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Racing Dreams

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Hey everyone!! I had SO MUCH FUN writing "Running Stars"! (If you haven't read that, read it because this is the second book in the series and you will be HELLA lost.)
I can't wait for this adventure!!!!!!!

Also, check out HitTheWall's story "We Are Drowning", you can find it under my name as a coauthor. She's a tremendous writer guys, and the idea is awesome!

Chapter Text

"I can't believe... wow!"

Karkat stepped away from the boy who was gawking at him. They stood just outside the closest tent. 
The tents made the entire area look like a Hershey kiss factory, upside down cones shot high in the air, red and white swirls mocking the end of Christmas.
"Are you part of the circus?" Karkat asked. The boy's eyes lit up, and he nodded.
"Yes! I am. Tetrarch Dammek said this was the best place to go to get to Madam Belford's!" He smiled. "My name is Xefros." He flung out a hand to shake.
Karkat looked past him and ignored the offer, trying to put as little weight on his feet as he could.
"Can we go inside or something?! Typically when you find people who look like they are dying, you don't tell your life story." He snapped.
"Karkat, you're being rude." Terezi said. "I'm sorry Xefros. We're actually very glad you found us."
"No I'm sorry! I didn't realize. Come with me, I'll take you to The Sir! We are set to leave tomorrow!"
Karkat sneered. "Why does everyone we come into contact with have to have some vague name?!"
He looked behind him, back into the woods to see if Gamzee was anywhere near. 
"Leave tomorrow?" Rose asked.
"Yes," Xefros said, leading them through a city of tents. "This is The Sir's traveling Circus! He is pretty great, he likes to help people out actually. I guess this started being a hotspot for runaways, so he came here! You guys are really lucky. I might be able to convince him to leave today. We just usually have a day where we do nothing. Everyone needs a break every now and then."
Karkat shook his head. They were passing by tent after tent, and this guy seemed to have no intent on entering a single one.
"Why the hell were you out by some pond so early?!" Karkat asked. The guy turned around to look at him.
"We have early mornings here being our shows start around eight. It's important that the stunt people stretch, that the mechanics like The Tetrarch make sure everything is set in place. It gets stressful, so I like to find peaceful places to just relax."
"And what do you do?" Kanaya asked.
Xefros' face slipped a little, his eyes searching the ground.
"I just clean. I'm not very good at anything they do here. I already finished last night. Tetrarch Dammek isn't here right now, he went with the other half of the circus to the stop after these two. I wanted to come but he insisted it was important I stay here in case there are any signs of Her. The Tetrarch is so good at the things they do here though! He tried to get me out of my shell by doing some really cool stunts! I felt like I was in a movie!"
His eyes lit up and he covered his mouth.
"Forget I said any of that."

 

Xefros paused, his eyes tracing over everyone present. His smile returned and he pointed towards a tent directly in front of them.
"The Sir is in there if you wish to speak to him."
"Wait," Terezi interrupted. "If you're a runaway, does that mean he won't turn us in?"
Xefros nodded.
"Yeah! I mean, yeah he WON'T turn you guys in. Unless you're criminals. Well, sometime's he lets... what's that?"

Through his gamboling, his racing eyes had found their way upwards. His finger rose and pointed to an opaque smog that was brewing in the sky and crawling across the tops of the spineless trees. The rawky breeze pushed a deep breath of smoke into Karkat's lungs.
He looked in the woods again, and saw something move. Xefros gasped.
"What's that?!"
"There's that idiot." Karkat murmured. He stepped forward, his body almost trembling with excitement at his friend.
Gamzee walked towards him as well, though his pace was odd and his body seemed to lilt more to the crinkling of the burning wood than the to rush of safety. Karkat stopped in his tracks when he saw the mess on Gamzee's face. The white paint was caked on and smothered down the base of his shirt. Gamzee smiled and held his hand out. 
"Gamzee what the fuck are you doing? Did you set that fire?!" Karkat shook his head. "You know what, it doesn't matter. We'll talk about it when we get away from here."
Gamzee looked down at the small items in his hand. He popped them into his mouth and swallowed. Karkat wrinkled his nose.
"Those better not have been berries." Karkat snapped. "You know some of those things are poisonous. Not to mention it's winter. Who the hell has ever heard of edible winter berries?! Forget it, come on."
Karkat walked further to him and grabbed his arm, ripping him away from the forest.
"Welcome to the circus." Karkat muttered.

They walked over together, with Gamzee moving slower than he was before.
"Hurry up you idiot!" Karkat snapped again.
Terezi joined them as they reached everyone. Xefros had gone pale in the face and seemed to be trying his hardest to divert his eyes from the clown. Karkat raised his eyebrows. The guy was at a fucking circus, clowns should be natural.
"Gamzee, did you do that?" Terezi asked. Gamzee laughed.
"Sure. Honk."
"Honk?" Karkat said. "Man, you're really fucking messed up."
"You did?!" Terezi asked.
"Don't listen to him." Karkat said. "He put something in his mouth and I think it's messing with what little brain he has."
He looked behind him, hoping there would be no more movement in the woods.
It was still, completely motionless.

"Come on, we need to get you guys to safety!" Xefros said. He looked at the tent in front of him and lifted a pinstriped flap. He walked inside, and Karkat followed him. 
Surprisingly, it was warm inside, and a lot larger than he would have imagined. The ceiling pointing high in front of them. Karkat stepped up three small stairs and stood at the center of a blue stage. Bleachers were at the far end of it, and on the other side there were lights, both of them so bright, it seemed to burn a hole in the tent.

"Sir!!" Xefros said, running towards a man who was on his knees in the corner. In front of him was a cardboard stand that looked as though it had been stabbed to death. As Karkat crept creeper, he noticed the man was picking up knifes. The guy, who was clothed in a top hat and a suit, looked up. His mouth that sat under a plump mustache began to move. Karkat inched closer, hoping to hear what was being conversed.
"They ran away! We need to help them!"

Top Hat turned his head and his eyes widened. He reached for the cardboard box and pulled himself up, holding his back and biting his lip.
"What do we have us here." He said, his words falling into a whisper.
"See! We need to do something!"
The man waved Xefros off and approached Karkat.

"What are you doing here at this hour?" His eyes twinkled, the tent lights above swallowing the green hue.
Karkat tried to piece the words he wanted to say in place, but found himself almost speechless.
"The camp. Over there!"
He swallowed the saliva in his dry mouth. "They were trying to fucking kill us! There's this game too! And if we go home, they're going to kill us! If they find us we're dead!" He shouted. "We need to leave! They're going to find us!"
The guy stepped back, as though Karkat's words were slapping him.
"I expect an entire story if you wish to leave with us." He said. "I don't house criminals, so if you're some kind of gang, I will be keeping a record. I will decide if you need a ride or not. If you do, there is one catch."

Karkat looked at him, desire for hospitality strangling him.
"What?! Anything?" 
"You have to work here for free. My circus is currently going through a financial crisis and I can't afford anymore performers. You will hide in plain sight. It's worked for years, and it won't fail me now."

Chapter Text

"We've been in the car for so long." Kankri murmured. "I don't think I can handle this anymore."
"Kanny, stop complaining." Porrim said. She too looked bored out of her mind, her skin was the epitome of washed-out.
"AMPORA WILL YOU TURN YOUR SHIT OFF?!" Meenah screamed from the back.
"Is there any way we could stop by a bathroom?" Someone else said.

Kankri stared at the clock. It had been two hours, and so far everything still looked and felt the same. 
"Are we even out of-" He was interrupted by the answer.
"Look at that, vwe're in Maryland." Cronus announced, refusing to turn down his music. 
"Move Kankri." Meenah's hand pushed Kankri to the side. "Yo, blonde dude, you too." She said. Pointed glasses, whose name Kankri had picked up to be Dirk, scooted closer to Jake. Kankri turned around to look at Meenah when he was nearly hit with something.
It went flying across the bus and smacked into the built in radio. The music stopped, but only for a second before everyone's ears were back to bleeding from the augment of beats and odd noises.
"Can I have my shoe back?" Meenah asked, her elbows on the head of the seat beside Kankri and Porrim. He tried to ignore it, however irritating it was.
"I'll think about it. Maybe if you come and sit beside me." Cronus said, raising his eyebrows in the mirror as he picked up an untied converse and placed it onto his lap.
"What the fuck? No, give me my shoe back." Meenah said. She unbuckled her seatbelt and stood up, her back arched from the small frame of the bus. She stepped over Kankri's seat, then stumbled over the new kid's seat.
"Meenah, you're going to get evweryone in trouble, and me pulled ovwer."
"Then give me my shoe!"
"You threvw it at me!" 

Porrim shifted in her seat.
"Cronus, will you just give her the thing?" She asked, crossing her arms.
"Absolutely not, she can sit dovwn, then I vwill consider it."

At this point, Cronus was trying to drive and oblivious to the fact Meenah was still behind him.
"Vwe're on the fucking interstate, givwe me a break." Cronus said. 
Meenah stuck her hand out and grabbed for it, nearly falling over when Cronus lost control of the car and took a sharp turn. He pivoted to the gravel beside the road and looked at Meenah who had managed to grab her shoe.
"Vwhy do you havwe to be so cruel?"
Meenah clicked the button to the CD drive and pulled the CD out, snapping it on her leg. Cronus let out a small whimper as he watched his music clatter to the floor in shattered bits.

Jane began to look out the windows.
"How are we not going to get pulled over for this?!" She said, shaking. 
"Just because we haven't yet doesn't mean we won't." Dirk murmured.
Meenah clamored back to her spot on the car to meet with a smiling school president. Kankri watched as Aranea did a slight applause.
"Good job Meenah, your reckless behavior saved us from listening to anymore of that idiot's music!" 
Cronus pulled back onto the road, huffing.
"We should be there in about forty-five minutes." Horuss said from the back.

Chapter Text

 

Karkat's eyes glazed over the food that was being set on top of a pine table inside of one of the few remaining tents. He sat down, the fold-up chairs comfortable compared to his long walk. His feet and hands were numb from the air, but the new socks covered his toes as they returned to his health. He had inspected them, and to his disbelief, there were no signs of frostbite. He felt almost tranquil, and as nervous as he was with the thought of someone finding him - as inevitable as it was - his stomach was busy crying out for something to eat. John sat down next to him and began to fold one of the paper napkins.

"We're leaving just as soon as the tents are down and everything is packed." Xefros said. "That shouldn't be too long, since we've been at it all day. We were going to stay another day or two, but the Sir is very empathetic to runaways! Would you believe helping others is an heirloom of their family?" 

"Is it?" John asked. 

"Yeah! His his Dad and Grandpa used to own this circus. So many people would run away. Today it is a trickier thing to do though. I hope he lets all of you come, since there are so many of you."

"Is he going to drop us off somewhere or something?" Dave asked, taking a seat across Egbert.

"Kind of." Xefros said. "We are going to be dropped off at a train in Tuscaloosa. It will take us somewhere I forgot again... sorry. But anyway, the main ending will be in Moorehead, Mississippi. We have to walk from the area we were in to there. It's kind of complicated. This is a state traveling circus though, so it shouldn't be that bad."

"Moorehead?" Karkat said. He was about to stuff a forkful of noodles into his mouth when his stomach turned to soil again.

"I don't know if we can do that." John said.

"Why don't we just take this guy on?" Vriska added. Karkat looked at her, shocked at the dark rings under her eyes and the paleness of her skin. "He's a wimp if he has to get other people to do his dirty work." She said.

"Who?" Xefros asked.

"Some asshole." Sollux answered.

 

The group sat in silence for a while, looking down at the table. Karkat tried to think of something to say to fill in the void fast, as he was the leader. He was supposed to have control.

There was a snap, and a sigh.
"I broke my fork." Equius said.

"I'll go get you another one." Xefros said. He got up and navigated to a box in the corner. Karkat ignored him and leaned in to the table.

"Guys, I have another plan."

"Oh great." Vriska said. "You mean like the plan to keep playing this game?"

"Shut up." Karkat snapped. "We can follow this circus to Missouri or whatever-"

 

"Mississippi." Terezi corrected.

"That's what I said."

Terezi tilted her head.
"I'm pretty sure you said Missouri."

Karkat looked away and continued to talk. "Whatever, that doesn't matter. Anyway, from there we can start trying to look into the identity of the guy. They can't need us for anything too special. We just can't be caught or else they will send us home or something."

"I don't see why we can't just tell the cops." Terezi said. He met with her eyes across the table again. "They can take care of it."

"No, they can't. Did you not hear about Maddi's house or see Cecil?"

 

"Guys," Feferi interrupted. "Can we stop being retarded for a minute and just enjoy the fact we're safe for awhile? We can figure it out when we're away."

"Finally someone with common sense." Karkat grunted.

 

"Here." Xefros said, holding out another fork for Equius. Equius grabbed it, but broke it on the first try.

"I must be nervous." He grumbled.

Karkat twisted more watery noodles around his fork and lifted them to his mouth. When the food connected to his taste buds, his mouth began to water. It had been so long.

"It's leftovers, sorry." Xefros said, twisting one of the colorful streamers from his arm around his fingers.

"So why are you here?" Vriska asked Xefros.

"Tetrarch Dammek and I... wait, nevermind. I'm not supposed to tell you!" He paused for a minute, then looked at everyone in the group. "Well... you're all runaways, so I suppose I can trust you."

 

"What's up with this guy?" Dave whispered to John. Karkat looked at the blonde, realizing he wouldn't have to share a room with him now that they were free.
Xefros continued, moving around the room and looking around.

"I'm only going to say a little bit because there are so many of you. That, and The Tetrarch hasn't exactly told me everything."

"Okay?" Karkat said, taking in another bite of the noodles.

"Oh yeah, water bottles are over there." Xefros said, pointing to an ice box in the corner. Karkat stood up to start heading over to it. "Anyway," He continued. "We went on the run after he hacked into something online. He wouldn't tell me what it was, but apparently, we needed to get to the bottom of it. That's when people started following us. It isn't hard to find people like me, honestly, being I don't have a family." 

The end of his sentence came out more as a whisper, the words falling off at the end. His face didn't show any signs of being upset, but the way he held himself showed he was insecure about something. His pointer fingers were poking each other and his head was downcast.

"You don't have a family?" Nepeta asked, her olive eyes widening. "Why not?"
Xefros hesitated, his teeth pushing down on his bottom lip.

"It's nothing too bad. Dammek and I belonged in the Children's Home. He came in a little later than me. I was always there. When he met me, we seemed to kind of click! From then he said 'Xefros, it is my mission to make sure you don't get killed because you can't protect yourself.' Or something like that. I kind of forgot, it's been so long. 
"After awhile, he got access to a computer where he began to hack into things. Someone had told him about a place called the Dark Web. He described it as 'The Deep Web of The Deep Web.'
From there, we were just always on the run. Well, after the one night he told us to break out of the orphanage because of some underground movement. Apparently someone told him to find this circus and to seek safety and anonymity while he uncovers whatever it is he is looking at. All I know is it involves some horrible girl who likes to kill people. Wait... I said I was only going to say a little bit. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to tell you everything I know."
Xefros shook his head. "Just finish eating so we can go. I'm going to leave so I don't say anything else."

 

Karkat raised his eyebrows as he grabbed two water bottles. The label on them was of one he had never seen before, but it didn't matter. Water was water. 
Returning to the table where everyone was beginning to talk, he dropped one of the bottles in front of Terezi, then went to his seat. 

"So we're going to take the lame way then?" Vriska asked, twirling her fork in the plastic bowl. "Like always."

"BECAUSE RUNNING AWAY FROM A CULT AFTER SETTING IT ON FIRE WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH!" Karkat snapped. Vriska smiled at him.

"Did Gamzee even kill anybody?" She asked, taking a side glance at the clown. Gamzee grinned.

"I don't know if I could be gettin some murder on all like that bros. I just didn't have my meds. I almost feel like I'm bein attacked!" He laughed, drunken eyes staring off at a tent wall.

"Shut up." Karkat said. "It's been long enough. Everyone hurry up and finish, we need to get a move on. We don't have time to shove girly denouements down our throats like we aren't in actual fucking danger here."

Vriska rolled her eyes. "Karkat calm down, we're fine."

"Yeah. Yeah," Karkat nodded. "Yeah, we're FINE Vriska. We are completely OKAY! In fact, why don't you just stay here and be totally FINE!"

"Uh," Tavros ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know that... that particular choice is a very good idea."

 

"She can't do that," Xefros said, entering the tent again. "We're about to leave. They have three more tents to take down, including this one... so I guess this means we are on our way! Just take your food with you. Some of you can stay in my trailer. The Tetrarch wouldn't like it if you went in his, so I guess that's that. You need to be in one of the two with the hidden rooms though."

"Hidden rooms? What is this? A fun house?" Karkat asked.

"Oh, no sorry." Xefros said. "It's basically just some closets with false backs in them. They are really cramped though, I don't think The Sir has had... sixteen people before.."
Karkat growled, impatience beginning to pump through him like water from a hose on a sweaty summer day.

"I'm ready, are you morons?!" He said, not bothering to look up at his group.

"I am." John said.

Xefros grinned. "Great! Come on, I'll show you to my trailer, they're about to take this tent down. We travel by these little carts that most of us call trailers. There are a lot of them, so we tend to travel by train, if that's okay."

"Where are we going after this, Xefros?" Rose asked. She too looked pale.

"Lynchburg!"

"Should I even ask where that is?" Karkat snapped. Xefros looked at him and rubbed his neck.

"It's uh... It's in Virginia. I heard they have a nice historical district!" He said.

"Great. Just great." Karkat sighed.

"Come on, we need to hurry, we're about to leave." Xefros said, turning around, his dark brown hair shadowing black as he entered into the early morning atmosphere. 

Chapter Text

"We should be there right about now."

Horuss' commentary from the back started out as a nauseating reminder they had a long way to go, but it soon changed into one of excitement. Kankri shifted in his cramped seat to leer out the front window as the bus bumped over a train-track.
"This right here?" Cronus scoffed. He was twisting his wheel towards a sharp turn off a backroad. The road in this section was dark, as though the black cement was recently dipped into ink, even in the break of the late morning's sun. "It's the only turn so vwere turning." He murmured when no one answered him.
Kankri tried to stay still, the sickness of an over-heated and close-knitted environment beginning to crawl on him at an alarmingly fast pace.

"Is that smoke?" Porrim asked, twisting her long hair in her finger.

"You're just now smelling that?" Meenah asked.

"No, it just seems to be coming from this road." Porrim said.
Cronus continued to drive the bus through a never-ending thicket of dead trees in snow. 
"Vwe'vwe been on the same vwinding road for a friggen hour. I need to get this baby souped up." Cronus said, patting the dashboard with his finger-showing leather gloves. "Vwe better be close."

Smoke began to blanket the sky and stomp on the fresh air the closer they inched towards their destination. Cronus moved a hand off the wheel and reached into his pockets. He pulled out a gray and blue papered Dunhill box, plucking out two cigarettes, and handing one to the girl in the passenger seat. She took it without looking at him and held a lighter to it. Cronus placed his hand back on the wheel once he had the cigarette in his mouth and reached the other hand somewhere in the car. 
The window beside him rolled down, and the hand went back on the wheel. He guided the bus in an accelerating flight, now ripping through the trees, cheap cigarette smoke brisk to fill any clean air. Kankri continued to gaze out the front window, heavy eyes tracking anything to enter his vision. It appeared to be the same thing as they dived deeper into a thick pool of twigs. 
"Do any of you loserz want to battle ME off to a game?! How about you Meenah." Latula said, holding up a sleeping Mituna's Nintendo. Her eyes had a slight purple hue under them, but the slight sun that radiated from the windows lit up her smile.
Meenah's face brightened when she saw the device.
"Yeah, okay." She said, reaching her hand out.
"AWE YEAH! YOU GO GIRL!" Latula screamed, opening a Nintendo of her own and turning it on. “BUT I AM GONNA BEAT YOU LIKE A BOSS!”

Kankri watched Latula from the corner of his eye. He felt the surge of admiration fall from his fingers as he drug them to his hair and pushed the stray strands out of his eyes. Latula began to play the game, occasionally looking behind her to check on the competitor.

“The payphone should be about right here.” Horuss said, lifting his head from behind.

”I’m in front of the vwheel man,” Cronus said. “Don’t you think I vwould knovw a payphone vwhen I see one?” 

“What? How did you do that?” Meenah asked, tapping excessively on her screen. Latula laughed slightly, a glint in her eyes ricocheting to her game.
"I'M THE BEST AT GAMES! I AM A PRO!" Latula yelled.
"Awe yeah, I just got one awesome lookin' sword thingie!" Meenah said. Latula bit her lip.
"Uh, yeah! I totes let you get that one."

 

"You missed the payphone." Aranea huffed from the back. Cronus coughed as she spoke, throwing his cigarette out of the window. The bus stopped, and he began to straighten his jacket.

“I meant to do that, I vwas just going to turn around.” He said, raising his chin in the air. He grabbed a few coins from a cup holder in between he and the girl. He opened the door, poked his head out, then seemed to think otherwise and shut himself back inside.

“Will you just get out?” Meenah asked,  standing up the best she could and moving towards the door. She flung the gaming device at Latula who caught it and tucked it back into Mituna's hands.

”I was just getting ready to go.” Cronus said, crossing his arms. “Meenah, I can’t even believe you. It’s so cold out there and you are just forcing this bitterness on everyone. What kind of person does that?”

Meenah ignored him and wrapped her hand around the handle to the door. The moment the bus was opened, Kankri began to shiver.

”It is freezing outside,” He said, getting a glare from Porrim in the process. “I’m not going out there.”

Porrim crossed her arms, the piercing on her lip following her frown.

”Yes you are, stop being a baby.”

Kankri raised his eyebrows.

”I’m not being a baby Porrim, I am just having some common sense. Why send the entire group out there when one person can go?”

 

Meenah rolled her eyes.

”Maryam I’m calling your phone. Just compare it to Mouthy over there and see if it’s the right one.”

Cronus nearly leapt out of his seat as she shifted to close the door. 

“Wait! You need money. A generous man like me wouldn’t make you pay.”

”No.” Meenah snapped. She shut the door and entrapped the vehicle in a transient cold. Her figure appeared to glide to the phone box. Kankri and Porrim looked at each other. He dished out his phone and powered it on, Porrim following suit. Her screen lit up, lighting the entire bus. She clicked a numerical sequence to unlock it, then looked out the window. Meenah was poking buttons and holding the phone away from her. 
Porrim's phone began to ring the melody of a light instrumental tune Kankri had never heard before. 
"Kankri, compare it!" Porrim said, shoving her device at him.
"That's what I'm doing!" He barked, trying to open the app with the phone number. He instantly saw three missed calls from his Dad, probably wondering why the school had presumably called. Kankri scrolled down and found the number his brother had called him on. Looking at the Porrim's phone, it was completely identical. 
"This is what he called me on." Kankri mumbled, turning his phone back off. Porrim answered her phone and raised it to her ear.
"Yeah, that's the one."

She removed the device from her ear and powered it off. Through the frosted glass, Kankri watched as Meenah ran back to the bus. When she was close enough, she ripped the door open and slammed herself inside, knocking Mituna awake.
"It is FREEZIN out there." She shivered.
"I told you." Cronus breathed from the front. 

As she went to sit back down, he started the bus again, this time driving faster down the road. 
"The smoke is definitely coming from over there." Porrim said, leaning towards the front window. Dirk turned around and looked at her, his eyebrow raised for a brief moment. 
"Maybe they're just having a camp fire or something!" Meulin said. 
"I've never seen a camp fire smoke up like that." Porrim said. 
"No Porrim, you need to have some faith!" 
"SHUTH UP!" Mituna screamed from his seat. He tried to bury himself back in his covers, but instead resorted to resting his head on Latula. Kankri wasn't sure if Mituna could even see through his bangs to watch her play the game.

They curved around the road, red lights leaking out of the dead fingers of trees.
"That's a fire truck!" Jane spat out. The trees began to creep away revealing the air drenched in a thick smog. The firefighters were leaning against the truck, policeman looking around the few buildings that hardly stood. Cronus slammed through the opening, drawing the attention of everyone. The vehicle, not designed for such maneuvers, shook as it tore across a rugged terrain. He stopped the bus and opened his door. As though he had set off a chain-reaction, everyone began to pour out. Kankri shoved his way through the cold opening beside him, his heart clawing at his chest. His eyes raced as he tried to find any sign of his brother or his friend's. The crowed had gone silent as he and his peers began to examine the area.

He stampeded through the crowd of officers and men in uniforms, hoping to collect Karkat. He felt like everything was coming at him at once, throwing myriads of pain. The electronic voices and calls that blared out of the devices, the red lights, the sharp air, the tight smoke. All of it was nearly strangling him, claustrophobia taking a new form in non-concrete ways. He stepped further, drawing closer to a small building as Cronus staggered over the questions being asked to him by an officer. Kankri, though wanting to interview someone, and by interview he meant give a small lecture about the safety regulations that needed immediate change for the safety of his brother (and protection of his rights), instead found himself battling a war with curiosity. The buildings weren't on fire anymore, and they weren't completely collapsed.

His foot stepped on a twig, the crunch emitting a sound that went in hand with his arm being seized. The person who had grabbed him had their fingers wrapped around his arm so tightly, it made him wiggle in place. He tried to rip himself away, only to meet the eyes of a man in a dark hat. The man's coal eyes widened, and he released Kankri, stepping away and turning around. He lurched across the swamp of men, barely avoiding tripping.
"Sir!" Kankri said, struggling to catch up. The man, though in a suit, was moving alarmingly fast, as though he had been terrified of something he saw. Kankri pressed on, getting knocked and pushed by his friend's as they tried to investigate the scene. The guy looked strikingly familiar, but he couldn't place where he had seen him.

 

"You need to just go home and wait, I don't know what to tell you." A police officer said to Jane. Kankri hesitated, shivering as the winter gale bit his nose and whipped his fingers and cheeks.
"My brother was here! I can't just go home, don't you find it weird? They were here on a trip! It was a camp that was supposed to house them for a month." She argued. Roxy patted her shoulder.
"Don't worry Janey, we'll find your little brother, and my sister. The Mr. Officer doesn't care." She huffed.
"This is your job!" Jane said.
"Listen, if they said a month, then your best bet is to wait for a month. I'm sure they're fine. There is nothing we can do, there was never a camp here, the property was an old marine hospital and dining area. The man who previously owned it disappeared. Just go home, you're supposed to be in school. If you don't leave the property now, I will have to take you in for truancy." The officer, a man with a stern pair of glasses, scrunched his eyes together.
"Do I smell... alcohol?"
Kankri looked away from them and back to the bus. Guilt was ablaze, marking its burns on his chest.

"Come on." Meenah said, glaring at another officer. "We're going to find them, let's just look around later when no one is here."
She led the group back to the bus where they gathered back into their original spots. Kankri looked behind him one more time to see the officers continuing their aimless search. 
"That was weird. Maybe your brother called from somewhere else?" Porrim said, joining his side on the seat. Kankri's eyes lit up when he realized who the man was.
"There is nothing for an hour out on this road, at least in the direction we came from. Plus, I am more than certain I saw the person in charge of the game there." He said.
"You saw the guy in charge of this and you didn't talk to him?" Aranea asked.
"He grabbed me, then ran off." Kankri said. 

"Why these people?" Meenah whined. 

Cronus pulled back out, and Kankri resumed looking out the window and watching the new snow flutter to the ground. They escaped the scene and began to ride back down the road. Kankri's eyes felt heavy as he tried to piece together what had just happened. His head knocked lightly on the window when they would run over a stick or hit a hole. The craving of slumber swung hard at him, though his indisposed stomach had other things to say, or, feel.

Then, just as his mind had grown blank and his coat warm, his body was thrown forward as he smashed himself on the seat in front of him.
"Look at that, it's a circus or something." Cronus said, pointing out the window at the boxcars on the traintracks.
"Weird." Aranea said. "I didn't know they even still exist after the elephants were taken away." 
Kankri sat up and rubbed his eyes, wanting to drift back to sleep and dream about the future speech he was going to deliver to his friends.

He traced the faded name on one of the boxes, the giraffe painted on the front smiling as the letters wrapped around it, seeming to mock the caged presence circus animals felt.

Circum Somnia

Chapter Text

There was a bump, then a shake, and then a glide.
Karkat bashed his head off the window beside him, glaring at it with as much hatred as he could pull out of himself.

"It's an espionage to track down someone we refer to as The Heiress. She is an awful person who rules the world with whatever glittering shadow she was put into." Xefros said.

Everyone was sitting in the hindmost train compartment, the serene orange glow from the sun surging into the trainroom. Karkat had taken a seat that was closer to the window, assuming everyone was going to rest. However, his mistake had caused him to seem irrelevant in what he deemed Skittish Storytime by Stutter. That is, the guy who was telling the stories seemed to be frightened of speaking, or whatever.
The seats were set up so that there were two long rows, each by the windows on either side. There were two center benches that ran parallel, the seats positions so that they were facing each other. In the middle of them was an equally long pine table. It would shake on every bump sending those around it into a slight frenzy as they clamored to cobble it in its original spot.

He looked at the others, lilting to the motions of the compartment, as Xefros continued to talk.
"The Tetrarch is part of a revolution, since he said she was the one who put us here. That is, he and I. I guess there are others though! They aren't here though, they are in Moorhead, which is I think in Mississippi."
As though he had said something wrong, the guy's face went pale. 
"Uh, you guys aren't planning on telling anyone right?"

"No Xefros!" Terezi said. "We won't tell anyone."

Xefros let out a breath of air.
"Thank goodness! I don't know if Dammek would like that. It's just, you guys really seem like you need help. I don't see why more people for The Revolution wouldn't hurt. Wait, you guys are coming to Belford's home right?"

Karkat moved over to meet them in the center of the train car.
"No, we aren't." He snapped. "We're going to find out what fucking retard drug us into this and get their trivial ass in prison. Then, we are going home." 

Xefros' eyes widened, the strange brown color appearing somewhat burgundy in the light.
"Oh."

"Karkat," Terezi said, crossing her arms. "That's rude!"

Karkat lifted his chin up, ignoring her statement.
"And that goes for everyone." 

"Woah," Vriska said, appearing to jump on her attempt to annoy him as quickly as possible. "Karkat, looks like someone is desperate to be a leader! I wonder what your Dad would think of this, being his situation.'
Karkat gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. She was so annoying.

"You're stunt to gain attention in every situation possible is really getting old." He said, biting the end of his sentence with a stern diction.

"What, I'm just saying. Maybe you would want to back off a little bit. Hang out and stop being so uptight all the time." 

"We are on a BOXCAR on our way to be part of the circus you moron!" He said. "Just...just don't cause any problems right now, I need to think." He said, standing up and holding on to one of the pillars. "Where's the bathroom?"

Xefros joined his side and pointed. 
"It's that door right there."

Karkat nodded and nudged his way towards a door at the end of the sector. As he reached for a bronze doorknob, the train hit another bump. He tried to catch himself, but his footing was lost and he was immediately sent to the floor, his head being protected by his left arm acting as a support, and his side colliding with the rigid wood below.  He tried to drag himself up as his friends from the back began to cackle at him. 
"Shut up!" He yelped. He held on to the doorknob and sent his wobbling legs upright. Escaping into the bathroom, he shut the door behind him and leaned against it. The ecstasy in reaching a semi-tranquil area was almost claustrophobic, as though he was missing out on not being outside and hanging out with his friends. 
Nevertheless, it was crucial for him to weigh the matters that presented themselves upfront. They were the same problems that caused his stomach to burn with the tight fire. It was as though his entire body was on fire, now that he considered it. Was it warm inside?
No. He was just imagining it. Just like everything else.
The candle that hung on the wall glew, the wind from the door causing it to scuffle back into its war at keeping the small room alight. It produced a penumbra, something Karkat sunk into, a sigh escaping his annoyed lips.
He was the epitome of anxiety at the moment, and any flooding that would have this present itself to his friends would show them just how weak he was. He closed his eyes, remembering the erstwhile felicity of his brother's call that was covered by a thick layer of anger and spite. Not that Kankri didn't deserve it, he was being as annoying as ever. Still, Karkat never asked for it to disappear completely. He opened his eyes again when he remembered his brother's warnings for a blood disease. He couldn't remember the name, but whatever it was, he wanted no part of it. Bleeding for a longer time than usual would have everyone knowing he was but a child to be taken care of, rather than the strong, bold, and intrepid leader he was supposed to be. He would work with whatever he could to clear up the accusations, because as far as he knew

there was nothing wrong with him. And that, is how it would Stay.

