Chapter 6: stay in at night
Full color illustrations oh lord I’m never doing that again jegus on the other hand DAT NATURE. Presenting The God Of Crawling Things which is inaccurate because actually most of his bugs fly, but that title was taken by the bird-god. Human naming schemes are so inaccurate and inefficient.
Dedicated to Toasty, who stayed up late making art with me while I drew like billions of flowers and she illustrated my projects for me and sent me music. Good twin. Best friend. <3 (
And also Jackdad for tipping the vote because it was tied and if he hadn’t voted Invincible Summer this wouldn’t have gotten done last night, so yeah. :))
You miss him.
Missing him is possibly the stupidest thing you have ever done, and you know it. He was violent and proud and he got angry over idiotic things for no reason and calming him down when he was upset was a pain. He was a human-eater and he almost beat one of your best friends to death for entertainment. He ate a ton of food, played pipes late at night and messed up your hibernation cycle.
You know all of this, but you miss him anyway, because you’re stupid and he was stupid and he was getting better and he stayed with you through the winter and he held you when you got angry and curled up next to you when you were tired. He makes it far, far too easy to miss him.
You get angry at him for making him miss you, then he’s not there to mess with your leaves and calm you down, and that makes you sad again. Leaves you sitting around thinking up maudlin comparisons, like the forest misses springtime, like life misses death, like I miss him goddammit—it’s pathetic.
You bring home more meat than you need by accident, catch yourself about to light fires you don’t need, and you miss him like a pathetic chump. Another human festival comes around; the humans give you excellent offerings and you’re morose enough you can’t bother to be angry with them, so instead you give them flowering trees and gardens and watch from the outskirts of the forest as they ooh and ahhh over the colors.
Gamzee would like those flowers too, blight him.
You’ve never had a place you always return to before, but this is another side effect of your pointlessly vague, deep-set longing—you spend your extra time at the mouth of the cave, growing grass and flowers and tree roots up over it slowly, making mockeries of the humans’ ‘stained glass windows’ with your flowers and outdoing their architecture with arching, woven branches.
Word starts to spread; as the spring eases towards the growing seasons the humans gather in your clearing, murmuring and staring around at the woven walls and the flower-hung treetops, leaving offerings at the bases of the little trees that sprang up before the winter came. An actually very accurate rumor springs up that this is the cave where you sleep in the winter, and an entirely bizarre rumor that this is where you once impregnated some ancient human who founded their town. You blight the farms of people who spread that rumor until people begin to notice a pattern and stop telling stupid stories.
…you have no real excuse for the flowers. They’re a vanity. But they keep your mind occupied, and the forest grows peacefully as the sun arcs higher and hotter over the trees.
You’re sitting there in the treetops one day, listening to the whispers of your trees and your worshippers, when someone yells.
That’s not a thing that often happens—whatever else making this place has done for you, it has reduced the amount of yelling and stomping around that humans do in your presence—and you sit up and open your eyes just in time to see your worshippers run screaming out of the grove as a swarm of stinging hornets and bumblebees whirr towards them and herd them away.
Oh. It’s him. You refuse to do him the courtesy of getting up or greeting him, so instead you settle stubbornly back, cross your arms and close your eyes again.
…well, if he’s going to yell first.
You turn grudgingly and swing your legs over the branch you’re sitting on, looking down at the now-almost-empty clearing. Sollux is still reconstituting, a blur of gold and jet-black chitin and humming, buzzing energy, but he’s already turned to look up at you, grinning. He looks in an uncommonly good mood. You loathe him for it.
“What do you want?!” You yell down, and he shakes his head as the last few whirring black and yellow bodies melt into his skin.
“You should have told me you were having a feast!” he calls back—feazzzzzt. Heh. He still can’t talk. “You never did flowersss before, KK, what’s up?” The bees that aren’t part of his corporeal form scatter across your clearing, and you feel the distant tickle of their life on the petals of your flowers. It’s strange how distant and impartial and yet intimate that feeling is, so you ignore it.
“What, I can’t do a little shock and awe for the mortals?” You call down, and he shrugs his bony shoulders.
“Shock and awe izzz one thing, KK, flower castles are totally different thing! Get down here!”
You rolls your eyes, but slide forward off the branch and drop down. The tree roots whip up to meet you, and carry you down to the ground slowly until your feet settle onto the earth as gentle as a butterfly on one of your flowers. It used to be a strain to do that, but you’re stronger now, bizarrely strong. You feel terrible, and great, and mostly just confused, but you could make a tree pull its roots out of the ground and dance like a human without breaking a sweat. You feel strong.
