something more.”

You bite her shoulder, more turned on than you’d like to admit by that little scuffle. (You are so gogdamn black for her. When the stars die out you will still hate Terezi Pyrope.) “ So he’s a pervert? Not my fucking-“

DON’T!” she bellows in a rasp, twisting and biting your lips, pushing hard against you, feeling good in that thin ripsaw iron tornado kind of way. Something of Terezi is a west wind, a hurricane, a breeze through the forest that promises pain to come, and she is sharp and edgy and gogdamn are you feeling her right now. You have no idea what she sees in you but the Past You that said yes to a kismessitude with this woman, he’s a cool Past You, he’s one of the few Yous you can stand. That guy was alright. “ Don’t you dare act like you don’t care about him! I know you, Karkat! You care about everyone you stupid, little, FUCK-“

You break down into kisses and snarling bites and oh thank everybody you are not too drunk to do this. When the clothes are off you are both quite capable.

You bleed your poisons into each other slowly, without words, and when you are done you whisper to your hate laying naked and spent beside you, “ Somebody has to, when people like you don’t care about anyone at all.”

She hisses, laughing, delighted. She licks your face. “ You know that if I didn’t care about anyone you would never hate me like you do.”

That is purest truth. (What you hate about Terezi is you can almost see her point, that many are worth better than few, and that frightens you more than anything else would.) You kiss her gently on the forehead. “ And you would never hate me if I didn’t love everybody.”

She nuzzles you fiercely, whispers yes to you, before pulling back and, sighing, saying, “ About Nep…”

You sigh. The sex has helped you to accept that the right path isn’t always the easiest, and you struggle to sit up and try to find your clothes (gray, black, colorless and outside the spectrum to reinforce that you are no better or no worse than anyone else. Same reason your texts are in gray.) You have made your decision, and now there only remains to see if it can be done.

“ Would you be okay with it?” you ask, turning to her, and she smiles and nods.

“ I trust you,” she says, and it is so romantic and yet kind of funny to hear from a kismesis that you think to yourself, sometimes life is a romcom.

…You dress, there are more little words, and you go to your mate’s room. Your room, too, but it is the Empress’ main room; here is where, to the extent the woman you love can be defined as only one person, that she is most herself.

(Themselves? You love her but even you recognize the storm of ashes in which she resides.)

You wake her with a kiss to the shoulder, and she murmurs in her sleep, rising slowly up and putting on one of her many masks. Aradia, this one, is her private face… only you and, probably, Tavros now, ever really see it, though sometimes the mask slips when she’s with the others.

(Your friends, all of them, they are all your friends, even fucking Equius and she is so weird.)

“ Dear?” she says, and you kiss her forehead.

“ Me and Terezi talked,” you begin, forcing words to come through even though it is so hard, you talk so damn much but when it comes to real things its like draining the ocean with a thimble. “ About… Nepeta.”

She blinks, is more awake in an instant, a match suddenly flaring bright. She nods for you to continue, and an odd mask settles on her face - hard like the Empress but with Aradia’s soft eyes. Strange.

“ He… he needs me so much,” you blurt out, and that’s a truth you hid from yourself, because it hurts to realize how much you’ve hurt him, you are always trying to be so good and you’ve been gutting him like a fish since day one. All because you were scared and frightened and… Past You was a fuckass. You will be better.

(Guilt is not always wrong, shame is not always evil. Not if it pushes you past your mistakes.)

“ I want him, not as a matesprit, but… as what the Disciple and the Sufferer had. Something outside the quadrants.”

She nods, and the mask is careful, it’s new and fragile but it holds and she says, “ And us?” softly. You reach out to her hand, to hold it where it lays in the cool sopor.

“ I pity you,” you say, and it isn’t until you see red splotches in the green that you realize you’re crying. “ I pity you so much, Aradia, I have ever since we met as kids, you hurt like I do, you are so much like me in so many ways, I never want anyone else to be my matesprit, and if you ask me not to then I’ll never bring this up again but he hurts so much, Aradia, I’m hurting him, and it’s not his fault and it’s not my fault and the past is fucking us both up. The Sufferer was a fuckass.”

Blasphemy poured from your lips… you wonder how that works philosophically.

“ But it is my fault that I’ve never tried to fix him, that I never tried to find a way to recapture that which they had, something that’s not pity or hate but something else. I… please, Aradia? He’s hurting.”

And then you start to sob, fuckass, the day before a battle is not a good time to do this, but she does not hurt you. She raises herself up and she wraps gentle arms around you and she murmurs to you yes, yes, and yes, holds you and kisses your tears, and the pain fades to calm.

(Perhaps in the end this is what flushed is for- to be justified in your own self. Around Aradia you are not ashamed, you feel the self-hatred ebb away in the face of her acceptance and love. You don’t know what she sees in you but the woman you love is the greatest gift trolldom has ever had and you would die your ancestor’s death to keep her safe. If your presence makes her hate herself less, if it does this for her, then you are honored to be hers. She deserves all the peace she can get.)

“ Go to him today,” she says gently, “ give him a day with you. Go, Karkat. I trust you.”

(You do not know why they trust you but it makes you… oh fuck you don’t even know how to  say what it makes you feel, except maybe happy and you aren’t that fucking sappy… You are totally that fucking sappy.)

(And for this, for this and everything else they have ever given you, you will give them everything you have. You aren’t much and the self-hatred makes it hard to see any good traits you have but you have one trait even you must admiringly recognize, pure motherfucking tenacity, you make the most determined souls look like dickering pussies compared to your sheer unwillingness to quit, and you swear right now to devote your entire life and that monstrous never-ending determination to making these women the happiest women in the universe. Tonight you made the hardest decision you have ever made personally and they were both there for you. You have no idea what circumstances could even arise that would let you repay them but when they do you will not hesitate.)

You kiss her on the lips gentle and red and leave to go find something neither red nor black but beyond color, something that dances with black holes and supernovas and has the colors of neither of them. It is a void, an emptiness that is free rather than destroying, an unbinding of chains. It would almost be white, but it is beyond even light.

(The halls seem lighter somehow, a weight you didn’t know you had sloughing off of you as you walked.)

His room is guarded by sweaty strength, of course, who awakens the instant you knock and is there swift enough that you don’t have to knock twice. Equius, sweaty, bedraggled, snaggletoothed and huge is there, and she asks politely, “ High Lord Vantas, what do you require?”

“ I… need to see Nepeta,” you say, and as Equius’ eyes open you realize that this is the first time you have ever asked for Nepeta by name and not title.

“ I… err, well…” Equius begins, then says, swiftly, “ If you hurt him, I will, err… be forced to… hurt you.”

You blink. She’s shaking and she’s got so many issues but by the tits of the Angeless, the fuckass is an amazing moirail.

“ If I hurt him, you have my permission to do what you want,” you say, and you mean it, and Equius smiles a bit at that.

“ I know that he,” she says, and then swallows hard, shakes, but she still forces it out, “ he… cares for you so much, and I am worried you will… use it.”

She raises a hand to forestall you, a huge, powerful paw, and says, “ If you use him, if you hurt him… there is not a force in the empire that can stop me.”

It is a threat. To a superior. And for once she manages to make it without nearly jizzing herself. Huh. You smile at her as big as you can with your goofy blunt teeth.

“ Equius, I won’t. And… you’re a good moirail.”

She smiles again, then says, “ If I thought you would, High Lord Vantas… Karkat, sir, I would not let you in.”

And then she lets you in, stepping to the side with a bow and a sweep of the hand. You step inside and she steps out, locking the door. You walk past a makeshift garage and there is your personal weapon, a massive mech suit built just for you with loudspeakers in its crustacean shape to let you blast others with your one weapon. The claws are made of scythe, forming cruel pincers, and the Crab Battle Suit, Model Y0L0, is simply amazing.

(Nepeta had Equius make it for you, because in a fight your usefulness is pretty crap. Not inappropriate, the head of the church protecting the living god. Yet Nepeta did it for you and he has always done so much for you.)

You head to his room, knock. You don’t hear him come to the door, open it to reveal him in kind of adorable pajamas with cat ears and little kittens all over everything.

“ Karkat?” he says sleepily, rubbing his face with the back of one overly long sleeve. “ What do you need?”

“ It ain’t about what I need,” you say, and feel kind of cool saying it. “ Nepeta… we need to talk.”

“ Oh,” he says after a quiet moment, and then, “ Give me a moment to put my clothes on…”

“ No need,” you say, “ not… Nep, I’m so sorry I’ve been hurting you, I’m sorry, what I’ve done isn’t right…”

He doesn’t know if he’s happy or scared, or what to feel, emotions flickering on his face like strobe lights at an epileptic torture center. “ Karkitty?” he says, and that’s a measure of how out of it he is; he has not called you that in sweeps.

“ I want to make it right,” you say, and you reach a hand to brush his face. His breath is hissed inward and he lets you touch him and you can feel how he trembles, how much he needs this

(Fuck the Disciple, fuck’s sake what did she do to him)

and your bloodpusher breaks all over again. He didn’t deserve this. No one did.

“ I want… us,” you say, and there’s a moment where you see yourself from outside yourself, and you are okay.

(You are the you who screamed your hatred at Terezi hoping against hope she’d hate you back, you are the you who convinced Aradia to give her own happiness a thought and a chance, you are the you who shoosh-papped Gamzee when he was about to kill himself the week he lost the sopor and went insane. You are a you that you can be proud of, look back and say hey, he’s ok; I’m ok. Because this is you the healer, this is you living up to your awful, beautiful legacy; this is a you that has earned his right to bear the Signless symbol. You are worthy of your blood in this second.)

Nepeta shakes his head, he doesn’t trust this. He’s wanted it too long, this is too much too soon. You let him pull away, let him shake, let him cry.

(You suddenly notice that he is wearing claws, disguised by the long sleeves, only obvious to you because he’s so shocked right now. There is still a hunter in him no matter what.)

“ Karkitty?” he says again, and he is trembling and breaking. You nod.

“ Yeah, I’m here, Nepeta,” you say, and he bawls and pounces you to the ground.

(After kisses that have waited ages to be given and touches that thought they would never be, when you are both spent, you slip into deep, happy sleep, with his arms about you and yours about him.)

Equius awakens you both in the evening with the biggest smile on her ugly face, and you suit up to go to war.

(He keeps looking at you, still surprised, still disbelieving, and you give him a kiss- just for the hell of it, fucking why not, you are on top of the world this evening- and his reaction to the kiss is so joyful and energetic that you wonder why you have waited so long to heal this poor broken soul. Equius gives you a nod afterwards that says thank you in all the ways it can and when she suits you up you get the oddest feeling that if you asked her to she’d fight the Mirthful Messiahs for you, for what you have done for Nepeta. She really is the best moirail in the world.)

You give a cheerful boom out the loudspeaker as you march out the door in your crabtank.

Coming for ya, Gamzee.

(I’ll be there, brother.)

And may your ancestor have mercy on whoever has hurt him when you do.

(Your next boom is a laughing war cry. Gamzee would approve.)

Chapter Text

HOLD ON TIGHT

 

THE RAM

                Your team moves out like a squad of White Ops, equipped with the best the Empire could give them. It had not taken much special training, all those sweeps ago, to turn your little band of friends into a single cohesive unit; even in the new Alternia that the Disciple carved out of the old one’s corpse with her own bare hands, life is still harsh for a grub, and trolls have always been warriors. Blood is everything to you, and the hemocaste is only part of it.

                So your friends move in sets, based on role. You, Karkat, and Equius are your team’s heavy hitters; you are a psionic titan, Karkat’s mech can tear dragons apart, and Equius is probably more dangerous than either of you. Thus, you each go with others, swords to protect them. Equius goes with Nepeta, of course, while Karkat and Terezi ride together, since Terezi uses Karkat’s onboard communications system to talk to everyone at once even through all the rock and stone- and as much as you (platonically) despise Terezi, she is by far the best strategist out of all of you, so she needs to be in charge.

(It was she who suggested splitting up, even though you know precisely where Vriska is thanks to Tavros’ mice. The blind one says that your enemy knew you knew where Vriska was, and so your only chance was to act as though you didn’t- to come in groups, not a single massed block. Misdirection, confusion; Terezi swears it’s your only hope and you-we-us believe her, even if pretty much all of your selves agrees it sounds kind of stupid. Still, stupid doesn’t mean wrong… as you well know. You’re a fairly decent strategist yourself/yourselves/stop that we don’t have time for such nonsense.)

You, most important of your friends, go with two others, both to guard them and to be guarded by them. Your moirail… sweet Tavros… he goes, riding in Rufio. Sollux is with him, his kismesis, riding shotgun on Rufio’s back, eyepatch over one eye and manfully ignoring his other wounds. You’ll need to give him a talk soon, make him understand his limits with Tavros, but... you aren’t sure it’ll even be needed, the two did it very spur-of-the-moment. It might boil down to nothing.

(Getting distracted, focus.)

You float along behind the both of them, hands holding the weapons that in your own head you/we have started calling the Gearbreakers. The energy inside of them feels like beginnings and endings both, the strength of twelve o’clock- the start and the stop of time. It pulses comfortably, is almost settling. Whatever your ancestor was, she was something like you, and it is good to know that your oddness and pain have been shared before. You are not alone.

(Eyes flick to Tavros’ back. You are definitely not alone anymore. We are not alone. Red is beautiful wonderful uplifting but only pale gets down in the dirt with you, it’s what it does. You are six feet deep in your own grave but at least Tavros is trying to dig you back out.)

