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(they flow from form to form)

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Karkat doesn’t see Terezi all week, but it isn’t until the Wednesday that he starts getting worried. He’s worried, but also reluctant to try calling or texting her. He thinks about Terezi and Eridan taking him up to the temple, Terezi spinning him around so that he can see the “forcefield.” He remembers how cold the temple had been, how okay she’d been about sacrificing him. At the same time he remembers joking around with her before class and at lunch. How she kept trying to get him to join her tabletop rpg group and playing computer games with her online, spending the night at her house.

(He thought they were friends, and he misses her. He wonders what it says about him that he misses her. That he isn’t nearly as angry and betrayed feeling as he thinks he probably should be. He wonders if it’s some kind of brain thing the Gods did.)

He talks to Sollux about it, but Sollux doesn’t really have any answers. “She hasn’t been to school since she left the Temple,” Sollux says.

“Have you talked to her or anything?” Karkat asks.

Sollux shakes his head. “She’s not answering her phone. I tried calling her mom, and Ms. Pyrope said TZ’s not feeling well.”

“Oh,” is all Karkat says, because he doesn’t know what to say. He’s relieved he hasn’t seen her, but he’s also worried that he hasn’t seen her. He doesn’t know what he’d say to her, he doesn’t know what she might say to him. He can’t even imagine the conversation. “I hope she gets better soon,” he says, even though it’s the lamest most meaningless thing he could possibly say.

“So do I,” Sollux says after a pause. “If--when--she comes back, are you going to be okay?”

“I don’t know,” Karkat admits. “I know you were friends with her for longer so…”

“I’ll still be your friend, and hang out and stuff, that is if you want me to,” Sollux says.

“Yeah, I still want to be your friend,” Karkat says.

“Cool,” Sollux says, and gives Karkat his piece of chocolate cake.

Wednesday night, Terezi’s mom comes over to talk about how the investigation is going. She talks leads and suspects and theories, and Dad asks for clarification, explanations. Karkat mostly listens, and he can occasionally “hear” his dad worrying about him, about the town and the cult.

There are a number of suspects, the Zahhaks, the Amporas, both “traditionalist” families who don’t like the “new ways” or Feferi’s grandmother. Another family, Nergal, seem to belong to the faction that thinks Feferi’s half-sister was driven away instead of leaving on her own. Akhalt Zahhak had been seen going to Morgan’s Outdoor Sports about an hour before Karkat and his dad arrived. So had Lilith Nergal. Neither of them was available for questioning, Akhalt having left on an extended camping trip with his friends, and Lilith being in ritual seclusion.

“And there’s no way to reach either of them?” Dad asks skeptically.

“If she’s in seclusion, Lilith can’t be questioned until she returns,” Ms. Pyrope says. “A message has been sent to Akhalt, telling him to return home. If he doesn’t return within a few days…we’ll have a clearer idea if he’s the culprit, or one of them.”

Dad gives Ms. Pyrope an intent look. “You don’t really think this Akhalt is a suspect. Or Lilith,” he says. “Is it because of what Ms. Serket said about the spell used on Mr. Morgan?”

Ms. Pyrope makes a sour face. “I don’t like agreeing with Serket about anything, but she’s right more or less about the spell looking like the Demoness’ work,” she says. “I don’t think the Megidos are involved. Do you sense anything?”

“I don’t know, Latula,” he says. “I don’t even really know what I’m seeing.”

“What are you seeing?” Ms. Pyrope asks.

Dad shakes his head. “Something’s broken,” he says. “Maybe several somethings. What happened? Were you always this divided?”

Ms. Pyrope smiles a little wryly. “Situation normal, all fouled up,” she says. “You’ll find out about some of it, as you go through the history. Our previous High Priestess not responding well to change is at least part of the problem.” The conversation shifts from there, to a discussion of how to identify someone’s spellwork, and Blood powers.

Feferi starts introducing Karkat to other kids involved with the cult. Most of the kids she introduces him to are junior priests, but there are also kids with other Aspects in the mix. They’re friendly and curious but not slightly creepy “join our church because we have a quota of souls to save” friendly. Karkat doesn’t quite relax, because even if they aren’t “conversion-creepy” they’re creepy in plenty of other ways, just the way they talk or act. He really wonders how he could have missed how different the believers are. How different the town is. (Had he really thought it was just some kind of small town thing?)

He had pretty much met kids with all of the Aspects except one, and he asks Feferi about it during one of her Study Hall visits. “So is Rage pretty rare?”

“It’s not common. There’s a few families where Rage tends to turn up,” Feferi says. “Makara, Turner, Keylon. No one from those families come to this school. The Turners and Keylons usually go to Union Tech.”

