B13.20 Call of the Sleeper

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Prisca was still alive.

Somehow, even though he’d deduced as much with great certainty, he hadn’t truly felt sure about it until he saw her. A weight dropped off his shoulders.

Not that seeing her was a pleasant experience. He wasn’t petty, wasn’t… concerned with her physical beauty the way he’d seen other boys be. Some part of him, a part he didn’t really understand, a part he’d started to associate with Macian, if only because he couldn’t figure out where he might have picked it up otherwise, balked at the mere thought of judging things by appearance. Of getting attached to the outside, be it good or bad.

It wasn’t a good thing, wasn’t a good part. He didn’t like such things because he didn’t, on a fundamental level, trust them. Them, or anyone, really. A small part of him that whispered, this could be fake, someone might be twisting things.

It was the same part that had advised him to keep so many secrets from his friends. To compartmentalise them, keep Tim and Aimi apart from Vasiliki and Dalia. To keep them all apart from Prisca, until he couldn’t justify it anymore. It was the part of his that had shouted betrayal when, in honest worry over his state, his friends had crossed the boundaries he’d set and gotten together to take care of him.

Even further, it had made him twitchy around Dalia and Vasiliki in a way he hadn’t understood for a long time. Their beauty had been a barrier between them, rather than something that drew him in, like it did damn near every other male they ran into.

It wasn’t something all-consuming. He could still appreciate beauty, once he could be sure it was honest. Whatever that meant. But upon first contact, it repulsed, made him stay at a distance.

With Prisca, it had, strangely, made things easier. When beauty was an initial barrier, meeting a girl who failed to live up to the common understanding of beauty so thoroughly had, actually, made things easier in the beginning. Let him reach out, connect, in a way he wouldn’t have been able to with any of the gorgeous girls in his life.

In a twisted way, Aimi was more attractive to him, at first glance, than someone like, say, Gloom Glimmer, even though the latter was literally supernaturally desirable, simply because Aimi was plain and plainness didn’t trigger that suspicious, dark part of his.

Finding out that she’d become a shapeshifter, it had shaken him on a level he hadn’t even recognised, back then. With the benefit of hindsight, he thought that that had been trhe true reason why he’d kept her at arm’s length, rather than tell her about his secret identity, like he’d done with Tim.

With all that, he’d been able to see past Prisca’s bodily and mental issues – and she had many of both, perhaps even more so than he did – to find and appreciate the person underneath. In time, he’d even come to appreciate the remnants of the beauty she should have had. The beauty Dusu had taken from her.

When the goblins kidnapped her and he’d been forced to operate on her to keep her alive, that same detachment had allowed him to stay calm and do what needed to be done, rather than balk at the thought of cutting open the girl he loved to attach machines to her failing heart.

When she’d mutilated herself to escape Hastur, when the stress and the strain of that wretched day had proven too much for her body and he, with Gloom Glimmer’s help, had worked on her again, it had helped keep him calm and focused.

It had not helped when she’d manifested her power. Her projection, gorgeous as it was, had made him twitchy again, though less so than others, as he’d already known her. But that part of his, it twitched and moaned, whispering suspicions about this new, false form.

But it wasn’t. Never was. It was hers, in a way that her actual body couldn’t be anymore. A form that came purely from within herself. Whereas her body had been twisted, broken, changed, by Dusu, making it not wholly hers any more. She’d been right about that. He’d seen that, come to appreciate what she herself called her true body, and gotten comfortable enough to, experiment. They hadn’t gone the whole way yet, what Dalia would call ‘home base’, but they’d run most of the other ones by now.

Thinking on it in retrospect, no one who knew her even a little had been even remotely surprised that she’d cut her own eyes out, rather than be twisted further by another monster.

None of that made it, however, easy or even remotely comfortable to see her now, as she lay on that bed that had become the sum and limit of her waking world. She was pale as a corpse and moved about as much as one, her lungs no longer functioning in any case – machines pumped the oxygen she needed to survive into her, instead.

Survive. Not live.

Her hair was gone, what few tufts she’d had left fallen off and cleaned up since the last time he saw her, a week or so ago (she hated it when he saw her like this, preferred it when he interacted solely with her projection, as much as possible), making her head seem inordinately large, especially in proportion to her emaciated, wasted-away body. Her ruined eyes, at least, were covered by bandages. Most of her body was covered by a blanket, save for her spindly thin arms with those long, tender, weak fingers, which lay atop the expensive silk sheets (her mother did everything to make her comfortable, no matter how small, even if it meant buying the hospital a whole set of silk sheets for the entire intensive long-term care ward), though the many tubes and wires that ran into her body were still outlined by them.

Not that he needed to see them with his eyes – he had them in his mind. He’d installed them, after all. A rushed job, at first, during her kidnapping. Then, later, he’d swung by the hospital, pretending it was merely his own perfectionism, a sense of professional pride, or at least generic heroic sensibility, which took him there, and had refined his work, making more permanent accommodations for her. Explaining to the doctors how to properly clean them, what the read-outs meant and how to do simple maintenance (but to call him if anything actually went wrong). Then, later, another rushed job after Hastur had visited her, followed by another round of refinement, all of it tapping a degree of medical knowledge and an understanding of surgery that’d humbled the professionals involved and whose origin he could not make out. He’d never studied medicine in any capacity beyond basic first aid, had never read the textbooks or anything like that. And it wasn’t like his gadgeteering, either, not really. The devices he’d made to keep her alive, including her current set, they were partially gadgets, yes. But his surgical skill, which had had the head surgeon of the hospital, one of the most decorated professionals of his craft, grumbling about how unfair powers were and how he wished he was so good, that was wholly his own, and yet he had no idea how or why.

