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Rise of the Lowbloods

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John has always had the strangest dreams. Actually, he doesn't remember most of his dreams, but he knows that they are weird and make him laugh whenever he thinks back on them. This dream however, was different from the outline of his usual dreams.

It started out with him in his dad's bakery. It was night outside and he, his dad and his friend Rose were making the dough for the next morning. Rose was mixing the ingredients together, his dad was kneading the dough and John was frosting a cake for a party tomorrow. These nights were not uncommon in John's childhood and they were the nights that John loved most; being able to talk to his dad about anything while they would knead dough together. Laughing with Rose about something their school friends had said earlier that day. Yes, those nights were quite fun, even if John hated the food he was making.

John was looking down at this scene, when his dad stopped kneading the dough and stared at John. Dream John seemed to feel his dad's gaze and looked up at him.

"What's going on, Dad?"

His dad was quiet for just a second, maybe thinking about his words, before answering his question with another question.

"Have you ever wished for a sibling?"

John had never been asked this question before. His dad would ask silly questions during these nights, like what kind of pony would you like to be, not serious ones. John hadn't thought about having a sibling for the longest time.

"I wished for siblings before Rose showed up, but I haven't thought about it since. Why do you ask? Don't tell me I have some secret sister on our front porch now." John tried to joke, but Dad didn't seem to be up for it. He still looked quite serious, but took off his hat and wiped his non sweaty forehead.

"I think I would know if I had a secret daughter out there. I couldn't bear the thought of not having her live with me, or wondering around in the world without meeting her and having something to eat. I wouldn't do that. I can't stand the sight of unfed children, let alone the mere thought that I've abandoned my child in some way."

John just stared at his dad. What was going on in his head? Why was he thinking this? Real John had never had a conversation like this with Real, and very dead, Dad.

Dream John got the urge to go outside, wanting to really check now if he indeed have a sister on the front porch. Dream Dad was scaring him a bit.

John didn't even say anything else to his dad, and opened the bakery door to the Center Circle Market. The center of the town of Maple Valley and where the Market truly started. The sun was shining and the market stands were set up along the perimeter of the circle. The center of the circle had a wide postboard where many pages fluttered in the tiny wind.

Real John was now in the eyes on Dream John, staring at the scene he had not thought about nor dreamed in a very long time. There is a triangle of kids, no more than 10, kicking a white ball to each other. There was a girl with long black hair and buck teeth, a girl with abnormally short hair and wearing a scarf and a boy with pale hair and skin.

The buck toothed girl looked up from their game and relaxed her competitive position to wave at John.

"Hiya John! Did your dad finally let you out of the bakery?"

All the kids now turned to him, the ball halting at the feet of pale boy.

"Did you bring any rolls John? My bro wouldn't let me have anymore apple juice like it was alcohol and I was an addict." The pale boy called.

"Dave, you do have some extraordinary words in that brain of yours, but I believe your brother was right. You do drink too much apple juice."

At this, the black haired girl tittered and the pale boy shrugged his shoulders and strode over to John.

"So what? It's not like apple juice can harm me, it'll just make me quicker. Apples make you quicker John, did you know that?"

All the kids were now gathered around him, and John remembered their faces. They were his childhood friends, before they all moved away of course. He never spoke or wrote to them again after they moved, except for Rose. So seeing this, made John feel nostalgic. His heart was pulled at a bit to see this exchange take place. This was a classic scene that would take place everyday. Dave asking for sweets, Jade wanting to test Dave on if he could in fact get quicker with every apple he ate and Rose thinking they were both hopelessly in love but still willing to give them her mother's swords to test how fast Dave was after apples. And where would John be in this scenario? Handing out the rolls and pastries, giving Dave a leg up the tree, agreeing with Rose full-heartily and teasing Jade about her crush.

John smiled at his friends and replied," Sorry, Dad wouldn't let me snag any treats today. I did take a lot more than the usual yesterday. But really? Apples make you faster? Did you get an inventor to confirm that?"

Dave opened his mouth to reply but Rose cut him off.

"Of course, no inventor would spend their time on that stupid theory. Dirkander probably made it up so Dave would stop drinking the sweet juice."

"Rose is maybe right Dave. Although, I hope we can still pick some apples after this, I'm quite hungry myself and my sweet supplier just got cut off."

"Sorry folks, next time around, I promise. Anyway, what are we playing?"

“We’re playing this super complicated game that can’t be explained in accurate detail without its creator present.” Dave blew out.

“Dave, we are the creators, and we’re just passing the ball around.” Jade snapped.

“If I may say, it’s getting quite cold, perhaps we could go inside?” Rose interrupted.

Now that John wasn’t watching the exchange of words between the two, he did notice that is was considerably darker.

“Why go inside? It’s still good out here, we can pass the ball around a few times before going inside for snacks.” Dave was tossing the ball to each hand, and looked around a bit; maybe to see if it was getting dark enough to quite playing outside.

“Dave, maybe Rose is right?” John started, looking around as well at the darker buildings,” I mean, it’s getting chilly too and….”

John stopped speaking his sentence as he saw the sun get covered up. The mass that covered the sun was huge and growing ever larger. It was coming straight toward them too. And, unless he just was seeing things. He saw something on top of the sun blocker that was a different shade entirely from the mass. It glowed purple and looked like a person. Was a person riding the mass straight towards them?

John didn't dwell on that too long, because his ankle was grabbed by a wet hand.

The person gripping his ankle had made his heart tighten: Rose.

Rose wasn't little anymore. She had been dressed in yellow attire that was painted with blood, but her face was the worst. It was on the brink of death. It had the same grey that his dad had worn before he died and the eyes were alarmingly white. Her face had been covered in blood; there had been blood pushing out of the corners of her eyes, dripping out of her nose and leaking from her white to now pink hair. But she was alive and squeezing his ankle.

As he had lowered himself to the ground, he had surveyed the new scene in front of him. There were bodies littering the Center Circle and small piles of bodies with streams of blood coming down the mound. Some corpses were torn apart and weren't next to the other half, others were in one piece. The corpses were so thick that one would have to pick their way carefully through the bodies. He had recognized some corpses too. Neighbors, family members, villagers and friends. One thing was the same among all of them; they were covered in blood and dead.

This view had been frightening to him. He had never dreamed of this stuff before. He could have never imagined up any picture this gory much less put it on people he liked. It was... painful, heart-wrenching, scarring and... terrible. Why had this happened? Why had John thought this up?

John crouched down, there being corpses all around him, and grabbed at the hand that lay on her chest. The hand hadn’t respond at all and showed all signs of death. Yet, the pink eyes had followed him down. The mouth had started to move.

"John.... this will happen... we can't stop it.... death follows our paths from here on.... out.... I'm sorry... but this will hurt.... seeing the bodies pile up, but.... we've be saving.... the next generation.... making it better for them.... this.... is never your fault... never think that or belie-believe that or say-say that-that this is-was-is all your fault.... we'll.... split... the bill."

“You can’t be splitting anything if you’re dead! You have to stay with me! Where is your magic? Why can’t that stop this?”

John's heart was falling to pieces from it being squeezed so hard. He picked up her body and brought it up. He settled on his knees and laid her on his knees. His eyes were running with pure liquid as the blood stopped flowing from hers. The body had gone the coldest he had ever felt it go and the little bit of life that had kept face moving left. He had been holding her up because if he let her down, he'd never wake up from this dream. He would be stuck with the corpses and this "future" she spoke off.

He wanted this to stop. It had to be time for him to wake up and he’d never go to sleep again.  He'd never dream again if this is what the gods wanted to show him. This had all been a vision, he had decided. That had been the only way to explain it. They were horrible; the gods. They couldn't do this to him or his friends. They couldn't kill them all off and expect it to be righteous. They had no right to show him this horrible path that he might take if he chose to. They couldn't make him willing let everyone die. He would rather die than let this happen.

He ripped himself awake.

 

Chapter Text

John woke up from his dream and saw the dark rafters above him. The night was blowing outside and he felt that the fire was out. He raised himself up and looked around the familiar cottage.

The dim fireplace was across the cottage surrounded by the cupboards with food in them. The tiny table was in front of the fireplace where on it sat the books that Rose had been reading before retiring for the night. To the left of the table was the back door and by it, the weapons of the house. There was a bow, a quiver of arrows, a shield and sword. John wasn't very good with anyone of those weapons, they just felt awkward in his hands and Rose preferred her knitting needles so the weapons were rarely handled. They were just there for safety.

John heard the breathing of someone else and looked over to the bed to the left of him, on the opposite side of the cottage. There was the sleeping form of Rose Lalonde. Her blonde hair looked white under the moonlight coming in from the window behind her. She was on her side and facing him, her body curled in on itself. She was still peacefully sleeping making John glad that him waking up hadn't woken her up too, or could she be faking it? Probably not, she'd be up and asking him deep questions about his dream and why he had woken up.

John wouldn't be ready to tell her why he had woken up if she was awake and asking. He couldn't tell her he saw her die, that she told him that she was dying because of him. He couldn't have those images stuck in her head too. And as John was looking at Rose, he was on edge. He was almost waiting for the blood to start leaking from behind her closed eyelids, or drip out her nose. Waiting for the dream to manifest itself in real life.

John turned from her, feeling a bit embarrassed for staring at her for so long, even if she was asleep. He instead let his eyes wander to anywhere else in the cottage. He felt ashamed for staring at her. He was turning into one of her "suitors" now. Telling John that they would love to watch her sleep and sleep beside her. That they'd pay good money to John if he would give Rose to them as their wife. John refused all those offers because first of all, he would never sell his best friend. Second of all, Rose wasn't his to give away; he wasn't related to Rose and it was Rose's decision who to marry. Third of all, Rose had told John that she was not interested in marriage right now with anyone. John had been blunt to tell the suitors that, but he sees them in the village; watching her.

Rose made a small noise and John froze. Had she known what he was thinking about? Had she mastered a spell in which she could dream what he was thinking? Granted, it wasn't bad but it could be considered embarrassing.

John lay very still and alert; watching her.

Before he could've thought of what was going to happen next, the still form threw itself toward the ceiling and exploded with light. Rose had jerked onto her back and her body was defying gravity. The only parts of her on the bed were her fingertips, the tips of her hair and toes. The rest was convulsing in the air. What John could see of her skin, there were moving orbs of different colored light that was stretching her skin so she was covered in moving lumps. The worst part, was her scream.

It was high pitched and only a single syllable. There was no spell coming out of her mouth, John knew what her spells sounded like. She was not doing this.

John pitched himself out of bed and ran toward her. He didn't know where to put his hands. So he thrust his arms under her neck and knees and tried lifting her up. No one's body could go under that much duress and be expected to live the rest of their lives.

The moment he touched her skin, her eyes burst open and the event ended. The lights and orbs collapsed into her skin, her body fell and the scream faltered into sobs. She fell right into John's arms and he caught her, with him stumbling forward a bit so he was leaning over her.

"Rose?"

John pulled his arms out from under her but she grabbed at his shoulders and pulled him down and her up into a hug. He immediately hugged her back. He came down to his knees so it wasn't quite straining on either of them. He didn't want to let go. That scene had scared him. It wasn't Rose bleeding out but it was getting.... attacked? Had she just been getting attacked by something?

"Rose, what happened?"

She was sniffling in his ear, but she was breathing deeply. She was trying to get under control, to stop crying. To answer him.

Rose let go of him and he drew back a bit. Her head was down and she scooted over on her bed. He climbed in gently and they sat side by side. Their sides pressed up against each other. He drew his arm around her and she leaned her shaking body into him.

They both didn't say anything. Their hearts were still pumping from the event itself. John could feel her shivering against him, even though it was April. He leaned down and pulled the blanket up to both of them.

John sat in the silence. The black, unknowing silence. It was his dream coming to life. Maybe he was going to wake up tomorrow morning and that spell will have her dead. She wasn't talking to him about it, maybe her ability to talk had been taken away already? Yet, if the spell had been cast by someone else, he would have heard them. Seers have to talk to make spells. Rose had told him that since day one. John hadn't heard anybody cast any spell around them. But, now that John thought about it, how did the Seers find Rose and cast a spell on her? Why did they want her dead that much?

Chapter Text

The sun was shining so fully in the month of April. Everyone that was gathered in the Courtyard of Highbloods was warm by the sun for the first time since winter started. For some, that reason made them feel a little less crabby for standing outside the Royal Debut Balcony for a little over an hour and for others, it made standing there a bit more tolerable.

The trumpets rose simultaneously to the lips of the chosen Announcers that were lined around the circular courtyard and the ten note music signaled the arrival of the Prince of Hope. All fell silent, mostly because the trumpets were really loud and no one could carry on their conversations anymore, and the rather small balcony was filled with a purple figure.

The figure was dressed in the color of their blood, violet. They had a golden crown resting on their head and the violet cape adorning their small shoulders. The Prince was showing off all the royal jewels on his fingers this fine morning. If you were to ask what all the different colors mean, he would explain that all each ring is the blood color of at least one person in his kingdom and that he wields the fate of every person in his country. He might also remark that the rings are quite heavy and signify that his job is not an easy one, but he will succeed in making this kingdom the best there is.

The trumpets fell from the Announcers' lips and the Announcer directly under the Royal Debut Balcony called," All be silent for the Prince of Hope; Eridan Ampora!"

The Announcers raised the trumpets again and blew ten more notes of a different melody as to the right of Eridan a smaller, fuchsia colored person came up behind him.

"All be silent for the Witch of Life; Feferi Peixes!"

Feferi was dressed in the highest blood color one could have and she wore a slightly smaller crown that Eridan on her head. It was decided among many of the capitol folk that Feferi not inheriting the throne from her mother was a relief. The only fuchsia bloods out there were royals and they had never worked for anything in their life. When announced that a violet blood was gaining the throne, although only until Feferi married, the whole kingdom was surprised and quite pleased that for once, someone lower than fuchsia colored was getting a chance to sit up with royalty. There would a little bit more low blood representation in the courts. 

Every eye was up on them and Eridan glared at the crowd.

"People of Skaia, I have had a revelation. This came to me in a dream last night and I felt that I must present you with this new decree. I have not gone past any of my advisers nor even my sister so these words are straight from me.

"This dream I had last night showed me a festering problem among our heavenly people. This problem has been around since the dawn of time and only now does it pose a threat. I cannot tell you why this threat has recently sprung up nor why it has not manifested itself in the past, I can only tell you that I have decided that it must be dealt with or this kingdom will crumble to the Felt."

Eridan then brought up his left hand to the crowd where the six lowblood rings glinted. He brought up his other hand and started to take the rings off, one by one. When the six jewels were finally off, he held them in the hand with the remaining six rings. 

"This problem I speak of, is the Lowbloods."

Many lowbloods in the crowd gasped or yelled out. The crowd shifted a bit and many started to turn away, yet, they could not escape. The sole exit and entrance was blocked by guards and black cloaked figures. The crowd still shifted, but Eridan, having his voice amplified in some way, continued to talk.

"Lowbloods have been friends to us for the longest of times, but lately, I have seen visions of them rising up from their homes and enslaving the highbloods. I have seen them throw us to the ground like we were dirt and rip this kingdom to pieces! I cannot, no, will not, let this happen. I hereby decree, that all lowbloods will be collared for the protection of their sanity along with everyone else's. I can say that these collars will soon be removed once we have purified their blood to the point where they will be peaceful. May the Sun bless this decree and with it this kingdom."

The crowd was screaming in pain and confusion as the guards surged forward.

Eridan turned on his heel, stuffing the lowblood rings in his pocket, and walked to the exit of the Balcony to glance at his sister's horrified face. He simply raised an eyebrow, but the hard expression he had shown to the crowd shifted a bit at her lovely face. He walked past her and into the plush hallways; striding down it slowly as he heard her quicker footfalls come after him.  

"Why look so crestfallen, Feferi?" he says once she's matching pace with him. 

"I wish you would tell me these things before you decide to make them law. I understand not trusting your slippery advisers, but I am your sister." She jumped out and grabbed at his arm, stopping him in his tracks and turning him to look down at her.

"I trust you with my life and you do the same. I tell you everything that is in my heart and I had hoped you did likewise. Obviously, I was wrong. Why did you not tell me your dream, Eridan?"

The Prince looked down at her frustrated face and brought his hand up to her cheek. He cupped her face but she did not lean into him like she normally would. She met his violet eyes with her fierce fuchsia ones.

"I do this for Fef. I did not tell you my dream because I knew you would talk me out of it, but I know of a certainty that the lowbloods will ruin us all, and that they have already ruined you."

Her hard eyes were now sobered a bit with realization striking her face.

"Eri, is that why you do this? Because of some fling that I brought about? You must not punish all lowbloods for what happened; it was my fault in the end. He considered me like a sister instead of a companion."

"I value you like a companion, Fef."

Feferi let go of his arm and stepped out of his hands reach.

"Eridan, we are siblings."

"Feferi," Eridan stepped toward her as she took another step back," my father married your mother after you and I were born. I can remember the ceremony. We were never of the same blood. We are able to love each other like lovers do."

Feferi stopped backing up and Eridan came til they were barely a foot away, and cupped both her cheeks. He gazed at her with such sweet and loving eyes.

"I have loved you since I can remember. I value you even more than I value all the jewels this kingdom can offer. I have seen in the same dream that showed me the threat of the lowbloods that you and I are meant to be. Our love would be graced by the Green Sun. I want you to be my wife."

Feferi stayed like that a moment longer, but ripped her body away from him and walked with long strides down the hall and this time, Eridan let her run.  

 

Chapter Text

The warm rays of the sun filtered through the rough window of the Egbert cottage and rested on the eyes of the sleeping John Egbert and Rose Lalonde, still stuck in the other's arms.

John woke first, slowly lifting his eyes until they fully saw the illuminated room, then his eyes widened when he felt the form next to him. It seems that he fell asleep on her bed; holding her to him.

John felt his cheeks heat just a bit and moved his arms off of her, so as not to wake her. He couldn't believe he had fallen asleep on her. He hoped that she wouldn't bring this up at breakfast. He slowly extracted his arm from around her and got off her bed. He looked down at her figure, leaning up against the corner of the cabin and head hanging limp. He was tempted to wake her up, just to see if he didn't have a Sleeping Beauty problem on his hands, but decided against it. If she wasn't awake by the time he got breakfast done with, he'd wake her up.

He moved carefully across the cottage and started to get breakfast going. He started up the fire pit, and put a frying pan over some mesh wiring that was attached to the tripod holding their pot. He took that off and placed it away with the other pans and pots. He got out the last two eggs, a small slab of cheese and the last milk bottle. The eggs started to sizzle as he cracked them into the frying pan.

He sat in front of the crackling eggs, and shredded the last of the cheese into a bowl. The first thing on his agenda today will be to visit the market and buy some more diary and eggs. Along with collecting the rent from the new owners of his Dad's bakery, if they had any at all. That was the case last month, and they asked for an extension. John didn't know if they would be able to buy the food they needed if they didn't pay up. They had barely scrapped by last month.

A bed creaked behind him and he swiveled to see Rose, alive and seemingly unharmed, standing by her bed and stretching. John couldn't help but smile at her. She was alive, she could move around but hadn't talked yet so there was the possibility of her being mute from whatever happened last night. 

"Morning!" John chirped. "I'm just making some eggs and cheese. I have some milk set out on the table if you want to pour yourself a glass. I was also thinking that we should probably visit the market today. I've got rent to collect and we're running low on..... well lots of things. Do you think you'd be up for that?"

She smiled down at him then floated across the room to the table, answering over her shoulder.

"I'd be most fine with that, I need some supplies for the next trip to the Covenant; my learning material has gotten quite low." 

She pushed the sleeves of one of John's old shirts up her arms and started pouring two glasses of milk.

John looked down at the eggs, which looked almost near to ready. She had already read through that big pile of books? Then again, he shouldn't be surprised, she was accomplishing many feats with all the new knowledge she was stealing, maybe speed reading was one of those. Maybe she had picked up a lot more stealth and combat spells and thought herself ready to brave the Covenant again so soon after her last break in? Still, after last night, the last thing he wanted was for her to go barging in there after they have maybe already come here. 

"Uh, do you think that wise to go back there? You just took a trip there last week. You should probably wait a bit longer for them to lower their defenses again."

"I don't think waiting is necessary. They have never heightened their defenses since I left and there have been no new guards or security measures since that time either. I know that if I don't strike right now, I will not have an opportunity for quite awhile. I would hate it if the Seers didn't have these excellent books back in their possession for them to peruse at their leisure. Do you need a plate?"

"Yeah, thanks." John took the extended plate from Rose and quickly slid the eggs off the frying pan and onto the plate itself. He took both the bowl of cheese and the eggs to the table. 

"You think we'll be occupied with something the next couple of weeks?"

John and Rose both sat down across from each other and Rose handed him his fork.

"I believe so, yes."

John watched. She started to cut the eggs apart and scooped the egg on her plate while reaching for the cheese. 

"If you think that I'll tell you what is going to happen, I'm afraid I can't."

"Why? Is it your Vow of Silence that is stopping you?"

"Not that. I myself don't know what will happen these next couple of weeks, or months. All I can tell, is that it will be a long time and that we need to set our affairs in order."

John thought immediately of his dream and all the death. The way she had said that..... sounded like she wanted them to get ready to die.

"John, I don't want to eat these two eggs for myself. You better grab the other one or else it'll be gone" she chided.

John scooped the egg onto his plate and grabbed the cheese; drizzling that on his now slightly not warm eggs.


"Hey Rose? Do you know where my blue cloak is?" John called over his shoulder, rifling through the chest at the foot of his bed.

"You mean the one hanging on the hook?"

John straightened and turned to see Rose, taking off multiple other winter cloaks and scarves, to find the dark blue cloak he had gotten for his birthday last year. 

He smiled at her and walked over to get it from her hand. 

"Thanks, I was scared for a minute that I lost it."

"You nearly did, under all these no more essential items. We should store these until the next winter." She replied as she went over to her bed and traded all the woolen items with a basket that had metal knitting needles poking out of it. 

"There. I am all ready to head out for the market. Are you?"

John nodded while having trouble clasping his cloak together. 

"Rose? Do you think-?"

"Yes John. Come here and let me clasp that for you." John came to stand before her and she took the clasp from his hands. "You men and your big fingers. Sometimes, bigger is not always better."

The clasp was now together and Rose swept the dust and dirt off of John's shoulders.

"Rose, my hands are the tiniest a man's can be without getting made fun of. I don't think my hands can be classified as big man hands."

Rose turned and left the doorway while calling over her shoulder.

"Perhaps so, but if your tiny legs don't hurry up then I'll let you walk alone to the market."

John quickly stepped out of the cottage and closed the entrance shut behind him. He jogged to catch up with the swift black figure. 

"In quite a hurry, aren't you?" he remarked after looping his arm through hers.

"I'm still quite cold from this morning and movement does increase warmth in the bones."

"Still cold?" John repeated.

"Yes" she replied questioningly.

Was she cold because of the spell? Why hadn't they talked about it yet? Should John bring it up? Maybe she didn't remember, in which case, John should tell her. 

"Rose, do you know what happened last night?" he asked her tentatively.

Rose's face was more serious than normal. Her face was usually set in something more thoughtful, but now it was set in something of sadness.

"You are referring to my sudden awakening from my dream?"

John gave a nod to her and they walked on. She didn't talk for a bit, and made it seem like she was weighing her words so John looked around at the familiar scenery around him.

They were walking down a big dirt path where carriage and horse tracks ran deep. As they walked along, there were paths leading off to other houses and cottages. The stone walls of those that lived closer to the path were quite visible if erected a short time ago, but you could still see walls of ivy that would loom on the sides of the path. As they were nearing the village, the houses were growing closer and the gardens and yards smaller. The trees were also growing thinner around here as they continued down.

"I had a nightmare that was lifelike. I had almost thought it was real if I hadn't seen myself wearing an unusual outfit."

John hoped that it wasn't yellow. That'd be too freaky if they both dreamed about a Rose in a weird yellow costume. 

"It started with my last night at the Covenant. I was packing my bag when my roommate came in. I asked her not to tell the Elders but all she did was take out from under her bed some books she had stolen from the library. She said she'd help if I took those books with me. I agreed to that and was ready to leave but the Elders came into our room. Terezi cast a spell of Mind on them to give me time. I opened our window and jumped, but my magic needles weren't working.

"This is where the real dream starts, because my magic needles did glide me safely to the ground, but in the dream I fell into the Courtyard of the Highbloods. I knew that it was the Courtyard because of the paintings. When I fell there, I saw a horde of dead people. I had this weird feeling that I should know them all and that I did, but I haven't seen them yet. I saw you of course. You were dead, quite dead; I checked. That's when I was found by my other self. 

"She was wearing a yellow dress with a sun on it. She told me that this had to happen. That in order to achieve our goal that everyone must die. She said it would be fine when the time came for everyone to die and that she'd be there. She was very strange, and ... happy? That is not the right word. I would go for, optimistic. She was very optimistic on this outcome, one thing I would have to disagree with." 

"But what about you floating?"

Rose's head snapped to look at John, eyebrows raised.

"I was floating?" she repeated amazed.

John nodded and continued.

"Yes, I woke up last night and you were glowing a bunch of colors and floating above your bed. Once I touched you though, you stopped. Were you under some kind of spell?"

Rose was silent for a moment at this and looked straight ahead as she answered.

"I could have been, yes. That is very likely."

She didn't say anything else. She had no questions spurting from her for them to figure out, which was probably a good thing because they entered the busy village known as Maple Valley. 

The streets were packed with people streaming from the shops and booths set up in the street. There was music coming from somewhere between the masses and John heard the squealing of little kids threading through the legs of adults. He was shoved against Rose and Rose like wise. John looked up at the sound of a musical instrument being played from the rooftops and saw streamers and banners weaving their way across the buildings. It was much more busy than John was normally use to.

"Ah, I see that the celebration has started up in full swing. Good, more farmers will be here and we'll be able to buy the freshest ingredients." Rose remarked with a glimmer in her eye as some kids raced past with paint on their faces.

"And, uh, what celebration is that?" John asked as he pushed past a crowd of people that were huddling around a particular stand.

"Our founder celebration. This village was started fifty years ago by Colonel Sassacre." John had to lean really close to Rose to hear her over the clapping and singing of a dancing circle they were passing."If my memory serves me well, the Colonel came back from the War of Fire and was looking for a place to settle down and keep under the radar. He had a dream about making a village from a maple tree and when he woke up, he went looking for a maple tree. Instead of finding one tree, he found a valley and made his home from the maple trees. He was the one to found the village and start it, but it was sparsely populated until ten years later when this village invented maple syrup from the said trees surrounding their homes. Everyone surged here to start maple farms and that is still what many people in the village do for a living. They don't sell it here though, they export it."

"I remember learning that too Rose. That was probably the first thing they taught us in school, but I had forgotten til you reminded me." 

"Well, our village is a plethora of history and stories. You should really come with me sometimes to the book store to look at the Book of Maple Valley Lore. It is the only book in there that is half empty and constantly being written in by descendants of the original settlers. The stories are quite fun, like the story about the pony and the heart. That one is really-"

"Rose Lalonde? Is that you?" A voice called from in the crowd. 

The pair looked over at a nearly set up booth. There was a rather old and large lady standing next to a wagon packed up jars and bags full of her goods. She was grinning at them widely and walked up to them.

"By golly, it is! And what a fine young woman you've grown into! And is that? Oh my, it is again! Johnathon Egbert! Look at you! Quite the looker! You both must be reeling in suitors by the dozens!" The lady exclaimed, clasping her hands together.

"Ma'am, you seem to know much more about us than we about you. May we ask how?" Rose inquired.

"Oh of course! I bet I've changed as much as you! I'm Ms. Mossley! I would sell you and your friends apples before I migrated back to the capitol."

It clicked in John's head now. She was the lady who would give them apples and fruits from her orchard before she moved away. Dave use to joke that if he was older, he'd marry her for her apples. She would always laugh at that.

"Oh, I do remember now! How are you doing this fine morning Ms. Mossley?" he said through a smile.

"Quite well! I just moved back into my old house, the people who lived there before kept my orchard in great shape! I just came to the market to sell the fruits again and it seems I've stumbled on a festival! How I love the festivals this village holds! They make me feel young. And, it seems I'm not that quite young anymore, because I can barely lift my wares out of my wagon and onto my stand! My brother packed the wagon up you see. Could I borrow your Rosie for a bit to help me with that? I promise it won't be long."

Rose smiled at the old friend. 

"I'd be more than willing to help you Mossley. John, I'll meet you in the Center Circle."

John gave a nod and squeezed her her arm before heading off through the crowd, on his way to his dad's old bakery. 

John always seems to stroll down memory lane whenever he goes to collect the building rent from the new owners. He remembers his dad operating that bakery since he was kid, and helping him with it. He'd be baking the rolls, frosting the cake or being some kind of back work during the days when one of the employees would be sick or late. He was also the taste tester too, and that is probably the reason why he hates sweets to this day. He had eaten too many as a child. And maybe the reason why he never became a baker and rented out the bakery to other bakers after his dad died and left him the bakery.

John could've given it to Rose, she seemed to enjoy the baker's life much more than he ever did. His dad had given Rose a job when she came to them. He told Rose that she could stay with them as long as she helped out in the bakery, but John knew that he would've kept Rose anyway because of the way she absconded from the Covenant and the nerve she had for travelling across the District of Derse and coming here to the District of Prospit and Maple Valley itself. 

Now that John thinks on it, Rose must've been crushed when she returned to Maple Valley and found her mother gone. He had never really asked her if his house was the first stop she had made in the village. He wonders where Rose's mother went. After Rose had been collected by the Covenant on her thirteenth birthday, Rose's mom had up and left almost over night. Where was she now? Off someplace with a bottle in one hand and a man in the other? Or perhaps on a path of self-discovery with some religious folk on the edge of Skaia. 

John found himself under the sign that read "Egbert's Extravagant Bakery" with a picture of a cake carved right next to the name. John still didn't understand why the new owner's didn't rename the bakery, it really was a pain when new people would move into the village and ask if he was the baker after hearing his last name. 

The front of the bakery was packed with people in some form of a line and were all gibbering excitedly. With a sigh, John started to push through the pack calling out over the grumbles," Excuse me! Coming through! Sorry, important business with the baker!" He squeezed his way into the bakery and saw at the counter Ms. Paint.

At his calls to get into the bakery, Ms. Paint had perked up and saw John. She smiled very widely.

"Jacky! Cover the counter! John is here!" She yelled behind her and waved John over to her. 

He made his way over to her as she ducked behind the counter real quick.

"Hello Ms. Paint! I see you are very busy today. Good business this celebration is. I hope all is going well with your family?" John asked over the counter.

She popped back up with a huge sack of gold, bigger than their previous bag before but it looked a little too big for just two month's rent.

"Oh John, the business has really picked up this month! And I suspect that after this day, we can afford to buy the building next door to extend this bakery! Jack has had that dream ever since we started working for your father. Good man, your father was and you are just as good as him if not better. I must thank you again for giving us another month to round up the money for the rent and not giving us any up charges for the delay. So here is last month's rent, this month's rent and next month's rent to cover our bases! But I better still see you come here for the normal supplies! Also, tell Rose that the cake will be ready in an hour. We are just finishing frosting it up!"

John felt his stomach sink.

"Cake?"

"Of course John! Don't think we'd forget your birthday! I already had plans to make you cake for your birthday and send it with you when you would come to collect the month's rent, but Rose came in and asked specifically for a cake and I told her that it'd be the best cake John could ever eat! She wanted to pay for it but I told her that I wouldn't accept her money. I really hope that you have an excellent birthday today John! Oh, I almost forgot! I was going to send some cookies off with you!"

John could feel his stomach shriveling at the thought of cake and cookies and frosting converging on his weak stomach as she walked briskly over to the open container of sugar cookies. 

"Oh Ms. Paint, you don't have to do this. I swear, the cake is more than enough. Don't send your best cookies with me too. The customers need those cookies more than I," he tried weakly to stop her. 

"Don't tell me any of that John Egbert! I can't send you on your way to Rose with no cookies for her." She picked out about a dozen and and wrapped them up. She turned around and set them on the counter while swooping below the counter again for a small basket. 

"There now! I've picked out of Rose's favorites! Tell her I even put in the daily special. I think she'll enjoy that one. Good day to you Johnathon! I hope the gods bring good fortune on your birthday!"

John waved back and pushed his way back through the crowd with a heavy basket on his arm. 

He waded through the throngs of the people to the Center Circle Market, the place where every merchant wanted to be to sell his wares. As he came into the circular place, he saw a stand had been erected in the middle of the circle. There was an Announcer on that with parchment in his hand and a circle of guards separating him from the crowd that was starting to form. John decided to join them and listen to the Announcer.

"Gather all people of Maple Valley! This decree has just been announced from the Prince of Hope! It will be put into action immediately! Big news from the palace!" the Announcer wailed to the still forming crowd.

John was getting a bit squished as people crowded in around him to hear what the Announcer was going to say. It must be big if the Announcer was surrounded by guards and a hooded lady.

Wait, black hooded lady? John's attention focused on the hooded lady that stood by a corner of the platform. Her hood pulled low over her face and her body being surrounded by a black cloak, but John knew that under the hood there would be black and white paintings on her face and that her body would be wrapped in black bandages with strange white markings inscribed all over the wrappings. 

It was a Seer. 

Rose needed to get out of here. John turned on the spot and tried to look through the crowd for her, but everyone was pushed together so tightly and more people were pouring in. John couldn't spot his blonde friend anywhere in the crowd and the Announcer was yelling for silence. 

"Prince Eridan Ampora has given a decree that will be enacted upon immediately! He has declared that all lowbloods must wear a collar for the sake of the kingdom!"

John shook his head, smiling a bit. That was surely a faulty decree, a misinterpretation from the Prince to the Announcers or maybe a Fools Day prank. It was a dozen days past but maybe the message was delayed? It seemed that others in the crowd thought so too, because others were laughing and snickering in the crowd, but the rest of the crowd were not so optimistic.

John waited for the Announcer to fold the parchment up and blow the trumpet at his belt the Fools Day tune. Yet no such thing happened. The Announcer remained grim and if anything a bit worried. The Seer came up on the platform and her hood raised up and pressed itself against the head of the Announcer who listened was quiet as he listened. He nodded at the Seer and she turned toward the crowd. The Announcer nodded toward the guard closet to him who then gave a cry of some kind and five guards dove into the masses.

Many closest to the platform screamed in pain. John thoughts turned to the guards taking prisoners, or hurting lowbloods and surged toward the platform. He couldn't let them hurt any of the lowbloods, they were like him. He pushed against those who fleeing or moving to help, until a womans scream was piercing the air in wails. The guards were dragging an elderly woman onto the platform and pushed her into a kneeling position. 

She yelled out to unhand her but was too frail to do anything. The crowd pushed against the guards yelling to let her go. John stopped fighting to the front as the Seer moved in front of the woman and raised her hands above the womans head. Her hands looked like they were holding a crown until in a zap of indigo light, a big, thick ring was clutched in her hands. The ring easily slid over the womans head and rested on her shoulders, but as the Seer let go of the collar, it shrunk quickly to choke the old woman who gave a gargled yell and was released by the soldiers to clasp her throat and fall forward.

The crowd became a monster around John. Everyone was screaming for their lives or the lives of others. Everyone was moving so rapidly to escape or fight that John couldn't stand still. Not that he was, John was pushing through the masses to find Rose again. 

"Rose!" he screamed. He saw for a quick second blonde hair and black robes, and headed for that, even if he couldn't see it anymore. He headed in that direction but was stopped very abruptly.

He was careening for the ground and was barely touching the ground before he felt feet at the edges of his body. He pushed himself up to continue on with much more bruising but the white uniform was upon him. The guard grabbed at John's arm with steel hands and used the other to wield a dagger. John swung at the soldier but couldn't stop his skin from being nicked and jade blood from seeping from the surprisingly deep stab. 

His fist stung as it made contact with the side of the soldier's face and he backed away a bit, grabbing at his arm. He couldn't step back anymore. His body was frozen and numb from the neck down but he was standing stock still. The Seer appeared from the shadow of a running figure and stepped toward him. He was caught. The Seer would read his mind and they'd know that Rose was with him and Rose would die for fleeing the Covenant. He should've run and never stayed once he had seen the Seer, why did he stay?

The Seer conjured the black collar right in front of his face and brought it up to crown him with it. She was gone in a flash of cobalt and the spell came off John that he fell a bit from not being supported. He whipped his head to where the Seer was bringing herself up. Her hood was off her head and it was covered in black and white markings. Her eyes glowed indigo and she growled at someone behind John. 

John didn't even need to turn around to know who had saved him, yet he still did turn and ran for the form of Rose Lalonde.    

 

Chapter Text

"I'd be more than willing to help you Mossley. John, I'll meet you in the Center Circle."

Rose gave John a small smile and turned back to Ms. Mossley. She hadn't seen her in years and was quite ecstatic to be able to catch up with her. She wondered what the old woman had been up to these last few years. She hoped that maybe she could get some information on what the capitol was like. Rose had always wanted to visit there sometime and the places where some of her favorite paintings had taken place. 

She set her basket behind the wagon wheel and grabbed a sack from the tall stack of them in the wagon. 

"Brace yourself now, wouldn't want you injuring yourself and having a dis formed figure ruining your beauty." Ms. Mossley quipped. 

That was starting to get a bit obnoxious; Mossley always saying how lovely she was. Yet, she steadied her legs and heaved the sack into her arms. Ms Mossley wasn't wrong, the sacks were heavy and Rose stumbled over to beside the stand where she laid the sack of apples, felt like apples, as close as she could get. 

"That is an excellent place to put them Rosie! You've thought every out now, haven't ya? I bet you've thought your future out too!"

Well, she wasn't wrong, she thought as she grabbed another sack. Rose did have a few things planned, but just the major ones. She was going to buy a cottage next to John, perhaps work as teacher to the kids of this village. She was definitely going to set John up with someone and hopefully get to be the spectacular aunt to the children he'll have. 

"You'll marry that Johnny on your arm and have wonderful kids that I can give more apples to!"

Rose dropped the sack on her unsuspecting toe, making it feel very warm and sticky. She hauled her foot from under the stack and concentrated on it briefly. She felt her magic flow from her hands down to her toe and the sticky feelings was still there but it was not throbbing. 

"You better hurry up with those children of your though! It would be a shame if I couldn't meet the next generation. Your children would look simply adorable! The cutest babies in the world!"

Rose turned her attention back to the smaller pile of sacks, now wishing she could use her magic to this easier. 

"Ms. Mossley, you seem to have the wrong idea with me and John. We are just friends and he has taken me in since my mother has moved away. I cannot fathom any type of relationship forming with him; very sorry to disappoint you." Rose stated as she hefted the next bag into her arms.

There was silence for a bit until Rose looked over from dropping the bag on the ground. Ms Mossley was sitting on her chair just staring very...awestruck? A bit of disgust. And that might be a hint of sadness under that hood. 

"Did something I say offend you Mossley? If so, I must apologize for anything that I have said."

"Rosie, why on earth are you staying with him?" She has snapped out of her reverie and now looked displeased. Her face frowning and her eyes conveying disappointment; nothing that Rose hasn't handled before.

"Ah, I see now. Yes, it is a rather unorthodox position, but John and his father had taken me in when I was fifteen." She went back to her duty of emptying the wagon, talking over her shoulder as she did so.

"I lived with them above the bakery until John's father passed away in which John wanted to give the bakery to some invested bakers. We moved out and I still had no money. John offered for me to stay with him and I obliged. I act as his housekeeper and work some days at the bakery. To make you feel any better, no, John and I do not share a bed. We both sleep on separate sides of the room in different beds. We do nothing that might upset the Gods."

"Well, that does explain a lot of things. But, it is still a dangerous situation to live in. What would happen if on of the Seers caught you and John in that cottage? Both of your lives would be wrecked."

Oh yes. Rose's life would be wrecked indeed if the Seers found her, and not just for living with a man she is not married to. Rose put one of the last sacks down by Mossley's feet and looked down at her with a smile.

"Oh Mossley, you worry too much for us. John and I are very law abiding citizens and give the Seers no reason to come inspect our house or check our documents. Who would want to make quarrels with the son of the greatest baker this town has seen?"

"Rose," she told Rose's hand in both of hers and her eyes were very serious,"this is not a good predicament to be in. I have seen quite a few others think this path you travel down is fine, but someone always gets hurt in the end. If you are so intent on not developing any feelings for John, you might not be able to say the same for John. Why has he taken you in all these years and treat you like a wife? You are on his arm and you both act like a couple. You might hurt him very badly. I do not want to see that for you or him. 

"And the Seers Rose. Never underestimate the Seers. They have their minds moving around in the physical world without their bodies. They sense things and even talking about this could lead them to you. They will split you apart and mush you into the ground somewhere in Derse if you are not careful. I don't want to see my children like that."

Rose stood there for a moment, her hand clutched in the grip of Mossley. She was quite sober and looked close to tears. Most of her warnings did not bother Rose, but one did. Rose had been thinking about it lately and what Mossley said was only another letter on the pile of why John has kept her around. Rose gave a grim smile. 

"Mossley, I take your warnings into account and-"

"Marry him Rose."

Rose's hand jerked out of hers.

"Ms. Mossley, I have no intention of marrying John."

"Rose, it must happen. It has to be done. That is the only way for you to continue on living as his equal. You have to marry him."

She turned around from the woman and grabbed at the last bag from the wagon. Grabbing it from the wagon and throwing it on the ground. She hauled her basket up from beside the wagon and gave herself a steady breathe as she showed herself to Mossley. The smile was small and tight and the basket was choked in her grip. 

"Good day to Mossley. I hope you wares sell for a good price. I wish a happy festival to you and hope to see you soon" With that, Rose strode around the stand and pushed herself into the crowd as Mossley called after her. 

"It's the only way Rose! You have to do it! That's how you'll live a happy life!"

Mossley's words weren't teasing and joking and wishful, they were a final demand. Everything before that had been light and fun and now it was grim. Rose was not under any circumstances marrying someone she did not love. It would be hopeless for her to be able to stand before the altar and say that she was ready to marry anyone she couldn't love. She would rather die than be forced into anything like that and that was why she was partly thankful for her mother disappearing. Her mother would have surely forced her into a marriage by now if Rose hadn't offed herself already.

Quite a funny thought string. What would be different about Rose's life if she hadn't been whisked away by the Seers to the Covenant and her mother had disappeared from the whole land of Prospit? Well, Rose could say for certain that she would not have short hair like she does now. Her mother did have a thing for long hair, even though she cut hers short. Rose would most definitely be married to a nice looking boy who made Rose laugh once in front of her mother. Her mother would assume that Rose liked this boy and ship her off to him. Said boy would probably be nice, but Rose wasn't looking for boys. 

"Hello nice lady! Buy this foreign silk to make great clothes for you! You look very nice for suitors!" 

Rose had just walked into Center Circle Market and was already getting bombarded with various expensive items that Rose would not be interested in in the slightest. Although, it was nice to look at. So she went over to the dark man and looked over his shimmering cloths. They seemed to gleam in the sun and were bright colors that Rose hoped would one day be turn into wool so she could knit them. She kind of wished she knew how to sew complicated items. She knew how to sew up holes but not making clothing. Sewing John his favorite cloak had taken considerable effort and help from Ms. Paint. 

She saw a blue pattern under the rest and pulled the bundle from under everything. It was the exact shade as the sky. Rose even held it up and smiled at the faint differences. Sky blue was John's favorite. Imagine if Rose had found this before John's twenty-second birthday. He would have been speechless, then would smile at her. He would have smiled brighter and hugged her tighter. She would have walked away with a broken bone in her chest. Would there have been tears? John had been near when she had given him the cloak, would he have actually cried this time?

"Nice color! Match the sky! Will look beautiful with your eyes! I will give to you for half price."

She ran her hand over the gentle fabric with a half smile herself. Then turned to the merchant with the beaming face.

"This is quite the extraordinary fabric. I do so like the feel of it, and you drive a good bargain. Unfortunately, I am not here for your beautiful colors."

"Quite shame, have nice day now!" He turned so quickly from her as she set the fabric back on the stand and headed back into the crowd. 

Why had she been so crossed at Ms. Mossley for saying such a thing? The woman was just stating her opinion and Rose was being rude about it. The connection between her and John was very close to that of partners. Rose knew that she had never intended it to be that way, but marrying John would be highly viewed in their village. Rose knew that everyone talked about John and their scandalous situation and marrying him would ease the hate from them. Not that Rose living with John had stopped any village girls from crowding him when she was not near. Rose didn't care about that, John deserved someone sweet. Rose was never sweet to start with. 

John had a house and was already someone she could confide in. He was also very funny and charming. He could provide for her and help her live to an old age. He already had promised her a cottage next to him. John was very close to Rose indeed, much closer than she would consider anyone else to be. Would marrying John solve her problem?

That festering problem that she could sense on the horizon. Everytime she drifted into the Dream Bubbles she could sense that what she wanted would get her in trouble and it almost seemed like the village was catching on too. The men still flirted and offered marriage and more but they're minds were growing wary of her; not that she ever cared. The village was growing suspicious even though Rose had never acted on it in years she could hear their theories about what she really is. Marrying John would push that problem out the door and John knew what she really wanted. 

Unless, that's what John wanted. Did he love her? John would have said something by now, unless he did know how Rose felt. Yet, he might not know how she is and is waiting? That could be a very real answer and-

The thoughts in Rose's head quieted as the world turned mute. Rose had a blanket laid over her senses. She was not alarmed, or scared. She felt the burden of being cautious being lifted off her shoulders and feeling light. Her mind was light like clouds and they were floating through the crowd, following the one strand of color left in this world. The thread that was weaved around shoulders and heads. The only colored object in this new world. Rose watched it follow and stop at its origin. It was trailing out of the back of a hooded figure. The figure itself was shrouded in sunset colors and was still moving. It was stepping quickly through the crowd and out the entrance that Rose had left. 

Another color tugged at her eye and she turned to see the sky in another thread. It was shorter than the other but was connected to the chest of John Egbert. He was in a position of backing up but his thread was trembling. His face was one of fear that Rose had seen him wear when they had found a bear in the woods. Another figure was standing by him with a collar in his hands. 

That's right, the prince was going to collar low bloods because they were dangerous and a Seer had collared an old woman who had collapsed in pain. That Seer was not helping at all, she was hurting; just as Rose had seen long ago. Now, she was going to collar John. She was going to kill him and his thread and destroy the sky that emblazoned him.

She moved for the first time in this world and put the basket she was holding on the ground to her right while sliding her knitting needles out.  The metal was cold in her hands and they brought the other world back in front of her. The sounds deafened her ears and she winced at the impact. The people pushed her around and were moving in so many directions. Her eyes followed John's face twitching in real life and wound her way toward him. 

The collar materialized in his face and she reached up. The needles warmed Rose felt her power rush through her. The power aligned with her mind and the books she had learned were at her fingertips once again. She recalled the most basic attacking spell and pushed the words from brain to her hands. She waved the needles up and toward the Seer. The cobalt blaze streaked through the air and hit her square on the shoulder.  

Rose knew the pain the Seer would be experiencing, she had felt it millions of times in the basements of the Covenant; the sting that was there until you fell asleep. Rose strode toward the pair feeling her power flare around her in the aura of her blood. The Seer got up from the ground with the hideous markings on her face with the white stitches stretching with her scowl.

John was at her side and stood with her. He said nothing, or perhaps Rose didn't hear over the roar in ears from the power that surprised even her. The Seer drew her weapons from her cloak; the standard, plain connected rings. They slipped on and her aura of teal was flaring around her too. The guards were yelling, people still screamed and cried. John was now clutching her shoulder. The guards were stopping traffic from leaving the Center Circle but Rose wasn't with them. She was in the fight that she had been training for since she left.    

Chapter Text

John grasped Rose's cobalt shoulder as the Seer was surrounded by teal. Rose's shoulder was cool despite her blood flames licking around her. The fight that was mounting up between the Seers was chilling John to the bones. He could feel the magic and energy around them; twirling with panicked emotions of the crowd that was being rounded up into groups by the guards. And as more guards were being left with nothing to do, they were drawing closer to Rose, him and the Seer.

"Rose," he started to say and her eyes flickered to him for just a second because that's all they could afford without the other Seer taking the advantage of a distracted opponent, but it was enough to know that Rose could hear him."We're gonna have to make it quick."

He took his hand off her shoulder and turned toward the less packed crowd and the threatening guards. They had their swords drawn but stood back a bit from the Seer battle. John's eyes raced around for a spare weapon laying around on the ground and found there was a black smith stand that had been turned over and hammers had been spilled everywhere. 

John raced over to the stand as the lights from the battle gave him a shadow on the wall as he stooped down for the long handled black hammer and swung it up and around; propelling himself at the same time. The hammer made contact with the guard that was nearest and he went down like a brick while John teetered forward from the propulsion still going. He went with it and swung at the guard to the left and the metal clanged but hammer beats sword and the guard staggered forward.

John helped the guard down by kicking him in the helmet; his foot stung a bit. The footsteps grew louder and John found two guards just charging toward him, probably to tackle him down. He lifted his slippery hammer and ran to meet them. Only one of them stopped to pull out his sword but the other gave a shout and jumped to tackle him. John dodged and swung his hammer down at the guard. He turned back to the other and narrowed jumped away from the soldier and his sword. His cheek was slit but he swung his hammer up and got the guard right in the chest who fell around the hammer to the ground. 

There was a scream that lasted for a second before getting cut off. John twirled to the Seer battle and found the Seer on the ground with Rose running in his direction with her flames dying out behind her. She was bleeding from various cuts but swiped her needles upward at John who floated off the ground. He tried to spin around in the air but finding the momentum was hard. 

The guards screamed out and more converged on the pair as Rose was cutting the air with her needles and she too floated off the ground but had the momentum to fly at John who was turned, not by himself, around in the same direction that Rose was going. John was hit at the back with something because he blasted off horizontally at the guards who were by the exit. John saw Rose come beside him and had a needle pointed at him and at herself. She was out of needles for the guards ahead with their swords. 

John hefted his hammer in front of him and yelled," Higher Rose!" They flew higher and John swung the hammer down at the line of guards. The hammer was torn from his hands as they knocked down the line of guards and flew through the almost deserted streets of Maple Valley. 

"When we get home, pack your stuff John. Pack everything that is of significance and could help us survive in the forest." she said seriously as they flew on. Her face was in a scary but determined emotion that made John really think about what she's giving up to help them fly. He had never really asked what her fuel was to make magic. 

"Are we packing to never come back?" he asked.

She nodded and they went lower to the ground as the trees started to form overhead. John reached out to grab Rose's shoulder, expecting them to have to run as they hit the ground. Their cottage came into view and Rose grabbed his elbow as they went lower. They slowed down until they came to a jerky stop in front of the gate and they shifted until John's feet were basically on the ground. The hold on him fell and he hadn't realized how much Rose's power was keeping him in that position until it was gone and he was staggering a bit.

Rose let go of him and ran ahead into the cottage. John ran too and saw that Rose had bags, saddle bags, back bags, shoulder bags, lifting through the air and hovering above the table. This was definitely happening. John had been hoping this was a dream but dreams do not go on for this long. Now John had to get his stuff together.

He ran over to his chest and pulled out all the clothes he had and put them on the floor. He pulled out his journal, a quill and ink bottle and book of notes. Once the supplies were out of his hands, they were surrounded by cobalt and were lifted into the air to be packed. John turned to corner where the weapons stood and started to put on a sword, a quiver of arrows and slung the bow around his back also. He needed to practice moving around in these more because he twirled around to inspect the cabin for what he might need next the weapons dragged him down. 

The bags were getting full and the cabinets and drawers were empty. John slid onto his knees in front of this one floorboard and wrenched it up with his might. A small box, about the same dimensions of a loaf of bread, was sitting between the earth and the cottage floor. John pulled the light box out and that was lifted too from his grip, carrying away all the savings Rose and he had saved since John's dad had died. 

"John, get the horses, there's a few more things needed." Rose called out and John came up slower than he wanted and raced to the back door. 

He threw it open and the horses in the back reared up with fright. Once the door was open, John could hear screaming from the city. There wasn't much time left for the pair to leave. He pelted over to the pole the horses were tied down and started on the knots while whistling for them. The horses nickered and came at an agonizingly slow pace while the knot tying the horses down wasn't getting undone fast enough. 

Finally, the knot was done and the horses were close enough for John to feel their breath from both sides of his face. He turn back from the pole and ran to the saddles, whistling while he went to get the horses to follow. The real challenge now began for John. He had always had trouble saddling horses and almost wished for some of Rose's magic to do this for him. The pinto bean colored horse was closest to him and he started with it first. John's horse was snorting and nudging John's hair impatiently. Could it also sense that they were needed for something big? Or perhaps the anxiety coming from John was visible enough to spook them too.

Another scream of pain, or was it fear, erupted again and this time John could tell it was the neighbor girl with the low blood husband who was three houses down. 

"Rose!" he yelled and ran back into the house but didn't need to. The door threw open and the bags came zooming out, dodging John quite nicely, and were strapping themselves to the horses. The form of Rose bolted out with them and ran for her horse. John turned tail as he heard his front door shudder from the soldiers running into it. The horse shifted a bit as John hauled himself up onto and grabbed the reins as the door gave way to the threat.

He dug into the horse's side and snapped the reins fiercely but was, and always is, not prepared for the great animal beneath him to break into a sprint behind Rose. He jolted backward and almost fell off as the horse jumped over the tiny fence the previous owners had made to separate the garden from the forest. John regained himself and leaned right into the mane of his horse with his eyes following the tail of the dark horse which held Rose.   

 The trees grew thick and dark as the light overhead couldn't reach the ground. The ground did not throw up dust under them and the roots were veering up to trip up the horses if they were not careful, yet they went on at the same speed. The bushes condensed into patches and the birds cried in alarm as the pair drove past and John had no clue. He did not know where they going, what was going to happen and how much trouble they were in. And for once, John couldn't put a positive spin on it. 

Chapter Text

On the border of the districts of Prospit and Derse not only does the castle lie on that line but also the Covenant of Seers. The Covenant is placed in the Mountain of Seers guarded by the constant fog that does not match the weather with the surrounding areas, the magic that the Seers possess and the general laziness and lack of curiosity of the surrounding population. There would be more information about how many buildings there are and how deep the fortress runs, but sadly no one wants to discover that information or give it up for the sake of knowledge. 

In the building where the Seers sleep, which is located by the edge of the cliff, the messiest and most flinch inducing room sits as still as the occupant. The Seer in room is dressed in the garb of Prospitians; a yellow cloak, shirt, pants and shoes. Yet, unlike the other Seers, she has a red sash tied over her eyes which to the fashion centered eye clashes horribly with her bright orange hair. She sits in the middle of the room with her hands resting in her lap but her back straight and head level with the ground with a teal aura surrounding her body. 

The room itself is full of brightly colored objects. There's stuffed animals laying everywhere and markings on the walls in the same bright colors with no pattern to the colors. Every color that could be created sits in that room with books in piles all over the place. The two beds lay on opposite sides of the room, suggesting another roommates, but the other has been gone a long time and the bed stays bare of people and sheets. 

The light snaps out of the air and the teal blood breathes for the first time since breakfast. Her spine folds down until her forehead is resting on the ground. Her whole body shakes with the pain of being in a trance for that long yet her mind is whizzing around. Her lips roll back and expose a lot more teeth than the average human, but who said that this girl was average? 

She staggers off the floor and knocks over a stack of books as she makes her way to the empty bed then falls to the ground before it and reaches an arm under the frame. A shoulder bag comes out, already full, and she swings it onto that dark bed. She races more steadily to the closet and strips off the yellow attire, mumbling nasty final words at it, while pulling on a dress that could be seen on the streets but still brightly colored with teal and red being the most dominant colors. 

She hops around, pushing over more stacks of books, as she struggles with stiff black shoes. Her door receives a lite tap and the girl curses under her breathe and grabs at a red and white cane leaning by the closet. She points the cane at the door and all the objects in her room, except her bag and everything in her closet, flies to the door and creates a barricade. She reaches for one more thing in the closet, a thick black cloak, and secures it around her. 

She scoops up the bag from the floor and marches to the window with the broadest smile as the taps on the door turn to bangs with commentary following it. She points her cane at the window. The magically strong window, wobbles and bends on its hinges but the girl walks up to the window and breaks it with her bag. The pieces fall around her like rain and she stands there, both hands resting on the dragon cane in front of her with her hair being blown by the wind and fog that rushes into her room looking like a conqueror. 

She smiles sharply at the fog and yells out," You can't get me you potato paste! I have no eyes for you to fool! You are just as useless as your creator!" 

She laughs with a crazy laugh that matches her smile as she becomes surrounded by teal and floats off the ground and out the window, crouching a bit to get through the opening. The barricade bursts behind her and the scream of a neighbor erupts from the doorway. "Terezi!"

Terezi turns around outside the window and smiles at the neighbor before the teal disappears and she falls into the fog with her insane laughter following her. She spirals through the air, head first as she takes in the scents of her environment. The potato paste disappears and the smell of earth and pine fill her nose and her power flares to life to bring her to a gentle stop through a small clearing of the pine needles and onto the ground. 

She shakes off the needles that gathered on her and waits with her hands resting on her cane. She stands there, almost like a statue if not for the rising of her chest. Her waiting pays off for needles crunch and the scent of figure comes out from behind a tree. He smells like red candy and she knows she's found her man. 

"What took you so long? Couldn't get up the courage to reveal yourself to a Seer? That's your first mistake; a Seer knows everything and if they don't, they will" she calls out to the dark dressed figure standing a way off. 

"I don't think that you do know everything, because if you did, you would have found me first not the other way around" a quick snapping voice rang back.

If you could see her eyes, they would have been rolling. Her regal posture relaxed and she crossed her arms. "That's too much work when I know that you will eventually come to me"

"Okay, so I'm here! You knew I was going to come and I've come so now what? What is the big Seer planning now?" the figure taunted.

"I'm planning on joining your clan, group of friends, posse, gang whatever you call it. I'm now a member!" She smiled at him and leaned on her cane, preparing herself for a big spillage of words.

"No! You are most certainly not! I don't have a gang because I'm a loner and if I did indeed have one, I would not add you! You think that you can just float from the sky and that I'd be so awed at your dramatic entrance that I'd let you slide in like you own us or something! That most definitely will not happen! You Seers think you're so entitled to everything because you work for the royal bloods and know everything about the universe and crap! You think you are so powerful and strong and better than everything that lives! Well sister, you are in for a shock because I'm not going to let you walk over me, because if you ever do do that, you'd be walking over a corpse because I will have died!" the figure spouted all that in what seemed like one breath and stood there trembling from the rage with a sickle clutched in his hand. 

Terezi smiled. "That sickle smells divine! Do you mind if I lick it?"

She straightened and strode slowly over to the figure.

"See! That is exactly the kind of screwed up request you think you are entitled to! I'm not letting you lick this sickle not only because you'll contract some kind of disease but because you are probably going to put some kind of spell on it! Stop!" the figure backed up as Terezi kept coming closer. "Stop it! I will slay you with this! I mean it!"

"You won't be slaying me Karkat, because I can help you on your quest that your dream messenger gave you. The one that came in yellow but surrounded by purple? The girl who gave you the job of collecting the allies you have made over the years of running and fighting. I can help you gather them because I too am gifted with this job."

Karkat stopped moving back and stood there frozen as Terezi came nose to nose with him. He stared at her sash in fear, confusing and awe. But he was thinking no less, about what she had said and what do to from there. 

She sniffed in the air around him and let it out through her mouth into her face making him flinch. "You hair smells like white chocolate. It is really quite an unique smell, but wonderful none of the less, why do you dye it with that mushroom smelling stuff?"

"Why do you think?"

"You hide it so you won't be ridiculed like you were in your youth, but the world has changed a bit. It's in these days; having weird colored hair, especially if it matches your blood color. The royals love to wear that dye to show how important they are and lots of low bloods use it to make it look like their higher up than they are."

Karkat opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off by licking his cheek. Not a quick lick, but a long one with her tongue lapping almost his whole cheek.

He stumbled back cursing her while rubbing his wiping off his cheek and she cackled. 

"Oh man! I haven't this much fun since the Seers let me have my licking privileges back!"

"There was a reason they those dang things away!" he growled at her still wiping his cheek. 

 "So, can I join?" she asked, grasping her cane eagerly.

Karkat stopped wiping off his cheek and stared at her a bit, then pointed at her with his weapon.

"My friends are the most important things to me. I will fight and die for them and if you betray us or even so much give one of them a splinter, you will be dead and I'll let a vampire suck your blood."

Terezi nodded. "Grave warning and noted. Now! I would love to see Nepeta and Tavros! I feel we will get along quite splendidly!" She tossed her cane up a bit and caught it then strode past him and into the forest. 


 As the couple get acquainted with the other, there's a small village in the District of Prospit called Pacific. It only holds about a hundred people in all and the occupation of the most of the villagers is animals. Everyone there knows a lot more about animals and such than any normal person in the kingdom; they're proud of it too. They're a very proud village and value smarts and skills more than what blood they hold, unlike most villages. But, besides those qualities, they are normal villagers in the kingdom of Skaia. 

And living in the village, well to be more precise living on the outside of the village, there's a big house that invite envy upon all who look on it. It was a grand tudor house with a slight blue tinge that matched the high green grass so perfectly. There had to be two floors in the layout and had ivy growing up the sides. The gentle sounds of sheep was the music to the picturesque landscape. Many who would pass by this house would assume it belonged to cobalt or teal blooded person. 

But, the owner of the house was a dark girl with blood the color of bronze metal. That information was not widespread to many outsiders for her beautiful house would be under siege by those who think that she stole that house or tricked her way into it. When, in fact, she had bought that house with skill and talent alone. If she survived off the sheep herder career, she'd be living in a dirt floor cottage; quite the contrast to her heavily furnished and exquisite home. 

The owner of the house was out in the stables, loading sacks upon sacks of wool with the help of her herdsmen she hired to help her with the work. She stood on top of the wagon and grabbed sack after sack from the herdsmen assembly line and placed them in the wagon; quickly filling it up. Finally, the sacks stopped coming and conversation erupted from the herdsmen as they congratulated and complained to one another. 

Jade Harley beamed at them and the harvest from this spring. This load wasn't even half of the sheep they had but she knew that the workers would be going home with a big fat bonus in their pockets, if she sold to her favorite merchant. She clapped her hands together to gather their attention back to her. 

"Herdsmen! Look at what we have done!" She threw her hands out wide. "This isn't even half of it! All our work to preserve the sheep over the winter has payed off and so will you all when I get back from the market tonight!"

The cheers went up and the clapping ensued. She clasped her hands in front of her again and resumed her speech. "I expect you all to have the rest of the sheep sheared and their food tended to by the time I get back! I will be leaving Allister in charge while I'm gone and I hope to hear good reports when I come back!"

She climbed over some sacks and plopped down in the drivers seat. She grabbed the reins and flicked them quickly to get the horses moving. The horses startled to life and left the stables where they were all gathered. The herdsmen waved goodbye to her but a Allister jogged along side her, delivering the news.

"You normally don't go into town until all the harvest is gathered! I'm guessing you heard that you've been challenged?" 

Her gaze flickered to her trusty weapons that were lying by her feet and grinned with buck teeth and all.

"Of course I'm going in early to meet the challenger! I must keep them on their toes if I want the upper edge! They aren't expecting me till tomorrow!" She turned in front of her house and started for the road with Allister still keeping pace.

"I heard this fella was an archer in the war! I heard he's mighty big and would give Kelton something to compare with! Don't you go underestimating him! And don't go betting too high! Be-"

"Humble! I yes, I have always been humble about my talent! And if I beat this man then I will be the best shot in all of the Right Prospit! That will show all the high bloods about how dumb the blood spectrum is!" She shouted at the top of her lungs and flicked the horses to go faster. Allister stopped following her into the sunrise and she was left with the biggest grin one could bare about a challenge.


 

"The District of Derse has been viewed as the eviler part of Skaia but all rumors about that are untrue. The people and animals of Derse are just as nice and good as the people of Prospit. If anything, they are better than the Prospitians by the way they treat their beggars. The beggars are well fed and help out more with the community than the beggars in Prospit. In fact, it is said that Derse has barely any beggars at all. In Houston, there's no beggars at all. If one were to appear overnight, he would be handed food to last him a week, enough money for two weeks rent in the local inn and a promised job at the tavern all thanks to the hero of city." 

 A group of young women gossiped by the center city washing well getting their laundry done. They scrubbed hard at their dirty clothes and chattered like they had endless things to talk about and the favorite subject was the Hero of Houston. 

"I don't think he some hero. I think that he's just wasting his money away on the beggars! More keep coming every week and they leave with more money on their hands than what they would've got in a week in any other town! His reputation is bringing about his downfall!" a smart mouthed lady added. 

"I'm guessing you've never seen this young lad, have you?" a girl giggled.

"This lad's looks has got nothing to do with where he's getting his money from!" the lady retorted back. 

"Oh there's many rumors about where he's getting the money, but his looks are all I need to know that he's a hero! I just wish he would dance with me a little longer at the festivals." Another girl sighed out the last part with a smile on her lips as if she could imagine them dancing forever. 

That brought uproar to the circle of young women who spouted on how he would dance with them first or would kiss their hand or kiss their cheek at the next festival, not aware at all that up in the shading tree that the young man they were talking about lounged there; listening to the interesting conversation below. 

He wore his signature red tunic with his sword slung around his back instead of waist. He stares up at the sun, munching on an apple. His blonde hair looks white in the rays that flow through it and many wish to have hair as white as him. The tree shakes a bit and he looks down to see a young boy standing at the base with a smile on his lips. 

"Excuse me! Sir! The glass man wants to see you! He has your order done for you!" the little boy yells up the tree. 

"Why are you yelling at the tree young man?" a girl snaps at him. "This is the washing well and if you think that disturbing the peace will bring any joy you are-"

A figure jumped down from the tree to stand next to the boy. He startled the girls into gasps and shrieks with a calm face on. The silence was filled with many hearts dropping as they link many things together but before they can say anything, the tree jumper speaks first. 

"You ladies need not to be disturbed by this young man no more, he's with me and we shall be going. We'll see you at the festival tonight and hope that both of us will get dances from each and every one of you. Farewell." He turned with the boy and strode off toward the narrow alleys of the city knowingly leaving every face there stunned and embarrassed.

"Sir, my mother tells me that sneaking on ladies is considered horrendous! Why do you do it?" The little boy asked as he jogged while the man who had been spying walked leisurely. His expression remained calm as he replied.

"I was not sneaking on any ladies because that is indeed scandalous of anyone to do. I was in the tree first, enjoying my shade. I had no idea that the women of this society would wash their clothes under me and so you see that I was in a predicament. I couldn't reveal myself or else they'd think me a sneaker when in reality I am anything but the sneaker that all loathe. So, I waited until I knew you would come along. So, little man, you are indeed the hero of this tale."

They both stopped outside the front of the glass shop of Houston. The boy staring up at the pale man with a look that was still going over all the words the man had spilled; which is how he likes to leave all his fans. The man gave a tiny grin at the boy before sweeping into the shop with a call over his shoulder.

"Tell all your friends that you saved the Hero of Houston and if you want to jazz it up, I'll go along with it. Keep up the good work kid!"

The shade and slightly colder temperature of the shop was a relief to the man. His posture remained relaxed but he blew out a breathe in the pleasure of escaping the extreme heat. That's another thing Houston is known for; it's ability to boil anyone without proper protection. 

The bell had tinkled as the man walked in and had alerted the owner behind the curtains that a customer was here. The owner rushed to the front and grinned widely at the man standing at the counter. He threw his arms open and swept the man up in a hulking hug. 

"The Hero of Houston has returned to my humble shop! I am truly humbled that he would grace my steps with his beautiful boots!"

"Alright, alright. Slack off before you kill me." The Hero gasped and was dropped.

"You make me sound a lot more than I actually am, I just give away a lot of money to people. Speaking of the gold, can I see the final product?" 

The man laughed and went over to a cupboard on the wall of the cluttered front room. "You truly deserve the title that this city has given you. You teach, protect and give! That is a hero Dave, no matter what you say about it."

Dave shifted about at the statement and leaned against the small counter. 

"I believe the one receiving the name as his legacy should get a say in what he's called. I think that the Rich Guy of Houston is a more accurate name."

"Are you ever going to tell me where you get all that money? I could use a few coins to buy better tools" the owner tossed over his shoulder as he withdrew a box at the back.

"I do believe that what I'm about to pay you for the item you're selling me will get you some better tools." Dave replied as he unloaded the bag of coins from his belt and dropped them on the counter. 

The owner turned back to Dave and held out the box.

"Take a look, it's everything you asked for and more. I was able to develop a formula to make the glass stronger and not easily breakable. Of course, they still are the shade you asked them to be and I tried them on myself; I can see out but no one can see in. Just like you asked."

Dave opened the box and stared down at the glasses. These were rare and the only ones of their kind. The glasses were bigger rectangles and the glass was a shade of black. He put them over his eyes and found the whole world dimmed down. For once, his red eyes didn't push against his sockets and he felt the headache he had carried since he arrived here ease. 

Dave smirked and kept looking around the store but waved at the bag. 

"Grab what you think is adequate; these are marvelous. These glasses are a revolution in and of themselves. I could tell a poet about these and he could write scores upon scores about them. These are the greatest glasses that have yet to be invented. Really man, take the whole bag if you want, you deserve it."


If Prospit would be known for anything, like Derse is known for not having a lot of beggars, they would known for having a lot of orphans. It really is quite sad if thought about and has only been going on for seven years, which there is a reason behind why there's a lot of orphans, but it's still too painful to talk about for most people. Yet, there is hope for the said orphans, they get to be enveloped into a warm home with the other orphans and get three mothers until a family comes to adopt them. 

That is what it is like for the orphans at the Maryam Orphanage. The children from the wrecked homes or streets come to loving arms that feel their pain and people who love them. The orphanage was started a long time ago that no one even questions where it came from. There usually isn't three owners of the store, but the recently departed owner couldn't make up her mind on who to leave it to. She could leave it to the friend who's worked as long and hard as she, the woman who had wanted to run this orphanage since she moved here or her daughter. So, she willed it to all three of them, but her daughter got the shorter end of the stick. 

The daughter, being the youngest of the three, was put to hard work. She makes and mends the clothes, cleans up all the dinners, rooms and front steps. And, when presentation day comes around, she gives the children clothes that makes them shine. That is what is happening right now, the Maryam daughter is upstairs in the attic, hard at work with her needle and thread.

Her hands are constantly moving up and down, not stopping in the slightest. Her eyes are set in concentration that no one would be able to talk to her until the task she was working on was finished. She has a deadline to make and a child's future on the line. The child had ripped the lace off her dress while playing with the others and was still in tears downstairs; believing that she'll never get adopted. 

The dress was suddenly pulled up to be looked over. The lace was secure and the seamstress nodded her head in satisfaction before jumping up and hurrying toward the hatch in the floor. She kicked it open and jumped down the five stair step-ladder. She flew down the empty hallway, down the stairs (jumping a few) and into a room off the atrium where the main chatter was going on. 

Inside the room was a crying girl and the kneeling mother cook; the one who had been partners with the owner. Both of them looked up at the sound of the door and the little braided girl smiled through her red face and blood shot eyes. The daughter smiled sweetly and held up emerald dress so the girl could see that all was well. 

"This dress will look even more dazzling on you because it now has fun memories embedded into it. When you walk out that door with this dress on, you will be swept away by the greatest family in all of Skaia. But," the daughter walked forward and moved down to eye level with the now smiling girl," this dress won't make it happen, this dress will only aide you and bring out your most beautiful qualities. Now, there's a family waiting out there for you, we won't keep you here any longer." 

The daughter handed the dress to the girl who, with the help of both the women, got changed quickly and ran out the door into the bubbling atrium. The atrium was filled with children and adults. The kids were talking to the adults with smiles on their faces and the adults listened and looked over the talking children; trying to see if this should be their child. The kids ran around, or showed off skills. Maybe they twirled to show off their new outfits or displayed their art to their potential parents.

When the adults picked out who they wanted, they would come to the proper looking lady sitting by a desk and put down the name of the kid they would like. Once all the parents had put down who they would like, or put that they wouldn't want anything right now, the proper lady would gather all the kids together and announce which parents they were getting adopted by and the new happy family would go out into the world. It was always quite an excellent ending and brought tears to every eye; either because they got adopted, or because they weren't wanted. 

As the daughter and cook came out into the exuberant atrium, the daughter scanned the heads of the parents, and counted less heads than last year and her heart pulled. She beaming face fell so slightly, but the cook caught it. 

"There's becoming fewer people that are interested in the crusts. And such a shame too, these children have been through so much. I would adopt them all, but I think they've had enough of me: the cook said.

The daughter gave a tiny smile. "Yes, it is such a monstrous shame. Next year, I'll dress them up even prettier and maybe we could extend this a few more days. People always love it when they have time, then maybe they'll adopt two instead of one."

"Always the big ideas Kanaya, just like your mother." 

Kanaya smiled a bit wider at that. 

"Mother would agree that extending this on another day and perhaps sending out invitations to the big schools in Skaia would raise the chances the our kids getting adopted."

"Kanaya, I do not believe that that will help." The cook sighed. " We should not be forcing these kids upon others and the schools would only make it worse. They'd be going from one eternal home to another. It will do them no good."

"Yet, they'd be surrounded by more kids their age and make more friends and learn much more than we can teach. They'd have an advantage when they turn marrying age and be quite a spouse with the ability to read and write."

"Kanaya enough." the cook said quietly but sharp." Your ideas are just visions of an orphanage that will fail. This is why your mother left this orphanage to all three of us, so we can teach you what a successful orphanage is like. Besides, the more kids we have at the orphanage, the greater funding we get from our Patrician."

Kanaya tensed up at this and her gaze became unfocused as she put the pieces together. Once she did, her clasped hands became whiter and she whispered very harshly. 

"So this is why you reject everything I say. You are keeping the kids here to make money for yourselves. I guess that's how you get all those chocolates and caramels and where she gets the money for the silks she buys. You are using these kids for your own gain and I am the only one who is in it for the children. You are sacrificing the happy lives of these kids for fancy food and clothes. You have no right to do that. I will stop you both from getting the money because I own this too." Kanaya said all of this quietly but with strength and power. 

"We," the cook didn't turn toward her and stared leisurely out at crowd," are your elders and so therefore override you in anything we want. If you contact the schools, we will burn the letter before it gets there or say that the kids they can have just got adopted. If you try anything to further the adoptions of this orphanage, we will block you and out vote."

"You," Kanaya growled," are filthy and I will not be standing here any longer and let this happen." Kanaya turned on her foot toward the door, but her upper arm was grabbed and she was pulled back into the room where the crying girl had been minutes before. The cook had a snarled look on her face as she gripped Kanaya tight. 

"Listen you brat, you won't be going to any office or anybody who can help you because once we are kicked out, our friends will stop coming here to adopt more children. Our reputation will be ruined and the kids will pile up with no one coming to see their poems and drawings. You will be left with nothing but your ideas that you could put into action but it won't work because no one will trust us anymore. 

"We are partners in this so that means that you have also been getting paid for this job, but we have neglected to give you said payments. We would always be willing to open that back up to you if you agree to keep quiet."

Kanaya snarled back and yanked her arm out of her grip." I will not take no bribe money and if you touch the money that rightfully belongs to me I will bring the Judge down on you and your partner and lock you both up."

"I don't hear you threatening us with the Judge for not giving the kids off at every opportunity. And I believe that it is because, the only thing you can fight for is for us to be kicked off of the deed."

Kanaya still growled at the cook and her stayed in her clenched position but she uttered," I will kick you off the deed even if I have to kick myself off too. These kids will get the best lives I can give them and you will not stand in their way. I'll find a way to get it done."


 

 The geography of Skaia is not one of the most complicated kingdoms out there; just take a look at Gallifrey it simply looks like they used a four year old to draw the boundaries. Picture the kingdom boundaries as a circle with a big line down the middle separating Derse and Prospit. On that line lies the Covenant of the Seers and the castle. The Covenant lies more north and in the mountains while the castle lies on the border of whole kingdom; there is a reason that it is situated there. The capitol is an international dock.

The real geography is mountains to the north and beaches to the south with pine trees to the east and deserts to the west with many pastures and palm trees scattered around. This kingdom is actually very popular to travel to because of diverse its climates and geography is. That's how most border Skaians earn their money, they sell tours of the forests and equipment to brave them without getting anything hurt.

Unfortunately, the tourists have dried up and few are brave enough to make the trip for vacation purposes. The reason that Skaia has been hurting, is because of the Gamblignants. The notorious pirates that haunt the popular trade route that connect many countries together. They steal all kinds of goods and sell them for high prices either back to the owners or to the competitors. Unless, of course, the Captain decides that she'd like to keep the treasure for herself. The most feared Captain to ever sail the
Canon Seas; at least, that's what she thinks but if asked around in Skaia the residents would say that her mother was scarier. 

The Marquise Spinneret Mindfang, the second, took over command of the infamous Gamblignants by killing the first mate in a duel for the captain's position after the previous captain died. The new Marquise was eighteen when she took over and no one among the crew has challenged her for the seat. She still is building up her reputation as a feared pirate, you just cannot take another's fearful name, slap it on yourself and except to be as feared as them. When her mother's ship would swing into view, many ships would turn to flee, but now they just stand and fight. The Marquise's ship destroys them, takes the loot and newfound slaves but still is not feared enough by the shipping companies that sail at dawn.

Speaking of dawn, out in the middle of the Seas the dark and quiet ship of the second Marquise floats out on the waters. Only few are awake and they look out for ships to hunt down and loot. In the admirable Captain's cabin, tucked into the gigantic bed with feather pillows and thick wool sheets with expensive designs sewn in, lies the sleeping form of a girl. The girl rolls around in her sleep, her face set in a frown with occasional growls. Finally, her eye shoots open and she jolts up in bed; gasping for her life. 

