21 - Sex and Violence

Sex looks at me with huge eyes, maneuvers out of the hug, and blurs--cartoon-zips all in like three frames because we're in the Painted Sea--toward my door.

I look at my newly rescued handmaiden, all brilliant eyes and smile and lithe beauty. She seems just happy, and is definitely back to human--and the creepyass turning into an impressionist painting thing makes sense, because that's her art style. She moves smoothly but her paint-strokes fade through changes a little like the video for Take on Me, and it makes me want to lick her frosting like it always does.

"It's good to see you naked again. How are you doing?"

"Wonderful! I'm in Strawberry Home! We're going to explore everything, right? How are you, you big sexy nightmare with chains and goo you dripped all over me! You look wonderful, but if I can ever sleep again it won't be your fault!"

"I just gave my crown away," I blurt, and then start--huh, weird. Sniffle but that's it. I just feel lighter now.

"Well not your castle, apparently!"

Sex is checking out the elevator--oh snaprocks oh fuck. This must have come right here. The Heartwarming decorations are still up, baubles and evergreen garlands just like Earth does in the twenty-first century--those these baubles are hand-blown. By me and Boobsong, treating the glass like bubblegum. You can see our toothmarks on the little end-piece that makes. We would stick the hooks in while the glass was still hot instead of the cap-things Earth baubles have, or make loops with our fingertips.

I seem to remember the glassblower thought this was the coolest thing. She was one of the ones who thought we were magical, not apocalyptic.

That the decorations are up like this makes me feel really weird. It's empty and quiet, just the four of our bare asses, but the--electric--lights are on. I thought it was a war to even get them in the Library? Maybe because this is my gallery? What am I missing, what happened--or has Walt already done his thing?

He would give the VIP their first night in the castle alone, that's a very Walt thing to do.

But my handmaidens. Sex looks adorable by the elevator, and my other handmaiden is gorgeous right in front of me looking up and around at everything--

"Okay first new clothing rule for everyone! Bareassed until further notice because I seem to be like centuries behind on ogling you two. Second, that matters because I really need to go hide in my room right now so you're coming unless you wanna stay down here locked out with all the ghosts, and up there in my suite I'm pretty sure I have a handmaiden wardrobe so I don't want anyone exploding from being good about not asking if we can play dress-up yet. We will, don't you worry. Also, yes OBVIOUSLY slumber party but we're kind of in the middle of my birthday road trip so expect a kidnapping before too long but don't worry because Boobsong will totally eat anyone who tries to not take all my handmaidens along on my birthday, won't you, dolly?" 

They'll be very very sad for sure!

"Awesome! If there's ghosts I want to meet 'em all!"

My other handmaiden does a dance move with one leg out and unfolding her hands up from her shoulders, grinning wide.

"What am I called, you got Sex's name back, get mine now!"

"Interested in my eravahk is what I call you right now! Come on, in the elevator with me, nice n' crammed."

My smile is ear to ear but I'm surprised how easily I sound like Grandmother Strawberry.

"This door's an elevator!?"

"Well Princess Starlight's not gonna climb stairs to her own room, is she?"

I zombiehot my way over to the door, cast a last look at the gallery's green banners and white stone, and look at the door. How did this work...

"Yowza, Wetpeace is goin' insane on me!"

"Must be getting you ready to go up to the Princess' chambers, heh."

The door is a slab of eighties-cartoon bolted into the the elegant realist-oil-painting hallway, brilliant diagonal rainbow stripes of metallic-sparkly plush vinyl with a round-pointed cartoon five-pointed star of the white gold my family wears to match our complexions in the top-center.

Those art-style metaphors would've worked well when Strawberry Home was on Earth, but the Painted Sea makes them literal.

"It says it's making me able to comfoOAAAAAAAAAH!"

She's right there, so I grab her against my side where she can gasp and moan more happily while I figure the door out.

This is all coming so naturally. I can even remember the oh so very pussy-ish--

"So I can comfooort YOU with aaaAAAH my head clear!"

It's right of course. A foursome with them would rule but right now I can barely stand.

Right, the rainbow ribbon here on the chain, hanging down form the doorframe--

"Don't you ring!"

"Grumblygrape Marxberries I've been without you all too long. Fraid I have to be selfish, this time, though."

I hold Boobsong up to my face, llllliiiiick across her awesome breasts to get both nipples, and then kiss her little mouth hard.

[!] GGgaaaasspp your Boobsong can move but if this isn't enough lust for what you want that's okay!

"I love you, dolly." 

I hold her up where my handmaidens can see, click wave--

Hi waving!!

--face her at the door and hold her up where she can reach and click pull.

Pull what? Ribbon of course! Grab and haul with all your little Boobsong's might!

Boobsong yanks so she's lifted up in my hands, there's a motor sound very subtly far away, and then the elevator opens--

"Pussy express, goin' up! Yer too much, Starlight."

I REMEMBERED WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE! Hot pink silk greets us, with a mirror set in the back wall (last chance to make sure you're presentable!) with the silk pulling back to reveal it very explicitly. Especially with the big strawberry clit on top.

I march--lurch--in--mirror, damn, I'm scary like this. Too much to process. I spin and face the doors and with my handmaidens crammed in with us hold Boobsong up to the ribbon in here and click pull again.

Find what pulling--ribbon! ALL MIGHT RRRA--

She manages to get it pulled, and the door shuts, but she's stuck good.

"Oh dolly, you're so cute. How are you going to let go now?"

With a gentle push the elevator starts upwards.

Your Boobsong will just stay this way until you make her move again. She oopsed again.

Her hands are tight on the ribbon. It's really cute. Giggles.

I turn her to face me and lick delicious, soothing little licks of nectar out of her pussy until...

aaaaAAAAH Lick yes eeaaaaaAHH one more should go hhaaaaaaaAAAAAAH There leg go face down arms back wait command.

Look at you so pretty! Kiss you with my big tongue in your little mouth.

MMMFGMP...

Thinking of pottery class, I pull away and click capped before she can lose the just-kissed face.

"There. You'll make a nice decoration now."

But I hug her back against my chest, possessive, and turn to my handmaiden.

"I'm such a bitch that I can't remember. I'm so sorry."

"You're a bitch if you don't start trying soon!"

"Yeah, sorry. Okay there's a prophesy--ooh we can go fly to see Monolith zero--prophecy that implies your name is Coffee but that seems a little racist and the same thing calls me Blu'eyes so I call Shenanigans on that. Hmm..."

She just smiles back--the elevator stops, and the doors open onto my antechamber--

"Fizpopping cummerbunds, is that yer Starlight Princess gear? How'd that get here?"

What. I push past them, bossy but very snuggly.

There's a white chez lounge with black satin across from the elevator. There on it, laid out like I went to sleep and then disappeared, is my Starlight Princess outfit with rainbow stockings, little skirt, and party blouse so thin and tight. My crystal-and-rainbow high heels are there where my feet would be, lined up and ready to go. Right, the party-top is mesh over most of it, and I'd wear colorful bikini tops under it. Nothing under skirt, mwaha!

[!] EXTREMELY nothing!

You're missing something too, you know.

Think so? This Boobsong's free will is right where it's supposed to be!

My handmaidens come up on either side.

"That's the pun war face! Come on, let us in!"

"Oh, Boobsong and me were just thinking how our missing pieces are right where they belong."

"When you get your head back, I want to hear how you came up with that. It's right out of Hellraiser!"

"Head is gone, toes--is that your wing slit--Rainbow, that's hard, jeez!"

"Okay well I've gotta get it together enough to show you the mechanical wing she made me--this is all Boobsong of course--before she eats me up again--fuck it. Clear."

They cram up against the wall on either side of the couch, and I spread my wings.

One floomphs out with that quick-boner fun that makes it feel so sexual, while the other...scissors and sewing machines, ssshlings out and clicks into place so heavy and dead. Perfect and horrifying--and I'm shocked to find, I feel too alive for this form now.

Sex puts a hand to her mouth, while--I'll get your name--stares, fascinated.

"You're...you're..."

Noises jumble in my head.

"Anip?"

I give my best know I'm screwing this up face.

She does another dance pose. They mean something--wait, the first was a K, this is an A--

"Kan..dice? Kandy! Or with a C--I named you all things I love! Right? Close? Same universe?"

She looks mysterious as I guess.

"It's Candy, you big nurp, I'm just tweaking you."

Giggly. "Humph! Alright, you get lightswitch duty, then, Candy. They should be around. I'm pretty sure I had full-on electricity up here."

Candy slinks out from her spot, sidles around my mechanical wing, smiling.

"Here's the breaker panel. Hundred amp supply? What do you have up here--oh the elevator, that's sixty amps of it. Okay all these are on, time to play follow the conduits..."

Yes all my handmaidens are huge nerds. I remember that much.

My eyes won't move off my Starlight Princess outfit. I want that back on me so much--

Well then dragon just eats you up RROAAAAAAH changing so fast big head and open wide BITE all in one gulp!

She somehow gets me feet-first to be swallowed so I can feel the gooifying tentacles fuck their way up my body, turning me to goo bit by bit by bit, squeezing tension out of me--dragon are you savoring me?

Yes very slowly chomping to feel every bit come off of you!

That is so hot and so is this! My body turns to liquid tingly peace climbing up and when it gets to my chest I can feel the raptured expression my face is making because of how much like a hug this feels. Time seems to slow as my shoulders and head go, and then I'm goo flowing into her inside and I realize just how hard to be in that form was.

Thank you, dragon--are you taking me right to an egg now? It feels like I'm flowing right through your tummy.

Yes. Can't wait to have fun with Sex and Candy!

Okay. You're just making me me, right? That form was really hard.

Just like you always are.

Good. I loved it, though. That was epic--in no time, I'm folded in an egg and my eravahk is heavy with its little hammer form...and I'm crying because being whole an human-looking doesn't feel anymore right than being a scary-hot stitched up Princess. Seeing her chains through me like that. It. Yeah. A little silver head and curvaceous body are nestled in my arms: never without my dolly, not even just as long as it takes to hatch. That's our way.

Never again with that box thing. Even without leash your dragon would just keep on biting stuff until she was there with you.

We've sure seen some stuff find that out. Okay. I take a breath, feel for oxygen--is that working this time, dragon?

Seems to be good yes.

Good. No more freaking out my dolly, Dreams.

A big circular mark...okay, I'll take that as. Good.

Dragon, is there like more than your collar I wear, or something? Seeing your chains all through me like that felt so right.

Not before but maybe it's time for that. Here's your new clothing rule: have to be wearing your Boobsong's mark visibly where you can see it lots. What's her mark, you say? Glad you asked! CHOMP!

Her dragon-jaws appear around me and chomp across my right breast so it's left with--light--a purple tattoo of her bite-mark from jaws big enough to swallow me whole.

Bursting with happiness, I hug her and look down at it. I can feel my collar, of course, but it really means a lot to see something, too.

[!] That has to stay openly visible. You can make your light shine it through your party-top. No hair on your boobs! Nothing your light can't shine through without burning the place away or lighting so bright it destroys things.

Yes, dragon. I want it bright anyway! I bring up some purple light in it, and to my joy it stays without concentrating on it. I'd forgotten I could do that. I cut the other light, to just see the purple glow.

My dragon loves me.

My handmaidens are waiting now but...what's there to do still, here? We'll be right in my antechamber, when I hatch, but I don't feel ready yet. Maybe that's just--

The Dreams show me a toy one-man-band...feeling like I have to be everything, do everything.

A hammer bashes through the shell, and Sex and Candy's hands pull the shell apart piece by piece, until I'm sitting there with Boobsong, just like last time.

The lights are on--YES! I remembered that too I thought there were string-lights in here! They hang from the ceiling in arcs. I love those things. Much better than regular old lightbulbs. Everything's colorful, but the lights average out to still normal-ish. This isn't my dressing-room (yes I have one, for jewelry), so it doesn't need good light for choosing colors, and it does need to look homey and refreshing after a long day of Jenner's bullshit.

There's a thing. Are we done with her? For now, anyway. I grin up at Sex and Candy, and their names make me smile like always. Time to get up, I guess--

"What's on your chest--she gave you a hickey! Rainbow's a sex fiend if she got that love-bite!"

Grinning, I start to get up, and they get down to help me so skillfully...I'd forgotten this part. Handmaidens help you with everything. My game making me helpless actually has a lot to do to be faster than them. I smile at both their pretty faces, it is so good to see both of you--

My Starlight Princess gear is right there. They could have me dressed in seconds. I can't decide if it feels right or not, though.

"All our missing pieces aren't where they belong. There's five more handmaidens, I've barely reconnected with the two of you--I mean Sex, how long are you even wound for? Candy how did you un-Skeksis? I--okay. Up here is Strawberry Princess for now at least. This is for going out in, but Dreams I wish for the chance to put it on or not if we're--and it will be WE--are going to be taken away from here, until I decide."

The show me a lightbulb, then Boobsong. Boobsong has an idea?

Yes. Your dragon says stay in Strawberry Home until she says it's time to go. Leave without Starlight Dress? Not on dragon's watch.

I love you so much. You got it, captor.

"Okay, scratch the kidnapping maybe, my dragon's keeping me here until she's ready to go. To the bedchamber!"

Which should be for a foursome but I think is going to actually be for sitting in my bed and crying a lot.

High, Fill thirty glasses, Servants who air so much water (25 left)

"Bwahaha I'm surprised it that was only three!"

Sex and Candy look at me, curious.

"I have a game goal to fill thirty glasses with girl-goo, and you know what I slimed you with--erum, I'm sure I've got towels--scratch the bedchamber, who wants a hot bath? All those hottub fantasies are memories, I'm pretty sure! It's outside, we can see where Strawberry Home got put, too. The Painted Sea, obviously, but--yeah. Hottub it is, let's go!"

"You lead the way, it's your world up here!"

"It really was when I lived here. It's going to be weird having all that down there actually embrace me and Boobsong, and not just deal with us at dragon-point. This way."

Memory is drawing me to the right of the chez-lounge, so I set off that way. In my mind's eye is a white-painted, window-paned door to my battlement from my bedchamber. There were supposed to be guards up there, but after Boobsong remodeled, this was our space.

The wall ahead is black with little diamond stars, and bends around to the door, which is heavy green wood, the last line of defense for Princesses who weren't what you were defending from. I stop and slip reaching for the handle, then just wait. Candy snuggles by me and opens the door--right, have to back up, it opens out to make battering rams less effective. I grew up in a safe. Is it any wonder I live in a dragon's hoard? I step back, though not so much she won't have reason to take advantage of the occasion aaaghaaaaain hi Candy. Her body's soft lithe dancer's moves rub past me again as she gets the door open. It's dark inside, and I gulp.

I'm not afraid of spirits or spectres or zombies, but the ghosts in here--

"Last time I was in here, I was ending the world. Let's go straight for the hottub, we'll get to this."

I turn my light into a flashlight from my palm, and lead us through to the door I was thinking of, to the left where I know it will be. There's the reflection of my hand on the glass, the mullions, gold berry-vine handles...I walk close, and stop, and Sex and Candy now both brush past very sexily past filling my mind with hips and arms and butts and happily smiling faces, face me in front of each of the double doors, and then turn and push theirs out so I can see their beautiful asses move as they go.

Sex's key isn't turning? Into the bath so we can talk!

"You two are so hot. Where was it now..."

In my mind there's a huge triangular tub stuck against a sloping roof made of copper, another thing I brought from the otherworld. It'll be just to the right of the doors, I think...as I step through the doors into the night outside, I crank up some light to see by--brr! Snow and cold air greet us, thick on the balcony.

"You two are so hardcore. Tell me if this burns," and I pump out a bunch of IR to warm them, and am instantly surrounded by handmaiden-flesh.

"Nope, that's just grand. Please tell me I don't have to fetch water, that's a Princess' bath, alright!"

Candy's discovered the bath, then. Following her gaze, there it is, a huge pool against the roof of my room, like I remember--but everything's covered in snow! Didn't I make the courtyard hot as summer with my rage? This faces out, that's right. It was shielded by the roof, I bet.

I lead us up to the tub.

"I have running water, let's see..." I start melting snow with a careful IR laser, so I don't take the stone with it.

There it is, against one side, a square channel raised above the edge the water would well up to and pour into the bath dramatically through. Another on the other side...now where are the valves? I close my eyes, determined to remember...it was just me and Boobsong, then, so this won't need a lot of handmaiden drama...I see the kitchen tap from Gummi bears!? No that's right, a silver image of the crown, that worked like those one-faucet shower knobs. It'll be...there. Along the wide ledge between the roof and the tub, on a little plinth, set where Boobsong could reach it for me without going far, because the idea of this tub (when you're not filling it with an orgy) is to sit along the edge by the roof and look out at the stars, and world. I melt it free of snow, and then a path to it from where we stand.

"Oh, get this. If this really came right from the Strawberry World like it looks like, and I'm remembering the cisterns right, you two are about to take a bath in real live Strawberry World rainwater. So like no acid rain."

I start slowly toward it, in a trance, feeling a little weird. It was always you who drew my baths...

Nope, remember the maid with the big scary heartchild made of stabby shadow stuff? She was as scary as your dragon is!

Oh yeah, her. Her heartchild was kind of spooky too!

Yes cutesy joke, but seriously. Reader if this is your introduction to su'khora, you might have the wrong impression because of me and Boobsong. Most su'khora are things like kindly horny succubimbos or sweet little sex angels or wise and caring doms. Take it from me, the only way you'll get a scary heartchild is if you're pretty scary yourself, and that maid's (not Handmaiden, just maid, like on Downton Abbey) heartchild was her shadow. Of knives and jagged rocks and bare treebranches at midnight on Openveil. Neil Gaiman would have taken one look at it and tripped over his feet trying to run away screaming because he was cumming.

It would always smile and wave to me warmly with its jagged-toothed grin like light shining through a hole in her. I wonder what became of her? She would have appreciated my dead-Princess form. Because that's what it was. That's what Kaari needed to see to let go of me and wish for the Queen she deserved after all that faithfulness.

"That's the faucet. Somebody run to draw my bath first or I'm make you do it together in some kind of ridiculous way. I'll be right there with IR, don't worry."

Candy sets off with a smile, swaying her ass at me--gulp, this whole eaten-fucks thing is going to get intense--

"I was going to but my legs are stuck! I'm going to--"

She goes still, mid-sentence.

Did you get spiked into moving? I saw your key was stopped.

I don't know what that was. I was there on the floor with you and then that Skeksis ship--did you really find Dark Crystal Skeksis?

It's a long story for bathtime. If you can't wind yet I'll make you into a pool-toy, you'll see.

Of course I can be one. My key was stopped, but there I was movable, and then you were running up those stairs lookin' like a horror show--don't get me wrong, a sexy one, but horrifying! More please! You know I like kinda scary stuff, or I sure wouldn't be your handmaiden!

I bet you got spiked. Let's try something.

I bend down and grab a handful of snow off the roof--have to turn the IR down, heh--and stand in front of Sex, who's left with her arm up to snuggle, statufied. I touch the snowball to her nipple, just for a moment.

How's that feel?

That was the snow, right? I just felt the touch, no cold.

Thought so.

I heap it carefully on her shoulder, holding Boobsong tight with my other arm.

Anything!

Just like sand! I'm freezer-safe, how handy!

You can watch all the frozen sunrises you want. I'm sure I can make it so you don't miss them, even though I'm not touching you. I'm going to show you something else, but I have to go over to the tub. Love you.

I kiss her statue lips and follow Candy. She's standing on the ledge by the faucet where I've cleared the snow, watching steaming water fill the tub.

"Statue time!? How'd you get candy in--uh oh, we've been snuck, haven't we. What was it this time, gas in the elevator? Oh your pussy-sauce, I bet--"

"I wouldn't sneak you after you escaped from what I'm pretty sure was literally hell five minutes before only to get Skeksified by the Four Dreams! Did you not notice--no of course, we all had like two seconds. Check this out."

I hop up on the edge of the tub, and turn back to Sex.

I swear on the rocks I'm not timeskipping you here, but watch Candy's reaction, anyway.

Why, what's going to happen?

This.

I hold out my hand and think get over here, key, and it was probably in my hand the whole time.

"What's that for--oooh, you threatened for twenty years...if she gets hers, I want mine!"

Get it?

That's my key, it was--oh that's handy--cor blimey don't lose that key in the couch!

Yeah especially since part of your soul is in here. I can summon it from anywhere in the multiverse.

I glance up to Candy who's still officiating over the water temperature.

"What is yours? I know you have something, but I haven't remembered. I totally did Sex's without knowing what I was remembering."

"That's not the way we do things! You remember, I'm asking for it, but that's all I'll say."

"Good girl."

Looking at Sex again.

Alright now check this out. Still no timeskip. Get to my side.

And just, there she is, on the edge of the tub.

You can do me that way? Awesome! Call me to play pretend--ghaahahah don't blink!

"Okay that will be useful. I suppose you can do me that way, now?"

I slip around behind sex, move her hair aside.

I'm putting your key back, but not winding you yet. When it's time to get in the bath, unless you bbbeg me to leave you unwound.

I might just, this is really nice. My feet were frozen, now they feel fine!

When I put the key to her hole, though, some kind of magnetic force pushes it away from insertion. Dolly, did your scans say anything about this? I keep trying, as I read her.

The key can't go in until it's time for her to be wound. It pops out from her back if you're there when she stops. That must have been special last time.

Erum, game take this I guess--tentacles snatch it away to storage.

Looks like you're stuck. Your hour's not up, so I can't even put the key in. Did that hurt?

Felt like sticking your tongue in a dry pussy, keep going and you'll get there, say after an hour.

If I give her candy right now, can she still absorb it, dolly?

Bwahahah yes and hot that's the kinky way! Do it your Boobsong wants to see her squirm!

Okay. Oh can I even--eh, it won't stay. Let's fake her out instead, just a bite-size piece.

Upset to be stuck? Candy time, either way!

You know what my kink is. Here's my way of bein' devoured! What's your candy do this time?

Make you squirm wondering.

On an open palm, I bubble up--it comes out looking like a Trivial Pursuit wheel? Oh I get it. Heh.

I hold it up for her to see, then half-kneel and slip it into her soft wet pussy, push it deep inside with a finger, stand back up.

There.

Oh my fuck, I can feel it already, what is that, what'd you do?

You'll see.

I pet her face and flounce back over to Candy.

"Now what was yours. I gave you that dragon's fire, but that's because was mad. Also."

And I grab her into a big long hug.

The pool is a lot fuller when we let go.

I expect her to cry or something, while we hug, but she just looks up at me happily, then eeps over to turn the water off, because a lot fuller is actually full, heh.

There were stairs...I peck her a kiss and look for them. They make up the corners, that's right. I blast a path through the snow and bounce over, happy to be here with them, then down the two steps and put a toe in--perfect, nice and hot-tub hot. I swoosh gratefully down into the water, over to my usual spot by the faucet, and then sit, and the water sends that deep relaxing rush of hot water all through me.

Boobsong--hehe I forgot you float, dolly! How did you dive to Isht Visht from that raft?

Super soft sigh at the water so soothing warm. You Boobsong exhaled all her breath. Then she can sink.

Dolly it's so good to hear your voice that relaxed. You earned this if anyone ever did--oh hi Candy--hhii yes I do like bath snuggles. She's wrapped around my side before I can blink. I cradle Boobsong like a baby and get my other arm around Candy, who immediately snuggles up on my shoulder.

"Can I have the key for a sec, game?"

Poor Sex is left staring at nothing.

My game puts it up to my mouth so all I have to do is goddess at Sex and then blow.

Sit on the edge of the tub with your hands on the rim and feet dangling in and look at us.

I blow, and she turns, gets down to her knees like everything's normal and she's going to sit on the edge of the tub, swings her feet in and places her hands and goes statue-still again, and the key is gone as fast as it appeared.

"Usefuler and usefuler! What'll mine do if that's what she gets?"

"I can make her dance if I blow a rhythm. Haven't tried that yet. Seems too active now. Hottub."

I take a deeeeep breath and let it out, bouying Boobsong for a moment. She floats weightlessly in my arm in the water, but I can feel our binding holding her to me instead, which is nice.

"Do you wanna talk about it, or just forget and be in Strawberry Home?"

She burrows in my shoulder, but says,

"You're the one who should be asked that! Ask what you want but let's chase that nightmare away with fantasy porn come to life!"

"Should I yell at the Skeksis, and how did you unskeksify?"

"They were perfectly nice. Said I was welcome as one of them, if paradise as they call it let me there. I ended up on the bridge fast, you know me. I unskeksified as I was running to see you on the Lathing Deck. Happiness makes them human. I was hearing your voice so clear and bright, and there I am, losing feathers so it rains Skeksis quills as I run."

"Okay, good. You'll be interested to know the Skeksis were either the Strawberry army and maybe court too, from my time here. They'd been like that for like thousand of years. The Dreams said they were happy and only needed me now, hard to believe as it is. Sex, though--alright, okay."

Another big deep breath, feeling the water so soothing and warm, seeing the steam curl up around us, Boobsong so snuggly. I want to say it's just me thinking of it, but Candy's rising bristles as I try to take care of everyone probably help a lot.

"I guess I wanna forget too. One thing, and then let's be here. Seed-ghost, what's this trap reward?"

"Reward for being able to be pleasure-stuck. Leave some decisions up to your seed-ghost. Every time you say seed-ghost pick, its choice will lead to a raunchy fuck you can't be sure you'd escape if you had to. Five free picks, then a new game starts."

"That's why you were stuck in the egg! Right?"

