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Karkat is working on his homework on Friday evening, both his actual school homework, and reading assignments in the beginner magic book and the cultist “bible” given to him by Osiris. There was apparently going to be a quiz at some point. The mythology is pretty interesting with descriptions of the realm of the gods, stories about the creation of the First Cities, the adventures of heroes. He also has to read the chapter on his Aspect, and memorize its attributes and interactions with the other Aspects. (Dad had been given similar “homework,” and spent a lot of time talking comparative religions with Osiris the night before in a “memo” over Pesterchum.)

[gayAuxiliatrix (GA) is pestering carcinoGeneticist (CG)]

GA: Karkat Are You Doing Anything This Weekend?

CG: JUST STUDYING FOR FINALS WHY?

GA: I Was Wondering If You’d Like To Come To My House For Lunch But Also For Lessons Concerning Certain Duties The High Priestess May Have Mentioned.

CG: SHE DID MENTION SOMETHING ABOUT DUTIES. RITUALS AND BLESSINGS.

CG: UH. DO ANY OF THESE RITUALS INVOLVE KILLING CHICKENS OR SOMETHING?

GA: Says The Person Who Had No Problem Eating My Mother’s Fried Chicken.

CG: OKAY POINT. BUT STILL IS ANIMAL SACRIFICE INVOLVED?

CG: SO I CAN LIKE PREPARE MYSELF.

GA: There Are Certain Seasonal Sacrificial Rites, Where The Meat Of The Sacrificed Animal Is Later Consumed During A Feast. Blood-Letting Is Common For Some Priestly Rituals And As You Are Aware, Humans Are Offered Directly To the Gods.

GA: No Animal Sacrifice Will Be Taking Place. There Will Be Small Fancy Sandwiches, Deviled Eggs, Strawberry Shortcake and Tea.

CG: A TEA PARTY. SERIOUSLY?

CG: WILL THERE BE OTHER GUESTS? YOUR DOLL COLLECTION MAYBE?

CG: FORGET I SAID THAT. IT WAS KIND OF SHITTY AND YOU’RE TRYING TO HELP.

GA: How Did You Know I Collected Dolls?

CG: I DIDN’T I WAS JUST RIFFING OFF OF THE LITTLE GIRL TEA PARTY THING WHICH AGAIN WAS KINDA SHITTY OF ME.

GA: And The Comment About Animal Sacrifice Wasn’t.

CG: OKAY I’M SORRY ABOUT THAT TOO. I CAN COME OVER SATURDAY, I GUESS.

GA: I Will Email You Directions.

CG: OKAY. SEE YOU SATURDAY.

GA: See You.

[gayAuxiliatrix (GA) is no longer pestering carcinoGeneticist (CG)!]

“Smooth move Karkat,” he sighs. “You are the master of tact and diplomacy.” There was probably a better way he could have asked about animal sacrifice. Now there was a weird line of thought. Or maybe the thought wasn’t much weirder than anything else. Food offerings were one thing; he wasn’t bothered by the idea. Animal sacrifice was another thing, even if you were going to be eating the chicken or whatever later. If he had explained it that way, maybe the conversation would have gone a little better.

It was a little unsettling to feel this worried--this guilty--about Kanaya being upset. It made him wonder if he felt this because of some kind of outside influence. As if something or someone was pushing him to become part of one big happy family of sister-brother spouses and the Gods. He sat there for a few minutes in front of the computer, and tried to figure out the inside of his brain. How would he know if he were being influenced?

This is hard. It isn’t like there’s some kind of map or guide. This was his mind. This was looking for something outside that might be manipulating him. Would he even be able to tell? Karkat remembers being handled, moved from one unfathomable Presence to another. Being a tiny speck inspected by Beings so much larger than he was he couldn’t understand it. There had just been the terrifying awareness that They could destroy him without even intending to. That They were being as delicate and careful as They could, but it had just barely been enough; his brains had still ended up scrambled by the contact.

