TT: Alright, so we’re making room for the Gods.
TT: I guess that’s cool. I had a feeling something like this might be on the horizon.
TT: I can’t deny the appropriateness of myself helping push open a gateway between the eternal world and the physical world. Maybe there’s some irony cred hidden deep down in that big fuck-off Ouroboros of inevitability.
UU: oh no, sweetheart! that’s not qUite it, i’m afraid.
UU: yoU’re not opening the door to an eternal world at all.
UU: in fact the God’s world is qUite, qUite exterminated. U_U
UU: thoroUghly so.
TT: Right. So they’re not literal Gods we’re talking here? I kinda suspected that as well.
TT: Ex-Game players, am I right?
TT: I think I can guess who they are.
UU: U_U spoilers! let’s try to avoid them, shall we?
TT: Okay, whatever. Point is, they’re only gods in some weird way related to their narrative, rather than their place as any sort of powerful deity.
UU: oh, they are very mUch gods, lovely. or one day they will be! i hope.
TT: Well, there’s always fix-it fic, should all else fail, am I right?
UU: shUsh, yoU!
UU: yoU, in particular, will be welcoming one particular goddess into yoUr world.
UU: yes! ^u^ the goddess of light herself.
TT: A chick, huh? Bummer.
UU: U_U i think yoU will honestly find her most engaging, dirk.
UU: shoUld yoU give her the proper chance!! u3u
At sixteen, Rose Lalonde knows what it feels like to stand on the precipice of a new world. The vertigo of discovery crashes neatly before her, in the form of a chunk of space rock hurtling towards a little window of light, suspended among the stars. She feels the same thrill she knows must have been felt by the first man whoever caught a glimpse of Fl’thulu’s monstrous form, and feels like the incoming madness is about at the same level.
She feels sick to her stomach.
“You ready to meet ‘em?” a familiar voice asks, the Texan twang dulled by years amongst alien voices and Rose’s own delicate and perfect voice, politely and aggressively formed through years of overpriced elocution training. Rose still considers it completely worth it to see her mother’s priceless frustration with the inability to correct her pronunciation.
“Of course not,” she replies, pulling her hood back up and turning to face Dave. Dave stood at her own modest height, his cheeks a little rough with clumsily shaved stubble, descending to the bump of an Adam’s apple at his throat. He slips his hands into his pockets and leans against the metal rail behind him, looking past her at the little box of light that had gotten bigger and bigger over the past three years.
“Yeah, feelin’ you hard. I feel like I’d rather squash my balls into a vice and turn the crank until something squirts out than meet mini-Bro, if I’m honest,” he says. Rose wrinkles her nose with distaste.
“Lovely, Dave. Perhaps that should be the first mental image you give him. If only to spread the fragrant poetry of your diction.”
“Are you kiddin’ me? He’d probably get off on it.”
“A fine point,” she says, smiling, and then sighs, “I can’t say I’m too enamoured with the idea of an encounter with my mother. I avoided the woman as much as I could as a child, never mind now as a grown woman.”
She looks down at her own small hands, nails painted sloppily under the cackling dare of her fellow Seer, and feels as though her nose growing would make the lie a little less obvious. She’d seen the pint-sized version of her mother a million times already, though both she and the not-so-mysterious sleepwalker had woken up before a joyous family reunion could commence.
She wonders what the good Dr Freud would have to say about that.
“Yeah, well I dunno how I feel about an encounter with the real Dirk Strider, either. Man, I should sit on it a bit. Come up with some sick beats that say “Yo, ecto-Dad, nice to see ya, glad you ain’t dead”. Only, y’know, not that sappy and producing way whiter, hotter burns,” he says. Rose hums vaguely, eyes still on the prize. As Seer of Light she’s privy to more knowledge than most, but what remains past that wall is still mostly a mystery, even with her persistent and sometimes obsessive scrying. She and Dave have enjoyed many a session bouncing ideas and theories, each more ridiculous than the last, off each other. Just another senseless way of trying to grind down the infinite hours, better than the distractions some of the trolls have found. Or at least healthier and more wholesome.
“I mean these burns are gonna be hot. The tap ain’t gonna cut it. Big S is gonna be rolling his sorry ass into the A and E once I’m done with him. Nurses rubbing on ointment in frantic panic with their skirts and panties all bunched up. Oh Mr Strider, it’s too late. These burns are simply too deep. We’re going to have to fuckin’ amputate these mothers right here and now. Pass the saw, nurse.”
“Yes, very nice, Dave.”
She rubs her cheeks. Is she pale? Spotty? Are there bags under her eyes? Will her mother notice that little scar under her eye, the way her hair has dulled and hangs messy and uncut around her cheeks, hollowed out from years of surviving on troll food and juggling messy cultural clashes, and some of her fellow traveller’s more violent tendencies. She rubs her neck, suddenly conscious of the puckered scars there too.
“Hey, are you listening? I’m dishing out some hot fresh word play on a silver platter and you’re just staring gormlessly into space – literal fucking space, might I add – like a dumbass,” Dave interrupts, snapping her out of her reverie. She looks at him, suddenly tense. She’s realising with stomach-churning finality one simple thing - she can’t do it.
“I have a proposition for you, Dave.”
Meanwhile, a million miles away, or maybe just a yard, Dirk Strider smacks his face against his keyboard.
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --
TT: I believe it would be customary to greet you before I come crashing into your world like some sort of meteor, triggered by the most obvious catalyst, a video game. TT: So, to be brief and drop the bomb like it’s hot, as Dave would say.
TT: Very nice to make your acquaintance, Dad.
TT: Woah, ok. That’s some pretty heavy shit to be dropping on a guy willy-nilly.
TT: And that was the wiliest nilly I ever saw got nillied on some poor teenage boy.
TT: Because if you can’t tell I’m kind of fucking distraught right now.
TT: Oh dear.
TT: It seems, as always, I stumble straight into a scene of patent Strider suffering. I know your woes are endless, but I really wish we could have a little perspective sometimes.
TT: My apologies. I thought we had a world to save.
TT: That is the rudest fucking slap back to reality I have ever received.
TT: Yeah, maybe that was a bit mean.
TT: My apologies. Perhaps I’m a little on edge.