Still, all that work… fixing her, putting her body back into (barely) working order, refining his work to make her more comfortable, more healthy, as much as that was possible… it had felt comfortable. Relaxing, familiar, like something he’d done so many times it had become routine.

It thoroughly creeped him out, as grateful as he may have been for the capability, because as far as he knew, the very first time he’d ever even performed first aid, much less surgery, had been after the fight against Snow Queen, when he’d saved Vasiliki’s life.

Still, of all the many things that haunted him about his condition – whatever it may actually be – that was one he could appreciate at least. It had helped him save her, in some small way.

Even now, looking at her, his eyes flickered left and right, reading the data on his devices’ readouts and the monitors of the equipment the hospital had provided (all of it cutting edge, courtesy of Mrs Fion again), and his heart sank. Massive organ failure. Slowly spreading brain damage, negligible now, but liable to mount and go out of control at any time, depending on how Dusu’s poison continued to work. The machines attached to her, his machines, were the only thing keeping her alive now, and even they would be insufficient soon enough.

”Basil…” Prisca whispered, barely audible with her lips barely moving.

He was by her bedside in an instant, not even noticing the distance he crossed as he pulled a chair closer and sat down as close to her as he could.

His hand reached for hers, the right one, on top of the blanket, after he took his gauntlet off. Her fingers were cold, and she didn’t have the strength to do more than lightly curl them, so he made up for it by gripping them as tightly as he dared.

”I am here,” he spoke, softly, his voice just slightly hoarse. Then he smiled, weakly, hoping she could somehow tell he did by the tone of his voice changing. “You knew I was coming.” His eyes flickered to the tablet he’d made for her, the one linked up to Eudocia, which Primrose now held in her expertly manicured hands, her long, red nails standing out starkly against the colourless metal. He looked back at Prisca.

“Of course… Eudocia told me… when you showed up… in front of the hospital,” she whispered, slightly turning her head towards him. “We were so very worried… when you left… Eudocia wouldn’t… tell me where you… went, but… she was worried, too.”

His eyes went up again, looking closer at Primrose. ‘We’, she says. But apart from Eudocia. So, her mother.

Primrose was always an interesting, painful sight to see, for him. So beautiful (twitch, twitch, balk), yet such a reminder of what Prisca might have been, should have been that it hurt to look at her. Classically gorgeous and just barely showing a little gray in her long red hair, he knew a lot of employees at the hospital always looked forward to her visits just to get a good look at her.

Now, though, she was clearly bereaved, her eyes showing a little red and her make-up barely hiding the palor of her skin. For her, for a woman as composed as Primrose Fion, this was the equivalent of another having shorn her hair short and scratched up her own face to show her grief.

And Prisca wasn’t even dead yet.

”I’ve known for a while, Basil,” she spoke softly, far more tenderly than she’d ever talked to him before (she hadn’t particularly liked him at first, though she’d never voiced her reasons or even actually put words to her antipathy to him, that he knew of. “Though I hadn’t told Prisca I’d figured it out until today.” She smirked, a little of her usual arrogance returning to her face. “I’m not stupid, you know? In fact, I am rather far on the right side of the bell curve, I dare say. My baby girl gets a boyfriend and then a hero who has no connection to this whatsoever happens to save her life not once, but twice? And keeps coming back to refine her life support? It wasn’t hard to connect the dots, especially after the second time.” Her smirk faded, and she lowered her eyes, looking at the tablet in her hands. “Now I know why you seemed to secretive and, at times, dishonest.”

Ah, that explains that, at least.

”For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I treated you so coldly,” she continued on, “and I’m grateful for all you’ve done for my baby.”

”Mo-om…” Prisca complained weakly.

Basil focused on her again.

“Basil… you did… something stupid, right?” she guessed, her voice grown hoarse, as if she was already straining it. “Eudocia… would not… have hidden it… from me… if it wasn’t… stupid.” She curled her fingers around his, again. “I’d… fall asleep… and smack you… for it, but… the docs’ say… I wouldn’t survive… falling asleep… again.”

He sighed, feeling the many weights on his shoulders. “I suppose it was. There is, no gentle way to say it. I found out where Dusu hides, so I gathered as many people as I could and went after her.”

All warmth fled the room, leaving only the sounds of the machines. Both the woman and the girl were listening, intently. Primrose was radiating a kind of hatred that made the Dark’s fury appear meager, her fingers curling so hard around the tablet’s edges, it groaned. Prisca… Prisca didn’t show any of the hate she usually did whenever Dusu came up, too weak to work herself up like that anymore.

”We got her,” he continued, just barely louder than a whisper. “She is with the United Heroes, now.”

Primrose drew in a sharp breath, a faint expression of hope on her face…

”You didn’t get a cure, though,” Prisca continued for him, her voice softer than a spring breeze. “Or at least it won’t be done in time. I can tell.”

He lowered his head, taking her hand with both of his and raising it to touch it to his forehead. “I am so sorry, Prisca. She never had a cure. Never could make one. The whole thing, it was her attempt at finding one. The poison, it was meant for her, to improve her body, to make her a pseudo-Adonis, but it failed and messed her up,” he spoke, the words tumbling out of him, unable to contain them any longer. “So she unleashed it on Hawaii hoping that someone else would find a cure that she could then co-opt for herself.” At some point along the speech, which felt like a confession to him, he started crying. He couldn’t bear to raise his eyes, to look at her mother’s face or, worse, at Prisca’s.

