Fandom: Hollow Knight

  • Ghost
  • Hornet
  • The Hollow Knight
  • The Radiance
  • Body Horror
  • Sealed Siblings Ending
  • Crack

Length: 7.4k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2022-05-29

Collections: We Divine Like Fen: Morphogenetic Fields

Go Fish


Four bugs, for a varying range of values for 'bugs', are stuck in a room together. Entertainment has to be had somehow.


For graveExcitement.

inspired by a deleted fic

This was supposed to be even crackier, but unfortunately there was a little too much whump. It's still fairly silly, though, I hope.

The Black Egg Temple had been sealed for barely a fractional slice of forever by the time Ghost started getting bored.

It was an impressive feat, perhaps, given the constant torture from the Radiance's efforts to bust out of their shell, or failing that, to maximize their suffering for suffering's sake, but Ghost didn't take to wanderlust for nothing, and even white-hot pain grew dull after a while. It had also been a very long time since they'd had to be constrained by mortal rules, which helped.

Does anyone know how to play cards? they asked, projecting their sort-of-voice through the dream realm to their scant collection of neighbors.

What, said the Radiance.

Yeah, they'd expected as much from her. Well, probably more, but she'd get properly pissy about it in a second once she realized they were serious.

I said, does anyone know how to--

Your words I understood. It is only your sincere commitment to inanity I underestimated.

By this, she meant Ghost's general failure to be anything remotely like the Hollow Knight, who had borne her hateful burden with all the proper stoicism an empty vessel was supposed to have for about a week, and then spent the next eternity or so still mostly stoic, but screaming. Privately, Ghost felt this hadn't done it a lot of good, but it couldn't have known that, so no judgement, really. (It was a bit harder to judge someone still hanging around in the dream with them. Feelings were all fuzzy here, and they melded. Definitely a downside of the place.)

I'm bored. What do you want from me? Ghost joked, glancing around the room.

The Radiance fluffed herself up in their imagination, and then shoved a bundle of Ghost's own memories to the forefront of their mind, glazed with light.


When the plan had fallen apart, truth be told, it was actually kind of funny.

Not that there really had been a plan, unless 'go in there, fight the Hollow Knight, and somehow don't end up sacrificing yourself' counted. That, and whatever Hornet had been hoping to accomplish, but Ghost still wasn't sure what that was. It could have been this, they supposed, but a double sacrifice didn't really seem her style.

Maybe they should have tried something more impressive.

It had gone something like this: when Hornet had swooped in and pinned the Hollow Knight down, snatching them a precious, long moment of reprieve, Ghost, on shaking splintered last legs and bleeding void so fast it clouded the air, had stayed in striking range to land a few cheap and dirty hits to replenish their dry dregs of soul, then focused to heal.

This had turned out to be the worst mistake of their life. And for a creature that frankly shouldn't have even been hatched, let alone loosed upon the world, that was saying something.

The focusing had burned, searing through their dead guts like acid, the light in the Hollow Knight's swollen thorax pulsing like the heartbeat they never had, and for a horrible moment Ghost had wondered if, against all odds, they had somehow managed to get themself infected. They hadn't thought it possible, but if the broken sibling's body down in the basin could be puppeted by lightseeds, and the Hollow Knight could be swung around by the light like a club in the hands of a clumsy fool, who was to say the goop pouring out of those wounds couldn't take them too?

(A terrifying thought, really, one they'd not bothered to confront until now, to lose their mind to the disease like any other. Ghost had fought hard for their independent mind, against the abyss sea's call and the wastes' scouring and gods knew what else; they would almost rather die for good than let the Old Light steal that from them.)

With pain came the impulse to focus all the harder, but the harder they tried to focus, the worse the burning grew, surging in their chest like a wave of bile until they doubled over, no longer in a caster's stance but kneeling, collapsing, as hot scattered bubbles of infection bit their knees and palms. Too late, they made some vain effort to abort the spell, but the pain was dizzying, and that thin thread of soul seemed their only lifeline. Their void screaming in reverberating silence, writhing in a kind of agony-soaked fury it had known only a handful of times in their life or its -- then a final flash blinded their vision and the world went white.

Something forced them to stand again. It could have been the light. It could have been their own pride, some scrap of defiance still bubbling up amid the pain, which receded from unimaginable raw-nerved fire to something like icewater, burning but at the same time increasingly numb. There was a sort of spiteful satisfaction, though, in what cognizance remained: a sacrifice, maybe, but not dead, not yet. If the Old Light wanted them dead, then it would have to kill them itself.