TT: If I may ask, do you have any idea who I am?
TT: Sort of.
TT: You could say I have some friends on the other side who are keeping me informed of what’s going down in canon. Or at least that’s how she put it.
TT: A watcher from behind the fourth wall?
TT: I don’t know, she’s got all sorts of weird shit going on, and basically she’s like the most persistent and enthusiastic voyeur in the fucking world.
TT: Her ambiguous nonsense can be helpful sometimes though, so I’m not complaining.
TT: I would think twice about that, Mr Strider.
TT: I’ve found myself guided by a mysterious, and seemingly knowledgeable voyeur myself, and it only ended in suffering and being quite thoroughly, thoroughly screwed over.
TT: And he wouldn’t stop offering me candy.
TT: It was quite unnerving.
TT: Wow ok, yeah, that does sounds all kinds of f’ed up, and trust me kid, I’m no stranger to fucked up scenarios.
TT: I’m balls deep in one right now. In fact I’m balls-deep in one almost permanently.
TT: You’d think being balls deep in anything all the time would be a good thing, but nope.
TT: Lovely. Like father like son, I suppose.
TT: Is that you, Dave?
TT: Oh no, no, not at all. It’s not Dave.
TT: Rather, it’s the other little freak of nature from your ectobiological contribution to our rather limited gene pool.
TT: Yes, in a sort of round-about way, I’m your daughter.
TT: Wow, ok, so those little freaks of nature are a thing that is actually a thing now. Who knew, my kid’s a sun goddess or whatever it is you’re supposed to be.
TT: Don’t start calling me Daddy or whatever, I’m not about to fill a big “Daddy buy me a pony” shaped hole in your heart.
TT: It’s just Dirk to you.
TT: Rose Lalonde.
TT: A pleasure, Dirk.
Rose arrives into her new world with barely the grand entrance she really anticipated. Whilst John and Jade were steering a ship into a great billboard depicting Stiller and Wilson’s JPEG artefact-ed faces with great aplomb, John’s newly grown (and frankly shudder-worthy) hair flowing in the wind with enough majesty to cause even Mr Cage to feel a little envy, Rose found herself simply descending down upon a very mundane-looking set of Houston, Texas.
Of course, her descent was also on meteor-back, flying flaming to the rescue of a certain flaming, flailing coolkid.
Rose thinks that more than makes up for it.
As she raises her needles high above her head, she sees Dirk’s hands slip on the egg, she feels a little smirk quirk her lips, and brings the Quills of Echidna down with one powerful swing.
The meteor splits. The egg cracks.
TG: ok lol that was totes intentionall
TG: it sounds like yu got all up in all sorts of hot shit
TG: too hot for MR HOTNESS HIMSELF to deal with??
TG: ok ill stop being a dick for two seconds
TG: im tryin just to see if youre alright because yknow
TG: generally if ur buddy is going thru all sorts of crazy shots you should make surr theyr k
TG: *crazy shit
TG: lol i wish i was doin crazsy shots
TT: Urgh. Yes, I’m fine.
TT: Nothing wounded but my pride, Roxy.
Dirk Strider is, to Rose Lalonde, an enigma.
To Dirk Strider, Rose Lalonde is the girl who pulled a meteor apart with a pair of knitting needles and proceeded to descent from on high with nary a scratch on her, and a face that just screamed “Eat it, bitch”.
Naturally, with such budding fascinations with one another on the horizon, Rose found herself drawing back, clamping her shell firmly shut even as she saw Dirk doing exactly the same. She disappeared in to the red, red and green that swathed his entire land, and he busied himself with the strings he was so carefully, slowly tugging to move everything into place. Plan A had failed, time to move onto Plan B. He didn’t like when a situation slipped from his control so quickly.
The father-daughter reunion would have to wait. They were incredibly busy people.
Rose did what she did best, recede back into the shadows to plot and plan and tug strings from afar. She could meet him face to face later, it would be a nice stepping stone, she decided, before actually facing her mother. That was a conflict she was sure would ring through the ages.
For now the company of little dragons accompanying her in robes (bedsheets, stolen from one Dirk Strider, she suspected), would have to do. They were adequate company for the moment, she supposed, and her fate would lead her down an inevitably slippy slope where should would have to spend time with her long-lost teen father.
Her future with her long-lost teen mother, however, seemed stubbornly shrouded in mystery, much like the woman she knew from her old life. Switching her attention from Jade, John, and the stranded trolls, she focuses her mind into her crystal ball and gazes into the void that surrounds Roxy Lalonde.
To her surprise, she wasn’t allowed the usual solitude she forged for herself.
TT: So, what the hell.
TT: You’re welcome, by the way.
TT: The fuck was that. You ply a meteor apart, drop the smuggest face I ever saw on me and then vanish in your weird tangerine get up into my fruity fucking flowery rumpus land.
TT: That’s about the all and all of it.
TT: I have a lot of things to prepare.
TT: As a Seer I find myself with a lot more complex duties than an acclaimed Prince such as yourself.
TT: No, fuck that.
TT: I know what you’re doing perfectly well. You’re making yourself the textbook example of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, all pointy spines and curling in to yourself rather than dealing with the people bald yourself in front of you.
TT: That isn’t going to go down here, sunspot. You don’t just de-throne Dirk Strider and then run off.
TT: The Prince doesn’t take kindly to that sort of humiliation.
TT: I see.
TT: By stopping a meteor from colliding painfully into your face I am, in fact, entirely ruining your life like the merciless Succubus I am.
TT: Ok, no.
TT: Ok, you know what, we’re getting off on all sorts of wrong feet here.
TT: We’re a goddamn human centipede with feet slapping in all different directions. Our flapping, panicking gums tugging on puckered rectums, driving this fleshy trainwreck straight into the ground.
TT: The legs are up and flailing above us. Our collected faeces is hitting the roofs of our mouths.
TT: Ok. Stop. Consider the picture gotten.
TT: Just stop.
TT: Yeah, alright.
TT: The point I’m making here is if you think you can ride in on your little meteor and sweep the rug from under me in some comical funnywoman fashion, you’re wrong. TT: I’m Dirk Strider and I’m fuckin’ running this show. And you’ve stepped in when I’m having a bad day as is.
