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Pokémon Another Way (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon / OC Isekai)

Interlude II: Absence


the gay agenda

Interlude II: Absence


The man let out a deep groan at the umpteenth repetition of that same annoying sound from the company’s email inbox this morning. He gave the bottle of liquor in his hand one last longer look before opting to not put it away after all.

It was gonna see some heavy use today, might as well keep it on hand.

The position of a public representative for a regional woodland authority was an inherently deeply boring one, essentially by definition. He spent most of his days exchanging phone calls and negotiating agreements with representatives of other business entities, be they in tourism, agriculture, or forestry. Rarely, he had to cobble together a barebones press release when something incidentally noteworthy happened in the area.

Very rarely, he had to interface directly with the law enforcement or the families of the people who had gone missing or perished in the woods.


Disappearances in the forest weren’t commonplace, thank the heavens, but weren’t unheard of either. In almost all cases, though, it’d be the woodland authority who was clued into a tragic event like that last, much to their annoyance each time.

Nothing like having a couple of cruisers and an entire search and rescue team knock on a ranger’s booth, only for the ranger themselves to have no idea what was going on.

Because nobody deigned to inform the bloody woodland authority.

Procedural annoyances like that aside, they were more than willing to help however they could. GPS is one thing, but knowing the pathways that the land subconsciously corrals all living beings down from experience was another.

Most families that had the misfortune of having to interact with him were firmly in the stages of depression or acceptance by that point. Most times, all the woodland authority could give them was a decomposing body in a black bag and, if they were lucky, some of their belongings.


This case would’ve likely been just one of those, despite the weirdness that saturated every single aspect of it.

Someone respectful and responsible stumbles on the aftermath and calls law enforcement. They then try to get in touch with the family, start looking, and maybe, eventually, call the woodland authority. A proper search and rescue operation is performed, and the body isn’t found. Attempts to contact the family fail. One day, a pretend burial is held out of the country’s pocket, and the poor missing person is finally declared dead.

It could all have been so simple. So proper, so procedural. So much headache could’ve been saved for everyone involved.

But no, of course that wasn’t what happened.

Because, of course, the first person to stumble upon the aftermath just had to have been a travel vlogger.

The recording of the scene and its precise location just had to have been broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people before law enforcement could even finish writing up the basic report.


From there, everything happened so quickly. So chaotically.

The woodland authority and law enforcement had to downright sprint towards the location of the incident. Both to get the investigation started, and to set up a barebones perimeter before too many mouth-breathing teens could descend on the scene and tamper with it. All the interference that had already happened by the time authorities showed up was enough to cast doubt on any takeaways from the resulting investigation, much to their chagrin.

At the same time, this specific case was so messy, so dumbfounding, that most folks working at the woodland authority doubted that civilian interference could’ve even made anything appreciably worse.

Well-stocked travel backpack resting on the bench, IDs included. A pile of clothes in front of said bench, enough for a full outfit. Sneakers, socks, jogging pants, underwear, sports bra, purple t-shirt. Only the latter two had any damage, a pair of long, thin cuts on their fronts and backs. A half-eaten sandwich doing its best impression of ant bait next to the clothes pile.

No signs of struggle, no blood, no conceivable motivation for the college student in question to just decide to throw everything away and run off naked into the woods.

No remains to be found.


Regardless of how incoherent the case was, how inexplicable, it ultimately came to him to come up with a response to all the news organizations that were badgering their company’s email inbox. To give them something, anything, even if just to stall for time.

And that much he could do.

One moment to down a stiff drink later, he copied over the template he’d written the previous day. He double checked its contents each time he’d pasted it, constantly ensuring he hadn’t pasted the wrong thing.

Because of the ongoing and sensitive nature of the investigation, we are presently unable to answer any questions about the disappearance of Sue Mary Mullins on 12.04.2023. We are planning to release a press statement at a later date, and would appreciate your patience until then.
~ Galloway Woodland Authority

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
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Chapter 17: Darkness


the gay agenda

Chapter 17: Darkness

The tail end of the dream she’d just awoken from kept playing on repeat in Sue’s head as she came to, the vision equally unnerving and aggravating. Not only did neither Night Father nor that “Justice” entity convey anything of importance to her, but now she was tangled in even more divine meddling, the sort she knew even less about than the lunar deities’ spat.

It infuriated her the more she thought about it, leaving her with a scowl throughout the morning. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Willow to show up and perform a checkup on her leg. It included giving her limb a feel with their ear extension curl, finding the result satisfactory.

And with that done, it was time to move onto her plans for the day, under specified as they might have been.

A quick reassurance that she’d manage to get breakfast on her own got Willow to leave her be, and able to start her search. She looked around the village for either the tall vixen or the equally tall Forest Guardian, arriving nowhere.

Duckdammit, I'm too late, aren't I?

The realization forced her to stop and reevaluate. A pit stop on a nearby bench let her right arm recharge, preparing for what would likely be a lot of crutch wrangling today.

No way through but to ask someone, the awareness not helping her anxiety any with how few beings she even recognized. In absolute terms, Moonview’s headcount paled compared to even her local neighborhood. At the same time, it was much, much denser, complicating matters further. Just gotta find anyone she’d seen and preferably spoken to earlier, someone who wouldn’t be surprised at her stunts-

Sigh, not my first choice, but they’ll have to do.

A couple of eye-catching antics later, up to and including waving her crutch around, she’d caught the being’s attention. The cream and purple... badger was taken aback by her nonsense, but took the bait regardless. They slowly approached before giving her a bow, following it with soft growls and whines. Not unlike Willow’s speech, but with much more of a keening aspect to it, unnerving her plenty.

Left hand off to the side, focus on her psychics, maneuver it with her right hand, aaaand-

“Good morning, Root. Do you know where Sundance and Solstice went?”

The elder replied with a couple confused blinks as he paused, thoughts catching up to what had just happened. His brow furrowed, mouth opened as if to speak, a few more moments of thought- finally, a response:

“South and east, believe. Is ‘Mister’ Root. Name, Moon-chosen? Apology... farmhand intrusion.”

Mister Root, sure, whatever- wait, farmhand intrusion? Did he mean Lilly?

“Thank you. Could you point me there? And no, Lilly didn’t intrude at all.”

His eyes narrowed again, as if she’d misspoken in some critical way. In most other circumstances, she’d be at least a bit unnerved by that. At the moment, though, her ‘unnerved’ queue was already so full that she had to pass away reservation numbers for different thoughts.

‘Mister Flamey Badger was annoyed at her’ was firmly into three digits.

At least he gave her a direction afterward, even if the words that accompanied it were unamused at best-

“Grhhmmmm. Name, Moon-chosen? Can use true name. I Her guidance.”

...true name? No matter what it was, it didn’t matter. Time to get a move on and hopefully catch the two before they’re entirely done in there-

“Sue. Thanks again, but I gotta go.”

She wasted no time before hitting the leg & crutch, not paying the elder that threatened to erupt in purple flames behind her any mind. His guidance was understandably vague, but it got her somewhere, even if it was just over to the village’s edge. The buildings thinned out with every step until she was left only with an increasingly thickening canopy-

And a faint, but still present path.

The sight provided a well-needed surge of motivation, the once-human carefully following it while hoping she wasn’t incidentally being led astray. Which... felt more and more plausible with her not knowing where the night kin village even was. Suppose she was still close enough to circle back and ask someone for some sort of overview. Though, if even the brief mention of night kin made Willow visibly nervous a few days back, being so open with it couldn’t have been a good idea.

And, if the push came to shove, they’d find her out there, right?


Keeping the despair-inducing thoughts at bay, Sue focused on keeping her pace up. She’d gone from feeling like the crutch guided her wherever it wanted with every step, to actual control over the tool. The realization added a couple more pounds of kindling to the flames inside her. She was on a roll when it came to personal mobility. Here’s to seeing whether she could maintain that for however far away Newmoon was.

She’d manage or collapse trying.

With each step, a bit of focus veered further away from the uncertain path before her to her thoughts, the once human busy rehearsing her lines. That exercise was made much more challenging by the exact history between the two peoples’ remaining... largely unknown, aside from the few scant pieces she’d either been told or deduced. Distrust, slow acceptance, plague, and treachery on Moonview's side, including Solstice.

‘Why don’t we all just get along?’ spoken by the species most responsible for their ongoing oppression.

Not the best of ideas on second thought.

Maybe bring up and double down on what had happened to Pollux and how he and Spark had almost died? Really hammer in how their separation hurts the little ones and leave all the actually intelligent things to say to the other two. Suppose her shambling over unprompted would emphasize her determination and dedication towards improving things? Her presence would turn heads either way. Less so for party crashing and more so for showing up for what was, objectively, a sketchy reason considering her state.

But alas, she had to.

It was the only thing she could do, the only thing that would tangibly help her progress toward her goal of returning home. If this really had all been some sort of divinely preordained plan, then she was fulfilling it with annoying effectiveness-

Wait, where’s the... oh right, it’s there. Probably.

The faint path got fainter with each step, the difficulty in concretely determining what line to follow growing by the moment. It was still there, Sue saw it. She thought she could see it, at least. Or maybe it’s just a natural formation of worse dirt that resulted in less grass? She couldn’t see any signs of anyone having recently crossed through that area either, not helping one b-


Sue jumped at the sudden noise, head flailing around to determine its source. No blips on her radar from what she could make out-

But the suspect was there in the flesh, all the same, the realization cheering her up.

Not too different from some crows she’d seen back in her world, but still enough to look noticeably strange. Strange and somewhat familiar, though Sue didn't remember where she could've seen them before. Their black body looked almost segmented between their torso and a large, bushy tail, with the feathers immediately above their eye line spreading as outwards from their head as possible, looking like a disc. And their eyes. Those eyes were thinky, they were most definitely thinky and staring right at her.

The least she could do was return the greetings in whatever way she could.

“Hello! I know you can’t understand me, but I’m glad to see you.”

Predictably, her words had no immediate effect beyond further confusion. Still, they caught the crow’s interest, if nothing else. The night kin bird flapped from branch to branch until they were sitting on the lowest one around, coming close to being able to look at her straight on. A couple further caws were quieter, interspersed with different, clicky noises, all escaping understanding. Further stages of communication would be... difficult, if not impossible, but she had to try.

Let’s try... miming.

“Can you guide me over to Newmoon?”

Point at the bird, point at herself, point at the ground, make a walking gesture with two fingers, point at the bird again, point off in the direction she’d been heading towards-


A wall of ink-black nothing cut off the forest a few meters ahead, the dark barrier outright feeling like it was sucking the surrounding light in. The previous quiet turned to deafening silence, a quick look at the bird determining it to be just as surprised at the sight as she was, eyes wider as they stared and cawed a couple times-

And then, pinprick eyes began showing themselves from the blackness. Sometimes in pairs, sometimes on their own, saturating the void with their presence and Sue’s heart with fear. And then, growls and ferocious hisses, Sue’s blood freezing as she inched back, terror growing within her by the moment.

“H-h-hey, I-I mean no trouble, I-I was just walking t-towards-“

The darkness leaped at her.

Claws, paws, bodies, rushing, dashing, lunging, all right at her, without mercy, without hesitation. She didn’t even have the breath to scream. Her body felt like it took control on its own, forcibly overriding her freeze reaction into flight as fast and far away as she could.

It was no use.

The inky beasts followed in her wake, roars and growls forcing screams out of Sue as she hobbled forward. Her crutch constantly came precipitously close to tripping on the grass, her pathetic pace slowing down further with each near fall. For a brief moment, she thought she could outrace them, keep ahead for long enough to make it out of this hell and back to safety. She put her whole frail body into each step and each turn-

Closer growl, a flash of motion in her peripheral vision, a swipe of a shadowy paw, her side erupting with pain.

She wasn’t even graced with being able to shriek.

Her body impacted the dry forest floor moments later, the crutch rattling beside her. Her breath was stolen from her and taken over by further torment as a massive jaw crunched her hand, the bones splintering into untold agony.

She was gonna die, she was gonna die, she should’ve listened, she shouldn’t have gone alone-

I’m sorry, Sundance...

The fiends encircled her, growling and roaring coming from around her. She could only curl up, scream, and cry while awaiting the end. She would die and amount to little more than a meal for these nightmares. They were already gnawing at her flesh, she could feel them, the agony subsuming all thought-

Suddenly, a different bark in the distance. It cried out again and again, rushing right towards her. She had no brainpower left to figure out what it was, only able to pry one eye open-

And see Pollux leap in through the nightmares surrounding her, turn around, and start barking at the top of his lungs to drive them away. They briefly stopped, but dove in again moments later, on her, on him.

No, don’t touch him, LEAVE HIM ALONE!

Sue’s pained body cried out in sync with her innermost soul. The latter wanted to do anything to protect the vulnerable gray fox again, but this time she couldn’t. She was gonna die, they were gonna die, there was nothing either of them could do, they were dead they were dead they were dead.

In desperation, she reached with her bleeding arms and pulled him in. She held him close to her neck and chest above the spike, wanting to offer her body for defense even if nothing else was within her ability-

He didn’t fight, he didn’t thrash. Instead, Pollux howled at the top of his lungs, the warbling sound conveying something incomprehensible to someone unknown. The shapeshifter kit stalwartly continued to face the encroaching darkness-

And then, it all stopped.

The cries, the growls, the uncountable attacks, all vanishing as if a light switch had been turned off. Once Sue’d pried her eyes open, the formless black was gone too, shadowy beasts having entirely disappeared. It was for no use, she was bleeding, she would...

Sue looked down at the arm embracing Pollux, expecting to see half of it in chunks after that beast’s savage bite- nothing. No blood, no injuries, the pain growing steadily weaker, from incapacitating to mere aching. The lil’ night kin noticed her shock too, steadily calming himself down before facing her again, his expression distraught and apologetic. The woofs that followed were quiet and whimpering, interspersed by cuddling up to her front and peppering her cheeks with licks.

It made no more sense for Sue than the suddenly disappearing hell, but it was much, much more appreciated.

The Forest Guardian held him tight, tighter than ever before. Anguish at all the fear and pain she’d just been through waned as she clung to the fox, especially since he seemed to know what had just happened. Did something attack her? Why did it stop so suddenly? Why are her wounds gone now? Why-

Something else was here with them, so much more than a mere shadow.

The shaded grove she’d crashed in let little light in, only enough to make out the vague outline of the being that hovered over her. Outline, long claws, and its eyes, good Duck its eyes, their piercing blue glow chilling her soul. It made her curl up even tighter and hold the gray kit closer out of protective instinct. The clawed being responded with a growl that froze her blood, her entire body paralyzed in an utmost fear of death.

Only for Pollux to snap back at them.

He squirmed in her embrace, barking firmly and loudly at the monster for a moment. Each time the larger one spoke, or even tried to, Pollux would be there to cut them off, his interjections shutting them up. And then, he’d invariably turn back towards her, small body pressing into hers, apologetic mumbles continuing.

Soon after, the cawing from earlier returned. Sue could just barely make the black bird out on a nearby branch. Their vocalizations followed the fox’s, similarly hostile towards the intruder.

Eventually, nobody tried to talk anymore, the terrifying situation relaxing into uneasy silence. The larger one gradually backed off until they stood beside the nearby tree, staring her down from a distance. Their new position revealed more about them, and some facts soon clicked into place in a very uncomfortable way. Gray fur, black mane, elongated fox snout- just like Pollux’s. The only noticeable differences were the bipedal shape and the massive plume of blood-red hair. If Sundance was any indication, the former didn’t matter at all.

Was this... Pollux’s relative?

Why were the lil’ fox and that crow hostile to them? Did they have something to do with all that nightmarish blackness that had just attacked her? Did they attack her? What did she do-

More soft whines from the vulpine kiddo, more comfort. Incomprehensible as they were, it didn’t make them any less effective, especially once the bird joined in on the fun. Sure, they couldn’t do nearly as much, but they could still pet her with their wings.

And that’s what they did.

Did she accidentally go or do something taboo? Sue was so terribly sorry if she’d done so. Disrespecting their people was the last thing she wanted to do, but not even that made sense. She was just talking to that bird, and then... hell on earth, without warning or reason.

Before Sue’s thoughts in that direction could bring her more despair, Pollux caught her attention with a couple pats on the cheek. The woofs that followed were more upbeat, soothing her mind. With her focus on him, he scrambled over to bring the crutch back to her before backing off to give her space.

The larger one had finally grown mostly quiet by then, only quietly grumbling as they observed the entire exchange. With the fox giving her space, the small clearing turned to silence. The once-student was too confused and shell-shocked to immediately realize what was expected of her. Her gaze leaped between the two foxes in front of her, her body still locked up.

Was she to get up? That’s what it felt like, but... what if she’d do something wrong again? What if having inky nightmares sicced upon her was just a warning shot? What if one more mess-up would make that ferocious beast leap in to tear her to pieces personally, without Pollux being able to do much more than idly bark at them? Far from certainty, and she knew it, but that didn’t extend to her fear-soaked mind.

The deadlock continued without an end in sight.

Sue was too focused on what the massive fox was doing to even notice Pollux’s attempted reassurances. As minutes passed, its gaze continued to narrow on her, only making her shrink more and more. She wanted to plead, hide, to be anywhere but here- but these azure eyes saw it all.

I'm at their mercy, mercy which they don't look like they have.

Eventually, a scornful growl, her face withdrawing to the most childish of hiding spots- behind her hands. Anything to shield her from the terror of it all, to make the finishing blow that would no doubt follow hurt any less. Her silence gave way to hyperventilating, the entire aching body curling up further-

Suddenly, a wave of tingly static throughout her, like an aftershock of an explosion, but perceived only with her sixth sense-

“^What the hell is going on in here.^”

The voice was cold, sharper than a razor blade, feminine if only just. Simultaneously booming and a whisper, rattling Sue’s body as she dared to look outside her pretend cocoon towards its source. A source that, as far as her tingling sense could figure out, wasn’t one of the night kin. The opposite, if anything.

They towered over her.

The shade left few details visible despite their lighter coloration. Curved in spots, elongated in others, very, very tall. Their eyes were but white pinpricks, drilling into her soul the moment they locked with hers. And with that metaphorical sensation came a very literal one, one of her mind being touched and probed, more than just her current fears being read like a book to her displeasure. Soon after, more growls from the larger fox. The towering psychic beside her finally looked over at them, palpably growing more annoyed.

“^Of course this isn’t Solstice, you fool.^”

Wait... it couldn’t be. Did they try to attack Solstice and just mistook her for-

More woofs, responded to first by Pollux, then the bird, and finally by the living tower, much more biting in its delivery-

“^I will not deign that with a response. Either you swallow your cowardice and tell Ginger about this, or I will.^”

The fox stared daggers into the other psychic, eyes narrowing before abruptly shifting at Sue. They made her withdraw further into her curled-up pose-

And then, they turned around and took off into the distance. Pollux barked something pleading in their wake, but to no avail. The pinprick-eyed psychic didn’t react beyond their pose deflating a bit. No audible groan accompanied it, but the change in emotion was clear to sense. More annoyance, more exasperation, both trying to be pushed aside even if briefly, largely unsuccessfully.

“^Idiot... Now, you. Who are you, and what is a Forest Guardian doing here.^”

The focus once more returning to her made Sue jump a bit, but thankfully with nowhere near as much terror to it.

“I-I’m Sue. I... w-wanted to get t-to Newmoon...”

Long, uncomfortable pause, the once-human feeling too grilled to even look up at her interlocutor. Out of view, Pollux woofed something again, the gray fox scrambling over as something writhed inside her mind-

“-ur village?”

Sue stared at the source of the abrupt boyish voice as he got to nuzzling her. Sensation slowly returned to her hands, eventually enough to give the fox some well-deserved affection.

“^Repeat, Pollux.^”

“Oh, okay! Why were you walking to our village, Sue?”

“I-it’s... s-something important, very important.”

“Oooooh, I see! Why didn’t you follow the path? Did you wanna hide?”

Walking all the way over to Newmoon was one accomplishment, sneaking there with a crutch would’ve been an incomparably more impressive one. Probably not possible, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I... tried to f-follow the path. I got lost, didn’t I...”

“^Extremely so.^” - There was the slightest bit of amusement and much less annoyance in the tall one’s voice this time. That aside, it remained the same disinterested flatness as earlier.

“I’m sorry my dad attacked you...”

Pollux huddled up closer, the hurt and apology palpable in his woofs. She could make out a tear or two welling in the corner of his eyes as he continued the affection however he could.

So it was Pollux’s dad, and it was him attacking her instead of whatever ghost idea she might have had...

“Wh-why did he d-do that...”

“I don’t know! I’m sorry, Sue!”

The gray fox was about to break down into his own sobs. Sue’s maternal instinct made her sweep in and pull the kit into a tight hug, trying to console him. He greatly appreciated the pets that followed, them and the well-needed reprieve from his worries about his friend getting hurt. All the while, his very presence brought relief the other way around.

“D-don’t worry, Pollux, it’s not your fault.”

“I know, a-and I tried to make him stop, but I was too late and, and-“


A drawn out, firmer embrace, tingliness of the night kin’s fluff bringing further respite. Finally, her body unclenched from the panic attack she’d experienced minutes prior, the development sensed by the other psychic around.

“^You’re in no shape for walking the remainder of the way there.^”

That observation would’ve been true even without considering her recent crash. The aching and coldness that went through the far left side of her body every time she even thought about moving sure didn’t help either. Sue just acknowledged the observation with a nod, unsure what reaction to expect and hoping it wouldn’t end up being a blunt rejection-

“^I’ll Teleport us there. Someone needs to tell Ginger what happened anyway, sigh...^”

“That was so mean of him...”


“Why did he do that, Mrs. Heather?”

“^I don’t know. Now, you... Sue. Are you capable of standing up on your own?^”

“I-I’m not s-sure- AH!”

Without even waiting for her to finish, the freshly named Heather had already taken things into her mind. Her eyes burned up with a flare as Sue was moved into the air. Heather’s psychics were much more forceful than how either Solstice or Sundance did it, the sheer acceleration sending a roll of nausea through Sue. The next few actions were less abrupt, though still very rough compared to what she’d experienced earlier. Let her lower a leg, get her hands in position, and move the crutch up to be useful at all-

Alright, she was up again, if much more roughly than she would’ve preferred.

There was the slightest bit of hesitation in the other psychic’s emotions. It soon faded as Sue finally got enough of a grip on herself to speak up once more-


“What is that thing you’re holding?” - The unfamiliar voice caught Sue off guard, the corvid cawing that overlapped it cluing the once human off to its source. Slightly croaky, but decidedly young aside from that, like a girl in her older teens with a very sore throat.

Sue wasn’t sure how to answer that even once her eyes connected with the crow’s once more, the question rather ambiguous. Did- did she mean the crutch?

“I-it’s just a crutch, lets me walk with an injured leg...”

“Oooooh, so that’s what that fabric on your leg meant! Who made-“

“^Your questions can wait, Rainfall.^”

The black bird didn’t argue with Heather’s assertion, much to Sue’s thinly veiled relief. She briefly noticed the other psychic’s eyes shifting over to stare into her again, probing in the same way as before. And then, refocusing on something else.

Something much, much flashier.

Before Sue knew it, she and everyone around her were surrounded by an intense, white sheen. Unlike the immobilizing one from earlier, her motions were not bound with an ironclad grip, even if the light was just as intense as before. And then, it grew stronger still, turning blinding soon after. It forced Sue to clench her eyes shut and await whatever would follow once more-

An instant of nonexistence, an epicenter of a tingly shockwave, a couple moments of finding her balance-

They were somewhere else altogether.

This stretch of the woods was... brighter, nowhere near as murky as the one they’d all just been in. Any and all questions to the vein of “how” and “why” were stashed deep inside her mind as Sue grabbed her bearings. A quick scan of the surrounding group revealed everyone to still be here, wherever “here” was- while also letting Sue finally get a better peek at the imposing psychic.

How come something this menacing had a coloration this... gentle.

Body like a chess piece. Legless white bottom, pink middle, blue top capped off with a hat-like growth that trailed off into a long arm. And inside that external shell, a white face with a blank expression, eyes all black aside from the pinpricks she’d seen pierce the darkness. Now that she got a better look at her, Heather looked very similar to-

“^Yes, I’m Thistle’s mother. Are you ready to walk the remainder of the way over?^”

The exasperation in her voice was thankfully far from anything that’d induce immediate panic, while still providing a firm rhetorical shove in one specific direction. One that the two little ones immediately started scrambling towards, Sue left playing catch-up.

“Who made this... ‘crutch’?”

As Sue got her rear back into gear, she noticed the night kin crow stick close to her. They were flying at a very relaxed, almost unsustainably slow pace, only narrowly avoiding crashing as they focused on her.

“Uhh, I-I don’t know. Willow gave it to me, but I don’t know who made it. M-Maybe Kantaro?”

“Nooo, he doesn’t do tools like that! It would have to be-“

“...how do you know that?”

The Forest Guardian’s question was enough to crash Rainfall’s train of thought completely while the group’s attention shifted over to her. Her drawn-out caws were translated into ‘uhhhhhh’s before she abruptly took off way ahead. She flew off before anyone could intervene, much to Pollux’s amusement.

“^Do you know something I don’t, Pollux?^”

And just like that, the lil’ fox was shut up as well, Sue giggling quietly at the unexpected turn of the conversation. Truthfully, she had no idea about anything that was just implied and teased, but... something told her that Pollux wasn’t the only one venturing over to the other village~.

“^Of course he isn’t.^”

Heather’s mental voice was much quieter, closer to a whisper while remaining imposing. A glance downwards revealed Pollux to have not noticed that one. Alright, telepathy.

Let’s try to respond in kind with just that link instead of speaking up loud, lest Pollux heard-

“^What is wrong with you?^”


Heather’s flat voice sounded genuinely confused, its owner staring at her in the middle of her... method of locomotion. Sue couldn’t imagine many answers to the question of ‘how does a being shaped more like a tower than an animal move,’ but, levitation sure wasn’t on that short list. The faint, white glow surrounding Heather’s lower half even provided a concrete mechanical explanation for that feat. Or, at least, as close to an explanation as it got with mind powers.

Somehow she’d gone from ‘Why is that butterfly half her size? What is going on?’ to ‘Ah, I see, that pastel-colored being uses this specific magical ability for basic locomotion. With enough practice I could get there too, no doubt’ in a span of... six days.

“^I mean it. I can feel it, what is wrong with you, Sue?^”

The tiniest bit of genuine concern Sue sensed in the voice was unlike what she’d seen of Heather so far. Her pinprick eyes softened in a way Sue couldn’t exactly figure out.

Now, how to even answer something like that...

“It’s... complicated.”

Her untranslated response made Pollux look over his shoulder at them two, his confused ‘awoo?’ melting Sue’s heart.

“^I had scarcely imagined it was possible for someone your apparent age to be so inexperienced.^”

“I’ve heard that one before.”

No psychics were buying her current state or Solstice’s excuse for it, unnerving Sue greatly. All of them could immediately see through her despite her best efforts, the little they ever amounted to. Each time, she was left just playing dumb, hoping she wouldn’t inadvertently blurt the truth out-


...or worse yet, have someone breach her privacy and take that knowledge without asking.

Sue’s eyes went wide, cold dread shooting through her at her secret being so effortlessly revealed against her will. What would Heather do with that information? What would others do if they learned-

“^Outside of Solstice’s tribe, nothing. You overestimate how much most care.^”

“C-could you stay out of my thoughts!?”


“^If I could, I would.^”

Her response was as straight-faced as it got, her tone perfectly flat. And yet, it answered nothing, annoying Sue further-

“Oh, I’m so sorry, it must be so hard not being able to respect people’s privacy-“

“^It is.^”

Heather’s voice was the most emotional Sue’d seen yet, a low grumble underlined by her eyes narrowing down. Beyond sheer intimidation that knocked Sue’s paleness up a notch, the response seemed genuine, somehow. The once-human didn’t know how to interpret it, steering her shambled path away from the other psychic, to the latter’s exasperation.

“^Transformation indeed. You can sense emotions, and so can I, incomparably stronger. Strong enough to extend to thoughts too, and not even just the most surface ones.^”

Sue had no idea how to react to the impromptu explanation, but it was appreciated all the same. Sue had a hard time imagining just how a sense this strong would feel-

“^Like people screaming directly into my ears.^”

The former human stayed quiet at that, left somewhere between intimidated, feeling sorry about how something like that must feel, and annoyed at her privacy getting breached in the first place. Thankfully, they wouldn’t have to linger on that heavy point for much longer.

With one more step, Sue stepped into a modest clearing, scarcely larger than the one from her dream. Fittingly, it even had an extinguished fire pit right at the center. Instead of just feeble little benches, though, it was surrounded by several buildings, most of them wooden huts. They formed a semicircle around the fire pit, its other side opening into a larger open area, one with several comforts installed all over.

A swing attached to the massive tree that towered over the clearing was the most immediately eye-catching one. Its radius easily cleared fifty or even sixty feet, making it simultaneously a dream come true for Sue, Human, age 5, and more than a little unnerving for Sue, Forest Guardian, age 22-ish.

Falling out of one of those things is how you turn from biology to physics as you splat on the ground.

Fortunately for her continued structural integrity, Heather did not navigate towards said swing. Instead, her attention shifted to the handful of hammocks strewn along the clearing’s edge. They were rather barebones, but looked plenty comfortable.

Assuming you didn’t have a pair of painfully sensitive spikes impaling your spine, that is.

So comfortable, in fact, that one of them was even occupied. The group’s focus was pulled towards the sleeping being as Heather reached in with her arm... tentacle... extremity, attempting to shake them awake.

Their appearance was much more stark than most other beings here, in a ‘technicolor multicolored’ way. Most of the core scale-covered body was yellow except for the black stomach and eyelids, but that contrast wasn’t even the most eye-catching part about them. That award went to the baggy, loose folds of green... skin. Not unlike Sue’s own, but much, much thicker and rugged-looking. They surrounded the creature’s lower half and neck, the latter with an extra amount of slack on the back. Capping it off was an orange mohawk-shaped crest of larger scales on top of their head.

The sum total of four very distinct shades clashed together with a force Sue hadn’t seen since she’d stopped frequenting DeviantArt back in the day.

Besides encompassing half a rainbow and then some, they turned out to be rather difficult to wake up. Their eyes remained closed even as Heather shook them and their hammock. The forcefulness escalated until the tower-shaped psychic had to resort to the nuclear option with a defeated telepathic grumble.

In a split second, the whole hammock was surrounded with white light and flipped one eighty degrees with enough force to launch the technicolor lizard out of it and onto the grassy forest floor below.

And even then, it took them a couple minutes to even start coming to.

They let out a drawn-out trill as they stretched in place, shifting just enough to turn onto their back and slide their hands under their head. Sue could palpably feel Heather’s exasperation grow in response, her arm slowly lifting into the air as if about to slam down-

“I’m here, I’m here. What’s the haps-“

The voice was calm, masculine, and sounded like the speaker was axiomatically incapable of perceiving urgency. A couple moments later, the lizard managed to pry his eyes open, a half-lidded look first focusing on Heather before jumping all the way over to Sue. Her appearance single-handedly finished the rest of his waking process, eyes briefly fully opening as they took her in.



Her presence provided enough jolt to his system to finally force the lizard to scramble onto his legs. He waddled over until stopping a couple meters away from her, some of the loose green skin dragging behind him. His orange crest ended up at around the same height as her chest-mounted letter opener.

“Hmmm... Solanum?”

“^Of course not.^”

The emphasis in Heather’s response and the unfamiliar name caught Sue off guard. Before she could think about it anymore, though, the other psychic continued-

“^Go on, introduce yourself.^”

“Uh- hi. My name is Sue.”

“Mighty pleasure to have you here, Sue. Name’s Ginger- yeah, I know, I know, I’ve already heard all the jokes.”

The follow-up had Sue blink confusedly for a couple moments before it was swept aside by Heather’s interjection-

“^Alastor attacked her while she was walking through the woods.^”


Ginger turned to look up at the towering psychic first, then down at the hurt-looking Pollux, the kit having scrambled over to the Forest Guardian’s leg, and finally back at Sue. It took a couple moments for him to piece the “what” and “why” together. The grumble that followed resembled a drawn-out trill as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back.

“What a child... oh well, I’ll chew him out once he shows up here. Well, mighty apologies from me, Sue. Hardly a pleasant introduction to our little nook in the forest. So- what brings you here? Hailing over from Moonview...?”

The apologies were accompanied by an outstretched hand in her direction, its claws so stubby she only barely noticed them.

Despite having her mental radar for only a few days now, Sue had found her subconscious decision-making relying on it more and more. Enough so that its sudden absence left her unsure how to proceed here, even with Ginger’s voice being as laid back as it got.

Suppose nothing terrible would happen if she just shook his hand and told the truth...


“Yeah, I c-came from there. I wanted to-“

Hold on.

Sue paused, eyes sweeping the clearing, searching for two specific figures, but not finding either. And someone with apparent importance was asleep when she got here, to boot.

She’d arrived ahead of the other two.

“^Ahead of who- what do you mean Solstice is on her way here.^”

Heather’s words plunged the already quiet clearing into a stone-cold silence. Pollux and Ginger looked at her in disbelief before refocusing on Sue. The Forest Guardian found herself half stepping backward at being suddenly put on this dire of a spot, words catching in her throat. Suppose she should just stick to her resolve and tell the truth, but Duckdammit, the initial reaction being this sudden didn’t help one bit.

“Y-yes. Her and S-Sundance are making their way over here. I-I wanted to follow them at first, but then... things happened.”

The once-human paid close attention to how the technicolor lizard reacted to the news, gauging how big of a mess she was in now. Ginger took his time responding, blinking at her flatly a couple times before... shrugging his shoulders.

“Uh-huh. Well, nothing stops them from visiting. Can’t say I’m not... curious as to the reason for their, and seemingly also your, presence here.”

No hostility, merely confusion- it was a good sign. It’d still be left to Sue to play the cards right, though, which... she had her doubts about.

Fingers crossed they’d see she was heartfelt enough.

“They... they wanted to discuss mending the rift between you all and Moonview.”

You could hear a pin drop from a mile away.

“Well, suppose that’s as good of a discussion topic with Solstice as it gets. Been a while.”

“^I doubt everyone will share your enthusiasm, Ginger.^”

“Probably not! Worth taking a moment to talk it all through then. Juniper’s off somewhere, but I think everyone else should be in earshot- *whiIIIIISTLE!*

The piercing sound was accompanied by the bipedal lizard turning further into the clearing. Everyone but Sue knew what to expect, leaving the once-human shifting behind Ginger’s shorter stature as they awaited the arrival of other night kin-

She wouldn’t have to wait long.

“What’s happening, what’s happening?” - Rainfall’s squeaky caws made Sue’s head snap to a nearby branch, the black bird continuing to eye her crutch closely. And, if her opening and closing their beak a couple times in quick succession without making any sounds was any sign, she only barely kept herself from asking more questions.

“Big things, Rainfall. Aight, where’s the- here we go.”

Ginger drew Sue’s attention further into the clearing as another being made their way over. Sue’s immediate thought was an overly stretched scorpion the size of a motorcycle. Lavender and purple segments came together into a roughly arthropod body shape, except for a long, flexible neck. Their tail wasn’t any different from their pincers, which meant that either they weren’t poisonous in that way at all, or worse- that they all were.

Them being strong enough to carry half a tree log within each pair of pincers didn’t put Sue at any more ease either.

“Eyy Thorns, how’s clear-cutting going?”

“Fine enough. With whom do we have the... pleasure?” - The scorpion’s voice was harsh, low, clearly suspicious- but with no malice Sue could sense. It was also distinctly feminine, throwing Sue’s mind for a loop before Ginger’s response caught her attention again-

“I’ll get to it once everyone’s here. Where’s Jasper?”

“I was talking with him just now!” - The night kin bird’s interjection confounded the lizard, hand reaching up to stroke his chin as he thought through something.

As he did so, Sue kept looking around the clearing, spotting... something peeking their way from behind one of the buildings. Nearly all black aside from green feet and spots on what had to be their head. The distance made it difficult to know with certainty. Sue tried leaning in closer to get a better look. All that accomplished, though, was causing the being to withdraw entirely and slink behind the building, the reaction catching her off guard.

Why’d they-


The happy greeting overlapped with a harsh bark, just different enough from Pollux’s to be discernible. It only took a glance down at the ground for the suspect to reveal themselves, their appearance feral, intimidating, but also... familiar. She wouldn’t have spared them a second look back in her own world if not for those oversized canines and piercing red eyes. The newcomer looked just like a wolf of some sort, their coloration split between silvery gray and near-black.


And, if what was most likely Heather’s translation was any sign, they sounded at most five years old or so.

“Um, h-hello.”

Sue’s wave at the wolf pup was acknowledged with a couple untranslated woofs and a prodigious amount of tail wagging. Scary as their snouts’ contents might have been, it was hard to deny them being happy at the moment. It was all... oddly adorable.

“Howl! This is Sue, she’s... a friend!” - Pollux wasted no time introducing his impromptu guest. The other night kin quadruped acknowledged that fact in the most direct way. Namely, by first nuzzling his friend, and then Sue’s good leg.

“That’s cool! Polluuuux, can we play tag?”

“Sure, Howl, but not now. Something important is gonna be happening now!”

“Oooooo. What important?”

“Don’t worry about it, Howl.” - Ginger’s tone was reassuring. The colorful lizard walked over to the gray pup and dispensed some of his own affection, the lil’ one’s tail wags only intensifying. - “Now, who else is missing... Jasper, Alastor-“

“^Last I’ve seen of him, he stormed off in a huff. I doubt he’ll be showing up for this.^”

“Fair, fair. Daystar-“


The keening voice made everyone but Heather jump. Their attention snapped onto a low branch a few feet behind Sue, the latter with a noticeable startle. As unnerved as the segmented scorpion’s spikes made her, the newcomer somehow topped them. Their bipedal body was elongated, almost human-shaped. The silver fur covering most of it and their harrowing weaponry immediately offset that fact. Similarly to her own, their arms’ proportions were off, thin upper arms giving way to much thicker forearms. Their left paw was capped off with three massive claws, each the size of a cleaver and curved at the end, shining red despite their dark purple coloration.

The sight on their right arm was noticeably different, looking almost... artificial. A good chunk of that forearm was replaced with a bulky contraption of wood and rope. It was secured to what had to be their actual arm and tipped off with a single metal hook.

Was this... a prosthesis?

“Alrighty, that just leaves Jasper.” - Ginger summed up quickly, one omission raising the newcomer’s eyebrow-

“And not Juniper~?”

Hearing some more of Daystar’s voice made her more firmly female, though with a fairly low pitch. It also made clear one other fact that Sue would’ve thought to be more self-evident- that of her not being a night kin. Suppose, with Heather in her vicinity, it was hard to even notice any weaker blips around her, huh.

“Nah, not Juniper, she’s away, and we’d be waiting for ages.”

“Perhaps for the best~.” - The silver biped’s attention honed in closer on the once-human. The golden... crystals on their forehead and chest occasionally gleamed as stray rays of sunshine struck them. Sue had no idea how to interpret that message, unable to do much but shake in place and feel increasingly uncomfortable.

“Seems Jasper isn’t gracing us with his presence, then. Let’s get everything else underway, at least. SO-!”

Ginger’s raised voice interrupted any murmured chitchatting that crept in, leaving the half-rainbow lizard as the sole focus of everyone present.

“From what I’ve been told, Solstice and Sundance are on their way over. They want to initiate talks about moving forward after what had happened between us and Moonview. Is that accurate... Sue?”

Her firm nod immediately set off tense discussion all around her. Before the gathered older voices could discuss too much, they were interrupted by a louder growl, its abruptness and unknown origin making Sue jump.

“Sigh, if you’re gonna contribute, Alastor, then it’d be mature of you to at least show yourself. Though, you raise a good point. Alright, Sue, how do we know their excursion is in goodwill? Not that I’d expect either of them to use that opportunity to backstab us, but we can’t ever be quite certain, can we?”

Sue’s gaze jumped around as she was suddenly put on the spot, only having a very limited idea about how to respond to Ginger’s question. All she had was the Cliff’s Notes version of this place’s tragedy and the few wits that hadn’t been shaken off by her anxiety. The pressure of even a single wrong answer making the job of the other two much harder didn’t help one bit...

Persuasion wasn’t her strong suit, but... maybe honesty could work.

“I-I don’t know what to say, e-exactly. It’s just them two, and a-as far as I know, n-nobody else around even knows of them being here-“

“It’s not even a unified effort?” - Thorns’ voice conveyed how much she didn’t approve of that fact, the scorpion’s low grumbling growing lower still.

“^Are they serious, or is it just Solstice trying to wash her conscience?^” - Heather’s interjection was similarly accusatory, Sue’s shallow breath coming closer to hyperventilating by the moment.

“Coming all the way over to beg for forgiveness and only then deign to bring it up with the rest of their council~?” - Daystar’s addition pushed the Forest Guardian over the edge, creeping panic finally forcing her to blurt out-


As desperate as Sue’s response was, it made everyone else gathered pause, if briefly. She knew she didn’t have much of a rhetorical leg to stand on. The most she could feasibly do was push all the mess she’d built up over to the two responsible beings.

“I-I wasn’t supposed to be here, th-they asked me not to come with them, I-I wasn’t expecting to be the first one here...”

“Then why are you here?” - Thorns’ question was short and to the point, cutting through any surrounding fluff. It was one Sue’d been asking herself on a loop for half an hour or so.

Just why the hell was she here? Sundance was right. This wasn’t her conflict to settle, she’d done nothing except be caught in the crossfire. And yet... Fate left her no other way. It was this or idleness, merely waiting for the inevitable to be decided for her with her hands tied.

After being forced through that hell again and again with her dad, one chemotherapy session and surgery at a time, Sue knew she never wanted to experience it ever again, no matter what it took. She looked up and around the beings surrounding her, all with no doubt similar amounts of trauma in their pasts. Heather’s eyes went wide as they briefly locked with Sue’s.

Time to finally get something worthwhile out of her hauling her ass over through all the strain and assault.

“B-because the rift b-between h-here and there almost killed me.”

Sue tried to maintain as intense of an expression as possible while she reached to pat her crutch. The gesture drew attention to it and the bandages around her leg alike, making her presence here in the first place even more perplexing. Before anyone could sort out their confusion about her answer, though, several pairs of keen eyes noticed Howl trying to inch away.

A second Howl just a few feet away made that disguise much less effective.

“Hold on just now, Pollux.”

Ginger’s callout made the “Howl” trying to scamper away from the scene freeze in place. His expression was clearly anguished, leaving Sue feeling sorry as she picked up the slack again.

“H-him and Spark were playing together when... I believe they’re called a ‘deathweaver’, attacked them. I-if not for my presence there, they would’ve both died.”

The resulting silence was cut forth with a distraught growl and a piece of nearby shrubbery suddenly transforming into the massive black and red fox she’d seen earlier. Alastor still made her heart rate spike, even if his focus was clearly not on her for once. In one leap, the plume of scarlet hair closed the distance between himself and disguised Pollux. The lil’ fox soon reverted to his true appearance as he stared at the forest floor.

“I-I d-didn’t w-want to make you worry, d-dad... A-and you’d be mad at me for playing with Spark! I didn’t want you to be mad at me...”

Another growl from the older fox, wavering in its delivery, deflating the expressions of everyone nearby.

“But you would! Y-you said it s-so many times h-how I shouldn’t tr-trust them, a-a-and how Solstice is evil. And you even attacked Sue earlier because you thought it was Solstice! How can you tell me th-that you wouldn’t be mad at me! Why- WHY ARE YOU LYING TO ME, DAD?!”

“We both know where that kind of grudge leads, Alastor.”

Daystar’s comment had Sue briefly glance at the silver creature sitting on a branch before looking back at the father fox being chewed out. Instead of him, she saw... something else. For just an instant, the dark and red beast that had assaulted her became death manifest, pale and bloodstained, golden eyes seething with hatred of all life-

And then, one blink later, it was gone, replaced with Alastor struggling to even look at her despite what he’d done earlier today. For a few tense moments, Sue’s eyes were locked with Pollux’s father, the latter’s actions catching up to him fast-

He could not bear it.

Alastor was gone before Sue could even consciously process what she was seeing. It was as if the environment had swallowed him whole, leaving nothing where he stood moments prior.


“Goddammit, Alastor... oh well.”

Ginger had to take a moment to rub his temples, the resulting mess of a conversation accomplishing little beyond muddying the waters further. If there was one thing that was perfectly clear, though, it was that trying to discuss this further before the other Forest Guardian arrived would serve no purpose. Especially with how little this Sue person clearly knew.

Rushing headlong into all this would help nobody.

“Aight. How about this. We end this exchange here, it’s clearly not doing us any good. We all have time to think it through before Solstice and Sundance show up, consider where we all individually stand on it all. How’s that sound?”

The responses took their time to start rolling in, but they turned out largely affirmative. Only the purple scorpion had as much as a mumbled objection before she relented all the same-

“Fine, then. What about our guest?”

“What about Sue, indeed. It’d be a good idea for someone to look after her for a while considering what had happened between her and Alastor... any takers?”

Right as Ginger finished, Sue felt a tingly shockwave go through her system, only to look up and realize Heather was gone from the scene. Thorns hasn’t shown any more eagerness than her either, already busy carrying timber from where she’d come from. Which left either Ginger or...

The lizard’s words were somewhere between a warble and a quiet growl as his yellow hand pointed at the trees behind her; the vocalization responded to with a drawn-out hissy grumble. As hesitant as everyone else might have been, much to Sue’s building annoyance and sorrow, Daystar would finally pick up the slack. Before the Forest Guardian could even glance over her shoulder, she heard a light thump of something landing on grass, followed by a couple taps of cold metal on her arm.

As straightforward as Daystar’s gesture of pointing with her clawed arm was, the sudden absence of coherent communication threw more anxiety into Sue’s mind. She felt completely alone, most of those around giving her the cold shoulder, if even that. Understandable after what they’ve all been through, and not even her panicked mind was seriously accusing anyone present of wishing any physical harm on her-

Outside of Alastor...

-but it was still all deeply unnerving. Especially with her left unsure about whether she’d actually managed to accomplish anything in the end-

Meowed, hissy sounds nearby, Daystar’s emotions much clearer to sense with Heather gone. There was a bit of exasperation and uncertainty as she turned to stare at the newcomer. All the young uns but Pollux had already followed her further into the clearing. Sue wanted to say something, anything, push through the anxiety clouding her mind enough to establish a connection between herself and what felt like the only being here she was compatible with in that way-

Thankfully, Pollux intervened, the lil’ fox’s woofs seemingly explaining her apparent lack of understanding. The news was... more surprising for Daystar than Sue would’ve expected. Her expression narrowed, gaze jumping back and forth between Pollux and the Forest Guardian beside him. More utterances followed, short and baffled. The exchange between her temporary host and a portably sized friend didn’t last long before the silver one once more looked up to address her directly.

Daystar knew her words wouldn’t be understood and instead went for the second-best option. The clawed arm pointed at Sue, then at her mouth while she repeatedly opened and closed it all the way, followed by a firm head shake.

Correct. Sue didn’t know how to speak; the message acknowledged with a few rapid nods.

She felt understanding and deep thought creep into the biped’s mind. And then, a few moments later, a lightbulb went off.

Or this world’s closest equivalent- someone suddenly spewing flames out of their mouth, maybe?

Either way, Daystar just came up with something, going from hesitant to eager on what felt like a whim. Sue wouldn’t oppose that change, that’s for sure. Finally, she pushed herself from her spot, the crutch arm immediately complaining again after its unintentional break. With the borderline interrogation over, Sue could appreciate the small settlement further. The quaint place was really cozy the more she looked at it. Almost reminded her of a summer camp.

Summer camp with even more shared trauma than usual.

Let’s see what idea my host got all of a sudden.

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Chapter 18: Silence New


the gay agenda

Chapter 18: Silence

Thankfully for Sue’s strained... everything, Daystar wouldn’t end up stringing her along for very long.

She might have known all of nothing about agriculture, but liked to think she had a relatively decent visual memory. Enough so to remember the unusually colored bark of a couple of fruit trees back at Moonview’s farm, and realize that it was a match for the small grove they had just walked into.

Her stomach would definitely not say no to some lunch later on.

Or now.

The problem of sitting down with a crutch was one Sue was acutely familiar with. And one that, despite all her struggling, she hadn’t found a better answer for than having someone else lift her whole body, be it with their arms or mind. Daystar’s solution to that conundrum wasn’t groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it got the job done all the same.

She squatted to grab the lower part of the mobility tool with her clawed hand, lifted it up from the ground, and began to rotate it slowly in her unwavering grasp. The point the once-human was supporting herself on was steadily lowered, until all it took to sit down was just letting her butt fall down a couple of inches.

With how lanky Daystar’s build was, Sue didn’t expect her to be on the “could probably snap her like a twig” level of physical strength. Certainly not with other extraordinarily strong creatures she’d seen so far at least looking ripped. But no, don’t even need that in here, apparently.

Muscles are just for decoration. Who could’ve known.

“Thank you.”

Despite her grateful tone being successfully conveyed, the gray creature wasn’t particularly focused on that, their sharp claws rhythmically tapping each other as they thought something through. Uncertain, determined, puzzled. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too bad. The realization combined with the two night kin kiddos having sat down beside her helped tremendously in calming Sue back down following the tense exchange at the clearing.

Now just to link up with Daystar and let’s see what she’d been wracking her brains about. Close eyes, suppress emotions, reach-


A harsh snarl cut Sue off before she could get started, her whole body freezing as she opened her eyes to find the three dagger-like claws inches in front of her. The attached face and mind were much closer to slight irritation than a kind of fury a threatening gesture ought to have implied, however.

