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Hivefled: Side Chapters

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Being the top of one’s class required the most studious of concentration and the sacrifice of personal time, Equius thought, as he picked up his tools, moving over to the work table and setting up to repair another robotic limb. His dedication would pay off, he knew it. It made each break and repair worth it. He saw it less as being difficult or boring, and more as furthering his goal. In that way he would be kept entertained.

The night had been odd, in the way that his mentor treated him. Praising his skills, telling him he didn’t have to work so hard. Not chastising him, or telling him he could always do better. Instead, he told himself he would have to do better. He was almost done with his field medical studies, and once they were finished he could get back to his archery training.

The fingers in the limb shuddered as he pressed and connected the wires he had cut earlier, trying to beat his time and get the limb repaired in under 4 minutes. His bulk worked against him, slowing him down; he had nimble fingers, but this limb was meant for a much lower-blooded troll, therefore it was tiny.

It was late, and he could feel his body begging him for sleep, or dinner. He had skipped his usual meal to work on his homework. Maybe after he repaired this arm for the fourth time he’d go and get himself a snack.

He finished up, stretched, and went to leave the workshop, almost tripping over a small figure as he opened the door.

“Whoops, sorry, careful there-” He paused. The figure’s face was concealed by the deep hood of its coat, but its movements were familiar, and it was too small to be an adult blue-blood. He had a brief moment to think before the strange troll pushed him in the chest; they weren’t strong enough to actually move him, but he got the message and backed up into the empty workblock. The stranger followed him and shut the door, then pushed back its hood and removed the scarf around its face.

Equius blinked. “Nepeta? … Nepeta! You’re alive!”

She smiled at him and launched herself at his midsection, attempting to wrap her arms around him. He slowly brought his own hands around her, pulling her into a gentle hug. He had missed her, and when they hadn’t been able to contact anyone back on Alternia he feared the worst.

She nuzzled against his stomach, then pulled away, still smiling, and he couldn’t help but smile back at her. He would have to be heartless to say he hadn’t missed his moirail. She gave him another squeeze. He pulled away from her slightly.

“What are you doing here? This could get you hurt,” he chided her softly. He was happy to see her, but that didn’t mean he wanted her to meet an unfortunate fate now.

“We’re here to rescue you! Why else?” she said, butting her head gently against his chest and purring.

“‘We’?”

“Me, Sollux, and Vwiskers.”

“Wait, ‘rescue’?” Equius blinked. “Why do you think I need to be rescued?”

“Well.” She didn’t seemed deterred in the slightest. “When the fighting starts we don’t want to have to hurt you. So we’re going to save you from conscription and a life of military service here.” She looked up at him, her eyes shining in happiness, but also with worry, or something along those lines. “I missed you… I can’t handle sweeps without you. So we’re going to take you back with us.”

He stared at her, a little dumbfounded. He didn’t particularly want to leave. He enjoyed his station and also he liked respecting where his destiny had led him. He cleared his throat, wondering how he was going to bring this around. He missed her as well, but that didn’t mean he wanted to leave.

“Nepeta,” he started. “I don’t require rescue.” He had to be direct even if it hurt. “I am very happy with where I am, you should go before anyone catches you out here and you get killed. I missed you, but we can chat over the net, perhaps even video chat. If it comes to fighting… I’ll do my best to avoid hurting you.”

Nepeta’s mouth twisted in a pout, but Equius was immune to her emotional manipulation. Mostly. He guiltily turned away and glanced around the room. “Now, I think I can get you to the exit without anyone seeing-”

There was a click, and he felt something poking his back. He turned his head to see Nepeta had produced a handgun, and was resting the barrel on his spine.

“Plan B, then,” she said cheerfully. “Now I’m kidnapping you instead!”

Equius sighed, reached down, and bent the barrel of the gun upwards, rendering it useless. “No, you are not.”

She looked at the warped metal in her hand and dropped it back into her sylladex without any more thought. She sighed, chewing on her lip for a moment. She looked up at him, and determination slowly set into the lines of her limbs.

“Equius Zahhak, I am not leaving here without you,” she said firmly. “You’re going to get hurt or worse when the fighting starts. You can’t have loyalty to me as long as you’re here. You’re leaving me with very few options, and as much as it hurts me to do this…” She reached forward, grabbing onto his wrist with both her hands. “You are going to listen to me as your meowrail. Do you understand?”

He glanced down at her hold on his wrist. It was tight; it would require him to yank his arm away or push her away. Both of which could hurt her. He looked down at the tangle of fingers thoughtfully, trying to figure out how to pull himself away without injuring her.

“Nepeta, stop this at once. I can get you to the exit and you can get back to… them as soon as possible.” He didn’t want anyone to know where they were hiding out. Better if he didn’t mention their home planet, just in case anyone was listening, though he doubted it. “Then you can be on your way and be safe.”

Nepeta scowled, adjusted her stance, and heaved with all her strength on his arm. She’d become stronger; she actually managed to move his arm an inch or so before he resisted. “You’re coming with me even if I have to carry you!”

Equius shook his head, staring at the much shorter troll he usually affectionately called his moirail; right now she was being difficult. He gently tried to pull his arm away. “Nepeta, please, stop this.”

“I will drag you out of here!” She yanked again and managed to pull him forward another step. He could try to pull his arm back but with her grip it was likely he would dislocate her shoulder, at the very least. “Equius, you can’t stay here. We’re a team and all of us need to be together.”

He sighed, balling his fist to test how strong her grip was on him. Finding it to be solid, he shook his head. “Nepeta…”

“No, you listen here mister, you promised you’d always be there for me. I purromised you the same. How can we be there for each other this far away? Come with me.” Equius felt his heart break a little, and tried to avoid the pouting face she was making. His shoulders drooped and he allowed himself to be pulled even closer.

He didn’t have to leave, but she was in more danger the longer she stayed here. So he’d go with her to where Vriska and Sollux were waiting in a docked ship. Once he was sure that she was safe, he’d let her go and they could work on this online and perhaps later they could work on it offline, but not when a conscription-skipper was on a policed Alternian ship.

She smiled at him, then turned, still holding on to his wrist, and peeked out of the doorway, making sure no one was around. Once the coast was clear she pulled him out to the hallway, and his feet reluctantly followed. He had to make sure she got back onto their ship, and back to Alternia without being tracked. He might not have fully agreed with his moirail’s decision to skip conscription but he still pitied her deeply.

He followed her through a winding path through the ship. No doubt they had maps or blueprints of how the ship was laid out. It wasn’t the fastest or the most direct route down to the hangar bay, but it seemed as if it had purpose. Some of the passages he had to crouch through and he suspected the path was designed to keep them out of public areas.

He started to suspect they were lost when Nepeta paused, looked out of a doorway, then nodded back at him, smiling. “We’re here, just have to cross over to the ship. We have to make this quick.”

Equius sighed. “Fine. I’ll come with you just long enough to say hello, then I’m going back.”

~

Shuran Harkol, one of the ship’s mentors, was laughing so hard he had to brace himself on the wall. The small group gathered around him in the common room were hanging on his every word, some already giggling along with him.

“-and I just looked at him, right, and I said ‘oh, don’t worry, everyone makes mistakes’. And he looked at me like I’d sprouted fuckin’ wings or something!” The crowd whooped, and Harkol shook his head disbelievingly at the memory. “Then he sort of sagged, and he just nodded and carried on. He looked like a kicked barkbeast! God, I wish I’d had a camera.”

“So how long do you think it’ll take before he starts intentionally breaking shit to get you to yell at him?” asked a crooked-horned female troll, thumping the back of her matesprit, who was laughing so hard she was choking on her drink.

Harkol took a deep breath to calm himself and sipped thoughtfully from his own drink. “Not long, I think. Huh, maybe I can get him pissed off enough to stir some black feelings in him.” He grinned. “Unprofessional, I know, but damn, he’d be an amazing rival if I played my cards right. My last kismesis lost an argument with a faulty gun, at least that’s less of a risk with this one. I actually do mean some of the praise - he’s smart, even if he is annoying.”

“Who gives a damn if it’s unprofessional? Eventually recruits become fully fledged, there isn’t a reason to not stake claim before then.” The group was still chuckling.

Suddenly, a siren knocked them from their thoughts, and a light started flashing.

“All personnel report to the hangar. An unregistered ship has docked.”

The group moved quickly towards the hangar. Harkol nearly stumbled into the troll in front of him as they moved to the bay. The stairs, elevators, and other ways to get to the lowest levels flooded with trolls moving with precision to take care of whatever could be there.

When the locked doors opened, the guards that usually stood inside were either dead or unconscious and probably had suffered extreme head trauma. On further examination, there were at least two trolls that broke in and one of them was a psionic, judging from the tell-tale burns around their wrists and across their throats. Other fallen guards looked as if they had been stabbed. Harkol looked over another one and found he had been clawed up.

He heard a commotion further up in the hangar. Thinking it was a battle, and half wanting to get his hands dirty, he moved towards it, only to see a ship moving out of one of the docking bays, and no troll there stupid enough to open the airlock and chase after it. Pilots were getting into additional ships to chase the intruder. But other than the few deaths, everything was clear. No bombs, no cowardly tactics, and it didn’t look like anything was stolen either.

Harkol scratched his horns, confused. Was it just some kind of attempt to spread fear? Then he noticed a set of dents in the metal doorframe. Dents the shape and size of large, familiar fingers. He frowned. It was unlikely Equius could have been pulled away by any normal trolls; then again, with his strength, he risked damaging the airlock frame if he clung on too hard, and he would never have allowed that to happen for fear of harming the trolls on board. Perhaps that threat had been used to blackmail him into boarding the intruder’s ship. But what would they want with a random recruit?

~

Equius looked ruefully out at the rapidly disappearing ship, then turned and scowled at Nepeta. “There, now you’ve potentially earned me execution. I hope you’re happy.”

“Definitely,” she said, grinning and hugging him. “We’re together again!”

Sollux looked up from the controls and smirked. Equius glared at him, and he turned away, snickering.

Vriska was cackling gleefully. “Tell me again how you dragged him out!”

Chapter Text

Traveling in a herd seemed like a stupid idea, but having more eyes helped substantially. It made it a pain in the ass to feed everyone, but still, they were almost to the caves Nepeta had found earlier that sweep. Karkat sighed, looking around for cover for all of them. Traveling in a group also meant they traveled slower. If they didn’t get there in time the sun would be up, and even though they were in a forest, the sun through the trees would be enough to hurt them.

Nepeta swore they were getting close. Karkat could have killed for a more stable cover over his head while they slept, instead of some shambled together shelter that they half dug out and covered with sticks and leaves. They had woken up quite a few times to a beast attempting to get them. Luckily, a few of them had been able to bring an extra protector. Trailing behind them was Aradia’s Kangaram, and Pounce de Leon was loping along beside Nepeta. They were small enough they could easily be hidden, and they didn’t really draw attention to the group, unlike if Sollux or Karkat had brought theirs. Tinkerbull was on Tavros’ shoulder, and though he didn’t do much, having a few lusii with them somehow made them all feel a bit more protected. Grub instinct or something similar.

Nepeta was scampering ahead, quickly followed by Pounce. Both came to a stop at the mouth of the forest. It didn’t take long for all of them to catch up and look over the plains that separated them from a sheer cliff. Karkat didn’t know what would form something like this, but it did look safe. Close to beasts to be hunted and fresh water. He’d thank Nepeta later for her wilderness survival, if he remembered. He didn’t know what he would have done if he had to go this alone.

They all checked to make sure there weren’t any scouts or beasts waiting for them. It seemed like an opportune place to stage an ambush. He figured Nepeta probably had done so herself when she found the caves. Not seeing anything, high or low, they gathered into a circle.

“Should we risk crossing this close to dawn, or do you want to wait until the day is over? Make our run at dusk?” Nepeta said softly, her voice more serious than normal. A silence circled around the group of nine trolls.

“I don’t think there are, uhh, any drones out there. I can’t sense any animals either.”

“If there are drones we can always fight our way through.” Vriska was smiling at the thought.

“I don’t smell anything weird or metallic. I think we’re safe.”

“I don’t know about all of you, but I would like a place to sleep that was a bit more secure.”

“I’m with AA, thomething more than jutht thticks and hope.”

The group looked around for any naysayers. Finding no one shaking their head or giving any reason why they shouldn’t cross, Karkat gave a final nod and stood up straighter.

“We’re going to stay close, don’t let yourself get separated. They do that because it’s easier to pick us off one by one. If anyone falls or is injured, we stop and help them or gather to protect until the threat is gone. Understood?” There were nods, and Vriska rolled her eyes and saluted. Terezi jabbed her cane into Vriska’s foot. “Let’s go then.”

The group moved to the treeline and Karkat could almost feel all of them taking a deep breath. Luckily Tavros would be flying or they’d be slower, slow enough it could cause problems. Kanaya counted softly. When she hit three all of them took off through the field, keeping in patterns they had learned from old Alternian war literature, keeping every side of them covered and every member of their group within sight. It wasn’t a long distance, but it seemed like one. Alternia had been covered in drones since conscription, and the last thing they wanted to do was run into one. They had enough close calls already.

Karkat was the first one to touch the rock wall, ducking inside. He came to a stop in the darkened caverns, the other members of his party running into him as they all made it inside.

“Get off me,” he growled, pulling to try to get himself out from underneath them.

“It’s not our fault you stopped so soon.”

“In case you missed it it’s pitch black in here. I didn’t want to get lost and then have us get divided in the caves.” Karkat managed to pull himself out and find a wall. He pulled himself up to standing. “Are all of you here? Count off.”

Each troll went through the numbers they had been assigned at the beginning of this journey. It had been one of the few good ideas Vriska had, when they were waiting at the shore for Feferi to emerge from the water. Once all nine had been counted, there was a shuffle as they tried to move to stand and get away from being crowded around the entrance. Karkat was quickly going through his sylladex, looking for the supplies he had gathered. He had been one of the few trolls well-prepared to ditch conscription. Terezi was the least prepared, having only decided to skip conscription the night before it happened. It wasn’t saying much; the others didn’t have much either, just him and Nepeta had any real idea what they were doing. He managed to find his lightsticks, and he cracked one, neon green light radiating off of rough rock walls and the troll’s faces.

“This will last us twelve hours. I have about forty of them, we’re going to have to figure out beyond that. But this should be enough to light our way for now.” The group were no strangers to rationing, most of them were lowbloods and they didn’t get a lot as it was. Feferi had adapted without complaint, even sharing more than her fair share of her things with them. Karkat hadn’t expected all of them to work so well together. He had entertained the notion that they would, but he didn’t actually expect it to work. That wasn’t to say it had all gone smoothly, but it was going well. He took the lead heading through the tunnels, Nepeta picking up the back, and he was pretty sure she was marking the path they were taking. He liked it when they did things without orders.

Eventually, they found a part of the caves wide enough that they could spread out comfortably. Karkat made the executive decision to have that area be where all of them would sleep. Sollux’s psionics burnt the food they had to eat, and they gathered in a circle around the glow stick, tired and nervous. There was no way to know what was lurking in the caves. It could be an active brooding cavern, and they’d know as soon as they ran into a drone, a lusus, or a bunch of grubs. They needed food and rest and this would have to do for now. They retired to their respective sleeping mats, leaving their recuperacoons for a less hostile situation. Once they knew the situation better they could see about pulling them out to sleep. Instead, all of them dotted sopor slime on their temples and hoped for the best.

They had so much to do, they needed their whole team together. Equius would be helpful, he could rig up some lights and put together auto-fight robots for them to practice on. Eridan would be endlessly helpful for feeding the monster at the bottom of the sea, and going with Nepeta to hunt. Even Gamzee, with his random knowledge of everything that was edible on Alternia, would be helpful right now; they were eating a meat-heavy diet that was starting to slow them down. They had some time, but they didn’t even have a plan. Karkat shook his head and tried to clear his thoughts so he could get some sleep.

Day passed too fast and soon they were all awake, skipping over breakfast to explore the caves. They walked in one big group despite the argument that splitting up would make things go faster. Nepeta had stopped them about an hour in, noticing some strange marks on the wall. She concluded that they were old lusus marks. Ever since then they had been tense, waiting for drones, lusii, or grubs. Karkat hoped they didn’t run into the Mother Grub’s chamber if this was active, because if it was and they did they’d be food, and there was going to be no easy way to escape.

He didn’t expect them to run into something that was furnished like a hive. Nor did tany of them expect lights to suddenly turn on, blinding all of them, or for them to be circled by a group of trolls in tattered rags of clothes, wielding weapons in varying stages of usefulness and age. The runaways pulled out their weapons, still disoriented enough from the light that disarming all of them was depressingly easy. Pounce was pinned with a pair of short spears crossed over her neck, clawing at the ground and snarling as Nepeta was restrained, and two trolls each took one of Kangaram’s horns. Tinkerbull flew off Tavros’ shoulder, and the brownblood wailed in horror as a smirking yellowblood captchalogued the little bull.

“Well, well, what have we here?” one of the trolls said. Karkat swallowed, making sure everyone was gathered, backs to each other. At the very least they could try to find a break.

“They look like Empire hunters, why else would they have military grade equipment? They even have the little Tyrian bitch with them.” Feferi squeaked as one of them prodded at her. Karkat had sold and bargained with nearly everything he had to get the stuff he’d need to skip out on joining the Empire. When he was younger he fantasized about joining the ranks, being the best, then his blood wouldn’t be looked down on. But those had been fantasies; after his pupation he knew it was impossible.

“We can’t let you leave. I like it when dinner walks in.”

“Quite a meal here too. Nine trolls. Pretty lean too.”

“We can’t kill the Heiress,” the first voice chimed in. “But we could ransom her, or use her.”

“Please, we’re not from the Empire,” Feferi said, her voice soft. “We’re trying to avoid them too.”

“You think you’re the first bounty hunter to tell us that?” the first voice said, and Karkat took him for the leader. The troll was moderately tall, obviously not a highblood, but he could be a midblood. He gestured over to the wall, where there were a collection of skulls. A sign of fealty dangled over each skull’s horns.

Karkat swallowed. Obviously they were big on protecting their territory, though none of the group had any signs to wear to show they were loyal to the empire and just looking for run-offs. Karkat took a deep breath, and prepared his mind for this debate. He raised his hands slowly to hold them on either side of his head.

“We’re not from the Empire. We are friends, we all skipped conscription together, we are looking for a place to stay. Our goal is to give the Heiress enough time to train so she can take on the Empress and win. All of us have reasons to ditch, and we have a maroonblood to a ceruleanblood, then a Tyrian blooded troll. We mean you no harm.”

The leader laughed. “Why do bounty hunters always think we’ll spare them if they have warmbloods? If you’re a loyalist, you’re a loyalist, regardless of color. Show your pin. Let us see all of your shame and maybe we’ll kill you quickly.”

“We don’t have any goddamn sign from the Empress or her stupid fucking armies. I don’t even know who you are or what you do. I’m eight sweeps old and trying to find a place to hide out. This looked like a good place until the whole Empire-loyalist wall was shown to me. Good job on the decoration, really gives you that homey feeling. And it does show the personality of the sons of bitches living here.”

The leader growled and advanced towards Karkat. Sollux and Aradia tensed beside him, ready to fight, Karkat shook his head and tapped both of them with the back of his hand. They were the only ones who still had their arms and they could attack. But not yet; no point in trying to take on all these trolls, unless it was a last resort.

“Don’t,” he said. “It’s not worth it.” The leader paused in his advance. Karkat heard Tavros shudder. He had gotten used to the noise of his wings, even when he was sitting in his four-wheel device. He was glad they had him surrounded. Apparently even among conscription skippers there were ridiculous notions about trolls who were better than others. Tavros had wings, but no working legs; no doubt they’d see him as the weakest and they’d be focusing on him.

The leader grabbed Karkat’s jaw, making his head lift up to match masked eyes. A glint of silver stayed hidden behind the cloth, but it was enough he could see it. Karkat suddenly was worried that they had ran into bounty hunters pretending to not be bounty hunters. He wanted to curse, but the grip on his jaw was tight.

There was a long moment of staring before the leader raised his hand and the troll to his right stepped forward handing him a knife. Karkat closed his eyes, swallowing roughly; his throat was going to be slit. He was going to die. He almost went to push the troll away and give Sollux and Aradia the order. He’d even give Vriska permission to mind control who she could.

The hand moved off his jaw and grabbed Karkat’s hand, cutting a thin and shallow line, enough that his freakshow blood bubbled. He held his breath; now it was going to be even worse. Why didn’t he react? He was an idiot.

The knife fell to the floor, followed shortly by the leader. Aradia and Sollux balked and lowered their hands from the sides of their heads. Every troll in the room was staring at the troll who knelt before him.

“He has returned,” the troll said from the ground. “His Great Suffering has returned to us.”

Karkat stared harder and looked at his hand trying to figure out what the fuck that meant. Maybe his blood had spelled that out. Instead, there was just a red line that looked ugly next to his skin. Trolls around the room knelt, murmuring to themselves.

“What the fuck?” Sollux said beside him.

“Your Suffering, tell us what you require and forgive us for thinking you were here to desecrate the temple created by your most loyal follower.”It took a long moment for Karkat to realize the leader was talking to him.

“You mean me?” Karkat asked, feeling as stupid as that question sounded.

“Do you not know your hatchright? The greatest legacy of all trolls…” The leader looked up at him. “You are the saviour of all trolls, the speaker of peace, the legacy of suffering!” Vriska started laughing. “How dare you laugh?” the leader snapped, scandalised. “You should kneel before his Suffering.”

“No, really, no one should be kneeling before ‘my suffering’.”

“Spoken as the true voice of peace and equality,” one of the other trolls said, awed. Karkat groaned. “We are here to assist you, your Suffering.”

“My name is Karkat… Karkat Vantas. Call me by it.”

“As you wish, Karkat.” He rolled his eyes.

“Why do they keep thaying you’re the one who ith thuffering? They thhould athk us about dealing with you,” Sollux whispered, snickering beside him.

“I hope you drown in mind honey,” Karkat hissed. Sollux just laughed harder. “Which one of you is the leader?”

The troll in front of him nodded, pulling his tattered hood back. He was a greenblood, and he looked just as wild as Nepeta, though that was where the similarities ended. “I am Lereal Belsai. I have been acting as leader. However, you may ask to take your rightful place as leader.”

“No, thanks. I’m just looking for a place to crash with my friends, so we can rescue our other friends from conscription. Then we are all going to help Feferi take the throne.”

Lereal looked at him like he had just said something offensive. “I should be understanding, you are still just a child. You can stay here as long as you like, even your friends. I shall explain everything along the way, I assume all of you are in need of a good meal and fresh water.” Karkat nodded, wary. “We will not hurt you or your friends, we only would harm those who would seek to destroy our temple and safe haven. However, if any of them try to, we will have to protect our holy grounds.”

“I don’t think any of us are going to do that.”

Trolls and lusii alike were released, Aradia and Nepeta letting their lusii nuzzle them and lick their minor injuries, Tavros grabbing the surprised Tinkerbull and squeezing him as if he never wanted to let go. All of them were ushered down a hallway, into the mess hall. Paintings that must have held some meaning decorated the walls, along with dozens of depictions of Karkat’s symbol scrawled in red. They were given food and water, and Karkat was regaled with the tale of his not-fictitious-and-actually-a-thing ancestor. Despite himself, he was a little impressed; even if all the guy had ultimately managed to do was get killed, he had got to stick the metaphorical middle finger up at the Empire for a long time beforehand. Karkat hadn’t even believed in ancestors before, and had always thought that any other mutants who had arisen would have been killed before ever breeding. Somehow it made him feel a little better to know at least one had survived for a while.

As they reached the benches, Tavros innocently pulled himself out of his chair, and the hall erupted in chaos, any trolls not already looking at Karkat instantly noticing the wings. Some of the trolls that had taken them in started crying, their hands raised above their heads, muttering about the blessings to them from His Suffering. Tavros stared around, blushing lurid orange and horribly confused.

Lereal fell to his knees again. “The Summoner! The master of beasts, the champion of the young and helpless! He returns to us with the Sufferer!” Lereal pressed his forehead on the ground, and ecstatic moans and shouts rose from the crowd. The group found themselves surrounded, fighting off the crowd’s attempts to touch them. Cries of “Dolorosa!” and “Psiioniic!” echoed through the hall as their signs were recognised, joined by joyful sobs and a few off-key hymns. Tavros’ scream of pain as someone yanked his wing too hard fended the crowd off, and they all found themselves at the centre of a bubble of euphoric cultists. With some assistance from Pounce de Leon and a few less zealous troll followers, Lereal managed to make the crowd back off, but his own company was rather overwhelming in itself. Karkat managed to get everyone sitting down and fed unmolested, and tried to tune out the greenblood’s endless toadying talk.

Finally, Lereal shut up. Karkat tried to conceal a happy sigh. The guy babbled like a stream. His relief was momentary, as the greenblood turned back to him and said “Sorry, did you catch that? You seemed distracted. I was just asking if you’d like us to find a private room for you and your matesprit.”

Terezi sniggered. “Oh, we’d love one, if it’s not too much trouble. Wouldn’t we, Karkles?”

Lereal blinked at her, then at Karkat. “I’m sorry, the tealblood is your matesprit?”

“Ahem. I’m still sitting right here, Mr Green Olives.”

“My mistake,” Lereal said, looking at Nepeta. “I thought the Disciple’s descendant would be…?”

“What? No - well, once. But not now, and it’s really rude to assume!” Nepeta said, pouting.

“Yeah, they tried, but I thort of got in the way,” said Sollux, grinning in slight embarrassment. “AG and I fell black, Karkat’th been my betht friend practically thinthe the brooding cavernth and we had a pale thing at the time, and we both thaw it wath hurting Karkat to pick thideth, so both of uth took a break with him, and we figured being friendth with him workth better for uth both.” He looked sideways at Nepeta. “Troglodyte.”

“Geek,” she said happily, and kicked him under the table.

Lereal looked horrified. “You chose your kismesis over your fated love? But the Disciple and the Sufferer, they transcended the quadrants, they needed no-one else, they-”

“Yeah, well, sorry we’re not quite the original flavour,” Karkat snapped.