Her eye shoots around the room wildly and her in clenched hand is a set of blue die. When she finally realizes she is alone, she stricken face falls into her bed and she mumbles something under her breathe, probably a string of curses. The pale hand with the dice shake as if to release the dice into a roll, but never does. The girl lifts her head up and it is set in a look of concentration and contemplation. 

She scoots back to lean against the dark wood of the headboard and her fist still slowly shakes the dice. She mumbles under her breath.

"The idiot needs my help, but since when does he not need my help? He's practically been begging for it ever since I've become the Marquise. Yet...it's different. He's holding the key to the treasure."

Her shaking fist stopped and clenched down on the dice. She threw the sheets off her body and marched over to the closet and started to put on her blue captain's outfit, still mumbling to herself but this time more angrily.

"And that little prick, screwing things up again as usual. I should've killed him when I had the chance, but now I get to kill a king instead of a prince."

She straightened up and undid the long braid; letting her long, curly black hair rain down her back. She stormed over to the nightstand, shoved on the eye-patch and slapped on the wide hat with the big blue feather on top. She advanced to the door and threw it open, startling the watch. She strode over to the bell by the side of the cabin and rang out it loudly for all the ocean to hear. 

There was thunder under her feet as the crew raced up to meet her. They filled the whole deck and half were not even dressed, which she sneered at. She let go of the bell once everyone stopped moving to look at her. She glided over to the balcony and grabbed the railing with both hands; leaning forward with the maniacal smile plastered on her face. 

"Get ready to sail boys! We are returning the dirt they call the Skaia! I want us there within a weeks time or else I'll be throwing your carcasses off my boat to feed the whales!" she screamed out. 

The bodies on the boat became mayhem and everyone was screaming orders to their sections as they rose to loosen the sails and undo the knots they had made that night. 

Vriska Serket stood at the balcony and thought of the look on Eridan Ampora's face when she would waltz into his dock for the first time since she's seen him. The Marquise threw back her head and cackled at the thought as the sails came down and the breeze hit them, catapulting the ship into motion and swerving to return home.      


 

In the desert of Derse, all towns are around lakes, on oases or around some form of water. The Duke of Derse's house is on the biggest oasis there is. The house is grand a spectacular. It is an exact copy of the Patrician of Prospit's house but made with darker stone. It is four stories tall with refined gardens and palm trees surrounding it. Currently, the Duke of Derse is the Zahhak family. But, rest assured, the Zahhak is just a fill in until they can return the Duke to his proper place once and for all; which the servants would love. 

You see, the servants of the house loved the family before the Zahhak boy, he should probably be called by his name but it really is quite an ugly one. The family before was made up of beauty boys who treated the girl servants right and were not so awkward or very uncomfortably flirtatious with them. So, as you can see, really the girl servants want the original family back because they were better looking and did not sweat all the time. 

But, luckily for them, the Zahhak boy has found an interesting servant girl who has captured all his attention and has laid off the other servant girls. This servant girl has been living with Duke's for eleven years and has dutifully served the house with all she can. That's how she captured his attention; she did not go to bed after the celebration of the Duke's birthday and cleaned everything up by herself until dawn. She still got up the next morning and worked a half day; only because the Duke asked her politely and requested that she would not turn him down on the invite to take the rest of the day off to sleep after her hard night's work. 

Now, the relationship between the two has blossomed into one sided gifts from the Duke and the girl being alienated from the rest of the servants because of the special treatment and the hope that all his attention would stay on her and not them. She can say no to a small number of things from the Duke, for example a wardrobe of exquisite modest dresses, but she still receives all these gifts with beautiful notes but not beautiful man. 

That is what is happening here, it is midnight in Derse and the girl is staying in an extravagant room that servants would be seen cleaning it but not living in it. The girl's twisted, ebony hair was not braided for bed like most women with long hair do. The girl was sleeping soundly, but her opened up and they were all white. She sat up in her bed like a marionette puppet would move; with her head lolling back until her body jerked and her head rolled to the front. She clambered out of bed and almost fell on the floor, but like a string pulling her, she rose up and came off the ground.

The door quietly slid open and she floated through it. She glided above the now cool stones with her toes skimming their surface. Her eyes were wide open and she muttered a name until her breath; the name of a lover thought to be gone. She drifted down the stairs and came to the front doors of the house. Her hands mimed the puppet's again as the wrists were lifted up but the hands themselves were limp; but not for long. They came to the locks on the doors and started to undo them slowly but with precision. Her neck straightened and her head looked at the wood of the door as she undid the final lock, then pushed the door open. 

The girl did not shiver like most would do when the draft would hit their thin clothes but stared out at the rolling sandy hills with occasional patches of dry grass. Her milky eyes bled a clear liquid and her voice cracked as she croaked out the name of her love to the silent night. Maybe, with the door open and the breeze going out somewhere in the world, her lover would hear and come home to her. Maybe, his spirit would feel it in the Underworld and send her a dream of where he was and she would be at peace. 

"Aradia?" a deep voice called behind her. 

The milk from her eyes shrunk into the corners revealing chocolate brown eyes and her feet came back to the ground. She did not become confused at where she was, but just stared out at the landscape she had associated with home as if she had been doing that all night. There was no peace in her heart or head. No lover would appear on the hills and call her name like she called his. She was left alone. 

"May I ask why you are letting your feet grow cold without the slippers? I know how to you love to drift about at night, but may I ask that you adorn your easily cold feet with them before roaming the house? That is, if you think about them when you start to wander, you could always have forgotten them when you start your nightly walks and in which case might I suggest parchment reminders on your nightstand? That is, of course, if you so wish. For, I would not force you to put reminders on your nightstand for all to see in case you are-"

"Equius" she said in a whisper but it was powerful enough for the Duke to stop his rambling.

"Thank you, and maybe I will put reminders on my nightstand, but I must say that I am wishing to be alone right now. Thank you for checking on me and getting out of bed to do so." Her voice was stronger now and almost to normal speaking volume. 

"You do not need to worry about me, I am more than able to join you for your walks about the house...which you are wanting to take alone. You can rest assured that you will be alone as soon as I can close the doors. Unless you want to roam outside, in which case, might I ask that some guards accompany you from a distance? Which you can always decline, but it would make you and the palace much safer if they were by you."

Aradia sighed and grabbed at her hands in front of her, trying to suppress her urge to run out the door and far away from here. 

"You've had the same dream, have you not?"

The silence that followed answered her question. 

"The gods are whispering to us that we must go and join those friends of ours. That is why you are up so late, you had a nightmare."

She grabbed at the handles on the doors and swung them quietly closed for him. They shuddered to a stop and she started to lock up what she had unlocked moments before, waiting for him to say something. 

"I ask, that you intently sleep on that decision and tomorrow answer this question that I am about to ask now," she turned to face his hulking figure, looking up into his face with stern stubbornness," Will you let us go to find Nepeta and Karkat and join them on the quest that the gods have sent us?"


The Duke of Derse is quite nice and polite, even if he does spook the ladies with his advances, which goes against what Prospit thinks Derse is like. The Prospitian's believe that Derse is certainly awful and that all residences are nothing but trouble. The same goes for the Prospitian's. The Dersian's are most intent that Prospit would sell you out if you bent the law a bit. It is clear to say that it is rather hard for both districts to get along when to comes to anything outside of war. 

Speaking of war, that's all the Patrician of Prospit dreams about; quite literally. They go to sleep at night and have visions about this country going to war, and they give a ghoulish smile at the thought. That is the only time any of the staff can catch the infamous smile without consequence. Usually, the Patrician gives that smile, it means someone will be walking away with blood running down them or not walking at all. 

That does not mean that the Patrician does not smile at all, it is quite the opposite. He smiles all the time with a lazy smile and far away eyes. If one would look at him without prior knowledge, they would assume that he was much less scarier than his father and was so aloof that it was a miracle Prospit was running properly. Of course, they still aren't far from the truth. The Patrician only puts good attention and brain power to the smallest things a Patrician could worry about. He would spend his mornings caring about the geese in the ponds and how fat they were and how many feathers they had than the upcoming festival for the fall. Then, he would be seen in the afternoons in the music room, fiddling with the instruments and composing the most demented tunes instead of talking about the food distribution of the district. 

Thank goodness that he picks the smartest and wisest of advisers to handle the big problems and has no disagreement with them putting his stamp on many things that he has never heard about. They are quite relieved for it too, because the last time the forced him to plan anything, he showed up late to his own party that he threw for the geese and the party was suppose to celebrate the peaceful negotiations with Lebanon. After that, they let him do his own thing and bring up the agenda at breakfast to see if anything sparks his interest. 

What sparks his interest, is anything about contention. Whether big or small, he focus goes there until the problem is overly solved and sealed. He gets quite mad when the people he interrogates lies to him and no one can say how he knows that but he always gets his man. Some say he could become a judge if he weren't stuck in this position and had the determination to run away like the old Duke of Derse did. But, needless to say, those in the room when they see him go bonkers have nightmares about his face. 

The face he was making at this moment was a nightmare giver and he was not even making it on purpose. He was sound asleep in his plush bed but not for long. The Patrician's bloodshot eyes slowly extracted themselves from the other until his eyes were as wide as the lids would let them. Like a corpse rising for the first time in centuries, he sat up in bed and leaned over until his nose skimmed his sheets. 

The form was still as the ponds outside his window but even ripples do not compare with the undead movements he made to get to his cluttered desk. The piles of bottles were thrown off with a single hand to get to the papers underneath them. They all shattered and woke many a people in the hallway but they made no move to check on the Patrician. He seized the papers and jerkily shuffled through them, searching for something specific. 

He spotted on the most cleanliness of papers and scanned through the contents. 

Gamzee,

I still do not know how these letters of ours get back and forth between us because it honestly boggles me and if you have any idea, state it. 

We all appreciate the help you give us for it has helped us through the winter and Tavros has come out in still good health. 

We would like to inquire if the highblood party you spoke of is still on schedule. Of course, we all know that you would've sent word on any new developments but it never hurts to check on things. 

We would also like to ask about the geese and they fared this winter. 

Now Tavros wants to write before I close this up.

Gamzee,

I would wish to see you again, if only for a little bit. I have been practicing more rhymes that we could try. 

~Tavros

There, I hope he's happy now. 

Gamzee, if you wish to meet us, whether to retrieve Tavros or to check up on us in person, just simply make your way to the village of exactness and go to the place where my dreams were washed down and ask for a pint for a special horse. They'll give you room and board until we arrive for our monthly check up, so yes, try to aim this around the end of the month. 

I wish you well moirail,

Karkat

Waking up, coming over to the desk and reading the letter again, Gamzee Makara had kept a serious face that almost made him look like a normal person except for the roving mad glint in his eye. He crumpled the paper up and started to spasm. His jerking body punched the window and all of it shattered to pieces around him; like deadly rain that cut open his skin. He tore open his mouth and his body arched back as the most terrifying laugh, if one could call it that, rang through the city. 

It woke up the castle, the animals, the village and many farmers on the edge woke up also. All who heard it were struck dumb and immobile except to cover their ears. The laugh would not be describable the next morning, only that it would be recalled on as the Great Honk and that it made them fear greatly even though there was nothing around them to give them harm.


 Let's talk about the gender problem in this kingdom. Compared to their neighbors, about women rights and privileges, Skaia might as well call women slaves with how they are represented and how many laws are against them. They are definitely years behind on gender equality; some might even say decades but there has to be some hope for the women of this kingdom. Now, you're thinking how come there use to be queen for sometime before there was a king? Well, all the advisers were scared of her and did she marry twice before entirely disappearing and leaving the throne for her step-son; not her blood daughter. 

That is the case in many inheritances. The father dies and all goes to the oldest son relative. It would not matter if a daughter was older it would go to the son or nephew or brother. But what about if there are no men relatives to a deceased man? Then, whatever the man left behind would go to crown and they would use it to fix roads and feed armies and such. But what if the deceased man specified that they wanted all their goods to go to a woman in their will? All the goods would go on auction and if the woman can put down the amount of money the state asks for then it goes to them, with a catch, but if another person puts down the same money, then they bid for the goods.

There's a few cases of the last exchange going down but there's only one incident that really matters. A man went on a trip that the King put together to defeat an enemy to the crown but the all the troops died. The man had only one daughter; his wife was dead and he left document of where his other family was. The goods at state was a popular and well-to-do bakery. The man had left the daughter the bakery but the rules were rules. The bakery was put on sale at a steep price. 

The daughter lived in the bakery and it was everything to her. She tried to raise the money in the selected amount of days, but sadly, could not come up with the funds. There was already another bidder on the bakery, it was very popular, and it seemed like she had lost everything. Until, a friend of hers gave her the rest of the money and more to make the other bidder back down. She won the bakery, but there was a catch. She could act as the owner and such, but she had the name of a man on the name of the deed and he must be her partner in owning the bakery. Obviously the friend who gave her the money was put on the deed. That is the story of how Jane Crocker got her father's bakery. 

Jane has been living nicely since then. She has a few employees and the bakery is still booming with business; it being the only bakery in 5 villages on the edge of Prospit. She even renamed the bakery to Crocker Confectionery. It used to be named after her father's name, even though it brought him a sad smile when he used his last name to put the bakery up. He liked to use to wife's maiden name more than his and Jane adopted that name as well. 

On the morning of April 14th, Jane opened the bakery at precisely nine o'clock. The counters were stocked with cookies and tarts, breads and rolls and tiny cakes and pies. She had some workers in the back making more to go on the counter so nothing would run out. She turned to the display window and looked over what was showing. The cakes were perfectly straight, the frosting was smooth, the rolls looked fluffy, the bread smelled as good as it looked and the raspberry jam cookies were as good as they tasted. She could not resist snacking on one of the cookies and felt like she deserved it; it being her birthday and all. 

Aw yes, her twenty-sixth birthday. Not really a special number but she loves her birthday none of the less. Usually, all her friends come to visit her for at least a week then they all celebrate with some cake that they'll make her, and fail spectacularly, and they'll be together again like they use to. 

Jane's perky smile shriveled a bit. There had been a lot of dilemmas about all of them lately. They all had some beef with each other that apparently needed to be dragged out for the longest time. She even wondered if they would gather together at all. 

The bell to the store tinkled and she whirled to see an old lady still standing in the doorway and squinting about the shop with hesitation. There was no time for big frowns when there were customers to serve. She put back on the cheery smile and made her way to the lady. 

"Hello there ma'am! Welcome to Crocker Confectionery! What are you looking for today?"

"Did this store use to be owned by Merek?" the old lady asked Jane.

"Indeed it did! Merek was my father" Jane replied. She had gotten these questions a lot from out of town customers who had not been here for awhile.

"Oh, well then, I'd like five loaves of bread, 4 dozen rolls and some cookies for the trip back"

"Of course! Let's come to the counter to get you settled." Jane said cheerily. 

Jane got all the goodies put together in a big basket and got the current coins from the lady as the door to the bakery opened up. A man about the same age as her poked his head out into the bakery. His hair was spiky all around him, but particularly in the front, and his green eyes were alight with excitement as they landed on her. His buckteeth joined the rest of them and split into a grin.

Jane looked over at him and his infectious smile worked on her. She smiled back as her buckteeth joined her other ones too. The lady exited the store and Jane giggled as the friend who saved her bakery still grinned at her. 

"I see you finally woke up. What was the smell this time, Jake?" she asked.

"Oh, I've been awake for awhile now chap! I just have hidden from you" Jake came into the bakery with his hands behind his back; hiding something.

She leaned around to see what he was hiding as she walked over to him. "Hiding from me? That's not very nice, especially on my birthday"

"That's why I've been hiding! I've been wanting to surprise you" Jake backed up and around the counter, still hiding his hands. 

"Well, it is my birthday. What's the surprise?" she asked as Jake finally stopped moving and she came up to him.

With his cheeky grin, he held out a rolling pin that looked handmade. It was smooth to the splinter and had the dark wood of the trees around them. Jane's smile grew until it couldn't and she looked up at him.

"Did you make this?"

Jake nodded. "I had to get help from the woodsmith, but the rest was me. Oh! And I did the handle myself." He repositioned the rolling pin so the right handle was facing her and she bent down to read the scratchy writing. 

I hope this rolling pin solves any kind of problem ~Jake English

"It can solve any problem because you can just beat people with it" Jake snickered as Jane finished reading it. She stood up straight and came forward to hug Jake. He must have been expecting, or just wasn't thrown off by her, because he didn't step back and hugged her as well. 

"Thank you Jake, this is the best present ever."

"Well, it's the first present of the day! Of course it's the best one because you haven't seen any others!" He rubbed the back of her short hair hair affectionately.

"Don't sell yourself short, this is the best present." Jane reiterated as she breathed in his woodsie scent, trying to cherish it to memory. 

"You haven't seen Roxy's. That one will be huge and handmade too. And the workers are working on this huge cake that you'll love, which I'm not suppose to tell you about. And Dirk's..." 

Jane heard Jake stop at that name and just knew that of course that man would ruin this moment. She sighed but hung onto Jake a little less. He didn't let go of her in the slightest, if anything, he held on tighter. 

"His will the thing you need. Like a sword that fits you or an apron he'll claim that he hand sew with your name is big letters. Or, maybe just him." Jake was trying to sound upbeat, but even Jane wasn't convinced. 

"He'll be here Jake," Jane told him as she squeezed him. Trying to see if she could squeeze some of her happiness into him. She may know that he'll never talk about her that way but that does not mean that he should be so down about Dirk. Jake should not be so pessimistic. Everyone in that friend group should not be so pessimistic. 

"Yeah, that scoundrel better show up. I wouldn't forgive him if he missed you birthday. It's tradition! And he has till this day is over to come and celebrate you." Jake sounded determined, like he'd mess up Dirk the next time he'd see him if he couldn't today. 

Jane snorted into Jake's chest. "That sounds like fun, I'll join you if you want. I'll beat him with my rolling pin and you with your bow. No arrows, just a good whacking." 

They both laughed at that, and stayed in each other's arms for a bit longer than the situation would deem necessary. 


 Little did the happy not-couple know that a man was standing across the street in the shadow of an alley with a box in hand. The box was wrapped in parchment, the same hue as the lady inside was wearing, and wrapped in an orange strand of fabric that ended with a bow. This present was quite elaborate and signified that the buyer was wealthy enough to buy these materials. Now, everyone who looked at the box would wonder if the present inside was just as elaborate. And indeed it is.

Inside was a long handled metal spoon. The handle was so long that it could be considered a decoration than a kitchen helper. But, the spoon was enchanted to mix on its own and could turn into a fork if the situation asked for it. The utensil had been made by a magic-wielder and had been a high price to be made. The buyer of the utensil was quite pleased about this gift but it left their mind as they saw the scene inside the bakery unfold. 

If anyone else had seen this tall handsome stranger staring intently at the bakery, they would think him a stalker especially since his attire screamed. The man had on a thick brown cloak and that was ragged at the bottom with the hood up. His face was wrapped in brown fabric except for his eyes, which were still covered in dark tinted glasses that were pointed at the edges. 

The stranger became rigid as the hug continued but no words came from their lips that he could see. Then, in the blink of the eye, the stranger became foggy. His body looked like the thin fabric that some women would wear over their hair when the sun came out. He was almost translucent. Of course, being in the alley, not many saw that. It went on for a quick second before the man became full. 

There was a giggle from the alley behind him and the man had out a long thin sword that was pointed at the source of the sound. At the end of the sword, was a blonde lady. She also had a box in hand, but it was wrapped in plain parchment and looked quick roughed up. She had bags under the eyes that showed exhaustion but her face was crinkled in a smile. 

Before the two could exchange words, she wasn't as swift as him, she collided into him around the middle. The man's hands went up so as not to stab the lady who was embracing him. It was not the soft hug that the couple inside were experiencing but one that tight and told the man that the lady was eager and not very reluctant to hold back her excitement. The man did not hesitate to hug the small girl back. She was quite small and so when the man hugged her, his arms went around her head; almost smothering her. 

Her giggle was muffled by his coat but her words were louder as she turned her head to breath. 

"You've gotten a lot more dressed up since the last time I've seen you, did you win a masquerade party and decided to wear the costume since?" she teased. 

The man reached up and tugged the fabric away from his mouth, his expression calm. 

"Yeah, and ironically of course, it was at the princes birthday party. Really gave him a shock when I pirouetted out the window."

The girl laughed and if anything squeezed him tighter than she already was. She pulled away and grinned up at his face. 

"Those glasses are really coming into style aren't they? I've seen a lot more gentlemen wearing them lately. Although, I did not think you a band wagoner. So tell me the story"

The man took the hood down from his face, revealing spiky white hair that all flared up in the back. "Well, a man was selling these on a street and told me that these could make you see the future. Of course, I don't need to see the future but I took him up on his offer and put them on. I gasped and looked straight at him and said with the straightest face I could muster,'these do see the future! I can see me and fiance get married and you dying' then bolted the heck out of there"

The girl laughed and started to help unwrapping the brown cloth from the rest of his face and neck. 

"I bet that gave him a shock! I would give a pint if I could see that in person"

The man stopped unwrapping and the girl almost choked him because she did not get the signal to stop. 

"Roxy, please, don't tell that you've started up again."

Roxy pulled on the end of the fabric, it was jokingly but the man could feel his neck getting tighter than he would like. 

"Dirk, I told you that I have given that up. I'm not drinking anymore"

"But you still work there?" Dirk asked as he slowly continued unraveling the rest of the fabric. 

"Of course I do! My boss won't let me quit. Says I'm the best tavern lady he could have and that most customers come because of my special concoctions or my honey lickin good looks" She meant to say that with pride but Dirk could read anyone and that looked and sounded anything but. 

"Rox, you have to really quit. Go work for the nice seamstress across the street. They could someone like you" The rest of the fabric came off and he started to wrap it up and it in the shoulder bag across his shoulder.

"I promise I'll go there if I really get tested. But, if anything, this is getting me stronger" Roxy flexed her muscles, which were actually there. She grinned up at Dirk and he saw the present in her hand. He held up his and shook it a bit. 

"What did you get Jane?"

"Oh, I hand knitted her something. I know she loves ribbon headbands so I thought that I'd knit her a winter one that would cover her ears, hold back her hair and still be very fashionable. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the exact shade of her favorite color, so it'll be darker than her normal colors. What about that fancy box?"

"It's a spoon I got her."

Roxy folded her arms and raised her eyebrows. "That's a really big spoon, does it do anything besides look pretty?"

"It can turn into a fork and mixes by itself" There was a slightly taunting tone to his voice and his eyebrows came up as well. 

Roxy laughed and held up her hands in defeat. 

"Alright, alright! You beat me! Yours is better. Now, let's reunite with our dearest friends"

She held out the crook of her arm and Dirk hooked his arm into hers. It would look strange for a man to have his arm in the woman's position but Roxy deserved the spot. Roxy marched across the street and Dirk strolled with her at a slow pace.


 

Chapter Text

It had a been full day since John had started travelling. The pair had burst out of the woods and onto a path. Rose had spent no time picking which way she wanted to go. She hadn't told John where exactly they were going, but he was sure that she knew what she was doing. John could see no hesitation in her posture as they barreled down turn after turn. They had eventually slowed down as night came and their horses started to foam. They pulled off the path and made camp far from the road. 

Rose, like always, had packed the tent and John set that up as she fortified their protections with invisibility charms and traps. After the fire had been made and the food heated to edible level, both of them had filled the other in on what had happened; with Rose doing the most explaining. 

She started out with her dream that morning. She dreamed of being back in the Covenant again on the night she planned to escape. She had just snuck into her room with the books she planned to steal in her hands. Her roommate had been packing up all of Rose's belongings and now stood ready to cramp the stolen books into the getaway bag. Rose stuffed the final items in the already squashed bag and wished again that she knew the spell for making things bigger on the inside. The banging on the door erupted and she was given a bear hug by her roommate. Rose put on the bag and opened up the window. She was about to jump out but something grabbed her around the waist and dragged her back inside. 

She had struggled against her assailant until the sounds of yelling faded into nothing and the sound of someone humming started to grow. Her assaulter had turned her around so she was staring at herself. It was not a mirror image but a real person. The other Rose told her that it was time for her to fulfill the prophecy. She had to gather the Heroes together and do her duty. Other Rose didn't let her talk at all as she explained how she would fail, but it was all part of the mission. But, she had to make sure that none of the Heroes died. Other Rose then put a spell on her and that was how she woke up. 

Rose kept explaining to John about her trance and how they were on the trail of the orange hero she had seen in the market. John had also asked about the prophecy that Other Rose had spoken off. She just shook her head at John and he knew that the Seer oath was in effect and silencing her tongue. But, the whole night and next day, John had thought about these Heroes and what they were like. He wondered who they were and what they had to do that was so important. In the present, John hated being left in the dark. 

The pair rode slower than they did yesterday but still with the vigor of escaping the army. John still looked over his shoulder whenever he thought he could hear shouts behind them or the hoofs of horses besides their own. Call him paranoid, but no one could just escape from the army. They were the law, John would not be surprised by his name on a wanted poster in the next tavern he would go into. Did they even have his name? Or was he just "Guy with the girl who could do magic". What a title.

Rose's horse skittered to a stop and John barely managed his horse to stop alongside her. Rose was staring at a fork in the road that was up ahead. Her eyebrows were high and her lips quirked. She was pleased about something but with a bit of hesitation. John looked at the fork too. They had never stopped at intersections, they had never even slowed down. Rose was always so sure on where they were going. She was not lost because she looked pleased.

"Rose, why did we stopped?" he ventured. 

"There's another thread John. It's green and it's leading right. I didn't think that one would be this close to us. I had suspected that it would take some more digging around to find another Hero. Yet, here she is." Rose still looked hesitant but John was on another subject. 

"Her? How do you know that?" Rose had never told them that she could distinguish genders from the threads. 

"I cannot say for certain that this is a her. I've only seen a couple of threads but this one is different. The green is very bright to the eyes and the pulse is one of meadows and sheep. I'm not saying that the feeling of sheep means it is a girl, but I can just feel that at the core of the thread there's a line of womanly values and thoughts. She is very different from the orange string I had seen. She is much more warm."

John stared at where the string would be and tried to image what Rose was seeing; a gray world with a taut green cord that was she described. It would be difficult to see a world like that. John was so use to the color of the sky. Was Rose always seeing it? Had she always seen that and John just never knew?

"That was a lot of smart words from a woman," a voice drawled from behind the pair. John and Rose turned in their steads to see a man in the middle of the road behind them."You should really keep her on a tighter leash. If she were spouting those words at me, I would've put some rope around her mouth to shut her up a bit."John saw Rose's grip tighten on her reins and John felt like doing the same to the neck of the tall man. He looked very jaunty and the type that would hang around the bar just for the maidens that served there. "I know she's speaking nonsense because I, a scholarly man, didn't understand nothing she said. Just goes to show that you shouldn't let your mouth run just to hear yourself speak or else you'll cause trouble. And, you've really upset me with your words now, Miss."

"What is so offensive about my words?" Rose called out. She straightened her back and tilted her face up. "Was it my imagery? Or perhaps the fact that I, a woman, described something so intricately that a scholarly man like yourself could not wrap your thick head around it."The man's posture tightened and John lowered his hand to where his sword was. 

"You really need to put a gag on this on, buddy. She's gonna get the king's men chasing after her if she doesn't act like a proper lady and let the men do the talking." The man directed his full attention on John now and John froze with his hand on the hilt of the sword. If only the guy knew he was a little bit right about being on the run. 

"Good mister, I was raised to let everyone speak their mind and I believe my mother would roll in her grave if I were to bind my companions tongue in any way." John called out to the scoundrel. 

"Your parents did a shoddy job at raising you then. And me and friends are not liking the respect you're giving us."

The tiniest shadows came alive with men dressed as haggard as this man was. They surrounded John and Rose and each carried some sort of weapon. They all were big and tall with some sneer or snarl on their faces. John drew his sword and several bowstrings whipped back to point at him and Rose. The sound of metal told him that Rose had retrieved her knitting needles. 

"You have very little time to take us all down before we take you down. I suggest you hand over whatever money and valuables you have on you and I'll let you be without a scratch. If not, then we'll be taking it by force" The man, obviously the leader, now got out his long sword from beneath his cloak and pointed it at the pair. 

"You all have precisely ten seconds before I unleash pain onto you all." Rose growled. 

"You have sewing needles, not weapons of war. I'm more afraid of your companion than you. Your tongue is sharper than your skill to fight." he insulted and John knew that the crew was in for it. Rose's flame of cobalt started to lick around her body and she raised her needles above her head dramatically to form a cross. 

"Beware fiends. I will bestow upon all of you the pain you have caused others. You will not leave here without blood drawn if you do not leave now."

The faces of the band flinched as her magic flared to life and their weapons were drooping to the ground with increasing gravity. Some lost their weapons entirely while others bowed a bit and took a lot more to raise their cobalt shaded weapons. The leader dropped to his knees in surprise but his face grew fierce as realization came on him. 

"You're a Seer! You little harlot! You think with your magic that you're saved from the world? That is never true and it's time for you to be brought down like the rest of us."

Arrows fired at Rose but she deflected them with a wave of her needles while John was not so lucky. A couple of arrows scratched him as he rolled off his horse and onto the ground. He jumped up and swung his too heavy sword at an approaching archer. The archer raised his bow to block the attack and John's sword got caught in the wood. The archer kicked him in the knees and John crumpled as men's screams started behind him. He couldn't feel his feet from the blow to the knees but he grabbed out at where his sword should be; he had heard it get thrown to the ground. His hair was yanked out of his skull as the archer tugged him to a kneeling position. A string of cold was at his throat and John could feel his heartbeat through it. His head was still pounding from getting yanked on but he now had a view of the other fight that was going on. 

Rose was floating in the air and was slashing frightfully at the air. Men were getting thrown in the air and into the woods or down the trail. Weapons that had ripped from the thieves' hands had turned and were fighting their owners. The men were shouting at each other, cursing at her or yelling from the pain they had received. "Stop or I'll make him spurt like a geyser!" A garlic smelling voice screeched by his ear. 

That was all that was needed. John got his head back thinking wise and threw an elbow back into the crotch of the archer. But the yell had rung and Rose was distracted for a moment. She turned from her adversaries and a rock connected with the back of her head. The archer behind John went down howling and John grabbed the knife from his hands as he heard the thud of Rose's body on the ground. A whoop went up from the crowd and jeers of foul names rained on the limp form of Rose. John was in a tug of war with the archer for the knife but finally just kicked him in the face. With a new weapon, John started for Rose's body which was getting surrounded by what was left of the band; though not as much as before. 

"Don't lay a finger on her you dogs!" John bellowed. 

Many men jumped on John and with heat coursing out of his body in all places, he fell quickly and came under the rain of boots and handles of weapons. His bones were crunching, his head was lead and his arms were trapped under mounds of men but through the shifting legs he could see Rose in the same position as him. A man standing over her, a hand extending out to her face. Many hands touching her. Boots and dust clotting his throat and eyes but he still could hear the laughter of the ghastly men and could only imagine what they were doing.

 The sea of boots tromped over him and let him be with pain and a sight of Rose. She had been shifted from the position he had originally seen her in but the men surrounding her had stood up with now returned weapons and frightened gazes on whatever was behind John. John could only hear ringing but he turned over and crawled under his horse and to the abandoned body of Rose. She looked nearly perfect. Not a single scratch or mark on her and she looked like she was sleeping. She was okay. The men had barely touched her and she was good. They were both a bit more safe that they were together. 

John's ears snapped back and he took in the sound of grunts and metal against metal. Looking back from where he crawled, most of the men were on the ground and whoever was left were surrounding something. They were slashing their blades but almost every second one of them were flung back from a hit and was added to the pile of thieves. They dwindled until not one stood and their hero was revealed. 

The man bore a tower of pale skin and dark attire. He had thick arms and shoulders with sturdy looking legs that supported his humongous figure. His black clothing looked leather but had not one tear in it from the fight that just happened. He wielded two swords in his hands, but they were not like the sword John wielded. They were slim and thin. The man's face was covered in a brown turban except for where the eyes should be. There, black shaded glasses glinted. John started to fear more about their safety with this man than with the thieves.

John and the man stared each other down, at least, that's what John was doing. Trying to decide whether this man was a friend or enemy. For all he knew, this man could be looking at the horses or at the ground. It did not matter where his gaze was, John was clinging onto Rose. "Thank you. I thank you so much. You have probably saved our lives. I have nothing to offer you but maybe a-"

"I don't want anything you might have. You're dressed to look low but the bulging bags you have make it look otherwise. It would be wise to put some of those goods on your back or you should've left them at home." The stranger finally spoke and sheathed his swords at his waist. John nodded at the stranger, pulling Rose closer. This man didn't want payment for helping them? There must be something else he wants, unless John has finally caught a break and here lies a good Samaritan."Are you or her hurt in any way that needs assistance now?"

That was a good question. John examined Rose more closely. She was dusty from hitting the ground, and there was a bump on the back of her head from the rock and the ground. She just wasn't awake. John shook her a bit. She didn't even stir in the slightest. Why wasn't she waking up? "It looks like she's taking more than a nap." The stranger was right above him now. He had something in his hand and dropped it on Rose's stomach. It was a vial with white rocks in it. John picked it up and stared at the contents. "That will wake her up in a bit. I promise, it's not poisoned or anything. If I wanted you dead, I wouldn't have stepped in."

John uncorked the bottle and waved it under Rose's nose. After a bit of waving, her nose scrunched up a tiny bit. Just seeing her nose scrunch helped John exhale. She was alive. With a bit more waving, her eyebrows were pressing in and she moaned a bit. Her body shifted and John put the vial down so he could hold her more steadily. Rose opened her eyes slightly and squinted at him. John smiled the brightest he could muster without extreme pain.

"How are you feeling?" He asked her.

"My head is a butter tub right now; it's thumping out it's own rhythm. Did you take down those bandits by yourself?" She started to sit up and John helped by sliding her off his knees. He looked up to see the man was putting on a brown cloak. In his attire, he looked like he was camouflaging himself for this forest.

"Nah, I'm not that great. This man helped us out."

The man turned toward them after he slung a bag over his shoulder and gave them a nod. "Good, you woke up. I suggest you take yourself and this man to the village on the right," he gestured to the crossroad," and get proper medical attention. He especially needs it, I'm surprised he hasn't fainted."

"That is good advice from a traveler. I did not see you in action, but defeating a squadron of thieves by your lonesome is quite the task. Is payment what you seek?" She called out.

"Yes," John just knew it. The man didn't want to talk to John about it because he must know that they would make a joint decision."Stop following me."

Stop following him? John had definitely not been following this man. He had never seen this man in his life until now. He had been following Rose. Who had been following an orange string. This was the orange thread that Rose had been following? He was one of the Heroes that she had talked about? He definitely was a hero. John looked at Rose, waiting for her to tell him to join them. To explain their cause, which John was still confused about, and make him want to defend it too. Except, she just nodded her head. "I know that you have been following since Maple Valley. I don't care what your reasons or excuses are, just stop following me. If I see you guys again within the month, I'll assume you are still following and will disarm you both in marginally less painful ways. Is that understood?"

"That is crystal clear. I can't promise that we won't see you again, but I hope that you will forget about your vow to disembowel us upon sight within the month. Who knows, the possibilities of us running into each other are moderate. Especially since we're fighting for the same cause." Rose and the man both stared at the other. John knew for certain that the eyes behind the glasses were directed at Rose. But the man turned, instead of acknowledging Rose's words, and blended into the forest's trees as he walked away. Why had Rose let him walk away? She said she had a dream about getting him to come with her and now she was letting him go.

"Rose? Was he-?"

"Yes," she confirmed. Rose stared after the man and looked a bit let down. Had she also wanted him to stay? "He was the orange thread, but he can't join us; not yet. There are some others we need to find first."

She started to get up, her face flinching. She still held his hand and pulled him up with her, and his face was trying so hard not to show any pain he was feeling. His chest was making it harder to breathe. And his head wasn't making it any easier to hear anything besides a drum. His legs were wobbled and felt like twigs about to break, and his arms would not be able to hold anything properly for a couple more minutes.

They used each other to make it to Rose's horse and she heaved herself up almost without difficulty. It seemed she was getting better the more she walked around. Without her support though, John was leaning heavily on her horse. Could he even move his legs to make it back to his? He hadn't felt that bad when he was with Rose but now, John was swaying and his eyesight was darkening.

"Rose? I think, I'll need a little help to my horse. Do you think, you could help?"

His feet left the ground and he was the same height as Rose on her horse. Her eyes inspected his face and her eyebrows drew closer. John tried to offer her a smile and that was the only thing that didn't hurt as much as the rest of him. She flicked her wand again and muttered something under her breath.

Something snapped, or maybe clicked, in John's chest and he blacked out.

Chapter Text

John was in one of his boring dreams. It was pitch black and he felt like he was floating. There would be no sounds or any images; just darkness. Ever since his dream about Rose, all his dreams were like this. John had said that he wanted no more dreams but now he was starting to miss them. What was he suppose to do when he couldn't move his arms and legs or speak? Just float? It wasn't that bad though. He could contemplate the day in silence and think long and hard about his current situation. 

"What are you doing out here, Goldie?" A clear, womanly voice asked him. Okay, this was different. A huge difference and John wanted to reply, to speak to her, but he couldn't move his lips. Two hands grabbed at his and he felt himself shift from floating on his back to floating straight up. Warm breathe touched his face and the girl must be leaning into him closely. "Hello? Are you awake, fella? Were you sleepwalking or something?"

The air around all of John's body heated up a bit like it would do in the summer. Then, it went back to slightly colder air. The girl gasped and her hands left his arms. "Are you pulling my fin right now? You pushed this fella out of his tower because he threw a tantrum? That's not a very nice thing to do! Do you know what could've happened to him if he was floating out here for any longer?" The heated breeze swept at him again. "That a load of shark poop and you know it! Something woulda happened to him had I not been swimming out here. You know what? I think I'm gonna take him home until he wakes up and then we can have a nice long talk!"

A hand grabbed at his and he was pulled to his left. His hair was blown from his face and the warm breeze wasn't as warm and didn't envelop him as much when was at a standstill. The girl giggled when the breeze left. "Oh you guys are such stuckups! This guy has had his punishment, now it's time for fun! When you wake up, we'll go swimming and I'll show you all of Derse! I think you'll like, even if you're a goldie."

What's Derse? Why was he a 'goldie'? Who was this girl talking to? Who was this girl? How was she in his dream? John's nose tickled and it distracted him from the girl's conversation. He felt like he needed to sneeze. The girl's voice became farther away and he could feel his fingers and toes. He sniffed his nose and it actually worked. His nose sniffed and now the he couldn't hear the girl at all. The noise that replaced her was muffled. John felt like he was awake and he opened his eyes to be sure.

He lay on a bed looking up at a close ceiling. He glanced around at the room and found a small table with a pitcher and a glass and Rose standing in the corner; staring out the window. She was huddled in on herself, her chest probably hurt from the fight. Wait, the fight. Rose had gone down, a man had come to save them, John had-. Nope, John should be not thinking about that because his head thumped on his skull violently. John fell back on his pillow and closed his eyes. That hurt, but it was the only thing that hurt. Footsteps drew to him and he heard water. 

"Don't talk," Rose commanded when John opened his mouth to talk to her. "Drink this and then we can speak." John opened his eyes and pulled himself up to grab at the cup. He drank it and his throat and head felt subdued by the cold water. "Now you know what it felt like when I woke up on the road." John gasped in relief when he was done draining the cup and glanced at Rose. 

"You're saying that you woke me up with the bottle too?" He asked and she nodded.

"Yes, it will be very useful in the future, but tell me how your body is feeling." She sat on the edge of the bed and John straightened himself out.

"I feel fine. The only thing that hurts is my head, but the water is helping that. Uh, which brings me to my question. Where are we?" John gestured at the room and looked around it again. Rose nodded understandingly. 

"I believe I should tell you how we got here. I put you on my horse and walked us the short distance to the town Pacific and no, it is not by a huge body of water they thought was the ocean. I could not tell you how it got this name but the village is very small and had minimal people out. When we arrived, a lady approached us and offered to pay for our stay in the tavern and for your medicine and food. Before I could get her name, she vanished in a crowd that pulled her toward an archery lane. She did tell me that she'd be back soon though." John's surprise was noticed by Rose. 

"That's very nice of her to do that. I don't quite understand why she would do that. Good Samaritan work?" He asked and swung his legs off the edge. He wanted to stand, to get out all the energy that was building in him from Rose's healing spell. 

"It is unlikely that she did this out of the goodness of her heart, but it is also unlikely that she did not do this out of the kindness of her heart." John hopped off the bed and wobbled a bit, but still turned his head to raise his eyebrows at Rose. She shrugged her shoulders at him. "You did not get a look at her. She looked like the sort to be friendly with strangers. She also had some telltale signs of someone we are looking for." She was a hero then? The green string that Rose was talking about at the crossroad? John wouldn't be surprised. 

"Oh, okay. Uh, we should probably find this lady then," he remarked and when his legs felt strong he walked to the end of the bed where Rose stood. She nodded at his statement and they both jumped when a roar of noise came from outside the door of the room. John bustled over and opened it up cautiously. It could be soldiers or people running from soldiers or beasts. He peeked out and their room was on a balcony that overlooked the tavern. A bunch of people were streaming from the outside. They didn't look like they were running but celebrating. "Huh, the noise is a bunch of people coming in from outside."

John fully opened the door and stepped out on the small balcony. As everyone came pounding in, most of the people were crowded around a lady who was lifted up on everyone's shoulders. She had a quiver and a bow slung over her back with wild black hair constantly being swept back from her face. She had found glasses and her head was whipped every which way as people talked to her. She was laughing in between talking and started to join in the singing. The lady was led to the counter of the tavern and hopped of the shoulders of a tall man. She turned to everyone and screamed over the hollers, "Drinks and food are on me!"

Rose looked over the balcony by John as instrument music rang from under them. John had a, itching thought at the back of his head about the girl. The girl was handed a drink from the slouchy bartender. She raised her glass up and everyone cheered for her when she took the first swig. She waved her mug around and looked at the crowd when finally, she looked up at Rose and John. Her smile only brightened as she waved them down and pointed to a table in the crowd. She handed the mug back to the bartender and jumped into the celebrating crowd. "That is our girl. Let us go John, we shall not keep our lovely friend waiting." Rose drifted down the stairs and John followed after her; trying to find the archer girl. 

Rose and John stuck to the edges of the crowd that wasn't even drunk, yet they acted like they were. Now that John was by the crowd, he could smell delicious meats and potatoes and saw several mugs being distributed that sloshed foam onto everything. The whole back wall was composed of tables that not many sat at; preferring to dance and celebrate. What were they celebrating about? Certainly something that concerned John's helper. And why did she look familiar to him? Had they met somewhere and John was just a scoundrel for not remembering her?

The far back table that the lady had pointed at actually was a private booth that had a round table situated in it and two big men standing by the two entrances. The lady was talking to a man just outside the table. Her hand was being shook very thoroughly and the handshake still was not ending as John and Rose approach. The girl was grinning broadly and nodded to the blabbering man. 

"-got three new quests that came to us when you beat Mr. High Horse! They will certainly fill your goblet with as much ale as you would like!" The man continued on and now clasped the shaking hands with both of his hands. The girl smiled and nodded. 

"So I heard! Thank you so much Mr. Brooker. We can discuss this tomorrow after you get some good ale yourself! I wouldn't want you to not take advantage of my hospitality!" The girl responded and she glanced at John and Rose as she said it. Mr. Brooker nodded his enthusiasm and finally took his hands away from the handshake, only to throw them up in whoop as he dove into the crowd. The girl laughed to herself when she turned and walked to Rose and John. "That little man is always a bundle of joy whenever I talk to him!" 

John nodded his head. "He does seem the type to be energetic all the time! And I bet his handshakes are really a treat," John joked. The girl laughed again and rubbed at her wrist. 

"Oh, for sure! The man has the best manners that he sometimes over uses them! Speaking of manners, where are mine? The name is Jade Harley." Jade extended her hand to John and everything clicked for him. Jade! Green eyed, explorer Jade! The one from Maple Valley who would race all the boys in the street! He grasped her hand and felt more than his polite smile show through. 

"Jade Harley? My name is John Egbert! I believe we-"

"-knew each other from Maple Valley! That's why you look so familiar! I could feel your name on the tip of my nose! Oh John!" Jade pulled him into a hug and he wrapped her up in a the biggest hug he could give. His old friend was back! And his savior! He always knew Jade was going to do good one day and he had been right! John and Jade hopped around a bit and they laughed as they almost tumbled over. "It's so good to see you! I was wondering when I'd see you!" John laughed and pulled back from her to look over at Rose who stood by and looked at the pair like she was watching puppies. 

John tugged Jade off him and positioned her to look at Rose. "Jade! You also won't believe that this here is-"

"Rose Lalonde! The sassiest and classiest girl who walked the Valley!" Jade finished and pounced on Rose as well. Rose stumbled back from the force of the hug but held her got a grip on Jade and giggled into Jade's hair. Rose held onto Jade as tight and John felt his heart build. It was so good to see Rose smiling genuinely and for Rose to find a friend. The girls split apart and held onto each other's arms for seconds longer; drinking in what the other looked like. 

Jade turned away from her toward John and grabbed at his hand. "This day just keeps getting better and better! Reuniting with old friends! Winning the competition and being the King Shot of all of Prospit! Wow! Just wow!" John looked over at Rose and saw her staring at the back of Jade's head with flushed cheeks. Jade dragged them to the booth and deposited them at the opposite end she was seated in. "Adam, could you go fetch my friends three plates of the house special?" Jade asked the blonde man who was nearest to John and Rose. The man nodded and left their side. 

She turned to them and was bouncing in her chair. "So! Long time no see! What brings you guys here with broken ribs and black eyes? Did you get into a nasty fight with mythical beasts that were going to attack my village? Or maybe just a good brawl?" Those sounded like nice things to get broken ribs from, and John touched his stomach just to see if his ribs did heal. Rose shrugged her shoulders. 

"An adventure of sorts is indeed what we are on," Rose admitted which made Jade grin and nod. 

"I was right in assuming that you guys are up to something dangerous then?" She pestered good-naturally. John got a feeling that Jade knew something. Why else would she push to know what they're doing?

"Well," John started to say and shifted in his seat as he thought of how to finish the sentence,"we've come with more of a warning; to you and your village." Jade sobered quickly at the mention of the celebrating townsfolk just a bit over. She didn't lean over the table and sat back in her seat; looking more mature. 

"A warning? Is there another Marquise? Or, a bandit crew that we haven't heard of?" she questioned. She wasn't wrong about a bandit crew stalking the outside of the village.

"Some would speculate that they might be better than what is actually going on. There's trouble in the government." Rose replied gravely. Jade clasped her hands on the table and looked between him and Rose. She raised her eyebrows for them to finish as if to say 'what kind of trouble?". John cleared his throat for what he was about to deliver. 

"The government, the prince more specifically, has made a recent decree that pertains to lowbloods." Jade's eyes darted to the crowd. The crowd that occupied and lived in a farmer and sheep herder community. The people who slaved for the basic materials to make other items. The ones who worked the most because no one else would give them any higher paying job than what they had. The people with the lowest blood; a town full of lowbloods. This new decree would leave this whole village in collars; collars that could do nasty things. 

"The government, with the aid of the Covenant of the Seers, has made collars for lowbloods that diminish their natural powers or strengths. The collars will also be used to deliver shocks to lowbloods that step out of line with the soldiers. Every soldier will be equipped with a collar trainer and will have control over every lowblood with said collar." Rose finished for him. John glanced at Rose and her assured posture. She knew what she was saying. John had not known about what the collars did, nor had the announcer told them what the collars did. So how did Rose know?

"You're saying that the government is making slaves out of the lowbloods? Like we're not treated like slaves already?" Jade growled and her hands turned white. John nodded sadly. 

"Sadly, yes. That is what is going to happen to most lowbloods. We left Maple Valley days ago when the soldiers first told us about the new decree. The soldiers must not be far behind us, that is the warning we've come with." Rose supplied. Why wasn't she telling Jade that there was a chance? Rose had told John that the chance of freeing people from the collars rested with them, why wasn't she telling Jade that? Especially if she was the green string. The important strings that Rose had been chasing.

"Well, there's got to be something we can do!" Jade muttered frustratingly and her darted to the tabletop; scouring it for clues on how to stop the soldiers. John opened his mouth to tell Jade there was but Rose rested a hand on his arm. She didn't look at him but he knew she was up to something. 

"Of course there's something we can do, Jade," Rose assured her. Jade looked up expectantly; not with hope or question. "We can run." Jade made a nasty face at Rose and shook her head forcefully. "If all the lowbloods hid in the forests, then they won't be collared. Your village would be very adept to living off the forest and it would be an easier transition-"

"Don't give me that bullcrap, Lalonde," Jade snapped. "Running is only a temporary solution. Sure, anyone can live off the forest but the soldiers will not stop until all the lowbloods have been collared. They'll search our forests and force us out! And then, they'll move onto the continent and take over every kingdom so they can put chains on the lowbloods! Don't tell me that running is our only option, because I know that you have a different plan." So, she did know. Jade knew about Rose's plan! How did she know? 

Rose leaned forward in her chair with a sly smirk and Jade went pale with what she said. "Jade, are you saying that you knew I was going to tell you that there was actually a plan?" Jade looked between Rose and John again. How had she known? How had Rose known that Jade knew? Why was John not getting told anything?

"I got a dream," Jade said quietly, like the thing was secret. 

"Did Rose come to you? Was she wearing yellow clothes? Weird yellow clothes?" John asked and she nodded. 

"Uh, yeah. And, it was weird, because I don't get dreams. I always...go to the same place when I sleep," Jade replied hesitantly. 

"Well, Jade, you're not alone with having a weird dream about Rose, because I got one and so did Rose herself," John assured her while pointing a thumb at Rose. Rose nodded too and Jade looked a little more confident. 

"Yes, I got one too. My Rose told me to start on this quest. John's told him about what will happen. What did yours tell you? Or, what did I tell you?" Rose asked. Jade didn't look so scared but still took a deep breath before telling. 

"Mine told me to protect John at all costs." Jade looked at John with seeking eyes. Did Rose really tell Jade that? Why was Jade being told to help John? Was John going to need help in the future. 

"Well, glad to know that you've got my back in this whole ordeal!" John said as lightly as he could and Jade smiled at him in relief. 

"Now that you know how I know, why don't tell me what your actual plan is?" Jade asked the two of them with determination in her eyes. Rose clasped her hands onto the table and leaned forward again. 

"We're going to rally political allies and demand the Prince of Hope to take down the decree or else there will be an uprising on his hands. And if that doesn't work, if civilized tea and biscuits doesn't calm him, then we'll throw him off the throne and start anew; with lowbloods being equals to highbloods. Are you in, Harley?" Rose spoke so smoothly and with such assurance that they were going to win. That the odds weren't two, and maybe three, to everyone else. Jade nodded her head resolutely. And stood up swiftly from her chair; her hands braced on the table. 

"Absolutely, Lalonde. I still feel like you aren't telling the whole truth, but I've been waiting my whole life to give the hemospectrum a good kick where it hurts. Now, please head outside and go to your horses, then meet me by wagon with sheep wool. We'll take off from there. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a village to prepare." Jade edged out of the table as Adam came back with three plates of potatoes and meat. Jade waved him to the table and he set down the three plates in front of John and Rose. John knew they couldn't stay long and quickly took a bite of potatoes, meat and a swig of ale before hopping out of the booth. 

"That was delicious! Take my compliments to the chef, Adam!" John gave Adam a pat on the shoulder as he made way for the door with Rose right on his tail. Jade stood on the counter and called everyone to attention as they slipped out the door and into the small town with wooden walls. It was easy to find the only horse by the tavern and they quickly made their way over. John checked everything in his pouches and found his sword strapped to his horse just as the cries and footfalls of the townsfolk came into existence. John untied his mount and looked back to see everyone running to houses and to the exits, calling for children or family, or perhaps to a shed that was thrown open to reveal weapons of all kinds. 

"They're going to fight? Against an army?" John gasped and he heaved himself up onto his horse. 

"We fought the army John," Rose reminded him and she led her horse to the only wagon with sheep wool. John cantered over as well and waited for Jade. She finally emerged from the tavern only to be followed by the tavern master and his chefs. The chefs stood menacingly behind the tavern master who talked swiftly to Jade; making wild gestures. She nodded and shook her head and looked like she was barely able to get a word in. When she was, the tavern master looked resigned and dug something out of his pocket and stuffed it into her hand. He lightly tapped the thing he put in her hand and then gave her a swift hug. The three others followed suit before stalking to the entrance of Pacific. 

Jade scurried over to the wagon as she stuffed the thing in her pocket as well. When she looked up at John, he saw glistening eyes. She hastily scrubbed at them. "You do get close to villagers when they were basically your parents." She explained and hopped up on the seat of the wagon. She grabbed at the reins and spun them around her hands. "Alright, I think we should head for my house, I have a few-" She didn't finish her sentence, because a song drifted to them from over barrier. The song made many children scream and for men to scramble to weapons. It was the song of the soldiers. 

"Jade!" John called frantically. 

"Follow me!" Jade yelled back and she snapped the reins to the wagon. It jerked forward and took off on a run down the main street of the ten house village. Women picked up their children and tried to keep speed with John's horse. When they got to the end of the village, Jade took a sharp turn right and headed for the corners of the wall. Except, there was a small exit hollowed out from the wall that Jade went at with full speed ahead. She ducked down so low and John almost didn't have any time to duck as well when the wall rushed past him. 

They headed off for Jade's place as John heard screams and clashes of metal come from behind him.


The trio will get to Jade's house, release her hands and gather up everything she will need for the journey. At sunset, they will leave for the woods with a new companion and no set destination.

As the sun sets and Skaia settles, a cave in Prospit is disturbed. This cave has never been explored or map and the ones who know about it would rather not like to talk about it. If you are able to get them drunk enough, they say that voices come from the cave at all hours. The voices will talk to nothing and sputter words of mourning over a girl. They say that the spirit who possesses it was once a man who fell in love with an unattainable girl and that when she got married, he went to cave where they shared a kiss and died from heartbreak.

They are not far from the truth but still not in the same city.

The spirit who possesses that cave was a rebellious soul. He trekked Skaia for his trusted friend and a righteous cause. He knew all the inn keepers, tavern wenches and bar hands in every city. He told few of his real purpose for wandering and instead told stories of his adventures across Skaia. One day, he fell in love with a girl who swept floors. He thought he was unfit to wed her when a nobleman had his hand tight around her life. But, little did he know, that she was entranced by his stories of adventure for she too wished to travel the land and find all the nooks and crannies of this kingdom. She fell in love with him too and lived for his visits every month.

This man was quite charmer for he was able to live in palace with the prince and princess. They were all best friends, well he and the princess were, and always came to visit them when he was in town. Little did he know, that he charmed the princess into loving him with all her heart. She too lived for the days when he would return on his lowly horse and his stories. She believed they were soulmates and told her brother all she wishes for their future. Her brother had committed a nasty sin when he was very little though. He had fallen in love with his sister and was envious of the traveler.

One day, the traveler was in the capitol of Skaia and was talking with another friend about his love for the girl who swept floors. The prince overheard and was angered by the traveler's tongue. The traveler had been playing his sister's heart this whole time while seeing a maid on the side. The prince came out from his hiding spot and challenged the traveler to a duel in the name of his sister. They fought maliciously but the royalblood triumphed over the traveler and stabbed him through the heart.

There is a lot of unimportant details after that part, but the friend dragged the body of the traveler away and put him in the cave that all fear while the royalblood let his sister's heart wither as the months went by and he never came again. He eventually spun her a lie about how the traveler went off with a maid from the capitol and got married. The sister never believed his tale and still wishes to see him again, even searching for him in her dreams.

As for the maid, she never found out where he went. She believes that he is lost somewhere out there, but can't find his way home. She believes that it is her job to find him one day and bring him home to her, if only she could leave the house of nobleman who makes her skin crawl.

That is the real tale of his cave, and the body of the traveler lies in their still. His body does a peculiar thing that has never been witnessed before; it does not wither and it talks. His mouth will move and say words like he is in a conversation but his body will not move. One would not be able to feel his heart if they were to travel deep enough to his tomb. He looks dead but spouts words of normality.

But, on this one night, his words grew curious and violent. They yelled with intensity and his body in the tomb was encased in cobalt and lifted from the ground. There in the air, with his screams scaring off all animals in the area, his body shakes for the first time in years. It falls to the floor and he takes his first breath after he died.

The traveler opens his discolored eyes and sits up in the cave, cursing under his breath as the reality sunk into his bones. The corpse was alive and the soulless had a soul. The traveler picked himself off the ground and grabbed at the wall to steady himself. There, he hobbles to the entrance of the cave, with a new goal in mind and a determination to match Rose's. He was going to see his maid and get revenge on the swine who killed him in the first place.


 

They rode away from Pacific, on the fastest horses that Jade could supply them with. It was sad to leave Rose and John's horses behind but Jade said they were worn out and would only slow them down. That, of course, was bad; being slow. The soldiers had caught up to them in Pacific and they had barely warned the citizens before they came. John hasn't asked Jade or Rose if they think the citizens got out all right, but he can see in faces that they didn't think so. 

As they traveled, Jade played catch-up with him and Rose. She asked many questions day-in and day-out. She asked for hilarious stories, hounded for information about all the old friends and figures of Maple Valley and told some of her own. She was a very good story teller and she told them her story as they traveled with her to wherever this new red thread was taking us. 

Jade reminded them about the fire that killed her older brother and mother and how her father took her to Pacific to become an apprentice to Becquerel; a sheep herder and close friend to her father. Her father left Jade there and only sent back a little bit of money now and then to cover the cost of clothes and meals. Jade did miss him. She remembers when he would come back every weekend with gifts and exotic foods. She missed that father and wished for him, along with her mother and brother. But, Bec, is what she called Becquerel, was the best thing to a family. 

He was a rust blood and considered himself lucky to be in his current position and not in a slave hold. He taught Jade everything he knew about animals, because sheep were not the only thing he was a master at, and trained her in archery. He was very good at archery and making bows, but never sold them. Jade had packed two of his bows with her and she told them that both have never failed her.

Jade became the best at archery in the village in no time and a challenge was made in her name. It was called King Arrow. Anyone could obtain the title by challenging the title holder to any archery game. The winner would get the title, a fourth of the bets that the onlookers had made, all of whatever the competitors had bet and any archer needed jobs in any land that the name had meaning. That land started to grow and the celebration that John and Rose had seen was the aftermath of Jade winning another challenge and becoming the King of Arrows over all of Prospit. 

That is how Jade made her fortune. She had gotten her house that way, her workers and business. When Bec died, she received all his sheep and grew his business until she sold sheep wool to almost every spinner in the kingdom. She is quite the successful person and John had the misfortune of asking her if any man had the mustache of asking her to be his wife. 

They were in a nice village for a bit, stopping to get more food and supplies before heading out. She had told John how she won her house and he asked how she was not married yet because of her fortune. Rose had elbowed him in stomach that he can still feel to this day and Jade looked saddened by his statement. 

"That's the thing John. Everyone wants to marry me now. With my fortune, my house and business, I'm a walking gold mine. No one cares what my blood is, not that I have shown everyone, they just want my money and talent. I hear them coming into town and asking the inn keeper how to win my heart and gold." She looked at the red apples on the stand and had picked one up, holding it up to the sun and inspecting it with squinting eyes. "I've been advised by nearly everyone that if I wanted to marry, I must not reveal my fortune or fame until I was married to them. That way, they would love me and not my money."

"I'm very sorry to hear that Jade," Rose held out her hand for the apple that Jade was holding and Jade handed it to her. It looked like Rose had squeezed Jade's hand as the apple was passed between the two, making Jade look up at her. "Men can be cruel and selfish, but sometimes, so are we. And besides, I feel that one man has made it past your requirements."

Jade had stayed quiet at that, and John believed that maybe she was married but had not told them. They had bought the apples and were on their way back to the horses when she had spoken again. 

"Yes, you're right. I did have someone who didn't care about my money or fame. He was an orphan in Pacific. His past was a mystery to him and the tavern keeper he worked for. He was made to do all sorts of nasty stuff to stay in that place and he was crabby to anyone who he met for the first time. But, he was caring. I had grown up with him and been there for him when he had been sent out on his first killing job. He had been there for me when Bec died and after my first competition. I loved him more than a brother and he for me.

"Before I got the house, he proposed and we were engaged. We were like that for a long time, until he had enough money to pay the ultimatum for his life to his boss. I supplied half of the money and he moved out and lived with me in the village. After the competition where I won the house, I came home to him gone. He had left a note saying the engagement was off and that he was being chased by people who wanted him dead for unknown reasons. He wouldn't be able to contact me and I shouldn't try to reach him. He said he still loved me and would come back when this was all done.

"So many people told me that he had used me to gain his freedom. That he was wise to break things off, because if he had gone on the run with killers on his back still engaged to me, I would have died as well. No one had faith that he would come back."

"But do you?" John had asked her. They had stopped outside an orphanage and the orphans were dancing and singing in the street. There was a can that looked full of money from passerbys but the kids had looked like they were having fun just dancing and playing. Rose had been dusting off an orphan who had fallen at her feet, next to a woman with dark skin. 

Jade had been looking down at the kids with a thoughtful and wise face. She had obviously thought about this a lot. 

"I believe he means to come back. I know him to be honorable on his promises. Whether he comes back to pay back his debt to me of freedom or marriage I do not care. I just wish to see if he is alive."

I had then noticed that Jade had a dark red ribbon around her ring finger. The rest of the ribbons she had taken off, but this ribbon sat on it still. It was dirty and had lost it's shine but it was there. John didn't believe she wanted to let it go. 

"What was this man's name?" John had asked her. 

"Karkat Vantas," Jade had said that name so reverently that it made him think of some hero not a thief and a murderer. Rose had been coming back to them with the dark skinned woman but the woman ran off and Rose came back disgruntled. "He always hated that name, and I think for a time he wanted all to call him William Smith, but his boss wouldn't let him."

Jade had smiled her more usual smile at that thought and John couldn't help but laugh as well at both names Karkat wanted to be called by. Jade eventually started to laugh, leaving Rose to stand there with a sour look on her face.  

Chapter Text

An extravagant inn stands on the edge of a a small, but prosperous, village. The inn was the first building in the village and is considered a historic landmark among the villagers and highbloods of the kingdom. If you were to talk to any of the villagers, they'd tell you that the inn would only accept highbloods to board in it and if you had any of the bottom three bloods, you couldn't even get a job. The food, they'd say, was the best and the beds were softer than the feathers they were stuffed with. It was one of the best places in Skaia. 

Thing is, the inn was also the most mysterious building in most of Skaia. The servants that went there to work, didn't come out most of the time. The ones that did, didn't stay long in that village. The villagers could also name a month when the fanciest carriages would roll into town and head into the inn. The carriages would only stay a night before disappearing back to where they came from. Every villager claims that a secret meeting is held between all of the highbloods in the kingdom, about the fate of the lowbloods that next year. 

Well, they're not far from the truth. Indeed, the attendees are most of the highbloods in the kingdom and they talk about politics, lowbloods and who should be put in what leader position for that year. Every election, every new law, every mass lowblood killing spree is decided in that inn. This meeting has gone on ever since the Lowblood Civil War and is the reason it started in the first place. That is why it is not widely known about. 

Every highblood in attendance either go in the dead of night without anyone hearing about it, stop by on the way to a vacation or important meeting, don't say why they're leaving or say they're going on a hunting trip for a few days. The highbloods take every precaution as well to make sure this meeting does not meet the public eye. The invitation is hand delivered by the strongest of brutes. Illegal assassins hired by the highbloods roam the hills and towns around the village. The highbloods have been known to kill each other before, but no one could take down this meeting.

But, the past assassination attempts have never had an inside man before. 

This man wasn't suppose to be at the meeting. The group had planned on him being back at his house; honking at his geese. Yet, on this bright, quiet night, the man steadily climbs the steps of this inn. Dressed in clothes that most in that inn would scoff at, but would not kick him out, for purple blood is dripping from his wrists. He's let into the inn without hesitation but uneasy looks are exchanged from servant to servant. He goes down the familiar hall to where voices come from in the otherwise empty inn. The doors are opened for him and the conversation dies. 

Gamzee stands in the doorway with his blood staining the carpet and his wild hair sticking up at all angles. The other highbloods, of course, recognize him for who he is but they don't make any move to give him a seat. He had not responded to the invitation and has not attended these meetings since he rose to power. The shock didn't go anyway when he spoke. 

"Hello, brothers," he rasped into the silence.

"Patrician," a highblood sitting at the narrowest part of the table stood up from his chair," We did not expect your presence , so you must forgive us for not setting a seat at the table for you"

"That is all fine and dandy, brothers and sisters. I didn't think I'd make it to this swanky joint either"

Gamzee was still standing and as was the lead highblood but no movement from the either suggested that a chair would be brought for him. Most would take that cue to leave, but Gamzee waltzed over to the other end of the table; talking as he went.

"I've never been to one of these things before. It's not a party, but it sure looks like one. It's a secret meeting, isn't it? Top secret with no lowbloods and even some highbloods allowed." He stopped in his predatory tracks, and leaned over a highblood woman to yank a leg off a bird of some kind. He continued on with his trail toward the other end of the table, still speaking but spewing meat all over the carpet. "My daddy explained to me that this meeting was to decide the fate of kingdom more or less, but it was a lousy way of doing it." Every highblood shifted in their seats and the standing one looked like he was about to say something but Gamzee waved his leg around, a silencing cue. "I don't see why we, the uppity people of this kingdom, get to decide what happens to our friends. That is simply not what the Messiah wants of us."

Gamzee finally made it to the end of the table and his leg was gone. He tossed the bone on the table with a loud clatter of china being disturbed and slouched at the end. He still had a serene smile on his face but the smeared face paint made everyone stiffen and silenced everyone who wanted to question who this Messiah was and what he wanted from them. The highblood was still standing at the other end of the table but his body was shaking. He was only an indigo blood. Gamzee could rip him apart with his bare hands if he so pleased. 

A splintering of wood made everyone looked up at the now cracked ceiling. Many started to rise from their seats, but the wood splintered more and Gamzee started to cackle. Every head whipped toward his hunched over body that grasped the table so tightly it was folding into his will. The ceiling shuddered, a yell could be heard above. Women screamed and ran for the door, the men grabbed their swords and started for Gamzee himself. The ceiling caved and the noise of the room grew as every man and woman below got crushed from the weight of the floor above. The last sound that could be heard by all was the last laugh from Gamzee himself. 

The fancy and historic inn shuddered from the outside. It leaned toward the hole that had been made and many more voices screamed inside as old wood cracked, the stone foundation scraped and was uprooted from its original position. Tiny figures poured out of every door and window as they tried to escape the crumbling building. All the escaping bodies gathered by the front of the building that five figures were unnoticed in their escape from the side of the house where it all started. 

The five figures ran from the inn toward the woods that stood nearby and disappeared from the view of anyone looking at any place besides the inn. The figures pushed past undergrowth and limbs from trees to find the horses they had stashed for their get away. But, when they arrived by the boulder that looked like a cat, the horses that had been tied there were gone. Four figures stood there panting from the long sprint but one straightened up and cussed up at the sky. 

"What the heck guys?! Who the frick was in charge of tying up the horses? I know dang sure that it was not fricking me! I was in charge of making sure that powder didn't explode beforehand! Was it you Tavros?! I know you believe in free spirit horses but we needed those right fricking now! I had promised you that we would let them go into the wild after this was all over! After! Now, we're stuck! We right fricking stuck to any assassins coming this way to chop all our heads off! Maybe they won't need to chop all our heads off because I'll get to it first! Starting with mine own for not checking those dang knots in the first place! And-" 

"Karkat!" The brightest figure of the bunch regained her composure enough to yell at the one screaming. Her hands clenched her cane as she stared at the yelling figure. "Take two minutes and breathe or else we'll be slinging your faint body over the horses all the way back to camp because you were yelling too much. You already sound ready to topple over."

"Yes! Nepeta agrees with Terezi!" The smallest form rolled her 'r's as she talked and scurried over to Karkat. She grabbed at his arm as if to put it around her shoulder but he shrugged away. That movement was enough to prove he was light headed as he swayed a bit. 

"Karkles, let Nepeta help you. She's big enough to support you" Terezi walked over to figure who was sitting on the ground. 

Karkat reluctantly let his arm go over Nepeta's shoulder but led her over to the last standing figure. He was not hunched over from the run but slouched over his arms which still poured blood. 

"Gamzee, you big dumb idiot. I didn't think you'd show up. You told me you wouldn't you liar. If I had known you were going to show up I wouldn't have toppled the building onto you, buddy"

"It's all fine, moirail." Gamzee straightened his posture a little bit and there was purple on the edges of his mouth. He had been lapping at his cuts on his wrists. It was enough of a sight for Nepeta to freeze from going further and Karkat to stop with her in shock. Gamzee smiled lazily at the two of them, but his eyes were focused. His hair now had splinters in it and some of his clothes were torn even more, but the only blood came from his wrists.

"Gamzee, I know that licking your wounds sounds good right now but bandages work better. Once we find the horses, we'll get you some. I know that Nepeta had brought extras just in case-"

"I don't want my blood leaving a trail for the highbloods to follow, brother. I'm just gonna lick them till the bandages get here, then I'll let Nepetty swaddle me up." Gamzee swiped his tongue at his wrist after saying that. 

"Nepeta has some bandages on her right now," the small girl piped up. She rummaged in a bag over her shoulder while keeping a hand around Karkat. She brought out the yellow bandages and stepped toward Gamzee and away from Karkat. Gamzee saw the bandages and his lazily smile broadened. He closed the gap between them and held out his wrists like he was being arrested and giggled. 

"Tie me up, sister! Conceal my blood from the night sky" Gamzee asked happily. 

Nepeta started to bandage Gamzee up as Karkat was hit with a rock from the side. He angrily turned toward Terezi who was smiling in his direction as she leaned on her cane.

"Hey Karkles! Remember how Tavros here has special powers with animals? Well, he says that he can whistle for the horses and they'll come running back! How does that sound for redemption, huh?"

"You can do that Tavros?" Karkat asked the tall figure slouching behind Terezi. 

"Well, you see, I can, well, yeah. I bonded with them enough-enough to know that if they hear, actually, if they hear me they'll come back. At least, the last time I tried this, it worked. It did work, I just have to, have to whistle loud enough but-"

"-the assassins could hear him and then we'll be caught and tried for mass murder!" Terezi finished for the stumbling giant. 

Tavros nodded to confirm her words. 

"Oh, don't mind those alleged assassins!" Gamzee yelled above Nepeta. "They're all gone! The Messiah gave me the power to get them all away from here!" 

"Are you saying that you took down twenty-four different assassins?" Terezi questioned and for once she looked surprised. 

"The Messiah helped me take them down!" Gamzee corrected her and raised his hands toward the sky but Nepeta tugged them down to keep working on them. This was not the first time Karkat had heard of Gamzee taking down mass numbers of people, but it still made him want to pin Gamzee's arms to his sides to make sure it never happened again. 

"Oh, uh, then I think, I think that it could work then" Tavros added. He lumbered over to the rock and a shrill whistle that sounded too much like horse echoed from his form. The sounds of many horses answered back to his whistle and Terezi gave a hoot of laughter. 

"That sounded so much like horse, that if I hadn't known it was you, I would've thought our horses had come back, Tav! You really do got a gift don't you?" Terezi giggled. 

"I, uh, well, I think it's pretty nice" Tavros answered shyly back. 

"We better have everything in order when the horses get their butts back here then! I don't want us running around like chickens trying to find shoes that we had taken off moments ago! I know that everyone has a problem with finding someone they put down just moments before!" Karkat yelled to all of them as the sound of hooves started to get louder. 

Chapter Text

A beating was happening down the dead end alley between a shoe shop and an apothecary. A bronze boy had stolen raw meat from a vender several blocks away and had finally been cornered by the two soldiers who had been chasing him. The boy had refused to give up the meat and so the soldiers used their training; they beat him. The meat was soaked with bronze blood but it was still clenched in his hands and pressed against his stomach as the boots rained down on his slight body. 

The boy couldn't open his mouth or else the dirt from the bottom of a boot would be shoved down his throat. The soldiers wouldn't have listened anyway if the bronze boy told them they could have the meat back; they were relishing in the feeling. There was a collar on the boy but the soldiers had not thought to use that method of torture yet. The boy prayed that they wouldn't remember that he did have a collar. He did not pray about about sparing his life, just that they wouldn't remember. 

This scene is the saddest to watch. For anyone who wanted to stop it, they had to be clever. The soldiers had to reason to beat with such fury but they just needed to be reminded what message they were sending to the masses by carrying on with this punishment. They also needed a reminder so strong that they would remember it the next time they were dealing out punishment. 

Dave Strider wanted to be that reminder. 

He had been strolling out of his favorite shoe store, stocking up on some shoes for his students for the upcoming heat wave, when he had heard the skin and boot contact. Of course, it made him flinch just hearing it but he didn't have to worry about anyone seeing it because of his amazing new investment. It was the smallest of flinches too, he was simply caught off guard of such a sound. His brother would be ashamed of him for being caught off guard. 

Dave rounded the corner of the alley and took in the scene; a classic beating. All he wonders about is what the boy stole and if he should actually bring out his sword. Wow, that sounded just as dirty as he wanted it to be. He decided to go with no sword so the soldiers can't charge him with anything. 

Dave set the bag of shoes down and pounded on the alley wall next to him; he needed to get the soldiers attention and didn't want to move from his dramatic position. He knew he looked cool with only his silhouette visible and hopefully his investment shining. He also used his highblood strength to shake the wall a bit, because normal strength would just hurt him and not get the soldiers' attention. 

The wall shook and the soldiers stopped and looked over their shoulder at Dave. Dave hoped that they would recognize him and know his reputation. That they would scamper away with apologetic looks. But Dave was not cool yet. One of the soldiers, Dave was gonna name him Bashful, turned all the way toward Dave and grabbed at his sword's hilt. The other, with his nickname being Grumpy, just scowled. Now, Dave needed a cool opening phrase to this scene to make him the hero and the cool one. 

"I see you guys are new here, so let me introduce to our customs. Like, for example, it's not nice to beat the crap out of children. Do you know who's family wrath you've brought down on your heads by kicking their son? I don't know, but we're one big family here, so I'm gonna have to ask you to get the heck out of Houston before my sisters come and take you out themselves"

That sounded cooler than South Skaia. Dave definitely sent the right message and sounded like a hero at the same time. But, like all villains, they stood there with their faces looking like something out of drawing; horrible and stupid. Bashful decided to pipe up. 

"Citizen of Houston, this is our job and you are obstructing justice. I suggest you leave or we'll deal with you accordingly"

Not what was he was going for, but the sword stayed sheathed. Dave leaned on the wall of the alley and crossed his arms. 

"Listen Bash, can I call you Bash? I don't think you got my monologue, I'm telling you, that whatever this kid stole, I'll pay it back. All you need to do, is leave him alone, okay? That isn't-", the kid cried when Grumpy kicked him square in the face. The kid had been looking up at Dave and had left himself open to an attack. Grumpy had taken that opportunity out on a date and left her the check. That was uncalled for. 

"Hey, Grumpy, I suggest you stop that right-", he was interrupted again when Grumpy stomped on the side of the kid's head. The kid was outright sobbing now; he was gonna be messed up if Dave didn't stop this. And Dave would, he was getting pissed off at Grumpy's attitude. 

He straightened up and crept closer to the trio. His hand was inching for the sword but he needed to wait; good things come to those who wait for the prize. Bashful brought out his sword though and was waggling it at Dave. What a stupid move. Obviously, he didn't go to Cool Class 101; unlike Dave who is the master of Cool Class and is the teacher. 

"Grumpy, Bashful, you are now breaking one of your own rules of beating without a cause. I could turn you in-"

"This boy has stolen meat from a vender and has refused to return it. That is punishable by-" Grumpy interrupted and started to say. 

"I really hate," Dave raised his voice a bit to be heard over Grumpy, "how you guys interrupt me. Do you not know how rude that is? Especially on my turf. That's like me coming into your house and screwing your wife with a lemon. Extremely disrespectful. I'm appalled by how uncultured you are. Were you born back in the Lowblood War days? Those were bad, I admit but-"

"You take one step closer," Bashful raised his sword and put it against Dave's chest. Dave stopped moving but didn't look at the sword; he started Bashful down. Bashful could see his eyes behind the glasses and they were hard fire. ", and I'll plunge this sword into your chest and tell my officials that you were plotting to overthrow the royalbloods"

"That's a pretty bold move," Dave answered back with even tones but his eyes looked at Grumpy who hadn't drawn his sword. "I would never think to disrespect the hot queen of Skaia. I mean, have you seen her paintings? What a woman, am I right? And you mother," Dave nodded over at Grumpy who stiffened. "I saw her the other day, small lady right? The one with the blue shawl and the pretty ring? What a lady. I could see why your dad married her."

Grumpy crossed his arms and glowered at Dave. Bashful was shifting from foot to foot; he was nervous. Dave had struck a nerve. See, you had to be clever. 

"Oh yeah, I saw her and felt something down there. She was smoking hot for an old lady. I was tempted to ask her back to my home right then, but she must've been wanting something too, because she came to me first." Grumpy grabbed the hilt of his sword and clenched his teeth. The sword against Dave's chest was gone and Dave could fully face Grumpy now. "She must've done this a million times; approach young men. She said all the right words to me and almost me come with her before the conversation was up. But, I'm a gentleman, so I offered my place and can I say, she's one wild woman."

Grumpy pulled his sword out and launched himself at Dave, yelling some obscenity about Dave. Dave was clever though, he dodged Grumpy and kicked him in the back when Grumpy had passed. Bashful already a sword out and sliced it at him but Dave side stepped and punched Bashful square in the nose. Bashful flew back into the alley wall and that's when Dave realized that he had used his highblood strength. Grumpy was down with a weird looking back and Bashful was eating stone. 