Your party descends into the vast sewers using one of the castle’s many entrances to the maintenance shafts, just as the other teams are doing, and it is not long before the relatively well-patrolled parts closest to the castle are left behind for surprisingly bigger tunnels, expanded to their ridiculous size by the hands and tools of clever lowbloods improving their homes and making it easier to smuggle various things out of the royal palace and into buyer’s hands. Tavros is simply delighted by the bigger tunnels, since it was getting rather cramped in the first few passages and he was getting worried he’d have to abandon Rufio; he flies a happy little circle before settling back into place. Sollux grunts from the shifting of his body, and that worries you too; he insisted on going despite his wounds and you fear for him. He is still so very weak. You-her-Aradia is glad that you are there to protect him; the Empress is annoyed that he would not stay behind, while simultaneously understanding that if he’d stayed behind he would have been vulnerable, and losing Sollux would be a mighty political blow. The last few days, the politicals in the Empire have been most active, and there are many assassin blades just waiting.

(It is yet another thing all of you agrees on. More and more they come, and Tavros was yours but two nights, and he has improved you so much. Moirails are so very needed by trolls, and you didn’t know it until this moment. Perhaps you should reinstate the old Imperial quadrant requirements, except with moirails only- every troll with a pale quadrant when the drones come around, or murder. You’d never do it but the thought’s kind of funny.)

You travel many meters down, Terezi’s rasp the only thing in your ears, and you can feel yourself coalescing- all your many disparate beings, the dead yous and might-have-beens, turning into one very focused self. Aradia bows out and the Empress arises. Aradia has no place in battle except as a dictator of reasons why; she chooses why you fight, but it is the Empress who fights those battles.

You take a moment to blink, and then there are no more we/us, only you, and it is a few moments afterwards that Tavros makes first contact with the enemy.

 

THE BULL

                “ Contact!” You yell, though the fact that you are shooting Rufio’s incredibly loud main gun is a fairly good indicator of that already, you guess. Kind of surprised you when you saw them but it turns out that being a spineless coward means your trigger finger is very itchy, so they were shot before they had even gotten ready to fight, splattered all over by the main gun’s sheer power.

                (Driving this thing really has helped your confidence, because if driving what Sollux calls a car-sized mass of fuck you can’t do it, nothing will. In Rufio you feel invincible.)

                Sadly, the group you splattered wasn’t the only group, and about a dozen mutants fall on your little trio like a pack of howling woofbeasts in seconds, belching flames all the while. The battle is a swirl of color and noise. Red flames go over your head with a fwoosh and the crackle of snapping air; schlunk goes your lance through a heart, shining blood shooting out the opposite end. Boom goes Rufio’s main gun, pounding at mutants coming in from the far side of the room, splattering shining blood everywhere like a mad tye-dye artist, or an insane cultist painting visions of the Dark Carnival in entirely the wrong color scheme. Zap goes Aradia’s whips as she lashes a mutant in half, her ironblood-colored, armored robes burning bright orange as a mutant sets her aflame, put out with a burst of telekinetic power that goes pff. Fwoom goes one laserblast from Sollux, since he’s missing an eye he’s now a bit of a Cyclops with his shots, glaring red lancing off and missing a mutant who returns fire with outflung hands going shhhnnn as they spit fire. The battle is a mess of flying shells and Aradia ripping dudes in half and Sollux being a one-man lazer collection, as well as fireballs slung at you by a small horde of troops. It’s pure chaos and as you smack a bitch with your tank you think to yourself a curiously Aradia-like thought, wish we had a plan.

                While you’re at it, you also wish you had your old legs back (and your old genitalia back because now you have mechanical ones, and just why does Equius even know how to make those), and that your animals had been scouting ahead for you, kept this bunch from being surprising. Still, Terezi had a plan, and Aradia had ordered you to follow it.

(Cut the power on the tank, flop down, squish a dude beneath you with the tank itself while simultaneously dodging a leaping mutant who was punching with flaming fists of fury; Aradia catches him in the next moment and neatly bisects him with her whip. The utterly focused, empty expression on her face even as the blood splashes it, gold on grey, tells you two things- 1.) this is the Empress in command now, and 2.) she’s going to need so much shoosh-papping after this. You restart Rufio with a single button push and zip off away from a firestorm that Sollux ends with a laser.)

Something in Terezi’s bizarre, wood-witch mind said the plan to her, and so she said to you S3ND YOUR 4N1M4LS H3R3, T4VROS, and Aradia had already told you to 0bey her, so that’s what you did. Tons of squeakbeasts and a couple of meowbeasts and the weirder, squisher vermin found in the sewers, some of which were actually kind of hard to get a hold of with your mind, almost too weird and alien. It had been a spot above where you know Vriska is, where she has been held and where you’ve watched her through animal eyes be hurt by that… that…

You stand up and hurl your lance straight through the last mutant, pin him to a wall before jumping out of Rufio and tugging it out. Kanaya has hurt your beloved matesprit, and when you get to that strange masked woman, you are going to show her just how stupid an idea messing with one of the richest, most powerful people in Alternia was. You’ve never used your wealth or hemocaste for something like this before, to indulge yourself in… crueler pleasures, but a lot of the other nobles have done just that, and hell, you’ll ask for tips.

Kanaya will pay.

You stand there seething for a second, and there is the lightest touch on your arm (Aradia, a quick smile out from under the Empress’ eyes, gently papping as she moves along down into the tunnels) and you snort and get back in Rufio, Sollux on the front hood casually insulting you. You kick that fucker into gear and get going, following your palest into the depths.

(I’m coming, my beloved.)

                …You wonder how the others are doing, right before you make contact yet again.

 

THE TWINS

                Fuck a bone bulge why did you want to come along on this. Every muscle in your body feels like Equius spent an hour just kicking them… which would totally get her off, but then again, everything does so that doesn’t say much.

                (Her porn file is so large that it’s bigger than all of yours combined, and it has the weirdest fetishes. Also if you see anymore My Small Horsie porn on her computer you will kill her, and not even Nepeta will argue with that shit. You have to look at everyone’s computers to keep network security up, would it kill her to not be that nook-suckingly awful? I mean, you’re horrible, but there are limits!)

                A fireball wings by your head and you introduce the lady who shot it to your laserface. She gives it an astounding two thumbs up flash-fried review, dropping deader than the Mirthful Messiahs. You gracefully slide (very painfully, too, body aching because YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE OUT OF A HOSPIRECUPAROON, for fuck’s sake) across Rufio’s hood to dodge another fireball and wing some ninja stars into a dude’s face while Tavros- MOTHERFUCK

                Tavros just leapt out of Rufio’s cockpit and kicked a woman with both legs in a double-boot-to-the-head, kick-flipped up on landing, and got back in the seat.

                …You have the weirdest boner right now. You dissipate your sexual frustration in the form of more lasers, just sweeping the crowd aside like the Angeless’ own personal anti-son of a bitch machine. Aradia is vaguely behind the flying tank of fuck-you, and every now and then you hear the high whine of a psionic whip lashing some poor soul to flayed pieces, though mostly she’s just lifting and popping heads; not a bad idea, frankly you’re kind of blowing your wad with all these lasers, but Tavros has put his try harder pants on and you won’t let even a fresh new kismesis upstage you like this. You’ve got a little vial of mind honey anyway, been licking it in between battles, keeping the tanks topped off.

                As you laser someone else’s face off, you hear the main comm on Rufio crackle with Karkat’s voice, saying, “ Contact! Fucking contact! FUUUUUUUUUUUUU-”

 

THE CRAB

                “ –UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”

                Your mighty right pincer slaps a mutant to the side so hard he explodes in a shower of (surprisingly bright, like shining gold) blood, while your speakers reverberate with the sound of your endless shout. You yell in combat. You’re not sure why. Probably because, as Terezi has asserted before with a toothy grin, you shout all the time anyway, why stop now? You privately suspect that it’s the suit. Used to, you didn’t yell while fighting, but ever since they started giving you giant war crustacean robots to kill people with you’ve been pretty much nonstop screaming and conversational while engaging in an aggrieve.

                “ For fuck’s sake, Karkat!” Terezi yells, as she dances behind you, splitting trolls in half with singular swipes of a mono-molecular edge, moving and dodging and as untouchable as air. Only from behind have your crab tanks ever had serious problems, and that is what your kismesis is for, she defends your back. “ What if I was trying to communicate? They’d never hear over your whining!”

“ YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUU!”

                You punctuate with a double pincer blow aimed straight down, smashing the last helpless fool to golden paste. You chuckle as Terezi swings up onto your mech.

                “ You know as well as I do that the speaksender would block me out automatically if you were trying to talk,” you jibe, chuckling. “ You must really be out of it if your barbs are so bad.”

                “ Can you blame me? That’s my moirail down there,” she says distractedly as she gets the speaksender on your hood running.

“ Mine too,” you offer her. “ Stay strong. She’s waiting for you.”

(You have stayed strong because Gamzee would want to know that you were not worried for him. That he, poor tormented soul, had not bothered you, that you were confident he was safe and had not been so dreadfully worried for him. He is… such a good person, underneath all the insanity. You are worried but you will not let it show, because he is your palest and you will do what he needs.)

Terezi flashes you a tiny, thankful smile as she turns the device on and says into it, “ Everybody, status report!”

                Nepeta’s speech is peppered with the sound of someone being roundly beaten to death by Equius. You know the sound so well that it’s actually kind of funny at this point, and with your blood running hot from the little scuffle, you have a big dopey smile on as you check your tank’s systems and make sure everything’s in working order. “ Everything is fine over here right meow, but I can’t help but wonder where the big guns are. There’s not many mutants here and none of them we’ve met have been skilled enough to kill our guard like they did…”

                Tavros’ hesitant voice clicks in. “ Uhh, what Nep said. We’ve just finished up here but Aradia’s saying we should have seen more trouble, err, had more trouble.” His words are punctuated by the choking sound of a guy being telekinetically strangled- that’d be your lady, and you grin again. God you love fighting. Almost like you’re a knight of old, loving blood, but that’s crazy talk, fuck you past me.

                “ It’s a test,” Terezi states firmly, distracting you from arguing with yourself. “ The fuck-ups she left outside. She’s waiting for us with the real trouble. Tavros, the plan? Get ready for it. On my signal.”

                “ Uhh, ok,” he says.

                Then you hear Nepeta’s scream over the speaker.

 

THE LION

                He moves like death.

                There are flashes, just white paint gleaming in the dark of this wide room’s far corners, then the only flashes come from light spinning off the whirring clubs flying at the two of you from those same dark corners. You dodge, reflexes always cat-quick even though you are so weak, but Equius was always slow to dodge, seemed to regard it as dishonorable, and the weapons blast her nose right into bleeding mush; blue flies through the air, splashes of bright color in the dim lights of the flying robot lamps you brought along as illumination in these dark sewers. The sections you two chose to enter were the oldest, the least well-maintained, and now the shadows taunt you from the corners.

                “EQUIUS!

                More white paint, gleams of symbols that you hope beyond hope are not real, seen from the corners of your eyes. You know that symbol, and find it unbelievable, impossible. He couldn’t…

You dodge more tossed clubs, reflexes as slick as a panther’s, to get up to your moirail, who for some reason is just… standing there.

                “ Equius!” you scream at her, as she looks stupefied into the dark, which doesn’t make any sense; you’ve seen her hit harder than this before. What’s wrong with her? You dodge another thrown assault as you shake your moirail, but then…

                You see your attacker clearly, as he steps out of the dark into the dim light.

                “ Gamzee?” you say, stunned into quiet. Karkat rages over your wrist communicator and you hear nothing he says… stare at your moirail’s matesprit, at the gentle soul burdened by rage, who steps slowly towards you now that you have named him. He is glowing dimly, and it reminds you of a second dimness, glimpsed in the air vents of the palace…

                You hiss as you figure it out. He was the one you saw. Small fangs glimmer out of his mouth, ivory on the white of his clown face paint, but that paint’s different now, repainted into a symbol you don’t recognize, done in white with a few gentle touches of jade. He gleams so very slightly through the thick coating of paint that it doesn’t really illuminate him at all, just makes him seem… ethereal. Otherworldly.

                “ Gamzee,” you say again, so confused and so distraught you don’t know what else to say. He’s glowing, and fangs, that says… but rainbow drinkers are a myth of a myth, they haven’t shown up since the Angeless dropped the moon into the sea.

                He nods his head to you, and Equius gives a sharp, indrawn gasp that you… you know… oh for fuck’s sake!

                “ I’m real motherfucking sorry, Catbro,” Gamzee says to you, and he’s crying thick purple tears. “ I’m real motherfucking sorry…”

                He moves forward, clubs in hand.

                “ Equius, fight!” you scream at your moirail, who has seen something she has always wanted- Gamzee acting like a lunatic lowblood. You grab onto one of her colossal arms and pull but she just sits there, trembling.

                (Your moirail’s libido is going to kill you. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.)

                “ Gamzee,” you say, as you keep tugging on your moirail who is busy gazing on Gamzee with stunned, hungry eyes, desperately looking for anything to save you from… oh Angeless, is this why your people were so scared of the priests? His face, with that paint, looks like the end of the world and you can almost hear the Messiahs laughing at you. You squeak by accident in your terror, more mouse than cat right now. “ Gamzee, come on, what are you doing? Come on, you know you don’t…”

…Your communicator. Karkat.

“ Karkat- Karkat! Gamzee’s freaking out!” you scream into it, hoping your one and only can save you.

