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Bringing down the moons

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Karkat was much too young at the time to remember the incident in detail. But, if one were to turn the hands of a clock back to the season preceding his second wriggling day, one would find the whole stupid thing had started in the research block: he'd slipped in the cool dry room while evading the funny dress people with their silly fabrics, and come across the ever-sensible Grand Elder flipping through ancient tomes.

The immense cultist was perfectly glad to put his books aside and give his young charge attention of a more constructive kind; soon they were engaged in highly philosophical discourse.

"Is your poop as big as you are?" asked the young Karkat, eyes wide, very seriously.

"Not really," said the elder.

"Is your book about poop?" he pointed to the ancient tome, illuminated in gold leaf and displaying a transcendentally elaborate scene of a winged figure descending upon a pious crowd.

"No," said the elder.

"Do you," Karkat hesitated, in the manner of someone who just noticed he had started a question before he knew what he was going to ask, "Do you like... poop?"

"No," said the elder, and on not being immediately tackled by another poop question, added: "It is very stinky."

"Ooooh, true," agreed the Night of the World, nodding emphatically and flapping his hand in front of his sympathetically scrunched nose. "Do you throw your poop outside?"

"No."

"Why not?" The Child started kicking a leg back and forth.

"Well," the elder said, thoughtfully, "for starters, I can't step outside."

"Why not?"

"It is my punishment," he said, gravely.

"What's a pushment?"

"It is when you do a very bad thing you cannot make better."

"So you're on time out?"

"Yes."

"Until when?"

"Always."

Karkat stopped kicking his leg, squinting into the shadows under the elder's hood. His little brow was creased. His hand floated uncertainly.

"Always?"

"Yes."

"Always always always?" He flapped his hand on each word.

"Yes."

"You don't play on your lawnring?"

"No."

"You don't watch the moons?"

"No."

"Never ever?"

"Not for a long time."

Karkat's silence was half stunned, half solemn. Wordlessly, he walked up and touched his forehead to the slope of the elder's knee; a wide square finger floated above his head, brushed the very tip of his curls in a caress.

"Do not mourn," the elder rumbled. "I am happier here, under these rocks, than I ever was under the sky. I mourn. But I do it without fear or guilt." A smile deepened the lines framing his mouth. "Still, I admit to missing the moons sometimes. It is inevitable, perhaps. But such is the price we pay for the freedom to not hurt each other."

When Karkat raised his head to look the Elder in the face, his eyes held a determined spark.

And so it came to be that, later that very same night, Karkat presented the Grand Elder with the greatest masterpiece of his short life: one lumpy green ball and one lumpy pink ball, besieged by squiggles on all sides. In one corner was signed a lopsided "KarkAt".

"It's the moons," he explained. "In the sky. With stars!"

The Elder accepted the drawing with a shivery hand; holding the printer paper like it was a jewel tray he cleared out part of his magnetic board, and to Karkat's delight his drawing was soon the centerpiece of the Elder's research notes.

That really should have been the end of that.

 

Having been led back to his hive before the night was over, Karkat would remain completely unaware of the madness that would soon transpire in the Dark Hive. That was by design; permitting non-emergency contact between his hive and the Hive would only open the floodgates to a lot of unwelcome spamming and unsafe transit, completely defeating the purpose of both his isolation and secrecy. The Signless Reborn had a wrist-watch set to vibrate whenever contact was unavoidable, as well as an app in both his computer and his deceptively cheap-looking handheld gaming apparatus that would display a random sidebar ad containing one of several pre-arranged symbols and code words; then, either a secure comm channel would be opened, or a trusted Guardian would pick him up. Conversely, a distress button was cleverly concealed in all aforementioned devices, a direct audio line to the Scripture Guardianship Central.