“They what? That sounds horrible!” Nepeta said. “How could I abandon my quadrants for one troll? Sollux and Equius are each as important to me as a matesprit or auspistice would be, I couldn’t just pick one! And it would make my shipping wall so boring!” She sighed. “Oh, I miss Equius so much…”

Lereal shook his head in disbelief. Karkat patted Nepeta’s back, and Sollux and she dug their claws into each other’s hands. The other members of the group looked at her sympathetically. They all knew the loneliness she was going through, and that there was no way her pity or hate for another troll would step on or devalue the pity she felt for the currently absent blueblood she held close in her diamond. Aradia and Terezi were particularly quiet. Missing one third of their ashen quadrant wasn’t the same as missing a moirail, but it had left them both at something of a loose end with each other.

Lereal quickly recovered from the oddness, though Karkat couldn’t shake the feeling that him showing Nepeta to a room next to Karkat and Terezi’s and some distance from Sollux’s was intentional and related. As he discovered over the next couple of nights, the other trolls in the cave system were just as strange, whispering or giving brief bows to the group as they passed by, especially him and Tavros. Karkat was happy to accept the shelter, food, and water, but he didn’t think they’d be staying that long.

That was, until they found out they had a few ships. He could deal with being called “your Young Suffering” if it meant they could get their team back together, give them enough time to really train, and then they wouldn’t have to hide anymore. For now, he gritted his teeth and just dealt with the worship.

Chapter Text

Uncertain pity taints long-standing hate;
I watch you clutch the tatters of your life.
I was a fool, and this I learn too late.
We drown our memories, grudges, fears in strife.
You draw my pity, and for this I hate you more.
Your diamond's his, and mine belongs to her.
My conflict burns far hotter than before,
When simple black raged at your sopored slur.
You do not want my pity, just my pain,
My blood, my suffering; this I can freely give.
Black or platonic, your hatred keeps you sane.
In black or pale, I hope for you to live,
To heal, grow strong, and so to mend your fate.
Pale fuel can feed the growing fires of hate.

Chapter Text

“So, the press loved what you did in that battle.”

“Mm.”

The Condesce pouted. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, dear.”

The Grand Highblood raised his head, magenta fluid trickling from his lips. “Kind of busy here, doll. Is something wrong? You seem distracted.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She sighed and shifted back against the pillows of the pailing couch, sliding her leg off his shoulder. “I didn’t think I’d miss Gammy so much. We had so much work to do with him, and then he so inconsiderately ran away. I wanted to see if I could get both fists in him at once without taking my rings off. They always squirm so amusingly when I try that.”

“Shoosh, darling. I have some good news on that point.” The Highblood decaptchalogued a file and opened it, shifting up the bed to lie beside her. “We have new information, including some pictures of certain members of the rebel cult.” The Empress’ eyes went to the page, then to his. He grinned. “Remind you of anyone?”

“I’d say it’s a miracle, but you’d just rub my nose in it, love.” Condesce quickly flipped through the file, looking at each picture. “One of them is registered as having blood at the ninety-degree mark. That’s impossible, they’re all dead.”

“That’s because it isn’t his actual color. I did some searching. The boy, Karkat Vantas, is a mutant. A particular kind of mutant.”

“A zero-degree mutant?” Condesce asked hopefully.

“Typed in grey even. Mouthy little thing, I had never seen insults like that before.”

“You talked to him?” Condesce’s eyes narrowed, looking up at her lover.

“No, but Gamzee did, and I have all his chat logs from before. All of them are friends... Hatchmates and friends. Could you believe our luck? We’re going to collect a full set in one fell swoop.” Condesce smiled, her index finger tracing over a few of the pictures. “Does that make you a bit happier, doll?”

“Oh yes.” She ran a claw around the face of one of the trolls in the photos, examining the features. “They do look terribly familiar. I recognised my Helmsman’s symbol, of course, and I’m sure the mutant must be related to the last one, but where do I remember this one from? Oh, it was all so long ago ...”

“The one next to the other seadweller, I knew immediately. Looks a little small, compared. But it has been too long, hasn’t it? I think it could be possible to bring back those memories. Perhaps create some new ones as well.” The Highblood smiled, his fingers trailing along her scalp. “To think, after all that time they all showed up at once.”

“I’m honestly amazed. I suppose descendants are like shuttles, you wait millennia and then twelve come along at once. Quite the little reunion,” she said, nodding slightly and pushing back into his hand with a pleased sigh. “Of course we can’t possibly just kill them all at once. I’m rather glad they ran away now, it gives us the fun of the chase and a chance to come up with something special for each of them.”

“Captor and the Heiress are your domain, doll, but I don’t mind giving you a few ideas of my own.” He reached over and wrapped his hand around her wrist, her hand still tracing over faces absent-mindedly. “Though we can give all of them a chance to provide for the future generations. We now know for sure that they’ll show up again.” He pulled her hand from the page, his claws tracing down her forearm.

“Well, of course. Tell me, lovey.” Condesce pulled her arm from him and moved so she was facing him. “Are you going to kill him, or are you going to keep him alive? That will help me chose what I’m going to do with my little clone.” Her fingers slid against his palm, and he relaxed his hand opening it up to the touch.

“I wasn’t done with him either. Though when we do get him back, we will have to hold true to our threats.”

“Does this mean we’ll have a set of girls?” Condesce smiled, using her other hand to press against his bicep. It was only leverage for her to pull herself onto his lap.

“Or a set of boys, or one of each. Depending on our mood.” Both of them shifted in near harmony. One of the Highblood’s hands wrapped around her back.

“Do you think we could make them do whatever we wished?” Condesce was sounding like a child. Both of them knew what they were doing, and even with the knowledge it didn’t make it any less fun.

“Oh yes.” The Highblood’s fingers curled around her side, holding her in place. “Lock them in a room and make them watch each other’s torments, their friends’ pain - eventually they’ll comfort each other, and we can twist it even more. Perhaps we should start by cutting their chirpboxes up like you wanted, so they have to get more, shall we say, physical with their comforting.”

“Would you let me help?” Condesce dropped her head just a little bit. The whole image was enough to make the Highblood lick his lips. “Or are you just going to make me watch too?”

“Oh no, you’ll help every step of the way. She is your little boy, after all.”

It took everything she had not to smile. “Really?”

“Oh yes, your little boy and my little girl.”

“Do you think they’ll turn pink over it? If not, I don’t know if I’d be happy.” Condesce pressed her palms against his chest. She looked up at him imploringly, but she couldn’t hide the glimmer in her eyes.

“We can’t have you unhappy. If I have to, I’ll make them.” He leaned down, pressing his lips against hers. It wasn’t a gentle or loving kiss. Instead, their teeth pulled on lips, their tongues fought. Everything about it was painted with their particular brand of violence. Neither of them would have it any other way.

“What about the others? I suppose you’ll want to keep the rustblood. I recognise her symbol now.” Condesce sighed. “It’s been a long time. I’d have thought she’d have cropped up sooner, considering her bloodlink’s behaviour.”

“Are you still jealous over that? I don’t complain about your Helmsman.”

“Yes you do. You do worse. Remember I’ve caught you playing with the shock buttons without my permission?”

He scowled and ignored the comment. “Or are you still mad about losing your champion psychic?”

“No, no. I had no real use for her anymore, and I know she wouldn’t have replaced me in your diamond. Just wondering.”

“Well, it would be nice to have a living paint supply for the matching Megido portrait. The first one started to go dry too soon.”

“I remember that. She stunk out the whole hive before you finished. How could you stand it?”

“What can I say? I get very focused on my work.” He grinned.

“I’m sure you had a few other reasons to keep her around for a while. Your respiteblock was filthy until you finished.”

The Highblood’s grin just widened. “I’ll keep her, you keep the pissblood. If we’re keeping them all long-term we should divide them up equally - divide the group up, I mean, not cut them in pieces. At least not until they get boring.”

“Why, thank you! It’s not fair to keep families apart. I do remember I let him meet the last one that might have been ours. It’s nice to have one that shares his sign, a confirmed descendant... Hm, how much better do you think my ship might go with two helmsmen? I think with this one I’ll use longer wires, though. Maybe someone can rig up something to tighten and loosen them, allow for a little more re-positioning when he’s not too busy. I wonder if he can be allowed enough movement to reach his bloodlink and I can watch two matching ones together again...”

“You’ll be the envy of the armada, love - more so than you were already. As for the violetblood, I think someone else wants a turn with him before either of us takes him. One of the new hunters I hired was his would-be matesprit at one point. What’s her name? … Filona, that’s it. I liked her, I think she’ll go far. She’s impressively bitter. Perhaps we should keep an eye on her and see if she’s worth making into a real protege - we can teach her a few tricks of the trade. I’ll make sure she doesn’t kill him, wouldn’t want her wrecking our full set.” He caught the Condesce’s pout; neither of them liked to share with others. “Don’t be too disappointed, he wasn’t very fresh anyway from what she said. On the bright side he has practice, but it looks like we’ll have to find another disposable medtech to check him over. Don’t want him spreading anything except his legs.”

“Cute. You finally found something to pun over.” Condesce smiled wistfully. “I get a whole litter without all the disgusting parts of mammal breeding. I love it." She ran a hand over her own venom sacs and squeezed gently. "Perhaps I will try the mammal way of feeding them, though." Venom dripped onto the Highblood's chest, where it hissed and let up a ribbon of smoke, blackening the skin.

“I don’t mind.” His voice was tense. “Having them try it out. It would be a new experience, I wonder what happens if you do. I know you’ll allow me my fun, would you like to take the whole Suffering set?” The Highblood’s hand wrapped around her hip and pressed her closer to him. She smiled at him, slightly before pressing her hips down harder without his prompting.

“I don’t particularly want the blueblood, but I’ll exchange it for the jadeblood. I’m interested to see how much they can hold.”

“I can take the blueblood. He’s very strong, as was his ancestor. Anyway, I’d like to make him crawl around after me, something his bloodlink managed to forgo.”

“Are you going to chop off his limbs, rip them off, or break them?”

“Break them, he would still have all that strength and no way to use it. Imagine the cut to his pride, my love. I could do something similar with the others - you did say you wanted them as your grubs, so now they’ll have to slither like grubs.” Condesce’s tongue slid along her lower lip. She was pressing against him hard enough it had to slightly hurt; she knew he didn’t mind, not with the way his bulge was reacting. “From what I gathered from chat logs, he’s very close with the Disciple's spawn.”

“How close?”

“Pale close,” the Highblood said with a smile. The Condesce moaned, as his bulge pressed up against her nook. Not penetrating, not yet. They hadn’t even gotten graphic yet.

“Ohhh, how wonderful. I wonder if his bulge is just as strong as the rest of him.”

“We can give them a choice.”

“You or him. Either way her nook will at least need stitches.” Condesce glanced briefly back at the file. “Especially if she really is that tiny. Hm, we never did make much use of her ancestor. Focused more on her pet mutant, as I recall. We’ll have to make up for lost time.”

“I’ve always wanted to split open a living troll that way. I’m sure that would be a beautiful picture.”

“You’d have to tell me if organs were as fun to play around in as the other parts of them.” Her claws dragged along his chest as the stroking increased. “And to me it doesn’t count if they aren’t breathing.”

“I’ll make sure you get to watch. I could describe it in the moment for you as well. That way I don’t leave out any details.”

“Mind doing that with the audience of their friends?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. If the blueblood decides to hand her over to me, I’ll make him assist. Of course without his limbs I’d have to improvise, thank the Messiahs he’d still have his mouth.”

“I wish we still collected teeth, can you imagine the collection we’d get with all of them?” She pushed her hips forward, her body nearly begging for him to just get on with it. They both knew patience was necessary for these things. It made it so much better if they waited. Waited until it was painful for him and her body was burning with need.

“We could start again. It is a special occasion after all. Do you want the other seadweller primarily? His bloodlink was obsessed with you. No doubt the boy has some types of feelings for the heiress. His reactions to her training would be lovely indeed.”

“I suppose I can take him, perhaps since he has experience he would be satisfying. Plus, I’m better equipped to handle him for an extended period of time. I have tanks ready, you don’t.”

“That reminds me of the time we added excessive carbon dioxide and chloramine to the tank, just enough it made it difficult. How he begged for clean water, the things he did for it.”

“Wasn’t he the one we had cut up and eat his matesprit?” Condesce laughed softly.

“Indeed he was, we laid out the other one on the table shackled on his stomach and had him start on the thighs. Keep going until he was full. He had clean water as long as the little brownblooded boy stayed alive.”

“I’ve heard rumours it’s possible for seadwellers to breathe in a tank of troll blood. Shall we test that, or do you need all of it? Perhaps try something similar with genetic fluid, after we’re done collecting it for our other purposes... Can you paint with that as well?”

He could tell she was distant, no doubt working to remember the exact pair. Her claws were tensing against his chest, she was starting to get desperate. His control was starting to waver.

“You want the Summoner set? He and you had so many good times together.” She was cooing at him. “We didn’t get to be the end of Mindfang, but we could this time.”

“She did nearly beg for my bulge once, I wonder if her little copy would do the same.”

“She did, didn’t she?” Condesce laughed, pressing her hips forward, her nook dripping, pulsating, needing. He wasn’t much better off. “Of course, the boy... Did he inherit the wings?”

“I’m pretty sure he did.”

“Can we pluck them off and preserve them? Mount them on the wall. We didn’t manage to do that with the original.”

“I think we’d have to cut them off - it’s nearly impossible to pluck those out, no matter my strength, not without killing him, and if we leave them on too long they’ll tear.”

“At least one of them then. We’ll try plucking first. If that doesn’t work, then we can cut it out.”

“Remember the original? We clipped his chains through his wings and he tore them off himself? Didn’t help him much, but I was impressed. Determined little thing. A pity he had to die, he could have made quite an interesting kismesis.”

“Any plans for the Redglare brat?”

“Oh, you’ll love this,” the Highblood laughed. “She’s blind. Her lusus is an unhatched dragon, it taught her to see by smell.”

Condesce gasped, and a wicked grin spread on her face. “Acid again?”

“Oh yes. Burn away her tastebuds and the inside of her nose, pierce her eardrums, leave her with nothing but touch so she still knows exactly what’s happening to her... The file mentions where her dragon’s egg is. I think we’ll have to send someone to fetch it, let its insides be the last thing she smells. It’s been a while since I tasted dragon, and I’m sure they never have. Even an egg-sized one is big enough to go around.” The Highblood smirked, pushing his hand against her hipbone. Condesce’s grin was still wicked but turned into something else. She rocked her hips against him, enough to say that he could, that she was getting just as impatient. She gasped as he took the suggestion with vigour, his bulge pressing inside of her quickly. “The sad thing about space is,” he said, his voice teetering between a groan and actual words, “all the delicacies are still on Alternia.”

“It’s too bad.” Condesce’s voice was just as strained, the bulge inside of her moving slowly, pressing against places that made her shiver. “If we had found them earlier we could have trained them better.”

“We’ll do the best with what we have.” The Highblood’s hand tensed on her hip, his thoughts broken up by the rush of pleasure as her muscles tightened around him. “Still plenty of fun to be had. If they were any younger they’d die after just a few days. Not the perigees I’d like them alive.”

Condesce groaned, her thighs pressing against him, the bulge in her moving quickly. Her claws slid down his chest. Not enough to make him bleed, she knew better than that if she wanted to use her venom again. She didn’t want him dead. Just in pain. He returned the favor, his claws drawing blood on her hip. Not a lot, but enough she hissed through her teeth.

“We’ll need to keep them separated. Gammy has already escaped once. All of them together would just increase those odds.”

“Of course, doll.” The Highblood shifted, moving her with him. “I’ve thought of a few things to make sure even if they do escape, it’s not a pretty prospect. I haven’t had to think about any of them escaping since back on Alternia. I must have gotten a little lazy.”

Condesce pushed down against him, rocking her hips to increase the sensations inside of her. She gasped, moving faster as his bulge moved, knowing just what she wanted. His hand was still tight on her side.

“I’m glad you’ll admit to your shortcomings. Though usually they don’t last that long with you anyway.”

“Speaking of lasting...” he panted, glancing down.

Condesce wanted to roll her eyes, but she couldn’t. “I blame you, it’s all your fault.” Her body tensed again. “You know, lovey, it will be a while before another mutant is born, if this is any indication.”

“In that case we’ll need to keep him breathing long enough to collect a good supply. I was thinking of fitting a drainage tube in one arm and a nutrient drip in the other. Constant conversion. He could potentially last sweeps. Of course that might get in the way a bit, depending on anything else you’re planning, but how much is he really going to need his arms? ...”

“He really doesn’t. Doesn’t need much to keep us entertained, really. That would be just fine, until he lost all of his will. You know and have reminded me on many occasions, when they stop fighting they lose their fun.” Neither of them were too sure how clear their conversation was to the other. It really didn’t matter, they’d talk through this until they had them. “Once he gives up, we can slowly split him down the middle, making sure any blood lost is funneled into the middle, just for you.”

“You’re too kind to think of me so much, doll.” She shivered again, her body tightening once more, as he kept speaking, his words and movement speeding up. “And when he’s dead we can still have a little fun. I’ll peel the skin off what’s left, I know how to preserve him so he won’t rot. We’ll nail the pieces up somewhere, each take half, we can look at them every day and remember... oh, f-fuck...”

“Oh, let go, we have plenty of time to discuss this. This won’t be the first and the last.” She trembled forward, her body tightening as she leaned against him. The pressure was enough to drive him past his own point of no return. Both of them were left panting for a moment afterwards, before smiles spread on both their lips.

“We’ll have to make sure,” Condesce said, almost laughing, “we don’t just talk about it.”

“Of course, doll, eventually we’ll do everything we talk about.” He brushed sweat-soaked hair from his eyes. “Speaking of them, did you find out what went wrong with your ship’s tracking system?”

“We’re not sure. Of course I had to express my displeasure to my dear Helmsman,” Condesce said, polishing her nails on the bedsheet. “But that all got sorted out. Where were they going again? It should be in the paperwork...” She picked up the file and flicked to the last page, and laughed. “Oh, I remember this place! Useless little mudball, I thought. None of the spy drones we sent were able to collect much information, we never found out what happened to them. We got enough to be going on with, though.” She smiled up at the Highblood. “I think you might like this planet. The insufferable Sufferists certainly will.”

“Really? Why?”

She leaned up to him and whispered. “Because on that little planet, everything bleeds bright zero-degree red.”

Chapter Text

It was strange, really; the roar of the crowd just silenced, Mindfang’s smirk vanished among the blur of gray and black. Everything slowed down, even the feeling of rough rope being forced over her head and tightening around her neck was lost.

This was her final moment, the very end of her life. There was no escaping it, no way she could fight against it. Instead, she had to come to terms with it. Surprisingly, there was no anger or desperate pleading. Both were useless and she quickly discarded them. This was her end, however, the knot was still tightening around her neck, and she understood everything was moving too slow.

It would give her enough time to reflect, enough time to accept her own death. If it happened suddenly she might not come to terms with it and become a ghost. She didn’t feel like wandering the halls for all eternity, so she supposed this brief moment of having all the time in the world was worth it. She had lived a surprisingly long life, even for it being so short. She had plenty to be okay with, and perhaps by the time the rope snapped under her weight she’d be totally okay with dying.

She had achieved her dreams. She wanted nothing more than to bring order to Alternia, to bring justice and penalty to those who thought themselves above it. She had in her short life brought right and moral justice that would make any litigious troll proud of her legacy. As long as they didn’t know her.

She was on the wrong side of right, and couldn’t help but feel as if this entire case, this trial against a pirate, was a set-up. Though she had paid her dues. She had paid the price for wavering on her path. She suspected her name and accomplishments would be lost to time, as the person she had come to idolize was lost as well. She had committed treason, she had broken the peace, she had thought those crimes were paid for. She couldn’t shake that feeling, and now it wasn’t the time, there would be no reflecting upon this later. There was only the rope around her neck, each calm and ready breath. There was only now, and she hoped that would be all there was henceforth.

Her own illegal dealings had started innocently enough, she had risen through the ranks with wrath, want, and skill. Too fast not to be noticed, but too slow for it to be suspicious. She had studied hard, taken on challenges even veterans called her crazy for. They thought her an upstart, someone that would have to be quashed at some point. Ambition needs to stay in check, her closest confidant had told her.

Her rise in ranks led to privilege, to study old cases, ones that defined the very laws that shaped Alternia. She learned of treatises before the land and sea were in any type of agreement. How the current Empress had made both land and sea truly work together as she took the throne, a landdweller by her side, and death lurking just behind her. She learned of reforms to laws, language, culture, of new rituals, and old ones abandoned. It didn’t help with her current cases, and most saw it as frivolous for her to know. She’d walk the archives pulling out records and books, one sweep at a time, reading the minutes of the sweep. Learning how the empire became what it was, how the laws shaped.

Frivolous as the information seemed, knowing the law to this depth and breadth allowed her insight into why a criminal stood before her. She learned how to sign a death warrant with the smallest amount of work. She learned how to save the trolls her superiors told her to save. Even in front of a crowd of lowbloods she could make them sympathize with a seadweller’s choice, even if it was against one of their own.

To her face they called her a fabricator and praised her abilities. Behind her back they called many things she gave a spare thought to but didn’t hold on to for long. Her confidants told her she should do something other than work, that she should find pity or hate. She should find something, anything, other than the rules and regulations of the past and the protocol of now. She assumed they didn’t understand she had a pitiable partner, she had something she hated to her depths.

Justice was a patient lover, never demanding much other than to be heard, though the courts and process prevented its happiness. It was a perfect match in her mind and she required no more. Looking back on it, as the crowd’s jeers and jests - their rebellion - met her ears once more, as the knot was snug against the nape of her neck, she didn’t regret only finding unrequited feelings; she had a good run and was proud of what she made her life. This end wasn’t as painful as it could have been.

She knew of painful deaths, ones done to inspire a message that would stick around regardless as names, dates, and exact happenings to trolls vanished past obscurity and into legend.

A case she worked on should have been a purplecaste thing. It was a breakage of time-honored caste law. Instead her superior had summoned her and sent her to them to do the trial outside their tents. The troll in question was one she would always remember, a teal blood like herself whose only crime was falling in hate with a seadweller’s pitiable interest. The violetblood framed her for trying to blackmail him into assassinating a prominent council member. He managed to tell the subjugglators before the plan could go into action.

She was arrested, tortured, and probably worse. Enough to extract a confession that was based as much upon lies as the very foundation of the hemospectrum. This she learned in her time there. The purplebloods had welcomed her, cat-called, but welcomed. An honored lowblood guest. She never did know if it was condescending or not, she didn’t fret if they cared about her beyond being a troll who did her job. As long as she did that they’d have no reason to peg her for anything or for her to draw the attention of anyone.

Now that she thought of it, her superior probably hoped she would have been killed at this trial. She did look so surprised when Redglare had returned, with not even a hair out of place. Taller, more confident, and more hell-bent on justice than before.

As the trial lingered on (it was always so difficult to make a troll confess to crimes they never committed), she grew restless and asked if she may have the permission to read their own records. Their minutes of peacekeeping. The high general admired her hunger for knowledge and allowed her that, as long as she never spoke about what she read or learned. An easy promise to keep. She spent most of the trial there, reading, learning, getting to know the secret workings of an organization even more malleable than her own. One whose whims were as much based on the Empress as vague and non-descript messages from their so called “gods”.

She dived into archives, deeper and deeper, to dusty sections that hadn’t been touched for years. Her own window to a world that was familiar but still different. Almost completely forgotten to time. She learned of something so forgotten it was easy to make a jeweler craft something with the symbol and no troll was any the wiser. She kept it away from the Empress and those that still might be old enough to recognize it. She liked it close to her heart, she saw it as symbolic. Though the necklace came later; first came scouring the records for information. A unknown blood, a creator of discord, a mutant who rebelled and claimed that trolls did not need oppression and the castes, that they were brothers and sisters. Equal in right and ability. That to subjugate and control those lower or to detest and envy those above was a waste of their race’s potential. That they were all equal, and bound under one law, one rule. That true justice was blind. She learned of sermons, of speeches given in private homes, high and lowblood alike, how slowly groups converted to his way of seeing things. How he requested no prestige, only that trolls learn to pity each other, regardless of hatchright. Regardless of everything the castes and their upbringings had told them.

She learned at first the subjugglators saw it as cute. A petty attempt by a lowblood, his color unknown at the time, to reach beyond his place, and it would go nowhere. It wasn’t until a member of the council stepped down from her position - a seadweller, who went to live among rustbloods - that his message was truly noticed. He was gaining an army of low and high that could march on the Empire and win. How would peace be kept with every caste created equal? The rebellion started slowly. Just as the counter attack did. Infiltrators, spies, who pretended to adhere to his message to join him in his revolution.

She had never before heard of a case like this, though it seemed as if everyone at the time was well aware of it. She decided then that these heretical ideas were too appealing to let them live on in any means. That should another uprising happen, trolls would think it the first. The idea of an equal world so appealing to trollkind that no one could even know that a revolution could happen.

Her body weight was balancing precariously on the crate below her feet. They had started to pull it from her. Slurs and hisses were being directed at her, and she couldn’t care. Her legacy would be lost to the pages and minutes of history. She had not done so much that her name should be stricken from the record.

Though she had, at one time, had plans to try.

The world he envisioned was one she understood, where law, not blood, was above all. Where no troll would be tried and executed to further the plans of another. Where she could hold true criminals to the very letter and punctuation of the law. Her drive renewed, she began to take coded notes. Ones that she wrote down away from the room, where it looked as if she was working on the case.

She read of his follies, his trouble, how he attempted to hide. How that meant nothing when the Highbloods came. How he acquired the title The Sufferer, how he bled the color of animals, how he was nothing under the true definition of justice. Blood above law. As it was still, even as she danced on her toes, her own noose around her neck.

It was when this new passion became too consuming that it got suspicious. She began to slack on a case with a level of complexity that wasn’t warranted. Slowly other lowbloods with minor infractions were being pulled forward. She wondered if the highbloods just liked making up rebellions because they were bored. Or if this was an easy way to get rid of a bunch of lowbloods with no previous outright record.

That was a divergence and despite having all the time in the world, it seemed as if it was beginning to run out. She hadn’t got to now, she still had a way to go. Luckily she was still teetering on tiptoes, as the crate under her feet was slowly dragging on the soles of her shoes.

