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Ghosts, Gills, and Knightly Thrills

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     Clack. clack. clack. clack. went her boots as she marched down the echoing castle hallway. There was the fresh smell of meat and lemon in the air wafting from the kitchen that Aradia had just left, traces of the sandwich she had eaten still on her lips. Light was shining through the windows leaving a warm mark on her skin It was only the second week of her job as a royal guard, but she had spent the few spare moments she had trying to memorize the maze that the palace was, with all its twists and its myriad of doors that she was hurrying past. After all, she would have to fight tooth and nail to be able to keep her high-ranking job, especially being someone of such a low hemotype. Usually, rustbloods like her were kept to shoveling hoofbeast excrement or construction, but Aradia’s skills were just too quick to pass up.

 

     Passing her down the hall were about three other guards, two humans and a troll, generally chatting about what times they have to work and who could best the other in a battle. The story was that ever since trolls came to Earth, they had always been separate from humans. Constantly battling. Constantly trying to best each other to take rulership of the planet, as you do. Until, one day, they united. Apparently, it was some kinda interspecies romance that happened between the queen before the one currently ruling and a human, but it’s not touched on much. The bronzeblood with horns wider than he was tall that was walking alongside the humans waved at Aradia, and she waved back. Who the fuck was that? Do I know him? she wondered, but ultimately decided it didn’t matter.

 

     The rustblood trotted down the hallway until she found her post which was a little further down from the entrance. The room, much like the rest of the castle, was a brilliant light magenta with paintings hung on the wall of high-blooded trolls, intense battles, and, of course, the princesses and Her Imperious Condescension. She had never actually seen either of the princesses in person but in the picture, there was a taller one with two braids that went down to the floor, a jawline that could cut a troll in half, and a gleam of royalty and mischief in her eye. The shorter one, much closer to Aradia’s age, was quite the opposite. She was only a little taller than Aradia, assuming this was to scale, and had curly but-length hair that framed her face perfectly. Her cheeks and stomach were round and full, more likely than not from her easy life at the palace, but it gave her a soft look that told you that she wouldn’t hurt a fly if it threatened to pour acid over her face.

 

     Suddenly, she hears a voice from behind her and almost drops the whip she had slung over her shoulder

     “You done checkin' out the royal highnesses?” calls out Dave, a human Aradia’s known for maybe a little more than two months while they were in training. A grin gets plastered to her face when she sees him stride up to his post. Turns out they were lucky enough to get the same shifts at the same posts.

     “Oh, shut up, Strider!” she snickers, giving him a quick shove to his arm. It’s been a while since she last saw him, now he’s wearing the official Alternian guard armor. Since humans don’t have family signs, he had just drawn his own. Actually, he’s a surprisingly good artist, the picture on his chest being a shiny CD with a crack down the middle. What it symbolizes, Aradia will never truly know.

     “What, didn’t you miss me? I can’t believe the disrespect I’m getting from my best friend. Honestly, were we ever really friends in the first place? I’m not sure I can go on…”

     “Oh, shush! You’re so dramatic.”

     “I’m not dramatic! Scoff! This is unreal. My father will hear about this.”

     “Oh, yeah? Well, the last time you said something like that to Karkat-”

     “Oh my god, don’t even talk about Karkat with this shit. You know he’s full of ‘nookbitching jabbershit.’”

 

     They go back and forth like this for a good while, but a few high-blooded guards walk past their post, so Aradia flattens herself against the wall and tries to step away from them. A lot of high-bloods don’t like it when low-bloods step in their shadows, they say it gives them bad luck. Of course, that’s just a myth, but it’s better to not anger anyone of authority with a job like hers so she learned to watch her feet.

     “Pfft. Why d’ya keep kissin’ high-blood ass? I bet those prissy bitches would scream if you smiled at em weird.” All Aradia can do is shrug her shoulders, then watch the group leave. In the center of the two guards is a violetblood prince that you recognize as Eridan, a suitor for princess Feferi. He looks nice enough, but rumors about him say otherwise. That he’s a bitter and jealous boy on the inside. You wouldn’t say it out loud, but you kind of hope that princess Feferi gets a prince better than him.

 

     Thump. Thump. Thump. CRAAAAASH.

 

     Aradia springs to her feet. The ground is shaking below her as she glances around, drawing her whip with a loud crack like she was born for it. Barrelling down the hallway is a monstrous snake-like creature, dripping black ink over the walls from its mouth and its hundreds of eyes boring into her and rows upon rows of teeth gnashing angrily. Aradia glances up to see a goldblood woman with a crazed look in her eyes cackling as she stared down at the rustblood. When Aradia looks behind her for backup, the high-blooded guards were already fleeing, Eridan had fallen on the floor and was trying to scamper away without success, and Dave already had drawn his katana.

 

     Aradia quickly gestured to Dave to try and get Eridan away from here as soon as possible, then lept into action. Her whip cracked on one of its dozens of eyes, making it reel backward, throwing the now not-so-triumphant goldblood off of its head. The pride in Aradia’s eyes is short-lived when the snake slams down on her with its head, crushing her against the wall, more than likely breaking a rib or two. The goldblood thrusts out her hand in concentration and, using her psionics, yanked her up into the air, threatening to slam her down on the ground. With all the strain and anger she could muster, Aradia overpowered the thrall of the psionics and plummeted down towards the ground, landing directly on top of the offending troll, stepping in her mouth as she kicked downward. Hoping to hell that the snake wouldn’t kill her while she worked, Aradia tightened her whip around the goldblood until she went limp on the cold ground.

 

      Satisfied with that, she whipped around to the snake, who immediately screamed and thrashed in her face, spitting gold and black fluid as Aradia tried to block it with her arms. Sputtering, she wiped her eyes and jumped back into action, using her whip to crack it down into its throat, startling it into rearing back and smashing the chandelier on the ceiling. With a loud CRACK!, Aradia ducks to cover her head as the chandelier tumbles down from the roof and instantly crashes down on the head of the snake, golden blood gushing from its eyes and mouth. She wastes a second to wipe her eyes, then crouches to the ground as she watches the snake writhe helplessly under the glass of the chandelier until it meets its inevitable death.

 

     Minutes later, Aradia is still panting and leaning against a cold wall, her hair in a friz and a burning pain in her ribs. Dave Strider rushes in from the hallway, tailed by Karkat and the bronzeblood from earlier, sheathing their weapons once they glanced over the messy battle that Aradia had won. Both she and the walls alike were caked in a mustard and black goop, not to mention the pool of burgundy colored blood forming under Aradia from the dent in her chest and the cuts from the glass of the broken chandelier. She hopes no one is mad at her for that. The goldblood was on the floor not dead, but unconscious with an indented line in her neck. Her vision starts to go hazy as she sees Dave rush up toward her, Karkat protesting in the background.

     “Oh, holy fuck. Aradia, are you okay? Bro. You seriously fuckin whipped that little shit like you’re makin' a goddamn cupcake batter of annihilation. Holy shit.”

     “Hey, fuckass, get the fuck away from her, unless you want her to fucking bleed to death while you crow her victory, we have to haul her ass to the nookshitting infirmary! Hey, skinnybulge!

"Oh, uh, um, is that me?"

"It sure fucking is! Get the fu-”

 

 

     And that was when she blacked out.

Chapter Text

     Aradia wakes with a start, frantically looking around for the wreckage that she had a hand in. She wasn’t in the hallway post anymore, but instead in a soft, cushioned bed. The room around her smelled overly clean and was lined floor to ceiling with cabinets and a counter opposite from where she lay next to a window. Next to her was a small bedside table with a glass of water on its top, only half full. There wasn’t anyone else here, but outside was the back courtyard of the castle, trimmed to perfection. While she’s looking out the window, the door creaks open and Karkat and Dave spill into the room.

     “Aradia. My dude. Holy mcfucking shit on a tasty, tasty rack of stir-fried whoopass.”
     “FUCK THE SHUT UP, Strider! Don’t talk so fucking loud near her! Honestly, what does it take a doucheass prissbitch to understand that she’s probably going to die of hearing loss if you keep your ignorance tunnel screeching like an overripe little grub!”
     “Oh, no. Can’t have her dying of deafness.”
     “Listen here, you little bulgesucking-”
     “SHH!” goes a guard from outside the door, which shut them up right then and there. Aradia’s head was already burning with pain from hitting it earlier, and their yelling wasn’t helping much. Oh well. While they fought, she just picked up the glass of water and took a sip as she tried to tune them out.

     A few moments later, there’s a knock on the door as the bronzeblood from earlier peeks in.
     “Oh. Uh. Hey. Sorry, I- uh, is this a bad time?” Finally, an excuse to stop listening to their pitch babbling. Sure, she loves them both, but they can be… Intense, to say the least.
     “Oh, you’re the guy from earlier! Uh, how do you pronounce your name again? It’s on the tip of my tongue…” She hopes that he doesn’t notice she has absolutely no clue on what his name is.
     “It’s me, Tavros! Emphasis on the ‘-ros.’ We were friends in school? You would call me Tavvy and I would call you, uhh, AA? Remember?” She didn’t remember this at all.
     “Oh! I remembered that. Just needed a little reminder, you know?” A moment passes, then Aradia speaks up again. “So, what happened to the goldblood? You know, the one that was with the snake?”
     “Oh! Uh, yeah! That! She got taken in for questioning and I think she’s prolly gonna get the death sentence, but, uh, I haven’t heard anything past that.”
     “Well, that makes sense. Let me- OW!” Aradia gasped as she tried to sit up, pain flaring from her ribs. It was only now that she noticed the bandages tied around her chest with just a faint stain of burgundy blood near the right.
     “Oh, uh. Yeah! That. Are you okay? You need anything? I dunno.”
     “No, no, don’t worry about it! Let me just…” She tries to stand up, but for a split second she wobbles like she’s going to fall, but catches herself. She takes a proud, deep breath of fresh air only to get very dizzy and have to sit down on the bed again.
     “Are you trying to give yourself a concussion? Is that what’s happening? Aradia, you’re a new soldier who just one-v-one’d an attack on the castle and those only happen like, what, every week or two? And you still kicked ass. Wait. Do snakes even have asses? They don’t have legs. No need for asses. How do snakes shit?”
     “Strider? What’s that? Your nookfucking train of thought is flying the directly fuck out the window and into the piss-colored sunset?”
     “Right. Okay. Unless you got some goddamn healing magic up your snake-ass-kicking sleeve, you’re gonna fucking lie down for half a minute.” To this, Aradia can only pout. Sure, she took down the snake and the troll. Sure, that was pretty cool. Still. She wasn’t being of any use at all just lying around and being hurt. This sucks. Maybe she’d be less grumpy about this if she went outside for a while.
     “Well, who of you is going to try and stop me if I go out to take a walk?”
     “Fuck no!” Karkat almost shouts, then he takes a pause. “I mean, maybe. I guess. Can one of us come with you to make sure you don’t fall or some stupid shit like that?”
     “Sure, you can come with!” she says with a bright smile. At this, Karkat grits his teeth and Dave sucks in breath through his teeth.
     “Eesh. Nah. Karkles and I gotta fuck off to the right entrance in case any more demonic, eighty-eyed, inky snake monsters wanna play roshambo.” Karkat rolls his eyes at this, mumbling something obscene that Aradia’s wildest imagination couldn’t think of what.
     “Oh, that’s fine! I’ll catch you at lunch tomorrow, I guess. Tavros, you’re on break right now?”
     “Oh! Yeah, sure!”
     “The courtyard, I guess? It’s always nice there.”
     “Uh, sure! We can catch up with each other while we walk.”

