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> Karkat: half-heartedly attend your own wriggling day celebrations

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    CG: I'M BEING COMPLETELY HONEST WITH YOU, TEREZI.
    CG: TRUST ME WHEN I SAY I'D LOVE NOTHING MORE THAN TO SPEND MY WRIGGLING DAY WATCHING MOVIES WITH MY HUSKTOP ON MY LAP TYPING WITH WHOEVER THE FUCK FELT LIKE GIVING ME GRIEF, NO MATTER HOW MUCH I'D COMPLAIN AND GROUSE AND CLAIM OTHERWISE IN THE EVENT OF BEING, YOU KNOW, ACTUALLY ABLE TO SPEND THE DAY DOING WHAT I ACTUALLY WANT TO DO.
    CG: BUT IT'S JUST NOT POSSIBLE
    CG: FOR REASONS I SIMPLY DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT AND AM GENUINELY BEGGING YOU NOT. TO. ASK.
    GC: H3H3H3
    GC: DON'T G3T YOUR NUBBY L1TTL3 HORNS 1N 4 TW1ST 4BOUT 1T
    GC: 1T'S NOT L1K3 G4M1NG W1TH YOU ON YOUR WR1GGL1NG D4Y WOULD CH4NG3 MY L1F3 OR 4NYTH1NG
    GC: 1 JUST THOUGHT YOU M1GHT B3 LON3LY H1D1NG 1N YOUR H1V3 NOT V1S1T1NG 4NYON3, JUST L1K3 3V3RY OTH3R FR34K1NG D4Y OF YOUR L1F3!
    CG: I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW I VISIT PLENTY OF PEOPLE ON A FAIRLY REGULAR BASIS.
    GC: 1'M GL4D TO KNOW YOU H4V3 4CTU4L PL4NS OTH3R TH4N CURL1NG 1NTO 4 B4LL 4ND H4T1NG YOURS3LF >:]
    GC: OH P1SH
    GC: YOU V1S1T G4MZ33
    GC: 1'M T4LK1NG 4BOUT COMP4NY WH1CH 1SN'T DROOL1NG ON YOUR SHOULD3R 4ND 1S 4CTU4LLY C4P4BL3 OF CH4LL3NG1NG YOUR 1NT3L3CT
    CG: HEY, DON'T DISS GAMZEE.
    GC: HOW3V3R L1M1T3D 1T M4Y B3 >:P
    CG: HE'S GETTING BETTER LATELY, I WORE HIM DOWN TO THREE PIES A DAY AND IT'S MAKING A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE.
    CG: AND STOP WITH THE FUCKING INSULTING ME ON MY OWN DAMN WRIGGLING DAY, WOULD YOU?
    CG: OH EXALTED CONSTELLATIONS, FOR MY WRIGGLING DAY I WISH PYROPE WOULD GRANT ME A SINGLE FUCKING MINUTE OF PEACE.
    CG: I KNOW IT'S AN ABSURDLY TALL REQUEST BUT
    CG: OH SHIT
    CG: SORRY
    CG: IT'S TIME TO GO FOR REAL ):B
    GC: 4WW, YOU W3R3 ON 4 ROLL TH3R3 >:[
    GC: 1 HOP3 YOU H4V3 FUN, WH4T3V3R YOU'R3 DO1NG
    CG: NOT FUCKING LIKELY.
    CG: BUT THANKS, I GUESS.
    CG: SEE YOU TOMORROW.

Your name is Karkat Vantas, and today is your sixth wriggling day. Any other young troll your age would get to spend such a day doing normal troll things, such as playing games, talking to their online friends, fighting back dangerous squatters and trying not to get culled.

The two tall, hooded figures looming behind your couch await with infinite patience. You briefly entertain the thought of ignoring them and going back to your conversation, but you know you won't be able to anyway. They'll just stand there forever while guilt slowly eats at your insides, and then you'll find yourself inviting them to just sit the fuck down, goddamn don't you get tired, and from there to following them into the tunnels is barely a step.