She began to plan, to plot a rebellion with different methods. To use the system against itself and bind everyone to being held accountable. She knew it was a pipe dream now, but then she had hope for the power of her mind. Her ability to champion justice and make Alternia a place where no troll had anything to fear, nothing but breaking the same laws that applied to everyone.

Her seclusion earned her attention, attention she gritted her teeth against. She didn’t limp in the morning, she didn’t let any troll know of what had happened. Instead she bore the weight; if she ever were to speak of it she’d meet her death. She was not overly proud, she was aware of her abilities but not proud. She didn’t keep herself from feeling its methods due to her pride, she kept them to show she might take his threats, but he could never take her. What she was intrinsically. She was more than just another tealblooded troll who would bow to the whims of a broken machine.

After that she focused on the case, she kept her notes and silently promised a rebellion one day in the future. She had experienced injustice and the fallacy of blood. She knew what she was up against, but she had learned, she could take their methods into account. A lonely life without a true friend, or a real lover. She had passed along her genetic material already, even if it was incomplete. She wouldn’t curse a descendant with a lawless world. She had time, she always thought that. She had time.

She was fine to take up solitude and write, she had time. So she did. Long texts about the very justice she could see in the world of the future. How she could see a fight, and how she could use the Empire itself to win that fight. If she could only figure out one thing. The key to tearing everything down, with its own wavering laws, and practiced lies that trolls all believed. Even if they knew in their heart that they were corrupt.

Though her job continued she took up another. Not a revolutionary, she was not one to be a figurehead. A herald would be enough for her. She wasn’t about to plagiarize his ideas. Instead, she would figure it out. Become a harbinger of change.

But she forgot, she forgot the highblood ability to creep into a troll’s dreams. To change them, to use them. That would explain why suddenly a pirate who had been around for sweeps was of interest of the law. Why now was the time to take her down. Redglare smirked outside her nostalgia, they were all pawns in a game.

She could see Mindfang looking at her, a smug defiant smirk on her face. Had there been more time and more life, and less mission, they would have made an interesting team, a strange and peculiar pair. But now was not a time of what-ifs. Now was a time of final inches. The final moments.

The crowd was being obviously moved to their mission. A highblood way of life, as she had always said. She was as much of a pawn. She swore she wouldn’t speak or tell anyone what she found. The Highblood had said it wouldn’t come without payment. Both promises held true, and when her ability became a threat she’d be executed quietly, no one would be any wiser that anyone had been a pawn. They were all born as them, unknowing game pieces. Mindfang’s smile grew wider as the box slipped from under Redglare’s feet, her weight fell on her neck and instead of a snap she could feel the pressure and air became scarce. Don’t trust untrained professionals with nooses.

She decided. This was it, and looking back at her life, she regretted nothing. She had done as she always intended to do. She would be another unspoken hero of a revolution lost in time. She trusted her words would live on by some means. Someone would find them, someone would believe them, someone would carry on the message. The right and just will always linger in the mind of trolls. Her words would hopefully champion that, her thoughts a lost soldier on a battlefield far less obvious than the ones trolls were used to.

When her words flowered and bore fruit, Alternia would not bear a resemblance to this mass of tenuous control. Sweet fruit that would be the right of change. She fancied herself justice incarnate. Presently, true justice could not live here. She smiled as her vision sparked out of existence.

She was okay with dying. When justice came again, Alternia would be ready.

Chapter Text

The closest port to the subjugglator hivestem was a long walk away. It didn’t deter him from his mission, it just made him loathe the closest contact to the Empress even more. He was going to turn that bitch of an ex-kismesis in, then she would be out of his hair and the seas would rightfully belong to a seadweller once more. His boots crunched on the gravel, his crew following him to a stop in front of the massive doors. He didn’t need even a breath of preparation before he shouldered them open and, without a word to any of the other purplebloods in the room, strode to another door.

He had never outright dealt with the Grand Highblood, and he had met him only once. Neither of their particular professions usually ended with a good outcome. However, he was a lowerblood, and by rights should get rid of the scourge of the sea. In turn for information Dualscar would be let go, and if the troupe wanted to pursue him and get rid of pirates once and for all… He would say that his information came in exchange for a head start. Not that he was too worried, most landdwelling trolls kept out of the ocean. All except for her. And who really cared if he killed some lowblood slave anyway? That’s all that troll had been, a slave. That shouldn’t have changed their relationship as dramatically as it did. But in the end he’d have the last laugh, perhaps he’d don a disguise and watch her trial. No doubt it would be entertaining. He pushed open the final set of doors, his crew behind him still, though looking distinctly nervous. The room smelled like blood and death, but still he strode forward. Walking in that way that made his cape swing behind him, granting him more mass. An intimidating figure, at least he thought so.

If he didn’t know better, he’d think the Highblood looked slightly surprised. Mostly he just looked angry, but that was nothing new. The enormous troll stood up, looming over Dualscar, and snarled “What do you want, seadweller?”

He could feel his crew fight to take a step back, but really. That the Highblood was perpetually angry and a little indecisive wasn’t a reason to be afraid. “I hawve information regarding a pirate by the name of Spinneret Mindfang. I figured I should tell someone about the criminal. You seemed like as good a choice as any.” He let himself smirk, not smile. He wasn’t going to be that belittling. The thing with trolls like the Highblood was you had to humor them. His eye chanced to glance slightly downwards and he noticed the Highblood’s codpiece fastenings were slightly undone. He tried very hard to forget that he’d noticed that, and looked the Subjugglator in the eye.

“Well?” the Highblood said slowly. “What is it you wanted to tell me? Obviously, it’s important or you wouldn’t have barged in here.”

“There is a trade for this information.”

“It depends on if it will please me.”

“Vwell, if it pleases you, I’ll tell you her tactics, vwhere her ship usually docks, and vwhere her stashes of loot are. In trade, I come out of here aliwve and vwith a head start, since my own criminal nature is no doubt known.”

The Highblood smirked, the smallest amount. “Well, that would be a fair trade.” He circled his hand at the wrist. “Out with it then.”

Dualscar started to talk, the confidence slowly leaking from his voice under the Highblood’s stare. It didn’t look like the Highblood was particularly pleased by his information, but that could have just been his usual demeanor. Dualscar kept himself from losing face; when he got out of there he didn’t want his crew to see him as weak. His exposition slowly came to an end. He stood there, the rainbow-painted room coldly silent.

“Is that the end or is there more?” The Highblood’s voice gave nothing away.

“That vwould be all the information I hawve.” Now he felt nervous, perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea. He had no time for regret, instead he nodded respectfully and turned on his heel. Information given, he could get out of here. Which, looking around the room, seemed like a better idea then sticking around. The smell of death seemed to permeate everything.

“Where are you going?” The voice made Dualscar pause. He turned enough to face the much larger troll, but not enough to expose his core to him.

“I gawve you my information, I vwill now take my leawve.”

The Highblood smiled. “For the record, I don’t really care what happens on the sea. It’s not my domain.” The Highblood smirked. “I’m willing to take something else in trade for your useless life, though. Say… a smile?”

Dualscar’s brow wrinkled. “Vwhat?”

“Tell me a joke,” the Highblood explained. “It’s not difficult.” He sat back on his throne, gesturing. “Go on.”

“Oh. Er…” Dualscar blinked, and thought frantically. “Vwell … Vwhy did the seahorse-”

“I know that one. Try again.”

“Okay, did you hear the one about the tyrian and the rainbovwdrinker-”

“Yes.”

“Vwhat about-”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t even say anything that time-”

“Last chance.”

Dualscar wracked his mind; he wasn’t much of a comedian. He had about exhausted all the jokes he knew. Suddenly, a giggle alerted him. He turned, to see a slim figure perched on a chair in the corner. He squinted into the darkness.

Her Imperious Condescension was giggling into her hand. Her suit was unzipped to the waist, her venom sacs concealed only by her hair.

He stared for a long moment, trying to make sense of the scene. The obvious answer could not be the actual one. Dualscar’s eyes narrowed and he turned back to the Highblood, his mouth fixed between a snarl and surprise.

“Did I interrupt something?”

“Was that your joke?” The Highblood’s face was still devoid of an actual smile, the paint he wore didn’t really count as one. Dualscar let himself growl. There had to be another reason, because there was not a mutantblood’s chance in this stem that they were a thing. That the Empress would lower herself to pity a landdweller. Before he could think his gun was in his hand and pointed at the much larger troll.

“Or is that your joke?” The fact he had a weapon pointed at him didn’t seem to phase the Highblood. “Because that’s almost funny.”

“You can’t talk to me like that, you filthy dirtcravw-”

The Highblood’s enormous hands took hold of the gun barrel and Dualscar’s collar, and yanked him into the purpleblood’s lap. The Highblood’s voice hissed into his ear.

“I rather think I can.” The giggling on the other side of the room got louder and the Empress’s hand pushed harder against her mouth. “Did you interrupt something? Yes. But that’s quite alright. I won’t hold it against you. With you here we can have a different kind of entertainment. Now, I was saying something about a joke.” The gun was yanked from Dualscar’s hand and left it stinging. “Though I can’t turn a blind eye to the fact you tried to threaten me, so let’s even the playing field and make sure you understand…”

What he was supposed to understand came quickly to mind as the Highblood’s forefinger looped under the clasp of his cape and pulled. It fell to the floor in front of the throne. He shifted his hand so the claw could pull through the front of Dualscar’s shirt. Dualscar tried to evacuate himself from the grip, finding it impossible. He tried kicking next, which also failed. He had been wrong, it wasn’t going to cut through his chestplate; instead it traveled down, hooking in the hem of his pants.

His crew went for their weapons, the Highblood shouted, and suddenly the room was crawling with subjugglators. There must have been concealed doorways somewhere. They fell on the crew, but merely disarmed and restrained them. Dualscar wondered how many times this had happened before, for them to know the procedure so well.

His body was jostled, without a care as to how he was moved. Once again he tried to attack. Futile effort, maybe, but it could have worked. His pants were shed, and found their place on top of his cape. The Highblood shifted him once more. There was a cackle from some of the other subjugglators, the Empress going quiet. He paused, and tried desperately to turn and find her. Seadweller solidarity. The Highblood turned him around shortly thereafter; he could see the whole of the room for no more than a split second before his body was lowered and his eyes closed in anguish.

“Still waiting on that joke.”

Dualscar screamed, clawing frantically at the arm holding him up. He vaguely heard shouts and laughs from the audience, but his mind was taken up entirely with pain.

“‘Aargh’ isn’t much of a joke, brinesucker - no offence, doll,” Highblood said with a nod to the Condesce. “Though I’ll admit it is quite funny, but that wasn’t the agreement.” Dualscar cursed him, shouted insults he had never thought to use. “That wasn’t even funny.” The Highblood shifted, the bulge ripping through Dualscar like fire on a mission. “Try again.” The growl didn’t bode well for him. If he managed to tell a joke, he’d walk out of here limping and without a crew but he’d walk out of here.

“Aaahh… okay,” he managed to gasp out. “Okay. I’wve got one. So a rustblood, a seadvweller, and a rainbovwdrinker vwalk into a bar…” He got that far before he swore he heard something inside himself tear and he could only scream.

He took a breath, trying to regain composure enough to speak, his eyes closed tight, teeth pulling at his bottom lip. He wasn’t going to scream again. “S-So,” he tried once more, and shut up quickly. He didn’t know if he could operate in this much pain. He opened his eyes, trying to find the Condesce in the crowd; she could theoretically stop this, all she needed was to say one word and all this would be over. Progress on trying to find her was broken up into bursts as the thing inside him twisted, his claws digging into whatever they could get themselves into.

“Come on, you’re on a time limit here.”

“T-Time limit?”

“Once I’m finished, you’re finished, if you get my, ahem, drift. Excuse the ocean pun, that’s more your thing than mine.” Dualscar swore he could feel the Highblood’s smirk against his neck. “Then again, considering how loose you are, maybe that’s giving you too much time. What did you do, shove both fists up there? Or do you fuck those whales you hunt? Oh well. Easily remedied…”

His body was pulled up again, and the Highblood wasted no time in yanking himself out of Dualscar’s abused nook. With the slightest of movements Dualscar was pushed forward, with enough time to catch a glimpse at what was close at hand. Being pushed down invited a new type of pain to radiate through his core, though this one was slower, creeping up into him. He would have screamed but he was holding his breath. There were some places bulges were not meant to go, and this was one of them.

“Much better. See, I told you I could fix that.”

The bulge in him moved against walls that had never been properly stretched. His voice clicked in his throat; he had a time limit. If this was a common occurrence around this stem, there was no doubt that the Highblood would make good on his threat. He had to try to speak, but with everything that was happening he wasn’t sure if he’d manage. Blood pounded to his face, he needed to breathe. He still had one other chance; he could tell his joke, or he could find the Empress and get this to stop.

“Tick.” The last thing he needed was more belittling words. “Tock.” He swallowed down his growl, opening his eyes, coaxing himself to just look around the room and find her. Try that first. He wasn’t sure if anything but screams could come from his mouth.

He heard a gasp, and recognised the Empress’ voice. He looked in the direction of the sound, and wished he hadn’t. Her jumpsuit was most of the way off, her hair thrashing around her like her lusus’ tentacles but not concealing the location of her hands. Even in the throes of physical pain, he was sure he felt his heart break. There would be no help from her. He gritted his teeth and tried to get his throat into gear. He managed to get a few words out before pain crashed in and he nearly screamed again.

“Okay. A rustblood, an indigo and a rainbovwdrinker - no, wait, it’s a seadvweller, no offense, that’s just hovw the joke goes … so they vwalk into a bar oh fuck that hurts …”

“Fuck? Certainly,” said the Highblood, and yanked him down hard enough to make him see stars. “Come on, keep talking.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Highblood’s hand move. Another subjugglator handed him something Dualscar couldn’t quite see. He had no chance to wonder what it was before something very sharp was pressing against his leg. The Highblood’s hand wrapped entirely around the barrel of the gun that Dualscar needed both hands to use properly, and lifted it as easily as a toothpick.

“It seems you need a bit more motivation. I’m pretty sure you’ve told me the same thing three times in different variations.”

Dualscar let his eyes look down at his leg, his gun pressing against the flesh. Not hard enough to cut or bruise, but enough he knew it was dangerous, which was a fact he was well aware of. He tried to pull back; given the way the Highblood’s mind worked, he had no doubt what would happen. He regretted the motion almost instantly as he shoved more inside of himself.

“F-Fuck, no, I mean god. So they vwalk into-” He screamed as the barrel of the Crosshairs shoved into his nook, the tip cutting into oversensitive muscles.

“That’s the fourth time you’ve said that,” the Highblood was hissing at him. “I’m getting impatient.”

“P-Please… just take it out. Anything but this. Not the gun. It’s cutting… I’ll bleed to death.”

“Quite possibly, but not certainly. You will, however, definitely die if you don’t finish what you were saying.” The Highblood punctuated his words by making sharp jabbing motions with the gun, each one moving slightly deeper.

He tried to speak once more, his voice heavy with tears; he hadn’t even realized he had started crying. The bulge inside him was seemingly growing, and he hoped that didn’t mean that his time was getting too close to an end. He mumbled and gasped out the beginning again. The barrel of the gun pressed in and he swore the crystal tip was about to tear through into his stomach. The Highblood started to rock Dualscar’s body back and forth, whispering “tick tock” in rhythm into his ear.

He skipped the beginning when he went to talk again. “So the rainbovwdrinker says to the barmaid-” His teeth snapped closed after a few words, the bulge inside him thrashing. He swore that if there were a medal for uncomfortable things this would take the trophy. He could feel the gun sliding around inside him like some kind of pailing aid, no doubt shredding his insides to ribbons. He closed his eyes and tried to get through the second part of the joke again.

He was almost done with the setup when the Highblood’s head turned at the sound of a cry from the Condesce, and Dualscar’s eyes followed in morbid curiosity. She was now lying on the floor, her back arched, eyes rolled back, hands still at work, several tendrils of her own hair working into her. The pitch of her voice increased, her hips bucked, and pink fluid gushed over the floor. Applause from the audience echoed through the hall as she relaxed and gave the Highblood a smirk.

His gun shoved deeper and he screamed again, his attention firmly brought back to just what he was supposed to be doing. A chuckle echoed close to his ear. “One down, one to go… and…” he tried to ignore how the words had shifted to heavy. His hips were rocked once more. “Tick, tock.” He was going to be sick, but still he tried to get back through the joke, walking through the set up once more. The bulge in him moved faster, he could feel his timeframe coming to an end. His voice was shaking, all his words spoken between gritted teeth.

He was almost done with the conceal, before he was shoved down, his throat seizing up from the agony of both the bulge locking itself firmly inside of him, and his gun shoved back against his nook wall. Through the pain, he heard cheering, and recognised the voices of some of his own crew joining in. Some more reluctant than others. Even now he had a chance to feel a pang of anger at that, but it was quickly pushed out of his mind. Disgusting warm wetness trickled onto his legs, and he wasn’t sure how much was blood.

The Highblood yanked him up. More of that fluid stained his thighs, and if it wasn’t for him being shoved forward he might have had time to worry about being sickened by it. The gun was still shoved into his nook, the movement hadn’t jostled it nearly enough. Instead, it felt worse then ever. It was pushed deeper once more.

“Looks like your time’s up,” the Highblood said. The gun was shoved and Dualscar realized he had one second to decide if begging or trying to finish the joke might spare him.

“So then the seadvweller says-” he shouted, voice high-pitched and hysterical.

THOOM.

The Grand Highblood unceremoniously dropped the body, watching the smoke rising from the wounds, and his lip twitched.

“Well, looks like he made me smile after all.”

Chapter Text

This part was actually okay. He watched with interest as Preosh Filona gasped and bucked her hips, her gills fluttering, his hand busily working down her pants. It was pretty fascinating how he could put someone in that state, if her joy actually was real. Maybe this part wasn’t actually so bad as he’d thought. Matter of taste, perhaps.

“Wait, stop a moment,” she panted, pushing him away. “I brought tooth-guards.” She reached into her sylladex and pulled out the little packages, their contents designed to blunt trolls’ razor-sharp fangs to prevent painful accidents during intimate moments. “You want to-?”

Oh. This, he was less happy about. “Sure! Uh, you sure you wwanna do me?”

“Why the hesitation, has your tongue stopped working for anything but bragging?”

“Hey, it still wworks fine!”

Preosh’s eyes glinted hungrily. “Then show me.”

Eridan took a deep breath. Dualscar could do it. So can I. “Okay. Mind doing me first?” She never did mind, which was good. Once or twice before he’d had to explain to his partners why he still wasn’t turned on after they’d finished, so he preferred to get his own side of the ordeal over with quickly.

He pulled on the button and tugged at the zipper of his pants, pushing them down only as far as was necessary. Preosh gave him a small smile before she opened up one of the packages, putting the retainer in her mouth. She yanked his pants down to his ankles, and he stepped out of them, feeling exposed but not complaining for fear of seeming suspicious. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, pretending the hand on his seedflap was his own. That had never been a problem; it wasn’t really great, satisfying in a way but not something he wasted a lot of time on, but at least it didn’t make his stomach churn. Her grip was confident enough that it made pretending easier. Fortunately he was fairly sensitive to friction, and his bulge slid out soon enough not to earn the awkward questions he’d endured his first few times.

She took it in her mouth, wet and slimy, pressing it lightly between the plastic tooth-guards, and he shuddered in a way she must have taken for pleasure. Or a convincing imitation. He’d never been entirely sure whether anyone else actually liked this. Why would they? If it was as fun as everyone insisted, why would they need the threat of drones to make anyone do it? Her hand slid under his shirt, tweaking his grubscars, and he resisted the urge to push it away.

Her hands pressed onto his hips, holding him still. Which seemed pointless, he thought, along with the conscious effort of moving his hips like this was enjoyable. She didn’t need to brace him, she could have just pulled back and told him not to move. That would mean losing pretense, which right now they both had.

Maybe if anything more official came of their arrangement, he’d tell her she didn’t have to pretend with him.

She tilted her head back a little, her tongue working against the flesh, the guards applying pressure along the whole thing as she slid it out of her mouth before taking it in again. He clenched his fists at his sides, which usually was taken for enjoyment. He didn’t have to think about that one. He tried to focus on bringing this to fruition far faster than his other times. Usually most just took him for experienced, but he just wanted the feeling gone.

Her tongue curled around him and, while still reacting properly, he tried to force himself to get to that point, his hips moving faster, hoping if he went through the motions of orgasming it would help it come to pass. He could feel her eyes move up to him. He hoped whatever his face was doing wasn’t disgust, but his attention could only be divided so much. He could feel pressure and soon he’d be over that pretty anticlimactic hill and this part, at least, would be over.

Not soon enough for him, he hissed “Bucket!” between his teeth, and she quickly decaptchalogued one and pulled her mouth away. He shivered and relaxed as the last drops of violet landed in the pail; at least that bit wasn’t so bad. Nothing special, and definitely not worth the process of getting there, but okay; when he did it alone it was pleasantly satisfying, in the same way as stretching a stiffened muscle back into place, or sneezing after having held it for a while. Best of all, finally, she stopped touching him. Not for long, he realised, as she offered the second tooth-guard. He took it, and forced a smile. Refusing a lady would be downright rude.

She was already aroused when he tugged her pants down, and her bulge slid around over his hair when he knelt in front of her and she put one leg over his shoulder for better access. He thought, briefly, that this must be what it was like to have one’s face humped by a sea cucumber, and couldn’t suppress a nervous giggle.

“What? Is something funny?

“No, no, just … thinking of somefin else.” He wished he could think of something else, but the task at hand required concentration.

He wished he could put his finger on what, exactly, was so unpleasant about it. It certainly wasn’t anything about her specifically, and she didn’t actually taste too bad or anything, but something about being this close to another troll made his chest clench and his insides squirm. He could feel her pulse against his tongue, not quite in rhythm with his own. He looked on the bright side; it was better than the first time he’d let someone test out using his other holes, on the grounds that using his bulge wasn’t working. That hadn’t been a good night at all. As if it didn’t hurt enough usually … At least being a boy meant he wasn’t expected to do that much, though once or twice he’d been asked again and he was hardly going to wuss out.

Her hand coiled in his hair as his tongue moved, stroking at flesh, driven towards a goal. His arms wrapped around her thighs, holding on to her, pushing his tongue deeper with an internal wince. It still wasn’t outrightly horrible, just subtly so.

He wished he knew how she managed to sound so happy. Surely pushing anything up there couldn’t be comfortable. Maybe some time he’d ask her how she managed to fake it so well. His jaw was starting to ache, and he was glad she didn’t have the same shyness about getting that pressure gone that he had when he had first started. Her hips rolling against his chin and the awkward addition of her hand pushing him closer made moving his mouth difficult.

Her breath started to become ragged, and she moved her hips faster. From the increased flow of mucus leaking over his tongue he guessed she was close, and moved the bucket into place. He moved away briefly, looked up, and asked “You ready?” In reply, she grabbed his horn and shoved him back into place. He set himself back to moving, her voice pitching higher and echoing around the room. Doing this was far more uncomfortable with a bucket in the way, but he was unwilling to move it. He’d had a couple of trolls before who forgot to mention when they were getting close, and the results had been messy.

His tongue swiped along skin with blood vessels too close to the surface, working once more, curling inside her, pressing against the nerve-charged areas inside her, making her tense and pull on his horn. Her hips rolled against the pressure, her sounds breathy and loud; he was thankful that this was something recruits were expected to do. There was no way to keep this girl quiet. Perhaps he’d give her the hint that being really loud didn’t make her sound like she was enjoying it anymore.

She tugged on his horn and he pulled back a little at first, her muscles tensing and shaking. He wrenched himself back, making sure it landed in the bucket, and not too much on him or the floor. He didn’t exactly enjoy cleaning up those messes.

Preosh slumped against the wall, knees weak, and smiled at him. “That wash- oh, ‘shcushe me.” She took out the tooth-guard, and continued speaking. “That was good. I guess all your practice paid off.” She winked, and Eridan mentally winced as he took out his own tooth-guard and gave her a weak smile. He had practice, and not just with her. He needed as much as he could get before the deadline when the drones would arrive. Of course at first it had been less practice and more testing the waters, feeling sure he must be missing something obvious, but he’d come to the conclusion that nothing was going to work. He’d got better at it, at least. His first time, he’d vomited shortly afterwards, unfortunately on his partner. Vriska had never let him forget that, but she’d chalked it up to the wine.

The deadline wasn’t looming, but was close enough he could see the storm brewing. Preosh was a nice girl, had plenty of ambition to rival his own, and they had worked together before and been quite a team. She would, relatively, be the best candidate he had found for one of his reproductive quadrants. With his kind-of-sort-of quadrant-flipping partner a run-away he still had two to fill, and getting one down with a decent troll would make his stress levels drop.

“Pre…” he started, unsure how he really wanted to go about asking. “I’m curious.” He decided the direct approach wouldn’t earn him any favors. “Do you ewer get tired of having to… you know, fake it?”

“Fake what?”

“You can’t tell me you really enjoy this.”

“What, you feeling inadequate?” She smirked, and sat beside him. “I’ve had worse, trust me.”

“No, it isn’t that. I mean generally having to fake it. I wwanted to say you wwouldn’t have to wwith me.”

“I’m not sure if you’re asking me out officially or just insulting me. Or insulting me to ask me out. My spade is taken, you know that.”

“No, I know it is… I just meant … You knoww. All … this.” He gestured vaguely at the bucket.

“Okay, add to my previous list the possibility that you’re trying to tell me about some kind of creepy fetish you have.”

Eridan bristled indignantly. “Wwhat?”

“Well, Eri, you’re being very cryptic. If you do have a weird fetish, I’m pretty open-minded, you can tell me.”

“I do not have a strange fetish.” He scowled. If she actually was enjoying this, maybe she did. Knowing Equius had got the point across that some people liked pain, though as far as he could see the enjoyable type wasn’t usually the same as the creeping nausea and muscle tension he experienced. Or maybe it was, how would Eridan know? Equius was fucking weird anyway.

“Well then, what is it, Eri?”

“Wwell,” he sighed. He’d have to be a bit more direct. “Don’t you just get tired of this? You can’t honestly tell me you enjoy all this pailing.”

“Huh? What makes you think I don’t? Wait, are you trying to say you want to go exclusive?” Preosh’s brow furrowed deeper. “Go officially flushed? Well, I’d be okay with that, but are you ready for it? It’s not like the drones are coming tomorrow or anything, we’ve both still got time to play the field a bit, and we haven’t known each other all that long.”

