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In the Empire of Alternia

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This is the Index Page, where you can follow each subplot individually, or you can just go and read the story progression naturally.

"??????????????" are plots that the names or actual categories would spoil things that are yet to be revealed (Or I haven't thought of a good name).

Intermissions

Intermission 1: Roxy Lalonde

Highborn Culture

Chapter 1: Equius Zahhak

Chapter 2: Equius Zahhak

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Chapter 1: Sollux Captor

JUST1C3

Chapter 1: Terezi Pyrope

Chapter 2: Eridan Ampora

The Trials of the Common

Chapter 1: John Egbert 

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Chapter 1: Polypa Goezee

Chapter 2: Meulin Leijon

Bronze

Chapter 1: Tavros Nitram

Arachnid Endeavours

Chapter 1: Aranea Serket

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Chapter 1: Kanaya Maryam

Chapter 2: Porrim Maryam

Red

Chapter 1: Aradia Megido

Chapter 2: Aradia Megido

The Dark Carnival

Chapter 1: Gamzee Makara

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Chapter 1: Dave Strider

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Chapter 1: Vriska Serket

If you wish to ask me some questions about the fic, or make a suggestion or two then have a look at me Tumblerino. 

A cool link thing

Chapter Text

   In the midst of the mingling, dancing and eating of the most expensive foods, Equius stood alone, sipping at the glass of pristine water in his hand, most of his focus trained on keeping the glass from shattering under an accidental excess of strength. That would be disastrously embarrassing, and would make his social standing among his peers sink even lower. The thought of such a horrifying event happening made his breath quicken, and he could feel himself beginning to sweat. He tried to distract himself before he filled his corner with his pungency. Another unfortunate happening conspiring against him.

   Placing down the glass before his anxiety caused him to shatter it, the Heir of Sagittarius looked around the room, trying to find another member of aristocracy that he could easily converse with, as to not merely stand silent at the side of the mass of pleasantries and political discussions the entire night. He would need to converse and build himself a standing, a character. These were the things his father had told him. So he would obey.

   Trying to find someone he recognised, Equius scouted out the many interesting and sometimes eccentric individuals of the Higher Houses. From his seemingly safe spot, he could see the heir of Aquarius. Were it not for his much higher standing, Equius would have been happy to put that one in his place. His actions and suggestions were disgusting. When he had heard him disrespect the name of the Heiress of the Empire, the temptation of challenging him had risen to nearly unbearable, but alas, he could not risk failure, or ruining his image. Even now he was using his standing and power to harass a flustered and near panicking servant.

   Turning his gaze away from the Ampora, the Zahhak sought out another. His gaze soon settled on one of the Cerulean House. Vriska, he knew her personally. He was surprised they had even let a member of her family into the happening, as wild and unpredictable as they were, although some would argue that politics without the cutthroat ruthlessness of a House Scorpio just wasn’t the same. Despite the fact that he felt comfortable speaking to her, he could see very clearly the great chance of Vriska taking the opportunity to publicly embarrass him if he did not go along with her exploitative demands. The Serkets could be like that, he had heard. He decided to leave her to the current battle of wits she was no doubt playing.

   His eyes eventually settled on a true eccentric. All members of House Capricorn were. Seeing one in such a tame outfit as a mere deep purple suit, with far more subtle face-art than normal, was truly a surprise, even more so when Equius recognized him as the son of the Head of the House. Gamzee Makara, of the true bloodline of Capricorn. He was truly a madman. He stood taller than most others there, and his hair was certainly wilder, even if it was a trained house dog to the usual feral lion that it usually was. It was a few seconds later before the Sagittarius understood why his mane was so well groomed, as the most important person present at the happening linked her arm in his, giving a bored and unamused look at everyone around her. The Heiress Trizza of House Pisces, untouchable both politically and physically, began chatting away with the tall highborn, who looked down on her with lazy eyes, and a calm smile on his face.

   The Heiress was undoubtedly the best dressed, wearing her fuchsia and black dress, with a long black cape coming down the back, a staple in almost everything she wore, the Zahhak had heard. On her wrists she wore two black, gold lined bracers, and across her forehead sat a gold circlet with a fuchsia gem in the centre. If anyone else had worn something so short, or as revealing, they surely would have been gossiped about and commented upon, distaste shown to them to their face. But when it came to the Heiress of the Empire, one wouldn’t dare, for her word was near law.

   Realising that he still was yet to converse with another guest, Equius quickly spied out one last person that he could recognize. He had to talk to someone, so he might as well go with whoever was next.

   His searching growing somewhat frantic, Equius finally settled on the other Ampora. Closer to his age, this one was less disgraceful than his brother, but far more ambitious. He definitely had a larger appetite for looking extravagant. The first Ampora seemed to go with the bare minimum in terms of attire, but this one was all out. In addition to an incredibly detailed and designed dark suit, he wore a violet cape over it, as well as a thin scarf wrapped tight around his neck. He was also known as a passionate pursuer of magical power. Even now Eridan Ampora, of House Aquarius, stood with his eyes devouring every word of the book that he held close to his face.
Deciding that it would be an adequate start to converse with one such as him, Equius prepared to make his way over. He quickly thought of a topic to speak about. Perhaps the pros and cons of magic and technology, with some comparison as practitioners of each. Hopefully he is not too heavy on the side of magic, and open to some manner of discussion.

   Carefully picking up his glass, Equius drained the last of its contents, and turned to make his way to the large ornate window looking across the arcane district, where the young Ampora stood, engorging himself on his knowledge. As he leaned forward to begin his steps, someone put themselves in his way. Looking down slightly to see their face, Equius tensed up, recognising them immediately by the colours they wore.

   Another girl of fuchsia stood in front of him, regarding his tall frame with a curious look. She had a circlet of gold across her forehead, much the same as her sister, although she wore a much less declarative outfit. She had much more subtle makeup than her sister, but more gold adorned her. Her wide eyes looked up to him somewhat expectantly. What did she expect him to do? What was he supposed to do? There was social protocol for this wasn’t there? At least he though there was. Equius brain seem to catch and slow, as he desperately tried to remember what he should say to an Heiress of the Empire, who could have him killed with little effort should he displease her. Instead of doing what he wanted it to do, his mind raced to the best way to defend himself should she order her two guards to slaughter him.

   He was just reaching the part of his plan regarding the guards at the front gate, which there should be three of at this hour, if his observations that had decided to come to mind instead of what he definitely should be focusing on were correct, when she cleared her throat with a little cough. A breach of protocol surely, for clearing ones throat to get the attention of someone at a party of high class such as this was regarded as rather rude although not as a rude as tapping them on the shoulder, or waving your hand in front of their face, or calling their name out, or knocking their drink out of their hand, or yelling an obscenity at them, or punching-

   “Uh, you okay?” the girl giggled, raising an eyebrow.

  Instead of the dignified, reverent and respectful reply Equius knew he should give, he responded thusly:

   “Uhhhhhhh”

   Sweat began to drip down the Sagittarius’s forehead as he shook his head, clearing away the confusion and beginnings of the painful headache he was dangerously close to having. The Heiress had just asked him a question and he replied with a groan. Trying to ignore the fierce blushing of his face, he finally answered her.

   “Um, yes I am quite alright, thank you, miss, uh…” Equius froze once again. He was speaking to the Heiress… and he had forgotten her name. This was truly the moment he would be carried to the dungeons, disowned and his House slaughtered in the bloodshed of the genocide he was sure to cause.

   But the girl didn’t scream for his arrest, or order her guards to cast him from the windows. Instead, she merely smiled, let out a small giggle again and replied. “Feferi, and are you really sure you’re alright? You were standing krill for like a minute you know?”

   A sharp intake of breath. “Oh.” He whispered simply. “I was not aware, no.”

   A wide smile filled the girls face, his ineptitude somewhat amusing for her. She stuck out her hand, taking the first step in the social protocol, guiding him along in what he should be taking the reins in. Jarred along by her actions, he reached out and went to take her hand, before stopping. This was the part that presented biggest challenge to him usually, and it was even more crucial that he not mess this up, yet it was all the more likely that he would.

   Slowly bringing his hand away, the Zahhak looked down in shame. “I am sorry, my lady, but I cannot.” Of all the accidents and embarrassment his curse had caused him, this was sure to be the worst by far. Having to reject the politeness of the Heiress. This was truly a curse above all others.

   “Oh,” Feferi replied, tilting her head slightly in confusion. “May I ask why?” She lowered her hand down a bit. Equius glanced at her guards, two large whirring and clinking automatons. Creations of his House.

   He hesitated a moment before replying. “My name is Equius Zahhak, Heir of Sagittarius.” It was all he had to say. He could see the realisation dawn on her, as she let her hand go down to her side.

   After a moment of pity taking over her once happy and wide eyes, Feferi spoke.

  “I know you now… I’m really…” she trailed off, and looked at the two guards beside her, and to the nearby highborn who had grown suspiciously quiet around them. Equius hadn’t noticed it until she drew attention to it. “Hungry,” she finished. “Can I just?” She walked around him to the banquet which he had been loitering next to for several hours.

   Without speaking another word to him, she gathered some choice pieces of food from the exquisite table. He watched her with his eyebrows raised in confusion. Had he done something wrong? This was highly unexpected.
   He was so caught up in his wondering he almost missed her jot something down quickly onto a small napkin, before taking off into the crowd, her guardians following quick behind. With much apprehension, he approached the table, and studied what she had written.


Meet m-E in t) (e nort) (ernmost tower in twenty minutes
Make sure no-on-E follows you


   His head quickly snapping around to search for any who might have gleaned the notes contents, Equius saw some other aristocrats staring at him. Folding and stuffing the napkin into an inside pocket of his overcoat, he turned to indulge himself in the banquet. His mind raced over the events of the previous minute. How truly peculiar they were.

   For the next fifteen minutes the watchful Zahhak frequented the several banquet tables of the happening, hoping that the other partygoers would lose interest and hope in seeing what his next actions were to be. After partaking in foods that the Lower Houses could only dream of having, and drinking water of such enchanted purity and flavour that the common folk would be shocked to know that it even exists, Equius eventually found himself seemingly free of watchers. Taking two glasses of the miraculous liquid, the Heir began his trip through the large castle belonging to a member of Aquarius.

   It was among the finest pieces of architecture one could hope to see, even if the interior decoration was somewhat lacking in the necessary complimentary style one would want for a building such as this. Passing by the windows that even his father could fit through, Equius found himself gazing out at the city, observing the waves of lights, and the columns of smoke as he walked. The city of Alternia was surely something to behold. Even if it was brutal and rough to look at, it represented the progression, ingenuity and power of the Empire, and held all sorts of wonders. As he ascended the spiral tower, he caught a view of some of the districts.

   The Arcane District, presided over by the Gemini House, and once by the Aries House, with a decent presence of Aquarius interest. It was a place of wonders that could bend the mind. It was also the most dangerous district to frequent, as the likelihood of being struck by a renegade spell was larger than one would expect. The many towers stood out startling colours from the rest of the city. Twelve towers, each held by an ambassador of a House, had brightly coloured lights at the top. They mostly looked identical, save for the Pisces, which stood the tallest and most magnificent, and the Aries, which had much damage sustained to its walls. In the centre of all these towers was a large pit, the walls lined with Houses, laboratories and yet more towers.

   The Engineering district was next, and it was the most familiar, although he had never seen it as spectacularly as this. It was his home, which his House had the strongest presence in, near unchallenged. Even Aquarius had little say or reach there. He could almost smell the intense scent of grease and smoke that permeates its streets, and caused almost everyone to wear some form of balaclava when travelling. The sound of machinery working away could be heard in every building, and the sight of automatons walking the pavement was quite common, even if those of other districts would be in awe to see one. Although even he had to admit that its glory had diminished after the… incident.

   The district of Justice and Imperial Order stood proud in its corner. This was the playing grounds of Libra, the hands of law in the Empire. They were fiercely loyal, and even from here, at this late hour, he could see groups of soldiers being trained in the courtyards, surrounded by the imposing barracks, armouries and prisons. The prisons were less used than they were in the reign of the previous empress, as this one much preferred simply killing most lawbreakers, or selling them into slavery. He had been there a small number of times, when his father was making trade deals with representatives of the House.

   At last he reached the top room of the tower, and stepped out into a room of luxury. Several inviting chairs sat around a large open fireplace that burned fiercely, the crackling of flame filling the room. Taking a few cautious steps into the room, Equius could see no sign of the Heiress. Turning away from the fire, the Zahhak placed the glasses on the table, and made his way out to the balcony and gazed out at the city expanse below him. He could see two more districts from his new perch.

   The trading ports were audible even from here, the bells and calls of sailors from city carrying themselves up to him. This district was completely belonging to Aquarius, almost every business under their thumb, and every merchant tied to their banks. The only ones that weren’t were those under the patronage of a certain Marquise. Quite a controversial figure that one. But Equius drew himself away from that sight, and turned to the left of the mouth of the river, seeing the Royal District.

   Truly the most extravagant and impressive of them all, this one was the pinnacle of all the Empire’s achievements. Architecture, technology and magic, all combined to make the beauty that was the palace and its gardens. The grey walls were adorned with Fuchsia banners, and gold tower-tops stood proud. Within the walls patrolled dozens of guardian machines, Empire soldiers, and magical summons. He hoped that one day he may see the palace up close. Which he may, if he could but overcome his greatest challenge.

   “Oh good, I was getting worried I wouldn’t find you here.”

   Equius turned to the Heiress, who stood smiling at the door. She walked joyfully out to join him at the edge of the balcony, and stared out at the ocean. He could see her wide eyes lit by the moonlight, and he glanced up to see the two orbs that hung in the sky, but frowned slightly as they were covered over by clouds. They stood there, leaning against the rail for several minutes of calm solace, in which Equius felt that he could actually breath, and his stress lessen. It was after these minutes that Feferi finally spoke again.

   “I meant to say: I’m really sorry about what my mother did to your family. It wasn’t fair.”

   The Heir’s face fell, as he looked down at the city. He felt his sorrow return, and he tucked his arms tighter against himself. “What my brother and father did was extemporized and foolish.” He spoke simply, frowning.

   “What your father did was right. Although I don’t know much about your brother’s incident, I can tell that down beneath all that social pressure, you agree that he’s in the right too.”

   “They doomed our House.”

   “Not if you succeed.”

   “And what makes you think I can?” Equius turned to her, his brow furrowed. “What makes you think I can get any footing in this callous world poised against me?” He straightened up, annoyance, sadness, and what he could only describe as fear filling him. He looked down to the ground as he continued.

   “Do you know what they call me in hushed whispers when they think I cannot hear? What fate they believe will overtake me and render me and my House naught but exenterated corpses in the cold ground? They call me the “Heir of Void” for they think I will inherit nothing. That I will fail my exponential challenges. Even my brethren of my House see me as a naught but a distasteful failure.”

   Equius spat out the last two words, sweat dripping down his forehead as he grew yet more agitated and anxious. He clenched his fists, and heard his knuckles cracking.
“A lamentable wretch, who is more suited to the elementary work of an imbecilic such as I! This is what my own House thinks of me!” His voice was grated and hoarse now, sweating even more now. “And now you, one who has been handed gratifying existence on a platter of gold, tell me that I believe that my family, who dragged me into the excruciating enigma of this damned social ladder, are in the right!”

   Equius looked up to Feferi finally, and felt his anger drain away, and regret take its place. He stepped back away from the Heiress, and turned to look out at the city again, trying to ignore the look laden with sadness, hurt and… fear. Leaning down, feeling his breaths become heavy with emotion, Equius opened his mouth to speak, before stopping, and staying quiet.

   It felt like hours until Feferi walked up to stand beside him, but judging by the movement of the illuminated spots in the clouds, it was only minutes. After another torturous moment of waiting, she reached and placed a hand upon his arm, feeling the muscles tense beneath his suit. There was a pregnant pause, followed by the Heiress speaking once more.

   “What did your brother do?” A simple question, one that evoked many emotions in Equius. His grip tightened on the stone rail, and he distinctly heard the cracking of the rock. She was asking about the most damning moment of his life, the one that had forced him into a hell of his families making. The one that he hated his brother for. That had caused him to speak not a single word to the poor disowned boy ever since. Months of silence all because…

   “He... He had a heart.” Equius let out a sigh, and seemed to deflate, his shoulders sagging and head drooping low. He felt like even more of a disgrace now. He turned to look at Feferi in shame, seeing her inquisitive eyes.

   “It was on the morn of a summer’s day, I can remember it in its explicit detail. In the air hung a mist, tenebrous and auspicious as it could be. We were standing on the platform outside the eastern gates, seeing Her Imperious Condescension off to one of her bi-annual rituals in the wilds.”

   Equius began his story, his eyes training themselves on the palace before him. Feferi didn’t move either, intent on hearing what he had to say.
“One of the horses leading the procession, however, something was wrong with it. I think it was sick. One as nauseated as it shouldn’t have been selected for the Condescension’s procession, it was a mistake. It started to trip up, wavering in its stride, until at last it fell. I could hear the gasp of my brother beside me. And my father behind me. Gasping for separate reasons of course.

   “When the Condescension was held up, she got angry. I should have expected what was going to happen the moment I saw her face. It was filled with anger. She looked down upon the horse, the poor, noble, beast, and she raised her arm, lightning crackling between her fingers. And that is when Horuss damned me to my suffering.”
The Zahhak took a deep sigh. He felt Feferi give his arm a reassuring squeeze.

   “He tried to intervene with the Empress’ will. He placed himself between her and the stallion and pleaded and begged her to stop. She told him to step aside. But him, the fool he was, my brother refused. The look she gave my father… gave me. It still haunts my mind.

   “With a wave of her arm, my sibling was hurled away, impacting with the platform. She killed the horse, and then declared my brother execrated of his status as heir apparent. I was the new heir, she said, and that should I fail to prove myself worthy to be the Head of Sagittarius, then there shall be no Head, and the House shall be disbanded, making us mere common-folk. And no one would bat an eye should a common-folk die. The Capricorns made sure to remind us of that.”

   “That day my brother subjected his House to the coming doom of genocide, of extirpation. And exposed me to this exigency of hatred and stress.” Equius heard a loud crack, and felt his fingers rub together, the stone between them crushed to dark chips. Feferi was startled by the sound, and let her hand leave the Sagittarius’s arm.

   “He… had a heart,” Equius repeated, before going silent. The Heiress followed his hard gaze, seeing it trained on the palace, a look akin to a confused hatred burning in his eyes.

   Feferi looked around for a moment, before seeming to decide something. “Give me a moment,” she whispered, before walking away. She was surely leaving, he thought. His outburst was reprehensible, and he had undoubtedly hurt the poor girl. He felt shame grip his heart, as he looked down to the streets below him. He was so caught up in his pit of self-hatred that he almost didn’t notice the loud dragging noise coming from inside the tower. Walking from the side of the balcony, Equius looked inside to find Feferi hauling one of the ornate chairs towards him. Those looked heavy.

   She quickly got the chair out on the balcony, and dropped down onto it. The girl looked up to him expectantly, and with a hesitant move, he lowered himself to sit beside her, although his posture stayed straight and his shoulders remained tense. Feferi shuffled around a bit, before finally seeming to find herself comfortable. There was yet another moments of silence before she spoke.

   “Yeah my mother’s a beach.”

   Equius gasped, his head spinning to stare her, mouth agape. He was shocked that one would dare speak about the Empress like that, not to mention her daughter. The Heiress merely giggled at his reaction, but it was mere moments before her face fell to a look of sadness once again. She gazed out to the sea.

   “You called my life easy,” Feferi began. “How wrong you were.”

   Equius’ look of shock was replaced by one of confusion, as she went along to explain her side of things.

   “You’re not the only one who must prove themselves at the threat of death.” Feferi spoke in a much quieter voice than previously, this one filled with sorrow. “In less than two years I will be expected to combat my sisters, and try to claim the throne. If I am not killed in the combat yet still fail, my life remains in the victors hands.

  “The Empress is supposed to train and prepare her young for the proving match, so that it would be a fair fight, and a true show of ones skills.” Her brows furrowed, as a bitter looks swept her face. “She neglects Trizza and I. Only Meenah was shown the attention and training that I desperately need. She decided that Meenah was the child she wanted to rule.

   “By Gl’bgolyb, it’s been months since I’ve even seen the woman.”

   Equius looked out to the sea with her, processing what he had just heard. The intricacies and details of the ascension to Empress were always a secretive and little known affair, more a collection of rumours than any established fact. He had not expected it to be this harsh. Realising that the Peixes was unlikely to continue speaking, the Zahhak cleared his throat.

   “I apologize for my words, they were ignorant, and of exiguous thought.” He admitted, still staring out across the port. “It seems that we are both victims of the Condesce’s will.”

   “It would seem so.”

   A thick silence hung once again, but was quickly interrupted as Feferi pulled herself up from her slouch, and brought her legs up to her chest. She spoke after a second.
“They say you have a curse, that you cannot touch others because of your strength. Is this why you struggle so with high class?”

   Equius thought for a moment, squinting his eyes slightly behind his glasses. “It is but partially the reason.” He brushed some of the dust from his hands. “When it comes to this culture, I know only my House’s. I was never prepared for this, to know how to parley with manipulative aristocrats, to recognise spies or fight battles of words.” He clenched his fist, and felt his arm tremble as it tensed up. “I was raised to be the champion of my House, the pugilist that would preserve the honour and reputation of the Sagittarius.” His arm relaxed. “I was not born to be a politician. I was not raised for it.”

  “As a member of this erratic aristocracy, you are expected to converse and partake in their games of wit.” The Zahhak looked up the dimly lit clouds. “I was not trained in these games, or taught this principal etiquette that one must uphold. When I am brought into those infernal dances of words, I freeze, my head hurts, and I feel the urge to release the stress through destruction.” Equius wrinkled his nose as he grew bitter. “Not to mention the extreme quantity of extraneous “high class” literature and culture that I am expected to know, almost none of which is shared by my House.”

  With a dejected look, the boy turned back to her, his eyes downcast. “I am beyond my depth.”

   For a few moments, neither said another word, until Feferi once again took her move, pivoting her body to face him. She seemed to think over her words. Equius observed her with curiosity, wondering what she had to say.

   “The way I see it,” she began, speaking slowly. “We could solve each other’s problems, or at least lend an amount of help to them.” She was wringing her hands slightly. “So I guess I’m porpoising a deal. You teach me to fight, and give me a chance of beating my sisters, and I’ll teach you all this high class manner you struggle with… Sound good?”
Equius leaned back slightly, deeply surprised by this suggestion. The Heiress was offering to help him, possibly save his life, for something as simple as combat training. It would be extremely rude to decline. He let himself believe that is why he agreed.

   “I think that is a truly exceptional idea, I completely agree, it would be great arran-” Equius didn’t get to finish his sentence, as Feferi let out a high pitched squeal of delight, and moved forward, wrapping her arms around him.

   The Zahhak froze, his eyes slowly moving down to the Heiress. He tried to speak, but found his words wouldn’t come out. Perspiration began to appear on his forehead, and he could feel himself beginning to sweat all over. He held his arms out awkwardly, although Feferi didn’t seem to notice or care, as she buried her head into his chest. Eventually he managed to get a perfectly dignified sound out.

   “Uhhhhhh…”

   It was at this that Feferi seemed to realise what she was doing, and leaned away, blushing slightly. She brushed a loose strand of hair out of her face, and smiled up at him.

   “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Just…” Her words went quieter and more blissfully sincere as she took a slow breath out. “…thank you.”

   Equius merely nodded awkwardly, unsure and jarring. “It’s my pleasure your majesty.”

   She smiled even wider, and her eyes seemed to have gone slightly teary. After a moment she settled back into the seat, looking up at the sky, and gasping in awe as the clouds parted, the moons shining down, and the stars twinkling as if they were crystalline tears scattered across the heavens.

   Equius didn’t look up for a moment, but instead stared at the girl who had become his saving grace. He watched as her fuchsia eyes were illuminated in the pale moonlight, and how the heavenly light would reflect against her makeup, and how the jewel atop her head would gleam, how the lunar glow cast thin highlights of silver through her hair, blacker than the darkest night. It was a while before he looked up to the skies as well. He did not know why.

 

   They stayed there for several hours, enjoying the sight of the celestial, before Feferi realised just how late it had gotten, and that she was surely missed. She reached out to take his hand as she went to descend the steps, before remembering the conundrum. Grinning, she linked her arm in his, and down they went. Within a few minutes they reached the main room of the happening once again, hearing the sounds of high class revelry drown out the drone of industry from below. Just before going into view of the partygoers, Feferi released his arm, and smiled up at him.

   “Thank you.” She said simply, before walking off, the two automatons that had been guarding the doors accompanying her.

   Equius took a deep breath, and walked into the crowd, making his way to the door. That was enough conversing for one night. He had a lot to think about

Chapter Text

 Rubbing his tired eyes behind his coloured glasses, Sollux checked the progress of the store clerk gathering the supplies. He had already been here ten minutes, ten minutes longer than he wanted to be, yet the clerk was only starting to gather the secondary crystalline valves. Shaking his head slightly, he readjusted his glasses and opened the small book he had been carrying. He scanned the plentiful paragraphs of magical framework application, searching to see if he could spot something detailing why his framework had decided to malfunction. It was imperative that he figure it out before trying to run it again, unless he would rather come back here to purchase even more parts, for the repairs the malfunction was sure to cause.

 With another glance at the clerk he pondered the nature of his framework. Was it truly worth the risk? That wasn’t easy to decide. But when ones studying partner requests a favour like that, it wasn’t right to decline. Well, technically he did decline, but he did change his mind. Surely that was more important. The fact that he was willing to do this at all better be appreciated; it was one hell of a favour to ask. Especially with all that was happening among the common-folk recently, for that would add a considerable amount of wariness around where his task occupied. He raised an eyebrow above the blue, spotting a possible perpetrator of the unfortunate glitch. The things he did for friends.

 Hearing the thud of his crate being set down on the counter, the young Captor closed the book, slipping it into the pocket of his waistcoat. Moving up the counter, he produced his wallet, and from within that: a small measure of coins. Almost tossing them on the counter, he carefully took up the small crate, checking the contents. Sixteen short copper tubes, with a crystal section in the middle, in which was the valve mechanism. Flexing his hand slightly, Sollux willed one to float up to his eye level, inspecting it meticulously for flaws. One of the many uses of his psionic abilities was being able to get up close and manipulate objects that otherwise he would have took the risk of soiling with his touch. Feeling satisfied with the quality, the teenager nodded quickly to the clerk, and slipped the now closed crate into his satchel, before leaving the confining store.

 As he went through the door of the small storefront, Sollux took a deep breath. Sure; the shelves of tech and supplies were interesting to look at, and the newer pieces doubly so, but being enclosed into a limited space with another person expecting conversation was certainly not something the kid enjoyed. Other people were considerably more difficult to deal with than technology. Now free of the uncomfortable presence of just one other, Sollux took a moment to observe his surroundings, as the stress of the approaching encounter was enough to distract him from simple curiosity.

 He was standing on the sidewalk, just at the entrance of a strident town square. Hawkers preached about the reliability and practicality of their wares to any who would listen, even making demonstrations if they had a big enough audience, or were brave enough, or both. Any moment now one would realise why bravery was needed. Sollux smiled as the sound of a large bang came from across the square, followed by a rising puff of smoke, floating up to join the columns stretched high from the industrial district. As the gasps died down, a bright flash followed by another bang commenced, cueing more yells and curses. The Captor started his journey through the centre, chuckling slightly: the dangers of technology was always half the fun, even more so when magic was brought into the mix. But judging by the nature of the flash, and the odd sound it produced, the inventor had incorporated a minor core. A rookie mistake.

 As he traversed the lumpy and rugged cobblestone he cast his eyes across the structures that bordered the square. Most were three to four stories tall, rather simplistic in style, just doors and small windows, with the rare balcony from the higher floors. No arches or spires in sight. It was a far cry from the city centre. He had been there a small number of times, on official visits or the extremely rare trip for a day out. He could still see the great spires, beautiful architecture and countless businesses selling wares that one wouldn’t even hope to see in the city main. Technology that made him gasp, magical artefacts more powerful than anything he could produce. The mere thought of the food he had tasted made his stomach growl. The kitchens in the Gemini manor proper were nothing to scoff at, but they were still nothing compared to the delicacies he had tasted there. 

 On occasion he would wish that he was born of a higher House, so that he may have a residency in that prosperous sector. A spark of jealousy ignited towards the Aquarius or Sagittarius. They truly were the lucky ones. When it came to the Scorpio and Capricorn, he would much rather not be stabbed in the back by a Housemate, or go insane from a drug trip to visit daemons. What he had was much preferable to that. The Capricorns in general made him uncomfortable, with their glazed over yet ever-watchful eyes, or their calm demeanour that floated atop a broiling sea of murderous rage. Those clowns freaked him out.

 He was thankful that he was born into a House at all, at least. Life as a common-folk was detestable from what he could see. After all there were some perks to being in Gemini. Shipments of materials both magical and technological in nature was one of them. Normally he would just frequent the storerooms to get his components, but the somewhat covert nature of this undertaking meant he had to resort to going to a store manually to obtain his necessary parts. Sollux just hoped they were of the necessary quality. Even if they passed his initial test, there was a multitude of reasons why he could regret this course of action. Mechanisms could be a degree too loose, the crystal could have a tiny, unseen flaw, or could already be tainted with a trace of magic. The initialisation process would usually clear such traces, but there was a set list of magical intricacies that it would clear, and a malevolent curse, as unlikely as it was, would take a whole lot more than a simple set process to get rid of.

He was distracted from his thoughts by the smell of baked goods. Twisting his head to the source of the fragrance, the Captor found himself looking towards a small bakery. There was a small line, and it was processing far too slowly for his liking. The temptation to use his psionics to quickly nab a beverage and send the payment back was rising. But that would draw attention, and that wasn’t something Sollux would much prefer over a pastry. After much faces pulled during his thinking, the decision to join the line was made.

 As he stood waiting for the procession to continue, Sollux contemplated what life in the Houses would have been if the rebellion had succeeded. He didn’t do this much, but the thoughts would cross his mind now and again. Would he still have a position of some privilege? Or would all be common folk, the Houses becoming little more than hereditary symbolism and pride? Would he have access to all of the supplies he needed for his hobbies? Many things he questioned, but one thing he was sure of.

 If the rebellion never happened, Sollux would have his friend, brother and father at his side.

 The Captor moved forward in the line, finally reaching the front, and quickly paid for his meal. With a quiet “thank you”, and a quick readjusting of his glasses, he moved on down the street, avoiding the small chatting groups that dotted the way. He slowly ate, enjoying the sweet taste of his purchase, as he tried to draw his mind away from yet more grieving. He had spent enough time on that.

 Little over a minute later, from a storefront just a few meters behind him, came an immense eruption of lightning and fire, producing sounds between the cracking of electricity and the roaring of a flame. Sollux leaped away from the source of the sound, spinning around to face it as he slid along the ground. He brought his hands up, and took a deep breath, as lightning began to crackle and sting in both his palms, and he felt an intense heat build-up in his eyes. Ready in stance, the Gemini watched the swiftly decimating ruins, and checked the sky above. A low drone of a sound came from the ruins, and Sollux tensed, and the heat intensified, as he prepared to unleash hell on whatever had come for him.

 A few moments passed, then a few more. Then the building collapsed in on itself completely. Nothing came from any of the streets to attack him, or hurtled blasts of magic from the sky. Letting out a long breath of relief, the Captor lessened his will, and felt the heat die down in his head, and the light and bolts fade from his hands. False alarm, he guessed. Getting up from his stabilised stance, he chided himself for how paranoid he was being. Even if his current project wasn’t exactly lawful, it was stupid to suspect an attack. Shaking his head he muttered, “Fucking hell, the things I do for friends.”

 After dusting off his breeches, and swearing upon seeing the burns on his gloves, Sollux continued to the residency. The rest of the journey was mostly uneventful, save for a few far off explosions and bangs. The norm in this district, he had learned after but a few days staying here. The fact that he was ever unaccustomed to this place made him smile. He had spent the better part of seven years in this place, sometimes staying in upper class lodgings, and very rarely visiting the Gemini manor in their own estate, where he had spent the first nine years of his life. Ever since the rebellion his family had been forced to stay within the confines of the city, as to keep an eye on one of the most destructive rebelling Houses. Although he enjoyed the easy access to his materials and needed mechanisms, he did sometimes miss the large manor, or the plentiful beehives used for the technology. He definitely missed the massive device in the main office, the efforts of over a dozen scientists, magicians and inventors, led by his father. It was truly a marvel of his House’s advancement. But now was not the time for nostalgia and reminiscing. Now was the time for business.

 Barely giving a glance to the finely designed architecture that adorned the front of the Gemini residency, the Captor waved his hand, willing the door to open. Entering the tall house, he nodded to a passing member, who, as per usual, was wearing his finely tailored gold coloured trench coat, and one of the finer pieces of Gemini hardware on his face. He may have been one of the most gifted psionics Sollux had ever met but damn was he an extravagant. The Gemini returned a smug smile, muttering “cousin” as he left. Sneering after him, Sollux made a note to check for how much longer he would be staying with them.

 Hearing the door near slam shut behind him, the teenager started up the flights of stairs, leading the whole way up to the fifth floor. The creaking as he ascended was incessant, and Sollux was tempted to rip up the steps just to force the House to fit new ones. That was immature admittedly, but the temptation would never go away. The whole house felt as if it were falling apart, or being reclaimed by the dirt and stone of the earth.

 The walls were a dull gold, the patterns that were once painted long faded and scratched out in some places. The Banister of the tight stair was chipped and missing paint in places, with a long strip of missing paint along the top the whole way up. Certain daredevils did that. He passed the second floor, the dining room and leisure room, all full of old furniture, just as weathered and worn as the rest of the house. The third floor was next, holding a bedroom, and the personal study that his father once used almost every day before… that.

 He was just reaching the fourth floor when he heard an insane mixture of barely legible words and sounds that vaguely gave the impression that they were supposed to be words, followed by what was definitely a swear. There was a slight giggle, followed by a perfectly understandable encouragement.

 “Oh come on, you almost got it! Please! I’m sure it’s really sweet!”

 There came another sound that could be interpreted as “alright”. Sollux heard a few deep breaths as he walked by the door, and peered inside, slightly apprehensive of what he would find. Rather than it being something that would disgust him, he raised an eyebrow at his findings. His brother Mituna, Heir of Gemini, was sitting on the side of his bed, his hands enclosed within those of his partner, Latula, who sat on a simple stool opposite him. He lingered there for a second, grateful that they did not see him.

 Mituna took one last breath, then started to speak. He looked somewhat frustrated with himself. “Latula…” His girlfriend smiled and nodded, eager to hear it all.

“I love you,

I love every part of you.

 

I love your smile,

And between losing it and exile,

We should start counting those miles,

‘Cause I’ll be seeing that grin until I’m senile.

 

Although some call you weird,

I think we’re just wired…

Differently…

Because if I ever got tired,

Of seeing your quirks,

Well then I think I must have sired,

Something worse than madness that transpired,

In my brain ‘cause that’s what I’ve always admired.

 

‘cause girl you saved me,

From how things could be,

 If you had not given me sight to see,

Since I’m just a sad little bee,

And you heard my sad little plea.

 

So thank you for all that you’ve done,

Damn you’re like the sun,

For all the life and fun,

You’ve given me but it’s only just begun.

 

Sometimes I feel a little guilty,

 And I know you won’t agree,

 With me to any degree,

But I’m sorry I can’t be the hero you deserve me to be.

 

 Now they call me the Heir of Doom: they interlope,

 But despite this I’ll never mope,

Because before we up and elope,

 You need to know,

You’ve made me the Heir of Hope…

 

I love you, Latula.”

 

 Latula sat in stunned silence for a few seconds… her mouth agape, and a tear or two sliding down her cheeks. A moment later, she was screaming, as she leapt forth and hugged Mituna as hard as she could, knocking him back into the bed, and planting kisses all over his face, while he merely devolved back into his gibberish… albeit: happy, adorable gibberish.

 Sollux felt a smile creep up on his face, and turned away before they would notice him, silently closing the door with his psionics. They had a tough life them two, he was glad that they could enjoy stuff like that. They deserved it.

 Finally reaching the fifth floor, Sollux opened the only door, and walked into his room. Throwing his flat cap to the bed beside him, he crossed the room, dropping into the only chair in the room, one that sat before his desk. With an exhausted sigh, and a slight twirling of his fingers, he felt the laces on his boots undo themselves, and loosen. He was exhausted. As he twirled in his chair Sollux waved his hand, closing the door. Covert operations were better executed if the door wasn’t open.

 The room was a simple affair, just his single bed in the corner on the right of the door, covered in what were once fine and suitably aristocratic covers, but were now moth bitten and faded.  His drawers and cabinet took up the other side of the door, open and messy, with clothes hanging from them. Along the opposite wall were a series of long tables and desks, occupied with devices both big and small, all created by him. One of the desks was laden with papers and schematics, planning for the more ambitious creations, his current project being one of them. His small chest of tools lay at the back of the main desk, open, with its contents scattered along the length of the tables. The only other noticeable features of his room were the two doors along the left wall, and the circular window between the bed and the tables, that looked out to the street in front of the residency.

 The Captor twirled to face his work and groaned. The contraption, slightly smaller than a shoebox, was mostly a copper box, with some large tubes making up the corners. Two short tubes protruded from either side. A screen of glass was at the top, with half a dozen dials beside it, and one circular button. A panel had been slid open at the side, revealing the spot where eight valves had previously been fitted. This was going to take some fixing. He had already removed the busted valves, and the shattered and cracked components lay in a small pile of to the side. He still had to replace the two power cores, and the conductive gel. He would tweak its accuracy later.

 He was just about to start when a slight dinging sounded from across the room. Sollux willed forward the small device, about the size of a normal typewriter. In some ways that’s just what it was, but in reality it was a marvel of engineering. The device had all the keys one would expect, albeit a small rounded screen stood above them, displaying a small number of things. There was a small bar on the top of the screen displaying the status of the contraption, giving him a fair idea if it would explode soon or not. What took up the greatest portion of the screen, however, was an ingenious method of communication. It would allow individuals to send messages and information across a field of energy hanging over the city. An unfortunate side effect of the technology was the clicking or dinging of metal as it received information, earning the service the name “pesterchum”.

 Currently, he was in a direct link with another field entity, a field entity being one’s personal space or address in the energy field of information sending. Checking the message, Sollux grinned. He quickly typed up a reply, informing his humorous friend he was connected. Giving a swift scan over his other connected entities, he found none others had sent him anything. As was the usual.

 He left the pesterchum on the other side of the desk, and grabbed a small screwdriver. Taking his time to be careful, and being wary of stripping the screws, Sollux managed to undo the plate covering the power cell. Two minor cores sat in the cell, glowing gold cubes of crystal, with a copper around each, capping the corners. One seemed mostly undamaged, merely drained, and glowing slightly less than it once would have, while the other… less so. He unscrewed each of the cores, his hands moving slow and precise, wary not to accidently scratch or stab the cores. One would normally remove the cores before anything else, but after certain incidents it would be in everyone’s best interests if you were to remove the smoking and sparking component first, in this case the valves. Eventually both were out, one laying in the scrap pile, the other in the salvage. The scrap would be shipped off and dismantled into its raw materials; used to make more such mechanisms, while the salvage pile would be for low-risk creations, when the Captor wished to pass the time.

 Next, Sollux popped open the hatch at the side, and opened the chute underneath. With a slight glow in his palms, he watched as the conductive gel flowed out of the chute. Normally this process took a length of time, and must be done with a dedicated piece of equipment, but psionics made the job infinitely easier. Putting the gold gel into a small glass bottle, he labelled it quickly as contaminated, and placed it in salvage. Contaminated gel is often dangerous and explosive if put under too much energy strain, as a matrix of magical energy already has settled within it. This would be perfect for when he felt like having some fun.

 Quickly checking the condition of the lenses and tubing, the Captor got up from his chair with a groan, going to get the necessary replacement components. He was just up when the pesterchum sounded again. Barely off the chair, Sollux leaned back to fall into it once again, and read the new message.

 He was asking about the “project”, making sure not to refer to any details of it. It was far too easy for the Empire’s monitors to access any information they wanted, having control of the master terminal. One could encrypt their messages, but that was both illegal, and extremely easy for the Empire to find. Encrypted messages stood out like black lines on white paper to them. And decrypting didn’t even take that long when elite workers were on the case. It was safer to leave anything of importance off the field, or at least for now it was.

 Sollux filled him in on the progress, chuckling a small bit as he typed out the incident from last night. He knew his hobby partner would find it hilarious, especially the part of him falling off his chair in surprise. Remembering that: the Gemini rubbed his side, for it had been a painful fall. He tapped the enter key and once again heaved himself from the chair, heading to his supply closet to get the replacement cores.

 The closet was rather small, with very little walking-room, as the walls were lined with shelves and boxes of components. He knew the organisation of this room like the back of his own hand at this stage, and didn’t hesitate once in reaching for the set of compartments that each held a single power core. Lifting two out with his psionics, Sollux left the room, followed by the two floating cores. He set them gently down on the desk, then turned to the second of four doors. Stepping through, he climbed up the slightly rusted ladder behind it, and found himself on the roof.

 He was protected from the slight rainfall by a wooden platform suspended above him by pillars. Things tended to calm down when it rained, far fewer small explosions, although the big ones from indoors tended to remain at the same frequency, if not increase. Breathing in the chill evening air, Sollux walked across the roof to the hives. As he walked, he took in the sight of the city sprawled out around him. He was but a story above most of the other buildings, but that was sufficient for this particular part of the district. It seemed a meadow of slate and chimneys, blowing out streams of smoke into the air.

 Beekeeping was always a specialty of his House, but that had only increased when a method of making them produce a new form of honey that had conductive properties was found. Now the Gemini could have conductive gel whenever they wanted. It was an extremely useful commodity, especially with the rising prices of alternatives. The Captor twirled his hands in the air, feeling a static energy buzz around them, and watched as the gel was pulled from one of the hives. He didn’t take much, as there was no need. Manipulating it into another bottle, Sollux left the hive, glad to be free of the buzzing.

 Back in his room, he returned to the project, placing the bottle down beside the cores. As he sat, he found another message waiting for him. He smiled at his friend’s reaction, who unsurprisingly found the incident hilarious. They typed away to each other for a few minutes, having a back and forth. Eventually conversation went back around to the project, to which Sollux revealed that he was about to incorporate the replacements parts. After grinning at his partner’s exclamation of gratitude to the heavens, the Gemini finally returned to his contraption.

 Looking at the panel he had opened that morning, he was glad that he didn’t have to clean out any of the sockets and connectors. That would take far too much time. Pulling the crate of valves from his bag, Sollux flipped open the lid, smiling slightly at his fine purchase. He lifted them out one by one with his psionics, placing them in their slots, and tightening them with a small spanner, built for working with contraptions as small as this. Eight valves later, and he was sliding shut the panel, twisting the two screws that held it shut into place.

 Opening the chute once again, he placed the gel into the tubes, going slowly as to not incite a reaction with any flecks that splashed onto something they shouldn’t. Having the gel in place, filling up the necessary canals of the machine, Sollux closed the chute and, after nipping his finger of a sharp edge, clicked back down the hatch. Satisfied with his job on that, he moved on to levitate the power cores. He ever so carefully placed one in, moving it like one would a thread through a needle. Once it was in place, the Captor slowly brought his screwdriver to it, twisting his hand with utmost precision, attaching the core to the inside of the cell. If that last part with dangerous, this one was downright lethal. He brought second core down, taking deep, calming breaths as he slid it into place. If the cores collided, they could trigger a very unfortunate reaction. A reaction that could leave him with quite a few burns. Fully powered cores were something fearsome when mistreated. The core went in without a hitch, giving him the opportunity to move in with the screwdriver and carefully reattach it to the cell. The moment he saw the slight pulse of gold energy at either end of the cell he let out a sigh of relief, and retracted his screwdriver, still wary of tapping the cores.

 Screwing shut the panel covering the cores, Sollux laid out the contraption on his desk, all parts having been replaced. But there was still a glitch in the system. He took out one screw, and slid out a mostly flat, small piece of metal; about the width and height of his fingers, covered in tiny trenches of crystal and copper, all contained in a glass cuboid. The most expensive part of the machine by far, he was glad that this hadn’t been damaged, or at least damaged to the extent where it was visible.

 Placing the flat rectangle on his desk, the Captor opened up one of the cabinets, bringing out the most important piece of equipment he had. The device was just bigger than both his hands together, and about as thick as a decent book. Sliding the rectangle into an open slot at the top, Sollux hummed as he waited for the device to power up, but grew tired of waiting and gave it a shock, not enough to crack a valve and contaminate anything, however. He wasn’t stupid.

 The device started, and a long list of numbers appeared on the screen. He scrolled through them, trying to find what he suspected would be the problem. He was looking for about twenty minutes, before letting out an annoyed grunt when he found it. Holding the machine out in front of him, he placed his fingers on the metallic pads given, and felt electricity crackle to life in his hand. Only manipulators of that power could do this as fast as he was. It would take hours for one without. Sending a few pulses into the device, he smiled as the number changed slightly, giving him the reading he wanted.

 Satisfied, Sollux turned off the tool, and pulled out the rectangle, and with a smile on his face, slid it back into the original machine. Completely sure that it would not… partially sure that it would not explode in his face, he pressed down the metal button beside the screen. There was a few second of bated breath, before… success! The screen lit up with gold lettering, showing him exactly what he wished to see: a list of control options for interacting with whatever device it was connected to, which currently was nothing.

 With a smug smile, Sollux sent the message of confirmation to his partner, who replied almost instantly, celebrating with him, and mentioning how useful it would be, but still making sure not to disclose exactly what it would do. Although devices that interacted with others while remaining undetected weren’t inherently illegal: ones fitted with the measurements and specialities of Empire technology definitely were.

 Still smiling, he left the pesterchum for a moment, cleaning up his storage and filling the salvage cabinet. He tossed the scrap into a box by the door, ready to be taken down to the first floor. Knowing what his friend was soon to say, Sollux changed into warmer clothes, and grabbed his coat and hat. He checked again, his smugness renewing as he read the message.

SB: lets get going then shall we;
SB: my place;

Chapter Text

 

 Terezi groaned as she pulled herself from the bed, settling into a sitting position on the edge, and felt the haze of tiredness cloud her head. Moaning once more out of indignation, she heaved herself up to standing, and stretched, letting out a mix of groaning and yelping that could compare reasonably to an animal. With a yawn, the Pyrope walked to her bathroom, having memorized the layout of her rooms after so long in them. She felt her feet brush the sides of her scale-mates that she had left scattered around after last night’s trial. A particularly brutal one, she remembered with the true amount of justice: absolute.

 She was still letting out a low, half-hearted groan as she entered the bathroom, and approached the sink. She bent down at the faucet, and splashed her face with the cold water, rubbing it roughly around, and letting her groan peak in its irritation. Now slightly more cognisant, Terezi took a quick mouthful of the water, and swished some it around her mouth, clearing the morning gunk. After a brief cleaning of her teeth, the girl returned to her room proper, kicking away the scale-mate in her path. She scratched her head, as she opened up her closet, grabbing her clothes for the day.

 She changed slowly, still being quite tired. But after a few long minutes, she was clad in her usual attire. Loose black trousers, a loose white shirt, and a black waistcoat, nothing really that well fastened or neat. Most would raise a pestered eye at her choice, distressed at the poor sense of fashion and extravagance. Even though she was blind. Aristocrats never really made sense to her. The only thing that could stand out as tasteful was her necklace, silver, shaped in the sign of her House, with a teal coloured front. It hadn’t left her neck for months.

 After roughly brushing through her hair, and yelping a considerable amount as the bristles went through the messy and knotted strands, the Libra grabbed her cane and left the room, but not before grabbing her packet of chalk. In case she got a craving.

 Going through the door of the room, she found herself in the long, stone corridors of the keep. It smelled drab and grey. After spending years here, she has trailed and felt her hands across every section of these walls, and studied the carvings depicting the Libra’s battles and victories, as well as the occasional failure. The Houses history was inscribed on this wall, and held the longest records of any House, even if they were but depictions rather than written words. Going along the length of the corridor, Terezi knew that she was arriving near the most recent carvings, just before the wall smoothed out.

 She had been there when these were carved, and remembered her mother’s satisfaction at the work. She was quite harsh and demanding of the stoneworkers who were responsible of it. It did depict her after all, and although she was a fair and just woman, she was strict and expected obedience and competence. It was only the beginning of her section, however. She still had the rest of her reign as the Head of Libra to decide how the histories of the wall would show her. Some within the halls were shown in shame, downcast and in positions of weakness. Terezi hoped her mother would have truly glorious imagery when her time was done.

 Moving on from the ancient hallways, the Pyrope went through a large set of doors, emerging onto a platform overlooking a courtyard. The platform stretched around three sides of the yard, the fourth being the open side of the mountain, giving a vista of the wildlands laid out before the mountain fortress, far below. The platform itself was canopied by the mountain, the area that the keep was nestled in having been carved out of the mountainous rock.

 The yard was mostly an empty affair, although it was lined with several stone statues depicting past champions of the House. On the wall opposite the cliff was the large and intimidating entrance to the Main Hall, where her mother’s throne sat. Taking a sniff at the air, Terezi grinned, noticing two persons loitering in the centre of the yard. With haste, she scampered off to the steps leading down to the level below, and into the courtyard.

 Within a matter of seconds she was approaching the bystanders, a toothy smile splitting her face. She already knew who they were, and would enjoy taunting and teasing them, or at least one of them. She did it quite often really. One of the girls looked over to the oncoming Libra, and sighed loud with exasperation, prompting the other to look.

 “Serket!” Terezi barked, giggling to herself and pretending as if she couldn’t sense that the Scorpios were looking at her.

 “Ah, Pyrope, how nice it is to see you.” Vriska replied, lacing her words with faux joy.

 “Calling in without asking for me? How rude!” The Libra chirped, fully knowing how exasperated the Scorpio was like to get. She was betting on it.

 Vriska let out a gasp easily identifiable as false, as she wanted it to be. “I would never! I merely thought not to wake you in such early hours. After all, the debilitated need their rest.” She said this innocently, but Pyrope knew that the words were meant to cut, or at least prod.

 “Odd how you don’t show the same concern for yourself,” Terezi shot back, waving her cane in a vague direction. Vriska’s metallic arm. She was throwing her own prods.

 The Serket was about to speak before she was interrupted by her fellow Scorpio, who seemed to have grown tired of waiting.

 “Vriska, surely you intend to introduce me to your friend here.” It wasn’t a question, a reminder of something she expected.

 “No.” The Serket replied so bluntly Terezi had to fight to keep herself from chuckling. She could imagine the Scorpio’s face. It seemed to shut her up though, as Vriska continued where she had left off.

 “The arm doesn’t really hinder, so much as help,” she informed. “If anything you did me a favour. Given me an advantage almost.”

 Nonchalance, charming. “I’d imagine you put those advantages to good use, rounding up commoners to send to your beast no doubt?”

 She could practically sense the Serket’s face sour with the mention of the hated deed that she was subjected to. “Obligations of the House can’t be ignored.”

 “Even if you wish they could be?” Terezi knew Vriska was fully aware of what she was doing. Didn’t make it any less pleasing, however.

 Once again Vriska was interrupted before she could respond. And once again by her company. Although this time she was addressing Terezi directly.

 “I’m Ardata Carmia dear, a cousin of Vriska’s, and-” She apprised, waving some of her long hair behind her shoulder as she began her extravagant introduction.

 “I don’t care. You smell bad.” The Pyrope interrupted in turn, barely giving her glance before returning to Vriska. Admittedly she did care for how shocked the Scorpio was at the dismissal. It was delicious to see highborn being mocked and insulted.

 “You know I should thank you for the favour you did me.” Terezi began before Vriska could make use of the argument she had no doubt been preparing. “Now with my nose I can smell things most wouldn’t suspect. Fear for instance… I can smell quite a bit of it right now.”

 Terezi sensed Vriska throwing up an eyebrow at her words, something amused. “You think I’m afraid of you?” The words were almost demeaning, as if the prospect was comical in its unlikely-hood.

 The Libra smiled her sharp toothed, malevolent grin. “Not me.” She didn’t even need to point her cane, merely turn her head to face where she knew the doors to the great hall were.

 Terezi knew that the Serket would need a good reason to come here, and the presence of Ardata had increased her suspicion that she didn’t want to be here. It was official business of course, her mother’s to be exact. And right now Mindfang was no doubt parleying with the elder Pyrope in the great hall, over some deed that the Pirate probably did, and would probably get away with.

 She could hear Vriska’s quick intake of breath, as the realisation of what Terezi was insinuating hit her.

 “That is how you cut deep, child” The Pyrope thought to herself, trying to hold back an outburst of wicked laughter that was building.

 There was a moment of silence as the Serket tried to collect her words, defend herself, while not betraying the truth, or say something that Ardata could gossip and spill to someone else. Terezi had already won, and she knew it.

 “I guess I’ll see you later then, Serket.” She made sure they could see her shark smile as she turned.

 The Pyrope walked away, hearing Carmia begin harassing Vriska for details of what had just happened, what she was afraid of, and why she had just let the child of Libra walk away. The other Scorpio merely denied her answers, lashing out harshly with words at her pestering. Ardata must really have needed to know what was going on, because Terezi felt an odd feeling clouding her head. It took her mere moments to realise what it was. Oh, this bitch was going to get it.

