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The Greatest Danger

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Everybody in town knew about the Strider-Lalonde family. It was a small town. Not one of those tiny towns with only ten houses and a singular corner shop, but not massive either. A few thousand occupants maybe, and settled in a countryside area so that everything was pretty far from any bigger cities. And so it was hard for anything even remotely interesting to happen without every single person in the surrounding area finding out about it. It was like that when the Strider-Lalonde family first moved into the town.

Everyone in town agreed there was something weird about them. Maybe it was the way they looked; their bright white hair that seemed to shine slightly in sunlight, not to even mention their weird eye colours, where enough to make them look slightly less than human. What people found even weirder was the way the family of four acted, always keeping to themselves, rarely seen outside of their houses, and far more secretive than was normal about every aspect of their life. Most people didn’t even know all of their names. One thing that was somehow found out by somebody was that they were all siblings, with not a single parent or guardian anywhere in sight. The older siblings just seemed to care for the younger ones. And though the youngest were already fourteen when they first moved to the town, the oldest somewhere around eighteen, people in the town still found it odd, and rumours began to swirl around regarding what had happened to their parents.

The youngest two children attended their final few years of schooling in the town, though both were reluctant to befriend anyone in their classes. Teachers reported that the two spent every moment together, whispering and giggling through classes and yet still somehow getting perfect grades.
Everything about the family was a mystery, and one that the town were, for a time, intent on solving. But the rumours, as rumours always do, grew old and boring, especially after the children graduated from school and the family were seen around even less. Soon, the weird Strider-Lalonde family were old news.

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It was quiet in the house when Dave woke up, pulled from a deep, comfortable sleep by bright morning sunlight spilling across his face. It was the first time in a while that he'd gotten a whole night's sleep without a single nightmare, and he was a little reluctant to even open his eyes. He continued to lay there for a few moments, annoyed at himself more than anything for forgetting to close his curtains before falling asleep the night before, which would have saved him from a rude wake up call and the sensation of his light-sensitive eyes stinging being the first thing he awoke to. But squinting through blurry vision at his alarm clock told him that he had only half an hour or so until he would have been woken by that anyway, and so he decided he might as well make good use of the early start, and get himself some breakfast and then get to the shower before some other member of his family claimed the bathroom as their own and used up all the hot water (an almost daily occurrence).

It was a cold morning, winter having officially started a couple of weeks ago and instantly bringing its signature cold weather with it. As he swung his legs sideways out of bed, stifling a yawn, the cold morning air hit him, and he shivered slightly, regretting not wearing warmer clothing to bed. There were, however, clothes piled everywhere on the floor around his room, and it didn’t take him long to locate some that he could throw on quickly just to wear whilst he went to get breakfast. A quick glance in the mirror as he got dressed presented him with the sight of his hair in an uncontrollable mess after a night of deep sleep, and he ran a hand through it a few times pointlessly, unable to stop it sticking out in all directions. With a heavy sigh, he just swept a few parts of it forwards further over his face, then grabbed his shades from their spot by his bedside, sliding them carefully over his red eyes, before finally heading out of his bedroom.

It was still eerily quiet as he walked out along the hallway. He stopped briefly outside his twin sister’s bedroom door, reaching out briefly for the doorknob and then thinking better of it. The door was probably locked anyway, knowing her, and it seemed stupid to pointlessly annoy her by waking her up. Starting the day off with a lecture from an angry, tired Seer was always a bad thing, and he wasn’t about to risk that right now. So he just continued on past her door, and headed down the staircase.
Down there, he found his first sign of life in the house: a microwave, beeping loudly from within the kitchen. No one seemed to be dealing with it though, and it continued to beep until eventually coming to stop just before Dave stepped into the room. There he found his older brother slumped at the little wooden table in the kitchen, face pressed firmly against it, possibly asleep, but probably just taking a quiet moment to himself.

