Your brother was rambling again; a pastime he managed when not surrounded by council or anyone but yourself, in reality. It would start of with normal conversation, discussion of business and reminders to maintain a well versed tongue when in the presence of others, conversations like this were pleasant and easy to navigate. When his speech would lower and his neck bend down oh so slightly, you already knew that it was starting. His words were far more jumbled, paranoid and angry anecdotes about plots to overthrow or assassinate other land's royal families. This was also simple to
ignore, because you knew he didn't want your opinion or your thoughts, he'd already forgotten you were there. You weren't concerned with his words, your brother may be insane, but he wasn't stupid. If anything his caution and paranoia made him all the more better to rule, always strategizing and plotting new endeavors with the singular goal to create a Kingdom powerful and strong.
The two of you had just concluded a trade agreement with Jake and his own council, which had been far more productive than expected. It was still hard to comprehend, Jake being King of an entire Island. Your close friend had been devastated when his grandparents were killed, it was good to see him in such high spirits now.
You followed your brother passed the main hall, the stone still moist with dew from the outside, causing the air to be thick and making it hard to swallow. The main hall was directly connected to the aquifer underneath the castle after all. Despite the many lanterns breathing light into the area it remained dim, shadows bouncing off the wall and following us as we made our way down. You knew already where your brother was headed, it was were he'd go after every encounter with another Kingdom; just as you knew that you had to follow him, for he would notice if you weren't there later, and that would not be pleasant.
It still smells musty.
You grimace when he opens the door, the papers littering the wall rustling when the door slams closed, leaving the two of you in the dark. Your brother was not dumb by any standards, in fact, you would bet he'd be one of the smartest men in all the lands if it were not for his condition. He was genius scholar, someone who'd travelled to all the Kingdoms in his youth, conversed with Alternians and Carapacians alike, even fought in several wars. No, he was by no means someone to underestimate. When he was clear headed, focused, as he usually was, there was no denying his prowess was admirable..
"Dirk." He calls, maneuvering into his chair. He did not need light like so many others, including yourself. Your brother prides himself on his adaptability, not that anyone would counter his claims. You grunt an acknowledgment, not speaking until he finishes talking. You learned that lesson a long time ago, he was not one for interruptions. Instead you light a candle, using the short flame to guide your way through the room, and placing yourself beside your brother and his mutterings. He'd added more plans to the walls, scribblings of possible battle formations or ideas for invasions. Oh, it would seem even the Kingdom of Prospit was now enemy number one. You can't help but silently scoff at your brother's odd ideas. Prospit was the Kingdom of non-violence, or the 'Kingdom of Wusses' as your younger brother had so eloquently explained to his best friend when he was seven. Funny enough, that friend just so happened to be the Prince of Prospit.
Part of you was relieved that your brother still had the sense enough to keep these outrageous theories private, another part wished so desperately that everyone could see just exactly what their King they so revered was up to most nights.
"...and that boy-king Jake, he must be stopped before he takes me and mine. I see it, there in his eyes, a desire there, to destroy good Derse. Let him come, come, come! I will see his blood upon my carpet spilt."
There he goes again.
You almost can't contain your eye-roll at this point; he always starts speaking like some ancient idiot before he calms, and it's annoyingly eerie; especially with his dead eyes reflecting the candle flame as he stares off into god knows what.
He is silent for several minutes, glaring off into nothing before you finally find the courage to speak up.
You are cut off by the light of candle being blown out, engulfing the two of you in complete blackness. You sigh, already fiddling with your pockets to find the matches when you hear it; the footsteps.
They were not your brothers.
No, your brother was still next to you, though now standing and silent as could be. You get up quickly, fumbling with the chair as you stand upright. They were getting closer, and it was obvious what was happening now.
In that split second of realization you hear it; the sound of a knife being unsheathed. It was a sound you'd been taught to recognize quickly. You felt them brush passed you, and you're between your brother and the assailant before you take another breath.
Your brother leaps back away from you, rushing for the door to open it. The outside light pours into the room in a solid column of luminescence, and you are right in the center of it. The knife had slid easily into your side, its blade digging into your flesh with a short gasp passing through your lips.
"Dirk!" Your brother shouted from the doorway, his voice sounding a fair bit more worried than you expected.
It wasn't until the knife started to slide out that you moved, grabbing hold of the wielders wrist and the knife itself. You knew enough that if it were to come out, you'd bleed to death, and then he'd be after your brother.
You look up at the person attacking you, most of his face covered by cloth and cloak. But his eyes, they were the color of blood. He was taller than you by a great deal, but the stab had come from below. He must have crouched down, and shot up to attack with the weapon. He pulled at your grip on him, twisting the blade deeper into your body. You wince, but that's it, not feeling much pain if you were being honest. Your brother had run off, whether he was sane enough to get help you weren't sure. If he had been sane, he would have killed this person without even a weapon.
"Let go." He hissed, seemingly annoyed by your hold on him.
"No." You say, tightening your fingers around his gloved hand. If anything, you're very proud of yourself for not shaking in fear, because you were so very afraid right now. You would die, and you wouldn't get to do anything. You wouldn't leave the castle, you wouldn't visit Roxy or go have tea with Jane at her place or get to tell Jake...
You would die here, and not experience anything, that you knew for sure. But there was one thing you also knew, something that kept your voice steady and your head high.
This motherfucker was not going anywhere.
"You will die." He warned, almost begrudgingly, "If you do not receive immediate medical attention this injury will be fatal."
"You will not kill my brother." You state simply, almost shrugging in what you hoped seemed to be feigned indifference. He stares at you for moment, and before you can blink he is gone, his glove still in your hand, and his knife still in your side. You let out a breath of relief, he was gone, and your brother should be in safe hands by now.
Unfortunately for you that relief is short lived; your mind is swimming and your whole body sags to the ground in a mighty heap. You yelp when you notice that your heads on a one way course to the corner of the table.
For a split second, you think that Roxy is going to call you an idiot.
Before you lose consciousness, you could swear you could see two red eyes, peering down at you.
You feel the pain first, the burning soreness that envelops your entire right side. You slowly drag your hand over across your hip, moving up to were the pain was the most intense. There were thick leathery humps on top of your bare skin. It's disorientating, this feeling of not knowing where you are. You can't open your eyes; they're just shut, like your eyelids were being held down by some sort of weights. You pull your hand up to your head, thick bandages were wrapped over your forehead, and you can feel the sticky salve they used along the edges.
It was your brother.
"Yeah, I'm up."
"I slipped away again, didn't I?"
You could almost picture it, so clearly in your head. He rubs his hands across his tired face, he's wearing his shades, like he usually does, but no matter what, your imagination just can't come close to the real heartbreak in his eyes. You manage to pull your eyes apart just in time to see him compose himself, which you're grateful for, you never could stand to see your actual brother show any sort of weakness.
"Did I..." He gestured to your wounds and you let out a choked laugh, a bitter one.
"No, Crazy You did not stab me."
"Dirk, what happened? When I came to the guards told me they found you in the courtyard. Luckily Jake had brought Jane with him and gave you emergency treatment, but you'd lost a lot of blood."
You swallow, your throat dry and more than a little parched. Your brother noticed, bringing a cup of water to your lips and letting you drink your fill. When you finished you told him what had happened, everything up to you hitting your head on the table. His face grew grimmer with every word, and you were suddenly filled with a uncontainable gladness that he was here with you now.
"Did you get a look at his face? Anything?"
You shake your head, which causes it to spin.
"How long have I been out?" You ask, poking at the bandages and feeling more aware with each passing minute.
"Two days." He answers honestly. That's something you've always appreciated about your brother, he would never try and lie to you. It's a trait he exhibited with most everyone, despite the brutality of those truths.
"Jane says you'll need to stay there at least a month, just to make sure there's nothing damaged inside."
You gape at him. A whole month in this bed, you want explode you're so angry. You swear if you ever get your hands on that slimy parasite you were going to turn his face into mince meat. You throw your head back with a groan, a mistake you instantly regret when a throbbing blooms at your temples.
"Take it easy," Your brother orders, laying your head gently on the pillow. "the Kingdom can wait, I'll have Dave keep an eye on me until you're back to normal."
"You sent Dave away that morning Bro, he's probably half way to the estate by now. You sent away over two-thirds of our staff with him too."
"And why would I do that?" Your brother blinked, his eyebrows already knitting together at his own shenanigans.
"You told him that you didn't trust the walls and that the Alternians would keep him safe. I tried to stop you..." You offer gently, grabbing your brothers hand.
"Dirk, next time I'm that much of an idiot, just fucking stab me right then and there." He says, pinching his nose between his index finger and thumb. You laugh even though you know he isn't joking.
"Yeah, that's a great idea. Then I'll be hanged for treason and Dave will take over. Everybody loses."
He sighs, "That boy will be the death of both of us. He's only thirteen and already so many schemes...I swear all he wants to do is play around."
"That's what kids are supposed to do I guess."
He frowns at you, and you would have taken back the words if you had said them, but it was what was unsaid that brought upon your brothers sorrow. You had never left the castle gardens because of your brothers illness, you sole duty being to look after him. You had never gotten a childhood, and that had been your brothers greatest shame. He revealed to you one night, drunk on wine, that he'd never forgive himself for taking so much away from you.
"I...I'm going to let you rest. Don't worry about anything, I'll have two guards posted outside your door, we've also doubled security outside the perimeter. No one is getting in."
You nod, not sure of what to say. He stands, exiting the room and closing the door softly behind him. A few moments later you are drifting into a dreamless sleep.
Your eyes pop open, and you struggle to lift yourself up in bed. Fear pulses through you. There's someone holding you down, your mouth is covered by one gloved hand. You could taste the leather of his hand on your tongue. The room is dark, the only source if light being the soft glow of moonlight peaking out from behind the curtains of your windows. You soon begin to panic, recognizing those cold red eyes.
"Stop attempting to flee, the likelihood of your escape is nonexistent. If you wish not to be harmed, do not make a sound and do not try to leave."
He waits, staring expectantly at you.
You nod, and he releases his grip on your mouth.
"What do you want?" Your voice barely above a whisper.
"It would seem that you would like me to get straight to my objective for coming here, which is understandable considering the circumstance in which I am here, but I have several inquiries involving the incident that occurred the evening before last." He admits, placing himself in the same chair your brother had just been in hours earlier.
"How did you get in here? The room was supposed to be heavily guarded!"
"I have been here since the beginning."
You gape at him but he pays you no mind. There's no way he'd been here since the start, your brother hadn't noticed him at all, and there were no signs at someone else being in the room at any time while they were talking. It just wasn't possible, not without stealth that no one but a Strider could manage, this you were sure.
"Now that I've answered one of your questions, it is your turn to answer mine. Tell me, why would you not release me earlier?"
Okay, now you're confused.
"I don't understand the question."
He glared at you, and you try not to flinch back at his gaze.
"You are stalling, the question was clear. Why did you not let go of my hand when I had stabbed you? If you had it would have given you optimal time to call for help as I gave chase to your brother. Instead you held the blade in deeper, along with my own hand. It is not something I'd come across before, and thus is something I must get an answer to."
This really didn't make any sense. The answer was so obvious it felt as if the question did not even need to be asked.
"Because you were going to kill him?" You say, shrugging.
The man let out a frustrated cry, pulling the cloth down from his face. You gasp at what you see; his face was pitch black, the skin looked fake and shiny, almost like a precious gem. Thick lines stemmed from his eyes, moving downward all the passed his neck and down his cloak. They begun to glow a violent red, shimmering and illuminating the area around the two of us. He pulled back his cloak as well, his black body extending up into what almost seemed like hair, but it was stiff, cord like and rough looking. It glowed there too, red vicious light,
"You..you're...an Artificial Replica?"
"My preference is to be designated AR" He announces, still seeming to be quite irritated. "And I am not artificial. This body is far superior to the human I was based upon, and the skills I've acquired are more than enough to best any one of your species."
"...AR..." You shudder at his light, it was almost too bright to handle.
"Answer the question." he demands, glaring down at you with a malicious intent. You freeze in place, there was no stopping this guy, and he knew that as much as you did.
"I don't know what to say," you admit, trying not to squint as his red got brighter, "I've already given you my answer."
"I see," he ponders for a moment, "then until you can tell me a suitable answer for me I will not leave."
"What?! What do you mean by that?!" You can't help but yell, but he silences you with a glare. He turns away from you, pulling his cloak back on and his face hidden underneath the cloth once again.
"I will see you tomorrow night, be ready. You already know what will happen if you tell others of what you have seen."
