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Of Free Will and False Agency

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You’re just so fucking done at this point. After amassing numerous friends and finally feeling like you had some kind of place in the vicious world known as Alternia, it was unceremoniously stripped away from you, leaving a gaping void in your heart and raging desire to obliterate any and all ivory spheres should you gain the power to do so. Run on sentences notwithstanding, you have been trapped in the endlessly green abode of one Mister Doc Scratch for several weeks. In the beginning you refused to even glance at the webcomic that he so “graciously” suggested (read: ordered) you to read. After your fifth attempt to leave the computer was met with the threat of a permanent loss of your legs, you finally deigned to oblige him.

And what do you get after nearly two months of reading? Taking breaks only to eat, sleep, excrete bodily fluids, and listen to the world’s shittiest host brag about himself? Eight-thousand pages of bullshit about a dozen or so people you have never met getting a happy ending that you know your wonderful friends will never live to see. On the plus side, you learned quite a bit more about the culture you had been struggling to understand. On the far outweighing and overwhelming downside, you were left with more questions than answers and a pit in your stomach. And so now, as you lie in bed awaiting some arbitrary hour to strike so that you can get your ass up and live another godforsaken day, you are stewing in your thoughts. It makes your think-pan hurt. You wince at your use of the word. You miss your friends. Your face scrunches up in pain. You only became friends with them because of him. A tear rolls down your cheek. You still miss them.

The clock in your designated room chimes the hour. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Ten o’clock. Breakfast will be ready by now. You get up. Clothing is no issue, as Doc has assured you many times. But the idea of dressing up in the green garb makes you sick to your stomach. You put on the pants, begrudgingly. It’s better than no pants. You put on the undershirt. At least it’s white instead of that ugly green. Your hand hovers over Mallek’s hoodie. The first night you slept here, you were so ready to throw it away forever, its memory tainted by the knowledge you had been burdened with. It’s still hard for you to put it on, but you do so with defiance. Doc may have puppeteered you into the lives of all those trolls, but Mallek CHOSE to give you his hoodie and no smarmy asshole with a literal god complex is going to take that fact away from you.

Before you leave your room, you take a look around. Anything to put off engaging with your host. Taking note of your belongings in the room it’s in these moments that you remember that Doc Scratch, though a scoundrel and a narcissist, is not entirely unkind. He allowed you to keep what few personal items you collected on Alternia, though he refused to let you get them yourself. You even got to keep your palmhusk! You’ve been cut off from any service or wifi, of course, but it still has all its pictures and games. Doc Scratch is not entirely unkind, no. But he’s still a bastard. And whether you like it or not, he’s going to come in any minute to see if you’re coming down for breakfast. You sigh and enter the hall. Inevitability is a bitch.

As you turn toward the stairs you squeak in surprise. There is a young troll in front of you. Not exceptionally young, but definitely not an adult yet. She has curled horns like a ram or a mountain goat. Her hair is done up in a bun, Eastern Alternian style as Tegiri would call it. She’s dressed in those awful green clothes with a distinctly school-girl aesthetic. On the right side of her shirt is a symbol and for once you recognize what it is. The star sign, Aries; first in the western zodiac and the symbol shared by the Megido trolls in the webcomic Doc forced you to read. You realize this is the young troll being groomed, for purposes you still don’t entirely understand, in the god-awful, self-aggrandizing chapter about Doc himself. You don’t know her name, but you can certainly take a guess. She stares in confusion at you, like she isn’t sure what to make of you (which you’re kind of used to at this point). You mutter out a greeting. Her eyes go wide, almost as if she wasn’t expecting you to speak.

Her eyes narrow in suspicion as she glances down at the symbol on your hoodie. A question leaves her painted lips, laced with malice. “Who are you?”

The question catches you off guard. You were so used to explaining your story to everyone you met but now you aren’t so sure. In fact you’re acutely aware of just how unsure you are. Who are you? Are you even a real person? Are you just a construct made from the imagination of a bored omniscient immortal with the powers of a god? Does your existence even have meaning? You try to remember why you got on the spaceship that led you here in the first place, to remember the name you gave to everyone on Alternia. The name sweetly whispered to you in a timeline that no longer exists. You look around, panicked. You manage to speak… and for once you feel that your words are… different. Awkward. Clumsy, but distinctly your own. Yours and no one else’s.

“I-I don’t know.” You admit. Your voice sounds so alien to you.

Her eyes narrow further into a squint. “Did Doc invite you here?”

You simply nod, afraid to speak again. She scoffs and rolls her eyes. Upon closer inspection it appears that they are just beginning to fill in with her blood color.

“Welcome to chateau de douchebag, I guess. Population us.”

You offer a small smile. She scowls.

“What?” She snaps.

“N-nothing!” You stammer. You feel your throat burn with every word. “I was just trying to be polite. I, uh, find that a friendly smile can make things seem a little less shitty than they actually are.”

You wring your hands, suddenly sharply aware of how horrible you are at social interaction without the vehement need for friendship driving you to be whatever another person wants you to be. Your newfound independence scares you. The girl in front of you looks taken aback, but not in a bad way. She sighs as her mouth twists into a half-smile. It suits her.

“Damara.” She says plainly but amicably.

“What?” You ask.

“My name. It’s Damara.” She holds out her hand. Called it, you think to yourself. You take her hand and shake it.

“Nice to meet you, Damara.” Saying her name out loud seems to brighten her eyes a bit, as if she hasn’t heard it in years, er, sweeps? Is timekeeping relevant to a time-traveler? Questions for later.

“You got a name, O’ Honored Guest?” She says the title in a way that makes you laugh. She looks pleased at that.