Dave needed to calm himself down. His breathing was out of control and he couldn't go out there looking like he had just beaten up some soldiers. Which, he had, but he didn't want to look like it. He also needed to clean up his mess; starting with the bronze blood. That was a problem, the bronze blood was gone. Not that Dave would've disposed of the bronze blood, just given him some money to pay the vender and to buy medicine which clearing his memory of what Dave did. Hopefully, the kid was grateful and wouldn't find the nearest soldiers to kill him. 

Bashful shifted so he went to work on that soldier first. Dave turned him over and saw how ugly his face got. Dave was gonna have to commit this to memory and draw it sometime, but he had work to do. Dave took out a bottle that looked like water but uncapped it and squeezed a drop on the soldier's forehead. 

"You were attacked by a crazy highblood, they were insane and didn't listen to you," he muttered to the Bashful. Bashful nodded and fell asleep. Dave moved onto Grumpy but just by looking at the body, Grumpy was gone. 

Dave looked down at Grumpy and his heart was clenching. Dave had killed another one. That always seemed to happen when Dave got mad; someone ended up dying. At least this time, the guy deserved it. The guy didn't deserve his probably wealthy wife and big kids. The guy didn't deserve the big paycheck that came with the sword and badge. The guy didn't deserve anything he had. Yet, this guy had the dough, the hot wife, the probably amazing kids, the position of power and the righteous friends because of his blood. What a sickening world. 

"Are you okay?" 

Someone called to Dave by the end of the alley. Dave was swearing in his head but he straightened up from leaning over Grumpy. He had to look innocent to this passerby. 

"I heard a commotion going on down here so I checked it out and saw someone beating up some soldiers" Dave reported and stood up as the figure sped over to him. This person was a mystery to Dave because he was still a silhouette, but the figure was definitely a boy. 

The figure crouched over the soldier and leaned his head down by Grumpy's head; probably listening for breathing. This was Dave's time to scram and act innocent for another not innocent act. Dave stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned for the mouth but two people were standing by the mouth. 

"Are you sure he went down this one?" one asked. 

"Positive, Jade. But he ran off with wild abandon that I might be wrong," the other answered the now named Jade. 

"Rose! Jade! I think this man is dead! Come here quick!" the man called over to the mouth of the alley.  

Jade, the taller of the two, ran toward Dave. To which, Dave stepped aside and let her fly past; he wasn't going to get in the way of her. Rose, didn't run, but marched down the alley to where Dave was standing and stood next to him. Yep, she definitely knew that he was there. She grasped her hands in front of her and looked at Dave from the corner of her eyes. By now, Dave was just kind of hoping that she wouldn't question him about his involvement. 

"Dead? How did they die?" Jade asked from the back of the alley. Thank goodness that she didn't yell about them being dead. 

"I don't know, Jade. I heard noise and came to investigate. This man knows more than me," Dave was still staring down the girl but he could hear the necks of John and Jade as they looked up at him violently. So much for a quick get-away. At least they weren't yelling for more soldiers, yet. ", did you see the attacker? What did they look like?" John asked. 

Dave shrugged his shoulders which was hard to do leaning up against a wall. "I just saw the last of the fight, couldn't even tell you the gender of the attacker to be honest, the alleyway is way too dark at this time of day" 

"Perhaps," the clear voice of the girl, it was probably Rose, finally spoke and dang was her voice as magnificent as her. ", if you had taken off your dark glasses you would have been able to see said attacker?" Ouch, cold. Obviously, this girlie knew nothing about coolness or fashion for that matter. 

"Well, I never had time to consider it because once I came into the alley my first instinct was to call out for the person to stop. They did and then, poofed," Dave snapped his fingers to add to his amazing dramatic retelling of the event. 

"Poofed?" Rose turned to Dave with her hands still clasped together, but they looked more calm than her accusatory tone. "Are you suspecting magic? A rogue Seer? An insane highblood?" She stepped toward him and Dave could fell that she wanted him to shift guiltily around or look nervous. Well, she is an outsider then. Dave never gave away any emotion, he was an ace at poker. 

"I do have my suspicions, as any wise person would. I suspect maybe a lowblood with a black market potion of strength on hand? What are your theories?" he questioned, leaning forward a bit; seeing if she would get nervous. Unluckily, she held still and stared him down. 

"I'm not seeing any vial over here though," John told and Dave saw that John was on his feet, searching the alleyway. Dang him. ", if it was a potion, the person would've drunken it in a hurry and probably throw the bottle down or smash it to free his hand to fight the soldiers" This guy was smarter than he looked. 

"Maybe they drank it beforehand? I just saw a lot of strength coming from one tiny person," Dave said to the wandering figure of John, now avoiding looking back at Rose. She was starting to unnerve him. 

"There still is the possibility of it being a highblood," Rose reminded him, and Dave could still feel her stare. 

"Maybe if we woke up this soldier," Jade suggested and Dave saw her start to lightly slap the soldier, "he could tell us what happened"

"Miss. Amazon, can I call you Jade?, please stop slapping him, he might think you are his attacker," Dave called out to her. If the soldier woke up and the memory potion didn't work on him, Dave would be in deep crap. 

Jade stopped slapping him and looked at Dave. Her face was illuminated by the alleyway now and her big eyes were staring at him in confusion and wonder. Dave was almost uncomfortable by her stares but she was just as cute as Rose and less intimidating. And, Dave had gotten multiple stares like hers from the girls on the streets who were in love with him. 

"My only question is," Rose piped up again and this time, Dave looked at her. Her face was smug, that was not a good sign. "You say that you did not draw your weapon once you heard the sound of fighting. It is still sheathed at this moment. Any man with a sword across his back always has it drawn in case of battle. You just witnessed one but did not draw your blade. Did you think that you were safe from the attacker? That they would not harm you? Any smart attacker wants to get rid of all the witnesses but they left you to draw attention. So, why have you not gone to get the soldiers? Why did you not defend the soldiers or defend yourself from the attacker? Why did you not pursue them? A highblood like yourself would have the means of smelling them out" 

She was very smart, and all Dave could think about was how did she know his blood? "How-?"

"Your pants are ripped slightly and your purple blood is showing. Now, the question at hand, did you know the attacker? Or perhaps, are you the attacker? You show signs of a fight, afterall," Rose nodded at Dave's right knee and his purple blood was oozing a bit. Dang, Dave had not noticed at all. What a rookie mistake. 

"Dave?" Jade quietly called out the name and Dave tensed up. She knew him. Jade, this girl Dave had never seen before knew him. Could she had been from the village around his old Derse town? Or farther back? Or maybe just recently and Dave had forgot?

"Dave?!" John repeated much more astonishedly and Dave could see the hope brimming from the illuminated John who looked at him with joy. "Dave Strider?!" How the heck did John know his full name? How did they both know him? What reunion was going on here that Dave had forgotten about?

"I would excitedly shout both your names, but I have never met you guys until this moment," Dave replied to the two of them. Wait, if John and Jade knew his name then-

"I think spending a lot of time with the Dersites changed you Dave," Rose now sounded more sure of herself and Dave looked over at her victorious face. "You barely remember us, but I guess those glasses might have something to do with it."

"If you are suggesting that I take these off you must be off your dang-" but Dave's nose got lighter and his vision brightened. His glasses were floated up into the air in a cobalt haze. Dave grunted as he reached up to snatch his glasses but squeals and gasps from the end of the alley distracted him. He whipped his head to John and Jade who were barreling toward him at high speeds. They each buried him in a bear hug and squeezed the life out of him. What a welcome, but for what? Dave couldn't say; he was too busy being blinded. 

"Dave! I never thought I'd be seeing you on this adventure!" Jade squealed in his ear. 

"Uh, what-?"

"Oh same here Jade!" John laughed and pulled back from Dave, but stood there grinning from ear to ear. "I mean, who would've thought we'd be reuniting over something like this!" John gestured to the bodies behind him and looked a bit worried for a second but it turned back to joy at the sound of Jade's adorable giggle. 

"Oh Davie! You can't be serious that you don't remember us!" Jade pulled back too and now that the glasses were off, Dave thought these two looked familiar. They had bright eyes, buck teeth and the tallest height Dave had ever seen. Dave looked at Rose and saw that she too was familiar. 

"Okay, you both look familiar, scratch that, you all look familiar, but I don't understand-"

"Maple Valley, eleven years ago?" John asked and it came back to Dave like a tidal wave. 

"Oh, oh! Oh my gosh, what? Adventurer Harley? Baker John? Clever Rose?" Dave asked each of them and they all nodded. 

"Wow, well, I uh, well, I didn't think I'd be meeting you guys under these circumstances," Dave swept his arms out from him and they all nodded again, " for one, I thought I'd be richer and possibly own my own kingdom"

They all laughed at his joke in their different ways. John with non-containable snorts, Jade with big laughs and Rose with a smirk and shaking her head. 

"Oh Dave, always one for theatrics. Let's be honest here, Jade would be the one with the kingdom, not you," Rose corrected him and Dave gave a smirk himself as his head started to pound. Where were his glasses? He looked up and saw them floating ten feet off the ground. 

"Now that we know each other, can I have my glasses back?" Dave asked whoever was making his glasses float. 

"Of course," Rose replied. "When you admit to killing those soldiers"

That really put a dampener on things, but there was an upside to this and Dave's head was still hurting. Hopefully, he can get his glasses back sooner than later.

"Are you saying that Dave killed these guys?" John asked Rose in amazement. Rose nodded and folded her arms in triumph. She thinks she has won this round but Dave has gotten smarter at the game of Lalonde. He knew how to play it well.

"Are you admitting that you have magic, Rosie?" Dave fired at her. He folded his arms and waited for Rose to flinch at her mistake. John and Jade shifted in Dave's peripheral vision as he stared down Lalonde. "I believe that only Seers have that magic and, or those who practice the black arts. Are you one of those?" Rose didn't shift but smiled a bit.

"Catching on a lot faster than when you were a kid, Strider," Rose's pinkie finger lowered and Dave looked up to see that the glasses were too. Looks like he had won. ",but," the glasses stopped after a bit of lowering and Dave looked back at Rose, " you still didn't answer my question. Did you or did you not kill those soldiers?"

"Listen, Dave," Jade piped up and put her hand on his arm, "we won't tell anyone if you did. If you just tell us the truth then, maybe we can talk?"

Dave didn't know he had been bristling from Jade's touch until he relaxed at the end of her statement. They wouldn't tell? How was he to know if they were lying? Sure, these guys were from old times but they could be with the soldiers and the Seers. That would explain why they weren't wearing collars. Dave would swear on his life that Jade was a very low lowblood the last time he saw her.

"Dave, Jade is telling the truth. I swear that we won't tell," John reassured.

"Yes, in fact, we'll trade you secrets for secrets," Rose sweetly announced and Dave was wondering what secrets all three could possibly hold. "If you tell us who killed the soldiers, and that you are the Knight of Houston," crap, she knew his nickname," then we'll tell you what we're doing here."  

Dave looked around around the old gang. John was trying to make eye contact with Rose while Jade looked like she was doing a hard logic problem in her head; figuring something out. Rose was standing there all pretty and smug with victory written all over. She had Jade's logic problem all solved out for sure. Dave wondered what he looked like. Was he scared? Nervous? Calm and collected? Crazy as heck? It was hard to feel at the moment; seeing as his headache was getting worst from the cursed sun.

Maybe it was alright to tell them the truth? They were willing to trade a few secrets of their own after all. But, what if their secrets weren't on the same level as Dave's secrets? What if this secret was at twelve but there's was bordering eight? That would be pretty bad in Dave's favor. Then, John looked over at Dave; and the look was all Dave needed. This secret John was hiding was pretty huge from his wide eyes and sweat on his forehead, or maybe that was the freakin hot sun? Eh, who cares.

"Alright," Dave straightened up his bad posture and all eyes in the alley were on him. ", secrets for secrets is a pretty good trade, bet you came up with that on your own didn't you?" He questioned Rose and her smug face grew a bit more relaxed and relieved? Huh, she wasn't counting on him to cave.

"I was hoping you'd speak first before I made a different proposition, or that Jade or John would eventually speak up," she admitted and finally made eye contact with Egbert. He looked relieved too and a bit, happy? When John turned to Dave again, he looked more confident.

"I would've," Jade started and looked at Dave with her big eyes shining. She hadn't figured out that logic problem yet, but it seems Egbert has. ", I just wasn't ... sure."

"Still looks like you aren't, but I guess I'll go first at this confession. Okay, I did take those guys out, they were beating up a kid and wouldn't let me pay for what he stole so I decided that bashing heads sounded better than getting bashed in. I took them down faster than a ninja and the casualties are only one this time and..." Dave stopped as a bunch of people stopped outside the alley.

It was a pack of girls going to the washing well and taking their dear sweet time. Dave saw a bunch of unfamiliar faces from all ethnicities, and that's why he stopped. He could always play off killing the soldiers as an accident and self defense to the local herd but new blood? Nah, Dave wouldn't stand a chance. Jade and John went one-eighty to see what Dave was looking at while Rose glanced over her shoulder at the slow herd. She looked back at him with an eyebrow raised and he put "I don't want to be overheard" into a shrug. She got the message.

The mouth cleared and Dave cleared his throat.

"As I was saying, only one casualty so all is well, now your turn?" Dave finished and held out his hand for his glasses. Rose just looked at him skeptically but John piped up.

"What about being the Knight of Houston, is that true? This isn't the only time you've killed soldiers?"

"Dang Johnny, you are getting really fast. Those pastries must've done something to you, and yes, I'm the Knight of Houston. There, now you have sufficient evidence to put me jail or on a wanted poster. Either way, I ain't coming quietly." Dave's shades landed back in his hand and he didn't hesitate to put them back on to darken the world and his headache.

"We're not going to put you in jail Dave, or on a wanted poster for that matter", Jade reassured him by stepping toward him and patting his shoulder. She was really cute up close.

"Yeah, why put you on one when we're also on that board as well?" John made that sentence sound so light hearted. He scratched the back of his head and Dave got to see the slight muscles under his shirt bulge but he was still shocked at the news that John was on a wanted poster.

"I'm sorry, what?" Dave asked.

"Well, time to reveal our secret, but first," Rose pulled from her cloak a stick, no shiny stick, and flicked it up into the air with her mouth moving slightly. The alley whistled a bit and then Dave could not hear the market and chatter from the mouth of the alley. It was silent. That was some magic and it creeped the heck out of Dave. ", a little bit of quiet."

"Where was this hocus-pocus when I was spilling my guts? Didn't want to whip out the plot twist just yet, huh?" he asked her and everyone laughed a bit.

"This will get us in more serious trouble if any outsiders were to hear it. Now, Dave, you've surely noticed the soldiers buckling down on lowbloods and the collars appearing everywhere? Or perhaps, you saw the collaring first-hand? It does not matter how you saw it but you know that lowbloods are being treated like dogs and shocked like criminals whenever they step out of line or whenever the soldiers feel like it. Have you not witnessed that?"

"Is this rhetorical? Because if so, yes. I have seen this and honestly it's pitiful, but go on with your secret," Dave responded.

Rose nodded. "Yes, I assumed those were your thoughts. And so, here comes the secret. We find this treatment unfair and are gathering support to go to Prince Eridan and request that he take down the new law"

What?

"Are you saying that you're going to march onto castle grounds with an army, knock on the royalbloods door, and kindly ask over tea if he will consider taking back the collar decree? And before you answer that, yes, that was rhetorical. What?", Dave asked. He was taken aback by how big this secret was. The many thoughts going through his head were bumping into each other and causing mayhem in general.

John shifted and unfolded his arms. "Dave, we understand that this is a pretty big bombshell that we're pulling on you here"

"Understatement of the century," Dave huffed and folded his arms.

"And basically this is a rebellion, of sorts," John continued.

"Oh, I never thought of using the word rebellion with this club we're making," Jade voiced out loud and tapped her chin thoughtfully. She didn't look phased with Rose announcing this rebellion. She must've had time to think about it, whereas John looked slightly shaken by the whole thing still.

"Making? Oh, I see. This is a recruitment." Dave pieced this meeting together. "You are getting all the lawbreakers with morals to gang up with you to tear down this decree. Who else is in this party?"

"So far, just us three," Rose replied and Dave felt like laughing. What a joke. A serious joke, but a joke none of the less. A joke that Dave was kind of finding interesting.

"Wow, and what are you guys going to do if Eridan doesn't let you walk into the castle for a serious chat about the hemospectrum?"

"I don't think that the Prince of Hope will be letting us in peacefully," John told them and he looked saddened by the thought. Understandably so, too.

"Well, I hope you three make it out alive after this rebellion. I like you guys," Dave wished but his head and heart were making serious battles behind those words. They were going at it with morals and logic. Dave could almost hear the words they were saying.

"That's a no then?" Jade asked him and Dave stopped the nod that was about to happen. Was it a no?

"Dave," Rose spoke up, ", you're unsure about this. About whether we can actually make a difference. What if I told you that we can win?"

"That, would take a miracle," Dave argued, but if Rose had a plan about being to win this impossible battle, Dave was all ears.

For once, Rose looked unsure. She was burning a confused hole right at Dave's chest. He almost wondered if something was on his chest and scratched at it really quickly. She blinked as John touched her shoulder lightly. He was concerned that probably means Dave should be concerned too, and he was.

"Rose? Are you okay?" John asked her. Rose reached up and rested her hand on John's. She smiled a bit at him and she tried to look relieved and fine. It was a sham. She was panicking and Dave could basically smell it. Why was she panicking? It couldn't be about telling Dave her assured victory; it was something else.

"Is it magic Rose? Your victory?" Dave asked her. She nodded and straightened herself out, shrugging John's hand off her shoulder. Ouch, that was one rejection, but John let his hand fall and just looked so concerned to Rose.

"It's magic, yes, that is the way we'll win. With, magic that decides fate," Rose spoke so slowly over the words that came out. She was testing them out, seeing if they were fitting. They were weird alright because Rose just looked more confused; yet she continued. ", it's a prophecy in fact. A prophecy that will guarantee our win."

Chapter Text

Karkat jumped out of his skin when he heard the shriek. He had been in his tent, trying to read one of the books he had stolen from a library long ago. He had never gotten past the first chapter because of his life in general. The shriek was high pitched and could only come from one person; freakin Terezi. That girl had been causing knots in his back since the first day she got here. And had saved their tails at least the number of knots she had made. Still, the shriek meant something was wrong, and that meant sickle time.

Grabbing the one on the ground nearest to him, his beloved Homes Smell Ya Later, and bolted from his tent. Tavros wasn't in the camp and Gamzee was nowhere to be found of course but the look of fire on the other side of Nepeta's and Terezi's tent caught his attention. Now that Karkat was out of his tent, he could hear Nepeta talking very fast and loud but Terezi's shrieks of laughter, it was definitely laughter now, were drowning her out. Karkat hurtled over the extinguished campfire and came around to where the crime was taking place. If this is another roleplay gone wrong Karkat was going to murderously furious.

There was a fire. It was tall but the base was only a foot or so big and it looked like a book. Nepeta was pulling away from Terezi's vice grip on her arm; probably trying to get water. Nepeta looked hysterical with her constant tugging, but Terezi kept her there and was doubled over from laughter. Why was everyone in Karkat's gang crazy?

"Terezi let go! I've got to get water! We could burn the forest! The tents! Us! Terezi let go!" Nepeta cried out and then she saw Karkat. She started tugging her arm toward him now. "Karkat! Karkat! Terezi set this book on fire!"

"Karkles!" Terezi sputtered out in a final burst of laughter. She quieted down after saying his name and was snickering instead. It was creepy to see her like this. Illuminated by the fire and laughing about it, or maybe something else? Either way, Karkat felt the urge to shake her back to her senses.

"Terezi! What are you doing? You stop this roleplaying right now and explain what the heck you're doing!" he demanded.

"Karkat, I've done it. I have underminded those bags of magic. Ten thousand years of magic has kept this book safe from whatever the world of man could throw at it! They just didn't expect a little mother nature to do their bidding," Terezi told him so seriously after her fits of laughter that Karkat looked at the burning book. It was a big book and already half way burned through. " You better not stop this book burning or we'll never reach our goal, Nepeta," Terezi called to her and let go of Nepeta's hand. Karkat expected and almost wanted her to run for water anyway and put it out, but she fell back a step or two, and looked downright scared. Karkat almost wanted to hug her back to her cheery self, but stayed where he was.

"Why is that book so important that you have to burn it? If it's so important about our goal why are we burning it?!" Karkat yelled at her the last part as realization struck him. That book was really freakin important yet it was burning. Terezi was burning an important book for kicks. Again, why was Karkat's team so insane?

"Now that that book is gone, we can speak freely," Terezi said much more happily than Karkat thought possible. She brought herself back to her feet with her cane and kept talking, ", the Seers will infer that we can do more than we really can. Rose will be able to complete her mission now and gather the right resources. Everything is going to be smooth sailing from here".

What the actual frick was she going on about?


"Prophecy?" Dave sounded out the word slowly and almost skeptically. Jade had heard a lot of funny things in her life, but a prophecy guaranteeing victory? It sounded exciting for sure, to have magic on your side and backing you up, but wasn't prophecies the thing in stories that doomed the adventurers? How was this one going to benefit them? Jade looked at Rose for this and she seemed so, not confident but at the same time, she was beaming. Her back was still straight and her head high but her face was worried. Something wasn't right, but she did just say that the prophecy was right, right? Jade was confused.

"A prophecy? The thing that oracles spout about that mean death?" John clarified and he looked as nervous as Jade felt. Rose nodded her head at John and again, the shake was off. It was timid and Rose was looking over her shoulder more often than necessary. Rose looked almost sick.

"Rose," Jade started to say and looked at the mouth of the alley too. ", are you okay? I know this prophecy thing is pretty important stuff but you look like you're about to throw up? Did you eat something bad?" Jade tried to think back on all the things they had eaten today, but none had triggered her as odd. Rose was now taking deep breaths and put her hand on Jade's shoulder.

"Rose? What's happening? What are you sensing with your witchy powers?" Dave asked. Jade had not considered that at all and saw John tense up at Dave's question. Could it be something with Seers? John and Rose had told her about her run in with Seers and what they meant to her, but could that mean that they had found her? After all this time?

"Just, something important is happening right now, or rather, just happened a moment ago. But," Rose gathered herself together and pulled her hand off of Jade and clasped it front of her. Her unusually pale face regained more color and her manner of sophistication returned. ", no matter. I am guessing what most of you inferred is if someone was affecting me deliberately, but that is not the case. It is over, and we are better off from it. In fact, I would like to one day talk to the person who has caused this." Thank whoever caused Rose to go faint? That was a bad idea if Jade had ever heard of one, but Rose must have a reason if she is talking like this. The faces of Dave and John showed the same thinking.

"Okay, I never saw you as one for thanking their attacker. 'Why thank you for stabbing me in the back!' ", Dave said in a high-pitched voice as if to mock Rose and it was quite funny for Jade to watch this unfold as Dave changed his whole demeanor to that of a silly girl. ", 'It'll make me stronger to the next knife you give me! Mind if I keep this one?'"

"Were you mimicking yourself there, Dave?" Jade quipped with a smile creeping on her face as Dave dropped the dramatic arms he had thrown in the air. John turned his face from the conversation for a moment which was followed by a snort from him. Dave looked like he was about to defend himself, but Rose waved her hand as if to brush aside a cobweb.

"Ladies, ladies, please put your insults and quips aside, for obviously Dave was reenacting how he sounded back when we were all were neighbors," Rose stated and Jade let a laugh escape her. Dave put a hand to his chest in mock offense and even staggered back more by Rose's statement but his stoic face remained the same; which made the whole act that much funnier and Jade let more than a laugh slide by.

"Well, I've never been so offended in my life. I'm more offended than finding Goldilocks sleeping in my bed after eating all my juice and breaking my best rocking chair. This offense is being taken deeper than-"

"Dave," John interrupted with a smile on his face that he was obviously trying to rein in. Jade was trying hard too to keep her act together but Dave and Rose's fights were always something that made her break character. ", you're offended, and we get why, but I believe that Rose still needs to tell us about the reverse prophecy?" Reverse prophecy? Was that-

"A prophecy that means success instead of demise?" Jade asked him and he nodded his head. Wow, that was a great way of putting it. Jade had not thought of that one before and it seemed that Rose and Dave didn't either. Rose was nodding her head in agreement with John while Dave scratched his head and looked upward.

"That makes more sense than apple juice being yellow, I'll give you that one. But, what if you told someone that and they didn't get it? Like, what if they don't have the thought process of prophecies being about failure? What would you-"

"Thank you Dave for your input but John is right," Rose stepped in and sobered up at John's words. Dave looked as if he wanted to say more but Rose continued on. Yep, just like the good old days before Jade left. ", I still must explain what all this is about. Why we are gathering this much needed army and why it is essential that you join us Dave. I also owe both John and Jade an explanation for this quest." That was the thing, Jade didn't need an explanation for why they were going against the royalbloods. They were enslaving lowbloods like they were dogs and shocking them for stepping out of line or being the tiniest bit mad. It was infuriating and downright wrong. They had no means to do this yet were getting away with it.

"When the first king of Skaia established it as country, the first Seer spoke of a prophecy that would either bring the kingdom prosperity or bring it down to ashes. It was written down by the Seer and the king gave the Seer permission to find out how this prophecy would come to pass and free reign to stop it. So, she started an organization with minds like hers to research this prophecy and bring the outcome to their liking; the Covenant of the Seers."

"Why are you telling us about the origins of the Covenant of the Seers?" Dave questioned and Jade found him leaning against the wall as he said so. Dave was sounding rather rude and she sent him a sharp look. Maybe he caught it because he waved his arm out and continued. "I mean, we need the prophecy and how it's going to help us throw down the heirarchy. What does the Seers have anything to do with this, besides you knowing about said mysterious prophecy and it being an insurance of us succeeding?"

"What I'm confused about," John piped up before Rose could answer Dave, " is how does this prophecy ensure our success if you just said that the prophecy could either mean the destruction of our kingdom or the prosperity?" That was true. Why was Rose banking a lot on this prophecy if she admitted that the original Seer said that it could mean life or death? Jade looked over at Rose as she looked over her shoulder once again.

"Yes, the original Seer did state that the prophecy either meant death or prosperity, but I believe that I have interrupted this prophecy correctly. I know what course needs to be taken in able to bring this prophecy to the point of good," Rose stated. She seemed firm enough in her statement, but with the knowledge Jade had of prophecies in the stories is that whenever tried to interpret the prophecy and make it work to their advantage, they always ended up dying. That did not sound enjoyable to Jade at all. But, what was the prophecy?

"You think you have the prophecy figured out, then?" Jade questioned her and Rose nodded her head which helped Jade plow on further. "Okay, well, why don't we hear it then? I'm sure we could help with the parts you don't quite understand, if there are any. Plus, we can have a goal or list of things to avoid or go for!" John nodded his head to that and Jade was happy someone was agreeing with her. Dave cocked his head at Jade.

"Yeah Rose, can we hear this prophecy, or?"

"All in due time, Strider. I think it's an excellent idea that you guys hear this prophecy, especially since I don't know how long it will be before I can't talk about it again. But first, I think we address the elephant in the room." She said it quite seriously and stared straight at Dave. Was Dave hiding something? Jade looked at him too but all he did was raise his eyebrows and shook his head. Wait, if there was an elephant in the room, it would be something that everyone noticed but Jade had not felt that anyone was holding anything back from them. She looked at John who shook his head quickly too. He was way too innocent for some confrontation like this, and Jade had nothing to hide either. She told Rose and John everything; her father, Karkat, her business. But not her dreams. Was Rose referring to the crazy dreams she usually has? It seemed like a far fetched idea but if that's what she was waiting for, then Jade wouldn't mind spilling them. They weren't too weird to her, just to others when she told them.

A cough came from the end of the alley. Jade reached for an arrow and the bow clipped at her belt. They aimed at the mouth and the thronging crowd which paid her no mind but someone was there that they could hear. They were inside the spell that Rose had cast and the elephant in the room. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw John with his sword in both hands and Dave right by her with a hand reaching behind him. The only person who hadn't gone for a weapon at all was Rose who stood looking at the mouth as well.

"Rose," Jade whispered as quietly as she could, "who is it? Give me a location and I'll pin 'em"

"No, it's good Jade," Rose stated in a normal tone of voice. She was loud after announcing a spy was listening in. Did she have a plan or a sure way of making the spy not blab? A slender figure stood up and it was all shadow because of the light from the mouth. Nothing particular could be said about the figure and Jade wished for more light from their direction. The figure came out from around the crate they had crouched behind and Jade didn't take the tip of her arrow off of their body, no matter how calm Rose was.

"I hope you don't think me an enemy," they said it almost pleadingly but their voice didn't wobble as a pleading person's would, "I caught some of your conversation the last time we met and I couldn't help but something that made me curious of your cause."

"You heard about everything?" Dave asked tensely and Jade could've sworn he finally grasped his blade.

"Well, I joined the conversation around the end of your speech, but I have heard everything else. I don't intend you rat you out on your misdeeds, Mister Strider." Silky. Jade had heard that adjective being used in a lot of books about the way people spoke but never had she thought she could apply it to anyone, except this person. There couldn't be anything in her voice, it was a she, that anyone could hate. It was smooth and high. If the girl sang, Jade wouldn't be surprised if she could sing the highest notes. She sounded that graceful.

"Who are you?" John jumped in before Dave could spit out something snarky but John sounded just as tense.

"I wouldn't think that you'd remember me, it was quite quick when we met. I don't think that any of you-"

"Miss Kanaya Maryam," Rose interrupted hastily. Her composure was relaxed but her voice was not constant as she had been seconds ago. The figure, Kanaya, what a pretty name, stopped in her advance and stiffened. She was surprised that Rose remembered this. Jade was too and felt bad that she did not remember this figure at all. ", the owner of the orphanage in a city on the edge of Prospit and Derse". Rose was up to something. Remembering someone's full name was polite but their occupation was something more. Rose had been stiff and leaning forward as she spouted these things and leaned back to her place. "You have travelled with us a long way, Miss Maryam. May I ask what about our previous conversation that captured you to follow us so far into these deserts?"

Kanaya clasped her hands in front of her as if about to call to kids to come in for recess, but the clap was silent as was the kids response. "You talked of a friend that wished to not be spoken of. In fact, it's a sure thing to assume that whoever knows his name either knows what he's done or how much time he is going to spend in prison. I believe just from your earlier conversation, you know him as a ally? Am I wrong in these assumptions?" Kanaya knew about the rebellion. She had a friend who was part of a rebellion? Was she part of another organization that was rebelling? No one was coming down from their battle stances.

But Rose was never in a battle stance and stepped forward. "I hate to say this, but you are wrong on some parts. I have not a clue as to who you are talking about, could you clarify?" Kanaya did not shrink back from Rose's advance and nodded her head. Jade saw that Kanaya had short hair as it bobbed with her. Not as short as Rose's but about chin length.

"Yes, it was not you who spoke of my dear friend, but her," Kanaya gestured to Jade. Jade didn't even try to stop herself from pulling that arrow back farther when she gestured. What did Jade have to do with this? Who had she spoken of that caught a stowaway's attention? Kanaya turned toward her and Jade saw half of Kanaya's features. Her green lips were the most striking features but they matched perfectly with her green apparel that fit the heat of environment. She was not as slim as Jade perceived her as and her skin did not lighten up from the shadow's touches. She was beautiful and carried her head as if a crown sat there. "I believe you know Karkat Vantas?"

"How do you know him?" Jade hissed at Kanaya and didn't try to soften her voice at all. How could they trust this Kanaya? She's been following them around since the border, listening in on their conversations and now says she knows Karkat. Kanaya doesn't sound good in Jade's book at all. She's probably trying to trick them, how else had she known about Karkat? Wait, was she with the people who wanted Karkat dead?

"He came to me while on the run from the law quite a bit ago; looking for shelter and a job. I obliged and had him help me sew and clean for some time, but he was insistent to leave again, so soon, as not to make me wanted by the law," Kanaya told and her green lips didn't tremble under the gaze of Jade's arrow that was trained on her eye. It wouldn't kill it if Jade were to let go; not immediately anyway and letting go of the arrow was very tempting. Kanaya claims that she saw Karkat after he left Jade. That didn't bother Jade, it means that Karkat made it somewhat far, but that was a long time ago.

"When was the last time you saw him?" Jade questioned.

"I saw him about a year ago. He was checking up on me and making sure I was still alright. He had gathered more people since the last time I saw him, which brings us to your cause and his." Kanaya turned back to Rose like she was done with this conversation.

"I'm not done yet," Jade interjected and Kanaya turned back to Jade. Kanaya had told her very interesting stuff, but she still had not justified her claims. For all they knew, she was bullcrapping all of them. ", how can we trust you? If Karkat trusted you, he would have left you a sign. Something that would prove to this 'others' that you are with him. What did he give you?" Kanaya didn't even hesitate as she pulled out a green rock from her pocket with something painted on it in weird grey paint. She held it out to Jade palm up so Jade wouldn't have to lower her bow to see it. The symbol was that of a six and nine on their sides so they almost made an oval. It was Karkat's symbol for sure.

Jade lowered her bow and Kanaya withdrew her hand. "I knew you would demand as such, would expect nothing less from friends of his."

"Hold that metaphorical letter," Dave held up a hand and Kanaya stopped what she was saying looking quite perplexed at Dave’s statement,"who the heck is this Karkat guy?" Dave seemed like he had been travelling with them since the beginning of the trip that Jade had almost forgot he just joined this trip. Wait, did he actually join them? Jade couldn’t remember, but Jade should probably tell him.

“Karkat is an old friend of mine. He was a good friend back in Pacific and I haven’t seen him in awhile,” Jade summarized to Dave. She saw John raise his eyebrows at her, probably for not mentioning that they were engaged once but Jade didn’t think that important. At least, not at the moment.

“Can I ask why he’s on the run? And why you hightailed it from little orphan Annie to follow us cuz we said his name.” Dave asked her. Dave was just asking all the questions that Jade was wondering as well. What was he running from? The letter hadn’t said much at all, but he probably didn’t know a lot back then.

Kanaya nodded her head. “Of course. He now knows why he’s being chased. Back at the beginning of things, he was innocent but now, they’ve got a reason to chase him.” That did not sound good at all. What had Karkat done? He had been volatile in the past and started more than a few fights, but mostly knew when to keep it together. Kanaya must’ve seen Jade’s face because she quickly went on. “He has a good reason to do it ,of course, but the way in which he went about it is questionable. But now, he’s fighting a good fight, so I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t think he’s going to be back for some time.” Kanaya addressed this to Jade and she nodded at Kanaya’s worried face. Had she been waiting to tell Jade this forever?

Kanaya opened her mouth to say something, but Jade saw much more action happening at the mouth of the alley. The people were rushing past so fast or falling down. They kept glancing back to the left of the mouth. “What’s going out there?” John asked unsteadily and Jade saw him crouch down a bit. Jade herself notched the arrow again as Kanaya whirled to the mouth as well.

“Rose, lower the spell thingy, we need to know what’s going on,” Dave order Rose and moved to the front of the group. He swerved around Kanaya but she already was moving back as well. The wind was in Jade’s ear and the sound of chaos met them. There were screams of just terror, shouts for loved ones, the crying of kids and the growing sound of metal armor. Jade pulled the arrow back but didn’t bring it up yet. Jade had a vague idea who it was and shared a look with John about what was about to go down.

The soldiers, about a squadron came around the corner and they turned into the alley. Only a few entered into the alley, the rest raised their shields but made a four person deep barricade at the entrance. They were here for them, but how had they found them?

Jade brought her bow up and there were shouts from the soldiers at that. Rose stepped forward and moved Kanaya behind them but all Jade could think was that Kanaya must’ve tipped them off; but it was a far off thought. The most pressing thought was the bodies of the soldiers behind them. Jade stepped closer to the other three to hide them. Dave was at the front of them and still didn’t draw his sword from his back. What was he doing? Diplomacy?

“Hey guys, how are y’all doing today?” he asked casually. He looked at ease, like he was talking to a friend; which he probably was.

“Dave, you are in the presence of wanted criminals and at a crime scene. You have also been accused for thievery and murder of a government official. We will have to take you in for questioning; please come with us,” the guy dressed in indigo commanded. He was standing at the the center of the group and had no shield.    

“Me? A thief? I can see how you can think that, I steal all the hearts of the town, but I make sure to give them back,” Dave joked and a few snorts came from the ranks. There might be a chance for diplomacy. “, and murder? Guys, all of you guys are like family to me. We’re all tighter than a shoe and its lace. Which, reminds me, Reganold? Are you here?” Dave peered around until a hand slightly came up, “Ah, there you are! Your sister’s dress is ready for her. It’s going to be dazzling for her wedding day. I wish her luck”.

“Dave!” the indigo man screamed and Dave stopped addressing the crowd and looked at him. “You are an accused criminal and not matter what you pull, we have to take you in. Technically, I’m suppose to kill you onsight for one of the crimes you’re accused of, but I can get you some jail time instead if you come quietly and let us take care of these rebels,” the blue said a bit more calmly and sounded like he was pleading. He must really know Dave. Jade couldn’t see his face, his was still.

“What is the exact crime I apparently did? The one I’m suppose to be killed for?” he asked quietly.

“You threw the Dersite leaders into chaos!” An enraged voice yelled from the middle of the brigade. There was shuffling and a lot of yelling but a huge man emerged and looked like he was going to plow Dave over but the indigo guy held him back. Dave didn’t even flinch. “You stole all the Dersite money! You insulted the dignified advisors! You painted shame on the seat of Duke of Derse! And you left everything on the shoulders of an unhygenic, mechanic! You pig!” The man spat at Dave but Dave stilled didn’t move. What was this guy talking about?

“You have no proof I did that,” Dave said so quietly that Jade almost missed him.

“I have all the proof I need to put you in bars!” The man tried to lunge forward again but the indigo blood still held him back. “I worked in the Duke’s castle! I served your oldest brother! I waved Dirkander off to Knighthood training! I was on duty of the vault when you stole all the gold! I cleaned up your mess! I know who you are David Strider!” The screamed the last words and the barricade rippled. Dave was loosing his hold. Jade had heard about the Duke of Derse’s family being a mess and making an even bigger one, but didn’t know it was Dave.

Jade looked at Rose and moved closer. Her wand tips were glowing slightly. She must have a plan of some sort if Dave can’t hold them back, at least Jade hoped so.

“Your brother would’ve been a better Duke than you,” the man huffed. Dave sighed, and his shoulders collasped. He slowly reached up for his sword and the soldiers rippled again with shouts coming out at him, but Jade could still hear his words as he grasped at his sword.

“Yeah, he would’ve”. Jade didn’t need a cue, she let her arrow go and saw it bury between the slits of the accusing man’s helmet.


The accuser fell back into the hands of the indigo blood and everyone erupted. John looked over at Jade and she already had another arrow notched and firing. John looked back at the mouth and Dave was all over the place. Every soldier coming into the mouth was stopped immediately by his sword and were falling back into the crowd or to the ground; but there was no blood. Dave didn't even look like a person, he was blurry and moving so fast. This was the first time John had seen highblood powers, or was that not what Dave was doing?

John charged forward to help with his heavy sword raised. What was he going to do? Dave looked like he had everything and more taken care of but John had to do something. Jade was doing something and Rose was undoubtedly doing something as well. John came up to the line of soldiers and started to fight. An arrow hit the eye of a soldier near John and he was added to the wall of people that were starting to form between them and the soldiers. How were they going to get out of this?

"Dave! John! Duck and run!" Rose yelled. John hit the ground and held up his sword to block any further attacks but before a soldier could descend on him, a cobalt wave hit him square in the chest and the soldier went flying to the alley wall. The cobalt had split the group of soldiers down the middle and held them to the walls, but it had not caught the ones on the ground. Rose, Kanaya and Jade hurtled between the new opening and John scrambled up to follow as the soldiers on the ground started to rise. John slashed at one on the way out and he sprinted after the fleeing girls.

"Hey!" Dave yelled and he started to sprint alongside him. How was he talking while running? John was out of breath. "Those guys have families! Don't just kill them!"

"The lowbloods have families too and they're being killed slowly by these collars!" Jade snapped and she was running on the other side of John. Again, how were they having a conversation while running for their lives?! Rose and Kanaya did a sharp right turn into a more crowded street and many people screamed as they flew by. Did Rose remember where the horses were?

"I know that, but those guys are just following orders!" Dave snapped at her, but he was almost lost in the crowd as it got more dense. John had to start pushing people to keep sight of Rose. She was weaving around like a fairy and John wished he were that nimble. Dave and Jade were starting to get ahead of him now too. Should he consider running about more to get use to this? The yells from behind sounded more like soldiers now.

"Everyone has the will to decide what is best! If they truly didn't like what the government is doing, they can quit or stop!" Jade's sharp voice was also being lost in the screams, but she brought up a good point. Dave brought up a good point as well; not everyone wearing a uniform is bad. John just wished he had more time to think about it.

"Well that sounds just amazing but what I would like to know is how the soldiers found you out!" Dave avoided answering Jade's question as rose and Kanaya dodged into a less crowded alley. John was recognizing a bit of where they were now and he didn't look to be the only one tiring. Rose and Kanaya weren't going as fast as they had before, but they were close to the stables where the horses being kept.

"I promise!" Kanaya yelled over her shoulder. "I did not tell the soldiers of your existence here in the city! I came to aid you in anyway I could!" Rose and Kanaya entered the streets again and John saw Kanaya grab a board from the alley and hold it up like a shield. She fell back as a javelin came protruding from the thick piece of wood. Rose's wands flashed and John came out into the street. There was another squadron of soldiers that were blocking the stables and had a wall of crates and wood stacked knee high. They stood behind the barricade and had their shields and javelins up. They had been waiting for them.

More javelins came at them and John grabbed Jade and pulled her in with him. The javelins zoomed past as Kanaya ran in with Rose under the big wooden post that still had a javelin sticking out of it. Kanaya yanked the javelin out of wood and brandished both like a shield and sword. Had she fought before? "Okay, time for a plan to get to the getaway horses," Jade announced as she notched a arrow. She quickly spun around the corner, shot the arrow and came back into the alley, already reloading.

"Your horses are right behind that barricade?" Dave asked them and John saw that his sword was slim and curved, but now stained slightly red. John nodded and thought up an idea for how to get out.

"I've got an idea," he put out there and everyone was looking at him now. John looked up at the buildings and nodded his head. Yeah, it could work, maybe, but it probably would work. "Yeah, I've got an idea"

Once hearing the plan, Jade was immediately levitated up to the top of the building as shouts from the end of the alley that didn't lead to the horses started to come through. Kanaya, Dave and John found a big board that Kanaya could still lift. Rose grabbed the other end of the board and hefted it up so that their faces were covered. Dave and John stood behind the two with blades still out. They waited for barely a moment before Jade fired her arrow and there was a scream from the barricade. "Go!" John found himself yelling at the girls and Dave.

They sprinted out of alley and went straight for the barricade. Air whistled as Jade kept shooting arrows and more yells erupted as the soldiers must've seen the big board coming up the street to them. "Now, Rose!" John screamed again and he jumped up from behind the board. Dave did the same and both were captured by cobalt light and thrown over the barricade and shields. John sliced his sword downward as a javelin came up at him from the smaller group of soldiers. John had expected more. The soldiers jumped up to grab at his ankles but he was simply lifted higher. They came to the other side of soldiers and Dave whistled. The cobalt disappeared and John dropped onto the ground.

He ran at the soldiers and started to fight. Dodging, slashing, kicking and an occasional punch, but his fighting skills were mediocre. If John had done this without Dave or Jade, he would've died long ago. He could barely see Dave as he became everywhere at once in the fight. "How's it going fellas? The missus doing good?" John heard Dave grunt out on his left and John couldn't help but smile as his sword clashed with another's.

A cobalt wave soared around John and the soldiers went flying into the air and onto the other side of the barricade with yells. John turned and saw that Rose and Kanaya had retrieved the three horses. Rose had her wands out and focused them to the building that Jade was on top of. "Good timing girls! Which horse is mine?" Dave called and rushed past John to Jade's horse. John heard the whizzing of air and looked up to see that Jade was directly above him and still firing. He sheathed his sword and opened his arms and followed underneath Jade. He looked over at Rose and nodded at her. Rose dropped her arms and Jade fell the short distance into his. His knees and ankles jiggled a bit but he was good. Jade hopped out of his arms quickly and ran to the horses.

"John! Look out!" John looked at the horses and Kanaya was running at him with her javelin leveled like a battering ram. John jumped out of the way and she speared a soldier who had snuck over the barricade and who had been right behind him. The soldier staggered back but hit Kanaya with his sword before falling down. Kanaya crumpled on top of the soldier. John ran over to them, but shouts from the barricade made him look up quickly as more soldiers started to climb the barricade, but cobalt enveloped them and they were thrown over the wall again.

He threw Kanaya's arm around his shoulder and hefted her up. From the gasp she gave, she was conscious but not in the moment. John hobbled back to the horses. Jade and Dave were saddled together but John's horse was open. He started for it and Kanaya's feet picked up more of her weight, but that goose egg on her head was going to hurt. "John!" Rose yelled as they came to the horses and she looked away from the barricade for a quick moment to look at them. "I'll put her on my horse! Once I stop keeping them back, I'm going to take her but then I'm taking off! Get on your horse as fast as possible!"

"Okay! Dave?"

"Yes! We heard! Hurry, there's more coming!" Dave called and Jade's horse reared up at bit. John came over to Rose's horse and when cobalt came in contact with Kanaya, John made a beeline for his horse. Already, the shouts and yells were bigger and nearer than with Rose keeping them back. Jade and Rose's horses neighed and as John swung himself up on his horse, he heard them galloping down the road. He snapped the reins without properly being in the saddle and the horse took off after the girls. As he got himself up in the saddle and looked back at the small soldiers as they sped away. Another getaway, and with the first injury. What else was suppose to happen?

"At the next stop, can I buy some different clothes?" Dave called at Rose's leading horse and drew with it another smile from John.

Chapter Text

Roxy woke up suddenly from her lazy dream and slowly sat up right in the bed. The small room held one other bed that left a small aisle between her bed and it. The bed was made nice and tidy and any evidence that someone had been sleeping in this room with Roxy had disappeared, but Roxy knew that she had shared this room with the hunky Dirk Strider. She was almost sad to see that he was gone, but expected nothing else from him. Rise early to be able to nab more baddies seemed to be his motto, along with push all your friends away emotionally. 

She swiped at the blue curtains covering the window by her bed and bright, headache inducing light poured over her. The window showed the street in front of Crocker Confectionery as deserted. There was no one there and not even a chicken was waddling about. Roxy sighed as she saw that the sky was covered clouds. The sky just knew that today was going to be cruddy and was making the proper scenery to match it. The big weather man up there was looking out of Roxy and her gang. 

A crash and the sound of something breaking sounded from the room next to Roxy's. Her attention from the sky was replaced with the curiosity of what just happened next door. Not caring about her ratty hair or being in her nightgown, actually, she was in the clothes from last night's party, she flopped over to the door and yanked it open to the scene. Jake was flat on the floor with biscuits all over his body. He was still shocked at what just happened, which was probably him tripping and falling backwards, and made no move to get up and remove the hot biscuits from him. Jane started to laugh at Jake in snickers as she held another plate of biscuits. Only when Roxy heard the third deep laugh coming from the table, did she notice that Dirk was still there with them; a cup in his hand the other at his mouth. 

Roxy's attention didn't last on Dirky long as she dove for the fresh biscuits that Jake dropped. She heard Jane yelp and Dirk start to cough on his mouth of water as they both saw Roxy appear from nowhere and dive for Jake. Jake didn't move at all, just kept staring up at the small ceiling as she nabbed the biscuits on the ground around him. "Save the biscuits! There's still five seconds left!" she screeched to no one in particular. As quickly as she could, she had all the biscuits in her hands as Jake looked at her from the corner of his forest eyes. 

"I have failed in my biscuit duties, carry on my title, Lady Roxy," he wheezed out in a dying tone but Roxy nodded her head as seriously as she could. She slammed her head on his chest and felt him react at that but she still had a dramatic monologue she needed to spill and no hands to pound on Jake's chest. 

"Oh Lord English! I know you can complete this! I also know I can complete this task but I need your help to make sure I get to Table-opolis safely! The hot, evil witchy Jane is out to make her biscuit hoard bigger!" Jane frowned slightly at the title Roxy gave her and Dirk coughed out the rest of his choked on water. "And her hunchback samurai Dirk is puppy guarding the city! I need your strength to get us out of here! Pleas won't you save our babies!" Roxy finished her monologue and lifted her head up at Jake with a smile. 

Jake was grinning back and grabbed at shattered plate beside him. He stood up and Roxy with him. Jake gave a whoop and charged at Dirk with the shattered raised like a club. Roxy also gave a whoop and followed right behind him. Jane had put her plate of biscuits down and cackled like a witch would as she charged at Roxy. Dirk stood up quickly and splashed him cup at Jake but Jake tackled Dirk to the ground behind the table. Roxy jumped out of Jane's reaching arms and hopped on the chair Dirk had left. With a smile that seemed to crack her face she hollered at the top of her lungs. "Table-opolis has been saved! All is well in the kingdom! The hunchback as been taken down and the witch will soon surrender!" 

"Roxy!" Jane laughed out and came at her feet, weakly grabbing at the biscuits in Roxy's hands. "Get down from there! You'll break my last chair! Jake! Dirk! Stop squabbling on the ground and eat your breakfast! Table-opolis is saved!" Roxy hopped off the chair and unloaded the biscuits. She sat herself down and nabbed a biscuit. She already had the first bite in her mouth when she looked over at Jake and Dirk's stalled rough housing. Jake had Dirk pinned under him and was straddling his waist while pinning his arms above his head. They were really close together and Roxy almost expected them to kiss. Both looked over at Roxy and Jane and Roxy could've sworn Dirk looked embarrassed under his weird sunglasses. 

"Hot," Roxy commented as they untangled from each other. Both were extremely red but Dirk was the first one up after the wrestling. He brushed himself off and turned to Jake a hand out. Jake took it immediately and smiled. 

"That was the best fisticuffs I've had in awhile Dirk! And it looks like you could polish your skills a bit more!" Jake commented and picked up a biscuit. Roxy swallowed the rest of her biscuit and looked at Jane and Dirk from the corner of her eyes. Dirk's blush was gone but he looked unnerved. His eyes were looking at Jane too, Roxy could see under her glasses. Jane was blushing and held the plate of biscuits she had abandoned sometime ago. She looked up at Jake first then glanced at Dirk but went back to Jake real quick. Oh, this was sad. Even sadder then Roxy having to split from her besties for another year. 


 "Well call me a monkey's uncle!" Jake swore as quietly as he could. His pants had shrunk, again, while Jane had washed them. They would now come above his knees if he were to put them on. He would look like a show girl if he put those on! Yet, these were one of the two pairs of pants Jake had. Maybe, he could stop by a tailor's shop and get some more pants on his way home? Oh golly, home. 

Jake had been away from his home for nearly six months. Jake wouldn't be surprised if his house was overrun by animals! The creatures of the forest always wanted to trip Jake up, but now, Jake was finally coming back. He had been meaning to get back to his old life for awhile now, he just kept getting distracted by Jane and her bakery and birthday present. And now he has no excuse to stay. Her birthday is over and Jake is itching to get out his bow and arrows and hunt down bears and wolves like he use to. To pull the string back and settle on the unsuspecting target almost impossibly far away. To let it go and hear the wind and see the animal fall with a single arrow, or even better, to chase it down and finish the job. 

"I dear hope you are not planning on wearing those," Jake hopped around, still holding his pants out for everyone to see, and found Dirk behind him. Dirk still hadn't dawned on his travelling gear and so looked like a normal human. A slightly nice looking human with shirts that were tight around the arm and glasses that just added to his mysterious look. Jake felt his face warm with the thoughts of Dirk and Jake's smaller pants. 

"Ah, no! Of course not! I'd look simply, uh, no!, extraordinarily ridiculous!" Jake stuttered and shoved his pants into the knapsack with the rest of his sparse clothes. He tied up the knapsack and kept speaking over his shoulder at Dirk. "I mean, I think I've seen jesters wearing such short pants! I would be mistaken as one and taken away on one of their caravans!" Jake's hands were shaking as he tried tying up the sack. Why was he shaking? Why was he also planning out how to tell Dirk that he-?

"The next time we see you," the calm voice came with the steady, tan hands as they gently took over tying up the bundle,"you're wearing underwear on the streets and spouting religion while drinking from the little black vial they pass to each other". Dirk's hands slowly did their work from around Jake and Jake couldn't look away from the hands as the warm breath cascaded down his skin. Jake needed to tell Dirk about what he was thinking, if he didn't, then-. 

Dirk was done with the knot and he hands and breath left Jake. Jake wasn't thinking at all when he grabbed at the hands that he use to hold so much and turned to meet their owner while clutching them tightly. Dirk didn't look surprised at Jake's sudden attack. Jake had to talk. If he didn't, he'd do worse things. "Dirk, we need to talk about this," Jake started and his voice wasn't firm as he wanted it. Dirk just nodded and slowly pulled his hands away from Jake's. Jake let them go and dropped to his side but still looked at Dirk in the eye. 

"That's the best course of action right now," Dirk started and he folded his arms across his chest also not looking away from Jake. "I'll admit, there has been moments during this week where I thought something might happen or we start to act like how we use to, but we always pull ourselves away and think." Jake could remember one moment when the group went to the town over and enjoyed a festival there. Dirk and Jake had hidden themselves in an alley after stealing the ladies' sweets and they had been so close that they might've-. "But, there has been moments where I know that we-you've purposely done something". 

"Listen, Dirk, there's a reason for those instances," Jake started and fell back on his bed. He couldn't stand while saying this. "I've been having, well, moments where I keep thinking and pondering on those days when we were a couple, and I can't say honestly that I don't miss them". Jake stopped looking at Dirk and looked at Dirk's and his boots. Dirk didn't say anything and Jake didn't know how to take that. "I wish, that during some of those moments when we were compromised, that maybe you missed those days as well? I can't speak for you-"

"No, you can't," Dirk interrupted and his voice was still that eerie calm. Jake still couldn't look at his face but he had to continue on. "I don't want to lead you on, English. You are a great friend of mine and I want nothing more than your happiness, but I don't think that's with me anymore. I-" Dirk stopped talking after that and Jake did look up at him. Dirk had uncrossed his arms. Dirk crouched down so he was the same height as Jake sitting. He looked Jake in the eye and patted Jake on the knee softly. "You were never happy with me. That happiness you thought you had, it wasn't real. It didn't last and I had to break it off because I knew you wouldn't be able to. Now, you're free to get the one who will make you happy". Dirk was avoiding the question. Dirk always answered every question in the room but one. 

"But you still love me?" Jake asked and his voice broke. It finally broke and he didn't stop himself from grabbing at Dirk's hand that was on his knee. Dirk lightly squeezed Jake's hand and barely shook his head. 

"No" 


 

Jane put the clay cap back on the small honey jar and toted it away to her cupboards. Breakfast had been bigger than she thought it would be. Roxy and Jake had built huge biscuit sandwiches out of almost everything in Jane's kitchen. Dirk then judged a competition of who could eat the monstrous biscuit sandwiches the fastest. Both couldn't finish. Jane had eaten the rest of Roxy's and Dirk ate what was left of Jake's; the two eaters had used all of the bsicuits.

Now, Roxy was off in her room, either packing or making a final stand to stay longer. Jake had packed all of his clean clothes up and was down at the local stables; fetching horses for him and Roxy's journey. He had dashed out of his room quite quickly after Dirk had gone in after him. What they had been doing in there? Jane had some clues, but most just lead her heart to get colder and colder. Had Dirk tried to seduce Jake one last time? Had Jake tried to reestablish their romance before he left? Had they both tried to do something? What if they just talked about non-romantical things and Jane was being a witch for letting her emotions get the better of her. 

Jane needed to stop thinking and looked around the kitchen, dining and parlor room for evidence of breakfast to clean. It was spotless. Jane had done her job well, and she was still thinking. The door to Roxy's room nudged open and the lithe figure shuffled out. Roxy looked more presentable now. Her clothes were better arranged, albeit still the same ones from yesterday, her shoes were on, her cloak fastened and her bag over her shoulder. It was just that Roxy's long, blonde hair was still not done. Jane smiled at Roxy; there was her distraction. "Roxy, your hair hasn't been done yet. If you get on your horse, the tangles will be so bad, you'll have to cut it short like me!" Jane teased and Roxy gave a dramatic sigh and waved her hand at her. 

"I would be down to having the same sexy haircut as yours," Roxy slumped into the chair she had stood on a little bit ago and rested her head on it. Roxy looked like she really did not want to go. Jane didn't want her to leave either, but Roxy had a job and responsibilities and a cat to get back to. Maybe she even had secret boyfriend to love, either way, Jane went to get her brush and ribbons from the closet and came back with a plan of action. 

"Oh Roxy," Jane chided and started to lightly detangle the silky hair. "You love your long hair and it's more socially acceptable than mine! If anything, I wish I had your long hair!"

"Janey, my hair is nothing but a nuisance," Roxy groaned out but didn't stop Jane from the soothing brushing. ", the men who come to the bar like to do nothing than pull on it when they want my attention. But if you think I don't fight back, you're wrong babe! I put pepper in their drinks, but don't the boss that". Jane laughed a bit at Roxy's prattle and continued on with her new, distracting job. These knots weren't going to fix themselves!

"I promise, no secret spilling from me!" Jane assured and patted Roxy's shoulder. Roxy raised her head off from the table and turned it slightly to Jane. 

"Come now, Janey! I'd be okay with a little secret spilling from you! Tell me about what butterflies that formed from having English over a little bit!" Oh biscuits. There went Jane's thoughts again. Back to Jake and it always went to Dirk after that little thought. 

"Well, I don't think there's much to tell," Jane muttered and combed her hair through Roxy's hair. Yep, everything was out and now Jane got to dress it up and back for travel. 

"I'm smelling horse poop in here!" Roxy giggled and started to turn her head more but Jane straightened it with a cluck of her tongue; which only made Roxy start to laugh. "I can tell when these animals start to form! You're getting a bunch of different butterflies from a bunch of different people!" Jane's hands stopped putting a braid in Roxy's hair. What had she said? Feelings for a bunch of different people?

"Roxy, uh, what are you suggesting?" Jane asked and started to braid once again. Roxy just shrugged her shoulders and giggled a bit more. 

"Imma suggesting, that you are getting butterflies from a travelling, vigilante too! I can see how it happened as well! Jake is the very finest of gentlemen, but that can get boring after awhile! Then, after you are longingly staring out of the window, you see him in the rain! The very man who you are expecting! You run out to him and he sweeps you up into his arms! The two of you meet in secret behind Jakey's back and when he officially comes over, you get the lovey-dovey butterflies for that hunk!" Roxy tells with many sweeping gestures with her arms and Jane grinned as they got bigger and more Roxy-like. They were also making Jane think more along the Dirk thought train. 

Had Jane been acting strange around Dirk? It's true. When he showed up, Jane was nothing more than elated at seeing him and that feeling did not really go away until at least a day later that he was here. It might have faded when Jake looked positively ecstatic at Dirk's arrival too. Jane had just marked that feeling off as all of her friends coming together once again. Roxy was saying that Jane had those feelings because Jane was secretly in love, but Jane thought of it as brotherly love. Yes, concerned, sisterly love. After all, Jane still didn't know if Dirk, or Jake for that matter, loved just men or both. Could one love both? 

"Roxy, you've got it wrong," Jane chided and finished tying Roxy's bun with a pink ribbon. "Dirk is quite the man, and so is Jake, but I believe that I love them both as my brothers!" Roxy shook her head but Jane continued on as she went to fetch her mirror. "They are both very dear to me, and I don't know what I'd do without them! Jake was very helpful these last few months and the bakery will take a recovery from his help as he goes back to his life. I know that he has been a great emotional help to me and I wouldn't be opposed to his hand in marriage."

"But what about Dirk!" Roxy prodded and swiveled in the chair so she was staring at Jane once she turned around from the closet. Jane stopped and clutched the mirror tight. What about Dirk?

"Dirk, is also dear to me when it comes to intellectual challenge and I love his riddles that he comes with. He's also very helpful when it comes to innovating! The mixer he gave me," Jane turned around and held the mirror to Roxy's height so she could look at the style that Jane fixed, ", will be so helpful! I feel that with that, I could get so much more done! He always seems to know what exactly I need! I saw this a lot during his stay here and wish he could stay longer."

"Janey," Roxy turned her head this way and that to get a look at the bun," You haven't even gotten to the lovey stuff for Dirky. If you continue on, you could be writing his biography".

"Well, I don't believe there's much to say about the romantic part of him!" Jane stuttered out and shifted the mirror slightly. "To be honest, I don't know if he loves women the same way he loves men. If he were to propose, I don't know if I would believe that he is doing it for romantic purposes! It's horrible to say out loud, but I simply don't understand that Dirk Strider". 

Roxy swung up from the chair and grasped Jane's shoulders. Jane jumped slightly but stared at Roxy's pink eyes. "Janey, give the man a chance! I can smell the jealous off you. He was able to capture English's heart once and you're afraid he might do it again, but I believe you're conflicted on which you will be jealous of more if they were to get back together; Dirk or Jake?" Roxy took her hands off Jane's shoulders and pulled her into a hug. Jane blinked but put her arms around Roxy; squeezing her closer. "I'm gonna miss you, Crocker. Your fantastic cakes and pastries. Your brilliant hairdos and wizard personality!" Roxy cried out. 

Jane laughed but felt her eyes get hot. "Roxy! You're blubbering like this is the last time we'll meet! I'm sure I'll come visit you in Derse for Christmas! And my home is always open to you or any of your friends!" Jane heard hooves coming down the road but didn't want to let Roxy go just yet. 

"I know, it just seems so long before I get to see ya again! So that's why I'm making this good-bye a good one! And why," Roxy pulled away and leaned to get her pack from the table. "You need to give Jake a slobbery one, if you know what I mean". She winked and jetted for the door to stairs as Jane processed what just happened. But, she did. And she got warm at the cheeks from the thought. She didn't waste a second before running after Roxy. 

"Roxanne! Get back here you blonde girl! I'm going to whack you with my magical spoon!" 


Dirk had cleared out his room in the early morning. He had had plans to leave right then and there so he wouldn't have to deal with the good-byes. Not that he would not have been able to take it, he could, he just didn't want to see the realization come into their eyes that maybe he would not be back next year. They would cry and Dirk would be standing there like a pole; not knowing what to do. The thing that stopped him from leaving, was the cook. She had been making biscuits and asked him to help. Dirk couldn't say no. He'd hate himself if he said no. So he helped, and then the breakfast fiasco and finally getting the whole Jake thing resolved. Man, what a day. If his bro could see what Dirk's life was coming out to be, Bro would try to make a play about it. Heck, Dirk would do that same thing.

What was Dirk doing now? Well, he isn't by the horses that holds Roxy and will soon hold Jake. He's not still inside Crocker Confectionery. He's out in the alley he arrived in; with his travelling clothes on. Dirk could hear everything that was going on in that group. Roxy is telling Jake and Jane that next time she'll bring a friend of hers that everyone will apparently like. Jane is asking, no almost pleading, that Roxy come back before Jane goes to visit her for Christmas. Jake is saying that weekly letters must come or else he'll believe she's dead and make preparations for her funeral. 

Roxy is laughing. She's always laughing these days. Dirk is so happy for her too. She was a mess when they came to Jane and Jake and now she's always laughing. That girl is the strongest person Dirk has ever met and will probably ever meet. Roxy stirs her horses and takes off down the road at a gallop and Dirk knows that that horse is going to tire in less than an hour if she doesn't slow down. Now, it's the Jake and Jane good-bye. Should Dirk reveal himself? Nah, he was going to watch with brotherly interest in case English tries anything. 

"It's weird to see you go," Jane said and she's fidgeting. She's going to miss him, Dirk would have to be blind to miss that. 

"I feel ya, Jane! This building has become a second home, I have a feeling I'm going to be visiting it more often than not over this year," Jake gestures at the blue sign and bright flowers of Jane's place. Did Jake say he was going to be here more this year? Good, Jane could use some company. Some good company. Company that will make her smile and laugh like how she always does around Jake. Maybe Jake is good for her. 

"I hope to see you often, English!" Jane perks up and slugs him lightly on the arm. She's so short, and he is too. If Dirk had received the slugging, Jane would have to jump. "Now, those animals aren't going to leave your home willingly! You better get on with it! No need to make a big good-bye if I'll be seeing you a couple times a month!" Jane shooed at him. Weird, Jane is always one for emotional things. She was letting Jake go with a punch. Jake was hesitant on this, he was noticing something as well, but what was he going to do about it? 

"Yeah, the animals. Wait," Jake had almost turned around to get on his horse, but he was off and turning to Jane. He was stopping, considering, pondering and then did something. He gave Jane a hug. He hugged her tightly. Jane didn't hug him back, probably because it was quick and Jake was scrambling onto his horse. "Couldn't let you go without a proper good-bye! See ya, my lady!" Jake ran off on his horse too, just the opposite direction of Roxy's.

Jane was alone, with bright cheeks and shaking hands. She wasn't though, Dirk was being a horrible person and watching her from the alley that no one looks at. She looked unnerved and maybe a bit giddy? Dirk had gotten the vibe that she liked English, so why was she nervous? He was gone, she should be forlorn and heart-broken. That was when Dirk was suppose to walk up and ask to stay at her house for a bit longer to make sure she was doing alright. Not for any other reason, just for her. But, she smoothed out her dress, and walked back into the bakery. 

Well, there goes Dirk's plan to hang around a bit. He could always just walk out of town and go back to saving people from the soldiers and causing trouble for royalty. That was what he promised himself if Jane were to look alright, but he wasn't moving. He just wanted to stay. He would be lying if he didn't admit he loved the smooth pastries that Jane made daily. The smell of flour at night and the quiet of the town. The spurring conversations with the lovely Miss Crocker. It was nice to have company he didn't have to be brave with. He could just laugh and smile and she would laugh and smile right back. 

But what about his plan to check up on Lil Bro? He hadn't done that in awhile either. Lil Bro could be in trouble and Dirk was just loitering here. Not that Dirk would help in a big way, he would just talk to the mercenaries in town and get them to rough up a few men who were giving Lil Bro crap. But, Lil Bro could handle himself. If he wanted help, he'd call Dirk up. Lil Bro must know that Dirk is out there, watching him, and know how to call him. Jane on the other hand, she could use some help. 

Dirk had heard stories over the week of how much of a big helper Jake was. Now that he's gone, Jane is going to take on a lot of stress and might need a friend to help her out if everything comes crashing on her. Yeah, everyone needs one of those. So, many Dirk will hang around and reveal himself when she needs it the most. That sounds good. Dirk had spotted a good little spot in the woods to make camp until needed. Dirk headed off to the woods for that little camp. It was far enough away that she wouldn't be able to see him from the window, but close enough that Dirk could see her. He'd be here for her if she ever needed it.  

Chapter Text

Aradia sat down on the earth and ashes of a big building. It had to have been two floors with furniture everywhere, but now, it was dust; as all things go. Yet, as much as Aradia wanted to study this building and the rest of the village, these things were interesting to figure out how they use to be, she had a job to do. As she settled down on a particular ashy spot, she closed her eyes and followed that imaginary path she had found when testing her ability. 

She had read a book, before figuring this ability out, about a young girl following a rabbit down a hole and into a wonderland of sorts. Of course, anyone reading the book would know that the girl had actually died from falling in the hole and this wonderland was her soul's journey to hell or heaven, and thank goodness she went to heaven or the book would not be a child's book. After Aradia had heard that story, that night, she figured out how to control this state of mind she went into when sleeping. She had even been able to figure out how to use it when she was awake. 

So, Aradia imagined she was following a green bunny across the streets of her broken city. The bunny ran into an alley and Aradia felt her body become heavy. The bunny hopped into a pile of trash and Aradia swam in after. She concentrated on metaphysically ripping down the seam that held her here that was split every night as she went deeper into the trash hole. The trash started to smell of rosemary as she swam deeper and the green bunny disappeared but she kept pushing through. She couldn't feel her body at all, that's how she knew it was working. She came out of the trash and, to the medium eye, her soul just crawled out of her body. Earth Aradia slumped over on herself and fell the short distance to the ground. 

Aradia looked at the familiar hues of dark grey and murky blue of the medium world, the one she traversed more often than not. The scenery had not changed, just the colors. The scenery looked solid as well, and Aradia's body was solid, but in the hues of violent green on the floor, but she knew that is she were to touch her body, her hand would pass through it. Aradia had learned that if she tried to interact with anything in general, she'd pass through; even people. Which, brought her to notice, how could she not, to all the people in the village.

The dead were always the same color; white. Their eyes had no pupils with bleached skin and grey clothes. The dead filled the village and into the woods too. The thing with dead people, is that they are confused. They die, but they wake up and are still in the same place just with different colors. Anyone would be confused that they can't touch their loved ones or the world around them. All they can do, is walk around and explore. Aradia would take that opportunity in a heartbeat; to travel freely and without consequence, but everyone else just focused on being dead. What concerned her though, was the mass of people here. 

They were everywhere and so mopey. Aradia stood up from where she came in and saw that the only person who seemed to care that she was there, was a kid. He looked like a sheep herder; clutching his staff and staring at her with blank eyes. Aradia gave him a sad smile and walked over to him. She needed to know what happened here. "Hey there, do you know what's happening here?" The kid looked up at her and shrugged his shoulders. 

"Ma'am, I saw you climb out of a body. Now, you're two different colors. That you," he pointed at her body behind her, "is green but you," he pointed at her soul now, "are purple. May I ask why?" Aradia's sad smile turned a little bigger. This kid was smart and catching on. 

"Perceptive, yeah, my body is back there and it probably looks a lot different from how yours looked like, huh?"

The kid's eyebrows scrunched together and looked at her stomach. "Well, I didn't get to see it for long, the soldiers burned it, along with, everything else," the kid looked around him, seeming to take in the surroundings. Was he processing what was happening, or reliving it? Aradia couldn't tell, but she put her hands above his shoulders. As close as she could get to putting her hands on his shoulders. Souls liked it when they were treated like they were living.  

"The soldiers? Can you start from the beginning?" 

The kid looked up at her but was still passive. He wasn't fully taking in what was going on, that was good. He would be able to tell her without freaking out. "Yeah, yes miss. We just got done with our competition for King Shot and all the adults were celebrating in the tavern with Miss Jade. I was outside, and Jack was giving me and my friends the extra pieces and dregs of the bottle. Then, everyone was spilling out and screaming and I ran for my house. Pop was packing up, something about soldiers coming. Before, we could run, they came in from the gates; the soldiers. They grabbed us, and my Pop fought them good but they put us all in the middle of the village. They were screaming where Miss Jade's friends were, but we didn't know. Then, they got us all, like we would a wolf." 

The friend's of Miss Jade? They had to be talking about Karkat. They must've known this is where he came from, but it doesn't sound like they were able to find where he was. That was good, but it wasn't. Aradia now doesn't know where Karkat is. She needs to find him, he knows where Sollux is. And if they find Sollux, they can stop stuff like this happening. No more lowblood blood baths. This wouldn't be repeated. "Thank you. Listen, someone will come for you soon," Aradia comforted and brought her arms back down. She was surprised they hadn't come for the souls sooner. 

The boy nodded at her and turned back to where he was going. Aradia watched him walk off. Would it change if they found Sollux? Would Sollux hold what Karkat needs to take out the royalbloods? What if he didn't? It wouldn't change the fact that she was going to find him. 

A bunch of souls at the forest edge shifted and a huge purple figure came back from looking for survivors out there. He was going to see Aradia like this and start to sweat profusely. When she'd come back, he'd order her to never do it again and sweat more, then ask if she had a towel; which she never did. It was a daily routine. She'd do something that needed to be done or that she wanted to do and he'd freak out and sweat and then he smells like sweat for the rest of the day. She was just glad that he wasn't sweating from the burned down village. Not that sweating is a bad thing, it just was really gross how excessive he did it and that combined with him always wanting to touch her, didn't make it very comfortable for her. 

She stayed in soul form for a bit longer, but saw that he stopped two steps out of the forest and turned back to it. What was he doing? Did he sense something? If he did, he could easily beat it up. Five people came out of the forest as well. There was one small girl who was purple and the rest were vivid yellow, but she knew these guys and she couldn't help but smile at the familiar faces. She floated back to her body and dived in; trying to go through sewing the seam she split coming out as fast as she could. The world got warmer and she could start to hear the amazing voices as well. She wanted to jump up and run to them, but doing the reentering process always took more of an adjustment.  

"-got better? This is the opposite of getting better, Equius!" the seemingly constant screaming voice yelled. Aradia was numb and couldn't bring her eyes to open to look at Karkat. There were sweaty hands on the sides of her face and it was lifted up. 

"Well, she has told me that the process of going into her middle world has gotten easier for her and, if what she has told me is true, she sees us right now. Aradia? Dear? We order you to come back," Equius was taking this a lot more calmly than she would have thought. Maybe he was putting this on for his moirail? But, his hands were shaking and her face was starting to hurt, yet that seemed to help her to twitch her nose. Once she twitched it there was a gasp. 

"She twitched her nose! She's coming back! Aradia? Follow my voice!" Nepeta yelled slowly and now sharp nails dug into her arm. 

"What middle land has she gone to, Karkles?" A new and scratchy voice asked. The numbness from her body left her head and she opened her eyes to the sunlight. There was Equius, looming over her, and Nepeta taking over most of her view, but she saw Karkat and a girl with a ribbon tied over her eyes slightly behind them. Nepeta smiled like a kitty and exposed her to more sun. Equius might've sighed out in elation or in annoyance, but he didn't move away from Aradia. 

"Aradia is awake, Tavros! Come on over!" Nepeta screamed at Tavros and a faraway whoop could be heard. Aradia shook her face, trying to get Equius' hands off of her but he held firm. 

"Aradia, what happened? Why did you leave?" He commanded her and her hands finally got feeling back in them. She raised them both and removed his hands from her face. 

"Yeah! I thought I told you to not do that anymore! What if you were to get stuck there? What would we put on your death certificate? 'Death by not following orders from a concerned friend?' Or, perhaps you'd like 'Death by ghost socializing'?" Karkat snapped at her and he crossed his arms over his chest. Oh yeah, he was worried about her. He hadn't seen her progress she had made with this. 

"All of you, be calm," she soothed, and waved them off as she sat up on her own. Tavros and what looked like a moving tree were coming from the forest to where they were. Nepeta was rummaging in her pack for something and the ribbon girl was standing very close to Karkat but looking at Aradia like she knew exactly where she was. ", I realize that all of you here do not know the progress I have made with my ability."

"Which is what? That you can now become a ghost whenever you want?" Karkat seethed, and the blind girl slapped his shoulder; a wicked grin on her face. 

"Karkles! You never said that your special friend could become a ghost! I've only heard about special instances like these from the Seers! Are you a Seer, whatever your name is?" The girl asked. 

"Aradia, and no. I do not know what I am, but I can only 'become ghost' at night. What I did just now was go into the medium world and converse with the recently deceased. Which, I am sorry to say, is all of Pacific. I'm sorry Karkat," Aradia looked up at Karkat as she said that and his shoulders and arms dropped. The angry look was replaced by defeat as he looked around at what was once his home. 

"I had hope that some of them could escape, but all died?" he asked quietly. 

"I didn't get a head count, but the dead filled the ashes of your village," she informed him and could see the next question on his tongue, "and I didn't get word if she survived or not, but the soldiers came here looking for her and her friends". Nepeta gasped again and Karkat's body tightened. 

"Are you preaching that the soldiers burned this place down for Karkat's girl?" the tree looking man asked. He was very tall and skinny but his hair were his leaves. Sprouting every way and curling about in the wind. His voice was higher than she thought it would be but lazy like his countenance. The only thing that made him not a tree, was his painted face, which made Aradia uncomfortable. 

"I'm saying that the soldiers found where Karkat came from, but left without any new information," she corrected him. 

"Except that they have one less lowblood village to care about!" Karkat yelled. For everyone besides Aradia, they jumped or flinched at Karkat's outburst. Karkat was shaking with his head bowed. Tavros extended a shaking hand to Karkat but Karkat stormed off a couple of steps and started to pace back and forth. "The soldiers came here for information! If this village had been one of highbloods, they would've sat down to have a nice chat and gone off with filthy scones in their pockets! But, instead, they burned everyone alive for not telling them! They did not listen to the lowbloods! The lowbloods might've guilty but only some of them were, yet, the soldiers took down the innocents too, because just being a lowblood means you are guilty by birth! And that," Karkat stopped pacing and turned to face them. There were red tears going down his face but he looked like a general about to send an army to war. ", is why we're going to burn down the court that sent these soldiers! We're going to show them, that lowbloods will not stand for this! That our blood does not make us guilty!" 

"Yes," Aradia voiced and she stood up, not bothering to dust herself off. She looked Karkat in the red eyes and nodded her head. "That is what needs to happen and if you're going to do that as well, then I'm glad that I followed my dream to come here". Karkat nodded back at her. 

"I'm sorry, but did you say something about a dream?" the ribbon girl piped up again. 

Chapter Text

"Uh, ma'am-"

"I believe my name is Marquise to you, pigeon," Vriska snapped as she emerged from the captain's cabin. The sunlight was bright on her weak eyes and she stopped her from seeing that the whole crew was standing on the deck; glaring at her. The one who spoke, was to her left and she already knew by the voice it was the annoying first mate who was always ready to have either a mutiny or a kissing butt session. 

"Marquise," he started again and the slight fellow moved into her view of the deck. She turned her head quickly and started down the steps to the gangplank. She should not be having this conversation. They should all respect and fear her enough to not ask questions and do what she said when they were about to dock. Now, she was going to have to repeat herself and she was not in the mood for that. "We are all concerned with the state of the ship after you leaving. And you did also state you would be gone a long time-"

"No," she growled as she reached the bottom of the stairs and started to push through the crew to get to the gangplank. "I said that I would be checking up on an enemy that poses a threat to us. I never said anything about it taking awhile!" She yelled out the last part and finally came to the gangplank. She stepped up onto it and saw the sight of the extremely illegal port that all pirates docked at. 