No telepathy then, alright...

Even if her host’s mental state never went beyond annoyance and quickly receded from even that, the motion of their claws left Sue shaken, not daring to even twitch as she sat in place. Her heart hammered in her ears as her eyes drilled a hole in the forest floor; what felt like a near death experience dulled out any external stimuli. It took a while for her mind to start unwinding from that sight. It might not have been a threat, but, Duckdamn, it was hard to think rationally with something sharp enough to slice clean through any of the surrounding trees being so nonchalantly pointed at her.


The couple of pinging sounds as Daystar tapped her claws on the metal hook of her prosthesis snapped Sue back to reality, gaze jumping upwards only to near instantly lock with Daystar’s expression of... concern. Reassuring if nothing else, at least, and also letting Sue spot the rather uneven edge of the large... feather that sprouted from where her left ear ought to have been, as if it’d been crudely cut off at around eye height.

“I-I’m okay, I think.”

With the Forest Guardian’s focus secured, her host nodded, took a deep breath, looked straight at her... and pointed her clawed arm at herself, before speaking slower than Sue had seen anyone do before.


The sounds weren’t an exact match for anything she recognized, but they were the closest thing she’d heard up until that point. Their clarity, combined with the utterance clearly being a single word and the accompanying gesture, made it very clear what this presentation was supposed to accomplish. The realization lit up a fire inside Sue, enough so for her to brush off her previous fright and switch gears to trying to absorb as much of the impromptu language lesson as she could.

Sue nodded and shakily reached her hand to point at Daystar, attempting to repeat the sound as close as she could-


Immediate shake of the gray one’s head- she got something wrong, but what exactly was impossible to tell. Thankfully, she wouldn’t be left in complete darkness for too long afterwards. Daystar once more pointed at herself, accentuating the gesture with tapping the golden gem on her front with the tip of one of her claws, and repeated the word-


Alright, so this wasn’t her name, which left the other main possibility.

This time, Sue pointed at herself, slightly less uncertainly than before, and gave it another go.


Slow nod and a faint smirk. Not ‘Daystar’, but something much more important.

‘I’. Simple enough.

Or at least, that’s how it initially seemed.


Sue blinked at Daystar repeating the same gesture again, unsure as to the reasoning behind it. Suppose repetition is how you learn, but she wouldn’t have thought that would extend to demonstrations. Oh well, let’s just repeat it on her end, too. Clear her throat, point at self-


A slow shake of her host’s head.

...aaaaand back to being completely lost.

The Forest Guardian stared at the gray one blankly, having not a shred of idea of why she went from doing well to failing despite simply repeating her previous action. There was no way something as fundamental as what she assumed to be pronouns would just change on a whim like that, right? With how weird this world had been so far, she knew she had absolutely no guarantee of that being the case, but her hope remained all the same.

Foolishly, perhaps.

For a while, both Sue and Daystar were about as confused as each other, both missing different pieces of critical knowledge that would let them piece the situation together. A couple more attempts yielded largely the same results. No matter how well her host enunciated her words and no matter how closely Sue had tried matching their pronunciation, she forever fell short, making what felt like no progress whatsoever.

Right as the fire in the once-human’s body would be wholly extinguished by that demoralizing realization, Pollux tried to help, contributing to the conversation in a very direct but unintuitive way.


His howl answered exactly nothing for Sue, but it gave Daystar an immediate idea. The click inside her head was downright palpable for the Forest Guardian. Instead of repeating the word yet again with the accompanying gesture, she held her clawed paw limply above and beside her. Then, she spoke once more, drawing out just that very first sound.


Alright, got pointed at with the hook. Guess she should try that again. Hand held tall, any remnants of self-consciousness over grabbing attention forcibly evaporating under the sudden pressure- let’s make some noise.


Daystar flicked her claws at hearing Sue’s response, making her impromptu student blink before apparently trying to mimic her most recent vocalization-


Paired with that mumble was a flick of her paw even further up at the end, as if rising in tune with her-

Her pitch.

Sue’s mind grasped at that idea and wouldn’t let go, once more preparing to deliver the world’s most unenthused scream. This time, though, she put in the effort to modulate her tone to whatever extent her voice box allowed, down and up and down, while moving her hand along to match.


Immediate, cheerful reaction,delivered with a wide and only slightly intimidating grin and a couple of firm nods.


Without wasting another moment to let the wave of enthusiasm subside, Daystar went back to her previous idea, this time using the hook to point at herself as her other hand visually conveyed the change in intonation-


Down, up, even.


Oh no.

The revelation of the local language turning out to be a tonal one undid a lot of the excitement she’d built up about her breakthrough. Soon after, she forcibly overrode her knee-jerk reaction as she redoubled her efforts towards being as receptive as possible. It was going to be unlike the one language she knew, but, at least in this particular regard, not wholly unique.

A sixth of the planet uses tones, I can figure them out, too.

Even if it'll take pushing my monolingual, British ass into uncharted territory.

By the time Sue had chewed through that entire upsetting train of thought, she felt concern grow in her teacher, its source not particularly hard to guess. With a firm nod, the once-human focused on the lesson again, firmly nodding and raising her hand again to give the task her best attempt-


A ‘so-so’ gesture wasn’t perfect, but it was still progress. It pushed her to try again and again, the act of mixing pitch with sounds unlike anything she’d ever done previously. Each attempt got closer, Daystar’s nods growing more exaggerated until she was satisfied with Sue’s efforts, gesturing for her to stop. As warm of a smile as the gray biped looked capable of, a brief comment- and then, she pointed at the assembled kids, one at a time, her instruction becoming clear afterwards.




Paying closer attention to the shifting pitch in Pollux’s, Howl’s and Rainfall’s vocalizations clued Sue in towards their purpose. They were attempting to pronounce the same word, with vastly different outcomes. Daystar didn’t object to any of them, Sue’s umpteenth repeat of the same partially botched word enough to satisfy her.

Was there just no consistency like that in this language?

Figured not everyone could make the same sounds, sometimes not even close, but how the language accommodated for that fact remained unclear- beyond the weirdly permissive demonstration she’d just heard, that is. Hopefully, it means that people will be willing to cut her some slack with her pronunciation.

That’d be nice.

A couple of other basic words were taught using similar charades; Sue left to just think about them really hard in lieu of any paper to write the secrets of the universe down upon. “~Kò~” meant ‘you’, though judging by the little ones’ contribution, “~Gèè~” and even “~Pỳù~” were also acceptable pronunciations, somehow. “~Ỳùn.~” and “~Ky̌á.~” meant ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively. Hardly useful on their own with her head shaking translating over, but no less appreciated.

Her pronunciation remained sketchy despite her best attempts.

Questions aside, she’d almost never consciously manipulated her pitch like that before, and she could physically feel the effort that task took, deep in her throat. Not painful, not by any stretch, but definitely uncomfortable and something she’d have to get acclimated to gradually.

Sue almost grasped the couple of words that came afterwards, but the devil was in the details, deep down and ever annoying. Both “~Àkô~” and “~Àsô~” seemed to be pronouns in the vein of ‘he’ or ‘she’, but didn’t map exactly to any distinction she could think of. For a moment, she thought the difference was the gender one she was familiar with, but it wasn’t the case, as evidenced by both herself and Pollux being referred to with the former of the two unknown words.

First lesson, this was the absolute basics, and she was just not getting something important, the natural 1 on her comprehension roll making Sue withdraw a bit. The three night kin and a... fellow inhabitant of Newmoon, she imagined, discussed the topic for a while, the dark bird’s eventual contribution sparking another revelation inside the tallest of the bunch.

Time for some vandalism.

With Sue’s attention secured, Daystar carved a roughly circular shape on the bark of the fruit tree standing beside her. The gesture looked simultaneously careful in its execution while also being effortless; the wood might as well have been butter for her razor-sharp claws.

Pointed at herself, pointed at Sue, pointed at the fresh drawing.

“~Àýa, kò, àsô.~”

I, you, it.

The exercise explained little on its own, but Sue repeated it all the same. A couple nods of confirmation later, her host proceeded to the next step of this makeshift demonstration, and drew a face inside the circle. Two vertical lines for eyes, one horizontal line for mouth. Would make for a good ‘detached’ emote. Before Sue could settle on making “add Daystar’s exact scribbled emoji to the Unicode standard” her life’s goal after she got back home, the gray one continued.

Pointed at herself, pointed at Sue, pointed at the edited drawing.

“~Àýa, kò, àkô.~”

I, you, ...they?

She blinked at that thought, going ahead with her own repetition before lingering on it afterwards, wanting to confirm her hunch.

Pollux got “~Àkô~”, her crutch got “~Àsô~”.

Two out of two.

Sue felt her brain expand in real time as he continued to experiment with objects around her, her hypothesis turning out to be almost correct. Annoyingly, the ‘almost’ part wasn’t anything she could logically figure out. There seemed to be a couple of apparent exceptions to her rule, everything else fitting the distinction she had in mind to a tee.

No clue whatsoever why specifically trees and the sky got ‘they’ and not ‘it’, but considering the extent of her learning today, it was at most a tiny annoyance. Once she was back at Willow’s clinic, she would have to ask for more paper and actually write her knowledge down, before everything she’d just learned escaped through whatever orifice it deemed appropriate.

Alright, that’s one half of the pronouns table, and if Daystar ordering the two canines around to split up between taking seats beside herself and Sue was any sign, plural pronouns would be next. A lot to learn, not a lot of gray matter on which to store that knowledge, but the once-human was as ready as ever, briefly patting her legs rhythmically to pump herself up for the next bit of studying-


The brief glimpse of the icy, floating performer from a few days prior successfully derailed Sue’s entire train of thought, her shock catching everyone else’s attention. Thankfully, she wouldn’t be some madwoman that saw things that weren’t there. Daystar caught a glimpse, too, making her shout over toward the tree Snowdrop tried to hide behind, her voice full of... concern.

Guess these two must know each other?

It took a bit more pleading, but eventually the star of Moonview’s show finally presented herself again, her worry and embarrassment becoming clearer by the moment. Not worry about Sue, not just worry about Sue at least, but also something else, something much more self-focused. Almost like she was... afraid of Sue, somehow. The Forest Guardian had no idea what to think as her timid wave was returned shortly after.

Daystar wasted no time intervening further, physically beckoning the cold one over as they spoke. Snowdrop eventually settled down on the ground next to them all, trying to look at literally everything around except for Sue. It didn’t feel malicious as much as embarrassed, but that helped little. It left Sue feeling very, very uneasy as the conversation shifted around her.

To little surprise, her first proper attempt at fishing even just the handful of words she knew out of the broth of the group’s chatter was an almost total failure. A couple “~Àýa~”, one or two “~Ky̌á~”, nowhere near enough to give her even the smallest inkling of an idea about the discussion’s topic. Even her sixth sense provided more information than that, though it required very heavy interpretation to get anything out of. Intense shame whenever Snowdrop as much as glanced in her direction, mutual concern between her and Daystar, and the latter clearly pleading something once or twice.

No answers, but just enough to leave Sue profoundly uncomfortable throughout.


Sixth sense or not, the discomfort in Sue’s body language wasn’t all too difficult to spot for others. Pollux took it upon himself to comfort her more acutely by scrambling onto her lap. His effort was appreciated as always, though its effectiveness was... questionable. Daystar had her own ideas, however, a quick comment towards the lil’ black bird that had been trying to snuggle in beside Snowdrop making her fly off further into the small orchard, the action’s purpose self-evident.

Hunger wasn’t helping her thought process either, sating it wouldn’t hurt-

“^Hi, Sue!^”

The sudden manifestation of the girly, squeaky voice made Sue jump a bit as she feverishly looked around for its origin, eventually spotting her casually... standing(?) beside her. It was her second time seeing this particular hat creature, and the few days haven’t dulled her astonished reactions at just how surreal her appearance was one bit. Especially with the entirety of her locomotion being left to a couple of blue extensions on the back of her... hair.

“H-hey, Thistle.”

Looking like a costume design gone wrong or not, Sue couldn’t deny being very grateful to the small, squeaky psychic for showing up. The return of the language barrier and the uncomfortable, tense scene that followed chafed her worry-happy mind too much for comfort.

“^What are you doing here?^”

“It’s... a long story, Thistle~. I can tell you later if you’d want, sweetie.”

Daystar’s voice turning coherent again brought immense relief, the hatful of psychic immediately squirming up closer beside Sue despite not even exactly knowing what had happened.

“^Okay, Miss Daystar! Hello Miss Snowdrop!^”

“H-hey...” - The quiet, whispered greeting had Sue’s concern grow further. Her confusion about the situation and inability to help directly were driving her mad, and she had no idea if it was even really related to her-

“^Miss Snowdrop, Miss Sue wants to know what’s wrong!^”

Could you ask before digging inside my head?

“^Sorry! It’s hard not to!^”

If not for Thistle’s question, Sue would’ve rolled her eyes at that explanation, mentally attributing it to the hatted psychic just being nosy like that. Instead, though, her attention was firmly centered on Snowdrop, the icy one’s immediate shame stinging the inside of Sue’s heart deeply.

“I-it’s... I-I’m sorry, Sue.”

The once-human was increasingly expecting the piece of the sky to fall down and smack her in the face with each passing moment, but not even she thought that’s what Snowdrop would say when being put on the spot like that. Some of her wanted to just give the icy one a figurative pass, just accept the apology even if its reason was utterly unknown, and let Snowdrop do whatever she was here for in peace.

Some, but not all.

“Wh-what for? You have done nothing wrong, j-just visiting a friend, right?”

Daystar chuckled at her words, Snowdrop’s cheeks burning up despite their nominal coldness as the icy one tried to withdraw into herself. The exchange would’ve been amusing in any other circumstance, but here it made it all even more confusing.

“Bit more than a friend~. Though, ultimately up to Snowy how she thinks about it all~.”

The pet name sure didn’t help with the frosty blush, the bravado she’d shown on the big stage utterly replaced with a healthy serving of fluster. It felt amusing and special to witness, but it wasn’t an answer, not by itself.

“Mnnnn... I-I’m sorry for not b-being honest about... all this, Sue.”

That at least made more sense to be sorry about. A whole heaping lot of sense, in fact, Sue’s attention shifting over to Daystar and giving her a raised eyebrow at the entire situation.

“I’d be lying if I knew what ‘all this’ is to begin with...”

“What is there to say~? Snowy has been seeing me for a few months and we’ve been getting closer throughout~. We talked a few times about relationships, and she mentioned how she sometimes feels like she has too much love in her for one person and been wondering how it would feel like to spread it~. Do I get it~? Not at all, but y’know~. I like her, want her to be happy, and know better than to expect anyone to ever fully devote themselves towards me~.”

By the time that Daystar had finished, Snowdrop was at acute risk of melting at the intensity of the embarrassed blush going through her body.

If the situation was any less serious, Sue would’ve giggled at it, but she just couldn’t, not with how much this was all clearly impacting the blushing frosty performer. The actual dynamic being explained was one that the once-human was truthfully completely unaware of, and the idea of being pulled in as what looked like a third wheel into a pre-existing relationship felt a bit off, but ultimately nothing bad had happened.

“H-hey, it’s alright, Snowdrop, I-I promise.”

As anxious as her words were, Sue’s message was genuine and Snowdrop could tell. She finally began to relax as she hovered closer to Daystar.

“Th-thank you, Sue. I... I s-still feel sorry for asking you s-since you w-weren’t interested in me like that, a-and as slyly as I did. It’s just... it’s scary. I l-love Daystar-“

“Love ya too, Snowy~.”

“-h-heheh, but it just feels so uncertain that any of this w-will ever work out. The separation, the distance, the... lack of closeness...”

“Snowy, I told ya many times sweetie~ if you aren’t feeling like getting closer in that way, then we don’t have to. If you ever do, then we’ll figure something out either way~.”

“B-but what i-if I never e-end up... ‘feeling like it’?”

“Then so be it~. I love you, not anythin’ ya do, and that ain’t changing~. Won’t let any lines in sand keep us apart, either. I didn’t come all this way just to let grudges and pettiness stop me.”

Snowdrop had no words right away, instead responding with as large of a hug as her wispy arms could manage, the gesture getting swiftly returned by the gray one. Thistle’s quiet ‘awwww’ had most gathered chuckle and the icy one come precipitously close to combusting again, definitely not helping the shared amusement. Before anyone could get too soggy or egg anyone else on, though, Rainfall’s return made for a good stopping point to that conversation, the black corvid delivering a handful of fist-sized blueberries for everyone to snack at.

Having one of them turned out to be a bad idea.

Not because of the flavor or anything intrinsic, it was delectable. Possibly too delectable even, Sue’s stomach immediately demanding more and to be finally sated, retripling its complaints almost as soon as she’d swallowed her first bite.

Would be rather rude to just beg for more. But if I just sit here like this, my stomach won't shut up, so... distraction.

“D-do you come f-from far, Daystar?”

Sue was only marginally interested in the answer to that question, going back to inhaling her portion of lunch in record time as the gray biped broke into chittering laughter, eventually easing out into words-

“Further than you can imagine~.”

I beg to differ.

“Feels like a lifetime ago, even thinkin’ about there. Much more mountainous than here, barren rock and harsh forests. My kind of place, my domain. I ruled it.”

“W-wait, you used to be royalty?”

Not the absolute brightest question she’d ever asked, sure, but Sue didn’t expect Daystar to treat it like a knee-slapper, shrinking a bit as her impromptu teacher kept laughing. Even Snowdrop joined in with a couple of chuckles after a while, though that didn’t last too long before it shifted over to concern, her eyes going wide as she suddenly realized something.

“D-Daystar, I don’t think she knows...”

“Pfft, ya I gathered~. No, not any societal position of power. Think, the natural one. Lowliest creatures feed on shrubbery, birds or small hunters on them. On those feed I, and on me... nothing. Almost nothing.”

As Daystar reminisced about the encounter that cost her right arm, Sue felt blood drain away from her face. What would back in her world be an innocuous admission was much more harrowing here by the knowledge of just how all-encompassing sentience and sapience were. An unknown amount of beings, personalities, hopes, and dreams, taken away from the world to prolong the existence of a single one.

And she just casually admitted it, not even to any shock from the rest of the group.


“Strength to climb half a mountain in one go helps~, so does paralytic venom and knowing how to creatively apply it-“

“N-no! I-I meant, h-how can you just admit to something like that!?”

Sue had gone from shocked to distressed, scurrying backwards as her heart thrashed inside her chest. Daystar’s reaction was... largely exasperation, her unamused grumbling so far from what Sue considered an appropriate way of approaching that whole topic that she almost felt offended on behalf of an entire ecosystem.

“Easily. It’s how survival works, out in the wild. Moonview has its own rules, and this place inherited them. I swore an oath to the Dark Lord to follow them until the end of my days, but out there~? Nobody cares. ‘Tis just existence~.”

“A-and they just let you in!?”

“What else were they to do~?”

The veiled threat Sue thought she could sense in Daystar’s response stilled her further, though the only emotions that accompanied it were further exasperation.

“Refuse entry to every creature that had ever taken anyone else’s life, and you end up with a ton of prey trying to defend itself from dozens of predators wailing at their gates~. Permit it, and not only gain further safety from other hunters, but also effectively lower their number in the world by one. It’s the only reasonable approach~.”

A low, grim chuckle left the gray biped, claws lightly scraping against each other.

“Scratch most here, most in Moonview, and they’ll bleed someone else’s blood.”

The last comment plunged the gathering into stone-cold silence.

Sue was the largest reason behind that, but far from the only one. Most of the little ones were similarly uncomfortable with the mentions of predation and hoping they would never have to resort to it in their lives. There was always a possibility of that, of course, and there was no shortage of harrowing tales of hunger driving even the most unbreakable friendships to shatter one bite at a time, but their home was different.

Everyone hoped it was different, at least.

“And if that leaves me damned once it is my turn to stare Death in the eye... then so be it.”

Daystar’s voice was quieter, some of the somberness even making a couple pangs of guilt shoot through Sue for just a moment. As freaked out as she got, did Daystar ever have a choice, either? Hunting cabbage and peaches is an incomparably safer task than doing the same with living beings, however meek. Figures that if she’d could, she likely would’ve chosen it even if for pragmatic reasons. But she didn’t.

She couldn’t.

Maybe those “Usurper” cultists that Sundance had mentioned a few days ago had a point.

“I-I’m sorry.”

The gray one chuckled at Sue’s apology, a small smirk filling their mellow expression.

“It’s fine~. The world can be a hellish place. Regardless of what I once did, what I once was, all that matters is now~. And now, I sit amongst friends and allies, having promised the Dark Lord to only use my talents for protection. I much prefer this life, that’s for-“


The distant sound ringing from the direction of the clearing snapped the focus of most gathered. Daystar immediately stood upright and tried to make out anything through the trees, eyes squinting.

“Stuff’s happening~. High time we head over. Need help with the-“

“^I’ll help!^”

Without so much as asking for confirmation, Thistle got right into the swing of helping Sue out, regardless of whether she wanted her to. The Forest Guardian got forcefully lifted off the ground and gradually adjusted until she was roughly in a standing position, the once-human having very little say on the matter throughout. Finally, the crutch was moved up to her free hand, backwards, and she was let go of all at once.

It's a miracle I didn’t immediately crumple.

“C-could you ask next time!?”

“^O-oh. Sorry...^”

Sue’s question came through with more force and vitriol than she would’ve liked, even if she couldn’t wholly deny them being more than earned. Before either of them could dwell on that fact, the entire group headed back to the clearing, Snowdrop staying a fair distance behind the rest, just in case.

And her worries would be justified.

Sundance was quietly rocking in her seat as Solstice shook and glanced around uncomfortably, both getting immediately interrupted the moment they glimpsed Sue.

Guess she knew now how Snowdrop felt back there.

She couldn’t linger on that thought too long, not with the mayor going from surprised to alarmed. In what felt like an instant, she went from sitting in place to levitating in the air, her entire body and especially eyes enveloped in a fierce, blue aura.

“Woah, woah there Solstice, cool it. Sue there came over on her own, from what we know. Alastor harassed her a bit, but she’s unharmed.”

Ginger’s comment thankfully defused the situation before it would escalate further, though the mention of the fox’s actions nearly set the other Forest Guardian off again. Once Sue had made it through the small stretch of grass that separated them, she was immediately pulled into a tight and somewhat awkward side hug. Solstice’s spike laid flat against her front and ribs, its tip almost poking into Sue’s own red extremity.

“By the Pale Lady, Sue, are you alright!? What are you doing here!? Did Alastor-“

“I’m alright Solstice, I-I promise! I just wanted to come and help with the talks a-and got lost...”

Sue flinched at Sundance’s grumble near to her, though it didn’t take long until her warm fluff only added further to the group embrace.

“I knew I should’ve asked someone to look after you this morning, ugh. How’d you get here before us?”

“^I teleported her over after her run-in with Alastor.^”

Heather’s voice was as flat as ever, the small hug pile turning to face her shortly after as it slowly came apart. Right as Sue saw Solstice open her mouth to speak again, the tallest psychic answered the question before it could be asked-

“^She told me she was heading here, and I figured I’d help. As opposed to some places, anyone can come stop by here.^”

The callout hit true, Sue acutely feeling the mental flinch from the two women beside her. Sundance wouldn’t end up lingering on just that point for too long, though, not once she’d pulled out something from her arm fluff.

“Sorry for the suspicion. Admittedly, it’s hard to be as trustworthy today as I wish I could be.”

Sue glanced over to find Sundance holding... a feather. Orange, with a comically oversized shaft, and what looked like more fluff in the back, separated from the main vane. It all came together to look like an arrow-

And if it sticking into the wooden bench it was flicked onto was anything to go by, it might have very well been exactly that.

“Not with warning shots being fired right at our feet.”

Ginger’s immediate reaction was exasperation. The technicolor lizard’s reached over with his yellow arm to message spot immediately below the bottom of his crest with a drawn-out groan. Once that was done, it was time to call out again, to a very concrete suspect this time.

“Juniper! I know you’re here! Just show yourself and be an adult-“

The lizard didn’t even have to finish his sentence for his wish to be granted.

A green and brown blur swooped from a nearby branch in an instant, landing silently between their incidental party and the few buildings Newmoon had to show for itself. As they rose from their crouched pose, the very first thing Sue noticed were their piercing, red eyes. Far, far from a rare trait in this world, she knew that well, but these were seething with malice, glaring straight through her, her sixth sense collaborating the findings. It almost froze her to the spot there and then, Solstice’s arms holding her tighter as she examined the rest of the newcomer.

The greens and browns she’d glimpsed earlier came together to form a leafy hood and large wings, respectively, with the underlying avian body white. The more Sue looked, the more they reminded her of an owl of some sort, and it was a similarity that varied wildly in intimidation factor depending on just how pissed the subject in question was at the viewer.

Furious owls their usual size didn’t sound like a fun time. Ones taller than her felt like a murder in waiting.

“Care to explain that one, Juniper?” - Ginger might have been looking and pointing at the feather arrow that was now sticking out of the bench, but the owl didn’t spare either him or it even the slightest amount of attention. Instead, their glare shifted over to Solstice.

“How dare you show yourself here.” - Juniper’s voice was piercing, the poorly contained contempt dripping out with every sound.

“I believe we’re here to discuss exactly that, Juni, so how about you take a timeout and let the adults do the talking~?” - Despite the owl’s animosity, it went on unshared amongst the rest of the village, Daystar’s tone conveying several eye rolls in the span of a sentence.

Finally, the callout got Juniper to turn her glare over at the gray biped as everyone finished gathering. The purple scorpion completed what she’d seen of Newmoon so far, staring at the two recent arrivals with suspicion from beside Ginger. As she made her way over, though, Sue felt a couple pats on her shoulder, the pointing gesture that followed conveying Sundance’s instructions to Sue wordlessly.

In most other circumstances, she would’ve preferred to stay with them, try to help however she could, how she had initially set out to do... but with the awareness of just how much she’d potentially already messed up, she didn’t have it in her to oppose being told to sit this one out on the sidelines.

Pollux and most of the other little ones immediately scampering over to her the moment she’d sat down helped, too.

“Well! S’pose we can get it all started, eh? So- afternoon Solstice, Sundance. Your, eh... friend? Told us about your arrival ahead of time, and its purpose in broad strokes, but won’t hurt to put it in your own words.” - Ginger’s tone was as laid back as ever, the colorful lizard seemingly immune to the creeping tension of the scene.

Solstice closed her eyes and nodded, stepping forward half a step before speaking out, her voice dryer than Sue had ever heard it before.

“Greetings... everyone. That is broadly accurate, Ginger, yes. Our intent is to undo your exile and welcome you back in Moonview in whichever way you see appropriate.”

“Been a while~.” - Daystar chuckled dryly, having moved over onto the roof of one of the huts when nobody was looking.

“I know, Frostbite-“

“Daystar.” - The gray one’s tone was low and unamused, narrowing expression immediately conveying the faux pas.

“My apologies, Daystar.” - Even with it being an unintentional mistake, Solstice’s guilt over making it felt clear all the same. The genuine emotion melted through Daystar’s knee-jerk hostility, the once-predator taking a deep breath before continuing-

“Accepted, ‘tis fine~. Now... if what Sue said was to be taken on face value, you two are doing all this on your own?”

“Correct.” - Sundance’s reply was flat, the vixen rolling her shoulders as if preparing for something.

“Makes one doubtful of how serious this effort really is.” - Thorns’s features narrowed, the purple scorpion clicking her pincers together a couple times for emphasis.

“I can assure you Thorns, it is very serious, if way, way too late.” - Sue wasn’t used to the more fiery of her mentors being this sterile, Sundance’s usual cheer gone as her gaze moved across those gathered. It briefly focused over someone the younger Forest Guardian couldn’t make out from her vantage point, seemingly hiding behind one of the buildings, before some of the composure gave way to regret.

“Then why just you two?”

“Because we have to start somewhere. Other way around, and accusations of deciding for you behind your backs would be similarly grounded, on top of making a much weaker case in front of the council.” - Sundance’s answer was clearly rehearsed, the vixen having expected this exact question and maintaining the full extent of her composure. Which couldn’t quite be said for Solstice, the mayor shaking a bit as she forced herself to look back up at Thorns.

The response left the clearing in uneasy silence, but was effective in breaking through that particular objection. Regardless of how unserious this effort had looked initially, the two had indeed meant it, and that took much longer to chew through than a knee-jerk rejection of the entire idea.

“I hope you didn’t come in expecting us all to just forget about it and pretend to go back to how things were before.” - The hostility in Thorns’s voice was still clear, if less intense than before, Solstice flinching in response before speaking up-

“N-no, of course not. Only you know how you want to go forward from here, and what, if anything, you want from us.”

“^What can you offer, then?^” - Heather’s interjection was slightly less flat than before, the towering psychic’s emotions a mix of interest and hesitancy in approximately equal measure.

“Food, water, labor, agricultural supplies, building materials, textiles, knowledge, medical supplies. Being welcomed back home. Or, if you’d prefer, being left alone.” - Solstice’s list also felt rehearsed, but with it giving the speaker enough confidence to look night kin in the eye, nobody could really mind.

“We don’t need anything from you.” - If there was any more spite in Juniper’s words it would’ve overflowed her beak and dripped down her chin. Hostile as it was, though, it thankfully wasn’t the commonly held viewpoint.

“Says who?”

“Won’t say no to a gift or three.”

“Speak for yourself, birdbrain~.”

Thorns’s, Ginger’s, and Daystar’s responses made it clear that Juniper’s hostility was far from the only view held, Sue leaning in forward in her seat as she listened to the talks. Just like with Spark before, her hand immediately shifted to autopilot the moment the lil’ fox settled in on her lap. The dark fox’s fur tingled in an almost ticklish way, the odd sensations helping to uplift Sue.

Not much, of course, but every bit helped.

As much relief as Pollux was providing, though, it was offset by the seething fury Sue felt growing inside Juniper. The tips of her wings clenched as if they were hands as her entire body shook. Despite that, she remained quiet, letting the de facto leader of the village continue-

“S’pose it won’t hurt to settle on what kind of aid we’d all want then. For myself... good lumber is hard to get around these parts, nobody can really dig deep down for stone either. These, some proper tools for us to build and expand with... maybe a bite of Poppy’s or two. Think that’s it for me, for now. Daystar?” - In direct contrast from the owl, Ginger’s voice showed genuine interest, maybe even a bit of veiled excitement, his emotional disposition utterly unlike anyone else’s around.

“Saplings, seeds, tools to expand our little orchard with... Last winter got much too close for comfort, I’d rather never repeat that again~. That aside... what has been stolen from us. Our homes.”

“I am unsure what, in practical terms, do you mean by ‘your homes’.” - Sundance’s response was genuinely uncertain, the gray biped opening her mouth as if to speak a couple times, but without any sounds to accompany it.

“That’s... a good question, actually~. Hmm. Guess I’ll have to settle on having replicas built~.” - There was an air of well-needed levity to Daystar’s reply, as if her own insufficiently thought out question had amused her a decent bit.

Anything to loosen the atmosphere.

“Our homes aren’t the only thing you’ve stolen from us.” - Alastor appeared out of thin air in the time it took Sue to blink, the fierce-looking fox suddenly occupying a free space between the small campsite and the line of buildings. Sue could actually understand him for once, but that didn’t make him any less intimidating- the opposite, if anything.

His sudden appearance made the two emissaries recoil a step back before both their expressions narrowed, some of the hostility getting turned the other way. Despite both women wanting to do less than kind things to him after hearing of his assault, that’s not what they were here for. They took a moment to swallow their prides before Sundance replied.

“Night Father’s monument... will need repairs first, but it can be moved over, yes. As to your creations-“

A gesture from beside her cut Sundance off as Solstice’s tattoo’d hand grasped the metal circlet and held it forward, outstretched. The mayor glared straight through the larger night kin fox, the mix of emotions within her turbulent enough for even Sue to sense it. Hostility for having harmed her pupil, guilt over what had happened, triumph for finally getting over herself enough to start making things right. The emotional concoction sloshed around as she held the circlet out, finally accompanying it with a response a few moments later-

“We will return all we can, and that I promise.”

Despite the simplicity of the piece of jewelry, it had more weight to those gathered than Sue could even begin to imagine, especially if Alastor’s reaction was any sign. He reeled back initially, the long muzzle getting split by a surprised snarl, before his eyes went wide at the sight. His distrust of Solstice was palpable without the need for any psychics, but despite that, he was slowly pushing through it, step by step. Eventually, his clawed arm reached out just enough to grasp the item before his entire body retreated, clutching the circlet close.

The exchange took most gathered aback, but not Juniper, the owl’s glare as cold and piercing as ever. And, for once, it wasn’t just Sue that’d get unnerved by that.

“^She’s not usually this angry...^” - Thistle’s whisper sent a jolt through Sue, a glance downwards revealing the lil’ hat creature to have been pressing into her free side for the past... however long. Sue didn’t know how to react to that comment beyond feeling even more unnerved, the hand that wasn’t petting Pollux shifting gears to comfort Thistle instead.

“As for more... I believe Ginger and Daystar covered the bulk of our material needs succinctly. I know canvas, ore, and tinctures have been lacking too, but Jasper would know more about what we need, medicine-wise. Anything in specific you’d want to add to that, Jasper? Jasper?” - Thorns’s comment had those gathered start looking around in confusion, the person in question seemingly absent. Before the discussions would get interrupted for a search operation, though, the technicolor lizard took matters into his own mouth, voice flat as pavement even as it was raised-

“Jasper, come on. I know you’re hiding there. Don’t make me come over and drag you out.”

The creature that had eventually slunk their way from behind the buildings was... tricky to describe. Their very broad shouldered, bipedal build made Sue briefly think of a gorilla. Even the black color matched. At the same time, gorillas didn’t have massive fangs reaching down to their chin, green skin peeking out from underneath their fur, or noses and ears pointy enough to impale people on them.

Probably. I'm not a zoologist.

Beyond those elements of fantastic appearance, there was one more that Sue didn’t know how to describe. It was almost like the very shape of Jasper’s body wasn’t fully defined, some of his proportions shifting from moment to moment as if made of black fluid as opposed to solid tissue.

In almost every other context, all these details combined with a height on par with Sue’s would’ve made his appearance something straight out of a horror movie, and the once-human couldn’t deny that they were quite spooky here too, but... much of that fear factor was dampened by them visibly shaking and staring intently at the patch of dirt to his side instead, as if afraid to look at what laid straight ahead.

Though it wasn’t like ‘what laid straight ahead’ was doing any better in that regard.

Solstice stared down at the ground in a similarly pathetic way, shaking in place as if slapped and heckled. Their avoidant gazes conveyed a thousand words, none of which Sue had a dictionary on hand to translate, leaving her full of second-hand unease. Thankfully, before the moment would drag on for too long, the latest arrival finally forced himself to speak up-

“Th-that sounds a-about accurate, y-yes. B-bandages, herbs f-from other settlements we can grow ourselves, a f-few other substances. Should be enough t-to tend to any sick here...”

Sue had no idea how it was possible for a voice to simultaneously sound like a low, harsh growl of a savage beast and like terrified mumbles of a stammering teen, but, good Duck, Jasper had somehow managed that feat. As intense as that mismatch was, Sue would fortunately be spared from dwelling on it for too long, as Thorns spoke up again-

“I hope this one time donation isn’t all you two had in mind.”

“No, of course not, though we’ll have to iron out the details on anything further. At the very least, the exile would be formally undone, and those who wish to return will be able to. And, on that note, building a passage between Newmoon and Moonview. We want to honor your existence as an independent entity, with continual material support if you so desire. But, after what happened with Spark and Pollux, I will not settle for anything less than making them both feel safe in either settlement.” - Sundance’s words were firm, much more so than usual, her unusual stalwartness noted by those gathered.

“For what, letting your goons march on us and drive us out again when our guard is down!?” - Juniper’s accusation was pointed, but dull. The rest of Newmoon largely reacted with groans at her acting out once more.

Including, unexpectedly, Alastor.

“Quieten it, Juniper. I’d recommend you stop speaking over those you swore to protect.” - The dark fox’s voice wasn’t quite as seething as when addressing Solstice earlier, but it was definitely up there, taking the owl aback a few paces. Miraculously, the callout was sufficient to finally pop the Juniper’s steadily inflating fury, the turning of tension into shame making the assorted psychics breathe out a sigh of relief.

“Hmmm... continual aid, you say? What do you think, Ginger?” - Thorns’s tone was the least accusative Sue had heard yet, the offer providing a heaping pile of kindling for the fires of hope inside of a good chunk of those gathered.

“I like the sound of that. Ain’t opposed to expanding and making this little nook more of its own thing, while remaining on speaking terms.”

“Don’t know how much I care about expansion, but any aid will be appreciated~. Pfft~. Suppose undoing the exile helps the lil’ ones, but I sure can’t imagine anyone here choosing to go back willingly.” - Daystar chuckled at her own remark, grimly amused at that whole idea. Though… it didn’t take too long for her giggles to fade as the scene shifted into discomfort, most of those gathered knowing full well there was one person in particular that very much did want to return. The gray biped’s expression faltered as she glanced over at the furry not-gorilla, the latter’s body language even more hunched and skittish than before.

“Uh, sorry, Jasper~.”

The weak nods coming from the night kin in question made Sue feel sorry as she tried to remember where she’d last heard that name. It was when Sundance was explaining something to her a few days back, something about the history that resulted in the messy situation they were all taking a part in now-


Figures him and Solstice can’t look at each other. There are messy break-ups, and then there’s...

“Yeaaaaah. And, uh, I dunno. I think I’d probably go back to Moonview if I could.” - Ginger’s addition was short, but it effortlessly snatched the attention of everyone gathered in a series of near simultaneous ‘WHAT!?’s that followed from most of the night kin village, Juniper’s addition especially loud. Sue might have stayed quiet there out of respect, but... couldn’t deny being just as curious and baffled as everyone else.

The lizard’s reaction was to roll his eyes and explain, as if it was the simplest thing in the world-

“Not in the sense that I’d only live there, of course. I’d bounce from here to there and back. Just that I’d prefer my home be there. Better food, better safety, quite a lot of friends, never ran out of building work.”

“After everything they’d done to you!?” - Juniper’s question was almost shouted out, the intensity of the betrayed rage within making Sue and Solstice alike lean away from the owl. Despite the harshness of the words and their accusatory tone, all Ginger could do is shrug and reply, voice as calm as ever-

“I mean, yeah, resentment never really stuck to me. I don’t know. Maybe that’s wrong of me. Maybe I should be so pissed off I can’t see straight and let grudges dictate my every life choice. Maybe I should dedicate my every waking hour towards making myself as angry as possible and not care about the quality of my one life in this miserable world. Maybe Death judges based on how outraged someone was during their life, I don’t fucking know. All I know is that I can’t bring myself to do or be any of these. That’s it.”

Ginger’s voice was more spirited than Sue had ever heard it be before- which is to say, slightly raised. As interesting as that whole philosophical subject was to consider in the abstract, nobody around was exactly pining to do so in the moment, settling on giving Ginger some variation of a weird look.

Nobody... aside from Juniper.


“Cool it, birdbrain~.”

“^Nobody is tearing anyone apart.^”

“If that’s what Ginger truly desires, it is his life, and his choice to make, not yours. Regardless of how much you, or anyone else, agree with it.”

Daystar’s and Heather’s snark might have only further annoyed the owl, but Thorns’s comment... made her go quiet. Her emotions quickly cooled as if held under running water, even some of her shaking easing out as her body language shrunk.

“Understood, Thorns.”

“^Don’t worry Miss Sue, I think Miss Juniper has calmed down!^”

Before Sue could chew through Thistle’s reassurance, the purple scorpion moved the conversation forward again.

“Would this be it for this discussion, then?”

“I... believe so, Thorns, yes. Unless there’s another detail that you or anyone else wish to discuss.” - Solstice’s voice was calm and ever so slightly whispered, as if its owner didn’t quite believe what was happening.

“Nothing comes to mind at the moment. Ginger?”

“Same-o. Seems we’ve settled on something reasonable after all. Now, it’s your turn to convince Moonview to go along with it.”

Both Solstice and Sundance nodded firmly at that summary. This was just the easy part, and they knew it, but the success here lit up a fire of motivation inside them and most others all the same. Regardless of how nightmarish the past and its sins have been, it finally looked like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, for everyone gathered. There was a lot of understandable worry, sure, the reasonable pessimism about how well would all this work out.

Now, it had to coexist with hope.

Her mentors, Daystar, Thistle, Snowdrop still hiding behind a nearby tree, all hopeful, infectiously so.


“Well, now that the formalities are done, care for lunch?” - Ginger’s comment marked a release of tension and the end to the crucial discussion, those gathered mostly beginning to disperse. Unfortunately for Sue’s stomach, however, the lizard’s offer would have to be declined-

“I don’t think that’d be too appropriate of us. Thank you for hearing us out, Ginger. We’ll be on our way.”

“Sure thing, Sundance. Was nice to see you again, both of you. Safe travels, and... good luck with Root.”

“Thank you. Doubt we’ll persuade him specifically, but outvoting feels very likely.”

“I like the sound of that. Don’t forget your impromptu herald over there, ha!”

Ginger’s remark had the attention of the two women snap over at Sue for the first time in what felt like ages, the sight immediately relieving some of their tension. Sundance gestured for her to follow along, the once-human only now realizing just how tense even she’d gotten watching that entire exchange, having difficulty walking straight after getting up and saying their goodbyes to the little ones.

“I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with Alastor, a-are you alright Sue?”

The younger Forest Guardian could palpably sense the worry and anxiety in Solstice’s mind turn into concern by the moment. The mayor stopped to hold her tight once more as Sundance walked further ahead, giving the two a soft smile after turning back to face them.

“Y-yeah, I’m alright, I-I promise. It was terrifying, and it hurt, but I wasn’t harmed, I think.”

“To strike someone innocent while they’re defenseless and not even who he’d held his grudge against... don’t know how I’d ever respected him.” - Sundance’s comment was damning, but it was hard to deny its accuracy, Sue left just nodding her head.

“P-Pollux intervened, thankfully. G-guess that’s repayment for my intervention, h-heh-”

“I won’t let you take my home from me again.”​

The snarled words snapped Sue’s eyes wide open, gaze jumping over to their source. Juniper held one wing vertically, its tip clutching something green as the other-

Pulled back an arrow feather.

Time slowed to a crawl as Sue watched the owl fire, the projectile’s orange tip immediately becoming surrounded with dark, seething energy. It left a purple tracer as it rocketed forward, too fast for her to react, aimed straight at Solstice’s back. Right as the once-human tried to push her mentor out of the line of fire, she saw her begin to glow brightly in the corner of her eye. The light intensified as her own body finally found the strength to act-

But only pushed on thin air, Solstice gone a blink later, her aura now behind Sue.

An instant later, the arrow flew through where the older Forest Guardian used to be a split-second ago, its spectral energies surging as it nicked the very edge of Sue’s fin. She felt molten knives stabbing her spine and mind, expression twisting to scream as she began collapsing-

But the arrow kept going.

As she fell, she sensed Sundance’s aura be nearly extinguished in an instant; the wise, loving flames of her presence reduced to a couple of embers. Sue writhed as she landed on the grassy dirt, another wave of suffering filling her body as her head impacted the ground.

She heard Sundance collapse near her.

She heard the thud of her crutch following her down.

She heard Solstice shriek for help.

And then, there was only silence.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

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Chapter 19: Treachery New


the gay agenda

Chapter 19: Treachery

Sue came to with a startle, feeling herself jolting forward in shock at the sudden awakening.

But her point of view didn’t shift at all.

Her mind tried to move her body around, turn her head, her eyes, scream for help. Nothing, again and again. Moments later, the perspective shifted, leaning a bit backwards. And then, she spotted something in the corner of her vision, the brown feathers bringing forth a terrifying realization.

This wasn’t her body.

The awareness didn’t stop Sue from trying to thrash against her bindings, at least initially. Each passing moment drove the point home, though, especially with this body’s gradual shuffle along the branch it was perching on. After she’d given up on trying to move, Sue attempted to concentrate on what her temporary host was observing.

The wide path they were hiding beside felt... familiar, but she wouldn’t be able to nail down why even if she’d tried. Its initial emptiness wouldn’t last, though, much to Sue’s horror. She saw Ginger and Alastor walk in from the left side, their appearance oddly detailed. Every single scale in all the stark colors, every single strand of red and black fur, all sharp and in focus. This body must’ve been some good hundred meters away, how the hell-

And then, she saw Solstice enter the scene.

Or, at least, what she thought was Solstice. Forest Guardian, without a crutch and with tattoos covering half their body, initially leading the group approaching from the right before shifting off to the side. She didn’t have the time to think about whether these were Solstice’s tattoos before her host’s gaze narrowed at their sight, so intensely it felt to Sue like an optical zoom.

Motion kept happening all around, but this body’s sole focus continued to rest on what had to be the Mayor. They lifted their left wing and held something green above and just to the side of their center of vision, the realization making Sue gasp soundlessly.

Just before they nocked another feather arrow.

She could only watch.

Seconds dragged out into minutes as Juniper aimed at Solstice, arrow at the ready. The Forest Guardian on the receiving end of her ire looked much more uncomfortable than usual. She glanced around once, twice, and stopped abruptly, her eyes going wide and mouth caught mid-gasp. Another slight motion soon afterwards, their hand clenching two times in quick succession, making Juniper’s focus hone further-


The single word was spoken in a choir of a thousand silver voices, sentencing the Forest Guardian to their doom. An instant later, Juniper let the arrow loose, streaking across the air with its malicious purple tracer, aimed right at the Moonview’s Mayor.

And then, it missed.

Its aim immaculate, its power beyond compare. And yet, it missed, almost grazing its target’s collarbone. But it didn’t hit the dirt or grass, it hit something else, something obscured, her host focusing on its golden appearance-

And inadvertently waking Sue up.

She was too shocked to let herself come to, her whole body shaking as she tried to stand up as soon as physically possible. All she earned for that attempt was a wave of nausea rolling through her. Stinging pain rushed from her front and back simultaneously, forcing her eyes closed as she sat hunched over on something soft. The sheer adrenaline boiling inside her made even her own breathing too loud, an attempt to quieten it by calming down clashing with her exertion and need for air.

What, where, how, was this real, where am I-

Trying to look around made both her and the being she’d opened her eyes to see jump backwards in shock, their expressions equally startled. Large, almost all black, and very, very hairy. What the hell is this- wait? Large, dark, furry. Night kin. The recent recollection finally caught up with the speed of Sue’s panic, easing her out as she took Jasper’s appearance in.

His presence so close to her bedding was confusing, but that emotion didn’t last for longer than it took Sue to notice the several salves and pieces of clean-ish off-white fabric laying on a stool beside him. Her sudden awakening had caught him in the middle of reaching for one of the former.

And if his scared, frozen appearance was any sign, he was no less shocked by her than she’d been by him.

A couple of quick glances around completed the scene. They were inside of a rough, very rudimentary wooden hut, the rickety planks that comprised its walls not filling Sue with confidence. The bedding beneath her was similarly barebones, a soft woven cover on top of what felt like a bed-shaped mound of leaves.

I'm being tended to. Things are alright. Things are alright.

The most recent... vision provided plentiful fuel for her overactive anxiety, but Sue would not let it dominate her again. She may not have had even the slightest inkling of an idea how Solstice and Sundance communicated with the night kin through telepathy despite the latter’s apparent immunity, but exact words weren’t needed this time.


“G-good afternoon.”

Her calm-ish voice did wonders, Jasper’s large, bulky frame visibly calming down at hearing her anxiety having waned away by now. A couple of moments later, he continued his original plan and knelt beside the bedding. One hairy hand reached up to take apart something Sue hadn’t consciously noticed until that point.

Several layers of bandages were wrapped around her torso, securing a dressing and other medical-looking pieces of white fabric to the site of the injury. If the size of it all was any indication, the wound they were concealing and helping heal wasn’t very large, thankfully. Even despite that, it still hurt a bit when she breathed. It reminded Sue of the sensations of something touching a fresh, unpleasant cut, except happening every time her lungs drew in air.

Uncomfortable, but not unmanageable.

Sue gave Jasper free access to her recent injury as she tried to scan her surroundings in the search for the rest of her impromptu peace party, regretting the latter immediately. As much as it smarted when just breathing, the injury on her horn kept its worst for last, acting up with burning pain the moment she gave tapping into her sixth sense a shot.

Figures it’d hurt, but not that much...

The realization didn’t help Sue’s confidence much. Jasper’s intervention was very appreciated in the meantime, calming her back down. Once he was done unwrapping the bandage around her horn, he got to applying some of the paste he’d brought with him, but not before Sue got a good look at the damages.

The cut couldn’t have been deeper than a quarter of an inch, the pinky red tissue around it inflamed. The injury itself was almost bloodless by now, only a couple of tiny droplets oozing out the moment the old bandages were removed. No more dangerous than a nosebleed, even if much more painful.

Or so it looked, at least.

It’d be nice to not have to worry about something for once here...

Once Jasper had discarded the used bandage, he applied some of the pre-prepared paste along the cut. The immediate stinging gave Sue some idea as to its purpose, but thankfully, it didn’t last for long. Once he’d finished applying the sweet smelling, yellowish ointment, he wrapped the intervention up by pressing another piece of dressing against her injury. Then he tied a small bit of decidedly well worn bandage around her horn to keep it all in place.

Martian first aid done.

She couldn’t say it all made her feel immediately better or anything, but being tended to felt nice, doubly so after what she’d been through. Still no idea what had actually happened, but at least now she was confident enough to try her luck with her psychic abilities again.

Arms performed their usual routine as she focused, gritting her teeth through the pain radiating from her horn. It still hurt, especially as she moved her mental reach around, but it was just barely tolerable now; letting Sue spot several nearby blobs of consciousness.