“I think I forgot.” You shrug and sigh. “Call me whatever you like, I guess.” You’re really not picky, not anymore. But Damara’s expression falls. Pity.

“Names are important.” She says this more to herself than to you. You don’t mind. You guess it’s a touchy subject.

“Got any ideas?”

Now it’s her turn to be caught off guard. As if she’s never been asked for input or her own opinion. Her crooked smile returns in full force.

“Not at the moment, but I could come up with some!” Her expression falters. “I-if you want me to.”

You see the shift, she’s expecting rejection. You will NOT let her feel rejected. You smile brightly at her and take her hands in yours.

“I’d love that!” You see the smallest trace of red grace her cheeks as she smiles back. It almost looks like it hurts her to smile so much. You hope it doesn’t, though.

A cough from behind you sends you a few feet into the air with a shriek. Damara’s happy expression turns into a deadly glare faster than light.

“I’m certain you two were getting along, by which I mean I know you were despite my warnings to you not to interact with this person, young lady. But I do want to let you know that your breakfast is going to become cold and I would hate for my guest to miss a warm meal to start the cycle of existence.” The cue ball finishes his rant. Doc Scratch, in your personal opinion, is a well-spoken prick. He points at Damara. “Go back to your room. As inevitable as your disobedience was, it will still be punished. Your eating privileges for the day have been revoked.”

Your blood boils.

“Hold on,” You say. “If you knew she was going to do this you can’t punish her. That’s fucked up! You’re fucked up!” If he had eyes, he’d be rolling them at you now, you can feel it.

He puts his arms behind his back like a goddamn anime villain. “How I discipline my charge is none of your business. However, you are still my guest and I knew you were going to say that because it’s just the kind of person you are, so you are forgiven.” Your eye twitches. You want to punch this douchebag.

“If I’m off the hook, she’s off the hook.” You cross your arms and glare daggers at him. “You said I wasn’t leaving but good luck keeping me if you don’t treat her with the same respect you treat me.”

He looks impressed. Probably. Curse his lack of facial features. Though you have a feeling if he did, his smiles would creep you out. He puts a hand to his not-chin, in not-thought.

“Very well.” He says. “No need for dramatics. I know you’ll keep going until I give in. So I’ll allow you this small victory. But I am right and will continue to be right about one thing, my dear guest.”

For a moment your blood runs cold. Something in his voice changed with that sentence. In a flash of green he disappears. Hands grip your shoulders and in your right ear you hear him speak again. He’s behind you, how did he get behind you?

He whispers into your ear. “You are not leaving.” Out of your peripheral vision, you see another flash of green. You turn around and he’s gone, leaving you and Damara alone in the hallway.

She looks at you and you are immediately reminded of Skylla the way her eyes fill with gratitude and possibly… pride? You beam at her.

“Showed him, huh?” You say with a laugh.

She joins your laughter and for a moment it feels like everything is a lot less shitty than it actually is. When you finally calm down and the giggling stops, Damara puts a hand on your shoulder.

“Alexei.” She declares.

“What?” You so eloquently respond yet again.

“I’ve decided on a name. If you want it, it’s yours.” She looks at you with admiration and hope.

“I like it.” You say. You’re immediately reminded of the Romanovs. But you suppose it sounds like a plausible Alternian name as well. “Why that name, though?” You ask.

Damara, seemingly out of nowhere pulls out a palmhusk. Wait, this one is less bug-like, maybe it’s an actual phone. You guess she must have one of those fancy pocket dimension storage thingamajigs. She pulls up a screenshot of an elderly human man with thick glasses and a kind smile.

“This guy here. His name is Alexei Lubimov. Or was. I have no idea if he’s alive or not anymore.” She says this as if it should be recognizable to you. You decide to be honest.

“I don’t know who that is.” You expect her to frown. Or emote negatively at all. Like so many failed interactions in so many doomed timelines. She doesn’t. She smiles.

“That’s okay, he’s pretty obscure.” She shrugs and scrolls to the next screenshot. It’s a wall of text. “He’s a musician who was pretty controversial or something? I like music. But I wanted to know what his name meant because… I like names too. And I think this name suits you.” She gets a bit sheepish toward the end there (pun completely intended. No offense to Damara, but you’ve been holding that one in for a while.)

“So what does it mean?” You nod in encouragement.

Her crooked smile returns and it’s every bit adorable as it was the last time. She dismisses the phone into her whatever the kids call it and grabs your hand as she starts to lead you down the stairs so you can actually eat. She turns back to look at you and smiles again.

“Defender.”

She turns her head forward as you descend. You feel a blush in your cheeks and a warmth in your heart.

Your name (for now) is Alexei. You’re a human being who was trapped on a hostile alien planet due to the machinations of a raving madman-cue ball thing. During your time on said planet you made many friends by the whim of said madman-cue ball. Now trapped in the mansion of the douchebag who manipulated you and forced you to read a shitty webcomic you find yourself in a strange position. You’ve made a friend. And this time, it’s no simulation.

Chapter Text

It’s been three days-er, nights? Sleeps? Sleeps. It’s been three sleeps since you befriended Damara and you haven’t seen her since. You know Doc has something to do with it. You’ve been mindlessly wandering the halls trying to bump into her again but to no avail. Oh, how the wicked white orb vexes you so. But you aren’t one to give up on people, at least you think you aren’t.

Doc should be in his study, as his daily routine isn’t particularly varied. You’re prepared to confront him if need be, but you’re not ready just yet to have another interaction with him. Yesterday’s dinner left you with a headache as he tried, unsuccessfully you might add, to explain how he came to be in existence. Though you have learned that his primary purpose is to be some sort of conduit for the existence of a grotesque monster, you’re pretty sure his secondary function is to talk. A lot. Like more than is strictly necessary. You thought trolls were chatty folk? This guy is like all of them at once.