TT: So talk to me.
TT: I’m sorry, I really don’t understand what angle you’re going for here.
TT: Shouldn’t you be shooing me away? You seem like you want your estranged daughter out of your hair.
TT: Which is, may I add, exactly the reaction I envisioned whenever I imagined meeting my long-lost father for the first time. This is playing exactly to my melodramatic twelve-year-old expectations, thank you.
TT: Oh my God.
TT: Do you ever snap closed that incessant perfumey trap of yours?
TT: Ah, the crying call of the hypocrite. The pot from far away, screaming “You’re black!” to the kettle, who reciprocates the gesture.
TT: Yes, I do. It’s just fun watching you get so wound up.
TT: I’m not wound up.
TT: You’re wound up.
TT: I am so loose, you could fit the whole of the goddamn Muppets cast up there.
TT: Alright, alright, I’m chilled. As I said, I’m not a person who takes well to having their plans knocked out of place.
TT: I put down those pegs very carefully. I already had half of them uprooted and tossed aside by English.
TT: I don’t need some teenage ectodaughter riding in on a meteor and doing the same to the rest. Envision if I was sitting at a Monopoly board with a hotel on every last spot, and then you decide to come and kick the board over and roll in the pieces like one of Roxy’s mutant cats.
TT: Let’s not badmouth our feline friends, now.
TT: But I suppose I can sympathise. It can be rather hard to deal with when best laid plans go awry.
TT: However, I should remind you it’s in your best interest to have my assistance.
TT: I’ve been a part of this game for three years of my life now, already achieved god tier and have a lot of experience in combat as well as the finer mechanics of the game.
TT: Your co-players are already being escorted by a God.
TT: Should you refuse to cooperate with me – or force me to refuse to cooperate with you – you’ll be rather behind the others.
TT: Jade is particularly eager to find out what a fully realised Hero of Hope is capable of.
TT: I know, I mean I’m here tugging all these strings and working out all these schemes. You don’t think I’ve thought of that?
TT: Your enthusiastic puppet-mastery is certainly a trait I didn’t expect.
TT: Though, honestly, I should have expected it wholesale. My universe’s version of you always had a rather tight grip on Dave.
TT: More conversation on that at a later date, Dirk.
TT: I think we should at least attempt some small-talk before we crack open the many repugnant cans of worms I’m sure we have to share.
TT: Shall we form a truce?
Dirk’s land is rather unique, Rose thinks. She will always prefer the Land of Light and Rain. It makes sense, she thinks, being that lands are likely composed of psychological components of herself. She already has a notebook full of notes in lavender pen, scribbles about what the assigned lands the game generated might say about herself and her friends. As usual, results were generally inconclusive, aside from making some dubious aspersions towards Dave’s sexuality.
She leaned back on her makeshift seat, glancing up at the line, her eyes tracing the criss-crossing of lines connecting them, forming fully-formed images of Orion, Hercules, Hydra, all the sorts of heroes and creatures of mythology in brilliant blue in the sky. She was a little disappointed at the relative simplicity involved in the mythology motif. Based off his username, really? That didn’t give any real insight into his mind. Other than the legendary pretentiousness that ran in the Strider-Lalonde genes so proudly, of course.
She glances him slaying an imp with his jagged sword from across the water, and crosses, toes skimming the water. His face remains impenetrable.
There’s a vague stab of irritation in her gut. She had gotten so good at breaking, reading and unravelling Dave’s poker-face, mostly by virtue of digging her fingers into the gaps as they emerged. Which they did, frequently. More frequently than he would care to admit.
Dirk, however, was a different creature altogether. He stood taller, the absurd print of a hat on his jacket, a sword like a lightning bolt painted in, of all things, a rainbow. Lil Cal stands, eerily, on his feet. She has always thought Dave had exaggerated about his brother’s prowess with “flesh-stepping” and puppetry, but she found herself fidgeting and avoiding Cal’s empty glass gaze. There was something in the way Dirk posed him that seemed all too human and natural.
She had the unnerving sense that Dirk treated the little fabric monstrosity with a lot more care and sincerity than Dave would ever admit.
“How has the medium been treating you so far, dear father of mine?” she asks, settling beside him, gazing at his blank face from under her hood.
“You’re really gonna do that?” was his only, impassive response, followed by a dismissive shrug, “ Got cut off from damn near everyone I know, but hey, that’s how it goes, right?” he asks, shrugging and putting his hands in the pockets of his absurd leather jacket.
“Indeed, I found my communication time with my friends was very short during the game,” she says, and bites down on her lower lip, “I would advise against it, on the whole. I think it was a deciding factor in the little fiascos of our session.”
“Not gonna happen,” he tells her, sheathing his sword in his strife specibus, “Consider me in the midst of a tactical retreat.”
“Oh, from the backlash of your romantic misendeavours?” she asks, feeling a little smile tug at her mouth. His expression doesn’t change, not even by the sparest fraction of an inch.
“I’m going to presume that how you knew that has something to do with your little traffic cone get-up,” he says, and she tilts her head. Fashion critique from the man with an orange cap on the breast of his jacket, she never thought she’d see the day when she has to worry about that. The small niggling pieces of snark from Kanaya should she have chosen to spent the day in sweatpants and one of the boys’ T-shirts were bad enough.
“More to do with my ability to take great joy in predicting the Strider mind. Consider me an esteemed professor of the Strider psyche; an expert at the top of my field.”
“Delightful. A smartass precocious psychologist to help me through this utter mind-fuck of a game. Though I suppose it’s a bit fresh to have someone to attempts to make sense of what I do, rather than obliquely waiting for someone to tell him,” he replies, a little dryly. Cal folds his arms, and Rose feels herself flinch.
“Mr English, I presume?”
“Hey, tit for tat, sunspot. If we’re gonna be airing out our dirty laundry and gossiping like a pair of old ladies at the local Stitch-n-Bitch, I want to be getting some in return. You kids kind of just threw yourselves into our world through a closed window, bringing along aliens and birds and a menagerie of weird-lookin’ things, without so much a word of explanation or debriefing. I think we’re all owed a little bit of what went on behind the window.”
“That’s fair. Are you interested in a Stitch-n-Bitch by any chance? I’m sure I have some wool left.”
