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Karkat spends the next three days in bed. He is able to make short trips down the hall to the bathroom by the second day without help, though he’s wobbly and has to lean against the wall a lot. Karen gives him books to read and sets up a small TV set and a DVD player on the dresser. Karkat ends up marathoning the first season of Babylon 5.

Karen asks him questions, has him do little exercises, and tries to get him to talk. Talking is still not a thing that is happening though. He can make sounds, but they aren’t words. It’s frustrating and he’s used up a lot of paper expressing just how frustrating it is to not be able to speak.

IS THIS PERMANENT? Karkat writes at one point.

“It’s something that’s happened to adepts and priests in the past,” Karen says. “Some completely lose the ability to understand speech; some lose their ability to speak or write. Sometimes the effects wear off, and sometimes the adept or priest has to completely relearn how to talk or write. Sometimes they regain speech, but experience speech impairment of some kind, others don’t.”

SO YOU DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW.

“I’m not entirely certain,” Karen admits. “All we can do right now is wait and see what happens.”

He isn’t being treated like a prisoner, and he isn’t being locked in the bedroom. (But he doesn’t need to be, he still can’t really walk. He also can’t do something like call 911 because he can’t actually talk.) Karen is friendly, and seems to be at least a little sympathetic, but she’s also apparently one of “them.” He can’t trust her, and he has no idea of what’s going on, or what’s going to happen to him and his dad.

“The priests are sending someone to ask you some questions,” Karen says around noon on the fourth day. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT?

“Mostly about what happened when you interrupted the rite, and what happened in the Chamber of Repentance,” Karen says. “Would you be willing to speak to the priest?”

Karkat thinks about it. He doesn’t really want to talk to anyone right now--but he had a feeling that he was going to end up talking whether he wanted to or not. I GUESS SO, he writes.

The priest comes after dinner. (Karen waits just outside the door, with the door open.) He’s tall with long dark hair held back in a tail. He’s basically a walking brick wall, and he introduces himself as Equius’ father. Mr. Zahhak sits down in folding chair that looks way too small for him, and after stiffly asking him if he’s well, launches into a series of questions, and writes down the answers in a spiral bound notebook. He asks about the camping trip, asks about any rumors that might have led them to camp there. He asks about what happened when the High Priestess interrogated him, and he asks questions about the “purification rite” and what happened in the Chamber of Repentance.

Karkat tries to answer, but it’s extremely hard. Some things just fuzz out, and some things he doesn’t want to talk about at all. (He remembers Terezi’s fake smiles and Eridan basically being a bag of dicks. He thinks about how fucking cold the chamber had been. How scared he’d been.) Sometimes he can’t answer at all, and Mr. Zahhak waits, not patiently, but like a rock until Karkat says something. If Karkat can’t answer at all, he moves onto the next question.

“The Gods appeared before you, can you describe what they looked like?” Mr. Zahhak asks.

NOT REALLY, Karkat writes. ONE OF THEM LOOKED LIKE A PERSON, BUT SHE DIDN’T HAVE EYES AND WAS SURROUNDED BY SMOKE OR SOMETHING AND THAT’S WHERE HER EYES WERE.

Mr. Zahhak hums thoughtfully, and takes out what looks like a pack of cards. Each card is a different color. “Was she predominantly this color?” Mr. Zahhak says, showing a dark purple card.

YES, Karkat writes.

“Try to describe each of the Gods you saw,” Mr. Zahhak says. “And pick the colors you associated with them.”

Karkat wrote what he remembered of the red, blue and bright green gods. Then he tried to describe the others. THERE WAS AN ORANGE ONE THAT WAS MADE OF MIRRORS, LOTS OF BROKEN MIRRORS THAT WERE REFLECTING THE SAME GUY. THEY ALL HAD A SWORD. THE BRIGHT BLUE ONE HAD WINGS, LOTS OF WINGS LIKE THE DARKER BLUE GUY. THE DARK GREEN GUY LOOKED LIKE A SKELETON ON FIRE WEARING A CROWN WITH WINGS ON IT. THE PINK GIRL LOOKED MOSTLY LIKE A GIRL EXCEPT SHE WAS ALSO A CAT, AND SHE HAD FOUR EYES.

Mr. Zahhak frowns thoughtfully, and asks questions about what the Gods said, if anything.

Karkat isn’t able to answer very much about that. He can remember the “Gods” talking, but he can’t really write down what he heard. He tries to approximate. THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT JUDGING ME BEFORE I WENT CRAZY. ONE OF THEM, I THINK IT WAS THE RED ONE SAID I WAS “AWARE” OF WHAT WAS GOING ON. THE ORANGE ONE SAID SOMETHING ABOUT ME BUT I COULDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT HE WAS SAYING. THERE WAS SOME KIND OF ARGUMENT, AND THEN I WOKE UP HERE.

Mr. Zahhak sets the notebook and pen down, and picks up the deck of cards. He has Karkat identify the colors he sees, and asks him if he sees anything else. He occasionally writes notes in the notebook.

Karkat shakes his head. THEY’RE BLANK, he writes.