You take a deep breath and steel yourself for the long talk ahead of you. You raise a hand to knock upon his study but you are grabbed from behind with a hand pressed against your mouth. You try not to freak out immediately. You fail. As you squirm against the person holding you in an attempt to get away, you hear Damara’s voice in your ear.
“Shh. It’s me.” She’s talking so quietly, you almost don’t hear her.

You relax in her grip and she lets go of you. You turn around to face her. She gives you her crooked grin and holds a finger to her lips. You suppress a laugh and nod, mimicking the gesture. She holds her hand out to you and you take it with earnest. In an instant you feel yourself blink out of existence. You reappear in an unfamiliar place. It’s a little dark, but Damara flips a switch and the room before you is illuminated.

Your eyes feel relieved as you take in the not-green surroundings. It’s a comfortable looking room. Various books line the floor against one wall coming to a stop in front of a cushy armchair. Behind the chair sits the lamp that lights up the room. On the other side of the room is a writing desk and record player. On the floor next to the record player is a box of vinyls from both human and troll artists across different times in both races’ histories. The back wall holds a bed and a dresser. Across from that is a large multi-paned window looking out over a vast expanse of land. The delicate pink light that streams through tells you that you are once again on Alternia. You turn to Damara who looks expectantly at you.

“What do you think?” She asks.

“It’s nice.” You say. “What is this place?”

“It’s my hive away from hive.” She cocks her head to the window. “We’re currently occupying what Scratch and Sniff calls a ‘dark pocket’. Until he realizes we’re not on the green moon, he won’t know we’re anywhere else. We just need to get back before he notices we’re gone. Which is easy enough for me.”

“How did we get here?” You ask, walking to the window and looking out at the Alternian landscape.

“I can go anywhere in time. We’re technically five minutes into the future from when I found you.” She looks pretty pleased with herself you think.

“So he doesn’t know you have this place?”

She frowns and rolls her eyes. “He knows, but as long as I do what he says he doesn’t care if I come here.” She adopts a pompous posture and looks down her nose at you. “After all, a growing young girl needs some modicum of independence and freedom if she is to develop properly.”

You both burst into giggles at her impression of Doc. You decide to check your phone. Maybe now that you’re on Alternia’s surface, your data will come along. You figure that’s how Damara got her hands on screenshots of websites. As the screen comes to life you see the signal bars appear. You have hundreds of missed messages. Damara sees your expression falter at that. She puts a hand on your shoulder.

“You need some time?” She asks. You nod your head and she gives your shoulder a squeeze. “Don’t worry. We’ve got at least a couple of hours before we need to go back. Let them know you’re safe.” She smiles at you and grabs a book from one of her piles. She plops herself into the armchair and gives you some space.

You pull open Chittr first. A backlog of over six-hundred messages comes into view. You go through them one by one, seeing the same things over and over again, confusion then worry then acceptance.

“where are you? iii thought we were goiiing shopiiing together? so much for beiiing friiiends.”

“did you get culled? / you’ve been offline for nights / please respond soon.”

“Heyy! I certainlyy hope yyou didn’t forget our get together. Ladyy misses the dickens out of yyou.”

“ay wher my funny lil bih at got ya sum tickets fo’ my next show :o) hmu buddy”

“♡Where’s my favorite invasion of one?♡ ♤I thought we were on our way to something special.♤”

So on and so forth, messages from all of your friends, a large chunk of them from Zebede and Zebruh, but at least one from everyone. Even Lanque, who you hadn’t spent much time with, was worried about you. You stare down at all the messages, tears welling in your eyes. A ping sounds, scaring you. It seemed to you that most of your friends had given up contacting you after a dozen or so messages, so what a surprise to see a new one pop up. It’s from Mallek.

“i don’t know who you are but you should log out; this isn’t your account; don’t pretend to be them it != cool;”

You don’t know what to say. How could you possibly explain where you are and that you’re you. You’re at a loss for words, but you do know that a picture is worth a thousand of them. You snap a selfie captioned with “I’m safe, sorry if I worried you.”

Your phone rings, Mallek is trying to call you through Grype. You look at Damara.

“Is it okay if I take a call?”

She shrugs. “Just don’t let anyone see me.”

You hit answer and are immediately bombarded. “Where the fuck have you been?!”

“It’s good to see you too, Mallek.” A little cheek, but honest.

Mallek looks down and sees that you’re still wearing his hoodie.

“I thought you died! You disappeared for wipes!” He’s so angry and his voice is cracking. You feel like shit.

“I’m sorry… I had no connection and I was…” Think of a lie, think of a good lie. “Stuck on the moon!” GOD. DAMN IT.

Both he and Damara stare at you in disbelief. “Are you joking?” He asks.

You think for a moment. If you tell him the truth, but maybe not the whole truth, he might be able to help you out. But he might get hurt if Doc finds out. But you don’t want to lie. Clearly you’re incapable of doing so today. You just don’t want anyone to get hurt. You make a decision.

“No… No, I’m not joking. I’m trapped on the green moon.” Damara gives you a look that says she’ll kill you if you keep talking. “I’m okay, though!” Her murderous glare softens a bit. Maybe.

“I’m being taken care of but I’m, um, not allowed to leave. There’s an… adult here.” Not entirely untrue, no lies today. “He won’t let me leave unless I do something for him? He’s been pretty vague on the ‘why’ part of it.” Damara pinches the bridge of her nose.