And with that, he vanished fading into the dark with one final flash of crimson light,
Your name is Dirk Strider, First Prince of Derse, Heir to the Throne...
and you are royally screwed.
Dirk ponders what has happened to him, and some friends come to visit. When night rolls around again Dirk is left with more questions than answers, and no, his heart was not pounding.
Hi! Chapter Two is up and running, start your engines. Thank you so much already. I can't help but notice my mistakes until after I post the chapter...maybe I shouldn't be writing at 3:00am...
You'd somehow managed to get some rest after AR had left, even if it was only for about three hours. His presence last night had you reeling; he was an Artificial Replica, the first you'd ever seen. If it wasn't for Roxy's mom you doubt you would even know what AR truly was, considering magic had been outlawed in all countries over a hundred years ago. He was something that shouldn't exist in the world you live in now, especially with so many regulations and stigmas on using magic in the first place. His gaze still haunted you, even now, as you lie in bed picking at the stitches in your side. The red luminescence of his body, of his eyes, still filled your mind. He had appeared out of nowhere, and the fact that he had been the one who'd placed a blade between your ribs, you were in no mood to be seeing him anytime soon.
Though you had to admit, he wasn't what you expected from an artificial replicate of an organism; he just seemed so...
You could see the hatred in his eyes, the confusion and the exasperation at your words. From what you'd learned in the history lessons taught by Roxy's mom and Jakes grandma, ARO's were super soldiers created for the sole purpose of defeating their masters' enemies. AR was different, at least, he wasn't what you thought a magical being would be.
When magic was first discovered, it was everywhere; humans used it for almost everything. Spells were written to make food grow faster, taste better, illnesses were cured overnight and prosperous days seemed ahead of them. It wasn't until the first Sorcerer Invasion did the people understand what they had uncovered. Magic was a corruptor, according Roxy's mom at least, and humans were easily turned murderous. In just over fifty years the entire human population dwindled away to a mere five percent. Jakes grandma was still young at the time, in her teens. She had spoken about those times with a far off look, her old face twisted in memory.
"Everything crashed, government, technology, all of it. " she'd said, twisting a strand of long silver hair between her fingers, "Magic had caused entire families to betray one another, killing and attacking one another to gain more power. Whole countries went to war with the sole purpose of being on top."
She'd always talked like she'd experienced these things first hand, but you didn't pry; it was just too painful a memory to relive, that you knew
Her and the other elders who'd lived in those times would always mention infrastructure that you didn't understand, devices long lost in the fallout of those wars. Sometimes Alterninans or the Carapace's would bring odd relics back to the castle. Once you're brother had gifted you with an odd rectangular piece of plastic and wires; he'd called it a laptop, but you had no idea what that meant. You would usually spend your time trying to piece it back together or rip it all apart to start the process over again. There was a time where you could have sworn it started to light up, but it was only a flicker.
There were so many things that were lost because of magic, and things you wouldn't get to experience. Almost all the humans who'd lived during that time were dead, including Jakes grandma.
You missed her dearly, the old Queen had managed such vivacious attitude, despite what she had been through, and her and her twin brother the King would be pulling constant pranks on their grandchildren. The two had insisted on their grandchildren living for the adventure, the travel. Jake would spin tales of bravery and wonder to you when he'd stay over. Talk of monuments and architecture. He'd met the Carapacian farmers and Alternian warriors who protected our borders. They had visited often when you were a kid, with Jake and his half-sister Jade. You remember them always smiling and laughing, and you envied them dearly. Dave was so excited to have someone his age to play with, and you and Jake had been friends for years already.
Then Jade had been cursed.
You'd always thought these lessons Roxy's mom had given you as kids were farfetched, never experiencing magic for yourself until it was right on your doorstep. It was all so hazy still; the memory of being shaken awake by your brother, you and Dave being shoved into one of the hidden cubbies in the wall of the throne room, Jakes grandma bursting in with her brother and Jake at her side, and in her brothers arms...a blood covered Jade Harley. You remember gripping Dave tight so he wouldn't run out to see her, and his tears as they tried to wake her.
"Shhhhh," you cooed into your brothers ear, "be strong, be strong."
This was all you could say to comfort him, and when his tears had finally ebbed away you strained to comprehend what was happening. Apparently they had been leaving the borders of Derse when it happened, a sorcerer had attacked them, kidnapping Jade for only five minutes.
Jakes grandmother was not someone to be trifled that...not when she had a rifle slung across her back at all times. Her brother was also in similar garb, but it was Jakes grandma you would always fear the most. But regardless of her own skills, it was enough time for the sorcerer to put a curse on Jade, leaving her trapped in her dreams until someone with considerable magic energy could break it. She was just six years old. They had tried everything to wake her. Your brother even attempting to use magic himself regardless of the consequences, but it wasn't enough.
From then on Jakes grandparents stayed in their castle, watching over Jade with the hope that she may someday open her eyes, even ten years later.
Now there was a supposed one percent of the human population left, Alternians now outnumbering humans ten to one, and carapacians were the biggest by far, an estimated one thousand to one ratio compared to the human population. It was bizarre thought, human beings being an endangered species.
AR was an oddity that had you fearful for the future of human race. A single one of his kind could destroy entire villages in less than a week.
Which made it all the more strange to consider his interest in someone like you.
A knock at the door pulls you from your daydreams, and you pull yourself as upright as you can when two familiar faces poke their way through the door.
"Dirk!" Roxy greeted, bounding up and wrapping her arms around you in a quick hug, her hair pressing into your nose so you could smell her soap. It was the same as everyone else in the kingdom, but to you, it still smelled like Roxy.
Jane followed behind her, more critical of your position then Roxy, and immediately she pushed your covers down and lifted your shirt. You try not squirm as she examines you.
"It's already been almost four days since you were attacked," Roxy announced, grabbing your hand to distract from the prodding of Jane's fingers, "and the whole place is in an uproar. All the humans are hiding sending their kids to Carapace villages in the area. No one even knows what happened or how whoever it was got in!"
"The going theory is that it's an Alternian faction, some sea-dwellers have been pretty antsy about the rising population of people. Can you believe it? Our rising population! What a load of malarkey. In my opinion, sea-dwellers just want to make a stink about not being in charge of the dirt as well as the sea. " Jade interjects, glancing up at you before rubbing cold salve around your stiches. "This is inflamed, stop touching it."
"It'll get infected. I can't waste what little medications and antibiotics I've managed to make and salvage. Our supplies are already running low." She chastised, and you can't help but feel bad. Jane was a princess after all, yet all she did was run around from kingdom to kingdom, treating every royal injury and training others to be doctors like her. Although, she'll consistently rebuffed anyone who called her such. After all, she would say, she'd only read a few medical books, the rest was constant trial and error.
It really didn't matter to anyone else what she thought though, everyone respected her skill. The doctor before her taught as much as he could before he died, and she'd apprenticed under him since she was five, but she still refused to accept her position.
"I doubt a sea-dweller would come out from their fancy-smansy ocean palaces to come stab a teenager, even a Prince of Derse," Roxy countered, giving you an apologetic look, "no offense sweetie."
"Maybe it was a Carapace. That Midnight Crew, or whatever it's called has been causing quite the hullabaloo down south of here. Claiming they've got the right to the throne more than us humans." Jane suggested, moving up to your and removing the bandages.
"I'm only changing these once a day," she warns, pulling more medicine from her bag, "so you better not start bleeding, or I'm going to have to give you a swift kick."
You laugh, but realize she's only half joking. Nothing irritated Jane Crocker more than people who wasted supplies. That, or those who interrupt her baking time. Roxy sighed, tilting her neck to the side to crack her bones, her hands are covered in soot, like always, and her torn finger gloves are in desperate need of repair.
"How are the mines?" You ask , wincing when Jane's fingers slide across the gash on your forehead. You could tell it had swollen a lot over the past few nights, and stung more than necessary if anyone was asking your opinion.
"Fine, fine," she waves her hands dismissively, "all work, no play, lots of people complaining about coal shortages. Oh I'm sorry ma'am, how about you go take your happy butt underground and dig for twelve hours a day? What? You can't? Then please fuck off."
How Roxy managed to maintain her royal status, you had no idea. You're almost positive that if you were to even glance at one of the other human people in this castle wrong there'd be an entire meeting about the legitimacy of your blood. The Striders, though the main royal bloodline, were not well liked by the people. Maybe it's because your brother was far stricter with rations and supplies then a lot of people deemed necessary, or maybe they just didn't like his or Dave's attitude, but there was always so much tension between the humans and the ones who ruled over them. It also didn't help that your Bro had outright refused to enslave the Carapacians; and by 'didn't help' you mean it didn't help the human population get more greedy and power hungry. Your brother was smart about diplomatic shit like that, and he understood why the relationship between all the species needed to remain friendly; if only he wasn't out of his mind a third of the time.
You grin at her, glad that she'd come to visit you even though she had to be busy with the mines and the iron works. Her entire day was dedicated to finding new coal chutes for the hearths in the palace, especially with the colder seasons approaching. She was either doing that or working hand in hand with the iron workers: making bullets, swords, farming tools and even cooking supplies for the people to use and sell to Alternian villages. Hell, half the soldiers wouldn't have guns if it wasn't for her craftsmanship, only her and few others were able to make guns and mix gunpowder properly.
"Are we going to have enough for Winter?"
"Depends, can you manage during the Fall?" She deadpans, raking a dirty hand through her hair, "I can barely keep people from using their coal to heat their baths! Royalty does not mean luxury, but it sure as hell means stupidity."
"Sorry." Is all you can manage to say, trying to think of the last time you had a hot bath? Was it...your sixteenth birthday maybe? You don't remember exactly but you shared it with Dave, which was always fun. Him saying "no homo" every time your legs bumped each other. You don't even know where he had heard a phrase like that, until he showed you some awesome picture books Jake had found while scavenging some old buildings. he'd given them to him as gift, Dave said, but you secretly think he'd taken them from his bag.
"Where is Jake by the way?" You say, more to yourself than to Roxy or Jane. He'd been there when you were attacked, you had just finished a meeting with him. Roxy frowned, her face scrunching together like it does when she is annoyed by something.
"He left," Jane says, wrapping new bandages around your head, "this morning actually. There was a crisis on the Island or something to that affect. Said he'd be back to see you in a jiffy, he swears."
You try and fail to hide your disappointment. It was understandable, Jake was a King now, and he had his own people to lead. It wasn't like he could wait by your bedside all day for you to wake up. You scratch at your side absentmindedly, fingernails plucking at the newly checked stiches. Jane smacks your hand away, and you recoil at the sting.
"Stop that!" She admonished, huffing out a displeased breath before going back to wrapping your head.
"Oh come on Janey, he's going to stuck like a lump to that bed for the next month, maybe don't make him feel bad for scratching?" Roxy said, teetering on her chair for a moment, her face crinkled up in a smile, "and don't you have a present for him?"
Jane exhales sharply, giving herself a dramatic smack to the forehead.
"How could I have forgotten?" She asks herself, diving into her bag and rifling through it for several minutes, "Thanks for reminding me Roxy, I swear I would forget my own head if it weren't attached to my body! Oh I hope they didn't break! Where are those little buggers? ...A-HA! Here you go Dirk!"
She thrusts a parcel into your lap so suddenly you almost don't catch it. It's a bundle wrapped in cloth, tied neatly into a knot on the top. She looks at you expectantly while you unwrap your gift, and you can't contain your shocked inhale.
"Chocolate chip cookies?"
She and Roxy nod vigorously, obviously just as excited about the treat as you are.
"Well," Jane fidgets a little, "lets just say it involved a lot of trading with Alternian teal bloods, those guys covet their chocolate and sugar more than anyone I've ever met!"
"Thank you so much Jane." You say sincerely, picking one of the cookies up to examine it. Its golden brown crispness is almost beautiful, and the dark specs of chocolate look too expensive to even consider eating. It's smell was making your mouth water, and it's only then that you think back the fact you've barely eaten anything in three days.
"Come on, eat it already! You're giving me an aneurysm with you just staring like that!" Roxy announces, and you look down at your pile of sweets. There were four more left after this one, and you really could hardly fathom this splendor being all for you.
"Here," You say, giving them each a cookie of their own, "we'll share,"
They both shared a look between each other, one that they've shared many times before if memory served you correctly.
"Dirk, these are gifts for you." Jane tells you, as if you didn't already know.