Rose almost sees him roll his eyes, before gyclopses shake the ground beneath their feet.
Dirk Strider is definitely a boy who thrives under strife and fire.
TG: so hows the douchebro
TG: have you managed to tear his tangerine eyes away from ponychan long enough to get anything done
TG: because im having a fucking ball hert
TT: For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to ignore that typo.
TT: And I won’t bother inquiring what ponychan is. I think I’ll be safe without the knowledge.
TT: He’s climbing the echeladder with alarming speed and tenacity. He’s a force to be reckoned with, no doubt.
TT: He keeps dropping hints that he wants to know all about your sordid past.
TT: I’ve told him, of course, in full all the stories about you having your ass kicked and finding yourself buried nose deep in lively Muppet rump.
TG: what th efuck laloned
TG: thats private and personal info you shoiudlnt be droppin so casuaully
TT: I was joking, Dave.
TT: I’ve been steering the conversation stubbornly into more neutral waters, however accidentally.
TT: I think it’s only fair to demand information in exchange for information, as my Seer capacities are frustratingly limited. They can’t see into the heart, after all.
TT: He, however, remains steadfastly unwilling to disclose.
TT: He’s a rather apt partner for verbal sparring or mind-games.
TT: This coming from the woman who spent 3 years squashed metaphorically and literally between Terezi Pyrope and Kanaya Maryam.
TG: oh my god
TG: you two are jjust doing this grade a stupid mashocism tango round each other aint you
TG: hes not a guy who drops information so readily into your greedy grubbing fangirl fingers
TG: just scut the crp cut his throat and start gathering up hoods and poofy princey pants like theyre going out of fashion
TG: and trust me that shit is going out of fashion
TG: going out of fashion so fast that
TG: oh whoops look at that tits gone
TG: *other typos i dont give a fuck about
TT: Good grief.
TT: In due course, I’m interested in making sure that Dirk has the psychological stability to achieve God tier, and whether that is really conductive to our mission of actually completing this damn game.
TT: What, have you already taken the time to lay our mother on her bed?
TG: dont say it like that
TG: dont pretend it wasnt intentional ive read your diariess you frigging pervert
TG: fucks sake *diaries
TT: Consider a wedgie on your way for the relentless pilfering of my personal musings, David.
TT: Well, has mother achieved god tier?
TG: we been busy
TT: It sounds like you’ve both been wasting a fuckload of time we don’t have to spare, to me.
TG: thinking with portals takes up a lot of time k
TG: and please remember
TG: knight of time
TG: practically made of it
TG: wait thats megido nevermind
TT: Your rapier wit at its finest, Dave.
TT: I think he’s already determined that he shall rise up soon enough, I think he’s just waiting for an appropriately dramatic moment to do it.
TT: If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that your brother definitely has a taste for theatrics.
TG: yeah how bout that little ms grimdark
TT: However, I think you should take your own work more seriously.
TT: It was agreed. All of us ascend to godhood, and we become a much more fearsome force to be reckoned with, even with this game relentlessly throwing all it can at us to remove us from existence.
TG: yeah no kidding even with this sweert cape im fuckin givin it all i got out here
TT: Jake removed from the equation, of course.
TT: Our familiarity with death should provide welcome assistance with the process.
TG: way to make it morbid lalonde
TG: shouldnt you be finding your way out ur linkin park phase by now
TT: Sacrificing our parental figures to a higher and more heroic cause is always going to be morbid, Dave.
TT: I just mean that, if we’ve seen something once we can see it again. For better or for worse.
Rose finds herself constantly surprised with little similarities between them.
She glances on Dirk’s face the same long nose she glimpses in the mirror every day, the same cheekbones and arched, pale eyebrows.
It’s more than that though, she thinks. She has always been strongly weighed more on the nurture side of the endless nature-nurture debate in psychological theory, perhaps as a way of making the distance between herself and her mother more broad and comfortable. However, she sometimes sees in Dirk the same proud haughtiness she herself can confess to, or the same way he will look down his nose at the whole world under his feet. The way he tugs and looks, the way he understands that things sometimes must be broken to be reassembled correctly, that sometimes the only way to make things right is to fuck things up. And to do it all with the flair of needless showmanship.
His land finds itself stripped of itself under their combined threat; temples destroyed in the name of quicker victories and spoils, enemies slain with a sort of over-zealous, competitive elegance, even the greenery that covers it, budding flowers which refuse to bloom sometimes become casualities of war.
It’s only when Dirk topples another column, white and marble, almost bringing it down on a flapping dragon’s head does she have a gut-wrenching sensation of déjà vu.
He looks at her, the column already rubble behind him, the little creature already safely out of the way, if alarmed by the puppet arms wrapped around its scaly torso so suddenly. She looks at him and suddenly feels a little sick. She shakes it off, waves it off. She will not be the one to falter.
“This is a little similar to my previous escapes. I’m falling back on myself, I’m afraid. I tried tearing the game to pieces to beat it at thirteen,” she tells him, pushing her fringe, damp with sweat, from her eyes and breathing in deeply, “Needless to say, it didn’t work. I’m somehow sensing we’re both letting our anger get away from us.”
He looks like he might say something; perhaps claim that neither of them are angry. Why would they be angry? They’re the most controlled – perfectly, painfully controlled – people that still exist. Instead he leans on his sword and nods. He’s sweating himself, she notices, every inch of him seems to tremble with some sort of anticipation to keep doing and fighting, like if he stops his heart will too.
She pulls down her hood and looks around. There don’t seem to be many enemies on the horizon. Just ruins and temples, lakes and flowers , and a thick path of battered and toppled buildings they vanquished on a relentless search for wherever Dirk’s Quest Bed may lie. She saw the occasional flicker of the stars, like something too great to be captured by normal sight swooped over them. Her Seer’s eye gave her the image of a great, arrogant god, a long serpentine body slithering amongst the constellations. She swore sometimes the stars themselves would flee.
She heaved a breath and tried to clear her mind, pushing closed that obnoxious, constantly prying eye in her mind. Sometimes everything she could see was blinding.
“Let’s relax for a moment,“ she says finally.
“We don’t have time.”
“I know. Let’s do it anyway.”
