Cronus Ampora stands before you, shoulders hunched, hands deep in his pockets, glowering past you. "Chief," he interrupts petulantly, "ya don't get it. That's what it was like in the nineteen-hundred-fifties on Earth."
You take a deep breath. "Cronus, while I acknowledge and accept your feelings of species dysphoria, and recognize the importance of poses—excuse me, behaviors—which mitigate that discomfort, I am disappointed to find that after all the times I have attempted to lend you my support and guidance, you are still under the impression that importing problematic attitudes from the checkered pasts of other civilizations is an acceptable way to handle your issues."
He groans and shifts his unlit human cigarette to the opposite corner of his mouth. "Kankri, I was just trying to add a little Earth flavor to the conversation. I didn't mean anything by it."
"I find it hard to believe that even you could fail to perceive the problem with using derogatory language in reference to Mituna's blood color. You know how many problems were caused by hemospectral bigotry on Beforus, and given what we now know about the violent oppression on Alternia—"
"I didn't say anything about his blood color."
"Latula distinctly said—"
"I was talking about his face."
"What?" You come up short. "I don't understand."
He folds his arms. "On Earth, everyone's blood is red." You think his eyes flicker to you on that word, and you feel yourself flush slightly; you frown harder. "They have more of a... dermaspectrum."
You lift an eyebrow. "A system of class privilege and oppression based on... skin color?"
"Right," Cronus says, his ear fins pricking up. "So, given that I'm royalty, I'd be..."
You should hit him. Right in the snout.
Of course, you tell yourself, as he goes on to explain something that sounds every bit as reprehensible as the hemospectrum, in very similar ways, with an enthusiasm that makes your temperature rise, violence is not the answer. Peaceful discourse is the only true path to social change, and given your expertise in Beforan and Alternian problematics, you are more than equal to the toxic attitudes of a third civilization. You don't feel like it should truly be relevant to your efforts, but there are humans wandering the dream bubbles, after all, so there are bound to be paradigm clashes sooner or later.
Still, it would be satisfying, wouldn't it? He's so wrapped up in his glorification of this primitive society, he wouldn't even see it coming.
Well, primitive is a problematic word. Perhaps technologically challenged, or evolutionarily impaired would be better.
What a strange word... Where did you hear that term for humans?
"...so I told him we didn't serve his kind there," Cronus said. He raises his hands like he's just presented you with something he's proud of. "You see? Harmless."
"It is hardly harmless to enact the prejudices of another species on a member of your own—I'm sorry, of this species—given your relative privilege in Beforan society, Cronus."
"But Chief..." Cronus's tone becomes wheedling. "You don't know what it's like for me, trapped in this grey-skinned body, when really..."
Aw, go on. One shot in the face gash. He probably won't even hit you back.
You frown. That thought echoed, just slightly, like you were hearing it, rather than thinking it, albeit in your own voice.
What are you talking about? You can't hear your own thoughts.
Get the fuck out of my head, Kurloz.
Getting better at recognizing my thoughts, motherfucker. Now that you've caught him, the implanted thoughts ring out clearly in his lost voice. Good for you.
Yes, now kindly fuck off, you mentally growl.
The raspy wheeze of his laughter echoes uncomfortably through your mind.
"That's repugnant," you say, when you notice Cronus waiting for a reply.
The sea dweller's face sets into a petulant scowl and he takes a step toward you. "You can't shame me for my culture. How can you judge a society whose history you don't even know?"
You don't like the way his gills flare, but you're distracted by the hissing laughter in your head.
Why don't you lay some truth on this fool? Tell him he's a joke, the like of what would've got him culled on Alternia. What he says makes you sick.
He is misguided, certainly, but that is where teachings like mine can—
Teachings, shit. Admit it. He makes you so mad you wanna rip his frilly motherfuckin' throat out.
"I don't need to know the entirety of their history to recognize mass oppression, and I thought better of you than to seek to replicate a damaging social system on top of an already flawed one which you know has hurt so many."
The hint of a compliment mollifies Cronus, and he returns to his earlier, wheedling tone. "Chief, I'm not tryin' ta hurt anyone, but no one gets it..."