They swayed, limbs loose and slack as if Ghost had transcended them somehow, risen up beyond all of this, and amidst it all Hornet slipped to the floor in silence and a pool of shadow and blood.

This, somehow, made a difference; their frantic fury reinvigorated as the Hollow Knight's severed chains struck down into the floor like pins to a lodestone, locking into place around them both one binding at a time.

They struggled, then, in that final horrible climax of fate and clarity -- two bodies at their feet, and the heat and light rushing into their head again, streaming from their eyes as though the Old Light had sought a mouth from them to scream. Ghost, in a rare moment of sympathy, couldn't blame it. They had wanted to scream, too.


Ghost kicked their dangling legs and shrugged off the last of the lingering flashback. That's nice. I'm still asking. Anyone?

Below them, Hornet rolled her eyes, rummaged about in her cloak, and drew, of all things, a pack of cards from one of her many pockets. "Will this suffice?"

ABSOLUTELY NOT, the Radiance declared. They both ignored her. That was something they did now. So long as she stayed trapped in Ghost's head, beating ineffectually at its walls, there wasn't much she could do to the others but scream.

This was going way better than Ghost had imagined. Their own inventory had already come along for the ride (up to and including sixteen hundred geo, an unsold wanderer's journal, some crushed flower petals, their quill and map, and gods knew what else), but they hadn't actually had a card deck, so they'd just been planning to have someone cut up one of their spare mapping sheets and draw everything on by hand. This was excellent. Especially if it meant Hornet knew how to play.

"Did you have a game in mind, little Ghost?" asked Hornet, her words laced with understated amusement. While the Radiance remained an old and familiar threat, Hornet seemed to share at least a little of Ghost's petty glee in being able to torment her personally. It made Ghost's very heart swell with pride, and also infection goop.

Uhhh... Poker? They hadn't quite thought this far ahead.

The Hollow Knight's presence, curled in the corner of the dream as always, recoiled as though deeply affronted. Perhaps it was those palace sensibilities talking. Ghost's shoulders vibrated in a silent laugh which the Hollow Knight only disapproved of harder. Never mind being trapped in an imaginary room with a pissed off goddess and broken to the brink of surviving, oh no. Gods forbid they might start into the dark and iniquitous pit of gambling.

Fine, fine. Ghost sighed (or at least, went through the motions), and then suggested, Go fish?

The disapproval faded into ambivalence, and a little uncertainty.

You do know how to play, right? asked Ghost, suddenly unsure how much actual experience around real bugs their sibling had had before getting locked away in the temple.

The Hollow Knight raised a hand again, and wobbled it side to side in a maybe, verging on no.

"It's hardly complex," Hornet assured. "You can learn as we go."

Cease this absurdity, all of you, the Radiance objected, having presumably tired of watching them muck about, as usual, and decided it was time to start being terrible again. There will be no 'game'. You are here to suffer my wrath, not to indulge yourselves. For emphasis, she forced the hot bile of infection up Ghost's throat, letting it pool painfully where their mouth would have been, like a small pool of magma behind their face. Ghost tried to nudge it up toward their eyes to flush it out, but it stayed stuck like a pustule instead, searing and swelling.

Someone's jealous they don't know how to play go fish, Ghost commented, which in hindsight was not their cleverest idea.

They held their satisfaction in the tightest grip they could manage, clutching it like a leather strap or stick to tide them through the excruciating feeling of the infection-bubble popping inside their throat, molten ooze making pointed attempts to knife its way out through their shell.

I swear, if you try to start another flashback-- they began, but it was already too late.


When it had quieted enough to hear their own thoughts again, Ghost was still in the temple.

The Old Light's screaming hadn't left them, not once, but it had faded into the background somewhat, as if it had tired itself somehow in being transferred to its new... container. The thought had turned their nonexistent stomach. They had played exactly into their parents' plans, hadn't they? Became exactly what they were made to be. A vessel. A convenient little lockbox some gods could shove their oldest enemy in, then lock away inside another, even better-locked box and bury it underground forever, all at the cost of a few semi-mortal sacrifices.

Their fists had balled up in a tiny, impotent display of rage -- the only kind they could make anymore, with the spiral of chains pinning their arms to their sides and their nail discarded on the tiles.