How scrambled would his brains end up being from being “married” to unfathomable eldritch entities? Still sitting at his desk, he takes a deep breath, and another. In his head, there are red lines, paths. They show up starkly in the dark behind his eyelids. They pulse with a familiar beat, the sound of his heart. There’s a line connecting him to his Dad, who is doing some studying of his own, in his own room. There’s a line, still present that goes to his mother. He can’t touch it, but it’s there. There’s other lines connecting him to people he’s met, and he can sense that there are more lines connecting them to each other. It’s like a net, but also like a stream. (Like veins and arteries carrying blood, being pumped by a heart through a body.)

There’s a line that goes to Sollux. If he touches it, he can sense that Sollux is playing video games with his dad. There’s some trash talking going on, and Karkat smiles, cheered by the bright line between Sollux and his father. Sollux’s lines go to his father, his great great grandfather, his family, friends and people that are too far away for Karkat to see. He can see how the Captors fit into the town, a little. Doom predicts disasters, disharmony. They’re an early warning system, they’re the IT Department. They’re the Engineers of That Which Prevents Catastrophe.

Sollux stops trash talking midsentence and frowns. “Karkat?”

Karkat startles, suddenly coming awake, a little disoriented and confused. Maybe an hour had passed, according to the clock. There’s a message window from Sollux hovering on the monitor.

TA: wa2 that you ju2t now?

CG: MAYBE?

TA: there i2 no maybe that wa2 a ye2 or no que2tiion.

CG: I WAS TRYING SOMETHING BUT I NOTICED YOUR LINE INSTEAD, SO I TOUCHED IT SO YEAH?

TA: my liine?

CG: I’M SEEING ALL OF THESE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN ME AND OTHER PEOPLE. AND MORE LINES OR PATHS FURTHER OUT. I TOUCHED YOURS, BUT I GUESS YOU SENSED ME? SORRY.

TA: welp.

[twinArmageddons (TA) invited diarchicAccensor (DA) to memo “blood power2 actiivate!”]

[twinArmageddons (TA) invited carcinoGeneticist (CG) to memo “blood power2 actiivate!”]

TA: TA: wa2 that you ju2t now?

CG: MAYBE?

TA: there ii2 no maybe that wa2 a ye2 or no que2tiion.

CG: I WAS TRYING SOMETHING BUT I NOTICED TOUCH YOUR LINE INSTEAD, SO YEAH?

TA: my liine?

CG: I’M SEEING ALL OF THESE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN ME AND OTHER PEOPLE. AND MORE LINES OR PATHS FURTHER OUT. I TOUCHED YOURS, BUT I GUESS YOU SENSED ME? SORRY.

TA: welp.

[diarchicAccensor (DA) banned twinArmaggedons (TA) from memo “blood power2 actiivate” reason: “student consultation”]

[twinArmageddons (TA)’s away message: “II wa2 goiing to leave the memo anyway gramp2” ]

DA: What were you trying to do?

CG: I UH

CG: I WAS TRYING TO SEE IF THERE WAS A WAY TO TELL IF SOMEONE WAS MESSING WITH MY HEAD.

DA: Reading a little ahead or just worried?

CG: WORRIED. I’M NOT SURE OF WHAT I’M FEELING ABOUT ANYTHING. I DON’T TRUST ANYTHING, BUT AT THE SAME TIME I’M JUST ACCEPTING WHAT’S GOING ON, AND I FEEL INVESTED IN CONTINUING THIS WHATEVER IT IS?

DA: The good news is that if you are worried about being made to feel a certain way, you probably haven’t been replaced by a pod person.

DA: But there are ways to make sure.

DA: The bad news is, a sufficiently powerful entity could be making you feel a certain way, and you wouldn’t know it or be able to tell.

DA: So if you’re worried about the Gods doing something, I can’t help you there, or even reassure you, because I’m part of what you don’t trust.

CG: SORRY

DA: Kid, I’d be surprised if you weren’t suspicious. You’re okay. You’ve got good reason to be suspicious and worried, especially how you found out about the cult.

DA: Now, let’s skip ahead a few chapters, and take a look at veiling and other forms of memory alteration Blood is usually pretty resistant to veiling, your Dad being a prime example.