“Uh, that’s not quite it. It’s just… Wwell. You do seem to do it a lot. Isn’t that, you know… gross?”

Preosh blinked at him, then, before he knew what was happening, she leapt to her feet, picked up the bucket, and hit him over the head with it. Purple liquid, cooling to sludge, sprayed over him and the floor, and he had a fraction of a second to be disgusted before the pain kicked in. He sprawled back on the floor, clutching his left horn and wincing, gaping up at her.

“You- you-” she spluttered. “I can’t fucking believe you!”

"Pre?” His voice was soft. He thought he might be able to calm her down from her freakout. “Wwha-”

“Oh, don’t ‘what’ me!” She was yanking at her pants, trying to pull them on quickly. “You of all people think you can say that to me? That comment coming from the troll who will fuck anyone who offers! You know you’re the first male troll I’ve ever met who knows what it’s like to have all three holes filled at once? I know about you, you’ll fuck anything on two legs and from what I hear the only reason you’ve not moved on to four is because there’s no hoofbeasts available!” She was forcing her shirt on straight, before fumbling with the button of her pants.

“I’ve newe-”

“Right, why would you tell me? Ashamed of it enough to call me loose. I’m sure if you didn’t have a bulge in there your nook would just be constantly staining the floor.”

“I-I don’t-”

“You know what I heard you did?” she snapped, looming over him. He didn’t say anything; he was pretty sure he’d heard all the rumors but maybe this one was new. “Back on Alternia you spent more time on land than the sea. How many rustbloods you rack up before coming here acting all high and mighty?” Her hands clenched into fists. “One day a grub will be hatched with mustard blood and fins and we’ll all know who to thank.”

“But I-”

“No! I’ve spent too fucking long defending you, Ampora! Before I even ever saw you I defended you during Trollian flamewars, and every time you were so fucking ungrateful! Do you know what they’ve started saying about me because I hang out with you? I’m just lucky I have some real friends to back me up! Someone else might have actually liked you if you didn’t act like such a fucking asshole to everyone who wasn’t actively shoving their bulge in you! I was stupid enough to think you deserved someone to feel sorry for you!”

Eridan felt tears rising, and tried to blink them away before she saw. He failed, and her rage slowed to a simmer. She dropped to one knee, grabbed him by the collar, and hissed into his face “It’s not my problem if you want to bloat yourself up like the Mother Grub, but don’t you fucking dare look down your nose at me. Well, good luck finding anyone else once I tell about this.”

“Wwhat? No, no, please!” Eridan gasped. “Please, no, I’ll do anything-”

“You already have done ‘anything’, and that’s the problem.” She nodded at the mess on the floor. “Have fun licking that up. It’s nothing you haven’t done before.” She stood up, recaptchalogued her bucket with a disgusted glower at the remaining fluid in it, and with a final half-disbelieving shake of her head, she was gone.

He stared at the door for a long moment, trying to make sense of her freakout. He looked around the room, and dropped his head. Well, that was an unprecedented screw-up on his part. He stood up, knowing he needed a shower and something to clean up the violet mess on the floor. He found a scrub-brush, filled a bowl with soapy water, and knelt to clean up the stains before they set. More of the fluid was drying, cold and sticky and starting to smell odd, in his hair, but that wouldn’t stain permanently. He felt queasy again. The stuff was bad enough when it was fresh. More violet stains appeared on the floor when his eyes started watering again, and he bit his lip. By the time he finished scrubbing away even the slightest trace, he was sweaty and tearful, and needed a shower more than ever.

He stood up, putting the cleaning supplies away, and headed to get himself clean, avoiding too much of the mess caking onto his skin. On the bright side he was already mostly stripped down, which wasn’t much of a bright side. He peeled off his shirt, deciding that he might throw it in the refuse-incinerator later. He didn’t want to wash it. He turned the dial for water, and waited for it to get warm before he climbed under the spray.

As he watched the purple swirl down the drain, he wondered what the hell Preosh’s problem was. It was just a simple question! He was trying to be helpful! Okay, maybe he had pailed with an awful lot of trolls in the short time since their arrival on the ship, but they’d asked him, and he was hardly going to say no and be marked as a coward. They didn’t get to turn away from the trials in the brooding caverns, this was just the adult equivalent, and at least this was less likely to kill him.

He scrubbed at his scalp. He wasn’t the only one who had gotten around. Plenty of others had, it was to be expected with the threat of drones coming closer and closer. Filling quadrants was necessary, and he didn’t want to be disemboweled so close to actually doing something in the empire. Survive the caverns, survive to conscription, survive conscription, only to be cut down because pailing was a shitty excuse of a life. It wasn’t high on his list to have it happen. He had dreams and if he had to take time to find the right partner then he would. Unfortunately, it seemed to have backfired. Everyone he’d been with had given his name to their friends, maybe seen him a couple more times, and then eventually started avoiding him themselves. He’d been on the ship twenty-one nights, and had already been with sixteen people. His record was five in a day.

And okay, maybe he had done a few things that fell outside the heading of mainstream pailing, but mainstream wasn’t working for him, he could hardly be blamed for testing out other options. Nothing had worked, though. It had been a pretty big disappointment to realise popular culture had lied to him about something this big, but it wasn’t like you could believe everything you heard anyway. He was ashamed to have been so naïve.

He rinsed the last of the genetic material from his hair, still feeling dirty and somehow used. Which was ridiculous; nothing had happened that he hadn’t agreed to. He mentally shook himself. So maybe this wasn’t going his way. But other than his pailing… difficulties, he wouldn’t call them problems, conscription had been pretty decent. He liked the ship, his mentor, and what he was learning. Things could be better, but that would only be bringing it up from great to excellent, and he could settle for great until the drones were done with.

He rinsed off one more time, the water feeling good on his gills. Maybe he’d go for a swim. It was late enough there was a good chance that everyone else would be doing their studies, and he would have the pool to himself.

He tugged on a clean set of clothes and headed out. The walk helped clear his head, and he started to feel better, until he turned the corner and saw two other recruits deep in quiet conversation. They looked up when they saw him, then quickly looked away. He thought he heard one snicker.

“Wwhat?” he snapped at them. He knew it was a bad idea, but he really wasn’t in the mood to just let things go.

“Where’d you put it?” one of them asked. Eridan couldn’t for the life of him remember the guy’s name. He could remember his room number, though, even if he’d been hoping not to need to remember it again.

“Put wwhat?”

“Gartel’s jewelry. She says you stayed over yesterday and when she woke up you and her sign trinkets were gone.” Eridan stared at them for a long moment. The troll shrugged and continued. “She’s pretty pissed off about it. If you give us part of the stash we’ll make sure she doesn’t find out you were about.”

“I didn’t take anyfin from her. If she’s missing anyfin it’s her own fault, or someone else’s.”

“We thought you just started asking for payment. Better to get paid then give it away. I think I might have a few spare caegars, if you want to come with me I could give them to you.” The troll made a pumping motion with his hand, which made Eridan wince. He remembered that evening had sorely tested his ability to suppress his gag reflex, in more ways than one.

“Why bother bringing him back to your room?” the other troll said, winking obnoxiously and baring his snaggle-fangs in a grin. “Bet if we asked he’d do it right here, huh, Ampora? Not like he’s got anything left to be embarrassed about, the whole ship’s seen him already.”

“Wwhatewer.” Eridan growled and turned, marching down the hall back to his block, unwilling to risk any further meetings. Wonderful, now he had to deal with being accused of theft. The walk back did nothing to ease his mind or calm him down. When he marched back into his room he spared the wardrobe a kick, making his foot ache. He cursed, grabbing onto it, hopping over to his chair. He sat, holding onto the sore appendage, trying to ease its throbbing. He had to find Gartel and offer to let her search his block. Maybe come up with an alibi for where he was the day before. Though he didn’t think any trolls would defend him once Preosh’s word got around. It would be funnier for them if he was sent to trial for it. Well, if worst came to worst he could always bargain for silence.

He let go of his foot and stood up, pacing around his block, wondering it he should go and try to get an alibi now, or see her first to let her search for herself. He sighed; tonight was terrible, it made him miss his wrigglerhood ship. It made him miss simpler times when his biggest worry was litter in the ocean or Fef not getting enough food for her lusus.

He’d go find the troll to vouch for his whereabouts from the night before before the rumors spread too far. If he could get it recorded then he wouldn’t have to worry about those rumors spreading, making defense impossible.

He opened his husktop. Better contact Gartel online first and make sure she was around, it’d save him wandering the corridors and potentially suffering more unpleasant encounters. Trollian beeped at him. Huh, new message. He opened it, and a mass of indigo rambling appeared onscreen. He blinked and peered at the familiar yet still barely-readable quirk. What was Gamzee doing messaging him? As far as Eridan could tell, he seemed pretty emotional, though about what was unclear.

CA: god gam

CA: wwhat is this glubbin about

~

One extremely awkward conversation later, Eridan glowered at his husktop as if he was actually staring at Gamzee’s retreating back.

CA: you should havve told him wwhat you meant by servve

CT: D—> He can’t be so naïve as to not know what is required of him

CA: yeah i guess evven after all that sopor hes not that dumb

CA: wwhat a glubbin wwuss

CT: D—> Be fair, I believe it is a very new situation for him

CT: D—> It’s only natural to be unnerved

CT: D—> Give him some time, he’ll be fine

CA: spose so

CA: wwell talk to you some other time then

Eridan slammed his husktop and continued glowering. Fucking lucky bastard. Something nagged at him; Gamzee had sounded even less coherent than usual, and Eridan wasn’t entirely sure if he’d been happy or freaked-out. Either would have made sense.

Eridan sat under his desk as if it would protect him from the world outside, tucked his knees up under his chin, decaptchalogued his beloved scarf, and started to cry quietly into it. Whatever. So Gamzee was freaking out. Big deal. Gamzee only had to fuck one person.

Chapter Text

Eridan was sure the room would have been spinning, if he could see through the violet smears on his glasses. He could still taste alcohol, and smell it, not to mention feel it as his hands and knees slipped in spilled puddles on the table.

Someone’s bulge was in his mouth, making him drool uncontrollably. He couldn’t see whose. He wished they’d stop yanking on his scarf. He did recognise the voice of the troll behind him. He hated that guy; he’d come to Eridan for things his matesprit wouldn’t let him do, and Eridan had felt like a coward if he refused anything. Right now, the guy’s fingers were pulling out of his nook, lubricated more with other trolls’ genetic fluids than Eridan’s own, and easing in somewhere even less comfortable. Eridan felt nauseous, tried not to think about what was filling his stomach, and concentrated on just getting it done.

He wasn’t sure where the information had come from, but in the back of his mind he knew that if he could just finish the job, if he could please everyone who came to him without letting them know he was anything but ecstatic, by the end of it, he would be normal.

He couldn’t tell whose hands were connecting where, and he was pretty sure his hands were being grabbed and a bulge was slipping between his fingers. Another troll spoke, he vaguely registered the voice but he was keeping his eyes closed, trying to focus on keeping his reactions about him. Though he was pretty sure any troll would have grimaced as fingers pulled out of him and a bulge replaced them.

The troll pushing into him put his hands on Eridan’s hips. His body was shifted, and he could feel the other troll against him. That made a fresh wave of sickness roll over him. He opened his eyes, and another troll he recognized but couldn’t put a name to was between his split thighs. He bit his lip, closing his eyes once more. He didn’t know too much about this troll, a relative stranger; he wanted to cry but that would give him away.

The alcohol wasn’t enough to cover that pain. Fingers were one thing, a bulge was another. He gasped, he could feel his hands tensing, claws pressing into his palms. The troll pushing into his nook was nice enough to give him a breath before he let himself move. He let out some noise that he used to cover his pain, it sounded happy enough to let him keep up his act.

He heard someone ordering the others to stop, and felt a rush of hope before the speaker followed it up with “You’re blocking the way, at least turn him over!” He didn’t struggle as he was picked up and re-positioned, ending up sitting in one troll’s lap while another stood between his legs and a third climbed up on the table beside him to reach his head. He looked in the direction of the speaker, and really did feel tears rise as he realised it was Preosh.

“Pre, I-” he stuttered. “I… I don’t knoww if I wwanna do this anymore.” He sagged. He’d failed. She shushed him, resting a finger on his lips.

“It’s okay. We’ll teach you.”

With that, she climbed into his lap and sank down (how the hell was his bulge still out?), and the other troll on the table grabbed his head. Someone else took his hand and shoved it into their own nook, and the tense pain in his stomach and the slimy feeling on his fingers made him briefly think he’d shoved his hand into his own entrails. He almost wished he had. Maybe it would have killed him.

There was too much motion, too much going on. He couldn’t stop his tears, if anyone asked he could always say he was just overwhelmed. The smell and the feeling of all of them moving against him was making his stomach roll, and the still-terrible pain in his stomach was getting him closer and closer to being sick.

One of the trolls shoved inside him was holding on to his sides, and he tried to move out of the way. Tried to get them to stop touching him more than they had to. He could learn, he just had to focus on learning. It was difficult to focus on anything with all of the pain. The troll holding onto the back of his head was pushed out of the way by another. He had time to gasp before his nose was pressed against skin. He didn’t even know that was possible without his teeth causing some sort of damage.

His body was shifted again, offering all of them better access. Both of his hands were free; they seemed as if they were switching, waiting for their turn to find some place to shove inside of him. He could hear them muttering at each other. He wasn’t totally sure of everything they were saying over his own bloodbeat and choppy breaths. He caught the word “move”, “more”, and “see” but that didn’t seem to make any type of sentence in his mind.

That sounded like the lieutenant’s voice. Something about having some special guests aboard. Cheers rose from the crowd, and he sensed the trolls around him shifting away, pulling off or out of him, leaving him covered in splatters of violet. Someone considerately wiped off his glasses with his scarf. He blinked and tried to focus through the slight purple smears remaining, and recognised the two grinning faces above him.

“Gam? Nep?”

Nepeta tutted. “Such a shame, they started without us! Well, we’re here now. Now we can get you ready!” She clasped her hands in joy, and Gamzee took hold of Eridan’s hands and pinned them on the table.

“Wwhat? No, no, you’re my ashmates, wwe can’t-”

“Not like that!” Gamzee laughed, actually sounding happy - Eridan hadn’t heard him sound like that since before conscription. It made the situation feel even worse. “Preosh, was it? Hold his legs.”

He tried to yank himself away, but Pre’s hands were holding onto him tightly. He couldn’t fully escape. He struggled, falling back into another troll, who grabbed his arms and made him stop struggling. He kicked up, but Preosh seemed completely immune to the blow. Gamzee grabbed his hands again, once again pinning him back, but someone was still holding onto his arms.

“Now, it’s not nice to be struggling,” he chided, and that made Eridan’s stomach fall to the floor. “We’re just helping you out. Ain’t that what you want?”

Nepeta giggled, as she pulled something out of her sylladex. His breath caught in his throat as he saw the object. He resumed his struggling, trying to get away from all of them. This wasn’t part of learning anything. The knife pressed against his thigh, and his body froze.

“Don’t be such a scaredy cat.” Nepeta was smiling. It wasn’t a smile he had ever seen on her, but it made sense. He wanted to whine, instead his throat tightened up, and didn’t even let him speak. The knife dotted along his skin, not cutting just yet.

“Yeah!” Gamzee clicked his tongue disapprovingly and shook his head. “I said you weren’t a coward, it’s not nice to prove your friends wrong so quick. Kittysis didn’t whine, did you?”

Nepeta’s smile widened, and she used her free hand to roll up the hem of her shirt. Eridan read the word cut across her belly. Ketesk. Pail. Just like Gamzee’s mark.

Gamzee leaned closer and whispered in Eridan’s ear. “Better to be a pail than a freak, ain’t that what you thought?”

Eridan sobbed and tried to shake his head, but his horns clacked against Gamzee’s. Nepeta’s knife reached the starting point, and suddenly tore into him with so much pain he swore it had cut right through to his spine.

“Don’t struggle!” she told him sternly. “We’re a team now, we have to match!”

“P-Please, please,” Eridan whined, trying to pull away, but not move too much. He didn’t want that knife to do any more damage.

“You think begging will get you anywhere?” Gamzee was hissing beside his ear. “As she said, we’re a team.”

“Stop, please stop, please.” Eridan couldn’t force himself to say anything else. He was basically chanting it. The words were swallowed up by Gamzee’s laugh, his claws pressing into Eridan’s hands hard enough to bleed.

“Please,” Gamzee’s voice mocked him, “Stop.” Nepeta chimed in for the last word, her smile showing off every one of her fangs.

“Oh, please stop. It hurts.” Nepeta’s voice was childish, but still somehow mocking his own tone. “You say that like you think anyone would have ever listened!” Eridan was unashamed of his sobbing as the knife moved, feeling like it was mixing up his insides and cutting through them. The knife pulled back, and Eridan wasn’t aware there could ever be that much blood. “Look at me, Eridan.” Nepeta’s voice was softer now. He willed himself to look at her. He watched the knife shove back down into him.

“You know, I guess we don’t really match,” she said thoughtfully, twisting the knife in a way which tore pain right up to his head. “We’ve all got the mark now, but you’re different. You’re special because, for you, it’s true!”

The crowd’s laughter drowned out Eridan’s screams, rising louder and louder as Nepeta finished the carving, reaching an agonising peak and then suddenly cutting out and leaving only his own voice echoing from the metal walls of the ship.

He sat up, shaking, alone. No, not alone, but untouched. The sounds of his friends waking up brought him back to reality.

“Gamzee, are you upsetting Eridan again?” said Nepeta’s voice.

“Motherfuck, kittysis, I was finally getting some fucking sleep over here!” Gamzee protested, yawning.

“Oh.” Nepeta moved from under one of Equius’ towels that she was using as a makeshift blanket. “Eridan?” Eridan flinched as her hand landed on his arm. “Are you okay?”

He swallowed, unsure of how to answer. It had been a nightmare, but right now he couldn’t seem to rationalize it. He was pretty sure Nepeta was hiding a knife somewhere. He took a deep breath, and nodded.

“Yeah, just a nightmare.”

“That was some motherfucking nightmare,” Gamzee said, his voice much closer. Eridan just about jumped out of his skin as he turned quickly to look over at the once-again yawning troll. Eridan took a breath. Once the yawn finished Gamzee continued. “It’s still rattling around your pan. I can all feel it.”

Eridan fidgeted between them, and settled for staring at his hands. He took another breath and once again set on reminding himself that this was reality and neither of them were going to cut into him. At the very least Equius would stop Nepeta from doing it.

“I’m okay,” he mumbled. “It’s a risk of sleepin’ without sopor, isn’t it? Nightmares and all.”

Nepeta squeezed his arm; it was more comforting than it was scary. Eridan took that as a sign that the dream was fading from his mind. “Do you want to talk about it?” Nepeta asked softly. “We can go somewhere. I don’t think Gamzee would mind sitting in too…” She looked up at Gamzee, the kind of look that said he had better not mind, or there would be consequences.

“If he wants, I don’t mind, ain’t no way I’m fuckin’ falling asleep again.” Gamzee shrugged, scratching the back of his head, once again yawning.

“Or,” Nepeta said, “We could see about waking up Tavros.”

“No, no, let him sleep…Uh.” Eridan glanced from one to the other, and smiled weakly. “Thanks, guys.”

They found a quiet corner and Eridan lay back down, Nepeta huddled up beside him. Gamzee hesitated, then lay a short distance away, his hand just brushing Eridan’s. Nepeta shivered slightly. “Wow, highbloods are really cold. I always thought Equius was a bit cold, but I’m used to him now…”

“Sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Nepeta sighed. “We all seem to be saying that a lot lately.”

“Seems like it.” Eridan nodded. He felt awkward, he wasn’t too sure if he wanted to talk about it. Maybe it meant something terrible. Or he could offend them, which he really didn’t want to do. Not right now, he couldn’t argue right now, his mind was too scattered. He hesitated and tried to find the right words to either stop this or start it.

“Are you okay, Eridan?” Nepeta looked up at him. “Was it that bad?”

“Well, the both of you wwere in it…” He wanted to smack himself over the face. He should have just said he would rather not talk about it but just stay huddled up with someone that wasn’t trying to sleep with him or kill him. He looked over at Gamzee who was obviously listening but still farther away. Maybe he should just shrink that thought down, to one person who didn’t want to kill him and two who didn’t want to sleep with him.

“‘Sokay, fishbro. You don’t have to be making with the detail if you’d rather not.”

“I don’t knoww.” Eridan shuffled. “Are you s’posed to do feelings jams wwith your ashmates?”

“Fuck what you’re ‘supposed’ to do, who the hell cares anymore?”

Eridan nodded. “I guess you’re right… I’d be happy just to be here for a wwhile. If neither of you mind.”

Nepeta snuggled up closer to him, yawning once more. “As long as you don’t mind me sleeping on you.”