Her fingers curled around his as tightly as they could, weakly holding onto him as something escaped her throat.

It was a sound unlike any he could remember hearing, ever, and which he hoped he’d never, ever have to hear again. It was a sound of rage, of hatred; of grief and sadness. The sound of an old pain, never gone but scarred over, only to have it torn open again. The sound of a tearing heart, which reached out and into everyone who heard it, making their own hearts break out of sheer sympathy.

It was a sound Basil would remember for the rest of his life.

He held onto her hand as the sound continued, and was quickly joined by her mother who put the tablet onto the bed, near her legs, so she could take her daughter’s left hand into both of hers.

Basil didn’t know what to say, what to do. He had trouble carrying on normal conversations, often, nevermind this.

What could he say? There was no promise left to make that might ease her pain. No soothing words he could think of, no platitude to lessen the impact.

What could he do? He’d found Dusu, and it hadn’t helped. He’d done everything he could think of, short of trying to make a complete engram of her brainpatterns to later implant into a healthy body, but… even if that could solve this, there wasn’t the time to do it.

All he had left was to hope for a miracle, and even in an age of superpowers those were in extremely short supply at best.

”B-basil, I, I…” Prisca tried to speak, but had to break off, her voice too hoarse to continue. Her mother had to pick up a small cup with a straw, tilting it to let some water flow into Prisca’s mouth, before she could continue. “Basil, I, I love you,” she said, tears of salt and blood running down from the bandage around her eyes, and his heart broke a little more. “And, and, I don’t want you to b-blame your, yourself,” she continued. “Y-you did, you did all you, could. M-more than, than anyone could, ever expect of, of another, even, a boyfriend.” She turned her head towards him to smile weakly, her thin, pale lips – barely differentiated from the rest of her skin – stretching over her empty gums. “I l-l-love you and, and I hope, hope you’ll, you’ll find… the happiness, you deserve. D-don’t be, be too… sad, abo-“

He cut her off by pressing his lips to hers, softly, so very softly, his tears mixing with hers for a long, long moment.

”No,” he said softly. “I didn’t do more… than anyone could expect, because… I expected more of myself.”

She smiled again, while her mother just cried, lowering her head as she cradled her hand to her breast, her heart. “Silly… but that’s part of what… I love about you. One of the… many things.”

Basil had trouble seeing anything, had trouble breathing, but he forced the words out, anyway: “I love you, Prisca. I wish I could… put it into words, what you… mean to me, but words have never… been my strong suit. I love you, and I’m not going to give up for as long as I live. Not on you, not on anything.”

Her lips trembled and, for just a moment, her hand seemed to regain some strength, as she held onto his as tightly as possible, nearly cutting off the bloodflow to his digits.

The machines around them were starting to edge into red areas, warning signs starting up. Especially the brain monitor. It wasn’t going to be fast. It was going to be slow, and painful, and ugly, and they all knew it.

“P-please, g-g-go,” she croaked, voice thick with tears. “I, I, I don’t want you, to, to see-“

He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to watch, didn’t want to do nothing. Didn’t want to be there, didn’t want not to be there.

But he couldn’t choose, so he at least fulfilled her last wish.

He left.

***

He found himself back in his bedroom. Somehow, he’d managed to get from the hospital to his and Amy’s home while barely noticing it. Barely remembering to pull up his hood and hide his face.

Seeing how he’d been blind with tears the whole way, it was amazing he hadn’t run into anything or anyone, or been run over by something. Or maybe he had and he just didn’t remember.

He’d thrown his cloak onto his bed, and taken his lefthand gauntlet, the one with the variable force-field emitter off, holding it in his hands as he stared down at it. His ravenbot had flown off his shoulder and sat atop his computer screen, watching him with what might have been curiosity if it’d been an actual animal.

There was none of the numbness he’d hoped for. Even though people often talked about how they went numb when overwhelmed by tragedy, he felt none of that. There was no numbness, no deadening of his emotions, no relief.

He threw the gauntlet at the wall with all his strength, hard enough that it dug into it through the expensive wallpaper, becoming stuck.

What was even the point of that thing? What was the point of any of his inventions, his ideas, if none of them could even save the girl he loved?

He tore his armour off, bit by bit, even the boots, throwing them aside without a second thought. Tore off the top of his bodysuit, throwing it onto the bed to join his stupid, pretentious cloak.

Thought and memory my ass.

”I…” he began to talk to the empty room, but broke off. What could he even say? “I-“

There was a flash of red hair, a brief vision of a sweetly curved body in a private school uniform, and then her lips met his, her strong, soft arms wrapping around his neck.

He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close, pressing her body to his, feeling her softness and warmth as his other hand went to the back of her head, fingers intertwining with her hair, pulling her even closer, deepening the kiss.

When her lips parted and their tongues touched, all the worries and the sadness and the grief disappeared, leaving just her.

He clung to her like a drowning man, and she to him, mashing their lips together, their tongues dancing lovingly inside their mouths, from one to the other and back again, they-

She was gone, gone as fast as she’d appeared, and he was alone.

He staggered back a step, raising a hand up to touch his lips with two fingers.  Feeling the warmth. Still able to taste her.

Had she really been here? A last flash of her power, as she’d drifted off to her final sleep? A desperate hallucination of his? A random memory his broken mind had called up?

His computer’s screen lit up, pure white, showing only two words from Eudocia.

She’s gone.

His scream shook the house.

***

Somehow, at some point, he put on some clothes. A black shirt with some print on it, a gift from Dalia, black jeans and black socks. Dramatic, but somehow appropriate.