At last, a sensible one, whispered the background noise Ghost had then refused to dignify with a name.

The sound had changed, no longer the wordless plague-hoarse howl from the Hollow Knight's throat, but a speaking voice, low and feminine, almost motherly over the top of the simmering rage. Until now, they had only heard it scream, but hearing this, they could imagine how it wormed its way into the minds of other beings.

Look at what they did to you. Look at what he did to you. Aren't you furious?

Ghost had refused to answer it, so of course, she pried harder.

Still stubborn as your kin, it seemed to mutter to itself. But you agree with me. Do you not? I could be a kinder god to you than the Wyrm, you know, if you would only let me free. Your death would be swift. You would suffer the void's taint upon you no longer.

For a supposed cunning manipulator, Ghost had thought to themself, its arguments needed some work. Biting back a comment was getting harder by the second, which would have been funny if it weren't for the stakes. In their defense, they'd never had to do that on purpose before.

The tense silence had lasted almost a minute, by Ghost's admittedly questionable counting, until something unthinkable happened: Hornet, still sprawled on the floor, had twitched.

They almost thought they hadn't seen it, but then it happened again. And then, with a sharp sort of spasm like a corpse crawler stretching its legs, she sat up on her front, cloak still bloody and stained with void, and stared at them.

"What." Hornet's voice seemed to echo, lighter and stranger than they'd ever heard it, as though they'd been listening from underwater.

A sensation of seething hatred surged, not their own, and for a split second Ghost was lost in it, molten amber and essence pouring tearlike from their eyes before the cool touch of void dragged their consciousness back into the foreground.

No. Impossible. The Old Light's voice was a roar again, rising in wild, celestial rage. I will not be sealed again!

Hornet looked to Ghost, taking in whatever exactly they looked like, then out to the door, which had somehow resealed itself between Ghost passing out and waking up. White bindings decorated the new door like lacework, the pattern familiar but webbed in the edges, and the centerpiece--

The centerpiece...

No, no, no! Ghost couldn't hold back then, and the rush of the past's emotion flooded them like ice. Hornet flinched, as if able to hear them; the Radiance cackled somewhere amid the glow that threatened their vision.

At the centerpiece of the design, where the Dreamers' masks had once gleamed like a warning in a language unreadable, there now lay a single, simple form: a familiar crescent mask, two-horned and two-eyed. Some dim part of Ghost noted the family resemblance to the Hollow Knight; the two might have been indistinguishable in sigil form were it not for the Hollow Knight's jagged edges, but that was utterly irrelevant in the face of what that symbol meant.

Looking to it, Hornet had narrowed her eyes at Ghost, and then said, still watery and distant, "You didn't have a plan at all, did you?"

Alright. That hurt. They weren't going to deny it.

It was foolish, the Old Light had concurred, brought back down to that gentler but no less hateful voice from before. As was the Wyrm's-daughter. She has made herself a key wasting away behind her own lock. Cruel triumph dripped from that voice as it finished. You have both doomed yourselves to my domain for the dwindling remains of your existence, and all for a legacy which has long abandoned you.

So did that line ever actually work when you used it on the Hollow Knight? Ghost had found themself snarking, because if giving it the silent treatment was a bust, they might as well.

Somewhere, they could hear the Old Light practically choking on her own glowing spit -- even now, the borders of the memory almost glowed with her remembered scorn. Ghost-still-vaguely-in-the-present savored the moment. That had been such a good line. Hornet sat up a little further, eyes still fixed on them, and then, for reasons that would make more sense later, had whipped a throwing-needle from her cloak and drawn it across her own leg. When whatever result she expected failed to arrive, she'd stared a moment at the blue blood smearing her cloak, then hissed in disgust.

In a greater sort of distance, another presence wavered and shook, almost like laughter.

... Am I wrong? the Old Light had recovered at last.

A long silence had reigned as Ghost suddenly realized that now they'd whipped out a stupid retort, they had to commit to an actual conversation. Ghost had not had a conversation of any form since the last kingdom they'd traveled to that had a sign language. Which had been, well. A while ago.

An interesting endeavor, that first exchange had been.

I'm pretty sure you're wrong about most things, they'd replied, after a moment's thought. I mean, the king, maybe not. But as far as reasons to fight a god go...

Their gaze skimmed around the room, taking it in with fresh, light-tinted eyes: the Hollow Knight's frame crumpled on the floor, legs curled as if bled out; Hornet slowly drawing into a crouch in front of them with eyes unusually wide; the chains that circled them like nooses to dangle hapless above the temple's heart.