                “ Gamzee!” Karkat yells over the comm, and he is calm and ready to vox a shoosh-pap. Your beloved (and he loves you back, but focus, dammit!) is somewhat pale for everybody, but he is especially pale for this one troll, and it’s your only hope right now, with Equius freezing up. “ Come on, bro, tell me what’s going on.”

                “ Oh palebro,” Gamzee cries, and his voice hitches, half-choked sobs, “ I’m so sorry bro, it ain’t like when I stopped taking sopor that one time, it’s… she’s in my head, Karbro, she’s in my motherfuckiNG think pan, AND when SHE isn’t I’M so FUCKING hungry, SO so THIRSTY, all I want IS to DRINK you ALL motherfucking DRY, but right now all I can do is what she WANTS ME TO MOTHERFUCKING DO, and that means…”

                He zips forward in a blur, bashes Equius to the ground with two fierce blows of his clubs, knocks her right out of your hands. You can’t hit him even moving like you do, claws catching only empty air, as he leaps around to your fallen moirail.

                “ I GOTTA KILL YOU,” Gamzee whimpers, as he tosses the clubs aside and puts his strong hands around Equius’ throat and squeezes tight.

                It holds him still long enough that you can hit him, then, as Equius chokes and exults in her own strangulation. You hiss and pounce at him, claws lashing out to sink chainsaw deep into his face, but just as you breach skin and sawteeth send lowblood flying his hands whips up and catch your arms, and he is as strong as steel. You curse your weakness as you struggle in vain, kick him and he doesn’t even notice you doing it, Equius collapsing to the floor wheezing and gasping and drawing in those shuddering hisses that indicate her… excitement.

(Even in all this terror you have time to think dammit Equius.)

Gamzee holds you, and he tries not to stop you, he really does, you can see it cross his face as he fights whatever has hold of him, and his arms slacken just a bit- you push forward, take the chance to try and kill him, take what he is offering you even though it’s awful to kill poor, sweet Gamzee.

(You’d never hurt him if he had a chance but this is mind control… and your species has dealt with that since the beginning. You will mourn him if he dies but you will not try to break it without a powerful psionic backing you up. Too many die doing that.)

But whatever it is, it gets him a second before it would have worked, and even as you push forward he pushes back; instead of striking through his thinkpan and finishing this, you end up just drawing ragged lines down his face. Three slashes stand out the most, like the marks on the shirt he wears when he goes hunting in the sewers, and maybe that’s fate or destiny or some cruel sick joke of the universe. He holds you at a distance from himself, one hand on each of your arms, Equius still struggling to breathe in.

“ I’m so sorry, Nepeta,” he says, crying. “ I’m sorry catbro, I’m so sorry.”

And then he breaks both of your arms as easily as snapping a twig.

You scream.

 

THE VIRGIN

                Perfect.

                The Clown- and what a wonderful soldier he makes!- has just taken the Hierarch captive. Useful alive, not dead.                Not dead yet, to be more accurate. Breaking an empire is a pattern, breaking an empire takes stitch by stitch, the vast armies getting ready to be born in the womb of your lusus (who is behind you- she’s useful in a fight) are one stitch in the plan but the next stitch is religion. The Disciple built the Empire as a love song to her dead desire and she made faith the heart and soul of it, and she did it by tearing the Grand Highblood’s heart and soul out in front of everyone else. Her descendant, the Hierarch, is the most important religious figure in Alternia.

                It’s funny in an ironic kind of way, really. The way his ancestor destroyed the old Empire is the way you will destroy the new one- and you will do it to her own descendant. You smile at the thought of it, the perverse hilarity of the situation. Though you won’t do it the way she did, of course, you’ll have to do it in a way tailored to the situation- a mockery of the Sufferer’s death will suffice. You have shackles ready for him, burning hot, and arrows, to bleed him dry. And cameras, of course, to capture it all.

                (There is a tiny- so very tiny- part of you that flinches at the thought, but you surge past it singing. You are no longer the girl you were, gardening and wishing only for a certain cerulean-blooded girl to kiss your breath away. We all change and Vriska threw you into the goddamn sun, and she has burned out all the kindness in you, except for a single hidden part- but then again, all things have their shadow, and you ignore your sweet darkness for your savage light. It is what Vriska gave you.)

                Speaking of spiders.

                She bleeds behind you on a cross, and the thought fills you with such ecstasy (light light burning light, you are purest white on the inside and you are turning all the world to ash) that you could twirl, dance, sing… too bad you must focus. You’ll have plenty of time for gloating later.

                “ Eridan!” You do not call him palest. Not yet. (But soon. The whole world is yours. It is burning down and you are the fire, the whole world into the fire, it is yours and no one will deny you your silly grubhood dreams now, a lady of brightest day and whatever consorts in whatever quadrants you so choose. Omnipotence is freedom.) “ Is your matesprit ready?”

                “ Yeah, she’s ready,” he says with his awkward fangs. His status as a rainbow drinker feels like it is constantly in flux, something inside him warring on it, but so far your power has remained supreme. (As it should. He is your moirail but he is definitely the lesser in your relationship- as everyone is, in comparison to you.) “ Wwe are just wwaiting for your signal, boss.”

                You like the way he says boss, half-truthfully half-scornfully. It’s a very pale way to speak to an employer. A flicker of that pale desire flits through your heart as you turn to one of your slaves, a genius with technology who you’ve made your head enginaturalist.

                “ Have you hacked their comm system yet?” you ask, and the mutant, who would be a goldblood but for your manipulation of his genetics, nods with a spasm and a twitch; goldbloods were hard, so much psionic power that it made them prone to mental problems.

“ Activate it,” you say, and he turns the device, equipped with speakers, on.

                “ Tavros!” a voice quite familiar comes to you from the vox- Terezi, who tried to make you and Vriska matesprits so long ago. Your eyes flick to the spiderbitch, who perks up at her moirail’s words-and you feel that slow steady pulse of rage in your veins. You do feel some fondness for Terezi, because she had just been trying to be a good friend, and had she killed Vriska you’d just forgive her.

But that pales next to the fact that Vriska was still alive. Terezi knew, Terezi had seen what happened to you, and you had pieced together over the years that Terezi’s eyes had disappeared the same night that you died, so Vriska did something to her too. She knew Vriska had mind control powers, she knew! Yet Vriska wasn’t dead!

You will kill Terezi too, and you will do it in front of Vriska, just to see the look on her face.

“ Uhh, yeah?” returns the highblood’s voice, soft and ineffectual. Vriska’s matesprit. He’ll die, too, when you drag him before Vriska and gut him with his own lance. Adios, dear boy… and Vriska will suffer.

(She will always suffer.)

“ Do it! Now!”

                “ Do what?” Eridan asks, and that is the moment the ceiling tears itself open and hundreds of screaming vermin fall on top of your head.

 

THE SCALES

                A chance is all you have.

                Your moirail might have all the luck but you’ve got skill, the sense to know how the minds of others work, to know what criminals will do and how to stop them from doing it. It has been many sweeps since you’ve seen Kanaya, and you can’t imagine what she’s like now- Tavros says that she glows, that can’t be right- but you don’t have any more time to plan, and you’ve already made your ploy. Right now, how it all ends is going to come down to a few seconds of distraction, and whether you know Kanaya as well as you think you do. It’s flipping a coin and not knowing whether your opponent’s called heads or tails until it lands.

Still, it’s not like you have nothing to go on. Everything she’s done screams to you precisely how Kanaya works- Kanaya’s careful and Kanaya’s a plotter and she’s apparently way better than any of you at those things, something you know by virtue of the fact that if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be this far along in her plot to take over the entire fucking Empire right now. You have vast spy networks and loyal citizens, she should not have been able to forge a mutant army underneath the fucking castle. Kanaya was a seamstress, how in ten fucks did she get to here from there? Not to mention falling down like a million stories in sunlight first, jadebloods aren’t hurt by light like other trolls but it’s still not super-pleasant.

                …Whatever happened to her, it made her an apparently better planner than you are. Thus, you cannot try to outplan her, you cannot attempt any normal tactics; Order will fail you.

And where Order dies, Chaos thrives.

Splitting the team was a shot in the dark, hoping that somebody would stumble on something useful- and it seems that while there’s only one entrance in, there’s multiple tunnels leading there, and the split-up team is killing the mutants she was going to have swoop in from behind. So that helps.

Having an entire sewer’s worth of vermin fall on her head will help more, because she’s going to think- hopefully- that they are there to bite her, but they’re really there to tear up any electronics. You don’t want to wander into autoguns. Kanaya could take on anything you guys sent her way but maybe the rats are a surprise- she would know Tavros’ ability, but she would not know your specific goals. If she thinks the rats are trying to kill her, she’ll ignore- hopefully- the fact that they’re eating her radios until it’s too late, focus on the wrong targets first.

                …You wonder what she’s done, in the years in-between, how she went from burning and falling to tyrant of light.

                (Kanaya. I’m so sorry. What Vriska did should never have happened to you. But that doesn’t excuse what you’ve done, either. Justice is a balance, and Kanaya cannot make up for what Vriska did to her by slaughtering the empire- or hurting Nepeta, poor sweet innocent Nepeta, who asked her this evening, before they started out, if she knew what him and Karkat had done, and if she was okay with it. And her Vriska… she has a chance to be so much more, justice means nothing without mercy to balance it, Vriska was wrong to hurt her but that can’t be the end of it, the last word on the matter… there has to be a chance for redemption, dammit!)

                The sewers stink with Karkat’s crabtank’s fumes, with shit and shining blood that tasted like burning hot sauce to the nose, with the bowel release of dying trolls and the wept tears of the suffering. With your own tears, you were crying a minute ago. You sigh, accepting them, and wipe them away as you ride Karkat’s warmech, your beloved hate beneath you in the cockpit of his silly, dangerous little robot, plodding along slowly and powerfully. You are so nervous and so fraught with worry that your damn sword cane’s handles are cracking under your grip- sheer mind-blowing fear, that the one thing you have always wanted was given to you just to be taken away.

                (Please, please, let Vriska be alright. Hope against hope, be alright, my palest, my bright little spider. Be okay.)

                In its own way, fear for her helps. You aren’t focusing on the fact that Nepeta’s gone and the only thing anyone’s gotten out of Equius is a sort of roaring noise as she tears through mutants, or that Gamzee’s apparently under mind control (Vriska’s, you wonder?). Karkat’s noticed, but he’s been able to channel his worry for Gamzee and Nepeta both into a towering rage you’ve never seen him in before- he’s angrier now than he’s ever been, so fucking furious that the shit has stayed on the handle out of pure terror. Your black has finally become what he always pretends to be- he always acts like he’s the wrath of the Angeless, but you, much like everyone else who’s ever known Karkat for more than a sweep, know that he’s actually the gentlest troll in the Empire.

But right now, he actually is so psychotically angry that, for just a moment, you are a bit… spooked… of him.

You reach a spot with two left turns, and the map identifies it easily enough- here’s where you thought last orders should be given. Just one big room now between you and Kanaya’s big central chamber, where she is waiting with your beloved on a cross.

(Tavros informed you in clipped, furious tones. Only knowledge of what Vriska did to deserve this keeps you from sharing his blind rage.)

                “ Everyone,” you announce into the onboard systems, and are thankful that you are such a naturally controlled person that none of your worry comes out in your tone. “ It’s time. Advance, advance. This is our only opportunity- and we’ll encounter heavy resistance. Nepeta’s been abducted, but Equius is going after him, he’s our first priority.”

                Angeless help you but Nepeta’s worth more than Vriska, your beloved Vriska, is.

                (I’m so sorry)

                “ Vriska’s second priority, killing Kanaya’s third. Keep it going and keep it moving, because this is the only shot we’ve got- trust your instincts. Save them first, don’t you dare get bogged down fighting. Snatch and grab! Retreat if pressed and we’ll return with troops.”

                You almost click off, then, but another thought occurs to you, something appropriate that needs to be said now, before it was too late. They are your friends, no matter how odd you really are, how separate you usually are- you don’t connect with others usually, but you know these people and you care about them, from the yucky mustard of Sollux who is very nice and an asshole at the same time, down to Equius, sweaty, perverted, weird, and with a heart as big as her muscles. You do care, and you won’t lie and say you’re surprised because if you think about it you have cared about them for a very long time. Even Aradia, who’s kind of a dick.

You should say something now, before the coin lands and you see if it’s heads or tails, life or death.

                “ Angeless be with you. Good luck.”

                Fair enough.

                With that, Karkat kicks it up a gear and charges onward, into the next room, Kanaya’s antechamber, and… oh fuck. You are, without preamble, thrust into the fight of your life. Mutants, well-trained mutants, are everywhere. As battle is joined, Karkat says nothing, goes completely quiet as he lashes out with claws going snicker-snack and grab and catch, a silently furious god smiting sinners. You dance off of him, sword cane snicker-snack through necks- duck, fire coming from above and all around, a raging inferno, fire’s always been the madness of light and it’s all around you. You slide on the filth-slick floor under a fireball and with a single stroke take the head off the troll spitting it, then jump and kick his body into another one, running after it to stab through the corpse into the fresh flesh beneath it, troll shishkebab. Two down, but you hadn’t had time to breathe in-between- you pause and take in a deep sniff.

The tunnel air’s a superheated mess, but you can still breathe and you can still smell- ten more trolls but seven are moving, withdrawing, a fighting retreat. Karkat’s caught between the last three, because he’s a berserker, not a tactician, the crab tank metal protesting as it’s lit up from three sides that swirl about him, dodging hammering claws.