“Go on ahead Nep. I don’t mind at all.”

~~~

Another shriek from Eridan woke everyone up. They all went for their weapons, only to see Gamzee nowhere near him and Eridan holding out a fat yellow plush at arm’s length. Gamzee scowled.

“What? He wasn’t motherfucking sleeping well, so I gave him that. I thought it would help!”

“Yeah, if you wwanna lend me a plushie, make it one that looks like it’s not goin’ to eat my brains?” Eridan flung the bee in Gamzee’s direction. Sollux psionically intercepted it, caught the bee, and dusted it off before handing it back to the purpleblood.

“GZ, I’m okay with thharing if it helpth, but quit getting ED germth on my bee.”

Chapter Text

There was darkness, and humming wires, and the pulse of the ship. He could no longer feel the wires piercing his skin. He was alone, and almost felt at peace. Almost. She had not come to him for a long time, and he still had enough spirit to relish the lack of her even as he feared her next visit. He did not struggle any more. He knew, had always known, he was never going to leave the rig alive.

Thirty sweeps. That was the number in his files. It had felt like three thousand.

He almost wanted to laugh bitterly; he was beginning to lose what parts of him were troll and which parts were machine. He accessed his file, not his own memory. But the computers didn’t lie like his mind could. He could still feel the deep urge he had in himself to move and shift, but it would be pointless, the wires would just shift and dig into another part of him not numbed by pain.

He heard the door slide open, and he tensed as she walked into his line of sight. She was smiling. That was never good. He tried to brace himself. Would she just want to pail and leave? Did she want him to fill a bucket with her, or would she use him to finish herself off and leave him aching? At least the latter meant no warped out-quadrant offspring would come of this; he platonically loathed her, and he was sure she was not capable of true pity, whatever she thought she felt for him. Would she even touch him, or was today going to be one of those days she wanted a listening ear as she gloated over what she had done to some other unfortunate? Or was she feeling inventive today?

The clothes he’d been wearing when he was wired in had mostly worn and rotted away by now, leaving him vulnerable to her eyes as she stripped down herself. She captchalogued her clothes, smiling sweetly at him. “Sorry, sweetie, it’s not playtime right now - today it’s just so I don’t stain them.”

Feeling inventive, then. But what was she doing? He frowned behind his headset as she decaptchalogued not a bucket, but a large steel tub. This was followed by a camera, which she set up and plugged in, carefully angling it to get a good three-quarter view of him at a distance at which it could not be accidentally knocked over. It wasn’t the first time she had filmed herself with him; her purple-blooded lapdog liked to watch and couldn’t always be there in person. Next came a spray bottle of disinfectant, some cloths, a box of lengths of plastic tubing, a sheet of paper covered in diagrams he couldn’t make out, and… His eyes widened and he tried to shrink away as she held up a scalpel.

“Of course I couldn’t possibly trust this job to anyone else, my darling. Don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of practice.”

He had long ago given up struggling, but he struggled again now, thrashing as if he could break his bonds. The wires shifted inside him and cut into him again, bringing new flares of pain. He started to cry, despite himself. He’d taken anything she could throw at him, being forced to pail, suffering electric shocks, having her turn off his water drip… This was new.

“You see, my darling, it seems you’re not operating at full efficiency - don’t worry, I forgive you!” She laughed, as if he actually had done something worth forgiving. “See, this…” she tapped the tube that entered his wrist, pumping fluid into his veins, “… is giving you all the energy you need, and this…” she reached around and tugged harshly on the filtering tube piercing his kidneys, “… gets rid of everything you don’t need. So it seems your poor little lowblood body is supporting some parts it doesn’t need any more, and we can’t have even a little thing taking away any energy that could be better used in my beautiful ship. I’m sure you understand. They must be causing you terrible pain, anyway, they’ll be all shrivelling up now you’re not using them.”

He wanted to fight, to direct his energy at her and watch her be cooked alive. If not that, at the very least he wanted to use it to kill himself. There were fail-safes in place, he had tried once. Directing it at her gave her ship more power. Directing it at himself just gave him enough of a shock he would be rendered unconscious for a few minutes and she’d be angry at him, making everything she did so much worse. He would have tried to pull away, but she was holding onto his stomach and side, the scalpel hovering just under his ribs. He wanted to scream at her, but his voice was probably lost to sweeps without use and that terrible ache he had in him for years as he got used to living on a diet of liquid nutrients.

If he did have his voice he might have asked her to kill him. It might have got her angry enough she accidentally made it happen. That was a pipedream, and instead she smiled at him before tracing the scalpel down the line she was going to cut. Not cutting yet, more marking her path. She looked over to the charts once more.

“Now, be a good boy and don’t wiggle. We wouldn’t want to drag this out, would we?” Her voice was too sweet, and if he had anything to vomit up he would have done it over her. He was positive she wanted to drag this out as long as trollishly possible. He didn’t know if she was a monster or something more evil than that. But whatever she was, she was a black hole on troll kind.

She was still looking at him, as if he could or would respond to her. She lost that sweeps ago, and it wasn’t like his voice was going to magically come back. The blade was still tracing along lines of bone and muscle, creating small red welts that stung but did little more. He could feel his shoulders loosen, before he prepared himself to be cut into. He resigned himself to this. There was no way to fight her.

He’d tried everything. Twice.

Her smile somehow got wider, she made some type of cooing noise at him. “That’s my Helmsman.”

His skin split under the blade, from groin to throat. So far there was only a slight sting; he relished that, knowing how much worse it was going to get. She spread the wound with her fingers. He had no body fat left, and so the amber-coloured muscle was directly open to the air. That would make her job easier. She pinched the flesh between thumb and forefinger, stretched it out, and started to cut.

Strand by strand, the muscle gave way under the sawing motions of the insufficiently sharp blade. He automatically tried to pull away, his hips bucking, his body swaying in the wires. Her bloody hand reached out and pulled a lever, and the wires tightened even further until he was sure he’d be split in half. Her hair slithered up and formed a tight collar, holding his head up, not tight enough to restrict his breathing. His lips moved, and the output screen started to flicker.

>n_o
>n_o n_o n_o
>N_O N_O N_O
>N_O N_O N_O N_O N_O

She ran her fingers lightly up his side, leaving a slight tingle which was rapidly overwhelmed by the pain. “Shoosh, darling, shoosh. It’ll be over soon.” He felt even more sick. Not content with the buckets, now she was violating him in a pale manner as well; only to be expected from one who bred with their moirail.

There was a snapping sensation as the last of the muscle fibres gave way, and she started peeling back the membrane holding in his guts. He was unable to move his head, but his eyes moved downwards in time to see her shove the tub under him, grip a coil, and pull.

He couldn’t close his eyes, and look away. Instead, he watched as his organs slid into the tub, her hands covered to just above the wrists in his blood. Another drip automatically started, the one that told him he was getting pumped full of “donated” blood. He wanted to close his eyes, but he couldn’t, and tears fell silently down his cheeks, catching on his lashes.

He could strangely feel his organs falling out of his body, but watching them slide along each other seemed like something someone else was experiencing. Not that he would be surprised to see this from her or her pet with another troll. It was happening to him, and he couldn’t seem to rationalize that fact.

His lungs no longer had enough support. He couldn’t scream, couldn’t even sob. Nor could he suffocate; the machine supplied oxygen as well. She had thought of everything.

She used some of the plastic tubing to bind his liver and kidneys into place, out of her way - he still needed those - then gripped his oesophagus and started to saw through it, at the point where it joined his stomach. It only took a couple of strokes for it to split. She pulled out another piece of tubing and dug into him; he couldn’t see what she was doing, so she took it upon herself to explain. “Okay, darling, I’m just hooking this up to your output tube so you can still swallow your saliva. No point in making you drool all over yourself, it’s disgusting. And more to the point, it might short out your wires.” She looked up at him and winked. “You’re not getting away from me that easily, sweetie.”

>k_iill m_e
>f_iin_ii2h ii_t
>d_o i_i_t y_o_u w_h_o_r_e

She didn’t look up from her work, which was probably a good thing. If she’d seen what he was saying, he’d have earned further punishment. She sawed through the other end of his guts and pulled them all the way out, produced a needle and thread, and sewed up the cut end, spraying disinfectant into the cavity as she went. He noticed she left his reproductive organs untouched. She needed those.

She decaptchalogued something else; thick plastic bags of water, one large one which mostly filled the cavity and smaller ones to plug any gaps. These were packed into the hole where his insides had been, supporting his remaining organs and preventing his abdominal wall from collapsing. Once he was sewn up he’d look as good as new.

The sting of disinfectant and the prick of the needle in the sensitive outer layers of his skin and flesh were almost pleasant after this experience. He focused on trying to breathe normally as she sewed him up, neat tight stitches which had no risk of coming undone and letting him bleed to death. The new contents of his abdomen felt heavy and moved horribly every time she shifted her grip. He would have vomited, if he still could.

Finally, she finished, and captchalogued the tub, marking the end of the first and last time he saw his own insides. He inwardly laughed at the idea. He had to, or else he’d crack.

“There, darling, there,” she cooed. “Good as new. Was that so bad?”

>y_e_s

Fortunately, she didn’t look at the screen. She decaptchalogued a damp towel and rubbed him and herself down to clear away the blood, smirking in a sultry manner and being sure to run her hands over every inch of herself, as if he would have been interested at the best of times. Then she re-dressed, and was gone.

He allowed himself to relax in his bonds, telling himself the same thing he forced into his head after all her sessions with him; it had been terrible, but, at least for now, it was over. Carefully, he deleted all trace of his insubordinate words from the output screen; at least he could do that. He concentrated on the feel of wetness on his skin from the disinfectant; the feel of the droplets running down his body where he couldn’t reach to wipe them away was frustrating, but better than the pain.

He was surprised when she returned again in less than two hours, bringing with her a tray containing a large covered dish. She pulled up her favourite chair and settled into it, the tray on her lap, and uncovered the food. He could smell the hot roasted meat. He hadn’t been fed by mouth since his installation; his salivary glands started to work again, drool running out between his filed-blunt teeth. His stomach would have gurgled if he still had it. The Condesce smiled sweetly at him, sliced off a bite-sized piece, and brought the honey-coloured meat up to her lips.

Honey-coloured…? He jerked backwards in his bonds, a dry rasp emitting from his ruined throat. She continued to eat, unconcerned.

Her smile widened, and she licked meat juices from her fangs. “Would you like to try it?” She took another small piece between finger and thumb, and stood up. He clenched his teeth, turned his head away, but her claws jabbed sharply into the side of his neck and he gasped, his mouth opening wide enough for her fingers to force their way in and smear the hot meat over his tongue. He tried and desperately failed to pull his head away. The restraints around him made that kind of movement impossible, and he couldn’t not taste his own flesh. He shuddered as much as his body would allow.

“Cooked by the finest chef on the ship. Aren’t you excited?”

He had to mentally force himself not to start insulting her again. She no doubt would be looking towards the screen now that she wasn’t as occupied, and he didn’t want punishment on top of this. He wished for death, no matter how futile that wish always was. He wished he could have died with the Signless, died ages ago, or that somehow he could die now. He had done and had things done to him that were terrible. He didn’t know how much more his mind could handle before he broke down completely and gave up.

“Tastes good, doesn’t it?”

He mentally sighed, forcing his mind to type out a response that might make her happy, but he had to be careful; if he just said yes, no doubt more of his flesh would be in his mouth.

>why?

It wasn’t what he intended to say, but her smile said she had already read it. She let out a laugh, pulling her fingers from his mouth, the meat still there, and he fought every urge in him to swallow. He couldn’t bear that thought, maybe he could.

“It’d be a shame to let it go to waste.” she said, somehow still smirking through her words.

>ii
>ii c_an’t 2w_allow
>wh_at d_o y_ou w_ant m_e tw_o d_o w_iith iit

“I’ll take care of that, don’t worry.” She made a hand motion which he interpreted as an instruction to chew it. Slowly, his throat constricting in a mockery of vomiting, he did. Hot grease burned his tongue, spices stung his throat. It had been so long since he’d eaten, since he’d had more than the aftertaste of whatever the Condesce had last eaten when she forced kisses on him, that the sensation was overwhelming. He had never eaten anything so good, and that made it much worse.

Her smile was broad, and if he had it in him he might have cried, or asked her to just finish this already, make him swallow and she could go back to her meal. He had gotten used to that empty feeling in his mouth, throat, and his stomach when he’d had it. Being fed the way he was left him always feeling like he was on the verge of starving to death, though he knew it was impossible. Hunger, in the sense that he didn’t physically eat, became an everyday heavy emptiness in his core. Without his stomach now, he didn’t know what his body would feel like if he did swallow, if he could.

“So, now that you’ve gotten a good taste, yummy isn’t it?”

He didn’t respond, acting as if he was too focused on trying to keep the food in his mouth and figuring out how he would get it down so this could end. He really shouldn’t have enjoyed the taste or the texture or anything else about this. It disturbed him how something so small could affect him so thoroughly.

Suddenly, she gripped his chin, holding his jaw still. Before he could move, her lips were on his. He tried to bite, but her grip was strong, holding his mouth slightly open. Her tongue wormed into his mouth and collected the chewed-up meat, making another wave of nausea hit him. She pulled back and spat it into a napkin, then beamed at him. “See, darling, I can share.”

She went back to eating, as if nothing abnormal was going on. No more solids were forced into his mouth, but twice she collected fingerfuls of sauce and meat juice and ran them over his tongue. His throat was dry, and the heavy spice was not helping. Even before the surgery he couldn’t have swallowed past the lump in his throat.

Finally, eventually, it was over. She left him, with a final kiss, and he let the tears run down his face. He licked them away, hoping it would quench the thirst the meat had left him with, but of course the tiny drops of salty fluid did nothing to help. All he could do was wait it out, wait until he got used to it as he had everything else.

He told himself that, perhaps, this incident hadn’t been so bad. At least she could only do this once.

Chapter Text

The room was too bright. The artificial lights were shining on the worried faces of Bro and the lady he was talking to, both of them being quiet so the full conversation couldn’t be heard. Another nurse walked in and looked down at her clipboard before walking off again. He was bored, he at least wanted a toy or something to play with other than the hem of his shirt.

His shoulder was still aching, though a little less now that the doctors had sealed up the wound with staples. Which was going to be awesome to tell the other kids when he got back to school. Maybe he’d lie about how he got it, though. That had not been awesome at all. He’d never seen that look on Mom’s face before, and he never wanted to again. He didn’t get why she had been so mad. It was just his stupid hair. He played with a long white strand he’d missed with the scissors, still long enough to brush his shoulder. Maybe Bro would trim the rest for him. He was quite pleased with his work, even if he’d been interrupted before he finished. Now most of it was short enough for Mom not to be able to put any more stupid pink ribbons in it.

Bro nodded at the lady, before his hand came out and gestured at where he was sitting. His Bro looked tired, and the lady looked nice enough as she started to walk over. She had one of those smiles that wasn’t totally real. It looked like the one his teacher gave him that time when he said he wanted to be a dad. Bro followed a few steps behind her and came to sit beside him. The lady hunched down so they were closer in height. She offered her hand.

“Hi, my name is Linda.” He took and shook her hand. “ It’s nice to meet you. I was talking to your brother about how you got that cut on your shoulder. Would you mind telling me what happened?”

He bit his lip and looked at his feet, then started to talk. “‘M I in trouble? I’m not s’posed to play with the scissors. But I wasn’t playing really. I just wanted to cut my hair. Don’t know why Mom got so mad. I said I didn’t want a stupid girly haircut anymore and she started yellin’.”

“You’re not in trouble - though you are right, you shouldn’t play with scissors, but that doesn’t mean you’re in trouble now. So, you just tried to cut your hair and your mom got mad?” He nodded. “Alright, and did she make that cut on your shoulder or did you slip when you were cutting your hair?”

“Sh-she did it,” he said, twisting his fingers together. “She yelled something and I yelled back that she was bein’ mean, and she shouted more, somethin’ about why couldn’t I be normal.” That had really hurt, in ways he couldn’t really describe. He’d already been made fun of for “looking funny”, especially after a kid at preschool had seen him without his prescription shades and spread the information that his eyes were red, and Mom had comforted him over it. Had she not meant any of that? “And she picked up the scissors and hit me with ‘em. They were open, and the sharp bit got me. Bro saw, and …” He looked Bro in the eye, or the shades, unsure if he should talk about the next part. He didn’t want Bro to get in trouble either.

“And I hit her,” Bro interjected, saving him the trouble. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just saw her swing the scissors and next thing I knew I’d slapped her. I picked up the kid and high-tailed it outta there before she said anything. Kid’s lucky it wasn’t her- his? … face.”

She looked at Bro, then back to him. “Thank you both for talking to me about this. Of course, Mr Strider, there will be an investigation and formal interview, however with injuries a child is taken away during the investigation… Was this a common occurrence? Obviously not the scissor incident, but have either of your parents ever hit you or hurt you in any other way before this?”

“They yell a lot,” he said, kicking his legs idly. “I don’t really get why, I dunno why Jesus would be mad when I don’t wanna wear a dress.” At least he only had to endure the dresses for church and parties; most of his clothes were Bro’s hand-me-downs.

Bro looked a little nervous, his hand tightened. “They’ve given spankings when we’ve messed up, but mostly it’s a lot of yelling…”

She nodded, looking in the direction of his eyes. “We’ll speak again soon, Mr Strider. Both of you will be staying in the hospital until we finish the interviews and finish the investigation… Dawn?” she said, looking back at him. He nodded, but didn’t like her calling him that. “Get better soon.”

“Okay, ma’am.” Soon she was gone, and Bro let out a sigh beside him. He was still tense, even with the glasses he could tell this was making him tired.

“You okay, Bro?”

“… Not great, but I’ll be fine. We both will.” Bro stretched his arms out and rubbed his neck. “So, kiddo, how d’you feel about going to stay with Auntie Anne for a bit? She’s got that big house, and she has a kid you haven’t met - little girl named Rose, about your age.” Dawn pulled a face. “Heh, okay, I get you might not be keen, but we are gonna need some help, and she’s the best person to give it. We might not be able to go home for a long time.”

“‘Sokay. I don’t wanna go home right now.”

Bro pulled Dawn into a one-armed hug; not like the hugs he’d given before, like he was holding a doll he didn’t want to break. This was a little rougher, though he was careful to avoid the wound, ending with a ruffle of Dawn’s poorly-cut hair. Dawn found he liked it. “Oh, and one more thing; how’d you like an early birthday present?”

Dawn’s eyes lit up. “Really? What is it, what is it? Where is it?” He looked around as if Bro had hidden a parcel somewhere in the hospital room.

“Calm down, kid, it’s nothing you can unwrap, but it’s something important and you’ve gotta choose it yourself.” Bro looked him in the eye unerringly through two sets of shades. “Howsabout a new name?”

Chapter Text

The Empress’s hive was half under the water and half out of it. Built on an island, it had been easy to get into; the challenge had been a little harder. But the rules never stated that the challenger couldn’t have help, if all of them could get there. They’d change those laws once they were fully in power.

Right now, the new Empress (she already fashioned herself a title, but she wouldn’t use it just yet) was displaying the head of the fallen Empress to the crowds of seadwellers. Once this was over they’d head over to the land and make sure every part of their plan was in place.

They didn’t mind the break; they had been fighting and preparing for this moment nonstop for a sweep and she wanted to redo her hair before she had to deal with other trolls. No doubt the stories about how the highest of all trolls and the highest of landdwelling trolls sided with a rustblood would no doubt cause quite the stir. She wanted to look good when she was famous. She’d have plenty of callers.

~~~

That was how life went for sweeps, all of them working and living together. The Empress, Her Imperious Condescension, soon helped her moirail take his own throne. He could have done so by himself; the previous priest was weak willed and old, but with the Empire backing him, there was no way any opponent stood a chance. And then there was her; the unforgettable rustblood, the greatest psychic ever hatched. The Handmaiden of Death, the lowblood who should have been a highblood. She had the aptitude for it.

Right now she was crawling back in just before dawn; it was amazing how many members of the Empire were willing to service a girl’s needs, in hopes of gaining something no doubt. She didn’t mind; she just liked that she had so many interesting suitors.

The new Grand Highblood was waiting to greet her. She inwardly grimaced. She wasn’t really in a fit state to pail with him right now; usually she’d be enthusiastic, but at the moment she was still sore, and since he was twice her size he wasn’t a good option at times like that. She prepared to make her excuses, but he didn’t seem to be about to drag her off to his block. He was actually smiling, really smiling. He just seemed… happy to see her? That was weird for him.

“Good morning,” he said, nodding to her. “Shall I walk you back to your block?”

Surprised, she nodded. She let him take her tiny hand in his huge one, and they headed towards her private rooms, her still walking slightly bow-legged and having to reach up to comfortably hold his hand. She’d seen him kill trolls with those hands more times than she could count, and now he was trying to touch someone gently he seemed unsure what he was doing.

“Have fun?” he asked, his conversation as unsure as his actions. She nodded; she didn’t think she’d bring up just what she was having fun doing. Condesce tended to get on her case when she slept with whoever she wished. It wasn’t good for the image of the Empire. Though she was good at making sure none of the trolls she pailed with would ever mention it to anyone. Not unless she wanted them to.

“It’s been a long night, I am ready to sleep,” she said. Her body reacted to the statement with a yawn.

“It’s sad,” he said, still walking with her towards her chambers. “Pitiful, really - you should have been born higher up, you deserve all of that prestige.”

She shrugged. “I was born where I was. You both have accepted me as if I was a highblood, it’s all I can ask.”

“It’s a shame your death will come so quickly, though. Perhaps there is a way we could delay it.”

She shrugged again. She had conversations with the Highblood on many occasions, but they had never been this awkward. She was looking forward to getting to her room to sleep. Hopefully by dusk the feelings would be gone and the air would be clear. She wasn’t one for strange conversations, or the way he was acting.

They stopped at her door, and she pulled her hand from his. He looked at her, not quite meeting her eyes.

“Good day, then,” she said. He made no move to leave. “Unless there was something else you wanted?”

“Perhaps a kiss?”

Why was he so awkward about that? They’d done far more, plenty of times. She nodded and let him lift her up. Him touching her was just as weird; not on her end, she didn’t feel anything differently, or anything odd. Instead their lips met gently, with no tearing teeth, and he made a strange stifled moan. If she had been up for anything earlier, the feeling she got from it would have been enough for her to make as many excuses as it would take.

He set her back down, and she shook her head and bid him a good day once more, hoping after she slept it would all be over. She went into her room, locking the door, and moving to the purityblock. She cleaned herself off quickly, more interested in sleep, recovery, and getting over how weird that whole situation had been than she was interested in cleaning herself up. With another yawn she left the block, going to her room proper and settling down for the day.

~~~

“Mine!” The Highblood lifted the Empress up in a bear hug and nibbled gently at her horn, growling playfully. She didn’t laugh. He frowned and put her down. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, the usual. On top of… well, you’ve been so distant recently. Chasing after my Handmaid…” Condesce crossed her arms with a sigh.

“Don’t be that way! You know she would never replace what we have - we’ve grown up together, we’ve been together too long for this kind of shit.”

“It’s just… I..” Condesce looked away, chewing on her lip. “You have to promise you won’t get mad at me. I ain’t- I mean I haven’t done anything wrong.”

His frown deepened. “I won’t get mad. Well, not at you. Did someone do something to upset you? I can find something interesting to do to them if you want.”

“No, no, no one did anything to upset me. Well, really, you see, love… Darling, she’s using you. You know that, right? I don’t want to see your heart fractured by her, and it’s hurting me to know she is still leading you on…”

“What do you mean, doll? I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

“You don’t, do you?” Condesce sighed, wrapping her hands around his wrist, before sliding her fingers down his palm. “My darling, my palest… My handmaiden, the one you have set your sights on, she is in pity with another. I’ve been keeping it a secret, hoping she would see how great you are, and how she should leave him for you.. But she hasn’t and… I don’t want her to break your heart.”

His fingers closed on her hand, tight enough to hurt. “What? No, no, she said they all meant nothing…”

“Would I lie to you?” Condesce’s hair wrapped around him like a hug. “I’m so sorry. It was you who meant nothing to her. I didn’t want to tell you, I’m sorry. I’ve tried talking to her, but she refuses to believe me. I care about you too much, and I thought you should know before she gets whatever she wants out of you and leaves you broken. I’m sorry, my love.”

“No…” he said slowly. “You shouldn’t be sorry on her behalf. She’s the one who is wrong. Don’t apologize for others, it’s unbecoming of an Empress.” He took a deep breath, his face blank. “I’ll deal with it.”

~~~

The Condesce was lounging on her throne and the Highblood staring out of the window when the Handmaid finally emerged the next evening. She greeted her employer with a nod and a smile, then looked curiously at the Highblood. Was he still in his weird mood?

“You know,” he said, not turning around. “It’s been a while since we had a good strife, don’t you think?”

The Handmaid thought for a moment, “It has been a long time, Is the Empress bored, or are you just looking for a fight? Either way, I’m fine to strife with you. Just how we strife depends on the reason.”

The Highblood chuckled. “I’m in the mood for a fight,” he nodded towards Condesce, “and she’s usually bored. So both of your reasons are reasons for a strife, Pooka.”

The Handmaid tensed; he was still being strange. She didn’t like him any weirder than he already was. Still, if he was using her nickname, she might be misconstruing his flirting. She nodded; she had agreed to fight with him, and even if his mood was one she couldn’t predict she was prepared for him. “Well then, shall we strife? Or do you have any rules you’d like to apply?”

“No use of psychic abilities. That’s how we usually do it, yes?”

She nodded again. If she used her powers she’d level the entire building, and if he used his he could cause her to reflexively use hers, so it was perfectly fair. Physically, they weren’t as ill-matched as casual observation would suggest; he was huge, but she was fast. She smiled. Maybe she’d been worrying over nothing.

Both of them shifted, standing at opposite sides of the room, and the Empress looked on with a cheeky little smile. No doubt watching her two soldiers fight would entertain her. The Handmaid didn’t mind; she had been going too long without a strife herself, it would be nice to stretch underworked muscles and get some fighting in.

Once they were in position, the Highblood looked to the Empress, who raised her hand. She looked over to the maroonblood, who nodded. She was ready. The Empress nodded and dropped her hand in the air in a swift cutting motion. “To your honor,” she announced, and the fight began.

The Highblood bared his fangs in a grin and sprang forward, trying to catch his opponent in a crushing grip. She gripped his wrists as he did, pushed upwards, and leapt straight over him, her fragile body slipping between his horns. He roared with laughter and spun around, swinging one foot out at her knee level and missing as she jumped back.

“Good, good! You’re not too rusty - pardon the phrase.”

“The phrase is pardoned,” she said, lunging after a brief moment of rest. He aimed for the throat. He was crouched down to be able to hit her, there was a good chance her kick could land. He moved out of the way, nearly grabbing her leg; she righted herself quickly. If he got a hold on her it would be over. Usually their strifes went until one of them was grounded or pinned. She didn’t want it to be over so quickly; stretching and fighting felt too good. Her heels clacked on the ground as she landed and she slid forward, knowing his next move would be to try to grab her when she landed.

“You’re doing pretty well yourself,” she said, turning to face him, her body already feeling the strain from the fight. It had been too long.

“Why, thank you.” He lunged, low to the ground, bringing his claws upwards. They tore through her skirt as she dodged and jumped high enough to grab his horn, and he laughed.

She spun as if to kick him; if she could hit him in the temple he’d fall to the ground. His hand moved fast, faster than she had been prepared for, and grabbed onto her leg. Her hand held onto his horn, but with his strength yanking her away from his head there was a good chance her leg would come clean off. He tugged at her gently; she knew he was well aware of his own strength, and she let go. If this was a real fight she’d be dead.

She let go but let her other leg connect with his arm. His grip lost on reflex, she landed on on the ground once more. She straightened out her skirt and gave a little huff. “You ruined my clothes.”

“As if you wear them enough for it to matter,” he said, so softly she almost thought she’d imagined it. Enraged, she sprang at his face, claws-first, and managed to land a painful blow before he caught her around the waist and slammed her against the wall. She kicked, and he dropped her with a howl, clutching his jaw. It didn’t look broken all the way, but she guessed she’d cracked it, and smirked. She went to duck between his legs, but then he caught her horn, picked her up, and pinned her again, this time with one hand on her throat. His breath oozed into her mouth and nose, cold and smelling of death, and she coughed.

“Fine, I concede this round,” she gasped out, trying to shift in his grip and relieve the pressure. His smile broadened, blood dripping from his teeth where her kick had caught him.

“I never said you could concede,” he growled at her, his hand tightening. “I never said this was like all the other times, My pooka.”

She stared for a moment, squirming in his hand, trying to escape, but his grip was vice-like. He moved closer to the wall, the hand on her throat relaxing ever so slightly, but it was enough for air. His other hand pressed against her sides, effectively keeping her immobile. Without using her psychic powers there was going to be no easy escape. She shook her head, and let out a little laugh. There was no way that this was an actual fight, the Empress wouldn’t allow the loss of her Handmaid.

“Very funny,” She tried freeing herself once more. “Now let me go, you’re hurting me.”

“Fair is fair, my proud beauty.” He drew back the hand on her waist, leaving her dangling by her neck. “We always do hurt the ones we pity.”