Chapter Text

He would be lying if he said he wasn't worried about the whereabouts of either of his sons. Kankri wasn't fit to be out of the house doing God-Knows-What while being beaten by God-Knows-Who. Karkat was at a camp, which was certainly dangerous because there was no way of telling if he had Hemophilia or not.

Signless rested his head on the back of the couch when his phone suddenly bleeped. His spine snapped back into a forward position to grab ahold of it, praying it was one of his sons.

 

pipefan413: I HAVE SOME SERIOUS BUSINESS TO DISCUSS.

Signless tilted his head and reached towards it, his gut twinging in sudden worry.

ichorinfidel: Who is this?

pipefan413: THIS IS MR. EGBERT. HAVE YOU SEEN MY DAUGHTER? SHE IS MISSING.

Signless reached a hand up to scratch his newforming beard.

ichorinfidel: No, I have not, but my son, Kankri is gone too. I got a call from the school that he wasn't present for any of his classes. He wasn't on the bus either.

pipefan413: IS THAT TRUE? IT ISN'T LIKE JANE TO GO MISSING. I'VE BEEN REALLY WORRIED. SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE PRESENT DURING THE BUSINESS TRANSFER. WE WERE RANDOMLY BOUGHT OUT THOUGH, WHICH HAS CAST ME INTO A POOL OF TURMOIL.

ichorinfidel: Who bought out your business?

pipefan413: FISH N GO.

 

Just reading the name made his stomach curl. Fish N Go. It was a mess of a business. He knew, that those with money were able to control almost everything. He was lucky he wasn't in more trouble after The Incident.

ichorinfidel: Oh, I wasn't aware.

pipefan413: THERE ISN'T A LOT OF TIME TO EXPLAIN. I HAVE A LOT OF BUSINESS TO DO. ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN LOT OF CHANGES. WE NEEDED THE MONEY, WE WERE GOING BANKRUPT. NOW I WORK UNDER HER FISHY ORDERS. HER DAUGHTER WAS SUPPOSED TO ACQUIRE IT TODAY, BUT I HAVEN'T HEARD ANYTHING SINCE.

ichorinfidel: Okay, just keep an eye out for my son, I'm going to call the cops and make sure they know.

pipefan413: WAIT

pipfan413: IT APPEARS THERE ARE OTHER MISSINGS. THE CAPTOR HOUSEHOLD SAID THEIR SON IS MISSING.

Signless exited out of the chatting interface and scrolled through the contacts until he found his friend's number. He pressed the cold phone to his ear, and almost instantly, the ringing came to an end.
"Signless."

Signless hadn't talked to Psiioniic in too long. He almost missed their old communications. The man had one hell of a lisp that always caused him to slip over his words.
"Have you seen my son? I heard your kid went missing too. I'm about to go to the school and see if they are skipping or something."
"Mituna wasn't here for me to drive him to the bus. Latula is gone too, I called her mother to see if Tuna had snuck over again."

Signless stared off into the fireplace at the corner of the chilly room. He felt a weight press down harder on him.
"I don't know what happened." Psiioniic continued. "I was fired the other day. I didn't want to tell Mituna until Sollux had come home, yet somehow he seemed to figure it out. Maybe he was upset about that?"
"I don't know." Signless said.
"I hope this isn't my fault." Psiioniic said, his voice falling softer into the cackling of the phone.
"It isn't." Signless muttered.
"You don't know what I've seen Signless. It wasn't... good. There was a reason I was fired."

Signless clenched his eyebrows together.
"You didn't continu-"
"I did. After you were fired those years ago, everyone stayed cautious. Word got around about it, you know? Well, as the tech guy of the group I was supposed to be... You know what? I'll meet you at the school, I don't want to talk about this under an untrustworthy network like this. You never know who's Listening."

Chapter Text

"Allodoxaphobia, is when someone is afraid of another person's opinions, are you suffering from that?" Meenah watched Porrim rip Kankri a new one as the two continued to bicker in the in front of her about what ever pointless topic they were onto this time. She didn't want to be near these idiots anymore.

However, they knew her location, and at least one of the blatherskites were likely to disclose it if they were ever separated. If the situation at hand had anything to do with her Mother's Job, then she was going to have to toughen them up, quite a bit. She already had the plan together too.

They were going to have to get through obstacles. No one was going to get through to anything if she didn't destroy the bonds at hand. Kankri, somehow, was already popular among the group. Seemingly, quite a few people knew him. He was readable to her though, and she didn't fall for his mundane acts. The guy was a blabber-mouth, and was educated on social justice more than she liked to admit, however, he wasn't the nicest. He had a backhanded way of making others feel important or liked when in reality, it was probably some ego thing that was designed to hide an aspect of him. If people liked him, he wouldn't look like the weak baby he was. Though his constant complaining was almost unbearable to everyone. He would have to lose everything.
Cronus. Nobody liked him anyway, he didn't matter.
Aranea wasn't so bad, but she didn't know when to shut her mouth about pointless details. Though Meenah had to admit, the girl knew some juicy things about the group. Things that would definitely come in handy. Porrim wasn't bad either, and Meenah guessed Meulin wasn't too bad. Just kind of annoying. Like really annoying.
Kurloz was a creepy dude, with his mouth all stitched up and shit. It was... it was weird. Meenah didn't mind Latula, but she was a little obnoxious in a way-too-loud kind of way. Her extreme attitudes and "radical" stunts could get annoying. Otherwise, she was okay.
Mituna, the fishiest one of them all, was abrasive in an entirely different way. He was easily provoked and easily... hurt? She didn't know, or really care at the moment.
As for the other guys, she didn't know them well enough, but they all looked easy enough to persuade into continuing her journey.

Meenah, the heiress to her mother's Fish N Go company, and future empress to the Underground-Watchu-Macallits, leaned back in her seat. Going off to find her little sister was tedious, if it meant spending a prolonged time with these losers, but whatever the case, Mouthy was right. She was sure her sister said Maryland before exiting the school during the election. 

Cronus, from the front of the car, rolled up his window, and pulled a small device to his mouth. When the speakers crackled to life, it was revealed the thing was a microphone.
"So, vwhat's the plan?" He asked through a ringing voice.

"We are goin to get outa here." Meenah said, raising her voice, "but we ain't goin home."

Cronus' dimpled grin reflected off of the front mirror.
"More hangout time then, I see." He said.

"Is it goin to take you forebber to realize I'm not interested in you... in even the slightest?" Meenah asked, tilting her head of dark cornrows.

"I nevwer said you had to be interested in me, but that vwould be kind of nice." He said.

"No." Meenah responded. 

"Okay vwhatevwer." Cronus said, his voice dropping. "It's your loss."

She almost laughed if the truth wasn't annoying as hell. He would act like he gave up, but would be back onto her within a day.
"So I think we need to go be interviewfin some of the locals." Meenah said.

"Wouldn't that show our location?" Aranea asked.

"I guess so, but come on Serket, how else are we supposed to find them?"

The Jane girl from the front turned around and raised her nose in the air.
"I think we should just go home, honestly, for all we know they could be fine."

Meenah looked at her and visualized how nice it would be to just... throw something at her. Like a pencil maybe. Or something heavier.
"They were somewhere around there. Let's just ask about the camp and tour the area."

Cronus cleared his throat and opened his mouth to talk. His eyes looked a little red, which wasn't surprising due to his stupid cigarette habit.
"Vwe are going to look around Cumberland, Maryland." He announced to the group. "Vwho vwants to be the guy vwhogoes up to the houses." 
He paused for a moment, lowering the microphone, and taking a turn in the road towards a neighborhood. The houses were antebellum in their architecture and large columns held roofs high in the front. Grand windows were spread evenly among them, and the landscaping caused the grass to resemble a golf course with trees and flowers.
"I'll go up."

"Why you?" Jane asked. A breeze entered into the bus as Cronus rolled his window down. He flicked his lighter and placed a cigarette into his mouth. Ignoring Jane, he began to pull into a driveway to a small yellow home.

"Don't pull into their driveway," Latula blurted out. She coughed, then ran her fingers through her hair. "Because that would be a wicked bad idea!! They will see the bus and know our vehicle. EASIER TO TRACK BRO!" She said, pushing her glasses farther up her nose.

Cronus' eyes widened, and he pulled back out, the bus shaking. Everyone amongst Meenah grew silent as he parked behind an old blue doughnut shot and shut off the engine.
"I'll park here, at this shop, just vwait here. I don't havwe a lot of money for gas, so I havwe to turn this baby off." He said, patting the wheel. Meenah sighed and looked out the frosted window, happy to not be home for the acquiring the business that she knew would unfairly anchor her future down. 
The car shook after Cronus opened and shut the door. He was able to just jump out, meaning he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

A good way to get rid of his pathetic existence if the car would ever mysteriously crash.

Chapter Text

He slipped out of the bus, realizing he had never buckled up. Letting a sigh escape from his lips, he realized just how little it probably meant to everyone.
Which was dumb, because it should. He was just like them after all, a teenager going through puberty. Things happen during puberty. Plenty of THINGS. 
Damnit, why couldn't they just accept him?

He had volunteered to leave because he knew his Dad wasn't likely to report him missing for a few days, or weeks. Just depends on how long it took him to notice his son was actually gone.

As he approached one of the smaller houses, his stomach dropped. 

He had left his ashtray in clear sight on his dresser in his bedroom. 
Well, that secret wasn't a secret anymore... and his freedom was no more as well. He was definitely going to be grounded for that.

 

Cronus picked up his pace, happy that the sky was now brightening up. The soles of his shoes crunched on the ice present on the sidewalk. He made a turn, stepping atop the stone stairs and onto the sidewalk to a nice home. He pushed his hair back with his hands and walked up another set of steps to a clean white door. There was a stale Christmas reef hanging on it, so he did the homeowners a favor and plucked it off, dumping its carcass in the garden beside the porch. He made a slight glance to his bus, that was just barely visible from where he stood. Some of his friends inside were raising their hands like he had just committed a heinous crime.
Ignoring them, Cronus knocked on the door. 
He waited for a second, listening carefully to see that someone would arrive. When this act proved to be a fail, he turned around. Without paying attention to where he was walking, his head connected to the rough wooden pillar in front of him. Rubbing his head and cursing at the thing that had brought him so much pain, he was struck with surprise when the door behind him opened.
"Can I help you?"
A woman raised her eyebrow. She peered around the door and eyed the area where the decoration had once been. Cronus looked the opposite direction of where he had placed the reef, and cleared his throat.

"Yes, actually, you can." He began, unable to look her in the eye. "My siblings vwere here for a camp, and I havwen't heard from them. Vwait, no I only havwe one sibling. My brother."

From the corner of his eye, he watched the lady shift in her position.
"Oh honey, I don't. We don't have camps around here in the winter. You could check with Florence, she always knows when things happen in this town because she thinks she's the best mom."
Cronus looked up and squinted his eyes.

"Vwhat?" 

The lady was short, and had graying brown hair and deep laugh lines.
"Nothing dear! What happened to your head? Are you okay? And is that cigarette smoke? How old are you?"

Cronus backed up slightly offput by the sudden nurturing nature. 
"It's just a scar, and I'm eighteen. Vwhere does Florence livwe?" He asked, trying to escape. He didn't really know why, but the woman was almost... scary. 

"She lives across the street hun. Good luck sweetheart!"

"Thank you! Finally someone vwho recognizes my kindness." He grinned. Cronus turned around and marched down her stairs and set for another pillared house. It was white, and was much larger than the home he had just visited. He stood at the side of the street as a truck rolled down the road. He rolled his eyes at having to wait, time taking too long. It was cold outside, and he was only wearing his leather jacket. It made him look like a badass, sure, but he was beginning to debate its significance.
Just as he was about to step out after the truck, he was taken back by a slosh of mud from the skirling wheels of the vehicle. It splashed him, the wet spongy and turbid liquid bespattering his face and jacket. He looked down at his apparel, shocked at what just occurred. His mouth fell open, and he lifted his hands out in front of him to gaze upon the filth that had covered him. The truck was flat out of the area, as though it didn't just smother someone in mud.
"Vwhat a fucking germ." He muttered, flicking the mud off his hands. Another car began to turn its way onto the street, and Cronus was quick to cross this time. It roared past him, even before he was fully on the sidewalk. Huffing at the rudeness, he realized there was no way he was going to be taken seriously now.

He stomped to the door, and rung the doorbell. Crossing his arms, he waited for the door to open. When it did, a bald man stepped out, slapping his newspaper open.
"Oh I see. Another one of you." He growled.

"Vwhat? Do you havwe an issue with avwesome-"
The door was shut instantly in his face. Cronus grumbled. He rang the doorbell again, the door opening once more.

"Will you get off my lawn? You can't have my couch or my daughter."

Cronus tilted his head.
"Screvw the couch, vwhat's your daughters age?"

The man glared at him, and Cronus shrugged.
"I don't havwe room for her in my ride anywvay. Vwell, unless I kick out one of those underclass idiots. I am not picky in vwho I givwe rides to." He shook his head. "That's not the point. I vwas vwondering if you knevw about a camp somewvhere around here, my brother is missing."

At the latter statement, the man's eyes lightened.
"Oh, that damn Nelly from 'cross the street sent you didn't she? I keep telling her, my wife and I don't know everything about this town. Anyway, I heard the Greyson's sent their kid to a camp some years ago. They have been pretty vocal about not knowing the whereabouts. Johna, I think it was? Maybe Jerom. I don't remember, but I would check with them." He said before shooting a glance behind him. "Do... do you need a ride or something? You look like you got into a mess."
Cronus shook his head.
"No, I'vwe got my ovwn ride. Vwhere do these keepers livwe?" 
"Try 401 Walker Lane. It's just three streets down from here." The man said, already stepping back into the warmth of the house.
"Alright." Cronus responded. He turned around without thanking the man, and began down the stairs. He listened to the door shut behind him as he made his way across the street. His stomach curled with the fact his friends were going to have to see the humility that was coating him. And he was going to get his bus dirty. He shuffled his way back to the doughnut shop and walked behind it, the scent of the dumpster beside him rising in the air. The moment he opened the door, the voices of fifteen teenagers bickering arose.
"Vwovw, do you guys really need a guy like me to keep the peace?" He asked.

"Did you find anything out?" Latula asked.

"Yeah. that vwe havwe to go to someone else' house." He said, starting the engine.

Kankri let out a deep breath.
"Finally, some heat. I was feeling deprived of a privilege everyone should have, the ability to keep a well maintained temperature-"

"Oh my God shut up." Meenah interrupted.

"Even I am getting annoyed right now." Porrim added. 

The three of them continued to talk amongst each other, Meenah and Porrim's voices growing louder, and Kankri's more stern. Cronus temporarily ignored them as he started back on the road, winding along alone on a deserted road.

"Nani ga okotta?" Damara said from beside him. He looked at her for a moment. 

"You knovw I don't understand that right?" He said, debating on whether he should pull out another cigarette. The shit was more addicting than he thought it was, and he missed the days when he would only put one in his mouth to look cool. Damara shifted her gaze back out the window.

He too redirected his gaze. He made a turn and parked the bus in front of a random house.
"You guys stay here, I'll be back." He said, ripping out the vehicle again. The frigid breeze struck him, the wetness of his clothes lacing the perfect breeding grounds for frostbite. He ambled down the street, trying to appear as though he knew what he was doing, kicking any stick or rock that came into his vision. 
His eyes traced over the numbers on the mailboxes or the doors. Each house, at this point, seemed to look sadder than the last. Pointed roofs covered only a small portion of the drab sky. The snow that had fallen was gray, and the snowmen that had been built were melting to a deformed version of what they once were.
He turned when he found a house with faded red siding barely holding the walls together. On the door, drawn in what appeared to be a blue crayon, was the address of 401.
He lurched towards the door, his hand that had been stuffed in his pocket now entering back into the bleak atmosphere to offer a knock. Just as he did, a dog from inside the house began to bark. Footsteps cloaked their howls as the addition of a voice was thrown to tell them to stop.
The door creaked open, and a woman peeped out. Her glasses were too big for her face and seemed to magnify her eyes.
"Yes?" She asked.

"Is your son Jerom or something. Jeffery-"

"Johna." She said, her voice coming out more like a desperate growl, loud enough to potentially scare the dogs. "What about him?"

"I vwas at this guys house and he-"

She shook her head and raised her hands.
"I can't understand you, you're talking way too, too, too fast." She said, spitting out her words. "Come inside, inside." 

Cronus lifted his eyebrow at her odd speech.
"Al...right." 

He realized just how stupid it was to walk into a strangers home the moment he did so. Her house was tidy, but smelt like dog fur. The T.V. was blazing, and a small mop-dog was hiding behind a corner, watching him.
"I don't have any tea or anything formal like that, but I do have orange juice if you would like some."

Cronus stuck close to the door, looking at the family photos and secretly envying the happy environment that was once there, but angered by it as well. How was it fair this guy got a happy family and he didn't?
"I'm good. I'm just here to ask about the camp. My brother vwent missing and vwe don't knovw..."

His sentence came to a strained end. The channel that was airing the news had five familiar faces on it. One of which, was his. The lady made a slight motion indicating her move. He quickly reached out, stepping in front of the view of the television.

"Are you alright?" She asked as her dog began to bark.

"Yeah!" Cronus coughed out. "I just havwe to be quick. The camp though, vwhere is it?" 

She glanced away for a quick second before looking down at her hands.
"I don't know. It It It was in a a relatively normal place when I first dropped him off off off. Just a small town in Cumberland, Maryland. I filed a missing missing miss-ing person's file, but apparently the the camp never actually existed and the name of the man running it, said to be be Martin Yamsan, died in 1974. I've been tracking this for years, but they seem to be playing under the radar. It's a a a tricky scheme to kidnap people, I'm sor-sorry." She said, her voice falling quieter towards the end of the sentence. Cronus saw the lifelessness present in her eyes, which only made him wonder why he was never gifted a mother of his own.

"Vwhen did you send him there?" He asked.

"Two two years ago. Two years and three months months. There hasn't been a day the news news hasn't been on just in case. I'm sorry your your brother went missing, and I only only hope it wasn't to those people. I found found out about it one evening when he was acting out out of the norm because his sister passed passed away after the divorce. Suicide-ide."
She seemed incredibly bothered by what she was saying, her eyes fixated on her hands. "We we sent him there thinking it was a good way for therapy. I read the documents and signed signed them unknowing it was a faulty thing. The police didn't do anything anything either, which was weird to me me. The private investigator I hired was told to drop drop the ca-case. He told me, but said they wouldn't explain why. All they said was that he he would be fired. Nevertheless, Steve still works works with me. We've looked everywhere, and yet we still come up dry. However, you coming here has been a new opening. If you don't mind I get your number so you can help?"

"Uh, sure, but I vwon't be on for avwhile." Cronus said. The woman nodded, and turned around. While her back was turned, Cronus looked back to the television, glad to see it was off the topic. Instead, it now showed a celebrity smiling into the camera, her purple dress glittering. He wondered how his Dad had actually noticed in such a short amount of time that he was actually gone. His stomach began to hurt and his fingers began to tingle.

"Just write it down." The woman said. "But do tell me me, what brought you here young man? It isn't every day people come to me. In fact, most most most people like to remain silent on these matters. I believe it's what drives the world to the madness it is in in."

Cronus scribbled down what he believed to be his number and handed it back to the woman. He had to admit he was pleased to be asked by a girl for his number, even if it was for professional business... and from an older lady.

"I vwas told to come here from some guy three streets ovwer. My brother vwas last heard from in an area that caught fire. Vwe beliwved this to be the place, but some cubed guy said it vwas nevwer a camp. Yet it vwas caught fire."

Her eyes grew wider, mouth falling agape.
"There wasn't wasn't any any bodies was there there?"

"Not that I could see." Cronus shrugged. "Listen lady, I just vwant to find my brother."

Her eyes narrowed. "That's just like like the justice system system. To ignore the real problems. Keep me updated. They move though, they they never stay put. Just hope your brother escaped. I have reached out to woman all over the world who have had had had disappearances like this, and rarely is their child found. I can't believe I've let this this happen." She began to rub her head. Feeling awkward, Cronus inched towards the door.
"Just, don't believe what people tell you," she said. "I lost my son here two years ago, and yet, I was never able to find him again. I have searched everywhere, and I still feel lost."

Cronus nodded, his fingers feeling as though they were going to fall off. He never expected his brother would leave like this. As long as his brother was gone, he wasn't returning home. Even if it meant Eridan eventually dating Feferi making his future wife-relationship with Meenah awkward.

Chapter Text

Sollux, other than Karkat who had eventually joined the group, sat separated. His head hurt, and his muscles were so sore, he almost didn't want to move. After the electroshock therapy, he hadn't felt the same. He couldn't remember anything from that day, or the day before, as much as he wanted to. Karkat had explained to him what had happened, and it seemed to only make his body hurt worse.

"We should be getting food soon. Usually no one sits in here since this is the dining area." The X kid said from the far part of the room. "We come here three times a day to eat, though sometimes it's hard to squeeze in a meal during show weeks. I sometimes have to skip breakfast or dinner. No one misses lunch though, it's everyone's favorite part of the day. Just watch for Ansel, he's a little kooky. I don't mind him myself, but that's because I don't go anywhere near him."

Sollux focused on the wall in front of him. He wasn't going to communicate with any of the circus morons, mostly because he didn't give a fuck about them. He just wanted to return home to his brother and Dad. Even Bee, their dumb dog.

"TWO MORE HOURS UNTIL WE REACH OUR DESTINATION!" A man's voice roared from the speakers. "LYNCHBURG!"
He was tempted to look up the area on his phone before realizing it was still at the camp. Or whatever was left from Gamzee burning the place down. He really hoped he didn't get into trouble for all of this. Or blamed for it or whatever.

"Hey Sollux!" 
He jumped at the high squeaks of Feferi's voice. 
"Oh, hey FF." He said, rubbing the sides of his head.
"What's the matter?" She asked, sitting down in front of him. 
"Oh, the usual." He moped, looking at her through his blue and red glasses.
"Do you want to talk about your feelings?" She asked. "You look like really sad."

Sollux locked eyes with hers, their dark color matching her skin.
"I don't know." He said, shrugging. If he was to talk about his feelings, it would either be with her or Aradia. Feferi smiled.
"Stop being a retard and make up your mind Sollux!" 
"Maybe I don't want to talk with them? Did you ever think about that?" He snapped.

Her eyebrows folded into an angry split.
"You're so frustrating!"
She paused for a second, twisting a strand of hair around her finger.
"It's kind of cute."

He lifted his head a little, confused at the remark. People didn't like him, he was a talentless idiot.
"Really?"
His eyes shifted over to someone in the group, whose eyes were set on him like an insect attracted to the light. Eridan sneered, his teeth gritting. Sollux ignored him, not caring for the scarfed hipster, and focused back on Feferi. His head began to pound as he began to think about Aradia, confused on his emotions.

Chapter Text

Freezing rain from the winters harsh tears were spattered onto the frosted windows of the bleeding red caboose that swept through Cumberland, its metal hinges screaming as the wheels came to a grating stop. 
Karkat, alike the rest of the group surrounding him, lunged towards the table to keep it from falling. It wobbled intensely in their hands before becoming stationary.  
Exiting a breath, he glanced over to Terezi, who already had her nose in the air. 
"It smells... really good actually!" She laughed, looking at him. 
"I guess so." He shrugged, unknowing how to respond. 
"Like, candy! Lots of it!"  
Her red glasses glimmered in the light pouring from the aperture that was forming from the sliding door being pulled open. 
Spaldon peered in from the front, suspended by the steep metal stairs below the stacked soles of his leather saddle shoes. He looked almost depressed with the way his coat was soaked in the rain. His eyes said nothing as his mouth opened to speak. 
"Xefros, Dammek is at The House already. Apperently there was an issue with he and the twins, alongside some other members and they had to leave. He said he would tell you later. If he asks, I used code to tell you this." 
Spaldon had took to raising his eyebrows throughout the last half of his sentence so his expression resembled more of a sneer. A rawky breeze crept inside the room, dancing softly with the warm zephyr. 
"He's at Belford's?" Xefros asked in return, his mouth falling agape. 
Spaldon nodded, holding his top hat as he did so. "Yes, we should be there within a few months. We have a lot to do before you can arrive." 
Xefros' cheeks began to turn red as he fumbled with his hands. Karkat watched the moron, feeling a slight pang of empathy. 
"..months?" 
Spaldon shifted, his tongue licking his lips.  
"It's going to be hard without the twins, they made for a good bridge in the act." He blinked, changing the subject, then turned back towards the outside. "Just wait here for your snack, they are going back into the Harris Candy Store to get some things for everyone. It's going to be a little while until we reach Lynchburg, so keep your patience in tact. We will have a good lunch when we arrive, then we can unpack and start setting up the tents. The motel is kind of sleazy, from what I've heard, but we're on a bu-" 
Spaldon paused, then drug his hand to his forehead. 
"Nevermind, why am I even telling you?"  His eyes trailed over Karkat and his group. "You all will be assigned roles when we reach our destination."
Karkat looked back at Xefros. The guy seemed worried, with the way he played with his hands and how his gaze darted over areas of the caboose that seemed otherwise mundane. 
 
He shook his head, Karkat Vantas wasn't weak, and he was a leader. This guy, wasn't a significant part of his life and didn't matter. He had better things to worry about than scooping around like an infant trying to make friends and change each other's shit-shutes. 
 
Spaldon slid the door shut, and the winter waltz came to a stop as the warm air took dominance again. Karkat leaned back, his head resting on the seat. Terezi dipped her head so that her ruby-masked eyes were looking into his. 
"Karkat, brighten up!" She said, nudging him. "You're being so quiet, if I couldn't hear your huffs, I would think you were dead!"
Karkat groaned.
"Okay?"
Terezi frowned for a second, but it was soon replaced by yet another grin.
"It's annoying when you're like this, but it's also kind of cute seeing you try to be all big and tough!"

He met her eyes, a shimmering pool of teal, lit up by what could only be the moon over waters.
"I'm not cute." He exclaimed, crossing his arms over each other. She moved back into her seat, watching as the doors were quick to reopen and send them into vulnerable pits reigned by some fucker named Jack Frost.

"Yes you are, you don't have to argue it Karkels. You're all crossing your arms, and raising your chin acting all tough and mighty. If you're trying to get attention, I am just SWOOOONING over here!" She said, her laughs becoming something of a shriek. 
"Good, you should be. I am the leader of the group after all." He said, being clear to raise his voice for the last part.

A dorky looking man who seemed to be losing hair walked in the caboose, and set down two plastic bags. A trace of vanilla and sugar strung itself through his nose. Instantly, Terezi reached her hand in and pulled out a purple lollipop.
Karkat watched her as she unwrapped it, her face dipped in excitement. He too reached inside the bag, annoyed at all the hands that were inside of it along him.
Eridan, was the only one who wasn't engaging in the almost violent feasting ritual.
"That's not fair, I wwanted that one." He pouted as Sollux laughed, unwrapping a chocolate bar.
"Sorry, I guess you should have been faster." Sollux said, raising his shoulders.
"This is comin from the lowwlife skum you are." Eridan murmured, a little quieter. 

"Karkat."
A voice he had not heard in awhile rung like a bell. He looked over at the tall girl who had taken a seat next to him. 
"Oh, hey Kanaya." He said, being sure to drop at least a little bit of the repulsive attitude he had taken to.
"Did they say roles?" She asked, smiling slightly.
"When? You mean when that guy came in and got his mysterious attitude on? Seriously though, what's up with that?" He felt himself grow warm with irritation. "Why does everyone we come into contact with have to be all dark and hidden like this?! Is it that fucking hard to ask for a normal person?"
Kanaya laughed. "Well, we are in the circus."
He calmed down, taking a breath.
"Yeah, I guess you're right on that. Why were we this dumb to come to the circus? Wait, I guess that was my stupid idea. Like always. Why did I have to choose the circus?!"
"It was the only choice you knew at the moment, Karkat. In fact, though the outfits are a little atrocious, I think this might be an interesting, if not inspiring course of action brought to us by a smart leader."
Karkat leaned back, opening a thing of Cracker-Jacks. "Yeah, if you say so."

Chapter Text

He moved from the table in the corner kitchen, the brightly colored walls seeming to add to the drab atmosphere. The news blared in a room just down the hall, but he wasn't watching it. Instead, he was trying to think up an alibi as to how he discovered his sons were missing. The authorities were gullible, but they weren't stupid.

His plan hadn't worked as well as he had expected it to. The man he hired to keep everyone in view had let them vanish, and now it was up to one of his puppets to figure out their location, and help drive the others into the main focus point. What mattered was how far he would get from this, and where he would end up. Whether or not his sons lived or died, wasn't of much matter to him, though the eldest was the most valuable. He needed someone to pass the company over to when he died.

Chapter Text

Signless drug his gray 1990 audi 100 into the parking lot of Alternia High School, one of the oldest schools in the state right after Parkersburg High School. Though it had been worked over numerous times, the exterior remained mostly the same as when he attended the school. What with the soaring brick walls and the flat ceilings that had pointed accents. The windows with the carvings around them and the original wooden front doors. The school colors, yellow and purple, were still on the flag that rested at the top of the school, and the same tree that was there when he was young, sat proudly beside the parking horseshoe, its roots threatening to swallow the road and anything that came into its path.

After twisting the key out of the ignition, Signless got out of the car, the snow-licked air pushing him closer to the warmth of the door. He began to move swiftly, his hands clawing at his brown waxed cotton jacket to keep it closer to him.

"Signless."

Somewhere behind him, someone had lisped out his name. He stopped, turned around, and saw a man huddling towards him.
"Psiioniic, there you are." Signless said as his friend reached him. "Why did you choose this place? You know, it really-"
"No offense or anything, but we can't do for one of your rants." Psiioniic interrupted. "Let's just get inside, and find a place to talk. Neophyte and I already contacted the teachers. They don't know anything."
"Neophyte?" Signless asked, resuming his pace towards the door. "Interesting, I think my son is flushed for her daughter."

He paused for a second, rubbing his chin.
"Did they also tell you your kid had to stay longer at the camp?" He asked.
Psiioniic glanced at him, and for the first time in a very long while, Signless saw the heterochromia iridum that took place within the man's eyes. One eye was blue, the other was a brown color, almost a muddy red in the light of the sun. 
"Yes, they did. I again had a talk with Neophyte. She didn't recall signing the papers they said she did. I guess there was no contact number either." Psiioniic answered tugging a backpack closer to his back and returning his gaze to the school, raising his chin. He was pale, almost ghostly, as he reached for the door handle. Pulling it open, Signless was thrown back into nostalgia at the mural of golden angels on the school's front room's ceiling. Though his religion often made him feel at peace with a tenderness of never being fully alone, it now it seemed as though the angel's efflorescent faces and round cherry cheeks were mocking his turmoil. Their grins and soft fingers wove an ugly tapestry that forced him to look away.