                Gogdam idiot, you think, and there’s an odd smile on your lips, adrenaline and amusement at your black’s predicament pushing away worry for a brief second. You run forward, the trio making roasted crab are not paying attention to you- but the group that’s retreating lobs shots at you, so you stick to cover, run as fireballs rain down, your feet flicker swift and sword at the ready.

                The group who are probably already wondering if they have enough butter for all this delicious red crabtroll are doomed by their own success- over the roaring of their fires, they can’t hear their comrades yell for them to look behind themselves, and their backs are all turned towards you.

                You stab one in the back swift as death, have an odd moment to remember that you planned to murder Vriska this way, but you shove it aside as you rip the blade out and give another one a sideways body swipe that leaves him choking to death on his own blood. Before he even hits the ground you’ve driven the sword in another one’s neck, and all three die never seeing their killer. You roll even as you stab, sure the group at the back of the room is already firing shots-

                But there is a scream of hot metal on stone, and Karkat, in a moment of what, for him, is unmitigated battle brilliance, throws a giant rock at the group and smushes all of them.

                He also smashes your only route to Kanaya,as the rock impacts with the walls and brings them all tumbling down in a barrage that turns the entrance into rubble and stone. This prompts the biggest “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU” you’ve ever heard him emit, which is quite a feat, and a few minutes later you realize you are completely cut off on this route. Quickly you make an alternate route and begin heading that way, a back entrance you had initially avoided because it was so much longer, and sure to be guarded. You curse softly as you head off into the dark, haranguing Karkat with invective he receives in silent agreement, cursing his past self’s stupidity.

                You wonder how Vriska’s doing.

THE SCORPION

                Kanaya and her mutant trolls kill the squeakbeasts quickly enough- you’re not sure why Terezi sent them, it seemed kind of pointless from yourposition.

(Also, one of the room’s doors crashed in a minute later or something, and Kanaya spat some orders real quick, but you were sort of in the middle of passing out and don’t remember much about that.)

Admittedly, yours is not a position conducive to making strategic judgments, since it consists of  “nailed to a cross, missing an eye and an arm, which means one of the nails is in my fucking shoulder, I’m in a lot of pain, and I can’t go unconscious because Kanaya thoughtfully tied me with silk to the cross so the weight of my body only barely crushes my lungs making it really hard and painful to breathe, and she apparently has a mediculler degree because I’m hooked up to some fucking IV or something that’s keeping me alive which really fucking sucks, thank you very much.”

So, yeah, maybe you’re not in the best position to judge Terezi’s tactical brilliance… and maybe you wouldn’t be able to assess your palest’s actions even off the cross. For all you claim the spider, you’re not one- a spider builds, a spider plots, a spider traps. You crush, you smash, you destroy… you’re a scorpion, more crushing claws and brutal stings than entrapping webbing and sneaky bites.

                In point of fact… as Kanaya turns back to you with those glowing, enraged eyes, you think that Kanaya is the true spider here, the weaver. She has trapped you, and she is trapping your friends.

                (If you were not in so much pain right now, you’d think it was kind of funny that you, of all people, are cocooned in silk. Irony’s a bluh bluh huge bitch.)

                “ Your friends,” Kanaya says to you, voice a low smolder, “ will die for this. Bathing me in, in vermin… disgusting! I’m going to kill them all, Vriska, and I’m going to make sure you watch.”

                She turns away from you, mastering her rage with a visible effort as she brushes the last few pieces of dead, splattered rat off of her outfit, and all you can think of is the other time you saw her turn away, the last time… when she died. You still remember the horror of it, mind controlling her on reflex, and ruining your new life in moments, Spidermom had just died and you were so free, but then Kanaya kissed you and you didn’t want her too, and you did what you always did when things happened that you didn’t like- you used your powers to make them stop.

                And now she’s come back to kill you.

                …You always knew you’d never be free.

                (Count the years, you always knew it. Someday, someone would kill you for your crimes, and an eye and an arm aren’t enough to pay for it no matter what Terezi thinks.)

                At least you got two of your quadrants filled first. You grab onto that thought and raise your head to Kanaya with a (very forced) smirk on your bleeding face. You can’t fight her, ‘cause she kicked your ass pretty good when she jumped you and Tavros with her goons and now you’re kind of immobile, and you can’t mind whammy her because, as she gloated to you, she’d prepared very well for that possibility- her and all of her mutants are totally immune, as are her non-mutant companions, you’re not sure how, probably drugs- but she left your mouth free. You can try to help your friends with that damn mouth that won’t shut up, even if nothing else.

                (It’s a false courage but you can’t let them down. The man you love and the woman you love, too, in a different way. Maybe it’s all love in the end, even the black… and your other friends are a form of love, like a disease that worms its way past all your pain to infect you with happiness. You have to help them if you can.)

                “ She’ll kill you first,” you sing-song. “ Strike aaaaaaaall the matches you want, Kan-kan, put all the irons in all the fires you can handle, but it won’t matter. You’re fighting the Angeless’ descendant, the Sufferer reborn, the Summoner’s kin… real badasses. And what are you going to do, kill Karkat? Your ancestor fucking raised him, you’re his goddamn lusus!”

                Kanaya chuckles darkly at that. “ Oh, Vriska. Still caught up in your childhood dreams. You do know we aren’t our ancestors, right, dear?...”

Reaching down, she pulls your head up to look in her eyes, her terrible clear eyes, so full of purpose and so pure in their will. It was the gaze of the fanatic who has passed beyond sound and fury into silence and focus, who serve their god in calmness and not in rage.

And Kanaya had made a god of herself. She looks deep into your eye, searching for something there, and you desperately wish you could hock up a loogie to spit on her but it hurts to breathe, your voice a wet whisper even you barely hear.

“ No,” she whispers slowly, looking into your one eye. “ No, I don’t think you know that. Do you want to know why, Vriska? Why you, alone of all trolls, are so hung up on your ancestor?”

Fucking hell you know that answer already.

(A lost little girl, scared, horrified, covered in blood blood on her hands blood on her clothes blood on her mind just trying to scrub away the pain, has to be something, gotta be something that makes you better than this, more than this, greater than all the killing you’ve had to do. A book and a story about a wonderful ancestor, a book you never told Spidermom about because you were desperate to have something that was yours and not tainted by association with her. Yes, Kanaya, I am very well aware of why I am the way I am.)

“ I am well aware,” you manage to say, and give a weak little spit that she grants a condescending smile too as it spatters to the floor.

“ Poor Vriska,” she says, unbearably cruelly, drawing the words out like a sword. “ I wonder if Tavros knows that you pushed him.”

You snap your gaze up. How?...

“ It was easy enough. Reports that Sollux had been mind-controlled, had pushed Tavros; interesting. Who is near Tavros that I know, from rather… personal experience… can mind control?”

She flares up brightly at that, pure white wrath. You flinch from her involuntarily, but she continues speaking without bothering to notice you.

“ And the official report, why, that just sealed it. Poor sweet Terezi-idiot fool Terezi- she has been pale for you for so long. Taking her fucking eyes out didn’t change that. She writes a report that commends you for, oh, how did it go? I believe it was ‘by the loss of an eye and an arm, was able to eliminate the threat to both others and herself.’ Simple, obvious. Desire for you dripping from the page.”

She clucked her tongue, a schoolfeeder disappointed in her pupil. “ Pathetic. You’ve always been so lucky, Vriska. So much power, so many friends… but don’t worry. Every luck has to balance out somewhere, and you’ve had your fun. You’ve had your run.”

She lets out a happy sigh and turns away, heading to her commandamant console. “ But to deal with your previous question… yes, I’ll kill High Lord Vantas, and I won’t think about him ever again afterwards. That my ancestor raised his means nothing to me. They all die, Vriska. I will cut Tavros in half in front of you, leave him a crippled wreck again- just the way you like him, apparently- and then I will stab him with his own lance, Vriska, let him bleed out so slowly in front of you. And Terezi… Terezi I will burn and burn again. Though, on second thought, perhaps I will let her live, sopor-addled, a pet for Gamzee; she’s always had a fondness for him in his guise as the Clown, and it will amuse me to give her as a gift to him. And considering I’m removing Equius by having Gamzee choke her to death, well, it only makes sense to gift him a replacement matesprit.”

She chuckles. “ Everyone dies, Vriska, everyone but you… and in my new Empire, you will wish a thousand times a thousand times that youhad passed on with them.”

She says it with such conviction that for a moment you see it, the world she will make, and all your friends dead and you to blame. You can’t speak for a moment.

(Please please no, I knew it would kill me but not them, they’re innocent, don’t let my sins be put on their backs)

                She reaches her console, and the troll busily clearing vermin out from beneath it and fiddling with some wires. “ Status report.”

The informasochist looks up at her and says, with a worried tone, “ Umm, my lady? The comm system’s busted. The squeakbeasts ate the wiring.”

                She blinks. “ What?”

                The mutant troll continues, saying, “ Umm, I can’t… I don’t have the parts to fix this… and it appears a lot of them died eating the bees I was using to keep the security systems online. We don’t have any eyes and we don’t have any guns. And, uh, the vox system is busted, so we can’t communicate anymore.”

                “ Ha!” You goad, mocking her with courage you don’t feel, and needing to say something after the terror you felt at her speech. “ Real great plan, Kan. Beaten by a bunch of fucking vermin.”

                She pulses, bright-white, turns to you and for a second you think, Well, I’m fucking toast. You’re surprisingly okay with it, as Aradia would say, because it means Kanaya will be more worried about stabmurdering you than doing it to your friends.

                (And being left behind would be the real torture. As much as the torture scares you, knowing that you would be left alive was infinitely worse.)

Then, to your irritation, she calms as suddenly as she raged, speaking to her servant. “ Do what you can. First priority is the guns. Everyone, move into the secondary defensive positions, we can’t count on fire support. Make ready to abscond from this room using the back tunnels, I think we still have the advantage but there’s no need to lose anyone. When Gamzee finally gets here, send him to me, and be immediately ready for Equius to assault that door, she was right behind him when last he checked in. Eridan, you and Feferi are back here with me. I want horrorterror support and a sniper, and you should both prepare yourselves.”

                She continues to speak, to command, this tall, dangerous troll who only looks like the Kanaya you killed so long ago- never grew up, apparently, because death keeps you from aging. A teenager in form but she commands like an elder. She has changed so much.

                (All your fault.)

You look at this woman you have created, unable to think of anything more to say. Oh Kanaya. Kanaya I’m so sorry.

                (It doesn’t matter but you… you’re sorry, Terezi was only your moirail for one fucking night but you’ve always thought about her, and justice, and right and wrong. Your own murders have never sat well with you. I’m so sorry, Kanaya.)

                You just hope your friends know what they are doing, and struggle to remain awake enough to help them when the time comes.

 

THE ARCHER

                The troll explodes as you toss the brick through him, already leaping and hammering anything else in your way, desperate to save your moirail.

                Nepeta.

                (How could you forget yourself? How the fuck- and for once you don’t bother to correct yourself, too worried to care- could you just… just let him be taken like that? Equius, you fucking idiot!)

                Trolls, trolls everywhere. Mutants with fire in their blood, light eating up everything- fire spat from mouths or summoned from hands. You are covered in supporating burns and you do. Not. Care.

                (All this strength means nothing if you don’t… don’t save him. He saved you, that’s not how it works! You save him, but he offered his neck to Gamzee in exchange for yours and your deranged sorta-maybe-kind of matesprit dragged him off and left you there, gasping and shaking from sexual revelation. You have often been annoyed or irritated by your overcharged libido, but only now are you ashamed of it. Of yourself.)

                You grab two trolls in your titan hands, and you crush them to shining blood paste- and horror of horrors, they are off-spectrum, and not in the holy way of Karkat Vantas or the other rare, Church-protected mutants. They are off-spectrum in some… some engineered way, a primordial sin against the hierarchy that has so defined your life, and the tiny part of you that is not consumed with worry for Nepeta (and hatred for yourself) is disgusted by their existence, and feels good to be tearing them apart.

                Fires lash at your side; you roar and slam a meaty paw down on the offender, and while the warriors here are fast and well-trained, you are Equius Zahhak, and you are the end of the world when you want to be.

                (When his life is on the line. So much strength… and yet you have always failed him. Darkleer failed the Disciple when he killed the Signless, when he made him the Sufferer. You just now failed him... no, no, no.)

                You have never raged like this before, never felt your lowblood pulse so STRONGLY in your veins. You are a blur of muscle and mass, your ponytail flopping about as you slam through the small squads trying to stall you as Gamzee rushes towards some goal in the distance. Your flying lanterns can barely keep up, and it turns the battlefield into a nightmare of darkness and light- hot bright flashes of fire contrasted against pure black, dim lights flickering over shining puddles of blood on the ground for a second before passing on, shadows cast madly against the walls for brief moments in your battles. Lucky blows land and you ignore any pain. No, no, no. Not him. All your strength you would trade, your life you would trade, don’t let him be hurt.

                (You forget yourself for a second and you doom him. A lifetime of service, from grubhood, wasted in a moment of weakness. You are a fool. And you are crying and you do not know it.)

                Fires burn your flesh and roast your fat to sizzle, but medicruelty devices embedded in your spine that you designed heal you of the worst effects and give you drugs to counteract others, and you continue barreling forward, ever onward, to find your palest.

                (I’m so sorry, please, Angeless, don’t let him die)

                You catch a tiny glimpse of an illuminated figure, and leap so STRONGly after it that you tear new tunnels in the sewers with might alone.

                (You are yelling his name, and it is another thing you do not know.)

