Fandom: Hollow Knight

  • Hornet
  • Ghost
  • Quirrel
  • Awkward Conversations
  • Sorta Almost Fluff

Length: 2.2k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2021-08-21

Collections: We Die Like Fen: Time Loop

what if i tried to kill you and then we ended up sharing a bench and we were both bugs... haha unless?


Hornet attempts a moment's rest alone in the City of Tears. She does not succeed.


Written for pariahs during WDLF5.

this was supposed to be a wordcount minimum fic, i swear.

Hornet didn't bother with a farewell. The little vessel standing by the fountain, she assumed, had no appreciation for such niceties, if the ragged wastes-dusted cloak it arrived in was any sign. A creature of wasteland and isolation, it wouldn't notice the difference.

The capital's streets sloshed with rainwater, flooded as ever, canals and low walkways indistinguishable under the water's surface. Unimportant. She hadn't walked more than a dozen paces of these roads since the rains began, darting building-to-building by needle and thread instead, under the endless seepage of the lake. Better to make her way quickly, than to dally in civilian memory. Fewer dead-eyed guards wandered the rooftops, as well, though the tell-tale buzz of wingbeats would spell little trouble for her on drawing near. Most she met could barely aim a spear, rotted-hollow hands trembling with dulled dead weight.

She would not stray far. The little ghost's traversal of the city was far slower than her own, limited to the unflooded walkways and platforms, and its silent stare, when fixed upon her, gave little clue to its next destination. The last time they'd met, she'd expected it to make directly for the city by the traditional pilgrims' route, only to next spot it wandering out of the crystal mines from the exact opposite direction, and then again backtracking through the lower levels of Greenpath.

(If it somehow outpaced her to the Grave in Ash in her short moment of respite, well... if nothing else, she'd be impressed. Insulted, true. But impressed.)

The entry bench sat tucked away in the curve of entry windows, at what would have been a few minutes' walk from the city gates, a rest stop for foot traffic of a bygone era. Pilgrims, merchants, residents -- all gone, now, but the echoes lingered in the worn-in paths. A thousand others' claws had traced the tall crystal-glass of the window exactly as hers did to overlook the city beyond, once and perhaps still now marveling at the wonders of Hallownest's famed eternal splendor. Even in decay, the architecture's pride remained, an elegant defiance of erosion and the glimmer of immortal streetlamps maintaining some flickering illusion of life.

She had not tired, exactly, from the brief exertion of travel or the effort of conversation, but amid the endless rain, the bench and the alcove beckoned. Surely it would not so inconvenience her to stop here, if only for a short while.

The wrought iron chilled her less than anticipated, probably muffled by her cloak. The rain had soaked it thoroughly in her brief confrontation in the city square, but it would dry. Another reason to duck out of the rain -- weaver-silk, however repellent of water, would still grow sodden and heavy after a time -- a distraction if she were to face the vessel at her prime. It would not do to challenge the kingdom's potential salvation looking like a half-drowned deepling fished out of a canal. And she'd have little better to do than rest, while waiting.

The vessel would not care about its soggy cloak and rain-slicked mask, she thought to herself, picturing the tiny thing still standing aimlessly at the fountain under the city's perpetual downpour, like a child waiting for a parent to collect it. It did not -- no, in all likelihood, could not -- have the capacity to care. (And if it did, would that scrap of self-awareness change the need to cut short its fool's errand on her blade? Or would it not make that cruel action all the more vital?)

The rain drummed endlessly against the glass, a lullaby she'd heard a dozen times in childhood, somewhere between Deepnest's rumbling earth and the White Palace's susurrant silence. If not for a heart-deep knowledge of danger and duty, Hornet might have let it lull her into an uneasy slumber. As it was, she'd nearly let herself relax into the arm of the bench when the unmistakable sound of clashing blades snapped her to attention.

The roaming husks of guards made their rounds near here, but rarely strayed into the civilian buildings, and none had turned a blade on their fellows since the last few fell prey to infection a lifetime ago. Sounds of a struggle -- of something fighting back, and winning -- could only mean unwanted company.

Hornet pulled herself into a cautious crouch on the seat, readying to spring at a moment's notice. The raised surface would give her sufficient height to reach the ceiling with ease, if needed, and she still had more than sufficient silk for a proper fight.

The hiss of a blade became the crack and gurgle of split carapace, and the guard's buzzing cry fell silent. Hornet tensed as footsteps interspersed with quick, quiet jumps echoed faintly up the passage -- the newcomer was likely either wingless or unused to the rain, then, she judged, perhaps close in size to a common bug, and competent enough to dispatch wandering husks without injury enough to slow them down.

She readied her needle without second thought as the sound grew near, until, at the far end of corridor, a mask emerged.

A familiar mask. One bearing the splintering mark of her blade's abuse, fresh and unrepaired across the surface where she'd struck it before the protective seals repelled her.

