Quirrel was . . . tired. He hadn't always been. He’d felt good as new when he first entered Hallownest again, if a bit confused. Everything had been new, fascinating, a mystery. He'd met new people on his travels and discovered new places and reminisced about what this kingdom would’ve been like in its prime, and it was incredible.
But now that some of his memory had returned, well . . . His mind was less focused on what he was discovering now and more on what he had lost. And it was devastating.
Queen's Station. He once wondered aloud about what it was once like. The masses of bugs moving to and fro. The sound of the bells and the stamping of stag beetle feet, so powerful they shook the ground. Perhaps the ringing of the bells he heard while there with his small friend wasn't simply his imagination but a distant memory, on the edge of being unlocked.
Well, whatever it had been then, he could certainly remember it now. He hadn't appreciated it in the past what with how crowded it had been, but now, seeing just how empty it was . . . He couldn't help but feel a deep sadness. He couldn't help but feel a deep sadness for all the places here. They used to be so energetic, so full of life, but now they'd been infested with that light. Sickness had infused itself in them. And he mourned.
Quirrel no longer wanted to explore, to rediscover these places just to see how much they've broken down. It exhausted him.
Monomon. She had been a parental figure to him, a friend, family. They'd spent long nights working together in the archives. She trusted him enough to be her final protection, and while he was honored, it seemed cruel that just as he started regaining his memories, just as he began to remember her, he would immediately lose her again. Just as he'd lost everything else.
He'd already told his friend what to do, and once they did it, then he had no reason to stay here. Not in the archives, and not in the kingdom. He remembered, while his memories had still been lost, how his curiosity and excitement in discovery had driven him on outside of Hallownest. Oh, how innocent he'd been of the troubles of this world. Perhaps he could return to that state of being after all of this was over, because despite the dangers of the outside world, it would still be better than this. After all, ignorance was bliss, was it not?
After a few moments, he realized that the creature in front of him had still not moved, and he frowned. He'd told them not to hesitate. He’d reassured them that Monomon wanted this. While he very much appreciated their unwillingness to kill her, he didn't want this dragged out any more than it needed to be, and this was an important task regardless of his own feelings.
“. . . Is something wrong, my friend?” Well. Other than the fact that he was asking them to kill an uninfected intelligent being, something he’d never seen them do before. Were they unable to bring themself to do it?
His thoughts were cut short when they held out their dream nail towards him, handle pointed forwards as if they were offering it to him. His shell froze, his hemolymph running cold. He could almost hear his heart beating loudly within him. No. No, he couldn't do it. It was hard enough just sitting here and watching it happen, letting it happen, there was no way he'd be able to carry out the task himself.
He swallowed thickly and attempted to keep his voice steady, though he found that he couldn't quite accomplish that feat in this state. “I . . . I'm sorry, friend, but this . . . This is . . . This is a task you have to carry out on your own. I cannot . . . help you any more than I already have.”
They seemed alarmed at his reaction and his words and quickly shook their head.
. . . Oh. Had he . . . had he misunderstood? It seemed to be so. As he considered that possibility, relief flowed throughout his shell. “Don't scare me like that, friend!” He stopped, then sighed. Normally he tried to keep up a calming presence, but that moment of panic threw him off.
He looked away, a bitter smile hidden beneath his mask. “Sorry. Bit of a rough day. With the return of some of my memories and the state of this world . . .” He left the thought unfinished and turned back to them. “What were you saying?”
They seemed to have recovered quickly from his outburst. Rather than just offer him the dream nail this time, they touched his mask right where his mouth would be, then pointed at Monomon, then shook the dream nail.
Quirrel paused. “You . . . want me to talk to her? With the dream nail?”
They nodded, and he felt a bubble of hope rise up in him. To be able to see her, to talk to her one last time, to tell her how much she meant to him and how much he loved her and how much he was going to miss her. Perhaps . . . Perhaps he could try.
He hadn't even needed to say anything. His friend seemed to know his decision and they placed the dream nail in his lap and sat off to the side to watch. Quirrel picked it up and turned it over in his hands. It felt so strange, unfamiliar. How did one even use it? Was it like any other nail, or was there something specific he had to do with body and mind?
He stood up and tried swinging it in front of his teacher. Nothing happened. His friend tilted their head. He tried a few more times without any difference before the other got up and showed him how to do it, facing away from the dreamer so they wouldn't enter her mind until it was time. Obviously no words were needed to activate the device as they were able to do it without a voice, but even when Quirrel copied their stance exactly and willed himself to enter her mind, nothing happened.