     Just a few minutes and one outfit change later, both of the lowbloods were out the door. No longer in the doctor’s gown, Aradia was wearing a more flowy, butterfly-sleeved gray shirt with her family’s symbol sewn onto the front and a simple ankle-length black skirt that danced around her feet as she walked. They were chatting like they were old friends (which they might as well have been, if Tavros was correct) as they marched in a pair down the hallway.
     “So, uh, you’re friends with Dave and Karkat??”
     “Oh, of course! Haven’t known them long, just the past two weeks when I started working here. Mostly been with Dave, but Karkat tags along sometimes.”
     “Oh, uh, yeah! Karkat and I met uh, like half a sweep ago? While we were at my brother’s wriggling day party. Our brothers are friends.”
     “You have a brother?”
     “Uh, yeah! His name is Rufioh. He’s really cool, and confident, and he has a pair of wings like a fairy. I kind of wish I could be more confident, like him.”
     “He kind of sounds like a troll that my sister dated before she died. Her name was Damara, but she got lynched for practicing witchcraft.”
     “Oh. My brother dates a lot of people, it’s kind of hard to keep track of. I’m uh, really sorry about your sister. Was she really…” He suddenly lowers his voice to avoid any listeners. “…a witch?”
     “Yes, she was. I was the only one she admitted it to. Contacted the spirits of the past in the woods with an ouija board she made all on herself.” Something adjacent to a smile crosses her face.
     “Oh.” A moment passes. Two. Three. This is how people usually react to her talking about this. Partly because of how nonchalaunt she is about her own family’s death, the other part being because of just how feared and revolting witchery was. It was highly outlawed and any who practiced it was sentenced to death. Hell, even the highbloods were killed over a little bit of dark magic. The rest of the walk is silent as they stumble towards the courtyard. The tension between the two will air out eventually.

     The courtyard was a large square of greenery surrounded by the bright pink hallways of the castle with windows with tinted glass peering inside and large doorways going who-knows-where in this labyrinth of a palace. There were towering blue-leafed trees that provided a canopy over the brush, gaps of sunlight poking in through the foliage that spotted down on the scenery below. Waterfalls were pouring out of some of the walls, creating a kind of white noise that anyone could hear drone on for hours and hours. There weren’t that many trolls among the plants. Most of the gardeners were tasked with preening the immaculate bushes around the front gates, but for the most part places like here were left alone. Aradia liked it here. It was calm.

     The two lowbloods walked in silence, just taking in the beauty of it all. For a moment, Aradia even forgot about the ache in her ribs and the fact that she should’ve been on duty at about this time. Out of the blue, Aradia’s ear twitches as she hears a splash. Tavros keeps walking, evidently oblivious to it. She glances around for the source of the sound until her eyes land on a troll girl past a few trees, both of her feet dipped in a pond as she stared down at her own rippling reflection.

     She had long, curly hair that reached down to her waist and was tied in a very low ponytail. Her gray skin was a little darker than average and looked soft and smooth, almost shiny in the patches of light that shone down on her. A long, shoulderless dress was pulled up to just above her knees presumably to avoid getting it wet. Aradia couldn’t see her face from where she stood, but it was quite obvious who she was when she noticed her big, gold-adorned fins poking out from in front of her hair and her long, glossy horns tilted outwards. It was Her Royal Highness, Princess Feferi.

     To be perfectly honest, she was more beautiful than any statue could make her out to be, with her wide-set frame and the little purplish freckles dotting her arms and shoulders. Snapping her back to reality, she hears Tavros call from up ahead.
“Hey, uh, Aradia? You alright back there?” In the distance, Feferi sits up straight and jolts around to meet Aradia’s eyes for a mear split second before the rustblood quickly turned away to limp as she caught up with Tavros.

     Aradia returns to the common bunk room later that evening after a rather uneventful dinner, some other guards napping in their beds as they await the night shift. She had heard from older guards that there used to be recoprocoons instead of actual beds, but with the addition of human soldiers and the fact that it was just plain harder to get out of in case of an emergency, they were replaced with the human alternative. Her own bed was marked with a dark red marking on the end with her family’s Aries symbol, bold against the white frame. Strangely, that wasn’t quite all. Taped to the side of the frame was an envelope, obscuring the center of the symbol with its pale blue paper. She rips it off of the wooden frame, but then thinking better of herself, she tears open the paper quietly as to not disturb the other sleeping trolls as she reads the short letter.

     Aradia Megido,
                    You have been summoned to the debaTe office To have a meeTing Tomorrow
                    aT 10:30 AM To discuss your acTions in your fighT wiTh The goldblood
                    inTruder Chimya Lagado, as well as any injuries ThaT you may susTain.
                    Do try and noT be laTe.
                                             Captain Verdig Beskem

Whelp. Aradia guesses that tomorrow is going to be a pretty big day, isn’t it?

Chapter Text

Aradia had been so nervous for the upcoming day that she almost didn’t sleep, just staring at the top bunk from where she lay and shaking in a healthy mix of fear and anticipation. After all, people of her blood usually weren’t called to the debate office unless it was for some serious punishment of an unforgivable crime. She hadn’t done anything of the sort, but she was still pretty nervous. Her bunkmate was still sleeping silently above her- Kanyon? Was that her name? Kanaya? Something along those lines. She wasn’t actually a guard, but the smaller maid quarters were all full for now so she was sleeping here. Aradia thought that she could’ve been a guard if she had wanted to, but to each their own. That’s besides the point. Aradia decided to just lie back and sleep until it was morning.

“RISE AND SHINE, EVERYONE! BIG DAY AHEAD, GOTTA GET UP!” yelled out a tealblood guard. He did this every single morning, which was nice of him. Usually guards were just tasked at getting up at 7:00 every day on their own and anyone who slept in was highly punished. Still, it always seemed this guy woke up early just to make sure everyone else was on time. Whatever the case, Aradia immediately jolted up from where she was sleeping, hitting her head on the bottom Kanaya’s bunk and the bruise on her torso flaring. Ouch.

For a moment, Aradia lies flat on her bunk to just wonder if she was on duty today or not. I mean, it didn’t hurt that bad. She could probably stand at her post anyway. Then there was the meeting later today. Maybe she should put on her armor, just in case. She rolls out of bed to stand up, most of the other guards already filing into the armory to put on their own uniforms, the clanking of metal already ringing around the room.

After a pinch of pain and the struggle of not being able to bend over too far, Aradia is battle-ready with her poofy hair tied into a tight ponytail and her metal suit assembled. She’s one of the last few people in the armory, save for two others, and she goes to walk out to her post.

Dave is already there when she arrives, leaning against a wall. There are still black, gold and red stains on the floor and walls, plus a few crystalline shards littering the ground near the sides of the walls that weren’t swept away yet.
“Aradia. Aradia what the fuck. Did your bones fucking meld together like fantasy play-doh or are you just. Here. With a busted up chest.”
“Please, Dave. It’s not that bad. Just a small bruise. Besides, I have to go to some meeting at 10:30 today.”
“Shit. I forgot about that… Rikki Tikki Tavi and I got notes about that biz too. To speak as witnesses or some shit.”
“Oh, that’s exciting! They’re throwing an awful big fuss about it, though. It was just one monster and one troll.”
“Yeah, but you just got here. This is them going ‘you got potential, kid.’ Before you know it you’ll be famous across Earth and be signing for Her Imperious Condy’s autograph.”
“We’ll see about that.” she shrugs, then goes back to standing at her post. Well. Slouching against the wall at her post.

They spent their morning as they always did, watching people pass and theorizing about what Important Royal Event™ they were going to. One of them was, supposedly, claiming to be a long lost twin sister of Princess Meenah, despite the fact that she was possibly 5 years older than the princess, a human, and the fact that trolls literally cannot have twins. Another was a strapping young bronzeblood man who had a secret affair with The Condense but was fated to be executed after being caught sneaking into her quarters with such a low blood status. He was most likely going to his trial as they spoke, judging by his low posture. Before the two even knew it, it was 10:25 and they started walking over to the debate office.

The indigo-blooded guard that she recognised as her ward officer huffed when he saw Aradia walk in, but she made no motion to stop her from entering. There were two open seats on different parts of the table, so Dave and Aradia sat down. Tavros on the opposite chair from her, who waved awkwardly when she had come in. Directly on her right was her ward officer, who was kind of her boss. Another guard, a human Aradia didn’t recognise, was sitting at the back end of the table. Surprisingly enough, in the corner was Princess Meenah herself, rolling her eyes at the whole lot of them. Probably here to learn more about how plans are laid out in the castle. Soon enough, Captain Verdig came in a minute later at the head of the table and everyone sat in attention for her announcements.

“Okay, everyone. Listen up.” She shouted, putting emphasis on her T’s. “As all of you know, there has been an attack by a goldblood named Chimya Lagado, who has been neutralized thanks to the help of our recruit Aradia Megido.” She says, gesturing to Aradia, winning her a small round of applause. The princess in the corner just groans and slow claps.
“Further interrogation of her had lead to her admitting herself as a witch.” Small gasp from Aradia. “However, she has struck a deal with us. In exchange for her life, she has offered to tell us the names of witches or warlocks or whatevers she knows. Each magic user she tells us is equal to three more weeks of her living in this castle and being free to roam it, provided she uses no magic.” Verdig has now gotten off of her chair to pace the space behind.
“Now, we do not know that she is telling the truth. If it were to turn out that she was, it would be very… disappointing.” Suddenly, she whips around. “Wouldn’t it be, Arlo?”

The human on the other side of the table jumps up, slamming both his hands on the table. “Witchcraft is not a crime, you hear me, Verdickhead?! You’re imprisoning and killing powerful people!”
“People like you are a curse on this world! Destruction and mayhem!”
“You castle fucks have been trying to keep us in hiding! Because of what, you’re scared of us? You think people like us will do a better job running this hellhole than you will?”
“We’re not afraid of you because we already have people like you under control! You’re a danger to the public, communing with the dark forces!”
“I-”
“Tavros, Dave, grab him!”

The two knights quickly shot up out of their scene, evidently uncomfortable with their yelling and fighting. Dave grabbed Arlo’s right arm and Tavros grabbed his left, hoisting him out of his chair. Verdig, now steaming with anger, yells “Just take him down to the underground prisons. Check his armor for magic tools if you have to. You two were barely required here anyway.” she growls, rolling her eyes. Then, she snaps back to her professional stance and turns toward Aradia who was, to be frank, a little terrified. Meenah yawns in the background.
“Okay. That did not go as well as planned.”
“You were accusing him of being a warlock? How well did you think it was going to go?”
“Never mind that. Anyway, this causes a lot of problems. One less member of our staff, always bad to find more witchcraft users. Namely, though, Arlo was Her Highness Princess Feferi’s personal guard.” She lets out a sigh. “Honestly, I expected better of him. Only the best of the best of our knights are allowed to be personal protectors of our royalty, you understand that, Aradia?” She asks, Aradia quickly nodding.
“You’ve shown yourself to be cunning in battle, even when alone and new to the squad. From what I’ve heard from talking with your friend Karkat last night-” Aradia guesses that he must’ve gotten called at some point. “-that you are responsible and loyal to those you trust. Now, I’m going to make you this offer once and only once. You’re a new recruit, and a rustblood on top of that. I’m giving you three days maximum to heal any wounds you may have. After that, you’re going to be Feferi’s official guard. If I’m guessing, she can tell you everything that will entail. If you, god forbid, fuck this up? That just don’t fly. I’m not saying you’ll be arrested, but you’ll be arrested. Any questions?”