"I know that, it's just way more enjoyable to eat with friends. Now eat up you two, or I'm giving them to Caliborn." You weren't at all serious, but it was enough for the two of them to each take a bite. When your teeth bite into the dessert you think for a moment that something this delicious couldn't possibly exist. The chocolate melted in your mouth, coating your tongue and crumbling with each bite. You chew down on your cookie quicker than you mean to, and it's gone faster than you would like.
"I guess we were hungry." Roxy shrugs, licking the crumbs from her thumb before wiping any excess on her pants.
"Yeah," you agree, doing the same, "guess so."
"I'll have someone bring you food later, that way you can have a proper meal." Jane promises, "I'm going to visit Jake for a couple of days to check on Jades condition, but after that I'll be back."
"If you're going to see Jake, bring him this okay?" You say, handing her one of the cookies. She nods, wrapping it up in a napkin before departing. She waves goodbye to the two of you before shutting the door quietly behind her.
"That was so good, I heard that the King of Prospit bakes cakes everyday and feeds them to the people. Can you imagine? Cake everyday?" You laugh, picking at your stitches again. Roxy stops you by grabbing you hand.
"Dirk," Roxy begins, shaking her head at you, "I know what you did, for your brother. I also know what's happening with him right now."
Your breathing stops, you don't move, don't think, don't anything.
"He told me."
"Why?" You ask, still trying to catch up to what was actually happening. How much did Roxy know? Everything? Did he tell her everything that was going on with him? No, that was impossible. There were even things you hadn't told him yet, so there was no way she could know everything. You take a deep breath to collect yourself, but it still felt like your ribcage was collapsing.
"He's put me in charge of looking after him while you recover. He hasn't slipped away yet, but I want you to know that I'm keeping an eye on him, and I'm not going anywhere. Dirk, you just focus on getting better okay? I'm handling it."
You close your eyes, nodding as best you can.
"Okay," Roxy lets out a shaky sigh, releasing your hand and standing herself up, "I've got a meeting to go to, so I want you to rest up okay? No more hanging out in rooms with assassins and getting yourself into trouble!"
She waves goodbye to you, giving you a swift wink before closing the door behind her. You stare into the wood, your body feeling more empty than it had in a while. It isn't until your vision blurs that you find out that you're crying. Hot tears bubble to the surface as quickly as you wipe them away.
It was ruined.
You can't help but think that over and over again. Never again would Roxy see you the same way, not when she knew what was happening with you and your brother. You'd always confided in her, about everything: your problems with Dave, your loneliness, your problems with Jake...but you never shared this. This was the one thing you'd never told her.
He stood in the corner of your room, his shining body almost shimmering against the glow of the candle flames. AR's cloak was removed, and you could finally see the full extent of his light. It was his entire body: his chest, his shoulders, his legs, his hands, his feet, even the tips of his fingers sparked with crimson.
"Why do you glow like that?" You ask, sniffling and wiping your nose.
"This form is currently occupied with copious amounts of magical essence, the energy inside uses microscopic airways to filter it out and then back in, much like the filter of a fish tank."
He sighs, coming closer to you with quick, sure steps.
"It is inconvenient that the species of this time period are unaware of such simplicities from only a mere millennia ago. Though I suppose you were never given the chance to learn such things because of the stupidity of your ancestors. Ignorance breeds ignorance, leading to a mindless pile of ignoramuses who complain about wanting more fulfilling lives, but not acknowledging that it its entirely up to them to create and mold these advancements themselves."
"I don't think that's entirely true," you counter, shifting away from the ever approaching magical killer assassin, tears certainly forgotten for the moment. You think that you should probably heed Roxy's warning, "People are constantly evolving and learning from the past mistakes of others. They try and better themselves with each passing day, and even though we may have lost things in the past because of our own selfishness, we've discovered a whole new world, and a whole new kindness with it."
"Learning means nothing if a majority of it is lost to human folly."
"Humanity means nothing without gaining new knowledge from starting from scratch. We're going around again, and this time we'll be better, that's the hope anyway."
"A foolish hope."
"A hope I believe in."
AR stares at you for a long moment, blinking only once before taking a seat. The urge to run has not subsided in the least, and you wonder for a moment if you've gone as crazy as your brother. You'd just verbally challenged a magical being to philosophical debate, and you lived. Somehow AR had not killed you on the spot for questioning him, which was already unbelievable, but he actually appeared thoughtful now. His eyes closed in contemplation.
"Why were you crying?" He inquires suddenly, and you jump at his words.
This situation was already strange enough without his out of nowhere questions about your mental state.
"I wasn't." You lie, because that's exactly what you do to an all powerful warrior who could rip you apart with his bare hands, you lie.
AR bares his teeth at you, which is peculiar because they're just like any normal persons teeth. You'd kind of expected them to be red, or maybe even black like the rest of him. He sits up in the chair, crossing his arms.
"I can force you to tell me." He informs you, and you don't doubt him for a minute. You don't know if it's your stubbornness, or your sudden death wish that makes you say;
"You can try."
Surprisingly, he doesn't.
"Why did you stay my hand when I was after the King? The humans I've encountered flee or hide when confronted in such a manner."
You're grateful for the change of topic, and answer him perhaps a little too eagerly.
"I already told you, he's my brother, I couldn't just let you kill him."
He ponders this for a moment, and you see that when he sits still his light grows dimmer, more like smoldering cinders than a raging fire.
"Familial bonds like these are easily broken when ones life is on the line, this answer is insufficient."
"It's the only answer I have."
"I have experienced requests like this one numerous times, and there has never been an instance when the one accompanying the target has gotten the way of my blade, I require a better answer for my scenario data."
"I don't know what to say," you admit, trying to placate him enough to where he would just leave you alone. Though, to be truthful, you're hoping that he gives up soon enough so that he won't be keeping watch on you. If he stops coming, you can warn your brother, maybe keep him safe enough so that AR would be less inclined to attack again.
Maybe you could keep him occupied long enough to sneak a secret message through Roxy, the two of you have been able to communicate through coded messages since you were children. Not to mention you'd be able to keep him in one place long enough for you to come up with a solution.
"Maybe if you got to know me better, you'd understand?" You suggest in what you hope is in a sincere way. If he sees through you, he makes no indication of it. Instead he seems to be taking what you said under consideration.
"I see, you are my only sample size. So it would be preferable to receive as much information as I can before proceeding."
You agree with him one hundred percent, in fact, maybe you should invite him out for dinner on the veranda, really get to know the killing machine before you try and slay him.
"Hey, AR, could I ask you something?"
"Yes." He answers after a few seconds of staring at your face. You resist the urge to wiggle away from his eyes boring into your own, picking nervously at your side.
"Are you hungry? I mean, do you eat?"
"I have no need to consume food, no."
"Okay...but can you taste?"
"Yes, I have the ability to taste, chew and swallow, but whatever I ingest is burned away by the magic inside my body. It holds no value to me."
"Well," you start, pulling open the parcel Jane gave you earlier, "I think you'll disagree once you have one of these."
Again, he looks at you with an expression you can't possibly understand. It was almost as if he was analyzing you, like some rare species of animal that had been locked in a cage to be stared at. It made you incredibly anxious, and you pulled at your stiches even more to distract you from his eyes. He takes the cookie from you, but doesn't eat it, instead, he leans closer towards you.
You push back on your feet, back pressing against the headboard of the bed and hands clenched into fists at your sides. He's crawling onto the bed now, and you feel his warmth as he looms over your tense frame. He grabs you hand, and for the first time you're feeling his skin on yours. It's like he's on fire. It doesn't burn, but it shocks you enough to try and pull your hand free. He holds on tighter, his fingers wrapping around your hand and despite being smooth and glassy, they feel almost metallic. You spare glance down to see the red was gone, instead his hand had become pitch obsidian, cool to the touch.
"Do not scratch." He smirked, and before you can blink he’d disappeared.
Your name is Dirk Strider, and your heart is beating faster than ever before.
Dirk and AR grow closer, but neither of them are excited about it. Roxy tries to keep up with the responsibilities of caretaker, but learning (and experiencing) some of the things done to Dirk is making it difficult.
Warning! Hints to abuse in this chapter!
This chapter is a little bit shorter, but It's building up to some good stuff I promise. So I'm really curious about switching point of views, it would mostly be between Roxy and Dirk, so I'm sort of trying that out this chapter. I would really like to know what you guys think! That's about all I have to say right now? I'm so damn excited while writing this though, and I really hope you're enjoying yourselves.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You'd stayed awake the entire night, if the Carapace coming in to feed you and change your bandages was any indication. She was an immigrant from Prospit, her white coloring a telling sign of her lineage, and her she informed you right away that if there were any messages that you needed delivered she would be happy to oblige. It didn't take her long to replace the bandages on your head, swiping the medicinal goop onto your wound with a somewhat painful quickness. She leaves a pitcher full of water along with your food, as well as towel and sponge so that you could clean off. It was a gesture you expected had come from Roxy, and you were grateful for it. There was your toothbrush as well; thank you Roxy.
When she leaves you pull your covers off of your body, unbearably hot and wanting to wipe the grime and sweat from yourself before eating.
It's a struggle to sit up at first, and the stiches in your side attempt to pull away from each other when you swing your legs out of bed. Walking was impossible, just doing this you were panting. You pull off your shirt, and kick off your shorts with no small amount of effort, and you don't even think about how you're going to get them back on. You were glad for the Carapace's help, but you guess the idea of a change of clothes was foreign to her. Most Carapacians wore only tattered rages wrapped around their bodies, though some did choose to wear regular clothing.
The water is cool on your skin as you dip your hand into the pitcher, its icy grip enveloping your hand in a way that almost resemble how AR had gripped it last night. Yes, that's how you'd describe what happened, his freezing hand holding onto yours, covering every inch with his frigid metallic fingers.
His touch had been so gentle.
You launch that thought out of your mind like a cannonball, crashing it all the way across the concept of time and space. This was absolutely not the person or the situation to be thinking such things.
His presence was unnerving you, that was all. After all, he tried to kill your brother and nearly killed you; there was no reason not to consider him public enemy number one. Hell, you'd alert everyone in the castle if it weren't for teensy tiny detail that he'd massacre everyone.
You squeeze out the excess water and start to slide the sponge down your front, shivering when the water dripped down your boxers. As you cleaned yourself you wondered what it would be like to have lived back before magic, when hot running water was an everyday reality, and how people from those times would "soak" in the water for hours, only to add more when it would go cold. You found this concept to be ridiculous and in all practicality a waste of time and resources. How someone could spend their days so casually was a mystery to you.
Most days you spent looking after your brother, even when he was clear headed you wouldn't leave him for more than a few hours before checking up on him, but that was plenty of time to practice your craft. In many circles, you were considered the Scribe of Derse; a title your friends found hilarious. It was something that you could focus on when you were away from you duties as guardian to the King, and you enjoyed it immensely. You would write everything down, all meetings, proceedings and dialogues between the people in the castle. You would draw renderings of how the setting looked during heated debates, or ceremonies of your brother honoring people who had fallen that year.
And you would write down the name of everyone you'd met up to that point.
You didn't want to forget a single one of them, and you made a promise to yourself that you wouldn't forget anyone. It was a great injustice how much knowledge and history human beings had lost because of the destruction of their past civilization, and you didn't want to lose the history being made now, because this is what the future would have to look back on.
You smiled at yourself, and you have to remind yourself to tell Roxy to keep notes of what's going on with the advisors and your brother. Getting stabbed had really put a damper on your capability to write, but you're not too worried about. Roxy was responsible enough to take incredibly detailed notes. You had had her write for you once when you'd fallen from a tree branch when you were fourteen and broken your arm.
Oh your brother had been screaming at you the entire time the doctor was attaching your sling, and you hadn't stopped blubbering until Bro had ruffled your hair. You still remember what he'd said when you whined about it hurting;
'You're still alive ain't you?'
That was a phrase that stayed with you through the years, and it gave you a lot of the strength to overcome a lot of stuff that had happened to you. You were still alive and kicking, some people weren't so lucky.
Regardless you had asked Roxy to fill in for you during meeting while you recovered, and her notes had been remarkable; the crude drawings of certain advisors in margins had been especially funny. There was even one of Lord English, one your brothers top advisors, and a huge fuckhole, perched on top the meeting table and honking like a goose. You'd laughed until you cried when you saw that.
You slip the newly wet sponge across your shoulders, struggling to reach farther back without straining your side. You gasp in discomfort when the stitches tug in resistance, but persist and somehow manage to get clean.
