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A Hymn Of Empire

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The origins of Imperial rule lie within protohistorical seadwelling culture, of which only hint and inference remains. I myself was privileged enough to recover a tablet that, after sweeps of translation, yielded this to me: the original Empress may have been a sacrifice. A girl was sent down to the hadopelagic depths to sate the hunger of a monster and assure another sweep’s safety. I can only assume that -- for whatever reason -- one night the monster came back with her.

-- “From Tidepools To The Throne: A Treatise Upon Alternian History”, Mathav Yhosti (abhorristorian, later executed)

At each hatching of the heir, the Speaker of the Vast Glub whispers a prophecy regarding her reign. Existence of this divination was confided to the Grand Highblood XII from her dread Condescension herself, and passed down through the ranks of the Mirthful Church in warning of Horrorterror apocrypha. One ostensibly exists for the Imperial Condesce, albeit she has never made the contents known.

-- “On Clemency”, Jenefe Gisbre (abhorristorian, lengthy imprisonment, taken to trial, later executed)

There was a prophecy whispered the night of your birth. The story of you was always your favourite story, and Mom would curl you up in a lappet and tell it: how the sticky eggs in the birthing-craters were bustling with activity, some shaking, some still, some filled with annoyed wet wiggler having their first breakfast of birthing membrane. Mom would tell you how sad she’d gotten -- so sad, ready to let out little moans that would have probably killed off a thousand wigglers each -- but that was when you came. You hatched in the shallows, alive and peeping, and that made your lusus so happy she just couldn’t scream.

You asked your mother two questions: one, why she’d been so murderously MIS-ERABL-E? Sometimes it was hard to work out what she was saying, but you got the gist: her other daughter had left the nest and gone far, far away, far past all the stars that were knowable to Mom, because she was hungry for stars but that left Mom hungry for her. (Sympathy. You knew at that point that your lusus could get pretty fucking smothery.) But before she could freak and howl the whole universe into a couple of wet pops, out came you. And that made Mom so happy.

Like she would say:

then i was free
and you were new

and oceans filled with stars for you

Your second question was, what got whispered the night you were born? That part you were dying to know, but your lusus wouldn’t tell you for such a long time. Mom wasn’t the type to tell you wait until you’re older, she was the type to say wait until you’re more patient, or wait until you’re wiser. This was vastly unfair, and you both knew it. You tended towards neither patience or wisdom, and there were things you knew you had to find out; therefore you had to find them out from someone other than your lusus.

The problem was, books bored you. The very first one you got you skimmed to look at the pages and then opened up to C, for culling, and you read very fast because you wanted to go do something else. You skipped to the end and read “Culling should be performed on the the old, the sickly and the weak, as well as the generally nonfunctional,” so you congratulated yourself on getting that far and tossed the book away.

You knew what you would do with the non-functioning, the old, the sickly and the weak, which would be to look after them, nurse them, and keep them as happy and comfortable as possible, so you naturally assumed culling meant something good. It has been such a trouble, thinking everyone thinks exactly the same way you do.

So you went on thinking all these mistakes, right up until your first and best friend informed you -- with no small amount of disdain -- that you were playing culling wrong, when you “culled” a seasponge by hugging it. You informed him back -- with no small amount of disdain -- that he was incorrect. He said he was right. You said he was not. When he read out the paragraph in question to you in sneering, over-enunciated full, you screamed and stomped your foot and then had floods of tears until you thought you’d be sick. You blubbered your noseholes out. You behaved like a total grub.

He responded to this first with shouting, then cajoling, then pleading, then outright desperate bribery; Eridan never was good with unhappiness. His tactic was to wait until you’d cried nearly enough to forcibly empty the contents of your bile sacs, and then he’d get desperate and try to feed you something, probably because he thought if your mouth was full you couldn’t be sad. He fed you sweets and said you would get used to it. You told him people would get used to you.

You were four full sweeps before Mom relented and decided you were perhaps patient enough and wise enough, and then she took you down to the deepest trench in the darkest part of the ocean on the dimmest night of the year. In great secret she told you the meaning of you, which became your second favourite story.

Gl’bgolyb told you that there would be:

no empress after you,

and after you no idea like empresses remaining

It was then you realised: this meant that you had to be great, last and most wonderful, kind and terrifying to behold. It meant that it was up to you to fix everything that had ever happened before and make sure there was nothing to be fixed after, that all the false meanings now had to be your true ones. For a moment the weight seemed too big for your shoulders to hold, but you took a breath of dark water and decided that Feferi Peixes would hold up the universe. It had to be someone, and that someone was obviously you.