For a moment, Aradia just sits there opening and closing her mouth. Her boss is just grunts, seemingly unsatisfied but unwilling to argue. Suddenly, from the back of the room
“Oh my glubbing cod, just be coddamn straightforward with this beach. Clam up. Aradia, you got a job kelping a princess not get herself krilled. Don’t fuck that up. Kapeesh?”
“Uh. You can count on me.” Aradia smiles with a salute.
“Nice. Meeting disfished.”

A handful of days later, Aradia’s bruise is almost a nonexistent problem. She had been extremely, extremely lucky. Now she was strapping on her armor once again, prepared to meet the princess. If she was being perfectly honest, she would say that she was incredibly nervous. She had never imagined when she joined this job that she would ever make a high rank, much less one under a princess. Sure, the castle was low on staff recently with more and more attacks coming in, but this kind of thing was reserved as a dream for young grubs. Maybe there was a mistake and someone else took down a goldblood witch and her giant snake monster. Anyway.

A short walk and a deep breath later, Aradia was standing in front of a dark fuschia door, darker than the pale pink walls around it. It was intricately carved with images of dolphins and of whales swimming in crested shapes as if they themselves were swimming into the room. In the very center of the door was a giant shield-shaped flat area where a giant Pisces symbol was carved, the same pale color of the regular walls. It was so shined that Aradia could see her reflection in it which she took as an opportunity to pull a strand of hair out of her face. Deep breaths. Here goes nothing. Right as she’s about to knock, the door swings open and a young, chubby girl is standing there, her hair braided down to her waist and pink freckles dotting her face under her glossy yellow eyes. She had on a sparkling gold crown with a rhinestone in the middle with the traditional Pisces symbol that bent down over her forehead, framing her face next besides her fins half the size of her own head. She smelled of sea salt and the pure warmth she radiated with a cheesy smile on her face. The dress she was wearing was pearly white and had short, frilly sleeves to match the extravagent bottom, a fuschia shaul being worn over it. She was breathtaking.
“Oh, hello there!”

Chapter Text

Her Royal Highness Feferi stood before Aradia in all her regalness, jolting her as she broke the silence.
“Oh! Um. Royal guard Aradia Megido, reporting for duty? It’s an honor to be in your presence, I-”
“Oh, gluuuub. It’s okay, you can drop the schtick. Honestly, we’re not that high and mighty. You and I are probably even the same age!”
“Right, right. Well, it is very nice to meet you, Princess Feferi!”
“This is so exciting!” Feferi cheered. “But, I do miss Arlo a little bit. He was a warlock, I guess… How did his trial go? Did he even have one?” she asked, looking a little glum.
“It… Didn’t go great? He got himself in a heated argument with Chief Verdig about how people like him deserved rights. My friends Tavros and Dave ended up being ordered to drag him off to the prisons, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t end up that he’s getting the death penalty.”
“Oh.” Feferi sighs, letting out a little ‘glub.’ The two of them just sit in the puddle of silence for a little bit, the hallway echoing coldly as Feferi drew in a breath. Then, she looks up, a plastered smile worn on her face.
“Well, I guess there’s no use dwelling on that…”
“I guess.”
“Here, I’ll show you around my room, I guess.” She says, taking Aradia by the hand and pulling her inside.

The inside of the room was, as Dave would’ve said, pretty ‘blinged out’. The floor was covered with an oval-shaped, milky white carpet made of lusus fur or something like it that looked soft to the touch. Beams of warm, welcoming light were being cast out of the windows lining the top of the room, shining through tiny crystals that were hung from the ceiling with string to make a fantastic array of lights that were reflected across the walls in a brilliant pattern of colors that spotted the entire room, even shining off of Aradia’s face and horns. Also covered by the spots of rainbow and light are a few little glass bowls of water that are stacked on shelves built into the wall with all kinds of strange and beautiful fish inside, blissfully swimming circles around their tanks.

Feferi’s bed was lofted, there being enough room underneath it for a loveseat and a table. The blanket of her bed was draped down so that it overlapped the little area underneath with sheets of creamy white and pink. Next to it was an open door that leads to the closet that Aradia could only see a little bit into, but as far as she knew it was filled with her ball gowns and golden jewelry. On the wall to the right of the closet, there was a big, semi-circle balcony with silver railings that overlooked the inner ring of the kingdom, you could see miles and miles of bustling streets full of colorful trolls and their lusii, going who-knows-where.
Needless to say, this room was fancy as all hell.

While Aradia was gaping at the grandeur of it all, Feferi was kind of glancing her up and down, wiping the hand she held Aradia’s with on her own skirt. She straightens her back to her full height and takes a deep breath as she says, “So! Welcome to my room. You’re my new day guard, so your schedule is still gonna be mostly the same. Well, except for lunch breaks. You’re shell gonna run a 7-to-7 shift until the night guard steps in, but you’re going to spent the entire 12 hours with me!”
“Does that include meetings and things like that?”
“Of course, stupid!” Feferi giggled. Aradia wasn’t sure any other nobles would appreciate her there, what with her red clothes and blood, but Feferi seemed to know what she was doing.
“Anyway! Today we’re going out to town to… I don’t know, go for a walk? Just to get a feel for each otter, I guess. Here, follow me!” Feferi grinned as she walked out the door, a spring back in her step. Aradia hurried to follow behind, her shoes clacking against the floor. Besides that, the two of them are silent. Every once in a while, Feferi will walk past another guard and wave, the hem of her dress flowing and rippling behind her as it trails just above the ground, not looking unlike a handful of tiny white waves.

It’s much brighter outside and Aradia has to rub her eyes and blink for a few moments before taking in her surroundings. She and Feferi are walking too fast to truly catch a glimpse of anything of importance, but most of the trolls here were highblooded. Feferi is humming a song that Aradia has never heard herself, but it’s a nice melody. Mostly high-notes that the princess fitted perfectly for and sounds that resonated with Aradia’s ears. It was almost trancelike, she almost stopped paying attention to where she was walking or the trolls around her when she jolts back to attention.

“So. Aradia, right? Come on, tell me about yourshellf! I can’t be left in the dark if you’re gonna be my new guard.” Feferi gleamed, seemingly unaware of the wide berth everyone in the market was giving her. It was almost like they were in awe of her, and to be frank, Aradia was too. How couldn’t you be? She was one of the most important trolls on both Alternia and Earth combined with a tiara on her head to prove it. If it weren’t Aradia’s job to keep an eye on her and protect Feferi, she might’ve averted her gaze at her angelic finned face. Realizing she hadn’t said anything and unknowing of the execution laws vis-à-vie ignoring a highblood, Aradia quickly states “Oh. Uh, yeah! I was born and raised by my guardian, The Handmaid, with my sister Damara. I know it’s clichè, but I actually wanted to become a knight here as a way to prove myself…? You probably know about the whole lowblood gist of being maids, butlers, and fodder but I wanted to explore and become more than just that.”
“Oh, glub! I get that. I don’t go and see lowblood towns very often, Her Imperious Momdesention doesn’t like it.” At that, Aradia has to stop herself from snickering at that out of a mix of fear and respect. A rustblood laughing at The Condense? It was unheard of. Taking a moment to look around, Aradia realized not everyone was too happy to see her. A gaggle of purplebloods were staring her down, she could smell their pure disgust at her from here. And the faygo. However, Feferi was oblivious.
“Ooh! Aradia, over here!” she squealed, admiring a little metal trinket at a blueblood’s stall. It was a tiny, intricately detailed metal seahorse, engraved with swirls and East Alternian words. The Handmaid had taught Aradia that language and, reading the little letters, it meant absolutely nothing. It was very beautiful, nonetheless. It had four, tiny, crystalline eyes that sparkled and flowed with rainbow colors when the light hit it made of a gemstone that Aradia had no idea about what it could be.
“How much is it?” Feferi cooed, and the cerulean thought for a moment, gave her a sharp, toothy grin and said “Three thousand boonbucks. A discount for you, Highness.” Something told Aradia that it wasn’t exactly a ‘discount,’ but it didn’t exactly matter because the Peixes was already counting her stacks and handing them over, beaming over her tiny finned prize.
The two girls spent the next few hours or so just walking around the marketplace, Aradia trying to drown out the noise of the snarky drawl of indigobloods talking about how ‘the princess shouldn’t be associating herself with someone of such a low blood color’. Since Aradia hadn’t been around the highblood districts often, the princess had plenty of fun giving her a tour. In any case, Feferi didn’t find much else of interest and the fuschiablood slipped back to the palace, her rustblood in tow.

Aradia had been biting her lip the entire rest of the day, either out of nervousness or of fear or because of the sheer fact that she hadn’t been culled yet. Whatever the reason, Feferi noticed.
“What’s wrong?”
“What do you mean?” Aradia bluffed.
“You’ve been on edge the entire time! As my guard, I should know what’s going off with you!”
“Well…”
“Hm?”
“I just hunk it’s kind of off that a rustblood is guarding Her Highness Feferi. I’ve been getting weird glances all day.”
“Hmmmm….” Feferi thought for a moment, then lit up like a glowing visionary glass. “What if you went hemoanonymous? Traded out all your red for white and gray? I could ask The Momdense, she decides all the wardrobe chooses, I’m sure she’d say yes!” Aradia thought about this for a moment. She’d never really thought about it; usually, it was just something insecure wigglers did to hide their blood. Still, Karkat had done it! Aradia had no idea what his blood color was. And word can’t spread that quickly, only a handful of people saw her at the marketplace.
“Sure! That’s a great idea, I think.”
“Incredibubble! It’s settled. First thing tomorrow, we have a chat with Condy about a wardrobe change.”

Chapter Text

It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon when both Feferi and Aradia were finally called in to see Her Imperious Condescension. Honestly, Aradia’s surprised that they even got to talk to Her that early. After all, it couldn’t be easy to run both the troll and human races to squeeze in enough time to have a short meeting over a dress code. She just guessed that there must’ve been a lot of perks like that when it came to being the darling of the universe like Feferi. Even besides that, Feferi was The Condence’s grub! There wasn’t any way that this could go wrong. All day, however, Feferi’s face had told a different story. A constant look of worry and dread, flattened under a plastered grin Aradia had seen too many times over in her old town. She guessed she should’ve said something before, but she had never been the best at reading emotion anyway. It was nothing. This was going to go great.

The entire walk to the main hallway, Princess Feferi made no eye contact whatsoever. That was fine. A little awkward, sure. But Aradia got the message anyway. Stay professional. Her stomach was churning before they even got to the door. Her entire time there, she had never been in the main hall. Of course not, why would she? Nevertheless, it was a breathtaking sight. The reflective doors were towering above the two of them, giant tapestries of twinned dolphins, facing away from each other, were hanging and waving in the breeze with light flowing through them, creating a myriad of colors glowing down on the two of them. Feferi leans over to whisper in Aradia’s ear. “Follow my lead.” before knocking a pattern into the door, hearing the shuffling of metal shoes rushing to pull the door open to reveal the room inside.

