Monday, February 13, 2012

Chapter 17

—Fun fact: I was actually trying to nap, and I try to fall asleep by brainstorming ideas for the next chapter. Thing is, when I remembered the part on FF7 when Aeris says “the roof and the flowers must have broken your fall” (which, much as I love the game, was a tad ridiculous. XD), I couldn’t help it. I HAD TO type this chapter. I just HAD TO.

Took me around half an hour for the whole chapter (sans the first three or so paragraphs). Whaddaya think, not bad, eh? >w< —

“KK, stop moping around,” Sollux growled over his shoulder at Karkat. “Your boyfriend’s gonna be fine. He’s with two fighters, remember?”

“I’m not an idiot,” Karkat countered. “I know that. I can’t help worrying, though. And stop calling me ‘KK’, or your name’s permanently ‘fuckass’.”

Sollux snickered. “With how many times you say that word I thought it already was.” After that remark, though, he was silent, much to Karkat’s relief.

The three were making their way around the small pool of Lifestream, Sollux having to stop Roxy from stopping and staring every five minutes – this was her first time in Banora, and her first time seeing this much of the shining energy at one time. Karkat rolled his eyes every time they had to stop, instead opting to walk several yards ahead of them.

That was when the ground caved in beneath him, and he slid – or, more like careened – down the side of a cliff they hadn’t realized was there. His descent was only hindered by the ground at the base of the cliff; the earth gave way yet again and he finally landed at the bottom, in a dark cave glowing with the traces of Lifestream that hadn’t quite made it to the pool yet. Karkat lay there for a moment; luckily, the cliff hadn’t been very tall, but the ceiling he’d crashed through was a good couple of yards up, and he’d been rendered stunned.

As he recovered, the voices of his traveling companions reached his still-ringing ears. “Hey, Karkat, are you okay down there?” he heard Roxy call tentatively.

Karkat waited a moment to catch his breath before replying sarcastically, “Just fucking peachy. The roof broke my fall, so I should be just fine in a year or two.”

“Good thing we’ll be down there a lot earlier than that,” Sollux returned, and Karkat made out the sounds of rocks shifting several feet above him as he got shakily to his feet.

As his eyes adjusted and his head slowed down its pounding, he looked around. The cave he had landed in was large, but there wasn’t much in it but some rocky pathways and a pool of water about as big as the one of Lifestream outside.

“We’ll have to find another way inside, KK,” Sollux called from the newly demolished roof.

“Just be careful, fuckass. There’s monsters around.” Indeed, he sensed the presence of Mako-created monsters nearby, and found his hand questing for the sickle sheathed at his hip.

He paused in his brief reconnoiter, catching the sight of a large stone near the edge of the water, and he inched closer to examine it. His eyes grew wider as he made out the inscription on the plaque; the words hadn’t eroded with age, considering its placement beneath the earth.

“Loveless – Prologue,” he read aloud, and rather than reading anything below that, he closed his eyes and recited it from memory. “When the war of the beasts brings about the world’s end, the Goddess descends from the sky. Wings of light and dark spread afar. She guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Karkat jumped and spun, hand reaching again for his sickle, but the voice that had sounded from behind him turned out to be Sollux. Roxy was coming up from behind him, and Karkat noticed how her magenta eyes were, for once, not clouded in a drunken haze.

“Looks like you guys found a quick way down,” Karkat said.

“Not as quick as your way. What the hell is ‘Loveless’?”

Karkat turned back to the stone, gloved fingers tracing the engraved words. “It’s a play,” he answered. “My favorite piece of literature. It’s about three friends who get separated.”

“By what?”

“Life. You know, shit transpires.”

“Uh-huh,” Sollux hummed monotonously, and paced away, suddenly disinterested in the conversation.

“Whatever, a computer nerd like you wouldn’t know good literature if it slapped you in the face with a side of slimy bacon.”

“Hey, I’m a computer nerd, too!” Roxy protested.

“And a lush.”

“Oh, whatever! Are ya gonna tell me what that other thing you said was about? Something about the world ending and some chick giving us gifts, or something?”

“She’s already given us her gift,” Karkat replied. “And, technically, the world ended twice, once with Meteorfall and then with the whole Omega and Chaos thing. Remember?”

“Then why are we still alive? World doesn’t look ‘ended’ to me.”