He’d thrown a jacket on over it and put on his shoes and just left. It was inadequate for the cold weather – it had started to snow, even – but he didn’t care. Somehow, he found his way to the park again, to the bench he’d talked with Magnus, what felt like a lifetime ago. The park was covered in snow, but was otherwise completely empty, save for himself and his raven.

He was still not numb. He wished he was, but he wasn’t.

He was hurt. Heartbroken. Grief-stricken. Pained. Tortured. Tormented. He could go on, think of more words. Everything, everything, except numb.

The only reason he hadn’t yet thrown up was because he hadn’t eaten a thing in over twenty-four hours.

And so he sat amidst the snow on the bench and watched the busy street in the distance, past the bare trunks and branches of the trees. Cars and pedestrians passing by, carelessly, carefree. Happily.

He saw children smile and point at Christmas ornaments in the store windows, or at toys they wanted (there was a toy shop right there in a straight line in front of him, on the other side of the street).

His raven’s programming had it fly over, landing on a branch near the street so it could watch over the people, looking for trouble.

Yet all he could think of was that Prisca wouldn’t get to enjoy a single Christmas with him. That she wouldn’t get to dress up in what she’d called a ‘slutty Santa dress’ and show off her perfect dream-body.

And one of the reasons why she wouldn’t was he. Because he hadn’t been good enough, in the end. He’d gone to bat, or at least he hoped he’d gone to bat, all out, and it had still not been enough.

God, I hope there really wasn’t anything more I could have done, a treacherous little voice spoke inside of him. If there was and I just didn’t do it…

He lowered his head, hot tears burning on his cold skin before they fell down to join the snow at his feet.

Time passed and Basil still did not feel numb.

Snow crunched underneath someone’s feet, and Basil turned his head, slowly, to the right. He saw their feet, first. Beautiful winter boots made of soft, brown leather, sporting hand-crafted stitching decorations and sensible, yet still distinctly noticable heels. Even if he hadn’t seen these boots before, he’d recognise the handiwork instantly.

Feeling his heart skip a beat, he slowly raised his head, up along the long legs in black stockings, the sensible, knee-length green skirt and the hand-made cream-coloured sweater under an expensive, thin winter jacket worn open. A pure red scarf (hand-made, of course) wrapped around her slender neck to protect it against the weather.

She also wore a handmade red wool bonnet with floppy ear covers from which two long tassels extended, and held Graymalkin in her arms, the heavy cat happily snuggling against her chest as she seemed completely unbothered by his prodigious weight.

Her eyes were red, as if from crying, making their green colour stand out even more.

”Vasiliki,” he said, his voice thick. It didn’t surprise him that she’d found him. They’d taken steps, long ago, to make sure each of them would be able to find the others, if need be. For him, it was done with his ravens, with transponders sewn into select articles of clothing. For Tyche, it was just following her gut, which usually worked out. Or so they’d thought. For Hecate, it was via samples of their blood, a little from each of them, contained and preserved within a jewel for each.

He expected her to glare at him, or accuse him or just shout at him, but instead she just took a step closer and looked at the bench.

Scooting over, he watched her sit down, her knees touching and tilted to the side. Graymalkin stretched after she put him down on her lap and got up, patting over onto Basil’s lap where he walked in a circle, then rubbed his face against Basil’s hand, once, before he curled up and went to sleep.

Basil looked down at his cat, petting him behind the ears, before he looked up at Vasiliki again.

Once more, he had no idea what to say.

Her eyes searched his face, for something. He couldn’t tell whether she found what she looked for.

”I’m so sorry, Basil,” she said, her voice thick. “Eudocia, she told me what happened. I came as soon as I could.”

He looked away, unable to meet that soulful gaze of hers. “It is over,” he said, lamely. He couldn’t say that it was alright, or anything like that. He didn’t want to.

”I wish we could’ve… that maybe,” she choked on the words, and he could hear renewed tears in her voice. “I tried to come up with some kind of healing spell, but nothing worked. Maybe, if w-“

”I thought you would be angry at me,” he cut her off, unable to bear listening to her say exactly what he himself was thinking. “I would have expected you to scream at me, not…”

”Angry at you,” she said in a neutral tone. “Of course I’m angry at you, you blockhead,” she continued, her voice both softer and harder at the same time. “More than you know.”

He kept his eyes averted. “I am sorry,” he said, feeling his stomach turn over and over. “I am sorry, but I could not betray her. Even if she may deserve it, I could not have turned against her, not even when I learned that she had killed your-“

”Is that really what you think I’m angry about?” she asked in a disbelieving, pained voice. “Do you really know me so little?” There was honest, true pain in her voice, like he’d just struck her.

He was so surprised he turned his head and looked at her, at the tears running down her cheeks and the wet eyes with the red veins running through them. Opening his mouth, he didn’t know what to say but tried…

“Did you really think I’d be angry at you for standing by your family?” she pressed on, not giving him the chance to say anything. “That I, of all people, would resent you for choosing your blood over the law?” Her hands clenched on her lap, digging into the soft, warm fabric of her skirt. “I really thought you knew me better, Basil.”

It was like a stab right into his heart, as the pieces fell into place, slowly but surely. Renewing his tears along the way.

”I’m angry because you didn’t tell me,” she snarled the words. “We’re… we’re teammates, we’re friends, we’re… We haven’t known each other for very long, I know that, just a few months, and yet it feels like I’ve known you for so long, and I thought you felt the same way.”

“I do,” he croaked, now unable to avert his eyes from hers.