Including one of them making their way right towards her.

Alright, hopefully it’s some answers-


A look up at the much kinder of the two big black furry night kin revealed a… very distraught expression. He was on the verge of tears, one hairy arm frozen in the middle of reaching out towards her head. It didn’t look aggressive at a glance- and a glance was all Sue would get. The impromptu medic withdrew his arm and the rest of himself from the scene shortly afterwards, leaving with a loud sniff in his wake.

Just in time for Solstice to walk in through the other entrance.

As much relief as her presence brought the younger Forest Guardian, much of it was undercut by her terrible state. Concern, exhaustion, somber resignation, all clear, not just to Sue’s sixth sense but on Solstice’s face directly. Her eyes and cheeks were glistening, her posture hunched over, steps staggered and shaky. Sue wanted to rush in and hold her tight, to provide some of that well needed comfort. But, alas, she was in no position to do so.

“^S-Sue, I’m glad to see you doing fine...^”

“Solstice, what- what happened!? D-did Juniper attack us?”

“^She attacked me.^”

The clarification helped little with the confusion. Sue was still listening, a long, wistful sigh leaving her mentor at having to go over such a draining and senseless sequence of events again.

“^Juniper tried to strike me, but... something in me sensed it, and I teleported out of the line of fire. A-and then the arrow grazed you, a-and hit Sundance...^”

Sue gasped at that final addendum. The words jogged her tattered recollection, including the vixen collapsing beside her. If she hadn't already experienced it earlier that day, the mention of a feat as sci-fi-ish as outright teleportation would've caught a lot more of her attention.

“I-is she alright!?”

“^She... she’s alive, but in a rough state. Her aura was hit hard, a-and now she’s in a coma.^”

“Th-thank D- the gods...”

In any other situation, Solstice would’ve prodded at Sue’s slip-up to figure out what she’d kept herself from saying, but not now. The mention of damage to something with as undefined of a shape as an aura was difficult to interpret. Sue simply acknowledged her mentor’s words, not wanting to make it any harder for her.

She might not have needed that explanation to get the gist, and in any objective judgement it was a waste of time... but Solstice still wanted to teach it. To help Sue truly comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Just to feel like she was helping anyone at the moment.

With anything.

“^C-come with me Sue, let me show you what I mean, i-if that’s alright.^”

The request came from nowhere, but Sue wasn’t about to reject it, not with the option of checking up on her other mentor. She nodded eagerly, combining her crutch, good leg, the stool that Jasper had left behind, and some good ol’ psychic assistance to pick herself back up. Her nicked horn throbbed a bit at the slight elevation change, but she’d manage.

Their march was very short, the destination just a couple of buildings off to the side. It was similarly bare-bones to the one they had just left, if slightly larger. Its back entry was closer to a large plank that any potential visitors would’ve had to push aside than an actual door. A few simple wooden doodads aside, the inside was barren, though that’s not what Sue focused on.

Sundance was sleeping on her back and breathing deeply; the extent of her bandages limited to a modest one around her right shoulder. At a glance, it looked like she was just taking a nap or something, but the reality of the situation grew more unnerving as Sue tried to concentrate. As new as those sensations still were, Sue remembered the feel of Sundance’s mental presence very well. It was so much weaker now, so much frailer, feeling more so like a cancer patient than a mystic that had helped her with more than one conundrum already.

And that perception was only solidified once Sue felt Solstice’s mental reach adjust hers, helping her focus all the emotions away and hone on her aura, just like she’d been taught.

This feels... so disturbing.

Sue knew little about all this, distraughtly so, but even she couldn’t help but feel... wrong, very wrong. The few days ago, when Solstice had helped her train, hers and Comet’s auras gave her the impression of a large amoeba or something, blob-like and squirming. That was still the case here, but if that blob had been repeatedly slashed with a dull knife, the strikes almost cutting through it. The very thought made Sue feel deathly cold, the injury she’d just imagined more than likely lethal.

And unhelpful to think about, either. Sundance wasn’t dead, she was just injured, her aura kept moving if weakly, the massive gash mending itself ever so slowly. The vixen would recover. It was just a matter of when, not if.

Or at least, that’s what Sue hoped for with her entire self.

“^You’re right, she will recover on her own in time, but it might take a while. Could be days, could be weeks, could even be months. You never know with something as fickle as our aura.^”

“A-and that’s j-just from that one arrow? H-how!?”

“^Stray souls can’t harm flesh, but they rend the soul apart.^”

The explanation clarified exactly nothing, except maybe hinting at it being an act of a ghost or something. If Juniper somehow was a ghost in the same vein as Hazel, she was doing a dang good job at maintaining a corporeal appearance, that’s for sure.

“S-so her body is unharmed?”

“^It wasn’t hurt beyond the shallow puncture of the arrow quill, no.^”

The body was fine, but... the soul wasn’t. What a morbid thing to imagine, especially when taken to its logical conclusion.

“C-could someone j-just die by having their aura... destroyed without their body being damaged, th-then?”

“^Y-yes, they could. Th-thank goodness it’s not what happened here, I... I wouldn’t know what to do...^”

Solstice’s reaction put an end to that entire train of thought, Sue momentarily feeling worse at having steered away from concern and towards morbid curiosity for no reason. She saw the older Forest Guardian’s head perk up at her own mind turning to self loathing, but no words came out.

They couldn’t, of course they couldn’t.

What does one even say to this?

“Wh-why did she attack you? Where is she now, a-are we safe!?”

“^I... I hope we are. She’s no longer in Newmoon.^”

The Mayor’s explanation clarified little, but thankfully, she wouldn’t have to be the one to explain everything. After walking over to gently stroke her best friend’s head, Solstice headed for the exit and tilted her head for Sue to follow.

Most of Newmoon’s inhabitants were gathered around the firepit, the later hour of the day lighting up the whole place in a much more somber way. Sue might not have been able to see their emotions, but she could see their faces.

And they weren’t happy.

“Oh, thank the Dark Lord, you’re alright Sue~.” - Daystar’s exclamation was unexpectedly emotional for her; the lanky body visibly relaxed at Sue’s arrival. The rest of the group mostly mirrored her reaction, relief being easier to read on some people’s faces than others.

Much, much easier.


“^Oh gosh Miss Sue, you looked so hurt!^”

Before the younger Forest Guardian could even make it to the bench, she was already swarmed by two little ones. Neither Pollux nor Thistle might have even come close to clearing her knee, but they were no less of a walking obstacle, despite that. They reminded the once-human of Spark’s reaction to her doomed attempt to run away from Moonview, with all its emotions.

“C’mon guys, give Sue space~.”

Thankfully, the two didn’t need to be told twice. They managed to keep their boundless excitement in check for just long enough to let Sue sit down. And not a moment more, the kiddos huddling close from opposing sides, night kin fur and psychically enhanced hair both tingling pleasurably. The sight brought some smiles to the assorted gathering, but not that much. The gloomy atmosphere still prevailed for the most part.

Figures this was the right moment to ask what happened-

“Blasted coward!” - Thorns shouted through teeth, the clinking of sharp pincers at the ends of her purplish, segmented body accentuating the expression of anger. As chill as Ginger was previously, he couldn’t help but concur, yellow head nodding weakly afterwards, the freely hanging green skin on its back shuffling against itself.

“I... yeah. Guess you must be mighty confused, eh, Sue?”

Sue nodded weakly, the technicolor lizard responding in kind. It took him unusually long to gather his words. Even once he did, his eternally calm voice was noticeably strained at a couple points, as if fighting to keep itself from rising-

“Yeah. Juniper attacked Solstice, hit you and Sundance. Jasper and Heather helped you two while we tried to get an explanation out of Juniper. She kept going about her usual stuff, how all this was just a ploy so that Moonview can backstab us or whatever. We weren’t having it and tried to bind her so that she could answer for what she’d done and she... *sigh* slipped through our grasp.”

That last admission made everyone gathered deflate in particular, leaving them either kicking themselves for acting too slowly, or being royally annoyed at others for acting too slowly. Not that it mattered anymore.

The deed was done, and the perpetrator ran off without facing any consequences.

For a couple minutes afterwards, nobody spoke up, the entire gathering plunged in cold, uncomfortable silence. Neither the night kin fox cub nor the magic hat creature took it any better than the rest, though Sue could only sense the emotions of the latter. They were definitely intense. Hurt of betrayal towards Juniper, worry about Sue and Sundance, and most of all, grief at the peace talks and the possibility of reconciliation they brought with themselves being completely ruined.

And... yeah. They were.

The awareness deepened the sinking feeling that had already been worming its way into Sue, with every thought about just how bad the optics of all this were making her want to shrivel up. Two envoys and one tagalong venture to Newmoon unarmed and with no ill intent. One of them gets figuratively stabbed in the back, the second gets hurt in the crossfire, and the perpetrator escapes.

The more Sue reflected on the situation, the more she felt the paranoia inside her grow. What if Juniper didn’t actively escape, but was let go? What if others were in on it? What if the opportunity to decapitate Moonview’s leadership was the only reason Newmoon even proceeded with these talks to begin with?

These were all absurd hypotheticals and Sue knew it. But that didn’t mean that everyone else would know it too, especially not if it would play further into their preexisting distrust. At least Solstice and to a lesser extent she were witnesses and could try to push back on the assassination angle once it would come up, but...

A part of Sue was afraid it wouldn’t end up mattering.

“Guess that’s it for the talks, eh.”

Ginger’s summation was flat and yet tense, lacking his usual laid back impression. Everyone else agreed with various degrees of anger and reluctance, a wordless chorus of nods, sighs, and slumps joining in from all around the fire pit.

Solstice almost looked like she had gone limp for a while, disheveled hair framing slightly tearing eyes. Fear, despair.

Guilt, shame.

“Well. Suppose someone will have to help move Sundance back over to Moonview. I’m down to help.” - A bit more emotion in the lizard’s voice this time, but only so much. It came off less like eagerness to jump into action and more so reluctant agreement to proceed with a root canal treatment just to get it over with.

“Thank you, Ginger.”

Solstice’s voice was quiet and palpably warbling, so close to breaking up that it had to be handled very gently lest it’d spill into tears.

“No worries, Solstice. It’s the least we can do after... all that.”

“What about Sue~?”

Daystar’s addition brought the group’s attention back onto the younger Forest Guardian. Everyone judged how suited she was to walking the distance between here and Moonview, almost inevitably arriving at either ‘no way in hell’ or ‘how in the world did she get in here in the first place?’.

“Good point. I’ve got the strength, but not the arm span to carry two. You could probably lift her without an issue, Daystar, but I imagine having to haul a psychic for a few hours would get very unpleasant fast.”

“And that’s puttin’ it lightly, yeah~.”

Before Sue could wonder what her being a psychic had to do with her carry-ability, Ginger brought on the other obvious candidate-

“Hmmm. Thorns?”

“If need be.”

“I’ll carry her.”

The low, growly voice caught everyone’s attention, their gazes snapping over to what used to be an empty bench just moments ago, now occupied by the adult night kin fox. One day, Sue would understand just how they were doing all this, but that day wasn’t today. The younger Forest Guardian was left a bit startled by their sudden appearance as the closest thing Newmoon had to a leader continued-

“Ya sure, Alastor?”

“Yes... I am. Considering everything... it would only be appropriate of me to make up for my prior offense.”

Sue was torn between finding that attitude commendable on the abstract level, and still being a bit afraid of Alastor following his intangible attack earlier. Had the atmosphere been any less tense, she would’ve probably tried to leverage her position into getting to ask him a question or two, but with everything going on right now... yeah, no.

And the same went for the possibility of refusing the offer. Sure, she could probably refuse and be fine, but the absolute last thing she wanted to do in the moment was drag this on any further through her silly personal preferences.

Solstice, being Solstice, tried to intervene and reassure her- but she was too late.

“Alright, th-that’s fine with me. Thank you, Alastor...”

Nothing was fine in general, and nothing was fine with Sue specifically. It paled compared to others’ problems, though, and so it was best to just try to move on.

The physical proximity to the black and red fox did little to reduce the intimidation factor, especially with his size. He could easily look her in the eyes from head on even when hunched, and the vibrant red claws were in the league of their own as far as looking threatening went.

Being able to do... whatever he did with those shadows earlier was really just a cherry on top, even his physical body sufficient to make him the perfect killing machine. As to whether he used to be one, like Daystar and presumably many others in both villages...

Sue didn’t want to know.

The once-human froze as those clawed arms scooped her up, holding her crutch as tight as she could before he deposited her... in his mane. She didn’t expect it to support her body like it did, but for once, it was a welcome surprise, letting her relax.

Relax and enjoy the view while she was sitting inside the crimson hair of a massive, shadowy, illusionist fox that had committed battery and assault towards her just a couple hours ago. While a bright, multi-color lizard held Sundance in a fireman’s carry just a few feet away from them both, looking utterly unperturbed by her weight.

The same couldn’t be said for warmth, though. His panting grew much louder and more frequent as the impromptu group headed off. Newmoon was shrinking in the distance behind them by the moment, the kiddos waving them off as they ventured into the woods.

For all she knew, this would be her last time ever seeing that village.

As tense as the mood was back in Newmoon, it gradually calmed down with every step, thawing into a muted, uneasy melancholy. Sundance was in a coma, the peace talks were ruined, there was no guarantee how anyone in Moonview would react to the news...


Sue tried to distract herself from that uncomfortable reality, trying steer her mind towards a silly tangent or another. Once that didn’t work, she attempted to resort to her usual Plan B for extra hard bouts of depression. Sleep was no panacea, but it felt like one sometimes when it came to things being wrong inside one’s head. Just somewhere to go away from the sadness, away from creeping grief, into the sweet release of unconsciousness.

And it might have even worked here too, but the once-human wasn’t in a position to find out.

As comfortable as Alastor’s mane was when stationary, the constant jumpiness of his steps made it nigh impossible to get any proper rest, or even really relax. It probably would’ve been crass had she done that anyway, but at least that would be a problem for someone with more spare brainpower to take care of it when the time came.

Namely, future me.

Alas. No sleep this time, or any other rest for that matter either. All Sue could do was observe the passing scenery, its monotonousness making that rather taxing. Striking up a conversation was always a possibility, especially with Solstice to translate for her.

Considering that course of action would’ve been unthinkable even back in her home world, where she didn’t look like an extra from a movie about a Martian invasion and actually knew the language being used around her... attempting to do so here and now wasn’t the best of ideas.

To put it lightly.

Especially with Solstice having plenty on her mind as is.

The Mayor’s emotions weren’t all too different to Sue’s own, deep down. Sadness, anxiety, restlessness. Sue could understand all those perfectly, too perfectly even, but the one that came immediately afterwards was a bit more confusing. Solstice lifted her arm, eyes scanning along its tattoos, and... doubted. Doubted deeply and painfully, the sensation less like dismissing something obviously bullshit a friend of a friend had mentioned, and more akin to questioning whether there even was any reason to keep going-

“^How are you holding up, Sue?^”

Figures that she wasn’t the only one that could sense when others focused on her.

Sue thought through Solstice’s whispered question, the answer hardly pretty no matter how hard she tried to pretend she was alright. She couldn’t pretend, but she could lie, just to not have to rehash what the other Forest Guardian was no doubt already going through.

“^I’m... I’m fine. Just... a bit tired and worried.^”

She saw Solstice nod without looking over at her, her sigh loud enough to be audible even a few feet behind her.

“^I-I wish I could come up with some reassurance right now. But... I can’t.^”

“^It’s okay, Solstice.^”

Nothing was okay, and they both knew it.

The air remained tense after that non-exchange, both of them knowing there was so much more to be said and yet being unable to put any words to these needs. Fortunately for everyone gathered, they wouldn’t be stuck in that moment of tension for much longer, Moonview coming into distant view after turning the last corner.

And bringing them to the very scene Sue had seen in her dream.

She felt her heartbeat spike as her eyes desperately scanned the treeline, trying to find that Duck-damned owl. Nothing, no whiteness of her wing-obscured body, no greenness of her leaf-like hood. She remained blended in perfectly, and all Sue could do was sit and watch-

And try to prevent further tragedy.



Sue’s word had clearly taken the Mayor out of her train of thought. Her gaze looked up, the Forest Guardian stopping at realizing how close they finally were to her home. The rest of the group stopped behind her, interpreting the pause as a signal to drop their cargo- Sue onto her own legs, and Sundance into Solstice’s arms.

“^It’ll have to wait until later, Sue.^ Ginger, Alastor... Thank you so much for your help. I’m... I’m sorry.”

The once-human’s words caught in her throat as she tried to speak up again; heart hammered faster and faster as she tried to spot the hidden threat.

“You’re welcome, Solstice. And there ain’t no reason to be sorry. You did nothing wrong today.”

“If only we were here just because of today.”

“If only, aye. But, oh well, I doubt that feeling sorry will help any of us here all that much.”

It wouldn’t, and it couldn’t, and everyone gathered knew that from experience. Experience that mattered oh-so-precious-little once the time came for their psyches to start grinding on them because of what they had, or hadn’t done.

Admittedly, Sue didn’t have much brain power to devote to thinking through those peculiarities of the condition of all sentient beings. Not with what she’d seen in her dreams, their memory still so recent and vivid, and...

…no longer up to date. Unless the vision had somehow censored Sundance’s massive, bushy body from Solstice’s arms.

What the hell is going on-

“It won’t, I know. Well, suppose it’s time for us to say our goodbyes.”

Solstice’s words snapped Sue out of that confusing train of thought, the impulse to avoid embarrassing herself kicking in soon after.

“Y-yes, um- thank you for your help, A-Alastor.”

“It is no problem, Sue. I... apologize for my actions earlier, and thank you... f-for saving my son.”

With how low and steady his voice was when calm, Sue didn’t expect to hear a noticeable crack in Alastor’s words, the realization taking her aback. Before she could dwell on it much, Ginger spoke up.

“I see how it is, won’t say goodbye to me, eh?” - The intended joke didn’t land particularly well, the lizard realizing that soon after seeing Sue’s eyes widen in immediate worry at the possible faux pas.

“Sorry, sorry, was just a joke. Yeah, I’m glad you three swung by. Was nice talking and meeting you all. Actually-“

Before Ginger could even complete his sentence, Sue felt a small wave of static go through her. The sensation was familiar enough for her to have an idea of what she’d see once she looked up. And indeed, Solstice was gone, her teleport taking her well into Moonview.

Being left on her own didn’t feel any nicer the second time around.

Especially since she had company with herself.

The lizard continued to speak for a few more moments before looking up and realizing the older Forest Guardian had left. Undeterred, he looked and appeared to repeat the same sentence as before towards Sue directly, sounding kinda like a question. Though as Daystar’s lesson had taught her, it could’ve been just the weird tonality of this language. Left with no way of responding confidently, the once-human resorted to the true and tested tactic of playing very dumb.

Just like she’d practiced with Willow and Spark all the way back.

“Sorry, I-I can’t understand you.”

In looking at Ginger to deliver her response, Sue realized Alastor had left in the meantime. Just her, the technicolor wizard, a large stretch of dirt path in front of Moonview, and wait was that Rainfall on one of the nearby branches-

Right as she focused on what she thought to be the night kin bird, the recipient of her focus flew off, making them impossible to identify with certainty. Though... it wouldn’t be surprising if it was her, based on what Sue had heard earlier. Regardless of who exactly the being she had glimpsed was, Ginger deemed it fit to comment on it himself as well. The chittering warble that ended his response was probably intended to be perceived as laughter.

Heh, guess my confusion is a bit funny- wait, where are you going?

Sue could only blink in surprise as she watched Ginger finally pick up the slack and head *towards* Moonview. She had no idea how to react to that with the supposed exile in place, left stunned until the colorful lizard himself glanced at her over his shoulder. A flick of his head toward the village sent the green skin hood flying.

Not like she had anywhere else to go.

Her arm wasted no time complaining once it was time to head out, the few hours of reprieve seemingly not enough for its tastes. Sue was split between wanting to be finally freed from the need to use a funky-shaped stick just to walk anywhere and telling her own limb to get a grip, and the latter impulse seemed to be winning. As weird as it was to admit that, her crutch had begun feeling less like an inanimate tool to be passed on once she was done, and more like a part of herself. A rough, heavy, occasionally unwieldy part of herself that probably had several splinters waiting to get back at her, but a part of her all the same.

Especially since the odds were that even the crutch was alive and a specimen of the local magical fauna. Not a massive chance, sure, but a non-zero one all the same.

Okay, no, scratch that idea. She would definitely not want to have some unidentified life form by her side every time she slept.

Except if it had been Lilly in disguise all along.

Before she could get any deeper into that inane train of thought, her sixth sense finally conquered the little that remained of her attention span. At last, Moonview’s entrance, an important night kin in tow, and possibly another in the surrounding trees.

Exactly zero idea of what Ginger was planning and how badly it would go.

She didn’t know whether this situation or a peeping tom crutch were more uncomfortable to think about, but it was nothing if not a close matchup.

To her immediate relief, the first few steps into the village weren’t particularly eventful. It wasn’t to last, though. Bit by bit, people around her realized just who it was beside her, their reactions as varied as their appearances. Some were entirely neutral and unbothered, clearly not understanding why this particular newcomer would be more attention catching than any other. Their perspective was admirable, especially when it manifested as polite friendliness. Ginger gladly returned every greeting that came his way as he looked around.

Others... were more hesitant.

The further into the village they ventured, the more instances of all out shock there were around them. Many passersby just stopped where they stood to stare, some left frozen like this for ages as the unexpected pair moved past them, partially paralyzing traffic wherever they went. Shock was a near universal sensation from those who reacted at all, but the follow-ups varied greatly.

Some were too uncomfortable to keep looking. A few were afraid. Both reactions inevitably culminated into the one experiencing them trying to scoot away unnoticed, just to not have to deal with these emotions anymore. Most were just ashamed, often deeply so. They wouldn’t run, but they didn’t have it in them to watch, either, staring away in unease. There were a few blips of enmity here and there, but none of them resulted in any escalation, thank Duck.

One near-murder because of someone being a hateful, bloodthirsty idiot is enough for today.

All the while, Ginger himself didn’t appear to react much to anything going on around him, at least as far as any visible reactions went. He definitely noticed some passersby, occasional glances at the louder grumbles coming from the crowd a clear sign of that, but didn’t act on them.

Be it because of his personality or because of wanting to maintain a low profile, it was probably for the best.

He clearly didn’t fully understand her inability to comprehend what he was saying, at least if the occasional comments were any sign. Keeping quiet and just not responding ought to have been enough of a tell, right? Sue certainly hoped so, and that he wasn’t relying on her lack of responses for any decisions...

This was a silly concern, and she knew that well. But, good Duck, did the current situation not make remaining stress free even about the dumb stuff easy in the slightest.

Eventually, they made their way over to the areas of Moonview Sue was growing familiar with, the crowd’s reactions changing. Everything from earlier was still there, but now a few onlookers had walked over from the other parts of the village as the news spread.

Most of them were on the younger side and very curious about it all, but decidedly not all. The couple strands of genuine malice she’d felt from the crowd sent shivers down her back and fins, especially since she couldn’t narrow down who did these emotions come from exactly.

Also, shivers going down an injured fin hurt. Ow.

After turning another corner, Sue briefly paused at feeling the last emotion she would’ve expected to sense in these circumstances: excitement. Though... hold on, was this excitement towards Ginger or-

Her answer buzzed in front of her face before she could even finish asking herself the question.

Basil had no business being as excited and happy as he was with how tense the situation all around him was, but for the good of everyone gathered, he didn’t care one bit. He waved excitedly at Sue while holding the nameless brown caterpillar in his other stinger arm, the little one continually trying and failing to wriggle out of his dad’s hold.

Hers wouldn’t be the only attention Basil would end up catching, though. The bee’s excited buzzing got Ginger to speak up as well, his voice sounding genuinely interested.

Based on the insect’s utter lack of reaction to the lizard, he likely had no idea who Ginger was, and for the better. Way better, Basil’s constant stream of buzzes and clicks eventually culminating in him handing his little one for the night kin to hold, taking the technicolor lizard by surprise if his eyes opening all the way for a moment were any sign. As surprising as that development was, Ginger went along with it, carefully holding the caterpillar and even scritching under their chin with one finger, much to the insect infant’s audible delight.

All the while, Sue went through the by now familiar motions, double checking the surface she was standing on to avoid the repeat of her past mishap. Extend left arm, tune out emotions, focus on-

So many people, so much attention, ah!

The once-human recoiled at her attempted telepathy, doubling over at how painful her brief try was, for her mind and fin alike. She felt she owed Basil clear communication because of what had happened, and here she was, left effectively mute again.

The thought provided much more kindling for the fire of her anxiety. Another try yielded largely the same results, except somehow even worse. It sent a wave of nausea to rock her body and made it feel like the wound on her front was simultaneously bleeding and burning, all for daring to try talking with a friend.

None of that, only more pain.

Feeling herself become the focus of many observers afterwards didn’t help any either. The self-inflicted weakness left Sue deeply unsure of what to do next. Couldn’t really calm anyone down without linking up, couldn’t link up, couldn’t even tune out all the mental noise around her while keeping on walking. It was a lot, it was so much, her breathing sped up at the thought-

And then, buzzing right before her, and something warm and smooth on her left shoulder.

Prying her eyes open revealed Basil to be hovering in the air in front of her, his concern very palpable from up close. Compound eyes made it impossible to make out what he was looking at exactly, but he’d clearly noticed the bandages around her fin at some point, pointing towards it with one stinger before buzzing out a question. She was in no shape to answer, but Ginger was. His flat response only left Basil more concerned.

Concerned, and determined.

And this time, also more mindful. He’d stopped himself right before he tried dragging Sue anywhere again. He wasn’t an expert at nonverbal communication with anyone outside of his kin, but he could try, just to make sure his friend was alright.

Pointing a disarmed stinger at her head, then making a smooth line between it and his head, then pointing at the injury while shaking his head.

Right, I can’t do this. Not in this state. Guess I'll just have to make do like this for a while...

A slow, begrudging nod towards the bee, his acknowledgment immediate and confirmed by the lizard. The realization brought on a bit of sorrow, though not for any selfish reasons, as evidenced by the unusually-slow-by-Basil’s-standards hug that followed. It may have been a bit uncomfortable because of bringing even more emotions closer to her injured body part, but it was very appreciated all the same. Sue’s free arm held the bee tight in return.

“Thank you, Basil...”

No understanding, but a cheerful nod.

By the time he was done, a quick glance around made it clear that some of the excess attention had crept away from the scene. They were no doubt disappointed at the nefarious and wicked night kin... playing with a baby insect in his arms.

His jokes might not have been the most well timed in recorded history, but he was undefeated at peek-a-boo.

As Sue took that adorable scene in, she felt something warm and smooth bump into her left hand, a quick glance revealing it to be one of Basil’s stingers. If him doing it again a few more times afterwards was any sign, it seemed to be an intentional gesture, though what it implied wasn’t... comfortable to imagine.

I like you a lot Basil, but I’m not sure that grabbing stingers barehanded is a good idea...

...then again, he probably knows that better. Maybe it’s high time to just trust him instead of assusming I know more about his body than he does.

While Sue reeled from the self-critical part of her mind hitting her with a stealth crit, her free hand reached to take the bee up on his offer. His stinger was as firm as its appearance made it imply. The chitin threaded the needle between being too rough to be comfortable and too smooth to hold on to safely.

Alright, yeah, walking with a support was easier, and probably necessary with how much her attempts at telepathy had drained her...

And it made Basil very happy, which was the most important thing.

Once her grasp was confident, the bee hovered over to ask the lizard something while staying close enough to keep providing constant support. Ginger’s answer was a verbal equivalent of a shrug paired with the physical equivalent of a shrug- namely, a shrug. Neither of the two knew how to proceed from there for a while, the deadlock broken through with a snap of the lizard’s fingers and a short, trilled response.

Seems they had somewhere to go now.

Their new pace was even slower than before, but neither Ginger nor Basil cared much, the former still playing with the caterpillar in his arms. The lil’ insect’s occasional drawn out squeaks had his dad break into buzzed laughter each time, followed by his typical flood of excited words.

Things were good, the baby was happy. Nobody was freaking out.

While the two men chatted amongst themselves about something Sue couldn’t quite figure out, she glanced over at the nearby construction site and the being closest to her. The bulk of the hut was done by now, only the roof missing anymore. And, if the small mound of off-red tiles beside the building was any indication, the roof was exactly what was being worked on in the moment.

It seemed to be just Granite that was working on it, though. A glance further into the clearing determined the rest of the builders’ team to have already started work on the next hut. They were all anywhere from elbow to entire-body deep in the foundation work, depending on their height.

They really built these fast, huh.

Placing roof tiles unsurprisingly didn’t turn out to be any more exciting to watch than expected, even if it was being performed by a four-armed gray non-human made of what looked like pure muscle. Right as Sue was about to look away and let her impromptu gaggle resume their walk while turning her thoughts towards wondering just how many tons could Granite deadlift, something odd caught her attention.

There was a small pile of five tiles within the reach of the four-arms’... lower pair of arms, reduced to two right after as he took a few off the top. As she turned her head to look away, she spotted... something small, pitch black, and very misshapen at the very bottom of Sue’s vision, sending her inner ear into haywire-

And then, the next thing she knew, she was blinking her daze away, Basil buzzing at her in concern. The... whatever she saw was nowhere to be seen.

I'll probably need another checkup soon-

Granite’s low voice distracted her from that train of thought, a glance over showing the couple of remaining tiles to be gone all of a sudden. All of two tiles going missing didn’t justify more than a bit of annoyance, and that’s where Granite’s emotions were indeed at as he looked over his shoulder, about to speak up at their little group-

And froze, together with Ginger.

The abrupt shift made Sue gulp nervously, the gray giant’s mind still full of shock. But, if Ginger’s equally surprised reaction was anything to go by, it wouldn’t stay so for good. And if something bad were to happen, she’d be powerless to stop them-


She had no idea Granite could be this loud, but it was only fitting.

In an instant, the big ‘un was off the ladder and dashing over to Ginger, surprise giving way to a bright and warm elation, manifesting in a gregarious shout. Its suddenness took Sue and Basil aback, but hardly Ginger himself, his usually flat expression shifting to the biggest, toothiest smile Sue had seen him give yet as he ran over towards Granite.

As suddenly as the dash had started, it ended; the technicolor lizard’s happiness giving way to shock and pause. A couple of warbled words and a raised hand conveyed the need to stop to the four-armed builder as well. Without waiting another moment, Ginger ran back up to Basil and handed his son back to him; the bee’s question about what was happening cut off by the night kin resuming whatever had almost happened before-

Namely, a massive, tight hug coming from Granite.

Ginger’s legs left kicking the air as he was squeezed for all he was worth. The instant of concern for the lizard’s well being that followed was abated once the embrace had loosened up enough to let him breathe again, and returned to whatever extent the night kin’s comparatively shorter reach was capable of.

Suppose the sight of Ginger getting squeezed like a dog toy, including his eyes going comically wide for a moment, more than made up for his mistimed joke earlier.

The celebrations wouldn’t end there, though, nowhere near. Granite followed his hug by shouting toward the rest of the construction crew, the call’s effect immediate. One by one, the other builders, except for Kantaro, scrambled over from the other site. The brown spiky pangolin, the bipedal rhino, the red metal... robot insect, the entire gang’s here.

The entire gang was excited to see Ginger again.

Maybe there is hope after all.

Maybe things will be alright.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

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Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Chapter 20: Heresy New


the gay agenda

Chapter 20: Heresy

Fortunately for Ginger’s back, the other construction workers expressed their joy at his return in less... abrupt ways. That’s not to say hugs weren’t present. The opposite, if anything. The bipedal rhino might have dwarfed the technicolor lizard to a comical degree, but the large high five the two soon exchanged left the gray one reeling much more than Ginger. At least, if them shaking their hand off in pain afterwards was any sign.

The group’s excited chatter was so loud that even if Sue had known their language, she doubted she’d be able to make out more than a few scattered words.

Granite got his hug, the rhino got their high-five, and the spiky brown pangolin got... a chest bump. Suppose that was the safest course of action with their ridiculous claws and the many spikes covering their back. Or at least, the safest course of action for the other side. Once the two had finished that greeting, the pangolin kept going as Ginger pulled up some of his loose skin. Their constant chitters grew louder and happier as they pulled the lizard into another hug.

Judging by his brief hissed remark and a chuckle, the lizard commented on it all with a joke of sorts. That’s not how it felt like to the builders, however. Whatever he’d said, it left them... sappier, their flare-up of joy dimming and with sorrow now underlining it, even as they tried to keep their minds away from it. That held true for everyone except for the red robot... creature.

Now that they’d caught her attention, she’d realized they’ve been keeping towards the back of the group. And that they haven’t spoken up at all yet. For a moment, Sue grew concerned, thinking about what might’ve caused that colder reception. The idea of the colorful lizard being about to receive a heaping portion of bigotry from a bunch he’d clearly considered friends was harrowing to consider-

And thankfully, not true.

Soon after she’d noticed the metal one’s silence, so did the rest of their group, proceeding to then apparently introduce the two to each other. Curt handshake paled in comparison with all the other displays of affection earlier, but it palpably put the robot at ease. Only for something said shortly after to make them go wide eyed and stare down at Ginger, their following question delivered in what sounded like highly compressed-sounding buzzes.

Someone needs their bitrate upped.

The moment of tension that followed didn’t last long as the group kept talking amongst each other, the robot soon easing out around the night kin. As they cooled off, Sue glanced off to the side to check on how Basil was doing- only to find the spot beside her empty. The bee turned out to be in the middle of chatting with Birch in the crowd some distance away, the nameless caterpillar now in their other half’s arms.

Red robot spoke up another question, catching Sue’s attention again. Their speech was distinctive for all the ear-grating reasons, but it’s not like it was a deliberate thing. Ginger perked up at whatever was just said, his answer slow and uncertain, as if he hadn’t quite understood the question. Undeterred, the metal bug tried again, first pointing at Ginger’s orange-red crest, then at... himself, and lastly at the pile of roof tiles nearby.

Something about color, maybe? The tiles’ shade was a coincidental match for the row of scales on top of Ginger’s head, after all.

Regardless if that was the topic or not, Ginger’s response made it clear that it didn’t matter. His answer was brief and capped off with as large of a shrug as his lanky body could provide. Not a particularly in-depth one, but the red metal one seemed to be content with it, acknowledging it with a nod.

That’s one potentially awkward discussion resolved.

The chat continued to relax following the metal one’s question as excitement eased out into contentment. Sue’s horn definitely appreciated that change in mood, its burning pain subsiding as the mood calmed down.

Everyone stay calm or I’m gonna get wildly uncomfortable.

The chatter continued once Basil made his way back, joining the group now that he’d emptied his arms. With the only gestures being occasionally pointing at a nearby building, it was rather hard to follow the chat, but it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t her chat to follow and partake in, after all.

Meanwhile, Sue took the opportunity to gather her bearings. She rolled her shoulders and shifted her weight from side to side, trying to manage her exhaustion. The pit stop was much appreciated, even if a seat would’ve been preferred. Hopefully, she wouldn’t have to stand beside the group looking dumb for much longer, though.

Well, maybe not ‘looking dumb’, but ‘looking even dumber’.

Ginger’s raised hiss tackled Sue out of that worrisome train of thought, the once-human following the lizard’s eyeline into the crowd to find Willow on its other end. The sight brought the builders’ no less joy than it did her. Everyone who could speak was chiming in to pass greetings over to the medic.

Their response wasn’t very reassuring.

Past proximity let Sue just barely pick their aura out of the passersby. They were understandably on edge, either in the middle of or about to grab supplies to treat Sundance’s injury. That much was perfectly understandable, and of course, nobody was about to pull them into a spirited discussion with their duties on the line. It was what followed that unnerved Sue in particular, a sudden mid-step shift in mood once they’d looked toward the builders.

Surprise. Reassurance.

Shock. Fear. Alarm.

The emotional change was so abrupt it almost made them trip there and then, and again after they had looked away and upped their pace, not even acknowledging the group with their own wave. Sue didn’t want to assume anything. There were many reasons for a response like that, but it just left her feeling a bit... worried.

Thankfully, she wouldn’t be left to stew in those unpleasant emotions for too long, Willow’s uncertain reaction evidently prompting Ginger to get a move on. He caught Sue’s attention with a pat on her free arm and pointed further into Moonview’s streets. Basil wasted no time in resuming his helpful spot from earlier, flying beside her.

As the crippled Forest Guardian and the helpful bee prepared to move, the technicolor lizard did one last round around the builders’ team. Predictably, him having to head off only sparked further questions, most of them of the unnerved sort.

Figures when it’s the first time they’d seen their friend in years, and now he has to get going after just a few minutes...

He couldn’t answer all the questions, but he could give a broader statement or two. The first one left the group rather somber, and the second perked them up again, especially as the lizard accompanied it by pointing toward the Newmoon path.

Sue could almost hear trip plans start clicking together in the builders’ heads.

With the last couple goodbyes and Sue grabbing Basil’s stinger for support, the trio of various mobility headed off from the construction site. The team they’d left behind took a long while to resume their usual work following... that. Not that Sue could blame them. To various extents, they all felt like they’d seen a ghost. An actual ghost, not… Hazel ghost.

Not literally dead, but in a social sense... yeah, pretty much dead.

Ginger continued to catch passersby’s attention as the group pushed through the streets and narrow paths, but less and less of it each time. Suppose everyone who cared enough to see a night kin in Moonview had already done so, leaving folks that either weren’t aware of the significance of Ginger’s presence, or just didn’t care.

There wasn’t much point in trying to distinguish the two. Either option was fine, as far as Sue was concerned.

Sometimes it was easy to tell, though.

A few more minutes of mostly silent marching later, they had finally ended up at their intended destination. Poppy’s stall. Seems she’s been at it for long enough for Ginger to be well aware of the sheer quality and quantity of the goods she could fix up on a whim, which surprised Sue not at all.

Hopefully Poppy falls in either the ‘doesn’t know’ or ‘doesn’t care’ group. My stomach’s starting to complain.

The truth wouldn’t be revealed for a while longer, however, with Hazel ghosting the counter this time. Poppy, meanwhile, was little more than a blur in the back of the kitchen, seemingly in the middle of putting together no less than three meals simultaneously. The sunset’s faint light didn’t make it easy to tell just what exactly she was fixing.

Especially with the ghost’s grunted greeting, the sound interrupting Sue’s focus.

Sue felt mischief briefly spike in Hazel’s mind as the ghost eyed her out, but absolutely nothing when she’d glanced over at Ginger. She was endlessly grateful once the lizard picked up the hassle of ordering, muttering something to himself as he examined the menu above him before passing a short order on. With the hissed description passed on, Ginger focused on the fairy cook, eyes narrowing almost as if he was leering at her.

The once-human couldn’t tell if that’s what it was, but she certainly hoped not.

Eventually, the not-leer died down, Ginger’s body language slumping afterwards. His usual grimace was hard to read, but the expression that followed felt... sad, in a way. Sue wasn’t even sure whether he was actually feeling down or if it’s that just her reading too much into it, but she figured that some reassurance wouldn’t hurt.

She carefully let go of Basil’s stinger while looking around for an appropriate part of Ginger’s body to use for some patted affirmation. The loose green skin covered most of his back and shoulders, discounting them as options, which left... his thin arms, maybe. Not too much surface area, especially with Sue’s current hands being substantially larger than they used to be, but hopefully, the support would be understood regardless.

*pat pat*

Nope, didn’t work.

Fortunately, Ginger hadn’t interpreted the gesture negatively, instead just left... confused, probably, judging by his expression. If not that, maybe some other gesture? Just something, anything to convey reassurance?

A thumbs up?

Her hand was still capable of that gesture, even if it looked really awkward with two fewer fingers to offset the sticking thumb. No initial reaction either, leaving the Forest Guardian worried about possibly seriously screwing things up by now, or even accidentally offending him-

...or neither.

The gesture came off silly with how small his paws were. Goofy as it looked, it was still unmistakably an attempt at returning her gesture. A very confused attempt, Ginger’s face looking less like it was trying to reassure and more like it was trying to crack a dumb puzzle, but an attempt all the same.

Local multicolor lizards discovered to have mirror neurons, more at elev-


The squeak was sudden and deafening, the entire trio in front of the stall jumping in response. Before they could even figure out what had just happened, the cook was already on the move, tossing the three bowls in her arms in the air as she ran out of the pantry. Sue didn’t even have the time to process said bowls landing on the nearby counters with perfect grace, not a single piece of their contents spilling out, the pink blur’s arrival cutting off her rattled brain.

And once Poppy got there, there were no survivors.

Her squeeze was somehow as strong as Granite’s from earlier, the sound that left Ginger at the hug was almost like a dog toy. And the fairy wouldn’t even stop there, still holding Ginger as she took off into a pirouette. She maintained balance through magic unknown, barely avoiding smacking either of the other two with the flailing lizard.

If not for the bright joy going through the fairy’s mind, Sue would’ve almost thought she was about to pile drive or toss him.

A few spins later, she let go of him, Ginger’s eyes spinning as he desperately tried to maintain balance to the backdrop of Poppy’s twinkly laughter. Or at least, initially twinkly, the fairy’s laugh growing louder and more bellowing once she’d spotted everyone’s confused expressions.

That’s right Hazel, for once it’s someone else laughing at your expense.

Once Ginger was no longer at risk of spinning cartoon stars spontaneously appearing above his head, he could respond to the sudden greeting with his own. Regardless of what was said, it clarified exactly nothing for Hazel. The prankster joined in the group after phasing through the counter, massive eyes and cartoonish smile conveying her confusion in perfect clarity.

And then, her fluster once Poppy had snuck in a smooch on her cheek.

The assorted onlookers had recovered from Poppy’s outburst enough by then to react to the fairy’s follow-up. The chorus of Basil’s buzzes, Ginger’s hisses and Sue’s... laughter conveyed their amusement at the ghost’s embarrassment, bringing forth shame to the shameless.


Poppy wouldn’t even wait for her wife to finish recovering before introducing their impromptu guest. Her pink arm wrapped around Ginger’s shoulders as the other pointed at him with pride and fondness, in gestures and thoughts alike.

Guess these two go way back.

As cranky as Hazel might’ve been after being put on the spot for once, her wife’s burning enthusiasm helped immensely in melting through any unpleasant emotions, interest slowly creeping in to replace them. Not straightforward interest, of course. That wouldn’t fit her image at all. Instead, it was the kind that feigned disinterest, maybe even mockery, choosing questions carefully to piece things together without appearing too curious.


Her injury might’ve made her horn sting like mad when Sue focused in on what the surrounding people were feeling, but goodness, it could manage some impressive feats. Especially now that she’d had a bit of practice. And she didn’t even need to link up with others, she just... felt it all. Multiple tuggings overlapping, interest and insecurity combining into secondary and tertiary emotions. Three basic colors mixing to create a painting, a handful of tones coming together to form a symphony.

It all just made sense to her.

Sue was getting used to this, for better or worse-

The abrupt shift in mood at one of the fairy’s lines took Sue out of her pondering.

A glance at the rest of the group revealed Basil’s and Hazel’s shock, the latter much more subdued, Poppy’s exasperation, and Ginger’s... nothing she could sense. Poppy’s groan might not have clarified much on its own, but once she’d explained something to the massive bee, the atmosphere began to loosen up.

Seems a couple someones only now figured out just what this half-rainbow creature is, pfft.

As exaggerated as Basil’s startle was, it didn’t take long for it to die down. It first turned into pensiveness, and then determination, as the bee hovered towards the lizard, buzzing something directly at him. Ginger’s responses sure didn’t sound spirited either way, his expression offering nothing to go off.

Guess as shocked as Basil was, Ginger didn’t care much?

The exchange of bows that followed was probably some sort of formal greeting-

*tap tap*


The taps on Sue’s free arm made her glance towards where they’d come from. Somewhat predictably, she saw nothing, leaving Sue blinking a couple times and confusion before looking back-

Just to see Hazel’s grimace from up close, shaded as if only lit up from below, and with no sound to accompany it.

Aside from Sue’s own subsequent shriek of fear, at least.

She tried to dash back out of reflex, her flight response acting out despite her dysfunctional leg. In moments, she was falling, only able to hear her own racing heart, too paralyzed to move-

Just in time for Basil to circle around her and stop her fall.

A loud grunt left him as the flat sides of his stingers supporting her back, the bee managing despite his smaller size. Hazel’s laughter filled Sue’s ears as she worked through all the Astonishment in her system. Her body gradually unclenched to the tune of a fresh new argument between the spook and the insect.

Poppy might’ve been amused and Hazel might’ve been oh so proud of herself, but Basil was very, very annoyed. His buzzes and clicks kept rising in volume as the prankster brushed his words aside, again and again. Their discussion kept growing in volume, Basil’s disarmed stingers swinging from side to side in increasingly animated ways.

The cook just found it all funny.

Sue, meanwhile, was of half a mind to get back at Hazel, briefly considering repeating her accidental attack on Basil but on the ghost instead, and very deliberately this time. A terrible, messed-up idea, and she knew it well. It was something that would cast a serious shade on her as a person, but she was much too drained by today to keep her emotions in check, every little bit of emotional exhaustion burning up into anger-

Thankfully for everyone around, Ginger knew just what to do.

Before either side of the argument could react, the lizard grabbed the backs of both their heads and bonked them together, single-handedly redirecting their combined ire onto him. Ire, and attention, Ginger using the latter by speaking up to both of them.

If what she’d seen of Newmoon was representative, he had some experience with dealing with superpowered creatures getting angry at each other from time to time. Whatever he said, it seemed to work. Basil and Hazel alike kept deflating for a while, emotions cooling by the moment.

At least, until he put the ghost on the spot again. Tried to defend herself as she might, Ginger’s barrage cut through her every excuse, much like Willow’s from a few days ago.

Roast her ghost ass.

Eventually, Hazel finally relented, not feeling any well about it all. Thankfully for her and Sue alike, she wouldn’t be forced to apologize to her again. Instead, she grumbled to herself a bit before... collapsing underground in a very literal way, phasing downwards until she was entirely out of view.

Must be nice, being able to throw a hissy fit and just disappear literally anywhere like that.

The mood of the rest of the group was... uneasy to put it lightly, though Sue was too wound up to pay much attention. Poppy had gone from elated, to amused, to now worried, Ginger’s reassurances not helping much. Basil clearly didn’t enjoy how Ginger had broken up his earlier spat either, one stinger reaching up and rubbing the area of the unintentional headbutt as he floated over to Sue.

She had no idea what exact words he’d just vocalized, but a pretty solid hunch of what he meant by them.

“I-I’m okay Basil, don’t worry. What’s up with her, I-I swear to Duck...”

Her still sticking to that name probably constituted a grave heresy of some sort. However, with her last interaction with said deity being having her brain melted over something that didn’t end up mattering at all, she didn’t care.

Not that Night Father had been all that useful either-

*w-woof, woof?*

Oh no.

The barks were well familiar by now, their sounds providing immense whiplash to Sue’s psyche. Spark’s physical presence was comforting as the fox got to nuzzling her leg, but the once-human knew well that this was going to be a very transient relief. The lil’ firefox wasn’t despairing, but she was palpably confused.

She must’ve not known yet, but was already suspecting something.

“H-hey Spark. I’m- I’m sorry...”

Sue’s somber-sounding response sure didn’t reassure the fox either, her woofs growing a bit more insistent afterwards. The occasional questions Sue could make out were accompanied by hints of distress. She had no way of responding to these and Spark knew that, the tension of being put on a distressing spot like that threatening to sink the once-human to a new emotional low-

And once more, Ginger thankfully intervened.

His voice was much lower than before, his body language slumped and expression the most distraught Sue had seen him be yet. With a couple of growls, he caught Spark’s attention, and with a couple more, everyone else’s too. Their combined shock made Sue feel unwell.

Especially as it changed into something much worse.

Spark’s barks turned quiet and squeaky as panic gripped her tiny body, the small fox immediately running up to the night kin lizard and barking non stop. His hisses helped little, a look around not seeing either any of the medics or the wounded vixen.

There was one obvious spot for her to have ended up at, though, and both Sue and Spark realized it at around the same time.

The vixen wasted no time before taking off further into Moonview. Ginger’s startled growl in her direction was cut off by Sue passing by moments later, the Forest Guardian following in Spark’s footsteps at whichever pace she was capable of. Her body was sore, her horn smarted like a motherfucker, the negative emotions around her amplified the pain, but the adrenaline cruising through her system offset it all.

Adrenaline and the desire to comfort a terrified child.

Sue could almost navigate these few streets from memory. Turn to the left, then another, a few buildings forward, then to the right. Straight on for a decent stretch, left turn again, and there it was.

Willow’s clinic.

Spark’s distraught howl reached the other two before they’d even turned the last corner, the sound freezing the blood in their veins. Sue pushed on, sheer focus dulling everything but the fox’s sadness out. She’d only barely squeezed through the clinic’s door frame as she caught up with the fiery cub, the sight inside equal parts sad and reassuring.

Sundance hadn’t gotten any worse in the meantime, breathing deeply in her coma. The former couldn’t be said for Spark, though. Twin streams of tears ran down her cheeks as she scrambled up onto the bed, nestling in next to her wounded mom. She kept constantly barking at her, with pain, fright, and worry mixing in her every sound. More pleading than questions.

Even despite Solstice’s previous reassurances that the older fox would be alright, the sheer misery radiating from Spark made Sue doubt it. It could’ve easily just been infectious emotions, virulent despair, but that awareness didn’t make them any less effective. Especially when combined with Sue’s utter exhaustion.

Please make it, Sundance, please...

