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We Passed the Setting Sun

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Your name is Anteva and you’re running over sand dunes with nothing more than the clothes on your back, a mostly-full waterhide, a sawknife stuck through your belt and a squeaking mutant grub wrapped in blackout cloth. You crest another dune and turn to look back the way you came - the sun in your eyes makes it hard to make out details, but the wind’s blown away your prints and the block that served as the entrance to the Mother Grub caverns is tiny in the distance.

You scan the area in front of you and spot a few reddish blocks sticking out of the sand a half-mile or so away. Some ten minutes later, you find that it’s a ruined former hiveblock, some old outpost or home. Despite the beating it’s taken from the elements, there’s enough of it left to offer shelter from the sun, and you walk in.

You sit with your back to a corner and unwrap the little red grub. He’s tired, it seems, and grateful for the water you carefully pour into his mouth. You rest him on your lap and glance around for any kind of supplies that might’ve survived, but find nothing but carvings on the walls. A two-pronged sigil in the eastern corner, a worn but still readable Hrimri <> Virrit... you rub your eyes. There’s something familiar about this place...

Ah. You stand up, dissolving the memory of Kankri, back when he was so small you could hold him in the crook of your elbow. You glance down at yourself and remember curling tattoos of vines and insect wings that covered your arms and the cavern brands on your shoulders into existence, and a black and green dress and cloak instead of your worn grey work-clothes. It’s been sweeps since you were eight and running from the caverns, or maybe more - you’re pretty sure you can recall being thrown overboard with a hole through your torso pillar. The desert hivewreck fades away, replaced by someone else’s dreaming memory.

You walk through empty streets - a city, albeit one cleaner and less bloodsplattered than ones you remember - and come to a small garden, populated by remembered buzzbirds and flutterbugs. It’s rather nice, and you’re enjoying the scenery when you come face-to-face with - you.

The troll standing before you is scarcely older than you were when you first left the caverns, her horns bright and sharp and unworn, her arms marked with unfaded tattoos more uniform than yours. She stares up at you, her irises only just beginning to show jade.

You and she begin to talk. Her name is Porrim, you learn, and she was a rainbow drinker (though while your transformation was brought on by a feral drone’s pincers, she died from something called an Ogre.) More interestingly, when she tells you about her friends, some of the names and signs match those of your little family and trolls you know. She knew Mituna, though not as well as you did, and little Nemena is here called Meulin. Many of the names are unfamiliar, though - you never knew a Latula or a Rufioh or a Damara, and you never knew much about the scarred highblood she called Cronus (you wish you’d never known anything about him.)

“Did you ever meet Aranea? She’s a blueblood, likes talking, has eight pupils and weird mind powers?” Porrim asks curiously.

You are cold and tired and you can feel the threads of the Marquise’s power in your pan, dragging you up to her again - “I met her once,” you say sharply. “Though she was not a - friend of mine.”

“What about Kankri?” asks Porrim. “Nubby horns, talks a lot, bright red blood?”

You turn your ganderbulbs skyward. “Yes, I knew Kankri. He - when he was a grub, and I was young, I found him on the surface above the caverns. I raised him, and helped him, and saw him grow into a strong young troll.”

“You were his custodian?”

“Yes. I knew that his blood color would mean he’d never have a lusus. Did he have one in your world?”

Porrim shrugs. “No, he was assigned a custodian in my universe too. Some tealblood, I think. He almost never talked about that unless he wanted to play ‘my-hive-life-is-worse-than-yours’ with someone.”

You raise an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound like Kankri. The one I raised was quite adamant about the struggles that every troll faced never being used as a weapon against other trolls.”

“Well, the Kankri I knew was definitely adamant, but never about anything important - or even if he got that an issue was important, he’d go about fighting for it all wrong, like he was the ultimate authority on what was bad that knew better than everyone else.”

“Oh?” You try and reconcile your son with the person Porrim’s describing.

She grimaces. “Well, yeah. I mean - back on Beforus, I tried hard to fight for equality too. There were many flaws in the system that made society unfair, some more obvious than others - the agency of warmbloods was frequently erased, and the rates of culling were incredibly unbalanced, even when you account for coldblood durability. Jade women were expected to take care of the mother grubs as a default and almost never got the chance to get a job doing something else, and jade males were just coddled because of their rarity.”

“On Alternia, jades never got the chance to leave the caverns either,” you recall, touching the long-inked-over marks of the cavernwarderns on your shoulder. “Though it was made quite clear to us that we had another option. Admittedly that was trying to escape and being fed to the drones after being recaptured, but, well. I took my chances there anyways. All things considered I’m glad I left.”

“I didn’t leave. Not until the game, at least. I wanted to, but my mom was there, and I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. In the end I guess it doesn’t matter what I chose there.” Porrim stares into the middle distance, and your pusher aches a bit for this small version of yourself. Her world sounds softer than yours by far, but more confined - a troll on Alternia might be killed or enslaved or worse, but no one expected them to be grateful for that, only enduring.

You sigh. “Well, no one can put you at fault for staying by your mother. And, in the end... Well. In the end, if you want to look at ends, it’s likely no one will even know who we were besides the Horrorterrors. What we did still mattered, because it was done anyways. We all had something important to do, even if the one who gets to decide that it was important is ourself."

Porrim looks up, to the edge of the sky, and her shoulders drop in the release of some tension you hadn’t noticed before. “That’s probably the most reasonable thing someone’s send to me this century.”