But how to hold up the universe when you couldn't even get C for culling right? You decided on the spot that you had to research. And you had to learn, or at least what you thought of was learning at the time. You decided to get yourself an education. Poor ignorant seadweller girl: sometimes you wonder what would have happened, if you hadn’t?

Our reigning Empress has no pale Imperial quadrantbearer. Who would suggest that the Imperial Condescension require pacification, when her thought and deed are flawless gestures done for the benefit of our vast Empire? Who, too, would suggest that she sully her own hands to pacify another? At its best the idea is arrogance, at its worst heresy. A moirail would be threat to the throne far over and above its black and red counterparts.

-- “Imperial Culture And The Workings Of Our Empire (Now With Recipes)”, Sarila Artily

You always took it for granted, your access to lovely things. When you were little the carpentry drones scanned your blood colour and built you a ginormous castle under the sea, more rooms than anyone could need and an ablution block bigger than some trolls’ whole lawnrings. From the Imperial banks you were Sendificated the glittery golden culling fork that you were to take as arms, and the tyrian-jewelled HEIRESS HEADDRESS that you wore from the time you were pupated, and endless other shiny toys to amuse wigglers: you only cared about how much access you got to sparkle, being that your brain was still squiddly.

When you were really young you thought that her Imperial Condescension must have been quite nice, giving you access to all these riches. That there was something gracious in her. There was a whole broadcast channel devoted to the Fleet news, which had struck an earlier you as dull, but sometimes flipping through you found interviews with the Empress. Her Fleet addresses were always short and to the point, but especially intense: she had sizzling eyes and was very tall with masses of hair. The camera was never allowed to get very close as Imperial law allowed for no less than fifteen steps’ respectful distance, but you always got the impression of those eyes.

So there you were, watching a feed of her Imperial Condescension’s fleetship address some news mediannihilators about incursions into uncharted space, or something, and all of the news people were very respectful and complimentary and Her Imperial Condescension watched them with her eyes just yellow slits. She had two little curlicues painted next to each lid and each lid had thick, dark eyelashes, which had the effect of making her oculars look like painted butterflies. The lids kept very still right up until one of the journallistics expressed condolences and outrage about some assassination attempt and how devastated they all would’ve been had it been successful etc etc glub glub bo-ring, and suddenly they were wide open: her gaze was yellow as a young sun, with rose irises. You didn’t understand her expression, nor why she jerked her pretty chin somewhere off-camera.

The luckless questioner was wrestled out the media pit. In a trice he was already facing down a legislacerator peering over teal-rimmed eyeglasses and reading the crime -- “the high Alternian treason of ideating her Imperious Condescension our Empress’s death, and the low Alternian treason of having a career in news media,” and in sixty seconds he was twitching in the noose. All her Imperial Condescension did was close her eyes, lashes brushing lashes, and look exhaustively bored with the whole ordeal.

(You watched his feet kick for a very long time, and felt strangely cold in the face. You had to pinch each cheek, hard, before they felt warm again.)

Even after this you wanted to believe. You thought that she maybe didn’t think about the dangling feet of journallistics, but that she thought of you, sparing a thought every so often for whatever tyrianblood was trying on her tiara and crooking it endlessly in front of the mirror. She would have done the same, once. But it was your moirail who tossed a lot of cold water on this presumption, your moirail with his gi-gan-tic glasses and his suspicious squint: “They want to make you a princess,” he’d said, which sounded nice.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothin wrong with it,” said Eridan, “only it wouldn’t be fun any other way, when she culls you. Nothin fun about killin off just anyone. It’s special, offin a princess.”

You gaped. He continued in that horrid airy, don’t-carish way he sometimes affected: “Why do you think you got the tiara and your heirlooms if she’s just krillin you anyway? Respect for your station, yeah, you’re glubbin royalty, but also so it means shit when she harpoons you -- ”

Your culling fork burst out your modus so quickly you smelled burnt ozone, and you were a little startled at its sudden weight in your palms. You were not so startled as Eridan, especially not when you let it rest heavy on his shoulder and bowed him all the way down to his knees. His mouth went slack. “That’s treason,” you said, your words not knowing your mouth. “That’s glubbing high treason. Take it back.”

“What the fuck, Fef, what the fuck -- ”

“It’s treason, what you’re saying. You’re not allowed to talk about that.” You were nearly in tears.