“Dirk,” Dave said quietly, and spotted his brother’s head move very slightly in what looked like an attempt at a nod. “Dude, microwave,” he added, and Dirk slowly lifted his head to blink at Dave with unfocused, glazed-over eyes. Eventually, Dave’s words seemed to sink in, and he got to his feet quickly, rushing over to pull a bowl of porridge from the microwave. He stared down blankly at it for a second, then carried the bowl back over to his spot at the table.

“You good, dude?” Dave asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Dirk mumbled quietly, “Just got another one of those headaches.”

“Oh,” Dave said, knowing instantly what Dirk meant, and then raised an eyebrow in confusion. “What’s causing that at this time of the morning?”

“Can’t tell,” Dirk said slowly, “I think… it might be Rose?” He shrugged slightly, “There’s just something weird coming from her this morning.”

“Huh,” Dave muttered, not sure what else to say. He guessed he’d just wait until Rose finally dragged herself out of her room, then they’d be able to tell if she was alright. But if Dirk was already struggling this badly with whatever she was feeling then… well it couldn’t be a good sign. And Dave knew his brother well enough to see when a feeling was getting to bad for him to deal with. Right now, the blankness of Dirk’s stare showed clearly that he was completely focused on something else, eyebrows drawn together slightly in pain. Poor kid had been born an Empath as well as a Healer. His head was always slightly too busy with other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Deciding to actually get the breakfast he came downstairs for, Dave turned away from his brother for a while to put two slices of bread into the toaster and start making coffee. As he did this, the house’s loudest inhabitant appeared in her usual fashion, practically skipping into the room and instantly calling out a ‘good morning’ in a voice far too loud for that early time. She rushed at Dave to hug him before he could even protest, almost knocking a mug out of his hand. Luckily, she seemed to notice Dirk’s current state, and was a little calmer with him, just ruffling his hair and saying something quietly to him as she walked past him.

“Make us a coffee, Davey,” she called as she stretched up on her toes to pull boxes of cereal out from a cupboard. He nodded, even though she wasn’t looking in his direction, and got out her favourite mug (the one with the little cats on) to pour her coffee into.

“Better make some of that gross tea Rose likes,” Dirk mumbled.

“Got it!” Roxy declared before Dave could say a word, and then a box of herbal tea hit Dave straight in the side of the head. He turned slowly to fix Roxy with a stern look, even though he was struggling not to smile, and he was glad that his shades were hiding the fact that his eyes would definitely be giving away his actual feelings. Roxy folded her arms across her chest, stared back for a second, then stuck her tongue out him with all the maturity of a five-year-old, before turning to pour herself a bowl of cereal. She started to hum as she did this, and Dave soon picked up on the familiar tune and joined in with her. Despite his headache, it didn’t take long for Dirk to start tapping his fingers along, and soon the house wasn’t quite so quiet as it had been before.

Rose came in a few minutes later, and everyone stopped, because yeah, Dirk had been right. There was definitely something up with her. As usual, she was dressed perfectly, short white hair held in place with her signature black hairband, wearing a small black skirt and a black shirt with a little yellow sun on the front of it.

“Good morning.” There was perfect politeness to the way she greeted her family, as usual, but her voice was slightly strained and her smile looked forced, not to mention the dark circles under her eyes that had been gradually growing over the last few days. Dirk’s head plummeted straight down onto the table again.

“Here you go, Rose,” Roxy said quietly, passing over a mug of tea towards her, which she took, and slowly sipped at for a few seconds. Her smile seemed just slightly more genuine after that.

“I only came down to ask if anyone’s noticed a tarot card laying around,” Rose said as she raised the mug to her face and breathed in the hot steam gently, “Only I’m missing one and I’m quite desperate to do a reading this morning.”

“Mmh, yeah I saw it,” Dirk mumbled into the table, “Umm... ‘s over there.” He gestured with a spoon in the direction of the fridge, and Rose’s expression fell into one of annoyance.
“Really? Did you think this was funny?” She asked, locating her tarot card where it was pinned to the fridge by a magnet shaped like a dog.

