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Chapter 1: A Whole New World
"Is this a dream? It's gotta be a dream!" I muttered, laying there looking up through tree branches at a early morning sky that were both just the other side of normal. I could feel thick grass underneath me and a cool breeze playing over my bare skin . . . ( wait a minute, bare skin?? ) I sat up abruptly and looked down, my eyes widening as I realized three things: I was completely nude, my body was eons away from the aging, out-of-shape body I was used to, and I definitely was not in the bed I'd gone to sleep in.
This didn't feel like a dream! I'd been practicing lucid dreaming techniques for a long time. The usual thought process was: "Oh, this is a dream . . . now, what things can I alter? How can I make things clearer, brighter, more exciting?" I could never remember that thought starting as a question instead of a statement. But, the setting, my body . . . this had to be a dream, because otherwise . . . otherwise . . . my mind skittered away from the implications even as my concept of reality went into a tailspin.
I'm not sure how long I lay there while the argument of what "had to be be true" battled with the evidence of my senses and what my experience told me was true, but the stalemate was broken by a rumbling inside my head that resolved into a loud voice.
[This is not a dream. Get up. Get moving. You have a purpose here.]
"Yeah, well then what the hell is it?" I yelled over the ringing inside my skull, but there was no answer.
I stood up and looked around, trying to decide what to do next. I seemed to be in a forresty area, no houses or buildings that I could see, no signs, roads, electric poles, etc. "Oh great, I'm standing around in Yellowstone National Park or something, completely naked, noooo camping equipment . . . If I'm going to be jerked around by some damn cosmic force or whatever, things need to be planned better! Seriously!" I grumbled. Oh, I was still confused, terrified and doubting, but I was also angry. What justification could there possibly be for tearing me out of my comfortable, known reality and dropping me into another one with absolutely no real instructions, no equipment, and no knowledge of where the hell I was.
I was still standing there indecisively when I heard voices, male voices. I''ll admit it, I blushed. I mean, no matter how good I looked, anyone coming upon me while I was buck-ass naked could be a really awkward situation. I peeked around a large boulder to see what new characters were being introduced into this bizarre scenario.
And my mind and body both froze at what I saw. (Ohnonononono! This is not funny! Not funny at all! SERIOUSLY, of all the possible alternate realities, this one?). About fifty feet down slope of me, three young men were headed in my direction, though they didn't seem to have seen me yet. Three young men with grayish skin, dark hair, and horns . . . horns in different shapes that shaded from red at the base to yellow at the tips . . . horns that kind of looked like candy corn. My memory even happily supplied names for them. The one in the lead, with a double set of horns, wearing shades with one lens blue and the other red? Oh, that's Sollux Captor. The shorter one behind him with broad horns and a mohawk-type hairstyle? Tavros Nitram (wait he's walking? Oh, yeah, the robot legs version ) And bringing up the rear with messy hair and horns that curved out, then up? Gamzee Makara.
I heard an odd, insane giggling, then realized it was coming from me. Panic set in and I turned and ran.
Sometime later, I came back to rationality. I was leaning against a tree, gasping for air, trembling, sweating. My body was marked with scratches and cuts, and my feet felt like someone had beaten them with a spiked club. I was so near passing out from physical exhaustion that my ears were ringing. Hobbling around the tree I came into a clearing -- a clearing occupied by the same three I'd seen earlier. Oh, they're setting up camp! They must be on a camping trip! chimed an inane little voice in my brain.
"Damn, Solbro! you didn't tell me there were motherfuckin' naked human babes roamin' these woods!" was the last thing I heard before I did the only thing that made sense -- I passed out.
* * * * *
I came back to consciousness aware of several things: my body hurt like hell, I was laying down on something cushiony, and I was wearing some sort of clothing. ( Oh, good, I'm not buck-ass naked anymore! Wait . . . that means somebody dressed me . . . ) I felt a blush heating my cheeks at that last thought. I opened my eyes slowly, then slammed them back shut, making a soft whimpering noise. Still the same three . . . (Trolls . . . might as well call them what they are. That's evidentally part of this reality. Which would likely mean that I'm on . . .)
"Well, I think the'th awake, guyth . . ."
"Just for the record, I've gone completely insane and you guys don't exist, okay?" I said, calmly. "And you are not trolls and this is not Alternia . . . aaand you names are not Sollux, Tavros and Gamzee. Now when I open my eyes everything will be back to normal!"
I opened my eyes to see Sollux sitting next to me, arms crossed, looking at me with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
"Hate to tell you thith, but it didn't work!"
"Um, uh . . .wow, but this is Alternia, we are trolls and, uh, those are our names!" Tavros added.
