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You Are a Refugee From an Omnicidal Empire

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Every color of the spectrum erupts inside Dave's chest, cascading through the abyss of his body in great surges and lashes. The ichor spilling over the platform ignites on contact into a dazzling cacophony of light that blazes unabated even as the ethereal energy blasting through the Knight's body floods down and collects in two curling fists, leaving a shifting nebula in its wake.

There it builds and builds until the blinding concentration of divine power rips through, breaching the invisible boundary of the microcosmos contained within the god's flesh. Tongues of spectral fire roar from between fingers up slender arms and engulf him whole.

The reinforced steel manacles encircling Dave's wrists glow reddish-white for a brief second, then discorporate into sand and then dust between licks of godly energy, aging centuries and millennia in the blink of an eye. The intravenous needle has long been incinerated, the tube left hanging limp and dribbling quietly onto the floor.

The cerulean blood snaps out of her stupefied daze and draws a sleek revolver from her coat.

She fires, but between one instant and the next you glimpse a whirl of dancing red and white, Caledfwlch deflecting a bullet amidst motifs of ticking clockwork. A tick later Dave is behind the psychic, decapitating her in a single stroke as he steps through another phantom astrolabe, knocking the other two trolls out with his hilt before they have time to react.

Above the bed the original Knight of Time is still ascending, wreathed in a thousand bleeding rainbows. His flashing blood streams up and down, playing and rewinding through its own timeline as the unseen forces buoying the body lift him upright. A wave of force pours forth from Dave's hanging frame, stoking the inferno into a frenzy, then shudders, reverses and implodes back towards his core in a terrifying surge of gravity. The corona of liquid energy slaps back against his skin and binds with a searing explosion of light.

When you lift the shielding hand from your eyes, the reborn god is hovering there in the flesh: red suit, flowing cloak, snug hood, ruby gear in their full glory. The air sings with thrumming power, raw god tier presence slamming against your mind with almost oppressive weight, calling to something deep inside you.

Wait, snug hood?

The future Dave next to you snickers as the one that just revived scowls and tugs the hood off his head, tousled white hair popping from under its squished prison. Caledfwlch and his signature shades pop in place as he tilts forward, nods at you and glides into a spinning fraymotif sigil, leaving you in a hospital room with the other Knight of Time, a headless cerulean and quite a few passed-out trolls.

"So I'm confused why I had to kill that chick," Future Dave comments. Present Dave now, you guess, since the other's hopped off. "Paradox space was straight demanding me lop her head off like she's space Hitler and I've got to stop the Trollocaust from happening. Which is patently absurd since we already know who space Hitler is, so this has got to be, like, space Mussolini at best."

"Mind-controller," you sigh, watching blue blood pool over the floor tiles. Dave nods, accepting the explanation because fuck psychics, and glances at Sollux, who's still wired up to the soulsucking machine.

"How... do we get him out of that?"

"Why don't we fucking find out instead of standing here and squawking like decapitated cluckbeasts?" you mutter as you stride over to the door, lock it, and then make your way to Sollux's bedside.

He's unconscious as you expected, but the controls look fairly intuitive. You thumb the off switch on the vibrating machine, wait for everything to visibly power down, then unbuckle the straps on his headgear and lift the suppressor helmet off. There's a sting of static discharge as the gelled sockets decouple with a wet squelch. Carefully, you draw the hypodermic needle out of his arm and toss it to the side.

Leaning over his head, slightly nervous he's going to snap awake and blow your head off automatically, you pry a set of eyelids apart and wave a hand above the gander bulb.

"He's not awake," you report. "But he's fine. I think."

"Is it safe to fast forward him until he wakes up?" Dave asks, dismissing his sword for a pair of timetables.

"I... don't see why not?" you hazard.

One of the black discs spins into motion, the other following a moment later in the opposite direction. The god's brow furrows in concentration, and then a red glow traces around the prone psionic. A jerk of his finger arrests the second timetable and sends it in reverse. Sollux's breath starts rising and falling in sync with every successively shorter rotation until his chest's convulsing in place like a possessed puppet, and then he finally jerks up, the spell breaking with the jarring sound of a record scratch.