“Is this more ‘politics’?” Karkat asks. He gets a weird chill at the way she doesn’t say where the Makaras go to school. Something that says, that’s important. “What about the Makaras?”

“How far have you gotten into the town history?” Feferi asks.

“I’m up to the early 1900s.”

“Well, you’re almost to the part where you’ll find out about the Makaras,” Feferi says.

“Can I get the Cliffs Notes version?”

“They…did something forbidden,” Feferi says. “They tried to help an occultist raise a powerful demon, thinking it was a god.” She makes a face. “The True Lord of Time they called it, The Angel of Double Death. Helena Carcin, the last Blood Adept and some of the strongest Adepts of that generation died trying to keep the demon from entering this reality. Labrys Megido was branded as the demon’s servant, and suffered years of torment after nearly dying when the demon was banished. The Makaras were cast out; the Megidos lived under a cloud of suspicion for decades. The Turners and Keylons felt the Makaras and Megidos hadn’t been treated fairly, and won’t involve themselves with the priesthood, or most of the rest of the community.”

“And I’m not going to meet any of these people because the feeling is mutual?” Karkat asks.

Feferi looks stung by the comment; then she glares. “I don’t know any of them,” she says. “Not to talk to, anyway. And they really, really wouldn’t want me to approach them out of nowhere.”

“So, how much bad blood is between the Turners, Keylons, Makaras and the Hatfields--I mean Peixes?”

“I hate you,” Feferi says, and plops her head down onto her forearms. “Blood is the worst Aspect.” Her voice is slightly muffled, and a little whiny with exasperation. Feferi lifts her head. “Why is it so important for you to want to contact them?” she asks.

“No clue,” Karkat says truthfully. “Just curious, and giving you a hard time, I guess.”

“I reely reely hate you,” Feferi says. There’s no feeling of hostility in her tone. “Are you sensing anything?”

“Some kind of Blood thing? I don’t know,” Karkat says, remembering that feeling that something was important about the way Feferi was talking about the families with the Rage Aspect. “There are just these holes and I’m trying to understand what’s going on.”

“Connections, community, family the bonds and oaths that keep the community together,” Feferi says. “Is your dad sensing anything?”

“Ms. Pyrope didn’t tell you anything?” Karkat asks.

“Would I be asking if she had?” Feferi shoots back. “Is he sensing something?”

“Just that you’re kind of messed up with a lot of conflicts, which we already knew,” Karkat says. Feferi gives him a look that’s both hurt and irritated. He feels a little guilty, but not enough to apologize.

“Great-Gram did things that were pretty terrible. Her mom did things that were pretty terrible,” Feferi says. “So yeah, there are a lot of feuds going on, and you ended up in the middle of it.”

“Lucky us,” Karkat mutters.

“No, lucky us, Feferi says, her voice different and strange, her eyes darkening with violet shadows. Strands of her hair lift and float as if in a current of air or water. “You’re here.”

“So we’re supposed to save the day?” Karkat asks irritably, even as an odd chill runs down his spine. He knows who (or Who) he’s talking to, but it doesn’t stop him from speaking his mind, any more than it had stopped him from speaking plainly and bluntly to any of the other Gods he’d met. “We didn’t come here to end up in a horror novel you know.”

Feferi, no Light looked amused. “You don’t have to do anything. You already hold the sickle of the one who defends.” She gives a significant look toward Karkat’s side of the table.

When Karkat looks down he sees that instead of books and homework, there’s a sickle on the table, its handle wrapped in leather. The blade is a bright translucent red, as if it had been carved out of crystal. “What the hell?” Karkat asks. Then he blinks, and his books and notebooks are once more scattered in front of him.

“It’s possibly a non-metaphorical sickle of the one who defends,” Light says.

“Are you sending me on some kind of quest too?” Karkat asks flippantly.

“Oh, it’s the same quest,” Light says. “The sickle was within you the entire time and so on.”

“Okay so this is more of a young adult fantasy novel than a horror novel,” Karkat says. “One of those find your inner strength and confidence coming of age things. Is the dragon metaphorical or non-metaphorical?”

“Six of one, half dozen of the other,” Light says. The shadows in Feferi’s eyes fade and she sits back in her chair. “Quayst?” Feferi asks in her own, normal voice.

“Uh, yeah. Breath kind of told me to go find a dragon and find out the answers to questions I hadn’t asked,” Karkat says. “Are you okay?” He asks, because Feferi is slumped in her chair, eyes closed.

“I’m fine, just a little tired,” Feferi says. She stretches and yawns.

“Being possessed takes a lot out of you?”

Feferi snorts. “Something like that.”

“I’m kind of wondering if it would seem like I was getting conceited or whatever if I asked about why She spoke through you that time, instead of showing up,” Karkat says.