Sollux lets you settle to the ground before he starts clapping sardonically, and you take a break from feeling pleased with yourself to bite your thumb at him and then swat his bees away from your face.
“So,” says Sollux, “—I heard you had a visitor.”
You don’t dignify that with an answer—which might not be your smartest option, because that makes him smirk like you’ve confirmed his suspicions.
“Nepeta didn’t say who,” he says. “—where’s your mystery…friend…at? I want to zzzzee whoever can make KK grow flowers all over his drab-as-hells forest.”
“I’m not making them for him!” you snap, incensed, and he wiggles his eyebrows at you until you feel your face turn dirty brownish-red. “Shut up.”
“FF says when she sees a domain change like this it means you’re in love.”
“She’s seen you on the sea-border looking all contemplative.”
“Come on, where is he?”
“KK, just spit it out!”
It’s been weeks but you haven’t said it yet, and saying it feels like tearing something inside you. You’re breathing harder than you should be, heart beating fast and stupid and almost human-strong in your chest. Sollux has been buzzing with glee, flying high—he goes still. Stares at you.
“…oh,” he says. “…oh. I’m. Uh…shit. Sorry.”
“No it’s not.” He’s buzzing again, but not happy this time. You recognize the tight set of his scrawny shoulders and the downturn of his fangy mouth—shit, not again. “I messed up, gods damn it—I’m such a—”
He takes a deep breath or two and drags his hands down his face. Flakes of chitin crumble away where his nails score the plates on his cheeks—wasps, buzzing in circles around his head before morphing back into him and healing away the scratches.
“Okay,” he says finally. “so…I guess you’re not…happy, then.”
“Not really,” you say, even drier than you meant to, and he winces. “—I’m just sprouting flowers all over the place. Just for the hell of it. Why not? I mean, it would make him happy, I bet, he likes colors—liked. He. Liked colors. Would have had to keep him from eating people who showed up here, though, it would have been a pain, that enormous ass. I’m—glad. He’s gone.”
“Yeah, right,” he says, but he doesn’t push you about it. You were angry at how happy he was, but you’re angrier about the way he’s slumped down now, crumpled up like a withered leaf.
“…well,” you say finally, when he has nothing else to say, “—are you gonna take advantage of the endless goodness of my heart or what? Get your stripy rear ends in the air and pollinate some flowers.”
“Yeah, fine,” he says, and at least he stops hunching. You punch him in the shoulder and it feels weird how he almost-sort-of gives way under the pressure, like he’s going to scatter, then solidifies again when you take your hand away. He looks less upset, though. This is familiar earth. “…that’s not why I’m here though, KK.”
“You just said—”
“No I said I saw your flowers and thought it was weird and then I messed up and said a bunch of shitty things,” he cuts you off. “—that’s not why I’m here. You never come to caucus, so they sent me all the way over here to tell you there’s a lot of trouble down South on the forest’s edge. Something’s stirred up down there.”
“Why is that any of my business?” (That’s the direction Gamzee went, that’s where he went—) “Equius cuts off anything that comes from the south, you’ve seen his whole I AM GOD OF THIS MOUNTAIN, THIS MOUNTAIN REMAINS STRONG AND UNSURPASSABLE routine—”
“Equius didn’t come to caucus either.”
That takes you a second. You think you heard him wrong, but he just stares at you, perfectly serious, and nods. That’s…not right. If there’s one thing Equius never does it’s miss a caucus, he always comes through to glower at you and make barely-veiled attempts at ordering you to go. He didn’t…he didn’t come through this year, did he? And you were so busy moping and growing flowers, you didn’t even notice.
“He…no, he always—”
“Yeah, I know.” Sollux hisses through his teeth—really more of a buzz—and shakes his head. “—he hasn’t been around. The humans have even noticed, they’re praying to everything they’ve ever believed in and staying in at night. And if the mortals sense something is wrong, there’s something seriously wrong. And. You’re the next closest to the forest border. So just…” he hesitates, already dissolving into thousands of tiny, buzzing shapes. “…juzzzzzt…take care of yourzelf.”
And then he whirls away, and the swarm he gathered to host him buzzes aimlessly off to your flowers.
It’s the same summer morning it ever was, but somehow overhead, the sun seems dimmer, and when you look out over the empty southern mountains, there’s an empty chill like winter in the air.
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