Steps approaching from behind cut her idle prayer off. That particular aura was familiar enough by now for Sue to not have to even look. She cleared the path for Willow with a side step, only now realizing that Ginger had followed her in at some point. The medic greeted her on autopilot as the entirety of their unnerved focus redirected towards the situation on the bed. Their words wavered, straining to sound as comforting as Willow was capable of.

Thankfully, even pretend calm was enough to reach Spark. The medic’s reassurance combined with their gentle pets, gradually working their way through the fox’s panic. At one point, they went quiet and guided the lil’ fox right towards her mom’s front, to the exact spot that would make listening to her heartbeat and breaths the easiest. Beat by beat, the little one slowly eased out, coming to grips with what had just happened, panic dulling into sorrow.

In any other circumstances, Willow choosing to move the entire bed instead of asking Spark to hop off so that they could reach Sundance’s back would’ve been hilarious to Sue, but... not now.

Not like this.

The actual physical injury was barely noticeable from just a couple of meters away, looking less like something that had almost killed her and more like the result of a particularly annoying knife mishap. To think she’d almost died at that moment, to think Solstice had almost died, that she would’ve certainly died if she was standing only half a step forward…

Sue felt anger grip her again. At Juniper, at this entire nightmare that she was risking life and limb to help untangle, this mess of old wounds, grudges and xenophobia, one with what felt like no answers, especially right now.

One she had to fix on her own.

Sue had no idea which one was the bigger idiot here. Her, or the asshole deity that thought she could even undo this much past trauma.

Sniffling coming from the direction of the bed mellowed the once-human’s raging emotions, her desire to comfort Spark brighter than ever. Her muscles complained as she forced herself to move. She kept her grunting in, lifting her crutch off the ground for the umpteenth time, pushing toward the vixen one painful step at a time.

Sue had no words, that much was neither unexpected nor new. But what she had was touch, comfort, and Spark needed as much of those as she could provide.

Low purrs, slowing breath. Despite everything, she was helping.

Even if Spark herself was too busy to acknowledge her gestures, Willow did, offering her a tired smile and a weak nod as they reapplied the bandages. It was at that point, though, that they noticed Ginger again. Their reaction was the same, a discouraging, cold startle.

Sue deeply hoped it wasn’t what she feared it was.

Ginger left the clinic soon after, taking away the source of that unpleasant sensation, but not ending it altogether. Discomfort kept churning inside of Willow’s head. If Sue wasn’t both battered, mentally drained, and physically exhausted, she might’ve even tried to link up and investigate just what had happened.

Instead, she just gave Spark one last pat and followed Ginger out.

He was waiting for her just around the corner, leaning against the nearby building. His expression was unpleasant and pensive to the best of Sue’s ability to tell, but she didn’t have enough time to investigate into it before he’d noticed her arrival. Ginger conveyed a new direction for them to walk towards with a tilt of his head as he straightened out.

Thankfully, at least he had enough manners to slow down to her ever-slowing pace.

The looming sunset bathed Moonview in a fierce orange light as they headed eastward, shadows growing even longer by the moment. Sue had no idea where they were going or why, too exhausted to do much thinking anymore. Everything she’d seen so far today made her hope beyond hope that this was it, that nothing else terrible would happen.

Before she knew it, there was a warm wetness on her cheeks. A couple of stray tears welled on her chin and eventually splashed against her horn, the resulting cold shocks forcing her to stop.

It took Ginger a hot minute to notice; the lizard clearly lost in his own thoughts. Once he did, he walked over to her, checking up on her to whatever extent he was capable of. Which was almost nothing, but even him pausing and waiting for her to get better was very appreciated, more than he’d ever know.

Just have to focus and make it through the rest of today. Just have to make it through. Just have to make it-


Solstice’s voice was the single most comforting sensation Sue could’ve asked for in the moment. She shambled a couple of steps toward the older Forest Guardian out of reflex at hearing it. A quick check with her sight and sixth sense made it clear that the Mayor wasn’t doing much better than her. Unkempt hair, glistening eyes, shaking posture. Even the blue tattoos seemed more washed out than usual, though that might’ve just been the lighting.

“Eyyyup. Figured I might use the opportunity to look around, y’know. Doubt I’ll ever get one again. Went to meet some old friends. See what everyone’s been up to, how Moonview has grown, and such. Don’t worry, I’ll be heading out soon. Just want to check on one more thing.”

The Mayor responded with a shaking nod. She was clearly unsure about the whole idea, but by now it was much too late to say no.

What happened, happened, and there’s nothing anyone can do.

“Alright. I suppose that’s only fair for your help. Are you feeling okay, Sue?”

No, no I'm not, and we both know that.

“I-I’ll manage. H-how are you holding up?”

They both also knew that this was a question better left unanswered.

“Sundance has gotten medical attention, at least. Has anyone told Spark-“

“Yep, she ran into us and I had to explain what Juniper did. She’s cuddled up to Sundance now, over at the clinic.”

Even trying to imagine all the pain the entire situation must’ve caused the little fox sent shivers down Solstice’s back. The older Forest Guardian was relieved deep down that it wasn’t her who had to pass the dire news on.

“Alright. Thank you for that, Ginger.”

“Ain’t no problem.”

Sue could only stare as Solstice chewed through it all, so many thoughts swirling inside her head that it was difficult to make out anything more precise than general distress.

Might as well just get this done with.

“Lead the way, Ginger.”

“Sure thing.”

The lizard’s voice was flat and tense, a marked contrast compared to when Sue’d first interacted with him in Newmoon. Suppose that with everything that had happened, there was only so much stress one could cover up, no matter how hard they tried.

Sue was too weak to try anymore, Solstice too weak to stop trying.

The two Forest Guardians slowly followed the technicolor lizard through the streets, the density of passersby shrinking as the sun set. For better or worse, their destination wasn’t too far. The Mayor was taken aback as she realized where Newmoon’s leader was heading, a cold emotion filling her mind at the realization.

Not fear.


Sunset lit up Duck’s graven depiction. Shadows of nearby buildings gradually crept their way along the bases of the three walls of the monument surrounding the elevated altar. Despite everything, despite Sue’s internal mockery towards the deity in question, seeing Her be depicted like this, having Her likeness come to life with the brilliant orange light... it was stunning.

Ginger’s focus wasn’t on the central wall bearing Duck's likeness, though.

Precisely the opposite.

“Wait, where’d- no. No, you didn’t...”

The lizard’s words were the most shocked Sue had heard him speak yet, genuinely taken aback in the way she didn’t think he was capable of. It only made them sting more, for Solstice and, by proxy, Sue alike. Despite the shrine no longer depicting his deity, Ginger still took his time approaching, putting more care into that than into seemingly anything else, ever.

Sue didn’t know what he would do and mostly didn’t want to know. Even as utterly non-hostile as the lizard had been so far, her heartbeat still sped up, the once-human wanting to be anywhere but here.

Thankfully, Fate offered her a fleeting distraction.


The familiar sound perked Sue’s spirit up more than she’d thought something so simple was capable of. A look away from the unfolding scene at the monument revealed Lilly to be pushing a cart of fruit off in the distance with one arm, the other waving over at her. Even if she couldn’t come over and comfort her directly, just having her around helped more than the planty dancer could’ve known, her sight alone bringing back some of the accompanying relief in Sue’s memories.

A small, shaky smile crept onto Sue’s face as she began waving back with her free hand, the farmhand returning the gesture even more intensely-

For a brief moment, at least.

Sue could only barely make the rough growl out from the din of the village, but its effect was clear to see. Lilly flinched as if struck, freeze giving way to hurriedly pushing the cart along. Root came into view next to where she’d been standing soon after, the purple spots around his neck aglow. The Forest Guardian had no idea what the hell was his problem, but was much too distraught and intimidated to act on that annoyance.

Especially after he turned towards her, red eyes glowing dimly in the distance as they stared straight at her.

Straight through her.

The once-human reeled back at that sight, hurriedly looking away, just in time to see what Ginger had been up to. He was inspecting one of the side walls of the monument, the one that Sue could by now figure out to be implying protection from the dark.

Protection from the night kin.

It wasn’t its front face that the lizard was focused on, though. One paw was reaching behind the stone slab, brushing along the monument’s back face. He need not have spoken for his expression to tell everything, the wide-eyed surprise giving way to a quiet confirmation.

Guess I was right. Night Father's monument didn't just disappear into thin air.

Why did I have to be right.

It was hard to even look toward Solstice anymore, the shame at everything she’d done and facilitated that led to this unsightly discovery burning a hole in her mind. A goring, gangrenous mental wound, off-putting to even be near.

Before it could grow any further, the last thing its owner wanted to see cut it off.

As Ginger inspected the side wall's back side, its shaky foundation started to give at the modicum of force being applied to it. The massive slab leaned forward, making both Forest Guardians gasp-

“Woah woah woah, easy there- ugh!”

The lizard didn’t look like he’d have even the fraction of the strength needed to just grasp the side of the stone slab and keep it from collapsing the manual way, but that’s precisely what he then did. Carefully, he straightened the side wall back up before working it further into the ground and hopefully preventing this from happening again in the future.

“There ya go, there ya go. Sorry for all that, my bad.”

Even if the slight wavering in Ginger’s voice would have only corresponded to being slightly unnerved for anyone else, by the lizard’s standards it was outright freaking out. Sue couldn’t blame him one bit. It was only afterwards, once her heart slowed down, that she even realized how fast it and the Mayor’s hearts were racing to begin with.

Crisis averted, thank Duck.

The sheer tension made it hard to even exhale a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the only obstacle to trying to relax though, with the second, arguably even larger one, announcing his presence with a loud, harsh growl.

Root’s entire collar was ablaze now, the eerie purple flames seemingly not hurting the fiery badger at all. Even if the inferno was harmless, that absolutely couldn’t be said for his expression. He bared his teeth as fury and shock mixed on his snout, eyes going wide only to narrow right on the intruder night kin, the words that followed harsh and left untranslated.

Probably for the best-

A motion in the corner of her eye made Sue glance over and freeze, her breath stuck in her throat.

As Ginger stared at the shouting priest, the slab he'd just secured began to lean away from him, too slowly for anyone to notice. There was nothing the once-human could do but stare, stare as the side wall collapsed despite Ginger's best efforts to stabilize it.

Stare at the heresy's destruction.


The deafening sound rocked the entire clearing and rooted everyone present, their hearts all skipping a beat as they faced the direction where it came from.

And saw the errant slab shattered on the grassy dirt, having fallen on its own, away from the altar.

Both Root and Solstice were too shocked to as much as peep, but that didn’t extend to Ginger. The lizard immediately stepped forward to assess the damage-

“Oh... fuck. Three, four... five larger pieces, several small ones. Shit. Mortar would prolly work, but would need to be careful. I need to get to Kantaro. She’ll know what to do, she made it-“


Sue’s unexpected interjection derailed Ginger’s train of thought for a moment as he blinked a couple of times.

“He. Right. Need to fetch him then, he’ll know- KANTARO!”

Ginger’s sudden shout combined with a wide-eyed look at the gathering crowd left most everyone staring at the blue beetle that was pushing his way to the front. He stared slack-jawed at the scene, yellow eyes jumping back and forth between Ginger and the wrecked side wall of the monument, the former catching up with him quickly.

“Kantaro, need help with... that. Figure you either built it or helped, have any ideas on how to piece it together? Counted five larger pieces and a bunch of tiny ones. Think mortar will be enough?”


The beetle could only force out a single word as he stepped forward a few steps, using whatever remaining sunlight to get a better view of the freshly destroyed side wall.

It wasn’t even needed, in truth. He’s had an exact plan for what to do in this situation since the very moment he’d applied the final strike of the chisel on these two cursed slabs.

“No. That heresy wasn’t worth the stone it was carved on. Good riddance.”

Kantaro’s voice was grumbly and low, much lower than Ginger remembered it being. It only suited him if anything, though his exact words drew the attention of more than just the lizard.

The fiery badger was only now recovering from the sheer shock of watching his sacred shrine be defiled like that, stunned silence giving way to fury. In an instant, the collar of fire around his neck went from nonexistent to overwhelming, each individual flame almost the size of his head. The burning heat drove most onlookers away, Sue, Solstice, and Ginger included.

But not Kantaro.

The beetle stared his boss in the eyes even as he drew closer to overheating, body beginning to shake. Only upon seeing that did Root’s fiery collar wane, shrinking even if the ferocious, downright feral grimace remained. Ginger immediately ran up to his friend to check on him afterwards, the beetle’s reassuring grunt that accompanied him patting the lizard on the back a couple times too quiet to make out.


Root’s command was brief and striking; Sue left wanting to run for the hills even with it having not been aimed at her. Ginger fared better, thankfully. He glared at the priest as he straightened himself out, their eyes locking in tension once more.

“Don’t have to tell me again.”

Ginger spat at the ground in front of Root, the ordinarily insulting gesture made even more potent by the hissing and smoke that sprouted from the struck spot, as if the lizard had spat acid. And then, without any further ado, Ginger turned towards the Newmoon pathway,

And left.

And with him, any remaining sunlight, the darkness shrouding the scene quickly thickening with the light poles still unlit.

The gentle touch on Sue’s arm forcibly snapped her out of her dissociation with a light jump. Solstice’s dimly glowing eyes were the only clear sight around as the rest of Moonview left the scene.

“^Head over to my tent, Sue.^”

Solstice’s intent was obvious with the clinic’s bed occupied. The once-human acknowledged the request with a shaky nod and turned toward where she remembered the Mayor’s tent being. For a moment, she waited for the other Forest Guardian to get going beside her. She was about to look over at Solstice before hearing Root’s harsh growls from much close up, the sound urging her on.

Once last glance over her shoulder confirmed Sue’s fears, the sight of Solstice wincing with Root’s every snarled word stabbing the younger Forest Guardian’s heart. A part of her wanted to help, wanted to intervene, to do something, anything-

But there was nothing she could do.

And so, her conscious control came out on top, for once.

Before Sue knew it, she was completely alone in the dark. She could barely make out anything around her with the sunlight gone and the Moon being little more than the narrowest of slivers. A part of her wanted to stop, but the rest hated that idea wholeheartedly, wanting to keep going forever. Until she was as far away from all that, from the altar, from Root, as possible.

The more her mind dwelt on all that, on everything she’d seen, the more it felt like the Night Mother was the evil one of the two. Or, at the very least, attracted evil.

Sue wanted to chuckle grimly at the realization, to laugh at the banal, cruel twist of irony in the healing deity being the manifestation of all evil in this world, at the Moon being the fucking Satan-

But she couldn’t.

Because Solstice was there, too.

The internal conflict brought no relief and no release, the tension only growing whenever she tried to think through it all. There was no laughter to be had, no absurdity of the cosmos to be mocked or cherished, no barrel to live in and lecture at a passing emperor from.

It all fucking hurts.

The sudden change of lighting nearby snapped Sue back to awareness. Crackle’s obscured body flew from lamp post to lamp post, leaving purplish balls of flame behind. Even had he noticed her, Sue wasn’t in the mood to talk much, not even acknowledging his presence.

Solstice’s tent was just up ahead now.

Its inside was much smaller than Sue remembered it being. The artificial light didn’t do nearly as good of a job of penetrating through the thin walls as natural sunlight, leaving the small space almost completely pitch black. Sue needed to stand in place for a minute or two as her eyes got used to the absence of light. Even then, she only barely made out something to sit on nearby.

Soft, with no back support, very elongated.

The only question was whether this used to be Aurora’s bed, or Jasper’s.

The thought provided yet another gut punch to Sue’s psyche. Her body curled up as she sat still in complete darkness, only putting in the very minimum of effort and placing the crutch down on the floor beside her. Once she was done with that, the quiet truly began to set in. A distant, muffled step here, a stray gust of wind there, her own breaths. None of them could even remotely dent the all-encompassing silence of her surroundings, the silence that saps all the other senses too, that leaves one only with their own innermost thoughts.




I fucked up.

The realization was as simple as it was piercing, a subconscious wince leaving the Forest Guardian, as if she’d stabbed herself with a knife.

I should’ve done something. Something to stop Juniper, should’ve suspected it would happen, shouldn’t have tried to tag along with Sundance to begin with-

Each of these hurt more and more. Sue’s teeth gritted as she doubled over, every single thought felt like it was stabbing her insides.

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.




It’s over, isn’t it?

For once, no pain, merely a release of tension. A blissful shroud of powerlessness, one interwoven with despair.

I’m stuck here.




I don’t deserve that-

Right as Sue’s thoughts were about to descend into another twisted pathway, the flap of the tent was shoved open. It brought a brief flood of light with itself, leaving Sue reeling and shielding her eyes.

“^Apologies, Sue. Do you want me to light a small fire here?^”

The once-human declined Solstice’s question with a shake, slowly prying her eyes open again. She could barely make out the older Forest Guardian carefully lowering sleeping Comet into the small cot immediately beside her bed before she took a seat, her whole mind feeling shellshocked.

Not that Sue was doing any better.

“^Do you want me to grab you anything, Sue? Food, water, light?^”

Once more, Sue shook her head, her body curling up further. She was hungry and thirsty, but the last thing she wanted in the moment was to put the onus on anyone to fix these issues for her, not after everything that had happened today.

Solstice wanted to say something, to cut Sue off there and then, to not let that kind of self loathing keep building.

And if she’d had any words that could help, she might’ve used them.

“^In that case... good night, Sue. May She keep your rest peaceful.^”

Both of them knew there would be no rest to be had tonight.

Sue nodded on autopilot before lying down on what was little more than a bare, thin mattress, profoundly uncomfortable without a pillow. And yet, exactly what she deserved.

Even with Solstice and Comet so close to her, the tent felt no more alive than before, impenetrable silence returning to reclaim its rightful throne in Sue’s mind. There weren’t words that could adequately cover everything. So many things she wanted to say, to apologize for. Almost all of them were inane self loathing, and even her inane self loathing mind was well aware of that.

All but one.

One that she couldn’t discount.

One point where she could’ve intervened.

One chance to stop this day from becoming even more of a disaster.

“I’m sorry for letting Ginger in.”

Sue’s whisper was only barely audible even in the utter silence of the thick tent, the individual sounds little more than rustles of individual leaves in the spring breeze.

“^You did nothing wrong, Sue. Neither did Ginger.^”

The once-human expected that first non-reassurance, but the follow-up gave her a pause. Her stony, distraught expression was interrupted for the first time in ages as she lifted a single eyebrow, the Mayor’s response coming not long after.

“^It’s not the fault of either of you. If we hadn’t defiled the Night Father’s monument to carve out more glory towards the Pale Lady, this wouldn’t have happened. If we hadn’t banished the night kin on supposedly the Pale Lady’s behest, this wouldn’t have happened. If my clan’s teachings of Pale Lady hadn’t spread here, this wouldn’t have happened.^”

A long, uncomfortable silence lingered in the tent as Sue chewed on Solstice’s words, a sniffle coming over from the Mayor’s bed eventually interrupting it.

“^Why must She be a tool of hatred...^”

Sue couldn’t contribute even the slightest bit of food for thought at the older Forest Guardian’s rhetorical question, and they both knew that.

But what she could do, however, was listen.

“^Hatred, and fear, and night kin oppression. Again, a-and again. It’s not what She is, it was never what She was... and yet it turns out this way, again and again. I tried to intervene, to sway Moonview when I could, it felt like it was working, but-^”

A louder, drawn out sniffle, the faintest of whimpers following it.

“^I was too weak. No better than any of them, I... I made this happen. I made Her into a tool of hatred, again. She isn’t that, She has never been that... but there’s nothing I can do.^”

Choking silence, absence of motion. Only her mentor’s thrashing, painful aura let Sue know whether she was even awake anymore.

“^Maybe I am the fool. For thinking it all could ever be any different. For thinking She could ever be a symbol of love, of hope, of healing.^”

It felt like minutes passed by in utter stillness, and then hours, the sheer tension the only thing that was still keeping Sue awake, despite the rest of her body yearning for rest, however feeble. However strained.

And once the tension came undone, once Solstice spoke for the last time tonight, the rest came crashing along with her words, claiming Sue’s consciousness once more.

“^Maybe the Pale Lady I used to pray to every night is gone.^”

Her own breathing was deafening.

Sue’s dreamt up eyes fed her dreamt up mind sensory input, but she couldn’t see. Only blurs of color, haphazard and distorted, taking an eternity to sharpen into a coherent image.

Her hands.

Her legs.

The bench.

The gray sand.

The campfire, consuming the world around her in a blazing inferno.

Her mom’s guitar. Shattered. Bleeding. Disemboweled.

She looked up.

The Sun bled crimson and shone no light.

The overwhelming noise of her breaths continued on as Sue stared into the rueful Sun, watching the blood build up on its bottom end. A large red spot. Grew, then bulged out, and finally, released a single drop, falling across the skies.

And splashed on the silver Moon, right in between its two deities.

Before Sue knew it, she wasn’t breathing anymore; tattered mind forcibly put together as it stared through someone else’s eyes.

A single red speck was visible on the moondust that separated Night Father from Duck, the two facing away from each other. They were both maimed, scarred.


Night Father’s left arm was shattered. The inky blackness was mangled with multiple cuts taken out of it. It hung limply, connected to the rest of His body by a single, dark thread.

Duck looked so much worse.

Countless scars covered Her radiant body, the blue and gold down shining with faint moonlight. Her right and back wings had been stabbed repeatedly, vandalized; the parts that weren’t outright destroyed covered in thick webs of cracks. Only stubs remained of the left wing.

Open gashes ran along the crescent horns that flanked Her head, coming together to resemble a couple of symbols Sue’d seen in her dreams and around Moonview, their meaning unknown, yet derogatory. Her throat was slit. Blood the color of full Moon flowed down Her front, staining the pink of Her paws, dripping off of Her onto the moondust below.

A cosmic distance behind them both shone the Earth, white and blue, enveloped sevenfold by an Emerald Serpent for its protection. Above them all, the ever-living Sun. Its judging light barraged the unreal scene, casting harsh, pitch-black shadows.

Two of them on the lunar surface, near her point of view.

One sprouted from where she seemed to be located. A head with three points, each with a short strip of paper hanging off of it, giving way to a short body, and then twin flaps fluttering slowly in the absence of air.

The other was being cast by something that didn’t exist. By something she wasn’t allowed to perceive. A head with three points, the side ones curved and with something circular hanging from them. Short body, tapering outwards. Disjointed arms.

Duck spoke first, Her voice as regal as ever- and immediately cut off by Night Father.

"Is that all you have to say?"

Tremors went through the lunar surface beneath them at His words, the shadows of the twinned observers not flinching even slightly.

She spoke again, Her voice raised and pleading. And, again, discarded.

"I do not care for your apology. It is worthless to me."

A fissure streaked across the moondust behind them, breaking off into a web of cracks from horizon to horizon.

She kept trying, regal voice tearing up with emotion. Her fear met by His anger.

"You have done nothing to earn my forgiveness. I doubt you ever will."

The horizon shrunk around them as fissures gave way to a thundering earthquake, the entire dreamscape gradually coming undone.

At last, Duck caved and turned around, Her divine body shaking as She craned Her head in His direction, panic dripping from Her voice. Whatever She’d said, it was enough to make Him snap and turn around to face Her, midday blue and sunset pink eyes gazing into one another.

"What do I want you to do, you ask!?"

His voice might’ve been furious, but Sue heard the tiniest seeds of genuine plea in it, focusing all that was left of her mind on them as reality fell apart.

"Change. Can you do that, ████████ ?"

The final word was not meant to be known by mortal minds. The non-sound flooded Sue’s remaining awareness with the utmost grace and restoration of moonlight, Her grace, Her restoration. Her healing.

Instant by instant, the surrounding space faded into nothingness, the very forms of the deities shattering in front of Sue’s vision.

Just before they did, just before everything was gone, she saw the Pale Lady open her mouth and speak a single word-

And then, all faded into nonexistence, vanishing into squeaky, grating laughter.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Interlude III: Distance New


the gay agenda

Interlude III: Distance

For once, her escape had been swift enough.

The Windrider gradually slowed down to her equivalent of casual stroll, relaxing from flying faster than all terrestrial beings ran to only flying faster than most of them could run. Her body was used to so much more than this, velocities which could kill many lesser creatures on their own from sheer inertia.

Alas, her age would only let itself be temporarily overlooked, but never forgotten.

Despite her relatively sluggish flight, she was still making progress towards the next stop on her journey, and it was all that mattered. Or at the very least, all she knew she should’ve been focusing on, on the mere fact of progress instead of fretting about its exact pace.

Easier said than done.


Blast it.

The low thrum that left the dragon’s throat went unheard above the calm waters, not a single fellow flier sharing the afternoon sky nearby. She thought she had remembered the direction to take, that her long sharpened sense of place in the world would let her find her way without any aid.

And yet, she wavered, gradually stopping in the middle of the vast ocean.

She wasn’t doomed, nowhere near. Even if she were to become truly lost, her return would merely be delayed until she made it to shore somewhere and then followed along with it. And that was the worst-case scenario.

Latch’s foresight made sure of that.

Once the Windrider had stopped, she opened the thick canvas bag affixed to her red wings, telekinesis ruffling through the assorted junk until she’d pulled out a small, metal item. She may have been living amongst the people of Golden Sky for over a century by now, and yet she felt no less distant from them and their inventions of brass and iron.

If not for her and one of their greatest tinkerers having taken a liking to each other, she would’ve probably long since left them for good.

Even despite the accomplishment she thanked them the most for.

Shaking that thought aside, the dragon thought back to her friend’s instructions on how to use the supposed navigational tool. Two needles spun freely in a circular brass chassis, moving through a dense forest of unfamiliar symbols.

The red, iron one always pointed south, a feat accomplished though means beyond the Windrider’s comprehension. The green, silver one, however, pointed to a beacon at the location Latch had specifically arranged for to be her resting spot on her way back.

It was a provision the dragon was simultaneously deeply grateful for, and equally worried by.

Was her diminishing strength that easy to sense?

The remainder of her journey towards her resting spot for the night was spent in annoyed silence, verbal and mental alike. She ignored her body’s complaints, forcing them silent despite their best efforts.

She hadn’t even crossed into her sixteenth century yet, she couldn’t let herself be overtaken by such annoyances.

And so, she raced on, chill air staining her down with salt as she passed by any onlookers in a red and white blur, much too fast for most to even react to before she was long gone.

Her destination was almost too small to even be called an island.

It wasn’t just small enough for her to run circles around, but even for most terrestrial beings, she imagined. A tower of stone and brass took up a non-insignificant part of it, housing the beacon that had beckoned her over, as well as its singular maintainer. Surrounding it was a grove of trees small enough for one to see the base of the tower from the shore.

Beyond that, only the unending ocean.

The mere existence of this structure so far from land baffled the dragon greatly. She’d listened to Latch’s explanations of sea and air routes, of using these so-called beacons as safe refuges amongst the waves and as jumping-off points to more exploration, but none of it really stuck.

It felt useless to her, and perhaps even cruel to the sole person forced to stay here and maintain the device in solitude. She’d also heard something about these positions being voluntary, though, so maybe it wasn’t as evil as it seemed?

Suppose it only made sense to ask Latch about that once she’d returned.

Following the custom of this wider culture, the dragon knocked on the door with a modest application of telekinesis, her physical paws far too short to reach. The building remained silent as a grave; the shimmer of calm waves washing against the shore was the only sound gracing her ears-


The sheer startle made her fly near the top of the beacon as her hide erased her from sight before she could even consciously react; lungs slowly taking in air as she descended and examined the island’s occupant.

She almost never encountered creatures truly new to her anymore, not after having circumnavigated the globe so many times. This case was no exception. Though, the only other times she’d seen this particular kin be depicted or described were as harbingers of death, otherworldly beings that killed with a single touch.

Probably wouldn’t have to worry about being touched with her swiftness.

“^I greet thou in peace, specter.^”

Their singular red eye focused on her just as much as it focused on everything else nearby, what amounted to their expression unchanging. She didn’t suspect them of being particularly emotive, either. Their head’s light gray matched the color of their raised collar, giving way to a darker body underneath. The yellow stripes across their body glowed dimly, with only the pale light emitted by the round protrusion on the top of their head being really noticeable.

"Our guest?"

“^That is indeed true, specter, but not by mine will.^”

Their head slowly nodded before they turned their bulky body towards the entrance to the beacon’s tower, continuing shortly after.

"Inside, freshwater. Provisions. Firm ground. If questions, us answer. We ‘Sun of Great Beyond’. You?"

Once more, silence returned to the scene, the dragon’s expression remaining perfectly flat as her golden eyes scanned the area. They didn’t take too long to understand the message. Eventually, the ghost turned around, about to return to their previous spot, before hearing the dragon’s telepathic voice again.

“^Answer me such, Sun of Great Beyond. Dost thee not grow somber by loneliness?^”

Their silence was short-lived, answer echoing through the dragon’s mind as they hovered away, phasing through the golden sand.

"Not alone."

The ghost’s answer provided a quandary, but one the dragon was hardly interested in pondering deeply over. A simple press of the brass handle opened the way into the beacon’s tower; the mechanism whined as if it hadn’t been used in decades.

Inside, as was promised, was a sealed box of provisions. Among its contents were an eagerly downed wooden bottle of water and several smaller meals. Golden Sky’s customary flat bread, sugared Lum preserve, and salted soybean curds in thick, peppery sauce.

Off-putting as their culture and people might have been, she couldn’t deny them their culinary sophistication. Even if she wished their creations would be less… intensely flavored.

*ring, ring-ring*


The high-pitched chime coming from the tiny pier made the Windrider turn around on the spot, spotting a hardly unfamiliar sight rearing from the waters. In most places, the blue-red jelly kin were known as nuisance at best, and ocean’s malice made manifest at worst. Under the Golden Sky’s reach, they were kelp harvesters, medicine providers, or simply marine couriers.

The latter seemed to be the case here.

A gray tentacle was lowering a small, brass capsule into the basket affixed to a small bell at the end of the pier when the rest of the creature had spotted her. Instead, the creature floated closer, flashing the red orbs on top of their body to catch the dragon’s attention as they held the capsule high in the air for her to reach.

With a quick telekinetic grab, she received the package, hovering it in front of herself afterwards.

A wordless exchange of nods later, the courier descended back under the waters again. The Windrider watched the faint red light fade away with distance as the jellyfish followed the guidance of a thick rope attached underwater to the pier’s end, connecting the tiny island with the nearest landmass.

Unsure what to do with it, the dragon floated back inside the beacon, intending to leave the small capsule for Sun of Great Beyond to read once they had returned. As she was placing it down, though, she took notice of the recipient field, a single symbol engraved in soft wax.

Latch’s nickname for her.

Taken aback, the dragon slowly worked the capsule open, breaking its wax seal before unscrewing both halves apart. Inside, a single tightly rolled sheet of the most common writing medium in Golden Sky, a dry paper made of seaweed that always felt more fragile than it actually was.

As far as the Windrider was considered, the only reason these people stuck to it was because of the lack of a suitable alternative.

With the message taken out, she dumped all the metal parts into a large basket in the chamber's corner. One day, they would be transported back to Golden Sky and smelted to be reused in perpetuity, but the dragon neither knew nor cared about that.

At last, she unrolled the small page, the Golden Sky’s emblem taking up a hefty chunk of it. Combined symbol of its ever conflicted twin deities, their inherent strife giving way to ingenuity, creativity, and invention, at least as far as the civilization folklore was considered.

Outer ring of solid gold, symbolizing Chaos.

Three silver stripes inside it, symbolizing Order.

The medium didn’t convey their colors, but the iconography was so common inside the brilliant city that her mind had filled in the blanks. Underneath the grand seal, the words written in rushed, messy cursive.

Assuming I planned it correctly, you’ll get this at your rest on East Edge Islet! No worries if not, sadly I’ll get to tell you everything in person, anyway.
Expedition was delayed!!
Aggravating beyond words. Sages mumbled something about The Twins being in particularly harsh conflict lately and some more of their usual vague warnings. Can’t care less, but the bookkeepers do and so another week to go. Just in time for you to get back!
I know you didn’t want to go, you were clear enough about that, but another thing happened! Which I can’t tell you about here! If we were to leave at our original date, I would’ve told you because you would really want to know but if the bookkeepers found out, they would have me buried in salt and I’m not risking that if I’m leaving late and can just tell you in person!
Just know that it’s something VERY important and something you will want to know about! But not as important as to have you skip your rest to fly over here! Not urgent! Important, not urgent! Eat, rest, take as much time as you need V. The news will be waiting for you when you arrive!
I hope your pilgrimage hasn’t had any more obstacles than usual!
Missing you dearly,
Great Latch of the Utmost Grand Gate

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Chapter 21: Freedom New


the gay agenda

Chapter 21: Freedom

Eventually, Sue woke up.

She had no idea when that happened, nor did she have much reason to care. Not anymore, at least. There were a few details she could piece together without opening her eyes, and that’s what her mind decided to focus on distracting itself with. She couldn’t sense anyone else nearby.

Unless one of the night kin gave her an unexpected visit, it meant she was alone.

The faint glow that penetrated her eyelids told her that the sun had long risen. And, by extension, that she’d slept in hard. Suppose with the chaotic, mentally exhausting mess of yesterday that was hardly a surprise. Still, the awareness of her own laziness made her feel just that bit worse.

On top of all the other things Sue felt horrible about.

I rushed straight into Newmoon like an idiot. Likely sabotaged their peace talks before they even began. Maybe—

The thought choked up the Forest Guardian as she curled tighter on her bedding, thinking back to Spark’s despair. To Sundance’s grave injury. To the absolute clusterfuck of a mess that Ginger accidentally toppling a third of Night Mother’s shrine would cause.

Maybe it’s all my fault.

Maybe I really was meant to die when rescuing Spark and Pollux, and all this is a consequence of me being allowed to live.

The train of thought was immensely unpleasant to think about, even beside the obviously horrible undertones. It was far from the first time Sue had consideered ending it all, but on a practical level, she knew she didn’t have it in her. She was a coward through and through, one much too used to wallowing in her own pathetic misery to even consider freeing herself from it.

Through any means, not just the most drastic.

Her mind took its sweet time torturing itself, listing every way in which this could’ve been avoided. From things as simple as listening to Sundance like she should have, to her just not showing up here in the first place. Sue had no way of knowing, of course, but suspected that if she hadn’t been on that particular trip on that particular day, she wouldn’t have ended up here.

If she had friends, any friends instead of pushing through with an internet-addicted loneliness. Even just acquaintances, literally anyone to just hang out with on that fateful day, regardless of if she liked them. Or had gotten herself a boyfriend already. Or took up a side job to not waste time strutting through the woods at the ass end of Scotland and instead pad out her savings some more.

If only I was just fucking normal.

Those thoughts didn’t lead her anywhere and never would, Sue was well aware of that fact. Throwing a wrench into their ever winding spiral was always the hardest part. Anything to let her brain switch tracks into something less depressing.

‘Less’ was definitely the load bearing word here.

She opened her eyes with a grunt, a slight movement of her neck to look upwards forcefully informing just how sore she was all over. Empty tent, Solstice’s bed neatly made. There was a lighter patch of canvas further up; the sun was shortly before, or shortly after, noon. Neither of those possibilities was particularly encouraging.

Something else to think about, something dumber.

That dream.

Sue still remembered it clearly, despite her lack of any interest in what had transpired inside it. Night Father deservedly chewing Night Mother out, two weird small shadows she couldn’t quite place. Eventually, everything falling apart.

She didn’t even have it in her to stick with the ‘Duck’ thing anymore.

Especially with how vividly messed up that depiction was. It almost looked like it had been assaulted and... hell, vandalized. Like, a bunch of hoodlums just came over and kicked everything that stuck out and spray painted the rest. Did that represent what Ginger had done to her altar? Not a wholly nonsensical possibility, but then again.

Did all that mean anything at all?

What if it all really was just a dumb dream her guilty subconscious came up with to make sense of it all? Sue remembered joking that she didn’t have the creativity to come up with everything she’d seen in these visions. But what if it wasn’t her and this body she was stuck in?

What if it was messing with her again? What if it had been lying to her? What if this body alone was twisting her mind? What if these dreams weren’t real, the emotions all around her weren’t real, the affection Lilly or Joy had felt towards her weren’t real? What if she really had been making it all up to appease herself, to delude herself into thinking anyone here gives a shit any more than anyone back home did?

What if—

This is dumb.

Sue closed her eyes and withdrew further into her bedding, grumbling into the nearest patch of exposed fabric. At least half of these possibilities sounded even dumber than the associated events having genuinely happened. She was psyching herself up, she knew that. Even then... some of those still felt scarily possible, to an extent.

She was about ready to doubt it all again, to launch off into another spiral. Her brain threw a spanner into the cogs of that aggravating train of thought, stalling it, if briefly. The tiny note attached to the spanner, though, sent her worrying again about things that mattered much more than her being a whiny, sad, worthless mess.

What’s gonna happen to Newmoon?

One of theirs had attacked a citizen of Moonview, then their de facto leader had defaced a sacred shrine. She knew that this wasn’t all there was to either situation. The night kin had tried to catch Juniper, and the latter was an accident that Kantaro outright supported. Knowledge like that was helpful, but Sue feared it ultimately wouldn’t matter.

Everyone would just see the blurb and pick up their pitchforks.


Assuming they haven’t already done that.

A freezing chill went through her spine at the thought; her slow breaths turned panicky. She’d tried to think of what would happen afterwards, settling on hoping beyond hope that the night kin would be just exiled again. And not worse. Merely driven out of their homes because of no act of their own once more. Thank goodness for Moonview’s infinite magnanimity in letting these lesser creatures live despite their second-hand sins, or something.

Even as she considered those actually important consequences, a selfish thread soon crept into her mind. Despite her attempts at forcing it out, it persisted. It did a wonderful job in making the once-human feel even worse for thinking about herself in all this.

I’m stuck here now, aren’t I?

The thought of her supposed purpose here was a distant one by now, distant and inane to consider. How did she think she could actually help in this nightmarish mess? Worse yet, how could the supposed deity that put her here expect her to make anything better?

Sue felt like a moron, but that deity must’ve been an imbecile through and through.

Regardless of the exact intelligence quotient of the divine dimwit in question, it had won. Sue failed at her task, she’d be stuck here forever. Or, at least, until she finally died.

Forced to stay in this insane world.

A couple of tears welled up in the corners of her eyes at the thought. Not at the horror of spending her days in Moonview, but at how conflicted it all made her feel. She was stuck in a hellish ethnic conflict, one side of which might or might not have already been chased out of their homes for the second time. Even if no more blood would be spilled, she’d have to live with knowing that this place had hurt so many people so many times, even without it all being specifically her fault.

The local wildlife was monstrous and fully capable of killing her if she’d ever dared step a foot outside of Moonview. Hell, nobody inside the village was any better either, literally every living being here could probably end her life in a dozen different ways. And if she kept practicing her freaky brain magic, in time, so could she.

And yet...

The thought that followed stung extra hard, much more so than the injury on her horn at its worst. Despite doubting them earlier, despite trying to ascribe them to the trickery of this new body of hers... she still felt all these emotions coming from people she cared about. Even if they were just a result of her own bodily deception, if she would die as a Forest Guardian, it wouldn’t matter. It’d just be the new normal for her, on top of an entire pile of other new normals.

Joy’s attachment, Sundance’s pride, Lilly’s infatuation. Solstice’s...

Sue cringed extra hard, not wanting to spell that one out to herself. Not wanting to acknowledge everything that had been steadily brewing in her mentor, and which she’d been sneaking glimpses of throughout. She didn’t deserve to be thought of this way, to receive that kind of comfort. Besides, what an insult it all would be to Aurora in particular. Getting replaced by a moronic, psychically crippled stranger that had accomplished nothing of value.

If vengeful ghosts exist in this world, this is the stuff that brings them into existence.

The other side of the equation was, despite all the Moonview’s unfolding tragedies, even more depressing. A familiar world in which not a single soul cared about her beyond the most detached, professional interest. Where she wouldn’t be torn apart by massive spiders, but where nobody would look after her was she to fall lower in life and end up on the streets, either.

Where, outside of a few randoms on some forums she’d frequented, nobody had even realized her absence.

Suppose the flip side of being this much of a loner was that she wouldn’t be hurting anyone she cared about if she were to stay here. No friends, no relatives. At most, a couple of concerned teachers. Maybe a police investigation. And then, life would keep turning on without her, without one of billions of cogs in its massive machine.

Replaced so effortlessly it’s as if she was never there at all.

It was a choice without an answer.

Sue’s mind went crazy as she tried to make heads and tails of it all. Torn between the options, between all their factors. Torn between which of these two outcomes she wanted,

And which she really deserved, deep down.

A mutated failure who fell face first into any sort of positive attention, and which had only made everything worse afterwards—


Sue’s depressive spiral was suddenly interrupted by her eyes being assaulted with light; a low groan signaled her displeasure. As she squinted towards the tent’s entrance, she finally made out the being that had just stepped in. Their mumbling voice was soft as usual, but not without its own share of nervousness, amplified further at seeing the state she was in.

“Good morning, Willow...”

Her tone wasn’t particularly encouraging, but at least she wasn’t in obvious pain. A couple winces later, she’d finally pushed herself off the bedding’s surface. Half her body complained with various levels of soreness as she sat up. The other wanted to get some more sleep.

Cranky, ouchy, but, at last, fully awake for once.


As Sue properly came to, she focused more on what emotions she could sense coming from Willow. Concern, worry, a bit of surprise at seeing her here. Less so here and more so at this hour, probably. All those were being pushed out of their mind as they tried to concentrate, professional focus soon replacing them. Just as they did many times by now, the pink and cream medic got to examining her busted leg, whispering reassurances as they unwound the bandage.

This time... it wasn’t half bad, at last. True, it still looked like the aftermath of a bad kitchen knife accident, but was now firmly on the side of ‘annoying’ as opposed to ‘life threatening’. The few supplies they’d brought with themselves got used one by one. Some more medical-looking ointment, some more dressings to secure the injury. No more reinforcement, finally.

She’d briefly considered trying to link up with them for some chitchat, but... soon dismissed that idea. She didn’t feel like using her injured psychics, there wasn’t much to be talking about.

Those two were valid reasons, but far from the only ones.

Sue had no idea about everything that could’ve possibly contributed to the medic’s reactions yesterday when seeing her with Ginger. Could very well be that they’d heard what had happened to Sundance and maybe had assumed that the technicolor lizard had done it. Or they really were just that nervous because of the firefox’s injury.

Sue didn’t know, and to a decent extent, didn’t care.

It still weirded her out, and she still couldn’t help but see the medic in a different light afterwards.

With the replacement bandages finally secured, Willow caught her attention with a couple of light pats. Their instructions weren’t particularly difficult to decode. Point at her legs, point at the floor. Point at her, point up.

Getting up just on her own was trickier than she’d remembered it being. But, for the first time in almost a week, finally possible. It didn’t feel all too comfortable, not with her injury still aching a bit, but she could at least stand.

A couple more days and I’ll be ready to walk normally again—

Sue’s assessment of her own recovery was immediately interrupted by Willow’s short, satisfied comment as they turned to leave the tent.

With her crutch in their arms.

She was too stunned to even respond. One arm reached out in mute protest, but before she could gather words, it was too late. The medic was gone, and so was her mobility tool.

A quick test of walking soothed at least a bit of Sue’s panic. She could walk on her own now, and her leg only occasionally ached anymore. A far cry from her borderline self-harming excursion towards the window when she’d first woken up. Minor pain didn’t mean ‘no pain’ though, and even just circumnavigating Solstice’s tent proved more annoying than she’d hoped it’d be.

Some of her wanted to lay back down and be a vegetable for the rest of the day. The possibility wasn’t even that outlandish or disagreeable, really. If nothing else, she wouldn’t make anything else even worse. However, another factor fought against, and eventually overpowered, her own seething depression. Even if it was for very banal reasons.

She was really, really hungry.

Breakfast first, moping later.

With the world’s driest, most joyless chuckle, Sue headed for the tent’s entrance. She grumbled as she stepped outside, eyes squinting and briefly tearing up at getting used to so much light again. Before long, though, she was on her way towards the pantries and kitchens on the other end of Moonview. With nobody to guide her, nobody to restrain her, and no crutch to keep her company.

At last, she was free to roam in this doomed world she had created.

Sue had a noticeable limp, and it annoyed her.

Even if it didn’t feel like she was undoing days of healing with each step, her leg still wasn’t ready to take all the beating head on. She somehow walked slower than with a crutch, and the light prick of pain with every other step added up into minor frustration. Worse yet, it felt like this arrangement drew even more attention onto her than she’d had before with her crutch.

Though, the much more likely reason for the latter was everything that had happened yesterday, wasn’t it?

Sue grumbled under her breath at the thought. The lizard had done nothing wrong, and almost every other person was focusing on her because of her having accompanied him. A part of her wanted to stop and shout at the passersby, ask them just what the hell was their problem. She knew full well that all she’d accomplish was to make even more of a circus out of herself, the awareness helping exactly jack.

She wasn’t even sure how many of those looks were of concern for her, how many of fear, how many of reassurance, how many of disgust. All those were mixing in there, sure, but with half her brain soggy to the point of falling apart, the other half cranky, and the third half being pushed to overdrive just to let her get around, she had negative spare brainpower to really think through it all.

A distraction is in order.

As to what she could even distract herself with... Sue had no idea. No good ideas. Willow’s clinic was on her way to the clearing, anyway. She could very well swing by and check up on Sundance. Whether she should was... debatable, but at least it’d be a distraction. And if Spark was still there, she could try to do something helpful in comforting her a bit.

Yeah, that should help.

Just a single, tiny way in which her presence in Moonview was actually making anything better. Were she feeling any less torn apart, she would’ve been able to come up with a dozen more, but, alas.

Spotting the clinic’s door hanging open caught Sue off guard once she turned the corner. As confusing as it initially was, the wall of ambient heat she’d waltzed into the moment she cleared the doorframe answered the question before she could even ask it.

The clinic was busy, almost as much as when she first stayed here, but with immeasurably different moods throughout, be they sad or serious.

Spark had barely moved, still laying down beside her mom and only letting out a quiet whimper at seeing Sue walk in. The more plant-like of the medics was presently looking after the older vixen, her multicolored collar of flowers much easier to make sense of from closer up. She might not have been lecturing towards an entire informal class, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t busy passing her knowledge on.

The white and navy cat was present here, too. She spared Sue only the briefest glimpse before refocusing back on her teacher, letting the latter finally notice her arrival. In all honesty, Sue cared precious little for either of them, especially the feline. Not in the moment, at least.

And especially not when they were interrupting her from giving Spark the comfort she needed.

A brief touch of a vine on her shoulder made the Forest Guardian flinch and snap towards the source of the sensation. Her suddenness and accompanying annoyed expression took the living bouquet aback, the thin extremity soon withdrawing into the chaotic mess of flowers. A part of Sue wanted to tell her off for distracting her from this one important thing she could still do, to shout an obscenity or two and storm out.

Instead, she took a deep breath and forcibly softened her expression, sending it from aggravated to just deeply tired.

Satisfied at that development, the plant-ish medic was about to speak up before cutting herself off, remembering what had happened a couple of days ago. She turned directly to the cat in the room, asking what sounded like a question in a smooth, slow voice. Without skipping a beat, the psychic fulfilled her request, a white ear unfolding to show off a glowing something on its inner part, followed by a rough, but familiar sensation inside Sue’s mind.

“Hi. Orchid wants to—”

“Yes, yes, I know.”

Sue’s exasperation was even clearer to hear than it was to see, briefly taking the plant aback before she pushed on to her intended question.

“Pleasure to see you once more. Highly unfortunate it’s in such tense of a context. Sue, wasn’t it~?”

The Forest Guardian nodded wordlessly, slightly relieved that the middle-aged medic had enough courtesy to at least greet her first.

“Suppose it’d be uncouth of me to belay my point. Rumor has it you know what actually happened to Sundance, no?”

It was probably the exact last topic Sue wanted to talk about right now. She was of half a mind to turn toward the clinic’s entrance and just waltz out there and then, but... suppose that informing people tending to the vixen would be helpful in her recovery. Especially with the question catching Spark’s attention, too. The kit picked herself up and shyly walked over to Sue, wordlessly nuzzling the side of her hand, helping her further in keeping her cool.

Just have to get over myself and bumble it out.

“I was there, yes. I got a... very good look at what had happened.”

Sue glanced down at the bandaged tip of her horn as she spoke. The connection immediately clicked into place for Orchid and Spark alike, with the cat remaining entirely unemotional as always.

“A-are you okay, Sue?”

Spark’s voice was warbling and hoarse, almost making the once-human pick her up into her arms there and then. With her disheveled state and weakness, though, she limited herself to petting the fox’s head, the gesture appreciated all the same.

Sue’s response left the plant medic briefly covering her mouth in shock, before she swallowed it and tried to push on.

“I’m terribly sorry, Sue. Still, such knowledge would greatly help, including in treating your own injury.”

Deep breaths, deep breaths.

“I-I wish I knew exactly. It all happened so fast, a-and... Juniper shot an arrow, i-it glowed a bit, and then grazed my horn and hit Sundance. I-I think that’s it.”

Despite her occasional crassness, the bouquet medic knew better than to probe more. She brought a hand to her mouth, thinking through what Sundance and Solstice had taught her about how one’s aura affected their physical health—

“Was it dark or spectral energy?”

The cat’s question was delivered in the exact same monotone as everything else she’d said previously. It came off as at best disinterested, and at worst as dismissive, and her lack of almost any emotion aside from focus only aggravated Sue more. Her eyebrow twitched as her former crutch hand tightened, her response enough to take Spark aback.

“Northeast dear, tis not the best time for a question of that sort—”

“Do I look like I fucking know?”