"Hmmm, motherfuckin' babe needs some of the wicked elixir, Solbro!" Gamzee said and started to rummage around in his backpack.
"Gamthee, Faygo ith not the anthwer to every problem," Sollux said with a sigh. "Look, thrange human woman, you need to fathe factth. Thaying thomething ithn't tho doethn't make it not tho. Now what I'd like to know ith who the hell are you and how the hell did you get to Alternia from Earth?"
This talking to someone while laying down just wasn't working for me. I sat up, biting down on a groan as various muscles screamed at me and pushing through a fog of dizziness. Crossing my arms, I looked back at him. "I don't fucking know how I got here. I went to sleep in my nice, comfy bed and woke up here . . . well, not exactly here, but in this general area. As to who I am, my name is . . . " I paused. I did remember my own name . . . didn't I? (Oh, wonderful, I can't remember my own name . . . peachy! ) I shrugged, at a loss, then smiled wryly as an idea came to me. "I guess you can call me 'Serendipity' -- that's what my life seems to be about right now."
"Therendipity . . . thatth the longetht human name I've ever heard. Are you trying to be funny or thomething?"
I sighed. "No, much as I usually like a good joke, I'm not. 'Serendipity' means, basically, the phenomenon of finding something that you're not looking for, usually something good. I figure I might as well try to take a positive outlook on all this." A wave of dizziness rolled through me and I closed my eyes. "Th-that offer of a Faygo, is that still good?" I asked weakly.
"You motherfuckin' got it, human babe! Some of the wicked elixer will fix you right up!" Gamzee replied.
I opened my eyes to see him leaning toward me, grinning and holding out a can of grape Faygo. I took it from him with a shaky smile of thanks, popped it open and chugged it down. The stuff had never tasted so good before.
"Uh . . . she probably could use, well some, uh, food, too, right Sol?" Tavros ventured.
I looked over at him and he gave me a smile, but was blushing. Remembering what their first sight of me had been, I blushed too. ( Wow, what a wonderful first impression on three young, and admittedly good looking, guys -- bursting into the clearing stark naked . . . well, at least it seems to have been memorable )
Sollux took in the blushfest and chuckled dryly. "Yeah, that wath one hell of an entranthe you made. Might try not pathing out nextht time -- thome other trollth might have taken advantage of that situathion. I agree with Tav, though, you need thomething elthe bethideth that . . . thtuff, . . . Therendipity." He pulled something in a foil wrapper out of his pack and handed it to me. "You're in in luck, I acthually packed thome of that human food thatth been laying around the hive."
I supressed what would likely have come out as an insane giggle when I looked at the wrapper -- a Nature Valley granola bar. (Oh, the universe is surely fucking with me hardcore )
"So, I'm wondering something," I said, after devouring the food in about three bites. "Why are you all taking so much trouble for some strange human? You don't even seem particularly freaked by a human being here. Not to mention . . . well, there's a whole bunch of things that don't quite fit with what I know, or thought I knew."
"Hey, when the universe drops a motherfuckin' miracle in front of you, you don't just leave it, or her, laying on the ground, you know," Gamzee observed, popping open his own can of Faygo.
"What do you mean 'a whole bunch of thingth that don't fit'?" Sollux asked. "Bethideth a thtrange human on Alternia, that ith."
I took a deep breath to try to organize my thoughts -- I was sure this was pretty much going to sound crazy to them, but maybe organized insanity would be easier to understand. "In my . . . reality, the reality I went to sleep in, there was this web comic. And in it, four human kids started this game called Sbrub, which really wasn't just a game and they went through a bunch of weird adventures, 'met' a bunch of others through something called 'Pesterchum' who were also playing a version of this 'game', found out these others were trolls from someplace called Alternia . . .um, there's a whole bunch more of adventures, and strifes, and a bunch of the trolls die, and/or become ghosts and/or sprites and/or ascend to god tier and the universe get's fucked up , then restarted a time or two and then there's the whole alpha game session with alpha kids and alpha trolls and . . . well, the web comic went on hiatus, so no one knows how it all turns out yet." Finishing my monologue, I looked around at them. "And that's it in a nutshell. Basically, in my reality all of you are fictional characters from a fictional world in a fictional reality."
There was a long moment of silence, while they just sat and stared at me.
"Well . . . um, that's kind of how it, uh, happened . . ." Tavros began.
"More or leth -- well, acthually, leth than more, "Sollux said, looking away for a moment. "We did win the game, finally. It took motht of what you menthioned and all of uth working together in whatever form we were in, but we did it. And ath a reward, I gueth, there wath kind of a cothmic rethet. Everybody wath alive again -- really alive, not ath ghothtth or dreamerth or thpriteth. Feferi athcended ath Empreth. The alpha trollth are part of thith time line now, ath well ath the alpha humanth. That all happened about two thweepth ago. We thtill have contact with the humanth and thometimeth they vithit uth or we vithit them."