As of the time of this tale, most of the emergency contact that went on between Hives consisted of Karkat mournfully informing a bemused Guardian that said wrist-watch or gaming apparatus had gone down one of numerous plumbing entrances. And even then, the number of such communications had already vastly decreased; from his return until the next scheduled Hive Visit, all contact apparatuses would remain dry and all load gapers would remain unclogged. Cluelessly, the Night of the World would spend his week as usual, ineffectually whacking at his lusus, play-drowning in his tub, and calling people Big Fat Smelly Butt-Poops on the internet.

In fact, around the time a group of elders walked into the Grand Elder's research room and spotted his charming little doodle, Karkat was in the process of learning the words Shit and Ass, which he would henceforth favor.

Around the time Karkat was first putting his new verbal acquisitions to use, they'd already argued the Grand Elder into giving it a frame.

By the time the frame was finished — a discrete set of thin sleek brushed iron and scratch-proof glass — Karkat had further incremented his insult repertoire with the portmanteaus Shitbutt and Asspoop.

The Grand Elder's motion to hang the newly-framed artwork in the corridor by the library was viciously overridden. For the next forty hours, the drawing sat on a hastily procured dais as the Council of Elders conducted an emergency gathering — at first to determine the best location for it, but which soon turned into a heated debate over whether it was merely a representation of the moons or if it was imbued with the properties of their bigger counterparts, among others. Sometime during this event the Grand Elder gave up and settled back by a napping Elder Plucker to observe the rising insanity, which went on until the fortieth hour mark, when Elder Tomekeeper raised the topic of long-term conservation and dropped terrifying notions such as acidity levels, humidity quotient and deterioration rates.

Spurred on by the thought of losing his adorable present to the ravages of time, Grand Elder agreed to retire with Tomekeeper to research and build a frame that would ensure the artwork's longevity. Thus the Council went on, surrounding an empty dais for another twenty hours.

In the meantime, Karkat left his hive with his lusus and a scrounged-up sickle he never told anyone about, not even the Grand Elder; thus armed he went on to hunt for food roughly two sweeps before any elder would so much as consider allowing him to do so. After some wandering around on the back of his lusus, he found one wild animal of a size he felt halfway confident in facing against, but after one single awkward bop on the creature's nose that confidence was gone and he skipped back to his lusus amid terrified squeals. Several other attempts left him wearing a handful of bruises and some scratches, and perched on his lusus he returned home with a couple drearrets the cranky animal caught for him. After bathing and eating, he proceeded to brag about his catches on an anonymous bulletin board on which his posing as an older troll was humored rather than bashed.

The new and improved picture frame was huge and bulky and ugly and awkward, full of jutting pipes, more of a box than a frame. It offended the Grand Elder's sense of style. He slapped a 'temp' on the side, dubbed it the Mark 1 and sent it back to the Council Block before settling down to work on an improved Mark 2. He wasn't far into the design process when word was sent back that the Window To The Moons was to be placed on the Relic Recess for basking purposes, between the Plank With Wheels and the Piece of Jade Veil where it would be thematically appropriate and aesthetically pleasing, and therefore an illumination rig would be required.

He was fairly proud of the resulting frame. It was beautiful without being ostentatious, and despite its wideness it emphasized the artwork in question rather than dwarfing it. The built-in indirect illumination rig waxed and waned according to an internal clock, ensuring the drawing was not exposed to, and therefore damaged by, long periods of strong light. The whole setup ensured the drawing would last upwards of millennia, which... was kind of ridiculous, but the Grand Elder quelled his own doubts with the thought that, far into a peaceful future, a color-mixed class of young trolls would behold this heartwarming gift and learn that it had been given without prompt by he who built their new world, all for the sake of cheering a morose old monk one random night in his youth.

A couple nights later, when a very misguided elder led the artist in question to the Relic Recess and proudly presented the serpentine line of barefooted pilgrims twisting around ancient scraps of the movement's early days, the Grand Elder just wished he hadn't had anything to do with it. Spotting Karkat halfway up the Stairs to the Leggings was just topping on the shame sundae.

