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Egg and Soldiers

Chapter Text

"Please. Please don't tell them."

"They already know."

 

 

Cub tossed himself onto the couch, sighing. He ran a hand carelessly through his beard, wincing as he yanked on countless knots. With one hand taming his beard, he clumsily turned on his phone, calling the name at the top of his list.

After 4 rings, Scar picked up. "This is GoodTimesWithScar, how may I help you?"

"Scar, it's Cub."

"Oh! Hey Cub! Wassup?" There was some quiet shuffling on the line. "Quiet Jellie, daddy's on the phone."

"Just wondering if you were still available for our meeting." Cub sighed as he flicked a berry out of his beard. The foxes from his new farm got carried away today...

"Meeting? When do we have a meeting?" Confusion crept through Scar's voice.

"Two hours ago. I've been waiting in the meeting room. Scar, are you still at your secret project?"

Silence. "...maybe?"

Cub rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine, not today. When can we have a meeting for Concorp?"

Scar muttered to himself, counting days. "Uh, I've got an opening next Friday, does that work?"

"I suppose, but we really need to talk as soon as possible. Sahara is starting it's Sahara Now campaign, and we really need to do something to combat it," Cub pointed out.

"Sahara Now? How recent is this?"

"Weeks, Scar. What on earth has you so distant lately?"

Scar sucked in a breath. "Ah, it's nothin, don't worry! I'll see you next week!"

The line went dead.

Cub growled quietly as he threw himself up off the couch. He supported Scar in all his endeavors, but this 'secret project' took every hour of every day lately. Scar didn't even tell Cub what it was, and he usually told Cub all his secrets!

There was a strong frustration about the whole matter, but even stronger was his fear. Fear that the ConVex were over, and Scar was too afraid to tell Cub to his face. Fear that Cub has done something wrong. Fear that Scar was lying, and he was trying to put distance between the pair on purpose; that was the biggest fear.

He and Scar had been together since as long as he could remember. They both joined Hermitcraft the same year, and had bonded as the newbies. The bond was so instant, Cub always wondered if they had known each other before Hermitcraft. Of course, that was impossible to know, but it was fun to think about. No one remembered their past lives after joining a new server; aside from admin and the occasion oddball case. He couldn't remember a life without Scar, and now he feared it might become reality.

Of course, they would still be living on the same server, so they would see each other around, but it wouldn't be the same. The cold gaze of an old friend chilled Cub to the bone. Maybe it would be better if they weren't even on the same server at all, but there's no real way to induce world-hopping on purpose. The pain dug into Cub's chest as the reality hit him.

Cub and Scar would become mortal enemies. Maybe not on purpose, and maybe not at first, but it would happen. Someone who used to be a friend is more painful to see than an enemy. The memories are far too strong, and only make the divide that much deeper. Cub could just imagine running into Scar in the shopping district, and not being able to act the same around him. The image was so real, Cub burned inside at the thought of never talking to Scar again. He couldn't let this happen.

Next Friday. Next Friday, Cub would put his foot down. Cub would confront Scar about all his worst fears, and prevent the worst-case scenario before it could take root.

He had done all he could for now. Now, he needed to see about those pesky foxes.

 

 

"Hey Ren!" Grian waved brightly from across the cobbled road of Hermitville, parrots on both shoulders.

"Hey G!" Ren waved, albeit more subdued. "How's this heat wave treating you?"

Grian shook his head with a laugh. "Oh the usual. Frizzy hair and sticky clothes, am I right?"

"Yeah," Ren hesitated. "Yeah! Could you do me a solid?"

Grian tilted his head, a confused smile spread across his face. "Sure! Do you need to talk?"

Ren swallowed thickly, his tongue getting caught in his throat. "Uh, could you braid my hair? It's the only way to control it during this humidity."

Grian smiled, understanding in his eyes. "Of course. Let's go to my place and sit, hm?"

Ren sat on the floor in Grian's quirky wooden home, Grian sitting on a chair behind him. It was a cozy rustic house, although the way it seemed to be pieced together precariously made Ren slightly nervous. Villager Grian mumbled quietly in the corner, minding his own business for the moment. By this point, the hermits had grown used to the villagers lurking in every nook and cranny of Hermitville.

"Alright, tell me all about it." Grian quietly began brushing Ren's hair. It never failed to surprise Ren that the energetic hermit could go from 100 to 0 so fast.

"Well, it's Doc, ya see..."

"Right, how's his secret project coming along?"

Ren sighed. "I don't know, he won't tell me."

This seemed to surprise Grian, as he pulled extra hard on a strand of hair, forcing Ren to bite his lip. "But I thought you were best friends! He hasn't told you yet?"

Ren sighed, forcing back the tears burning in his eyes. "It's been a month, Grian. A month. He doesn't even return my calls any more!"

Grian sighed quietly, setting the brush down. "Have you talked to Xisuma about it? He always seems to know more than the rest of us."

Ren groaned. "I tried once, but he dodged around the question like Xisuma always does." He reluctantly pulled his phone from his pocket.

Ren: yo X! Any clue what Doc is up to? I havent seen him in a wihle

Xisuma: I haven't. Would you like me to check for you?

Ren: nah, i can call him myself. Thanks tho!

Ren's finger hovered over the call button. He was desperate to find out what was keeping Doc so busy lately, but the fear of the answer clawed at his insides; or rather, the lack of an answer. If Doc didn't pick up, or refused to tell Ren anything, what would happen next? Ren shook the wild thoughts from his head. Surely he was overthinking things. Ren pressed the button, putting it on speaker phone for Grian, who had begun to braid Ren's hair.

After 4 rings, Ren was certain it would go to voice mail when Doc finally picked up. "Hello?"

"Doc? What's wrong, you sound exhausted!" Grian cried.

"Hey Doc, you're on speaker. Wassup?"

"Oh, hello. Uh, I'm just... working. On my project. Is there any reason for the call?"

Ren frowned, noticing how subdued Doc sounded, and the way his voice cracked. "Are you taking care of yourself? When can I come over and see you?"

"No!! I mean, that's fine," Doc coughed, covering up his outburst. "I've just been working hard is all. No need to come over here."

"Well if you don't want me to see your project, at least come to my place! I miss you man!" Ren surprised himself as his voice crackled, tears pricking at his eyes. He hadn't planned on crying about this, especially not in front of Doc and Grian.

Doc was silent for a moment. "I'll try my best. I've got to go now, bye Ren, bye Grian!" The phone signaled that Doc ended the call, flashing back to the home screen.

Neither hermit said anything while Grian tied off Ren's braid. It was an uncomfortable silence, and Ren's brain was running circles around itself. He noted with dry humor that he felt like a dog chasing its own tail.

Doc had been avoiding Ren for over a month now. Ren knew it probably wasn't his fault- after all, Doc said he's working on a project- but he couldn't help but fret over the situation. What if Doc wore himself into the ground? Ren would never forgive himself. What on earth could Doc be doing that he didn't want Ren involved? If this was Doc's way of ending their friendship, what was Ren supposed to do? They still lived on the same server together! Surely if they had been best friends for years now, they could work this out and still be friends! But then again, why was Doc acting so strange? They were best friends, and best friends don't keep secrets. Unless it's a surprise party, Ren amended, because he loved surprise parties. But his birthday was months away!

And round and round his thoughts chased each other until Grian spoke up. "The sun's setting. Let's get some sleep shall we? Everything always looks brighter in the morning."

Ren silently followed Grian upstairs, where the chaos of his towering house took full effect. The whole floor was one room, a conglomeration of strange shapes combined awkwardly. Despite the odd shape, the space held multiple beds, which were promptly put to use.

Ren fell asleep quickly, but even in his sleep he twisted and twitched, his mind conjuring every terrible scenario it could until morning.

Chapter Text

"Ughhh, Mumbooo......" Grian groaned. "Are you finished yet?"

"No Grian," Mumbo huffed. He sat up, wiping the redstone coating off his fingers and onto his khaki shorts. Grian teased him over the shorts, but they were far more comfortable than dress pants when doing redstone. "Is there no one else on the whole server who can play with you?"

Grian counted on his fingers, mouthing names slowly. "No, not really. I thought you weren't busy today!"

Mumbo sighed with a crooked smile, which tweaked his mustache upwards endearingly. "I'm not busy with Sahara, so I'm working on a personal project. I'm sorry Grian, but not today."

"I get it! I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

Mumbo nodded. "Tomorrow."

Grian returned to his base after that, floating passively in the water. His ears rested just below the water, and he relaxed as he listened to the ocean around him. He could hear magma blocks bubbling from the bottom of a ravine, and he could pick out a school of fish swimming by occasionally. Moments like these made him wonder why he ever left his underwater home. Life was so much so peaceful back then.

Now that he thought about it, it had been a while since he visited his underwater base. With a start, Grian dove beneath the surface, swimming gracefully through the mouth of the bottle, as he'd done countless times before. Instantly, he sighed, reveling in the silence. Up on the surface, there was always wind whipping across the water, waves splashing up the walls of his base, and even the faint sounds of machinery from Mumbo's island. Grian didn't realize how loud the would was until he found silence. Typically all the noise was comforting, but today, the peace and quiet was just what Grian needed.

He stepped quietly into the bedroom, finding his old bed still waiting patiently, the covers strewn across the floor from the last time he slept there. He picked them up slowly, sticking his nose in them. They smelled like sea salt, just like he remembered. Grian slowly made the bed, then laid on top of them, staring into the ceiling boards. It was totally silent aside from his slow heartbeat under his hands crossed over his chest.

In moments like these, Grian could truly think. Too many times, he got caught up in the excitement of new ideas and buildings, planning fun activities with his fellow hermits. His mind raced at a million miles a minute, and he had to sprint to keep up. He didn't often mind though, as he loved keeping busy and making something new with his hands. The silence was often a stimulator for him, forcing him to retreat into the chaos of his busy mind when there was nothing else to distract him. Today felt different for some reason, so Grian closed his eyes, simply focusing on the colors that danced behind his eyelids.

 

Ren: yo, u busy?

 

The buzz of his phone in his back pocket startled Grian into action. He scrambled to grab his phone, fumbling as he texted back in a flurry. Grian could only sit still for so long.

 

Grian: nope! Wanna hang out somewhere?

 

Ren: I'm thinkin small- chill in hermitville?

 

Grian: sounds like netflix and chill but okay lol

 

Ren: 😏😏💕

 

Ren: see u in 10

 

Grian pulled himself together quickly, gathering anything he might need before bolting into the Nether. He arrived in Hermitville within 5 minutes, panting with a grin as he spotted Ren from across town. Grian glided down to Ren, who stood in the middle of the road.

"How's it hangin, man? Just get out of the shower?" Ren sat in the dirt, patting the ground next to him.

"Meh, just swimming around my base. Mumbo's busy today so I'm glad you texted!" Grian laughed, running a hand through his damp hair.

Ren chuckled. "Yeah, I think 'meh' is the mood lately."

"Yeah?"

Ren simply shrugged. "Just life, ya know?"

Grian nodded. Everyone had off days, and Grian wanted desperately to help his friend forget his troubles. "Have you tried the Concorp Diamond Drop game yet? I heard Iskall made sooo many diamonds off it!"

"I haven't, let's go try it!"

Standing in the airplane, the pair double-checked their supplies. Ren shuddered as the cold wind whipped around him, sucking him towards the hole in the plane.

"It's a long drop, huh?" Ren peered out the hole, swaying woozily. He didn't get air sick too easily, but something about a plane was different than an elytra.

"Yeah, what a view!" Grian grinned widely as he joined Ren by the hole. "Ready?"

Ren grabbed Grian's hand, and the pair fell from the airplane. For a moment, time froze, and Ren felt like they were floating in the air. It was strangely peaceful, and it felt like they were the only people in the world. Ren had never felt this way when flying before. He marveled, wondering if this is why Grian loved flying so much.

Then, the wind slapped him in the face, sending him spinning. He clung desperately to Grian's hand, trying to calm the chaos, but Ren's vision blurred, and he couldn't tell up from down. It was over in mere seconds as both of them crashed into the earth, waking up in their beds on the ground.

"Aw, dangit! No diamonds for us!" Grian laughed.

Ren nodded slowly, attempting to calm the spinning in his head. "Maybe we should play an easier game."

Grian decided that Duck would be innocent enough, so they read the instructions briefly. "Alright, I'll go first, and you'll follow after, okay? See you at the end; fastest time wins!" Grian dove under the first bar, disappearing into the course, and Ren patiently waited 30 seconds before following.

"Ha!" Grian stood triumphant at the end, writing down his time quickly. "Hurry up Ren, I finished!"

No answer from inside. Maybe Ren was focused on going quickly, but he could've at least responded in some way. Grian peered into the exit, not finding any sign of Ren. "Hello?"

