It was beyond frustrating. He'd call it the most intense deja vu he'd ever experienced, but he had a feeling this wasn't deja vu. He knew this place in Fog Canyon. He knew it, intimately, but how, why? He could feel the memories right there, the thoughts immediately outside his mind, if he could only reach out and touch . . . !
But no matter how hard he tried, the memories remained just outside his grasp, his mind turning to fog every time he attempted to get to them. Quirrel groaned and knocked his palm against his mask. Who are you, that leads me to this place?
He didn't know. He felt like he should, though, as if it was the calling of an old friend. He couldn't necessarily hear it, but he felt it deep in his heart and in his soul. A beckon. A laugh. Safety. Familiarity. Family? Oh, what was it?
A whooshing sound came from somewhere to his upper right, followed by the pitter patter of tiny feet. Ah, he knew those sounds well by now. Funny how the two of them kept managing to find each other, especially with how expansive Hallownest was. Was there a chance the same force that called him here also called his friend? He wasn't sure, but there was something poking at his mind about. Not for, and not against. Just . . . something. Oh, what was it? He hated these moments, knowing something was there but not what that something was.
But now the smaller one sprinted up next to him and looked up expectantly at him. Would they be interested in his troubles? Maybe he shouldn't bother them with it.
“Doesn't this kingdom just abound with surprises?” He spoke spritely, as if nothing was wrong, as if he hadn't been overwhelmed with frustration just moments before they arrived. He gestured at the structure before him. “A building atop an acid lake.” Truly a marvel, yet so, so familiar to him.
After a few seconds, he realized they had yet to leave. That wasn't really a surprise given how long they had stayed with him the other times they met, but he couldn't think of much else to say with his mind swirling with memories just out of reach.
. . . Perhaps he could speak with his friend about it after all. He'd hinted at his lack of memory before anyway, so perhaps they had already realized. Besides, it had always been a comfort for someone to listen to him. That was the thing with the little creature: while they never said anything, they were an expert listener and you could tell when something interested them. Perhaps he could open up about it a little more.
“Despite the sight, I can't help but feel . . . familiarity? Something stirs in my mind, though I can't yet tell what . . . I'd thought it my lust for discovery that let me here but now there seems something else. This building beckons me. I can feel it calling . . . Dare I head in?”
He looked down at the little creature to see what they thought, and they looked back with their head tilted in curiosity. He doubted they felt as he did, but they were probably intrigued at the very least. His situation was a bit of an anomaly, after all.
They watched each other for a few seconds and then, without breaking eye contact, the bug(?) before him pulled out a little device and swung it in front of him. Huh. He'd seen them do that before, but they always moved too fast for him to get a real look at it. It had to have had some sort of effect for them to use it so often, but he could hardly guess what.
Soon after, they ran up to the building and sprinted inside. He chuckled. No hesitation, that one. Sometimes he wondered if they even could walk in the first place what with how often he saw them run. He supposed a creature as small as them might have to run to get anywhere quickly.
As for himself? Well, he wasn't quite ready to go inside just yet. This . . . this was big. He had a feeling he was right on the brink of something here. As if that foggy barrier holding back his memories was about to break, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to handle the potential deluge. His memories had been gone for, well, for as long as he could remember. Was he really ready to discover just who he was? Why his memories had been erased in the first place? What his role was in all of this?
Oh, that was a new thought! His role, he had a role, a role in what? It was something important, something very important, but he couldn't quite grasp just what it was. The thoughts faded and he sighed. Who was he? This Quirrel of the past? He didn't know, but perhaps he might soon.
He stepped into the building and was hit with a deep sense of nostalgia, though he couldn't quite place the memories that went along with it. It felt detached, as if they were someone else's feelings and not his own. He must have spent a lot of time here. He wondered what had happened in this place, what he had done. A sign above the door had called it the Teacher's Archive's, but what teacher? Who? Were they his teacher? Was he a student? Or was he simply a coworker, logging information into these tubes of liquid?
He ran his hand over the glass and railings as he passed, feeling the fog in his mind lifting somewhat, yet not clearing up quite yet. He looked at the message in one of the tubes.
Light. Vessel. Dreamer. King. Contain. Uncontain. Ungrowth. End life. Them kin.