All the pent up stress inside Sue’s head was already looking for an outlet, and being asked dumb, borderline insulting questions only cranked the pressure valve up even further. Despite her forceful tone, Northeast still hadn’t gotten the clue, as evidenced by the response that came soon after.

“No, you don’t. You don’t seem to know much.”





For a few moments, the blood rushing to Sue’s head eclipsed all other sound. The silence that followed her outburst was near deafening, even outside the medic’s cabin. As the outside noises returned, so did a semblance of clarity.

And with it, the creeping realization of what she’d just done, underlined by the displeased shock of everyone around her.

For once, that group included the white and navy cat too. Her distress was at first slight, but then quickly grew afterwards. The first emotions Sue actually felt emanate from Northeast, and of course it was sadness caused by none other than her.

Before her self loathing could fully get going, the Forest Guardian jumped slightly at finally seeing a movement in her vision—

And watched the psychic cat run out of the clinic, teary-eyed.

I just blew up on a fucking child, haven’t I.

There were many things Sue knew she should’ve done in that situation, many ways to show a semblance of maturity, even following what she just did. She didn’t have it in her to do any of them, though, not in a state like this.

And so, she ran out too, fighting back her own tears as she shambled away, towards the clearing. Towards somewhere to sit down at, somewhere to eat at, away from what she’d done. Every single rational part of her might’ve known that even in the worst-case scenario, she’d only insulted someone. Nothing serious—at worst it’d result in bad blood going forward and life would keep moving on.

But fuck if I didn’t need that to happen right now.

She hadn’t even realized she’d arrived at the clearing until a loud bark snapped her out of her ever tightening panic spiral. Suddenly she was somewhere else, shaking with her entire body as she leaned her weight on one of the tables. A handful of tears wetted the rough wood beneath her face. She turned over to see the source of the noise, expected to see someone who would chew her out for that, someone to administer the punishment she needed—

And instead, saw Spark climbing first on the benches, and then up on the table, before resuming her attempts to comfort her.

“N-no, S-Spark, you don’t have to...”

Even just these words almost made her break up there and then. They also redoubled the fox’s efforts, the warm affection making Sue weak and forcing her to finally take a seat. Within moments, the vixen was on her lap, nuzzling her stomach. She spoke with quiet whimpers, trying as hard to reassure her as she could manage. Regardless of whether Sue thought she deserved that reassurance, it was steadily working.

Enough so to make the once-human pull her friend into a tight hug, all the pent-up tears finally finding release. All her self loathing thoughts, her fears, her doubts. They were still there, they burned ever stronger, but... Spark was here, too. The firefox wouldn’t comprehend a third of the murk that went through Sue’s head and wasn’t aware of the other third, but she wanted to help with it all.

To help her friend.

Tear by tear, the worst steadily blew over as Sue pet Spark, each motion relieving their combined tension. Things weren’t great for either of them. They both hurt, but Duckdammit if they wouldn’t at least help their friend feel less sad.

And the other appreciated it more than they could ever know.

Many minutes later, tears finally stopped flowing. Sue opened her eyes again, looking down straight at Spark’s similarly puffy ones. Whether their initial meeting was Fate, random chance, the Forest Guardian body acting up or something else altogether, they had each other now.

“Th-thank you, Spark...”


The incomprehensible response forced a stray chuckle out of Sue, the unexpected sound helping to relieve some of the tension. And with tension, food helped a lot, too, a lesson learned dozens of times from experience.

With a couple of weak pats, the little fox was once more on the grass, letting her friend pick herself back up and look around for someplace to grab something to eat from. She wasn’t in the mood or emotional stability to be dealing with Hazel again, this place mostly served bugs...

Suppose the ladybug-operated food bank worked as well as anywhere else.

There weren’t nearly as many leftovers inside as when Solstice had taken her there, but there was still more than enough for both her and Spark. The little of her previous visit that Sue remembered included the four-armed ladybug being nocturnal, but that wasn’t stopping them from manning the stall well into the morning. Not without the expected consequences, though.

Even if all she could hear with her ears was buzzing, they screamed exhaustion to her sixth sense. Exhaustion, anger, and most surprisingly of all, fear. Fear of what exactly she couldn’t place, not once they had finally spotted her.

And grew angrier at the sight.

The whiplash of the emotional shift had Sue stop there and then, left with no idea how to respond. Their compound eyes had narrowed at her in their entirety as their ill will became downright palpable, her fear growing by the moment.

Spark’s woofs soon diffused some of the tension, enough so for the ladybug to at least stop glaring at Sue. Even if they disliked her, she was there for a reason, and it was their duty to dispense food to those who came.

To do anything of value despite their muteness, to make the most out of their crippled existence.

The provided meal was only so in the loosest sense of the word. Sue had reminded herself of their name, Sunrise, just in time to see them slam a couple of harder fruits on the food bank’s countertop, denting one and cracking the other.

And then, lift a singular arm, pointing straight away from themselves.

Don’t fucking have to tell me twice.

Sue leered at Sunrise as she took the sloppily provided meal, immediately upping her pace to take a seat somewhere well away. She had no idea just what the hell was their problem, but it hardly mattered anymore. It sure didn’t help in the big scheme to have a local be irrationally angry at her, but at the very least, it distracted her moping with some anger of her own for a change.

The cracked fruit was split in half, one part given to Spark once they sat down. With both of them getting their portions, they could get comfortable on the nearest bench and calm down at their own paces, at least in the moment. The past day has been stressful enough to where neither of them really needed any further sources of anxiety, and even something as simple as a slap dashed meal was doing wonders.

Local fruits tasting so much better than anything Sue had back at home sure helped, too.

Once she was done recovering from the ladybug’s mute outburst, Sue could finally give it some conscious thought. Just what was wrong with them? They were entirely fine when she’d visited them with Solstice a few days ago, she was sure of that. No anger towards either the Mayor or her, an almost total one-eighty today. Scared, angry, and... sleepless. Too afraid to sleep now and not then, furious at her all of a sudden.

Aside from botching Moonview’s peace attempt, what had she actually done over these past couple of days? It’s not like Sunrise knew of that fact, it couldn’t have been it. Had to have been something they could’ve seen, something eye-catching she did here in Moonview.


Or maybe someone that had accompanied her in here—

*tap tap*

If the moment of reprieve had accomplished something, it was helping Sue not jump anxiously at yet another unexpected sensation.

Instead, she’d kept enough of her composure to just look up from her previous focus—namely, grass—and coming face to face with someone familiar, but also someone whose name she still had no idea of. The brown spiky pangolin was a part of the builders’ team. She knew that with confidence, but anything beyond that, gender included, remained an enigma.

The realization didn’t help any with her anxiety, though, not with yesterday’s events. The builders and Ginger had clearly been at least friends before, and they all saw her yesterday when she was following the lizard around. For a moment, Sue thought she’d look up and see the rest of them surrounding her, getting ready to use their strength to get all the details out of her the hard way.

Instead, the pangolin was on their own for once. What Sue could sense radiating from them mostly matched her own emotions. Uncertainty, confusion, for once no depression, releasing the once-human’s tension before it could build up even further.

A truly refreshing mix.

Sue had no idea why they’d decided to catch her attention. The kit on her lap could at least try to find out, though. Her barks and the stranger’s chitters continued for a few moments, with both of them growing less and less certain by the moment. Something unpleasant was a shoo-in on the account of everything being unpleasant lately, but the details were anyone’s guess.

Feeble as she might’ve acted, though, Sue did have a way of bridging that gap.

The pangolin knew that, too. After a moment of deliberation, they mimed it out. First, one of the long claws tapped their forehead, and then they moved it closer towards Sue’s, keeping the dangerous-looking extremity just out of reach.

Her racing heart definitely appreciated it.

She had no idea whether she was even capable of linking up in her current state. As with most things, though, there was only one way of finding out, if a painful one.

Once she’d acknowledged their words with a firm nod, Sue went through her usual routine. Each movement of her aura caused the dull ache in her horn to spike in intensity, but only a little each time. If anything, it was the part of her that was hurting the least. Ultimately, it only slowed her down and made the resulting connection rougher for both recipients.

Rougher, but usable.

And the stranger was keen to get some use out of it.

“Hear, Guardian?”

Their voice wasn’t as rough as Sue expected it to be, having an almost squeak-like quality to it. It was also distinctly feminine, a fact that Sue would’ve appreciated in literally any other circumstances.

“Yes, yes, I can hear you. What’s your name?”

As with the other times she had to use her patchwork telepathy, the connection was far from clear. Still, that didn’t dissuade the stranger, their blip of confusion soon getting shook off with a response.

“Hoff. Kantaro ‘Sue’ mention.”

Not a kind of name anyone else had in here, Sue had to give her that. Once she’d listened to how the builder had pronounced it, its uniqueness became even clearer. It was a sound of shifting dirt and sand, pronounced entirely differently from either how Hoff or the rest of Moonview spoke.

An onomatopoeia name is new, that’s for sure.

“Yes, I’m Sue. How... can I help, Hoff?”

“Yesterday. You, Ginger. How?”

Of course, of course...

Sue exhaled deeply as she braced herself to recount the events again, not finding them hurting any less than before. Hopefully she won't get interrupted by an insanely rude cat this time...

“Sundance and Solstice went to Newmoon for peace talks, I tagged behind.”

A longer sentence demanded much more focus out of Hoff to decode in full. Judging by her eyes going wide, she eventually accomplished that regardless.

“Sundance Solstice Newmoon... alone? And you?”

Let’s hope Sue interpreted it the right way.

“They wanted to go alone, and I followed them.”

Successful clarification.

Heard I could get an IOU for a free pat on the back for that one.

“Sundance Newmoon hurt?”

Sue answered with a somber nod, following it up with a clarification soon after.

“Juniper hurt her, yes. Only Juniper, though. Others tried catching her, but she escaped.”

Seemed this one was beyond Hoff’s ability to decode, at least if a couple of idle scratches on the side of her head were any sign.

“Juniper attack, yes?”

“Yes, she attacked. Nobody else wanted her to attack. She escaped after.”

Finally, confusion loosened up, freeing up the dirt gears inside the builder’s mind.

“Newmoon not want attack. Juniper want attack.”

“Yes, yes, exactly.”

It was small and likely mattered little in the slightest, but Sue was glad she could at least help with explaining what had happened, despite her language limitations. Sure wasn’t anywhere near enough to make her outright relax, but... it helped. A lot.

“Newmoon not catch Juniper. Solstice not catch Juniper. Nothing catch Juniper.”

“Juniper ran away, yes.”

The anger that brewed up inside the brown quilled critter was an emotion Sue could really empathize with. Despite the unpleasant context, the kinship was soothing in its own right.

“Fuck bastard fuck shit fucker.”

Hoff’s string of mistranslated swears caught Sue entirely by surprise. She only barely restrained her laughter; the held-in chuckles sent her hiccuping.

“Good you?”

“Yes, yes—*hic*—sorry.”

“No sorry. No bad. What after attack shit bird?”

Goddammit, the second try at holding her amusement in was even harder. Enough so to need Sue to breathe deeply for a few moments afterwards to regain composure. Hoff copied her action if for different reasons, inappropriate amusement and entirely appropriate anger evening out into calm-ish focus.

“After—*hic*—after the attack, Newmoon helped Sundance. Ginger and Alastor helped carry me and Sundance.”

Finally, the dots were getting filled in, and the pangolin liked exactly nothing of what she was piecing together.

“Newmoon not harm. Juniper harm. Newmoon help. Ginger help.”

Four outta four.

“Yes, yes, *hic*, yes, yes.”

The confirmation sparked a bunch of emotions inside Hoff, most of them the less pleasant sort. Everything the Forest Guardian had said was relatively obvious in hindsight, but a confirmation was very important, especially with what the builder had heard thrown around. Anything from simple misunderstandings and cheer confusion,

To much more malicious versions of the events, for Ginger and Newmoon as a whole alike.

Not that Ginger knew how malice even feels like.

“Thank you thousand, Sue. Need tell others. Many wrong know.”

Hoff’s parting words finally stirred Sue’s emotions, pushing her out of the self-protective detachment. Guess her explanation really was helpful if the builder felt compelled to spread it afterwards. That her version of the events wasn’t the commonly accepted one was worrying for sure, but at least there now was someone else to help spread it.

And if she knew anything about the team of builders, soon that one would be upgraded to four, if not five or six. From there... who knows?

Maybe they’d succeed at spreading the truth. Maybe the public opinion was already too set in stone to be swayed. Maybe Hoff wasn’t expecting this to work out either and was more so doing this to soothe her own conscience.

Sue didn’t know. To some extent, she didn’t want to know, either. It’d be nice for someone else to worry about all that for once.

What she wanted, instead, was some place she and Spark could try to relax some more, now that they’d wrapped up their impromptu breakfast.

And there was one excellent spot for that they both thought of.

Spark immediately turned more lively the moment she realized where they were both heading. Not quite cheerful, not by a long shot, but with her friend around, and soon many more friends too, the scary events of the past day were easier to push through. And once they were all done playing, she’d be able to go back to her mom and tell her about everything that had happened today! She really enjoyed listening to her recollections.

The kit just hoped she could hear them like this, too.

Sue wasn’t privy to the firefox’s exact thoughts, but she could feel the relief inside her clearly. The emotion was soon joined by her own, especially once she recognized who was already present at the oversized daycare.

And moments later, both of them noticed her too.

Astra’s soft but mighty cry provided almost as much comfort as Joy’s harsh, shrill one. The latter was accompanied by the toothy one running all the way over to her other big friend. Joy was right about to hug Sue’s leg before doing a double take at the different set of bandages—and more importantly, at the absence of the ever present crutch. The change was unexpected enough to make her stammer out a single, confused sounding word as she pointed at Sue’s empty right arm.

She’s adorable when she’s surprised.

If there was any upside to Willow unexpectedly taking her crutch away, it was having both arms available for what she was about to do.

Joy’s drawn out squeal at being picked up was even cuter than her greeting one, enough so for Sue to even overlook the clinking of the maw’s metal teeth. The little one wasted no time before trying to hug as much of the Forest Guardian as she could from her new vantage point, only really embracing a single shoulder. Her point of view also let her finally notice the bandage on Sue’s horn, though the brief worry that resulted from that was banished with another hug.

Astra’s hug.

Despite catching her from the left field, it was no less welcome, especially as it made Joy’s hug grow even tighter.

And judging by how much she weighed despite her tiny size, combined with her being at least partially made of metal, something told Sue that there wasn’t such a thing as a ‘too firm hug’ for Joy.

By the time the dragon let go of the other two and they all could sit down, Spark was already way off playing with others, though never stepping too far from her Forest Guardian friend.

Note to self: Arrange a day where I can just pet both Joy and Spark all day long.

The thought brought in no small amusement, made sweeter still by the metal girl sitting down on her lap soon after. Even having her hand grasped by the toothless tip of the scary maw felt more cute than not to Sue by now, despite it still putting her on somewhat of an edge.

She still had her other hand to keep Joy’s front head, and that’s all that really mattered—

*tap tap*

Who the fuck is it this—oh.

While Sue was much more eager to speak with Astra compared to either of the earlier two, she couldn’t help but worry that she’d just be asked the same thing again, killing the mood once more. The mental routine of it being a way to help Newmoon out helped a bit, but was really beginning to wear thin. Especially with her already being so worn down today.

Suppose she could do it again, this once.

Going through her impromptu ritual was much harder with just one hand, substantially so. Doubly so, since it was her left hand that was immobilized, the one she typically used for the part where she tuned out the nearby emotions. Guess if it comes down to it, she could be extremely rude and pull it out of the maw full of metal teeth, but she would rather not.

Just as the last time she’d practiced this with Solstice, the glare of feelings was almost blinding. Unpleasant for her and her wounded extremity alike, but not unbearably so. Bit by bit, Sue went through the parts of her brain that usually tingled when she did the emotion tuning step, inching gradually closer to replicating it arms-free. Inch by inch, the overwhelming light dimmed. Until finally, the minds that radiated said glare came into view.

*tap tap*

“Just a moment, Astra...”

Sue felt Joy shift on her lap and disappointingly let go of her left hand at her mumble, but remained focussed on accomplishing the feat the way she’d initially set out to. Honed in on who she was sure was Astra, now to just reach in, carefully, push through the pain, and—


Guess not carefully enough.

Confirming the noise, a glance over Sue’s shoulder revealed the dragon to be lightly rubbing the side of her head. Less injured and more so surprised. Unfortunate, but thankfully only a tiny mishap.

“H-hey, Astra.”

Hearing Sue’s voice dispelled any remaining aching in an instant. Doubly so when the orange reptile responded with yet another hug, much gentler this time.

And lifted Sue onto her own lap along with it, the bulky dragon’s leg just large enough to comfortably sit on.

“Heya, Sue! Good chat you again.”

“Y-yeah, s-same here.”

“Alright ya? Commotion yesterday, heard much, you injured—”

“I-I’m alright Astra, I’m alright. Promise.”

As alright as reasonably possible, at least.

“Phew, relief! Want ask you if right.”

Please not again...


“I force work soon, tomorrow, not have care Joy. Ya could?”


Sue was reasonably certain she’d pieced together the dragon’s meaning right away, though that didn’t leave her any less dumbfounded. Suppose if there was anyone who was a good fit for looking after Joy for a few days, it was her, but...

Thinking about it made many of the earlier kinds of anxiety creep back in.

Sue wanted this, she couldn’t even pretend she didn’t want that. She’d be tangibly helping people of Moonview out, she’d be spending more time with Joy, she’d be giving the little one the comfort and affection she needs.

But did she deserve this? After everything she’d done? Was she worthy of getting to fulfill her wants this much, in such a nourishing way, considering everything yesterday, and even earlier today—


She had no idea, but the ‘caught off-guard Sue’ always went with her gut instinct, and not any well established logical reasoning.

And what her gut was saying was loud and clear.

“Y-yeah, I’d love to! Wh-when do you leave?”

The dragon’s hug was immediate and immensely relieving yet again, especially when doubled up on by Joy’s shortly after. She didn’t even know whether the toothy girl had actually understood what was said beyond a few bits and pieces, but... a part of her didn’t care. It felt good to be held like this, to have people show her affection, not because she had done something or was someone important.

But because she was herself.

It was really, really nice.

“Thank thank thank! Leave young morning. Joy sleep you.”

Guess at least she had the rest of the day to prepare. Solstice’s tent wasn’t the most spacious, but... they’d figure something out.

“I can handle that, yeah.”

“Great! Joy, sleep Sue. Sue watch tomorrow days. I leave days.”

The metal girl had an even more scattered comprehension of Astra’s words than Sue, but it seemed she got the gist. Or at least, understood enough to first hug Sue the most she could from her vantage point, and then her other guardian’s nearby paw. She got some more affection in response, so all was good in the world.

Feeling Joy on her lap like this was... comforting, in a way Sue couldn’t describe if she wanted to. Even more so than usual, on a deeper level. More... right.

It felt great, it felt worrisome.

It felt like something not for here and now.

Which meant time for a distraction, and to answer one of her own questions.


A look upwards had Sue stare the mighty dragon straight in the eye, the sight utterly nonthreatening despite Astra’s size.


“Why do you need to leave?”

The question made a fireball go off inside Astra’s mind. Both at understanding Sue’s point, at answering the young Forest Guardian’s question, and at getting to talk about her job for a moment. With all the motivation she could’ve ever wanted, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a bunch of sheets of paper, together with a couple of wrapped sticks of charcoal.

“Make map! Look new lands. New peoples. Root tells look small peoples.”

I don’t like the sound of that.

“A cartographer?”

Astra took a moment to make heads and tails of the complex words, eventually affirming Sue’s hunch with a tentative nod. Quite a cool job as far as Sue was concerned, especially with Astra’s apparent ability to fly so far out she got to make maps. This world might’ve felt uncharted, but its inhabitants most definitely weren’t gonna let it remain so forever.

And of course, a job like that sparked the most obvious follow up.

“What’s the coolest place you’ve seen?”

For once, the dragon answered right away.

“Divine mountain! Only foot. Very very massive. Needle make crazy!”


Another immediate response. This time, Astra reached into her satchel and pulled out a round, wooden trinket. Sue’s suspicion was confirmed moments later, with the top part getting opened up to reveal a rather pitiful, slightly bent metal needle, one end painted red.

“Point south! How wonder. From far, very. Much far even Central City.”

Guess it makes sense for a compass to be an artifact. And raises a question of who built it...

“I’ve seen one of these before, that’s awesome!”

“Is awesome! You awesome! Again thank!”

She should’ve seen that one coming, huh?

Silly as Astra’s response was, Sue couldn’t help but feel warmer afterwards. Her heart wasn’t thinking of the dragon as anything more than a friend and there weren’t any inklings of that changing, but this kind of casual affirmation felt... good. It just felt good. She needed it badly, even if she wouldn’t have ever admitted to it personally.

With the conversation dying down, she got a wonderful opportunity to look at what all the other kids around were doing.

The very first little one might have been of the creepy sort, very creepy even, but now that she talked with Dewdrop, Sue knew better than to instantly freak out. It didn’t mean she immediately liked the green smiley-faced spider hanging down from a nearby branch, but at least it didn’t instantly send her halfway to a panic attack.

As long as it remained there.

Huh, wonder if it’s the red spider’s relative?

Further along the scene, a few more familiar faces were present, some of which Sue appreciated seeing more than others. She was entirely cool with the brown donkey whose name she didn’t know and the plant bud-like Petal, but the third member of their impromptu group immediately had her glaring. The pink scorpion-bat noticed her irate expression rather quickly, drawing others’ attention to her.

Only for them to focus back on their friend and speak up louder, the topic of their chatter not particularly hard to figure out.

Apologize to Joy or—or—


Yeah, there’s no finishing that thought in a non-messed up way, isn’t there?

Even beyond her not being able to think of any, Sue wasn’t a punishment kind of person. Not when calm, at least. She hoped that some of the other adults would come up with something suitable, or just talk it out with the bat.

They were sitting some thirty meters away from her and she could still feel their apprehension clearly.

For once, she wouldn’t need to wait long for an idle desire to at least start coming true. The pink scorpion audibly opposed the other two calling out to the leafy mantis nearby, but Splitleaf knew better than to not intervene. What they talked about afterwards, Sue had no idea about, and honestly, didn’t really care as long as it resulted in an apology towards the metal girl on her lap.

Judging by the pink one’s audible opposition, some progress was being made, hah.

At least something good—


Right as Sue was about to look over elsewhere, she spotted a bizarre object at the other end of the clearing, near where she sat when they all were here last time. The more she stared at it, the more unnerving the sight got, sending an icy dread through her. It looked just like Comet, but wrong, so very wrong. She couldn’t make many details from this far, but the dimensions were just... off.

A part of her wanted to ignore the unnerving sight, a different part wanted to call for someone else who hadn’t stopped using crutches literally earlier today to investigate, but the last part... wanted, no, needed to see what was going on. Even beyond the weird appearance, she felt emotions emanate from that entity, and none of the good ones.

None of the scary ones, either, just... the sad ones.

Her weakness.

With a couple of shaky breaths, Sue gently lowered Joy down on the well-worn dirt and stood up. Her arms shook, body tensed up. She was torn almost exactly in half between running towards and away from the not-Comet, but the ‘towards’ side was winning, ever so slightly.

She was deaf to Astra’s and Joy’s questions as she took one step, and another, and a third still. Each one shakier, each one smaller, but all approaching the...


The realization made her pause mid step as half-chewed bits of pop-culture knowledge were pushed to the forefront of her mind. It was about enough to make her run, but soon more pieces fell into place, disproving that half-baked idea. Mimics were supposed to be convincing, whereas this one just wasn’t, and got even less so the closer she’d walked to it.

It almost looked like a scarecrow.

Dirtied rag for skin, the same kind she’d seen Willow use here and there.

Tattered pieces of green thread for hair, some of it already weaved into the tassels she’d seen Dewdrop carry.

A pair of roof tiles for horns, like the ones suddenly stolen from Granite the previous day—

The realization audibly clicked in place for her, but by then, it was too late. Only a few meters separated her from the fake Comet. If it were to leap at her, there’d be nobody between them to intervene.

Right into its trap.

She could feel its fear, its worry, she felt them almost as clearly as she’d felt her own, but had no idea just what they meant. Were they even actual emotions? Was this entity drawing her in with fake feelings to match its fake body? She didn’t know, she couldn’t know, it was something out of a horror. Step by step, Sue slowly backed off from whatever the hell it was. To her terror, her movement was finally enough to make it move.

Or rather, twitch.

Whatever was inside the doll-like body inched forward towards her in a messy, uncoordinated way, one part at a time. All the while, it tried to keep the rest of its disguise in one place, even as it shook and lost balance.

It managed all of two feet before collapsing forwards.

Sue let an involuntary yelp at seeing its head roll off its body. The fruit the roof tiles were impaled into immediately came into view as the fake green hair scattered all around the small patch of sand.

The disguise was gone in seconds, replaced by a mess of individual items.

And a single, quivering being hiding underneath an off-white rag.

As pathetic as the sight was, it paled compared to what her sixth sense was showing her. Its sorrow had turned into heartbreak, fear into pure terror, the kind which she had felt just moments prior. Even with its disguise busted, it wasn’t trying to leap at her in an attack of desperation. It wasn’t fleeing to try its luck again. It just laid in place, shaking in one spot, its painful emotions ever growing.




They were crying.

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Chapter 22: Curse New


the gay agenda

Chapter 22: Curse

For a while, Sue could only stare at the despairing heap.

Much of her rational decision making kept urging her to get out of here and ask someone less crippled for help with… whatever this being was. As acutely as she could feel their sorrow, there was still the possibility of all this being a trap of some sort, of this creature attempting to lure her in closer.

And right beside it, the equally likely possibility of them being genuinely sad because of their costume breaking.

Why would they disguise themselves as Comet, Sue didn’t know. But what she did know, with utter certainty, was that her heart was firmly in favor of comforting them.

Step aside, brain.

With a nervous shake, the Forest Guardian sat down on the rough sand of the playground, the obscured stranger within arm's reach. Whatever they were, they seemed to have sensed her joining them, growing still in anticipation. It didn’t help her nerves any, but by then, she was too set in her path to pay any attention to them.

“Hey... you.”

The tinge of confusion joining the sloshing despair beneath the off-white rag at least let her know they had heard her. Her words weren’t doing her any more favors here than with anyone else in Moonview, but by that point, Sue knew full well that it wasn’t the important part.

All that mattered was that she was here.

Her hand shook as she lowered it onto the small mound, doubts growing by the moment. Even beside the absurdity of it being a possible trap, them reacting badly to an unexpected touch could end similarly badly, and with no underlying ill intent. Maybe they hated being touched, maybe they were poisonous, maybe they’d run away the instant she made contact.

Many awful possibilities, none of which mattered.

She wanted to help them, help someone, and that’s what she’d try to do.

Sue felt the hidden creature freeze as she laid her hand on top of their disguised body, the immediate sensations... oddly pleasant. They were warm, like a living being, and very soft, downright squishy, underneath the rugged canvas.

Regardless of how they looked or didn’t look, in just a few moments, her touch began to have a marked effect on them. The once-human felt their sadness ease out with her every breath, every little movement of her petting hand working away at their anxious bind. The shift was gradual, but once Sue had noticed it, she only redoubled her affection. Shakes turned to gentle pets and one hand was joined by another, anything to help calm them down more.

“There, there, I’m here. I’m he—”

As unexpectedly pleasant as their interaction was turning out so far, the sight off to the side threatened to ruin it all in an instant. A pitch-black tentacle was gradually creeping out from under the rag, tipped with three claw-like extensions. Her heart hammered and mind screamed for her to do what she should’ve done in the first place and run; the sudden situation left her paralyzed-

And then, the blackness wrapped itself around one of her hands.

It felt... really nice.

It was similarly warm to the rest of their hidden body, and just as soft. To the best of Sue’s ability to make out, it was much more amorphous than it looked, the black tissue striking her as more of a gel than an actual well-defined limb.

They may have anxiously frozen once Sue had lifted her other hand, but relaxed even further once she gently grabbed their limb directly, fingers brushing along its surface.

Little hidden... slime creature?

As small as they were physically, Sue could only estimate their age. They sure didn’t feel adult, the immense swing of emotions between being provided and starved of attention made that clear. Most likely a child, but anything beyond that was impossible to determine.

Suppose taking a peek under the rag could help?

Now that their disguise had been entirely blown, there shouldn’t have been any issue with discarding the rest of it. And, whatever they might’ve looked like underneath, it sure beat the well-worn, stained rag that currently comprised the entirety of their appearance.

Just gotta take it off.

“Everything’s good, little one. Lemme take that thing off, the scare’s over—”



Sue’s eyes stared at the pitch-black blob, and the blob stared at her. The more she tried to focus on it, the less she could think at all, its dimensions entirely off. It was simultaneously too small and too large to be real, its impossibility filled Sue with vertigo as her mind locked up in an attempt to process it—

The next thing she knew, the hidden creature had scooted a few feet away from her; its emotions receded to terror. Doubling over and stabilizing her breathing was Sue’s immediate first reaction once she’d come to. The pain in her lungs felt like she hadn’t breathed for a solid while, head spun like she’d spent the last few minutes in a mixer.

As overwhelming and terrifying as those sensations were, they weren’t entirely unfamiliar. The Forest Guardian’s eyes went wide as she remembered feeling this exact indescribable sensation a few days ago, right here at the playground. Walking over with Comet in her arms, then she saw—

She saw—

She saw them.

“Th-that was you, wasn’t it?”

Their distorted squeak, muffled further by the rag covering them, helped snap Sue back to awareness. She’d looked at their real body, her brain blue-screened, and now they were freaking out in-

In fear.

Oh, no.

“Hey, hey, it’s all good.”

The reassurance was much more effective when accompanied by the Forest Guardian scrambling over to take a seat beside them once more, her touch immediately calming them down again. And then some, the bulk of the obscured body then scooting towards and pressing itself into her side.

As if wanting to be as close as possible.

The resumed routine of one hand petting the top of their body and the other holding their tentacle calmed them down further. Whatever the hell had caused... that when she looked at their body thankfully didn’t extend to their limbs, their blackness safely non-mind-melting. The more Sue thought about it, the sadder the entire situation became, especially once she’d connected the dots leading up to now.

They saw her, they saw Comet. They put this costume together, joined the other kids, and then it all fell apart, anyway. The question of ‘but why costume like Comet specifically’ was answered as soon as she’d asked it, the realization forcing a couple of tears down Sue’s cheeks.

“It’s because I was holding Comet, wasn’t it? Holding him with you... on your own.”

She still had zero idea just what the hell this creature was, but in that moment, Sue wanted nothing more than to keep them company for as long as they needed to. Hell, if they really were a child like she’d suspected them to be, it’d make it all even sadder, as they would obviously be looking for protection. For a home.

For a family.

Everything the little ones in the two villages had rightfully taken for granted.

Her sniffs were heard right away, adding worried confusion to the stranger’s whirlpool of emotions. An extra sized dose of affection eased them out, the once-human busy chewing through what was she to do now.

The worries about whether this was an actual child, about who would take care of them if so. The very acute concern of ‘just what do I do to not have them melt the brains of all of Moonview through their presence’. And the equally baffling question of what they even were in the first place.

A mountain sized fort of confusion in her head, and exactly nothing for answers.

Sundance would’ve known what to do...

The thought stung deeply, making Sue physically flinch. It was as true as it was profoundly unhelpful, especially now. Sundance wasn’t around at the moment. She couldn’t approach her for advice, but it didn’t matter.

The little one still needed her help, and she’d do everything in her power to provide.

And the very first step in that process was figuring out how to move them safely. For that, knowing their... composition would help a lot. That word felt so, so wrong considering the context, but with their body shape feeling so undefined, it was the most applicable one Sue could think of.

Looking under the cover was a bad idea, but what about reaching in there instead?

Slowly, Sue withdrew one hand and moved it down to the nearest edge of their protective rag. At the count of three, she reached in, bracing herself for whatever might happen with her entire body.

It felt... just as nice.

Sue’s hand was surrounded by the same soft warmth that comprised the lil’ one’s tentacle, but this time from all around. It reminded her of putty, but with none of the associated sliminess and alive, somehow. As much as her movement had startled them, making them shift and flow under the cover, they soon calmed back down as Sue held their tentacle and applied more affection without the rag in the way.

Them turning out to be amorphous wasn’t much help when it came to moving them around, though. At least, not initially, Sue growing steadily distraught at not thinking of anything before an idea clicked into place. A tremendously stupid idea, the kind they would’ve likely been angry to hear if they could read her thoughts. Regardless of whether Sue wanted that to be true, it was the only way forward she could think of, making it the best one by walk-over.

Why not... scoop them up?

They clearly weren’t flowing through the canvas, so there was no concern of them potentially spilling out while she carried them. She wouldn’t need to bring anything else, since she could just carry them in the rag they were hiding under. The entire dumb idea could’ve gone wrong in a dozen different ways, at least half of them leaving the lil’ one exposed in the middle of Moonview, their curse applying to everyone around.

Overall, she was just about ready to give it a shot.

Giving them a heads-up would help a lot, though, as would... asking them about all this.

While Sue’s mind tried to avoid kicking herself down too hard for not thinking to link up with them sooner, her brain was in the middle of alleviating that exact concern, repeating her little ritual. She grit her teeth as the injury on her front fin flared up, but ultimately persevered, trying to banish the built-up aching with deep breaths once done.

Time to finally greet them.

“H-hey there, little one. My name is Sue.”


Sue blinked in her seat as a response kept not coming, not beyond the emotion of curiosity. Her connection was spotty, sure, but there was no way it’d entirely block out their communication. Suppose emotions worked in a pinch, but a more convincing sort would’ve been appreciated too. The hidden being felt... spaced out, now that she could sense it closer.

Let’s just lay the idea out and see how they react.

“I want to move you over to everyone else. Would it be alright with you if I carried you in your... disguise?”

She had no more luck than before, especially not with their reaction being this ambiguous. Clinging to her could mean many things as a response to this specific question, not helping Sue any.

Guess doing it first and asking for forgiveness later was the only way forward.

Fuck’s sake.

Still, she wanted to run the steps by them first, even if just for herself. If they understood any of it, great, but either way it’d help her a lot to have the entire plan laid out in her mind.

“I’m gonna f-fold the edges of the rag underneath you. Then I’ll close my eyes, flip you around, and tie the corners together. Is that alright?”

No words, only feels.


As much of a confirmation as Sue was gonna get.

Wasting no more time, she began to go through her steps, shaking throughout. She kept an unerring focus on the little one’s emotions all along, physically sighing in relief whenever a larger movement had them only grow a bit confused. Edges folded, now the potentially nasty part.

Sue didn’t expect them to be so light.

As terrified as they got by her staring at them directly earlier, they noticed her eyes being closed this time, remaining only slightly unnerved as their disguise kept moving underneath them. Sue’s hands blindly felt around their pudding-like body until she found the corners of their rag, the motions that followed determined and shaky. One knot, second knot, time to open her eyes.

And hope they wouldn’t immediately fall out.

To Sue’s utmost surprise, her plan worked.

A small bundle rested on the sand beside her, the being inside confused more than anything else. A couple of dark tendrils were reaching out through whichever openings there were, but the bulk of them remained contained.

Behold, a baby in a bag.

Getting up from the ground without a crutch, while possible, turned out to be a struggle in its own right. Especially once she had to apply any leverage on her still-injured leg. Teeth were gritted and grunts were mumbled, but eventually Sue got up entirely on her own, the bundle in her hand.

Singular hand.

It only then really hit her just how small the stranger was. They weren’t quite baseball-sized, but they were close, making Sue think of a large orange. With how magical everything and everyone here was, there was no reason they had to constrain themselves to any biologically feasible body sizes, of course, but the realization still took her aback.

Just a lil’ bagful of a baby.

With the aforementioned magical weirdness in mind, Sue sure didn’t expect Astra to be taken aback by the stranger, either. To the once-human’s immediate relief, the surprise wasn’t laced with any underlying terror, and faded soon after she’d sat down beside Astra. Joy was even less skittish. Spotting the ominous, clawed limbs reaching out from Sue’s bag only barely slowed down her dash towards her big friend’s lap.

And as Joy did, seeing Sue’s affection towards the bagful of stranger, she attempted to pet them.

Sadly, the pitch-black being didn’t react well to that. They immediately withdrew all the way into their bag, the sudden motion startling Joy. Sue didn’t want either of them to feel bad, and while being held close to her front wasn’t a panacea for anything, it still helped both of them out a lot.

A part of the Forest Guardian considered getting up right away and trying to talk to... someone about all this. The uncertainty about who was even the correct person to go over all this with, as well as the desire to not overwhelm the stranger, made her remain in her seat for now.

Just in time for stuff to start happening elsewhere around the clearing.

A loud, sing-song whistle perked Sue’s and Joy’s heads alike, making them lean from behind Astra in unison to figure out the source of the sound. Sue only faintly recognized the blue cloud bird and had no idea whatsoever about their name, but each time she’d seen them before, they were looking over the Moonview’s youth.

As was the case here.

Regardless of whether they were singing or speaking, their vocalizations sounded just as nice. Sue’s attempt to fish out some of the very few words she knew of Moonview’s language proved entirely fruitless, annoying her more than usual by the virtue of just how impossible it felt. The way the little ones over in Newmoon each said their words differently made it clear that there was a lot of flexibility in pronunciation, but this went one step further.

For a good while, the bird’s noises were just a single, continuous whistle, with only very few other sounds getting mixed in once they started talking to the leafy mantis. Were these brief pauses, sing-song trills, and barely audible pops supposed to be a part of this language? Were they just how that species naturally sang?

Sue neither knew nor had any way to gain that information at the moment, annoying her further. And, as if to spite her even more, the cloud bird soon noticed their group too.

Having to watch over Joy a few days back let Sue know acutely just how much undue, negative attention the toothy girl received. With that memory still raw in her recollection, she was of half a mind to act obnoxious towards the bird for leering at the harmless child hugging her front—

And then, she realized that the cloud bird wasn’t staring at Joy.

They were staring at her. They were afraid of her.

Her sixth sense wasted no time in pointing these facts out for all they were worth. It felt dreadful, even more so once Sue saw their reaction that followed; the cloud-like wings gently urged gathered tykes towards a spot further away from her. Was it something she’d done?

Or was it being seen with a night kin?

The realization made Sue shift her glare down at the grass in front of her as a sludge of anger and sorrow started churning in her mind.

What’s your fucking problem!? Why are you so scared of bloody Ginger!?

An attempt to distract herself from that unpleasant topic by looking around the clearing some more found nothing more than further fuel for her anxious mind. The pink scorpion bat hadn’t gone anywhere, now chatting with the half-plant, half-insect Splitleaf. Despite this being the mantis’ duty as a caretaker, Sue was still pissed off at her for comforting the bat with Joy being so afraid of them.

And they’d never apologize, because why would they. Joy was a savage freak of nature who should be ostracized, the night kin were savage freaks of nature who should be ostracized, the little one in the bag probably fell into that category, too. Of course, they’d only find suffering and misery in this fucking place—

Joy’s tighter embrace, delivered after her attempts to verbally catch her friend’s attention had failed, finally tackled Sue out of her spiral of anger. Her body shook as her breaths turned shallower and shallower, the sound of blood rushing through her head eclipsing all other noise. She had this entire situation wrong, more likely than not. She’d just misheard, mis-sensed, or misjudged. Sue was well aware of that.

None of those realizations really helped at the moment, that’s for sure.

Especially not with the well-being of so many beings she cared for depending on the whim of the masses.

Even despite her hug snapping Sue out of the worst of her steadily creeping fury, Joy wasn’t done yet. Not while Sue remained so visibly upset about something. With a scramble, a grab, and a pointing of her hand, she communicated the need to Astra in spite of the ever-present language barrier.

And the dragon knew exactly what to do.

Sue wished Astra’s embrace was enough.

In any other situation, the affection would’ve been deeply calming. The awareness that someone was there for her. But not this time. If anything, it only made it worse, considering the chief source of her anger being something Astra had no idea about, and which Sue couldn’t easily tell her about because of the language barrier. It all felt... dull.

Guess it’d be up to her to calm down on her own.

Sue slunk her head as she took deep breaths. The movement of air through her body aired out some of the burning, sticky anger. If she knew anything about that particular emotion, though, it was that it was very easy for it to start intensifying again on a complete whim. She had to continue, keep going until it was all gone.

Much easier said than done.

Though... maybe there was something she could try besides breathing.

Desperately trying to focus on anything but the source of her unpleasant emotions, Sue thought back to how Solstice had taught her how to link to others. The ever-important step of tuning out others’ emotions so as not to get overwhelmed, growing easier and easier to perform with every attempt.

Wonder if it works on me, too.

As easy as it was to use her left arm to push away the surrounding feelings, Sue had a hard time thinking of how she’d do so internally. Suppose she could try to press her hand into herself? Placing it on her chest wasn’t an option for obvious reasons, which left a place further down her torso.

Hand on her stomach, anger on her mind. Deep inhale, and—


Sue’s eyes shot wide open as she went through her plan, the psychically enhanced exhale getting rid of... everything. The fiery indignation, the underlying sorrow, the immense concern for the amorphous child still sitting on her lap. Nothing remained but a slightly chilly, soothing peace.

She had Calmed her Mind.

With that sudden shift, also came the conscious realization that no less than two friends were in the middle of dispensing affection towards her, both of them very concerned. The mental numbness wouldn’t let Sue fully reciprocate with her own worry. Even so, she patted each friend a few times as her body relaxed.

“I’m okay now, don’t worry.”

As unnaturally flat as her voice now was, it was still undeniably her, and equally undeniably calm.

With one hand navigating to hold Joy close and the other quickly checking up on the still nameless stranger, the scene had returned to how it was before. The toothy tyke was glad, Astra was relieved, and the goopy lil’ one had fallen asleep at some point. Not a whole lot was happening.

A fine opportunity to investigate something odd she’d sensed in the middle of that entire process.

Sue reached down to feel along the side of her torso, her expression entirely flat throughout. One by one, the pointed tip of her finger brushed along her ribs, feeling like they were just a millimeter or two under the skin’s surface. One, two...

...sixteen, seventeen.

Almost all the way down to her hips.

Inspired by that discovery, Sue soon shifted her attention towards the other parts of her body, making the most of her disgust-proof altered mental state. Seven pairs of teeth, three incisors and four molars, filling a noticeably smaller mouth. The rest of her skull felt largely the same, aside from the spikes on the sides of her head.

She already knew that they tingled the same area of her brain that her old human ears used to tingle, and that her actual ears were somewhere around that area. The link between them and actual ears went further still, with the spikes similarly made of cartilage, bending easily and painlessly.

Thinness of her legs raised an interesting question of their internal anatomy. Thinking little of it, Sue proceeded to find out for herself by brushing the pleats of her skin dress aside and bending the limb as much as she could.

Why is there a second bend a few inches off the ground.

Why is it bending the wrong way.

How come I only now noticed it.

Any disgust Sue might’ve had at the revelation was forcibly dulled out by the coolness filling her mind, but good Duck, did it almost push through anyway.

Sue either didn’t remember enough about or really wasn’t about to test most of the rest of her anatomy. There was, of course, the horn-shaped elephant in the room right through her torso that begged to be investigated further. She remembered it being painful to the touch on her first day here, and now was as good of an opportunity as any to check if that still held true.


Yes, it did.

Just like everything else in the moment, her pain was heavily dulled, letting her continue. An attempt to press on it from the side accomplished two things. One, it let Sue know that despite the forced calmness in her mind, the pain could still make her cry, even if the tears would then flow down an entirely flat expression. And two, it soothed her worries about that extremity being in any way brittle.

It was both deeply embedded in her torso, much like its appearance suggested, and very stiff, not giving even slightly under her touch. The more she felt it around, the more it made her think of a bone going straight across her body with something red covering it, its texture reminding Sue of chalk.

Before Sue’s further efforts in bodily exploration could bring even more suffering onto herself, a louder call from further into the clearing caught her attention. Joy was ahead of her this time, running out towards the hissed sound before immediately freezing once she’d spotted something. Fear, disappointment, sadness. It only took moments until she was back beside her friend, wetness in her eyes threatening to match Sue’s.

The once-human wasn’t the only one that noticed, of course.

Astra’s loud question had the metal girl sigh as she tried laying down on Sue’s lap, front head facing away from the other kids. As opposed to Sue’s mental freeze-induced idleness, though, the dragon would do something about the messy situation.

What exactly beyond getting up and walking over, Sue had no idea. At the very least, though, she was left with a better view of the scene afterwards.

She might’ve struggled to recall their names, but the once-human distinctively remembered seeing both the green-cream snake and the floating white puffball with an attached head around the farm area. It definitely made sense, with the former carrying a small pile of green, spiky fruits in their tiny arms and long, leafy vines. They were handing out the treats to anyone that came, and that indeed included the pink bat whose sight had shot down Joy’s hopes of grabbing a snack.

Right as they were about to hand the last fruit out, though, Astra’s low voice caught their attention. The reptile conversation thankfully didn’t last too long, its gist swiftly transferred. Both to the partially-plant snake, sending them slithering straight towards Sue with a green treat in their arms, and to the more-than-partially-asshole bat, making them reel in place and huddle away from the once-human’s group.

Works for me.

Sue didn’t expect a snake to be this emotive.

Instead of stirring Joy out of her attempted grumpy nap, they joined her, resting their head on Sue’s leg right beside the toothy girl, to the Forest Guardian’s mixed reaction. Or at least, if it wasn’t being muted out.

Further committing to cheering Joy up, the snake pretended to pull the fruit out of thin air, smiling wider at Joy’s harsh but genuine giggle. They then used a pair of vines to toss and juggle the treat to the tyke’s amusement, her laughter growing louder each time the newcomer threw their gift even further into the air.

And then, right as they were about to launch it all the way up above the treetops, they sneakily moved it into Joy’s arms.

And gave her front head a couple of pats while at it.

Joy’s response remained untranslated, and it was clear enough that not even the snake was entirely confident about what they’d just heard. Thinking back, though, it sounded awfully similar to something else Sue had heard her say a few days back at the feast.

‘Thank you.’

Both she and the grass snake got it at around the same moment, the latter squeaking in elation at the realization. Their hug might’ve been very brief, but it did wonders in cheering the metal girl up the rest of the way, enough so for her to be eagerly waving them away once they’d rejoined the other kids. Sue’s response was appropriately subdued, but that didn’t make it any less appreciated.

Someone really enjoys having her maw pet.

Having intervened to help out the little one under her watch, Astra soon returned to her previous spot, just out of the recently installed swing's trajectory. A light aftershock went through most of the clearing after she’d sat down- or rather collapsed- in her spot, but barely anyone was perturbed by it.

Except for the light green spider now on Astra’s lap, looking around in confusion.

Despite the self-imposed mental restraints, Sue felt her mind shudder at the sight. A glance upwards revealed the string they had been hanging from just a few feet away from her. Figures they’d be confused about why they were on the ground all of a sudden.

Meanwhile, Joy was undertaking her own grand quest. One of opening this fruit she’d been given, and getting to the oh-so-sweet insides. As hard as she’d tried, she couldn’t quite pry it open with just her hands, making her grumble quietly. Of course, she had a much more effective tool for prying stuff open, but having someone hold it for her would be a lot of help.

*tap tap*

The sensation snapped Sue away from taking in every detail of the smiley faced spider. Instead, she saw Joy not just handing, but outright shoving the treat she’d been given into her hand, the large spikes poking her slightly. And once she’d grabbed the berry, the little one got to the next step of her plan right away.


In what felt like a split second, Joy went from having her friend hold the green treat to biting down on it with the very side of her maw.

The firm, green shell stood absolutely no chance against the metal teeth, the smallest bit of force almost snapping the fruit in half entirely. Glad as the toothy tyke was that her idea worked out, she knew that nobody would want to eat something that’s been in her back mouth. As swiftly as she’d clamped it down on the fruit, she turned her body towards the punctured fruit while moving her maw away, some fresh juice dripping from one of her fangs.

It was only when Joy grabbed the fruit from her friend’s hand and started prying it apart, did Sue’s brain unstuck itself following the way-too-fast sequence of events.

The Forest Guardian might’ve been incapable of feeling much at the moment, but goodness did all this in such a quick succession push her limits-


Fear pounded away at Sue’s quickly faltering mental block as she turned to face the source of the sound. Her heart only barely avoided leaping out of her chest at seeing the red spider that had almost taken her life, with her conscious mind having to hurriedly remind her crumbling composure that she’d met him before, with Solstice’s aid no less. He was even wearing the same hat as on that day, thinking back to the calmness of their chat helping Sue a lot.

Unfortunately, it did little considering the lack of a translation, but little was more than nothing.

As Sue felt emotions return to her body, one drop of fear at a time, both Dewdrop and what was presumably his offspring waved towards her from beside Astra’s spot. Her arms shook as she returned the gesture, and her smile was only barely recognizable between the mental muzzle on her mind and the already present anxiety.

Before Sue’s decidedly off expression could draw too much attention, though, Joy chimed in with snacks for everyone.

As annoying as her short size was in forcing her to constantly run around Sue, the toothy one didn’t let it get to her. One by one, she handed the pieces of the green fruit she’d helped crack to everyone gathered. Her two guardians, Dewdrop, their offspring, herself- heck, even the sleeping one got a piece left for them. It had to have been eaten shortly afterwards because of the juices staining the already dirty canvas, but it was the intent that mattered.

And Joy’s intent was immaculate.

Sue barely had the words for the creamy yellow flesh she bit into. ‘Sweet’ didn’t cut it, ‘saccharine’ came short. Each little nibble cloyed her mouth with some of the most distilled sugariness she’d ever had. Not even actual candy was this sweet, and this thing had apparently grown on a plant!