”Somehow, in those few months, you’ve become… my best friend,” she said, softly. “More so than Dalia. Even more so than Stephie, and I’ve known her since I was five.” Her frame shook with a sob, as she briefly averted her eyes to take out a delicate handkerchief and wiped her eyes with it, before blowing her nose. Not that it helped much, as the tears were immediately replaced. “You’re my friend, you’re my brother, you’re m-“ She cut herself off, briefly, then started again. “I care for you,” she continued, though she seemed to have meant to say something else, at first. “And I trusted you. And I thought that you trusted me.”

”I should have,” he admitted, feeling another weight settle on his shoulders.

”But you didn’t,” she pressed on, rightfully accusing him. “You didn’t trust me. You didn’t trust me that I’d not do something stupid if you told me, or that I’d leave, or that I’d turn against you. You didn’t trust me and you left me to interact with my soi’s murderer! I laughed with her, I hugged her, I treated her to food in my family’s restaurant!” She all but screamed at him, her every word cutting into his heart like a red-hot knife. “That may seem silly to some, but it matters to me.”

She finally turned away, wiping tears away with her bare hand. “But you know what hurts the most? It’s realising that you never trusted me to begin with. And that, that’s what breaks my heart, above all and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t be putting this on you now, not when you just lost Prisca,” she bent over, burying her face in her hands. “You’ve gone through so much, and you’re a good person, a good hero, but I just can’t, can’t get over the fact that the boy I fell in love with lied to me the whole time we were together!”

He hadn’t thought he could possibly feel any worse anymore, but he’d been wrong. He hadn’t even thought of it like that. That he’d been betraying her trust – and she had told him everything about herself, had never held anything back whenever it had come up, and he’d…

Then her last sentence reached his brain and everything crashed.

Graymalkin opened his eyes and looked up at him, and somehow he seemed to understand something of what was going on, as he looked just infinitely annoyed at him.

”L-love?” he stammered, looking at her with wide eyes.

She looked right back, face flushed bright red. “I know this is absolutely not the time, but… really? You never noticed at all?” she asked, sounding simultaneously amused and heartbroken. “Why am I not surprised?”

He cast his mind back, through his memories, looking for any signs of it, any hints, anything…

”I never noticed… anything…” he admitted.

”Basil, I’d say something like ‘what does a girl have to do, rip off her clothes and dance naked in front of you?’ except I did that and you still didn’t get it.”

He thought back to that particular occasion.

”But… that was for an experiment… and you need to be naked to perform some of your rituals…”

“Basileus Bartholomew Balthasar Brant-Blake,” she spoke his full name with perfect pronounciation and in the most dry voice he’d ever heard as she rolled her eyes, “When a girl, any girl, willingly strips naked in front of you and dances, no matter the reason she admits to, and it’s not a life-threatening situation, then you can safely assume that she’s trying to express some interest in you!” By the end of it, her face was glowing brighter than the Dark’s eyes.

Basil leaned back on the bench, his mouth opening and closing wordlessly, as he looked down at Graymalkin to avoid looking at her.

”Oh,” was all he managed to say.

”Yeah, ‘oh’,” Vasiliki replied, leaning back as well and putting her hands down to her left and right, the fingers of one hand briefly brushing over his fingers. “Basil, you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met and I love you, but sometimes, you’re a fucking idiot.”

”…”

He stared down at his cat, feeling like said fucking idiot.

I’ve really fucked it up completely, haven’t I? he couldn’t help but think. I lost Prisca. I failed to save her, even after trying for so long, going so far. And I broke my best friend’s heart all along the way, as well.

”I’m such an idiot,” he said, letting the tears run.

She only gave an unrefined grunt in response.

They sat there like that, being snowed upon and ignoring the cold, their hands nearly touching on the bench, but not quite, as she stared off into the distance and he looked down at his cat, rubbing his ears and making him pur.

Suddenly, the quiet contemplation was interrupted by a sudden spike of pain in his head, making his hand shoot up from Graymalkin’s head to his own, as he barely bit down on a scream.

”Basil? Basil, what’s wrong?” Vasiliki asked, frantically. “Did something happen?” She looked around, frantically, as if expecting to find a threat.

Then she fell quiet, and Basil realised that the street beyond the park had gone entirely quiet.

Graymalkin on his lap had turned his head towards said street, looking at something there with feline disapproval.

He followed his cat’s gaze, slowly, until he saw the street, where everyone had stopped moving.

Cars stood in the middle of the street, some with their engines still running, as their drivers either leaned out of their windows or stood next to them, looking up in blank horror.

On the sidewalk, people had stopped doing what they’d been doing and stared up with matching expressions. A mother knelt in the snow, hugging her child and sobbing bitterly, as the little boy stared up without comprehension. Two girls around Basil’s and Vasiliki’s age were hugging each other, tears running down their cheeks as they, too looked up.

Everywhere he looked, the same scene repeated itself, over and over, until he saw it.

A strand of light, glowing softly, so white it made the fresh snow look dirty, its tip two meters or so above the ground.

Vasiliki’s hand found his, her fingers intertwining themselves with his and squeezing them, seeking comfort.

He followed the strand of light up, and up and up, as more strands joined it, becoming a single, impossibly long mass of glowing white hair, leading up to a pair of delicate feet with nails which glowed in the exact same colour. The feet led up to long, lovely, flawless legs, bare, that joined into a gentle V-shape at the top. Above that, a flat stomach and a pair of large, but not disproportionate breasts, leading to a swan-like, flawless neck. At her sides, long, delicate arms with fingers that looked like they’d been crafted to play the piano, long, delicate and smooth, tipped with glowing nails a few centimetre longer than usual.