Schoolfeed this mirthless saltblood with the tip of your sickle. I know you still got your strife deck loaded.
"If that's the case, Cronus, you should take a more proactive role in the promotion of your chosen culture. If you present our friends with only the most negative aspects of human culture—"
"—those which can be highly triggering to trolls given their similarities to problematic aspects of our culture—"
Unless the reason you don't feed him steel is that you're secretly all into this supremacist motherfucker.
You blink at Cronus, who's frowning, waiting for you to finish your sentence. "Well, I—" Where were you? "You will do a disservice not only to yourself, but to—"
I mean, I know you got a taste for highblood bulge.
Your eyes widen. Shut up. Get the hell out of my head, and the fuck out of this bubble.
"To..." you say. "To... the human ghosts scattered through the bubbles with whom..."
Maybe you're just frontin' with all that unfunny revolutionary nonsense, and what you really want prince fishfucker to do is knock you down and fill your mutant nook with royal slurry. That it?
"You identify, and for whom..."
You wanna be the prince's pail, mutantblood?
You catch yourself staring at Cronus's groin, the neat waist, the muscular thighs shown to advantage by overly tight jeans. You yank your gaze up.
"For whom you..."
That's it, ain't it? You want him to schoolfeed you about the hemospectrum.
You take an unsteady step back, then another, until your back hits the wall of your dream hive. You lean against it gratefully.
Stop, you think vehemently. Don't make me look at him like that.
Like what, lowblood? I'm just opening the doors I find in here. You want him to slam you up against that there wall and get his webbed fingers all over you. Rip those rags from off you. Kick open those trembling legs.
"...you..." you say faintly, making an effort to focus on Cronus's face, "function as a..."
Pin your arms so you can't move. Let you feel that highblood strength, get you real accustomed to the feeling of being at the bottom.
"A sort of..." You swallow; your mouth is dry. "Ambassador... to the troll residents."
Take you by the throat so you can't spout all that traitorous verbiage, and pail you. Let that big old violet bulge just fill you the fuck up while he chokes you so ain't nothing you can do about it. Well, shit, motherfucker, that could be arranged.
"Wow... Ambassador? You really think so?"
You make some vague assent, trying to keep your tone even.
No! you think. I'm not interested in him that way, I only want to see him act with more tolerance towards others.
No...? But you're wet.
With sick horror you realize he's right. Warmth seeps into your undergarments. When you squeeze your legs together, self-conscious, it drips down your thigh. An almost painful flush spreads across your cheeks.
"Kankri?" Cronus says. He sounds distant.
"You should try to represent humanity," you say, "which surely counts as a minority in our current milieu..."
Well, that's real flattering, motherfucker. It's a real load off my sponge to know it's only my shade of purple you wanna wear.
"...in the most favorable possible light, given that..."
So let an invertebrother hear those filthy thoughts you got about him.
I don't think about you, either, Kurloz.
Sure you do. You're thinkin' about me right now. Wanting me all up against you. Wanting my breath on your neck. My hands on that sweet, round ass.
I don't, you think, as heat begins to spill more freely down your thighs. You feel his weight against your front, a puff of breath against your cheek.
Ain't about to do that when you're panting for me like it's mating season up in this bubble. Spread those legs, motherfucker, who you think you're foolin'?
His thigh forces its way between yours and your feeble attempt to push away from the wall only slides your nook along his leg. You gasp.
I know what you like, warmblood.
His fingers thread into your hair, tilting your head back, exposing your throat. You swallow a tiny cry of alarm and arousal.
Look at you burnin' up for me, askin' me in like a motherfuckin' welcome mat.
You clutch at his shoulders as his other hand runs over your chest, curves around your side to rub hard at your grub scar through your sweater.
"Ah!" You arch and he grinds his hips against you, the rough denim abrasive against your swollen nook, even through your leggings.
"Don't call me that," you murmur absently.
"Mmm, babe, I'll call you whatever you want."
God, I hate you, Kurloz. I hate you.
Susurrating laughter. I know you do.
He tugs down your collar to kiss your throat, increasing the pressure against your grub scar till it almost hurts. He licks a long, wet stripe up your throat to your ear.
You moan, bulge pushing out, caught between the two of you.