For your wriggling day, you get to crawl into the hidden catacombs of a forbidden religious sect so that a multitude of deserters and squatters and spies can get their worship on.

Why can't you just play a fucking game.

==========>

Every time you think about how much you loathe the outfit they make you wear, you look at the faded frescoes around you and remind yourself of just how much worse it could have been.

You're still wearing thick, tight black leggings with red accents under a loose, garish red tabard (and didn't you fly into a panic when you were first handed them!), but at least it doesn't reach up to your armpits, instead sitting at waist level like any pair of sane pants should. There's stupid, and then there's the patently ridiculous.

They were merciful enough to allow you a cape so wide you can wrap yourself around it five times over and maybe finally feel covered -- but were also cruel enough to make it bright fucking red, shimmery under the lights, and stitched all over the place with colors all over the hemospectrum. It's got a weird sort of fake-fray at the hems, rips and holes carefully sutured against wear and tear, and it's also made of this weird fluttery fabric, so that it floats around and behind you when you move as if it were the universe's gaudiest banner.

Maybe it's a beacon. Maybe when the End Times come around you'll just have to walk outside and meteors will home in on you like a swarm of Tinkerbulls. You'll gladly be the first to die if it spares you the embarrassment of being seen in public with such a getup.

Even though you are technically in public with it. Surrounded by blank dark glasses and grey hoods and mantles from all sides, colors and symbols and ears concealed, only horns to identify them by. A creepy and terrifying sight which would cause any other troll on-planet to shit their pants in fright.

Their scriptural arguments are always hilarious to behold.

You shrug to yourself, as if doing so can dislodge the mild discomfort they cause you, and nonchalantly abandon the two cultists who've been flanking you since you left the dressing block. The cape you'd wrapped and tied around your waist slides open, unfurling and floating around you in all its translucent glory, and it makes you think of bleeding underwater. You squeeze your eyes shut and shake your head in a shudder. It was probably designed this way on purpose, the bastards.

You are more or less free to move as you please inside the confines of the Dark Hive, but dark glasses follow you everywhere. The blood-red cape doesn't make you any less conspicuous either, not to mention the jingling of beads around your shoulders. You do your best to look at ease, little by little wrapping your cape into a ball, walking aimlessly around until you duck into a sideways corridor and make it to the Hall of Pools, a stupid name if there ever was one.

It is predictably full of pools -- warm water, cold water, salty, deep, shallow water, interconnected channels -- and also blessedly empty of trolls. You gratefully gulp in the fresh, humid air, free of the stink of other people's crowded breathing.

You are going to take a splash in each and every one of them, costume be damned... or you were, right up until the thought of shimmery red underwater suddenly freaks you right out. And now you're too much of a pansy to go in. Goddamn.

You hug your balled up silk horror and tear yourself apart, swallowing through an increasingly dry throat, until the sounds of desperate paddling and pained glubbing reach you in an all too familiar voice--

Oh shit, it's the kid with the malformed gills.

You toss your cape up and jump in before you even know yourself.

==========>

Next thing you know, you are dripping wet, on your knees, and surrounded by gratefully papping little trolls, one of whom is wrapped tight in your arms.

These little guys are the only thing keeping you from outright loathing the cult and everything to do with it. The Followers are creepy and take themselves way too seriously and interfere with your life in ridiculous ways, but they do good, fuck it all. Even if the Pupa Hive were the only good thing they ever came up with, it's definitely worth something.

You are surrounded by rescuees from the Cave of Trials -- some of which had been left to die after failing a test, some of which had passed all challenges only to never find a lusus once finished.

It's hard to feel sorry for your own mutation when you're hugging a tiny sea-dweller whose gills can't actually support him underwater. The poor little guy probably couldn't help wandering into the pool and letting it sluice through his gills until his suffocating body seized up and swallowed water down the wrong chute. It wouldn't be the first time, either.

You set him on his feet and prepare to give him the dressing down of a lifetime when you notice what he's wearing. What he and all the other kids are wearing. They look sheepish and avoid your eyes (except for Dolour, who as always looks around himself with an air of mild confusion).