He sagged, resigning himself to the failure of their plan. “I'm sorry, friend. Perhaps I simply do not have the gift.” He'd heard of that, at one point, that only a select few could wield the device the moths used to enter dreams. He wasn't certain whether it was true or not but evidence certainly seemed to be supporting it now.
The knight refused to take no for an answer, though, and they paused for a few moments before grabbing his hand and pulling him along with them.
He made a startled noise but followed along behind. “Friend! Where are we going?!” They weren't able to answer and he wasn't sure they would have even if they were, but it seemed he was going to find out soon enough.
They exited the archives and expertly weaved their way through uomas and oomas. They reached Queen's Station, but the little one didn't stop there and instead continued onward into the fungal land beyond, bouncing on mushrooms and dashing over puddles of acid. It didn't take long before they got to a small cave with a single bug sitting inside, the ground strewn with corpses. He seemed to notice them, though his milky white eyes suggested that it was not sight that clued him in on their presence.
“I see you've brought a friend, but I've still got nothing left to show you. What more do you want?” His voice was creaky and he seemed malnourished. Quirrel wondered when the last time he ate was, but unfortunately he didn't have anything on him to give him. He made a note to carry more food with him on his way out of the kingdom in case he encountered anyone, and perhaps he could stop back here before he left to provide him with a good amount.
The knight started gesturing to the other but it soon became apparent that he couldn't tell what they were doing. With his friend unable to speak and this bug unable to see, it was hard for them to communicate, and neither of them seemed inclined to use touch as a way of communication, either.
“Wait, friend, let me translate for you.” There was no reason not to, after all, and the knight seemed to think this important.
Hearing his words, they turned to him and rummaged within their cloak before pulling out a charm that looked distinctly like the masks of those living in Deepnest. Quirrel took it and looked at it closely. While he didn't recognize the charm itself, there were some familiar markings on the back (ah, the benefits of working in the archives). “A companion charm?”
They nodded and sat down on one of the empty husks, fiddling with their cloak until they had replaced one of the charms they were currently wearing with the one summoning a weaver. No, three weaverlings .
Quirrel lifted his head in realization. “So you have a weaverling companion charm. I assume you want to do something with it?” They'd been pointing at him while trying to communicate with the other bug, so whatever their idea was had to have something to do with his talking to Monomon, though what exactly he had no idea.
Luckily they weren't done explaining. They slid off the bench, took their dream nail, and swiped it over the husk they'd been sitting on. They pointed at themself, then the weaverlings, then the husk. And then they pointed at him.
“. . . Oh.” He was starting to get an idea of what they were planning, and he honestly wasn't sure what to think. Since he wasn't able to use the dream nail, then going into the dream world with his friend would be a good next plan, but if he had to connect himself to a charm to be able to do that . . .
He wasn't sure. From what he'd read, charm making in and of itself was a difficult task, and companion charms were particularly difficult. He wasn't sure what would happen to the creature bound if it was made incorrectly and he certainly didn't want to be forced to stick with a stranger if the charm was stolen. But he also deeply wanted to talk to Monomon one last time.
“What do they want?! What do they want?!”
The scratchy voice snapped him out of his thoughts and he glanced over at the knight. “Ahm . . .” They took another charm out of their cloak, one that seemed poorly made, and pointed at the other bug. His heart sank. Not only would it be a difficult and dangerous task, but if that charm had been made by this bug, and his friend wanted him to make the one they were thinking of, then that meant it would be made by a charm maker who couldn’t even see what he was making, which could bring a whole host of other problems. But it wasn't like he’d found anyone else alive who was a professional charm maker. Even Salubra had just been a collector. “. . . I believe they want you to make a charm for us . . .”
“What? So greedy, that one! It will require geo, much geo . . .”
Quirrel hesitated, then spoke, and while he spoke to the bug, he was also staring directly at his friend. “. . . Well, give us time to think it over, and then we'll confirm whether we actually need it or not.” And if he had the ability to even make it in the first place. “I'm sorry, but they did not inform me until now.”
The knight stared back for a moment, then nodded in understanding. Good. This wasn't something he could just dive into. He needed time to think.
“There's something I need to look up in the archives. Give me a day.” He should be able to find where the files were stored relatively quickly - the archives had an excellent organizational system - but he wasn't sure how long it would take him to look through it all and come to the decision itself. It all depended on whether and how his questions were answered.