 

THE SEA-GOAT

                Equius is making the sewers fucking rumble with every movement (Messiahs help me messiahs help me MESSIAHS help ME), and what’s left of you that’s all motherfucking you wants to stay. She’ll smash your head in pretty easy now, you think, you’ve hurt her moirail and she CAN’T let THAT shit ABIDE, she will not MOTHERFUCKING ABIDE that shit, and you’d love to have her do it ‘cause you ain’t getting to the Dark Carnival unless somebody can tear this light out of your veins. You’re low lowblood, nearly seadweller, and it isn’t right for you to have this gleam licking through your soul. Light spoiled the new universe right from the start and it’s spoiling your soul like a drop of white lusus milk poured into fine black Faygo cola.

                Unmotherfuckingfortunately, an unwieldy word if there ever was one (and you wonder if it should have hyphens, because your motherfucking think pan has always been a mixture of weird and what the fuck), the part of that’s still motherfucking you isn’t in control right now, no, there’s a Goddess with a foot on your throat in the form of a pair of fang marks on your neck and she’s whispering orders to you, get back with the prize, return to me with the Hierarch and the images you’re seeing through the sympathetic blood throb in your mind are so unpleasant that you almost let Nepeta go, ‘cause what she’s going to do to him is just a motherfucking tragedy, it ain’t down with the clown at all and your gods are bastards, bastards, but they haven’t done to anybody what Kanaya’s gonna do to Nepeta. She needs to break a religion, after all, best to start with the Hierarch.

                (It’s what they did to the last Grand Highblood (your ancestor, a sin only Karkat knows, and which you keep so deep that even now you gotta wait until the hyphens are twofold to speak of it), broke him the way he broke the Sufferer, the Disciple laughing in his face at the end. Though he died well, so they say, laughed a last laugh after all. Even motherfucking assholes can get their moment to shine. Anyway the sheer horror of his death pretty much singlehandedly shattered the Cult of the Mirthful Messiahs, and you know without being told that it’s where Kanaya got the idea. History repeats and yours is the hand on the)

                Hierarch’s neck. Back to reality, the Goddess says calmly, because her joy is even and her wrath is calm… and worse for it. Fire was never meant to be so gentle when it burned, and there’s something of ice in that rainbow drinker. You zip back to her, running faster than even Equius can follow, especially because the trolls let you pass but set her on fire. They do a damn good job, too, dodging, burning, fighting against what might be the single most dangerous troll in all of the Empire and, though they’re dying, they are actually slowing her down. If the firearmurderers were working, the guns spitting bullets and missiles at intruders, they might even have a chance of killing her, which makes you wonder why the boss apparently turned them off. Maybe for the hell of it, you can’t motherfucking figure her out.

                (‘Cept to know she’s a  monster. You worship monsters, gives you a bit of a MOTHERFUCKING LINE ON ‘EM, the Messiahs you love cause it’s all blood when you get down to it BUT AT LEAST THEY DON’T PRETEND TO HAVE A POINT, at least it’s just for its own sake and you admire that HONESTY IN THE MOTHERFUCKERS. Kanaya not only has a point but she builds her life on it, the CRAZY BITCH. She’ll kill everyone and never blink, telling herself it’s because they deserved it. AT LEAST YOUR GODS ARE HONEST IN THEIR LOVE OF SLAUGHTER FOR ITS OWN SAKE.)

                But no matter the reason the guns aren’t firing, her troops die for it, and you run on, back towards the burning sun, wishing and praying that you never make it.

                (Please, don’t, don’t, this isn’t right, I know I’m fucking crazy but this time it’s something else, something inside that’s not me…)

                …The worst thing is, your own inner madness finds that hunger you feel, that lust for blood, very familiar, and that little part that’s still you gets a little bit smaller every time it notices how motherfucking delicious Nepeta smells.

                (blood BLOOD blood BLOOD)

                And it’s the damndest thing, but that thirst…

                It’s louder than Kanaya’s voice in your head.

                (honk HONK)

                You run and wish you were fleeing your own mind.

 

THE WATER-BEARER

                You fucking hate your life.

                No, seriously, this is awful. Your “moirail” is a lunatic rainbow drinker, a fucking rainbow drinker, those aren’t even real! Your matesprit, meanwhile, has also been turned into one, which hurts her- she’s hurting constantly, you’ve always been flushed and not pale but you spent so many sweeps as moirails that you are very well aware of what she’s like when she’s hurting and this light burns her on the inside. She’s water and darkness, she was never meant to shine.

                (But hey, at least she’s your matesprit! That counts for something.)

                And you’re  a goddamn rainbow drinker too! Except the power inside you is pushing back, and you feel like you’re caught between a light in your veins and a light in your soul, two radiances beating each other to death with you in the middle. It’s like two sun gods having a threeway and you get to be the meat in the middle, which… might actually be the most awful metaphor you have ever heard of, much less thought up personally. Anyway you’re getting slowbasted in their hot gooey sticky god love and you should seriously find another fucking metaphor, seriously.

This is all just so… fucking crazy. You’ve spent your whole life mocking magic and insisting on scientific explanations but tonight, you think you’re gonna throw all that out the window; tonight, you’re just gonna admit it to yourself. Magic’s real and it fucking hates you.

                Story of your life.

                “ So, umm, boss…” you say, as the Clown, who you’ve met twice now, huh, it’s almost like your fucking friends given how life’s been treating you so far, “ wwhat are wwe gonna do wwithout any guns or eyes? ‘Cause I hear explosions off in the distance, and they sure seem to be coming closer, and somebody broke one of our doors a few minutes ago.”

                Respectful, or at least as respectful as you can manage towards your… ugh… “palest”. Why the fuck are your diamonds always so motherfucking screwy? At this rate the fucking Clown will be your moirail next, and it’ll be an improvement over your other two tries at diamonds.

                She sighs, rubs her eyes after a quick check to make sure no one else is looking. You’re behind Vriska on the cross (and holy shit, there’s another one of your failed relationships, you’re just surrounded by the flotsam of your love life here; Vriska was a kismesis of yours, way back in the day, ‘cause you needed to steal troll kids and she needed to feed her mom and teaming up meant you could do it easier and with bigger hauls for you both), and the mutants are out front, while Feferi is busy chanting in a dark corner for help from some of her bigger, weirder friends. With no one around, Kanaya drops her insanely serious demeanor for a second, just for you. Kanaya is really serious about you being her palest, which you find mindblowing. Angeless’ tits.

                “ I’m worried,” she says flatly, and that worries you because your fortunes are tied directly to hers. “ I didn’t expect them to just go after my electronics. I knew Tavros could control beasts but I expected something more… direct. Aradia prefers brute force. Terezi must be in command, she was always the smart one, but I also knew Aradia didn’t like her… I figured she’d take over at the start of all this, not let the tealblood run things. Wish I’d known, we could have prepared.”

                …She’s worried, and you’re worried, and more to assuage your own self than her, you tap her on the shoulder, brush your fist against her in a quick tough troll’s reassurance, say to her surprised face, “ Hey, wwe got this, Kan. Wwe’re fucking rainboww drinkers, wwe’ll kill them and eat them for lunch. Err, supper, dinner, something.”

                She’s surprised at the quick touch, and you get the sudden feeling that it must have been sweeps since anybody’s touched her just for the hell of it like that, but then she smiles at you and says, “ Yes, I think we will. And breakfast, I think, it’s early in the night yet.”

                “ Fuck yeah,” you say, and twirl your wand a bit nervously, feeling a little bit better yourself. Oh yeah, you forgot to mention Kanaya’s the one who made your first laser wand. She’s been Feferi’s secret supporter for sweeps. Which means she’s been watching you for sweeps. Oh my fuck. Just… what the damn.

You mentally throw your hands up. Fuck it, you won’t even question it anymore. The new wand is a lot better than the old one, attuned to you and for you, a paleday gift, she said, a little dowry for her palest. It is the single creepiest thing you have ever heard of anyone doing, and you say this as a guy who used to make a profession out of stealing children.

                (Goddamn everyone you know is so fucking weird.)

                Your eyes glance to Fef, and you wonder if she thinks the same thing, sometimes.

               

THE FISH

                They don’t like it.

                Why would they? You are asking them to help light, and the horrorterrors belong to darkness. They even act weird around you, now, the tiny light leaking from you horrifying to them, and the thought tears you up inside- all you have ever done has been for them, and now they want to reject you. You almost weep at seeing their fear. All you’ve done, the children you’ve killed… all meaningless now, all worthless.

                But you fight on past the pain, not out of willpower but out of whipping- for the light inside you is hers, and the Mistress demands. Darkness, hounded by light, has no choice but to obey.

                (Even the tiniest candle can expunge the dark. The great secret of night has never been its strength but its weakness, its terror- it is only distraction, confusion, weakening of will that lets it beat light, and this woman has a will that surpassed death and suffering to make her powerful enough to take on the Empress Aradia and all her court, and stand a reasonable chance of winning. Against light such as this, you and yours stand no chance.)

                The lash leads you to ask again, in the blood of a mutant troll grub who cheerfully offered himself up to help “the Mistress”, and that creeped you out. You may be a child killer, but they have always kicked, screamed, fought. You have never had one smile as you slit his throat before.

                (You wonder about that. You kill children, Feferi, and this bothers you… hypocrite, are you not? But you try not to think about that. You are a gentle soul at heart, even if you are a… monster.)

                If you can only convince them to help…

                A few minor deities decide to involve themselves, agree to stick squishy fingertentacles into lower reality and, in polite terminology, break heads. They slurp and suck at the edges only, though, uncomfortable with coming too close to the shining beast that controls you now. Uncomfortable with you, too, but they apologize to the extent the concept means anything to them, and you forgive them. You hate it too, you can’t claim you don’t understand their fear.

What they find most interesting, though, that is a bit of a surprise. A few coil tenderly around the lusus in the back of the room, the titanic, elephantine bug that even now bears mutants in its womb. There are scars on her white flanks, marks cut all over her in a multitude of forms from experiments and implementations, and you shudder to imagine someone doing that to their own lusus.

                (You never had a lusus. The only one you could ever have died so many sweeps ago even the memory of its death is a myth. You were raised by fellow tyrantbloods who remembered that your ancestor was the last Empress of the seas, who hoped against hope you could be their salvation. In your own way, you are the greatest secret of the Empire- the Condesce’s only descendant. You have dreamed of your lusus, you have wished for her, and the thought of someone willingly hurting their lusus sickens you, orphan and aware of it.)

                The horrorterrors don’t understand pain and suffering like mortals do, but motherhood, pregnancy, creation, that they understand, and they know that this creature suffers for creation’s sake and so they pity it, would pap and shoosh its pain away if they knew how.

                (They are odd, and not entirely unkind. If their morality could be translated into human terms, they would actually despise you for what you’ve done to summon them, for they are not indecent, they are not monsters, not by choice or even on purpose. They are simply so… different, as inutterably alien as Aradia’s day to day life would be to you, suffering seadweller scum, lowest of the low. The child killing only summons them because ending a young life is an act of death triumphant over life and they understand death, are drawn to it. They do not understand what it is you are doing, or they would object.)

                Your thoughts are interrupted by the Mistress. “ Ah, I see the horrorterrors have joined us. Any information on how they’ll act once a fight starts?”

                You’d lie, but the light wouldn’t like that- the mere thought makes your scalp burn a little. “ They’ll protect me above all else, but mostly they’ll stay away from you and smash or grab anything I point at.”

                “ Excellent. Stay back here with me and I’ll call targets. Eridan, anything the horrorterrors are attacking, fire on it- we’ll concentrate our blows.” Her tone is a lot like what you’ve imagined the Condesce must have sounded like, self-assured and powerful, though some of your research indicates with worrying consistency that your ancestor spoke rather more… coarsely than you’d originally imagined. Something about a thug life.

                “ Alright, boss.” Somehow she has not noticed how much Eridan hates calling her that, a small gift. Your… matesprit… is an idiot, but it’s working so far.

                (Matesprit after all this time, but not the way either of you wanted it… primarily because you didn’t want it, and he probably had some stupid scenario planned out in his head of a dramatic asking out. At least he does care about you, he has been more pale for you these past few days than he was during all of your moirallegiance, making sure you’re alright any waking moment that he’s not doing Kanaya’s whims. It is oddly… comforting. You would rather not love Eridan but in its own way that’s just how you distance yourself from your own slaughters, pin the crimes on his head so you don’t bear the shame, and that seems rather silly now that you have to drink blood to survive. You’ve both partaken, from willing mutants, who tasted so… oh god the hunger of it. Only the dark in your veins has saved you, the seawater dulling the sweet, making it not so bad. For Gamzee, without that salt to save him, the hunger is nearly all-consuming, and he will soon be madder than his ancestor ever was.)

                There is a murmur among the gathered mutants as the Clown enters the room, finally, and he is bearing a tiny figure in his arms. Kanaya turns to greet him, and Eridan goes to join her.

                You don’t notice because a horrorterror whispers an idea into your head.

if only you died, we could take the light from you but keep you as our servant in this realm, a shade of our darkness sent forth, ghost, alive but not alive… oh our Feferi, daughter of our dead emissary, they have poisoned your soul

…You give Kanaya’s back a toothy smile, even as the light in your veins sets your skin afire.

Then the door gets kicked in and a woman STRONGjumps straight at your little group.

 

D--> The STRONG f001 %es paths with the e%ecutioner

                You see everything through cracked lenses, busted in the fighting to a terribly ruined state, as dust flies through the room along with a shining trail of mutant blood because when you kicked the heavy vault door off its hinges you apparently brained someone with it. Through a large triangular piece in your left lens you see a glowing, aristocratic figure, a jadeblood if you aren’t mistaken; to her right is Gamzee and your poor sweet palest, and you see nothing else because you aren’t failing him this time.