"There wasn't?" Signless asked, his stomach twisting. He was going to be sick. 
"No. So we contacted the authorities. They are looking into it, as is she. But I think there might be more to this than you think." Psiioniic muttered as a group of kids made their way passed them. 
"What?"
Psiioniic's eyes began to trace around them.
"Fish N Go."
Signless raised his eyebrows.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"When you tried to report what you found, a lot of the company was fired. She kept me though, showing some pity I didn't need. As the main tech guy in her place, I was supposed to regulate the traffic and keep her identity a secret."
"Traffic?"
"There's a lot you don't know. Now let's go to the Red Room. They don't have camera's in there, I hacked the school's security system last night."
Signless continued after Psii, stepping into a hall that was so bright, it stung his vision.
"Where's the Red Room?" He asked. "And how did you hack into the system?" 
Psiioniic looked through him, his eyes unreadable, and his movement amiss.
"It's in the Annex, which is only accessible if you exit the school through the back. When you do, it's one of the rooms that is unused. Sollux went there for therapy before they shut it down after it caught on fire. It's obsolete now, and relatively close. We will have to pick a different meeting place after this though."
Signless shook his head. 
"Why did you choose the school then?" He asked. "Couldn't we have just met at Neophyte's? If you're really concerned about safety, then a public setting filled with hundreds of kids isn't exactly what one would have in mind." 
Psiioniic let out a sigh.
"Do you have to bitch about everything I do Signless? Are you suffering that bad? No, so stop."
Signless squinted his eyes at his friend as they continued down a mostly desolate hall. The stark white walls had posters spread like stars, one of which shone brighter than the others. Signless paused, and walked over to it, reaching his fingers behind it and plucking it off its tape. Kankri Vantas had glued one of the rarely taken photos of him to the red surface. 
"What are you doing?" Psiioniic said, joining his side.
"Kankri really wanted the election."
Psiioniic rubbed his head.
"Just take it with you, my headache is acting up again, lets just get to the red room and then we can go have a tea party or something." He said, his lisped words cut short at the end of each syllable.
"Yeah, okay."

 

They made their way down the halls, more photos of Kankri splattered against the walls. The more he looked at them, the more they resembled "Missing" posters. He began to trace the floor, shadows of he and his friend bobbing lightly, but swiftly. They passed the gym, where screaming and fighting ran its way through the halls. They crossed paths with the library, the silence seeming to radiate outside of it.

"Here's the door we're going out of." Psiioniic said when they came to a sharp turn in the hall. Without stopping for a comment of any sort, he shoved the metal doors open, and raced outside. Signless picked up his pace and tried to catch up.

The annex, about a hundred meters from where he was, was built by the same architect who had built the school. It too, was tall and brick. However, if things were still like the last time he was here for Karkat and Kankri's shots, then it hadn't been upgraded since it was built. The pipes still dangled inside the building, and electric wire sprung out like unwanted roots in every room, creating something of a hazard. He supposed that was probably what caused the fire. Due to the lack of finances to get it remodeled (most of the school's money went to the sports team and traveling choirs) it had never been redone.
They grew closer ever yet, neither of them speaking a word. Their footsteps crunched the snow below them. Signless' cheeks burned.

They reached the door. Psiioniic pulled it open, and peered behind him.
"If they ask, we are implementing the new wireless data plan into the storage unit." He said, before turning back around and placing himself into a building whose only light was of the cloud-hidden sun glaring through the windows. Signless remained quiet, letting the door slam shut behind him. It pushed an icy current into the room, releasing a transient shiver through his body. He could see his breath in front of him, and all of the dust that fluttered through the room. It was as though the cold had many bodies, all of which were hosting a huge ball.
"Come on Signless." Psii said, stepping up on the stairs. Signless followed, both of them ascending what felt like an area where any noise was trapped into a small compartment and hidden away forever. 

They walked down a hall, after reaching the top. Every door was made of metal, and was colored the same dull gray-blue as its surroundings, only one stood out.
"That red door down there leads to the red room." Psiioniic said. "Half of it was eaten away by whoever set it ablaze. It's usable though. I just wouldn't recommend us staying in there for too long."
As the door grew closer to him, Signless began to feel his stomach weigh more and more. Every step was another stone laid atop of him, every blink of an eye was a blink that brought him closer to vomitous anticipation. 
When Psiioniic rested a hand on the knob, and found it locked, for some reason, he felt relief wash over him. However, Psiioniic instead took a glance down the hall before pulling out a key and slipping it into the hole. The door loosened, it's battle lost as it was shoved open. Signless approached the inside, his body urging him not to. Psiioniic was right. The Red Room, with its walls bricked and its floors crimson was, in fact, red. The only part that spoke otherwise was the thick black permanent shadow on the furthest half. Burnt wood had crept its way across the floors and ended, with its branches still reaching out to grab more. Other than that, the room was completely empty, though it seemed to be filled with a massive void in the shape of an elephant.

"Just sit down there." Psiioniic said, pointing to the wall to his left. 
"What is it?" Signless asked, taking a seat on the floor. The attic-like stench stung his nostrils, causing him to want to leave as soon as possible. "And where did you get a key?"
"I picked up the key awhile ago." Psiioniic said, dismissing the question. He joined Signless against the wall, and opened up his backpack. Pulling out a laptop, he closed his eyes. "I left it up." He said, his voice growing small.
"What?" Signless pressed. He wanted answers. He needed answers.
Psiioniic let out a visible breath of air.
"What I found. My last laptop was destroyed by the Condesce, but pretending to be a supporter for her... company, I was able to see what I had shielded all these years. She doesn't just want to rule the market and economy. She wants all of the markets. All of them. That means engaging in darker things. I don't think she's the only one playing this game either." Psiioniic began to open his laptop.
"Be careful, it's visual, and there isn't a thing the authorities can do to stop it."

Signless gasped at a face that stared blankly into his. Lifeless and deformed.

Chapter Text

Monday, January the Fifteenth.

I have to admit, this roadtrip is nowhere near as horrible as I would have first thought it out to be. Regardless of the fact Ampora has an abundance of his stupid musical CD's, I have been able to take the time to listen in on conversations and catch up on some intriguing drama that will surely come into handy sometime in the future. As the new president of Alternia High School, I am already feeling a surge of power from my peers, and I have to admit to some extent, it's amazing. Vantas, however, still seems to take a disliking to me. He glares at me when he doesn't think I am looking, and constantly has something to critique me on. It's so petty and it's starting to really give me a headache. It's completely obvious that under his blatherskiting excess mishandling of the English language, there is a whirlpool of annoyance that is eventually going to break out of him. I am tempted to get to know him and get him to like me, because for some reason, I feel like I need to gain his trust. It's important, as my mother would say, so make sure that your peers trust you, that way when misfortune raises its ugly head, you won't be the one missing an arm. 
Nevertheless, with the way people hardly want to listen to what I have to say, I see that same issue in him. I am not sure whether or not he notices it, but it might be fun to talk to him. We may have more in common than we think. I just don't know if I should because Meenah would be "all up in my fins" for it. 
Now, for the drama. For one, (this one is obvious), it seems Meulin and Kurloz are still playing the "we broke up" card, but we all know what they do in their spare time. It's not just sign language. They were spotted not long ago in the back of Kurloz's new purple Mazda MX-5 MIATA
 with the loud motor. It was late at night, so when I was cruising my neighborhood to get something from the Stop Mart, I happened to pass by the Makara mansion. I would have passed them if it wasn't for the bubbly laughter erupting from the night-clouded vehicle. It didn't shock me at all that she was smoking pot. Or that they were curled up together in a blanket. Whatever floats their boat.

 

I need to stop with these stupid fish puns.
With the way Kurloz looks at Meulin, anyone with a keen eye could tell you he is still deeply in love with her. Through her effervescent and ailurophilic demeanor, it's difficult to know if she still feels the same way about him. I still need to get to the bottom of him sewing his mouth shut though.

 

Then, there is Latula. She's still super radical, and lots of people like her... she's so cool. She and Mituna have been together for so long, and to be honest, it's shocking she remained with him even after his brain-damage incident. He's still a big asshole, but he and she seem to get along so well together. Mituna often gets picked on at school even more than before, and he was even seen throwing things around in the library (much to my annoyance as the library student-helper). Meenah said he was trying to ride his skateboard down the stairs. She was going to let him, actually trying to get him to hurry up before anyone could stop him, but as fate would have it, Latula came looking for him and found him preparing for flight. She stopped him and prevented what could have been another brain-damaging incident.

Cronus hasn't changed, is still a virgin, and is still completely single.

Porrim and I, since dating, have been very distant, though shockingly, she made me a nice dress for the election that I really love. It was kind of her, but I still wish I never dated her. It's just too awkward now. That's enough on that subject!!

 

Meenah, after being home schooled during High School, finally came back for her senior year, and somehow, though most people think she's destructive, she knows almost everything about everyone. That's probably thanks to me and the sources I gave her. She is the most popular girl in Alternia High, but she's still an outcast. That's how we became friends, though people are starting to like me much more : : : : ).
It is confirmed Vriska's juvenile friends beat Kankri up after school, and they are now spreading rumors about him. Apparently he is now a "Rapey homosexual cross-dresser who messes with boys in the locker room and mutters dirty things under his breath." or the one that he's dysfunctionally retarded. He hadn't been showing up to classes on time anymore, and skips out of gym now. I feel a little bad for him, and that's probably why I want to be so nice to him now despite how annoying he is. He doesn't really talk about it, though he's probably posted on his Tumblr about how offensive it is to make fun of homosexuals or people with mental disabilities. You wouldn't be able to tell through his bible-worthy text anyway. 

 

Finally, the best of them yet, is the hilarious and pathetic romantic triangle between Damara, Rufioh, and Horuss. Damara has been suspecting Rufioh of cheating on her with Horuss, but she isn't sure yet. However, Meenah recently informed me that, indeed, Rufioh is a cheater. She told me not to tell Damara, because she apparently has a plan to make Damara "less of a weak little shrimp." In other words, she's probably going to bully the girl until she finally cracks and kills someone.
Meenah has also been very wordy about no one contacting their parents, much to Jane's complaint. I think I know why that is too. Meenah, doesn't want to acquire Fish N Go. 

This is going to be one long trip.

-Aranea Serket.

Chapter Text

"He said it would take us four hours and it's been seven fucking hours, that's a pretty significant change." Karkat snapped. Terezi watched him pout to the group, thinking about how funny it would be to really mess with him and tell him he was being too loud. She put off that thought when she peered through her ruby glasses at the crisp and deliciously colored blushing pumpkin sky. The sun, probably determining it was too cold to share its light to the world, would soon be going to sleep, leaving half of the world to shiver in the frigid abandonment. The night would soon be looked over with the light of a silver-milked bowl in the sky, its freckles hiding behind smokey oxford clouds and the arms of blue spruce trees.
"It usually takes this long." Xefros said. "They make a lot of stops and we happen to take awhile to get back on bored."

Her eyes brightened, the memory of a recent and suspicious death looming like coronal loops in her mind.
"Karkat, I have a series of unfortunate and potentially upsetting questions to ask you." She said, being sure to keep things professional. Her turned to her, his deep brown eyes widening. She knew there was something there, set deep within him, but he was too much of an egotistical dummy to calm down for once and be somewhat slower with things. His impatience in even his thoughts was sad, but somehow, kind of cute. She pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose. The way he acted made her want to get closer to him, like he was a tough, tough shell to crack.
"What?" He said, biting off the end of the word. She mentally sighed. She longed to comprehend him, but was having a difficult time understanding whether or not he wanted to get to know her back. If he really did like her. Latula was lucky. She was so cool and interesting. Guys always liked her. She was talented, funny, the best at games. Terezi was Terezi. Nothing interesting like that.
"It's about Cecil." She said, placing her elbow on the table and resting her cheek against it. The moment she said his name, Karkat's eyes widened and his cheeks flushed.
"Why the fuck would you want to know any of that?!" He asked, his eyebrows clenching. Whatever he was trying to hide to toughen himself up, it was working. She couldn't tell if it was purposeful, or if he really was just a huge jerk with no filter. Or was it both?
Bleh, curiosity was a hard curse to cope with.
"Karkat, calm down, I am trying to be professional about this. I know this is hard, but we have a murder on our hands." She said, reaching out and patting his shoulder. He looked at her arm, then looked back at her. Reaching up and plucking it off, he rolled his eyes.
"Alright detective Pyrope, what do you want me to tell you? I found Cecil dead in the lake looking like some kind of soapy cretinous swamp monster beat him with its cold, icy, and deformed dick."
She suppressed a laugh, but knew that the situation called for standards obtainable only by those most serious of her job. Like her mother. Still, she couldn't help but notice how worked up Karkat was getting about the entire situation, as though it really bothered him.
Or that he was the murderer.
That one almost made her laugh. Karkat acted tough, but she had never seen him grow physically aggressive.
"Do you think Martin would have done it?" She asked. Karkat crossed his arms.
"Do I look blind to you? Or do you need to take off your glasses to know for sure?" He paused for a second. Just as she was about to say something, he spoke again, this time, his voice quieter.
"I don't know who did it, but whoever it was, it seemed like they were trying to get rid of his group. It might have been the Game Instructor."
Terezi nodded.
"Do you want a hug? You look distraught Mr. Vantas." She asked, planning on jabbing him in the stomach when she got close enough.
"No, I'm fine. I wasn't his friend." He said, pushing denial into his mouth by force.

Spaldon's voice over the intercom came fast and sudden as the train shook slightly and the table wobbled.
"Half an hour until we arrive at the train station in Lynchburg. Unpack everything, we'll have a Dream Party when all is done."
Karkat scoffed.
"Dream Party? What loser named that?"

Chapter Text

Kankri blinked, his eyes stinging before watering. He hadn't realized how long they had been opened at the text in his hands. History, was a subject that always calmed him down. He didn't have a lot of friends, so the books served as a way to not only help him learn, but to give him a kind of faux conversation. 

"So what did she say specifically?" Dirk said, from the front, his shoulders straightening. Cronus had hopped inside the car a few hours previous to this question, but got too caught up in the wind of arguments between Meenah and Latula. Apparently, while Latula was benevolently tapping away on her game, Meenah was trying to get a hold of Mituna to wake him up and otherwise cause an even bigger dispute. Latula didn't like that much and tried to tell Meenah to leave him alone. Kankri had tried to stick himself into the conversation, being as calm as he could to help them. Neither of them paid him any attention.
Cronus joined in , but it was only time before he would find himself being verbally attacked by the two girls. Kankri was sure to stick up for him, as Cronus should have rightfully been defended, but it seemed to do little to end what had started. The argument lasted at least a half an hour and Dirk had, the entire time, been asking about what all was said. To the annoyance of others, Cronus refused to talk until he was apologized to. When he expressed he was doing it out of the kindness of his heart (this happened when no one apologized) he told the group a crazy woman from a house down the road, had mentioned her son went missing at a camp and that she never saw him again. Kankri now, lifted his head, watching Cronus from the front to hear an answer.

"Hovw many times do I havwe to repeat this?" He asked, taking the vehicle on a sharp turn towards the woods.

"Until I get a decent answer." Dirk replied. Cronus let out an exaggerated breath, pulling the bus deeper into the street.

"She just said some useless shit about some camp and her son. She had this stupid speech impediment I vwas vwilling to ovwerlook and accept vwith howv nice I am."
Jane rubbed her temples.

"We get it, you think you're super nice or whatever. Will you just get on to the more important things?"
Kankri assumed she was still upset with missing whatever she was supposed to have been home for. 

"I vwas getting there, calm dovwn chicky. Or do you need my assistance? I like helpi-"

"Ampora, if you don't get to the glubbin point," Meenah began. "I am gonna wring your neck."

Cronus let out a soft laugh that appeared forced. "Okay Okay! Sheesh ladies. So this vwoman I guess hired some PI guy vwho vwas told to drop the case for some reason." He said.

"Why didn't you say that in the beginning?" Dirk asked. "That probably would have been a slightly useful fact in comparison to you talking about her speech problems." 

"Vwill all of you stop harassing me? It's draining." Cronus complained, slowing the bus down. He stopped it, and turned around in his seat.
Kankri looked out the window. They were parked at the end of a gravelled road, the trees at the end shooting their claws to the orange sky.

"Cronus why did you stop?" Kankri asked.

"Vwe don't havwe a lead and nobody is telling me vwhere to go." Cronus answered.

"We aren't going back home." Meenah said.

"Why not?" Jane asked from the front. "My Dad is probably worried sick!" Kankri turned around to meet Meenah's gaze.

"It seems to be in everyone's best interest to go home, Meenah. Don't you see? This is exactly the reason I told you that you weren't cut out for this role. This vindication is truly shocking, I know. Just let me take charge from here, I know what we need to do." He said. He spun around to meet Jane's annoyance that bubbled around her like a heavy aura, he closed his eyes. 
"You, Jane, seem to have a crucial reason as to why you would want to return home. It's something that even in the negligible of our group, that the parents would want their children to return home. This is on important note too. Meenah. Wait excuse me, I would first like to alert the group about the potentialities of what my words may produce. I will be talking about some alarming issues at hand, some of which would obviously be quite triggering to a great majority of you."
He opened his eyes again to see Meenah's teeth were showing and her arms were crossed.
"Vantas, don't you dare."
He ignored her. This was an important lesson that he needed to make aware to the entire group. It was his job to maintain the peace, and he would keep it that way. 

 

"Those triggering topics for the first chapter of the lecture include kidnapping, illegal driving of buses, and HEY!"
He had to break from the important topic when a book smacked him on the head hurting not only the skull it had tried to crush, but his neck. He felt the pain come soon after, throbbing like a heart beating in a chest cavity that was too small.

"Sorry Mouthy, I don't know what came over me." Meenah laughed. He glared at her, his face heating up. His friends began to draw away from his essay to mummer among themselves. Her voice continued, much to his exasperation.
"We need to stay here. Our siblings are lost and the police guys aren't goin to do anyfin to kelp." She resumed. "Even if it means stayin in this smelly bus listenin to Rufioh and Horse Dweeb get it on in the back." She looked around. "We can't just let the miniature versions of us remain missin. You heard the guys up there at the fire, they ain't doin shit aboat this. I have the bucks, so I can buy you weirdos some clothes or whatebber, but don't be expectin any expensive crab, because I am not doin that. We have food and stuff, we're fine. It won't take us that long. We just need to find a lead, and there we go." She said. Kankri's eyes searched the bus. Everyone was paying close attention to her and seemed to be completely engaged in what she was saying. He didn't understand how she could do that so effortlessly.

"Expensive crab?" Roxy asked through a yawn.

"I meant crap." Meenah said. "Like crap can also be crab? Get it?" She smiled. Roxy gave her a thumbs-up before resting her head on Jane's shoulder.

"I guess you're right." Jane said. "I just really wanted to be there for my Dad. Losing our company must have been so hard on him." 
Meenah's face turned.

"Uh... yeah... movin along, I'm hungry. Who wants to be the one to buy all the food this time?"

Kankri pushed his hair out of his face. "Meenah that-"
He was about to start talking when spoke over him. 

"Actually, I think I'll do it. I can't stand to be in this place for much longer."

Kankri took a breath in, trying to repress his anger.
"Meenah."

"Drive us to that burger shack place down the road Ampora." Meenah said.

 

"Uh, Kankri!"

Kankri looked towards the direction of the voice. The same one that belonged to the winner of the school election. 

"What?" He asked, stippling his word, yet still trying to remain professional. She leaned in, closer to him. Close enough that he could see the various shades of deep blue in her eyes, and the sparkles of her caramel eyeshadow.

"Do you feel like you're being overlooked?" She asked. Kankri tilted his head, confused by her random burst of empathy. She either wanted something, or the act itself was synthetic. Otherwise she wouldn't be acting so coy about it as though she was admitting to a murder.

"What are you implying?" He asked. He really didn't like the way she was looking at him. As ridiculous as it even sounded in his head, it was like she was trying to read his mind.

"I just want to help. You seem to be in a constant loop of turmoil and frustration, and talking it out could prove to be a very cathartic mean of recovery that could hopefully cause you to learn to perform better in your public speeches, and possibly understand yourself on a deeper level." 

He didn't really know what to say to that. She sounded almost like his Dad when the guy wouldn't stop going on and on about the fight or the car accident. 
"My speeches are perfectly fine the way they are and carefully outline the rectitude of my general thinking, so thank you, but no thank you." He said, trying his hardest to bite back his tongue. Just being in her presence made him so angry. He preached forgiveness but held grudges like they were the most sacred objects known to man.

"No really, I insist. In order to overcome whatever problem you might be suffering as of now, you need to come to terms on your internal imbalances." 

"I don't have any of those, again, thanks but I'm not interested. In the slightest."
He lifted his chin and took his focus off of her. He wanted nothing to do with Aranea Serket.

Chapter Text

When he felt the school's annex doors slam from behind him, he noticed it seemed much later than three thirty. He looked up at the sky, his mouth falling agape. Psiioniic was already ahead of him, moving towards the back door of the school.

"Signless hurry up!"

Signless ran after him, and both men exploded into the school. Nearly running over various teenagers, they pushed passed the lockers and posters. Their feet slapped the tiled flooring and their lungs filled with the scent of the school's past lunch. Numerous windows from too high on the wall passed their views and too many kids created obstacles for their race.
They reached the front doors, pushing through them like bullets from a gun.

"What is that?!" Signless spat. The silver clouds that were brewing in the air, hovered with weight. They moved quick, like they wanted to swallow the entire town.

"Something's on fire." Psiioniic said, his pace turning into a sprint. "My house, it's probably been burnt down!" He screamed. His voice, however, came out only as a whisper from the crowd of school kids forming a circle around the front lawn. Wherever the fire was, it was at least a few blocks away. 
"Come with me Signless, she must have hacked into something of mine."

Signless did as he said, following his friend to a yellow Toyota. The thing looked seemed to resemble a crushed leaf. Broken and beat around the edges, but otherwise, alike many others. He reached for the door, pulling at a locked handle. Psiioniic struggled to grasp his keys to get them in the car, cursing under his breath. Signless looked at the streets, noting that it must have rained since he was in he annex, they were soaked.
"Are you sure it's your house that's on fire?" Signless asked as the car unlocked. He opened the door, urgent to get in warmth.

"What else randomly catches on fire during a time like this?!" Psiioniic snapped through a lisp. Before Signless could get his seat belt buckled, his friend shoved the key into the ignition and ripped out of the parking lot, causing the vehicle to let out a scream in the process. He held on to his seat.

"Kill us on the road will you." Signless said, clicking his seat belt into place.

"Yeah, really." Psiioniic muttered. Despite the traffic that was building up, Psiioniic rammed his car onto the road, gaining the attention of various honks. 

The sky looked like it had grown ill and given up on shedding color to the world. The cloud that masked it was elephantine and took up a great portion of the sky. It made the snow look like soot and the trees look like hands that sprung from the ground, trying to get a breath of fresh air. The people in their cars seemed irritable, as though they needed to get home to their own personal fire.
Though Psiioniic was driving fast, at least eighty, and far above the speed limit, it still felt slow. It was almost as though the fire had caused time to slow down, but the flame itself was allowed to burn faster than anything.
They turned a road, barely missing the curb. The car bumped, and shook, but that didn't stop the gas pedal from being pushed down. They roared through streets, the smoke becoming even worse.

"It can't be your house." Signless said, breaking a long anticipated silence. Psiioniic began to slow down as lines of officer cars created a boundary around the heart of the fire. Fire trucks wailed as they shed their tears atop the hill at the end of the road.

The Peixes and Ampora mansions were both neighbors, and were both crumbling to the ground as a fire ate its way through it. It boomed through the windows and whipped around the roof. It melted the snow, and the flooding that was once the Peixes extraordinary aquarium created the illusion of a waterfall that had burst into flames. Signless looked at the ground, the water had already reached them, though in small amounts. It hadn't rained.

Psiioniic's eyes were as wide as the moon as stared deep within the flames.
"Let's go to Dolorosa's, tell everyone who's joining us to meet us there." Signless said to him, resting a hand on his shoulder.

"Joining us?" Psiioniic said.

"We're going to start a movement and find the kids."

Chapter Text

The Condesce, shifted in the back of a slick black vehicle, belonging to one of her current workers. Her home, with millions of dollars lost, projected itself like a campfire. 
He had to have been the one to do it. His motive was likely to cure his debt. Or was it the other one? The one who was recently fired.

Maybe, it was none other than her notorious past hitman, trying to get revenge on behalf of his banishment.

Nevertheless, Condesce's eyes didn't move from the flames that poured out of both, she and the Ampora's mansion. The sirens began to hurt her ears, and the light was burning her eyes.
"Take me away." She said, simply. "And find out what Makara was doing at this time."

Chapter Text

The day had been excruciatingly bitter, but that wasn't a problem for him, because like any other good crew member (it wasn't a club, as he had explained to the rest of the CREW an insufferable amount of times), he wore his coat. 
The room that had been smothered by a deep gray paint and harsh black leather couches served as their hospitality until they knew what better to do.

"Deuce." He said to a fellow member, one whose memory lasted about the same time as twenty-five-cent bubblegum. When the simpleton didn't hear him, he did what any knowledgeable man would do, and got up from the couch to take a precious clock heirloom, rip it out of the hands of a minority, and progress to open the balcony window to throw it out and onto the cold cement.
He did just that, Deuce's hands releasing it almost immediately. Clocks were perhaps the most annoying things man had ever invented. He didn't need time, he made his own time.

Deuce appeared indifferent to the annihilation of the clock. Spades Slick, a well-dressed and clever man, narrowed his eyes.
"Aren't you going to say something?" He asked, tilting his head. His hat began to slide off, but he caught it before it did. He had spent extensive time in practicing that damn move. His head always seemed to involuntarily slop to the side in times of stupidity, just as his teeth always showed. It was actually really asinine.
Deuce just looked at him with his stupid baby-faced eyes like he didn't know what to say. 

Then, as though he were the person below, unmistakably getting struck in the head by a mysteriously falling clock, he felt something boil from within him. It was something that pulled at him to take action.

"Where are the other morons?" Slick asked. Deuce thought for a moment, his eyes taking a surprising interest at the wall. His tongue flicked out from between his lips as his jaw clenched. He swayed, as though he was really putting his mind to the test. When his eyes flashed and the tongue resided back into its warm, slobbery chamber, Slick knew he was about to speak. He only hoped for a decent answer.

"I don't remember." He finally said. Slick let out a sigh that was loud enough to broadcast his annoyance.

"Well we need to find them. We need to kill that principal guy, he's on our list. Then we have another person, but this person is standing in the way of a lot of things." He said, a smile falling to his hands. "Once she's been wiped out, we can have an empire at last."

Chapter Text

"The Ronasynn Motel was designed and built by Brady Ronasynn in 1967, featuring all the new retro designs of that time." Aranea said, her voice nearly squeaking at the news. Kankri let out a sigh, growing irritated by her constant usage of obsolete facts.
"He grew up in poor family just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia in 1929. He quickly began to realize that his parents were losing their house, so they began to jump from hotel to hotel, all of which sent them spiraling into a deeper pool of debt. Time went by, and Mr. Ronasynn grew into a young man. His family still being hotel-bouncers and penny-scrapers, began to rely on him. Tragedy broke however when a gas pipe broke in the basement of a hotel they were staying in in 1943. His family escaped, but his father died trying to get the money they had saved up so they could by a house. The money was never recovered, and his father perished in the flames. That turned Mr. Ronasynn into a very ambitious being, stopping at nothing to help others who, like his family, didn't have much. He took a loan and built a motel out of it, seeing an opportunity with the way people were beginning to go on long roadtrips during that time. He had grown up in the depression era, so this was a big deal to him. It became very popular almost immediately. There was a bar with fountain drinks, rooms were ten cents to stay in a night, and breakfast through dinner was cooked and maintained. The staff of the motel even had bedrooms! Though they would now be deemed unsuitable for living in, due to their poor size and the fireplaces that are filled with asbestos. This man made quite the legend out of himself, and even had the local high school and university named after him. This hotel has been in plenty of books, and knowing it was so close to home, I just had to look it up!" Aranea finished. Kankri looked at the window to see her smile proudly to herself.

"Serket." Meenah said. "That was actually a decent story. Maybe you should learn less fishtails from now on so you get on with the interestin bits." She yawned, stretching her dark arms into the air, then allowing them to rest on her jeans.

"I don't know whether or not to take that as an insult or a compliment." Aranea responded. "And fishtails?"

Meenah sighed. "Fishtails, details. You know?"

Cronus pulled in to the driveway of a small shoebox-like building. It was constructed out of wood and had a balcony that looked more like a poorly constructed treehouse.
"It's sure going to be different." Cronus said, parking his car. "Sleeping in some sleazy motel. I thought you said this place was the hot kicks."

Aranea rolled her eyes. Kankri couldn't see it, but he could feel it.
"Yeah, decades ago moron." 

In the mirror, Kankri could see that Cronus had placed his hand to his chest and dropped his jaw. The setting sun shone on his face, accentuating his features with a bloody red glow.
"You really are so feisty. It's really attractivwe vwhen you act like that." He said, his lips curling into a smile. Aranea let out a heavy breath, her shifting body making the seats of the bus crack. Cronus peeled around to look at everyone.
"Okay, who can go in this time?" He asked.

No one raised their hand. Kankri would have, but he didn't want to venture out into the cold and risk being noticed by anyone. It was likely his Dad had already reported him missing, due to his lack of capability to show up to school at a punctual manner. 

"Vwhat's that?" Cronus asked. 

"What's what?" Meulin responded, curling out of her blanket in the back seat. Her hair was a complete mess (as it usually was), and her eyes looked jaded, as though she had been asleep. Kurloz, next to her, was asleep. His mouth, red and swollen from the strings that were sewn into the holes, seemed to have skipped the possibility of an intense infection, that Kankri thought was inevitable. His painted face, orange from the sun, and still peaceful, continued to have a malevolent darkness to it.

"I hear music. And it's not mine." Cronus said. The bus went silent, and surely enough, the beat of what appeared to be a remixed song about an unknown topic surfaced. Cronus' eyes traced the seats, and the last place they came to was yet another slumbering member of the bus group.

"You, blondey." Cronus said, reaching his hand over to the seat behind him, and reaching for Dirk. He managed to grab an earmuff, and pull it away, only to smack it back on his ear. Dirk shot up just as the headset was about to collide into him, and ripped it off.

"What, the fuck man. Have you ever heard of personal space?" He asked, picking up his abused technology. Ignoring the question, Cronus pushed his hair back.

"Hovw vwould you, like to-"

"I'm not interested." Dirk interjected.

"Vwhat?" Cronus asked. "I mean, geez, I didn't evwen get the chance to ask. I vwas just going to see if you could check up in to the motel."

Dirk raised his head and peered out the window.
"Yeah, I can probably do that." He said, reaching for the door lever. "Jake, I think you should come with me." 

"What?" Jake said, his voice soft from the lack of talking. "Oh, yes right, I'll come." 

Chapter Text

The Condesce, though her house had burnt down just hours earlier, raised a hand to ring the doorbell to a door that wasn't her own. He had called for a personal business meeting, and she was determined to be there so she knew he wasn't making any decisions when she was in charge. 
The door, was oddly shaped, just as the house was. One side was brick. Its ceilings were high and its chimney puffed out a smoke that blended in with the unsettled ashen fog. The door was enormous and triangular, its wood painted charcoal black. 
The other side, however, as a bright purple. It's ceilings stood lower, and it had a circular white door. The man claimed the door just led to a spare room, but walls inside seems much smaller than what they should be. She was certain he had an entire second house, hidden within the first.

The bell chimes echoed through the many halls of the mansion.

It wasn't long, as the wind scratched her unprotected cheeks, that the door opened to a tall figure with long, messy black hair. His smile was too large for his face, unnatural, for it was painted on. His eyes were crazy. It was the only word she could think to describe them. Completely insane. He wore a suit of black, and his slick dress shoes were covered in paint.

"Come in." He said, stepping away from the door. The Condesce raised her chin, and stepped inside the warm room. Instantly, she could see the fireplace stretching from one side of the room to the other. A fire burned, and she wanted to put it out, fearing this mansion too would be set ablaze. 

The man shut the door and locked it, his breaths so still, he appeared to not be breathing. 
"Let's go to the kitchen to discuss the plan." He said, turning around and gesturing to a golden arch that led to another room. His shadow on the cramped brick walls looked inhuman. It was a different him, a darker him. The Condesce, though seeing this, didn't mind. He was wrapped around her finger. 