Fef.” So was he! He was so distressed. He would not be that sad again until the night he kissed Vriska Serket, although you always suspected that Vriska Serket was sadder. “Fef, I’m saury, okay, give me a break, c’mon -- put that away, I never meant to make you mad, why would I want to make you fuckin mad? Please -- ”

In the end he also did something rare, which was to reach out and clumsily stroke your hand over and over, quiet and conciliatory. You were trembling. It took him pressing his mouth to the cool metal of your trident’s shaft and looking completely awkward for you to take it away, to be sorry. “I have a task for you to carry out,” you said. “A royal task. I’m not finning around with you, Eridan, this is important.

“Fef, I’d do anythin for you, reely.” You’d frightened him. You felt shitty.

“You’re right,” you said, flushed hot with embarrassment. “You’re correct. Maybe she is just giving me all these things so I’m a bigger fish to fry, when the time comes. There’s lots of stuff I probably don’t understand and there’s lots I don’t have the time to understand, so you’ve got to -- make me understand. I need you to schoolfeed me, Eridan! What’s the use with having all this stuff if I don’t know what the point of it is?”

In a moment of rare humility, he said, “But I don’t glubbin know either -- ”

“So we have to read! You have to help me read!”

“There’s sandy glubbin fuckloads,” he said. “There’s books and books and books, Fef, all little type with no pictures, this ain’t The Very Hungry Slitherpillar.”

“I don’t need to trawl over all of it, Eridan. I need to know what’s going to make me a good ruler. Like histories, and government, and polliwogs -- “

“ -- oh my cod, Fef, it’s ‘politics’ -- “

“Suckerfish! That one was a test. Of course politics, and intergalactic politics, and military hierarchy, all the boring stuff -- do you even know how much I didn’t know? Do you even know how much could be wrong?

“But shuck it, Fef, why?”

You both beheld each other with wild surmise. Back then he wore gigantic sweaters with the cuffs coming over his hands because he thought it looked cool, and his legs came out underneath like two skinny pieces of driftwood. A fat scarf wound about his neck and the fringed edges came down to the end of the sweater, like stingers, and all in all he looked like a big jellyfish. His seahorse lusus was overbearing and made him pretty much wrap his head with hot towels each dim season for colds. Who couldn’t be pale for that?

“Because, Eridan Ampora,” you said, “I am going to be Empress of Alternia. The very -- last -- one.”

Some time later you would wonder why you loved him but that was one of the reasons, his expression then because he never questioned that idea, not once. And he questioned everything. You never came to a conclusion but he’d needle at you how you got there, all except for now.

For that one he simply said, “Well, we oughta get started. We only got a couple thousand sweeps to live.”

CULLING: the improvement of our slurry quality by removing trolls with undesirable mutations, natures or defects, whether brought on by genetic traits or by otherwise proving infirm. Also encourages the standing population by removing trolls whose low hemospectrum proves them quickly geriatric.

-- “The Big Bumper Book Of Troll Definitions”, Katinn Dhoune

That is how you spent the next whole sweep: four times a perigee Eridan came down to your hive and downloaded material, scanning you in to the gigantic library archive your bloodprint gave you access to. You even had download rights to stuff marked in big red text as **BANNED**, **HERETICAL**, **TREASON**, and **EVIDENCE** which you wanted to read first off but Eridan said you shouldn’t. He looked sort of wan at the time, and he kept swallowing and his throatchute kept bobbing.

When he was gone you tried to spend at least two cycles a day squinting through the books, disconsolate, munching grubpuffs, or he’d come over and read to you and explain some of the words and then bemoan the fact that nobody’d ever romance him because he was locked up in there with you. But it kept him busy. He didn’t blueprint a stupid genocide machine for ages. In fact, you always got the impression he really rather enjoyed himself. Often you would both come in from feeding your lusus, tired, hungry, bloodied, careworn, and he’d say “We should read,” and light up like a fistful of anglerfish. He should have been an abhorristorian himself. “I’ll need you when I’m Empress,” you’d say and he’d give you a furtive, wall-eyed look from behind his spectacles, one of barely-contained pleasure, then settle back towards the screen.

Your very first search query in the archives brought you back ninety-eight million, three thousand and forty-two hits, consisting of fiction, not-fiction, articles, interviews, and some documentalectures. Librariassassins lived very organised lives. “Wow!” you said. “Coddamn,” said Eridan. “We got to pare this the fuck down. Think up a question or whatever you fancy.”

“I want to know about the Condesce.”

“You’re krillin me here, Fef, most of these articles got the Condesce in, be specific.

“I pacifically want to know,” you said, “what the Condesce has done. As an Empress.”