While the goldblood's groaning and coughing himself awake, clearing his chakras or whatever the fuck psionics do, you chance a look at Dave. He's oddly calm for someone you literally just slaughtered, though you suppose that from his perspective he just went directly from being knocked out to waking in a spiffy new body, conveniently skipping the entire dying part of the experience. You catch a glimpse of his eyes behind his shades as he turns, and he's... he's looking at you. With a look of concern.

It occurs to you that between the semi-violent interrogation earlier and the various scrapes from your crawling and running and stint as live target practice, you have to look like shit right now.

You have no grubfucking clue what's going through your mind when you make the decision, maybe it's a hamfisted attempt to reassure your matesprit, or maybe some pattern-matching sector of your ancestral hindbrain triggering the rote reaction drilled in by too many movies, but you take Dave's hand, step up and press your lips to his.

Your nose clacks against his shades.

A second of shock later he tilts his head and kisses you back, completing the cliché two idiots slobbering over each other in the middle of a life-or-death prison break, and now you can't blame impulse anymore. You don't break away. You want this. It's a little late for the post-murder adrenaline make-outs, but you're not a fictional character. If you're about to head out to risk your life against squadrons of furious trolls and humans again, you're making your last minutes count.

There's no tongue because you possess a modicum of shame even if Dave lacks the mental capacity for such higher brain functions, but when you finally break away both of you are out of breath, cheeks tinted with rosy fluster. He tastes like acid and metal.

"Thanks," he lets slip.

You give him an incredulous stare.

"...I mean, cool... mouth. Ing technique. Mouthing technique."

You give him another kiss to shut him up. Also because it feels good and you want to.

"Fuuuuck," Sollux groans from the side, reminding you that there are more pressing issues at hand here. He's pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Thtop tonguefucking and get uth out of here."

"How are you feeling?" you ask, feeling a stab of guilt for ignoring your friend.

"Thirsty," he rasps. "I'll live."

Your frown. "The first guardian isn't here. We need to get out, but-"

A rap on the door cuts you off and all three of you.

"Shit," Dave swears quietly, turning around. "Which way's the closest to the rim?"

"I don't know!" you whisper back. There aren't any windows in the room, and your sense of direction isn't good enough to keep track of all the turns you've been making. "We're at the bottom of a crater! They're all basically the same anyway!"

Another two knocks come.

Dave dashes to the far side of the room opposite the door and switches Caledfwlch for a broken Caledscratch. He holds it up to the wall and twists the mini turntable on the hilt sharply, projecting the unbroken blade into the solid drymesh. Repeating the process two more times at 120° angles in quick sequence, he slices out a triangular chunk that he captchalogues with a touch.

"We need to get the indigo that helped me get here," you say, backing away from the door. "Temtos Lamort. She was taken away, one, two minutes ago? No fucking clue where she is."

"Who? Do we have the time for that?" Sollux hisses. "Not to be an athhole, but we're already nook-deep in trouble without more thide quests to deal with."

You can hear a knob rattling on the other side of the door.

Dave stoops down to peer through the hole he made, and waves you closer. Apparently finding whatever he's seeing satisfactory, he steps back, switches back to Caledfwlch again, and in three smooth strokes decouples a massive slab of wall from the surrounding material, which he also vanishes into his sylladex, ejecting the previous smaller fragment to a side and opening a gaping hole to the outside.

The sound of the outdoors slaps, distant vehicle rumbling mixed in with the quiet rustle of wind and even fainter chirp of the forest. It's your first glimpse of the situation out there after you entered this building, and the place is more deserted than you expected five minutes after a reported breakout. The ground level, at least: half of the rooftops in sight, on the other hand, are crawling with newly set up automated turrets and armed contingents keeping watch.

It's a sparse defense force, but you guess that there is a lot of open land to cover compared to the small built area, especially with most of the population in supposed noncombat roles. Nevertheless, what they're lacking in manpower they're more than making up in equipment. By the technology they're slinging around, this place is most definitely neck-deep in the Empire's pockets.