Mallek sighs. “At least you’re safe. Of course there’d be adults on the moons.” Damara looks shocked. It worked! Mallek’s blue eyes meet yours and he smiles sweetly at you. God you missed him. “They aren’t hurting you?”

“No, just keeping an eye on me I think. Guess they didn’t like my ‘invasion of one’ joke.” You laugh.

Mallek pauses, a hand on his chin. “Where are you now?” He finally asks.

“I’m in some kind of safe room. It’s got service so I was finally able to connect.” You are killing it at the not lying thing. Mallek smiles.

“Alright. It might not be good for you to post anything so I’ll get a secure PM chain going and let everyone know you’re alright.” He sighs and looks you in the eyes again. He looks so tired. “We better disconnect for now, but promise me you’ll try to get in contact again, okay?”

“I promise.” You say. It’s one you intend on keeping if it kills you.

Damara shakes her head, but she’s grinning at least. Maybe your not-lie succeeding helped ease the tension.

Mallek speaks up again. “I’m gonna hold you to that harder than a teal with a contract. Talk to ya’ later.” He smiles wide at you; he’s such a good friend.

You sigh. “Yeah. Later…” You try not to let the crack in your voice stop you from saying your farewell. The call disconnects and you drop your palmhusk. Your hands are shaking. In fact all of you is shaking. You fall to your knees.

Since you first came through the strange window leading to the green moon, there have been times where you have just barely managed to hold on and not have a mental breakdown. The idea of letting Doc Scratch see you fully cry, whether physically or through omnipotence, kept you from letting it all out.

But now? In a small room sequestered away from all of Alternia and safe from the peering of that bastard, you finally allow yourself to break down. Not just a tear or two, but full body-wracking sobs. You don’t care if Damara sees you like this. If she thinks less of you for it, she doesn’t say anything. You can’t see her anyway, your tears are blurring your vision. You hold your arms around yourself and bend your torso over your folded legs.

When the worst of the sobbing subsides you finally notice Damara sitting next to you, rubbing soothing circles into your back and holding on to one of your hands. Your breathing stutters as you gain control over your body. You lean against her and she pulls you into a hug.

She doesn’t say a single word, but she does hum softly in your ear. It’s somewhat unfamiliar but it’s gentle and soothing. You sit with her like that for what seems like an eternity before you finally stop crying. You part somewhat from the embrace but she holds onto your hand firmly.

You look up and lock eyes with her. In the desaturated burgundy you see so many things. Pity, empathy, concern, yearning, hope. A sense of understanding comes over the both of you as you lean your foreheads together. She knew you needed this. You vow within yourself to be there for her like she is now for you.

Despite how long you may have been crying, you know that you still have some time before you need to leave. You squeeze Damara’s hand and catch her eyes again. This time it looks like she’s asking you a question, a silent plea for permission to let go of it all. You nod your head and relief swells in her eyes. She doesn’t shake as much as you did, but burgundy tears slip down her cheeks and she leans her weight against you this time. You mimic her motions from earlier and rub circles on her back.

Gazing out the window, staring at the duo of moons as they slowly but surely lower in the night sky, you realize something. It’s likely that you’ll never get out of this position you’re in. You may never see your friends again or ever truly escape from Doc Scratch. But you think, if you and Damara are both going to be stuck with him for an indeterminate amount of time, perhaps you can help each other in this small way.

It’s not long before the sniffling beside you begins to quiet. You keep holding Damara, not letting go until she’s ready. She holds out her free hand not attached to yours and you watch as the book she was reading floats over to her. You’re a little surprised to see this kind of power in a troll of her caste. But she holds the book open between the two of you and starts reading aloud.

You cast a glance at the green moon. You decide that Doc Scratch can get fucked. If you can somehow make a difference in Damara’s life, even just by providing a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen, you’ll be damned before he can stop you. You guess all the crying you did finally shook some sense into your head.

You ignore the ugly green orb and look down to follow along with Damara’s reading. For the first time since your crash landing, you feel at ease. You squeeze the hand you’re still holding and get one back. You sigh contentedly and get comfortable. As you listen to Damara’s voice spin a tale of faraway lands and epic quests, you drift off into a quiet, dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

You faintly hear yelling. No, screaming. Your eyes open to see that you’re still in Damara’s hideaway room. It’s ablaze with green light. It seems you both fell asleep and missed the mark to get back to the moon in time. Doc has found you and he is furious. Damara is hunched over on the other side of the room whimpering. Doc stands between you both, his back to you. You finally register what he’s saying.

“-really think I wouldn’t find out what you’ve been doing? Honestly these games have got to stop.”

Damara is clutching her arm to her torso. There’s a small but clearly visible puddle of dark red beneath her. Your eyes widen at the sight before quickly narrowing into slits. Your face twists into a snarl and you propel yourself forward, hands bared like claws. Before you can blink, Doc teleports next to you and grabs the back of your neck, stopping you mid-leap. In one swift motion he forces you down, smacking your face into the floor.

“So uncivilized, the both of you.” He remarks. You groan in pain as blood drips from your nose. Doc crosses his arms. “Now I’m going to have to patch both of you up. You see what you do, young lady? You bring out the worst in everyone around you.”

“Shut. Up.” You whisper. Doc nods his spherical head in your direction.

“As for you, I’m surprised at this behavior.” He kneels in front of you and grabs your face roughly with one hand. He digs his fingers into your jaw and you wince, making a noise of distress. “After all I’ve done for you and your pathetic existence, one would think you would be a little more grateful. I suppose humans and their stubborn penchant for ‘justice’ will always be something difficult for even someone as all-knowing as myself to understand or predict. But I do believe that until you both learn to do as you’re told a change in pace is required.”