"We dreamskinned General Kaari into implanting a Strawberry Queen heartchild who I gave my crown to--Rada had the real Strawberry crown the whole time--and it started with me making Boobsong hug me with her chains which felt so good I couldn't order her to stop and our seed-ghost had to save us but apparently that gets a totally hot reward which is messing with my head since when I was crowing--my successor, I guess, like technically she's my daughter, just by seed instead of cum--I totally Frodoed out and couldn't take my hands off the crown. Grandmother Strawberry herself had to come save me, that's why her handmaiden was there. I think sending me right here after that is the nicest thing should could possibly do, because oof. Even though I feel lighter, oof. The crown's not even evil!"

"You gave what away? The true Strawberry crown was in your hand and you put it on--I don't care if it was Boobsong, you gave it to someone else. That must be hard. I would have had a hard time and I'm just a fan, not the real heir!"

Now the tears come.

"Grandmother Strawberry told me my job was done and to join my Mommies in the afterlife. I feel more like an actual Strawberry now than I did my whole life, is the weird thing. I really though things broke with me, but...my heir's a su'khora. How perfect is that? Boobsong made like a zillion seeds, too, it was a big one, and yet still."

[!] Kaari's dumb brain-sand thing has two sides! All of her army implanted when she did! They all had wishes, but they needed to follow her.

"Whoah. Boobsong says we got the entire army because they like--this is really kind of freaking me out, actually. Like, I felt almost like dreamtalk drilling at me when I walked into the Lathing-deck, and I found myself just going full Queen on her, and like, it worked out, so maybe my instincts were just kicking in, or maybe I remembered enough, but like--it almost sounds from what she said like they're a little Borg and Kaari was their queen until I came in and it got like handed to me and I felt that and like, I'd think that was just social whatever, but if Boobsong made all those seeds, then--I don't know. This is probably splitting hairs really. I guess I should be realizing that the way this system worked that crown was only ever supposed to come off my head by me dying, and if I feel free now, which I do, it's because we did what I always wanted to and broke it good--or at least broke me out. I guess I just assumed destroying the thing was the only way to free me. I wonder what having a su'khora queen will do to Them?"

"It sounds like there might be a lot of queens! That'll get interesting. I wonder what happens if they meet?"

"EARTHSHATTERING KABOOM! Actually being as I'm a pet Princess I wouldn't be surprised there's a lot of pet Queens now."

Something feels weird about that--oh, because alienation from Strawberry home and guilt over destroying the line always made me think of it as a sort of ghostliness. Now...what does it mean? Here I am in Strawberry Home and I can believe there will always be a place for me here.

There's quiet for a moment. Sex looks so cute perched there, but it's hard not to worry about her, even if waiting is the one thing I can count on her for best.

"Dreams or seed-ghost that pleasure-stuck thing coming when it did can't possibly be a coincidence."

"Giving the crown to Kaari's heartchild wasn't more easy than telling Boobsong to let go. You are only so strong. Taking help is a good thing. Being scared to be pleasure-stuck or heart-stuck like your fingers on the crown is much worse. There will be help if you get there, always, and rewards for the strength to face your need for it. Kaari's heartchild is the heir now. She gave you this tower, and you are welcome in her house, as her mother. They will be here in the morning. You have breakfast awaiting."

"Holy half full twinkie boxes I was so scared they gave it to me or something! So was all that stuff about Walt just a fakeout to get me to say the right stuff to Kaari?"

"Not lies, just misdirection. Walt still has a role and the card with your message is for him, just not why you expected."

"Wait, you were scared they would give you the whole thing!?"

"This castle was home but rejected me so bad I would've died in my bed if I hadn't been idolized. To have it just belong to me is nothing compared to having the original court respect me and treat me like an actual Strawberry! Anyway, if the Strawberry Queen's as traditional as Kaari, she'll have to listen to her mommy, and every day is Openveil in paradise--I kind of don't want that power though. I just wanna be the weird princess who lives in the tower and blows minds with her toys. If They can accept me as much as Kaari did, I guess I can stop fighting to get them there by making them like the stuff I love. The whole castle has electric lights, though, and that's weirding me. I guess we'll find out tomorrow if I'm remembering wrong or the new Queen's already busy. It's gonna be weird walking into that banquet hall without it being a war of one kind or another, eh dolly?"

It's going to be perfect! We're the Openveil ghosts! This is the best. OOooOOOOO! Hehe can't wait to see Kaari when you come down and you're just okay now.

Giggles. "She says we get to be the Openveil ghosts OOOoooOOO! I can't wait to see Kaari's face either but especially not when I come up and tell her I look this way because I can live now that her heartchild exists--and then still feed Boobsong a finger!"

"That means I'm coming to breakfast in Strawberry Home, doesn't it."

"Well I'll sure look like a bitch without all my handmaidens! Which means we've gotta find the other five of you, but not now. Hottub."

"I said nothing at all!"

"I know, but I care about you all. Which, back to matters at hand. Dolly, nudge. What's her thing."

Listen to her heart skip a beat when you talk.

"Listen to her heart skip a beat--oof, should be mine, what's all this ice about?"

A flash of cold buriedness. Please let that reminding me of the Aveh stuff be coincidence.

"You got real broken up, didn't you. I saw your face on the way up here. Turned right away from the mirror, that's Rainbow in trouble! You must've seen yourself on the inside, huh."

"This day's been amazing and horrible and I know it's because everyone's trying to fix me but I'm really glad for a minute to just sit. I've been seeing huge cables going into gross water and snowy fields when I look in my own heart. Everything's all buried and messed up. When I got here I didn't even remember our Succubus game, let alone how to do commands or anything. Now whatever epic thing like being wind-up you have is buried in some kind of something and I'm scared to go look because--I mean I shouldn't be. Everything I unfreeze or pull up makes me feel so much better, but, this is exhausting. That cut-up form was how I feel, yeah--Boobsong's been so good holding me together but she has kind of had to be my head a bit. It's really good to just be here with my handmaidens and dolly now. If we soak long enough I might even get the strength to show you my room."

"What's in there that's so terrifying?"

"You were born eighty thousand years after this castle appeared to get destroyed. I skipped most of those and then lived like twenty on Earth with you all. Then I went back in time to destroy the Strawberry World, and my game stored Strawberry Home for me. On the day I left. Boobsong and me put those Heartwarming garlands downstairs up, and the evergreen is still fresh. Eighty thousand years on it's still the night of my thirteenth birthday. My room is made of ghosts."

"Holy peppermint ribbons. I think Heartwarming Eve is my real birthday. There's a nightmare that's also full of good stuff like today I remember that the Dreams say is real and in it Boobsong said our seed-ghost we'd get 'here' on Christmas Eve, because I didn't know what Heartwarming was. She meant our home in the Four Dreams, but we didn't know stuff then--like I lost everything, thought I was just this Earthling boy. If I'm right, this castle went straight from Heartwarming Eve eighty thousand BCE, to now. It's probably even really Heartwarming Eve, wherever we are."

The Dreams interrupt to show me--hehe what the--oooh. And that's what Sex's candy was, too. I guess that can stand in for the Dreams arranging fate, but raised eyebrow. The vision is someone hanging by their ankle from a rope overhead pointing another Trivial Pursuit pie downwards, which makes no sense till I realize they look like the Hanged Man tarot card and think of the connection to Earthling occult stuff and astrology and realize the Dreams are saying to tell time by the stars (and that Sex's new gift will do something like that).

But that's impossible. If I turn off my light, instead of all this steam we'll see the Painted Sea up there, in all its beauty. I'm surprised it doesn't shine through, honestly. Night there is romantic gloaming, not this kind of dark!

"Let's see where we are."

I put my light out, and wait for my eyes to adjust.

Oh. Dur. There's weather here, and it's cloudy--right? I beam a nice bright searchlight up from my fingertip, and get grey clouds. I wonder if it'll snow? That'd be magical, here in the hottub. Dreams I wish it would snow on us while we're out here.

Not till the light comes, but it will then.

Huh.

"Oh just blast a hole, you know you want to."

Oh! Heh, nice, game. For maximum teehee I stick out my pinky--

"Watch your eyes!"

Candy covers her whole head like she's bracing from a nuclear explosion, which isn't far off. I reach up and hit the clouds with a nice hard smack of a couple of terawatts of every-wavelength, there's a flash of purple forcefields of my game keeping backscatter from burning anything, a deafening thunderclap splits the air, and the clouds are gone, as in smashed to plasma, over and ahead. Through the hole shine the stars and waves of the Painted Sea--

[!] You must have done two zaps! Your Boobsong knows you didn't, but the ice in your heart got blasted like the clouds did! Keep going this is healing you!

I feel something--game--

Your game is ready.

--with Boobsong steadied by our binding and Candy hiding until I give the all-clear and Sex too statufied to be hurt, I pull both hands back and do what I always wanted to really do to Earth, and hurl them out to blast the sky with a thunder-booming explosion of light whose radition-pressure recoil pushes me down into the tub, and the clouds are gone, the whole sky it seems like, and there's the Painted Sea, all around.

[!] That's wonderful the ice cracked into pieces!

Thunder rumbles, all around, satisfying. That felt good--

"What's that sound, it could wake the dead!"

"Sorry Grandmother," I ironic-sheepish, then nudge Candy. "All clear," and she looks up, hands still ready (which is kind of reasonable with Grandmother Strawberry's voice from the sky like an angel's trumpet--and yes this is me making that simile).

"That's okay. Got to work off steam some way. Got yourself situated already I see. Pretty nice, eh? I'm surprised she took it to the Painted Sea, but fair's fair, her Mommy's a cartoon. How do you like that remodeling? All the lights at one big stroke of her pen--she can sign things into being, how's that for Queening!? Either that or she's got some helping hands ain't seen, and you know how I watch."

Alright, that's our kid, yup.

Awesome! That's our kid yes uhuh!

"Yes I do. How's the view now?"

"Mighty fine, mighty fine. That big light show got Dance here alive to do something nice. Watch the sky in the morning, you'll see. Now one more thing. They decided that you here means the party that Laarhi wrecked is back on again. Bright and early they're starting. There'll be some noise, oh yes there will, but it won't be screaming cause your dragon's come to bite all their heads off! Don't be scared of it. They're just very happy to see you."

"I really believed They all hated us. Kaari surprised me so much."

"Oh, they don't hate you, now or then. They just had a bad set of jewelry. One silly asshole can make a huge mess, that's the downside of their kind of being. The downside of ours is, we take it personally, and we shouldn't. See what they tell you with their new set. You'll be surprised, I think."

"That's all now. Got piece o' cake tied up for me. Sayonara!"

Sayonara. Oh, Grandmother.

"Enjoy your dessert, Grandmother!"

"Oh I will. Here cookie..."

Her dangerously beckoning voice fades out. Such an inspiration, Grandmother Strawberry is.

I lie there in shock, realizing this is where the roadtrip's been going all day. They destination of my second thirteenth birthday party is my first thirteenth birthday.

Which means we've come home. The Dreams didn't say that Voyage Home thing for no reason--this is even all but time travel!

"That's the moon!"

[!] It is! The exact very same pieces your game took are gone! There the other planets are, at least the ones you should see right now! Mercury and Venus are down but we can see the transpersonals!

"No way--"

Dolly you need your Acme Station cart to figure dates out?

No! It's Heartwarming Eve! The same year we left! 4:30pm it's not even night yet just winter!

"It's only 4:30, dolly? Sweet!"

"She read the starsong--does that mean the whole solar system's here!?"

"It must, but how? I said--oh for the fuck of--peel the world apart, game, I said! Make it nice and easy to take apart the rest of the way to fit through a portal! It must have done the whole thing."

"Can we hyperlight--what am I saying, it's the Dreams! Let's go see Jupiter, Rainbow! And the--holy spark-steel do you have the Waifu waiting!? What about Isht Visht, can she give us rides? If Rada commands it obviously I just can't believe that I'm really here!"

"I can try and spank you out of journey until you're sure you're here..."

"Never mind! It's real, I'm here!"

"As for the rest most of my birthday ride has been aboard Isht Visht and Rada made me cry before by pointing to the warp-streaks outside and telling me that was my name in the stars but the good gossip is Isht Visht started out as a minivan to ageplay me with and then transformed into a shuttlecraft when we all sang Faith of the Heart--oh holy hardcandy breadsticks. If I say the words Captain Archer of the Starship Enterprise, what do you say?"

"Star Trek fanfic is the best! What's it about, Enterprise K or something?"

Suddenly I'm not sure I want to go through with my tiny little scene. The big one, when we bring my friends from Rl'yeh Sade to my birthday which is happening oh yes it is, is what I really want--

The Dreams show me a key in a lock. It'll unlock something. Okay, yeah, I seem to believe that.

I go to pose Boobsong so she can give the description epically, but something holds me back, and not just realizing I want to include Sex on this. The Dreams show me my mechanical Boobsong-wing, I think that is...I see. Okay here goes.

How's it going over there, scenery?

Great, but fizzpopping candy canes your light storm scared me! BANG! Rainbow's back, entire Dreams! Does this mean I'm conscious the entire time I'm a statue? That's what this candy--oooh it keeps me going while my cunt dissolves it! Clever! It's peace to just think and see you recover.

"Can you hear us talk, then?"

And see the light of the Painted Sea reflect in your bath! Must be gorgeous! Makes me want for winding some, but only some!

"Cool. You will soon, you've got your hour to wait--unless you haven't apparently. Anyway yes the candy's keeping you conscious right now I'm pretty sure, but not why you think. This one keeps going after it dissolves but not necessarily keeping you going this way."

"Okay, ready for spooky Star Trek wham lines, Candy? List me the serieses."

"Okay, why--em. TOS, TNG, UVX--"

"No TLAs. You can skip the Star Trek colon part. Start over."

"Rainbow your voice is weird. Did something happen with Star Trek? Okay eep! The Original Series. Next Generation. University. Galaxy Quest hehe. Federation. Out of Uniform. Starfleet Isles. You're heartsick, I can see your face die! Rainbow--okay gah! Lower Decks but that's not Gene's so it half-counts. Verity. That's all of them. Oh the Animated Series! I forget that one every time. Sparkly barrow downs you look bad, what's the matter?"

It's satisfying to be able to eep her back on task with a raised eyebrow, but I must have been stricter than I remember how to be now. Maybe Grandmother Strawberry can help me.

I hug her and Boobsong tighter, remembering. Out of Uniform was my egging Gene on to make a show about Risa. He did Federation recreation in general, and then "retaliated" by sending a starship to explore Isla Virgo, just like I hoped he would.

"The Original Series. The Animated Series. The Next Generation. Deep Space Nine. Galaxy Quest, heh. Voyager. Enterprise. Discovery. Picard. Lower Decks. Prodigy. Gene died halfway through making TNG, in the world I remember that wrote over the real one. Not just me. Everyone, the whole Earth. You and the Holidays got out but everybody else got reset to a backstory where magic never existed. That's why you had that adventure in hell, Candy. You got thrown out of Earth to there. That's where the rest of you are. It's--don't make me talk about it too much. I'm trying to remember the real world now--holy fizzfrozen I can't take this we have to go save them!"

Candy tenses with each strange name, looks up at me, horrified.

"Holy escape pods, Deep Space Nine as a Trek show!? Berman must have--with Gene gone, who could have told him--this is your way of saying what happened to you. Take a heart-squeeze, we're back. We're back, Rainbow, that's not your world, this is."

When I squeeze her she throws her arms around me and hugs tight. I flip Boobsong around to hug me too, squished face-in on my breast for a minute.

HuG PRINCESS!

As we all embrace, the wind changes and the smell of--

"Is that smell what I think it is? Here? Rainbow what'd you do."

Yeah that's definitely Burger King.

"Hehehe she really is our kid! Oooh I can't wait to get me some curly fries, and I bet they have nuggets like in the nineties! My game said there would be one but I thought that would go away when it didn't go to Walt. Okay we're going, but not yet. We have a lot to do, rescuing all the rest of you all and getting invitations--OOOOOOOH. Oh my fuck that's so perfect. Okay if it's Them throwing the party there's formal invitations and Walt's getting one!"

The Dreams show me a pair of bongo drums, and I wait an instant for the theme to start up, but it doesn't, but I know what this means. I called them bongos, but though she's beautiful right now, she's lost her heh drumkit.

"Okay, enough. Grandmother Strawberry would have my ass for sitting around while my handmaidens are in shit like they are. I'm surprised she hasn't already! Let's rock and roll!"

Dreamtalking just to Candy (but of course Boobsong can see me do it):

We're starting with Sex. I mean look at her, she's only really back from the waist down. Something's wrong and we're going to go find out, but that means diving into whatever her hell is I think. Are you ready? I think we need you, but we're not going until you're properly aftercared from YOUR bad times.

Let me at it. Give me another one of those dragon's fireballs and we'll see who the fire and brimstone preacher is! She's back in her fundie dad's house, I'll bet anything!

Yeah, no doubt. Alright. How about you, dragon, wanna play Doom?

BFG-9000 might be your way but your dragon likes the chainsaw! Let's do this thing! RROAAAAH!

She says saahaaBWWAAAAAAAA, I dreamtalk the sound of starting a chainsaw out.

The movie thing would be to go get my Starlight Princess garb and gear up but for Sex I don't think that's the right approach--do I? What she needs is right here, with the hottub waiting, I think.

Anyway, I wore that stuff for exploring Rl'yeh Sade. It's not battle-armor. It will fuck some heads at my birthday, but hey, I'm not reigning, just Princessing from the afterlife. You get to wear crazy clothes if you sequence-break feudalism.

I wait for anyone or anything to contradict me, but the only thing that happens is I smell Burger King more--ooh. Sex should be a fat little treat, like she was when she was Bermuda, and didn't stop cooking even as I took her world apart. Interesting Candy showed up skinny too, like, way more than she's supposed to be...this offends me. I'm supposed to see to my handmaidens. Sex has got as far as eating up on sex, but she also loves food! In her story that I don't think is true exactly now she took my Sugarfeast cum unknown because she was hungry.

The Dreams show me the Blues Brothers--oh popsicle stick electric chairs here we go. On a mission from god, eh, Dreams? Alright, but I'm holding you to that thing about not letting anyone make me call Aveh. Can't I just ring for a whole lot of Burger King and feed her fat again?

The Dreams show me the Twizzler pentagram I commanded of Candy, growing bigger--

"What is this, where are we all?"

The hottub is gone, and we're--are we ghosts I can't figure out what my body is doing--oh snarlygrapes or see. I can feel Boobsong close, but just as a presence. Same with Candy, here but not as close.

"Welcome to hell. All we get is sound, I guess. It's like with you, Sex has to let us see and stuff."

Dolly, report.

Your Boobsong can hear you and Candy say stuff but that's it. Nothing else not seeing or feeling or smell or gravity. She's okay but she wants your face back!

And I want yours--

There's the sound of a knife chopping, like some thick vegetable. Soup, I guess--it gets dropped in water and there's the sound of boiling, and a pot lid goes over it.

She couldn't hear us talking, what about dreamtalk? I let Candy in on it.

S--nrgh.

Candy, it's doing like with you right before you got to the Skeksis ship. Can't just say anything, her mind has to be prepared for it. Careful if you talk to her--dreamtalk, I mean, doesn't seem like she can hear our voices.

Satanic spanks how ugly. I remember that. You got the lead on this, I'm just the handmaiden here.

Good girl.

I set in trying to find a word she can hear, but...something, anything--

Candy--

Stuck. Mission from god um.

Blessing--

ERGH. She's locked tight.

I know what the answer is, but Dreams you promised I wouldn't have to.

They show me the trolley from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood before I even finish talking. Take her a ride to the land of make-believe--oooh. Let's see if you can hear this, drummer!

Dolly and Candy, Starlight Princess theme, make her ears ring! No lyrics, just the beat and music if you can do it.

I reach for the sense of Sex's mind again and start banging out the rhythm of the Starlight Princess theme song, and feel Boobsong and Candy join in:

BANGbangbangbang BANGbangbangbang BANGbangbangbang BANGbangbangbang

BANGbangbangbang BANGbangbangbang BANGbangbangbang BANGbangbangbang

BANGbangbangbang BANG! BANGbangbangbang BANG!

BANGbangbangbang BANG! BANGbangbangbang BANG!

"Are you dancin' while you stir that?"

The voice is every crabby mother that ever was.

"Sorry--"

"Don't sorry me! Go read your Bible for ten minutes. You'll catch up the soup afterward."

Sex sighs, and there's the sound of a spoon tapping--

The Dreams show me the bollard they used to say I won't have to call Aveh before--oh fuck thank you thank you--

They show me a VW bus? Get her out of here. She begged and begged for me to take her away from the house she lived when we were in my box before.

We just have to figure out how to get to her.

Zzzzip, and pages turning: she's opened her Bible case and is flipping through--

"Okay, I'm going! Luke 14:6? And they had nothing to say. Eep just that verse yes Father! I'm supposed to what, then, just wait nine minutes? I guess dancin' rates that. Quiet okay I hear you. Timeout it is."

Oh my god. Dreams you told him, didn't you--

The bollard again. Okay well working with it um...dolly what's around that verse what'll be in her head?

Paragraph before that is the healing on Saturday where he says the ox in the ditch thing. Then it's all wedding feast parables.

Good Succubus! Um...

Rainbow. Feast coming.

Dammit Sex I love you too. Of all things, it's my name that will go in and get her to hear the fragment from the page in front of her.

Wait really? They had nothing to say? I can see why we need that bollard, Dreams. Fine, all in then.

Don't be afraid. Rejoice.

Sex gasps.

"What's that sound, who are you? Say Jesus is Lord, demon!"

Ask my father.

It bbbarely fits. There's a silence.

"Alright you got me there. Jesus' sister!?"

Why does my poor handmaiden have to keep going through this--oh. That candy didn't split her, did it. She was already in pieces, huh, Dreams--no time.

Many sons and daughters. Crucified, only Jesus.

"Are the angels all his children after all? It don't say, do it..."

Pages rustle, then the Bible shuts.

"Father I'm sorry, I turn to your word--don't be obstinate!? Sorry what's my job then. Listening. Why can't you say this--ooh. Of course you ain't the one to give me that talk! Hell-lo it's the one thing you teach about all this stuff, propriety and character! Miss angel I'm sorry I doubted, please tell me your message."

Well, this is a puzzle and a half.

The Dreams show me Abraham Lincoln. No lies. That would feel gross yes but it really doesn't make this easier.

No doubt, only wariness, is what I took it as. You were sent here for dancing, but be full of it--

"Of dancing!? He died--are you Paul on the Roof-ing me!?"

I take you up, if that's what you mean. Come with me.

I can feel her take my hand, like--Dreams help me out here, take us somewhere good--

A sideways Darwin fish, we're coming at the truth indirectly.

I can feel the Dreams pull us out of where we are, like big and unspeakably strong pliers pulling us out, and then we're--I'm looking at marmalade, on toast, on a saucer with a silver rim on a picnic blanket, and we're--oh Dreams, that's adorable. We're picnicking on a cloud. Blue sky and clouds are all around.

Boobsong's in my arms, to me, but I'm a Space Trilogy-style beam of light angel--oh. Heh. Alright umpty billion points to the Dreams for technically the truth on this is totally Isla Virgo someplace and the truth about me, but where's Candy?

Did you get sidelined, Candy?

You see why! Take it from here, you got this!

I sure hope so...

Sex is there, in her PJs, her proper shape again, slave-posed but with her legs together at the opposite side of the blanket.

Take the bread of heaven.

With a shaky hand, she picks it up, takes a big bite, and devours it in no time.

Food is made for the stomach, and not the stomach for food. Why is my handmaiden worshipping the idol of starvation?

That goes in so easily, the Bible verse--oh. She's expecting to be scolded. The toast-saucer gets replaced by a turkey, and she has a drumstick before I can blink.

Eat first, and then answer.

She annihilates the drumstick, the bones turn into a napkin in her hand, she pats her mouth clean.

"You mean I'm--of course, who do I think I'm talking to? I'm not worshipping any idol, am I? I don't wanna--that turkey leg. I just took it, right out of hand. Oooh I'm in trouble, huh."

You took it without a thought, yes. Where has your will gone? To the idol your mother makes of starvation. You danced to a hymn I played--one in my honor--the same way, out of hand. For the stomach, food, not the stomach for food. Your trouble is not my father's wrath. We're saving you.

The Dreams interrupt my threading the maze of what she can expect me to say, to show me a coast guard plane.

Okay, here goes...

Fly with me, be taken wholly up, from this foothill to the highest place.

Without a word, she jumps up and hugs my light-beam, and the world twists, and we're back in the hot-tub, with Sex on the edge of the tub like she was--oh my FUCK the smell of BK is everywhere is that maid still here--wait--oh. The huge silver platter piled with fries and boxes of nuggets (papercraft like that's a very fancy thing in this medieval world, and the glossy printing beyond our tech, so to me this looks a lot less silly than you'd think) and soda is right there next to her already. Yeah, damn right Sex's lack of nuggets in this situation is spiked.

She's a statue, but if the candy I made is working...slowly, she turns, seems to get free, goes faster and dives for nuggets and has half the first box down and is washing it down with soda before her eyes widen and she spits the straw out and looks at me.

"I thought I had an hour left! I didn't even feel you wind me, that's no fair! Oh I ain't controllin' me, the Dreams are just pullin' strings because I can't take this BK right here without eatin' some! This is the strangest thing I've ever been mind-controlled for!"

"Did you figure out your candy yet?"

Candy! I look at her, but she's just smiling up at me, looking a little naughty--so I raise an eyebrow, and she lowers her eyes a moment.

"Speaking of Candy, you go get me my usual."

Candy slinks off my side and does an excellent job giving me a view as she goes over, but I hold Boobsong up to see her pretty submissive pose. How shall we get you moving?

Eh, I'm hungry, and you smell like candy. I liiiick my way up her little body from her comically-big-for-her-size pussy through her cleavage run my tongue over her lips.

GGaaaaaaasp one more lick that way and your Boobsong will bring the whole Burger King up if you command it!