 “Get over here!” The lower Scorpio called, giving a satisfied hum as the Pyrope began walking towards her slowly. Terezi let her grin drop, to sweeten the surprise of course. This was going to be too good.

 “Speed it up!” she ordered, impatient to stick her nose where it didn’t belong. Oh there were many places that the Pyrope wished to shove the spoiled brat’s nose. Many hard places, that had the propensity to break things slammed against them.

 “Stop it Carmia, you fool!” Vriska hissed at her, no doubt wondering how it was seemingly working.

 Once Terezi was but a few feet away, Ardata spoke again. “Tell me what she is afraid off, what were you-” she didn’t get to finish. Terezi kept walking as she spoke, and once she was close enough, swung her first as hard as she could, catching the highborn in the nose.

 The Scorpio yelled as she collapsed to the ground, holding her nose that was now gushing blue blood. Giggling slightly, Terezi strolled off, leaving the two Scorpios to bicker over why one should or shouldn’t have helped.

 The Scorpios were a sly House indeed. They had brought many challenges and plots onto them, and started twice as many. Mindfang was no doubt currently engaging in a fierce game of wits in order to evade paying the consequences of her latest doings. Terezi’s mother had been on her case for years, even before the rebellion, trying to bring her into custody and depose her of her status. So far her attempts had been unsuccessful, with the Scorpio still being Head.

 Terezi herself had a competitive and sometimes hostile relationship with the child of Scorpio. They always sook to outdo each other in every ground possible. However, their hostility had heightened when Vriska had injured the poor Taurus child. The whirlwind of violence that ensued left Vriska with one arm, Terezi blinded, and the youngest child of the poorest house possessed and tormented, caught in a state between life and death. One hell of the scandal, to be sure. The Houses weren’t punished too harshly however, even if there were considerable grudges left between them, as the Empire was still recovering from the rebellion, and it would be best to avoid causing another conflict or weakening the Houses any more than they already were.

 Reminiscing over the grievous happenings, Terezi headed to the library, intent on consulting the monitors there for some documents on law for her studies, or maybe just some neat stories on dragons. Those were great.

 The walk was an uneventful one, with grey pillars and walls on either side of her for most of it. She passed the infirmary, used rather regularly due to legislacerator training being as brutal as it was, as well as the servants quarters, and the lower House’s quarters, which varied in a rather slight manner compared to those that would be found in other Houses’ residencies.

 Going through the large and imposing doors in the eastern wing of the keep, Terezi found herself in the massive collection of texts that were held there. Most were tomes on law, explanations of the common loopholes used and how to evade them, along with some recounts of the more interesting court-cases. There was a section in the back that related more to fiction and fantasy. It was primarily there for Terezi and Latula, having some reading material growing up that wasn’t near unintelligible to them. The mainstay of the library was intended for enforcers of the law however, and one would find many prospective lawyers and legislacerators coming to stay at the fortress for months at a time, studying hard.

 Two of them were present in the library already, and had no doubt already been there for a considerable length of time. One was completely engrossed in her work, not even noticing the Pyrope enter, as her eyes scoured the page and her hands copied the relevant information into a notebook. The other was fast asleep, his head buried in a book. Smiling at the rampant pencil work of her cousin, Terezi made her way to the back section, now more interested in the dragons. On her way there the Libra encountered a much more exciting prospect.

 The youngest Ampora was standing in the arcana section, holding a book before his face, obviously heavily involved in his reading. With a wide smile, the Pyrope advanced quietly, her feet making near no sound on the marble, successful in her attempts to stay out of his notice. She stopped mere inches away from his ear, struggling not to laugh at his obliviousness. She could hear him muttering something though. It certainly didn’t sound like mystic research or articles on such. It sounded more like he was acting out a conversation, or rather an argument, between two people. Whatever it was, he was completely absorbed into it. Terezi had been there for near a minute when she decided she had heard enough of his personal spiel. A wide smile split her face as she prepared to enact her mischief.

 “Who you talking to?” She screeched in his ear, earning her a hush from her cousin that was drowned out by the startled yell of the Ampora, who spun around, ready to use his book as a makeshift weapon of instinct.

 He stood still when he saw that is was Terezi, however, and stared at her for a few seconds, before blushing at his exclamation, his cheeks tinting violet. Lowering his book, and coughing slightly into his hand, attempting to restore some scrap of standing. He didn’t speak for a moment, obviously thinking of some suitable excuse to make. The Pyrope didn’t intend on letting him have the time to think of one even partially convincing.

 “Huh? Who was it?” She whispered with a tint of malice. She enjoyed smelling the blood rush to his face.

 After a bit of stuttering and pauses, Eridan Ampora managed to force out his excuse. “I was merely, uh, rehearsing lines from a play, it’s pretty unknown so you probably wouldn’t-”

 “You were talking to yourself, weren’t you?” Judging by his quickly deepening complexion, the smell of it getting stronger, she was right. “Acting an argument out, eh? Standing up to Dualscar?” Eridan somehow managed to blush a deeper violet than before, and tried to stammer out a response.

 “Gog it seems everyone has parent issues!” Another hush from the studying Libra. “I won’t tell anyone, don’t worry.” Terezi was whispering now, but still having her smile plastered across her face. Eridan looked over to the other occupants of the library, no doubt having a look of worry on his face.

 “She won’t either,” The Pyrope informed him. “Something tells me she really doesn’t care either way.”

 Eridan seemed to calm down a bit, before simply muttering: “thank you”. She gave him a wider smile, before reaching out and clumsily taking whatever was in his hand. Holding it up to her face, Terezi inhaled, taking in the scent, seeing the cover in her mind. It was not the edifying tome she had suspected, but rather: one of Terezi’s old books from her youth, before the incident. The Tale of Lady Grimme and the Red Knight, a personal favourite, even if there was a certain lack of dragons. The author had made up for it with horrifying demons, although there were theories that these were based of real creatures released from the medium in the dark incursions. The evil king within the story was said to be an exact description of the very monster that had led several of the incursions.

 The Pyrope could spend hours delving into the dozens of theories about the stories and the mysterious author, some of which were even as extreme to declare her but a direct supporter of the rebellion, but for now she was more interested as to why the great Eridan Ampora, of House Aquarius, the esteemed student of the archaic arcane and of sorcerous secrets, was reading… a fantasy novel. She slowly raised her head up to face him, keeping her sharks smile. This was, of course, merely for theatrics, as she was enjoying this immensely. Terezi raised the book up by her side, tilting her head to the side.

 “What’s this?” she drawled, her voice still a whisper, albeit a malicious and teasing one. Eridan let out a long “um” before finally a achieving a sentence… sort of.

 “I needed to hold something… I was bored… Look busy.” Seeing all his excuses fall on deaf ears, Eridan sighed, dropping his shoulders from their high place. Before he had another chance to speak Terezi was already jumping at the opportunity to scathe him again.

 “Could it be that the great scholar and scientific mind of Ampora is interested in something as inane as fantasy?” The urge to laugh was getting stronger as the encounter continued.

 The Aquarius coughed and cleared his throat slightly. “I may be, somewhat, interested in such things.” he spoke his words slowly, his face still remaining the delicious colour.

 “Oh my Gog you’re an even bigger nerd than I thought.” The Pyrope giggled, holding the book close to her as he grew more indignant.

 “I will have you know, lowborn, that whatever I am is more than you…” Eridan began his classist spiel, trying to regain stature through petty anger, before stopping as Terezi’s cousin wheeled back her chair into view and stared straight into his eyes, challenging him to finish. When he seemed to decide against what he was going to say, the Libra wheeled forward to her previous place, whilst Terezi kept her knowing smile.

 “Bad idea.” Her chuckles filled with glee, Terezi stepped out of the Ampora’s way, allowing him to leave the small corridor between the bookshelves. With a disconsolate sigh, he began to make for the exit. As he passed by her, the Pyrope stopped him by throwing her arm in his way. He opened his mouth to speak, no doubt making protest, before the girl merely held the book out for him, her smile losing its malice as he took it, his slow movements suggesting fear of a trick.

 When it was safely in his hands, Eridan nodded to her, and left, his boots clicking on the marble. As Terezi laughed to herself, her cousin slid back into view, her eyebrows no doubt raised. Her tired whisper was easy for Terezi to hear.

 “I’m not sure I even want to know what that was about.”

 “You probably don’t,” Terezi snickered, walking over to her cousin.

 Tyzias Entykk flung her pen back to the desk, not looking as it landed on the pile of books, and subsequently rolled off. She spun her chair to face Terezi, and rubbed her tired eyes.

 “Yeah, I’ve pretty much gave up on getting this done today.” She lingered on her ‘m’s and ‘w’s a tad longer that most would, probably a side effect from having slept relatively little in several days.

 “What is it?” The Pyrope inquired, taking a few steps towards the table and smelling a scattering of papers covered in writings and official looking documents, all in boring white and black.

 “Just boring legal stuff, reviewing legislacerator impeachment cases, punishments for treason and stuff. Propaganda, really.”

 Terezi raised her head in interest. “How so?”

 “It’s the only mandatory part of the course.” Tyzias chuckled dryly, before heaving herself from the chair. She yawned, rubbing her face roughly with one hand, then grabbed her mug, and left for the balcony. “Come on,” she invited Terezi along.

 Tyzias was but a few years older than Terezi, and far more mature. She was old enough to remember the rebellion in much better clarity than the younger Pyrope. Terezi knew she was lucky in that regard, even if the keep hadn’t seen much action itself, no one daring to make an attempt at sacking the great mountain fortress. Tyzias would still have seen the casualties returning, the wounds and the dead. It wasn’t something to be envied.

 They eventually arrived at the eastern watch-way, a large corridor cut from the side of the mountain, with a line of pillars supporting the ceiling. Terezi could recall looking at the landscape sprawled below, and seeing the towers of Alternia in the distance. It was a calming and relaxing place to linger, looking out at the forests and plains.

 The Entykk plopped herself down on a cosy chair looking out over the landscape, taking a sip from her mug. Terezi joined her on the chair opposite, laying her cane across her lap. Tyzias snuggled further into the chair, positively exhausted at this point. After a few moments of silence, the Pyrope decided to make conversation.

 “Is the study going well?” She queried, rubbing the side of her cane with her thumb.

 Tyzias shuffled around a bit before answering. “If you mean am I staying above the required level then yes. If you mean am I all merry in this damn endeavour: then no, I’m not.” She took another sip. “It’s always stressful I suppose, but this specific part is just bullshit. I know I’m going to be playing in a rigged and corrupt system, no need to force down my throat the fact that I can’t do anything.”

 Tyzias looked dejected, as if the weight of the Empire’s tyranny and cruelty physically weighed down upon her shoulders. She idly stroked the side of her mug as she stared into its depths, empty eyed.

 “I’m sure you can change things.” Terezi encouraged her. When Tyzias, someone who the Pyrope had long regarded as unbreakable, became pessimistic and defeatist, it always got her down.

 “Maybe I can. But they’ve made sure to tell me what happens to people who try.” Sip. “Any servant of the law that doesn’t act like an overly obedient slave gets punished. And as you can expect it’s usually by death.” The Libra shifted up in her chair, looking out across towards Alternia. “There’s just so much damn injustice. It feels like it will never end. No matter how hard you try it will always just… be there, holding you down and making you feel like shit. I mean, look at the ones who tried to fix things.”

 Terezi’s head peaked in interest. It was rare that Tyzias would even mention the rebellion, as scarring as it had been for her. One didn’t even need to be on the front lines of the fighting to see the pain and mutilation caused by the rebels and Empire alike. Both were as brutal as each other, even if the Leader of the rebellion had wished that it not be so.

 “One’s dead, another’s a slave, two are exiled, and ones, honestly, better off dead.” She slumped back into her chair, her eyes cringing at the fate of the Head of House Gemini. “And they still achieved nothing, just destruction and pain. Threw the Empire into disarray yet managed to get no ground before being wiped out. They just got people killed, and a House completely culled.”

 Hearing this, the Pyrope felt a pain in her chest, as she usually did remembering the fate of House Cancer. Painful memories is all that was held there. Of course she had never heard the full story, in all its proper details, as most would avoid it, she merely knew that she would never see her friend again because of it.

 “What actually happened to Cancer?” She inquired, her voice a melancholic whisper.

 Tyzias downed whatever was left in her mug, setting it on the table. “Well, they were slaughtered, but you probably know that. After the rebellion all of the offending House Heads captured got punished, two got to live, two were supposed to die. ‘Supposed to’ because of the Disciple, but that’s a tale for another time.” Terezi was listening intently. She needed to know why it had happened, why she had lost him. Her mother would never tell her, and forbid anyone from even mentioning the House or its tragedies in her presence.

 “The Sufferer, well, he didn’t get out of his sentence. He died. Slowly. It was horrible.” The Entykk shivered, not from the cold. Terezi could faintly remember the execution as well. All members of every House were forced to attend, including Cancer. Almost the entire army of drones were there, ensuring no riots or attacks broke out.

 “After the Sufferer died, the Condesce appeared, and demanded that the drones open fire on House Cancer, and the Capricorns joyfully joined in. It was a slaughter.”

 Memories of screaming, fire and fountains of blood spraying into the air resurfaced in Terezi’s mind. Her mother had tried to carry her away before it got too intense, but it was already seared in her mind.

 “Afterwards, while two of her daughters took control of a house each, Virgo and Leo, the Condesce appointed her last daughter in command of the genocide of Cancer, with a small army of Capricorns to help her. She definitely chose the right daughter. Tethis is fucking evil.”

 Terezi could easily cite several reasons to agree with her cousin on that one. Trizza had possibly one of the worst reputations and cruelty of any of the House members. Although the Condesce and Mindfang were worse than her, she was but a child yet.

 “House Cancer was wiped out, and the common-folk that served beneath them were thrown into a worse state than any other. Most are slaves now, or struggling in the lawless wastes that used to be Cancer land.”

 “And the Vantas’s?” Terezi’s voice caught, as the pain in her chest grew stronger.

 Tyzias looked over at her, seeing small tears in the corners of her eyes. No point in being delicate at this stage, she thought. The Pyrope was strong, and already knew the truth. And besides, she needed to be honest with herself, not run.

 “They are either dead, or as far away as one can get. We won’t see their blood again... I’m sorry.”

 Terezi waved her arm, as if dismissing the fact that she was very near crying now. She sniffled a little bit, before finally replying to the patient Libra.

 “It’s alright, it was years ago, I don’t really care anymore.” It was beyond obvious that she was lying, although Tyzias decided not the press further. It wasn’t her business.

 Terezi had lost a friend in that genocide, to the Capricorns and to Trizza. But she shouldn’t be crying, everyone had lost people to the rebellion, yet they had gotten over it. And Tyzias had it far worse than her, actually seeing the horrors of the war, having them inscribed into her memory.

 Despite this, Tyzias still seemed to pity her, as she pulled herself up from the chair, and walked over to her. Terezi face in her direction, curious as to what she was doing, before opening her mouth in surprise as the Entykk merely sat down beside her, making the Pyrope shuffle over. Tyzias threw an arm around her younger cousin, pulling her close.

 Terezi was confused for a second, before relenting, and resting her head against Tyzias’ side. Terezi let a few tears fall, scrunching up her face. The Entykk rubbed her arm gently, resting her head atop the Pyrope’s. It was rare for Tyzias to be this open and comforting towards others. Usually she was too stressed and rushed to even consider opening up. Feeling somewhat safe in the arm of her cousin, the beacon of hope for justice in the younger Libra’s eyes, Terezi stopped fleeing from the emotions and holding in the pain, letting the tears fall freely. She thought about all that had been taken from her by the Empire, the opportunities, the freedom, the friends. There was so much suffering caused by the infernal machinations of the Condesce’s will. Terezi felt an anger rise in her, one that quickly gave way to sorrow. Her mind returned to those she had lost. To him. Her friend.

 “K… Ka…” The Pyrope sobbed out the sounds, trying to say his name.

 “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Tyzias rubbed her arm, consoling the teen.

 “K-Karkat,” She finally managed to say it, and broke down into silent tears under Tyzias’ arm, shaking slightly. The older put her other arm around her, supporting her.

 After a few minutes Terezi calmed down a bit, and wrapped her arms around the Entykk, burying her face in the girl’s side. Tyzias continued rubbing her arm, looking out towards the accursed city of corruption and tyranny.

 “Don’t worry kid, we’ll get ‘em back one day. One day.”

Chapter Text

“Happy birthday darlin’”

 John smiled, the corners off his mouth turning up in a dorky grin as the backing music began to crescendo, the vocalists singing their longing lyrics. The play was already perfect in his eyes, the story, the acting, the lines, it was all exquisite and glorious to him, but this song, present in all renditions, just made it so much sweeter. No matter the actors, the added theme or the twist applied by the directors, the song was always played. One could call it a universal constant in a way.

 The curtains closed as the music played its course, the reunited family holding each other close as the drapes of faded red concealed them from view. But the audience did not applaud yet, not until the song had slowly faded out, and the musicians on either side of the stage took their bows, and the curtains opened once more to reveal the dozen or so actors, all pleased with their performance. John joined in merrily with the applause, undeniably being the most enthusiastic out of all the viewers, even if his sister tried hard to match his excitement. The players certainly took notice of John, and gave each other a knowing smile. He was a regular you could say, and they knew him well.

After the actors had left the stage, walking into the small courtyard behind the outdoor arena, and John had taken his time praising and congratulating them, calling them all by name, as they did to him, Jade reminded him that it was near the time to go. He had an important rendezvous to attend. It was a rare opportunity to meet this person, and he had better not put it to waste.

 After one more “quick” bout of the praise to the performers, John was on his way, Jade ambling along by his side. Soon after leaving the small clustering of theatre buildings on the edge of town, they were traversing along a small route, enjoying going through the countryside outside the city of smoke and filth. Even if the plains and forests did have the taint of the city staining them, they were still quite pleasant to navigate and frolic amidst.

 They chatted for quite a bit along the roads, as they were prone to. The conversation was loose and fast, changing topic and tone quickly. They went from John’s obsession with the great epic of Con Air (with John firmly advocating that he was merely obsessed because it was simply the greatest theatrical production ever made), to the natural beauty of the lands, to the destruction caused by the empire, to the tyrannical reign of the empire itself.

 “Maybe they aren’t all bad though, I mean it’s not like they had a choice in where they’d be born,” John argued, as they trundled along a path within the forests, on route to their destination.

 “I mean, maybe, but they don’t seem to really be doing much to make things better.” Jade retorted, shrugging slightly.

 “But there was a whole revolution! Obviously someone cared!” John exclaimed, throwing his arms wide.

 Jade sighed. “Didn’t amount to much though, as much as we wanted it to.” She slumped her shoulders, making a glum face.

 John had to agree with that; revolution didn’t change things for the better, if anything it only made them worse. After the Sufferer’s defeat, the Condesce set to expanding her Empire, forcefully enlisting many of the common-folk to feed her expeditions and armies. Those that remained were usually quite young, but were made to run the Empire nevertheless. They worked every job, yet owned near nothing. The war had also increased the severity of the Empire’s enforcement and discipline: one could be flayed for failing to meet production demands, or executed for standing up to a servant of the Condesce.

 They had the right intentions undoubtedly, but their efforts were surely counterproductive. They resulted in more pain than was there previously. But despite all that, John had to side with them.

 “At least they tried! Other highborn didn’t!” He was even more expressive now, as if he thought that waving his arms would somehow get his point across easier.

 “But they could have planned it better, John. Made sure they were going to win before they put thousands of lives on the line.” A sad look overtook her face. “They could have at least looked at the signs and realised they shouldn’t distract the Empire when things started to go south for us.”

 John, too, grew sorrowful when he understood what jade was referring to. That was true. But he knew he was right about this, it was just so obvious.

 “None of them knew that it was going to happen, none of the Houses realised.” He reasoned, trying to defend the martyrs of the revolution.

 Jade grew indignant. “But they would have realised if they had just listened to us! If they cared so much why did they ignore us when we told them about the horrors that were coming?” She was getting agitated. “Instead they let the monsters desolate all they found. We had to defend ourselves.”

 He took a second before responding to that. “They didn’t do it well… but they still tried, and went up against the Condesce.”

 Jade smirked slightly, but with downtrodden eyes, and glanced at her half-brother. He really was too naïve for this world. It would crush him, she knew it. But he never seemed to. Too much hope in him, too much lust for freedom.

 John just turned to look at the trees when Jade didn’t reply, as he saw her lose herself to thought. She did that sometimes. He decided he should just leave her to it. Instead his thoughts turned to his life, and how the Empire treated them.

 He didn’t have it the worst that was for sure. He had a decent house in a town bordering the main city, which he shared with Jade since hers was torn apart in the aftermath of the incursion. His father was a baker, and a damn good one at that, even if John wasn’t the biggest fan of baked goods. His lack of a like for them certainly didn’t help the fact that John was now co-owner of the business, and struggling to make ends meet. Most of his class of common-folk were.

 They were still better off than those that ran the farms, and those who fuelled the labour forces of the Empire. They were in far worse poverty than he. There weren’t many of them on the streets where he lived, as most of them were taken as slaves to the Scorpios. There were some perks to living in a Cerulean estate, but they were somewhat outweighed by the cons. The Scorpios most definitely enjoyed toying with the common, seeing them more as tools of amusement than actual people. And John couldn’t count the amount of people he had seen dragged off to feed the monstrosities that were the responsibility of the House.

 It was an oft occurrence that an empowered Scorpio would walk the streets and force their minds to comply with any order given, then having their new slaves carry them off to wherever they came from. It was never a pretty sight, and made John’s stomach turn more often than not. The Houses could do almost whatever they wanted to the common.

 At least the Scorpios were somewhat mechanical and predictable. With some planning and a dash of luck you could avoid them, and with an extraordinary amount of luck you might actually survive an encounter.  He had heard that the Capricorns were the opposite. They would either walk straight past you, beat you to a pulp, or put you through extreme pain, making you wish you were dead, with no hint as to which route they would take. Living under the madmen was surely a terrifying life. John pitied any who lived within three miles breadth of the Dark Carnival, and wouldn’t wish living within it upon anyone. Even the smaller travelling carnivals of Capricorns were horrific and nerve-wracking to be around. If they decided to slaughter a town, or take away everything they had: no one could stop them, they were simply too powerful.

 He sometimes envied those a tier above him, those that were fortunate enough to run a business within the city, or be in good graces with the Houses, sometimes even marrying into them. Although that last one was a rare occurrence, or at least it was when they weren’t spurred on to bring in some new blood to deal with the possibility of inbreeding, and those in Libra and above never seemed to marry into common, preferring the introduced diversity of the lower Houses. Those also tended to be the ones that had very little sympathy for the common, and had little problem with exploiting them.

 All of this John had learned from his higher tiered friend, who had been happy to educate him in all matters she could. She once had a rather luxurious life compared to him, a fraction higher luxury than what the lowest Houses were at the present, but that was before the incursion, when she lost her mother, and with that her source of income. John didn’t have a clue what she did now, or where she was, but she certainly didn’t have the funds her scientist mother procured for them.

 John had lost contact with most of his friends after the incursion, for various reasons. For some, the means of travel had been lost, others, they were too busy, or in the case of his high class friend; they had done something to ward him away. What she had done was terrifying, and it was still burned into his memory; the screams; the blood; and the aura of shattered minds that hung about her. He had tried to talk to her during it, but she just dismissed him, and screamed horrors at him. She had tried to convince him that his dad was dead, but he wasn’t. He might not be with them now, but he wasn’t dead, he could handle a thousand daemons, never mind one.

 But dwelling on when his dad would come back always bummed him out, so he decided to think about something else, something that wouldn’t bring back pain. He should focus on his meeting, after all, he hadn’t seen his friend in ages, and now he was getting to catch up with him, and discuss how things were turning out. Maybe even fantasise about their own rebellion for a while, like they used to before… Or maybe they’d talk about his musical endeavours, he was rather fond of those. His brother had managed to get a hold of some high class tech in one of his highly illegal but pretty awesome adventures. They allowed for some extremely “interesting” songs to be made. They certainly weren’t what you would normally find among the people, common or not.

 This meeting was something to look forward to for sure, as unexpected as the request had been. Hell, John would have missed it had he not passed the town terminal that day, and seen a message in a code that only he could understand, thanks to their old games. It said simply “Meeting soon, at the scorch”. In all honesty the Egbert would have preferred quite a few places over the scorch, but he had little choice: whatever terminal his friend had been using had promptly been disconnected from the cable system that all outside the city used.

 “So, this place has grown nicely since last we were here.” Jade brought him from his thoughts, remarking at the surrounding foliage.

 It was true, the ground was no longer covered in ash and scattered with rocks, and most of the pits of war had been filled in by nature over time, although some were still deadly should you fall in. Death by falling into a bush of blades and points was not a nice way to go. But hey, at least there wasn’t fire in them anymore.

 Now the path was surrounded by trees, grass and a healthy diversity of other plant life, with a few skittering animals in the undergrowth and among the trees. The path itself was somewhat overgrown itself. Certainly a difference from eight years ago, when they had been here last.

 They avoided this spot mostly. Bad things had happened here.

 “Yeah, it’s definitely nice to look at.” He agreed, before taking a deep breath, seeing the archway of stones that signalled the end of their journey. Jade saw it too he was sure. The common-folk had made it after the events that conspired here, to honour their heroes.

 They walked up the path, trying to hold back the emotions that were building up as they got closer to the scorch. Even from several meters away they could feel the heat increase, and an odd energy hang in the air. Their hairs stood on end as they got close enough so that John could read the names inscribed along the arch.

 “Lalonde, Strider… Egbert…” He whispered to himself, remembering when they had been carved.

 They were the heroes of the common, for what they did here. Stories were told of them, and candles were lit in their name. John’s father was honoured among the common-folk. All because of…

 This.

 John walked through the archway, seeing a large flat, circular plain of rock stretched out below him. The ground was covered in deep slashes and webs of cracks spreading out from impact points. Parts of the stone were lumpy and misshaped, as they had been melted by extreme heat before cooling in a new form. The most noticeable feature, however, was a spot right in the middle, where a chunk of rock was missing, with the edges of the hole spiked upwards into twisted spines. That was the spot where the incursion had ended, and where John had last seen his father.

 Jade saw the sorrow fill her brother’s face, and moved in to comfort him. She was interrupted by a flash of green light, however, as a massive hound appeared from thin air, landing in front of her. It couldn’t really be called a dog, or a wolf, or anything that closely resembled a normal animal. It was covered in a thick coat of white fur, making it seem even larger than it was, which, since it was nearly shoulder level with John even when it was on all fours, was already quite large. Its maw was a terrifying crevice filled with dozens of sharp, angular and very painful looking teeth. Strips of flesh formed the connection between its upper and lower jaw, with small gaps showing into the deeper parts of its mouth, where small flashes of green could be seen. It really was apparent that this thing was from the Veil. John really didn’t want to know how Jade’s grandfather managed to get a hold of a Daemon hound.

 Becquerel sat before Jade, looking up at her expectantly. Jade merely groaned in reply.

 “Come on, I’m supposed to meet a friend here!” She protested, as the hound’s maw began to glow with green, becoming brighter by the second.

 “Damnit.” Jade swore, glaring at her pet. “John tell him I really wanted to meet him.”

 “I will, don’t worry.” John responded, quickly moving in to give Jade a hug. After a few seconds, John stepped back, as a strong beam of light was now shooting from the beast’s mouth. Without another word being said it leaped at Jade, letting out a low bark. As they collided a large sphere of green enveloped them both that disappeared swiftly, leaving empty space where they had been standing. Empty space was quite a literal term in this case, John thought, as the air around him rushed to fill the sphere of low pressure. After a split second or so of his clothes rippling, and a loud roaring in his ears, John felt the area stabilise.

 Ignoring the stronger feel of energy, the boy walked to part of the rock overlooking the scorch and sat, his legs hanging from the side. He just had to wait for his friend to arrive now. He would prefer not to be alone here, but he couldn’t really argue with a Daemon with enough power to slaughter half a village. Instead, he merely swung his legs slightly, thinking about the events that had once happened here.

 He was a child of seven at the time, not a good age to deal with the horrors of the daemon incursion he would guess. He had already seen horrors and creatures of his nightmares burning down homes, tearing through ranks of militia and whoever tried to stop them. It was something that still haunted John to this day. He was sure he would have met the same fate as all those people, had it not been for his father.

 John had been fleeing from the attacks, sprinting through the forests to the place where he and his friends had always played. It wasn’t called the scorch back then, merely the flat. A much more innocent name, he had to admit. He was hoping to get away from the monster’s, to just survive and wait it out. He had no idea what was really there.

 By the time he had seen the Archagent of the incursion, he had already been spotted. The dog headed beast was snarling, and crackling with green energy. John was sure he was seconds away from death by its black sword, before his father arrived. The elder Egbert soared over John, landing within the flat, and staring down the Daemon. In his hand he clutched a sledgehammer. John was terrified for him, after all, how could a baker with a hammer stand a chance against a Daemon General? But somehow he managed to repel the Archagent’s swift attacks, and land a few of his own.

 But even so, he was sure to lose, the Daemon was getting the upper hand. Then came the decisive moment. Two more warriors burst from the forest, into the flat. The Lalonde and the Strider. They all attacked at once, taking on the Leader of the Veil’s forces. Egbert crushed, Strider slashed, the Lalonde punched, all of them forcing the Daemon back, until at last they had him surrounded in the centre. They all leaped at him at once, their aim true. John watched in awe from the overlook, seeing the trio of hero 7s fight for their people. It was a glorious moment to be sure. But then, just as victory seemed sure, the Archagent unleashed a sphere of green, and seconds later, they were all gone. There was no sign of the heroes, nor the Daemon.

 He later learned that the Daemon, seeing that defeat was imminent, teleported them all back to the Veil. He had taken John’s father away from him. The only silver lining was that the loss of the general imposed a retreat onto the daemonic forces, saving the common-folk from the incursion, even if there were still remnants of their forces wandering around. He supposed that made it more bearable.

 He was just considering what would have happened if his father had not intervened, for the hundredth time that month, when he heard some movement behind him. Turning, John’s face lit up with a grin, as his friend dropped down to the overlook. The grin faltered, however, when John saw how bad of a condition his friend was in. Although he wasn’t physically hurt, save for some scratches and a bruise or two, he looked as if he hadn’t stopped moving for a week. His breeches were dirtied and patched, and was his loose shirt, the red sleeves torn and frayed. His hair was dishevelled and dirty, and John was sure that behind his tinted glasses, his eyes mirrored the rest of him. Whatever the reason he had called John to this place, Dave Strider wasted no time in getting here himself.

 “Dave, are you alright?” Egbert inquired, moderately concerned with Dave’s appearance.

 “Yeah man, nothing on me.” Came the cool reply, somewhat betrayed by how weathered the boy looked. Dave sat down beside him, casting the bag he was carrying off to the side.

 They sat there for a minute or so, in awkward silence. John had no idea how to start a conversation with someone he hadn’t seen in nearly two years. Eventually he decided he might as well say something. It seemed that Dave also had this idea, as before John could say anything, the Strider was starting up conversation.

 “So how’s things in Egbert’s corner of the Empire?”

 “It’s alright,” John answered, thankful that Dave had taken the initiative. “Still same old stuff though: watching plays, baking, dealing with the Scorpio’s.”

 Dave nodded slightly at the last one, turning his head up to the sky a little. “They giving you much trouble still?” Last time the Strider had been there, the Scorpio’s had been preying on the communities near constantly, picking of anyone they could find to fill their machines of slavery.

 “It’s calmed down a lot, but they still harass us a fair bit,” the Egbert informed. “It mostly comes down to paying them off or drawing their attention to something else.”

 “No confrontation?”

 “It’s too dangerous.”

 Dave chuckled. “That’s kinda the point.”

 With a shaking of his head, John retorted. “You’re working of your own experience here. Aries are nowhere near as powerful, or malicious, as the Scorpios.” He thought for a moment. “And even then I don’t hear of anyone confronting them either.”

 John could see Dave’s eyebrow move a little above his glasses. “Why do you think I’m here?”

 Well… that certainly made John think.

 “You… came here to confront them?”

 “Well, it’s more investigate really, got one hell of a nasty hunch on them Burgundies. A very nasty hunch.”

 Dave grew silent after that, turning to look at the missing chunk in the centre of the scorch. He and Dave had spent days upon days here, waiting for their guardians to return from the Veil. They had spent hours just… staring at that hole in the ground, wondering when the heroes would reappear. That was a long, long time ago. Unlike his high-class friend, Dave had never scorned John for the idea that his father would return. The Strider had always shared his belief that they were on their way to coming back, safe and sound. The only reason he had stopped sitting here with John was merely because he had to move away, into Aries territory, or what remained of it at least.

 Eventually, John decided it was his turn to make conversation.

 “So how’s the Aries’ land then?”

 Dave seemed to think for a moment before replying, tilting his head ever so slightly.

 “It’s alright. Less… thriving than here, I suppose? Lot of weird shit going down there almost all the time. Just trying to leave for here I got attacked by some carapacian daemons.”

 “Were you hurt?” John asked right after, concern filling his face.

 Dave chuckled again. “Nah, I’m good, just a few scratches. Gave them a lot worse than I got.”

 “Well, even so, I’d prefer if you don’t do much for the next few days.” Dave smirked. “So what sort of weird shit?”

 As he responded, Dave reached for the bag lying a bit away. “Well, like I said, there are carapacians, and quite a few of them. Their tribes are something wicked to fight, and their raids can leave farms and small villages barren of both people and resources.” He started to rummage around in his bag. “The Aries guard don’t really do much to help us, we gotta rely on ourselves, use our skills and wits to defend ourselves.”

 Dave stopped rummaging for a moment, just staring at the ground below him. “Course, we can’t always overcome them. Maybe if the carapacians were the most of our worries we would be able to wipe them out, or maybe cull them enough so they ain’t something to worry about. But instead we have to deal with monstrosities and daemons from the veil, imps and ogres and things even worse.” He turned to look up at John, his emotions hidden behind the tint. “What are you supposed to do when a creature the size of a tower, with chitin harder than steel, decides it wants to level your home? When it can disintegrate entire houses by just pointing its arm?”

 John stared back at Dave for a moment, unsure of what to say.

 “Nothing. That’s what you do. That’s all you can do.” Dave was mute for a second, before readdressing his bag. “But, who knows, you might get lucky. Maybe a band of white carapaces decide to help out. Bring a beast or two of their own. Hell, if it weren’t for the whites, we’d surely have been wiped out ourselves. At least you need to provoke them to make them attack.”

 John nodded in agreement, for lack of something smarter to do.

 “But, sometimes it is just a dozen or so of the little fuckers, imps or carapacians, maybe an ogre or brute. Then a trained warrior can usually take care of them, with a risk of course. Too bad even that’s become rare as well: I’m one of the rare few left, travelling to keep people safe.”

 Dave was just pulling something from his bag when John reasoned that it was an appropriate time to ask a rising question.

 “What about your brother; surely he’s helping with the load?”

 This apparently was a bad question, as Dave’s face wrinkled, anger evident. “He was, until he decided to take off in his own “personal” quest, leave it all to me.” Dave threw a bitter look at the bag. “Gog knows where he is now.”

 Shaking his head slightly, the Strider returned to the object be was producing from the bag. It was a small scroll case, screwed shut.

 “But, yeah, among all the other false saviours we could have, Aries stands king.” He began to unscrew the lid. “With their squads, as small as they are, we could save so many from the daemons, and with the heiresses and their powers, so many more. But no. Instead they choose to dwell in their crumbling manor.”

 Dave pulled out the furled up scroll form within its case, and held it gently in his hand. “Now, while we’re on the topic of the red bastards. Do you know why House Aries are disgraced?”

 John thought back to the slivers of news he had heard after the revolution. “They attempted to seize power during the revolution?”

 Dave gave a face suggesting that he expected that answer, but disagreed. “That’s what we were told by the Imperial douchebags. I think it’s actually a whole lot worse than that.” Shifting his body to face John, the Strider prepared to elucidate the boy on the matter. “I’m not sure how much you know, since what I know is thanks to my sis. Did you ever wonder why the Capricorns were made to deal with the Aries House, instead of, say, the Libra’s who were much more prepared to deal with small groups of powerful attackers, which is basically what the reds were?”

 John shook his head.

 “Well, I think it’s because they weren’t going to be fighting just some red sorcerers. The Capricorns were fighting daemons John, but not the ones attacking us, the ones attacking with the Aries.”

 John sat still for a few seconds, before letting loose the question boiling in his head.

 “You think… that the Aries worked with the daemons when they came through?”

 “No Egbert, I think they brought them through.”

 The boy sat in stunned silence.

 “That’s why I’m here John. Here specifically,” He waved his arm to the scorch below them, before unfurling the scroll, and showing it to John.

 It was a map, of almost all lands discovered by the Empire, with the stamp of House Aries in the corner. It was coloured into areas, with the area they were currently in, as well as the Aries territory, and some others, in dark red. But within these zones, John noticed black markings, denoting specific locations. Beside the marks were written dates. One of these marks held what John recognized as todays. Checking where the mark roughly was, his eyes widened.

 It was the scorch.

 When Dave saw that John had realised the significance, he turned the map over, exposing a long list of times and dates. Pointing to one, Dave explained simply.

 “Whatever is going to happen here, it’s going down in a matter of minutes. So let’s just move up into the trees.”

 As John tried to process the block of information that was just crammed into his brain, the both climbed up into the higher branches of the trees surrounding the scorch, well-hidden amidst the leaves.

After settling, Dave whispered over to John, who sat on a branch on the opposite side of the trunk.

 “Depending on what goes down here, we can see if my hunch is correct or not.” The Egbert said nothing.

 Dave said nothing either, for about five minutes, as they waited, staring at the scorch. John could feel a strong emotion within him, bursting to get out. He wasn’t sure if it was anger, sorrow, or even an excitement for what was about to happen. He just knew that he couldn’t let an outburst happen here. Pushing it down, John calmed himself.

 He had managed to stay pretty calm, until he could focus on the soft breathing of the boy near him. He was fine, it was fine.

 “John!” Dave whispered over. Glancing over, John could see where Dave was pointing, right at the centre of the Scorch, where a green glow was emerging from the hole. Just a few seconds after, was a slight crackle of green lightning. Dave was about to say something, comment on it, but was interrupted by another glow, this one much brighter, and from the archway. This red glow grew in intensity, until a figure could be seen from within. For a split second, John would swear he could see what looked like gears from within, but then the glow was gone.

 Standing in the place of the glow was a young woman whose features were hard to discern in the dusk light. But thankfully, Dave recognised her immediately.

 “Damara. The Witch.”

 The Egbert vaguely remembered the name from his friend’s lessons, but he had never seen her. Whoever she was, she was sauntering her way through the arch, straight to the green light at the centre of the scorch. From her figure, silhouetted against the ground lit by the setting sun, John could just see two thin wands in her hands. Any desire of angry confrontation was lost there. John might have been strong, but a competent magic user would mop the floor with him.

 The woman walked right up to the hole, not flinching even as small streaks of lightning lashed out and stung her. She raised her wands, and moved them in intricate circles, as power began to flow around her, the streams of light linking her to the column of light emerging from the crevice. The swirling magic grew stronger, and moved faster, until she was once again obscured.

 This lasted for about twenty seconds, until there was a bright flash, and the light faded, revealing her once again. She simply stood there, looking down into the pit. John wondered what she was seeing down there, before gasping slightly, as a creature pulled itself out.

 “Dave, is that…”

 “An imp. A daemon.”

 Damara merely sneered at the small creature, before swinging her arm, and releasing a bolt of red light to strike the daemon, reducing it to dust. In the flash of light, John could easily see the sadistic, mad smile that was painted across her face.

 They both said nothing, as the Aries had walked a bit away, summoned her red glow, and disappeared off into the air.

 After a minute or so, Dave finally spoke.

 “Well… fuck.”

Chapter Text

 Duck. Dodge. Roll. Strike.

 Her opponent grunted in pain as Polypa’s palm impacted with his side, the blunt ache quick and intense. He swung the wooden bat grasped in his hands, aiming to make contact with her head. Polypa dropped into a low stance, spinning clockwise, her leg extended to keep balance. The bat rushed over her head, as the opponent unwittingly exposed his other side. A swift palm-strike to his side, then to his plexus; forcing him to instinctively bend forward, despite the padding of his clothes.

 Another grunt, and his hands separated by instinct. Taking whatever opportunity he could, he lashed out with his fist, pivoting to face her as he did so. Goezee leaned back, letting the fist zip past her. As his arm momentarily slowed, she reached out, clutching it securely. With a heave, she took advantage of the momentum to drag him forward. Simultaneously, she brought up her once extended leg, using the distance to add power to the knee.

 Polypa’s opponent cried out in pain as the knee impacted with his false ribs. She felt a slight movement beneath his padding and skin, and definitely heard a crack. In extreme pain and desperation, he punched with the bat hand, letting it cross his body completely, the spike of pain overriding his sense. Goezee dropped down, moving forward beneath the arm she still held. She pulled it hard, dragging him towards her. This was her chance.

 Two hard hits to the abdomen. He retched and bent forward. Polypa raised her fists above his head, and extended her strong leg behind her. In one decisive move, she brought her balled fists down, and her knee up.

 Her fists hit the parietal, no doubt bringing her opponent to near unconsciousness, if not incapacitating him completely. The blow forced his head harder down, straight into her rising knee. There was a loud crack as the nose, and probably several other things, fractured. He swung back, a long arch of blood spraying from his nose. He didn’t stop swinging back until he was flat against the courtyard ground, completely out.

 Polypa stared at the defeated sparring partner, sneering. This was supposed to be training, not her getting through a fight with nary a hit. Guess that was the con of using criminals hauled from the dungeons as victims. Some would call it cruel. She would call it mercy. Either they get put to work as slaves, or they get put to death by an arrow to the midsection. A long and painful death. Polypa would consider this much more appealing.

 Two more slaves emerged from the shade of the peristyle, taking tentative steps towards the Goezee as they reached down to drag away her bloodied opponent. The heavy prisoner moved slowly across the courtyard, leaving a wide trail in the gravel, a slave holding an arm each.

 Ignoring the huffing and sounds of scraping gravel, Polypa went to the shade, finally getting out of the evening sun. She was more of a night person. Reaching a bucket of water set aside especially for her, she splashed it to her face, washing away the sweat and grains. After taking a quick drink from the water (probably not the most hygienic thing she could have done), the warrior washed the plentiful blood from her hands. Although that fight had been mostly body hits, the two fights beforehand were quite bloody for almost the entire duration, leaving her fists blood drenched instruments of pain.

 With only slight staining left, the Goezee dried her hands, picked up a small book on the bench beside her, and walked to the middle of the courtyard, not caring that the exposed heels and balls of her feet were picking up more blood and dirt. Seeing that the slaves had left, she sat at the edge of the courtyard, near the drop off. The courtyard was quite small, slotted neatly into the large stone towers and walls of the Leo Manor, bordered on three sides by them. The last side was open to the air, looking out into the great forests, with massive trees reaching up to tower height and twisting around the stone. There was no wall before the drop, just a sheer cliff, over which Polypa happily swung her legs.

 The courtyard itself was simple enough, surrounded by peristyles of dark angular pillars, with two small steps leading into a rectangle training ground of gravel, now splattered with blood. Along the sides of the peristyle pillars hung olive banners, with Polypa’s personal sign emblazoned in black on each, apart from one, the largest, directly over the entrance, which held the True Leo sign. This was her personal training ground, given to her once she was adopted into the position of Noble Guardian. She made sure to use it regularly. After all: it was just beside her room.

 It was originally meant for all the noble guardians, but after the revolution she was the only one left. It was all hers now, along with the entire north-eastern peninsula of the keep, which was the Guardians’ residences. It gave her a lot of privacy, which she appreciated greatly.

 Leaning slightly against the massive stone tower bordering her courtyard, Polypa looked out across the forest, seeing the structures of the Leo House spread out, most crumbling, some spilt apart completely, all covered in plants. Some of the most damaged ones were held together by the trees that had grown around or within them, forming hybrids of stone and wood. A small, peaceful smile tugged at her lip, as she pulled out the thin stick of charcoal from the binder of the book, and, after undoing the buckle, flipped it open to her current page.

 Comparing her sketch to the actual thing, the Goezee held the book out in front of her, lining it up with the deteriorating tower, held together only by the gigantic tree winding around and through it. Satisfied with the resemblance in the basic line-art, Polypa put the book on her lap, and started working on it, shading in the creases and twists of the trunk. It was slow but satisfying work. Her interest in art didn’t really go beyond this though, simple, calming drawings of nature around her. It was merely a method to cool down after training.

 She sat there for some time, listening to the slow breeze, and the creaking of the trees, as she drew away. Letting her calloused heels brush against the stonework, and her loose hair sway slightly in the breeze, Polypa enveloped herself in the calm.

 It was near an hour later before she awoke from her trance. The sun was beginning to set behind the wall of trees that spread out below her, and the sparse sentries patrolling the towers were now carrying lamps, distant spots of light to her eyes.

 Closing and buckling back up the book, Polypa returned it to a small indentation in the peristyle wall, one that served as a shelf. Walking back across the gravel to the exit, she stretched, groaning slightly. As she passed through the set of pillars before the exit, the Goezee plucked her dagger from where it had been lodged between two bricks. A makeshift sheath for training periods. Sliding the blade into the light straps at her waist, Polypa continued into the manor.

 The walk was quiet for a short time, as she made her way out of the Guardians’ Peninsula. Only the occasional slave ventured here, and only then when they were directly ordered to. It was like a whole private castle to herself. She was quite fond of it, even if it did get somewhat lonely at times, and slaves could only account for so much company.

 Small gas lamps were hung from the ceiling, dimly lighting her way. It wasn’t just here in the manor that wasn’t well lit. Almost the entire House preferred a slight aspect of darkness, sharpening their eyes to the night. The only brightly lit room was that of the acting Head, but of course that was because she was not of this House. She had two servants always accompanying her with bright lamps as she ventured around, even if it did make other House members stick to the shade around her, seemingly avoiding her. She got a widely wrong impression from that at first, before the young Heiress had elected to inform her of the House’s aversion.

 Thankfully the acting Head was kind and understanding, and made sure to dim her lamps somewhat, and took no more offense in her solar shunning. Polypa was glad that she was the head, rather than either of the two others that could have been. She was the only one even resembling kind.

 Polypa was nearing the entrance into the greater halls, going through a massive corridor with one wall being naught but pillars on a backdrop of a rushing waterfall, drawing herself from her pit of thought, when she heard a slight scuttling above her, followed by the sound of a brick coming loose. She had already dashed to avoid the falling stone when a cry of “watch out!” came from above.

 Seeing the small chunk of rock shatter on the brick floor where she had been standing, the Goezee looked up, and smiled. Perched in a cavity high in the wall was the youngest Heiress, an olive blush coming strongly to her face. Polypa tilted her head to the side, folding her arms as she looked up at the embarrassed Leo.

 “And what would this be?” she called, leaning back slightly.

 Nepeta Leijon was quiet for a bit, before meekly replying. “Hi Polypa.”

 She had to fight to keep the smile from her face, as she spun around to face the pillar beside her. Taking a quick run-up, Polypa leaped up, landing against the pillar, using her momentum to pull herself up a little more, then pushing hard off, turning in the air as she did. With a grunt, she got a hold of a crevice in the wall, being just below the Heiress. With just a few movements of climbing, she was eye level with the clawed climber, leaning away to give Nepeta some breathing room.

 Looking behind her, Polypa could see that the small hole was indeed tunnel that seemed to lead far deeper than she originally thought. Throwing up an inquisitive eyebrow, the Goezee turned to look at Nepeta once again.

 “Well then, I’m sure there is a fair explanation to this.”

 Nepeta looked lost as to what to say, to defend her case of somehow knowing about tunnels in the keep yet telling no one.

 “Oh… look… a tunnel…”

 The urge to smile was becoming harder to fight at the Leo’s desperate attempt at feigning innocence.

 “Go on; move in.” Polypa directed, pulling herself up farther, digging her hands into the stone at the top of the tunnel as Nepeta crawled in. With a heft, Polypa lifted herself up completely, hanging from her handgrips. She gently set herself down at the mouth of the stone chute, settling down to skulk in after the Leijon.

 The tunnels weren’t exactly cramped, but they certainly didn’t offer much in the way of turning room. If someone off average size had been in here, they would be stuck in one direction. Pray they didn’t find a dead-end. The sounds of water, bustling servants and slaves, and cracklings flames could be heard as they traversed, going along different parts of the manor.

 “So, how long have you known about these?” The Goezee inquired after a stretch.

 Nepeta thought for a moment. “A few months.” She answered simply.

 Polypa was rather surprised at that. “You managed to keep it a secret that long? Well done.”

 Nepeta didn’t respond, but Polypa was sure she heard a quiet purr of satisfaction. They travelled in silence a bit after that, passing by a handful of exits and viewing holes, seeing into the workings of the keep. It was just as the light began to grow more orange, that Nepeta spoke again.

 “Me and the cats come up here a bit.” She explained. “We play hide-and-seek a lot.”

 Polypa had to admit that was rather adorable, but could still sense a slight suspicion surfacing.

 “I don’t see any cats right now, you know?” Nepeta slowed for a second. “What were you doing up here?”

 “You know, just exploring.” It was obvious when the Heiress was lying.

 “Four months and still exploring? Either you’ve been lazy or this system is much bigger than I thought.”

 There was a moment of silence. “Well… um…”

 Polypa laughed quietly, making sure no one could hear them in the tunnels. “Don’t worry, I’ll drop it, as long as you promise to be careful.”

 She could hear the girls sigh of relief. “Thanks Polypa!”

 The Goezee knew that Nepeta was capable of taking care of herself. If she wasn’t, Polypa would have been her Guardian rather than her sister’s. During the revolution the youngest Leijon had claimed more lives than even some of the Leo warriors did. She was a vicious cat to be sure, even if she wasn’t on the Guardian’s level quite yet.

 It was with these thoughts in her mind that Polypa emerged from the tunnels, out into the open air of the sunset. It was just a small hole in the side of the cliff, connected to a large tree, its trunk twisting to form a spiralling pathway upwards. The glow of the sun was cast across them, making the sight even more subtly beautiful.

 The two of them climbed up a small bit, then settled on a particularly sturdy branch. They were unlikely to be seen by anyone, as the watchmen were quite far down, and the time of day had nestled them in the darkness. Leaning against the branches behind her, Polypa disregarded the fact that if she was to fall, there was a considerable chance that she wouldn’t survive. After all, they were several hundred feet above the base of cliff, and the canopy above it.

 Glancing over to Nepeta, she could see something was on the girls mind. Most likely related this solo tunnel trespass she was having. Polypa understood that well enough; needing to get away from others to think, except she had an entire peninsula of the manor to do so. The Heiress was likely kept an eye on most of the time, leaving her with few times to do so. The child had a rough life to be sure. Even just being a member of Nobility was bad enough. The added weight of revolution’s results surely didn’t help. Having the Head of the House exiled to the wastes was a pain that all in the House felt. In ways it was worse than if the executioner had done his job. At least then there wouldn’t be the feeling of restlessness and guilt at not being able to help her.

 She was strong, however, any who were close to her knew this. Even if she was merely seen as a sidekick to the Sufferer, she was the fighter and the protector of the prophet. It was a trademark of the House in ways, training and hiring out warriors. Polypa was just an orphaned street urchin, hiding in the residence of a Libra, when the Disciple found her, and offered her a place in the House, should she train to be a bodyguard to the nobility. The Goezee had accepted without hesitation, and made herself practice and work out ruthlessly, until she was strong enough and skilled enough to protect whoever she was pledged to serve, and to make herself worthy of the conversion rituals, to make her part of the House in body as well as in mind. Now she had olive blood and greyish skin like the rest of them, and her hair was jet black, rather than its old brown.

 The Disciple had saved her life, and given her more than she could wish for. Even if she preferred not to admit it, as such an unprofessional feeling would be looked down upon, Polypa was hurt by the exile, not by the loss of a master, but the loss of a friend. She trained Polypa herself, and taught her everything she needed to know, rather than let the House instructors do so.

 Nepeta wasn’t the strongest, but Polypa knew that she would get through it, it was a merely a matter of time. If it was the only loss that she had endured then it was plausible that she would have been over it already. But revolutions are never content in taking just one. She lost friends in that war, some common, some noble, the Sufferer’s child chief among them.

 Polypa had lost a friend or two in the war as well. She knew the pain, and she likely would have let it take over her too, had it not been for the other child of Leo, her charge. She owed a lot to that girl.

 Remembering what her intentions had been when leaving the peninsula, Polypa decided it was time she left the Leijon to whatever devices she was planning. Rising from the branch, she drew the attention of the pondering child.

 “I better get going, check up on your sister.” The Goezee explained, grabbing on the branches above her, preparing to climb away. “Where should I head to?”

 Nepeta grinned slightly, seemingly being pulled from her melancholy. Turning, she pointed up to a point where the trunk clung to the cliff, and another small hole could be seen.

 “Go through there, and take a right, then a left, and you should end up at our living room. I think she is in there.” The Heiress explained the path, pulling out a small snack from her large coat as she did.

 Polypa nodded in thanks, doing a quick pullup on the branch to limber up for the climb. “Be safe in your delinquency, Nepeta.”