His fist came down with a horrible crack.

~~~

The Condesce clasped a hand over her nose and mouth as she opened the door. “Ack! How can you stand it in here? At least open a window!”

The Highblood didn’t even turn around. He was kneeling at the opposite wall, working on something the Condesce couldn’t see. He dipped his fingers into a bowl of water, and then into the opened torso of the dead Handmaid. After three days, the blood was dry. Most of the organs were missing. At least she knew he’d not been starving himself up here. The corpse’s face was still pristine, undamaged, albeit with tangled hair and smeared makeup. The Highblood’s paint wasn’t in any better shape, the white tainted purple and smeared with sweat and tear-tracks. Red in the same shade as the Handmaid’s blood and lipstick was mingled around his mouth. She tried not to look.

“Seriously, this isn’t good for you. You’re going to catch something from that.”

“Well, then you can nurse me. Isn’t that what moirails do?” he said, not turning around.

“Please, get rid of it.”

He spun around and snarled “I’m not finished!”

Condesce sighed. She moved to pinch the bridge of her nose and shake her head. She hated seeing him like this, torn up over nothing. Some useless rustblood, something that was easily replaceable. She took a breath.

“Love, listen to me. The blood’s dry, you’re not going to be able to finish. You’re just going to get frustrated and stink this whole place up. I know it’s not the same, but I can get you as many rustbloods as you want to make it complete… Did you turn in pails with her too? You can always wait for her grub, and if she turns out useless you can kill her and finish… Or maybe have one alive to finish and perhaps paint a matching one.”

“Leave me,” he growled, turning back around to the wall. “Just go, I want and need to be alone now.”

She watched as he ran the very tip of his claw along the painted eye, marking out lashes. She’d never seen him paint a troll before; most of his art was the abstract patterns used by his church, so she was surprised to see how well this painting had come out. It was a perfect likeness.

She sighed. “Very well. Anything you want.”

He reached up and tore his finger open on his teeth, using just a touch of purple to mark the pupil of the painted Handmaid’s eye. “You know, I think I like her better this way. I dreaded the day she would leave us, but now it’s happened, I know she never really will.” He looked back as Condesce was about to step out of the room. “And this way she really can’t compete with you.”

Condesce turned and walked back into the room, trying to ignore the smell. If it was making him happy, perhaps she could get used to it. She set a hand on his side, and looked over the portrait. She let out a little smile. The smell wasn’t too bad now that she was getting used to it.

“She never really was competition, was she? Two different quadrants entirely. Do you miss her already, love?”

He looked over the painting, once again dipping his fingers in the water then into the corpse. Condesce shifted beside him, allowing him space to work. She watched him add shadow to the hair. He sighed. “I miss hearing her talk, but she’s still my pooka, still here with me… us…”

Condesce shifted around the room, finding a place to sit at the windowsill, where she could watch him finish. She looked at the corpse again, a little smile on her lips. “I know she’s gone, but Alternia is full of options. They can never replace her, but they can at least help you with your other urges… Once her corpse is gone, that is.”

“It’s nearly unusable anyway,” he added absent-mindedly, still moving between both the water and the body. “You are truly too good to me. Putting up with this, I’m sure most would leave at this sight.”

“Where would I go?” she said, a strand of her hair twining around his wrist. “We’re stuck with each other.”

He looked away from the picture, purple and maroon blending on his fingers, and smiled.

Chapter Text

Their school wasn’t anything like how it was presented in movies. To be honest, it was a lot more boring and catty. But Rose assumed that was what happened when you had a bunch of teenage girls together. There were cliques and crowds, and she and Jade were in the library studying most nights. She didn’t have many friends, mostly because anyone who spent too long in her company, at least in the beginning, didn’t seem to understand her demeanor came from a dry sense of humor. Jade offset her wonderfully, being warm and friendly, if not a bit awkward around meeting and talking to people. Rose’s mother and Jade’s grandfather had made a wonderful team at work, and now the girls made a wonderful team at school. Rose would have found it rather sickening if she was watching from outside the situation, but Jade was just so likeable.

 

Rose sat down beside Jade in the lunchroom, and Jade immediately knew something was up. That was Rose’s plotting expression.

 

“Jade, I require your assistance,” Rose said, pasting on an ingratiating smile and a sugary tone.

 

Jade swallowed her sandwich and cautiously asked “Whaddya need?”

 

“Would you mind fake-dating me so I can provoke a reaction from my mother?”

 

Jade gaped. “What?!”

 

“Perhaps this way I can finally have a gambit that she could not beat.”

 

“Rose! Stop being so mean, your mom is really nice.“

 

“You don’t understand. Please, I want to end this war, and I want to be the victor,” Rose said, taking on a pleading tone and clasping Jade’s hand in hers. “She’s been asking me if I knew any interesting boys every day since I turned twelve, and since I’ve kept saying no she’s started threatening to hold a party and invite every boy in the county like some kind of horrible gender-swapped Cinderella story. I need some way to get out of that, and I’m sure the boys in question will thank you as well!”

 

“Fine, but on two conditions.”

 

“What?”

 

“One, you buy me milkshakes whenever I want them, and two, you if this doesn’t work you tone down the battle a bit.”

 

“I can agree to those terms.”

 

~~~

 

“Grandpa!” Jade almost hugged the phone.

 

“Jade! My little gem, how are you? School treating you well? Not so lonely as you were the first year?”

 

“Oh, it’s great! I’m doing fine, my grades are good, I miss Bec a bit but I see him on weekends so that’s okay… How are Mom and Dad? It’s Nicaragua this time, isn’t it?”

 

“They’re doing great too, still a bit busy but they said they’d send you a care package.” Grandpa changed the subject hurriedly. “Made any new friends? Still getting along well with Rose?”

 

“Oh, um, really, that’s reminding me I’ve got something to talk to you and Mom and Dad about…” Jade nervously twirled her hair in her fingers. She was pretty sure he would take it well, but the worry was still there, and she couldn’t tell the truth - Grandpa would think lying to Rose’s mom was a terrible idea and he never shouted but she hated the disappointed tone he used when she did something wrong.

 

She’d love to tell him that she was just experimenting, and she trusted Rose, and there was curiosity. Which was kind of true, but still it wasn’t the whole truth and she didn’t like lying to him, or really anyone. She took a nearly silent breath of preparation. “Rose… sort of asked me to date her…” Excluding information wasn’t lying and she didn’t have to tell him everything. Grandpa was pretty progressive so maybe he’d get stuck on that part. The “do you like each other?” end instead of the “how did that happen” side. Still worst of all could be both. Because she could admit that yeah, she was interested in experimenting and exploring this end of her life. She was a budding adult, and she should know these kinds of things about herself. But still it wasn’t exactly an honest way to go about exploring her sexuality.

 

The other side of the phone was silent for a moment. “Really, Jade?” He sounded fairly happy for her. “How wonderful, I was wondering when you’d start dating.”

 

“Yeah, I just thought I should talk to you about it…”

 

“You sound upset, talk to me, gem.”

 

“It’s complicated, and I don’t want you to misunderstand.”

 

“Jade, I have spent my life seeking not to misunderstand. I’ve had my silly moments and ones where I did lose my path a bit. But I never let that bog me down.”

 

Jade relaxed. “Thank you, Grandpa. I’m… oh, I don’t know, I’m a bit worried about how Rose’s mom will react.”

 

“Dear, Rose’s mother knows me, I think she’s unshockable.”

 

“Grandpa!” Jade giggled. She twisted the phone cord nervously. She had the horrible feeling this was all going to backfire. Either Rose’s mom would be really upset when Rose told her, or she’d be fine with it and then be really upset when it turned out to be just a prank…

 

“Jade!” Rose appeared around the corner and mouthed to her. The bus is coming, do you want to go shopping before we go home?

 

“Oh, um, sorry, Grandpa, but I should go - Rose wants me to come shopping.”

 

“That’s my girl, go spend time with her. Tell her and her mother I said hello, and let the local boys down gently.”

 

“Oh, Grandpa!”

 

Jade and Grandpa made their farewells, and Rose and Jade proceeded hand in hand to the bus, looking forward to an afternoon’s shopping and a weekend at Rose’s house. It would be good to see Bec again, Jade thought. It was good of Rose’s mother to keep the puppy around; Bec was from a long line of dogs Grandpa had owned throughout his life, the second of the name Becquerel, and was showing signs of growing into one of the biggest dogs she’d ever seen. Luckily Rose’s house had plenty of room indoors and out.

 

Rose held to her promise of buying them both milkshakes; she picked Jade’s favourite, orange-vanilla, without being reminded, and a raspberry one for herself, and they settled down on a bench to enjoy them. Rose looked thoughtful, and Jade considered asking why, but for the moment her mouth was occupied with her milkshake; one had to drink the orange-flavoured ones while they were still very cold, or they curdled, as she’d learned the hard way.

 

“Jade,” Rose said suddenly, looking up at a cloud. “If I told you that this was not entirely a gambit against my mother, would you react negatively?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“What I mean to say is, I have been reflecting since we agreed on this endeavour, and I think that it is perhaps possible that any inclinations towards sapphism on my part may not entirely be fictitious. Furthermore, I have to admit I am in fact coming to enjoy your company rather more than I have let on up to now.” Rose flicked the straw in her milkshake with her thumb, seeming slightly nervous. “You were right, I think this idea has backfired.”

 

Jade quietly processed the words. “No, that’s not a problem. Um…” She turned a little pink. “I think I like you too.” She took Rose’s hand again, and beamed, earning a subtle smile in return.