You thought this was a good question, but he rolled his eyes, sighed like you were more a little dumb, and went back to the search as you hung over his shoulder and glubbed at any of your new cuttlefish who ventured past. You had decided to keep some as practice, even though he said that was awful, you should’ve just played Fiduspawn if you wanted to have all this silly shit running around, but you pointed out that Fiduspawn is for dorks. Eridan entered in Military achievements of the Alternian empire, because that was always what he liked best:

In the reign of her Most Glorious And Terrible, our great Alternian Empire has taken part in forty-three million sanctioned wars, subdued eight thousand, six hundred and thirty-three planets, spanning over five thousand lesser races brought to heel and exterminating eight civilizations with even the dust of their dust destroyed. Our dread Empire also boasts ninety-three different kinds of sandwich franchise

-- you read out loud, and then you had to stop.

“That’s overkill,” said Eridan.

“Eight thousand, six hundred and thirty-three planets,” you said, just to see how it felt in your mouth. “Eight thousand. Six hundred. Thirty-three.”

“I mean, how d’you have ninety-three different concepts with sandwich --

“Five thousand different kinds of alien!” You could barely imagine three different kinds. “Glub! Glub! Imagine, the moment we’re adults we’re going to get to see aliens everywhere.

“Well, we wouldn’t see a shelluva lot a ‘em,” said your friend, “I mean, it’s not like they’re on the ships right there, that’d be awkward.”

“But they’re part of the Alternian empire, aren’t they? Why wouldn’t they be on the ships?”

“They ain’t citizens, Fef.”

This did not make a lot of sense to you at the time. Of course you didn’t see aliens in movies or anything, much, I mean you saw them in war movies but generally they were getting exploded and you fell asleep during war movies anyway, but your thinkpan had gotten mixed up in all the excitement. You had envisioned aliens of all kinds, shapes and stickinesses working together for some glorious Imperial goal, because you’d wanted to. Even if they were just doing the mopping. “Well, I’ll make them citizens,” you said, partly out of contrariness. “I’ll let them be part of our Fleet if they want to be part of our Fleet! I mean, that’s sensible. Shoals of new soldiers, that way we don’t have to worry if the older ones don’t work so well.”

“Yeah, that’s sensible,” he drawled. “Get all the slaves of the Empire and let ‘em loose on our warships. Fef, that’s fuckin stupid, that’s dumb.”

“Then I won’t make so much war!”

“Trolls are natural warlike,” he said, “it’s in our genetics, that’s science. Evolution and whatnot. Look at me, take a glubbin gander at Vris.” (At that point it was just Vris Vris Vris all the time, anyone would think Vriska Serket had been hatched the perfect troll.) “Just wait ‘till you get older, it’ll kick in. Anyway, what would you do with a whole fuckin society that’s just a standin navy? What would we do?”

You lapsed into silence. You wanted to say learn to do something else, only you knew that he’d laugh at you and you’d end up screaming at him and he’d say that you were illogical and hysterical and it was your good violent seadwelling genes kicking in, and then you would want to smack Eridan in the face. And that was an awful thing to want to do, really, and sort of embarrassing, what if he thought you were getting all pitch at him? You’d thrown yourself back over the diurnal sitting platform and tossed your legs up and thought sullen things, and flicked at a cuttlefish gently whooshing overhead.

He filled up your pause for you, thank goodness. “Trolls are the most natural warriors in the universe, that’s just the way it goes. Base nature to be downright ruinous and genocidal. Go against that and you got a mutiny on your hands. Just stick your ocular jellies on me, I don’t go more than two nights at a time without tryin to destroy the reekin gutterblooded landdwellers in an ocean of cleansin dark flame -- ”

“You don’t go more than two nights at a time,” you said, “without asking that shouty nubby-horned lawnring troll about All My Wigglers.

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Whatever, just listen to this. Did you know that the shortest war the Empire ever got involved in was seven seconds?” The thought apparently made him cheerful; he kept pushing his glasses back up his snout, perched on a chair. “Longest is eighty-four sweeps and still goin ‘cause we can’t find the last bloody frondyank of their race, they were time-travellers and one keeps headin back to do guerilla attacks against us eras back, you gotta admire it...”

His voice droned on, making you feel hot and drowsy. You had painted your respiteblock in deep raspberry colours, because seadwellers were a glorious race who adorned themselves lavishly to show their dominion over land, and you liked the way all the cuttlefish looked gliding across the ceiling like party-coloured underwater clouds. So you tapped back at your netreader and prodded a couple books with your toe and you said, “We couldn’t always have been at war with everything, that’s stupid.”