 Smiling, Nepeta leaned forward to wrap her arms around the Goezee’s midsection, who was still hanging from the branch. A grin coming to her face now, Polypa nodded one more time, then began to ascend, jumping from branch to branch, and shuffling up the trunk. After only a dozen or so seconds she had reached the entrance to the tunnels, and proceeded through it.

 Leaving the sunset light behind, Polypa returned to the darkness, only illuminated by small beams of dim light going through peepholes and cracks. She crawled for a while, taking the right, then left, going through a section that held a steep incline, where she was sure anyone not used to climbing would have bother.

 A few minutes later she saw light up ahead, and approached cautiously. Peeping out the exit, she saw that she was looking into the Leo’s living room, as Nepeta had said. It was a nice room to be sure, and served as a connector between the three Leo’s rooms, even if there were separate exits for each. There were a few small tables and some chairs, along with a square of four bookshelves in the corner, just below Polypa. She was about 9 feet up, on a decoration platform that ringed the room, a large black flag with an olive Leo sign hanging from it. Looking into the room, she saw that Nepeta was correct in reckoning: her sister was indeed within the room.

 Polypa took a moment to observe, in case she was about to intrude on something private that may embarrass the girl. But the Leijon was merely sitting at a table in the centre of the room, before a stone fireplace, in which a greenish flame burned, which was… peculiar. The table was stacked with books, all looking rather expensive and intricate. One was sitting open, leaning against the others, and the Leo was studying it with drooping eyes. Her shoulders were somewhat slouched, as she held her arms before her, her hands in a set position, as she worked on the spell. 

 The Guardian shook her head the sight. The girl was overworking herself once again, and likely had missed sleep. Despite Polypa’s several suggestions and urgings, she still did this. Making sure to create as little sound as possible, Polypa lowered herself from the platform, settling quietly to the ground in the small library section. Deciding to look as if she was here for a reason, the Goezee scanned the shelves, looking for any books that vaguely interested her. After a minute or so, she had a small pile of three books, romance novels all.

 Emerging from behind the shelves, she saw the Leijon, who was leaning to the side as if fighting off an intense tiredness. She let her steps make a bit more noise as she approached, setting the books on the table as Meulin Leijon blinked out of her daze, turning to look at her. A lazy smile spread across her face, and her eyes opened wider than before.

 “Polyp!” She left out the “a” out of her name. Judging by the lack of exclamations of excitement, it was because she was lacking sleep, rather than an intentional nickname.

 Polypa waved back at her. “Hey Meulin!” She greeted her, making sure her mouth was moving clearly. The girl stared sleepily at her, holding her head up with a hand perched on the desk, as the Goezee lifted herself up to sit on the only spot that wasn’t covered by books.

 “I haven’t seen you since the feast.” Meulin mused, speaking slowly compared to when she was operating on a full nights sleep. It was honestly quite adorable, Polypa thought.

 “Training.” She said clearly. The Heiress nodded, before looking over to the books that Polypa had placed upon the table.  

 “Ooh, what are those?” She gasped, some of her usual energy returning. “Are they romance?”

 Polypa smiled at Meulin’s rising voice, and picked up the trio. She showed the covers to her, revealing the titles. Chances were Meulin had read them at some point, they were from her library after all. It was at the last one that she reached out and took it excitedly from the Goezee’s hands.

 “I love this one!” Her voice was nearing what it usually was, even if her eyes remained as they were: exhausted. “The ending is just purrfect!”

 The Guardian chuckled. “So I’ve heard. Don’t spoil it though.” In Meulin’s now excited state, it was very likely that she accidently would, if not reminded otherwise.

 “I won’t!” The Leijon whined, as if the notion was ridiculous.

 “Just being sure.” Polypa held her hands in front of her in a mock defensive gesture. She picked up the other two novels. “Your opinion on these?”

 “They are purrety good too, their stories are great, and really funny!” Meulin was nodding enthusiastically as she spoke. “This one is just my furavourite! Because of the feels!” The quantity of emphasis she put upon the word “feels” was notable, to say in the least.

 Polypa smiled. “Fair enough.” She leaned in to read the hefty tome that Meulin had open. “So what are you up to?”

 The girl perked up at that, reaching out to pull the tome towards her. “I’m learning some cool spells! Check this one out!” The Leijon turned to the fire that had faded from its slight green, going closer to a lime, with spots of yellow showing through. The Heiress brought her hands up, facing them towards the flames. She took a few preparatory breaths, before beginning to rotate her hands around each other, while swirling her fingers in delicate patterns.

 It was after a few seconds of this that a slight glow appeared, illuminating her grey hands. The green luminosity grew stronger, as Polypa stared, transfixed by the girl and her magic. Soon the glow was a dancing ball of light, shining brightly, so that shadows of the Leijon’s hand were being cast to the wall. With careful precision Meulin gathered it up in one hand, aiming for a moment, then hurling the ball of light towards the fire.

 The ball impacted with the flames, causing a temporary roar of the fire, as the flames belched from the wall, their hue changing to a deep green, and illuminating the room so. The flames settled back, the colours deep and rich, throwing a waving illuminance onto the Leijon’s face, making her eyes glow with olive light. Polypa smiled faintly, admiring the Heiress’ beaming grin.

 Meulin turned to face her Guardian. “What do you think?” She looked up to her with hopeful eyes.

 “That’s really impressive,” she admitted, now looking at the olive flames, “Looks like your studies are coming along well.”

 “Yeah! It’s so much fun!” Meulin grabbed the tome and dragged it towards her in a swift move. She certainly seemed to be getting her energy back. The Leijon flipped through a few of the old pages, each covered in diagrams, notes, methods, and illustrations of the effects of the spells within, before settling on a page depicting a robed figure, their face obscured by a low hood, standing in a circle of fire that whirled and pirouetted around them.

 “I’m planning to learn this one, it would be so cool!” She clenched her fists and shook them a bit as she said it, as if bursting from the excitement.

 “Damn, that one looks difficult,” Polypa commented, reading the list of preparations and risks.

 Meulin lowered her hands, making a glum face. “Yeah, I have to spend some time learning to control and make fire first though.”

 “As long as you’re patient; you’ll get there,” The Goezee assured her.

 Meulin smiled a bit, before pulling out another tome from the piles. This one was black, with silver patterns sewn along the borders. A hideous skull covered the front, two shards of polished obsidian inlaid as the eyes, each having runes cut into them. Polypa could recognise what it was for immediately.

 Before Meulin could speak she was already investigating. “Why do you have that?” Polypa inquired, speaking sternly, concerned as to why Meulin would have such illegal material, never mind out in the open like this. “You could get imprisoned for this shit! Executed even!” She reached out to take the book from the Leijon, who started to protest.

 As Polypa’s hand neared the illicit volume, she gasped. The eyes of obsidian had a deep purple glow to them, and the Guardian found the same colour glowing within the veins of her outstretched hand. An immense and stinging pain erupted, and she found her hand not moving any closing to the tome.

 Pulling her hand away, Polypa clutched her wrist, quickly checking for any signs of damage. After a few moments the purple faded, replaced by a strong olive. Satisfied that her hand was not about to wither and rot, the Goezee glared at the book held close to Meulin’s chest.

 Meulin was meek in responding. “I won’t get in trouble for it, not by the law at least.” Polypa raised an extremely irritated eyebrow. “As long as you have a Capricorn to vouch for you, you’re allowed to have daemonic tomes.” Her Guardian’s shoulders sagged. “Kurloz vouched for me.”

 Polypa sneered, and mentally chastised herself for not realising that the mad clown would corrupt the Leijon sooner or later. He had already removed her hearing with his infernal screeching. Now he would tear away her mind with whatever daemonic magic he was teaching her.

 “Damned Capricorn fucks.” She looked up to Meulin’s face, which looked saddened and hurt. She sighed, and took a deep breath to calm herself. “Meulin, you need to stop messing with that shit; it’s way too dangerous.”

 The Leijon’s face dropped, and she looked away. She slowly pulled herself up from the chair, and began walking towards her room’s door, still holding the book tight to her chest.

 Polypa was about to protest, before remembering that the Heiress would not hear her complaints. She took off after her, reaching out to her shoulder, but found Meulin’s door slammed in her face.

 The Goezee let out a deep sigh of frustration, leaning back against the door, hearing the locks click. She was concerned, to put it lightly. Meulin was definitely not mentally strong enough to be consorting with daemons. She had to deal with this, and soon. Pinching the bridge of her nose, Polypa went back up the desk, looking to retrieve her novels. Spying a few rolls of parchment, and pen, Polypa reached forward to leave a note for the girl, but then stopped. What would she even say?

 Shaking her head, and retrieving the books, Polypa left the way she had come in. Better not to leave any of the House members potentially wondering how the Goezee miraculously appeared in the Leijon’s quarters.

 The tunnels seem far gloomier than before, and were harder to traverse, with the books held to her chest. Polypa soon found herself back outside, with the tree clinging to the cliff. Nepeta was no longer here, evidently off doing whatever misbehaviour she had on her mind. After a minute or so of careful climbing, the Leo was back in the tunnels, trying to remember the path she had taken. It took her a while, but after countless mistakes and the following bouts of curses she was back in the corridor, the waterfall roaring as it went down beside her.

 Still muttering the obscenities of her journey, Polypa travelled back through her peninsula, hearing not a single man-made sound. She was all alone in her little castle once again. Studying the cover of her novels, she walked back through her training ground, opening the small door in the peristyle, and entering her small room. It could almost be called a cell for its size. There was little in it, just a small desk, a chair, her closet built into the stone, and a small storage space, sheltered by a stone slab, upon which her bed was built. Throwing the books down on her desk, Polypa sighed once again, before removing the band from her hair, letting it fall down in thick clumps.

 She wiped her face with a rag, knowing that the bucket of water would not have been replaced, even if near an hour had passed since she left. Grabbing her guitar from under the bed, Polypa left the room, walking out to the cliff. Settling down at the edge, she leaned against the wall, basking in the twin moonlight and bringing the guitar up to play. Taking one long and deep breath, she let her head rest against the wall behind her, gazing at the stars above, and began playing, the notes coming to her naturally. She closed her eyes as she plucked the strings, relaxing. Pushing the anger and irritation towards Meulin aside, she instead thought of the way the girl would light up at the mention of romance, or when they got the rare trip into the city. Her smile. Her bright eyes. Her.

 The Guardian’s peninsula was deserted, and none but the tired soul heard the sad notes that rang throughout.

Chapter Text

 Tavros awoke to hard knocking on his door, and let out a groggy moan. Wiping the drool from his face, the boy pulled back his light sheets, his eyes still struggling to open fully. The knocking continued, its rhythm non-existent, giving him a fair idea of who it may be. Still undecided if he was happy with the intrusion or not, the Taurus heaved himself up to sitting, looking around his room. It wasn’t anything pretty; just a few scattered piece of furniture, and a cleared space on the floor where his fiduspawn lay, the sorcerous game pieces scattered about. Beside his bed sat his wheelchair, facing an awkward angle for what his next course of action would be.

 The Nitram grunted as he pulled himself from the bed, his arms shaking slightly as he slumped into the wheelchair. Frowning, he reached out to grab his legs, dragging them into proper place, and taking a moment to readjust his bedclothes. Only decently satisfied, the young Taurus let out a tired groan as he pushed his wheels forward and began moving slowly. It took him a few seconds, but before long his weary body was at his room door, reaching up to open up the large slab of wood, the handle’s height unsuited to his affliction.

 He breathed with relief when his hand finally found grip with the handle, letting the door swing open… about four inches, before hitting his chair. Exhaling deeply through his nostrils, Tavros wheeled back his chair to let the door open further, revealing the tall figure standing behind, their shoulders hanging low.

 “How’s the motherfucker?”

 Tavros barely batted an eye at this greeting, even if some of the Houses would gasp and faint at the profanity. After several years of friendship it would be peculiar if he did anything of the sort, having grown used to the unending swears and dirty obscenities.

 “Hi, I’m good, tired. Gamzee, uh, what are you doing here?” The Nitram responded, stuttering slightly.

 The tall figure of Gamzee Makara stepped forward into the room, a dumb smile plastered across his face. Tavros had also become comfortable with the clown’s intimidating stature, even now as he stared down at the boy with a grin full of sharp teeth. 

 “Just wishin’ a good motherfucking morning to my bro,” The Makara answered happily, walking to the edge of the fiduspawn pile and plopping down, crossing his legs, his baggy breeches covered in coloured spots rustling greatly as he did so.

 Tavros thought for a moment, not sure if he should inform his friend or not. Finally deciding he might as well, he spoke. “Uh, Gamzee, I was just taking a nap. It’s actually the middle of the afternoon…”

 The Makara looked up to him, then turned his slightly confused face to the window, where strong beams of light shined through the gap in the curtains. After a brief moment of saying nothing, he let out a low chuckle.

 “My shit’s all up and fuckin’ twisted today bro,” The Capricorn laughed merrily, dismissing the fact that mistakes like this occurred quite regularly.

 “It’s okay, It’s not really hurting anyone, I guess.” The Taurus commented, wheeling towards where his friend sat. Unsurprisingly, Gamzee really didn’t have much in the way of motive for what he was doing. The Makara was merely picking up the fiduspawn materials and investigating them with muffled curiosity, his drooping eyes moving slowly.

 Tavros didn’t really know exactly what to do, resulting in him just staring at the game pieces along with the inebriated highborn. Judging by his actions, it could be assumed he had ingested even more of his soporific slime than normal. More of these pauses of seeming meditation were to be expected, which would undoubtedly make conversation considerably more difficult.

 It was a small while before the Nitram finally grew bored of observing with his clown friend. Pivoting around, he moved over to his dresser and pulled open the doors. There wasn’t much style in what he could wear, as most of what was currently fashionable would take an unreasonable amount of effort to put on. Most of what he wore was loose clothes, with a few buckles and straps if he was feeling up to it, which right now he most certainly was not.

 Looking over to the spaced-out Makara, Tavros decided that he might as well inquire for help.

 “Err, Gamzee?” The purpleblood’s head turned to face him, his glazed eyes following a tad behind. “Do you mind, uh, helping me get dressed?”

 Somehow the Capricorn’s smile grew wider, as he heaved himself up to standing. “Motherfucking hell yeah, I’m all about helping a bro out.”

 It took some time, helped in no part by the Makara’s intoxication or the intentional slowness he took in his efforts to be gentle, but soon Tavros was dressed, and back comfortably in his wheelchair.

 “So shall we get going on some wicked fuckin adventures?” Gamzee enquired, moving behind to grab the two handles. Tavros giggled slightly.

 “Off we go.” The Taurus replied happily, pointing towards the open door, prompting the clown to push.

 If the Nitram was being honest, he much preferred having the mechanical wheelchair that he was given a year ago. But due to a rather unfortunate incident involving a rampaging animal, and far more guards than was necessary, that chair was currently being repaired. He was stuck with the manual one for now, which at least had the beneficial side effect of being an excuse to spend more time with Gamzee, if nothing else. Some in his House were distrustful of the Capricorn, for admittedly good reasons, but Tavros knew that Gamzee wished no harm on anyone, even if his House as a whole did.

 The Capricorn House was known as one full of murderous and unstable zealots, who had little qualms with falling into a barbarous rage. It created a cloud of fear that followed any of the House, and even if Tavros had no concern towards Gamzee, he certainly felt that dread of the House when around others, especially those assigned under Trizza. They were terrifying to be sure, both by reputation and aura.

 Tavros hummed as he was pushed along the wooden corridors of the Taurus Manor by the zoned-out clown. The Manor wasn’t the most comfortable place to be a wheelchair user, with its cracked and uneven floors, thanks to countless animals trudging through, but it was preferable to the more high-class homes, with their love of stairs and several floors. At least the Taurus were satisfied with only two floors, with the most important rooms being on the bottom floor. Tavros did initially have his bedroom on the top floor, but was moved down to a servants bedroom after the incident with the Scorpio, and his House still hadn’t gotten around to building a room suited to him entirely, even if one or two members were adamant to get started.

 One of those members were just ahead of the duo now, staring out one of the large, boarded up windows to the sky above. The large goggles that never left his face were glinting brightly as he smiled faintly upwards, his mind no doubt set on thoughts of flight and exploration. His large jacket was fastened up, and his large hat concealed his hair and ears. As they approached, Tavros’ chair went over a rather large crack in the floorboards, the sound prompting the large figure of Vikare Ratite to turn his head, catching sight of the true Taurus. His smile grew, but not the lazy smile that the Makara often wore. This smile was energetic and invigorating, and never failed to make Tavros smile in return.

 “Exalted greetings to you, young master Tavros!” The Taurus boomed, his hands planted firmly on his hips. “And to you too, jolly Makara!” He added a moment later, noticing the grinning clown. Gamzee just nodded slowly in reply, but that didn’t faze him.

 “Hi, Vikare, how are you today?” Tavros returned his greeting, albeit with much less enthusiasm, no matter how hard he tried to match it.

 “As well as a man such as me can be, on such a gloriously prepossessing day as this!” The aviator never let the smile leave his face as he spoke. “That is to say: I find myself most furiously possessed by spirits of joyous vigour!”

 Tavros giggled gleefully at the Ratite’s choice of words. Even after several years of knowing the young man, he could still find delight in his phrasings.

 “So, uh, what were you doing looking out the window?” The Nitram queried, trying to see through the cracks in the boarding.

 Vikare merely let out his hearty laugh. “I was letting my mind wander the most infinite expanses of the sky. Feeling the wind blow across my exuberant grin, and seeing the binding ground far below me.” He stepped back over to the window, gazing out once again. “I was imagining being truly free. And I shall be, one day!” Vikare raised his shoulders even higher as he said this, his body brimming with excitement. “Each day I come closer to unlocking the mysteries of traversing the sky, shooting with the speed of a bolt of lightning!”

 Tavros knew of the Ratite’s attempts at engineering some form of sky-craft that would let him soar through the air, as most did. It was even something of a joke among some of the House, but the Nitram was sure that it would result in something good one day, and Vikare would have the dreams that consumed his near every waking moment fulfilled.

 “How is your work on the machine going?” he inquired, hoping to set the man into one of his adventurous speeches. They were always entertaining.

 “Wondrously and splendidly, as the common man would say! I feel as though I am on the precipice of discovery! The discovery of speedy flight that will bring me to new horizons! The means of exploration of the great unknown, freedom from the pains of gravity! Soon I shall navigate through the never-ending skies, in a wondrous state of flight fuelled vivacity!” Vikare’s flight goggles seemed to catch the light brighter for a second, the glint giving a mystical property to his oration.

 “Although, I do seem to have hit a standstill momentarily, but that shall only postpone my heavenly journey! A small loan is all that is in order, and that is no problem to me!”

 “A loan? For what?” Tavros didn’t necessarily want to interrupt the Ratite’s spirited words, but the curiosity had fleetingly got the better of him.

 “For necessary parts of course! Getting a metallic machine such as that to rise above earthly confines takes some choice of mighty power!” Vikare rubbed his clean shaven face in thought. “Although I really must procure an occasion to entreat for such a finance. There is much work to be done in this House, so such instances can be rare.”

 Tavros knew that was true. The members of the House were usually either working in repairing the multitudes of damages the Manor had sustained during the rather regular beast attacks, or fulfilling remits given by the silent Prince. He had not heard even a fragment of what these missions entailed, as all the Taurus involved were sworn to secrecy regarding their contents. The Prince was a seemingly paranoid one when it came to losing his knowledgeable advantage.

 “Does the Prince have you doing a job?” the Nitram questioned.

 “Aye, and a most laborious one at that, but I can speak of it not. You know how it is young master.”

 Gamzee seemed to perk up ever so slightly at this, as if someone had just occurred to him.

 “I have some motherfucking business to discuss with my ghastly bro,” he remembered.

 Tavros looked back up to Vikare apologetically. “I guess we have to go, uh, talk to you later Vikare.”

 “Have no worries Tavros, we will speak again before the skies lift me up!”

 The Nitram waved goodbye as Gamzee pushed him away, resuming their trek across the uneven and hostile flooring. They continued through the manor, passing by several servants’ quarters, the kitchens, and then the guards’ wing. The only real need for guards in the manor was for the beasts, although they could never seem to manage to get the manor through an attack unscathed, and from what Tavros had heard, they were negligible compared to the efforts of the Capricorns. He found it funny, imagining his permanently tranquil friend staving off the gigantic faunae. From the glimmers of recounts he had heard, the Makara was apparently a force to be reckoned with, although he found that rather ridiculous.

 Tavros looked back to the smiling clown behind him, whose lazy eyes were fixed straight ahead. Absolutely ridiculous.

 Gamzee stopped suddenly, but not fast enough to cause a jolt. The Taurus turned, curious to the reason for the halt, when he caught sight of a small figure running down the hall at breakneck speed. The small figure of a child shot by, a glance of a painted face visible, a glint of knife held in their hand. Tavros didn’t even know why Karako was allowed to have such weapons, but here he was, zooming down the hallways with a blade in his grasp. He caught sight of them as he passed by, and yelled out a very audible “HONK”.

 With the exceedingly short encounter over, Gamzee continued forward, heading towards the elevators at the side of the great stairway that dominated the main room of the downstairs. Unfortunately, it was only large enough to fit one person, meaning Gamzee could only push Tavros in, and leave him to operate it while he went up the long way.

 The Nitram sat alone in the lift as it slowly rose up, the gears creaking and jolting him the whole way. Two particularly violent jolts caused him to lose grip on the lever, resulting in the lift stopping between floors, and forcing the Taurus to use some amount of effort to force it to resume. Eventually he managed to get to the top, and a few seconds after the notifying bell went off, the sound of the Makara opening the grated entrance started behind him. Gamzee recommenced his duty, pulling Tavros out, and bringing him through yet more rutted corridors, still in a blissful daze.

 They were just approaching their destination when a rather strident voice could be heard shouting down the hall.

 “What do you mean he ain’t composed enough? He called me here only a few minutes ago!”

 The pair rounded the last corner, and found the tall physique of Skylla Koriga looking down upon a guard of the Capricorns’, who was trying desperately to defend her liege. Skylla was having none of it.

 “First he starts sending us off on little errands of his, as if we’re servants, and now he is just messing with us?” The guard brought her hands up to say something. “Well you can tell him that I ain’t havin’ none of it anymore! He wants to talk to me he can come to the ranch himself!” She turned away from the stuttering guard. “He ain’t gonna make lapdogs out of this House!”

 The Taurus caught sight of Tavros, and by extension Gamzee. After sneering at the stoned clown to convey her distaste, she addressed Tavros.

 “I hope you’re not here to talk to the “Prince”” She mocked the name. “It appears that he is too “indisposed” for conversation with anyone.” Skylla glanced back to the guard, shooting daggers at her.

 “I, uh, well, Gamzee is.” The Nitram stammered in reply.

 “Oh, is he now?” A vindictive smile filled her face, as he walked around to stand behind Tavros, staring at the guard. “Well, I’d love to see how this goes.”

 Gamzee stared at her for a moment, no discernible emotion on his face. Growing impatient, the Koriga indicated the door with her head, and glared, brows furrowed. Taking some form of hint, the Makara trudged towards the door, as the guard looked down in defeat. After a moment of hesitation, she opened up the door for Gamzee to pass right through.

 After closing the door, the she got one look at the sheer wrath Skylla was projecting towards her, before quickly abandoning her post, preferring a reprimanding by her superiors than spend another second in Skylla’s gaze.

“That’s what I thought,” the Taurus muttered under her breath. “I swear them Capricorns are doing this just to mess with us.” She shook her head a bit, and turned back to Tavros.

 “So, how has you day been mister Nitram?” The shift of attitudes was rather quick, but Tavros decided he might as well keep her on a good one.

 “I’ve been better I guess. What about you?”

 “There’s been better days. Days where I don’t have to deal with purpleblood crap.” She once more threw a look at the door. “But let’s not let that ruin such a fine day as this. Say, I was just dealing with the livestock before this whole thing happened. Wanna help out?”

 “Yeah!” Tavros yelled, getting excited at the prospect of assisting his cousin.

  Skylla smirked, taking the handles on his chair, and leading him back to the lift. She patted him on the shoulder as she went back to head down the stairs, leaving him to another uncomfortable journey. After the jolts and shaking of the elevator, the Koriga pulled him out, welcoming him to the bottom floor with a smile.

 “So, what have the mister been up to this day?”

 Tavros thought for a moment, trying to remember what he had been doing before his nap. “I played some fiduspawn when I woke up, and got some food, then, uh, went back to sleep.”

 “And waste a good mornin’ such as that? For shame,” Skylla joked, accompanying him through the halls.

 “Heh, Yeah, but then Gamzee woke me back up, and we went around for a bit.”

 “Oh did he?” Skylla seemed to think her words through a bit. “Now, Tavros, this may sound harsh, or maybe intrusive, but be careful around that jester. He’s dangerous, more dangerous than you realise.” The Nitram turned up to protest. “The Capricorns have been up to something lately, been sticking their noses where they don’t belong. And this ain’t me generalizing your friend or anythin’, don’t get the wrong impression; he’s done enough to warrant a fair suspicion or two.”

 “It’s okay Skylla, he’s really not what people think he is.” Tavros assured her.

 “Well, people who have seen him fight could argue, but, very well. Just be careful, okay? Don’t want you going on gettin’ yourself hurt.” Even if Tavros disagreed with her, he did find it touching how concerned she was. Skylla was one of the gentler people he knew, as long as you were a friend.

 They finally reached the side doors of the Manor, and Tavros prepared to feel the bumps as they descended to the rocky ground trail. Instead he found Skylla picking up the chair completely, and lowering it gently down past the steps, and onto the smoother part of the trail. Her strength never failed to impress him.

 “Sorry about this,” she apologized, as they began their outdoor journey, the jittering through his chair being quite annoying.

 “When was the last time you were out here?” The Koriga asked after a few seconds of getting into a rhythm for walking while making sure that Tavros didn’t fall from the chair on any of the bumps.

 “A few months ago, I think,” he replied, hearing her tutting behind him.

 “That’s a shame that is. There’s no excuse for them letting your incident get in the way of fresh air.” Skylla shook her head, before jolting the chair in a direction as a particularly violent bump threatened to slide Tavros off. “Oh, sorry. But don’t worry: I’ll make sure they get around to making a nice pathway or two for you, give you a nice outdoors experience.”

 “That’s sweet of you Skylla.”

 “Ain’t a problem kiddo.”

 They traversed the long trail leading to Skylla’s personal ranch for a while, passing by fields of crops, livestock, and one or two gatherings of workshops that were hard at work at repairs. Tavros didn’t remember the Koriga’s ranch being so far away from the Manor.

  “So is talking to that clown all you were up to?” She asked after pausing at a particularly busy workshop, watching a large restrained beast pulling a wagon of building supplies getting ready to head back to the Manor.

 “Um, no, I talked to Vikare as well.”

 Skylla smiled at the mention of their mutual cousin. “How goes his machine workin’s?”

 “He says they are going well, but he needs a loan.” Tavros answered.

 “Well he’d need good luck to get an opportunity like that,” she mused. “I haven’t left the Taurus estates in months.” She lifted her face with a smile. “I hope he gets a chance though, I’d love to see the young one’s dreams come true.”  

 Skylla looked up the sky, and Tavros, turning around, could see the glint of hope in her eyes. Hope that her cousin could sail the air, no matter how long it took. “He’ll get up there, it’s just a matter of time.”

 They continued on for a little bit longer, coming up to one of the large beast taming sheds. House Taurus was known for capturing beasts from the wild, both normal fauna and daemonic, and taming and training them fit for service, either as beasts of burden, or as military monsters. Daemons really tended towards one of those two.

 Although the House was quite skilled at preparing the monsters, they did slip up, and a rampage or two wasn’t unlikely. In exceptionally bad cases, the rampages managed to reach the manor, and do some measure of damage to the building. It had gotten far too common lately, according to many of Tavros’ cousins, and repair work seemingly never stopped. None of the remaining Taurus had strong enough communing powers to hold back the rampages. Or at least none of the ones in the manor did. Tavros’ father had incredible powers, not only slowing them down, but causing a stampede to halt entirely, or bring a daemon down to rest.  But unfortunately his father couldn’t return to help with the hordes, not since the revolution.

 Skylla saw him staring at the True Taurus symbol above the shed, and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. “He’ll be back one day.” Tavros wasn’t so sure. It had already been 7 years, and there was still no sign of him.

 When the revolution had started to go south, and the other leaders had gotten captured, he fled, exiling himself to the wastes. In order to ensure he does not return, the Condesce placed the Capricorns in charge of the House, as a method of warding him away with the threat of mass destruction should he return. It was generally what the Capricorns were used for; subjugation and suppression. 

 Tavros had looked up to his father in many ways, his confidence, his willingness to do what needed to be done, and his determination. But he failed of these when he fled. It was a worse punishment than if he had been caught.

 Before long, they finally arrived at Skylla’s ranch. The building was modest, a small wooden home surrounded by fenced off fields. A fair amount of livestock were scattered around. Catching sight of them, Skylla let go of the wheelchair.

 “Be just a moment Tavros.”

 The Koriga ran quickly to her own shed, bringing out a bucket filled with water. She took a few trips, bringing the water from the shed into the trough just within the fences. Satisfied that they were full enough, she returned to Tavros.

 “Sorry, just forgot to fill them up on my way over.” She apologized, helping Tavros up onto her raised patio. She walked up to the door, beckoning him forward as she let it swing open.

 Tavros smiled as he wheeled himself into her House. He always enjoyed his time spent in Skylla’s. There was seemingly always something cooking, and the smell permeated throughout the rooms. Skylla lit the lamps hanging from the ceiling, bathing the room in a warm light. Tavros placed himself at the table, which Skylla had helpfully taken a chair away from to make space.

 “Let me just put something in the oven quickly,” the Taurus excused herself, leaving to the kitchen. Tavros was only waiting for a moment, when Skylla’s favoured pet came bounding in. A massive hound named Lady. The dog approached Tavros, rubbing her gigantic snout against his leg. The Nitram giggled, petting the hound, and wondering how on earth Skylla had managed to get a lower daemon hound to be so domesticated.

 He voiced his question when the Koriga came back, cleaning her hands with a cloth. Skylla laughed a bit.

 “They just need to be shown a bit of love. They might come from the veil, but they are just like any other critter you find. Establish yourself as not food, show ‘em respect, and they’ll show respect back.”

 Tavros smiled at the answer. He was sure that the beast-masters could learn a thing or two from Skylla, should they ever decide to listen. They could be awfully cruel with the beasts, especially the daemons, prompting more than a few rampages.

 The Koriga smiled as she leaned down on a chair, her forearms supporting her.

 “People see daemons as inherently even and all that, but they really are just, y’know, beings. If you train ‘em out of all that aggression they are shown in the veil, then you have a good, stalwart companion. Just takes time.”

 Skylla called Lady over to her, rubbing her head affectionately. Tavros knew the bond between the two was strong; he had seen Lady rush to Skylla’s side to fend of rampaging beasts on the rare occasion that Tavros wasn’t immediately brought into the Manor to be protected. The hound was a monster in a fight, moving with a speed unmatched by any other beast.

 He was just about to comment on this, when Skylla cast a look outside. She furrowed her brow, and went over to the window. “Seems like a shower is starting, so there goes my plans of tending to them livestock, and I might not be able to bring you back for a few hours.”

 “Oh, that’s okay, I like spending time with you anyway so it’s good.” Skylla smiled.

 “Well, in that case, I may as well bring out a game or two.” The Koriga went to another room, before remerging with a board of checkers. “Ought to pass the time.”

 They played for a while, Skylla winning near every time. She was really good at the game, it seemed. He had already lost four games to her when she went back to the kitchen to retrieve the food. She returned only a bit later with a large tray holding a steaming loaf. The smell wafting from wafting from it made Tavros’ mouth water.

 Smiling proudly, Skylla placed it on the table, before pulling out a breadknife, and working away. If Tavros had a pang of hunger before, now he was consumed with a craving for food, as the cut through, revealing that the insides were filled with a combination of cheese and a variety of vegetables. A great wave of steam rose from inside as she pulled away the first slice.

 “You’re a lucky one; you get to be the first to try this.” It was quickly losing its structural integrity, but that didn’t slow down how quickly Tavros grabbed and piece and shoved it into his mouth. The flavour was idyllic.

 “Good?” she laughed, seeing the boy wolf it down.

 Tavros looked up to her, nodding quickly, before resuming his consumption. The Koriga smiled, sitting down to enjoy some of her cooking as well.

 Tavros thought about his relations with his cousins as he ate. He was definitely closest to Skylla, if that much wasn’t obvious. She had supported and helped him as a child, even when she was dealing with the losses and pains of revolution. Her first commitment was to him, seemingly always. It was only after all was settled that she began to grow away, being too busy with House labours, or tasks set out by the Capricorn. Although she did make sure to make time for him after his incident, and ensured that he would be adequately looked after when she had to leave. She was nearer a sister to him than a cousin, a better sibling than his brother had ever proved himself to be.

 Vikare was somewhat less close, being concerned more with his machines than with other members of his House. His introversion had let him continue for almost a week before learning of the incident, although is efforts were vital in making the Nitram a method of transport. He was a kind and cheery soul no doubt, just a little in the clouds.

 Then there was Chixie. Tavros couldn’t recall the last conversation he had with her, or when it was. She had left quite a while ago to live in Alternia, pursuing her dreams as a musician, much to the dismay of other House members. From Tavros remembered, she too was kind.

 Soon the Nitram had finished his meal, and looked up to see Skylla carrying away her dish, before noticing that he too was finished, and reached out to take his.

 “I’ll take it you enjoyed your meal?” Tavros smiled up at her.

 After going to deposit the dishes back in the kitchen, Skylla took a look outside, as the Nitram realised that while he had been eating, the rain had picked up to a thunderous hail. Skylla grimaced.

 “Well kiddo, looks like you might be spending the night here.” Skylla turned around as if to apologize again, but instead found Tavros smiling happily, letting her know that he really didn’t mind.

 “Looks like you’re goin’ to get quite a bit more experience with checkers then.”

Chapter Text

 Aranea sat hunched over the desk, her elbow propping her up. Her other hand trailed along the edge of her book as she read, eyes skimming over each line at an impressive speed. A blissful smile turned up the corners of her mouth as she read, engrossed in the words in front of her. She didn’t notice her bad posture, or the ticking of the ornate clock in the room. Her only concerns was what she was reading, and the information held within.

 Reaching the end of the block of text, the Serket turned the page, revealing to herself yet more of the knowledge she desired, and a diagram of some monstrous creature. She quickly identified the being as a daemon; a large carapacian, if her studies had told her anything. The illustration was among the most detailed she had seen, with text labelling notable features and identifiers of the strain of daemon. The most obvious for this exact specimen was of course its carapace, thick and leaving no part of its flesh exposed. She read through the opposite page, containing a wealth of material on the characteristics and behaviours of the carapacian.

 There were quick summaries of the many different groups you could find them in; veil war parties; veil scouting missions; and wasteland tribes, each with brief descriptions of their armaments and comportments. Absorbing the information given, Aranea jotted down the references given onto a small sheet of paper beside her, one that already contained near a hundred names of other books and papers that she planned to read.

 Returning to her book, she turned the page once more, reading more about the difficulties and dangers of isolating a single carapacian from a pack, as they tended to be social creatures, sticking together in packs rather than lone-wolfing it, in most cases at least. There were a few small exceptions to this, the Agents being the most prominent that came to mind. She already had a tome or twelve concerning them on her reading list. Their machinations and powers within the system of Veil society was especially intriguing to her. One individual in particular caught her attention, with his rampant race for power and domination. He had rewritten what scholars and researchers had thought possible with his advancements of his own strength.

 Turning over the page, recounts of the tactics and abilities shown in the raids against the common greeted Aranea. She frowned slightly. The actions of the Houses during the incursion was not something she was pleased with. It had amassed too little more than some half-hearted attempts at holding some small towns, all of which ended in tactical retreats, and some researchers capturing live specimens for study. Those studies would really only benefit anyone if applied, but unfortunately they were not. She was reading one of the only products of the investigations.

 Nevertheless, explanations and reports on the horde tactics of carapacian war hosts were exceedingly interesting. She was somewhat thankful that they put any effort into dealing with them at all, however, if it meant she could immerse herself in readings on them.

 Being momentarily distracted by her musings, Aranea glanced at the clock. She raised her eyebrows, surprised. Already three hours had passed since she arrived at the library. Closing the book and rising from her chair, she shook her head. She really did need to get her time awareness in check. This was the third time this week that she had nearly missed a scheduled event. Aranea placed the book into her bag, and folded up the paper, sliding it into the front pocket. Looking around the room, the Serket double checked that she had not left anything behind, before leaving towards the door.

 Passing by the large lavish bookcases that formed the twisting maze of learning that was the library, Aranea checked over the sections, wondering if any of them needed new material. The offences and defences of the Empire could use some updated texts, as the inventions and wide scale distribution of heavy shard artillery was a new addition to the roster. She had yet to see them being used, but chances were that the moment she could, Mindfang would procure a number of personalised ones for her ships. Even if she disagreed with her mother’s doings, at least she could apply her reading to an actual model up close. Perks of being a Serket, she supposed.

 She turned her thoughts away from restocking. She had somewhere to be quite soon, now was not the time for trivial matters. Turning through the junctions and forks of the great library, Aranea at last reached the entrance. She was just pressing a hand to the colossal wooden doors, when she heard a clicking coming from somewhere in the library, followed by a quiet chuckle. Listening closer, she located it as the northern corner. The Serket rocked back and forth on her feet, considering if she had the time to investigate.

 Chances were that she only had a small amount of time to waste, but the curiosity was taking over. She placed down her bag at the door, trying to make as little noise as possible, and began her way through the bookcases. Aranea had memorised the entire place by now, each turn and twist. She could recall each section’s location, and a choice few books from each, if need be. With small steps, she passed the social hierarchy section, coming up to the entrance of the small study area. She heard the sounds of objects being moved, then the scraping of a chair along stone floor. She realised too late what this meant, and was left facing a fellow highborn as he rounded the corner, carrying a large bag on his back, and fixing the large coat he wore.

 Mallek Adalov stared at her for a moment, an eyebrow slowly raising.

 “Okay.” He said after a moment. “What are you doing?”

 Aranea tried to laugh it off. “Um. I was just heading over here to get a book on advanced veil portal research and discover-”

 “But you’re researching daemonic social structure.”

 “I… I’m actually studying reality based technology, so I guess you are wrong on that front.”

 Mallek looked at her for a second, an amused smile beginning. “No, you’re not. I heard you talking to yourself when you were picking the books.”

 Aranea stared at him, not sure what to say. His smile widened. “It’s chill, I guess I was making a bit of noise. Hard not to be nosy about it.”

 She opened and closed her mouth, trying to think of an argument. Mallek chuckled, walking past her. He walked backwards for moment.

 “Now, if you’ll excuse me: I have somewhere to be. Chat you later.”

 He spun back around, still chuckling as he left the library. Aranea stared after him. That was certainly not her best defence. She pinched the bridge of her nose, chiding herself. Making her way out of the library, she picked back up her bag, letting the strap rest on her shoulder. She frowned slightly, seeing that Mallek had not deigned to close the door behind him. She pulled the heavy slab of wood closed behind her, and found herself in one of the many long stone corridors of the Scorpio residence within Alternia.

 She walked along the rows of torch scones and paintings of Scorpio ancestors, hearing her heels click on the brick floor. The entire residence was constructed from the massive dark grey blocks, and was surely a great feat to build. For the slaves that is. She had no doubt that not a single worker was hired and paid fairly. Such was the way of her House, unfortunately. She didn’t approve of having slaves, and had surreptitiously dismissed them from serving her directly. Forbidding them directly would have attracted the suspicion of her mother, and that was something that nobody wanted.

 Reaching the end of the corridor, Aranea gazed out the large panelled window, out onto the port. The Scorpio residence was built at the end of the massive wall containing the city, so that it had a private port of its own, which suited Mindfang perfectly. Her great personal warship wasn’t currently docked, so it seemed that she had once again left without any warning. Left to pillage and burn, no doubt.

 Aranea had grown used to the sudden departures, so she took little notice, and merely turned her head to observe the rest of the port. She could see ships entering and leaving, cargo be loaded and unloaded. It would be like this all day and night; the port never slept. Taking note of each ship, she went to leave the window, before something floating at the entrance to the port caught her interest. Sitting out in the open waters, with smaller ships going to and fro, was the Aquarius flagship. It was certainly the largest ship that Aranea had ever seen, and she had spent months at a time out at sea, and frequented the docks quite often.

 The deck looked like it could fit an entire factory upon it, and the sides were brimming with over two hundred openings for cannons. The sails nearly reached as high as the great wall itself, and would surely take several minutes to climb to the crow’s nest atop. Examining the deck further, she found the reason that the ship had finally returned. Several large guns were being installed along the sides. Heavy shard artillery, she guessed. Dualscar, predictably, didn’t hesitate for a second to get a hold of them, and his substantial wealth meant that he didn’t have to. After all, he was the second richest person in the known world, her Imperious Condescension being the first. Of course, he could never hope of amassing even close to the funds she held.

 Remembering her arrangement, the Serket left the window, quickening her pace to make up for lost time. Through more long stone corridors she traversed, glancing at the paintings and sculptures that lined them. She tried to recall the stories of each as she passed them, although she regretted it near immediately, being reminded of the tales of conquest, robbery and enslavement that each held. Her House’s history was not a pretty one, and would not be for quite a while, until her mother finally relinquished her position, letting Aranea become the Head. Although Aranea knew she would have to prove herself to some degree, else her mother choose her sister, who she had moulded into something of a mirror image. But the Serket knew that appearances were deceiving, and that mirror was close to cracking.

 She soon reached the main hall, a long room, filled with statues, armour sets and shows of the Scorpio wealth. A long cerulean carpet ran along the floor, from the gigantic metal and wood doors, down to the elaborate and intricate throne at the other end. The throne was atop an altar of sorts, surrounded by a circle of stone insectoid legs protruding upwards from the ground. Between each of the legs was a thick sheet of spider webs, with hundreds of spiders of various species roaming about. The throne itself had bare spikes emerging from the sides, and a large engraving of the Scorpio symbol along the top, along with a strip of cerulean cloth that ran down it to join the carpet at the bottom. Her mother had made most of the additions to the throne, with her enthusiasm for spiders, which Aranea happened to share. She wouldn’t mind sitting in that throne one day.

 Heading towards the throne, the Serket glanced behind her, finding only the two guards at either side of the great doors, holding sheathed longswords in their hands. They wore steel armour, the plates covering every inch of their skin, bar a rectangular strip around their eyes. Long cerulean capes flowed from their shoulders, denoting their status. Aranea knew that these guards were merely for show. Even if they were well trained and skilled, the true Scorpio fighting style was one of speed and dexterity, and besides, Mindfang certainly did not need guards. If she wanted, she could have taken out half her militia in a matter of an hour.

 Walking behind the throne, Aranea went through a set of doors, finding herself at the spiral staircase that shot up through the entire residence. Shaking her head at the needless extravagance of the castle, Aranea ascended, her heels clicking with each step. Only the members of the House bloodline itself were allowed past this point, any who weren’t the Serket’s or their cousins were forbidden without direct consent. The only slaves up here had never left since being brought up. Once they were captured, the entire rest of their lives were spent within the inner sanctum. Every home of the Scorpios had sections like this, as the House was fond of its secrets and hideaways.

 Coming up to the fourth floor, Aranea happened upon another Serket, who was carrying a bag of her own towards the stairs, and dragging a large one behind her. Aranea stopped, throwing up an eyebrow at the sight.

 “Um, Vriska?” Her sister straightened up and turned to face her. “Where are you off to?”

 Vriska stretched before answering. “I’m heading to the estate. It’s boring here, too safe.”

 Aranea shook her head at the answer. It was a typical Vriska answer. “Do you have Mindfang’s say?”

 Her sister froze for a moment. “I don’t need it.”

 “And that’s why you waited for her to leave?”

 Vriska shoulder’s sagged. “What do you want?”

 Aranea rolled her eyes, setting down her bag and stepping out from the stairway. She placed a hand on each of her younger sister’s shoulders. “I want you to not do anything stupid in those thrill seeking escapades of yours.”

 The younger Serket smirked, as if the notion was ridiculous. “Don’t worry Aranea, nothing will happen.” She picked up the larger back, heaving it over her shoulder. “After all: I’ve got all the luck.”

 Aranea watched as her sister went down the stairs, taking each step slowly with her extra baggage. She shook her head in exasperation, grabbing her bag and continuing upwards. Her sister really could be foolhardy sometimes. The Estate held nothing but risk and danger compared to the Alternian residence. Even with the dozens of Scorpio guard, there was massive danger in the dissatisfied peasants, assassins, and the beasts that sometimes frequented the area.

 She did journey to the Estate at the odd occasion, often at the behest of her mother, but much preferred the residence. It had much more reading material amassed, and quicker access to sources of said material. Although, the Estate did hold the oldest Scorpio texts, secured there in the inner sanctum, as most valuable things were. Unless they were being flaunted and bragged about, of course. But she had no reason to consult those texts now, as they held nothing about her current topic of study. The Scorpios were more concerned with the matters of war and strife. Tomes upon tomes of strategies and tactical tricks were contained within.

 According to all readings that referenced it, the texts were unequalled in their abundance of information on war and combat. They had been added to and revised by each Head of the House, and even now one could guess that Mindfang had made a great mark upon it, no doubt specialising in naval warfare, as she was the first to take to the seas so fully.

 But matters such as that interested Aranea little, at least for the moment. In the matters of the daemonic, no House would openly admit to carrying information concerning them. But even so, with a little investigation and some common sense, you would be pointed towards the Aries. History was littered with tales of the Aries and daemons. No House had been involved with them so oft, nor as closely. She was sure that their texts contained an unprecedented quantity of daemonic lore and information, and chances were that summoning techniques and binding packs were within as well. The idea made her long to pore over the hidden texts. She occasionally had the desire to go for the prize with her sister, and had even planned a heist with her when they were much younger and blinder towards the difficulties and deterrents involved.

 But who knew, Aranea thought, maybe they’d get their chance one day. Vriska was certainly eager to do anything that could get her killed, or let her kill something. The Serket wasn’t sure which was more worrying.

 Going up two more floors, Aranea arrived at the floor shared between two of her cousins: Mallek, and the one she was poised to meet. Stepping out from the stairway, she found herself on the main corridor, separating the two rooms. One wall was near barren, save for the occasional cerulean banner; Mallek wasn’t much of a decorator. The other wall was a completely different story. Paintings, frescoes and strips of cerulean cloth adorned the stone bricks, as if a bucket of artistry had been emptied on whatever bare space it could find.

 The Serket smiled slightly at the length, finding joy in her cousin’s tastes in décor. She walked through the hallway, towards the end, where she emerged into a small room that went to either side. This room, too, was split into two sections, one holding much the same style as the wall, while the other was barren and plain. On both sides were small tables, with rich chairs surrounding them. They were set to look out the large windows on one wall, gazing out at the city. Sitting in one of the chairs on the lavish side of the room was her cousin.

 Hearing her come in, the Scorpio turned, and a large smile split her face. Remele Namaaq greeted her with a thick accent.

 “Ah, Aranea, come in, come in!” She gestured to one of the other two chairs surrounding her table, which had a thick cerulean sheet covering it.

 The Serket sat, placing her bag down beside her. Her cousin was sketching away vigorously on a small journal laid out on the table. Leaning over to see, Aranea caught sight of a gory depiction of daemons. It was more than likely for the Capricorns, with their love of such topics. Although, the anatomical accuracy in the daemon itself was intriguing.

 “So what have you been doing lately?”  Remele asked once the Serket was seated.

 “Just reading some tomes regarding daemons and such, and took some notes on other things I should read.”

 “Oh, very interesting. Perhaps you can tell me how many fingers carapacians have then?” The Scorpio looked up from her drawing.

 Aranea thought for a moment. “It varies, as there are several different species within the genus.”

 The Namaaq made a content face. “Three it is then.” She quickly returned to the drawing, adding in the hands. “How long did you spend in the library this time?”

 “About three hours.” The Serket smirked.

 Remele shook her head. “I can never understand how you can do that, you know?”

 “Well, how long do you spend painting a day?”

 The cousin grinned, a slight giggle escaping her lips. “Fair,” she straightened up, closing her journal, exposing the cerulean sign of hers on the cover. “So what did you learn? Any cool new daemons I can make bank off?”

 “Unfortunately not, the only specimens I have studied thus far have been carapacians. I will be moving onto imps and ogres soon, however, and I think they should provide adequate inspiration for your works.”

 “Ooh, I can barely wait!” She raised her hand up a bit, excitement coursing through her at the prospect. “Perhaps I can then score a deal with one of the Makaras themselves, what with their obsession with the daemonic.” She tilted her head in thought. “Who knows, maybe I could get some of their more revered texts of daemons for you.”

 “That would be delightful, although if you want to impress the Makaras its best to choose a daemon they hold highly.”

 “And which would that be?”

 “Well, my guess would be on one of the highest ranking daemons, either one of the Arch-Daemon’s trusted servants, or the Arch-Daemon himself, although you would be working off second hand sources on his appearance, as no person in recorded history has seen the Daemon and survived. So most texts describe him based of the morsels of information found in daemonic writings or art, or interrogated from carapacian prisoners.” Remele leaned back, listening to Aranea as she began her lecture.

 “Most of the sources we have describe him as big, although relative to the variety of sizes daemons can come in that isn’t much to go on. He is said to have green skin, thick and veiny over bulging muscles. His head is reportedly a green skull, with a maw of sharp and jagged teeth, and his eyes flash different colours at a speed and brightness that disorientates all. Some depictions have him wearing a large coat of sorts, green, similar to his skin.”

 “Hmm, very interesting,” The Namaaq mused. “And they would be attracted to a piece of this Arch-Daemon?”

 “Possibly, or possibly they may slaughter you on grounds of disrespect.” She looked taken aback. “When it comes to these things it gets risky.”

 Remele nodded thoughtfully. She knew the risks of dealing with Capricorns sure enough.

 “If you’re looking for something with a little less risk to start off with then the Archagent could do fine.”

 “I recognize the name, did he not lead the incursion?” Remele lifted a small goblet from the table and took a sip. Aranea noted that a small platter of her cousin’s favourite delicacies were also present.

 “He did, yes. He is quite an interesting case, as he has led not one, but two incursions into our world. In the first he was far weaker, and was pushed back by the forces that were. Yet he returned, stronger, and dedicated to slaughtering all who were in his path. In his first appearance he was but a normal carapacian, of a medium height species, and wielded a wicked knife. Although this was his weaker form, he was known to kill dozens of enemies with that knife, and asserted himself as a bloodthirsty maniac.”

 Remele opened her journal once again, and began to jot down notes at the back. This was gold content for her customers.

 “In his second form, he was far more terrifying. Having taken on the aspect of a veil hound, he was much taller, and possessed a canine head, along with longer claws, and fur pushing through the gaps in his carapace. He had somehow lost an arm, and had a blade impaled in his chest. His old uniform was in tatters on him, and whatever class he once possessed was gone.”

 “Ah, this is very good. The Capricorns would pay a lot for this shit,” The Scorpio chuckled. “Are there any more?”

 Aranea scratched her chin for a few moments, before bringing to mind the other high ranking daemons she had heard of. “We are approaching the end of the chart where things get, remarkably, even vaguer.” She reached down and brought the book from her bag, flicking open to the page that described carapacian art the figures typically present within. She would have preferred the tome On Daemonic Servants, both the megalomaniac and the egomaniac. It was a highly recommended and referenced piece of writing.

 “There is one other figure described in any clarity at all. The Scratch. He is an elusive one to be sure. He is oft shown as a small figure, wearing aristocratic garments, and having a large white sphere as a head. Described as the manipulator of worlds, he does present a mystifying case. His powers are likened to an omnipresent and omniscient being within the veil, and often out.” Aranea looked out the large window before her. “However, I do believe he would be less suited to your… audience. A bit too controlled and planning, I think.”

 Her cousin nodded in agreement. The Capricorns were not a fan of planners. “Are there any more? Something rather violent and brutal?”

 “There is the Carapacian royalty, although they do little more than plan wars against each other until it’s time to invade.”

 “Too boring,” Remele waved away the idea.

 “Then there is but two more, by my reckoning.” The Serket enlightened. “They are referred to as the spawn of the Arch-Daemon. The twins that could inherit his legacy. One is said to be much like their father: evil, cruel, remorseless. One primed to take over the reins of his empire. The other however, they are a mystery to all. Very little information is present when it comes them, apart from a scrap recovered from a daemonic tome scavenged after the last incursion that described a “fleeing angel”, with small hints that it may be that last twin.”

 Remele tapped her pencil on her chin. “And is there any physical descriptions of these twins?”

 Aranea shook her head. “Not that I’ve come across, although I would imagine they look much like their father in respects. Green skin and skull, perhaps quite large.” She stopped for a moment, a small bit of information returning to her. “They have signs associated with them.” She held out her hands for Remele’s journal.

 “They are not so much signs of the stars, like ours, but instead symbols that hold value for the daemonic.” Aranea told her, drawing the symbols with the best quality her memory would allow her.

 Retrieving the journal, Remele smiled at the signs, and tucked it onto her sash. “I will make sure to incorporate these. But now, come; it’s been too long since I’ve painted you.” The Scorpio rose from her chair, grabbing her plate of food.

 “Remele that is really not necessary, you don’t have to-”

 “No, no, I want to.” The Serket sighed at the reply, and rose from where she had been sitting, a smile emerging.