I think the whole 'plague that possesses everyone' part kind of forced everyone's hands, they'd finished, just in time for the Old Light to drive a mental spike through their head. Ghost writhed, past and present. It was all they could do, body pulsing like one giant pustule of infection as the light scoured their skull from the inside out, but by now it was only slightly worse than stepping into the bad parts of the wasteland winds, and they got their feet back under them quickly enough -- faster this time, even.


I understand dead people! Ghost snapped back, still shaking off the worst of the pain. And there were a lot of them! That you made!


And you still killed people! What did Myla ever do to you? Or, or Bretta? Or Sly? Or the bugs in the city? Or Deepnest and the Hive?


Just because I'm full of void doesn't mean I go around eating people!

"What the fuck," they had heard Hornet whisper, perhaps only to herself. It was hard to tell how much of this argument was the original, but her reaction had been the same either way. The distant sense of maybe-laughter had grown stronger as well, buzzing with a faint and terrified hysteria.

Then you truly are naive, the Old Light had settled, voice lowering to something not a scream but not a speaking voice either. Should I free you of any cage but your cursed excuse for life, that heart upon your chest shall kill as surely as your blade.

Ghost let their head loll to the side, because they had just about enough autonomy to do that right now, and had chosen, quite wisely, to savor every bit of it lest it be torn away later. Is it just some kind of special rule for gods that none of you can say anything straightforward, or do I just have bad enough luck that every higher being that's ever talked to me was also an insufferable cryptic? Glancing down at Hornet, they added, No offense.

I am yet offended, the Old Light had informed them, which would have been hilariously petty if she wasn't capable of torturing them on a whim. Ghost had considered telling her how much they didn't care anyway.

"I am hardly to blame for our misunderstandings, Ghost," said Hornet. "There was context. It is not my fault you failed to absorb it."

You didn't even tell me what the Grave in Ash was, Ghost objected, because really, that one was ridiculous. I literally did not know anything about Hallownest's geography. I spent weeks! In the resting grounds! Trying to figure out what tomb I was supposed to meet you at!

The Old Light had taken her turn to laugh then, a sound that might have been wondrous once, to someone like the Seer, but instead only sickened Ghost's gut. And then it had properly registered that Hornet replied to Ghost, rather than just offering commentary in their general direction, and Ghost turned their head to gawk at her again with redoubled surprise.

Wait, you hear me?

Hornet tilted her head in an uncertain sort of angle, and turned the throwing needle over in her claws. "I believe we're dreaming. My injury offers evidence against, but all other signs are in its favor."

She gestured then to the air around them, and looking closely, Ghost could see now that what they'd taken for dust was in fact tiny motes of essence, twisting like miniature snowflakes.

Well, that would explain some things.

Was it like this for the Dreamers, too? Ghost mused, entertained by the concept, but not really intending for an answer.

Those sycophants lay within my domain, but no. They remained apart from their ward. To speak among themselves was to call to one another from a great distance. And their charge was not one so... The Old Light paused, clearly fumbling for an adjective. Ghost still considered this a proud accomplishment. Flippant.

A vague impression of apology washed over them, but there was no heat or brightness to it. It had seemed a strange choice for a god trying to scream its way out of their corpse, but then the Old Light's fury surged again, entirely separate and colored with disgust.

Does that pathetic shell yet live? the Old Light hissed, and the apology retreated into a flash of terror, and then silence. Or does its successor see reason at last?

What are you even talking about? Ghost had wondered aloud, for only a few seconds before the thought hit them. Wait, was that--

No words replied, only a quick, rippling sense of dread and confusion and animal impulse to hide, and then the other corpse on the floor shuddered and turned its head to face them. Hornet, apparently still on hair-trigger from the battle, skittered back and threw her cloak out like she hoped to seem bigger than she was.

YOU, shrieked the Old Light, that time more petulant than self-righteous, as the Hollow Knight looked up at them both from the floor of a dream of the temple.

The Hollow Knight, rather weakly, had raised its remaining hand once and then let it fall limp. A feeling of foreign pain raced through Ghost's thorax, punching through their throat and tearing from their shoulder to their waist, followed by another pulse of hapless apology.

"How?!" Hornet had dared a step closer, but her claws hovered short of actually touching her sibling's shell.