You cut him off mid-sentence which he didn’t really like, but he stopped talking and looked at you and fiddled with his glasses again. “Yes, we were,” said Eridan, sort of pityingly. “Fef, most trolls aren’t you, they’re not all glub glub glub oh yeah let’s cancel the expansionary war and make seaweed chains, if you’re gonna be Empress you gotta work with your people. And our people fight. Too nice and you get culled, it’s not a troll nature.”

Too nice, get culled. You sat up with the force of the revelation, and you were aghast. “If we keep on culling all the nice trolls then none of the nice trolls get into the slurry!”

“Yeah, so?”

“So we’re just spawning bassholes!”

Eridan had pretended not to get it; he’d just told you that wasn’t how biology worked and about dominant strains and what seemed to be a very complex way of saying that you were all naturally jerks. This was hard to deny when a lot of you did seem to be naturally jerks. You were a jerk yourself! But you were not a jerk who wanted to stand around FLARPing and killing other trolls for fun, because you’d had to kill trolls for duty for-ev-er and that had taken the shine off, maybe. In the end you said, “Do you like all this stuff? The history things?

“Yeah,” he said. “Lets me know who I am. Who I might be -- someday, seadwellin ain’t all shitty fish puns and killin lusii. It’s about a history. Look at all this stuff on Orphaner Dualscar, that’s inspirational as shit. Hey,” -- and maybe he’d seen your woebegone face, because his changed and his voice went gruff the way it did when he wanted to be kind, “hey, remora the frown, Fef, c’mon.”

“I’m not a good troll,” you wailed.

“You’re a great troll, you’re a seatroll, that’s the best kinda troll anyone could ever be, Fef -- don’t get sad, you’re just strainin your thinkpan. We’re just readin the wrong books is all, you need something affirmational. Upliftin. Here, I’ll pick out some betta ones -- get it, betta -- ”

You appreciated the fish pun! You reely did. But you were not sure you were going to appreciate The Alternian Pageant, The Imperial Dream or From Sweep To Shining Sweep, all of which he bookmarked you to go over. They seemed to consist of good-looking trolls with big white teeth saluting in glossy pictures or talking about how great it felt crushing aliens under their bootheels, which was at least nice because it meant seeing someone happy.

“What if I wanted to find out what the Condesce was like?” you’d said, when he was getting ready to leave. “I mean, not what she did, what she was like. When she was young, maybe! Sweeps and sweeps and sweeps ago.”

“You’re shit out of luck findin that, that was long before we even set out for space,” said Eridan, and he came and he dropped one of your stuffed fish toys on your front. “Her Imperial Condesce ain’t the journal type. Or the interview type. You want to find out what someone was like, you got to read about what other people were sayin at the time -- but stop thinkin about it, tell me if my cape looks good instead, I’m FLARPing with the friggin Scourge Sisters tonight and you get extra experience points for roleplayin gear...”

FLARP was for dorks and capes were for dorks, but you’d told him he looked great and he’d smiled at you and you’d been happy that at least you could still make him smile. You lay around feeling miserable at the idea that you could be the Empress you wanted and the Empress nobody else liked, or the Empress everyone else wanted and the Empress you didn’t like one bit. Then your natural fight kicked in: if you couldn’t be the Empress they wanted, you would just make them want you.

It wasn’t as though everyone had always approved of the Condesce, was it? She had been the Condesce so long that it was hard thinking about what an other Empress could be, but she hadn’t wiggled out fully formed with a crown on her head. And she had lots of assassins, and you were beginning to understand why.

You want to find out what someone was like, you got to read about what other people were sayin at the time --

You went to read what other people were saying at the time! You felt like a real academic.

fuck da condesce

-- common graffiti found during the Signless era, popularized by graffiti artist Chelbi Kraghe (street defacer, later executed)

You had two main hypotheses early on. They were:

)(YPOT)(-ESIS #1: Trolls are not naturally vicious jerks w)(o just want to destroy t)(ings!

----EVID-ENC-E FOR: Moirails. M----E. Sitcom s)(ows aboat people kissing. Invention of cotton candy

----EVID-ENC-E AGAINST: Science??

)(YPOT)(-ESIS #2: Lots of trolls don’t like t)(e Condesce, w)(ic)( means t)(ere are trolls out t)(ere like me, w)(ic)( means political support.

----EVID-ENC-E FOR: ????