Now the question is: Is this fruit actually good for you, or does sweet equal sinfully unhealthy for you in this world too?

Yet another intense sensation joining in on the mix eroded whatever remained of her forced calmness. Bliss on her tongue, spooks around her, disappointment at herself for still being afraid of Dewdrop despite having literally talked with him just a couple of days ago.

Concern for the amorphous little one, still asleep.

Suppose this was the best time for them to get a move on and start asking people around. Or get actual food for them that wasn’t the sensation of ‘sweet’ manifested into a plant.


Can they even eat solid food?


How do they even eat?

The questions had no answers. Just airing them out to herself was enough to let Sue free some more of her brain space towards more productive topics, thankfully. She might not have known almost anything about the little one, but someone in the village would, that much Sue was certain of. Just had to get up, much easier now that the spider family had taken their leave, and head out of the playground-

Oh piss off.

Sue’s stone-like expression cracked into one of distrust and slight animosity upon seeing the pink bat approach them. Her hand reached to hold Joy closer. The gesture inadvertently caught the lil’ one’s attention and made her spot the flying scorpion. A frightful squeak, a tight embrace.

Everything Sue had worried would happen, was.

As the Forest Guardian kept petting the top of her little friend’s maw, the two beings trailing behind the bat kept encouraging them. Sue wasn’t entirely trustful of Splitleaf, considering she saw her dispense affection towards the lil’ pink shit only recently, but the same couldn’t be said for the incredibly pleasant grassy serpent. Each time the pink bat faltered or slowed down, one of the two would encourage them to keep going. All the way until the three were at Sue’s feet, Joy now hiding away from the bat’s gaze.

Despite their best attempts to push on, the scorpion couldn’t deny the mix of Joy’s obvious distress and the Forest Guardian’s scowl being... demoralizing, to put it lightly. They wanted to fly out of there, wanted to be literally anywhere but here, they had no idea how they’d accomplish what they were here for with Joy’s fear and her friend’s hostility.

They didn’t know, but Splitleaf had a hunch.

Sue’s eyebrow lifted from its stern position as the leafy mantis turned to chat to Astra, of all people. Whatever the topic was, it made the dragon look between the approaching group, Sue, and Joy, earlier confusion steadily thawing. She couldn’t translate, and with Sue’s uncertain appearance, she doubted if the handicapped Forest Guardian could either.

All of which left a... more direct approach.

The dragon’s reassurance got the tyke to start unwinding from the creeping fear, eyes opening wider. Little by little, whichever words of encouragement that Joy understood did their magic.

Sue could acutely tell that even despite Astra’s best efforts, the effect wasn’t all that massive, and Joy was still afraid. Frankly, all she wanted was to tell that bat to fuck off in no uncertain terms.

Which was clear enough for Astra to know she’d have to intervene that way, too.

As soft as the dragon was, her casually lifting Sue’s arm holding Joy close was a grave reminder of her strength. Her grasp was downright dainty, and yet, Sue couldn’t get it to budge in the slightest no matter how hard she’d tried.

And so, Joy was left to let go of her friend and face her fear.

Her fear, on the other hand... reached a single pincer toward her.

Yet another attempt on Sue’s end once more had Astra’s grip not even budge. Again.

The scene remained at an impasse for a solid while as the pink bat chittered something out. Their words were unsure, even slightly fearful, but, to the best of Sue’s ability to tell, genuine. By her third attempt at wrangling her arm out of Astra’s grasp, the realization of what was going on finally clicked into place. It sent her train of ever-angrier thought careening into the distance as her body unwound, her softening gaze glancing down at Joy.

I wonder if she’s even aware that this is an apology.

Almost as if by magic, the moment Sue stopped straining, the dragon let her arm go. Instead of keeping the toothy tyke away from her earlier harasser, Sue did her best to comfort her, her freed limb petting along the girl’s head and maw alike.

Including over the by now barely visible scratch.

No matter how much Sue encouraged her, though, Joy remained rooted in place, her gaze glued to the floor. The once-human couldn’t accept her apology for her, of course, but what she could do was help with translation. Or at least, she could’ve if she didn’t feel so drained following her accidental self-calming. Despite her attempts to focus and wrangle her aura into shape, it either slipped from her grasp or proved too painful on her injury to keep going.

Sue kept her reactions down to not alert the others, but the atmosphere as a whole only kept growing darker.

Splitleaf, in particular, grew somber over all of this, hanging her head low. It took so long just to make the bat get over their fears and shame enough to apologize, and now Joy was too scared, too confused, or both. In a way, it was a lesson in its own right, one of not all apologies getting accepted.

‘I’m sorry’ is no magic, after all.

Before the leafy mantis could turn that insight into a well-defined lesson in her head, the other side finally made a step forward. And another, and then a third. Joy was still too skittish to look directly up at the bat, but with Sue’s reassurance, she kept inching closer.

Grabbing the Forest Guardian’s petting hand by one finger and holding it pressed against her body did wonders for the metal girl’s psyche, too.

Nobody else dared move as Joy made it through the last couple of paces. Her hand reached around blindly as she kept looking away, eventually brushing past the pink pincer and grabbing it as firmly as she could. Not much happened for the next few moments, both parties waiting for the other to do something while Sue contorted herself to let the lil’ one keep holding her hand.

It was up to Splitleaf to intervene.


With a mostly unseen eye roll, she approached the most awkward instance of hand holding in history and shook the two kids’ hands. The motion made Joy’s gaze finally snap over, her eyes locking with the bat. Stressful as it was for both of them, they knew they shouldn’t be looking away if they wanted an apology to truly happen.

And even despite her limited grasp of a situation, Joy did want that.

She didn’t want people to be mean to her, but neither did she want them to be scared of her. Or for her to be scared of anyone else. As long as she knew she wouldn’t be mistreated again...

Subdued as most of the apology was, though, Astra’s loud cheer brought some more life into the scene. Both the leafy snake and Splitleaf broke into a quiet chuckle as Joy let go, and the two withdrew their hands. And then, shortly after, the toothy tyke released her grip of Sue’s hand, letting her properly move again.

Move, and pull the brave girl into the tightest hug she could manage, pride dripping from her every gesture.

She did it; Joy managed it on her own, without even needing a translation. It was such an immense progress from the first time they met, Sue could hardly believe it. A wide, dumb grin refused to wash from the once-human’s face as she held the lil’ one in her arms, rocking her side to side while Joy tried her absolute hardest to return even a slice of that hug.

“I’m so proud of you...”

This was more than just being happy, so much more. Sue’s heart was clear enough about that. She wasn’t just glad, but intensely proud of Joy. Ecstatic at her reassurance and presence helping Joy overcome her fears. It felt right, so incredibly right. She wanted to be here by Joy’s side as she grew, through thick and thin. Be her guardian, be her support, be someone she can trust and rely on no matter what, forever-




The cursed quagmire of contradictions and despair that surrounded the subject of her return to Earth stopped Sue’s euphoria instantly. The shift from a tight, firm embrace to Sue’s entire body growing stiff was clear enough for Joy to sense too, a confused squeak only driving the unpleasant feelings further under her skin.

Why is this so FUCKING HARD!?

Sue gently lowered Joy down onto the grass before the tempest of emotions under her head could grow any further. As comforting as Joy’s presence was for her and vice versa, Sue knew she needed to get out of here.


“I-I’m sorry, Joy. Just... n-need to get some fresh air. Take care Joy, t-take care Astra...”

The Forest Guardian could feel their shared concern as she picked herself off the ground with the dragon’s help. She had no idea how to soothe it, for them and herself alike. Especially not now.

All she could think of was getting away.

And that’s what she did soon after, one hand carefully holding the bundle with the stranger inside it as the other shakily waved at the pair.

She didn’t even have it in her to look back at them as she departed the clearing. Before she could even take a step out of it, though, a well familiar sound caught her attention.

One she knew would only bring her comfort.

“H-hey, Spark.”

Psychic or not yet one, the fiery kit recognized the gloom in her friend’s voice all the same. Her expression grew uncertain while Sue was incapable of responding beyond just shaking her head.

“It’s fine.”

It’s not.

Right as she was about to leave for real, with or without Spark following her, another familiar sight brought a modicum of reassurance. She’d only seen this butterfly a few times and one was while she was panicking at everything and everyone, but seeing someone she recognized still made her feel better.

Doubly so, with the brown caterpillar in their arms immediately wiggling at seeing her. Their parent noticed, turning towards them and giving them a wave of their tiny hands and a couple exaggerated flaps of their almost pure white wings. Sue’s brain jump started itself just in time to connect the purple-bodied insect to a name Basil had told her a couple days back, Birch, before the insect in question flew off straight into the treelike after dropping his child off.

Guess whatever he does, it’s way outside of Moonview. Figures that’s how I ran into him.

Warm nudge on her leg, and then another. Spark was right.

It was time to go.

Finding someone who could feasibly know something about the little one inside the bag turned out... difficult. Sue’s mental list wasn’t particularly long: Willow, Solstice, maybe the living bouquet, Orchid, too. Willow wasn’t at their clinic, she’d rather bite on a brick than try talking to the plant-like medic after her outburst at Northeast earlier, and Solstice...

Yeah, no.

Left with nothing for answers, Sue decided to play it safe. Whatever this little one was, they ate something. Probably. No teeth, or other defined body parts for that matter, so they most likely can’t eat solid food.

It was time for soup.

Regardless of how little Sue herself cared for it most of the time.

With no idea of which cook around the clearing specialized in which meals, Sue was only left with the fallback option of Poppy and Hazel’s stall. She really, really didn’t care for seeing the latter again, and hoped to ducking Duck she’d at least leave her alone this time. And if not...


She’d probably just get angry again or something. What else was she to do.

Thankfully, the first impression of Hazel had the ghost not wanting to interact with her any more than the other way around. The spooky prankster let out a long groan before withdrawing further into the kitchen, leaving the actual fairy cook to handle orders this time. A part of Sue worried about Poppy being just as hostile towards her, but fortunately her reactions didn’t extend beyond a mild unease at the whole messy situation.

Sue sure wasn’t feeling like miming a meal right now, which left linking up. Her horn didn’t like the idea, but was outvoted 1-0. Focus her mind, tune out emotions, reach out with her aura, aaaaaaand linked.

Just need to insert dial-up noises somewhere in there.

Doing the entire routine with one hand occupied by a bundle of snoozing something made it all feel even more awkward than usual, that’s for sure.

“...you good?”

Right, gotta talk.

“Yes, yes, I’m good. I wanted to grab some soup for... them.”

Sue accentuated her request with pointing directly at the sleeping bundle. Poppy had no idea what she was even looking at, leaning over the counter and squinting at the... small bag.

“Hon, is bag.”

“No, it’s not a bag. There’s something, someone inside it. They’re there, you can feel it, just don’t try looking at them.”

The once-human was uncertain about handing over the bag for the fairy to inspect in person, but if it would stop any more stupid questions, it was worth it. Probably. She really hoped so.

With more hesitation than she would admit to, Sue carefully placed the grapefruit-sized bundle on the pantry’s counter. Poppy might’ve initially thought that the Forest Guardian had gone bonkers, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that Sue was telling the truth. Warm, amorphous, and judging by the bag’s condition, not wet.

“Darn. They soup?”

Sue was deeply uncertain about how to interpret the question. She opted to answer both interpretations, covering her bases at the cost of making her look even dumber than she already was.

“They’re not soup, and I don’t know if they eat soup. I figure that if they eat anything, it’s soup or juice, but I’m not sure—”

Hazel’s gruff comment cut Sue off before she could finish making a dumbass of herself, catching everyone but her by surprise. After a couple of stunned moments, Spark woofed a question out loud, and then another, with Hazel answering both of them with an unusual seriousness and intent. Even without an impossibly large smile, the ghost’s expression was still incredibly attention catching with her humongous red eyes.

At least it wasn’t focused on her this time.

With Spark having asked her questions, Poppy followed soon after, letting Sue get a glimpse into what was even going-

“How ghost? Warm. Is.”

...hold on, what?

Hazel’s answer was slightly more elaborate this time as she pointed at the bag and then at herself. Despite her best efforts, neither Spark nor Poppy were entirely convinced.

“Can pass walls? Bag?”

Short, gruff response, the associated emotions the equivalent of a dismissive shrug. A longer, much firmer comment followed soon after, one that had the ghost stare up at Sue directly. Unnerving as the sight was, though, Sue could tell that it wasn’t accompanied by hostility or even mischief, not this time.

Instead, curiosity and… hope.

“Okay, okay. Hazel say bag ghost. No eat.”

Sue blinked dumbfounded, trying to make sense the translated words as she picked the bundle of lil’ one up again.

“B-but they’re warm, and they’re filling it up, and—”

“Hazel say important not. Ghost.”

Suppose if there was any being who’d know for sure it’d be a fellow ghost, but... it was still so hard to comprehend. How could this of all beings be a ghost? Was their ghost-ness related to their brain melting curse when looked at? How did Hazel know with certainty? Why did they feel so young-


The loud sound was followed by the sensation of an even louder aura approaching fast, soothing in its familiarity. Before Sue could even finish turning around, she was scooped into the air and held firmly by Lilly’s leafy arms as the plant girl’s mischief bloomed into glee. She took a moment to finish reeling after the sudden emotion before embracing all she could reach with her free arm, the dancer’s jubilant whistle in response warming Sue’s heart even more.

“I-I’m so happy to see you too, Lilly!”

Lilly’s realization that Sue couldn’t understand her clicked audibly into place, making her look around in search of anyone who could help. Or at least, that’s what Sue assumed, interrupting Lilly with a couple pats to catch her attention before shaking her head. Before doing anything else, though, thanks were in order-

“Th-thank you for your help, Poppy!”


“And pass my thanks to Hazel, too...”

With the last of the thanks being passed out, Sue could disconnect from Poppy and link up with Lilly, the dancer finding her friend’s psychic antics ticklish. One, two, push past the growing pain, and let’s talk.

“H-hey Lilly.”

“Sue! Happy you have. Much, much. Yesterday... scary. Scary, scary...”

‘Scary’ was one good word to describe the entire mess that had transpired yesterday. Awful as it had been, though, it was in the past, and the past was the last thing Sue wanted to think about. Not when Lilly was in the middle of carrying her around.

Doubly so, once the admission began to melt through the dancer’s joy, revealing everything that lurked under the surface. Anxiety about what had happened during the chaotic mess of yesterday, stress from work, and *especially* Root. Loathing about not having been able to intervene when she’d spotted Sue next to the Pale Lady’s shrine.

Self-consciousness about just being a dumb, stilted farmhand.

“It was, yeah. Could we take a seat there?”

Lilly got to walking right away, simultaneously too sad and too concerned about possibly injuring Sue to bound towards the bench like she’d usually do. The former point kept growing ever larger, Lilly’s impeccable poise waning with her every step.

The very instant Sue’s backside had touched that bench, she pulled her crush friend into the tightest hug she could manage. Her unexpected outburst of attention ended up briefly stunning Lilly. The plant girl’s counterattack came soon after, in all its borderline-rib-crushing glory.

Sue wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I’m here Lilly, I’m here. It’s okay. Everything’s going to be alright.”

Regardless of how little Sue believed in that last point, she sure wanted Lilly to believe in it.

“Thank, thank, *sniff*. Not know what happen. Very stupid.”

Sue could tell the last couple of words were about herself. All it did was redouble her efforts, the little one still in her hand, while mumbling out an involuntary ‘no!’.

“You’re not stupid, Lilly! You’re wonderful. I-I genuinely love spending time with you.”

The plant girl trembled at the outpouring of reassurance, doubly so when it was further enhanced by Spark nuzzling her from her other side.


“Yes, really! You’re charming, and kind, and funny! Why would I be lying?”

Framing the question like that made Lilly flinch, and her friend tried harder still. Still, the dancer wanted to be truthful. Her body language shrunk and trembled as she spoke up, eyes closing in embarrassment.

“Because stupid. Farmhand. Confused yesterday. Know much not. Just farmhand. Talk bad.”

The framing of her helping at the farms as a negative thing made Sue think back to yesterday, to how Root had spoken of Lilly right before Sue left Moonview-


And considering just how that very priest had treated her later that day, there was a definite link between the two. In most other circumstances, it would’ve been enough to get Sue incensed all over again, but her own anger didn’t matter right now. Lilly came first, and she needed all the reassurance Sue had in her.

“You’re not stupid, Lilly, I really mean it. Yesterday was a mess for everyone, I saw a lot of it and I’m still confused just what had happened. You help feed everyone here. That’s a wonderful thing to be doing. You talk differently than most, sure, but that’s not a bad thing. I... I really like you like this. You’re amazing like this. I want to be here for you like this.”

Before the plant girl could do anything else, Sue shifted her hug until Lilly’s head rested on her chest, right beside her horn. The Forest Guardian felt everything inside the dancer’s mind in vivid clarity. Her doubts, her fears, the ever-raw insecurities, all of them soothed by the moment. Despair giving way to uncertainty, and then, bit by bit, to her usual confidence.

As she opened her eyes, Lilly saw the impact yesterday had left on her crush friend from very close up. In an instant, she shelved her loathing for later, replacing it with nothing but concern for Sue.

“Sue, happen what!? Hurt you! And, what bag!?”

By its own, the bag in the Forest Guardian’s hand would’ve been scarcely interesting. The several small, black tentacles reaching out from it made it go from mundane to alarming in an instant. Lilly had almost swatted the possible threat away before Sue undid her hug and brought the bundle in front of herself, immediately speaking up afterwards—

“I’ll tell you what happened in a moment, Lilly. This... bag, there’s someone inside it. A little ghost, I think.”

Spark’s woofs had confusion and worry dripping from them at the sight, but Sue continued.

“I don’t know who, or even what, they are. I know they look scary, but they’re just alone, scared, and very little. Whoever they are, whatever they are...”

The three watched a black tentacle slowly wrap itself around Sue’s wrist, shaking as it clung to their guardian.

“They need me. I want to be here for them.”

To say Lilly was taken aback was an understatement of the century. The bag, the creature within it, their weird appearance. She had no idea what was up with them either. Not knowing yet another important thing further aggravated her insecurity. Whatever was happening, though, Sue was convinced. Sue wanted to help them.

And Lilly...

With a shaky motion, the leafy dancer reached her hand over towards the bundle, pressing its flat side into it and feeling the warmth radiating from the inside.

...wanted to be here for Sue.

“Want help. Know how not. But want.”

A couple of stray tears forced their way past Sue’s eyelids as she slid as close to Lilly as possible, the dancer’s free hand holding her close. They watched as the little one wrapped their tentacle around Lilly’s arm, the palpable warmth making her lean in closer.

“Thank you s-so much, Lilly. We’ll figure it out, I-I’m sure of it. As to what had happened...”

Sue shuddered, going over the events in her mind as she lowered her ghost-holding hand down onto her lap, letting Spark take a couple sniffs of the stranger.

“Let’s start from the beginning...”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

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Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Chapter 23: Namesake New


the gay agenda

Chapter 23: Namesake

By the time Sue was done with her retelling, her strained breathing was the only sound filling their nook of the clearing.

She wasn’t exactly sure when Spark had left, only that she did at some point. The once-human couldn’t blame her. There’s only so much tending to a soggy mess of a friend anyone can handle before they just want to retreat to something more reassuring.

Lilly only grew more concerned for her with every sentence, culminating with holding the Forest Guardian tight to her front, as if afraid she would fly off and get herself gravely hurt again. The actual events she had described were... harrowing, scary, unnerving. All of those and more, the central gloomy injustice at the center of it all, the denial of positive change at the hands of a single maddened owl visible to her, too.

By the end of Sue’s retelling, though, the abstract political situation between Moonview and Newmoon had taken a back seat to something else in Lilly’s mind.

Sue might’ve already gone over all this more times within the past few hours than anyone ought to in their lifetime, but if anything, it only made her react harder to her own recollection. Both at the obviously distressing parts, the near-death, but also at what happened afterwards. The tears that gathered in her eyes when she mentioned trying to sleep last night. Her angry outburst earlier in the day.

So far from the Sue the leafy dancer knew, the impact of the stress over the past few days made abundantly clear.

It led Lilly to try asking about it. And then again, a few sentences later. About how it all impacted Sue, about whether she’s holding alright, whether she needed more help.

Each time, nervous shaking, visible fight against her own body to not cry any more. A thick silence that simultaneously concealed and revealed so much.

And then, soon after, a polite denial.

Because what can I even say here?

Sue wasn’t coping with her inability to explain what was wrong any better than Lilly was. She wanted to let it out, to release her tension. About her, about everyone else here, about this world and her tattered mental state whenever she tried thinking any of this through.

But she couldn’t.

Lilly didn’t deserve to deal with this weight.

The weight of her friend’s struggles, the nigh indescribable pressure of knowing that Sue’s stay here might be temporary. Of course, that concern had more selfish undertones, ones which Sue was well aware of and didn’t hesitate to kick herself over.

Despite how much she might’ve loathed herself for it... Sue wanted this. To be held, to be comforted, to have someone she could confide in. Someone who adored her, someone she adored. And if being truthful with them carried a serious risk of them just running away because they obviously wouldn’t want to stick with an extradimensional alien that might disappear on the spot...

I’m being so fucking scummy.

The thought stirred more tears inside Sue as they both sat in silence, Lilly’s hug immediately tightening. It was the one realization she couldn’t even try to fight or paint as mere self-loathing. It was true, and Sue hated it, she hated herself for it, and she deserved all this suffering for being willing to lie like that-



Strained breaths were Sue’s only answer as her body fruitlessly tried to calm down. Regardless of whether it was deserved or not, Lilly’s concern was there and downright palpable to the Forest Guardian, accompanied by her warm, soothing care. A tangible desire for Sue to feel better, expressed with a restrained embrace and careful stroking of her shoulder.

“I’m... I’m here, Lilly. I’m sorry, it’s—”

“You talk want anything?”

So many things. All of them utterly, hopelessly terrifying.

“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry, Lilly.”

And it was this concern, this care, this desire that Sue needed to run away from, somehow. To keep the rot inside her hidden. Another distraction was in order, and the clingy kiddo on her lap would provide just that.

“I think they’re curious about you.”

Two of their black tentacles were still firmly wrapped around Sue, with a third slowly reaching in Lilly’s general direction. The once-human was glad they had largely just calmed down as they all sat here, calmed down and clung to her.

“Can lift look?”

“Sure, just not inside the bag. Heh...”

It was the most mirthless chuckle of Sue’s life, and despite knowing her for only a few days now, Lilly could tell. One more concerned look at the Forest Guardian later, the leafy girl carefully cupped her arm underneath the bundle and lifted it up before her, inspecting it from all around. The ghost inside the bag was less than enthused about that, though, fearfully shuddering the moment they left Sue’s lap.

Before Lilly even noticed, Sue was already reaching over to carefully cup the bundle’s side. Her touch had an immediate impact, the little one relaxing as they wrapped a tentacle around her hand again.

“Sorry, they got scared there.”

“No sorry! Glad help you.”

The dancer’s whistled voice was unusually focused for her, eyes narrowing as she inspected a part of the sack. Sue was of half a mind to try craning her head and see what her friend was looking at by the time Lilly finally spoke up, her words... confusing.

“Sue, say in bag bad?”

The once-human’s attempt to parse the sentence failed, leaving her blinking a couple of times before going with the best hunch she could put together.

“Yes, looking in the bag is bad for you. Why do you ask, Lilly?”

Lilly’s answer was wordless, but no less surprising because of that. She rotated the bag in her grasp as she moved it closer to Sue, the subject of the leafy dancer’s earlier focus now clearly visible to the Forest Guardian as well.

There was a small hole in the bag's side, and a pair of pinprick eyes were looking out of it.

Sue gasped at seeing it, trying to maintain enough concentration to look away in case the sight would end up affecting her again, but... it didn’t. She stared at the small patch of the void, and it stared back, and all she felt was a slightly unnerving sensation in the back of her mind. Still conscious, still present.

Staring at the hidden ghost’s... eyes?

“I... I think that’s their eyes. They’re looking at us.”

“Think you?”

It was a hunch for which Sue didn’t have any real evidence... yet. Her head perked up as she came up with a way to test the idea, lifting her hand in front of the small tear and moving it around from side to side.

And the pair of twinkles followed with her movements.

“Yeah, see? They’re looking at my hand.”

It was all the proof Lilly needed. Pushing through her earlier worries, she turned the opening to face her as she put on her most welcoming expression and tone of voice.

“Hiiii! Hello little. Here Moonview, Lilly I.”

“I don’t think they can underst—”

“This Sue! She you find.”

Before the once-human could even finish airing her concerns, Lilly had already put her on the spot, giggling at her stupefied expression.

“Sue, welcome say!”

Right, right, gotta greet them, uhhh—

“H-hello there. I-I hope you’re alright.”

Sue’s smile was so shaky a stray gust of wind could’ve easily blown it away, but it thankfully held through her greeting. Her hand didn’t fare any better as she waved timidly, a part of her worrying about potentially overwhelming them. The concern made her awkwardly stop mid motion; the resulting flinch reverberated through her body as she withdrew her arm-

Only to see another tentacle emerge from the incomprehensible bag, and clumsily wave in return.

“Sue, they waved you! Awwwwww!”

Lilly was as elated and swooning at the scene as Sue was surprised. She needed a moment to come through before a much more confident smile started creeping on her expression. The reassurance made her try waving again, and once again, the gesture was returned.

Seems they understand that much.

“Yeah, they- they did. Wish I could speak with you and them at the same time.”

“Can not you?”

“No, not right now. I’m... still learning all this.”

“Should ask Solstice you! Help she sure!”

“^That’s not a bad idea at all.^”

The tired, weary voice made both women jump and look up at its source. As much as Sue had been dreading for her, Solstice looked... fine. She felt down, her expression was visibly weary, and Comet was clinging to her so hard in her arms that he hadn’t even reacted to Sue showing up, but... the once-human expected to see worse, deep down.

“Hi hi Solstice! Talk with Sue I—”

Lilly’s glance at the sky had her gasp in shock; the three psychics around her left startled until she elaborated-

“So late! Need back harvest! Sorry sorry Solstice—”

“^Don’t worry Lilly, it’s okay. Especially since it seems like you’ve had a good reason to be here, heh...^”

Solstice’s chuckle was accompanied by the world’s weakest smile as she reassured the leafy farmhand. Lilly certainly appreciated the leniency, and a large part of her wanted to push the envelope even further and stay here until Sue got better, but...

She knew it wasn’t up to her, and she’d rather not fall afoul of Root even more than she already had. Especially not with him as furious as he’d gotten yesterday.

“Sue, need go I. Hope hope good you soon!”

Before the once-human even responded to the well wishes, Lilly’s tight squeeze lifted her from her seat and shook her around for good measure. It hurt a bit, but... goodness, did she need all the physical comfort in the world right now.

“I hope so too. I-I really appreciate you being here. Thanks Lilly, t-take care—”


With her one last gesture of affection tingling her cheek, Sue watched Lilly dash toward the farms, occasionally turning around mid jump just to sneak in a couple more waves; the once-human stunned throughout.

That feels nice. Not deserved, but... nice.

“^Why wouldn’t it be deserved?^”


As much as Lilly’s antics had warmed her up somewhat, Sue didn’t want to burden Solstice with her mental muck, especially not right now. Maybe down the line once the dust has settled, and they both got a breather to just process everything they’ve been through, but not now. Now, Sue wanted the comfort to flow in the other direction, looking up at the Mayor as she patted the seat Lilly had just gotten up from.

“It’s... a lot. It’s probably best if I tell you some other time.”

Thankfully, Solstice didn’t oppose that misdirection, even if she clearly saw it for what it was. Regardless of how dissatisfied she might’ve been with that fact, she really didn’t have it in her to be someone else’s emotional support right now. Certainly not to the extent she sensed Sue would need one. Sundance would’ve been able to listen, but... she couldn’t, not now.

Still, a chat wouldn’t hurt.

“^Alright. Are you... alright overall, Sue?^”

“I’m... fine. What... what happens now? With the night kin and all...”

The Mayor’s flinch was palpable as she sat down beside her student, making Sue regret asking. Solstice couldn’t hold Sue’s curiosity against her. If there was anyone in the whole Moonview who really deserved to know it was her, but...

Like Sue already knew, explaining the same distressing thing to the umpteenth person can grind one down to dust.

“^There’ll be a meeting of the Elders’ Council later today to discuss just that. That’s all I can really say right now.^”

The once-human nodded weakly in response, the explanation making her even more worried than before.

“Do you think they’ll be alright?”

Solstice didn’t answer right away, torn between wanting to remain truthful, and not wanting to distress Sue even further.

“^We’ll see.^”

The biggest non-answer that had ever non-answered, and they were both well aware. Not much either of them could do about it, though.

For a while, the two Forest Guardians just sat in silence beside one another, each with a clingy child of their own. As eerie as an almost entirely quiet Comet was, the nameless one on Sue’s lap still had him beat in that regard, mostly because of his appearance. Solstice knew better than to freak out at seeing a black, warbling tentacle reach out from inside the canvas bag on her pupil’s lap, but she couldn’t deny being confused all the same.

As good of a change of topic as any.

“^So... seems you’ve run into someone, eh Sue?^”

Sue’s chuckle was so weak it was basically inaudible.

“Yeah, I suppose. It’s more like they ran into me. They...”

The once-human bit her tongue for a moment, uncertain of how Solstice would respond to the lil’ ghost having attempted to impersonate Comet. As non-convincing as their disguise was, it didn’t really negate them having tried in the first place.

Here goes nothing...

“They disguised themselves as Comet, after seeing me carrying him a few days ago. I ran into them at the playground, their costume broke, and then I stayed with them to see if they were alright. Hazel said something about them being a ghost, and their body, or at least the bulk of it, does... something weird to you if you look at it. It’s like you can’t think at all. I’ve no idea what they are, but... they’re not hostile, or harmful when they’re covered up like this.”

As Sue went on, Solstice cautiously lowered her hand to let them grasp it, seeing for herself just how warm their touch was.

Just like that of a living being.

“^I see. I'm not sure what could they be, but from what you’ve described they must be very lonely—^”

The older Forest Guardian’s stunned realization made Sue flinch. Her heart rate jumped as she awaited Solstice’s words, hoping that it wouldn’t involve any more misfortune coming the lil’ one’s way-

“^Actually, I think I remember Sundance describing something like them one time.^”

Sue’s focus was now squarely on her mentor, the change in mood sufficient to shake Comet out of his focus, too. He still wasn’t quite as lively as she’d seen him be a few days ago, but a shaky wave and a handful of squeaky toddler noises definitely beat depressed silence, stirring a weak smile on Sue’s face. Which only made the tyke livelier in turn, and so on as his mom spoke.

“^Yeah, she did. From what I can recall, they... by the Pale Lady, they are supposedly ghosts of unhatched eggs. Never had an actual body to be their own before death, and are cursed to remain formless and longing afterwards. She also mentioned something about the usual practice for dealing with them being to... banish them, so that they can finally move on.^”

By the time the Mayor was done, the once-human could hardly breathe.

Every single word of that hurt, the hand cupping them having since been promoted to keeping them pressed against her front. Just so that they knew she wouldn’t leave them, even through the harrowing revelation at the end. It felt wrong; it felt vile; the mere thought made Sue want to scream at the injustice. None of that was lost on the Mayor, especially not as the tiny black tentacle kept holding her hand.

None of that was necessarily true, either.

“^Again, that’s just what I can recall from Sundance’s words. She’d be the first one to go on about her recollection of the events not always being the best either, heh. Could be that all that was wrong, but even if it’s right...^”

She moved her tentatively held hand to rest on top of the bundle, right beside her pupil’s grasp.

“^That doesn’t mean we’d need to follow those instructions. Especially with them being at peace with you. Ghost of an egg or not, if they’re happy here, then that’s all that matters.^”

Solstice doubled down on her reassurance by wrapping her arm around Sue, pulling her in that bit closer. They might’ve both felt foul to a lesser or greater extent, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t comfort one another.

It wasn’t much, but was still so much more than an idle, suffocating silence.

As quickly as Sue had grown unnerved at her mentor’s tale, the clarification provided an equally swift relief. Especially regarding its core thrust, the part she was concerned about the most, the one that wouldn’t have let her sleep had it been true.

I’m not hurting them. I’m not hurting them. At least I’m not hurting them.

“^No, no you’re not. You’re doing a good thing Sue, I promise.^”

It took the once-human the utmost effort to keep her tears from spilling out all over her cheeks in response. Such a simple sentence, such an immense relief.

“Th-thank you.”

Especially after the struggles and horrors of the past few days.

For a while, Sue just sat in silence as she was being tended to. Each of Solstice’s many pets were forwarded to the lil’ hauntling. The entire group gradually relieved the immense strain filling their bodies and minds alike.

Comet included.

Despite the unpleasant tension still lingering all around him, he couldn’t resist giving into his curiosity after sensing the stranger on his friend’s lap. And with his mom feeling better, and now Sue feeling better too, there was no better opportunity to see who they were. And maybe even give them a big hug, too.

Comet liked his hugs.

His desire to be lowered down onto her mom’s lap was expressed through a weak telekinetic force pushing away at her arm. Solstice got the message right away, paying close attention to her son afterwards lest he’d use the opportunity to try falling off her thighs.


Instead, he sat down and crawled over to the ghost on Sue’s lap, their emotions no less turbulent than those of his mom and friend. Frightened, comforted, deeply uncertain about what was going on or what was gonna happen next. In dire need of more comfort.

Just the thing Comet was made for.

*pat pat*

The psychic trio felt a fearful flinch go through the bag in response to Comet’s attempted affection. Not one of outright terror, but still unnerved, the unpleasant emotion soon spreading to Comet via proximity.

“Shhhh, shhhh, don’t worry sweetie, Comet just wants to say hi.”

Even with Solstice’s translation, the ghost’s grasp on what their guardian was saying was... limited. Many of the details were lost in the fog of confusion, but thankfully, not the gist.

Everything is alright. The stranger is a friend. You’re safe.

I’m not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, Comet received similar support from his mom. The two tykes couldn’t have looked any more different if they’d tried, but beneath the skin, or in the ghost’s case cloth, they really were almost the same. ‘Almost’ was an important quantifier, as evidenced by the lil’ Forest Guardian doubling down on his comfort shortly after, thankfully to a much better reception.

“^They feel so little. Poor sweetie. Do they have a name?^”

Sue shook her head in resignation, the question of name one she had no idea how to tackle.

“No. They haven’t responded when I tried speaking to them sooner. Aren’t responding now, either. Can’t really name them like that...”

“^Why not?^”

The unexpected question perked the once-human up, leaving her uncertain on how to answer.

“I-I don’t want to give them a name they’ll dislike, o-or regret...”

“^If they turn out to dislike it, you can give them another. Or if they figure out how to communicate, they can choose one for themselves later.^”

As simple as the explanation was, Sue had difficulties really wrapping her head around it on an intuitive level.

“Just- just give them another name? How’s that work?”

It was Solstice’s turn to be stunned, the disconnect between her own and Sue’s ways of thinking starker than ever and with no obvious cause she could immediately sense.

“^...the usual way?^”

The non-answer forced Sue to flex her remaining neurons, much to the displeasure of all four of them.

What does she mean, just changing a name? Won’t there be an entire hassle—


No, there won’t.

As blatantly obvious a realization as it was in hindsight, there wasn’t anyone here keeping track. No magical pieces of paper or plastic tied to a singular, specific name, no vast, ancient databases with one cranky, opinionated bastard in charge. Name wasn’t a magical key to one’s identity here, it was just...

What one wished to be called.

And if someone wanted to be referred to differently, then all they’d need to do was... tell others. Especially in a place as small as Moonview, where that kind of stuff could easily spread by word of mouth.

Suppose the leniency with names made much more sense with that in mind.

“I... see, now. That’s just... not how my world worked, my bad.”

“^All’s good, Sue~. I got a glimpse of what you were thinking about and... goodness it sounds like such a mess to deal with where you’re from.^”

“Oh, you have no idea.”

“^I would’ve been screwed with this being my third name, ha...^”


Solstice flinched at the question before composing herself and slowly nodding. Before Sue could ask what was wrong, the Mayor continued, her free hand stroking Comet’s stiff hair.

“^Yep. Back in my clan... two, three, sometimes even four names are the norm. The very first one is given to you once you hatch and while you remain a Moon Child. Usually the silliest and most whimsical, liiiiike ‘Comet’, teehee.^”

The mention of his own name got the Moon Child in question to squeak out loud, and turn around in his seat to look up at his mom, nearly making himself dizzy in the process.

“^Yep, I’m talking about you sweetie~. Love you.^”


Both Solstice and Sue needed the resulting wave of giggles more than words could convey.

“Moon Child- is that how Comet’s... eh...”

“^Yep, that’s the name for his form specifically. He’ll evolve when he’s close to three years old into his second form. Some call them Stardancers, some call them Twirl Fairies. It’s not as settled as ‘Moon Child’ is. If he wants, he’ll get another name then, a more ‘serious’ one, teehee.^”

Sue had a hunch about what that ‘serious’ name could be. For a good while, she hesitated to ask it, not wanting to bring her mentor any more grief... but Solstice noticed all the same. It made her wince, but only that, composure preventing her from getting affected by it any harder.

“^Yes, like ‘Aurora’.^”


“^No, don’t be, Sue. I won’t say it doesn’t hurt, but... the sooner I’m able to talk about her without breaking down, the better.^”

The Mayor’s reasoning made sense, but that didn’t mean she’d get to escape further comfort from her pupil.

“^Thank you. Now, where was I. I think I already mentioned it in the past, but at around eleven to twelve years of age, one evolves into their last form, most commonly the one we share, the ‘Forest Guardian’.^”

...most commonly?

“Is there a different form?”

“^Indeed, though it’s a very rare one. Only for males, and only after they settle out on a pilgrimage to a sacred shine far in the north, which holds... I believe it’s some sort of artifact that allows the evolution into that other form.^”

Despite having interacted with ghosts, illusionist foxes, floating ice creatures and many varieties of living plants, this was the one explanation that Sue just couldn’t buy.

“...why only males? And why that specific... ‘artifact’?”

“^Hundreds of our kin have been pondering on those exact questions for centuries by now, ha! I don’t know. Quite frankly, I greatly prefer our form and can’t imagine the other one being in any way comfortable.^”

“What’s that ‘other form’ like?”

“^From what I remember... very physically strong. An exchange of the Moon’s blessing for an unrivaled physique, with much the same psychics. I’ve seen them be quite fearsome when sparring, though no more so than a well-trained Forest Guardian. Merely differently.^”

A shiver went down Sue’s spine at the mention of a ‘well-trained Forest Guardian’. Solstice’s abilities were unnerving enough, and she sure didn’t feel like she had any combat training…

“I- I see. And that final ‘evolution’ brings with itself yet another name?”

“^Kind of. While the previous names were all temporary ones that would be eventually discarded, this final name doesn’t work like that. In my tribe, it was treated as your true name, the only one you were to use or be called from that point on. It wasn’t given freely, either. Just evolving wasn’t enough; one had to earn it, prove oneself as a true member of the tribe.^”

Now that’s closer to what I’m used to.

“How does one do that?”

“^In my case, it was through completing my healer training and making my vows to spread Pale Lady’s glory through my actions. Once that or... a different way of proving oneself was done, you had to wait until the next full Moon. Then, your family would go through an entire ritual, in which they both gave you your true name, and... engraved your sacred bond towards the Pale Lady on your very body.^”

Solstice’s pensive gaze resting on her tattoo’d arm let Sue connect the dots herself. Suppose that finally explained where these came from and what was their purpose, though not without some follow-up questions to be had.

Considering how much of a deal that ‘true’ name is for them, prolly a bad idea to ask about her old ones...

“Looks... painful.”

“^On its own, it probably would’ve been. Thankfully not, it’s a very joyous ritual, a celebration of truly becoming a part of the Pale Lady’s herd. Much singing and dancing was had. You had to drink a sacred concoction before others would apply these markings. It paralyzes your body, dulls all the pain into something almost ticklish, and... lets you commune with the Pale Lady directly.^”

The Mayor’s recollection remained unenthusiastic until she got to the very final point. As much as everything else was tainted to her by association, the aforementioned communion wasn’t. Sue leaned in closer out of curiosity, hand idly alternating between delivering affection to the pair of little ones on the Forest Guardians’ lap.

“If it’s alright for me to ask... what- what did you see?”

Despite Sue’s reservation, the question still stung something fierce, more than what the once-human expected. Before she could worry about having made yet another faux pas, Solstice answered.

“^She reassured me about my mission. That me running away and fighting against the heresy that portrayed night kin as monsters was righteous. She gave me her blessing on that task, and I-^”

Sue didn’t know what to say to make her mentor feel better. She didn’t get any better at finding the right words for all this since yesterday, but... she was there for Solstice, and she wanted her to know it. Her embrace was shaky, her own raging emotions making it all so much harder than it would’ve otherwise been. Despite that, she kept doing what she could to comfort Solstice.

Because what else am I to do?

“I’m so sorry.”


Comet wasn’t oblivious to his mom’s worsening mood, either. Before she could try to reassure him, he was already raising his arms up to be picked up again, and his mom wouldn’t refuse.

“^It’s okay. That’s my sin to bear. You shouldn’t worry about it, Sue.^”

Before the once-human could get a word in edgewise, Solstice continued—

“^If I remember, you mentioned something a couple of days ago about wondering if it was possible to straighten your hair out. I think relaxing like that could help you, if you can find Patina around.^”

‘Getting her hair done’ was pretty far down the list of things Sue felt she should be doing... but Solstice had a point. Not like she had much ability to actually accomplish most of the other items on that list. Maybe something low-stakes to make her feel better was exactly what she needed right now.

That awareness sucks in its own right, but it’s probably best for me to just move on.

“A-alright. What do they look like?”

“^Patina? Hard to miss her and Celestica. Tall, red, flaming, clad in greenish metal. You’ll know her when you see her. She has her workshop over in that direction.^”

The addition of the second name took Sue aback, almost to where she overlooked Solstice’s directions. They were vague, but they sure beat nothing. She wanted to ask for a clarification about the appearance, but before she could do that, the Mayor had already gotten up.

“^Alas, I should get going. I hope your day goes well, Sue.^”

“Y-you too, Solstice.”

A sad, tired smile, a strained nod, and off the Mayor went, her son clinging to her for all he could.

And so, Sue was left with just the lil’ ghost.

All the arrivals and departures around them had left them quite confused, the realization making Sue chuckle. Now that she didn’t have to share her attention with anyone else, she lifted their bag to inspect the eyes she saw earlier, and to let them see her some more.

Just a pair of twinkles in the dark.

Almost like stars in the night sky.

“Hey there. Suppose if names aren’t as big of a deal as I thought they were, something temporary for you won’t hurt.”

Solstice’s guidelines provided a starting point, but they were obviously tailored for a very different species and culture. On the other hand... did that fact even matter? Sure, the blob-like ghost wasn’t like Comet, but they both felt very young from the little Sue could piece together. She didn’t have to go with the most serious name around. Just something that could be uniquely theirs, like...


Words kept stubbornly not coming, making Sue tap her undamaged leg in annoyance.

It’s just a name. It matters so little, and yet so much.

She kept staring into their eyes as a pair of black tendrils wrapped around her hand once more. Haunting as she found that sight not a few hours ago, by now it had turned into something entirely opposite. Reassuring, funny even, her imagination cheering her up with the mental image of a scared blob that keeps clinging to anyone halfway nice and doesn’t want to let go.

Not far from the truth at all.

“Now, what do your twinkly eyes have to say for themselves—”




The darkness inside the bag blinked as if startled, before focusing on Sue again.

“Yeah... that works. Twinkle. A bit silly, but it fits. What do you think?”

Twinkle predictably didn’t respond in any definite way, but... that didn’t mean they remained idle. Sue didn’t remember them wiggling their body this much before, but could be she’d just overlooked it. In either case, they felt happy too, which gave the once-human all the confidence she needed to stick with her idea.

And now, to figure out how to get going again.

Sue didn’t mind carrying Twinkle with herself, but really wished she had a bag right about now, or even just a purse. Something to let her do it hands-free.

Maybe tying their bag around... somewhere could work?

I have an idea.

It was a position that wouldn’t have worked at all back in her old body for several anatomical reasons, but one that felt just barely possible in this one. With as much care to avoid looking straight at the brain-melting darkness as she could, Sue untied one of the knots and lifted the bag to rest on her shoulder blade. Then, she wrapped the opposite corners around her neck and under her arm, respectively, tying the knot over where her breast would’ve been. Now to just rotate it all around so that they’re on her front and not back, aaaaand voila.

One chest-mounted ghostly bag child.

The hole through which they’d been able to see before ended up at too much of an angle to let them make out more than the ground immediately in front of their guardian. Which, combined with the bag’s opening pressing against her chest, didn’t leave them with much they could do, their anxiety palpably growing by the moment.

“Hey, hey Twinkle, I’m still here. Still here.”

Sue only hoped her reassurance would prove effective as she gently patted the quaking bundle. Still there for them, not going anywhere. Thankfully, the mixture of her touch and occasionally erratic heartbeat reverberating through Twinkle’s entire amorphous body was enough to soothe them down, one beat and pet at a time.

And then some, if them growing mentally quiet soon after was anything to go by.

Regardless if they’d just calmed down or actually fell asleep, Sue finally felt ready to get going herself.

Twinkle, check.

Aching in her leg, check.

Vaguest idea of where to even go, check.

Let’s do this.

How hard can it even be to find someone as outlandishly looking as Patina?

As it turns out, ‘quite’.

A solid half an hour of searching later, Sue wasn’t doing any better with directions than before. She checked almost every landmark she could think of off the top of her head. The plaza, the playground, the construction site, the vicinity of the farm, even the little bath house she’d cleaned herself in a couple days ago. Nothing, again and again.

On that latter note, I could use a shower again.



With nowhere left to go and one increasingly annoyed leg, Sue eventually had to sit down and reassess the situation. This wasn’t working. Not a particularly groundbreaking realization, but it needed to be said. She didn’t have many other options that weren’t asking someone else for help, which meant-


Which meant it probably was time to indeed ask someone for help.

Burdening a passerby with being a lost tourist wasn’t exactly her dream activity following the chaos of even just today. Sue wasn’t even sure it beat sitting like this and sulking until the council meeting later today. She wouldn't be able to participate in it, but she sure as well wasn’t gonna run and hide in some dark hole while Newmoon’s fate was being discussed. Even if she wouldn’t affect anything, she wanted to be present.

She needed to be present.

To make up for all the times when she was too scared to be present in the past.

Attempting to distract herself from falling into yet another dark pit in her memories, Sue refocused on her immediate surroundings. The bench she sat on might not have been the most comfortable place in the world, but being located off to the side of a moderately sized intersection gave her a decent view of Moonview’s everyday goings-on. She either didn’t know or only barely recalled most of these faces, much to her annoyance.

At least nobody is staring at me anymore.

The realization helped, but only just. She would need a distraction soon unless she wanted to be left with just her thoughts again, and after the turmoil of this morning, Sue’d rather not. One suicidal tangent was plenty for a long, long time.

C’mon, c’mon- there you are.

Sue didn’t even know what that particular builder was named, but frankly, she didn’t care. Their appearance was familiar, if barely, and that’s all that mattered. She sure didn’t expect to ever think of the presence of a gray, hulking, bipedal rhino to be in any way reassuring.

In the end, it was just yet another way in which this world was keen to keep surprising her.

Enough philosophizing, time for some people watching—


Duck’s sake.

The once-human wasn’t even sure whether her mind subconsciously erased the walking bouquet and the white-navy cat beside her from her vision, or if she’d just overlooked them. Either way, the awareness of their presence wasn’t doing her any favors.

At least it seemed to be one sided for the time being.

The two had been eating something together on a bench when the rhino approached the flower medic, Orchid’s response one of apparent confusion. They exchanged words for a while, neither exactly growing enthusiastic throughout. Whatever the rhino had said, it had mostly brought on unease that then spread back to them.

Sue watched Orchid extend one vine from the chaotic mess of flowers around her head and almost go through with using it to pat the rhino on the back, before ultimately choosing against it.

Shot down again, huh?

Even if that was the case, Sue wasn’t really in the mood for schadenfreude. She knew nothing about that specific builder, but after witnessing their team’s friendliness towards Ginger, she was more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in most circumstances.

She had almost looked away from that unfortunate result in search for someone else to focus on, before realizing that despite that mishap, the two were still talking. The topic had changed, though, to something the rhino was much more steadfast about. And something that Orchid was much more overtly uncomfortable with, but only her. Northeast resumed her routine of flat, meowed-out questions, forcing the flower medic to engage with the subject further.

For once she’s aiming these at someone else.

Regardless of what the discussion was about, it seemed that the builder ultimately came on top. Their confidence didn’t waver even as Orchid’s body language went from ‘I’m really not sure’ to ‘I guess you’re right’. The cat continued with her intermittent questions before pausing for a longer while and thinking things through.

Mission accomplished, rhino-man.

Right as Sue thought about looking away at someone else, Northeast asked another question to the builder. An immediate nod, underlined with being eager to help however they could.

The cat’s second question, in turn, made everyone gathered look straight at Sue.


Their abrupt shift triggered Sue’s fight-or-flight response immediately, though her brain was keen to stay stuck on ‘freeze’.

Much to the displeasure of the rest of her.

Before she could even see what that massive builder was going to do now that they had her in their sights, Sue heard a loud call aimed squarely at her. This time, it was from much closer up, and combined with the startle immediately before, almost made her heart drop there and then.

On the flip side, it also provided some actual answers, ones she’d managed to process before her brain could whip her into running for the hills.