"Certainly." She said, following him through the arch and into a grand dining area. The kitchen was triangular, alike the door. The table was set so that it was diagonal, and every circus portrait on the wall was purposely hung crooked. A single flower was set on the light oak surface, its vase too large and detailed for its simple existence. She pulled out a chair, and sat down, smoothing her cardigan. The man in front of her did as she did, and sat in front of her. His eyes met hers, and they remained there the entire time he spoke. 

"It's been difficult finding people in this town for the company." He said. Not a single muscle twitched in his face, which was dangerous. His confidence was too high, and she was going to have to find the right time to strike and destroy it. "It's going to take some time before I can find anyone. In the meantime, I have someone who can possibly help us find the kids."

Her eyes flashed. 
"Your sons are missing as well?"

He nodded.
"Yes, and I don't think it's a coincidence all of them went missing together."

She paused for a second, then raised her eyebrows. "Meenah likely convinced her friends to leave with her so she didn't have to acquire my company." She said. She knew it was the truth. Meenah had been complaining about it nonstop for three years straight. This course of action wasn't out of character for her.

"I've talked to some of the parents. Everyone who is missing are directly tied to the kids at the camp."
The man's gaze finally broke, and he turned his head down so that his eyes followed his hands into the pocket of his suit. He pulled out a card.
"His name is Cal. He was one of the Minute Men. He knows how to track people."

The Condesce took the card.
"I was half expecting you to pull out Jack's card." She said, pocketing it.

"His and I's alliance is over." The man said. "If you would like, I will make something to eat."
She nodded. 

"That would be great."

The man got up, exiting to the kitchen. As soon as his shadow left the room, she stood up. She couldn't shake Jack off her mind, since the night he had betrayed her. It was the last straw with him. According to the man whose house she was now in, he had killed him. She only hoped that it was true. If it wasn't, she would take care of him herself. She walked over to the arch, attempting to leave the room.

"Would you like a coffee?"
She jumped at the voice behind her. The voice that had oddly been very calm through the entire meeting.

"That would be great, Makara."

Chapter Text

They had been dating for at least two months now, and now they were on their way to check into some old hotel. This wasn't what he had in mind for an adventure. In fact, it was far from that. He was however, far from home. The events leading up to this could translate what lied ahead into some really friggen awesome trip. He could be like Beau in "Life on the Line". There may not be any super monsters, but lighting was still an option! So were electric lines and... pluming?

 

"We should probably make up some fake names." Dirk said as they reached the door. Jake pushed the wind-fluffed hair out of his face and followed his best guy-friend through the jagged stained wood doorway. "I wouldn't be surprised if the authorities wanted to track us down to ask questions. As of now my name is Clif and your name is Josh."

When Dirk opened the door, leaving room for Jake to step through, Jake felt the inclination to yawn at such a drab environment. It looked like his grandmammy's house. Everything had probably been sitting in the same place for ages. The walls were of wood and had pictures in tacky frames set in random places, following no pattern. There was a small front desk in front of them, atop it a lamp with a crème glass covering that whisked light, drowning all the colors that could have been in the room. A set of servant stairs were placed to the left of it, and a door resided behind it. They stood on a thin brown carpet, looking at a woman behind the desk. 

"Approach her." Dirk murmured. "And don't start asking a bunch of questions." 

Jake nodded. The lady seemed nice enough.
"Will do!" He immediately stepped forward, the woman snapping her head up to glare at him through her deep sockets. 

"Can I help you?" She asked, her voice aquiver in such the way as old people's voices always were.

Jake nodded. "Yes you may, I was hoping to get a room for my best bro and I to stay in."
The woman peered over Jake's shoulders, her cheeks turning scarlet.

"How many beds?" She asked. "Because each room only has one bed."

Jake laughed, and perhaps laughed a little too hard. 
"Is that so? I think two rooms then will do the trick." 

The woman nodded and opened a book on her desk.
"How long will you be staying for?" She asked. Jake peered behind him at Dirk. He seemed to be completely out of it, just staring into oblivion. 

"Hey!" He said, waving his arms in a way that definitely looked ridiculous. What could he say? A guy needed to get this planning business down.

Dirk snapped out of it, and he turned his head so that Jake could see himself in reflection of the glasses. He walked up to Jake, which was surprising because Jake was far from expecting him to actually help. In fact, he actually thought he was going to be told that this was some lesson to teach him the basics of life. As Dirk joined his side, Jake felt his stomach wad up, but not in the way that it should, so to speak. He was actually ashamed with the way he was beginning to feel. He looked behind him, hoping something could come through the doors and help him avoid whatever this was.

Nothing came.

"What do you want Josh?" Dirk asked.

"Well CLIF. She was asking how long WE want to stay." Jake raised his eyebrows for further emphasis.

"We need two rooms for two weeks." Dirk said. 

"The rooms are ten dollars a day, but for each week spent, you are charged fifty dollars. It will come out to a hundred dollars." She said. "Your names are Josh and what?" 

"Josh and Clif." Jake responded. 

"I'll write you down. You have until midnight to pay." She said, yawning. 

"We'll have your bank covered!" Jake said.

The woman ignored him, and opened a drawer in her desk. 
"Your rooms are room numbers 13 and 14." She said, handing them two keys. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"You're lucky." Dirk said. "We were placed on the first floor. We can sneak you all in through one of the windows."

Jane let out a small breath.
"As lucky as you say we are. We're still riding in an old bus trying hopelessly to find our missing family members." 
She looked at the sky. The bleak sun was beginning to disappear behind a set of wooded mountains. 

"Lighten up Jane," Jake said, nudging her. She jumped, not expecting the sudden gesture. She looked at him and the way he held himself with a blanket of confidence. He never seemed to doubt anything.

She just wished, she could get over him.

"The windows are unlocked, you can pick your room, there are only two beds and we rented it out for two weeks, so those who get the beds tonight, will have to switch with someone else." Dirk said. His hair looked red in the rosy sunlight. 
If they weren't runaways on such a mission, this would have been a scene Jane would have wanted to remember with passion. Dirk, with the way his glasses reflected the poverty-struck streets. Jake with his excited smile and positive attitude. Roxy with the way she wasn't completely out of it. Even the others, who she didn't know as well, were like flowers drowning in water.
Though there was snow, it wasn't as bad outside as it had been just days before. It was actually starting to warm up. The air was fresh and the day completely alive, though close to an end.

She walked with the others, all of them behind the building. A ladder stretched up to the second floor, and an awkwardly long chimney resided at the roof. The ceiling looked as though it had begun to rot, and the bricks at the bottom appeared deteriorated. 

"We're right here." Dirk said, turning a corner.
They were close to the woods, and she could have sworn she saw a deer. It must have ran away as fast as it had come, because she didn't see anything else. Jane put her hands in her coat pocket, hoping it would warm them up as a breeze slammed past her. She imagined what it would be like if her ears just fell off. 
She would have to buy a pair of earmuffs when she could.

In turning the corner, she watched Dirk hoist himself into the window. Jake made a gesture to place his hands on the sill to pull himself inside, when something came flying out. Jake leaped back, clutching his chest. Dirk's head peeped out staring at Jake.
"Are you okay? I thought you would have been able to dodge that easier." He said. 

"Yeah, me too." Jake huffed, turning to look at the object. Jane followed his gaze to see a chair. It was covered in snow now, and completely soaked.

"Do we have to take so long?" Kankri whined, crossing his arms. "It's freezing out here, and I don't know if any of you are aware, but many illnesses are strung from the web that comes with winter."

Jane rolled her eyes. The guy was so annoying. He had likely never been told "no" his entire life.

Rufioh bent over and plucked the chair from the ground, carrying it to the window, and setting it down just in front. He stood on top of it, and clamored inside.

"I knovw vwhat you mean." Cronus said to Kankri. "It's ridiculous outside." 

Jane took in a breath, and moved quickly to the chair so that she could get away from their annoying voices. Half of the kids in this group were the privileged type. Spoiled rich kids whose parents feared them. 
Jake stepped away from the chair, as though he had planned on using it next.

"Ladies first!" He said, laughing.

"Oh, thank you." She mumbled. She reached her leg up to step on it, and just as she was about to bring up the other leg, her foot slipped out from below her.

It was almost slow motion. She knew what was going to happen as her back smacked the slippery wood and her hands stretched in front of her to catch whatever was around.

Laughter erupted from the people around her and she felt her face grow hot. She rubbed her head and looked up when a shadow formed over her. Jake had reached out his hand to help her up. She grabbed it, and regained her posture, but let go as soon as possible to not make it awkward.

"Janey, are you okay?" Roxy asked, appearing beside her.

"I'm fine." Jane said, her words bitten at the end. The embarrassment continued to crawl all over her. She tried again, this time holding on for dear life. 

She put her hands on the sill, and pulled her body through the cramped opening. When she was halfway through, she realized she didn't know where to go from there. 
Jane began to panic slightly, wiggling in her place and trying to get to a decent position.

Her mind then ventured to another land. It most have looked ridiculous from behind. And who was behind her? Jake! But she couldn't like him anymore and she was just being completely crazy and this was stupid and what was she doing SHE NEEDED TO GO!
Jane pointed her head towards the ground and stuck her hands out, seeping out of the window, and headfirst to the floor.
Her head touched the warm carpet, and she pulled her feet through, ending up on her hands and knees and breathing heavily from the over-complication.

"Jane." Dirk said, appearing in front of her. "What, was that?"
She looked up at him, almost able to see under his glasses. She squirmed over to the chipped green dresser, and pulled her wobbling body up. 
The room was nice and heated, with a small television that still had an antenna. It's antenna soared high, and looked like it was at least two feet tall. It looked funny because the television was probably a sixth of what hers was at home, and that one wasn't even that big.
There was a single bed with gold floral print on it and a fluffy white pillow. Beside the bed, there was a door that she assumed was either the bathroom or the closet, and a door that led to the hall. 
A kitchen was across the bed and looked simple. There was a ragged counter with an old tan fridge, a white sink, and a single wall cabinet. The electric outlet beside the two-seated dining table had its cover ripped out, and a single light was set overhead. It was one of the dewy lights her grandmother had in her kitchen. It made the room glow a soft orange, and always reminded her of early bedtimes and well made beds.
Another door was between the fridge and the table. It's doorknob was broken off, and she could only hope for it to be the closet.

She jumped when something crashed behind her. Turning around, Kankri had landed in a way that was much worse than she. He had landed on his back and was now holding his arm. She walked over to help him up, lending a hand, but he pushed it away, pulling himself up. His face was bloodshot, and his eyes looked as though they were ablaze with anger. He turned towards the window and leaned his head out.

"WHAT WAS THAT EVEN FOR?! I WAS DOING JUST FINE ON MY OWN, YOU HAD NO RIGHT TO TOUCH ME." 

"You were taking forever!" A female voice echoed back. 

Jane turned to look at Dirk. From the looks of it, he felt the same annoyance as she did.

Chapter Text

"WE'VE ARRIVED TO OUR DESTINATION!" 
The speakers roared like they were going to burst as the train came to a shrieking stop. Karkat stood up, his eyebrows clenched. He looked out the window to see a town lit up like a myriad of dancing candles. Music began to fill the quiet void. It sounded like a war between trumpets and violins. Brass and String.  
Xefros jumped up from his seat, making a gesture with his hands as he flew towards the door. He left his coat behind, and slammed it open. Though he jumped at the sound it created, he still sprinted out of the caboose. 

Karkat looked at his friends, all of which appeared to have smiles drawn on their face with crayon. They ushered themselves outside, nearly skipping. Karkat scoffed, and walked a slow pace behind them. He stuffed his hands in his pant pockets, and waited for the moment he would regret stepping into the cold. He didn't get what was so exciting about some stupid circus that was struggling financially. His friends looked like maggots who had just found a fresh carcass to call home. They wiggled out of the openings and into others.

He looked back behind him, surprised Sollux wasn't even there. He had probably been pulled out against his will by his fourteen hundred girlfriends. 
Karkat turned his focus back on the door and stepped outside, the music somehow louder. He gritted his teeth and slammed the door shut behind him. When he jumped off the stairs of the caboose, something strong grabbed ahold of his arm and ripped him into a crowd of color.

There was a man with an accordion, a woman with a violin, a scrawny guy with a guitar, and someone of a gender he couldn't tell, playing a saxophone. An old man with suspenders and no shirt was playing the harmonica and someone had a stand-up base.

He turned around, seeing a young boy behind him with a set of marching drums, and a chubby kid with a trombone. 

"What the fuck is this?!" He asked. A hand patted his shoulder.

"This, is the unwanted remains of a dying multicolored town." Dave said. Karkat clenched his fists.
"Hey!" Dave signaled to the trombone player. The man looked at him and smiled the creepiest smile Karkat had ever seen in his life. The guy was missing multiple teeth and had patches of hair growing around his mouth. His lips were so red, he probably had a disease.
"This little man wants to play your trombone." 

Karkat's jaw dropped.
"No, get that thing away from me!" He said, moving away from the trombonist who was now approaching him.

"Karkat, don't hurt the guy's feelings!" Dave said, laughing as he grabbed Karkat's scarf and pulled him to the trombonist.

"No! Let go of me!" Karkat yelled, trying to pull back on his scarf. 

"Here." The man said, handing Karkat his trombone. 

"I don't want that thing!" Karkat said. "What is this? I thought we were throwing the stupid party after you set up your freakshow." 

The man raised his eyebrows.

"Suit yourself." He shrugged.

Karkat glared at Dave and tore his scarf away from his hands. Dave just stood their laughing like he had just pulled the coolest stunt in the history of the world's stupidest stunts created by dog-licking losers who played with themselves on a day to day basis.

"Man, you are relentless." Dave said. Karkat growled, and turned away, searching for someone worth talking to. 
None of them were his Dad or Kankri. 

He rolled his eyes at the sappy thought, and stored it away for later.

"There you are." 
He looked up and saw Spaldon approaching him. 
"They said you were the elected leader of your team?" He said.

"Yeah?" Karkat said. "So what?"
Spaldon pulled his suit jacket closer to his skinny body. Karkat looked past him at the town. Brick structures were close to the ground. Mountains were shot from the ground, dead trees were permanently twisted.

"I need you to take up as a temporary ring leader on occasion. You'll have to preform. I'm about to make an announcement calling your group in, so be listening. Dinner will be served here soon, and your group doesn't have to help with set-up. It won't always be like that, so don't get comfortable."

Before Karkat could snap at the guy and tell him there was no way in hell he was performing, Spaldon left, walking at a super speed parallel to the train. Karkat shook his head and leaned against one of the compartments.

Tents were being brought out, but they were enormous. There seemed to be a place for everything though, and he couldn't help but consider how old the circus had to be for it to have its own stop-stations. 
People of all sorts were helping move the elephantine pinstriped thing. It laid on the ground like the bleeding carcass of a melted candy-cane. 
Karkat's eyes traced over his friends. They all appeared so happy, yet sad at the same time. Everyone was having a good time, like they were here on their own free-will. 
He watched the people dance, sing, and play. A fire was started, songs were sang, and stories were told.
He didn't join them though. Not yet.

 

He didn't know how long he had been standing there, watching the tent rise to block out the dimming sky, when a voice roared over the crowd.

"WILL THE NEW ARRIVALS, THE DREAM CATCHERS, PLEASE REPORT TO TRAILER NINE, WILL THE DREAM CATCHERS COME TO TRAILER NINE. YES THAT MEANS THE NEW PEOPLE."
Karkat had never thought about it, but Spaldon seemed to speak with a transatlantic accent. 
And Dream Catchers? He knew it. It was definitely this guy giving the names around here.
He let out a huff of breath, annoyed he had to move from his spot. He walked down the trailers, counting from fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten,
nine.

Everything was going fast that night, and for some reason, it felt like his life was washing away. 
He stood there, in front of Spaldon, both of them waiting for his idiot friends to hurry up.
They were walking together, the most of them, laughing and exchanging transient glee. 

"Come on in." Spaldon said, folding into the darkness of Trailer Nine. Karkat pulled himself up onto the stairs, and was about to enter the room when he saw a rusted thermometer planted on the wall. 
It was thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit, much warmer than he had expected.

The wood creaked and shrieked from below him, curling in pain at his weight. He entered the room, a nice area with a couch and a table. A green lamp was lit in the far corner leaving the room overcast in a murky glow. A comely demesne, it felt like he was bobbing on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Eerily safe yet dangerous. One wrong move and everything would come crashing to an end.

The room began to fill, and Spaldon started to pace. 
"I am going to assign roles, then you can be on your way. Gamzee, you are joining the clowns."

Karkat looked at his friend who smiled drunkenly. "That sounds motherfuckin wicked bro."
Spaldon continued, reading from a list.

"Karkat, you're going into the ring leader gig, and potentially dancing."

"What? No way, fuck that." Karkat said, attempting to walk out of the room.

"If you want to stay here, you're going to do as I say." Spaldon said. His voice was gentle and soft, but somehow stern all the same. Karkat rolled his eyes. He wanted so badly to argue, but if he kept his mouth shut, he'd be able to leave the room faster.

"Terezi, we want you on knife throwing. You seemed like the type."

This, this was it.
"You're putting the blind girl on knife throwing? This is actually retarded." 

"Karkat shut up." Terezi said. "Sure Mr. Spaldon! I think that would be fun." She smiled a deep smile. Karkat raised his eyebrows and shook his head. There was no way this guy was serious.

"Vriska, you can either be a dancer, or go into aerial hoops. Same with Feferi. You both have the shape to do either. Eridan, you are a dancer, Sollux-" 

"I'll work behind stage. I'm good with electronics." He lisped.

"Oh, well okay, that might work actually." Spaldon said, scribbling something onto his paper. Karkat threw his hands up.

"So mouth impediment is aloud to pick what he does but I-" He stopped when Spaldon glared at him.
                "Yeah. Okay. I get it."

"John, you and Dave would be useful in the dancing compartment as well. Jade, I think you and Nepeta would enjoy the animals. You can help take care of them. Rose, you and Kanaya look like you enjoy makeup so both of you can learn from that compartment. Tavros, you can help with the games. The stands and whatnot. Aradia, I think I would like you to collect tickets, and later help out with awards. Equius, you look strong and we haven't had a Strongman in a long time, so if you could do some cool stuff, that would be great. I believe that's all for now. This next act you all will just be cleaning up. But we will train you."
He paused for a second, then turned a page in his notebook. "Oh! I have your trailer numbers where you will be staying. The trailers are big, and lucky for you a lot of our people aren't with us, so there is more room than usual. John, Dave, Karkat, Sollux. You are in Train Trailer 2. Jade, Nepeta, Feferi, Aradia, you are all in trailer 3. Eridan. Equius, Tavros, and Gamzee, you will be in Trailer 3. Trailer 4 is Rose, Kanaya, Terezi, and Vriska. Any questions?" Spaldon asked. Eridan raised his hand.

"Do I havve to havve a room wwith-"

"Yes, you do." Spaldon answered.  "Alright, you all can leave now." He said, smiling. "I hope you make a family here."

Everyone began to murmur. Karkat just wanted to leave. The day had been long and all he wanted was a good sleep.
He watched Terezi exit. Part of him, wanted to follow her, and hug her. He didn't know why, he just really felt like there was something he had to do.

His friends began to leave the room, making a suffocating environment less unbearable. He was about to step out when Spaldon tapped him on the shoulder. Karkat spun around, hoping this wasn't some asshole trying to kill him again.

"If you hear the rumors, about the other group. Ignore them."

"What?" Karkat asked. 

"Go on, dinner should be ready." Spaldon said. He was basically shoving Karkat out of the room. When Karkat was far enough to be locked out, he let out a sigh. 

Jumping off the train stairs and onto the gravel, he saw Terezi, just slightly away, looking at the sky. He inhaled slightly, building up his courage. He was a leader. He could do this.

The sun, disappearing, bleeding out all over the sky like the yoke of an egg spreading over an antique blue plate. Its red hue made Terezi's hair look like it was on fire. Her eyes, glew from above her freckled cheeks. Her pointed chin was kissed by the light, and yet, half of her seemed to be engulfed in the darkened parts of the sky. 
The dark areas still had stars though, and the were hidden deep within her.

Karkat moved so that he stood beside her. She looked up at him, her pupils growing wider. He hoped what he was about to do wasn't going to completely strike him back with a violent whiplash. The wind fluttered by them and highlighted her hair with the ability to fly. He held her close, so that she wouldn't be as cold.
He then smiled at her, genuinely smiled, and she reflected that smile like the clearest mirror he had ever seen. He reached his hand down so that it rested just atop her warm cheek. He hesitated, stuck on her eyes. 
She, however, seemed to know what was going to happen. Just as another breeze swept over them, she placed her hand onto his jaw, and pulled him closer. His eyes closed, and his lips connected with hers. 
Terezi's lips were soft, but not in an overbearing way. They were just right. 
He didn't know what to do with his hand, so he kept it on her face. He felt inclined to pull her even closer, but he couldn't do it. He was somehow afraid of messing up the moment he had always wanted. 
His stomach felt like butterflies were repopulating like cancer cells. They were filling him like a balloon, and he thought he might float.
They parted, but just for a moment, because this time, he kissed her. She seemed shocked by it, but he didn't let that stop him. Moving his hand from her cheek, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it. 

Then, he released her. He let one last smile slip through his lips as he looked at her, standing in front of him. It was cold, but he felt warm, and he could tell she did too. She let out a small laugh, and wrapped her arms around his waist. He paused, just for a moment.

This didn't feel like the romantic comedies, this felt like everything.

Chapter Text

   He stood, facing the bathroom mirror. His reflection a dewy ghost, his mouth a secret shown shut. The gray water that seeped out of the sink in a never ending beat of drips was beginning to annoy him. 

It was, however, nothing. Nothing that compared to what his plan was. He thought he could escape it. How foolish he was, thinking he was safe.
He was never safe from him. His father was always there, and if not in person, then in a different form. Mocking him. Mocking Gamzee. Mocking them all. Puppets, they were, puppets to him and to everyone else. It was the only way, he said. The only way for the Mirthful Messiah to reign once more.

And if his Dad sent who he thought he was sending, the night visions would only get worse. 

He didn't know what he would do.

Kurloz stared at himself in the mirror once more. His dark hair curled around his face. His facepaint was growing damp from under his eyes.
He didn't want to hurt them. He didn't want to be driven into insanity. He couldn't speak, however. If his Dad were to find out about the untying of his mouth, he would be sent for death.

He listened to the buzzing in the background. His friends, talking, whining, complaining like the motherfucking children they were.
But there was one voice that was always louder than the others. It was a sweet deafened voice. She was pure, and that was important. 
He moved from the mirror, turned off the light, and sat in the dark windowless room, his head against the locked door. The television had been turned on. On it, was a story he already knew was coming. He knew the story, before anyone. The burning of the Peixes mansion.

Meenah would be glad she had chosen today to attend the trip. Otherwise, she could have been within the house when the fire started. 

Kurloz's head throbbed, and he cradled it in his hands, his eyes watering once more. They dripped like the leaky faucet, never ending annoying gray drops.

Chapter Text

Dinner was okay, but she was better. She didn't have uncomfortable fold up chairs and loud chewing involved in her.
She was perfect, in every way.
Her smile, her grace, her beauty. The way she walked and the way she talked. The way her eyes were so full of life despite her vision impairment. The way she dressed in some of the craziest clothes, yet managed to look so good in them.
And he had to protect her. 

He was aware of how stupid he sounded, even in his head, but he couldn't help it. Looking at her from under the stars was more special than seeing the shooting stars that hid below the indigo veil any day. Or night, he supposed.
 He wondered if the sun would one day be a shooting star.

Then, he mentally slapped himself for his brief stupidity.
Karkat wondered how he had never noticed her before she started walking to the bus. Before they became friends, and before the game. It had seemed like they knew each other forever. 

Part of him held him back. He had drug her into this and tore her from the safety of her family. He had done this to all of his friends, and now all of them were facing a consequence. All because he wanted to win and wanted to be better than an unfortunate boy whose body was dumped into the lake.

Karkat opened his eyes, into a pitch black room that blanketed him with a cold that ripped at his skin. The site was too much.

He tried to think of happy thoughts. Like when he first saw Terezi walking down his street. Like when he accidentally cuddled her in her treehouse. Like when he kissed her tonight.

He moved, knowing Sollux, Dave, and John were somewhere in the room with him. It made him somewhat uncomfortable. The trailer was small, placing them close together. Though they all had their own sleeping areas. The couch, the floor, the bed, and the hammock, he knew it wouldn't be long until the softer surfaces were shared. He was lucky to get the couch this time. The windows needed redone, they leaked bitter air. The floors were scraped beyond whatever repair sanding did. The walls were smoke-stained, and it smelt like an attic.

Still, he was here with Terezi, and one of these nights, he was going to go out and see her.

Chapter Text

There was something about him that she couldn't stop thinking about. It could be that his extreme flippiant and hilariously adorable attempts at being a hotshot were permanently lodged into the sweet spots of her brain, or it could be that he was so cute when he was sleeping. 

Terezi turned in her bed, her red hair falling over her eyes.
It ran deeper than that. So much deeper.

Despite only knowing him for so little, he had always seemed to take an interest in her, something not many had done. It was always Latula who got the attention. Latula who was the pretty one. 
Latula who was the best.

Yet Karkat seemed to push past that, and really like her for her. He had his moments (Oh God he had his moments), but nevertheless, she could never exit her mind.  He stuck up for her when people were rude, he protected her, and most of all, she felt secure around him. She felt like she saw something that many others didn't see. Something he hadn't expressed yet. He was a complete softy who acted like a total jerk the majority of the time. With her though, even though he could be completely rude and really annoying, she felt like she was finally something special. Not even "something" but "someone."
And he was cute.
Very cute.

And, he kissed her. He actually kissed her.

She smiled, turning in the uncomfortable hammock again, remembering the night at her house when his arms of awkward wood slapped against her side and pulled her into the stuffed belly of a mighty leader.  

She couldn't wait to make fun of him for that.

Chapter Text

It was almost completely void of light in the girl's room. Meenah had awoken to whispers just outside her door. Leaning against it, completely still, she listened.

"What if she finds out?" A voice said, but it was far from worried. It sounded more like a scandalous exchange. Meenah turned her head to look back into the room. There was no moon out that night, just a silver glow from beyond the clouds. No one was moving, that she could see. She wished she had her phone, then she could really have this under control. Little did everyone know, she had thrown all of their devices into the river at the first gas station stop when she went to buy food. Even her own. It pretty much completely sucked that all the people she had brought knew exactly what she was doing, now she couldn't leave any of them out! This was a mission for a bunch of people anyway. Her mother should be proud. 

"She won't. Who would have guessed, a football player and a wallflower." Another voice followed. Meenah crimped a smile. She wrapped her hand around the doorknob and pulled open the door just a crack. This would be just perfect, into getting the weakest part of her team stronger. 

There they were. Nitram and Zahhak. Fishin for each other's love. 
Meenah shook her head, trying to forget the awful pun that had surfaced. 
Rufioh was against the wall, smiling, and Horuss had his fingers under his chin. Although she would have usually jumped out to make fun of them for this, she knew they needed to keep it going on just for a little while longer. She cracked the door shut again, and smiled. This was perfect.

Chapter Text

He stood up, straightened his back, then, in deciding he didn't want to be in the room anymore, crept to the door. He stepped over Cronus and glided past the table. The floors creaked, and the walls seemed to have something that moved within them. To abate the noise, he had earlier determined which part of the room was the loudest. Kankri looked behind him, before touching the doorknob. He was deft in turning it so that he wouldn't wake anyone in the group.

This new bad habit had been something he originally didn't intend to develop. It started small. Trying to convince Cronus not to light the damn thing. That then escalated to he himself trying one to see how easy it was to stop. 
In the stress of his Dad and the school's idiotic campaign, he had tried another, this one just to spite himself.
It wasn't until the third one that he actually began to crave them. He was trying to stop, he really was. It was just difficult in a time like this. 
He didn't want anyone to know though, because that would completely kill his reputation. That, was beyond the opposite, of what he wanted or needed. 
Kankri looked behind him one last time, to make sure no one was moving. Somehow, they all appeared to be sleeping like babies. He turned back, opened the door, and nearly choked on himself.

There were many things that happened in that moment. The first, being the door to the girl's room closing after Meenah's braid was poking out. The second thing was the shadow coming up the stairs. The third thing had to be the worst of all. Horuss and Rufioh were together at an awkwardly close encounter. Kankri slid through the door and was about to approach them to ask what they were doing when the head of Cronus popped up. Kankri paused and looked back into the room, where Cronus was supposed to be. There appeared to be a body? And it was three in the morning, why was everyone walking around?

"Vwha-" Cronus' eyes had grown at least twice their side. Kankri stepped outside the room and into the hall gaining the attention of everyone.

"I thought we all determined there was a curfew on when everyone should stay in the rooms?" He said, placing his hand over the boxed outline in jacket pocket. "And what is going on here? Rufioh, if I wasn't mistaken, don't you have a girlfriend? Damara, I believe it is, the new student at Alternia High?" 
Kankri raised his chin.

"Woah woah, what are you implying?" Rufioh asked, laughing.
"What?" Kankri said. He blinked, and the moment his eyes opened it was as though a different scene was happening all together.
Horuss was smiling an uneasy smile as his head seemed to precipitate. And Rufioh looked very worried.

"We were just talking about our hardships." Horuss said. "And I was trying to cheer him up."

Kankri closed his eyes.
"Well, I am sure from now on the both of you will try and follow different procedures into maintaining your emotional health. After all, you wouldn't want our friends to pull the wrong idea out from your little friendly encounters. Please, join me in a prayer so that we can bless whatever problems are at play."

He would have to skip tonight, and suffer in the morning, needing to sneak out and take a smoke.

Chapter Text

Snowman, was the name given to her by many. She had needed to be on top, and the only way to do that, was to kill her. She who was on the very top of everything. It was the only way she could succeed.

Snowman dipped her cigarette into the ashtray beside her. It hissed, then died down. The Condesce, perhaps, one of her hardest obstacles yet. It was the perfect way to be on top of The Midnight Crew, as well as bring The Felt above and beyond.
She yawned, leaning her head back. Her husband had died at the hands of the Condesce, so this plan would be ideal.

She was just sorry she had never had any children. It was lonely, being all by herself.

Chapter Text

She wiped her eyes as the knocks at her doors grew louder, making her heart beat violently within her chest. Stumbling down her hallway and to the door, she tried to push her graying hair back so that she looked at least somewhat put together. Her legs felt stiff and her head heavy. 
There was another knock, and for a moment, she prayed it was her daughters. They were all she wanted. She stifled a shaking breath and restrained a tear, her weak and flimsy hand attempting to gain enough strength to fully open the door. It couldn't happen like this. They couldn't come and tell her Porrim had vanished from school and that her body was found dumped somewhere. They couldn't tell her that Kanaya had died suddenly at camp. 

When the first trace of light blossomed into her sight, she looked away with a sting in her eyes.

"Dolorosa," Signless' jaw fell open and he immediately reached a hand out to place it on her shoulder. She shuddered, and collapsed into his arms, her tears flooding her face. 

"It's been two days!" She said, wishing she didn't have to hear her quivering voice.

"I know." Signless whispered. "And we're going to find them."

She raised her head and saw Captor standing on her porch, admiring the winter plants on the railing. 

"Come in," She said, jumping away. "I will make some tea. Did you two hear about the Peixes mansion? They said it was blown up and her neighbor is angry because now he has some huge dent on his face."

Dolorosa beckoned them inside where it was warm. Both men walked through the frame, dusting the snow off of themselves. She closed the door, and began to trudge to the kitchen, her fingers tracing the wall.




"Rosa," Signless said, joining her side. "We did hear, but the thing it, we think she might be behind the disappearances." 

She stopped, holding her chest. Disappearances. Just the word was enough to make her freeze. She was paralyzed, her stomach ripping itself apart.
"What do you mean, Vantas?" 

Signless just blinked, his gray eyes darker than usual. 
"Let's go to the kitchen, Psii and I will tell you everything."