Rose sits down, not waiting for his response. Her feet ache, her back is tense and her wrists feel sore, and there is the constant sort of buzzing in the back of your head, like static, urging her to let her third eye to open again and look at all the light contained in what was left of the world. She suddenly felt like she was falling and stopping near the end of a very long race.
She glanced at Dirk as he pulled off his jacket, revealing some kind of ridiculous wife-beater that John would undoubtedly compliment, for the first time she notices how out of breath he is. If she pushing too hard? She doubts it. If asked, he would probably demand to be pushed further.
“What in God’s name is that?” she asks, eyes suddenly drawn to his shoulder. He glances at it, as if he’d forgotten it was there.
“Just some ink of an important cultural icon,” he says, looking down at her, “What is even the big deal?”
“It looks ridiculous. And forgive me for not being entirely clear on the law in Texas, but aren’t you a tad young to have a tattoo done?”
Dirk sits down, rubbing his thumb over his palm and the bumps of his fingers.
“So. Roxy’s a bit young to be getting mindlessly drunk every couple of days,” he points out, “Not like laws like that are particularly well-enforced. The drones aren’t as enthusiastic about enforcing laws that don’t result in an ingrate being culled.”
Rose finds herself shudder.
“Yes, well, we weren’t as keen on execution as a form of law enforcement where I’m from. Or, at the very least, it was a widely debated topic,” she says, her mind wandering back to her mother, still the unreliable drunk in this world as she was in her own.
“Sounds pretty crazy to me,” he says, “Though, if I’m gonna be blunt, the whole idea of the entire planet being ruled by an imaginary woman who makes fucking cake mixes for a living has always struck me as a bit nuts.”
She laughs, and he looks as though he’s caught off-guard by the sound.
“I suppose. However, with our little budding heiress, it surely wouldn’t have turned out that bad, would it?”
“Can’t say for sure. The ones with all the power would have been myself and Janey then, right? I’ve always had doubts about my moral fibre, and Jane herself is a very corruptible girl. I’d slip into the trap of being a douche who thinks he can treat the entire world like my own damn project, and Jane would be too slapped silly by a big fucking mind control oar to do anything about it.”
She looks up at him, blinking from the sudden outburst. He shrugs, still ever composed.
“Soz. I’m still keeping one eye on Derse, you know. Being in literally two fucking places at once makes it hard to keep a cap on whatever stupid shit might be trying to slip through the pretty fine security I’ve got going on all the way from my brain to my mouth,” he says. He looks up at the shadow chasing the stars again and says simply, “I’m gonna have to die to make this thing work, aren’t I?”
She only nods.
“Well, I’ve ripped apart robot copies of myself with my bare hands plenty,” he tells her, “It can’t be too different.”
Dirk’s home isn’t that different from what little she has seen of Dave’s over the years. A little expanded, fancier, though also worn, filthy, the look of a place only inhabited with the sort of begrudging attachment of one who has nowhere else to go. There’s no real love here.
Still, she thinks, the gathered clutter and dirt and old food left on paper plates and puppets by the sink are at least more comfortingly claustrophobic than her old home. She sometimes felt that her mother’s house was ostentatious to the point of emptiness, absurd wizard paraphernalia aside. She never felt like she quite knew every part of the house.
As it turned out, she remembered with uncomfortable clarity, she didn’t. Her mother remained a woman of many secrets.
She glances at her pesterchum app, at the numerous ignored messages in pink left for her, barely opened.
Somehow the girl so keen to meet her doesn’t measure up to the mysterious and enigmatic woman she knows. Rose has always found herself painfully averse to disappointment. As someone who will build up everything in her head to grandiose proportions, this presents a constant problem.
“There’ll be something I can alchemise here to get the job done,” Dirk says, picking through discarded robot parts, examining metal copies of his own head with a clinical eye. Unsatisfied, he tosses it aside.
“I advise against bestowing your robotic assassin with any sort of complex AI system. After all, we’ve seen every cliché in the book where a robot will think it too clever to remain second banana to a bag of flesh and blood,” she says, and the look he shoots her is so withering that she finds her raising both her eyebrows at him and almost stepping back.
“Trust me, I know. I got plenty an AI that gets a little big for his boots and gets to antagonising me at every turn.”
“The infamous auto-responder?”
She sits down on Dirk’s bed and leans back against the wall, watching his lean arms rip apart pieces of discarded machinery. She wishes desperately that the girl would stop pestering her. The fog that surronds her is infesting everything, and her second sight is growing dimmer and dimmer. She sees Dirk dead already, but where, and at whose hand? She sees John and Jade with perfect clarity, enjoying their time with their long-dead ancestors, however Dave and his companion are unreachable. Trusting Dave’s increasingly less coherent texts, however, she can safely say that nothing of any use is actually happening there.
“I trust you too show an admirable talent for dooming yourself as well then?” she asks, “Making a copy of yourself that would grow to become your own worst enemy strikes me as ironic in the least Strider sense of the word. Which is, generally, barely related to the actual definition of the word as is.”
“Yeah, you could say that. And I think I know what irony is fine, well, thank you,” he responds, voice dropping an octave, “What, what did you do that fucked yourself over?”
Rose sighs, resting her hands on the curve of her knee and leaning her head down.
“I made the mistake every preteen girl who thinks she’s smarter than she is makes. Convinces herself that someone hates her and misunderstands her,” she says, trying to sound as though the topic bores her to tears, “Rather than the situation being reversed. Every girl of gothic inclinations and insufferable arrogance considers herself a tragic victim. In my case, I was the tragic victim of a neglectful and vicious mother who didn’t care for me a jot. I was just too dumb to see this wasn’t right at all.”
He pauses, looking over his shoulder at her.
“If you’re my kid, and at this point I believe you are, you’re sure as hell going to be as smart as you think. If not even smarter,” he says, shrugging. Rose feels the bizarre sting of a back-handed compliment, and most of all the slightly clumsy delivery of this one. He turns back to his work, and she has to resist every urge to beam like a child whose crayon drawing has been put up on the fridge.
She lets Dirk’s tiny absurd pony nibble at her finger, eventually caving to take the whole creature into her hand and run her pinkie over its mane. Perhaps she will steal it, just to annoy him.