After twisting and dodging through frantically praying trolls he was finally able to approach the Stairs. But despite being almost level with his face for once, Karkat didn't even acknowledge him; his wide eyes shifted back and forth as he took in the spectacle, full of that dismayed confusion that preludes horror.

"Karkat," he said.

The child pointed feebly at the wide metal square, bolted to the floor by two spindly legs like some animal that might run away if unsupervised. "That's my drawing," he mumbled, and then lowered his arm with the same poleaxed hesitancy he raised it with.

A burning ache surrounded the Elder's throat and spread up his jaw. "I know," he said, his deep voice gone slightly hoarse. "I'm sorry." And, perhaps out of a desire to justify himself, he added: "They insisted."

The line moved. The next troll in was a dusty, scuffed pilgrim wearing the traditional hood of the desert Hives; they grasped their chest and swayed, lips moving soundlessly. This went on for some time, until eventually one of the two elders surrounding the frame gently led the stumbling pilgrim away from the sight of the lopsided crayon moons.

Grand Elder looked up to the colleague who brought Karkat to this spectacle. The set of the troll's brows and the line of his mouth displayed a configuration not unlike one who's starting to notice he may have possibly done goofed up.

There was a commotion at the start of the line; Elder Inditer had just fallen to his knees and was now rocking back and forth, hands raised, shaking palms up, head thrown back. Why was he even on the line? He'd seen enough of the drawing during the Council. Staring at it was all he ever did during the Council, even when vociferating his opinions.

Grand Elder felt more than heard Karkat shifting towards him, but the little hands that grasped his hair like a security blanket were very much real. He glanced back at his young charge.

"He fell!" Karkat whispered, his eyes wide, the corners of his mouth downturned.

The Grand Elder thought: I am going to whap Inditer on the back of his sorry excuse for a noggin, and I will be well surprised if anything actually rattles in there.

He was about to turn back to Karkat and say, perhaps, that Inditer could be a very silly troll sometimes, when the over-excitable elder pulled his most bullshit move so far.

He burst into tears.

He covered his face with his chroma-absorbing kerchief and broke down into great guffawing sobs, like a wiggler whose newly-bought ice-cream just fell sprinkles-first onto a patch of acidic soil and has no caegars left for another. He kept on rocking back and forth, this time less from religious ecstasy and more like he had no idea where up and down was anymore, and having witnessed this fine example, others were starting to show a worrying inclination to follow it.

Karkat let go of the Grand Elder's hair and zipped down the flight of stairs like a lightning spark, and soon he was but a flutter of black and silver zipping between legs. Here and there the line broke, a curse was hastily bitten on, and part of the line toppled down like so many dominoes.

By the time he reached Elder Inditer, though, a circle had already cleared around the two, and the hush in the room was broken only by the elder's ungraceful snivelling. If the nubby horns and pint-size were not enough of a hint as to the child's identity, then the Irons embroidered in silver on his fluttering black silk shirt probably put any doubt to rest.

Karkat stopped in front of the elder, panting, took one last deep breath, and said:

"I'm sorry!"

Elder Inditer's hitching sobs started to subside, slowly, step by step, as his mind caught up to the voice, then the words said by the voice, lined it up with the fact that most of the Dark Hive's current batch of orphans were in cocoons or freshly wriggled, and then froze in realization.

His stiff hands dragged his handkerchief down his face, and Karkat got two wide eyefuls of Elder Inditer's blood color before his glasses dropped back down onto his nose. He was too upset to take notice.

Elder Inditer had never stood so close to He Whose Blood Runs Purest. Not because he was kept from approaching Him, though some would certainly deem it wise to do so; it was mostly that, whenever Inditer found himself in a mid-sized enclosed space which the Rekindler of the Righteous Rage could be said to be occupying as well — even if in opposing, distant corners — he would suffer from a number of involuntary reactions.