----EVID-ENC-E AGAINST ADD-ENDUM: T)(ose books seariously suck and are bad

The ----EVID-ENC-E FOR you went scouting out. Feeling a little silly about it, you closed all your curtains, wrapped yourself in a big soft length of blue fabric you’d pinned to the wall, and you searched: CONDESCE, HERESY, OPINION. Everything that popped up was crammed with **BANNED**, **HERETICAL**, **TREASON**, and **EVIDENCE**, sometimes more than one on the same document. Eridan had said you shouldn’t, but what was the worst thing that could happen? The Alternian Pageant had already happened to you. Everything from there was downstream.

As it turned out, it was the worst thing in a different way. The thing about hypotheses were that they were just hypotheses, and that worrying the world was bad was just a worry, and that in fact you placed a lot of emphasis on optimism. If you had not been an optimist, you never would have made the dreary trek every night to collect food for Gl’bgolyb. You wanted to believe that the universe was basically just, and that the Alternian empire was misguided --

The numbers washed over you, because numbers were also just that, numbers: you were empty by the third column of statistics about how many trolls got culled each year and the reason why put down on the forms. You wanted to be sad, but it just left you empty as an abandoned nautilus shell: INFIRM. INFIRM. INFIRM. MENTALLY INFIRM. UNFIT FOR DUTY. TREASONOUS. INFIRM. WRITES EROTIC STORIES ABOUT TROLL LAW & ORDER CHARACTERS. INFIRM. That had been in Culling Practices: The Price Of Overenthusiasm, written by some troll long since culled now, which you would find both ironic and a recurring theme.

You didn’t care about the numbers, you cared about what people said. Some claimed that the violence was inherent to the troll race but could be overcome, which you made a note on: maybe you could come up with a cure, when you came to the throne? Others said that violence wasn’t inherent at all and they also said exactly what you had been saying, that violence had been bred into trolls, and then other people argued there was evidence for both and you were beginning to think writers got culled for being confusing.

At first you’d wanted to come up with numbers which meant you could do something about the eight thousand, six hundred and thirty-three planets, but that had to be sat alongside the fact that there were six trolls culled each minute, which had been put in From Sweep To Shining Sweep as a kind of fun fact: Did you know that there are six trolls culled each minute? over a rainbow graphic saying THE MORE YOU DREAD!.

DID YOU KNOW that the Alternian empire has the scientific privilege of having discovered seventy-nine new species of sentient being, and assured their extinction in the exact same second? Become a Scienterminator!

-- THE MORE YOU DREAD!, in "From Sweep To Shining Sweep"

DID YOU KNOW that before the days of our glorious Empresses, the fate of our Empire was decided by a wise representative of each shade of the hemospectrum, known as the TROLLIGARCHY? Back in the days when we put everything to a vote, it was all terrible and nobody was happy, especially lowbloods, who are proven to prefer not making decisions about anything.

-- THE MORE YOU DREAD!, in "From Sweep To Shining Sweep"

DID YOU KNOW that over fifty trolls have been culled for disease, when in fact they were only suffering acute space acne? Always wash your face!

-- THE MORE YOU DREAD!, in "From Sweep To Shining Sweep"

This meant you felt a certain sick satisfaction going to:

C by the time this reaches you I will be dead & you too maybe, preparations for the imperial Menace go on as I write outside my window all of it dreadful saltblood opulence as though her hatching day is anything to celebrate but the birth of history’s greatest monster, & that is saying something considering the great & dreadful beast we all pay bloody tithe to in her continued existence. In a sennight I will test that theory anyhow w/the gun. If I prove the death of us all at least I free the masses she made slaves of but if not burn this letter and deny me howevermany times you need to, you won’t need to try very hard with our blood disparity ha ha. Just another one of her gifts in all her committed evils we even crush ourselves underfoot, we are a blight I am ashamed that I was even born. Whatever happens I remain your devoted Tazima Miujra pale as death ♦ ♦ ♦

-- “Collected Letters Of Revolution”, Anonymous

You had learned now to cross-reference the date. All The Imperial Dream said about the assassination was that it was a lunatic’s attempt meant to impress some old actress called Troll Jodi Foster. At that point you tossed The Imperial Dream away. And you’d thought Eridan would have been proud of you, except Eridan -- skeptical, cynical Eridan Ampora, terror and debunker -- had given them to you in the first place, and you didn’t understand why. There was no way he could have taken them as legitimate, you thought. No way at all.