“I said shut up!” You pry yourself away from him as you yell. “You’re a fucking lunatic! I swear to god if you think you can just get away with hurting her, I’ll-” Doc snaps his fingers. You feel a strange sensation course through your body as your limbs go limp and your vision goes white.

When you come to and the whiteness disappears, you nearly break your neck looking wildly around. You’re back in your bedroom.

“Damara!” You’re frantic. You scramble off the bed and pull at the door. It’s locked.

You’re shouting her name over and over, pounding on the door and screaming yourself horse. Tears are welling in your eyes. It’s all your fault. You just wanted to help and you fucked everything up. You slump to the ground and smack your head into the door.

“I’m sorry…” You whimper. “I’m so sorry.”

A cough from behind you sends you into the air. You turn and see Doc standing in your room. “Are you quite done?” He asks smugly.

“You! What did you do to her?!” You don’t care if he sees you cry anymore. You’re too angry to think about that.

He sighs. He sits down on your bed and pats a spot next to him. “Why don’t you come over here, calm down, and we can have a chat about all of this.”

“Why would I ever do that?! I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you!” It wouldn’t be a very far throw, but you’re just kind of rolling with the anger right now.

He pinches the center of his orb head, what approximates as the bridge of a nose. “Don’t make this difficult, human.”

I have a name!” You scream. Your voice is croaky and weak but you manage to throw some volume in.

“Do you?” He says. It’s not a question. It’s a challenge. “Because last I checked you were just some lost, lonely human who has no history, no family, no friends, and no name to call your own. But facts notwithstanding, I think it would be best if you just come over here so we can talk like the civil, intelligent beings we are. You may be an idiot but you’re intelligent enough to know that in the end you will come over here one way or another. Please do not make me control you again.”

You glare at him. If he’s going to insult you, you’re going to be difficult about it. Screw him. You cross your arms and sit squarely on the ground. You blow a raspberry at him, just for good measure.

“Acting like a child is getting us nowhere, human.” He sighs again.

“It’s Alexei.” You say in defiance.

“No, it’s not.” He says calmly. “I would give you another chance to come over here on your own, but given the course of events I can see, you won’t.” He snaps his fingers again. You gasp as once more your body goes limp and your vision goes white.

Your vision clears and you are sitting on your bed, Doc next to you with his hands folded in his lap. For someone with no facial expressions he looks entirely too pleased with himself.

“There now, isn’t this much more comfortable than that hard wood floor?” Like a condescending parent. You hate him. Before you can respond, he continues talking. “I have a question for you. Why do you insist on interacting with her? You know as well as I do what her fate is.”

“Why do you insist on keeping her locked away from everyone and everything? She’s a kid, just because she’s destined for whatever doesn’t mean she should be trapped without any friends.” You put as much distance as you can between him and you, slouching against the headboard.

“Human.”

Alexei.

Human. Did you even comprehend what her ‘destiny’ is?” You can hear in his voice a genuine confusion. Good.

“Not really.” You reply flatly.

“The reason I keep her here away from any and all who might try to worm their way into her inner circle. The reason she shouldn’t interact with you of all people. She’s going to die. Why give her friends or comfort when that’s all she was made for?” He turns his head away from you.

You feel sick to your stomach. Of course. She looks so different from her adult self but there will come a time when Damara will die. Or rather a time when she’ll be able to die. Cursed with immortality. You put your head in your hands.

“That… that doesn’t mean anything. She should still be allowed to be happy.” You look away from Doc. You’re tired of being around him.

“You’re never going to give up on this, are you?” He says this more to himself than to you. You let the tears roll down your face. They’re not as bad now that you’ve let it all out.

“Oh for the love of- will you stop that?” Doc gets up as he berates you. “If it will stop this nonsense I will allow you two to have this small freedom. It won’t change the course of time either way, so I don’t see why you had to make this such an event. Just stop blubbering for fuck's sake.”

You’re a little taken aback to hear him swear. It seems so unlike him. Maybe you pushed his buttons? Whatever. You wipe your eyes with your sleeve. Doc sighs once more and opens the door. It unlocked for him.

“Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. This is going to end poorly.” He exits and slams the door shut. You hear his footsteps down the hall.

You’re so tired. You know it will mess with your sleep schedule but you really don’t care anymore. You lay down and rest your eyes. Doc is wrong. Having some form of comfort is more than worth it. You hope Damara is okay. The next time you see her you’re going to give her the biggest hug possible. Who knows. Maybe you can just cry your way through life on this awful moon.

Probably not. You laugh a little to yourself at that as your body drifts in and out of consciousness.

 

You’re roused from your nap by a weight pressing into your bed. You blink open your eyes and see a familiar gray face.

“Hey.” You whisper. “You okay?” Damara nods her head and shows you her arm. No damage to be seen.

“May I?” She asks softly. You scoot over and make room. She snuggles up next to you.

“So,” You start. “How much trouble are we in?”

“No bunker for a week.” She mumbles. “But he said we can be friends as long as it doesn’t distract from my chores.”

“I’m glad.” You pull her in close and she wraps her arms around you in turn. “As long as I’m here, I’m not going to let him get away with abusing you like that.”

She scoffs. “You know he can kill you, right?”

“If he was gonna wouldn’t he have done it by now?”

That gives her pause. She shrugs. “Guess you’re right. Just don’t be a hero for me, I’m not worth it.”

“Yes you are. You’re worth everything to me, Damara.” You put your hand to her face the way you learned from your fake date with Polypa. Damara turns red and she laughs.

“Stop that!” She covers her eyes with her hands, blush spreading to her ears.

You pull your hand away and laugh with her. “Sorry… I just don’t want to hear you talk about yourself like that.”