He had three major concerns. The first was what happened to the creature bound if the charm wasn't made correctly, only worked partially, or was distorted and worked in a way not originally intended. Would it hurt him? Would it make him a mindless bug? Could it kill him?
The second was what would happen if the charm broke. Could that kill him? Or simply injure him? Or would he not be affected?
The third was what happened to the creature bound when the charm was not equipped. Would he be free to move around as he wished, to simply just stay where he was and be free to go about his daily business? He noticed his friend sit back down and remove the weaverling charm. With it, the weaverlings that had just been running around all disappeared. Where did they go? Back to where they came from, or were they stuck inside the charm forever? He didn't know. He'd have to see if the answers had been recorded.
Thus, he started back to the archives, the small knight following at his heels. Well, he might as well further inform them as to what he was doing as they weaved their way through mushrooms and pools of acid. “This isn't something we can just rush into, my friend. Charm making is quite the difficult task, especially for one so powerful as you're suggesting. And I'll admit, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of being attached to a charm. You realize that, right?”
As often happened, he got no true response from them. He just had to hope that they understood. “I'm going to look up all I can about it in the archives,” he continued. “You could help if you'd like. In fact, it would go much faster if you did, though I'll leave that choice up to you.” Again, no response, but he hoped that the fact that they kept following him meant that they would help.
Apparently it did, because when they got back to the archives, the knight immediately set about looking through the acidic tubes. A small smile graced Quirrel's face as he watched them press their mask up against the glass. A glance into the liquid within told him that what he was looking for wasn't in this one, but his friend was staring at it with such intensity that he had a feeling they hadn't realized. It was understandable; while the method of organization itself was excellent to those who were taught how to read it, it wasn't exactly intuitive to a first-time Reader. Quirrel gave them a short lesson in how it worked, and as an example explained what this tube in particular contained, then moved on to the section in the archives about charms.
While it didn't take long to find where the information he needed was, it did take quite a while to actually read through it. Thankfully, many of his questions did seem to be answered, and there were even answers to questions he hadn't yet thought of.
For example, while the bearer was wearing the charm, he himself would be filled with a strong urge to do whatever the charm required. In this case he believed they only wanted the companionship aspect and not the fighting aspect, so he didn't mind that. He'd also be forced to stay in close proximity with the bearer and would be teleported back to them if they were separated or went outside his range. Again, something he didn't entirely mind given the fact that they were only going to use it for a short while.
Relief flowed through him when he discovered that he would be free to go about his normal business when the charm wasn't in use and that he wouldn't be badly affected should it break. It would just free him from the binding, and in that case, perhaps it was good that the charm would be so poorly made; they could break it immediately afterwards and he wouldn't have to deal with it any longer.
There was also the fact that any intelligent bug that was to be charmed had to be willing in order for the charm to fully work. Any reluctance would weaken it or cause it to fail altogether. Which meant that if they were to do this, he would have to be entirely sure of his decision. He didn't want a weak charm that wouldn't even let him go into the dream with his friend in the first place, no, he had to fully accept what would happen.
That was just for his side of the binding, though. For the physical side, if the structure of the charm itself was not made correctly or had gotten damaged without breaking completely, then it could have unwanted side effects. Rather than simply give him the urge to stay by the knight, it could make him obsessive, being unable to even let them out of sight and feeling extremely anxious if he wasn't by their immediate side, or limit his range to only a foot around the bearer, or cause him to be extremely jealous if they paid attention to anyone other than him, or only ever focus his own attention on them. If they’d wanted him to protect the knight as well, then there was a possibility that he would actually attack them instead.
There were plenty of ways this could go wrong and Quirrel didn't like any of them, but luckily the binding only occurred after the construction of the physical charm itself. In other words, they could check to make sure it was made correctly before making the bond.
Still, he had no idea how many different attempts at making the charm that that bug would be willing to take or how much geo they would have to pay for it. They might be forced to accept a lesser version of the charm.
Quirrel slumped over, fingers slipping beneath his mask to rub at his eyes. Either way, they had spent all day pouring over the information in the tubes and he was growing tired. He still felt more than apprehensive about allowing himself to be charmed, especially with such risks, but . . . perhaps he could try it? He would think it over again after a long night's rest.
The knight seemed to have noticed his exhaustion and walked over, watching him.