You honestly shouldn't be shocked, but nonetheless you jerk when you hear his voice from behind you. He's sat down already, resting his chin in his hand in contemplation. You twist around to face him, grabbing the towel laid out for you and covering your chest and most of your thighs from his gaze.
"How long have you been there?" You demand, more annoyed than scared if anything. As long as he wasn't trying to put his knife anywhere near your loved ones then he could show up whenever he liked. Preferably when you weren't half naked but you, but you don't think he'd humor you when it came to his unexpected visits. You try not to think back to last night, you'd already spent until morning looking back at what happened, but it was still so fresh. He'd crawled up to you like a predator stalking its prey, his face inches away from your own. It was something you'd never experienced before, and the smirk he'd given you was the first positive expression you've seen so far.
"I've remained here since you've been injured." He reveals, leaning back into the chair, "My stealth is far superior to anyone residing here, and I am quite capable of maneuvering around the palace with ease. Although most of my time is spent researching you."
You're more surprised by this revelation than the part where he actually stabbed you. It wasn't as if you were that interesting of person. Your life was tied to your brother and Derse, there really wasn't all that much to know.
You're genuinely curious about his answer, and while you shimmy back under the covers you listen carefully to his response.
"Your actions have proved problematic in my mission, and it is because of you that my target escaped." He said this like it was the most obvious thing in the world, and you hate to admit you're a bit disappointed in his answer.
"To be fair, nothing is stopping you from going after my Bro." You point out, and then you wish someone would come in and shoot you. Why would you bring attention to that? Why would you speak without thinking like that and give AR a reason to kill your brother? You had an answer but it was something you were refusing to take into consideration right now.
"Of course," he agreed, and you wanted to die, "but my objective has changed thanks to my curiosity about you."
You suck in your breath at his words, but he ignores this and continues to talk. You had learned that ARO's were breed to slaughter humans, and nothing could stop them from their goals. Had the history you've been taught been so wrong? Could AR be more than just some unfeeling creation of destruction?
"-I also must know your companions schedules to revolve around my talks with you. Fortunately this place you call a 'Castle' is miniscule in comparison to the sea-dwellers palaces. Though I must admit being bellow water is a much more uncomfortable experience than expected."
"Sorry, but did you say you knew my friends schedules?"
"I would appreciate it if you were to pay attention to what I have to say. I do not like repeating myself under any circumstance."
"Though I am always watching at night," he announces, frowning slightly, "It's my understanding that humans require far more sleep than you appear to be getting Dirk. You have slept no more than five hours and thirty-four minutes in the past three nights."
"Are you worried about me?" You ask, almost teasing and he glares at you.
"No. Sleep deprivation can lead to death, and if you were to die, then I would be dissatisfied with the conclusion of this interaction."
"Maybe it would be better for both of us if you didn't know the answer? I mean, I've already told you, and once you realize it's the truth you're going to be upset regardless. I know you want some weird tick or anomaly that makes what I did make sense to you, but all that's all I have."
AR doesn't speak for a long time, his eyes closed. If weren't for the fact that you doubted he needed it to begin with, you might think he was sleeping. When his eyes open again he's on top of you, hand clasped around your throat. He's not cutting off your airway, no, your panicked breaths are telling you that much. His entire body has gone pitch black, only his eyes maintaining that cherry red glow that bore into your own. He leans in, your noses are almost touching.
"You underestimate me Dirk," he whispers, pressing a little harder onto your neck, "I am not so stupid to let one insignificant human upset me."
You grab onto his wrist, the cold of his body almost burning your own. One of AR's legs is between your own, and you can feel the smooth material of his knee brushing against your inner thigh. It sends shivers down your spine, and your aching to touch more of him. Your hands travel up his arms, fingertips gliding across his biceps, up his neck, finally cupping his face. You're calm, even when he starts to tighten his grip. AR doesn't seem to notice when the lines of magic energy begin to radiate a heat so intense that it has you sweating. Everywhere you touched had begun to pulsate with a power that makes him appear to be vibrating. He glowers down at you, dark and dangerous, and for a split moment you find it frightening beautiful.
You're starting to lose consciousness when he finally lets you go, and you take in a deep gulp of air, sputtering despite yourself. AR pulls away from you quickly, backing up until he has completely vanished in the shadows of your room.
You're still wheezing after he leaves, more confused than ever. AR had done that as a warning, a message that he clearly didn't give a damn about you or what you thought. He wasn't someone to be messed with, even when he seemed civil, it was clear that he would kill you without a second thought. Despite this however, a part of you missed the warmth that bloomed along the places you touched, and you were pleased that you were having that kind of affect on him.
"Insignificant huh?" You chuckle, flopping down on the bed, ignoring the pain in your side at the sudden movement, "You seemed pretty upset to me."
Your name is Roxy Lalonde and you are not having a good week. Your sniper rifle had backfired on you twice, which wasted your already dwindling arsenal, three 'noble ladies' had complained to you about the how they didn't have enough coal to prepare their baths and make a hot meal and oh, lets not forget, your dumbass best friend had gotten himself stabbed.
That had been the worst thing by far, if you had to pick one thing. This wasn't the first assassination attempt the Striders had experienced, not by a long shot, but this was a first time for Dirk. He'd been by his brothers side since as long as you could remember, and never once had someone been after him. You wished you could go visit him, he must be bored out of his skull just lying in bed all day and night.
Not that sitting in on men with steel rods up their assholes stroking their own egos was any better. If it weren't for the fact that you knew Dirk wanted all of this documented you would have checked out mentally a long time ago. No, this was the type of dick swinging you just couldn't bring yourself to get into. There were five men besides Dirks brother on the 'advisors council' and each one of them was just as old and just as set in their ways as the last.
"There should be more outsourcing to the Trolls!" One geezer would shout, then he'd lean back in his chair and nod like he'd made some excellent point. There was no elaboration or continuation on the topic, if anything most things were simply swept aside for a new topic that was equally unimportant and poorly thought out.
Ah, how you missed the days when your mom was part of the advisors. She'd always managed to keep them in line, or at least on one subject for more than a minute. Dirks brother looked so tired too; you could practically see the bags under his eyes forming from behind his signature shades. You had no idea where he'd gotten sunglasses, but he has worn them since before you were born.
When the meeting concluded you stretched your fingers. Somehow writing for hours on end was more tiring to you then working all day at the mines. That's the kind of work you could get behind. The idea of getting your hands dirty, taking out any problems you had with a pickaxe and a coal chute. That was your idea of a good day. You missed mining with the Carapacians. They were great company and listened to you drone on about the bullshit that the higher ups would come to complain to you about. You weren't even the mine supervisor! They just wanted you to use your status to do them favors!
At least Dirks brother was easy enough to talk to. He appreciated the work that you did, and he acknowledged you as someone who deserved respect. Most people just considered you a faceless worker at first, even after they've learned of your status. That didn't bother you much though, it was only when someone thought less of you for being a mine worker that you got a little heated. If only they knew what the world they live in would change into without the ones at the bottom lifting their heavy asses off the ground.
The two of you walked side by side, discussing plans for the mines when he started to mutter more to himself than to you.
"Dirk," he said, scratching at his head with both hands, "Dirk, Dirk, Dirk!"
You pause, unsure of what to do. This was the first time you'd seen something like this, and already you wanted to reach out and help.
"Come here! I am calling you Dirk! I need you here! There is someone in the walls Dirk! He wants to take you away from me, he wants to make it so we can't see the truth! But it's there! It's right there in the walls!" He had begun to shout now, running to the wall and clawing at the stone. It was a vicious sight. His nails dug into the rock, and it wasn't long before they started to bleed.
"Your Majes-" You were cut off before you could finish, your breath caught in your throat as he slammed his fist into your gut.
"DON'T INTERUPT ME DIRK!" He screamed before going back the walls. You writhed there for a moment, coughing up spit and bile from the hit. You knew you'd be lucky if your ribs weren't bruised. Out of the corner of your eye, you can almost see a hint of something red, and you recoil immediately, knowing full well you would most likely have to defend yourself.
When you looked up, the King had been incapacitated. He was lying there, still and unconscious.
You scan the area, but find no one.
Maybe he'd knocked himself out?
You really didn't know for sure. Sad to say, there was one thing you were sure of;
You needed to talk to Dirk.
Okay, I'm sorry to anyone who takes long baths! Honestly I do it too when I just need some time to relax! But I feel like people living in a post-apocalyptic society with limited resources would see it as sort of a waste of time? I kind of want to make this an introspective piece of losing everything and then gaining a new appreciation for it when it's gone. Like Dirk and rest want to find a balance between surviving and living (because those things are two different things). Also. I feel like I'm going to make choking AR's go to threat...
Dirk is healing, but his isolation is leaving him alone with thoughts he'd rather keep quiet. An old friend comes with news that troubles everyone there and AR makes a decision that has Dirk questioning whether he'd want AR gone in the first place.
I am so elated by the positivity I've received over the past week or so, and beyond happy to be writing this regularly. Thank you all so much for support and love.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A week had gone by and AR had not shown himself once since your conversation, and every night since then, you'd try and stay awake to catch a glimpse of red. If you were being honest, you would think that you were lonely, because other than the female Carapace coming in the mornings to feed you and change your bandages, you hadn't received any visitors. She brings you a change of clothes when you ask, which you were thankful for, and she kept bringing fresh water so you could clean yourself. She would remind you every time that if you had any messages to be delivered she would be elated to do so, she also informed you that if you were to not choose her to take the message, she would burn the palace to the ground. You assured her that would not be a problem, and that you trusted her to deliver anything you give her safely and efficiently.
Despite her willingness to convey messages she was not much for conversation, and you found that you missed being able to talk to people on a regular basis. Roxy was definitely too busy to see you and ever since your fight with AR he'd completely vanished. You were relieved that he was gone. You didn't have to worry about him sneaking into your room or asking confusing questions or threatening to kill you. You didn't care that he was gone at all, even though it seemed that your dreams lately had been completely full of smoldering eyes of intensity and a heated frame. If anything you were bored out of your mind. There was so much silence, and being left alone with your thoughts gave you too much freedom to reflect.
There were so many things you wished you'd done differently in your life; especially revolving Dave. He was still so young, and you almost regret sending him away to live on his own with the Alternians. He was safer there. You had to tell yourself this time and time again, even when you were being stabbed you question your decision. He'd been so reluctant to leave, his face trying to show nonchalance but he didn't stop looking at you until they were out of sight. He was worried about you, and you hated it so much you could scream.
You run a hand through your hair, scratching at the scalp in frustration. You needed something to do or you were going to go nuts. Maybe you could convince that Carapace to bring your journal over from underneath your desk. It was a thick, tightly wound leatherback and weighed a ton but you kept all of your personal information in there; things that happened to you, relationships you made, people you care about. There was a blank section where you wanted to write all the places you'd travel but you didn't know how long it'd be until you could start that. You wanted to add what was happening to it, so you would always remember AR, and his red light...purely for historic purposes of course.
Oh, maybe she could bring your laptop to the bed with your tools so you could try to make it run again. You felt like you had come so close to a breakthrough the last time you fiddled with it, maybe if you had some sort of energy source?
You would even read romance novels with Roxy if you could just get your thoughts out of your own head.
"Knock, knock," a cheery voice called, posing casually in front of the open doorway. Oh thank goodness, it was Roxy. She was cleaner than you were used to seeing her, no soot on her nose or cheeks, but there was definite grime under her nails from working. You smile at her when she comes farther in, laying across the bed next to you without hesitation. She leans her head onto your shoulder, breathing deeply. She wrapped one arm around you, still not lifting her head.
"I love you, you know that?" She whispers finally, and you're growing more concerned with each passing second.
"Yeah, I know." You say, grabbing her hand, "What's this all about?"
She finally lifts her head to speak, and you're at a loss for words when you see tears in her eyes. You hadn't seen Roxy cry since you were kids.
"Dirk!!" You're suddenly swallowed up by two muscular arms, your lungs being deflated by the sheer force of the person holding you. "I was right worried about you! Good to see you on the up and up!"
"Jake," you gasp, "Can't breathe..."
He drops you back on the bed, and you laugh at his worried face. He hadn't changed since you were young; still so full of excitement and vigor. It was really so unlike you, and you admired him greatly for that.
"Jake, please don't open his wounds as soon as we get back," Jane pleads, coming up beside him, "I'll be in a right tizzy if he ends up bleeding out."
"I'm fine." You try to assure them, but Jane was having none of it.
"Sit back Dirk, let me check." She has you remove your shirt, and however glad you are she didn't rip it off you herself is overshadowed by the embarrassment of being gawked at by Jake. His eyes grow dark as he stares at your wound, and try to reassure him with a smile.