“You could ask Her yourself,” Feferi suggests with a bright smile.

“It’ll be something enigmatic and mysterious, won’t it,” Karkat says after a few moments of thought.

Probubbly!” Feferi says. “In this case She was talking to me while She was talking to you. Basically, your thoughts have merit, and I need to introduce you to everyone.”

When Karkat gets home, he looks through the town history, a weirdly eclectic local radio station he’d been listening to for the past few days playing in the background.

The “war” between the town and Dr. Theophilus Skrae “Doc Scratch” began in 1918 an ended in 1925. It began with the kidnapping (or “seduction” accounts apparently differed) of fifteen year old Labrys Megido, who was subsumed by the will of Skrae’s Master, a demon calling itself “Lord English.” (Karkat has noticed from the town history that “believers” are apparently really long lived.) Skrae, an occultist, was gathering materials to summon his Master into the world, and somehow convinced the head of the Makara family Anselm Makara that “Lord English” was the true God of Time.

Adepts Helena Carcin (Blood), Osiris Captor (Doom, Beloved of the Gods), Thomas Scriven (Mind) and Priestess Camille Thoris (Space), and Priest Korrat Shrike (Time) worked together to defeat Scratch and his allies and servants. The final battle took place on November 25, 1925, with the priests closing the rift while Captor, Carcin, and Scriven battled with Makara, Megido, Scratch, and a horde of minor demons.

In the aftermath, Carcin died after freeing Megido from the control of the demon. The Makaras are cast out, and the only reason the Megidos aren’t is because Time forbids it. It’s a clinical, coldblooded narrative, but at the end of it, tears are stinging his eyes. He can almost see Osiris arguing with Helena Carcin, begging her to rest, to wait, Helena pushing past him to where Labrys Megido was lying unconscious on the ground, an expression of stubborn determination on her face.

“And that was ‘Tears of the Dragon’ by Bruce Dickinson,” an almost familiar voice says. “A single from his album Balls to Picasso. Next up is Dessa’s ‘The Crow’ and Three Days Grace ‘I am Machine.’ If you’re wondering, yes we are building a theme here.”

Karkat frowns at the radio. “Heart?” he asks, not really believing what he was hearing.

He startles a bit when he hears, “yes?” Staring a moment at the radio, which is now playing obscure folk metal, and then at the bed, where the voice actually came from.

Sitting on the bed is Heart, dressed in tattered jeans and a worn-looking Iron Maiden t-shirt. His eyes are orange points of light behind pointed shades. He has two small hoop earrings in his left ear and a stud in his right. He’s smiling faintly.

“I uh, didn’t expect you to just show up if I said your name,” Karkat says.

Heart shrugs. “Well I felt like it,” He says.

“You sound a lot like the DJ,” Karkat says.

Another faint smile, and a shrug. “Not surprising, since he’s Me.”

“You’re the DJ,” Karkat says blankly.

“It’s my day job,” Heart says with a completely innocent expression.

“Day job,” Karkat repeats. It’s impossible to tell if Heart is joking or not. (He really needs to stop echoing everything Heart says, if only because it’s embarrassing as hell.) “Why do you have a day job?”

“It’s not so much of a day job, as it’s my station,” Heart says, still smiling. “It’s interesting, and keeps me entertained. My brother Time helps sometimes.”

“Eldritch powers beyond human comprehension,” Karkat says. “With a radio station. What about,” Karkat waves his hands, trying to indicate the seriousness of the problem, “driving mere mortals crazy?”

“There are protections in place,” Heart says. “And the station is mostly run by priests and Adepts.”

“So you can play being a DJ,” Karkat says.

“Is that a bad thing?” Heart asks. “KALB won a few awards for news reporting.”

“I don’t know, it seems frivolous?”

“Is there anything We should be doing?” Heart asks. “Also, do you have any idea of how many Christian radio stations there are in Missouri alone? One radio station that doesn’t even do any proselytizing is completely fine.” A pause. “Want a summer job? We could use some interns.”

“What’s the survival rate,” Karkat says in a deadpan voice.

Heart snorts. “One hundred percent. We’re not exactly Nightvale.”

“No, but you got your own weird things going on,” Karkat says. “Like wars with occultists.”

“There haven’t been any major incidents since the 1920s. From that point, the priests and Adepts agreed to take more proactive steps to stop occultists from dealing with things they shouldn’t, or from setting themselves against the town itself,” Heart says. “There was some regret afterward, because it tended to bring in new ideas, and new people, who were often directly and romantically involved with the questors.”

“The traditional types didn’t like it,” Karkat says.