The smaller, blue bipedal rhino sat in a very similar category in Sue’s mind to the gray one. Familiar in appearance, likely somehow related to the builders. Zero knowledge about anything beyond these couple of facts, making it rather difficult to piece the ‘why’ just from them standing there.

Add to that their earlier cheer at finally finding her, their present concern for her, and the being that stood beside them, and it all suddenly made so much more sense.

Despite having seen this particular villager before, Sue hadn’t made the connection between them and the name ‘Patina’ until now. Bipedal, roughly her size, with an almost entirely red body covered by variously shaped plates of green or gray metal. An honest-to-Duck flame ponytail sprouting from the back of their head. An expressionless face, with a palpably relieved mind behind it.

A minor jolt in Sue's brain, overlooked in all the chaos.

Wait, are they looking for me—

“There ya are! Gah darn it, wouldna thought findin’ a Guardian woulda been so hard, ha!”

The boisterous and slightly aged voice immediately derailed Sue’s train of thought as she focused on the blue rhino, too taken aback to respond right away.

“Moon got ya tongue, Sue? Ha! AH- I see, I see, ‘aven’t introduced meself yet! Name’s Daisy!”

Despite sounding like she was three days away from retirement, the bespoke Daisy spaced no vigor in walking up to Sue’s bench and reeling back her paw for a high-five. The once-human wasn’t faring any better in processing just what was happening, but before she could consciously act, her well-honed subconscious reflex of responding to high-fives in kind got the initiative.



“Ayyy, ya even know tha proper greetin’, hun!”

As Sue reeled from the most forceful high-five of her life, Patina slowly caught up with them, only barely keeping her quiet laughter contained. The once-human used the brief lull in conversation to grip her aching hand as forcefully as she could, and check whether the other rhino was still approaching-

Both the rhino and Orchid were giggling while the former headed out back in the direction they came from.



“^Sure seems our arrival came as a shock, eh Sue?^”

Patina’s voice was the most clearly telepathic one the once-human had sensed during her stay here yet. Whereas Solstice’s and Sundance’s were subtle enough to where she wouldn’t have been able to tell without either watching their lips or paying close attention to the sounds, Patina’s was unnaturally buzzy and slightly harsh, almost as if transmitted over radio.

Still ten times more understandable than anything I can mumble out.

“I- yeah, that’s true...”

“^Ahahaha. Solstice ran into me and mentioned that you were looking for me, so I started looking too.^”

Once Sue had gotten over the overall sound of Patina’s voice, she paid closer attention to it. Feminine, middle-aged, somewhere around Sundance’s age, if she had to guess. Slightly fiery, as if spoken on top of a crackle of a modest campfire.

“And I helped after they two kept stumblin’ blindly!”

“^I assure you, we weren’t ‘stumbling blindly’.^”

The third voice caught Sue entirely off guard, sounding unlike either Patina’s or Daisy’s. Imposing, metallic, and positively ancient even without having the same kind of dry croaking to it that Daisy or Willow had. She had absolutely no idea where it had come from, but that didn’t seem to be an obstacle to the blue rhino.

“Ya ya ya, sure sure sure~.”

Brushing aside the confusion surrounding the third voice, Sue focused on what the first two were saying. The realization that two people had to take time out of her day just to help her look brought on another wave of embarrassment.

“S-sorry for taking your time—”

“Naaah, nothin’ ta worry ‘bout, Sue! Glad ah could help ya out!”

Daisy’s rebuke was delivered with all the earnesty it was physically possible for a voice to contain, and followed up on by a roaring chuckle.

“^Daisy’s right, it’s really not a problem. Besides, this will be a more interesting thing to tackle than anything else I could be doing, haha.^”

“See?! Anywho, time for the ol’ me to go! Take care and I hope ya feel better soon, Sue!”

“Th-thank you, Daisy...”

“Anytime, hun.”

With Daisy taking her leave to the sound of mighty stray chuckles, Sue focused on Patina as she prepared to get up. Right as she was about to go for it, a pair of voices spoke to her.

“^Can you walk on your own, Sue?^” / “^Do you require our assistance?^”

As Sue sat stunned, the voice she was confident was Patina’s burst into a drawn out chuckle at the untimely overlap. Before either the fire woman or the voice beside her could ask again, the Forest Guardian’s autopilot finally pushed her onto her legs, answering both their questions.

“^Good stuff. Follow us, Sue, let’s get you to the workshop, eh?^”

Don’t know what’s a workshop got to do with doing people’s hair but who am I to argue.

Despite Sue’s attempts to just quietly follow Patina and... someone, her curiosity wouldn’t stay quiet forever. There was the worry she’d be asking something private, much like she almost did with Solstice earlier. With that other voice being willing to speak up, the logical part of the once-human’s brain managed to push through the tropical storm of anxiety and doubt for long enough to confirm that asking about it was probably fine.



“^Confused about the ol’ bell, ah?^”



It wasn’t the kind of clarification Sue was expecting, but she acknowledged it all the same, nodding eagerly.

“^I am Celestica.^”

“^They’re my... suppose you could say they’re my parent. Raised me up many years ago, and now we’re tied like this.^”

Having an actual name for the metallic voice was appreciated, but it didn’t explain its origin. As well as Sue had tried to hide it, her confusion about the subject was downright palpable. Eventually Patina made her flinch by turning around for a moment-

And patting the thick metal plates covering her front and arms.

“^That’s them.^”

“^What remains of me.^”


The visual demonstration made the explanation finally click in a slightly disturbing way. All the plates on Patina’s torso and arms were clearly a part of a singular whole, the engravings and even the corrosion matched. Sue sure didn’t expect that ‘whole’ to have apparently been a person, much less a person who was, somehow, still alive.

“I-I have questions.”

“^Hardly the first, hardly the last, ha! Feel free, we don’t mind.^”

Sue wasn’t sure what to ask about first, or even how to word it. It all felt bizarre, and she couldn’t think of any comparison for all this back from her home world.

Actually... maybe something like one of those baby carriers or slings she saw a few fresh moms use? Just a hands-free way of carrying a kid around, but with... her parent, apparently. Just like-

Just like what I’m doing at this very moment.


An unintentional release of tension is still a release of tension, Sue supposed.

“Alright. Is your parent... in pieces?”


“Isn’t that painful?”

“^Not anymore.^”

That didn’t inspire even a shred of confidence inside Sue.

“That sounds rough...”

“^Well, it was either that or them dying, we’re both glad for this outcome.^”


“I’m sorry to hear. Was it a... sickness—”

“^A coordinated assassination attempt.^”

Ducking Duck.

“^Lemme give the background. So, we both hail from quite a ways away, from what people in Moonview call ‘the divine mountain’.^”

“^Triune’s Throne.^”

“^Her true name. Plenty of shrines close to Her peak, and Celestica served in one of them with others of their kin. And then I showed up!^”

“^Lost, alone, hatched from a stray egg of unknown origin.^”

“^You mentioned that... how’d you describe it, ‘dimensions get weird’ so close to Throne’s peak?^”

“^Spacetime frays. Glimpses of distant lands and uncountable futures.^”

“^And apparently one of said Glimpses resulted in my egg making my way through.^”

“That’s hard to imagine...”

“^Throne’s peak strains mortal senses. Our watch was to protect it and others from it in equal measure.^”

“^Their fellow guardians... weren’t happy about me being around for that reason, ha!^”

“^To dash an innocent life is to strike the Moon’s Grace Herself.^”

The mention of Moonview’s signature deity in a place so far away from it caught Sue’s attention.

“Is She worshiped over there?”

“^Among other deities.^”

“^Her shrine there is so much larger than Moonview’s, ha! Much uglier too, though.^”

“^My kin aren’t artists.^”

“^Excuses! Anywho, Celestica took me in after I hatched and made sure I could handle the craziness of the near-peak. Eventually... their fellow guardians tried to take their life.^”

In literally any other circumstances, asking whether someone she was talking to in that very moment survived a tragic event would’ve been at best crass, and at worst outright fucked up. And yet, considering Celestica’s current state, Sue couldn’t come up with any other type of question.

“H-how’d it go?”

“^Well... Celestica died, or at least that’s what I thought.^”

“^There was a lapse in my consciousness.^”

“^I thought they would all come for me next, so I tried hiding inside what remained of her, and... evolved afterwards. No idea why. I’ve never met another of my kin and I doubt I ever will, but it happened exactly as I’m telling it.^”

“^Following that, I was conscious again.^”

“^We scorched a couple of them, ran off, and many, many years later... here we are.^”

Despite how horrible much of what Patina had just described was, her mood remained rather upbeat through it all, taking Sue aback. Guess she really was used to going through all that, for better or worse...

“Well, I’m glad you two are doing better now...”

“^Thank you, ha! Yeah, I’d say we’re managing.^”

“^This existence is preferable to my previous one, overall.^”

“^See? Anywho, here’s the workshop, come in!^”

The building dwarfed most others in Moonview.

It was right at the village’s edge, on the opposite side to the farm. The inside was split almost perfectly in half between two vastly different purposes. On one end, a mess of kilns, a small pile of charcoal, and a much larger pile of what just looked like rocks piled up almost to the ceiling in the corner. On the other, shelves of assorted wooden bottles, a few barebones metal tools, and a contraption of a chair in front of a large bowl of water.

“^Bit messy, don’t know when I’ll have the time to clear it. Lemme get it ready for you.^”

As uncertain as Sue was about touching or worse yet sitting on anything in this most-definitely-not-OSHA-compliant building, watching Patina adjust the chair so that it had a hole in its back for her horn made the once-human change her mind instantly.

Gimme a proper seat in here...

“^Take a seat, ha! I’ve been trying a few sorts of hair straightening solutions in the past, but never on Forest Guardian hair. This’ll be fun...^”

Sue hoped that said ‘fun’ would remain of the non-corrosive, non-explosive variety as she sat down. And then, that anxious hope disappeared from her mind, together with everything else, the moment she rested her back and relaxed her shoulders.


Patina only acknowledged Sue’s reaction with a smirk as the Forest Guardian struggled to think. It seemed it’d be a while until the fire woman had everything ready, and until then, there were quite a few parts of this place’s... decor that begged to be explained.

“If it’s alright, what are those rocks in the corner?”

“^Ore. Copper, iron, a bit of zinc too, all from our quarry. Some of it’s quite old, likely corroded. Been trying to figure out Aurelia‘s technique for it, but no luck so far!^”


“^That used to be her smithy. I was giddy to become her apprentice, but we didn’t get through much before... yeah. She’d scold me to Triune’s Throne and back for letting it fall to such disrepair. I’ll figure it out sometime. Too many ideas for acids and solutions, not enough time to just move it all to its own place.^”

As peppy as Patina remained earlier, this turned out to be a much more sore topic for her than that of her parent’s near-death. Sue didn’t want to judge, hoping it was just a matter of the passage of time having dulled old wounds. Odd or not, her explanation didn’t clarify just who the person in question was.

“I’m sorry to hear. Her name doesn’t really ring a bell, though.”

“^Figures! Going off what we saw ya doing back at the feast a few days ago, one description in particular ought to clean it up—^”

And just like that, the spring had returned to Patina’s voice, as if nothing was amiss.

Only to then send a chill through Sue’s very core with what she said next.

“^Aurelia… was Pollux’s mother.^”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

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Chapter 24: Damnation New


the gay agenda

Chapter 24: Damnation

“^Aurelia… was Pollux’s mother.^”

The words echoed in Sue’s mind, all the implications hitting her one after another. This entire building once belonged to Pollux’s family before they were banished, making her feel uneasy sitting here to begin with. Even more shocking, though, was Patina’s mention of Pollux, and in such a casual tone at that.

The night kin fox was hiding from Moonview for a reason, after all.


“^Yep! You know of him, right? Swear I saw you hanging out with him back at the feast a few days ago, eh?^”

Sue had gone from confused to downright shocked in a span of just a few words, and she wasn’t even sure which part of Patina’s response did her in. Her having apparently seen through Pollux’s disguise? The fox being present so close to Moonview being treated so lightly, as if he were just another villager?

The latter would absolutely be preferable one day, but they all knew that it wasn’t so yet.

Regardless of which of these implications had stunned her more, she was left sitting on Patina’s contraption of a seat mute and motionless. Her shock was palpable to the other two as they gathered ingredients from all over the workshop. Patina’s upbeat, crackling chuckling mixed in with Celestica’s slow, almost entirely flat string of ‘ha’s.

“^What’s so surprisin’? I’m sure ya know him.^”

“I-I do, but... how do you know about him? Or even see him?^”

“^Ahaha. Oh Sue, that fox’s good at his disguisin’, but that sure ain’t true about him focusing for more than five minutes, ha! Hard not to notice once he stops masking himself on accident, and that sorta stuff happens all the time. Even happened at that feast with you all, I think? I reckon I wasn’t supposed to see your little campfire, pfft.^”

That makes way too much sense for Pollux.

“I see. But in that case, don’t others notice him too?”


“^Yep. Nobody’s really surprised to see him in here, not anymore. No point in raisin’ a fuss about it, especially since all he ever does is hang out with Spark or other kiddos, anyway. Or sometimes be a lil’ scamp with Solstice and Root, pfft.^”

Sue acknowledged the response with an idle nod while her mind tried to fit that revelation in. Considering all the tension, considering Root’s action, she certainly didn’t expect Pollux’s presence here to be such a non-issue for most. At the same time, said priest was far and away the most militant person against night kin being present here, so it only made sense for everyone else to be more laid back in that regard.

Still highly messed up, especially with people of Moonview merely looking the other way as opposed to wholeheartedly accepting him.

And with recent events... Sue doubted that even that half-solution would remain in place for much longer.

“Suppose that makes sense, but... I worry it might change for the worse with what happened to D- Night Mother’s altar.”

“^D... what?^”


“^With regards to the events you mentioned. Were you present when they took place, and if so, are you capable of clarifying certain contradictions we have overheard?^”

“^Oh yeah, with the way some people have been telling it, you’d think Ginger hit that ugly thing with a roundhouse kick from half a Moonview away.^”

Hardly something Sue wanted to elaborate upon, especially after spending so much time getting people up to speed with Sundance’s situation earlier. At the same time, considering Patina already clarified one part of Moonview’s common opinion for her, Sue wouldn’t be opposed in the slightest to learning more.

Even if it took retreading the same, traumatizing memories again.

“I was there when it happened. Ginger was trying to feel along the back side of that wall, and it immediately lost its balance. Then he tried to stabilize it and all, but it just... fell. Kantaro got there not long after, Ginger tried to talk to him, but he just didn’t want to repair it. I don’t know why. Or, I guess, I can infer it being made from something he initially made for Night Father... right?”

“^Yep, heh. And that’s all... surprisin’, frankly.^”

I sure didn’t expect the physical embodiment of protection against the night kin to fall to a couple of prods either, but I doubt that’s what she’s referring to.

“What is?”

“^The drama about the monument in particular. What happened to Sundance I can at least understand, but this? Hell nah, everyone’s frettin’ about something almost nobody liked to begin with.^”

Sue’s confounded stare conveyed her question wordlessly; the fire woman chuckled to herself before hovering the last of the small jars over and clarifying-

“^Them side monuments, I mean. I remember when that happened, back when everyone was still recoverin’ from that bloody plague, and Root kept doubling down on that dumb idea of his. Even back then, almost nobody wanted Night Father’s shrine taken down, especially in such a crass way. Root, Willow, High Tide maybe, and a handful of others were the only vocal supporters. Though I guess, with time, more and more came on board just so that they wouldn’t have to see the constant reminder of what they’d done.^”

Willow. Oh no...

Patina’s whole body shuddered, the motion particularly visible in her flaming ponytail. She went unusually quiet for a moment afterwards as she filled up a small ceramic dish with tiny bunches of several powders, most of them stinging Sue’s eyes or throat from a good few feet away.

Something tells me I really should be wearing a rebreather here.

“^To think such a sublime shrine was defiled in pursuit of heresy... it hurts even me.^”

“^No kiddin’, eh? Sure ain’t surprised Root pushed it that hard, you’d think with the way he talks that the entire pantheon consists of just the Pale Lady, but others... disappointin’.^”

Sue didn’t disagree with that at all, but one word in particular caught her attention and wouldn’t let go. One she wasn’t entirely certain how to interpret, and really wanted to know how it was meant.

“If… if it’s alright—what did you mean by ‘heresy’ there, Celestica?”

As Patina kept playing the role of equal parts chemist and medieval alchemist who would be dead at age 55 of mercury poisoning, Sue watched the patterns on what remained of Celestica’s body glow up in her direction. The small, reddish part down on Patina’s side turned to face her, as if it was—


It must’ve been Celestica’s eye.

“^These traits that Root had enriched the Pale Lady’s shrine with are not Hers. They are of the Dark Lord, His domain and duty. To wrestle such traits from a deity to favor another is high heresy. My people were wretched, but their response would have been entirely appropriate for such a crime.^”



Oh fuck.

“^C’mon Celly, you’re scaring her.^”

“^My intent isn’t such. It is not a punishment of a simple worshiper, it is a punishment of a high priest. Such as Root portrays himself as.^”

Sue supposed the clarification made it slightly better, but still... sheesh. Death penalty for a religious disagreement wasn’t the sort of punishment she’d ever want to see established, no matter how much Root deserved it.


Maybe just a little, if we're talking just Root.

“I... guess. Still, it’s a bit uncomfortable to think about.”

“^You ain’t alone in that regard Sue, doncha worry, ha.^”

Alright, that helps a bit.

“I heard that they’re gonna hold a council meeting today to discuss what’s gonna happen to the night kin. Do you think everyone might start cracking down on Pollux harder if it goes poorly?”

Patina let out a low hum in response, a quiet hiss of something being seared mixing into the sound.

“^I wish I could answer that with certainty, but I doubt it will, y’know. Like, hell, Pollux is still Pollux no matter what anyone else may or mightn’t have done. I sure don’t think any sort of harsher sentence means folk will start hurting him. Then again, I sure thought that exiling the night kin was a demented idea that would never happen in a thousand years either, eh...^”

That was the opposite of reassuring.

She was right; Moonview had already extremely overreacted out of paranoia once. What certainty did they have that the exact same tragedy wouldn’t repeat? Was anything truly different now compared to all those years ago? If anything, it all felt even more hopeless this time. Sundance was comatose; Solstice was tearing herself apart with guilt; she couldn’t even trust Willow, and aside from them all, she didn’t even know of any Elders around, and especially not the sort that would—


The nigh-deafening sound from so close almost made Sue bang her back horn all over the contraption of a seat. Thankfully, her mind had settled on ‘freeze’ rather than ‘flight’, and once it was done choking itself away from any and all thought, the once-human could actually take a look over at what had happened.

A fair bit of unpleasant-looking foam was spilling out of the bowl Patina was preparing her concoction in, and into a larger bowl the smaller one was hurriedly placed in. She spotted the fire woman audibly sighing in relief at averting staining anything else, but that seemed to be the full extent of her immediate safety concerns.

I wish I knew enough chemistry to know just how terrified I should be right now.

“^Pheeeew! Just in time. Actually, now that I think about it... it should just take someone standing up to Root and persevering.^”

The delayed follow-up had Sue’s undivided attention, eyes narrowing as she tried to slink ever so slightly away from Patina’s freshly made hopefully-not-chemical-weapon.

“Standing up to him like...?”

“^Y’know, just opposing him and not backing down. I’ve seen how that old fart argues, he’s never met a person he hasn’t tried to pressure, shout down, or guilt trip. If someone can withstand that and push through, argue against him, then I doubt things will get any worse, ha.^”

Patina’s description made Sue realize how many other ‘Root’s’ she has had to deal with in her past life, shuddering at recalling even a single interaction like that.

“...I think I get it, yeah. Hopefully, it’ll work out, then.”

“^I’d say very likely it will! Aight, that’s the mix I had in mind done. Should relax your hair and straighten it a fair bit—I sure hope so at least, hah!^”

Some of the smaller bowl’s contents were poured into another container, and diluted with a hefty dose of water.

“Will it hurt?”

“^Shouldn’t be too bad. Like any chloride, it’s gonna sting bare skin a decent bit, might lightly stain them curls, but a similar mix has worked well in the past for a couple other peeps at least!^”

Only one way to find out what ‘decent bit’ means, isn’t there.

“Alright then...”

“^Now just your... kid on your chest?^”

An eerie, unnerving impulse went through Sue at Twinkle being referred to in such a way. It was as if half her mind screamed in pain, and the other half in elation at hearing it, the combination just leaving her stunned for a hot minute.


“Uh, sorry. Should I move them?”

“^Oh up to you, I’d just assumed you forgot to do it earlier.^”

Considering what amounted to the lil’ ghost’s body was well protected with the rag they were sleeping in, there probably wasn’t a need to disturb them.

“They can stay here.”

“^Suit yourselves!^”

Patina’s hands felt just barely cold enough to not scald her skin as they guided Sue to lean fully into her seat, with a single adjustment letting her lean her head all the way back as well. Her and Solstice’s touch might’ve been pleasantly tingly, but the fire woman’s hands were almost an instant massage, making for a comfort even Spark had a hard time stacking up to.

Which was appreciated, considering how much her brew had made the Forest Guardian wince afterwards.

It wasn’t quite unbearable, but it sure got very, very close at times, especially when Patina tried to apply it to her roots. Too late to back out now, which meant another conversation topic was in order. And there just so happened to be an overlooked subject that Sue would really appreciate knowing more about, both for the future reference and out of simple curiosity.


“How was A-Aurelia like? Pollux’s mother you’ve mentioned earlier...”


“^Hatched with a hammer in her hand, I tell ya! She got metallurgy like nobody I’ve ever seen, and kept on improving her craft every single day. Goodness, what she didn’t do. Metalworking, used to act fights out in Snowdrop’s fancy group, used to do actual fights on the side! Practice ones, I mean, the kinds that hurt, but leave ya stronger. Never had too many takers, but always one or two. Daisy, High Tide, Alastor—good gods, do I remember watching her fool around with Alastor. She’d keep letting him feel like he had the upper hand by hiding around, and then just punched him from thin air before any of us could even blink. And he’d keep on trying the same tactics over and over, almost like he wanted to be dominated, ahahaha!^”

Sue palpably felt Patina’s mood improve throughout her recollection, her ambient heat turning that much stronger and more pleasant. Didn’t help a whole lot with the stinging all over her head, but at that point, Sue knew she’d just have to suffer through it.

“She must’ve been strong.”

“^In so many ways, ha. She could’ve lifted this entire dainty hut up with one arm and got so good at bending metal that she didn’t even have to use tools past a certain point, just her four limbs. And her fire, goodness, it was so bright it kept burning out of her entire head, day and night. I keep on tryin’, and I sure ain’t gonna stop, but a part of me doubts I’ll ever compare. I sure hope I’ll ever figure out smelting iron eventually, with even half the skill and heat she handled it.^”

Considering all the heat and fire references, Sue had at least a partial idea about Aurelia’s ‘types’.

“Sounds like a Fire ‘type’... right?”

“^And Fighting, ahaha! That part’s also important, especially when it came to crushing all the ore before smelting it. From what she told me, tinkering with metal is rather common where she came from, though with nowhere near her sophistication, and mostly with gold. Trivial to work compared to even copper, and even children decorated themselves with gold leaf from time to time. Though hers were extra fancy—I remember seeing her for the first time and the sun glare from all the gold on her just blinding me for a hot while, oh those days were fun, ahahahah...^”

...’Fighting’ type?

The label didn’t inspire confidence in the slightest. If anything, it made Sue think back to the many varieties of local chavs starting shit at the town she grew up in. Who knew that such a mediocre football team could ever inspire such widespread violence, eh.

“It sounds like she was fun to be around.”

“^Worked hard, fought hard, played hard!^”

“^Drank hard.^”

“^Don’t act like you’d be any different if you still had a mouth, Celly.^”

“^I do not know what inebriation feels like.^”

“^Call that the Pale Lady’s blessing or something.^”

As pleasant as it was to hear Patina’s recollections, the unnerving ‘Fighting’ type detail aside, the constant mentions of Aurelia having been a metal worker had her thinking back over to the couple of metal objects she’d seen around. And among them, one immediately caught her attention the most.

“Did she make—”

“^Hon, if there’s anything metal you see in Moonview, Aurelia almost certainly was the one that made it.^”

“R-right. I guess that includes Daystar’s prosthesis... thing.”

“^Dayst... you mean Frostbite?^”

She goes by Daystar now.”

As Patina took a moment or three to stash the new knowledge deep into her fiery brain, Celestica summed it up shortly.

“^I am unsurprised.^”

“^No kiddin’, ahaha! Good for her, hope she’s alright. And yep, Aurelia made her that hook. No replacing all the usefulness or lethality of her natural claws with anythin’ artificial, but at least being able to hold on to stuff with both arms is useful.^”

Sue was almost certain about the answer to the question she was about to ask, but went with it anyway, even if just to hear how Patina would explain it.

“Did she just... make all that for Daystar on a whim?”

“^Yeah, why wouldn’t she? Psychic tricks are one thing, but for a Fighting type to not be able to use all their limbs is a tragedy and a half.^”


Considering Daystar of all people is also in said ‘Fighting’ category, it probably represents much more than an overeagerness to fight.

“I-I see. Daystar must’ve loved it.”

“^Ohhhh, you have no idea, hun. Then again, she never was too sad about having lost her paw in the first place, really. Apparently, it snapped her to the reality of what she was doing, and made her set out on the path that led her here. Sure never heard anyone else be simultaneously so thankful and hateful to anyone as she was to that one psychic bird that did her in, ahahaha.^”

Patina let out a drawn-out sigh, some of her exhale further warming Sue’s stinging head.

“^If I hadn’t already started being Aurelia’s apprentice, then seeing that sure would’ve made me, ha!^”

“What—what initially interested you, then?”

“^Hmm... think it was another of Aurelia’s gifts, actually. She told me she just got the idea one moment, and the second she was already forging copper with her bare hands! Ended up being a pretty pretty circlet, methinks.^”


“Wh-who did she make it for?”

“^Solstice, ha! They used to be besties, way back in the day. And now... ah... yeah.^”

Figures why she handed it back to Alastor then...

“^Aaaaanywho. How’re ya holdin’ up?^”


“^Tell me if I need to slow down or any—^”

“If you can, I’d rather you speed up.”

“^I see, I see~. Lean back in, and let’s get it done then, ahaha! Fingers crossed it works out!^”

It didn’t work out.

Thankfully, a thorough washing after Patina was done got rid of most of the stinging, and what little remained eventually faded afterwards. Pain wasn’t even the annoying part, though—nowhere near as the realization, after all was said and done, that Patina’s chemical assault on her scalp accomplished almost nothing for straightening these green locks out. And just to rub it in, whatever she’d used also left some spots slightly bleached.

Not that Sue minded that in a vacuum, but it sure didn’t feel pleasant after several hours of gripping the armrests as tight as she could. Even with Patina being as accommodating as she could be.

At least I didn’t break another leg.


Disappointment or not, all that was behind her now. By the time she and Twinkle had stumbled out of once-Aurelia’s workshop, the sun was already almost done setting, emboldening her further. There weren’t anywhere near as many people drinking around the large clearing as when she was there a few days ago. Entirely understandable between yesterday’s events and what still awaited today, but it still made that entire half of Moonview feel... eerie.

Not eerie enough for her to go through the rest of the day on an almost empty stomach again, though.

With Poppy’s pastry in her hand, Twinkle on her chest, and plenty of the village still in front of her, Sue could start chewing through everything Patina had told her and which she’d already inferred about Root in general, and the upcoming hearing in specific.

Many of Moonview’s worst mistakes weren’t even all that popular amongst its people when they happened. Vote to exile the night kin passed with a single vote; the decision to turn Night Father’s shrine into the extensions of Duck’s monument was even more unpopular. Surely, after all these years and with so much shame fueling them, the people would avoid making the same harrowing mistake again. Avoid sentencing so many to so much suffering because of actions that were committed by so few, or which didn’t really matter whatsoever.

At least, that’s what Sue deeply hoped for.

If what Patina said was right—if it would really take a single voice to take a stand against Root and his narrative and not let itself get shouted down–then things would almost certainly work out. After all, someone would have enough of a spine to stand up and avoid further harm, and from there, it was just... expressing support for that person.

Admittedly, Sue had absolutely no idea how such a council even functioned, but hoped it wouldn’t be entirely filled with the badger’s sycophants if it truly fell down to just them to make the decisions that affected both villages.

Sue knew better than to let herself get overly hopeful while having so little concrete to work with, but figured that a little bit of hope wouldn’t hurt. As a treat.

As basic as the feat was, she was somewhat proud of herself for having figured out a way over to the gathering entirely on her own. Granted, all she had to do on her part was to just observe the passersby and follow the majority’s direction, but it was still more than the absolute nothing her self-critical thoughts wanted to portray it as.

While she marched over, alternating her limited brain capacity between walking upright with a limping leg and breathing deeply enough, another realization gradually crept in. This one she had very little idea what to do with, and neither the time, space, nor opportunity to mull it through.

Twinkle had woken up at some point.

Good evening, little one! This is Moonview line, heading straight... north toward our final station. Will it be Salvation Alley? Will it be Damnation Street? Who knows, that’s the fun of it!

That’s the bloody fun of it.

Even though Sue didn’t have any words for the little bag of child, that didn’t mean that she had no affection whatsoever. She gently grasped the small bundle with her left hand as she turned the last corner, feeling Twinkle wrap their tentacles around it as she looked for a place to sit down amidst the crowd.

This skin dress made that feat much more annoyingly difficult than she would’ve guessed.

The entire arrangement reminded her of the world’s smallest concert stadium. A short, flat mound, only a dozen or so feet in diameter. In front of it was a clearing so underutilized that much of it was still covered in grass. Above it all, the customary floating fireballs, the sight having become little more than a modest footnote by now.

Magical, floating, unending balls of fire? Boring, that’s so three days ago.

Thankfully, Solstice was already present, her aura even more anxious than Sue’s. It took the older Forest Guardian a while to even notice Sue’s arrival, despite her having towered over most of the crowd while finding a place to sit down. Even beyond that, her immediate reaction was a shudder and an alarmed look, taking the once-human aback.

“^Sue? What are you doing here?^”

“Just w-watching. Am I not allowed to?”

Sue tried to stress this being a genuine question and not a snarky reply, even though a small part of her really wished to say these exact words in that way. All the Mayor could do was sigh, shudder, and try her best to forcibly relax her posture again afterwards while answering.

“^Of course you are, it’s—nevermind.^”

That certainly wasn’t the kind of response Sue wanted to hear, its nervous hesitation making her second guess her own presence here. It was ultimately more morbid curiosity than it was actually being able to help with it, after all.

“^I’ll translate for you, but I ask you to not chat throughout. I-I need to focus on this.^”

“Of course.”

As if I needed to feel even worse about being here.

Despite that bitter topic, Sue wasn’t thinking of going anywhere, not now. More and more onlookers kept pouring on from all over Moonview, while the raised stage filled up. The living bouquet medic, Orchid. The blue, bipedal rhino that worked with the builders, Daisy. Floating cotton puffball with an attached face that seemed to manage the farms, Equinox. The leafy mantis caretaker, Splitleaf.

So many others she’d either only seen in passing, or not at all.


Considering everything she’d seen and heard about the medic over the past couple of days, Sue wasn’t even sure if she trusted them at all. The thought stung particularly hard given they were the very first person here who’d visibly offered her care when she still had no idea what was going on or where she even was. Was it all just a lie? A facade they had put up to hide their true intentions?

The thought made little sense, and Sue was well aware. They weren’t just nice to her, but to everyone she’d ever seen them interact with. She still remembered them barging in with injured Joy very clearly, and if not for that very act, the metal girl might’ve still been constantly afraid today.

And yet.

The looks they gave her and Ginger when the latter swung by Moonview. Looks of uncertainty, of fear, of everything she would’ve expected from someone much more simple-minded than them. Not from someone who helped two separate weirdlings in the past few days alone.

Sue kept staring at them as she went through the unpleasant thoughts, and eventually, they looked back. A burst of upbeat surprise at seeing her here, accentuated with a timid wave in her direction. A smile that faltered with every passing moment at seeing someone they’d helped so recently staring back at them with earned distrust.

A nervous, unsettled look away, at anyone else but her.

Were they aware of why she distrusted them? Aware of her knowing what they did in the past, what horrible causes they allied themselves with, and judging them for it?

Does it even matter?


“Hey, Sparkie.”

Sue had barely noticed the lil’ firefox’s blissful heat even as she had climbed onto her lap. Everything felt numb and tense, as if she’d hit a nerve with her entire brain. With how much laid on the line, comfort was hard to focus on.

And yet, so much more important exactly because of that.

The once-human’s hand shook as she forcibly moved it to stroke Spark’s back. The other one didn’t fare any better, having to be constantly reminded to provide affection to Twinkle, else the sharp, haphazard motions would peter out after just a few moments. She wasn’t good at multitasking like this, not when this tense.

Hopefully her rocking in place wouldn’t draw too much undue attention.

A small glare of purple light in the corner of her vision heralded the arrival of the final remaining elder. Their expression was cross and just as tense as Sue’s; the spots around their neck burned with faint violet embers.


“^Greetings, everyone. We have gathered together to discuss the events of the past few days, and settle on a way forward.^”

Solstice’s telepathic voice was much more subdued than its usual self, keeping itself from cracking or even slightly withdrawing through the sheer forces of willpower and very heavy practice. Any remaining murmurs in the crowd faded away the instant she spoke up, the entire clearing’s emotion honing straight into confused uncertainty.

My favorite.



Equinox’s single word comment derailed the priest’s rambling before it could even demand. His eyes stared like daggers at such interruption, with the puffball continuing shortly after.

“There is another important matter that has transpired the day before what you’re itching to talk about. Let us please deal with it beforehand.”

Sue had to forcibly hold in a chuckle at Root being so unceremoniously held back, a task that many others failed at. With a deep breath, the flaming badger did just that, the flames around his neck not growing any weaker as he sat down.

“Thank you. High Tide, could you iterate through your concerns for us?”

The crowd’s attention turned towards the massive, blue, black-finned amphibian as she raised herself onto her hind legs and cleared her throat.

“Of course, Equinox. The water situation isn’t looking pretty. We’re straining our stream hard, especially as we keep on expanding our farms. I worry what might happen if an unexpected drought hits us later this year.”

Her voice was croaky and dry, keeping itself professionally flat despite quite a few emotions brewing up inside her head.

“Thank you. What are the possible answers to those concerns?”

“In simple terms—we don’t have enough water to have a comfortable buffer. We can either reconsider our cultivars and stop growing some of the particularly thirsty ones, source our local water supply from somewhere, or relocate our farms, in part or full, further downstream. Our stream joins a large river around two days of steady march away. There wouldn’t be any concerns with irrigation there for the foreseeable future.”

Having delivered her opinion, High Tide sat down, letting everyone focus on what the elders would say again.

“Straightforward matter ta’ me. Gotta cut some chaff and stick with what works. We’re sure growin’ waaaay too many different species in there, dunno if anyone eats half these things.” - Daisy swatted her paw off to the side, not thinking much of the whole affair.

“In my previous exchanges with High Tide, she had indicated that to be a very temporary solution, especially if Moonview keeps growing.” - Equinox shot her down shortly after with a justified concern, plunging most of the gathered into a deeper thought.

Naturally, we should expand downstream, and use these fertile lands for ourselves.” - It was Sue’s first time properly hearing Root’s voice, and the keening, downright sleazy sound sent a shudder down her spine.

Thankfully, he too would see objections being raised to his idea.

“There is a very high probability of those lands being already used for such a purpose, or otherwise controlled. We would not be claiming wilderness for ourselves. In all likelihood, we would be taking fertile soil that belongs to someone.”

The badger only gave Equinox’s counterpoint the briefest of considerations before scoffing it aside.

“I do not see why that would matter. We are the Pale Lady’s chosen peoples, all where Her light touches is our true domain. Why should we settle for anything less?”

“Because we gunna find our butts gettin’ whooped otherwise. Do ya think they’d just let us take them with a justification like that?” - Root’s glare narrowed at Daisy’s response, as if she’s spoken a sentence in an entirely different language.

“They may try, but they shan’t succeed, not with Her Grace at our side. Any strife to further Her glory is a strife justified.”

Sue shuddered deeply at the badger’s rhetoric, much of it deeply unpleasant to listen to.

“Well, I’d sure darn hope you’d be the one bargin’ in to defend ‘our’ lands in that case.”

Before Root could respond to Daisy’s dismissive words, the cottonball spoke once more.

“And that is only one of our problems. At such a vast distance, would whatever settlement arises even be called Moonview anymore? For all practical matters, they will be entirely separate from us, related through little more than the deity they worship. To them, we would be mere overlords, demanding they harvest resources for our use.”

“Not if we send our finest farmhands to take care of such a farm, the ones with unbreakable devotion.”

“Devotion will not help said theoretical settlement becoming its own independent entity, and merely becoming allied with us. Unless your idea is to forcibly rule such a distant place yourself, them gradually turning independent is all but unavoidable.”

Equinox’s comment didn’t inspire as much rage in Root’s as Daisy’s earlier one, thankfully. Instead came what looked like genuine thoughtfulness, culminating with a shudder that sent the badger’s flames dancing. Which exact part said reaction was in response to, Sue had absolutely no idea, and would rather not speculate lest it turned her even madder.

“Ghrmmmm... fine enough. The solution of searching for further local sources appears to be the best one, then.”

Most Elders agreed with varying levels of confidence, owing less to Root having raised any particularly good points, and more so to that option being by far the least unsustainable of the three presented earlier.

“^Does the council agree on that course of action?^” - Solstice’s words startled Sue out of her spaced out state, the discussion’s topic making it hard for her to focus particularly hard. Not something that directly affected her even remotely, but what would almost certainly follow suit would, and now it was time for her to pay very close attention.

Either no reaction or modest nods from everyone gathered, with Root glaring motionlessly into the middle distance.

“^Then it is settled. High Tide, I leave you in charge of that task. Gather any help around Moonview you feel necessary to accomplish with and ensure our water security.^”

“Aye aye, Solstice.”

With the mundane subject over with, everyone knew very well what awaited now, and exactly nobody was looking forward to it. Or rather, exactly nobody with a singular exception of a particular angry flaming badger, whose emotions appeared to be a paradoxical mix of outrage and downright giddiness to indulge in said outrage, if not an acknowledged one. It felt... weird to sense for herself.

I’m hardly unfamiliar with the underlying behavior, though.

Doomscrolling was something Sue was guilty of on more days than not. Even beyond just her, people constantly searching for stuff to be angry about was an internet pattern as old as time, and equally embarrassing each time.

The times where it happened in person were always the worst ones, though. Nothing she had to deal with personally—her dad had grown aloof in his final years but never went down that rotten path—but something she’d heard plenty about, be it as complaints, or harrowing stories about people’s parents having their brains entirely eroded by anger-inducing cable television.

It was terrible when stuff like that tore a family apart, but here it ran a serious risk of hurting unspeakably many people if indulged further.

Before Sue could ponder through that kind of behavior any further, the discussion finally continued.

“^With the topic of our water troubles done, let us proceed to the next—^”

“IT IS AN OUTRAGE THAT ONE OF THE NIGHT KIN WAS PERMITTED TO ENTER OUR HAVEN, AND DEFILE THE PALE LADY’S VISAGE!” - Root’s furious shout made Sue wince, the voice so much louder than needed to be well heard by everyone around.

And, unfortunately for all present, he wasn’t done yet, either.


His ranting made absolutely no sense, nor did it need to.

Just need a single person to stand up against this nonsense, come on.

Sue clung to Patina’s claim like it was a piece of wreckage in the middle of the ocean, hoping more and more it would turn out right by the moment. She was managing for now,

But the same couldn’t quite be said for Solstice.

However anxious she had been earlier, her expression was now entirely flat and shaking, her emotions already veering perilously close to a full on internal breakdown. The once-human wanted to say something, encourage her to push on and stand up against the badger’s tide of anger—but she couldn’t.

Especially after it got even worse.


Root might’ve been saying his shouts to the gathering at large, but his eyes were downright drilling into Solstice, further and further with every single word. Every remark, every allusion to what had happened, both recently and so many years ago, seemed to push her towards all out locked-up, mute panic. All the shame she had tried to suppress, over everything that had gone wrong, over her hand in everything. Aurora, the night kin, Sundance’s injury. All of it happened, ultimately, because of her action or inaction.

It was all her fault.

She was wrong, so very wrong, but Sue felt entirely powerless to help.

The once-human looked away in panic, trying to feebly sense someone, anyone, who was as much as considering opposing the ever-growing madness. Almost entirely silence from all around, with only the group of builders, Daisy included, even considering anything.

Please guys, you can do it.

All the while, Sue’s only response to Root’s ever furious shouts was steadily growing anger. At the depersonification, at the slurs, at attempts to speak in the name of those whose deaths hurt the night kin no less than they had hurt anyone else here.

At invoking Duck’s name for hatred.


In the corner of her eye, Sue saw Daisy and some of the builders nod at each other before the rhino gathered her bearings and rolled her shoulders. Once Root had finally stopped to gather his breath, Daisy rose and interrupted him, her voice raised almost as much as his.

“You cry for so many people to die for the actions of a single bleedin’ owl!?”


“You’ve no idea what you’re talkin’ about, you melodramatic pile of shite! None of this was a coordinated attack by Newmoon as a whole—”


“Shut up! Juniper attacked Sundance on her own, and what happened with Ginger was a bleedin’ accident!”


“Shut your bloody—”


Despite Daisy’s determination just moments prior, the explosion of frenzied, purple flame combined with the nigh-deafening shout had finally undone her resolve, especially with nobody else speaking out. Uncertainty, sheer intimidation, it didn’t matter. No matter the cause, the result was the same.

And Sue grew even angrier at that realization.


Angrier at Root’s hatred.


Angrier at Solstice’s paralyzed stillness.


Angrier at Moonview’s inaction in nobody standing up for what was right.


Angrier at herself for expecting them to.

Sue shook in place as her fists clenched and teeth ground. She had never felt anywhere near this angry. Fearful, anxious, overwhelmed, yes, plenty, but never actively as furious as she was being right now. None of this was right, and she could barely think.

A wordless urge cried out to her from not just her mind, but her very soul. The very same unfathomable instinct that made her act when Spark and Pollux were about to die, one she had no name for or conscious comprehension of. She remembered acting against it then, desperately trying to overrule it for the sake of her own survival.

But now, Sue felt it grip her entire body, and gave in entirely.

Her breathing grew shallower and shallower as the entirety of her furious mind concentrated on a singular purpose. From where it came from, it didn’t matter in the slightest. All the Forest Guardian knew was that so many innocents were at risk of death because of a single village’s virulent hatred,

And that she couldn’t let it happen.



The shout froze the entire gathering as dozens upon dozens of minds focused on a single, incomprehensibly furious one. All Sue knew was that she was floating above the ground all of a sudden,

And that she wasn’t done yet.


No matter how imposing, her voice wouldn’t be able to stand alone, and Sue knew it.


Sue stared where she remembered the other Forest Guardian being, but couldn’t make her own through the blinding flare of her own eyes. She’d spoken with power unlike herself, unlike anything she thought herself ever capable of, with a power that drew from the very core of the being she became.

But would it be enough?

Seconds stretched into ages as the younger Forest Guardian glared into the older one with a force beyond her conscious comprehension. It showed no signs of fading, but the person subsumed by it did, fear beginning to drip into the chamber of emotional superheated plasma that Sue’s mind became. This was all she could do, all she could ever hope to do.

And if it wasn’t enough, if her utter desperation wasn’t enough,

Then what would she even do?

Her mind shook, the motion slowly spreading over to her physical arms. All this wouldn’t last for more than just a handful of moments longer, not with doubt beginning to fill her mind whole. Tears streamed down her contorted face, straight down onto her gritted teeth.

And then, she heard a voice.





“^I attest to your words, Sue. Juniper’s attack was an act of momentary aggression, and Newmoon had attempted to capture her afterwards. She is not welcome there, and will not be until she atones for her actions. Ginger had no intention of damaging the Night Mother’s shrine, and Kantaro has no interest in repairing said damages.^”

At last, the choking silence gave way into uncountable murmurs as Sue felt whatever had just possessed her gradually let go. Her body descended until her feet had touched the ground again, followed by her overworked mind letting go of the rest of her. She collapsed on all fours, struggling to catch her breath as many voices surrounded her, in awe, in concern.

Even with Solstice’s translation, she couldn’t understand them.

She couldn’t even understand her own mind right now, not with how utterly the last few moments had fried it.

What the fuck did I just do.

The words and sounds around her kept coming, though fewer and fewer of them were aimed directly at her. Once her head had stopped tormenting her for the act of breathing anymore, Sue finally attempted to sit back down and look at what was going on.

Root stared straight through her in an expression of distilled, mute fury as the discussion continued around him. In any other circumstances, she would’ve shied away; wouldn’t have been able to look him in the eyes for just an instant. But not here. Not now.

I will not let you do this.

Sue gritted her teeth and returned the glare even as her entire rattled, worn-out body shook. She wasn’t a warrior; she wasn’t a hero; she was just an unremarkable, socially stilted comp-sci student of hardly any ability and even less renown.

And yet, she might’ve just saved several lives.

She kept her eyes locked with his for as long as she could, thanking Duck for the badger Elder looking towards one of his fellow council at some point. Her shaking hands tried to hold Spark as closely as possible, but they felt so numb, so uncontrollable. Sue closed her eyes, held the lil’ fox tight and breathed, as deeply as she could. Until she could hear more than just her own heartbeat hammering into her ears, until she regained sensation in her body again, until she could think again.

One, two, three.

Warmth in front of her, on her chest, pressing into her stomach. Unbearable pressure all over her body, one of a spring wound much too tight.

Four, five, six.

Noise began to fray into individual sounds, still too hard to make heads and tails of. Vague warmth became the sensation of Spark’s soft fur and wet nose. Her shoulders loosened; her hands weren’t just a blur anymore.

Seven, eight.

Twinkle squirmed against her, and Spark calmed down, bit by bit. She unclenched her jaw, and straightened her back. Words, all around her. ‘Newmoon’, ‘Juniper’, ‘punishment’, ‘Sundance’. ‘Discussion’, ‘aid’, ‘mistake’, ‘support’.

‘Forest Guardian’.


Nine, ten.

Sue held the little fox down as she finished coming to, the discussion still ongoing. A plan along the steps of Solstice’s and Sundance’s initial idea back in Newmoon. Aid and reconciliation. Remarks about all this having gone on for long enough that Moonview was going insane and rewriting history.

Less so Moonview as a whole and more so specific actors, but... good enough.

She focused her eyes and took the scene in. Many were surprised or engaged, including a fair bit of the audience. Daisy and Splitleaf chattered; Orchid looked around uncomfortably. Equinox occasionally chimed in. Some others talked, some others didn’t.

Willow sat silently, aghast.

Root’s rage burned in silence, overpowered for once.


The older Forest Guardian contributed to the discussion while putting on as composed an appearance as she could manage. Underneath it all, pain and guilt, leaking into her stoic expression every time she looked in Sue’s direction.

She didn’t have any idea why—

Gasps, rattling, chaos, shuffling, all behind her. Sue tried to look, to figure out what was going on, but she didn’t have to.

She heard it first.

“Don’t you dare YOU BASTARDS-*GAH!*

And moments later, the loud thud of Sundance collapsing just mere feet away from her, followed by a large stick following in tow next to her.


The little fox raced over to the mystic, and Sue wasn’t far behind, immediately kneeling beside her. Her arms convulsed as her teeth gritted in pain. Both sensations paled compared to the singular, determined drive in her mind; one conveyed to Sue with the most strained telepathy she’d ever felt from the vixen.

“^Sue, they’ll try to justify revenge in my name, d-don’t let—^”

“It’s, it’s okay, Sundance. It’s over, it’s over, they—they won’t do that.”

The firefox’s shock was downright palpable as she tried lifting herself back up onto her knees, her shaking glare sweeping along the gathered elders. Shock, fury, guilt, the latter even more acute than when Sue looked at the Mayor. So much was left unexplained, but Sue seemed to be right.

It was already over.

“D-do you need help, Sundance?”

A wordless, pained nod. Telekinesis or not, Sue wasn’t about to leave her there. She kneeled beside the vixen, waiting for her mentor to lean on her.

Heavy, but not impossible.

With utmost strain, Sue pushed herself onto her legs as the vixen’s body cooperated to whatever extent it was capable of. They turned around in a few slow motions, before heading away from the meeting, one shaky step at a time. Spark woofed at her mom constantly, and each time Sundance replied in kind, their words an enigma.

Sue still wasn’t sure if she truly felt like herself again after what had just happened. Regardless of that, though, her emotions were clear, and growing clearer still with every step away from the discussing mass and into the relative quiet of nighttime Moonview.

She was happy.

She wanted to cry for days.

“I’m, I’m so glad you’re back, Sundance, I—”

“^It’s alright, Sue. I-*ah*-I suppose a lot happened when I was gone, hasn’t-*ugh!*

“D-do you want me to slow down?”

“^Just a bit. Feels like I-*mHnnn*-I can barely control one limb at a time. I’ll make it there, it’ll just take a while.^”

“T-to your dwelling?”


Sue looked at the vixen’s pained expression in the darkness, surprised at the answer.

“^Solstice’s tent is closer, we can-*agh!*-we can sit down in front of it. Turn left.^”

The Forest Guardian followed the directions as she tried to wash the last remnants of her outburst out of her system. To her disappointment, the more she succeeded, the more tired she simply became.

“^And a lot has happened to you as well, hasn’t it, Sue?^”

“Y-yeah, it has.”

“^Someone, even.^”

Sundance inspected the bundle tied around Sue’s chest with as much curiosity as she could manage with it constantly being interrupted with pain.

