King shifted nervously behind Wilford as Dr. Iplier stepped out from around the corner. The youngest ego had gathered the rest of them in the living area, preparing to ‘introduce’ them to a ‘new’ ego. Dr. Iplier raised his hands placatingly, staring them all dead in the eye in turn. “He’s really nervous, guys. Actually, make that terrified. So just…cut him some slack, alright?” He glanced at Wilford and Dark, the two eldest standing protectively in front of King and the Jims before swallowing hard, darting back around the corner. They could still hear him speaking though, using the kind of voice one would use to soothe a frightened animal. “It’s okay! It’s okay, I promise, they’ll hear you out. Come on, just stay by me.”
Slowly, Dr. Iplier reemerged, someone else trailing after him, pressed tight to his side. He wore a long trench coat fastened tight around his body, one hand fiddling nervously with the buttons of his coat while his other gripped onto Dr. Iplier’s arm, and a blond streak running through the left side of his hair. King swallowed at the sight of his face, at the bloodstained bandages wrapped around his eyes. Dr. Iplier had said it was bad, but…
Dark growled low in his chest at the sight of the other, and King’s hand moved to rub at his chest reflexively, the horrific scar on his arm aching. The other ego flinched at the warning noise, shifting closer to Dr. Iplier, and the doctor shot Dark a glare. Dark stopped growling, smoothing out his suit and materializing his cane in his hand. The other ego flinched again at the sound of his voice. “If you truly are a new ego, as Dr. Iplier says, then what do we call you?”
The ego swallowed, glancing at Dr. Iplier, as if asking permission to speak. When Dr. Iplier nodded encouragingly, rubbing his arm, he turned to face Dark. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he could manage to get sound out. “…The Host.”
Just hearing his voice had King flinching, crossing his arms over his chest in a feeble attempt at shielding himself. The Host turned to face him before bowing his head, as if somehow seeing the movement, shrinking in on himself. Dark scoffed. “How do we know you’re truly ‘new’? How do we know you’re different? For all we know, you could just be the Author playing a cruel, manipulative game –”
“The Host is not the Author!” King was briefly surprised to hear him refer to himself in third person, but then Dark was narrowing his eyes dangerously, and the Host shrunk further, moving to hide a little behind Dr. Iplier. “The Host…regrets everything the Author has done. He remembers every detail and –” His head turned to King again briefly before he swallowed, turning back to Dark. “– he is just as afraid of the Author as the other egos. The Author was cruel and sadistic and manipulative. The Host strives to be everything he was not.”
Wilford crossed his arms. “Prove it.”
The Host backed up a step, faltering. “The…the Host’s power is different from the Author’s. Where the Author needed a pen and paper, the Host just needs his voice. He…he can prove both this fact and Wilford Warfstache’s demand, but…” Again he turned to King. He looked back to Dr. Iplier, clearly begging for help.
Dr. Iplier cleared his throat. “King, come here. Please?”
King’s eyes shot wide. “Me?! Why me, I don’t – you can’t – please don’t make me!” Both Jims pressed to either side of him, attempting to comfort him even though they were both shaking just as much as he was.
“The Host promises he will not hurt the King of the Squirrels. He promises.” The Host stepped out from behind Dr. Iplier, took a few extra steps forward, but stopped short when both Dark and Wilford bristled, Wilford’s aura beginning to shimmer into existence.
Swallowing harshly, King stepped forward, approaching the Host slowly and very cautiously. He stopped at what he deemed was a safe distance away, trying not to let the tears that pricked at the corners of his eyes fall.
The Host opened his mouth, then looked back over his shoulder at Dr. Iplier. When Dr. Iplier simply made a ‘go on’ gesture, he turned back to King, holding out his left hand, his other now fiddling with his coat. “The Host…the Host asks the King of the Squirrels to give him his arm.”
King froze, mouth going dry. He hesitated a long moment before slowly lifting his right arm, placing it in the Host’s grasp. His scar stuck out painfully against the otherwise tan skin, and just the sight of it, combined with the Host’s small, thankful smile, just made his trembling renew tenfold.
And then the Host laid his other hand over the scar.
King jerked back, breathing heavily and stumbling backwards a few steps as the Host flinched violently, holding his hands up in surrender and breathing just as hard as King was. “The Host…” He bowed his head, turning it away and swallowing. “The Host will not hurt the King of the Squirrels. Please…”
King glanced back at Wilford and Dark. Both were wearing confused expressions, brows furrowed as they eyed the Host, who was still bowed with his hands raised. Hesitantly, King stepped forward again, lifting his arm. “…Okay.”
The Host lifted his head, and his expression split in a wide grin, but only briefly before he was cupping King’s scar again. He began muttering fervently under his breath, his brow furrowed in concentration, and when he stepped away, retreating back to the safety of Dr. Iplier’s side, King’s eyes widened.
His scar was gone.