She pulls her hands away from her face and cuddles up to you again. “Fine, I won’t do that. Only for you, though.”

You go back to holding her. You briefly wonder what this means for the two of you. Can life here in this place really be worth living? Perhaps. You’ve at least got good company in the meantime. You smile in content. Just as you close your eyes, however, your stomach makes a funny noise. You completely forgot to eat today.

“Hungry?” Damara asks wryly.

You chuckle. “Yeah I suppose I am. What shall we have?”

Damara smirks. “Well, as long as I put on a shirt without my sign, I can get us some surface food.”

“Oh hell yeah. Grubloaf?” You sit up excitedly.

“My favorite!” She sits up as well. “Meet me in the dining room in twenty minutes.” She dashes out the door.

You put on a fresh shirt and toss the hoodie into a basket. As much as you love the thing and the troll it came from, it needs a wash.

As you head downstairs you hear the sounds of music being played. It’s jazzy and kind of old school. You open the door to see and odd sight. Doc Scratch sits in a chair, humming along to the music. It’s an eerie sight, to see him do something so normal.

“Ah, an expected visit but an unwelcome one.” He says. “Would you mind? I’m trying to have a moment to myself.”

“Considering how many moments to myself you’ve denied me, I think it’s only fair I intrude upon you.” You’re just so full of snark to dish out.

“How is it that the most powerful being in all the world is persuaded by a few tears?” You ask. You don’t let him answer. “I think I have a theory on that. You see, Doc, can I call you Doc? You see, Doc, I think the reason you’re so attached to Damara, and the reason you can’t handle watching people cry is because of the fundamental things that make up your being.”

“What in god's name are you talking about? How would you know anything about my… my being. Oh no.” He stands up.

“Oh yes, Doc. I think you forget that I read EVERY GODDAMN WORD of that ‘webcomic’. I know how you were made. I know that the soul of a particularly sappy six sweep old boy in blue with a debilitating crush on a rust-blood resides somewhere in that big ol’ cue ball you call a head. So tell me, Scratch and Sniff,” You mentally high five yourself for using Damara’s joke. “Why pretend to be so cold and calculating all the time? You’re a guardian of this planet and deep down I think you actually do care about her. So this act you put up is kind of hypocritical don’t you think? You’re the one who said you don’t lie.”

“Enough!” He’s across the room in an instant. “I do what I am told to do by my Master. Bringing him into existence is my only goal and you cannot try to use psychological tricks on me. You’re just a mortal with zero idea of how anything works. I am an all-powerful omniscient being!”

You ever so briefly consider walking away. But you can’t help yourself. He hurt Damara, he hurt your face, he hurt your feelings and controlled your body. You’re gonna get the last word if it kills you.

Near-omniscient.”

The silence is deafening. The music comes to an end. You walk away. You have a feeling that if he had a face, the most indignant expression would be gracing its features. You don’t care. You head to the dining room and as you reach the staircase you hear the door slam. It’s the little things in life. You continue on your way to the dining room. You've got a lunch to get to.

Chapter Text

Boy oh boy! You’re feeling pretty dang good about yourself today. You don’t even care about the day/night cycle hang up anymore! After you expertly told off the world’s worst guardian you were blessed with several days of silence on his end. The most he’s said to you has been general greetings and ‘hmm’s. Life is good. It really is the little things. On top of it all, you and Damara have been ungrounded from the surface-side safe room, which means internet service and, hopefully, some down-time for Damara.

 

After discovering which room is hers in the mansion/apartment (seriously it’s too big to be an apartment, what does he mean it’s part of a high-rise?) you made sure to greet her at least once a day. Which has really helped you feel more at home in this awful green prison.

 

With your hoodie donned and general self groomed, you march past the study and make your way to Damara’s room. You find her waiting for you and she beams when she sees your face.

 

“Ready, Alexei?” She holds out her hand to you.

 

You take it with earnest. “You bet.”

 

Upon arriving in the safe room, you get a million pings from your palmhusk. Damara gets comfortable in her chair and pulls out her own phone. You flop onto the bed.

 

“Hey Damara?” She looks up.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“How come you don’t have one of those slime pod things? Why use a bed?” You pat the mattress with your hands.

 

Damara looks up for a moment, pondering.

 

“Well, I don’t really need one. I don’t get nightmares the same way other trolls do. I mean I get them sometimes, but I don’t get the ones that others seem to get. The sopor slime is… well it’s a soporific. It’s like a sedative or a drug that helps keep the visions of violence at bay.”

 

“Huh.” You pull your palmhusk closer as Damara goes back to reading. You’ve got a new message from Ardata

 

“well you certaiiinly gave everyone a pusher attack. not me obviiiously. how iiis liiife stranded wiiith an… adult?”

 

Aw geez, this again. You shoot a message back.

 

“Things are fine. A little boring, but fine. Really I just miss you all. How are you doing?”

 

“ugh iii forgot how genuiiine you are. iiif iiit makes you feel better iii miiiss you as well, at least iii miiiss haviiing someone who actually wants to be around me. hopefully when you’re released you can help me wiiith a new iiidea iii had for my show.”

 

“Sure, just please don’t make me kill anyone. I’m terrible at it.”

 

“oh no my entiiire iiidea thrown out the wiiindow. kiiiddiiing. iii know you’re useless at murder. whiiich iiis a shame. you miiight actually look good iiin gore ;.)”

 

You’re not sure what to make of that compliment. So you send back a text face instead of words.

 

“XP”

 

“Iii’m iiin a biiit of a rush tonight so iii’ve got to get goiiing. iiit was… niiice to talk to you agaiiin. don’t tell anyone iii saiiid that.”

 

“Your secret’s safe with me.”