It doesn't take long for the sentries to take notice the sudden structural disaggregation of their adjacent building, but Dave's a step ahead, darting forward and decaptchaloguing the gigantic wall chunk upright back on the ground with a earth-shaking slam. The bullets pinging against the other side of your makeshift shield are audible as you pointlessly duck on reflex.

Something crashes against the door behind, but the lock holds. They're catching on.

"She might know where Bec is," you argue. As much as you hate it, though, you can't put away the sick feeling that Sollux is probably right in all his typical depressing pragmatism. You can't spare the time to look for a near-stranger when you don't know where she is, if she's even still alive. Not on a clock and under live fire. "She's also a contact to the Sufferer's cult," you suggest. "Which it turns out is something that exists and nobody thought was pertinent to inform me about!"

Still, you can't just leave behind someone who risked her life and nuked her career to help you. She'll be flayed alive if you abandon her to the same crew she betrayed. The blueblood did her part perfectly; you were the one that fucked up and got you two separated. You're not letting someone else pay for your mistakes.

You're wondering why Dave isn't saying anything when he flash-steps away in a burst of Acciaccatura, the cape's sizzling red afterimage singeing your face, but before your distress makes it out your mouth in verbal form the god's already back, a bead of sweat on his forehead the only sign he was ever gone.

"I found your troll," he barks. Oh thank god. Specifically this god, Dave Strider, Knight of Time. "Follow me. Sollux, can you shield us with that?" He points at the wall segment he relocated. "Also, try and keep your head down and do not look at anything if you can help it. Definitely don't check out any future mes if you think you see one. I know, I'm irresistibly attractive, but you're going to have to keep it in your pants just this once."

"I'll do you one better," Sollux mutters, and with a telekinetic wave tears three more sizeable hunks of structural material extending off the hole Dave made. Are those load-bearing? Raising his arm in a theatric and wholly unnecessary gesture, he lifts them along with the original sword-cut slab in swathes of red and blue to form an floating enclosure of defiled architecture around your exit hole.

The three of you step forward just as the lock finally splinters and the door blows open. A furious sea dweller stumbles through, other reinforcements filing in behind him.

"Go!" you yell, but Sollux is already acting.

The smoothed stone beneath your feet cracks, sending you stumbling, and breaks away from the underlying crust in crunches and snaps as psionic discharges flare through the gaps. The ground rises with you on top, and right as the violetblood leaps, Sollux tosses everything violently sideways. The opening slides away from you, replaced by the flat building exterior, the frustrated yell of a slighted highblood fading into the distance.

"Follow the wall! Open the front!" Dave shouts over grinding rock and intensifying gunfire.

Telekinesis braces you against the dizzying centripetal thrust as your entourage pivots around the corner. Platforms and barriers reconfigure around you, daylight streaming in from the fore as the goldblood opens an aperture to the outside. Dave darts through, accelerating with flight past the good dozen meters a second you're already clocking, deflecting bullets and you think you glimpse one grenade without looking.

Right ahead is the main entrance to the building, with its double doors and nameplate carved into the faux-concrete.

Gear teeth spin, red lightning flashes and a startled troll careens into the present before the entrance, immediately snatched out of the air by the caped teenager in a tangle of heavy limbs. He rolls with the collision, riding the residual spin and slowing just enough for the shelter construct to catch up and slam into them. Dave rolls his rescuee off onto the rock platform.

You flash Temtos a relieved thumbs-up as she picks herself off the unstable floor, visibly disoriented.

Then you hear a massive explosion, all of a sudden it's blunt and sharp and digging everywhere, an unimaginable scouring heat hits, and then there's only pain.


You're alive.

When you've recouped enough of your wits to stumble to your feet, the rubble's already lifting away and assembling into a new, thicker shield. Someone's taken coarse sandpaper to your entire body and your entire left side is peeling into one huge burn now, but you're reasonably sure you'll survive.