“Well what?” he asks.
“Well, I told you all about my little issue. Tit for tat, Strider.”
“I had grandiose and explosive fucking plans, of the romantic variety. And then out of nowhere I was thrown something completely unprecedented, I panicked because this wasn’t what I’d spent so much time constructing at all, and then I blew it,” he says, “And yes, before you be a smartass about it and ask, I’m talking about Jake fuckin’ English.”
“Who, if I understand it, is some kind of serial heart-breaker in this universe.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he says, and pauses again, “And hey, on the whole “Oh Mommy didn’t love me thing”, yeah, you’re right, you were wrong. Not stupid, I don’t think so anyway. Just wrong. All Roxy does all day is try to dig up whatever bits of you she can salvage, the girl’s pretty desperate. Writing for your wizard stories, gathering up any interviews or biographies or old photos or whatever the fuck she can get her glitter-covered alcoholic hands on. I can’t say for sure what kind of implications that would have in a universe I’ve never even set eyes on, but you can make of it what you will.”
“How did I die in your world?”
“Exactly the way you would’ve wanted to go. Can I ask the same question?”
“You’d get the same answer.”
They find Dirk’s quest bed nestled out of the way, surrounded by foliage that reaches up and obscures the glimmering stars and figures moving and running above. He places his hands on it and looks back at her.
“This ain’t a bed,” he comments. She nods.
“Yes, I though the same. It’s an altar, isn’t it? For laying out the white lamb, sacrificing innocence to a higher cause. Very poetic,” she comments, and the image flicks back to her mind of her feet on orange stone, Dave giving her a look of just abject dread, resignation and knowing that simply tore her heart from her chest, before everything turned to ash and she felt the light from every corner of the broken world rush into her body.
“It’s an interesting experience,” was all she could say at Dirk’s questioning look, and she shrugged, watching as he lay back on it, hands behind his head.
“So I press the button, a bot tears my heart out and bounds it into little heart gravel, and then I get my little hood and my princely fucking pantaloons,” he says. It isn’t a question, she notes, but there’s something about the way he says it that still seems a little lost. He looks at the device in his hand, and then back at the robot standing by waiting for orders.
He looks at her. Rose finds herself thinking of Dave again, smaller and younger in her memory, looking at her as they cracked open the heart of the universe. He extends his arm to offer her the device, and she almost recoils like he pointed the barrel of a gun at her.
He’s waiting to be told when to do it. She feels her eyes watching her expectantly, the same expression Dave bore on cracking open the Tumor and finding their demise within. She pushes the device towards him, away from her, and almost shudders as her palms make contact with metal. She’s not sure if she’s really capable of performing patricide.
“It’ll be easier if you do it. We’re all about efficiency here, right?” he asks.
“As much as I like to detach myself. I’m not sure I truly can be a cold-blooded killer, or help in assisted suicide,” she says, pausing as the irony of the statement sinks in, and she remembers the good Doctor she agreed to help do just that to, “Not of a friend, anyway.”
“You know it’s not a big deal. If anything, it’s all imagery. Clever little allegories and storytelling devices the game likes to put us through. Damn, I know you’re a writer, I know you play around with those things, you know in the end the symbolism don’t mean shit.”
He says all that, his face remains impassive, and if she didn’t have a Second Sight, or an expert understanding of Strider-Lalonde thought processes, she may have been fooled. She can feel it though, something small and fragile trembling within him, the same thing that makes her refuse the device, lets her hands slip and stumble on her needles for but a nanosecond before plunging into an ogre’s skull. A crack below the surface, one she suspects he shares.
“The story won’t work like this,” she says, looking at his thumb over the button, the robot buzzing unresponsively nearby, “None of us got God Tier like this. It was always a result of circumstances, never our intent.”
“So you think you can’t get this shit if you actually mean to?”
She pauses. She doesn’t. There was a troll who managed as much when it was her full intent to do so.
“Yes, I don’t think this is the way to do it,” she says. He sits up, and she notices the small beads of sweat forming under the sweep of his bangs.
“So we’ve just gotta keep trotting along on our predestined path, like everything else in this game, waiting for a chance to ascend?” he asks. She nods, feeling her nails dig into her palms.
“I think. I think we’re not the type of people who can break the glass ceiling. That sort of duty belongs to the heroic and spontaneous,” she says.
“Someone like Jake, you mean,” he responds instantly, reading her mind. Jade and John were always the children destined to save the world. Rose doesn’t resent it. As much as Dave yearns to be the boy who punches a hole into the sky, as much as she tried to do the same, she thinks she can make peace with the fact she will not be that hero.
To some extent, anyway.
“Yes, their side of the family lean a lot more towards heroics like that? Jade was the one who smashed the barriers between our worlds, after all, and John is the boy who thinks Cameron Poe is one to look up to.”
To her surprise, Dirk instantly groans and presses his hands over his face.
“Was it something I said?”
“Just. Fuckin’ Con Air.”
Dirk ascends the echeladder with the speed and ferocity Rose would expect from his character. It is not without the pervasive questions about Dave, or his possible Godhood, however.
“I remember watching that piece of shit film a lot, y’know. He was kind of obsessed with it,” he mentions to her, yanking his sword from the skull of an enemy, head a shapeless sphere. The un-prototyped enemies were a little unnerving in their blandness, like glitches in video games, skeletons, things stripped bare of something not quite identifiable. She tears one apart like it was made of paper.
“So, your suggestion is that Dave’s friendship with John resonated with him enough so that he would keep that bunny in a shrine? Interesting. Then again, the bunny did get passed along a lot. It may be symbolic of all of us.”
“Maybe. You know, you did kind of similarly weird shit,” he says, dark ink from one enemy rolling down his cheekbones, “I’ve read Complacency of the Learned, almost as much as Roxy has, and there’s a things that reoccur that seemed odd. Deceased cats, names. There’s a character, one of the High Wizards, and sometimes you capitalised every word in her dialogue. Fuckin’ weird.”
“Roxy’s tried to figure out what all that shit means a million times. Not that I like to interfere with this stuff – “ (She snorts.) “- but you should talk to her. Smooth out those creases and messed up mother issues of yours. Both of yours.”
“What about yourself?”