"Marquise!" The first mate yelled and it was enough to make her not take another step. There was mutiny in his voice and he sounded like he was going to be heard. She turned back to him and saw him at the front of her crew. They all wore the same look and she couldn't help but scowl back at them. "You pack and dress like you will never be back. You barely look us in the eye. It looks and sounds like you are jumping ship". Heads twisted slightly to talk to friends and a low grumble filled the salty air. Vriska gritted her teeth and weighed the options in her head. What should she do? 

"Jumping ship? I've spent half my life living on this ship. I was disgraced by the former first mate when my mother was murdered," she snarled and came to lean over him," and I then killed him for this vessel. Does that sound like I am wanting to abandon this ship to your grimy hands?" The first mate only glared up at her and she couldn't help but smile a bit at his silence. "No? Well then, I guess you questioning my orders means that most of you must've misheard me, so, I'll repeat myself," she addressed to the crew. She straightened up and struck the position she had seen her mother hold when she was captain; one of superiority and confidence. "I have received a dream that an old enemy of this ship is coming back at us with full cannons. I'm embarking on a quest to terminate this bug once and for all and so, I must leave this ship for a bit.

"Dock here until I return. You may go into the mainland for your own devices but, be back here before the month is up. And if I come back and see that you have appointed yourself a new captain, I will throw the new captain and all who support him onto Hades' Island with all but their left arm cut off." Vriska yelled and the faces were one of respect, except for the first mate who still stood there glaring. "If you hear about a mutiny aboard this ship, then I advise you to terminate the traitor and when I hear about what you did, I will be more than willing to give you a higher percentage of the cut". That sold them. They shifted their eyes at one another and she could tell that they wanted someone to start a mutiny so they could earn more money. 

Vriska smiled and turned toward the dock. "Are you sure you should wearing something like that Marquise?" The first mate yelled at her back and all she did was flip them the bird as she jumped down onto the dock. The workers on there gave her looks as she strutted down in a blouse and trousers but who was honestly expecting her to wear a corset and skirt? She was the Marquise Spinneret Mindfang and she wasn't going to take on the Prince of Skaia in a flowly tarp. She especially, wasn't going to meet up with the crab, wherever he was, looking like a tavern girl. 

Chapter Text

"You left what with who?" John asked incredulously. 

They were an hour away from Houston when Dave had yelled at Jade to stop this procession to get something. Rose and John had stopped their horses and Dave hopped off and started to walk off to the left of the path. John had jumped from his horse, and jogged after the brisk pace Dave was leaving in his wake; after telling Rose and Jade to check on Kanaya until he got back. John chased after Dave and asked him what he was going to get from the forest. Dave had just told him, very calmly, that he was going to pick up the stolen Duke of Derse's fortune from a mute hermit. 

Now, John stood there in a state of shock. First of all, he had forgotten about Dave being accused of stealing the Derse fortune and being reminded of that brought back the shock he should've experienced when he first heard it. Second of all, Dave had stolen the Dersite fortune. And lastly, he gave it to a mute hermit. What kind of juice had Dave been drinking all these years to think up an idea like this? Of course, Dave stopped just a moment to look back at John. "I left all the gold in the Duke of Derse's name to be guarded by a mute hermit. I think you'll like him, he's a cool fellow." Dave turned back and pushed away at a bush to continue. John jogged after him, yet again, and followed closely behind. 

"Dave, you can't be serious!" John pleaded with him as the underbrush got thicker. All Dave did was swat at the air over his left shoulder. 

"John, I can hear the shock in your voice. Yes, I did it, but once you meet this guy, you'll love him. He's really adorable and so bad-a because no one has stolen our treasure since my eighteenth birthday." Dave related back to him and John could almost hear Dave being so smug about it. "That guy is a good guard that I would go as far as to say he's a puppy guard. Yeah, he really guards those puppies tight! The puppies can't even get past him to use the bathroom he's so tight. Of course, if he were to guard puppies, he'd let them urinate because not letting someone pee is absolute torture." 

"Uh, okay, do you know this guy's name?" John asked and swatted away at a low hanging branch. 

"Nope! But, he wears this sash that has the word 'Mayor' on it this food he makes from the surrounding forest. I tried to learn the recipe while I was with him, but he makes it better than I do." Dave turned to John and gestured a sash running across his chest. He was smiling almost as he looked back up at John. Dave, liked this hermit? He was smiling about the weird food that the hermit makes. Dave's smile shuddered and fell a bit after looking at John. His hands fell to his sides and he turned back to plowing through the underbrush. "Uh, yeah, anyway, the hermit is cool and he's guarding the cash that's going to save our collective butts." 

"Dave, can you explain to me why you-" John stopped as they came through the underbrush and found themselves on the lawn of a run-down house. The lawn had no other plants besides grass and looked like it wrapped around the building. The building itself looked like it was made of stone but was so run down, that it had holes in the walls, but they were patched up by earthy material. The house itself was big in John's eyes; bigger than his house for sure. John almost missed a small man huddled by the corner of the house. He was on his knees, pulling at something, but looked up as they came out of the forest. 

He came jumped up, and was much smaller than John thought he would be, and scuttled toward Dave. Dave leaned down with open arms and embraced the tiny man or hermit. John got a better look at the man and saw that he was wrapped up in patches of grey fabric. The man was also only to John's waist. How in the world was he that tall? Dave let go of the small hermit with that smile on his face. John now saw that the face of the hermit was wrapped all up in the same grey fabric so that only his eyes could be seen along with some dark skin surrounding them. Looking at his eyes, John got the feeling that maybe this man wasn't a man. 

The tiny hermit touched Dave's sunglasses softly and Dave fully crouched down to the eye level of the hermit. He touched the tiny, clothed hand that was on his glasses and couldn't have smiled brighter. "Yeah, I got some new accessories. Are they cool looking?" he asked and the hermit clapped his hands together and jumped up and down like a kid. Dave nodded his head with his grin still huge looking. He was so happy with this hermit. Speaking of which, the hermit turned to look at John and cocked his head to the side. John looked into the hermit's eyes, the seemingly huge black eyes, and could imagine trusting this guy. "Oh, this is my old friend John. John, this is the Mayor. We were roommates for a while after I left the Derse throne." 

"This sounds like," Jade's voice floated behind John and he turned to see that Rose, Jade, Kanaya and their horses came from the brush that John and Dave had emerged from. Jade smiled at the Mayor and gave him a little wave before continuing on. ", the perfect time for me to ask my question." Jade looked left at Dave with a serious face. "What happened to you after you left Maple Valley?" 

"I think," Rose voiced and John saw that she had a half-conscious Kanaya leaning on her right while also holding the leads to the three horses. Rose looked exhausted but she nodded her head at Dave's old house. ", that is a question to be answered inside your old house, Dave. Mayor, may we rest here the night?" She tilted her head to speak past John. Which, he then turned toward the Mayor who nodded his head vigorously and scuttled to what was left of the front door. He pulled the brown curtain aside and gestured into the safe haven. John grinned a bit and walked to the other side of Kanaya; putting her arm over his shoulder. He looked back up at the Mayor, who gestured again excitedly, and started for the front door as Dave and Jade debated where to tie the horses for the night. 


When Dave Strider tells his story, he tells it in the most perfect condition. He's sitting in front of a fire with some food long forgotten by himself. He has eager listeners sometimes remembering to eat their food and other times forgetting they have stuff in their hands at all. They're surrounded by Earth and mystery and someone is off to the side injured or dying; thanks for volunteering for that spot Kanaya. And, the best Mayor in the whole wide Skaia right by his side; eating whatever Dave had forgotten and scuttling to refill Dave's bowl when the Mayor drains it.

The story of Dave Strider must be started at Maple Valley. He lived with two older brothers and stories of a mother and father. He had three good friends and a village that looked out for him and his family; some because of friendliness and compassion and others because of his violent purple blood. But, all that changed when a messenger clothed in fabric the color of his blood came with a request.

The way his oldest brother, Bro as he wanted to be called because his other name was a joke in and of itself, had described it, the man who had ruled Derse died this last month and with his heir being a firm believer in the hemospectrum and tradition, the successor wanted to first find a man with purer blood than his to fill the seat before he was to take over. So, the successor sent out messengers to find a man who had been born Derse with purple blood or higher. The Strider blood was only the third highest on the hemospectrum but all other families, nine other when Dave was to do the research later, had declined the position; wanting rather to paint their fences with the blood of the lowblood slaves they kill.

Now, Dave had no idea what Bro was thinking when he accepted the position. Dave had asked Bro and Bro replied with," Think of the good food we'll get out of this." When Dave had asked his second oldest brother, he had replied with," He did it because there was no money left in our name." But, Dave liked to tell others that his brother accepted it because of the unspoken need in Derse that his Bro believed he could fix. When asked what that need was, Dave replied in a deadpan voice," The need to plant more apple trees." 

So, the Strider family packed up and left Maple Valley. Bro took over the Duke of Derse seat and did very important business stuff while Dave and his brother were 'educated' by the best teachers in the district. What Dave and closest brother in age really did, was escape their classrooms and play with the servant children. Dave's really good friends were the maid, the kid of the old Duke of Derse, the mouse exterminator's apprentice and the beekeeper. They were the bestest friends Dave would ever have, but they could never replace his old friends back in Maple Valley. 

When Dave was thirteen, his second oldest brother, "Dave, why won't you remind us his name?" "Woah there Rose, I don't want to be revealing all of my secrets here. A guy has got to keep some secrets so as to be mysterious." "That is a horrible reason and we both know it." "Rose, I remember his name, it's-" "John! What happened to our bro code? The one where we don't tell each other's secrets?" "Oh, sorry about that. I won't spill then." "Good, now, on with my story", decided he wanted to become a knight. And so, in less than a day, Dave's older brother packed up and left for the castle to train to be a knight. But, not without promises of sending Dave gifts and letters and a reminder than he would always be watching out for him. That left Dave alone with Bro and Bro wasn't always the best of company; always being busy. 

Then, on Dave's fourteenth birthday, Bro gave Dave a sword just like the one he would walk around with and wield when performing executions. After that day, Bro trained Dave every day at sundown. They would go onto the tallest tower and spar with their blades. Dave would form callouses and scars from where Bro would hit him. Bro would train Dave how to wield a sword and how to use his highblood powers in a fight. Their powers were strength and speed. Dave was always taught to never use his powers outside of a fight and made him swear to never fling them about like it was a flower. Dave hated those training lessons for he'd come back when the moon was high in the sky with purple blood ruining another pair of pants. 

Dave did not have to go through it for long. When Dave was sixteen, the King of Skaia called for all able men to hunt down the Marquise Spinneret Mindfang. And so, Bro was called off to hunt down this pirate and left Dave the position. But, Dave was not eighteen and couldn't take on the position. There were laws in place for that. An adviser was called in and Dave was placed in serious study of the position day in and day out. The adviser would rule for Dave until he turned eighteen and Dave would take over on his eighteenth birthday. Dave could never escape his lessons anymore because he had four guards around him at all times to 'help' him take his studies seriously. 

The thing is, Dave took his studies seriously after a couple of months of rebellion. The reason being the adviser. The adviser was a horrible man who treated every lowblood like a dog and ruled unfairly. Dave fought many times with the adviser on many subjects but Dave was not eighteen and his say didn't have any matter on the subject. After a particular argument, Dave threatened that when he became Duke, he would kill the adviser for the injustice they served while on the throne. The adviser dismissed the guards from the room and tortured Dave until Dave almost died from blood loss. When the adviser walked away, he said that if Dave did not succeed in his studies, Dave would never take the throne and the adviser would continue to kill and might even make his friends slaves. 

So, Dave became serious and stronger. He trained every night after his studies with his friends. Finally, on the night before Dave's eighteenth birthday, Dave discovered a plot. The adviser would willingly give Dave the throne after Dave was to personally kill a hundred lowblood runaway slaves as his first act of Duke. Dave was beyond angry and did the unthinkable. He released the hundred slaves in the night, he stole all the money in the vault under the castle, he stole five horses and loaded the fortune onto them and then left the adviser a note stating that the old Duke of Derse's son was to take the throne. Dave had studied much and found a clause in the choosing of a new Duke saying that the Heir could choose another Heir if they had high blood. 

When Dave left, he ran with his loot and horses until he came upon the Mayor's house in a dire circumstance. Dave had not gone into any town for fear that the soldiers would recognize him and drag him away. The Mayor took Dave in and Dave stayed there for a year; waiting for things to die down. When he felt the coast was clear, he left the Mayor to guard his fortune and to use it in town when he needed some supplies. Dave brought some in with him to Houston and lived off that. Dave would go out to the Mayor and stay for awhile when his gold supply would run out. 

"Dave" "What Jade?" "What happened to your brothers? And your friends?" "Oh, crap, yeah."  A month after Bro left for the Marquise, word came back that all who went after her died in the battle that killed the King and the Marquise. Dave was destraught and that lead him to retaliate more against the wicked adviser. As for Dave's second oldest bro, sometime during Dave's fitheenth year, he stopped receiving letters from his brother. And, Dave never heard from his friends again. He always wished that he had taken them with him, but he never wanted them to be outlaws like himself. He wishes for word from his friends on if they survived alright or not, but has given up hope on ever seeing them. "

I'm sorry for interrupting"

" Oh, geez Kanaya you scared me, you're not interrupting I was thinking of ending it there actually."

"That is a lovely place to end it, but are you perhaps speaking of Aradia Megido, Equius Zahhak, Sollux Captor and Nepeta Leijon's well-being?"

"..."

"Because, if you are, then I think I can be of some assistance to ease your mind."  

Chapter Text

"How do you know their names?" Dave asked after a little bit of silence following Kanaya's report. Jade herself struck Kanaya with a hard stare. They had met Kanaya in Prospit. These people who Dave spoke about were from Derse. That would mean, that Kanaya had at some point been in the Duke of Derse's house, but Dave grew up there. Why had Dave not seen her before these other days? 

"They are dear friends of mine, although, I admit, I am not close to all of them, but I do care deeply about their health," Kanaya supplied from her position. She was propped up on a wall and had a wet cloth on her head from where she had gotten hit. Rose was by her side and looking concernedly at Kanaya. Kanaya adjusted herself so she was sitting up straight. She had a haughty look on her face as she continued addressing Dave but swung her head around to look at John, Rose and Jade as she spoke. "This seems like a good transition into what I have been trying to talk to you all about since I met you in the alley. Jade here," she gestured to Jade, ", knows my good friend Karkat Vantas who-"

"Yeah, sorry, I have a question," Jade interrupted. Kanaya blinked at her in surprise but she went on before Kanaya could speak again. "How do you know Karkat? I don't know you in the slightest and you keep throwing his name around as if it gets you a free card to hear what we've been going through." John shifted in his seat and Rose looked like she was biting something in her mouth. Dave just looked back Kanaya like he was expecting something. 

"Jade," John volunteered, ", Kanaya did take a blow for me this afternoon. She earns my respect and trust, but I still think she does need to explain a little bit." John glanced at Kanaya who nodded gratefully at John. Jade couldn't deny what John had stated and glared a little less at Kanaya. 

"I will not explain a little, but a lot for I agree that it is time to prove my worth in this circle and how exactly it benefits you all." If Kanaya could straighten up anymore, she would have and it seemed like she did. "First, I should say that I am an orphanage worker and had no connection with Karkat nor anyone else I have mentioned until I met Karkat, which was quite a surprise. It was four years ago when I first met. I was cleaning out pots in the back when he passed by. We made conversation and that's when he revealed, rather reluctantly, that he was travelling and homeless. I invited him in and he stayed with me at the orphanage for a month. He earned his stay by completing hard tasks that the other patrons would give him.

"During his month's stay, he told me his story. He told me about you, his caretaker and why he was on the run. He complained about the unfairness of the hemospectrum and why he believed that he was being chased by the highbloods because of his color blood. When the month was up, he told me he had to leave or else I would get in trouble with the authorities. I asked him to stay but he told me he would visit. A couple month's went by and he, indeed, returned; just with some more friends. He brought with him some friends that he had made. It was Nepeta and Sollux. They stayed for a week or two with me and told me about Equius and Aradia and then they left again.

"They would come back every month with news on what was happening and it became more apparent to me that they were rebelling in small ways; overturning highblood carriages that had just run over lowbloods and such. It was two years after meeting Karkat, with his little band of four, that he finally told me that he was going to overthrow the hemospectrum and the highbloods. I had so many doubts but supported him and opened my home to all his friends that became mine as well. He gave me his stone with his symbol; saying that if I were to show it to some other friends of his, they would know I was with him. But, I think I am wrong in assuming that any of you know that symbol?"

John, Rose and Dave shook their heads but Jade didn't. She knew that symbol. It was the symbol that adorned the necklace Karkat had cared so much about, but she had not known that Karkat was using it as a sign of lowblood rebellion. She knew that he used it for others to identify him with, but was that not the same thing? "You still haven't answered the question, Kanaya," Dave stated and spooned some more food into his mouth. "How are my friends doing?" 

"Oh, yes, I apologize for avoiding such important facts. Well, Aradia found out that her curse can be manipulated into good. Oh, and Equius and Aradia are courting."Dave snorted into his food with Kanaya just shaking her head; either at him or at her news. "Nepeta is still with Karkat but, she now likes to call herself the Huntress because she catches all the food for the band. And Sollux-" Kanaya cut off. While talking, Kanaya had seemed light hearted when calling upon the memories of her friends. Her grin now slid off her face and sighed. Dave stopped eating his food and watched Kanaya intensely. 

"And Sollux...died?" Dave finished for her, but Kanaya slowly shook her head. 

"No, he has just, not been around for sometime. He's been out on his rounds a lot longer than Karkat has thought necessary, and hasn't reported back. But, for all we know, he could be talking to a big supporter to help a little more, I am sure that he will be back soon." Kanaya supplied hopefully. "But, to the matter at hand, your goal is to overthrow the collar order, am I correct?" Jade nodded with everyone this time at that statement. "Well, Karkat means to overthrow the hemospectrum entirely. I believe, that both of your goals are one and the same."

"And that our goals will happen." Rose continued for Kanaya. Jade sent Rose a weird look. What was she talking about? John perked up a bit. 

"Oh, yeah! That prophecy you were telling us about in the alley! You think it was something to do with this?" he asked and Jade mentally slapped her forehead. How could she have forgotten the reverse prophecy!

"Yes, now that we are in a more stable environment,"Rose gestured around her," I think I shall continue with what I was meaning to say earlier. I told you all about how the reverse came about and how the Covenant of the Seers came to be, but I didn't tell you the prophecy itself. I cannot really explain and have you following along without any question. When I came to be a Seer, we were told to memorize this prophecy and to do study it constantly, because that was our job at the beginning of the organization."

"Can we hear this prophecy already?" Dave mumbled through a mouth full of food. Rose squinted at Dave in contempt. 

"Swallow before you speak, Strider, and yes I will." Rose took on a serious face that melted into recollection as she recited it. 

"The monarch of the things most desired

plunges the kingdom into night.

The sun of sky will gather their heroes, 

as madness betrays them all.

Wielders of goods that slip away,

banish the tyrants to the night,

And dawn will come

When heroes are consumed

By the night that comes for all.

The heroes will emerge

In threads of fate by

The eye of the Seer of Light"

While Rose said it, Jade took a yellow ribbon from her bag and tied it around her pointer finger. She was going to remember this prophecy. Rose finished and her countenance returned to normal. Jade rolled the prophecy over in her head. It was tough to understand for sure, especially- "The last part," Jade voiced the thought. "Who is the Seer of Light?" 

"That would be me, Jade." Rose confirmed calmly. "That leads into what the Seers have been doing in modern times. The first Seer found out, through consulting dreams and stars, that each person in existence was given a special name by the universe. The Seer researched and found that a Seer could find out what one's name was by delving into the mind. As an elder Seer explained it, one needs only to simply put a toe into the mind of an individual and they will sense who they are for the mind is always filled with that name."

"Wait, are you saying that we are all named and only Seers can see who is who?" Jade questioned. 

"Yes, whoever possesses the name Seer seems to have magical properties and a more willing mind to pick the magical art." Rose informed. 

"Why isn't getting a name mandatory then? If the Seers were doing their job, they would be trying to find the Seer of Light. Why do you have to pay to receive a name from the Seers?" John asked and Jade couldn't help but be frustrated at that as well. The Seers charged those who wanted to be named and Jade had paid the steep price for it. She had been given the Witch of Space name. Jade hadn't felt very flattered by being called a witch. 

"The Covenant is corrupted by money," Rose spat," and have lost sight of what heroes really are. They believe that the heroes from the prophecy will have the means to make themselves heroes and so those without money aren't worthy of a name. Besides, all Seers are sworn to secrecy about the prophecy and can't reveal to anyone what the names mean."

"Wait, you said heroes. There are mentioned heroes in the prophecy but only one is outright named." Kanaya perceived and tapped her chin thoughtfully. 

"Yes, when the first Seer wrote down the prophecy for the first time, she went into a trance and also wrote down the names of the heroes who would aid in the journey. So, the current Seers should be looking for all the heroes but they instead focus only on the Seer of Light." 

"Which is you," Jade summed up. 

Rose nodded her head almost impatiently. "Yes, I am the Seer of Light. I have been burdened by this prophecy to gather all the heroes. That is why the Seers wished to keep me close to them and were not happy when I ran away. And in the prophecy it says I can see threads and it literally means I can see threads leading me to the heroes of the prophecy. And yes, I can see four threads right in front of me leading to each of you."  

Chapter Text

Dave was a hero of the prophecy? Rose was not denying it in the slightest and had outright told him that he was important to the prophecy, but did that mean he was a hero? Anyone can be important to the prophecy. The Mayor, that cool bro, could be important to the prophecy as in helping the heroes and being a pal in general. And, being a hero in the prophecy itself did not mean that that person was a hero in societal terms. What if back then, a hero was someone who swept up garbage and it wasn't their job; which is still an awesome thing to do? Now, a hero is someone who rescues babies from burning houses and cures world hunger. Dave was not any of those modern terms, he was the old term. 

"Hey Dave?" Dave looked up from his trudging feet and saw John hanging back from the leaders of the pack; which had grown to be Kanaya and Rose. Dave flicked his head, mostly to sweep his bangs out of his face, toward John and John started to keep up pace with him. 

"Sup Johnathon. Did the girl talk start to weird you out? But I guess living with Rose since you were sixteen would make you immune to that sort of stuff." John smiled at Dave's comment and shrugged his shoulders. What a cool way to respond. It was like giving your girlfriend a piece of chocolate; it wasn't a whole chocolate bar, but enough to show that you're interested. 

"Nah, it wasn't that. I love following Rose's conversations, and they're interesting to hear, but I saw you hanging back by Jade a bit," Dave glanced back at the unofficial but appropriate caboose. She was not that far away from them but her eyes were constantly sweeping ahead; her bow poised and in the position to fire. Dave had not even noticed how far back he had been hanging. "Plus, you looked ... thoughtful? Like you could use someone, but if that's not what you want," John went from friendly concern to flustered. It was cute. ", then I can always join Jade, but she looks busy." 

Dave gave a breathy laugh and shrugged his shoulders back at John. "She does look busy, like a hunter stalking her prey. Should someone tell her that we're looking for rabbits and not people to eat tonight?" John snickered and shrugged his shoulders again. Wow, would he stop doing that? 

"I don't think anyone has told her, but I'm glad she is on alert for anything, really. She can really use that bow too! I can't use a bow at all, so she's good in my books," John rambled and Dave nodded his head. Jade was good with that bow and arrow. Hadn't she mentioned she was this archer called King Shot back in Prospit? 

"Are you telling me that you are not that good with weapons? John, I don't know if your old man told you, but you never admit to an enemy that you're lousy with a sword," Dave tapped the tip of his sword that was slung on his back. It was a good sword and the only one that Dave liked to use. The normal swords that people used these days were bulky and heavy. Sure, they did damage but nothing compared to the ribbon cutter his bro had given him. 

"Are we enemies Dave?" John joked with him but it made Dave stop fingering his sword and look at John directly. Had he implied that? He didn't mean to and John was carrying on like normal but had his words done something? "I didn't think we were and I wouldn't want to be! You're good with your sword, as weird as it is, but still amazing! Don't think that I don't want to be enemies with you just because you're good with a sword, but also because you're my friend!" 

"Yeah, I'd say we're pretty chill bros," Dave surmised and lifted his hand in a fist for John to bump. This was something he had done with his family all the time, but never with outsiders. John looked at the fist that Dave had out and curled his own loosely. "Dude, you have to bump my hand with yours, like a freakin joust except more friendly like. You curl your fist, yeah like that, and then just tap my knuckles with yours. Here, let me," Dave grabbed John's loose fist and helped him bump their knuckles. Dave let go quickly and took his hands away. "There you go, now you now to initiate and perform the ultimate bro gesture. How do you feel?" 

John started to say something but Dave picked up something with his highblood hearing. Everything so far had been nature sounds and Dave had tuned those out, but he could now hear hoof beats and the sound of jangling metal. It was soldiers. Dave shot out his hand to John's mouth, but didn't touch it that's gross. "Sorry, John, hold on. Rose!" Rose turned partly toward them with Kanaya mirroring her. "Soldiers!" Dave grabbed at his cloak's brown hood and pulled it over his head then yanked up his cloak's collar so only his glasses could be seen. John did the same with his brown cloak, but his eyes were still visible. John pulled out of his pocket a pair of square spectacles and slid them on. They had magic to make his eye color brown. 

Dave looked back the rapidly approaching Jade who had stowed the bow inside her cloak and to her belt so no one could see it. She clasped her muddied green cloak and put on circle spectacles to make her eye color hazel. She reached around her neck and wrapped some brown wool fabric around her head and hair so only her yes could be seen as well. She looked like a lady from the north and when Dave looked ahead, which wasn't that far as Rose and Kanaya slowed to put on their apparel and to keep together, the two ladies in front had on respective fabrics and Rose had probably applied some magic to obscure their real eye color. 

Dave made his footsteps more muffled and slowed his pace behind the tree line. They had been travelling a tree or two behind the main road and had stayed close to the rock wall that occupied the road. Dave now hugged the cliff more so and John slid behind him instead of by him. The hoofs came nearer and so did the voices. "-here! Absolutely nothing, Patrick! I can't believe I got demoted to this! Mess up one time with catching bandits and then you get the road patrol! It's not like we'll catch anything either! Any criminal that is worth catching knows not to travel by road! And if they did, they'd be smart enough to disguise themselves!" 

Two soldiers came within view through the foliage and Dave tried to slow his breathing and make it quieter. Even his steps were being mouse quiet. The soldiers cantered right by them. "Now Gregory," the second soldier started to talk," you have to be patient and criminal smart. If the criminals are disguising themselves, why aren't we?" A soft hand gripped Dave's shoulder and he almost jumped out of his skin and off the metaphorical handle. Dave whirled to see brown eyed John looking surprised. He was obviously trying to talk to Dave via eye communication and Dave failed that class back at the castle. But, if Dave had any smarts to him, which he had a bucket full, he would guess that John was surprised and now scared. 

"Wh-what? Patrick, are you saying to abandon the badge? The colors? Our Prince would not accept that! We-we would be tried if caught!" Gregory stumbled and Dave could see the pair waking just over John's back. Dave also couldn't help but see that John had not moved at all and was looking up at the sky; as if praying. Jade leaned her head from around John's and pull the fabric from around her mouth down as well. She simply mouthed 'what?' to him. But, Dave didn't know what that 'what' meant and so kept staring at the soldiers while slightly shrugging his shoulders at Jade. 

"Gregory, I've been patrolling for awhile now, and I've had many partners come in with your attitude and wanting to actually get some action done. They all come to the same conclusion; sometimes, you have to stoop to the level of criminals in order to catch them. And now look at Reganold, he's a captain who eats with purplebloods in his district! I say, if you want to go up in the world, you just have to do a little something dangerous. Besides, if we get caught, theres a few squadrons around us who are doing the same thing." The horses left Dave's view but he could still hear the conversation and the horses' panting.

Rose, apparently everyone had gotten into a single file line and stopped when the guards passed by (thank goodness for low hanging trees that dominated this forest), started to slowly walk again; at turtles pace more or less. Dave was glad to focus on his footsteps and not on the guards bickering but what they said was unnerving and still scaring John; who was holding tight to Dave's shoulder. The guards were trying a new tactic? No bright highblood colors or the stupid pants they showed off? They were going to wear sheep's clothing. They were going to make that sheep skin so authentic that no one would know the difference until they caught you. 

Dave could still hear hoof beats but everyone moved like they could not so it was safe to say that the soldiers were a ways off. Sometimes, Dave wished that his older brother could've taught him how to control his hearing instead of his feet. And how to control his strength as well. John moved besides Dave and slid his hand off Dave's shoulder. There was a little sweat mark where John's hand had been, but that was not important. Dave pulled his cloak away from his face and watched the girls pull their fabric off. "That was concerning, you heard what they said, Dave?" John was holding his glasses and that was the only thing he had taken off. He was staring right down at them. Was he worried that they wouldn't be enough if the soldiers were getting up close and personal? 

"Well, if that doesn't make you sweat a bit then I'd accuse you of dark magic. Which, makes me just wanna find this Kraykat-"

"Karkat."

"Kapkat even more." Dave continued and surged a bit to Rose and Kanaya. Admittedly, they both hadn't made it that far ahead and Dave grabbed onto both of their shoulders; both jerking back from him a bit. "So, let's skip the part about how we need to improve our disguises cuz' the soldiers are getting up close and personal with us now. And how we're all crapping our pants just bit over that news and thumb over that whole conversation to why I came to you guys in the first place." 

"Why did you approach us, Dave?" Kanaya asked appropriately and with much less snark than Dave would've given her credit for. 

"When will we get there?" Kanaya smiled at him when Rose just slowly lolled her head back in frustration. Or, maybe Kanaya was smiling at Rose's action? "I hate to be that guy, but those soldiers are only just making me more trigger happy." 

"That is a fair question, Dave. And, if I'm remembering Karkat's last letter to me, it should be just around this cliff side and in about a hundred feet. We've already passed some tell tale markings he had described to me, so we're on the right path." Kanaya informed him and Dave could see the end of the cliff side coming into view. He took his hands off their shoulders and beckoned Jade and John toward him. 

"Alrighty, there's the end of the rainbow. Soon, we shall be reuniting with old friends galore," Dave looked at Jade and Kanaya, ", finding some new interesting information," Rose earned a look from him, ", and maybe some nice food for Johnny, here?" John shook his head hastily while the others laughed in their own ways as they rounded the bend of cliff and continued to stay close to it; putting the road behind them. 

"Oh no Dave, I'm not hungry at all! I ate more than my fair share this morning at breakfast!" John replied hurriedly and Rose turned to look at him at that. 

"John, we had lunch just a few hours ago. Are you saying that you didn't eat your share?" Rose asked him. Thank goodness someone was catching on here. Dave was wondering when Rose would get her head out of Kanaya's eyes and start paying attention to more important things. John, again, shook his head. 

"Well, yes. I forgot we had lunch, it was so quick you know?"

"John?" Jade asked a little timidly. 

"Kanaya? Are you sure we're going the right way? The brush and trees are only getting thicker. I don't think anyone could make camp here," John dodged the question from himself and Dave silently gave him a check mark on his list. Kanaya nodded her head as she ducked under some low and wild branches. 

"Yes, Karkat also mentioned this. It is quite an ingenious hiding spot, but it being so close to the road could make it bad if they made noise. I'll have to talk to him about that when I see him." She remarked. Dave brought out his sword and pushed ahead of them. He swatted the thick bush and branches aside and heard some thanks being uttered as he made a trail. Just as Dave was getting sick of pushing vegetation aside, he stumbled into a clearing. 

He moved aside for the others and looked up at the campsite that should belong to Karkat Vantas, but didn't find anyone. Kanaya came next and her excited chattering died away as she looked on too. Rose, John then Jade arrived as well and everyone went quiet. There were no words or questions as they looked on at the camp. The clearing had definitely housed somebody at some point, but it now stood empty. Well, that wasn't true. The clearing was full of trash and rubble; collasped fabrics, a burnout fire with an overturned pot, hoof marks everywhere, books and supplies lying every which way and purple swatches littering the ground. 

Chapter Text

Dave did not like the look of this. Could they have just stumbled on someone else's camp? Or, maybe this was a long abandoned camp that Karkat use to be at and the letter for Kanaya with the new address just hasn't arrived in the mail yet. It could be likely that everyone was safe, but Dave looked back down at the ground with his blood color upsetting the natural colors of the area. "Oh, I just-we could have taken-there is something-," Kanaya stuttered through her sentence like a new born kid. She was halfway there with forming the words from Dave's thoughts.

Rose put a hand on Kanaya's shaking shoulders. Dave looked away; trying to give her privacy. His hands tapped at the edge of his sword and his knee bounced. He had to do something. Whether it was search the wreckage that no one was touching yet, comfort Kanaya or try to follow the horse tracks to find who they belonged to. "Jade, Dave?" John had spoken and Dave saw that John had drawn his too big sword but it hung down. John looked quickly at him and Jade then nodded his head. "Let's search this place for any signs of what happened."

Dave didn't need to be told twice. He strode over to the nearest patch of purple substance. It could just be spilled potion or bad food, it didn't have to be blood. He crouched down to Kanaya's shuddering breaths. She was jumping to conclusions like a frog but at least she had the right to. Dave wished he could turn on his nose and smell from where he was if the liquid was blood. He sighed and dipped his finger into the liquid and raised the shiny material up to his nose. One deep breath; blood. "Well, that's blood alright," Dave announced outloud and a bit of worry left his shoulders. 

"Dave!" Rose hissed and he whipped his head but to Rose's withering stare but Kanaya looked less sad. 

"No, it is-is alright Rose. No one that Karkat- no one that he told me about had purple blood." Kanaya assured Rose by putting her hand on Rose's shoulder. Dave rose up and surveyed John looking in a chest and around it with Jade slowly stalking the perimeter of the clearing; bow drawn and watching. 

"Well, if Karkat was here when stuff went down, then he and his band are good enough to draw blood from a highblood." Dave thought outloud. He looked over the camp again and found that he had missed something. A tent was still standing on the far left edge of camp. It had not been torn down at all. 

"Are you suggesting that Karkat and his band might not have been present when their camp was ransacked by thieves?" Rose asked as Dave strode toward the still standing tent. 

"If it was thieves," John interjected ", then they would've taken everything valuable here. There is some interesting looking books on the ground here along with some-" John lifted up a fancy book and then a gold necklace that didn't shine so much. "-costly items. I think it might've been soldiers." Dave almost wanted to give himself a forehead slap just for John. That was not going to help Kanaya at all.

Dave made it to the lone tent and opened the flap as Rose, John and Kanaya argued like a married couple. The inside looked like it hadn't been touched at all. If robbers had come through here, they would've looted this place and left it in shambles. If soldiers had come here, it would've been a mess too. Thieves and soldiers aren't likely to leave a stone upturned; especially if it came to up-risers. So, why was this place not touched? The blankets folded nicely in two distinct piles and a couple of bags lined the sides of the tents. 

Dave stepped in and popped open a bag on the right. Might as well see what was in here, maybe it held clues? The bag was filled with books. Old books with frayed corners and smelled like candles and dirt. But that wasn't the only thing in the bag, the books were just the most reasonable thing in there. The bag had a doll. Dave pulled the vibrant doll out and it definitely wasn't a doll, but a freakin animal. The animal looked hand sewn with button eyes and stuffed with feathers from the feel of it. It had stitches where the joints connected and the sides, but it also had a long stitch right down it's belly. The thing looked like it belonged in a middle class home where the mother made all the toys for her family. This child, had just requested a lizard. 

It threw Dave through a loop and almost made him miss something else underneath the toy; a ribbon. Dave put the doll aside and pulled out the red, satin ribbon. It was quite long and felt brand new. It also had swirls and loops of teal in the fabric that barely felt stitched in; like it was part of the fabric. He could've sold this for a pair of his special glasses. He wanted to stuff it in his pocket and walk away, but the fabric also the feel of importance. It was not just for show; it had a purpose. So, Dave folded it back into the bag and put the stuffed animal back on top of it. 

That was enough of that side of the tent and the others outside were still speculating on what happened. They were leaning toward a scuffle with soldiers that chased them from the camp; and quite recently from Rose's observations. Dave just crawled over to the other side of the tent and opened the flap of the heaviest bag. Steel glinted up at him and he smiled to himself. Now, this was what he was expecting from Karkat's camp. The inside was filled with foot long knives, except the knives didn't have hilts. It was just the blade part. He picked one out and saw they were slightly curved and had indents at one end. Were they part of something bigger? Either way, they were wickedly cool and Dave again wanted to stuff one in his pocket for later. 

He put the blade back in and lifted up the bag a bit to feel how much there was. It was pretty heavy, which meant a lot. He caught sight of something under the bag and wanted to pat himself on the back. This snooping was getting better and better. He pulled the thin book out from under the bag. He put the bag down and looked at the journal; it was definitely a journal. It was thin and was barely held together by leather and thick string. Definitely handmade and smelled of paint. He cracked it open and found little faces covering everything. 

The faces were in pairs or triples and had symbols between them. Some faces were crossed out with little notes written next to them. Some were circled and then later crossed out. The faces were generic; circle with tinier circles for eyes and a line for a mouth. But each face had a telling sign that split them apart from the other faces. Dave flipped through the small journal as the faces became detailed. They got bodies and the bodies performed actions and more notes were scribbled by the faces until Dave got to the first blank page. The last one being of a guy with white hair holding a girl with blue hair as they smiled at the reader. They both looked so happy in each other's arms. The drawing took up the whole page.  

"Someone's coming fast!" A scream, it was Jade, came up from the other side of the camp. Dave threw the book down and scampered out of the tent drawing his sword. Jade faced away from him and fired into the forest but she rapidly withdrew from the edge until someone emerged from the treeline to spring themselves on her. Dave started toward her as he saw John get swung at by someone else running from the forest's edge. Rose and Kanaya couldn't get to Jade as well as two people launched themselves at them. 

Dave clicked his feet into gear and used his blood to propel him Jade. Everyone slowed down around him and his ears popped. He pulled his sword out of its sheath only to use it to swing at a club. The club burst out from the other side of the tent and almost clothes lined Dave. He ducked and kept running toward her. Something yanked at his hood and he still got the air knocked out from him. Dave fell backwards and hit the ground that triggered a ringing head and his whole back hurting. A liquid splattered his eye and he saw purple through his lashes.  

Chapter Text

John jumped out of the way of swinging blade and his fingers throbbed from landing on them with his sword in hand. He scrambled to his feet as the figure slashed upwards with a farm tool. John hopped out of the way of it again and caught the other farm tool with his sword as he was swinging down on him. John got a good look at his fighter. The guy, definitely a man, was smaller and his face looked like something from a painting in a monastery. Pale, black under red eyes. The figure snarled and John barely saw him swipe the blade in his right hand toward him. John kicked at the guy and they both hopped back from each other. 

John steadied his blade in his shaking hands as his attacker decided to swear his mouth off at something. The guy didn't look like a soldier or a thief, but then again, when had John ever seen a thief? And soldiers were disguising themselves now. The guy righted himself and glowered at John. Before John had time to make a move, something hit him square in the shoulder and he stumbled forward. He looked over his shoulder and saw a levitating girl over Rose and Kanaya's head. The girl was throwing things at the two of them without her hands, while the two of them looked to be hiding under Rose's magic shield so as not to get hit with branches and such. The branches and rocks that didn't hit the shield flew over and must've hit John. Kanaya drew a sword and swiped it toward the girl but someone else gave a grunt of pain.

John turned his attention back to his guy, who decided to take the advantage and charge John. John jabbed for the guy's legs but the guy swung down with both of his curved blades. John pushed his blade up horizontally to catch the blades again. Both caught and the guy growled; John didn't know a human could actually growl but this one did a lot. "Get the heck out of my camp rotten blood or I will skin you and your compatriots alive!" John now understood why he growled so much, his voice was a growl in and of itself. What had that guy done to his voice? 

Wait, his camp? "You're Karkat?" John strained out as the guy pressed down more on his blades. The guy squinted his eyes. Could it really be him? John thought he had died or something.

"So you're a freaking rotten blooded soldier?! And part of the team that's suppose to be hunting us! Well, I hope I can make you bleed out of your nook!" What the heck was this guy saying? John wasn't a soldier he was a friend! They were on the same side and even though John didn't know this Karkat very well, he was relieved to know that Karkat was alive and not dead. The guy kneed John in the stomach and yanked his curved blades back so fast that John felt his sword slip. Not only that, but John also fell forward on his face. 

John didn't know breathing was so hard after loosing all the air in you lungs. He glanced up amid the stars, as his right hand was stomped into the ground. John yelled out and tried to whip both of his hands back but the other hand was stepped on in quick succession. Karkat snarled and dug his heels in as he glared down at John. "You are going to pay for the deaths of everyone in Pacific. Do you know how many women and children lived in there?! How many innocents you've killed?! All to satisfy your sick blood thirst." John started to tune Karkat out on his speech and looked down from him; trying to breathe and get his bearings. 

This was a mistake, he had to tell Karkat they were friends! As he looked down, he saw Dave fighting two against one. A guy swinging two clubs was swinging so fast John was barely seeing them. The other guy stood slightly behind the tall one and jabbed at Dave with a lance. Dave was fending off the clubs as fast as the guy was bringing them and swatting the lance away with other parts of his body. But Dave kept stepping back as they both pushed forward. Jade rolled into view as she grappled a person holding three knives in each hand. The girl was hissing and rolled over so she was on top of Jade. Jade held the girl by the wrists and was trying to keep her hands away. 

The thing that made John stare, was a woman standing at the edge of the clearing. She was barely in shadow and had fabric over her eyes. She was dressed in bright colors and barely leaned on a cane that was just the right height. Despite the girl having no sight, her head was following Dave's fight and not being too far behind or too far ahead. She looked down at Jade as Jade yelled out in frustration. Her head snapped up as Kanaya roared at something over his shoulder. She also looked down at John; at least, it looked like she was looking at him. She stared down and smiled like this was a show. 

"Karkat," John finally gasped out and looked back up Karkat. He had to tell him that they were good and for his friends to stop fighting his." We-help! Kanaya-"

"You got Kanaya too?" Karkat's horrible demeanor slumped and if John were to push, Karkat would probably fall to ground. His face looked torn to pieces, it was what Jade had looked like when she had found out Dave was moving. John had made a mistake. "You feculant blithering craphole!" Karkat screamed in fury and jumped on John's hands. John screamed as well  when he felt something in his hand break and wrenched with all his might to get his hands out of the ground. John looked at Karkat and saw him swing his curved blades down so as to hit John's head with the point. Karkat didn't yell as he brought down his blow, but he looked like a devil that Rose had told him about. Full of fury but with sadness in his eyes. Karkat was going to split him open, and John was going to die. 

"Karkat no!" Kanaya was above John. Kanaya pushed Karkat off John's hands in her flight to him. Karkat stumbled back and when he looked up, he couldn't look away. He was taking it in and looked like he couldn't move; wearing the same shock when John had mentioned Kanaya. John pulled himself up to stand by her. She was breathing hard and had dropped her sword somewhere. Her hands shook as she grabbed at John's hand. "He's a friend Karkat! They're all friends! Stop, please." Karkat's face scrunched up and screamed like his vocal chords were being ripped out. All the grunts and clashing stopped. All the noise just stopped. Karkat's face was still scrunched up as he dropped his tools and ran toward her. Kanaya didn't shrink and didn't hesitate in dropping John's hand as she sprinted toward him. They collided in a hug and Karkat was just tall enough to tuck his head onto her shoulder. 

John looked across at Dave who was standing there with a tense expression as the tallest man, who had paint on his face, put a hand on his shoulder. Jade was on her knees next to the girl who had knives attached to her hands. John looked behind and found Rose still clutching her wands tightly but stood beside the floating girl and a man who was probably as wide as both the girls combined. Rose made eye contact with John and John nodded to her; it was alright. 

John heard a noise like a sob come from the pair and he couldn't be sure if it was Kanaya or Karkat. Karkat still had his head tucked into Kanaya's neck but he was talking fast. So fast that John could barely understand him through the tears. "You idiot-coming here!-I'm the idiot-should've done more-It's dangerous-"

"Karkat," Kanaya whispered and she stroked at Karkat's mop of hair. "You are no idiot and neither am I, although I would like to discuss with you your techniques on meeting new people." Karkat laughed at her job and it still sounded hoarse. John very suddenly got the feeling that he was intruding on a private moment and wanted to back away slowly. He started to shuffle back when he heard one last thing from Kanaya. "You must dry your tears if you do not wish for others to know your blood color." John picked up the pace of getting out of there. 

His arm was grabbed by Rose as she met him. "That's Karkat?" she whispered to confirm her suspicions. John nodded again. 

"Yeah, I'm just glad that we're not fighting anymore and that no one got hurt ... at least-" John gave a sweep toward everyone. No one was daintily holding a certain part of their body or grabbing at stain on their shirts. He checked over everyone, Karkat's friends and all, and they all looked alright. His fingers were numb when he tried to wiggle them but John was pretty sure he'd feel them in a bit. He was pretty sure he heard a crack when Karkat jumped on them. "-no, everyone is fine." He whispered. 

Karkat finally pulled away from Kanaya and she straightened out his shirt and tugged his hood over his head to conceal his face. She wiped at his eyes and started to straightened out his clothes. Karkat growled out Kanaya's name like a kid would whine his mom's name when she fussed over him too much. He halfheartedly swatted at her hands and went to clasp her hands in front of her and smiled at Rose. She was beaming and John saw Rose give her a small smile back. Karkat finally turned to John and Rose. 

"Well, this is what you snoop around a guy's tent!" Karkat yelled into the clearing and John was surprised a bit. Was he still angry? Had they done something? John hadn't stolen anything, but he did pick around some spilled items. Karkat kicked at a book. "We leave for five gosh dang minutes and you guys act like ravengers! Like rabid, rabies fitted raccoons! Could you have not waited around for a bit to see if the owners returned?! Have you all forgotten your manners or something?!"Karkat put his hands on his hips and snarled at Rose and John. 

John just shrugged his shoulders and Rose just crossed her arms expectantly. Karkat turned on the spot to look at Jade and Dave. Karkat's hard stance dropped and John looked over his shoulder to see him staring at Jade. Oh boy, John had forgotten about them. She stood, clutching her bow in front of her with a wide grin on her face. She leaned forward on the balls of her feet, like she was expecting a pouncing hug that Karkat gave Kanaya. John wished he could see Karkat's face. All he did was straighten his posture and nod at Jade. What a small gesture, but Jade didn't falter in her eagerness and gave Karkat a nod and a thumbs up. 

Karkat cleared his throat and wiped at his face. "What was I saying again? Something about manners?"

"You were humbly telling us that you were worried for our safety and were overjoyed when we came in here like masked heroes. Swooping in with concern and grace to come save your butts if need be." Dave's comment was monotone and made John smile as he just stood there leisurely. Karkat tensed again; raising his shoulders and curling his fists. 

"Okay! Listen here wise-butt! If you think I'm going to thank you for putting our camp into ruins, then you need to shove your head into a tree to look for vampire gold because you'll never find both!"

"You guys mother loving did this to our camp?" The very tall clown, that's what people called those guys in white paint who worked at the circus right?, very calmly asked and made a lumbering turn toward Dave who just shrugged his shoulders. Was he not going to defend them? 

"Actually," John piped up and the clown and Karkat looked at him at vastly different speeds,"we found the camp this way. That's why we were searching through everything! Looking for clues on who might've done this to you guys and where you guys might've gone."

"Oh! I just we might've left the camp in quite a litterbox!" The girl who had wrestled with Jade admitted and scratched at her tawny hair with the knives that were attached to some sort of glove on her wrist. She looked around at the camp a bit ashamed, like she had personally made the mess. 

"I do agree with Nepeta," the floating girl literally floated to beside John, which made him want to trade places with Rose,"Equius and I were the last ones to leave and the camp was very haphazard. It would also make sense why one would stumble upon this clearing and think a scuffle happened."

"If you think, if we look back on what happened," the one with the lance spoke up in a loud voice but then quieted down quickly,"there was a scuffle. Gamzee was scared by the horses pretty bad and he tore down his tent in his fright."

"Oh I was motherfrickin' scared alright!" The painted one, Gamzee, spoke up. "Those ponies could crush me like a grape with their moon boots! The tent flaps didn't make much sense to me when I was trying to leave the motherfrickin' tent! All the buttons were jumbled and so I did the only thing I could do."

"You ripped our tent, Gamz!" Karkat groaned and slapped his forehead. "Do you know how much that will cost! And I'm pretty sure that everyone here has some sort of bounty on their head! No one will be able to go buy a new one!" 

"We have your solution," Rose interrupted assertively," our company has brought two tents with us. Everyone could just go three to a tent. Ours are extra big as well so we could accommodate four if your tents don't seem up for it."

"That solves the sleeping arrangements and we can decide tent assignments later, what I would like to know," Kanaya continued," is the rest of the story. What startled the horses? Why is there blood on the ground? Why is there possessions everywhere?"

"Well, that can easily be explained as well," the floating girl answered before everyone else. She seemed very subdued. Not Dave subdued, but more like she was bored; glazed. "The horses were startled by-"

"Me." The girl from the edge of the clearing finally joined the conversation and stepped into the sun. John would've jumped at her sudden appearance had he not known she was already there. Jade did take a step back and had her bow loaded. The girl smiled around at the rest of the group and curtesied. "Sorry for not participating in the welcome initiation, but I thought it'd be more fun to watch and it was!" She too had a high voice that sounded like it was hoarse as well. What was up with this group and having sore voices? 

"You scared the horses, Tez?" The lance man asked. She nodded and bowed. 

"Yep! That was me! I was adjusting the saddles when I sneezed. I didn't know a sneeze could startle hoses, but they were rearing up and tearing down on the camp. Trampling our boxes and soups and then went off into the forest. Luckily, Tavros was near by and ran after them, but not after Gamzee gave a fright after waking up from a nap and going berserk-" Dave looked at Gamzee again from head to foot and took a small step away from him "-on all of us. Karkat, Nepeta and Equius tried to calm him as he destroyed the tent and started to wreck camp in his haze. Karkat picked up Tavros' lance and gave Gamzee a couple jabs to make him calm down, that explains the blood, and they all ran off after the horses once he was calmed down!"

Tez leaned on her cane and smiled around. She stopped at John and Rose and her smiled grew wider; almost shark like. This was clearly was she wanted. "Any questions?" 

Chapter Text

Jane stood just a ways from the back corner of her bakery in the middle of the forest. Her bakery was on the edge of the small town; giving her back windows a nice view of the woods and direct sight of the path that connected the town to Jake's cabin. 

It had a been at least a week since all of her friends had left her to return to their houses and Jane had been missing them dearly. She would eat at her now too big table that use to be too small when her friends would come to visit. Her workload for the bakery had gone back to being harder now that three extra sets of hands were gone. It was lonely in her apartment above the bakery and far too quiet. She almost bought a music box that came in from Derse just to have some music around the place. So, when she glanced out the back window while washing dishes and saw someone standing off in the distance that looked eerily like Dirk Strider, she did a double take.

She had stared out the window in amazement when the figure was gone and set down the dish slowly. She had washed off her hands and ran her fingers through her hair. She couldn't have seen Dirk outside her window. He had stalked off some place as quick as a beaver to pick up his vigilante job again. He hadn't even said good-bye to her either after breakfast. That had left her very disappointed and had put him at the front of her mind ever since. Is that why she had imagined him standing out in her woods? She had looked out there again. Obviously, she imagined him, but what if she hadn't? What if he was hanging around her place? What if he needed some to place to stay? Or was in trouble? What if he was injured and had just passed out when she had looked back up again? 

That had sold her. She had taken off her apron, started for the back door, looped back around to grab the big metal spoon that Dirk had given her for her birthday (it was more a weapon than a helper in the kitchen and that was why she took it) and stalked off into the forest. This could either be a trick on her brain or Dirk Strider had really been outside her bakery. She looked at the ground and around bushes as she walked to the place where she had seen Dirk; trying to find a body. Finally, she stood exactly where she had seen him and placed her hands on her hips. 

This was the place; she would bet her metal spoon on that. And now, she was just turning around in slow circles; eyes scanning everything for any sign of him. She had probably just imagined him, or had just stalked out here almost unarmed to go chasing after some guy who might've looked like Dirk and she was just jumping to conclusions that it was Dirk. She could be walking into a trap and get kidnapped by slavers or jumped and her bakery get robbed. She came out here defenseless! All because she was lonely! With that thought, she gripped her spoon with both hands and willed it to turn into a fork; that would do more damage. 

Was that the sound of a boot against pine needles or just an animal? Could that be someone breathing or the wind? Why had she come out here? And why wasn't she turning away and heading back inside? Because maybe Dirk was here. Maybe he was wounded or being dragged away by an animal or unconscious and doing both of those things. And if there was a slight chance that he was in need of help, then she would be here to help him. And if it wasn't him and some random person was in need of help, then she would help them too. Well, there was only way to see who needed help. 

"Dirk?" she called out. It was silence that met her, maybe he needed some motivation to answer her. "Dirk Strider, if you are out here I want your bottom right in front of me or I'll poke you with your own present if I find out you were out here and didn't tell me." She stilled waited and listened and just because she got a feeling about it, looked down. She was starting right by a very shallow hole. Jane crouched down and smelled it. It was fire. Someone was out here alright, because she had just stumbled on their camp. 

If the person was threatening to Jane, they would've attacked her by now. So, the person had to be friendly. It was screwed up logic but she wanted so desperately to be right for once. What could she do to draw Dirk out of the shadows? Maybe...yes, that would work. She straightened up, and strolled back to her house. She came to a patch of thick, tall bushes and stuffed herself into them and then screamed in the most terror filled scream she could manage. It could attract the townsfolk and backfire on her, but she could just say she saw a bear. 

There were no footsteps when Jane saw a figure stop outside her bushes. They had been silent and quick to getting where her scream had happened. The person's head whipped around; trying to find the source. When it finally looked at the bushes, she smiled at the familiar face and couldn't stop herself from jumping out of her hiding spot and grabbing Dirk's arm. Instead of jumping back in surprise, Dirk unleashed his sword and had it aimed right between her eyes.

His whole face covered in his rags and set the look of a wanderer, but he was here. Jane smiled and her started to pant from holding her breath. "Gotcha, slenderman," she panted. Dirk relaxed and lowered his sword. Jane let go of Dirk's arm and felt like hugging him. Actually, she wanted to slap him and scold him. Why didn't he tell her he was in town? Or maybe he had never left? Jane slapped Dirk's arm with her spoon and he yelped in surprise. He actually jumped back a bit and rubbed his arm. 

"Why'd you hit me?" he asked grouchily. She glared at him. 

"I told you back there that if I saw you I'd hit you! Why didn't you show yourself to me! I wasn't going to bite."

"You just did bite me, Crocker. So your word is invalid and you can't blame me for not showing myself in the first place." Dirk retorted. The urge to hug him was getting stronger, because she mostly wanted to squeeze him very, very tightly. 

"I only hit you because you didn't tell me you were here!" She replied a bit angrily. Why was he being so pesky? Why had she been missing him again? She couldn't even remember now. Dirk snorted and pulled the fabrics away from his face so he only had his glasses on. His orange tinted hair was all messed up. It wasn't styled at all, and Jane thought it a miracle that he was showing it at all to her. He was so particular about it and how he wanted everyone to see it that he did his hair first thing in the morning. That calmed Jane down somewhat and she exhaled shakily. "Why are you here Dirk? Did you forget something? Are you passing through? Did you never leave in the first place?" The last question was hesitant, but Jane had to at least say it. 

Dirk wasn't looking at her. He might've had his glasses on, but Jane could tell that he wasn't looking her in the eyes. He didn't answer the question either. Did he really never leave in the first place? Had he just been hanging around the town this whole week? Paying quietly for food that she could've given him for free. Working the weird jobs offered out here when she could've let him work in the bakery. Sleeping on the ground by the small fire just yards from her home when he could've had a bed! Why was he doing this to himself? Just imaging him doing all those things finally helped Jane to give Dirk the hug he was long overdue for. 

She wrapped her arms around his chest and buried her head into his muddy cloak. She could smell dirt and pine needles so strongly. They just reminded her how horribly he had been living these past days. Her head was wrapped up in his huge arms and she almost expected to be crushed by his huge size but the hug was light. He didn't hold her like he was dying but like she was a flower; not wanting to break her. She was stronger than what he thought and so gripped him tighter; trying to pull all the horrible meals and lonely nights away from him. He shifted under her new pressure and his hand rested on her head ever so lightly. His other wound around her shoulders; finely pulling her as close as she wanted. 

"You smell absolutely horrible," she muttered and his chest lifted and fell fast from his breathy snicker," when was the last time you had a bath?" 

"If I told you," he stroked her hair with the tips of his fingers. ", you'd make me bathe for a day and then bathe yourself for an hour." She was thinking about having a bath after this when she took a sharp inhale of his stench. Any longer in his hold and she'd be as smelly as him. She pushed him away and gagged jokingly a bit. He was laughing more now. 

"I knew it!" She called out and plugged her nose. "It's been at least a week since you bathed! You are going into my house and bathing until the sun comes up!" He just laughed more at her and was clutching his sides. She smiled too at his reaction but tried to remain serious. "Stop your laughing! Do you know what kind of bugs can grow on you if you don't bathe regularly! You could the new home for a family of ants!" 

"Jane!" Dirk straightened up and shook his finger at her. "Are you saying that ants don't deserve a home? That they are beneath you?" She shook her head but he plowed on. "They are not! They are our brethren! And I am their new home! I have even named all the children." Jane snorted and he leaned his forearm out and pointed at a random spot on his clothes. "That one's name is Bro. And this one is Ther; like saying 'dur' but replace the 'd' with a 'th'. Why are you laughing? This is a serious matter! My family is being threatened by a baker!" Jane smiled at Dirk and swept his forearm like she was sweeping dirt off him. His face went slack with shock and she burst out laughing again. 

"Oh! Hoo hoo hoo! Your face- hoo hoo!- it is so funny! I can't-hoo hoo- breathe!" She clutched at her sides now. Dirk started to laugh along with her and she leaned on him for support. Okay, maybe Jane had missed Dirk a bit. More so than not being able to say good bye to him. And she was so happy to have company who could laugh and joke with her. Jake had only been able to laugh a bit at her jokes. And Roxy didn't know when to stop laughing, but Dirk was starting to calm down at the same pace as her. She chuckled a bit more and patted his shoulder. 

"C'mon Dirk, let's go inside. I've got a hunch it's going to be cold tonight." She turned for her house and started to walk to it. She wasn't hearing any footsteps behind her. Was he just standing there? Was she going to have to turn around and beg him to come inside with her? No, she was going to walk inside and he'd follow. She just kept her pace and probably took a few steps more before he was strolling beside her. Her smile glinted and she couldn't wait for tomorrow.   

Chapter Text

Karkat was always the first one awake. He didn't know why he was cursed with being able to wake up with the sun, but no matter what he tried, he would never be able to fall back asleep. When he first discovered this ability, he had tried in vain to fall back asleep, or just stayed in bed until he heard others wake. But, he was no longer a pathetic, nostalgic grub who thought he could outsmart mother nature. And so, he now would get up at dawn and busy himself with house cleaning until others woke, because he wasn't going to make anyone breakfast like a personal chef.

Today, was the same as every other day. When the horizon started to turn pink, Karkat awoke from another impractical dream. Except, today was not like every other freakin' day because the smell was different. It didn't smell like an animal had decided to stay the night, but rather a bakery had a baby with a tanner and it decided to curl up next to Karkat. And of course, Karkat remembered for the fifth time in the past day, that there were more people than just him and his crew traveling with him now. Still, Karkat pulled himself up, with very low volume grumbling, and skirted around the blue and red forms on his floor.

He opened up the flap of the tent and expected to find no one out and about. How very wrong he was. There was one person awake. She sat by an awaken fire and it smelled like she was making breakfast. Her green hood was drawn over her head but Karkat knew who the soft humming and great cooking belonged to; Jade Harley. Of course, she was up before him. As Karkat had been cursed with rising with the sun, Jade had been cursed with rising just before him. It was her gift to beat him to everything and Karkat had enjoyed the little competition she had given him.

But now, Karkat was not prepared at all to talk to the lovely, Miss (was it still Miss?) Jade. He had been avoiding her all night; trying to form words and apologies that could amount for everything she had been through for him. And he especially felt bad for how he had first treated her, but he had been shocked to see her around. He had left and started this life for her. She had been his first reason to be a rebel and now she had been dragged into this; he made a reminder to reprimand John and Rose about that later. Maybe he should just slip back into the tent and wait for others to wake up before he confronts her; get a script together.

No, he wasn't going to hide, that was not how men did it. He was not a grub who had to have a paper in his hand in order to talk to a girl. He was a man who could talk with his heart and mind and he wasn't going to be scared off by feelings of any sort. It was time to face the music and to backhand it to Mars. Karkat grumbled some more and walked out into the center of camp.

Jade heard him approaching, or more rather his grumbling, and turned to him. Karkat now saw that she was making eggs in a frying pan of his. Where she found the eggs, probably from some nests nearby. She looked up at him and smiled like they were still engaged. It was wide and innocent and just made Karkat turn pink at the ears from her affection. He froze in his progress for a bit and swerved to the food satchel. He should get something to put the eggs on or maybe salt. Jade was a fan of salty things. He scurried to it and tried to quickly find what he wanted.

Oh crap, she was probably looking at him weirdly. "If you're willing to root through our kitchen supplies to find a frying pan, I would've thought that you'd grab the plates as well," he stated and straightened back up with the mismatched plates that his crew had gathered from their years together. There wouldn't be enough for the newcomers to have plates as well, but when he turned back to her, he saw that she had five plates with her that did not belong to one set as well. She grinned at him sheepishly.

"I was gonna fill our plates up first and then grab your colorful plates next," she replied and Karkat approached the fire. Crap, where was he going to sit? Should he sit across the campfire? No, it would like they were acquaintances, and they were anything but that; at least, in his eyes. Maybe, he could sit by her? Like how they use to, but that could imply that he still thought of them as engaged when she might not think the same. Karkat made the next reasonable decision and sat one person away from her. He put the plates on top of the stack she already had.

"There, now your pile is even more colorful. Nothing like adding some new colors to liven up a painting," he observed and quickly added before she could say anything else,"Plus now you have to fill the plates of my crew before you treat your friends. Consider this, a fee for staying with us." She laughed a bit at his joke and shrugged her shoulders.

"I don't mind that being the only fee! At least it's not something like having to clean all the horses, or scrub the bottom's of everyone's feet."

"You're right, I'll give those jobs to John and Dave to do when they get up. Those dirt wipes made my tent all smelly with their strange scents and now they have to pay the price!" You shook your fist but Jade didn't laugh as much as she had the last joke. You looked at her and she didn't look amused. You blinked. "What?"

"You're going to make my friends clean the bottom of your feet because they smell different? C'mon Karkat, if you just wanted to do it because it was an initiation ritual I would've been fine, but it's because they smell?" She questioned and Karkat felt his nose twitch. He hated when she reprimanded him like this. It wasn't bad, but it made Karkat feel horrible and defensive.

"They smell horrible though! I couldn't sleep last night because of their stench! I was almost driven to rolling them out of the tent! Have they never heard of personal hygiene?" Karkat grumbled and Jade looked less somber now. She shook her head.

"Oh Karkat, what you're mistaking for bad is actually good! Those boys are the best groomed in Skaia and they certainly know how to take a bath; even in the wilderness! I think you've been spending too long without soap!" Karkat growled at her wit but it reminded him of the good old days. How they would banter and she would teach him various skill sets. "Luckily for you, we brought some with us! Now you can smell like a weird flower from Marvellian! How does that sound?"

"Why the heck would I want to smell like a flower? And a foreign one at that! Are our flowers here in Skaia not as high quality as the others? Or are you bored of their scent? So no! I don't want to try your stupid soap! I want to smell like the blood my kills! Or at least something unique so when I do kill they know it is me who kills them." Karkat quickly amended when he saw Jade's face. It was shock that morphed into sadness. She wasn't looking at her eggs but at him now.

Why did she look sad? What was she sad about? Well, what wasn't she sad about! Maybe she was mourning Pacific in which case they could mourn together. Or she could be sad about not being able to see him in a long time. But, it was probably it was about how much he had changed. Karkat wouldn't admit that he had bloomed into something entirely different since Pacific, but it was a necessary change. Jade, on the other hand, she had changed in small ways as well. She wasn't wearing her circular glasses and looked to have not worn them for awhile. Her tan line and the indent of them on her nose was gone. Her hair was waist length and so full of knots. Karkat just ached to reach for a brush and get them all out like he use to. Five years had made her grown as well.

Jade sighed and turned back to the eggs which sizzled a bit more at her inattention. "What happened to you, Karkat?" she asked very softly. "You speak of killing so leisurely when it would terrify you to think of it?" She prodded the eggs and looked at him from the corner of her eyes. Karkat folded his arms under her stare.

"I had to grow and adapt to this new life, Jade. It's kill or be killed environment. I hate doing it as much as I use to, but if I don't kill that person then he'll move onto killing some more lowbloods or perhaps raping a girl who is to be married. That man will just go on to cause harm to us." Karkat tried to explain to her, but she shook her head.

"I get that, and I've killed a few people these two weeks. But I don't take pleasure in it and I don't gloat of killing more. It pains me to put an arrow through each person because that person came from a family who will cry and mourn their loss. It's not right, yet it is, and I'm now a part of-but I guess that-" Jade was crying very lightly but her voice shook. Karkat jumped up and sat down where he should've sat at the beginning; right by her. He put his arm around her shoulders and she leaned very carefully on him. She still prodded the eggs but it was a half-baked attempt.

Karkat knew where this was coming from. It was coming from the death of her father. The circumstances around his death. Karkat hugged her as she tried to steady her breathing. "I'm like them Karkat. I'm like those inhuman people who killed him," she huffed out with a surprisingly even voice. But then again, Jade had never been one to cry dramatically. She was strong and only needed a little release. That part would never change.

Karkat shook his head and rubbed her shoulder. "No Jade. You think of every person you kill and you don't aim to kill anyone. You also fight for what's right, while those pirates and bandits fought for money and bloodlust." Jade nodded her head and her breathing became deep. The eggs smelled done and Karkat reached for the plates he had shoved on the ground.

It was hard to scoot away from her but he picked up the plates and knelt closer by the fire. She knelt by him too and in silence, they scooped eggs onto every plate. They passed the plates out on every available log and seat. Karkat picked up his plate and buried into them. Jade was a great cook and ever when crying, her eggs were still good. One could only have meat for every meal for so long before they craved better foods. Not that Karkat had ever eaten better food than he was eating now.

Karkat sighed when he was done. "Jade, that was, of course, delicious," he moaned out and Jade giggled. "I have woefully missed your cooking."

"I've taught you how to make eggs a thousand times! You could easily make these on your own!" Jade chided him.

"Well, when this whole thing is over, you'll have to teach me again. Obviously, I have forgotten all your recipes over these years," Karkat commented. Jade shifted beside him and he looked up from cleaning his plate. She was staring down at her plate. Karkat had picked his words well. Hopefully, she'd bring up their engagement situation so Karkat wouldn't have to. It was bad of him to place that on her but he was bad at these things.

"Are you saying that you want to continue our engagement, Karkat?" Jade asked. She was good, pinning this back on him. Why couldn't she just state what she wanted? That would make things so much easier for him if she did. "Because I think that is in the past now. I think it is wise to end it."

Chapter Text

"Why?" Karkat asked Jade. She didn't want to be engaged again? She was glad that he had ended it with her? What was she saying? Karkat had somewhat expected her to ask for more time to consider her options and if she wanted to be engaged again. He had dreamed that she would want to be betrothed and they could have a roadside wedding. He had considered that she did not want to be with him at all and that she had found a new lover while Karkat was gone. But, he had not expected her to say that ending it had been good!

"It's not you, Karkat." Jade told him and looked straight into his eyes. He could tell that she wasn't going to shy away from this. "It's me. When we were engaged, I was so happy to have a companion who understood me. But, I felt locked up. I could no longer experience certain things with the people from the village because I was engaged. I had to sit with the married women and I couldn't go and play with the children. No one would let an engaged woman around to help with work either. When you broke it off, I was sad; don't think that I rejoiced when you left our home. I was heartbroken to see my best friend go. But, so many opportunities presented themselves to me when I was a single woman again. It's true that engaged and married women these days are not valued as much as single women. I couldn't do anything I wanted without you by my side.

"I don't believe that if you had not left I would've been sad or felt unfulfilled because I would never have known the difference between engagement and single life. I am able to achieve so much more if I don't tie myself down to a man, but I'm glad that I was engaged to you, Karkat. I was able to experience a life that is as close to marriage as I want to get. You gave me so much and I loved being with you. I loved you Karkat but I also love being free. I don't think that I could ever be where I want to be if I was married. Karkat, what do you have to say?"

"You loved me?" Karkat clarified. He had heard the rest of the speech just fine. She needed freedom that no one else could give her. Karkat was fine about that and that was a good reason to leave, but was it all a cover up for something else? "At what point did you stop loving me?" Why did Karkat have to ask that question if he was okay with everything else she was saying? Jade shifted so she was facing him. She had a drawn face that looked deep in thought.

"I don't think I can stop loving you. I care about you so much, but it is the kind of love that I think a brother and sister might have. I don't have the romantic feelings toward you that I used to have and I'm sorry about that. I think they mostly faded with time and left what we were to suppose to have and keep since the beginning. I wish you the best and want to help you with everything you do. But, when I imagine us married, I couldn't stomach the thought. I remembered the feeling of being trapped and restricted all over again. But, I want to be with you, as a friend! I want to help you, write letters to you, go on adventures with you, and just be like how we used to be, before the engagement."

Jade finished her speech and Karkat stared at her. Was she saying this truthfully? Karkat didn't doubt that. She wanted to be the best friends that they use to be. That sounded like a great idea- something Karkat could go along with! He had wanted them to be friends! It would've killed him if she wanted no association with him at all so it was a relief that she wanted to stay. But, absolutely no romantic feelings for him at all? Gone away with time?

"Can I just say what a bulging relief it is that you want to be in my life?" Karkat expressed and wanted to punch himself in the face. That was a bad way of putting it. "What I mean to say," he quickly started up again before she could reprimand him," is that I felt like you wanted the next ticket out of Karkatville and never wanted to take up residence again with me! That you wanted to purge yourself of everything Karkat and that this would be torture to be associated with my clan! That would suck, because I like having you in this little town of mine. You're a great friend and I'm glad that you want to stay.

"But, what if I want to still be with you romantically? Not marriage, I'd be fine with staying your boyfriend for the rest of our lives if that's what it took to be you. That'd be a nice life too. I wouldn't mind being not married for the rest of my life. What if I still love you Jade?" Did Karkat still love Jade? After five years of not seeing her? What had Karkat decided back when he first saw and considered their engagement? That he would marry her if she wanted to be married. Was that love? Karkat thought it was love. Wanting to marry someone and be with someone forever was a very big decision. 

Jade raised her eyebrows at him skeptically and smirked a bit. Why was she looking at him that way? She looked over his shoulder and he turned to where she was looking. Karkat heard rustling and saw Nepeta and Terezi climbing out of their tent. Nepeta stretched her hands above her head and tilted back and forth like cat. Terezi was sniffing so deeply that Karkat could see the back of her nostrils from where he was sitting. Terezi was turning her head to each tent and then turned to the fire with a grin. She even licked her lips like a dog would. Nepeta giggled and called for Aradia in their tent. 

More people started to wake up and appear for breakfast. John gave a whoop when he saw eggs and Tavros joined him in snatching up the first plates. Noise and chatter filled up with compliments to Jade's eggs and exclamations of surprise at Karkat getting them breakfast. He made sure to set those guys straight and shoved the blame on Jade. She set them even straighter by telling them that he helped make breakfast; which earned too many congrats. The noise distracted Karkat from his task as he handed Terezi a plate. 

"My, my Karkat! I never took you to be an eggy person," she teased. Karkat growled and withheld her plate. 

"I don't know what insult you're hiding in there, but I think I'll keep your eggs as payment for not being straight with me." Karkat fumed. Both Terezi and Jade laughed at that and Karkat got the inkling that these two were in cahoots. He frowned. "What? What did I say?" Jade gingerly took Terezi's plate of eggs from him. She grabbed at Terezi's hand and placed the eggs into her hand. Terezi's ribbon scrunched but she took the plate and laughed again. 

"Better watch this one, Karkles! She might just take your money bag along with your good looks if you don't guard yourself more." Terezi warned lightheartedly and walked towards Rose, who was standing by the trees and eating her eggs silently. Karkat felt the impulse to heat up in embarrassment or anger more like. Terezi was always one to trigger both whenever she talked. Karkat's ear tickled as Jade leaned in real close to whisper among the throng of people. 

"You're a great person, and so full of honor. I believe that you had every intention to marry me if I so wanted and I thank you for that. But, I know that you do not hold me like you use to. You've changed for the better when it comes to that. You've matured and found someone that is good for you. Someone that will keep you in place and not let you run wild like we would. I approve of her very much Karkat, she is quite nice." Jade sat back and smiled at him. Karkat looked at Terezi and Rose, then back at Jade real quick. Was that-? Was she thinking-? Jade nodded and gave him two thumbs up. 

Well, Karkat wasn't expecting that, but it made sense in a way. Terezi had only been here a fortnight, but she made Karkat think and act in ways that were not him. It was unnerving how much she could change him. She knew how to rile him up in a frenzy about his thoughts and beliefs but could calm him as well. She could draw certain things out of him like he was questioned by a Judge, but soothed his anxiety about revealing too much with thoughts of her own. Karkat couldn't tell anyone who Terezi was. Well, he could tell them that she was manipulative and to not trust her with anything but books, but that was how he described everyone. Terezi was something else entirely and maybe that was good.   

Chapter Text

Rose had picked up her plate of eggs and strode away from the rest of the group without a word. The action had no negative ulterior motives. She had been thinking about a particular someone in the group and trying to sort her thoughts. She usually did that best in silence, which had lasted all night and apparently into the morning. What was she going to say to them? There were not enough words to tell this person her thoughts and feelings adequately enough that they both would be satisfied with the result. She needed to say something though, and fast. It had been obvious that they both knew something needed to be done and knew that the other also thought of that. The other person was clearly waiting on her to make the first move, when Rose was hoping that she would. She had always been better at leading these types of conversations; and it would give Rose an opportunity to ask the elephant in the room. 

Perhaps Rose had walked away from the group with her warm eggs to corner her thoughts and the other person. She barely made it to the edge of the forest before hearing a disgusting sucking sound coming from behind her. Rose leaned against a tree and ate a bit more eggs before looking up at the approaching person. Terezi had tipped her plate back and scooped all the eggs into her mouth in one go, by the looks of it. Now, she was sucking up the dregs on the edge of her plate like a tornado. She looked up from her plate and stopped in front in of Rose.

"Those eggs were delicious! I'll have to ask Jade for the recipe when this whole thing is over!" She set her plate down on the ground before turning on Rose. She unhooked her cane from her belt and leaned forward on it. Her overexcited smile was contagious and had Rose been in a better mood, she would've smiled back. It mostly reminded her of her time in the Covenant of Seers though. 

Terezi's nostrils flared more widely than humanly possible before sighing out like she had just breathed in the scent of a meadow of flowers. "It doesn't smell like you're enjoying them as much. I was once told that eating food of any kind should be a social occasion. So being without company when eating makes one not only lonely but the food is guaranteed to be much nastier."

Rose knew where that saying came from. Rose knew just the one that would make Terezi curl. "I am enjoying my eggs, I just was wanting to clear my thoughts. I was once told that when with company, one starts to think like their neighbor. In order to reclaim their head and own thoughts, they must remove themselves from social interactions." 

If Rose could see Terezi's eyes, she would probably see them roll towards the heavens. But, Terezi still conveyed the same expression by flipping one of the tails of her ribbon over her shoulder and sticking out her tongue. "The thoughts of a lonely individual are very grey and sluggish. It has no exciting matter. The thoughts of a company together are much more colorful and joyful to be around. I could almost taste the vibrant colors coming from their heads." Terezi licked her lips at the thought. "People stimulate each other in more ways than one. Which, brings up the accusation of you removing yourself from the company because a certain, stimulating someone decided to appear at that moment?" 

Rose glued her eyes on Terezi; trying not to glance at Kanaya. It had been merely a coincidence that Rose left the same time Kanaya emerged from her tent. Was Kanaya thinking the same thing? After this, Rose made a note to clear that air with Kanaya. Rose wanted to remain close with Kanaya and didn't want bad feelings between the two. Kanaya did not only have a lovely exterior appearance but also interior. She was very smart and witty and matched Rose in both subjects. Rose did enjoy her company very much. She always did appreciate being able to have an intelligent conversation. 

"Silence is the ultimate giveaway one could give!" Terezi quietly cackled. Rose kept Kanaya in her periphery. She was talking to the Duke of Derse and his maid over breakfast. The names of the two did not come up much during the talk everyone had last night. Where names and information was shared and plans made. 

"Silence could mean lots of things. A confirmation that I do enjoy her company and that she stimulates the intellectual side of a conversation. Kanaya's presence is amazing to be around when wanting to be matched with wit." Rose quickly spouted. Rose could feel Terezi roll her eyes and perhaps could see it under the ribbon. Rose had a nasty feeling of why that ribbon was there.

"Ah, so that's her name!" Terezi snapped her fingers. She sniffed and turned her head toward Kanaya. Rose took the chance and glanced at Kanaya as well who was still conversing and eating breakfast with the same company. "She didn't introduce herself last night. Probably because most everyone knew her there. I had just been going around calling her the seamstress. She still smells like fabric and thread." 