 They walked back through the corridor, before going through Remele’s room door, which had her sign emblazoned upon it. Aranea had always loved Remele’s room. They emerged from the door to the corner of a large rectangular space, floored with light wooden planks, a bit rough at some points, and covered with paint stains at others. The walls were near invisible behind a myriad of cabinets, wardrobes, paintings and cerulean cloth draped and hung at random points. There was a bookcase or two, but most of the wall furniture was filled with art supplies; paints, easels and canvases. The paintings were all Remele’s own, and conveyed her interests more accurately than those she sold.

 An expensive table was on the other side of the room, surrounded by equally expensive chairs. An experimentation with colours and mediums seemed to be in the process of happening upon it, with all the equipment lain about.

 Opposite the wall leading to the corridor were a set of steps leading up to the second tier. A thinner rectangle was occupied on one side with Remele’s bed, a four post with far too many sheets and pillows. The other side was shorter, with a doorway leading into the en-suite. More paintings and banners were suspended on these walls, making the whole thing seem quite regal.

 Another set of steps upwards, and one found themselves in another rectangular space, this one perpendicular to the last. The entirety of the three walls consisted of one large window, stretching around to give in light from whatever direction the sun flew. This area was mostly bare, save for a few small tables, and a stool at the very centre.

 Scurrying about, Remele grabbed an easel and canvas, beckoning Aranea to go up to the top tier of the bedroom. The Serket sat on the stool, spinning around in the rays that shined in through the window. She could hear the Namaaq gathering paints and other equipment at the bottom tier. There was the clattering of dropped objects, followed by heavily accented swearing. Aranea spun around to face inwards.

 “Um, Remele? Are you okay?” She called down, still hearing the cerulean cursing.

 “Yes, yes, everything’s fine!” Her cousin shouted back up. There was a pause. “Catch!”

 Aranea jumped slightly, seeing a book spinning up towards her. Thankfully, it was aimed well, letting the Serket snatch it out of the air before it impacted with her stomach. “Remele!”

 Her cousin’s head popped into view above the floor. “Yes?”

 The Serket held up the book, her brows furrowed.

 “I thought you liked books?” Aranea smiled and chuckled a bit at that, prompting Remele to go back down and gather the rest of the supplies.

 In just a few seconds she was carrying it all up the steps, setting it up beside the canvas at an impressive speed. She soon had her palette set with the colours she needed, and her brush selected.

 “Now Aranea, look majestic, I gave you the book for a reason.”

 Trying to keep herself from smiling to obviously, Aranea held the book up, getting into what she considered a decent pose, and began reading. The book was a nice tome dedicated to exploring daemonic phenomenon that occurred during or after their incursions. Seemed her cousin had considered her topic of study.

 Glancing over now and again, Aranea could see Remele working away at the canvas, painting straight on without the need for sketch lines first. Her cousin really was quite talented. Turning back to her book, the Serket continued to read, soon getting so absorbed that she forgot entirely about the her role as a muse. Remele didn’t say anything until Aranea was near hunched over the book, turning the pages every minute.

 “Aranea, should they ever make paint that moves along with its muse you shall be the first I try it with!”

 Aranea shot up and gave her an apologetic look.

 “It’s fine, just resume the pose.”        

 The Scorpio nodded, straightening up and getting back in position. Seems she would have to read with some measure of control. Somehow.

Chapter Text

 Kanaya hummed as she walked through her wardrobe, inspecting each garment carefully for wearing. She usually made sure to check every piece for damage or attrition one a week, and always before she chose her outfit for the day. It was better to get do the repairs and maintenance in the early morning, she had found. Mostly because she enjoyed the feel of the morning sun as she worked. Casting an eye over the hem of one of her favourite skirts, she was pleased to find no hint of deterioration. Satisfied with the state of her clothing, the Maryam quickly selected an outfit, putting together something she felt accurately described how she felt the day would go.

 Examining her choice in the mirror, Kanaya smiled in contentment. It was a fine combination, even by her standards. Thankfully, it was also far more practical than most others, not getting in her way as she worked. She had an active day planned, after all. It took her only a short while longer to finish getting ready, after applying some makeup and some jewellery, although nothing too gaudy.

 Stepping out from her wardrobe, the Maryam approached her bed, walking across the mosaic floor. The designs were intricate, and no doubt hundreds of years old. The colours had faded somewhat, but the images depicted were still able to be seen. Epic poems of Mother Goddesses and the creation of the Virgo House. She retrieved a book from the bed, noting her progress through it. It was one of the newer novels imported from Alternia. Most of what was contained in the Virgo Monastery was either educational or heavily linked to the ancient role assigned to the House. The Virgo took the propagation of the noble Houses very seriously. Although that wasn’t to say that Kanaya wasn’t wholly invested in her role as overseer of this, but she did vastly prefer her works of fiction to the informational material the libraries were laden with.

 Her tastes did veer towards a certain flavour of fiction, meaning that her search for novels became even harder. Fortunately her sister had friends within the city and had little problem with arranging a crate of books to be sent over every now and then. Thanks to her, she now had a bookshelf near filled with volumes of the fantasy sort. If it weren’t for her, then life within the Monastery surely would be far less enjoyable, for the acting Head surely wouldn’t do any unnecessary favours. Or any favours at all come to think of it.

 Slotting the book back into its place in the shelf, Kanaya made sure everything else in her room was in place, double-checking her sewing machine, before heading out to her platform. She emerged from the doorway into the mountain onto the large circular stone disk, and breathed in the cold morning air. The first rays of light were just cresting over the mountains to the east, casting long shadows on the iconography spread over the polished stone.

 Taking a moment to bathe herself in the heavenly light, the Virgo took a watering can from beside the doorway. She held it up to the small stream flowing from the rocks above her room, catching the water as it fell. With the can full, she pulled it away, and watched as the falling water resumed its joint with the flow of water that ran through a channel at the edge of the disk. Smiling to herself, Kanaya attended the multitude of plants that littered the circle. Some of them were finally reaching a full bloom, and filled the platform with colours. But it had been rather dry as of late, so Kanaya decided it was safer to water them, no need to take risks.

 She tread softly over the imagery beneath her. The entire creation of the Virgo House was laid out on the stone. Her bedroom floor only held but a single scene from this, the gifting of the matriorb to the founders of the House. It was the most important part of the story no doubt, but it failed to convey the months spent as refugees, nomads and survivors, searching for purpose and fulfilment. It truly made the meeting with the Mother Goddesses far more spectacular and monumental. It was the assignment of their role as Matriarchs of Propagation for the Nobility.

 Even if the tall tales of such Mother Goddesses did sound somewhat far-fetched, Kanaya knew that the duty her House upheld was considered sacred by all. It was the only reason the pure bloodlines of the Nobles even existed at all. If the Houses chose any other means of reproduction, then their blood surely would dilute, as would their powers and status. Conflicts as to who should inherit the House would begin, and then the Empire would slowly but surely collapse. Such importance often kept the Virgos from getting involved in any punishments or being targeted by any Houses in their efforts to grow.

 The Maryam set down the can, having finished tending to the flora, and set a hand down on the stone barrier at the edge of the disk. She smiled, looking over the massive expanse below her. Having a home built into the top of a mountain gave on the most spectacular views imaginable. She could see Alternia in the distance, and could make out the largest towers with relative ease. Before Alternia’s great wall lay the fields of the common-folk, with a small town or two planted amongst the seas of green and gold. Bordering that was the great forest, which stretched on for miles, up until it reached the base of the Virgo Mountain. The forest was a dangerous place, with only a few safe paths to be taken. The richer visitors often preferred airships as their method of transport, being able to avoid the forest altogether, even if the fuel for the journey was far from cheap.

 To her knowledge the Virgo House only had but one or two airships, but they were rarely used, on account of the expense. The last time she had been on one of them was before the rebellion, when her mother had decided to bring her and her sister on a trip for a day, for no other reason than to treat them. Kanaya sighed thinking back to that. It was so long ago, in a much happier time. But now was not the time for reminiscing. It was still early morning yet.

 Taking a deep breath, she left the rail and walked to the second doorway leading onto the disk. Having her own outdoor area was quite nice, she had to admit, especially as it was secluded from view from any other part of the Monastery, and the cliffs leading to it were nigh unclimbable. She had also neglected to inform the acting Head of the precise location of her room, leading to no unscheduled visits from the obnoxious Heiress. She was envious of the Leo’s for getting the sole kind child of the Condesce as their acting Head. Kanaya would have vastly preferred her, or at least someone who wasn’t a wealth seeking loudmouth.

 Going through the door she entered a small room, and descended down the steps to the ground, before walking through another door, and yet more stairs. The entire Monastery was filled with flights of stairs, spread over multiple levels and heights. She had long grown used to them.

 After a few twists and turns of the maze that was the monastery, Kanaya strolled into the main open of the Monastery, a large courtyard of marble with long and intricate details of stone covering it. There were a few maids of the House conversing between each other, or tending to the small quantities of flora that existed there. They were all wearing long robes, as was customary to servants of the House. Only the members of the bloodline often wore any different, and even then it was rarely anything lacking modesty or composure. Save for two of course, one of which being her sister. She seemed to rebel against her assigned role, and with it everything that was associated. Kanaya thought it peculiar, but thought it better not to question the woman. She had made her choices, even if those choices were looked down upon by the rest of the House.

 Walking across the great plane of marble, the Maryam made towards the row of pillars on the other side, glancing out at the pristine view over the forests as she did. The Monastery surely was the most idyllic of any of the House manors. Or at least she guessed so. She had only heard stories of the others, and had never visited them. Whether it was the factory-like complex of the Sagittarius, or the ancient building of the Aries, she knew their looks from only the words of others.

 She was just reaching the pillars when a voice called out behind her.

 “Heiress Kanaya!”

 The Maryam turned to see another of her House striding towards her, wearing a large smile across her face. Kanaya returned the smile.

 “Ah, Bronya, it’s good to see you.” The Ursama finally reached her, and matched pace as they walked through the many rooms of the Monastery.

 “Did you hear the news of the Council?” She asked, looking at her with her uncovered eye.

 Kanaya tilted her head. “No, I have not. What is it?” It was rare that any news of the Council would be given.

 “A meeting is being called, but the reason has not been given so far.” The secrecy was expected, but a meeting as sudden as this. It was surely to cause a minor disturbance and dissatisfaction among the Houses.

 “How interesting… Do you know if it will be the acting Head representing us?” Chances were that it would be, even if said acting Head was rarely present.

 “Partially. All members of each bloodline are to be present, including the disgraced Houses.”

 Minor would no longer be the word Kanaya would use to describe the disturbance.

 “That doesn’t bode well at all. If it was something good then the disgraced Houses wouldn’t be there.”

 “I was thinking that too. But it probably won’t affect us, we haven’t broken the neutrality vow since the revolution. Not a foot out of line, I made sure of that.”

 Bronya was certainly useful in preventing any mishaps with the Empire’s legislacerators, even if there was one or two of the House who made it particularly hard. She wasn’t sure how things would have turned out if it weren’t for her. The older girl was instrumental in the continued survival of the Virgo.

 “Yes, and I thank you, but I do fear for what this means.” Bronya nodded at that.

 “I suppose we won’t know until you go, so I think we should just focus on our tasks instead of letting it get to us. We still have two days before it is upon us.”

 “That sounds like it would be best. But two days!” Kanaya shook her head. This truly must be something serious. “But as you said, it is for later, what tasks must you attend today?”

 “Well I must give out the new timetables and sets of orders, give some of the newer servants their roles, and teach the children some lessons.” The Virgo also took on the children of both the Houses and wealthy commoners to tutor. It gave them even greater protection often, having the children of Houses within the Manor discouraged attack for fear of retribution.

 “I hope you have fun with that,” Kanaya assured her. “I, meanwhile, must pay a visit to our esteemed guests in the caves.”

 “I’m sure you will enjoy that,” Bronya laughed, “I will talk to you later Heiress!” The Ursama left through a door leading off from the corridor. Kanaya smiled.  The girl was truly a delight to talk to, even if her dutifulness did make itself present in most conversations.

 Walking down towards the inner caves, Kanaya thought about the actions of the Virgo House. They had always been neutral, for the several hundred years after their founding. Centuries of taking no sides in conflict and remaining only loyal to their purpose. All until her mother. She didn’t know why, but her mother had broken the vows of neutrality, and had helped the Sufferer and his revolutionaries in their war. It could have been the bond between the two, as she considered the Sufferer another one of her children, in a way. But she had chosen him over the safety of her two others. Kanaya never got to ask why.

 Her mother was captured near the end of the war. It was the first misstep that led to the revolution’s downfall. The Maryam had no clue where her mother was now, or if she was even alive. She could be anywhere in the Empire, in the city, in the boundless lands conquered, or even in the Manors or residencies of the Houses. But there was little point in throwing around accusations or growing suspicions. Even if her mother was taken by a House, she had no hope of retrieving her. It would break the vows, and doom the House.

 In all essence, she just wanted to ask her why. Why she had put them all through that. Why the Alternian residence was levelled, why members were killed, and why she had endangered her and her sister. Hell, her sister had almost died. It was a miracle that she survived that wound from the attack. But even if her body recovered, her mind certainly not. She remembered those nights in the ruins while on the run. Her sister screaming in her sleep. She didn’t talk about her mother or the war anymore. Kanaya guessed that was why.

 But speaking of her sister, the Maryam was just passing her room, as it was bordering the caves. There was a small voice coming from within. She glanced at the door just in time to see it open slightly, and Porrim Maryam’s head poke through, her eyes tired and her hair dishevelled. The older Heiress caught sight of her and smiled. There was a crash behind her, something being knocked over. Porrim’s head went back into the room, and shushed whoever was in there, before re-emerging. Kanaya raised an eyebrow, standing still a few meters away from the door.

 “There’s a Council meeting in two days, you should start packing.”

 Porrim gave her a chilled smile. “I shall.” There was a faint voice from behind her, but Kanaya couldn’t make out the words.

 “I’m not sure I even want to know.”

 Porrim laughed slightly. “You probably don’t.” She returned to her room, and Kanaya distinctly heard something heavy hit the floor, followed by a short bout of laughter.

 The Maryam wasn’t really surprised by what just had happened. It wasn’t the first time she had nearly intruded on her private “endeavours”. At least this time wasn’t that invasive. So far she had managed to preserve whatever innocence she had.

 She continued her way through the Monastery, finally reaching the tunnels. She was close to the birthing chambers, where new members of the Houses were spawned. This way kept the blood pure, rather than mixing and diluting it through normal reproduction. The Virgo often kept the younglings for their first few years, teaching them the basics while their parents or siblings visited every now and then. Some visited more than others, she had heard. The Leos had visited the most, apparently, whether it was the Disciple or one of the members, Leo children were rarely without contact from their House. The Aquarius visited the least, and often the children only saw their relatives in official dealings.

 Personally, she hadn’t much experience with child bringing, as very few Houses were having more members since the revolution. The youngest two were just only having reached their first decade. A Sagittarius and a Capricorn, if she remembered correctly. Although it would be hard to forget Karako. He was constantly at Bronya’s side while in the Monastery, and she occasionally requested leave to visit him wherever he may be. Which tended to be a lot of places.

 She would soon learn all these things for herself, when the spawning rates increased. But until then she could enjoy the rather absurd amounts of free time, and the matters that the isolation and privacy allowed her to pursue. After all, should any of the other Houses discover her guests, then there would be repercussions. Very intense and genocidal repercussions. It was a risk to even have them here, but Kanaya preferred it to having them fend for themselves without her supervision. It felt better.

 She spent some time going through the tunnels. These were not as well carven and structured as the external monastery, being made of rough, circular tunnels. But what it lacked in refinery, it made up for with raw beauty as she reached the inner tunnels. The walls were covered in twinkling crystals and gems, all lighting the way in a myriad of colours. Greens, blues, red, purples, yellows and pinks all illuminated her way. Another one of the wonders of the Monastery to be sure. Every now and then she would pass running water, whether it be an internal stream or a waterfall, they glowed with the light of the crystals. There were a few dimly lit pools, with colourful frogs frolicking around. She particularly liked the way her dress glowed in the light.

 Finally reaching the door to their room, Kanaya reached forward, twisting open the handle. Just as she did so, she heard shouting. It was rare that he was up this early.

 Going in, Kanaya was greeted by a grey skinned boy, wearing a thick red sweater. He glanced up from his desk, upon which he was no doubt writing another long essay regarding the subtle aggressions between Houses and against those both high and low. It was mostly nonsense in her reckoning.

 The room was long, stretching off for a bit. There was a small living area, with a few tables and a small bookcase, with a small red carpet spread along the floor. There was a small fireplace for when things got particularly cold in the winter, but that was a ways off. Beyond the living area was their mutual storage, a few chests, drawers and shelves. Leading off from that was the small kitchen, for when staying in the room was mandatory due to other visitors, and on the other side was the bathroom. At the end of the room was their two sleeping areas, one after another. The closeness of their beds raised arguments often. The two really weren’t a good match for a room.

 “Ah, Kanaya, it’s good to see you.” Kankri Vantas smiled and stood up from his desk, collecting the papers he was working upon. She really hoped he didn’t plan on reading them to her.

 “Greetings Kankri, I trust it has been a good morning?”

 Kankri pursed his lips. “As good as it can be, being surrounded by certain politically incorrect individuals-”

 “Fuck off!” Kanaya closed the door to avoid the other Vantas’ shouts from reaching down the hallways.

 Kankri shot an angry look down the room, to where his brother’s bed was in a cutaway in the cave wall. “He’s been like that since I woke him up so that I could read to him my essay regarding micro-aggressions within Houses.” Kanaya held a back a laugh. “But perhaps you would be so inclined as to hear it?” If Kanaya was less restrained, she would probably have mirrored her friend’s previous statement.

 “I’m afraid I’m on a rather short schedule Kankri, packing for a trip I’m afraid, so, unfortunately I cannot.” Dismissing him any rougher would lead to a lecture no doubt, most likely concerned with her lack of concern. She really wasn’t in the mood for that.

 Kankri nodded, looking slightly annoyed, before returning to his table. “I suppose you would have time to attend my dearest brother.” He glared down the room. Kanaya wasn’t sure if he was being passive aggressive or asking her to deal with his brother. Either way, she made her way down the long room to the other Cancer.

 He was lying against the headboard of his bed, a novel close to his face, and his knees raised up to his chest. He was reading it with furrowed brows, and his eyes were intensely scanning the pages. Karkat Vantas didn’t seem to notice her presence. He and his book were both illuminated by the glowing crystals above his bed. Smirking, Kanaya knocked on the headboard. The Vantas jumped slightly, his head snapping around to look at her.

 “What is it?” He barked, his volume already unnecessarily loud at this time in the morning.

 “Just visiting,” the Maryam informed, sitting down at the edge of his bed. She checked the title of the novel. It was far too long for her to get much of it, but she gleaned some red and black vacillation between two pairs. Basic stuff. Karkat was far too interested in that stuff. It was mildly concerning.

 “Haven’t you already read that?” she inquired, as he returned to reading.

 “Yes but I’ve run out of material. It’s getting boring waiting for more books to show up.” Kanaya supposed that was true. The last shipment was quite a while ago, and she was nearing the end of her latest batch. Karkat read far more than her so this was to be expected.

 “You could read some of my novels, you know? There is some romance in there for you and your moderately weird obsession.” Karkat scoffed at her in response.

 “No thanks. I’ll let you know when I want to get off on all your blood-drinker fantasy collections.”

 Kanaya breathed heavily through her nose. “Well would you prefer Wanshi’s collection to read? I’m sure you’ll just envelope yourself in them, like you do when talking to her.”

 Karkat glared at her, and she smiled back. “I’d rather fucking die.”

 The Maryam turned away as if offended in her dismissal. She shrugged. “Lanque seems to enjoy them. Or at least when no-one is looking.”

 The Vantas shook his head, returning to his reading, ignoring her and her preposterous suggestions. Kanaya laughed softly.

 The Vantas’ had been with them since shortly after the war. The Monastery was being repopulated after the emergency evacuation in the beginning of the war, and Porrim had showed up with hooded and cloaked figures, intent on keeping their identity secret. After being brought into the most secluded rooms by Porrim, they revealed themselves to Kanaya. Even if she hadn’t seem their faces in person before, she could recognize them immediately. The main bloodline of Cancer were considered mutants, even by the other Houses, with their abnormal traits.

 While most Houses had paler, slightly greyish skin, yellowish eyes, and sharp teeth, as well as their defining blood, the Cancer’s had far greyer skin, so that even at a distance they could be noticed as unusual. Their eyes were completely yellow, with small black pupils. They even had two small horns emerging from their heads, coloured a faint gold. The only other House to have those were the Peixes, but in every other way they resembled the normal Houses.

 It was fascinating as to why the Vantas’ were so different. Many Virgo scholars had written tomes on the topic, as they tended to the spawning, allowing them to get a closer look at the emerging and details. Some proposed that it was due to the purity of their bloodline being far stronger than others. Although that didn’t explain how the lesser members of the House had lime blood, instead of the red hue of the common-folk. The difference within the House itself was an entirely different topic altogether, and had several tomes within the library dedicated to it. Whatever the reason was, it was a mystery.

 But after the Vantas’ had made their introductions, and Kanaya had finally gotten to meet her friend in real life, they quickly arranged a room to be set up in the caves for them, so that they may stay hidden and protected from the Empire. It got exceedingly hard a few weeks later, when Meenah finally showed up after being assigned as acting Head. Thankfully, on her rare visits she seldom even entered the caves, and that was usually for official business or to pester one of the Virgos.

 They had been there ever since, for the last seven years. All the Virgo knew about them, but never told the Empire, either out of empathy or loyalty. Or maybe it was fear of the Empire’s retribution that kept them silent. She just hoped they stayed silent until the Cancers could survive by themselves.

 Kanaya looked at the boy reading his romance. He had truly been through far too much. His father’s death was traumatising to him. He was unlucky enough to have seen it, apparently, but managed to survive the subsequent slaughter. The Maryam sometimes tried to make him talk about it, but rarely managed to. He preferred to stay silent. That was probably the most concerning thing.

 He had sometimes comforted her in the times where her mother’s disappearance had become too much. It was a rare happening, but it did happen. Fortunately she had both him and Porrim to comfort her. Sometimes other Jades would tend to her, but that was even rarer.

 Looking around the room, Kanaya spied the posters pinned up on Karkat’s wall. Most were from productions of romantic plays. When the crates arrived from Alternia, they often had advertising posters such as that slipped in. The Cancer had taken and interest in them, and often hoped for one to appear. So far there were nearly twenty of them posted up. He had been gathering for quite a while. He also had a private bookshelf, with an abundance of romance novels stacked within. He had organized them with extreme precision, although that was hardly surprising. His existence within the caves must surely be boring, as he rarely got to go outside for risk of discovery by visitors or particularly mouthy Virgo servants.

 The Maryam sometimes pondered whether or not to invite one of his old acquaintances to the Monastery, to reveal him, and finally give him the old attention that he no doubt craved. But that was dangerous, and downright foolish in some cases. Even if she did trust them highly, there was always the chance they would take advantage of it to raise their House a little higher, or would leak information to someone who will.

 She remembered the nights when either of them would ask to see their old friends, and Porrim would turn them down, if Kanaya failed to. It felt heart breaking.

 But, at least they had the other Virgos to speak to, even if Karkat did scare them off on occasion, and Lanque had little interest in either of them. Wanshi often tried to speak to Karkat, for some unknowable reason. Although, Kanaya had occasionally heard glimpses of him being kind to her, and even agreeing to partake in her roleplaying of her books, when he thought no one was looking. He had an odd soft spot for her.

 Turning back to Karkat, she found him still reading aggressively. She was unsure of how he managed to do that, being completely honest. But she had matters to discuss, so pondering his manner would have to wait.

 “Karkat,” she waved a hand for his disgruntled attention. “I will be leaving tomorrow for a Council meeting within Alternia.” He raised his eyebrows. “I may be gone for a few days, depending on what the meeting is about.”

 The Vantas shrugged. “It’s usually just taxation and other bullshit.”

 “I wouldn’t be so sure, all the main bloodlines are being summoned.”

 Karkat furrowed his brows, before releasing them, and letting his shoulders drop a bit. “They’re all gonna be there, huh?”

 Kanaya winced. “I’m afraid so.”

 He went back to reading his book, albeit this time less aggressively. “Tell me how they all are.” He said a moment later. “Wanna know if Tavros is still obsessed with that game, or if Terezi is still crazy about hanging people…”

 Neither of them said anything for a moment.

 “I’ll be sure to ask. And…” She looked unsure for a moment, as Karkat stared at her. “…I’ll ask Porrim if we can perhaps reveal you to one of them.”

 The boy’s eyes lit up with the notion of speaking to one of his friends again, and he quickly sat up.

 “But… don’t get your hopes up; you know how strict Porrim is with this. We’ll have to pick someone sensible and who knows how to avoid attention.”

 Karkat nodded, completely on board. The Maryam really hoped that Porrim agreed, otherwise she would break his heart. Arranging the meeting shouldn’t be so hard, just speak with whoever was concerned enough at the meeting so that it seemed inconspicuous when she invited whoever they were over to speak more privately.  A simple matter to be sure, but she knew Porrim would have many things to say about it.

 Smiling at the Vantas, Kanaya raised herself from the bed, moving to the bookshelf opposite. She looked through the books as Karkat continued his reading, with an obvious excitement. Looking through them, she grinned, seeing one near the end. Pulling it out, she held it before her.

 “Karkat?”

 The Vantas looked up to see her holding the book, and furrowed his brows once more. “Fuck off! Wanshi left it here!”

 Laughing slightly, Kanaya shook her head. He was adorable on the defensive.

 “I’m sure she did, perhaps I shall return it to her?”

 She laughed once more as he grew exasperated, and a quiet shush came from the other end the room.

Chapter Text

 The carriage jostled slightly as it went down the well-trodden dirt roads leading to Alternia. Each bump and slight pothole send Aradia bouncing ever so slightly on the red cushioned seat. She smiled a bit as they hit a particularly big one, and she lifted almost entirely from the red. Even if there was an abysmal amount of red within the carriage, making it dark and foreboding, at least the cushions were comfortable, albeit covered in dust. She supposed it hadn’t been used in years. All the wheels had to be repaired before they set off. Rot from lack of use, apparently.

 They rarely left the Manor usually, preferring the safety it granted to the danger of the wasteland daemons. At least the Manor was big, she thought, the caverns behind stretched on for quite a while. It was a shame half of them were forbidden to her, either because of daemons or House secrets that she “wasn’t prepared for”. Her sister was allowed in most of them, though. But she knew that if it was because of age, then there were but three years until she would have the same allowance.

 Aradia glanced at her sister opposite her. She looked bored, as per the usual. She was writing in the small journal that she had brought. It was a meagre thing, to be truthful. An old faded leather cover, with burgundy stitching across it, forming patterns and shapes. The symbol of the Aries House was emblazoned on the front. She seemed only half interested in her writing. Aradia was curious as to what exactly it was that she was lettering. Damara had rarely shown much inclination towards art of any form. Although it was hard to miss when a small smile would appear for a brief second, and he writing sped up for a line or two. Curious.

 Turning away from her sister, the Aries looked out the window. The countryside outside the city was pleasant. Hills far as one could see, covered in grass and trees, with some fields of crops scattered throughout. She could see farmers and hitchhikers across the plains, enjoying the brief rays of sun that would make themselves known through the overcast sky. A cart drove past theirs, two people at the front. The back was filled with a multitude of foodstuffs, and seemingly recently harvested. The horse wasn’t as grand or as big as the few that the Aries possessed, but it was still well taken care of.

 This was idyllic compared to her home; barren, ashen wastes covered in roving and murdering bands of daemons rather than farmers. The windows are doors were often barred to prevent intrusion, and shut tight to stop the occasional ash storm from weaving its way inside. It was almost always dark there, save for brief flashes of lightning from the clouds, the ash within generating enough power to send the bolts across the sky. The House was apparently protected from the lightning, meaning she could oft sit on the roof, or one of the towers amongst the mountains, and look upwards to the red lights.

 It was really the only place even resembling beautiful in the wastes, surrounded by the dark stone mountains, overlooking fields full of ash and stone crags. She could sometimes hear the impish laughter coming from the ash plains, or sometimes even the screams of the common being ambushed by them. It was not a happy existence, in the wasteland. She would often ask for soldiers to be sent out to help them, to ward away the daemons, but she was usually denied. It was an unfortunate fact of the Aries House.

 She much preferred this place, with its lively atmosphere, bright colours, and plentiful emotions, not just a constant state of unfeeling that permeated the wasteland. Admittedly, sometimes her moods did prefer the wasteland, it was more calming, and less violent to the eye. But she was in those moods right now, and so wished that she live here instead of the wastes. But ancestral homelands were tied to her, as much as she hated it.

 The carriage went over another bump, and she almost slipped from her seat. Damara grunted in annoyance, looking at where her writing had careened off. She threw a glare to the ceiling, where the driver sat above. She clicked her fingers, and Aradia heard a gasp of pain from above. Damara merely returned to her writing, enjoying what would surely be a more comfortable journey.

 Frowning slightly, Aradia turned to look out the carriage again, spotting the Virgo Mountains to the east of them. She could spot the Monastery at the top, wrapping itself around the peaks. It was a beautiful sight. She wondered how close the Maryams were. She hadn’t seen Kanaya or Porrim in years, not since their silent banishment to the wastes. She hadn’t seen any of her friends. The most she had was the rare letter from Tavros, or the rarer from Equius. It was hard for them to find someone to bring such letters through the wastes, and their services were oft quite expensive.

 She was glad that they went through any measure to contact her when they did, although her lack of replies soon dissuaded them it seemed. She had no means of sending letters to them, thanks to her isolation. There really were quite a few cons of living where she did. The lack of means of travel and communication were definitely up there among the worst of them.

 Another horse passed, catching her eye. She really couldn’t help but be reminded of Equius. Her former friend’s odd obsession with the equine beast may have been shared with his House, but that didn’t change the oddity of it. Last she had spoken to him, he had been designing blueprints for a horse-like robot of his own design. It had been over 7 years, she wondered how it had turned out for him.

 Then there was Tavros. She had heard something had happened to him after her exile, yet she knew little. She remembered the months after, she was so worried. But she got one letter afterwards from him. It let her know that he was at least still functioning, but he didn’t mention much of it. And that was the last letter he sent her.

 The weeks after the last letter were torture. Equius had stopped shortly before Tavros, and had left her feeling bored without his unique and odd way of speaking, and his sometimes hilarious manner. But the lack of Tavros’ as well, that hurt more than anything. She was alone in those weeks, while hell broke loose within her.

 But she weathered it all, as she always did. It was fortunate she was as strong as she was. Otherwise it would have crushed her.

 Aradia shivered slightly, feeling it twitch in her head. She just needed to hold it in for a while longer, an hour or so. Then she could let it out, and get this all over with. She hadn’t expected the Condesce to agree to their requests to assemble the Council, but she had surprised them all. Damara had guessed that she wasn’t exactly “alone” in the same regard as Aradia. It sounded ridiculous, but it would explain quite a bit.

 But now was not the time for conspiracy theories. She caught sight of colourful flags on poles on the field to the side of the carriage. There tents being erected, and people gathering round. Seemed the harvest festival was soon. She had heard of it, but never seen it with her own eyes. Secretly she was hoping they could stay a little while after the council, and observe the festivities.

 It was nearing the middle of autumn now, and people were nearly done harvesting, and preparing for the great winter that would no doubt be a great hardship. It was understandable that they would celebrate and party before the cold set in. They wanted their last month of warmth to be one of happiness and joy.

 Aradia just hoped no Capricorns showed up, as they were like too. They would turn it into a slaughtering pitch no doubt. But she was almost positive that the lands around Alternia were protected from the actions of any House. Individual murder and crimes were allowed, but wholesale massacres were banned. She was thankful for that. She’d hate to see such a lovely festival ruined because of the purple bloodthirst.

 Damara only cast a half interested eye out the window at the preparations. It wasn’t really her thing, Aradia supposed. She was more partial to quiet nights by herself than those surrounded by others. Or at least Aradia thought she was alone on those nights. Sometimes she would hear laughter that did not belong to her sister. She could just be imagining this, however. It could be that which resided in her head.

 The Megidos sat in silence for the last hour of the trip, as they approached the great walls of the city. Aradia hadn’t seen them in so long. She hadn’t forgotten their mass, how they stretched up into the skies. They were ancient and immovable. Her mother had sometimes said the same about their House. The Manor had never been sacked in known History, so maybe that was true. But her mother had said a lot of things, promises being among them. Those promises were rarely as true.

 There were a multitude of guards before the great gates, each armed to the teeth. They looked about ready to kill anything that tried to enter the city without official documents. The city wasn’t even that great as a whole, in terms of wealth, but they preferred to keep the farmers out for the most part. The slums were often “cleaned out” by purples as well. They were small efforts, and nothing massive had been done yet. It was really only a matter of time, however.

 The carriage stopped at the great gates, and the driver presented his documents, while a single soldier checked in through the window to ensure the passengers were as described. He quickly moved away when he caught the look Damara was giving him.

 After a few moments they finally began moving onwards, and passed under the great wall. It was nearly ten metres thick, and the inside of the gateway was covered in doors and windows leading to guard stations, barracks and official offices. There were networks of room snaking their way through the entire wall, forming a maze. She was sure some of the less used rooms were home to the impoverished, who found safety within the thick stone. The thought reminded her of the caverns of home.

 Emerging from the other side of the wall, Aradia stared out the carriage window to see the buildings around her. They reached up high, each one being at least three, some even being five. The cobblestone roads made the ride slightly bumpier than she would have liked, going down the street, but she was too busy staring at the bustle of the city to notice. Most were wearing garbs similar to the farmers outside, but there were a considerable amount wearing somewhat more fanciful clothing.

 The gap in wealth was obvious even from the few minutes she spent going through the city, heading to the temporary residence provided to the Aries. She could see those with carriages of their own, walling out to join those who wore little but rags. There were a few people sitting at corners, hats standing upwards. She couldn’t hear their voices, but she could guess they were begging for coppers. Some were missing limbs, others eyes, or had great scars on their bodies. She could see the wealthier of the passers-by throw them disgusted looks and sneer at their misfortune. She wasn’t really surprised.

 The gap between the rich and poor had always disgusted her. Perhaps it was morality, perhaps it was merely her relating to the poor somewhat, being the lowest of the Houses. Most of the wealthy city dwellers had more money than the Aries. Although, she sometimes found the fact that they thought they somehow had power over them laughable. Just the trio of the pureblood Aries could massacre the entire wealthy class with little effort. The Houses were really the only ones that posed a problem. Her mother found that out the hard way. Along with finding out that even an extreme amount of planning could backfire.

 As they neared the engineering district, the amount of poor increased, the amputees making a much larger percentage of them. Looking through the wide streets leading directly in, she could catch glimpses of the robotics and machinery the district was known for. Equius lived in there, she remembered. In fact, he was probably there now, working on some manner of automaton. He would probably be leaving soon, however. From her memories, the Sagittarius were never late, always impeccably early.

 She stared out the windows seeing quite a few workers ambling around, seemingly on break. She was just going to turn back to Damara, before something caught her eye. Looking up to the rooftop, she noticed a figure, looking down at them. Once they realised they had been seen, however, they began to move, retreating from the edge of the building, and dropping down at the back. That was certainly not something that calmed the girl’s nervousness about being among so many people once again. It was curious, however. Very curious.

 Leaving that area, they found themselves arriving at the arcane district. The Aries were once a major presence here, before the revolution, and the events during it. She could spy their tower up above, walls blasted opened and windows boarded up. She had little doubt their old residence was in much the same condition. She was lucky enough to not be present within Alternia itself during the revolution. Her mother had stolen them away with her to the Manor shortly before it happened.

 There were much more whimsical figures in this district, wearing robes and suits of wondrous colours and styles. Some were edging comical in their appearance. They contrasted sharply against the murky browns of the buildings, or the dark greys of the cobblestone below and smoke above. Some were broadcasting their sales, shouting above the noise of the crowd to show products and other such things. Others were merely making their way around, ignoring the occasional stares from those who were frequent to the district. Those who lived here obviously weren’t giving much thought to the vibrant figures.

 They were passing by a marketplace, their windows down. There was a great amount of noise, hawking traders and chatting crowds. Aradia glanced at her sister, and just in time caught her winking at someone, and suddenly smiling. The Megido turned her gaze to outside the window. Some people were passing, surrounded by guards. Virgos. Aradia could swear she saw a smirk at the side of Porrim Maryam’s mouth as she passed. Yet another mystery of her sister’s

 After a few minutes of navigating the streets, they arrived at a rundown house. The driver opened the carriage door and waved his arm as he bowed. Aradia left first, looking up at the House before them. It had three floors and an odd tower room, at least, although in retrospect the floors weren’t particularly big. Damara climbed out after her, and sneered as she saw the house. The driver quickly walked past her, trying to avoid her gaze. He spent a few moments at the back of the carriage, before returning with their bags. He nodded awkwardly to each of them, muttering forced graciousness, and handing them the keys, before climbing back on his carriage. She didn’t expect much more from any normal Alternian carriage driver.

 They had only taken their own transport to the edge of the wasteland, where this one had picked them up, and taken them the rest of the way. She was glad the trip was finally over. It had been several days of constant travel and nightly stops at inns along the way.

 But now they were here, standing before… whatever this was. Aradia turned to her sister, wondering what she would say. Instead of words she made a bored sigh, and carried her bag up to the door. The Megido merely waved her arm, and, after a small click, the door slowly opened. Even if the house was somewhat rundown, at least the door seemed thick. Aradia also noticed the steel cages over the windows. That seemed to be the extent of their security, however.

 The inside wasn’t much better. It was cold, and a thick layer of dust had settled over almost everything. Everything that wasn’t furniture seemed to have been removed, save for a small amount of crockery in the kitchen. There were empty bookshelves, bare cabinets and shapes on the wall that hinted that something once hung there.

 The only thing homely was the thick red carpet. Aradia wondered if that was the only reason this house was chosen. The administrators of the House weren’t particularly thorough with their checking of things. Chances were, they had forgotten to give the address to the Empire at all. If so, there were going to be inconveniences.

 Damara threw her bag down before the moth eaten couch, lounged down, avoiding the odd stain that covered the left side. She once again began writing in her journal, disregarding her sister. Eager to explore, Aradia entered the kitchen, the door leading off from the living area, and checked all of the pantry. It was empty, except for some dead rodents and their waste. Both the pantry and the kitchen were in a need of a deep clean before they were used.

 Emerging from the grey room, Aradia glanced to the stairway leading up to a corridor looking down on the room. There were a few more rooms downstairs to explore, but the urge to find a room for her to stay in was rising.

 The Megido climbed up the stairs, hearing each step creak loudly as she did so. She was but halfway up when she decided that it was getting annoying, and quickly glided up. She winced at the sharp pain that erupted in her head and then quickly faded. If it weren’t for that pain she would use her powers much more often. But at least after tonight she could have a day or maybe two of free usage, without pain.

 There was another carpet at the top, leading down each way. Aradia spied more stairs to her left, and her curiosity spurred her on. There were yet more creaks as she continued. The walls were dark here, and darkened wood panelling rose halfway up the walls. Even if the house was old and deteriorating, Aradia could tell that it once was grand. It was a mystery was had happened to the previous, no doubt wealthy, owners. Perhaps there would be clues and remnants hidden throughout the rooms. The thought made Aradia smile. Exploration and adventure. Her favourite.

 This staircase was spiralling, and led up to the third floor, and then on a bit. Looking down the short corridor of the third floor, Aradia found little of interest, while the stairway lured her on. Climbing a little higher, she found a single door. It was covered in carvings, thousands of designs covering the entire door.

 She smiled at the sight, before twisting the handle. There was a click, and the door began to swing open. Her mouth dropped open at the room that greeted her.

 It was circular, and although quite small in diameter, it rose high. There were several layers of walkways, joined by small ladder-like steps, rising up and up. There were cubbyholes in the walls, some having seats seemingly built into them, others filled with shelves and other such things. Dropping her bag just inside, Aradia began to climb the first ladder, and walked along the small platform-like protrusion that ran along the inside of the room. All the bookshelves, chests, and cubbyholes were empty, but this mattered little. She reached the top, and found a longer hole, with a mattress within. There were no blankets, or pillows, but she didn’t care. It had been one hell of a tiring day. Collapsing down onto the bed, Aradia decided to rest for a while.

 The girl smiled as she saw the carvings above the bed. The small bit of roof was covered in constellations, each engrained with deep lines. She could spot the constellation of Aries pretty easily, and slowly made out each of the others among the rest. Glancing around the rest of the room, the Megido smiled at the multitude of carvings that ran along the walls. They depicted stories form legends, ancient battles and heroes. There were some of animals scattered about. Some of the ones closers to the door were rife with skulls and bones, old ruins. Her dream places.

 It was one of her dreams to explore ruins. To uncover ancient relics and discover the histories of those who built them. She would often search for old remains and other objects of that sway, although she was accompanied by guards all the while. Even before the revolution, and the incursion, the wastes weren’t exactly safe. The daemons just made it inaccessible to her.

 She only meant to lie for a few minutes, but before she knew it, Damara was screaming her name from the floor below. Hearing the tint of anger in her voice, Aradia began to get up. There was a loud bang, and the house shook.

 She was really angry.

 The Megido quickly bolted down all the steps, almost tripping and falling once or twice. Until she did fall. Her foot caught as a loose board gave way slightly underneath her, the inch being enough to ruin her walking. She plummeted from the side. The ground rushed up to meet her, and she closed her eyes.

 She barely managed to stop herself, hovering a few inches above the dusty floor, before the pain in her head started up again, this time far sharper than before. She gasped, and fell the last few inches. Picking herself up, she threw open the door and began her way down through the house, heading towards her sisters severely angered voice. She stumbled as she did so.

 Aradia found her at the top of the staircase, and barely had time to explain anything before her sister began berating her in their eastern tongue.

 “Where were you? We have to go now! We’re going to be late now because of your foolishness!”

 The Aries mumbled out a few apologies, then followed to where Damara was pointing, heading outside to meet the new carriage they were to take. She stumbled a bit more on the stairs, almost tumbling down. She was barely outside the door before the pain intensified further. It was impossible to ignore now, and she faltered, then fell. Her vision blurred, before becoming naught but red.

 “We… time…” the heaving girl only managed to catch a few words from her shouting sister. She felt a hand roughly grab her shoulder, but then give a reassuring squeeze.

 Next thing she knew, she was floating. She felt the pain leave her eyes momentarily, but still saw only red. Above the ringing in her ears, she could hear a howling wind, and clanking gears. The hand was still gripping her shoulder.

 After a few seconds of the odd feeling that slipped in between the bouts of pain, the red stopped, as did the sounds, and Aradia was hoisted up. She was dragged forward by someone, and groaned as the pain spiked. She just had to hold it in. Just a little longer.

 Barely audible above the ringing, the Megido heard speaking. There was a great creaking, then the speaking became louder. Door? She suppressed the sudden urge to throw up, and tried to make her breathing regular.

 The talking stopped, and Aradia found herself on the floor again. She didn’t remember hitting it. The hand on her shoulder returned, and gave another squeeze. She felt someone’s breath on her ear, followed by an urgent whisper.

 “Let it out.”

 That was all the confirmation she needed.

 The Aries gasped as she loosened the restraints in her mind, and felt a great flow of pain shoot outwards, enveloping her. Every nerve in her body screamed, as if she was burning. Then there was relief, for the briefest of seconds.

 The girl shot upwards, rising several meters into the air. Her head was thrown back, and she felt her skin grow grey. Her body felt as though it was withering away, as she became only skin and bone. She groaned as two horns punctured out from her head, curling as they emerged and grew. Her sight returned, but blurred and with everything as grey. Everything, but blood. She could make out grey figures, seemingly made of fog. But within them flowed trails of colours. Burgundy, Bronze, Gold, Olive, Jade, Teal, Cerulean, Indigo, Purple, Violet, Fuchsia. They were all here. They were all staring at her. Some in wonder. Some in horror. She could see tears. Bronze, Gold, Indigo… Fuchsia.

 She looked around the council. A Burgundy and a Jade, looking at each other in worry. An Indigo caught between two sights. A Bronze trying to say something. Her hands were twitching. Her bones cracked as she moved. Her breaths sounded like muffled screams of thousands. She laughed, hollow and pained.

 There was silence in return.

 The urge to strike was rising. The urge to breed chaos form the order. But she was stayed, by the will. It was telling her to speak. She had little choice but to comply.

 Lowering her hands, set to strike, Aradia opened her mouth about to speak. All stood rapt to attention. They were terrified.

 The infernal words manifested, and Aradia let the daemons work their vile words.

 

You name is… Staining,

It is an entity without power but with weakness,

It is nothing but draining,

 And will do naught but test your untrained aptness,

It will test all your blood and honour

It will test you with pain and horror.

 

Those twice tested, then thrice punished,

 But punished once without a thorough hand,

Exists still now a gore called blemished,

Even if some wished it spread across sand,

And within hides a child fallen from grace,

Who so dreams of rising to the surface.

 

Of Blood Scorned and Blood Venerated,

    Paired together through fierce bond and fate,

Dragged through grave trials of mirth baited,

Bore witness to horrid death and hate,

An ancient home torn asunder,

A new fury appears as thunder,

 

Those held underneath, born with a raging heart,

A stunted growth and a blistering sight,

Brought to their knees with an iniquitous dart,

 Then by monstrous creatures set to ignite,

 Yet left to die in their agonising fate,

By those who their humble service they await.

 

One will crack and break and become entwined

Within the web of a light cracked and twisted too,

 One will be split between one dead and confined,

And one whom friendship was granted unto.

Both will surely clash and lash,

But both were born to outlast

 

Eye’s still cursed with a darkened ichor,

 Setting their gaze to a land once left,

Eye’s once filled with joy that all adore,

Plagued with foul green and of joy bereft,

Afflicted with an evil pain, vile in intent,

They fight within, revealing a power in ascent.

 

Set aligned, two servants juxtaposed in nature,

Set towards a goal shared, methods distant,

Their eventual fates are not one to wager,

As to death they may be so resistant,

One can find underneath a shell hard and solid,

A mortality so soft it renders squalid

 

Without eyes to see, one will be caught unaware,

Beaten bruised and bloody, and incite a fury in another,

That will, in red rage, seek the cause of the affair,

And find it soon leads them against those who they once thought a brother,

Through pain and betrayal a smile ever full of ego,

Will be reduced to ash in the blistering inferno.

 

A Clan of Smarts and a Clan of Smiles,

One duly disgraced and one ever elevated,

Faced against in anger versus guiles,

A warrior emerges, their curse celebrated,

But one old warrior, falls to their knees with shame,

And slays those directed to their honour reclaim.

 

A wicked smile, with cruelty sodden,

Razing hopes and happiness with sword,

Wiped from a face by the downtrodden,

And by those who once abused now abhorred,

Dead by crushing and slicing in tandem,

Left nothing more than a hated phantom.

 

In the true chaos of a civilisation in turmoil,

Turned suddenly dead and desolate by swift change and recoil,

Will rise a creature malicious and dark and not of this soil,

Who with foul wicked wills shall reality and time embroil.

Set against, with their fiery hearts and steeled wills, a force so young,

So varied, less likely to be than a quick slip of the tongue,

They shall, in the everlasting cry, fight for their and all’s own,

And fight to the due death, until there is naught but skin and bone,

Blood both noble and common in the sanguine floods shall be spilled,

And in the mayhem and death, one of royal line shall be killed.

 

 Aradia felt the daemon retreat back inside her mind. Her skin lightened, and her horns dissolved to dust. She was tired. Exhausted.

 The talk began again, but shouting.

 Aradia fell. No one moved to catch her. They were busy. She was alone.

 She neared the ground. She faced up. There was someone above her, looking down through the windows. Spying.

 She was soon to hit, but found herself in someone’s arms. She was laid softly to the ground. A flash of red was all she saw, before she faded away into unconsciousness.

END OF ACT ONE

Chapter Text

 Roxy jumped out of the way of the guard’s fist, drawing back her arm in preparation. With a quick strike to the head, he fell back, while the second swung her sword. Roxy ducked under, bringing up her elbow to impact with their throat. She followed up with a punch to the stomach, then a high hook. The guard fell to the side, stunned by the blow.

 Another guard approached, weapon drawn, but was beaten back by a flurry of blows. They weren’t precise, or perfectly calculated, but nevertheless: the guard fell back, blood streaming from their nose, lips, and cuts along their forehead. The first returned, determined to strike her down. As he jabbed with his short-sword, she dodged to the side, grabbing his wrist in one hand, and lining her forearm with his elbow. A quick exertion of force, and she heard the snap. He fell to the ground in pain.

 The common around her returned to their business as she glanced around, ceasing their staring and whispering. It was what usually happened when she started a fight or two with the guards. On the rarer occasions, with lower House guards, she would sometimes face trouble with the common themselves, looking for a prize or reward for detaining her, a lost cause in her opinion. But luckily these were Aquarius, and the common hated the Ampora’s more than they loved money.

 Crouching down to the unconscious or otherwise incapacitated bodies, Roxy examined them for anything of use. Each had a small purse of coins, which jangled nicely as she retrieved them. With furrowed brow, she noticed the blood covering her gloved knuckles. Not caring much for it, she wiped them clean on the violet guardsmen uniforms. It was their blood anyway, they probably wouldn’t mind.

 Rifling through their pockets for few moments longer, the Lalonde found something of definite interest. A set of papers, all stamped with the official seal of Aquarius. Guard orders. The reason she had started fistfights with three guard patrols just today. One didn’t have any and the other’s captain did a runner. She was fuming by the time she found this patrol, and didn’t even waste any time in riling them up. They didn’t have any time to ponder what was happening before her knuckles were bloodied. But, she had them at last, and could finally continue with her mission.

 Pocketing the documents, she left the scene of the fight, but not before administering one last strike to the guard who dared to sit up. For a while, all the common gave her a wide birth, until she got far enough away from the sight. But the common-folk never did get close enough to make contact with her, even in some of the more crowded streets. Most could recognise her as dangerous and skilled. She preferred it that way. It made her business much easier to conduct.

 She travelled for a while through the streets of Alternia, tugging her scarf up to conceal her face when passing by more groups of guards, of any house. When approaching the Sagittarius district, it was better to keep attention away from her. No need to increase the watch increased near where she lived.

 There were some slight hiccups along the way. A blue guard or two took notice and a drunkard ended up with a broken nose. She had problems sticking with her own advice, evidently.

 But it wasn’t long before she reached the gap between two buildings and, after a quick check of her surroundings, entered.

 She didn’t enjoy the industrial district much, with its constant smog, noisy machinery and exploding contraptions, but it was easier to hide in than any other. The others were either too well kept, too well guarded, or had neighbours and residents who couldn’t keep their nose out of other people’s business. At least here she was left to her own devices by those on the street, as people were much too concerned with their own matters and doings to bother her.

 Emerging from the alley, Roxy found herself in a small gap in between buildings. There was a single door in front of her, ramshackle and dilapidated. Most would think that would be the entrance, or at least that’s what they were counting on should anyone decided to intrude or investigate. She had placed a wicked trap on the door, although it was a tad cruel in retrospect.

 Leaping up to a small ledge, Roxy huffed, climbing her way up, from crevice to crevice, until she at last reached the window in, four stories up. Gently settling herself through, she found herself in her “temporary” home. It was a mess, to be honest. The higher floors were naught but plants and thin walkways leading from platform to platform, where once there was an entire surface to walk across. Ropes and ladders lead from story to story, as the stairs had long rotted away. She was reminded of how annoying these traits were as she tiptoed across the walkways, until reaching a platform of drawers and chests. From there she lowered herself down a rope, going down two stories before reaching the end.

 The walkways were slightly wider here, and a large platform clinging to the wall dominated it. Upon said platform was a gathering of furniture. Tables and chairs, all rickety and far from good condition. One of the chairs was occupied by a thin man, working on a set of papers, sketching out maps and jotting down plans. He had no doubt heard the incessant creaking of the planks as she came in, but paid her no heed until she greeted him.

 “Hey Dirky!” She threw down the documents in front of him, before collapsing onto a seat of her own, and raising an eyebrow in concern with the creaks let out.

 “Good day Roxy,” Dirk greeted her simply, opening up the papers and examining the schedules. “These are useful, they open up the opportunity to strike another target at…” He trailed off as he worked out which one to go for.

 “An hour and a half from now, in the Arcane District.” Roxy answered for him, smiling at him.

 “Very well, I wish you the best.”

 “I don’t intend to go now Strider!” Dirk looked back up from his plans.

 “Very well then, what do to plan to do to pass the time? I would say redecorating would be a great idea.”

 She made a face at him, before considering herself what she could do. She could work on her gear she supposed. That would probably be a good thing to do, rather than go blindly into a mission no knowing the state of her weapon.

 Getting up, she moved over to the workbench. Her rifle was displayed proudly above it, and amalgamate of wood and brass. It was of her own design and make, and had served her proudly. There were scores of lines along the stock, each indicating a valued kill.

 Holding it in her hand, she checked each part individually. The bolt action was working. The scope was attuned and the glass wiped free from dirt. The barrel was cleaned, any chance of backfiring taken out. The trigger mechanism was tested. It was maybe a bit too loose. A twitchy finger could end up giving her a whole load of trouble.