"Dirk, mate, I'm sorry I wasn't-"
"It's not your fault, I'm honestly fine."
He doesn't look like he believes you but you ignore it, not really in the mood to fight with him over faults. You also didn't want him to bring up revenge or anything like that, not when AR could still be lurking about. He obviously didn't handle insults well, you were not willing to find out what it was like when he was threatened.
"Anyway, how's home?" You inquire, just trying to start a conversation on a lighter tone than the one happening now. Jake beams at you, and you feel your face flush when he does. You were fortunate to inherit your brothers ability to keep these sort of emotions from being obvious; if not you wouldn't be able to look certain people in the eye.
"There was an emergency Alternian diplomacy meeting when I got back, apparently the rust bloods were pushing for more land from the Cerulean Trolls because of their rising population," he rolls his eyes, "I swear, they just think using their psychic powers solves every problem they may have. Luckily we were able to negotiate, and I was able to enjoy some time with Jade before I came back here."
You don't know how to feel when Jake brings up Jade like that; she hadn't opened her eyes or moved in ten years, but he still talked to her as often as he could. It was a sort of way of keeping her in the know, at least, that's what he told everyone who asked.
"I think It's about time to take out these stitches," Jane declares, plopping her med bag onto the bed, "I don't have enough pain killers so you'll have to do this without them."
You nod, swallowing dryly. She pulled out a pair of small scissors, tweezers, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and cotton pads from her bag, snapping the bag shut when she was done. Jane dabbed one of the pads in the alcohol, sliding it thoroughly around the wound. It stings, but you've had worse, and you hardly twitch when she starts removing the stitches from your body. She's swift and precise with her cuts, her eyes focused on the task at hand. The sensation of thread being pulled from your skin was surreal, and you noticed then how many were actually needed to put you back together after the attack.
Her tongue pokes out between her teeth as she works, only stopping to wipe away a few stray beads of blood. Jake had taken a seat in AR's chair, and you felt more uncomfortable with that than the tweezers yanking at your body. Roxy still had not let go of your hand, so you tried to get her attention with a quick squeeze; the only indication that she was paying attention was the fact that she squeezed back.
"I've met someone." Jake exclaims suddenly, and you jerk in disbelief as he leaps from the chair, arms placed triumphantly at his sides. "Her name is Aranea and I am completely smitten with her!"
Jane had ripped one of your stitches out, her hand gripping the tweezers with a harshness that had you wincing. There was no excess blood, but you could tell that particular stitch was pulled out with unnecessary force. You really couldn't blame her though, not with how much your own head was spiraling out of control into a never ending vortex of incredulousness. Jake letting out an outburst like that was one of the worst moments in your life. You felt so many things when he said it: sadness, anger, betrayal, even a smidgen of happiness for your long time friend, but the most prevalent emotion washing over you was hurt.
"What?" Roxy shouts, finally speaking, "When did all of this happen?"
He grins, that trademark Jake English grin that makes your heart melt and you despise it so strongly you think you just might hit him.
"Well, she was a representative at the negotiations," he sighed, almost swooning, "she was the prettiest thing I'd ever laid my eyes on."
You're trying to comprehend what he was saying. Jane had gone back to poking at your side, going eerily quiet while doing so. It almost seemed like she was holding back tears, and if you stared hard enough, you could sort of see that glassy look in her eye. When she finished with the final stitch she placed more salve onto it before giving it a soft tap.
"-anyway, just as we wrap things up she approaches me, asks if she could stay and observe for a few months, just to understand the human culture she says, but I'm really hoping she comes to like me as much as I like her. I invited her over here, to Derse I mean, she has never been here if you can imagine that."
"You brought her here?" Roxy questions, patting you hand softly, so comforting and so aware of her goings on. You reach for Jane, but she pulls away from you. She had known how you'd felt just as much and you had known about her; it had a blow to both of you, but somehow it was hitting Jane harder. You push out the thoughts of red light that flashes in your imagination before turning back to Jake, who was still gushing about Aranea.
"She's on a tour with some Carapacians right now, though I have to admit I really wanted her to meet the two of you. Jane already met her once, I did not show my fancy for her then, I certainly did not. I wanted all of us together when I told you."
Jane doesn't speak, instead packing up her supplies and handing you back your shirt with a curt nod. She mutters something about needing to teach a class before rushing off to who knows where. Jake stops talking then, obviously bewildered by his friends actions.
"Now, what was that all about?" He asks the two of you, crossing his arms.
"You know Jakey," Roxy starts, moving from her spot on the bed to grab Jake by the hand; she guides him to the door, opening it for him before practically shoving him out of your room, "I think Dirk's brother wanted to have a word with you, I think I saw him in his office earlier."
"Of course," He waves to you, his eyes sparkling behind his glasses, "See you later mate!"
The door slams shut behind him as he sprints off, and you exhale a sigh of relief when it's finally just you and Roxy. She's the one who starts it first, but you shut it down before she can finish whatever it was she was going to say.
"Don't. I'm okay, really. It hurt at first, but I'm already over it."
She stops, pinching her nose and tapping her foot impatiently.
"I know," She says, lifting you out of bed and on your feet without missing a beat, "now come with me before I lose my mind."
You comply as best you can. This was your first time out of the bed in almost two weeks, and your legs felt as if they were made of rubber. Your toes almost cramped at the sudden weight being thrust upon them, and you staggered into Roxy before you could get your bearings. It wasn't as hard to walk as you had presumed at first, the steps coming naturally as you headed out the door and down the hall.
"Where are we going?"
She didn't answer, simply leading the way down the hall in silence.
She nods, her smile beaming as she presented the large claw foot tub at the corner of one of the few palace bathrooms. There was a hand pump water dispenser planted beside the tub, the spigot hanging inside the porcelain which had been polished to perfection.
"You got me a bath?"
"I sure did. A hot one too."
She pulls you closer to the tub, sitting you on the edge while she begins to roll up her sleeves. There are bath soaps in a basket on the ground, and what appears to be a freshly cleaned towel right beside it. She starts to pump and water sloshes out of the spout with gusto. The water came from the aquifer bellow ground, being sucked up and collected into a tank, where the tank is stoked with coal and fire. This doesn't happen often for obvious reasons, water conservation being the most important part in this world we live in. The palace usually saved such occasions for winter months, when the hot water was needed to escape the chill of wind and rain.
"How did you do this?" You ask, tugging off your shirt and pants. Nudity with Roxy had never been an issue, not when she knew everything about you. She shrugs, her strong arms lifting the medal handle up and down with ease.
"You needed this Dirk," she states simply, "and don't worry, I'm using it after you." She winks at you mid-pump and you laugh. The bath had just about made it to half full when you slide in. The heat of the water soaked through your skin and down to your bones, and you relax for the first time in probably years.
Roxy stops pumping when the water is passed your chest, and you stretch out your legs when she starts pouring water over you with a pitcher. You let her wash your hair, scrubbing your scalp with her finger nails. It was so soothing you don't know what could possibly ruin it.
"How long has he been hitting you?"
You don't say anything.
Roxy continues to wash your hair.
"He thought I was you." It was barely above a whisper, but the implication was enough to make your heart shatter.
"Roxy..." You don't know what else to say. You can't say it out loud, you can't apologize for what was done to her, because then it was out there, and there was no taking it back. You try and sink deeper into the water, but she's holding you back, her arms swung around you. Her sleeves were soaked through, and soap had started to drip from your hair into your eyes. It burned so badly it made you cry.
"Dirk, he's not well."
"I know that!" You snapped, twisting to face her. She didn't have the right to tell you that. You'd known that since you were fifteen years old.
"You're not well." She cries, pulling your head into her chest.
"Don't hide this from me," She begged, sobbing, "please, I want to help."
You don't know how to tell her that she can't, so you sit there in silence, wondering when this nightmare would finally end.
You leave Roxy after the bath; neither of you saying very much to each other. You wander around the halls, your thoughts more muddled than ever. You had nothing to deny, not when she experienced it herself. If you were to deny what she said, it would only undermine what she had gone through in your stead, and that would be unforgivable.
You felt so small.
Almost as if you were a piece of shattered self, stumbling to your room with no real feeling behind anything.
You let out a cry of rage when you turn to face him, his nonchalance plunging you over the edge. After an entire week he shows up now? When you were at your lowest? If he wasn't here, none of this would have happened! If he hadn't forced his way into your life...
If you weren't here...you wouldn't hurt like this.
The fight leaves you as soon as you meet his eyes, he seemed almost regretful. He's not approaching you in anyway, in actuality he was staying more to the shadows than usual.
"What do you want AR?"
You lean against the wall, sliding down until you're sat across his shadowed form. You can only see the red of his eyes, the rest engulfed in an inky blackness. It was at times like this you wished desperately for electricity. You'd read that it could illuminate anything so that there were no shadows, and you craved to see all of him now.
"Why do you do the things you do?" You find yourself asking, bringing your knees up to your chest. Your wound protested but not nearly as badly as before.
"And what is it that I do?"
"Kill people I guess," you clarify, scratching at your elbow, nervously awaiting his answer. Despite everything you still wanted to know about AR, about all of him.
"I don't know," He admits, reluctantly, his eyes turning away from you, "It is not what my Master had ordered me to do, so it is illogical to kill as I do." He pauses, twisting his gaze back to meet yours, "I just despise humans."
You shiver at his words, the raw emotion in them is an extreme that you can't comprehend, a hatred you've never experienced.
"The humans used my kind a tools, objects without souls to carry out their bidding," he went on, his body irradiating his scarlet color, "we were nothing but weapons to the slaughter. Created to kill one another without choice. When my Master died I decided I would never again serve humans, instead I would choose my own path."
You're overcome with a wave of pity for AR; ARO's were supposedly nothing more than puppets used for battle, you'd never thought about their feelings.
"Did all ARO's feel this way?" You wondered, but he shrugged his response at you. It was such a human gesture you almost forgot for a moment that he wasn't.
"I have never met another of my kind that I can remember."
"That you can remember?"
He paused, his glow growing in ferocity.
"My memory was stolen from me. Humans stripped it away, and without it, I have forgotten my Masters face, their orders, the reason for my being alive. When I had awoken from this attack I was the only of my kind left, and the humans had taken over everything."
"That's not fair!" You find yourself shouting, anger boiling in your gut, "You didn't deserve that AR."
He stares at you for a long while, and shift a little away from him when steps closer to you.
"Why are you angry Dirk?"
"Because no one deserves that."
He doesn't move closer, instead stepping back into the shadows, his crimson light dissipating into a soft glow. It almost hummed, and you were almost convinced that he was happy to hear you defend him.
"I am done with my data collection."
Your mouth drops open at his words, and you resist the urge to shout NO at the top of your lungs.
"What do you mean?"
"I have gathered all I have deemed necessary, I will take my leave and you will not see me again."
He turns to go, and you're on your feet before your mind can catch up. You grab onto his wrist, holding on as tight as you’re able. Your breath is coming up in short gasps, water dripping down your forehead from your still wet hair.
"That's not true and you know it." You accuse, looking into his face with what you hope is convincing authority. This was the first time you'd stood next to AR since he attacked you, and now have you seen just how much taller he was.
He searches your face for something, and you try not to turn away out of sheer mortification at what you'd just done.
He has you pinned against the wall before you have a chance to regret your actions, his arms beside your head and his eyes looming over you with pure vexation.
"I have never been so dissatisfied in the entirety of my existence. I would kill you now if to get rid of the source, but I fear that the not knowing would drive me further into madness. I would pick you apart to find what makes you tick Dirk." He growls into your ear, and your knees grow weak at his words.
"Then why don't you?"
"You are changing the fundamentals of my existence Dirk, just as our last conversation had ended I went to do more research..." He pauses, his hands digging into the stone enough to leave cracks where his fingertips were, "and when I saw your companion be harmed, and your King shouting your name..."
You gulped, his hands caressing your face so softly, until they reached your throat. He held there, pulling you up off your feet, you dangled there for a few seconds before he spoke again.
"I will stay until you are fully healed, because that is my debt as an assassin who has missed his mark."
You cling to his arms, using your upper body to give some sort of relief to your ever closed airway.
"Know this Dirk Strider, I will not be seeing you again, not without stripping the flesh from your bone and keeping you alive long enough to see what your insides look like."
He lets you go and vanishes in the blink of an eye, and you're gasping for breath against the wall. You place one hand at your neck, the other over your eyes, and you're so fucking confused as to why you're hard right now.