She followed him, and was about to turn the corner when her doorbell rang. Her eyes began to water up once more at the thought of answering to terrible news. 

"I'll get that." Signless said. "Psii, take her to the kitchen and help her make some tea." 
Psiioniic nodded.
"Come on Lady, let's go get something." Psiioniic said. 




Dolorosa listened as the door opened behind her. She didn't follow him. Instead she turned around, again with the notion the cops would be there.
Instead, there was another woman who looked just as worn down as she did. Her hair was long, dark, and a complete mess. Her dress was ruffled and looked like she had slept in it.
"I saw that you had reported your children as missing." She said, looking right at her.

Signless appeared to be stuck in time, just staring at her. Dolorosa nodded, the word missing making her stomach turn even more. The woman in the door continued.
"Both of mine are as well. I tried talking to the police, but they're acting very weird about it. I told them everything and they said they were Doing the best they cold, but they aren't doing a thing."

Dolorosa nodded her head, a movement that felt so hard to do.
"Come in then, you can join our discussion." She said. 

Signless held the door wider so that the woman could walk inside. He closed the it shortly after and pointed down the hall. 
"We're meeting in the kitchen." He said, still staring at her. She nodded and began to walk. Dolorosa turned around and headed into the room.





The kitchen had high ceilings and most everything was a fire hazard. Wooden walls, cabinets, and counters. She had left the cookies from two days ago sitting out, she had to believe that Porrim would come home after school someday and grab one, and Kanaya would walk in from the door smiling. She walked behind Psiioniic as he carried a few mugs into the dining room to the right. Feeling as though she was a marionette, she forced herself to sit at the table as a stranger and two others sat around her.

"What did you say about Fish N Go?" She asked, grabbing her mug so that the heat would burn her hands.

Signless exchanged a glance at Psiioniic.
"Why don't we let the new guest introduce herself first, before jumping into all of this?" He said, raising his drink to his lips.

The woman smiled a slight smile, then looked up at them.
"Hello, you can call me Disciple, I am Meulin and Nepeta's mother." She said. Her voice was soft and warm, but somehow energetic at the same time. 

"It's nice to meet you, you can call me Signless." Signless said. "This man over here is Psiioniic, and the wonderful lady in front of you is Dolorosa." 

"It's nice to meet all of you. I was originally going to stop by because you live in the neighborhood. I heard about your children so I decided to stop by myself and see what was going on. If you knew anything?" Disciple bit her lip, her eyes wide with hope.

Rosa shook her head. "I know as little as you do, I'm afraid. Was one of your daughters part of the game?"

"Yes! Nepeta was, and in fact, I think she was on your son's team." Disciple said, looking at Psiioniic. 





"Oh, I know Nepeta, her and Darkleer's kid were always buddy-buddy at Sollux's team meetings. I tell you, those things were a catastrophe. Always gave me and Tuna the biggest headaches. Sollux was also always a pain in the ass after them. I just wish now I wouldn't have let him. He was originally grounded."

Signless nodded his head. "I know what you mean. If I would have kept better eye on both my sons, neither of them would have gone either. Karkat was supposed to be grounded for suspension on behalf of cussing his teacher out, then Kankri has just been a complete mess. He'd skip out on dinner, just to spite me I believe, he wrecked his car, tries to challenge my authority, got suspended for bullying Mituna, does these things to himself, and has just lately been acting really weird about things. Did you know I found a pack of cigarettes in his room? And did you also know he got into a fight at school the other day? It's so unlike him. You don't think his past is starting to affect him now do you?" 

Dolorosa smiled as far as her tired lips would let her.
"Look at you two, worrying each other silly. Signless, Kankri is probably doing just fine, he's a teenager. It will be no time before Karkat starts acting out like that. In response to Kankri's past issue, I really hope you aren't blaming yourself for that. You had no idea any of that was happening. Those kind of things can really affect a person. Maybe you could get him into therapy?"
Somehow, talking to Signless about his son's really helped take her mind off of things.

"We've tried that. He was against it, and now no one wants to see him. I have no idea what he did. That, and I can't afford it." Signless said.

"What even happened with that?" Psiioniic asked. Signless looked at him and rubbed his neck.

"Well, actually I think it might play into what we were supposed to talk about. Let me start from the beginning."

"Oh God," Psiioniic muttered. "Another Vantas rant."

"This all started years ago, when I was still working for The Condesce at Fish N Go. Like you, Psii, I had discovered a dark side of it, well, kind of. I knew she was bringing people into things and that she was working with Makara. I tried to dig deeper but that only got me into trouble. When she found out that I knew about all of this, and that the company could be ruined, the first Fish N Go headquarters was set ablaze. I was told to take the blame for it or my sons would suffer. So, I did. I took the blame for it. I don't know why, but she must have pitied me because I only got eight years in jail and a huge debt."

"And about your son?" Disciple asked. She looked incredibly interested in the story. Signless shook his head.

"That's for another time. All you need to know is that those eight years were tough for both of my sons. Just four years ago I actually got them back. The court had to consider me a good parent before granting me the rights to both of them. Lots of random drug tests, house inspections, classes. Stuff like that. I got videos and pictures of them from their foster family, but they were usually too painful to watch. They eventually let me have them back, and we were happy to be home. It was about a year ago Kanny started acting the way he did. Karkat has always been incredibly short-tempered, but I think he might have gotten worse as well. In terms of Fish N Go, we were all hurt. Now, Psii got fired."

"And my kid got hurt." He added. "Mituna was brain-damaged shortly after I was fired. I don't know why she even let me off with no punishment for what I found, but I'm beginning to think Tuna is my punishment. I love him so much, but the kid is insane half of the time. Shit."

Rosa looked up at Psiioniic who was dabbing at himself with his jacket after spilling coffee on himself. 
"This kind of thing always happens to me, you asshole." He said, glaring at the mug. "Anyway, we saw everything she was doing and it was really sketchy that now our kids all went missing. She has problems against both Signless and I, and she probably has a motive. She needs people for her company. Plus, her mansion was burnt down, don't you think that might be an evidence thing?" He continued to clean himself, muttering curse words under his breath.

"I don't know, there isn't much we are going on here." Dolorosa said.

"And isn't it weird that both John and Jane are missing?" Signless said. 

"Hey! I was just thinking that!" Psiioniic nearly shouted through his lisp. 

"Either way," Signless stood up. "What she's doing is wrong. Bringing the police into this wont help, but I know who we can call. She's an amazing detective, and things like this don't scare her.

Chapter Text

Before anyone else had woken up, Kankri had slipped out of the room and down the stairs. He had gone out and behind the building, wearing a thin coat despite the freezing weather. His hair was growing damp from the rain that was being squeezed out of the clouds. 

 

He leaned against the cold bricks, pulling out a cylinder from his cardboard box. His hands were shaking, and he couldn't tell if it was because they were cold or because the withdrawal. He reached into his pocket and returned with a lighter he stole from one of he gas stations. He didn't usually steal things, in fact, that was his first time. The world had been unfair enough, so he didn't think taking a lighter to further pollute his lungs would be that bad.

 

He flicked it, pain erupting through his hands when it refused to light. He shook it, glared at it, then tried again.
This time a flick of light shot out, and he placed his cigarrette just over it. The flame licked the front until it was lit, and he could put the device back into his pocket. 
The cigarette when onto his lips, and the smoke began to calm him. He hoped no one saw him. A teenage boy smoking cigarettes beside some broken down motel with his hair in his face. 

 

He pulled the cigarette out and released a breath of smoke. Watching it form, then dissapear, he wondered how he would explain this to someone if they caught him. Would he go into great detail about why he did it? Or would he just shrug it off and let them sit with there own thoughts? Would he talk about it until they got so bored that they began to say:
"Do not bring up smoking around Vantas."
He wasn't sure. He raised his hand to place the stick back. Everyone was really starting to become irritating. They just couldn't understand anything and were really just a bunch of sheep. He flicked the cigarette, causing ash to come off the bottom. 

 

The rain continued to fall, and the sun remained hidden behind the clouds. The tree's bare branches lilted to the wind that was urging them to just break. He just wished there was something that could sooth over everything. Make everything right and perfect. A, panacea, if he would.

 

Kankri took another puff from the cigarette before flicking it onto the ground and stepping on it. He shivered, the propinquity of the box urging him to light another. Who knew they could be so damn addicting? 
The vestigial annoyance from last night was very small now, and almost gone, but he knew the moment he walked back into the room, everyone was going to start waking up and he would have to take care of them. Meenah thought she was the leader? Far from it. She stole the position like a pack of gum from the supermarket. Or, a pack of cigarettes. He had already lost the school election thanks to her best friend, he wasn't loosing this. He would have to prove he was worth it, mending all the broken relationships within the group. 
On the outside, he was sure he was determined. He would act like he didn't care what he was saying because that was honestly the best way to go about things. Plus, he got over what people told him, so they should learn that way too. 
However, it was times like these, when he was outside alone, with a cancer-inducing weapon, that miles of doubt began marking their location on his mental map. They were everywhere. The group had no idea where they were going or where his brother was. In fact, no one knew anything and he didn't see why they couldn't just do this from home. 
His arms were shaking, the cold was really trying to get him inside. He figured this time he'd let it win.

 

He peered in the window of the front door and saw the lady sitting at her desk. He must have been outside for too long, because she certainly wasn't there when he had slipped out. He sighed, and walked around the building in search of his window. His hair slapped his skin like a whip, and he could hardly see. Of course the window had to be in the direction opposite of the wind.
The window was the third one from the corner, and for some reason, no one had bothered to bring the chair from outside in. He used this to his advantage. Pushing the wet slab of wood to the window, he climbed on top of it and opened their unlocked window. To his dismay, it made a noise that sounded like someone playing the E string completely wrong on the violin. As expected, the people in his room began to stir, their bodies awoken.
He ignored them and pushed himself through, hopping back inside, and shutting the window.

"Where were you?" 
He was happy his back was turned to the speaker, so as to avoid them seeing the transient flicker of worry on his face.

"I was getting a breath of fresh air." He responded, turning around so that he could cross his arms. Dirk, from the bed, sat up. Kankri noticed the thick glasses on his face. Did he sleep with them on? Either way, this was going to call for immediate action. 

"It is really difficult to focus in a setting such as this. I feel confined and slightly claustrophobic. After all, we do have eight different people in the immediate area. 

"Way to adumbrate pointless details for derailment. We discussed this last night when you and the others walked in last night at half past three. You aren't to go anywhere without telling people. What's that, right there?" Dirk was beginning to straighten his glasses. Kankri crossed his arms, annoyed with himself for putting the cigarette box in his jean pockets.

"That's none of your business."

"Are those cards or cigarettes? Unless you were playing a game of Wiccan poker with the trees-"

"That is hilarious, I am laughing, can't you see?" Kankri said, walking towards the bathroom. "Haha."
He opened the door and slid in. 

 

Murphy's Law was a pain in the ass. Of course. Everything that could go wrong would go wrong. And there it was, in all its glory. He wasn't amenable, and he wasn't going to put up with it from anyone. He had always been considered weak, and now was not the time he was going to be seen as that. He could do things himself, and he was independent.
Kankri looked in the mirror, at his soaked and unkempt hair. At the rings under his eyes. He knew it was going to be a bad day, and he was going to let everyone know it. 

Chapter Text

He woke up to the worst possible thing that could have hit the fan.

"WHAT. THE. FUCK."

Some moron was playing their trumpet like they were getting off to it. It's brassy screech tore him from his sleep and annihilated any nice dream he was having. He sat up, realizing someone had been curled up to him on the couch. 

"SOLLUX?! CAN I GET ANY SPACE IN THIS TAWDRY DUMP?!" 

Sollux's weirdly diseased eyes opened slightly.
"What?" He asked. Then, as though a wave of realization washed over him, his eyes bulged out of his head. 
"WHAT?" He repeated, this time through a screech. Sollux was about to get up before falling off the couch and slamming onto the stained carpet below.

"YEAH." Karkat said. "SPACE."

"What's going on?" John said from the bed. Dave, who was sipping something from deep within in the hammock laughed. Karkat could only see the guy's legs and tip of his blonde head.

"It looks like Karkat's starting to get a faint memory of what happened last night between him and his future wife."

"HAHA, VERY FUNNY STRIDER." Karkat snapped. "AND WHO IS THAT TRUMPET-STRANGLING MORON OUTSIDE? HOW IS ANYONE SUPPOSED TO SLEEP WHEN HE'S SHOVING THE MOUTHPIECE DOWN HIS THROAT?!" Karkat ripped the blanket off of him and stood up, immediately regretting the decision. His head began to pound and his vision grew dark. Anything like orthostatic hypotension to start the day!

"Uh, Karkat." John said. "I think that's the point of the trumpet. When I was in boy scouts, the leader would use his trumpet to wake everyone up! It means the start of the day."

"You were in boy scouts?" Dave asked. 

"Yeah? Dave I've told you this so many times." John said.

"Oh, yeah, I know. Did you think I was being serious or something?" Dave responded before resuming his obnoxious sipping.

Karkat scowled at them, realizing he still had his shoes on from the night before. His body, now that the adrenaline had long-since worn off, was almost unbearably sore. His feet burned and his chest felt like it was filled with lead. He must have slept wrong on his arms because they didn't want to move the right way and were probably going to break off at any second.

"Whatever, you losers can stay in here and bond about your stupid baby paddy-cake shenanigans. Meanwhile, I'm going to go find a shower in this literal garbage shoot."

He stumbled to the door that stood just beside the couch, and pushed it open. His foot did what it always did, moved him forward, but this time he had forgotten the elevation of the trailer. When he pushed forward to began walking, he didn't catch the ground, and instead toppled forward, his elbows smacking off the rocks around the railroad. His chin scraped itself, and his legs were still stuck on the stairs he was supposed to have used to get off. 
"FUCK" He screamed, pulling himself back up and examining the stinging scratches on him. He wasn't going to get used to sleeping on some disgusting sweat-circulating train. He wasn't going to travail in this shitty self-espionage, and he sure as hell wasn't going to fall down a set of stairs every fucking day of his life. 

"Karmas' a bitch, asshole." Sollux said from the doorway, laughing like a complete idiot. Karkat glared at him. The moron looked more like Mituna today with his messy hair.

"Fuck you, at least I'm going to go bathe myself so I don't have to smell nearly as disgusting as you."

"Screw you," Sollux said from his lisp. "You're the one who needs it more than any of us, what with pouncing around in your own filth."

Karkat squinted his eyes. "Nice try smart guy! You know you don't have any self-esteem, so don't fucking act like you do. We all know you hate yourself."

Sollux crossed his arms.
"KK, I've known you for about two months now and I can easily say you hate yourself more than I hate myself in any way you fuckpod."

This guy, was actually serious! He was a complete headache that burned whatever anger-infested breath shaft from within Karkat. Sollux sighed, looking back into the trailer.

"I'm going back inside, it's cold and I'm not going to waste my time out here." He said, rubbing his eyes.

"Yeah fine. Are we still cool?" Karkat asked, even though it was just a small statement. 

Sollux laughed.
"Why wouldn't we be?" He shook his head before turning around and shutting the door. Karkat let out a breath, noticing he didn't see it forming in front of him. 
It was far from cold that morning, if anything, it was mildly warm. He looked behind him to see that the view of the circus was much different than it was at night. The sky was cloudless, and though the sun hadn't completely risen yet, there was already a golden glow on the the roofs of the tents. He had never seen anything of the sort before. They were so tall, the points at their summit reaching further to the sky than they did at night. There were two large tents, but one was located far away and to the left, and they other was closer to him to the right. Between these tents, were numerous little ones, and they all had signs on them. As he walked next to them, he felt like he was walking through a never-ending maze of white sheets hung by a laundry-line. It gave off the impression of summer, the days when he didn't have to be cooked up inside and could roam the streets. He found that he hung out a lot with Kanaya, yet as of now, he was pretty much taking her for granted. He would have to make a mental note to talk to her more. She was one of his best friends, if not THE best friend. He hadn't seen much of her lately though, but he was glad to know she at least seemed to be somewhat happy, what with hanging out with Rose. 
And Gamzee and Tavros. Even Nepeta and Aradia. Feferi, Jade and the other three from the "Beta" group. He hardly talked to them at this point in time. He had to admit he felt a little bad. He didn't really care he didn't talk to Equiusand Vriska though, both of them seemed to be of the same social withstanding. They were worse than a headache, they were a complete migraine. The kind that was probably a result of a chronic disease that was going to take his life in a matter of minutes.

He looked up at the signs of the little tents, reading the stupid advertising. 
"World's Longest Snake; The Fattest Pig in America; Pinhead Carl." 

Pinhead Carl must have it hard.

Nevertheless, Karkat continued walking down the trail, hoping to find someone he could talk to. The person who had the trumpet was nowhere to be seen, nor was anyone else in the circus. In fact, it was a little odd that for a place with mammoth size, there was so little people. He supposed that was due to half of the circus leaving to be somewhere else, but he couldn't be sure why. Were they laundering money?

 He drew closer to the large tent at the end of the little ones, curiosity beginning to grasp his neck with its robust hands. He looked behind him, this time relieved to see no one. Karkat began to walk faster, skipping past the various signs. How they set all of this up so quickly, let alone take it all down in record time was far beyond him. They must have done it for a living. He was enthralled by their talent of completely transforming a boring slab of concrete into a hazy land of color and stripes. Yet there was something off about what he was feeling. Stumbling into a dazed wonderland of viridescent trees that were still stripped of their leaves and a sun when there shouldn't be a sun, made him feel like he had fallen into a children's book. It was all fake and ephemeral. The trees should be in knots and the sun shouldn't be shining. It was winter, and yet they made it feel like late spring. The green streamers hung from dead branches, and somehow, no matter how hard he looked, they never once looked tacky.

Tent after Tent passed him, the foggy atmosphere still remaining as though his eyes were framed by fabric softeners. The tent was getting larger in sight, and he was starting to need to sit down. His feet had to be bleeding at this point. They probably had something really fucking disturbing like frostbite. 
Bleeding.
For some reason, the word stuck with him, and he couldn't put down what that reason was. 

A breeze fluttered by, this one pleasant and not as though Alaska had decided to share some of its nighttime-air. He didn't know what he was expecting, or why he felt inclined to get there. That fact on its own seemed to be the reason he continued to march himself to it, the thing elephantine compared to him. He had to admit it was growing somewhat worried the thing was going to fall on top of him and trap him within its candy-cane fabric. He felt like a piece of dust on a king's carpet. 
He looked at it, shocked by its size. He didn't know where the entrance was, it just looked like a giant's party hat. Karkat looked behind him again.

In the distance, but too far to see who it was, someone was entering one of the smaller tents. They disappeared inside, and he knew now was his chance. He ran his hand along the side of the large tent, trying to find a weak spot that would break open into an entrance. It was more sturdy than he had first anticipated. It felt like it was a hard surface and not a piece of fabric. They ran along it until he had walked to the complete opposite side. The tent was soft and had an enormous slit in it. It looked foreboding, as though it was going to devour him. His trepidation marked a red X on his head, perfect for a giant's breakfast. 
He tried to lift the flap with one hand, but found it extraordinarily heavy. It was like lifting a full-sized mat.
Using both hands, and part of his body, he pried it open. A crack of light filled the vast darkness that had settled within the marquee. It was cold inside, and he felt that when it came back and hit him. He wondered how many people had done what he had done only to get stuck inside because it was too dark to see anything.

Karkat moved the flap further to get a better view. The only thing he could make out was the faint outline of bleachers, and a small stool in the middle. There seemed to be nothing else in the room and he was slightly disappointed. Turning around, he was blinded by the sun. He shut his eyes tight for a moment, holding aback the tears that were forming. Stupid sun's obnoxious light.

It looked like his town, though with fewer houses and more tall brick buildings. There was a set of stairs that ran steeply down the hill, the earth struggling to pull back the archaic slabs. Half of them were completely covered by weeds, and some had been broken, torn in half by weather. At the bottom was just a bunch of muddy growth, and looked more like a swamp. 
Potholes covered the roads closest to his vision. It wasn't hard to miss, because there was also the patches in the road that were always so much darker because the sun hadn't bleached them dry just yet.

Chapter Text

"Gather around everyone, I have a series of substantial news that needs to be delivered immediately."
Kankri stood in front of everyone in the boy's room. They looked bored out of their mind, but he figured they were dehydrated of the plentiful amounts of news he was about to give them.
"For starters, the rules that have been set have continuously been broken, an act that should be spoken about in an extensive lecture that highlights every right or wrong action taken about by the specific person, and whether or not their privileges allow for such a thing to happen. I'm sure it has become obvious that without a set of guidelines for everyone to carefully follow, the group will land into a kind of catastrophe. I think now would be a great time to sort out everything. Does anyone have anything to add?"

He looked at the crowns of each person in the room, noting that most of them weren't paying any attention at all. He would have to remind them of this in the near future when they break the new rules.
"Good. The first thing I would like to address is the sneaking out. This poses as something that will increase the likelihood of us being caught. I personally don't see the whole issue of being caught anyway, since there is really no reason to hide from our family. Had it been up to me in the beginning, I would have spoken to all of the members of the group-"

He stopped immediately when Meenah went apace towards the door. He reached down his shirt as fast as he could, shooting his hand out with a whistle. He shoved it in his mouth and blew as much air into it as possible. Meenah's feet stopped moving. She turned her head, her eyes bent out of shape.

"Vantas, what's your problem?" She asked.

He raised his head, taking the whistle out and grasping it in his palm.
"I hope you were paying close attention to my lecture, since you seem to want to tear roles from other people. That being said, Meenah, what are you doing, already sneaking out? If you weren't aware, which you should have been, I just made it clear that there is to be no more sidling around the corners, if you want to leave the room, you must first use the check-out sheet to discuss the reason you are leaving, the time you have left and-"

"Look," Meenah said, leaning against the frame. Out of everyone in the room, her dark circles seemed to almost be unnoticeable. "I have to go to... uh." She paused, her eyes tracing the ground. "Go to the bathroom on the gills room. I'm not gonna force myself into the boys sewer." 

Kankri's eyes widened and his whistle dropped from his hand, the metal piece bungee-jumping off the red piece of yarn it was strewn around. 
"Oh." He couldn't look like an unreasonable leader. That was just asking for trouble. "Go ahead, I didn't mean to impede on your personal implementations." 
She slipped out of the room before he could grasp her expression, and slammed the door behind her. 

"Alright," Kankri said. "Where was I? Oh yes, the sign-out sheet. In order to create a-"

"Hey, Jake and I are going to go get something to eat. Are any of you vegetarian or something?" Dirk interrupted. Kankri stared at him.

"You're going to use the sign-out sheet right?" He turned around and reached his hand towards the dresser, it's aged wood chipped and peeling. Water damaged stains sat in circular prints around the top and he had put his glass of water over one, so as to not create another one. At the side opposite of the water, his new sign-out sheet laid crisp and untouched despite the graph telling where to write the designated elements. He grabbed it, and handed it to Dirk. Dirk had a way of grabbing the thing, but causing it to feel like it was going to come crashing to the ground the moment Kankri took his hands off it. He watched Jake turn to it and tilt his head. His eyes narrowed from behind his glasses, and his hands began to play with his jacked zipper.

"The what?" He asked. Kankri wanted to pull his hair out, these people were relentless.

"The sign-out sheet. I had just gone over it in brief. Don't worry, I will be sure to go into extensive detail next time so you can hear me between the ephemeral moments spent when you aren't messing around with your boyfriend." He said. Dirk looked up from signing the paper. 

"Here." He said, shoving it to Kankri. Kankri took the board, and looked down to make sure everything was filled out just right. As his eyes glossed over the paper, the door had already been opened. 

Kankri's jaw dropped when he saw a sketch that was too infelicitous to even be thought in one's head. He crumbled it, his cheeks burning, and threw it at Horuss. How did he let this happen? Was he insane? Kankri shook his head as Horuss began to saunter off leaving Rufioh and Aranea engaging on what appeared to be a harshly spoken conversation. They were both in the kitchen, in front of the obsolete stove. Kankri listened for a moment, to see if it was anything he could take action with.

"No, I'm just trying to help! So tell me, you appear to be strained, Rufioh, in your relationship. From the way you are acting I can see that a great deal of turmoil has been created, causing both you and Horuss to act in an incredibly parasitic way."

"Look doll, my emotions are my emotions, and they're off limits." Rufioh said. His mouth was bent into an open frown and his hands were up as though he was pushing her away. Kankri walked over, his hands in his pockets.

"What appears to be the problem?" He asked. 

"Oh not you too!" Rufioh whined, running his hands through his hair. Kankri tried to turn his back to Aranea, subtly pushing her out of the picture.

"No friend, I am here to listen to whatever problems you are undergoing."

"You guys are being a kinda crazy right now, no offense or anything." Rufioh said. His recent dye-job stuck out like a sore thumb, the tips bright red in contrast to his dark black hair. His body seemed to rest oddly on his olive skin, as though it were just a blanket. 

"Something is obviously up Rufioh." Aranea said, stepping beside Kankri. He fought the temptation to roll his eyes.

"You heard him, you're being crazy, Aranea. Let me take it from here." Kankri pronounced. Aranea crossed her arms.

"He said you guys. Besides, we were just fine before you came over here and interrupted us!" She shot back. She opened her mouth to say something when a quiet voice rang like a bell. They both looked back at Rufioh who was walking away with Damara. Kankri redirected his gaze to the girl in a blue dress and white pointed glasses.

"Look what you just did." He said. "You probably triggered him so much, he couldn't bare to be around you anymore."

"Are you really still taking you anger out on me because I won the school election?" She asked. "You're so immature." 

He turned his head from her and crossed his arms.
"I didn't want that position anyway, if you ask me, it's a role designed for a child to feel better about themselves by engaging in communication designed to teach them a sense of faux self-worth and leadership. It's particularly petty, actually, and if I would have won, I might have done it some justice, but seeing that you won, the ineffectual transmuting will only prove my point at how embarrassing it is." He said.

Aranea pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose.
"I was going to let you help me, but since you think I can't handle it myself, I guess I'll just have to prove you wrong, which won't be very hard. The students voted for what they wanted, and I'm sorry that your personality didn't suit School President. Or that outfit you wore."

She turned around, her hickory hair flying after her. 
Good. That better make her leave him alone. 

He looked away, and back at his friend group. This was going to take a lot of shepherding. They never listened either and were always in their own world. Getting to them would require hard work.

Chapter Text

They had sat in silence, nothing but their breaths hovering just above the sea of tears that were residing behind their eyes. 

Signless looked at Dolorosa. She was staring intently at a spot on the table, not blinking. He pulled out his phone and dialed the number of an office he had since forgotten until recently. He hadn't talked to her in so long. He only hoped she wasn't offended by him only reaching out in dire times. He pushed down on the numbers, hoping the number would still be hers.
Everyone at the table watched him. He clenched his jaw, the ringer pulsing, each one a giving him less and less hope. The windows had blocked out the light in the dining room, letting the darkness settle on his eyelids. He shut them when the rings stopped, and a sound was heard from the other end. He listened to it, but couldn't understand it, nor could he make out the gender of the speaker.

"Hello?" 

The voice from the other end was quiet and nearly intelligible. Psiioniic scooted up in his seat.
"Who is-"
Signless held up his pointer finger to Psiioniic to shut him up. He listened, turning up the volume on his phone. It didn't do anything to help.

"Will you speak louder?" Signless asked. The voice grew slightly louder when he realized who it was.

 

"Can you hear me now?" The person asked. She was a lady, and had a stern elocution. It was exactly who he meant to call.

"Yes, I can. I called to-"

"The missing person's case? Apparently they found a bag of phones in Maryland that had washed up. Some homeless man found them. I have been looking everywhere and I was surprised they found something so fast. The police up there actually seem involved too. They want the parents to go on the news. There were sixteen of them, and you said twelve of your children went to Maryland for a camp? Well, we also got a ping from one other phone. It was last active in Jasper, Tennessee. It was allegedly the phone of one of the kids your child went to camp with. Eridan Ampora? We've checked the dorms of Jane, Dirk, Jake, and Roxy being they are the older siblings and Mr. Egbert made a claim Jane was missing. They are all missing as well. Would it be out of character for you son Kankri to try an maybe, go looking for his brother? As you and many other parents have said, they were supposed to be in Maryland, not Tennessee. The thing we are also confused about is the fact sixteen phones were found, but only fifteen of the sixteen kids have been reported missing. Will you tell us who your son was in a group with? If you remember." The lady said. 

"Did Pyrope ask you to do all of this?" Signless muttered. The person on the other line remained silent. "Thought so. I don't know about my son going off like that, but at this point I don't know a lot about him. As for Karkat, I don't remember everyone who was in his group. I remember he had Pyrope's daughter, Makara's son, Kanaya Maryam, and I think Capter's-"

Psiioniic shook his head. "They were in a different group."

Signless let out the gut of held air. "Oh, well I'm sorry Ma'am, but I only know about Makara, Maryam, and Pyrope."

"That's alright. Did you say Makara? We haven't got a missing report from him yet. It is a pattern that the kids who went missing at the camp-"

"Pyrope." Signless said. "I know it's you. You're more than welcome to join me in trying to find the kids. I know just as well as you do the justice system isn't this well thought out."

The person on the other line let out a small chuckle.

"Alright Vantas, I'll come to talk to you. I can't leave town though. I have a mission to do. I stayed up all night making calls to places the kids could be, or watching for a vehicle on of them could possibly have. Keep in touch though, I do want to help. Can I tell you something though?"

Signless shifted in his spot.
"What is that?"

"I think the police were paid off."

Chapter Text



The cloudless weather had completely disappeared, leaving behind a sky overcast in darkness, clouds miles long on the brink of tears. The scenery had changed as well. Where there was no one before, there was everyone now. They stood outside of tents, scrubbed clothes with wooden tubs and scrapers, and shouted at each other. 
The circus looked out of place too, with no one from the town so far as even noticing them. Karkat thought it odd that it was this way. He shook his head, rubbing his jacketed arms after a breeze brushed past him, proving the nice weather was entirely gone. 

He had to get out of here.

Of course his idiot friends were acting like this was the most exciting thing that could have ever happened to them. They just escaped a living hell due to some conspiracy, and were hiding out at the circus only to be shipped to some homeless shelter with a kid whose skin seemed to shake even when he passed out on a train. The circus, was bullshit, not something to start throwing parties about. Their showers were shit here and their toilets reeked of stale bathroom trips. Even the cult-houses sported decent bathrooms. They were gross, but still, nothing could compare to this poor excuse of hospitality.
The train compartments behind him were cozy, he guessed, but he wasn't showing this place any mercy. It sucked, and that was what he was sticking to.





"Karkat, there you are." 
He turned his head to the side when he heard Terezi's voice. She walked up to him wearing a completely insane outfit. A yellow polka-dotted dress with red shoes, violet socks, and her usual glasses.

"What, are you wearing?" He asked, nearly scoffing. He wasn't about to admit that he secretly admired her bravery in sporting whatever it was, or that it was actually rather beautiful on her.

"One of the dancers gave me an outfit to wear while mine is in the wash." She said. "Don't you like it Karkat? I wore it exclusively to please you!" 

"Ha ha. That's very funny. Almost as funny as your innate ability to show up at the worst times and be as annoying as you can possibly be." He said, rolling his eyes. Terezi sighed.

"Well, if you don't want me here, then you are free to go pout somewhere else." 
He looked at her, her eyes showing she wasn't hurt by his words at all, somehow.

"No it's fine, just stop being irritating for a minute. It will set a new record for you."

She shook her head.
"Bluh, why do you have to be so awful all the time?" 

"I'm not, I'm just not getting my underpants in a repulsive knot like the rest of you morons are. Speaking of everyone else, where are they? This isn't a fucking family reunion. Well, okay, maybe it is for Gamzee, but he's so outlandish that I wouldn't be surprised if he was somehow related to Martin, or that stupid guy off the taxidermy commercials."