“Their name is Twinkle, and... Solstice mentioned you’d know more about what they are.”

“^Well, let’s see about that.^”

The vixen closed her eyes to focus as they all shambled forward. Sue was about to speak up that there was no point and that, to the best of her knowledge, Twinkle couldn’t speak—but by then, it already was too late.

“^Good evening, Twinkle.^”

If nothing else, Sue appreciated the nicety. Having them be treated as any other child would help a lot in making them feel less weird going forward, even if they wouldn’t be able to do certain—


If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

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Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Chapter 25: Acceptance New


the gay agenda

Chapter 25: Acceptance

Hearing the weak, ephemeral voice almost toppled them both over, primarily because of Sue freezing in place out of shock. Thankfully, she snapped out of it shortly after, even doubling down on her pace just to find a spot to rest sooner. The sudden shift was rather amusing to the firefox, though she didn’t comment on it— she had to save all the breath she had for walking.

One strained, shambled corner later, Solstice’s tent finally came into view. And with it, somewhere to sit down at.

Neither Sue nor Sundance knew how they’d managed to make it down onto the grass without outward collapsing, but they accomplished it all the same. Their only reward was a scene so dark they could only barely make each other out— aside from the very faint glow emanating from the eyes of everyone gathered, the only source of light was a single fireball on a pole a few dozen yards away.

Above them, uncountable stars and a thin crescent moon. Around them, slightly chilly air of the late spring evening.

With them, much pain, much strain, much aching of the still-injured chest-mounted extremity...

And a tiny, ghostly child, understandable at last.

“Hello, Twinkle. A-are you okay?”

Sue’s voice quivered as she focused the entirety of her attention on the bundle tied around her torso, stroking it with one hand. Just to her side, Spark was getting comfortable on her mom’s lap, valiantly holding back tears of relief at her finally being back. Said mom was focusing harder than she should have in her current state, but if not for her efforts, the confounding mess of thoughts and emotions swirling inside the canvas bag would remain completely incomprehensible.

She’d live.

“Y-yes. Confused...”

As the once-human held the bundle of ghost closer, and the bundle of ghost held her back, she realized she couldn’t hear their voice. She could perceive it, she heard it in her mind, but there didn’t seem to be a physical—

“Yes, that’s on me. They aren’t talking like we are, their thoughts are still messy and I’m having to do some interpretation to get the meaning from them.”

On the other hand, Sue heard the barked sounds underlining Sundance’s words clearly. She wasn’t sure how to respond to her revelation, settling on thanking her with a curt nod before refocusing on Twinkle.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, sweetie. Here, lemme unwrap you.”

Sue’s arms shook as she untied the weak knot holding the dirty bag to her body. Lil’ one’s ghostly tentacles immediately wrapped themselves around her. The sight made her pause for a bit before reaching to hold the hauntling with one hand as the other kept freeing them, just to let them know she was still there for them.

And that she would always be, for as long as she could.

Once they were down on her lap, they took a few moments to come to afterwards—doubly so, with the bag’s opening pointing straight up at their guardian—but once they did, they only clung closer.

“Hey Twinkle. I’m—”

Sue paused mid-word, mind tearing itself between the two equally valid answers to that question. Or rather, one truthful answer, and one she wished so very much she could say in the moment, but which still felt both harmful to admit to herself, and impossible to ever accomplish.

“I’m Sue. We’re here for you sweetie, everything will be alright.”

While Sue was laser focused on keeping them as happy as she could after what they’d gone through, Sundance... had questions, ones that would hopefully help. She waited until she was sure that the lil’ ghost had understood Sue’s response, however much of it they could even understand, before chiming in as well.

“Hello there, Twinkle. My name is Sundance. You ran into Sue earlier, right?”

The vixen’s words had the ghostly child first shrink at hearing the unfamiliar voice, and then shift focus over to the warm stranger. As simple as the question was, their answer took its time to arrive, making the vixen worry about potentially translating it incorrectly.

“Not remember...”

The response concerned both women; Sue’s affection only growing more tender. She wanted to help somehow, but had no idea what to ask, ultimately resigning that task to Sundance. Spark, meanwhile, felt it appropriate to point out the obvious—

“But Sue found you earlier, right Sue? And and and then she carried you around!”

Her loud tone had Twinkle withdraw some more, but their guardian’s presence helped immensely in maintaining composure.

“Spark, sweetie, let’s give them some more space, okay? They’re clearly lost. Now, Twinkle—what do you remember?”

A pair of Sue’s fingers were tenderly holding one of the ghost’s tentacle-like limbs as they shook at the mystic’s question. An overprotective part of her wanted to sweep in and shield them away from any further questioning. Then again, she knew full well that getting an idea of what they were and needed, and how their shapeless species worked, was an important task, too.

Sundance knows what to do, let’s just leave it to her.

“Remember... Sue. Many voices... sleep... two Sue...”

The phrasing had the vixen scrunch her features in confusion as she tried to parse it—only for her student to crack it first.

“Solstice came by when I was sitting with them. D-do you mean another person who looked like me, Twinkle?”

A full body, bag-shuffling nod.


“Do you remember anything prior to that?”

Sue thought it weird if they wouldn’t. She’d spent so much time chatting with Lilly, and then earlier resting beside Joy and Astra, no way Twinkle would just forget—

“N-no good remember. Bad remember...”

For an instant, Sue was about to hold them even tighter at the implication of them having been in pain throughout that entire period. Sundance cut in right after, though, clarifying it for everyone.

“They mean they don’t remember well, Sue. Did anything important happen while you were with Solstice? And for you, Twinkle—could you say what you remember of those poor memories?”

The explanation released the tension from Sue’s body before it could build any further, in a form of a very shaky exhale. The question that followed was one she wasn’t sure how to answer; it sure didn’t feel like she’d done much with them at that specific point. Finding them was important, as was comforting them, then Hazel helping everyone figure out they were a ghost, but anything to do with Solstice?

All I’ve done after that gloomy chat was—


Was give them a name.

“Before... everything weird. M-me not here. No thinking... scared, scared scared... nothing...”

Sue was thankfully spared from having to go over the day’s events out loud, the vixen’s focus managing to pull all it needed from the whirlpool of her thoughts. Sundance knew well that she only had a fragmentary picture, but couldn’t help but be sadder at this little ghost.

Seems they had only really woken up once given a name.

“I-I’m so sorry, Twinkle. I promise, you’re safe here, we’re here for you.”

Nothing the hauntling had said was reassuring, and every single word made her want to only hold them tighter. They entirely mirrored that desire, clinging close to her hands and waist as their baggy body shook.

“Sue nice... S-Sue like?”

“Y-yes, of course I like you, sweetie. I’m not going anywhere.”

Such a simple, trivial affirmation, and yet it did wonders for Twinkle. They calmed down as affection kept coming from their large guardian, each word and each stroke melting through all the fear rocking their shapeless body.

“Not know who me... Sue nice... now me Twinkle... thank you...”

“You’re—*sniff*—you’re very welcome sweetie.”

The battle with her own tears was one Sue lost almost instantly. Only a few of them this time, in tow with an emotional, shaky smile. As much as Spark didn’t want to leave her mom even for a moment, not now, she dared relocate over to the edge of her lap and reach over to provide her own affection with a single, shaky paw. A brief, fearful flinch, followed by warm relief.

Goodness, do they need it. Do all of us need it.

Sundance wanted to ask them a couple more questions, but was well aware they could wait until tomorrow. Mirroring her daughter, she reached over with her left arm, pulling the Forest Guardian over to lean on her.

“Th-thank you—”


The sound was rather muffled, but both women were familiar enough with it to know exactly who had made it. Before they could even finish turning their heads towards Solstice’s tent, its only other permanent occupant had already parted its entrance open. Said occupant then proceeded to dash towards their little gathering for a few paces, before slowing down to a waddle, and then further into a crawl.

All the emotions happening outside might’ve been enough to wake Comet up, especially without his mom around him, but he was still a tired lil’ Moon Child. One that, after the past couple of days, really needed the happiness his big friend and Sundance were radiating.

Sue scooped him up into her arms before he could even finish crawling over. The lil’ psychic rewarded her with his clumsiest hug yet, as well as a drawn-out gurgle that then turned into a yawn the longer he was held.

“Hey, Comet. W-wonder how’d you get out of your cot, heh... did you wanna chat with us?”


“Seems so. It’s very late for you, Comet. You shouldn’t be staying up this late.”

He might not have understood much of Sundance’s words, but it was still enough for him to respond with the world’s most ineffectual attempt to shake his little head. The sight drew laughs from the vixen and her student alike—and even Spark once she’d pushed through her own increasing drowsiness to make out what was happening around her.

With a ruffle of his hair, responded to with more weak shaking, the Forest Guardian slowly lowered the psychic infant onto her lap, trying to lay him down on the edge of her lap, so that his head would rest on a tuft of the vixen’s fur.

And the instant she’d done so, his uncoordinated arms grabbed the closest source of emotional warmth they could sense, and held it close.

Twinkle’s startle at being held was noticeable to the assorted psychics, but soon eased out after nothing bad kept happening. Because nothing bad would happen now. Sue was there for them; others accepted and liked them even with them being... like this. They had a shape; they had a name; they could finally think; they could...


Comet was too drowsy to spot the pitch-black tentacles wrapping around him, but he enjoyed the sensation all the same. And so did the lil’ ghost, all the relief and comfort making their own stressed exhaustion all the more apparent.

They must’ve gone through so much...

Neither Sue nor Sundance spoke for a while afterwards, both gently comforting the little ones on their lap as Moonview sank deeper and deeper into the night. It wasn’t getting any darker now, but it was getting colder, making Sue lean further on the vixen—to the latter’s amusement.

Both of them had so much to talk about. They also both needed to catch their breath, chew through what they’d seen, think of what to even say.

No matter what they had on their mind, though, someone showing up in this remote corner of the village caught their attention first. They weren’t glowing, but the distant light still illuminated just enough of the blue compound eyes and red chitin to let Sue recognize them as the ladybug that had been hostile to her earlier in the day—

And for them to recognize her and, most importantly, Sundance in return.

Surprise, anger, fear—all of them sudden enough to give Sue whiplash and make Comet mumble in his dreams. None of them acted on beyond the ladybug in question turning around and buzzing away from them in a straight line.

“What’s up with them?”

Even if they were one of the least intimidating people in Moonview, it still felt unnerving to have a local be so angry at her. Root was one thing, a case she compartmentalized enough to not be in paralyzing fear all the time. The asshole badger made sense to be furious, especially now.

But them? All I’ve done is grab food from them a couple of times and suddenly they’re glaring at me like they wanna eat me.

“Sunrise is a... sad, yet silly situation.”

The word ‘silly’ really didn’t fit either Sundance’s manner of speaking, nor the insect in question, only catching Sue’s attention more.

“How so?”

“They are unable to speak.”

“Y-yeah, Solstice told me that. Why does that m—”

“They were a hatchling when the plague arrived. Thankfully, they survived, but much of their respiratory system was damaged and left them mute. Unfortunate. However... they’ve been blaming the night kin for that fact ever since. I suppose it’s a more understandable source of grief than with most others, but prejudiced all the same.”

Sue couldn’t argue with that, cringing at the entire situation.

“That’s rough.”

“It is. Alas. If nothing else, a reminder that suffering doesn’t ennoble us. It only scars us.”

With Sunrise gone, the little corner of Moonview grew quiet again, filled only with the irregular breaths of the three sleeping children and the adults looking after them. Calm enough to have brought Sue to her own rest, if not for everything on her mind.

And good Duck, was there a lot on her mind.

Sundance was very aware of that, having gotten a brief glimpse of the underlying murk when Sue hesitated giving her name to Twinkle. It was time to tackle it, at last.

“How have you been, Sue? Much unpleasantness must’ve happened while I was unconscious.”

“That’s... yeah. Though it’s not just that, it’s—”

Sue caught herself mid sentence, analyzing the situation. If there was anyone she could be open about this, all this with, it was the vixen. Someone with friendly relations, but only that. Someone that wouldn’t be immediately hurt by her revealing what had been eating her up for the good while now.

And yet, she still hesitated.

This all hurts, it all hurts so fucking much to approach. But I know I have to.

For Joy, for Twinkle, for Lilly, for Solstice.

“And for yourself, too.”

Sundance completing her thought would’ve made Sue jump in her seat if not for the weight of two tykes pinning her down. She turned to stare at the darkness where her mentor ought to be, eyes as wide as they could get—and received quiet, woofing laughter in response.

“Apologies, it is hard to not overhear with just us two and this clearly eating you up so much.”

“It—it is, yeah.”

The once-human looked away in embarrassment, one hand gently stroking Twinkle’s bag as she searched for words to drape her agonizing worries in. None of them made any sense with just the stuff Sundance already knew, forcing Sue to reveal a bit more of her hand.

“Y-you know how I... arrived from a different world entirely?”

“It’s still hard to really grasp.”

“Yeah. A-and I... I have knowledge that I will eventually have to go back there.”

Sue saw the vixen’s dimly glowing eyes turn to look at her, coming together into a surprised expression.

“What ‘kind’ of knowledge?”

“I-I can’t elaborate, I’m sorry. B-but it’s not that I’m afraid of coming back, it’s...”

Her hand kept dishing affection to the two kids on her lap, the barely visible motions cluing the vixen in.

“Joy and—and Twinkle, and Lilly, a-and even Solstice all... I already feel close to them. I r-really care for them, and I think they care for me too, and now that I know I’ll eventually leave them it all feels so awful and I don’t know if I’m hurting them by being close and caring of them if I’m just gonna disappear and leave them alone and betrayed and—”

The steadily growing pain in Sue’s heart forced her to stop. She couldn’t take it, this enormity of the loss awaiting her, awaiting them all. It felt like it was devouring her mind, subsuming each neuron one by one and replacing it with anxious despair with a sprinkling of guilt.

Sundance, however, drew… a different interpretation.

“So... death.”


“No, I wouldn’t be dead, I would just be gone and—”

“I did not mean a literal death, Sue. Merely that, just like death, you... ‘returning to your world’ would be a permanent change that forever separates you from the ones you care for here. One you dread, and which you fear could strike at any moment.”

Sue was left reeling even after the elaboration, but the more she thought about it, the harder it was to disagree with that comparison. It really would be just like dying. Sure, she as a person would keep on living back on Earth—presumably—but to everyone here, she would as well be dead. A slightly different, but much more familiar frame of mind.

Equally terrifying.

“I... I guess.”

Sundance’s soft chuckle relieved some of the tension of the scene, especially as she followed it up with a couple pats on the back. Sue really needed them, as hard as that fact was to admit to herself. As if in response to that very thought, the pats were upgraded to one arm wrapping around her shoulders and holding her tight.


Yeah, that was in response to my thought, wasn’t it.

As if there was any doubt, the vixen laughed right after, the sound eventually spreading to Sue. Her laughter was nervous and somewhat forced, but still helped, even if a bit.

“Do I wish I had my pipe with me. Just the right thing for chewing through conundrums like these.”

Sue considered offering her help for all of a quarter of a second before remembering that she neither had any idea how to find Sundance’s home in the dark, nor a clue about where the firefox even held the pipe in her dwelling.

“I’ll make do, don’t worry Sue.”

On cue, the once-human heard a faint snapping sound behind her and looked around to investigate—only to see a small stick enveloped by an orange shimmer, hovering towards the vixen’s grasp.

And then, Sundance bit a solid half of it off with a single crunch, lit up one end of the remaining piece, and put the other in her mouth as if it was a pretend cigar, switching to telepathy while she chewed through literal wood.

“^Does the ‘death’ framing help with these fears?^”

The question reaching Sue’s mind snapped her out of staring at what in the world her mentor was doing, and back to the subject at hand.

“I-I’m not sure. I guess it’s a bit like death, but that doesn’t help much. I still worry that I shouldn’t be doing... any of this, like I shouldn’t even be getting to know anyone here because when I leave, they’ll just be suddenly left alone again. Like I just hurt people in the long run when I get close to any of them...”

As genuine as Sue’s words were, she continued to defy her worries by constantly petting the little sleeping ghost on her lap.

Which didn’t go by the vixen unnoticed.

“^And yet, you keep doing it.^”

Sue felt called out, freezing in place. Her heart hammered as if trying to break free, all the shame suddenly returning in force to torment her all at once.

I’m hurting them all I’m hurting them all I’m hurting them all they’re gonna suffer because of—


The faint clicking noise instantaneously broke Sue out of her spiraling anxiety, drawing her attention to the barely visible paw in front of her face.

“^I apologize, Sue. Making you feel cornered wasn’t my intent. However, I believe it remains a fair point, but not one you should admonish yourself over. That helps nobody. Instead, I want you to focus and give me an honest answer about why do you think you keep doing it.^”

The vixen’s sudden gesture might’ve derailed her train of thought for a moment, but the anxiety from which it had emerged didn’t suddenly disappear. Still, Sundance’s calm tone helped a lot, giving Sue something to focus on besides just wailing on herself more and more. That didn’t mean it was easy thinking about it as opposed to criticizing herself further, but at least it felt possible now.

It didn’t help that Sue couldn’t think of an answer.

“I-I don’t know, I—there isn’t a big reason, I don’t think. It’s all just been a very spur-of-the-moment thing. Like, Joy ended up with us at the clinic by accident and she wanted comfort and I gave it and we grew closer, a-and Twinkle just... saw me and disguised themselves as Comet and wanted me to find them, and Lilly... felt like she liked me.”

“^She does.^”

“It’s... it’s moment to moment stuff, there isn’t any real plan, just me... being clingy, I guess.”

Even the framing of a more helpful, logical question couldn’t withstand the barrage of Sue’s loathing forever, and it was getting treacherously close to establishing control over her again. On cue, the vixen pulled her in again, holding her that bit more firmly.

“^You’ve done nothing wrong, Sue. I know you know that too, deep down, but I also know how it helps to have someone else say these words. And so, I repeat: you’ve done nothing wrong.”^"

Again, the reassurances helped greatly, even if it would take a while for the shift to really be noticeable to the once-human herself. For the time being, she just nodded idly, trying to maintain control over her breathing throughout.

“^In light of that, I have a broader question, if you don’t mind.^”

“G-go ahead.”

“^What do you strive for in life?^”

Everything the vixen had asked previously might have been various degrees of confounding to anxiety-inducing, but this one... Sue had no idea whatsoever. It was one of those questions that Sue never treated seriously, because in every other circumstance, they felt either in bad faith, as an excuse to have her join a cult, or like the person asking didn’t really care about what she answered. Neither of these was the case here, and so the once-human had to at least attempt to answer.

Even if all she could think of was ‘none of the above’.

“N-nothing. There’s nothing I even could strive for. Basically, my entire life back—back in my world — has taken place without my input. I’ve just been carried by these currents that I couldn’t fight, went along with what people wanted me to do. School, now college, then work, hell even my emotions, it feels like sometimes. I-It just feels like there’s nothing I can strive for because there’s nothing I can do to change anything. I’m just... powerless.”

Sue gathered her thoughts, summing them all up with a grumbled line, the topic bringing forth a mix of anger and resignation.

“How the fuck can I strive for anything if there’s bloody nothing I can even do...”

Some concepts were unfamiliar to the vixen, some she’d really want to ask about sometime... but not now. Because no matter what had motivated Sue’s understandable response,

It was incorrect.

“^I disagree.^”

The unexpectedly curt, somewhat ambiguous reply snapped Sue out of her preemptive moping and drove her attention over to the fox. Just in time to see her bite off what remained of her stick and levitate another one over.

“D-disagree with what?”

“^You being powerless.^”

I mean... of course you would in a magical, medieval world like this.

“Y-yeah, because I know this world isn’t like mine and I could just get up and go wherever I can and all that.”

Her pupil’s exasperation was amusing, enough so to make the vixen laugh quietly, despite Sue’s bad-faith response.

“^Could you?^”

Sue didn’t expect to be challenged on that, stammering as she tried to clarify.

“I-I mean, not me me, but most others wh-who aren’t hurt could—”

“^Could they? They’d still have to uproot significant chunks of, if not their entire lives, for that purpose. Leave Moonview’s safety—unequal as it is—and expose themselves to the dangerous world, without others to fall back on. Even if many who live here would be reasonably safe from predation, that’s hardly the only risk if they were to just get up and venture out into the world.^”

The once-human got increasingly annoyed by the vixen’s words. It felt as if Sundance was intentionally missing the point in an uncalled-for, mocking way, so unlike her. No matter how much that freedom might’ve been fleeing here, it was still much more so than most people had back home, and of course those here had much more of it.

“Hard to believe that, since almost everyone in Moonview seems to have come from somewhere else...”

“^Well, you’re obviously not going to meet anyone who has failed at that. Who had left their home, but didn’t make it before finding a safe place.^”


That... wasn’t a point Sue had considered before.

The long buried knowledge of her statistics class chimed in just to remark that this kind of error probably had its own name, but she couldn’t remember it on the spot. She was left stunned as she tried to parse the implications of these words, letting Sundance continue.

“^Most here had only taken that risk because their home, for one reason or another, had grown to be worse than the risk of braving the world. I can assure you, almost nobody here would ever consider leaving Moonview unless things got dramatically worse. Your thoughts aren’t exactly subtle about how entrapping you feel your world is, and I doubt ours is as bad, but they’re not that different, Sue.^”

Despite Sundance not raising her voice even slightly throughout all that, Sue felt as if she’d gotten schooled hard. A re-affirmation of the vixen’s side hug helped, but she still had no idea how to respond at the moment.

And so, the firefox continued.

“^I know how that powerlessness feels. The feeling of being guided through life along a predetermined path, of being a spectator in one’s own life... isn’t a new one to me. As pervasive and paralyzing as that sensation is, and as true as it might sometimes be, it won’t remain so forever. Even if it really doesn’t feel like it, each of us has many small decisions throughout our daily lives that can leave a lasting impact. Doing something nice for a friend. Following one’s curiosity. Helping someone when they’re down.^”

That last possibility made Sue lean in closer to the child on her lap as her touch grew shaky.

“^For the most part, they really are small, and they won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But sometimes, they will. Sometimes, even an off-handed decision can change someone’s life, for good or ill. It can even change our lives. These opportunities come all the time, and even if most won’t amount to anything, some will. Be it an impactful small thing or just an ordinary important decision, there are only very few unfortunate souls out there that are truly powerless. For everyone else, I believe knowing what one strives for is important. So that when an opportunity like that comes, be it large or not, we know what we really want and can act on that.^”

The once-human remained silent, slowly parsing and comprehending everything the vixen had said, to various results. Before she could catch up, Sundance continued.

“^I wasn’t referring to deciding on some arbitrary goal earlier or some transcendent concept. Whether we’re aware of it or not, deep down, we all have a longing inside us. Devotion to a deity, a craving to see the world, a sense of duty to someone, even just wanting to be happy. They can all guide us if they’re what we really want, deep down. Digging into yourself, coming to terms with your subconscious desires, elevating that from our soul’s call to our mind’s command—it’s hard. It’s very hard. And yet, it’s oh so important, because if one doesn’t know what they want, what they truly desire... they inevitably end up being swept along someone else’s path. Someone else’s desires. And more often than not—^”

After crunching through what remained of yet another stick and grabbing a third one to snack on, the vixen resumed.

“^—it will be a path to misery.^”

The longer explanation made more sense in Sue’s mind, but she still wasn’t entirely convinced yet. Much of it wasn’t sitting quite right, but before she could put that disconnect to words, a question from earlier made a reprise.

“^So, Sue. What do you want to do? To be?^”

Sue’s brain tried to wriggle away from that kind of introspection, immediately bringing up the most obvious concern—

“Wh-what if I choose wrong?”

“^What then?^”

The instant response bluescreened the once-human’s mind for a moment, leaving her utterly uncertain what to do but to persist in case she was misunderstood.

“I-I’m asking you that!”

“^And I’m asking you!^”

Sue was entirely lost now, her confusion bringing the already amused vixen to soft laughter. Still, it was important to address, and that’s what the mystic did.

“^Our desires can be incorrect. They can betray us; they can harm others. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is dig into ourselves and figure out what we desire, and then work on ourselves to change that. But even for that, we need to be aware of what we want before we can work on changing it. Hiding from our desires won’t do us any good, because whether we’re willing to acknowledge them or not, they’re there all the same. They can change, they will change, they should change. What truly matters is being attuned to their cries. Being able to reach into one’s soul and see what comes out.^”

The follow-up answered the most glaring detail in Sue’s mind, leaving her with no choice but to finally face the question once more.

“^Again. What do you want to be, Sue?^”

The words thrashed around in the Forest Guardian’s head like a rabid Earth animal.

She’d gotten so disconnected from any thoughts of that sort that answering it felt downright impossible. What she wanted deep down never mattered, never could matter; she had always just been a cog in a machine so large that her getting removed from it would never be noticed by anyone.

And yet, she still had to face it all the same. There was one somewhat obvious thread she could see. It wasn’t the entire truth, but it at least was in the right direction.

Suppose I can just go with it for now.

“I-I wanna... I wanna be happy, I think.”

“^Happy. That’s a good start. Has interacting with those you’ve bonded with so far made you happy? With Twinkle and others?^”

The answer was the most obvious ‘yes’ in Sue’s life, but framing it like that felt like a downright deceitful oversimplification.

“Y-yes, but what about when I’m gone? Won’t I hurt them even more by bonding with them just to then disappear? How hurt will they be when that happens!?”

“^How hurt will you be?^”

Sundance’s abrupt response felt as if an icicle had stabbed Sue’s skull. She froze, nigh-paralyzed, almost unable to think as she tried to focus on the eventual fate of the one person she hadn’t considered in that worst-case scenario—herself. Her brain almost refused to consider that idea because of how much despair it brought within her.

Despair or not, though... she’d probably be fine in the end. She’d already lost those she loved twice. If needed, she’d endure life taking a third swing at her with a bat full of nails. It’d hurt, hurt so fucking much, but... she’d be fine. She would always be fine.

Even if she obviously wouldn’t be fine.

“I-I’ll make it, a-and I guess Lilly and Solstice would too. B-but I’m worried about the k—Joy and Twinkle. They’ll be heartbroken. They already feel so close to me and I don’t even know for how long I’ll remain here.”

“^Well... that’s already happened, hasn’t it? If they’re already close to you and you want them to not be in as much pain once you’re gone, you can try to expose them to different people, steer their attachment to someone else.^”

Something deep inside Sue screamed at that thought, which her mind then disguised in a reasonable enough objection.

“Th-that doesn’t feel possible w-with how attached and scared T-Twinkle is, and Astra will be leaving Joy with me for a few days now, so I won’t be able to do that.”

“^Why not? You can still have them meet other people that would take care of them even if they aren’t truly ready to be cared for by someone else yet. In the meantime, you can build them up to be more independent and courageous, so that they’ll fare without you better. How does that sound?^”

It was an entirely rhetorical question, and knowingly so.

She felt the despair within Sue the instant she brought up that possibility, and now that she’d elaborated upon it, it only swelled further. The vixen could tell that her pupil obviously wanted the latter—she wanted the little ones under her care to be independent and courageous, to be their own people—but the former, the idea of withdrawing away from them and having someone else be their guardian... was heartbreaking. She was well aware.

But it was Sue that had to consciously admit that to herself.

“^You don’t want others to look after them instead of you, do you?^”

A direct question provided a lifeline that Sue’s despairing mind greedily clung to. Tears flowed freely down her scowling face as she nodded weakly, making Sundance push whichever psychics she had access to, and envelop her student in a warm, full-body mental hug. Sue needed it, but she also needed to be honest with herself.

“^You want to be their guardian, now and forever, don’t you?^”

“Yes, but I-I-*sniff*-I don’t w-wanna hurt them-*sniff*—”

“^You haven’t hurt them, Sue. You have likely saved Twinkle’s life, and even from the little I got to see, Joy has soared and been slowly coming out of her shell under your care. I promise you’ve done nothing wrong, Sue. Do you know when you’d be returning to your world, if such a thing will happen?^”

“N-no... *sniff*

“^Then spend your days with them as if they were your last. Love with your entire heart, encourage them towards courage and independence, do what you can to soften the inevitable blow if you think you might be gone soon. Don’t leave them, don’t distance yourself from them, because they care for you as much as you care for them. You’ve been doing so much good Sue, and even if the worst happens, even if you disappear literally tonight, their lives will still be made so much better for having known you. Besides, we’ll all still be here, ready to console them and pick up the mantle.^”

The reassurance helped, but it could only do so much, and it sure wouldn’t be enough to sweeten all the truth it was delivered with. It only hurt her more; it only brought more pain; the torment of a purifying flame forcibly cleansing her mind. The muck in Sue’s head wouldn’t go down without a fight, without flailing as it burned.

And the vixen was ready to take it all on.

“B-b-but what about L-Lilly? I’ve b-been lying to her b-by-*sniff*-by not telling her, she’d never want a-anything to do with me if-*sniff*-if she knew I could just disappear—”

“^Everyone can just disappear, Sue. That’s how life is. Fickle and unpredictable, sometimes it just ends without rhyme or reason, for the dumbest and most tragic of reasons. And yet, we have to live through it. We don’t constantly think about all the ways in which our lives can end at any point, and neither should we.^”

Sue wasn’t convinced, almost calming her breathing enough to respond—only for her mentor to butt in.

“^Has knowing Lilly and being close with her made you happy?^”


“^Has it made her happy?^”

Despite all the muck going through Sue’s mind, she couldn’t deny being certain of the answer to that.

“Yes, b-but—”

“^Do you want to get closer with her, get to know her more, go beyond that blissful infatuation?^”


“^Then why not? Why not do what makes both of you happy? Why would you choose not to brighten your days more? I know you’ve said that this ‘return’ isn’t really death, but it might as well be. And as with any death, you can’t let it take control over you. You have one life to fill with happiness and you’ve been bloody good about that, if I may say so. You’ve brought them all comfort, joy, care, even love. You’ve done so many good things, made so many lives better, and we both know you want to keep doing that. You can’t let death stop you from living your life.^”

And then, one final blow that brought what remained of the once-human’s composure down.

“^You deserve happiness, Sue, and you’ve done nothing wrong.^”

Sue’s slow trickle of tears grew to an all out wailing. She kept trying to think through Sundance’s words, to come up with responses, but it was hard; it was so fucking hard. Her worst fear had been laid bare for her. Her desire to be these poor kids’ guardian, her rapidly blooming crush on Lilly, all forcefully shoved into her face. She’d been running away from all this for so long, from the truth she’d been trying to suppress, but she couldn’t do so forever.

I don’t want to go back.

Even now, with her entire mind brought to a white-hot heat, that still felt so difficult to admit.

And the same went for each of her individual desires that had led up to that conclusion, stripped of any layers of self deprecation or distance from what she really felt. It was so incredibly hard to overcome the thrashing part of her mind, the demon that always invalidated her desires before they could bloom, whose only purpose was pointing at her worst parts and using them to ‘justify’ why her wants were bad and she ought to feel bad for them.

But this time, she felt like she’d managed that feat, even if for a moment. She’d looked all the way into herself, into her very soul—or rather, was forcibly shoved in there by the firefox beside her—and came face to face with what she desired, stripped of her conscious mind’s negative self-perception.

It felt liberating; it felt terrifying.

Even if she was aware of almost all of her hidden desires now, that still didn’t change the fact that she wasn’t in control and that she could lose them all. Before that realization could drag her into a dark, painful pit, she thought back to what Sundance had said earlier, about these small decisions that could matter, the choices. She tried clinging to them as much as she could, hoping that the desire to never come back would ever amount to anything—

Even if she knew all too well that it wouldn’t.

Still, she pushed on, shouted the loudest internal ‘LALALA’ of her life to suppress that truth. Hopeless or not, she would persevere, and despite knowing just how powerless she was, she wouldn’t let it stop her from being happy, from being there for those she cared about.

Sue had absolutely no idea whether that resolve would survive until the next morning—or even until her next yawn—but if nothing else, she had something to come back to, a conviction to copy at her darkest moments, however ineffectually.

That was all just in case for the future, and now...

Now, Sue was utterly exhausted.

By the time she’d returned to the reality around her, she realized her head was buried in Sundance’s shoulder fluff, its warmth contrasting with the surrounding coldness. Her mind was a mess; it’d likely never stop being a mess, but... it was a slightly cleaner mess now. She’d finally dared clean up the pile of dirty dishes that had been left to fester for way too long, and as much as it sucked, at least she knew what color her cupboard was again now.

And just how much she wanted to stay in this wild world where so few things made sense.

“^Hello, Sue.^”

Sundance’s telepathic voice, coming back after what felt like hours, had the Forest Guardian slowly pick herself back up into something approximating a sitting position. One of her arms was still embraced around her, while her other paw rested on the side of Comet’s head, gently stroking it.

Oh shoot, I hope I haven’t woken him up—

“^No, you haven’t. I won't deny that it required a lot of effort to keep him asleep. Are you feeling better after all this?^”

As soggy, worn down, and utterly, completely drained as Sue felt after everything she’d just been through... yes, she was. She’d still need a good night’s rest to really make that better feeling come through, though.

“I-I think so.”

“^Good, good. This... hurts, I’m well aware, but that only makes it more important to face. Or, at least, that’s how I always thought about it.^”


Sundance chuckled at Sue’s mumbled response, lightly patting her on the shoulder.

“^Sounds like someone could really use some rest now, couldn’t she?^”

Sue rolled her eyes, only for the blink that followed to last much longer than she thought it would.

Yeah, it’s time to—


Solstice’s voice caught both women off guard, Sundance even more so than Sue. They couldn’t see much of the older Forest Guardian in the darkness, but the little they made out painted a picture that was almost as soggy as her pupil.

“Are you okay, Sue?”

“I’m—I’m alright...”

The response wasn’t satisfying, but neither of the three were deluded enough to expect anything better by now. One aching step after another, the Mayor had walked over to Sundance’s other side and sat down, sighing in relief once she leaned on her friend. As concerned as everyone gathered was for everyone else, the topic of the entire blasted council meeting was too important not to bring up right away.

“M-many people chimed in after you left, and we’ve figured out a plan for now. We undid the banishment decree. We’re also planning to send a bunch of resources—tools, food and such—to Newmoon in a couple of days. M-make that first step as a town. All the builders were pushing for that one.”

Relief from all around, melting even further through whatever composure Sue still had left.

“^That’s very good. However, Solstice—what about you? Are you okay?^”


Sue couldn’t see the Mayor’s shudder, but she felt it. And together with it, so many sad emotions that were only barely remaining contained under her eyelids.

“I’m not doing the best right now...”

The vixen nodded wordlessly, immediately getting to thinking as words were silently exchanged between the two. Sue neither noticed nor cared; she was well aware of how much she needed her rest, but—



The realization that she still hadn’t picked up the metal girl from her dragon guardian startled Sue all the way to awareness. She’d totally forgotten in all this chaos, Astra would be lost and Joy so distraught, she’d fucked up she’d fucked up—

“^Need to get a hold of Astra?^”

Sue answered without looking back at the mystic, eyes straining as they scanned what they could see of the skyline.

“I remember spotting her flying overhead a few minutes ago. She must be looking for you, Sue.”

Solstice’s clarification brought relief, but it only helped so much with the once-human having absolutely no idea how she would even catch Astra’s attention. Right as she was about to descend back into panic, she felt Sundance’s left arm unwrap itself from around her and reach upwards. With a well-practiced flick, the firefox retrieved her wand from the confines of her fur, simultaneously setting its tip ablaze.

“^I should have enough in me to still pull that off.^”

“P-pull what—”

Sue saw it before she could even finish asking.

A weak orange shimmer filled the vixen’s eyes as she moved her wand around, as if writing. Tracers of bright red embers weaved through the air a few dozen feet above them in tune with her every flick. Soon, a few symbols in Moonview’s language came together to compose what appeared to be a single word.

And if the high-pitched, reptilian whine that had reached them shortly afterwards was any sign, the burning sign had succeeded at its purpose.

With a final flick, the mystic undid all her magical writing, returning the surrounding skies back to darkness. None of the three could see much immediately after—not with their eyes needing time to get used to an absence of light again—but they very much heard the flaps of Astra’s wings coming closer and closer, followed by a couple thuds on the nearby grass.

And then, a jovial greeting.

“Hey Sue! Sorry it took me so long, I couldn’t find—oh I’m sorry I’ll be quiet now—Mrs. Sundance!”

Despite Astra’s best attempt at keeping herself under control, seeing the vixen be alright again broke clean through her limited composure. If not for there being no room around the mystic, she would’ve crouched and held her tight there and then.

Instead, a bit of laughter had to suffice.

“^Yes, yes I’m back, Astra. I’m happy to see you and Joy are alright.^”

“She was excited to be spending the night with Sue. I know she’ll miss me after a couple of days, and I hope I can be back soon, but I’m sure she’ll really love it here. Right, Sue?”

Through the power of sheer willpower, the once-human didn’t let Astra’s words reopen any of her emotional wounds from earlier, keeping herself to the most strenuous nod of her life.

“Y-yeah. I-I hope she will.”

“I’m sure of it! Can you take her now, or do you need help with moving her to the bed?”

I don’t think I can even stand up unassisted right now.

“Sue needs a bit of help, Astra.”

“Sure, Mrs. Solstice! Want me to help you stand up, Sue?”

The question took the Forest Guardian aside in how unprepared she and the contents of her lap were for such a task. Thankfully, Solstice soon whisked Comet away, and for Twinkle, she could just tie their bag around her chest again, for now. Not the most comfortable solution—probably not even for the lil’ ghost—but good enough for the time being. From there, it was just a matter of grabbing the dragon’s massive paw, letting her raw strength pull Sue’s comparatively tiny self upright in one motion, then slowly stumbling over to Solstice’s tent.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to this, Sue! I know it’s a lot to ask, but she really likes you and isn’t this comfortable with anyone else. She used to be much more skittish when I had to leave last time, and now look at her! She even joined up with other kids and played with them for a while after you left earlier. I’ve never seen her do that before!”

Sue was so, so glad it was too dark for Astra to notice the tears flowing down her face.

“I-I’m so glad to hear...”

Unfortunately, that didn’t extend to noticing just how wobbly her voice was.

“Are you okay, Sue?”


“I’m... it’s been a long evening.”

“I get it! I’ve heard you’ve done something really cool at the council meeting earlier. That must’ve taken a lot outta you!”

“Y-you could say that...”

“Hope you all get some good rest tonight!”

As weak as Sue felt, she had enough stamina in her to carry the sleeping Joy from the tent’s entrance over to her bed, even if barely. As much as the dragon half-heartedly regretted not being able to give her one last embrace before her next trip, Sue was so incredibly thankful she left instead of awkwardly waiting for her to walk back over to send her off.

The moment she sat down on the bed, she just about felt her legs fall off.

It took a couple moments orienting herself and Joy into a comfortable position—or at least what she hoped was a comfortable position in the latter’s case—but she got there, eventually. She laid near one edge of the bed, and most of the toothy girl rested on the pillow, right in front of Sue’s face. Firmly outside the flailing range of her front horn.

I hope.

Even with them all laid down, Sue’s mind needed a moment to finish reeling over what it had experienced today, the sheer totality of it. All the distress, all the relief, so many overwhelming sensations that each would’ve left her completely wiped back on Earth. A gauntlet that she somehow managed to push through, and was so grateful for it.

And now, it was just her, and a pair of kids that had stolen her heart.

Twinkle was already clinging to her; Joy got her one free arm to hold in her sleep; it was time to rest. There just so happened to be an appropriate tune that soon crept to her mind, the coincidence making her giggle. It wasn’t much use with both the kids asleep, but... maybe it could help her.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star,

how I wonder what you are—

“^None of us are guiltless in this, Solstice.^”

Right as the last of Sue’s brain cells were about to throw in the towel, hearing Sundance’s voice in her mind snapped her back to semi-awareness. It wasn’t aimed at her, and Sue had no idea about how she could even hear it. Either way, she had no choice but to eavesdrop while her conscience kept trying to make her finally doze off.

“^You’ve done bad things, so have we all. We have to push on.^”

“^I thought myself to be above all this, above the elders’ council. Indeed, I think me leaving resulted in more harm than good. I put my pride above ensuring the council wouldn’t hurt more. I know it was my choice, Solstice, I’m just saying it was a selfish choice.^”


“^He’s not. He never was, and never will. Remember your oath, Solstice. To bring peace and healing to all. Your bond with the Pale Lady is yours, and yours alone. It is your sacred guidance, treat it as such. Cherish it, make it fill you with conviction and resolve, and not with doubt. What Root or Solanum say doesn’t matter, you know better than to treat their word as anything other than the heresy it is.^”

“^You’re welcome.^”


“^Yes, I can’t deny that. Sue is like Aurora in many ways, but she’s her own person. I know you know, Solstice, but it’s still worth stressing. I agree, bad things will happen if they remain mixed in your mind. What are you going to do with that fact?^”



“^Then it sounds like you finally have to bury Aurora, once and for all.^”

♪ B♭ E♭ B♭ D. D. E♭— ♪

Sue let her hands keep jamming on their autopilot while her awareness came together, one note at a time. The same clearing yet again, where incomprehensible horror and annoying deities lurked alike. Which of these would await her this time, she had no idea.

Only one way to find out, is there.

With one last deep breath, she opened her eyes and brought the music to a stop. Sue wasn’t even surprised to be playing her mom’s guitar anymore, not with how stubbornly it kept showing up here and just how... right doing so felt. A bit more annoying than the last time, with her fingers covered with what felt like cheap glue residue, but still manageable.

Fittingly, the guitar looked like it had been glued together from hundreds of pieces, similarly stained and dirtied all over. Visibly damaged and repaired, rather dirty and in need of a solid clean-up,

But in one piece again.

The once-human couldn’t pay that fact much attention as she scanned her surroundings. To her right, a shadowy figure, just like she’d seen in some of her past dreams. To her left—

Joy and Twinkle sitting beside each other, jamming it out to the now-stopped tunes.

She watched them turn towards her; smile and wave as if nothing was amiss. Happy to see her, happy to be with her. And then, they were gone in a blink, together with the shadow on her other side.

I don’t want to think about this. Whoever’s here better show up so I don’t have to think about this—

For once, Destiny answered her prayers.

Right as Sue’s strained mind could connect the sight she’d just witnessed to the very-needed-but-equally-unpleasant discussion from earlier, something moved in the corner of her view. A single, torn sheet of paper, fluttering around as it landed on her mom’s guitar. The once-human had a hunch about what she’d see scribbled on it, and much to her dread,

She was right.

Well done.

“Justice. What does any of this—”

Before she could finish her sentence, another page fluttered down from above. This time, Sue didn’t rest her attention on the piece of paper itself, moving her gaze up instead, towards where it came from.

And there she saw... something.

And It saw her too, discarding the page It held before floating down to in front of her personally.

It was only about the size of her head, with a silver body and yellowish... crown, pointing straight up and to the sides. On each of its tips, plates of pure silver, engraved so intricately they hurt to look at. Behind It, a long cape the color of Its headpiece. Its three eyes stared into her, their gaze seeing deep into the future.

“Might as well.”

Its words were uttered by a choir of a thousand silver voices, with just the slightest feminine slant.


“Correct, mortal.”

Sue’s eyes narrowed at being referred to like that, but she wasn’t going to waste an opportunity to speak directly to someone so central to the mess she ended up in.

“D-did you enter my dream earlier?”

To her further frustration, It rolled Its eyes before floating further away, scanning the surrounding dreamscape.

Of course I did, mortal.”

I’m not in the mood for this divine horseshit.

“Fine, have an actual question—who the fuck did this to me!?”

“I have already answered that.”

Sue faintly recalled the chaotic, golden scribble from a couple of dreams ago, the sight as frustrating for her now as it was back then.

“That’s still not an answer!”

“It is exactly the answer you can perceive.”



In the blink of an eye, Justice had moved to within an inch of her face, eyes burning with the purest of starlight. Despite their utter flatness earlier, there was a divine fury to these particular words; their sheer might was enough to freeze Sue where she sat.

With another blink, it was all over. It was back to where It had been before, floating through the air as if immune to gravity.

It took Sue a few minutes to gather the courage to look away after witnessing that. She was still angry at everything about this, angrier still at being so outmatched even inside her own head, but had to put that aside for now. As much as she wanted to call almost every deity obscenities right now, there was something in particular she now, more than ever, needed to know.

“Wh-what happens now with my ‘plan’? Isn’t it done? Moonview is going to give Newmoon aid, th-the night kin are allowed back, Duck and Night Father will get together and all that—what now?”

Sue dreaded thinking about the answer, but she had to know, for everyone’s sake. If she knew how much time she had left here, she’d be able to act on that knowledge, make amends and say goodbyes, make sure her departure will hurt others the least amount possible. Any attempt to think about that entire topic drove a rusty, serrated knife deeper into her brain, but it had to be done.

She wouldn’t even get that.

A disjointed noise of a thousand overlapping laughs made her flinch as she watched the deity float back over to her. Its previous total flatness was replaced with the slightest of smirks, even that tiny change feeling significant for It. Sue was too disoriented and unnerved to even be offended at what It said next.

“Mortals only see what’s right in front of their eyes, do they not.”

And then, It looked up. The once-human was unsure about following Its gaze, but found her attention being dragged along against her will.

A full Moon loomed above them, several times larger than it ought to be. It looked profoundly wrong, in a disgusting way. Massive, oppressively bright, with a light that burned and not mended. It forced Sue to reel and hide behind her arms, growing ever more mighty, ever more vivid, ever more crushing with every moment.

Ever more closer.

“It will not be...”

The fell Moon’s influence burned everything around her, crushing first the scenery, and then Sue herself, into the ground. All-encompassing, all-destroying, a dominating force with no relief or mercy. It ground at it all, until nothing remained, until all was subsumed.

Until the darkness was no more.

“...that easy.”

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
Interlude IV: Investigation New


the gay agenda

Interlude IV: Investigation

It was as if every new day only made this mess of a case even more utterly incoherent.

The man stared intently at a chalkboard full of scribbles occupying much of his office. This wasn’t their investigation to be undertaking. Helping the cops as subject matter experts and for search and rescue operations, sure, but not as a driving force. They weren’t equipped, trained, or—for the most part—even willing to have anything more to do with this case than the absolute minimum possible.

And yet, he found it too perplexing to look away.

To the surprise of the woodland authority and law enforcement alike, there just so happened to be several witnesses nearby when... whatever had happened, happened. None of them saw it, but they all heard it. One by one, their statements were taken, contributing valuable knowledge to what had become known as the ‘Sue Mullins Incident’.

Contrary to all the throwaway YouTube videos released within the first week of the disappearance becoming public, no witnesses had heard a gunshot. What they did hear, however, were two loud bangs and a woman’s scream.

He wasn’t supposed to know any of this, but sometimes having a cop ‘friend’ one barely tolerates pays off.

Quick action and well-detailed maps of the surrounding woods let many witnesses pinpoint their position when they heard it all start. From there, it became possible to triangulate the approximate positions of the bangs and the scream, as well as establish a rudimentary timeline of events.



The man sighed deeply as he rubbed his forehead, attempting to focus after three shots too many. His every attempt to piece this together had ended the same way—with frustration, inebriation, or more often than not, both. And yet, he just couldn’t look away. It was a mess, an intricate mess that had to mean something, but which nobody could crack.

Sound 1—12.04.2023, 2:13 PM local time.

The first bang is heard. The approximate location where it had originated from has been nicknamed ‘point beta’. Point beta is a location around 800 meters from where the victim’s items were found—nicknamed ‘point alpha’—in the east-southeast direction.

Sound 2—12.04.2023, 2:15 PM local time, described as anywhere from one to two minutes after sound 1.

A scream of a woman in her young twenties is heard, originating from point alpha. It is described as sounding agonized and abruptly cutting off.

Sound 3—12.04.2023, 2:16 PM local time, described as anywhere from twenty to thirty seconds after sound 2.

The second bang is heard, identical to the first one, originating from point alpha.

It was the most obvious instance of Foul Play that most involved in the investigation had ever seen in their lives, and yet they couldn’t find a single piece of useful evidence. No traces of third parties’ DNA, no footprints, no casings or gunpowder residue.

Nothing that would indicate just what the bangs were, nothing pointing towards any specific perpetrator—

Or at least, that’s what the case was until yesterday.

The report that had reached the police—and three hours later, the man’s—desk took everyone aback in more ways than one. There indeed was no typical evidence, but a more detailed investigation of points alpha and beta found—

Good fuck, that felt silly to say out loud, but was too significant to not be relevant somehow.

—small amounts of very fine gold dust scattered around the forest floor. And not just any gold dust, radioactive gold dust, enough so for the entire initial search and rescue team to be forced to undergo decontamination. In addition, the air at the two points was also discovered to have a substantial concentration of ozone, and the grass at point beta was noticed to have been slightly flattened in a radial pattern away from a central spot.

What in the hell did any of that actually imply, they couldn’t figure out. Just what these two bangs were, they couldn’t figure out.

What was the significance of the dead squirrel they found near point alpha, determined to have died by being thrown hard enough at a nearby tree to break its spine while somehow having no foreign DNA on it,

They couldn’t figure out.

All the revelations were weird enough to grab the attention of several government agencies—including His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—but they didn’t help the actual investigation one bit.

Who knew, maybe it was some sort of centrally planned assassination? Maybe this college student with no friends and no family really knew enough state secrets to where she had to be eliminated in the most baffling way possible. Maybe she had become a victim of a mad nuclear chemist on the run.

Maybe Fate just felt particularly funny that day—


Oh, fuck off.

If you're confused about the species of the characters and want them spoiled, I've set up a page listing the species of all the featured characters in each chapter!

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other story, From the Vast!
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