What replied was more like a vague air of exhaustion than a shrug, but the meaning came through clearly enough, wrapped around a core of stubbornness and duty bordering on spite.

Does it finally rebel against its sire, then? the Old Light hazarded next, and Ghost had been able to sense her searching for an angle. Surviving where the dutiful would seek death in their purpose completed. A shame it comes around so late.

The spike of the Hollow Knight's indignation jabbed at Ghost's gut like they'd been elbowed with their siblings' pointed limbs. The Old Light's answering rise of wrath trapped them between the nailpoint and the flames. Ghost squirmed, and then summoned up their void as much as they consciously could to douse them both.

A burble of void burst forth and splattered the ground below Ghost's suspended form. Hornet flinched away, scowling, and brushed the stray droplets from her cloak, but seemed unharmed.

Well that's new, commented Ghost, and then they'd tried it again, because they were nothing if not curious. Void bubbled up around their eyes and the seam where their shell fit the voidheart charm, dripping down toward the floor in viscous strands that smoked and boiled away into the air.

If you wished to bleed yourself to death, you might have asked, the Old Light told them, with an air of bitter amusement. Ghost stopped short, watching the last drops seep into nothing.

Thanks for the tip, but no.


Is this it?

That wasn't quite part of the memory. The Radiance's mind nudged them past a stream of meaningless minutes, plainly displeased with Ghost's diversions, and thrust upon them a more existential train of thought sampled from an hour or so later. It was as much hers as theirs, they were beginning to suspect, but...

Was this it? Just... bickering and fighting with a stupid god while their siblings malingered in an endless, pointless dream, until the next, cleverer vessel came along and figured out how to break in and replace them? Despite the assurances from the tablet at the bench inside the temple, they couldn't see Hallownest right now, or anything in it. And somehow, they had the feeling it would be a long, long time before anything changed.

The planting of the thought was obvious, but the doubt it sowed, somewhat more difficult to shake.

Ghost, fallen silent, had watched Hornet hold a void-stained corner of her cloak to the light (which they were beginning to realized emanated from themself, like their body had been repurposed into some kind of horrible sentient chandelier.) She prodded at it, hesitant as though expecting it to burn her, and it vaguely occurred to Ghost that the last they'd seen of Hornet in reality had been her collapse into a growing pool of void beneath them, looking as though the very life had been drained from her limbs. The dreaming seal must have been sustaining her now, keeping some semblance of slumbering vitality at balance with the darkness she could not survive.

A perfect balance. The key was inside the lockbox, and the box was full of poison. And this time, nobody was privy to the existence of either.

A stronger seal, the king could not have imagined.


When the haze of pain cleared from their consciousness, Ghost checked back down at Hornet, who was still standing with card deck in one hand and needle in the other -- still struggling, then, equipped for a fight she could take no real part in.

Just deal me in, Ghost told her. I'll be fine.

"How do you plan to hold your cards?" Hornet asked. Ah, practicality. A refreshing thorn in Ghost's side, compared to the more literal one made of light and hate still giving them one hell of an upset stomach.

Ghost paused and thought about it for a moment, as well as they could amid the screaming white noise of the Radiance's objections. Just tuck them into the front of the chains. I'll tell you which one to take if you guess it.

Hornet gave them a skeptical look, but obliged. Jamming her needle into the floor as an improvised perch, she hopped up, dealt five cards, and wedged them into the front of Ghost's bindings, backs facing the room.

You cannot be serious, the Radiance argued, like she really still believed that had she tortured them enough, Ghost would have relented. It was a shame how wrong she was.

I'm very serious, said Ghost. Also, turn order is youngest to oldest, so I'm going first.

The Hollow Knight cast them a silent side-eye, mentally gesturing to their escape from the Abyss. This was followed by the image of-- oh, no way. The Hornet in this memory was roughly the size of a maskfly, and Ghost got a vicarious front-row seat to the Pale King holding her at arm's length like he'd never held a child before in his life (probably true) while Herrah stood over him, scolding. Oh, that was good.

The Radiance, being the Radiance, had to ruin it a second later by screaming DO NOT SHOW ME THAT UPSTART'S FACE directly in Ghost's head and dashing the whole image to sunspotted bits, but Ghost savored the schadenfreude for as long as they could, which seemed to soften the blow.

Hornet, for her part, looked as close to mortified as Ghost had ever seen her. The Hollow Knight patted her head, indulgently, and motioned for her to go first.