"Who else besides Karkat did you know before meeting up?" Rose inquired. Terezi was acting so ambiguous to whether she remembered Rose or not. She said things that came from the Covenant but acted like she was meeting a stranger. Had the Seers erased Rose from the Covenant? 

"Rose," Terezi sighed and her demeanor changed to a serious tone," you were much better at being able to inconspicuously get the information you needed. Now, you are so blunt." She did remember. She remembers Rose and what she was good at. But did she remember what she did for her?

"I haven't needed to practice that skill in awhile. That question still stands, Terezi."

"I will answer the different, underlying question to what you asked. Yes, I do remember who you are Rose. How could I forget my only roommate?" 

"Only? Did they not fill my bed when I left?" Rose asked. That was surprising, but she could see the reason behind it. 

"They never filled the bed, or stripped it. It was still made by you the day you left. I believe they thought that I would just corrupt my next roommate into jumping out of our window and down a mountain." Terezi smiled at the thought and Rose couldn't help imagining the poor soul who would've replaced her if they had. Rose smiled as well. 

"Still driving people to suicide. I see that hasn't changed." Rose remarked. Terezi groaned at the remark that made Rose glanced at her with apprehension. 

"I would slap my forehead if my slapping hand weren't pinched under my other. You are too invisible, Rose. I know what you are trying to lead to." Terezi briefly pointed at her ribbon. Her face had gone still and serious. Terezi had become more invisible as well. Rose knew what Terezi was going to say before she could utter it. "After you left, the Seers had somehow come up with the crazy idea that I had decided the prophecy was to happen now. That I convinced you to start your quest. They believed that if they had not come in time to our room, I would've jumped with you. I defended myself tooth and nail, but they just took it as my guilt starting to spurt. What a bunch of amateurs.

"They decided that as punishment, they would take away what I held dearest. After being locked in the basement for weeks, they came in at night and poured a potion into my eyes. I have never felt liquid as hot as that in all my life and I doubt I will again. I could feel it burst everything behind my eyelids, and fill the space left behind. I did a spell later on that revealed I had nothing behind my eyes at all. There is just an empty, barren space in my head where my eyes should be. As much as it would've been cool if someone looked into my eyes and saw my brain, that wasn't the end result. The girl who brought my meals told me that there is just red under my lids. She thought I looked like a demon."

Terezi twirled the other tail of her ribbon. She held the tip up to eye level and stared at it. "When they let me go, I walked back to my room with eyes shut. I knew the way well enough. I'm sorry I took your ribbon, but I don't think you'd want it back now. I've used it ever since to cover up. After a couple days, everyone started to pick up that I had been blinded by the Seers."

Rose placed her hand on Terezi's shoulder. Was she surprised by the Seer's actions? No, Rose would not expect anything more. The Seers were very protective when it came to the prophecy and how it was suppose to play out. They locked Rose and Terezi up so tight when they arrived that it was half the reason Rose escaped. She wished more than anything that Terezi had come with her, but Terezi had wanted to stay to gain more knowledge. 

Terezi lifted up her cane and held it in both hands. She stared down at the white metal shaft and the red dragon head on the top. Rose could tell what story Terezi was going to tell next. "You know the dragon in the basement? The one who guarded the secret library? He called to me one night in my sleep. I left under his instructions and eventually found my way into his mountain. His caretaker had told him about me and apparently, he was blind too! Hadn't seen the suns in ages and blinded himself so he wouldn't have to look at the walls ever again. Thing is, dragons have a sense to taste and smell images. He must've pitied me because he gave it to me. He put a dragon spell on my senses to be heightened like his. I was able to see through my mouth and nose. And then, he gave me this cane. One that could channel my magic and help me with my new human appearance. 

"When I went back to my room that night, I could smell everything and see it in my head. I was never caught nor would I be for the rest of my time there. But, the next night, the dragon's entrance was gone. I could never find him again. After everything he's done for me, I want to free him and let him smell the trees once more." Terezi determinedly said. She gripped her cane tight and sniffed the air. "For now, I'll smell the freedom he should've had. I'll help him, Rose. I'll go back there and burn the Covenant down if that's what it takes to find him." Rose nodded with her. It was a cause that Rose considered to be important. A dragon was too beautiful a creature to be kept in the dark. 

"It is a noble cause. I will help you succeed. I have a feeling that we might be seeing that stronghold again soon. Whether it be to free the sisters and the dragon or burn the Oath." Terezi smiled at Rose's words. 

"Whenever we would talk about destroying the Oath book, we always said we would burn it."

The dots were too easy to connect. Rose gazed at Terezi approvingly. "Are you implying that you are why we could freely about the prophecy last night?" Terezi nodded, clutched her cane to her chest and giggled. 

"I stole the Oath book with our names in it the night I escaped. It took me a bit to realize that magic had no effect, but fire? Mother nature was always too good at her job. I just tossed a match on it and I was able to talk without its weight!" 

Rose smiled slyly. "I bet the Seers had a hard time tracking down those who put their names in that book as well. The Seers in question were probably raging mad to have to sign their names in blood again."

"Oh, those Seers will be quite mad. I won't be surprised if one of them slips the beans to a homeless man about what is really going on!" Terezi and Rose stood there laughing for a bit of time. It was a position that they would find themselves in often back in the Covenant of Seers. Talking about conspiracies and ways to overthrow the patriarchy. They were scheming girls who had seemed to found the perfect roommate to share it with. 

"I hope that the garbage you all are wearing is what you'll be stuck with for the rest of the day! Because the morning meeting is starting now!" Karkat yelled at a volume that disturbed bears. Rose saw him standing by the fire and holding a notebook at his side. He mostly hit his foot against the ground impatiently while the others slowly gathered to the fire.

Kanaya was quick by his side and had a clear view of Terezi and Rose. She looked ready for adventure. Her dress was pinned above her ankles and had long leather tights under her dress. The top of her attire was the same green as the forest and was sheer enough for Rose to see her corset underneath. It was practical for the day's adventure and still fashionable. Rose admired it greatly and made a note to pick up fabric whenever she was able to go to town. Maybe ask Kanaya to make her an outfit that was like hers. Kanaya murmured to Karkat before the bard bustled her out of the position next to him. She took the disturbance to look at Rose. 

Rose had the urge to straighten her likely lopsided hair and smooth her ratted dress down. Kanaya's eyes flitted from Terezi and Rose. She smiled at them both with equal measure and nodded her head for them to come over. Rose took her hand back from Terezi's shoulder. "They're gathering by the fire. I don't know if you'll be able to stand by Karkat. The purple blood was able to shove Kanaya away from him." Rose moved toward the eating fire and Terezi strode confidently behind. 

"Karkat will have to get along without me then," Terezi muttered and elbowed herself in the circle between John and Dave. Rose moved beside her and shot John an apologetic look. John just shrugged while rubbing his shoulder and Dave looked indifferent.

Karkat was muttering to himself and the purple blood while flipping through the book. Rose surveyed the circle and tried to recall everyone's names while he gathered his thoughts. Jade was to Karkat's right and was having some say in the conversation with Karkat. Nepeta was to Jade's right and was scribbling furiously on a book as well with an olive quill. The Duke, Ecuador?, towered over her and dabbed himself often with an indigo stained handkerchief. The maid, Ariel?, sat on a log and stared the dirt between her feet. Dave slouched by her with folded arms; he didn't seem happy. Then Terezi, herself and John stood side by side. Tavros, he had gotten introduced to the whole circle many times last night by his tall bard, talked animatedly with Kanaya. She was an avid listener and barely spoke a word herself as he was speaking. 

"Okay, okay, okay Gamzee!" Karkat yelled and waved his hand furiously at the space between him and the bard. Gamzee was a good fit to such a chaotic appearance. Was he the same Gamzee who was the Patrician of Prospit? It could be. The tales of him being a funny creature did match up with this man. Gamzee straightened to his immeasurable height and grinned broadly. He waved back to Karkat and then slouched down more than half a foot. "Thank you for your nonsensical words! I feel like I had this meeting in much a better time schedule before you decided to decipher my letters!" 

Gamzee shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry about that moirail. Maybe in our next feelings jam, we can work on handwriting. I know mine hasn't been the best either." He made the motion of doodling something in midair that looked more like a spell than actual letters. This man couldn't possibly be the Patrician of Prospit. He did not hold himself the same way Brunus, that didn't feel like his name, did. Karkat scowled up at him. 

"If you're feeling flustered Karkat," Nepeta piped up and leaned around everyone's legs from her spot on a log to look at Karkat," you can use my notes from the meeting last night to refresh your memory on what our mission is today!" She smiled up at him excitedly. Rose got the feeling that she wasn't taken up on her ideas very often. Was she the unofficial secretary of the group? 

Karkat shook his head quickly and rifled back through his notes with fumbling fingers. "Why do you have notes from last night?" He grumbled. "It was pitch dark when we met, so your handwriting is probably all over the place! Unless you've got night vision eyes that you've decided not to tell us about, then I think I'll use mine that I wrote down in my tent afterwards." Nepeta's shoulders slopped a bit and she went back behind everyone's legs. She tapped the edge of the notebook with her quill; seeming unenthusiastic. Rose tried to glare at Karkat.

Those words were not the best way to deny a request from a friend, especially when they are excited to help. Karkat looked like he could use the help too. He was still muttering under his breathe as he turned page after page. Jade tried to help him out again by pointing out certain things on the page. Karkat looked simply frazzled. Why was he in charge again? When had she voted to let him be the captain in the group? Rose looked down at Nepeta who was staring up at her. Rose couldn't stand it. 

"Mr. Karkat, you seem out of sorts today. Let us give Nepeta a chance to read her notes from last night and to get the metaphorical ball rolling? Then, when you catch your train of thought, you can take over." Karkat jerked his head up and almost smacked Gamzee's nose. He looked about ready to rip his book in half. She didn't wait for him to reply or say anything before turning back to Nepeta. She had shock in her face but her foot bounced with the excitement from earlier. It made Rose feel a bit better. She waved at Nepeta. "Nepeta, if you will." 

"I think the lady poses an excellent idea," Eugene commended; close but not close enough. He put a hand on Nepeta's shoulder and she smiled with a bit more of the earlier excitement. She straightened out her page and held it up to eye level. Just as she was about to read, Karkat interrupted her. 

"Hold your wind tubes! I've got my notes right here! Thank you Equius and Nepeta for showing us how great your bond is! It really is something to admire! You guys are such a great team, but I think that I've got everything from here just from your enthusiasm for each other! Sit back down! I'm going to start!" Karkat stepped inward. Tavros, Gamzee and Equius sat on the logs. Rose had some pride in seeing that none of her travelling companions sat down. Dave, if anything, was standing up taller. Rose glanced at Nepeta to see her dipping her quill into an ink jar on the ground. She was avoiding looking up. 

"Now! We've gotten to meet everyone and swap stories, so we can check that off the bonding checklist. Everyone here knows about the prophecy and we're all some heroes who are suppose to save the kingdom." Nods waved around the circle and Rose felt her heart sink. Oh dear. "Today, it was decided that as a newly formed group, everyone should play get to know you games and rest from the hearty travel that everyone has completed! So, everyone check your weapons and personal supplies to make sure nothing is out of place because I know someone here has been going through my books and I'm not happy! While that is going on, a group will head to town under disguise and retrieve some supplies that we will need when we head out next week! So," Karkat slammed his book shut in one hand and sent a measured stare across the group," who is not on a wanted poster?"

Chapter Text

Nepeta scribbled the date in her olive ink and furiously wrote down what Karkat had said in note form. Very few quoted words and a lot of abbreviations than necessary. Her handwriting was looping all over the place and seemed to prove to her that Karkat was indeed right about her horrible penmanship. She had just wanted to help out Karkat! He was so stressed out these days and adding five more people to his party must be wearing him down! Maybe tonight she could volunteer to make his favorite fish soup for dinner? that would be a good way to help and not stress him out. Hunting fish always relaxed her. 

"Well? Does anybody have any idea if they're in the post office or not?!" Karkat demanded. Nepeta begrudgingly looked up from her paper. She had neglected to note reactions to his initial statement and who was in attendance of the meeting. She also wanted to make note of the new people. They looked interesting to draw and were new territory for her shipping grid and stories, but she had to understand them first. That was what anyone did with any prey; get to know them. If she couldn't understand how they thought, then how could she expect to capture them on paper?

"Well," John Egbert spoke up nervously and took a minute step forward. Nepeta jotted that down. "I haven't seen a post office in a bit, but I believe we just don't want recognizable faces out there?" He left off his sentence for someone to correct or agree with him. Interesting. He looked around the circle and most shrugged their shoulders. Noted. John nodded his head back. "Right, then I believe that we should let the nobles stay behind. Any objections?" Again, no one spoke out and if anything, their faces were struck with respect. Nepeta herself liked the way this John thought. 

"Alright! Gamzee and Equius are going to sit this one out then, unless you wrigglers are secretly nobles in disguise?" Karkat scribbled something down in his notebook that didn't necessarily look like words. Perhaps he wrote in doodles and drawings? Nepeta made a note to see into that. Dave Strider turned and dusted his log off before sitting down. It was quite a big gesture with no words. He clasped his hands in his lap and sat straight up in his seat like it had a back. Karkat leaned forward to stare at him like he was an idiot. Nepeta called that his idiotic stare. "What's with your sigh? Did you just flatulate?!"

"That's not a best thing to announce in a war circle, especially among the women in present. You said that nobles were out for the count on this mission, so I thought I'd rest my legs for a bit. If you stand too long, you'll eventually get shorter because your bones will wear down until you're a man the size of a baby. A baby sized man with an incredibly big torso. What would people say to that?" Dave spewed leisurely and Nepeta did a doodle of what he described instead of writing it down. She smiled to her paper and continued when she looked up. He was still the funny man that she remembered. 

Karkat looked in furious shock and was biting his quill. "Everything that rolled out of your mouth was possibly the most confusing poem I have ever heard. Next time, why you don't you just shove that hypocrisy into a bottle and throw it out into the woods like the rest of us do! Your stinky words just wasted us minutes that we could've been using to plan this out!" He jabbed his beaten quill at Dave who raised his eyebrows. Very eagerly noted. 

"Like what you're doing right now?" Dave shot back and Nepeta was for sure going to draw Dave when she got back to her colors. Karkat looked ready to snap his quill and hurl himself at Dave. Was she about to witness a kismesis brawl? But, Gamzee leaned forward and plopped his head on top of Karkat's. Karkat stiffened under the pressure but relaxed as Gamzee started to hum. Nepeta could hear the tune from where she was sitting. It was a bit intimidating looking at Gamzee's large figure. 

"Dave, thank you for the chatter, but Karkat was right about us having business to take care of." Kanaya stepped into the argument and into the circle. She looked around at all the faces quickly. She was thinking deeply from the lines in the forehead. "Splendid, those of you who cannot attend this trip I ask that you sit so we may better rule you out. Nepeta, I'd like you to take notes on each person's profile so we may review them later." Nepeta nodded and wrote down most of her speech. "Karkat, Gamzee, Equius, Rose, Terezi, Nepeta, Tavros and Dave please sit. You are wanted by our oppressors and will be recognized. That leaves, John, Jade, Aradia and myself to take on this mission. Any objections?"

"If I may speak, Miss Maryam," Equius spoke up as others took their spots on the logs. Nepeta could tell what he was going to ask and knew it was going to fail. She bumped his elbow with hers but he only he glanced at her. He knew what he was doing as well. This was not going to end well, but Nepeta made a note. Kanaya gestured toward him and he looked as if to stand up but decided against it. Instead, he grabbed at Aradia's hand which sat in her lap. Aradia didn't react to this and looked monotone. "I would like to accompany my matesprit into town. I believe she can handle herself but I do not trust the hands of the nation that I will be letting her go into alone. I would feel much more better if I could defend her myself."

"Equius," Nepeta finally spoke. She made her voice as soft as she could put it. He was helping her with Karkat and she must help him with Aradia. "Aradia would be much safer without your presence. You'd attract attention with you high status. She needs to be able to move fast. Quickness is better than brute strength. Plus, if you really want to help her, then you could give her some money to buy the necessities she needs." Equius started to sweat at the collar and looked to be squeezing Aradia's hand too tightly. Her finger tips were starting to turn maroon. He was thinking too much! She needed to reassure him that the others would protect her!

She looked out to see who else would be going. All left standing was Kanaya, John and Jade. Nepeta knew none of them. Fish sticks. "Equius?" John spoke up. Nepeta should be writing that down but she hoped that what John was going to say was good. "If you're concerned about the safety of Aradia, you have no need to worry! Jade here is the King Shot of Prospit! She can shoot from miles away and is quite fast with her bow! I would trust her with my life!" John gestured to Jade who smiled proudly. What an interesting fact! Nepeta felt a little pride herself that she could tackle the great archer to the ground!

Nepeta smiled at John and nodded enthusiastically. "See! You have no need to fear! Jade will protect Aradia! How do you feel about that Aradia?" Nepeta asked Aradia this to try to get a reaction out of her. How was she feeling about going into town? Was she mad about Equius being overprotective? Aradia didn't really acknowledge her. She just shrugged her shoulders and went back to pushing the dirt around with her boots. That wasn't very helpful.

"I believe that Aradia will be perfectly safe in our arms until we get back. We could use her help as well when in the market, Equius." Kanaya tried again. Nepeta nodded with her and placed a hand on Equius's shoulder. He was nervous enough that he was sweating from his brow. Nepeta picked his handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at his hairline. That seemed to do the trick. He grabbed at both of Aradia's hands and looked at the side of her face like he was looking into her eyes. 

"My dear, you must promise me to stay by the archer's side. She will protect you when I can not. I hope that she will remind you of my undying love for you as well while we are apart. Do you understand?" He was too close to Aradia's face and she leaned back a bit but still did not look at him. Nepeta understood her but also wanted to yank her hair. She could at least give Equius a little bit attention, or have the guts to tell him to stop! Nepeta really needed to have a talk with her. 

"Whatever," Aradia mumbled. She didn't turn her head and so Equius kissed her temple. He dropped one of her hands but held the closest one in his lap. Aradia sat on her chin on her hand and stared at the ground. Nepeta wrote down what transpired. 

"I hope that matesprit googly eyes was enough to fill all of your grids for the day, because I want this camp cleaned and the team gone in a candlemark! Let's get to it! Kanaya. I put you in charge of this expedition. I'll give you the list of everything we need, let me just find it. Well?! What are you guys sitting on your blowholes for?! Start cleaning up!" 

Chapter Text

John adjusted his glasses once again as he saw houses emerging from the forest on his left and right. He didn't know why he was so nervous! Rose had given him his eye altering glasses, made his nose a whole different shape altogether and he was wearing semi-religious clothes that would cover most of his face. Jade was dressed similarly and had hidden her quiver at her belt under her robes along with her bow. Kanaya had bouncey red hair that went down to her knees and her nose was slightly more crooked. The only thing changed about Miss. Megido was her nose. He had no doubt in Rose's magic, but his heart still shook as his legs carried him closer. 

Perhaps it had to do with the sendoff? After everyone had been spelled, Kanaya had been looking for Karkat who had the list of supplies for her. Aradia was receiving an extremely tight looking hug from Equius, with no expression during the whole process, and John's Maple Valley friends had gathered around him. Dave was giving them some sketchy tips of what to do if a chicken recognizes them to which Jade had been adding more hilarious details to the tale. It had been going right and John had no worry in his chest. In fact, he had excused himself to take a leak real quick before anything started. 

He had strode off toward his tent and heard Karkat and Terezi talking. He was surprised to find them there and had almost just walked right up to them and ask for the list! But, what stopped him was Terezi's words. "Your attitude certainly changed so quickly after having a nice chat with Miss. Jade, hasn't it now? Some might even say that you're saying this just because of her!" Now, John knew that the best option was to turn around and walk away but his bladder had stopped him from doing so. Which led him to hear what Karkat had to say. 

"Please don't pull your mind tricks on me, Terezi. I'm just trying to tell you that-"

"I don't want to hear you backtrack your words, Karkat!" Terezi had been yelling a bit and John looked over his shoulder to see that Nepeta and Jade had heard her as well. "Don't take me as a lovestruck retard who will take whatever you say with open arms!"

"I never took you to be like that either!" Karkat went back to his normal volume and John didn't have to look to know that everyone was hearing the same thing he was at the time. "If you would let me speak! I was going to tell you that I am giving this a chance!" 

"A chance." Terezi had spoken very low and John had gotten the chills from her tone. "Did you just imply that everything before this moment was just your idea of fun? That you never took anything seriously!? That everything I told you and that you told me was just for kicks and giggles?!" Terezi had roared the last few words and John remembered hearing a cane hitting flesh and he had flinched at the sound. He had taken a step back as he heard an already famous Karkat growl. Why was John standing there again? He had honestly forgotten. 

"Stop twisting my words, you snatcher! If you would listen to me, you would know that I am trying to ask if we can take this as seriously as you want it!" Karkat finally screamed out. What should've John done? Perhaps step in and ask that they continue this somewhere else? Instead, John just stood there awkwardly. The silence had stretched over the whole camp. It finally had been interrupted by a sniff from where the argument was coming from. 

"I don't want that Karkat; not anymore. You ruined it. Do you not remember what you said when she got here? Because I do. You told me that if Jade wanted you back, you'd leave me for her; that she was your top priority. Now here you are, trying to grovel back into my affections. Guess that poem is right. You only know you love them when you let them go, huh? Well, I'm not coming back. I'm not going to be a second choice!" Terezi had almost sobbed the whole thing out, with the last sentence being a yell. There had been a half-hearted whack from her cane and accompanied with just a "Terezi, wait-" and then Terezi had stormed from around the tent. 

She had bumped right into John and didn't say anything. John reached out for her hand after she bumped him. He had to say something to comfort her. "Terezi-" 

"Get back to your group, John. You guys need to leave soon and if your leader would should his pathetic face, then you could get on with your mission." She had snarled and went to her tent with acknowledging anyone. John watched her leave and looked over at his friends. They had mostly worn looks of sadness or pity. He didn't blame them. Karkat snarled right by John's ear and John had jumped nearly five feet in the air. Karkat had been standing right behind him with clear eyes which was unexpected. 

"What are you doing here, huh? Trying to undermine my leadership?" Karkat had spoken so quietly. It was the hush before a storm and John needed to be the wind that calmed it. 

"I was sent to find you and get the list so we can carry out the mission!" John had embarrassingly blustered out. He had even put his hands behind his back like a soldier at attention, but John did not want Karkat blowing up at him during an emotional time. Karkat simmered a bit, and stuffed a ball of paper that was in his belt into John's hand. Karkat muttered something and turned into his tent. John had been left to give Kanaya the paper and his group had started off on that horrible note to the village. 

Now, John was marching into a village for supplies on an unreadable list. Yes, Kanaya had shown them what they were to get but John could not tell any letter out. It looked like a chicken had written it. But, Kanaya seemed to know what she was reading, because she had them splitting into two groups. Aradia and him had gotten the food part of the list while Jade and Kanaya were off getting ropes and tents and such things. It didn't seem too hard to find a bunch of food. He had grown up finding food for his father and knowing what looked good in a pastry, perhaps this wasn't that much different. 

The houses grew tighter together and more sketchy looking people started to gather in the streets. John made sure to stick close to the Aradia and ran through his story with her in his head as Jade and Kanaya split off from them. They were monks from the Tumor church headquarters that were sent to preach to the local villagers in their local churches. Aradia had pulled the neck piece of her cloak up over her nose and pulled the hood so low that he feared she could not even see, yet she weaved around the scarce crowds with expertise. How was she doing that?

Jade left his vision and John finally decided to focus on what Kanaya had told him. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket with Kanaya's more eligible handwriting and skimmed the list. Aradia stopped so he could get a better look and leaned over his shoulder. "Uh, it looks like we need to find lots of bread firstly." He mumbled to her. 

"How much bread?" Aradia softly asked. 

"Well, that's the thing. It just says a lot! How much would you say is a lot?" 

"Hmm, I believe I know how much we will need. And I saw a bakery up ahead. Let's go." Aradia's voice was flat. Almost like she was bored, but then again, John barely knew her so he could not say that she was as detached as he thought she was. Aradia started down the street at a floating pace that the robes at her feet barely moved. It was an interesting thing to watch and soon John had to take long strides to stay with her. When he stuffed the paper back in his robes, he didn't see any sign yelling that there was a bakery. 

Aradia rounded the corner quickly and that's when he saw the sign for a bakery. How had she seen the sign from around the corner? John had not even seen the sign so it was impossible that she could've seen it. Had she been here before? Or was it a ghostly thing that he heard she could do? "Wow, how did you know that there was a bakery here? I mean, it's past the corner so we couldn't have seen it from our street." John asked quickly. 

Aradia mounted the steps and shouldered the door open with the bell tinkling. John followed into the modern looking bakery. There was a bit of a line when they got into it which left time for her to answer. He glanced at her face to see that she looked ready to sleep. Dark bags hung from her eyes and her mouth frowned more than smiled. Was she thinking or actually tired? "Me knowing the layout of this village will not jeopardize this mission. I see no reason to reveal why I must tell you." She replied back evenly and her monotone voice was starting to make him tired himself. 

"It won't jeopardize the mission? Well, that's great! I never assumed that this village would have bad beef with you anyway. Plus, Rose did a great job with your nose so I don't think they would've recognized you." They stepped forward in line and John felt the need to stretch away his sleepiness. Wow, Aradia's voice must be making him more tired than he thought. Aradia slightly tilted her head. 

"Who is this 'they' you refer to?" John stretched his arms above his head and almost knocked his glasses askew. 

"Well, the people who you would've met in this village! You obviously remember a bit of the layout so you must've been here a bit longer than just passing by. Which is bound for someone remembering you from your time here." He quickly grabbed at his glasses before someone could notice his eyes changing color. He glanced around quickly and saw that no one really bothered to look at him, except Aradia. This was the most emotion she had showed him since he'd met her. Her slitted eyes grew even more so and her lips were pursed together. Did he just make her mad? 

"I thought from my attitude that you would've buggered off, but it seems that you are really nosy. I don't want to talk about why I was in this village and if you ask or prod again I will do something." She growled and her eyes glowed a maroon color. Before either could say anything, they hit the front of the line. 

"Hello! How can I help you too today?" The bubbly baker asked. John looked away from Aradia and hoped he didn't look scared. Since he was a former baker, it seemed like he should take the lead here. 

"Oh! Not bad at all, thank you very much! How about yourself? Ovens still going strong?" He asked conversationally, yet he felt like it was strained. He wanted to bolt from there as soon as possible, or maybe just from Aradia. He could feel her eyes on him and wondered when she was going to speak up. 

"Why yes! We got a new order of lumber in the back in fact! Thanks for asking! What shall I be serving you today?" She asked and leaned on the counter. She too looked uncomfortable. Was it the garb or his partner?

"Well! I'll be honest, I didn't get much of a look at your menu, nor am I local."

The baker giggled. "I could see that much. Whatcha looking for?"

"Can we get your cheapest bread rolls? I know that seems sheepish of us."

"Oh, not at all! I appreciate any business! How many will that be?"

"Seven bakers dozen." Aradia finally spoke up. It was with confidence that she spoke with that John felt himself stiffen. Seven bakers dozen? In his bakery, that would be how much they would keep in stock for that day, and with how small this village seemed. John could feel the panic and hate rise from every worker in the bakery. John just knew that the back bakers would be seething about such a big order not being in advance. He could see it in the face of the counter baker. Her face was working itself into a calm demeanor. 

"Okay, I hope that you understand that that will take awhile, and cost extra."

"We don't have the time to wait around." Aradia growled and stepped closer to the counter. What was she doing? "And the extra charge is unfair. Don't you think your ludicrous price for the 'cheapest rolls' you have is a bit much for the quality you'd be giving us? It's not like they're made out of the gold you're charging." Aradia spat out the last words with venom in her eyes and clenched hands. John wanted to pulled her hood down over her eyes because of how she was approaching this. She was acting like a highblood. 

The baker cleared her throat and seemed to rise to the challenge physically and mentally. That was not good. "I will not stand by and let you walk over the pride and standards of my business. You don't have to come to my establishment if you feel like this bakery is scamming you of your money. You are clearly ignorant on how much work goes into these rolls."

"Oh, I know quite well that you put the flour from the floor into your cheapest rolls. And yet, you still try to sell them like they're the prized the meat." Aradia snapped and the woman went livid. Now, John didn't know if what Aradia was saying was true, but he knew that right now, this could be the only bakery within this village or for miles around for that matter. He had to stop this situation quickly or it was going to end in flames. And he felt bad that he had probably set her off in the first place with his questions. 

"Please, let us think about this for a second," John started to say and tried to press himself between the two warlike gazes,"I'm sorry for our treatment of you and your business. We have travelled a long way to be here and are just trying to feed our congregation tomorrow morning who've followed us here from Prospit. I do not say that as an excuse but as an explanation for why we have been skittish with you. My companion and I have been leading most of the masses in hymns during the trek and are suffering from the sleep loss. You see, we had to move our church from Prospit because the discrimination was horrible and she just thought that you were exercising the same prejudices on us as well. 

"Now, I am a former baker and understand completely the stocking process and what goes on at night. I know it will take awhile for you all to get our orders together and I understand the extra cost. My companion was also upset at the extra cost because we are using the donations from our congregation and she hates it when it seems we have swindled them from their money. I won't ask for a lower price, but that you just make the rolls despite the exchanged words." John held his breath. He couldn't see what Aradia was doing behind him as he was fixed on the conflicting emotions on the baker's face. What was she going to say?

She exhaled after a bit and straightened up with reluctance. "Thank you for the story, and I understand where you are coming from. We will take your order, but I ask a candle mark of waiting. Is that too much to ask?" She directed this at Aradia. He finally looked over at her too. She did not look mad or menacing like she had moments before, but back to her resigned state. Her face drawn and looking ready to nap. She shrugged her shoulders and looked at the display stand to the right.

John sighed out in relief and smiled at the baker. "Thank you so much, Miss. Shall we pay now or later?"

Chapter Text

Aradia pulled some coins out of the bag that Equius had given her when they left and handed them to the merchant. The merchant smiled with his gold teeth and thanked them both by bowing before heading back into his stall. They both had finally found the market center which hosted lots of people and food. John turned from the stall and started to tie the bags of apples to the mule they had just bought to carry all the food. Who knew that people could eat so much! Maybe they were just stocking a lot to not have to visit any villages for awhile? In which case, Aradia was buying just enough, but not enough to make a dent in the bag of coins she had. 

Speaking of which, Aradia had been pretty quiet since the bakery; which they had yet to return to for their order. She didn't start any conversation, when she did talk it was still monotone and if anything more distracted than usual. Her appearance even looked nervous. She led him silently from place to place expertly buying the cheapest bulk food while he made conversation with the seller. John had no idea what was wrong with her but had the guilty feeling that he had thrown her off her groove of being sulky and tired. But they continued on with their mission in the awkward silence that had been going for awhile. 

Aradia finally joined him from the stall to watch him the tie bags to the shoulder of the mule. It looked like it was going to fall by the way the legs were shaking but its face was one of contentment. He wished it didn't fail them now, because that would mean John would be the next mule and he knew his back couldn't take the weight of the food. It would also mean that he had gotten scammed from the mule seller. What a waste of money it would be if the mule died right there in the street. The apples would be crushed too and Dave would die if they returned with no apples. 

John got the bags tied on and smiled from the mule not falling in overexertion. "Great! It still stands! And I believe that was the last thing on our list! Besides the rolls that is, and what great timing too! I think the sun is starting to set!" He looked at the horizon and saw the sun sitting down after a long day. Yep, it was time to get going to the rendezvous with Kanaya and Jade. He had thought for sure that he would've seen them around the village, but maybe all the materials they needed were at another market.

He grabbed at the reins and turned to Aradia to lead the way back to the bakery. She wasn't right behind him. She was gone with the nightly crowds that were more numerous than the daily crowds. Where did she go? He looked up and around at the orange masses. John was starting to go into a slight panic. Everyone here had dark hair like she did and some wore dark hoods too! Practically everyone looked like alike! How was he going to find her? Wait, the first question was, where would she go? Maybe she started back for the bakery and thought he would follow? 

Okay! That seemed likely. Thing is, where was the bakery? It was by the edge of the village, which was by the forest Karkat was tented at and John could see a hill of trees on the left! That had to be where the bakery was and hopefully Aradia! He gripped the reins and started down the street.

The mostly empty buildings on the street during the day had thrown open their doors to an eager crowd. Many flooded inside to music and chatter while others waddled around outside with a cup in their hand. Those who waddled just hopped inside the next building with the same atmosphere. And the ones who had already been inside the buildings that day hung around the edge of the street; watching the passersby. Ah, this seemed to be the bar and pub district of the village and it looked like this village had more than a few of those.

John had never been allowed inside one of those places when he was a kid. But when his father finally died, he decided that a cup of whiskey would do him good. He had thrown up on the first cup and couldn't remember the rest of the night. Rose had been very disappointed in him the next day and she wouldn't say what he had done! It still haunted him to this day. He now had a distaste for any strong alcoholic beverage and those who dabbed in it nightly. He didn't blame any of them for wanting it, but he didn't like how they treated others when they were knee deep in the drink. John had more than his share of throwing drunken men and boys off of ladies.

As John walked through the darkening crowds, he heard the first brawl to his left and turned to look. A glass cup shattered and through the windows he saw two men dishing it out to the other. The taller picked up the smaller of the bunch and threw him to the table. Everyone backed up in fear and John almost lost his view of the fight. The one standing over rained a couple punches down on the smaller one's face before yelling something. The one who was pinned spat up at him what looked like blood. The one still standing roared and looked like he was going to go again. An object was hurled from out of the frame and hit the taller one in the face before shattering. It had been thrown with enough force that he went down like a light. The smaller just slumped onto the table as a woman came into his view. 

The woman had black had that was held from her face and a pair of spectacles. She looked like someone who didn't fool around, but was the one who made the plans. She definitely looked like one who would be in charge of an establishment or perhaps a crew of thieves; definitely one for trouble. She fit the look too. She wore pants like himself and a blouse that was unbuttoned a bit further down than most ladies would put it. She was the embodiment of a woman with trouble up her sleeve. 

She had swaggered into the window's view and leered down at the taller of the men. She said something and then turned toward the one on the table. She spoke to him as well and gestured for him to move by the shake of her head. Some men pried the man off the table and out of the pub. The woman pulled up a chair and gestured for someone to get her a drink. The rest of the pub started up in noise and music once again. John watched the lady receive her drink. She took a lite sip and turned toward the table he was staring through. She saw him and they held gazes. He was staring for too long and should acknowledge her, but he was fascinated by the front of her face. Only one of the lenses was darkened like Dave's and it even had a design pearled over , and she had a gaze that seemed to hold him there. 

Someone touched his shoulder lightly and John may have been a bit slow at responding. He finally looked away from the woman and found Aradia. She was standing next to him; looking up at him. What was she doing? What was he doing? Why did she look nervous? Where was John again? "John, I'm sorry I left you, but I had to grab something real quick and I needed to apologize." Oh. Oh! That's right! He was trying to find her! He was scared out of his mind to try to find her! And then he had gotten distracted, and now she was here! Oh. She was apologizing. 

John blinked the sleepiness from his eyes and smiled at her. "Sorry! I should've been keeping track of you more! I just didn't want the apples to fall, but I'm glad we found each other! What was it you wanted to grab?"

Aradia held up her hands and he saw,"Sugared nuts. I grabbed two bags. Do you want some?" She asked in that sleepy voice, but it had a bit more pep in it. John couldn't stop smiling. Oh sugared nuts were his favorite!

"Oh I love sugared nuts! Thank you for grabbing me a bag!" She gave him the nuts and he dropped a couple in his mouth. Delicious! Still warm and definitely covered in the sugary heaven. "Mmmmm! This is very tasty! Do you like sugared nuts?" He asked as he popped some more into his mouth. Aradia took one out of the bag and popped it in her mouth. She chewed slowly and shrugged her shoulders. 

"They are not as bad as they were picking them up from the streets. But, a nice toffee will always be better than vendor food." She remarked and slowly ate another one. John had so many questions about what she just said, but held them back. She would get mad and he didn't feel like getting her angered again right before they hit up bakery again. He nodded his head. 

"Toffee is nice! I'd have to say that chocolate takes a place in the center of my heart as well. Not that I don't enjoy these! Sugared nuts come a close second! Now, I believe we have just one more place to visit?" He asked tentatively. She nodded her head and her eyes looked glazed like they had the whole time after the bakery. She was distracted again. She seemed to recover quickly because her next nod became a bit more vigorous. 

"Yes, and I must tell you something as well. As payment for helping out at the bakery, I'll answer some questions of yours. Come, let's start for the bakery." She started down the street at a leisurely pace. John followed by her side and looked at her curiously. Was she finally telling him something? Or would it be a bunch of crazy stories like Dave would tell? Either way, he was getting some information on this Aradia. 

"You were right about me living here once. This place housed me and my mother for most of my childhood, but I guess housed isn't the right word. We were homeless and lived on the streets. I don't remember a time when I wasn't on the streets with her. The people grew accustomed to us being on the streets and wouldn't give us any money nor food. I ate from the trash heaps in the back alleys of businesses. One day, she started to leave for multiple days at a time. I thought she was going out to find us food, or a job. She didn't come home with anything and wouldn't answer my questions. I figured that she was selling herself and hording all the money from me. When this continued on for a year or so, I got fed up with her attitude and left."

Aradia spoke simply with little emotion. If there was any emotion, it would have to be something like indifference. She was over that part of her life. She popped another nut into her mouth and chewed on this one much longer than she had the other ones. John processed what she said. She had been homeless? What horrible luck. John couldn't imagine what that was like, but he felt like he would soon enough if he stayed on this path Rose was leading him on. John nodded his head so she knew that he was listening. 

"That's an unfortunate beginning. Where did you go then?" It was innocent enough. Maybe she would answer? She did seem more open after telling him her story. 

"I had to travel a bit, but I remembered hearing that the Duke of Derse gave anyone work who asked for it. So, I headed for his castle and asked. The man at the time was very kind and let me do some house work. If he was anything like the rest of his blood color, they would've kicked me to the curb or had me secretly exterminated because of my color. That whole family was nothing like what I had discovered about highbloods. They were strange in humor but often treated everyone like a brother. But, it seems that the universe didn't like that and gave them the worst luck in the world. What happened to that family is still a shame."

She popped another nut in her mouth and chewed slowly. Was she talking about Dave? Did she know who Dave was? Surely, she would've remembered him! Dave was not one that anyone could forget easily. He should probably say something to see if she knew. "That family had three brothers, right? And they moved from Prospit?" Aradia looked at him approvingly. 

"Yes, and the title went through all but two of them. It was the youngest that I knew the most. He had the best humor out of all of them." Was she also seeing what he knew? John felt like they were both trying to talk about the same person and yet were hesitant. John didn't know if Dave wanted his identity spilled to everyone, but he had sat down during Karkat's discussion, so maybe he didn't care? Everyone in their group seemed like they had something on their heads. 

"I heard that he had a love of apples. Reminds me of someone I know," John remarked a shoved a bunch of nuts in his mouth. He could see the bakery sign up ahead in the slivers of the sunset. 

"Stay here, I'll retrieve the bread. I have something to fix with the patron." Aradia demanded and walked ahead. John froze and choked on his nuts. 

"Fhad Ihea!" John tried to say but she had flown into the bakery already. He was left with the donkey and a burning throat. Cinnamon did not work well when grounded against the skin of his throat. He cleared his throat a bit after choking down the nuts and led the donkey to the side of the bakery. They should come up with a name for the donkey. Something stoic but comedic, like Pillip. Almost like Phillip, but still a pill. He patted the donkey's snout. "Does Pillip sound like a good name for you?" he asked and the donkey twitched his ears. It must've been a sign.

He received the weirdest feeling. It rose the hairs on the back of his neck and he looked up from Pillip. Across the road, passing in and out of view of wandering drunks, was the lady from the bar fight. She leaned against the building across from and stared down his eyes. Her hair had fallen from ribbon and surrounded her face in a sky-like halo. Her dark hair had turned bluish from the moon cascading down it and the yellow from the lamps of the building put golden spots on it that looked like stars. Her hair was the sky and that made her face the world. And indeed it was. Her eye glinted like precious stones. John could see the design on the shaded part of her glasses; a thin red spider. 

She looked him up and down slowly that he felt himself tinge a different color. She met his eyes again and gave a smile that John had associated with ambition. John couldn't look away from the dazzling face. She glanced at something to the left of John. The noise from the streets rose in volume and Pillip nudged him again harder that John lost balance. He stumbled in front of the mouth of an alley and heard the chaos that ensued from it. 

A man was laughing loudly while another swore many obscene statements that related to a woman's body. A voice was being muffled. John turned toward the alley and dimly saw the outlines of two men with their backs to the alley entrance. A hand shot up from the head of one of them but it was grabbed and the hulking figures turned toward the wall. A womanly outline was shoved against the wall. She was squirming but her hands were being held above her head. A hand came away from her body. 

John propelled himself forward. He was stupid! Why hadn't he heard this? "Hey!" All heads turned. He ducked his head and slammed into the body of the nearest man. John went down with the man. He scrambled up and saw the man who he had rammed gasping for air and pulling himself up as well. John's head was grabbed from behind. His neck popped as the other yanked him back and threw him down to the ground. Swears echoed around the alley along with sobs and pleading for help. A boot was rushing at him. John rolled and popped up as fast as he could. The man spurred toward him with both hands raised to grab. John dodged again and hit the back of the brutes head with locked hands. The brute staggered. 

John readied his fists as both of the men gained their ground. In the quickness of a snap of fingers, John was tired. His bones weighed too much and he was struggling keeping his eyes open. He needed to duck. John gratefully dropped into a crouch. Oh, he was tired. He should curl up right there and just sleep next to the girl. And the wind in the alley felt so nice and warm. The wind came from a jumping figure overhead. Had they created this draft just for John to sleep? How nice.

The girl soared like a bird into one of the men. She nailed him right in the head and he fell like a stone. As she fell, she stayed upright; what perfect balance. The girl had something in her hand and threw it towards the last one standing. He got hit with a stick and fell like his friend. The girl landed with a thump on top of his chest. She jumped off the man and turned to John. It was the lady from the bar.

The lady from the bar had ridden a man down to the ground and thrown a stick, no, a knife at the other man. John didn't feel sleepy but anxious. He jumped up from his time on the ground quickly. Why had he been on the ground? He was in the middle of a fight! Why had gotten so sleepy? That had never happened before and now it was occurring before a clearly established lady in the arts of fighting. He must look like an utter wimp.  

Chapter Text

John blinked once, or maybe twice, before recovering himself. The woman who had been attacked sat on the floor. She held her body close together and sobbed into her knees. He crouched down to the ground so he was the same height as her. She was clearly exposed and didn't seem to be looking at either him nor the lady. Speaking of which, the lady took off a coat and draped it around the victim's shoulders. The victim clung the coat tight around her and her breathing regained some stability. That was a smart move and John wished he had a coat to give the victim as well. 

Instead, he talked. "Miss? Are you able to stand? Did they hurt you in a way that you can't move?" He talked lightly and softly. He also made sure to keep his distance from the poor girl as well. He knew that they wouldn't really want a male anywhere near them, but now he had a woman who could help her more than he.

The lady slid a hand under the chin of the victim. The girl's head slowly came up. Every shiver and hiccup disappeared when she looked the lady in the face. It almost looked like she went limp but still had some composure to keep herself sitting up. What was the lady doing? Well, she was just looking at the girl. Her eyes (eye. Wow, he was going to keep messing up with that one) weren't doing anything special; just looking at the victim. It was eerie. John felt like they were having an intimate moment. 

The victim stirred. She shook her head slightly; as if clearing a sound from the air. The girl looked around her surroundings as well and found John. The girl had tear streaks down her face and was blushing a hard yellow color. She covered herself more and John decided to stay focused on her face. "Ma'am? Are you okay?" he whispered. The girl nodded her head, but her face was scrunched up. The lady grabbed at her upper and both rose up slowly. John did the same. 

"I'm sorry to see you like this, Miss," the skilled lady spoke and her voice was as rough as her appearance. John doubted that it would make it into a choir. "We just happened upon you here. It looks like you've had a bit too much drink. Or maybe you were lost? I do know this village very well if you need a guide." The way this lady talked, it reminded John of Rose's mother; like something was hiding behind her words. The lady turned the girl so she was facing the street. The girl didn't seem to see her earlier attackers at all in fact. Should he say something?

The girl shrugged her shoulders and looked down at the ground. She kept walking toward the exit with the lady at her hand. As they passed John, it was almost like the girl didn't see him at all. They brushed past him and the girl broke from the lady; hurrying out onto the streets. John soon lost sight of her, but it looked as if she had been fastening the front of the coat. The lady stood at the entrance; watching the girl run off. What was going on here?

"Uh, Miss?" John voiced. The lady turned around and her eyes didn't transfix him as before. He let out a breath at that. "What just happened there? Is she going for the soldiers? Or help? She looked very confused." The lady smirked and that expression seemed natural on her face. The lady laughed a bit and sauntered, actually sauntered, back into the alley. 

"The girl has gone home. She's very cold and hungry. I bet she'll go for some nice bread and cheese; the finest she has at the moment." The lady filled him in and still, he was concerned. 

"She's gone home? Well, I understand that, I guess. Are you going for the soldiers now? These men still need to-" The lady pushed past him to the men on the ground. She picked out a new knife from her boot and slashed the throats of both men. John gasped and stumbled back. She just killed them. She was going to go to jail for that! What if they had friends and they came after her? Scumbags mingle with other scumbags! John looked toward the entrance of the alley and saw no one there. Did anyone see that? "Ma'am, your violence was unnecessary! If the soldiers find out you killed them, they'll lock you up!"

The lady turned back toward her with her dual dyed knife. Her eye glinted and she kept the knife out. "Lock me up? That is what you're concerned about? Not about the lives of your brothers?" She gestured back at the men. 

"The rage you are feeling right now that made you kill them is what I feel too. Don't doubt that. There are simplier ways to give these men justice than by taking their lives."

"I have just avenged many girls who had their innocence stolen from them by these men," the lady sheathed her dagger in her boot; blood and all. She stood up straighter and glared him down. "Those girls can now rest easy knowing that less men like them are wandering their streets. These men, deserved what they got." John and she stared each other down. She had a point. A nasty and truthful point, but still valid. John just wished she hadn't killed them. 

He sighed and ran his hand through his hair; pushing his hood back. "Well, what are we going to do with the bodies then?" The lady blinked. Had John surprised her? But, she slightly nodded and shrugged her shoulders. 

"The soldiers will find them in the morning. These men probably had enemies and will be marked up as that. We can leave here and not have our names connected to these scoundrels. She strode forward and smiled at him. It was still a menacing smile, but John didn't feel that she was going to kill him. But, it was a relief that John could run from this and not get blamed. Yet,-

"What about the girl? What did you do her?" The lady stopped in her tracks toward John. Her smug expression wavered. "I have stopped many crimes like this myself and the victims are not usually able to just walk away without any emotion like she did. Did you have something to do about that? Are you, gifted?" John had heard about highbloods who had powers. Lowbloods were occasionally gifted rather useful gifts, but highbloods were known to be gifted more easily and readily than lowbloods. John did believe that Dave had some sort of powers in him. 

The lady squinted at John. Was she registering him an enemy? Oh boy. John didn't have Aradia here to back him up and knew he probably couldn't take her on his own. The lady stood up straighter, and assumed the position of pride. It looked like she was beaming. "Why yes! I do have a gift. It is probably the most useful one out there! Every highblood gets to have super strength or something like that, but not me. I am able to control them." She grinned widely and spread her arms. "Just by looking at someone, I can control their every move and thought. I can even control masses of men and women for their eyes become mine own. What do you think of that?"

John was impressed. That sounded like a great power. He wished he had one in fact. John nodded. "That sounds incredibly difficult. You've probably taken years to master it."

The lady giggled. "Why yes, and I'm not done with it yet. I can do more than just that. After controlling a victim, I will be able to just reach out with my mind and control them again without having to look at them! And this power I have is not done yet! It still has more ways to aid me." She looked so proud of her gift. It was good that she was using it for good and not bad. Who knows what would happen if she was a bad person. 

"That sounds very impressive! I'm glad you're using it for good then." The lady's expression twitched and her smile grew a bit wider. She dropped her hands to her side and shrugged. 

"Yes. The good is very fortunate to have me fighting on their side. As much as I love being adored by random men, I must go back to the bar. I do have a nice warm mug of ale waiting for me to finish. Happy travelling, Mister-?" She strode up to him while talking and halted very close to him. She left for him to say his name. He shouldn't say his name. It was probably on a wall somewhere and then she'd come to hunt down him and his friends. Still, he wanted to be a bit truthful to her. 

"Henry. Henry Egbert." He stuck his hand out for her to shake while saying his father's name. He could feel his smile dim a bit. His father's name always had that reaction to him. It had been two years since his peaceful passing but it still affected him. The lady stuck her hand out and gave his a firm shake. 

"I would like to tell my name, but I have a feeling that you'll find me again soon, Henry. And when you do," she skirted past him and sauntered to the entrance, but waved her hand at him,"I'd like to be friends!" She zipped around the left corner. John was left in an alleyway with two dead bodies and a foreboding feeling. 

He flipped his hood up over his head again and withdrew from the alley; trying to look casual. The streets were a little more packed with people but Pillip was still standing off to the right; eating some weeds. John shook his head. That had been a weird encounter. He kind of hoped to see the lady again but felt that he'd be seeing her with a sword in his hand and his real name on her lips. Did he feel bad about lying about his real name? Maybe, but it had to be done. At least he gave a name. John stroked Pillip's muzzle and heard the ding of the bakery bell. 

John looked up to see Aradia exit with a small cart full of bread. Wow. They were suppose to keep a low profile and here they were, carrying a cart full of bread. John felt himself smile in spite of himself. She lumbered over to him and scrunched her eyebrows at him. "What is so funny?" John shook his head and snickered a bit. 

"That's, uh, a lot of bread. Do you think we'll get mugged on the way back to camp?" he joked and she shrugged her shoulders. 

"The person who mugs us will have to be someone who loves bread. Now, let's meet up with Jade and Kanaya."

Chapter Text

Kanaya struggled with the cart of bread. Why had they gotten so much again? When they would surely have to pack up the camp and move with Karkat, there would be no way for them to travel quickly with this load of bread trailing behind them. It would be such a waste to dump it in the woods somewhere as well. John huffed from the other side of the cart but still no movement. What could be stopping the cart from moving? There was the obvious answer, branches and rocks, but even then it would bounce with the force of both of them pushing on it. There must be something else. She hitched up her robes and knelt beside the cart to look under it. Ah, there was the answer: sinking mud. 

"John, it will do no good to keep pushing. We will just sink the wheels in deeper." She called to him and sat back on her ankles. What to do now? Well, one could lift the cart up; after taking the bread out of course. There was also just taking out the bread and cutting the cart for firewood and perhaps some crude weapons if necessary. John came around from the other side and looked under as well. He sighed and shook his head. 

"How did we miss that sinking hole when we left or came back! Someone must've sunk a bit while walking through it!" Jade had been pulling the cart.  She could have just trudged through it and not said a thing. Kanaya would not put that past her but now she was fetching Equius and Dave to come lift the cart. She could already hear their voices; especially Karkat's. He sounded quite distressed. Hopefully his moirail would be near to calm him. Karkat always got into a fuss about any problems; he thought deeply. Speaking of which, perhaps Gamzee could also help with the cart; if strength was his highblood advantage.

Dave came around the trees and stood there wordlessly. Perhaps he was examining the scene? She pushed herself up from her knees as Karkat, Gamzee, Equius, Aradia, Jade and Rose followed after Dave. "-bulbous people make filled morgues for us! Who's stupid idea was it to get that much bread! It is taller than necessary! Did someone think we were feeding an army here?! Staying low to the ground is what will keep us alive! And this mound of fat could only be used as a shield!" Karkat was on a rant. He stormed over to the bread and glared at it like the plague. His sleeve was wrinkled and so she pulled it down. 

"It is quite a lot of bread. More than necessary, but now we will not have to worry about our bread supply for a good month or so. I believe that Rose can fix our capacity and stealth problem as well with the bread." She just volunteered Rose's magic to take care of the problem. Surely there must be some magic spell that decreases the volume of an object so that it may fit in a simple burlap, unless Kanaya had been wrong in assuming that Rose knew those spells? She brought a lot of books with her though so there must be some mention of that spell in there. Rose seemed like a capable woman who could also come up with a solution on their inventory issue. She looked up from Karkat and saw Rose nod her head. 

"There are a few spells I could perform that would fix how the bread is stored. The first problem we have is getting the cart unstuck. I am guessing a sinking hole was found?" Rose made her way over to Kanaya. 

"Yes. It is a mystery why we have not encountered it beforehand. Especially with the driver having marched right over it." Kanaya replied as Rose stood beside her. A huff was heard from Jade's direction. Kanaya glanced over to see her with arms crossed; glaring at the sky. 

"I don't know how I got over it without getting stuck either. I didn't feel any suction on my boots as well. It's like it appeared out of nowhere; but that isn't possible. Not even with Rose's magic." Rose did not correct her; perhaps that was true. Kanaya could have sworn that she read somewhere that Seers could materialize out of nowhere. In any case, those tales could just be the populace spreading rumors to drive fear into the hearts. 

"Rose, use your witch magic to get the cart out of the ground." Karkat demanded. Rose stooped to the ground and barely knelt when she looked under the cart. She shook her head when straightening up. 

"The mud has six inches before reaching the bottom of the cart. My magic won't get it out. The best I could help with is lightening the load. Then, our highbloods could easily assist us with getting the cart working. Although, it could be much better with how our company travels to chop it into firewood? We won't need it anymore after I get the bread out and fixed." That was a great solution. How had Rose known that Kanaya had thought the same thing? Perhaps she was a mind reader as well? No, that couldn't be it. Or maybe it could? Kanaya would have to look into that. 

"Doesn't sound half bad, Rose," Dave commented and took off the cloak around his shoulders. He let it slip onto the ground? It was going to get dirty and then Dave would have to wash it once he got done with all of this! He should have hung it up on a tree or given it to someone else for that matter. He walked over to the other side of the cart where Gamzee lounged. 

"Great! Now that we have everything in order, how are we going to go about this, Rose?" John asked and looked excited at the prospect of magic. Had he not lived with Rose for a long time? Would he not be use to it by now? What a strange thought. 

Rose slid her knitting needles out of the ribbon at her waist smoothly. "I will need a burlap sack for this, or rather any bag will work just fine." A burlap bag? Kanaya remembered seeing one hanging out of the cart. She slid past Rose and saw that it was still there. The baker's must have left it there for John and Aradia. How nice of them to do so. She strode forward for the bag and grabbed at it. Except, someone else did too and now they both holding other ends of the bag. She looked up to see Jade holding the other end.

Why was Jade holding it? Had she not seen that Kanaya going for the bag as well? She was much closer to camp that she could have run for a bag. Instead, she went for the one in cart. "Oh, Jade. We were thinking of the same bag that the baker's left for us. Well, thank you for thinking of it, but I'll be giving it to Rose." Kanaya gave a small tug on her end and the bag stretched. Jade was not letting go. She looked frustrated even. 

"Uh, no. This is my bag Kanaya. I had put this bag in the cart when we left the village. You probably would have remembered me doing that if you hadn't been flirting with John all the way back to camp." What? Kanaya flirting with John? What a petty argument. Jade tugged on the bag as well and it was much harder than Kanaya had tugged. She did not let go of her side. 

"Flirting? Is inquiring about a friend's well being and laughing at their jokes considered courtly advances now?" John's jokes had been quite funny that she could not help but laugh at. And, Kanaya could tell that Aradia was a hard girl to deal with and just wanted to know how his day had been. It's not her day had gone any better. The whole time she had been with Jade was spent exchanging jabs and pokes; which does get frustrating after a time. It put Kanaya in a sour mood whenever Jade was present. But, she tried her best to keep her calm, but this was not one of those times. "Besides, I do not know how you got into possession of this bag. We never passed a merchant giving out free bags and I had done most of the shopping that involved bags like these."

Jade's face scrunched up quickly. Kanaya had said the wrong thing. She should have kept her calm but Jade just had to ruin it. She needed to stop this. She was going to journey with Jade for a long time and needed to know how to get along with her. Kanaya sighed. "Okay, that was going too far. A merchant could have been giving out bags and I just did not notice-"

"No! You just accused me of thievery!" Jade spat and pulled on the bag with all her might. Kanaya stumbled from the force right into Jade's bosom. That was not the best place to be at all. She felt herself blush as Jade stumbled from Kanaya's impact. She quickly removed herself from Jade's chest and let go of a piece of the sack. Jade found her balance and she saw a touch of bronze on her cheeks as well. This whole ordeal smelled calignious. Kanaya needed to stop being as such!

John was by Jade's side and gently touched her shoulder and wrist as well. It was brotherly contact one would see in family's. Kanaya felt a hand at her shoulder. "Okay, okay. Let's stop this right now. The only person who has permission in this camp to be cat-like is Nepeta, so you two need to stop calignious flirting, ya hear? This thing is so quadrant filled that I would think it came out of a theater production!" Karkat had a lower volume from Kanaya's shoulder. Oh, so that's who was touching her. And even thought it rang with black flirting. 

That topic was disgusting in and of itself and to think that Kanaya was making such approaches! Her face grew hotter at the thought. That black quadrant was obviously just a ploy for two people to be mean and gruesome with each other while also fulfilling romantic needs like kissing and such. Kanaya saw Jade become bronzer at the Karkat's words. While she was distracted, Kanaya gave a flippant tug on the bag and Jade's grip was loosened. She did not even seem to notice the bag was gone. John, meanwhile, had such a confused look on his face. Wait, did he not know? "Uh, what does calignious mean?" he asked. 

Oh, he really did not know. "What?!" Karkat barked and his volume returned to normal. Kanaya's ears pulsed and she realized that her tolerance to his preferred volume had died away. What a shame. "Do you not know about calignious love?! Of moirallegiance?! Of auspisticism?!" John shook his head at everything Karkat was saying. It did not surprise Kanaya at all, but Karkat did have a deep interest and devotion to such topics. It looked like he was starting to shake. She quickly put her hand on his shoulder and rubbed it softly. 

"Karkat, you can not be mad at someone for their ignorance. John was not raised the same way we were. He lived closer to the capital and you know how they disprove of such traditions. I am such that John would love to find out more about the quadrants." John nodded his head at that and looked genuinely interested. That is good, but thinking about the quadrants made her heart twang. Here she was, acting like a moirail to Karkat when his was standing just mere feet away. Yet, Gamzee did not act at all like this was bad; even thought he should be the one to calm Karkat down. Did she want to Karkat's moirail? It was a thought, but he clearly has chosen who he wants and hopefully that works out for him. 

"It is a wonder that the royalbloods haven't outright written a decree banning such practices." Dave piped up and Kanaya could not tell where his tone was going with that sentence. "I think we should bottle that crap up and save it for another time though. Quadrants give me headaches and clearly makes Karkat go into a bad enough frenzy that his moirail has to be called." Ah, there was the jab. Gamzee did perk up at being called by his moirail though. Karkat stiffened again. Maybe she should get Gamzee to come over here and work his moirail magic?

"That is an excellent idea, Dave," Rose smoothly stepped into the conversation. She hitched her wands up, mumbled a few words and cobalt light surrounded the pile. The mound of bread started to decrease in size. "I believe that we still have a job to get done here and Nepeta made a delicious fish soup for us tonight that these rolls would go lovely with. That seems like the proper setting to discuss such interesting beliefs." The bread was small enough to be held on someone's head. It drifted up into the air and edged toward Kanaya. Oh! It was her turn now to catch the bread. She opened the mouth of the bag and the bread slid smoothly in. The once giant pile barely reached the top of the bag. The cobalt faded and Kanaya was left with a light bag. "I made it a bit lighter for travelling purposes." Rose explained and slipped the needles back into her waist. She smiled at Kanaya who could not help but smile back. What a clever girl. 

Chapter Text

Kanaya looked down at Nepeta’s soup. It was not exactly as pretty smelling, pretty looking, as the soups from the orphanage. It looked like the fish that Nepeta had caught had been ruggedly chopped into uneven quantities. The color of the soup gave no assurance that it would taste any good at all. Still, she had to give Nepeta a bit of an applause for not leaving the heads in here. She was probably using them for other purposes...oh dear, Kanaya was losing her appetite at the thought. No need to dwell on that, and she could not complain on what was made for her. She lifted the spoon to her mouth and sipped a bit of it. Well, that was much better than she would have thought. The roll would do it much better like Rose had suggested. “Could someone pass me a roll?” she asked to the rest of the group.

Everyone was situated around the warming campfire. Nepeta was still over by her cooking station, which also included a fire as well to keep the soup warm, stirring occasionally and talking nervously with Jade who stood close by. Why was Jade harassing Nepeta now? The soup had not been that bad! Kanaya mentally hit herself. Why was she still caught up in Jade’s business? She was not going to give back any caliginous actions or thoughts for that matter.

Someone bumped her arm with something warm and Kanaya turned her attention back from Jade. Rose held out the roll that still glowed slightly cobalt from Rose returning it to its normal size. Kanaya smiled politely. “Thank you, Rose. You were right in combination of Nepeta’s soup with these rolls. Nepeta’s soup could stand on its own, but bread does seem to make everything better.” She ripped off a tiny chunk and dipped it in the soup.

“Why, thank you. When I worked in John’s bakery, everyone always gave me good suggestions on what to eat the bakery rolls with for the perfect supper meal. Most of the suggestions were various soups and I believe potatoes were also advised as well.” Rose explained everything so eloquently. It was nice to someone with a good vocabulary around to talk with. Terezi did have some pretty words that contributed well to any conversation, but she eventually started to talk in her weird Seer way. Thank goodness Rose acted no such way.

Kanaya ate the dabbed piece of roll. As predicted, both were splendid together. She looked around at the rest of the circle. John and Tavros seemed to talking about something; thought it looked more like John was doing most of the talking. Gamzee was on the other side of Tavros and was staring dopey at said person. What was going on between those two? Equius was actually next to Gamzee and looked like he trying very hard to make his muscles seem bigger. It was expected that Aradia was next to him. Dave sat the other side of her. He seemed to be trying to elicit a conversation out of her, but she responded only with shrugs and moving her head. Oh, and there was Terezi. She sat just outside the circle on a log she pulled up from somewhere; solemnly eating. Could she still be thinking about that fight from this morning? Rose was next and then herself and Karkat was to her right.

Speaking of which, Karkat was barely touching his food. Instead, he was jotting furiously in his journal. He was muttering continuously. Looked up at everyone, then down at it with more things to write. What was he doing? Could he be making plans for tent assignments? He had been complaining about his tent mates; even though he had only slept with them for a night.

“Kanaya?” Rose spoke up and Kanaya looked away from Karkat. She still had the urge to look over Karkat’s shoulder at his writing, but postponed it for later. He would eventually show her...if she asked nicely enough. Oh, Rose, right. They had been in a conversation and Kanaya had forgotten to reply. Now, here she was looking like an absent-minded lady.

“I am sorry. I got caught up in a thought. We were talking about rolls, right?” She quickly tried to salvage the conversation but a snapping sound thudded beside her. She did not need to turn to know that Karkat had viciously shut his journal and had probably stood up to get everyone’s attention and silence.

“Alright, alright! I’m going to address the elephant in the room now! Even though we’re in the forest for heaven’s sake and I don’t think elephants even live close to us cuz’ we’d just kill them for their skins!” He gestured off-offhandedly.
“Karkat, you’re rambling like a wheel, bro,” Gamzee loudly burped right after saying such a thing and Kanaya could not help but wince at his manners.

“Thank you for unhelpful contribution, Gamzee! Really, I don’t know what I would do without you! Yes, on with the discussion! Glad to see that most annoying of you guys have stuffed mouths so none of you will interrupt me! Anyway, It’s come to my attention that some of you don’t know or fully understand the quadrant system! Well, I’m here to forcefully baptize into the capstone of our civilization!”

Nepeta sat up straighter with eyes alight. That’s right. The girl had an avid fixation on pairing people together and such. She probably adored the quadrant system as much as Karkat. Had those two talked about their similar passions yet? It would make a lovely conversation to listen to. As for the other’s reactions to Karkat’s statement, it varied.

Some looked resigned, mostly the ones who had heard about this before; Dave did so much as to slump lower to the ground. John and Rose leaned forward to hear more. Terezi’s head raised a bit and Gamzee’s seemingly permanent smile faltered into deep concentration. How had Gamzee not known about his own moirail’s interest? How did he not know what a moirail was?

“Okay! First thing is first; what is the quadrant system? Well, back at the beginning of the kingdom, there were four forms of love and those four forms were broken into two groups. There’s the conciliatory loves and the concupiscent loves. Each form of love is also represented by a symbol that influenced the famous card deck that we see at all taverns. The heart represents matespritship; the form of love that is the most practiced today and looks to be the only one that survived the flippin Seer’s cultural sacking! The diamond represents moirallegiance; the best friend love. The spade represents kismesissitude; the hate love. And the final quadrant, is the club that stands for auspisticism; a complicated but essential form of love.”

“Wait!” John interrupted,” Hate love? How does one love someone and also hate them at the same time? That’s just called a rival!”

“John, that is spot on to how a kismesis works!” Nepeta jumped up from her spot on the log. Her hands were shaking by her chin. “A kismesis is the bond formed by two people who are caught up in competition! This is a form of love where the pair constantly push the other to be better and so the other can have a rival or competitor! The base of it is people who are dissatisfied with how the other turned out. That can take place in the form of nagging instead of constant fights. The pair will poke holes in the other person to fix and make the holes stronger. This usually occurs when a moirallegiance falls out on bad terms but they still want the other to be better!”

“Yeah! Uh, thanks Nepeta for joining in there.” Karkat looked at a loss for words. Did he feel like he was getting shown up? Nepeta was brilliant in these kinds of things but they were equal in knowledge; if Kanaya was still remembering it right. “There are many more components to a kismesis than what she stated but you look like you’re going to crap yourself if I explain anything else!” Karkat was glaring at John who did look constipated.

“Uh, that is, uh, wow. It sounds like an intense romance,” John finally stuttered out. He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

“Oh, just wait for the other-” Nepeta started to say but stopped when a journal and pencil flitted past her head and into the hands of Rose. She grabbed at the two with one hand and stuffed her wands, that had been silently glowing, back into her dress. She flipped to a page and started to fervently write notes; head bowed and not acknowledging any of the weird stares thrown at her. Kanaya herself was impressed that that was how serious Rose was about this. “-uh, black romance. It is quite an interesting romance and not very well practiced!”

Nepeta was picking up enthusiasm from Rose’s actions.

“Yes, auspisticism. That one is not as commonly practiced in our regions as well, but it is still very important to the dynamic of the quadrant system!” Karkat quickly jumped in so he could have a change to explain. This was Kanaya’s second favorite kind of romance; the first being matespritship. Karkat rubbed his hands together giddily. “An auspisticism forms when a kismesis fails. The pair have means to violently kill the other or have no intention of making the other better and just want to see them fail. This is when a third party steps in-” John’s face contorted,”-and helps the two restrain themselves, or helps fix how they view the other and themselves. An auspisticism can form from the two sharing a matesprit who is also the other’s kismesis. That is how it commonly shows up in modern society.”

There were many uncomfortable looks around the campfire; with the exception of Rose who still jotted down words anxiously. Kanaya was disappointed that this form of romance was not well liked by many. Probably because it included three which was uncomfortable to think about sharing a partner, but what could she say; three made the experience quite enjoyable. Not that she had ever been in an auspisticism. She wished she did though.

“Oh! There’s also, moirails! I promise that this form of romance is not as complicated or intense as the other two!” Nepeta pounced closer to the fire and into the next explanation. “Moirails is the next step of friends! They are a pair who wish to fix their partner. They see great qualities in the other and want to make the other’s life better by giving them advice. Both share this profound love, that has been translated as brotherly, for the other to improve in all obstacles. It is the less violent version of a kismesis basically! The kismesis wants a rival and a moirail wants their friend to be the best they can be!”

Nepeta looked over at Equius as she finished who was smiling, not creepily as he normally did at Aradia, but sweetly at Nepeta. It was obvious the two were moirails. They each had a strip of cloth with the other’s blood color and initials on it. This was a moirail that Kanaya accepted and thought was good. She also caught Karkat looking at Gamzee who was smiling at the stars. Poor Karkat, she would’ve done better, but perhaps Gamzee is helping in his own way.

“Yeah, yeah, moirails are awesome! Really, they are a more perfected form of friendship seen ever!” Karkat replied grumpily. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Finally, there’s the last form of romance; matespritship. It is what the inner court actually practices when one thinks of love and is the most practiced form of romance! It is a person who loves the other with no reserves; no matter the person does or has done in the past. Any questions?”

“Uh, yes, actually,” John slowly spoke up and tried to straighten his slumped posture a bit. “How is any of the forms romantic? Isn’t the conception of romance a bond that excites a romantic move from the other person?”

“Yep! In all these forms of romance, it is not uncommon to see the pair exchanges kisses, or hugs or any of the other usual forms of romantic feelings!” Nepeta smirked a bit at the last part; which made John blush. Oh boy, did Nepeta just imply that in the quadrant system, you could have intercourse with multiple people?

“Great Nepeta! Yes! In these forms of romance, one is allowed to have a bucket filling session with the person they have engaged in a quadrant! And yes, if you are engaged in a moirallegiance and a matespritship with two different people, you can be filling pails with both of them in the same week! And before you get into marriage, back in the day, there were different marriages, but no one practices that now! You only marry your matesprit and interact with your other quadrants during the same time. No, you may not have more than one person in each quadrant! So get that sick idea out of your head!”

John looked shocked and looked as if he were doing math; which was never a great thought process. Rose placed a hand on John’s shoulder; coming out of her studious revery. “It’s a lot to take in John. It does sound like a very ambitious form of courting. I don’t think we need to step right on into that whole barrel. Perhaps, we could just observe?” John looked a little better and nodded his head slightly.

“That is most open moirail boner I’ve ever seen, and you guys didn’t even know about the quadrant system till now!” Karkat remarked and Kanaya desperately wanted to slap her hand to her forehead. John grew more red and Rose turned slightly pink but mostly looked crossed. Jade gasped from wherever she was.

“Karkat!” She chided.

“Okay, dude, too far,” Dave piped. He unfolded his arms and pushed them on his knees, like he was going to spring up. “You know that they knew nothing of the quadrant system and you can clearly see that they are uncomfortable by the thought. Back off before pushing your obsession on them, because the quadrants aren’t for everyone. All that matters is that you find love; doesn’t matter which one you find. Some people can only handle one romance and that is all that is needed sometimes. It likes if you try to put a wedding cake on top of another wedding cake. That’s great and all but that mound is gonna tip if the person didn’t make it right. It’s mostly for people who can’t make up their mind about others and how they feel so they conceal it under the other forms of this ‘romance’.”

Karkat glared at Dave so ferociously that Kanaya feared that while she was away he had found out he had a blood power and was trying to use it on Dave. That was not good. She had to calm him down some how. Focus on someone else and appease to Karkat’s wish of everyone embracing his passion. It was quite rude for Dave to nag on Karkat’s dreams though. She turned to John.

“John, when engaging in the quadrant love, you do not need to have all of the quadrants filled. Many people have different tastes as well. If a kismesis is not to your fitting, then it’ll be alright. As long as you understand how it works and can form a respect for it, I believe that the purpose of this discussion will be filled.” Kanaya spoke up on the account on everyone. It always seemed that in deciding to live this way, you must love and be in all the quadrants. She did not have any love for the black romance, but could see how one can form a liking to that category.

“Kanaya, is right!” Karkat announced. He focused on John, still shaking from being mad, but trying his hardest to turn away from Dave. “This form of art should be respected because not only is it incredibly complex to understand, yet simple enough that any buffoon can learn it, it also is the keystone to a healthy person! If one is able to have an outlet for every emotion expressed then we as a whole community will be much happier!” He shot Dave a glare at the end of his speech; which was very nice and spoke his true belief.

“Yes! I agree with everything Karkitty just said!” Nepeta nodded vigorously. “If you guys are ever confused on feelings of any kind, I am more than willing to help you all sort them out! If you have any questions too on the subject of quadrants, I have done a lot of research and can be considered an expert on this!” She tilted her head up slightly and wore a proud expression. What a nice girl.

“Nepeta stole my words again! As your leader, you should trust in me with all matters! I too am a genius on this and can help you work this out! You should also tell me these things so your assignments can be with the ones who you will work better with! Okay, that’s all! It’s late and we have work tomorrow! We’re moving camp to our other location because who knows what attention you guys would have brought us from your trip into town!”      

Chapter Text

“You don’t think I was black flirting with Kanaya, do you Dave?” Jade was hung up about this. Kanaya had rubbed her the wrong way when they first met, and it didn’t get better when she was just welcomed into the camp like she was their mother or something, and Jade might be carrying a grudge against Kanaya, but could that be considered black flirting?

Nothing against the black quadrants of course. They were essential to the whole aspect of the quadrant system and seemed like the perfect opposites for the other two. Jade had seen many black romances and had participated in one herself in her experimental teenaged years, but that did not mean she wanted to be in one now!

“Jade, you are hung up on Kanaya like a coat and a hook. I barely like to skinny dip into the quadrant system like the rest of you guys and here you are, dragging me headfirst into the drama of second nastiest quadrant. But, we’re pals and you can’t talk to Rose or John about this, so I’ll unclog my ears of quadrant discrimination and give my best advice.” Dave rattled off monotonically while he fiddled with the small, handcrafted bowl from The Mayor.

They stood in line for Nepeta’s fish soup, which smelly quite fishy, and had just been talking leisurely when Jade had seen Kanaya sidle on up to Tavros and try to get him to talk about his red feelings. Which flustered the poor kid and was so rude of a way to get into anyone’s business! That had just thrown Jade into a heated rant, that led to the silence of the realization that perhaps Jade had been black flirting.

“Okay,” Jade tried to brace herself for Dave’s honest answers, “hit me with it then”.

“Okay, I’d say you’re litely black flirting with her. When you were ranting about her trying to illicit a friendship from Tavros made it seem like you wanted her to do better at it but was also annoyed at the fact that she was doing it just to find out about his red feelings for Gamzee. You’re on the brink of wanting her to be a better rival for you to handle, but are in the budding stages of black romance. This is the crossroad you need right now. You can decide to leave Kanaya alone and continue on your merry way, or-”

“How much soup do you both want?” Nepeta jumped into the conversation with her ladle full of fish guts. That was an unappetizing sight, but it was dinner.

“Fill the bowl Nepeta. Thanks. Anyway,” Dave held up his bowl to be filled and continued on with the conversation to Jade. “Or, you could just follow this pattering feeling of wanting to wrestle Kanaya to the ground the beat her up while taking eating her lips in an intense kismesistude way”.

“Ooo! Are you talking about quadrants Dave?” Nepeta gestured for Jade’s bowl while fixing Dave with a crazy stare. It showed the emotion she was going for though; interest. Dave gave a slight nod.

“I’m just helping my good pal Jade here with some quadrant advice,” he shovelled a spoon of fish guts into his mouth without a flinch. Jade weakly gave her bowl to Nepeta as the girl turned on her with her interested gaze.

“Oh? Are you in a litter of quadrant issues? I know a lot about them and how they work! I bet I could help you, if you let me know what it’s about!” Nepeta just looked so excited that it was cute. She just wanted to help and was probably helping out by making the fish soup too. Jade still looked at Dave for reassurance about her black problem. Dave nodded his head and then strode off for the circle of friends. Well, that solved that then.

Jade actually sighed a bit. “Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m concerned about what Karkat said about Kanaya and I. He thinks we are being very caliginous toward each other and I don’t know what to think of that”. Nepeta’s wild expression calmed into a peaceful one and it made sense why she had been excited before. Maybe no one really told her about their romantic problems when she herself had a passion for such things. What a very rude thing to do to her.

She ladled a bit of soup into the bowl; not a lot thank goodness. “Well, you know about what the black quadrant is about, right?” Jade nodded. “Have you been in a black relationship yourself though?” Jade got flashbacks of a girl in a blue dress. Of them wrestling for the affections of a boy and then to get out their daily frustrations on the other. She nodded again.

Nepeta handed the bowl back to Jade who blew on it to cool it down; and to put off actually eating it. “Well, it sounds like you know perfectly well what a kismesis calls for then! Do you want a kismesis at this moment though? It seems like you could be ready for it and look like the perfect opponent for anyone honestly! So many imperfections that make you almost unfit to be a matesprit, but at the same time a fierceness that can rile anyone up”. Jade stopped blowing on the soup. What had Nepeta said? She glanced up to see Nepeta turn a little olive at the cheeks. So, she had misspoken as well.

“Huh, Nepeta, do we, uh, need to talk about something?” She grasped the sides of bowl tentatively. She had nothing against Nepeta, except maybe her cooking, and she had thought the same. They seemed alike too when Dave had spoken about her. Yet, something was off and Jade was wondering what she had done wrong. Or, maybe this had something to do with Dave himself? Did Nepeta-?

“Oh, um, well, this situation isn’t purrfect,” she rolled her ‘r’s, “, but I have had some nasty feelings for you. They’re not caliginous when I spoke about them with Equius, they’re something else. He said it was, ehem, jealousy”. Oh, jealousy? Jade had been friendly with Dave and maybe Nepeta carried a crush on him since their castle days together? But, no, she didn’t act all in love with Dave when he had been here earlier. Could it be then...Karkat? She does act weird around him. Oh boy. She needed to set things straight.

“Oh, Nepeta. Are you talking about Karkat?” She made sure to lower her voice so the people eating couldn’t hear. Nepeta grew more olive and started to stir the soup a bit more aggressively. That was a positive. “Nepeta, I want to assure you that Karkat and I have nothing toward each other anymore. We talked about it this morning and we both agreed that those flushed feelings had gone with the time. The actions and friendliness I give him now is one of reuniting with an old friend! Like how you pounced on Dave when you realized who he was!” Jade tried to lighten her voice and smiled a bit. Nepeta giggled at the thought. “The same is for Karkat and I. I love him like a friend and wish to just catch up on everything that has happened.”