A bunch of words massed together with abbreviations and symbols between them to help decipher their contents. Before he could even begin to try figuring out what they meant, though, he heard the sound of nail against bubble, of high amounts of electricity crackling through the air, more than charged lumaflys could ever produce, of whooshes through air and wings beating down and splashes of acid. He panicked.
No, their nail is not designed to pierce the membrane! Membrane, what membrane? They're not going to win this fight! Agh, uncertain memories didn't matter right now! He needed to help his friend! His body acted before his mind did, leading him down paths he knew but didn’t recognize, instinct driving him on. There was a mechanism in that room, one that would trap anyone within until they defeated the one protecting the rooms beyond. But the protector was invulnerable unless the bearer had a nail designed to pierce the jellyfish’s membrane. As far as Quirrel knew, his was the only one. It was an additional protection. No one could get through unless he trusted them, and the little creature was definitely one that he trusted.
The main entrance may have been shut, but Quirrel knew of secret side passages only accessible with the mask he wore over his head. They opened before him easily and he leapt out into the room, easily lighting on one of the platforms. He drove his nail deep into Uumuu’s membrane as he shouted “Now!” When he was sure they understood what was happening, he bounced back to the protection of the side passages. He smirked a bit when he saw how startled his friend looked, but they took the hint and started attacking with a vengeance until Uumuu recovered. Obviously they hadn’t expected him to fight alongside them, and to be entirely honest, neither had he.
He kept his eyes trained on Uumuu, looking for an opening. Sometimes he would speed down to strike, but the opportunity was lost before he could and he had to go back to one of the passages. As he watched the jellyfish fight, a deep sadness settled into his soul. They weren’t fighting as lively as they used to, though how he knew that information he wasn’t sure. The original plan had been to spar with Quirrel and the one he trusted until Uumuu was satisfied and let them pass, but . . . that would no longer be possible. They were infected. They wouldn’t stop attacking. They could no longer be truly considered alive and they would only continue to wreak havoc on those around them. The two of them would have to put Uumuu out of their misery.
Quirrel winced as he saw his friend fail to avoid an electric shock and he wished they could join him up here, but there was no way for them to. The passages were only open to the mask. He wanted to at least help them damage Uumuu, but something held him back. They had to prove that they’d be strong enough to fight what was behind those three seals, because if they couldn’t then it would roam free and all would be for naught. And since they wouldn’t have help there, they shouldn’t have help here.
It was fascinating watching them go, though. They weren’t nearly as fast as him, but he’d trained to move this fast. They seemed to have trained more in the nail arts and spellcasting and while they didn’t move as fast as him, it was usually enough to avoid getting hit.
Usually, anyway. They still got hit, and after a few times Quirrel started to get worried. From what he’d heard and the aftermath he’d seen of their exploits, surely his friend had defeated creatures similarly powerful as Uumuu? They’d be able to defeat them? They had to. There was no other way out besides death. He tried stepping out but found himself unable to, holding back, as if there was something in his very body and mind preventing him from helping. A sense of duty? A magical binding? He wasn’t sure but he didn’t like it.
They took another hit and appeared to be breathing heavily, some disconcerting black stuff rising from their fatigued form. Quirrel began to panic. He couldn’t let his friend die here. He wouldn’t allow it. He squeezed his eyes shut and focused on pushing through whatever mental barrier was preventing him from helping in a greater capacity than simply piercing Uumuu’s membrane. As soon as one foot stepped forward, the rest of his body moved freely and he shot towards the knight.
Just as he reached them and was about to pick them up, to carry them between the attacks and finish off the fight for them, a ball of electricity appeared between them. There was no time to avoid it or push the knight out of the way; they both got hit and were thrown in opposite directions. Quirrel groaned and picked himself up, rubbing the stars out of his eyes.
The first thing he saw when he opened them again was the knight’s mask split in half on the platform across from him, their cloak hanging off the edge. His eyes widened. “No . . . NO! ” He jumped over and took up the two items in his arms, desperately looking around for their body. Unable to find it, he had to assume it had fallen in the acid below and either sunken or dissolved. Despair surged up within him and he held the mask pieces and cloak close, tears starting to fall beneath his mask.