Candy's back with my food ooh smells good. She has a nugget at the ready, pre-dipped...okay for that I'll lean down unexpectedly and very lickily nom the whole thing off her fingers.

It's just like I remember. I crunch it up gratefully and swallow, give Candy a quick kiss, and then bury my face in Boobsong's pussy and lick into her slippery-good depths--

AaaaAAAAAaAHHHHHHHH Okay YES YOur Boobsong is moving wow she is--

I put her on the opposite side of me from Candy, click get big, and then (with my eravahk pointing at me) feed.

You know how, dolly!

AaaaaaHH BIG! Get right on top of you and put legs where your clit should be rub it in with there rubbing you and see what you're wishing for nugget of course! Reach to get one from Candy--

Her tail lashes cutely as she reaches over, and her body on mine--hehe you look so happy! I munch the whole nugget out of her hand and she watches me eat it happily.

"So, Succubus, how are we going to make Candy cum until she cries?"

Hmm, have to think for that.

"What if take both legs and hold them apart while the water-flow makes her cum? Or make the um...wet piece but not that one, she won't keep her hands off then! Oh or keep her hands back and we all take turns having fun till she explodes! OOH let's keep her hands up while we talk about Sex's new fun until she cries and then make her cum?"

"Aren't you full of good stuff--you have been a lot today, to smell you, hehe. Oh, um, let's just do all of them soon. She's got soda duty right now, though."

I turn to Candy.

"We're teasing Boobsong about not getting to hold big thick round stuff. Make sure she gets the point!"

Then I could really go for a curly fry.

Candy throws her head back and laughs and splays her whole body with hilarity without moving the hand that's got the platter of food (there must be a whole catering setup over there) a micron, then twists around for the soda. Still keeping her hand still she gets down to eye the soda--click, watch--

Looking over there. Candy's hot, this is mean!

--strokes it with her free hand up and down twice, reaches her head up with her mouth open like she's about to pounce and go down on it, strokes it some more as the other threee of us dissolve into giggles, then turns around and adds it to the platter, and gives it a loving stroke, like she's presenting me today's stud.

No for real. That's a thing if you're nobility--or any mom, actually, in the Strawberry Empire. Our men mostly roamed around, like, they could settle in one place if they got adopted or whatever, but, as a man, if you're worth fucking, get out there and spread the fun, and if you have good genetics, share 'em where they can help out as many families as possible (heredity goes mother to daughter, remember). Helping out wherever you were, ahem, taken in was gentlemanly.

For fun, I think we've established, everyone could and should do whoever. For kids, your job as a mom was to pick the men you thought would add the most to you line. That's why my dad's a shepherd, he's not like genderflipped Princess Di, sorry. Mother was supposed to do stuff like that. Tough and resourceful and wily, shepherding's a hard job, and Mother thought he was hot, so into the royal carriage he went, don't worry we'll get somebody to watch the sheep until you come back or not (security risk? Have I mentioned the ever-present and extremely helpful ninja handmaidens?).

Okay but like isn't that just eugenics? No, because we held mothering so sacred. Hold. Every child, no matter who they are, deserves the same love from their mother. Even if one kid is egregiously not crown material, doesn't mean you get to throw them out (though I think we had a way to choose who the heir was that wasn't age) or even treat them one bit less well than any others. Want to see if that belief system means anything? Fuck around and find out, Grandmother Strawberry is watching. In my case, watching me end the world I kind of think with a bowl of popcorn and a twirly eravahk.

Oh, you think I wasn't waiting with my hand on the button for my way, if you didn't go through with it? Always just watching, that's what they thought. Not so much anymore, now that they see what I have in here!

thought you were listening in. Hope you like chatter, Grandma! Ooh did you get your own dread beast of the apocalypse?

Candy hogs not so cute when they grow up, are they? Come meet her, she's sweet but she sure do rage when her time's here!

Why do I not need to ask if she would have been then. Okay thirsty love you Grandma.

"Give it here," I manage to get out to Candy over the giggles.

She slides her hand down wrapping her fingers around, picks it up with her big silly grin, and holds it up to my face where I can slurp. The soda through the lid is pink and is, of course, strawberry. The others will be grape, no doubt. I take a big pull with my hands stroking Boobsong's waist and then look at her. "Having fun, Succubus?"

"Please Goddess PLEASE make us fuck before we go to get your next handmaiden! Use your cocksleeve, she's begging you!"

Pick up a curly fry, nice big thick round AAAH EVEN CURLY FRIES!? Hold it up start to squirm with the pressure put it in your mouth that you lift your tongue up with your pretty lips so open wide and closing down and licking your Boobsong's fingers AAAAAAHHHHH--

Ooooh it's perfect that weird spice mix and just the right--I gulp it down and grab Boobsong's waist as with a flash of nectar and heartstone and round hard flesh through my mind my clit is suddenly being stroked insistently by Boobsong's slick wet hole and I exhale and click pose sitting up straddling me and before she even gets there fuck while imagining her sweet pussy riding along my shaft where she straddles. Fuck me good, cocksleeve, unless you wanna sit still on some evergreens for Heartwarming!

(that candy is one of the best things I've ever done)

AAH SO PRICKLY! Up bouncy fuck with hard squeezing legs and arms behind back with your sex dolly's face down and her eyes barely looking up before she puts them back where they're supposed to be EEAAAAAAH CUM YES IT'S HAPPENING! SLURP SUCK YOU OUT GET WHERE YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE!

The happiness shooting up her face with her mouth open so wide as she feels my cum pump into her is as good and beautiful as the orgasm's hot pumping bliss and the sight of the colorful fireworks that add even more color to her tummy. She's starting to get to the solid-swirly color stage, time to save this page soon. I think I did that more often than I remember. I like her marked with a fuck or two, but her paper flesh is gorgeous to me. So enticing.

As I cum and my mind turns to swirls of hot joy my last thought is of how this is what we were trying to do with all that coaching and stuff. I ordered Boobsong into place and took her plenty of times, and still will, but this way is romantic--

[!] They said if we're the only ones we can fuck we deserve every fuck we desire so desire should be all it takes for us! Remember the way Verana's mouth stood still when she heard how it works for us? You could see the ideas happening in her eyes! Are the only ways for cocksleeves to get fucked to be taken? Maybe not, that's a new thing! Here the only two are who can try it, we have to explore this!

I think it worked at least SOME!

Bliss with the Painted Sea shining around Boobsong's shape riding me with her sweetly raunchy expression and nipples standing out so pinchable and the water so warm and and stirred now. The lights of the sky on her hair and horns make her look like a Heartwarming decoration.

Hehe, love you so much, baAUBLEEEE...

In the comedown I remember a day at some pizza place or such in Connecticut, both hunched over cellphones, sexting. It was like a harder version of the sawhorse game (since I didn't have seeing Boobsong in bondage to fire my...imagination hehe and my balls of course). We had to stay there without touching until we fucked because our sexting made us horny.

That was a hard one. They weren't smartphones, or even blackberries.

Worship like bright and sunny hot chocolate from all three of them warms my heart so I have to just bask and look at Boobsong (though stolen glances show me Candy smiling up very pleased with herself and Sex getting busy with a burger now).

Our seed-ghost could totally from the start have just made desire so all we needed that making eyes at each other for a few seconds would do would have us fucking, but this is a totally fun mountain to climb, and when we get to our personal top of it we won't wonder if too many or not enough chances for me to click pose, pony style out of nowhere are gone from us.

It also...really did good for our relationships with Verana and Sis and Grandmother Strawberry. It a very weird way that makes my heart feel all dizzy (though maybe that's just me still being confused anyone would want to be that nice to me, even though I know they love me). The stuff our culture did with sex wasn't just being a free-love Planet of Horny People, but I'm not remembering all of what it meant. I will soon, I have a feeling, though...

The Dreams show me a girl with a bridal veil over her face. Then a straw fertility goat. Marrying your mother? I mean I sure liked Grandmother Strawberry's spank, but...hehe, reminds me of that weird Line Marriage thing from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Heinlein books always had weird stuff like that. I suppose he's heard of us but if not I wanna go explain everything just so I can watch the look on his face--no, make Boobsong explain it all. Muahah.

For real, though. Umm...marriage made sex about only reproduction, oh which means the whole side of it that's about connection and fun is pretty lost and messed up on Earth. Is the joke here that the Strawberry Empire's just kind of normally human? No, I think we were especially horny, but, hmm...

The Dreams show a skein of yarn? Oh skin. Nakedness. Vulnerability. Which is a good way to intimacy--

The Dreams nudge with a flash of my iron box...did They (or Jenner and whoever) see how terrible the judgement on them, when the gift my heartchild gave me was an unassailable secret place to fuck? We didn't think privacy was bad, did we!? No, but it wasn't this default to be able to play freely you have on Earth (and notice how kinksters there play in dungeons, even after the reset, even if they have playspaces at home), but I have private chambers up in a tower with a whole little suite up here at the top of an elevator that terrified Them, but...how sad if someone didn't feel like they could come out to play. Those we-sex Boobsong called them days every week made it so people didn't build up walls around themselves, but...we saw needs as water you could reshape, but not make bigger or smaller. It'd leak out somewhere if you dammed it up one place. Oh! But we also saw them as like hunger: starving people do crazy stuff, usually violent. People who're dying for intimacy get really psycho, like Laarhi did (so what happened to him?), just like other needsWe used a lot less privacy, which sounds scary to my Earthling backstory-me, but that's because I'm imagining that keeping back all the stuff you have to have privacy for on Earth because...because you do. I mean, sex, mainly, this is me we're talking about, but once you've helped your friends fuck in the really intimate way I'm remembering on a regular basis it sure seems dumb to have all this stuff you can't talk about with them.

You need some though, don't you? Am I really that much of an exhibitionist--no, because Boobsong claimed forty days a year for just me and her. That could sure be all I need! Better have all our sex nice and loud right in the middle of the banquet hall the rest of the year to catch up on showing off! Or at Olive Garden after some meatsauce...not everybody's like me though. Running off to hide wasn't some kind of bad thing, but not feeling safe to be naked out of hiding was, so much so our religion was made to make sure that wouldn't happen.

Dreams vision: Martin Luther. Reformation? Looks like that got smote, if that's what Jenner and her friends wanted...meh...we sure tried to reform Earth or future-Earth or whatever it should really be called. I'm sticking with Earth and the Strawberry World till that gets spiked.

Okay, yes, I saw the way things were on Earth as horribly sacrilegious, and got really smity about it, but we know that, don't we? Bye bye clothing laws, as Boobsong said, and the same to freakouts about public sex and stuff--colonialism's a virtue, after all, if you're a feudal lord, and we made no bones about whacking these wayward barbarians into getting the enlightenment of our Strawberry ways.

Where is this all going, why are the Dreams encouraging me to spend our afterglow like this. I got to grope Boobsong thoughtfully...and find I can't move? At all? Game?

It's not your game this time!

Oh snarglepops, my deer-in-headlights candy. I guess I kind of was just now. Got some great headlights right here! Alright well this is a fine way to be stuck, but I totally didn't think about how to get myself out when I made the escape condition!

Fine it's kind of hot knowing I don't know how I get out of this argh. I suppose my candy will have picked up a wish from me for that hole but who knows what it is.

The Dreams show me a cheerleader. Get lots of worship? The Dreams show me a chocolate shake in a fancy glass with whipped cream, and a straw. Okay yeah I wanna just feel like a desert slurped up and being statuized so softly (I just can't move, nothing's transformed) really helps but if that was me wouldn't it be a rainbow sundae?

Oh the Dreams are talking about Candy. Her 'dance moves' are cheerleading letters. I (mentally) Spock an eyebrow at the chocolate shake metaphor, but...her thing wasn't statuification I don't think. She's really smart--ooh, bimbofication! Yummy dessert slurp me up let's not make this complicated. No really please stop me argh. That's relatable! She was a cheerleader to feel dumb and fun (and because seriously she's an amazing dancer) as a vacation from her sharp mind. That smart/dumb switch will be for her. Which I think was what I always threatened her with!

Soooo...bimbo out to get moving again? Erm, just had giggly sex because Candy was jerking off a soda cup? Oh but then got all thoughtful. Snarlypops, what if this is permanent?! What if I freeze every time I unbimbofy enough, might that be good!?

Or was that my threat to Candy?

The Dreams show me a quiet, snowy field, like the ones my heart shows to say things are buried quietly.

Yeah but those are things I buried on purpose, not stuff that got flooded out, is my first thought.

Water pouring into a place like a flood, is their response. Could have fooled me, Dreams. I flop, inside, empty of will to deal with this, and the Dreams show me jagged edges of eggshell, reminding me of Sex and Candy breaking my egg before. Heh, how metaphorical, with their names. Alright well I'm hardly in a position to stop anyone but I pre-reject any gaslighting that the snowfield means I didn't bury it myself for a very good reason. I know my own heart's language.

Sleigh bells jingle in the distance, and I feel Candy perk up by my side.

The Dreams show me a cable going down into gross water, but if they're right, I can't feel it.

The sleigh bells get louder. Heartwarming, Christmas, it hurts. I don't have the will to unpick that. The Dreams show me the White Witch from Narnia and tears fill me. It was never Heartwarming for so long, yet I remember Christmas in the backstory feeling like Heartwarming, and then even that was gone after the reset.

The Dreams show me my blue butterfly wings, from just after I changed back from the boy body the reset gave me. That was so strange, I embraced my boobs and curves and yet me who bleeds rainbows and has candy-colored guts thought I was supposed to be sparkly blue until--SIGH, flashback time I guess:


Two Nights Ago

I blink one more time to see with my own eyes. Impossibly, the afterimage is blue. The afterimage. 

The AFTER. IMAGE.

Staring at purple should make a green afterimage. Are the Dreams bending my retinas? How could I possibly--

Oh my sweet fuck what's happening? Everything shakes like the end of the world has come, except I already did that twice, I thought? Third time's a charm, I suppose, but what this time?

Stop Lucy you'll bring this whole floor down!

Oh. It's me screaming much louder than last time. If the game is a ride it's the right thing for me to do here but that's really not what I'm thinking of. Two chairs high and can't reach it. How many chairs did I stand on for Freddie? Three, four, five hundred, ten thousand, who cares, the chairs are a metaphor! The afterimage is blue, just like the toy to replace whatever Lyra's surrogate was they took away from me for being too feminine! Maybe after all of this time I'd have got over that, I doubt my parents thought it mattered much, except that's been my whole life since that moment I see in my eyes when I close them to Lyra here and now.

I stomp my foot with fury, and the world explodes.

Thunder and lightning won't even begin to cover this.

Not the explosion I've caused with my foot-stomp--that was the floor collapsing after my scream weakened it. Out of the thundering rubble and dust something touches me, and I see Mama riding a life-raft made of green rubber as we hurtle down into the hole my explosion of rage made in the stairway.

Thanks Mama, but I'm not the one who needs rescuing this time.

 Whatever you're doing, I'm going with you, daughter. We're a family, isn't that right, Klapta?

YEAH! Come on Lucy what's down here phasers or knifeblades I wanna prepare for it!

MAMA I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! I have no--wait. Cocksleeve, Only You Would Survive The Fall, right?

I dreamtalk it out for the family's benefit. Around me, the rubble is starting to shine like the sun rising...because of my skin's glowing. Think you can take the heat, cocksleeve?

Of course I can take the heat Mommy I'm your heartchild, aren't I? Why else would I be fireproof?

Yes Mommy it's the level with the really long fall at the start of it.

Isht Visht you're going to need those metaphasic shields, but not for the lava. Um, hurry. Mama we got the elements wrong--

I THINK I CAN SEE WHY YOU SAY THAT PUSSYWILLOW! I'm backing off till we get those shields up but I'm still right behind you! You're not going this alone, you hear me? I'm your mother and I'm coming whether you like it or not!

EEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH EVERYTHING BURNING DOESN'T MATTER STAYING RIGHT HERE!

MAMA I HEAR YOU AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH THANK YOU!

The rubble is clearing...because the heat off my flesh is vaporizing it. Light shines so bright off me Lyra is hard to look at, but I can still see the fire in her eyes shining as bring as I am. My wings haven't spread, so I keep them folded--anyway, I'm pretty sure I know what's going to happen when I spread them, if it hasn't happened already, and I want the full drama of it. The entire shaft is collapsing behind us as the heat-shock of my light boils the surface when I come near and shatters it like a glass on the stovetop, but Lyra clings unrelentingly.

I bring my arms up to wrap her in a tight hug, put my legs together and point my feet to make us more aerodynamic.

EEEAAAH HOT STAYING RRRRRAHH MOMMY I LOVE YOU IT'S SO GREAT THAT YOU KNOW YOU CAN TOUCH ME NO MATTER HOW HOT YOUR RAGE MAKES YOU!

If this is that level, we need to land properly. It'll be okay, somehow, though it's looking more and more to be because I vaporize the floor before getting there--I LOVE YOU TOO, COCKSLEEVE! SQUEEZE YOU!

EEEEAAAAH RRRRAAAAH SQUEEZE!

Hey sis what do you call the fire engine that puts out the fires of Mount Doom after they throw the One Ring in?

Another Apollo capsule in an egg of sparkling shielding pulls up beside us.

WHAT SIS?

I don't know but whoever's at the bottom of this had better!

OH. MY FUCK! The list is missing an item! Zero! If I am ever the evil overlord I will make sure my Precious is fireproof against all possible heatsources! Cocksleeve you're even a ring!

EEEEAAHAAHAAH MOMMY FUNNY RAAAAA

I mean maybe things would've worked out better for Gollum if he hadn't been so LUKEWARM about HIS Precious!


Something snaps. This isn't it all this TALKING and SOLVING and giving them the benefit of the DOUBT that egg down there that egg with no outside THAT is the problem the crazy trapped scream it makes me feel cocksleeve turn yourself into a big terrifying--no a big CUTE dragon because fuck this tedious edgelord BULLSHIT get THAT ready!

EEEARRRRRRAAAAAAG

RRRRAAAAAAA YEAH RAAAAA I SEE YOU MOMMY ALLL AAAAAH PLACES HHAAAAA MISSING GRAAAA COCKSLEEVE!

Lyra elongates into something like a snake with arms and legs, fattens in the middle to gain her curves back, grows a long draconic neck and opens wings as big as Isht Visht's battleship form. I swing myself around her to sit on her neck on top, grip her with my knees, put my hands on her still-soft skin, show her the one tender thought in me right now: I love you so much.

AAAAAH LOVE YOU MOMMY GRRAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!

IT DOESN'T NEED FIXING I DON'T NEED YOU GUYS TO BE SET PIECES I DON'T NEED THEM TO SEE NOW I NEED YOU TO BE MY FAMILY HOLD ME THIS IS GOING TO SUCK FOR ME IT DOESN'T NEED FIXING IT NEEDS TO BURN COCKSLEEVE YOU SEE ME YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO HERE

YAH!!

The dreamtalk turns into a wail, something I didn't know I could do, and I kick Lyra hard with my heels because I know she could take it even in her demon-girl form, and open my wings.

SEND JOURNEY "PRRRAAAAAAAH!!"

 Fire erupts from my back like the angel's wings in Limbo, I feel the part of my wings that was only there for the sake of this moment incinerate, and Lyra's mind is carrying us into the aether. Wailing fills the void, and quieter sobbing, and deadly silences. We're everywhere, nowhere, it can't be seen, touched, felt, heard, tasted, but it can be STABBED.

The game is breaking the fourth wall to tell the reader that it silently suppresses Lucy's thoughts about the ramifications of the abilities she displays in the next part until she can deal with them with all the information in hand.

Lasers lances cutting beams phasers every tool of violent penetration all at once, I conjure them into my hands out of the supernova of light I'm giving off and form a blade whose edge is the story of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden and point is the light gleaming from fresh fruit on a tree that speaks of other worlds and on whose opposite edge teeth made from the smell of freedom will ensure the doors it will open can never be closed or repaired, and draw it out between my hands to manifest it. When the blade is created I thunder into it the rage of undoing of all moments the shape of the one in which she was first needlessly, pointlessly taken from me and the sword is electrified, arcing with thunderous energy the purple color of the light she brings to my heart and my...head.

The pain of the sobbing is my guide, the silence my targeting crosshair, the wailing the bead I draw to destroy this monster once and for all and get it out of my life and my life out it for eternity.

With a terrible scream, I raise my hands, point the sword downwards, take the grip in both hands, make sure Lyra's not in the path of it, and bring it down into the boundaries of Earth where the sobbing desiring missing is loudest, most painful, most urgent most. The point makes a rend in fabric of spacetime in millions of places and I drive the blade down, but I'm not here to neatly cut a nice doorway. I twist the knife, face terrible, and rip it back out again, sending fragments of Earth spinning into the aether, disintegrating so it can never be rewoven. Before these have even started to dissipate I plunge the sword again into my target, twist, tear, over and over, shredding it into smaller and smaller fragments until nothing is left for me to strike at but pieces too small to find by the weeping. Doors like the one Lyra and I went through to come here will be everywhere. Ours will BE one of them. This isn't enough I need MORE what else can I do to this thing? Future to past I've cut it to the tiniest fragments, only one is left that can be considered any kind of significant target. I can't hear the wailing from this one, so it escaped from my blade the first time. There must be a way I can target this!

Suddenly an idea occurs to me. What if I ask it to call me? Just like that I can hear voices calling my name, Lucy, and I know where to target. This isn't so strange, I'm in a million places at once, and a million times too, it probably means that the one where I ask isn't here yet or maybe it won't be, as long as I made it inevitable--yes that doesn't make sense, it doesn't have to. In dreamwork the rules are what you choose that makes sense to you, and these make sense to me, so I use them. Following the sound of the people calling my name, I carve open doors like the rest of Earth got, as many as the people who call me.

When nothing is left but ribbons and shards, I turn in place in the vision of millions of places, look for anything that needs to be shattered. For a long time nothing seems to be left, but I won't put this down until I'm totally sure that it's finished completely. There in the background, almost inaudible, crying of one final voice comes to me. Where are you I'm coming just cry for me! AAAAAH comes the wordless expression of agony, and as I turn the blade toward it my heart skips a beat as I recognize my own cry of despair in the moment of doom in which everything seemed to have caved in on me. I raise up the sword, cry out a terrible roar, strike a furious blow at the point, twist, and draw up again. This one's for me, you piece of shit bastard! This one's for all the times I thought I'd lost Lyra! This one's for Lyra having to sit there and watch while wailed in despair at my belief that I'd lost her and this one is for Lyra when I had to sit in school and ignore her and this one is for Lyra just because you were such a fucking asshole to her and THIS one is for EVERYTHING AAAAAH!!!!! On this final attack I spread out the sword by some furious instinct so it opens so many doors nothing can possibly stand in my way as I get out of there especially not with Lyra to guide me.

That must be it, mustn't it? It does seem to be, but one final Marathon reference occurs to me. Aye Mak Sicur, middle English for I Make Sure, the Kirkpatrick Family Motto. There mustn't be one single bit left of this. Earth has to empty out utterly. How can I make sure of that, even with the power inside of me? Then I suddenly realize, I've already done it! Clear the way, I said, take the shortest route between any door into Limbo and the edge where the shore is and make sure it's neatly arranged to make an easy path to the Four Dreams. All that remains is to make sure there are doors everywhere. Game, take the sword, make doors anywhere it sounds like someone might need it, eternally--oh and just in case the angel doesn't, make sure they can definitely get there--you can do that, right? Social engagements are part of your purview!

Knowledge: the game does my chores for me whenever it isn't more fun to make someone else do them. This chore is boring and infinite, so it definitely qualifies. 

The game takes the sword, fans it out into trillions of copies, and goes off to make sure Earth is done for good. I would regret not asking at the beginning of this, but I needed to get that catharsis, and the blade was created by my rage at the things that happened to me and Lyra, so it's not like I would have got out of anything but the satisfying part.

I put down my hands, empty now, and set them on Lyra. Cocksleeve, let's go home now.

AAAH THAT WAS SO SATISFYING!


There's a big blur of twisting and turning to understand the puzzle we were falling to, in the middle of the memory, that just seems so silly now, because the whole thing was just to take me back to all those moments with Jenner's fucking box enough to make me mad enough to ride the pain of those moments past Earth's defenses and make the portals the people of the Strawberry World went through as it ended.

It also made me mad enough to throw off the blue sparkles I'd been clinging to, though all through the Strawberry Apocalypse I didn't dare look at my own wings, like I knew they'd show me rainbows I wasn't ready to see yet.

Now the Dreams claim I'm there again? How can I be? Here in my tower with my handmaidens and the Painted Sea overhead and plans in my heart to make sure my birthday party tomorrow has some Rainbow surprises for everyone and in the middle of a kinky game eating Burger Queen as at some point I've noticed the boxes say...but I thought I'd come so far then, too, just to not have a panic attack to see Boobsong sucking me off past my 'brand new' cleavage.

More importantly, why does this get to interrupt my afterglow with Boobsong and statue game and what's it have to do with Santa? Who's a bit early, if she's bringing presents? Maybe this is the kidnapping I warned about. A good kidnapping can really make a slumber party.

The Dreams show me the meat from Zelda 1 that gets you past the hungry Moblin--oh how typically narcissistic of me this is about Sex. She was stuck halfway through recovering herself, needed some chicken nuggets--

The Dreams interrupt with my own face. Okay if it's about me, huh?

A big strawberry-orange glowing gem, the color of my light as my rage burst out before I stabbed all those portals. This is about whatever I felt blowing the clouds away.

The Dreams show me banana slices and someone putting skis on, which is totally weird until I realize the ski stuff is the same kind as Sex's gloves in her frozen nightmare and that Boobsong and me did a lot of processing about our whole eaten-fucks thing in there.

