Fandom: Hollow Knight
Length: 1.2k
Tags: Zote Canon-Typical Child Death Unreliable Narrator

mourn not the dead


In which Zote briefly ventures into the Abyss.


Written for Phlyarologist.

The place behind the odd door, past another useless piece of signage, is larger than expected. He notices this while making a tactical retreat behind a few rocks, to avoid an unnecessary battle with a sizeable armored creature not unlike the crawlers from the dreary abandoned little crossroads far above, and happens to face in the right direction to see that the door, previously large, imposing, and emblazoned with the symbol of this meaningless dead kingdom, is completely gone.

The space behind the door is dark enough to require further inspection, but as with all darknesses, there is a truth to be found somewhere in it. Such a principled knight as Zote the Mighty has never been one to turn down the truth, of course, so he advances.

After a few steps, his surroundings begin to surrender their details to his sight. The door itself leads directly onto a metal platform, a few paces in length and overlooking a great shadowed chasm. A thought occurs to him that he may have, perhaps, seen this particular platform before; he dismisses it immediately. Clearly, he has spent too long staring at this kingdom's architecture, and not nearly enough time slaying the fierce beasts that roam within it.

(And if it is truly familiar, he knows better than to dwell on it. Dwelling leads to remembering, and remembering leads to things even worse to dwell upon than their precursors.)

Though the air is empty, something powerful lies within it. He does not spend long deciding. He'll climb down, see what all the fuss is about, and if it's worth his time, he'll do battle with it. The detour would be pointless otherwise, but he has time to waste, at least for now.

The edge of the precipice drops down to the first platform, with no intervening ground to speak of. The climb may prove difficult upon returning, but that will be a problem some time in the future, not now. He chooses to ignore the issue. This kingdom, tunnel-bound and riddled with holes, has no shortage of spare exits and shortcuts. It's possible he knows this for a reason, but it isn't an important one. He soldiers onward, down into the depths.

There are more creeping things in this cavern. He avoids them. As a rule, he sees no point in expending his energy and strength on unworthy opponents.

A few platforms down, he encounters the first discarded mask.

There is the dead body of a small, short bug attached to it.

He prods at the corpse with Life Ender. Many things are not what they seem, after all; some corpses are merely pretending to be dead, so that he might drop his guard like some common fool and let it catch him unawares. The form of the body, which does not stir, calls to mind the glory-stealing little knave that keeps following him about, mocking him with their brusque silence and ill-kept nail.

If Zote were feeling more magnanimous, he might say the body bears some passing resemblance to his own handsome visage, except that its cloak is far grubbier than his, and it has much less memorable horns. That, and also, it is dead.

Traveling deeper uncovers more of these small corpses. He finds no other common bugs about, or at the very least, no dead ones. Their appearances do not begin to unsettle him, though, because Zote is far too great a warrior to spend his time feeling anything close to fear, least of all from the remains of bugs too weak to even stay alive. They are merely mysterious, and somewhat unsightly. The sort of thing best not to be looked at for long.

Zote the Mighty is also not one to dwell, or to reflect (his reflection reflects, after all, and is surely the poorer for it, the sly and intangible thing), but each new corpse seems to bring a strengthening sense that there is something about them he ought to know.

The darkness stretches too deep to see the bottom at first, but as he descends, the chasm reveals itself to be something of a charnel pit. Pale faces veined with fractures peer up at him from the darkness, limbs and cloaks and horns tangled together into an indistinct mass of death.

The air grows oppressive with something like memory. He does not like it. A stale taste builds in his mouth.

What a wretched place this is.

Whatever strong thing lives in these caverns has not bothered to come and challenge him, by the time he nears what passes for the floor in this place. Perhaps it is afraid of him, or of his presence.

He spies a shape behind him, and turns swiftly, nail at the ready, but it's nothing. Just a shadow. However, a more interesting feature looms within the dark beyond: a pearly black sphere, twice his height, broken open with an edge like jagged claws. Staring at it for a long moment, he determines it to be some sort of egg, and in a brilliant feat of deduction unrelated to the stirrings in the back of his mind, he draws a quick conclusion: the corpses are hatchlings. Pathetic creatures, spilled forth from this egg and perhaps others, and left to die here in this sealed off cavern, nameless and forgotten by predictably uncaring parents.

If he were the sort to stop and take pity on the dead, he might feel sorry for them, but he is not. Scoffing, he kicks at one of the masks, but doesn't bother to put any real force behind it, so it only rolls off the platform he's standing on, clattering against its kin below. Something hisses and whispers near him, a wavering airy note, but it is only an illusion, because he can't see anything but shadows, and everyone else down here is dead. He ignores it. The mournful creatures of this place have no business with the living, and more importantly, they don't exist.

This place holds nothing of value whatsoever, he decides. Between whatever cowardly foe lies within, the unnatural depths of darkness, and these piles of useless broken masks, he finds not a single aspect of this corpse-filled pit worth his time.

The climb back out is an arduous one, as expected, but he surmounts the challenge and overcomes it with the ease of someone who has overcome such a trial before, and will easily do so again. His preternatural senses tell him where the footholds will be before he needs them, and he easily judges the most efficient path to the top, unlike the many before him who have doubtlessly tried and failed.

(Of course, despite all this, there is nothing actually familiar about the journey back to the top. He has never been here before in his life. He does not recognize anything about it in the slightest.)

Zote finds himself re-reading the sign outside the door as he passes it, and scowls at the words. As much as it rankles him, their nonsense is at least half correct.

There is nothing past the door but someone else's refuse and regrets. Zote the Mighty, knight of great renown, cares for neither.