A ball of electricity forming in front of him snapped him out of his mourning and he only barely dodged out of the way. He had to get out of here before he was killed along with them. He quickly hopped up to one of the secret passageways and laid the items out before him, and as he did he heard the sound of Uumuu returning to the acid and relaxed some. He was safe for now.
But his friend hadn’t been. How could he have done this? Let them take all the attacks, all the damage, prolong the fight by not actually doing anything to harm Uumuu? The very least he could have done was stay out there in the arena and draw some fire so the knight wouldn’t be overwhelmed. But he didn’t, and now his friend was dead. What was wrong with him? They were the only real friend he had since his memory had been lost. Anyone else were just acquaintances. Even the friends he could now remember from his life before, they were either dead, infected, or sealed away.
He had no one and he just . . . sagged. His friend didn't deserve this. He had a feeling they’d been working their whole way to this moment, that this was an essential part in their existence, in their plan, in Monomon’s plan. Oh gosh, Monomon. Uumuu. The others working in the archives with him. He still barely remembered anything about his life in Hallownest, but he knew the important bits. The bits that he had to know to accomplish the task. But how could it be accomplished anymore? What was there to do now? Their plan had failed. The knight had died and the old light would spread. No one would survive. It filled him with despair and an uncanny sense of unease.
No. No that unease was from something else. Something behind him. He turned around and found a shape of the deepest black he had ever seen staring back at him, floating in the middle of the arena. It . . . looked uncannily like the knight. How had he missed that before? It must have been over one of the platforms above him. He stepped right up to the edge of the passageway and leaned forward to get a better look at the creature, a hand on the wall to keep balance. Strange. Well, Uumuu shouldn’t come out again until someone gets near the bottom of the room, so perhaps he could check them out.
As he wiped the tears from under his mask and shifted to jump to one of the platforms, he stopped. Where . . . did the mask and cloak go? He was sure he had them right in his arms, but they were neither there nor anywhere on the floor. He frantically patted around himself and the floor and looked over the edge, wondering if they had maybe fallen, but they were nowhere to be found. And that figure was still staring at him.
Maybe . . . maybe the creature had some answers. Perhaps it was the knight themself, free of cloak and mask? Their appearance always had been a little odd. He wasn’t sure, but he felt that hope rising up within him; maybe his friend wasn’t really gone. Maybe they just needed to find another shell.
Well, there was only one way to find out.
He jumped onto the platform the figure was floating over and carefully took a step forward. “. . . Friend? Is that you?” He didn’t like the aura of unease that was flowing off of it, but if it was indeed the knight then he would bear through it. He watched curiously as it floated towards him, wondering if it would start gesturing like the knight always did. Weird how it trailed its nail behind it . . . Perhaps it was heavy for such an ethereal creature?
Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice the nail swinging towards him until the figure’s position suddenly shifted and he was hit squarely in the chest, creating a deep gash in his exoskeleton. He gasped as it knocked him back, pain spreading in that area like a wildfire. This was not his friend.
He hopped onto a separate platform and grabbed the hilt of his nail. Something about it prevented him from actively attacking, though, and as it drew closer he merely dodged the swing. Perhaps how similar it was to the knight? Was it their ghost? He’d heard tell of people seeing the ghosts of those long dead, but if so, why would it attack him? The knight had never attacked him before.
He’d been focusing so heavily on the other’s blade that he neglected to think that this creature might have spells as well, just as the knight did, until one knocked him straight into the wall. He caught a hold of a platform just above the acid and pulled himself back up, thanking the stars that he hadn’t landed in it. Ugh, those things could really pack a punch. He shook himself out of it, though, and hopped back within sight of the shadow. He had two choices here. Either attack back, or avoid, and he wasn’t quite sure which he should do. For now he was just avoiding the attacks, but he couldn’t do that forever. But what should he-
His thoughts were interrupted when a separate figure clad in white and light blue fell down from above and landed on the shadow creature with one slash, two, three, four, and it exploded into black particles and flowed into the new bug. No. Not new, and not a bug. The knight.
He stared at them in disbelief as they strapped their nail onto their back again and looked towards him. He couldn’t move, but they came towards him anyway, hopping onto his platform with ease and hugging him. It took him another second or two to break out of his stunned state, but when he did, he hugged them back tightly before pulling away to hold their head in his hands.