Casting a glance around, Sollux looks fine, barely a scratch on him, presumably having deflected the worst of it by psionic reflex alone. Temtos' few wounds are obviously superficial—she's a highblood, after all. Dave's... dead, but already wreathed in his resurrection aura, since "crushed by rocket explosion" probably isn't particularly heroic on its own. Humans are fragile, as they say, though you do think he caught the brunt of that blast: the steel beam levering itself out of his chest does not look fun.

"That's the pyrolancers," Temtos grunts as larger masses of stone explode out of the ground and shuffle into the orbiting debris around you. She catches sight of Dave and stops to stare. "What... what's..."

You spit a dusty glob of red on the ground. "He resurrects. And also time travels."

Another explosion rocks through the shield and you brace for impact, but Sollux has enough loose material built up by now to absorb most of the shock wave, muffling it to a teeth-rattling quake.

The divine lightshow seethes and snaps back, the tone of healthy flesh and blood sweeping over void black, and then the Knight bursts to life once more. Dropping out of the air into a defensive crouch and sweeping his eyes around, he asks, "What did I miss? Please don't tell me someone died."

"We got fucking dronestriked," you growl.

"They figured out where they stashed the pyrolances," Temtos corrects. "Atlassian War era tech. Penetrating energy explosions with no shrapnel."

The rubble under your feet rocks and shifts again from another detonation.

"I've got thith!" Sollux yells to the side.

You look over at where he is, blazing at the center of a full-body energy halo. A glowing mosaic of fused superheated rock sifts out of the flying mess and is ingloriously discarded to a side, replaced by freshly excavated matter. How thick is it now? One meter? Two? Several more strikes hit, shaking the ground, and now the entire front face of your barrier is cracking ember red, searing hot air flushing through the gaps.

"Uh-" you start, but you're interrupted by a crash from above.

A humanoid shape blows through the large slab above in a spray of splinters and dust. You recognize who it is just in time to hold out your hand and stop the indigoblood from leaping into a reactionary attack. She blinks in confusion as the air clears and the figure steps forward.

"Start flying!" Future Dave coughs, waving the Scarlet Ribbitar in a very unsafe way.

With that, he turns and leaps out the hole he just created. Present Dave steps forward, adds, "You heard me, I guess," and follows out the opening.

Temtos gapes.

Sollux grumbles something, but complies, eyes burning with power as everything shakes. The cobblestone piecemeal under you ripples as its crevices shine with red and blue once more. The untouched building wall to your back shudders, floods with bichromatic light, and next thing the entire section rips out of the structure it originally belonged to, sending bits and pebbles skittering everywhere. Finally, with a sickening lurch, all of it launches upwards.

This isn't a platform and a few shields anymore. You have no idea how much mass Sollux is lifting at this point, but the psychic noise from sheer quantity of psionic channeling is starting to hurt your brain, and you're not even sensitive.

"What is the human doing?" Temtos screams as she stumbles, trying to keep her balance on the shifting floor.

"Probably deflecting missiles with his sword," you shout back. You can still hear the sound of explosions filtering through the walls over the loud energy crackling everywhere and over your feet, but you think they're not actually landing direct strikes anymore. This interior is still a fucking oven, but at least it's not getting any hotter.

"What about the bullets?"

"He's probably deflecting them too," you state casually.

"He can time travel?"

"Yeah, I said that already."

You won't lie, you're drawing no small amount of guilty pleasure from her stunned shock, but amusing reactions aside, you're not out of the woods yet. Or into the woods, given where you're literally trying to abscond to. It's impossible to judge how fast you're moving, only that the sense of acceleration's beginning to fade into the background vibration, but from the continuous weapons fire you're still hearing, the answer is "not fast enough".

"Sollux!" you yell. He rotates in his floating hunch to face you, eyes arcing white electricity into the walls. You're unsure how coherent he is, but you ask anyway. "Can't we go faster?"

He did claim he could project an entire Sburbian meteor to light speed, right?

"Atmothphere," he rasps, the sound coming from all around you.

Fuck, right. Not a closed system.

"Lose weight!" you shout.

He cocks his head slowly, the strange lightning coiling and snapping into new paths with the motion. You're about to repeat your statement, perhaps this time in a less easily misunderstood way, when the psychic pressure plummets.