So you might wanna wake your ass up, 'cause I ain't got no tongue.
You jolt against the wall, stomach bottoming out. Your eyelids feel weighted down, and it's a struggle to wrest them open.
Cronus is plastered against you, face buried in your neck. You are eye-to-eye with the cigarette tucked behind his ear. His hand slides down your back to grasp your ass. With a strangled cry of mingled horror and rage, you get your hands on his shoulders and snap forward from the waist.
Cronus staggers back, blinking at you. "What's wrong, babe?"
"What's—?" you sputter. "What's—!?" You hear your voice ascending into a shriek, but can't rein it in. "What's wrong?!"
He grins. "You seemed pretty into it a minute ago." He takes a step toward you. "Just let me—"
"Stay back!" you screech. You pivot hard left and sprint. Your face burns and a patch of your neck feels unreasonably cold. Your flesh crawls. You're unsteady on your feet, but they bear you in the right direction—inasmuch as direction means anything in a dream bubble—but you can tell by the gradually increasing volume of the malevolent laughter in your mind that you're getting closer.
Kurloz can do that, co-opt your dream bubbles, erase the memories you've installed or reshape them as he likes. You haven't figured out yet how to stop him. The hives and lawnrings around you become more nondescript as you leave your remembered hivecluster, and then they begin to pull back, melt into open grassland altogether.
Abruptly, the ground, too, falls away, and you skid to a halt, panic singing through you as the cosmos yawns beneath your feet. You backpedal, but there's nowhere to go. The grassland behind you is gone. You stand on an invisible surface, in the midst of empty space, watched by distant stars.
You draw yourself up, try to breathe evenly and deep and mostly succeed, as phantom sweat beads along your hairline. Kurloz Makara coalesces from starlight a few yards in front of you. He tilts his head, smiling his uncanny smile wide enough to crease his eyes.
Lecture over so soon?
You growl. "Cronus. You let Cronus put his hands on me."
I didn't let the motherfucker do shit. Ain't my fault if you get so distracted by a little talk you let just anyone get busy with you.
"A little talk?" Your voice pitches up sharply and you clear your throat, swallow.
Kurloz saunters over. In spite of you, your eyes follow the lean lines of his body, the bold, graceful movements of his legs. You force your eyes back up and he sneers—his mouth has great facility for condescension, even stitched closed.
That's all I did was talk at you, heretic.
"Liar. You were making me see it... feel it..."
You sure about that?
Your pan just lit fire when I started speakin'. Clingin' onto those cracked notions of celibacy got you fit to burst at the slightest touch... Said you didn't have a liking for the sea dweller, but you sure moaned when he got his clammy digits up on you.
Your cheeks burn. "I thought it was—!"
He stops a few paces away and smiles at you, all wide-eyed interest. Thought it was...?
Such motherfuckin' language. He closes the distance and reaches for you with one gloved hand. You slap it away with a snarl.
"If you think I'm going to fraternize with you after that little display, you are sadly mistaken."
He raises his eyebrows, lifting both hands in mock surrender. Far be it from my ass to put my bulge where it ain't appreciated. Want me to drop you back with Ampora?
"I will kill you."
I'm already dead, my fine ghostly brother. We're all dead. But you won't try to double slay this particular purple phantom, 'cause I make you feel like there's blood pumpin' through you, even if it is a vile color.
You lunge at him. He sidesteps; your claws rake empty air. You follow, growling, cursing him, lashing out with hands and feet, with skill you never allow yourself to acknowledge, and yet it comes easily, naturally, to answer the rage in your chest.
Psychic laughter bounces at you off unseen walls. Kurloz skims through the air like a dragonfly, flowing effortlessly out of the path of your arms and legs.
You snarl and strain, accessing your memories of that millennia old game. That brief time when your strength could accomplish something. When your will created change.
Kurloz dances around your kick, ducks behind you, and you snap around with your elbow. The solid impact sends a liquid rush through you. He staggers and you roar, catch hold of his arm and haul him back with all your strength, slam your knee into his stomach. He grunts and you grab his shoulders, sweep his leg, and hurl him down. You throw yourself after him, lock your arm across his throat and bear down.
