1. rose lalonde
TT: At the end of our first conversation you expressed your intention to contact me again,
TT: When I knew more.
TT: Should I then take your persistent silence as a form of confirmation that my ignorance--
TT: Though assaulted by the very fires of a nascent green star,
TT: Diminished by secrets stolen from squirming divinities,
TT: And bruised by turtle harassment--
TT: Remains essentially intact?
TT: Enminden me, Seer.
TT: Sorry. My little joke.
GC: WOW >:[
TT: It wasn’t a very good one.
GC: NO TH4TS NOT WH4T 1 W4S WOW1NG 4T
GC: 4NYW4Y YOU OF 4LL P3OPL3 SHOULD KNOW TH4T 1 GOT D1STR4CT3D FROM TH3 1MPORT4NT T4SK OF H4SSL1NG YOU BY TH3 3V3N MOR3 1MPORT4NT T4SK OF ORCH3STR4T1NG YOUR T34MM4T3S SL4UGHT3R!
GC: SO WH4T BROUGHT TH1S ON >:?
TT: I guess I wanted to chat.
TT: Do all troll conversations require a premise?
TT: (That was rhetorical. I have met Kanaya, after all.)
GC: GOOD ON3
TT: Thank you.
GC: OK4Y SO YOU JUST W4NT TO SHOOT TH3 W34TH3R P4TT3RN
GC: 1S TH4T WH4T YOUR3 S4Y1NG?
GC: NO ULT3R1OR MOT1V3S
GC: NO M4N1PUL4T1V3 R3M4RKS 4BOUT MY CH4R4CT3R
GC: 4 M1N1MUM OF 3MOT1CONS 3V3N?
TT: Yes. Yes, quite.
GC: TH4TS TOO B4D
-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] blocked tentacleTherapist [TT] --
Your first conversation with Terezi Pyrope went something like this: she insulted your mother, you wondered whether she wanted to be friends, she told you you talked too much. She talked too much. She described the most urgently weird aspects of your still minimal Sburb experience with an offhand word and then rambled for paragraphs about the existential futility which at that moment was as remote as the ghost of Earth, and would later consume you. She was not the kind of girl you would have expected to fall in love with your brother, but from the moment they first spoke face to face they clung to one another like children in the dark.
In another timeline, you used to let Dave grill you about her, as if either of you knew anything except that she was the architect of your loneliness. You would make up things. She was malevolent (true), she was charming (not); she bwahaha’d with a white dragon in her lap. She hated you both. “If I could get my hands on her,” said Dave, but as Davesprite he forgave her without much interest and as Dave again he offered her his neck. You see no contradictions, but then, you are an exceptionally perceptive person.
Okay, no. Make that you can be. You could be. You’re almost sure.
TG: so tz says youre stalking her
TT: A profound exaggeration.
TT: I’m just following her around and recording her movements.
TG: wow yeah thank you mme thesaurus
TG: you are definitely strengthening your case here
TG: your case is chugging 2% like one million muscular dead dudes
TG: but seriously whats the deal
TG: i mean do we need to duel at eternal midnight over her honor or like
TG: should i just get karkat to add a column to the shipping grid hes got carved on his lungs
TT: Because you have locked him in your bedroom without any other writable surfaces?
TG: no because hes a fucking masochist
TT: I have no designs on Terezi’s virtue.
TT: Only friendly concern.
TT: Did you know she subsists primarily on a diet of chalk, textbooks, and TaB?
TT: Isn’t that weird?
TG: or you put her off her feed
TT: It’s possible.
TT: You know her better than I do.
TT: She deigned to choreograph at least one of your deaths.
TG: youre so full of shit
TG: anyway since when is getting alternakilled by someone the number one way to figure out their dietary requirements???
TT: It depends on the method of murder,
TT: But I think you’ve got even odds.
Talking to Dave has a way of making you overstate your case. You don’t think Terezi is in a position to eat anyone alive. Maybe it’s just that in a day you came to think of the trolls as powerful, though doomed-- wise, though corrupted by tremorous despair. You were not prepared to find them waiting for you post-apotheosis, like phantoms of a miserable childhood, gathered around a flame.
In truth you never expected them to live. They had resigned themselves to annihilation, and you were too busy trying to prove them wrong about you to prove them wrong about them. But you still remember Aradia’s arrogant bleakness: how she messaged you while you were staring green salvation in the face, and ordered you to close your eyes. How she raged. When at last you all arrived at the body asteroid she was unrecognizable, as if someone had wrenched her open to put a fire out.