                You leap straight at them, your STRONG leg working, and have enough time to be grateful you turned the strength inhibitors off when you entered the sewers       before you land with a thunderous blow right next to Gamzee.

                A laser bolt whizzes by your face as Gamzee runs away from you at a barked command from the aristocrat, and a square piece of your right lens frames the face of a rather toolish-looking seadweller holding a… wand or something. Another one is beside him, but no piece is big enough to see all of her, so you only see glimpses in the cracks- but that is irrelevant.

                (The aristocrat has not moved, in fact seems to be applying lipstick to herself. Confusing and irrelevant.)

                You leap after Gamzee again, confident that the seadweller’s toy is no worry for you. He has become a blur but you are almost as fast and you know from the war games that you have much better endurance than he does. He has crawled spider-like up one of the walls in the room (and didn’t you catch a glimpse of Vriska hanging on a cross in the back of the room as you jumped?), Nepeta dangling limp and unconscious from his right hand while his left clings to the rough sewer stones.

                You slam into the wall next to him, an impact so powerful that it buries your left fist and feet in the wall and give you a place to hold on. You reach across with your other hand, to grab Nepeta or, failing that, Gamzee, save your palest.

But even as you outstretch your hand, there is a blur of light dashing from where the aristocrat was up the wall, and a whirring noise that you jerk back from in reflex. A chainsaw rips through the wall where your arm once was, as Gamzee leaps away again, and you find yourself facing the aristocrat, roaring chainsaw in one hand, standing perfectly horizontal on the wall. She is glowing.

                …It can’t be, that’s a myth.

                “ Rainbow drinker?” you say stupidly, too surprised to be more eloquent. She grins at you, all fanged death.

                “ Yes,” she replies, and then a laser blast rips into your side. It hurts, surprisingly, most rayguns are little more than popgun toys to you but whatever that seadweller’s packing is strong enough to punch through a whale. You grunt and drop down, and after a second you stop your fall by slamming a fist into the wall, hanging there for a moment as rubble rockets out. A laser blast slams right below you- where you would have been in a moment. You leap off the wall and grab one of the stones you tore loose with your punch, spinning in the air with it and tossing it like a meteor released from the void. The deadly missile rockets towards the wand-waving lowblood… but then a fleshy something rips out of a shadow and blocks the shot, black blood splattering everywhere from the impact.

…The fiddlesticking fuck?

                As you stare in confusion, the light blurs back down and the whirring blades come with it. Snapping out of it you slam your hands together on that blade, catch the diamond saw between outstretched fingertips- a trick developed to fight Terezi in the wargames, so swift with her sword, and it saves your life. You see the gleam and realize the saw’s teeth are diamonds, and you also take a moment to realize that actually it’s really fashionably designed for your attacker’s outfit, which is kind of impressive considering it’s a chainsaw and all.

The whirring teeth are safely away from your face, and you are not attached to anything but the blade- the rainbow drinker will now have to bear your weight. You dangle in midair for a second, her standing on the wall, straining to hold your STRONG weight.

                Before you have time to think of what to do next, she comes up with her own plan- she leaps off the wall and somersaults over your head.

Normally this would not be dangerous, but, sadly, she is still holding her end of the chainsaw while she does so, and so when she spins, so do you- and your fingertips don’t make for the best grip in the world. You go flying off her chainsaw, flung across the entire room by her surprisingly enticing STRONGNESS (focus Equius), straight into what looks like a hole in reality to a dimension of tentacles and teeth.

…Oh dear.

Your flailing form is caught by massive, throbbing, vast, STRONG tentacles… oh dear, oh damn, it’s not the pain they’re promising you but something beyond pain and pleasure both, something where the two are the same (just like it is for you, there is something broken in you, born of lust, desire desire DESIRE, so STRONG, it corrupts everything about you…)

(…You would stay here, you would love to stay here, as they press on you and give you everything you have ever wanted, but… Nepeta.)

“ Nepeta!” You yell, and fight the bindings on you. For all your mistakes, all your lust, he is the one good thing you have ever done, the one pure thing, untouched by desire. You have to save him.

You punch and claw and bite with broken teeth, battling your way back to the tiny window to reality that still exists in this death dimension… and distantly, through that tiny window, you hear the sound of a door being kicked in.

                Your name is EQUIUS ZAHHAK, and you will not fail Nepeta twice in one life.

 

2hiit

                Whoa, this room is full of dudes. You turn off the face laser for long enough to figure out the best way to nuke the place, and almost immediately get attacked for it, fire flying at what’s left of your face. Damn these boys are quick.

                You duck behind Tavros’ tank, feel your kismesis’ guns a’pounding (damn that’s an innuendo), and circle up the side behind him to start face lazoring. You catch a vague glimpse of a big, muscly, sweaty form on the far wall covered in…

                “ Equiuth ith in the tentacleth,” you announce, and really fucking wish that your goddamn lisp was gone. You reach out with your mind to grab the pervert but something almighty slaps your mental hands back- shit. That was cold and wet and slimy all at once, like a hobo’s tentabulge, and coming from something that has been dead so long it is alive again, lived so long it is dead again, beyond all such concepts of existence.

                “ Get her out,” Aradia commands simply as she lashes a mutant to pieces at a blow. There is a bright shining light in the shape of a woman at the room’s center, and she’s doing something, and you can’t help but think hey boss shouldn’t we kill the giant glowy deathstick in the room’s center, but like hell you’ll disagree with the Empress. Awkwardly close as the two of you are, separated ever since the death of the girl she used to be to become the Empress, you know better than to question her command in battle.

                “ Exthtracting,” you thusly announce, and begin preparing to fire your laser, cut some of the tentacles open for her if you can’t just grab her- she’s doing a fine job you think, punching and slamming her way back towards all of you, though your depth perception’s shit right now so you can’t tell how close she is. Just one or two laser blasts, you think.

The ground, however, apparently took offense to that idea, ‘cause it chooses to open up right under your hacker ass and deposit you in a dark place full of tentacles that decide to wrap themselves around you in a manner most personal and uncomfortable. You end up firing your laser shots at random up into the air as you tumble, hitting the ceiling, breaking it to pieces and sending stones crashing down back in the real world- fuck you’d half caused a damn cave-in with your antics. The tentacles begin to choke you, wrapping tight around you.

                …Fuck this.

                “ Aradia!” you yell, as you spam lasers into the meaty mass, coughing on wet closeness. Son of an ugly bitch, you don’t know what this is but it’s wet and it’s touching you. Panic threatens to swallow your brain.

                Then psionic lashes whip downwards, ironblood in color, and the nightmares retreat as she tears them up. Thank fuck. Her voice, cold as dead ashes, speaks down calmly into the pit.

                “ Sollux, get out of there. New plan- attack the seadwellers near the glowing troll. The glowing troll is Kanaya, remember.”

                Oh fuck yeah, that’s a plan a brother can get behind. You fly up, free of tentacles, and decide, hell yeah, things that are not tentacle monsters are a lot easier to kill.

                (Oh Angeless they were all around you)

You watch Aradia send a single long whip towards Equius, wrap around her, and pull her bodily out of the dimension of dead colors. Ok, maybe tentacle monsters aren’t that hard to kill for some people- but then again, the Angeless’ own descendant would be the best person to fight monsters, really. Equius gets dragged near Aradia and Tavros, who is doing one-man army duty with his flying tank, just running dudes over and firing pretty much at random.

(Equius takes a moment to nod her thanks before roaring and starting to slam dudes to pieces. Aradia’s right with her and they look so beautiful that way, the elegant Aradia and Equius’ vastness. Equius and Aradia are black for each other, the worst-kept secret in the kingdom other than Gamzee’s secret nature as the Clown, which is something you find hilarious, but you find everything kind of funny. You are, after all, sort of a dick.)

You fly up to see what the room looks like- oh fuck.

You drop out of the sky as clubs wing towards you. Gamzee?

…Fuck!

“ Gamzee!” you yell. “ Guys, we got Gamzee coming after us!”

Equius roars and she’s off like a shot, Aradia right behind, swinging lashing yelling for her to come back. Gamzee’s in a crowd of firebreathing trolls and he’s just glinting and grinning that sick, insane grin, but for once Equius isn’t pulling her gogdamn punches, Aradia’s right there with her and Tavros is flying in to help… and you have the damndest feeling it won’t help much. Gamzee was always deadly and he always hid it- but if Equius isn’t pulling punches, he won’t either. Even as you watch he dances between blows, swinging a hammer heavy enough even Equius is dodging it rather than blocking, stone shattering as the Zillyhoo weight hits. Aradia cuts dudes in half and Tavros fires shells that Gamzee dodges so quickly he’s just a gleam of light, Equius’ own attacks rocking the room and making the ceiling crumble even more. Fucking ceiling isn’t going to hold at this rate.

A laser beam blasts into the melee, barely missing Tavros, and you remember you have a job to do.

You glance up at the room’s ceiling in worry one more time and then scan the room. There’s Vriska, stuck to a damn cross, poor bitch, and near her the seadwellers, a pair of them in the back of the room, now on top of some rubble from the roof, a sniper’s nest, with a few scattered mutants near them. You don’t see High Queen Glowy Woman, and notice that both of them are barely glowing- rainbow drinkers too?

                Eh, fuck it. Kill ‘em all and sort it out later. You look at the roof above their heaeds and smile.

Shoop da whoop.

                You fire a laser at the roof above the seadweller’s heads. Stone descends in lethal arcs, and you twirl through the air following them as they dodge- one poor bastard in their little group doesn’t make it and he goes splat, but the two seadwellers are fine. One waves a stick at you, what is he doing-

                The laser hits you right in the face, centered on the one goddamn eye you have left. You tumble screaming and blind.

                Your name is SOLLUX CAPTOR, and fuck, your face!

 

Br8k H8ds

                Sollux.

                Sollux is falling hurt but Sollux is, also, vulnerable to mind control, and you may be bleeding down and damn near out but you wouldn’t have survived being a wriggler if you weren’t the single most stupidly determined, impossible to stop huge bitch on the planet.

                So you grab his fucking mind and fang the shit out of it.

                You’re in, and he’s so badly hurt it’s not like the first time, all afloat on his power- it’s undirected and aimless. Aradia’s distracted by Gamzee pulling something out of his ass that hits like a meteor, sends everyone flying with a massive pressure blast, Equius barely stays standing with the clown in the room’s middle and Tavros- Tavros!- goes flying away even in Rufio, but he catches himself with the gun, shoots it and stops his forward momentum and splatters some dudes. He is only down a moment before he is flying over to save Aradia, downed in a group of trolls.

(You’re so proud of him. He’s finally become who you always knew he could be. You love him. You love him so much, and you don’t deserve him but he thinks you do.)

Equius goes back to the fight slugging it out with Gamzee and impossibly she lands a blow, sheer chance gives her a shot and even Gamzee has to fucking feel it when gogdamn Equius Zahhak lands a punch. The Clown goes flying and Equius bellows, jumps right after him to finish the fight.

Her impact shakes the roof, shakes stones loose, and you know what you are going to do with Sollux’ mind.

If you can just get him to focus past the pain.

                Quickly you make him stop falling, grab him with his own power. He lets you do it without even a squeak of protest because it saves him, and because he’s so dazed he thinks it’s Aradia holding him up. You lash out with his power, pull the nails out of your limbs, and you nearly black out- oh fuck, they had barbs, it hurts- but you fall to the floor in a splash of springblood and you stay conscious and in control of his mind. You wing the nails into the nearest mutant throats with his power and then you start the final act of this little show- you do precisely what Sollux was doing before his unfortunate wounding (and oh fuck you think he’s been blinded, completely this time, but now is not the time to worry about that.)

                You are a rogue of light on all the death inside him, he is doom, he is the end of all things and he comes bearing a scythe in his hands, a flute that plays dirges alone. He is so powerful and he doesn’t even know it.

                But you dance before him.

                (Follow the light, follow the light, pied piper, spider weaving traps- holy shit, maybe you can be clever after all, follow me Sollux, follow the light)

                You pull him together so he can pull it down. His mind coalesces, he knows it’s you and that’s awful but you don’t have time to worry about it, just… please, trust me trust me trust me

                (He reads your mind first and you tell him everything as quickly as you can. It’s a two way street and you let him ride roughshod down it, show him everything… and after a moment, trust you he does. It’s a gift, pure and simple; he lets you keep control.)

                You reach up with this given power and you bring the motherfucking roof crashing down on your own head. There is a noise like the end of the world as the roof finally gives in, and rocks start crashing down.

                (And with your last act you throw Sollux back towards Aradia and Tavros with his own power, grab Equius too with his mind, and snatch Nepeta out of the little alcove they stuffed him in while Equius was getting eaten by tentacles. You saw them do it, they forgot you were there on the cross, but you saw and you save him. There is a tunnel unhurt and they can get to it in time.)

                You save everyone worth saving down here, throw them back towards Aradia and Tavros with Sollux’s power. You do not save yourself.

                (This is a just death. Perhaps heroic, too. You die because with you dead Kanaya won’t need to kill them, maybe her vengeance will be stopped, or sated, or at least stymied. You die for sins you committed, and you die saving the lives of your friends… yes, this is a just, heroic death. Better than you deserved.)

                You let yourself go, finally begin to pass out, to die in your sleep.

                (And the last thing you feel is Sollux’s power, pulling you out of there to come with them.)

                Your name is VRISKA SERKET, and you know nothing more until you awake in a hospital recuparoon with a little yellow note on the bedside that says “ii forgiive you”.