"Fight back!" you snarl. "Fight, damn you!"
You want a fight?
With a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, you feel gravity close its fingers slowly around you both, like tipping over the edge of a tall building. Then you're falling through emptiness.
The stars lengthen to streaks in the distance as you plummet. You start to peel away from Kurloz and grab hold of his shirt with both hands. Your knuckles go ashen. The void sucks at you, threatens to pull you away and send you spinning off into silence, alone.
"Kurloz!" you scream. Your voice is thin and strange as it flies past your ears.
Terror roils in you, sharp and cold, pressing out against your seams. "Kurloz!"
Fight me, motherfucker.
You can't. Your heartbeat rattles you, your limbs are shaking. You can't move, and you're not certain you can hold on, but you must because you can't face an eternity of solitary quiet.
You wanna fight a body that's been dust for eons with a body that wasn't ever anything but?
Your arms tremble. Your muscles aren't going to withstand the pressure.
You never measured up. You couldn't ever compete. You were always the bottom of the food chain.
Fury flares amidst the terror. "You purple-blooded—"
That what you are, motherfucker? You red blood and mutant sinew? Or is there somethin' hiding behind those sinful eyes? Anything goin' on under those blunt horns?
You risk your grip on him to wrap your hands around his throat. "I will kill you. Somehow, I'll—"
He raises his chin, offering your thumbs better purchase across his trachea. You're no highblood. You ain't fit to rule. Don't even have the rust blood to make you a fittin' slave. You got no natural place, no place at all. His long-fingered hands bracket your skull, grasp it tight. You could never fight me with your body, motherfucker, and that carrion carcass is long gone. Is there anything left in here? Fight me with that!
You exist. You are more than your mutant body. You always were; that was the point. "It's not about the blood!" Your words are torn from your lips into the void, but you know he hears you. "It never was! They couldn't see me because of my blood color, they didn't think there was anything in me. Not one thing of value! Not one thought!" Tiny bones vibrate under your fingers.
Spit that blasphemy at me, heretic.
"They didn't listen! They wouldn't listen! I have a mind. I have a mind!"
You scream in wordless fury. Space blurs, warps around you. Your grubhood hivecluster comes dimly into view, stars streaking through it. Then it's gone.
"You don't know what I have in me. None of you do!"
A sharper vision of your first communal schoolfeeding facility materializes, the staring faces of pupae distorting in your memory as they lean in. The pity, the condescension in their eyes. Children, children trying to cull you because you couldn't make it on your own.
It's gone and the velocity makes you sick. You're dizzy and your eyes are tearing up from nonexistent wind, making Kurloz's image fluid. You grasp his throat more tightly; you refuse to let him abandon you out here.
The schoolfeedingblock of your preadolescence shimmers into focus. It was there your instructors talked directly over your head about who should take permanent custody of you, what kind of culling you would need. The absent pats on your head when you tried to speak up. The tight, dismissive smiles and shushes as you tried to tell them you were quite capable of minding yourself, your blood didn't make you any less qualified to make your own decisions.
The scene bleeds away and you're still locked together with Kurloz, falling faster than any comet ever crossed the heavens.
"I hate you!" you shriek. "I hate you!"
You don't have the pan to hate me, no-caste! You let them cull you 'cause you're soft and there ain't no current running between your ears! Ain't that right? Ain't that the Messiah's truth?
"Liar! Liar!" You drag yourself in till you're eye-to-eye, and the impulse to tear a chunk out of his face makes your fangs tingle. You snap them just short of his nose. "I had more in my thinkpan than any of them. Those complacent, self-satisfied, privileged idiots had never so much as thought to question any aspect of their way of life! They took it all as it was handed down to them, you all did, too miserly with their privilege, or too frightened of falling any lower on the social ladder. Those fools..."
He can't breathe, but he's smiling at you now, and that infuriates you. You slam your forehead into his, knocking the two of you into a spin, tumbling through space but never slowing. "Do you have any idea what it was like to be culled by people like that? You can't imagine being coddled and dismissed and silenced by trolls who couldn't have debated proper lawnring care with me! Who sneered and closed their ears without even considering the merits of my argument!"
So show me!