“Yeah, maybe,” Dirk replied, “Just didn’t want it going missing.”

“Not funny, Dirk,” she said, pointing one corner of the card at him, “I’ve told you not to mess with my cards. Not. Funny.” The other three seemed to think otherwise, and she rolled her eyes as she noticed all three of her siblings holding back giggles. “Whatever,” Rose huffed, “I need to go and read my cards. Just… leave me alone for a bit.” She turned on her heel quickly and left the room before anyone could say a thing.

“What’s up with her?” Roxy asked

“Just normal Rose,” Dave shrugged.

“Mmm, nah,” Dirk mumbled,, “Just… give her a bit and then someone should probably go talk to her. I think she’s been hiding something for the last few days. I don’t know but… something’s off.” There were a few moments of silence between them, and then Roxy gave a small nod.

“She’ll be okay,” she said after a while, “Probably just saw something she didn’t wanna in the cards or something. It’s happened before. She’ll talk when she wants to.” Dave nodded in agreement, Dirk let out a noise that could have meant anything really, and then silence fell over the room again.

Dave filled the silence with soft humming once again, starting to wander around aimlessly as he sipped at what was left of his coffee. He stopped by the window for a second, leaning closer and watching as a bird fluttered down and landed on the frosty grass. He smiled to himself slightly at the sight of it. He’d always had a soft spot for birds, loving the way that they just moved through life so happily. He watched until a cat appeared from nowhere, probably a nearby neighbour’s garden, and startled the bird, his eyes following it as it flew away. Then he turned around, and his eyes fell on something else on the opposite wall that made him smile.

There was a map pinned there that had moved around from house to house with them since he’d first been taken to live with Dirk and Roxy, after they’d managed to get him away from his Bro. He shuddered very slightly at that thought, pushing the memory straight out of his mind and refusing to think about his Bro. He wondered for a second if Rose ever felt that way about her mom. Neither of them had seen their old guardians in years.

He quickly distracted himself from those thoughts by letting his attention turn back to the map, looking at every colourful dot that marked it. Each one showed a different family or person like them, and they were connected by lines. Allies, friends, even what could be considered enemies; all of them were shown on this map. He found the red dot that marked their family, touching a finger to it and feeling a slight buzz of energy from the map, colours shifting slightly under his fingers. Images and voices filled his mind, and he let his subconscious swim in them for a second, before pulling himself back out. If he focused on it enough, he could find certain people. Pressing his finger down hard onto a dot that appeared to be in the middle of the ocean filled his head with the sound of a familiar girl’s laugh, and a man talking in a thick British accent.

“What you looking at, Dave?” Dirk’s voice distracted him, the voices instantly fading from his head, and Dave smirked.

“Just checking in on your boyfriend,” he replied quickly, “And Jade, obviously.”

“Oh,” Dirk said, “Jake.”

“Yes, Jake, your boyfriend,” Dave replied.

“I should call him.”

“Probably.”

“When my head’s better.”

“Okay.”

Their conversation faded to nothing again, and Dave pulled himself away from the map, knowing otherwise he’d end up spending hours just listening to the voices. They weren’t current voices, didn’t show what was happening at that exact moment, more like snapshots of memories that changed every time you tried to access them. Just small reminders of who the people that lived there were. The magic from it was starting to make his hands go numb, and so he headed away from it, turning and finding that Roxy had moved to crouch by Dirk’s side, talking to him quietly.
“Remember the things we practised,” she said quietly, a hand on Dirk’s shoulder, “Try closing your mind to it.”

“I’m trying,” he muttered back, eyes screwed tightly shut in a way that looked slightly painful.

“Probably trying too hard,” she said with a soft snort of laughter, but even as she said it Dirk’s face visibly relaxed, seeming to have managed to block out some of the emotion he was picking up from wherever. As the two began to talk, a little louder now Dirk’s head was slightly clearer, Dave stepped past them, and headed out of the kitchen, remembering his earlier plan to have a shower, though he figured by now he’d probably missed his chance to get in the bathroom before Rose.