Osiris walks him through a lesson on memory alteration and detection. Karkat takes notes and asks questions. At the end of it, he’s still worried, but he has information and knows a little more about how the Aspects interact with each other. The impromptu lesson takes about an hour, and Osiris signs off with telling him to call him or text him if he has any other questions.

Karkat logs out of Pesterchum at the end of it and retreats to his bed to review his notes and the chapter. He falls asleep like that, surrounded by notes, the book resting on his chest. His dreams are full of disjointed action movie sequences that aren’t in the least symbolic or presentiments.

He sleeps in the next day, and when he wakes up he checks his email, and finds that Kanaya had sent him the directions to her house, and also what time he was supposed to show up. After dressing and brushing his teeth, he wanders downstairs where his dad is in his office, working on the computer. “Kanaya invited me over to her house for lunch,” he says.

Dad looks up from his computer. “Lunch huh? What time, and when will you be back?”

“Kanaya said eleven thirty,” Karkat says. He starts to head to the living room but Dad calls him back.

Dad doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. “Kanaya is one of the ‘Spouses,’ isn’t she?”

“Yeah, she’s about a year ahead of me,” Karkat says.

Karkat hears Dad think “Child marriage…” with extreme disapproval. He says “will anyone else be there?”

“I don’t think so, maybe her mom?”

“I think I’d like to speak to her mother, before you go,” Dad says. His tone is very I mean business, and Karkat can sense how worried Dad is so he doesn’t even offer a token protest. He gives Dad Kanaya’s number and heads into the living room.

(He really wants to listen in on that call.)

The crow is sitting on the entertainment center, preening itself. “Okay, so are you actually Time, or just His pet death omen?” Karkat asks after staring at it.

“Time had a thought
that winged its way
through the heat of day
what it sought no one knew
soaring in the burning blue
‘til the sun burnt it black,”

the crow says.

“I’m guessing that poem sounds better in the original unspeakable eldritch tongue.” Karkat says. He sits down, turns on the TV and flips through the channels. He can hear Dad talking, but not what he’s saying. Blood was apparently not necessarily a good Aspect for eavesdropping on spoken conversations.

“Enochian,” the crow says, and flaps over to the couch, landing on the arm.

“Really?”

“No.”

There is absolutely nothing on. He ends up watching a horrifying Vegan cooking show on PBS. Dad eventually ends the call about fifteen minutes later and comes out of the office. He stares at the crow, who is now perched on the back of the couch. The crow stares back. “I have no idea how he’s getting inside,” Karkat says.

Dad sighs. “I talked to Ms. Maryam, Kanaya’s mother. She seems like an interesting woman. I don’t have any objection to you going, but try to get home by three.”

“Okay,” Karkat says.

The crow wants to come with, perching first on Karkat’s shoulder, then on the bars of Karkat’s bike. It stretches its whole body out and flaps its wings as Karkat pedals. There’s a few other people on bikes, a small horde of runners, people out walking their dogs. People see him and wave and Karkat waves back.

He’s about a block away when someone suddenly steps out from behind a bush and sticks something in the spokes of the front wheel of Karkat’s bike. Karkat has a brief impression of kid, younger than me, t-shirt before the bike crashes. The crow squawks and flaps as the bike goes down. It flings itself at the kid, who takes off running.

Karkat tries to get up, but finds that the shoelaces of his right shoe have wound themselves around the crank arm. There is something weird going on with his front wheel, though it’s hard to tell from the angle he’s lying in. He thinks he’s mostly bruised and scraped up. Karkat works on getting himself free of the bike. “Need any help?” Karkat looks up and sees a blond kid his own age wearing a t-shirt and cut offs. The kid’s wearing shades, and his hair isn’t so much blond as it is stark white, and actually more like feathers than hair.

Karkat stares, blinks, and the feathers are hair again. “Sure,” he croaks.

Time helps him unwind his shoelaces from the crank arm, and then get the bike upright. The wheel is definitely crooked and some of the spokes are actually broken. “Looks like you’re going to need to get the wheel replaced.”