That might have been it. That was supposed to be it, probably.

That couldn't be it.

I think we could do something else, Ghost had decided, and they'd announced the idea out loud, because that was something they could actually do, and they were enjoying the novelty of it. Other than just waiting here in a dumb stalemate forever.

The Hollow Knight only had only grown more uncertain, and Hornet gave them a somewhat incredulous look.

Yes. You could give way and allow me control, the Old Light had informed them, sounding smug. It would be far, far easier than a war of attrition.

For you, Ghost said, and if they had eyes to roll they would have rolled them. I'm not talking about that, though, so quit it with just-give-up speeches, will you? It's getting annoying.

I will not 'quit', said the Old Light. I am within you already. I will exert my presence however I wish. And I wish to be freed from your worthless, foul shell so that I might break free and finish my vengeance upon this refuse heap of a kingdom your sire abandoned.

Still going for the abandonment issues, huh? replied Ghost. Ouch. Right where it hurts.

You father never loved you, the Old Light said, like she hoped this would upset them.

My oldest memory is literally of him leaving me to die. I kind of noticed. This had met a swirl of disbelief-defensiveness and deep-seated regret from the Hollow Knight that Ghost really didn't want to have to unpack right now, and decided it was best left untouched.

The Old Light simply scoffed. And yet you carry on his will, for nothing?

What makes you think I'm doing this for him? Ghost snapped. In case you hadn't noticed earlier, you didn't even manage to kill the one person you hated, but you sure spent a lot of time killing everyone else! Half the people left alive aren't even from Hallownest! They're not even part of this at all! They're just there, and you're just hurting them because you're angry. I don't have to give a shit about some old king to care about that!

I doubt your warden feels the same, said the Old Light, and admirable as your intentions may be, you--

I what? challenged Ghost. I don't understand? Go on, tell me I don't! Tell me what you think I'm missing here!

The Old Light had practically hissed at them, hot bright bile rising in their chest. You have no right to speak of this. You were not there, and you know nothing of it. You cannot comprehend it. Your sire has sent a hatchling to me once again, and it will fight like a hatchling, and it will think like one, and when I tear your senses apart you will scream like one.

I do know about this, though! I've talked to people! I've traveled so much of this kingdom, of its dreams-- I know your name, I think! Even if I wasn't sure. Because...

They didn't have the words to explain, not in the midst of it all, and so instead, praying to nobody in particular that their items had carried over with them into the dream, they reached under their cloak with what little motion their claws had left.

It was there, sure enough, that same trinket with a short, untapered hilt and a round crossguard of shellwood and woven string.


The words weren't so much as a question as a demand, and Ghost found their mind beset upon by searing knives and needles, filling their body like a veritable psychic pincushion. It was hard to say if the hurt had lessened, or if Ghost had simply gotten more used to it, least of all with everything they'd suffered before. The molten agony rose through their core and head, and their claws curled and jerked like something not their own, head flung back with the Old Light's scream of fresh rage. Beside them, Hornet took a step back, her needle still at her side, but at a loss without means to employ it.

Something was different about the rage that time, though -- not just hateful or begrudging, but betrayed to a degree they'd never felt before.

At first they'd ignored it, trying to think through the sea of light and pain to see if the dream's dream nail could still do anything at all, but she pushed hard enough to force their claws still, if only for a second, and their attention slipped toward her almost involuntarily.

STOP THAT, snapped the Radiance, and for a moment, if they were so inclined, they might have peeled back the undying fury to hear the echo of a mother to a small child, demanding back some stolen possession or another, a rare scrap of personhood amid the rage they'd met so far. WHERE. ANSWER ME.

Your Seer entrusted it to me, Ghost told her, as coherently as they could manage. She said I could be the wielder. Mine now.

That sent her off on a whole new screaming rant about traitors, one Ghost could barely follow with their dizzy, light-filled head and didn't much care to either. They tried to focus on the room and the dream nail instead, maybe a few words if they could string it together.

Do you even see why that is? they added, the pain driving them to ramble a little. She loved you, I think. But you were killing people. She loved you and she still thought you had to go.

MY CHILDREN FORGOT ME, YOU CURSED BRAT, the Old Light spat, each word venom stronger than any Weaver's. She forgot me, and she went to follow that upstart, thieving Wyrm like the rest of them--

She did remember you, though! Ghost protested, because they remembered that from talking to the Seer, way back when they still did that. (Back when the Seer was still around to do that.)