The flashing plasma lapping over everything fizzles and vanishes. Compacted debris cracks and crumbles. The floor's falling, breaking up—you're falling, you flail but there's nothing to hold on to—then fizzing color washes over your vision, and you're not dropping anymore, but everything else is.

Tons of rock and concrete tumble away from you, a veritable aerial landslide of destroyed government property, replaced by blinding pastel blue and white that you quickly realize is the sky. He didn't just lose some weight; he shed everything, leaving the three of you floating out in the open in a raw telekinetic grip.

"This is not what I meant!" you yell.

You twist, and now that there's no meters of solid wreckage in the way you can see three Daves weaving through the air, dodging your falling junk while parrying what looks like bizarre crosses between laser bolts and rocket projectiles. That must be what Temtos was talking about.

Behind them you can see the dig site in the distance. You're quite a bit away from where you started, out of the way of the buildings proper but still well within the crater bounds, and the lack of potential collateral damage appears to have only encouraged their enthusiastic application of high-grade munitions. They haven't deployed any combat aircraft, though, for some reason.

One of the Daves swings around, takes a look at you, then turns to tackle another out of your moment in a twist of folded time, which sends a strange twitch down your spine. The last one tanks an explosion to the face without a blink—wait, how does he survive that now but get killed by the rubble earlier?—and flashes a thumbs up to you without turning around.

Apparently Sollux understands that as a signal, and the grip of psionic light spills over Dave as well. With a flick of the goldblood's hand, space screams, and you finally move.

Air friction scours your abused exterior surface as the power-drunk goldblood jettisons the four of you at ridiculous velocity across the sky. You can barely hear yourself screaming. Well, you asked, and you received: this is faster, way faster, multiple times your previous speed. The conical curve of the crater swings close before dipping away again as Sollux remembers to keep angling upwards. It takes mere seconds to shoot past the rim and just over the tree tops, and before you know it it's forest and sky and snow again under you.

Elation and relief fills you. You never thought you'd be happy to see this frigid frond nub wasteland, but here you are, cheering inside.

You celebrated too early.

The energy engulfing you flares brilliantly blue, bifurcating into cyan and rich cobalt for a split second, then just as quickly as it erupts, the light around you snuffs out like a lone candle in a flash hurricane.

Or perhaps, to take a more apt analogy, like a dinky cell phone in a solar storm.

Propulsion shorted out, there's nothing to guide your tumbling arc through open air. What few sparks Sollux manages to eke out again do nothing to alter your breakneck sideways plummet. Your panicked flailing sends you into an uncontrolled spin. Just when it couldn't get worse, you notice a massive shadow cloak over the landscape, and as your angular velocity takes you head over heels, you lay eyes on the source too late.

Looming over the facility, length practically the diameter of the entire excavated crater:

A gigantic battleship in white and blue, emblazoned with the trident of the Condesce.


Something smacks into your back. Arms wrap around your waist from behind as your legs chock against something soft. They tug up, and your trajectory smooths and levels.

"Gotcha," Dave says in your ear, but you can hear his strained grimace.

The god flips your entangled bodies around as you crash through the canopy, shielding you with his back from the protruding branches and twigs that snap on contact under your combined weight. They barely slow your fall. He keeps dragging upwards on the descent, but it's the lateral speed that fucks you over as the two of you plow into the underbrush. You bounce off your bony human cushion and go flying, rusty self-training kicking in just in time to twist your second landing into a poorly-executed roll. Your beaten body skids off the ground and crunches painfully into a bush.

You groan and right yourself just in time to see the other boy rocket back into the sky. Sollux plummets through the treetops very much the same way as you did, in the hold of a Dave, carving a trench into the muddy slush. Temtos in contrast seems to have a handle on things, dropping down from a tree and landing with a thump on her hands and feet while a bemused and reluctantly impressed Dave descends behind her.

Sollux's Dave takes a look at the rest of you and shoots away through the trees into a temporal portal, vanishing with a pop that gives off another ripple of that something, a strange aphysical tension that seems to constrict around your figurative throat.