His stomach fluttered. "Ren, I'm coming back in!" Grian dove back into the water maze, searching desperately for a glimpse of a red shirt or blue eyes. The water stung at Grian's eyes as he darted to and fro, but Grian couldn't find any sign of Ren before splashing to the surface for air. Gasping for breath, Grian made one last check of the maze before clambering out the other side, leaping into the pig pen.

Grian carefully, but anxiously, shoved pigs out of the way, growing desperate to find any sign of Ren. This was supposed to be a harmless game! With a start, Grian spotted him between three pigs, face-down in the dirt. "Ren!"

Ren's head shot up, dirt covering his face. "Wha..."

Grian let out a tense laugh. "Did you fall asleep in here? What the heck man?"

"Hehe, I guess this game is so easy for me I just fell asleep! Let's get out of here..."

Once standing upright again, Grian looked over Ren critically. He swayed slightly as he stood, his eyes vacantly staring into the trees. He hadn't bothered to wipe the dirt from his clothes, and his ponytail was falling out.

Grian ran a hand over his cheek, cleaning off some dirt. "Ren, are you sleeping well?"

Ren just shrugged. "Yeah, I've got a great memory foam mattress, and- wait, why?"

Grian frowned. "Better question, how much have you been sleeping lately?"

This made Ren glance away quickly. "Well, you know how busy life gets with big projects and everything..."

"Let's get you back home, hm?" Grian wrapped a steady hand around Ren's shoulders, and he sank into Grian's grip gratefully. Ren was silent the whole walk, so Grian pondered. He wondered what could possibly be keeping Ren awake lately; he hadn't heard a word about a big project from him before now, so he suspected that was far from the truth.

They arrived in Hermitville as the sun sank behind the hills, sending a chill down Grian's spine. Ren sat on a log, and Grian quickly lit a fire in the fire pit. The strum of a guitar caught Grian's attention, and he glanced over his shoulder to find Ren holding his guitar. "Guitar, huh? Thought you were tired," Grian teased.

"It just feels right, ya know? Sitting around the campfire, playing guitar and singin.." Ren gazed into the fire wistfully.

Grian sat on the log next to Ren, watching the guitar with curiosity. "Know any good songs?"

Ren strummed again, beginning to softly sing. "I'm too much, or not enough, maybe everyone else is messed up..." he trailed off.

"Why'd you stop?"

"Sorry." Ren repositioned his fingers. "Well anyway, I can't seem to stay in just one state of mind...

Cause it's one thing, or another, I don't even know why I bother, something I just can't get around..." Ren's voice cracked, and he stopped singing, swiping at the tears falling down his cheeks.

Grian said nothing for a long time, the only sound being Ren's sniffling. "What's that song called?" He whispered.

"Just Apathy." Ren's voice was rough and quiet. "Sorry, I should probably get to bed." Ren slung his guitar over his shoulder, standing slowly.

"Night man. Hope your project goes well." Grian hugged him gently in farewell.

"Project?"

Grian frowned. "Your project? The one that's keeping you up late?"

"Oh right. Yeah, thanks."

Grian watched as Ren plodded into his house, stumbling up the step. As soon as Ren closed the door behind him, Grian flopped down in the grass with a sigh, staring up into the stars. Grian seemed to be having a very peaceful day, as he found that the fire crackling and ambient life around him was very helpful to focus his thoughts.

He was starting to get worried about Ren. He wasn't worried at first; everyone goes through sleep deprivation for a project sometimes. But, as Grian thought back on the day, he noticed Ren's odd behavior- particularly what he said just before leaving. Why would he have forgotten his own project? Why wouldn't he tell Grian what was really bothering him? Grian fell slowly into a restless sleep in the grass, his mind swirling with theories and questions.

He woke chilled to the bone, the grass clinging to his bare skin. It had started raining, and the crisp breeze blew right through him. He pulled himself to his feet and stumbled into his house blearily. A glance at the grandfather clock told him he had only been asleep for an hour. Exhausted, he shivered as he crawled under the covers. Despite how warm he was curled up in bed, Grian couldn't seem to fall asleep again, Ren reentering his mind.

It was a long six hours before the sun rose.

Chapter Text

A soft knock at the door forced Ren to drag himself out of bed, groaning as his joints protested. He tripped on the rug, slamming his knee into the corner of the table with a shout. Rubbing his injured knee, he threw the door open with a scowl. "Whadda ya want?"

Grian shrank back, his eyes widening like a deer in the headlights. "I'm- I'm sorry, I just wanted to stop by- I'll go, sorry for bothering-“ Grian stepped away from the door.

Ren snagged Grian's arm, stopping him from running. "Wait, come back." He grimaced at his voice, which was still low and rough from waking up.

Grian spun around, startled. Ren felt the fear radiating off him, and deflated with a sigh. "Sorry G, I just woke up. I hope I didn't scare you too bad."

Grian disentangled himself from Ren's grip, eyeing him closely. "It's fine, I get it. Just wanted to make sure you slept well, and I wanted to see if I could grab you any materials for your project," Grian murmured.

"I slept okay, thanks man. I've, uh, got everything I need, but thank you. Sorry again."

"No problem." Grian waved goodbye, taking off instantly. Ren watched him fly away, kicking himself mentally for that whole exchange.

What was that? Grian had such a visceral look of terror, Ren was worried he'd done something wrong. They were friends; Grian had no reason to react like that, even if Ren looked grumpy. He flopped onto his bed with a sigh. Nothing seemed to be going right lately. A bizarre thought crossed Ren's mind, and he nearly pushed it away. A shiver crawled down his spine. Maybe Grian had a bad life before coming to Hermitcraft, and it was reflex for him to react with fear. But then again, that would mean Grian remembered his past life, which was extremely rare- Of all the hermits only Xisuma and Joe remembered their lives before Hermitcraft. Also, if that was true, Ren thought he would have shown signs of his memory long before now. How could Grian have hid this for so long?

None of that made any sense though. Surely Ren just made an angry face that startled Grian. With a groan, Ren crawled under his blanket. It was too early for this crap.

Ren must have dozed off, because a soft knock at the door woke him again. This time, he made sure his wits were about him before opening the door with a smile. Grian greeted him, albeit more cautiously. "Hey Ren, how're you feeling?"

"Fine, thanks. Listen, I'm sorry about what happened earlier, I just woke up, and I dunno what came over me-"

"-No, I'm sorry Ren. I hoped you would be more chipper after a good nights rest, but clearly I caught you at a bad time," Grian paused, seemingly wanting to say more. "Can we talk real quick?"

Ren froze, running through all the things Grian might want to talk about, instantly recalling his thoughts about Grian's past. "Sure, wanna come inside?"

"No, that's fine." Grian kicked at the corner of the doormat that was curling up. "Ren, tell me the truth. There's no big project, is there? You're losing sleep over Doc." His tone left no room to argue.

Ren's blood ran cold. "I mean yeah, that's part of it, but-" He wasn't expecting to have this conversation today. He really was a bad liar.

"What's going on man? How much do you know about Doc?" Grian's voice held an edge that hinted he knew more than he let on, which sent a jolt of nerves through him.

Ren sighed. "Look, I don't know much. I know it's normal for everyone to get caught up in projects, but this one feels different somehow. He dodges the subject, he won't answer my calls, and it doesn't even sound like he's having fun. He sounds miserable," Ren choked, coming to terms with his concerns.

Grian nodded, like that was the answer he expected. "Right. Well guess what? I was just talking to Cub over in the Nether Hub and he told me that Scar has been weird too." Grian nodded animatedly as Ren furrowed his brow. "I know right! It doesn't tell us much, but maybe they're working together on the project."

Ren nodded slowly. "You could be right. I dunno, I hate to meddle where it's not my place, ya dig? I'm sure he's got a fine reason, and I'm losing sleep over nothing." Mentioning sleep made Ren yawn, which made Grian frown deeper.

"Doc has no idea what he's doing to you mentally, man. If he knew, I'm sure he'd come running over here and explain everything. You need to call him again."

Ren just shook his head. "I'm not going to bother Doc any more, okay?"

"Fine, let me do it for you! You don't deserve to suffer over this crap, when I find Doc I'm gonna-"

Ren set a gentle hand on Grian's shoulder. "G, I'm not going to bother Doc and neither are you, got it?"

Grian heaved a sigh. "Fine, I won't. But you have to promise to sleep every night, okay?"

"Okay, okay," Ren chuckled. "I better get to work now."

"Bye Ren!"

Ren watched as Grian ran off, taking flight and disappearing into the clouds. With a sigh, Ren collapsed against the doorframe. He missed Doc a lot, and it was obvious. But, that didn't give Ren the right to meddle where he didn't belong. He learned this lesson last season with Iskall; sharing an island has it's pros and cons. On one hand it was a blast staying up late partying, but on the other hand, they both learned the importance of boundaries. Surely if Doc hadn’t told him the details, it was a secret on purpose. This wasn't going to be easy...

 

 

With a determined scowl set on his face, Grian flew through the Nether portal, nearly slamming into a wall as he burst into the Nether Hub. He threw a quick glance around, wondering where to start his search for Doc, when a hermit appeared in Grian's periphery. "Aha! Scar, we need to talk!"

Scar froze, glancing around. "Uh, what's up?"

"I have reason to believe you and Doc are working on a secret project together. What can you tell me?" Grian put on a detective voice, running up to Scar.

Scar stumbled away as Grian approached, searching for a non-existent escape. He pressed against the black wall, eyeing Grian carefully. "What are- How much detail are you looking for, Sherlock Grian?"

"Well, Doc hasn't been seen in person for over a month. Can you give me any idea where he might be?"

"Physically, no. Our project needs to be in an undisclosed location. He's doing just fine otherwise; just busy..."

"Well that's good! Next question: is this endeavor a scheme to make diamonds?"

"Well, no? It's difficult to say, but not really." Scar shoved his hands in his pockets, his wandering eyes growing more anxious by the second. "Anything else?"

"Final question: when are you gonna be done?" Grian's voice grew steely, although he certainly didn't mean to.

"Well, ah, you see... I mean, there's no real way to tell with these things... and, you know Doc, ahah...." Scar trailed off, flushing brightly. "Can I go?"

"Yeah, sorry for holding you up for so long. Real quick, don't tell Doc this, but-" Grian lowered his voice to a whisper. "Ren is tearing himself apart without Doc. If he wants to keep the project secret, fine, but he should make an effort to talk to his best friend."

Scar swallowed, taking in the information. "I'll... I'll let him know, okay?"

"You better," Grian teased. "You're lucky I'm not going to follow you to wherever this secret project is and drag Doc home myself, got it? I care about my friends, and I wanna figure this out."

Scar nodded silently, not moving a muscle until Grian had long disappeared through a random portal. As soon as Grian appeared in the overworld, he heaved a sigh, running through the conversation again in his head. Cub was right; Scar was acting very strange. Grian tried his best to keep a light tone with Scar, but Scar's reactions suggested otherwise. He seemed jumpy and scared. Scared of what, Grian wasn't sure yet.

Yet. Grian was determined to find out exactly what was going on. He did feel a little silly- after all, it seemed to just be two hermits working on a project together- but Grian felt like something bigger was going on. He also felt slightly guilty about his detective plans after Ren specifically asked him not to. Grian wanted to respect Ren's wishes; of course he did! But as a third party, he could see the true nature of the situation. His client was under duress, and it was his job to amend the situation by whatever means necessary. There was definitely some sort of bigger scheme in the works here.

And he was going to find out what.

Chapter Text

Cub: By chance does anyone have any spare sugar cane?

 

Mumbo: How much you looking for?

 

Cub: 3 shulker boxes?

 

Mumbo: 😬

 

Grian: why on earth do you need that much sugar cane ???

 

Cub: My farm is going towards making cakes, but I need a lot of books at the moment.

 

Zedaph: I got you! Meet u by Hermity?

 

Cub: Sounds good.

 

Cub glided to a stop at the base of the statue, spotting Zed already leaning in the entrance. "Hey, thank you so much!"

Zed stood up, pulling out a green shulker box. "No problem! My pyramid base makes waaay more sugar cane than I can use."

"Well thank you nonetheless." Cub accepted the box gratefully. "What have you been up to lately? I feel like I never see you anymore!"

Zedaph laughed. "I know, right? I've been spending a lot of time in Hermitville working on my Duck game, but I just finished it this week! It's weird not having anything to work on, so I'm just hangin out I guess."

"Ive been busy with a new villager trading and enchanting building in ConCorp, so haven't played Duck yet!" Cub paused for a second. "Would you like to spend the day with me? Scar's busy with Doc, so I'd appreciate an extra set of hands at ConCorp.”

Zed lit up like a Christmas tree. "I’d love to! Let's go!"

They returned to ConCorp, and Cub threw the doors open to the new building he was working on. "This is going to be the library, complete with librarians, enchanting tables and level farms." Cub gestured widely to the currently-empty room, a light sparking in his eyes. "I need your help to make books and hire workers while I work on the redstone, alright?"