It’s three times as extravagant as Aradia had imagined. Lining the walkway were towering statues of gold, presumably of fuschiabloods previous to Her Imperious Condescension. They were much taller than either Feferi or Aradia, glaring down at them from their pedestals with a glint of superiority in their eyes. One was a short and stout woman with a sharp and toothy grin sitting on air with a leg crossed over the other with a feathery lavish dress billowing out from under her that, had it not been frozen gold in place, Aradia would’ve thought it to be moving. Another was a tall troll woman with straight hair that spread down to her ankles and tattoos of different troll’s signs scrawling up and down her arms, wearing a tuxedo. Aradia had actually heard of this one who had come right before. If history books were to be trusted, every sweep before she became the empress she challenged the strongest troll that she could find to a duel to the death since she was 10 sweeps old. It was the biggest gladiatorial event of the sweep and every single tattoo represented a different cull lining her skin. Aradia recognized a few other statues, all empresses of times past. However, none of the statues or the tapestries or the chandeliers held even a candle to Her Imperious Condescension herself.

She was draped over her throne, a bored look in her bright fuschia eyes traced by her bright pink eyeliner that matched her lips and nails. She had on her trademark black and pink jumpsuit that Aradia had always seen in pictures and portraits of The Condence, both of her arms covered in gold and steel bracelets. Plus, she was a lot taller than Aradia had imagined. Must’ve been around 20 feet tall. She kind of snorted in laughter when the two of them had come in, moving to sit up straight and crossing one leg over the other. Immediately, Aradia bent down onto one knee in a bow, Feferi doing a polite curtsey.
“W)(ale, w)(ale, w)(ale. W)(at’s the matter, dear Feferi? )(ave you reely already gotten bored of your rustblood?” She cooed. Her voice was cold and sarcastic, a hint of amusement tailing the edges of her sentences. A chill of nervousness rose up Aradia’s throat.

“No! No, uh, I haven’t.” Feferi muttered, then raised her voice. “I wanted to ask about her uniform. I knew that you wouldn’t want the public to see me with a rustblooded guard, so I was thinking we should switch her red out for gray?” That wasn’t the story Aradia had heard, but she wasn’t about to complain. Maybe there’d be a better chance of leaving with all of her skin intact if The Condence didn’t think that she was complaining about her job.
“)(mmmm.” The Condence hummed. Aradia could feel her leaning in to get a closer look at her.
“Stand up, guppy. Lemme get a good look at you.” Instantly, Aradia rises to her feet, a breath caught in her lungs. Still, she tries to keep a calm face on.
“So, w)(alecome to the force!” The Condense wore a dagger-sharp grin and laughed. “You’re a strange one, if you’d bereef it. Like, )(ey, who let a rusty in t)(e sandcastle?” Aradia laughed along a little bit with her but then The Condescention’s face went pursed.
“Seariously, it’s gillarious. You and I s)(ould get aquainted at some point. Tell me )(ow a bottomfeeder like you got to reac)( t)(is rank.” The empress gets off her throne to sit down on her knees in front of Aradia and lends her hand down platform-like for Aradia to step onto, and she obliges. As The Condesce lifts her up into the air, Aradia doing her best to keep balance, a wicked smile curls onto the highblood’s face as her fingers curl around the rustblood and uses her other hand’s thumb and pointer finger to put a little bit of a squeeze with Aradia’s head in between. The guard can hear Feferi’s scream from all the way up here.

Aradia’s heart was pumping in her head, a feeling of fear creeping all around her. She didn’t want to die. Not here, not like this, not after she got so far. She didn’t want to die. Before she can write her will in her mind, The Condence speaks up. Her voice is booming this close up combined with the echoing ceiling.
“Aradia Megido, do you swear to never betray t)(e castle and t)(e )(ig)(bloods it )(olds and protect ‘em wit)( your life, gill? Do you swear to dedicate your bottomfeeder life to protectin’ Princess Feferi and everyfin s)(e or I swim for? Will you, under any and all circumstances, stay loyal to t)(is empire and t)(is empire only? Don’t make me regret letting you live. Do you understand me, guppy?” Aradia could tell a lot of this was improvised, but she got the message anyway. Her legs were shaking under her (which she was almost SURE that Her Imperious Condescension could feel) as she coughed and looked up as much as she could with her head between two fingernails and announced as clearly as she could.
“You can count on me.”
“T)(at’s the attitide! You’ve got me )(ooked.” She cooed, unpinching Aradia’s head as she set the rustblood back down and looking very pleased with herself.
“Swim along, gills. I’ll make sure I sea you again sometime.” Suddenly, Feferi blurts out. “Wait, what aboat the-”
“Oh. Rig)(t, your outfit.” The Condence pursed her lips, then waved a hand over to a tealblood standing near a door who came running.
“Tell t)(at one seamstress maid that s)(e )(as another job. The jadeblood. Well, )(urry on now, I don’t )(ave all sweep.” The teal boy scampered off down a hall until he was out of sight.
“T)(at settles t)(at. Goodbye, angelfishes.” The Condence grinned, then both guard and princess hurried out the door.
“That went better than I thought it would.”

That night, after she falls asleep, Aradia finds herself sitting on a beach, overlooking the sunrise as she lied against a rock. Unlike Earth, it had the hazy purple of an Alternian sky, the red and fuschia colors dancing with the sun’s bright rays as it barely crested over the sealine. It would almost be silent, had it not been for the sloshing and swirling of the water against the sand. It was cold out, but it wasn’t a harsh cold. It was more muffled like a soft chilly breeze was wrapping you in a hug and promising not to let go. There was warmth, though. Next to Aradia sat Princess Feferi, leaning against the same rock as she. She didn’t have any of her castle garb on; no crown, no frills, no jewels hanging from her fins. It was just the two of them in a comfortable silence, watching the sunrise.
The silence didn’t last as long as Aradia would’ve liked. In an instant, the world went cold and numb. There was no more chill of the breeze, the tides had stopped moving all together and just sat there frozen like the whole ocean had been stopped in its tracks. Aradia jolts up and reaches for a whip that isn’t there, then looks back down at Feferi. The sand is crumbling below her, dragging her down under the silt and stones. The guard grabbed the princess faster than she could blink and tried to pry her out with all of her strength. The sky above them was crashing in on them now, crumbling up like a wasted piece of paper, threatening to squish them into the dissolving ground where they sat.

At last, with one final tug, Feferi came floating out of her sandy trap as Aradia let out a grunt from the effort. The sky calms itself and flattens back out to normal, the sand acting as if time itself had reversed and gone back to its original state as if they had never sat there in the first place. The red-blooded girl let out a deep sigh of relief, then turned back to Feferi to hold out a hand to help her stand up. Something was wrong.

Feferi’s eyes were a milky white, like an empty void of light that had embedded itself into her head. She was floating half an inch off of the ground, but definitely floating. There was something else off about her, but her eyes were too distracting. Aradia tried to ask what’s wrong or what was happing or what she could do to help. No noise came out. There was no noise at all, in fact. It was dead silent. The cool breeze from before was gone. There was a skin-ripping strong wind in its wake instead, threatening to topple Aradia over. Behind the unnatural princess was the ocean, but it was no longer waving. Hands, dozens of them, were reaching up and out of the still sea. Aradia didn’t move. The hands were scraping toward her on the sand, clawing and grabbing at her heels. Aradia didn’t move. They scratched up and down her body, snatching at her neck with an iron grip. Aradia didn’t move. She drew in a breath as the clawed and mangled hands cloaked her entire body, water and blood pounding inside of her ears and head and everything was going dizzy--

Then Aradia woke up for another day of work. It was just a dream.

Chapter Text

It had been weeks since Tavros had really talked with Aradia. Heck, it had been a while since he’d actually seen her in the flesh! She had been the name on everyone’s lips since she had gone and hidden her blood. Everyone who worked in the castle swore off of telling other people, but gossip spread like wildfire. A ceruleanblood claimed he had seen her wearing a green sign, a lowblood in another town speculated that she was actually a highblood but Feferi was trying to make it seem like they didn’t only hire bluebloods by keeping her in gray. Of course, some people got it right, but no one said it out loud out of fear of the Empress.

When Tavros and Aradia did talk, it was mostly about Feferi’s whereabouts. What meetings she had had, whether there was any more hope for lowbloods, et cetera and et cetera. When she had first started her bodyguard gig, in hours before the day ended after her shift, Dave, Tavros, and she would meet up in the sleeping quarters and tell each other how their day went down. Tavros tried not to butt in too often, but what could he say? He was a rambunctious young troll and that wasn’t his fault.

Right now, he was walking alongside Karkat while he was ranting about ‘THAT NOOKBITCH-ASS TROGLODYTE THAT WAS JUST FUCKIN’ TELLIN’ ME I’M AN ARADIA WANNABE? WHAT THE FUCK.’

“I mean, come the fuck on! Just because we’re both hemoanonymous? It’s fucking bullshit!”

“I, uh, maybe they were new here? The troll that told you that?”
“Still! It’s not like she fuckin’ invented wearing gray clothes, I swear to gog.”

“Uh, are you… jealous of her?” Tavros asked, hesitancy in his voice. Karkat just sighed and pinched his brow. “No, of fuckin’ course not. You know we’re all fucking proud of her, probably better than any of us. She’s in this high up position now and she doesn’t have to deal with her blood clotting up the royal chain either, it’s the dream!” The bronzeblood bites his lower lip.

“I, uh, I don’t know. It looks like jealousy. What you just said. About not being jealous.”
“Ugh, fuck off. I’m going to go find Dave.” Karkat groans, before turning a corner and running headfirst into the man himself, Dave Strider. Karkat is temporarily knocked over from the force and scrambles to his feet with a grumpy scowl plastered to his face.

“Oh. Shit, what’s popping?”

“Thanks to The fucking Sufferer I guess, I was looking all over this ass-backward castle for you.”

“Aw, babe!”

“Fuck the shut up, Strider. I’ve changed my mind. I wasn’t looking for you. Go back to being lost.”

“It’s too late for you. You summoned me here, now you gotta face the damn consequences. What’s the tea for today?”

“WELL, we were about to see what we could do about visiting Aradia at some point while she’s at the castle and NOT out with her princess chew toy on whatever fucking party planning for the upcoming ballroom shitfest they have to haul their asses out for whatever quote-en-quote ‘meetings’ they have.”

“Uh, why was that in quotations?”

“Does it fucking matter? No? Cool. So, ANYWAY...”

While he continued his rant, Tavros just bit his lower lip. Despite everything Karkat was saying, it still seemed he was at least a little bit jealous of Aradia. He loves both of his friends, but whether she remembers him or not, he had always liked her. Not romantically! Or very platonically! No, not really. Not entirely. Probably not. Maybe a little bit. A lot of a bit. Anyway! He just looked around nervously to find something else to talk about when he spots a tall, sculpted troll watching them from a distance. It wasn’t easy to tell behind his shattered glasses, but he was definitely staring in their group’s direction.

The bronzeblood just. Kind of nudged Karkat to get him to look? But he was too caught up in his own words to notice. The swole troll in the hallway just speed-walked away once he saw that Tavros noticed him, disappearing in another hallway. He took a moment to make sure that he wasn’t really needed in the conversation, the two bantering like no tomorrow, he snuck off to follow the swole troll.