...If that's what you think it is, that doesn't bode well for you.

Nevertheless, dozens of fresh minor lacerations and prior standing injuries aside, everybody seems mostly in one piece. Of course, there's currently no shortage of other things to flip your everloving shit about.

"What the fuck is that?" you shout, shaking an accusing finger at the gargantuan warship above. It's slowed to a hover above the facility, technically not vertically overlooking your position, but the vessel is large enough to cast its blanketing shadow over you at this angle.

You converge on Sollux, who's picking himself off the ground and still trying to respark his powers. Hyper-functioning mutant or not, you don't think he's going to achieve much against the raw psionic might of a spaceship the size of a small town.

"That's the Glacier," Temtos fills in. "Imperial Diplomatic Warship. But this doesn't make sense: it's supposed to be in Neptune orbit. This can't be big enough to call it in, not even for Class-S escapees."

"Well, fuck," the human sighs, bringing out the timetables. "Our timeline constitution is so far down the drain it's chatting up crocodile consorts in the lava sewers, but given the circumstan-"

A thunderous boom interrupts mid-word, accompanied by a blast of wind that almost knocks you off your feet and rustles the trees into angry renewed susurration. You turn your head skyward.

Fuck.

The ship is right on top of you all of a sudden, the base of its hull only a hundred or so meters from grazing the tallest branches, which sounds like a lot but really isn't considering its enormous girth. The humming of its engines is drowning out the sounds of leaves and agitated wildlife, at this distance being more of a roar drilling a hole through your auriculars directly into your sensory lobes.

They've found you.

Panels slide open on the vessel's smooth underplating. Cannons emerge, rotating on motorized bearings to lock on where you're stood boggling vacantly. From other side openings Imperial drones begin streaming out in droves, rocketing down through the foliage on biochemical thrust. A high-pitched whine fills the air: ship-mounted cannons charging, you realize.

You look to your allies for direction. Sollux is still putting up a futile fight against the Glacier's helmsblock. Temtos is unclipping her left earring and expanding it into a sleek white rapier. Dave's recaptchaloguing his timetables, evidently deeming them too slow for this current crisis, yet you can sense in your gut, more viscerally than you ever have before, that he's doing something to the fabric of time.

"Please don't fuck up the past!" Dave yells over the rising scream of drone cores. As the first beam gouges its jagged furrow into the ground at your feet, he throws out his hands and Time sigils blaze under all of you.

Red fills your vision. your perception tips, and time slips in reverse.

It's a subjective eternity of falling. When you emerge from the temporal slipstream you barely have time to register the shift in daylight before you flop forward into a thicker snowbank, suppressing the urge to hurl. You grapple for purchase on the white mush to get up amidst the groans of the others, but the next thing you know, a lone gunshot rings out.

A sharp pain stabs into your chest. Your hand claps over in reflex, jabbing another bolt of pain through you, and it comes away drenched in candy red blood. You look up, trembling, to find a stunned human pointing a smoking gun at you.

Consciousness slips from your grip, and...

No, that's not right.

It's a subjective eternity of falling. When you emerge from the temporal slipstream you barely have time to register the shift in daylight before you flop forward into a thicker snowbank, suppressing the urge to hurl. When try to you heave yourself up, Dave shoves you down—another Dave, you realize, the original one's still kneeling where he fired off the fraymotif—and darts out to bisect the gun a human just lifted at the teleporting interlopers.

No, that's not right either.

It's a subjective eternity of falling. When you emerge from the temporal slipstream you barely have time to register the sudden night before you flop backward into a pile of snow. You hear Dave cussing while you try not to vomit, and red patterns glow around you again. You're blown forward into day. As you roll over and actually puke, a lone gunshot rings out. You raise your head to find Sollux missing half of his head, the other half splattered in grotesque yellow and pink, and you retch again.

No.

Dave pops up and cuts the human's hand off. His blood stains the snow a horrible red.

No, you emerge from the timestream early morning and Temtos charges the gunman, knocking the weapon out of his hand.

You go back, take a wrong turn and bump into your past selves.

You emerge and Dave pesters himself. Everyone gets confused.