Quirrel gave them a tired smile. “I think we should stop here for the night. It's getting rather late and I think we've learned all that we needed.” The question was where to sleep. While there was a bench in here to sit and rest, neither it nor anything else in the archives was conducive to sleeping well , no matter if he'd seen the knight sleeping on benches or not. But then outside they would be exposed to uomas and oomas accidentally drifting into them and stinging them. Not the best place to stay, either.
Actually . . . Queen's Station wasn't far from here. It was safe and had plenty of greenery that they could use as bedding, so it was probably the best bet. Making up his mind, Quirrel stood up and started heading out. “Come on, friend. Let's find somewhere to rest.”
After making sure the other was following them, Quirrel started threading his way through the jellyfish in the canyon with expertise and he and the knight reached the bottom of the canyon without incident. When they entered the station, he started gathering up all the leaves and moss that he needed to make a soft bed on the rock floor, but he paused when he saw the knight start to head to the bench below them.
“. . . Friend?” They stopped and looked up at him, and he took that as his cue to continue. “I know you're rather partial to the benches around the kingdom, but aren't they a bit uncomfortable to sleep in? I believed we could make bedding with the greenery here.”
The knight was still for a few moments more, but then they returned to him and started cutting down vines with their nail. Quirrel smiled a little and continued to work with them.
He'd never spent so much time with the knight before now. Usually they'd only encountered each other on their individual paths through Hallownest for just a few minutes before the little one darted off to continue their journey. As such, now that he'd spent so much time with them, he had started to notice little things here and there about them.
He only had minimum knowledge about vessels, but he'd heard that their minds were blank so that the infection had nothing to take root to in them and they could perfectly contain it. Seeing just how much that was true was jarring to him. They barely reacted to anything at all and they struck foes down with ease, yet despite their lack of reaction, they were incredibly knowledge-hungry. He would have called it curiosity, but was that possible in an empty shell?
Well, empty or not, Quirrel couldn't help but treat them like any other bug. They were quite the curiosity and one of the only others he consistently came across in his travels. He felt a sort of camaraderie towards them. Besides, while they didn't react to most things, they did react to some. A tilt of the head here and there, or their alarm when they realized he'd thought they wanted him to remove the seal. He wasn't quite sure whether that was how vessels were supposed to be or if, perhaps, this one wasn't quite as empty as they were supposed to be.
They laid out the foliage in an alcove of the station and crawled into it. His friend was asleep within seconds, but Quirrel was having a bit harder of a time, his mind filled with thoughts and worries about being charmed and what it would mean for him. But eventually sleep overtook him, and he dreamed.
“Quirrel. Could you bring me those tablets?”
“Of course, Madam.” The pill bug in question hopped up onto the shelves, scaling them with ease as he picked out the ones Monomon had pointed towards. Gathering as many as he could without damaging them or risking losing his grip, Quirrel jumped back down and offered them to his teacher.
He’d only started the apprenticeship recently, but he was already loving it. It had been a bit nerve-wracking when he first started, to respond directly to the Teacher herself (he often wondered why he was chosen over anyone else), but this job was perfect for him. Methodical, detail-oriented, and the added benefit of journeying around the kingdom. It was amazing. Not only that, but the Teacher herself turned out to be rather amiable and gentle, which calmed him down pretty quickly. Ever since, he’d been fascinated by the work, listening intently as she taught him and doing everything in his power to remember and learn.
Monomon must have noticed how intently he was watching her transcribe the documents because he suddenly heard a soft giggle coming from her direction. Snapped out of his concentration, Quirrel looked up at her curiously, noticing she was holding the end of a tentacle to her mask. “Madam . . . ?”
“I’m sorry, Quirrel.” She let her tentacle fall, but the bug could tell she was still smiling beneath her mask. “You’re adorable, you know that?”
He spluttered a little, taken aback by the comment. “P-pardon?”
“You’re adorable,” she repeated. “How deeply you get into this. I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
“I . . . thank you?” He honestly wasn’t sure how to take the compliment, but an uncertain smile graced his features beneath his mask. At least she was pleased with him.
“Why, you’re very welcome.” She chuckled a little before turning back to her work, her apprentice watching once again.
Quirrel awoke with a painful longing in his chest. That dream . . . that memory had only really been the start of his apprenticeship, of his friendship with Monomon. They’d grown much closer over the years and he missed her deeply.