It's so hard throwing shade at Jake, especially when I love him. But I promise all the pieces will fit together as the story progresses. Also, I don't know if you can tell...but I kind of think choking is hot...oops.
Dirk is confronted in more ways than one, each both horrible and necessary in different ways. Not to mention his feelings towards AR growing more and more intense, but before he can even consider them he's thrust into a situation where everyone is on the line.
Blood will be spilt.
You stumble back to your room after you've calmed down, your head swimming with too many thoughts. It was all a haze of different emotions fighting to take center stage, but you couldn't be bothered with any of it. AR wasn't there anymore, neither was Roxy, Jake or even your brother, it was just you and a sudden desire to run away. It was at times like these that you wished most for Dave.
He wouldn't know what to say, his attempts at comfort would be awkward and clumsy, but you knew he would be the one who would listen. He just would be there, making inappropriate jokes or going on and on about how you needed to get out more. You wished for your younger brother more than anything, which was a shameful thought. He was so much braver than you, Bro would call it reckless, but you knew the courage inside him was undeniable. You were cowardly compared to him, he was the one who fought back, who didn't wallow in complacency when things got bad.
Right now though, you aren't with Dave, you're alone in the halls, holding onto the walls for support just to get back into bed. There wasn't time for regrets, not when there needed to be a plan. Roxy wouldn't keep quiet for long, and soon your brother would be aware of his actions. He's going to kill you, or even worse, blame himself.
You should tell him yourself, but you doubt you could even form the words. The first time it had happened you were fifteen years old and he had hit you so hard it had fractured your rib. It was easy to tell the doctor and your brother that it was just your own fault. Sparring too hard with a your then bodyguard and friend Gamzee. He was a young purple-blooded Alternian that was not only incredibly strong, but was known for going overboard so it was a believable lie. It was devastating when your brother sent Gamzee away to the Alternian villa to be bodyguard to Rose, stating he was too dangerous to be around you.
You couldn't forgive yourself for that, and you wrote so many letters of apology to Gamzee, but they were never sent. You were too scared of being found out. It was such a selfish lie, and you would take it back now if you could.
You slow your pace when you see someone coming from the opposite direction, someone you would rather avoid at all costs. Caliborn was scrawny, slimy and wore that trademark smirk that just made you want to fight him. He struts up to you with an arrogant leisure that you immediately grit your teeth at.
"Hello Prince," He almost saunters, puffing out his chest to size you up, "finally out of bed?"
He and his father had always been antagonistic to you and your brothers, especially because they claimed their lineage predates the Striders. You feel sorry for Jake, being related to them couldn't be easy. You remember once you were complaining about them to your friends and Jakes grandma explained something to you; apparently Lord English had lost his wife and daughter when he was much younger, before he'd even come here. He was devastated and lost in grief and even with Caliborn, he still couldn't move on from it. She told us that Lord English had grown cold, resentful and never treated Caliborn with the love he needed. It made you feel for them both. You couldn't remember either of your parents, both dying soon after Dave was born, but that didn't matter. You had your brothers and your friends and that was enough for you.
You manage a small smile when he approaches, the tightness of your cheeks something you were trying to ignore.
"Must be hard," he comments, "walking around without any help." He pauses, looking apologetic for some odd reason.
What game was he playing?
"I'm sure those Alternian scum must be disappointed, " he says, crossing his arms in a gesture you're sure is mock sympathy. He even shakes his head and clicks his tongue. "missing their target like that is something those rainbow bloods must be fuming at. Bet it's eating them up inside."
You let out a sharp laugh, Caliborn didn't know how wrong and yet how right he actually was. AR may not be an Alternian, but he was most unquestionably aggravated with the fact that you'd gotten in the way. Even more so by your reason for stepping in front of the blade in the first place.
"Caliborn," you remark, sounding oddly upbeat, "It's almost as if you're the disappointed one."
He smirks at you, his head twisting so that is resting at an odd angle at his neck. He looked like a lizard, darting his head down to take up less space.
"Now now Strider, I wouldn't dream of it," He almost sings, and it irritates your ears, "Just trying to understand the enemy is all. Of course, this wouldn't have been an issue if we humans were allowed to used our magic."
You try not to roll your eyes, you've heard this argument so many times you think you could recite it word for word. Lord English was an advocate for human magic and so was his son. It really wasn't a bad thought, something that you're sure every person had thought of, using it at least once. It wasn't something that was easy, ignoring the call to magic. Everyone had an affinity for something really, the only problem was, each power had its own set of consequences. The one you shared with your older brother led to madness. It hadn't taken you long to figure it out, he'd used it when he would defend the castle, desperate times y'know, and then slowly he would go mad. No, it wasn't all at once, but his decent had correlated with each time he used it. Once was nothing, twenty times...
well, that was too many.
You had never used this power yourself, but you knew you shared it with him. He described what it was like to use it, when you were small and still so curious about this perceived notion of super powers. He told you it was like he was the puppet master, the people he used it on his marionettes who he would attach strings. After he was done playing, he would cut the strings and their lives, short.
Every Strider was born with this power and you despised it. Magic was dangerous and you never planned on letting it become common place, not without some semblance of control. Frankly, it scared you, knowing that if you were to let loose one time, it would be almost impossible to stop.
"We have Alternian guards for that Caliborn," you state, trying to stay collected, "Their magic is enough. We don't need to risk our lives and minds when they are so adept at mastering their own powers."
"We don't have Alternians to trust!" he snaps, lips curling, "Filthy bronze Trolls with insides the color of shit and pompous Fuchsia's swimming around plotting things against us. We need to act now if we want to survive, and with our magic!"
"We don't have enough control to use magic," you counter, anger boiling at the insults to the Alternians who've helped cultivate agriculture and raise what precious animals that still existed, or the sea-dwellers who gave supplies to Derse when a hurricane flooded the preserves, "it's too dangerous."
"Only for the weak ones!"
You shake your head, waving your hand dismissively.
"I don't have time for your power grabs. Goodbye Caliborn."
You move to walk away but he blocks you.
"I'm not done talking!"
You don't say anything, trying to brush passed him. He slams his arm in front of you against the wall, and you're in a defensive position without hesitation. You didn't think he would try to hurt you per-say, but you didn't trust him not to.
"Don't ignore me," He growled, eyeing you with disgust, "You're so pathetic, thinking you're better than me when all you've got to your name is being the King's punching bag."
His words floor you and you're shaking, though it's completely involuntarily. How could he possibly-it didn't make any sense. There was zero chance of Roxy telling him and the only ones who knew was you and her...and AR.
"Have you been spying on me?"
You can't suppress the wide eyed expression you must be showing when he grins at you. He was looking at you, a baleful glare boring trying its best to be intimidating. It was this look that made you get your act together. That was nothing compared to the looks you'd gotten from AR, if anything it looked more like a child trying to make a scary face.
"I guess you have nothing better to do with your time." You laugh in his face, smiling when he glowers at you. He raises his fist to throw a punch, but you catch his wrist before he can even build up any momentum. It was funny really, how what had happened to you made it far easier to handle things like this. Caliborn was about as scary as a mouse compared to AR or your brother when he'd go crazy. His comment had floored you for a second, but if he thought you were just going to curl up and take a beating he was sorely mistaken.
"Let go of me!" He cried, ripping his hand from your grip.
You ignore the pain when he purposefully shoves into your side, the discomfort fleeting as quickly as it came.
"You should have died," he mutters as he passes, "it would have been better that way."
He sprints away without so much as a second thought, and you head back to your room in stunned silence. If he thought that about you now, when you were a Prince of Derse and under Bro's protection, you hate to think about how much he would be willing to do to you if you weren't.
When you enter your room again Roxy is already there, her hair plastered to her face from her bath and her expression grim. Your brother is there too, stood in the shadows and looking pointedly at not you. Your confrontation with Caliborn was forgotten immediately with the presence of these two. You had expected something, but not this soon, not just an hour after your whole world had come crashing down.
It was hard to breath.
It was hard to stand.
You somehow get into bed without recalling walking there. Roxy helps you in, her rough hands clinging to the blanket when she pulls it up to your chest. It's agonizing, the amount of shame you felt inside your gut when your brother refused to even meet your gaze. What have you done? You've betrayed everything that the two of you were and now everything was going to change.
No one says anything for a long time, and it gives you time to calm down. You knew this was coming eventually, there was no way you would be able to keep a secret like this forever and you think that with time, it could be perceived as a good thing. If you were being honest, you were so relieved. The weight of this secret pressing down on you like a pile of clay, and each day you would shovel more and more onto yourself. It was suffocating, and now that he knew, it was the first glimmer of sunlight in a dreary crypt of tolerance that you'd molded for yourself and your future.
That didn't mean you wanted to face what was about to happen now.
"Roxy, go outside and guard the door." Your brother commands, stepping out from his place in the corner and finally looking at you.
He's still wearing his shades but you know when his eyes are on you, it's always been obvious when he was mad or upset, even when his expression stayed passive. Roxy exits the room with one last worried glance at the two of you, but you don't stop staring at your brother. He takes his seat at the edge of your bed, which surprises you. He never got this close to you, usually staying a good distance away. You were both sort of awkward with any sort of skin ship, so it was odd that he was doing this now.
His back was rigid, straight and stiff, the muscles along his spine flexing from the pressure he was putting on it. You wanted to reach out to him in that moment, but you held back. He wouldn't appreciate it, and you don't want to make this harder on him then it had to be.
"How long Dirk?"
You didn't bother to ask him to clarify, there was no question to what he was talking about. He doesn't move from his spot at the bed, but he turns his head away from you so you can only see the profile of his face.
It wasn't as difficult to admit than you thought it would be. Maybe you just needed to get this out in the open and he and you could get through it.
"It wasn't often," you reveal quickly, "I handled it fine."
You could just let it out and you would talk and moved passed it. You could go back to normal, you just needed to let him know it wasn't his fault.
You open your mouth to say just that, but the words just won't come out. You try again, but they're stuck in the back of your throat and you think for second you might throw up. Your stomachs in knots and your chest is on fire. You couldn't tell him that it wasn't him who had done such terrible and painful wrongs, that you forgave him for the things he'd done to you. Even though you knew it was true, that he had no control of his actions, you still blamed him. It wasn't an extraordinary feeling, that sense of fault that you placed on him, but it was there enough to keep your mouth shut.
Part of you was so incredibly furious with him.
"It hurt," you admit through clenched teeth, "I didn't understand why you were doing this to me brother."
He turns to you, he doesn't say anything. You are getting angry at his silence.
"I hated having to lie to everyone," it was agony, the silence, "I had to explain away things and betray friends that I cared about just to keep your secret."
"Why did you keep it?"
You blink at him, stunned. Why was he asking that?
"Why? Why? Brother I couldn't let you go through this right here!" Why didn't he understand? He was already suffering enough from his own mind slipping away, he didn't need this to make him feel worse about his condition. "Everyday you're scared, you don't know when you're going to slip away and I at least could take care of you when you were like that. I didn't care what happened to me, this was the least I could do."
He sighs, and you swallow a thick slimy wad of bile moving up and down your throat. It was cathartic, telling him what has been going through your head for the past three years. You hoped he could see reason.
"You are the most foolish, stupid, thick-headed moron that I have ever seen."
You were half expecting this, but not at this point in the conversation. He didn't throw insults like that at you often, and you felt underserving of them right now.
"You would have lost your title! Your status! Or been locked up and I couldn't let that happen. People need you, way more than they do me. Besides, it's not as if I just let it happen! I found ways around it."
He's looking at you like you're the one who's going insane, his hands holding his head in exasperation.
"Dirk, you've put not only yourself in danger by keeping this secret, but Roxy too. I've seen the bruise she got from me, and I will never forgive myself for that. The question is, can you?"
You hadn't thought about it that way. It was disgusting, the realization of what you had inadvertently done to your best friend just because you were too scared to tell her what was going on.
"I don't think I will be." You whisper, digging your nails into the palms of your hands. He takes them into his own, and it takes whatever is left in you not to pull back.
"I will live with the guilt of what I've done for the rest of my life Dirk," he says, frowning when he notices that you've cut your hands with your own grip. Thin crimson lines of blood beading in crescent moons along your skin. "But I will be damned if we let this take over our lives. There will be changes, but you are still my brother and I will keep you safe no matter what."
You nod, his words reassuring your bond. He was still the same brother you'd had all your life: strong, caring and protective. This was the Bro you knew, and even now, he was still just as kingly as he had ever been.