She was also dressed like a fairy, but you ascribed that to cultural differences.
And Terezi had stood there too, in her own homemade costume, looking as uncomfortable as anyone wearing teal felt can. Gone was the fey rancor of her introduction; she spoke with embarrassment when at all. She was suffering, it seemed, from a pale cousin to survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s chagrin, make that. Survivor’s bashfulness. Behind her glasses her narrow eyes looked broadly bruised, and their blank gloss of red recalled an aging scar.
You can say all this with certainty, but actually you paid her very little attention. Everyone was talking. Kanaya was glowing. If you thought about her at all, you suppose it would have been with disappointment. The first time you talked to Terezi Pyrope she was absolutely self-assured, made brilliant by sheer impatience. She spoke, not self-consciously, about forever. And though hatefriends was a very stupid word, it did not connote indifference. Yet when you patronized and postured and almost said her name-- she curled from you like an animal: something too freshly hurt to risk itself on teeth.
You were to have been equals. Now, like an animal, you find yourself rooting in the undergrowth for her.
Despite Dave’s paranoia it does not take the form of day to day observation. If you wanted to MST3K Can Town’s development plans you would re-alchemize your crystal ball. You would wile away the hours in a state of titillation that could otherwise be reproduced by watching paint dry, and you would never have to leave your carpet pile. You could make out with Kanaya between sessions, were she not moved to toxic sarcasm levels by your new hobby. Everything would be fine. But political dramas, sad to say, never held your interest.
No; you invite restraining orders by wandering through the empty labs. You look for blood, and only seldom meet her on the site of shedding, her shoulders tight, her hands clasped, the loose lock of her fingers cradled against her spine.
Maybe the problem is that you never quite speak.
Anyway, it’s a big meteor. There are rooms in which you can’t move for vats, glass walls so thick they’re greenish, the insides greener. Floating monsters. Chessmen, except the relationship between chessmen and the things behind the glass is that of birds and dinosaurs. So much of Sburb is oversized. And though its violence should read primeval, you’re pretty sure that-- in this case-- evolution ran the other way.
Many of the vats are broken, of course. In those chambers the floor has grown sleek with spilt slime, and the grotesque mass of every half-grown soldier slumps wet upon its base. Derse, Prospit-- with strange indifference did they place their unripe children, their nursling clones, the ivory nose to nose with the black.
You think you always overestimated the difference, even after examining their libraries and doing cross-checks on their RPF. Or else you simply mistook the symptoms; equated darkness with long words, and insight with destruction. You did not understand what it was like to have knowledge handed to you on a cloud.
Now it is you who is wading through granted certainty, with a sun behind your eyes. There are no moons here, and you are all moving in the direction of unreflected light.
There are other aspects to the scenery.
On a wall without a door is written, in familiar brown, “are you next?”-- and then a face, :o), which is less so. You remember his emoticons as bracketed and noseless; his question marks, comma-shaped. Not that there’s any sign, really, of adiosToreador on this wall, or in the continental stains that mar the floor. As you understand it he died before your mother did, his corpse lost beyond recovery by the time yours was aflame.
Before you played the game, you used to worry that one day you would meet John, Dave, or Jade, and be so mystified by their personhood-- their opaque, bodied selves, independent from the limpid psychological wells that were their online characters-- that you would be: horrendous, clumsy. Lost for words. Then, ironically, when you came to meet the trolls, it turned out half the ones you’d talked had left no body at all. Not even ash.
On leaving the room you see Terezi’s shadow in the hallway. This stops you in your tracks.
It’s thrown long against the wall, stretched to legginess by some unsourced illumination. She is standing in profile relative to the glow, and the shadow has her long slight nose, her blunter jaw; her hair’s square shape concealing its descent into her throat.
She’s talking to someone, in a low voice, more emphatically than you have ever heard her. It could be Dave or Karkat, but then you think you would be able to discern their half of the discourse. Also you think there would be a second shadow.
“Of course I don’t regret it!” says Terezi.
What else? Among this rubble of things unmade you find toys, strewn incongruously over the dark red tile. You collect them, after a moment’s thought: you think you recognize the handiwork, and they are, abstractly, precious-seeming, their long snouts noodle-slim, their button gaze suggestive of nakedness contained. Buttoned up dragon brains. Some rent in two, some merely gutted-- they spill their stuffing whitely over everything, like dandruff or light.
GA: What Is The Point Of This
TT: I thought we went over that.