Prominent among which was the sudden certainty that saintliness, or holiness, or another similarly abstract quality whose description had not yet been appropriated by the dreadful clown crowd, emanated from His skin and was exhaled with His breath, and it then encompassed the room and traversed the space between them and got into his lungs and his bloodstream, burning all the hatred and bloodshed away and replacing it with warmth and gentleness and that's when Inditer would start to quietly hyperventilate. Something about the way the Blood Returned would walk that pair of staplers around very intently on the table and wag His finger at them also subjected him to sensations akin to that of having his internal organs flop around helplessly. It suffused him with a desire to squeeze things, make high-pitched sounds and cry. Sometimes the presence of the Descendant of Suffering wasn't even needed; once he'd sat at the Healer's Waiting Block because of joint pain and one of the nurses told him the Son of Sorrow had sat somewhere on that row that very same night. The nurse then watched his uncontrollable shaking for ten whole seconds before giving him a glass of water and backrubs.

In his extremely brutal previous life, and in his quiet and severe current life, Elder Inditer had never experienced so many intense positive emotions, much less simultaneously; as a result he lived under the impression that his desire to squee was actually a Divine Revelation.

And now he was kneeling and Karkat was standing very resolutely in front of him, hands fisted, lips pressed together, eyes brimming with red tears.

"I'm sorry my drawing gave you seizures," Karkat said, his voice thick and very audibly choked.

The sound that came out of Elder Inditer held a striking resemblance to that of a rubber balloon losing air at a speed.

"I thought it was pretty but I guess it's really not after all," he sniffled, and a big fat red tear slowly ran down a flushed cheek. The dull thud of knees hitting the floor echoed throughout the chamber; Karkat looked around himself at the several hoods face-down in prostration, and seemed somehow even more despondent.

(The Grand Elder was just happy that there were more people standing up than kneeling down. It meant over half of the congregation employed some form of common sense.)

"No!" said Inditer, his voice floating somewhere three octaves above his normal range. "It's beautiful—"

But Karkat had already turned around to examine the frame. The two elders flanking it shrunk under his gaze, but he appeared fully focused on the small rectangular doodle centered in the mat's wide expanse.

"No, it's ugly as a big snotty farty assbutt!" he said, with imperious finality despite his clogged nose. He raised a little fist, ran up to the frame, and smacked one of the supporting legs. It didn't even wobble.

He sniffled deeply and turned his tear-streaked face back to the crowd, chin raised high. "This is a bad drawing," he said. "It's a bad drawing that made everyone shake and fall over."

"But," said one of the Elders flanking the frame, but Karkat shook his head very emphatically.

"No, look at all those people face-down over there," he told the troll, pointing helpfully at the crowd. "They all fell over, I saw it."

Some took the liberty of discreetly nudging the aforementioned face-down people with their feet. The Grand Elder was unspeakably proud of them.

"They were happy," squeaked Inditer, through a fresh kerchief and, presumably, a fresh coat of tears. "I was happy!" He waved one hand in a vague yet spastic gesture. "I am happy!"

Karkat walked up to him quietly, and papped the top of his head with a very solemn hand.

"You don't have to lie to spare my feelings," he said, with that kind of verbal acuity the young sometimes pull out that throws adults completely off their footing.

Elder Inditer visibly and valiantly rallied his strength in order to not fall apart right there under the Descendant of Suffering's hand; apparently sensing his emotional upheaval anyway, Karkat kept on caressing the spot between his horns, making soothing noises.

"Shhhh," went the noise. "It'll be okay. You just put a salt cookie under your tongue and lie with your feet up." And after repeating verbatim the medical advice given to some random troll on the infirmary which he'd happened to overhear at some occasion, Karkat turned to the approaching Grand Elder.

"You didn't want it in your square anymore?" he asked, a bit despondent, even as the Elder lowered a shovel-sized hand and he sat on it with the ease of long habit.

"In my Magnetic Board," the Elder rumbled.

"In your man-netty board square?" Karkat repeats.