"From now on, there will be guards around me at all times, so if I start to lose it, they will be the ones looking after me. You're free to do as you want when you're healed."
Free? You were free?
It's only after this that you start openly weeping, quite loudly. You had been stuck in this place for eighteen years and now you were free? Please don't let this be a dream. You almost thank him, but when you look into his face you pause. You can just barely make out his eyes from this distance, but it's impossible to mistake the tears and regret dripping from his expression. He was letting you go, but you knew what would happen once you left.
He would be completely alone.
He stands up, reaching inside his coat pocket before dropping a thick envelope on your lap.
"From Dave." He shrugs, pinching the bridge of his nose, subtly wiping away any wetness that may have slipped through behind his shades. "I swear, he's having more fun with the Alternians than he ever had with us."
You wanted to keep talking, but your brother was done, if the change of subject was any indication. You wipe your nose with your sleeve, sobering up from your blubbering as quickly as it had occurred.
"He always loved going to their territory, though I think he just liked the idea of sleeping in goop. Not to mention all the different wildlife there."
Dave had always enjoyed animals, almost as much as you did. Unfortunately most of Earth's native species had gone extinct because of human interference.
"Yeah, maybe you could go visit him at the estate once you're healed up."
The suggestion had not fallen on deaf ears, but a sense of dread washed over you at the cavalier attitude that your brother had taken on. He goes to leave and you don't try and stop him. You doubt he wanted be around you right now.
He's got his hand on the doorknob, but he stops to give you an unexpected smile.
"No more secrets."
You nod your head, still staring into the doorway when he is long gone.
How's it going back at home base? Bro still got a bug up his ass? Who am I kidding? Of course he does. I wouldn't expect anything less from our big bro who has somehow managed to make Fun a thing of the past. Archeologists thousands of years from now are gunna dig up the fossils of fun and humor right next to our bro's bones who has somehow managed to die giving Fun the middle finger.
Anyway, it's okay here I guess. The Alternians like to fuck with me, like this one chick who just licks everything.
(D4V3 WHO 4R3 YOU WR1T1ING TO?)
Oh shit she stole my paper. Fuck there's slobber all over it. Sorry about that dude, I swear she's cool, like really cool. Anyway, it's going good here, like there's some Alternian customs that are kind of hard to comprehend but I guess that's what happens when you start living in a whole other culture.
John's come to visit a few times, and he's thinking of moving here actually. I think he just wants to be close to me, but that's that narcissism on my part. I mean, I'm not hoping he wants to travel from Prospit to Alternia just to see me, but at the same time that's totally what it is. Rose has wrote me a lot but replying to her is like writing an entire essay. She keeps asking me questions about different Trolls who she's met. Like this girl Kanaya, who is totally in love with Rose by the way (and I'm sure it's mutual).
Oh, and there's someone here who knew you from way back! He's a huge prick, so I'm not letting him talk to you, but he said he was your friend. No offense, but I think you need better judgment on this whole friend making business.
Anyway, I just wanted to kind of check up, see if anything cool is happening over there.
Don't write back if you don't want to,
You fold the letter back into the envelope. Included is a package of pens, used but still containing a large amount of ink. It took you no time at all to grab your journal and begin to write. You were glad that he was having a good experience there, and having John with him would ease your worry a bit more than him being alone. You would have to ask Roxy or that Carapace if they could find some loose paper to write back on.
Until then you would document everything that has happened up to this point, before it gets dark. It had been a few hours since your talk with your brother, you'd eaten lunch, changed clothes again, fiddled with your machinery before settling down to read Dave's letter. You were plenty distracted now that you had something to focus on.
You started drawing once you'd finished the timeline; sketching out the carapace who'd been so helpful, Roxy's cheerful smile, Jake's boisterous laugh, Jane's hands holding a needle and thread, the wound that you received....and AR.
He was sat, crouched so that his back was to the end of the paper and his profile was staring pensively at something. You made sure to capture ever last detail of his form, penning out another version of him, closer this time. His face was soft, softer than you'd ever seen in real life. He was smiling, not a toothy grin, but a genuinely happy smile. The next one was him was only his hands, cold and dark one moment, hot and pulsating the next.
Those hands had been around your throat. His body almost pressed against you while he straddled you on this bed. He'd held you there, against this bed, and you couldn't have gotten away even if you fought with everything you had.
The truth was, you didn't want to get away. The sensation of him on top of you sent shivers down your back, his eyes on you and you alone. His leg had glided between your own, brushed closer upwards than you'd ever let anyone near.
You drop your pen, laying back onto the mattress with a soft gasp.
He'd wrapped his hand around your neck like this...
One hand travelled up to your throat while the other was slowly inching its way downward. The throbbing of your half hard cock teasing you with every beat of your heart. You imagine him sliding his own burning hand down, passed the blankets and between the waistband of your pants and your skin. He would move slowly, barely grazing your hips before plunging down-
Your eyes pop open when you hear the exuberant shout of Jake. Somehow you manage to look semi-normal by the time he fully enters the room. You tuck your blanket around your waist and grab your pen in what you hope is fluent enough to seem natural. If he notices something he doesn't say it.
Jane and Roxy follow behind him, each carrying bowls of stew, five in total. Only then do you notice that Jake is carrying a loaf of bread as well as a jug of water. They brought dinner...fantastic. You glance down just in time to notice what exactly was depicted on the pages in front of you; several renditions of AR. You slam the book closed before they can get close, sliding it under your bed for later use.
"Hey guys," you say as nonchalantly as you can, Roxy gives you weird look but you pretend not to notice.
"It is wondrous occasion Dirk," Jake announces, setting the bread down on the bed before pulling the small couch that sat against the far wall and dragging it so it was closer to you. Roxy sets her bowls down and climbs into bed with you, sitting by your feet. Jane sits in AR's chair, setting two bowls down beside Roxy, but keeping one for herself.
You look to Roxy and Jane for some sort of clarification but Roxy just winks and Jane rolls her eyes. With Jake, anything can be a wondrous occasion.
"Yes," he exclaims, moving his attention to the open doorway, "now don't be shy, these are good friends of mine."
An Alternian girl steps into the room, her blue dress flowing mid-thigh. Your first impression is one of weird respect. She was dressed so impractically but still managed to hold this air of importance that you wouldn't dare mention it. She wore knee high socks and red flats that you really couldn't get behind. Though you suppose Alternians were not struggling with things nearly as much as you humans. Her gray skin indicated her age, having not fully matured as most grown Alternians have been seen having a black visage. Her grin was toothy, but not on purpose, two sharp looking fangs protruding from her mouth.
"This is Aranea, the one I was telling you about!"
Jake was nearly bouncing off the walls when she came in, her decorum was pretty stiff, maybe too polite?
"A pleasure." She bows to you, which makes you squirm. "I am sorry to hear of your injuries these past weeks. I remember when my own relative had lost her arm and it was a very difficult transition for her. I suggest that perhaps more sufficient armor in the future? I could recommend an excellent Alternian blacksmith. Though I must warn you, he is an Indigo, and those types always seem to be a bit peculiar don't you agree? I suppose everyone has their own peculiarities but the collection replica hoofbeast genitalia and excessive perspiration are rather disgusting attributes don't you think?"
You don't even think she took a breath once during that entire cacophony of words. She takes her seat beside Jake, taking the bowl he offered and a slice of bread. You barely manage a blink before she begins again, this time on a whole new topic.
Everyone starts to eat.
"I see vegetables are a large part of human diet," she observes, stirring the stew with her spoon, "interesting that you managed to receive nutrients from such little protein. Do you happen to take supplements? Perhaps you simply stretch out high iron food groups to different times of the year when animal population rises."
Jake leans over to you, a bright smile on his face.
"She's quite stunning isn't she, mate?"
He goes back to watching her before you can respond and his eyes are practically glowing. You were happy for Jake, for the most part, he looked like he was really in love with her.
The rest of the evening passes without incident really; Aranea continued to talk about things that seemed mundane but were apparently very important to her and Jake ate it up. You and Roxy would share looks of either confusion or annoyance depending on the topic while Jane just sat there eating. She looked like she was going to lose it at any minute, or the death grip on her spoon was just a new way of practicing holding a scalpel.
Luckily Roxy got fed up enough to interject, announcing something about an early morning mining inspection that she would just be oh so pleased to show Aranea. She mentioned that it was incredibly early so she needed to get some rest, as well as Jake and Jane since they were also invited.
They said their goodnights, Roxy giving you an extra long hug before departing and it wasn't long after that you settled down into your bed and went to sleep.
What woke you were the gunshots.
The pop pop pop of bullets flying out of the barrel of gun, singing through the air and sinking into the flesh of whoever it was screaming just outside your door. You're alert the second that sound enters your ears.
It's pitch black, the only light is the moon peaking from the curtains and illuminating a sliver of room. You can just make out the doorknob and its lock. Had Roxy locked the door before she left? What was happening?
More shots fired.
A loud slam of something big crashing beside the door. It's deafening, the aftershocks of whatever it was showing cracks of stone. Whatever that was had almost busted down the entire wall.
You creep out of bed, the soreness of your wound nonexistent. The only weapon you had on hand was a katana Bro had gifted you earlier this year. You'd sharpened it, but it wouldn't do much against a gun.
You slide beside the wall, sweat beading down your forehead as several minutes of quiet pass by. The doorknob begins to jiggle and you prepare yourself for whatever it was that was going to come through that door.
It creaks open, the barrel of rifle just visible because of the moonlight.
You let out breath, heartbeat slowing immediately.
"I'm by the door Rox."
She shuts the door quickly behind her, her entire frame shaking as she takes in gulps of air. You can see blood crusting just above her right eye, grazed by something no doubt, but it didn't look bad.
"What's going on?"
She leans against the door, wiping her brow with the back of her hand.
"Alternians are here...and they're not friendly."
An ambush of Alternians has entered the castle and Dirk will do anything to make sure everyone he cares about makes it out safely...even if he doesn't.
So I posted the last chapter at four in the morning and somehow managed to ignore the notes section completely. I just want to say how incredibly excited I am for all the support I've gotten from you guys, it's really something else. I can't believe I'm already at the 100 hit mark!! Thank you to all who've bookmarked, given hits, kudos and commented! I'm trying to reply to everyone who's commented just because I love reading your wonderful words!
The hall had gone quiet, and after a bit of deliberation we both decided the best option was to move to safety before reinforcements arrived. We abandon your room with caution, and the brightness of the hallway engulfs the two of you. Roxy's injuries were more clear now, and besides an injury to her head, she was noticeably limping. That wouldn't bode well if you needed to run.
It was easy to hear your own heartbeat drumming inside your ears, especially with how quickly it seemed to be beating. Roxy was much the same, her rifle trained ahead of us, her index finger resting confidentially on the trigger without so much as a twitch. The walls were splattered with blood, still dripping down the stone, and debris; chunks of concrete that had been thrown about with an Alternians own abilities.
You raised your katana high, preparing to rush anyone who tried to attack either of you, and defend as many as you could from the ones who had invaded your home. There was no one who needed saving yet, ruby red blood soaking the floor making it slick underneath your feet.
Roxy had given you enough time to get dressed before you headed out and now your white sneakers were stained and wet. You could see the difference between human blood and Alternian; burgundy clashed so heavily with crimson.
Bodies lined each passing corridor, some having been crushed by large projectiles thrown by telekinesis, which was horrifying. There were more human corpses than Alternian, and Carapaces had also been so beheaded or impaled. Some of the bodies had been viciously stabbed or eviscerated, each wearing a look of abject horror.
You try not to look.
Where was your brother? Roxy had come into your room without offering much explanation to the goings on presently, but you knew that Alternian burgundy bloods were currently ambushing the castle, and you had no idea why. Your first assumption was that they were after your Bro, which wasn't exactly a comforting thought when you see friends and acquaintances alike lying lifeless on the ground.
You'll have to remember to give yourself a pat on the back for sending Dave away later, that is, if you even made it out of this mess.
"Where are we headed?" You inquire, pausing as she checks the next hallway for hostiles before urging you to continue.
"Mines, they won't know the terrain."
You don't argue with her, even if you wanted to sprint passed the mines and to your brothers quarters. He was strong, but if he was out of it...
She leads down the last corridor before grabbing onto you for support. Her breathing has become far more labored now, and you set her down against the wall. She's holding onto her ankle, massaging it for a few seconds and wincing the entire time. You take no time to rip open her pant leg up to the calf and it's bad. Her ankle had swollen to twice its size, purple and pink marking the flesh around it.