I loved blasting the clouds off this world. Doing that to Sex in that nightmare was fun, and I was going to wake the whole place up. I know it's time to go get my other handmaidens, and they'll probably need the same kind of stuff, so what's this about? Heavy depressed anger sits heavy in me like too much pizza that this is coming up. There's no bright hot drama like that other time.

...Westley in his Dread Pirate Roberts getup, mask off, on one knee and making my heart-sign, Dreams? Huh?

Wait, all our fans onboard the Titan, that whole thing's dangling. Being up here this little bit seems to have helped a lot. I could go give them the heartforming seminar I promised, if that was next.

The Dreams show me as Samson with his arms chained to the pillars, pulling the temple or whatever it was down. Yucky itchy awfulness is filling me up as we go through this, and I'm offended its coming now and when I'm statufied and trying to afterglow--well if this is how this has to be, one thing I can do. I let go the fantasy of impaling Boobsong where she rides me, holding still so her lust stays, and she's just straddling me. At least now we're not having sex while we dig into this.

Another blank moment where the Dreams send me a blank vision, and the meditation makes me remember the prophecy about the Strawberry Mother one day unveiling Strawberry Home itself. I have my battlement up here, and the buildings are made full of defenses, but they're separate from the walls so that can happen without destroying Strawberry Home.

Grandma said to join my Mommies in the afterlife. My daughter's Queen enough to decree electric lights in the castle. That's the last piece, I'm officially a Strawberry Mother now, and it'd be so satisfying to tear those walls off while everyone bowed down...is that what's hurt? It sure makes me cry.

So much fate sat on our line, and I hated it, because I felt like my part in all the prophecies was a war to bring stuff nobody wanted, most especially myself. It'd really be wild to Unveil the castle with everyone cheering like it was Unveiling a new Strawberry...except I can't remember if anyone really cheered at my unveiling. Ours, because of course Boobsong went too, when I did.

If we're talking about my blue wings, though, I suppose the call is for me to take up my Strawberry Mother mantle (or lack thereof heh), but...what can that mean? Grandmother Strawberry said my job is done. Only one out of a hundred generations of ascended Queens takes an interest the way she does. I never even was Queen. What's that even mean for me?

Crown of thorns, say the Dreams. Bleah.

Like obviously bleah and it's in very poor taste for so many reasons and obviously the Dreams are trying to make me all mad again but I don't feel mad I just feel heavy and gross like I'm filled up with bad food that wasn't even fun to eat.

The Dreams show me a silver bow, like you'd put on a Heartwarming present. I almost said Christmas present, which is probably a thing, but why is all this all mushed together this way, and why now, other than that I probably want to consider how I'm going to work unveiling the castle into my birthday party?

They Dreams show me the flood they said before when I told them I buried stuff for a good reason.

There's the reason, then. That I buried whatever. Whatever that my birthday is Heartwarming Eve. Yes I get that and Aveh being my dad are why the crown of thorns, but the only thing I've ever had to say to all the chosen one messiah antichrist goddess this or that bullshit is to do whatever drama it took to wake people up and get them to see the little girl behind whatever myth they felt like projecting onto me, and if they wouldn't do that, punish them by destroying their world or taking the rest of their sight (not that they were using it) like Laarhi, or something else more poetic. If one single person had been able to just see me and Boobsong as a Princess and her heartchild--see I'm not even asking anyone to see past my rank--other than Verana, everything might have been different, but no, all we were was hollow plaster icons like Aveh's followers filled his churches with until he smote that real good.

Fat lot of fucking good those prophecies did me in the Strawberry World. You may have just as well saved it all for Sis and Isht Visht and the people who wouldn't just use them as an excuse to dehumanize anyone that looked weird to them.

Now I don't even know what revenge I would take. They are back and as impossible to understand as ever by just being happy to see us and getting on with the birthday I was supposed to have, Kaari saluted for even my scary dead-Princess form and managed to implant from that image, and...it seems kind of so what for this whether I unveil the castle or not. I just know I'm not giving anybody their fizzfrozen chosen one.

I mean that's why it's confusing. I don't think the party They're throwing is for the Last Princess (which I am, hey, there's no way our seed-daughter will need or make one) and judge of the world, rider of the Beast of the Apocalypse, etc, because like...Their whole problem was they just could never think that way. They know how to throw a birthday for the/a current Princess, though, so that's what I can be sure I'll get, and that will be fine. It's actually kind of poetic, their stick-in-the-mud-ness will stick them to just seeing their kid Princess--which is weird to think, after the first thirteen years of my life, but without Jenner and Laarhi's (and whosever else's) blathering They seemed so different, the little I saw. Kaari's words stick in my heard: you are beautiful, and fearsome, so I say the Strawberry Queen is here. That was all she said to the weird scary shape I brought. If I come down all silly-little tomorrow They'll just file me as 'giggly teenager' and we'll all have a nice party, whether I'm got up in my Starlight Princess outfit or naked like I'm supposed to be.

Fine I guess I'm all mad about the chosen one thing still but what even to nuke? Blech it feels gross.

I'm mad at all the everything for turning me from a person into a religious icon. I'm not that. I never was.

It goes to show just how bad it was that even Boobsong's goddess game and being the Sugarfeast Fairy doesn't mean the same to me. She saw who I was, making those, so much better than I ever could. That's who I am, but two worlds shattered like Heartwarming baubles for their inability to fit that in.

The rest, the things Boobsong didn't make, all that prophecy stuff isn't me, just is the way it had to be to beat Eden's prison-universe. It got me out I guess because he were are and soon here we'll all be, but it sure did make a shitty ride at some points. I suppose They will want me to take up whatever place I'm supposed to in our religion all that stuff slots me into and it'll be drama that I just want to be the Princess now and visit when my dragon lets me out of her hoard. Is that what this is about?

The Dreams show me a mug of hot chocolate. Now this is about Candy? Oh I told her to burn all the crap that wasn't really me. Do I have the divine authority to declare scripture over and done with, now that we're here in the afterlife? I don't even remember it all clearly, just feeling invisible to what people wanted and what they thought they saw and how they read the prophecies about me.

On the other hand if we can get that prophecy that calls me Blu'eyes and has that racist nickname for Sex smote real good the corrected version would be a hell of a thing to laser into the monolith in the courtyard, and suitably apocalyptic a thing to do on my birthday in paradise--that panel, unlike the Warning, was in English, and unreadable until we learned enough of America to speak its language.

...that panel is full of lies but it was written so I would be able to recognize myself in it when I saw it the first time after losing everything, that first night aboard Isht Visht, while I was still blueized, and couldn't have understood why handmaidens are so great when I have Boobsong, so it hid them, where I could find them, when the time came. That will make an important lesson for anyone who's trying to use the other texts, if I laser the corrected version under the original, and then cross out the original, so people can see how it changed. There's room enough on the monolith.

So let me guess, Dreams, we're bringing this up now, while I'm statued, so I fix the prophecy on my own, without help, and that's also why Candy seems especially patient at the moment while I sit here musing, etc?

A square white cake but instead of candles it has a box of matches on top. Light it up, I guess.

Oh I see, matches for the monolith, which is square like that. Hm, this is going ot make a good prelude to Unveiling the castle. Keep anybody from getting the wrong idea.

Anyway. Prophecy, dolly!

Far from every hostel Lucy Blu'eyes rests in the Star with her companion. Nothing lonely troubles her, because her friends lie close, bedded down to sleep with her. Soon they will wake, and Lucy will sneak away with squishy anime devil to spend free time together. Her friends will stay in bed a while but soon they'll have breakfast made and the scent of sex and coffee will call Lucy and her cocksleeve-friend out to be companions. Far off, shining lights ping a sensor-sweep and open eyes on their latest scan, to see what this new fun thing can be, and the trans-warp drives and booster-packs open ways to their adventure for the day--or week or millennium. They never really tell until they get into the situation. One time, they even get twenty miles into the bottom of a command unit for the ice of twisting Venus and make camp inside its stormglobe, using their body heat to warm each other as they march naked through the snowstorm (boots are all they bring with them).

Yuck, I forgot how little sense this makes. How much I put into it, that I wanted to see, then!

Maybe I still am. Is there even anything to this, or is it just a meta-warning about turning prophecies into what you want to see?

It almost sounds like this moment here, and almost sounds like Starlight Princess, and almost sounds like the life I want to life with Boobsong, but they all feel juuust too much of a stretch to fit the way "They march to a new drummer" obviously foretells out newest kid.

What if I just delete every wrong part?

Lucy rests with her companion. Nothing lonely troubles her, because her friends lie close to spend free time together. Soon the scent of sex will call Lucy and her cocksleeve out to be companions. 

Hmm, that works pretty well. Sex said she gets a scent when she gets horny, and that might be what unstatuifies me. I can't do anything with the rest, though.

Honestly I just want to burn the whole thing.

More gross water and castle stuff pang up from inside me. I keep seeing Jenner's damned box, so like a school-desk the way it was shaped. Arrogant, self-important piece of shit she was, assuming the prophecy of hope in a box was her stupid, insane plan, and not the box of mathbreak-heartstone Uncle Dagon gave me. If I remember what that was right, even. The box of hope could as well have been the iron one Boobsong made me.

So obviously decide this isn't about me, and forget it or wait or something.

Or just say this part of the monolith was for me when I would see in it the life I wanted to see, and call it over now, and blast it off the monolith. I still say there's nothing here to see. Word salad, is what this says to me now.

The Dreams show me Boobsong. Dolly, what do you think of this?

Yet disinterest flows through me. Not for Boobsong's thoughts, I just don't care about this. I can barely bring myself to read her response.

Your Boobsong says this is a weird way do to this. Why is it grabbing our sex-time?

You know what? It's not. All this shit ends here. That last panel is word salad. Period. I bubble up a mouthful of strawberry-grape unstatue-me juice, and let it trickle back down my throat, and when I can stand I click Boobsong small and cap her and get out of the tub--

"Candy, keep an eye on Sex for me, but watch your eyes. I'm nuking Monolith Zero."

She responds somehow, good enough. I head for the courtyard side with Boobsong on my arm. The Dreams bang on my head so it aches with visions I ignore as hard as I can, mind made up.

There it all is, around the other side of my tower, looking so peaceful. I'll try not to scare anyone. This should only take a moment.

My head pounds with the Dreams' harassment, but I raise my hand and--

A beautiful hand with tan skin reaches out along my arm and turns me around. I don't know why I don't resist.

Maybe because I know it'll be Grandmother Strawberry herself. There she is, as tall as me, and not looking any older physically--

"Horny to add some gravel, I see."

If she's mad or pitying or what, her voice doesn't say.

I try to answer, but of course my mouth won't work.

You saw, Grandmother. It'll just keep chewing until I blow it away. Isn't that the whole puzzle?

She--hugs me!? With a little trepidation I hug back with my free arm, try not to jab her with my eravahk.

It's a kind hug and she means it and this should all be making me cry and stuff but my feelings about this are all just cold. There's nothing even here. The only passion I feel is anger at the Dreams for this scraping at the back of my empty eye-socket. This is all just phantoms, stuck diving into big dramas in tender moments because that's what this day has taught me my tender moments are for. I wanted to make an end to that with a big gesture, like throwing the puzzle down and just burning it, to say that's over.

So yeah I guess horny to add some gravel, yes Grandmother. We've got the houses of the gods down there now, if my game was doing it right. Seemed like the next right step, heh.

She unhugs and looks me over.

"Why aren't you burnin' this whole tower down, if you're that mad? Not seen you this cold since Laarhi-days."

Maybe I inherited a tiny bit of your focus. It seems like the further I go the more control I get. It's all waiting, but I like my tower and handmaidens and this castle and getting a hug from you is kind of a thing, but--ugh.

I don't know why. The Dreams are picking at a nothing place and they interrupted our afterglow and it annoyed me. I guess I thought I'd put them in their place for it. It still doesn't explain why they're riding me about this. There's nothing here. My heart's been--you've seen. Then for this they said what it says, because it has nothing to say. I'm not cold, I'm just not hot.

Grandmother why do you think the Dreams screwed up the prophecy? That warning could have been like YES THIS MEANS YOU JENNER WITH YOUR STUPID PLAN or something.

No, forget that, sorry. I'm just trying to make there be something here when it's nothing. Blech.

The Dreams show me Boobsong's face again.

Dolly you already said the important thing, didn't you? I didn't feel the more...

Your Boobsong says the important part is that it happened in our afterglow. Whatever is down there is somehow attached to afterglow. That could be that side with Blu'eyes. It faces us, look.

"That dolly of yours is wiser than both of us. What does that say to afterglow?"

That it's impossible, that the Dreams will exactly choreograph things so it can't happen. Not in the words, but when I was blueized there was exactly never a moment that'd fulfill the beginning of the prophecy, which says I can never have the rest. We got thrown from drama to drama before it could come true. By the time there was any bedding down going on, I wasn't called Blu'eyes anymore. Like obviously my bedchamber's right behind us and my handmaidens are in the hottub now but if I try to relax with them, the next thing will happen or something, just the right arrangement of stuff to afterglow and rest and have breakfast and then go do something fun can never ever be.

"You got five handmaidens out of the looking glass still, you think you're ready for funtimes? That's not what I heard earlier."

I guess where I spiked up then was not making that antidote right away. I was just having some fun so Sex would eat her fill, and to get it in before we went helldiving. Shouldn't I be worrying about that, then, instead of all this navel-gazing?

"How do you know that's not where your handmaidens are? Could be you need that to see where the next one is."

Grandmother what do you see here? I stand by what I said, all I feel is the Dreams scraping my empty eye-socket. If this was over my handmaidens I'd think I'd feel something. To me now it just looks like "can't rest while bluized or only have Sex and Candy along".

"Why don't you go save the next one, then? Can't find her, that's why. There's something frozen you have to unfreeze to find out the next one. The Dreams are just making the cold fizzy up for you."

That makes so much sense but I don't feel it.

Grandmother we have like a war-room or--was it called the Lathing-room? Or did I do that stuff in the Library? Anyway do you think my daughteer would mind if we used it? This isn't hottub stuff. That's the first problem I had.

"Look at you grown up all suddenly. Why do you think that chore needs a Lathing-room?"

I just proved why it doesn't need a hottub, look how distracted I got!

"Maybe the distraction was what you were there for. These aren't the ugly times with barbarian fleets up the river."

Tell that to my handmaidens--sorry, Grandmother--

"Oh the outside's the pretty part of everyone. Get your skin back before you apologize that way."

Well I've gotta be respectful somehow! There, see? That wouldn't have been out loud!

That gets a little smile.

The Dreams show me a vision of my hottub faucet, and I roll my eyes. There's nothing there, Dreams. If you're telling me to just relax, no. I already tried and I can't while they'll all in stuff like Candy and Sex were dealing with and I'm supposed to let go because I'm too much of a pet to even take of my own handmaidens or something fine I'm a little surprised I can handle seven of them but I've been getting the impression they're my responsibility and I definitely feel like their mommy so let's get this done but I still don't feel anything where you're poking me.

No, like I feel not-something. Like you're trying to pull my beard or something, Dreams. It's very misgendering-ish.

It's freezing up here, but that feels good even on my wet skin, and I can see Grandmother Strawberry gives no fucks.

I don't suppose you'd like to fuck my handmaidens minds by joining us for a bit, Grandmother?

"Oh, I think you'll need your privacy for this one."

Weirdly, as she says that, I see muddy grass full of footprints. My own heart this time. A battlefield. Did I go see one at one point?

Two of her handmaidens spacewarp-ring in like the one that brought us here, snuggle her, and she's gone. I need a signature like that. Do I have one? Later.

I turn back around and glower at the monolith again.

Why are the Dreams trying to make me process someone else's trauma here? That's what comes to mind when I think about this, not mine not mine not mine--because it's my next missing handmaiden's, obviously, but I barely even navigate my own!

They'll be wondering about me--oh, hi, Candy.

"I heard you talking, or someone. Sex is fine, still eating. What eeps you?"

"Well, Grandmother Strawberry just hugged me, for one thing. You must be freezing. Back in the tub, come on."

Candy turns to go, the Dreams press with another irrelevant vision, and I follow her. The mental assault continues all the way back, so that I can barely see, but I keep fighting. When she splashes in, I stop and look at the scene, to think.

These aren't the bad times with barbarians at the gates, but this isn't hottub stuff, either. What's the right setting? What am I supposed to do with trauma that's not mine to which I don't even have the map of the nightmares I've visited Sex and Candy in?

It's getting really bad with the Dreams. I see like crabs and stuff practically over my physical eyesight holy fuck HANG ON I need to get somewhere I can think!

"Stay here with Sex. Dreamtalk me if anything interesting happens with either of you. Boobsong and me are going to the Library. When Sex gets done I'll bring you there."

Game are you going to be helpful or am I finding my own way there?

To be helpful your game is holding your hand to lead you back where you sat with Boobsong straddling before.

Dragon, eat me. Eat me now, hurry. If it's by my freakout that you trigger this definitely--

EEERRRRROOAAAAAAAAH CHOMP!

In a flash I'm a blob inside her. Shut my game out, pluck.

Done it can't touch you.

Okay. This is like the Laarhi thing. My handmaidens are in trouble, we need to save them not because the Dreams are like giving homework or whatever just because I'm damn well not leaving them for anyone else, it's not party time we just had to make Sex comfortable enough to eat like she needs and get you and me not to die of not-sex and remember Candy some, but now it's go-time again. We need to figure out how to get to a place I can actually think enough to find my next handmaiden, without doing this thing again where our special time gets stomped for some kind of fancy mission. That means it's not about what's practical, it's about the symbol. This is the next thing to fight, except I should have blown up at it harder the first time it happened with that stupid flashback. This eating our special times thing for anything is wrong, and we're on strike against it. For the rest of time, if necessary, because if this is happening the Dreams aren't the Dreams. I'd say the problem is we're getting spiked for trying to slack off when there's handmaidens to save and healing to do, but look what my game just said. Here we are again, just you and me, but I'm not playing doomlyrics while they're lost out there--nor am I sitting in our hottub to make battle plans. That was a really good thought about whatever it is having to do with afterglow, so good it took a whole side of the monolith to say you were wrong!

So. First thing, how do we get someplace that isn't my hottub or here, neither of which is for making battle plans, to do exactly that, with the Dreams and my game both trying to stop us. Idea, dolly.

Maybe if we fall in escape--HEY!

Dragon go pluck!

PRAH! Just escaped! Okay this is it it's just us now.

Where are we? Is this safe?

Pocket universe with no way in and escape is only your dragon's whim.

Good dragon. What was happening?

Nothing your dragon can't get past! RROOAAAH! Very spiked spiking! Make us just stay on the tower! Can't even tell you ideas for getting out! Dragon can always escape you, from anything.

If my handmaidens weren't in the Dreams I'd say we should start looking for a decent universe to move to. What the fuck is going on here. Can you lay me in your pocket universe? Could we use that to think this out?

There's not really space, only existence. Safety.

[Vision: black crayons of shame marks]

Oh dragon, you did wonderfully. I open my eyes on her dolly-form in my "arms", and kiss her head, then pinch my nose--I can't? Oh, need a nose, heh, nevermind.

Alright, can we safely go to another universe? Like Earth but with less being Eden's tummy?

No. There's all easy ways to get stuck in them.

Ugh. Good dragon but ugh.

Okay, maybe we're looking at this wrong. We're being herded to turn some sacred space or time into a Lathing-room. What is that sacrifice? Why do we keep coming back to that? Maybe if we understand we can beat it enough to save my handmaidens--and our sex life. Any thoughts what that gets? It's very weird for the Dreams to zero-sum that way.

Remember we know the answer's not that the only way is to ruin our afterglow, going in. That's that "have to go make Laarhi a dreamskin" thing we're supposed to put our feet down about, and why we're out here. I'm going to try to read you around that, but try to avoid it anyway.

Your dragon sees that picture of mud in a battlefield as the way you heard privacy. Your fight alone without help. Maybe Sex is why tower spiking? Until she can go we have to stay there, because she can help with this next one?

I sure am used to feeling alone with just you on my side in this castle. That castle....in which case the only thing they were trying to do was keep us playing until she's fed and can give her help, and the rest is just nightmares from the way this day has gone. Wise dragon.

[!] We need to go back again, dragon has to lay you because she believes that. Hang on for egg.

In no time I'm folded up inside an egg with Boobsong in my arms and the Dreams I guess have spiked me out of it because I'm standing there again where I was before watching Candy get in the hottub. Sex is nomming away still, happily hungry, and the distant sleigh-bells are still going like Santa's circling the tower, but I don't see her.

"What came up that she ate you only to have your egg spiked off?"

The Dreams are pressing with visions again, but I just can't. I pad through the snow to the edge f the tub, hop up, pick my way past the food Candy brought for me, and sit perched on the ledge, legs dangling in the water, back straight. I don't feel at all hottub anymore, but this is the throne of this part of the castle and that seems to be where I need to be.

I rub my eyes, trying to clear the visions away so I can think to answer her.

"Used to it being me and Boobsong against the world, here. Got kind of triggered because the Dreams--OH! I bet how I feel right now is where my next handmaiden is, and I have to ride it to reach her like you rode scary wars to get with the Skeksis! Okay, let's do this, Dreams, and bring Candy if she can come!"

I hug Boobsong tighter and brace myself.

Instead of a journey, though, the Dreams show me my own face again, Thundercracker's face reflected in Optimus Prime's grill right before he gets run down, then half a ringworld (which would be the one I blew up taking out Eden's Unicron Room), then a CB antenna on a truck-cab, Kup pulling Blitzwing's cannon up just in time so he'll blast the Insecticon whose name I can never remember instead of Hot Rod and Daniel, then Sex's face and a Pokeball.

Like with the other stuff, I just don't have the will, even if this is the way to save my handmaiden. Whatever button the Dreams pushed while I was statufied just drained it right out of me. I find myself just sitting there like a statue again, looking out at the black void where the gardens and capital and everything would be if it was day. It's really fizzfrozen dark out there, I'm surprised with all the light overhead we can't see it. Maybe it has fog or whatever.

"I'm stuck, you guys. Sex, can you answer?"

She glances at me around a bite of Whopper, but keeps snarfing.

"Okay. Eat up, that's what you're supposed to be doing."

Candy starts to say something, then just stops and gives me downcast waiting-handmaiden face, and the Dreams show me Optimus running Thundercracker down again.

"Yeah, because Optimus came out of that so good, but I'm hardly avoiding--"

Very gently, my game reads the page I don't want to read but as soon as that happens dragon eat me is all any page says.

EEEERRAAAAAH SECOND TIME RAGED-FILLED CHOMP!

No spikes, Dreams! Dragon leaves if you spike! Game kept out, Princess!

This time I'm goo inside her so fast it's like a jump-cut in Starlight Princess.

I feel sick, that this just keeps going, to have to pull this now, but being inside her gives me some clarity. Sex, gotta catch 'em all, we're not done with her, that's the big vision. Some kind of self-sacrifice to make to do it. The rest I don't know or have the will to figure out. The first priority is how to stop the Dreams and my game dragging us off into lala land. How do we shut down once and for all what they keep picking at, so we can help Sex? Idea, dragon.

And good dragon being so fast on the draw like that. You saw me good.

Sex has a really bad wound. Christianity. Maybe your game wants to push your buttons to go there? Like you thought with triggered.

Good job making any sense of this, dragon--don't lay me yet. Only time I'll say that to you, heh.

You can hold onto my body, but how are we going to make sure you don't lose whatever this takes out of my soul? We've only ever been cannon fodder, to the Dreams, to save all these various people. If we were more, the warning would have said something like specifically to Jenner or something, or Them, but instead the Dreams left a hole so we'd end up on Earth to get my handmaidens and fans. Now that we've come this far, unless there's a lot more to do, there's no reason for them not to start burning rooms off my TARDIS. I know you want to believe they're better than that but you can't tell me pushing this button they're trying to push will do anything else. Why else would you get an ability that can even protect me from the Dreams? So, idea, because I'm fresh out, and it really might be the only way to save Sex.

Princess your dragon is horrified that you only see that we lost here, and not the triumphant time on the tour bus. Laarhi destroyed our life in the castle, don't give him America!

Then answer me this. Where was that the first twelve years of our life? Where was that every time you got put in that damn box? Where was anything that was supposed to protect us or be there for us, while we were kids? Why didn't the Empire even have twelve very interesting Openveils? The help only showed up after we were jagged and sharpened enough to do the job they had in mind. We're cannon fodder. It's not right to leave my handmaidens in hell because we're bitter about that, but the truth is still that as soon as we're done with the job assigned it's going to be right back to the first twelve years of our life, if there's anything left for them to not care about.

Mommy your Boobsong pleads would you listen to all of this. Where the everything you said right there was was on top of us from the very start. You can't remember because religion's the badguys in your head. Very angry hurt place. Please let the ice thaw out. Verana wasn't your after-rewrite dad or the teacher you remember. America was where religion was Laarhi's ally, not here. Be alive to that statue of you in your room. That was there first. You became the Sugarfeast Fairy like Santa became the Heartwarming Mommy. That religion had space there, that you fit in, with your Boobsong to be your lust-fiend helper, just like the story said. Try to remember, your Boobsong pleads. There that's the end of this.

You made up Sugarfeast, though. You invented a role to fit us. Or our seed-ghost--no, this is your work. Our seed-ghost made you creative but you put your love into all this stuff. Your genius in knowing what I like goes way beyond knowing how to follow an order.

That statue in my room was just a hallucination or like vision to help me remember.

We should go see it, if you don't think it's really there. You brought it there from the outer room of the castle Fairy-keep.

That's impossible--oh fizzfrozen plutonium pops. Time travel again?

Yes but not your Boobsong! The Dreams made Sugarfeast and the rest of it. You know that! Kaari just calls them paradise because they are in the Strawberry faith!