"Oh, I know who you're talking about! Mr. Sherbert Candle!"
 
Karkat raised an eyebrow as Terezi smiled wider. 
"Who?"

"Mr. Sherbert Candle, I just said that you dummy. He always smells like sherbert and soap, and always gives my family candles for Christmas."

"Why the fuck does some creepy orange commercial guy give you candles?" Karkat asked.

"My Mom, who is by the way, the mightiest of detectives, did a case for him. It sure was something!" Terezi said. "Someone was stealing his animals. Well, the dead ones. He used to always give us these weird stuffed things that he made out of animals. He probably knew it was creepy though, so resorted to a more customary gift. Anyway, my mother, caught the guy. He made the mistake of selling the things on online for twice the price."

"Okay?" Karkat said. "Well, aside from that, will you tell everyone to meet me in my trailer tonight? We're having a meeting and getting the hell out of this dump." He crossed his arms, planning on asking Xefros where they were going after this.

"What? Karkat you said so yourself we can't just leave. Don't you remember Cecil and the other girl?"

"So what? They can't stop all of us." Karkat responded. 

"But don't you want to catch the guy? Stop him from messing with other innocent people's lives?" Terezi said. Her grin was gone now, and she looked at him like he had grown a third eye.

"I don't know! Does it look like we have the time to do all of this? We aren't going to die Terezi, it was probably just a coincidence."

She shook her head. 
"No it's not Karkat. I bet the guy in charge of all of this has a motive of some sort, and I want to find out who he is and what he's planning." She said. "And as long as we work to find him, we are working harder to help the people around here. The people of Alternia. Plus, he needs to be punished by her honorable tyranny. My mother."

"Is that even legal? Wait, fuck, we're off topic now. Look Terezi, after this freak show has ended, we're going home. We aren't even doing anything here. I'm not going to live in some stupid run-down shelter for people like Xefros while my Dad and idiot brother have no idea where I'm at. Which is another thing, why don't we just contact them? What's the game instructor going to do? Set their phones on fire?"

"It's going to lead your Dad right to us." Terezi said. Another breeze pushed by, flicking her red hair onto her freckled face. He watched her arm develop the slight goosebumps. He unzipped his jacket, even though it probably smelt like bibles and blood, and took his arms out of it.

"Here." He said, stepping closer to her and wrapping it around her. She still looked at him in the weirdest way, and he couldn't tell exactly what that was for. 

"Thanks." She said, putting it on and zipping it up.

"Yeah, it covers that hideous thing you're wearing."

She shook her head. He hesitated for a moment, searching for something to say.

"Look, I'm sorry I guess. Let's just get everyone together tonight so we can talk about this ridiculous runaway scheme."

"What time do you want everyone to meet up?" She asked.

"After dinner." Karkat responded. He looked away from her when he saw movement from the corner of his eyes. Someone in a dark attire was walking towards him. When he turned his head to look, Terezi leaned over, touching his jaw with the tips of her fingers, and pecking him on the cheek. He jumped, and went to ask her what that was for, but she had already begun walking down the graveled walkway.





"Mr. Vantas." 
The tall figure turned out to be Spaldon. His eyes were drooped, as though metal resided on the top of his eyeballs. He still had on a suit, and a top hat. 

"What? Can't I get any peace around here?" Karkat snapped. Spaldon's face remained pokered.

"I'm sending you and three others to go into the big tent on the right to practice your dancing. Elmer will be there to teach you. We have our first show tonight, and I expect you to have the routine done by then. If all goes well, we will hold the party." 

Karkat groaned. This was yet another thing to add to his ever-growing list of why everyone around him should go fuck themselves. 
"Yeah, fine, whatever." 

Spaldon nodded. Karkat looked at man's eyes again. There was something incredibly wrong about them, they looked almost unnatural. 
"Very well."



He was sure to be quick this time when he walked away from the guy. He looked like one of the hound dogs after they got incredibly old and were good for nothing but lying around like a bunch of beached whales. He was planning on taking his time to the tent, but decided he didn't want to get soaked by the rain that was already begging to sprinkle. It plocked him on his head every now and again, and he knew it would start picking up if this place was anything like home.
He passed a myriad of oddities. No one dressed normally, which was something he half expected them to do when they were off-show. Some of the people looked rough around the edges, as though they were fugitives. With the way Spaldon talked about his lack of people however, it wouldn't be a surprise if they were. The circus must have been massive before it was split in half. Even now it was fairly big. 
Some people had long colorful hair, some were old, and some were very young. There was one lady who carried around a book with numerous papers hanging out. Her hair was a complete mess, and her face was painted in white. Now that he thought about it, she could be Gamzee's aunt... or estranged cousin.

He also noticed, as the sky darkened, so did the big tops. They became more dull and less vibrant. The entire place looked more like it was ripped out of an old memory book than some new-age classic entertainment. He moved on to the tent. Two pillars were staked into the ground, the front flaps wrapped around it. He walked between them, feeling as though he was entering a ludicrous dream. In the center, was a kid with mousey brown hair showing a move to John, Dave, and Eridan. Karkat let out a sigh. Why these imbeciles?

"I am actually pretty good wwith the dancin' stuff." Eridan said, his chin high in the air as he spoke. Karkat rounded them, the circle lit up by an enormous center light, and the areas around the circle nearly pitch black.

"They don't have a pole here." Dave said, shrugging. 

"Wwhat are you implying?!" Eridan gasped. "Unlike your scum of a family, mine raised my brother and I to be especially good at dancin'. Sure, bein a hero of wwar wwas exhaustin' to the guy, and soon to be future me, but I havve to say, the smooth ballets are my thing and my Dad wwas sure to make sure of that. Noww if you excuse me, I'll showw you howw to do it like a pro."

Karkat slapped his face, ready to watch Eridan make a complete idiot of himself. However, when the guy stretched his arm out and began to dance, performing an even better version of Elmer's jazzy gyrate and sliding techniques, Karkat was completely shocked. The guy was actually good. Not just good, but excellent. He ended it by pirouetting, then dropping his body into a split.

"There's no way." Dave murmured. 

"Noww, if you wwant to givve me more crap for bein' better than all of you, go ahead, 'cause I don't care." He said, lying through his teeth like they were liquid.

"Not that. How did you just survive that dick annihilation. Do you even have one?" Dave said, the shocked voice not matching his routine expression.

Eridan squinted his eyes. "Wwhatevver, I wwill havve you know-"

Elmer raised his hands, his mouth fleeing to cover the conversation.
"That was... actually really good Eridan!" 

"Thanks. Noww, if you'll ex-"

Elmer laughed. "Not so fast, Purple. We have to learn an entire dance by tonight. I don't really give a shit if you guys do good or not, because he won't blame me for it. Plus, you guys are the reason we have to put off the dance until later. I'll have to teach you more before the show, so meet me here an hour before it starts. So, seven then. Tomorrow the first show is at one so be ready, in case Spaldon didn't tell you."

"I think I should havve a solo, then, this guy ovver here wwon't mess evverythin' up." Eridan said.

"Oh no, I'm so offended right now." Dave said, shrugging once more. Karkat drug his hand off of his face and walked over to the center.

"ALRIGHT, I'VE HEARD ENOUGH OF YOU KNUCKLESPONGES DIVULGING YOUR EGOS ALL OVER THE PLACE LIKE A BUNCH OF LOSERS. LET'S JUST GET THIS STUPID BODY HARASSMENT OVER WITH SO I CAN DO MORE IMPORTANT THINGS THAN BOND WITH ALL OF YOU." He announced, crossing his arms.

"Oh hey Karkat." John said. Karkat grunted.

"Hello Egbert."

Elmer smiled. "Great, all of you are here now. Terrific, perfect. Okay, so our dance is simple, but not simple. I guess for Purple and I, it will be okay, but if you have never danced, be prepared to be doing things for a good hour today. For free." He paused to step back, and move his arm out. "Just follow me, and you will get the idea. We might end up spinning flags as well, but don't be alarmed, they're easy to use. A little awkward to hold, but easy. Now just stand in a line and do what I do."

He stood with his arms crossed in front of him. Karkat reluctantly brought his arms up, deciding that if he was going to do this, he was going to look at least a little decent doing it. Elmer then let his arms come out on either side of him, jumping to the side and letting his toes touch. Karkat attempted to do the same, but nearly fell on his face. He had focused too much on everyone else. Eridan had done it perfectly, but was too flamboyant about it. Dave just stretched his arms out like the letter "T", and moved to the side. John genuinely tried, but looked like the Green Bean Mascot was turning into a fairy that was in turn going through extensive puberty.

"That's the first part." Elmer said. "Now watch carefully, I am going to do a spin, bringing out my foot. A pirouette, is what it is called, and then I will roll and come back up. After that, I am going to do an arabesque, but my hands will be on the ground. This will lead into a somersault, and then I will land back up on my feet. We will repeat this a few times, but the next will be in a circle. So first in a line, then we will be doing this in a circle. Then we will have another portion for the flags. At seven, we will practice with music. You guys won't really be out for that long, I was just trying to scare you. But eventually you will be, so don't get too comfortable."

Elmer did as he said, Karkat trying to follow along. He did a spin, but didn't bring out his foot. Eridan did it flawlessly, his foot at a perfect ninety degrees from the one on the ground. Dave just turned around sluggishly, and John lifted his leg, though he didn't do so very high. He turned to Dave, wiping his bangs from his eyes and pushing his glasses further up his nose.

"Come on Dave." 

"What? I'm trying as hard as I can John. Not every guy can master the intense power of Man-Ballet."

Karkat scoffed, and continued to try to follow along with Elmer. As he strived to put his hands on the floor and lift his leg, he realized suddenly that Terezi was probably going to be watching him, alongside the others. His face began to heat up and he didn't do the somersault.

"Won't everyone know who we are?" He asked, as Elmer finished the dance. "We're kind of all over the news."

"You know how some girls cake on makeup, and you don't know that it's actually them?" Elmer said, dusting himself off. Karkat shook his head and put his hands in front of him.

"Nope. I am not wearing any makeup." 

"You have to, it's for the show. Plus, you need to stay hidden. It will look like a mask. You generally have on white or gray facepaint with colorful swirls."

"Yeah, I'm not putting that on either." Dave said. "My face is not going to be touched, it is a clean slate freshly baked from the bakery."

"I'll let you keep the shades. But if they fall off that's your own problem." Elmer said. Dave seemed to weigh the options. His head was tilted and the light reflected off of his sunglasses.





"HEY ASSHOLES."
They were all interrupted before being cast into a blinding blanket of red. It took Karkat a moment to realize the light above had been changed into a different color.
"DON'T DO ANYTHING STUPID OKAY?" Sollux' voice screamed from a speaker on the side of the room. "I'M GOING TO BE IN CHARGE OF THE LIGHTS, AND IF I SEE YOU FUCK UP, THE LIGHT IS GOING ON YOU." He said. "ESPECIALLY YOU FISH-BREATH."

Chapter Text

At five, it was already dark. The urges were coming onto him again, and he found himself signing out on the sheet. He was happy when no one questioned what he was up to as he sat it back down on the dresser. Since everyone was in the boy's dorm, playing promiscuous games or talking amongst each other, they had no interest he was about to leave. Fries that had been left out for too long were beginning to make the place smell like an old family car, and the lack of fresh air made it all the worse. He silently laced his way to the bed, hoping Cronus wouldn't pick this same time to take a smoke. 
He picked up his jacket, and slinked to the door, twisting the handle and sliding out.

His initial plan was to slip out the window, but when he stumbled to the girl's room, his shaking hands trying to get within the grasps of the small cigarette box, he dropped it. He let out a verbal sigh, and went to pick it up. His hands were just about to touch it when the door behind him began to creep open. His mind began to race. Cigarettes. In front of him. Person at door.
Before he could consider a rational option, he looked at the stairs in front of him and kicked the box as hard as he could. They bounced off the tip of his shoe and a soft clatter was echoed.
He turned around, seeing Aranea stumble out. He let out another sigh, this one to indicate how he was getting fed up with how she seemed to be everywhere. Intervening with everything.

 

 

"What do you want?" He asked, crossing his arms. He had read somewhere not to do that in a conversation because it made it look like he didn't want to be part of whatever was happening. In this case, however, he wanted her to go.

"You left the room, the sheet that sat on the dresser stating you had to "use the bathroom" when there was a bathroom three feet from you." She said. "I can see that you are stressed, Kankri. What is it?"

He felt his face heat up, his hands squeezing the nails into the palms of his hands.
"That is none of your business. Now if you excuse me, I am going to go on a walk." He said, turning around. 

"Then I'll come with you, I think it will be a great way to sort through our differences." She said.

Kankri raised his head. 
"That won't be necessary, I prefer my walks in solitude, unescorted by anyone.

He looked at her as she began to think. Her eyes searched the floor, a shadow casting over her. The orange lights in the hall made her skin look like honey and her hair look like cinnamon. 
"You could get us caught, leaving like that. You surely wouldn't want to risk that would you?" She asked.

"I'm not going to get us caught, Aranea. In fact, it's really none of your concern what I chose to do with my spare time. I don't want to engage in your juvenile games, and would instead like to ponder on my thoughts. Don't worry, I'm preparing a nice brief. I guess I could say I think it's nice of you, and that maybe I am a little flattered, you want to talk, but you'll have to wait." He said. She began to rub her temples. 

"Yeah, okay." She said. She turned around and entered back into the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. Good. That was over.

 

 

 

He walked over to the stairs to see that his cigarettes had fallen all over the place. He didn't care though, he needed them. Stepping down the steps, he began to pick them up, attempting to stay hidden from the woman up front. He was going to have to sacrifice a few of them, but that didn't matter, he could always come back later. No one ever came into the motel.

The stairs creaked with ever step, and his breaths gave him the impression he was being incredibly loud. It was dark in this area of the building, as there were no lights anywhere near the stairs. He continued to stuff the box, feeling like a child picking flowers. One. After. The other.

Then, like a scream in the night, the phone rang from the front desk. He nearly toppled down the stairs save for the railing on the side. Grasping it, he let out a frustrated breath. 

"Yes, thank you for calling me back. They came back around hour ago. They matched the descriptions. Pointy glasses and the other a brunette. I didn't see them with anyone else, but they wanted to stay for a week or two, I can't quite remember. Said their names was Clif and Josh."

The woman talking had paused. That was enough for Kankri to crawl up the stairs, regardless to how loud he was. His knees ricocheted off the wood and his hands slapped the built up dirt. He stuffed the cigarettes back into his pocket and sprinted into the room. He must have made a scene coming in, because everyone looked at him as the door slammed off the wall.

 

 

 

 

"They know we're here." He said, somehow out of breath.

"What?!" Meenah said, getting to her legs. "How do you know? Where were you Vantas? Did you give us away?"

Kankri shook his head.
"Of course not, Dirk and Jake did when they decided to feed us the overrated fast food they did. And I? I was just walking past the stairs when I heard the woman at the front desk talking about how she had seen a man with pointed glasses who fit the description. Then-"

Meenah growled. "Shut up we don't have time for your mouth. We have to leave, they'll find us." She didn't seem panicked in even the slightest.

"Did you kill somebody or something?" Rufioh asked.

"I'm aboat to." She said. "Forget your stuff we're gonna have to leave."

Dirk looked at the food on the grounds. "Damn chicken-nuggets." 

 

 

 

Most of the girls had run into their room to grab whatever it was they needed. Dirk opened the window, propping the chair on it, and jumping out.
"Let's go!" He said. Kankri watched as everyone began to abort the comfortable inn. He had already been shaking from a need of nicotine, but this too?

He was growing impatient. They could be here at any minute. The cops would find them and he would have to stop. His brother may never be found. He would be grounded. No. He would be DEAD. His Dad would murder him. The clock that ticked, completely unphased by the events, made him shake even more. He didn't need to gather anything, he had it all. His jacket, cigarettes, and his shoes.
One by one. Everyone entered, left again, entered once more. They picked up items. They ran. They pulled at their hair. He counted his friends as they went out the window. Nine. Ten. Twelve. Fifteen.

 

Now it was his turn. He ran to the window when he heard sirens. How come the police never came this fast to the crime scenes that needed it?
He popped out, everyone screaming at him. They were already running towards the woods. He abandoned everything inside and followed them, his legs carrying him as fast as they could go. He nearly threw up, the anxiety matting up in him. He saw his friends disappear into the greenery, their bodies carrying them further away from the one place they thought they could be at peace. The fresh air he craved so badly now seemed to strangle him. He didn't know how to breath the right way when he ran. He just let it go through his mouth, because breathing through his nose was both painful and didn't allow him to intake as much as he needed. His torso wasn't much better. It felt like something was squeezing it with the intent of killing him.

The sirens grew louder. They were probably already at the motel, bursting open the door and finding nothing inside but a box of chicken-nuggets, half eaten.

Kankri was definitely going to pout about this later.

He moved through the mud, ignoring the wetness that was beginning to sink into the fabric. He was close behind everyone as the ran between trees and were smacked by dead weeds. Rain that had just began to fall was already weighing him down like concrete. His legs were growing sore and his chest was in knots. He didn't get why they were running. They could have easily looked for them in the comfort of their own home. 
He dodged trees, occasionally letting out a sob when he thought it was slowing him down too much. He pushed past the branches that stuck out in weird angles and nearly slid into the mud on numerous occasions. The sirens didn't sound like they were getting quieter, but louder. The rain didn't feel like it was slowing down, but speeding up. The air didn't smell sweet, but sharp. He looked for Latula, and spotted her towards the front. From what he could see, she appeared safe. And beside Mituna.

When they began to run together, he caught wind of where they were going. The bus had been parked by Dirk not in the parking lot, thank God, but hidden behind a building. When they edged near it, Kankri began to feel warm droplets pile down his face. He slowed down, as did the others, to get in, the sirens still in the background.

 

 

 

"Kanny," Porrim's gentle voice was almost a whisper. "Don't cry." She said, planting a soft palm on his shoulder. Kankri didn't know what to do. He wanted to shove her away, because he was independent. At the same time, it felt like a traumatic event had just happened to him and she was the only one who could comfort him. She walked him to the bus where they both got in. The moment the door was shut, Cronus peeled out, the motor screaming.

"Vwe're going into the vwoods." He said. Kankri rested his head against the window, hoping no one noticed him as his breaths grew quiversome. He began to feel something that didn't feel right. Looking down, he saw that he had a gash on his hand, potentially from a branch. There was so much blood for such a small wound. 

"Kanny!" Porrim said, drawing the unwanted attention to him. Cronus shook the bus as he turned the wheel onto a backroad. The vehicle was driving far faster than it was designed to go. Tree branches hit it as he swerved relentlessly. 

"Porrim it's fine." He said, his words unintelligible.

"No it's not, your mutation, we need to stop your bleeding, here, hold still." She said, reaching out to grab him. He shot his hand back and glared at her.

"I don't need your constant mothering." He snapped.

"Stop being a moron Kankri and let me help you."

"No."

"Are you really going to do this right now?!" She asked, her voice growing deeper.

"Yes I am. You don't have to nurse me." He said, staring at her straight in the eye.

"Oh my God Kankri, it won't stop, your hand."

 

 

 

He had tried to ignore the feeling of blood swelling around him. This was just like when he got beaten up, the nose had bled for hours. And the car accident?
He finally looked down at it, and nearly choked at the sight. It was completely covered in blood now. Just one little scratch did that much. He began to shake, but tried to look as calm as possible. Nevertheless, tears continued to drip from his jaw. It stung, and looked awful. The blood was warm and was beginning to get all over his nice pants.

"Woah Vantas what happened?" Meenah said. "That's kinda cool actually." 

Porrim reached over, this time following his hand when he tried to move it again. She grabbed his wrist, making him clench up from the pain, and started to wrap her fancy hair band around it. 

"Let go!" He shouted, trying to take his hand away. She was squeezing the life out of him. At this rate he wouldn't have any fingers left.

"Stop acting like a baby." She said. He let out a whimper when the bus turned violently again and Porrim jerked his hand too far. He continued to cry, trying to get his hand back, and finally succeeding. He hid it under his jacket and looked away from her. 

 

 

 

It was silent in the bus after that. There were a few sniffles from some others, and he was happy to see he wasn't the only person triggered by everything that had just went down. He stared out the window, the windshield wipers smacking away the rain. The sirens had tuned down slightly. Cronus turned on the radio, flipping through stations. Most of them were nothing but a playlist of ads. Kankri didn't care though. He just wanted to sit and think for a while. 

He felt violated. His poor hand was completely unconsensually attacked by his bothersome friend. And it still hurt. He wasn't going to talk to her, see how she liked that. 

When a song finally came on the radio, he dived into it. He curled up to the window, his mind going elsewhere. Cronus had began to go down another road, one that seemed isolated from the rest. The car shook, and the music blocked out any sound the sirens may have still been making. 

"What's that?" Meulin asked, interrupting Kankri's thoughts.

"It's a house." Cronus said. He turned the bus towards the roof of the building.

"What are you doing?" Meenah asked. 

Cronus let out a breath. "Can't you bunch just givwe me some trust?" He asked.

"Not really." Dirk responded. "You did idiotically park your bus in the driveway of that motel and now their shitty security cameras probably picked up on it."

"Vwhatevwer." Cronus said. "You guys havwe no respect. I vwas born in the vwrong generation I just knovw it."
He pulled the bus into the overgrown path, the wheels bouncing. The path didn't look very well kept, but was noticeable from the way there were no trees in its way and cement was laid out, the rain washing away any mud. The earth wanted to swallow it up though, and that much was evident. 

"It's not uncommon to find abandoned houses." He said. "Especially around this area. My Dad buys them and fixes them up." 

Meenah groaned. 
"We are not stayin' in some spooky rundown house." 

"How do you know it's abandoned?" Meulin asked.

"I don't, but from the vway there is no cars, lights, or really any other signs of life, I'm gonna assume it is." He said. 
They came crashing through the weeds, and into the front. Kankri got a bad feeling from it. There was nothing to be seen beyond the windows. It was just a complete black void. In some parts of it, where were the occasional white curtains that looked more like rugged bed sheets. The front porch was lopsided, and covered in ivy. The door was slightly open, and the surrounding area hadn't been mowed in what seemed like forever. The house seemed to have its own sound coming from it. Something he had heard on deep-sea documentaries. A kind of low-frequency growling. No one was getting him to go in there, he didn't care what it came to.

Well. Unless that meant sleeping alone in the bus. Just staring at it. In the dark. Like he was now.

He felt like a complete infant. 

 

 

 

"We can just make it like our own!" Meulin said. "And stay there for awhile."

Kankri looked at her.
"It might have extreme levels of carbon monoxide or other toxic gases that often occur within these old houses. I wouldn't recommend starting a fire in it either. Rodents and other creatures have likely already claimed this resident as their ow-"

"BOO!"

Kankri jumped, scooting forward in his seat and grabbing his head. When the bus erupted into laughter, his face burned and he turned around to begin slaughtering Meenah with some extreme verbal abuse. 

"That, was, COMPLETELY, uncalled for." He barked. She ignored him and continued to laugh.

Chapter Text

"No, no, you need to put the paint only on the face, we have something else in store for the neck."

John walked into a room off from the tent. Rose and Kanaya both looked like they were being rushed to paint a man's face. He briefly explored the idea of Patch Adams, a movie based off of a true story where the guy dressed up like a clown and went around making everyone's day so much better. That, was nostalgia. Rose turned her head to see him when he walked in. He couldn't believe he was supposed to be a dancer.

"Oh, hello John." Rose said, grinning. She looked back at the guy who was starting to stand up. She turned her gaze back to John and began to walk up to him. 

"Is he supposed to be a clown?" John asked as the man admired himself in the mirror.

"No, he's a contortionists." She responded. Her hair was more of a mess than usual, and her clothes looked too big on her. The shirt, white, sagged more than it usually did, and her hairband was missing from her head. 

"Oh, wow sorry!" John said, raising his hands. 

"It's alright. I'm sure you'd know a clown when you saw one. They were talking about making you a Harley Quinn though." She said. 

"Hahaha Rose." John responded. "I actually have to admit that I kind of miss all of that." He said. His stomach began to wilt with the past memories of his living room and bedroom completely cluttered with the paraphernalia.

"It's okay John, we all miss even the unwanted aspects of our old live. We'll get back to them soon enough though, and will likely begin to take them for granted the moment we step into the door." 

He nodded. 
"Yeah, it's just I really miss my Dad. I wonder what he would think if he saw me now? I'm a dancer in a circus! Which reminds me." The last bit of his sentence began to trail off as he realized The Pranking Master hadn't pulled any of his legendary stunts in a time far too long. 

"What?" Rose asked.

"Oh nothing! You'll just have to see when the shenanigans get you!" He said, letting out a laugh.

"Let me guess-"

"No guessing!" John shouted. "This is a private matter Rose geez!" 

She nodded, her grin still wide. "Alright John, I will let you keep your mischief confidential so that you might get a chance to shock everyone with your extraordinary pranking skills." 

"Pranking?!" John said, gasping. He grabbed his chest and looked far into the distance. "Why Rose, why would you ever think such a thing?"

Chapter Text

Tuesday, January the Sixteenth 
Atrabilious, is the boy who sits in the against the window of the bus, looking not at the scenery, but annoyed at his own reflection. The darkling of the thin clouds was enough to give that away. Whatever the dolour was, it wasn't something he would talk about, and I knew that. Part of me has the appetency to talk to him. Vriska was right, I probably saved the school from a catastrophe, but at the same time, Kankri was often made fun of. I have to be honest, he is very callous, or at least that's how it looks under his Social Justice Warrior mask. Reading people has always been interesting to me though, and I would really like to see what is below even the shallowest part of him. I can't explain why, it might be pity, or it might be the fact I really want him to like me. Everyone already thinks I am really annoying, and some don't like me from the beginning. School elections are like presidential elections, you either hate a candidate or you love them. If the one you hate is the one who is selected, you will forever despise them. He will likely always feel a deeply rooted hatred for me, but I think it would be nice to talk to him. He seems like the type of person I could have a conversation with.  I considered having Meenah tell Porrim to sit with her so that I could sit by him, try to spark something. 

We had been in this bus for over an hour, listening to the sirens from afar. We were deep in the woods in front of an ancient home, but you could still hear them. All of us had anticipation growing like a cancer in our lungs. Every breath was as though it would be our last. It was a lot to handle, and the worst part was, no one fully understood why we were actually hiding. There was no reason we all had to search for our siblings, let alone in secret. Meenah seemed to have a motive though, and I am surprised to say I am not certain what that specific motive is. It seemed star-crossed, unfortunate events following us wherever we went. It was as though the group all being together was nocuous. Nevertheless, we all remained together, and I remained in the back of the car.

-Aranea Serket

Chapter Text

The sirens had stopped.
They hadn't been going off for a long time now, and they only thing that was left was the chatter amongst his friends. Kankri listened carefully, hoping he'd find something someone did wrong. It was his role to unite everyone, after all, so he had claimed earlier, and now it was time to prove to the lousy school president that he was well worthy of the spot. It was always the rich. The rich staying out of jail, the rich getting everything, and that wasn't fair. There needed to be equal opportunities for everyone. Wealthy and Poor alike.

 

 

Finally, the option came when Cronus turned his keys and ripped them out of the ignition. Meenah clamored out of the car and marched up to Damara. A grin was plastered onto her face as she shoved the girl. Damara slipped and landed in the mud, her bare legs completely soaked in the disgusting weather's outcome. She looked up, confused at the move.

"What's wrong?" Meenah asked. "Rufioh, aren't you goin' to come help your gillfriend? Or are you too busy makin' out with Horse Boy?"  She began to laugh, her cheeks turning a deeper shade. 

"Wait, what?" Aranea asked. 

"Oh nofin'. Other than the fact all of you bottom-feeders need to grow a pair. If we're goin' to find the miniature versions of ourshelfs, the you bunch need to stop being a bunch of babies." She said. 

Latula nodded. "Yeah! Everyone needs to grow a pair." 
Kankri nodded, not because she had said it, but because he agreed. That was definitely it. Meenah raised a brow at Latula, then smiled again.

"Look, here's the plan." She continued. "We are goin' to stay in this shitty house, then draw clues together based off of where they are. I wasn't an idiot and stole money from my Mom before I came so if we need to pay our way into getting somefin' then we can. Your parents are all probubbly involved in this somehow, bein all your siblings just disappeared. Didn't you see on the glubbin' news at the motel? My house was burnt down. That, is fishy. Someone needs my sister and I gone and I ain't goin' back there yet. Not until I find out who's behind all this. My Mom is after some of you, not goin' to say who because that takes the fun outa it, but she is. So you're safer here anyway."

"What?!" Kankri asked. 

"Nope." Meenah responded. He made a mental note to ask her about that later.

 

 

 


Rufioh walked over to Damara who just glared at him as he attempted to help her up. She murmured something and got up on her own. Meenah looked back at her, the light of the clouded moon above her doing little to shine on the seemingly permanent shadow on her face.

"We can't understand you when you talk like that-"

"Meenah." Kankri interjected. 

"Vantas, we-"

He continued to talk, despite whatever it was she was going to say. "Look, you must know that she can not control the fact she doesn't share a language with us. Have you checked your privilege? No, I don't think you have. Damara is probably feeling very triggered right now, since you happen to be throwing her elocutionary differences to the public as though it is some severe speech impediment like Captor's."

"What?" Mituna asked. 

"Nothing, Mituna." Kankri replied. He stepped closer to Meenah and looked at Damara. "Your constant mishandling of the leadership role is-"

"Vantas, shut up, we're goin' inside." She said, turning towards the house. 

"Meenah, hold up right there." He said, following her to the front. He hoped he could not only get his point across but stall the entry of the structure. "Running away from the problems will do little to help them. Please, let me aid in uniting both you and Damara, so that there may be peace in this group. In fact, I think it might be time for me to write a speech. I will hand everyone a copy and you can all read over it. Yes, that is a great idea-"

"Save it for the paper." She murmured. "'Cause my news are way more interesting than whatebber your throwin' out."

"What are your news?" Aranea asked her. Their feet clomped in the mud, shoes sinking in various places. The sun had long since left them to their own thoughts. It was freezing that night too, and Kankri shivered from below his sweater and jacket. 

"Aranea, you're derailing her." Kankri warned. He wanted to walk slower, but couldn't because they would get away and the wisdom he was handing out wouldn't be planted into their minds.

"I'll tell everyone when we get inside." Meenah said, laughing to herself. Kankri let out sigh, they weren't listening. He began to walk fast when a hand was laid upon his shoulder. He jumped, this time thinking it was a ghost about to eat him.

He was close.


 

 

 

"Kanny," Porrim walked beside him, lifting his arm. He snatched it away and looked forward. "Is your hand doing better?"

"It was until you came along. You can be on your way now." He said, reaching the porch. It was even worse than he had previously thought. Boards that were once painted blue, now stuck up in unnatural ways, their paint peeling off the sides. The stairs were made of concrete, but didn't even connect to the house. If someone were to step wrong onto it, they could break their ankle. There was no railing, but the porch did have a roof. Half of the house was made of stone, and the other was of asbestos siding. The door looked jammed, and the windows were nothing but insects. Weeds grew all over the place, some dead, some striving for life. 

"Why have you been such a brat lately?" She asked. Her hair whipped around her like a kite.

"I'm not being a brat, I just find you enormously tiresome. Not to mention it's partly your fault the school president gig was handed to someone who doesn't know how to handle it." 

Porrim drug her hand to her forehead. She let out a sigh and shook her head.
"You're so ridiculous." 

He didn't want to conversation to end just yet. She was meddlesome, but at the same time, he didn't want her to be mad at him.
"Anyway," He said. "When are we going home?"

Meenah turned around. She was already at the front door, trying the knob.
"When we find everyone." 

He watched as she tried to force her way inside. The door wasn't budging, and wasn't going to.
"Horuss come over here." She said, walking to the window.

"Oh, uh, certainly." He grumbled. Kankri remained at the bottom of the stairs, deciding to wait until there was a way to get inside.