Atop it all, a face so impossibly, unnaturally beautiful, it could have made artists cry for being unable to ever truly do it justice, were it not marred by an utter lack of expression, her lips slightly parted open, her eyes blazing white, uncaringly, seeming to look at no one and nothing at all. Even her eyebrows were sculpted to perfection, and glowed as if they were made of light.

Snowflakes fell around and onto her, but none of them reached her skin, nor were they melted by any body heat; rather, they slid down her form, stirred by the cold wind to dance around her as they fell, creating a gorgeous dress, as ephemeral as a dream and just as beautiful.

The pain in Basil’s head intensified as above, light spread across the sky, slowly branching down towards the ground in the distance, the branches broadening to fill out and cover the heavens entirely.

Bree Whitaker’s, Desolation-in-Light’s, blazing eyes swept over Basil and Vasiliki and he knew for a fact that they saw neither of them.

Basil squeezed Vasiliki’s hand back.

Finally, he felt numb.

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80 thoughts on “B13.20 Call of the Sleeper

  1. So, uhh, that’s not good. Like, even compared to the run of really-not-good things Basil’s just had this stands out.

  2. I’ve been re-reading Worm to refresh my memory now that Wildbow is writing the sequel. I often compare villains and heroes from different stories, wondering who could take whom. Finally I’ll have some data to do a comparison with DIL, but I already have some guesses based on what we’ve ‘heard’ second and third-hand. Who would she be able to take, Eidolon? Probably. Endbringers? Maybe. Psion? Eh… barring something extra-impressive, I’m still guessing that’s Begarion territory, or maybe Q.

      • Yeah, Scion, lol.

        I should have gone with Zion like I considered, since that’s his actual name and Scion was just someone messing it up.

      • I don’t usually like to make this kind of comparison, since we’re talking about very different settings, but in terms of pure powers, I’d say…

        DiL > Eidolon (normal)
        DiL > Endbringers (except Tohu)
        DiL < Eidolon (unshackled)
        DiL < Scion/Zion
        DiL <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< The Warrior

  3. I was right! My clusterfuck is happening! Though to be honest I expected the S6 to attack first. I doubt that they will make a move now that DiL has arrived…
    And yeah, now that I have read this chapter I have to admit, having someone else save Prisca would have been wrong.

    Btw, is there any way we can convince you to skip the interludes and/or dreaming chapter and start writing the next arc right now?

    • I’m afraid not, for two reasons:

      1) The interludes, save for Empty Dragon, directly connect to what is to come and even set it up in parts, both for Breaking Point and the later, final arcs.
      2) Two of these have been requested by patreons.

      • Well, those are much more pragmatic reasons than I was expecting. The way I see it, there’s no reason to do a cliff-hanger on the last chapter of an arc if you’re just going to resolve it that quickly.

      • I was afraid so. This means we will have to wait an entire month until you save us from this cliff.
        Interludes connected to what is happening right now sound good though.

      • Just looked at the date for the first time in a few weeks. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I thought they would be.
        Just wondering, will the next release still count for November?

  4. Also, on the scale of shitty days: His girlfriend dies. His best friend tells him she’s in love with him, how obvious she’s been about it, and he’s been shitting on her by not noticing and not trusting her as much as she trusted him… AAAAAAND Desolation in light shows up.

    In the immortal words of Nigel, “This on goes up to eleven.”

  5. I blame Tyche’s power for this. Or at least for DiL showing up.

    Sure, she could be there for Basil, as his force-field negator might interact with her defensive power enough for her to notice him. Or she could be there for Irene, because her power has opposite goals from Bree’s. Maybe even Dusu, due purely to her directly messing with a tenant. But I still blame Tyche’s power.

    We know her power reacts to subconscious desires. And I doubt Dalia really wanted to give up being Tyche; she just felt too guilty to keep it up. So her power contrived a situation where Dalia would feel guilty to not put on the cape.

  6. Hmmmm someone is having a baaaaaaaaaad day. Oh look Bree came to visit. lol. if Basil was a normy would this day be enough for him to manifest?

  7. Y’know, a part of me still thought that Basil would pull it off. That somehow Prisca would be saved, that some remenant of her, even a digital copy, would live on. This..this was just really sad to read Tie.

  8. My usual stream of consciousness mix of editorial comments and gut reactions as I read. Having finished it before coming back up to type this, holy hell what an emotional rollercoaster.

    “It was the part of his that had shouted betrayal”

    Should be him, or himself, or his mind, or something?

    That whole first introspective part was… really sad. Seeing Basil realise just how deeply damaged he is by something he doesn’t even remember.

    The parts about his relationship with Prisca are just as sad, and sweet. Interesting to know exactly how far they went. “Survive. Not live” is a very poignant summation of her condition.

    “But he couldn’t choose, so he at least fulfilled her last wish.

    He left.”
    😦

    “His scream shook the house.”
    ;_;

    “Somehow, at some point, he put on some clothes. A black shirt with some print on it, a gift from Dalia, black jeans and black socks. Dramatic, but somehow appropriate.”

    You’re a teenager and your first girlfriend just died, in your arms. You’re allowed to be dramatic.

    “God, I hope there really wasn’t anything more I could have done, a treacherous little voice spoke inside of him. If there was and I just didn’t do it…”

    Jesus, don’t go down that road, Basil.

    Vasiliki and the kitty… awwww. That’s even more heartbreaking. Grey knows he’s hurting. (And of course the cold and the weight don’t bother her, Physique!) I was really worried their friendship was over… I have a little bit of hope now, because she wouldn’t be so vicious with him here if she didn’t care, right? Please?