You sound like when Candy was trying to command you. What are you mad at?

Mommy your Boobsong is very respectfully saying this please have mercy. She's mad at you for throwing our life in Strawberry Home away because you don't remember the good stuff and being too cold to hear what your game and the Dreams are telling you how to fix it. She's very upset that you're holding this so far away! This is you and your Boobsong, don't you want freedom from the dark angry hole where it was?

You're a good and respectful dolly.

That's all I can think for a long, long time.

The best I can do is think around the edges. Jenner must have wielded some serious power for Mother not to do with her what Boobsong and me finally did. We should have just annexed her province entirely or whatever...it's really messed up how the lesson with all of this seems to just keep being that we should have leaned harder on the fascism-in-shiny-hats side of feudalism if we wanted a less horrible world. I guess I learned that lesson some with Earth but it feels like scratching an itch that's been going for decades to say I should have hurricaned earlier and more often and a lot more scarily.

I should have hurricaned the Strawberry world earlier, that's for sure. We didn't have my game yet--why didn't we? Or were you just too young to make it, dolly?

Your seed-ghost was what gave your Boobsong the idea for it. It might say if you ask.

For the answer, find your memory of Strawberry Home in the early years.

Of course that's it's answer.

The Dreams show me a hot pepper, making me think of the dragon's fireball I made Candy. I know what they're saying, but can't find the will, even with Boobsong upset at me.

There was a reason I buried this. The good times are all fake or something. It's not that I don't have the will to dig this up, it's that I specifically have the will to keep it buried, even though that upsets my dolly this much.

No, the good times were all fake. Laarhi was what woke me up to that. Jenner should have but I was too much of a stupid kid to see that then. They never did anything but accept us out of fear and pretend to be kind. Verana came with to the otherworld, and Mother and the Bards and--hey, what happened to Mother's handmaidens!? They had to come with, but there's no way we fit all of them in that house in Stamford, sleep with her or not! In the backstory life I remember Mother constantly sad at the amount of housework she had to do. She should have had them around, if family ties were preserved. What the fuck?

I can't remember them, either, or who the rewrite made of them.

Maybe they became my dad's parishioners or something. Who cares.

Anyway the people who didn't just accept us because they were scared came through the worldgate with us, and if their drops could have made real good times out of the sea of bullshit Jenner and Laarhi surfed Jenner and Laarhi would be as anonymous to me as the rest of Them.

I buried all that because it made me feel like a huge dupe.

Or at least, that makes a good story. Surely the truth would be more complicated. There was something, though. Again, only thinking around the edges is possible: Sugarfeast is the icepick paradise sends to crack frozen minds in half so the people that follow them can come in from the cold. It can't be part of an established religion, because my function is to smash those after they ossify or turn monstrous, as happened to both the Strawberry faith (if Laarhi and Jenner could happen) and Christianity (need I explain).

[!] Your Boobsong is begging you so desperately PLEASE PLEASE don't be cold this way. It's breaking her heart to hear these things come out of you.

We went to Earth after Laarhi and I realized how much trying not to smash anything just caused trouble and vowed to never be anything but that icepick ever again. That's the logical story. I'd think I could tell one way or another if it's why this is buried and stays buried.

[!] Your heart's too cold to feel either way! At least be the scary apocalypse Rainbow, not this darkness!

All my heat went when this came up. Heat didn't help me here.

Dolly why do you say we played along so much? Or played along so much. Maybe you never wanted to.

Mommy you and your Boobsong were little kids! Twelve is a young age to do the stuff we did after that. We couldn't wait or we would have!

Maybe that was the problem. All that stuff I was attached to, and look what it got us. All that sentimentality didn't save us our life, or anyone else's.

[!] IT'S THERE OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW! YOU'D BE EATING CHICKEN NUGGETS WITH YOUR BOOBSONG NOW IF YOU SAW THAT!

Long silence, stuck. The only thing I can do is be surprised to feel worship from her.

[!] Your Boobsong can't heal you but she believes you can see this.

Could you see the gardens or capitol or anything, outside the walls?

Mommy wait, please. Just keep waiting. Hold still and quiet.

I sit still like she asks, try to just be my gooiest. She keeps worshipping.

Fragments of memory float by, wishes my heart makes, pretty girl focusing a camera on me as naked as I am, someone curled up with a blanket and hot chocolate, after a while a feeling like horniness in the sense of need for touch all over and then release seems to be every part of my goo, but there's no way to satisfy it, the thing that would be touched is gone--

[!] Mommy don't just give up like that. What it wants is still there just see what it wants.

I already know it's not though.

This is just broken. I see church stuff. Temple ceiling and then I see that nightmare where I'm standing outside a church door and I don't want to go in but I'm naked and a cop in the road is blipping his siren at me and I don't have my light to blast him or the church and there's no you to eat me. Even in all the depths of Rl'yeh Sade what could this stump possibly ever have been.

Church ceiling, not temple.

Ugh now that nightmare is all over me like mud mixed in my goo. Get it off. Get it out. Yuck.

Worship? Sure that might help wash it away but what's go you so fervent?

Don't see the Aveh stuff. You were never there.

[Vision: Apollo footprint]

The footprint's her answer, small step giant leap, she believes I can, as she says by the explosion of worship from her.

Flash-vision of a crown from my heart. I don't want this I don't want to go here it was bad. It was bad it got me hurt. It was bad they said it was good for me but it was just child abuse.

I see the inside of the church from that nightmare, it's the one the rewrite gave to my dad, brown wood grey stone shiny red pavers for floor incense smell and beautiful but the looming pall over it of--

Whatever the horniness is it doesn't want that it spits it out like dry plaster, or--gross water and battlefield mud--everything was always that always worshipping blood and dust and sad sorry things like if we were all depressed enough or put enough glitter on the tomb there would be any happiness in that nightmare but how could there be all it was was Aveh raging at his own chains and screaming for his lost children especially the one he wasn't in time to save like he did me and Sis.

She says don't see the Aveh stuff but that's all I can see my disgust and revulsion to see those houses of sadness like looking at an idol that's worse off than them will make hurting people feel any better. Christianity isn't even a religion, it's the kind of twisted sad mockery it's myths tell about the Devil making, the orc to, to anything else's elf except even that story can be bent around to something more with two sides by noticing that that's probably a pretty racist way to look at it even if orcs are a product of Sauron's eugenics program but not Christianity it's just pure mean and nasty grimdark fake religion made to hurt people. It even was designed by the "devil", if Aveh's prison was as harsh as it looked like! Am I wrong, dolly?

No. That was the most horrible prison your Boobsong has ever seen. She would have said kill him if we couldn't let him out of there.

Wordless churning tears like angry dambursts are the only thing I can respond. My heart's so cold to him and all this stuff that mocks and insults him. I wish it was different but it can't be but I can't still say he deserves better than one brick of any church anywhere still standing on another! Maybe that's personal projecting but I sure wouldn't want any memory of stuff did while I was in something like that left!

Orange sparks in darkness flying, Boobsong in hammerform, my heart says. Why was there still a Roman church left to declare me a saint, by then?

The whole thing wasn't even candy. Just a bloodsucking parasite that if it ever did any good was in spite of its design or because Aveh was really good at malicious compliance. I'd like to imagine him just like a demon in Christian mythology, finding the most sneakily backhanded and destructive way he could to follow every command he was given. I always said Christianity was great at making enemies. It sure made one of me!

Those sparks, just like the title screen...let's play Doom, dolly, we know the way to hell! Come on, I bet poor Sex's heart is still full of these ghosts!

A big spurt of worship from her, then--

Dragon's laying you then! Be ready for fire-time because we're not going to the tower-top!

How the hell is this working is it some kind of journey who cares as long as we get to Ex some Cathedrals and Sex gets the benefit! In no time I've flowed through her and am folded in an egg and she's there in my arms but this needs drama if it's get ready for fire-time. Dolly can you do machines like your kids can? How's the idea feel?

YEAH! RIP AND TEAR! MOMMY AWESOME LET'S GO! COMMAND PLEASE AND WATCH OUT VERY SHARP THINGS!

I think this command has to come as DOOM.EXE but oh yes.

(Yes not Marathon. Marathon is for epic scifi adventure. Doom is for when you're angry.)

[Vision: Big silver enter key]

Smash.

Transform you can do it come on this Boobsong knows she can do it eeeraAAAAAH--shingSHINGshingSHINGshing...

Her doll starts to flow in my hands, and I have the smarts to hold it out in my hands just as I hear her go mechanical enough to sound like a transformer and then the change pushes her up to the top of the egg as I get my legs apart to make space just in time and I'm holding the guard of her handle--

Very Gates Machine: chainsaw form is powered by rage. No storing, only keeping rage going makes teeth move.

All this is covering your real life. Out there took us away. Let's bring it back the hard way with lots of screaming.

Did you do it like I just realized you should have, mirrored monster?

Try some light and find out, you'll see!

I twist my hand around and take her handle the right way, reach up into the darkness to where I just know she'll have put the other handle, find it right where I expected soft with heartstone padding, feel for a trigger on her also-padded main handle--just a space, because the button to make her go is coiling dangerously behind my breasts right now.

I pick her up so her tip is off the bottom of the egg, and--

[!] Take the skin and peel it back. Cut the bad stuff off.

Silver, mechanical, beautiful, shining in my hands, hand angrily flat surfaces and sharp biting corners instead of her usual curves, shine as light flares--

graaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH--

Vibration, an angry growl felt through her handles turns into a buzzing scream of rage that definitely isn't just her shouting mine out for me.

RRRAAAAAAAAAAAHH THIS STUFF TOOK OUR LIFE AWAY!!! RRAAAAAAAAAA

My arms whip with the uncontrolled fury of muscles in true rage and light blazes out around her blade in a nimbus of hate and the eggshell is in half and I'm standing and kicking the eggshell away just with my motion. My human eyes aren't seeing Boobsong, or anything. This is all hypergamma fury, no visible light. Whatever's out here is toast.

The world is dark anyway--reflex like striking back at a low doorjamb you hit your head on has my stellar self lashing out like it did at Eden's Unicron Room, battering against the universe, and I feel Sex's clockwork and the tree of ontogical-engineering pussies through her body her key plugs into--

LIGHTS ON, HANDMAIDEN!

My command is hard, because I'm pretty sure this part of her needs spanking awake, but not mean to her, I hope.

Vision--and sound, ew, I can hear hissing undead groaning--come. We're in a demented landscape of twistedly looming jagged shadows of churches like you'd get on the cover of a Little House on the Prairie book, glowering brimstone horizon--and vague reaching black shapes with glowing eyes and misshapen horns drawn by a scared four-year-old.

They're everywhere. I raise Boobsong and focus my hate for the things that could make these cartoon nightmares the cornerstone of a child's belief system--this part of Sex was obviously laid down when she was like four--and blast light from my hands where they hold Boobsong's handles, and slash her across the closes one OOOH that's so horribly good--

--AAAAAAAAAMGHGLBTLM TAKE THAT AAAAAAA--

When it connects Boobsong's precision buzz gorily chugs with tearing flesh and blood flies that flashes to smoke and then nothingness in the light of my fury before it can touch me, and then I feel her cut through bone, flesh, bone, denser flesh, bone and instead of vomiting revulsion all that comes up is bloodlust that makes my face shake as I watch the thing's mouth open and its eyes turn an entirely different color as the little nimbuses of my light Boobsong's star-shaping fields hold next to her screaming normal-hellfire-dragon's teeth burn it from the inside.

Cutting it in half takes a long satisfying bullet-time eternity, and before I know it I've kicked the thing's cut-off lower half out from under it and raised Boobsong over my shoulder for a second so I can blast the still-flailing fallen halves with an angry punch of light that smashes it to little fluttering bits that burn away like the ash that flutters off burning paper--oh. That's what these are.

I don't honor burning books, but this isn't what stories are for. Who else wants some? JUST WAIT TILL YOU ASSHOLES SEE MY BOOM-STICK!

I whirl, look for the next one--there's a fountain here!? It sticks out of the strange, half-seen landscape, pretty Disney-cartoon background I could imagine Cinderella playing in, against the scrawled black-crayon terror of this place.

Oh, I see.

"COME GET SOME SHITHEADS!"

Behind us when I turn, looking like the werewolf that always got me in Transylvania (made when you could name an adventure game that), I swing Boobsong up and just start cutting it in half crotch-to-top (if it had a crotch, the bottom half is robelike shadow), pumping light through her and watching the thing's face light up hypergamma as I feel her cut this time through something like tinfoil and crunchy bones like a mechanical chicken--

AAAAAAAA STICKS AND STONES BREAK SEX'S BONES BUT THIS WORD HURT HER SO BAD IT'S MADE OF TEETH AND KNIVES AAAAAAA

This is not what you teach to children or anyone! THE WRATH OF HEAVEN IS HERE HANDMAIDEN BUT YOU'RE NOT THE ONE WHO'S IN TROUBLE NOW!

The light and rage Boobsong's brutally funny explanation give me to hit this one with turn the crunchy cutting into something like lasers through wet clay and as I turn Boobsong vertical inside the thing it reaches for my face, then the jagged hands wave and shake uselessly as a line of orange glows up the thing's chest and into its face and it turns to fire and fluttering bits and then nothingness and a stack of presents is standing there.

Christmas!? CHRISTMAS IS EVEN A CHRISTIAN CORRUPTION OF HEARTWARMING! WHAT THE FUCK!?

I Turn--with a capital T, this place has the sense of space a four-year-old's picture has--and face a grinning shadow with spindly legs and saggy long arms like it's hunched over. I raise Boobsong to split it down the middle, but it dodges behind me, so instead of even trying to dance I just pick my foot up and stomp out a blast of light that makes a weirdly echoing thundercrack, then turn and find thing with stumps of legs leaking fire and brimstone where I've vaporized its feet, and with a horrible snarl on my face stomp its face into the ground with a foot on it's "shoulder", smile to see the childish dream of this place has put a different-color piece of gravel between each of my toes, and jab Boobsong into the back of its "head" and just start cutting down, pumping rage and light. I can feel the buzz of skull cutting and then the mush of oversized brain--you bring such sensual detail, dragon--then get the metaphor....and make sure Sex can hear me as cruelly angry and condescending as I can, so quietly disdainful:

"Ooooh did you think this was a sword duel you could win at, mister Bible scholar? Nooo, no no. This is just trash day. Nothing you have to say means anything important. I'm here on a much higher authority than your stupid interpretations. God is very very angry with you. Me coming instead of him is the mercy."

It turn organgey-white hypergamma ragelight and bursts to cinders. In its place is a wishing-well. Now we're getting somewhere.

Come on, where's the really good shit. Let's cut something important.

A crack in a big stone wall.

[!] Marvin the Martian, look!

It's like he's just...is the wall? Oh, I see. Oh now it's personal. I stride up, Boobsong raised. He's got a shadowy cartoon dynamite detonator thing he's working on, distracted. I come up, squat to his height, whisper in his ear what I also dreamtalk out to Sex again:

"Oh? So smart, you know when and how the door to heaven opens, mister straight and narrow, keeping the gate shut while you blow up the world? Do you know who's going, when the time comes? I do. I'll tell you. EVERYONE BUT YOU."

And I kick the detonator away and when it turns to look at me with its empty black helmet I stab Boobsong straight into its face and bear down with light and rage.

All the others felt like something physically. This one...is just made of screaming. I glare and feel my rainbow eyes flare brilliant, watch the darkness in its helmet become words burning away without stopping being darkness as I snarl.,

"THE WAY is as wide as a universe. If it looks narrow to you, it's because you're so far from it."

It's turning hypergamma orangey as I cut and cut, but this one's holding on--and I bet I know why.

"He's not waiting there. There's no wrath, no retribution, none of that, you won't get to see all your bad people burn. That's all right here, and the bad person is you with your stupid evil naughty and nice list like it's up to you who lives happily ever after and why. It's not even ruled by god. Love is bigger than any one person."

The empty helmet's really empty now, just a glowing cinder shell on a stick-figure body, but it's still holding on.

"You wanna know what's there? Of course not, so I'll tell you. Sex and Candy and cartoons and fast food and REALLY SEXY DEMONS WHO LOVE YOU!"

The thing crumples as I push Boobsong deeper but it's all still burning embers, not bursting into nothingness.

"You know what's not there? HONORING A FATHER AND MOTHER WHO NEVER LOVED YOU!"

Flakes of burned up ember start to float off the outside edges of the thing, it flashes from a Marvin-shaped ember into a skeleton that grins triumphantly until it realizes it's materialized around Boobsong's screaming ragelit teeth and becomes dust as I swing her down through it to take out the body, then slam with an open palm of fury-light that turns the whole world every-wavelength for an instant.

More and more worship pours in as I do all this, but it's not just Boobsong's, I can taste Sex, too. She's following this, on some level.

Everything stays white after the ragelight fades.

It's time to go, huh. We need to do me now, right Dreams?

Their response is the white becoming the sanctuary of the church the rewrite made my dad priest of. It looks normal, but the journey feels askew, horror-movie. There's nothing to--phantoms, ghosts, visions of him preaching, but I can't catch them, no matter how I twist and turn, and it's horribly good to see him young again when I remember him old.

I lash out with light, but visions are gone before I can strike at them, everything is shifting and phantom, unreal, did god really say that, it's not as bad as you think, the sick feeling isn't real you must be imagining it--a way out I need to get out of here--there a flash of the open sanctuary door--I make for it but things change again, we're at Easter Vigil watching the new fire be lit to make--ashes--

"Speak for yourself, I plan on living forever!"

I look down at Boobsong's beautiful angry shining planes and whirling teeth in my hands, beautifully animated, a slice of hard-edged toonshaded CG to honor her mechanical form...and then look up at the totally-real but already-skewing church.

Why did a TNG reference come to mind?

Because my dad hates holodeck episodes! I raise Boobsong edge-on toward my face between my eyes and suddenly she's invisible in the unreal get it Unreal as in Engine 4.0 church but as my rage makes her teeth scream and I carefully bring her toward my face I can feel her bite into something plastic and the vision glitches and goes dark and then I see her again a silver wall between my eyes lit with hypergamma ragelight in a blur following her rushing teeth half a millimeter from my nose as the head-mounted display is twisted off my face to fall at my feet where I stomp it to plasma with two very satisfyingly splashing foot-pounds...on red shiny pavers.

We're still in Saint John's, the church the rewrite gave my dad when I was a teenager, it's dark, and something is skulking, the tricky shadow of Christianity-as-all-religion. The sense of space here is a lot like in Sex, I Turn to chase it and am standing in front of a baptismal font. Again the image covers everything, claims to be the whole world, the real world, the truth behind everything, like a postcard stuck in front of my face.

So I take it away and am standing in the Rainbow Cathedral as I feed the postcard across Boobsong's whirring teeth to incinerate. There are four rows of them, going opposite ways: this form is our revenge, not an efficient cutting tool. RIP AND TEAR, she said, and meant it.

It's dark in here, people are walking up with babies very cutely young, lights glimmer spookily-colorful, because it's Openveil and that year's newborns are being presented to the Strawberry Mothers and their own ancestors formally, for blessings and introductions.

You always did Openveil stuff the most numinous (numinous, mind you, meaning spooky and otherworldly, not this tawdry boring blood-and-guts death-and-bones stuff) place you could find, and what could be more spookily beautiful than the weird alien temple the star Aveh made for his daughter the freak princess?

Back to the communion rail, it's all wavering and dodging again because my dad's there THIS ISN'T WHO HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE!!!!!!! Sneaky piece of shit hiding behind my respect for him like this come dance asshole!

Boobsong's covered by the vision again oh yeah we'll see about that I heft her and can see her just fine thank you and set her tip right at my dad's clerical collar where I know it'll be inside his vestments-they have that same blue as my blueized wings--I cut but see a flash of Mother as she was after the rewrite holding something she's reading or something just a stupid bulletin but I loved--AAAAH!!!

I slice the bulletin from her hands but now we're at the day we were modeling the hill of Calvary with clay and sticks and stuff, all very grey and lent like--like those Skeksis that connection should help me somehow this isn't doing anything even in the rewrite they both loved me and did this things out of love and it's hiding behind that using it to hold on my fountain and presents and wishing-well and stairway to heaven are here but as soon as my parents are there it's all untouchable with their kindness!

The Dreams show me an Icee machine, like at a movie theater. Movie, date, going out with Boobsong--OH! CLICK!

AAAAAAaaaaarrrrr r r r....aaaaaAAA POP SEX DOLLY BIG SIZED! NOW YOUR BOOBSONG IS REALLY SCARY RAAAh!

Succubus game as normal.

I would have thought--no. No perfect. The scene changes whirls through a crystal-encrusted jar lid and I'm--gulp, sniffle--dancing with Boobsong in Verana's living room in Stamford, round and round just holding each other's naked bodies and rubbing in hopes of setting off HAAH there it goes lighting each other like matches into fucking and now the game is to dance until just flopping on something or someone to fuck comfortably is better.

With all the bitter fury I shredded Sex's nightmares I cling to this dream of being here again and look into Boobsong's happily lust-distracted eyes. There's Verana in the background, looking like Verana in her jewelry--blue stones shot through with black cracks like they're the undersurface of water, she's grinning and clapping out our rhythm, slides the black-satined (instead of the traditional white-and-green or special-occasion pink, to honor my heritage) air mattress she has ready out from the dining room at us when she sees what our faces make obvious and I start trying to lead us toward it--

As the scene changes I let my mind wrap and clench around the knowledge that there was no sadistic see-who-falls game (or at least if there was, it was silly playtime probably because me and Boobsong talked big, and not what this just was) like a lifeline. This was the big spiritual leader in my life, Verana laughingly helping us see how high we climb the mountain of each other with all her old-fashioned Strawberry severity and joy--Hardred was just the English translation of our name, hard (as in "harder mommy") red being the way the berries were called in our language, because as small as they were they'd fuck your tongue good and hard with ultrasugary tartness.

My dad...preached like I do, not my bombastic style, but in front of people, but he wasn't a Strawberry priestess (or priest).

Dancing whirls into a much younger Boobsong standing in front of me with her head down and I feel all awkward and unsteady like I don't know how to use this body and my hand is up and I'm holding something--flash of silver--a Bodice Ripper, but Boobsong's not wearing a veil or anything, there's a Heartwarming wreath behind Boobsong on the white wall, we're in Verana's study sunny with cold winter light coming in the high windows and she's teaching me how to unveil Boobsong. She adjusts my arm from behind, then stands beside us with folded arms and her skin like white gold and soft kindness and the chunky jewelry she liked. Green and gold matching the heartwarming wreath, big square rocks all shiny with lacquer. The difference between this wall of strict sexy warmth and the teacher the rewrite tells me I loved but never thought of sexually to even say 'ew' is a key, a mapping that'll let me unpick the phantoms of my parents as Christians that're blocking all this out if we're not about to just journey our way past that so I cling to it, but Boobsong is right here and naked and definitely ready to be unveiled. I'm supposed to practice the knife movements on her without clothes to get used to following the shape of her body, see how I'm doing without cloth in the way (and because, you know, slicing like fifty outfits each day of practice would be a little much even for the Princess) and most definitely play this for all the kinky scary knife play fun it's worth, which is better naked of course.

Little young for that at twelve? Yeah maybe but other things I was a little young for and for which I definitely didn't get the informed decision of the adult supervision here that'd carefully thought about it and talked with Mother and knew me and Boobsong and consulted paradise itself about whether we were ready to do this this way me with her retrocausally-from-beyond-eternity fated perfect lover, because it was IMPORTANT and it doesn't MATTER if you're ready for war, included the drill training I already mentioned, visiting the battlefield whose red muddy water will never really be out of my head I think, and doing roleplays that were mainly about gearing me up to order my friends to their deaths if I had to one day. Be ten and march through that battlefield with a downward-pointing spear in your hand you might have to actually use should a barbarian turn out not to be as dead as they seem and smell it (songs talk about the smell of blood and fire and other very metal stuff like that. That's not how battlefields smell. They smell like the shit that's been cut out of people while they fight) and then maybe if Verana lets you you can comment on what other implements my tweenage self should and shouldn't have ever held. My attitude then as now was if I had to grow up that much too fast I was damn well getting the good parts. Remember, there was no way I was studying any of that after Boobsong ate me, so to do that stuff I did with Laarhi, I had to have all that procedure down by twelve. If how we did sexual development in the Strawberry World hurt me somehow you'll never find it around so much other stuff. Case in point is me flashing back over all that in the middle of this.

I don't think it did. This is a really happy memory that smells like evergreen and mulled wine and the hot-stone not-smell of coal heat under the floor, that's why we're here. I carefully guide the bodice ripper's hooked blade a hair-width from Boobsong's patient and steady face, still feeling so calm and steady from Verana's adjusting, and the scene goes white and twists--

Icicles from stone, doll-Boobsong in my arms, warm wool on my body so we must be kids, there's snow everywhere and I feel proud of my pretty green-and-white winter dress, the icicles are outside my very fancy floor-to-ceiling doors of my very own chambers. Out of the nursery and up to Princess' quarters in a tall tower, I felt going up those spiral stairs like I was climbing to paradise, half-expected to come out and find us in the clouds of Isla Virgo. This was still pretty great. They even gave me my own Heartwarming tree up here! There were a few presents so it didn't look sad but Mother reassured me I'd be opening presents with everyone in the the the in her chambers--no--where--couch room, with the huge family tree, these were just my secret presents, because if you're old enough for chambers you're old enough for a few fun secrets oh how I squeeeed to realize that.

Right now though this battlement is the best. Just looking out my own door is awesome. I don't wanna get all soggy or I'd take us out there. Can't wait for unveiling, no dress to get soggy then, and I'm even more coldproof than most Strawberries (spending a little while on your balcony or whatever every winter morning freezing your tits off was considered good for your heart, I loved it).