“They are not blank,” Mr. Zahhak says. “Each of them has a character or symbol either in the same color as the card, or in a contrasting color. They are flashcards for learning an ancient language.”

“Are you going to leave the deck, Horrus?” Karen asks from the doorway.

“I thought I might,” Mr. Zahhak says. “He’s seeing certain colors, even if he isn’t seeing the characters or symbols.”

Karkat barely restrains himself from writing, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS CRYPTIC BULLSHIT? He was also wondering why you’d bother making a flash card where the symbol you were supposed to be learning was the same color as the background.

“Leave it on the nightstand,” Karen says. “Did you have any other questions for Karkat?”

“No,” Mr. Zahhak says, and rises to his feet. He sets the pack of cards on the nightstand. “Good evening, Adept Foster, Mister Vantas.” He steps out of the bedroom and out of sight.

“I’ll see you to the door,” Karen says, and follows Mr. Zahhak.

Karkat can hear them talking, but can’t make out what they’re saying. He’s tempted to try getting out of bed and following them, but he still can’t really get around. He picks up the deck of flashcards instead, and flips through them. What had Equius’ dad meant about seeing certain colors? Several of the cards were light gray blue or gray lavender. Other cards were a deep red that was almost black. On closer examination he still couldn’t see the “characters and symbols” that were supposed to be on the cards.

Karen comes back up to ask if he needs anything, and he asks about the cards: I THOUGHT THE LANGUAGE DROVE PEOPLE CRAZY? I REMEMBER YOU SAYING THAT.

“Writings about the Gods seem to cause dementia and hallucinations, even if translated into another language,” Karen says. “Descriptions of rites, descriptions of Their attributes and appearance, attempts at translating Their words. The people in this town who are followers are resistant to the effect due to generations of contact and…specific alterations the Gods made in their ancestors.”

This was totally starting to sound like something from H.P. Lovecraft. WHAT KIND OF ALTERATIONS?

“They can see further into the visible light spectrum,” Karen says. “A few extra colors on either end. They tend to be very good at pattern detection. The priests have inherited an ability to speak ‘the language of the Gods.’”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT I’M ABLE TO SEE THESE EXTRA COLORS? Karkat writes, more than a little disturbed.

“That you’ve been given the ability for some reason, or it was already present, and the Gods awakened it,” Karen says.

I HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT TO THINK ABOUT THAT, Karkat writes. Except it was creepy as fuck. MR. ZAHHAK CALLED YOU AN “ADEPT” WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT?

“It’s an honorary title, in my case,” Karen says. “Adepts study magic, but they are also involved in things like science, law and medicine, and education as well as other professions that are considered artistic or intellectual. I’m technically an Outsider, so I can’t really study their magic system.”

OKAY, Karkat writes. He wants to ask ARE YOU OKAY WITH THEM KILLING PEOPLE? But doesn’t write the question; he isn’t sure he wants to know the answer. Karen changes the subject by offering to bring him ice cream for desert, and he accepts.

He watches Disney movies while eating ice cream, and eventually falls asleep. Karkat tries very hard not to think about what he’s learned so far, because he isn’t sure of what to think about what he’s learned so far. He wakes up around three in the morning. The TV is off, the remote on the nightstand along with the bowl of ice cream.

He is not alone in the bed.

Someone is curled against his back, knees tucked into the back of his knees, one arm around his waist. He jerks in surprise and tries to pull away, his pulse racing and loud in his ears, but finds he can’t move. A voice whispers in his head. It was a girl’s voice, and weirdly familiar. He thought it was telling him to calm down, to go to back to sleep.

He couldn’t move! Karkat attempts to express this but finds he can’t. It was hard to breath, his chest hurt, and he couldn’t see who was holding him. All he could see were lazily moving purple sparks in the corner of his eye.

Something touches him, runs down his side. The thought came to him that he wasn’t being harmed and that he wouldn’t be harmed, that he just needed to lie still, and breathe. It was not a thought he was thinking. Karkat tries to articulate how very not okay he is with this but nothing comes out, not even noise. He tries to pull away again, but he still can’t move.

The direction to breathe comes to him and he does. Long slow breath in, long slow breath out. It’s hard to breathe, but he does. He wasn’t really awake right now, the voice explains without words. This was sleep-paralysis, an unpleasant condition occasionally suffered by humans. He had sensed Her presence in his sleep and came partially awake, then panicked when he found he couldn’t move.

Karkat wanted to protest the “panicked.” He really, really did. His reaction was a completely normal response to waking up and being cuddled by an invisible something. Despite the outrage, he continues to follow the direction to breathe in long slow breaths. He can feel himself beginning to calm down.

There’s a kind of mocking agreement from the voice. Of course he hadn’t panicked. Of course he hadn’t.

Karkat thinks: Fuck. You.

The girl-voice laughs in his ear, or maybe his head. There’s a sense that She hadn’t meant any harm in coming to him while he was asleep. (She had not been able to resist.) She hadn’t thought he’d sense Her presence while She watched him dream.

Karkat thinks: That is creepy as fuck.