"There could be someone living here." Aranea said, leaning against the porch's fence. It looked like it was going to fall down at any moment. 

"In this dump? We're more likely to find a dead body." Meenah said. She stepped aside and pointed behind her when Horuss joined her side. "Open this." 

"Yes, ma'am." He said, his voice enough to make everyone around him uncomfortable. His goggles looked fogged from the humidity, but he was easily able to pull his hand back and send it flying through the air. Colliding, It shattered the glass on immediate impact, and let out a sound that made Kankri want to cover his ears. Horuss dug his hand inside and reached up for the lock. Kankri tried not to look, not wanting to see the dead insects fall from the sill. Instead, his eyes found their way back to Latula. She watched them with a smile, her glasses fogged as well. 

"YEAH! THAT'S IT MAN!" She cheered, throwing her hands into the air. "THAT WAS SICK!" She ran up the stairs and held a hand high in the air for Horuss to slap. 

"No thank you, Pyrope, I don't want to engage in these...puerile games of yours." He said.

"AWE, COME ON MAN, JUST ONE?" She shouted, the hand not moving. He looked at her, and his hand started to rise.

"Alright, just one, but no more. I don't have to take orders from you, being you're below my social caste." 
He high-fived her, then turned back to the window to open it. 



 

 

He didn't think anyone else noticed it, but Latula began to talk amongst the others in a louder tone. It was almost like she was incredibly embarrassed about the previous ordeal and needed to place a blanket over it. She didn't even have the same facial expression. Of course Mituna didn't notice it though, he just walked up the stairs and met up with Kurloz. Kurloz looked at him, the paint on his face worn and dampened by the unforgiving rain.

"Kankri come up here, you're getting soaked." Porrim demanded from the porch. He lifted his injured hand, the sensation that his skin was being ripped off lingering. The raindrops beat him, sending the dried blood trickling off.

"No, I am fine out here." He said, not looking away from her. She was the only one who was paying him any attention, and from the look on her face, she wasn't very happy with him. She shook her head and turned to talk to Meenah. Horuss was crawling into the window, followed by both Rufioh and Jake. When they disappeared, Kankri turned to look back at the bus. He wiped the rain from his eyelids and blinked a couple of times, seeing if he had any excuse to get back in there. He listened to the branches of the trees snap around him, and watched the fog move in front of him. There were no stars in the sky, because they were swallowed by the clouds. A wind was present, and he felt like his ears were going to fall off every time it ran past him. His jacket was small and lanky, and hardly did any him any favors. His shoes were still soaked and it pained him to have to stand in them, but he did so anyway. He didn't want Porrim to think her pestering was the reason he was going to get on the porch. He would voluntarily wait there until everyone else went in. Then, he would find himself drowning in a puddle of ghosts. 

 

The wind blew past him with as much force as it could, annihilating any hope that might have come along with the weather from earlier. And God, he needed a smoke.

 

When the sound of a door being shoved open cracked over pit-pats, he knew he had to retreat in defeat, the cold was too much. He turned around, ignoring his hand, and took a deep breath. Porrim had already went in, which to him felt good, because he could make the decision to enter on his own. Aranea held the door open, her dress fluttering. He didn't know why or how she could wear such a thing in this weather. He marched up the stairs and tried to block his thoughts from entering his head. He didn't want anyone to know he was afraid of the dark, or anything stupid like that. When he walked past her, she had lightly touched his arm. He ignored it, hoping she wouldn't follow him and ask him something. Nevertheless, he still murmured a thank you and continued on his way.


 

 

 

 

Someone had a flashlight with them in another room, and was shining it all over the place. The door slammed shut behind him, and for a moment, he was thankful for Aranea's company next to him. He exchanged a glance with her, then, in deciding it was a bad idea to make prolonged eye-contact with a potential enemy, moved towards the light. 

"So what happened to your hand?" She asked. He knew why she was talking to him. She wanted something, that was how it always was with the Serkets. There was always something. 

"I don't know." He said, pushing past a chair that he could have sworn had something move just below the cushion. He couldn't see much aside from outlines and the hanging cocoons of dead insects. His stomach flipped at the sight, feeling vulnerable to the murderous tendencies that rodents and humans alike all carry within themselves. 

"Oh, that's interesting." She said. "I have a couple of cuts too, but they aren't that bad. Yours must have been pretty deep? I wouldn't be surprised based on how everyone was running out there, the sirens blazing in the background. None of us thought we were going to make it."

He fought the urge to be passive-aggressive with her, and the only reason he chose not to was because he had to place his hand over his nose to keep the smell of mold and whatever else was dead from entering his lungs. The flashlight was in another room again, and he needed to find it. To see what was around him. 
He maneuvered into a small room. A kitchen. There were a set of stairs on the far wall, and there was a hall next to the stairs. One room was at the end, there was a closed door to the left of it, and an opening to a pantry to the right. He saw the outlines of a table, a stove, and pots and pans that were hung up years ago. Strewn about were the carcasses of trash and knickknacks. It smelt putrid in the area, and he decided he'd rather sleep alone in the bus than surrounded by everyone in this place. It was a cataclysm of filth, every item decrepit. It reminded him of when he first returned home, to the new house his Dad had bought. 

He was about to go onto the stairs with everyone else when something brushed his shoulder. He let out a whimper, scared that the ghost was coming to get him. However this time, it was again, Aranea. Her eyes were wide and her eyebrows stretched high on her face.

"What's wrong?!" She asked. 

"Nothing." He responded. Walking away from her, his wet shoes slapped the rancid floor below him. Everyone trailed upstairs and with the light now shining in front of him, he saw more than he wanted. When they reached the top, he nearly let his stomach out of his body. There was a cat, or, what appeared to be so. 
With the newfound warm air that recently crawled out from behind the wind's sweeping current, flies had left their hiding places and now chomped down on the feline's rotting corpse. It was mostly bone now, and a section he thought was fur, was actually a constellation of bugs. He stepped back when a fly, attracted to the light, missed the flashlight and came after him. He flew back further than he intended to, colliding into someone else. Aranea gasped from behind him, and grabbed ahold of him before he could bring both of them to the base, her arms around his waist. Before he could even think, he ripped himself from her, his face beginning to heat up.

"Vwhat the hell?" Cronus said, looking back at him. Kankri moved up on the stairs, grabbing the railing only to let go when his hand touched something sticky. He let out another weird sound and pushed himself to the other side of the wall, holding the bandaged hand. It festered in pain, throbbing at the top. Aranea, who looked like she had just experienced The Butterfly Affect, watched him like he was completely insane. He felt insane. This was disgusting, he wanted out. His attempts at proving just how independent he was, was a complete fail. This wasn't what he expected. He was going to have to up the game.

"What happened?!" Aranea asked.

"The stairs are too damn crowded." He said, dusting his good hand off on his pants. He did it again, meeting the enemies eyes. They were still wide behind her glasses, her mouth opened slightly. He couldn't tell what it was that she wanted, but was determined to find out. She honestly seemed like she genuinely wanted to help, but he didn't want to give her the benefit of the doubt. She didn't deserve it. He looked away from her, after realizing he had been staring, and followed the rest of the group past the cat and into another room.

"Who's gonna throw the cat outside?" Meenah asked. 

"I will." Meulin responded. Her voice seemed to quiver a bit, despite the fact she often went hunting with her family to kill innocent animals on a regular basis. "I'll bury it, we can have a funeral."
Kankri remained close to the wall, trying to stay as far from it as he could when he left the cramped hall and into another area of the house.



 

 

The other room wasn't as messy as the other rooms, but was still completely repugnant. There was a mattress on the floor in the corner, and he was sure the small things he was stepping on was rat pebbles. There was a dresser pushed against the wall, a hole bleeding the darkness of the outside woodland inside. On the other side, there was a sink that protruded from a hole, and he was positive a large bug of some sort had just wiggled its way inside. 

 

"Welcome home." Meenah said. She smiled her usual smile, but was the only one who did so.

Chapter Text

John peeped out of the trailer. Dave, Karkat, and Sollux were nowhere in sight. 
It had turned from a windy and warm day, to one where the clouds decided to spit out their coughs on the circus people below. It wasn't a parade though, and they had tents, so John figured it was okay.

What wasn't okay, was the ridiculous outfit he was wearing. He was expected to know an entire dance routine within the matter of an hour.
"Might as well wear your costume" Elmer had said. "You need to get use to them."

John looked down at himself. His legs were trapped in tights. Each leg had three different patches of color sewn onto them, of which were blue, green, and pink. His shirt, wasn't something he wanted to be seen in. Tights were bad enough, but the shirt was interesting. It had a white ruffled collar at the top, and it extended past his hips and sprouted into something of a skirt design. Now that he thought about it, it looked like a dress. It was blue with yellow polka-dots, and lacked any sleeves. His footwear was possibly the least eccentric of the look. They were pointed upwards at the tips, and were red. Slick red. 

John looked back outside, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. 

As the wind blew away the warm weather and replaced it with rain, the circus had come to life. There were now the occasional flicker of light from the multiple tents, reminding him of the camera flash for family portraits. The circus people buzzed trying to get their items together. The animals had been let out of their cages and were being groomed. They didn't have any elephants, which was disappointing, but there were two lions, an enormous pig, and he had seen numerous dogs since being there. The dogs all looked weird though. They looked like they were being starved, yet on further inspection of one, he was sure it was just the build of the beast. 
A trace of kettle-corn wafted through the air, accompanied by a mellifluous melody. The band that had greeted them earlier had practiced the entire day, their small assemblage creating a cacophony of sounds. Even when he sat from within the confinements of his trailer, he could hear them. Never stopping for a break, always playing.

 

The circus did a good job of decorating. The trees around him were laced with green lights and other ornaments. They resembled the kind of Christmas Tree that could never go out of style.
They had confetti spilled everywhere, and signs placed into the ground.

Yet, through all the marvelous lighting and obsessive design, the moon from just beyond the clouds still made the night look blue.

He had never been to the circus before, and he wondered if Jane or Dad ever got the chance. Just looking at the cooks carrying their sweets to the various stalls, made him think of the man, tall and with his pipe. Dad would have loved to volunteer to make cakes or other fine pastries. 

He inhaled.
He exhaled.

 

 

John hopped down from the stairs, his shoes crunching in the gravel. At least he'd have his prank to come back to. None of his trailer-mates would see it coming. Surely it would take his mind off of walking through honey for the day. Everything had gone so slow, yet fast at the same time. He felt like he was at the circus for much longer than a day. Far longer. It was only yesterday they had gotten their first rest since the camp. He continued, the evening air breathing on his arms, urging him to go back into the warmth of the trailer and grab his coat. Yet he didn't. He didn't have time. 

He dodged someone as they strode past him, racing to the other side of the circus. Rather than a place of dreams, he knew he had just stepped into a live action of Where the Wild Things Are. Every person was so unlike the one prior to them, as though they were from a different universe all together. He saw people in masks, children in lace, ladies in suits and men in dresses. Some walked on stilts, others were shorter than most kids in elementary school. There were those who were skinny as a rail, and others who were quite the opposite. The circus proved to be a place for everyone, and there was something very nice about that. 
John followed his memory back to the biggest tent that stood just in front of him. If no one else was wearing their outfit, he was going to be pissed. The thought of Dave and Karkat wearing such an outrageous thing made his lips curl into a smile nevertheless. If only Dad could see him now. He couldn't wait to tell him everything. 

 

 

 

He entered the tent, this time, the entire thing was lit up. Lights were strung all around, the colors in the center of the stage were vibrant, as though someone had spray-painted the cement below. He looked up, noticing that rather than red and white, it instead looked orange and yellow. There were various strings hung about, likely for those who dared to walk across it or to flip off of them. Bleachers were set all around the circle, as though the onlookers were ready to see innocent escapees get devoured by lions. The entire place was massive, far bigger than he first though it to be. Lights peered down, weird boxes were set in random places.

 

"HEY MORON." A cold and equally massive voice shouted from the center of the tent. John diverted his eyes to a scene that was just as splendid as he thought it to be. Unable to hold it within himself, laughter sprung free from his lips. 

There Karkat stood, in all his glory. His leggings were black and red, and his "dress" was gray with lime diagonal lines. Only one arm was cut out of his attire, as the other reached his wrist. He stood cross-armed, likely trying to send out a tough demeanor. John continued to laugh, his hysteria growing worse when he saw Dave. Like Karkat, he had an arm cut out as well, though it was the opposite one. He shared the same colors, but in the reverse form. John held his stomach, the sight of his best friend in a lime green top and red curled shoes too much to handle. 

"WHAT'S SO FUNNY EGBERT?" Karkat sneered. John shook his head, lifting up a shaky hand to point. His stomach was starting to clench, growing stiff from laughter. He didn't know what to say other than the fact both of them looked like complete idiots. He couldn't say much though, as his outfit was as equally strange.

"Out of my wway." 
John's laughs slowed when Eridan strutted past him. The guy's costume was put together like he was the prince of something. His leggings were short, and the dress portion of the shirt nearly covered them. It was violet with bright purple accents and had lots of sequins. There was no true design to it, but he had a cape and both of his sleeves. His shoes were, alike the other's, red, though they stretched further up the leg, making them look more like boots than loafers. John had to cover his mouth, cracking up once more at the sight. First this, then the prank. This was going to be a great night. Dave walked up to him, smug likely due to his allowance of wearing his glasses.

"Welcome to the land of every first-grade teacher's dreams." He said, turning his head to look up as the lights above him began to turn into a deeper shade of yellow. John followed Dave's gaze, up to the glass booth where Sollux could be seen talking to a man in white. He looked annoyed as he fumbled with whatever it was.

 

The lights went back to normal, cascading the room in its usual glow. He wished it would bring more warmth. John spun around, tracing the room.

"Where's Elmer?" He asked, rubbing his arms. Dave shrugged.

"Who knows. Maybe he decided to run away and join some insane and obscure place." 

John inhaled. If Elmer wouldn't teach his friends how to dance, then surely IT WOULD BE UP TO HIM TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT AGAIN.

Although he didn't know how to dance.
Nor was he flexible enough for most of the moves. 

Eridan began to dance, showing off his moves to an invisible crowed. 
"Wwhat do you think of this Kan?" He asked, his eyes watching as someone entered the tent. John turned around and smiled when he saw Rose. 

"We have to do your makeup now."  Kanaya said. 

"And John, Dave," Rose added, walking towards them. She still looked sickly, and he wondered for a moment if he was the only to notice. "I have a few things to tell you. I talked to some of the circus performers and I gathered some information."

"Oh, okay." John said. He watched as her eyes crept downward. Squinting his eyes at her, he crossed his arms. She began to laugh, mimicking him from earlier. "Whoever made you wear those, were a genius." 

"And what do you have to wear." He asked, hoping it would be just as outlandish.

"Nothing like that, actually." She said. "Kanaya and I both work behind the stage."

"Of course." He said. Well, he knew to prank them with one of his better stunts. It had to be done. A pranking master, no, a pranking LORD knows his ways.

 

 

 

He followed Rose out of the tent, again growing cold. He was partially blind to the night, his eyes stained with light. She looked behind them, her skin growing paler than it already was.
"We need to be careful. People are already starting to arrive. The circus opens in just less than an hour, and we can't risk being seen." She said. "That's why the people who aren't actively involved with the show aren't out and about, if you haven't noticed."

"Are you sure no one is going to notice us being our makeup?" He asked. She navigated to an area between two tents. It blocked off any view that someone could have had of them. Dave, Kanaya, Eridan, and Karkat all followed, far from quiet.

"Don't touch me." Karkat had growled just prior.

"Geez, calm yourself Karkat, if I wasn't mistaken, I'd think you were jealous of how awesome my costume is." Dave said. His face was as blank as printer paper. 

 

Rose rubbed her eyes. "No, they aren't paying attention to the individual person. Just the acts. Not to mention you'll have on facepaint. Your visage will remain completely hidden. Just don't venture out when you aren't supposed to."

Dave stepped up beside John. His arms were completely covered in goosebumps, but he said nothing of it. In fact, it didn't even look like he noticed.
"What was it you wanted to tell us?" He asked.

Rose's eyes lit up the instant the question was asked.
"I wanted to tell you about the partition. Some of the members think the owner is laundering money, which is why half of the circus is gone."

"So? Who cares. It's just some dude trying to get more cash." Dave shrugged. 

"It's not just that." Rose said. "There was one other person." 

John tilted his head. "What did they say?" 

Rose looked him in the eyes, her glare wild. She reminded him of the characters in movies who were the insane conspiracy theorists.
"They told me to think about who the circus is comprised of, and I did. This place is made up of fugitives. People like us who are escaping either turmoil or discord. Some of them are in trouble with the law. Spaldon said he was struggling, but it wouldn't make any sense to split the site in half." She said.

"What does this have to do with us?" Dave asked. John nodded.

 

"Yeah? I don't really see the problem. They haven't done anything weird." He added.

Rose bent back, her eyes still peeled wide. She spoke more with her hands, than usual, and appeared to be over alert.
"Look, people are beginning to enter, we can talk about this after the show."

John listened past the sound of his friends talking, hearing the murmurous voices of roamers.

"THERE ALWAYS HAS TO BE SOMETHING." Karkat spat. "ALWAYS SOME ARCANE PROBLEM SHIT FRESH OUT OF GOD ALMIGHTY'S SPINAL CREVICE."

Kanaya was quick to lay a shoulder on him.
"Calm down Karkat. We won't be here forever." 

Dave shrugged. "Unless we die here. Then our spirits can haunt this place forever." 

"SHUT UP STRIDER." Karkat snapped. 

 

Watching his friends act the way they did, created joy in itself for the present moment. John smiled to himself. The prank was just too good, and he couldn't wait to see the looks on their faces when they saw the Pranking Master in all his glory.

Chapter Text

They stopped looking around the house when it had grown dark enough outside so as to render them immobile. With the flashlight set in the center of a circle of friends, the drama from just an hour previous, had died down. She wondered how long it would take before someone decided to make a scene out of themselves. 

They were all together in the room with the hole and the mattress. There were constant creaks and moans from the walls around them, and although she was sure they were all scared to an extent, no one talked about it.

Aranea, listening, paying attention to those around her so she could take control of whatever social situation was at hand. She had a way of putting herself in situations where others might inquire something of her that would make her uncomfortable, and in the very least, vulnerable. She tried a different take, this time paying more attention to people so that she could avoid the obstacles whenever she needed to. 

Nothing too interesting was occurring though. It was just the same old thing over and over. Mituna and Latula were both curled up together, sharing the same yellow raincoat. Cronus was commenting on Kurloz's style, only to get a middle finger in return, Kankri was arguing with Porrim in her attempt to take him out of the drama he had created about the leader with Meenah, and Jane was looking at Dirk and Jake, both of which seemed to be having a nice conversation. 

 

Tempted she was, to join Meenah and see what was going on, but she couldn't help but to notice that there were two others who were missing from the group. Damara sat by herself in the corner, resting her eyes, oblivious that her boyfriend and her boyfriend's seemingly close friend weren't in the picture. Aranea hadn't recalled seeing them run out of the room, but nevertheless, they were nowhere near. 

The air was still, unmoving even through the sprinting time, until something shattered through it. A thud, enough to stir Damara awake, spiked the atmosphere. Aranea moved her head to see Kankri on the ground, and Meenah towering over him. The classic playground-bully scene.

 

 

"Alright so I wanna settle some things." She announced. "With this guy in charge, we aren't gettin' anyfin done. I have to admit I tried to give 'em the chance, at least for a few minutes, but we aren't goin' anywhere! First things first as your new and permanent leader." Her eyes stretched to Damara. "We have to make you all stronger. Nomoby here is goin' to be roughin' yourshelfs up from the police with this attitude, so follow me and I'll show you what it's like to be a true leader. We're an army, not a summer camp."

She marched over to Damara as Kankri regained his posture. His face was as red as his sweater, the arms of which were beginning to cross. Porrim laid a hand on his shoulder, but he shook it off, murmuring something as he did so. 

Damara looked up from where she sat, her dark hair falling out from her bun and splashing over her shoulders. Aranea wondered why the girl wanted to come back to America so bad. Sure her sister was here, but she had gone most of her life without her anyway. There was nothing to offer in the town to which they called home. It was frozen in time, the frost turning everyone within cold as ice.

Meenah reached down and grabbed ahold of Damara's arm. She ripped her up, a smile plastered to her face. As confused as she was blind to the night, Damara drug behind. Aranea followed, as did most of the group. Meenah marched them into the only room that had its door shut when it wasn't before. She ripped Damara closer, throwing open the door, and shoving her into the darkness.

"AND BEHOLD!" Meenah said, raising her arms. "A cheater!"

 

 

 

Aranea moved her head so she could get a better view into the room. Just as she had expected, Horuss and Rufioh were there together, their hands pressed into each other's, and their bodies too close for it not to have been a scandalous escape.
Damara, from what Aranea could see beyond the darkness of the room, looked completely shocked.

 

"Doll, I'm sorry it's not-"
Rufioh lacked the time to say anything to her, his arm that he had reached out falling back to his side. Damara instead pushed out of the room, shoving past Meenah and down the stairs. Aranea glared at her friend, unable to say she was shocked for what just took place. She knew she was cruel, but this cruel?

"Meenah!" She snapped, walking towards her. "Why was even the point of that?!"
Meenah raised her shoulders, then dropped them.

"She had to find out sometime Serket."

Of course, their business couldn't have remained their own when Kankri joined in.
"I am very ashamed this is what you have chosen to do on your first few minutes of being the new delegate of our group. For one, the complex relationship between Damara, Rufioh, and Horuss, is her business, and not yours. What Rufioh decides to do is his own matter, and whether or not Damara feels content with it isn't for your deciding."
Meenah lifted a brow as Kankri continued to talk. 
"Throwing one of our members violently into a dark room filled with a distasteful action brought onto her by her boyfriend and what I am assuming to be her boyfriend's boyfriend, is a course of action that should be looked down on. You don't know their situation either, perhaps there were some social dilemmas between the three of them that put them in this predicament in the first place. I think we should all take the time to sit down and listen to my speech- I mean, talk about this in a manner that allows for each person to have a mutual input." He said.

"Vantas," Meenah said. "You literally hook yourself into everyone's business. Besides, who gives a fuck? She was weak."

"For one, Meenah, being "weak" is a very subjective term some may find triggering based on their deficiency in established areas. You may say one is weak when they aren't able to walk to the standard they want to be at-"

Porrim shook her head, the members of the group beginning to feed into the conversation.
"Kanny, I think she gets the point." She said, her dull expression reading how annoyed she was.

"Not now Porrim, I am in the middle of a lecture. I haven't even gotten to Damara's speaking privilege and how that affects her ability to properly maintain a superior social life."

"Ain't nobody got a social life when you're around."  Meenah mumbled. 

 

 

 

Rufioh looked at Horuss as the three continued to talk. The faint light from the flashlight in the other room reflected off of Horuss' sweat. He fiddled with his hands, and his body looked like he was squeezing it together.

"Wait, so what just happened?!" Latula asked. Kankri's eyes lit up when he saw her. Meenah was about to say something when Kankri cut her off.

"Meenah was-"

He looked like he was being choked to death when Meenah came up from behind him and covered his mouth. He tried to break free, ripping at her arms, though remained trapped, despite Meenah being slightly shorter.

"I just announced that Damara was getting cheated on by Rufioh. Can't say I didn't see that comin'." She released Kankri who let out a breath, his face red again.

Porrim rolled her eyes as he opened his mouth to talk. "Kanny, calm down."

"NO PORRIM." He growled. Aranea couldn't tell if she wanted to laugh at how fast he could drop from calm to a pit of fire in mere seconds, or if she should be concerned. Kankri redirected his gaze to Meenah. 
"Don't touch me!" 

Aranea had to admit, she didn't think she had ever seen him that angry before.

 

 

 

"Oh, what? Man that's insane!" Latula finally roared, her response somewhat late. "You were cheating on Damar?" She looked at Rufioh who seemed like he wanted to be any place but his current position.

"Look, just, it's just one thing kind of led to the other and-"

Latula put her hands up. "Man, that's WRONG." 

Rufioh, in all honesty, looked like he was about to cry from embarrassment. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes were wide. They darted all over the place as a madman. His inability to say no was likely what got him in the situation in the first place. 

 

Meenah turned around and navigated back into the room. "Well now that that's all solved, I'm headin' out."

Aranea looked around at the different expressions on everyone's faces. The college kids looked confused and less shocked. However those like Meulin, Mituna, and even Cronus, seemed to be in a different state of broken tranquility than just prior. Porrim still looked stressed just as Kankri still looked furious. The crimson of his face was beginning to turn less noticeable. Latula was already back in the room, and Kurloz remained as poker-faced as ever. Damara, was still downstairs, lurking somewhere. Likely to the bus, so she could cry in peace, all whilst having the comfort of old seats, the sound of rain padding the roof, and the absence of a musty smell and drama-infested teenagers.

Aranea shifted back into the room, her shadow stretching along the wall as she entered. The smell of the cat hadn't fully disappeared, and she knew sleeping was going to be rough if not impossible.

 

"This place is beyond disgusting." Kankri whined as he went to take a seat next to Porrim. "Dead animals, insects." He trailed on, and Aranea had to admit that it didn't look like Porrim was paying the faintest bit of attention to him. 
A breeze entered the room, its bitterness far from comforting. She shivered, regretting the choice to wear a dress on the trip. Had she known more of what she'd gotten herself into, she would have bundled up like she was revisiting Greenland. 

This trip was a mess compared to it. There was no organization, and it seemed as though they were set up for failure. It was reckless, making the decision that the cops weren't doing enough and to instead take matters into their own hands. They had shown up quick enough to find them. Yet when the location of their sibling's alleged camp was revealed, they were laughed at. Then there was word they might have been involved with a cult. The police would be forced to stay away, if it meant their lives as well. She had hypothesized this fact, and it made the most sense. However, the only thing that made her wonder was why their principle would allow such a game to take place, and why only specific people were selected to go into it. Vriska made straight A's, likely from cheating, but she had heard (through one of Vriska's I-Am-The-Superior rants) that the younger Vantas' grades weren't that great, and that Tavros had poorer grades. If it was based on academics, it wouldn't have made any sense for them to have been selected. Perhaps, she thought, they were just pulled out at random, their names meaning nothing. Meenah had even turned in a slip with some names, but didn't make it, and her team was made up of smart students.

This led way to another series of questions. The man who started the game was never revealed. The public didn't make a big deal out of his existence, making him less known than a new horrible music artist.. (I.e. Cronus Ampora).
Everything that comprised this made no sense, and she supposed it was why Meenah wanted to find things out. The comfort of her home would have been risky too. Not only because it was blown up, but because she was surrounded by people who could find out what she was doing. She had mentioned her mother was doing something fishy to say in the least. Aranea wondered what that could be.

She smiled to herself, finally understanding why she was in the decrepit house in the first place. In order to conduct a good study without the interference of the cops at home or acquiring an unwanted business, Meenah had to leave. It would be hard to take her down a well as long as she had a good amount of people by her side. She had two things going for her. Meenah could make it look like a crime scene. Someone had kidnapped everyone in the group just like they did the kids, or she could make it a statement. That if the police in town wouldn't do anything about it, then she would. Transforming Kankri's simple plan into one of a convoluted strategy also enabled her to take charge of the condition. 

It all made sense. Aranea walked over to the other side of the room where she had laid her backpack down. She was going to have to write all of this in order to remember fully and to keep it fresh in her brain. That way, when someone needed the information, she had it. All of it.

Just as she made her way over, she picked up on a conversation nearby. She didn't know why she had to keep focusing on him, it wasn't like the two of them were friends. Yet something whirled inside of her, like an unknown fact. Just like her, he had people getting mad at him for his rhetoric. Just like her, he had an extreme potential for many things that went completely unnoticed.  

 

"Is that the reason?" Porrim asked him.

"No, it's not."

His voice was soft when he answered her, a big turn around from just a few minutes prior. Aranea was slow with her books. 

 

"Kanny, why don't you just talk to me?" Porrim said. Kankri didn't move from his place. His expression didn't change, but his body language did. He had crossed his arms again, but not in his usual snarky way.

"Because Porrim, I can take care of myself."

She noted what he said, and remembered to write that down too. If things weren't so awkward between her and Porrim, she would ask her. She supposed that was what Meenah was for.

Chapter Text

She had waited for so long for Meenah to come home. For Feferi to return. Neither of them did however, and the local cops were being of little help. 

The only way to get through to this was to give the company to her sister. At least until one of her daughters return. 
Makara was attempting to help her, but it wasn't enough. He wasn't trying hard enough. Their company was suffering from his lack of searching. Call had found nothing, and in her opinion, should be fired. He rubbed her the wrong way. Regardless, he was told of every hint as to where they might be.

She hoped none of this had to do with one of her business partners. People who were mad. People who knew about the company.

However, for those who did find out, they were generally killed on the spot. She wasn't aware of how Makara did business, but he was the one who took the people and sent them where they needed to be sent. 

She looked at the lock in her sister's living room, waiting for her to arrive. Her sister was a sensation that many people knew. She did business just like everyone else in the Peixes family, and for that, she was glad. Otherwise their methods could be revealed. 

Laundering, is what they called it. She got the money illegally, and split it up between the businesses she bought out. No one got insanely rich off of fish food. 

She tapped her nails on the wood of the coffee table when the front door opened. Her sister, young and beautiful, dropped her keys on the table.

 

"What do you want?" She asked, not looking her in the eye. The Condesce eyed her first.

"I need you to be the new owner of Fish N Go. At least until my daughters come home."

Her sister's eyes flashed.

"Why, you know I'm a very busy person, Condesce. Juggling fame and my own business, I don't know if I can help you with your blood bath."

Condesce didn't smile. This wasn't the time.

"Trizza, I know how busy you are, but help your sister out. You'll make money in the process. Who knows, maybe you can even join Makara and I."

Trizza looked at her, her makeup flawless. "I don't trust Makara. But you have a deal. I'll get your company until my nieces get it. In the meantime, how's the new mansion coming along?"

Condesce leaned back. They had talked about this numerous times, and somehow, her sister was very okay with it.
"Perfect."

Chapter Text

He couldn't believe the cops had found his location. They were right on his trail. The woman must have gotten angry about him destroying the clock. He didn't care. That clock had it coming to him. 

Apparently, she thought these two weird looking kids were part of their group. He would have to blame this on the glasses he was seen wearing as his last disguise. It was only a matter of time before a moron would match his description and would draw attention. The woman mistakenly identified them as members of his own crew, and that was enough to know the cops were still onto him.

He didn't know what the police found that day, but hopefully they arrested the two kids thinking it was him. At least until they realized their flaw. He needed them dead. He couldn't do that locked behind bars while the retarded cops awaited his escape. 

 

He had been walking outside of his room when one of the kids ran back up the stairs and told everyone what happened. He listened carefully, so as to be sure the police were definitely coming.

And they were.
He and the rest of the crew wasted no time in leaving. They booked out, as fast as they could, redistributing themselves to another sleazy motel run by one of his past gang members. It had come to him as a shock the guy ran the place, but he wasn't arguing. 
And this place, didn't have any clocks. Not a single one.

He sipped some of his coffee, and it burned his lips. He had no patience for this. He bent his arm back, and threw it. It nearly missed Deuce, which was a shame because that would have likely knocked some sense into the guy. 
"Tomorrow, we're leaving. Tell Hearts and Droog. My brother told me where the principle is. Apparently he's holdin' up some joint."

"Where was he again, after we last saw him?" Deuce asked with his idiotic voice. Damn, that thing was annoying.

"We've been over this moron." Slick answered. "He appointed me to kill Snowman, curing his debt. But we aren't doing it for him, we're doing it for us. We need to kill both of him. He's the head of the darkest group around. Killing him would mean for that other guy to rise. That guy doesn't care about us, so he won't be a problem. If we kill Snowman, we will weaken him by a margin. My guess is she wants him dead too. Carrying this out will make it look like we want to help him, then we attack."