. . . And now he had the chance to talk to her one last time. He knew it would only make the goodbye that much more painful, but he couldn’t help wanting to see her again, and besides, despite the risks, being charmed didn’t seem extremely dangerous, and it wouldn’t last long so long as the broke the charm afterwards. Perhaps . . . Perhaps this was a risk he was willing to make. After all, once his friend replaced the Hollow Knight, there would be nothing left for him in this world anymore. What did he have to lose?
He turned around and found the little knight still sleeping, a soft smile appearing beneath his mask. Now they were the adorable one. Gently, so as not to disturb them, he rested a hand between their horns, then carefully stood up and sat down at the edge of the platform. This place had become so empty since the infection . . . It weighed on his soul. They were in a dying kingdom, and there wasn’t much they could do except keep it in stasis. It would be impossible to even rebuild with all these infected husks down here, much less make it as grand as it used to be. No, that had been the Pale King’s doing. No ordinary bug would be able to return it to how it was.
A soft tip tapping of feet behind him drew Quirrel’s attention and he looked in its direction. “Good morning, friend,” he said as the knight sat down beside him. They must have awoken soon after he did. He hoped he wasn’t the one that caused it. Heavens knew the poor thing needed as much rest as they could get.
“. . . I’ve made a decision.” Well that certainly got their attention if the fact that they looked up at him had anything to say about it. He hesitated, though, speaking cautiously. “. . . I’ll go along with your plan, but on one condition: we have to break the charm afterwards. I don’t want to be charmed forever.” There was no response for a second, but then Quirrel got a slow nod. Good. It was decided.
“Well I suppose we should make some breakfast before heading back to that charm maker, then.” He stood up, but then paused and looked down at the knight. “Er . . . do you even eat?” He wasn’t entirely sure. He knew they weren’t quite bug, rather something more ethereal, but he wasn’t sure whether that meant they didn’t need to eat or not. They didn’t eat anything yesterday, but then, he was so caught up in his research that he didn’t either.
When he didn’t get a response, he figured he’d just have to make something for them just in case. What might they eat, though? Different bugs preferred all sorts of things. Some only ate plants, some ate lesser bugs, some ate fungus. He himself tended to prefer plants and, if there was nothing else to eat, sometimes non-sentient bugs, but only after he’d already found them dead and decaying. It wasn’t uncommon among the citizens of Hallownest, and there were some who ate far worse things. Besides, he found such things had a sweeter taste once they’d already started breaking down, and they were easier to get to. And someone had to clean up all the dead matter, after all. As for his friend, well, he supposed he’d just have to get a little bit of everything for them. Or let them get their own food if they wanted, as it seemed they just got up and started following him as he started foraging. Perhaps that would be best, actually. “Well, if you do eat, I don’t know what it would be, so you could get your own while I get mine?” Again, no response. He was sure they understood, though, so he continued along with the assumption that they would do whatever they needed.
In the end they never gathered anything and only followed him around, but still, it was nice to have company. In the back of his mind he realized that what they were doing would soon be reversed; he would be the one following the knight and keeping them company.
There wasn’t really anything present to add to what he’d gathered, so he started heading back to the charm maker, nibbling on some damp leaf litter on the way. Despite being born and raised in the City of Tears, the Fungal Wastes spoke to him. Really, it had everything a pill bug like himself would need. Dark, damp, plenty of food around? He might have settled down here had his drive for discovery not pushed him elsewhere. But who knew? Only bits and pieces of his memory had returned. Perhaps he did used to live here at some point.
It wasn’t long before they came upon the charm maker once again, who hadn’t moved from his spot. His head perked up as they came close enough to smell. “Have you made your decision, then?”
“We have, yes,” Quirrel responded, sitting down on the floor. Along the way here, he’d picked up a few food items based off what he’d seen in this room, hoping that it would be the type of food this bug ate. Upon offering them out to him, the charm maker snatched them up and devoured them so quickly it caused Quirrel to blink. The poor thing. He didn’t even give him a thank you, but he decided to ignore that, especially if he had been starving. “We were wondering if you knew how to make companion charms?”
The old bug hummed in thought. “A tricky thing, you ask me to do. But I suppose I could . . . if you give me geo.”
“Naturally. What is your price?”
“Mmmm . . . 10,000 geo.”
Quirrel stared. That much, just for a charm? Sure, it was a companion charm, but he was sure even companion charms never costed that much. His friend was nonplussed, however, and immediately dished out the required geo. He looked at them in surprised. How had they gotten so much, and why would they be so willing to spend that much just to help him speak with Monomon?