An enemy tries to sneak up on him, she destroys it with a flick of her wrist, floating five feet above the ground and looking down on him.
“I have my issues, and I handle them by myself. I’m regulated, I’m open about them, but it’s none of your business. I handle just fine.”
“You still want to talk to him, though.”
“You still want to talk to her.”
She sighs through gritted teeth, a throb of a headache forming behind her eyes. Dirk is frustrating sometimes, so frustrating. He continually insists on trying to pull the hood over her eyes – metaphorically speaking – and tries to trick her at her own game, pulling words around her and tripping her up. At times, she loves it, at others, she wants to throttle him for trying to usurp her own position.
“Perhaps. I’m working towards it. You, however, never made any effort to connect with Dave in even his universe. Even when the potential for plentiful fraternal bonding is there, you avoid it, or go about it in such an oblique way that there’s a large chance it wouldn’t even be interpreted as genuine interest in another human being,” she says, as they tear the last of the gyclopses in two between them. Rose looks at him, inclining her head, “Look at what happened with Jake, after all.”
She feels her weapon strike a nerve, and the tingle of triumph that runs up her spine is washed away quickly by that flicker on Dirk’s face, something not quite sad or angry but indignant. For a second, she thinks she has went too far.
“Rude,” he says, jaw tense. She drifts down to him with a sigh, bringing a handkerchief (lovingly embroidered with an ode to daughterhood) from her sylladex and dabbing his cheek with it.
“It’s a harsh truth, Dirk,” she says. He knows she will never apologise, he knows he won’t because he never would either.
He stares at her like a lost puppy, and suddenly she wants to hug him, a strange and foreign desire to encircle her arms around his shoulders like she imagines a big sister or a mother or someone who knows more and can protect more than a bunch of broken children, but her hands remain by her side and he looks and looks, because he needs someone to care and take care of him for once, but they look at each other, and
Her back is against the wall, propped against a pillow on his bed. His back is to her, and there is a silence surrounding them that she doesn’t find uncomfortable. He’s working on a robot, some creation of his to aid in their quest, and she’s simply letting her mind wander. She watches John and Jane, in some far-off place fighting, Jane downcast and John oblivious. She watches Jade and Jake, in equal awe of each other, pose and yell and bounce off one another like overexcited brother-and-sister. Which, she supposes, is closer to what they are than reality. Dave and Roxy are shadowed over, again. The messages from her stopped a while ago, and she supposes that she has trapped herself again. Pushing herself out of reach and then being bitter when nobody reaches out – the Rose Lalonde story. Perhaps she will write an autobiography with that as the tag-line, one day.
Rose notices Dirk’s hands fall still. The muscles in his back continue to twitch, and if she focuses she can see him looking up at Derse, but her view is fogged by that constant, cloying darkness. Mother has, presumably then, passed out, she decides.
“She’s sleepwalking isn’t she?”
“Yeah, for fuck’s sake, will you let me surprise you with one thing already?” he mumbles, hands tensing, breath shaking out in low pants, “Fuck. This douche is out for Lalondian blood again.”
Dirk lay behind her, curled in on himself and occasionally fidgeting in his sleep. From outside of the apartment, she saw enemies, ink black and candy corn orange, advancing in hordes. This was a session that, even without interference from her session’s Noir (yet, yet she had to remind herself. He was sure to find them), this game was battering them relentless with unnaturally powerful enemies. Dirk suspected Crocker intervention, but she was beginning to become sure that everyone in this world shared Johns’ completely absurd phobia of the woman.
She drew her needles from her specibus, and watched the ranks advance.
She only wished someone was pestering her she could show off to.
TT: You’re still fast asleep. How are you pestering me, exactly?
TT: I fucked up.
Everything was getting too quick for her tastes. She hefted Dirk’s body, heavy with sleep, onto her back and began to fly as fast as the light would take her, still armed and ready should anything happen. As much as her god powers helped, she was never one for physical strength, and the weight of a teenage boy, stretched gangly and tall from puberty, was difficult for her to bare.
It was nothing she couldn’t handle, it was simple a precaution. In event of imminent demise, find Quest Bed post-haste. That had always been the plan, one that Dave had stumbled on and missed. Their group would now be without a fully realised Hero of Hope or Hero of Void, and Rose could only hope that whatever powers heroes of Heart and Life possessed would be more than enough to make up for it.
TT: You’re not Dirk.
TT: Why do you say that?
TT: You’re the Auto-Responder.
TT: I think I can tell apart two different entities, even if they labour under the same chumhandle.
TT: Let’s please do away with this absurd charade of “Oh no, prove it, outwit me”, because quite frankly you and I both know who will come out victor, and now is hardly the time for a debate on the more dubious aspects of artificial intelligence.
TT: Alright, you got me, princess. Dirk’s out for the count at the minute, though. He can’t focus on both bodies enough to type right now, the entirety of Derse has exploded into full-scale war, with the Prince and the Rogue caught in the middle of it.
TT: She isn’t dead?
TT: I don’t think so.
TT: Being a self-possessed artificial entity contained within a pair of rad shades, it’s hard for me to account for what’s happening on a metaphysical plane outside the scope of my consciousness, but from what I can gather there’s a 73% chance the Rogue is very much alive.
TT: That statistic being one I pulled from my non-existent ass right this minute.
TT: Point being that we still have the chance of following through with our amazingly half-assed plan?
TT: Did it really take you three years to come up with that, by the way?
TT: The issue was debated, and eventually we left the decision in John’s hands.
TT: The idiot with the mullet.
TT: I’d much prefer you didn’t call my very intelligent if slightly naïve and short-sighted friend “an idiot”, but yes, basically.
TT: I don’t even have an actual capacity for sight. I’ve just calculated the likelihood of him being a person who think it’s fashionable to grow your hair out so you look like an unwashed action hero that got stuck in the Jumanji board for several years, and the numbers came out at solid 100s.
TT: Alright, for one I don’t believe you really have the capacity to calculate a person’s unfortunate haircut.
TT: And another, getting stuck in some kind of absurd reality-bending game for several years is exactly what we fucking did. So cut the crap.
TT: Yeah, I know. And ok, ok.