The sound of Roxy’s laughter and Dirk’s soft, rumbling voice followed him as he walked along the hallway and up the stairs. It was darker upstairs in the house, the curtains across the hallway’s only window still pulled closed, and so he headed over to open them and let in the morning light. As he did so, he stepped past Rose’s bedroom, noticing that the door was left half-open, which was unusual for her. Leaning around at a slightly awkward angle, he could just about peer inside, and caught a glimpse of her, hunched over her desk at one side of her room. He watched as she muttered something to herself, raising a tarot card from the desk so the sunlight glanced off of it, and he thought he saw a frown flicker across her face for a second. There was a desperation in the way she placed the card down, and he was instantly worried. Reading the cards was usually calming for Rose, and more than once he’d seen her put into a sort of trance by it as she channeled her magic. But now she seemed anything but calm, and it was unsettling. Even so, he knew there was no point even attempting to bother her whilst she was that distracted, and he made the probably wise choice to forget about it for now and move from his spot in her doorway before he was spotted, and hurried along to his own room.

The door was still left wide open from where he’d left earlier, and he strode in quickly, easily navigating the piles of things abandoned all over the floor. He was just getting a towel from one drawer, when a glimpse of movement in the corner of his vision caught his attention as he stood up. Turning his head slowly, he spotted it again, out on the street beyond his window. Moving towards the glass, Dave pushed the curtain further aside, and peered out.
There was a boy stood out on the street at the end of the path that lead up to their house, peering up directly at Dave’s window, a hand raised to shield his eyes from the sun.

“What the fuck?” Dave muttered his face scrunched up slightly, confused at the sight, though not overly worried. A few times before, younger kids in the town, having heard rumours about the family, had dared each other to go and investigate the house. But still, he found it a little unnerving to think that this boy had been staring into his room for an unknown amount of time. He was just thinking about whether to call Roxy and get her to go sort it out, when the boy’s head moved very slightly upwards, and he seemed to suddenly notice Dave. He turned his head quickly in a random direction, as if trying to pretend he hadn’t been looking, and then very deliberately started to walk away, picking up the pace as he went until he was basically running as he reached the corner. Dave stared for a while longer until the boy was no longer visible, and then shrugged slightly, deciding instantly that it was nothing to worry about. So he just threw his towel over his shoulder, and strolled back out of the room, thoughts of the boy already drifting from his mind.

By the time he was done showering, it was brighter outside, the chill of winter melting away slightly and the inside of the house far warmer than before. He passed Rose in the hallway as he stepped out of the bathroom, warm drops of water running from his hair and down the sides of his face, and stopped for a second to stare at her.
“What?” She muttered as Dave threw her a questioning look.

“What’s up? Something wrong?” He asked. He was her twin, after all, and he could tell when things were wrong. And something was definitely up with her.

Rose stared silently for a second more, and then her emotionless expression slipped slightly, showing a hint of fear underneath. “I don’t know,” she admitted quietly, “Maybe.”

“Family meeting?” He suggested calmly.

“Yeah, okay,” she said with a heavy sigh, “Give me half an hour more, though. Just to… check something.”

“You got it,” Dave said. He went to take another step, then turned back and added as an afterthought, “You might wanna try and close your mind down a little, if you can. Whatever you’re feeling is fucking Dirk up.”

“Right, got it,” Rose said with a small nod, all signs of emotion already wiped from her face once again, and then she quickly retreated back into the depths of her room.

Dave stared at the closed door for a second more, feeling a slight twinge of alarm as his mind wandered to guesses of what might be bothering Rose. Trying not to allow himself to get too worried (Striders don’t get scared, Strider’s don’t get scared, man up little bro), he hurried downstairs to talk to Roxy. It was only as he reached the kitchen that he stumbled in shock slightly, realising what he’d just thought: Strider’s don’t get scared. It made him feel slightly sick. Because that was what his Bro had always said to him, whenever he cried or expressed any kind of fear.
No, he told himself firmly, I’m not living by his stupid rules anymore. I’m safe here.
Trying to keep that thought in his head and swallowing back a wave of nausea, he rushed towards Roxy, and was quick to report what Rose had said. By the time he'd finished, he was too distracted by Roxy's own worry to even focus on the fact that if he thought about it too much, he could still kind of hear his Bro's voice in the back of his mind.