You focus every shred of your rage and frustration, every argument ignored, every thesis shot down, every statistic misinterpreted, every memory of every curled lip, every gentle, guiding hand on your arm.
A strip of empty space peels away to one side of you, then another behind Kurloz's head, and you glimpse the warm purple of Beforus's early evening sky.
"I could have changed it. I could have made them listen if I'd lived long enough. If I'd just had the chance. I was smart enough. I was articulate enough. I was right!"
The space around you is increasingly ragged, losing more and more strips until you're within the Beforan atmosphere again, hurtling towards the ground.
You shake him, forcing your voice past the wind. "I could have done it! I could have made a difference!"
A hive cluster rears up at you and you burst through the roof of the nearest hive, see Kurloz plough through wood and stone as if it were cardboard. Dust, splinters, rock fragments spray up, blind you. There's another splintering crash and another. You hit the ground with a meteoric impact; the universe shudders, and you feel every bone shatter, a single moment of perfect, absolute pain.
But you're ghosts, and your bodies don't bother with petty things like realism. When the dust clears enough for you to see, debris is still raining down over you, and you're sore everywhere, but whole. Blood drips down your temples. Kurloz lies sprawled beneath you, your hands still wrapped around his throat, clothes and skin torn, smiling from ear to bleeding ear.
His nostrils flare when you let your hands slide to the floor, and his back arches as his lungs fill. What're you cryin' for?
Pale red tears spatter his painted face, his lacerated chest. "I did it," you say.
Yeah, you did.
You rise awkwardly off him, fall on your ass, scuttle backwards through the dust. "I did it." You cover your face, rubbing your eyes hard and futilely along your sleeves. "I could have done it."
He lifts off the floor like a puppet, in one, smooth motion, and flows toward you. He steps astride you and kneels, pushing you flat. "Get off," you say. He tears your sweater with a casual gesture, like ripping paper, with that strength you fear, can't let yourself envy; loathe. He ignores you batting at his hands, and you're not really trying, but you need to make the show. "Fuck off."
Yeah, motherfucker, about that time.
He divests you of your leggings as easily. You are hollowed out, raw. You need to throw something else at him, but there's no inspiration, no energy. You dredge up words from somewhere, purpleblood, hemoist, but there's no fire.
He clamps a hand over your mouth. Shut up.
At least that gives you something to fight, but even as you claw at his arm, you spread your legs for him. Your voice vibrates between his palm and your lips as he enters you, and it could be a cry of rage—it is—but it's also relief.
It ain't about the words, he tells you. That voice speaking directly into your mind sounds like him, but will never be troubled by uneven breathing, never betray physical weakness. You wasted your breath on talk, heretic.
You arch between the hand that anchors your head and the searing point of penetration. He's too large for you, too much, and yet you want more. You want the pain of accommodating him, you want to be reshaped around him.
He moves and your body is alight, every nerve alive and speaking, louder than the pain, the frustration, the disappointment. If you could think coherently you'd be grateful for his hand; even muffled, your cries are loud. He moves slow and hard, as inexorable as the tide, as impossible to deny. Heat wells in your eyes, streams down your cheeks.
You don't need your mouth to speak, invertebrother.
You close your eyes, but the tears keep coming. It's not that you want to speak. It's not that at all.
You got nothing left for me?
You dig your claws deep into his flesh. His blood rolls in cool rivulets down your arms as you cross your ankles behind his back and pull him closer.
His other hand strokes down your chest. My fine, brave, doomed blasphemer.
You begin to sob, jolting underneath his steadying hand. Stop, you think. Just let me...
Lose? Is that what you want? Do you want to surrender?
Shall I paint you up and string you down in my hive, brother?
He seizes your bulge and works it in tandem with his thrusts. Your body tightens, bows, leaving your control, and part of you is saying yes to more than pleasure.
I can make a slave outta you, if that's what you want. You can take up the faith and serve the Messiah. Won't ever have to think again. I'll do all your thinkin' for you.
If you let your mind form the word, he'll hear it. You think of culling, you think of the Alternian revolution, but you can't hold the images. They shiver apart, leaving you exposed.