TT: That isn’t the point. I need to know what to do. I’ve reached Dirk’s quest bed and he’s asleep on it, but I’m not sure if I want to exacerbate the situation further.
TT: You know what you need to do.
TT: You have to kill him.
TT: We have to kill them.
TG: sounds easy enough
TT: At least we aren't in each others' positions.
TG: wouldnt that be a bitch
Dirk’s sword feels strange in her hands.
TG: she looks a lot like you
TT: It isn’t me, Dave.
TG: fuck she looks a lot like me too
TG: in a creepy what if i was a drunk chick wearin too much eyeliner way
TG: idk man this is all a bit goddamn sick dont you fucking think
TT: This was the plan, Dave. All along, this was the plan.
TG: yeah and i thought it was stupid bullshit that wouldnt pan out then and its stupid bullshit that wont pan out now
TG: lalonde what do i do
She tries to look into her path, the path she shares with Dirk, but it’s clouded. Her heart is beating too hard and fast. The safety net has been snatched from under her.
TT: You need to kill him.
TT: Rose, listen to me, you need to kill and you need to kill him now.
TT: This is the advice of a nonhuman and completely fucking unbiased machine talking, and generally I’m right about these things. I’m designed to be right about these things.
TT: You’re not nonhuman, or unbiased.
TT: You can’t push me through with it that way.
TT: Kill him.
TT: Hurry up, kill him.
TT: This isn’t unbiased. You want this success for yourself, too.
TT: I don’t live through him.
TT: Yes, you do.
TT: Your hands are shaking.
They’ve discussed and re-thought this so many times between them. She suggested that the unprototyped kernelsprites may inhibit the process, he pointed out that her and the others’ presence in a session that wasn’t truly there may corrupt the process. She had a list of doubts and issues to be explored as long as her arm, one that only the others could really resolve. They never asked for help, merely explored options they weren’t qualified to decide upon.
She grits her teeth.
TG: rose help
TT: Rose, do something.
The blood is on her hands and on her face, and she tastes the tang on her lips.
The sword spears through his heart and the stars draw near.
It has been a while since she saw him last. She has to admit, his outfit looks as every bit completely absurd as previously imagined. The fact the game chose to put Cal in much the same outfit didn’t really help the absurdity of the sight. The little pony nestled in his hood, even less-so. He notices her gaze and removes the tiny Maplehoof with his hand. She smiles as he floats towards her, and she wonders what he’s been doing whilst AWOL, whether he’s used to having only one cohesive self yet.
“Yo,” he greets, one hand raised, and the other offering the tiny absurd horse, like the last time she saw him she wasn’t driving a blade through his still-beating heart. At least, she thinks, she knows there’s no bitterness remaining.
“Nice to see you again, Dirk,” she says, and is surprised how much she means it, “Where have you been?”
He shrugs, and Cal mimics the motion exactly. Rose has to wonder if that’s puppetry or some bizarre effect of his newfound God powers. Dave will simply have a panic attack if that’s the case.
“Just fixing some shit up, stitching up some holes that needed stitching. I would’ve thought you’d have been tracking me the whole time.”
“A little. I saw you talking to Jane, which I thought was a bit of a strange choice. Somehow, I expected you to go to Jake and impress him with your sick new duds,” she says, glancing pointedly at his pants.
“We’re still working on that. Me and Jane owed each other an eye-to-eye talk really badly, that’s all,” he explains with yet another impassive shrug. Rose lands and looks up at the now-clear sky, and his eyes follow.
“You -?” he starts, but she cuts him off with a flippant hand-gesture.
“It wasn’t a big deal, he’s still alive and licking his wounds somewhere. After all, it’s not my Denizen to slay, is it? You’ll be there to throw the final punch, I’m sure.”
Dirk blinks behind his sunglasses, before letting out a low whistle that in any lesser man would be accompanied by an “oooh boy” or “god daaaaamn”. She takes it as a prime gesture of admiration all the same.
“What about you? You talked to her yet?” he asks, and she cringes so visibly all he needs to say is “Ah”. It wasn’t for lack of messages. In fact, Roxy bombarded her with texts, one attached to an enthusiastic picture of herself in her new blue hood and mask, a rather tired and possible hung-over Dave staring on uselessly in the background. She’d been almost tempted to text back with some Mr Egbert-esque “I’m proud of you message.”, but somehow she thought it would sound insincere.
The irony was that it wasn’t insincere at all. A life time of passive-aggressive communication and insincerity within insincerity within insecurity, all culminating in a mutual desperation for approval and validation, and a mutual inability to supply either. It was a disaster; it would always be destined for disaster.
“Nothing good can come out of it, Dirk,” she says, “We’re both destined to never understand each other by an inch. Our relationship is best described as the SS Titanic, floating inevitably towards the jagged doom of the iceburg.”
“Hey, ain’t my place to tell you what to do, I just think you two lost out on a lot. Ro-Lal spent all her time trying to figure you out, writing your characters like that’d let her get just an inch closer. I just think you two could be sitting there talking all day about how rad wizards are rather than doing this weird masochistic tango you’ve got going on.”
“You’re not the first to say as much.”
“Am I not? Well damn, I thought I was being really poignant and perceptive, turning your life around on a single bit of dialogue. Before you say anything, I know for a fact that you can’t fix a life with a few stupid platitudes, I’m not wholly an imbecile,” he says, then nods, “I still haven’t spoken to the other Strider beyond a few empty exchanges.”
They look at each other quietly.
“Dirk, would you like to make a deal?”
TG: where r u davey has been telling me all bout you
TG: so has dirk cactually
TG: he said you mite talk to me
TG: lol did you just steal both these strider boys hearts???
TT: I don’t think I did.
TG: well w/e i know you been up to all sorts of crazy stuff up on lomar
TT: You could say that. I’m sure you’d find it boring.
TG: no i wouldnt!!! jeeeeeeeez
TG: ive been dyuin g to talk to you
TG: im not even tha\t drunk these typoes are just me flipping the fuck out
TG: thats the extent of how pumped i am for this shit
TT: Nothing, I’ve just been recently contemplating a few things. About myself, for the most part. TG: uh
TG: so uh to get this akward shit offa the ground its all but goddamn nailed to
TG: ire ad your novel
TT: What did you think?