“What just happened?” Karkat asks, frowning at Time.

“The kid stuck a stick in the spokes of your wheel,” Time replies with exaggerated patience.

“No I mean, was that a part of,” Karkat waves his hand. “Politics, or just some random little shit?”

“Not so random little shit,” Time says. “If it were ‘politics’ there would have been more of them.”

“Yay,” Karkat says sourly. “Can’t you do something? I mean this is all because they don’t want Feferi to be High Priestess right, can’t you tell them to knock it off?”

“Humans are always very obedient and do what they’re told by their gods,” Time says. “That’s what they’re best known for, yep.”

The dry sarcasm made Time seem surprisingly human. Time wasn’t human though, He was an unknowable elder god. Karkat’s very aware of that when he asks, “so, what happened to the kid?”

“The crow just ran him off,” Time says.

“Why is he ‘not so random’?” Karkat asks.

“Because he doesn’t live on this end of town, and he doesn’t know anyone on this end of town, but that’s no reason for him not to be walking ‘round,” Time says. “Little ball of Rage and impulse, it might have been free will, it might have been a push.”

Karkat frowns. “So it might or might not be politics after all, is what you’re saying, am I right?”

Time shrugs. “Something like that.”

Time won’t answer any further questions about the kid, but he does help Karkat get the bike to Kanaya’s house. Karkat’s about fifteen minutes late and Kanaya is waiting for them on the front porch, looking worried. “Karkat, what happened? Are you okay?” she asks, hurrying up to him.

“Someone decided to crash my bike,” Karkat says. “‘Politics’ may or may not be involved; Time was kind of cagey about answering question.” He almost expects a comment from Time, but Time has disappeared. There isn’t even a crow hanging out in one of the trees in Kanaya’s front yard.

“You can leave the bike on the porch,” Kanaya says. “Let’s go inside and get you cleaned up.” Karkat follows her inside once the bike is up on the porch. Her house has wood floors and there are a lot of pictures on the walls. Some of them are family portraits, but a lot of them are paintings. Still life and landscapes, and a few that Karkat realizes are religious; Believer-religious, anyway. His attention is caught by one painting featuring a boy holding a severed head cradled under one arm, and a bloody sword in his other hand. “That’s Time,” Kanaya says helpfully. “Sometimes when He’s depicted as human, He’s shown holding His Brother’s head, or his body.”

“They uh seemed like They get along though?”

“They do,” Kanaya says. “See how carefully He’s holding Heart’s head?” She herds him into the bathroom, and shows him the medicine cabinet. “Heart is the Destroyer of Souls; sometimes the soul He destroys is His. Time is a God of Self-Sacrifice but sometimes He sacrifices Others.”

“Why would Heart destroy His soul?” Karkat asks.

“A God of Destruction isn’t necessarily a god of disasters,” a woman’s voice says. She steps into the bathroom doorway, Kanaya moving aside to give her room. She’s tall and dark haired like Kanaya, and looks enough like her that Karkat guesses this must be her mother. She’s wearing paint-stained jeans and a t-shirt. She had tattoos; long curling shapes that wound up her arms. “The Destroyer seeks to discover and sweep away flaws. Sometimes, those flaws are His Own. Time and Heart together has a number of metaphysical meanings that might be too boring to go into right now.” The woman smiles. “I’m Porrim, Kanaya’s mother. I’m sorry for not looking presentable enough for my daughter’s guest--”

“Mother,” Kanaya protests. “I never said you had to change clothes--”

“Sweetheart, you said ‘he’ll be here soon, are you going to wear that?’ It certainly sounded that way to me!” Porrim says to Kanaya, who looks embarrassed and flustered. “I was hit by inspiration for a project earlier this morning, and didn’t want to lose it,” she explains to Karkat.

“You’re an artist?” Karkat asks.

“Yes,” Porrim says with a smile. “Should we give you a little privacy while you clean yourself up?”

“Yeah, thank you,” Karkat says.