    “You didn’t trust me and you left me to interact with my soi’s murderer! I laughed with her, I hugged her, I treated her to food in my family’s restaurant!”
    Not silly at all. That would piss anybody off royally.

    “You’ve gone through so much, and you’re a good person, a good hero, but I just can’t, can’t get over the fact that the boy I fell in love with lied to me the whole time we were together!”
    Oh shit. Breaks my heart? Can’t get over?
    Oh shit. The L-word.

    Of course the bloody cat understands, and is annoyed. I’d say only a genius could be so dense, but… really, any man could!

    ”Basil, I’d say something like ‘what does a girl have to do, rip off her clothes and dance naked in front of you?’ except I did that and you still didn’t get it.”
    Wow. This and her next bit of dialog… wow. And here I thought I wouldn’t be able to laugh in this chapter! They should add a seventh B, for Blockhead!

    “Basil, you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met and I love you, but sometimes, you’re a fucking idiot.”
    Took the words out of my mouth, girl.

    “its tip two metre”
    Meters. (Oh no.)

    “coming a single, impossibly long mass of glowing white hear”
    Hair. (Oh shit.)

    Oh FUCK.

      • To be fair, I think most guys tend to be oblivious to that.

        And in Basil’s defense… It sounds to me like his ‘mistake’ was believing Vasiliki when she offered her explanations. I mean, the contriver lady knows the requirements of her power better than anyone, why shouldn’t Basil just believe what she says pertaining to rituals?

      • To be perfectly fair, Vasiliki could have just been forthright and told him.

        On the other hand, having a girl strip and dance naked in front of you should at least make a guy think.

      • If you say so… I’d think the girl was too drugged out to really know what she was doing, personally.

      • No one in story. I was just saying what my general go-to theory would be for any given case of a woman stripping down and dancing naked in front of me.

        Although… There was one girl in my P-chem class who was a stripper. So in her case I’d just assume that she was really drunk instead.

      • Worse? How many pretty naked ladies have you had dance in front of you for some obscure reason? Be honest, no fake bragging.

      • I ain’t gonna get into details (WAYYYYY to personal) but that actually happened to me. And I didn’t get it.

        Not gonna say more.

  9. Nothing more to say than damn just damn, great updates Tieshaunn, pity about Prisca though I’ll say this: Bree’s arrival and the nature of Prisca’s power make me wonder if she is really gone: true her physical body is dead but if she had either a second manifestation dying or her death triggered some new aspect of her power like making her projection into something more and really whole and thus more powerful, enough to draw Bree.

    Ah and loved the little interaction with Vassiliki too, eh funny how I am sure pretty much everyone else figured out how she felt about him and not him. Also Basil’s wariness of beautiful women is interesting methinks one he trusted messed him up in the past(or his tenant who rememebers and somehow passed on that wariness to him)…Why am thinking of LL being the one.

    can’t wait for the next update.

    • I can think of a few other beautiful ladies that Basil had bad experiences with. Or rather, that Macian had bad experiences with. Remember, in this setting, most of the beautiful people are metas, and most metas seem to be attractive.

      Pristine, Slow Burn, and Fire Burial come to mind immediately as people who were probably rather beautiful. Atrocity might not count directly… But how much do you want to bet that she’s made a few people into remote-controlled drones for her games?

      • True on all counts, I think I might have been influenced by Bree’s appearance in my statement and by an old comment that Lady Light would recognise something in Basil if she ever saw him.

      • Even though it mostly shows as a wariness of hot people he reviles the idea of looking down on someone based on their appearance, likely related to the massive physical both he and Amy went through.

      • Why didn’t I think of this!

        Of course Hemming could shift to look like Amy…sound like Amy. You know, Amy held together with wire and covered in scars. And then he could enact whatever nightmare scenario Macian could imagine (or just remember) on “Amy”.

        That would only be one in a zillion things he could do to mess with him.

  10. This has got to be one of your best chapters, ties. I think it speaks really, really well for an author when his highlights are the really human stuff – not the glitz, the fights, the strategy – but the bits invested with human emotion. It’s what keeps us coming back. I love the payoff.

  11. There are no words that can describe how utterly unfair it was that Prisca died the way she did, slowly degrading until she just couldn’t go on. And with DiL arriving, any hope of taking her body to Ember is nearly gone. Resurrection seems so far away, but I will keep up hope. I hope that she will somehow be saved from death itself, either through Ember or the Gefärten procedure or something else.
    And so long as the story continues, I will keep up hope, because both Prisca and Basil deserve that she lives

  12. Wow… I mean, wow. Like this is an Endbringer attack, but worse?
    Unshackled Eidolon didn’t give the impression of being that powerful…
    I mean, despite all of the horrors and stuff, The Blazing Stars universe seems… like a vastly better place to live in then worm.
    Ember intervention odds… increasing… Journeyman intervention… increasing, but unlikely considering how much he has interfered recently…. This somehow not being a TPK… high!

    • Unshackled Eidolon, with some help from Glaistig Uaine, managed to push Scion so hard he had to resort to his Path to Victory to win.

      That’s… a really fucking BIG thing in Worm.

      • Every single one of the Endbringers was a side effect of Eidolon, a tiny sliver of his power without any real direction behind it. In terms of pure power, he was second only to Scion in the setting as far as I can tell. He just spends the vast majority of the story only using a tiny fraction of his ability, mostly due to his own psychological limits.