You escape. You don't. You live. You die. You blow up the dig site. You blow up yourselves. You blow up the Glacier. Everything happens. Nothing happens. Your head hurts and you hate time travel. You hate time travel you hate time travel you hate time travel

Nothing happens.

You finally figure out what's going on. Centering yourself, you push the maelstrom of revoked futures out of your mind. Leave picking meaning from the debris of a total temporal breakdown to Dave; just focus on your senses. Your real ones, right here, right now.

You're still under the Imperial warship, drone fire raining down on your position, hull cannons ticking towards full charge. Around you the two other trolls are recovering from the crash too, but Dave's already bounced back and hurled himself into the fray. He is the Time god, after all. The drones don't appear to have been affected, and you can't tell about anyone in that flying fortress above you, but either way, the onslaught hasn't slowed down the slightest while you were taking an existential sledgehammer to the think pan.

Dave's flash-stepping everywhere, cutting down drones left and right, but there's only one of him now. This is a bigger problem than battle power: with time travel barred for the immediate future, any outcome of this fight is unconditionally stable and therefore valid. No predestination plot armor, no invisible retcons closing themselves to ensure survival, if not victory... it might not have felt like it, but this is the most danger you've been in since you woke Dave.

You want to ask the god for a pair of sickles, but it's pointless. You're dead weight here. One on one in close quarters you could probably take a drone, but here, up against a mob that's keeping its distance? Maybe echecapped Karkat could, but this you is physically incapable of moving fast enough to get into striking range before being turned to mist.

There's a reason heiresses used to be able to rule Alternia with just the Mother Grub's favor and a voice.

"You're not going to kill them all!" Temtos shouts. "The Glacier's droneholds number eight thousand!"

"What are we going to do, run?" Sollux bites back. "They have eyeth on uth. Without thkipping to another time they can track uth anywhere we go."

"Why can't we? What happened there?"

"No time to explain," you growl. "In case you haven't noticed, we're shit-moored dead fucking center of Armageddon Central! We need a plan!"

In fact, the only reason you're not cauterized Swiss cheese right now is that Dave's drawing all the drone fire. Even so, the reflections off Caledfwlch are tearing up the ground around you. The ones that graze you here and there are diffuse and weakened, but still extract a hiss as they add to your already not-unimpressive coterie of burns.

"So we wait for Dave Thtrider to thave the day as alwayth!" Sollux huffs. "What'th he going to pull out of hith athe thith time?" The sarcasm isn't enough to mask the undercurrent of worry in his voice.

A low, sonorous throbbing assaults your ears from above, and the three of you look up once again, resigned to yet more bad news.

You are not disappointed.

One of the giant cannons is glowing red hot and gripping a sphere of solid white energy between its three claws. The others are also sporting building charge cores, but this one's ball of death is starting to push against its prongs and pulsing dangerously bright. Of course it's pointing at you. Suddenly, in one slick motion, the containment claws click apart and retract into the cannon barrel.

"Fuck," you summarize.

A blinding channel of destruction the width of a hivestem erupts from the sphere, bearing down on you in a slim fraction of a second.

The Knight blinks to intercept.

The beam splits against the sword a hundredth its size, dividing into brilliant twin streams that drive onward to disintegrate anything and everything in their angled paths, trees, drones and earth alike reduced to constituent dust in an instant.

As Dave turns in the air, the axis of the split rotates with him, carving opposing trails of annihilation across the natural geography, in their wake leaving molten canyons extending down past bedrock. The ground under your feet shakes.

"Fuck," Temtos swears for the first time since you met her.

The collateral damage of the ginormous laser has destroyed more drones in two seconds than Dave cut up in all the time before, but with him caught up in human beam splitter duty, the remaining drones are redirecting their attention to you.

You're not going to try something stupid like trick them into shooting each other or play lethal keep-away in the middle of a conveniently cinematographic clearing. They're unintelligent, but not movie drones with the aim and spatial awareness of febrile human toddlers. It's a forest, there's cover and a healthy injection of chaos, so the three of you do the only sane thing conceivable.

You make a run for it.