 She took some time to polish the designs and other intricacies she had carved along the rifle. It was a fine weapon, even Dirk had admitted he would have a hard time matching it. And that wasn’t even counting her current experiment. Placing the rifle back onto its stand, Roxy brought it out.

 It was another bullet loading system. Bolt action like the last, but adapted to have a second mode, so when she wishes it, she could switch between hard trigger and slow loading to light trigger and speedy reload, with a spring to assist. Strider was sceptical, but she was sure it would work. She could already imagine it; in the midst of combat, taking shot after shot, not needing to pull back the bolt. She planned to harness the recoil of a shot to pull back the reload, sliding another shot into the chamber. Hopefully it worked. Right now, however, it was just a confusing mess of levers and screws.

 Seeing that she still had plenty of time, she decided that she may as well work on it. Selecting one of the many screwdrivers, she began to tinker with the contraption, hoping to get the sudden inspiration for the problem solving idea, as unlikely as it was.

 Hearing Dirk take a sip of his coffee behind her, she thought it was time to make some conversation.

 “So, how’s the plan going?”

 There was a pause before Dirk spoke. “I working out the last batch of information I need for this phase. It’s not much, just some things that are better not left as variables.”

 “And what would that be?”

 “Some visitation dates of the Houses. Don’t want to risk executing the plan and then discovering some Capricorns have decided to show up. Or worse, another Council meeting.”

 Roxy had to agree to that, the Council meeting had no warning. She had almost been caught when it happened.

 “Have you got any stuff on what’s going on outside the city?”

 “It’s just the usual, nothing anomalous.”

 “And what about Dave?”

 The scratching of Dirk’s pencil stopped. Roxy looked over to him, where he sat staring down.

 “Haven’t heard much from him since I left.”

 Roxy furrowed her brows, unsure if she should tell him what she saw. It was risky, she could have been entirely wrong, imagining things or mistaking identities. Perhaps it was best left to chance. Although she was strongly wishing she had approached, set her mind to rest.

 “Maybe I shouldn’t have left. Or at least explained why I had to.”

 Roxy agreed with that wholeheartedly, but decided it better not to push him.

 “You’ll see him again someday don’t you worry. You can explain everything then.”

 “You seem awfully sure.”

 Roxy grinned, trying not to betray her worrisome thoughts. “Ya girls got a hunch.”

 Dirk raised his eyebrow slowly.

 “Alright, if you say so.” He returned to his plans, writing out an encrypted list of objectives to be completed before the main target could be hit.

 Wishing to avoid any more awkward hidings, Roxy took off, slinging her rifle over her shoulder as she began her climb.

 The walk to the arcane district was a decent one. It wasn’t the longest trek she had gone on, nor the most dangerous. Taking apart her rifle and storing it in a small box under her arm definitely helped avoid suspicion, even more so when she approached the arcane, with countless customers of stalls having their boxed items in their hands. It was unendingly useful.

 Reaching the centre of the district, Roxy approached the large clock tower watching over the mass of cobblestones and stalls. Making sure no-one was watching her, she pushed through the side door. The inside was quiet save for the gears from above. Reaching the ladder upwards, she huffed. More climbing.

 Rising up through the levels of the tower, Roxy double checked that she was correct about her assignment. It wasn’t like she hadn’t made mistakes before. Mistakes that had caused her unsightly reminders.

 Reaching the top of the clock tower, Roxy checked for the open slots through which she could see the expanse below. Satisfied with the view, she set down her case, and began to reassemble her weapon. After a minute or so of sliding and twisting the pieces into place, Roxy had the rifle together in her hands.

 Lying down on the tower platform, she eased her rifle into position, and began to search for her target. She was only there for half a dozen minutes, growing somewhat bored, when she finally caught sight of him. A cerulean advisor. One of the most persistently annoying Houses, in her opinion.

 He was taking his time. A fatal mistake. Looking through the scope, Roxy lined the crosshairs with his head. It was powerful enough so that no adjustment for distance would need to be made. Taking a deep breath, and stilling aim, Roxy pulled the trigger.

 The shot was loud, and the buck rocked Roxy back an inch. The bullet was powerful. And the advisors head was splattered against a wall, as the crowd began to panic. Sitting up, Roxy quickly dissembled her weapon, putting it in her case as fast as she could.

 With it safely stowed, she slid down the ladders, hoping that she would encounter few guards. She bolted from the tower, bursting through the side door, and sprinting down the alley. A guard stepped in her path, but was quickly rebuked with two strikes, bruising him for at least two weeks.

 Cursing as she did so, Roxy duck and dove between the panicking streetgoers, who had had been taken up in the mad rush coming from the square. If there any solace to the crowd, it was that any pursuers were put off. She could return near immediately to her den.

 Dirk glanced up as she was descending.

 “How’d it go?”

 “Perfect. One less Scorpio, and some free painting in the Arcane Square. Everybody wins!”

 Dirk shook his head, grinning slightly. “I should have another assignment soon. Rest up.”

 Roxy frowned, slouching her shoulders. Back to resting, she guessed. It was a rather boring cycle. Assignment, rest, assignment, rest. And she couldn’t just go out and do normal things. Not with a reputation like she had.

 Climbing up to her bed a floor above, Roxy was reminded of just how isolated she felt. Even if she did live in the centre of the largest city there was.

 But hey, at least she was one hell of a shot with a rifle.

Chapter Text

 Honks and screams of laughter filled the hazy air of the Carnival. The thick scent of soporifics and a plethora of foods went weaving through the countless tents and canopies, bright and dark both. Torches rammed into the ground at random intervals lit up the main pathway through the mirthful chaos, populated by frivolling clowns engaging in acts of holy buffoonery. Joyful shouts and hollers were harmonised with the high thrown clubs of juggling fools.

 In perfectly chaotic harmony with the pandemonium was the driving beats echoing like a spectral choir from the countless tents, playing in synchronicity with each other above the anarchy. Drums, horns, banjos and thick stringed basses gave symphony to the jovial bedlam of the Carnival.

 Through the enchanting miasma of the Capricorn wilderness, a horn in one hand, pie in the other, ambled Gamzee Makara. His lazy smile reflected those of the dozen clowns he found on his path to the towering rainbow of a tent in the centre of the madness. The path was a wide trench, a foot deep, dug from the ground in the pattern of the holiness in preparation for the Carnival’s arrival.

 Not that Gamzee noticed. The noblest heir was busy staring at the fireworks being released above the crowds with an emptily satisfied expression of bliss. He had already been wandering for near an hour aimlessly, losing himself to the daze of the jovial clownery and celebration. But after a particularly intense bout of sparkles and lights from the aerial explosions above, Gamzee recovered his reasoning. He had meetings to attend. He was disastrously late, but as with most Carnival endeavours, everyone else probably was.

 With a more focused direction, the Makara strolled through the trench, greeting his fellow Capricorns and clowns with a mixture of barely intelligible sounds and honks. There were a few letting the mayhem infused tunes take them over, and were truly indulged in their vibing.  Barely able to resist himself, Gamzee bobbed his head as he moved past, but took a deep inhale of the sanctimonious odours spreading from their sweat drenched bodies.

 Thoroughly sated, the Makara continued his blessed journey, looking towards the massive tent two hundred or so meters ahead of him. It was twice as tall as any other, and was splattered with every colour conceivable, and when on intoxicated with enough holy materials, some colours that weren’t.

 Those colours were starkly vibrant to Gamzee currently, as he stumbled forward a little. Too much sopor maybe. He cringed at the thought. Blasphemy.

 Before he could begin cursing his heretical thoughts, a call rang out with such validity of gospel that Gamzee couldn’t help but spin to see his brethren.

 A large clown was approaching, tall and lanky, but not without decent muscle. His expression was as lazy as the Makara’s, yet held such powerful vigour.

“Ayo whaddup my homes? How goez da endless plottin of da most mirthful amung us L O L ?!”

 The enticing form of Marvus Xoloto sauntered towards him. His casually formal attire adorned his gleaming form. The deep purple blazer was completely unbuttoned at this late time of night, and his wild hair went in messy waves behind his head.

 Gamzee responded with a long “HONK!”

 Marvus seemed to understand his situation. “My most benevolent of friendz, you be truly smash’d tonight LOL!”

 “You know it motherfucker.” Gamzee laughed in what most would find an unsettling array of horrendous breaths, but the clowns around him found comfort in it.

 “Don’t you gotta most spiritual congregation to attend tho?”

 Gamzee nodded. “One holy motherfucker of a meeting.”

 “Den prahps we shud make our way towardz da meetin?”

 “Sounds like a miracle trip brother.”

 Smiling, Marvus threw an arm around Gamzee’s shoulder, and they began their trip to the centre tent, surrounded by the festivities.

 The ground was remarkably firm, considering the amount of drink spilled upon it, mixed with the ever trampling feet over it. The pair found no problem with their journey, and merely chatted away in language bordering nonsensical to most nobles.

 As they grew closer to the grand tent of the Messiah, they topic drifted around to an acquaintance they had in common. The noteworthy heir of the Empress. While Gamzee was firmly situated in her flushed quadrant (something many found incredulous), Marvus was in a close moiraillegiance with the Heiress.

 “She seemz to be most occupied with her current endeavourz. A bit too occupied shud ya ax me.”

 Gamzee nodded, taking a swig of the faygo in his hand. “Sister needs to chill out. Ain’t good for her.”

 “Trulyz my fellow jugg!”Marvus took his top hat from his head, staring at the sign adorning it. A dozen or so buttons were sewn on in random places, and several metal triangles were arranged as teeth along the top and bottom, some rusted and some shining new. Wiping away a patch of dirt, his tone got somewhat less jovial. “Sister needz some time off.”

 “True motherfucker. I was all up and thinking bout bringing her somewhere more for her. Somewhere with a bitchin’ view of the ocean. A beachin view.” Gamzee laughed a bit more. “Motherfucker doesn’t get to see enough of it. Sea.”

 He saw Marvus crack a smile from his antics, and place his hat back upon his head. Looking up to the flashing colours above, he ran his tongue over his line of sharp teeth. 

 “A truly spectacular notion.” He said little more, as they approached the grand entrance to the main tent. An array of vibrant colours were splattered across the thick pieces of fabric pulled to either side as they neared, the two Capricorn guardsmen, in their clownish outfits, bowing deeply to their superiors.

 Inside the massive tent was what Gamzee knew as the holiest of places. After a short incline of steps, he, along with Marvus, began walking down a long wooden bridge, painted a thousand colours, to the centre. Below the great bridge, covering the entire surface of the inside, was a pool of colours. A few Capricorns were splashing about in it, their impish laughter mingling with the muffled music from outside.

 Finally reaching the end of the path, they ascended another set of steps, before arriving at the throne. Colours flowed from the platform, a cosmic stream of mirth cascading into the greater pool. Stepping through the liquid, Gamzee ignored the warm feeling of it against his bare feet. Marvus nodded at the flamboyant addition to his shoes. Just behind the throne was a massive sheets of lanterns, all different colours, casting a hallowed light on all those who stood before it.

 Before them on the Mirthful Throne, snoring incredibly loudly, was Gamzee’s father. The massive form of the Grand Highblood was splayed over the two arms, his mane of hair lying in the colours. His tongue was hanging unceremoniously out, sopor slime still dripping from it.

 After a moment Gamzee raised his horn, and with a most ungraceful squeeze, let loose a most supernaturally aided honk. The vast sound echoed throughout the tent and beyond, prompting a silence from all. The cavorting sounds of cheers, honks and music silenced, as the great sound echoed.

 Just as the honk faded, the Highblood twitched. Groaning, he pulled himself up. The platform beneath creaked louder than his snoring as he stood, his massive form blocking out the light from the hundreds of lanterns. Even slouching, his giant shoulders hanging, he easily stood 12 foot. From the colossal shadow above them, two seemingly glowing yellow orbs looked down.

 After a few seconds of intense staring, Marvus began to bow, before being stopped by a raised hand, twice as big as his head. The pair waited as the Grand Highblood slowly placed himself back down on the throne, the magnificent construction of mass and mirth creaking and groaning under his immense weight. Settling down, his looked around, a frown present on his face. Leaning back, he spoke a single deep word, followed by a clap that shook the platform.

 “Music!”

 At once the music form outside resumed, as did the capering. The Highblood laughed, the sound deep and echoing. Reclining on his throne, he raised his hand, indicating at the pair.

 “My son, my great Jester, welcome.”

 The two clowns nodded, Marvus’ somewhat more regal than his cousins.

 “What’s up my mirthful motherfucker?”

 The Highblood smiled. “Only the most holy of slumber. What brings you to this most jovial of places?”

 Marvus answered his Messiah’s question. “You call a important meetin, I blieve?”

 The Highblood thought for a second, before nodding. “I did, yes. Where would the other be?”

 As if on cue, another walked through the entrance. The scraping of her axe along the bridge was a ghastly sound, the wood being shaven by the blood tainted blade. She took her time walking, slow and steady, before finally reaching the platform. She was the spitting image of her elder, tall, with large muscles, and a wild mane of hair reaching down to the floor.

 The Chief Executioner of the Capricorns, Chahut Maenad, stood before the trio. A lazy smile was plastered across her face.

 “Greetin’s my mirthful Messiah, my brothers.”

 Marvus tipped his hat. “Sistah.” Gamzee merely honked his horn, but without the supernatural aid.

 The Highblood rubbed his hands together, ready to dispense with business.

 “Now, my loyal Juggalos, let’s get to it!”

 After a most long and rambling introduction consisting of holy praises and gospel, to which the three Capricorn children responded with enthrallment and adequate praise, and then a long silence for prayer, the business could finally begin.

 “Now, my children, there are many things we must discuss.” He looked around to each of them.

 “After the prophecy of yester… two… four days ago, I have been thinking ‘bout what must be done. The gutterblood spoke of violence, most beautiful and gory. But while we celebrate such things, it does not seem pitt’d in our favour. Speakin’ with my loyal Jester-“ he gestured to Marvus “- we have deciphered what we could. It does not look good. Marvus?”

 The Xoloto stepped forward, removing his hat. “After some wicked nasty readin’ of the verses left by the daemon, I myself have translated a small bit of what was on offer. Many times that burgundy sistah made reference to our most sacred traits, so jovial and mirthful. She be describin’ what could only be referred to as a most magnificent battle, bloody and brutal. But, she speaks of this as revolution, and uprisin’. The last verse don’t need any insight to tell why it’s bad.”

 The Maenad quoted for him. “And in the mayhem and death, one of royal line shall be killed.”

 Marvus nodded. “Doesn’t sound too good now does it?”

 “We must find a way to stop this, for our master is convinced that the bloodline is integral to our plan.” The Highblood informed them, scratching his plentiful, paint covered stubble.

 “For that reason, I am sending you all to differin’ parts of the Empire, to seek out rebellion and crush it with mighty hands of mirth and mayhem.”

 “My son,” Gamzee stopped spacing out and looked back to his father, who had the faintest smile on his face. “You shall accompany your brother to the Teal Manor, stay there a while and gather any information they may have on suspicious events. You leave tomorrow”

 The large clown turned to Marvus. “My Jester, you shall go to the Taurus Manor, and take over from my son as he leaves. Make sure the gutterbloods do not try anything.” Marvus bowed deeply.

 “Now for you, Chahut, my executioner.” Chahut straightened up, swinging up her axe to rest the upper handle on her shoulder.

 “You shall no longer dwell within the confines of our great Carnival.” A questioning look rose in her eyes. “You shall instead take to the streets with a few more of our glorious Juggalos, and act as our swiftest, bloodiest hand.” The questioning look was replaced with a lazy, wide smile.

 “Whether it be heresy, treason or any borin’ crime you can find, hack apart those disloyal to the empire, and always be prepared for more direct orders.”

 “As you wish my glorious messiah. With praise of you and our lord I shall rip the heads of heresy from their dishevelled forms.”

 The Grand Highblood seemed pleased with this answer. Rising from the throne, he gazed around the great cavernous tent, the massive pool of colours filled with frolicking clowns. Stepping forward, he kneeled down. He held out both of his hands, prompting the clowns to form a circle. Locking hands, they all stared to the giant.

 “Now let us rejoice, together. For now, we are family, together in person and in soul.”

 The clowns began singing their praises of the Mirthful Messiah, the Vast Honk, and everything they held dear. The ghostly choir was joined by the music outside, perfectly in sync, in its own chaotic way.

 After the great mass, the Highblood stood up straight, removing his slouch, and standing his full 14 feet tall. Looking down at them, he spoke a single sentence more.

 “Now leave a motherfucker alone to sleep.”

 The clowns left as the Highblood resumed his nap on the throne, walking across the great bridge. Chahut had deigned to keep her axe of the bridge as she left, to not pester her Messiah. As they left through the grand entrance, the two guards let the thick pieces of fabric fall back shut, the great snoring from within silenced.

 Once outside, they all stopped, and looked at each other.

 “I suppose we best be on our merry way?” Chahut nodded in response. Gamzee, however, swayed around as he stood, his balance off.

 “Brothah?”

“Hmmm?”

 “Motherfucker be coming down from his sopor, eh?” Gamzee shrugged slowly.

 “Take that as a yes. Now, sistah, it has been a pleasure, I will see you soon.” Chahut smiled, and ruffled his hair with one of her large hands.

 “I’ll see you when this is all over, brother” The large clown began to walk away, her axe resuming its drag behind her, cleaving a large line in the dirt.

 Marvus once again slung an arm around Gamzee, and began walking towards wherever sopor could be found.

 “You gotta stop bein’ all bingin’ on your pies, my man.”  Gotta keep that shit going.

 Gamzee barely heard him above the racket from the tents. Jovial music, laughing clowns, and the screams of innocents being tortured relentlessly. The scent of mind-numbing substances and food was overpowered by the thick scent of blood permeating the air. Torches and skulls were mounted along the paths, some burned clean, others covered in dripping blood and gore. Dashing in and around the poles and tents were clowns, giggling as the sanguine substance dripped from their hands, and stained their clothes. Incessant yelling mingled with the screams and shouts of pain as bones and limbs were juggled high in the air.

 It was an unending massacre of joyful mirth; the Dark Carnival.

 Without the overindulgence of sopor, Gamzee began to pick up what his mind had blanked. The true state of the carnival was revealed to him. But he had seen it all before.

 A single commoner limped across the path in front of him, followed by a large purpleblood, giggling to themselves as they casually walked towards their slowed prey. A large bandolier of knives was hanging from their shoulder, and one by one they removed the knives, slinging them towards the commoner. Each knife hit its mark, each one higher up the legs than the last. By the time the duo had passed them, the commoner couldn’t move their legs at all, and was trying to painfully crawl across the ground as the clown caught up to them. The yelps and groans of pain were replaced with a sudden scream, and hideous and joyful laughter.

 Many sights such as that greeted them, dark and twisted each. But it fazed not Gamzee. Marvus did get somewhat uncomfortable, however, giving each event a look of distaste before avoiding looking at it. The Jester had never been one to engage in the more violent or brutal aspect of clown life, not that Gamzee had either, he was more for just… chilling.

 Finally reaching Gamzee’s personal tent, Marvus brought him inside. It was a decent enough sized tent, with colours being Capricorn purple and Fuchsia, much the same as Marvus’. Inside was a plethora of clowns equipment, and dozens of priceless works of mirthful art. A pile of horns sat in the corner, where Gamzee had spent hours meditating in honour of the speaker of the Vast Honk.

 The middle of the tent was occupied by a large table, covered in sopor pies, baked by the Makara himself. Gamzee went straight for one, and began taking a small chunk out of the best baked, just to cool his mind, and taper of the extreme high. It was a masterpiece of pie, in his opinion, and he could quickly feel the slime’s properties settling his mind to rest.

 As the Makara ate, Marvus took a seat, producing a glass bottle of faygo from his jacket. Finally settled, Gamzee turned walked towards his desk, where a pesterchum sat. It was the most advanced model there was. The only way to get any better was bespoke, but the juggalo cared little for that. He had a few messages from several people, some of which would need a more urgent reply than others.

 Nodding to himself, Gamzee addressed the Xoloto.

 “Thank you motherfucker, shit was getting wild for a moment.”

 “No P my glorious brother lol! Gotta make sure a motherfucker be safe from his own foolery eh?”

 Gamzee laughed at that, finding the Jester’s words funnier than he should. Walking over, he embraced his cousin. Marvus chuckled, and hugged back. Whatever could be said for the superstar Jester, he was a family man, and a friend man.

 After breaking apart, Marvus politely left, remembering that he had some rhymes to perfect on a deadline. Gamzee say no issue, and had a few minutes of spacing out before trudging back over to his pesterchum. Attending to the messages, the Makara looked through the list.

 He supposed telling Tavros the developments would be a good idea. Using the directional keys, he selected AudiosToreador and read the latest message.

 

-- adiosToreador [AT] began pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] at 00:27 --

AT: uH HEY GAMZEE DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU WILL BE BACK, cAUSE, uH YOUR BROTHER IS BEING VERY WEIRD
TC: YeAh MoThErFuCkEr I jUsT fOuNd OuT iLl Be GoInG bAcK tOmOrRoW.
TC: WiLd FuCkInG tImInG.
AT: oH YEAH THAT’S REALLY COOL
AT: i CANT WAIT TO HANG OUT MORE WITH YOU
TC: sOrRy LiTtLe BrOtHeR bUt I wOnT bE tHeRe FoR lOnG.
TC: WeRe GoInG tO tHe TeAl PlAcE nOt LoNg AfTeR aRrIvInG.
AT: oH
AT: tHAT REALLY SUCKS
AT: aT LEAST YOU CAN GIVE TEREZI MY GIFT THEN
TC: mOtHeRFuCkEr MaDe HeR a GiFt :o?
AT: yEAH FOR HER BIRTHDAY, bUT I COULDN’T SEND IT CAUSE, uH YOUR BROTHER WAS STOPPING ALL THAT
AT: wILL YOU BE ABLE TO GIVE IT TO HER?
TC: FoR a FrIeNd? Of CoUrSe BrO.
AT: hELL YEAH!
AT: tHANK YOU GAMZEE }:o)
TC: yOu AlL wEnT uP aNd StOle My NoSe!
TC: Aw fuCk BrO I gOtTa DeAl WiTh SoMe OtHeR mOtHeRfUckErS.
AT: aW DANG, TALK TO YOU SOON THEN
TC: hOnK! :o)

-- adiosToreador [AT] ceased pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] at 00:34 --

 Gamzee looked away from the screen, hearing a loud bang from outside, followed by an enormous mass of laughter and screams. Lazily rising up, and knocking over his stool in the process, the Makara made his way over to the entrance to his tent, and peered out. A tent a few dozen meters away was completely up in flames, and fireworks were going off all around it. Just as he was about to turn away, the tent exploded outwards in a massive wave of colour and force.

 Seems like it was one of the pyrotechnics tents, and Gamzee couldn’t help but smile and lose himself in looking at the expanding ball of coloured sparks. The colours, spiralling and shooting off, were just so beautiful. Life is beautiful.

 After a good few minutes of staring into the colourful mass, surrounded by celebrating and burning clowns, and screaming and burning commoners, the Capricorn finally snapped himself out of it. Popping his head back inside, he walked back over to the table, and took a finger-full of sopor slime to continue his slow decline.

It was necessary thing, to come from his high slowly. Sudden drops could make certain things far more likely. It was better to be completely sobor for a week than drop suddenly. Unless he wanted a repeat of the bloody events of last time. At least he hadn’t needed to worry about people being hurt that time. Just daemons. Just daemons.

 Shivering at the memories, Gamzee went to the chest at the back of his room. Lifting the heavy steel lid, that any commoner would find impossible, the Capricorn looked inside. Inside were lines and lines of faygo bottles. Reaching in, he took on, and unceremoniously popped the cap off with his thumb.

 Moving back over to the computer, Gamzee checked the rest of his messages. There were a few from his matesprit, but he knew she was busy currently, so he had time to respond to them. Looking through the rest, he found some messages from high ranking Capricorns, and some hardcore Marvus fans that had managed to get his field entity. Both he deleted. No need for them.

 After some thought, he checked his contacts, and quickly brought up a certain someone. Opening up the pesterlog, he began to type.

 

-- terminallyCapricious [TC] began pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at 00:45 --

TC: GuEsS wHoS cOmInG tO tEaL tOwN :o)

 Gamzee waited a few minutes, before a thought occurred to him. Checking her name on the screen, his shoulders dropped. She was offline. Drinking some faygo, he continued through the logs on the pesterchum

 He felt a pain in his chest as he checked one of the message logs he had never closed. From just before the rebellion started. It started with what graced the opening of every pesterlog. The introduction.

 

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] started pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] at 06:22 --

 Gamzee frowned seeing it. It brought back painful memories of times gone. Sometimes he would lie awake late at night, reading through the pesterlog again and again. Sometimes his arms would shake. Sometimes his eyes would well up with tears. Sometimes he would drink faygo and eat sopor until his body forced itself into unconsciousness. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time with that, and wake up with his eyes still wet, and his stomach ready to release its contents at a moment’s notice.

 Those were the hardest nights. But they had become scarcer as the years went by, much to the Juggalo’s relief. He had managed a few months without one, much to his pride. Marvus had noticed it too, and congratulated him often on it. Marvus had helped the most, as he noticed the quickest. Both with this and the other scars of the clown’s youth.

 Downing a bit of the faygo, he checked if he had any more messages from friends. adiosToreador was offline, no doubt having done to attend a dinner or some such with Skylla. Even if she didn’t much like Gamzee, he was fond of her. He had always meant to ask if he could attend one of hers and Tavros’ meals, but he always forgot, or spaced out at an inopportune time.

 The entirety of the Taurus House were people he considered friends. They were all kind to him, even if a bit gruff, in some cases. Rufioh might be a bit awkward to speak to, but he was chill. Vikare was always a delight in speaking to. Gamzee could spend hours at a time listening to his constant ramblings about flying through the air. He may have spent hours at a time listening to that. He couldn’t remember exactly.

 There was the other Taurus, who had left not long after Gamzee had been stationed there. She was kind from what he remembered. He had heard her singing once or twice as he passed by her room door. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t lingered for a while on the greyer days, listening to her songs, whether they be soft and melodious or hard and intense.

 He loved the Taurus House. As great, mirthful and beautiful as the Dark Carnival was, it didn’t compare to the homely feeling that the Taurus Manor brought upon him. It was where he truly felt at home.

 But he wouldn’t be there anymore. For the foreseeable future he was to be amongst those who hated his House. He knew Pyrope wasn’t that fond of him; she never really hid it. He couldn’t imagine her cousins or subjects would think to highly of him. But at least they were law abiding enough to not try and kill him. If that was even a good thing.

 Taking a deep sigh, the clown opened up the messages from his matesprit. They were the usual: some recounts of her day, and complaints over some aspects she was less than pleased with. But she was offline, as expected. It would be an hour or so until she was online. Her excessive need for long and luxurious baths or swims often left her offline at scheduled times. Too bad those times interceded with when he needed her most.

 Downing the rest of his faygo, Gamzee started replying. He didn’t know why, but she somehow found his way of speaking endearing. Odd, since most of the nobility despised how his House spoke. She merely laughed and snuggled closer to him when he said his motherfuckers and bitchtits. Gamzee smiled slowly, remembering those times where they were close, before they were forced apart by duty and House. The Ball, three or so days before the Council, was the first time he had seen her in weeks. He had spent hours with her in his arms, watching her as she spent her time away on her device.

 He missed those interactions. Those little moments between them. Even if they were just a few days ago. Why did they have to be so far away from each other? Why did fate rip them apart yet tempt them so? Why did-

 Gamzee flinched as he crushed the bottle in his hands, the glass shards piercing into his hand, and purple blood beginning to flow down his arm in rivulets. Wincing, he slowly opened his hand, feeling it shake. One by one, he pulled each shard of glass from his hand, watching as the blood stream got more intense. His arm was stained purple by the time he was finished, and there was a pool of blood forming on the hard packed dirt floor.

 Standing up, he walked towards a small cabinet beside the door. His shoulders slouched, the Gamzee picked up the roll of bandages and began wrapping them around his hand, tight. After a few layers, he decided it was enough and tore off the rest.

 Returning to his desk, Gamzee checked over his pesterlogs. His gaze settled on that one. That one he had read too many times. The Makara stared at his hand, before slowly bringing it to the keyboard, and hitting enter.

 The pesterlog came up, starting with the usual.

 

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] started pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] at 6:22 --

CG: ALRIGHT LISTEN UP YOU VERBOSELY ILLITERATE FUCKHEAD. I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE, THE LITERAL HIGHEST FUCKING HIGH MORTALLY ACHIEVABLE, WITH YOUR BULLSHIT.
TC: WhAtS gOt YoU aLl Up anD tWiStEd BrOtHeR :o?
CG: YOU WITH YOUR UNDENDING CASCADE OF BULLSHITTERY AND ESCAPADES OF VOCABULARY SEEMINGLY INTENDED TO DO LITTLE MORE THAN PISS ME OFF.

 It was how most of their conversations started. It would start off with Karkat’s undending insults, before calming down to a most natural topic. Gamzee missed it. He missed it so motherfucking much. A purple tinted tear slid down his cheek.

 He continued down the pesterlog, seeing their topic change from current affairs of their mutual friends, happening of the Houses, before it swung around to Karkat’s father in particular.

 

CG: HE’S GETTING MORE BRAZEN WITH HIS SPEAKING AGAINST THE EMPIRE. IT’S KINDA WORRYING. I’VE NOTICED MORE VISITS FROM CAPRICORNS AND TEALS AND
CG: GAMZEE, ARE YOU TALKING TO ME TOO LEARN ABOUT MY DAD FOR THE CAPRICORNS?
TC: MoThErFuCkEr WhAt?
TC: i WoUlD nEvEr Do ThAt To A mOtHeRfUcKeR.
TC: EvEr.
TC: :o(
TC: jUsT hOw HiGh DoEs A mOtHeRfUcKeR eVeN hAvE tO bE jUsT tO tHiNk SoMeThInG lIkE tHaT?
CG: OKAY.
CG: I APOLOGIZE.
CG: IT WAS WRONG TO THINK THAT.
CG: IT’S JUST THAT THINGS HAVE BEEN GETTING INTENSE. I KEEP WORRYING THAT ANY DAY SHITS GOING TO GO AS FAR SOUTH AS FUCK WILL ALLOW IT.
CG: IT’S PARTIALLY BECAUSE I THINK MY DAD IS PLANNING A REBELLION.
CG: I THINK HE WANTS TO FREE THE COMMONERS VIOLENTLY.
CG: I’VE HEARD HIM AND THE HEADS OF SOME OTHER HOUSES TALKING ABOUT IT A LOT.
CG: I’M WORRIED.
CG: WAIT.

  If tears were falling from Gamzee’s cheeks before, they were rushing in torrents now, as he sat completely still, staring at the screen.

CG: THE CAPRICORNS ARE HERE. THEY’RE BUSTING DOWN THE DOOR. GAMZEE YOU PIECE OF SHIT I TRUSTED YOU. I THOUGHT YOU WERE ON MY SIDE. YOU FUCKING LIED TO ME YOU SNIVELLING SHIT. FUCK YOU.
TC: MoThErFuCkEr WaIt I dIdNt Do AnytHiNg!
TC: kArKat?
TC: karkat you there?
TC: karkat?

-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] stopped pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] at 6:56 --

 Gamzee shook violently for a second, before swiping his hand across his desk, throwing the pesterchum to the floor. He rose up quickly, his legs sending the stool flying backwards, crashing against the table.

 Wiping his face, smudging his makeup, Gamzee grabbed one of the sopor pies, and dug his hand in, shovelling the substance into his mouth. As he chewed on the damaging vileness of the soporific, he made his way over to his chest, and grabbed two bottle of faygo, capping one open and downing it in a matter of seconds.

 The impact of the two drugs hit him quickly, and within a minute he was struggling to stand, yet kept drinking, and stumbled over to eat more. In between fits of coughing and retching, the clown consumed more and more of the drugs, until his face was too numb to cry, then he ate more.

 Clutching a half empty bottle of faygo, and having his fingers covered in the slime, the clown crawled over to his bed, his vision blurred and filled with swaying colours. His hand was just reaching the edge of the fabric when his head dropped, banging against the ground, as his whole body went limp.

 He was already beginning to choke in his unconsciousness when Marvus walked in.

 “Eyo motherfucker some Juggz said they heard some loud shit from in h… oh. No.”

  The Jester quickly moved towards the hacking body, and helped him breathe. Sighing, the Xoloto resigned himself to a night of taking care of his cousin. He only hoped that Kurloz would do the same, as unlikely as the scheming bastard was to.

Chapter Text

 The Great Library was quiet in the early morning, save for the quietest sounds of the docks below; the squawking of gulls, clattering of crates and occasional bells. The soft sound of pages turning was some aisles over, along with a low whisper to oneself. Even farther away was the sound of leather bound books being slid into place, taken out and replaced with whatever tomes the librarian deemed appropriate. A constant influx of the latest knowledge, theories and findings of the scientific and arcane communities, being brought into one place as soon as possible. This was what made the Great Library so appealing to Eridan Ampora, youngest Heir of the Aquarius House.

 He whispered to himself unwittingly as he pored over the pages laid out in front of him, taking in as much of the arcane writings as he could. He regularly checked the several sheets of notes scattered around the large ornate table, worth more than a commoner’s house. Cross referencing his previous notes with the knowledge he found in the book, he put together the puzzle pieces in order to become extremely frustrated. Closing the book rather roughly, he took a deep breath. Perhaps the intricacies of interdimensional flux through daemonically tainted storms was not something he should be studying at this present moment. Maybe examining lightning’s response to interruption through use of energised interaction would be a more suitable starting place.

 Either way, he was pretty sure he was done with it for now. Gathering up his supplies, placing his sheets into a leather satchel, Eridan prepared to leave the library. He collected the spread of notes, all taken in his rather scraggly hand writing, and pressed them into the large tome he was to take. With it all sin the bag slung over his shoulder, Eridan began to make for the exit, before a thought crossed his mind.

 Surely it wouldn’t hurt to have at least a small look.

 After a small moment of debating in his head, the Aquarius spun on the heel of his silver lined boots. Heading deeper yet into the grand maze of ancient wooden cases, polished and lined with valuable minerals, Eridan navigated his way through, knowing exactly the path to his destination. He had travelled the length, breadth and height of this library a hundred times in his life. He knew near every nook and cranny, every section to search in and every blissful spot to linger in.

 Some of those spots held memories for him, some good and some bad. He had grown up in the library. It was inevitable.

 Adjusting his glasses, the heir made his way up two flights of spiral stairs, surrounded on all sides by vast cases of books, old and new. They concerned all topics conceivable, from socio-political to scientific to fiction, albeit there was a great shortage of the latter. At least in his opinion there was.

 Reaching one of the uppermost levels, a tower isolated from the rest, the Ampora found himself in a wide open room, with a few tables taking up the centre. The wall was lined with a few standing bookcases, looking a tad worse for wear than those below. But nevertheless, they were still exceedingly more expensive that what an ordinary commoner, or even a baser House, could afford.

 Moving up to one of the shelves, all arranged in alphabetical order, with some extra ordering techniques and protocols he had learned by himself, Eridan searched for the title that interested him. He would spend some amount of time browsing usually, sometimes being so specific and critical he would go for an hour searching and come back with nothing. But today was not to be one of those. He had a specific set of tales in mind. It was something he had discovered recently. A certain author.

 Finding the selection of her books, he began to skim through them, selecting a few that interested him. In his search he found the copy that had led to this discovery, but there was no need to take it; he already had a copy, take from… somewhere that didn’t bear mention.

 With the novels safely stored in his satchel, the Aquarius headed out to the balcony looking over the port. It was beautiful in the early morning, he reckoned. This side of the city always was. It was the dwelling of the aristocratic elite, or at least the greater portion of them. He could see the lines of expensive jewellers, markets, banks and most professional and skilled craftspeople the empire had to offer. Such gifted craftspeople were often venerated above the lower Houses even, although most were in some way related to the Aquarius House by far blood or marriage.

 The Scorpio castle leaned against the wall in the distance, its blue banners waving lazily in the morning breeze. The personal ship of Mindfang was being pulled along by such winds, leaving the port with a disturbing silence of shouting. Her entire crew was subject to her will, not needing to shout or communicate, as she was in control of it all. All from the safety and comfort of her quarters.

 She was a feared Captain to be sure. Her psychic abilities gave her more than the simple edge of exerting power over enemy crews, but also allowing her to direct her own crew with precision and ease not seen on any other ship. Even Eridan’s father couldn’t match that, as hard as he tried. He tried to match her on several fronts, but unfortunately never succeeded. In his own reckoning, they were soon to break out in fighting. It would take some amount of political interference and manipulation to avoid such a catastrophe. He was already preparing for the outburst. It was like to be a civil war, if it gained enough traction and ferocity. Magical experience could prove adequately useful, he thought. Especially so if he focused his studying in just war magic.

 But for now, he must resign himself to studying all aspects of magic, as was his father’s command. Even if quite a considerable amount of it was extraordinarily uninteresting, he could persevere. He was already the most skilled in his own class of aristocrats.

 He looked over to the vast palace of the Pisces. It was beautiful, to him. The feats of architecture present upon it had not yet been reached by any other. Everything about it screamed perfection of the Higher Houses, the gardens that flowed up its spires and peaks, the elegant lines of solid gold that lined its corners, the statues made of the valuable materials imaginable, with eyes of gems. The Empress surely knew how to decorate.

 Moving away from the balcony, Eridan began his descent back down to the lower levels, carrying his books down with him. It was a quiet walk, little noise above the clicking of his boots down the seemingly endless steps. The building was full of them, since it was among the tallest in the empire. A massive maze of towers and balconies, leaning out and twisting around to cast an impressive shadow on the city below.

 It had long been the main site of higher aristocratic knowledge, and the higher Houses had guarded it fervently. Technically the lower Houses were allowed in, but the glares of the Highers and sometimes disrespectful service by staff would usually drive them away. It was an effective deterrent, he found.

 Reaching the middle levels, the most expensive and most used section of the entire Library, Eridan looked down from the railings into the labyrinth of bookcases laid out before him. There were about a dozen or so people walking within them. He could recognize a fair few from many congregations of the wealthy he had attended.

 Lowering down the flight of stairs to the main floor, the Aquarius wove his way between the stacks and cases of books, not pausing to look at the occasional case containing an ancient artefact or historical item. He had seen them all a thousand times before. Whether they were from far off lands or remnants of the Empire’s history, he knew them. Some of the older crowns of the Empresses’ were locked behind the impenetrable glass, enchanted. They were history of fallen heroes and legends.

 Eridan was just approaching the centre of the middle floors when someone stepped out in front of him from behind a bookcase. He stopped with a jolt and prepared to let loose a string of insults, before recognizing who it was.

 “Oh, hi.”

 Feferi Peixes looked somewhat surprised to see him as he spoke, almost as much as he did her. She quickly abandoned the look she was giving him, replacing it with her usual adorable smile.

 “Hi Erifin! How are you?”

 “I’m, uh, I’m good yeah. What about you?”

 “I’m very good! I’m really excited! Got some cool stuff to do!” The Heiress shook her arms by her sides as she said this.

 “Yeah? What for?” It could have been anything honestly. She got excited over nearly anything. It was cute.

 “I’m meeting with a friend in a few minutes! We’re going to learn a play!”

 Eridan thought for a moment before responding. He’d be lying if there wasn’t a pang of jealously in him. “And what play would that be?”

 “I’m thinking of choosing the Torching of the Archipelago, just to get him up to speed with how most of them are.”

 “Yeah that sounds like a good one to start with… yeah.” Eridan tapered off his words, fidgeting slightly.

 Feferi noticed, and couldn’t seem to help herself from asking. “Eridan are you alright?”

 The Ampora straightened up, pulling his hands apart. “Yes, I’m fine. Why would you care? We’re not even moirails anymore.”

 The Heiress frowned, dropping her shoulders. “Oh come on, Erifin! We’ve been over this! I can still care about you even if we aren’t in a quadrant.”

 “Sure, that’s why you stopped talking to me on pesterchum then?”

 “I did that because you made yourself impossible to talk to Erifin! You’re doing it right now!”

 Eridan sneered, turning away from her. “I’m doing no such fuckin’ thing.”

 He looked away at a line of books on the shelf beside him, waiting for her continued attack. Instead he heard a heavy breath, and looked back to see Fef observing him dejectedly.

 “Why do you have to be like this Eridan? It’s just so difficult!” She was raising her voice slightly, no doubt causing a few aristocratic ears to perk up.

 Eridan gritted his teeth, shaking his head. “So I had to change for you, is that it? Am I that much of a mess that even the great Peixes couldn’t fix me?”

 “Erifin!”

 “What? You know it. I’m just an idiot who couldn’t get his quadrants right.”

 “Eridan…” Feferi started, before seeing something over his shoulder. Eridan glanced over. He raised an eyebrow as one fo the library staff nodded to the Heiress, before turning curtly and strolling away.

 “I’m sorry Eridan I have to go… I hope you get to cheer up.”

 Eridan went to say something as she walked by him, but found a lack of word sin his throat. He didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth and closed it a few more times, struggling, as Feferi glanced back, before continuing forward. As she left his sight he snarled, spinning away to march along his original route, cursing his own lack of wit and aptitude.

 Eridan trudged his way through the middle floors of the Library, giving dirty glares to any who ventured near until at last he reached the private Aquarius sector. It was a relatively small residence compared to the many others that his family owned, but it was the only one they could get in the Library, with so much space reserved for naught but knowledge and history.

 Sliding the golden key into the lock, and hearing the endless clicking of the intricate mechanism as he twisted, Eridan pushed through the thick wooden doors, inscribed with the symbol of his House. There was a slight creak, but barely enough to be noticed. He entered into the small main room, a square with a set of reclining chairs in the centre, all facing towards the massive windows that occupied the far wall. The walls consisted of a vast amount of shelves, all filled with books, but only copies of those available elsewhere in the Library, as was the rules. A ladder mounted on rails leaned against each side of the room, giving access to the higher books.

 Walking across the panelled floor and passing the luxurious and inviting chairs, Eridan made his way to the eastern side of the room, where his personal office lay behind the ornate doors. He didn’t actually do much work in this “office” of his, it was more for relaxing after study, and sometimes for some light reading. It wasn’t much a place for dedicated studying, what with all the sound of the servant’s quarters and workplaces just behind his wall. He would have preferred a room on the west wing, but his brother had claimed that before he could, despite never using it, ever.

 He could hear the muffled clattering of plates and such even now, as just entering. Frowning indignantly, he marched to the chair set at his desk. Eridan settled down on the chair, and pulled his pesterchum out of his satchel. Placing it on the desk, he pushed up the screen, revealing the set of keys. Flicking the switch, he watched as it booted up, the screen colours becoming more vibrant, eventually bold enough to see.

 Quickly looking through the list of field-addresses he had, Eridan found the one that interested him most. He had some things to organise. Opening up a new pesterlog, he began to type in his message.

-- caligulasAquarium [CA] began pestering treacherousCharlatan [TC] at 08:58 --

CA: kurloz wwe got to meet up soon
CA: wwe need to go over our plans

 Eridan got up and wandered over to the balcony as he waited for the response. It could be a while, the mime wasn’t fond of messaging, for whatever stupid reason. Even if he was one of the best and most skilled players of intrigue, he was fucking difficult to work with. He took ages to respond to messages, and when meeting up his mutilated and gored tongue meant he could only talk through sign. The only reason he ever did meet up was due to the benefit of not worrying about their “speakings” being recorded or traced by Teals, as perserchum messages were.

 Eridan stared out over the city once more from his balcony. He was facing in the opposite direction than the last time, and could see clearly the sprawl of lower class houses. There was countless trails of smoke rising from the fields of chimneys, and great plumes form the industrial districts factories. It was hideous. To call oneself a highblood yet dwell in a soiled and dirtied place such as that. The Sagittarius surely were a mockery of nobility. They would never equate to the sea-born nobility. And neither would the clowns.

 If it was up to him he would have both Houses purged as soon as he could. The Zahhaks were already on the way out unless the mess of an heir could pull himself together, which, Eridan was glad, was extremely unlikely.

 As for the Capricorns, they would be substantially harder to do off. Their brute power as a House was equalled only by the Pisces House itself. And Kurloz was a far too valuable asset to dispose of yet. It would have to be done in the long run, with meticulous precision and preparation. Eridan wasn’t the best at either, but he was far from blind in the ways.

 If he had any chance it would have to utilise the powers of Her Imperious Condescension herself. But that was near impossible. She may have been obsessed with riches, greedy, bloodthirsty and prone to fits if she didn’t get her way, but she still had the sharpest mind in the Empire. Maybe the combined might of the Heiresses would do, but he was loathe to put Fef in danger. Even if she did probably hate him.

 He had truly fucked up on that account; making her think he wanted a moirail of her, instead of what he truly yearned for. It was unfortunate, to say in the least. As was his outburst when the relationship failed, due to his own fuckery. It was most likely a lost cause, not helped by his continued dismissal of her. He knew that.

 Eridan took a heavy breath, looking back through the opened balcony doors to his pesterchum. The mime still had not replied. He spun to face the city, his cape swirling with him. Gritting his teeth, the Aquarius brought his hand up in front of him, and flexed his fingers. He watched as stark white streams of fire erupted from his palm, interweaving between his fingers frantically, making white ropes around his hand.

 Furrowing his brows, the Ampora closed his fist, observing the ropes becoming a thing shining sheet. Grunting, he swung his arm in a wide arc, watching a stream of fire spread out, swirling and twirling as it coursed through the air. The twirls of stark white shot around, articulating themselves to form a great pair of wings before him, casting golden light around him, before slowly fading as he opened his fist.

 He grimaced, blowing cool air over his hand. Even if he was protected from his own magic, as all wizards were, he wasn’t completely safe. Even the older scholars couldn’t say why, but he knew. Even from a young age his powers were like this. They were too powerful for his control. Most of his practical training was just learning to keep his own power in check.

 Checking his hand for any burns, the Aquarius heard the pesterchum sounds from behind him. Taking another deep breath, he went back inside, closing the large glass doors behind him. Making himself seated, he pulled the device towards him.

TC: I AGREE MY MOST SCHEMING PARTNER OF DIABOLICAL PROPORTIONS
TC: IT IS WILLED BY THE GREAT LORDS SPEECH THAT WE SHALL BEGIN OUR ACTIONS WITH VIGOR
CA: you mean the prophecy
CA: yeah i thought you wwere probably gonna get excited and all by that
CA: wwhat does it mean
TC: IT MEANS OUR TIME HAS COME
TC: THE EMPIRE IS FRAGILE WITH THE NEWS OF WEAKNESS AND DEATH
TC: SUCH A MOMENT IS PIVOTAL IN OUR MISCHIEVOUS ACTIONS MY BROTHER
CA: yeah I got the gist of that in the first message you knoww
CA: you dont have to keep goin
TC: :o)
CA: fuckin clowwn
CA: wwhen can wwe meet to get our shit sorted
TC: IT WILL BE A FEW DAYS AT LEAST
TC: ME AND MY KIN ARE MOVING TO THE GREAT MANOR OF TEAL
TC: WE ARE THROWING A MOST MAGICAL MOTHER FUCKIN SEARCH PARTY
CA: not that fuckhouse
CA: i wwas just fuckin there
TC: THEN PATIENCE SHALL BE YOUR MOTHER FUCKIN SPECIAL VIRTUE
TC: WHEN SUSPICION FALLS YOU MAY MEET WITH ME
TC: AND THEN WE CAN PLAN OUR WICKED DARK DEALINGS
CA: fuckin fine then
CA: ill wwait evven fuckin longer

-- caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased pestering treacherousCharlatan [TC] 09:14 --

 Eridan exhaled as he turned away from the device, thoroughly dissatisfied with the results of the dealing. He had hoped to get his machinations going as soon as possible, with the prophecy having stirred things up unexpectedly.

 “Fuckin Megido bitches,” he hissed, rising from his chair. They had complicated everything immensely. Rubbing his hands together, the Aquarius considered his options. He would have to wait a short while before heading to meet with Kurloz. It was infuriating, to say in the least.

 He supposed more study could never hurt, as painfully tedious as it sounded. Maybe he could… no. His teachers had forbid him from even trying such study such daemonic magic. Besides, it would no doubt kill him unless he learned some manner of control over his own power. But that did open a door into his mind through which a thought slipped.

 His control training was always plain, always slow, with just a little increase every time. He had never truly gotten to showcase his own power before. But very few people ventured up into the higher levels at this time of day. Perhaps he could try it out himself.

 Finally reaching his decision, Eridan made for the door, exiting the Aquarius section and walking amidst the countless shelves and stacks of books once more, ignoring the workers and library goers as he did.

 He was just reaching the flights of stairs leading up to the spot when he glanced to the side, and immediately regretted it. He clenched his fist as he saw Fef, along with a familiar face. She was laughing as she walked with the Heir of Sagittarius. Was that her friend? The sweating horse? He grinded his teeth as he turned, continuing up the steps.

 Such a pitiful fool being graced with the friendship of the Heiress? It was revolting! He muttered angered obscenities to himself as he rose up the stairway, rubbing his thumb across his clenched fingers. Whatever could she see in him, the freak heir of a dishonoured House?

 He was still fuming by the time he reached the tower again, and pushed open the thick wooden door. After closing the door behind, Eridan cast a glance around the room, not expecting to see anything different, after all: it was a part of the Library seldom used. But see something he did.

 Leaning back on one of the ornate chairs, her feet up on the baroque table, a book held up in front of her face, was a girl. She scanned him over the brim of her book with disinterested eyes decorated with red, before returning to her reading. The Aquarius raised an eyebrow, before furrowing them with annoyance. Striding towards her he called out.

 “You! What do you think you are doing here?”

 The girl looked at him once more, before groaning, lowering her book. Uncrossing her legs and leaning her chair back to all four legs, she quickly reached for a glass on the table, and downed the contents. As she stood up Eridan could finally get a proper look at her, and realised who she was. With her burgundy coat, skulls emblazoned along it, in combination with her hair, it made her hard to mistake for someone else.

 Eridan took a slight step back as she began to approach him, an odd look on her face as she tossed the book over her shoulder, the dull thud of it loud in his ears. He tried to say something in protest but it came out as a mere weak mutter. He found himself against the door as she reached him, leaning in close. She stayed there for a few seconds, and the Ampora could hear every breath she took, and see her red tinted eyes as they stared into his, and her mesmerizing smirk.

 It was just a bit longer until he couldn’t take it anymore, and leaned towards her, closing his eyes. He gasped as her hand shot up, grabbing him from below the jaw. Eridan gawked at her with his cheeks mushed together.

 Her smile widened as she tilted her head and winked, before stepping back, turning and beginning to walk for the balcony. Eridan stood dumbfounded, and noticed the book that she had in her hand. Looking at it more closely, he recognized it as the tome he had been studying earlier. His eyes widened as he quickly checked his satchel, and found his tome missing.

 He snarled as he snapped his head back up to look at her.

 “You witch! Give that back!” Damara Megido merely laughed, waving the book.

 “I’ll teach you!” The Ampora yelled, pulling out his wand. The thin rod glowed with an intense fire, before he swung it towards her, releasing an arc of power. He smirked in preparation for the bolt to hit her, but his face dropped as she spun around on her heel, the book leaving her hand and floating up behind her.

 Two wands appeared in her hands, glowing a deep red. She crossed them before her, creating a burgundy sheet that rippled with force as the white streak impacted with it, the smaller arcs of power shooting off to the walls and furniture, leaving deep scores and burns. There were a few tense seconds as the stream of power was held between Eridan’s wand and the witch’s shield, before Damara yelled, throwing out her arms, and sending a wave of energy back up the stream, causing it to burst in Eridan’s face.

 The Aquarius stumbled back, grunting, before looking back up the witch, who stood with her eyes narrowed. Roaring, he swung his arm out again, casting another torrent of white flame towards her. Damara retaliated with a torrent of her own deep red magic, the arcs of crimson lightning crackling in the air as they met with the fire.

 There was several loud explosions of force that shook the room as the two streams of magic impacted with each other. The witch laughed, her arms set with the wands angled directly towards the Ampora. Eridan screamed in exertion as he poured more and more power into the barrage. The white intensified, as did the red, until the room was overtaken by the bright light of both colours.

 Eridan could see from the corner of his eyes the bookcases being scorched by the offshoots of energy, and his beam grew more intense. He couldn’t see the witch behind the near blinding light of their respective spells, but could hear her laughter stop, and silence of her voice ensued.

 Taking deep breaths, the Aquarius was sure he had won, before a scream rang out from the other side, followed by a great pulse of red. Eridan’s wand arm began to shake as the beam was pushed his way, the red growing brighter by the second. The scream continued as the entire room began to shake violently. The Ampora felt the ghostly heat grow more intense around him as his beam was shortened again and again, until there was less than a meter between him and the wall of red.

 His eyes shot open wide as he realised he had lost, just before the magic exploded in front of him, hitting him in the chest and sending him hurtling back. The Ampora gasped as the wind was knocked out of him, and his back slammed against the wall, followed by his head rapping against the wood. His wand clattered beside him as his vison hazed over. He weakly raised his head to see the witch a few meters away clutching her head and twitching.

 Seeing her weak, Eridan tried to reach for his wand, but yelped in pain as he moved, causing the Megido to look over to him. His breath caught as he saw her eyes. Both of them glowed with intense and crackling red light, the tiny arcs of lightning striking around her face and leaving tiny burn marks. Horrifying screeches were emanating from them, and in the brightest flashes he could swear he could see movement beyond them.