And where is she now? She calls me not. She prays not. Worthless.

It was strange how such a particular thing could make them snap. Not the destruction of Hallownest, not the decay and the death and the sibling she'd tortured in the temple, no, that was bad enough. But there was something that could pass for purpose to it. The Old Light that had risen was a creature of grievance, the dead clawing its way back into life, and while she had harbored her strongest hate for one who never stayed to see it, it wasn't hard to follow how one might go from the object of hatred, to the object's followers, to his allies, and so on.

But here Seer had been, still loving and remembering, still so full of regret, and all her god could do was blame her for being too dead to pray.

The void's rage provoked, as it had turned out, burned nearly as fierce as the light's.

The room itself grew darker, void not pouring from Ghost's form this time but pooling up, rising from the cracks between the tiles as though the whole temple had been built on the foundations of the abyssal sea.

Listen to me, will you! Your people are gone. The Seer was the only one left, and she trusted me, the enemy of her god in every way, not because of the king but because of you. Your kingdom is gone, and the kingdom that wronged you is gone. The god that did it is dead, and I know that because I punched his stupid corpse's face myself.

I-- the Radiance had begun, but Ghost cut her off before she can argue, and somehow it had worked.

I know whatever went down was awful, and I'm not even sure you're wrong to be mad, but everything is gone. Your enemies are already laid waste to. There's nobody left who deserves your hate. The people out there don't even understand the fight you're killing them over, and screaming light into their brains isn't going to make them!

And what else am I to do? the Radiance had demanded. Her voice wasn't loud then so much as vast, as if her very being had intensified in a way Ghost could hardly wrap their head around. A thread of grief ran through it like an underground stream. Accept my fate? Wither and fade? No. I will destroy you and return to reign in glory and dawn, free of parasite and traitor alike.

Reign over what? asked Ghost. A bunch of rocks? Some bodies full of goop? The fucking winds!? They paused there, and the void pooling thick through the temple ground receded, not spent, but slowing. You're not exactly making it easy to keep new worshipers. Why do you think this kingdom is an empty ruin?

Those idiot bugs were not my...! she began, and then faltered into quiet. Ghost would swear they heard a sigh, under the background roar of still-untempered fury trying to eat their mask from the inside out. You know not of what you speak. Higher being you may be, but no god.

I'm not wrong though, am I?

The pain was worse this time, like lances bursting from their eyes and clawtips and every seam of their shell, and all they could do for several long seconds was throw back their head toward the ceiling, the dream's speech not offering them the dignity to scream. Old battles had swum through the hot soup of their head like twisted storybooks: claws and nails through their thorax and fangs and needles through their head; fumes burning their eyes and thread biting their shell. Light spun in dizzying, endless skies that filled their vision, cracking them apart, and for a moment Ghost considered if they'd tried just a bit too hard, if maybe they'd made such a mistake even their own stupid stubbornness wouldn't save them, But they held, and after what felt like a quarter of forever already, the blaze reduced back to mere lumafly-light, and they were limp, trembling in the chains, but still unbroken.

The Radiance's hate writhed in their gut like a fluke, a wordless, distant scream raging within it, but she had no answer.

The temple had been silent for a long time after that.


The first half-dozen rounds of the game consisted of Ghost wiggling restlessly in place and ignoring the Radiance's continued spasms of fury between turns while Hornet explained the basic rules of go fish to The Hollow Knight, who took to the whole idea of playing in the way the Hollow Knight took to many things these days: a surreal sense of resignation along the lines of, 'well, this might as well be happening.' Asking for cards proved a hitch in the process, but the three of them worked out a hasty system of hand-signs for number and suit that the Hollow Knight could perform one-handed, plus tapping the deck for 'go fish', and that seemed to be that.

The second half-dozen rounds consisted of Hornet absolutely trouncing everyone, somehow, right up until the Hollow Knight, who had been accumulating a worrying number of cards, matched nine pairs in a row with an air of perfect calm and surprisingly well-hidden smugness, reducing the entire hand down to two (and earning a light smack from Hornet, who had somehow sensed the smug without even being able to feel it.)

Ghost actually managed to lose the first game, which they hadn't expected, but Hornet was as competitive as they should have seen coming (probably saw their cards while dealing, the cheat), and the Hollow Knight... well, okay, it was possible that Ghost was giving them an advantage at first since they'd only just learned to play, but it was absolutely biting them in the ass now. The Radiance's foreground rage rose like the pressure in a teakettle with every turn, which they enjoyed for the satisfaction of pissing her off, but slightly less for the factor of distraction while trying to play.