Porrim absconds, tugging her daughter along with her. Kanaya is still protesting that she hadn’t meant anything about the clothes Porrim was wearing. He can hear Porrim teasing her, and Kanaya continuing to protest, though she’s switched from “mother no,” to “mom stop it!”

Karkat cleans himself up as best he can, and bandages the more nasty looking scrapes. Kanaya is waiting for him in the living room, which has a huge leather couch and a couple of recliners placed around an entertainment center with a huge TV and sound system. There’s more paintings on the walls, and a variety of knickknacks. Porrim is nowhere in sight. “Mom’s gone back to her work room,” Kanaya says. “Everything’s ready to go out to picnic table.”

Karkat helps Kanaya carry trays of food, glasses paper plates and the tea (which it turned out to be iced sweet tea) out to the picnic table. The backyard is full of flowerbeds and a small vegetable garden, with a lot of shade from a couple of apple trees and a huge oak. The fence around the backyard is pretty high, and overgrown with vines. Near the picnic table is a barbecue grill. He sits down, and Kanaya sits across from him. “What happened on your way here?” she asks, putting deviled eggs and sandwiches onto a plate.

Karkat makes a plate for himself, and pours himself some tea as he explains about riding his bike and the kid that had jumped out and crashed his bike.

“Were you able to see who it was?” Kanaya asks.

“Not really, some kid,” Karkat says. “Time said that the crow just chased the kid off.”

“Did He say anything else?”

“Something about the kid being a ball of rage and fear,” Karkat says.

“Rage as in someone with that Aspect?” Kanaya asks.

“Maybe?” He thinks about it. “Probably. He didn’t tell me who it was or anything though. Just said that it was not so random’.”

“He might want you to find out on your own,” Kanaya says.

“Great another ‘quest’,” Karkat grumbles.

Kanaya gives him an interested look. “You were given a quest?” she asks.

“Yeah. Breath and apparently Light want me to find a dragon, and there’s something about a sickle.”

“The sickle of the one who defends,” Kanaya murmurs. “Have you spoken to Terezi at all lately?”

“Not since…everything happened. She hasn’t been to school.” He wants to ask about the sickle, but he’s distracted by what Kanaya says next.

“She was very upset,” Kanaya says.

“Well I was the one chained to a rock in the dark freezing my ass off,” Karkat says, not able to help the resentment or anger. “How the hell do you walk around in there in just skirts?”

“The temple is actually very warm,” Kanaya says. “It likely only felt cold to you, since you were an Outsider.”

“Still pretty much an Outsider,” Karkat says. He takes a bite out of the sandwich, which is thin slices of cucumber between buttered slices of crustless wheat bread. There’s also tuna fish sandwiches and tomato sandwiches and chicken salad sandwiches. “And I’d rather not go back to find out if there’s change in temperature.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Kanaya says. “Spouses all have Temple duties though. We open the festivals for each of the Gods, participate in the coronation of the High Priestess and walk with her in procession for solstice and equinox rites; we participate in the initiate ascension rituals for adepts and priests.” Kanaya describes each of the rites in detail. Festival opening seemed to be mostly a speech from each Spouse followed by an Aspect-themed blessing. The coronation and ascension rituals were a little more complicated and involved supervising fasting and vigils then “attending” the initiates by bathing and dressing them in ritual garments while praying over them.

“Do Spouses out rank priests or something?” Karkat asks.

“We’re more or less equal,” Kanaya says. “We have a more direct connection to the Gods. People come to us for things they can’t or won’t go to a priest for. Advice, a second opinion or ruling of a judgment or penance they didn’t like. People also come to us for mediation they don’t want to take to a priest or proceed secularly, or we might choose to meddle in the affairs of others.”

“Okay,” Karkat says. “Sounds like a lot of work.”

“It can be, Osiris says that it takes years before you’re really comfortable with the responsibility,” Kanaya says. “Would you like to learn some of the blessings?”

“Sure, why not,” Karkat says.

Kanaya teaches him some of the blessings, and talks about advice she’s given at school to other students. When it’s time to go, Porrim drives him home, with the bike in the back of her trunk.