But if you’d ever wanted evidence that people didn’t like the Imperial Condesce you had hit high tide. People had been disliking the Condesce for a very, very, very long time, and had been disliking her with loud voices. You had to keep a dictionary next to you at all times just to translate the droning wads of text on the page, but you found out that a book was basically a mystery: you couldn’t just take what the author was saying for granted, you had to think about who they were and why they were saying it. Certain phrases started filling you with distrust when they were used: lowblood deficiency, and cultist, and peacekeeping, and Imperial right. You went in with a crayon and started circling these phrases, and if they appeared more than four times on a page that book went sailing after The Imperial Dream.

And you started to wonder why books like The Alternian Pageant described the rebellion of the Summoner as a lowblood’s rebellion when it all talked so much about treasonous highbloods, and why books that didn’t have culled authors described the Summoner as a madman and books that did have culled authors described the Summoner as a virtuous soldier who loved his ideals. The culled trolls had written you much more interesting letters through time than the other ones. Before you started, you used to think that you had somehow invented the idea of troll society not being all it could be, like you were the only troll ever to think that maybe this all wasn’t a good idea. Other people had thought this long before the thought of you was a whisper in a bucket of slurry.

(Other people also thought that ninety-three sandwich franchises were too many, but this was a more recent argument and it didn’t figure into your thoughts much. If the people wanted sandwich franchises, you were ready to negotiate.)

So you started taking shortcuts and going to the books that had the most labels on them all at once and phrases like murder, civil war, propaganda, and because you wanted to find out you also searched for cultist, Signless. Although you were already feeling tired and sick to your aerating sacs by moonset, ready to head off to your recuperacoon and sleep and sleep, you fatally ended up clicking on: The Beginnings Of Our Civil War: Testament of the Signless.

the troll who suffered came to me and took me to the garden where we grew food and flowers together, and i as his disciple bade him to tell me his troubles but he would not, and i bade him to tell me good news and he would not, and my heart was very sore, but in seeing me low he began to speak

he said you my disciple, here is the way the world was, we would grow food and flowers just as you and i grew food and flowers and we toiled only in what we found to be fruitful labours, because what was the fucking point of doing meaningless shit with your hands, we did not wage war for war is hatched of want and for that we knew of bloodshed we did not glorify it, as we knew that bloodshed arises from only someone’s misery

and i said to the troll who suffered, do you think we will ever know this paradise again?

and he said no, love, that was the fucking point, it wasn’t paradise, it was real and it worked and we do not have to live this way with blood spilled on the ground and nothing growing in it

-- "Testament of the Disciple, The Book of Trials"

You ended up getting three hours’ sleep in two days!

)(YPOT)(-ESIS: Trolls are t)(e worst cruellest stupidest species in t)(e universe.


When you thought you had no tears left, and then when you found you still had more tears than that, you swam off into the deep dark cool depths away from the sun and away from your stupid wiggler’s collection of books. And you went finally, finally, to your Mom.

At first, she turned her mouth towards you expecting to be fed. You had thought up all kinds of things you wanted to say to her, all kinds of cutting, brutal, still-squirming truths, but as it turns out when you saw her all you did was scream. The only coherent thing you said was no, and by the time she wrapped you up in a lappet and made little whispers at you all you could hiccup was I don’t want to. When you stopped sobbing like a brokenhearted grub she stopped whispering, and the bottom of the sea was very quiet.

“You knew,” you said. “You knew all along she was evil.”

This was hard for your lusus because she didn’t quite understand evil. You tripped all over your twitcher trying to explain, your gills frothing out clouds of little white bubbles with each wobbly breath, and she stroked your shoulder very gently wtih a tendril. It was rare for her to touch you like that, because at her size it was difficult to be delicate. She then said something that curdled you to the core: she told you not to be mad at your sister. She told you not to judge.

she is very far away now,

said Gl’bgolyb,

she may not even return

“Good!” you said, nearly beside yourself. “Good. I hope she dies, and I hope she never comes back! I can’t fix it, how was I ever meant to try to fix it? Everything went wrong right from the beginning, there was never a single sweep where any of us tried to do anything and she got to do it all because everyone was scared of you, everyone was scared of dying -- I wish you’d do it! I wish we’d all stop!”

Your lusus doggedly repeated: the Condesce was your sister and your self; she had a mother just like you had a mother, and you did all the same things, didn’t you, you got hungry and you slept and got strong, and at that you let out a scream as though you could howl everyone out of existence. Gl’bgolyb was very distressed now. She offered to tell you something about your absent ‘sister’ -- sister -- if you wanted to understand, as though that would make you love her better. A while ago you might have taken this genuinely, and asked her if the Condesce had ever been like you, what she was like when she was small, taken this primary source and run with it. Looked for ways to love her, just a little. Asked if you both liked the same foods, been the girl who -- knowing that her captor hated the type of chocolate you got in Twelfth Perigee’s Eve advent calendars -- forgave her.