Game two would be different, now that their sibling had tipped its hand, of course. Ghost focused on trying to make surer matches, leaning on their natural poker face in hopes of an edge, but between the three of them, it was less an edge and more just keeping up. The Hollow Knight's expression betrayed even less than Ghost's did, and Hornet had apparently perfected the art of maintaining her I'm going to stab someone face for hours on end.

Your warden has a three of crystals, you imbecile; demand it of her! the Radiance finally burst out on one turn, in a voice like she was trying to stage-whisper. Or maybe that was her idea of a real whisper. Ghost wasn't sure she fully understood the concept.

Hornet looked up and narrowed her eyes at them.

Ghost glanced down at their own hand, tucked haphazardly into the ornate front of their restraints. Three of crystals would match the three of nails in front of them, which could give them a nice streak of pairs if they continued with their new eight of leaves and Hollow's eight of masks they'd been trying to pair for about three turns running, and maybe another random match if they got lucky. This was all assuming the Radiance wasn't lying about the cards, but so far her attempts to torture them had been rather uncreative, and they were pretty sure she would've found it below her to sabotage a card game she was still pretending not to care about.

Three of crystals? Ghost asked, and if they'd had a mouth it would have been a shit-eating grin.

Hornet mustered up a deep, dramatic sigh, bent low over her hand, and then tossed them the card. Ghost nudged theirs to fall to the floor; Hollow obligingly picked up both and set them in a tidy stack at Ghost's feet.

"If she cares enough to participate, she could at least be subtle about it," scoffed Hornet, fidgeting with her cards. "Or should I deal in another player after all?"

Nah. We're sharing a body, so that would basically be cheating. Ghost wriggled in place and turned their head toward the Hollow Knight, ignoring the stabbing pain of an infection bubble behind their eye. Eight of masks?

The next matched pair was not treated quite so kindly.

Two of masks? Ghost guessed next. Their sibling tapped the deck, horns tilted at an angle Ghost could only call cocky. Ugh, fine. Pass me one?

With that long, long arm, the Hollow Knight didn't even have to get up all the way to tuck the new card into their chains.

My wretched container has acquired a four of leaves, the Radiance reported, having finally realized an effective way to torment them. Ghost scoffed.

She's totally lying, they bluffed. I think she hates you all more than she hates me.

"Do you possess a four of leaves?" Hornet's grin was downright merciless. Ghost guessed they sort of deserved that one.

... last card on the right. They heaved their shoulders in a mock sigh, lowering their head to rest against the chains. To the Radiance, they added, Whose side are you even on?

Only my own, the Radiance replied, letting light surge an aching reminder through Ghost's limbs. I care not for your foolish pastimes. Sowing discord among you is but means to an end. One day, I will break your worthless spirit and I will tear myself free of your corpse to rise glorious upon this kingdom again. Your resistance will be but a footnote in my return.

And you're totally paying attention and learning how to play go fish for the purpose of mass destruction.

Would I debase myself so deeply for anything lesser!? It was difficult to make learning a children's game sound dignified, but the Radiance almost managed. Almost.

Okay, but if you stopped trying to possess me and everyone else we could definitely deal you in next time, said Ghost, as Hornet earned a second pair from the Hollow Knight's overfull hand. I mean, you absolutely suck, and there is so much reparations needed it's not even funny, but that doesn't have to get in the way of a good round of cards.

"I won't abide her cheating though," Hornet added, barely paying attention as she won a third matched pair from the Hollow Knight. That was going to be a tricky streak to beat.


They tuned her out somewhere around there, but it was all more of the same. Traitors, death, glorious triumph of the dawn, yadda yadda yadda. That was okay, though. She could play hard to get all she liked, because Ghost had already made up their mind.

They were getting everyone out of here, somehow, and the Radiance was going to come and play nice with whether she liked it or not.

"Seven of nails?" Hornet asked, jolting them out of the Radiance's rage-clouded reverie. Ghost glanced down at the floor, counting pairs; Hornet had accumulated enough to be only three short of winning by default. And sure enough, seven of nails was right there in their hand, second on the left. Which meant they were losing, again.

Oh, come on!

End Notes:

ghost: cranky because i figured out you're a tsundere aren't you