 

“Ciiiao.”

 

With another successful conversation out of the way you pick up one of the books Damara has available. You don’t get to spend too much time on it before another new message comes in. Which is fine because you aren’t sure how into wizard fiction you are yet. The message is from another one of your friends in high places, Chahut.

 

“hey There sisTer, i’m Told you’re alive despiTe The long silence. buT i’ve goT a problem and i Think you might be The answer To my prayers.”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“i’ve decided i ain’T ready To leave alTernia. your rusTy friends Told me you’re good aT hiding ouT. i need me a place to kick iT for a while.”

 

You forgot that the last time you saw Chahut she was nearing adulthood. You wrack your brain and try to think of a place where she would be safe to hide.

 

“There’s a couple of places I think? You could always use my hive. Or Mallek might be able to get you off-grid.”

 

“The cerulean babe with all Them piercings?”

 

“Yeah that’s the one. He’s really smart about that stuff. My hive is older than sin apparently but it’s sturdy and drone-free.”

 

“Thank you, sisTer. i knew you mighT have some wisdom To share. how’s my liTTle friend holding up in The here and now?”

 

“Holding up just fine. I have good food, a comfortable place to sleep, and a temperate climate.”

 

“hell yeah, sisTer. glad To hear ThaT. if any of Them vicious adulTs Try anyThing funny, you leT me know. i’ll be on They ass like blood on walls.”

 

You really miss phrases that make sense.

 

“Of course, Chahut. I promise there’s no funny business going on here. They mostly let me do whatever as long as I stay out of their way. Afterall I’m not a ‘cull-on-sight’ alien.”

 

“haha, yes. i’m gonna look inTo The info you’ve given me. sTay ouTTa Trouble, sisTer.”

 

“You too.”

 

You pick the book back up. The names of these characters are incredibly confusing. You wonder what the author was thinking. Certainly no one’s name needs to be twelve syllables long. However, yet another message comes through to save the day. Or so it would seem. There’s no writing that you’re able to discern. You turn your palmhusk in all sorts of different directions trying to figure out what might have gone wrong.

 

“What are you doing?” Damara raises an eyebrow at you.

 

“A message notification went off, but there’s no message. The username is blank too.”

 

“Ugh, it’s him . Hold down on the screen until you can highlight his stupid white text.” She turns her attention back to her book.

 

You follow the advice and watch as the word ‘back’ is highlighted with two little text highlighting dealies sitting on either side. You pull them both out as far as they will go and see the full message.

 

“Have Damara bring you back here. There is something I must show you. This is not a request, do not make me come down there.”

 

You sigh and abandon your book. Today is not a day for reading you suppose.

 

“Damara,” You start.

 

“What’s up?”

 

“He wants me back on the moon. Says he has something to show me.”

 

Damara frowns and tenderly places a bookmark in her book. She stands up without a word and holds out her hand. You take it, landing back in the hallway in front of Doc’s study.

 

“Good luck.” She whispers. Before you can respond she’s already gone. You suddenly have a very bad feeling about all of this.

 

You raise your hand to knock on the door. It opens before you can. Doc Scratch stands before you and beckons you in. You open your mouth to say hello but you are cut off.

 

“Don’t bother, human. I’m not in the mood for formalities today.”

 

He sounds incredibly hostile, you wonder what could have set him off.

 

“You… said you wanted to show me something?”

 

“Indeed I did. In fact I have many things that I want to show you. Rather I must show you. First and foremost I will have to ask you to remove that article. It’s going to get in the way.”

 

You’re very confused. His words are polite but his demeanor and tone are so threatening. You hold up a hand and shake your head.

 

“No can do, Doc. I’m not wearing a shirt under this.”

 

“Did I ask if you were?”

 

“W-well no, but-”

 

“But nothing, human. Your body holds no interest to me, as I have already said before. Now remove the jacket.” He turns away from you, but his lack of face doesn’t lend itself to feeling unwatched.

 

“No.”

 

“Why must you argue!?” His voice rises as he turns back to face you. “I literally, and I do mean literally, cannot fathom the reason you do this.”

 

You ball your hands into fists and bare your teeth.

 

“It’s my body! If I don’t want you to see it, I don’t have to show it to you, you sick fuck!”

 

“This isn’t about your body. Remove the jacket yourself or I will do it for you.”

 

You stare at him in disbelief. How could he possibly think that this was okay? You glare and give him the middle finger. You turn around and march toward the door. You have your hand on the knob when you hear a defeated sigh and a snap.

 

Your body goes rigid. For a brief moment you expect your vision to go white, but it doesn’t. Your feet move without your input and you find yourself turned back to face Doc. You walk towards him and stop a few feet away.

 

“Interesting feeling, is it not? The feeling of your body doing something you are not willing it to do. I’m sure you’re used to it after your encounter with Miss Carmia.” He says. “Before when I’ve done this I thought I would be kind and put your mind to sleep. However you’ve managed to get on every one of my nerves since you came through the fenestrated wall. I’m through with being kind. From now on you will do as I say or you will live through this feeling again and again as I make you. Do I make myself clear?”

 

You open your mouth to respond, but your vocal chords constrict against your mind. You wrestle for the control of your voice, but you lose the battle.

 

Almost choked out, you reply. “Yes, Mr. Scratch. I will do whatever you tell me.”

 

“Excellent. Thank you for your cooperation, human. Now would you please remove your jacket so that we may proceed?”

 

“Of course, Mr. Scratch.” You smile pleasantly. You’re screaming inside, begging your hands to stop as they remove Mallek’s hoodie from your body. The cold air of the study hits your bare chest, sending goosebumps across your skin. You drop the hoodie in a chair and follow dutifully behind him as he steps toward a door. Your arms cross in front of your chest, the gesture of privacy meaningless since he literally watched you undress.