“What . . . What was that, friend? I, I-I thought you’d died. What happened? Are you okay? What was that shadow? How is your mask fixed, how did you get it back, how did you disappear? What happened? ” He wasn’t entirely sure what answers he would get out of them with their inability to speak, but he needed some sort of explanation. The only thing he got, though, was a small shrug and another hug. He sighed and held them close, just enjoying their presence after he thought he’d lost them. Really, what was his friend? He’d never met such an intriguing creature before.
They stayed like that for several minutes, but eventually the knight pulled away. Quirrel sighed again and placed a hand between his friend’s horns. “Are you okay?”
They nodded and pointed at the crack in his exoskeleton, which was starting to leak a small amount of hemolymph.
“Oh, don’t worry about this. It’ll heal up soon enough. Now come, let’s finish this fight. I promise I won’t leave you there like that again.” He tilted his head in confusion when he saw the other shake their head. “No? I suppose you don’t have to, but I thought that you wanted to get passed here.”
They pointed at his chest again.
Quirrel sighed. “Really, I’ll be fine in just a few moments.” They weren’t relenting, though, and had in fact sat down across from him, staring at him intently. He his head tilted softly. “. . . Alright. We can rest for now, if you really want us to.” He supposed Uumuu wouldn’t be going anywhere and it would be easier to fight after a small rest. Perhaps his friend was right.
Now that he wasn’t in the middle of a fight or mourning over the supposed death of a friend, his thoughts wandered back to what he’d discovered about himself in just the past few minutes. He couldn’t remember most things still, but he remembered this place now, what it was, why he was here, what he did here, what had to be done next. Still, some aspects of that were frustratingly out of reach, but he knew more about himself now than he did since he lost his memory in the first place. Who knew he was so deeply involved in the plan to stop the infection? Who knew this small creature in front of him would become so important in the preservation of the kingdom?
As they sat, he thought back to what he’d seen when the fight had gone sour. It confused him greatly. What was the shadow and why did it attack him? His friend seemed experienced in handling it. How often had it happened to them?
Ah, he’d been staring too long and the knight noticed. They’d merely shrugged when he’d asked before, but he’d been bombarding them with questions then. Perhaps he could just ask one at a time this time.
“. . . What happened?” Another shrug.
“What was that shadow?” They seemed to think for a bit, then shook their head helplessly. It must’ve been too hard to explain.
“Does that happen often?” A nod.
“How often?” They started counting on their fingers, then shrugged when they ran out of fingers. That was concerning.
“Does it hurt?” They hugged themself and nodded. That was even more concerning. Quirrel put a hand on them in comfort and they leaned into it. He shifted and pulled them into his lap. They happily obliged.
“. . . That wasn’t . . . You didn’t die, did you?” They tilted their hand back and forth in a so-so gesture. He honestly wasn’t entirely sure what to do with that response, so he simply held them closer. Gosh, how old even were they? He couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen the Hollow Knight in person, but he was sure they were much larger than this little one was and that they used to be this small before they’d grown up. Were they sending a child into this? He didn’t like that thought, but he wasn't sure there was much else to do. They seemed like they were heading into this of their own accord. Perhaps it was instinct. He didn’t know.
After a while, once he deemed himself rested enough, Quirrel rubbed the other’s back. “Come on. We should get this over with.” The knight blinked awake from the light slumber they had been in and stood up, then dropped down to get Uumuu’s attention.
The fight passed quickly. The knight had learned Uumuu’s attack patterns by now and there thankfully wasn’t a repeat of what happened last time. Quirrel watched sadly as the jellyfish died, though, and titled his mask, no, Monomon’s mask, in respect. Thank you for your service, Uumuu, and your friendship. You won’t be forgotten.
The knight started continuing onward, but stopped and looked back when they realized Quirrel wasn’t following. He waved them off. “You go on ahead. I’ll join you in a second.” They hesitated, but then continued on their way. Good. He wanted a little more time to mourn Uumuu in solitude.