 

~~~

 

Jade was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of clashing steel followed by shouting barking outside her window; she glanced out to see that Becquerel had got out and decided to join in the trolls’ strife practice. Karkat and Terezi were leaping around wildly trying to keep the sharp edges of their weapons out of the dog’s way, Karkat shouting at the other trolls to “get this great hairy beast under some kind of control”, and everyone else laughing. Tavros raised his hands to his horns and stared at Bec, who immediately settled down and slunk over to lie with his head in the brownblood’s lap. He saw Jade looking out of the window, and they waved at each other.

 

Jade lay back in her bed and mused on her friendships. She and Rose had split up amicably after a while and just not got around to getting back together, and her later and briefer relationship with Dave had split up because of the distance, but there had never been any question of them not remaining friends. John was always fun to have around, and she wished all the best for Uncle Ward and Auntie Anne. Maybe most of her blood family were far away, but she couldn’t believe she’d ever felt lonely here.

Chapter Text

She wasn’t sure how long they had been waiting there, but the troll who went in before them still hadn’t come out. She was pretty sure that they weren’t going to, at this point. The few purplebloods that were in the front were staring at both of them. In another life, or at a different time, she might have stared at herself as well. She didn’t ever think she’d find herself waiting, patiently and calmly in Natiane’s most infamous building, with a slave beside her. Let alone a jadeblood one. Let alone one she was stealing from her kismesis, and picking her over him. One day this would make a great story. The slave should be proud to be picked from the crowd to become the personal servant and perhaps even the consort of the great Marquise. She’d thank her one day.

 

She wasn’t particularly fond of the “rulers of the land”, but she had no other option. Seeing as the seas would be too volatile for a while, she had to find a place to hide out here. Without permission, she’d be handed over to the seadwellers as a thief. Not that she wasn’t already an outcast, but the Highblood wouldn’t care about her crimes against the trolls of the sea, as long as none of them were against the Empress. She was a pirate, but not suicidal; stealing from the Empress was a level of moronic that was reserved for lesser pirates.

The door to the antechamber was opened, and she stood, allowing her strings of control around her present slave to force her to her feet. She had been sullen, withdrawn, and slightly bitter since they arrived, since they could see the Stronghold; no doubt a normal troll wouldn’t be pleased with going to them for council or favors. But desperate times, and measures and all of that.

She could smell the fresh blood which had presumably come out of the last poor idiot to enter the room. Most of it was splattered on the walls, but some still covered the hands of the Grand Highblood. He seemed marginally less irritable than usual; still happy over killing something. Mindfang couldn’t see the body anywhere; she guessed it had been dragged in the direction of the kitchens. She didn’t allow her winning smile to waver. This was her mission, and either going to be one of the great moments in kismesissitude, or the end of it. It didn’t matter, the slave was… something else.

“A pirate who makes an appointment.” She didn’t jump when he suddenly started speaking. Her smile just widened in fractions. “Maybe she’ll even tell me what in all the plains a criminal could want from me. Surely she would just steal or stake claim. Not ask the permission of any troll. Even one who would gladly slit her across the stomach and let her bleed into the waiting mouths of the hungry.”

She relaxed her strands of control the slightest amount, nodding her head respectfully, but not enough to claim too much respect. She cleared her throat and caught the Highblood’s gaze move over to her slave-girl. She was almost hiding behind Mindfang, among the shadows. He smiled, something crossing his features briefly before she once again went to speak.

“Staking claim on something is why I’m here, but not anything of yours,” she said, flashing her fangs in a grin. “This pretty trinket-” she pointed to the slave, “-was until recently in the possession of a certain Orphaner Dualscar. I’m told you’re unlikely to sympathise with him.”

“I’m not in the habit of sympathizing with most fish.” His gaze fixed behind Mindfang. “And she is a pretty little trinket. A tad familiar too.” A quiet laugh. “You’re asking to take her as your own, or is there something else? I cannot make a seadweller give up his property. I can helpfully suggest, but the seadwellers aren’t my domain.”

“I can handle Dualscar myself, I just came to politely request that you make sure he’ll be the only one I have to deal with.” Mindfang wrapped an arm about the slave’s shoulders, almost companionably. The motion was strange, but she hoped it showed her nonchalance. “I’ll take much better care of her than he will, he doesn’t appreciate her.”

“Politely request?” His eyebrow arched. “I don’t exactly respond to empty requests. I’m sure that you would take better care of her. She doesn’t look like she has gills, and from what I know of most fish they like hovering along the bottom of the ocean eating what finds its way into their mouth. I’m sure she’ll either drown or starve.” The Highblood leaned back. “I might be interested in making sure that your fish problem stays contained. A trade perhaps? Or perhaps you have something you can offer to make it go away.” The tip of his tongue crept out from the corner of his mouth, nearly imperceptibly. “Perhaps I could see first-hand why you’re so keen to keep this particular little thing.”

Mindfang’s eyes met the slavegirl’s and she paused. That actually had been her intention in coming here. It shouldn’t have been a problem, but now she was having second thoughts. When they moved on their way here, she had made the decision. The things they could actually do for the rulers of the land were few and far between. She supposed she could have brought a group and offered the colors to them. But that involved many strings and perhaps a much angrier slavegirl. Her trance barely kept a boiling anger in check, mingled with pain of an intensity Mindfang had almost never seen. Something in Mindfang’s stomach twisted. Shit. She couldn’t back out now, but there was no way she could leave the slave- the Dolorosa, that was what Dualscar had said her title used to be, he’d bragged about dragging it out of her - alone with him. The turn came as a surprise, but she’d have to go with it. Examine the meanings and implications later. All she knew was that guilt twisted in her stomach, and if she just left and let it happen it wouldn’t ever leave. She turned back to the Highblood with a roguish wink, and her hands crept to her own jacket buttons.

“Shall we do you one better?”

A smile beyond pleasantries slid into his expression. “You just might,” He had something that sounded close to laughter in his voice. “If your offer is serious then come forward. If not, I cannot promise anything.” Mindfang fiddled with a button briefly enough that it could be considered playful teasing, before she took a step forward. If he couldn’t promise anything, his mood wasn’t good enough to mean they’d both come out alive. As it was, dealing with their kind, you could never be too sure. Better get started on improving his mood, then.

She grabbed Dolorosa’s hand and pulled her forward as well, slipping a hand under the neckline of her shift and pulling it off her shoulder. Dolorosa reflexively pulled away, and Mindfang tightened her mental control until the jadeblood’s eyes glazed and she stopped resisting. She couldn’t really have any fight, not right now. Usually, Mindfang would not have minded the little wrestle, but right now she needed to placate the Highblood, get some form of protection, and then there could be fight. She manipulated her hold so Dolorosa would move her hands up to the buttons of her jacket, making her fingers work into something that wasn’t horribly jerky, and could be thought of as teasing. Better if they both looked moderately willing. She pulled Dolorosa close and kissed her, open-mouthed and sloppy, letting their tongues tangle visibly. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it made for a good show, or at least she hoped so. She spared a glance up to the Highblood, and he made an impatient hand gesture.

She didn’t know why nerves hit her now. Of all the times she could be concerned, it had to be now. She pulled away from Dolorosa slightly and moved to pull off layers of clothes. She didn’t want them torn. She swallowed slightly, pulling off Dolorosa’s shift entirely. It pooled around her feet. The anger inside the slave flared, but she abated it with some quickly-placed exertion of her control. She looked over to the Highblood, a smirk laced with something else on his face. Though that was underlined with impatience, and she wouldn’t risk either of their necks.

“Enjoying the show?” she asked with a seductive smirk, leaning closer and running her hands over her venom sacs.

“Too slow,” was the response, and Mindfang found a huge hand wrapping around her left horn and pulling painfully. “Come on, both of you. Up.”

Wincing, Mindfang let the huge troll pull her into his lap, and Dolorosa followed obediently after a quick telepathic pull. Mindfang tried not to be disconcerted by the realisation of the impressive size difference; bluebloods weren’t small, but the Grand Highblood was huge enough that she felt like a wriggler next to him. She reflected that Dolorosa must feel even more dwarfed, and wasn’t sure why that briefly made her feel worse.

He released her horn, his claws barely dragging over her side, and the other set sliding down the Dolorosa’s side, causing another small flare of what she was sure was anger. Mindfang made sure she kept it in check, slightly wondering how this was going to happen. Not that she hadn’t had her share of experiences, but this was something slightly new. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to touch him, which would over-complicate this to an alarming degree. She might have made her slavegirl do it, but that seemed just as terrible. In fact, anyone touching this troll, regardless of their will, seemed disgusting. The smell of blood was worse here, and she couldn’t imagine any troll willingly caring for or loathing this troll. Not without sickness or fear.

His claws’ touch was soft, something she wouldn’t have exactly suspected from him. Then again, he would have had to take some troll willingly at some point. Killing and violence didn’t exactly allow a perfect image of any troll. Dolorosa shivered, which Mindfang had a suspicion wasn’t from enjoyment. The slight waves of disgust in her emotions gave it away. His claws circled down to her hip. She could feel something akin to amusement coming from him. Not that she would or could have controlled him. The humor he must have felt seemed to roll off of him and she had no doubt Dolorosa could feel it as well.

Mindfang distracted all three of them by leaning forward to kiss the slavegirl again, using one hand to brace herself on the arm of the throne and the other to undo the rest of her buttons. The coat was shed, and she started on her shirt, hoping she could finish removing it before the Highblood got bored and tore it off. A strange rumbling sound came from him, and she tried to work out if it was a sound of boredom, pleasure, or amusement. She kicked off her boots and started on her skirt, finally sitting naked and feeling extremely unprotected in front of the Highblood. Something she didn’t really want to think about was pressing into her hip, and she tried not to wince.

She had never hated forcing a slave to do anything, but she did now. Before, she had always been attempting to nudge her partners along, to loosen them up and give them a little fun before she sold them on or as a reward for pleasing her, to give them what she was sure they really would have liked if they’d admit it. It was nothing like this… right? Right? Still, she tried to put away that thought and made the girl move her hands to her. Making everything less twitchy would have been easier with her hand available to manipulate Dolorosa’s. She didn’t have that luxury; instead she forced them to slide along her sides, her own hands mirroring the pattern on the jade scars across from her. She pressed into the kiss, wondering when he was going to get too impatient and force one of them. At the very least she could make sure both of them were prepared.

Fingers closed around her thigh, sliding her along his lap. Briefly, she thought she might know what it was like to be under her own power, only this was by physical force. Her leg slid over one of Dolorosa’s, both of them balancing precariously on him. She shuddered in the slightest amount. Why did she get herself into these situations? Why couldn’t she have just gone according to plan and waited for him to be done with the slave? None of those rhetorical questions helped in the moment. Instead she shifted, slowly, so as not to fall to the floor, and pulled Dolorosa closer. Her fingers pressing around the scars, making the jadeblood feel something more akin to want rather than anger and hate.

A little more psychic pushing helped to draw the slavegirl’s bulge out. Mindfang was mentally anything but aroused, but she managed to prepare herself physically, and their bulges entwined loosely as their hips pressed closer together. Mindfang leaned back and braced herself on the arm of the throne, keeping an eye on the Highblood as she did. A squirming sensation against her side reminded her that he was being neglected, and she slid a hand down to rectify the situation before he decided to. She undid the fastenings, and was cautiously relieved when the freed bulge did not immediately attempt to push into either of them. It curled around her fingers and she almost had to force herself to react. If she wasn’t focused on making sure Dolorosa kept up the charade of want, she might have made them both have to experience this. Instead she, added pressure, and stroked along the flesh, hoping she had some moderate skill to just let this be over. With enough push she could get the jadeblood to orgasm, and she could just force herself. It was dependant on him, and she just wanted to be out of there already. Not exactly the best thought to go into this task with.

She mentally reached out to see if she could give any more force to Dolorosa; there was a little wiggle room, and she decided that it really wasn’t enough. Although some part of her knew it was, she was content to just put herself through this. Get this done, and just analyze what the slavegirl was doing to her mind on another day.

She tried not to look into Dolorosa’s glazed eyes, for fear her own would start watering. She promised herself, once this was over, she’d wipe the poor girl’s memory. Her fingers worked to quicken this whole thing. Dolorosa didn’t need to see any more of this then she already had, it was Mindfang’s own stupid desire to take her. She’d already been scarred and battered when Dualscar had bought her, she’d been through enough, she shouldn’t be forced to deal with someone else’s bad decisions anymore. And Mindfang herself wasn’t exactly keen on this either.

She could feel every noise he made. It sent a low tremor through her body. Her bulge circled around Dolorosa’s, almost possessively; she wanted this done with and she wanted to see the sky again. She wanted to get to the part where she wiped the girl’s memory and they never spoke of it again. The bulge in her hand bumped carelessly at her side. She tried not to think about how she’d need to wash after this, and ground harder against Dolorosa, causing both of them to gasp. The Highblood shifted, leaning back and raising his hips, and pulled the two women closer. The purple bulge pulled out of her hand and she felt it worming between them, pressed between their seedflaps. She couldn’t suppress a shiver of relief when it still didn’t push into her; she’d seen that thing, and she was hardly a virgin but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d tear in half if it did. She looked up at him and saw his smirk, and felt a rush of hate. Platonic hate. Oh, what she wouldn’t give to just rip his bulge off and walk out. Jadebloods were supposed to have ridiculously strong seedflap muscles, from their prehistoric days of carrying genetic fluid on months-long pilgrimages, so maybe she should have just left them alone and hoped Dolorosa crushed it … The mental image was entertaining, but she was still in no mood to smile.

The additional pressure finally pushed the slavegirl over the edge; she convulsed and groaned, and green fluid soaked the Highblood’s clothing. Before he could react, Mindfang untangled her legs and leaned down, licking up the green liquid while working the bulge with her left hand, jabbing the fingers of her right hand into herself in the hopes she could finish quickly. Dolorosa’s hand joined hers, and she looked up in surprise; she hadn’t instructed the slave to do that. Their fingers entwined, and she looked away, feeling relief more than pleasure as she finally managed to come.

One task left to do, and she set to it. As soon as he got off, this could end and she could put this entire day out of her mind. She pulled her hand away from herself and wrapped both around him. She closed her eyes just to keep the sickness contained. She could handle a lot of disgusting situations but she was pretty sure this one was the worst one she’d ever been in. She knew she should make the jadeblood help, but she couldn’t bring herself to make it happen. She tried to think of anything better, but the flesh curling around her hand brought her swiftly back, and she didn’t know how long she could actually contain it.

Another hand slid over hers and she opened her eyes, looking at the slavegirl. There was a soft, almost serene, smile on her face; she gave a little nod, and moved her hands quickly, almost in time with Mindfang’s. It didn’t take long until both of their hands were covered in purple and Mindfang wished she had never agreed to this in the first place. But now it was over and done with. Her part of the bargain kept, he would keep his.

She pulled away slowly, calming herself and centering herself once more. She could be cocksure when she needed to be, and now it was time; she could process and forget all this later, but right now she was just going to get both of them out of that room alive.

The Dolorosa slid from him first, her feet finding the floor with ease. She seemed to understand something Mindfang didn’t. Either that or her being a jadeblood made her more comfortable in situations like this. Mindfang followed suit shortly thereafter. She pulled herself to stand tall, unashamed, and not even flustered over what just happened. She looked at herself, mottled head to knees in green, blue, and purple, and tried not to look disgusted. “I don’t suppose we could clean up before we leave?”

The Highblood stood up, snatched Mindfang’s petticoat from the floor, and handed it to her with an ironic flourish. “Here, use this. Don’t worry, I’ll keep hold of it - save you the trouble of disposing of it.”

Chanting curses in her mind, the Marquise wiped herself and the slave down as well as she could. She spat on a reasonably clean corner of the silk and used it to dab gently at the matted slime in the slave’s hair. “So, our deal is…?” She wouldn’t presume; she wanted them out alive, but she wanted to be sure that she didn’t go through all of the effort for nothing.

“I’ll ask that he give up his property, force him if need be. Your trade was fair.”

Mindfang nodded, pulling the cloth away from the jadeblood; she held her petticoat in her hands for a moment before she just dropped it on the floor. She didn’t know the protocol and she really didn’t care. She wanted out of the room, and away from all of this bullshit.

“Then are we free to go, or do you need anything else of us?” She almost felt her voice waver for the briefest moment. He didn’t react, so she could only assume she imagined it.

“Oh no, you’re free to go - take care of her. Her kind only comes around every once in a double full moon. Especially those with so much history. You may take your leave, pirate.”

Mindfang nodded, quickly straightening her clothes, and grabbing on to the jadeblood’s wrist; she would have used her mind control, but it seemed wrong to do so now. Instead she physically pulled her towards the door. With a kick and a little shove, she looked back at the Highblood.

“Thanks for this. And… Keep as it goes.” She said, almost out of a need for tradition, or something to make rational sense. She hadn’t used her manners in sweeps, it was odd they’d show up now. She gave a little tug to the jadeblood’s arm and walked out the door and onto forgetting.

~

“What the hell is even wrong with you?”

The Dolorosa blinked in surprise, unsure if she should speak. Mindfang continued to glare at her, so she decided she should. “I beg your forgiveness, my lady, but I don’t understand what you mean.”

“You know!” Mindfang waved her arm, her features contorting into a snarl. “I’ve been nothing but terrible towards you, I’ve done my best to make you suffer, and you just take it! I know I’ve seen you angry, but it never lasts, and every day you just carry on as if I never did anything! Am I that much less unpleasant than Dualscar?”

Dolorosa’s eyes were demurely averted, but they flicked up at this. “I…” She stopped, and looked down again.

Mindfang’s eyes narrowed. “I could simply force you to talk, you know. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I know. But you aren’t doing so now - why?” Dolorosa blurted out, then clasped a hand over her mouth in fear.

Mindfang broke the long silence with “Do you hate me? The truth now.”

“… Often.”

“Why not always?”

Dolorosa looked back up, and met Mindfang’s eyes. “Because hate is all you know, and I would not wish to burden you with more.”

“What? I don’t need the pity of a slave!”

“Everyone needs someone’s.”

Mindfang stood still, unsure, then spat on the deck. “Bah. Why am I even talking to you?” She took the Dolorosa’s leash and dragged her to the captain’s quarters.

That day, Dolorosa slept on the floor, uncomfortable but untouched. She wondered what was going through the captain’s head. Perhaps she was merely angry, but perhaps she was thinking on what Dolorosa had said. Dolorosa tried to work out exactly how she felt. Platonic hatred sometimes, platonic pity others, and an undercurrent of something unsure and uneasy. Perhaps if she had met Mindfang before she became what she was now, something could have come of it. It really was a shame they had not.

She pitied Mindfang a little, but she did not like her at all. Someone ought to keep Mindfang in check, and right now there was nobody else who could even try, but she was not safe here and it could not be her forever. Still, recent developments might work to her advantage. She would keep her eyes open and perhaps sooner or later Mindfang would slip up…

~

The Highblood smirked to himself and ran the ruined petticoat between his fingers. Even without his little bit of subconscious encouragement, the silly bitch was turning so pale for the slave that he swore he could smell it, though she didn’t seem to have noticed herself. The Condesce would be very entertained to hear about this meeting, especially when he provided the proof.

Chapter Text

She didn’t know how long she had been waiting there. She had enough information from shadier sources that this was where he was living, she didn’t need to be too worried she had the wrong hive. Still, the doubt crept into her mind; if this wasn’t where he was staying at present, she might ambush a random troll who would no doubt flay her alive for trespassing.

 

The sun was going to be up soon if her internal clock was right, and it was rarely wrong. Which meant if anyone was staying here they’d come in soon. She said a silent mantra to keep her spirits lifted, and not allow her anger to take over. No matter if he was gone or not, she would hold to his teachings, peaceful, never violent. There was no need for this violence. She had a few choice words to say and then she would vanish back to her caves and her obscurity.

She sensed a presence on the other side of the door even before the handle turned. Her hunting instincts were rarely wrong either. She tensed, and as the door opened, she sprang at the appearing troll.

Expatriate Darkleer backed up as the tiny greenblood launched herself at him, grabbed his wrists, and pulled herself up on tiptoe to look him in the eye.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” she hissed.

It was, he knew by the amount of perigees that had passed, but it didn’t feel like too long. Not when she was there, even if she was hissing at him and baring her teeth the world felt very right with her being there. He could have easily shaken her off or stopped her hold; instead he just gave her a small smile, even if it would make her angry.

“It has been. You can let me go. I’m not going to run or hurt you.” He tried to conceal most of the emotion in his voice. His body language might make her angry, but his happiness in seeing her might make her furious. She half-snarled before she reeled it in. “Why are you here?” he asked. That might tell him exactly why, even though sweeps had passed, what she intended to do.

Her claws dug into his arm. “Do you remember when you last saw me? Do you remember why?”

“Of-of course,” he said. How could he forget? “I set you free-”

“You refused to kill me!” she snarled. “You set him free into death, and exiled me into life!”

“You will join him one day, but it wasn’t that day. You could have joined him any moment at your own will. Although I must say I would be sorry to hear of it. I gave you an opportunity, and I could not stand to see him suffer any more than he already had…”

“This isn’t an opportunity, this is a fate worse than death,” she said softly. “How could you… do that, to keep me bound to life and let him die?”

“Even if I had not shot him, he would have died, his wounds were too great. Nothing but a miracle could have saved him. And sadly, I don’t think a miracle would have. I released him from his pain, and I gave you a chance.”

“A chance at what?” She nearly spit at him as she spoke. “To slowly feel my heart die every day I am without him?” She drew back a hand and slapped him, claws extended enough to leave scratches. “Do you know what the Empress and her pet did to him before they strung him up? They let me watch every second. The marks you saw on him were the least of it.” Another slap, leaving bloody furrows in his face.

Darkleer maneuvred into the hive and closed the door to keep out the sunlight, without moving out of Disciple’s reach. He’d let her take out her rage, if she wanted. Physical pain never mattered to him anymore, ever since he’d found and lost two loves in a day.

“They never touched me. They called me a worthless ten-a-caegar slimeblood, said they had as many as they wanted of those. He was special.” She spat. “They locked me and the others up where we could see him, but he couldn’t see us. They gagged us so we couldn’t call to him, but we could still hear what they did. We could do nothing.” She clenched her fist and punched him, hard enough to rock him backwards and make her claws cut into her own palm. “He and I could never turn in a pail. His mutation would have been seen. They claimed the grubs that could have been mine. One day there will be more redbloods, and they made sure we knew they’d wind up in exactly the same place as he did.” She was starting to shake. “Then they took Psiioniic and Dolorosa away, and I don’t know what they did to them. I doubt they let them die easily.”

“I know it means nothing.” He didn’t think it would, but he had to say something. “I am sorry he had to go through so much. What I saw was enough to make me pity him, I cannot imagine your pain of knowing he went through more.” If what she said was the truth, and really he had no reason to doubt her, the Empire was more corrupt than he thought. Not that it mattered much now, he was less than a pariah for his choices to disregard the order to kill all those related to the group. He had to kill him, the Signless had suffered too much. There was no way any type of medicine or healing would have made a difference. As Darkleer had seen it, he saved him from slowly wasting away. Much to his own pain and tears as sweeps went on.

He couldn’t have beared to kill the troll who now stood before him; he had lost one love that day to permanence, he could handle losing one to distance. He knew she would hurt with the loss of of the Signless. But it was all he could do to help the troll.

“You cannot apologize and make it better,” she hissed. Her claws dug into his arm, he still didn’t move. “Nothing can make this better. Words are useless, you helped send a innocent troll to death. He had done nothing, but stated a world he saw. There is no crime against that.” He could watch tears form in the corners of her eyes. “You could have saved him, you could have unbound him, or at the very least killed me. This planet is nothing but bile and waste without him. Nothing but the same old bloodfueled hatred and worthless goals.”

Slowly, he moved his hand over hers, and let it rest there even as her claws drew more blood. “I know.”

She was shaking, tears rising. “Why? Why would you do it?”

Darkleer was silent for a while. Her grip loosened slightly, and he moved his own hands to her shoulders.

“Pity,” he said, finally. “Pity forced my hand for him, and stayed it for you.”

She bristled, and her eyes blazed, even angrier than she had been to start. “You killed him and left me so you could swoop in and save me? You expected me to fall flushed for you as soon as he was gone?”

“No! No.” He felt tears rising in his own eyes. “I-I did feel flushed for you, but I knew it would never be returned. I would have been happy for you if you could have been happy with him. I…” He sighed.

“So, then what? You could have killed me and I would be with him. Instead you left me alive… No doubt you had hope that I would feel different for you. It’s pathetic and almost sick. If you could have been happy for me then you should have left my corpse beside his.”

“No, no I couldn’t make myself. You had a chance to live and thrive, perhaps continue his work… I couldn’t rip that from you. His life any way I saw it was ended, instead of let it drag out and have it be more painful I could at least lessen his suffering. With you, you could have survived, and look at you - you have.” He sighed trying to keep his head together as he spoke. “I could not make myself kill you if my own life would have ended if I did not. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I apologize, but I still could not.”

“So why did you care so much about him?” she asked, the emotion draining from her voice with exhaustion. “He was nothing to you. Just another prisoner, a mutant, a rabble-rouser…”

“Honestly?” He said slowly. “I don’t really know. I saw him and the emotions boiled in me. They came suddenly and stayed. I can’t explain it without sounding ridiculous, so that is the only explanation I can give you.”

Her eyes widened. “You… you were pale for him?”

Darkleer closed his eyes, and nodded slowly. “At first sight. I swear to you, if there was anything else I could have done, I would have. If I could have, I would have taken his place, without question.”

Disciple’s breath was ragged, tears starting to streak down her face. She stared at him for a long moment, then screamed, and rained blows on his chest. He stood still and let her.

“I hate you!” she screamed. “I hate you so much! I hate you for killing him and I hate you for freeing me… and I hate you for making me hate myself for hating you!”

Darkleer stayed still, barely feeling the blows. He recognised the changes in her tone. She’d come in feeling platonic hate, thinking of him as a monster, a mere extension of the Empire’s will. Now she saw him as another troll, a man, who had made his own choice, and unwillingly respected him. She was caliginous for him, and it broke his heart further.

Her breath was broken up by hissing, and something along the lines of tears. But not sad tears, or happy ones. The kind that come when a troll is too frustrated with their circumstance to do anymore. He wanted to sigh, or push her away. He wanted to think of anything else other than the fact that this bastard of quadrant mashing was the closest he’d ever get again in his life.

Though he had not known the Signless personally, nor had he any interaction beyond the day he met and lost him, he was sure that his genes and hers never mixed. He was a mutant, more than likely he would not want to pass that curse on, even so his beloved could carry on hers. It was her sacrifice to him, and one she was obviously willing to make. However, the thought that the world would never be graced by another troll so full of spirit, one so devoted and dedicated, tore his already fragile heart into bits that would never be repaired.

This was, as far as he could logically and hopefully see, as good as it was going to get. He reached up slowly, grabbing her wrists delicately, so he wouldn’t harm her. He would only be violent enough to sate her need for black romance. Perhaps his tenderness would be offensive enough. She tried to yank away, and he almost had to let her go for fear of hurting her. Instead, he leaned down, half-picking her up by the hold on her arms, and pressed his lips against her. She could have the violence and he could have the tenderness. On two ends of the spectrum, this was, for the both of them, all they could get. Hopefully, she wouldn’t push him away too hard, and hopefully he wouldn’t be too soft. They could let this tangle of emotions become something once.

She pulled back reflexively, but realised he wasn’t pushing further, and returned the kiss, teeth cutting both their lips. The pain helped; it cleared his head, kept him in the moment. He carried her to his workbench, swept the tools off it, and gently placed her on it so she could reach him more easily, then pulled out the box under it. He couldn’t even remember why he still had a bucket. He hadn’t seen another troll in so long, and had few expectations of seeing many in the future. Still, it would be useful now. He took the bucket from the box and put it below the edge of the table. She watched, but made no objection.

Her claws landed on his biceps; some part of her understood this was a true quadrant meeting. It was something between. Neither black nor red, and even though she knew it it did nothing to stop her from the action. Her anger and hate would allow this. It drove it to higher levels, and after this she’d vanish, she wouldn’t see him again. This was a one time event, and she would allow it. After this, she’d carry on her lover’s mission.

She wouldn’t be too rough, she had heard rumors of his strength and didn’t feel like having her entire body destroyed for the sake of vengeance. Instead, she would keep the violence toned down, if he’d keep the gentleness at a minimum level. Their lips pressed together again, her teeth pulling on his lower lip, as his hands wrapped around her back undoing the straps keeping her clothes on. In a typical kismesitude, it would have been likely her clothes would have been torn off. She was thankful this wasn’t traditional. She didn’t have the resources or funds to get a replacement pair, and she didn’t feel like it would be safe to go back to the caves she had holed up in without cover. No doubt if any other troll saw her wandering around, it wouldn’t turn out well. The Signless wouldn’t fade from highbloods’ minds for a while, and she didn’t want to give them any reason to find her.

She undid the latches on his clothes, with the same kindness. He made himself a pariah for her, the least she could do was respect the fact that his blood had no weight any more. Each article of his clothes fell to the ground with a thud, heavier than she expected. She lifted her hands to the helmet that covered half of his face and pulled it off as well. It was only fair, seeing as all of her clothes made some type of sick pile along the wood of his work bench.

He kissed her again, her lips, her chest, using just enough pressure with his fangs to leave nicks, enough to satisfy her, and her legs wrapped around his waist. Would this even make grubs? Stronger emotions made for more and stronger offspring, but he’d never heard of such a clashing pair handing in a pail. Maybe the black and the red would cancel each other out and the mating would be infertile, or the conflict would warp the product and all they would produce would be mutants, weaklings…

He looked her in the eye, seeing the spark he loved so much, and imagined facing the centuries knowing for sure there would never be another troll like her. Perhaps their contrasting feelings were each strong enough for a single bucket’s worth to thrive. Even if it failed, it was worth a try.

Her claws tugged at the skin on his back. Her lips grabbed onto his neck, her tongue and teeth massaging the skin. He wanted to smile. She was biting enough that her hate was obvious, but still she showed some gentleness. He shifted enough that his bulge could begin to stroke the opening of her seedflap. They had all day, there was no way that she was going to be able to vanish into the night. Teasing her would perhaps prolong this for his memories, it might also frustrate her enough that it could double as a black action. She seemed to abhor his company, making her stay in it would definitely spike her loathing.

He decided that would be his plan. His claws and teeth were harsher than he wanted, but the actual action of pailing would be at the slowest pace possible. His bulge lazily stroked along sensitive skin. She pulled her teeth away to hiss at him, her claws licking at the crook of his neck. He granted her a little smirk. He hoped it looked self satisfied enough her hate would amplify. Maybe if they worked to peak the other’s feelings. For her he could make her loathe him. If she would just be the most pitiful thing in the universe, they might be able to negate the risks. Breed a grub strong and capable, just like her.

She was visibly frustrated now, snarling, grinding up against him as hard as she could. The angle wasn’t right for her to get the pressure she wanted, and her bulge emerged slowly, squirming uselessly between them. He shifted, still going slow, but speeding up enough that she wouldn’t just stop and end this. It was his one opportunity, and he was going to make sure that this happened. His bulge stroked along her nook, not pushing in, not yet. She hissed, not in actual rage, but anger and relief that she had communicated the message that she wanted. Her claws slid down his back. He wanted to believe she might be holding on to him, not just bracing herself. She pressed forward and he bit his lip, refusing to show how much he enjoyed the motion. If he showed too much, it might give her even more will to end it out of spite. He paused briefly, debating if he could control himself long enough not to hurt her. There were other ways that this could happen. She growled at him, her claws sliding along his back, moving to the front of him. Everything was so fast, all he understood was that one moment her hand had been on his back, and the next she wrapped it around the base of his bulge. Their eyes met briefly before she guided it inside of her.

He couldn’t help the shudder that ran through him, nor the impulse to press his lips against hers. There were fangs and blood, but he didn’t care, her body wasn’t hot but comfortably warm, he couldn’t have imagined it would have felt this good, if he would have imagined, which he rarely did. Her fingers gripped at his shoulders and she held him close, indulging in the kiss, taking the moment to bloody his lip so badly, he was glad that he had nowhere to be in the morning.

His bulge slid around inside her, thoughtlessly, not that he could have thought all that much about what he wanted from this. He knew that since he saw her he wanted nothing more than to have her in his arms, and now that he was finally getting it, it seemed unreal.

She looked up at him with half-lidded eyes, mumbling something that he couldn’t quite make out. He figured they were words of her hate, and he’d let her mumble them, as long as she didn’t mind how pitying his actions where. Seeing as she wasn’t full out attacking, he assumed it was a decent compromise.

Her legs curled around his hips, clutching onto him tightly as his bulge began to move faster inside of her. He wanted to take it slow, but his mostly ignored body got the better of him, shifting quickly inside of her, making his legs feel like they were going to start to shake. He wrapped his hands around her sides, petting down to her hips, trailing his claws just slightly, not enough to be black but right now he couldn’t keep up the facade that well. Her lips pressed against his neck, nipping lightly; that was more red than black, and he returned the gentleness of her gesture with a harsh bite of his claws into the meat of her thighs. Her head dropped against his chest as she moaned. He almost wanted to curse her for hiding her sounds away from him, he was doing his best to memorize this moment.

Her feet were pressing against the small of his back, clutching tighter, desperately pulling him forward, demanding more and putting his control at risk of breaking. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her - truly hurt her, he could give into little hurts for their compromise. He pressed his lips against her temple, taking a ragged breath, letting himself move faster inside her. She mewled against him, the sound shuddering across his chest and shooting pleasure down into his already unstable legs. He moved his hands away from her to brace himself against his workbench. He mumbled out a curse, she could hardly hear it. She pressed her lips against his collarbone, dotting it with violent blue marks, something between pity and hate bites. Marks of this moment to take with him, she was sure the marks from him wouldn’t fade anytime soon and she could at least give him something to remember her by.

Her body felt terribly yet wonderfully full and she couldn’t help clinging to his body. It had been what seemed like forever since she had been this close to any troll, and she doubted the opportunity would arise again after this moment. She trembled against him as his bulge shifted, pressing into a sensitive nerve bundle that sent a fresh wave of pleasure coursing through her veins. He mumbled something again, she couldn’t make out what the words were. They weren’t entirely important, not compared to the pure sensation shooting through every one of her nerves leaving her body tight, burning, and needy.

Her claws clutched onto his back; she wasn’t sure if that was purely of hate or the fact she was pretty sure if she didn’t hold on she’d fall back against tools that could probably seriously injure her. She could see his knuckles were nearly white as he clutched onto the workbench, the wood cracking under his grip. She left another reminder against the side of his neck, begging him to not stop without words. The heat dancing around her twitching feet was nearly painful, and dancing up to her core, expanding beyond this one moment, into a brief moment where worry, hate, and anger would fade. Only to hit her harder later. Her love might have been without quadrants, but she knew kismesissitude. His body convulsed violently, his bulge twisting inside of her making her nearly scream in pleasure. She choked down the noise and nipped at his ear. The wood splintered beside her and she could only smile that the made him lose his control like that.

His body pressed closer, wanting every part of him buried inside of her, just for this moment of mindlessness. His hips were pressing against the wood of his workbench with a force he would have chastised himself for under any circumstance, right now he was too close to absolution to care. Even if it wasn’t total, he could at least feel a bit of that relief.

She was gasping and panting against his neck, each breath making him tremble and his body tell him he couldn’t hold out forever. Her claws slid down the length of his back, her internal muscles spasming and he had to physically force himself to pull away, bringing her the slightest distance with him to catch her fluid in the pail he had at the ready.

Her eyes were closed, and she was still panting, her body twitching and shaking from over stimulation as he didn’t cease, too close himself to truly pause and give her a moment. Usually he would be a gentleman, but right now it didn’t entirely matter. It bordered the line of compromise, and she surely wouldn’t fault him for that.

He nearly bent the metal of the pail as sensation overrode him, he could hardly think enough to pull himself out of her and ride out the waves of sensation. He was still panting as her claws slid along his jaw. Not cutting, not hurting, just touching.

“I hate you. I always will,” she muttered, her voice still heavy with lust.

He opened his eyes, placing the pail on the floor well away from where either of them could touch it. He let himself smile slightly at her; the hate and rage hadn’t faded, but he could be content like this. It was close enough.

“I will never hate you, no matter what happens,” he retorted after being silent for far too long. “Are you going to try to cloak yourself and leave, or would you care to use my facilities before the moon rises once more?”

She fidgeted on the work bench; she hadn’t thought through leaving all that well. She could try to shroud herself and make it to some sort of shelter, but that came with quite a few risks. Staying here was nearly equally disagreeable. She sighed, then nodded. “I’m using your washroom, and you better feed me.”

“You’re free to have both, it won’t be dim too long, you’ll be able to leave again without warning soon. Pretend as if this is terribly inconveniencing me, and I am very upset at your demands. I will do my best to help you see that ruse.”

“Pretend that I’m not going to demand anything of you, and that as soon as the sun sets I won’t be on the road. If you don’t annoy me more than you already do I might let you sleep near me. Or perhaps do something else once more.”

He smiled slightly, gathering his clothes and moving so she could do the same. He directed her to the landmarks of his hive, and she used each with the air of the queen of the place. After they ate in relative silence, she did allow him to stay near her. He would be ashamed of all of this, and he knew she would be too. If anyone could see them, or knew that it was happening, they might have had the decency to be embarrassed by their actions. As it was just them it was difficult to be embarrassed by the doubled trick.

“If it will help at all, I shall take a moment to be very impertinent; what will you do when you leave?”

She put down the piece of meat she had been eating. “What?”

“Will you… join him?”

“Would you ask me not to if I said yes?”

Darkleer shook his head. “I would prefer you did not, but I don’t have that right. If you feel you must, I shall assist you in a painless manner. It would be only fair to help you if that was what you wished.”

Disciple sighed. “If an answer will help you… No. One day I’ll see him again, but not yet. I can’t let his words die out. I have work to do.”

Both of them slept after a series of activities that he would no doubt remember into his older years. When the sun set and the moons began to rise, all that was left of her were the marks on his body, and a faint scent lingering around his hive. He knew that he would never see her again. As much as he wanted to look for her, to find her, and be with her, it was impossible; their trick couldn’t last longer than a night, and both had to learn to be content with this loneliness.

Chapter Text

"Come one, come all, to carnival tonight!
The highest and the lowest are all one in the Trap.
At this feast of corruption, what you’ll see is
The destruction of the innocent.”

The wall’s a painted rainbow and the candy-red is calling
"Run, my children, flee now, beware the indigo"
I should have heard the words and seen the bloody rain that’s falling
I should have seen the danger but I didn’t want to know

Na, na, na, na, anjya anjya anjya

He tells me that I’m worthless so I try but still I’m failing
I hear my sister screaming and she’s begging me to go
Their hands are crawling on me, say I’m only good for pailing
And as I bleed they swear to me they love me even so

Violet, yellow, red, green, blue, indigo
All the same stripped right down to the bone

Yai yai, now I walk this bloody pathway
Yai yai, laughing though I’m all alone
Rai rai, pull me closer, hold me tighter
Rai rai, blood and bones and indigo

Panic, fear, confusion, I don’t know what he’s thinking
"Slack and you get hurt", I try my best but still I’m sinking
Dizzy, sick, and frightened, can’t stop my head from spinning
I knew that it was wrong but still I didn’t want to see

”And the floor stares back at you through the motherfucking hole…”

The dead are speaking to me and they say I’m not alone here
They faced the torments I did and one by one they fell
They tell me of captivity, their suff’ring and their own fear
I listen to their stories and I have no-one to tell

Na, na, na, na, anjya anjya anjya

Brothers and sisters, won’t you come with me now?
You helped me and I will help to take you from this hell
We break the lock, we flee the cage, we’ll find a way to flee now
I’ll never see my friends again but now that’s just as well

Yai yai, is this truly all I’m good for?
Yai yai, pain is all I’ll ever know
Rai rai, tear my heart out, carve your name in
Rai rai, blood and bones and indigo

Cut, crush, burn, bleed me dry or watch me suffocate
I’ll play your game, I swear I will last just for one more day
Even if I’m worthless I can learn, I can remember
I won’t stay here forever, I know I can get away

I don’t think that you need to know (they’re coming for me, they’ll never let me go)
I don’t think that you need to know (they’re coming for me, they’ll never let me go)
I don’t think that you need to know (they’re coming for me, they’ll never let me go)
Tell me, Messiahs, was I wrong to flee?

Yai yai, I won’t stay and let you break me
Yai yai, I will live till tomorrow
Rai rai, someday I will watch you bleeding
Rai rai, blood and bones and indigo

I’m not helpless, I won’t stay bleeding in the dark and crying
I don’t care for myself but I won’t watch my hatchmates dying
Before the moons have risen we’ll be out of here and flying
We will see you again and then Alternia will be free

“I won’t let go of any of you, all of you skeletons, all of my kin. But I ain’t letting go of the ones that be alive either.

I won’t let him fucking find us. I don’t know how the fuck that’ll work, but I’m pissed off enough that I’m fucking determined. Fuck the Keeper and the Hag. Fuck my bloodlinks. I’ll make my choice, but I’ll make it in my own motherfucking time.”

We'll see you again and then Alternia will be free...

Chapter Text

“You can’t force me not to go.”

“I’m not trying to force you, I just-”

“Could have fooled me.” Summoner’s voice was cold, his usual good cheer gone.

Mindfang slammed a fist on her desk, her own blood boiling. “I’m trying to protect you! Can’t you see there is no way this is going to end well?”

“I suppose I should have known this is what you’d think,” Summoner sighed. “You’ve killed your own black flings before.”

“Hey! Hey, that was uncalled for,” Mindfang hissed, then sagged a little. “But it’s true. Kismesissitudes are rivalries, and rivalries work better if you’re not trying to actually kill each other.”

“Is that why you and Dualscar never worked out?”

“Something like that. I pushed him too far, and he killed my sl-... my m-...” She paused, trying to find an appropriate word, and settled on “... my friend. And do you have any idea what that maniac did to Dualscar, while we’re on the topic of him? I’ve heard the stories, and I can’t believe you haven’t. If I’d known that would happen... no, I wouldn’t have tried to stop him, but that was then. I didn’t know you then.”

“Even so, as you said they tend to work out better if one doesn’t kill the other. I don’t think he intendeds to kill me.”

“I think he intends to kill anything that’s near him too long,” Mindfang said, rolling her eye. “Even if it doesn’t seem like his outright intention, you don’t know. You can’t know. His wills and wants are more fluctuating than the wind, and just as prone to change. He may hate you now, but what about tomorrow? I don’t want to hear what he will do to you.”

“You fret too much. He might be temperamental, but that does not make him more than a troll.”

“With what he did to Dualscar I’d say he’s a monster,” Mindfang muttered. “I wouldn’t say that lightly, either. Dualscar was a seadweller, his superior by hatchright, that didn’t stop him from doing what he did. You’re below him, way below him. He--”

“Does that make me below you?”

“This isn’t the argument we’re having. No, it doesn’t. But he keeps the peace. You challenging him, the Empire, that is breaking the peace in the worst possible way. I support you through nearly anything. I can’t support you in this. I don’t want you to die. I pity you too much to let you go and not worry about the repercussions.” She frustratedly rubbed her horns. “Look, please, can you talk about this with your moirail? He’s dealt with the Highblood before, he’d know more than I do.”

“Ah, we’re... having troubles of our own,” Summoner said, inhaling through his teeth and breathing out with a sigh. “I don’t think his diamond was ever really in it as much as mine. He’s dwelling too much on the past.”

Mindfang winced in sympathy. That was the problem with filling quadrants with lower-bloods, they died too soon. She knew Darkleer was still pining for an old flush-quadrant interest; she’d seen the green-trimmed rag in pride of place pinned above his workbench. She wouldn’t have been at all surprised to know he was similarly pining for a lost palemate. Perhaps she’d have to find out who they had been some time; information was valuable. She pushed that out of her mind for the moment, along with the thoughts it brought up of the troll who, if not for her own behaviour, could have been her own moirail one day.

Someone had written a song about the incident. “The slavegirl’s heart burned and the green blood did flow, and down to the deeps darling Dolly did go.” She’d caught a crewman singing it once, and slit his tongue for it.

She gathered her thoughts. “Do you think it’s wise then to go off and fill another?” She sighed; she could already see how this was going to explode in her face. “I didn’t mean it like that. What I mean is perhaps you should work on one at a time, so the stress of romance doesn’t take its toll. I’m aware we are arguing now, but we’re steady. You should want the same from all of your relationships before it becomes overwhelming.”

She could do many things, she had innumerable skills, but for some reason she could never figure out how to change his mind. What pity did to trolls would have been depressing if it wasn’t so wonderful.

“This is your weakest attempt yet.” He said crossing his arms. “I don’t quite understand your problem. He is difficult, but it doesn’t make him more than a troll. It doesn’t make him a monster either. He’s disgusting, but he’s not anything to warrant this sort of thing. I doubt it’s within me to feel flushed for him if that’s your worry.”

Mindfang stopped herself before she blurted out the details of her last in-person experience with the Highblood. Should she tell him? No, it probably wouldn’t help; if she told him now, while they were angry, he may accuse her of making it up, words could be said which neither of them could ever take back, and she would have to explain more than she wanted to about her own activities and then it really would all be over. She thought of the troll who had been with her then. What would Dolorosa do?

“Listen.” Her voice was calm. Rosa was always so calm, whatever she’d done to her... “I’m not worried about you finding pity in another. I’m more worried about what will happen if this turns out badly. I’m not saying this because I am trying to stop you from your goals. I’m understandably worried. He’s never kept a quadrant. I’m sure there have been trolls who have tried, I’m positive they have just ended up dead. I don’t want that for you.”

“What if he hasn’t? What if he had plenty of emotion and feelings? It’s trolls like you that stop him from having anyone in his life. No doubt he could benefit from some relationships, he’s not above needing to have someone to care or detest him. Trolls like you probably stop other trolls from allowing that and make him more and more bitter. I want a kismesissitude, I could only imagine your words at a troll who might want to calm and pacify him.”

“More power to them, if they could honestly keep him calm and pacify him. I would never stand in the way of that. But what I am saying is, based on my experiences you’re going to get hurt, if not die. I can’t lose you, I pity you too much. Kismessitude is already violent, it’s already pitch and terrible. You add on your challenge to the Empire, your want to change the peace. His fluctuating nature... Not to mention size, and I foresee death. I can tell his spade won’t stay long, duty --”

“Do you think trolls can’t change, that perhaps he would? To be honest, him having feelings one way or another for me make my rebellion stronger, if he can’t kill me because it would hurt him. It puts me in place to make real change.”

“You’re using child soldiers against Empire soldiers, the odds... nevermind, and what of the Empress and Council? Do you think she’ll take kindly to him allowing your rebellion to continue? He might not kill you but that doesn’t mean he won’t try to stop your coup.”

“As long as I live my rebellion will continue. There are plenty who believe in this dream. If he can’t kill me we might be able to weaken the Empire enough a treaty could be started and put in place. But that’s an added bonus. He started the flirting, I didn’t. Not that he isn’t detestable, but I wasn’t looking. It’s an advantage, Spin. One we need, and in turn I think I’ve found fated hate. I found you in the most unlikely place, who’s to say I wouldn’t find that in one as well?”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“I don’t care.” He grimaced. “That came out badly, what I’m saying is what you’ve said is true. It takes time to change a Highblood’s mind, and you’re as close to high as mid gets. Let me give you time to see how different this will be.”

“This will only play out one way. Eventually duty or boredom will spell your end. I only pray I’m dead so I don’t have to hear the news.”

“Don’t give me your dramatics, Empress.” He hissed. She gritted her teeth. “You’re overreacting. He is a troll. He feels pity and hate. I’m sure he craves friendship. And just like any other troll he can get lonely. He’s annoying, terrible, and stupid. But seriously, I don’t know why you’re upset, Spin.”

“You’re going to die.”

Summoner balanced on the ship’s rail, half-turned to face his matesprit. “I do care about you very much, but you’re not my lusus, and you’re not our auspistice. I’d appreciate it if you left us alone.”

With a flap of his wings, he was gone.

Mindfang kicked angrily at the railing, spun on her heel, and stalked back to her cabin. Evidently words would not get through to him. She ran her hands over her horns, let the warmth of her power flow into her head. It had been so long since she’d needed it...

Many sweeps after Dolorosa’s death, more sweeps of guilt and anger and thinking about what she had done had begun. Mindfang had sworn not to use her power again unless it was a matter of life or death. Now it was; not immediately so, but she was sure Summoner wouldn’t be left free much longer if he kept this up. When he returned, she’d just give him a little nudge. Nothing big. Remove a memory here or there. Perhaps Rosa would not have approved, but Rosa was dead, and now Mindfang had a quadrant officially filled she was keen to keep it.