 She grunted and held her head again, staying there for a few moments, until at last the light faded, and she near collapsed. She took a few deep breaths before correcting her stance, rising to full height once again. She wiped the sweat from her brow, picked up her two wands, sliding them back into the two small holsters at her side. Fetching the book from where it hung in the air, she checked over to the Aquarius, who was struggling weakly on the floor.

 “I’ll… get you for this witch!” Eridan propped himself against the wall. “I’ll send the Empire after you!”

 Damara chuckled, walking towards him.

 “What do you tell them? Hmm? That you try to kiss a girl and she knocks you out?”

 Eridan blushed in embarrassment, looking away. The Megido laughed again, as she headed for the door.

 “Pfft, might wizard! Ha!” The door swung shut behind her.

 Eridan sat in silence for a few minutes, waddling in his own pity. He looked around the room, now damaged and burned from the fight. A few books were smoking on their shelves, and a few pages on the floor were burning.

 Gasping as he did so, the Aquarius rose, and stamped out the fires, and pulled the smoking books from the shelves. With a frown, he checked the state of the furniture, finding them notched and burned, some parts charred slightly. He cursed the witch, and began to clean up. About twenty of the books were beyond repair, causing the Ampora to chuck the stack from the balcony. He heard a commotion from below, of common folk no doubt. He cared little for it.

 Eridan plopped down on the chair that the witch had sat in, wiping dust and burned material from his shirt. Winding off his ruined scarf, he tossed it to the side. He slouched down on the chair, wiping his tired eyes from under his broken glasses. Pulling them from his face, he set them on the ash covered table top, and looked over to where he had been thrown against the wall.

 Lines of cracks ran up the wooden panelling, and several chips lay around the spot where he had lay. His wand was lying beside it. Adjusting how he sat, Eridan pointed his hand at the thin white rod, and flexed his fingers. He watched as the instrument of power flew towards him, right into his palm. Investigating it, he frowned. Red lines ran along its length. He clutched it tightly in his fist. 

 “I’ll get you witch.” He looked at the Aries symbol burned into his wand.

 “I’ll get all of you.”

Chapter Text

 Dave was glad that John had offered him a stay with him and Jade. It would have been exhausting to search for another residence, or Gog forbid have to travel back to the Aries estate straight away. He wasn’t sure his body could take another journey such as that. He was reminded of just how bad the condition was as he shifted in the bath, and winced, feeling the pain spike in his back. He had taken a foul blow on his way, and had left him with a painful reminder.

 He gave his back a gentle rub, resting his head against the tub edge. His shades had steamed up pretty quickly, which he wasn’t all that bothered by. John had many times pointed out Dave’s reluctance to part with his shades, either during darker nights when they would go on walks, or just a few minutes ago, when Egbert caught him walking into the bathroom with naught but a towel and his shades.

 Leaning back, and sliding farther into the steaming water, Dave wiped his tired eyes, pushing the shades up slightly. He may have had a few days to regain his strength but he was understandably still exhausted. It was near unheard of to make such a long journey in such a short time, especially with pursuers. Of course they had been dealt with relatively quickly, but it still made the trip all the more tiring on his body.

 After arriving back at John’s place, he had collapsed on the couch and slept for nearly sixteen hours. John had laughed about it, while Jade made a veritable fuss. He had awoken covered in several blankets and Jade watching over him with wide vigilant eyes. It wasn’t exaggeration to say he was at least slightly freaked out about it, for the first few seconds.

 Jade always been protective of him, oddly enough. Even though he was more skilled in combat than she was ever like to be, she still stood in front of him when something approached, or was the first to charge at someone throwing a snide comment his way, back when they were kids. He was usually the one dissuading her from throwing a punch, as Egbert was mostly preoccupied gawking and not knowing what to do. As for her, she’d spend more time analysing and taking her notes on the situation, often recited to him later that day.

 It was maddening a lot of the time, being a part of their little group, but he’d be lying if he said he wouldn’t take it over his life just a year or so after. Having to move to the Aries with just his two brothers wasn’t something he would ever look forward to. He had spent many nights thinking about his life when he was back here, messing with his friends.

 But that was the past now. Things had changed, unfortunately, and he would have to deal with it. He had responsibilities and the like to attend to. Some of which he was shirking at that very moment. He cringed thinking of it. He shouldn’t have stayed, no matter how tired he was. He had to protect those common. But he couldn’t leave now, it would break their hearts. He would just have to stay a little longer, he guessed. Just enough to keep them satisfied before he left. Quality time, he supposed.

 Dave groaned as he pulled himself from the bath. His back ached slightly, but not enough to stop him. Climbing out of the water, he felt the cold quickly set in. Grabbing a towel, he set to work drying himself.

 It was a few more minutes before he left the bathroom, entering back into the frantic manner of the Egbert household, wearing naught but a towel held around his waist. He quickly learned this was a terrible idea, as Jane walked into the corridor and gasped.

 “Dave! Where are your clothes?” She yelled, covering he eyes and blushing deeply.

 “Ah shit!” Dave heard John’s roaring laughter from the floor below as he dashed to his room, closing the door behind him, and locking it for good measure. He readjusted his skewed shades, before sighing. He wasn’t going to hear the end of that one, from either her or John.

 The Strider took a few more minutes dressing himself, wondering what activities John had planned for today. Hopefully nothing too taxing, but the boy was an energetic one. He liked walks and running as much as he liked terrible plays.

 Fastening his red waistcoat, Dave left the room, quickly checking through the crack of the door if Jane was still there. Thankfully: she was not.

 The Strider hummed a she made his way down the stairs, hearing a racket in the kitchen below, pans clinking, occasional yells, and a song playing. . Emerging into the lowest floor, he was greeted by the sight of John doing what Jane would refer to as a “jig”, while she herself was busy at work at the counter. Jade was nowhere to be seen.

 John noticed him first, and gave a big wave, giggling at what Dave was sure was the events of just a few minutes prior. Dave merely shook his head, his lip turning up the smallest bit. He recognized the song John was… “jigging” to; it was something that his dad often played. John didn’t seem to be too caught up in the memories, unlike himself. Checking over to Jane, Dave wondered where he could make himself useful.

 “Yo Janey you got some work for the bare-chested?” He held back a totally ironic smirk as she turned to him, her lips tightened.

 “You can grate the lemons Mr. Strider.” She went back to what she was doing.

 “Oh hell yeah, love me them lemons. Zesty as shit. So much fucking zest we’re going to have to call the zest police in here, we’ve went over out zest budget and the zest banks want us to pay up big time with our zest-“

 “Dave-” Jane tried to interject, as John laughed behind her.

 “-but there is no way they’re getting our zest. We’re gonna have to pay up with an excess of sick rhymes and shirtless shots to get them blushing.”

 “Dave!”

 “Oh shit the blushing has backfired. We have a rogue Janey that can’t handle the zest better let them bring in the zest ambulance and fuck-“

 Jane pushed him aside, shaking her head with a deep red filling her cheeks, both exasperated and embarrassed. She grabbed the lemon and began furiously grating it, not looking at the Strider, who was beckoned away by a smiling Egbert.

 Smirking at the reaction that John’s young aunt gave, he let the boy lead him away from the kitchen out to the front door of the rather large house. Compared to the Houses of some others, it was a mansion. John’s family had spent years building up wealth to afford something like this, as their family was expansive. Only two rooms weren’t currently occupied by a family member; the room Dave was staying in, which usually belonged to John’s half-brother, and ol’ Mister Egbert’s room. Not many had been in there since the last incursion. Only John and his siblings.

 Dave remembered that time. It wasn’t pleasant, to say in the least. At least he had been able to comfort his friend, before he was forced to move back.

 Shaking the thoughts away, Dave left the house with his friend, rubbing his hands together for warmth in the early morning cold. John already had a pair of knitted mittens on his hands, but seemed to forget to remind Dave to do the same. Having his hand warmed slightly, he rubbed his exposed neck. The cold was most definitely not for him. The Aries estate was among the warmest places in the Empire, and most of what Dave wore there was thin fabrics protecting him from the ash thrown in the air by winds or volcanoes.

 This was hell for him, to say in the least.

 Making his way down the street, Dave observed the living conditions of the common here. Not many had the fortune of John’s family. Most houses were small, one story affairs, that surely couldn’t have more than three rooms at most. There were a few large houses, bigger than John’s, yes, but judging from the state of them, and the number of people moving in and out, they were not subject to the living of just one family. The conditions were far from great, but then again they rarely were anywhere.

 He held his arms tight to his sides, trying to cause some friction to heat them up, as John began raving on about the theatrical production of Con Air he had seen just before Dave arrived. This was the third time he had spoken about this. Were the boy’s enthusiasm any less cute he probably would have been annoyed. But he let him go, hearing about the adventures of the street tough maverick, this time represented through an actor John found truly captured the essence of the hero with nothing to lose.

 John continued his monologue of the play while walking past the small park. It wasn’t much, just a collection of pine trees, and the ground had little grass growing on it, but the people seemed to enjoy it. A few children were running around a laughing, while parents watched, smiling at the antics. It was a far cry from the Aries Estate.

 Eventually they arrived at the market at the centre of the village. There was the general buzz of the crowd that had come in the early morning, which according to John, was the busiest time. Dave had no idea what would motivate someone to do that, but merely shook his head, pushing his shades back up his nose.

 “Yo John, not to shit all over your townies’ traditions with a gratuitous flow of spoken diarrhoea, but why are we here exactly?”

 John thankfully didn’t seem to mind, and answered as gleefully as he always did.

 “Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. Jade’s here. We’re gonna get her then head off to, I dunno, hang I guess? It will be fun!”

 Dave had little doubt in that, even if they were just going to walk around. He was sure the siblings could make it interesting.

 They wandered amongst the gossiping and laughing commoners for a while, searching for the elusive Jade. The Strider couldn’t help but notice how happy these people seemed. Even under the rule of the Scorpios, and their cruel doings, they could still find joy. Maybe it was just the absence of ash. His people were much more sombre. It was quite depressive at times, but he had simply dismissed it as how people were. He had damn near forgotten what laughter actually sounded like.

 And now, as John ran up to Jade, who he had just seen, and as both of them giggled and said their greetings, their laughs were the thing he picked up on most. John’s was loud and edging towards deep, as if the laugh it would be in just a few years was trying to make its presence known. Jade’s was higher generally, but varied with each tiny giggle that it was even goofier than John’s had been.

 The sound was so new to him after so long. He found each moment in their laughter a godsend.

 Eventually Jade ran towards him, and threw her arms around him. Dave was taken aback, but quickly regained his sense of composure, managing not show how much the girl suddenly hugging him flustered him. His shades luckily hid his eyes as they went wide, however. He couldn’t help it, one hell of a cute girl was all up in his grill.

 “Oh damn, slow up there before I get taken out by the SS Harley gone out of control. Need to dampen those fires fore we end up stranded here.”

 Jade smiled and laughed even more as she retreated her arms. With a look reeking of “watch this” she raised her hand to her lips, and let out an ear piercing whistle that caused many to turn and stare.

 “Uh, Jade?” John looked a little worried.

 “Yeah?”

 “Maybe you shouldn’t call him in the middle of the market.”

 “Ohhhh. Yeah.”

 Dave arched his eyebrow, unsure of what they were talking about. He just opened his mouth to inquire when a flash of green met his eyes. After regaining his sense, Dave found the people around looking afraid, some straight up running. Confused, he snapped his head around, reaching for the dagger he had concealed at his waist. His eyes eventually locked onto Jegus is that a hellhound?

 Dave dropped into stance, unsheathing the dagger and preparing to strike at the daemon. Jade noticed this, and jumped into his path.

 “Wait Dave! He’s a friend!”

 Dave stopped, still in stance, and blade in hand.

 “What?”

 “He’s my pet!”

 The Strider slowly stood, sliding his dagger back into its sheath as he stared at the girl.

 “Harley what the fuck?”

 She covered her mouth to suppress a laugh, then noticed the people yelling and staring around her.

 “We should probably go.” John urged.

 “Good idea. Bec?” The dog’s mouth, filled with jagged teeth, began to glow, brighter and brighter with a ghostly green light.

 Unsure of what was about to happen, Dave went to say something, but was cut off once again as the hound exploded in green light, and he found himself standing in the middle a of clearing in a pine forest.

 “Goddamn.” He spoke simply, before turning to see his friends.

 John and Jade were standing nearby, John looking a little green. Jade seemed not at all fazed by the teleportation, and was skipping about already. Dave himself had a slight ache in his head, and his stomach didn’t feel all that great, but he could still hide it. Many years in the Aries meant that weakness wasn’t something he’d hesitate to hide.

Looking around, he found the clearing was rather large, and the pines were circling in a clean line. It was an odd place, to be sure. Odder still was the large ruin in the centre. Dave recognized it from design.

 “An old watchtower?” He asked, seeing the hound vanish in green again from the corner of his eye.

 Jade hopped over. “Yeah! It’s a place me and John like to hang out. It’s got some cool climbing stuff.”

 To illustrate her point; she hopped up onto a pile of bricks lying beside the ruined tower, then jumped to grab a ledge on the main structure. Dave was slightly worried for the girl’s safety as she climbed, but her ease at the task soon set him to rest. His attention was then drawn by John retching. It seemed the teleportation had a larger toll on him than he had thought.

 Dave smirked as he walked over to help his friend, wondering how this tower had fallen. The daemon raids had claimed many outposts, most being within the first week. If there was one thing that remained true in every incursion, it’s that when they arrive, they arrive in full force. Within a week they had captured half the eastern empire, and a great deal of the south. It was here, at the Scorpio estate, that the line had been formed. It was the only target of daemon summoning that had managed to cleanse them as they came. Every other location of portals were taken with ease. 

 In ways he understood why there was no outburst against the Scorpios here. They were quite possibly the fiercest warriors in the Empire, or at least the most strategic. While the Capricorns were strong and unpredictable, they could be herded into traps, and play into their enemy’s hands, with a dash of luck. The Libras were more for subtlety and subterfuge, they were not front line soldiers. The Legions of Mechanicals and strongmen of the Sagittarius were the only other strong contender.

 Helping John to straighten up, something occurred to him.

 Scorpios rarely lost their towers when they were attacked. The only thing strong enough to possibly take a tower would be a portal… inside it.

 Dave spun around as Jade yelled, and dashed to the tower. He quickly skipped up the pile of bricks, taking to the side of the structure in a leap. Pulling himself in, he heard a snarl from a floor below. Dave bent his knees, before taking a high jump, and preparing to kick down as he reached the ground. The old floorboards gave way as he kicked, and he fell through. The Strider managed to grab a beam as he went down, allowing him to stay up and scout out the situation. He found her just as she threw a punch, catching the carapacian across the jaw.

 It stumbled back and bared its sharp teeth, its long tongue also coming into view. Dave swung forward from his beam, landing just a few feet away.

 “Hey dicklips!”

 The daemon turned around, raising its clawed hands to attack him. Dave stepped forward, unsheathing his dagger once more.

 The creature swung for him with its right, its claws glinting in the light that managed to reach the lower level. Leaned back, letting it swipe in front of him, before snapping out and grabbing it with his right, and driving the dagger into the daemon’s side. It screeched, and swung with its other arm. Dave jumped back, seeing the claws once again move through the air in front of him.

 As the claw passed he moved forward, and stabbed the dagger deep into its neck, causing it to screech again, and begin flailing wildly. Dave cursed as the daemon’s claws scraped his cheek, scoring three deep lines down it. Those were going to leave ugly scars. He knew that for a fact.

 With a bit of distance between himself and the spinning blades, the Strider launched himself forward, barrelling his body into its legs. It yelled out, landing heavily against the boards. As it tried to climb to standing, Dave leapt on top of it, holding one arm down, and quickly stamping his foot onto the other wrist, keeping its claws down. As it struggled to break free, Dave raised his blade, and caught the paralysing moment of fear that gripped his opponent’s body, as its eyes widened, the pupils focused on the length of steel death hanging above its mortal frame.

 Dave brought the dagger down.

 The creature screamed as the blade slid into its head, entering below its eye and slicing through the skull. The struggling continued as the Strider dragged the dagger back out, fighting against the friction of bone against blade, and brought down again, piercing through its jaw, and crack loud in his ears. He brought the blade out again, and this time his aim was true, is it slid in between the creature’s eyes. It shuddered for a second, then grew still.

 Dave waited a moment, not moving above the bleeding corpse. He took a deep breath, before slowing standing, taking his foot from the deceased’s wrist, and letting free its other arm. He remained expressionless as he reached down to pull the dagger out. The head lifted with it at first, forcing him to press his hand against its blood-slick black carapace to achieve his goal. There was a sick sound of gore sliding along the blade and filling the cleared space it left the creature’s head.

 The boy turned away from the corpse, tilting his head back as he breathed deeply to calm himself. He rubbed away the few tears that had formed in his eyes as a response to the pain, and sighed as his hand came away covered in the blood oozing from his opened cheek. There was a loud thud from above, and a gasp.

 “Jade! Dave!” a voice called out, as Egbert crawled into the building. The names let something click, and Dave looked over to Jade, who was backed against the wall, tears falling from her eyes. Dave moved over to comfort her, but she shirked away. Dave stopped, faltering, just as John fell through the ceiling. He quickly popped up, his hands raised to fight.

 Dave didn’t say anything as the Egbert looked around, catching sight of jade.

“Oh god are you okay?” He moved towards her, causing her to shudder slightly, but she relaxed in his arms. Looking up from his sister, John saw Dave, standing awkwardly with the bloody dagger in his hands. Alarm filled his eyes.

 “Dave, your face is bleeding! Wait your dagger is-” John’s eyes focused on the body behind him, a large pool of blood formed around it.

 “Oh.”

 He said nothing else, but after a moment he began to move, heading for the stairs at the end of the room, passing Dave, and making sure to have Jade on the opposite side. The Strider’s shoulders slumped. He waited until the two had left the tower, and he could hear a few bricks falling from the pile as they climbed down, then he turned to leave.

 He stepped over the corpse, but then groaned, realising that it was best to check something. Daemons’ had ranks, armies and corps. It was best he knew what this one was, to keep an eye out for any more stragglers of the old legions that may be hiding around the area. From what he had heard, there was a group that fulfilled the same behaviours as this. They would travel is wide groups, spanning two miles in breadth and three in length, for just a dozen individuals. They would each find their own lair to rest in, only doubling up when necessary. If they were here then there could be a problem. Casting his gaze around the room, Dave saw a large tapestry held in front of a hole in the wall. A convenient light source. He took a few seconds to climb up, then sliced the ropes holding it up with his dagger.

 The late morning sunlight cast into the room nicely, lighting up the walls and the planks. Dropping down, Dave began to search for any clues as to what the daemons origin could be. He couldn’t find much save for a few crates that had been arranged into a makeshift table and chair, with a mutilated hare lying half eaten. Uncooked. They really were barbaric. It was just underneath the table that he found something.

 A carapacian dagger. Not unusual in itself, many of the stranded kept their weapons, and every carapacian had a simple dagger. What was unusual was that it held no rust, and no chipping. It only had a slight covering of hare blood. It held the usually insignia; “Glory to the Arch”. If it had an actual sword, or a bigger weapon lying around, he would be able to use the designs along the side of the blade to identify their group, but unfortunately those were becoming rare. Collectors enjoyed owning them, so thieves and mercenaries would often employ themselves to seek some out.

 It garments also didn’t give any clues at a glance, and he was loathe to look at it any closer than that. Finding nothing, he made his way out, ascending the steps up to ground level. He emerged out into the light, seeing the clearing once more. John and Jade were nowhere to be seen. Sighing, he dropped down, and began his walk around the tower, seeing if they were on the opposite side.

 Sure enough he found them, just a dozen meters away from the tower. They were both sitting on the grass, and John had his arm around her, comforting her from the carnage she had seen. Dave took a few steps forward, intent on setting things straight, but then heard her voice as he drew near.

 “He… he didn’t even hesitate, John! He just started stabbing!”

 He stopped.

 She was more afraid of him than the daemon. The daemon that had attacked her.

 Dave turned on his heel and headed away. Her reaction said more than he needed. He didn’t stop as he walked over to the stone post not far from the front of the tower, just beside a pathway leading out of the clearing. The post was broken, but he could still see the name inscribed on a piece of rubble.

 Fifth Leg Watchtower

 He knew where what, thankfully. The Scorpios had eight main watchtowers, arranged around their mansion and main town. He cast a glance back to the ruins. Back before it was destroyed it may have been one of the largest there was. It probably would have been prepared by now, if the neighbours were in any way threatening. Instead regular patrols went along the border, highly skilled and unflinching in the face of death and murder. Dave learned both of those the hard way. He had brought down two before he had been overwhelmed. The squads were too large to take out on his own.

 Now knowing where he must go, he wandered down the path, knowing he would eventually come across the main road. From there it was a three hour walk back to the town. John and Jade would probably just have the dog whisk them away. They were lucky. He would have killed to have such a method of transport. Instead he just had his legs. His weary fucking legs.

 This was going to be a long ass journey.

 The only consolation at the trek was that Scorpios sure as hell knew how to make roads. This was negated, however, by the military patrols he would have to dive into the forestry to avoid. He didn’t even have a sword on him this time. He didn’t stand a chance if they wished to fight. But luckily they didn’t notice him, leaving his only enemies the thorns that he had to dive into.

 An hour in he was less than silently cursing the daemon as he walked. Of course the tower they go to has one, and of course Jade has to see him deal with it. There was no other way it could have gone, really. If he had a sword it wouldn’t have been as brutal. Just two quick moves and he would have had such an inexperienced one dead, clean slices. There might have been more blood, but not so much… stabbing?

 Not that living in the ashen wastes was any less brutal. That might as well have been a sappy scene in a shitty romance novel with how tender and caring it was. Shit was downright loving compared to what he had to do against the hordes of daemons. Jade should have downright swooned at how affectionate he was being. Not like he was slicing the limbs from imps are they ran towards him. Not like he was kicking carapacians into the grinding gears of their own machinery. Not like he was using a serrated sword like a saw on an ogre’s fa-

 Dave winced as his nails punctured through the skin, and his palms began to bleed. Yet more bleeding. Just what he needed. Realising his face was still covered in blood, Dave tore a strip from his shirt, and began to wipe away the thickening substance. It wasn’t pleasant, and had dust peppered through it.

 The walk continued even longer, and two hours in he was free of his waistcoat, and his shirtsleeves had been torn up to help wipe away the blood. It wasn’t the most dignified he had looked, he’d admit.

 He was only walking a little longer when two guardsmen approached, hands on their pommels. He took one look at their faces and could tell where this encounter was likely to lead to. Their blue cloth garbs paired with dark boiled leather and the short sword hanging at their sides let him know their rank. They were decently trained

 Before they could say anything, Dave raised his hands.

 “Look, neither of us want this to go bad. Trust me.”

 Dave walked into town, his clothes stained with even more blood than before, and a cerulean strip of fabric tied around his bleeding arm and covering his face. The people around him gave him a wide berth, not wanting to be associated with the bloody character.

 Dave paid them no heed, and continued until he reached the side street behind Egbert’s house. Making sure no one was looking, he leaped over the wall. He’d rather that he didn’t bring attention to John. He was making his way across the small yard they had, beginning to pull off the fabric around his face, when the back door opened. He looked up the steps to see Jane glaring down at him.

 “Okay, Jane, I can explain.”

 “Get in here!”

 “Ah fuck.”

 Jane sat on the chair in the side room as Jane berated him. He could do little more than look down as she went through every intricate detail of the stresses he caused with scaring Jade like that, and what she had little doubt was an altercation with the Scorpio militia.

 Yeah. There was a lot she went through.

 After about ten minutes of constant scolding and scowls, Jane stopped, finishing with a “Well?” Dave didn’t look up. His gaze was transfixed on a single spot on the floor as he took slow breaths.

 With no warning, she moved a bit closer, and placed her soft hand on his chin, tilting his head up. Dave flinched, expecting a hit. Instead he found her pitying eyes on him.

 “Dave…” She seemed to consider her words, wanting to phrase it in just the right way. In the end she gave up. “Are you okay?”

 The boy stared up at her, not sure how to react. He sat still for a few seconds, before he came back to his senses. The Strider shook his head, freeing his chin of her hand, and stood up, quickly rising to look down on her once again.

 “I’m fine.” He walked past her, leaving the room without another word

Chapter Text

 Equius wiped a bead of perspiration from his forehead, tucking the handkerchief back into his tailcoat’s pocket. His eyes slightly squinted behind his glasses, he looked up to the soaring construction above him. One hand was moving restless at his side, while the other gently flicked different lenses into place, careful not to damage them as he brought the higher tiers of the building into focus. He could see the countless windows covering the walls with no pattern, resembling as if someone had tipped a box of screws over a concrete floor. The balconies were scattered amongst the towers and walls, and, after a few adjustments of his lenses, he could see a few wealthy individuals, enjoying their lunch.


 Running his tongue over his dried lips, and resetting the lenses to a normal power, Equius glanced around to the few people around him. Most were the servants of wealthier lords, on early morning errands. He could spot a few House colours adorning their most promimnent garments and, unsurprisingly, most where cerulean and above. The other Houses had little say or business in this sector of the city. Anything above Gemini would be regarded with a curious eye, while anything below would be met with suspicion. Certain expectations were to be followed, to put it in its simplest form.


 With a deep breath, Equius began to move towards the great doors, ornate and imposing, with lines of silver sprawling across it. One of the more artistic endeavours of his House. The entire building was a blend of art and architecture on his Houses part. It was among their greatest prides. He nodded respectfully to the two guards standing watch outside, blades hanging from their belts and strapped to their backs. He could see their cold eyes watching him with empty apprehension as he approached, flexing and clenching his hands to keep himself calm.

 The two guards said nothing as they opened the doors for him, letting him be enveloped by the beauty of the great library. A short corridor covered in masterfully painted depictions of the Empire's history under her Imperious Condescension. Every inch of the wall was dedicated to expressing her shining glory and power, every stroke of the brush an artist's worship. The fires of tribal home's burning was used beautifully to cast shadows across her perfect physique, each toned and powerful muscle; able to break through bone and stone with no effort. The mere though of such power made Equius' breath catch, and a rivulet of sweat run down his forehead. Catching himself, he wiped away the moisture, and moved on and beholding the ethereal magnificence of the Library.

 His mouth fell open at the sight. He had not been within the walls of the Library in over a decade, and had forgotten the raw power of its elegance and design, but that was soon remedied. He gazed upwards at the floors upon floors of crisscrossing catwalks, balconies, platforms, rails, arches, and pillars that made his knees weak to stand upon. Each architectural feature was created and placed with utmost precision and without flaw, so that every part of the building felt natural and flowing, yet strong and stable, no matter how convoluted, twisting and complex it became. Ornate walkways led out to platofrms suspended in the middle of open space, filled with tables and chairs, with small bookcases as rails. Stairways were wrapped around platforms that held dozens of books, leading up to yet more platforms and networks of walkways. Every surface, joint and curve sang triumphantly of the excellence of the Sagittarius craftsmen, architects and visionaries. His House was truly a House of the Noble and Gifted.

 He admired and gazed in awe, walking leisurely and losing himself in the endless twists of the skillful Indigo masters. Each perfectly constructed arch nearly brought a tear to his eye, the perfect angles and curves fashioned to ensure structural integrity and beauty. He had heard that the Sagittarius Manor in the mountains was much like this, but he had never seen it with his own eyes. He had been born and raised within the city walls, constantly held within the industrial districts sector, hearing naught but distant hammers and clanking machinery. There was never any rest in the industrial district. You either learned to sleep through the constant noise or stay awake for nights at a time. As a child he would sometimes giggle at the sleepless looks visitors to the district had, with dark circles around their eyes and occasionaly slouching postures.

 It was only after about thirty or so minutes that Equius remembered the reason he was here. Dragging himself back to reality, he considered what he had to do. Somehow he was to find the theatre and drama wing, amidst the dozens of other sections on the near hundred floors, in a building he coudln't remember but a single detail of. He frowned. This wasn't going to be easy. As the occasional aristocratic peruser of literature passed by him, he would pretend to know exactly what he was doing, examining the spines of the books around him with what he considered great interest and convincing confidence. Judging by the looks he got then he wasn't very good at faking expressions.
Within another twenty minutes he was completely lost. The Indigo couldn't even find his previous paths, or where he had come in from. He was beginning to sweat profusely, as increasing anxiety over missing his appointment grew. The possible consequences of missing such a thing were prominent in his mind as he wandered about. His breathing was quickening, and his hands clenching, before he stumbled upon a face he could recognise.

 On a small platform nestled against a corner of the building was the Heiress of Scorpio. She was deeply absorbed into the book she held in her hands as she leaned back in her chair beside a large stack of many other tomes. As he got closer, he could see her mouthing silently along with what she reach, retaining all of the information her eyes scanned over. She was known by many as a scholar in a league of her own. She didn't notice his approach even as the small set of winding stairs leading up to her platform clinked slightly under his boots. It wasn't until he politely coughed that she quickly straightened up, startled by his sudden presence. She turned to him, and recognised him near immediately. Overcoming her surprise, she moved to offer him a handshake, before reconsidering. Instead she merely nodded to him in greeting, and set down the thick volume onto the small table beside her.

 "Greetings Equius! How are you this morning?" She asked pleasantly, indicating to the seat on the opposite side of the table.

 Shaking his head, Equius refused. "I am exceedingly sorry, but I have little time to sit and engage in civilities. Instead I have a slight request to make of you."

 "Whatever is it? If I can help I'll do my best."

 He smiled at her, before beginning his request. "I have a friend to meet in the Theatre and Drama section but I am inexplicably lost."

 The Serket giggled. "That's no problem at all. I would give you directions but it would take more time to write them down than it would to simply lead you there. I'm already planning on leaving soon so it's not problem at all."

 With that the Scorpio stood up, grabbing a few choice tomes and placing them into the satchel hanging form her chair, before slinging it over her shoulder. She shuffled past him on the small platform, as he awkwardly tried to avoid making contact with her. She got past him, and stepped down the small staircase, and began to lead them way through the long and winding library halls and platoforms. Equius followed quickly behind her, fixing his jacket with gentle touches as to not tear it. She hummed as she walked over the walkways that spanned over the open space between the walls, nearly a dozen stories up. He could see the paths and platforms criss-crossing below him. There were a few random readers he could see, examining the books on whatever subjects they deemed interesting or worthy of study. They would occasionally be greeted by servants who worked there, offering them cuisine or assistance, should they need it. They moved quickly through the library, pushing their carts with ease, whether they were transporting food or books. They entire placed ran like the most well oiled machine one could imagine.

 Sometimes he would even see crates attached to pulleys and levels being lowered down to lower floors quickly, to be received in moments. The servants would stop and step out of their path as the two passed by, bowing in respect for their superiors, who could lose them their job with a letter of a hundred words. Equius was exceptionally sure that the Serket's younger sister had written near a dozen or so of those letters when she had been dragged here as a younger child. The Ampora's were also known to be rather harsh with their complaints.

 Aranea seemed to defy the traditional actions of her house however, treating the servants with more than enough respect. She would bow back, and thank them. The act made the Zahhak somewhat uncomfortable. They should be thanking her for her mere presence, not this bastardized mutation of social and lawful protocol he witnessed before him. It was making him perspire.

 She seemed to notice. "Is everything alright, Equius?"

 "Ah, yes, quite. Don't worry about me."

 "If you say so," She laughed. "Say, it wouldn't have anything to do with who you are meeting, would it?"

 The highblood raised an eyebrow.

 "Because I did happen to catch a glance of a certain aquatic aristocrat in here earlier."

 Equius' breath caught. Their meeting was supposed to be discrete and unknown, it was why he had arrived later than her. Yet if the Serket who catalogued every happening in her day knew...

 Wiping some sweat from his brow and his cheek, he tried to keep the worry from his voice.

 "Would, that be so?"

 She turned and smiled to him. "Don't worry, whatever you and the Ampora are up to shall remain out of my logs."

 The Zahhak breathed a sigh of relief at that. She wasn't on his trail.

 "But I must enquire: what lies in Drama and Theatre that would interest a Sagittarius, master of engineering, not acting?"

 After a moment of thought, he decided he could reveal the actual reason, as there was little use in lying. He wouldn't make a convincing enough lie to fool a Serket anyway. It would just further ignite her desire to know.
"I am attempting to further understand and gain knowledge of typical high culture."
Aranea slowed for a second, as the realisation hit her.
"Oh, I suppose you would be doing that, on second thought. You know I could always teach you if need be?" She offered him.
"I am not so sure that would be for the best." It wasn't technically a lie.
"I understand don't worry, some of us work better alone. But I could still compile a small list of material to try, a study guide of sorts."
"That would be quite useful, yes."
"Then I'll get to work on it the moment I can! Expect it sent by mail to the residence."
The Zahhak felt a small blush appear at the kind act. He hid it with his hand as he wiped kore sweat from his forehead, hoping that she didn't get he wrong idea.
Deciding to change topic and distract her, Equius spoke. "It would be rude not to ask what you yourself are studying in the library this morning?"
"Oh, me?" She seemed taken aback by the question. After a wide grin that Equius couldn't miss, she began to launch into her explanation.
"I was merely searching through some volumes of daemonic social structure and military. There are quite a few in the library, the most up to date as well, although nothing here is as great as a Megido's insight. Which of course would be far harder to aquire since there is the..."
Equius stopped lost his concentration at that, being reminded of the Megido he knew, and how long ago it was that he had last spoken to her. It was years. Althuogh the last time he saw her had been less than a week ago, as she revealed her own daemons.
He only zoned back in from his thoughts once his lips were beginning to turn blue at his lack of breathing. Trying to make it seem like he had been paying attention, he resumed his normal breathing, and began listening once again.
"...apparently vowed to continue his conquest through the future possession of power, in that exact phrasing, which of course is weird in itself and calls for some rather interesting intepretation of text. For many years we thought that he meant he was going to gather power, but now we see that he could have meant the spiritual possession of the girl herself, due to her power as a member of that bloodline. Although the level of power is arguable to some, since she is in the lowest of the Houses."
In a moment of doubt she glanced back to ensure he was still listneing, before continuing.
"Personally I think this spells something dire for the immediate future of interhouse relations, with the distrust rising and other such things, but i think that it may... oh, we're here."
She seemed somewhat disappointed, but cleared the expression from her face as she addressed him. "So this is it, the Drama and Theatre section!"
Equius gazed up to the wall in front of him, covered in exquisitely painted figures from popular plays and performances. Set at the base were another pair of doors, with more polished silver than wood.
"Thank you Aranea, for your assistance."
"No need to thank me, thank you for listneing to me."
"The pleasure was mine."
Aranea beamed at him, fixing her the bag on her shoulder. "I'll have the list sent when I can, until then, goodbye Equius."
 The Zahhak watched as the Serket walked away, making for the set of stairs leading back down to to the rest of the library. She was unusually kind to him, compared to others. It was nice.

 The Drama and Theatre section was in a tower of its own, splitting from the side of the library. It was one of the more ornate sections, but also one of the more isolated, and least used, despite its rich history and previous use. The current times called for education in the applicable areas of learning. The area of mechanics, politics, economics and sometimes arcana held more merit and usefulness. Entertainers were getting rarer and in less demand. Except of course in the case of the Capricorns, although very few would risk being in the employment of them.

 This was were he was to meet her, in just a few minutes. Deciding to not make himself look suspicious to anyone who decided to pass by, he went to make himself look busy. Sure he could find his way back, he took off, heading for a small section he had seen not long before arriving. He rested his hand on the rail as he walked through, being conscious not to exert any pressure, as he walked towards his destination. Damaging a rail constructed of precious emtals would be a bad look for him to be sure. Especially since the Library was Her Imperious Condescension's private property. It would not be good at all.

 Finding the small area, with just a table and chair, and a single bookcase, Equius sat, and perused the books for something that would interest him. He spotted a single tome on mechanical physics, and gently eased it from the rest, before placing it down on the table. With a slow finger, he eased open the cover, and pulled each page past as he read. It was trivial stuff, but was eaily associated with him and his House, so any who investigated would find little suspicious. He hoped.

 He was deep into the chapter on acceleration when he heard something shift in front of him. Looking up, he found the Heiress smiling down at him, leaning on one foot, and having her head tilted.

 "Shello!"

 "Heiress! Greeting, I didn't hear you approach." He stood, nodding to her, as picked back up the book, careless in his grasp.

 He winced as his finger pushed through the cover and through the pages, no doubt damaging the book irreperably. Feeling sweat begin to form on his forehead, he awkwardly placed the book back in the shelf, as Feferi gazed at him with sympathy. Clearing his throat, he straightened up, unsure of what to say.

 Taking the lead, Feferi spoke instead. "Alright, let's go!"

 She began to skip away, causing the Zahhak to start after her, as she made her way back to the door. He was even more careful as he walked back with her, his fear of strenght further renewed. He glanced at the rail warily, before his attention was drawn to just behind it. He could have sworn he saw a flash of violet disappearing behind a corner. He hoped nobody had seen him with the Heiress. Rumours were exceedingly hard to get rid of, if he had heard rightly about typical aristocratic life.

 They approached the doors once more, and the Heiress pushed them open, letting the silver doors swing open to reveal a short corridor, the walls covered with masterful paintings depicting scenes from various plays and works of theatre. His attention was drawn to them as he walked by, his steps slowing.
He could see masterpieces of islands burning, romantic meetings, and dying heroes. Each one's attention to detail was legendary, with what he imagined were references to the earlier parts of each work scattered about the background and foreground. There were angels, daemons, and empires sprawled across the landscapes. The paintings went up the entire walls, up to the curved corridor ceiling above him, where stars and flaming meteors were dotted around. It was peaceful, it ways.

 One of the last depictions in the artful hallway was one that caught his interest greatly. A castle, trong and tall, being shattered in one mighty blow. He was taking a step closer to inspect it when he heard sound from within the room beside him.

 Taking a tentative step in, Equius glanced about, unable to see the Heiress. The room was octogonal with four of the sides containing steps leading up to a second level, which had a railing to look down upon the first. The far side, opposite to the entrance he had emerged from, was covered in one large glass window, dozens of different coloured panes put together to form a colourful mural. There was a glass door set into the window, leading out onto one of the Library's dozens of balconies.

 The walls here, too, were covered in paintings. He could see two lovers, kissing underwater, a powerful wizard flung back with the force of an arrow, and... He heard a movement behind him.

 "HYAAA!"

 Equius spun around as Feferi swung her trident, bringing up his arm. The lenght of metal hit his forearm, and bounced back, bent at the point of impact. As the weapon sailed through the air, he looked to the Heiress, who was frowning at the sight of her trident.

 "Damnit!"

 The Zahhak raised an eyebrow, unsure of what exactly was happening.

 Seeing his confusion, the Peixes laughed, seeing the trident embedded in the wall.

 "Oh, sorry, hehe! I just wanted to see if you were really good at fighting like they say you are."

 "They..." He inquired, further confused.

 "Oh don't worry, it's just some rumours."

 Equius did worry.

 "Anyway, how about we get started on the cultural stuff?"

 The Zahhak nodded, looking around for somewhere to sit.

 "Let's go upstairs, there's some more comfortable chairs up there!" With that she set of, climbing one of the many sets of steps leading up to the second floor.

 Equius followed once again behind.

 The chairs were indeed comfortable, the Sagittarius admitted, now facing the Heiress as she sorted through a small pile of scripts beside her.

 "I think she shell start wtih the Torching of the Archipelago, which is sorta the most basic and central of the ones we'll be doing."

 "From what I remember its plot concerns the advancement of my mother's armies through a southern region, while a general falls in love with a peasant from one of the villages to be massacred. Like most of them it doesn't end very happily, but I suppose that's why we'll start with it."

 "It's one of ones written in this certain style, in which only two characters are ever on stage at once, meaning it only takes two actors to make a basic produtcion of it, luckily for us."

 "But I think we should still take our time, since there's a lot of technical stuff that you have to learn."

 They spent the next hour or so with Feferi explaining a whole host of theatre talk and other such things. Equius tried his best to remember what she said, made more difficult with his inabality to take notes. But he could gather most of the basics, even with the odd terms used. Feferi went through the basic plot and characters as well. There was the general, the peasant, the general's right hand man, the peasant's brother, the mayor, and two soldiers. The general was based of a real figure in history, according to Feferi. One of the Scorpio's more lawful leaning genocidal maniacs, who led the very invasion the story is set in. The peasant, however, was more than likely just the creation of the writer.

 "So there are two big fight scenes, which are made to be really difficult to learn because writers suck, basically."

 Equius cracked a smile, before letting his face drop again. There was indeed a lot to learn. Feferi seemed to notice his frown.

 "Perhaps it would be better if we were to try something less stressful. Or at least take a short break."

 "That would be best, Heiress."

 They rose from the chairs, and Feferi went back down to try and prise her trident from where it was stuck sideways in the wall. After some creaking and cracking of wood, it finally came free. She frowned at the bend in the middle. Equius felt a pang of guilt at the sight.

 "Heiress, please, allow me."

 With slow hands, he took the weapon out of her hands, and with little effort, forced it back into shape, using his knowledge of the bending metal. She stared with amazement as he handed it back, good as new. He blushed slightly, his blue hue filling his cheeks.

 She seemed to think for a moment, her lips pushing out and her eyes squinting.

 "How aboat we try to act out some on the play know, since its awfully boring just reading it." She drew out her "reading" slouching her shoulders and tilting her head back.

 "I think that is a splendid idea, Heiress."

 The Peixes zipped up the steps, and within moments came down with the script. Pushing the furtniture out of the way, she exposed a large open space, and placed the scripts upon a singlular table.

 "Alright, so I'll be soldier one, and you be soldier two. I'll quickly narrate the setting."

 Stepping into the centre, the Pisces brought the script up to her face and began reading.

 "On the perimeter of the Empire's forward base. Two guards stop at their post. They look out to the distance and speak." She cleared her throat and tried to get into character, putting on a fake gruff voice.

 "It's been a long winter Miakel, too long for, for one such as, HA!" The Heiress only managed a few seconds of speaking in her voice before breaking down laughing. Equius grinned.

 "I'm sorry, I'm sorry it's just ridiculous." She giggled, before bringing back up the script.

 "Too long for one such as me, with a family back home."

 Equius looked down to the script laying on the table and began to read aloud. "It has been longer for one such as me, with no thoughts of a family to warm my bones."

 She gave him a playful frown. "Equius! You're expected to put on a voice, to get into character. Droning on monotone just doesn't give the same impact."

 Equius nodded in acknowledgement as the Heiress continued.

 "Like, imagine if the greatest line of the epic drama Horizons Under Silent Secrets In Elwood were to be said with no emotion." She was speaking quite fast at this point. "If the villain had simply said 'Now my land is ruined, and my honour stained, all in defiance of she who cannot be defied. My worth is naught and my legacy less.' all boring like that who would watch it?" Equius stood awkwardly as she made the exclamations. "But instead he says 'Oh, now my land is ruined! And how my honour is stained! All in defiance of she who cannot be defied! My worth,'" She dropped down to her knees. "'is naught, and my leggacy less.'"

 Feferi jumped back up to her feet, looking to Equius with a wide smile.

 The Zahhak simply nodded, taken aback by her sudden performance. She caught it in his look and giggled more.

 "Sorry, I just really like acting!"

 "Alright, I will try to exude a more powerful air in my interpretation?"

 "Yes!"

 Equius took a deep breath, before reading once again. The voice seemed somewhat silly to him, but Feferi seemed to love it. She clapped her hands together excitedly once he finished. She seemed to do a lot of things excitedly, he noticed. It wasn't exactly a... bad thing?

 "Yes yes yes! This is exactly how you do it!"

 "It seems somewhat..." The Zahhak thought for a moment. "over the top?"

 She let out an exasperated sigh. "It's supposed to be that way silly!"

 "What are your weird horseplays like then, huh?"

 "They are sombre and relaxing, and truly expose the powerful yet subtle strenght of the equine, through poetry and acting alike."

 "Sounds borefin."

 "It is most assuredly not, for it is set to soothe the mind and enlighten."

 "Alright then Mr Horseman, read me some and prove that ain't boring as shell." Feferi hopped herself up onto a table and leaned back, awaiting the performance from the Sagittarius.

 Caught off guard with his sudden thrusting into the spotlight, he composed himself, before beginning his verse.

 "It is of an equine nature, so graceful,
 It makes my gaze like a fixture, so faithful,
 It brims with muscles that gesture, so tasteful,
 It leaves me naught but a lecher, I'm grateful."

 "Uhhhhhh..."

 "With a shivering mane, I do approach,
 with nothing but my name, to not encroach,
 against my heart's true flame I fear reproach,
 A feeling in my loins, I do so broach."

 "Oh Gog please stop!"

 Equius ceased his recital and looked down from his pose, to see the Heiress looking quite uncomfortable.
 "I apologize, your majesty, have I offended you with my words?"

 "No, no Equius, it's okay. Just, wow. Wow."

 "It is quite extraordinary is it not."

 "It's certainly something."

 "I am glad you can appreciate the true beauty of the Equine, or that you at least made an attempt to, unlike many others."

 Feferi shifted where she sat. "I think it's very interesting; your House's affinity for horses and all that, although maybe not for me. I'm more for fishies myself!"

 "I have noticed your vocabulary is bastardized to allow for such nautical references."

 "Yep!"

 "I have little exprience with the Nautical myself."
Feferi frowned. "You haven't been out to sea?"
"I don't think I've ever swam before."

 The Heiress gasped, bringing her hand up to her mouth.

 "You poor thing! We have to fix that!"

 Equius raised an eyebrow.

 "We have to go swimming one day, I can teach you how!"

 "That sounds exceptionally wonderful, Heiress."

 "Yay! Now, back to learning, can't forget that!"

 With a giddy stride she returned to their sitting area above, and began her explanation of culture to the Zahhak once again. They sat there for another hour, going through the poetic forms used by typical art. There were too many for Equius to remember even just minutes after Feferi went through them all. All he knew were the typical ones used by his House in Equine poetry.

 Just before they finished up, Feferi went around the octagon and expalined the art he had seen, informing him from which plays they were from, right down the acts, and sometimes even explaining exactly what line they took place in. Her knowledge of the high arts impressed him deeply.

 "So this one is from the Sepulchral Bard's Ancestral Harp's Jest, showing the death of the warrior Gerome the Mighty at the precipice of his hill, under execution by the Condesce's guardsmen."

 "She certainly does appear in a lot of these."

 "I think she likes people talking about how great she is honestly."

 Equius laughed with her, before remembering the respect he was due to show the Condesce. Any less was treason. The Heiress looked glum with his sudden silence. She glanced at the device fastened around her wrist, before her frown grew ever lower.

 "I have to go now Equius, I have meeting to go to."

Equius bowed to her, his arms behind his back. "Thank you for your assistance, Heiress, it is most humbly appreciated."

 Feferi smiled coyly, before moving forward, wrapping her arms around his exposed neck. The Zahhak froze up once again, unsure of what to do.

 After a giggle, Feferi began to leave the room. "By Equius! I'll find a pun for your name one day!"

 Equius was left standing uncertain in the centre of the Octogon, still leaning forward from his bow.

 After a few seconds he straightened up, and made his way over to the balcony. Looking out over the city, he took a deep breath. A lot was uncertain in his future, but he was going to make it through. The Sagittarius did not fall, and did not crumble.

Chapter Text

 Vriska passed the dice between her fingers as she leaned on the rails, looking out to the lands spread far below her. The spanning fields and forests were all she had seen for hours as they travelled through the high air. Just plains of grass populated by sheep, horses and cows. She was sure that someone would enjoy it, but to her it was woefully boring. Exhaling heavily, she slumped on the rails, glaring down at the tiny inhabitants below. She didn't remember airship rides being this abysmally boring.
Her last few were quite entertaining, although she guessed that could be attributed to her company. It was usually either her sister or perhaps her old friend. They would run the length and breadth of the ship as many times as they could, chasing each other with wooden swords, shouting curses and phrases of piracy at each other. A simpler time she supposed. Simpler and less boring.

 Blowing a loose strand of hair away, Vriska looked across the sky, riddled with the floating clouds, each fortress of white mocking her in their bliss. With a huff, Vriska lifted herself up, turning back to the deck. She sneered at the few scorpio workers, regularly checking over the ropes and pulleys to check for faults. Their strict black and cerulean uniforms went well with the ship, which to those below would appear like a massive black bird, soaring through the air. Some of the shipbuilders had called it unnecessary but her mother was steadfast. Black wood and a blue balloon. She wanted a brand of fear all for herself. Her mother was a dramatic woman for sure.

 Apart from the workers, there were a few cerulean corsairs wandering the deck. They were a specialised unit of the Scorpio, trained in airship warfare specifically. They were something to behold in combat, with their rapiers and daggers making short work of an inexperienced crew. From what she had seen, Scorpio tactics did often involve getting the ships as close as possible for boarding. It was an effective strategy, to say in the least.

 She personally had fought against them in sparring matches before, where of course her powers were prohibited. She usually beat them, with a few scrapes and scars to boast. Not that it did much for her reputation with the Captain, who would simply demand her do it again until she didn't get caught by blade or strike, or until she collapsed from exhaustion. It was gruelling, but it made her strong.

 Eyeing the rapiers hanging from their waists, the Serket began down the stairs into the hull. A few dim lamps lit the way, illuminating the dark wooden doors leading to crews' quarters, kitchen, storage, and the mess hall. All hers. Benefits of being in the true Cerulean Bloodline, she guessed. Her own airship, to do with as she pleases. It wasn't particularly fancy, especially compared to her mother's, but it was still suitable for her. She had only received it hours before she left the city, when her mother had decided it was time.

 Reaching the end of the turning corridor, Vriska entered through the door to the kitchens. It was a decent-sized room, with every bit of space being used as efficiently as possible. The counters were currently bare, and a large array of knives hung from overhead, the glinting ends catching her eye. The cook glanced up her, before double taking and standing to attention.

 "How may I serve, Captain Serket?" Oh. That was good. The Scorpio took a second to enjoy the feeling of respect before answering.

 "I would like some food brought to my quarters."

 The chef stared at her. "Any specifics or...?" Shit. She hadn't thought about that. Free reign was something special.

 "Steak!" She blurted out after a moment. She fought to hide back a growing blueness in her cheeks. "Rare, please." Why did she say please?

 Without another word, she spun on her heel and left the kitchen, storming down the corridor. God, that was stupid. Her Captain manner would have to improve. She couldn't even begin to imagine her mother's reaction at what had just happened. All she knew is that it would not be good.

 Coming back up the steps to the deck, she ignored the rampant sounds from the mess hall. The crew were probably having their midday meal at this hour. It was only midday of the second day. The journey was taking far too long. She knew the Scorpio estate was far but this was just ridiculous. Although she did have to admit, she was luckier than the Megido's. They had to journey for over a week of constant moving to get between the City and their Manor.

 The council meeting must have been even more inconvienient for them than it was for the Serket herself. Although her travel being delayed was certainly something she didn't enjoy. Mindfang learning of her attempted leave was something she enjoyed even less. But after it all her mother decided that she might as well leave, and take the ship with her. It was quicker this way, and far more comfortable. Even if there were a few memories inscribed in the black wood of her childhood.

 As she walked to the bow, her mind lingered back to the Council meeting. Aradia's "outburst", as some had taken to calling it. She preferred possession. It had been so long since she had seen Aradia. Not since after the incident a short while after the rebellion's end. Not since she had used her matesprit to murder her. It was something her mind would trail on. She had caused the Megido to become what she saw. After her little stunt, she had heard the rumours that the child had survived, but not lived. Most dismissed them, but the official confirmation was unavoidable.

 She wondered if the grudge would be gone, but she supposed she would have to wait longer to find out. But it was clear that the older Megido did not forgive. Her eyes were trained with hate on Vriska for far too long after the Council. But the joke was on her. If she hadn't been so caught up in her own bullshit, she might have seen the same thing Vriska did. The small flash of red that appeared as Aradia went to hit the ground. The figure that caught her, laid her down, then disappeared into red once again.

 Lucky her, having her mysterious helper. Vriska could use one of those right about now, what will all the bullshit set the transpire soon. Vriska could only wait and take it as it comes, as she always has. Like all times it would be tough, but she could handle it. Looking down once again to the farmers and workers, their houses and road, far below, she wondered if they knew. They had felt the burn of fire before, no doubt. The rebellion didn't spare anyone. Could they survive another catastrophe? She somewhat doubted it.

 Moving away from the bow, Vriska bee-lined for her quarters, directly under the wheel. The doors were of course the most lavish of all of those on the ship. Pushing open the heavy, silver lined doors, Vriska entered into her own room.

 She had to admit. It was something nice. The black wood and cerulean fabrics gave the atmosphere she wanted, the long blue flags hanging from the walls, with the symbol of the house upon them, against patterns of spiders webs. There was a large hearth, just beside the door to her own bathroom, rather than the holes in the hull the other crew had to use. Along with the main room, her bedroom was through a set of doors in the back.

 Wondering why her mother had such an extraordinary need for extravagance, Vriska stared once more at the large painting of Mindfang hanging above the hearth. She hoped she could replace it with little trouble, or notice.

 Moving into her bedroom, Vriska collapsed onto the bed. Gog she was bored. There was still nothing to do, apart from sit around and wallow in her own dissatisfaction. And wallow she did, passing the dice again through her fingers. The carved fluorite was one of her favoured possessions, the arcane weapon having been given to her by her mother once she came of age. It's power was somewhat legendary among the other Houses. Vriska was unsure why her mother had entrusted it to her but, well, she wasn't going to complain.