“I don’t have any reason to doubt you, but are you sure he was telling the truth?” Nepeta asked dejectedly. Had she given up and was just harboring flushed feelings for him? Terezi and Karkat had gotten a bit close lately, but the fight from that morning was still something to think about.

“I’m positive! I think the two of you would be great together!” Terezi and Karkat seemed at a back draw right now. Plus, it was clear that Nepeta wasn’t getting over this easily. She also seemed more stable and less shifty than Terezi. True, Terezi brought a kick out of Karkat and seemed to make him more aware, but Nepeta shared passions with him and could talk to him about it when Terezi could not understand. Yet, there was still the fact that Karkat was flushed, or maybe pitched, for Terezi.

As if Nepeta could read her mind, she glanced at Terezi who sulked behind Dave. Jade shook her head. “I think those two are at a block right now, and maybe they’re destined to just be kismesises. You and Karkat could still have a chance! I say, you just need to get him to talk about quadrants and the two of you will hit it off! He’ll see how great you are for him!” Nepeta perked up a bit at that and got an air of determination. She was a cat, er girl, ugh lady, on a mission.

“You’re right Jade! I think I can do this! I’ll just pounce right into his red quadrant like a cat and a ball!” She quickly ladled some soup and marched over to Equius and Aradia. Where she plopped herself down and grinned down at her soup.

Well, that went better than expected. Hopefully Jade was right in Karkat accepting Nepeta and making Terezi a kismesis. Those two would make a good pitch pair to watch interact. And if that didn’t work out, Jade did like watching a good fight for a man’s heart. Not that she wanted to participate in any activities herself. Oh no, she was more like a shipper. She liked pairing them all up. Maybe she and Nepeta could talk about that sometime? Sounded good.

Jade scooped some soup into her mouth right as she realized what she had done. She had been caught up in thought! She hadn’t even thought  and was hungry and now the soup was-...good. This soup was not bad at all. Jade was now a Karpeta girl all the way.

Chapter Text

After all was said at the campfire, John fell into an easy sleep that night. The stew and bread had been perfect and his mind had been sore from thinking too much about quadrants. Karkat had also been following John around; talking about quadrant specifics while John had been packing up the camp with everyone else. Now, it time to do his weird dreaming.

Ever since the first day of this adventure, John had not had any dreams, but he did have weird visions. Everything was dark, but he could feel, hear and taste. The dreams weren’t bad, he had just thought they would pass soon enough. Maybe the Gods had forgiven him this time around and he could have normal dreams?

Nope, John drifted asleep and ‘woke’ up to someone humming. It was a coastal song that he had heard sea merchants singing whenever they came into town. He knew a bit but decided not to sing; the voice was good enough on its own. He heard a soft glass chime; yet no wind? He could smell sea candy. The kind that was sticky and was said to make you laughy. He was on something soft; was it a bed? But still a chill sat on his shoulders.

This was not the place he had been last night. This place was different. Someone was pouring water into a cup and then he felt hair tickling his right side. The humming stopped. “I’ve been with you long enough to know when you’re smiling! Did you like my song? My father composed it for me on my fifth birthday. I haven’t sung it in awhile actually, but I heard a servant singing it to herself softly, so it’s been stuck in my head! Not a bad song to keep in your head though! The words are really nice! I just wish I could remember them. Hopefully,” an object, probably a cup, was set down on a surface near his ear and fabric shifted. She must’ve sat down. “, you’ll help me remember them when you wake up?”

John couldn’t respond of course, but he didn’t know all the words of the sea song. He knew the chorus and that was all, but maybe it would kick-start the girl’s memory. That was another thing, he didn’t know her name still! Had she forgotten to tell him, or was she purposefully keeping it from him?

The lady sighed. “Ugh, I wish I had found Sollux! Not only to see him, but also to have him wake you up as well! I feel like we’d be besties! You probably have a lot of stories! I do too! Everyone I’ve found have amazing stories! You also look buff enough to battle! I’m an ace at the trident, you know! Got first in every competition! But throwing a trident at dummies gets boring, I need a real partner! And you look perfect for the job!”

What? She wants to practice on him trident throwing? He’s never thrown a trident! Or a spear! He’s horrible at the sword and any long range weapons! She’d fork him right on through! Maybe it was safe to stay asleep?

“Oh! You look scared! You don’t have to worry about dying in our duels! The Dersians here are handy with patching up cuts and bones of all kinds! Plus, all they have to do is lick your wound after sewing you and it goes away like magic! I thought they were Seers, or possess black magic, but they’re just normal fishies!”

Fishies? So, there were people who lived in Derse that were fishes? That was weird, but he wouldn’t judge.

“They are a bit worse than the real Dersites, but they’re still cool! They know all the cheats to every game, how to hide a body and the best way to spread the most believable rumors! I’ve only used the rumors one on my brother though. Told everyone that his glasses are fake and he only uses them to make him look more sophisticated! Of course, it’s easy to spread rumors about him; no one really likes him that much and will take anything negative about him to heart.

“It’s kind of sad,” The lady went silent. What was she thinking about? Her brother? Now he was wondering what this brother was like if everyone hated him so much. Maybe a lowblood? Or just a sour person in general. The lady touched his hair. Just placed her hand on top of his head and sunk her hand into it. That was kind of weird, but it felt good. She was rubbing it now and scratching it! Oh wow, Rose had never done this before. It felt...really good. John loved it.

“Oh?” She giggled but it wasn’t as bubbly as the last one. “You like this huh? I think it’s a universal guy thing now. I did it with Sollux whenever he would tell me about his friends. I did it with my brother whenever he was having a bad day. This always helped them relax. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I hope this is helping you too.”

A stool scrapped the ground and the bed John was on leaned toward the lady. He was lifted up a bit and when he was set down, his head was in someone’s lap. Oh. The lady had set his head in her lap and was massaging his head with both hands. Really going at it too. His head was buzzing from her warm hands rolling all the bad spots away on his head.

“Maybe you can still help me relax without waking up. You can’t rub my worries away, but I’ll tell you about them. Just, promise not to swim to the nearest fish and tell, okay? Okay.” She got quiet. Probably thinking, but then sighed.

“My life has been chaos ever since Sollux left. He use to come over every month and check in on me. I still promised him that when I took the throne, I’d help out his cause and he’d promise to introduce me to all his friends once I did. And then, he told about this girl back home. He said that when this was all over, he’d go back to her. That he’d marry her like he had promised a long time ago. It was such a sweet thing to hear him talk about her, it made me jealous and sad. I was stupid to think that such a caring guy like him didn’t have a girl out there. I was distressed when I came back to my room, and it didn’t make anything better when our advisor was there.

“He was hampering me about if I was planning on getting betrothed soon! And since my only real option was out the door, I told him I wasn’t. He told me that the law made it clear only a man could rule and that- that they were going to give the throne to my brother.” The lady clenched her hands in John’s hair which was starting to hurt. “They announced it the next day and- and Sollux hasn’t come back since! I keep thinking that maybe he went and married that maid he was talking about, but I also keep thinking that he was only friends with me for the throne as well. That without it, I wasn’t of use to him. Either way, he hasn’t come back yet, and I don’t know what to think.”

Her hands relaxed but didn’t put as much force into massaging his head. John was confused. She had mentioned a throne? Was she a princess? John didn’t know much about his monarchy, so it could be his princess, but John thought royal bloods were supposed to be rude? All she had done for him was be kind. It could be a fixture of his imagination.

She sighed again. “It doesn’t help that my brother is pushing himself onto me. We have been the best of friends since I could remember, and only recently has it been brought up that we aren’t really blood related at all. He brought that up too recently. He, uh, he also told me he liked me in more than a sisterly way.” What? Had John heard that right? A brother, not by blood, had feelings for his sister? Oh man. That did not sound right at all! John got a sick feeling. It was like if he would marry Rose! He couldn’t stomach it at all.

“Wow...I’ve never seen that look on your face before. It’s kind of ugly. Are you disgusted as well? That’s what I’m going to take it as. And listen, I’m not going to marry my brother! I don’t care about the throne that much! I could still take control of it other ways. Perhaps murder, or find a guy to marry. Then, I could steal the throne back, demote my brother to a Duke or something and do what Sollux would’ve wanted! I just have to find a guy first…

“If you were awake, I’d put you on the hunt to find me a nice guy to marry. You could be my ultimate wing-man. You look up for the job too. Of course, if you wanted, I could pay you for doing that. I don’t really have any particulars about my guy either. I don’t care about blood, as long as he is loyal, kind, smart, and loves fish puns! Haha, those are my only-”

A door was thrown open and hit a wall with a squeal of its hinges and a crack of the wall. The lady gasped mid sentence and her hands lifted from his hair. John heard loud shoes start into the room.

“Fef! There you are! You told me that we would have a midnight snack today as soon as possible! I got those carapacians to get fish around for our favorite sandwiches and everything! Why are you-?” An annoying voice that belonged to a man accompanied the boots and seemed like a talker too. While he had been talking though, John heard the lady, Fef, growl. She didn’t seem to like this guy and John could only imagine what he looked like.

There was a brief moment of silence but John’s head was dropped onto the bed and was tilted backward as more weight went behind him. He felt feet, so maybe Fef was standing?

“How dare you storm into my room like you own the place! This isn’t home Eridan! You do not rule this place anymore than I do!”

“Fef, what are you doing with Prospitian dreamer?! They are deadly you know! Full of tricks! Remember that last one we met? The one with only one eye? She-!”

“Shut up!” John flopped back even more and then bounded forward a bit as Fef left the bed. He heard the scrap of metal, a thud on the ground and then a gasp from Eridan. “I rule this tower, and this part of the planet. I don’t want to see you around here, got it?”

“Then who sent me the note before I went to bed? Saying you wanted to meet and talk? Don’t act like you don’t want to talk this out. We’re friends, Fef. I just want us to be happy.”
“I want to be alone. I need to think, and being away from you helps me think. You have more important things to do waking and sleeping than running after me, remember? You have a stupid law to enforce and organize.”

“Is all this about that decree?! Gosh, Fef! I told you my reason for that! It is for our own safety-”

“I’m sure that I can keep myself safe without your help,” Fef spat. There was silence.

“That boy will be a menace if you keep him near you,” Eridan grumbled and Fef sighed.

“This boy needs help waking up. He’s still asleep. I will let you stay a moment longer if you help me wake him up.” Fef said dejectedly.

“Hmmm, tempting but no. Prospitians are no good. I can still see you when we wake and sleep. You’ll eventually have thought out your last thought and then will turn to me. I know you need the throne for something and by marrying me, you’ll get it.”

“Get out before I fork you. Don’t think I won’t. Dersians are just as good at repairing people as they at cheating.” Silence followed the comment, and then footsteps faded into the distance. Metal clanged lightly onto the ground that was followed by shifting fabric. Something soft hit the ground and John could hear sniffling. Fef was hurt and John wanted to help her.

Just as that thought entered his mind, he woke up jarringly back in his tent with his cheek stinging.

Chapter Text

John did not immediately jerk up like a normal person, but woke up. Wait, why was he waking up? Was something-

“Wake up you smelly sack of dirt!” Both of John’s cheeks were slapped mercilessly; yet quietly. Why was Karkat slapping him softly? And talking to him softly as well? It was whisper screaming. He tried to grab at Karkat’s hands but only grabbed one which yanked itself out of his hold. “Great! You’re awake! Where’s your pathetic weapons?! We’ve got intruders and by the sound of it, they’re trained!”

What? John pushed himself up as quickly as his limbs could let him. It was still dark, but he saw someone right in his face. Wait, he heard steel and what sounded like the twang of a bow. A fight. Karkat grabbed John’s arm and yanked him to a standing position; with much stumbling.

“Stop wasting around! There’s a fight going on! I found your weapon for you! Get out there and stop them!” Karkat dragged a now half wake John toward the tent flap where he was going to fight whatever was out there. Wait…

“Wait!” John now finally woke up. There was a fight, with an unknown enemy and John hadn’t seen Dave yet. There was yells of frustration and what sounded like pain! What was John going to find out there? John yanked his arm out of Karkat’s hold and looked at him. Karkat was the angriest John had seen him. Shaking all over and baring his teeth like he was going to bite someone!

“Karkat, tell me what happened before I woke up. Where’s Dave? How did you know that someone was out there?”

“We have no time for this babble John! These intruders could be killing your friends at this time!” A scream of rage, or pain, rang through the tent flaps. That was Jade. What happened to her? John looked back at Karkat and saw his whole stance change. It had been rage, but at Jade’s scream it fell into hopelessness; pain and sorrow. Karkat looked like he was going to cry.

“Karkat,” John grabbed Karkat’s shoulders who didn’t try to wipe his desperation off his face, and stared him in the face. “Jade needs our help, but if we charge in there blindly like probably Dave did, we’ll end up confused. I need more information!” John felt his desperation seep into his own voice as he could imagine Jade out there.

Karkat shook his head and grabbed at John’s hands weakly. “Dave and I woke up to Rose shouting about intruders but she shut up like she was hit or something! Dave grabbed his sword and ran out there. Someone started a fire out there where I could see multiple people but the fire went out and it got darker than night! That’s all I know! Let’s go and help everyone!” Karkat grew more determined. He raised his right hand where John’s sword was clenched. Okay, now, it was time to charge.

John grabbed at his sword and charged for the tent flap with Karkat’s arms swinging behind him holding his colorful, curved knives.

The stars were not out tonight. John heard swords clashing with each other and the whisk of Jade’s arrow. Someone was yelling for Nepeta and someone else was making feline noises. He stopped and turned to see if he could see the tent, but even that was gone. How was it so dark? Wait, where was Karkat? John could not hear Karkat’s breath beside him. He also wanted to swing his sword around to see if he hit Karkat, but that would not be the best choice.

Something cold pressed John’s throat deeply. His arms were pressed into his sides. Crap. He could swing his sword around and hit the person but the way his arms were being held, it would not make a difference. Crap. “I’m going to ask this once, and I’ll know if you lie ‘cuz you’re pressed so close against me that I can even feel-”

“Dave! Holy crap, let go of me!” Thank goodness. It was just Dave and his too long sentences. Dave untangled himself from John who turned to see Dave’s shadow. The night was so dark he could not see Dave outright. Dang. “What’s going on out here? Who’s attacking us? Is anyone hurt?”

Dave shook his head. “I haven’t seen any invaders yet, but they definitely have magic. I think it might be Seers because every person I’ve come in contact with is our own. They must be circling around us in the darkness they made. I don’t think anyone is hurt, also, Aradia has gone off and is throwing sticks over by the dinner pit.” Dave pointed behind him which John tried to memorize that that was where random things were being thrown.

Someone, a girl, screamed out. It broke John’s heart just listening to it. Dave whirled and his frame got very tense. “No... Aradia’s down!” Dave screamed the last part. Before John could run after Dave, the man was gone quicker than the eye. Dang his highblood powers.

Dave had said something that could be used. The Seers, which John prayed to every god out there that it wasn’t, were not in the darkness. They were probably on the outside of this. Thing is, where is the outside? Well, in front of him was the firepits. So, if John took off running for this left, he would eventually find the creek! Well, that was better than nothing. John turned left and ran straight for where the creek would be.

As he sprinted for that side of camp, he heard Jade to his right; huffing from letting loose each arrow. Jade gasped and hopefully that wasn’t a body hitting the ground. John stretched his legs farther. He had to get to the edge and find the Seers. He had to stop them. Equius had stopped yelling. What did that mean? It meant he was down too. They were dropping like flies out here!

John blinked and the night brightened. He was by the supply bags and the creek was not that far away at all. He turned around. There was definitely a cloud of black right behind him. He got his sight and his mind back. It did not feel as if everything was lost. They were going to win this. He just had to find the villain.

Something bumped next to him. John saw them. A person was rustling through one of Karkat’s sacks with their back turned to John. Was this the person who was doing this? Had to be.

John righted his sword and slowly approached. Maybe he could do what Dave had done and try to go for their throat. Was he being quiet or quick enough? Now he wished for Dave’s lite feet and quickness. The person, they were starting to look like a girl, still rustled all of Karkat’s thing around. She pulled out a book and laughed. “You stupid rustblood,” she muttered and tossed the book over her shoulder. John barely avoided the object.

He was right behind her. He could do this. John pounced onto her. He wrapped his arms around hers and pressed his sword to her throat. She stiffened. “Stop whatever you’re doing to my friends or I’ll let your head roll to stop your magic.” Nothing. No reaction. Had he been doing too much with the threatening? Her hair was in his mouth, maybe-

The kicked him right by his crotch with her ankle. Oh wow that hurt! John’s head reacted by headbutting her accidentally to which they both broke apart from each other. John clutched his crotch but at least she didn’t fully get his private parts. He still needed to get her! She was still clutching her head right in front of him. Well, only one thing to do now.

John ran straight for her and tackled her. He grabbed her around the middle and they skidded through the ground. John got dirt in his mouth, but they finally stopped. The girl struggled against his arms and cursed loudly. John struggled up to a sitting position. He rolled her to her side and squeezed his legs around her middle while sitting on her hip. He grabbed her hands and pinned them to the ground on either side of her.

“Stop all this! Now! Or I swear I’ll-” The girl whipped her hair out her face. The bar lady. She was the one who was behind this? The girl grinned and it didn’t look like a defeated one.

“Or what, John? You wouldn’t hurt a girl who’s just playing around, would ya?” She winked up at him. What was he going to do? He didn’t even know. Wait, playing around? Wait, she knew his name?  

“Playing around?! Those are my friends! You stop your spell, now!” He tried to sound demanding, but what was he really going to do? He had no hands to do anything, you would think she’d give up because she was cornered? Unless she had friends here too?! Where were they? “Where are your friends?! What are they doing?!” She laughed a bit.

“Oh wow! You think I did this with help? That is insulting! I’ll let that slide though because you actually have got me caught. If you let me, I’ll take that cloud away and we can talk this out. I’m sure Karkat will love to see me.” Should he trust her? It didn’t sound like the best idea.
“Take the could away from here!”

“The potion bottle the could came from is in my jacket, unless you’d like to reach there yourself? Closest breast pocket to you, Johnny.” She smiled larger as John tried to steel his nerves. He pinned one of her hands with his knee and reached into her jacket. He didn’t try to look at her; feeling her smirk. John felt the potion bottle and fumbled it out with one hand. It was a small, circular thing. There was still a cork in it, even though it was empty. “Open it, kid. And everything will disappear. I promise.” She smiled wider.

Well, what could he do? John pulled the cork off with his teeth. An intense wind pulled him to the bottle and it took everything he could muster to not get pulled in. The trees swayed and then he saw the dark could pooling in front of him. The cloud swirled into the bottle for what seemed like forever and when the last tail entered in he grabbed the cork of his mouth and capped it.

The cloud filled the bottle and it looked like black water filled it. The bar lady grabbed the bottle as well. Crap! He had let her go! She twisted under him and he rested on her belly. She didn’t pull the bottle toward her but smiled over it. “Good job, Johnny! Now, this is mine.” She tugged the bottle, but he resisted.

“No! This is ours now!”

“Exactly,” Jade appeared right by the lady’s head; her arrow aimed right between her eyes. Thank you Jade. “This is our property and you’re to tell us everything or else I’ll let this arrow right into your other eye, witch.” Jade snarled.

“Hold up!” Karkat yelled and John looked up to him. He strode across the camp toward them with a fuming look. “A one eyed witch who likes to pin people against each other like a psychopath?! And she knows our camp?! Vriska Frickin’ Serket!! You better pray that you are not under John’s bulge or else I will be the who takes our your other eye and break your stupid glasses that aren’t intimidating at all!!”

Vriska, at least he thought that was her name, laughed out. John could feel her chest shake under her. He felt so weird and wanted off as soon as possible. Karkat stood over them and shook his head angrily. “No No No! Stop laughing like you planned this! I will kill you over this! I swear, you flippin’ infested bulge!”

“Oh Karkat, it’s good to see you too! Now, I’d like to get up to inspect how badly you all lost. Now that I’m here, we’re going to whip this rebellion into shape or else you’ll lose against that stupid purple prince. Oh, don’t give me that dumb face, of course I know! John here doesn’t know how to conceal his thoughts from the best mind reader this pathetic has ever seen.”

Chapter Text

When that soup of a cloud disappeared and the yelling started, Dave was in a particular circumstance. He had been charging like a bull who saw red over to where Aradia had screamed and ran right into someone. The person toppled as well when he had hit them but he had pounced up immediately. Running into people didn’t knock him down that easily. He had listened for his attacker and heard scuffing on the ground. Were they still down as well? Better for him.

Dave swung his sword downwards and hit dirt but he was close enough to see something rollaway where his sword had hit. Could they see him better than he could? A highblood? More than likely. He had kicked for the figure but they rolled away like a pancake on the run. They had rolled farther away this time that Dave had to speed after them. He had seen the fast approaching person and the sword before he knew it. He ducked and swung for the feet but they jumped back.

There were dodging and elbows flying and little sword contact as it had turned more into just wanting to get their hands on the other person. Dave pulled hair and his glasses were yanked off at one point; he was not happy about that either. So, when the magical fog had cleared away he saw that he was in the middle of pulling Terezi’s hair back while she was biting his arm that was trying to choke her. Well crap.

Was that an embarrassing position to be caught in? His honor was in shambles now for pulling a lady’s head of hair. He released her quickly and was barely paying attention to Karkat’s tantrum yelling. Something about cool glasses? Wait, where were his glasses. He only had one pair and he doubted he could find another smith to make him a better pair if he broke these.

Dave turned away from Terezi to find these specs. “Where the heck did they-?”

“Here, Dave.” Dave turned back slightly to find Terezi holding his glasses out to him. They were dusty but okay. She was slightly tealish and her hair was not looking the best. Dave cleared his throat and took the glasses from her hand.

“Thanks, Terezi. Wow, these don’t look so bad. I thought they had been thrown during that whole ordeal, which I wouldn’t have held against you since we did think that the other was a bad highblood unless you thought I was rogue or something or just straight up hate me? I wouldn’t blame that either, my sick rhymes can do that to a person.” Wow, that did not sound how he wanted it to go. The thought that she might now actually hate him definitely was making things more difficult to apologize.

“Your rhymes had nothing to do with this, Dave. I don’t think I’ve heard sickly rhymes either to be driven to war about it. I didn’t toss the glasses by the way.” She leaned on her cane that should’ve been a cane but was a sword now. Wow, okay. Her ribbon was gone from her eyes but she kept her eyes closed anyway. Dave felt even worse now. Had he snatched her ribbon from her face? What a total douche move. “I kept them in my hand the entire time. Didn’t have time when you were ferociously attacking me. I would’ve thought that a former Duke had more manners in the art of sword fighting, but it seems that you like to play dirty.”

She grinned at him. Was she flirting with him? Or was this her way of forgiveness? What a way to do it. “My identity had been stripped from me during the fight, dear lady. I can’t deny nor defend my actions. So that hand mark on your cheek is definitely not from me.” He touched the place where he had inadvertently slapped her and she touched that place as well; growing more tealish.

“I was wondering why my cheek felt so warm,” she muttered. Dave felt himself grow a little warm as well. Wow, what was this? What was this ? She was wondering why she was embarrassed and had associated it with, what? That didn’t mean that Dave wasn’t embarrassed as well from this but she was implying-. He didn’t know what she was implying.

“Well, being caught in a compromising position with a crazed lad does tend to make both get a little color in the cheeks.” He offered it weakly and she giggled at the comment. She actually laughed at it.  

“Crazed is not the word I would use.” She picked up her sword and turned for the new girl who was in a shouting match, mostly one-sided, with Karkat. What was this new girl’s name again? Oh, he would have time to learn it later after he chewed her out for doing such a thing to them with a beat throwdown. Wait, what did Terezi say?

“Wait, what word would you use then?” He caught up with her and they walked together toward the rest of the group. She rummaged in her pocket and pulled out the ribbon that she started to wrap around her head.

“Hmm, maybe something like, delicious?” She grinned widely again and Dave had a hard time deciding how to take that compliment. That would need some thinking on.


Rose looked extremely bothered once she joined the group. Her fists clutched her needles tightly and she glared at Vriska through her untidy bangs. Her whole entire just screamed of anger and tiredness. Kanaya really had to restrain the urge to go brush Rose’s hair into better shape. Although, she herself most likely did not look any better.

Kanaya had been stumbling around in the darkness, bumping into so many people and having to run from them because they would try to attack her. She had thought that there a lot of people in the camp and she had not known what to do. She had thought about grabbing so many different items but she had been so confused. It now made sense that it had been a spell of confusion and cover. Quite a handy one too. But now there was the whole Vriska thing to deal with.

Oh, Vriska. She stood there so calmly with her arms folded and wearing such fashionable pants instead of a dress unlike the rest of the ladies. Vriska had been the one to look the most stylish out of the group in any situation. Kanaya had appreciated that whenever she saw her. She was still causing trouble among everyone just as she had been when she first came to them though. How long ago had it been when she left the group? Four years now and she had grown into her hair much better than when she was little for sure. Still ratty, but it suited the tough look she sported.

Speaking of tough, Vriska snorted during the middle of Karkat’s rant on how he wouldn’t let a snake-not a spider mind you for it would give her too much satisfaction-just roam right back into his camp when they had all just gotten over her. Karkat stuttered to a stop and glared at her. “Do you find this funny, Vriska? That I’m about to let everyone who is holding a candle of death for you to smite your patheticness into the dirt for the trouble you have caused us? Because everyone here is itching for a ride and I will be more than happy to-!”

“I find that your method of coping with the facts you dislike to not only have not changed but is still very hilarious to watch.” She retorted and upturned her nose a bit higher, which made Karkat start to tremble.

“Your bugs for brains is making the jump that I will let you waltz back into camp after traumatizing poor Tavros!” He flung a hand to where Tavros was standing who browned considerably and pulled at his collar.

“Hey, uh, Karkat? I never necessarily said that-that-”

“That I did anything wrong to him! My influence and my pressure on him has made him stronger if anything! Just look at how far he’s come.” Vriska waved towards him with a flirtatious smirk and wink. “He only stuttered twice in those two sentences which is much better than how he use to be, but I’m not here to help everyone’s grammar, I’m here to kick multiple butts that will help me kick the ultimate butt of that dreary prince!”

She did not disguise her goal of wanting to kick the prince off the throne as a selfish one. At least she was being more plaintively honest. Karkat looked as if to talk again but Rose stepped towards Vriska instead. “You are asking us to let a selfish, manipulative, mind controlling cobalt blood into our camp whose goal is to overthrow the prince when we all want to first see if he is under some sort of influence before turning him out of the chair and replacing him with his sister?”

Tavros was the only one to move as he wiped sweat off his chin. That was the plan then? Why were gathering so many people if that was the only plan? “Wait, you’re telling me you want to do this peacefully? I’ve met that prince, girlie, and he is rotten to the core. He won’t step down if you politely ask him over tea, he’ll fight tooth and nail to keep on that golden seat and I wouldn’t be surprised if he kicked his dearest sister out just to keep it all for himself. No, you all are going to fighting him and his minions fork for fork if you want to bring this hemospectrum down. And right now, you can’t even beat each other. I’m staying here as the head of the combat department in this pathetic ship with Equius being my second as head of the weapons department.”

Equius broke out into a sweat, which Nepeta dabbed off him furiously. He didn’t counter her though and Rose for once didn’t look like she was going to retort. She was nice enough to let the lady finish her thoughts. Vriska plowed on when she wasn’t interrupted. “Every village we come to, Equius and I will use his funds to purchase usable weapons for everyone to train with. Every night,” she shed off her jacket and threw it to Terezi who caught it smoothly and draped it on her arm,” I’ll pull certain people aside where I’ll train them with their weapons against each other and me. Equius will train the other with hand to hand combat. The first couple of nights will be me seeing what weapon they are good with. If they are useless with every weapon and can’t throw a proper fist, I’ll see to it that they are kept extra late into the night so they can throw a proper punch.”

She smiled wickedly at all of them and winked at John; who looked like he didn’t know what to do with it. “You imply that there will be injuries during this training. Who is going to sew up you victims, Vriska? Or do you have a potion in your coat pocket for that too?” Rose asked sternly. Vriska waved her hand.

“You’re a Seer, aren’t you? Why don’t you use your magic books to mend up all the weak ones? Now, I’m half starved and concerned with the state of your camp! I thought you kept this all in tip-top shape, Karkat!”

She walked past them all for the kitchen area; slugging Karkat on the way. He drew in a deep breathe and looked as if he was counting to ten with his eyes. Kanaya almost went to him to see if she could help get out his aggression. Gamzee beat her to it, by adequately patting him on the back with a ‘there, there’. Kanaya crossed towards Rose who looked like she was also trying to hit something; she might need some help. There was a clash of pans and John hurried over to where Vriska was without a word as the woman herself yelled over her shoulder.

“Oh! Also, we might need to pack up and move right now because if I could find your camp, I’m sure some soldiers could find as easily as well!” Karkat screeched at the top of his lungs.

Chapter Text

The cookies looked perfect. Jane wafted the smell toward her and sighed in pride. She knew this recipe by heart but one could never turn their back on a pan of cookies. She did it anyways though to find Dirk still fiddling with a cookie scooper. If everything went right, the little toy could scoop out a dozen a minute while she rolled dough or something. If he kept up these ‘improvements’, he could replace her whole staff with his machines.

Speaking of which, she heard her new counter girl loudly greet a customer. Today was a busy day, which was why Jane was back baking with her other two assistants. Both were rolling out new rolls and loaves while she dealt with the sweeter side of things. Dirk just liked being in the kitchen (something about the atmosphere?). He wasn’t in the way at all. It was like he belonged in this kitchen as much as anyone else. It was silly since he had only been here for little more than a week, but the staff already grew to depend on his strength to lift the flour sacks. At the beginning of her birthday experience, she had had nasty thoughts about him but seeing how genuine he was reminded her that he was no fool.

Dirk put a tool in his mouth as he examined the inside of the scooper. He twisted it this way and that until he finally took off his glasses and squinted with his orange eyes. Jane liked seeing him like this; relaxed. He was so at home here that he had finally come to take off his glasses around her. What had his life been like before this? His clothes definitely grew cleaner and better fitting; Jane had seen that his clothes were hemmed more to his build. His cheeks were fuller due to his stomach being filled properly.

Oh, that reminded her. She turned back to the cookies to switch out the freshly cooked ones with the dough and turned back to Dirk. She expertly scooped a warm cookie off the pan and leaned across the counter. “Dirk,” he lifted his eyes up at her voice and raised his eyebrows. It sounded like he responded with “yeah?” but the tool in his mouth made it unrecognizable. She smiled wider and brought the cookie to eye level. He knew what she wanted and made a face.

“Oh, Dirk! You know you’re my best cookie tester here! I need you to tell me if they’re sweet enough to send out! Don’t you shake your head at me, Dirkander. I’m sure that these cookies have too much salt in them and I need a professional opinion!” She leaned on the counter while still holding the cookie toward his mouth. He spat the tool into his hand and glared at her.

“I know what tricks you have. You have some weird spice stuffed in the middle of it and my taste buds will be running laps like a pony if I let that thing in my mouth. You can taste it yourself if you want an opinion, you trickster.” He retorted. Ah, so that’s what he thought? What a great idea for a prank, but this was a real cookie. She shrugged her shoulders.

“Well, your loss then,” and with that, popped the cookie into her mouth with a loud hum of pleasure just to drive the point home. “I do love my orange zest cookies this time of year.”

“Wait,” Dirk piped up. Ah, so he heard that it was his favorite flavor? He leaned across the counter with his elbows, coping what she was doing, and opened his mouth. It was as much as she would get and she took it. She grabbed at another cookie and lightly fed him a bite. He munched on it happily, still keeping eye contact, and swallowed loudly. He cocked his head slightly and winked at her. “Not bad, Crocker.”

She grinned and took a small bite from the cookie as well. “Were you expecting less from a master baker?” Dirk slid forward and bit almost the rest of the cookie from her hand. How was he keeping eye contact the entire time? Either way, he slid back up to his true height and shrugged his shoulders.

“Nothing less, Crocker. You could make a sweet out of any fruit if challenged.” He picked up his tool and gestured it to her. That seemed like a challenge.

“I wouldn’t say a sweet, but perhaps a pastry? Not everything can be put into a dessert, you know.” She stood up as well and scooped the remaining cookies onto a plate that was to go to the front.

“I wouldn’t know, actually. I still have a lot to learn from you, Crocker. Everyone here still has a lot to learn from you. Thing is, will you spoon feed it to everyone here like an infant or shove us straight in the water like a momma bear?”

Jane smiled to herself and laughed a bit. “Hoo hoo, Strider. You and your words make everything sound so cut throat! I’m just here to help everyone, especially with the, uh-” she stopped speaking. It had almost slipped out of her mouth. She tried not to think about it since the soldiers had arrived, but it was hard not to when they came into the bakery every day for food. She couldn’t deny them food either for they were probably being forced to do this.

“Jane,” she looked up at Dirk who had moved in front of her. He rested his hands on her shoulders and squeezed them lightly. “We’ll figure something out for you, okay? I’ll find a spell or something that can pass their test.” What a nice thought, but these were Seers they were dealing with. “Don’t start doubting me, Crocker. I haven’t let you down yet, and I’m not going to anytime soon. We’ll even save everyone here in your bakery, or the village. The soldiers will pass by after a year and I’ll have found a cure for those collars. How does that sound?” It sounded like a sweet, hopeful idea. Dirk had proven himself again and again with overcoming impossible obstacles. He had shown up for her birthday and made peace with all his friends. He seemed to have settled things with Jake too. And he’s thrown off the monarchy once already and it wouldn’t surprise her if he did it with his eyes closed this time.

Yet, the fear still nabbed her. What if the soldiers asked who else was helping the counter girl today? What if they stormed in and found three lowbloods working away and gave them the test right then? Dirk could nothing against that but battle them straight out. He could win, but against a whole battalion? That was another reason why she had been staying behind the counter lately. The soldiers had been giving people the test out in the streets and collaring them as well when finding out who they were. Jane hated the sight, and wished desperately she could run and help, but Dirk kept holding her back; saying he needed her without a collar if they wanted to fight against the soldiers one day. This whole thing was a nightmare, but there was always a way to wake up, right?

Jane nodded up at Dirk and he relaxed a little; giving her shoulders another squeeze. Oh, this was the closest thing to a hug he had ever given her. This was a lot of physical contact for him in fact. It touched her heart a bit to know that their relationship had gotten to this point.

They both smiled at almost the exact same time. A cough sounded behind Jane and her swiveled to find her apprentice innocently putting bread dough into a pan. The other one, however, was smirking a bit under the collar of his shirt. Oh, those toads. They gave her such a hard time on who her extra help was. Either way, Dirk was back to sitting on his stool and station. He didn’t even look at her again; just fiddled. Oh, bother it all.

After a bit of violent nose blowing, she snatched her plate of orange cookies and started to deliver them to the front counter. Before she crossed into the front of the bakery, she moved the loose brick and peeped into the small hole. No soldiers from the right end of the bakery. After putting the brick back, she moved to the connecting door, shifted a plate of wood and peeked into that hole. No soldiers from the other end; coast was clear. One could never be too careful.

She swung the door open and was greeted with direct sunshine. The bakery had about ten people roaming about; looking at displays, talking to one other or trying some of her treats before deciding to buy. Ten people still crowded the little place though. Jane had thought of making the place a little bigger, but it would be too much work for herself alone.

Jane walked over to the glass display case, moved the wood paneling and slid the orange cookies into their proper place. Those around the case piped up with questions about the new cookies. “Oo! These look new, Ms. Jane! What flavor are they?” “Did you just barely make these?” “How much are they? They look good enough for me to eat right now!” “Why haven’t we seen you at the front a lot, Ms. Jane?” Oh, so many questions. She patiently answered each of them and half the plate was gone when they had moved away to gaze at some other treat.

Oh, what lovely people in this village today. She almost wanted to go out and walk around for a bit. There did seem to be an energy among everyone. It felt positive lively; much different than what she had been seeing lately. She must stop thinking about walks though. Her walks with Dirk at night were much safer. Speaking of which, she should probably get back at the oven before anyone unexpected came in. Her counter girl could cover everything, but the wind was blowing some flowers out in the middle of the road and a pack of friends moved over it.

They all looked so happy together. All had no collars and talked among their group of four. The two taller ones looked of nobler blood while the small girl and the stockier man were hard to discern. Could they be lowbloods as well? Standing in the middle of the street was a sure way to get caught!

Suddenly, the only girl pointed at Jane. Oh boy. Had they caught her staring? She really needed to get back to the ovens now, before anything else- The girl almost ran straight into the outside display window! Her hands were pressed against the glass and she smiled energetically at one of the cupcakes. Which cupcake was she staring at? Jane had designed them all this morning. Jane got on tiptoes to see over everyone’s head for a view of the cupcake, but so many people were moving that it was hard to see.

The bell tinkled and with it came the voice of the second tallest man. “-I know it is folly to think that you will listen to me at this point, but I must ask for us not to linger in this store any longer.” What a nasty thing to say! She probably shouldn’t listen in after this and took up her apron to clean the shelf behind the counter. If he thought that his blood was above her establishment, then he could walk out the door without buying anything.

“Oh, Equius! Look at these cupcakes! I haven’t seen a perfectly delicious kitty like this in a long time!” The girl rolled her ‘r’s and it was hard to tune her out when her voice was so different and loudly than Jane had originally thought. Jane edged nearer to that side of the shop; cleaning the edge of the behind the counter shelf. “Either this little shop is perfect, or the art of cupcake decorating grown into something beautiful!”

“Nepeta?” Someone called at the same time as the bell tinkling. This voice was shaky and Jane thought it might be the tallest gentlemen, or perhaps a different man altogether. Either way, Jane skipped over a shelf on the same wall as Equius and his girl was standing by; still cleaning away.

“Tavros! Come! Look at this sheep cupcake! So fluffy! Jade would love it! I want to bring it back to her just to see the look on her face! She misses her sheep so much, that it’s tragic!” Nepeta was the same girl who squealed about the cupcake. Jane finally looked over at the party of friends. The thick man leaned over her display of sheep cupcakes while the final member gazed warmly down on the thick man.

It was such a nice scene to look at. A group of friends so carefree, like their lives were unaffected by collars or blood color. Jane could almost picture her little group of friends among the four. Roxy being Nepeta, Jake as Tavros, herself as Equius and Dirk as the unspoken one. Could they be doing this exact same thing in a different village if everyone hadn’t gotten into fights with each other? If Roxy hadn’t moved away, Dirk hadn’t isolated himself on the pretense of justice and Jake hadn’t been so dull perhaps this could’ve been them.

This little vision she had in her mind, disappeared so suddenly. A chill crawled from the back of her neck to fingertips. Someone was watching her. Her hand had already stopped cleaning long ago and she now saw from the corner of her eye, the unspoken one staring her down. She was almost afraid to look at him but the feeling wasn’t going away unless she knew he had been staring. She faced him and it was true. His surprisingly wide eyes didn’t blink and his smile was fixed lazily. The head was slightly tilted and his frame even leaned back from the conversation to watch her. Even while she stared back at him, he didn’t bashfully turn away; he kept watching.

Maybe, it was time to retreat back to the kitchen. She dropped her apron and calmly tried to walk to the dividing door. Once through, she stumbled to the nearest counter and grasped it shakily. Why was her skin still crawling? Her hands twitched and they clutched the side of the table so much that splinters were a huge possibility. Why had that man unnerved her so much? She could’ve taken him down. She could’ve simply swung a fist and he would’ve blown over from being so stick thin! She could’ve easily beat him out of the store with a broom! So many things that could cause him to scamper quicker than a bunny.

“I’m almost ashamed to tell you this, but you’ve neglected your duties in being a master baker, Crocker.” Dirk was talking. She couldn’t look up from the edge of the table though. Such a sharp corner. Perfect for smashing something soft against, like a pumpkin or something of the kind.

“Really?” Did it take her a while to respond or had it been quicker than she thought?    

“Oh yes. My incapable hands and eyes had to take these orange cookies out for you. I don’t think they’re burned but if they are, you can sell them at half price and knowing your cooking, they’d probably still taste amazing anyway.”

The table shifted as Dirk was probably pulling it to get himself situated. He was pulling it for a long time though, at least, probably a long time. Jane still held the edge though with all might for if she slacked, she’d bang her head right on the cut and edge her head. Or, on the edge and cut her head, either way, it included blood. Such an unhandled ingredient.

“Steady there, Crocker. You look like you’re going to be sick.” A large heater pressed against her back. Two pale and spotted hands grabbed her wrists; pulling them somewhere. Should she let go? Maybe, but then, she’d fall and die.

“Sick? I already am pretty sick, Dirky.” Words tasted so weird in her mouth, she just wanted to shut it forever-and ever-and ever-and ever-and-

Jane blinked just for a second and that was all that was needed for her to take a little nap.


Tavros tried not to look too suspicious. He tried to look tall at his rather smallish height, but still a good enough height to do the things he loved. He moved his body in a way that he had seen Equius do when something important needed to be done as well. It was called walking with purpose and it was supposed to make him look graceful, but it felt really weird walking that way. Maybe it had a different effect on others looking at him? Or maybe he thought it was weird because his legs were hurting from Vriska’s training that afternoon. Kanaya had told him that confidence was key when it came to these things. Hopefully, Rufio would jump in and help him out with the confidence thing. Tavros had never been good with that at all.

He bumped right into Karkat without even knowing it! Tavros’s feet nailed Karkat in the shin! Oh, Tinkerbull! Biscuits! “Sorry, Karkitty- I mean, Karkat! I mean-!” He shut up and saluted as Equius had recently reprimanded him for. Karkat was going to be so mad and yell at him and then the soldiers would discover them and it would be all of Tavros’s fault! He’d have to fight, and he was never good fighting one-on-one. He usually likes working as a team and probably none of these guys would be up for a team-up!

“Shut your crapshute, Tavros!” Karkat swatted at Tavros, which he avoided, and turned back to Rose and Vriska. “Shut up and follow me before we lose those women.” Oh, thank goodness they were on something of a stealth mission at the moment or Karkat would be ripping him a new one. Tavros followed suit as quickly as he; still trying to play a highblood.

Rose and Vriska stopped at a corner and beckoned Tavros to them in the dead quiet of the night. Tavros liked the quiet, but he would’ve thought that any village would have a bar to go to at night. It seemed like this one must’ve had that bar somewhere else. Tavros scampered up to them. Rose drew her hood closer to her face as he approached. Vriska was grinning excitedly and it made him not want to look at her for long.

“The cyan thread leads to that bakery,” she gestured to the bakery Tavros had been at earlier that day! Wow! What a coincidence! Could the counter girl be the one they needed? Should he tell the others this or maybe, just, let it slide? The counter girl probably didn’t even know him.

“Great. Let’s go up there, ring the doorbell and get the kid to come with us.” Karkat said and he started to actually walk out there! Tavros almost had a heart attack! What if guards had been out there! Then they’d be screwed and Tavros couldn’t pull off being a highblood! Vriska grabbed at Karkat’s sleeve and yanked him back.

“Hold on there, stubby. We can’t just ring the doorbell. What if their family likes the collar order and they try to kill us? Huh? Ever thought of that, brilliant leader?” Karkat looked ready to blow his head off and might’ve done it too if Rose hadn’t jumped in.

“That is one thought, but the people we’ve had to gather for the prophecy so far have been sympathizers like us. I believe that this girl-”

“Hey, uh, Rose?” Tavros had spoken before he had even known it. It had just popped out! Everyone looked at him and Vriska had a weird look on her face. What was he even going to say? Maybe he could shake his head and- nope, Rose just nodded to him. What was he going to say again? Oh, right. He swallowed his nervousness; just like Gamzee had taught him. “I came, uh, to this bakery earlier today. From what, the uh, girl from the counter had told me, only one person lives there after dark. The uh, owner.” He pointed at the sign Crocker Confectionary.

“Ah, so we’re looking for the owner, huh?” Vriska muttered. “How many people lived here again?” She swatted at Tavros while still looking at the building. It kind of hurt and Tavros wanted to swat back but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. It’d cause a fight from her.

“Ow-uh, the girl said that only the owner lived there.” He supplied her with the answer and rubbed his arm.

“Did the counter girl mention if the owner liked to climb?” Rose asked, also staring intently at the building. What was so interesting about the bakery? Maybe it was because they were seeing it for the first time?

“What? Um-”

“Because if so,” Karkat interrupted him and pointed at the top of the building. Tavros looked up and saw-” I think the owner knows were here.” Somebody, it was definitely a person, was standing right by the chimney. On the roof. They could have almost been the chimney because only their top half showed from behind the sloped of the roof. Like everyone else these days, they wore a hood but it still looked like they were looking right at them.

Tavros heard a sword being drawn and whirled to see Vriska had brought her cutlass out! What was she doing?! Did she want to get attacked or something?! What if people saw them!? It was instinct when Tavros reached out and grabbed Vriska’s sword arm. She had to put that away before- oh, crap. Vriska looked at him with such surprised he almost let go of her arm, but he stiffened under her gaze and held on tighter than he meant to.

“Tavros! What are you doing?! Let go of my arm! Now!” Vriska hissed. She grabbed at his hand and tried taking it off but Tavros was in too deep! He wanted to let go too, but he also couldn’t! She was endangering the mission and would get them killed! Tavros had to stand up for himself and for his life! He wouldn’t let Vriska get another person hurt just because she was hungry for violence.

“No, Vriska!” Tavros tried to sound menacing but his voice was shaking so much. He tried to avoid her eyes because she would mind control him if he did. “I won’t let your cutthroat piracy kill out only chance! You just threatened the owner up there, who we might need help from, by drawing your blade. Not everything should be settled with someone dying.” Wow, that was a lot for him to say to her and he did it without stuttering too! Wait till he told Gamzee this!

Tavros looked at Vriska who just looked venomous. He let go of her arm now. No need to hold it any longer. “Thank you, Tavros,” Rose spoke up with her arms folded and looked just as venomous as Vriska. “You have probably just ruined our chances of diplomacy, Vriska. The stranger, who might or might not have been the owner, just disappeared behind the roof.” She gestured at the empty roof and Tavros felt guilty.

“I’m sorry, Rose. I, uh-”

“You’re apologizing for the wrong thing, Tavros,” Vriska spoke through clenched teeth. “, and I just established our dominance to the stranger. They’ve gone to hide now that they know we mean business.”

“Put your pride in a scrap pile, Vriska!” Karkat almost yelled. “Rose is right! You haven’t been here long enough to know that Rose is almost right about everything! It’s better if you just listen and follow her when it comes to magic thread crap!” Vriska was being attacked literally all angles. If Tavros knew her, she wouldn’t back down nor forget this. She glared and then sheathed her cutlass. She pushed past them all and stormed for the bakery without a word. She definitely wasn’t going to forget this.   

Chapter Text

The nightmare disturbed Jane. It had been all dark and there were clowns everywhere no matter where she ran. Eventually, she had figured out that there were maces attached to her hand. As the nightmare had continued on, she had grown desperate to be rid of the clowns. Whenever she ran into one after rounding a corner, she would smash it. She never looked down at the fallen clowns but had plowed on. There had been so much violence and clowns and darkness. It reminded her of the dream she had had about a month ago.  

Something woke her up. The land of maces and clowns fell away from her head, leaving lead in its wake. The heaviness in body stopped her from jumping up and trying to see what woke her up; she needed to thank them. The presence made themselves known when a hand, at least it felt like a hand, settled on her cheek. “Jane. Janey, I need you to wake up now. We’re about to get company and I think you’ll need your full senses for them.” The hand, it was Dirk’s from the voice, patted her cheek.

She sighed a bit and wanted to roll over. “Tell them to go away. Use your ninja skills or something. I’m so tired.”

“I bet you are, from sleeping all day.” Sleeping all day? Had she been asleep all day?! That was the jolt she needed. The weight over her fell to her toes when she pulled herself up. All day? What had happened after she had seen the weird the customers? She had gotten...scared? Was that the right word? It didn’t feel like it, especially if she went to sleep because of it! She never fainted in her life either.

“All day? Dirk,” she slid her feet over and kicked them into Dirk’s legs,” you should’ve woken me up. The bakery must’ve been a mess and today was so busy and everything!” She gathered her senses and grabbed at Dirk’s outstretched hand. He heaved her up and she leaned on the hand. Her shoulder fell on Dirk’s and she stayed there for a second. Her balance was escaping her and her legs weren’t much better. That was what happened after being trapped in bed all day. It was almost like she had been sick!

“Jane, you fainted in front of your staff. You wouldn’t wake up to anything. Not smelling salts or a good slap to the face.” Her feet started to feel and she tried to push past Dirk to her dresser. He had said guests were coming. Dirk held onto her hand and helped her over by letting her lean on him.

“What kind of guests are coming, Dirk?” She reached the dresser and weakly pulled it open for...something. She looked up at him. Oh, he was wearing his stealth outfit. All brown and black with barely any face being seen. She couldn’t tell at all what he was thinking.

“Threatening guests, Jane. They had swords. I would suggest-” he pulled a dagger from under his cloak and put it in her hand. “-this. Put it under your apron, in your secret inner pocket.” She pulled her hand away from Dirk and stuck the dagger in her secret inner apron pocket. Dirk threaded his arm through hers and still kept her up. What kind of guests were these? Dirk hadn’t said soldiers. Perhaps spies? Did they know about her?

“What kind of guests are these, Dirk? What do they want?”

“I don’t know, Jane. They didn’t look good. There’s only four of them and two of us. We could take them. There’s only one I want to keep an eye on. She looked highblood. Watch for the girl with the glasses.” A knock was at the door. Her bedroom door.

Dirk drew his sword-katana, darn it! She really needed to remember its proper name- and Jane pulled the dagger back out of her apron. She shouldered Dirk aside and approached the door. How could they have made it up here? She would need to look into getting her house anti-magicked. Her legs were still coming back to life when she grabbed the door handle and cracked it. Light from her room slid into the rest of her house. No one was out in her common area.

She opened the door wider and really looked around the room. All corners were visible to her and no one was in the room. A trick? Magic? Jane quickly strode in and looked up at the ceiling; no one there either. Dirk blurred around the room with his highblood powers and finally stilled by the door leading down bakery after checking the other guest room.

He looked frightening in his ninja apparel with the light falling on him in a certain way. What if he did injure the guests before they could have their say? Jane wouldn’t put it past him, but they should talk first and attack later. She walked briskly over to the door and threw it open quickly. Dirk had reached out to her when she started to open the door but she had been too quick for him for the first time. Still, no one in the stairway.

Jane felt on edge on this misleading journey but started to get miffed at this chasing game. She wanted it over with. No more running around. She descended the stairs as fast as she could take it with Dirk on her heels. “I think they used magic at the bakery door. When we get there, lead them into the storefront and I’ll listen from behind the door. If I hear anything go bad, I’m coming in.” That sounded like the best plan they had.

Jane entered the bakery and heard knocking on the door that led from the bakery into the store. It was magic. They weren’t actually there and if they were, she could wallop them easily. No one was going to steal from her or demean her in any way with their highblood snottiness. After briefly pausing and watching Dirk position himself right by the door, she tried to walk with confidence to the door. She passed the counters and saw the magic spoon Dirk had given her for her birthday. She grabbed it without much thought. It could be a weapon in plain sight and a distraction if they attacked before she got out her dagger.

She tried not to stop at the bakery door but opened it slowly. Jane peeked around the corner and saw the silhouettes of four people. Each of them were hooded and of different body types. She could do this. She had Dirk and her magic spoon to defend herself with. What about the aftermath? That would have to wait.

Jane tried to look casual as she approached the door. The cloaked figures followed her to the door. How did her face look? Calm? Most likely not, but hopefully she looked brave. The nearest one to her lowered their hood and the face struck a chord in Jane.

The face was sharp and stood out with her short hair. Her eyes almost seemed to glow with cobalt as she stared at her but the appearance wasn’t the only thing that made Jane stop. Jane had seen this face. It lurked at the back of her mind whenever she thought about her dream from her birthday. The one with the message that Jane could now remember upon staring at this sharp woman. Could it be the same person? The people in dreams were said to be demons and this woman almost looked like one too.

“Hello, friendly baker.” The woman spoke through the glass but her voice wasn’t raised. “We’ve come to talk to you. May we come inside? You and I both know that the streets are no place for blood business.” It was logical and the voice pinged in Jane’s mind. It was the same one. She wanted to figure out why this dream woman was here. What was going on?

“I don’t accept weapons in my shop,” Jane spoke quickly. How had she come up with that on the spot? Jane amazed herself sometimes. All nodded at different paces in the group. She nodded back at them and grabbed at the lock. Dirk was going to kill her for this, but he will understand once she tells him why it happened. He’d gnaw her ear off with silence if she told him the reason, but this was a mystery that Jane had to solve.

She twisted the lock and the cold wind of change entered into Crocker Confectionary.

Chapter Text

All of them shuffled inside so Jane got a look at each of her guests. The dream woman, a slightly taller, brown-haired man, a dark-haired lady with glasses and a customer from earlier that day. The one who had been accompanying the small lady and two highbloods. He gave her a nervous smile as he walked in and she shut the door behind them. When Jane turned around, the glasses girl was checking out the cookies that hadn’t been cleaned out yet under the counter while the other three stood off from the door.

“It is very late out for what business you have,” Jane started to say.

“Well, this business is the most important business you’ll ever have in your life.” The brown man was shouting a bit. Had Jane done something wrong? Why was he yelling at her?

“Karkat,” the dream lady chided the brown-haired man, Karkat sounded like a name from a small town.

“Yeah, I’m gonna have to agree with shouty over there.” The glasses lady had gotten her hand on a cookie somehow and was munching on it. It was the leftover orange ones. Jane had wanted to save those for Dirk. What rudeness. Jane wasn’t going to tolerate someone yelling at her and eating her cookies. She quickly went to the glasses lady and shooed her with her hands away from the display case.

“No eating unless you have money to pay,” Jane tried to remain as kind as possible in her tone. The glasses lady reacted in just fishing out a coin and flipping it to her. Jane caught it as she started to speak.

“As much as I hate agreeing with him, he has a point. You’ve been living the most boring life. The most exciting thing that has happened here has probably been the soldiers and this new blood act, hasn’t it?” The glasses lady was most definitely a highblood. The way she talked and moved about was with authority. She was almost on a different level of highblood; acted like she owned the place. Jane didn’t want to agree with her about what she had said, but in a way, she was right.

“Hey, Vriska?” It was the customer from earlier. He was sweating from his spot by the door and rocking on his feet a bit. “You should really be more kind to Miss Crocker. We must be a bit of a shock to her, especially Rose.” He gestured to the dream lady. The highblood lady, Vriska, stiffened and he started to wave his arms a bit frantically. “I-I mean! I know Aradia was shocked when she saw Rose for the first time! Rose had come to a lot of us in dreams and so-”

“Tavros! Shut up!” Karkat shouted. “You’re giving away our names! She might not want to join us now that might know who we are!” How would she know them? Were they really royalty? Were they famous thieves? What was going on here?

Tavros flinched and was waving his hands and stuttering. Karkat was stalking to Tavros and talking about something! Vriska was saying something too; something about this was no time to act like a hero. Rose looked to be trying to calm everyone down. It was chaotic! Why wasn’t Dirk coming in? Why was she counting on Dirk? She could handle herself just fine.

She pulled her dagger out and slammed it onto the display case. “Shut it all of you!” Jane changed her spoon to a fork and pointed it at everyone; who had shut up. They stared either at her knife in the counter or her fork. Great, time to teach them manners. “You've invited yourself into my house, eaten my living and have bickered with each other like a bunch of children! Something weird is going on here, and I want to know now or I’m kicking you to the streets!”

All her guests, Vriska, Tavros, Karkat and Rose stopped and looked at her. “That is more than fair, Jane.” Rose talked slowed and held up her hands like she was calming an animal! “I’m sorry for our unlikable behavior. This combination of people have varying skills and are not used to using them like this.”

“Well, why did you bring them then?! You’re not making the best impression, despite what connection I have with you! What is that connection anyway? Why did I have a dream about you on my birthday?” Jane demanded. Rose shifted and looked down quickly before meeting her eyes.

“That’s...unusual. Not the dream part, mind you, but the part about it being on your birthday. You see, I also have a friend who had his dream on his birthday as well.”

“April 13th?” Jane pushed and Rose nodded.

“Yes, it’s strange, but honestly Rose,” Vriska groaned out,” it’s not that uncommon for people to be born on the same day! Your tangents are as completely useless as Dave’s. Get on with why we’re here!”

“Fine. Jane, many people got a dream on that night as well with me in it. I got a dream from myself as well. I know that in your dream it went along the lines of telling you to follow me if I were to arrive?” Those last words “if I were to arrive” itched at her brain. The dream Rose had said that. Jane could almost remember the full sentence dream Rose had said as well.

“If I were to arrive at your bakery, you must follow me.” Jane got a flashback to that dream. So many things had happened in it, but the one scene with Rose was the one that came back. Rose had been kneeling next to Roxy’s dead body. When Rose had looked up, she had said,” If I were to arrive at your bakery, you must follow me. Forget my present company and come with me if you want to see Roxy alive again. Promise me, Jane.”

“Yes,” Jane finally replied. Jane had never been good with remembering dreams. How had she remembered this one?

“Before you agree,” Karkat spoke up again and pushed past Rose to get closer to Jane. He placed his hands on his hips and didn’t try to lower his voice. “You have to know what you’re getting yourself into. I didn’t think you were to type of person to throw a punch but you’re willing to stab your own counter so I’m willing to let my first impression slide. If you join us, you’ll be joining my gang. We’re a group of people who are fighting against the hemospectrum and to make all blood equal. Our goal is to confront the royalbloods and if they don’t listen, to overthrow them. Are you able to train past your weak form and give everyone freedom?” A rebellion? Like the one, her father had talked about? With the exiled Seer? But a rebellion to stop all this? Yes, Jane wanted to join. These people sounded crazy, but they had mentioned another person. Perhaps they were better, and dream Rose had said this would save Roxy.

“If I say yes, can I pack a few things first?” Jane slowly replied. Everyone nodded and Jane took that as her time to slip back and talk to Dirk. Hopefully, they wouldn’t try to steal anything either. Right as slipped into the back of the bakery, she saw Dirk at the foot of the stairs that led up to her place. He was holding something. A bag?

She almost ran to him and whispered,” Dirk? Did you hear that?” He nodded and stepped back so he could close the door behind them. She needed to get her stuff together to leave, and she’d have to be fast or else-

“Jane, are you going with them?” Dirk asked. She stopped. What was Dirk going to think? She wanted to go, but could she take him with her? She turned back and saw she was three steps ahead of him. He had to look up at her and his glasses were gone. His orange eyes were wide as he stared at her. Oh, what was he thinking? Did he want her to go? Did he even want to go with her? She wanted to go so badly.

Jane looked down at his feet and saw that he was holding two bags. Wait, did that mean-no, all of his things fits in one bag. So, the other could be- “Dirk, I want to go and I think you do.” She looked back at him and he shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, those people are fighting for a good cause, but they sound like rotten people. I’m coming with you in case you need help. I’ll stay beside your party at all times and be able to help you out if necessary.” Jane smiled down at him and hopped down the few steps between them.

“I’m guessing one of those bags are mine then? Did you pack all the essentials? Any food too? What about my-” Dirk handed her the bag and started to list everything in there.

“I got your recipes, warm and cold clothes, all your socks and the sturdiest shoes you had. I also packed in some men clothes in case you’d need a disguise and I left a note telling your bakery workers what to do while you were gone.” Jane didn’t check to see if he was right she slung it over her shoulder and grinned up at him. He smirked back in response.

“Either you know me pretty well, or you were itching for a chance just like this, huh Strider?” Dirk shrugged his shoulders again.

“Miss Crocker, a detective as great as you already knows the answer to that question. Besides, you’ve been itching for an adventure for a while now.” And adventure? Maybe this might be one. Jake would be jealous if he heard what she was about to do.

“Once we go beyond this door,” Jane grabbed the doorknob and was a lot quieter,” I must never know you’re following me, alright? If I want to find you, I’ll just go away from the ground until they’re out of sight and then we can meet.” Dirk nodded and his glasses were in his hand. His sunny eyes would disappear for a long time. She had gotten so used to them these last weeks.

Jane stopped his hand from putting his glasses back on and just stared into his eyes. They looked so beautiful. She wanted to memorize them and put them on a cookie as a sunset. Such a pretty shade of orange. Dirk swallowed loudly and nodded his head.

“I won’t be that far, Jane. I’ll always be close to protect you.” Jane nodded up at him and took her hand away. Turning the doorknob was hard. Walking to her new company was harder. She could barely hear the back window slide open and let Dirk out. He was supposed to be a ninja, right? His skills were growing rusty if she could him.

She grabbed her cloak by the bakery door and came back into the front counter. Everyone was looking at the pastries on the shelves. Her knife was missing as well. Jane clasped her cloak together and sighed. “We can get going as soon as my knife is returned to me.” Someone else sighed and Vriska drew Dirk’s blade from her back pocket.

“It looked too nice to just let a baker have,” she mumbled as she returned the blade. Jane was going to have a hard time getting along with her.

“Alright, I know the safest way out of town, after that, you’ll have to lead,” Jane said and strode to the door. She pushed it open and the great air of adventure filled her bones.

Chapter Text

Kanaya sat on her chair and overlooked the Prospit world. It was golden, like always, and the streets were filled with not only the kindest people but also the most fashionable thanks to her. They now flounced around in petticoats, shawls, corsets, swashbuckling boats and feathered hats that would make the princess of Skaia jealous. As she sipped her tea, she imagined going over to the other planet-what was its name again?- and perhaps giving them all a makeover as well. After all, fashion was a gift that must be shared with everyone.

She sighed out in contentment. This was why she loved the Dream World. It was peaceful and a place to truly live out your dream. Kanaya could probably never become a famous fashion designer in real life; not with what was going on. Yet, it has taught her that living out your dreams is not the best when you are lonely.

Kanaya had explored every inch of the moon and its planet and had not found a single person she could interact with besides the Prospitians. True, there were eleven other towers just like hers, but all but three had gates and windows shut and locked. Obviously, no one wanted her in those ones but the open ones were a different matter.

Those towers looked lived in, but no one had been there when Kanaya had poked her head in. She had also explored those towers to see if anyone had been in them but had turned up empty-handed. Each of those towers had been different from the other ones though. One was filled with machines and robots, another with weapons of all kinds that went through toys and one with a bunch of wigs and dresses. Kanaya would be quite happy if she could meet the owner of the latter tower; the dresses were darling!

Kanaya sighed. But, the owner has not been there any of the times that she had passed by after that. Prospit was still lonely without anyone else to share it with. Speaking of people, Kanaya really should be getting back to her friends. She had just wanted a short nap before her night shift. While she had been asleep, she had designed various dresses, fixed the funny Prospitians clothes and sat on her balcony while drinking a whole teapot of tea. How much time she had actually taken, she didn’t know. The rather irritating thing about dreaming was that she never knew what time it was outside.

Still, Kanaya put her teapot and cup away and laid on her poster bed. She got into the groove of her bed and closed her eyes. Technically, she could just wake up wherever she wanted but it felt proper to lay down on her bed. With a twinge of her brain, the sounds of streets and lovely music fainted away into the sound of mud and the scraping of dishes. Someone was also yelling and the day felt chilly.

She sighed out. Oh, that sounded more frustrated than she wanted it to. The real world wasn’t that bad. Dreaming was just preferred more. “Oh boy!” Someone in Kanaya’s tent laughed out that line. Kanaya tried to keep her face straight. Why did Jade have to be in the tent at that time? Didn’t she have better things to do than bother her? “Was your dream that good, Kanaya? I haven’t had a dream in a long time, actually!”

It would be nice for Kanaya to reply back to her, but Kanaya had been having a good dream. To wake up to Jade’s slightly irritating pleasantry was just making Kanaya want to fall back asleep. She hadn’t even opened her eyes yet. Maybe, if she just didn’t reply back, Jade would leave her alone and think she was still asleep?

“Last time I had a dream, was probably when I was a kid! Dreams are fun, but there are other stuff to do than just dream.” What was she meaning by that? Kanaya now opened her eyes. Jade hadn’t dreamed since she was a kid? Kanaya hadn’t either. Was Jade saying-? No, Kanaya didn’t want to know. That was Jade’s business and Kanaya wasn’t in the mood for another showmanship competition.

Jade was cleaning her bow and not even paying attention to her. That was alright. Kanaya sat up slowly and pulled on her cloak. She grabbed her dagger and started for the flap of the tent. “Hope you don’t fall asleep on the shift tonight Kanaya!” Jade called out as Kanaya left and she couldn’t have left with a more irked attitude.

Nothing looked out of order when the setting sun met her eyes at their relatively new campsite. They were just outside the town that Rose had seen the thread leading to. Kanaya felt a bit exposed in their current position though. They were among pines so the branches gave them no cover. They had decided to set up camp in a gulley and so everything was set up in a line. Kanaya was at the end of the line too and the air was smelling delicious.

As she skirted around the other tents, she could occasionally see the pig they had killed earlier this morning. John and Gamzee were helping cut it off the bones and ladling something on top of it? That was new. Perhaps a Derse tradition? It sure did smell good too. Kanaya entered into the dining area and made for John and Gamzee. John turned at just the right time and waved at her cheerfully.

“Hello, Kanaya! Did you have a great nap?” He asked as he started to cut another piece off. It looked nice and juicy too.

“It was a great reprieve from our current atmosphere and did help store up my energy for my shift tonight.” Kanaya took up the plate of meat and sniffed it. Why did food have such an effect on her? Her mouth was already watering from it. Gamzee held out the ladle towards her plate and it was filled with thick looking, brown liquid. “Oh, ah, Gamzee. I think I’ll be fine with-” He poured the fluid all over her meat.

“This gravy is the motherfrickin best I’ve tasted all my life. You’d be a motherfrickin fool not to partake of its heavenly goodness.” Gamzee replied leisurely.

If a highblood must like it, it might not be that bad. It just didn’t look as good? But why should we judge on appearances? Perhaps it was as good as Gamzee said. And if not, a perfectly good piece of meat was put to waste. “Trust us Kanaya!” John reassured, “Dave recommended this himself! Apparently, in Derse, you can’t eat meat without it!”

“And if you don’t want it,” Dave interjected from his happenstance on the gulley wall, “I’ll eat the rest of this gravy heaven. I’d even eat that whole bowl if no one claims it.”

Terezi snickered. “You act as if this gravy is water, Dave.” Kanaya walked over to the small dinner circle and could start to hear the sounds of a fight just beyond her eyesight.

“I thought Vriska had left with Rose to retrieve our new member?” She asked as she started to cut into her meat. Everyone around her nodded. She now looked over at the source of the fighting sounds. “Then, who is training over there?”

“Nepeta and Equius are sparring,” Gamzee joined the circle with his own meat that was floating in gravy. “It was supposed to be Nepeta’s turn with Vriska tonight but she volunteered to get the new face. Equius stepped up as her motherfrickin’ moirail and started to spar with her.” Gamzee wiped a tear from his eye. “What a true bro.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a friendship as close as those two!” John remarked and sat down next to Dave. His meat was clear of gravy and Dave did a double take on that.

“Indeed, they quite remind me of Karkat and me when he first showed at my house. Do you remember those days, Karkat?” Kanaya already started to reminisce the way back when life was fairly easy. The fun talks they had, the sparring in the back at noon and him being her model to try out new designs on a dress. Did Karkat think those were the best as well?

“My bro told me a lot about his days with you, Kanaya,” Gamzee drawled and licked his fork. “He really liked it there at your house. Said that was a good time in his life after a crappy experience with the government. Didn’t you dress him up in pretty dresses and hats and stuff?” A few snickers escaped a few lips and Kanaya felt like Karkat wouldn’t like that.

“Not dresses, Gamzee. I wouldn’t degrade a man with womanly apparel if he did not want it. I put him in trousers and shirts; nothing he hasn’t worn before. Oh, they were so pretty now that I remember them.” Kanaya could see a younger Karkat in her mind. Twirling this way and that with her designs. He looked quite marvelous and fashion-forward that he reminded her of her Prospitians.

“Karkat told me that he kept an outfit of yours, actually,” Gamzee scratched his head with his fork and looked dazed. “The one with the rose jacket, the green pants? Yeah, I think that’s the one he kept.”

Kanaya perked up. “He kept that jacket?” He nodded slowly. “I have been looking for that jacket ever since he left! That was my best one! I’m glad he took it but I don’t know when he would use it in his occupation! Does he still have it?” He nodded again and after a moment, stood up and went to his tent.

“Why is a jacket so important to you, Kanaya?” John asked and leaned forward. Dave took that moment to slide some gravy into John’s bowl.

“That jacket was the best piece I ever sewed. The thread was costly but it looked so good! I almost wanted to sell it to a high noble of some sort because it belongs in the closet of a highblood! When you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.” She couldn’t wait for Gamzee to come back with it. She’d let Karkat keep it, but she wanted to see how it had fared over the years. She had loved it so much, she mass produced it on Prospit so she could see it everywhere.

He came back with a black jacket and held it up for all the circle to see the front. A swirl of pink and red roses trailed over the front with stitching that looped around the buttons and onto the collar, but the back was more spectacular. The back had a giant rose on it from the continuous threads that all swirled into it. Kanaya jumped up to examine the stitching. Still in good condition with very little fading! “Oh! It’s still good! It’s so good! I’m amazed it has lasted this long! Did he treat special? Is that why?” He shrugged shyly.

“Where did that come from?” Kanaya turned and saw that Jade had emerged from the tent. She looked very surprised and stood frozen in place; staring at Kanaya’s jacket. What did she want with her jacket?

“This is a jacket I made for Karkat back when he first visited me. Why are you staring at it like that?” Kanaya delicately folded it onto her arm; it would be safer that way.

“It’s just...I’ve seen that jacket on all the little Prospitians…” Jade trailed off. Oh. The universe had to be kidding her.

“What do you mean? Karkat said this is one of a kind. He should have the only copy!” Gamzee grumbled and looked at Kanaya like she had made more, but she had; on the dream Prospit.

Jade looked at Kanaya with wide eyes and pointed a finger at her.  “Are- are you-? When you dream, do you dream of a yellow world?” Jade finally asked. Oh no. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t it have been someone else?

“I have a question,” Dave interrupted and slid the rest of his gravy into John’s bowl who just barely took notice with an exclamatory “Dave!”, “Do you either of you know of a purple world while you sleep as well?” Purple world? As in-

“Are you talking The Purple World? The Derse planet?” Jade clarified and Dave nodded. “The planet of thieves and murder?” Dave smirked.

“Yes, that would be the planet I’m talking about. I’m guessing you both know it, anyone else?” No one around the circle looked like they knew what he was talking about; except John had a queer expression. “No? I’d been told that finding others like us was like finding a grain of gold in the desert, but now there’s two of us.”

“Can you all stop talking nonsense and tell us what is going on?” Terezi asked.

“Gladly,” Kanaya said and cleared her throat. “When everyone goes to bed, they dream. Thing is, I stopped dreaming when my mother died. That night when I went to bed, I wasn’t pulled along into a dream where I couldn’t control anything. Instead, I woke up in a golden tower on a moon that was one giant city. Even the planet was a giant city. Every night when I sleep, I go to this golden moon and I get to live another life. There, I have become a worldwide tailor who makes clothes for all the little people. In fact, they are not like people but more like shadow children with eyes.”

“That is the same for me,” Jade spoke up,” Except, I’m not a tailor. I just explore the moon. Which, had twelve towers but only a couple were open. I never thought that I could catch the owners of those towers though!” Jade got excited at the end that she shook her fists. “We can explore the place together now, Dave and Kanaya! Wouldn’t that be so fun!” That didn’t sound like fun at all.

“Wait, how do you get to these worlds?” Terezi asked and Jade deflated a bit.

“Oh, I don’t really know, actually. I have always gone to sleep and woken up there as long as I could remember.”

“My bro told me that everyone has a chance to wake up there,” Dave supplied. “But, he said that it could happen in a bunch of different ways. Some people are born like that, while others have to concentrate to wake up there. Some people start waking up there after something traumatic,” he nodded towards Kanaya,” while others just need to know of its existence and they can wake up there.”

“Wait, what world will we wake up on?” John asked and Dave shrugged his shoulders.

“It depends on your personality. I read that the Prospit world is for natural born heroes while Derse is for those who need to prove themselves. Either world is great if I were, to be honest. I’ve actually-” Dave stopped talking. He looked stare ahead for a moment and then burst into action.

“Everybody to the edge!” He screamed. What did he mean? Dave grabbed John and Terezi and he sped them to the gulley wall. Kanaya hugged the jacket and ran for the wall as well. She heard little thunks hit the ground behind her feet. Everyone who had been to her right cursed. Something hit her shoulder right before she hit the gulley wall and looked back. Little shurikens were spread over the camp like grass. Many of them had hit Gamzee who had been too slow. One of them must’ve hit her. She didn’t look as she yanked it out of her shoulder. Gamzee didn’t even take the shurikens out of his body before leaping out of the gulley to see who had attacked them. She had her dagger but she couldn’t do anything unless they were close to her and she never had a good throwing arm. Perhaps she should work on that.

She turned to the others who also had their swords out. She pulled her dagger out as well and slid over to them over the sound of a forest being ripped apart by Gamzee. “Plan?” she asked quickly and John nodded.

“Yeah, when they come down, charge them,” was all he said. That was about as good as they were going to get. They waited for a little longer before Gamzee yelled something that sounded like a honk and a scream of fright that didn’t sound like him at all.

“Gamzee! It’s us!” She heard Tavros yell and sighed in relief. The team was back which meant that this was just Vriska trying to test them again. It was a rotten test but it was to prepare them. She walked out from under the lip and saw Karkat leading the way down the trail. Rose was behind him, looking like she needed someone to talk to, then Gamzee and Tavros. A new face followed behind the two with Vriska right behind her.

She was a bit taller than Rose but still small height wise. She looked like a lowblood too with her work dress. If fashion were anything to go by, Kanaya would say that she worked by ovens and with dough. Her hair was long and braided around her head which small glasses were poised on. She didn’t look like much, but the way she viewed the camp and everyone else held the promise of a woman who could fight; especially one of her physique. The lady also looked familiar.

“How did everyone fair in my little trap?” Vriska called out grandly; like she expected applause. Karkat opened his mouth to say something, but Rose cut him off.

“Giving her a response will only just reinforce her actions, Karkat. It is better to ignore it.” She surveyed the camp and shook her head while Vriska stuck her hands on her hips.

“You’re just mad that you have a mess to clean up! Somebody here has to make sure that everyone is getting ready for war! The assassins aren’t going to wait until everyone has finished tea to start killing.” She glared at Rose who had already started to gather all the shurikens into a pile with her wands.

“And you have made progress, Vriska,” John stepped towards her and she glanced him with respect. “I mean, there weren’t as many injuries this time and I think we made record time in finding who was attacking us. Dave and Terezi and Kanaya had a plan down here too. I feel like we are getting ready for whatever is coming next! Heck! Tonight, Nepeta and Equius were sparring since you weren’t here to oversee it!” Vriska starting beaming from the compliment and nodded her head a bit. “But, you do have to be considerate of Rose and what exactly she’s cleaning up. Although, this is better than the time you released possessed slugs on us.” Vriska laughed a bit at John’s comment.

“Speaking of the cat, the sicko and the zombie, where are they?! Did they not get attacked as well?” Karkat yelled and turned around to try and find them. At that moment, they came out of the shrubs. Nepeta looked a bit tired and Equius was sweating more than usual but Aradia looked more tired than usual that she was hovering her way back into camp. She didn’t stop for anything and just floated straight to her tent.

“I’m terribly sorry but, it seems we missed something because the lowblood baker woman is here?” Equius asked and pointed at the baker.

“My name is Jane Crocker and I will be joining this crew of yours. Rose told me that you guys were going to overthrow this collar business?” Jane Crocker stepped up and spoke very authoritatively. Was she going to fight for the role of leader as well, or-?

“Yes, yes we are, Crocker!” Karkat replied and stepped forward to her too. They were about a foot apart but Jane didn’t look like she was backing down. “Are you ready to put your life on the line for those who can’t defend themselves?! What can you contribute to this team?! You’re a baker, but we need knights and warriors here! This team is going to overthrow the royalbloods if push comes to shove! Are you going to stand by us and not leave our side? Or are you going to-?!” Jane cut off Karkat by shoving a foot long fork between them that started to turn on its own at a high speed. It glowed a bit as well that made her look intense.

“I’m willing to do anything for the mistreated in this society. Don’t judge me.” She snapped back at him. The camp was quiet for a bit as Karkat probably tried to retain some of his dignity. John stepped up before that could happen.

“Hey, Jane? Karkat didn’t mean to be rude or anything. He just always yells, I promise. We’re really glad to have you on the team, in fact! Rose has been talking about your thread for a while, actually!” He kept smiling and was very kind to her. He even put his hand on her shoulder. Jane blinked and turned her foot long fork back into a foot long spoon.

“Wait, are you talking about the prophecy thing that Rose told me about?” She asked and John nodded enthusiastically.

“Yeah! Now, let’s see which tent has room for you?” John looked up at the girls expectantly. Each tent could hold four people and Kanaya’s only had three. So, that probably meant-

“We’ll take care of her, John,” Kanaya stepped forward and patted Jane’s shoulder. Jane smiled up at her brightly. Kanaya smiled back. “Our tent is this way dear. Your tentmates are sociable so you will have friends in no time.”


That night, everyone went to bed with boosted hearts. They just got another member, another soldier, another friend in their ranks who didn’t seem that bad. Little did they know, they actually gained two with the other adding onto the group’s silent protector numbers. John, though, he went to bed nervous.