Zed saluted with a grin. "Aye aye! Give me some leads and let's get started!"

For the first half an hour, Zed worked tirelessly to convince villagers to move into the new building, but they weren't having it. He bargained, bribed, pushed and pulled, but the ornery villagers hardly budged an inch. With his generous patience wearing thin, Zedaph returned to the building and plopped down on the floor, beginning to make some bookshelves to fill the room. The monotonous task was less frustrating, although it ended in far more smashed fingers and splinters.

Nearly three hours passed, and Zed took a step back to admire his handiwork. With the shelves lined up in small box-like arrangements, it almost looked like a room full of enchanting cubicles. With a deep sigh, Zedaph stretched his legs and sat down to begin making the books to fill the shelves. Not long after, Cub threw himself down next to Zed, helping assemble the books silently.

The pair fell into rhythm, shuffling pages and binding covers wordlessly. Zed knew he loved all the hermits equally, but noted that he had never spent any time alone with Cub. The realization made Zed smile, appreciating the silence even more. Cub may not be the chattiest hermit, but he had a confident yet comfortable air about him, which Zed leaned into happily.

As the sun began to set, Zedaph realized how long they had been tirelessly working. He glanced around, pleasantly surprised by the amount of bookshelves that were steadily filling up. He stretched his spine, wincing at the stiffness. Carefully, he stepped around Cub and the mess of papers they had made across the floor, heading back to the villager center.

This late in the evening, most of the villagers were in bed already, making Zedaph's job that much easier. He cornered a couple librarians, dragging the drowsy villagers into the facility. "Got some workers!"

Cub's head snapped up, and he rubbed his eyes with the sleeve of his lab coat quickly. "Excellent, thank you. They can wait in that pen until the rest of the room is done." Cub waved vaguely to a shabby fenced-off corner, which Zedaph herded the villagers into gently.

As Zed returned to Cub's side, he noticed his red eyes, and the way he refused to make eye contact now. With any other hermit it may have just been the lack of sleep catching up with them, but not Cub. He had these piercing blue eyes that never seemed to leave you as you spoke. They bored into your soul like lasers in the best way possible.

"Hey, you feeling alright man? Do you need to lay down? We can finish in the morning if you want," Zed offered, rubbing Cub's back gently.

Cub shook his head nearly imperceptibly. "I'll be fine. Let's finish up real quick."

Zed sat down slowly, pushing stray papers aside. "Are you sure? It's okay if you're not feeling well, we've got all the time in the world."

This time Cub shook his head violently, snatching up a stack of papers. "I'm fine. Let's work."

Zedaph complied, silently returning to work. He was growing concerned for Cub now, but he supposed this was just how Cub was during projects. He was known for the insane hours he would put into his work, disregarding basic human needs until it was done. Zedaph has never witnessed this in person, so he could only assume this attitude coming out was the sleep deprivation kicking in. At least this was a fairly short project, he mused. They could be done by tomorrow afternoon, maybe even morning if they hurried. Zed picked up his pace.

It was nearly three in the morning when Cub spoke up out of nowhere, startling Zed. "Where do you think you came from before Hermitcraft?"

The question shocked Zedaph into silence for a moment. "Well, I'm not really sure. I've always imagined- or maybe hoped- that I came from a loving family, with lots of friends... maybe even a wife and kids. I bet I was a performer of some kind, hosting a television show or a circus or something. I dunno, I feel like I have an entertaining streak in me." Zed shrugged.

He acted like he hadn't thought about it every day of his life. Like he didn't long for a wife and kids to love, even if that meant he had to say goodbye to them when he joined Hermitcraft. Like he didn't lay in bed every night, wondering why he was here in the first place. Most people didn't remember their past lives when they're brought to a new server; the only ones on Hermitcraft were Xisuma and Joe, and Xisuma hardly counted since Admin always remember. Joe however, he was an interesting case. He technically wasn't an admin, but there were rumors that he might've gotten hold of certain administrative powers in his home world, which complicated things when he switched servers. Joe and Xisuma didn't talk about their pasts very often- too stressful, for obvious reasons. "What about you, Cub?"

Cub let out a long breath. "I imagine I might have worked in a scientific facility; likely in redstone. What I really wonder is if I knew Scar before we came to Hermitcraft. Is that feasible? I've never heard of that happening, but we don't have many scientific logs on the issue. I just feel like I've known Scar my whole life, you know?" Cub's voice wavered as he rambled.

"Of course. I think you guys definitely did- I've seen the way you practically read each other's minds! Sometimes I think I knew Tango in a past life; he reminds me of someone, but I don't know who."

Cub nodded. "Exactly. I don't know what I would do without Scar, honestly. He's like my other half, and always has been."

Zedaph smiled. "I'm glad you have someone like that in your life."

Cub muttered under his breath as he swiped at the tear that was making its way down his face.

"What was that?"

"Nothing. Not like I have anyone like that right now, do I? Scar sure isn't here helping me with our villager project, hm?" Cub's voice was even and composed, but tears poured down his cheeks.

Zed didn't know how to respond to that, so they fell into a tense silence. Zed mulled over what Cub said with a pained heart. He didn't know where Scar was, or what he was doing today, but apparently it made Cub pretty upset. Zedaph knew how that felt, because he'd said the same things about Tango countless times. Tango always seemed to have a big redstone project in the works, and that frequently meant Zed took a back seat. As much as Zedaph griped about it, he was never truly mad; he could never be mad at Tango, and he was sure Cub felt the same way about Scar.

"...hey Cub? I love you, okay? Even if we don't know where we came from, I'm glad I'm here with you right now."

Cub sniffled, collapsing against Zedaph's shoulder. "Thank you Zed. For everything today."

Zed smiled, rubbing Cub's back. "Thank you Cub, for being a good friend."

Cub's hiccups faded as his breathing evened out, deepening into long sighs, which made Zed yawn. He leaned back against the wall, being sure not to disturb the sleeping Cub on his shoulder. They slept like that until noon the next morning, soft greyish light filling the room as the sound of rain filled the comforting silence.

Chapter Text

"MMMMMUMBOOOOOO!!!" Grian dove into the pool, splashing water all over place and startling the poor owner of said pool.

"Grian!" Mumbo sputtered. He swiped his dripping hair away from his face, scowling as the culprit pulled himself out of the pond with a laugh. "What on earth!"

"Sorry Mumbo! The pond was right there, I had to! Anyway, what's up?" Grian casually shook out his hair with a grin.

"Well, I was tidying my storage area, but now I'm going to get a dry change of clothes." Mumbo laughed.

Grian followed him up the water elevator, giggling as Mumbo slipped on the wet glass. Mumbo threw a glare over his shoulder, pulling off his shoes. "You lost your laughing privileges when you drenched me in water."

Grian stifled another laugh as Mumbo dropped his suit coat, which fell to the floor with a slap. "Fine, fine."

"So, do you have any plans for today?" Mumbo tossed his wet shirt aside, grabbing a plain white tee and pulling it over his head with some difficulty.

"Eh, not much. I thought you might have some plans so I could hang out with you!"

Mumbo twirled his finger, and Grian quickly turned himself around. He heard some shuffling, and when he spun back around Mumbo had pulled on a pair of khakis, and was snapping on his suspenders. "Well you're in luck, because I'm spending the whole day reorganizing my storage system! Yay!" Mumbo weakly smiled.

"Aw, Spring cleaning? But it's not even Spring!" Grian cried.

"Yeah, I know. I'd rather go have fun with you, but sometimes we have to get the grindy work done," Mumbo sighed.

Grian contemplated that. "It's always better to have company; I'll help!"

Mumbo visibly relaxed, compassion filling his eyes. "I was hoping you would say that. You're a good friend, Grian- Sometimes." He motioned to the puddles of water with a smirk.

Grian shrugged with a laugh. "I'll take it. Now, where do you want my help?"

"Well, I'm not really sure honestly." Mumbo ducked his head with a bashful grin as the duo returned to the storage system. "I really need to change how the chests are arranged; they used to be alphabetical, but I want them to be sorted by likeness now."

Grian frowned, staring down the large aisle of chests. "How do we decide what things are alike enough to put close together?"

"Exactly... I suppose the best way to decide is the get started, no?"

"I guess you're right. You take the left side, I'll take the right?"

They set to work, heaving armfuls of items onto the floor as they discussed the best way to organize them. It was lighthearted and fun, like all projects with the original Architech boys, if not a little convoluted by the banter. They quickly decided that the chests were rather nasty inside, the bottom corners filled with dust and random garbage, so before any items could be put in their proper chests, they had to be cleaned out.

They were barely an hour in when Grian started causing trouble. Dust was floating through the air, a film of the stuff obscuring their vision. They were both sniffly and sneezy from all the dust, but Grian was certainly getting the worst of it. After a fit of ten sneezes in a row, Mumbo began to be concerned for Grian's health.

"Grian, do you need to take a break? You don't sound too well."

Restraining a sneeze, Grian laughed. "Yeah, probably a good idea."

Relieved that Grian was taking a break, Mumbo set back to work. The dust only got worse, and Mumbo's eyes watered painfully. If he could keep working for a little longer, Grian would come back, and they could trade off taking breaks. Mumbo absently wondered if Grian had asthma or something, the way he was sneezing. Suddenly concerned, Mumbo set to work even harder, hoping to finish before Grian came back into the dusty area.

 

 

"Dude, you're still going?" Grian's bright voice made Mumbo hop up startled.

"Grian! You should get out of here, it's way too dusty for you!"

"For me? But I'm fine! I just went to take a nap, what are you on about?"

Mumbo furrowed his brow, confused. "But you were sneezing so much, I was worried about you!" The bashful grin growing on Grian's face told Mumbo everything. "You lied?"

Grian just giggled. "Sorry, I was tired!"

"Fine, lets have some lunch, but next time it's your turn to work for a change."

They stepped away from the project, enjoying a light lunch before they returned to work. Eight hours into their mission, they came to terms with just how daunting a task they had set for themselves. They had finally finished washing the chests, but now all the items were strewn across the floor, making it impossible to walk anywhere without stepping in a pile of redstone dust or shattering some glowstone. They had initially planned to stop for the evening when they had dinner, but once Grian set his mind to something, he didn't give up easily. They kept working late into the night, throwing up extra torches to keep the phantoms away while they worked.

Mumbo glanced around the area, heaving a sigh. He felt like they had done a lot of work today, but looking around you sure couldn't tell. When they were cleaning the chests they attempted to keep the items in tidy piles, to help keep everything organized. To quote Grian, his middle name was tidy, so obviously the items were instantly tossed to and fro without a second thought. Dirt ended up in the diamonds, and turtle eggs ended up in the terracotta. It was a disaster, and Mumbo was having a hard time focusing because of it. He had never truly considered himself a neat freak, but a tidy base meant a tidy mind for Mumbo. It was impossible to leave home without all his shulker boxes being neatly lined up and organized, ready for his next venture, so this was pure chaos.

Mumbo carefully took a few steps over to a large pile of saplings that had managed to stay together. As Mumbo attempted to find his footing in the mess, he found himself sliding across the floor, only catching himself from falling by using a long stick nearby for balance. He picked up the culprit with a scowl, and then confusion. Mumbo swore he had picked up all the ender pearls already, and yet every time he turned around he was slipping on them like marbles.

"Grian, are you sure we put away all the ender pearls?" Mumbo threw another pearl in the chest with a sigh.

"Well, I'm not really- Oi, what are you doing?" Grian leapt over a pile of sand, digging through the chest Mumbo had just thrown the pearl into. He pawed through the box, dumping all the ender pearls onto the floor, which rolled away in every direction. With gentle care, he picked up some nearby chicken eggs and began to place them carefully in the now-empty box.

"Grian! Stop pulling the pearls out of the pearl chest!" Mumbo cried, scrambling to round up the marbles.

"No, it's the egg chest, see?" Grian revealed the pile of eggs tucked carefully into the box with a smile.

"But this section of chests is supposed to have valuable items in- oh, I get it..."

Grian dissolved into a fit of giggles, falling to the floor as he kicked his feet. Mumbo gently nudged him with his foot, laughing gently. "You're deliriously tired Gri, are you about ready to be done working for the day?"

Grian's laughing trailed off as he took a moment to process Mumbo's words. "What do you mean, me? This is your storage system!"

"Yeah, but you were the one who wanted to keep working until midnight!" Mumbo laughed.

"Hey, we were working together! And look how far we got!" Grian motioned around him. While they had already finished over half the chests, the other half was thrown all over the floor, making it look like a tornado had ripped through the base. "Huh..."

Mumbo could only smile wearily. "You can sleep here if you'd like, but we really need to stop for today. We can always finish tomorrow, right?"

