It's the Black King.
She's lost track of how many things she's killed since separating from Kanaya: some of them hideously alien, some of them all the more disturbing for looking queasily like troll grubs or Imperial drones. And now here it is, the Combine's Final Boss, lumbering out of the pulsing fog, and it's the Black King. With three gashes across his massive face, seeping that candy-red blood so like Karkat's, looking almost purplish in the sickly light. His wings flare outward as he advances, trampling the chessboard field, leathery flaps drumming the sky.
None of her other friends are here -- they should be here, the twelve of them fought the Black King together, they should be here -- but there's a Karkat beside her, snarling up at the slow-moving shape, scythes ready in his hands.
CG: DON'T YOU FREAK OUT ON ME NOW, FURBALL
CG: THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR PANICKY CAT SHENANIGANS
CG: WE GOT THIS
Another step, another pulse of those huge wings that aren't really that huge after all, horrible feathery pinions spreading wide as he descends from the dark sky over Derse, brandishing his bloody sword.
It's Jack Noir.
There's no good reason for Karkat to be here, but he is anyway, bright and deadly in Prospit gold against the deep purple balustrade as they fend off imp after imp, and if the imps sometimes look like chitinous or tentacled or half-machine monstrosities, that's nothing new either.
AC: :33 < hissssss!
AC: :33 < we can take them!
CG: BET YOUR RIDICULOUS TAIL WE CAN
CG: WAIT, HOLD UP
CG: SOMETHING'S WRONG.
This time the pulse makes the stone underfoot shudder, and as it fades, so does the last of the light. One last wingbeat and he lands, pacing toward her, invisible until her eyes adjust. His footfalls are barely audible, pap pap pap across the floor, slowly getting closer.
Darkness and silence. There are no imps, no synths, no other enemies anywhere. Just those approaching steps.
It's the eyes she sees first, yellow as her own, and the silhouette that slowly emerges from the dark is barely bigger than she is.
The three parallel gashes are still visible across his face, trickling purple blood. The sword he's holding isn't a sword: it's a club, and the blood on it is royal blue.
And she's alone.
AC: :33 < ... karkat?
There's no answer. There's no answer because she can't pretend Karkat's talking if she can't think of what Karkat would say if he were here, and she can't think of it because Karkat was never here. Not for this.
Nepeta steps back, and back, and back, until her shoulders touch solid stone.
TC: KARKAT'S NOT HERE, MAN. ;oD
She's struggling to picture his face, imagine his rasping voice, but it's gone. There's nothing here but her, and her approaching death.
but somewhere in paradox space is the self she's seeking
TC: that's the joke, kittysis.
TC: THAT IS THE MOTHERFUCKING JOKE.
TC: he up all went away and left you.
TC: with me.
TC: AND MOTHERFUCKING ME.
she reaches out blindly, scrabbling in panic --
and snags something --
CG: OH FOR THE LOVE OF THE MOTHER GRUB'S EVERY OOZING ORIFICE.
CG: THIS IS PATHETIC
CG: BELIEVE ME, I KNOW PATHETIC WHEN I SEE IT
CG: AND THIS IS FUCKING UNBELIEVABLY PATHETIC.
CG: FURBALL, TELL ME YOU'RE NOT BUYING INTO THIS.
CG: THERE IS NO WAY IN ANY POSSIBLE TIMELINE YOU ARE THAT DUMB.
CG: IT'S JUST A HALF-ASSED CHUCKLEVOODOO
CG: WAIT NO, NOT EVEN HALF-ASSED
Nepeta blinks, and wonders dimly why she's curled up on the ground with gravel grating her cheek, and why it isn't nearly as dark as she thought.
CG: WHAT THE EXCRUCIATING FUCK ARE YOU STILL DOING ON THE GROUND?
CG: YOU CAME HERE TO KICK ASS AND YOU'RE NOT OUT OF ASS YET.
CG: WHAT DID I ALCHEMIZE THOSE NOOKBITING LASER CLAWS FOR IF YOU'RE JUST GOING TO LIE THERE AND NOT USE THEM?
There's no honking anymore, no indigo-tinted voice, and she's starting to realize that there never was. But there's something else instead, very distant and getting rapidly closer: a thin whistling shriek that might be an insect shrilling, or an animal in pain, or what it actually is which is a synth plummeting toward her out of the burning sky.
Between one breath and the next she's rolled to her feet, equipped the AHAB'S CLAWSHAIRS, and fired a searing blast of blue light. The synth doesn't so much explode as half-vaporize, flaming fragments spraying out in a wide ring and falling in weird arcs, bouncing strangely with the distortion of the local space. She keeps firing, sweeping the beam across the warped buildings, punching through walls and foundations. None of her allies are anywhere nearby -- which means anything nearby is going down, and going down hard.
And somehow -- somehow she doesn't quite understand -- Karkat actually is with her now. And it's his voice that warns her when the prox bombs start raining out of the bellies of the flying things overhead.
CG: OH SHIT, INCOMING
CG: GET OUT OF THERE CAT
"Come on," she mutters to him, and reaches out with that snagging feeling again, as though she's hooking her claws around something and pulling --
-- and everything goes white as she punches the return button.