"Wait, what I said actually made sense to you? You accept it without any . . . qualms or doubts or . . . anything? Seriously? I mean, I'm having a lot of difficulty convincing myself that all this is real and not some really fucked up dream, despite overwhelming hard evidence to the contrary. And you're just so damn casual about it?" I realized that my voice was getting louder and higher, and I could feel panic clawing at the edges of my consciousness as my body started to shake.
I blinked my eyes rapidly because the air around me seemed to be rippling, distorted. Things around the campsite were moving as if there was a breeze, but I couldn't feel one on my skin. My head started to throb as those panicky feelings increased and I felt the breath choke in my throat as my thoughts swirled into a raging storm of chaos. I could hear a raw scream coming from somewhere . . . from me? And yelling and then brilliant red and blue lightning and then . . . I was regaining consciousness . . . again.
"This is getting . . . really repetitive and really old, " I said, my voice coming out as a hoarse croak. I groaned as speaking made the throbbing in my head even worse. "What . . . the fuck . . . happened?" I opened my eyes slowly to see all three of them looking a bit banged up and disheveled. Tavros just stared at me wide-eyed and Gamzee was muttering something about "heavy duty motherfuckin' shit" between gulps of Faygo. I struggled to sit up as I struggled to make sense of it all, while fighting down another surge of panic.
I heard a "Thhoothh . . . thhoothh" as a pair of arms pulled me up against a lean, wiry body. Fingertips began a steady pattern of light touches on my face.
"Damn, I hope thith workth on her," said Sollux's voice next to my ear.
I felt myself shiver, but the feelings of panic slowly subsided and I could feel waves of calm washing over me, relaxing all the tensed up muscles. After several moments, I sighed, sagging back against the body behind me.
"I wath hoping you might be able to tell me what the fuck happened," Sollux said, his voice amazingly calm, as he continued those light, calming touches.
( am I being . . . shoosh papped?? . . . mmm, feels . . . really . . .nice )
"You theemed to go into thome thort of panic mode, tothed Gamz and Tav up againtht thome treeth, and I had to uthe my thionicth to knock you out . . . but you didn't theem to be uthing thionicth exthactly . . . You feeling calmer now? I really don't want to have to knock you out again."
"If I say yes, you're probably going to stop doing that wonderful thing that you're doing that feels so . . .nice," I replied reluctantly.
I felt a flicker of amusement from him . . . ( whoa, wait . . . I 'felt' that? Oh, whatthefuck??) As that thought hit me, I tensed up, feeling a ghost of panic tingle through me. Before . . . in my original reality, I'd always been sensitive to emotions from others, joking about being a bit of an empath, but this, I suddenly realized, was the real deal. ( Receptive empath . . . and, evidentally, projective empathy as well, projective emathy that can manifest . . .physically. Oh, isn't this just lovely. )
The pace of the touches increased slightly. "Itth called 'papping' , which thank the cothmoth theemth to be working, and, don't worry, it doethn't look like I'll be thtopping any time thoon," he replied with a sigh.
"Shields . . . I need to ground and center and shield, " I muttered, forcing myself into a pattern of meditative breathing. This had been part of my religious practice for over a decade. ( Breath in, breath out, focused, yet relaxed, aware of the flow of breath and energy up an down the length of the spine. Now anchor down into the ground and up into the sky. Find my center, an oasis of calm inside. Ah. Now imagine bringing up a thin, tough transparent shell all around me, keeping my emotinal enegies in and muting the emotional 'voices' of everyone around me . . . ) Letting out my breath slowly, I felt my body relax again. "It's a bit shakey, but it's the best I can do for now, " I murmured.
"You know about shieldth? Well, thatth a bit of luck . . . thtill, I think I'll keep up the papping for a bit longer. Better thafe than being thlammed up againtht a tree."
"No motherfuckin' argument from me!" Gamzee agreed. "And, hey, Solbro, if you need a break, I'm not too motherfukin' bad at papping you know."
"I, uh, I'll help too . . . well, I'll try . . . I've not, uh, had to much experience with . . . with papping, but I've been the, um, pappee several times," Tavros chimed in, with a nervous laugh.
"Gods . . .I'm sorry . . .I . . . you guys go an rescue me a-and everything, and then I go and . . . and . . ." ( Damn it, I am not going to cry! I am not . . . oh, damn it to hell. . . ) I could feel tears sliding down my cheeks despite all efforts to stop them. "And now I'm crying like a . . . a . . . ohgodfuckingdamnit!" My breath caught in a sob as the tears increased.