You open your mouth to ask just what the fuck they thought they were doing when many little fingers rise to their respective lips, and now you're surrounded by a choir of shooshes. It's too adorable for words and you hate the warm fuzzy feeling spreading inside of you.

"It's a secret," says one of them. The one who's rather obviously dressed like the Dolorosa. Many solemn nods ensue until you find yourself nodding back.

"I see," you mumble back, mind sort of scrabbling for purchase. Wigglers and children always make you go a bit mushy and stupid. You stare at the kid wearing the Sufferer's Last Garb, awful leggings included, and you actually want to hug him. Why can't you hate these snot-nosed kids? And more importantly, why do they like you?

"Nice cape you're rocking there," you offer, weakly. He sticks out his chest and shows you the smuggest grin you've ever been unfortunate enough to witness.

Mini-Dolorosa slaps the top of mini-Sufferer's head. "You're supposed to thank him!" he chides, while his victim looks downright shocked. Dolour, who appears to be dressed as a random Follower, stops blinking at the air and starts blinking at mini-Dolorosa instead -- as he well should, because from your observations Mini-Sufferer and Dolour are moirails, and Mini-Rosa has no business interfering in their quadrant.

You think you see where this is going. In fact, you are in a dark tunnel and the light approaching from the distance has EMBARRASSMENT written all over it in candy fucking red. Terezi would lap it up eagerly.

Mini-Sufferer ignores his nosy friend -- as he well should -- and grins at you again, fidgeting and wrapping himself tight with his tattered gray cape. "Hey," he asks, "what do you do with your cape?"

"What cape?" you ask, before you remember that yes, these kids have all seen you wearing your super shiny floaty banner at least once. You glance back to where you tossed the offending thing, and sure enough, a Disciple and at least three legislacerators are rolling around on it, getting their horns tangled up. You hear a loud ripping noise and can't find a single fuck to give.

"Your big whooshy cape!" the kid clarifies, opening his cape wide and high like the wings of a dragon.

"...I go whoosh in it," you offer, shrugging a shoulder carelessly. It may have been the wrong thing to say, though, because he glances at the other trolls around him, wide-eyed and grinning, and you figure you've just been made part of a long ongoing discussion.

"You go whoosh?" he asks again, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Yes, whoosh," you say, flatly. "And also emotional theatrics, can't forget those."

"What are those?" he asks. The other kids have returned from their romp on your cape, and dragged it back to you looking very scuffed and slightly wet. You ball it up again.

"Those are when you exaggerate everything you say and do so that every stupid little thing that happens to you will sound bigger and stupider," you clarify.

"Why?" he asks again, and you crouch on your heels and prepare yourself to bolt if any one of them asks you one more fucking question.

"Because it's what you do when you're wearing a cape," you say. Suddenly every other kid in the group who is wearing a cape looks excited -- and only then do you notice just how many children wearing capes there are in this group. You bite the inside of your cheek until the urge to cackle passes. You're not Terezi, damn it!

You stand back up and fluff the nearest head before turning around and absconding, stopping only to kick water from your sandals. You sort of run aimlessly, snorting to yourself and laughing into your red cape ball and feeling extremely childish and silly and finding you don't actually care all that much because, fuck, you're six sweeps old and you are entitled to being stupid.

==========>

The Ceremonial Tolling rings not long after, and you shuffle along with the other caped figures toward the Gathering Block, your sandals heavy with the feeling of inevitability and impending embarrassment.

When you climb down the side of your dais you wonder, not for the first time, what the point is of carrying this frog in a goblet around the room. It used to be just the thing you always did on your wriggling day, and back when you were younger you actually had fun introducing Mr. Bilious to the funny drawings on the walls, but eventually it hit you that it was a really weird and pointless tradition. Did the Sufferer ever even give a shit about frogs? They just lie in ponds croaking the night away.

The Congregation chants under its breath and follows you in a slow shushurring shuffle as you turn corners at a carefully coached stately pace. The frog ribbits up at you from the brass bowl. Is this the same frog as last sweep? Do frogs even live that long? Where does the frog go to once the Ceremony is finished? You never even thought about this shit. You kind of want to stop this ridiculous conga line and scream at the ceiling; maybe a cave-in will spare you from this insanity if you do.