He went to sleep fairly easily, but he didn’t know what to expect on the other side. Would he be trapped in the blackness again with the sad girl? Would he finally be able to move? Or would he just go back to dreaming? Which one did he want was the real answer. Each one was either scary or disappointing.

He lulled off into sleep and found the blackness. The sounds were still normal; some running water, chiming of seashells and the smell of sand and flowers. Maybe, he would be able to move? John nudged one of his fingers. It actually lifted with no sweat.

He opened his eyes and sat up swiftly. Everything was moving perfectly and he was inside a circular room. The walls were purple but had been decorated with tapestries, lamps, flowers, and seashells. The floor had rugs, shawls, dresses, and toys all brightly colored. He was sitting on a bed that was huge for his standards but a speck among the room. So, this was Fef’s room? Where was she then?

And what was he wearing? He wore silky trousers with spiraling designs in gold… on gold fabric? He also wore gold boots that felt like the same fabric as the pants. His shirt had a vest, with gold on gold, and his collar had gold stitching once again. The gold was kind of bright and burned his eyes when he compared it against the dark of the walls.

He slid off the bed hesitantly. What should he do? Wait for her? Go find her? Just leave and explore? It wasn’t considered long before the double doors on his left flew open and a girl flew in from the sky. She halted right when she entered and stared wide-eyed at him. Her brown hair surrounded her like a halo and moved like it was in a current. She was very pretty in trousers, a blouse and corset; she looked ready for adventure.

John smiled and waved at her. “Hi? You must be Fef? I’m John.” He started to walk to her, to shake her hand and introduce himself more, but she beat him to it. She flew straight at him with the widest smile ever. He stumbled back as she grabbed him a hug and squeal. She reminded him of Nepeta’s flying hugs.

“John?! Your name is John! Oh! It’s so good to meet you! I’ve been talking to you for ages and hoping that one day you’d wake up and-!” She brought him back at arm's length and started to feel his face. Her hands dragged through his hair, over his lips and eyes; as is she couldn’t see him. Yet, her eyes were following her hands everywhere! “-And you’re just, amazing! You’re everything I’d thought you’d be! Oh! I can’t wait! I absolutely can’t wait!” She grabbed his hands and dragged him toward the balcony. Wait, what is she planning on doing with him? “There’s so much to show you! I’ve got to show you Derse and Prospit and your own tower, of course! It’s going to be fun!” Wait, was she expecting him to fly?!

John dug in his heels and she was yanked back a bit. She turned to look back at him and lost a bit of her excitement. “H-hey, Fef? Is that your name? Listen, this has been great, but I’m so lost right now. I need you to explain everything a little bit slower and not drag me off a cliff?” He trailed off at the end as she processed what he said.

She finally did and let go of his arms to instead slap her forehead. “Oh duh! What am I, a shrimp? You’re not adjusted like I am! Sorry, John! I’ll take things slower!” She finally touched the ground and when she did her brown hair fell normally. She held out her hand with a smile. John took him and they gave a hearty shake. “I’m Feferi! I found you out in space and took you in so nothing would get you! I’ll let you know that nothing happened to you while you were here and that I hope we become best friends!”

John smiled at her and nodded his head. “Really, thank you for what you’ve done! I’m glad I was in your hands and I feel like we’re friends already!” She squealed again and he laughed with her. “You were flying a little bit ago, could you show me how to do that?”

Feferi nodded eagerly. “Of course you guppy! I’m not going to let you flounder or fall like a bag of rocks!” John smiled and they ran out to the balcony together.


Terezi leaned on her balcony fencing and smelled out on the moon of Prospit. Everything smells like fresh laundry and sunbathed oranges. There would be a few scents of lemon mixed in but mostly yellow and golden scents. It was a bit boring, but this place sure was exciting! She couldn’t wait to lick all the major monuments! But, she was waiting for someone. They’d said that they would pick her up so they could show her around Prospit like a real gentleman. Heh, he wasn’t anything of the sort but she liked being treated like a lady.

She smelled him before she heard him. He smelled like his normal scent of grapes with metal mixed in, but there was also a plumy smell coming from him too! Plus, his scent was different; like the grapes had been washed and the metal was polished. She still smiled up at his scent trail. “You should be ashamed for leaving a lady waiting.”

His feet hit the ground and he walked over to her. “There were lots of open doors tonight that hadn’t been opened before, so I wanted to snoop a little. Is that a crime?”

“In a court of law, going into someone’s house without their permission is prohibited.” She banged her cane as a proper Judge would do.

“It looks like you’ll have to arrest me then, officer”.

“I sentence you to community servitude. You have to lead this blind lady around the city like you would a noblewoman on a date. Show her all the ups and downs of this fresh laundry city. Can you handle that, prisoner?” She poked his chest, it was much nearer than she thought it would be and raised her eyebrows up at him.

“Anything for you, m’lady.” She could sense his elbow being extended and grabbed onto it eagerly.   

Chapter Text

Karkat woke up extra early on the 9th of May because it was freakin important and if anyone was to say otherwise he was going to rip them apart. He might’ve tried to not wake Dave and John as he crawled out of his tent but he was too busy trying to plan what to say. How do you tell someone you really care about them and want them to stay in your life as long as they can? He always thought he was good with words, but at this moment, they ran away like the pansies they were and he just hoped that she would get the general message.

He opened up a sack from the food pile and pulled out a green cookie that he had snagged from Jane’s bakery yesterday. The frosting had freakin smudged! Dang it! It wasn’t perfect! She was going to hate him now because Jane had unreliable frosting! He started to curse under his breath. What was he going to do now? He could cover it up if he smudged the frosting this way and- oh dang it to high purgatory! It looked worse now and his fingers were starting to look good enough to eat and-

“Karkat?” Crap! No! What was she doing up? She should be sleeping! Why can’t she be normal and sleep in like everyone else? Especially since she was on watch last night! He hid the cookie back in the bag and turned to Kanaya. She had bags under her eyes but she smiled at him. “Did you get a little hungry from all the work yesterday and decide to get a morning snack?” She walked over to him and he tried to smile innocently back.

“Yeah! Sure thing! Got a little bit hungry and wanted food! Thought there’d be enough to spare some for the best of us! Speaking of which-” This was a good of a moment as any to present it. Hopefully, she’d still like it. He brought the cookie out from behind his back and held it out to her. Kanaya blinked at it. Crap! She hated it! She was going to tell him off. She didn’t though, she smiled really widely and took the misshapen cookie.

“Karkat...This is absolutely amazing. Really, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present!” She smelled the cookie and sighed out. Of course, she would like it! What had he been thinking about? This is Kanaya. She had the best attitude out of everyone here. He couldn’t help but laughed a little bit.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you something bigger, or grander. At the next town, I could go in and get you a new scarf or something because you always said in your letters that you were always cold?” Kanaya looked up from her cookie and smiled so sweetly at him that he felt like he was beaming. She leaned in and gave him a one-armed hug which he accepted and hugged her tightly back.

“Karkat, you are a great friend. I couldn’t have asked for a better one.” She leaned out of the hug and took a bite out of the cookie and sighed. She closed her eyes and chewed thoughtfully for a second.

“Thank-Thank you Kanaya! I-uh-stole, I mean paid for that cookie from Jane’s last night! It had your favorite color. I don’t know what flavor it is, but-”

“Kanaya? Karkat?” Karkat froze up and saw from over Kanaya’s shoulder Rose. She had her wands out as well. Darn it! Why hadn’t Karkat remembered that Rose and Kanaya always patrolled right after each other! He should’ve been more sneaky. She pulled up at the sight of them, more specifically the cookie, and squinted at Karkat. “Where did that cookie come from, Karkat?”

“It came from up your butt and to the left, Rose!” He grumbled and crossed his arms. Kanaya laughed a little.

“Rose, please don’t give him a hard time. He got this cookie for me and only this cookie. I’ll make sure that he gives Jane some money back in return, but it is a, uh, special day for this cookie.” Did Kanaya sound shy? She looked down a little and Karkat started to think a little bit. Wait-

“Oh,” Rose unstiffened and looked a bit ashamed. Yeah, that’s right! Karkat got something for Kanaya and Rosie didn’t! “I’m sorry for forgetting your birthday. I don’t recall if you ever told me its date, but I apologize all the same.” Rose looked down at the dirt as she started to walk over to them and Kanaya smiled a little.

“I don’t believe I did tell you, Rose. There is still time in the day for us to do something together, though.” She put a hand on Rose’s shoulder and Rose looked back at Kanaya. She nodded her head; to Karkat’s relief.

“That would be excellent. I promise that whatever we do to celebrate, it’ll be splendid.”

“Did my excellent ears overhear that we’re going to have a splendid celebration?” Terezi walked from around the tent and put a lot of sound into ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid celebration’. Karkat felt himself heat up.

“What business of it is yours?!” He yelled at her as she approached and she waved a hand at him! At him! Who did she think she was?

“It’s my business whenever a party goes down! Happy Birthday, Kanaya!” Terezi sang and hugged Kanaya out of the blue! Kanaya was pinned under the hug but saved her cookie by holding it up. She smiled weakly at Terezi.

“A party? Terezi-”

“Did I just hear that there’s going to be a birthday party for my moirail’s buddy?” Gamzee walked around the tents along with everybody and their dog! Great! So much for a little celebration! Kanaya was going to get overwhelmed and have the worst birthday ever!

“Hold on, everybody! Hold on!!” Karkat threw up his hands and everybody stopped where they were. “There’s not going to be a party in my camp! This is Kanaya’s day and whatever she wants, will go!”

“Did I just hear that Karkat basically made Kanaya the new ruler of the camp?” Vriska called out and Karkat glared at her through the crowd. Oh, one day, he is going to give her a good yelling and maybe some punches for good measure. Someone touched his arm; Kanaya. She was blushing and smiled at him. Wait, did she want to be the ruler of the camp today? Karkat was fine with that; more than fine.

“Y-yeah! Kanaya is going to be the ruler of the camp! She is basically me for today! If you guys don’t do what she says, I’ll make sure Vriska trains you harder than ever!” Vriska scoffed and muttered under her breath.

“That would be lovely, Karkat.” Kanaya beamed at him and patted his arm. “I don’t think I could be as good of a leader as you, but I’ll try my hardest.” Karkat felt himself blush now too. He just nodded his head and folded his arms to glare at everyone.

“Wait! So does that mean a party?!” Nepeta squealed and bounced over everyone’s head. Kanaya nodded enthusiastically. There were more squeals and yeses as everyone sank into that thought. What did a party mean though? There must be decorations and cake and dancing, right? But where were they going to get this stuff?!

“If there’s a party,” Vriska shoved her way to the front of the group, squished herself between Karkat and Kanaya and looped her arm around Kanaya’s head. “Then you can bet your butts that I’ll be the one planning it. Permission to order everyone around to get this camp into party city, Miss Birthday Girl?” Vriska leaned into Kanaya who was blushing harder now.

“Um, well-”

“Hold your piracy butt, Miss Serket!” Terezi jabbed her cane at Vriska who let Kanaya go. Terezi leaned forward. “Nobody wants another tyrant leading this group, so I suggest we get a planning committee. We split people into groups and then those groups delegate out how to do their tasks as efficiently as possible!”

“That sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all morning.” Dave freakin Strider gave a thumbs up and Terezi nodded her head in return. What did that mean? What was going on between them? “That, and breakfast. Can we decide this over food? I’m as starved as a desert.” Dave broke from the crowd and walked over to the food supplies.

“That sounds like a great idea, Dave.” Kanaya stepped back from Terezi and Vriska. “Let’s eat, everyone. My party should not take precedence over food.” Everyone mumbled agreements and walked over to the campfire to plan. Karkat was just praying that this wouldn’t turn into a big fight or else he was going to lose it.  

Chapter Text

Jade grinned at the transformed camp all around her. A banner was stretched between two trees that had ‘Happy Birthday Kanaya!’ written out in green paint. A lot of lanterns were lit and hung around camp that glowed a faint green as well. Aradia, Equius, and Nepeta were doing finishing touches on painting the lanterns with cool designs. If Kanaya didn’t love this, Jade was going to be offended for those three for their hard work.

“Are you looking at the decorations?” Jade nodded her head toward Jane and looked over her shoulder at her.

“I’ve been so caught up in the food for tonight, that I haven’t even seen how wonderful the camp looks! I would love to have a party like this!” Jade waved her arms around and Jane chuckled as she stacked up the small cookies into a little triangle.

“This feels more like a dance than a birthday party for sure! I just hope that we don’t attract much attention. Aren’t you all a bunch of criminals, or something?” Jane asked. She stacked the last cookie on top and surveyed the small stumps that held cups filled with water, sourdough bread, and little cookies; all arranged so cutely!

Jade nervously laughed. “Yeah. Some of us don’t have the best record with the law, but Rose said that she found a mute spell to cast over the camp so no one can hear us tonight. Of course, she’s never used it before, but I’m sure that we’ll be alright! We’re far enough from town that we won’t distract anyone and if anyone comes in, we’ll just battle them off!” She punched a few invisible people to show Jane how tough they were; which made Jane chuckle a bit more.

“Not everything should be resolved with conflict. We could just give them some food and send them on their way?” Jane looked up at the decorations too and raised her eyebrows approvingly.

“People who wander the woods at night probably don’t mean the best, Jane. But, we could definitely try to talk it out first.” Jade replied.

Jane opened her mouth to say something but three people entered into the combined dining and kitchen area-which will now be known as the party area. John and Vriska were holding a few things in their hands while Gamzee honked loudly at the sight of everything and turned on the spot. “You guys are makin’ this place look like a puffy castle party! I almost expect a bunch of puffy dresses and collars to go along with this!”

“Thank you, My Lord,” Equius bowed in his sitting position and his forehead almost touched the ground. Nepeta giggled.

“I’ve never worn a puffy gown before! I always wondered how they got so big as well! Do you think they hide things under those big skirts, Aradia?” Nepeta turned to the sullen girl who nodded absentmindedly. Everyone waited for what seemed like a second to see if she would say anything, but she didn’t.

“Puffy gowns are soooooooo stuffy, Nepeta,” Vriska drawled and leaned an elbow on John’s shoulder,” Whenever I had to wear them, I felt like tearing the thing apart because I couldn’t breathe in them!”

“Aw, sis,” Gamzee sighed, ”You’re making me all sentimental with the memories. We use to attend those balls together in those pinched clothes. You always found a way to sneak out of the parties and into the gardens to get dirty. Remember those mud pies we use to-”

“Yes!” Vriska shoved her pile of things into John’s arms and yelled over Gamzee. Her face was blushing into a blue and she waved her hands. “I remember those parties very clearly, Gamzee! Thank you, for bringing those up!” She waved her hands as if to ward off those memories, but Jade was now curious about what she was trying to hide. What could Vriska be very embarrassed about? She saw John grin a little as well.

“Vriska? In a puffy dress? At a fancy highblood party too! Who knew the pirate queen could be caught in a dress? It’s a shame those dresses got ruined.” John teased Vriska who kept blushing into her arms.

“Yeah, baker boy. Piratey sis and I would sneak off into the gardens and-”

“Stop!” Vriska yelled but Gamzee kept talking as she clamped down on her ears. Maybe he didn’t hear her, but Jade could hear Gamzee just fine.  

“-and make these delicious mud pies with all the flowers in the garden and goose feathers too. We would eat those things as if they were cake and get them all over our clothes because there were no napkins out in the garden.” Gamzee finished up his memory and smiled almost warmly down at Vriska who scowled at up him.

Everyone started to laugh a little bit and John clapped Vriska on the shoulder while still holding all the party supplies. She glared at him too but didn’t remove his hand. “You couldn’t have kept your big mouth shut, Little Goose?” She stressed that nickname and everyone started to laugh a little more. What a funny nickname! Little Goose? Eating mud and flowers? Those sounded like wild adventures! Gamzee laughed too and patted Vriska’s head.

“Those are good stories, you two,” Jane piped up and Jade saw that she was smiling a bit as well. “But, I hope you three were able to set up some fun games for tonight?” John nodded and held up his pile of supplies.

“We’ve got a fun night ahead of us, Jane! We’ll just need to set the games up and then we can start playing! Where should I put the stuff, Vriska?” John held out the pile and she pointed to the side of the food stumps.

“That place should be good. Now,” She put her hands on her hips and turned around slowly to look at everything, “The sun is almost at set point and if those sons of sea biscuits don’t come back soon, I’ll give them the hempen halter.” What in the world was she saying? Vriska always said pirate slang around them and it left Jade nodding her head as if she knew what was going on. It sounded like a threat of some sort though.

“Uh, Jane?” John straightened up from dumping the game supplies on the ground and turned back to her. He held in his hands two dark bottles that held even darker liquid. Jade wanted to crack one of those open and see what the liquid smelled like. Did Jane know what these bottles were? Jane looked just as confused and shook her head.

“We didn’t buy those while we were out. I haven’t seen them before until now. Does anybody-?”

“I will politely demand that you take those repugnant bottles as far away from here as possible,” Equius spoke up and he was dabbing at his neck furiously. He looked uncomfortable from what Jade could tell and was shaking his head. Nepeta started to pat his shoulder.

“Equius-?”

Vriska started to snicker and Gamzee even joined her in quietly laughing- more like quietly honking though. “Oh boy! We are in for a party tonight! Whose idea was this?” She pointed at the bottles and turned a little to look at everyone. She grinned to see if anyone would take credit until Gamzee honked and raised his hand; to which she grinned wider

“It was me, sea sis! I’ve been lugging these miracle potions around for the past twenty days; thinking that maybe one day we’d have a moment where we could go loose. I have two more bottles just like those ones that we can crack open and motherfrickin’ drink to our stomach.” He walked to John and took them both from his hands. He smelled the corks and exhaled loudly. “They’re still good too. Jadey?” He looked at Jade. “Could I just-” He gestured to the stump with the bucket of water.

“I ask you to reconsider, Patrician of Prospit,” Equius spoke up again and took a tiny step forward, ”that we don’t leave that open for the lowbloods. I’m sure you know of what it can do to those not strong of will.”

“Equius,” Nepeta whined and hit him a little harder on the back, ”What are those and why are you so against us lowbloods drinking it?” She stressed ‘lowbloods’ and Jade felt that she rightly did so. Why couldn't they drink it? If he had just said that no one could have it, it would’ve been fine! But he just had to bring blood into this?

“Yeah, why can’t we, Equius?” Vriska jeered, ”Why can’t they? Lowbloods want to be equal, so why not let them drink what we drink? Eat what we eat? They can handle it, and if they can’t-” She shrugged.”-then we warned them. Put it on the table Gamzee! Everyone needs to let loose every once in a while!” She waved her hand and Gamzee set the bottles on the stump like it was final.

Jade looked over at Jane who eyed the bottles warily but she gave a little shrug in the end. “A party is a party,” she muttered.

“I still want to know though!” Nepeta whined and glared at Equius. “What is that-”

“Coming through!” Terezi, Tavros and Dave marched into the clearing; each carrying a sack on their backs. That looked like a lot. Three bags worth of gifts? Jade had never gotten that before, but it didn’t matter how many gifts you were given. It just mattered what they were! Maybe they were all full of things Kanaya would love the most!

“Wow, guys!” She tried to sound cheery. “That’s a lot! Kanaya is going to be so happy! What did you get her?” Terezi, Dave and Tavros dumped the bags on the ground next to the stumps of food.

“Well, I would like to thank Equius over there,” Dave waved a hand at Equius who nodded his head, “for providing us with the funds to do this. Everyone, give the big man on campus a round of applause.” Dave started to politely clap and everyone joined in with different levels of excitement. Equius looked at a loss of words and wrung his hands.

“This is all very flattering. I, uh, would do anything for good friends of mine and Kanaya has shown immeasurable maturity and grace beyond her blood. She has shown my moirail kindness when she needed it most.” Nepeta curled into Equius more who gained more confidence. “She has been a good friend to all of us as well and-”

“This is starting to sound like a dinner speech, Equius,” Dave interrupted and Equius lost steam. He stuttered a bit on the words ‘uh’, ‘wait’ and ‘but’. Dave clapped a hand on Equius’s shoulder. “It’s okay, I just feel like you should say this when Kanaya is really here. Speaking of which, where is the birthday girl?” Dave clapped his hands and looked around as if to see her in the crowd.

“Rose and Karkat are still taking her for a walk through the forest,” Aradia finally spoke up from her seated position next to the lanterns. Had she seriously been painting while everyone arrived? That was, weird; nice, but weird.

“They said they’d have her back by sundown though!” Terezi pointed in the opposite direction of the sun to which Vriska swatted her arm the other way. “It’s getting close to dusk and they still haven’t come back yet.” She banged her stick on the ground and grinned at them all. “What are the bets that she’s enjoying a little birthday kiss from each of them?”

Jade gasped. What a scandalous comment! She felt like she should blush, but she started laughing instead. Everyone else seemed to do similar things; gasping, laughing or telling Terezi off. Those things really couldn’t be happening though! Sure, Rose and Kanaya seemed very close to each other, but Jade had pegged them as more of a moirallegiance than a matespritship. Unless they were that and Karkat and Kanaya were red flushing for each other? Karkat hadn’t told her anything about that and Kanaya wouldn’t have either because... well, she was Kanaya!

Kanaya always acted like she was amazing but she wasn’t exactly the best out there? Jade knew much more morally straight people than Kanaya, too. People treated her like a saint and that everything Kanaya said was the law. It was obvious that Karkat was in some sort of quadrant with her, Rose adored her and everyone just loved her? It was so weird that no one was seeing that she was just a normal person who had flaws and wasn’t the best at fixing her mistakes. Still, a party was a party and who was Jade to stamp out a party over something that can be fixed later; and she’d fix it.  

“Oh c’mon!” Vriska yelled over the volume everyone was creating. “Everyone deserves a little something on their birthday. In the short time I’ve been here, even I can see something is going down between Rose, Karkat, and Kanaya. I bet-” she leaned against John’s shoulder with her elbow and pulled his right hand up. “-that Kanaya-” she wiggled her pointer finger on her leaning elbow, “-will have a red thing with Rosie-” she touched her pointer finger to her other pointer finger, “-while also having a pale thing-” she reached her leaning arm around John’s shoulders and touched her pointer with his, “-or an ashen thing Gamzee, don’t get your panties in a bunch, while Rosie-” she brought her other hand over and was now touching John’s pointer with both of hers so that he was caught up in her hold,”-will have a black with Karkat because those two are full of fire!” She clasped her hands around his hand and it looked like she was hugging him?

John smiled down at their hands as if he was getting at what she was saying, and turned his head to look at her; still smiling. She smiled back and their noses were almost touching! They should kiss! Oh! They’d be so cute together! Someone cleared their throat and John flushed a jade color. He pulled away from her a bit and she let him go; frowning a little. Jade saw that Dave was the one who had cleared his throat, but she also caught Nepeta’s disappointed eye. So close yet so far.

“Thanks for the PDA, you two, but we should probably start hiding so we can surprise her.”

“Hiding from the birthday girl, huh Strider?!” Karkat jumped down into the gulley from the top of the rim. It was actually more like a slide in with a little pounce at the end but he crossed his arms and scowled at Dave when he landed. Kanaya and Rose followed behind him at a slower pace as they walked down the trail. Kanaya stared with wide eyes at how everything was transformed. She clapped her hands in front of her and had a big smile on her face. Rose looked just as happy as Kanaya, but she wasn’t staring at the decorations. “I took you as a gentleman who would respect any lady, but amazingly, I was wrong! You are a bulge wiper who doesn’t deserve to be in the presence of Ms. Maryam!”

“Oh, Karkat,” Kanaya swatted at him and he scowled a little less, “Dave has done nothing wrong. You are just being overprotective, which is adorable, but I must insist that you keep your peace for the night.” She looked at him and smiled a little. “We are about to have a party and I’m sure you’d like to enjoy yourself as much as I would like to?” Karkat nodded and Nepeta whooped.

“Karkitty has been tamed! Now we can begin the celebrations!” She stooped down to scoop up the painted lanterns and threw them into the air. Jade stepped and started to yelled just as Aradia stepped forward and stopped the lanterns in midair. Nepeta and Equius ran around the party floor they made and pushed the lanterns out over it so that they covered the whole area. Jade laughed at how Equius had the same energy as Nepeta when it came to this. A pale blanket fluttered above the lanterns before disappearing into the sky and Rose tucked her wands back into the hem of one of her prettier aprons. Then, music started to play from her right.

Dave had pulled out a music box but it sounded more like party band and he wasn’t even cranking it! He set it in the corner of the clearing as the lively tune of jig picked up. Jade laughed again at how stoic he was before clapping her hands to the fiddle beat. More started to join but no one was dancing! She hopped over to Dave, grabbed his hands and pulled him into the middle.

“Jade, what-”

“Just follow my lead!” She giggled and just started dancing! She didn’t know what dance she was doing and or what it was looking like, but she twirled and kicked and spun around with him in time to the music. She saw more people join them! There were Karkat and Kanaya dancing together! Rose and Equius were surprisingly together as well! As she spun, she saw John and Jane dancing slightly offbeat, Gamzee and Vriska spinning sharply, Tavros and Nepeta laughing together as they messed up and Aradia and Terezi clapping to keep beat with everything.

She laughed again and Dave laughed with her this time before spinning her around.  

Chapter Text

John fell to the ground and felt the wind knocked out of him. He could hear Terezi laugh from his left and Kanaya clap like she had done whenever anyone got out. Nepeta giggled. “Who did I catch? Who did I catch?” John turned his head slightly and saw her whipping her head left and right; as if she could see from under the blindfold if she shook her head hard enough.

“You got me,” he wheezed and Nepeta hopped off him. As he slowly got up, Nepeta already moved on to hunting Terezi; who was having a hard time containing her laughter.

“C’ mon John!” Vriska grabbed John under the arm and pulled it around her neck as if he was injured. “It’s more fun to watch from the sidelines! Besides,” she leaned in close to his ear just as he was getting his feet under him and whispered, “ maybe we could pounce each other in our own little game?” His face burned and tongue dried up. What? What was she asking? Oh, for heaven’s sake, he knew what she was asking!

He laughed a little as they approached the snack table and got ahold of his footing. He dropped his arm from around Vriska’s shoulder and almost took it off her altogether, but she grabbed his hand and stuck it to her waist. His arm was now stuck around Vriska’s waist and she looped her arm around his neck. He couldn’t help but laugh a little more and she laughed with him. Was she laughing at how awkward they were? He looked down at her and found her looking up at him. Wow, she was really close and blushing cobalt. Did she just look down at his lips? Wait, Rose had told him something about this. Was he ready for that? He wanted that, but he couldn’t do that now! Not here!

“I’ve been so caught up in the games, that I haven’t had time to try all of the food!” He said desperately to try and distract them from each other. He looked at all the food and started to reach for a cookie but Vriska pulled him over to the water.

“Oh, food can wait! You have to try this!” She grabbed at a cup of the highblood liquid and raised it up to his lips as if she was going to pour it down his throat. He caught her hand and pulled the cup away from his face so he could look at it. It was a shiny brown color and smelled like a cookie. Would it taste like a cookie too? Vriska tried to raise the cup up again but he wasn’t done with it yet! “C’ mon! It’s great! I’ve already had a few myself and I can still taste it,” Vriska leaned on him and rested her head on his shoulder. Her breath warmed his neck as she whispered, “Do you want little taste of it before you drink from the cup?” He could feel her lips just hovering above his skin and he warmed from that spot to all over.

“This, uh, stuff smells really good,” John said more to himself as Vriska tilted her head.

“Uh, huh,” she breathed and John started having a hard time keeping still. He gulped and gave in. He tipped the cup back and let the warm cookie liquid in. It really did taste like a cookie, but once it hit his throat, it turned cold and made him cough. Vriska leaned away from him and it got cold.

“Go ahead and adjust,” she unwrapped her arms from around him and he slowly dropped his hand from her waist. She leaned over him and grabbed another cup of the cookie liquid as he drank some more. It actually was really good and John almost drained the whole cup. When all the liquid was gone, he saw Vriska eating another sourdough cookie. She looked...loose. Her posture was bent and the look in her eye made her look like she was looking at buried treasure. She looked away from the cookies and the look didn’t die. He smiled widely at her and grabbed for a cookie.

“Are these that good?” He asked as he bit into one. Oh, it was really good.

Vriska giggled, yes, giggled. “They aren’t at all! I just need something salty from all this sweet liquid!” She tipped her cup back and drank it fast. It spilled out of the corner of her mouth and John looked away in case she was embarrassed about it. “Hey,” Vriska poked her finger at his cheek and he looked back at her. She was still pretty flushed but looked serious. She frowned a bit and John had a feeling he did something wrong. “You’re... really nice John.”

“Oh, Vriska, you-”

“Shush,” she put a finger on his lips and looked really nervous, “I’m losing my grip and I gotta tell you this or I’ll be shark bait. You saved that girl back in the alley even under my mind control,” Wait, she had mind control? She had used that on him? Cool. “That just shows your good heart and you can’t find that very easily on the sea. You’ve probably heard all the stories about me, but I do that to help out others! I might be a horrible person, but I take that role because no one else is willing to. You are though,” she looked him straight in the eye at that part and he gulped,” You’re kind and are able to make people listen to and that’s so… aggravatingly beautiful.” What? Did she just call him beautiful? She looked down from his eyes. He had to say that she was beautiful too! Because she was!

“But, you’re beautiful too,” he told her. Oh, he had just said that? Wow, cool. She looked back up at him and he couldn’t feel her breath. She looked at his lips again. He had more to say though! He wanted to kiss her though, but that wasn’t gentleman-like! Was he a gentleman at this point though? With everything he was doing and the people he was around?

“Um, excuse me? John?” John faintly heard the person but he looked and saw Jade. Was he in an embarrassing position with Vriska?

“Oh, Jade!” He waved at her and realized that he had to take his hand away from Vriska’s waist. How scandalous. Jade’s hair looked weird. It didn’t look as wild as it normally did. Did she comb it down? He wanted to touch it and he did; touched a nice long lock of it. “Your hair is so soft! Did you comb it?”

“Uh, John?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m Jane.” Oh, oh! He felt kinda stupid now and he laughed. Oh, look at him! He was so funny with getting them mixed up! Jane moved past him to grab at a cup of water and John disentangled himself from Vriska. He took her arms off his shoulders and his hands left her hips.

“Jane-ha ha!- I’m so sorry! Your hair looks so much like hers and the fire was just-ha ha ha!- so bright! Do you think it’s funny?” He couldn’t stop laughing! This was so hilarious! He was making a fool of himself in front of a lady! He should apologize but this was so funny!

“Hoo hoo, John. That’s really funny,” she replied and she was putting a lot of food on her plate. She must be really hungry! She had played a good game in the last one!

“That’s a lot of food, Jane!” He said and she stopped from putting another sourdough cookie on. “You really deserve it though! I’ve barely met you but I believe that you’re a great lady who will give anyone a run for their money! Just look at the last game we played! You smoked us all! Ha ha ha ha! That was so funny to watch!”

“Uh, thanks John. I’m going to go now. You can you stop drinking that highblood blood alcohol though?” Oh wow. She looked serious. John should take that seriously. He felt like he needed to impress her or something. He wanted to look responsible and make her proud and this wasn’t the way to do it. Oh, he was being so horrible.

He bowed his head. “Yes, Jane. I’ll stop drinking that cookie,” he muttered. She stood there for a moment but then her feet left. He was making an idiot of himself. He could almost see his father up in the clouds bowing his head in shame. Maybe, he could just take Vriska to her tent and let her sleep so that he wouldn’t be distracted? He was tired himself. He could just sleep in her tent as well. He turned around to face Vriska, but she was gone.

 

Jane gripped her heavy plate and hoped that no one else thought she looked suspicious, as she walked back to her seat on the far side of the party area. John had been wasted but even he had gotten suspicious of her. He had become weird after that, but he was drunk and she was in need of food, or rather, someone else needed food.

Why hadn’t she thought about Dirk’s eating habits when she had agreed to this? Yes, he was supposed to follow her- them- but where would he get food? She hoped he wouldn’t just steal from the others, but at the same time, she’d feel better if her group were the suppliers instead of someone else. She didn’t need as much as they were giving out and this party was an excellent time to stock him up on food. She just had to sneak out of this party without anyone being suspicious. That was part of the reason why she let Ganzee- that didn’t sound like his name- bring out that highblood alcohol.

She got to her seat just as Nepeta caught Terezi. Terezi squirmed like a worm and everyone laughed. Jane laughed a bit herself at the hilarious situation and took a swig from her water. Nepeta stepped off Terezi and looked around for the last ones standing. It was a tie between Equius and Aradia; the last one having an unfair advantage because she was floating above the ground. Terezi brushed off and stalked to the snack table. Dave got up from his seat and walked over to her.

The party was still lively. The music behind her still played loudly and made Jane’s foot twitch to start tapping. Everyone who wasn’t in the game talked or called about the game going on. Rose and Kanaya talked to each other a bit animatedly; leaning more towards Kanaya. Still, they both clapped and whooped whenever someone got out. Karkat and Jade had sat on the other side of the gulley and looked too serious for a party. Everyone seemed caught up with themselves. Perhaps, now would be a good time to sneak away and visit Dirk?

Jane stood up and turned around just as someone huge sat down to her right. Gamezee- darn it- leaned back on his hands and smiled up at her with doe eyes. “This has been the best party I’ve been to since I was a little honker,” he remarked. She tried to smile as normally as possible and turned to him.

“Yes, it has that intimate feeling I usually get when I’m around friends,” she replied.

“That’s the most freakin’ awesome thing I’ve heard all night,” Gumzee sighed and smiled a bit more widely at her. Despite his towering nature and blood, Jane had seen him acting like everyone here was a saint. It was a bit naive but Jane felt like it almost suited him. She smiled back at him a bit more honestly.

“How can that be the best thing you’ve heard all night?” she asked a bit more honestly.

“It’s the best thing because I’ve been hoping you’d feel welcomed among my friends,” he patted the seat next to him, “and me!” He didn’t stop smiling as he said that and Jane’s smile started to be forced again. Her shoulders tensed as well as she sat back down, making sure that she kept a good distance from them and looked out at the party but Gomzee-why did she even try?-stilled stared at her.

“Oh? That’s very, uh, thoughtful,” and she laughed nervously. “Tavros had told me that everyone here would be welcoming and would love to be my friend. I see now that he wasn’t wrong.” Gemzee-it’s starting to sound ridiculous now-didn’t reply and she hated the silence. “Tavros is a good friend of yours, right? He spoke well about you and how honest you were.”

Gimzee-why? Why couldn’t she remember?-finally reacted. He leaned toward her and she stopped herself from leaning away. “Tavros is my best friend, man.” he picked up a cookie from her plate and slid the whole thing into his mouth before she could stop him. She slapped his shoulder before she could think and his eyes shot open in surprise.

Holy Geez! Why had she done that? He’s going to kill her now! But he had been very rude to her and that was not something a gentleman did! “Oh! I’m sorry I hit you! But that action was impolite! You don’t just steal from another person’s plate!” She sputtered and raised her hand as if she was going to slap him again. Gamzee-that sounded better-laughed.

His mouth wasn’t even dirty with the cookie. He had swallowed the whole thing and that kept Jane from asking why he laughed. His bent back from her as he laughed and it started to sound more like honking than laughter. She didn’t want to sit here anymore. She wanted to bolt up and run into the woods. That laugh was worse than hers and that’s saying something.

“Janey,” Gamzee inhaled her name and returned to his slumped position,” you are a sassy motherfricker aren’t you? I like that.” He gazed down at her with those half looking eyes, but they shone like something else entirely. “I was told you’d be best suited for me. I almost sinned against the Messiah though when I saw you. You looked so bone thin and scared, like a rabbit.” What on Earth was he talking about? “I almost went against my moirail’s orders and almost made a wreck. My Messiah saved me though and made you go to sleep.

“I was given hope when you finally came to our camp and the way you challenged my moirail gave me the raising bumps on my body. You knew how to handle yourself and I liked that a lot. But, I’ve never been fully sure that he was right until just now. Not only can my little rabbit yip like a dog, but it can bite like one too.”

Something touched Jane’s right side. She looked down and saw Gamzee’s hand. How had she not noticed that he had been slinking his arm around her? She looked back at him. Gamzee nose’s brushed hers and she could smell the fire on him. His eyes stayed half-lidded, but she could see where his eyes were looking. “I’ve been told to wait until His coming, but I think he’d understand if I tasted my bride a little early.” His hand squeezed her the fat on her hip and she jumped.

She jumped off of the log and his hand was ripped off her. Her feet ran her to the tall bushes and she hopped into them; not caring if she was making a scene or disturbing the wildlife. Her heart was caught in her throat and she couldn’t breathe around it. Her arms got scratched and she couldn’t even see the branches in front of her. The branches were still there though, and they scratched at her face and hair as she clutched the plate of food to her chest like a child. The branches took her tears too but she still couldn’t see them.

“Jane!” She ran into someone but she didn’t jump away from them. She pressed herself into him and sobbed. Her tears still didn’t stay and jumped onto Dirk’s shirt. His arms were wrapped around her but they weren’t tight enough. She could still be seen from between them.

Her legs shook under her and they started to lock up. She fell with them, but Dirk helped her down. His arms tightened around her as they fell onto the ground. Somehow, she sat on Dirk’s lap and her face was still pressed sideways into him. “Jane. Jane, you’re safe here. I’ve got you and I’ll protect you. I’ll help you.” Dirk told her this over and over again but she couldn’t hear him. Someone else was talking. She was talking. She was sobbing something over and over again.

“Help. Help me. Please help me.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, John!” Kanaya yelled and jumped up from her seat excitedly. “That was a good game! You really did well!” Rose laughed beside her but clapped anyway. Kanaya watched John get dragged away by Vriska and returned to her seat.

“You are very invested in this game, even though you got out long ago,” Rose commented and handed Kanaya some water. Now that she saw water, she realized that her throat had dried up from all her yelling over the music and noise everyone made. Not that she didn’t appreciate it. The music was spectacular and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves!

She accepted the water and drank it quickly. She probably looked un-lady-like but her throat felt much better afterward. “I did leave the game earlier than I had hoped,” Kanaya replied and held onto her cup. “But, watching the game is more appealing than participating! I had suspected that Aradia would be one of the last ones standing, or rather, floating, but Equius was a surprise!” Kanaya brought her hands close to her heart and grinned at the game.

“Terezi was no doubt going to be the last one standing as well,” Rose shifted so that she leaned forward with Kanaya. “I really hope that she wins, but then again, I had hope that Tavros would win as well.” Kanaya grimaced.

“Nepeta had gone a little too far with him, I agree. I’m glad that he’s in bed though. I’m also grateful that you healed him up.” Kanaya looked over at Rose who smiled back at her. She looked a bit rustled from her encounter with the game but even with her mud stains, Rose looked fit for a party. She wore such a pretty tan tunic and her corset gleamed brown. With all the roughhousing, she had even tucked the tips of her tunic into her lightly purple stitched belt, which showed her legs quite nicely. She had forgotten to bring the tips of her tunic down as well and her calves were showing now because of it.   

“It was a little injury. Everyone seemed to want to continue the game too, even Tavros wanted it to continue. Who was I to ruin a perfect birthday over a little bump?” Rose paused and then continued. “Our band of heroes really want you to have the best birthday ever.” The best birthday ever? It did seem like the best so far, yet, she had greater memories of less stressful times. The effort put into this would indubitably make this memory into a cherished one.

“So far, this has been the best one,” Kanaya replied softly and Rose tilted her head so that her short hair fell to the side.  

“You don’t seem so sure. Tell me about your other birthdays. The best ones, the worst ones. Tell me all.” Kanaya raised an eyebrow. A bit pushy about wanting to know. It was endearing nonetheless. Rose looked to be restraining from rolling her eyes and exhaled instead. “I need a basis for how to set the next birthday. We have to keep outdoing ourselves and that means prior information.”

“I am touched, Rose,” Kanaya laughed a little and scooted back on her log- thinking. What was her best birthday so far? Probably when her mother was still alive. Or perhaps the time when the other patrons had left for the week? The one when Karkat had kidnapped her had been memorable as well though. And then the worst? Well, there was the time when the kids had played a cruel joke on her and every time after her mother as well.

“Well, I’ll tell the best and the worst and then you tell me about your birthdays as well?” she finally replied and Rose nodded her head. Perfect. “Well, my best birthday would have to be with my mother before she passed. I was turning ten and the orphanage was splendid. We were shepherding as many children in as we were sticking them into good families. Earlier that week, we had settled all the children in the orphanage at the time into nice families so I was left all alone in the building.

Another shipment of orphans wasn’t due for another two weeks so it was just me the patrons had to take care of. I wasn’t hard to deal with, but I remember being very bored.” Kanaya laughed a little as the memory popped up of little her. “The other patrons were bored as well. They had no one to take care of, so they spoiled me a bit. My hair would always be very elaborate. They had crafty hands and made me feel like a princess every morning by braiding my hair into crowns, bee nests, animals-”

“Animals?” Rose laughed incredulously. Kanaya nodded and waved her cup around.

“Animals! I once walked around for a whole day with a butterfly made out of hair on the back of my head! The patrons use to actually make up the hair for nobles and such! They would pretty things in my hair too! Golden ribbons, flowers, pearls, bits of metal they shined up and even coins too! The whole week of my birthday, I had the prettiest hair in all the village. I won’t be far from the truth either if I said that all the girls weren’t jealous of me that week, because my clothes were the best thing.

“The seamstress of the orphanage started to take a liking to me. She had no clothes to mend either, so she took me in every day after that and taught me all about clothes. She was getting old and her hands shook so much that she couldn’t do the fine lace and stitching work. She taught me how to do that job and then made me try on her newest creations. At the end of the week, she gave them to me as a present! I got to help her make mountains of adorable clothes as well and I made my first dress.

I still have it, Rose; my first dress. I like to look back on it and see my progress. It’s out of fashion now, but I still consider it very adorable. I like to think that maybe that sort of stitching will come back into fashion when I get my own kids and I can make them wear my first dress.” Kanaya found herself staring into a lantern above her. She could almost see her future child. The prettiest black hair that would rival the royalbloods; laughing with pearly teeth and dimples. Her eyes dazzled brilliant cobalt as she danced in the yellow, lace dress with the swirling, orange stitching. She twirled around and around with her chin held high and never once fell down inside that square lantern. What an amazing girl; her amazing girl.

Gentle, worn hands stopped the little girl. The hands smoothed themselves over the braid crown with sunflowers sticking out and the new dress with pride. The mother said something and the girl nodded enthusiastically before starting to sway with the mother back and forth. It wasn’t even dancing but the two moved with the slightly swaying lantern. The girl’s jade eyes shimmered with pride and happiness.

“My mother was so proud of me. She saw my dress and foretold that I would be the greatest dressmaker known to man. She would ask about my day up in the seamstress’s apartment every night at dinner and even let me use her as a model for one of my dresses.” The hands turned into a full-bodied orphanage owner and they hugged the ten-year-old tightly to her. The little girl hugged her mother tightly back and giggled into the apron of the patron. Still, the pair swayed with the lantern.

The candle in the lantern flickered. The pair fell backward and the little girl was lying on a bed next to a withered woman. The girl tucked herself into the woman’s chest and talked. She talked about everything; her day, her clothes, the children, the patrons, the business on the street. The withered mother could barely nod at each sentence and yet her hand was clasped loosely in the girl's hands. Someone entered the scene but Kanaya could not see who it was. The girl turned to acknowledge the newcomer and right as she looked away, the hand fell off of the girl’s. The girl turned back to her mother and kept talking. She never noticed and wouldn’t until the next day when the patrons outside the door would trade shifts and check on her. The girl still talked as the light in the lantern slowly flitted out.

“Kanaya?” Rose spoke from outside of the lantern, yet Kanaya watched the smoldering candle. The other woman set her hand on her shoulder and rubbed it gently. “That sounds like a magnificent birthday. It’s truly one to rival this. Do you wish to talk about the other birthdays you’ve had?” Kanaya wasn’t in the mood now though.

This had been happening too much. She would be so excited or particularly happy and she’d see the hairstyle her mother always wore or one of the dresses of her mother’s that was sold after the funeral. These little reminders, which ranged from various things she had never noticed about her mother while she was alive, would shatter her mood and she would fall into this melancholy. She had to get out of it though. She looked away from the lantern and down into the cup in her hand. It was empty and yet she clutched it so firmly as if it were air. What a waste.

“But I just told you about the best and worst birthday I’ve ever had,” Kanaya replied as she set her cup on the ground. What was she supposed to do with her hands though? Folding them sounded like a good option. “Could about a birthday of yours, Rose?” Kanaya finally looked at Rose. She returned her arm to herself and nodded with a smile.

“If that is what the birthday girl wishes.”

“Wishes never come true though unless backed with hard work and determination,” Kanaya absentmindedly replied. The patrons had always told her that little bit whenever she mentioned wishes. Gosh, she sounded an awful lot like them; pessimistic.

“True, yet canon is born out of wishes and hopes. If one does not wish for something they’d simply lie about with no motivation and everything would be stagnant.” Rose picked up a bit of a debating tone and smirked. “Wishes are often times kept in the back of minds and risen up again in the future in the form of dreams. Most that we see around us was wished by someone in our band of friends long ago and it has just now taken fruition.” She gestured at everything and Kanaya knew that little ten-year-old Kanaya would have dreamed about parties like this; dangerous and wild.

“I see no point in continuing this debate,” Kanaya smiled at Rose again,” for your logic and sheer hope that ousted my pessimistic attitude. But,” she waved her hand to clear off the melancholy,” enough of that! Tell me about your happiest birthday. I want to hear every detail.” Rose nodded and immediately started into hers. She had thought this through.

“It was my eighth birthday. I woke up to my mother making cobalt eggs and bacon. She had somehow found a potion in the village that did such a thing and served to me. I had a hearty debate with her about why shoving blood color onto others was despicable but she swatted my comments away with loving family talk about my uncles and such. When my friends came over, she got out her spares and gave them some bacon to munch on while we were journeying.

“My friends, John, Jade, and Dave, had something planned for me. They took me to the village library. It was run by a jade blood who didn’t like lowbloods at all and had pushed us out multiple times before. This time though, they had a plan. Dave pulled his oldest brother out with him who distracted the jade blood while we ran in and looted all the interesting books I liked. We hopped out of a window and then ran into the woods. They had brought along a full picnic with them and I read to them the books, for Jade and John didn’t know how to read yet, while they munched on food.” Rose’s expression had barely changed throughout the whole retelling of her story. No movement or anything. It almost seemed like she hadn’t really liked it at all. No, that was going to do.

“I don’t accept that story,” Kanaya stated. Rose snapped away from the game and raised her eyebrows at her.

“What made the memory inadequate?” she asked in a surprised manner. Kanaya shook her head.

“You said you’d give me your happiest birthday, but all I could tell from it was that it was rehearsed! I was hoping for something a bit more personal?” She dragged out that last part and stared at Rose for a response. She might be pushing her boundaries but she wanted to know. Rose was always so composed that she wanted to see what it’d look like if she just let some emotion besides sarcasm out. Rose stared down at Kanaya’s lap like a child being scolded. Maybe, this was a bit more personal than she had thought. “If you don’t want to share though, that is perfectly fine. I did like that story. I did have some elements of-”

“I believe I have an adequate story now,” Rose interrupted quietly yet still stared at Kanaya’s lap. She sat still and started again with her birthday. “It was my ninth birthday. Dave was supposed to leave for Derse the next day and Jade was already gone by that point. It was a solemn day for our friend group. Dave was trying his best to make that day that greatest birthday ever. He and John brought over a cake from the bakery they had made the night before. It was in my favorite color; purple. For a baker’s son and a troublemaker, the cake looked absolutely magnificent. We stayed inside my house the whole day, eating the cake and playing card games.

“It was peaceful. John told us everything about pastries and what he hated about each individual thing. Dave talked, or rather lied, about his new life in Derse. He told us his family was going to be personal protectors of the only nice royalblood in Skaia. That the house had an orchard of apple trees and that Jade was going to be near to him. He never admitted it, but I could see that he missed her. I remember talking about the Seers. I had just found out that I was a Seer so I had done some research on what exactly they were.

“My mother had holed herself upstairs in her room. She hadn’t come out to make breakfast, or lunch or even to pester me about being a proper lady. When dinner rolled around, Dave’s older brother picked Dave up and John walked home. He left me a pastry though. It was just a croissant with by then cooled butter on top. He told me to have the happiest birthday dreams and then left.

“That’s when my mother came down. She looked an absolute mess. No powder, she wore the clothes from yesterday and she ate as if she hadn’t eaten all day. I had something against my mother back then and just made a remark on how she had missed my birthday. I had been… happy that she hadn’t been around. My little elementary self believed that she ruined everything. Yet, deep down, I had missed her and her nagging. I had been furious as well that she was so caught up in herself that she couldn’t even wish me a happy birthday.

“She started to bawl at that. She sank down onto the floor and sobbed. She apologized that she doomed me to my fate of a Seer. She kept blaming herself on what rotten luck I had. I think that she hated the Seers. She hated them so much and yet her daughter now was one. She believed I was doomed to an unkind fate and that she had made that happen. She hated herself for that. That night, she sobbed that she was losing her daughter. That night, I realized that my mother actually loved me.

“I had this concept that she loved my blood and that’s why she showed it off to everyone through my clothes and food. She actually loved me though, her daughter and not the color. I cried too. I started to cry with her as I realized that and when I realized that my mother would never see me again. I had made that assumption while reading through the sparse books about Seers.”

Kanaya sat and listened to the story. It wasn’t far from the truth to say that it touched her heart. She could imagine a tiny Rose with cobalt clothes, chewing her mother out and reading like there was no tomorrow. The little Rose kneeling beside a heartbroken mother and comforting her; crying just as hard but for the same reasons. Present Rose looked peaceful though. She stared at the game still ongoing and remained a statue. She must be going through something, feeling old emotions. With that, Kanaya slid an arm around Rose’s shoulder.

The later clenched up but relaxed when Kanaya finished the hug by wrapping her other arm around her. She couldn’t think of what to say. How could you comfort a person who had believed that their mother didn’t love them? How do you soothe a girl who’s best birthday memory was that one? One that was filled with realization and sorrow? She could only hug her.

Rose’s head fell onto Kanaya’s shoulder and she sniffed.

Chapter Text

“Karkat! Karkat!” Jade called to Karkat who stood over at the food table. His head flung around like a doll as he tried to find her. It was hilarious to watch a drunken Karkat walk around too! He walked as if his feet were switched around, his right foot was his left and his left was his right! They crossed over each other and tripped each other up. So funny, so hilarious!

“Jade? Jade, what do you want?” Karkat wasn’t yelling. He sounded like he just woke up actually. Someone who woke up with two cups in his hand. Was it the pastry liquid? Oh, she really wanted some more of that. She patted the ground next to her and grinned.

“Sit down, Karkat! I wanna talk to you!” She followed the cup in his hand as it sat down too. She snatched it before Karkat could say anything and chugged it as quick as water.

“Hey! That was mine you-you-” but Karkat couldn’t seem to figure out what she was. The cup was drained and she felt a humming in her toes. She giggled and licked the lip of the cup as if to catch the few drops there. “Woah, you chugged that really quick. Like- like those guys at the town dances. Y’know,” he waved his hand way above his head and seemed to realize that he did so because it flopped into his lap, “those guys who would only use one gulp for alcohol? And they made it a game, too. Like, if you drank it faster than all the guys, you got money.”

“Yeah, yeah!” Jade gasped and hit Karkat in her excitement. He just grunted and swayed with the punch. He had looked funny while thinking about those guys. His eyes had blown up and it was the widest she had ever seen them. His eyes stayed wide and stared at her. “I remember them! They would bring homemade whiskey and would pour them into tiny cups too! They would sort them, hehe! from tamest to flamest!” She giggled into her hand. It was so funny to think about! Why did they sort them? They all tasted the same anyway! “They would all bet on if they could down the liquor without flinching, splashing, and in one swallow! Whoever could actually do it, got all the money! I did that once, Karkat!” She grabbed his arm and shook him a bit. What an exciting time! She could still remember all their blurry faces and how funny they all looked. “I got all the money too! It was so fun!”

Karkat’s wide eyes started to blink rapidly and they tinged red. Oh. Oh No! Was he crying?! He was crying!? Why was he sad?! Had she said something sad?! She hadn’t meant to. She just wanted to cheer him up with memories of Pacific! Oh! She had something from Pacific for him too! From Jack! Jack wanted her to give it to him with a note and- and she had it in her pocket because she was going to give it to him! She had been hiding it because he hadn’t seemed to need it, but he was crying! She had to help him.

“Karkat?! Why are you crying?! I’m sorry for making you sad!” She wrapped her whole body around him and tried to squeeze the sadness out of him. She tightened her arms and smushed her head against his back. Karkat hiccuped.

“It’s not you J-Jade. It’s mine. It’s a-a-all my fault,” he whispered. Karkat hugged her back. He wrapped his arms around her and sobbed into her shoulder. It was messy, but he had always been pretty messy. This was sad. He was sad so she was sad. She sniffed to help him not feel alone in whatever grief he was in. She nuzzled his shoulder.

“Nothing is your fault, Karkat. How could, whatever you’re talking about, be your fault?” Karkat slumped deeper her hug and shook his head.

“It- it is, Jade. They’re dead- they’re all dead and it’s my fault,” he sobbed. Dead? Who was dead? The camp wasn’t dead. The village close to them didn’t seem to be dead. Who was dead?

“Dead?” Jade felt her heart float down from the happiness she was on. Her heart had a feeling that she knew who was dead, but her brain wasn’t catching on. “Who’s dead, Karkat?” Karkat slumped even lower so that he almost was on her lap. She was basically holding him up! He wasn’t going to escape this. Someone was dead and she didn’t know who! She grabbed his shoulders and heaved him up and away from her. His whole face was red but he stared into her eyes with his own wide ones. “Who died, Karkat? Who is it?!”

Karkat shook his head but steadied himself by straightening his arms against hers. “Them. All of them. The liquor shooters, the bartenders,” he started to speed up,” the cattle wranglers, the mothers, the sisters, the brothers, the sheepherders, the kids-” his voice spiked on ‘kids’ and his lips wobbled. “All of Pacific, dead.”

Jade’s heart fell into her stomach and throbbed. Dead? Her heart moaned. All the families? Her heart turned over. All the workers and hands? She gasped at the pain her heart made as it welled with its own tears and pushed at the edges of her body. All her friends, bullies, admirers and helpers? Her hands fell from Karkat’s side and they cradled her face instead as if to push her heart back into its place. All the dancing and smiling and love and friendship were gone. Her throat wrenched and it sobbed despite her trying to stop it. All the cute clothes, bad jokes, singing, and good-natured fighting. Her fingers turned bronze from her tears and her chest heaved. Gone.

How? She thought she had seen some of them escape? Her cheek started to hurt like something was pushing into her skin. Surely all of them couldn’t be gone. Those who lived out in the country? Her bronze liquid formed puddles in her hand because they couldn’t escape around something. Karkat would’ve said those people survived though. Her bronze tears puddled too much and she dropped her hands from her face at last.

A necklace and note swung from her face. When had she gotten Karkat’s gift out? Why hadn’t she thought about it either when she had cried into it? The note was all bronze now! Or, maybe the light made it look like that? That would make her feel better. “Jade?” Karkat grabbed at the necklace and pulled it and her toward him. He stared with dried eyes at the necklace. “Why do you have this?”

She gulped. This wouldn’t make him feel better at all, but he had seen it. “Before I left Pacific, you dad-I mean- Jack, gave it to me,” she sniffed and shuffled closer to him, not letting the necklace go. “He-he told me to give it t-t-to to you. Well, and also this no-note.” She opened her hand the rest of the necklace swung toward him because she had the note clasped in that hand. He carefully picked up the note and unfolded it; fingering his favorite necklace.

Ever since she had had the note, she had to push down the curiosity to read it. But now, she could just lean over and read the note over his shoulder to have her curiosity fed. She couldn’t. Karkat needed this little time of peace to read the note. It was words between him and his caretaker, his boss, the only thing close to family he had and his protector. Jade wasn’t allowed in that; even when they were engaged.

Karkat’s wide expression closed up as he squinted and scowled at the letter. Jade wondered if he had ever gotten better at reading while he had been away. His eyes kept looking over the first line again and again. Maybe, he hadn’t. “Karkat, do y-you want me-”

“Shut up, Jade,” Karkat growled and held the letter close to his face. Jade knew that no one could read from that distance. She sighed.

“Karkat, if you’re having-”

“I’m not Jade!” Karkat snapped and he yelled a bit. She jumped away from him. Too close. He looked up at her and his tight expression pained. Oh no.

“Karkat, I didn’t jump because you scared me-”

“Don’t lie to me!”

“-I jumped because I was too close! I wasn’t expecting you to-”

“Just stop!” Karkat yelled. He started to get up but his feet shuffled under him. Jade grabbed at his arm and tried to help him. They both fell backward with Karkat sprawling across her. Jade pushed his face away from her neck when she heard a distinct shriek of laughter followed by the light sound of a deep-voiced giggle. Karkat froze and glared down at her. She could see in his eyes what he was thinking. Terezi and Dave were laughing at them and their fall. Karkat didn’t like to be yelled at. But it couldn’t be like that! She shook her head but Karkat pushed himself up more steadily than she thought and turned to them.

“Karkat!”

“ARE YOU FRICKING DONE WITH THOSE HEINOUS SOUNDS YOU CALL LAUGHTER?!”


John saw Jade punch Karkat as he searched for Vriska. Where had she gone off to? He still wanted to talk to her! She wasn’t playing the game or talking to Jane and Gamzee, or Rose and Kanaya, or Dave and Terezi. Where else in the camp could she be? Behind the food table? He turned around the peaked over the other side of the food. She wasn’t hiding there. Darn! Why had she run off? Had he said something ungentlemanlike? He leaned away from the food and saw Vriska to his left. She was swatting at the bushes that surrounded the tents. There she was!

John tripped over a rock toward her. He spilled some of his drink too. Was that all over him? Would he look stupid with soiled clothes? He would smell nice though, maybe? He sniffed his chest real quick and couldn’t decide what he smelled like. Well, hopefully, he just smelled like- Crap! John looked up and Vriska was gone again! Maybe, she was circling around the tents? He could catch her if he went through the tents instead of the long away like she was taking.

He couldn’t go slow though and tried to walk a bit faster. He slipped around the other side of the tents on the real trail and peaked around the other side. No Vriska. He kept walking and peaked around the next one. The bushes were rustling on the other side! Wait, maybe it was something else? He couldn’t see very clearly this far away from the party. Maybe if he walked fast enough, he could catch her on the other side of the tent!

John almost ran around the next tent and saw Vriska trampling the bushes. He kept running around the corner and his arms flapped up like balloons when he came nearer. “Vriska!” He sang out and gave her a great hug. She hopped back a bit but he stayed on the trail between the two tents and squeezed her tightly. “I’m sorry Vriska! I’m really really sorry for what I said to you!” He pulled her up and hopped back onto the trail with her limp, doll body.

“You’re sorry for calling me beautiful?” Vriska whispered. John squeezed tightly and she coughed. He shook his head wildly.

“No, no, no, no, no!” He pulled his face away from her and looked down. She looked straight into his eyes but he didn’t feel unnerved like he usually did when she usually looked at him. “Vriska,” he sounded really quiet for some weird reason and cleared his throat, “I meant to say that I was sorry about scaring you off and making you feel uncomfortable. I don’t want you to feel that way.” Vriska’s shoulders sighed.

“Ever the gentleman, John, but not that smart, are you?” She crossed her arms against their chests and looked down. “You can’t make me feel uncomfortable. Only I get to decide that and you didn’t make feel uncomfortable back there.”

“Then, why did you run?” he asked. She tensed in his arms and shook her head.

“I chickened and I’m a bilge sucking bullyrag for even thinking about it!” She growled out the last part. Hehe, what funny words she was saying. He laughed a little and she growled louder. Her face was screwed up around her nose and eyebrows that she looked a little like a sleeping Karkat.

“Hehe, you’re so funny. Why are you that thing, that pulp ringing bag, for thinking it?”

“Because- because,” Vriska stuttered on the word and wouldn’t look at him. John poked her cheek and she pursed her lips. “I was thinking of kissing you and making you fall in love with me so I could have an advantage over Karkat on who’s the leader of this camp.” John kept smiling and poked her cheek again. Vriska ground her teeth sharply. “Stop poking me! Didn’t you just hear what I said?”

“I heard you, Vriska, “ he replied and poked her nose instead.

“Stop,” she swatted at his hand and it stung a little bit. “Aren’t you angry? Don’t you want to punch me or throw me out of camp?”

He shook his head and poked the bridge of her glasses. Vriska threw her arms out violently and John stumbled back a couple of steps. She then pounced on him and they fell to the ground. She grabbed his wrists and pinned them quickly above his head. She grabbed for something in her tunic and pulled a knife out of her chest. The knife disappeared as it pushed into his throat. John coughed to the side from all the air leaving his lungs and the cold knife against him. Vriska leaned over; breathing heavily. Her hair draped all around John’s head so that he could only see her frightened and desperate face. It shined from the hot around them and her glasses finally fell onto his chest so that he could see her many dotted eye.

“See? This is what I want to do to everyone out there who gets in my way of saving the kingdom; of getting a name for myself! Everyone out there has no drive to kick out the royalbloods or no power to do it! I have both and I need to use it as my mother did!” Vriska’s eyes sparkled. “My mother was the only one willing to do anything against them the last time and she died because of it! She was betrayed by her true love! I had to kill her true love so that her dream could continue.

“Did you hear that, John? I killed someone. I’ve killed lots of people and I’m willing to do it again for the sake of others even if it includes my own friends. Because that’s what my mother couldn’t bring herself to do. She couldn’t kill her obstacle and it killed her instead.” Tears leaked from her eyes and she got nearer to him until her forehead rested against his. She seemed exhausted as she silently cried on his cheeks. “My mother would do this to all her victims. Hypnotize them into helping her and use them to her own advantage. Aren’t you afraid I’ll do the same to you?”

John got his breath back and took in her scent; salt. “No.”

Vriska raised herself up a bit from his forehead and her breath splayed over his face. “Why not?” She asked in the smallest voice he had ever heard.

“Because you’re doing this. You’re telling me all of this and your plans and that just shows that you’re scared of doing them. I believe in all those people out there,” he nodded the opposite direction of the camp and quickly switched so he was nodding to them. “I don’t think any of them will let you down. I bet your mother couldn’t even find faults in them.” She stared down at him with wide eyes.

“How can you trust them so much? How can you trust me so much? I have you pinned and could do whatever I want with you. I could manipulate you into doing my bidding and getting me what I want. Why doesn’t that make you squirm?” She insisted and shook her head. She wasn’t looking at him in the eyes either.

“Vriska,” he said it really loud and she stopped shaking her head to look into his eyes. “If you wanted to actually do that stuff to me, you would’ve already done it. And, I’m not struggling. I know, or I guess feel, that you won’t hurt me.” He smiled at her. He hoped he reassured her. She wasn’t going to be exactly like her mother; she’d be better.

“John,” she gasped. The knife sat on his throat as her hand grabbed his chin instead and pulled him to her.

She kissed him hard. His eyes stayed open in surprise before closing. What could he do? It would be rude to push her off. She didn’t taste as she smelled. She was sweet and he wanted more of that. Her hand didn’t stay on his chin but pushed him down onto the ground so that she fully leaned over him and they kept kissing. She went fast on his lips but he wanted to go faster. He wanted to hold her chin. Squeeze her hands. Kiss her crazy eyes. He just needed his hands.

He flexed against Vriska’s grip and she growled above him. “No,” she hissed and held him down with both her hands. That wasn’t fair. He started to push his head off the ground and continued to squirm his hands. He wanted some height and to sit up. Vriska arched up with him but her hands didn’t waver. They were sitting up and his hands were held above his head as she attacked his lips even harder. Just let him-

Someone screamed from the camp. John turned from Vriska and stopped struggling.

“STOP IT! BOTH OF YOU STOP BEFORE YOU BREAK THE CAMP!” Nepeta screeched over the tents. Somebody yelped and an uproar of noise made the lanterns quiver.  

John didn’t know if he broke out of Vriska’s grip or if she let him go, but they both scrambled up. Woah. His head pounded on his skull. Vriska took the lead and sprinted up the path towards the party. Slowly, he followed after her. There were lots of screaming as they neared. What were they going to find?

“Why can’t you just stay out of my life?! You got what you wanted from me, just leave!” Terezi’s screech was undeniable. It cracked at the end. Vriska turned into the party as John tripped over his own feet. Stupid drink. Why had he let himself break his promise?

A harsh and grating laugh. “I don’t think I can leave! Not when you skank picked a degenerate, bloodthirsty, self-absorbed vomitblood to take my place then you don’t know me at all!” John rounded the corner and saw three people being held back. Rose grabbed at Terezi’s dress, trying to hold her back so she could grab her wands but Terezi swatted at Rose and pushed her feet into the ground. Karkat’s arms were pinned behind his back by Kanaya yet his head thrashed and his feet kicked up dust.  

“I must ask that you desist in your vulgar language against our superior!” Equius roared from behind Dave. Equius had wrapped his arms around Dave’s waist and hoisted him into the air. He was the least aggressive out of the three of them. His glasses were gone and purple blood poured over his eyes and mouth. He spat blood out of his mouth and growled.

“If you don’t hold your tongue against this lady, I’ll rip you like the dog you are,” he growled at Karkat and his fists clenched together. What?! Ripping?!

“Dave-” John started to say but Karkat started to laugh again.

“Showing your true frickin colors, huh, moldblood? This is exactly why you shouldn’t even around us! Or her!”

“You have no say in what I do!” Terezi screeched and John saw that her ribbon was tinged teal. “You don’t care about me at all! You just see me as a prize! I’m not anyone’s prize! Especially not yours! I wouldn’t even call you my friend!”

Karkat choked on something. “Karkat, don’t-” Kanaya started to say.

“I love you!” The confession rang in the air and someone sobbed. John felt the need to get between everyone and try to stop them. Rose was losing ground with Terezi and one of her wands dropped to the ground. He had to do something. He went into the charged triangle that the three of them made and put his hands.

“That’s enough!” He said in what was hopefully a peaceful voice.

“Shut up, you coward!” Karkat barked and John flinched when Kanaya lost one of Karkat’s hands. “Why can’t you see that I love you?! I do this for you! You have no idea what horrible things he did to Derse the one day he was on the throne!” Karkat flung out a hand to Dave and he made as if to strangle him. John ran over to a tired Kanaya and grabbed Karkat’s free shoulder; pulling him back.

“If you knew anything about politics,” Dave grated out from between his teeth. John briefly saw a tense Dave; clutching Equius’s arms. “You’d know that that was the least damaging thing I could do!” He yelled the last part and his outline turned a hazy purple; as if he was going too fast for the eye. His hair fell into his face and dyed purple as well.

“It wasn’t,” a low voice murmured. Dave turned wildly in his hold, trying to see Equius.

“Guys! Stop this!” John called again and he could hear the desperation in his voice. He looked over around wildly for anybody to help him. Aradia sat on a log and watched everything with a bored expression. “Aradia!” he called. She slowly turned to him and he gestured around. “Please do something!” She sighed and then her outline turned rusty. Karkat froze in his place that John tripped over himself. He straightened up and looked around.

Karkat, Terezi, and Dave were frozen in place with a rusty glow around their bodies. Rose let go of Terezi and dived for her wand. She muttered something and all the frozen one’s eyes shut automatically. Rose panted and clutched her wands. “I just- put them to- sleep. When Aradia lets them- go- they’ll be unconscious.”

Someone sobbed from beside the bushes. John turned left and found Nepeta in a ball. Her head tucked itself into her knees and she sobbed silently into them. “Nepeta?” He called and started to walk over to her. Equius beat him to her. He knelt down beside her and rubbed her back lightly.

“Come now, Huntress. It’s alright. He wasn’t thinking straight.” Equius murmured quietly.

“Okay everyone,” Vriska said. She stepped forward with her arms and eyebrows crossed. Yet, her mouth couldn’t help but grin a little. “These guys-” she gestured at Dave and Karkat “-are not going to sleep in the same tent for the rest of the trip. I say that his pathetic moirail takes him into his tent. Hey! Big guy!” John now saw that Gamzee had been sitting on a different log and staring into space. His head lolled back to the ground and grinned stupidly at Vriska. He slid off the log and slid over to Karkat. “Rose! And you, Jade!” Vriska barked at a lone figure who sat in the shadow of the gully’s overhang. Jade walked over and John saw that she was also crying. “Take Dave into his normal tent! And Aradia, you have Terezi. Get her into the tent!” Aradia let go of Dave and Karkat and they both fell into their caretaker's arms. Gamzee carried the sleeping Karkat like a damsel in distress while Rose and Jade had one of Dave’s arms while his head lolled back. Terezi floated ahead of Aradia as the line of people disappeared into the tents. Equius brushed past John, damsel carrying a crying Nepeta after the people.

John turned to look at the party. The lanterns slowly drifted to the ground now that Aradia wasn’t minding them. It was just him, Vriska and Kanaya who sniffed. He turned toward the birthday girl and stepped over to her. “Kanaya?” he asked softly. Her head hung down and her hands pressed into her face. Just as he was about to pat her back she looked up. There was a single jade tear on her face which she quickly wiped away. Her mouth was broken into a suppressed sob and her shoulders shook a bit.

“It’s time to- to clean up now, yes?” Her voice waved a tiny bit but her shoulders straightened a bit more with every word. John shook his head.

“No, Kanaya. You can go to bed. It’s your-”

“This day does not decide if I am capable of service or not,” her voice snapped a tiny bit but the waving did not make it nearly as harsh. She looked over the place with heavy eyes and nodded. “Alright, Vriska, you’re in charge of packing up the food-”

“Kanaya-”

“John,” she continued a bit louder over Vriska’s voice. The louder was though, the more you could hear her heart break. “I want you to sort the decorations into usable and disposable.”

“Please-”

“The disposables,” her voice cracked and her breathing grew heavy. “Should be put- put by the fire. We’ll use it as-as fuel for to-tomorrow.” She clenched her fists and brushed past John’s outstretched hand. “I’ll start sorting the gifts.” John watched her approach her gifts with a straight back but once she got to the pile, her shoulders shook silently as she piled the gifts back into their bags. They had to do something! John felt like he was going to cry if he watched this.

Vriska laid a hand on his shoulder. He turned to her quickly. “Vriska-” he begged but she shook her head.

“She won’t let us, John,” she replied. The grin was gone and her eyes stared into his. “If you want, I can mind control you into doing the work. You won’t remember doing it at all.” Why should he get out of this mess when Kanaya couldn’t even pull herself from it?

“Thanks, I’m fine though,” he replied and started to pick up the fallen lanterns.

Chapter Text

 

The loud night calmed a bit. She couldn’t hear any music and the moon was the only light around them. It still illuminated Dirk though. His glasses were gone from the face that pressed down on hers. His hand combed her wild hair that had fallen out of its braid when she first bolted. That ribbon had been really nice, she almost considered going back to look for it. It wasn’t worth it though. He could be out there; waiting.

She could just see him. Sitting by a dying fire, he would wait to corner her and tell her more about his crazy revelations about what she would be to him. Maybe, he’d do something worse. “Easy there, Crocker,” Dirk muttered and slowed the picking of her hair. “Three-second breaths. There you go,” he instructed. She hadn’t realized that she started to hyper breath again. She listened to his counting.

She was acting like a baby. She shouldn’t need to be rocked back and forth. She should tell Dirk, like an adult, what was going on. She needed to get ahold of herself. She breathed deeply again and then finally pulled away from Dirk’s chest. His head shifted off her and his hand returned to his side. His eyes stared down at her that was filled with… pity? They were big and the eyebrows were concerned and he was pitying her.

“Thank you, Dirk,” her voice scratched her throat but she didn’t clear it. “You didn’t need to do that.”

“You were hysterical. I don’t think I could’ve calmed you down any other way. What happened?” Straight to the point. Good, she didn’t want to think at the moment. But, where to begin?

“I was getting you cookies and- oh!” She looked down at her hands and saw that barely anything was left on the plate. Everything had fallen off in her flight and there was only a flat, sourdough cookie left. “Darn, I’m sorry Dirk. I wasn’t even thinking.” She sheepishly held up the plate. He picked up the squashed cookie and popped the whole thing into his mouth. He shrugged.

“I don’t expect you to be a flawless horizontal plate running champ while fleeing for your life, I presume anyway,” he assured between bites. She burned in embarrassment. She was sitting on his lap. That- that wouldn’t do. It would look horrible if someone walked in on them. She slid herself off of him and hit the cool ground. He raised his eyebrows just slightly.

“I wasn’t running for my life,” she muttered and smoothed her dress down. She hadn’t dressed up too prettily for the party but the nice dress was still snagged and holey all over the place.

“You were running from something, Crocker,” he replied absolutely. “You were in shock if my medical training has taught me anything. Something scared you bad or you were threatened. Who was it?” He glanced at where she had run from and she looked over her shoulder at the thicket of bushes. Yep, you could make out a hole where she had burst through.

“Was it that machine guy? The one with the legs?”

“Tavros?” She asked surprised and then shook her head. “No, he couldn’t hurt a fly much less scare me.”

“The angry dude? He seemed like more bark than bite,” Dirk mused. She felt insulted.

“Give me more credit than that, Dirk,” she snapped. She didn’t want to talk about this anymore. Dirk acted as if she couldn’t take care of herself. She just hadn’t expected Gamzee to be that… forward? “Those boys couldn’t scare me.”

“Crocker, I’m trying to help you talk about this. You were cold as heck when you ran into me. You kept pushing me like you wanted to keep getting away even after I helped you. What happened to you?” He sounded sincere enough.

“A guy just said some things that threw me off guard, that’s all.” She muttered and dusted the crumbs off of the plate. Another thing that threw her off guard was- “You have some explaining to do, Strider.” She just barely remembered what she wanted to talk to Dirk about.

“Really?”

“Yes. About your family,” she looked up at him and saw that he was looking at the hole again. Did he see something? She turned to look again too. She couldn’t make anything out, but then again, she didn’t have the highblood sight. “What are you looking at?” She asked and turned back to him. He blinked slowly at the bushes and shook his head.

“Nothing. There’s nothing there,” he said slowly. It didn’t sound like he was convinced. He looked more confused than felt reassuring. Was he expecting something? Was someone following her so silently that he was having trouble picking it up?

“You’re worrying me, Strider,” she grumbled.

“I’m not trying to, Crocker,” ah, there was his cocky self. His eyes met her and his eyebrows raised. “You’re a bit paranoid. Is it because of what happened?” He jumped on the question quick. Oh, he was trying to deflect her question! That’s why he’s acting weird.

“Oh, you lousy cook!” She hissed and glared at him. He looked as guilty as a fox! Sitting there, restraining a smile! She had fallen for it. “You’re avoiding the question!”

“You have no right to say that,” he shot back. “You haven’t told me anything and as your caretaker-”

“I do not need-”

“-who nursed you back to health as a mother sheep would do for her lamb, I believe I have a right to know.” He crossed his arms solidly.

“I’ll tell you about what happened if you tell me about how you know Dave Strider.” Dirk reacted to that name. His eyes flickered to the bushes again and he squinted; like he was trying to see something far away. “Unless Strider is a common surname in Derse, I believe the two of you know each other.” She pressed, hoping to see what he would do.

“You’re going first,” he responded and looked away from the bushes yet again. He didn’t seem to be moving on this. She sighed and crossed her arms against a breeze that cooled her.

“Alright, fair enough,” she took a deep breath. For some reason, her heart was speeding up again. She knew that her voice would go out of control if she started to talk at that moment. C’mon! She could say it and not be affected by it! “There was a guy who sat by me just as I was trying to get away from the party. He, uh, well, he kept saying that I was his. That, a messiah was coming and that he could have me then. But- but he wanted me now- then.” She filled her whole lungs after that. Everything slid out slowly but she couldn’t find time to breathe in between the words.

She looked at Dirk who stared down at her in alarm. “He said that? That you were his?” he sounded surprised as well. She nodded and he shook his head sharply. “That’s disgusting. The way he was talking about his messiah is weird as heck as well. This guy is off his rocker. It goes without saying that you should stay as far away from him as possible. What does he look like? When I follow you guys, I can keep a close eye on him.”

She waved her hand. “He’s the tallest in the group. You’ll know him when you see him. Now, what about you?” She turned her back on the bushes to look at him fully and tried to get comfortable. Dirk blew out his breath and looked off into the bushes again. He clasped his hands together in his lap.

“Well, what do you know about my family?” He asked slowly. She shook her head.

“Not a lot. You just showed up on my back step with Roxy in your arms and asked to stay the night. You said you were a guard and Roxy was a worker in the house you guys worked in, but besides that, nothing much.”

He sighed. “I would’ve thought that Roxy would say more, but I guess not, huh?” She shook her head. It had been the one thing that Roxy had been firm about. She didn’t want to spill any of Dirk’s secrets unless he said so. “Hmmm, I have a family of three; my oldest bro, me and my youngest bro. Our parents died of disease right after my youngest bro was born so the oldest had to take care of us. We lived in Maple Valley, Prospit too. Then, one day, we got promoted to the title of Duke of Derse.

“We were moved there and it wasn’t half bad. I never really had any friends in Prospit but this palace we were staying in was full of libraries, training grounds, and horses. I could study my heart out.

“When I turned sixteen, I got a letter from the Prince. I qualified to train to be a knight; defending the castle and protecting the royalbloods if I was great. I wouldn’t be a common soldier. I would a commander when the war would come and live at the castle in peace. It sounded like a great opportunity. This advisor who had taken me under his wing urged me to go and bring our family name honor. So, I left.” Dirk stopped his storytelling.

“That’s it?” Jane asked.

Dirk nodded. “I would send letters to my little bro every week or so; telling him what was up and stuff. I got all his letters back but then…” He paused and shook his head. “I jumped ahead a bit.”

“I guess, and you haven’t told me how you met Roxy.”