The Grand Elder allowed himself a moment of smugness for being the guy standing in the middle of a crowded room with the prophesied savior of his people perched on his hand, and at the end of it he felt sort of childish. "I did," he said. "But everyone else wanted to see it as well. I could not bring myself to refuse."

The Grand Elder proceeded to the exit at a straight line; in front of him, hoods and capes scrambled into a corridor, each and all of them desirous to approach while held back by awe. The Elder knew he was displaying — he could just as well have followed the wall without bothering these people — but he felt this was a lesson that needed heavy imprinting on these minds.

Karkat wasn't paying attention to them, thankfully; rather, he was playing with locks of the Elder's hair. "You should be more assertive," he said, very emphatically.

"I try," said the Elder, before stepping out of the Relics Recess and hurrying to his study before the congregation unfroze and decided to follow.

He was neither seer nor prophet, but could already foresee all too clearly the backstage mess this would cause: Some of his less savory colleagues would claim his interference was an underhanded grab for popular support by flaunting his rapport with the Child — and they would emphatically call him Child until the word felt barely a step up from Retard, because their charge was surely too young and stupid to mean any statements he made unless it was favorable to them. And the tale would spread, and in spreading it would inevitably twist, and getting an unbiased version forwarded at the earliest was paramount. (His own version wasn't usually his first choice, but it would have to do in the absence of Elder Plucker, who took one look into the Relics Recess that night and cackled all the way back to her harps.)

Karkat was apparently trying to braid a lock of his hair, or at least to turn it into a hopeless tangle. "I'll draw you a new moons," he said, devolving a little from the careful enunciation he'd displayed earlier.

It chafed to think he was already aware of the need to impress certain people. It was a relief to learn he was not one of them.

"I thought the first one was perfectly fine," said the Elder, as he sat down at his study desk and settled Karkat on a nearby chair. "But I would certainly appreciate having one just for me."

"You don't have to be nice," Karkat sniffled, dismissively rather than in sadness. "It was a shitbutty drawing. I totally forgot about the crators. All moons have crators, you know."

"Still," the Elder deployed his reinforced computing device, "craters or not, I believed it beautiful and precious, because it was given out of kindness." He freed his sleeves with a flick of his hands, and settled his fingers on the metal keys, but didn't type yet — his words hung in the air, and he hesitated on weighting them down, but... "It is still a novelty to me."

Karkat patted his arm in sympathy, and then slid down his bench and padded away. A drawer shooshed open; that rattle was probably the emergency crayon box, and sheets were available right there at the printer tray...

The Grand Elder started typing a quick record of the recent goings on for the Hives' Nightly Reports, which tonight would be of great importance to the other hives as they would get to hear of the Sufferer's Scion. 'He drew the moons, but was alarmed and upset by the strong reaction to them.' 'Constraint advised when in the presence of the 'Child'.' 'Genuflecting to be reserved only for extremely formal occasions.' That was succinct and reasonable.

Later, when the first sputtering colleague strode into his study uninvited, there was a lovely new drawing on his board, in the center of his research notes: it had craters, squiggly stars and a very clear dedication. It stayed on his board until further research required the space. The new frame sat on his desk thereafter.

And even later that night, when he was finally able to step by the kitchens, he learned from Elder Plucker that Karkat had spontaneously gained a brand new sobriquet — not inherited from his Ancestor, not referring to his Blood, but based on his actual character.

He was now all things attributed to him as well as Comforter of the Weeping; it was already being officially appended to the long chain of sobriquets that comprised the Signless Sufferer's Descendant's "True Name", as opposed to the plain old temporary mortal designation of Karkat Vantas. And it was quite a heartening addition, for the Elder had initially expected Karkat to only make a dent on their idea of him after reaching his sixth sweep.

As for the source of all the fuss... the giant frame stayed, but at least it was moved to the Gathering Block.

Trolls still cried in front of it, but at least not when Karkat was around.