“Right!” the charm maker said. “Now we can start. Where is the creature to be charmed?”
Quirrel gave a hesitant smile and raised his hand, though he knew the other couldn’t see it. “Ah . . . That would be me, actually . . .”
The other bug looked surprised, then leaned towards him in contemplation. “Rrrrrrrm, a tricky business you ask me to do, and one that can alter your life forever. Are you sure you want to risk it?”
It would be the last chance to turn back. But Quirrel had already made up his mind.
“. . . Yes.”
The process took a few days and it wasn’t helped by the fact that they did indeed have to repeat it a few times, the charm maker demanding more geo in increasing amounts each time. While Quirrel stayed with him to help with the charm, the knight went off to gather more geo in case they needed to try yet again, and once again he marveled at how willing they were to help him.
While the actual magical binding wasn’t required until the end, Quirrel did have to provide some genetic material from the very beginning that would be incorporated in the charms creation. Something about it connecting with him better. Resigning himself to this, he’d been carefully cutting off some of the small sensory hairs around his shell. It didn’t hurt, but he didn’t like having his senses diminished either. Luckily not much was needed.
After about five different tries, they finally made one that looked like it was, at the very least, made correctly, even if still incredibly fragile. Upon witnessing the failure of so many, though, Quirrel had started to worry that the spell used to bind him would be of similar quality, and the consequences of that could range drastically. Thankfully his friend had showed him how well the other charms they got from him worked, and he was reassured that while the charm maker's craftsmanship was no longer the best, his spellwork was still up to par. He supposed one didn’t necessarily have to see in order to cast a spell. Either way, now that it had been made, it was time for the binding; all three of them were present and Quirrel was incredibly nervous.
The charm maker must have noticed it in some way, because he clarified their intent one more time. “Are you sure you want to do this? It will not work well if you have doubts.”
He hesitated. This really was the last chance to turn back. But no, he wanted to do this. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, releasing his anxiety along with it. “. . . Yes. I'm sure. Bind me.”
At those words, the other bug placed the charm in Quirrel's hands and told him to hold it to his chest, close his eyes, and put all his focus on it. Obeying, Quirrel couldn't see what the charm maker was doing, but he could hear the words being said. The spell had two parts to it, the first said by the charm maker and the other said by himself to seal it. He had already memorized it, so when the first part came to an end, he spoke clearly and with intention.
To myself I bid you bind,
A charm affecting body and mind.
To stay with the bearer I'll be inclined,
And them I shall never leave behind.
Quirrel felt a tightness in his shell as he finished speaking, similar to what he used to feel as a child before molting, and an intricate design of glowing light threaded itself through the air. Upon fading, he felt the pressure dissipate. He let out a slow breath and opened his eyes. “Then it is done?”
The charm maker nodded. “It is done.” He cackled. “Enjoy your new life as a charm!”
Quirrel rolled his eyes, though the words still got to him. Had he made the right choice? Well, it was too late now. He reminded himself that they would destroy the charm after the talk with Monomon and he would be free. Nothing to worry about.
“Come on. Let's go back to the archives.” Rather than follow him out, however, the knight sat down on a husk and immediately started replacing one of their charms with the one just made. He sighed, but supposed they wanted to check to make sure it really worked before leaving.
As soon as the charm was fastened, Quirrel felt an urge in the very core of his mind. He needed to stay with his friend. He needed to. It didn't remove any of his intelligence of course and he knew this sudden need was due to his charming, so he started feeling it out a little. How far could he go before he was forced back to their side? He started moving away, but hesitated as the distance grew longer. He . . . didn't really need to test it to its limits, right? Just this was good enough? Yes, just this would be enough.
He started walking back to the knight, but then stopped, looking back to how far he'd gotten. That . . . had been the effects of the charm, hadn't it? Messing with his mind, keeping him close to the one wearing it? Fascinating, and a little disturbing. He didn't want to try it again. He supposed he'd just have to go along with it and stay by the knight's side whenever they were wearing it.
He walked the rest of the way back to his friend and gave them a little tilt of the head, an uncertain smile beneath his mask. “Well, it certainly works, my friend, I can tell you that. Though I'd prefer you don't wear it until necessary.”
Understanding his request, the knight took off the charm and hid it beneath their cloak with the others. Good. Now they could head back to the archives.
