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(they flow from form to form)

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During the conversation with Feferi, Karkat feels sick. Literally, physically sick. He would call it swooning (derisively) if it didn’t also feel as if he were going to throw up. He’s on the deck, swallowing spit and trying not to puke, sweat popping up all over his skin. It’s suddenly unbearably hot, his skin is on fire and he feels limp and wrung out. Karen is speaking to Feferi, asking her what happened. “I’m not sure. It might be a sending.” An icy hand touches his cheek. “Orrr a presentiment. Gramma, could you please call Ms. Serket and tell her to check on Mr. Vantas? Tell her to call me with what she finds out. Tell her don’t try to reset the spell.”

“I’ll do that,” Karen says, but she’s also somehow saying, “you have some explaining to do.”

“Whas goin’ on?” Karkat asks semi-coherently.

“You’re sensing something very strongly,” Feferi says. “Are you seeing or hearing anything?”

“No. Jus’ sick,” Karkat mumbles. “Gonna puke.”

“Yeah, presentiments are like that,” Feferi says sympathetically. “You should see poor Sollux, he gets migraines. His visions are pretty accurate! He’s Doom though, so that isn’t too surprising.”

Cold spreads out from her hand, and the waves of nausea fade out. Karkat still doesn’t feel like he can move though. He wants to ask “what’s wrong with my dad?” and “how did you know it was my dad?” at the same time. All he can actually say is, “Dad?”

“You’re worried about your dad, right?” Feferi asks. “I could sense ‘he’s right to be worried’ when I touched you.”

“Didn’t see,” Karkat says.

“It might not be a strong ability for you,” Feferi says. “Have you had sudden nausea attacks like this before?”

Karkat almost says no, but… “Got sick before coming here. On the way. Couple times. Thought it was stomach flu.”

“Any time before that?”

“Don’ know.”

“Well, let’s get you to bed. Do you think you can get up?” Feferi asks. Karkat tries, but Feferi has to support him. She ends up carrying him upstairs to her room (as easily as if he were a doll), and setting him on the bed.

“Why your room?”

“It’s a sign of favor and regard,” Feferi says. “And protection.”

Priests…didn’t want me here,” Karkat says, remembering the arguing he’d heard the very first time he’d awakened.

“They wanted you in the temple, going through the purification rites which would be kind of stupid since they wouldn’t have meant anything to you. Mindfulness is actually important,” Feferi says. “You’re not a table lamp or something.”

“Huh?” Karkat asks, blinking in confusion.

“You can consecrate or bless an inanimate object,” Feferi says. “You can perform a purification rite on an animal. A person should understand what’s going on. The idea is a little radical to some of the older priests,” Feferi says, making a face.

“You wanted to. Explain. About Tavros,” Karkat says.

“Yeah. You were told, right? Tavros is okay. Kind of disappointed about not being an Initiate, but okay.”

Karkat nods. There are a lot of questions in his head, but the one he comes up with is, “what’s a sending?”

“After everything I’ve said about why you should stay, I don’t want to worry you,” Feferi says after a moment of hesitation. “But not telling you would be a mistake. A sending is something sent…as a message. Or to attack.”

“Why me?” Karkat asks.

“I’m not sure,” Feferi says, still hesitant. “I know why I thought it might be a sending, but I’m not sure how much you need to know yet, because again, I don’t want to worry you.”

“Pretty sure m’already worried,” Karkat says.

“It has to do with politics, and my half-sister,” Feferi says. “And my not having reached my majority yet.” She might have said more, but her cell phone rang. “I need to answer this. You should probably try to sleep. Busy day tomorrow!” With that, she got on the phone and left the room, closing the door behind her. He can hear her saying “Okay, what’s going on?” as she heads downstairs.

Karkat flops back onto the bed, across the width, legs hanging over the edge. He thinks about what Feferi said.

“We can’t let you leave, because it would anger the Gods. Specifically, it would make them angry with us. This would be bad.”