        Anyway I’m not seeing a way out of this without Ember stepping up. Basil doesn’t even have proper winter clothes, let alone a single gadget. Well, there’s a single raven following him, and Eudicia could potentially rig into that, but every other trick he’s got is destroyed or miles away. No matter what’s going on in his head, Basil’s physical capabilities are pure baseline and his opponent is literally invincible. But I look forward to being proven wrong.

  13. You are one evil mastermind tieshaunn. I waited something like 4 or 5 months to stockpile a lot of reading material and my heart feels like pudding with this last chapter…

  14. >“Did you really think I’d be angry at you for standing by your family?” she pressed on, not giving him the chance to say anything. “That I, of all people, would resent you for choosing your blood over the law?”

    Did I miss something about her backstory? (Why would she of all people be okay with putting family first?)

    >I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t be putting this on you now, not when you just lost Prisca,” she bent over, burying her face in her hands. “You’ve gone through so much, and you’re a good person, a good hero, but I just can’t, can’t get over the fact that the boy I fell in love with lied to me the whole time we were together!”

    Yeah, I know V is angry, sad, and conflicted right now; but couldn’t she have waited like week after the funeral at least?
    The thought of Basil being tempted toward suicide must have at least crossed her mind. Putting even more stress, disappointment, and depression on him while he’s down just seems kind of insensitive at this point.

    • Vasiliki is pretty old school in many ways, the import she places on family being one of them. It’s been hinted at, though I don’t think I ever focused on it before, as such.

      She IS sorry for bringing this up right then and there. And the “love” bit was a slip-up of hers, she didn’t mean to say it. The whole point of that rant is that she feels horrible for putting even more on his shoulders, but can’t bring herself to just swallow it all and wait

      • Plus it would be ever so slightly hypocritical to call him out on not trusting her with uncomfortable truths while simultaneously not telling him something important because it’s uncomfortable. I mean it’s not like she ever tried to hide it, but the conversation made it pretty clear that anything short of an explicit declaration would be sufficient to hide it from this moron.

    • I agree about Vasiliki’s timing being messed up. I’m kind of irritated with her, too.

      First off, I can’t blame Basil for not noticing her. Not only is he disconnected like that, but her already had a girlfriend at the time.

      Second, she told Basil that she loved him on the same day that his girlfriend died. That is just tasteless. I know Ties said it was just a slip of the tongue, but it’s still not right.

  15. Few questions, some more relevant to this chapter than others:

    1)I can understand everyone in the general area being frozen in terror at the sight of her. But once that wears off, it’s going to be really anticlimactic when Basil and everyone else just runs/drives/flies away.
    Or was it not shown that DiL just floats for a couple of hours before she starts destroying stuff?

    2)Is Irene going to have a more strained relationships with her friends after this? They may not be as forgiving as the Protector when DiL basically nukes their city/state and personally endangers their family and friends.
    A person’s attitude tends to change when things get that personal.

    3)So it’s been all but said that DiL’s defensive ability is basically a Null-Field that no-sells any and all kinds of conventional and non-conventional forms of attack, observation, and shielding.

    Does that mean the only way to hurt/kill her is a space-time power?(It would make sense considering God-King got through Tartsche’s power and you said Journey Man could beat her and they both have those kinds of abilities.)

    • My guesses:
      1) They will get a Hope Spot as they run away. And then they’ll find that her Territory is hardened, and that they can’t escape her range. Then they’ll get a new dose of fear.

      2) Depends on Irene’s actions. If she fights DiL the same as anyone else, she’ll have no trouble. However, you just know that she’ll instead try talking with her. So I think it really depends on how many people die while Gloomy floats there and pleads for Bree to knock it off.

      3) Ties said she was immune to space-time powers. She killed Elysium, after all.

      • 1)If that does happen I hope a valid reason is at least given for said unusual behavior and not just done for the sake of being dire. (Maybe she’s sensing Irene/Gloom Glimmer is nearby.)

        2)DiL would probably one-shot Irene if she doesn’t have her guard up. So it’ll likely be Gloom Glimmer fighting/fleeing for her life regardless.

        3)He also said Journey Man could beat her if given enough time. So obviously some applications of Temporal powers work on her.
        There was also that one guy who threw an origami-bomb that seemed to warp space and actually made her flinch.

      • I don’t suppose you’d consider refreshing our memories? Or is that the Origami man?

      • Not origami. He’s a legacy villain from Japan, a contriver who works with gunpowder and paper, mostly, creating firework-like bombs and other contrivances. During DiL’s attack on Okinawa, he used a pipe launcher to fire paper-wrapped fireworks at her and one of them managed to actually make her flinch. He then disappeared shortly after the battle and hasn’t been seen since

      • I mean yes, Bree would likely incapacitate GG immediately, but that would just mean that she would go into safe mode. Journeyman has a huge number of things that are strange about him, and any one of them could be the reason why he can. Temporal powers seem to be the most obvious, but his Physique power could be weird, it could be a time manipulation thing (In the sense that it would require a precognitive mastermind) or it could be that one of the places that basically only Journeyman can reach has someone who could help.
        Also, is there a ceiling for how powerful a Dark wraith can be? Because the intervention of a custom made dark wraith seems like the most achievable of the possibilities, considering how recently journeyman interfered.

      • Oh, I remember Hanabi. He’s part of my theory on DiL. I figured that there was no way he simply brute-forced his way through her defenses, and instead what made her flinch was some sort of secondary effect of his firework.

        My theory is that what he used got past the perception blocking portion of her defensive power. It was probably the first time she saw color in her life. It was probably also the first time she felt wonder or noticed that something was particularly beautiful. I also figured that her power really, really hated that.

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