To be completely one-hundred percent honest, it was kind of hard to keep up. He kept making twists and turns around corners that made no sense if he was trying to get anywhere quickly. A handful of times, Tavros almost gets caught before he can pretend to walk the other way or fake a conversation with another passing troll or hide behind a pillar with just the sides of his horns sticking out. The bronze boy is almost out of breath trying to keep up and is about to go back when he finally hears him talk.

“Nepeta, this was a foolish idea.”

“Nyonsense! You wanna get in good with Purradia, right? As the Spice Trolls said! If you wanna be her lovfur, you gotta get with her furiends.”
“The Spice Trolls are mediocre and much too popular for their blood castes. You’ll stop listening to them.”
“Over my culled body, Equihiss!”

“We are getting off task. I will no longer be listening to her friends and their conversations. They do not talk about anything very interesting besides her relationship with Her Highness, Feferi.”

“Oh? Tell me more!”

“According to the human David Strider, they are very close. The three of them are theorizing that Her Highness may have red feelings for her. However, there is no STRONG evidence to prove this point as none in their party ever cross paths with her often enough to tell.”

Tavros was listening closely the entire time, not peeking out to look at them. He had seen his indigoblood cape. If he got caught, he’d probably be done for! This was a terrible idea. He should go back. Alas, he didn’t, so he was pinning himself to a wall behind a corner within earshot, his large clunky horns just barely staying out of sight from them.

“Oh, that isn’t great!” grumbled the troll named Nepeta. “Well, that would be cute! But that won’t work for us, cause mew and Aradia would be purrfect together! Do you think you can maybe just try and be hotter than Feferi Peixes?”

“Call her by her official title, Nepeta.”

“Fine. Her Highnyess Feferi’s got game, sure! But you’re the, uh, you’re the lovable doofus yearning for the red romance of your knight in shining armor who’s at the top of her grade and it seems all like ‘oh, woe! She’ll never notice me.’” Nepeta gasps with dramatic flair. “But- then! You win her heart after a romantic confession at a ridiculously fancy highblood party and you run off to get married and adopt a kajillion wigglers.”

Tavros, now feeling like they’re distracted enough that he could get a look at them, peeks around the corner. Instead of him talking to another guard as expected, Equius is talking into an air vent. Well, closer to a giant hole in the wall now that a grate had been knocked out to make room for a wriggly oliveblood girl about Tavros’ height with a messy bobbed haircut that just drifted over her eyes and purrbeast-like horns.

“Nepeta, you and I both know that is completely unrealistic. Even if she were to have STRONG feelings for me, I-”

“Shut up.”

“Excuse me?”

“No, shut up for real! I see someone stalking around the corner.” Shit!! This was bad news. Very very bad news. A panicked squeal caught itself in the bronzeblood’s throat. He didn’t wanna die like this! Maybe if he ran fast enough then he could make it back to his friends? Who was he kidding he had no way to know which way went back to where they were. They probably barely realized he was gone anyway. Oh god, he was gonna die at the hands of a highblood after getting into trouble just like his Lusus said.

A hand clasped itself on his shoulder, right as he was scrambling to run away. It didn’t look like it, but it was powerful enough to bend the metal of his armor and keep him firmly locked in place. You could smell the sweat beading down his forehead- Wait, no, that was the guy behind him.

“Why are you listening to our private conversation?”

“I. Uh. Uhh, I just. I just saw you. And uh. Uh. Um. Well-”

“Spit it out already!! Or else I’m gonna pop your pretty wittle glance nuggets out and eat em like raspberries off my claws!” the oliveblood hissed, her sharp troll teeth bared with a hint of glee.

“Nepeta, that is very informal, as both you and I know that you would not devour his eyes like that. You’ll stop immediately.” commanded the indigoblooded troll before turning Tavros around so that he faced him. “However, I demand that you explain why you have been eavesdropping on our private conversation.” His face was flushed bright blue color and blue sweat was dripping down his face and arms, but it wasn’t making the encounter any less intimidating. Tavros pauses for another ‘uhh…’ before taking a quick cough to explain himself.

“I uh. I saw you watching me and my friends while we were talking? So I went to go check it out since they were ignoring me anyway? I didn’t mean to spy on you! At all. I was just leaving. I’ll see you around! Please let me leave.” At this, Nepeta narrowed her catlike eyes at him. “Wait! Uh, I can make it up! Anything you want!! I’m actually really good friends with Aradia! We’ve known each other since grubschool. I swear I can get her to talk to you! We were, uh, we were moirails a few sweeps back. Uh, that was a lie. I don’t know why I said that. We weren’t pale. But I can get her to meet you!” He was begging at this point, the fakest charming grin plastered to his face. These two were definitely more than the bronzeblood could handle. The smaller one looked like a criminal, actually, now that he was thinking of it. Ratty hair, grimy hands, and a quick mouth. That didn’t matter, he just wanted out of here.

The two trolls in front of him considered him for a moment.

“I mean, come the fuck on! What’s there to lose?”

“Do not use such vulgar language.”

“Come the heck on.”

“Thank you. Lowblood, you will introduce Aradia Megido to me at the upcoming New-Sweep’s Ball that is happening in two weeks.” He was acting much more composed than he looked at the moment. Tavros could feel his hand shaking through the armor, mostly because of the sheer strength jolting his entire body with it. “I, uh, will check in with you in a week’s time to see if your peasant's brain has retained my request.” Equius lets go of him, then goes to wipe his hand on a pant leg as if to wipe off dirt or lowblood stink.

“I need a towel."

Chapter Text

    Maids and waiters were bustling around the cavernous hallways with slight frantic energy, dishes and cups and bowls were clattering against each other to make a noise that sounded like the scuttling of thousands of crabs made of glass and porcelain. No words were being exchanged, just desperate and worried glances between anxious highblood maidens with jewels pinned to their ears and dainty feet stuffed inside their heels and bustling servants terrified of punishment for not getting their jobs done on time for the New-Sweeps’ Ball that night.

    Aradia was still comfortable inside Feferi’s room, listening to the noise of the trolls and humans alike preparing the ballroom. She had been helping Feferi zip up a pale, pink, sleeveless dress with a teal frill cascading to the floor that flayed out whenever she twirled in front of the large mirror that hung on her wall and made her look like she was in the middle of a whirlpooling ocean that danced around her. The princess gave herself a toothy grin and a wink in the mirror, readjusted her glasses, and gently curtseyed to her knight.

   “Hey, you rehearsed, right Radi?”
   “Of course I did. How hard could it be? Just walk down the stairs with you and keep a close eye on you. Talk to the rich people, make them happy, have a fun night. Easy.”
   “No, stupid!” the heiress laughed, not sounding unlike a dolphin. “The dancing part! Where you slow dance when quiet songs come on.”
   “I. I didn’t think I’d have to do that.”
   “Oh, glub! It’ll be fine! Just go with the flow. Like, y'know, a water flow, get it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not one of my best.” she scoffed. “Anyway! I’ll see you at the dance, I gotta go check up on ‘Naya to get my hair done.” Feferi enthused, already halfway out the door, leaving Aradia alone in her room. For a minute or two, the knight just sits down. Dancing couldn't be that hard. She looked up at all the lights on the ceiling, then back at her own reflection. She wore a black and white and gray tuxedo with fuschia accents that, unlike a lot of clothes she wore before she joined the guard, fit her perfectly. Beforehand, they had always been a little too baggy on her to be comfortable. A sword was holstered to her belt, but it was almost useless and entirely decorative. At least it was pretty. Aradia drew in a deep breath, then stepped out the door to see the throne room where she would stand with Feferi. Dancing couldn’t be that hard.

 

    The night grew dark quickly as dozens of highbloods filed into the castle. The chatter of the room was almost drowning out the soft, ambient piano playing in the background by some jadeblood Aradia didn't recognize. She had kept close by Feferi prior to now, but some violetblood had come to go talk to her in private and, in the words of Feferi, she would, “be back schooner than later, angelfish! Don’t be such a doofish all the time.” She might’ve had a little bit to drink. For now, Aradia mingled nearby with a handful of highbloods, talking about something adjacent to the news or recent politics. Rustbloods this, culling that. Believe it or not, Aradia felt a little uncomfortable with this entire dance. At least, more than earlier. Out of nowhere, a heavy hand lands on her shoulder and, on instinct, her hand goes to the sword at her belt as she whirls around to face the tall troll behind her. He was about a foot and a half taller than she was, incredibly muscular, and had sweat glistening off of his face and his hands and pretty much his entire body. With a hint of awkward silence, she takes his hand off of her shoulder. Before she can ask who he is, Tavros peeks out from behind the hulking indigoblood.

    “Aradia! Aradia. So, uh, this is my friend Equius! He’s really, um, really excited to meet you. He’s been on the force for, uh…” Tavros leans upwards to try and whisper in Equius’s ear. “How many sweeps?”

    “Three.”

    “Yeah! Three sweeps. Yes. That was the number. That I was gonna say. So, um, yeah! Have a nice night. Talk to you later, uh, if you want to, and if you have time. You know what? Nevermind, uh, you’re probably gonna be busy. Uh, sorry. Bye.” Aradia takes a long siiiiip from the cup in her hand as she watched him stumble away.

“Ahem,” Equius said flatly, without actually coughing.

“Oh, right. How do you like the dance, Equius?”

    “It is… exceptional.”

    “Ah.” Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip.

    The two of them just stewed in the awkward silence of it all. This was kind of the worst, and Aradia just ran out of whatever she was drinking. Equius was just staring directly at the ground, not even looking her in the eye in the slightest, breathing heavily. The tips of his ears were flushed bright blue, or at least as much as she could see of them through his thick black hair.

“So. I think I hear my name being called elsewhere?” She didn't. “I’ll see you around, Equius.”
   “No!” He nearly shouted out of nowhere. “I must sincerely apologize for my behavior. It is uncouth of a highblood like myself to conduct myself so impolitely towards a superior. Accept my apology.”
   “Well, okay, I guess?” She wanted to get out of here very much.
   “Thank you for your leniency. I am here to ask you to dance with me tonight because I would like to pursue some... rather STRONG red feelings that I may have towards you. However, if you were to decline, I have been lying to you, and I do not have any flushed attraction towards you. You will forget about this conversation.”
   “Oh. Huh. No.” A very long, fake, siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip . “I’m very sorry to disappoint you, maybe another day? I’m a little busy,” she said apologetically before speedwalking away in the opposite direction. Tavros, why? She can almost hear him blubbering and running away with his tail between his legs. Oops.

  Everyone around her was laughing together, chattering about something or other like how gorgeous The Condescension was in her dress or whatever new celebrity gossip was in the magazines that day, no one paid much attention to Aradia as she went to pour herself more of the green liquid. Was it alcohol? Was it just plain sopor slime? Could it just be a weird flavor of Troll Jamba Juice? Earth may never know. It had a strong, savory flavor that was just the right amount of bitter and made the back of her brain tingle just a little bit. With her glass full and the night long, Aradia went back to seek out Feferi.