Half an hour later, Rose stepped into the living room, to find all three of her siblings already gathered there.

“Ow, Rose, what the fuck?” Dirk said with a slight gasp, head already in his hands.

“Oh right, yeah, sorry,” Rose muttered, eyes closing for a second as she took in a few deep breaths. The family had gotten good at learning to close their emotions off to Dirk after years of him struggling, and Rose especially was good at it.

“Better?” Rose asked after a few moments, “Can’t feel you in my head so much now.”

“Yeah, that’s a little better,” Dirk replied with a nod. He lifted his head, and fixed her with a stern look. “Now, are you gonna tell us what’s wrong, or do we have to guess?”

Rose stared at him, then sighed softly and moved to sit down next to Dave on the sofa.

“Okay,” Rose said slowly, “For the last...I don’t know, week maybe, I’ve been having weird dreams. I mean prophetic dreams. I’d had about three in my whole life before this, but this week they’ve been pretty much constant. And they’re so… horrible. I can’t even remember much about it, I just know that it’s something to do with us four, and… a danger coming, I think. It's... it's something we've never seen before, and all I can feel is death, and destruction, and pain. I don't know what to do.” She stumbled over the words, the last few practically blurring into one, and the panic in the way she twisted her hands together was obvious.

Dave let out a heavy sigh, reaching out a hand to rest it gently on her shoulder. She looked exhausted, and it made sense now that she had admitted to having been plagued by those dreams all week.

“It’s going to be okay,” Roxy said after a while, “Whatever’s coming our way, we can face it together.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself as well as the others. “Keep an eye on the cards,” she added, “And whatever else you can. We need to be prepared. And we should get in contact with some others nearby, and global maybe as well. Whatever's coming, there’s a chance it’s just targeting us. But it might be something that’s dangerous to others as well.” As usual, Roxy was quick to take the lead, and her way of making quick decisions was slightly calming, like she had the situation under control.

“So, what do we do right now?” Dirk asked.

“I’m going to talk to some people, Dirk, maybe call Jake, and Dave you should talk to Terezi, she's been helpful before and she could be helpful again,” Roxy said, “All of you just.. Report anything weird you see, okay?” When the other three nodded in agreement, she smiled, then practically vaulted over the back of the sofa, and rushed away.

“I… yeah,” Rose mumbled, “I’m going to go call Kanaya.”

“Your vampire girlfriend?” Dave asked, unable to stop himself from smiling slightly. Whatever sort of relationship Rose had, he was happy for her. The support she got from Kanaya was good for her.

“Yeah," Rose confirmed. She nodded once at her brothers, before disappearing away. The way she could just disappear in and out of rooms so silently and quickly was something Dave could never quite get used to (it reminded him of his Bro sometimes, though he'd never tell her that for fear of upsetting her) and he couldn’t help raising a surprised eyebrow at the way she vanished upstairs. Then he turned to Dirk slowly.

“Feeling any better, dude?” He asked.

“Yeah, things are getting a little quieter now,” Dirk replied, “Rose is calmer, and she feels more… reassured, I think. Urgh I don’t know, she’s always hard to read.” He got to his feet slowly, running his hand through his slightly spiked hair. “I’m going to go talk to Jake,” he said, and Dave didn’t fail to notice the way that Dirk’s face softened slightly at the mention of his boyfriend.

“Yeah, you should do that” Dave said softly, "Say hi to him for me." Dirk smiled at Dave before he left the room, and Dave was quick to follow after him, heading up to his own room.
As he reached the peace of his own room, he thought over the instructions Roxy had given him. Report anything weird you see.

And then he remembered the boy he saw outside earlier.