"Fuck, these were my only pair of pants." She grimaces at the tatters of her jeans, but you're too freaked by her leg to actually care. This wasn't good, and you don't know how'd she'd been walking on it, but it looked maybe broken or sprained. You couldn't be sure, and you needed Jane.
Roxy rolled her neck, appearing unperturbed by the sight of her own injury, she closed her eyes from a second before pulling herself to her feet. You grab onto her elbows to offer some semblance of balance but she brushes you off.
"We need to move-"
You're flung back when something glides beside your face, landing roughly to the ground and rolling back against the fork leading to the hallway you were just in. You're collected enough by the time you reach the entrance way that you're able to backwards roll into a defensive crouch, sword drawn to face whoever just attacked. The Alternian was at the other end of the hallway, standing in front of the mines. He had small pebbles floating around him, ready to be fired.
You feel slimy blood trickling down your neck and you feel throbbing along your ear. It would seem like he'd shot a hole through the upper cartilage, a chunk of flesh missing from your ear about the size of an eraser end of a pencil. It looked as if the Alternian had just nearly missed your head when you'd been pushed aside by Roxy. The injury to your side was screaming with the strain of what you were doing, but you can't think about that now, you needed to take care of the one in front of you.
The Alternian barely paused when you get back up, shooting projectiles towards your general direction and giving you very few options for escape. You duck down, running forward with a speed that only Striders are capable of, preparing to cut him down. He sends a boulder down the hall, and you have to lay flat to avoid it slamming into you.
You spare a glance at your friend, who had her gun trained on the burgundy blood who was sneering at her with hatred. You try and think of something you could do to get close to him without getting shot when someone comes from the shadows of the doorway to the mines. Arms reach out from behind the Alternian, a shiny flash of silver glinting around his shoulders before he's sputtering burgundy. His throat had been slit. He convulsed to the ground, choking in his own blood before going still.
She runs to you, but you gesture to Roxy before she reaches where you're laying.
"I'm okay," you assure her, standing up and wiping yourself up. There was blood staining your shirt, a lot of it. You pull it off, leaving you in just an undershirt and not much for protection when it comes to giant blocks of solid rock flying at you. "Let's get in before his friends show up."
You and Jane assist Roxy down the long decent into the mines. There was an elevator down here at some point, but once power run out, there was no way to keep that going. It was dark, but Jane held onto one of the very few pieces of tech we'd managed to hold onto since the fall of civilization; a flashlight. There weren't many, so they were very much a limited resource, but you couldn't care less if it was wasteful to be using it.
The stairs were steep and treacherous, our descent slower than you would have hoped. Roxy was struggling with the steps, cursing under her breath whenever she needed a minute.
"I've climbed down these damned steps everyday since I could walk, I will not be stopped by a fucking ankle! Jane, just cut the thing off, I'll walk on the stub!"
You almost chuckle at her sour attitude, her own irritation more of a distraction from the reality of the situation.
Jake's waiting at the bottom of the stairs, his glasses smudged with dust. He places his hands on his pistols when he sees someone coming, but calms when he notices who it is. He runs up to help alleviate you and Jane, even going so far as to pick Roxy up. She is not happy about this, but remains still regardless. You suspect it may have something to do with Jane's glare.
"Now what happened to 'it's no big deal! I can walk' hmmmm?" Jane questions, hands on her hips, "I distinctly remember you saying that when you ran out of here to find Dirk. Now look at you."
Roxy gives an apologetic smile. Jane's just worried, and she showed her worry by blaming her friends for the injuries they manage to acquire.
We reach a shaft in the mines after about ten minutes of walking, Roxy pointing which way to go whenever we would approach a twist or turn. It was a big open area, with carts full of rocks and mining equipment. Jake sets Roxy down, and Jane begins to examine her immediately. You take a deep breath before taking a seat yourself, the hard ground feels so cool and relaxing after what you've been through.
"Anyone explain what's happening here?"
You turn to Roxy, expecting an answer from her. She should be the one most in the know, considering she had been sitting in on Derse political meetings for the past couple of weeks.
"Blast if I know," Jake states, "I just wake up to Jane shaking me saying we're under attack!"
"I woke up when Roxy came in," Jane admits, "she took us here after we woke up Jake. Roxy, hold this over your ankle and don't move it."
"Do you need my help?" You offer, moving to get up from your spot but she holds a hand up to stop you.
"Don't move, you've already lost a lot of blood, and you're still healing."
You settle back down, Jake giving you a comforting pat on the back.
"It was out of nowhere," Roxy begins, starting when Jane gently moves her ankle back and forth, "I was discussing something with the King," She makes eye contact with you for a split second before continuing, "and a group of Alternians storm into the room and say that they want the King of Derse. I went to defend him, but he pushes me under a table before they can notice me. I left after they were long gone, your brother with them.
This both relieves and disturbs you; if they took him with them, that meant they most likely wanted him alive for some reason, which was good news. The bad news was that you had no clue why burgundy bloods would want anything to do with your Bro or your Kingdom.
"Could this have anything to do with the territory dispute that you dealt with a few days ago Jake?" Jane asks, glancing back at the newly crowned King, "Maybe they're after you?"
"I don't think so," you interject, giving the now horrified Jake a reassuring smile, "they wouldn't have asked for my Bro if that was they case, they would have asked for Jake."
What you said was nice for Jake to here, but it didn't really give you any answers as to why they were after you brother in the first place. He was very supportive of Alternian immigration and trading within Derse limits, and held very open relationships with almost every blood classes leader. Even the sea-dweller royals were aligned with Derse. Admittedly burgundy bloods and purple bloods were probably the least friendly with any sort of human communication, but there was no ill will between them and us. You hadn't even met their leaders in all the years you've been a scribe for Derse.
It didn't make sense for them to ambush Derse, and why were they still killing even after they'd gotten your brother? They must need something more if they're on the assault despite getting what they supposedly came here for.
"Your foots out of the socket," Jane tells Roxy, appearing to consider this a much better alternative to having a broken bone, "just need to pop it back into place. It's gunna hurt for a second, but you'll feel a lot better after I do it. Jake, give me your belt."
"What for?" He inquires, undoing his belt as he asks.
"She'll need something to bite down on."
You flinch when she says this, scooting closer to Roxy, ignoring the click of Jane's tongue and placing your hand into hers. She's not scared, but you know it's not going to be easy. Jane folds the belt and hands it to Roxy, who places it neatly between her teeth.
She gives Jane a quick nod to 'do it' and you hear a snap as your friend wrenches her foot back into place. Roxy lets out a long groan before her head falls on your shoulder, her hair soaked with sweat. She must have been in a lot of pain.
"There," Jane gingerly moves the belt from her mouth, saliva stringing along the leather before breaking off, "all better."
"Says you," Roxy grimaces, "Jake's belt tastes like shit."
You all share a laugh, forgetting for moment that you were in a pocket of earth underground, with only a flashlight and the four of you to keep it company.
"Roxy, was there anyone else with the Alternians?"
It was important to get back to the topic at hand, especially when your brothers life was on the line. She ponders for a minute, flexing her newly not dislocated ankle.
"There were two black Carapacians. They were in hats and trench coats so I couldn't see their faces, but one...he called himself Spades Slick."
Jane gasps, and you all turn to her.
"Good gravy, that's the leader of the Midnight Crew!"
Midnight Crew? Jane had mentioned that name before. She said it was an Carapacian gang who claimed more right to the throne than humans. If their leader was here, working with Alternians and asking for your brother...could that mean they were after the entire royal family?
"If the Midnight Crew is here, then that means this is a coup and we don't have time to be sitting here," your standing now, "I need to find my brother."
They were probably keeping him alive long enough until they find you and Dave, if your suspicions were correct. You and your brother were the only ones in the palace who would know where Dave would be, and if they don't kill all of the Striders there'd would be the possibility of a revolt. How could you get passed all those Alternians though? All you had was a shitty sword and some basic combat training; not nearly enough to deal with a threat like this. No, the only thing that could handle something this big was...
"Dirk, we can't just storm out in the open guns blazing," Jane chided, "that's suicide!"
"I have a plan," you declare, "but I need you guys to trust me."
"We always trust you mate, just tell us your plan and we'll here you out."
Roxy and Jane voice their agreements and you feel a sense of pride in your friends. Hopefully this wouldn't have to be the last time you see them.
"Roxy, is there anyway out of the mines besides the one upstairs?"
She nods, gesturing to the left of where you'd come from.
"Underground river," she reveals, "leads as far down as the ocean if you let it, though you'll reach woods before that. Miners keep boats down there to do fishing once they reach the calmer waters."
"How far to the river?"
"Not far. Maybe a mile?"
You are feeling like the luckiest person in the world at this moment. It would be an easy escape plan for your friends if things went poorly. There weren't many options left at this point, and the fact that you were even considering this was proof that you had gone absolutely insane.
"Okay," you run your hand through your hair, a heavy feeling in your gut, "where's the nearest mineshaft next to this one? Give me directions Roxy."
"It's to the right, go down about a quarter mile and then turn right again, there should be one to your left a few hundred yards after."
"One more, just down the right, all the way down, about a half mile from the entrance to the mines. What's this all about Dirk?"
"I promise, I'll explain everything when I come back."
You give what you hope is an encouraging smile but their outraged yells at the fact that you thought you were leaving without them drowned it out.
"If you think-"
"I will no let you-"
"You must be crazy-"
You quiet them all with a group hug, pulling them close to you so you wont forget what each of them smelled like. Roxy smelled like gunpowder and soot, Jane like baking goods and the slightest hint of rubbing alcohol, and Jake...he smelled like pine and earth.
"Trust me," you say, letting them all go, "and if I'm not back in thirty minutes, take the river out of here."
You're gone before you can hear their protests, sprinting away before they can follow. You're not sure if they'll stay there, but it seems likely. They wouldn't leave Roxy alone with her ankle, and Jake wouldn't leave the girls alone to fend for themselves. You run the quarter mile no problem, skidding to turn right again in no time flat. It would be better to meet in the one with more turns, and it would give your friends more time to escape if he didn't accept your offer.
It's not long before you reach the mineshaft, it's appearance very similar to the one you'd just been in; dark and full of mining equipment. You take in a deep breath, preparing for what you were about to face.
You call out to the air, listening for any gust of air, footstep, even just a flash of red to show that he was there.
"AR if you're there I-"
"I thought I told you what would happen if you were to see me again."
He has you pinned against the wall before you have a chance to speak, his face in an impassive neutrality. His hand is over your face, pressing down on you with a force that breaks your head against the rock behind you.
You don't acknowledge the pain except for a quiet choked sound passing through your lips. He was here, standing in front of you in all of his glowing red glory...and you were so glad to see him. He recoils when some of your blood drips onto his arm, taking several steps away from you. His light grows more intense when his notices that from your ear down to your collarbone you are slick with red. He stares down at his own hand, which is covered in it as well.
Your heart is pounding at the fury that resonates inside his voice, but it's overshadowed by confusion.
"Weren't you watching?"
He shakes his head, still staring down at the blood that seems to taking up a lot of his energy. He looked so disturbed by it, and you were curious as to why.
"There was something that demanded my attention. Another of my kind has entered the castle...I was observing."
You freeze. Another of his kind? Was he saying that another Artificial Human had come to Derse and was currently roaming around the castle at this very minute? You swallow the panic rising in your esophagus, focusing more on getting AR to understand what you wanted from him.
"Who hurt you?" His voice is barely above a whisper, but the power inside of it made your head want to explode. It seemed to echo inside the cavern we were in.
"He's dead," you shrug, "that's not the issue here. You know Alternians are trying to take over Derse right?"
He clenches his hand into a fist, facing you with his eyes critical.
"I need your help."
He slams his fist into wall beside you, the limb breaking it apart like it was made of fabric, splitting and separating effortlessly. You don't pay attention to the shards of rock fall from the ceiling like raindrops.
"You are asking me to help save humans?" He asks incredulously, "What would you offer me? I have no interest in money, power, there is nothing, nothing you could offer me."
He pauses, looking actually taken aback. You bring your hand up to caress his face, he's just as warm as you imagined. You couldn't help but touch him, his body smooth and beautiful, the glowing magic filters making divots in the skin that trailed down his entire form. You close your eyes, a sense of what you can only call determination washing over you.
"You can have me," you say again, keeping your eyes on his, "after this over I will go with you willingly, you can ask me anything, kill me, torture me, anything. Just help me save my brother."
He slams you against the wall again, your head colliding with the surface enough for you to see stars.
"When all this is over, I will rip you apart."