TT: The shot at triumph, the hope of a future that contains more than advanced crustacean spit bubbles, and perhaps, when the time comes, the resurrection of your race...?
GA: No That Was The Answer To Rose What Is The Point Of My Continued Stay On This Inhospitable Rock As It Hurtles Through A Dark Realm Full Of Malformed Gods That I Have Always Felt Kind Of Leery Towards
GA: But My Question Was What Is The Point Of Your New Hobby Of Littering Our Block With Scalemate Scraps
TT: I guess I was thinking of changing my sleeping habits.
TT: Trying out other soft mounds.
GA: I See
GA: What Was Wrong With The Carpet Pile
TT: Technically, nothing.
TT: But we experience quite enough rugburn when awake,
TT: Don’t you think?
GA: This Seems Like A Moment For Modest Ellipses
GA: So After Some Thought I Will Now Proceed Directly To Their Deployment
The forest around your mother’s house is as you don’t remember it: more densely detailed than you could hope to render, with your brain and your love. The gods, whatever Kanaya says, are kind. Skaia is very bright and deep, but even as an immortal, it is in the arms of terrors that you’ve found pity.
You are nine years old again. The twigs crunch undersole.
When you were really nine, not just dressed in an out-of-date self-image and pink Mary Janes, you used to go into the woods and play at blackest witchcraft. You tied knit voodoo dolls to low-hanging branches. They were all of your mother, and they had words like “self-actualization”, and, “sobriety”, and, “a good night’s sleep” taped to their woollen chests. Your mother, who was already entangled in Sburb by then: her nights given over to Skaianet, her mouth dry as her sherries, her whole soul burning to end the world for you. Had she ever seen the dolls they would have saddened her. She would have regretted their sloppy weave. “Rose,” she always said, “I can get you anything you want. Don’t worry about me.”
“These are damnation,” you could have told her, “these are curses”-- but she never left the house.
You might look for them now, except you believe that there is someone else in the woods. There’s no reason to presume. You have a dream’s conviction, though. You walk and the trees part for you.
It’s day, behind the screen of leaves: sunshine falling like rope through holes the size of coins. Light laces up the gloom. But the leaves themselves are changing; what were dark needles are grown extravagantly pink, and the rough sweet bark of the black pines has given way to silvery boles.
After a while you come across an artifact stranger than the extraterrestrial vegetable.
Your first, inane impression is of a ship-- the silhouette of sails. But the actuality turns out to be an enormous balance, the one scale weighed down by a giant fucking skull, the other by a stone. No. Stone? What are you, Eragon? You know a shell when you see one. Nevertheless, you can’t imagine it being involved in birth.
You go up to it. It hangs far higher your head, but you can fly, and you rise easily. The use of your abilities shades your T-shirt orange, but that’s godhood. Always makes the colors run. Goldclad, then, you press your face to the egg’s side and feel the throbbing coolness of its walls, the delicacy respective to its depth. One eye narrows.
There’s a dragon curled commaish into the ovoid curve. Its narrow chin is tucked to its armored breast, its claws gathered beneath its sternum like a bunch of long-petalled flowers, young and dormant and already dead. It is your eye that casts a light on it, and as your eye moves so shifts the shine, descending from white brow down gaunt cheek to reveal an isolate fang.
When you were twelve you wrote about dragons like this, with faceted jowls and sleek crests of bones to protect their weak eyes; but now, at almost fourteen, you are writing a technical manual whose domain includes everything from magical beasts to suns. You no longer have to make up anything; you only have to guide. You are grateful.
And once, not so very long ago, you went out onto the dock and found your mother gone, her martini clear as a lens and level with your ankles. You gazed out at a turquoise sea and touched your lips to glass. Later she bled out in a castle at the checkerboard nexus of all creative energy, of all hope-- so you know gratitude.
Whose memory is this? -- as if you haven’t guessed.
But when you find her she is somehow still (already) asleep. Her body slack as a knot untied; slack, and remembering strain.
You don’t know for how long you have been running or dreaming. The laughter faded with the afterimage of the dragon. Since then the forest has thinned-- you are standing on the edge of a clearing, where above you foliage gives way to bluish sky. Hemmed in with coral arbory it resembles skin more than air, and the sun opens from out its flat expanse. You could even think, a dead red eye. You could think, with bright rays for false lashes. But the Alternian sun is a pretty old star-- and, recalling the hot green light you second-came by, you are obscurely shamed, like the girl who received a pony for Christmas and was wearily asked not to name it after a Terry Brooks character, please. You decide not to finish the metaphor.