 

THE QU----EN OF S)(ADOWS!

                The roof is falling in on you, and you run, frantic, as horrorterror tentacles try to become a makeshift roof over you head, hold it open for you. Kanaya recognizes a doomed battle when she sees one, and frankly she did not expect such a mad suicide tactic as dropping the roof on their heads- but then, who would? The rainbow drinker flees before the little group, scouting a route down the back passages that remain open, taking as many mutants as she can with her and getting her tormented lusus to trudge along as well, though Gamzee has disappeared on all of you- something about the last blow Equius gave him, rattling something in his thinkpan until it was free. She is annoyed but surprisingly calm. It is infuriating, to see this woman who has hurt you so much be so casual about her loss here today.

                “ Wwhy are you so calm, boss?” Eridan asks as he jogs along behind her, because he is an idiot and can never keep a question inside himself. Sometimes you wonder how he managed to avoid telling everyone he knew that you were a cultist. “ Figured you’d be angrier about losing your big chance to wwreck Vvriska’s shit.”

                Kanaya smirks at him, though her face soon settles back into quiet wrath.” I am angry,” she said politely, moving like a quicksilver bolt through the steadily collapsing tunnels, on a winding route that will circle back and connect to one of the tunnels that Aradia and her goons came through. It’s the best route out, and they won’t expect it, though you don’t think she’s thinking of an ambush with her vastly depleted forces. “ But flying into a rage doesn’t get me any closer to killing her, and might stop me from making it out of here at all. It will be… easier… to go after her again after we wait, and after the new troops are born and ready. Time is on my side, after all-and perhaps this was necessary. I should have just killed her, not wasted time on torture.”

                She frowns, and Eridan taps her shoulder in an awkward soldier’s pap. “ Hey, at least you hung her on a cross for a bit.”

                She smirks at that, but further conversation is cut off by screams from the front. The first group, barely ahead of your little pack, had finally made it to the tunnels- and there is a horrid screaming sound from up there, accompanied by metallic sounding crashes. A voxed message resounds in the deep.

                “ This is the policeradicators! Surrender or die!”

                …The fuck? Kanaya whispers something, it sounds like “Pyrope…” and then she’s off like a shot towards the front.

                “ With me,” she says simply, and you follow, weapons at the ready. The horrorterrors are so weak in this realm, and were hurt so badly by that lashing whip (her her her it’s her she bears the flame the seed of light she consumes us within queen of all angels) that they’ve mostly left, but there’s one or two still willing to tentacletorment for you, and you send them forth after whatever that damn noise is as you race after your unwanted Goddess.

                (Part of you wants them to just kill you but you can’t order them to do it, the mere thought hurts, you could only… you’ll have to go at it sideways, get someone else to do it)

                Your eyes flicker to Eridan, watch his back a moment as you run forward.

                (He’s a little more free than anyone else here… maybe maybe maybe)

                Before you, a silent titan, is a giant lobstrosity, a crabeast the likes of which you have never seen. It is all blood-red metal, decorated in sign and symbol of fire and Empire, a torchbearer mocking the water by taking on the appearance of one of its creatures. The interlocking signs of Cancer greet you, the sign of the Signless (irony itself), going into each other, tide going out and returning, sex with both giving and taking at one time.

                You are enraged by it, and barely see Kanaya and someone else at the base of the tank, dueling one another with a sword and a saw.

                “ GIVE ME GAMZEE!” a voice bellows from the tank, one you have heard over the televiolator a time or two, making official public speeches for the Empire.

                Him.

                (It all started with him and olive, red and green, the path that led you to right now, all these years down the line.)

                The light doesn’t even have to tell you to yell, “ Kill him!”

                The horrorterrors leap to obey. Tentacles wrap around mech legs, and though he crushes and smashes, it’s not enough. Guns go off, he roars but you’ve got the Sufferer’s descendant in your grip, you can kill him, some good is coming out of all of this.

                You have him.

                You don’t know you’re laughing until one of the horrorterrors begs you to stop.

                Beloved daughter of the dead stop stop stop too bright shining stop

                “ Crush him!” you scream madly, ignoring it, too high on what you’re doing. Fire killed water now water kills fire kill him kill him

                (what will his blood taste like what will his blood taste like, infected by light but maybe there’s a bit of a shark in you too, eat him alive)

                You have suffered so much while he has sat in his ivory tower eating his full meals, let him eat this, let him suffer for this, make mockery of his bones and his form. You can feel your mind growing, you are a queen of shadows, you will…

                …What the glubbing fuck are you doing?

                You snap out of it, unaware that you’d been laughing again. Oh. Oh no. Mother forgive me what am I doing, the light’s killing me inside…

                Our daughter daughter slipping away dying

                You still want to eat him. You want to bend him down and swallow him in whole meaty chunks with wet ripe blood dripping red down your front. But you know that’s wrong, you… you aren’t a monster, or you are but never without reason! For bigger things…

You shake yourself, and now you’re crying, facing away from the crabtank busted by tentacles but you think Karkat’s not quite dead, see him moving (as Kanaya and Terezi dance, beautiful dance, no one interfering because even Kanaya’s practical mind cannot quite justify interrupting this with others, one perfect pure duel). You don’t really see any of it, too busy crying and screaming. You were never meant to be a rainbow drinker and the conflict between the light and the dark is driving you insane.

“ Fef!” Eridan. Of course. He is a rock you hate and cling to at the same time. He has always been there. At this moment, you are suddenly flushed for him, you suddenly really do love him; he has always been there, and for all his stupidities and weaknesses, somehow that dependability is counting for more than all the mistakes.

He grabs you, shakes you, doesn’t know how to comfort but he’s trying. You grab his shoulders.

“ Eridan, I can’t,” you whisper, still weeping tyrantblood. You are so tired, you are suddenly exhausted, all you are is in revolt against itself. You are trapped in a civil war in your own body and the only escape is to not be in your body anymore. “ Eridan, Eridan, Eridan.”

You kiss him. It is the first time you have ever wanted to kiss him. He tastes like surprise and your own salty tears, dribbling down your lips. He tastes like loyalty and love. You are completely insane.

(He tastes like hope.)

He stares at you blankly, you’d laugh but sob instead. “ I have to die.”

The light hurts, tries to break you from saying it but you are in so much pain already it backfires, means nothing. Your insides are tearing themselves apart. You owe the Signless’ descendant this, at least, that the emotional outburst you felt on seeing him has shown you just how deep the flaws are running. You can’t take another day another second of this undying life, this living death. Let the darkness take you, you want to go home, you want a lusus who loves you and a peaceful little home with cute little cuttlefish to play with, you want something you have never had and that has never existed. You want to die.

“ Help me,” you beg him, and kiss him again… and out of the corner of your eye you see Kanaya’s lusus.

And in memory of your own lusus, dead all these long millennia, you stumble to your feet and line yourself up perfectly with Kanaya’s tortured matriarch.

“ Free us,” you ask him, the lighthouse on the shore, begging him to guide you home.

 

Alwways and forevver for you, Fef

                There is nothing for you but this moment, no sun in your veins, no battle raging down the hall, no mutants near you, just you and Feferi and your wand, so fucking heavy, her and sweet eternity.

                Kill her? Oh, no.

                “ Fef,” you say, but then you choke because she asked you to, and… and you love her.

                (There is nothing good in you but this. You truly love her.)

                Love wars with love, the desire to keep the loved one and the desire to set her free, but your love was never about chains; you never wanted to change her, just for her to love you. And your own selfishness, your own lack of care, is salvation; for when the war is over you know what you have to do.

                 And you are grateful, grateful, that here at the last, the light in your veins will save your beloved darkness. You are no longer worried about why light burns in your veins. This is why. She needs it now.

                “ I love you Fef,” you say, and with a single effort of will you blaze, reach down inside to that furious power that calls itself Hope.

( Hope, the mortal advantage, the spirit that transcends everything. You are floating flying illuminated, there is nothing you cannot see, cannot do, Kanaya’s light is poison and corruption and compared to yours it is nothing, you burn it out of you with all the force of every single sun in every single universe that has ever granted life to the worlds washed in their glow. This is power on a scale you cannot comprehend, you see a little alien girl with pink hair and a bow in her hands, you are a god in this second but Hope means that a second lasts forever if it needs to, can do absolutely anything it wishes to do. It is enough.)

                All eyes are on you, flaring with power in the shape of angel’s wings, and Kanaya sees you, and you wonder if she feels your release like a punch in the gut, your fangs retract and your skin stops glowing, she roars as she sees what you are about to do but she cannot stop you.

                (She turns with saw in hand. So much for being palest.)

                Feferi, and the tortured matriarch behind her, the poor pregnant beast that does not deserve this. A perfectly lined up shot, through Fef’s heart and the beast’s brain.

                You raise your wand up gently.

                (It is the hardest thing you have ever done.)

                She is upon you now, chainsaw in hands roaring down, over here in a flash because nothing is faster than light… but that’s a funny phrase, you are light too, and your light is faster than hers.

                Even as the saw roars down it is over. The bolt flies from your science-magic-whatever wand, and you are blessed enough to see Feferi smile as the bolt tears her body to shreds, slams into Kanaya’s broken lusus and blasts her brains out; in a single blow, you have set them both free. You have a second to see this, to feel proud and… hopeful? Why yes indeed, hopeful… and then your body is jerked sideways as Kanaya’s whirring blades cut you in half. Your top half goes off to fly spinning in the air, to land near somebody but you can’t see who it is and you don’t care, the horrorterrors are calling your name and for freeing their most beloved servant they will set you, shining little star, in the darkness with her forever. You can almost see her there, waiting for you, night awaiting day.

                A voice calls your name.

                Eridan Ampora… come, savior of my orphan child, come, we have a place for you here.

Your name is ERIDAN AMPORA, and you go out with a smile on your lips.

               

THE WORD OF GOD

                Kanaya cuts a motherfucker in half and she’s half-screaming half-mad, and your fucking tank’s busted, goddammit goddammit goddammit. She’s raging but Terezi’s hurt, hurt so very bad, the shitty little vampire was just toying with her down there, fucking with her. You’ve got to save her but out of this tank you’re useless and the tank’s useless too.

At least the tentacles retracted when that dude shot the girl, though what that was about beats you.

…Got to be something.

Half of a memory comes to you.

(It was said the Sufferer’s last shout killed the trolls standing nearest to him.)

You’ve always liked yelling. And the machine is broken but the speakers still work; and fuck, you have no other options.

…You wonder what it was he said, at the end, the last mystery no one knows. If only you knew, could it help? No other guns, you can’t fight, gotta be… gotta be something!

You wipe your nose without thinking about it, nose busted when one of the tentacles threw you around a bit. Your hand comes away sticky red… red…

The blood has always linked you to your ancestor.

Gamzee (sweet Gamzee) told you once that if you just thought about it, blood was everything; always had been. And he’d taught you a chant once, to connect with the past, said it was something he used to feel out the vibes of a place, whatever that meant…

Fuck it.

“ Whoop whoop. Whoop whoop. Miracles and madness, madness and miracles, it’s all the same thing, throw your science books away…”

…The fuck are you doing, this ain’t gonna work.

(But Kanaya is done being enraged, she zips over to Terezi, grabs her by the throat and picks her up to unveil a maw of deadly teeth, and the rainbow drinker is crying but Terezi spits in her face, brave girl, incredible girl, god you hate her, you hate her, and this is the only prayer you’ve got of keeping her alive)

And you, the living god reborn, pray to your enemies. God begs the devil for help.

“ Whoop whoop, please, help me-“

And maybe one of them laughed, because there is… something. A vision.

(A desert, a man in a cloak, he is tall and you know who he is because pictures of him adorn every building in the Empire. His horns are nubby and his blood is red.)

You are standing there, what the fuck is this… but even as you try to puzzle it out it starts to fade away, and you remember what Gamzee taught you. Don’t question it. It’s a miracle.

The desert solidifies again as you try to focus on not questioning it. You stare at him, across this vast red sand, red as your blood- your awful blood, because you are not worthy of this.

 (You have never been worthy to be this man’s descendant.)

You don’t say anything, but he kneels down to you- he is so tall, the records never said anything about this- and he touches your shoulder.

He smiles at you, gently, and then he hugs you. You stand stock-still, uncertain what this even means, or if it’s just the Messiahs having a laugh, or you’re just hallucinating.

He holds you tight, and he whispers a word in your ear..

                (It is not a word. Nothing this powerful can be a word.)

                And he pats you on the shoulder as he lets go, still smiling that gentle smile.

                (Maybe he has never thought you unworthy. Maybe it’s just you, Karkat… and wouldn’t that fit.)

                And in the real world, which you come back to so suddenly it is like waking with cold water on the face, you look up to see Kanaya bending over your struggling love, about to bite.

Your shit flies off the handle, with no more description than that because this is the true shit flying off the true handle and it doesn’t need any.

But you grab the microphone tight and shout what was whispered to you.

                Your name is KARKAT VANTAS, and you know the last thing your Ancestor said.

 

4ND WH4T C4M3 4FT3R

Report Number 1 (I replaced the first one because holy hell, we just stopped the end of the world, it deserves its own file system)

                I will never be able to explain what Karkat did.

                Oh, I can tell you what it resulted in easy enough, but what it was… it was a noise, the way a grub’s airgun can be considered a gun when compared to the main cannon on a battleship. It was a word, one I almost heard, but it was not a word, not in the sense of being language or even being a sound. It was a moment of fury so pure, so untouched or untamed by any other emotion, that it was obliteration, that it was death; it was the coalesced anger of every soul that has ever seen injustice done. It was… it was magnificent.