Grian's eyes flashed with annoyance before a huge yawn shook his frame. "I guess so. But we start first thing in the morning, okay?"

"Sure. Let's go make you a bed before the phantoms snatch you up, hm?"

A bed was hastily made and thrown down next to Mumbo's, where the pair instantly collapsed. Mumbo crawled under his covers, curling up into a tight ball, while Grian opted to sprawl on top of the sheets. He gazed up into the night sky, watching as phantom silhouettes caused stars to blink in and out of sight. The air was still, aside from Mumbo's soft breathing and the waves crashing below them. This was where Grian could truly relax.

Chapter Text

Grian gazed up into the stars, contemplating their existence. What purpose did stars serve? To entertain Grian at night? To help people navigate by the North Star? To coat the phantoms in a dull silver glow as they swooped down on unsuspecting hermits?

Grian supposed those were pretty good reasons. He appreciated that he could see the phantoms at night, and he loved connecting the dots between stars when he couldn't sleep. No matter how busy a day he'd had, or how many days he had gone without sleep, Grian often found himself drawing with the stars. They were like silent friends in a way; always there to listen and twinkle when Grian needed them most.

"Mumbo, are you awake?"

No response. Grian hadn't expected one; Mumbo slept like a baby every night. Grian was envious of that sometimes, but he would miss his talks with the stars if he always slept that well.

His mind wandered as he grew bored of the stars, beginning to trace the ridges of Mumbo's base with his eyes. The strange endrods had a cool, eerie glow about them, matching the crisp breeze blowing through the base. It wasn't quite autumn yet, but it was getting darker at night, and the air nipped at your nose if you stood outside for too long.

Now thinking about how chilly the wind was, Grian curled up on his side, tucking his face under the blanket. He watched Mumbo from his small peephole, observing him silently.

This was the most relaxed Grian had ever seen Mumbo before. His face was soft and ageless, his mouth slightly open in a gentle smile. His hair and mustache were fluffy, with some strands sticking to the blanket with static electricity. Grian watched the slow rise and fall of his breathing, and simply appreciated his friend. Grian loved everyone on Hermitcraft obviously, but he'd always felt a special connection to Mumbo; he wasn't truly sure why, but he did.

Slowly, a frown soured Grian's face. He recalled Ren, and the situation with Doc. Once again, Grian found himself leaning on a sort of sixth sense, getting the feeling that all wasn't as it seemed with Doc and Scar. Grian couldn't say exactly why he felt that way, but the more he thought about it, the more agitated he grew. Doc was acting weird, and Scar was helping him cover it up. Why? What on earth were they doing? How could they be so ignorant of how their actions were affecting those around them? Grian supposed he had a certain predisposition for noticing those things because of his personal experiences, but none of the other hermits knew that. They didn't believe there was a problem, and they didn't believe Grian. He knew how this would end, just like it did before.

"Was' wrong Gri?" Mumbo tiredly mumbled, propping himself up in his bed, which startled Grian out of his dark spiral.

"Oh, sorry Mumbo, did I wake you up? I'm just thinking to myself, you should sleep." Grian waved him off, pulling the blanket even closer around himself to prove his point.

Mumbo simply smiled in that gentle way he always did. "I didn't know thinking involved grinding your teeth and staring daggers into me in my sleep."

Grian flushed in embarrassment. "Did I do that? Sorry, I wasn't mad at you or anything. You can sleep now," Grian encouraged, feeling infinitely more guilty that he woke Mumbo up.

"No, I'm awake now." Mumbo sat up, pulling his comforter around his shoulders. "What's on your mind?"

Grian hesitated, but conceded, sitting up as well. "Ya see, it's about Ren, Doc, and Scar."

Mumbo nodded. "I was talking to Stress the other day, and she said that Cub told her all about how odd Scar's acting. So what's wrong?"

"So, it's kind of a long story, and I think a lot of it happened in my head? Basically, Doc is super busy, and not telling anyone about it- not even Ren! Ren's losing sleep over it, so then I was talking to Cub, and he told me Scar was being weird and secretive too. Obviously, the whole thing was super suss. I tried to go find Doc, but I ran into Scar, who basically told me everything was fine, and to leave them alone while they work." Grian stopped to catch his breath. "I don't know what to do! I mean, they're our friends, so they wouldn't hurt us on purpose, but Doc has no clue what he's doing to Ren mentally! I wanna find him and give him a piece of my mind, and oh boy-"

A soft hand rested on Grian's shoulder, stopping his rant. Mumbo sat on the edge of Grian's bed, his own blanket wrapped tightly around him. "Grian, I know this is worrying you, and I can see why, but take a step back. Like you said, Doc isn't doing this on purpose. We just need to trust our friends, and support their projects, secret or not."

"Wait- what?" Grian sputtered. "Come on man! What, you want me to sit here like nothing's happening? As if!"

"No, of course we're doing to do something! We're going to support Ren, and spend more time with him while he's missing Doc. How does that sound?"

Grian pursed his lips. "Okay, that's great and all, but I'm not letting Doc off scotch free here. I'll hang out with Ren during the day, and I'll solve the mystery of Scar and Doc in the evening!"

Mumbo sighed. "How did I know you would say that? Grian, drop it. It's not your business, okay?"

Grian's jaw dropped. "Are you kidding? I thought you were on my side!"

Mumbo flinched at that comment, and Grian felt guilty for a second. "Grian, you're my friend; of course I'm on your side. But, sometimes you need to step back and think about these things logically. Why are you getting so defensive over nothing?" Mumbo reasoned.

Mumbo's words floated in his vision, clouding the room. This was far too familiar, far too painful. Mumbo didn't mean it, Grian chanted, he didn't mean it. He took deep gulps of air, drowning in it. He couldn't handle it, not alone. Not again. Not again, oh lord not again. Grian felt himself falling into a spiral again as he scrambled to free himself from the mind cage he was building. It was too much, far too much, but Grian needed to hold on. He wasn't too far gone. Taking a gasping breath, he rubbed his pajamas, attempting to stay grounded. The world was spinning uncontrollably, but at least there was a world to spin. He continued like that, taking a deep breath, gripping his pajamas, and trying to stop the spinning. At some point he noticed Mumbo's arms around him, and he leaned into that. Mumbo was wrapping his arms around the world, helping the spinning slow down. Within a few minutes, he noticed the hot tears streaking his cheeks, and he knew he was at least semi-conscious.

"How are you feeling?" Mumbo whispered, barely audible above the throbbing in Grian's head.

"Meh," was all he could manage to get out.

"Sleep would be good for you. Is it okay if I let go now?"

Grian took a deep breath and nodded. Mumbo slowly let go, and the cold air instantly made Grian shiver. He slowly grabbed his blanket, his limbs feeling like jello. He flopped over, exhaustion taking over his body. He took shaky breaths, attempting to even his breathing enough to sleep when his phone buzzed.

Grian glanced at his phone, thrown onto the floor by his fit earlier. He picked it up slowly, staring blankly at the glowing screen.

After a moment of silence, Mumbo spoke up from the edge of his bed where he sat anxiously. "Who was it?"

"It's..."

 

Xisuma: Hey Grian.

 

Xisuma: We need to talk.

 

Xisuma: Immediately.

Chapter Text

Cub dropped the lid of the chest, jumping as it slammed loudly. The shopping district was dead at this time of day, which made the normally busy area eerily silent. It was the best time of day to restock all the ConCorp shops. Though, if he was being frankly honest, most of the shops didn't need restocking. The big move to Hermitville drew customers away; he just needed something to distract him from Scar. But, of course, he wasn't being frankly honest, so he lied to himself, saying he needed to keep his head in the game or he would fall out of the habit. Entrepreneurship was a rough business, and Cub wouldn't back down for a second.

He drudged past Cherry, all too aware of the fact that it was void of any friendly air it used to hold, now cold and empty without Scar taking care of it. Cub wandered in without quite meaning to, running a hand over the table as he walked past, picking up dust. Something so small shouldn't have made shivers run down his spine like it did. The area was dark, even darker than Scar's typical build. The few torches scattered around the area had been pulled off the walls, likely used by hermits traversing the area at night. The chests were devoid of items as well, with only scraps of paper explaining the now-irrelevant prices sitting in the bottom.

"Cub? What are you doing here?"

Cub whirled around, the voice bringing tears to his eyes instantly. Even through the blinding tears, it was clearly Scar standing in the road, watching Cub with a strange expression. In an instant, Cub analyzed Scar's slouched stance, the way he stuffed his hands in his pockets and his hat hung over his eyes. Cub couldn't help but run over to Scar, throwing his arms around him.

"Woah, hey man! You feelin alright?" Scar laughed, but Cub could hear the exhaustion in his voice.

"Are you doing okay? Are you staying safe? How far is your project from medical aid?" The words spilled from Cub's mouth like a frantic waterfall. He was never one for sharing his emotions, but with Scar it was a different story.

"I'm fine, really! Just a little tired. The real question is, are you okay?" Scar pulled himself out of the hug, looking Cub up and down.

"Doesn't matter that much. Are you coming back for good? What are you doing here? Are you hurt?" Cub felt himself getting lightheaded, like he was moving in slow motion while the world whirled around him. He brushed a loose hair from Scar's face, his heart aching. He knew that he missed Scar a lot, but it was painfully clear now that he saw Scar in front of him for the first time in months.

Scar simply smiled, and Cub felt like he was seeing color for the first time. "I'm fine, really. Are you sure you're feeling alright? You seem... frazzled." Scar spoke gently.

"No I'm, I'm fine, really! See, I was just restocking the ConCorp shops! Everything is going great!" Suddenly Cub felt a sinking in his chest, a feeling that made him swallow thickly, heat crawling up his face.

Scar sighed. "You're a mess. We've been best friends for how long now? You never lie to me! What's going on Cub, you can tell me." Scar set a gentle hand on his shoulder, and Cub jumped.

"I'm- Ah, I'm just, well... and ya see, I'm... I miss you." Cub's eyes burned, and he did all he could to resist rubbing them like a child.

Scar's eyes spoke a million words as he straightened his hat nervously. "Cub, I miss you too, you know this. But you have to believe me when I say this is the most important project I've ever been a part of. I've been sworn to secrecy, but that doesn't mean we can't still hang out like the Convex we are!" Scar consoled.

Cub didn't trust his voice not to crack, so he collapsed onto the floor of Cherry, head in his hands. Scar instantly sat next to him, rubbing small circles in his back as he sobbed. Tears poured from his eyes, and looking back he noted that he couldn't recall the last time he had genuinely cried like this.

Five minutes later, Cub had finally relaxed enough to rasp through the last stray tears. "You keep saying nothing has changed, but it has. We can't do Convex things because you're busy all the time."

"I guess... But, I've been working extra hours at the project, so hopefully I can spend the weekends at home! How great is that!" Scar smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.

"Scar, what are you doing there?"

This made Scar freeze up, his fingers fiddling with the collar of his coat. "Ah, well, what makes you ask? It's top secret you know."

Cub shook like a leaf. He figured he would be crying again if he hadn't cried them all out a minute ago. "Scar, I can't do this without you. Don't you understand?"

Scar's eyes flitted around, pain pulling at his features. "Cub, where is this coming from? This isn’t the first time we’ve been apart, and I don’t understand why you can’t support me here."

"This is different! I have no idea what you're doing out there! I thought you could trust your best friend with something so simple!" Cub snapped.

Scar's mouth hung open. "Cub, I..."

"No!" Cub stood up. "You don't understand what you’re doing! See my side for once!"

"Cub, you're clearly not feeling well. You can't let your emotions blind you!" Scar stood as well, now towering over Cub intimidatingly.

"I'm not! You'd think I'm the only sane person here, seeing all the creeping around you're doing!"

"That's uncalled for! There are lives on the line here Cub! Use your big brain for something other than money for once!" Scar cried.

Cub turned away, shaking violently. He had never understood the phrase 'blind rage' before, but now it was painfully clear. He couldn't see straight, and every time his heart beat, his blood boiled. Cub didn’t consider himself an emotion person, let alone angry, but something about this was different. He felt like he was watching this scene as an outsider, having no input as his body sprung into action. “Scar, decide. The project, or me."

Scar's shocked silence gave Cub the slightest moment of gratification. "Cub you don't understand, I promised him."

"You're right, I don't understand. Too bad you won't tell me what's happening. Sounds like you're choosing the project over me," Cub deadpanned.

"Cub, it's not black and white like that! Why won't you believe me!" Scar yelled. The shake in his voice made it obvious he was crying.

"You haven't given me anything to believe. Sorry Scar, but if you’ll excuse me, I need to restock my shops." He threw one last glance over his shoulder, watching Scar's heartbroken gaze shrink as Cub stalked away. He thought he would feel gratification, but it just made his insides twinge. It was for the best though, of course. If Scar felt like the project was more important than Cub, that was fine. Cub could run ConCorp by himself; he basically already did, even when Scar was around. If anything, this would be more beneficial in the long run. Without needing to confer with a partner, Cub could make executive decisions faster and easier. Yes, this would be for the best; for both of them.