"Itth okay, Therendipity, itth okay, really. Relaxth . . . thatth it . . . From what you've told uth, thoundth like you've had a bomb dropped on your verthion of reality. You're having to funthion inthide a reality that you thought wath pure ficthion, which ith cauthing a lot of thtreth. Tearth are a way of releathing thtreth, and releathing thtreth will help you keep grounded and thentered, which will help you keep your thieldth up, which meanth me not having to knock you out again . . . Tho tearth are okay!"
I just nodded, crying so hard I was beyond words at that moment, feeling the snarls of tension and fear releasing between tears and the papping. A haze of weariness was stealing over me and I found myself snuggling up to this source of soothing, calming touch. "Still don' know why . . . you're goin' t' so much trouble . . . for . . . for a stranger . . . an' an . . . alien, " I murmured, relaxing, starting to even feel a bit drowsy. " 'Specially after . . . y'know . . . playin' pinball with . . . you guys. Ya could've just . . . zapped me to 'blivion." I felt/heard him chuckle softly.
"Well, you know, the univerthe doethn't drop hot naked femaleth practically in my lap every day," he replied. "But, theriothly, I did learn a thing or two from contact with humanth and from our danthethtorth and all the thit we went through three yearth ago. And from dying a couple timeth. I kinda got into that human conthept of karma and the idea that thingth happen for a reathon." He sighed. "I really tempted to pap you to thleep, but I think you need thomething more than that damn Faygo and a granola bar in your thythtem. Trutht me, your body needth thome thuthtenenthe after all that thychic uproar."
"Don't sweat it, Solbro. You keep sis there calmed down, Tavbro and me can work some motherfuckin' miracles with some grub! Right, Tavbro?"
"Uh, um . . .sure?" Tavros responded. "Just, um let me handle most of the, uh, actual cooking, okay, Gamz? Remember the, uh, last time you tried cooking over a campfire?"
"Yeah, yeah, motherfuckin' good point, Tavbro," he replied with a chuckle. "Don't think Solbro wants to have to put out another mini forest fire on top o' everything else."
"No thit I don't, " Sollux answered firmly. "Uthing thionicth to thnuff a fire like that ith exhauthting."
My eyes drifted shut, and I could feel myself starting to doze. A part of me expressed amazement that I was accepting all of this so easily and was so relaxed among a group of virtual strangers. Most of me told that part to shut the fuck up.
"Hey, Therendipity, thtay awake for me, " Sollux said softly, pulling me out of my descent into sleep.
"Mmmm . . . sorry . . . you've just got such a relaxing touch," I murmured. "Much as I hate to say it, I think you can stop for now. " Sighing, I looked up at him. "I guess, I should stop using you as an easy chair too?" I asked, becoming aware, at that point, that I was sitting in his lap as well as being snuggled up against him.
"Hell no, unleth you aren't comfortable thitting in thome thtrange guyth lap. I thertainly have no objecthionth to a beautiful female uthing me as a, how did you thay it, eathy chair, " he responded with a wink. He stopped the papping and put his arms loosely around me. "Tho, maybe if we talk about thomething, it'll help you stay awake?"
"That would work. Maybe you could tell me about things in this brave new world I seem to have been dropped in, and I can figure out the differences between what is reality here and what I think I know? I mean, it looks like I'm stuck here as far as I can tell, so it looks like you'll probably be taking me back with you . . . that is unless it'd be too much of a bother or . . . or it would put you guys at risk in some way or--"
"Thuth!" he said, putting a finger against my lips. "You're thtrething too much. I couldn't jutht leave you here to fend for yourthelf, thilly! That'd be too mean and kind of thtupid. Like I thaid, thingth happen for a reathon. And I don't think Tav or Gamth have any objectionth, do you guyth?"
"Uh, no, none at all!" Tavros answered as he cooked something resembling hamburger patties over the fire. "Besides, even though she sent me flying like Pupa Pan, I, uh, think Serendipity is kinda nice and, um, pretty!"
"Hey, like I said, Solbro, the universe drops a motherfuckin' miracle like sis here on top o' ya, means your meant to take care of her or something, " Gamzee agreed, ruffling my hair as he knelt down beside us. "Welcome to the motherfuckin' family, my hornless sistah!" he said, sweeping me into a brief, but enthusiastic, hug before getting up to continue helping Tavros with dinner.
"Sister?" I whispered, feeling a swell of something like joy welling up inside me that erased some more of the fear and pain of being torn away from all that I had known before.
"Yeah, Gamth hath a tendenthy to make thnap dethithionth like that . . . but uthually he'th right. Now, firm up thothe theildth before you have everybody thanding around grinning and dinner burnth, " he said as a firm, but gentle reminder. "And let me tell you about Alternia . . ."