 

Doc stops in front of the door and puts a hand on your shoulder. It’s soft, not in the way skin is soft. Plush. You imagine the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. What is he even made of? He opens the door and the room inside is dark, so very dark. You remember your childhood fear of the dark. Was it really the dark itself? Or just the idea that someone or something could be lurking inside? Did you even have a childhood?

 

Doc’s hand slides from your shoulder to the mid of your back and he ushers you inside. You shiver from the touch and hold back the urge to vomit. It would be very unpleasant to drown just because he won’t let you open your mouth. But the action disgusts you. There’s no reason for him to have his hands upon you when he’s controlling your every action. If he’s trying to be comforting, it’s too little too late for that. If he isn’t, however... you don’t think you want to dwell on those thoughts.

 

He leads you to the middle of the room. His fingertips linger on your skin a moment longer than necessary. He steps away from you and flips a switch, illuminating the room. The whiteness of it nearly blinds you. It’s unbelievably bright and the white is so pure that it hurts to look at, more than the green walls ever did alone.

 

In this white space, you almost can’t see Doc Scratch. The only thing keeping him visible in this space is his bright green button-up peeking out from beneath his suit jacket and the darker green bowtie affixed to his neck. He turns from you and removes the suit jacket, hanging it upon a hook that can barely be seen. You’ve never seen him without the jacket on. He’s got a belt and a set of suspenders attached to it that match his bowtie. He undoes the bowtie and hangs it over his jacket. Your panic response sets in. Why is he getting undressed?! He tightens his belt and unclips his suspenders, hanging them along with the bowtie. He then rolls his sleeves up to his elbows, very carefully, taking the time to ensure they do not crumple.

 

“There.” He says, suddenly breaking the silence. “Loose clothing is a bit dangerous in this environment. It certainly is a good thing you wore pants today instead of one of those ugly skirts you own.” He approaches you once more and gestures for you to sit, which of course you do since he’s still puppeteering you.

 

“I know you’re probably uncomfortable, in fact, it’s a certainty that you are. Please do be aware of the fact that if I wanted to do anything unpleasant to you…” He cocks his head to the side of his shoulder. “I would have done so already. Many times.”

 

His head returns to the upright position you’ve seen it in before, and he sits across from you. He pulls a remote out of his pants pocket and presses a few buttons, changing the environment of the room. The blinding white fades from everything but a circle in the center where the two of you are sitting and the wall where he left his jacket. In place of the pure white space, the sight of a planet comes into view. It looks pink, with swirling clouds, unlike any planet you’ve ever seen.

 

“Utilizing the technology of transportalizers and my own biological making, I have created a room that will take me anywhere I wish to go. While I could do this easily myself without the use of machines, this allows me to simply toss something into the space without actually having to go there myself, saving time and energy better spent on the continuation of my plan.”

 

You feel your jaw relax. He’s given you control of your voice again. He wants your input.

 

“Why are you showing me all of this?”

 

“You haven’t caught on yet, then? Good.” He changes the space around you, you see Alternia from afar.

 

He gestures to the planet. “Would you say this world is a place you could stand to live for the rest of your miserable life?”

 

You’re not sure how to answer. It’s a world full of children who kill each other over a caste system that’s hurting all of them. A world where kind people like Skylla are attacked for existing. Where infants are killed for having a cough. Where kids who aren’t nearly old enough for sex are forced to find romantic partners or face execution when it comes time for them to engage in the act.

 

It’s a cruel world. Harsh, unforgiving. Full of nocturnal children who have no say in what they can do with their lives. You remember people like Ardata, who feel they have to be cruel in order to exist, people like Chahut, who are brainwashed from a young age by a terrifying adult into believing that cult activity is normal.

 

It’s not a good world. But then again.

 

There are people who are worth fighting for on Alternia. People who are striving to make a difference. People who want to see the world be a better place, even if it means dying to achieve such an impossible goal.

 

“Yes…” You breathe. You surprised yourself with the answer. But it’s the truth.

 

You seemed to have surprised Doc as well. He tilts his head.

 

“Yes? How interesting. Something I didn’t suspect, to be sure. But now that you’ve said so, I can see why. You genuinely care for them, don’t you?”

 

“Of course I do!” You snap. “Just because you made me desperate for their friendship, doesn’t mean I don’t actually care about them! Most of them ARE JUST GOD DAMN CHILDREN.” You scream at him, you’re so angry and tired of his manipulative bullshit.

 

“And you would stay? For them?” He doesn’t even seem to register that you’ve practically made yourself hoarse.

 

“I would stay for them. For all of them. For every kid down there that you’ve made me meet. For every one I haven’t met. Even the shitty little heiress who makes their lives hell! I would stay for them all if it meant I could help.” You don’t really know where all this is coming from. You don’t remember being an activist.

 

“Thank you for your honesty. But what if you could go home? In fact, what if…” He presses a button on his remote. The room seems to shift rapidly. And there you see it. Earth. Your eyes widen as you see the blue planet and it’s single, pale moon. “You could go home right this second?”

 

He stands up and teleports to the other side of the room, where the white wall still remains.

 

“I’ll give you some time to think about it.” He starts to put his clothes back on, donning all but his jacket. “But do keep in mind what I said about loose clothing.” He holds the jacket over the expanse of space and lets go. The jacket is sucked into the void at an incredible speed.

 

He exits without another word. Shutting the door and leaving you stranded. You feel your body relax as his control over you releases. You clutch your shoulders and drop to the ground. You would stay for them. But would you stay if it meant he could never do that to you again?