Cub stepped around a corner out of Scar's line of sight and doubled over in pain. His stomach twisted and turned. He wanted to vomit. He couldn't do this. He was nothing without Scar. Scar was his emotional balance, his partner in crime, his home away from home, and now he was nothing. Cub couldn't do it.

Chapter Text

When Xisuma texted Grian to meet up at one in the morning, he wasn't sure how alert Grian would be, but he certainly didn't expect this. Grian tapped his fingers on his leg, his eyes dancing around the room. The anxious energy radiated off of him in waves, making Xisuma more nervous than he already was. "So Grian, how are you doing?"

Grian blinked out of his trance. "Oh uh, just fine X, how about you?" His answer was robotic, and his fingers couldn't stop fidgeting.

"Just fine. I'm sure you're wondering why I texted you so late." X wasted no time dodging around the issue. He had texted quite a few hermits tonight, and he had already wasted most of the moonlight hours searching for Doc.

"Yeah, I am wondering. What's wrong? You made it sound important." Grian finally looked up at Xisuma, and he couldn’t tell if it was a lighting glitch causing the deep dark circles under his eyes. A bubble of anxiety crawled up in X, and he was gripped by the urge to ask more about Grian's past. He was running short on time tonight, but this was important.

"I just want to make sure you're doing alright. Misunderstandings like this tend to dig up old memories, don't they?" Xisuma prodded.

"Yeah, they do... You're talking about Scar and Doc, right?"

X raised an eyebrow. Grian dodged his question easily, but not perfectly, which almost made for stronger evidence that Xisuma's assumptions were right. "Yeah. I've heard rumor that you're the expert on the issue, correct?"

"I wouldn't say expert, but I've talked to a few people." Grian nodded. "How much do you know?"

"About what you would imagine," Xisuma commented vaguely. If he was honest, he didn't know much about Doc and Scar's situation, which is what brought him here at this hour. There were a lot of strange things happening around the server, but Grian couldn't know that his fearless admin was completely clueless, and frankly concerned.

"Oh, then do you know what they're working on? Or where? Because it's all pretty suspicious if you ask me, and-" Grian's eyes were locked onto X now, and they screamed fear, a fear deeper than an innocent concern for friends. Grian was definitely hiding something, and it was big.

"Grian, I know this is probably hard for you, but none of this confusion is their fault. I don't know all the details, but they're innocent in this, and you can't do anything to change the situation this time."

"This time?" Grian muttered to himself as he raised an eyebrow. "You wanted to know what I know, right? Ren is stressed over Doc, Cub is worried about Scar, and Scar made it sound like they were raising the dead out in the middle of nowhere." Grian folded his arms definitely.

Xisuma analyzed his face for more information, but was greeted by nothing but a mask of suspicion. He must have been too on the nose with his questions, because Grian had put up a solid wall. "Alright, thank you Grian. I'm going to visit Cub next, is there anything you want me to tell him?"

Grian pondered for a moment. "Nah, just tell him if he needs help I'm always around. Bye X."

They said goodbye tersely and Xisuma flew off. That went about as poorly as he could have imagined. His plan really was to learn more about Doc, but his curiosity about Grian's past got in the way. He wasn't even certain Grian remembered his past at all, really. It was just a hunch he had, based on multiple conversations and some suspicious markings he found when going through code as part of his admin chores. Grian knew more than he let on, and X was worried he wasn't nearly as innocent as he appeared to be. People remembering past lives was rare, and typically upsetting; being dragged from your home into a foreign world was disturbing, to say the least. That was the other possibility, was that Grian had a fine life back home, but the trauma of world-hopping had scarred him. Xisuma hoped none of those were the case, but if his hunch was correct he wanted to support Grian however he could.

Now, on the matter of Doc; Xisuma had no clue. As an admin he should have access to everyone's locations at all times, but Scar and Doc had fallen off the grid mysteriously. It had to be some strange glitch in the system. This wasn't the most difficult situation X had ever dealt with as an admin, but it certainly wasn't good. The most upsetting part was the fact that it all happened so quickly and from out of nowhere, forcing Xisuma to interrogate other hermits for clues at two in the morning unexpectedly.

Gliding to a stop in the ConCorp common area, Xisuma quickly spotted Cub and made his way over. Cub rubbed his eye and rolled his shoulders back, evidently having just woken up. Lucky.

"Hey Cub, thanks for meeting me so late, I really appreciate it.”

"No problem Xisuma, how can I help ya?"

"What do you know about Scar?" Xisuma felt bad watching Cub flinch at the name.

"Ah, I should've figured. I don't know much, unfortunately. Scar was acting strange for a while- tired, stressed, distracted- but as you know, a weeks ago he disappeared entirely. I've only talked to him a couple times since then, but he doesn't look well." If he looked sleepy earlier, Cub looked drained now. It was clear that the disappearance of his friend was taking a toll on him.

"Thank you Cub, that's good to know. I don’t suppose you know what he's doing or where he is?"

Cub shook his head. "He's been tight-lipped about the whole operation, but it seems important to him. He mentioned multiple times that there were lives on the line, but he tends to be overdramatic about these things."

Xisuma perked up at that. "He said that? Lives are on the line?"

Cub wilted. "Yeah, I figured it was an expression of his, but based on your reaction I wonder if it's true."

"That's what I'm worried about..." Xisuma trailed off, lost in thought. Who's lives were on the line? Scar's? Doc's?

"Hey Xisuma?" Cub's voice was soft, broken. "What do you know?"

Xisuma's heart shattered. He hoped he could go one season without a world-rending incident, but clearly trouble followed him through the worlds- and it followed Doc evidently, considering the nHo fiasco last season. "If I can be honest Cub, I'm not sure. My tracking systems can't find either of them, which has never happened before." If it was any other hermit, X would have bent the truth to avoid unnecessary worry from his poor hermits, but he knew Cub would prefer the facts face-on. That was always how Cub had operated, and it’s what made him such a good business owner.

A glitch flickered the air around them, startling the pair. “Oh, I forgot to ask you the other day, what’s going on with all the world glitches? Is it normal stuff, or is it tied in somehow?”

Xisuma offered a weak shrug. “It’s hard to tell, but I’m planning on doing some code-hunting to try and find Doc and Scar, so I’ll keep an eye out for that.”

X wasn’t sure if it was a glitch or not, but Cub's head snapped up, his intense blue eyes piercing X to the core. "You won't hurt them right? I wouldn't look for them if I was you, it's far beyond what you can comprehend. Promise me you won't go find them."

Shivers crawled up X's spine. Cub stared him down unwaveringly, exhaustion suddenly gone. Something wasn't right about this. "Alright Cub, I promise to stay safe."

Almost instantly the world lagged again and he relaxed, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Thank you for everything Xisuma, it means the world to me. Text me when you find something?"

Xisuma nodded blankly, waving as Cub returned to his house. There was definitely going on behind the scenes here, and X needed to figure it out quick. The way Cub looked at him just then was blank, with no understanding, almost like Cub wasn't the one speaking in that moment. And what was causing that strange lag? Was it even related to all this? It was eerie to say the least, and Xisuma was glad he dodged around the strange promise. He couldn't promise he'd never go find where Doc was hiding, but he would definitely be safe while doing it. Now, he just had to figure out what exactly he was looking for.

Chapter Text

Grian was impatient and everyone knew it, including himself. He couldn't sit still and loved talking, which could be good or very, very bad. His endless energy meant he finished projects in a tornado frenzy, constantly coming up with new ideas and pushing everyone else's creativity along with him. However, that boundless energy also meant he got distracted easily, starting endless projects but not always getting around to finishing them. If a hermit went to visit Grian for any reason, they likely wouldn't be seen for hours as Grian chattered their ear off. Sometimes it could be a little exhausting, but no one would turn down the opportunity to hang out with Grian.

One time, Scar was wobbling through the shopping district, arms full of heavy shulker boxes full of building supplies, when he bumped into Grian. Scar, being the sweet guy he is, stopped to talk to Grian, getting caught up in a deep debate about rustic versus modern builds. Scar held his boxes as they talked, arms quivering, hoping the conversation would end any time soon so he could relieve his poor weak arms. It didn't, and Scar's arms were so sore he couldn't hold a stack of concrete for a week after that. Whenever anyone asked about it, Scar would recount the tale, poking fun at Grian's 'dolefully amusing energy'.

And so, it was no surprise when people saw Grian darting back and forth across the skies of Hermitville all morning, arms full of shulker boxes. Every few minutes he floated down to Ren's doorstep, kicking the door with his foot. "Ren! You home?"

Dancing anxiously on the porch, Grian knocked harder. "Ren, I've got a great idea, wake up!"

No answer. Grian groaned, dumping his shulkers all over the grass. It was only 9:30 in the morning, but Grian was already bored out of his mind. Mumbo was away at the witch farm again, and Iskall was busy with villagers or something. Ren hadn't responded to any of his texts, so he had gathered up his building supplies and ran over to Ren's house. With all of his plans falling apart so early in the day, Grian threw himself onto the grass with a sigh.

"Hey Grian, still no luck?" Stress waved as she trotted across the street.

"Nah, clearly Ren's not really a morning person. What are you up to?"

"Ah, just workin on my house! It's not quite as impressive as yours, but she's comin along!" Stress laughed happily, glancing sidelong at the row of houses towering over the town. Grian, Mumbo and Iskall had all moved onto the same street in Hermitville, and like most things, they got a little competitive about it. Grian and Mumbo's houses were the same height, nearly double everything else in the village, with Iskall right on their tail. And, in the middle of it all, Stress had gotten stuck with the house right in between the boys. She never complained about it, but Grian wondered if it bothered her to be overpowered by the giant buildings all around.

"Nice! I can't wait to see how it looks! Hey, do you have any plans later today? After my thing with Ren I'd love to go visit your castle!"

"Oh my gracious yes!" She squealed. "We've been meanin to do that for so long!"

"Yeah! I've heard it looks fantastic, and I really want a personal tour."

"Of course. How long will your thing with Ren take? If you want we could have a picnic while we're out too!"

Grian pondered for a moment. "Well, it shouldn't take more than an hour or two, really. I wanted to make a little-"

Their attention was drawn away as a loud rustling sounded from the forest outside of town. A wall was in the process of being built around the village, so they peered through a hole in the wall as the rustling grew closer, accompanied by heavy footfalls. Stress edged behind Grian silently, hoping it wasn't a ravager beast coming to destroy the town. They had encountered far too many of those in the past few weeks, which is why they were constructing the wall in the first place. Countless hermits died to pillager raids every day, so the threat was real.

Bursting from the underbrush with a gasp, it was Ren, not a ravager, that collapsed just beyond the wall. For an instant, time was suspended, and Grian could do nothing but watch in horror as Ren fell face first into the lush patch of grass between the forest and the city wall. Before he could think any further, Grian jolted into action, bounding over the short wall and sliding on his knees to a stop beside Ren's prone form. A quick glance told Grian he was still breathing, but beyond that it was hard to tell. Stress ran to his side as well, crouching down gently as she set down a shulker box nearby.

Ren laid face down in the dirt, his clothing tattered and stained. Stained with what was not the question; blood coated Ren from head to toe. Blood dripped from his hair, trailing and smearing all over his face, which was pulled into a pained expression. Through the tears in his clothing, it was clear he was scratched and gouged all over his body, causing the blood to stain his clothing and ooze into the grass he laid on. Some of the scrapes were shallow, evidently from running into tree branches and bushes, but some clearly weren't. A few looked like claw marks, while still others looked like swings from a sword. It was a hideous sight, and Grian's head spun from the smell of the fresh, tangy blood. In a trance, he reached out and touched Ren's arm, shuddering at the warmth of the substance. It was sticky and dark, and the way it caught the light made him want to vomit. 

Everyone on the server knew that Stress was the best doctor out of all of them, which Grian could testify to after all the crash landings he took at the beginning of the season. He stepped back, watching as her delicate fingers danced over his body, checking for mortal wounds. Grian didn't know much, but following Stress' hands as she worked downwards, he instantly knew that an ankle wasn't meant to twist in that way. A small hiss from Stress indicated the same discovery, and she wordlessly motioned to Grian to help her. Carefully, the pair rolled Ren onto his back, and Stress set to work quickly splinting the broken ankle with the items supplied from her shulker box. His chest revealed more wounds, and Grian couldn't stop himself from running to the bushes to throw up his breakfast. It was too much. After that it was all a blur.