~~~

The moons gleamed on the copper-coloured spot in the sky. Mindfang watched it come closer to the anchored ship, smiling. It was such a relief to have her matesprit back, all to herself again…

He landed on the deck, and she froze as she saw his expression. He looked beyond livid, the kind of rage just past that, the one that made him go nearly silent and speak in short choppy words. She never had experienced this anger directed at her and she could almost feel herself want to pull back.

“How could you?” he asked after a long moment of silence. When she didn’t immediately answer he was nearly growling. “How could you, Spin- sorry, I mean Mindfang.” She winced at the cruel tone his voice took when he said that name.

“Please, listen, I just want to keep you safe.”

“You’re not my lusus, nor my moirail.” His fists were clenched at his sides, though Mindfang trusted that he wouldn’t come to blows. He was angry and trying to vent it out. “You are my matesprit. And I prefer it when you act like one.”

“No, I have to protect you.” She didn’t like how soft and desperate her voice sounded. “You have to protect me. If I was doing something stupid you’d ask me to stop.”

“This is just making you look like a possessive bitch.” He stood up tall, almost glaring and those words ached. It wasn’t possessive of her to want to keep someone she pitied safe. It wasn't jealousy that guided her. She had lost everyone.

She had other trolls once, most were dead. Others were warped so beyond the troll she had any type of affection for they might as well be dead. She lost Rosa, Dualscar took care of that. She was torn from Mindfang cruelly and without any type of regard. She was left with a jade rag, and mournful tears; they could have been something once. As much as she detested him towards the end, she lost Dualscar too, her feigned indifference convincing everyone but her inner self. She tried hoping if she repeated it enough she wouldn’t mourn the monster that took her Rosa. But still, Dualscar and she had great times and she had hated him with intensity. He was gone. Darkleer, her only real remaining link to a world long gone, was getting old and more and more reclusive, she swore he was going insane. He might as well be gone. Every troll she ever cared for was gone.

All but him. Her fearless cavalreaper who tamed any beast. Who impressed any blood, and left them curious about his ability. She had him, and she refused to stand by and watch her lovers get torn from her again without putting up a fight. She should have spoken with Dualscar about Rosa. Should have talked to him about it. Then she might still have the both of them, if time and age didn’t pull them apart. But that was “should have”. She could have saved them. Instead, Mindfang was just left with her Summoner, and she refused to lose him. She’d die before that happened.

She didn’t doubt he caught the Highblood’s eye. He was too outspoken, too forthright for any other outcome. She didn’t doubt her matesprit’s hate, the Highblood was everything he detested in a troll. She didn’t doubt that her Summoner was many of the things the Highblood hated, his flagrant disregard for peace the most obvious. In fact, she didn’t doubt any emotion either of them felt. It wasn’t the point. The point was, the Highblood was manipulative, more so than any other troll she ever met. Even herself. To give someone else that moniker was an impressive feat as she had been manipulating the minds of trolls for sweeps and ages before Rosa taught her something better. The Highblood had no such care or compassion. Rosa had told her later why the Highblood had been so keen to accept Mindfang’s proposal. How he didn’t let go of a grudge or a face. Let alone a name or the implications of causing more torment later.

The Highblood might be a troll, might be as mortal as her or her Summoner. (Though Mindfang suspected some type of foul play, he should be showing signs of some age by now.) But he was heartless, heartless and cruel. Beyond even the most loose troll standards of kindness. He played games because he could, not even for purpose, and she didn’t count divine will as actual purpose. She figured the religion was just so they could do what they wanted without excuse, and if she didn’t know better, she would have thought the Highblood invented it himself for his dark mind.

“I don’t want you to die,” she whispered; she couldn’t even look at him. “I’ll do anything to protect you, to keep you alive. Even that. I couldn’t handle it if you died.”

“So you’re just selfish then?” The phase was more hurtful than necessary. He must have noticed because he sighed. “Spin, you swore to me that you’d never control me. Why now?”

“Do you know what that monster is capable of?”

“Yes.”

“No, I don’t think you do. I had a slave once. She wasn’t… She wasn’t mine, she was Dualscar’s. I stole her, I found myself enjoying her company. I did terrible things, and I hurt her. But In the end it hurt me just as much, so I removed her from Dualscar’s... Care. We went to land, and I went to the Highblood for protection. I could handle Dualscar, I just didn’t want to start a war over a slave. He killed the troll before me…” The words rushed from her mouth then tapered off into silence. “Nevermind, I’m sure you won’t believe me anyway.”

“Try me, Spin.”

“I offered him the both of us. Originally my intent had been just to offer her, but I couldn’t. He seemed willing to accept, even more so when he knew he’d have the slave. I didn’t understand until some perigees passed and she told me.”

“You did what?” If whispers could have been roars, she would have just lost her hearing. Instead she felt guilt hit her in the heart and the very deep need to drop her head in shame. “Spin, I know you used to be terrible, but that--”

“Don’t you think I know? That I haven’t lived with the repercussions? That I didn’t have to do that anyway, because Dualscar’s jealousy killed her. She was a beautiful, intelligent troll who never hated me for what I did. When I asked her why she said to me ‘you, as I am, are a victim of circumstance. I abandoned my post, and you are fighting yours’. I asked her what she meant and…”

“And…?” He said when her pause had gone on too long.

“She raised a troll who thought he could change the world. He was taken from her and murdered in the cruelest way possible. His lover exiled to loneliness. His closest companion became enslaved as a ship for the Empress, and she was put into slavery. She was forced to watch his execution. Forced to watch the horror they put him through. Him having her was just another way to spite another old rival. I don’t want that to be you.”

“Are you the same troll, Spin? That same troll who stood and watched horrors be committed without thought or care? Or did you learn your lesson?”

“I’ve learned, the only reason I did anything was because… I don’t want to lose you. I couldn’t handle it, again.”

“Time has changed you, what makes you any better than any other troll? All can change and learn their lesson. For the record, the only reason I noticed what you were doing to my mind was because when I found myself thinking about something that was said, I couldn’t remember it, even though minutes before I could. You could have gotten away with it, and I would have been just another troll you’ve manipulated. Tell me, do you keep a log for this type of thing?”

“I didn’t want to! There was no other option!”

“I’m a grown and pupated troll, I can make my own decisions. You are not my lusus, you are not any wiser than me, nor do you have any right to subject me to your whims.”

For a moment, she thought he’d flipped black; not ideal, but at least it would keep him away from any danger but her. But no, this wasn’t black romance. This was the kind of platonic hate she had rarely seen, a seething desire to erase her from the world. She slipped her hand into the pocket containing her dice.

“Serket.” He spat her sigil name, not even the title she’d chosen for herself. “For old times’ sake, I’m going to leave now. Don’t follow me. If we ever meet again, I will have no choice but to take you down.”

Her eye widened. “Okay. That’s fine. But, for old times’ sake, don’t go to him. Please.”

Summoner ignored her and ran to the railing. Shit… She threw the dice, and suddenly a heavy knife was in her hand. She ran after him, reached him just as he took off, grabbed his ankle, and was hauled into the air.

He’d flown with her before, many times, but before she had been co-operating, keeping her body tense and easier to lift. Now she was a dead weight, and he sagged in the air, her boots skimming the waves until she managed to pull herself up his body and wrap her legs around his knees. She gripped his horn with her real hand and waved the knife wildly with her mechanical one as they rose higher and higher.

“Don’t you fucking dare go to him! He’s worse than I could be if I lived as long as the Empress, you’re going to fucking die!”

“Let go of me or both of us will die, you crazy bitch!” Summoner yelled, trying to peel her hand off him, wings flapping unevenly as her body blocked them. The wings weren’t actually necessary to gain height; gossamer butterfly wings could never lift a man his size, especially not with a full-grown cerulean hanging off him. That function was performed by Summoner’s extremely specific form of telekinesis, which was only able to lift himself and anything he was holding, or anyone who was holding onto him. The wings were really for steering, and right now his flight pattern was an erratic mess, taking him up and down and left and right and in frantic spirals, but slowly and surely moving further up and closer to land.

Summoner felt his wings tear and screamed, Mindfang’s knife cutting shallow furrows in his back. Through gritted teeth, she snarled “Take us down!”

“You want to go down?” Summoner twisted his body, grabbed the knife, and managed to wrench it around in her grip. She was a blueblood, but she was old and losing strength, and he was young and fit from sweeps of flight and strife. “Fine!” He pulled the knife across between them both and drove it into the back of her flesh hand. It went straight through and scraped painfully across his horn and scalp, he groaned, she shrieked, and she lost her grip and plunged screaming towards the sea. Summoner watched in angry satisfaction. Mindfang always had luck on her side, they weren’t far from her ship and he was sure they weren’t high enough for impact with the water to knock her out; she’d tread water till her crew picked her up…

She hit the waves with an enormous splash, and didn’t sink.

Summoner dived down, fast enough to leave a trail of blood drops in the air. He hadn’t realised that they had been too close to land. The water was not deep enough. Mindfang lay half-submerged on the rocky seabed, her face above the waterline, both horns splintered, her mechanical arm burst and sparking, the water clouding blue. Her coat bulged out horribly in one spot, suggesting a rib had pierced right through to the outside. Her eye opened as he approached, and she coughed out an ironic laugh.

“I can’t feel my legs.” She winced. “Can feel everything else though. Fuck, I wish I couldn’t.” Blood leaked from her mouth, and she laughed again. “I won’t be troubling you anymore. Can’t move. Tide should be in soon… Before or after the sun comes up? My head hurts, I can’t remember.” She tried to move, and one fractured horn fell away entirely with a gush of blue.

“Mindfang… Spin…”

“Ach, no, don’t pick me up! Shit. Only got my own weight holding me together. Fuck, take my arm off before it shocks us both to death. Seawater, you know.” The bolts were broken and the flesh torn; the electrical parts of the arm came away with little effort, and Summoner flung them ashore.

“Okay, I was mad and I meant that I didn’t want to talk to you again… But I didn’t want to kill you.”

“To be honest....” Her breathing was labored; every inch of her was now going numb, which wasn’t a good sign. “The fall killed me, not you.” She tried to smile and it made her bones groan and ache once more, blood tickled the back of her throat. She didn’t want to cough, but it was going to come regardless. “I’m sorry,” she croaked before she coughed. “I just wanted to keep you safe. I pity you, and I know, I just know… He’s going to be the death of you.”

“It’s going to take a lot more then hate to end me.” He sighed, and knelt down in the water and sand beside her. “Why couldn’t you have just listened to me, Spin? You don’t have to control everything.”

“I know, I know. I just lost everyone. I lost Rosa, we might have had something. I lost Dualscar. I’ve lost all my friends, and then I lost you. Losing my life now doesn’t seem so bad, y’know? ‘Bout time I got caught in my own net. I just want you to be spared. You’re still young, you have time…” She was rambling, rambling on her deathcoon. She had sworn she was going to go out any one of a million different ways, most of them a blaze of glory, but instead she was slowly going into shock and every aching inch of skin was reminding her of her quickly diminishing time.

“If you would have trusted me, you would have kept me.” His angry conviction was lost. “I’m sorry, Spin… I didn’t want to hurt you, I thought you’d just fall into water and swim back, dangerous but not deadly.”

She coughed again. “It’s okay. Nothing to be done about it now. Well. One thing.” She handed him the knife. “Don’t argue. If you ever cared… No, I won’t make an ultimatum now. But know that I’m asking you. There’s no more you can do, unless you’re angry enough to leave me.”

Summoner took the knife, gripped her hand, and said “I could never be angry enough to let anyone suffer like this, especially not you.”

“You know how it’s done,” she murmured, and he nodded, easing her neck straight as gently as he could. “You know, I can think of worse ways I could have gone.”

“Forgive me, then? I would understand if you didn’t.”

“No need. I wasn’t angry. I won’t ask you to forgive me now, though I hope you do one day. Just… stay safe?”

Her eyes closed, and the knife came down.

~~~

He should have left her after that. All she was now was cooling flesh, Spinneret was gone, and there were creatures to be fed. Instead, he took her to the shore, lay her on the rocks in a little cave with her dice-pouch on her breast, watched her skin tighten and dry in the cold salt air and water. He needed to think about her, and couldn’t leave her yet.

There was a sound in the distance, the slosh of water not loud enough to cover the splash of something new to the cave. He tensed; a warning growl of a troll in mourning should have been enough, but the sound persisted. Beside his own mourning he could feel a little worry set in. It could be an animal that was drawn close by the smell of blood, and the devouring would begin. Not that he wasn’t ready for it. Spin was, she was gone. He just needed a bit more time to think about her, their fight, and all the things in between. She had helped him start this rebellion, her age gave him an edge, but now… now it seemed like if she couldn’t be his main source of help she was going to plot and manipulate. He knew that hadn’t been the real reason, but he didn’t think he could believe her real reason. He sighed; the sound was closer, and he knew he didn’t have much time. He supposed he could kill the beast for more time, but that just seemed like a bit of an insult.

“‘Ello?” It wasn’t a beast, but a troll. “Hello?” He didn’t acknowledge the other troll. Maybe he’d go away. “Hey, there you are.” Summ looked up to the purpleblood who was standing there, in full uniform, and looked like he felt odd about this whole thing. “The Fa-- The Highblood sent me to find you. Trusted me not to do anything stupid, but uh, looks like I came at a bad time.”

“Go figure.” Summ rolled his eyes, wondering if the troll would mean anything to the church at large. He could just kill him. If Summ didn’t help him, he’d probably be dead anyway.

“Was she your quadrant?” The troll looked away from Spinneret and toward Summoner, a hint of compassion in his eyes. “Lost my kismesis a few perigees back, I know in some way how hard that can be.”

“Did you kill them?”

“No.” That was a valid reason for his harsh tone. “The fish got her, she was hanging out by the coast waiting for her moirail and a whole horde of them dragged her under the waves.” He sighed. “Sorry for your loss.”

“It’s not your fault.” Though in some part of his mind Summ could blame him. Almost the whole of Alternia, the part that refused change, could be blamed for this. “What’s your name?”

“Tailen Lomust, and you need no introduction. The Highblood wanted to speak with you, but I can tell him you lost your quadrant, motherfucker can be quite understanding to the loss of those that are pitied and hated. You sure you want to leave her here? Fish will eat her. I don’t mean the cute little shits that get eaten by the Fish too.”

“Her kismesis was a seadweller, I don’t think she’d mind it…” The idea of Spin being cannibalized tore at his stomach. Beasts would be kinder and just eat her, other trolls might mess with her corpse and debase it in some way.

“Not about what she wants, it’s about how you’ll find closure, she’s found hers in the relief of death. I can help you move her inland. We’ve cleared the road here to Nataine, so you don’t have to worry about being stopped. Or some trigger happy seadweller getting their grief out on you.”

“You mean you’d...” Summ wasn’t surprised at the trolls deadset on his mission, but more surprised by this Lomust’s compassion.

“Told you I lost someone recently. I know how it hurts, that hollow part in your gut that aches after them. If I can help you get what I couldn’t, to help with that burn and twist, then sure, all shit otherwise aside.” He shrugged. “I figure you don’t want me to carry her, I would though. If it’d help.”

“Your magnanimousness is surprising. But…” Summ thought over the offer. He wouldn’t be welcome on Mindfang’s ship anymore - hell, he didn’t want to be there with the power struggle at was going to ensue. He could make a home for himself in the forest of the maroonblood territory once more. But from that remote corner of the continent it was going to be hard to command a rebellion. He could go to his moirail’s, but Darkleer and he had their difficulties.

The Highblood might be gracious enough to let him stay a few nights, at least one. Plus, this troll proved what the Sufferer had said, that even if assbackwards, stupid, and lumbering, those in the highest echelons of the hemospectrum could have the compassion needed for their lowerblooded compatriots. If they could only see the horror.

“Alright. Help me get her out of here and to the woods.” He sighed. It was a hard choice, but Lomust was right, it was about Summ’s closure, not Mindfang’s own. “It’d be better for her to be eaten by the spiders. Her lusus was a spider.”

Lomust offered his hand and helped Summ to stand up. He helped arrange Spinn’s broken body in Summ’s arms, and guided him out of the small cave. Torchlight in the distance proved Lomust’s point about having the road cleared here to the capital city. He walked him through the shallow waters, and to the road proper, and Summ watched as nearby purplebloods opened their mouths and quickly closed them, upon seeing what was happening. Her body was fragile, something Summ hadn’t seen in life, and he found a nice little clearing, a spiderweb on the far end, that he laid her down in.

He took a breath, and smoothed her hair one last time. He apologized in his head for their final moments, for being the cause of her death. He stood, saying his final goodbye. His heart ached, but he couldn’t hang out here and watch her be eaten.

Lomust escorted him back down to the road. “None of my brothers or sisters will give you headache. We’re raiding for bandits, highwaymen, so we should be plenty distracted. You will make it to Nataine without hassle. Best of luck to you. And I hope you find your closure, it may take some time. But I hope you do.”

Summ wanted to thank him, but refused on the principle that the purpleblooded troll had only done what was kind and right to any caste. Instead he nodded and began his way down the road, trying not to think of Spin, but instead focusing on the bodies laid out on the side of the road. All ages, all creeds, obviously thieves by the state of their dress, their heads crushed in, limbs ripped from them, and one memorable one had been torn in half.

It took a while to walk, but perhaps it was good for him instead of flying and thinking about the phantom weight of Spin he had held just hours or perhaps a day before. The few purplebloods that sat and murmured as he passed, huddled in groups around fires drinking and taking a break, didn’t even really regard him in passing, unless another troll came close. He stopped at one point and got a drink at a waystop, just to help clear the final part of his mind his walk wasn’t clearing.

It was odd, this whole thing; it was like being walked to execution, or perhaps it was just the feeling with the purplebloods flanking the roads, with him being free to walk. Though other trolls had passed by freely as well.

The gates of the city Nataine open when he arrived, the night winding down. Just in time for dinner, and the smell of food stalls both made him hungry and sick. Through narrow curving streets, he made his way to the second most imposing building in the city, the ashen-black church of many colors. He entered in as he had done at least ten times before, ignoring all the milling trolls, and now choosing to fly higher up near the arched ceiling. Heading back to the Highblood’s own quarters, he could feel her still holding on and the sooner he got there, he thought, the better.

He didn’t knock, he just entered, and was confronted by the Highblood, sitting back at the table with the Empress across from him. Summ readied his hand and weapon, willing to kill now if necessary.

“Rest, Cavalreaper.” The Empress spoke. “I mean you no ill intent. My palest has talked to me about you, and he’s fostered this meeting over food and drink about peace.” Summ stared. “It’s difficult to deny my moirail’s other quadrants, I just want what’s best for him. I always have, and he’s pitch for you, so perhaps we need to talk about what you want to stop this petty rebellion.”

“I didn’t know you had a moirail.” He looked to the Highblood, who just shrugged. “And I don’t know if peace can be discussed, the Empire has made their views clear.”

“Perhaps we can find the right step. Come, sit, we can talk.”

“I’m not much in the mood for talking right now,” Summ sighed. His rebellion was at a turning point, ah, if only Spin could see this. What he predicted was coming true.

“Summ,” the Highblood said softly. It was the tone he used when he wanted to be listened to. “I know this is strange, given our last encounter.” One Summ didn’t fully remember, thanks to Spin. He knew he had said and done things that didn’t exactly fall within romantic hate, and bordered on platonic.

“I wasn’t myself at our last meeting.”

“Even so, come and sit, please. Let us try to hash out an agreement.”

In reluctance he sat, and they began to talk; he spoke of his mission, his ideals, his desire for change. He spoke of horrors, even as the morning winds kicked up and sounded like screams in the distance. Two young purplebloods, marked with something Summoner had no desire to understand, appeared and served the most delicious-smelling meat he’d ever encountered. The thick herbal sauce and sweet baked vegetables pleasantly counteracted the saltiness of the meat; some type of sea-beast, he presumed, only to be expected when dining with a seadweller. He knew enough about meat to suspect this could have done to be cured for a little longer, but the cooking had softened it wonderfully, and, well, he had arrived unexpectedly. He certainly didn’t intend to complain. These were the true riches of the higher castes. Something he wanted for all trolls if they worked for it. The Empress was surprisingly gracious, letting him dish up first, and asking him about the finer points of his rebellion. The Highblood hardly spoke; he had a distant, almost broken look in his eye.

The conversation wound down as the meat was finished up. The Empress looked deep in thought, holding her glass of wine in her hand, pensive; perhaps he had gotten through to her. If that was the case, he knew Spin would be proud of him.

“Y’know,” she said thoughtfully, “I always hated pirates. I had this one, weird creep of a troll, he was obsessed with making me happy. Would have done anything for me. Eventually, he counted on solidarity to save him. Which wasn’t really the case. He was weird.” Summ stared at her, wondering why in the name of anything she would be talking about this now. “I have to say though, I love salty food, and it seems like pirates get that imbued in their skin, their flesh. It’s like they brine themselves.” She smiled at him, setting down her glass. “I was going to make this much faster, but when… Oh, what’s his name, love?”

“Lomust.”

“Yes, Lomust told us that you’d lost your love, we had to redo our little plan on the fly. Luckily you are the impressionable sort, and we could make you dinner.”

“W-What are you--”

“I didn’t know azures could taste so good. Don’t you agree, Cavalreaper?”

“What… This…” He looked over what remained, and wiped away the green sauce from a scrap of fat, only to rock backwards on his chair and clutch his throat as he saw the meat beneath was a very familiar shade of blue. “You… You both are monsters--”

“No,” The Empress stood, and Summ was still lost in the shock of what they just said. “We’re not monsters, you hurt him.” Her hair whipped around her, he could feel her rage, and he stumbled out of his chair. “Grab him, love.”

He had forgotten how fast the Highblood could be. He tried to move away, he tried to run, but he was panicking and ran directly into the purpleblood. The Empress paused at a cabinet as the Highblood’s claws latched onto Summoner’s shoulders, his thumbclaw digging into the joint just above his wings. The Empress paused at the cabinet and then turned around, a saw in her hand.

“I think I’m going to enjoy making you join your pityheart. Your stupid-ass rebellion, your thought that you can just bulldoze, pun intended, through trolls. Oh, little Cavalreaper, I’m going to tear off your wings and pin them above my throne.” Her fingers coiled through his hair, and she placed the saw right at the base of his horns. He struggled, digging the Highblood’s thumbclaws further into his wing joint. The Empress smiled at him. “This is how we deal with pesky nuisances. Especially ones with the gall to believe they have the right to lead a troll on.”

“What? No, no, it wasn’t my fault, it was Sp-”

“I’m disappointed, I’d thought you were braver than that.” The Highblood shook his head, and repositioned a huge hand around Summoner’s neck and jaw. “Then again, blaming others is what you seem to be good at. This is the way of things, little butterfly; us at the top, and you...”

The sawblade bit in, and Summoner tried not to scream.

“... on a pin.”