Quirrel waved to the charm maker as they left, and though the walk was short and without incident, a nervous excitement filled him the entire way. If this charm worked correctly, then he'd be able to see Monomon again, to talk to her, to say goodbye, for the last time. He spent the entire time mentally rehearsing what he wanted to say, though how much time they'd have he didn't know. Not that he even had much time to think about it now, though. They were already there.
Once they got to a safe point in the building, the knight stopped to put the charm back on, and Quirrel once again felt that urge to stick by his friend’s side. They made their way to the Teacher and he took a moment to collect himself before heading in. Without so much as a warning, the knight dream nailed Monomon and Quirrel felt his feet go out from under him.
When he regained his footing, it was in a place that he could only assume to be the dream realm. Pale oranges and pinks obscured his vision in the form of mist and fog and what looked like the symbols of dream catchers floated in the air. Giant horns towered over them in an arch, penetrating the sky above. To put it simply, it was awe-inspiring.
But all thoughts of the place itself faded as soon as Quirrel saw the jellyfish floating over one of the platforms. “MONOMON!” He ran towards her, nearly stumbling along the way but quickly righting himself before he could collapse, and when he reached her he immediately fell into a kneel. “Madam, I-!”
He was cut off by a soft giggle and a tentacle gently touching beneath his chin, raising his head up, and from the inflection in her voice he could tell she was smiling. “It’s alright, Quirrel. I know.”
Upon hearing those words, Quirrel made no hesitation to pull his teacher into a hug, burying his face into her. His vision started getting blurry, but he paid it no mind. He was just glad to be able to be with her again. She was just as he remembered, and he leaned into her touch as she wrapped her tentacles around him in a hug.
He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, but any pre-prepared words he’d intended to share were forgotten in the embrace. Just staying here, being with her, was enough. “. . . I missed you. So much.”
“I know.” She pulled away from the hug just enough to see his mask, brushing a tentacle alongside it and wiping away the tears that were flowing out, unable to be contained. “I’m so proud of you, Quirrel. You’ve done so much . . . You should rest for a while, after this. Wyrm knows you deserve it.”
A pained chuckle left Quirrel’s throat. He had . . . definitely been through a lot, and a rest sounded good. But . . . “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Monomon . . . Once you’re gone . . . there’s nothing left for me here anymore. I don’t . . .”
“Shhh, it’s okay. You need to find people, Quirrel. Find those who will stay by your side and support you. This isn’t going to be easy, but you can get through it, I know you can. You’ve done amazing things, my student, and you will do even more. I promise.” She tilted his head up a little. “You’re strong, Quirrel. You can do this. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself?”
His whole shell shuddered from his tears, but he managed a nod. “I . . . I promise.” For Monomon.
“Good. I love you.”
“. . . I love you, too.”
They stayed like that a while longer, either in silence or talking amidst themselves, even perhaps sharing a joke or two, but eventually Monomon reminded him of what had to be done, and Quirrel eventually resigned himself to it. He gave her one last hug - a long one - before letting go. It was hard to make himself leave and he couldn’t find a way to stop his tears, but a nudge from the knight, who’d been sitting with their legs hanging off of the platform until now, pushed him to move. He knew he wouldn’t be able to make himself leave if he hugged her again, so instead he opted for a wave and a goodbye, and she returned the gesture.
It took his friend’s grabbing his hand and pulling him along to get him to actually leave, but eventually he was able to, and he left the dream realm with a heavy heart. The knight surprised him with a small hug, but it didn’t last long before they pulled away, removed his charm, and entered the dream realm once again.
Suddenly alone, Quirrel simply stared at his friend’s unconscious body in silence and prepared himself for what would happen next. It had only been a few seconds before his teacher’s body started disintegrating in the tank. Did it hurt, he wondered? Perhaps it’d be best if he didn’t know. Regardless, the deed was done, the seal was broken, and the knight had woken up from their sleep. Nothing was to be done anymore but his friend continuing in their quest. Such a small creature taking on such a large task. He wished it didn’t have to be so, but there was no other choice if they wanted to protect the few people left in this world.
They looked at him with a slight tilt of the head once they recovered and he wondered if they were asking if he was okay. He shook his head and told them to go on ahead. He needed time to rest, and to mourn, just as he had been mourning for everything else in Hallownest before this.
He watched them go until they were out of sight, and breathed out a sigh of exhaustion.