The thing to remember is, there have been so many girls, only some of them you; and so many of them are now dead, or hopelessly gone. Under the dappling of sun it’s hard to tell which applies to Terezi.
“Hey,” you try. “Wake up.”
She doesn’t twitch. She’s smaller than she has any right to be, her face straight out of elementary school save for the question of color. That thin black mouth. Not that you ever went to elementary school, really, except for weeks that you never can recall. But unlike the Terezi you know from the asteroid, whose physicality was shock enough after so much internet conversation, you can imagine this kid playing tetherball. She has one arm across her narrow chest, the nervous line of wrist hazed out by grass. In the splay of soft fingers flowers tuck their white heads. She looks, in some ways, like her shredded scalemates, but what spills from her lips is nothing more intrinsic than drool.
Not a flutter.
You crouch down at her side. Her horns are almost covered by her hair. You could transpose her into the scenes of your childhood, but the truth is she looks finished. Like a still shot from which you are supposed to deduce the beginning and the middle of a story-- a man kills himself over squid soup, and why? Because his brother was a horrorterror.
God, this is stupid.
You shake her. She stays inert. The rise and fall of her ribs describes a deepening arc beneath her shirt. You think, inexplicably, of slapping her, but there is no urgency.
When you peel open her eye, it’s white, anyway. White as an egg.
You put her down again. Her hair flattens out beneath her head, and the skin of her is burnt to a deep teal, but you walk on.
Past the clearing and the thickets of slim trees after it you find yourself among relative giants. They’re not much taller than their earlier brethren, but the trunk of each is so broad you could hardly belt it with five dead Daves. Directly before you rises one with probable aspirations to immortality, although as soon as you think that you begin to wonder uneasily whether there is not after all such a thing as a tree soul, to take root in monstrous soap and nourish itself on the breath of many-armed gods.
Spirit or otherwise, its crown spreads out like fleshy lungs, tissue ribbed with blue branches. You lift your face; a leaf, drifting downwards, lands on one open eye. Somewhere in the pink mass is a window.
"Rapunzel,” you call. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your stair!”
Terezi’s head and shoulders appear over the sill. You accept the stare as homophonic compromise.
“Lalonde?” she says, her eyes carmine, miniscule, and incredulous even at this distance. “What are you doing here?”
“Stalking you?” you offer.
This appears to satisfy her, because a moment later a rope ladder descends. Again you think of ships: you climb and hope the ground won’t turn to sea beneath your feet. Neither of you remarks on the fact that by the time you’ve reached the top, you’ve sprouted a denim jacket (and red shoes). It’s her memory.
She has her elbows on the windowframe, her hands linked under her chin. Around you scalemates swing in a sweet breeze; the lengths of every noose adjudged to ensure that no victim is level with its neighbor. Someone has calibrated these gallows carefully.
Okay. That was a pretty silly thing you just thought. But you are surrounded by a plushie solar system, their soft bodies rotating on strings, and folly loves a fellow, you believe.
“Do I need to invite you in, now?” Terezi is saying. “And if so, would that mean you and Maryam have gotten past third base?”
“No,” you say. “And yes.”
She withdraws, making a face. You hitch yourself up over the wall.
Inside her room is surprisingly beautiful, in the same way that vomit, illuminated by neon, can be beautiful. Scales plate the walls in coruscating array and carpets fur the floor. There are books everywhere. You take a breath: chalk dust, overwhelming, makes you sneeze.
“Welcome,” says Terezi-- not very welcomingly.
Her arms were folded, but now she drops her hands to her sides, the material of her shirt falling straight around her waist. She’s wearing gloves. The rest of her Redglare costume she has abandoned for older digs. She flexes her fingers and you see blood tucked into the red creases of leather, old and slick. In this place it smells for all the world like blueberry rot. “How was your trip?” she asks, gloved.
“I thought I saw you earlier,” you say.
“That wasn’t real,” says Terezi, so definitely that she cannot be speaking in the general, you believe.
“To you, perhaps.”
“To anyone!” says Terezi. “There was never a possibility of her.”
You frown at this remark, which is offensive to your sensibilities as an accidental mistress of chance. “But which timeline--?”
Terezi rubs her palms together. Blood flakes away.
“Okay,” you say, slowly. “Maybe we should start again.”
“That’s the whole point,” says Terezi, in reference you presume to her surroundings, long since burnt; or to her younger self, likewise. Or she’s just making fun of you. You sit down on a stack of textbooks and she offers no objection, although her unguarded eyes follow the motion. So do her nostrils, you suppose.