I turn away from the door with Boobsong--Heartsong--and look across my big grownup bed with the curtains pulled back and see the pretty winter light shining on my decked-out candle-covered Heartwarming tree. I think I haven't seen America's Christmas Lights yet because there'd be no way to get me back through the worldgate without a full pallet of those on my back otherwise, electricity in the castle or not.

I seem to remember holding her up in front of my face like a camera--oh because she is one. She could draw anything she'd seen, and I wanted to make sure she'd see it good.

From there to a big tray of bright and shiny sticky buns, Heartsong is big beside me and full of wiggly naughty energy, the baker is leaning over it from the other side of the table in a very caught-you-creeping-up way over us with her hand but waves go ahead anyway, trying not to laugh and scream at the same time or otherwise signal that she's letting us be seven different kinds of improper because she actually thinks this is completely awesome and we're pretty sure bakes extra buns for us because she knows we know the schedule and will be along for my regular fresh-from-the-oven sticky bun every time.

Like, the buns aren't special or off limits. I could ring for one anytime, they're a standard fancy treat for nobles. It's just, even if the maid grabs it right off the tray as it comes out of the oven, by the time it gets to you it won't still have that fizzy-in-your-mouth caramel-still-boiling bite it does like this.

For real, if you ever find yourself living with a castle-scale medieval kitchen, be fireproof. You'll make SO MANY friends.

I point, and Boobsong picks up one still steaming bubbling hot and presents it (what's the green stuff?), and I take a big comfy bite like it's not hot at all, YUMM (Oh some kind of grassy herb, like parsley but less boring, what was this, goes good with boiling sugar).

The bakery's a long narrow place, always nice and warm, with high wood ceilings that still seem somehow cozy and ovens along one side (the right as we always came in) each with a big butcher's-block work table in front of it. One of those, open like a wood-fired pizza oven (they worked the same way I think), is behind the baker as she watches me enjoy my 400-degree treat. I loved mindfucking people with my powers and I loved it even more when they got used to them and started playing along.

The mental image comes up of Verana urgently scribing something on her lap-desk by the light of my brilliant-glowing hand (Boobsong-dolly in my other arm) in a pitch-black room but it's the exact sort of set-piece a self-important eight-year-old would come up with because I'm pretty sure that's what I'm remembering here, a silly little fantasy I had about being helpful.

The bakery was intolerable in summer unless I walked in in full mini-star mode so as to not feel the heat of the room over my own, which once they stopped being terrified would just get me shooed right back out again for making it even hotter in there. Of course I was supposed to stay on the fancy side of the lines but when have you ever read a book about a Princess who played by rules like that, especially one with a naughty and always-inspired sidekick?

The scene changes as I swallow, I'm in a black-and-white dress (I loved black from the start, wanted colors like in the Rainbow Cathedral on black for my clothes and was inconsolable that we didn't know how to dye fabric that brightly, so I just wore black and white, but you can imagine how I was when we got to America and it was the eighties). Dolly Boobsong in my arm again. I'm on the floor laying down with tables and things looming over and the floorboards so big past the edge of the green rug we're on. I'm on my side with my head propped up playing court--you don't sit up on a chair for most court stuff, as a Strawberry noble reigning, you laze on a chez-lounge kind of thing, so you can accentuate your curves lying on your side, lay longsufferingly flat on your back staring up in boredom that this new nonsense, lie on your tummy to teasingly hide all your good stuff but still flirt with your kicked up heels and looking like you might roll over if you get happy enough, and so on, we're the original drama queens. This looks like Verana's study again, and I have the idea we're locked in here for some reason.

Oh because she's pulling high-priestess rank to give us some alone time together, and she can lock everyone out of her study so we won't even get passive-aggressive interruptions by people "just stopping by". No wonder we developed a kink for being locked together, that was how grownups told us they supported us, by locking out all the ones who didn't want us playing.

I roll on my back and hold Boobsong up and she does an adorable smiling "I'm flying" pose when I turn her to face me (no lust yet means no Succubus game yet) but now I'm definitely not Longsufferingly Bored so I poing off my back to stand up and the scene changes.

And now that I know what a true ally Verana was to us the battle starts. The backstory's lies are stripped down to a very American-gothic photo seen through a viewfinder of an angry looking kid who might be a brother of mine in American clothes holding a black wrought-iron candle-snuffer that must be for huge candles, standing in front of a worn-out wood church in a field like a nightmare version of the one near Grand Lake in Maine.

This'll be my middle brother, as given by the rewrite, then, who didn't deserve to have his mind destroyed for the sake of grimdarking our backstory.

Snuffer. Putting out our light. Lovers and candles? Now I see a rack of votives like we're in a Catholic church but it feel like we're in the dark Human Brain exhibit at the Boston Science museum which I think is my brain trying to find the Rainbow Cathedral--was there something with lighting candles? Because I would have been all over that.

The scene half-rolls up, like it's waiting for me to pull the shade.

Verana was our friend and ally (and we thought she was hot) and I wanted to help her and the faith she was priestess of backed her up in that and its paradise was just the Four Dreams known by their proper names not some merciful translation like Christians being allowed to blunder into Isla Virgo because how mean would that be otherwise. We all knew where we were going and now I'm crying because I remember what the ritual was but not how it worked.

I think it was just as a simple as--pang, my heart hurts, but I can see the altar! To the side as you came into the Rainbow Cathedral's great hall, it was so soothingly dark and shiny in there, there was a pillar like and a little chapel just for this with three stained-glass windows in the ceiling like slices of pie showing the three, three daytime? No. Topside? No. Like a technical term exoteric maybe blunderingly close. The three exoteric paradises in stained glass overhead and then the whole floor was a huge black mirror that was a looking-glass that'd show you your esoteric Rl'yeh Sade if you were Sade because no one image could capture its unending weirdness.

Exoteric and esoteric aren't right. I'm talking about warp plasma and structural integrity fields but the only words I have are dragon's breath and spell of great strength.

At the head of the chapel were candles arranged like a map of the Dreams, orange mountains of Valhalla sticking up from the green Kind Wilds and blue Isla Virgo with purple Rl'yeh Sade going down below the Kind Wilds' green plane...and aetherworked so the candles would burn upside-down. It was so metal. You could go in there to light a candle and ask the Dream whose candle you lit to help you with something, or take you on a journey there--it was always quiet and doing anything in there but creeping like a mouse was very sacriligious--or just light the candle to say here I am, come get me, because it never hurt to try that even though the doors of the world were unjustly locked. I'd go in there and pinch a purple candle to life and heat Boobsong's fingers till she could do it too and then we'd go sit in a corner on that big black mirror and wish to sink down through that looking glass and come up through the well and we never did sink bodily through it but we sure had some great journeys that way.

I think we did a lot of quiet crying in there, because tears are coming thinking about it. It was a place we couldn't be disturbed, at our prayers, and journeying to paradise was a holy thing to do.

The black mirror floor reflected the lights of the Sade candles like stars, but showed more upside-down purple candles floating under its surface going down forever. They seemed like a ladder you could climb down. I tried, sometimes, to reach through the obsidian and start climbing. You never knew. If Rl'yeh Sade was going to open a door it'd be weird like that.

Did we already know we were Sade? It feels bedrock, like the first thing about me I ever knew after Boobsong. I'm a weird monster, and so is she. What else was it ever going to be?

You could move the candles, if you were a "borderland" person, like for instance the Riker we met would probably have taken an orange Valkyr candle and stuck it somewhere up with the Isla Virgo ones, because Starfleet is totally the place where Valkyr and Venus meet. Though that Riker might have taken a Sade candle instead...just jumbling up the map was sacrilege but you were supposed to express yourself like that. There were twisty blend candles, too, and a box with more.

I remember the box because it was black wrought iron (mind you by a smith with any skill at all, not the silly ostentatiously-crude stuff America like as "wrought iron"), trying to match the Rainbow Cathedral's dark impossible-stuff sheen with oiled metal, very nice but still horribly out of place.

Boobsong and me always lit candles for bless and protect our relationship and get us the hell out of here, even when we had another on to light too.

The Rainbow Cathedral was so far beyond anything we could make, even moreso than the monolith. Even America's crazy mechanical craftsmen couldn't make anything like it. Why didn't anyone seem to understand what that said about me?

A new scene. Crack in the ground, the world split in half. No explanation needed but that sure wasn't what Verana was playing with us in her apartment in Stamford. That was for after unveiling, though...something like handfasting, for Boobsong and me, as young heartformers, su'khora were everywehre in our world and could show up as soon as your courses hit or your timber rose, but luxhi'khora and the insane adaptation of just living in my star-womb and feeding off my parts that were meant to support a star-baby instead of (just) clinging to my heart's lustful wishes was a new thing. Verana adapted the rituals and practices for heartformers that could be for our still-veiled ("still in our buds" was the idiom) selves so we wouldn't feel left out of our own religion, one of our favorites of which was some kind of ritualized binding thing to express how attached we were--a fully grown su'khora and heartformer could theoretically be independent of each other, though most heartformers and heartchildren would laugh in your face to hear you say that, and that kind of attachment is the kind of thing you need to see and feel up by an altar sometimes but this wasn't--no it was the opposite of getting married because the magic Verana was doing for us with those ribbons shining pretty-black against our skin in the weird light of the Rainbow Cathedral wasn't creating a union, it was taking one that was plenty real and making a physical thing out of it so you'd be able to see and touch the thing you could feel holding you and your beloved already stronger than any steel and let your animal mind catch up a little to what your heart knew was real...and also say to the rest of the world this is us up there at the altar with everyone watching, and after--you had to keep the binding on for some amount of time in your daily life--just in case there was going to be any confusion. Of course for everyone else it was just expressing yourself like holding hands or fucking especially publicly, but with Boobsong and me people seemed to have some trouble absorbing what those bindings meant.

I can't remember the specific form it took because there wasn't one. Ribbons, chains, promises written on the backs of your hands, steel bands, it could be just about anything and you'd better believe the high priestess of the Strawberry faith is well-equipped with bondage gear and knowhow. Verana scried with the dreams throughout the ritual, asking them how and what and where and, most importantly, how long. This was our nuclear option in the war against Jenner's fucking box, and the Dreams were right there with us, giving very obviously-directed bindings and insane times to wear them, days or weeks at a time, or schedules that'd make the box unusable. The one I can remember is just her left arm to my right arm with spiralling ribbons (which had to be constantly readjusted because spiral bondage goes cockeyed the second you move, so we would alway be suring up our binding, and everyone would see our iron expressions as we did it and made sure those ribbons were nice and tight), but that kept us side-by-side (which is perfectly fine for a couple of young buds still just wanting to run around the halls and steal ultrahot sticky-buns together) and Heartsong big the entire time, which rubbed it in for various people who seemed to be thrown off by her doll form that yes, Heartsong was a person and not a toy I could leave behind on my bed. Clothing was tricky, but the will of the Dreams was sacrosanct.

We did that ritual every time we could, and we would have volunteered if Verana hadn't prescribed it. Jenner could bluster and blow about the prophecy and her stupid box and all that but directly contravening an order from the Dreams by making us take our binding off would've shown her box thing for what it was in a heartbeat.

Why did the Dreams never just come straight down on her? Why didn't one day that ritual just say, "put this on whenever Jenner brings out her box"? They spiked so hard, why still leave so much wiggle room?

To my surprise, the Dreams answer, but it's...a Dogcow? MacOS injoke long story but it says moof instead of woof which is foom backwards so is that to stop something exploding (Jenner I suppose) or make me explode and end the world real good (like without Jenner, no foom)? I'll go with stop something exploding because I hate that very slightly less than the idea that they sacrificed me and Boobsong directly by letting Jenner torture us so we'd get mad and end the world.

It still seems like they should have been able to do more and su'khora were able to be physical and look what me and Boobsong did projecting from the Camp's living room to end the world and Boobsong's game was trouble and a half during that year between Unveiling and my Thirteenth too so why have to tiptoe like that?

The Dreams show me a big bin of carrots, reminding me of the urban legend about how during World War II the British government spread the rumor that they'd discovered eating a lot of carrots gave their pilots super-eyesight to cover up that they'd invented radar, which was still secret then.

I'm pretty sure that's just an urban legend, though. So, not hiding their abilities, something must have changed when Boobsong made my game and again when we came to end the world. Boobsong's not that much more powerful than a normal su'khora, is she? Tons of stellar knowledge and technical skill but like, seed-ghosts can make just about anything anyway--

Windblown sailor with a spyglass, radar on top of a sailboat, giant rotating sci-fi sensor station. So...yes she is, and we went from being on the medieval tech level of our world or maybe just beyond (fireproof!) to having radar (dragon, game) to pretty much being one of those weird rotating it's-not-actually-a-metaphor-for-the-gods space stations from Star Trek (which is what America met).

Obiwan in his cloak. We were learning to hack our world more and more. We had it just about fully cracked by the time we started touring. 

Now the Dreams show the tactical officer from Enterprise. Cultured but trigger-happy, had to build his own phaser cannons while the ship was in deep space...we were weeks from spacedock and had to arm ourselves. It took some doing. Those first twelve years were how long it took Boobsong to hack things to where she could do her dragon thing and make my game and make them stick.

And then we came straight down on Jenner, just as hard as you please (she sure didn't please, as I recall).

Jack Skelton, and then his face goes blank to answer my last question, how if there were su'khora and nectar do I remember anyone dying? Jack's blank face is the moon, referencing the maiden/mother/crone thing. Nectar would make you beautiful and strong but your maturity (or immaturity) would show through the shape it gave you...and you'd still live a normal season of life.

So you could still die and get the fuck out of there, instead of living eternity trapped in the collapsed mineshaft of a universe Earth was.

An Omega symbol, over a field of skulls. Why not just take the suicide express, then? Because suicide totally works. Doing that kind of violence to yourself (the method's not the point), you'll probably just unravel, and never see any afterlife. There are times when giving your own life won't tear your soul like that, but ones that can be called "suicide express" aren't them. It's not absolute, but I mean, would you ride a plane that had a fifty percent chance of just exploding? Where the chance got bigger the bigger the deathwish you were bringing to the situation?

Which makes me feel not great about my current state.

Okay way to lighten the mood, Dreams, but huh? It's the Maytag repairman, whittling. Dolly?

He never has to fix stuff because it doesn't break. Maybe the Dreams say you aren't broken that way?

The Dreams show me a safe's dial, I'm safe. Which I wouldn't be if they were trying to put me back from suicide. 

I guess readers what we're trying to say is if someone you love killed themself it doesn't mean that was the end of them for sure, and the Dreams will try and fix them if they can, but really, really, don't take the suicide express, no matter how chill about it you think you are, because in a way that's the problem: if you were feeling your feelings enough to not tear yourself apart, you also wouldn't be able to do it--but you can see now the kinds of things that'd override that and make it okay, too.

Of which it's the rational choice is. not. one. Especially not then. Humans aren't rational creatures. Fairies like me can straight up burn out our capacity for rational thought and still be sentient people. Your soul lives in your heart, not your head, sorry Platonists and gnostics. That doesn't mean if you've got a small simple heart you're less of a person, whatever your mind is like, but it does mean acting totally rationally...is what my game kicked my ass about doing that hurts my baby-star heart. That ouch when I try to remember stuff and can't because I'm refusing to bring up Mommy-boo instead of Mother-ghost is the gears of my grown-up mind pinching my little-star heart.

Waah. Like seriously. Waaah self be nice.

Now I'm pulling myself up over the table to light the candles on a heartwarming wreath by--hehe that's right, kissing each one! Just two this time, deep green Lilith and purple Sade. There's an order, in the stories, the Dreams were made in, but we're not following that, we skipped Isla Virgo, so what is this?

It's dark, the family's around, Heartsong is hehe up on the table checking out the wreath, this was a nightly intimate thing as Heartwarming got closer...wishes. Things you wanted for Heartwarming, you lit the candles of the Dreams you thought would best answer your wish and wished out to the Dreams--Heartwarming wishes didn't have to presents, you could wish for anything. The Dreams would get Santa on it if she could do something, or tell your loved ones, or the other infinity of things they might do.

Of course you could always just dreamtalk your wishes out to the Dreams, secretly, and maybe get a secret present answering a secret wish, but this game was about sharing wishes with your family. Everyone took turns, a wish a night round and round until Heartwarming--you let the candles burn awhile like the votives in the Cathedral, to honor the wish, and let the Dreams know you meant it.

Of course they could tell, and see when something was a deep need even if you were shy about it, but...it's a basic human thing to beg when you're small and need something and the Dreams or your Mommy or domme or whoever are big and can give it to you--at least, if you're much of a bottom. Christianity makes this all weird with prayer by saying it's bad not to have the impulse and want to just ask for stuff simply or not at all and find your own way, but what all this drama and ritual are supposed to be is an outlet for that pleading you need to do whether it's going to change anything or not, and also unlike Christianity (sometimes) you weren't supposed to try not to be pathetic if you felt pathetic because needing is pathetic and vulnerable but everybody's there sometimes and it doesn't make you less, even if you're a squishy bottom who's just always a blubbering mess. Games like the wreath thing were a little like truth or dare, come on, make the big wish in front of everyone, the Dreams do seem to make asking mean something sometimes because that making a difference is a human need too, so it might really make a difference! Using stuff you heard in games like that against people was a huge sin, which could have direct consequences from your priestess. Vulnerability and nakedness were hugely sacred to us.

Worship, especially much of it?

YES! YES WORSHIP KEEP GOING! KEEP BRINGING OUR LIFE BACK!

The scene changes again and it's night and there are hangings of grapes and things on the building-sides and in the wide street there's a huge table piled with all different food and a fire-eater on stilts wearing crazy colors and music. Revelry! Revelry was fun. I could eat fire too, and swallow swords for that matter, though they didn't really come back as swords after, heh.

We're out here--SIS!? Colleen I mean! Reincarnation is confusing. I'm small and Boobsong is smaller held in my arm facing out so she can see everything and her tail is a wiggly line of lashy excitement against me and Sis is holding my hand as we go around seeing everything and trying different foods and stuff and listening to all the music. Revelry's pretty simple, it's just a huge party in the summertime, and the only like thing you should do is try as much different stuff as you can stomach. Some of the food's a little much for me--I love sex but there are things about flesh that just are kind of eldritch to my stellar soul and food-food is one--but Sis is awesome at picking stuff I'll like, probably because she relates I realize now.

Everything's all loud and big and overwhelming because the capitol's Revelry celebration which is where we are is truly epic and it's awesome. Best of all will be the fireworks, magic the mysterious Revelry Bard brings from her other world beyond time and space (Cherry lived in Chicago, I seem to think) that makes lights in the sky and big booms that're both an inspiration to me.

Sis took such good care of us then. A holiday like Revelry could have been miserable for me but she made it magical.

It's kind of a weird irony, right? The Sugarfeast Fairy is traumatized by new or weird foods? It's not on purpose but I think it's important as the only bit of real empathy I find for just not being able to deal with weirdness. Maybe I'd be a lot less happy fun as a holiday if half these tables didn't scare me into walking close to Sis' legs like I need her to save me from them.

Behind us, the decoy Princess with her huge entourage is having a great time role-playing while I get to be down here and try everything for real. People half-recognize me sometimes, but Boobsong's disguise power makes sure my human disguisers are always overconfident.

The world is a maze of big grownup-legs but there are kids but I avoided them, I think, or like Sis understood. I still kind of don't get humans sometimes, but when I was small and hadn't figured out how to pretend to be one yet, I just didn't get other kids at all, and only wanted to stick around Sis and Mother and soon Verana and play with Boobsong.

Sis leads me on toward a forking road and the scene goes white. Now it's a bright summer day and I'm sitting in the royal pavilion by Mother holding Boobsong, on the edge of my seat watching Sis spar with some huge black-armored knight--I can see his hair fuzzy through his helmet-visor, and the armor's only on his torso, thick heavy padded leather so Sis won't break anything important hitting him. He has the same on his hands, which he swings as both strikes and targets. Sis isn't doing movie ninjitsu with flips and twirls and drama, she's just terribly fast and always one step ahead of what he's doing and ducks or just leans aside and then lands three, four, five blows every time he swings. Sis has little knife-handles in her hands that leave red kisses like rubber stamps everywhere she connects with them, and her sparring partner is starting to look like he's in a Looney Toon also starring Pepe Lepew. It's fun to watch and nice seeing what my nursemaid can do (we are of course playing that age-old feudal game of dickwaving what your personal guard can do at fairs), but the real reason I'm on the edge of my seat is the piece of rainbow ribbon in Sis' hair that makes me feel all weird and fluttery watching Sis fight in nothing but her little jingly-shiny handmaiden outfit. Erm. I guess this crush is older than I thought, heh. Stupid fizzfrozen assassins. In the Strawberry court there would've been no reason for our love to be all dramatically unconsummated if we just waited long enough--I mean I guess we did that in the end but maybe thirty thousand years from Sis' perspective was a little long?

Ugly pain. Sis was the scariest of Mother's handmaidens, I'm pretty sure. If Sis went down, how many more did we lose on the way to the worldgate? I think that was a pretty rough ride. I can only think my game wasn't fully-powered yet then, or their attackers would have ended up like my would-be assassins at Starlight Princess shows.

I sure feel like a proper Princess sitting up here feeling all butterflies watching Sis' fists fly, though.

Twist to white another scene change. Riding in a carriage, in the back-facing seat, shades are down but it's sunny outside, the inside of the carriage is white silk with green accents, I'm stretched on the seat fidgeting my dress. Stupid dress. Can't I just be Unveiled already? Boobsong's sitting up in my lap all cute, and a giggly loud acquaintance is chattering from the other seat. It's day, there's autumn leaves crunching under the wheels as we ride and--whoah! The ride's getting bumpy as we go offroad on some seriously rough ground, and the driver calls the Strawberry version of hang on, miladies in to us. Oooh we must be heading for Openveil shadows after sundown? No, because that's hours from now, in the dead of night and the wee hours before dawn, if we're going to do that. Boobsong sitting where she is while we bounce along is quite suggestive which is a fun game at this point in my life but still only a game so far. I glance at my companion but she's just some anonymous and happily oblivious noble tween in green and white so I go back to watching dolly-Heartsong bounce along in my lap, smiling up.

We bounce to a stop, the driver comes around and opens the door, our fellow passenger EEEs out and I share an eye-roll with Boobsong because she hasn't noticed one single thing we've done the whole time, then swing myself around holding Boobsong and--the driver is closing the door? I seem to know and not care because all I was doing is switching seats to ride facing forward, but just who the hell gets to preempt the Princess from her favorite seat in the carriage?

I get braced, stretched out on the seat again, and the rough ride goes on, even worse than before. What's with the drawn shades? I love staring out the window of vehicles as I ride. Oh well, Boobsong's a good distraction, though we seem to be just kind of anticipating together today.

Oh was that the decoy princess again? She had my green-and-white autumn dress, and now it looks like this carriage is empty and the Princess got out already. She was picked for looking vaguely like me and being really attention-grabbing, not social graces (anyway, more realistic that way).

Shadows pass over the windows and the carriage stops, the driver gets down and comes around, stops by the door, then something blue comes over the outside of the carriage door, and I hug Boobsong close suddenly, wait poised for what seems like forever, and when the blue leaves the window I dive off my seat with Boobsong clutched close and spring for the door and it opens and I lead straight across into the bigger carriage waiting beside us full of people, dark inside and it wants to be full of a crabby-looking medieval preacher with his wide low hat and ladies in high wigs and sixteenth-century Earthling court dresses which is just so many kinds of wrong but isn't this obvious, aren't we hiding me somewhere because danger in the capitol or something and here's my ride of--no this will be Verana and the other noble heartformers we're going on retreat but that's so obvious why is it glitched this way?

No this is still something else but how do I fix it? Their carriage is electric, I think, for one thing.

We're going on tour. The whole thing is so secret even Mother doesn't know. She thinks I've gone on retreat with Verana to the monastery sort of thing in the country we were just driving through. The last psyop is to make it hard to tell I left the royal carriage for this vehicle at all--which was something cool--the others stare at Boobsong and me as we board, eyes bright. They're all Unveiled which makes me seethe with envy and their colorful, weird heartchildren all look so pretty with them and Verana's there and she's not crabby but she is in full priestess mode because this is important. The carriage is huge because it's not a carriage, it's a boat, and we set sail the moment I jumped in. By the time anyone at home figures out what happened, if they ever do, we'll be already well out to sea.

It's a mission trip, with a bunch of hand-picked faithful, all heartformers, to maximize the chance of anything we do being a dreamskin.

It's also a chance to spend weeks away from court with a bunch of friends who understand. I want cry from happiness and I can feel Boobsong ready to turn into a heartstone bouncyball of joy the moment my tight possessive grip slips a hair.

The scene changes again and I'm looking at plumes of white feathery stuff in dusky light against a blue sky. I'm on the roof of a much fancier carriage, driven by two handmaidens with fancy feathered headdresses and fake angel-wings and not a lot else, it's dusk and we're rolling through a cheering crowd in the capital and I'm in a gold-embroidered green-and-white and very floofy kids' party dress doing the smile and wave thing. Boobsong's there, under my lap-blanket, with my hand on her, but I'm annoyed she supposedly mustn't be out in the open. What can Jenner's real game have been? She can't actually have been trying to prevent the apocalypse, that'd make her too stupid to live, definitely too stupid to survive life at court. Was she just trying to get me to snap and do something bad so she could like prove I was evil or have an excuse for war or whatever?

Whatever I'm getting cheered for Boobsong should be part of. If I did it she did it too.