He only allowed himself a few minutes repose before joining his friend at the tank holding Monomon. He hummed softly in thought. “Did she call you, too, then? I realize it’s no coincidence we arrive together.” The knight turned to look at him, curiosity written all over their body language. He knew how his teacher had a connection with him, but he wondered how she was able to contact his friend. Then again, he could be wrong. Maybe they’d been called by something else.
He had a feeling that they didn’t quite realize what was going on, though, so he allowed himself to explain as he watched Monomon in her tank. “Though much of my memory is blank-” Frustratingly. “-this place I recall. Within these chambers the Teacher sought to store the Kingdom’s knowledge and at its core, she stored herself. To save Hallownest, the Teacher willingly became a seal, but upon herself she enacted an additional protection.” He looked at the knight. “Though I cannot recall it’s happening, I played a part in that feat. She called me here, now, to reverse that protection. All in aid of you.” Despite this revelation, they didn’t seem to respond in any meaningful way. Perhaps they were just thinking. Or perhaps he’d misjudged and they had already known.
Quirrel held his breath and took his teacher’s mask from his head and as he presented it to her, it started dissolving into magic particles, passing through the tank’s barrier with ease and reforming on her body. The force of it knocked him to the ground, but he didn’t really feel the need to get up. His chest still hurt from the shadow being’s attack and he didn’t necessarily have anywhere to go after this. Besides, he wanted to stay here a little longer after the knight did what they needed to do.
To his surprise, they didn’t immediately try. In fact, they looked back at Quirrel in concern. Perhaps they could sense how close he’d been to Monomon. He shook his head. This was more important than what he felt. Besides, she wanted this. “Do not hesitate. The choice to reform was hers, not mine. She knows what you would do and seems to welcome it.”
Despite his words, the other still seemed uncertain as they looked between the two of them. He frowned beneath his mask. “Why do you hesitate? Mercy is a fine thing, but you and her agree this must be done. Be brave, friend.” Were they worried for him? He wished they wouldn’t, and besides, he would much rather this be done immediately than dragged out. Thankfully the other seemed to get the idea and stepped forward, drawing back the item that he now recognized as a dream nail and arcing it in front of her. There was a flash of light and the knight fell to the ground. Quirrel leaned forward in concern, but it was soon obvious that they were simply sleeping. Perhaps they needed to to join his teacher in the dream world.
Virtually alone now, Quirrel looked around the place as he waited, remembering what little he could of the things he experienced here. Even without being able to remember most things, he was sure there wasn’t much that happened in this specific room. The acid below made it difficult to get to, though it was possible it hadn’t always been there. Perhaps it had leaked through from the lake this building was resting on.
His eyes caught sight of the object still in the knight’s hand. A dream nail, huh? That was what his friend had used on him so many times? He hadn’t been sleeping though, so what dreams did they catch? Then again . . . if he recalled correctly, he’d heard that dream nails could also be used to read the minds of others. Perhaps that was what they were doing? His expression flattened when he considered the implications of such a possibility. No privacy, that one. But could he really blame them? The ability to see the surface thoughts of another mind, coupled with their extensive curiosity . . . Of course they used it so much, even on him.
He focused back on Monomon, still in her tank. This was the last he would ever see of her. He needed to give a proper goodbye. Before he could force himself to stand up, though, her body started dissolving within the tank. Ah. It had been done, then. He sighed, closing his eyes in resignation. Goodbye, Monomon.
The sound the knight getting up prompted him to open his eyes. He didn’t need to burden the kid with his emotions; They were going through enough without having to worry about that. “The Madam’s life is extinguished and with it her seal breaks. It’s a heavy thing you attempt, but I’ve seen your prowess up close and she too believed you capable. Be on your journey then, and allow me rest a time. With the deed complete, I begin to feel my age.”
His friend, his only friend now, only hesitated a moment before leaving him be. He watched them leave and sighed. His work in Hallownest was done, and while he hadn’t explored the full of it, he was starting to grow tired of being constantly vigilant, of infected bugs attacking without warning, of being careful around them so that he wouldn’t get infected, too. He no longer wanted to explore, though he wasn’t entirely sure what to do next. His friends and family were gone, and the knight was going to replace the other vessel, never to be seen again. There was nothing left for him here.
Well, he supposed there was one thing left to do. After all, that rain in the City of Tears had to come from somewhere, and he wanted to find out where.