You've rebelled often before -- hiding in crannies and cupboards and vents, kicking and screaming when found -- but you've learned in time that it's a pointless display; it failed to convey the cause of your distress (which you were too young to understand or verbalize anyway), and it only ever gave the followers the impression that you were shunning them because they were somehow at fault.

...which they were, except not in whatever fanciful ways they came up with in their impressionable minds -- but how do you even express that? "I'm not angry because you're doing things wrong, I'm angry because you're such dumbasses about things!" That sure would go over well, if they even parsed your words in a way that wasn't completely opaque.

The Grand Elder eventually reached the conclusion, or at least claimed to reach the conclusion, that they had been demanding Your Official Blessing for too many a Frivolous Occasion and they needed to clearly delineate When and Why you were to attend so as to not make Unreasonable Demands of Your Time. It didn't exactly solve your problems, but it gave you room to cope and a semblance of routine, which is about all you could ask for -- as you still don't know how to describe your issues with the whole thing.

You climb the carpeted steps of your ridiculous dais, set the goblet on the opposite side of where you started from, and settle on your cushions for a night of feeling exposed and out of place. The cultists below arrange their own seating pillows to their comfort; they tend to emulate your state, sitting ramrod straight when you're tense, so you're careful to lower your shoulders and affect a careless slouch. It won't be for long -- soon you'll have to stand up and open the Ceremony with a handful of words that have largely lost their meaning to you -- but it helps set a friendlier mood.

Once the general shuffling has subsided and everyone is craning their necks back to look at you, you get back to your feet.

"Tonight is a night of contemplation," you start, and suddenly, just like that, you're sick of it. Sick of your old regurgitated speech, of affecting an air of dignity you don't have, of having to cater to their expectations. Nobody even fucking knows what your ancestor did on his wriggling day, so what the hell kind of tradition even is this that you're supposed to follow? The one where the Sufferer stood on top of some stairs and told the Dolorosa about how he put his wriggling day aside to think deeply about really boring things?

You ball your cape -- it's a new one with an embroidered hood, they actually had you change out of your wet clothes into something even more ridiculous -- and throw it at your feet. It fails to produce the satisfying smack you were hoping for, but the sentiment is there.

"You know what? Fuck contemplation! I already spent a whole damn sweep twisting myself over all the stupid failures I've accumulated in my life and let me tell you, it's a lot of mistakes for such a short life and I'm sick of wallowing in self-flagellation. I ain't contemplating shit today and you can't make me!"

You throw yourself back on your cushions and immediately wish the pillows would swallow you whole. What were you thinking. You can already hear the shocked muttering as the persecuted pacifist followers of your pacifist ancestor discuss your sudden and highly unexpected bout of unwarranted truculence--

"He engaged in self-contemplation for a whole sweep!" whispers someone who's really shitty at whispering. "Not even Pious Pamphleteer ever did that, and you know how he is about piety."

You wish you could pinpoint the source of the voice and drop-kick it.

"See," resounds the Grand Elder's booming voice, and you glance at the huddle of Elders, a mix of amused, bewildered and horrified faces standing by the stage. "I told you he'd appreciate our surprise."

From the way he's bending his knees and stooping down over Elder Cries A Lot (you never did catch his actual name) with an enormous hand cupped around his grinning mouth, it appears he meant it as a whisper.

...or that he means for people to think he meant them to think it was a whisper. Sometimes you think out of all the trolls in the Cult he's the only one who figured that the Teachings never told anyone to stop being a troll.

The Grand Elder straightens back to his usual imposing height, his face a very disturbing definition of innocence, and Elder Cries A Lot is left gaping at all the faces currently turned to him.

"Ah," he says, "yes." He shuffles through the slightly creased papers in his hand without seeming to read anything at all, presses his lips together until they're almost gray, pulls his hood down over his face since he's clearly losing his fight against a blooming blush. That done, he visibly gathers the dredges of his dignity, squares his shoulders and raises his chin, loudly clearing his throat.