“Was that your lusus?” you ask: pronouncing the word right, you think, though it feels awkward on your lips. “In the egg?”
“Um,” says Terezi, “yes. You saw her?”
“X-ray built in,” you say, and tap your left eye meaningfully. Terezi flinches a bit. You don’t think she would have, waking, but here reactions are harder to hide-- the substance of you not so different from the sentiment. When she recovers it looks like water stilling.
“That’s cool,” she says.
You put your hands palm-up in your lap. “Would you tell me about her?”
She seems doubtful. In her room the sunlight is safely filtered through leaves and glass, lying like filagree along every bare edge, but Terezi herself is soft, hazy, diffused by the act of illumination. You watch her and she looks away, thinking perhaps of the girl you passed in the forest, or the girl whose overlarge jacket you sport; girls for whom you are both, in some sense, replacements, and as replacements notable mainly in your failure to die.
“All right,” she says. “What do you want to know?”
This gives you pause. “What did she do to you?” you say, having received the pause and swallowed it.
It’s the kind of question you could once have asked any of your human friends without fear of being misunderstood, although the answers might involve other misunderstandings. Dave, Jade, John; they all knew how it was. Your custodian was an enigma, a silhouette, a dispenser of incomprehensible knowledge and, worse, kindness. Your custodian had stupid hobbies. Your custodian wore stupid hats, or labcoats, or collars. You chafed to leave them without wanting to go a place they weren’t. You loved them unavoidably.
“She blinded me,” says Terezi, looking surprised.
You open your mouth. You close it. “Oh.”
“She was the mechanism for my blinding,” she amends, amused. “Vriska was the one behind it, obviously. But you were asking about my lusus.” She reaches up as if to adjust the set of her shades on her nose, and then, realizing that her face is unweighted by any glass, pushes her hair back instead. Her ear is larger than human and more translucent, the pink leaf-dyed light from her window breaking purple where it passes through a net of teal filaments. In fact the curl of her ear makes you think of the leaves; leaves only just gone sere.
“I’m sorry,” you offer.
She makes no answer about how she doesn’t regret it, or about the fact that actually it was a gift! “It’s okay,” she says, blinking once, the progress of her eyelids slow like shade over the face of planets. “The only reason Vriska used her was because my lusus could-- can-- communicate with me telepathically. Compel me.”
“Oh,” you say. In your mind’s eye you see the dragon, quiet, familiar, without apparent force or voice. “I was under the impression Vriska was also psychic.”
“Yeah,” says Terezi, “but she couldn’t control me. Or talk to me, even-- she tried, sometimes, but she just couldn’t get through. She was always going on about how convenient it would be for raids, if we could give each other directions with just a thought, not have to bother about headsets and floaty computers and grubphones in our back pocket. But she couldn’t. To her, I was impenetrable!”
“To her,” you say. “But not to your lusus. I understand.”
“Excellent,” she says, and she smiles like the sun.
No, that’s the actual sun, which has filled the room, too bright to parse, foaming up into your nose and swelling your lungs with bright. You are overwhelmed by its stinging glory, its ultraviolet splendor. How it reminds you of your story’s most recent end!
When you have blinked every green afterimage from your eyes the room is fading, and you’re back in the clearing, Terezi looking at you from over the high shoulder of her own prone form. Here the differences are less observable than they were when you viewed each instance separately; both versions of her seem to waver and to gain solidity from the other. But the girl on the ground is still burning, the flesh of her cheekbone starting to steam, whereas Terezi remains serene, her cool flat skin armored by its own truth against this golden memory’s warm deceit.
You are beginning to inkle at what she means by impossibilities.
She puts her hand on her younger self’s cheek, and her sleeping doppelganger stirs, moans, in some empty resistance to a waking long since forced. For your part, you remember that in the doomed timeline, you spent four months thinking of all the things that you would tell yourself if you could. You had little else to do.
“Terezi, did you really hate us?” you ask now, your mind circling unstoppably back to a conversation you had before anyone you knew had died, or splintered, or pieced themselves together from information that was transmitted through the routes of oblivion. At the time you had dismissed her assertion almost as soon as she made it, so sweet did she turn when given the chance to exposit, yet now it seems serious, paramount, a rational concern. Did she really hate you? Did she stop? As with all loss the prospect alarms.
But Terezi is shaking her head. “I never hated anyone,” she says-- a little grimly, but with a look on her face of growing wonder; like a sinner who, having confessed, realizes that they’ve found at last their chance to stray anew.