“Okay. I went to the castle and started to train with all the other highbloods. The training wasn’t hard. They sharpened my physical skills as well as my highblood skills. Right before sunset, we’d be done with training and could do what we wanted. On one of my first days, I met Roxy. She was a night chef.”

“Night chef?” Jane repeated. Dirk nodded his head and sighed; looking down at his lap.

“Yeah, night chefs were people, mostly girls, who would entertain the foreign guests with dancing as well as drink making.” He paused after that and Jane got the idea that those girls did more than dancing. He cleared his throat and continued. “She was very nice and always woke up right before my training got over so that we could talk and explore the castle. Apparently, she had been there since birth and knew a lot of it. She mostly did it for me.

“My skills were progressing faster than the other knights that I got noticed by the royal family. I became an apprentice to the royal guard before my training was up and would spend a bit of my day following the royal family around the halls.”

“What are they like?” Jane interrupted. She had been curious about what the family was like for ages. Now that she joined a group that was possibly going to overthrow them, it would be nice to know who they are kicking off.

“Well, I was assigned to the Prince; the guy that is in charge now. He's actually not supposed to be on the throne at all.” Dirk mused and Jane shook her head.

“What? What do you mean? He’s a royalblood, right?”

“Under the laws of marriage, he is. By blood though, he’s just violet. Still high up there on the spectrum, but not enough to be a natural royalblood. That is a complicated story in and of itself. I was just put in charge of following Prince Eridan. He’s a jerk.” Jane snorted at Dirk’s bluntness and he shrugged. “It’s true. His knee jerk reaction to people are to be mean to them if they aren’t a highblood and more sarcastic to those were highbloods. But, out of the three years I worked with him, we sort of became friends. He told me a lot of deep stuff and made me his personal guard when I graduated to knighthood. He helped me out with a lot of the hurdle jumping that comes with getting my family name honor and I helped him with a lot of decisions when his stepmother disappeared.”

“Disappeared? You mean, died?” Jane asked. People disappeared a lot and it wasn’t hard to do according to her father, but those people were just presumed dead. Dirk shook his head.

“No, disappeared. No one thinks she’s dead. She was just having tea with her daughter and then with a blink of the eye, was gone from her seat. People think that magic had something to do with it and how could it not? Seers have tried and none were able to find her though. Eridan was given the crown because the daughter was unfit to rule, and the story given to the public was that the Queen had stepped down and taken a vacation to a different kingdom.”

“Permanently?”

“Permanently,” Dirk repeated firmly.

“Wow, that’s just crazy,” Jane mused. “Why did you and Roxy leave? I sounded like you guys had things set up nicely over there. Plus, you never said why Dave doesn’t know where you are.” Dirk shifted a little and she narrowed her eyes. “Dave doesn’t know where you are, right?”

Dirk’s shoulders sagged a little and sighed. “That’s… a long story.”

A long story? She had told him about Gamzee. She deserved to know the story about Dave and the Prince and Roxy. She shook her head. “I’ve got time.”

“I don’t think you can, Crocker,” Dirk replied and looked over at the bushes again. “The lights are out. You should be getting back before everyone notices that you’re gone.”

“Well, they can deal with it, Strider,” she growled. “I want to hear the rest! I know that if I leave, you’ll never tell me again.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do know that. What if we don't have time for the rest of the journey to talk! I want to know, Strider. We’ve been friends for years now and I just realized that you guys haven’t been telling me the full truth when Jake and I have been telling you guys everything!” Why did she feel so frustrated? She’d been fine before now about them keeping their privacy but it felt like now it was tied up in all of this. Dave Strider was very influential to her traveling group and they were going to overthrow a Prince- Eridan was his name. She could remember a funny name like that easily- that Dirk had some knowledge about.

“Are you sure, you want to know though? This story is bigger than you think.” Dirk warned but she nodded resolutely and folded her arms over her chest. He sighed.

“There was this guy, Sollux Captor. He had actually been the beekeeper while I lived in Derse but we had never met. He came to the castle once a month. I don’t know what he really did for a living besides travel, but we also became friends of sorts. He mostly hung out with the Princess though. He was a really cool dude. He could also be a jerk at times, but it was mostly towards people who treated him like crap; which was Eridan. They didn’t get along and I knew that but the Princess did not.

“I think, the Princess got a crush on him. Thing is, he told me a lot about what his travels were like and it sounded like he had a girl back at with my bro. I didn’t know if I could tell the Princess that and I definitely didn’t tell Eridan. It would cause chaos. Eridan cared for Feferi so much and he already didn’t approve of Sollux.

“One night, Sollux was telling me about this girl, I can’t remember her name when Eridan stepped out from the bushes. He’d been searching for me and had overheard our conversation. He got really mad. He started to call Sollux all these horrible lowblood slurs and insulting his parents and the girl Sollux liked, that Sollux snapped. I tried to stop both of them, but Sollux had psychonics and Eridan had been messing with Seer magic for awhile now. Eridan’s wand was too strong and killed Sollux almost instantly.

“I lost it.” Dirk went quiet and stared down at Jane’s hands. His breathes were shallow and she saw his eyes glisten purple. She unfolded her arms and rubbed the side of his arm; trying to be helpful. “Gosh, I just lost it. Sollux didn’t do anything wrong. I ran at Eridan and snapped his wand. That… was kind of satisfying.” Dirk chuckled a little and wiped at his eyes. “I had told him that the wand was stupid and I got to break that freakin thing in the end. He didn’t like that and we started to duel; sword on sword. I thought I was prepared for that kind of fighting, but I really wasn’t. Eridan had years and a father who was the best knight in the kingdom and I just had three years under their wing.

“He was such a cheat. He kept threatening me. He said he’d make Dave a slave, that he’d destroy Maple Valley and that he’d rape Roxy and throw her into a slave hold. I lost against him and almost died if Roxy hadn’t stepped in. She’d barely seen what was going down and hit Eridan over the head with a wine bottle.

“That’s when we left. We didn’t even pack up our stuff. We booked it out of there and made to leave Skaia for good. I tried to carry Sollux’s body back to Derse for his girl, but I ended up hiding him in a cave somewhere. We almost left Skaia for good, but we found you and Jake.” He looked down at her and she grinned despite herself. “Roxy absolutely adored you guys and I’d admit, you both were the friends we’ve never had. I’m still forever in your debt for taking us in and giving us a home.”

Jane shrugged. “I couldn’t live with myself if I left you guys out there for dead. Roxy clearly wouldn’t have made it over the kingdom line either.” Dirk nodded sagely. She could remember the very first year that they had stayed. Dirk longer than Roxy and stayed more at Jake’s house than hers but the four of them had gone on adventures. Roxy had been so crazy in the kitchen with making dough and she was a great counter lady. Jake and Dirk had visited their shop and always tried to steal the cookie of the day from the display case. Was he thinking about that?

She wanted to say something about what Dirk had told her. “That’s… so crazy. Everything that’s happened to you. I’m guessing you can’t even contact Dave to tell him any of this?” Dirk shook his head.

“To Dave, I just stopped sending him letters. He probably thinks I’m dead or something,” Dirk sighed.

“Then, you should go talk to him,” Jane suggested and Dirk shook his head harder.

“No.”

“No?”

“No. I can’t.”

“Why not?” Jane asked incredulously.

“Dave and I were raised to value family first. Dave would be furious if he knew that I ruined our family name and didn’t even come around to tell him. Dave went through so much because I wasn’t there to help him. He wouldn’t have understood the training of our older bro or the wishes of the advisor. I just left him to dry. He’d be better if he thought I was dead, because if I wasn’t? If I told him that I’ve been a vagabond secretly watching him and being part vigilante, he’d never forgive me and I just-” Dirk cut off and clenched his fist. “I just want him to be proud of me and my actions have not been the best for him.”

Jane shook her head. What was Dirk saying? “I don’t know what kind of man Dave Strider is, but you, sir,” she poked at Dirk’s chest, “are a good man. A great man. You defend the helpless, risk your life to save others, and fought the crown over an innocent man. Those are actions that would define a hero.”

Dirk started to shake his head. “But I’m not-”

“Hush!” Jane snapped and poked his chest again. She jumped to her feet and looked down at the crumpled heap of Dirk Strider. “You are a hero in the eyes of every single person you’ve saved and helped! You believe in the righteous cause of blood equality. You also are loyal to your friends. You care about them so much that you would hide yourself away as their silent protector so that they never have to feel some of the horrible things that go on at night.” She was breathing hard from her speech and Dirk had the most awe struck face she’d ever seen. She smiled at him and held out her hand. He took it and she pulled him up to his very tall height. “If Dave refuses to call you a hero, or even accept you back as his brother, I will tell him those exact same things. If he doesn’t accept you then, I’ll kick him to Derse and back because his head is not right.”

Dirk stood there silently; still awestruck. It was like he was looking at a piece of art and Jane felt like she needed to move out of the way of the artwork. He shook his head slowly and smiled little.

“That… was the most rousing speech I’ve ever heard. If you aren’t the leader of this rebellion group then I’ll quit it faster than you can say ‘Jane come back’, “ he replied and she smiled back at him.

“Oh, I’m not the leader type. I would just like to get this job done so I can greet all of my customers again. Now, I’ve got to go back. I’ll be back, though.” Jane remembered and picked up the plate on the ground. Dirk nodded.

“Soon?”

She nodded back at him and started to walk away. She whispered under her breath as she slowly dove back into the bushes, “Soon.”   

Chapter Text

Nepeta rubbed her aching arms absentmindedly. Gosh, they hurt to move them or to pick up anything that was heavy. She had gotten too invested in the game and had come out a bit sore. She still felt bad though when she couldn’t really do much with packing up camp. Equius, the stubborn thing, had watched her wince over picking up her pack and refused to let her carry her bag or anything for that matter. He had shuffled her off to the side to watch; like she was fragile or something. She really had tried to fight him on the matter, but even Rose insisted that she take it easy.

Watching everyone take down the camp made her feel sad. The beautiful decorations from last night had been burned that morning before the sun had fully risen. The cookies had been stuffed into their food packs and put on Equius’s shoulders because there wasn’t any room on the horses. Nepeta liked that arrangement seeing as how she’d be sticking close to Equius for today’s ride.

What hurts most about not being able to help, was that she could see everyone’s emotions. They were all raw from last night and not well concealed behind the usual defenses everyone had. Dave kept having to adjust his glasses because they were a little bent and he didn’t go off on his usual stories. Terezi’s already rough voice turned rougher that Tavros thought she was sick. Karkat, oh poor thing, he wasn’t bossing anyone around. The bags under his eyes had actually lightened up from an actual good night’s sleep, but he never really lifted his scowling eyes from the ground. He pulled Kanaya aside though; once she woke up. They had talked for a little bit and she came back with jade tears on her face.

Although, it wasn’t much different from how she looked most of the morning. Her face was slightly jade colored and she kept sniffing; as if holding back tears. Everyone just looked embarrassed overall. No one really talked to each other. No one was really taking the lead except Vriska; not even Rose. Vriska was the least affected by everyone’s reaction to the morning. She stayed her usual bossy and energetic self. Nepeta would admit, that was a good thing right about now. Everyone needed a push right about now.

Vriska stirred everyone into their horses and made Rose lead them off into the woods. Nepeta updated her shipping journal while they slowly moved through the forest. A lot had happened last night and she believed that the whole dynamic of the group had changed. She could feel it. And so, that meant that new ships had to be made.

For one thing, Karkat and Terezi were out of the picture. They might even be probable kismesises at this point. Actually, that wasn’t a bad idea. They’d be cute and their backstory would be perfect. Matesprits gone wrong after a dashing fellow swept the lady off her feet. It sounded like the sort of thing to happen in stories.

And then there was the whole Vriska and John thing. Oh yes, she had definitely seen them run back onto the, uh, the ‘scene’ from last. They ran on together as well; looking a bit windswept if she were being honest. What was that whole thing about? Well, if Nepeta were to let her imagination run wild, she’d say some pretty red feelings. Vriska had been showing all the natural red signs toward John ever since she showed up. John hadn’t really been showing them back though. Maybe he was shy? He wasn’t Tavros shy though.

Wait, that can’t be used as measurement anymore. Tavros had actually gotten a lot more brave over the last couple of years. Actually, ever since Vriska last left, he’d been getting better at expressing his opinions. He did do it a bit rudely though, but that’s just him getting used to his confidence. It would actually-

“Nepeta?” Equius’s deep voice interrupted her train of thought and she realized that she had started to draw Tavros and Gamzee together. She looked up at Equius who was holding a water skin and looking over her shoulder.

“Yes, Equius?” She asked. She didn’t bother to hide her book from him. He had always told her that he didn’t think it ladylike for her to draw her friends without their permission. She knew though, oh she knew, that he thought she had a knack for pinning relationships before they happened.

He squinted his eyes at her artwork. “That’s the mudblood and the purple blood, right?” Nepeta rolled her eyes and shifted in her saddle. She held her head up high and lifted her book so that he couldn’t see it anymore.

“I won’t accept that name. I did not draw a mudblood,” she huffed. She could hear Equius grind his teeth. She wouldn’t budge though. She will not let her moirail bully her friends.

“Fine, did you draw Tavros and Gamzee?” Equius relented. She relented as well. She turned side saddle in her horse and held out her journal to him so he could see better. She didn’t need to worry about her horse going off track. Equius had already grabbed her reins from her and tied them to his saddle.

“Yes! I didn’t mean to actually, but it just kind of happened! I think I got Gamzee’s hair down pretty well! What do you think?” She held up her journal so that it covered up Gamzee in front of them. She moved it up and down so that he could see hers and then real life, hers and him, hers and-

“I must say,” Equius mused,” You have gotten better since I have last seen your artwork. You are much better at shading too. It seems as if the hair in moving in the wind like his is doing. Say, did you ever get that book on painting?” Equius suddenly asked. Nepeta shook her head and he sighed. “I sent you a book I found the other day about how to paint realistically. I thought you might enjoy it. I sent it with that piss-”

“Equius,” she growled. He shook his head and turned a bit indigo.

“I apologize, I meant the gold blood. I sent it with him. I haven’t seen it in a bit, though. Whatever happened to him?”

Nepeta drooped a bit. Oh, Sollux. He’d been fun to play with and she loved hearing his stories. “He disappeared.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he went on one of his rounds six years ago and then didn’t come back. We think he might’ve been compromised, or kidnapped or something. Although, Tavros thinks some highbloods got him and made him a slave.” Nepeta theorized. She secretly hoped that maybe he became a slave and then escaped. After he escaped, he got caught up in another rebellion over in that kingdom and has been trying to make it home ever since.

“Oh, that is a shame. He did his job quite well. I’m sorry you never got the book. I spent a pretty penny on it and I think it was one of a kind.” Equius sighed.

“You lost an art book,” Aradia popped up on the other side of Equius. Nepeta squealed despite herself and almost dropped her journal.

“Aradia! Where did you come from?” Nepeta asked. Aradia shook some hair out of her neutral face.

“Aradia has been there the entire time, Nepeat,” Equius said in a scolding tone. Well, it wasn’t her fault that Aradia didn’t make herself known whenever she joined a group.

“Right, sorry Aradia,” she apologized and Aradia didn’t even shrug it off. She rode on and didn’t acknowledge anyone. Back to the silent treatment. Nepeta couldn’t say she understood, but she knew to just let it go. Still, Aradia looked like she wanted to say something. Her brows were pulled forward and her mouth worked over some food or something.

“If there is something you have to say, my love,” Equius gently placed a hand on her thigh. It looked to be sweet but Equius was already sweating and Nepeta could see the wet spot on Aradia’s travelling dress. Aradia blanked again; like a paper being painted white. She shook her head and looked out over her horse’s head again.

Nepeta shook her head. What was going on with that girl? She acted as if something was holding her back sometimes. Nepeta looked at Equius who had withdrawn his hand and looked at Aradia with admiration. No, she’d know if something was going on between them.

And, now it was getting uncomfortable to be near them. Aradia giving Equius a cold shoulder and Equius slobbering over himself. Even she knew she wouldn’t be able to drag them apart. Nepeta rolled her eyes and repositioned herself in her saddle. She’d go talk to someone else.

She put her journal and colored utensils away before looking around. Gamzee and Tavros were talking ahead of them. They had weird conversations that Nepeta always didn’t like. Karkat and Kanaya were ahead of them and they looked to be talking. She almost wanted to join them, but she could feel that Karkat needed some pale help from Kanaya. Technically, it should be Gamzee but Gamzee didn’t seem to be stepping up to his position lately. Someone should really tell Karkat that. A little bit ahead of them were John and Jane. Finally, the leaders, Vriska, Rose and Terezi. Vriska would just be condescending. Nepeta had talked to John a little bit and Jane was new to the shipping grid as well. She turned in her saddle and saw Jade and Dave with their backs to her. Jade had her bow armed and Dave just stared out behind them; listening. They wouldn’t be any fun and it looked like Jade was talking a bit.

Hmmm, out of her options. Jane and John were the best bet. She needed to do a little poking around to see what Jane was like. She had over heard that Jane hadn’t been in the tent when Jade had returned. Perhaps, something was going on with Jane? Nepeta clicked her boots and Pounce de Leon trotted forward past Gamzee and Kanaya.

“-a bit of salt to make the pastry really nice,” John was saying. Jane shook her head in disbelief.

“Salt? Really?” She clarified.

John nodded. “Yep. I find that pastries are a bit too sweet for our village. So, I would add salt while my dad wasn’t looking to the dough. They puffed a little bit more actually whenever I did that. Dad thought I had a gift for pastry making and made me the Master Pastry Maker.” He said the title as if it were Prince of Skaia.

“What are you two talking about over here?” Nepeta interrupted quickly. She pulled up beside Jane who blinked at her quickly.

“Hey, Nepeta!” John greeted with a wave. He made room for her in their group. “I just found out that Jane was raised by a baker as well! We’ve been comparing recipes. I never thought to add orange skin to cookies before!” John said appraisingly.

“Well, I never thought to add salt to any of the sweets!” Jane said in the same tone of voice. They both giggled a little and Nepeta felt lost. She smiled nervously.

“That sounds really interesting. Who were the bakers in your families?” Nepeta asked.

“My dad,” John and Jane said at the same time. They acted like that wasn’t weird at all.

“Oh, wow!” Nepeta tried to be upbeat. “It’s like you two are siblings or something! Both live in Prospit, have baker dads, and even have the same colored hair. What a weird coincidence. John and Jane laughed a little.

“That would be true if I didn’t live with my dad all the time,” Jane replied. John nodded his head.

“My dad never took vacations so I don’t think he could be hiding a secret family from me,” John said as he scratched his chin. Like a lamp, his eyebrows dipped down and he frowned at his horse’s mane.

“John?” Nepeta asked. His change of mood had been so sudden. Jane looked over at John as well who kept scratching his chin.

“Sorry,” he mumbled,” I just remembered something.”

“What’d you remember?” Jane prodded. “Did you forget something back at camp?”

“No,” John shook his head slowly and it looked like he was sweating. He looked quickly at Jane and then back at his horse. “I had a dream a bit ago where my dad basically said I had a sibling.”

“Wow,” Nepeta said awkwardly. What else was she supposed to say? “That is just a dream though! And like you said, your dads have never traveled anywhere without you guys?” Jane smiled a little but she looked a little thrown off. John kept scratching his chin and nodding.

Vriska threw her hand up into the air at the front of the train. Nepeta pulled her horse to a stop on the path along with everyone else. “Are we there?” she asked quickly and stood up in her saddle. Were they at a house? Was something else about to happen? Rose turned her horse around first followed by Terezi and Vriska.

“Terezi spotted a house up ahead and the trail ends there,” Rose supplied. “Now, our plan-”

“Hold up there Rosey,” Vriska interrupted and flapped a hand at Rose. Rose leaned away from it and glared at the hand. “We don’t know who this new recruit is or what they’re capable of. They might even be an enemy. With that in mind, we need to go in full throttle and show them who’s in charge here.” Vriska ended as if there were no questions. That was a little rude but she had a point. The next reasonable step would be- “John, Rose, Terezi and I will be going. No questions asked.” Vriska finished.

“I have a question,” Tavros piped up. She turned to see that his hands shook but he stared slightly above Vriska’s head.
“I said no questions!” Vriska snapped at him. She scowled at Tavros but he didn’t shrink. Probably because he wasn’t actually looking at her.

“If we’re sending our best in, then Gamzee should go. He’s the strongest one here,” Tavros plowed on. He did have a point. Wait, Equius was also a strong person in the group. So was Dave.

“That’s a horrible idea!” Vriska snarled. “He’s too brain dead to hit the right person if need be!”

“I’ll not be taking offense to that, Spider Sis,” Gamzee giggled. “I think I could hit the right motherfricker in the pan if it came to it.”

“Why can’t Equius go then?” Nepeta voiced.

“He’s too much of a casteist,” Vriska replied soundly. That wasn’t called for. Sure, Equius had problems, but he was getting better at it! He was much better than Gamzee anyway.

“Alright, but then why not Dave? He’s a highblood and has strength,” Nepeta shot back. That was more pointed than she wanted it, but couldn’t help herself right now.

“Vriska is putting a team of intelligence together,” Kanaya mused. “Terezi and Rose are the smartest people here. John is a friendly face as well which will add charm to the team. It’s quite a good team in general, but they are right in that it doesn’t have the security of strength.”

“I’m a highblood as well, Kanaya,” Vriska grumbled. “Why don’t I count?”

“Well,” Kanaya drawled out and she looked a little shy. “You’ve never shown that you exhibit highblood strength and speed. You have mind control but that’s a drawback more than anything.”

“What?!” Vriska yelled.

“Your blood caste is known for being tricky and we need more a diplomatic aura with this team with the security of strength if push comes to shove. That would be mean that Dave is a good choice for the team.” Kanaya finished. Vriska glowered at Kanaya.

“Kanaya is right,” Rose replied simply. “It would be better for Dave to replace Vriska.”

“What?!” Vriska yelled again. Oh boy. Vriska glared at Rose like she was going to kill her but Rose stared past her.

“Dave? What have you to say on the matter?” Rose called back to Dave who sighed in his saddle.

“Well,” he drawled and didn’t turn in his saddle to face them. “I’m incredibly flattered. Y’all are making me blush here.”

“I don’t hear any negatives,” Terezi sang a little and Nepeta saw her grin like she did last night.

“He’s also not reaffirming,” Aradia monotoned.

“Wait a second,” Jane muttered and stood up in her saddle too. She squinted ahead of them. “I know who lives in that cottage,” she realized.

“You do?” Many people in the group asked and Jane nodded.

“Yes. That’s Jake’s cottage! Jake English!” She seemed very excited and smiled around at everyone. “He’s a friend of mine! Oh, I didn’t know he’d be going on this adventure too!”

“You know the owner?” Rose asked. Jane nodded again. “He’s not dangerous or would want to destroy us?” Jane shook her head and laughed.

“He wouldn’t do anything like that! He’s great!” Jane defended.

“Well!” Terezi screeched and clapped her hands. “That settles it! Jane, Rose, John and I will be going to Jake’s house.”

“Hold on a sec-” Vriska started to say but Terezi waved her hand and turned her horse around.

“Nope! It’s settled! Let’s go ladies! We have a boy to capture!” Terezi laughed at her own joke.

Chapter Text

Jake shifted under the light weight of the two rabbits on his shoulders. They always seemed to be in the most uncomfortable positions ever! They rubbed his back the wrong way and shifted off the rack so that they almost fell. It was getting annoying; especially since this wasn’t a good haul. He opened up the door to his cottage and slung the rack off his back. That felt better. He scratched at his back where the rack had been digging in and dug the rabbits off of the hooks attached to the metal rack. He’d clean the dirt off them now because he was still wide awake from the hunt. 

He walked over to his bucket with his prize and stuck it in. He winced at the sharpness of the cold water. Blast, he should’ve warmed the water up first. He looked over at the fireplace, but alas, no warmth came from it. He sighed. Well, he’d just have to stick this out. Back when he stayed with Jane, her fire was always roaring and the water was always warm. They’d have hot chocolate after the nightly preparation and Jane would praise his bakery skills. 

Over the course of his stay there, he had become the muscle around the place. He lifted flour bags and carried out heaping trays of hot bread to the counter space. He helped her rearrange her bakery in a day; to which he got a lot of compliments from her and the other bakers. Once he started helping out in the baking itself, he could roll dough flat and even in less than five minutes. He never knew he could be so good at baking. He owed a lot of that skill to Miss Jane though. 

Jake smiled a little as he scrubbed the rabbits. She really was a good motivator and always cheery. She had been a ray of sunshine around the bakery. Greeting customers, helping in the back with the decorating and talking to him whenever she had free time. His investment in her bakery had been the best choice he could’ve made. She really ran the whole thing like a ship! He didn’t know exactly how a ship was ran but he figured they ran pretty smoothly.

But, things weren’t running so smoothly for him here. Why had he decided to go back to hunting? He was always so cold nowadays and it seemed like he had traded his hunting skills for bakery skills. He had seen a bear, two deer and five more rabbits out in the woods today yet he only managed to bring back two skinny rabbits. He definitely wasn’t going to make it through the winter if he kept up this streak. Everyday, he brought home a fourth of what he usually brought back home before Jane. Everything had been so much easier while being with Jane.  

Jake felt the back of his head flutter as a wind swept into the cottage. Had there been wind this morning when he had gone out hunting? No… the woods had been silent. His fire couldn’t be creating any wind either. That only meant- 

Jake dropped his rabbit and brush. He whirled around and grabbed his bow and an arrow from his belt. Notched and ready to fire by the time he faced his intruder. 

“Dirk?!” he yelled. Oh bully, he hadn’t meant to say it so loud but all the breath in his lungs had exploded into that word. There he stood. Dressed in his vagabond outfit; all black and brown with no face showing through. Not even his eyes were showing through his glasses. The outfit hadn’t changed since Jake and Dirk lived together. Dirk lowered his hood and slid his wrappings from his mouth but the glasses never came off. 

“What? Was I not invited?” Dirk replied sarcastically. No, he really hadn’t. Why was Dirk here? He hadn’t been back to Jake’s place since they had broken up. This must be serious. Serious or not though, he had scared Jake half to death!

“Not really!” Jake huffed and lowered his bow. Dirk stopped midway through ruffling his hair and looked back at Jake; questioning something. “You scared me half to death! I thought I was getting robbed or killed or- or-”

“That the soldiers had found out you were a lowblood?” Dirk interrupted and finished ruffling his hair. What? Soldiers? 

“What do you mean soldiers finding out I’m a-”

“Gosh, English,” Dirk interrupted again. Man, Jake did not miss that. “I had forgotten you don’t get any news out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Would you not insult where I live?” Jake snapped and gripped his bow tightly. Dirk’s head shifted so that he was looking at it too. Jake still had it notched. He hadn’t noticed honestly. It was just a habit to leave it ready at all times. His muscle memory was acting up. 

“Okay, I won’t insult it.” Dirk replied into the silence. Golly, how had it gotten so hot in here when it had just been frigid seconds before? Jake still had his bow notched and the break he had had while coming back to his cottage had been enough to make his muscles ache again from holding the bow ready. He almost let it go, but it clearly made Dirk uncomfortable. He could use some anxiety that would hopefully lead to some humility. 

“What are you doing here, Strider?” He finally asked but Dirk asked at the same time, “Why are you mad at me?” The two stared at each other. Mad at him? “You think I’m mad you?” Jake clarified and Dirk shrugged his shoulders. 

“Well, you’re hostile towards me seeing as how you aren’t lowering your weapon.”

“I think I have every right to be mad at you, Strider. Especially after what you pulled on Miss Jane,” Jake said righteously. He had every right to feel mad at Dirk. The wanker had shafted Jane on her birthday week!

“What do you mean by that?” Dirk asked and crossed his arms defensively. 

Dirk actually caring? Hah, what a laughable subject. “What do I mean? Well, after shunning her for the past two years, for something that wasn’t even her fault, you suddenly show up and pretend like nothing has happened! As if our feelings aren’t even valid or mean anything! You don’t tell us where you’ve been or what happened to you!” Jake was yelling. He did mean to this time. Dirk still remained cold and defensive. “And after we finally get over the fact that you won’t tell us anything, you leave out of the blue and never say goodbye to Roxy or me or even Jane! That is not how a gentleman acts you bloody bugger! Especially to a lady!” He panted softly. Somehow, his chest felt a bit lighter after that. 

“You’re right,” Dirk said quietly. Jake lost his anger and momentum. He finally did unnotch the arrow and the bow hung limply in his hand. Dirk looked down at the floor with his arms still crossed so that it looked like he was praying. Jake felt like he had stepped too far. Like he should apologize. Dirk had never really been this vulnerable when they had been together. 

“Dirk-” Jake started to say but Dirk shook his head slightly. Dirk was going to interrupt him again. He quickly finished what he was going to say. “I’m sorry. We were all worried about you. We thought you dead when you didn’t come to Jane’s after our breakup. 

“Because you all think I’m not strong enough?” Dirk asked quietly. It didn’t have the fire and stubbornness that Dirk usually carried with him. Those words were a statement, not a question. “That I’m no match for the horrible things that go on in the kingdom?”

“Dirk, no,” Jake whispered. Dirk shook his head. Jake pushed the limits a little more. “You are strong. I’ve seen you do amazing things and you’re golly smart.”

“I’m not enough on my own though,” Dirk replied. This had his heat and fire. He looked up at Jake and his arms flexed like they were getting ready for a blow. “This whole thing with the soldiers and the lowblood order is my fault. I wasn’t strong enough to take down that dastard of a prince and now you all are paying the price.” His hands gripped at his arms. “The innocents are being collared and treated like slaves. All. Of. Them. They’re being tortured beyond belief and only a small group is trying to stop them. Jane, is trying to stop them.” 

“Jane?” Jake clarified unintentionally. “She’s trying to stop this all by herself?”

“She might as well be,” Dirk griped out. “She’s with a band of ‘heroes’ that believe they can defeat the Prince, but they’re all woefully unprepared to meet him. They’re weaker than they think; in skill, strength and unity. They’d throw each other to the wolves if given the chance.”

“Why is Jane with them then?” Jake demanded. Hearing all of this made him want to run to Jane and hide her in a cave. 

“Because she believes that they can do good. It doesn’t look like she wants to leave them. That’s why I need a favor.” Dirk finished. They both stood silent for a minute. Dirk flexed his arms again and again; prepping for something. He breathed out deeply and grabbed his nose in frustration. 

“I need your help-” Dirk pulled off his glasses and looked at Jake without anything in between them, “-protecting Jane, Jake.” Jake stared at the purple eyes. “I know her band won’t be strong enough to protect her and I know I’m not strong enough to protect her. I don’t even know if you and I will be enough to protect her, but I know that if we get more people, she might have a chance.” Those purple eyes softened into puddles and sunk a little. “Please, Jake, help her.”

Jake felt his breath leave him. Of course he wanted to help Jane, but Dirk looked so defeated. Like everything he loved was dying and Jake was the only doctor who could help him. But, Jake couldn’t. He would’ve believed he was the best person for the job a couple months ago, but now he was the worst hunter in the world. He wanted to help Jane, but could he really do more or even the same as Dirk?

“Dirk, I want to help,” Jake mumbled but Dirk shook his head so forcefully Jake lost track of his eyes.
“Then help English. I know you have what it takes to help Jane,” Dirk’s voice cracked a bit and his eyes turned hard, but the fire was there. They told Jake that Dirk truly believed in him. That if Jake were to join, Jane would be saved. Could she really though with him? Could he be a better protector of Jane than Dirk? He had skills in a variety of things, but more skills than Dirk?

“Why do you think I have what it takes to protect her?” Jake asked quietly. 

The cottage stood still. Dirk was frozen in a stiff pose and Jake didn’t know what to do with himself. Dirk finally sighed and held his glasses with both hands. He stared down at the black lenses with hunched shoulders. “How long did you stay with Jane again?” Dirk finally asked. 

Jake shrugged. “Well, I stayed with her during this last winter. So-”

“It was long enough that you feel like she changed you in some way?” Dirk added, still looking down at his glasses. Well, of course Jake felt different after leaving Jane’s. He missed everything about her bakery and her company. It had been very lonely up here, but had he changed the way that Dirk was suggesting? Wait, what was he even suggesting?

“What are you implying there, Strider?” Jake asked slowly. Dirk haltingly put his glasses back on over his eyes and stared at Jake again. 

“Jane has more power than she thinks. She involuntarily makes people love her and want to protect her. Thing is, she is great with people and how to help them. Spending any sort of time with her makes you rethink your choices and want to be better. You can walk out of her house wanting something else that you never thought you wanted.

“That’s why I think you are great for this job,” Jake blinked despite himself. “You have spent a long time with her and I’ve seen the way you interact with her and when someone says her name. You’re very protective and loyal to her. You’ll do anything to help her and save her. Anyone would develop those feelings having spent time with Jane. The only thing that might hold you back, is her telling you to stop.” Dirk finished. Dirk was implying something. Of course Jake would do anything to save Jane or help her in anyway. Dirk made it sound like that was something only Jake could do. But wait, no he wasn’t. 

Jake heard horses stomp outside his cottage. Who was that? Wait, that must be Jane because he heard her calming her horse. He looked back at Dirk. Dirk was at the window with one foot going out. “Wait!” Jake hissed and strode over to the bugger. Dirk looked back at him surprised. “What am I supposed to do when they get to my door?” Jake hissed. 

Dirk stared at him and started going out the window again. “Easy, tell them you’re in,” he whispered back. No! Jake was not done with him! Jake grabbed his arm before he could disappear. Dirk was almost fully out the window and looked back at him; shocked again. 

“I’m not done!” Jake hissed again and tugged at his arm. “You kept saying that anyone would develop, uh, develop feelings for Miss Jane after spending time with her.” Dirk’s jaw clenched. “Are you saying that-”

“Are you making me spell it, English?” Dirk hissed back and his arm flexed under Jake’s grip. Jake shrugged. 

“Might as well, mate. I need to know-” Someone knocked on Jake’s door. Dirk and Jake both looked over at it. 

“Jake?” Jane’s voice floated through the cracks. “It’s me! It’s Jane! Well, actually, hoo hoo, there’s a couple other people with me. Are you home?”

Dirk tugged a little at Jake’s grip. Right, he needed to talk to Dirk. 

“Wait-!”

“Oh my gosh!” Dirk whispered. “Fine! I’ll spell it! You must have red feelings for Jane!” Red feelings? Like, matesprits? Him and Jane loving each other more than friends and kissing and sleeping in the same bed. That sounded splendid, but he could do that with any girl. Any girl who was charming, sweet, fun, had a funny laugh, could make him laugh and helped him out with things… Oh golly. 

“Why must I have feelings for Miss Jane?” Jake hissed back and tugged on Dirk’s arm again who looked like he was scowling. “Because I spent time with her? You said that anybody would get feelings for her if they spent time with her, right? You would only know that if you spent time with her yourself!” Dirk closed his mouth into a blank state. They stared at each other. He didn’t deny. 

“Jake? Hullo?” Jane called through. Someone said something to her but Jake stared at Dirk. When had he been with Jane? For how long? 

“How long, Dirk?” Jake whispered. Dirk shook his head. “How long did you stay with her? When did you have the time?”

“After her birthday,” Dirk whispered back and this time pulled out of Jake’s grip. Jake leaned out the window after him. He had to know. Dirk was keeping something from him. He knew something about Jane. 

“Do you have red feelings, too?” Jake whispered after the retreating Dirk. The man sped away into the woods and left questions; just like the last time. Jake hit the windowsill. Dang him! That bugger never told him everything! He left Jake with the rope and these feelings! Did Jake consider Jane as anything more than friends? According to Dirk, they were, but did he feel that way with Jane?

“Jake?” Jane called through again. “I heard something in there. Is that you?” That’s right. She was still there. Jake had a job to do. He had to go and protect her from that group that Dirk thought so distastefully. Was Dirk right though? Maybe they were the best people ever and he was just jealous of them spending time with Miss Jane. 

“Oh, uh, Jane?” Jake called to the door. “I’ll be there in a minute.” More chatter from people behind his door, but he couldn’t meet them right then. He was shaking for some bloody reason. Dirk had spent time with Jane. Jake had spent time with Jane. Dirk said that Jake has feelings for Jane, but that must mean that Dirk has feelings for Jane. But, he didn’t know if he did have feelings for her? So, Dirk might not have feelings for Jane. He had acted so tense and vulnerable whenever he talked about Jane and pleaded with Jake for help protecting her. That sounded oddly like something Jake might hear from a story. 

So, did Dirk have feelings for Jane? 

“Are you alright in there, Jake?” Jane asked. “You’re taking a long time.”

“I’m fine!” Jake called and forced the walk to the door. “I’m coming, I’m coming!” He grabbed the handle and opened the door. 

Jane stood closest to the door and grinned up at Jake. “Jake!” She squealed and hugged him quickly. He barely had time to hug her back before she pulled back. “How are you? Did we disturb you at all?” She leaned around him to see what was in his house. He leaned with her as well, trying to conceal something that even he didn’t know. 

“Oh, no! You didn’t at all! I just got back from hunting in fact!” 

“Really? Were you with anyone?” A blonde woman spoke up from behind Jane who was leaning and looking around him as well. The people behind Jane, her group of heroes, was the blonde lady, a smiling man and a grinning lady. Wait, did that last gal have a ribbon over her eyes. Wait another moment, the blonde lady looked familiar. Where had he seen her? 

“Oh! Sorry about not introducing them!” Jane quickly piped. “This is my friend John Egbert, Rose Lalonde and Terezi.” She pointed at the man, the blonde lady and the grinning one in that order. Those names sounded familiar for some reason. He nodded at them politely. 

“How do ya blokes do?” Jake asked. John laughed a little. 

“Oh wow! I didn’t know that you had an accent! Where did you get it?” he asked excitedly. Jake smiled back at him. 

“My mother always had this accent and I grew up with her most of my life. She said she came from the Gallifreyan kingdom where that accent is all over the place!”

Jane laughed. “I’m surprised he has kept it all these years. You said you’ve grown up in Prospit all your life!” she added. 

“Really?” Rose asked. Jake turned his attention back to her. She was so familiar; much more so than the John fellow. It was itching his brain. Jake nodded back at her. “Have you been to the village called Maple Valley?”

“Maple Valley?!” Jake yelped and slapped his forehead. “Don’t say you’re from Maple Valley!”

“Uh, yes?” John said slowly. Jake shook his head. Of course! How had he known them!

“By golly! How did I not recognize you guys! You use to play with my little sister all the time! You’d get her a lot of trouble and Mother would be right disappointed in us both ‘cuz I wouldn’t stop her!” Jake laughed at the memory and looked at the kids who now were full grown adults. John had a little stubble coming on and Rose had matured into a scholarly looking woman. 

John and Rose both looked a little star struck; as if their marbles had just fallen out. “Jake Harley?” Rose squinted her eyes and looked at John for confirmation. Jake nodded. 

“Yeah! Have you guys been in contact with my sister at all?” Their faces were still pale and that only made him think… “Wait, did something happen to her? I know that Mother and I rushed out pretty quick but I can explain all of that.”

“Jade told us you and your mother had died in a fire... “ John quietly said. 

“Ah,” Jake said a little embarrassed. “Well, I’ll explain all that soon, I promise. But, I have to know. Have you seen Jade? Is she okay?” Everyone in the group nodded. Terezi cleared her throat and jerked her thumb over her shoulder. 

“If you want to find the sharpshooter, just go to our caravan and go to the back. She’s keeping watch.” Jake sighed in relief and giggled a little. He smacked his forehead again. By golly, that had put him through another twister. He had to see her though. She had probably lived her whole life thinking that he and Mother were dead when that hadn’t been the plan at all. 

Gritting his teeth, he nudged through the little group and started to quickly walk the way Terezi had pointed. “What? Jake! Where are you going?” Jane yelled at him. He sped up a bit when he heard footsteps trotting after him. 

“I’ve got to see Jade! I haven’t seen her in forever Jane!” he yelled back. He saw a flash of red beside him as he turned into a run. 

“But, we need to ask you something!” Jane yelled back. 

“Yes! I’ll join your group! I’ll come back and pack but I need to see her!” Jake called. His heart was pounding so fast. Would she be excited to see him? Scared? Mad? Probably mad after she heard what happened that night, but she’d forgive him. That’s how they’d always been.

He saw Terezi shoot off slightly left and tore after her. He saw horses ahead and he grinned. Which one was Jade? Had she changed a lot since childhood? What had her life been like with Father? What had happened to them? 

“Terezi! What is-?!” A girl yelled and it looked like she was going to jump onto Jake. 

“He’s fine!” Terezi yelled back. 

“Jade!” Jake called. He didn’t want to slow down and look into all their faces; hoping to recognize one of them. He wanted to see her now. Everyone turned in their saddles as he wove between the horses. “Jade! It’s me!” He called again as he passed a huge man on a horse. 

“Who’s calling me?” A woman’s voice answered him from the back of the caravan. He slid to a stop in front of two people. They were both turned backwards on their horses but were turning now. He’d meet her around. He started to go around her horse but he was still staring at her back. 

“Wait, this isn’t-” He stuttered and started to go the other way. She was turning the other was too!

“Stop, I need to-” she growled. He kept switching directions to see her face but she kept turning the other way. This was getting ludicrous! Why couldn’t he just see the sister he hadn’t seen for the last ten years!

“Oh my-!” He cursed and just ran around to the back end of her horse. She was in mid shift and froze when she saw him. He saw his mother. The bronze almost melted in with her skin and her hair was long and tangly. He had only seen his mother’s hair like that after baths before she braided it back. Jade let hers run free, but her posture wasn’t stiff, she slumped in her saddle and gripped a bow like their father had. She was much older but the spark in her eye held the challenge of a fun time. “Jade?” he finally asked. 

Her eyebrows pinched down as she squinted at him. In a move more agile then he could ever accomplish, she swung off the horse while keeping her bow ready at her side. She crouched a little as she slowly walked to him. He saw her swallow. “You look like my brother. You even have my mother’s accent. You look like Jake if he had grown up; become a man.” Jake smiled a little. Some of her words sounded like his; like she hadn’t entirely given up their mother yet. 

“It is me, Jade. I’m Jake. Jake Harley, but I go by Jake English. Mother’s maiden name, remember?” He asked but didn’t move toward her. She was right in front of him and squinted up at his face. Now that she was close, he could see that the whites of her eyes were tinted bronze. 

“You can’t be him though,” her voice cracked and he heard her arrow clack a little on the bow. He reached out and softly grabbed her wrists and smiled down at her. She was too much like Mother, but Father was in her words and her bow. “He died in the fire. I saw him die. A- a beam fell on him and I couldn’t find- couldn’t find him in the flames,” she whispered the last part and he shook his head. 

“I escaped. Mother and I both escaped. We hopped out the window onto a latter that was prepared that day for our escape,” Jake whispered back. 

“Escape from the fire? You knew it was coming and you didn’t tell anyone?” Jade croaked. Jake shook his head. 

“I didn’t know until Mother woke me up. She was going to get you in your earthy room, remember your room? It had plants all over the place! In every sort of pot and bowl, you had stuffed a plant. I went out onto the landing and the whole thing was ablaze. Mother grabbed me and headed for the window, but you weren’t with us. She climbed down the latter when I heard Father screaming for us and you. You came out and I saw you, but Mother called and a beam came down on us. I had to go.” Jake’s voice shook now too. He could still see her terrified face; much like the one he was seeing now. Wide eyes, eyebrows gone into the shadows of her face and tears obscuring the rest. He couldn’t take it. He pulled her face into his shoulder and hugged her. 

His arms were wrapped around each other and the bow stayed nudged between the two. “I’m sorry, Jade,” he sobbed into her hair. “I’m sorry that I never came back. Mother wouldn’t let me, and she said you were gone. That I could never see you again. Please, forgive me Jade.” Maybe she wouldn’t forgive him. He hadn’t sent a letter, or even stopped by after Mother had died, but he had believed that Jade never wanted to see him again. 

The bow hit his feet. Jade’s arms wrapped around him too and he felt her tears on his neck as well. “Jake? Jake how can this be you? Where did you go Jake? Why did you leave me?” 

He shook his head. “I’ll never leave you again, Jade. And I promise to make up all our adventures. It’ll be the best times for us.”

Chapter Text

“By golly!” Jake whispered in awe as he stared at Jade’s bow. He moved it between his hands and Jade couldn’t help but feel proud of his reaction. “I’ve never seen craftsmanship like this before. The way the fibers are going in both directions… and the weight is evenly distributed as well!” Jake sighed in what was probably happiness as he held the bow out and closed his eyes. She’d had her bow for so long that she had gotten used to the luxuries Jake was talking about now. But, she had reacted the same way when she first got it. Jade tried to hide a grin. “It’s absolutely amazing. Puts my bow to shame for sure.” Jake sighed and put the bow back on his lap. He finally looked up at Jade with wide eyes. “How’d you ever get your hands on this? It must’ve cost a fortune.”

“Well,” Jade began and laced her fingers together. “I guess it did. I got it as a present after a tournament.”

“Your King Shot tournaments?” Jake clarified and she nodded. 

“Yeah, a noble had given it to me as a condolence present after a tournament…“ she remembered the interchange now without pride in her heart. It was the tournament after Karkat left her. She hadn’t known the news had spread to her sponsors all over Prospit but they had. The present had been given with these words, “I’m sorry the marriage didn’t end sooner. You have the talents of a highblood and should consider those of cooler blood if you wish to keep this position of respect. If you think you are not adequate or think you are not worthy of them, I can show more than a few cool gentlemen who would love to talk to you.” She had been so disgusted and surprised at the conversation that she hadn’t had time to throw the present back into the face of the highblood who had given it to her. Of course, she kept it. She knew the worth of a bow like that and thought it right to use this bow to win all her competitions and to chase the cool suitors away.

“A noble? Like, a highblood noble?” Jake gawked. Was it really a surprise or an accomplishment? Jade nodded slowly. 

“Yes… why are you acting so weird about it?” she asked and Jake blinked quickly. 

“Well, around these parts-” he gestured at the woods behind his house, his cottage and the little camp her friends had made in his backyard. “- highbloods don’t talk to anyone else but the merchants when they come into town. Sometimes, they don’t come into town at all and send personal shoppers to get what they want. They really don’t like being around lowbloods at all.” He sniffed almost as if in disgust at the thought and Jade had to agree. That really did sound horrible. 

In her days of King Shot tournaments, she had come across really kind highbloods who didn’t think themselves any better than her. But, she had also come across extreme casteists who could only talk to her through another person, while standing right in front of her, or someone who would think she’s amazing only because she was a lowblood who had somehow managed to beat a highblood. One person in particular thought she was a witch or had powers she wasn’t revealing to the public. That one made her particularly mad. 

“That sounds absolutely terrible, Jake,” Jade sighed. Jake sighed with her as well. 

“Well, I hope that our little band makes a difference then,” he mused. “I heard the spiel about how you guys want to overthrow the caste system and get those collars?” he said questionably. She nodded that he was right. “Collar, yes. You want to get rid of those collars and those horrible soldiers. Everyone deserves to be treated like humans… unless you’re a murderer. Then maybe you can be treated a little less than friendly,” he laughed a little at his joke and Jade laughed nervously with him. Well, let’s hope no one here was a murderer or else Jake will do something about it. She wouldn’t put it past a couple of people here to have been past murderers or even present ones. She looked at Vriska who was having a one-sided argument with Rose.    

A familiar animal sound assaulted her ears. She heard sheep calling in the distance. Jake didn’t have any sheep, she had checked, so they must’ve been really far away. Yet, they were so loud and now that she thought about it, they sounded in distress. So many of them calling for help! Like something was attacking them! She jumped up from her seat and grabbed her bow in Jake’s lap. 

“What? Jade!” Jake called and it looked like he was scrambling to his feet as well, but she started to run toward the sound. She ran past the camp, where others were calling for her, and sprinted into the woods. The ground crunched under her feet as she sped for the sheep. Poor sheep! Where was their shepherd? It didn’t sound like anyone was with them if they were still calling for help. What could be attacking them? Wolves? Bears? A rabid sheep? 

She pulled an arrow out of her quiver as she jumped a log. The ground sloped under her but the sheep were louder. The trees cleared away a bit and she could see a little clearing with some grass and lots of sheep. They were huddled together at a thick set of trees and she saw grey forms slowly emerging from the forest. Wolves! She knew it. Wherever sheep were, there were also wolves. Those monsters would not get the sheep though and she would a good talking to with the shepherd if she saw them. 

She aimed her arrow down the hill. Leveled it with a grey form. The wind was gone. The speed was slow. Deep breath. Release. Her arrow disappeared and saw a grey form jump back. It shook itself fiercely as she readied another arrow. The other grey forms shook as well; looking for the attacker. 

Something sprinted for her slope. She aimed again. Release. The dog shape fell back but more wolves jumped onto her hill and ran at her. There were a lot more than she thought. She got another arrow. Release. Another one down but ten were sliding up toward her. Another arrow. Release. Another. Release. She could hear their breath. Another. Release. Another. She had to run. No, she didn’t. She had this. Release. There’s more than ten? What was this? Another.

The one closest jumped for her. She jumped to the side and caught it in the side with her arrow. She notched another but they all caught up. 

They surrounded her and bared their teeth. She fanned across the circle as she picked up movement. They slowly closed in on her and she couldn’t point everywhere at once. She couldn’t look them in the eye at once, especially if she attacked first. She heard a sheep bleating behind them. They would die if she couldn’t fend the wolves off. 

One howled to her left and they all looked. Standing where she had been, was Tavros. He didn’t look too friendly though. Instead of downturned eyebrows, they rose in high arches and his teeth were bared like a wolf as well. He even had narrowed eyes and she could’ve sworn they were yellow. What was he doing though? He was going to get killed if he howled at them like that. 

The wolves growled at him but he stood his ground and growled back; just like them. A staredown happened between Tavros and the wolves. Should she do something? No, it looked like he was working just fine on his own. Starting from the back, she saw the wolves start to turn slowly and jog off into the woods until one was standing. That was the alpha and it still didn’t back down. He must've eventually felt that he no longer had the pack because he turned quickly and ran to catch up with his pack.

She exhaled and unnotched her arrow. Her heart pounded in her chest and she concentrated on her breathing. “Jade!” Tavros yelped and she heard him kneel down in front of her. She looked up and almost expected the yellow eyes she thought she had seen. He just looked normal though with his brown eyes. “Are you alright? Did they hurt you?” 

She shook her head. “What did you do, Tavros?” she asked. He turned a little brown and got a little sheepish look on his face. “You took down all those wolves without raising a finger! Is that your power or something?” Jade theorized. It would make sense and make an awesome power! Tavros blushed more in what seemed embarrassment. 

“Uh, yeah?” he answered a little shyly. His broad shoulders folded in and made him look vulnerable. Almost nothing like he was squaring off against the wolves. 

“That’s such an awesome power!” Jade smiled and stood up. She offered her hand to him and he took it slowly. She pulled him to his feet and he popped up a little close him. He looked at her nose instead of her eyes. 

“You think so?” he asked and she nodded.

“I wish I had that power! I would’ve been master herder way sooner with it! Are you a herder or a rancher?” She asked. She looked past him as another sheep baaed. 

“Well-”

“Actually, hold that answer,” she held up a finger and moved past him. “We gotta check to see if the sheep are alright.” She started down the hill and heard big feet follow after her. She hadn’t seen any sheep get dragged away, but she still wanted to see them and help them. Maybe they were wild sheep? That would explain why the shepherd wasn’t around. 

“W-well,” Tavros started again and he caught up with her. “I worked with the animals when I worked with Gamzee.” He paused but she kept going to the sheep. “Y-yeah, I got horses, sheep, dogs, goose, and cats all the time. I’ve never dealt with wolves before, before though,” he stuttered and Jade nodded her head. 

“So, you could fix up those sheep if they needed help?” she asked him and he nodded really fast.

“Yeah! They’re a little slow to follow commands, y’ know? I think it’s because they’re a little stupid.” Wait, what? She hadn’t really been listening as she slid under a log. “Personally, I like cats better than sheep.” 

“Huh, I like sheep better than most animals,” she mumbled. 

“H-huh? Oh, uh, well, you see, uh, sheep aren’t- yeah, they aren’t that bad,” he said quickly. “They’re very soft though! I like how, uh, soft they are!” Jade nodded as she entered the meadow. 

“Their softness can be a pain though if they’re injured,” she replied and strode quickly over to the sheep. They were huddled together and had the same wide-eyed stare that told her they were scared. 

“Well, y-yes?” he muttered. As they both approached, Jade got down on her knees and held out her hands in a placating gesture. 

“Heya, girlies,” she whispered. The sheep stared at her. “I just need to know which one of you are hurt,” she looked around for any sight of red. Tavros stepped past her, not getting down at all and started to baa like a sheep. The sheep all looked at him and squinted their eyes in the usual calm manner. The fur shifted until a singular sheep came out and flopped down in front of him. 

Jade could see already what was wrong with her. Her hooves didn’t look like the rest. She clucked her tongue and crawled over to her. She picked up the hoof and examined it. She heard Tavros squat down next to her and leaned over her shoulder. The hoof was pink. “Hmmm, it looks like she’s got foot rot. That should get treated soon.”

“Who’s going to treat her?” Jade sighed. She always took her sheep to a doctor when these things occurred. She had no idea what to do. 

“I’ll treat her?” Tavros said quietly. She turned to him and smiled. 

“Really? You’ll treat her? You have everything you need?” she asked him and he shrugged as he reached into his belt. 

“I-I think so? I mean, it could be rotted as well,” he reached into a bag and pulled out some grey paste. He smeared it between the hooves of the sheep who baaed and wiggled. Jade tightened her grip on the sheep. When he looked satisfied he put the hoof down and she let the poor thing go. She hobbled off and Jade watched it go. 

“I swear, I only have this because, uh, the horses might need it? Although I keep, well, I keep pretty good, uh, better care for them? I clean, and uh- will you be my girlfriend?” Jade blinked. Woah, she had missed that last part. She looked at him and saw he was brown all over. Did he just say-?

“Uh, what?” she asked tentatively. Tavros cleared his throat and fiddled with his collar. 

“Um, would you like to, uh, would you like to court sometime?” he tried to keep a calm voice but it jiggled around. Oh. That was… random. She had never talked to Tavros before. This was their first actual conversation and he already wanted them to be exclusive? That seemed to be jumping the gun. 

“Tavros,” she started slowly and shifted. “I don’t know why you would say such a thing because-”

“You’re out of my, uh, league?” he supplied and she shook her head. 

“Uh, no? Because-”

“We’re on a, well, on a journey that might k-kill us before anything can happen?” he jumped in again and Jade gritted her teeth. 

“No, because-”

“Because-”

“Because we’ve never talked before now!” she finished quickly before he could say anything else. He blinked slowly and shrugged at the same speed. What? “What the heck is a shrug supposed to mean?” she asked a little snappishly. This was starting to get ridiculous. He looked at shoulders as if he hadn’t known they were doing that and quickly dropped them. He cleared his throat awkwardly. 

“Well, I feel that, uh, when it comes to true love-”

“True love?!” Jade had yelled a little at that. That sounded so ridiculous! How could he see that that was out of the question! That didn’t even exist! Tavros winced at her tone but his jaw tightened. 

“Y-yes. Do you not, well, feel the same way when you look at me?” he asked quietly. Jade’s mouth dropped open. What the heck was he talking about? He looked past her shoulder and gulped. “‘Cuz I look at you, and the animal talk goes away. I see your eyes and I, uh, am reminded of the metal on Gamzee’s crown. You’re always so happy and bright and I want to make you laugh and smile like your friends do. You also, uh, have really nice lips and I would, uh, like to, well, kiss them?” he muttered the last part and Jade felt herself turn the bronze he just described. Wow, she hadn’t known he thought that about her. 

“Oh,” she whispered. “Tavros, that’s really nice. Really, all those words are extremely nice. No one has ever really said that before.” That wasn’t true. Karkat used to say the most beautiful things about her eyes and her smile and laugh. 

“But?” Tavros sighed like he knew this was coming. There was no easy way to put this. 

“I’m not looking for anyone or anything right now,” she finished. “I’m perfectly comfortable with where I’m at. I have no need or desire to go find a man for me.”

“But, I desire you,” he regained a little bit of fire and stared at her with vulnerable eyes. It felt like she was holding an ax to his head and he was pleading with her not to do it. She felt so guilty, but it was the truth! She didn’t want another man! She felt complete without any of that romantic stuff! It would be horrible if she led him on to make him feel complete. He didn’t deserve that. 

“Tavros,” she sighed and looked at the sheep’s wool. She dug her fingers into its thickness and started again. “Would you like me to say yes? Say that I love you back? Go back to camp and tell everyone how in love we are? Tell you that I’m happy with you and want nothing else but you?” She looked at him and he nodded vigorously. “But then, find out a month later that I actually lied? That I didn’t love you and that I just didn’t want to hurt your feelings? We’d then go from there with hurt feelings; never really getting to be friends.” She picked some plant out of the wool and tossed it away. “Or, we could turn this declaration of love platonic? We could go our separate ways and be friends with each other. I would love to get to know you better and watch how you’re able to tame Gamzee. Perhaps, if we became the bestest of friends, we could begin to court the other.” Jade added the last bit on a whim. She doubted that could happen, but she hadn’t thought she would’ve ever been engaged to Karkat Vantas. They had also started out as friends. 

She looked at him and he was staring at her hands and then at his. Was he planning something with his hands? Was he going to try to hold her hand or something? He kept looking back and forth between them as if he knew her hands could kill him. She waited though. Tavros slowly raised his shaking hand and put it next to hers on the sheep. She looked at his face and found him staring right at her. 

“I do care about you, Jade,” he said in what was probably a calm voice, “If you believe that maybe one day you could love me back, I’d be more than happy to wait for you.”

“In the meantime,” she reminded him and he nodded his head. 

“Yes, in the meantime, I’ll stay your friend. We could, uh, even ride our horses by each other tomorrow?” he asked and his hesitance came back. She sighed and smiled. She nodded her head and he grinned broadly. The brown blush was disappearing from his face and she hoped her bronze glow had faded as well.

Chapter Text

“If a fish lived in the sea all his life and never saw land...” the Seer took a sip of blood from a bucket. It splashed down the front of her robes and chin. She licked at her chin with her long, red tongue to clean up the mess. Rose cringed away from this act of savagery. “...then the fish would live a happy life and would never know the dangers or stress of land. Therefore, ignorance is bliss.” 

Rose shook her head and straightened up in her chair that was a whale. It was comfortable for a whale chair. “I believe you are skipping over a flaw in your own example.” She leaned forward excitedly. She loved these kinds of debates. “The fish’s life is still affected by the land. On land, there are humans who will go out of their way to hunt him and his brethren. It is just the natural order of things for a man to be dominant overall. So, the ignorance you said the fish to have would be, in fact, idiocy because he will refuse to accept what is happening to him and believe he is leading a happy, long-lasting life. 

“If the land were not a problem, then, perhaps, that fish could fulfill that phrase. That is under certain circumstances though. So, it could be concluded that the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ can only be applied in-”

The air around her turned humid and thick quickly. She inhaled and the air settled in her lungs and refused to come out. They clogged up her throat but she didn’t struggle to breathe. The Seer faded to grey before melting down into fog, which sprang up above her head once it touched the ground. Her chair did the same along with the funny room and bucket. Grey fog clouded her vision as she turned on the spot. This didn’t seem like Seer magic. It would’ve been incognito and kept her dream alive while it worked its malicious intent. This magic seemed brash and demanded her attention. Well, they had it. 

Something glowed black from the corner of her vision. She turned slowly to face it and saw a woman standing with a black aura of magic. Ah, her intruder. Rose squared her shoulders and started to mumble a spell for dispelling mind intruders but instead of words and sound, silent grey fog poured out of her mouth. She slapped a hand over her mouth and watched her words fall to the ground before drifting off to join its comrades. 

She glowered at the woman and tried to summon her wands, or even a sword, to her side. This was her head and she wasn’t giving it up easily to the lady in black. Nothing appeared in her hands. Why isn't it working? What was this lady playing at? She had no sound, no way to defend herself magically and couldn’t control what was happening. 

The nondescript lady flicked her wands. She too dissolved into smoke. Almost at once, someone from her left sobbed. It wasn’t completed for it turned into a gasp of pain. Someone was in trouble. She turned left and walked into the fog. It didn’t cover her eyes like normal fog would, but parted for her. 

She started to see a figure lying on the ground. They were contorted into a position that would suggest both legs are broken and a spine that was damaged beyond repair. The body gasped for breath and the chest rose lopsided and fell heavily. As Rose approached, she saw brown and burgundy patches on the figure. They were concentrated on the knees, feet, and hands. The blood dripped from the slender fingers as the figure sobbed again. The face emerged and she looked down on a mutilated Vriska. Her face puffed and fell in on itself in all the wrong places that Rose was surprised she was still making sounds of some sort. 

Vriska must’ve seen her because she gasped and growled through a puffed hole higher up on her face than deemed normal. She wanted to help ease the pain, or at least put her out of it. 

“John!” a high pitched wail barreled out of the fog. Rose whirled to find the source of the sound. No one insight. She looked down and found Vriska dissolving into fog. “John!” the voice screeched again. It cracked in the middle of John’s name and Rose got the feeling of immense sorrow from this person. But, they sounded so angry and determined; as if they were hunting John. 

She didn’t need to move from her spot to find the chilling voice. 

Someone appeared so quickly that Rose fell back a step. The blue figure tripped on something and skidded on the ground until she landed right in front of her. The girl’s chest moved quickly as they took deep breaths. Before Rose could help, they pushed themselves up into a kneeling position. Terezi leaned heavily on her dragon cane, which looked more like a sword than cane, and rested her head against it. Her front was covered in blue blood as she panted and she shook with what must be exhaustion. Her ribbon was missing but her red, sightless eyes were crying teal tears. Rose could now hear that she was muttering something. “John,” she muttered over and over again. Her panting stopped but she still shook. She slowly pushed herself up and her hand tightened on her cane sword. “John,” she almost spat. Her eyes narrowed. Her teeth bared that reminded Rose of a dragon. “John!” she finally roared in manic anger and charged into the fog with her sword leveled. She was going to kill John!

Rose ran after a moment's hesitation. She couldn’t let that happen! John was important to everything! He was the key to the prophecy! Terezi’s crazy voice disappeared into the fog as Rose tore through after her. She ran in one direction before starting to see two figures huddled together. She slowed down as she approached them and saw they looked to be having a tug of war. 

Nepeta clutched Equius’s arm and tugged at him. Her whole body lurched with each desperate try to move him. “Equius,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “We must go! He’s after us! He’ll get to us if we don’t move!” She tugged again but Equius remained where he was. He wasn’t paying attention to her at all. He looked around frantically. 

“Nepeta, we must find Aradia! We’ll be safe from him if we move now, but she will not be! Her blood is too tainted and it will surely anger him,” Equius worried and even took a step in the opposite direction of where Nepeta was going. She let go and Rose saw pure desperate rage fill her form. The kind you would see in a deer cornered by hunters but fighting until their last breath. 

“You casteist brute!” she hissed and punched him with her whole body. Rose heard a snap and Equius staggered back in surprise. Nepeta started to leak olive tears as she cradled her hand against her chest. “She can handle herself! She never needed your protection and never loved you! You look down on her because she is a lowblood and think she’s weak but she’s not! I don’t care about her as much as I care about you! But you don’t care about our safety, my safety, as much as you care about how you’re going to get your next kiss!” She grit her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut against the pain of her broken hand. Equius stood there with a gaping mouth. It moved back and forth in silent words of apology that were never heard. 

Something happened behind Rose because they both whirled towards her. Nepeta screamed and more tears exploded from her eyes. Equius stepped in front of her with both arms spread out protectively as she cowered behind him. He crouched as if to ram someone with his head and he bared his teeth threateningly at Rose. She turned as well to see what was coming up to get them but found no one. 

Again, she looked over her shoulder to Nepeta and Equius but both were gone. She turned to a new noise like that of something being dragged on the floor. The fog thickened into darker grey fog figures. Between the two of them, Jane’s head flopped back but her hair didn’t follow suit. Her hair had been shaved close to her head. Her eyes were closed but bruises and little blood trails littered her face. The figures held her upper arms above her head that seemed painful. 

Jane’s eyes fluttered open and she looked around droopily. She caught onto the situation and her eyes flew open. Her feet kicked and her body arched away from the fog figures. They paused for a moment to adjust their hold on her before continuing. “No! No! No! Let me go you rotten tarses!” she screamed and fought against her assailants. As she was pulled away, she yelled a final name that sounded so familiar to Rose. “Dirk! What did you do to Dirk?! Where is he?! No!”

Jane disappeared into shadows, but someone was already coming out of the shadows fighting.

They staggered into Rose’s vision; slashing and blocking with their sword. John’s eyes and nose were scrunched up in concentration but also in rage. He fought ferociously and finally kicked at his invisible assailant. This one was not even a grey figure like Jane’s had been, but utterly invisible. He readied his sword with both hands; ready for another bout. His eyes widened in surprise and he raised his sword to block something. The invisible thing hit his sword and immediately his body shook under its weight. He held his sword up and gritted his teeth, but his feet slipped under him and he slid back a little. With a roar, he tilted his blade and slowly dropped it. The sword was at his waist before something happened and he jumped up and backward into the air; as if something swept his feet out from behind. Yet, as he flew into the air he didn’t fade to fog but burned up in a quick flame. He screamed for a second before he was consumed and his ashes fell to the ground. 

“John!” Rose screamed too. Rose ran over to John or the ashes on the ground. He can’t be dead, right? This was a dream. He wasn’t going to be ashes when she woke up and they didn’t have an enemy waiting to turn them to ashes. She dropped to her knees and touched John’s ashes. They felt so real. How could they feel like this in a dream?  

“Come on Jakey. You’ve got this,” Rose looked up and saw a blonde girl hobble out of the fog. She had a gash on her side and her arm was slung under Jake’s shoulder. He didn’t look too good as well. One of his legs was covered in blood and his head had a swollen lump on his forehead. His arm loosely held a bow while the other was under the girl’s arm as if to hold her up. 

“Roxy,” Jake mumbled and turned to look at her as they hobbled along together. “You gotta leave me. I can cover you while you run for help.” 

“I wouldn’t be able to run fast enough, Jakey,” she breathed as she heaved Jake into a better position. Her eyes were shining with golden tears when she looked behind them. “Besides, two is better than one. We can totally take those mushrooms together. Just… keep… going!” She seemed to struggle with him a lot and adjusted his weight again. 

A grey line streaked out of the fog and hit Jake in the back. He arched away from it and screamed. Roxy looked over her shoulder and her eyes widened. She pushed Jake away from her and he fell to the ground. She went to draw her sword but something hit the side of her face so hard that she flew back and around so that she landed on her stomach with a gasp.

Jake and Roxy disappeared into fog once again. Rose hadn’t met her yet, but she’d bet her dollar that she was the last string they needed to find in order to fulfill the prophecy. 

Metal rattled behind her accompanied by a panting noise. She quickly turned to find a red scarecrow. Their arms mimicked a scarecrow’s but they knelt in front of her, but their arms looked strained and limp. They weren’t even trying to lift themselves higher to relieve their arms. Their head hung limp and their hood flopped over their head. They panted from the shadows and she felt like she needed to lift the hood. 

As she approached the weakened figure she saw the slashes, blood, and cuts on their body. They looked frail from what she could see in the holes. She crouched in front of them but they looked up before she could grab the hood. Dave barely lifted his head. The skeletal face held scars and bruises; fresh and old alike. His cracked lips were similar to his cracked eyes. Many of the scars on his face stood out there; as if someone tried to claw his eyes out. 

   “Dave?” she whispered, her voice nearly breath. He looked defeated; done. Everything that made him who he was had been stripped from him. She felt like crying and breaking whatever held him. He didn’t deserve this. She forgot about the dream and reached to touch his face. Her fingertips disappeared as they stood an inch from his face.

Dave’s eyes fell down to the ground. “I don’t know anything,” he hoarsely mumbled. He slowly raised his eyes again and he tensed. His bloodshot eyes bolted open and his wrists finally got some relief as they knelt up. Rose scooted back from him before her knees disappeared. He stared horrified above her and his mouth fell open a bit. “What are you doing?” he demanded hoarsely. His whole body winced as something happened and this time, his fists clenched. “Stop that!” he yelled and his voice regained some sense of himself. “Stop it now!” His eyes started to turn purple as he strained against his bonds. “I don’t know anything!” he cried out. 

He froze from pulling and straining himself suddenly. His eyes followed something to the floor and he fell with it. His hands reached out as if to grab the invisible feather. He slumped back with wide eyes and real purple tears silently trailed down the bumpy face. “I don’t know,” his voice was rough from screaming and he still stared at the invisible feather on the floor. “I never knew,” he cracked and his lips wobbled. Before his head flopped down again, he looked up quickly with wide eyes. 

It looked like the scene was happening all over again. His eyes went wide and his hands strained against the invisible chains; stretching out to grab something. He looked between two things and shook his head. “No… No! Don’t do that!” His whole body lurched forward. He tried to get his feet out from under him but they slipped. His arms were bent backward and his hood had fallen back from the speed of him lunging forward. More tears of purple spilled out of his eyes and his cracked lips were screaming in rage. 

He started to fade to grey but right before she knew he would turn to fog, she heard a crack; like a pig had hit stone. She barely saw Dave finally exceed the limit of his restraints, but only parts of him did. She briefly saw two grey lines get left behind by Dave’s foggy body before they mixed with her surroundings again. 

“Dave?!” she yelled and grabbed at the shapeless fog. She couldn’t grab it! She couldn’t save him! She looked down at her hands and the fog that swirled over the floor. She shook her head as she heard footsteps coming towards her. “I’m done! I don’t want to see anything else!” she screamed at the fog. A sucking sound started up slowly above her. 

She didn’t want to look, but she had to. She knew it wouldn’t go away until she watched it. These types of dreams usually ran that way. She barely raised her head and saw Aradia floating above the ground. She looked undead. Her grey skin was puckered with holes and bits of darker grey muscle were taunt. She held a man by the throat who was thrashing wildly. Her mouth was open and green light blocked out the man’s face. “Aradia! Thop thith!” he yelled but his voice sounded far away. His feet started to slow. “You- aren’t- him,” the feet stopped and Aradia closed her mouth. The man looked the same as her. Grey, taut skin but no life radiated from him as she did. She glared at him with her black holes and then kissed him violently; almost as if she were eating him. 

They both faded away and their fog fell onto the floor. It formed into a ball and the ball turned into black, matted hair. The face belonging to the hair was tucked into its knees. They shook with heaving sobs and she saw that they were barely covered at all. Barely any clothes on her body which exposed the bruises and cuts that tinged her deformed skin pink. She looked starved to death as well. 

The ball of a human was so close to Rose that she just needed to reach out to touch them. They started to shake worse than ever and shook their head this time. “Go away! I’m done!” Jade sobbed out from between her knees. Rose shook her head. No, she didn’t want to see anything more. Just as Jade was fading to grey, she reared her head up and yelled distantly, “I have nothing left for you! You can't get nothing from me anymore!” She dissolved into mist but her yell of defiance echoed.

The visions are assembling quicker. Before this person is fully assembled, they are thrashing around. Arms tied behind his back, Karkat forms in front of her. He wears shreds of clothing as well but they swing as he repeats the same action over and over again. He charges headfirst at something to her right, a grey tendril snaps and he falls back a little. He snarls and screeches before charging again. She sees his wrists are covered in fresh blood and his hands are puffy from the lack of oxygen. His face looks beastly. His eyes are so narrowed that they look like a bear’s. His lips are pulled back from his teeth like a wolf’s and his nose was so twisted that she could only describe it as that of a dog’s. 

He barely made any human noises and she scooted away from him; shaking her head. “No! Stop this!” she screams at him but he’s already drifting to fog. “No more! I’m done! I’ve learned my lesson!” she swipes her hand out but she’s too far away from the forming figure. She can already hear them. They sputter and cough weakly. They start to groan a little when she finally sees someone lying on their back. 

A lance sticks straight out of Tavros’s stomach. He’s grabbing at it with brown hands but they slip on the shiny surface. His face is barely raised above the ground but she sees brown staining his bared teeth and dribbling down the side of his face. He coughs again and brown flies from his mouth. “Not… today,” he whispers but the lance is halfway in his body. It’s buried so far in the ground that it would take immense strength to pull it out. 

Rose shakes her head. “Tavros! You buffoon! What were you doing?!” she screams at him; not knowing what else to do. She couldn’t touch him and it was so pitiful to watch him uselessly struggle. He starts to pant and his hands slip for a final time on the lance. His head slowly starts to descend before letting it entirely go and falling the rest of the way back. His eyes are wide open in fear and he breathes out hoarsely. 

Before his last breath is finished, the foggy Tavros lifts up but settles down again in the form of someone else. The stranger who saved her lies spread eagle like Tavros. His glasses are gone with his face is deadly white and his lips stay open in a final word that wasn’t said. A million arrows stick out of him. It looks like a forest from where Rose sits. None have hit his face though. 

“I said stop!” Rose screamed again and this time crawled forward to swipe at the dead vigilante. He disappeared before she could swipe at him but she still did. She kept swiping at the fog; hoping to keep it from forming again. 

“Dearest?” her voice floated through the fog but Rose’s stomach dropped. No, please don’t let it be-. She raised head slowly and saw a woman’s shadow standing in the distance. The woman started to walk primly toward her and her footsteps were clear on the floor. “What are you doing on the floor, darling?” The woman’s arms were clasped in front of her and her neat hair could now be seen. “You will get cold and catch a chill. We would not want that would we?”

Her elbows locked as her palms started to sweat. She sounded alright, but was she really? This was all a nightmare, yet she seemed good. It terrified her. Everyone else had been dead, why wasn’t she? Why was she still alive and well? What had happened to her? Or what was going to happen to her?

For the first time in the dream, everything started to fade to black and the shadow inverted with the change of the landscape. The fog fell away into abysmal black and the figure turned a yellow shade. The shade was that of a lantern but she didn’t flicker and she stayed on her course towards her. “Darling? Why are you not replying to me?” Kanaya dropped all niceties. She practically spat this with anger from somewhere. Her shadow, or light, changed with her. 

The light narrowed to where her skin must’ve shown. Her ankles, wrists, stomach and the neck up illuminated her clothes but her face couldn’t be seen. The prim and proper figure slouched and her shoulders widened so that her arms were lumbering out on her sides. Her shoulders heaved heavy breathes as if just getting back from a sprint and Rose could hear her panting. She looked like an animal ready to strike. 

Rose unfroze and scooted back on her butt. She tried to jump to her feet, but her hands and feet were too sweaty for she kept falling back on the floor. Kanaya kept her march towards Rose and gutturally yelled, “Do you think you are oh so cleverer than me?! Do you think that you have it all figured out?! That you can outsmart a government that’s been in power for centuries?! They have ways of beating even the smartest Seers!” Rose wanted to retort. She knew she could! She had the prophecy on her side! Did she though? “The prophecy is going to fall! If you are so clever, read the part that says we all have to die!” Rose was barely keeping ahead of Kanaya’s footsteps and she still could not see her face. She still stared up at it; as if the blinding light would pocket open into Kanaya’s reassuring, gentle face. 

She lost momentum and Kanaya struck. She grabbed at the front of Rose’s clothes and heaved her into the air. Rose dangled from her grip and her neck cracked from the force of the jolt. She grasped Kanaya’s wrists and felt intense coldest despite the blinding light. Still, Kanaya did not peak through the light even though Rose started to see spots from being so close her radiant face. She squinted her eyes. She couldn’t feel Kanaya’s breath. She would’ve thought that being so close to an audible pant-

“Do you want us to die?” Kanaya whispered and her voice was back to normal. No malice, or hate; just pure desperation and betrayal. Rose saw from the corner of her eyes all her friends appear. They were the nightmare versions; grey John, bruised Dave with arms widespread, tied Karkat, crying Jade, lanced Tavros, everyone. They stayed some distance away from her and Kanaya but their bodies were haloed with the same light as Kanaya. Their expressions were one of defeat and tears. Vriska silently sobbed from Rose’s right as she wiped her head back and forth to look all her failures. 

She didn’t want them to die. She would never want them to become like this. To be tortured and bruised and broken like this. She couldn’t possibly be leading them to this fate. The prophecy had to be right! The Seers had told her that her interpretation was the right one. Yet, they had blinded Terezi and imprisoned her during their stay. They could easily be lying and just waiting to see her fail. Could the prophecy be a tale of caution to never go against the king? The king was being a monster, but monsters were only beaten in fairy tales. No one could be a fairy tale. 

“Fairy tales stem from truth,” Rose whispered to the blank Kanaya. Kanaya made no move. “We have to try, Kanaya. If we feigned ignorance against the problems of our government, then we would be dooming all of humanity. I believe, " she gripped Kanaya's wrist tighter, " we have a chance. We could save this world. This dream is looking at the worst possible outcomes but the universe holds too many to count. Please, believe me too."

Kanaya and her images of her dead friends stayed silent. The spots in Rose's eyes started to make sense. The outline of a chin appeared. Eyebrows and eyes rose above the surface. A nose and lips protruded from the blinding light in utter black. Her lips and all of her eyes were pressed black. She didn't even look to have eyelids at all. "Your pride will doom us all," Kanaya's lips hissed. She possessed black fangs and light poured from her mouth like a lantern. 

In seconds, Kanaya hissed like a snake and her mouth ripped open at the corners. Flesh snapped like fabric as her mouth grew into a massive black hole. The hissing noise grew louder and slithered into Rose's ears; filling them with nothing else. After the hole grew into horrible dimensions it paused and the hissing stopped.

A brief moment of deafening silence that made Rose's heart stop. She screamed at the terrifying thought that entered her mind. 

It came true. 

The mouth descended over Rose's head. The hissing stormed into her ears like oil and gripped her mind. She screamed as she felt the fangs drag along her arms and legs. The light popped her eyes with the intensity. Her arms remained stuck at her sides as she felt slimy walls squeeze her. She screamed again as she felt the fangs chop her feet off and felt everything shake; as if something was laughing.