  “ARADIA! Get the fuck over here!” That was not Feferi. Karkat was pushing people out of his way to reach her. “HEY! HAVE YOU SEEN DAVE?”
   “No, why? Did something happen?”
   “That bitch said he’d dance with me at this fucking lame ass party- the only reason I’d even fucking consider attending one of these fucking hoghouses full of dipshits- and he just doesn’t fucking show? I thought you would know since you’re BASICALLY moirails already, I mean come on. But he didn't even fucking show up at all?”
   “I-”
   “I mean, do you think he was just doing that to fuck around with me? I definitely wouldn’t put it above that shithead to send me on a wild honkbeast chase in the world’s grossest gathering of trolls with sticks shoved 3 feet up their asses, but I really thought for fucking ONCE that he would stop fucking toying around and drop the ironic schtick and actually bother to see me! I guess that’s what I fucking get!”
   “He’s-”
   “I should just leave right fucking now, I’ve drawn enough attention to make Fantasy Oprah jealous, but here I am waiting for some bulgesucking asshole in sunglasses INDOORS at NIGHT, at this IDIOTIC FUCKING DROSS COFFER OF-”
   “He’s behind you.” She rolls her eyes, grabs him by his shoulder and turns him around to face Dave Strider, who had been standing there for the past 3 minutes.
   “...Oh.” Karkat was… Blushing? For the first time that Aradia had ever seen. It was a very, very bright reddish color. Not one that she had seen on any troll, but he was quick to cover his face before taking a few moments to breathe and let it drain away. Better not to ask about that, at least not for now. Not in public.
   “So! You been having a nice time, babes?” A cough. Karkat was gritting his teeth and taking deep breaths. Something told her that if he opened his mouth, he would start screaming.
   “Yes, we have! Turns out we were just looking for you, I think.”
   “Really? Couldn’t tell.” You could almost hear the smirk in his voice, and Karkat let out a tortured yet muffled scream before storming off, this time the people he pushed earlier just move out of his way on their own. Dave just bites his lip and starts to follow him. “I’m… gonna go catch up with him.”
   “Catch you later.”

    Finally, finally. Aradia had finally caught up with Feferi, who had taken up to talking to a handful of tealbloods about the laws that needed to be changed in Alternia, or at least something along those lines, mostly focused around the culling of magic users. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip .

    “I mean, personally, I don’t have anyfin against magicians. They deserve a chance, don’t they?” Feferi asked, a charming note ringing at the end of her sentence. It was a lovely sound.
    “Well. I guess. But still. They are. A threat. How would. You manage. To put. A cap. On that?”
   “They wouldn’t be much of a quote-en-quote threat if they weren’t so persecuted, right? Then they wouldn’t have any reason to want to rebel, they can be useful! There aren’t any downsides. Sure, if one causes damage, then we cull that one. Not all of them!” Feferi rolled her eyes at the tealblood, then whirls around to face Aradia.
   “Oh! Radi, I was just looking for you. Come on! I wanted to show you something over here,” she enthused, taking Aradia by the hand and rushing off to a less packed corner of the ballroom. “Okay, I don’t actschoally have anyfin to show you. I just kind of wanted to get away from debaiting the politicians. How’ve you been? Ugh, its like I haven’t seen you all night. Waterever, we gotta head upstairs, the actual dancing is starting soon.” Feferi chimed, almost dragging Aradia upstairs and dusting off her tuxedo with her hands, even though there was practically nothing on it.

  “Isn’t this whole dance thing supposed to be for quadrantmates, ‘Feri?” Traditionally it was, but Feferi had never really shown that much interest in Aradia. Wait, what if she did and her knight had just never caught on? Or maybe she’s blowing this out of proportion, and this was just a friend thing? There was no way that no one had asked the heiress to dance. Not just because of her status, but she was also the perfect girl in almost every way. Her eyes, her smile, the little quirks in her voice you only heard when she was talking about something she was really passionate about, her face all scrunched up when she was complaining about something that Meenah did to frustrate her. She was perfect, right?
  “Oh, come on! I can’t be that bad. Besides, who else would I ask? C’mon, let's go make the violetbloods jellyfish.” she snickered, before daintily holding herself on Aradia’s arm like the other trolls in line to walk down the stairs. A purpleblood was holding a trombone on the bottom of the staircase, at least as far as Aradia could see from where she was standing at the balcony. He blew into his trombone as loudly as he could.
    “Announcing, Her Imperious Condescension!” he flourished with a bow deep enough to kiss the grand canyon, everyone else in the room followed suit and humbling themselves before her. When she clapped her hands for them all to rise, she took her rightful place on her throne in the center of the room. Next to walk was Meenah, then a few important generals, and after them came Aradia and Feferi. She took the princess by the hand gently and walked her down the staircase, their heels clack-clack-clacking against the shiny floor. The line of wealthy trolls felt like it had lasted for hours, but after it all was said and done, the people burst into polite applause.

    The room around the two of them was warm and lively, the tang of sizzling food wafting in the air, smelling savory. Couples were taking each other by their hands and looking toward the human sitting at the piano and the troll sitting on top for the first song to start. A small burst of panic rose in Aradia’s chest. This wasn’t going to go well, was it? Still, the atmosphere was jovial and warm. Maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible if she just lived a little, you know?

   “Follow my lead,” Feferi whispered into her ear, then she took her by the hand and the waist and started to waltz.
   “One- two- step, one- two- step, one- two- step…” Feferi muttered rhythmically, loud enough for her to hear. The two of them slowly made their way around the dance floor, swaying together. They were going a little slower than the other dancers, but that was alright. One, two, step. One, two, step. One, two, step.

   “I think you’re getting the hang of this,” whispered Feferi, dancing to the notes of the gentle piano music. Her eyes had a focused glint to them, reflecting the jewels dripping from a chandelier up above so that they looked like they were half-cracked geodes. The fuschiablood smiled down at her as they got into the rhythm of the music, going a little faster. This wasn’t so hard.

   “Hold onto me for the dip, Radi.”

   “The wh-” Aradia starts before being dropped down suddenly, her horns just barely off the ground with Feferi holding her by the waist. It was like her breath was caught in her chest before being pulled back up to face the princess again, so close that their faces were almost touching and Aradia could hear her quick breaths.

    Feferi then spun her around and passed her off to the next partner, a purpleblooded stranger.
    The group of them danced for what felt like hours, tiring themselves out song after song after song. It hadn’t gone as horribly as she thought it might’ve, mostly because her time with each individual troll was so short that they probably wouldn't have noticed if she missed a beat or two. The last song, though, was the final slow dance. Aradia had somehow twirled herself to the weird blueblood from earlier again, his hands shaking like he was made of glass and about to break. She couldn’t see his eyes and emotions past his shattered glasses, but she could almost smell how nervous he was. He had a wide, unnatural grin on his face, all his teeth somehow shattered. Then he just stopped dancing in the middle of the floor for a moment and presumably stared directly into Aradia’s eyes. One second passes. Two. Three. Why was he staring for this long?... It was getting kind of uncomfortable at this point, actually.

    “Uh…” she whispered, her lips pursed.

    “Oh, there you are!” Aradia heard from behind her as she spun around to face Feferi. “Glub, I was looking everywhere for you,” Feferi enthused quietly, completely ignoring… Ericus? Whatever his name was. Aradia let out an inward sigh, thankful for the opportunity to kindly ditch this sweaty blue guy.

     Feferi takes her by the hand and takes her to a more secluded corner of the ballroom floor, the slow, sweet music heard only softly over the whispers of the other dancers as Feferi brushed a lock of loose hair out of Aradia’s face, the princess’s hands cold to the touch but her smile ever warmer. The song was already coming to a close, but the moment dragged on and on until it was broken by the purpleblood with the trombone calling for dinner to be served.

Chapter Text

    The smells that encompassed the dining room were intoxicating, wafting around as if heaven had just arrived on earth, and this was the strange special-effect fog coming out of its limo. Fancy trolls were being ushered to their dining chairs adorned with their sign hanging from the back, letting everyone know exactly where they were supposed to be. Of course, The Condense Herself was sitting with one leg over the other at the head of the table already, looming a few feet taller than everyone at the table. Meenah was on her right hand and Feferi at her left, staring absentmindedly at the table, obedient and silent. According to Fef, the two of them had been carefully instructed not to talk as to not ‘be too gillable and spill some secrets about our operations.’ In any case, Aradia shared with her in this silence, just planning on stoically standing next to her in the first place.
    “A toast, my guppies, to the New Sweep!” The Condense crowed, lifting her glass along with everyone else. “Yes, this has been a tough one to tread, what with all the threat of magic mutiny and whatnot,” she cackles for a moment, staring pointedly at everyone else to laugh with her, “but this year, maybe we can crush their bones badly enough that they remember to stay in line!” The other trolls in the ensemble chuckled to themselves like it was a hilarious joke, clinking their glasses together.

   “Honestly,” chortled a pompous violetblood sitting near Aradia, “It’s a miracle they keep, you know, trying this hard! All the little lowblooded magicians, it’s adorable! I’d almost respect them if they ever caused any real damage. My friend has a handful of rustbloods that help him around the house? They’re just the sweetest little things! One of them just gets so very angry whenever you kick him. Ah, gosh.” she snorted, covering her laugh with her hand. All Aradia could do was just smile, nod, and bite her tongue. It was like she had never heard anything as casteist as that, but it was alright! It was very much alright. It was great, actually. Wonderful. She’d better get used to this quick.

    “Oh, sweetie, you really have to cut off ties with him. You know that the crowd doesn’t like it any more when trolls have lowblood slaves.”

    “Of course, of course, of course. But oh, they make controlling swathes of land so much easier! Any lowblood that really doesn’t want to be taken care of by a highblood can just leave? How hard could it be to just fake their blood color a little bit after walking out the front door? I went through a phase a handful of sweeps ago where I hid my blood to be edgy, so silly of me.” Why would she need to hide anything? She’s a violet. Not only is she on the top of the food chain, but she has fins! It’s already a dead giveaway to her blood color, why the hell would she need to hide it?

    “Oh! Aradia, Aradia my darling. Barely even saw you there, you’re so short and cute!” she cooed with a sickening sweetness dripping from her voice. “You’re the topic of a handful of heavy conversations around here, you know! Quite the spotlight.”
    “I am?” Aradia asks, her voice almost completely monotone. Yeah, she knows.

    “But of course, but of course, but of course. Everyone is talking about you and your blood color, you know? What and with being hemonanonymous, I’m a little curious myself. Rumors say you’ve never been bloodied in battle, and that’s why no one knows.”

    “I’ve been hurt before, my lady. I’m just very good at cleaning myself up.”

    “Oh, you’re adorable, did you know that? You're so short for a highblood! I was your height when I was just 7 sweeps old,” For a highblood? She can work with that. Aradia just smiles and shrugs, saying as little as possible. “You’re very quaint, did you know that, darling? It’s still such a wonder how you managed to defeat that witch on your own. I’ve heard of people wondering how you did it, you know? Even if you did it at all. I’m sure you did, you seem very strong and capable… but it’d be a story to hear.” the violet purred, giving Aradia a sultry half-lidded gaze.

    “It really wasn’t all that much, my lady. I mean it, um, it was a hell of a fight, sure. Just had to use my environment to my advantage, miracle that I survived.”

    “I see, I see, I see…” she mused. Aradia could almost hear the gears clicking around in her head. “Still, goldbloods are a force to be reckoned with. I had a goldblood kismesis once, did you know? She was pretty powerful, but I ended up, uh, splitting it off with her. As they say. She went hemoanonymous after that, kind of like you. God, do you know how many people would kill to know what color you bleed? It’s really on everyone’s minds all the time.”