"This sweep," he says, his voice echoing dramatically through the calculated acoustics of the block, "the Council of Elders, along with the Guild Guides and the Pupa Teachers, have decided to modify the programming for the Wriggling Day Ceremony." Some confused whispers break out, and if there were anyone sitting nearby you'd probably be whispering right along with them, possibly something snide. Really? But these guys are so big on tradition, are they really going to break one that's barely even gotten started? Maybe in their heads it's okay to adjust tradition while it's still young, so long as it's in their convenience.

"Silence!" he orders imperiously, even though the whispering was already pretty much subsiding on its own. And then his voice changes to a pleading tone: "Is this Night not an Auspicious Night? Isn't our Savior's arrival cause not for Ceremony, but for Celebration? Why bore the Child with grim solemnity, instead of expressing our joy in His presence?"

There really was no need for the dramatic pleading, everyone was nodding along with him from the start. Cries A Lot really lays it on when he's making a speech.

You also really hate being called "Child". That's usually what the elders call you when they want to play down whatever you're saying, sort of subtly bringing up the fact that for all your presumed holiness you're still a brat. Maybe it helps to diplomatically justify any less-than-stellar behavior by blaming your age, but most of the time "Child" is only used when some slimy asshole feels like undermining a genuine problem you have.

"That is why," continues the Elder, unaware of how he backhandedly offended you, "this sweep, the Pupa Children will honor the descendant of the Signless Sufferer by performing a theatrical production about His Ancestor's life and teachings." He hesitates. "Fully produced and written by them." He hesitates some more. "Under supervision." Another pause. "But allowing for creative freedom."

He wipes his glistening chin in jerky little taps of a handkerchief, then glances at you only to look away with an audible whimper. Personally you're somewhat-- petrified, actually, you never even thought the kids were wearing those costumes for... a little theatrical tale about the Sufferer? Written and produced by a bunch of brats who barely even know what the hemospectrum is about?

Part of you is starting to shrink in expectation of second hand embarrassment. The other half is starting to smile in nervous expectation of hilarity. As a result you're soon grinning like a loon with your shoulders up to your ears.

You already want to simultaneously laugh and cry, and the costumed children aren't even done stumbling their way into the stage -- and stumble they do; each in increasingly more outrageous costumes, they trip and run into each other, some giggling, some bashful. You can taste the alarm in the air as the disabled seadweller toddles up looking very small, very excited, very humid, and very purple in his noble cape. He waves to the shocked crowd, chews a tip of his cape, and then buries his face into the closest shoulder.

Someone steps forward with a sheet of paper -- it takes you a few seconds to recognize him but it's Rhavik, one of the older pupas and their unofficial sort of leader. Whatever he's wearing is unrecognizable, but it looks like a bunch of twisted up cardboard with clumps of pink paper around his head and horns. Some sort of monster? An undead, maybe, with a few grisly fungal growths?

His eyes sweep over the sheet in his hand, and he coughs in a manner not unlike an elder.

"First I would like to thank our elders for allowing us to pursue this project," he says, bowing at the awkwardly shuffling group. Some bow back, but others look too flustered to know what to do.

Rhavik doesn't wait around for them to make up their minds. "Secondly, I would like to explain some of what's gone behind this project. Its writing was a collective effort from everyone on this stage," some waving occurs from behind his shoulders, "constantly fine-tuned during rehearsal. Roles were assigned by lottery, with no take-backs. Now that these matters have been clarified, I would like to extend, in the name of all members of our hive, our humblest hopes that this work will please our audience."

He lowers his sheet of papers and bows deeply to the front, nearly straight at you; the seated trolls bow back, and you make sure to return the gesture as deep as you can go without coming across as mocking. You like Rhavik, he's sensible. The other kids bow in varying degrees of gracefulness, and then start shuffling around.

There's a brief moment of confusion and childish mumbling, and then suddenly everyone is offstage -- except for mini-Dolorosa... and what looks like a stuffed red sock in the middle of the floor.

Oh my god.