“Even if you left, the attention of the Gods would still be on you. That might be dangerous for any ordinary human you came in contact with. You need to learn how to appease Them.”

“Your Blood powers are awakening. Not learning your power will leave you vulnerable, not just to other forces including the Gods, but also to occultists.”

Karkat, remembering comments from Sollux about “occultists” asked questions.

“Most of what we know about them is from the craters they tend to leave behind when they make a mistake.”

“Some of them have some kind of innate talent, but they aren’t like us. They’re weaker in some ways and don’t have our resistance to alien forces. And they are eventually driven mad by those forces and attempting to use our lore.”

“We try to avoid them, but we’ve fought with various occultist groups in the past.”

Karkat dreams he’s sitting on the stoop of a cabin in the woods. There’s crows in the trees who are acting like crows. The sun is shining between the branches of the trees. He thinks it might be early in the morning. It’s cool and it might be spring. He can hear the sound of a stream somewhere off to his left, but can’t see it.

It’s nice.

The guy from before, appears at his elbow, hands him a cup of coffee. (The cup keeps changing, various captions sliding across a surface that keeps changing color. The guy is always blond, and his eyes are always hidden behind pointed shades.) Karkat takes it, and sips. “Thanks.”

The guy smiles the faintest of smiles and sits next to him. “You’re welcome. You should be more careful about what you accept from strangers--or strange powers though.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Karkat says. “After I recover from being a frog or whatever this coffee is going to do to me.”

The guy laughs. “It won’t, just future reference.”

“Should I believe complete strangers who say that the coffee they offer me won’t turn me into a frog after being told to be more careful about being offered things from strangers?”

“Yes. Definitely,” the guy says. “I am very trustworthy…and I’m not a stranger.” The guy tilts his glasses so that Karkat can see his eyes. They’re a bright yellow-orange.

“You’re Heart.” Heart is a weird thing for an eldritch abomination to be called, he thinks. On the other hand, “Heart” was also the Destroyer of Souls. Karkat guessed he could call himself whatever he wanted.

“That’s me,” the guy says with a flicker of a smile. “When you’re done with that, let’s go for a walk.”

“Okay,” Karkat says.

There’s a skip, and they’re walking down a narrow path side by side. The forest is a dark tangle of tree and brush on either side of the trail. There’s birds calling, and an insectile buzzing that is probably cicadas. Every so often, he sees a squirrel, or one of the crows. Karkat notices little things like Heart is maybe a little shorter than he is. That he looks like he’s about Karkat’s age, and his appearance doesn’t change or do weird things like the others. (This is almost creepier than the way the others couldn’t quite manage a human appearance. He had the sense that Heart was trying very hard to appear human, for his benefit, and he wasn’t quite sure why, or what this was about.)

“I’m more focused,” Heart says in answer to the question Karkat hadn’t asked. One of the crows made a rude noise. Heart glances up at the crow, and it hastily leaves the branch. “I try to be precise, because my Aspect is very messy.”

Karkat remembers the sharp intellect that had so carefully vivisected his thoughts and shivers with a sudden chill. That had been this guy, who seemed so normal. (But there was nothing about this that was normal. There was nothing about him that was normal. Nothing at all.) “Precise,” Karkat echoes. He stops walking.

“Yeah,” Heart says. “That wouldn’t have been fun for you.” Heart has stopped as well, facing Karkat. “Was I the worst?”

(Karkat also hears the question as a statement, “I was the worst.”)

“I wasn’t able to talk for days,” Karkat says. “Karen’s been pretty much upfront about telling me that I might have gotten my brain completely fried. So it could have been worse I guess?”

“You would have our esteem even if you were a drooling idiot!” A voice declares from behind Karkat.