 A knock on the door startled her from her thoughts.

 "Captain! Your meal has been prepared!"

 "Bring it in!" Vriska shouted back, lifting herself up to sitting. She heard the door open, and the servant begin placing the meal on the table, setting the cutlery as it was supposed to be, according to aristocratic standards. Vriska waited until he was completely finished, and left the room, before finally getting herself out of bed.

 The sight of the steak on the table got her mouth watering near instantly. She didn't bother with the "correct" cutlery to use, or manner to use them with. Instead she tore into the meat, shovelling it into her mouth as fast as she could. Without the usual servants or persistent sister to watch over her she could act as she wanted. How she wanted included eating food with reckless abandon.

 The meal delicious, and the Serket had grease and blood dripping down her chin by the end, which she unceremoniously wiped with her sleeve. Rubbing her hands together, Vriska decided the freedom from her tired mind would be some conversation. Lifting herself from the seat, she peaked out the door, and spotted a crew member working hard at scrubbing the deck.

 

 "Hey, you!"

 The worker looked up. "Yes, Captain?"

 "Get the mast up, I wanna send some messages!" Vriska remembered to be somewhat authoritative this time.

 The crew member nodded, getting up from his knees to start climbing the ropes up to the balloon, on top of which sat the mast console. The mast did require a fair amount of power, which meant it was only on when being used, but it was an invaluable tool in airfaring voyages. Of course it would have to pass through the Empire's own framework, so any illegal activities couldn't be discussed, but other than that the usefulness knew no bounds. It was usually the first thing targeted by opposing weaponry in airship raids.

 Going back into her quarters, Vriska headed for the desk, where a pesterchum sat. Powering it on, she frowned at the wires connecting it to the wall. Unfortunately there was no wireless pesterchums on this ship. Only the Aquarius had those in mass supply. Mindfang had one on her flagship. A mast that both connects with Empire frame and also projects its own network around it? Those were damned expensive.

 The device powered up, and gave the no signal error for a minute or so, until Vriska was about ready to storm out and hang the servant from his legs over the side of the ship, until it finally connected, and prompted her for her field entity. Signing in, Vriska smiled, finally able to alleviate her boredom by pestering her acquaintances.

 Looking through her contact list, Vriska wondered which one would be the most receptive. With a little bit of thought, she scrolled down to the last name on the list.

 Clicking open the previous pesterlogs, she found the one from the day of the incident, less than an hour before she did the horrific act. She closed it again. No point going through old memories.

 Looking through the list once more, she found a name appealing to her. Doubly appealing considering the ships current position, according to the large mechanical map on her wall. Opening up a new pesterlog, she typed in a message.

-- arachnidGrips [AG] began pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA] at 13:21 --

AG: ::::D!!!!!!!!

Vriska waited patiently as the time ticked over. McFussyfangs was probably tending to her plants or whatever it was that she did in that Monastery of hers. She passed the dice between her fingers, quicker than before this time, as he patience was tested.

AG: >::::(!!!!!!!!

That would probably help.

GA: I See You Are Somewhat Upset Currently
AG: Yeah!!!!!!!!
AG: I'm freaking 8ored!!!!!!!!
GA: Is There A Lack Of Activities Within The Entirety Of Alternia
AG: I'm not in Alternia anymore.
AG: I'm on my way to the est8.
GA: Exciting
AG: Far from it!
AG: There's nothing 8ut clouds and 8irds.
AG: Clouds and 8irds are 8ORING!!!!!!!!
AG: ::::(
GA: Tragic
GA: Where Are You In Your Journey
AG: Uh, let me check.

Vriska waited a second, not moving from her chair, before responding.


AG: Oh would you look at that! We're just coming up to your little mountains right now!
AG: What a coincidence!!!!!!!! ::::O
GA: Extraordinary To Be Sure
GA: The Hands Of Fate Sure Have Aligned Themselves In The Most Precarious Ways To Ensure Such Coincidences Occur
GA: And I Suppose It Would Be Foolish Of Me To Disregard Such Acts Of Higher Powers As To Fail To Offer You An Invitation To The Monastery
GA: But Alas
GA: I Dont Think My Fellow House Members Would Be Willing to Endure Your Visit
AG: Endure!!!!!!!!
GA: Apologies
GA: Cater To
AG: ::::(!
GA: You House Does Not Have The Best Reputation Amongst Us
GA: Official Visits Are All That Are Tolerated
AG: What did I do!!!!!!!!
GA: Paralysed Blinded And Killed Members Of Other Houses
AG: Oh.
AG: Yeah I guess I did do that.
AG: 8ut still, that was yeaaaaaaaars ago!
GA: Time Can Only Dismiss So Much
GA: But Why Are You So Desperate To Seek My Company
GA: Has Something Happened
GA: Would It Be About The Council
AG: Oh here we go.
GA: We can Still Converse Over This You Know
AG: Don't you start your meddling.
GA: I Dont Think That Is Helping You Play It Off
AG: Yes 8t is!
GA: Ignoring Your Regret Over The Incident With Aradia Will Not Help You
AG: So you're going to get ashen with us????????
AG: Typical Meddlesome McFussyfangs!!!!!!!!
GA: If Necessary I Will Take That Position Yes
AG: "If Necessary" you are just waiting to jump right into the quadrant right now, aren't you????????
AG: Just can't wait to get in on that Serket Megido action, huh?
GA: I Do It To Make Sure You Dont Do Anything Dangerous
AG: WELL TH8T D8DN'T W8RK OUT L8ST T8ME D8D 8T!!!!!!!!

Vriska waited a while before the reply finally came.

GA: You Know I Couldnt Stop That.
AG: Gogdamnit.
AG: I'm going to go now.
AG: And 8e Captain of my ship.
GA: Have An Exciting Time

-- arachnidGrips [AG] ceased pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA] at 13:32 --

 Vriska frowned deeply, checking over the other names on her list. It was a typical Kanaya move, to meddle and get herself invested where she shouldn't be. There were none she was particularly interested in talking to. All the ones she could hold a conversation with would no doubt have some grudge against her.

 

With an annoyed sigh, she shut down the pesterchum. Without much ceremony she one again opened the door and shouted out.

 "Shut down the mast!"

 Going back inside she plopped down on her seat, staring up at the map on the wall. Her friendships seemed constantly doomed to fail. It was just her luck, she guessed.

 Nothing ever turned out well. She watched as the dot indicating their positions flew past the Maryam Mountains. So much for that, she guessed.

 Getting up, she made her way into her bedroom, and fell upon her bed. She didn't bother to change before she let sleep take her.

 Waking up on the fourth day, Vriska pushed herself up, hearing the shouting from the deck above. Rubbing her eyes clear, and feeling about for her glasses, Vriska listened to the voice from above.

 "Get ready to dock!" Seems they had arrived.

 Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, Vriska felt relief knowing that finally her boredom could be sated. There was plenty to do at the estate, between beasts, better training grounds, and even the occasional raid on the nearby towns. Those were supposedly fun. Even if killing was to be kept to a minimum. Didn't want to piss the locals off too much.

 The shouts and calls continued as she got changed, almost falling once or twice as the ship lurched to the side. Docking was usually the worst part. After running a brush through her hair a few times to get out the worst of the tangles, she opened the captain quarters' doors.

 The crew were running around rampant, preparing to dock, as the rain thundered down the sides of the balloon, some of it being blow in. They avoided her path as she slowly made her way up to the quarterdeck. The helmsman was gently easing the wheel side to side, one hand on the throttle.

 "How long?" The Serket asked, still half asleep.

 "Give it ten or so minutes and we'll be docked."

 Vriska nodded, then turned around, heading back down to her cabin. Shutting the door behind her, she checked the map. As predicted, they were almost completely over the dot that denoted the Scorpio estate.

 She looked at the lands around it. A few villages scattered about. Wasn't much, not after the rebellion. But she wasn't really there to socialise with commoners. She was there for hunting and fighting, which the surrounding lands provided aplenty. Although there was of course the feeding matter. That would not be pleasant to attend to, even if she was given free reign over the villages to pick who got eaten.

 After taking a moment in the bathroom to make herslef at least acceptably presentable, Vriska grabbed her belt from her bedroom, from which her sword and dagger hung.

 She glanced at the mannequin in the corner, adorned with the long captain's outfit, and topped with the black and blue tricorn. She was tempted to take it. But she hadn't proven herself. No point acting like something you're not.

 After making sure she was signed out on her pesterchum, she left. Closing the doors for what she was sure would be a long while. The gangplank was being set across the gap between the ship and the stone docks at the side of the Manor as she ran up and leapt over, landing on the bricks. She took off into the Manor without a look back.

 The Manor was, like the residence in the city, more like a castle than anything else. Dark stone towers and archers, massive doors, walls and even a drawbridge. Massive cerulean banners hung from the walls, and flags of the same hue flew from the top of the towers. It was a massive beacon of the Scorpio aesthetic really, right down to the dungeon towers and courtyards blace at the side of the mountains around it. One of those courtyards, yet another dungeon, was built right over a massive waterfall, pouring down the side of the steep incline. The guards sometimes threw people down into the water for their own amusement. She sometimes had seen it when she looked out the windows of her room. The single dot falling far down into the watery cloud below.

 Rubbing her hands together to get some warmth into them, Vriska walked through the long hallways of the Scorpio estate. The long, thick blue carpet ran along the bricks, bordered by suits of armour, lined up along the walls, their wicked curved and pointed blades were held tight in the suits hands. At the end of near every hall was a massive portrait of Mindfang herself. Apparently once each corridor of the castle had a different historical head of the house, but her mother had changed that. It was... something, she guessed. But it was respectable. She was like to do the same.

 There was a surplus of staircases in this construction of the Scorpios, as was a theme at this point. She hated that theme quite a bit, climbing up the third set of spiralling steps, having passed room after room that she was never going to enter for the forseeable future.

 She reached her room after one or two instances of forgetting her way, and spending several minutes trying to retrace her steps to find the path to her room. After near fifteen minutes of searching, she finally reached the door. It was covered in webs, both carved and spider-born. It hadn't been opened in quite some time. reaching forward, she pulled open the slab of wood, hearing the old hinges creak and groan as she did. The webs snapped and fell apart as the entrance made itself available to her.

 After pulling out her sword and swiping away the last of the webs, Vriska finally went into her room. And by room, she meant the steps up to her room. The Serket groaned, tilting her head back and beginning to ascend the steps. Eventually she reached the top, and entered into her room. It wasn't particularly noteworthy, in comparison to her room in the Alternian residence. Although, she supposed that commoners would find it more than luxurious.

 The entire room was circular, but had eight semi-circles dipping into the walls, some filled with desks, others with storage. Her bed occupied one of them. A mass of spider webs hung above, where she could faintly make out the hundred or so arachnids traversing their webs. She used to know them well, right down to names. But those were in years past. They had most likely all died by now. These were the descendents of her children, which in turn she supposed were the descendents of more of her children. She had to be a great great grandmother at this stage. Of spiders.

 Shaking her head, Vriska looked around to the state of the room. It looked like it did when she left. Nothing was touched by the servants, as per her request leaving. She supposed that was foolish now, what with the moth eaten bedsheets and thick carpet of dust that covered everything. But one could hardly blame her; she was only a child when she had to leave, in somewhat of a rush. The rebellion didn't suit the immaturity of children.

 But she was home at last. Pulling out an chair, she sat before her old pesterchum. It was due an upgrade for sure, but it switched on as it should, albeit with duller colours than she was used to. But it worked. It was still signed in on her address, with all her contacts quickly updating.

 She pondered over whether or not she should message one of them. She doubted any of those online would make nice conversation. Except maybe the paraplegic. She could have some fun with him she supposed. But that was laborious effort. Although she was loathe to interact with them most of the time, she supposed looking into her list of House relatives wouldn't be all that bad.

 There was one that caught her eye. She checked through the last few conversations they held. They weren't perfect, per se. But hey, she was bored.
 Without wasting a second, she opened up another pesterlog, and began her message.

-- arachnidGrips [AG] began pestering flavourfulArtiste [FA] at 11:16 --

AG: Heeeeeeeey cousin!
FA: Hello Vriska. Having fun at the estate?
AG: Tonnes of fun! So much fun you wouldn't 8elieve it! 8et you wish you were here.
FA: There is a distincte lack of artistry supplies in the castle you know?
FA: So no.
AG: Suit yourself. It's your loss.
AG: I'm just gonna enjoy myself here.
AG: In this 8igass castle.
FA: Pleasante.
FA: May I aske why you have messaged me Vriska?
FA: I don't mean to sound... ungrateful, but this it isn't much like you to talke to someone without needing something.
AG: Wow does everyone just think I'm only in it for myself!!!!!!!!
FA: Yeah pretty muche.
AG: >::::(
FA: It really is your faulte.
AG: R8DE.
FA: Or truthful. Take your pique.
FA: But honestly, why is it thate you are talking to me.
AG: Cause I'm 8ored!
FA: What happened to having "tonnes of fun", as you saide?
AG: I lied.
FA: And may I aske why?
AG: Cause shut up.
AG: Shut up is why.
FA: Mature.
AG: W8ll F8CK Y8U!!!!!!!!
AG: How's that for mature!!!!!!!!
FA: Pretty in line withe the reste of what you've said honestly.
AG: Gogdamnit.
FA: Maybe this isn't the way to go if you wante to have pleasante conversation.
FA: Try perhaps, a complimente? Or a note of something you saw on your journey?
FA: Something less... that.
AG: Alright then.
AG: Hey Remele, guess what I saw on my way to the est8.
FA: Oh my, what dide you see Vriska?
AG: A 8unch of fucking clouds.
FA: How inspiring! I thinke I may juste make a new piece basede on that extraordinary descriptione of that fascinating spectacle.
AG: I can't w8 to see it. I 8et it will be really good like the rest of your art!!!!!!!!
FA: Oh Vriska, you flattere me!
AG: This sucks.
FA: Welcome to the worlde of flattering potentiale customers.
AG: Why don't you just threaten them?
AG: Works for me.
FA: I don't thinke it's a brilliante idea to threatene Purples, Vriska.
AG: Eh I got away with it more than once.
FA: The Barde doesn't counte.
AG: I rescind my statement.
FA: Do you really have nothing to do Vriska?
FA: Nothing at alle?
AG: Not until they get my shit up here I don't.
FA: Your olde room? I have the feeling thate may take a while.
AG: Ughhhhhhhh!
AG: I just wanna fight things.
FA: As interesting as thate sounds, don't you have certaine responsibilities to take care of?
AG: Ah fuck you're right.
FA: As per usual.
AG: >::::(
FA: You better gete going Vriska. From whate I remember she can be quite aggravated if lefte waiting for too longe.
AG: Alright then, I'll go if it pleases you so much.
AG: Tell my sister I said hi.
FA: I don't see why you can'te tell her suche a thing yourselfe?
AG: 8ecause I have certaine responsi8ilies to take care of.
FA: Cute.
AG: See a Mirror?
FA: ...
FA: Is this your flattery?
AG: Is it working?
FA: Yes.
AG: ::::)

-- arachnidGrips [AG] ceased pestering flavourfulArtiste [FA] at 11:28 --

 Getting up from the chair, Vriska groaned, beginning her descent down again. She had only been in the castle for less than an hour and already she had to deal with her. It was exceedingly annoying.

 She passed a few servants on her way down, carrying her stuff to her rooms. She made sure they knew to clean up her room as well, through a rather expletively verbose command. They didn't say anything, as she expected. Scorpio's and Aquarius had the best behaved servants, that was for damn sure. Mindfang and Dualscar didn't take too nicely to insolence.

 And neither did they take too kindly to criminals within their lands. That was something Vriska was reminded of after she traversed yet more cerulean clad corridors, finally reaching one of the many dungeons in the castle. Most had somewhat limp prisoner's arms hanging from the bars, being splattered with the cold rainwater.

 There were prisoners of all ages here, from barely teens to old men, coughing out their last breaths in their tiny, freezing stone cells. She could see their emaciated forms waiting for food, desperate to survive. Some of them were just desperate to die. If so, it was their lucky day.

 Taking a relatively moderate one fo the prisoners, Vriska pointed a hand, and let the other rest against her forehead, as she gripped her mind. The prisoner jerked up, her eyes going blank. It was a trivial matter to get control, and Vriska was able to hold the concentration as she grabbed the keys hanging from the wall, just out of tantalizing reach of the prisoners, and opened up her cell. The prisoner walked out, her legs shaky. She was starved wretched.

 Locking back up the cell, Vriska gave a somewhat cruel wink to the other prisoners. She heard them call after as she left, pleading for mercy. They would get none.

 She followed behind the prisoner, letting her indoctrinated mind lead the way. All the way down to the caves far below, where she was waiting. They hadn't seen each other in years. This wasn't going to go all that nicely, but it was a necessary evil. Otherwise she would cause trouble, and their deal with the Condesce would wear thin.

 Descending even more steps, Vriska emerged into the great cavern below the castle, and found her waiting, her gigantic white carapace gleaming as she climbed down to investigate the visitors to her home. The gigantic spider came into the lantern light, until her gigantic maw was mere feet away from the two. Vriska found she needed to exert a tad more concentration onto her victim to keep her controlled.

 Vriska gave an awkward wave to the creature, before making the prisoner step forward, and releasing her grip on her mind. The moment she could, she screamed. In a flash the spider's head shot forward, snatching up the prisoner as she tried to run away. The screams were quickly drowned out by the layers of web that began covering her, as she was spun around, being cocooned.

 Vriska nodded. Just as horrifying as ever.

 The spider passed its prey to its lower arms, until it was stored safely in the webs behind it. All eight of its eyes trained down on Vriska below, regarding her with subdued hostility.

 The Serket shrugged. "I'm back!"

 The spider leaned in closer, until its eyes were only inches away.

 "I'll just be going then."

 It didn't make another move until Vriska left, and then she heard hte horrible slow creaking of its joints as it placed itself back deep into its cave.

 Vriska ignored her servants as she ascended back up the castle, eventually reaching her bedroom, and finding them just finishing up. Without a word she went to her pesterchum, and listened as they all began down the stairs, having left the room in a much more respectable condition.

-- arachnidsGrip [AG] began pestering flavourfulArtiste [FA] at 12: 04 --

AG: I like spiders 8ut fuck that spider.
FA: Fuque that spidere indeed.

Chapter Text

 

 Aradia groaned as she lifted herself up from the bed, rubbing her hand against her head. She felt weak as she stood, her head swimming. Opening her eyes slightly wider, she tried to ignore the glare of the light pouring in through the windows, as her hand reached forward for the rail of the walkway. She luckily found it, and didn't almost topple over it like she had the day before. The room wasn't necessarily the best for someone in her condition, but she still preferred it. Taking deep breaths, she began to descend, hoping that her head would clear relatively quickly.

 This was how her mornings were now, after the prophecy. Having such a strong connection, even for such a short amount of time, had weakened her tremendously. Her powers were still yet to return. But she still had over a month until it tried to manifest once again. She had time to recover and maybe even enjoy herself. She would at least try the latter, and today was a perfect time to do that.

 Looking up to the clock built into the wall of her circular room, Aradia checked the time. 11:56. She wasn't late, thankfully. Her sister had made sure to arrange it at a late time compared to when she used to arise to make sure she wouldn't be rushed. Not in her condition.

 Finally reaching the bottom of the long path of steps, Aradia looked to the mirror on the wall, seeing her messy condition. Damara had requested she look "somewhat presentable".

 Shouldn't be too hard, she figured. She just had to switch into a clean shirt, not one covered in crusted blood oh she had another nose bleed. Brining her hand sup to her nose she found the crusted blood from the hours before. Trailing her fingers along the side of her eyes, she found only a small amount of dried blood. Her eyes hadn't bled so bad this time. Sometimes she would wake up with rivulets of her dark red running down her face from her eyes and nose. It wasn't a fun experience.

 She wiped away the blood with a wet towel, making sure not so irritate her skin too much, although the gauntness of it would distract from that anyway. Looking at her tired face in the mirror, she gave an apathetic stare. It was not going to be a good day, she reckoned. Not with how little she felt.

 Quickly changing into cleaner and nicer clothes, she dragged her hairbrush through her mass of hair, wincing every time it snagged, which was often. She could swear that her sleeping mind wove her hair together every night, just to inconvience her. But whatever the reason was, it was quite annoying.

 Realising she would have to represent her House somehow, as was the unspoken law of tradition, Aradia looked through her drawers. She found her large burdgundy amulet adequate, and tied it around her neck. The large chunk of red stone, inscribed with the sign of Aries was a gift from her mother, back when she was something recognisable.

 But, going for the extra touch, she decided to redden around her eyes. She chuckled realising she could have just left the blood there. That would have been pretty cool, she supposed.

 Fastening on a pair of knee-high sandals on, Aradia finally felt ready to leave. Opening up the door to her room, she stepped out, and heard small commotion from downstairs.

 Having made her way down to the second floor, she looked down from the rails, and saw her sister ranting to herself, pacing around the living room. Hearing her approach, somehow, Damara looked up to Aradia. She gave a polite smile, and beckoned her down.

 The Megido stepped down the stairs carefully, not wanting to go lightheaded and lose her balance, although she was sure Damara would catch her. She sometimes did that when she was feeling particularly nice.

 Damara was watching her with an observant eye, making sure she didn't fall. Thankfully, Aradia did not, and managed to make her way to the couch, and fell upon it, sighing with relief. Her strenght was still lacking.

 Her sister looked down with a concerned furrow of her eyebrows. She spoke in their tongues of the East, which was their first language.

 "She will be here soon, rest."

 Rubbing her arms to keep some warmth in them, Aradia watched as Damara waved her arm, and a small plate of a simple breakfast she had retrieved, a croissant and a small bit of bread. The Megido turned to thank her sister, but she had already left out to the back, to the gap between the buildings with a tome in one hand and a small box in the other. Presumably to smoke. She had taken up the habit a few years ago and hadn't managed to stop yet, although her "friend" had been trying.

 Taking a small bite of her food, Aradia found it hard to even just chew the soft bread. Swallowing it was even more difficult, and she almost hacked it back up. It took her all of Damara's break to finish, and she was just chewing the last bite when her sister walked back in, holding the large tome open in her hands. From the glance Aradia managed at the inside, it was arcane in nature.

 "Was the food good?"

 Aradia nodded. "it was quite good yes." She spoke weakly. Hopefully the food would at least do something to help her state.

 Damara glanced up to the clock about the fireplace, wondering when her date would be here. It wasn't much like her to be late.

 Aradia had never met her, or at least not in her non-demonic form. It would be interesting to finally meet her, she guessed. She already knew Damara liked to frequent her home with her teleports, although she couldn't bring Aradia. Teleportation often made her possession happen far far quicker. No point ruining someone elses home for that.

 Rubbing her hands together, she pondered how long it would be.

 "What is on our agenda today?" the younger sister asked.

 "Go shopping, go for more food, then um..."

 "Something illegal?"

 Damara shrugged. "Probably."

 It was to be expected honestly; Damara didn't really have much respect when it came to other peoples personal properties, and she had none when it came to the Empires. If she wasn't harassing the Empire at any stage of the day she was quite possibly bored. It was something she inherited from her mother to be sure.

 Occasionaly a caravan would come from Alternia to the wastes, for some official business or another. They usually left before their stay was meant to be over, thanks to her sister's insistent meddling. It provided a fun spectacle, at the very least, on the days it wasn't scary.

 As she recalled the several ways Damara had sent the Imperial convoys packing, some including some impressive acts of sorcery, a knock came from the door, and her sister bolted up from where she had been leaning against the wall, quickly heading towards the door.

 Aradia heard the front door click open, followed by laughter and quick catching up, as they walked back into the house main. There was a suspsicious moment of quiet, and Aradia knew why.

 Damara looked slightly ruffled as she came back into the room, followed by Porrim Maryam. The Jade was smiling smugly, but her smile grew into something more genuine and somewhat sympathetic as she saw Aradia slouched on the couch, looking back up at her with a tired stare. She crossed the room rather quickly and knelt down the the Aries girl's level, tilting her face up to look at her.

 Aradia looked back with her greyish eyes, prompting Porrim to frown, before she wrapped her arms around the small frame of the girl, who's eyes went wide in a moment of shock. Getting a better grasp of what was happening, Aradia lifted her weak arms up and hugged back as best she could.

 After a few moments Porrim pulled away, the Megido had a pang to request she continue, but decided against it. Damara was looking with a inquisitive stare. Porrim shrugged.

 "Sorry, she had me quite worried since the, incident. I'm just glad she's okay."

 Damara acknowledged this with a small smile, and checked through her bag to ensure she had everything. Porrim looked around the room as she waited, having not seen the house before.

 "It was quite hard to find this place you know? It certainly doesn't exude the impressive and ostentacious atmosphere your houses architecture usually does."

 "Also there was a distinct drought of red." She added after a moment.
 

 "Not used to it. Too bright here." Damara spoke in the common tongue, her skills with it somewhat limited. Aradia was the one who paid far more attention in their lessons.

 She also had more use for it. None of her friends had the knowledge to speak her language, unlike Damara's partner at the time, who was quite interested in the artistic products of their House. But that was a long time ago, and Aradia was pretty sure that relationship hadn't ended well, not considering the thing she heard after, and the state that Damara entered. But she seemed to have recovered slightly recently.

 "Alright, we go now."

 Porrim smiled, and offered a hand to Aradia, which she graciously accepted, as she rose from the couch. Some of her weakness was wearing off, and she could walk pretty decently now, although it was far from comfortable. If her body had any say in it, she wouldn't be going anywhere, but she needed soem fresh air, and some surroundings that weren't the dark interiors of the house.

 The three made their way to the front door, and Damara once again unlocked the plentiful latches and locks, before dragging open the heavy slab of wood. It was useful as a measure of protection, but other than that is was exceedingly infuriating to open. The rays of the midday sunlight poured into the house through the open door, causing Aradia to wince. She let her eyes adjust for a second before stepping trhough the threshhold to join her sister and her partner.

 They began their long walk down the streets, toward whatever shop they wished to frequent first. The roads were buzzing with the commoners, many of whom gave suspsicious looks to them. They were obviously of the Houses, and quite richer than them. Aradia would have betted they were booked to stay in the poorer districts just to make them more uncomfortable, as well as an intended insult, of course.

 Sometimes some of the commoners would pass close to them, with looks on their faces that made Damara's hands move into wand-summoning position, and Porrim's twirl her lipstick in her hand. Aradia wondered what that did.

 It was after the third time this happened that Damara noticed the lipstick.

 "Do you need that?" She asked.

 "Honestly, no. But I'd rather not divulge the reasons why with the general populace."

 Damara gave an understanding look. Aradia had absolutely no idea what she meant.

 They could hear the music from the rather plentiful taverns as they travelled through the dark streets, bordered on both sides by tall brick buildings that house several families, shockingly often a family per room. It was unimaginable for someone such as her, who had an entire empty wing of the Mansion to herself back home.

 The three of them wrinkled their noses as they passed another drain that had been used a toilet a few minutes before. Most drains had. All in all, the atmosphere of the place wasn't very appealing, not helped by the vast amounts of smoke that blew through the streets, from houses and factories both. Aradia was seriously regretting not getting a carriage to bring them where they needed to go.

 She could see the distance towers and castles in the distance, along with the massive bordering wall. There were few buildings tall enough to look over it. The Library, and the Condesce's palace were among the few.

 It was a while before they finally reached a more acceptable part of town, where the scent of piss wasn't so strong in their nostrils. The pathways didn't seemed as soiled with ash or dirt, and the clothing wasn't composed of stiched-together rags. The people regarded them with less contempt, and Damara's hands finally rested.

 "Is this where we will stay?" Aradia enquired, still not knowing their exact destination.

 "No, dear, we still have a few more blocks to go before we reach the more fashionably acceptable parts of town."

 "This not fashion acceptable?" Damara waved her hand around, incidacting at the rather simple garments all the people around her wore.

 Porrim smiled. "If it was then I would be doing something disastrously wrong."

 The buildings got brighter as they continued, until at last there wasn't a dark brick in sight, and the people were wearing bright colours of their own.

 "This is more like it. I believe our destination is somewhat close now."

 The shops here were slightly more refined, and the music sweeter and less roudy, although the crowds within the taverns were still making a racket. Some things were unanimous among people of all wealth, she guessed. They were also given little to know special attention here, as the commoners were used to their presence, and the Megido's were little richer than them.

 It took them a while but they eventually found the exact shop Porrim had been looking for, and they went inside. The place was quite clean and tidy, and the receptionist made sure to smile and look like they wanted to be there. Even if everything wasn't made of marble and crystal chandeliers didn't hang rom the ceiling, it was still something nice. She preferred something like this rather than the extreme shows of welath she would find in the richer regions of Alternia. Although she had never actually been in one, only heard about it. It was likely that they would get harsh stares should they enter, thanks to their House.

 The Aquarius and their underlings weren't fond of the Houses that rebelled, that was for sure. Not since half their fortune was lost in the raids caused by her House. Until then she was sure that they were secretly hoping that the rebellion would win, just so they could take power. It was very much like them and their scheming, ambitious ways.

 She hadn't talked to her Aquarius friend in quite some time either. It was a sad thing, she supposed. Even if he typicallt was insufferable. She slowed her walk as she considered some of their old interactions. They typically ended with her teasing him, although she would sometimes make sure he knew that she wasn't serious. Unless she was. He did some things that merited a berating.

 Glancing up, she saw the other two perusing the shops wears, laughing and joking with each other. She had little interest, especially with the dampener on her head that was her recent possession. Instead, she opted to sit down and get lost in her own thoughts.

 It had been a long time since she had made contact with any of her friends. Even after the council she had been passed out, and failed to talk to any of them. She could remember them, however. They were in front of her, staring at her. She could feel their fear and worry.

 It wasn't something pleasant to look back on, but she couldn't help it. Her mind gravitated to the dark thoughts. They weren't enjoyable, not at all. She recall the feeling of being taken over by the daemon, the immense pain as the horns sprouted from her head, and the gut wrenching feeling of her skin tightening aorund her bones, squeezing her organs.

 But most of all she could remember the stare of the Condesce before her. It was something of both interest and hostility. The woman was seconds away from taking her down with a single blow, and had she not spoken she would have died. Even her daemon aided powers stood no chance against the woman who ripped the entire Cancer Manor from the ground, before blasting it apart.

 She was a god in comparison to Aradia.

 Looking back up to her sister, the Megido found them trying out their new garbs. Porrim was wearing something more practical that her previous dress, and Damara had something more sublte. Yeah, they were going to do something illegal. In style, of course.

 As the two paid for their clothes, Porrim turned to Aradia.

 "Are you sure you dont't want to get anything sweetie?" She waved her hand to the racks of clothes behind her.

 Aradia nodded in response.

 "Oh, well, I bought you something anyway." Smiling, Porrim produced a cloak for her, burgundy.

 Aradia raised her eyebrows, surprised by the sudden gift. She wasn't used to it. Reaching out tentatively, she took it from Porrim's grasp. The dark red was a nice material, and the hood was deep. Bringing it around her shoulders, she did the clasp, and stood. She was usnteady for a moment, but found her bearings, and looked up to Porrim who was smiling widly. Damara looked over as well, and tilted her head.

 "Looks nice."

 Porrim looked exasperated with the lackluster comment.

 "You look beautiful, dear. Just like that old fairytale we would tell to the younglings in the Monastery."

 "Thank you." Aradia said meekly, unsure of what else to say.

 Porrim seemed to understand her awkwardness, and wasn't miffed by her reaction. She gave Aradia a gentle shoulder squeeze, before they all left the shop, headed for some food. Aradia felt the cloak flow gently behind her, and lifted up the hood to obscure her tired face. Porrim beside her had a small cape of her own, pitch black. Her green was in her makeup and in the trimming of her clothes. Damara was just wearing a burdgundy shirt.

 Their travels took them to a small cafe at the top of a rise, so that from their little balcony they found they could see out to the port. They took their seats, Damara making sure to sit right beside Porrim, who couldn't keep the smile from her face.

 The three ordered their food: a rather fancy breakfast. Aradia was used to hard bread and slightly charred meat in the wastes, and even the croissant from the morning was a deviation towards to aristocratic lifstyle. She felt her mouth water involuntarily at how good the meal was like to taste.

 Porrim and Damara were talking lively, discussing their shared interest in, rather curiously, weaponry. She could see the odd looks those who overheard gave them. It was rather funny.

 It was only when Porrim mentioned her "faux" weapon that Aradia decided to chip in.

 "What's your faux weapon?"

 Porrim pulled her lipstick from her pocket. "This little thing right here."

 The Megido raised her eyebrows. Porrim laughed in response. It was a nice laugh, and Aradia could see Damara's smile grow wider at it.

 "It transforms don't worry, it's not some metaphor." She pocketed it once again. "But I would rather not transform it in here. Something tells me the customers would not be altogether pleased should I suddenly produce a chainsaw during their meal."

 "As for it being faux... I have certain abilities I'd rather keep under wraps for now, so I prefer to use this unless its a rather life-threatening situation I'm in."

 "Are you often involved in violence?" She asked, causing Porrim to look thoughtful.

 "More than I'd like I guess, but not as much as your sister, to be sure."

 "What can I say? I am magnet of trouble?" Damara chipped in, chuckling.

 Porrim nodded in agreement as the food finally came.

 It looked delicious to the still somewhat hungry Aradia. she needed a lot of food after the incident. There was coffee, fried toast, several pastries filled with jam, dusted with sugar and covered in curving lines of icing. They looked delicous, and Aradia's stomach immediately rumbled. Damara passed her one of the pastries, which Aradia immediately bit down on.

 The three didn't speak for a moment, as they passed aroud the food, and Damara poured the coffee for the two girls, and handed her younger sister a cup of something that smelled amazing. Taking a sip, she recognised it as hot chocolate. It had been years since she tasted that.

 The conversation continued after that.

 "So, Aradia, what is it you often get up to back at home?"

 The Megido thought for a moment. "I go out to explore the old ruins, and look at dead things."

 Porrim stopped mid bite. There was a few seconds of silence before she slowly continued, and swallowed. "Oh, that sounds delightful."

 Looking over, Aradia could see Damara struggling to not laugh, holding her cup up to her face to hide her grin, as her face grew redder. 

 "Are you planning to add any more context to that or is that it?"

 "I dig up bones and look at them."

 "Sounds pleasant."

 "I used to enjoy it a lot."

 "Not anymore?" Porrim enquired.

 "Not since the incidents got worse. It's hard to enjoy things most of the time. Sometimes there will be days where I can feel a lot of things. Sometimes it's only the bad things."

 Porrim grew quiet again, and Damara's face stopped it's contortions. They ate in more silence. Getting bored of the awkward silence, Aradia looked out to the port. She could see the dozens of ships, most owned by Aquarius, a few by Scorpio. Scorpio. She wondered how Vriska was doing. If she could feel anger she would have felt it now. Like she did on the "good" days.

 It was ironic really.

 Vriska did this to her. She didn't mean to do this specifically, of course. She just meant to kill her. This was the unfortunate amalgamation of events beyond her control, that she had been directly manipulated into. Dark things indeed.

 But she still tried to kill her. And she ruined her matesprits life in doing so. Aradia felt a twinge of the anger deep in her. The only thing she knew was that, when her curse was finally lifted, if it ever was, a certain cerulean was going to bear the full brunt of a telekinetics rage.

 She almost felt pity. If she could feel it anymore.

 They finished their meal in peace, with little to no more conversation. Aradia usually preferred it that way, but she felt like missing the oppurtunity to talk to Porrim was something bad. She was the only one who openly showed care for her. It was strange

 Damara glanced around as they left the cafe, checking for anyone listening.

 "Alright. Crime Time."

 Aradia really wasn't sure to expect this time, but she knew it wasn't going to be good. Her more lively self probably would have considered it fun, however, so she decided to go along with it for old times sake.

 The three made their way to the port, seeing the fleet of ships before them in the massive body of water within the walls. This was going to be far from good.

 Damara looked out to the ships. "Which one?"

 Porrim took a long look, sizing each one up. They stood in the shade of the buildings for a few minutes while she examined them all. Aradia was growing quite bored while she waited.

 "That one," she pointed to one far out across the water, with a large Aquarius sail fluttering. It bore large sword symbols as well. "It's a military vessel, used in their raids and suppressing the people."

 "Good target" Damara agreed. Aradia still wasn't sure what their exact goals were.

 "Drop boxes, then break inside?" Her sister suggested. Oh.

 "Sounds good." She turned to Aradia. "Alright, dear, stay here and out of sight, we will just be a moment. We can usually be quite quick."

 Aradia retreated into an alley with them, as Damara lined up her hand in front of her, pointing at a large stack of crates in the distance. Porrim was nearing her side, taking deep breaths and setting into stance.

 With a quick flick of her wrist, Damara made the crates topples, catching two people under them. Despite the distance, Aradia could hear the screams, and could see the bustling crew on the deck rushing to get the heavy crates off of their comrades.

 After a few seconds Damara nodded, and Porrim took a step closer, as a red bubble began around them, growing in intensity. Aradia stared as it began to hurt her eyes, before is disappeared. She could see a flash of red from the canon ports on the side of the ship, followed by several more.

 This was going to bite them later. She just knew it.

 After a few seconds she saw a consistent red glow begin, and the ship started to sink. she waited the precious seconds, before the flash happened beside her, and Damara and

 Porrim appeared beside her, their feets wet, and a chainsaw in Porrim's hands. There were wide smiles on their faces as the ship slowly sank. The crew were shouting once again, torn between attending the ship and trying to rescue their shipmates beneath the crushing weight of the crates.

 "Satisfied?" Aradia asked, looking to the two older girls.

 "Yep!" They responded in unison.

 "Then can we please return home." She wasn't feeling this day out for much longer, especially with her lack of strenght not allowing her to at least indulge in the destruction.
Damara sighed loudly.

 "Fine."

 They began the long walk home through back alleys and less travelled roads, not wishing to be seen by too many. They even passed through the engineering district, where the smog was worse than anywhere else. It certainly dulled their enthusiasm at the success of their mission, that was for sure.

 Aradia thought once again of Equius, and his weird manner. He had been quite interested in her, from what she could remember. She also remember the feeling of slight disgust she would have at him sometimes, although that could pass sometimes, when he wasn't being too bad. His moirail was certainly helping.

 Nepeta, how long it had been. They hadn't even been the greatest of friends before it all happened, but she still occasionally missed the cat girl's antics on some nights. She had planned to visit her mansion and the surrounding forests once. They were filled with ruins, so ripe for journey and exploration. She even had a small team put together. Then the rebellion happened. Then her death. Her death really did put a stop to most of her activities, she guessed. Death was like to do that.

 Some of Nepeta's Housemates had offered to come with. Polypa and Konyyl. Polypa was quite fun, from what she could recall. Fun, and skilled with fighting and the guitar. An odd combination, but one that Nepeta assured her was amazing.

 They arrived back at the house eventually, and the pair said their goodbyes to Aradia, as they planned to continue their day. Porrim made sure to hug Aradia once again, and the Megido felt herself melt into the Maryams arms. She knew Damara had an eyebrow raised but she didn't care. Porrim was the one that cared.

 After a far too many seocnds they split, and Porrim smiled as Aradia moved back inside the House, shutting the door, and doing the many latches and locks that were bolted onto the back. The Aries security was one that was ever so slightly paranoid. They had more than the wastes to thank for that.

 Aradia sighed as she rested her head on the back of the door, she was exhausted. Tired of this emotionlessness she was stricken with. Turning around, she began her way back into house, wanting to collapse onto a bed or couch, or just something.
The long walk up to her room felt longer than ever. Each step dragged down on her feet, like desolate chains intent on bringing her to their depths. As if she wasn't already as low as one could go.

 She finally made it up, and began her slow ascent up the steps and walkways. She stared ahead with bored eyes, and threw her hood back, unclasping it and laying it down gently in one of the many hollows in the wall, along with her other prized possessions.

 Reaching the top, she laid down onto the red covers of her bed. She lay there for a moment, before letting her mind wander once again. It was all she could really do nowadays. Wallow in her misery and in her memories. For hours and hours thats all she would do.

 The memory of her death was one she always avoided. And she would avoid it today too. Every time her mind strayed too close she could feel it beginning to manifest. It was how she released it when she couldn't take the pain anymore. She thought of her death and felt it break free. The very memory of it's entrance was its exit.
How ironic, she thought.

 Her mind instead drifted to the people she knew. All the people she hadn't spoken to in years in her desolate loneliness. It was crushing her, honestly. Even in this form, her emotions dulled and her needs dampened, she needed them. But she couldn't have them. All the people she wished she could just talk to, but everything was in the way. Equius, Nepeta, poor Tavros, Terezi, Eridan, Kanaya, Feferi, and maybe even Vriska.

 There were many people she knew, either from her life or from this half-life. But whoever it was that caught her, when she fell from the air. She didn't know who that was. She didn't have a clue.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 Meulin hummed happily to herself as she chewed the fish she held in front of her. She could still hear the conversation around the table as she hummed, unfortunately. Konyyl and Nepeta were conversing, althuogh it was mostly the Okimaw roaring jokes and Nepeta giggling furiously. Even now she was swiging her arms wildly in emphasis as she told another one, with food falling or getting crushed in her iron grip. Her most recent one bordered on inappropriate if Meulin was being honest. It still made her almost choke on her food, however. Nepeta was falling of her chair at this point. 

 Charun was chewing their bread slowly,not making any indication that they were listening to Konyyl save for the occasional slow smirk. Other than that they resumed their content eating, fully knowing they would be there long after everyone else left, unless they decided to stay and chat after, which happened occasionally. When it did, there was usually more food served, which lengthened their stay exponentially.

 Charun themself usually spent their time in their own part of the Manor, which was in actuality a cave, where they collected junk to make their odd sculptures. Polypa and Boldir were convinced that there was treasure to be found in that cave, but Charun guarded it religiously. They probably worshipped the sculptures honestly.
Meulin glanced to where Boldir usually sat, that had been empty for the last few months, since the Olive left for the city. She had gone off the grid within a few days of arriving, and they hadn't heard word from her since. But Polypa assured them not to worry. Boldir was intelligent, resourceful, and had a lot of guns. Everything one needs for survival.

 Speaking of Polypa, the Leijon looked over to where she ate. She was perched in a missing chunk of one of the large pillars that emerged from the wall, slowly dropping sliced pieces of meat in her mouth, or taking bites from the bread in her hand, stuffed with as many fillings as she could get in, after she had hollowed it out with her fingers of course.

 The girl hadn't talked to anybody the entire meal, or the meal before, or the one before that. She had withdrawn into herself since they had that incident a few nights before the council. Now she stared sullen at whatever was taking her interest, avoiding eye contact with anybody. There was also more prisoners being taking to her yard, and more serious injuries being sustained. It wasn't nice to see her like this, but Meulin didn't klnow what to say after their last conversation.

 Looking back to the the massive stone table stretching down the entirety of the main hall, Meulin spied hanging from Konyyl's arm. The feasts were often a messy affair, sometimes with food ebing throan across the massive banquet that was spread down the entire stone surface. Already there was a quantity of food that had fallen on the floor, either from a lack of caution while reaching for food, or from not finishing their food when they moved onto something else, so they decided to merely chuck it behind them.
The Olives weren't known for being particularly clean. Living in the great forests in a Manor made of blocks of crumbling stone didn't say much else. But it was homely, and no other House had the same sense of family they had. They had a noticeable lack of incidents with other Houses, as to do an offence against one member was to incite a fight against all of them. As many had learned following the war.

 Losing her mother had been a blow, but it made them closer.

 Taking herself out of her thoughts, Meulin giggled at the sight of Nepeta swinging from Konyyl's arm, swinging up to hang in the air for a moment, before landing perch in her hand, as she held the girl up with moderate effort. Muelin clapped and cheered, and Charun even managed a slow but surprisingly loud clap of their own. Glancing up, the Leijon could swear she saw Polypa give a quick smile, before continuing her lonely eating.

 Meulin reached forward to grab more fish from the platter before her, as Konyyl grabbed another hunk of bear meat for her and Nepeta, who, when the hunk was held up to her, slashed at it with her metal claws, snatching the slices and biting into them. Konyyl merely sank her teeth into it, and tore away, chewing the meat she had ripped from the bone.

 Charun was somehow the cleanest eater of all of them. Far cleaner than her mother back before...

 Swallowing down the last bit of her fish, Meulin pondered leaving the table. There wasn't much else to do except watch the others and there banter, which was far more reduced than she was used to, with both Boldir and Polypa not participating. Polypa was often rivalling Konyyl for the liveliest, although it was less a genuine excess of energy and more a desire to entertain her friends. Or family. Nobody was really sure how exactly to refer to Polypa, and it differed among them.

 Nepeta referred to her as a sister most of the time, Konyyl as a sort of cousin, Charun saw her more as a friendly aquaintance, and Boldir spoke of her as a partner in crime often. Meulin didn't really know what existed between her mother and Polypa, what bond they had. But it had been strong, to say in the least.
Muelin herself didn't exactly know how she considered Polypa. It was between a close friend and a professional aquaintance, and sometimes a supportive mentor. She could be all those things at once, really. And even if she was strict, she was caring.

 Meulin jumped as a bone landed in front of her. Looking up she saw Konyyl staring at her, excited and sharp-toothed grin on her face.

 "Meulin!" she mouthed over. "Watch this!"

 With that she threw up an entire roast boar into the air, grease and vegetables dropping down onto the rest of the food. Meulin watched in fear as it sailed higher, soon to loose momentum and drop. There was a split second moment of panic, before Nepeta was launched into the air after.

 The Leijon saw the flashing of claws, as Nepeta sliced through the boar again and again, sending slices of it flying in all directions. The younger Leo seemed to hang in the air with the boar as she sliced, when Meulin spotted Polypa whistling from the pillar at the side of the room. With a spin, Nepeta sent a single piece of the meat soaring through the air, which the Goezee effortlessly caught, before depositing it into her mouth.

 Meulin watched as meat was cut from the bone, leaving the skeleton a half covered in its flesh, before it began to fall, gaining speed as it neared the table. Nepeta seemed to sqeual in delight as she, too, fell down. There was an ethereal moment, as Muelin looked on in fear, Konyyl in delight, Charun is subdued amusement, and Polypa with tense alertness, before the boar smacked into the table, sending food and grease flying everywhere, splattering all those at the table. Nepeta was coming down now, and looked worried, as fear flashed across her face. She wasn't sure how to land, with all the objects in her way it wouldn't be that difficult to break and ankle landing.

 She was saved, however, as Polypa launched herself from the wall, darting through the air like a missile, catching Nepeta and sending them both to the hard groud, where they managed to hit at an angle, and roll to an eventual stop. Nepeta was giggling, and Polypa took long and deep breaths of exasperation, while a small grin tugged at her lips.

 She pushed Nepeta off her, who just rolled over, still laughing as Konyyl ran up, cheering. With a swoop, she lifted the young Leijon into the air, cheering her as she threw her up again and again, although at a much smaller height than before. Meulin sighed a breath of relief, and watched as Polypa got back up, stared at her food that had fallen onto the dusty stone floor, and frowned.

 "Goodnight." She mouthed.

 The other three said their goodbyes back, as did Meulin, but she didn't seem to notice, or at least didn't care. She left through the entrance to her private wing.
Meulin frowned as she left, and paid no heed to the celebrations between the two olives, or the slow chewing of Charun, who had resumed his bored stare at their food. It was typical of them.

 Not seeing much more point to remain in the hall: Meulin said her goodnights as well, rising from her stone chair, covered in many cushions and blankets, to make it not incredibly uncomfortable to sit on.

 Going through a different exit from the hall than Polypa had taken, Meulin wandered down the dark corridors, lit only by the dim torches, some of which were out, and the silver moonlight seeping through the many cracks on the stone or the platforms. They were eery and cold on this night, where a brisk wind flowed through the many stone passages. The bricks were cold to the touch, and the slight dampess had gathered on them.

 The place wasn't perfectly designed, in any respect of the word. In fact it was rather terribly designed, for the current time at least. Unless you were huddled clsoe to a roaring fire, or wrapped in a large blanket of furs, then it was likely that you had goosebumps, or at least slightly damp clothes. The winters were the worst, however. It was only safe if you were wearing a thick coat of fur, and boots with enough grip to avoid slipping on the plentiful ice that covered the Manor stone. Rubbing your hands together became a hobby of sorts, and it was recommended thay you stay with at least other person, or check up on anyone alone frequently. It got too dangerous in the winters.

 Her mother used gather them all in their Leijon living room, light the biggest fire she could, and read all the members of the House stories. Those were nice nights, despite the deathly cold that waited outside the doors. They would all sleep in that one room, after gathering every blanket they could in the Manor. The little square that was the library became a pillow fort, where they slept in a big huddled pile. Her mother made sure everyone was warm.

 It was her way really, make sure everyone was okay. She made sure everyone was safe and secure, and no harm or discomfort would come to them. No matter what she was doing she would stop to help one of her House. She was unrelenting in her dedication to them.

 Then she started a war.

 Meulin stopped in the middle of the stone corridor, taking deep breaths. She sniffed as she wiped a single tear from her eye, before continuing to walk to her room.

 She wondered how Polypa was. She hadn't been the same at all since their disagreement. Maybe she had stormed out too fast, or not listened properly. But she just didn't understand at all. She needed that book, and what it could offer her. She was wrong about Kurloz. He had never meant to deafen her, and he wasn't evil, he wanted her to get what she wanted, and what she needed, by any means.

 The book was just her first step.

 She finally reached the Leijon room, and pushed open the heavy doors, going into the cold room that lay beyond. It seemed to fire had died since she had gone to eat, and now the faint sparking and smouldering glow was all that remained in the hearth. Seeing an oppurtunity to attempt something, she approached the blackened logs.

 Setting her hands in front of her, she began the rehearsed movements, focusing her energy into the signs she was tracing with her fingers, and the thoughts of flames in her head. She saw the green glow gathering between her outstretched fingers. The glow solidified into a ball, and grew in size and intensity, until Meulin finally cast into the hearth, and saw the roar of fire, that approached startling near to her, as the olive flame rose up into the hearth.

 She immediately felt the warmth wash over her, and the green light fill the room. She covered her eyes slightly at the intense green that shined at her. Turning away, she searched through the books on the desk, gathering one or two of the ones she wished to read in her bed, while she waited for drowsiness to take her into the fall of sleep.
That was how she usually went to sleep. Either that or huddled up, thinking about her mother. Those nights were far less fun than the reading ones, and she was really hoping it wouldn't be one of those.

 Satisfied with the books she collected, the Leo made her way to her door across the room, heavy and covered in carven faces. As she reached the door, she wondered if she needed any more books for reference, and looked back to the small library in the corner, where they would oft...

 There was a small bit of dust falling from the decorative platform that ringed the room, right down into the library. Meulin stared at the darkened spot up there, furrowing her brows in worry. Her hand slowly moved into a simple hex position, something to cause a decent amount of pain and a spasm, little more. It was all she could do.
Meulin looked up in fear, wondering what beasth had managed to sneak its way into the Manor. There wasn't another movement for a long while, not even the soft disturbance of dust in the air from a breath.

 Eventually calming down, and realising it must have been a byproduct of the sudden burst of flame, Meulin continued into her room, closing the heavy doors behind her, and doing every lock she could.

 Taking a deep breath to calm herself further, Meulin turned back into her room. It was rather large, although not as large as her mothers. In the squarish room, her bed occupied one corner, covered in many layers of furs and woven blankets. Her walls were covered in banners and art, both her own and that off her friends. Three sets of stone shelves occupied the walls of the room. One was filled with her study material, sorcerous tomes ordered from the great library, or bought from the Gemini House, one or two from the Aquarius. They were the most useful references she had, and assisted her with nearly every topic of study she came to.

 Another wall bore the larger bookcase filled with her fiction novels, adventure, detective, romance, along with a tome or two of some less, respectable novels. They were inconspicious enough, thankfully, but she still got worried when someone decided to peruse her shelf. 

The last was a column of shelves dedicated to her own writings. They were usually fanfiction of sorts, a lot of them based of the material found in the ficiton shelf, although there were a few tomes focused on people and places less... fictional. She really hoped no one looked through that shelf in any detail. Most of her House knew what lay there, but hadn't read any of it in detail. Some of her friends from other Houses knew of them, and Kurloz and Aranea had helped write some, although the spider-girl would fiercely deny it.

 Picking up the open, unfinished book from her desk, she slotted it back into the shelf. She would complete the story at another time. She could write noticeably fast with ease, so that she could usually get book done every week and a half. She was good like that.

 But now was not the time for writing, it was studying time. Grabbing a few of the furs from the bed, and draping them around her shoulders for warmth, she set the books down on her desk. Propping them open, she began to read.

 Fire magic took skill, and was exceedingly dangerous is a non prepared hand was to attempt to evoke something beyond their skill range. Many city fires had sprung up before regulations on the teaching of magic had to be put in place. Every bew practicioner must be taken under the wing of another, to prevent any mishaps. Kurloz had taken her under his wing, although they rarely met face to face. The Empire didn't really care, as no harm would be done to Alternia should she accidently blow herself up in a whirlwind of flame.

 Kurloz still made sure that wasn't like to happen of course. He supplied her with the means of keeping herself, but also the means to advance faster than anyone had expected.