Instead, you say: “I want to know what got whispered the night she was born.”

Mom let out a low, crunching sob, a lesser Glub that probably made everybody on the beach lower than indigo drop down dead. This should have warned you ahead of time.

Gl’bgolyb told you that the Condesce:

would never be dethroned

not by war or revolution or tyrian princess,

-- and you sat there, totally undone.

Your seedflap wanted to spew out, “But,” before you realised she had never promised you a crown, only that there would be no Empress after you. Prophecies were slippery pieces of shit.

In a way, it crushed you. The whole last sweep of your life felt useless. The whole last life of your life, sweep to sweep, apogee to perigee, felt barren and silly. Once upon a time Empress had been the great meaning of you, and suddenly you were as strange to yourself as the smell of other people’s lawnrings. Your mother kept prodding at you worriedly, clacking her big beak with great whooshes of bubbles, trying to make you a slippery white comfort nest. Your words swelled up and bloated in your mouth, floating to the top of your thinkpan and resting there, belly-up.

Your lusus kept trying to croon to you, saying your name -- feferi feferi feferi over and over, like a benediction. You didn't listen. Lots of kids had a moment where they found their guardian was a bit fallible, and that was yours, because then you realised: this meant that if you had to be great, last and most wonderful, you had to be great, last and most wonderful on your own terms. You were not going to go down in history as a ruler. In fact you might not go down in history as an anything, which was a little bit vile, but if you were you wouldn't do it as an Alternian queen.

So in a way you were free. You no longer had to be Feferi Peixes. You could swim in different waters. And when you did not have to be Feferi Peixes, you could basically do anything and be anyone you liked. All because you learned yourself a few books, you thought. Poor sadder seadweller girl: sometimes you wonder what would have happened, if you hadn’t.

TA: let’2 be blunt about 2GRUB.
TA: thii2 game i2 goiing to kiill u2 all. thii2 game ii2 goiing two turn your preciiou2 empiire iinto a piile of 2lag, populatiion included.
TA: now per2onally ii have checked my bank and ii am fre2h out of 2hiit2 two giive due two the worldwiide 2hiit 2hortage.
TA: but ii wa2 under the iimpre22iion your eviil empiire meant 2omethiing to you.
TA: fii2hgiirl.
TA: 2o a2 your 2erver player ii am morally obliigated to warn you about ok you know what, ii’m not, you are 2iittiing on the hogbea2t’2 back of fucked-up cultural capiital here.
CC: I’ll admit. I wis)( we didn’t )(ave to die, and it will be )(ard carrying the deat)(s of all t)(ose innocent trolls forever. But t)(ere’s not a lot of options anymoray. Just war. And more deat)(. Being -Empress would just be me doing t)(e exact same glubbing t)(ing as s)(e did before.
CC: I, Feferi Peixes, Mot)(er’s Blood and t)(e Imperial )(eir, abdicate t)(e Alternian t)(rone.
CC: A)(----EM. A quote from a lady I admire. 38)
CC: T)(e -Empress’ tools cannot dismantle t)(e -Empress’ )(ive.
TA: ...
TA: do you even know what that mean2.
CC: S)(ore do!
CC: It means:
CC: Let’s get t)(is suckerfis)( going, DORK!
TA: oh my god plea2e ii do not want two liike you.
TA: plea2e glub or 2omethiing 2o that thii2 awful feeliing can pa22.
CC: Glub glub glub GLUB glub.
TA: phew, thank2, appreciiated.

I cannot begin to relate the injury culling and war has done to our culture. A civilization laid to waste each time a new Empress ascended. Whole libraries destroyed for the sake of cultural unity, their psionic librarians shackled instead as mindslaves generation to generation. Art and culture tempered only into the swords of propaganda. They took the manuscript a colleague wrote -- the story of a greenblooded Sufferite who reveals the devastation and desolace of war to his entire Threshecutioner cohort -- and I hear they plan on flanderizing it into some ridiculous pro-Imperial sitcom, most likely with that insufferable Troll Will Smith. This is my last entry, I imagine. I will be killed quietly in front of some bureaucretin, but I’ll die knowing this: we as a people are more than walking death, and I will be replaced by many more who understand our truth. We were not hatched knives. I followed the teaching. ♋

-- recovered from the writings of Arcadi Martyn (abhorristorian, later executed)