Karkat turns and sees a tall, gangly boy who looks like he stepped off the stage of a production of Newsies; Shirt, slacks, vest, flat cap. His eyes are green, but a darker shade than Space’s when She tries to look human. There’s some kind of light behind Him that moves and shifts. The light is vaguely wing-shaped. This is “Hope.” (Again with a name you would not expect of an eldritch horror.) Heart makes a series of exasperated noises that are words, but Karkat can’t understand.

“Nonsense, my dear Heart,” the boy says cheerfully. “Surely he takes my meaning!” He comes up and claps Karkat on the shoulder. It’s painful, as if the boy doesn’t know his own strength. Karkat winces and tries to move away, but gets reeled into a side hug. “Don’t you, fellow?”

“Yeah, sure,” Karkat says. “You like me, and you’re kind of ableist.”

Hope gives him a baffled look. Heart snorts, trying not to laugh, and says something.

Hope looks as if he has an “aha!” moment and says, “Even if you were mongoloid?”

“Now you’re ableist and racist,” Karkat says.

Heart starts laughing helplessly, clutching his middle. Heart also sighs in exasperation, standing with his arms crossed as he glares at Hope. Heart also says, “Hope is about nostalgia--a belief that the past is somehow better than the present--as much as he is about actual ‘hope.’ As a result…” Heart waves a hand at Hope.

(All of the Hearts are doing this in the same space at the same time. Looking at it makes Karkat’s eyes water and head pound.)

“I say, that’s hardly fair!” Hope protests.

“I’m being extremely fair, and not airing dirty laundry,” Heart says (the Heart that had sighed in exasperation).

“Well, you’ve quite gone to pieces, and poor Karkat’s gone quite green about the gills.”

“M’fine,” Karkat says, leaning hard against Hope without thinking about it. Hope supports him, and the thought is almost funny; because he’s supported by Hope.

“You need to wake up,” Heart says. He’s kneeling by Karkat (when had he lain down?) on the ground and both Heart and Hope are keeping him up in a mostly seated position. “Dammit, I had plans,” Heart says, or Karkat thinks he says.

“Pretty much too soon for this kind of thing anyway,” Time says. (Where had he come from?) “I mean, not that it’s not perfectly set up or anything, but you gotta go slow with these things. Bring them in gently.” He has crow wings and a crow head, and his eyes are like clock gears turning. Tick. Tick. Tick.

“Shut up,” Heart says. He kisses Karkat on the forehead, and before Karkat can ask any questions he--

--wakes up.

He’s lying the right way around on the bed, and the clock says 12:00 p.m. Feferi is sitting by the bed, looking concerned. “What?” “You were traveling,” Feferi says. “Not something you should be trying, though I don’t think you were doing it intentionally.” She pauses. “Were you?”

“Since I have no idea of what you’re talking about, let’s go with ‘no,’” Karkat says.

“You wouldn’t wake up. We’re a few hours late to head over to your house,” Feferi said. “I told your dad we’d be there at ten.”

“You talked to my dad?” Karkat asks. “What did you tell him?”

“Not very much,” Feferi said. “There are some things that really shouldn’t be said over the phone. And ‘you’re probably distantly related to an ancient cult that worships the eldritch gods of a dead human cousin species, and your son is Their chosen bridegroom’ is probably at least two of those things.”

Skip. Stutter. Start. “Bridegroom?”

“Yes? They made their intentions pretty clear? All over my bedroom,” She says with a frown.

“They--shit--what the fuck…”

“I should be giving you the ‘it’s a great honor’ speech, but I think you actually need Gramma’s ‘your feelings are valid,’ speech,” Feferi says.

“What. The. Fuck?! They go from deciding whether or not to kill me to wanting to marry me? What the fucking hell?!” Weeks of stress and confusion come out in a rush of words, some of them not exactly coherent. He can’t stop, he can’t stop himself.

Feferi waits him out. “Whatever They saw when They judged you, They liked,” she says when he’s calmed down.

“Is it because I’m ‘Blood’ or whatever?” Karkat asks. “They seemed really, really happy about that.” He takes a breath. “Is that why the priests wanted to take me into custody or whatever?”

