They had known, in their own way. Something had been amiss in Quirrel’s voice. Something had been off about his strange, vaguely guilty avoidance of contact. They didn’t know what it was. (And how could they have? To them, death came from the Infection, or the nails, claws or fangs of enemies…) They stopped, looking back at the dancing light on the cavern walls from the lake, wondering.
And then they heard the splash.
The Knight’s reaction was immediate. They dashed back to the lake, where Quirrel’s nail lay abandoned on the beach, and Quirrel himself—
They jumped in. They knew most bugs sank, they’d fought enough in the City of Tears to learn that, but now the problem was that they DIDN’T sink. The Knight thrashed furiously to get themself below the surface, struggling against the implications of their nature yet again as the Void within them, lighter than water, hindered their ability to dive. They could see him, though, sinking away, his life fading as his visibility did.
The Knight leapt past the surface, using a last-ditch Descending Dark to launch themself into the lake, shadow-dashing madly to reach him— their FRIEND—
Tiny claws latched onto Quirrel’s hood, pulling him back to the surface, where a half-screaming coughing fit expelled the lakewater from his trembling body. A small object beneath him pushed him onto the shore— oh, wyrm no, the CHILD!
They clung to him, shaking. How could he have jumped?! This child… he couldn’t leave them alone!
“What have I done…”
The child raised their head, the darkness behind their mask rippling strangely, almost as if— gods no, they were CRYING. Yet still, no sound came from them… And Quirrel, feeling like an idiot, and a heartless idiot at that, realized.
“C-can… Are you… able to speak?”
The child shook their head. And then they were both crying. Their silence had never had a trace of apathy. They were completely mute. And he felt he should have known. Apathy was something he had never seen from his small friend. They were always curious about just about everything, exploring, learning… and befriending him.
“I… I didn’t think there was… anything left…” Quirrel wheezed.
The child froze, seemingly listening to something even after Quirrel had trailed off, sobbing. Then, they pressed themselves against him, cold, black fluid dripping from the eye sockets of their mask. They wriggled around, retrieving something while seemingly trying very hard to keep as much physical contact with him as they could.
They pulled out a map, pointing to the City of Tears.
The child hesitated, seeming to think about something, then began writing in the sand with their claw.
RELIC SEEKER LEMM
The child erased their work and wrote again.
YOU KNOW ABOUT HALLOWNEST
“You… you’re saying I should help him…?”
The little bug stared, black streaks dripping down their mask.
YOU CAN REBUILD HALLOWNEST
BETTER GREATER KINDER
YOU ARE HOPE
NEVER GIVE UP
Quirrel dissolved back into tears, clutching the child to his chest. How this child had known his thoughts, Quirrel didn’t know, but gods, they were a BLESSING. The two of them lay there on the shore for quite some time, savoring the contact and love they both desperately needed.
Hallownest as it was was dead, yes, but Hallownest as it could be, as it SHOULD be… If he were going to die, he told himself, at least do it in pursuit of something greater. He gently stroked between the child’s horns, holding them close.
It may have been hours before Quirrel got up. The child stared up at him.
“Come on,” he said, taking their tiny hand, “Let’s go meet this Lemm fellow.”