“It depends on how you interpret the phrase ‘end of the world’.”

Oh,” Roxy said, as if it were some big revelation. Karkat rolled his eyes. “And what’s the present she gave us?”

“It’s all about interpretation,” he repeated. “My theory is that the gift she gave us was life.”

Roxy blew a raspberry. “That’s boring,” she said. “And cliché. Why not something awesome, like food or something? I’m hungry.”

“That’s the point,” Karkat explained. “You need food to live. And so does our food; like, say, an apple. If you pick an apple off a tree and eat it, that apple was alive, wasn’t it?”

Roxy groaned. “This is getting boring. Can we talk about something else? Like, say, making food?”

Karkat rolled his eyes for what felt like the thousandth time; he had yet to find anyone besides John who would talk with him about things like this. “Fine,” he said. “Sollux, come on and show me the way out of here so we can build a campfire or some shit,” he called over to the older boy, who was checking his cell phone.

But Sollux didn’t reply, instead opening his mouth slightly in a small gasp and snapping his phone shut with more force than necessary.

“What?” Roxy asked, going over to him.

“Sun’s dead,” he answered. “And Dirk’s about halfway to the Lifestream himself. We need to wait here for them instead of going to Kalm.”

Karkat was suddenly aware of another presence there, less monster and more…human. He looked around, trying to spot a pair of eyes or some other clue to the stranger’s whereabouts, but he saw none.

“Sun?” Roxy said incredulously, hands covering her mouth. “How the hell could that happen?”

“A friend of ours named Zahhak,” Sollux growled.

“Zahhak,” said a new voice, and this time Karkat’s sickle came into his hand. “If Barret knew the way his descendent had grown up, he’d be turning in his grave.”

“Who’s there?!” Karkat demanded, the grip on his sickle handle tight. He saw nothing for a moment, but then a man dropped out of the air before him, having been held aloft by a single black wing.

“A fellow lover of literature,” the man answered. “My name is Genesis Rhapsodos.”

Karkat’s grip slackened a touch, but Genesis wasn’t finished. “’Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess,” he quoted. “We seek it thus, and take to the sky’.”

Karkat’s lip twitched into a half-smile as he replied, “’Ripples form on the water’s surface. The wandering soul knows no rest.’ Are you the ‘G’ I’ve heard so much about?”

“I am,” Genesis said. “And what brings you three crashing down?”

“Technically, he’s the only one who crashed,” Roxy pointed out. “Me and Sollux found the more intelligent way.”

“Fuck off, Lalonde.” Karkat flipped her the bird without turning around. “We’re kind of running from the WRO,” he told Genesis.

“I see. Well, make yourselves at home; you’ll be safer here than most places.” He paused a moment before adding, “I’m sorry to hear about Doctor Valentine. She was a strong fighter, and a good friend.” With that, Genesis lifted off from the ground, a single black feather coming loose as he made his exit.

Karkat caught the feather before it drifted languidly to the ground, bringing it up to eye level to examine it. He couldn’t place exactly where he’d seen one just like it.

“Ow, fuck, Sollux, that stings,” Karkat said with a hiss of pain.

“Shut up and let me finish cleaning it, Jesus,” Sollux retorted, and he resumed wiping at a scrape on Karkat’s back with the sterile pad. Karkat took fists full of his jeans as he squeezed his eyes shut, wishing John was here to get the unreachable injuries instead of this antisocial lummox. John would be more gently, he was sure.

Sollux finished and placed an adhesive bandage on the scrape, then got up and went to sit by Roxy beside the pool. Karkat got to his feet as well, but headed to the entrance of the cave.

“I’m gonna go wait for the others,” he told them, and didn’t wait for a reply before making his way outside. He favored his left leg, the knee of which was now sporting a bruise the size of a golf ball.

Once outside, he concealed himself in the shade of a tree overlooking the glowing pool, and trained his eyes in the direction of the tunnel that John and the others would be coming out of. Before long he heard the labored footsteps of two or three people, and guessed this would be them, but kept hidden in case he was wrong.

As it turned out, he wasn’t. He was greeted by the sight of John, in front, staring around nervously, then turning back to help Jake with the burden of a still-unconscious Strider. Karkat revealed himself carefully, making sure not to startle them.

“John,” he called, and the boy jumped and looked toward him, visibly relaxing when he saw Karkat’s familiar face. “This way.”