“And the High Priestess of the time,” Heart says. “But it was effective, and We insisted the questing continue.”

“‘Questing,’” Karkat says. “Breath sent me on a ‘quest’. Light said something about it too and something about sickles.”

Heart smiles. “It’s less of a quest and more of a riddle,” he says.

“Karkat, dinner’s ready!” Dad calls from the bottom of the stairs. “Homemade beef and broccoli stirfry!”

“Be down in a minute Dad!” Karkat yells back.

“I should get going,” Heart says, and starts to stand up.

“No!” Karkat says quickly. He feels his face heat a little at the raised brow Heart gives him. “I mean, you could come to dinner? I mean, you didn’t get to do that date thing you wanted because Hope and falling to pieces. There’s always enough for one more, and I don’t think--” Well, he wasn’t thinking at all because God. Maybe he didn’t need to eat? Or maybe he ate something really weird. Like raw meat, or blood, or virgin hearts.

“Well I wouldn’t say virgin hearts,” Heart says. “And not actually eating.” Hearts eyebrows do not actually wiggle. But somehow, the impression that he was wiggling them was there.

“Oh my god,” Karkat says, and buries his burning face in his hands. “You are actually worse than Time.”

“Interesting prayer, I give it a five point nine out of ten,” Heart says. “To answer the question you aren’t asking, there is a reason why you thought of asking me to dinner as if I were your friend Sollux.” Heart trails off, and doesn’t explain further.

“Because Space was okay being around my dad?” Karkat guesses.

“Not quite,” Heart says.

“Something to do with me being a ‘chosen bridegroom’ then?”

“Something to do with you, specifically, which is why We’re courting you,” Heart says. “Our Spouses have a closeness to us that is different than our relationships with our priests or our worshipers.” There was a sense of eyebrow-wiggling again. “Not just sex. It’s a spiritual closeness, a strength that allows you to bear Our presence, to ask Time to stay, to attempt chivalry with Void and Life, to argue with Light and Breath. These are not things a priest or worshiper would be able to do, for all that attempting to win Our favor is sometimes called ‘flirting.’”

“Okay,” Karkat says. “Does that mean you might not be okay around my dad?”

“We could find out, before he comes up here to see what’s taking you so long,” Heart says.

Dad has no problem with adding one more plate to the dinner table. (He does tell Karkat he should have said something earlier.) Heart introduces himself as “Broderick Strider.” The Iron Maiden shirt he was wearing is now a Heart concert t-shirt. The earrings and the jeans don’t change. “Do your parents know you’re staying for dinner?”

“I left a message with my older sister Roshanna, Mr. Vantas,” Heart says. “Sorry for the short notice, it smelled really good, and Karkles said you wouldn’t mind.”

“Karkles?” Karkat asks, a little indignantly.

“Karkitty? Autogato? Beepbeepmeow?” Heart asks in response.

“You are not nearly as funny as you think you are, ‘Bro’,” Karkat says.

"I think I am exactly as funny as I think I am,” Heart says.

Dad looks amused. “Well, I usually make enough for leftovers, so it won’t be a problem,” he says.

Dad probes Heart for questions, the usual parents-school-when-met questions. Heart claims to have an older brother and sister acting as his guardians, and that he goes to Union Tech. Karkat apparently met “Bro” at the public library, where they had turned out to be doing a history paper on the same subject. After exchanging reference materials and phone numbers, they’d been in contact with each other for a few months. Dad frowns, but seems to accept the backstory, though Karkat has a feeling his dad is going to be asking more questions later, once “Broderick” goes home.

After dinner, Karkat and Heart do more homework, and then Heart packs up his backpack and homework. Dad asks if “Broderick” needs a ride home. Heart declines, saying his bike is just outside, but does give Dad his “guardians” phone number. Once “Broderick” is gone, Dad says, very casually. “I wonder what would happen if I actually called this number.”

“Um. You’d get a hold of his older sister or brother?” Karkat hedges.

Dad gives him a look. “Karkat.”

“It wasn’t my idea,” Karkat says, a little defensively. “What gave him away?”

“A combination of things,” Dad says. “I couldn’t find a logical point of arrival, or remember speaking to him previously, or remember him going upstairs, or you mentioning him in the past few weeks. The backpack on the couch wasn’t there earlier, and he never brought it down with him. It was nice of him I suppose, not tampering with my memories.” Dad’s tone is very dry. “Otherwise he has a very convincing ‘human costume’.”

The radio clicks on. “In honor of a semi-successful ‘meet the parents’ dinner, next up is ‘Nobody Knows My Plan,’ by They Might Be Giants, followed by ‘Magic Man’ by Heart, and ‘Edge of Seventeen’ by Stevie Nicks,” Time’s voice says.