It was magnificent.

It didn’t touch me. It deafened me but I’m not sure that’s not from the effect it had on the rest of the room; whatever Karkat did, I don’t think it could have harmed me in any way but indirectly. I don’t think his ability works like that.

But I’m rambling. Whatever it was, it was perfect and pure and it demolished the room. It tore through Karkat’s speakers and they exploded but they did their job first, amplified it so much that it tore everything apart, left us unharmed and burst everyone and everything else up at the seams. Mutant trolls exploded, literally popped like- if you’ll excuse me some crudity- fucking balloons, while the walls all collapsed and the mech suit exploded off of Karkat like the fabled shit flying off the handle. I had to pull him out of there myself, a stray piece of roof conked him on the head, the damn idiot, though he recovered almost immediately.

                And Kanaya…

                Kanaya took the full force brunt of it. Last I smelled of her- and I couldn’t hear, the blast didn’t hurt us but it lasted forever and I couldn’t hear anything else over it- she was falling, falling down into darkness, a rift that had opened up in the floor.

                So much of my life has been watching that woman tumble. But as the first time was into light and unlife, so this time was into darkness and true death. Nothing on Alternia could have survived that shout.

                The rest of us made it out okay, wounds healable, except for Sollux Captor, who lost his remaining eye and is now being fit with electronics. We even acquired someone new, one of Kanaya’s supporters, one Eridan Ampora specifically, seadweller and criminal by trade. As Kanaya tried to kill him, I thought it prudent to recover him and use a medevice that survived Karkat’s mech’s destruction to keep him on the edge of life. He has since recovered and, while suicidally depressed from the death of his matesprit that he himself had to do, he has taught us much about Kanaya’s remaining organization. Aradia gave him a free pardon for all crimes, and he is recovering from his physical wounds in the castle.

                …We still haven’t found Gamzee. We search for him every night, but… a week later, it seems unlikely. A memorial service has been discussed.

                …I miss him.

                My name is TEREZI PYROPE, and I have a lot of paperwork to do, so I’ll sign off here- and go snuggle with my moirail, who we successfully retrieved.

 

2top hiittiing your2elf, 2eriiou2ly

                Unbelievably, that huge bitch Vriska got to walk around first. You aren’t hurt quite as bad, but they’ve also got to prep you for cybernetic surgery, and unlike Vriska you’re a highblood- you’re more delicate, need time to prep. You’ve only got crappy half-ok eyes in right now, barely able to see anybody, not anything like the awesome piece of tech Vriska’s got stuck in her head.

                (She’s been by to see you, thank you, cried a little. You laughed, big and hearty, and told her you were glad to have done it. You saw who she was when she was in your head, and why she did it, all of it, and… you forgive her. She tried to die for her sins, and you pulled her out of the grave and you don’t regret it. You’re a dick, but somewhere inside of you- probably in the part you inherit from the Psionic, your beloved ancestor-you are a hero, too, and that is another of the sacred dualities you keep inside yourself. It’s pretty nice to be you most days, really.)

                Anyway, you are in a bed attached to painkillers, which itself is in a room with Eridan Ampora, who was cut in fucking half, ain’t that something, and yet he lived. Lowbloods are tough, man. Medevices also really help. Besides Eridan, Vriska is still technically recovering, though she’ll be out in a few days. Terezi’s over there right now and the two are just nuzzling and papping the shit out of each other, seriously they are just pale smutting the place up right now, all up in each other’s grills and you’d swear they were into exhibitionism, just damn.

                (Vriska told Terezi, and Terezi thanked you too, said she owed you one. You’d laughed at that too. No, she really didn’t. After all the shit Vriska’s been through, a second chance sounds just fine… and who are you, but the god of two, the man to ask for seconds and bifurcations? Who else would give it to her, who else could? You are the man who has the power to grant second chances, and you give Vriska’s to her with no strings attached.... This painkiller has you so fucking high right now.)

                It’s an awkward situation, an open-air feelings jam, so you decide to make the situation more awkward.

                (Hey, hero you might be, but dick you are, too.)

                “ Hey, Eri.”

                (His clipped way of speaking is fucking infectious.)

                The seadweller sighs, rolls away from you.

                (No wonder he don’t talk, he had to kill his fucking matesprit. You pity the man, in an oddly… pale way.)

                “ Hey, now, can’t tell me the little pale show over there ain’t making you want to get your pap on. My shoosh bulge is so fucking big right now it aches.”

                (The best side effect in the world of getting burned- you had them remove those fucking teeth. Finally! Now you are no longer Tholluckths, but Sollux Captor! Damn nice to be able to pronounce your own name.)

                He sighs, twitches metal legs. “ My matesprit wwas my moirail before wwe… flipped.”

                (Really? Holy hell! How much pain can be piled on one motherfucker? Next thing you know he’ll tell you his last moirail tried to kill him.)

                “ I’m sorry,” you say quickly, and he sighs.

                (He sounds so old.)

                “ No, it’s… I was always flushed, not pale. Accident.”

                (His tone is empty, dead. You don’t like it.)

                Ah. You sigh, then laugh.

                (He bristles visibly)

                “ Wwhat’s so fucking funny?” he asks, because anger is the only emotion he has left, apparently. It’s good, wakes him up.

                (Fuck you are pale for him. For bug fuck’s sake.)

                “ Just… the absurdity of it all,” you say, shaking your head and looking at the ceiling. “ Nobody deserves what’s happened to you.”

                (Ain’t that the truth. The goddamn Condesce wouldn’t deserve that level of bullshit.)

                “ Don’t tell me shit I already knoww,” he says in that accent, and rolls around again. You sigh and laugh again.

                ( Come on, don’t fall apart)

                He doesn’t rise to the bait, so you say, “ We’ll hold a memorial for her.”

                (That got his attention.)

                He turns slowly towards you. “ Wwhat?”

                (That spark… come on, live again, man, hang with me.)

                “ The memorial for Gamzee they’re thinking of holding,” you say. “ I’ll add her name to the list, hold one for her too. And everyone else she’s hurt… hell, even for the mutants, they didn’t ask to be bred like that.”

                (You really hope Aradia will agree to this.)

                He blinks, gives you a look of pure surprise. “ You’d… do that? For me?”

                (Your heart breaks. No one ever does anything for him, and you swear to change that with a dazed mind. Angeless this painkiller is fucking you up right now.)

                “ Yeah,” you say. “ I will.”

                (He closes the eye for a moment, then)

                “ Thanks,” he says, and he goes to sleep facing you.

                Your name is SOLLUX CAPTOR, and you hope life has no more surprises for this poor soul near you, who you feel so… pale for.

                (Why are all of your relationships so spur of the moment, seriously, troll serendipity must love your skinny ass. Though maybe trying not to start relationships while laying in a bed high on painkillers would also help.)

 

Kitty Cats and Rhyme

                Equius is finally asleep, long stringy hair oily in your fingers as she lays sprawled half over your recuperoon and half in her chair. She hasn’t left you since the battle, has stayed near you and with you, only leaving to relieve herself and (quickly) shower.

                You’ll let her understand that you furgive her, once time has dulled the fear and shame she feels a little.

                (You’ve tried to tell her, but she won’t hear it. Too soon, the pain too fresh and the fear too sharp. She’ll calm down, though. She always does. And you will pet her and tell her that she didn’t fail you, and even if she did, a single mistake after sweeps and sweeps of perfect dedication is completely forgivable.)

                …You’ve had so many catpuns in your head, feel yourself reverting back to that little boy drawing relationships all over his walls and freely making awful feline-related words out of whatever nouns happened to make themselves handy.

                The reason why is peeking in the door.

                “ She asleep?” Karkat asks in his quietest voice, which is still really loud. You smile at him.

                (He needs it. He hasn’t slept since the incident, worried about Gamzee.)

                “ Yes,” you whisper back.

                “ I’ll come back later,” he says back. “ Need anything?”

                You shake your head.

                (He has already given you the only thing you have ever wanted.)

                “ No, I’m good,” you say, smiling. He gives you a only-slightly strained grin back and blows you a kiss that happily receive, and he leaves… hopefully to sleep, though you know better than to think he will. You hope the little cultist comes home soon; Karkat needs him, and that means you need him.

As he goes you settle back to sleep yourself, and even worry for Gamzee cannot diminish the joy in your heart.

Your name is NEPETA LEIJON, and you are, at last, content.

 

ThE mIrAcLe Of BlOoD

You look up from your meal and you do your best not to remember your name.

(Sweet tealblood tasted like mint springblood tastes like clear cool waters thirsty THIRSTY)

If you do not remember your name it does not hurt. If you are not Gamzee Makara than you are in no pain because there is no one you are disappointing with this and there are no mistakes you are making that you shouldn’t.

(So thirsty SO thirsty (I’m so sorry Karkat))

…You are still so thirsty. You wipe your lips half-heartedly, adding teal to the smears already present on your facepaint, a rainbow of drinks, a spectrum of tastes.

(You wonder what Tavbro would taste like, sweet chocolate, sweet chocolate, what would Karkat taste like, red cherry bright candy (no NO no NO))

You step slowly, purposefully, into the darkness of the sewers, for you are still thirsty, and when you are maw deep in some FOOL’s neck, you can’t remember anything about yourself, CAN’T EVEN MOTHERFUCKING THINK except to realize how GOOD this all TASTES, running down your throat like fine wine, like FAYGO OF THE MESSIAHS. And to think, used to, your madness wanted to FINGERPAINT with this SHIT, just WASTE it. So foolish.

…You are beginning to remember who you are. Your pace increases.

Your name is GAMZEE MAKARA, though you wish it wasn’t.

 

uHH, THAT WENT WELL

Repairing Rufio is really hard without help, really hard and no one understands. You almost put your eye out with a wrench a minute ago.

But overall, you’re pretty happy. Gamzee’s still gone but you’re not too worried, Aradia figures he’ll be back eventually. Probably fell into the sewers, there was a lot of that going on.

(So many dings on Rufio. And so many scorch marks. You’re running out of Equius’ towels, which is a surprise, you didn’t think Equius had a limit to how many towels she had… you should probably replace all these towels when you’re done.)

…You are getting nowhere pretty slowly, and you’ve already visited both Vriska and Sollux today, so…

…You haven’t seen Aradia relax in a long time.

(Time to do what a moirail does. The thought is oddly uplifting.)

Your name is TAVROS NITRAM, and you wonder if any of the Imperial chefs are around.

 

N0blesse 0blige

You rub your forehead as you grant Sollux’ request to memorialize… somebody, fuck, you’ve slept as little as Karkat has since the incident. Paperwork and meetings and speeches and announcements. You’ve been busy as hell.

The clockwork wands are still in your belt. You think you’ll keep them. They are… comforting to have.

The Empress blinks and Aradia opens your/their/our eyes, to gaze on Tavros, who has come bearing a plate of food, some of your favorites, thick spices and heat.

“ Oh.” You/we are surprisingly hungry, and it wasn’t until this moment that any of your selves noticed. “ Thank you, Tavros.”

“ No, uhh, problem,” he says, grinning at you. “ You need a break.”

The Empress takes offense to that. “ I do not need a-“

Tavros puts the tray down with surprising speed, and then you/us get shoosh-papped, which infuriates you, then pleases you, and then a moment later all of you is cheerfully eating and the papers are pushed to the side while Tavros gets your recuparoon ready for sleep.

“ So, uhh, I know this ain’t my place,” he says as he finishes getting it ready with a new load of sopor slime, the old siphoned out in drains (because you are all trolls and you do not use buckets for other purposes), “ but Karkat needs some sleep too.”

Empress Aradia- all of you- nods. It’s easier to do this with Tavros around, makes your voices sing in something like harmony.  You are almost… sane… when he is near. “ I know.”

He shakes his head sadly. “ Wish Gamzee would hurry up and come home. He knows the sewers better than anyone, he should be out.”

You/they shrug. “ I think he’s hunting down mutants we missed. It would fit his general pattern. And after being forcefully conscripted to the wrong side, he would feel guilty, would try to ‘absolve’ himself. I’m not worried.”

(Nothing keeps the clown down. He’s practically invincible.)

He nods. “ Still, Karkat needs sleep…”

…A thought occurs to a self and it passes it along to the rest of the class. “ Ask Nepeta to do it. Their relationship is beyond quadrants.”

He perks up at that. “ Hey, you’re right! That ought to work out.”

You smile at him, and a few minutes after you finish eating, he practically shovels you into bed, where you sleep in peace with him watching the door.

Your name is ARADIA MEGIDO, and for now, your people are safe.

 

I Am Not Finished Yet

                In pain, suffering, you slap one undead hand to the top of the ladder rungs, and you pull yourself up one inch at a time. Your army is dead, your lusus is dead, your palest betrayed you and Vriska’s still alive.

                …But you have never been one to give up. You drag yourself out of the stinking pit they threw you into this time, growl, shake it off, and go on the prowl. You will need blood, and soon. You still have resources. You still have time.

                Your name is KANAYA MARYAM, and you are not finished yet.

 

-

EPILOGUE

                Somewhere far away, a cherub giggled to herself, the spots on her face green and her spirit bent entirely towards two things: love of trolls, and hatred of her own self.

                (She was quite mad. When Yaldaboath made the choice to a creature once known as Calliope, even he had not quite foreseen what the consequences would be.)

                Lady British, as she called herself now, watched the trolls, fascinated by their struggle and existence.

                And now Sburb was starting, and she could go to greet them.

                She giggled.