His eyes darted between his arm and the Host, mouth falling open with disbelief and surprise. “How…you…but…”
The Host gave him a small smile. “The Host is just as powerful as the Author was. But he never intends to use his power the same way. He doesn’t want to hurt. He…he just…”
His bandages began to darken, and within moments red, bloody tears were beginning to trail down his face, smearing his cheeks with dark stains. King cringed back at the disturbing sight; even Dark appeared to recoil slightly, crinkling up his nose. Dr. Iplier immediately began to panic, growing frantic as the Host bled in front of them. “Oh shit, okay, let’s get you back to my office, I’d hoped that would’ve stopped by now but –”
“No.” Dr. Iplier froze at Dark’s voice, whirling around. Dark’s hands flexed atop his cane, still staring the Host down through narrowed eyes. “We’re not done here. I’m still not convinced this isn’t an elaborate trick.”
Dr. Iplier’s own eyes narrowed, spitting his words out like venom. “Well, Dark, you can shove your paranoia up your ass because no matter what you think he is still my patient and I –”
“Stop!” The Host took ahold of Dr. Iplier’s arm again, smiling softly even as the first drop of blood rolled off his chin, landing on his coat. “The Host will stay. There is…one other way he can prove to Darkiplier that he is not – that he’s changed.”
Dr. Iplier shook his head. “Oh no, no no no, you’re already bleeding, absolutely not! I would like to keep you alive, please, work with me!”
The Host ignored him, turning back to Dark. “The Host is not the Author. The Author died the moment he –” He swallowed, gesturing to his bandaged eyes. “Hopefully…this will finally convince Darkiplier.”
He drew a deep breath, the other five egos watching expectantly, and Dr. Iplier stepped away. Then the air began to shimmer around the Host, warping around him like a mirage. The Jims audibly gasped when words began to form in the shimmering air, darkening until they were black and dripping onto the floor, onto the Host’s coat.
Wilford shook Dark’s arm, jaw having dropped in surprise. “That’s his aura, Dark! You can’t ignore that!”
Dark peered closer. The words were definitely black, like ink, and not the crusted red of dried blood the Author’s were. Red was quickly joining the dripping ink, however, on the floor as the blood flow from beneath the Host’s bandages increased, coating his face as he dismissed his aura with a sigh. Dr. Iplier was visibly growing more panicked, reaching up a hand as if to touch the Host’s face before thinking better of it. The Host himself was breathing heavily, the exertion clearly taking a lot out of him as he slumped against Dr. Iplier. “Does…D-does Darkiplier believe the Host now?”
Dark sighed, turning his head away. “I suppose I have to. You can take him away now, Dr. Iplier.”
Dr. Iplier scoffed before linking his arm with the Host’s. “Come on. Let’s stop that bleeding before it gets any worse.”
The Host tilted his head at King’s shout, staring at him with furrowed brows. King shuffled his feet, running his hand up and down his arm – absolutely delighting in the feel of the absence of his scar – before he flung himself at the Host, pulling him into a tight hug, not particularly caring about the blood in that moment. “…Thank you.”
The Host hesitated, completely stunned, before he wrapped his arms around King in return. “There is no need to thank the Host. The Author…made the King of the Squirrels suffer. The Host would rather not have him remember it in such a…a painful way.”
King pulled back, giving the Host a tiny smile. “Just call me King.”
Dr. Iplier shifted, clearly getting agitated. “Right, yes, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy you’re not gonna kick a blind man onto the streets, but I would really like to get him back to my office before he bleeds out in our living area if you don’t mind.”
The Host chuckled; he smothered it with his hand, and King was nearly positive only he and Dr. Iplier could hear it, but judging by the look on Dr. Iplier’s face, that was the first time he had laughed in a long, long time. Dr. Iplier split in a wide grin, and moved to drag the Host away again, but then Dark spoke up again.
“One more thing; do you…still like to write?”
The Host titled his head again, looking…confused and…oddly nervous. “The Host is…unsure. He doesn’t know much about himself yet. He’s not even sure if he still can. Why?”
Dark coughed into his fist. “The basement. It…used to be a library. No one’s gone down there in decades, I’m not sure what state it’s in, but…it’s yours. If you like.”
It took a second for the Host to process what he was being told. But then a broad, beaming grin spread across his face, lighting up the room despite the blood staining his face and teeth. “The Host can’t thank Darkiplier enough, he is positive it will get use.”
Dark allowed himself a small smile. “Go. Get cleaned up, before Dr. Iplier has an aneurism.” Dr. Iplier indeed looked red in the face, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he stared at the Host’s face. At Dark’s words, Dr. Iplier linked their arms again before practically dragging the Host back down the hall, but the rest of them could still hear the new ego’s excited ramblings for a long time.
King turned back to face the others, still rubbing his arm and smiling, the Host’s blood smeared across the side of his face. “I like him! I think he’s really changed! He’s…nice.”
Dark shared a look with Wilford. “Yes, it appears so.” Yet he couldn’t help the shiver that ran down his spine when he glanced back down the hallway, the Host’s voice beginning to fade away. His heart caught in his throat when he remembered what the Author had said, all those months ago…
“One day, you’ll let your guard down. One day, I’ll come back. It may take weeks or months or years, and maybe you’ll be different, and maybe I’ll be different…but I will be here.”