You want to keep this burnt-clean feeling, you want to be free of the constant anger, the rebellion brewing in you that never had a chance to reach its target. You want to let him fill you with something new and cold and undeniable. Yes, you want to stop thinking. You want to just stop.
False prophet. It hisses in your mind. Crimson heretic. You can't breathe properly through your sobbing and your chest heaves as you strain desperately for air. So it was all lies, everything you said? You wanna be done with it?
You're dizzy, you're soaring, you are paralyzed with the mounting pleasure, the anticipation of release, the vision of peace under his rule.
I can make you such a happy slave. You force your eyes open. He's blurry at the edges but stark in his colors, the black hollows around his eyes, the white void within. His eyes narrow and he leans lower as he rolls into you, as if he would whisper in your ear. You can hear his breaths, rapid, harsh, while his psychic voice remains unchanged. I'll make you sing like this for me every night.
You shudder violently.
Yessss. It's the hiss of extinguished fire; you picture the smoke curling away, the ashes dashed across the sky. I'll cull you like you always needed. Take that conflict from you, that burden you're too frail to carry. His hips jerk once, twice, and his eyes narrow to white gashes. Cold floods into you.
You tear at his arm, but he keeps thrusting as his material pours forth. You're filling with ice, the pressure building fast, too fast. Your material sac fills, stretches, swells your abdomen, and the flood doesn't stop. There's so much, it's impossible to take.
I'll make you my pail, blasphemer, fill you up with royal purple every day.
Your nook is so tight, so incredibly full, and still he moves, and it hurts, and you need it, nothing has ever felt so good. He gives the material no egress, pushes it deeper into you.
Your hands fall to the floor. You can't, you can't, just let him do it, let him wipe you out like this, wipe you clean away.
Say it for me, Kankri, and I'll do it.
No. No. Why won't he let you...?
His hips slam into you and the pressure crests and bursts. The back of your head hits the floor, but you can't feel it. Your body spasms hard enough to buck him, and just for a second, there is nothing in you but silence.
You knock his arm aside and fling yourself forward. Lax with orgasm, he goes easily, hitting the floor hard and not seeming to care. You can't see for tears, you still can't breathe, but you're screaming at him. "Never! I never lied!"
You grip his hips with your claws and plunge into him with his bulge still in you. He shakes with silent laughter. Every clumsy, vicious movement sends his material running down your legs and you can't stop the outpouring of fury. They're not words anymore, some combination of frantic weeping and the battle cries of the damned.
Kurloz offers you no resistance. He plants his feet and rocks his hips up to meet you. His claws dig into the floor. When you come he throws his head back, a long, sibilant breath escaping him as you fill him with your material.
"I hate you," you tell him.
He clasps your arms. I know.
You stay inside as long as you can, pinning him in a meaningless gesture. It's symbolic, your thinkpan offers, and you want to laugh, but you might scream instead, so you do nothing.
Finally your respective bulges slide free, retract. You roll off him, kneel in an obscene lake of your commingling fluids, clouds of violet billowing between the red and purple where it isn't sinking straight into the floorboards.
Kurloz lies with his arms and legs spread, careless of the debauched, unguarded picture he makes. He's never felt defeat, that you know. It wouldn't occur to him to think he looked like someone's conquest, even with their color drying on his thighs. He turns his head to look at you.
So I guess you're not gonna let me paint you.
It surprises a laugh out of you. "Try it and I'll rip your face off."
Quiet laughter. I had a wicked design all ready.
It hurts somewhat to laugh, but to be capable of doing so is a triumph. Pain runs along your nerves, and jumpy, agitated pleasure. Your mind is teeming again already, but at your center you are calm.
I hate you, heretic. His words are heavy and sweet as nectar in your mind and you close your eyes to savor them.
The void of space spins out around you, but it's invisible for now. Your universe is dust, and the two of you the unmatched remnants, highblood and heretic, aristocrat and outcast. Enemies. In this afterlife, rivals.
Exhaustion weights your limbs, your lungs, your mind. You slide to the floor far enough away to keep a weather eye on him. Kurloz watches you without the grace to look like your presence threatens him. His stitched lips curve. Your heart and your fists clench.
Maybe, if you had known a hatred like this on Beforus, your life could have meant something.