With trembling hands, Grian called Xisuma, who appeared within minutes. The three managed to move Ren into the nearest house, and since then the server had been abuzz. Texts flew by in the group chat, questions falling unanswered as Grian found himself blankly staring at the screen, unable to type anything. Stress tended to Ren's other wounds, though Grian couldn't stand to look at him anymore. Xisuma seemed to take it the worst, now pacing the small house, mumbling to himself angrily with countless admin screens pulled up around him.

Grian felt numb. He didn't think he'd be in a situation like this again, but here he was. Why him? Of everyone on the server, why was he the one that had to be there when it happened? He wasn't good at handling serious situations; he knew this. That was the only way he had gotten over losing his closest friends. By acting like it had never happened. Why was he the one that had to deal with these things?

"Why..." Grian whispered it quite without thinking.

"Did you say something Grian?" Xisuma's voice snapped Grian out of his trance.

"I just... Why Ren? Who did this?"

X shook his head. "A ravager or wolf from the forest would be my best guess, although any traces of that being the case are nowhere to be found."

"It couldn't be a player, right? In the forest?"

Without hesitation, X shook his head. "It couldn't be. Nothing adds up that way."

A small light flickered on in Grian's mind, and he cringed at the sudden thought. There was no way it was true, and yet... "We still don't know where Doc is, right?"

"No, I-" Xisuma hesitated, realizing Grian's implication. "Grian, Doc did not do this. Why would he?" X's tone was stern, but his eyes flickered back and forth nervously. His mind was clearly swirling with the upsetting thought, and the conversation trailed off between them.

Grian hated himself for having the thought at all, but now it was all he could think of, like a single drop of ink staining his thought water. No one knew where Doc was- there was technically a chance he could be out in that forest. There was no reason he would be in there, but there was still a chance. Plus, Doc was a hermit- a real, normal person, just like Grian. He wouldn't do this, not to his best friend.

"It's not your fault Grian. We did all we could, and he's going to be fine." Stress' gentle whisper snapped Grian out of his thoughts before he could spiral too far.

"I know, I just can't help but worry. Some of those gashes around his chest looked pretty deep." Grian couldn't muster the energy to do anything more than wave his hand vaguely.

"Luckily everything around the vitals are just lil lacerations, so he's alright there. I'm worried his foot'll give him trouble for a while though." Stress chewed her lip, glancing back to Ren. "Hopefully he'll wake up a day er so."

"I've invited Cub over. Don't let anyone else in, I need to focus." Xisuma spoke up abruptly, pulling a chair to the far corner. Floating screens obscured him from sight, and it was clear that Xisuma wasn't having any better a time than the others. The conversation had ended suddenly, but that was okay by Grian. Stress quietly returned to Ren's side, and Grian pulled his knees up to his chin in his chair.

Why Ren was in the forest in the first place was also a big question plaguing him, but that one didn't have any satisfying answers either. Grian could understand if maybe Ren was out gathering resources and getting fresh air, but he had a tree farm back at the main hermit lands. If he needed wood so bad, he could have just flown to his shop. The only other logical conclusion Grian could come to is that Ren was looking for Doc and got caught off guard by a ravager or pillager raid. His eyes wandered to Ren's eerily still body, lingering on the bandages already soaking through with dark blood. He choked back the stabbing, gagging feeling in the back of his throat. Then again, maybe Ren had found Doc after all, and it didn't end as well as he had hoped.

Grian hated himself in moments like these. He had mastered keeping on a happy face most of the time, but when terrible scenarios emerged he couldn't restrain his overactive imagination. Grian especially hated himself for drawing these morbid conclusions simply because Doc was a creeper hybrid. It was close-minded and mean, but Grian couldn't help his pessimistic mindset. He hated himself even more because he knew he wouldn't be having these thoughts if it was a human hermit.

He wondered if Doc could still explode.

Grian shrank at the thought, blocking out any more thoughts. He hated feeling numb. He hated being serious. He hated being responsible for for other people.

Chapter Text

"Well, he's pretty stable now thankfully." Stress rose from Ren's bedside, her eyes lingering on his form for a second more.

"Stable? He wasn't stable before?" Cub whispered uncertainly. He had been called in an hour ago by Xisuma, much to the confusion of the other hermits. The group chat was exploding, begging Cub to tell them what was happening, but he hadn't responded. He hadn't spoken a word since arriving at the house-turned-hospital, simply staring intently at Ren's eerily still body.

Stress shook her head slowly, tearing her eyes away from Ren. "No, when we found him he was in aweful condition. If a medic hadn't been on site, he probably woulda died. He's fine now though, we just have to keep changin bandages and keep his foot elevated."

Grian nodded, comforted by the statement. He and Ren hadn't always been the closest, especially after the civil war, but they had been spending more and more time together and Grian had gotten attached quickly. When everyone moved to Hermitville the pair discovered they had very similar building styles, and began collaborating whenever they could. They were also both very extroverted, which made it easy to have spontaneous hangouts whenever they wanted.

"So, do we know the cause?" Cub quizzed.

This time Xisuma spoke up from the corner, where his face had been hidden by screens for the last few hours. "We're not sure, but it appears that there are injuries both from a creature with claws and a dull sword. The broken ankle and assorted scratches are from running through the forest. I'm currently trying to search the code for some answers, but I've never looked for something like this before." The screens dispersed, revealing X's tired face. He had taken his helmet off, and it was clear the exhaustion went deeper than just today's incident.

Cub nodded slowly, taking in the information. Grian's insides twisted as he remembered how Ren looked, collapsed and ripped apart outside the forest. He admired Cub's bravery in the face of such terror, because Grian had always been squeamish about blood. Cub was one of the most level-headed hermits, and it showed in everything he did. He was the head of ConCorp, the biggest corporation on the server (still bigger than Sahara, as much as he hated to admit it). He was always calm, even in the face of danger, and was never afraid of the truth. Grain couldn't boast the same things about himself, so he was especially impressed to know that Cub wasn't squeamish about blood either.

"So why am I here and not the other hermits?"

Xisuma stared into Cub's eyes for a moment, seeming to decide what to say, then nodded subtly. "Grian brought up the point that we still don't know where Doc and Scar are, and being Scar's best friend I figured you should be included here."

Cub took a shallow breath. "What are you implying?"

"We think it might be a hermit that caused the damage from a sword."

"And you think it was Doc because of the claw marks as well." Cub nodded, swallowing thickly. "I can see the reasoning."

"It's not a happy thought, but it wouldn't be the first time Doc showed his savage side. I just figured since Scar appears to be involved somehow, you ought to know what's happening."

"Thanks for trusting me to know."

The room fell deathly silent again, each hermit lost in their own thoughts. Grian considered Ren's prone figure again, asking himself if he really thought Doc did it. On one hand, there were sword marks and claw marks, so Doc was the obvious answer. Python could also be in question, but the most threatening thing he’d ever done was hiss if someone got too close to his sunbathing rock. No, Doc checked off all the boxes, but Grian couldn't admit it. Doc could be antagonistic, sarcastic, and short-tempered, but there was no way he would hurt another hermit, especially Ren. Ren and Doc had been inseparable since the beginning of the season, which apparently surprised many hermits.

Obviously Grian wasn't around last season, but according to others, Renskall had been the power couple of the server. They shared an island, they worked in perfect tandem, and they were beyond best friends. So, when season six rolled around and Ren and Iskall weren't together, it was a shock for everyone. Stress and Iskall were building a lab together, and Ren and Doc were founding a stock exchange. When Grian mentioned to others how well they got on, they would agree with surprise. Grian had quickly learned that dynamics and pairings could change in an instant, which kept him extra cautious to keep Mumbo extra close. All the hermits were friends, but Grian didn't want Mumbo to leave his side for any reason.

Stress' voice snapped Grian out of his thoughts. "Well it's obviously not Doc, so are we sure those are sword marks? Could they all be claw marks?"

"It's technically possible, but just a simple look at the looks of the cuts makes it obvious they're different. I'm not saying it's Doc or Scar, but it's something we have to keep in mind for statistics sake," Xisuma sighed.

"Yeah, don't rule it out yet. As much as I hate to admit it, Doc does fit the criteria," Grian voiced his thoughts from earlier. Cub and Xisuma nodded with grimaces, but Stress shook her head resolutely.

"Nope, it's not Doc. I promise, Doc would never do anything like this."

"But I've heard about what happened last season with his club. This is pretty similar, isn't it?" Grian pointed out.

The room fell silent, and Stress tensed. Grian shrank under her intense glare; Stress was not someone you wanted on your bad side. "You weren't even there, what would you know about it? Besides, the nHo was a completely different situation out of his control."

"Really? I thought someone told me the jungle made them all go feral, and that's why none of them are here any more." Grian shot back.

Now Stress was livid. "Exactly, it wasn't their fault! The jungle possessed their minds. Doc wouldn't do it on purpose, and it'll never happen again."

"But it did happen again, that's the problem. All the evidence-"

"Shut up!" Stress screeched. "Shut up shut up! You don't know what you're talking about!"

Cub leapt toward Stress, hugging her tightly to restrain her. She held her ground, but the daggers she was staring into Grian were as effective as real knives.

Grian stood slowly, but didn't step closer. "I'm just trying to protect my friend, okay? If Doc did this," Grian waved at Ren. "Then we need to be ready to find him and help him!"

"No! Doc didn't do it! Don't talk that way about my friend!"

"Stress, you're coming with me. Grian, stay here." Cub forcefully took Stress by the shoulders and practically flung her out the door, the loud slamming of the spruce door swiftly ending the conversation.

Grian growled, pacing the floor with his pent-up frustration. He didn't want Doc to be the culprit, obviously. But, there was more evidence pointing to it than not. For the past couple weeks, Grian had been concerned for Doc and Scar, seeing how they disappeared off the world, but he was just as worried about Ren. He could see the way the disappearance was affecting Ren and it hurt Grian. He knew how that felt, and he didn't wish that pain upon anyone.

The pain of friends disappearing without warning. The pain of worrying that they're gone for good. The pain of wondering if you were the one that forced them away. The pain of loneliness.

Maybe that was why Grian got so worked up over all of this. He knew what Ren was going through, and he knew the mental damage it had done in himself. He knew that Ren’s circumstances were different from his own though. Maybe his story had a tragic, backstabbing ending, but Ren's didn't have to. Grian wanted to do everything in his power to find Doc, to set everything back to how it was supposed to be.

But, there was also a deep, burning rage deep inside of him, directed towards Doc. How could Doc ever do something like this to Ren, not to mention the rest of the hermits! He had no awareness for those around him, and Grian couldn't stand it. According to what he knew about last season as well, this wasn't the first time Doc had done something like this either. To his credit, it wasn't his fault the jungle corrupted his mind, but it left a suspicious mark on his record in Grian's eyes.

"Well now that was uncalled for." Xisuma lifted an eyebrow from his seat in the corner, having watched the events play out. Grian sagged with a sigh, dropping into his chair again.

"Sorry I got so upset about that, it just struck a nerve I guess." Grian mumbled, embarrassed. He had just yelled at Stress, the sweetest girl in the world.

"History repeats itself, hm?" Xisuma's cool tone sent chills down Grian's spine. There was no way X could know everything, not after Grian had been so careful. Not even Mumbo knew the whole story, but suddenly the thought that Xisuma was an admin made Grian wilt. If anyone knew his past, it would be Xisuma.

"Now, are you going to apologize to her or what?"

"Right," Grian whispered. He felt like crap. Slowly pushing the door open, he found Stress and Cub sitting on the front steps. Cub smiled warmly and Stress managed a bashful wave. "Hey, sorry about all that. I guess seeing Ren like that got me on edge...”

"No, I'm sorry Grian. I shouldn't have raised my voice at you." Stress jumped to her feet and threw a huge hug around Grian's neck. He was so grateful for such fantastic friends.

"No really, I shouldn't accuse friends of maiming other friends, that's uncalled for." Grian stared down, suddenly very interested in his red shoes.

"It's okay Grian, I understand." Stress patted him on the shoulder. She didn't understand, but that was okay. No one would ever understand how Grian felt, but that was how he liked it. If no one ever knew what he had been through they would never treat him any differently than anyone else. If they treated him different, he would be the new guy, the fragile guy, the guy who can't do this and can't do that because it makes him anxious. No, nobody could understand, but Grian had convinced himself that was a good thing.

"Well, I suppose all we can do for now is tend to Ren and wait for more information," Cub piped up.

"Yep, our mystery has come to a standstill," Stress giggled, stifling a yawn.

"Here, you two go home and sleep, Xisuma and I will keep an eye on Ren tonight." Cub nudged the two off the porch, and everyone expressed their thankful farewells before going their separate ways, with Stress agreeing to take over watching Ren in the morning.

When Grian made it home, he collapsed in his bed instantly, gripping his pillow with a trembling fear that he had restrained until now. He knew it was all going to be fine in the end. This was Hermitcraft, not-

He couldn't bear to think the name. He stuffed his face in his pillow, letting out one large sob. This was different, it had to be. Grian could make it different, he just had to find the truth.