Seeing that the light was becoming dimmer from the moon, so that not even her feline eyes could see, Meulin clicked her fingers, and watched a green flame spark. With a flick, she sent the small ball to the candle on the desk, and she watched as it sparked to life, illuminating her with green, brighter than a candle should be.

 Going back to reading, Meulin studied the precautions needed to be taken before attemping a flame vortex. True, a lesser mage would have had to wait a year before being able to cast it, but she was confident she'd have it learned it half that time. She was a prodigy, Kurloz always said so, as did her mother once.

 Meulin let a frown take her face for a moment, before going back to her reading. Whatever was necessary to prove herself ready to achieve her goal, she would do, she couldn't let lamenting thoughts distract her as much as she dearly wished she could just curl up and let them take her.

 Pulling open another book, she gazed into its contents. It was filled with hexes and curses, all offensive. Kurloz had requested she get this book specifically, from the library, with the exact copy code. She didn't know why. She had tried to figure it out or ask him, but he usually replied with the same inane stuff he always did. It made conversation quite annoying at times, but it was worth it. He really was a sweetheart at heart.

 There were a few hexes she had learned, one of which was effective, but violent enough so that she was loathe to use it. She didn't fancy blood spraying across everything.
Meulin yawned as she read the next few lines, as her head slowly lowered closer and closer to the desk. The urge to sleep hit her quickly, and she soon yawned again, before starting to crawl from her chair onto the bed, where she rolled around, gathering pelts to drape over herself. She let out a delighted pur, before slowly closing her eyes, and nodding off.

 She dreamed of happiness.

 Yawning as she sat up from her bed, she looked around the forest she found herself in. It wasn't like the one she lived in, not at all. It was more like the small gathering of trees her mother used to plant in the large Manor grounds in the centre of the maze of corridors. The leaves were brighter, and sunlight beamed down through large gaps in the foliage, unlike the thin shafts that managed to shoot down into the forest floor of her home.

 The ground was alive with flowers, and a small stream was trickling near her. The Leijon smiled as she saw insects crawling about, including butterflies flapping through the air. Some birdsongs were sounding from the trees above her, and the calls of deer and other creatures weren't far.

 It was more peaceful than anything she was used to for sure, she thought, as she lifted herself from the bed, setting her bare feet onto the moss and grass covered dirt surface of the heavenly forest. The ground was warm, oddly enough, unlike the stining cold the forest often experienced.

 She wondered where she was. She didn't know any place like this. The Olives rarely left the Manor, other than to go to Alternia, which was a rare enough occurance. She had never visited a place even close to this beautiful before.

 Inspecting the insects crawling across the long leaves in front of her, Meulin wondered why she was here. The beetle in front of her was a beautiful dark purple, with a white design across its back, that looked an awful lot like-

 Hearing the cracking of a twig in front of her, she jumped and looked up to see a figure disappearing behind the trees. Unsure of how to continue, the Leo slowly began to walk after the figure, fingers in hexing position.

 Making her way through the underbrush, Meulin carefully avoided the plentiful roots that had sprung the ground in years past. She had to push away some low hanging branches from the trees, and felt her heart stop each time, as she was worried someone was waiting for her just behind them.

 She continued her search, walking to the birdsong and after the figure, who she spotted again and again, every time disappearing around another tree. She would have tried to cut them off, but fallen logs and impenetrable messes of branches forced her to stick to one path.

 It was infuriating to be sure. But she was compelled to follow the figure, who left the lightest of footprints in the soil.

 Meulin eventually managed to find the figure, standing still facing away from her, in the middle of a large clearing, split by the stream.

 Carefully tip-toeing out of the treeline, the Leijon stepped over the plants in front of her. She heard a single whistling call of beard that made her grasp her ears, as a dark bird with white markings soared past her, screaming infernally. She watched it disappear back into the trees behind her, its call still ringing in her ears.

 Turning back to the figure, she saw them begin the turn. She could see a large main of hair, clawed hands as they reached out to a butterfly in front of them, and... a tail.

 Recognising her mother, Meulin began to run forward, calling out to the woman, as everything began to slip, the greens of the forest wilting and being polluted with a foul purple. The Leo watched as everything turned to sludge and became an inperceptible mess around her. She felt a great heaviness on her head as her eyes slowly opened.

 She was back in her bed, feeling like she could throw up her stomach. Putting her hand to her pounding head, she looked to her desk, just beside the bed. A small flame burned plum on the candle, drawing her attention.

 Crawling out of the pelts and furs, Meulin slowly made her way to the desk, slouching in the chair. She looked to the flame, and saw another light flashing on the pesterlog before her. Reaching out, she pressed the on button and watched as it came to life, the light making her wince. A single meesage request was on the screen, flashing.

 She selected it, and brought it up on the screen.

 

-- treacherousCharlatan [TC] began pestering admiringChemist [AC] at 02:23 --

TC: GREETINGS, MY MAGE
TC: THE TIME HAS COME TO ASCEND TO ANOTHOER HEIGHT OF YOUR WICKED ABILITY
AC: (^._.^)ノ < KURLOZ IT'S SO LATE.
AC: (^._.^) < CAN'T IT WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW.
AC: (^T^T^) < I JUST HAD A REALLY BAD DREAM.
TC: WE HAVE NO TIME TO WASTE MY SPRY APPRENTICE
TC: IF YOU WISH TO FULFIL YOUR TRUEST MOTHERFUCKIN WISHES AND GOALS YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THE UNDENDING SECRETS THAT MAY ONLY REVEAL THEMSELVES IN THE SIGHT OF THE HOLIEST SILVER WATCHER
AC: (^._.^)ノ < THE MEWN?
TC: MOST WICKEDLY INDEED
TC: THE STONE SISTER IN THE NIGHT SKY IS WHAT PERMEATES THE HOLY POWER YOU MUST ACCESS
AC: (=^・ω・^=) < HOW DO I GET TO IT?
TC: YOU MUST TAKE TO THE TOME I HAVE GRANTED YOU UNDER MY HIGH DECREE
TC: BRING IT OUTSIDE SO THAT THE SWATHES OF OUR HOLY OVERSEER MAY CARESS IT

 Meulin lifted away some of the pelts on her bed, eventually revealing the hidden black tome she had stashed away. The obsidian eyes glinted to her, begging for the book to be opened and its mind-tearing contents revealed.

 With the book ready, she lifted up the pesterchum with a grunt. Managing not to trip over anything, she made her way out to the long platform stucking out from the side of the cliff, directly connected to her room.

 With a wave of her hand, focusing magic greatly, she managed to undo the hefty lock, and pull it open towards her. The chilly wind greeted her, as she stepped out onto the stone platform. There were several unlit braziers around, almost all of the light coming from the moon above, that lit both the platform and the seemingly endless expanse of trees that spread out to the horizon.

 Setting down the objects in her hands, she checked back into the pesterchum.

 

AC: ヽ (=^・ω・^=)ノ < OKAY ITS OUT.
AC: (=^ω^=) < WHAT DO I DO NOW?
TC: LET THE MOON GUIDE YOU TO THE PAGE THAT YOU NEED
TC: IT WILL TELL YOU WHAT YOU MUST DO

 Meulin opened the book, and watched as the moon spilled over the pages. Nothing was happening. Frowning with tired eyes, she began to flip through the pages, each achieving nothing.

 After about a hundred of the spell filled pages, she finally found the one. It lit up with a brilliant silver, flashing, before it calmed. Silver designs lined the edges of the page.

She read through the descriptions and title, all written in the twisted tongue of daemons, that Kurloz had taught her.

 

AC: (^・o・^) < A SPELL TO WEAKEN BARRIERS?
AC: (^・x・^) < KURLOZ THIS DOESN'T SOUND VERY SAFE. OR GOOD.
TC: IT IS WHAT MUST BE DONE TO ACCUMULATE YOUR POWER
TC: THE BARRIER SURROUNDING YOUR MANOR PREVENTS YOU FROM ACHIEVING YOUR WICKED TRUE POTENTIAL
TC: IT IS ONLY BY SHATTERING THIS VEIL OF SECRECY AND ENDAMPENMENT THAT YOU MAY RISE UP AND TAKE YOUR PRIZE
TC: YOU DO WANT HER BACK
TC: ISN'T IT YOUR GREATEST WISH FOR HER TO RETURN
AC: (=;ェ;=) < IT IS BUT...
AC: (=TェT=) < OKAY. IF MEW SAY SO, I WILL DO IT.

 Meulin returned into her room to gather the necessary materials. She emerged with candles, salts and a silver blade that gleamed in the moonlight.

 She followed the instructions set out in the book, kneeling to arrange the candles in a pentagram, linking them with trails of salt, while whispering poisoned words in the daemon tongue. With a few clicks of her fingers, she lit the candles in olive flames, and watched as they were plagued with corruption, and became purple with her words.

 With the lines drawn, Meulin checked to the next step. Taking a deep breath, she looked to the pesterchum, mocking her just outside the circle.

 

TC: YOU MUST FEED THE CIRCLE

 Calming herself, Meulin brought the blade to her hand, before sliding it down. She yelped, quickly covering her mouth, and squeezing her bleeding fist shut. Clasping her hand over her mouth, with tears beginning to well in her eyes, Meulin let the blood drop around the salt circle. Each time the drops of her olive blood touched a flame, it sparked up higher, and she heard foul whispers in her mind.

 She was tempted to stop, but she couldn't. Not when she had come so far, and this was her only hope.

 Staring at the blood drenched salt, she began the final chant, evoking the powers of the daemons. The salt crackled around ehr, the colours changing to jet black, with small whisps of purple and green rising from glowing cracks. Her vision began to dull, with only the vibrant greens and purples standing out.

 The whispers grew more intense as she chanted, and her hands shook uncontrollably. The stinging in her palm grew worse, and the blood flowed more heavily, until there was a pool below her.

 At last cracks of purple and green lightning began to arc from the candles, lightning up the air aroud her, as the voices rose into chorus in her mind. Her eyes began to sting, then burn, and then she felt as if every pain her existence had ever wrought was condensed into her eyes. And then her ears too, as blood began to drip from them once again, just like that awful night.

 Meulin almost threw up as the convulsions began, and the spell grew near to completion. Tnen there was a flash. She fell onto her side, and felt blood drip from her mouth, where she had bitten her lip. She watched through her clouded vision as the lightning crackled out, spreading through the air all around the manor.

 Pulling herself up, she leaned against the wall, wiping away the blood with the back of her hand. There was so much blood. It was all over her, and pooled on the ground. Her shirt was drenched in it, and her hair was clumped together in green clots.

 Taking deep breaths as she tried not to panic, she clenched her palm, and turned her head to look at the pesterchum lying some ways away.

 

TC: YOU DID WELL, MY MAGE
TC: REST

-- treacherousCharlatan [TC] ceased pestering admiringChemist [AC] at 3:02 --

 Muelin looked to the ritual circle before her. Tears were flowing her face. But it was worth it. Anything to bring her mother back.
Taking her deep breaths, she saw the moon spilling itself over the treetops. The Disciple was out there somewhere, in that world, all alone. She had been torn from them, and

 Meulin would get her back.

 She tried to raise but failed, slouching back down. She just hoped that someone would find her there before it became too late, or that she mamaged to regain her strenght and get up.

 So she sat there, trying to stop her hand from bleeding too much. And once again, in the middle of the Olive night, not one person heard the notes that rang out, not even those outdoors.

END OF ACT TWO

Chapter Text

 Karako beamed as he sprinted past his company on the road, many joyous honks greeting him, or responding to his own. His feet were toughened and thick from his many hours outdoors, so he found no discomfort in going full speed down a rocky path in the countryside. Instead his dirt covered legs found bountiful joy in his mirthful march, running up and down the length of the great caravan of clowns that travelled merrily down the great path. Their celebrations, honks and hollers could be heard for some distance, and people mostly took to avoiding them. Those that didn't were very unfortunate indeed.

 Unless of course they were children, then Karako got some new friends to play with, after they got their new clothes and face paint. He already heard some new jolly voices honking and yelling around the clownery fueled mob. They would seen horrific things, just as he had, but they would be treated well. None were given unfair treatment in the fold of the Mirthful Messiah. Of course Karako would have put it a lot less eloquently himself. Something more along the lines of "honk", perhaps, or maybe even "HONK!" were he feeling particularly excited. Even moreso than normal, at least.

 But right now he was more concerned with racing up to the front of the caravan, where a creature of splendid proportions trod along, vast purple pieces of gold designed fabric draped across its back, gold chains hanging from its massive, artificially serrated tusks, and a large wooden structure built atop it. The massive grey creature ambled forth, its the paintings upon its skin stretching as it stepped forward, its enormous muscles tensing and relaxing beneath the thick hide.

 The sign of the Capricorn House was emblazoned upon its side, and on the front of its majestic face. There were a few smaller specimens of that great beast trudging along behind, in different parts of the caravan, but the greatest and most glorious was reserved for the heirs of the House, who now sat upon it. Karako could see them up high on its back, one sitting motionless at the front, staring forward into the rocky lands that they advanced into, the other letting his long legs hang from the side, as he smiled and honked along to the music.

 The beasts were great for transporting the House, but they were even greater in war. They were part of the endless monstrous horde of the the purple-blooded armies. Karako secretly hoped one day he could see them march to war, hearing the drum beats align with their godly footsteps.

 Sprinting towards the beast, ducking under the arms of the servants of the house, and the legs of the bigger ones, Karako giggled. He could see the long rope hanging form its side, bones woven regularly along its length. He took a great leap as he reached it, and began to climb up, hand going form rung to rung in quick succession, as the servants of the House continued their arduous yet jovial march.
 

 Finally reaching the top, he was met by Gamzee's dazed smile. The dizzy clown extended his arm, offering Karako a slice of the pie he was slowly munching on. The small clown reached out eagerly, before Gamzee suddenly retracted his hand, after his eyes hot up and a pulse of glowing purple appeared. Looking behind him, Karako saw Kurloz giving his brother a death stare.

 The older clown turned his attention to the small boy, and wagged his finger. With a small wave of his hand, he indicated towards a small chest beside him. Karako nodded eagerly, and darted forward, opening the chest to reveal a number of foodstuffs that would not rot his mind, as Gamzee's sopor infused pie would.

 Stuffing his mouth with the sweetened treats, Karako looked up to Kurloz, who smiled down to him with his sewn up mouth. The young clown beamed as Kurloz ruffled his hair with a skeleton glove hand. The mime had always been nice to him, under any circumstance, and had taken what seemed to be complete responsibility over raising him during the time period Karako was to stay with the Capricorns, rather than the mountain monastery. As such, wherever Kurloz went, Karako accompanied him. It was a fine arrangement. It meant that Karako got to travel to the Taurus House quite a bit, and see all the animals they had tamed, up close, especially when they were seconds away from goring him once they got loose.

 Those times were the most fun.

 It also meant he got to see one of the two arms of the Capricorn "organized" forces. They were more linear, and had a set of weapons they all shared, rather than the chaos that he sometimes saw in the Dark Carnival. The other lay with Gamzee's girlfriend while she hunted down the remnants of the dead House.

 Smiling, the boy looked out over the edge of the tusked beast. He could see all the soldiers now, a stretch of a sea of polearms waving around as they marched forward. They wore deep purple tunics, over which a dark vest of thick leather armour was set. Some had their faces covered half in masks or bandanas, or even deep hoods, but all had some form of the mirthful paint adorning their skin.

 There were also the archers scattered amongst them, barb tipped arrows held in their quivers, adorned with a number of profanities, most of which would make him and Gamzee giggle wildly, and give Kurloz a bemused grin.

 That, and the coloured banners flying along the wide march, made them stand out sharply against the surrounding landscape. It was all dark grass. Low rollinh hills of it stretching out far off, to meet dark coniferous forests. The only thing that wasn't the boring shade of green was the grey stones scattered about, as if some massive mountain had exploded in the air, sending rubble shooting across the landscape. There was such a mountain in front of them, a dozen or so miles off. Upon its side was carved their destination, which Karako couldn't wait to reach. He had never gotten to visit the Libra manor before, and he was overjoyed to finally have the chance.

 Gamzee couldn't seem to care less where they were going, as was the usual, but Kurloz seemed rather energetic compared to normal. Karako would sometimes catch him flexing his fingers, with a smile tugging at the side of his lips, up up up, again and again. It had started just a day before they left. At least the boy thought it had something to do with the journey. He had wondered once or twice if it had anything to do with the odd feeling that Karako felt only a few hours previous. The weird ripple, then the immense rush of energy.

 It probably didn't, but the clown wasn't sure.

 He probably could have paid more attention after the ripple, but he was more concerned with the sudden knowledge that they were leaving all the animals behind, and with the sudden realisation that he was about to meet his cousin, for a few hours at least.

 The next while had been a frantic rush of him saying his beloved goodbye honks, and hugging all his favourite animals, then cannonballing into his cousin once he arrived. He hadn't seen Marvus in a considerable lenght of time, so the sudden meeting was something he was sure to make the most of. He had clung to the Xoloto's leg for the majority of the time, admittedly.

 It was a short one, but he had enjoyed the reunion.

 He was still content on the beast, however. The prospect of getting to explore an entirely new manor cheered him up quite a bit. That and finally getting to ride the massive beasts one again. He swayed along with it, sitting atop the structure. Seeing his delight, Gamzee waved him over. The heir took his hands, and gently, but with surprising strength, hoisted Karako into the air, and held him over the side of the elephant. Karako cheered and laughing as he was dangled over the drop, fully aware that if Gamzee lost grip he could very well die.

 But he was confident in his cousin, as was Kurloz, who watched with a wide smile. Gamzee swayed the young clown side to side, as his legs kicked and kicked at the air, his joyful giggling joining the merry march of the Capricorns.

Chapter Text

 

 Walking through the streets for the second time that day, Sollux pulled down his cap. The air had gotten colder since last he had ventured through it, retrieving the nevessary componenets of the project, which was now nestled safely in the bag slung over his shoulder, in a layer of trace removing cloth. He couldn't afford for such an illegal contraption to be found. It would ruin everything, both for his House, and for his friend he was poised to meet.

 They would just need a quick scan over his pesterchum and it would all come falling down. Not the most ideal scenario for sure.

 But for now he was fine travelling through the Arcane District, setting aside his worries to make room for more important thoughts. Thoughts such as: what was his partner planning to do with the device? And what made him so sure that his newer and more secretive base of operations was safe to do business in. Sollux preferred public establishments, admittedly. There was little any tracking authority figures could do to prepare for exactly which place they intented to go to, and there was the added benefit of services. As long as they were discrete and not to loud, it was perfect for shady business. Provided they found the right establishment, at least.

 His partner's personal base was far too easy to monitor. There was dozens of windows that could be used to watch from, and it was laughably simple for someone to sneak within and overhear their conversations, even with his partner's additional security measures.

 It was unfortunate that they could't simply go to each others Alternian residences. But, his partner would draw to much attention, and Sollux was forbidden to ascend to the higher tiers of his.

 Right now he was headed for the industrial, passing through yet more hawkers and sellers, drowning out their carrying voices. It was not a pleasant place to be, by his account. The sooner he traversed for full length of cobble road and reached his destination the better.

 The guards were ambling about, disinterested in any of the nearby happenings. They simply wished to get their shifts over with and go home. Sollux couldn't blame them. The explosions were only mildly amusing to most people, and the possibility of being caught in one made most people here nervous. The bigger one he had witnessed on the previous journey that day was a good example of the many that occured. He suppose they made him jumpy as well.

 Picking some of his earlier food from his teeth, Sollux glanced up to the sky. The grey wasn't all that appealing, but it was to give way to sun soon after, not that he actively enjoyed it, it just bit him less. But the sun was to be short lived; they were nearing the end of autumn, and winter would begin soon. The winters in Alternia were harsh, to the point that the soldiers got the added duty of cleaning up the frozen corpses of the homeless and the drunk that cropped up every few nights. The poorer districts became something horrible. He had seen it once, and that was enough to convince him never to return.

 Eventually he came across the thick wall seperating the arcane district from the industrial. A large gate, portcullis raised, stood where the road met it, and two smaller gates were on either side of it, for pedestrians. Sollux preferred to head through them, you were far less likely to get stopped. The every cart was stopped and checked, but anyone on foot was usually left alone, as long as they didn't act too suspicious, of course.

 Sollux got to pass through the rather lengthy dark corridor unobstructed, a frown on his face as he went through the darkness. He felt himself step in something he would rather not think about, but was forced to, as the smell wafted up from his shoes.

 "Oh for fucks sake." He hissed, cursing his friend for deciding to meet up.

 The industrial district held a few interests for him, admittedly. The machinery was quite complex and admirable, with automated drones roaming the streets instead of soldiers, and countless of the less advanced ones acitng as simple labour for the richer of the residents. The craftsmen of the district designed the mechanics, with some help from the Gemini, and the cores, where their entire behaviour was decided, were entirely a Gemini invention. It was a profitable trade and had helped regain some measure of respect for the House after the rebellion.

 He could probably make his own, if the resources ever came to him; they were dreadfully expensive. Not only that, but the Sagittarius monitored every purchase coming from their district, and if they spotted something suggesting someone was creating something more complex than a pesterchum, they would personally investigate. Then came the paperwork and meetings. The Horse-men could be annoying like that.

 Walking into the centre of the entire district, and trying to ignore the infuriating clanking coming from seemingly ever corner of the place, Sollux thought more to the House that presided over here. He was really only familiar with one of them, the youngest Heir, and the one upon whose shoulders the entire House was to be placed. Sollux would have felt some pity for him, if he wasn't a fucking weirdo.

 He remembered when he had glanced upon a letter addressed to Aradia from him. The girl had found him staring at the wall, as he had been for several minutes, trying to process whatever the fuck he had just read. She insisted it wasn't intended to be so odd, and it was simply the way Equius was.
Sollux somewhat doubted that.

 He was tempted to stop for another meal, even if his friend was like to give him one when he arrived. Sollux was looking forward to it, of course; his friend was a suprisingly good cook. Rubbing his hands together, he reckoned with the possiblities. Something small, perhaps?
He was already extending a foot to go when someone crossed his path. The Captor took a step back, seeing the somewhat short Indigo blood in front of him. An odd smile covered his face and his hair was tied back into one rather messy ponytail. What he wore was mostly informal, a waistcoat being all that emenated formality. He was staring at Sollux with eyes lined with dark eyebags.

 Sollux recognised him somewhat, and the memory made him groan.

 "Oh, hello there. I'm not sure if we've met before. If not, then I surely have been missing out on-"

 "We've met." Sollux interrupted him, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 "Then it is my shame to have not remembered such unique and beautiful features."

 "Oh for fuck."

 "Was I too strong? Forgive me, I just believe someone of such a low House should be reminded that they are not what many would insist they are."

 Sollux took a deep breath, and didn't respond.

 "Have I offended you? I suppose even those as woke as I may have some trouble from time to time in our crusades against such discrimination." He began to move his arm towards Sollux's shoulder. "Please, allow me to take you for dinner for reparations, it would be my trea-AGH!"

 The moment his hand touched Sollux, the Captor sent a bolt of energy up into him. He fell away grasping his arm, spasming slightly. Not giving him any time to recover, the Gemini took off, headed once again to his destination. He guessed he would just have to wait until he got there to eat.

 He could hear the Highblood behind him, cursing as he recovered from the shock. Sollux wasn't sure what the Codakk had thought would happen, but apparently not that. He was abysmally stupid, to say in the least.

 God, why were all the indigos so fucking weird?

 The only one that wasn't uncomfortable to be around was Xigisi, and that was just because he was incredibly annoying. Sollux had happened across him once, and the resulting headache had made him avoid the indigo wherever he spotted him.

 The confrontations were reminding Sollux of why he wasn't the biggest fan of the industrial district in general. To much noise and too many weird people.
The only thing the district was good for was, well, its industry. The amount of products that rolled out of there on a daily basis was simply astounding. From household appliances, to automatons, to weapons, it all came from the dozens of factories located within. He could already see massive carriages carrying components of new cannons out to the harbour, guarded by a set of drones.

 He could only imagine what those guns were going to be used for. That was sarcastic, of course. They were going to be used to blow apart innocent villages in the name of conquest and plunder. They always were.

 It was only ten or so minutes later that he finally arrived at the row of residential buildings, all painted dark and drab colours, stained with the constant smog that filled the air. Sollux just wished to be out of, and clear his lungs of the pollutants. Of course he had grown used to breathing in gasses he probably shouldn't be from his youth. Spending time with Cirava in the Gemini manor meant he could deal with quite a bit of noxious air.

 Sollux thought back to his time in the Manor as he searched for the correct door. He had been there for quite some time, with his cousins. Cirava and the slightly obsessed Zebede. While Zeb was rather annoying, to say in the least, but Cirava was one that Sollux never minded spending time with.

 The Captor would work on his contraptions while the Hermod lay dazed on their couch. The smell was putrid at first, but Sollux had gotten used to it, and the sheer strength that it existed at.
They had spent an impressive amount of time together, up until things got a bit too much for his cousin, and the incident happened. It was nasty, and the Captor sure was shaken up at the time.
On the seventh door he checked, Sollux found the small symbol etched into the doorframe. It was his friend's symbol, letting him know this was the place. The Captor knocked a few time, and waited. He began to hear sound from within the house, stumblings and the knocking over a piles of plates and mechanics.

 Eventually the door before him opened, and the smiling face of Mallek Adalov greeted him.

 "Sup?"

 He disappeared back in, leaving the door open for Sollux to follow. The gemini walked through the doors, rubbing his hands together. The house was unreasonably cold, probably for the devices held within. The walls were stripped bare of shelving and decoration in most places, replaced with diagrams and plans pinned throughout. Thick cables ran across the floorboards, and small lamps hung from the ceiling, casting dim light.

 The stairs and what few cabinets were left had small stacks of crockery and cutlery, stained with food and filled with leftovers, most cooked by Mallek himself. Along with the leftovers were the devices the Adalov had designed, along with a few of Sollux's, gifts or requests.

 From the two times he had been there, Sollux knew that the rest of the House was exactly the same. It was a trash-heap, to put it simply. Mallek swore that his room in the Scorpio caslte was less of a mess, but the Captor had his doubts on that one. He would guess its the exact same, but with better lighting. And less illegal contraband. Or not; he wouldn't be surprised when it came to Scorpios.

 Sollux was led up the stairs, into the room at the end of the hallway. Not paying any heed to the derelict condition of the floors or walls, Sollux went through the heavy bolted door and found himself in a room filled with electronics. Mallek was reclining back on one of his chairs, staring up at a map fixed on his wall.

 Sollux glanced up. It marked a dozen or so points around the city, most within prohibited military areas, if he remembered correctly. He was beginningt to understand the point of this meeting.

 The Captor pulled the device from his bag, placing it on the table. Mallek rolled over on the chair, lifting it and inspecting every part he could.

 "Is it fully functional?"

 

 "As much as I could get it, with the shitty description you gave me."

 "Shittiness is all part of the secrecy."

 Sollux grinned at that, and appraoched the map.

 "So can I finally know what the hell we're doing?"

 "Yeah I suppose there's no point in not telling you." Mallek wheeled over beside him.

 "So basically with this little thing," Mallek began.

 "My field encrypter."

 "Yeah, that. With it and a little bit of coding, we can interupt the intented flow of the field."

 "And stop the Empire from intercepting messages?"

 "Exactly!"

 "I can already spot twenty two problems with that."

 "Of course you can." He shook his head. "But I have most if not all of them solved."

 Sollux raised an eyebrow.

 "With just a little bit more coding we could render it so that it only exempts our specific addresses."

 "The regulators would still notice our voids within two days max."

 "Yes, but not if we don't just project the interrupting field, but instead install the interrupt directly into the system."

 "That's... smart, but also how?"

 "I've been looking over access points to the cables carrying the field's data." Mallek indicated to the map in front of them. "After some reconnassaince I've found that this one-" he indicated to one in the higher class district "- is the best one to target."

 Mallek wheeled over to a table in the corner and unfurled a set of plans. "all we gotta do is get in the restricted area, access the control room, redirect to the secondary current, then, before they realise and switch back to primary, we replace a part of the primary cable line with our little device here, somewhere were it's unlikely to be seen."

 "And the switch to secondary is to prevent noticeable downtime when we remove the section of primary cable?"

 "Exactly. It's that simple."

 "Well it's actually not simple at all, but it's a good plan. Any way to make sure we're not recognised? Any way to ensure that we won't get invariably fucked over by all this? And also why the fuck are we doing this?"

 "Answering in order I guess... We got face coverings-" Mallek pulled out two bandanas and pairs of glasses. "I don't have any assurance on the second, but in my opinion that's part of the fun. As for the third... why not? Means we can chat about whatever the fuck we want, "

 Sollux squinted for a second in thought, looking to the borded up window. "I can see a lot of reasons why not, but fuck it. I'm not doing anything else these days."

 "That's the spirit!" Mallek cheered, spinning around on his chair, until he lost balance and tipped over, landed heavily on the cracked wooden floor.

 Sollux stared down at his friend, who lay on the floor for a moment, before punching his two arms up into the air. "Let's do this... next Wednesday."

 "Tuna and I are going out on that day."

 "Next Thursday!"

 "There we go."

Chapter Text

 Porrim hummed slightly as she did up the laces on her travelling boots. They took far too long, in her opinion, but they were worth it. Like everything else she wore, they carried a mix of elegance and beauty that she enjoyed. Only this time they had a fair bit of practicality as well. She hadn't anything dress-like to wear, unfortunately. She hadn't brough any of them, as they all revelaed the large tattoos covering her body, which were frowned upon by the general populace. No point getting dirty looks when trying to have a nice day, she thought.

 Getting up from the ornate chair she had been sitting in, Porrim looked around the room. It was one of the temple's highest rooms, as well as one of the most well furnished. She had all the essentials and then some. The temple architecture faintly resembled the Monastery's, but only to a degree. It was never much in design, in contrast to the several thousand year old pillars and carvings she had grown up with. This temple was razed and reconstructed to be more fabulous ever few years. It was it's fate, being the temple of the highest class members of society. Everything had to be fresh and new, extravagant and beautiful.

 Of course, Porrim didn't mind that all too much, but having some old buildings never hurt an area. Gave it charm.

 The room was still dark, near pitch-black, with the sun only rising above the hills now, and still behind the giant walls of Alternia. She didn't mind either the rising early or the darkness, however. She could see quite well in the dark, even better than the rest of the Noble House Members. Of course her darkvision was much more affliction related than gene-related. Finding the hairbrush lying on her nighttable, she brought it through her hair, wincing as it caught again and again, and again. And also again.

 She sighed, rubbing her eyes, and letting the hairbrush hang in her hair, exactly where she left it. She couldn't help but chuckle.

 Finishing with her hair, Porrim decided she was in a good enough condition to leave. Picking up her suitacase, she approached the door.

 Stepping out into the temple hallway, she glanced to either side. There wouldn't be anybody there, but that didn't stop her from checking. She was used to a bustling enviroment, her jades scampering about, and the servants making good conversation. Okay, so maybe the jades didn't exactly scamper anymore, but they were still children, as much as they were loathe to admit it. She still remembered when Bronya was only waist high, and when Lynera was just as tall.

 Porrim furrowed her brow. She still did need to havea conversation with that girl. She had been acting strange and the Maryam was near certain she knew why.
Walking across to the room beside her, she raised her hand, and rapped her knuckles against the wooden door, more expensive than any at the temple in material worth.

 Antique worth would be a different story.

 "Just a minute!" Her sister called from within.

 Kanaya generally took a tad longer than Porrim herself. She was more meticulous, more precise. Porrim didn't mind a few flaws. Everything was boring without flaws.

 Looking at the paintings lining the walls, Porrim cringed. This place certainly went to painstaking lengths to avoid flaws. The paintings were perhaps the most exquisite she had ever seen, and were placed at regular lengths, no doubt measured to the millimeter. The frames were coated in gold and...

 Wait, were those diamonds?

 The door behind her opened, and Porrim turned. kanaya stepped out, looking as she always did, glamorous and ready to win a war with just her eyes. She had a suitcase of her own, just as big as Porrim's.

 The Maryam's were a lot of things, and morning people was definintely one of them.

 Making their way down from the high hallways, Porrim made conversation with her sister.

 "So, did you have fun?"

 "I was a pleasant stay, I suppose. I merely wish that my friend's were more avaiable. And I missed my only chance to meet with Aradia because of the infernal temple business."

 "Yeah, availability has become a scarce thing. Can get boring. But at least we'll have our cousins back home soon. Plus you'll get to meet Aradia for a while soon."

 Kanaya nodded, seeming deep in thought. She didn't saw another thing until they were in the temple main, approaching the main set of doors.

 "Porrim, would you imagine that it's pos-"

 She didn't get to finish, as the doors suddenly flew open, banging against the walls.

 Damara was behind them, looking pleased with herself as she lowered her foot. Porrim internally groaned. Getting Kanaya to admit anything could be difficult. She would have to wait quite a while before getting whatever she was going to say out of her again.

 But she didn't show her dissatisfaction, instead she waved to her girlfriend, who beckoned her over. She preferred not to step foot inside the temple, so she did as much delinquency as she could from outside.

 The Maryam patted her sister's shoulder as they walked to the door.

 Porrim gave Damara a quick hug, before indicating at the two cases they carried. With a snap of her fingers, both of the cases floated up, remaining beside them as they began to walk down the empty morning streets.

 They journeyed down the cobbled streets, through each of the districts, from the richer into the poorer, to the Aries' residency.

 Porrim wished that the Aries' tower in the arcane district had not been blown apart during the rebellion it would have been a pleasant place to stay. The Virgo tower wasn't in any condition to stay in either, unfortunately. It was a mess, rather. There were next to no servants of Virgo within the city itself, apart from one or two that had came with them. They had set off to the Monastery yesterday.

 Porrim did feel uncomfortable as she walked through the poorer districts, feeling empathetic for the people lying on the roadside. Damara had told her not to give them anything, however. It would just attract more, which she had learned the hard way. One particularly emaciated pauper had fallen to his knees in front of them and begged for coins, to which Damara replied with a swift kick. None had since bothered them, which caused mixed feelings in both the Maryams.

 They finally arrived at the door of the Aries' residency. It was a sight for sore eyes, but she supposed it still had structural integrity. The same couldn't be said for some other houses on the same street.

 Damara waved her hand, and Porrim heard the locks clicking and unlatching on the other side. The two suitcases floated ahead of them, going through the door as it opened, leading through hall in front of them, into the main room. A table was laid out for them, Aradia laying down the knives and forks, looking far better than the last time Porrim had seen her. She made a quick recovery.

 The Megido looked up, and beamed a smile, especially when she caught sight of Kanaya. The younger maryam smiled as well, raising her arms for a gentle hug, to which Aradia complied by leaping forward, and knocking Kanaya over.

 Porrim and Damara laughed, heading over to the kitchen, when a fair bit of food was cooking.

 Porrim raised an eyebrow. "You did this?"

 "Me and Aradia, not perfect but still good. Probably."

 Porrim nodded in respect. She wasn't a great cook at all. It was more up Kanaya's street. Looking back over to her sister, she Aradia had picked her up entirely and was spinning in circles. Kanaya was frozen up, looking like a rabbit in water.

 Porrim chuckled. It was adorable.

 Aradia set her captive down as Damara began to scoop the rice from the large pot, a decent amount in each bowl. Porrim watched in amazement as she began to slice some beef into slices, and lay that onto the rice, followed by a random assortment of boiled vegetables.

 "Healthy." Damara winked at her.

 Smiling triumphantly, Damara nodded her head, and the bowls floated over to set themselves at the correct places on the table. Porrim was still blinking, trying to find the logic in Damara's meal.

 The Megido vaulted the counter, rather unnecessarily, and sat down at the head of the table. Porrim walked over to sit beside her, and picked up a fork as Aradia plopped down onto a seat, and Kanaya set herself down delicately. Her eyebrows raised a mile as she stared at the food in front of her. Aradia already eating, as was Damara.

 After eating a few mouthfuls of the rice, and a small bit of the beef, Porrim looked over to Aradia.

 "So, you seem to have made a splendid recovery?"

 Aradia chewed quickly to clear her mouth. "Yeah! I usually recover quite quickly, and get a few good days, sometimes two weeks, before the headaches return."

 "And what do you plan to do with your free time?"

 "I'll probably just use it to enjoy my trip home. Not much to do once I'm there though."

 Porrim nodded before continuing to eat her food. Aradia threw a bunch of questions over to Kanaya, not able to contain her excitement.

 "How have you been? How's the Monastery? Did you get to take care of that Purple?" 

 Kanaya widened her eyes for a second, trying to process the questions.

 "I have been quite good, yes. The Monastery can be quite boring, but it is beautiful and calming still. And as for the purple child, yes, although Bronya takes more responsibility over him than Porrim or I."

 Porrim smiled, remembering Karako. He was a delight in the Monastery during the times he was there. Although bronya did become slightly less productive at those times, as she was desperately trying find him during the times he got stuck in high places or was in some perilous position. Which was often. Lynera also took care of him on occasion. Those times were humorous more than anything. Porrim never had never seen the girl so frantic at any other point, which was saying something.
Currently Karako was with his House in the Taurus estate. But it wouldn't be long before he was back at the monastery, in a much safer place. Bronya was usually worried sick about him.

 Eating more of the food, Porrim grinned, seeing Kanaya's unsettled look at eating the mash-up of ingredients in the corner of her eye.  

 Conversation continued on normally for some time, as they ate that Megido cooked meal. Although it might not have looked like much, it tasted good, and it was filling.  

 Eventually the bowls were empty, and it was time for them to leave. Aradia took kanaya up in another great hug, spinning her around again. The Megido locked her arms around the older Maryam's chest as Porrim laughed. She ruffled her hand in the girl's wild hair.

 "Take care of yourself, little one."

 Aradia detached herself from Porrim as the table, still laden, chairs and other furniture lifted up and moved to the sides of the room, leaving a large open space in the centre of the room. Aradia gave one last goodbye to Kanaya, kissing her forehead, before running up the stairs to the balcony to watch.

 Porrim grinned at her sister's sudden strong jade blush. She watched as Damara flexed her fingers, red whisps of light appearing and solidifying into wands in her hands. She twirled them a bit, before spinning around, tracing red lines into the floorboards. Red light and mist came from the marks, as they grew more intricate. Seeming content in her work, she gestured Porrim and Kanaya over, and with a beckoning of her finger, the luggage came towards her, joining them in the circle. Porrim watched as the glow grew stronger, the mist beginning to rise up around them, forming a sphere.

 She had done this many times before, it was how she frequented the city so often. Damara's magic served quite a purpose. The sphere of mist began to swirl, faster and faster, until she felt her hair beginning to move with the force of the rushing air. Kanaya took a step closer to her, not used to this form of travel. It had always been scary the first few tries. Like a lot of things, really. The Maryam cracked a smile.

 Damara launched into motion, her arms zipping and leaving trails of red, forming symbols in front of her. The symbols crackled to life, electricity zapping out from them. Its light began to grow, brighter and brigther, until they were blinded by its intensity. Porrim closed her eyes, wincing at the sudden pain.

 When she opened them again, she was standing in the courtyard of the Monastery. Red mist and trails of light were floating away from them, and through it Porrim could spy the surprised and frightened faces of her retinue.

 Damara was taking deep breaths, evidently tired from the long jump.She usually prepared for such a jump, but she had neglected this time, saying that she could manage it. She had made longer jumps before, however. Porrim knew that.

 "Are you sure you wouldn't like to stay for tea, or something of that order?"

 Damara shook her head, wiping a bead of sweat from her brow.

 "I must return. Aradia miss me."

 Porrim nodded, somewhat sad with the turn of events. Kanaya, looking rather sickly, shook Damara's hand, which caused the girl to grin. Porrim smiled, approaching her girlfriend, and taking in her into a hug, and felt her lips press against her mouth. After a few seconds Porrim pulled away.

 "In front of the House, really?"

 The Megido winked, before stepping back, and swirling her wands once again

 Porrim watched the mist swirl back around her. It would be easier to go back, with the fabric of reality already weakened by her recent travel.

 Looking away as the light grew too intense, Porrim looked back to the members of her house that were in the courtyard, some gathered to celebrate her and Kanaya's return, others just passing through.

 Most were staring, previously unaware of the flushed nature of the relationship between the Maryam and Medigo. Bronya was trying to look busy, and act like she hadn't seen it. Lynera looked jealous. Lanque was sitting on one of the roofs jutting from the mountain, legs dangling from the side, a bottle of wine in hand. Somehow no one had noticed him. He just gave her a thumbs up.

 Porrim silently cursed Damara, before walking towards the Monastery main. Kanaya wandered off to her room. Porrim planned to check in with her later. For now she would have to talk to Bronya. Pulling some hair out of her eyes as she walked, the Maryam waved over to the Ursama.

Bronya nodded to her as she grew near.

 "Porrim! It's great to see you! Did you have a great time?"

 "As good as I could have had, that's for sure." Bronya raised an eyebrow.

 Porrim waved her hand in dismissal. "How's the Monastery been while we've been gone?"

 "It's been running in tip top shape! I've kept all the jades in line, making sure all the work get's done!"

 Porrim didn't doubt that.

 "And Lanque?"

 Bronya frowned. "It hasn't been easy, but I think I've managed to get a hold on him. He's doing his study right now." She looked rather pleased with herself.

 Porrim screwed up her face. Bronya frowned again.

 "Oh come on."

 Porrim pointed upwards. The Ursama's brow furrowed, and she pressed her fists together, taking a deep breath.

 "Gog. Damnit."

 Porrim took a step to the side as Bronya walked past her, staring intently at the ceiling. As she got far away enough, Porrim saw her glare intesify, as she caught sight of

 Lanque. Porrim smiled at bit as Bronya began shouting, and she heard a bottle shatter as Lanque dropped it in fright.  

 Looking across the courtyard, Porrim caught sight of another Jade, sitting in the corner, looking dejected as always. Porrim supposed with all her productivity in focus, Bronya may have neglected to attend to the younger teen. Or maybe she was just being rather difficult lately. It happened, and Porrim couldn't really blame her. It was hard not be be pessimistic nowadays, what with all this bullshit going on.

Bronya was finished screaming apparently, and the first thing Porrim saw as she looked over was Lanque falling from the roof. It was rather high, and the bang he took as he landed looked quite bad. But he was a jade. He'd survive. Even if his nose was a little fucked up.

 Bronya returned to Porrim's side, taking deep breaths to calm herself, as Lanque limped away, his shirt stained with wine and blood from his dripping nose.

 "He'll be fine, he'll be fine." Bronya whispered to herself.

 "But, anyway," Her frown disappeared, and instead turned to a neutral expression. "I heard that something happened in the Council? It mostly amounted to rumours but I'm still concerned."

 Porrim sighed. "It wasn't nice, but I suppose it is important."

 "Aradia had some sort of episode, shortly after the council began. It was horrifying to say in the least. Daemonic possession, it looked like. No one really knew how to react. Then she started spouting a prophecy."

  "A prophecy," Ursama's brows were furrowed.

 "Indeed, something about war, death and tragedy. Nothing reassuring."

 "Was anything spoken of the fate of our House?"

 Porrim hesitated. She hoped Bronya hadn't seen. "No, thankfully. Unless one of the vauger statments hits us, I think we'll be fine."

 "Thank the Mother." She looked relieved. "We'll make it through this after all."

 Porrim nodded, before spotting Lynera staring at them. She zipped behind a wall. She had to attend to that as well.

 "Thank you for keeping the Monastery under control, but I'm afraid I have to speak with someone else right now. It's of utmost importance I assure you."

 Bronya smiled and returned to her clipboard, seeing to all her duties.

 Running after Lynera, Porrim heard her boots clicking against the ancient marble. It was a nice sound, but it only did a little to distract her form the thoughts of the prophecy that had returned from that conversation.

 She had lied to Bronya. She rembered something from the Prophecy. Something that kept her awake for several nights afterwards.

 It was in the-

 Porrim rounded the corner, bumping straight into the Skalbi, who shrieked in a high pitch. Wincing, Porrim put her hands up, calming the frightened girl, who looked ready to lash out, like a cat cornered.

 "It's alright Lyn, Jegus."

 The Vrigo stopped her quickened breathing from being caught, and quickly assumed her fragile calm mood, which Porrim knew from experience could be shattered by so much as a sudden gust of wind.

 "Hello, Porrim. Lovely weather today."

 The Maryam raised a sharp eyebrow. Lynera switched tactic.

 "I was just watching in case Lanque tried to do anything bad... I thought Wanshi had ran out here..." Porrim shook her head.

 "Come on," she beckoned the Skalbi to follow her.

 They made their way through the long and beautiful halls of the Monastery, Porrim occasionaly having the glance back to make sure Lynera hadn't scurried of when she wasn't keeping watch over her.

 They eventually reached one of the old platforms sticking from the side of the mountain. It was empty, save for a few plants, managed by Kanaya. It saw heavy use during the war, and there was still damage in the ground from where rocks had fallen from canon impacts from above.

 Sitting on the edge, Porrim beckoned Lynera to join her. They sat in silence for a while. 

"Alright," the older of the two said after a moment. "I can't really ignore this anymore."

 Lynera's face had gone paler than normal, no jade in her cheeks.

 "What do you mean?" She ws still trying to feign innocence.

 "Your... fascination with your cousin. It has to stop."

 "I- I..."

 "Just, don't try to pretend it's not there. It's obvious. I swear Bronya is the only person who doesn't know."

 "I... We're only distantly related, it's not like-" 

"It's still related, Lynera. And even if it wasn't, it doesn't matter. They way you act around her, how you see her; it isn't healthy. Not at all."

"You don't know that."

 "I do. I've seen it a hundred times before, and dealt with it more times than I'd like. You can't keep it going without hurting someone. Hell you've hurt people already!"

 "What?"

 "I met one of the missing servants in Alternia. She told me exactly what happened."

 "Well then you'd know that she was working as an informant and it was extremely-"

 "Her crime was getting too close to Bronya, wasn't it?" 

Lynera didn't respond.

 "Just... Promise me you'll at least try to stop. Please. Put in the effort."

 "O- Okay... I will."

 Porrim sighed, her stern frown being replaced by a relieved grin. She reached over, putting her arms around Lynera, who stiffened slightly, before relaxing.

 "You got this, Lynera. Don't worry."

 "Now," She said, pulling away from the thoughtful girl, "I have some other people to talk to, about certain matters, so, if you'll excuse me?" 

Porrim got up, looking out over the beautiful plains laid out before them. She could see the distant and sparse carts and carriages, travelling long distances to get between towns. There wasn't much populace around the mountains. She supposed that was why the Monastery was there.

 Taking a deep breath of the cold air, she turned went back inside the Monastery halls.

 Her next destination was one that she had mixed feelings about. He could sometimes be insufferably, or, well, all the time he could be insufferable. But she still appreciated him. In some ways.

 The natural caverns deeper in were still as beautiful as ever. The crystals and sparkling water were enough to make her stop and take a moment to appreciate their ethereal beauty. She had some of the larger crystals chipped from the walls, adorning her bedroom. they always regrew, however. It was just one of the nicer things about the Monastery.

 Admiring a particularly crimson crystal, Porrim made her way to the heavy door at the end of the tunnel. Turning the rather large handle, she went through. She raised an eyebrow, seeing Kankri on the ground, facing upwards.

 "Kanny... what are you doing?"

 "I'm having an internal debate over the possible aggressions of the popular use of the words 'Jegus' and 'Gog', as it only applies to the Houses' religion, and to the higher classmen. Sorry, higherclasspeople."

 She was already getting a headache.

 "Kanny, get off the floor. You're ruining the sweater."

 "Please don't use that infernal name, and if the sweater gets ruined then good riddance."

 "Kanny..."

 Kankri looked up to her, his eyes narrowed.

 "Get off the floor. Now." 

"Fine!" The grumpy Cancer got up from the ground, before sitting at his desk.

 "So what have you done today?" She asked, lifting herself to sit on the desk.

 "I've been putting together another essay regarding the topic I just informed you off, which I hope you weren't too distracted by your terrible sweater to not hear. And also please refrain from sitting on my desk it is exceedingly annoying. I could list fourty two reasons why invading someones property to sit your posterior upon is a problematic action, number one being-"

 "OH MY GOD SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

 Porrim sniggered, holding her hand to her mouth.

 "Karkat please, that was hardly a dignified response to something that annoyed you. You could simply have-"

 "SHUT. UP. PLEASE!"

"Now Karkat-

 "PLEASE!"

 "How do you expect any meaningful conclusion or debate if you are merely going to-"

 "Kanny, I don't think he wants you to debate him. I think he just wants you to stop talking."

 "But that's hardly constructive!"

 A pillow flew across the room, Muffling Kankri for a second.

 "Alright, before this kicks of properly, I'm just gonna leave."
Porrim was still laughing as she closed the door. They were as good as ever. She did feel bad for them on occassion. Being locked in a room with each other was probably the worst thing that could happen to either of them. The only thing worse was what had already happened to them.

 Making her way out of the tunnels, and admiring still the plethora of coloured crystals she spied along the walls. She only had one more stop to make. Then she could finally return to her room and relax. It already felt like the day was over.

 Going through the hallways of the Monastery, she pondered over the countless times she had went through them. A million times, probably. Ever since she was as tall as her knee now. The Maryam's were all awfully tall. The only ones naturaly taller were the Capricorns. They were big in every respect of the word.
unfortunately, they tended to abuse that power. They needed people just as strong as them to stand up against them. Porrim admired her hand, watching a soft glow come from it for a second. Luckily, she had such strength.

 Finally making her way through the endless hallways of the Monastery, she found herself at Kanaya's personal platform. She hadn't been here in a while, and had to take a moment to appreciate the true beauty of the plant life she had cultivated. Some were as tall as her.

 There were some decomposing pieces of wood with fungus growing from them leaning against the railing. Porrim took a closer look, intoxicated by the bright red colouring.

 "I wouldn't ingest that if I were you. It's not nice death."

 Porrim looked over to her sister, who was carrying a de-potted plant in her hands. She looked rather weary, but was comfortable in her enviroment. It was a state that Porrim rarely saw in Kanaya in any other surrounding. She looked back down to the fungi, and licked her lips.

 "I could take it."

 "With our blood colour you'd have to be as big as the Grand Highblood to survive a specimen." Porrim tilted her head to the side. She could probably still take it.

 "Seems like a dangerous thing to just have lying around." Porrim straightened up.

 "True, but I know the contents of my garden well enough." That was fair enough, Porrim supposed. "Now," she set the plant down into a pot. "You never come her normally, so

 I'm assuming you have a reason?"

 "That transparent?"

 "That transparent."

 "Well damn, thought I was more opaque than that. But yeah, there's a reason. You were saying something just before we left the temple in Alternia. Remember it?"

 Kanaya looked away for a moment, and Porrim could swear she saw a slight jade creep up in her cheeks. Yeah, this was going to be something interesting in some way or another.

 Porrim sat down on a stone bench overlooking the view. She had been sitting down and talking a lot today, actually. She patted the space beside her. 

 "Come one, tell me all about it."

 Kanaya sat down next to her sister and wringed her hands. She could changed from her strong, composed stature to one of such vurnerability so quickly. Porrim honestly admired her control.

 "Do... Do you think it's possible that I can find someone?"

 That's not what she was expecting at all.

 "Well... I mean I think its possible anyone can find anyone really. People a lot worse than you have found people a lot better than you, so... yeah. I think it is. Shit I probably should have made this longer, huh?"

 "No, it's okay. It's as long as it was required to be. Thank you, Porrim."

 "No problem, sis."

 They sat there for another while, not sure exactly what to say or do. Eventually Porrim felt a sudden cloudiness in her head, and her vision faded for a moment. Pressing her palm over her forehead, she took a deep breath. She needed to sate herself. But it was rather late. She might have to wait until tomorrow.

 "Alright," she made her voice as normal as she could, with her head swimming. "I think I'm gonna go relax in my room for a bit. Just chill out. It's been a frantic day."
Kanaya nodded in agreement. There was stuff on her mind too, evidently. Porrim pondered for a moment if it was similar to what plagued hers, before a moment of haze interrupted that thought.

 Taking the cue, she made her leave from the platform, back into the Corridors. Across the marble she went, hearing her boots clicking. She really needed to take them off. A million and one.

 Wincing, she finally reached her door, up a few steps. Opening the door wide, she stumbled in. She made sure to lock the door behind her. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. She still wasn't entirely sure on how to deal with the side effects, but she had a decent grasp on it at this stage. Just take everything slow until sated.

 Turning around, Porrim burst out into a laugh, even through the fuzziness in her head. Damara was sitting on the bed, twirling a wand in her fingers.

 "How... How long have you been there?"

 Damara grinned. "A long time."

 Porrim chuckled, and stepped forward. She stumbled a bit, and before she knew it, Damara had grabbed her, and was easing her down onto the bed.

 Damara smiled genuinely at her. It was a rare smile, but Porrim loved it. She felt the Megido's hand trail across her face. Damara laid a light kiss on her lips, before adjusting how she sat. She wrapped her arms around Porrim's waist, and tilted her head, baring her neck to the Maryam. Porrim took one long look at it, seeing the pulsing veins, all filled with red. She dragged her tongue across her lips. She reared back, openig her mouth wider than was humanely possible, her fangs glinting in the candlelight, before she lurched forward, sinking in her fangs deep into the Megido's neck.

 She felt the blood fill her mouth, and drank eagerly. She felt her head clear up, yet she drank a little longer. She knew Damara didn't mind. She never did.