     “Not really. You're kind of the only one who’s actually asked me in a while.”

    “Well, I want you to tell me. Just out of curiosity? C’mon, Dia, you can tell me, right? I won't tell a soul," she flitted her eyelashes persuasively, then turning to talk to someone across the table for a moment. "Oh, yes, please pass the grubsauce.”

    “Um, no, that’s kind of classified, thanks.”

    “Oh, come on, come on, come on! You’ve got to be joking, Dia. I won’t tell. It can’t be that bad.”

    “I think I’m just gonna eat my food, thanks,” Aradia muttered, sawing at whatever kind of meat happened to be on her plate, all warm and gooey. She took a few bites and ate thoughtfully to herself when the lady next to her jabbed her knife directly into the table, a wave of silence washing over the rest of the dining room. A flash of concern hits Feferi’s face behind her.

    “Don’t be like that, Dia! I can find out if I want to. “

    “I…” Aradia paused, taking a moment to swallow. “You can’t fight me here, you know. Horrible for your image, culled for sure.”

    “Well, some trolls just can’t help but be curious, you know?” she chimed sweetly. Some of the other trolls were genuinely interested, not intervening nor applauding, just eating and watching like it was some kind of show. Well, it was. It was like a free soap opera right before their eyes. She held hard eye contact with Aradia, her sweet inflection completely dissipated. “Well?”

    “...Indigo. I’m an indigoblood. I decided to stay anonymous because I wanted to earn my rank through my achievements and not my blood color.” Nice save. The violet woman goes back to sitting daintily in her chair and eating leisurely, not noticing the glares of boredom from anyone else in the room until another guard drags her off with little protest. After a few minutes of poking around her plate, she excuses herself to go and wash her face. She didn’t need to hear what other gossip was gonna be served.

   By the time Aradia returns, much later than she had originally anticipated, everyone else had already returned to the dance floor. The lights were already too dim and the daylight too far gone to see much of anyone's face, but after roughly 10 minutes of awkwardly dodging around people, she finds herself back next to Feferi. She chitters something excitedly that Aradia can’t hear and grabs her by the hand to casually walk with her to a secluded stairway, an ear-to-ear smile on her face. She turns a corner, then another, down another random hallway, up another staircase, over and over again, almost like she had no idea where she was going.

   “Where are we going, Fef?”
    “Oh!” A light cough and sputter, “I was just heading back to my room, tra-la. The dancing made me dreadfully tired, and I can’t seem to find it. Oops!” She laughed haughtily, bonking herself in the head with her wrist. “Ara, would you lead me back?” Yikes. She must be pretty loopy right now, Aradia guessed, so she just gives her a soft smile and leads her back into her tower overlooking the sleeping city. Aradia opens the door for her as Feferi twirls gracefully into her room and onto her bed, the picture of elegance. Almost too perfect to be true. Aradia walks over to the open window to look down at everything. Tonight has been too much too fast, but it was fun, right? What with Feferi asking her to dance, Karkat and Dave, the weird blue man, Feferi, the fight at dinner...
    The cold of the night brings hairs rising on her arms resting on the windowsill as she lays her head down on them for just a minute. A deep breath in and a deep breath out. The lights of the town are dimming as Aradia watches them, and she’s almost too mesmerized to hear the soft click of the lock on the door turning. She stands to face Feferi who has a soft puppy-like glow in her eyes.

    “Oh, what a fabulous night it has been, hasn’t it?”

    “If you say so, Fef… Do you think it was a good idea for me to join the guard?”

    “Whatever do you mean, Ara?”

    “I’ve caused more problems than I’ve solved, all I did was fight off that one witch. I’ve only been in this force for a handful of perigees, too.”

    “Oh, please. You’re more powerful than everyone else in this castle combined-”
    “Not only that, there are so many conspiracies about my blood color now! What happens once someone finds out? If I get one cut during a battle and it comes out rusty, I’m done for, Fef.” A face of shock passes over the heiress’ face, then it softened back up with a look of… pity?
    “You had to defend me tonight, and wasn't it supposed to be the other way around? That’s the one thing I’m good at, the one thing I’m supposed to do. Am I even doing my job, Your Highness?
    “Ara, It’s not your job to defend me when I’m having dinner with the other rich trolls. I think it might’ve even been even better, what with you staying out instead of intervening. Just let me do the talking whenever this happens, okay cuddlefish?”
    “I guess.”
    “Oh, Aradia... Don’t even worry about a thing,” Feferi whispers, leaning into the rustblood’s face. Her breath is hot on Aradia’s skin and a slight lull hung in her eyes. Her eyes were... different, somehow. They don’t have the usual dull pink color to them that sparkles when she smiles, a brownish color in its place. A jolt of realization and betrayal dawns on Aradia’s face.
    “Hey, Ara? You feeling alright?”
“...You don’t really call me that, usually.”
    Feferi pauses to think for a moment, looking back up. “Oh, right. Dia. Are you really still upset about the fight? Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure to make it up to Her Imperious Condescension.”

   “Why didn’t you know your way back? You haven’t drunk that much.” The brown glint in the heiress’s eyes suddenly hardened, the soft smile drooping into a scowl. Aradia immediately stands up and shoves whoever-this-was away and onto the floor. Her hand goes to the fencing sword that she had said was useless just earlier that night. As soon as she stood, Feferi scrambled to stand in front of the exit and simultaneously morphed into someone else. Her pink-tinted skin was almost peeling off her body, not looking nearly as soft and full as it was before like it was rotting away into an orangish-brown color. Her tall horns that curved outward melted down like molten iron into a new, sideways swirl. Her hair unraveled in loops and puffed out until it touched the floor. This new troll masquerading as Feferi bares her teeth and claws, her back hunched. Aradia screams out “IMPOSTER!” before charging straight at her opponent, her sword slashing wildly but accurately, but the cheap and dull blade just left a handful of bruises-to-be. In her rage, she snarls and chucks the shitty sword to the ground with a clat-t-t-t-t-t-ter , snapping it in two on the impact.

    The brozneblood woman in front of her tore at Aradia with her nails, trying to gauge her eyes out, just narrowly missing, clipping an eyelash as the knight dodged to the side, grabbing her out of the air and pinning the imposter to the ground with the strength and will of an ox.

    “What the fuck did you do with Feferi?” Aradia hissed, pressing the intruder’s skull to the ground with an iron fist.

   “Get off of me!” she screeched, pushing up with all her might. Aradia just restrains her further with her hands behind her back, threatening to snap any and all of her bones at a moment’s notice. A pang of fear shoots through the bronzeblood’s eyes.
    “Fine! Fine, just let me speak! Just let me speak,” she spits, and Aradia stops applying so much pressure on her head.
    “Okay, my name is Varcay, and I’m a witch. Duh. I’ll admit, I really like you, I really do! I really do. Your best bet to get out of this hell-zone is to fucking run, now. Please.”
    “Why would I run? What the fuck is happening?”

    “My friends are planning to exterminate this place. The whole thing, while Condy’s still on earth.” She keeps talking on and on, but Aradia’s world goes in slow motion, working this out in her mind. She was distracted by this imposter of Feferi, obviously. Why? To get her away from the real Feferi. Where was she? She’s in the ballroom, ready to countdown for the new sweet with all the other trolls. That’s where they would strike to ‘exterminate.’ She had to go. Now. In the middle of Varcay’s talking, she tosses her quickly to the side into a wall, hearing a sickening crunch . That wasn’t important right now. She had to find her.

   Aradia kicks down the locked door like it was freshly baked bread, sprinting down the hall, slowing only to grab her whip off of a hook near the armory and sling it around her arm. She was running as fast as she could to the staircase above the dining room, overlooking a few dozen trolls dripping with jewelry and excitement as they watched the countdown to the New Sweep. The rustblood, with the loudest voice she could possibly muster over the talking, yelled out.

    “EVERYONE EVACUATE, OR YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Her voice echoed through the ballroom, putting everyone to a stop. Someone yelled at her to shut up, some started fleeing the scene, others just stood in confusion. The Condescension Herself rolled her eyes.

    Feferi click-click-clicked her way up the steps, careful not to trip on her dress.

    “Radi, what’s going on? Water you doing? I couldn’t find you anywhere!”

    “I’ll explain later, I just have to-”

B O O O O O O M. A deafening noise implodes from the center of the room, a man standing there floods the room with light and the faint feeling of hatred rises in the air. Trolls start to stumble back in surprise, but it's too late for them to run. The stranger, rage filling his eyes, lets out a scream-like roar. His body practically implodes, convulsing rapidly as, from the tips of his horns down, a glowing black glasslike material consumes him until it was as if he was a statue. From his glass feet, the effect spread throughout the floor like an infection, and those who it touched were immediately transformed. Nobles and staff alike were trying to flee the scene, all meeting an unruly fate, as Aradia could see their faces twisting in anguish as they met their brittle fate. The plague-like glowing glass was crawling towards the two of them, too. Aradia’s eyes darted around for some way to escape, some way to make it out of this alive. Maybe, just maybe, the chandelier that was above them? She wasn’t sure it would hold, but they didn’t have a better option. Aradia grabbed Feferi by the waist as quickly as she could, using her whip as a grappling hook to climb up to glowing crystal hanging from the ceiling. Aradia could barely keep the two of them in the air in time to escape the black glass, but it seemed like it only spread to the floor, like the world’s most devastating game of Hot Lava Monster. Eventually, the glass passed by them, barely missing the bottom of the whip before the rustblood snatched it back up.

    This safe space wouldn’t last forever, Aradia knew. Not with both of them on it. Yes, this was one of the stronger ones, but it was also too small. One of them would drop, soon, if not both at once. She looked into Feferi’s fearful eyes, the reality of the situation dawning on her too. Aradia presses the whip to her chest in a gesture to ‘hold on tight,’ before looking back down at the glass. She’s barely heard over the pulse of the blood in their ears or the screams of a crowd being swallowed up in black glass.

    “Fef? I hope you get out of here alright, 'cause someone has to live to talk about this.”

   Aradia lets go of the chandelier, falling backward in slow motion, watching Feferi’s face twist in horror, reaching out, screaming, trying to catch her before she hit the ground. It wasn’t a long fall, really. Just a few feet before she met her transparent grave. She wondered what it was like, you know, to die. Probably unpleasant. Damara had done it. Maybe she would’ve called Aradia an idiot had she been there to witness her death. Speaking of death, did Karkat or Dave make it out of here alive? Was Tavros okay? There wasn’t much time left to think about them, no, but she was sad. Sad that she would never know. Maybe if she-

    THUNK.
    As she hits the floor on her back, she waits for the writhing pain. For her body to numb and her vision to fade. Maybe see someone come down from the heavens to take her away, but no. Nothing happens. She opens her eyes. Under her eagle-spread body, there was a ring of dim fuschia light surrounding her. A single circle of floor tile left uninfected unlike the ocean around it. Aradia immediately got to her feet, the hot pink circle wavering around her and adjusted to be as small as possible without killing her. Aradia gazes upward in both shock and awe, her heart pounding as she saw Feferi, still reaching down, her fist clenched and ablaze with pink flame and beads of sweat dripping down her forehead, pure determination bringing her to tears. The ring of divine pink magic expanded until large enough for 3 people to stand on, then absorbed into the stone.