Chapter Text

Cub stepped out of the house with a sigh, shutting the door quietly behind him. Stress had taken over watching Ren in the early hours of the morning, and Cub was exhausted. Xisuma had returned to his own base so he could work in a bigger space, so Cub had been left to stew in his own thoughts for hours until Stress relieved him of his duties. And honestly, he still wasn't sure what to think.

Obviously he didn't want it to be Doc's fault, no one did. However, he was a scientifically-minded individual, and he didn't deny that Doc fit a lot of criteria for being the culprit. After stewing over it for a couple hours, Cub had decided that a conclusion couldn't be drawn until Xisuma found more information. What had really been nagging his brain all night was Scar's position in all this. Doc and Scar were definitely together, wherever they had disappeared to, which was curious. If Doc was the one to injure Ren, what part did Scar play in it? That was what truly upset Cub the most. Scar had never shown aggression in any form beyond mild annoyance, and Cub couldn't imagine him taking part in something like this. Then again, maybe this was the moment that Scar finally snapped.

Shaking the thoughts out of his head, Cub picked up his phone. He had been receiving notifications for hours now, but he couldn't find the willpower to look until now. A single glance told him that he had received over 100 texts from the group chat, and that didn't take into account the private dms and missed calls as well. Skimming through the group chat, he noted that it started frantic and concerned, but once Xisuma placated everyone about Ren's condition, it was pretty tame.

One name that stood out was Zedaph. Zed had called 4 times, and had texted even more. If it was anyone else Cub might have ignored it, but he knew Zedaph had a big heart.

 

Zedaph: CUB I HEARD YOU GOT TO SEE REN IS HE OKAY??

Zedaph: okay, X says he's fine so that's good

Zedaph: are you doing alright tho? I know you've got a lot on your mind lately 🥺

Zedaph: Cub, I'm more worried about you than Ren, coz Stress bandaged him up

Zedaph: How can I help bandage you Cub?

 

Cub smiled. Stress was good at fixing physical injuries, but Zedaph was really good at healing mental ones.

Cub: Shall we go play Duck? I've been promised a round with the inventor of the ingenious game.

Zedaph: hey that's me! Meet u there!

 

When Cub arrived Zedaph was already there, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Zed waved wildly, a grin splitting his features, so Cub managed a weak smile in return.

"Cub! It's good to see you! How are you feeling?"

The simple question caused a dark cloud to form in Cub's thoughts, so he shook his head. "None of that talk, I'm here to win a game."

Zedaph's eyes flashed with concern, but he just as quickly grinned, covering up any concerns he had. "Ooh, that sounds like a challenge if I've ever heard one! And I've heard a lot of challenges in my day, let me tell you," He winked.

"..I don't even want to know."

A quick summary of the course was all Cub needed, and the pair lined up at the entrance. "Alright Cub, wait ten seconds and then follow me in. Fastest time wins." Zed instantly shot forward, sliding into the maze and disappearing quickly. Cub patiently waited before crawling in after him.

As the name of the game suggested, Cub was doing a lot of ducking. There were pistons shifting some of the obstacles and changing the course, impressing Cub. He paused, taking a moment to spot some redstone hidden behind the clinging shrubbery with a proud smile. That is, until one slammed a block into the side of his head, and he decided to focus on the task at hand.

He crept out onto a one-block ledge on his hands and knees cautiously. He noted how high the ledge was above the ground, and gripped the block a little tighter. Cub didn't consider himself a fearful man, but something about ledges worried him. It wasn't even heights that irked him, because he flew all the time, but edges without rails made his stomach flutter. Safely creeping to the other side safely, Cub rushed to catch up on lost time. He flew through the rest of the maze, stumbling as he splashed into the muddy pig pen. 

The pigs cooperated fairly well, moving away with an indifferent snort, allowing Cub to army crawl through the space with relative ease. He stood slowly, the exhaustion creeping into his bones again. It had been nearly two days since he slept- Xisuma spoke with him that night he fell asleep with Zedaph in the library, and he hadn't gone back to sleep since. He pulled a lot of long hours, but even he could admit that was too long without sleep.

He also couldn't decide if it was a good or bad design choice to put the water maze after the pig pen. On one hand, his lab coat was now soaked, and his sweater clung to him uncomfortably. On the other hand, it also washed off all the mud from the pigs by the time he crawled out the other side. He stumbled past the finish line, an also-dripping Zedaph catching him with a laugh.

"You finally made it!"

Cub wrung his beard quickly, flashing Zedaph a smile. "It was really fun! What were our times?"

"Well I got 55 seconds, and you got one minute 46 seconds. That's a great first run!"

"Maybe, but you still thrashed me," Cub laughed.

"It was your first run, and I made the game! Wanna try for a better time? Or maybe we should play another game?"

Cub only wanted to sleep, but he knew that was a bad idea right now. If he tried to sleep his thoughts would run rampant with ungrounded worries and terrifying theories. So instead, he shook his head. "Let's try a new game, shall we?"

"Yes! We should play Dig Straight Down, Grian made that one right?"

The pair began meandering over to the game. "Yeah; I heard Joe is basically a master now thanks to all his training."

"Of course he did," Zedaph laughed. "I'm just hopeful to break even! Admission is five diamonds, right?"

"Yeah, but I'll pay for you, don't worry."

"Cub, you're too sweet!" Zed gasped, wrapping Cub in a tight hug. "Oh hey Grian! Fancy meeting you here!"

Even from across the lot, Cub could tell Grian was a sorry sight. He was curled up against the wood wall in the far corner, his eyes dark with exhaustion. Seeing the pair meander in caused his head to rise in surprise, and everyone stared at each other for a moment.

"Uh, hello Grian," Cub managed to say. A silent 'Good to see you again so soon.' Was tagged on as well, which Grian seemed to catch based on his curious blinking.

"Now a minigame seems like a poor place for a nap, isn't it?" Zedaph chuckled, but it didn't reach his eyes.

"Yeah... uh, I'll get out of your way." Grian threw his wings on and sparked a rocket in a fraction of a second, disappearing before Cub could react.

Grian didn't look good, so Cub could only imagine how he looked in a mirror. At least Grian had gone home to sleep last night; Cub practically felt the phantoms swirling around his head by now. He couldn't dwell on that though, not now. The server was looking to him as a source of information for this strange, scary situation, and he had to be brave. Technically Stress, Grian and Xisuma were also there, but Cub couldn't shirk his duties. He had to be brave.

"I hope Grian's doing alright... I heard he was the first one to find Ren," Zedaph murmured.

Cub nodded slowly. "Yeah, but Ren's going to be okay. We should relax and play some games."

Zedaph took a step closer, and Cub leaned away nervously. "Cub, if you're still worried about Ren, we don't need to pretend to be happy. Do you wanna talk about it?"

"No, it's okay. I kept an eye on Ren last night, it's all going to be okay."

Zedaph made a sound of protest at that statement. "Wait, you were up all night? You need sleep, come on now!"

Zedaph grabbed Cub's arm gently, but he stumbled away. Even the mention of sleep sent a huge yawn racking Cub's body, and he pulled his shoulders up defensively. Everyone knew Cub could pull insane hours for projects, and now Zed is babying him over lost sleep? He wouldn't allow it. He wasn't weak, and everyone needed to know it. He could manage a corporation by himself, he could see his friend at death's door, and he could still stand as a solid rock for those around him.

He wouldn't expect any less from himself.

"Talking always helps me sort my emotions out. Cub, how is Scar? When was the last time you talked? Is he-"

"Stop." Cub snapped. Logically, he knew Zedaph was trying to help him work through his negative emotions, but he couldn't help the tears streaking down his cheeks. He took a step back, and Zedaph hesitated before stepping toward him again. He said something in a gentle tone, but Cub was too busy thinking about Scar again to pay attention. Scar couldn't be a cause of Ren's condition, even if it looked like it. Scar would never. He was a bad business man, but he wasn't an idiot.

"Cub, are you listening?" His name caught his attention. "My goodness you're in poor shape. Cub, it's okay to rest. You've had an insane month worrying about Doc and Scar, and now Ren too. Please, go sleep. If not for you, then for me." Zedaph's voice was broken, and the soft tone he used made Cub want to cry in exhaustion. He felt Zedaph wrap his arms around around him, and Cub melted into the warm touch. He didn't remember much after that, except Zedaph helping him into his warm, soft bed, where he fell asleep instantly.

 

Love you, my little stars!

-RaeTheStar

Chapter Text

"Ugh, just start the meeting, Mumbo is always late." Iskall rolled his eyes, drumming his fingers on the table in the meeting room. The air in the room was crisp with the sun still hiding behind the early morning fog. The server wasn't quiet very often, but foggy mornings like these sent a hush over everything.

"Hm?" Grian's head snapped up from the table, his hair matted to the side of his head and dancing wildly on top. Iskall cackled, watching as Grian struggled to straighten his wrinkly sweater. "Bug off."

"Bro, why are you so sleepy? You're never like this!" Iskall gasped through his laughter.

Almost instantly, Grian's expression soured. "Stayed up late restocking Dig Straight Down. Let's start the meeting already."

A frown creeped across Iskall's face. "Sure... Our first point of business is Sahara sales. They've dropped by 43% in the last two weeks. My proposal is that we have a sale on all wood products. It won't be much, but the idea of a sale will get people thinking about Sahara again."

Grian nodded lazily. "Sounds good, you're in charge of that."

"Okay, second point of business is what the heck is wrong with Grian. Our local expert Grian has something to say on the matter." He held an imaginary mic up to Grian's mouth with a raised eyebrow.

Grian didn't seem to find the bit very funny, simply staring at Iskall blankly. Sighing deeply, he glanced away. "I shouldn't say much, but you know it's about Ren," he muttered.

"Well I wasn't gonna ask, but what's the tea? I heard that you were the one who found him!" Iskall perked up in his seat.

Grian cringed, painful memories from mere nights ago flashing behind his eyes. "It's too early in the morning for this. Yeah, me and Stress were there."

"Okay, so what's the scoop? The whole server is in the dark man, we wanna know!" Iskall inched to the edge of his seat, eye wide. Grian knew he meant no harm, but his excitement about the morbid tale made Grian squirm under his gaze. Plus, the vendetta had become personal to Grian; he didn’t want Iskall butting into his detective case, even though deep down he knew that if it was one person’s problem, it was the whole server’s problem.

"Long story short, we found him all beat up. Xisuma's doing research to find out what happened. Cub, Stress and I are taking turns taking care of Ren until he wakes up. That's about it."

Iskall blinked. "That's it?"

Grian shrugged.

"But I heard rumors that Doc did it. Is it true?" Iskall asked in hushed tones.

"I'm not saying yes or no, but there's some evidence that says maybe," Grian admitted.

Iskall stewed over that for a second. "Obviously I don't know all the details, but with Doc going missing, and this happening right after... I'll admit it's suspicious."

Grian nodded. "Exactly. Everything lines up."

"Well, what is X doing about it?"

"I mean, nobody wants to admit Doc did it, so Xisuma is doing his best to search in the code for something." Grian shrugged. "I dunno."

"I mean, this reminds me of last season with the nHo, yknow?"

"That's what I said! Nobody listened to me cause I wasn't around last season."

"No, you're right. Last season the jungle definitely possessed all of them to do what they did, but Doc was the only one to actually hurt another hermit."

Iskall stood, pacing across the meeting room. Grian traced his movements with his eyes, a heavy atmosphere filling the space. Beams of cool dusk light streamed through the windowed wall, and the foggy shopping district below shone with a mysterious morning glow. After watching idly for a few minutes, Grian stood slowly as well. He slid back the glass door on the bird cage, a gentle chirping filling the room. His features were pulled into a solemn, thoughtful frown as he stroked one of the birds mindlessly.

Iskall mumbled silently to himself as he paced the floor, his combat boots on the concrete echoing loudly in the quiet room. He knew he should be worried about Ren, and obviously he was.

He and Ren had been friends since as long as Iskall could remember, and were quite literally brothers. Anyone that had been around during season four could vouch that the pair had been inseparable since they met on the first day, which had led to countless late nights talking, pranks, La Revolution, and Renskall island in season five. This season however, they had decided to take a step back. Living on the same island last season had been a little too much quality time, so for season six they agreed to only hang out on weekends.

Iskall could never forgive himself for what happened to Ren. If he had only been with Ren at the time, he could have prevented it. Iskall would do anything for Ren- there was a reason he was a hitman after all. Ren was his little brother, and Iskall would do anything to protect him.

Thinking about Ren made Iskall scowl even deeper, his mind turning to Doc. It was obvious that he did it, and Iskall didn't care why. Doc hurt his brother, and Iskall was going to make him pay.

 

 

"Hey," Mumbo whispered as he peered in the doorway of the meeting room. Grian was sitting in the bird room, petting his parrots, and Iskall paced the room with a deep frown. "Did I miss something important?"