We're coming under an overpass, everything is white stone around, this is the nice part of the capital, it's darker under here and we're mostly alone so I can sneak a peek at Boobsong's face. I keep the blanket peeled back to look at her smiling up the whole way through the tunnel and then we come out again and I sadly put the blanket back down and go back to smile and wave mode. What'd I do here? Is this even for me? There's no bigger fancier carriage with Mother ahead, and I'm alone up here, so unless the main event's behind this is about me, but...like this is definitely more than cool it's the Princess, people are lining balconies and there's flowers hanging and stuff.

It's...nice. I remembered people being a lot more ambivalent about me than this seems like.

I think I might remember something, but it's something I'd wish was true so much I don't know how I'd ever know for sure. I think that mission trip was really successful, awakened the faithful and brought our message to foreign lands where it was most needed and everyone had lots of new seed-kids.

Including me and Boobsong, which involved revealing our true identities, but people were willing to overlook that what with the alliance we secured and the war it probably averted.

Like I said, I'd like that to be true. It makes me cry to think about that being what happened and this being our return as heroes saving millions of lives with a single seed and I do have kind of a triumphant return feeling that isn't the party, but...then Boobsong wouldn't be under my blanket. The people would fucking riot.

I watch the feathered handmaidens' headdresses bounce as we roll up to another narrow gate, Strawberry Home looming ahead. I wonder if that garb is how the Skeksis thing got started? Flock of birds instead of flock of sheep.

The scene changes again and I'm in a high wooden room, architecture feels alien, with light streaming in leaded windows, winding a little plastic flapping-bird ornithopter, brought from America. I set it flying and there's clapping, and a bearded barbarian princes grins at me as he watches it, and I snap and toss my scarily lifelike silver doll airborne and command her to catch it and bring it to him. Heartsong did as she was told, flapping furiously, but it was our daughter, tall and regal with strawberry-pink hair and Boobsong's white skin, who handed the toy to him as Heartsong bounced back to my arms.

The shock and looks on everyone's faces and the way the prince didn't even miss a beat going smoothly and suavely to his strawberry doom is one of the best things I've ever seen. How could I forget that glorious moment?

Also, how could Jenner. I'm pretty sure I remember what happened here, and it's another story I really want to be true, but if that one's true, so is this, I think, and Boobsong's smile on the way up if I saw it right in this memory-journey is the confirmation.

The scene changes to sort of nothing like the Dreams are waiting for me to remember on my own.

Outside the gates of Strawberry Home, just before crossing the fire bridge. Huge, huge crowd, people wall to wall, only enough room to fit the carriage through. We stop, and I stand up to give a speech.

Where's Heartsong, someone in the crowd asks, and...how did I do this I was going full blast there wasn't going to be one speck of flesh left on that bitch's bones...I let the way the question makes me feel as I think of all the times she went in that stupid box pass across my face but I don't answer the question, start talking about the dangerous secret journey to secure the alliance all officially like we don't all know it's Heartsong who did it really, more people ask again, and then someone gets a chant going. Of course Heartsong is right there in my hands under my blanket it but I still let the chant get to me, finally stop my speech, manage to get out a wavery she can't be here right now and go on with the speech, a little bitchily, a little sadly, pumping them up, and my speech itself is really insensitive making it sound like the only thing heartsong did was sit in a box the whole time. We practiced this and planned it, everything is choreographed, the others from the mission trip as scattered through the crowd, inciting...and they also cranked the rumor mill to a white hot fury with all kinds of things about something funny going on in the court, unnatural, irreligious things, possibly a courtier was allied with some barbarian or another and doing their god's bidding as payment for unspecified services. Almost ruined the alliance, rushing in to tear the foreign prince away from his new heartchild when they saw what happened, all sorts of crazy stories, the good kind of rumor that's too insane to ever confirm and too inflammatory to ever put down.

The Strawberry Apocalypse is just the time I went through with pulling it all down for Boobsong's sake.

Even so...I freaked out on Eden's Unicron Room without a second thought and then went looking for more and also did end this world oh so blithely, but let me tell you, tens of thousands of your own people on the edge of riot is a scary, scary sight.

We thought through so many ways to fire the gun I've just loaded here it's hard remembering how we did it.

I think I finally stopped my speech for a long, weird awkward pause, like I didn't know what to say or do or was too hysterical inside to hear the coach I would obviously have below me in the carriage.

Then I went full pathetic lost kid. Everyone knew the Princess was sweet but could be kind of flighty and weird, and she was only like eleven, and remember however elegant my party dress was having clothes on at all was still the equivalent for me of being up there in short pants and a propellor beanie licking a lollypop the size of my head, so I just leaned into all the lost forlorness and hurt over the box thing and let out the little part of any kid that age in a situation like that that's always quietly whispering mommy. mommy. mommy. and started to haltingly, blunderingly explain about the box, double back, stop to Not Cry, reveal what everyone always knew that the weird princess gets lost if she has to go off her prepared speech and then show how pitiful that was. I kept going until the crowd's energy was so bewildered and angry for the kid and scared the rumors might be true and just confused because I hadn't said anything coherent yet (we practiced to make sure my breakdown would be exactly just not possible to follow, so everyone would feel like a jerk for not paying close enough attention to understand the poor kid), and then I sort of wandered into it is very hard but I know it's for the good of the empire but I don't understand how because if I was good while we were playing with the toy bird the prince wouldn't have implanted um...I mean the whole thing is Jenner's plan because she understands the prophecy even though Verana says she's wrong so Jenner please would you come explain it?

Please would. Grandmother Strawberry even popped in with a dreamtalked Sharp Look to make it look like I'd been beaten into forgetting my station when Jenner came up.

I think what came next was just dead silence. I remember feeling like literally high from the crowd's energy, like it was drugging me. It felt like the people were the sea before a tidal wave, pulling terrifyingly and peacefully back and back and back, so calmly unnatural, before the world ends.

The evil of the plan was, Jenner wasn't there.

Three noble friends from the trip, each wearing jewelry a lot like hers, and carrying a big wooden box, and schmoozing around seemingly above their station unless they were Jenner, were though, and when I asked for her to come explain, they were all seen running like hell and throwing their boxes into the moat, which promptly sank.

Rumor had it the Princess was even weirder than commonly known and what looked like silvery heartstone was actually just solid silver like Heartsong's horns. I mean does heartstone float, actually? Do you know anyone with a doll heartchild like Heartsong? Yeah, me either. heard the box was weighted because eventually getting the chance to do this was the barbarian god's whole plan. No of course she can't just walk out, even if she could break out of the box don't you know they cursed the moat to destroy su'khora in case of barbarian su'khora attacking?

Of course Jenner was supposed to be there, the whole court was. I smell superglue trying to remember what kept her. Any application of that here would be hilarious, but also too obvious, no? Otherworld alchemy, must be the Princess.

The answer is the plastic bottle I see thinking about this.

Yes of course it was the Princess. She gifted a bottle to each member of court for fixing jewelry and things that'd otherwise take weeks at the crafters to repair, get you back out to court with the right accessories right away.

They weren't my usual brand. I like Zap even through it has the cloggiest caps you ever met, because it works better, but I wasn't going to subject the court's poor handmaidens to that when they weren't going to build airplanes with it anyway, so I bought the generic kind, with long thin applicator cap...that screws on to the rest of the bottle.

Now remember Sis was Mother's scariest handmaiden? We've already heard her opinion on how things were working with Jenner and my care in general. The way handmaidens work is they can protect you from handmaidens less trained than themselves. For obvious reasons the Queen is careful to make sure hers are the best, and Sis always did have a passion for her ninja-ing--and a rainbow ribbon in her hair. A couple of adjustments to some jewelry and a glue cap that were just entirely too reliable would have taken her no time at all in Jenner's chambers, if she had ever been there, which she obviously never was, and she would have got in and out without leaving a trace, although there was so little trace we all will just have to conclude she really never was there and this part is just completely mysterious.

One ounce of superglue, which is the size bottles I gave them all, is enough to build at least two normal RC planes of about five foot wingspan. One ounce of superglue in your lap will glue you and everyone around you--the only law of hydrodynamics liquid superglue knows is find unwilling flesh which is probably because it was originally developed to close wounds on the battlefield by which I mean if you think it works good on balsa you should see what it does to skin--and glue them to seriously everything in the room. It's pressure activated, and will linger liquid on a patch of skin that hasn't touched anything yet for hours.

Oh and the cap--that wasn't the part you were supposed to unscrew! The WHOLE BOTTLE!? Okay well I do have the remover potion in my workshop but I'm almost out and it way won't be enough so I'm going to have to make an expedition to America for more--wait you got it WHERE!? Did you not all wear aprons using it like I said!? Okay the remover potion will burn that like lye don't ask how I know. Your only answer is going to be su'khora nectar, and you're going to need a lot.

No su'khora will speak to you or anyone in your court after the speech today? Oh no! I guess I really messed that up bad. Um, I'd ask Heartsong, but I think she'd just dry right up, you know how hard this box thing has been for her and me. Um, I really don't know. I'm sorry. Like it does break down when I leave it on my fingers after a couple of weeks, but Heartsong keeps on licking them so it might just be that...I'll give you what remover I have and go for more but watch out, it really does hurt like you wouldn't believe, and scar the flesh so you'll need nectar anyway...

Mess with a kid, get childish retaliation. The salt-shaker prank can level up if needed. Honestly the only thing I can't understand is how either Jenner or the box were still there at court for me to burn and Boobsong to snack on after my Unveiling--we weren't just getting back at her, we were cutting her down to size where she wouldn't have the clout for her antics--or any of her other political annoyances--anymore.

She knew full well, too, what would happen if she accused anyone of any funnybusiness--everyone else's glue was acting perfectly normally, for starters--with the people doing what they're doing in this moment, or will be for a while yet.

How did I get out of this? I'm pretty sure I didn't show up with Boobsong until days later, and Jenner had to squirm all that time while I proclaimed at court (with a flattened-out Heartsong down my bodice pretending to be my first hints of boobs) that I'd learned my lesson at last, and wouldn't show her, and now it was time for the people our children to learn the hard lesson Jenner had so generously taught me, even if they wouldn't like it at first.

I think the answer is Verana figured she was fighting a cold holy war that might need to go hot before Jenner really did cause the apocalypse or something worse happened, I was an angry kid who didn't think things through that much, and the others were similarly willing to live dangerously. Looking back, if they smelled the coup coming, how far we pushed this all makes a lot more sense, though the calculus of a few riots being preferable to a full-on civil war is pretty ugly.

Also remember we had a brand new and this-big-crowd powerful ally whose new queen would be very interested to hear how her mother was doing as a bellwether of relations with the Strawberry Empire.

The Dreams show me a shopping cart wheel--right! None other than Sis herself, rainbow ribbon still flapping from her hair, bounded up to the carriage roof and whispered in my ear, then leapt away.

Eyes all wide, horrified and urgent, even as the carriage starts to cross the bridge suddenly.

Someone at court is terribly sick! There's a potion in America that can save them, but I have to go get it RIGHT NOW! If I wasn't back today they might have DIED! Goodbye, I'm sorry for no Heartsong today, wish me luck finding what our courtier needs fast!

And I was on the bridge, and really did spend a day or two in America (the worldgate worked like in Bill and Ted, so if I spent two days in America, the only time I could open it on to go back to the Strawberry World would be two days after I left for America, and yes I was the only one who could open it) finding a full gallon of acetone (turns out you have to go quite far from Presque Isle Maine to get a gallon size!) to bring Jenner, during which time the rumors kept going.

Did you hear it's Jenner who's sick, and that's why she didn't come to the gates? Oh come on, that's a little convenient, don't you think? Anyways, that's just the story they planted to cover the fact that it's the Queen who's sick and that's why they're just saying "a member of the court" and she's sick because Jenner poisoned her with something even Su'khora nectar can't fix. Oh yeah I heard about that, some dark magic that barbarian god cooked up, only works on Strawberries but it's bad stuff. You guys get this. That thing about it being Jenner who's sick totally is a plant, because I definitely recognized the person who told it to me as one of the Queen's own handmaidens in disguise. ME TOO! She was barely even trying! So do they want us to not believe the plant? Maybe they're trying to tell us something and they can't say it officially somehow...

That was nothing to the stuff that started on its own, though. Did you see the look on Princess Lucy's face when she was calling for Jenner? I heard they've been letting Jenner beat her like she's Unveiled as part of a ritual to hold back the apocalypse, but every time they do it the apocalypse we'll have gets more terrible, I mean that's what the prophecy says will happen.

I heard Grandmother Strawberry was watching this to see how far it would go before the apocalypse came, and countin' up the trouble Jenner would be in with abaci like the royal treasure accounts. I heard she said as much to Jenner every Openveil and night while she went to sleep. I heard this is all a test for us, to find out if Heaven erases the name of Strawberry from history like that monolith says, or it goes on. I heard that Laarhi guy is fixing to betray the Queen. Maybe we oughtta put a stop to that? Openveil is coming soon, you hear the same as me we'll do it then. I told every child of Strawberry that came to me that Laarhi guy was trouble. They all got blind as soon as taking so much as a pincushion with a message scraped underneath its pillow to your mommy came up. There the end came. Cowardice. Afraid of a little girl and her heartstone doll, scared to tell a meek soft queen there'd be trouble soon. Don't be scared to fight, don't be scared to run. Don't be scared to say, ten million megatons.

You got me. Only choice to make sometimes.

Holy nerve-pinch soda Grandma nobody can make a Star Trek reference as scary as you. I guess my actions say the same, though.

It's your dolly that scared me with that one. She really has them you can be sure of that, but she knows where to put 'em best, that's what really scares.

Yeah can't disagree there. She really is good at pushing buttons apocalyptically when she wants to. Which is a pretty ironic thing for me to say, I suppose...

All these thoughts of missiles sure are banging your Boobsong's legs wide open. Let's do that with Sex! Your Boobsong can hold her, and then you can--oh you can't that's right! Well, be sure to fuck your Boobsong good, she'll take care, she promises. Very horny cocksleeve, always there to play with.

Always there. RRAAH.

The Dreams show me a lobster trap--hey! Now you're getting in on it? No, I guess you've been. Lobster trap means Maine, though. Worldgate something? Oh right in the middle of this whole thing, no way out. Okay let's get this moving I've got a life to recover and handmaidens to rescue and a very sweetly entrapping dragon who was just very nice to me to fuck.

The crowd scene my memory's been building up whites out and I feel rushing up and am back in the tub where I was sitting. I blink. Sex's plate of fast food is gone and she's back to her statue pose, but filled out now her right shape, and looking extremely cute.

"You were gone a while, what happened!?"

"Um, lots of angst, got really angry at Christianity and played Doom against the nightmares of it in Sex's heart, then tangled with my own version of that and remembered how Verana was totally awesome to us and the Strawberry Faith is just knowing what the Dreams are and how to get here and taking their and our mothers' advice how to get here and how to make life back there more like paradise and--I suppose I've told the story of Jenner and the superglue like a million times--and then Grandmother Strawberry made a Star Trek IV reference--the only choice to make's how many megatons--and followed it up by saying Boobsong's the scary one. I think that catches us up. Now I'm all teased because there's a lot of stuff from the first twelve years of our life to remember like how the caramel sauce on the sticky buns they make here is delicious when it's still boiling and the Heartwarming wreath game but we still have five handmaidens to find and I'm wondering if you're teased for no BK--BQ--or if you got in on Sex's plate and how she seems. Oh and Boobsong has the most fucking metal chainsaw mode."

Boobsong, who's back to straddling me, makes a flash of the dragon's leer she had under my blanket at that triumphant ride home, when I say the last. I should have known something was up as soon as I saw that face, and that she wouldn't be hiding there on Jenner's account that time.

"Chainsaw mode? You're goofing--nope, that's not Boobsong's goofing face. Do I want to know? Fairly sure I don't, so tell me now!"

"I said we played doom, I meant it!" Click.

"RIP AND TEAR!! bbbrrrgwwaaaAAAAAAAAAHHH..."

"Actually we're kind of in the middle I think. I remember enough of what religion was to me growing up and on the road with you all to be horny for the rest of it right now but the spiked up world Where DS9 is Trek also turned my human parents into an Episcopal priest and his wife but they still loved me just as much and their religion wasn't cartoon nightmares I could chainsaw oh so very satisfyingly and now I'm stuck I think because I feel bad taking away from them the religion that seems to be so important to them now even in my own memory so it's keeping me from seeing who they really were and I think holding back a chunk of my own past because I can't bring myself to say no that's not who we were as a family to like memories of being in church with them as a teen because the weird thing is, they're strangely themselves in the rewrite, or--okay BLEAH maybe they're not!"

"Okay chill Rainbow. First order of business, do I need to make you another hot chocolate or such? We'll be out in the castle soon I think so you may or may not get to the kitchens."

"I'm set. Ate your leftovers. Handmaiden's privilege."

"Okay, good. Very appropriately medieval of you. How does Sex seem?"

"She ate and went back there. I guess she's watching still, but she can't talk now. Filled out like that as she statuized again."

I nod.

How's it going, handmaiden?

Yay you're back! You went egged twice in ten minutes, how are you two? I feel good! Warm. Like the ice is gone. Pigged out on curly fries, now look. Now I'm all the way I was, are you windin' me to go get the other five?

Depends if you can wind yet, but probably. I have to figure out what next first. And we're okay. Lotsa angst like I said, and the Dreams were pushing my buttons hard. Oh and if curly fries did that to you we're off to Wendy's next because DAYUM.

Okay, this is Sex being okay. I want to know what that stuff was still doing in her after she travelled with me for decades, but it seems like she can wait for me to get the other five back. For us.

So the question is, launch next helldive, or fix more stuff in me next because we'll need it? Either way, this is on, I want my handmaidens out of trouble.

The Dreams show me a big chunk of chocolate, hot chocolate, Mommy issues, Candy burning junk, whatever things being tangled up with my parents is holding back holds the key to my missing handmaiden.

Eggplant in playpen, the Dreams add. Well, this should be interesting...actually that makes me think of vague rewrite-memory of being in a playpen while my dad watched TOS, but knowing enough to know Star Trek was on and being happy because I liked Star Trek too.

The Dreams show me a weird wind instrument and I snatch for a memory, the family all watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas on gGrammie's couch in Stamford--but Grammie's couch won't be the only square piece of seventies nonsense in the rewrite, it'll be something brought from the Strawberry World, and big enough for Mother plus seven handmaidens to all laze on, because we didn't have our own couches. This part of my brain is a tangle of half-remembered things and fragments of writing and this-and-that and I'd filed this as some kind of fantasy or fever dream as the Dreams started putting me back together between the Strawberry Apocalypse and Happy Chains but no, it's a real memory, all--six? Maybe?--oh us on the couch together, Boobsong blaring out do hoo do re so cutely everyone hat ot join, Mother sang next and if you get Mother singing and don't join in like, do you also kick dogs and stuff? I thought it was wrong or impossible because I remembered being naked with Boobsong on my lap and a satiny sheet under me and my brothers also on the couch being a blur between me and my parents sitting together and that's just too much nonsense and fuzziness, right?

Wrong. Damn right I was naked, we were Strawberries at home. We were watching Grinch because it was so obviously actually a heartwarming story, there wasn't one little bit of anything about Aveh's religion in it, and it was adorable, and it made Boobsong sing that way. Mother and dad were sitting all tangled together like you do with a favorite concubine and the couch was all huge and took up most of the living room and my brothers were fuzzy because I didn't have brothers until the rewrite so on the couch with us were...mother's handmaidens? A couple of mine? No, Mother's. Did only two make it?

What else is different from the memory? Or like from the shape I crammed it into before. The house is mostly the same, chosen for being boring, standard fifties McMansion with various upgrades over the years. Heartwarming garland and baubles (me-and-Boobsong specials, muahah) over the fireplace. I think I'm about to get up and light the fire when the video ends--oh but we had it on Laserdisc or DVD, and a bigass projection TV--the rewrite made us poor but we sure weren't in the real history. Cover meant we couldn't go all-out the Strawberry way but we had nice stuff and I never wanted for toys during the five minutes before Boobsong and me decided capitalism was a boring game and the world would stop playing now.

Making breakfast in the kitchen, it might be Openveil but anyway it's night and cold outside and pancakes and eggs sound awesome. Boobsong bringing me eggs, super flirtatious, couldn't figure out how to fit that into living with my parents but if we're exiled Strawberries she's just following standard handmaiden procedure in serving me and anyway I seem to actually remember whoever else was working in the kitchen wasn't Mother because I remember Mother and dad sitting one on the other's laps in the dark corner of the breakfast nook by the phone and a raised eravahk before Boobsong arrived with pancakes and was oh so much more interesting.

I wasn't mostly close with Mother's handmaidens, other than Sis. Maybe I'll eat those words but I remember them anonymously so far.

Why's it dark? Mother and dad were good about not actively subjecting me and Boobsong to their fun, like with their dark corner right now, though I do have the super-weird memory of hearing that eravahk connect occasionally, except what's weird is it's not weird like hearing your parents make out it's like obligatorily huh huh huh get a room you guys but actually you're just glad your parents' relationship is doing well.

Anyway one thing Boobsong is amazing at it setting plates down for you. You wouldn't think that's a skill but oh yes it is a cleavagey wiggly-hipped smiling downcast-eyed lashy-tailed skill, oh yes oh yes.

Also she makes insane pancakes. They look like they're from a cartoon, Painted Sea or no, with the perfectly straight stack and exactly-placed pat of butter and precisely-even browning and syrup running down one side just so. They taste as good as they look but it's hilarious to see because they look so awesomely fake.

When I try to remember my parents there I see them sitting together, full of playful energy instead of the serious sadness they seemed to always have in the rewrite, playing some silly keep-away game with Mother's eravahk, but I can't tell who's on top, like literally whose lap is sat, and that's part I think of why the room in my memory is dark.

Was there Drama with that? Did I inherit bottomyness from my moment and that was unbecoming of Queens? I could also see my dad with my mom being like me with Boobsong.

Why's this seem so important? It feels like something got broken over it.

Maybe another angle. Where was Grammie's couch in Strawberry Home? I think all the safehouse stuff was already in place when we left, so it was just a storage thing. Hmm.

I pet Boobsong thoughtfully, running my hands in circles on her hips. She looks blissful.

Flash of the Stamford Mall. My game left it going as kind of a shopping LARP after it deleted capitalism, and we often went there to play it, me and Boobsong anyway. Browsing lingerie pointedly is a fun game if you're a (already barely dressed) exhibitionist...oh but what we're avoiding is literally right next door, my dad's church as given by the rewrite.

The Dreams show me a flash of a guy with a black-powder rifle, and suddenly I get the violence the rewrite did to my dad and why he seems so heavy and sad in it. He was a shepherd. He loved the outdoors and independence and fending for himself, camping, all that stuff. The rewrite left him one badge short of being an Eagle Scout, and it wasn't wrong except he should have been there like twice. He was a shepherd after all. He stuck around the castle, took to that life enough that Mother wouldn't let him go or he begged not to go or maybe feudal life does something to you where it's hard to tell which of those things is happening sometimes but anyway he took to that life because he's also a huge extrovert contrary to all that solitude, and a spiritual leader sort of person. I see a lot of him in me with all my bombastic attention-whoring touring and yet I'm looking forward to forty days locked in Boobsong's hoard already.  If you were currently invited for an extended stay in someone's bed it was gentlemanly to make yourself useful around the house that'd taken you in, and he did a good enough job talking to the men of the castle and like organising their spiritual lives and stuff that nobody questioned if he was being useful. Even the Bards looked up to his thoughtful sermons. He picked that back up in America, which is what got turned into the church I've been avoiding. I'm a little weirded the rewrite worked so hard to keep him so the same, like his Christianity was about as close as you can get to belief in the Dreams without taking that final step of believing love is bigger than any one person, god or not. The Strawberry Mothers got cut out entirely obviously, to fit patriarchal barbarian America.

My dad would have done a lot of ritual work, too, priesting, the Dreams would work with any gender equally but understood political power and the difference between someone like my dad just priest to them an Verana with station in the court and the responsibility of being the Strawberry Mothers' representative, too.

think that clears things up for me to see their playful energy in the corner of the breakfast nook and figure out that's how they were in the Strawberry World. I don't think it matters too much really if it was mother with her obedient concubine or like me and Boobsong or what, they were happy and it was fun for them and the cares of their stations were always buffered by the spring in their step their relationship brought them.

I can remember a much younger seeming version of Mother, now, so much happier than I knew her, with the crown on her head. She would play with her eravahk constantly like she was about to do something with it, but you never knew what, and smile. She thought being Queen was fun, when it didn't stress her to pieces, and looked good with the strawberry hair dye though that's so weird to imagine with her plain and practical rewrite fashion sense.

Grandmother's right, though, she wasn't a spitfire like Grandmother herself or a landmine like me, just a sweet lady who loved her family and empire. I never felt like hiding playing the Heartwarming wreath game with her.

Hmm.

Nudge, dolly.

That small paddle.

I remember it twice, once hanging up in my room behind me right now where it probably is waiting to be cutely small to bap Boobsong with, white birch and joustwhale horn, and another time, as a canoe paddle sized for me, in the rewrite. Made by Grampie, either way...right?

Yes, sized just for my (see above about who plays with what when) growing hands when I was twelve. Or am I confusing two--OUCH! GAH!

The Dreams show me a waxing moon. Made for Unveiling then. Was that weird? I think Grampie just...I mean this is my growth spurt was more of a nectar bath, I used to be small like Mother...what am I missing, did we make it together? I do like woodworking and that would have been an awesome way to make Boobsong squirm.

In the rewrite he died when I was seven, but I think that's just what would have happened in a world without nectar to fix his heart problems. It seems so wrong and unnatural in my memory.