    Feferi heard a sickening crack from the chandelier she clung to and leaped off the crystalline death trap, Aradia catching her expertly in her arms. As she puts her down next to Aradia on this little island she created, they surveyed the carnage around them. The glassy effect was starting to seep its way up the walls until the entire castle they were standing in was translucent and black. Trolls were caught mid-fall like time was frozen around them, but they were dead as dead could be. Above the sea of statues was The Condescension Herself. An expression that no one would ever see fit for her; Fear. Fear and agony and rage and loss. Twisted like that forever. Meenah was next to her, too, eyes closed and… Smiling? Maybe it was just too far to see from here.

    Out the window, a gasp of relief escaped both of them at the same time. The glass had gotten really far out but it just, for some reason, stopped in a perfect circle around where this mess had started. Karkat was standing just outside the circle, screaming, but Dave must’ve been too far to the side to see.

    After a minute or so, the glass stops glowing like a fire burning itself out and, after a little bit of tossing pocket items onto it and deeming it safe to walk on, Feferi finally speaks, a crack in her voice.



 

    “Oh, glub.”

Chapter Text

    There was a crowd gathered around the two of them by the time they made their way out of the wreckage that was the crystalline palace, Feferi opting to lean heavily on Aradia’s shoulder, so much so that it was like she was being dragged out, while she tried to work out in her head where everything went wrong, Aradia dumbstruck as to how she could’ve possibly survived against all odds.

    She didn’t see anyone in the mob that she knew, only nearby residents fussing over property destroyed from the glass circle overlapping their homes and a news reporter or three gawking and pointing at the two of them walking out. There were a few other survivors of the attack who had just barely managed to scrape past the outskirts of the blast, many crying over the ones who just barely didn’t make it. Looking over Feferi’s face, her eyes glancing frightenedly around to the faces of concerned and furious and prying trolls ogling at her destroyed home and through the windows to their dead queen. Some were clamoring to ask them questions about who died or what caused it, but too much blood was pounding in their heads to pay the others much thought.

    “Fef, are you alright?” Aradia said softly to her so that only she could hear. “What happened in there?”

    “Radi, they… This has to be my fault. I did this somehow. Glub, I’m such a fucking idiot, Radi, what have I done, oh my god…”

    “What? Feferi, this… this massacre is not your fault, Fef. It was the witches again. If anything, it’s my fault. I let myself get distracted by some sorceress pretending to be you, long story, I got cornered, if I were just a little bit faster I could’ve saved more people if I hadn't been so stupid and fell for something so obvious-”

    “No, you don’t understand, just let me-“

    “I-”
    “STOP it, Megido!” Feferi commanded strongly, but not loudly. There was a new kind of anger in her voice. A blend of fury and sadness and betrayal, a shake. Dozens of eyes snapped to stare at the two of them squabbling before Feferi caves and mutters, “Just. Please, Radi, come with me for just a minute.”

    Feferi, a distressed expression on her face, speed-walked away with Aradia obediently in tow, neither of them saying a word. Feferi was looking away from everyone else, covering her face with her hand and staring intensely at the ground, avoiding all eye contact with anyone or recognition from anything. She leads her to a somewhat more secluded alley, away from the madness of trolls desperate to see whatever the hell was going on. “Radi, listen to me carefully. Don’t interrupt me, okay?” Aradia just gives her an affirmative nod, pressing her lips together tight.

    “Okay. I’m… I’m really sorry. I’ve been lying to you. I’ve done a hell of a lot of lying, recently?” she said with a frown, not making any eye contact. Feferi drew in a deep, deep breath.

    “I’m a witch, okay?” she stage-whispered out. “Plain and simple.”

    Aradia just stared at her for a moment, blinking with uncertainty. She tries to open her mouth to speak but closes it again to let Feferi talk. “How the glub did you think we survived the attack earlier? Magic? Well, yeah, I guess so! Listen, I understand if you hate me now, platonic-like, and that’s alright! I… I’m really sorry for lying to you this entire time, that was a giant bulge move, besides, I got you into this whole mess when you beat that other witch and I just thought you’d be really cool to know. I didn’t know the other witch, but you didn’t kill her, so I thought you might be okay, and-”

    Aradia just puts her hand up in a gesture to tell Feferi to be quiet, the fuschiablood biting her lower lip to hold back what looks like pale pink tears. Without saying a word, Aradia opens her arms towards Feferi as the princess falls into her hug and heaves a long sigh, just closing her eyes for a moment. Not letting go, Aradia says softly to her, “How long have you been using magic?”

    “Just a few sweeps, my friend Jade taught me a few tricks and I caught on from there. It’s been so, so hard keeping it secret. Meenah walked in on me practicing but I was lucky enough that she didn’t care enough to rat… I should’ve thanked her for that, but its… It’s a little late for that, damn it. I never found out what happened to Jade after grubschool either, but she probably got culled up too.”

    “Feferi… I. I can’t say I can’t relate to this, I guess, with my sister dead and such, but I’m so sorry. It makes a lot more sense, you defending witchcraft before.”
    “My old guard, too. Before you. Not that I don’t think you’re amazing and buoytiful and capable, but he was the closest thing I had to a best friend.” Beautiful? “Glub damn it, I could’ve done anything more to help him, then I didn't.”
    “Wait, Fef,” Aradia urged, looking into her eyes. “You can do something, now. With the Her Imperious Condescension and Meenah dead, that would make you the new Empress… Oh. Huh, that’s a little morbid, isn’t it.”
    “I guess… but, it works. I never really liked Momdescension very much, she was really demanding and really paid all her attention to Meenah. Even then it was to shape her to be the glubbin’ queen, but I think I miss her anyway? That’s a little weird.”
    “How does crowning a new queen work? It hasn’t happened in… God, thousands of sweeps. This is kind of just now hitting me. Hm.”
    “I… Glub, just let me cry for a moment. I’ll be good in a moment.” Feferi blurted out, burying her eyes in Aradia’s shoulder and letting out a few choking sobs, the latter just holding her close.

    The rustblooded girl was breathing rhythmically in… and out, in… and out, in… and out, just taking in the reality of the situation. She clutched Feferi in a tight hug, drowning out the panic of the crowd with little hums in an attempt to soothe her, if only slightly. After a moment or two, Feferi wraps her arms around Aradia too, still quietly sobbing into her shoulder. The latter closes her eyes and simply sways back and forth with the fuschiablood until she’s calm, or at least breathing slower.
    “...Radi?”
    “Yeah, I’m here.”
    “We’re gonna have to tell them what the glub happened,” she said, grinning weakly through her fat pink tears.
    “I’ll make something up, I promise, you just keep yourself alright and I’ll take care of the rest.”
    The two of them broke apart, albeit sadly, looked at each other in the eyes with a sense of trust, then walked back out of the alleyway to confront the masses.

    The two of them step back out together, hand-in-hand. Feferi held herself with a distinct kind of regality now, putting on a brave face but tear tracks still staining her soft gray cheeks. She squeezed Aradia’s hand tight for comfort. No one was paying either of them much mind, mostly gaping at the crystallized doorway and talking among themselves. Aradia, glancing over to Feferi on her right, got an affirmative nod.

    “HEY!” she shouted over the conversation of the trolls, who shut the fuck up and listened to her. Some reporters who were there immediately whirled around to face her, trying to catch her expression for the news.
    “You’re probably confused about what’s happened here tonight, right? I don’t really blame you.” She pauses for a moment to survey the crowd. Her breath is shakier than it should be. “The Empress and the Heiress- Her Imperious Condescension and Meenah- are both dead. Both of them- They’re crystallized in the middle of that dance floor.” She’s wavering. “Both of them in one night. Them and dozens of other trolls.” Feferi is weeping quietly.
    “An animal, not a lusus, got in through a window and it must’ve been magic in nature because someone stepped on it in the middle of the ballroom, and it exploded. The blast turned everyone in the radius it into black glass,” she said, gesturing to the statues inside. She still clutched the princess’ hand tight.

    “Fef and I barely escaped the explosion, as well as a handful of other people here,” she got a few scattered nods from the crowd. “And to those, I’m glad. We might still be working out what fucking happened that was so powerful, but, until then,” she announced with only a slight crack in her voice. She paused to raise Feferi’s hand in the air like she was the winner of some fantastic race and not an impromptu ruler, shouting, “Welcome your new queen, Feferi Peixes.” One by one, the trolls in the crowd started kneeling until it was the entire crowd all bowing before her. Aradia was the last one, who dropped her hand and took a knee.
    “Okay. Okay. Okay.” Feferi breathed, only loud enough for Aradia to hear. “Everyone,” she started “First of all, we’re going to get all the statues out of the castle and have them out here. There will be a memorial for them, and mostly Her Imperious Condescension. For now, we need to clear them out.” A good handful of trolls took their cues and mournfully marched into the castle.

    “Aradia…” She heard a scratchy, off-key voice from behind her sob. “Aradia, what the FUCK is happening tonight.” It was Karkat, a fat sleeve hiding his face but he was unmistakably crying. A cold, cold feeling of dread was crawling up her back. “Are you alright? Karkat, what happened?”
    “Fucking- that bastard, Dave, he…” He coughs through his tears, having a hard time breathing. “He fucking died on me. I saw it happen. He’s fucking gone, Aradia, he’s gone.” Karkat choked out.



    Her heart drops for a moment.

    And another.

 

    “That’s- That’s not. No, no he’s not, no no no no no.”

    Karkat only wept harder, she could even see the fat, bright red tears streaming down his face and jacket. In an act of impulse, she raced down the direction that he had come from. Feferi called towards her, telling her to stop, to wait up, that she had something to say, but Aradia kept going. She could tell that people were watching her after her little speech but she didn’t care. She had to see what happened to him. She skidded to a halt directly in front of the only statue in a small clearing.

    Dave Strider. His usually immaculately combed hair a just little ruffled, glancing down as if he were looking right at someone who wasn’t there, and completely made of solid black glass. He was smiling, maybe in the middle of laughing at something someone said, but utterly and truly dead in the end even though he looked so alive.
    The weirdest part was, she didn’t even cry. She stared and stared and stared into his sunglasses, which hadn’t changed all that much. She could see her reflection in them. Maybe she was expecting him to start moving or saying that it was just a prank, bro and it was just a really good metallic paint but nothing happened anyway. Her best friend, Dave Strider, was absolutely and entirely gone. She might as well have been a statue too because all she could do was stare and stare and stare.

    Eventually, Karkat caught up with her, with Feferi helping him walk. He was still sobbing into his hands when he took to standing next to her. She barely noticed him. Over and over, running through her mind: He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. She could barely hear him sniffling as he mumbled.
    “I was right there,” he warbled, “He kissed me earlier tonight after we left the hall. I was so GODDAMN dumb, Aradia. I was so, so fucking IDIOTIC I let him die. This is my fucking fault, oh my god. We were right on the edge, Dave was right next to me. He was right next to me and I fucking let him die. Fuck.” he cried. It was like white noise to her. She had had her friends die before. Of course she had, in this society. Never like this, never a friend like him. Never had she so plainly seen the exact frame their heart stopped beating. Feferi tried to come in for a hug, but Aradia pushed her away with one hand. She didn’t need that right now. Not now.

 

    She needed time.