"Take a guess," Iskall snapped, his pacing growing more aggressive.

"Did Sahara break that bad?" Mumbo chuckled, trying to lighten the crushing atmosphere. He sat delicately in Grian's chair at the head of the table, watching the pair closely.

"Ren," Grian mumbled.

Instantly Mumbo wilted. "Oh. Right. How is everyone doing?"

"Everyone's fine. Stress, Cub and I are taking turns watching over Ren until he wakes up, but it should be fine."

"So we won't know what happened to him until he wakes up, hm?" Mumbo frowned. "I hope he gets feeling better soon."

"Me too, I have a lot of questions for that dog," Iskall grumbled.

"And you want him to feel better, right?" Mumbo asked, mildly upset. "It's not all about your little mystery, a real person is injured here."

"I know, and that's why I want him to wake up! I wanna know who did it so I can hunt them down. That's my job as a hitman, right?"

"You're planning on assassinating Doc?" Grian piped up with concern.

"I guess!" Iskall stopped his pacing, throwing his hands in the air. "What happened to Ren isn't okay! He's my brother, I can't let this slide!"

Iskall's outburst made Mumbo stand, the chair squeaking loudly across the floor. "You're not murdering Doc! Grian, what is this about Doc hurting Ren?"

"We're not certain, but I don't think it looks good." Grian stood as well, the trio locked in a tense circle.

"But it's not him, because Doc would never do that." Mumbo spoke through gritted teeth. A tense silence fell over them, eyes darting back and forth in a showdown on who would speak up first.

Mumbo noticed the briefest glance between the other two, and he quickly realized it was two against one. He couldn’t believe that they really thought Doc would do that to Ren, and he couldn’t figure out how to show them they were overreacting. The last time the server had been this tense things hadn’t ended well, but these two weren’t around when it had happened. Iskall had only been around since season four, and Grian only this season. Despite being younger than both of them, Mumbo sometimes felt like the adult of the Architechs thanks to his extra years of experience. “What can I do to prove you’re wrong?”

Grian shrugged, and Iskall narrowed his eyes. “Only thing that will change my mind is Ren’s word, and until then...” Iskall shook his head.

Mumbo could only watch as Iskall jumped out the window, shooting into the sky. Turning back to Grian, Mumbo caught him deep in thought, a mixture of emotions flashing across his face before settling on exhaustion. “I’m sorry about Iskall, I...”

“It’s okay Grian. Just make sure not to do anything you might regret later, alright? We’re all friends, and I don’t want anything to change after all this blows over.” Mumbo put a gentle arm around Grian, but he didn’t react.

After a second, he sobbed, throwing his arms around Mumbo. They stood that way for a long time, Grian crying into Mumbo’s shoulder until the racking sobs trailed off into weak sniffles. Once Grian had calmed down enough that he could breathe evenly, they silently flew back to their bases together.

Chapter Text

Grian wandered down the cobbled road in Hermitville, walking past the nether portal tower for the fifth time. He was exhausted from not sleeping for the last three days, but every time he tried, the image of Ren's body outside the forest burned his eyes. Thankfully, he had the chance to watch over Ren again after the Architech meeting that afternoon. He liked watching Ren because he could force himself to stay awake, but now that Cub had taken over for the evening shift, Grian didn't know what to do with himself. Not to mention, Ren had become semi-conscious under Grian's watch, and it sent his mind into a frenzy all over again. For just a few minutes Ren’s eyes had fluttered open, and Grian had enough sense to shove some soup in his mouth before he fell asleep again. Hopefully he would be able to wake up completely soon and this madness would end.

So many thoughts were swirling around Grian's head, he wasn't even sure what any of them meant anymore. After the tense meeting that morning with the Architechs, Grian's opinions had been twisted around, and he wasn't sure what he thought anymore. Just the other day he had told Mumbo that he would do anything to avenge Ren, and he had been furious when Mumbo didn't agree with him. Something had changed when Iskall had sided with him, though. Iskall's aggression had almost startled him, and he quickly realized how crazy he looked to Mumbo.

Problem was, he still absolutely sided with Iskall. Not only had Doc hurt Ren physically, but mentally as well, which was a big no-no for Grian. Physical harm could be fixed with medicine; mental harm left scars. Grian knew better than anyone, and he couldn't stand idly by as one of his closest friends was torn down like an old wall, brick by brick. Ren didn't deserve that; no one did. Grian had to protect his family, and knowing that he had Iskall- an actual hitman- on his side was comforting.

But also, Grian cringed, knowing how crazy he sounded. Mumbo was right; this was a problem between Ren and Doc, and they were adults who could handle their own problems. Grian was just getting in the way of everything, and he needed to take a step back, see the whole picture. It wasn't his fault, and he wasn't responsible for anything happening right now.

He couldn't help but feel a little guilty though. He was there when they found Ren in the forest. He meddled where he shouldn't have. He's Ren's friend. Surely some of the blame falls to him, he reasoned.

And around and around he thought, as around and around he walked, the comforting scenery of Hermitville calming him until he circled back around to the house Ren was in, and he got agitated all over again. He couldn't understand why no one was reacting to any of this like him; everyone else seemed so calm about it.

"Oi, Grian!" Xisuma called as he circled above, quickly landing by Grian's side. "I got your text! Ren woke up, hm? How long was he aware?"

"Well, he wasn't exactly aware, but he managed to swallow some soup before before he fell asleep again."

"You gave him the beetroot stew right? Good, good..." Xisuma trailed off, leaving an awkward silence.

Grian was still a little sluggish being pulled from his deep thoughts so suddenly, and he couldn't come up with any conversation topics off the top of his head. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there had been a weird tension around Xisuma lately, even before Ren had been injured. Grian looked anywhere but Xisuma’s face, wondering if X could hear the way his heart was pounding.

"Hey, Grian? Do you mind if I ask you something a little personal?"

Grian's brain shot into high gear, wondering what he had done recently to catch Xisuma’s attention. Something about Ren's injuries, something about his talk with Scar the other day, maybe he found out about the Architech meeting and was going to chew him out for it. Grian nodded slowly. "Sure...”

"Where did you come from? Before Hermitcraft?"

The world stopped, his blood running cold. How did he know? There was no way he knew, he had been so careful. Grian didn't realize his mouth hung open until he snapped it shut, swallowing thickly. "How did..."

"As an admin, I get to know a little bit more about my players than meets the eye, but not enough. There are strange symbols attached to you Grian, and I think you know what they mean."

Symbols. Grian's mind flooded with memories, images, emotions, everything he tried so hard to cover up. Xisuma had known the whole time. All his weird questions, the sidelong glances, they hadn't just been in Grian's mind. It was just as bad as he thought; he could never escape his past. It was tied to him, a part of who he was and he hated it. Tears flooded his eyes and fell down his cheeks. He swiped at them, but they just smeared across his cheeks and continued to pour from his eyes.

Almost immediately Xisuma backpedaled. "I'm sorry, I understand if you don't want to talk about it!" Xisuma hovered uncertainly as Grian stood still as a statue, unresponsive. "I- understand how you feel. Uh, darn it, I'm not good at this emotional stuff. If you don't mind my offering, you should go visit Joe. He always has something to say, and I think he could help you more than I can right now." After another awkward beat, Xisuma took off silently, leaving Grian alone in the street.

For a couple minutes all he could do was wipe away the tears as they continued to pour down his cheeks, trying not to think about bad things. Dark things, things he thought he had kept locked away for so long. He thought he was free, but it had never been true. Xisuma had known the whole time. Faintly, Grian was thankful he hadn't said anything before now, but it didn't make it any easier now. Finally, his vision started to clear up, and Grian focused on making his way over to a nearby fire pit, collapsing onto a log.

Was he really going to talk to Joe about this? His instinct was gut-wrenchingly no. Xisuma had no right to tell him what to do, especially with his personal information. He didn't want to talk about his past to anyone; heck, he didn't even want to think about it. But then, the more he lingers on it, the more relief he feels in the idea of sharing everything with someone.

The flight back to the main hermit lands was fraught with horrible thoughts, but Grian did his best to sort through them. He couldn't show up to Joe's house unannounced and then have nothing to say, like. "Hi. I'm broken, fix me." Why was he going to Joe's house in the first place? This was a stupid idea.

He would start vague; he didn't want to show up and dump this nonsense on Joe from out of nowhere. Maybe just mention he was having nightmares and go from there? But where do you even start on something like this? His entire life on that server was bizarre, but there was no way he could get into all of that right now. He figured he should mention the weird anomalies with the server, but why would Joe have any reason to believe him? No servers had ever been like his, and there was no reason it should have been like that. What if Joe wanted to write a book, so there were records of the anomaly? Could Grian really do that?

He took a deep breath, taking a second to notice how the wind whipped around him as he flew, and he relaxed slightly. He was committed now; whatever Joe's reaction was, whatever Joe wanted him to do, however Joe would treat him from here on out, Grian could do this.

Arriving on the other side of the nether portal, Grian's stomach tied itself into knots. He hadn't visited this end of the island since the civil war, but Joe enjoyed pulling weeds in the garden beds around the area. Grian stepped into the grassy clearing, the overgrown lawn swishing as a breeze blew by. The air here was oddly still, like the whole area had frozen in time, as a monument to the war. Grian wandered past a patch of grass that had been burned, a ring of black standing out starkly against the rest of the grass. He had to admit, the atmosphere was weird, but strangely peaceful.

"Well hello Grian! Are you here to join me in my botanical beautification today?" Joe's voice floated across the clearing, and Grian spotted him crouched by the riverbed outside the G-team base. Trotting over, Grian noticed a pile of weeds next to him, along with some dirty work gloves.

"Hi Joe, how's the gardening going?" Grian waved casually, trying to cover up the butterflies freaking out in his stomach.

"Oh splendid! I've been working along this riverbed; it's quite muddy, no?" Joe turned to the bank of the river and sure enough, this side was dark and muddy, compared to the opposite bank which was being overtaken by bullrushes and grass.

"It sure is." The conversation trailed off as Grian stared blankly into the water. He had planned out exactly what he would say, and now he could barely remember his own name.

"How can I help you today?" Joe stood suddenly, snapping Grian back to reality. He began walking away, so Grian scurried after him. Once they were walking, Joe turned to Grian again, and he could see a depth in those eyes he had never seen before. The blues and greens swirled beautifully together, and Grian could sense a wisdom much greater than someone Joe's age would normally have. "Grian, what seems to be bothering you?"

"Uh, right..." He has almost felt confident talking to himself in the nether tunnel, but now he wanted nothing more than to fall into the void and never respawn. "Well, I guess I've been having nightmares, and Xisuma sent me to talk to you, and I'm not really sure why."

Joe nodded slowly. "May I ask what the nightmares are about?"

This was the moment. Do or die. "I ah, I mean, it's kinda silly..." Grian kicked a pebble into the river, eyes glued to the tops of his shoes. The prickling heat crept up his neck as he felt Joe's piercing eyes on him. Surely Joe had already figured it out. This was miserable. Grian just wanted to curl up in a ball forever.

"Can I tell you about my nightmares first?" Grian snapped his head up at that. Did Joe really offer to open up just like that? They had hardly ever talked outside idle talk in the post office, let alone been close friends. How could Joe offer to reveal his weaknesses so easily?

"It's a little complicated, but I'll simplify for the sake of time. I dream that I'm living happily in a world. I have a wife, a child, friends and family, and we're all happy together. Everything is okay. Slowly, people get caught up in their own lives. It's nobody's fault in particular, life just gets busy. All the people I care about, I see them less and less. By the end of it all, I'm alone. Parents dead, daughter all grown up, friends and extended family too busy to visit anymore. It's lonely, being the only one. You never realize how important people are until it's too late..." Joe trails off, deep in thought.

"I know how you feel," Grian mumbles, not even sure if Joe could hear him until his head raises ever so slightly. Somehow encouraged by that response, he continues. "That's what my dream is about too. Me and my friends, we're all together. It's a beautiful world, and we all love each other very much. When it's time for us to travel to the next world, I'm the last one to go through the portal, and something goes wrong. I end up in a different world than the rest of my friends, powerless to find them. It's... lonely."

Grian looks up and locks eyes with Joe. His eyes are filled with such a profound sorrow, Grian almost wanted to cry just looking into them. It was such a strange feeling, looking at someone he barely knew, but know that they were feeling the exact same emotion right now. It was electrifying, and Grian wished it could last forever.

It couldn't of course, so Joe spoke up quietly. "I think we both know those are more than just nightmares. I'm glad you talked to me today; it feels good knowing you're not alone."

Grian nodded silently. Joe offered a quiet hand to Grian, and the two locked hands as they continued their walk. "Let's head to my house; I have some pumpkin pie cooling and I bet there’s just enough for the two of us."