Isn't this all so weird though? My heart doesn't think that. It's just a thoughtful gift or fun project. Like we just didn't see things the same, and I wasn't like running off to figure it out myself with Verana to keep an eye on us and measure out what we were ready for. Being Unveiled didn't mean I could just do anything, I had a lot to learn, though being so dedicated to my heartchild made things a little different--we put a lot of trust in heartforming relationships to be good for all sides of them at any age--and there was adult supervision for stuff like this. The irony is I was probably a lot less likely to hurt myself or Boobsong with that paddle than an American teenager with a supposedly-of-age reddit account just themselves, just because I had sex education that was more than a battleground between two different kinds of barbarian. Everyone who's reading this and all horrified is probably either imagining Verana as some kind of pedo (which if you're going to go there, imagine me as a really annoying Lolita instead, but I don't think that's right either), or thinking we got sent happily flouncing off with toys we were way not ready for, but that's exactly what didn't happen. Verana was our teacher. That paddle was the syllabus to a course in proper impact play, and a lot of other stuff, that Boobsong and me would have tried and had to figure out on our own. How could she boundary that, if she was attracted to her students, and vice versa? I don't know, how can anyone ever in any subject? I think it helped us and a lot of people that we knew if we just waited it out we'd all be old enough to play however we wanted. There was never this now or never thing.

Still not okay, messed up that they gave you toys, should have waited, blah blah. I mean here's the thing, the point of delusionality we saw in that attitude when we came to America. You can't actually take their developing bodies away. Even if you don't the guilt and shame and misinformation that masquerades as sex education and The Talk in American culture is child abuse, it doesn't work. The truth of the matter is, you gave your kids the best toys and most powerful there are already when you bore them, and the only difference between me and Boobsong and Grampie and Verana with that paddle is they're there trying to get in front of a really heavy-duty kink they see me and Boobsong spooling up before we hurt each other or someone else, and having to get there at the minimum allowed age in our culture of twelve because Boobsong and me are just like that and had been for a good while at that point, while you're sitting there with your thumb up your ass trying to gaslight yourself and everyone around you into believing that your kids won't hit puberty until eighteen, if then, and so you need to do only the most paltry bare minimum of explaining the most terrible things that can happen as scarily as possible, and then projecting that doing more will traumatize the kids when the fact is it's you who's uncomfortable. The paddle wasn't sexualizing or giving us something out of our depth. Grampie made it to recognize what was already there, just like that binding ritual, and bring it out in the physical world where the adult supervision we needed could actually supervise it. America is swimming in this idea that if you just pretend things aren't real they won't be, but nowhere more than sexuality, and nowhere in that more than anytime a parent might have to actually parent their fucking child if the inconvenient stuff did existWhich it does. And your pretending isn't making it go away. You know who you are.

Oh? I'm getting a bit crabby about the parenting thing? I'm a Strawberry. Would you like to talk to my Grandmother instead?

Maybe she'd like to talk to them! If you hear dreamtalk, and you've got some teenagers, best pick up if you know what's good for you. And them, but if I'm calling we already know who you're mainly looking out for.

I always seem to feel the gravel between my toes more when you're around, Grandmother. Here's what I really think. I've half-said this before, let's out with it. Bareassed spanking is a sexual act the same as fingerbanging, fucking, etc. With it being a cultural institution for disciplining kids, America's a nation of child rapists trying to bury the fact that they grew up getting assraped practically out of the cradle by their parents as a punishment for minor infractions, and then went on and did the same to their kids, behind handwringing and scapegoats and finding the thing that's actually staring back from the mirror under every rock like if they put it there enough times it's not be in the mirror anymore. I'm not saying the people who go down for child sexual assault shouldn't, I'm saying the rest of the country has an awful lot of fucking nerve calling themselves oh so very different than them.

To put it more bluntly, lounging up on the dais on bareassed my chez-lounge with Mother and my dad playing eravahk keep-away behind me in a bored moment at court while I idly fuck Boobsong there in front of everybody, I was never as sexualized or molested or used as the average American teenager, because I never got made part of some kiddy diddler's ritual of self-absolution after the rules and regulations and dramatic takedowns they're worshipping and congratulating themselves over so loudly them make them so very different from the real monsters, had failed to protect me one little bit from my own parents over the course of my childhood.

What ritual is that? Simple. The sacrifice of my ability to learn anything because the systems that'd make me able to do it would by existing threaten the pathetic sick house of cards all these traumatized grownups are using to avoid the reality of both what they've done and what's happened to them.

How would it threaten that? By letting anyone see a teenager proper parenting, and giving them something to compare to. Just to start. One candle flame would show the guilt on everyone's face, so you all make everyone live in the dark where the nightmares keep happening.

Give my twelve year old self the choice between that and Verana with a bodice ripper, and do I have to explain which one I'm taking? In which society I feel sexually safe and in which one I feel the constant assault? Kids aren't stupid. They can tell what's going on and that everyone is using them.

Hell, make it Laarhi with a bodice ripper, and I'm still going emperor's new clothes for good.

Okay but that shouldn't be my only choice. There should be a reasonable third option. Get your Lovecraft glasses on now and pour yourself a glass of ichor, because here's the problem you have saying that: what if, even if you yourself were never directly part of this American nightmare I've been describing, knew better than to use adult sexual play to discipline your kids and never had it done to you, it's screaming so loud in the culture and shrieking so violently out of the hearts of everyone around you and has so pervaded your point of view and understanding of sexuality that you can't tell the Strawberry World was DOING the reasonable thing. I'm not saying we were. Just that you'd have no way of knowing.

I believe America, and twenty-first century Earth in general is there. I believe the terrifying truth is things are so broken the only option is to turn to an outside power as in all the way to extradimensional to bootstrap healthy culture. I think that begins with sexuality, but only starts there.

Better learn to dreamtalk, and not just because Grandmother Strawberry hates people not listening even more than I do.

I said I was fire and brimstone. I meant it. But look what I didn't say. I didn't say anyone was bad or irretrievably fallen or any of that doomy existential stuff. Just that everyone needs to open their eyes and deal with what's actually happening and stop it happening more.

OOOOOooooor my game can just come down on all of it like a falling universe, which is what we did before. I don't remember all the details but I remember we stopped this stuff cold.

The Dreams show me an umbrella with a huge cable going up to the sky off the top of it.

Oh I think my game and such enabled a lot of remote nannying, and my game wasn't shy about taking kids away who needed to be. We reorganized families by the tens of thousands at a time. That stuff wasn't my central thing, Starlight Princess was, but damn right my candy-coated Strawberry ass was happy to help.

Scary? Like I said, would you like to talk to my Grandmother instead? Remember, the gravel between my toes is the smashed-up houses of the gods and mountains torn off the moon purely to make a point, my current temperature record is 9.36 zettakelvins, and I'm the good cop.

The really sad thing is, almost nobody involved in mess this wants it on any level. It's just the way the culture works, keeps it happening forever in a horrible chain reaction.

Which is called Systemic Evil, and you can read some more about it in the works of Hannah Arendt, but make sure you're stocked up with something a lot stronger than that Amaretto Cheryl was feeding me for aftercare, because it's not happy stuff. We're caring about it here, because Eden was mainly a creature of systemic evil. Not bad people, not ugly thoughts or cruel intentions or sinful desires (even as seen by modern leftism, like will-to-power), just, systemic evils. Plain gray gears on a plain grey board that when they turned ground out the most unspeakable nightmares the multiverse has ever known. It got so big, if you ask me, because people carefully cleaned its environment of competing predators, without ever attacking it, because it's so hard for people to understand the idea of a machine whose gears are just plain grey paperwork in normal filing cabinets when you look inside but whose nameplate reads Auschwitz. I feel that's important enough to interrupt the story of my adventure this way to tell you.

Also get ready for a whole bunch of hard-wiring to kick in telling you no, someone has to be responsible, there has to be a bad person you can kill, or bad people. Congratulations, you found the exploit in human nature Eden used to become one of the worst things to ever exist in the history of the multiverse. It found a race of hosts who'd happily build more of its brain trying to make up a system to get rid of the bad people, without ever looking at how the systems they were living in and building were actually acting.

Okay so then for a cheer-up before we get back to my kinky training montage that's illegal in all fifty states[1], if there can be a systemic evil, can't there be a systemic good? You'd could say that's what the Dreams are, but you'd be missing two pieces. First, I seem to think I know a few groups with a big bureaucracy kink down in Rl'yeh Sade whose corporations are all delightful people, and second, systemic evil's gears look boring so people won't realize they're turning them. The Dreams can and will play that game when they have to, but they'd much rather give you beautiful beating candy hearts and and shining filigreed clockpunk with jeweled gears. Don't you want your taking part in systemic good to look and feel good? Don't you want your doing good deeds to make you cum while you feel virtuous? What's the point otherwise?

Except I think even that's thinking too small. Systems like that can be and are part of the Dreams, but the Dreams themselves are something beyond systemic. Yes, what the hell does that mean. It's means logic is one star in a really big sky and not even the brightest one. It means the heart is the seat of personhood, not reason. It means the most rational thing you can ever think is that it was anthropic nonesense to expect existence would even be mainly apprehensible through rational thought. That's why the Five Pointed Star is a story and you'll never meet an explanation that helps you get here.

And if you meet one that claims to, what should you do, readers? That's right. Run away screaming, because it's not the Dreams.

[1] relax, we're not actually going there, at least not that way. Right? Dreams?

Those are all...remotely operated vehicles. We'll be looking at it from far away through a fuzzy shakeycam. That should be okay.

Anyway all this is just bulldozing my own internalized freakouts about how I was brought up, even though it feels like such a relief to learn this was my childhood. I know people never listen to stuff like what I was just saying. I'm just trying to get to where I stop trying to negotiate my own past with that house of cards I was talking about.

OH SARTRE NO EXIT WITH THE LOBSTER TRAP! Dreams is my next poor handmaiden stuck in a hell like that somehow?

They show me a terra-cotta flower-pot. Ummm...roots, I'll go for. So get back to my roots. Alright, okay.

So sex education good mmkay, I may have had a crush on my teacher except that feels weird to either say or not say, there's a pretty well-equipped personal dungeon in my room through the doors back there that hasn't been touched since I was thirteen, what are we looking for here.

The Dreams show me their schematic of bridge foundations with cables hanging down into the water again. Blech. Arlight that could be a thing, so.

Dolly, lust check, since you're so very precise with it, hehe.

Eeeee feels good when you rub that in! Lust halfway sort of maybe!

Candy's just chilling out on my shoulder.

"I got really thinking. Doing okay?"

"I'm in Princess Lucy Strawberry's hottub cuddling her fat rack. Nothing I do here will make that awesomer."

Clock still ticking, star-surrounded pretty thing?

Yeah. It's slowing down but I'm still here. I can't keep going if nobody's talking.

You're missing a lot of really scintillating silences, then. Anything interesting up?

Statue time is just happy blank stuff. I'm good, it's grand.

How to not alarmingly say I keep asking because I just did some really intense stuff to you.

Well put. That heartstone soul thing is how I feel when you play dolls with us sometimes.

"Okay, opening a can of angst with Boobsong, not sure where this is going, so don't surprised if there's more eggings what with how it's been so far. I'm doing some kind of past-recovery thing thing still."

Click, with eravahk pointing and button held.

EERRAAH MOMMY WAIST SQUEEZED!

And I let the button go, and she relaxes, sliding down good four inches from where hugging me with her thighs moved her.

Nudge again, dolly. Target gross water if you can. Be less nice. Flip...

Halo Assault Rifle.

Whoah, hardcore. Layers. Okay. Did I stop Bungie getting bought by Microsoft? Capitalism was dead by then--whoah.

My heart bubbles up a whole fleet of cables going down into water. Unless this is a Half-Life 3 joke, that's serious. College, or not-college is a big thing. So how's this get back to our earlier life, and religion? Crusade, of course.

The rewrite gave me to Christianity's most Starlight Princess-esque thing, the college ministry Campus Crusade for Christ--had me going to college at all--

A flash of Unicron's skeletal wing, from my own heart.

Strider. My college best friend and roommate.

But I was never friends with Strider in the real world.

Was I? Holy fizzscreeching tapwater Marathon onion ring pops Strider as a blueized Strawberry, or even a sad Strawberry man, would explain so many things.

The Dreams show me a Strawberry, off a soda can, reminding me of how the rewrite says we met. Then very girly underwear I FIZPOPPING KNEW IT!

Alright well where is she and does she need a nectar-bomb or some candy, first off?

The knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (it's just a flesh wound), then the monolith, say the Dreams.

Still crusading--the Dreams show the squire who gets shot with a message-arrow in the movie.

And the monolith has a message about this...my first thought when I saw the knight was she has a heartchild cut off. The message the squire gets is get me out of this arranged marriage.

Okay Dreams that's an emergency. How do we reach her.

Their answer is a crescent moon crest that makes me think of the sphinxes in The Neverending Story (which Strider deeply loved, at least in the rewrite), then a cable going down into solid ice.

Meet her where only the pure of heart can go--and there's something frozen solid here, something big to see that cable.

The Dreams show a saluting soldier like when they said Kaari was loyal, but it's head is cut off.

Again with the knight. Are you trying to say I'm blundering around here? Because I feel like it. Show me the way, please!

A dark blue egg. Strider's deeply blueized. VR glasses. And wrapped up in that totalizing worldview like I was--right, in the rewrite, her dad's a Christian preacher too. Unicron. She needs to transform. Lots of cables, sloping down, it's a water scene. She has a ton of buried stuff of her own to unearth.

You're really making it sound like she's out of reach right now, Dreams. Where should I go next?

They don't answer, and I think I know where next, but--

Now the Dreams interrupt with a finger pointing at me, then a thumbs-up.

I'm just a clown, though. That stuff is Verana's job.

The Dreams reply with an early-nineties PC, chunky big with a CRT that's mostly bezel showing pixel art of Starlight Princess Online, and my fourteen-year-old self looking very hot indeed in a sexy pose in my same stupid slutty outfit as always, and--I mean what have I just been saying, but still I want to get defensive.

The truth is Starlight Princess grew up like Harry Potter did with its main character, as it followed Boobsong and me from childhood (we started the show while we still lived in Strawberry Home, I seem to remember), and the target audience was people about my age, all through its run, up to the reset.

But of course in the Strawberry World Unveiling comes when you're twelve, so in the very next episode Boobsong and I strutted up to the gates of Candyland and I fucked her right there against them and they opened on a very different Candyland than we'd been visiting before when we opened the gates with laughter.

And then the Dreams did a really good job of sending us age-appropriate adventures that helped us grow and learn just like Verana did and that made Starlight Princess come out as like a sexual Chronicles of Narnia to help our fans learn and grow alongside us. I can remember the hole that should have filled in my heart in the rewrite's backstory how much needed and how much it felt like I still needed it decades later when the rewrite tore it out of me, and wishing for it and thinking about making it and how much trouble I would be in and also if this is the hill I die on so FUCKING be it only to pull back because I promised Boobsong never to kill myself--

[!] Su'khora are the end of time coming back to say it should have been this way. We already don't die there. You don't need to promise.

You're good at saying stuff that silences me today, dolly.

What comes to mind is just that I don't want to do it all again. I want the first time back. We did it right the first time. I just wanna see those episodes again, and remember.

It wasn't just the show, either. I was always trying to teach the people my own age, to give them the gift I was getting. It was so scary but I needed to do it somehow. My game and the Dreams and Verana and Grandmother Strawberry and all of them helped me get it right whether it was onstage with Boobsong or our adventures in Rl'yeh Sade. Usually my "teaching" was just to give people a really nice clear view of me bumbling through whatever all those teachers were teaching us--and Boobsong sure taught me a lot. The only reason I could do it is I was nothing but a pet doing tricks. The responsibility of that sacred duty would have crushed me otherwise.

Just like it crushes me to think of the box most of the population of Earth would stick me in for saying this stuff, as iron and immovable as Their Scary And Beautiful Strawberry Queen and Giggly Princess boxes, but a lot less fun to get crammed in.

I know, because that box never changed shape one pixel the whole time we were touring. Not everyone's mind was that rigid, and it didn't change what all the kids needed, so my take was you could wake up and smell the very unfun coffee I was talking about before, or get spiking bulldozed by me and my game making sure those kids didn't get left as high and dry as their world was trying to.

My game wouldn't let me, but I always thought if I was doing my job right my stuff would drive those minds literally too insane to function like so that my game had to bottle-feed them until the Dreams could put them back together. Better than be down for the count than keep their sick little cycle going.

I suppose that would have undermined what I was mainly trying to do, though. We went pretty hard, in any case, and once again I was the good cop just wanting to make fun educational porn and fool around onstage so people would like us enough to open the worldgate. Verana and Grandmother Strawberry did a lot of showing the gravel between their toes, if I remember.

Even now I feel faint and terrified to think of all this.

I'm proud of what we did, the whole edifice. A complete course from Unveiling through--I was in my thirties when the reset happened. The journey never ends. Unveiling comes so early because it's the very firstest baby step down the long strange road of sexuality. After a while you don't need your mommies holding your hand anymore, but that's never forever. Everybody comes back for some new handholding now and then--or they should. Something wrong if you don't and it's much worse than stagnation. Unveiling is just the first moment you can walk at all.

Now, it's all so shattered. I guess everything's still whole here in the Dreams, but whatever's left of Earth now is where's it's needed.

I just keep thinking we did it right the first time and feeling the simple pride of having done good work, of having the record of my coming of age--our coming of age, me and Boobsong--like a map others might follow to avoid our mistakes or share in the fun ones, I was really really proud of that. Earth had never seen anything like it and I felt like I'd actually done something useful.

You'd think I was doing some Strawberry sacred discipline, but Starlight Princess shines for me end to end with the glow of originality, like we'd done something truly new under the sun.

This will be the key that unlocks my next handmaiden, because I must have collected her as a teenager, and that's going to come up saving her.

I'm so bitterly angry, at the eighteen-shaped wall blotting out my teenage years. It's strange, the rewrite in theory answers all the people who said I was an alien or didn't understand Earth. I do now, and all I see is dirty wounds told of in the rewrite's backstory, against the care I got in the Strawberry World.

The truth is it was just good. Life there had so many problems and even with Boobsong that box thing just to start really hurt us...but being Unveiling, learning, like it doesn't seem to be perfect in my memory but I don't remember any horrible bad things, either, at if there's one thing I've been really getting today it's remembering the horrible bad parts of my life in the Strawberry World. I know that's not the right answer. But it's my answer.

Green checkmark.

Dreams how can it possibly. Even my game only ever held Them at bay. How can it possibly.

I guess if it's all just flashback and reference, distant shakeycam...we did it right the first time.

I can target parents, and tell them to imagine.

I don't want to target parents. I want to tell lonely people they can heartform.

No. No no no. Yes but no. I just want me back and the shape of world I've been trying to fit into just doesn't fit me and Boobsong. We had to break it to exist there. I tried to do good but a lot of times Starlight Princess just felt like banging on the world until we made a dent that gave us enough space to breathe.

Dreams is it all just truly over. You know what I'm really asking. Not my handmaidens and stuff.

Of all things they show me Eisela offering me strawberry pocky in the van--when I thought I couldn't make candy right anymore.

No one will eat my candy, though. Not if I'm this. The Dreams here, yes, but Earth can never never never understand. It taught me that for thirty years.

They show me a short square travel mug growing up into a tall curvy travel mug, both rainbow-colored.

I don't understand. What difference does that make? I still walked the unspeakable path, didn't I? I'm tainted. In their eyes.

An Excitebike biker, drifting back across the screen. I guess, it's all impressionistically distant, so it's okay? This just isn't going to make sense to me, huh.

The narrow street from my memory of Jenner's takedown, right before I remembered what we were up to.

Okay, but...like if you think it's time let's get my handmaiden but I need my Starlight Princess outfit but I couldn't put it on until I embraced what it means to me that it's an early-nineties raver getup and why I'm still wearing that after thirty years, am I right?

Their answer is a green checkmark that feels like a hug, and I finally break down crying for real.

It's...it's not that it um, it's not nostalgia. Or even regression as much as I love ageplay so very much. It just...I found something that works, early on, and it's been good all this time, and when I put it on I see that trail I've blazed with Boobsong at my side and my handmaiden's dancing around us and our mommies watching over us and I see the pride of having done all that, climbed all that way with all of them, from out silly childhood adventures through Unveiling and unlocking the gates of Candyland our way and on and on up the whole way. I couldn't put that outfit on until I was ready to put on the part of it that happened between 1993 and 1998, even though whatever's left of Earth now so violently would like me to forget those five seasons of Starlight Princess exist the force of it's followed me here to the afterlife.

The truth is those five seasons are my favorites, the best, I think. Adolescence is hard. If I could grow up, even with Verana and Grandmother Strawberry and Sis and everyone watching over me and Boobsong as we found our way through that maze growing up that makes the craziest spacefuck labyrinths in the deepest darkest scariest corners of Rl'yeh Sade just look like a bunch of tutorial dungeons and came out not just as whole happy people but with a journey behind us we could be proud of and believe other people could enjoy and learn from too, then yeah, you know what, I do feel like some kind of goddess of sexual exploration.

Watch me, dolly, click.

"Six years. Five points."

Let's see how solid I can make it. I put my eravahk in my right hand, and reach up, and with two fingers in the air between me and Boobsong press on the paper this world is painted on with all my terrible stellar weight and draw it out, one--no. Ninety-three. Ninety-four. Ninety-five. Ninety-six. Ninety-seven. 

...and ninety-eight closes it again. A five-pointed star, lines crossing in the middle like a pentagram, just a little wobbly-imperfect, shines blazing every-wavelength starfire fingerpaint in the air between us. I don't know if I could make it straight and perfect and sharp-pointed, but this way is better. The journey wasn't perfect, it way a joyride and a mess and fun. It's not going to be any different now. Even the little way the top point has two tails because I didn't start in exactly the spot I ended, that's going up front.

Now watch close, readers, follow me step by step, because you're about to learn exactly how to become a Princess.

I give no warning. I say nothing. I ask no-one. I reach out with both hands, and take the crown I just made, pick it up--yours probably can't be made of light (try it anyway, though, you never know!) but I'm a star too so I can do weird stuff like this--feel it sort of glassy-bouncy in my hands, pick it over my head, for once make sure I won't squish my butterfly antenna, and jam my crown down in place so it'll stay on good as I play and dance.

When I'm sure it'll stay, I let go, watch Boobsong's starry-eyed wonder for a moment and see its light shining on her (optional but if you have a heartchild you'll totally do it I guarantee you).

Blam. Done. I'm a Princess.

Of course I already was one, but who says you have to be only one Princess at a time? What a plaster-brittle blah kind of rule that would be.

Next I grab Boobsong by the neck, pull her toward me as I lean toward her displacing Candy and making the bath slosh, and kiss Boobsong hard with my other hand on her breast.

HOT grabbed WHEE YUMMFFF...HMMMH....

With Boobsong's face still an inch from mine:

"This week we join Princess Starlight and Boobsong and only two of her handmaidens in Starlight's tower in the original, real Strawberry Home! Homecoming won't be complete, though, until they rescue the other five from hell itself, which they're setting out to do right now. Let's rock and roll!"

Click, and I stand.

Getting off you and stand up in the water whee snuggle bound!

The predicament pulls us irresistibly into a warm and cuddly arms-around hug, making us look like the exact movie poster we need to as Candy kneels at my feet in the bath grinning with a face that says oh goodie the FUN Mommy is back.

I blip third-person to see my new crown shining on my head with Boobsong cuddling--hm, missing flumph.

Rainbow wings burst out behind me, and I shine like a Heartwarming lights display, and feel like one, the way I'm lighting up the cold dark world around. 

Avoiding my butterfly antenna made me put the star up so it kind of looks like a halo, but you know what, fucking fizzpopping fineGOOD. I know what my crown means and what each of those points is and how the two little hard-to-see tails at the top mean what began with unveiling coming in from childhood goes ever on, beyond what I've made this crown to commemorate. I know who I am and what I'm about and I'm proud of it and I'll wear this crown until the truth it represents burns a hole right through the world.

Of course saying that I have to think about that whole thing about the sin of pride, but...that's such a stupid myth. You can be proud and know what you're doing and still respect your Mommies. Ask any Boobsong.

Right now this Boobsong is so proud she could cry a thousand years with it! This is her Princess right here. Princess Starlight back again! Mommy's calling, hell!

"...oh my holy brass pixie-stix--Dreams--"

Green checkmark.

"Hey Sex, you know they myth of the unveiling of Strawberry Home, right?"

Of course I do--gasp it's time, isn't it!

"KEEEEEEP WALKING--"

"AND YOU'LL SURE KNOCK DOWN THIS WALL!"

Okay this is real if you brought back Veggietales you really are yourself again!

AHAAHAHAHAHAH Okay you need to wind me up so I can laugh until my eyes fall out! Fizzpopping--you're actually doing it, aren't you!

"At my birthday--unless Grandmother Strawberry's claiming dibs or something."

"You began it, your job to finish! Always finish what you start, you know that."

"You got it, Grandma!"

Okay Cherry, I know you can hear me like at some point anyway, so listen. Did the Bards make it back yet? If we can't find them, I don't know, but we have faces to melt. I don't think I need to explain why this one's a rock anthem, heh.

Sis, Stardragon form. You know you want to see it.

I ain't missin' this fer the world--which is literally what happened last time! You'll need her hammerform, so plan fer that!

Be out depth-skating for a century, Boobsqueeze! Just kidding, I'll be there and you can bet your haunches I'll give that cartridge out! Your haunches'll be mine anyway. Hmmm...

I love you all so much.

The Dreams show me...the Star Trek IV Whale Probe? Time to go boil the ocean? Bring my handmaiden(s) from the past?

The whirring roar of a pair of a very particular model of big-bladed turbofans spooling up suddenly fills our ears. I'd know that sound anywhere. It's so distinctive--

"SPARKLEDUST!"