The reply is a wordless sense of amusement. There’s also a disturbing sense of fondness. The something that wasn’t a hand, that wasn’t several hands, strokes down his arms and legs. It was almost pleasant, but strange. The things were smooth and cold and didn’t have much give to them. It was like being lovingly petted by a garden hose or something. Despite the strangeness, he begins to relax.

He thinks: Who/What are you?

The voice murmurs, and Karkat can almost make out the words. There’s an image in his head, of the (purple) girl with no eyes and sharp teeth. He shivers at the image, but doesn’t try to pull away from the (invisible) shape pressed against his back this time. The sleep paralysis thing is wearing off, but he still doesn’t try to pull away. (He’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to.) He can’t even begin to articulate what’s going on in his head right now, but he tries.

He thinks: What. The. Fuck.

The invisible body behind him shifts, and a forehead is pressed against the back of his neck. She regrets disturbing him, and giving in to her desire to visit him so soon. (The Others were going to be so jealous/annoyed that She’d made the first move.) She had wanted to see him and make sure he was recovering. It had been a long time since the last one like him. (Now there were two.)

Karkat wants to ask, but he’s shushed by the voice. He should go to sleep, the voice says. Karkat would be more than a little annoyed by the condescension in the tone, but he can barely keep his eyes open. Before he drops back into sleep he thinks he hears the voice say, I am Light.

He wakes up around nine the next morning, with vague bits and pieces of the dream he had floating to the surface. Being held, and not being able to move, mostly. There had been sound of laughter in his ears and the usual bizarre dream conversations. Karkat stretches, and makes his slow, awkward way to the bathroom for his morning routine.

The day is quiet, and Karen decides to see if he is well enough to make it down the stairs. (He is able to, though very slowly.) He spends the day on the couch in the living room watching TV and exploring the den, which is crammed with bookcases full of books. Nonfiction is mostly reference stuff, cook books, psychology books, history and sea life. Fiction is a lot of science fiction and fantasy, some horror, young adult, and the occasional western, romance or mystery. He had kind of been expecting grimoires or something. (Maybe those were kept in another part of the house.)

In the late afternoon, Sollux shows up with homework, books and study assignments from school. After an awkward stab at conversation where Sollux doesn’t explain why he isn’t surprised to find him at Feferi Peixes house, Sollux sighs. “Let’s just rip off the Band-Aid here,” he says. “I am one of the crazy cultist people. Most of the town is crazy cultist people, except for the ones who aren’t, I don’t judge. It sucks that you found out about the crazy in the worst possible way. If you don’t want to be friends because of the crazy, that’s okay, I don’t blame you.” Karkat doesn’t say anything because he can’t, and he didn’t bring his stupid tablet or a pen. Sollux misinterprets the silence and Karkat’s not very subtle attempts to look for something to write with, and his shoulders slump. “I’ll be back to with more homework, and take whatever you finished back to school in a couple days,” he mumbles and heads for the door.

Karkat stumbles off the couch and grabs Sollux by the arm. “Dodt gaw! Dumass. I gat tak!” This was the clearest he’d been since he’d woken up not able to speak.

“Oh. Okay, no wonder,” Sollux says, looking surprised.

Karkat grabs his history notebook, and Sollux hands him one of his pens. WERE YOU THERE? Karkat writes.

“No,” Sollux says. “I wasn’t there.”

WOULD THERE HAVE BEEN ANYTHING YOU COULD DO?

“I have no fucking clue,” Sollux says. “If you hadn’t been so close to the rite the sentries would have driven you off, no harm done. How did you get so close?”

NO IDEA, Karkat writes. SO YOU DON’T JUST KILL ANYONE WHO GOES UP THERE AT THE WRONG TIME?

“We kinda go to extremes to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place KK,” Sollux says, and rubs his hands through his short hair. “Just. Fuck. Someone contaminated an initiation ritual--”

OH NO OUTSIDER COOTIES IN OUR BLACK MASS, Karkat writes.

“Wow, no, fuck you. Anyone not consecrated viewing the ritual would have been a contaminant, not just an Outsider,” Sollux says.

OUTSIDERS ARE JUST PARTICULARLY HORRIBLE?

“Outsiders tend to actually lose their minds,” Sollux says. “It is like, actually a thing that happens, KK.”

YOU GUYS KILL THE MENTALLY ILL BECAUSE YOU DROVE THEM CRAZY?

“No, sometimes the Gods go, ‘no, this one can live,’ and they die anyway because whatever they’re seeing is just that awful,” Sollux says angrily. “There is documentation.

The very present fear that had been in the background, the fear of maybe going crazy, shivers to the surface. Karen had said that he was fine, that he wasn’t showing any “symptoms.” But she also did little tests, asking him if he’d seen anything, if he heard voices. If he knew what day it was. OKAY, he writes. THIS IS JUST REALLY FUCKED UP.

“I know, I am so sorry KK,” Sollux says.

YOU WEREN’T THERE AND YOU PROBABLY COULDN’T HAVE DONE ANYTHING, Karkat writes. LET’S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. I MEAN IF YOU WANT TO HANG OUT WITH ME.

“I guess so,” Sollux says, sounding relieved. “It’ll be my good deed for the day.”