“Blood is important, the Beloved and the Witch Child were both Blood! But you aren’t the only ‘bride’ or ‘bridegroom!’ There’s always a few, every generation. You’re just the first Outsider. Well, technical Outsider, since you’re Blood.” She pauses a moment to think about it. “I’m pretty sure the rest of the priesthood doesn’t know yet. They just know you’re favored. They mostly wanted to study you because you’re an Outsider, and Blood, I think.”

“Do I have any choice in this? Are eldritch spawn going to be bursting out of my eye sockets?”

“Ew. That’s really blasphemous, don’t say things like that,” Feferi says. “It’s a spiritual bond--”

“That involves tentacle sex.”

“It doesn’t involve eldritch spawn!”

“But does involve tentacle sex.”

“Stop saying tentacle sex!”

“You’re supposed to be seeing if Karkat is feeling well, and asking if he wants something to eat, Feferi,” Karen says from the doorway. “Not shouting about tentacle sex.”

“Augh!” Feferi grabs a pillow and screams into it.

Karkat wonders how long Karen had been standing there. “I could eat. Also, I think I’m underage to be married to tentacle gods.” Karen blinks. “At this stage I would hope it’s only dating tentacle gods.”

“I’m not sure I want that either,” Karkat says.

“Stop saying tentacle gods,” Feferi moans. “Stop saying tentacle anything.” Her voice is slightly muffled by the pillow. “Great- Gram never had to put up with stuff like this…”

“Sweetheart, she had to put up with an Outsider feminist psychology major hippy being engaged her precious son,” Karen points out. “So she had to put up with something. Me telling her she’s wrong about everything, for instance. Go get Karkat something to eat.”

Grumbling, Feferi tosses the pillow back on the bed, and leaves the bedroom. Karen watches her go with a look that is both amused and worried, and then turns to face Karkat. “Are you okay?”

Karkat shrugs. “I guess so? I had a weird dream, and apparently couldn’t be woken up, but I guess I’m okay?”

“You’ve learned some things that are pretty upsetting,” Karen says. “And certain abilities are apparently making themselves known, from what Feferi has said.”

“Yeah,” Karkat says. “Did you um…know?”

“Only from Feferi,” Karen says.

“It was um…not something I want to talk about. I wasn’t sure if it was real, or just me going crazy.”

“You don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want to,” Karen says.

After a shower and some lunch, Karen drives him and Feferi to his house. There are two other cars besides his dad’s parked in the driveway and on the curb. Karen parks on the opposite side of the street.

Walking up to the house feels weird. He doesn’t have his keys (no one had been able to find them afterward) so he has to knock. Vriska answers the door. “Hello, Ms. Foster, Peixes, Vantas,” she says, and lets them in. “Mom and Ms. Pyrope are talking to Vantas senior in the kitchen. Well, getting talked at.”

Karkat can hear his dad holding forth on false imprisonment, kidnapping and (attempted) brainwashing. Ms. Pyrope is apologizing and explaining that it had been necessary and that the “High Priestess” would be arriving soon to explain everything. Dad continues to be outraged, and occasionally Ms. Serket says something waspish, but is apparently ignored by Dad and Ms. Pyrope. He heads into the kitchen immediately. “Dad!”

Dad almost knocks the chair over as he jumps up and wraps Karkat in a fierce hug. “Karkat, are you all right?”

“I’m okay, dad,” Karkat says, hugging back as hard as he can. He can feel dad tense as Karen and Feferi enter the room.

“Are you this ‘High Priestess’?” His dad asks Karen in a belligerent tone.

“No, that would be my granddaughter, Feferi,” Karen says. Feferi waves, looking weirdly embarrassed.

“Feferi?” Dad asks, sounding surprised. (Karkat remembers that Feferi is in his class.)

“Hi Mr. Vantas,” Feferi says. “I can explain what’s going on, but it’s a really long story, do you think we could sit down?”