Slick shook his head. "Why do I bother, you're just going to ask me again tomorrow. Which you can't anyway. We're killing her tomorrow, then we're going to Scratch's."

Chapter Text

He had to admit, the view from the booth wasn't nearly as bad as he initially thought it to be, but it certainly was no astonishing sight brought to him by the circus gods.

Sollux pulled a small lever that dimmed the lights, waiting for the moment the people below were going to stare at the oddities in front of them.

The circus, in his eyes, was small. Cheaply designed props and banners hung from walls and draped over buckets that remained slightly hidden by the long, crimson curtains. The floor was scuffed, the costumes were tacky, and the music was old and had probably not been updated in decades. The lights were bright, and weren't off decent quality. Some of it was even fluorescent, which annoyed him because fluorescent always gave him the worst of headaches. 

What also gave him headaches was being part of a stupid circus with a bunch of people he hardly knew and being stuck in a love triangle with a cheerleader and an architect.

What was even happening, what had the world come to at this point?

He sighed, growing displeased. The booth he was in was nothing but a porch-like structure on top of some weird ladder thing. It was partially covered by that same hideous red curtain, and had a table on it to which he sat at. There were many buttons, each one operating a specific area of the show. He was quick to learn, but Jerry the Technician Guy, never showed up. Sollux, squinted his eyes, letting out another heavy breath. It would be a little fun to fuck with the people below him. See how they liked leaving him in charge of the show all to himself.

However tempting that was, he knew it would have to wait. The time was far from right. 

 

The murmurs of the minuscule crowd hushed.  

He slowly placed his hand on a button, and raised it. The music that had been blasting earlier during the dance practice began to screech out like a bunch of angry people in an elderly home going on a riot. The entire room, now darkened, had easily caught the curiosity of everyone. Everyone except him. Working the lights really took whatever make-believe fun the circus may have once had, and wrapped it up in a plastic ball, the life being sucked from it, leaving behind only the remains of something gooey and messy.

The curtain wavered, opening. Sollux clicked another button, without even looking at it. He had gone over all of this mentally. This was nothing new to him. A yellow light flashed onto a circular range. Eridan, looking like a baffling idiot, drug his arm into the air. Sollux reached over, grabbing his soda. He put the straw between his lips and let the fizzy liquid moisten his dry mouth. The dance group from earlier attempted something of a ballet, but no one really knew what they were doing. Eridan was way too into it, his ugly fish head rearing itself in front. Dave looked like his limbs had fallen off and he was now forced to be a paper mache doll. John was trying, Sollux guessed, but he was flamboyantly awful about it. Karkat too, was completely awful, but that was a given. He didn't expect anything more.

Opening the act with a dance brought to everyone by AWOL children was a pretty bad idea, in his eyes. They looked like a bunch of morons out there, which in all honesty was quite hilarious, however, it was far from a catch. He was waiting for the cataclysm of people running up from their seats to leave the show and actually do something with their lives. But it never happened. They instead remained in their spots, eyes glimmering to the dance. Eridan seemed to have everyone's attention as he did a spin, his fingers straight in the air.

Sollux put his drink down and pushed the bangs from his head. They were getting long now, long enough to be deemed really annoying. He was so sick of all these annoyances, they were hurting his head.

He pushed another button, this one bringing out a purple light. It wasn't an endearing shade, but one that was too bright and made him feel almost sick to his stomach. If he thought long and hard about it, it reminded him of the lipstick Feferi would every so often wear. Just thinking about her was enough to worsen his migraine. 

He liked her, she was good to talk to, but she wasn't Aradia. She didn't have that same understanding aura that surrounded her. There was kindness, but it always felt forced. She was actually kind of mean, and even though he liked her, it just didn't feel right. He had no idea why she liked him either, he would have to ask her about it.

 

If that wasn't the stupidest fucking thing that had ever entered his mind. Seriously. What is with this world.

 

 

He yawned, his gaze still fixated on that light. There was something there, but he couldn't place it. Something that made it beautiful, but hideous. Calm, but harsh. Whatever it was, it was somnolent, cradling him in warmth. The sugar crash was coming, and he knew it was the end of the line for his conscious state.

 

His eyes grew heavy, the circus boring him and the curtains making him want to keep his eyes closed. They were decrepit, and ugly. There was nothing good about those curtains. 

It wasn't until his eyes had nearly shut for good and he had missed his cue to change the position of the spotlight, that he was awoken by the sudden and obstreperous shriek of metal. He jumped in his seat, his hands quick to move the light over to a cage. Confined inside was an animal, though it was too far away for him to see for sure what it was. He was certain, however, that is was a lion. 

He slowly moved the light, now yellow once more, to the front center, where the circus Manager stood, his top hat being the only thing that could be seen. Sollux patted around on the table, not taking his eyes off of the Manager, to find the paper with the plans on it so he knew what to do next. He wasn't going to have the best focus with his stupid body wanting to fall asleep during the first ten minutes on the job.

"Ladies and Gentlemen." The Manager said, his hoarse voice ripping apart any comforting projected vibe. "Welcome to our show. There is a lot I have to offer you tonight. From a man as strong as an ox, to a blind girl who can throw knifes. Please, stay, and enjoy. Welcome to Circum Somnia. Let our first piece begin."

He scrunched into the back, leaving behind only a cage, a rope, and a short girl with a fake blue tail.

 

 

Chapter Text

Inside the tent, the wind outside had came to a sudden, if not worrisome, halt. It was sickening, walking into a space that held down his body by the overwhelming scent of popcorn and heavy warmth.
If, standing near the entrance, one might be able to witness a transient gush of fresh zephyr, or a tap on the shoulder by the cool breeze. Equius longed for that breeze. It seemed almost like a fantasy, feeling the outsides freezing breath on his skin so populated by sweat-beads. It was he who had to venture into the ring next. He had to show the audience his strength as he lifted odd objects that were made to look heavy, but were instead mimics. It was almost, disturbing, seeing them. Like they were mocking him when he was STRONG enough to do even the simplest of tasks. This was just, unacceptable.

He really needed a cool glass of milk, and as disappointing as he was to admit, now was not the time for milk. Milk would make him STRONGER. Perhaps he could have pulled off a, if not preposterous, stunt, if he had drank some prior to.
Equius gritted his teeth, and looked down at his dastardly outfit. It was ridiculous, and completely opposite of what he requested. He was to look like someone who could preform specially designed duties meant for those of exceptional strength. Not some idiot on a high school wrestling team. He fiddled with his hands, and was about to take a step into the ring from behind the silver tapestry, when he felt his foot connect to something he had not seen prior.

"And behold! Introducing our STRONGMAN!" 
As the words whipped the audience's ears, Equius gasped, crashing though the tapestry and onto the floor, his arms saving him from smacking his chin off the floor. The audience all let out something of a laugh, and Equius felt his face turn red. Peasants, if they only knew the kinds of social power his family had to play. 

He stood up, wiping the sweat from his head.
"Fiddlesticks."

The room was more orange than he remembered, a hideous color. Spaldon demanded he did a performance with other members for part of the Pre-Show. To get started anyway, before the mimics. The first step was to lift a woman on a seat with on hand. To topple her over his head, while maintaining perfect balance. He wasn't too sure he could do this, but he did however practice just prior. All of them led to failed attempts. Sure, lifting her was easy, but balancing her without beginning to shake from feeling... odd, was the issue.

The lady reminded him of Serket, though she wasn't quite there. She, for some reason, had on her left cheek painted a third eye. Her slick black bangs covered her real eyes as she watched from behind them, waiting to be placed in the air.

He mumbled something under his breath, and raised his hand just as he was supposed to, to cue the lights and the music. He shot it in the air, before bringing it back down to again, wiping away the sweat. If only he had a towel, that would really help things.

But, the fact remained that he didn't. He just hoped the chair wouldn't slip from his hands, chairs seemed to do that often when they weren't breaking. He lost count after he had broken at least six of the chairs at school. It was always an accident too, which was more than embarrassing. He would have to trick himself into thinking this was football. Well, a game where they passed to him and he didn't deflate the ball. Or maybe he could compare it to the workshop in his father's Victorian mansion. Horuss would surely be proud.

 

The audience, who sat in the far, dimly lit end, watched him as he reached below the girl, placing his left hand just under the seat. The cheap bleachers they were arranged in, began to croak as the leaned their heads in to watch. Equius tried to ignore them as he performed his duties, to lift this female off the ground. That was only the beginning however. As his arm began to rise, and the girl remained sitting, he felt his body grow even more... moist.
No, that was such a... lude word. It just didn't seem appropriate for the moment. 

Equius, forgetting to wait patiently, and forgetting to be careful, shot the chair the rest of the way in the air. It shook violently, the girl at the top letting out something of a squeak. He held it over his head, the audience clapping in a manner that seemed almost too polite. The girl at the top, scampered to get up, and stand so that she could balance herself. She did so with a sudden urgency, as though now the entire thing needed to be rushed. He couldn't see what she was doing, bu he felt the chair in his hands grow still. 
From the corner of his eye, he saw someone being pushed out from the curtain. Her hair was long, and flowed at such a natural pace. The curls caressed her chin and neck, her body, with the color of a deep burgundy shade dress strewn over it, walked to the center stage.

Spaldon, dipped his hat from his head, making his way to Equius. He reached out an arm with his palm facing up, allowing the audience to once again continue in their claps.
And they did. This time, the applause wasn't polite, but extreme, as though the site of a girl balancing on a chair from someone holding her up was at any case interesting.

The girl in her burgundy dress, bounced over to him.

"And now," Spaldon said through a microphone wired next to his mouth. "Our Strongman will take on another."

The sweat was beginning to dip into his eyes, making them burn. The heat in the tent was beginning to grow increasingly worse. His arms were shaking, and his breathing was becoming somewhat more unstable. He hadn't practiced this routine, or even knew it existed. 

The girl smiled at him, her olive skin glowing in the orange light. Through her makeup, her face was completely covered in paint. Eyeliner to match her dress was dramatically winged to her eyebrows. Her lips were a complete red, and her cheeks had two rosy dots on each side. Aradia. Even through all of this, he could still see her for the beauty she was. If only she had a similar social-caste as he did. He wondered if there was anything he could do to help. The thought came often, even getting to the point of completely turning her into a different person, one with a STRONG passion.

Aradia had with her, what appeared to be a saber. He braced himself as Spaldon spoke again. 

"And now," He said. "Our lovely lady will climb to the chair."

Equius let out a smile that he was sure didn't look completely creepy. His skin began to pour more, and he could feel it dripping off his chin. He opened his free hand, and Aradia stepped on it, using his shoulder as leverage. Her dress filled his eyesight, the hideous color. She moved her hand to the chair, and he felt her body being lifted away. He could only assume the other woman on top assisted. He was just a pole at this point. 

The audience, began to roar as the chair grew still once more.

"Ladies and Gentlemen." Spaldon croaked. "Strongman!"

The audience stood, clapping the palms of their hands together. Equius felt his body began to shake as sweat trailed down his neck, through his chest. Down his arms, in his hair. He didn't know when to let them down, and from the looks of it, neither did Spaldon. Equius went to end his performance, taking his other hand to the legs. However, as he lowerd them, the chair began to let out a series of noises that all came too familiar. First, there was a crack, one loud enough for the audience to hear. Their heads, if they weren't already leaning close enough, began to surround him as floating orbs, eyes as wide as the moon. Second, a scream. They were only about four feet in the air when this happened. The orbs of faces lit up like flashlights in the night. Then. There was the breaths of relief. Just as the chair had snapped, one of its legs cracking off, both girls had been startled by the sudden shaking movement of their platform. Equius was quick, knowing Aradia was at risk. He dropped the chair, managing to wrap both of his arms around the girls waists. They slid through, his sweat making it a hard to grip them. Their fall was saved nevertheless.

Everyone in the tent was silent and Spaldon's eyes were filled with venom. The forth noise, and the last, brightened the man's harsh gaze. Cheering, the audience stood up, their faces ripened into a smile. 

Equius stepped back, embarrassed for messing up his duty. He would have to try harder next time, and not completely disobey those superior to him. His ears filled with the audience's pleasure, as he bowed. His hair fell into his face, his breathing at ultra-speed.

 

The lights dimmed, shifting into a beautiful shade of blue. It seemed to cast a lonely spell on the audience as those cheering had began to hush. The room grew still. Equius remained in his spot until someone poked him. He turned his head, meeting Aradia's eyes.

"We have to go back now." She said, nodding her head to the door. 

"Oh, yes, right." Equius grumbled under his breath. He turned away from the now solemn group of onlookers. He had to admit, he was offended such strength went to a joke such as the circus. He might as well have joined a pack with Gamzee, who completely obliterated his social standing with his clown attire. Together, he and Aradia walked off the ring, and into an even darker section of the circus. They were unveiled, the silver tapestry falling from the crowns of their heads. People everywhere were in a rush to be somewhere. The room he had entered could have only been described as picnic area with a top. The night's freezing atmosphere was shushed by a center bonfire, one where Eridan and Gamzee sat. The stars of the night were cluttered in the sky, and the smoke from the fire sailed through a circular hole at the top of the stand.

Equius pushed through the colors and shapes of everyone, and towards the mini-fridge on the ground. First, he was going to get his milk, then, his towel. His eyes glazed when they saw an entire gallon of milk stashed in the back. He shot his arm out to it, and pulled it out. Ripping off the red lid, he poured it down his throat. It wasn't what he was used to drinking, normally he would have gone organic. But this would have to do. He deserved it anyway, since he didn't complete his task dutifully.

"Equius!" 
The voice of a familiar friend beamed over the almost throat-orgasmic delight. He took the jug from his mouth and wiped the remains of it off on his arm. Nepeta face was completely lit up.

"What is it Nepeta, I'm busy." Equius responded.

"I just wanted to tell you you did AMAZING on your purrformance! I thought both of those pretty girls up there were going to fall! But you caught them, that was so cool! Was that a part of the act?" She asked, tilting her head. 

"No." Equius responded. Nepeta's eyes grew wider.

"SO YOU MEAN TO TELL ME YOU MADE THAT ALL UP?!" She shouted.

Equius flicked his hair of of his face.
"Nepeta be quiet, we're in hiding right now." 

She sighed. "Yeah okay Mr. Grumpypants." 

He looked at her arms, goosebumps trailing from her costume's lack of sleeves. 
"Take this." He said, turning around to find his jacket. "It's cold and you need to have some sense and wear a coat." He moved down just a way to the table where a long back trench coat sat on the chair like dead slug. He picked it up and handed it to her.

"I'm alright." Nepeta said, shrugging. 

"No." He said. "You will put on the coat and be warm."

She bounced away, her eyebrows raising. 
"You'll have to catch me first!"

Nepeta sprung off, running through the tables. Sighing, Equius began to run after her, the coat in his hands flying like a kite in the night.

Chapter Text

"It's right there, in bold." Pyrope said, pointing her slick red cane to the TV. She watched Vantas lean forward, his eyes glossing the screen. On it, was the hotel's security film. Pyrope paced her head high in the air as she spoke, confident in her conclusions.

"The police were at the hotel, apparently, trying to hunt down the Midnight Crew, a gang local to Manchester, New York. Looking through the footage to find them since they, as always, escaped, they found that the two men the receptionist up front described as having pointy glasses and dark hair, were actually Dirk Strider and Jake English. Neither of you probably know Dirk because his parents abandoned him a long time ago. He took to living with his brother Dave Strider, a child who was also in the game. I told you earlier that the college students who were siblings to four of the children included in this were found missing from their dorms. Well, it appears they were here. The footage also shows this." 

She grabbed a remote from the Dolorosa's glass coffee table and his a black arrow button. The television responded by flicking to a scene of a bright yellow bus being pulled out of the driveway with one driver. A blonde with pointy glasses.

"And do you know who has a bus garage?" She asked. "None other than Ampora himself. This would mean they would have likely gone with the missing son."

She looked at the impatient eyes of the fellow parents in front of her. She too was burning with a tight curiosity to find her children, but she knew it could only be done with time. She hit the arrow button again, this one she knew would make Signless breath out a breath of claustrophobic tension. This time on the screen, was a number of things. One of them was the Condesce's daughter peeping out of a doorway. The next, was Nitram's son and Zahhak's son together in the hallway, likely a couple. And then there was Kankri who also peered out. Kankri slid through, and then just as he did so, Cronus also came into contact.

"They're all there." Redglare said, placing the remote back to the table with a "clank". "And they're safe. The camera didn't show where they went after this, but we know they're okay. We also know the vehicle they're using, it's a 1964 Volkswagen van. It resembles what you might think of as a Hippie Bus." 

Signless closed his eyes and nodded. He hadn't shaved in awhile, making his face look scruffy and less like a baby.
"Kankri is going to be so grounded when I get my hands on him."

Maryam only continued to cry softly, but they had come to a very noticeable state of calmness. She looked at the screen, her eyes bloodshot.
"But I still don't know where my darling Kanaya is." She sobbed, her voice growing higher as she spoke.

"We haven't seen any signs of them, but we think that the kids might be looking for them, because this was all in Cumberland, Maryland, the last place their sibling's were said to be found." Pyrope said, leaning on the arm of a jade green chair. It complemented the cream walls very nicely, the woman knew how to decorate.

"But why wouldn't they tell us?" Maryam added, grabbing a pillow from beside her and hugging it.

Pyrope had to admit, she wasn't sure of that herself. 
"It might be a freedom thing, they aren't being restricted to stay anywhere. But another thing that I find confusing is how convenient it is that Meenah Peixes was out of her house just before it exploded."

Chapter Text

The first person he was determined to find was Terezi Pyrope. Karkat Vantas strode out of the circus and into the night, the tail of his gray tunic bellowing in the crisp wind. He thought that by now, he would at least be used to this, his skin being singed off by sharp, gelid blasts of air. But he wasn't, instead he was shivering uncontrollably.
His stomach, sore from performing mediocre dance moves, felt as though it was folding in on itself. However, without hesitation, he wove through a town of color, though tonight, gloomier. Whereas in the beginning, the place was as colorful as it was bleak, it was now a duller version of its past self. Like a shadow, he thought. A shadow of some stupid, clown town he didn't want to be in. 
He huffed under his dark mess of unbrushed hair, and rubbed his revealing arm, attempting to make the goosebumps go away. Everything was going just as he hadn't planned. He didn't come on this trip to participate in some pathetic excuse for a roadshow, he came to get out of the self-created hell that came along with wanting to play a simple game. Everything would have been so much easier if he hadn't have been such a hard-ass about winning. And to think the school allowed for this to happen. Obviously, either the people there were completely mentally handicapped, or something else was going on. He preferred to believe it was the first part.

Karkat just wanted to find her, then, after potentially being a complete blabbering idiot around her, go to bed in the comfort of his cabin. He might even lock the door. That would be a good prank, Egbert would definitely enjoy that. 
Until then, the street lights that stood tall just beside every tent was giving him a headache, and the various colors strewn about the trees were cancer-inducing. It was almost like a few lights weren't enough to satisfy these people. 

Murmurs everywhere from bypassers lulled out of their lips as they explored whatever the circus had to offer. Karkat snarled at the looks of joy on everyone's faces. Why did they get to live life so simply? Meanwhile, the people performing were living in sickening conditions for their selfish entertainment. They gulp the lemonade and they inhale the popcorn, while he's watching the malnourished in the financially struggling circus collapse under its brightly colored tents.

He looked down, watching his shoes slap the weather-beaten pavement. Terezi better be in the tent he thought her to be in. She had been directed to throw knifes blindfolded, and since she couldn't get it down for tonight's act, she got a free pass from brutally humiliating herself in front of an audience. 

His head lifted when he heard a faint noise beginning to swallow the air around him. The band was beginning to play, but in a small grouping just far enough from the stages to be visible to the public. Their trumpets and accordions harmonized amongst each other, aiming for the same goal, but running in different directions. There had to be at least thirty members, all dancing to the music atop a cluster of wooden picnic tables. The people around them, despite the crummy getup, were dancing wildly. The musicians (for lack of a better term) were doing their thing, ebbing to the beat of a messy soundtrack. Karkat's eyes shifted from them to a tent with an open flab. A sour green light poured out of it like turbid water, but within it, he could just barely see something that made the room light up regardless. Karkat pushed forward, walking quicker so as to see Terezi as soon as possible. There were so many things on his mind that he wanted to tell her. So many things he wanted to say. But he knew they would have to wait. To be a leader, he couldn't let emotions get in the way of anything. That, was for sure. To get even a hint of respect, he would have to continue earning it, and being a sappy romantic wouldn't cut it. Still, as he grew nearer, he longed to wrap his arms around her waist, or pluck the throwing knifes from her hand and hold her palm tightly in his. This all seemed so real when another voice interupted his train of thought.

"Karkat, what are you doing?!" 
He turned around, meeting Rose's glare at a closer interval than he would have liked. He backed away from her, narrowing her eyes.

"Can't a guy get any space around here? We've already been to summer camp, I don't need that again." He said, crossing his arms. Rose looked behind her shoulder, her head snapping back at an alarming speed. Her eyes traced back to his when she began walking to the tent Terezi was in.

"Come with me."

Karkat sneered, following in her elongated shadow. Terezi noticed him almost immediately and provided her usual enormous grin. Her eyes reflected the severe lighting of the room, and made it somehow, prettier. He crossed his arms, remaining just near the entrance of the tent.

"What do you want?" He asked, looking to Rose. Rose blinked, her eyes likely burning out of her skull from the light just in front of her blonde head.

"Listen, I just wanted to warn both of you who we're working with. We should meet sometime in the night, the circus closes sometime around two in the morning. I think we should meet somewhere around three-thirty to four."

Karkat held his hands out.
"No can do Octoqueen. This guy is getting some well deserved rest. Did you not just see me being forced to be a ballerina?" He asked.

"I sure did." Terezi added, walking towards him. "You looked like quite the princess there Karkles!" She laughed, and as she did, it grew to a much higher octave. Rose backed up, and rubbed her eyes with the palm of her hand. 

"I guess if we have time it might be useful to gather everyone and have a meeting now." Rose said. "It's very plausible that this circus is comminatory in its nature, and we need to be on the lookout for anything that may give away our title until we can figure things out."

Karkat sighed, stealing a glance towards Terezi.

"You get your way Rose." He said, swaying towards the exit. "I'll go round up the idiots and we'll host a diminutive meeting of who is still alive."

Chapter Text

The rain was pouring, and the glass was fogged. The seats were in the least uncomfortable, but it was far away from the house. Damara's tears streamed from her eyes, their splats on the floor of the bus mimicking the rain. Her hair rested against the cool glass, freezing the crown of her head. She had honestly always thought Rufioh was a kind person. He was the only person that listened to her and was the only person who could actually understand her. That was gone now, and she was replaced. Completely replaced by someone. Her stomach was in knots as her breaths turned sharp. The moon was behind the house, it made the entire bus pitch black. There was nothing that kept her from feeling alone. Her mind felt blank, and she couldn't draw together why he would do this to her. She couldn't understand if this was her fault. If perhaps she wasn't good enough. Weak. Just as Meenah had called her. Perhaps she wasn't interesting enough, or maybe it was the way she looked. He cheated on her with Horuss but she didn't believe Rufioh to be a complete homosexual, if anything, he was bisexual. Unless perhaps she had turned him gay? 

Her head was beginning to hurt. She had taken to sit clear at the back of the bus, but she didn't know why. Now thinking Horuss and Rufioh sat in the back under the blanket the entire trip. 

 

 

Damara stopped her thinking, pausing. It was getting too painful a thought to visit. Until then, she would just let herself hurt, and hopefully freeze to death in the back of the bus, alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Within the confinements of a nearly desolate tent, far from the others and without light, sat a group of fifteen individuals, all in something of a circle, and all with dark circles below their strained eyes. The center was home to Rose, her frail arms lifted in such a way she could have come off as a ringleader herself.

 

She was cautious of her words, not wishing to receive any suspicious glowers. Looking at her friends, Rose noted the lack of the sixteenth individual. A certain Vriska Serket who was helping a girl with a third eye at the Fortune Telling booth. All attempts to gain her attention for the meeting were failed on account of her flamboyantly expressing how the person seeking her future-speaking opinion was going to die a brutal death that too often involved falling down the stairs or impalement. The meeting would have to go on without her. The only issue was she was the one who needed the talk the most.

"We have to keep it down in here." Rose said, eyeing the tent opening. "I'm assuming the purpose of this tent is to serve as something of a storage unit, and I doubt the members of the circus would be pleased to find us in here." She watched as Sollux began to nod off, before snapping back into reality, only to start falling back asleep against the few water-stained cardboard boxes stacked behind him. 

"Okay so?" Karkat said. "What was the point of this, I want to go to bed rather than listen to you give a prolonged speech about the proper ethics of being in the circus."

Rose raised her chin, fighting the urge to rub her hands together. There were still the remains of cuts and scrapes on her hands from her days at the camp. Chilblains filled her hands and her feet, causing for them to itch and throb. She knew they would arise the moment she placed her hands into the snow, and yet, she didn't have her knitting so she had no way of making herself a pair of gloves or a scarf. Her shoes had become soaked from the weather outside, much like the others. However when they entered the warmth, that was when they began to itch for her. 

 

"You wouldn't understand manners anyway Karkat." Rose said. John laughed and pointed at Karkat. 

"She's right you know." He said. Rose smiled, though she had to admit it was fairly sad to see her friends in the condition they were in. John looked like he had dropped weight, Jade's hair was beyond what one would call a mess, and although Dave kept his Cool-Guy persona on, it was obvious there was something terribly wrong. His skin had taken to becoming a good bit paler than usual, and his body no longer carried itself in its normative way. She would have to hold a meeting with just the four of them sometime later. Next time they would situate themselves behind the boxes, rather than in front. The boxes would help not only hide them, but would cast a shadow that would darken them, and make them hard to find. She brushed a strand of hair that had escaped from behind her ear and was about to speak when the tent flap opened and a body stepped in. Her first response to her heart taking a leap in her chest was to craft a perfect story as to why they were in here. But, as the body came closer, she calmed down, happy she hadn't started yet.

"Hey bitches. I just met someone who is way cooler than all of you. Have any of you met Ardata?" She asked, laughing a good bit. 

 

Karkat let out a sigh louder than Vriska's entrance. "Christ, ANOTHER PERSON. Vriska will your ass down for a mere second. I want to go to bed, I have spent the ENTIRE DAY just wanting to do ONE THING, but every single person keeps getting in the way." 
Kanaya looked at him from across the circle with tired eyes.

"Calm down Karkat, we'll get there."

"Calm down? I just spent a good portion of my life dancing like a putrid ballerina high on Gamzee's medications while you finger painted people's faces." 

Rose couldn't even blame him for getting angry. Everyone had to be angry to an extent. 

"Geez," Vriska said, sitting criss-crossed beside Equius. "And here I thought making friends would have been a good idea. We could build an army against those creeps at the camp!" 

 

Rose shook her head. "It's not a good idea to be telling the members of the camp about our past. You don't know who to trust here, and that is why I have brought all of you here today." She resisted the urge to blink, knowing the feeling of resting her eyes would linger. She was sure she had never wanted to sleep more than this moment. The weight of exhaustion was really beginning to take its toll, making everything around her hazy, and somewhat dream-like. Only the situation at time was far less like a dream and much more like a nightmare. Or perhaps someone suffering Sleep Paralysis. Too immobile, and yet suffering catastrophic issues. It was only then she realized she had been staring at the box Sollux was sound asleep on. She shook her head lightly before feeling a sudden warmth on her shoulder. She turned to face whatever it was and saw it was Kanaya smiling a faint and becoming smile.

 

 

The darkness made it difficult to see all the smaller features of her, but it couldn't blind her to those perfect jade eyes or the way her hair fell just over her eyes. Maybe she hadn't brushed her hair in awhile, but nevertheless it still looked perfectly done. Kanaya had been wrapped in one of the performance attires. She had opted for a crimson skirt that swept her ankles. Her shirt remained a simple black t-shirt to avoid getting the facepaint on the long-sleeved blouse below. Over it, she had found a green scarf and a draping purple trench-coat. She began to wiggle, sitting up and slipping her arms out of the coat. The warmth on Rose's shoulder grew to her back as she and Kanaya shared the coat. If there were any more comfort, she might end up falling asleep. It was difficult, however. She needed to focus on the matters at hand, but at the same time, there were many matters.

"Honestly," Aradia said, her voice booming from the silence. "I kind of like it here. I never got to see anything like this back at home. Not that it was a bad thing, per say, but I think this new experience can be incredibly rejuvenating if we just look at it from a different perspective. It's probably best we put as much effort into this as possible for now, I don't know why, but it feels like the right path to take. I know we're all exhausted from our journey, and that we're away from home and kind of suffering a lot in general while our family has no idea what is happening and isn't prepared to see that we are likely going to be dead because we failed at the flying trapeze, but what good is that going to bring to us?" She smiled, sharing a look with Tavros. He nodded at her with approval. Vriska scoffed and flicked her hair behind her shoulder.

"The only thing good about this freak show is that people who don't have a place in this world have a place to go when they find out no one wants to hire them because of their oversized limbs or massive obsession for putting a red rubber ball on their nose. No offense Gamzee. Well, kind of." She said. Rose shook her head.

"This circus is actually pretty impressive. It has managed to overcome all the obstacles often presented by the ever changing society. After the larger circuses left, the smaller companies began to go out of business. This circus was able to have a full house and seemed to be able to make a lot of money, even though it only had half of its usual performers."

 

 

The moment she said that, she realized what she had come to talk to everyone about.
"Someone wake up Sollux." She said, sitting up straighter. Aradia moved to nudge him, but John jumped at him.

"No no, let the pranking master handle this one. Does anyone have any shaving cream or anything?" He asked. 

"John." Dave simply said. "Why would any of us have shaving cream on us. I mean, I could see why you maybe wouldn't."
John's mouth fell open, and his hand fluttered to his chest.

"You will regret ever putting me down Dave. Mark my words." He said.

"If you say so." Dave responded. "But remember who was there for you in a time of hunger. Do you remember the potato chip incident John? Do you? I was there for you in a dark time, and this is how you repay me."

 

"There wasn't even anything in the bag!" John protested, stepping away from Sollux.

Dave shrugged. 
"It's the thought that counts."

Karkat grunted from his supine spot on the ground.
"Will one of you idiots hurry your asses up and wake up Sollux, I want to sleep."

Aradia began to shake Sollux, who stirred, his body crinkled and bent. He shifted, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

"What the fuck?" He said, any life that was once present on his face had drained. 

 

 

Rose took this as her cue to hurry. She too wanted to sleep, but she wasn't letting anyone leave before they first heard her.

"We have some things to discuss Sollux." She said. 

"Well hurry up." He said, leaning back.

Rose took a quick glance to the opening of the tent. There was nothing there except the bleak black atmosphere. It seemed to have grown darker by the second.

"There is likely a reason they split the circus in two." She said. "Kanaya and I heard the few whispers. We had both left to get a drink when we heard two of the backdrop artists talking. We believe that there is a possibility there is more to the story than what Spaldon told us."

Karkat sat up from his spot, his eyebrows furrowed.
"Well, what is it?"

Rose swallowed her saliva. It felt almost unbelievable what she was about to say. But if she was right, it would all tie together.

"We believe there may have been either an attack or a murder here."

"Jesus." Karkat laid back, his sigh louder than the breaths of those around them. 

"I think the best course of action," Rose continued, pushing through her words. "Is to try and gain some insight. They split up some of the best performers and it seems they all have the main goal. However, if you have noticed, we seem to be in the half that doesn't deal with dancing and the stage events. I think Spaldon may have an idea who it is, which is why he was so welcoming to adding us. We are expendable, his good performers, are not. I don't think we should share any of our past with anyone. Don't use your real names, don't tell anyone anything. We can't trust anyone here. I know Xefros knows crucial details and I will talk to him. This circus is flooded with runaways and fugitives, it wouldn't be unlikely that some of them are trying to silence others or would have an inclination to violence. For now, all of us need to act natural. Compartmentalize yourselves, completely. The consequences of not doing so are too great."