The warrior-bug stared at her, raising his head and jolting it back slightly to give the impression of blinking or surprise.

"Oh," he said. "Hello again. I hadn't realized this spot was occupied."

"Unfortunate," Hornet replied, words as stiff as her grip on her needle. "But true."

A long, uncomfortable pause passed between them, drowned by the rain.

"It's quite a lovely view, isn't it?", the warrior-bug said, breaking the new round of silence. He took two slow, casual steps forward, mask tilted toward the window behind her. "Do you mind if I join you?"

His nail hung at his side, only slightly sullied by the touch of infected innards, and his claws remained well away from the hilt, though Hornet had no doubt he could have it to hand in an instant, were she to strike first at such a distance. Not that she was particularly concerned, in this case.

The polite response would be to offer a seat. It had been a very long time since the polite response mattered in the slightest. It had also been a very long time since Hornet had spoken to another bug she hadn't intended to kill, let alone one she had been trying very hard to kill none too long ago.

And yet it didn't quite sit right with her, to chase him off. Hallownest was hers to protect, and that included those of it, however... difficult, their first impressions. Even Deepnest had ingrained in her a sense of simple hospitality. And as princess...

"Rest where you please," she declared, settling again on the bench. "I intend you no ill will."

"Oh," said the warrior-bug. "That's good to hear. I'd worried we got off on the wrong foot, at those grand cliffs to the kingdom's gate."

Ah, yes. The cliffs. Where she'd found a stranger climbing into the kingdom with a warrior's blade and stance, claiming the title of mere explorer, and wearing the mask of one of the living components to the seal which stood between the kingdom and utter devastation. Those cliffs.

"A misjudgement, on my part," Hornet replied. "I've no quarrel with you at this time." I only wish you well, to whatever end your dreaming Teacher beckons from.

The warrior-bug drew nearer, standing within a pace of her, but hung back from the bench. Perhaps, if she was fortunate, he would change his mind and leave her be.

"I'm Quirrel, by the way. I didn't have chance to introduce myself, in our first meeting. You?"

Clenched iron-tight in her claws, the drip of her sodden cloak on the paving filled out the silent pause. "... Hornet."

Quirrel nodded, in a way Hornet couldn't describe as anything but foolishly upbeat. "Glad to meet you again, then, Hornet."

Wrestling with the urge to leave, Hornet sat and watched as Quirrel turned again to stare out over the city. His gaze seemed to ease into a vague, restful fascination, as though transfixed by the patter of the endless rainfall.

How much did he remember of this place? He'd seemed entirely oblivious to his own very nature, in their first clash -- one did not come to "explore" the kingdom of their birth as though it were a myth. He did not recognize her, nor likely even the other masks on the Temple door. Only his skill has not faltered. (That, and his boundless, no doubt Teacher-nurtured curiosity.)

"I don't suppose I could ask you about this place," he said, a moment later. "There's a grumpy old fellow holed up in one of those abandoned rooms, down along the road, but he's been little help. All artifacts and no answers. I can't assume he's been here long, but you seemed plenty knowledgeable."

That answered that, she supposed. Hornet chose to ignore the comparison to the ill-tempered relic seeker squatting in the city apartments.

"My answers may not be those you seek. Be sure in your wish to hear them, before you ask," she decided, at length.

"I'll think long and hard about them, then," Quirrel replied. It took a moment to catch the smile beneath his mask, and match it to the soft chuckle in his voice. It took another to understand it not as mockery, but something almost playful, as though hoping to set her at ease.

Silence resumed. Was there something she was meant to say now? Should she wait for a question? Apologize for trying to kill him, even if she'd honestly meant it?

The patter of footsteps caught her attention for the second time in far too short a moment, and this time, Hornet only had a second to raise her needle before the little vessel hopped up into the far end of the passage, stopping short to regard them both with an empty eye.

"Ah, hello!" Quirrel jolted from his rainswept reverie to gesture a friendly wave in the vessel's general direction. "Back so soon, little one?"

"You've met," Hornet observed. She stifled a twitch of annoyance; she hadn't meant to comment aloud. All this conversation had made her chatty.

"Indeed," said Quirrel. "This one's a fellow explorer -- a kindred spirit, though certainly of fewer words than I."

Oh. Wonderful. He'd tried to befriend it.

"It cannot speak," Hornet informed him. She considered the benefits of explaining that, far from an explorer, the vessel had arrived for the sole task of replacing its sibling in the Temple, and would by all accounts be either dead by her blade or sealed away for eternity once it finally got around to trying.

The vessel approached them with quick, mechanical steps, and made a precise stop in arm's reach from Quirrel, who met it with a hesitant pat on the head.

... perhaps that matter was best set aside for now. Some part of Hornet's mind had not yet stopped reeling from the experience of seeing two entire other bugs in the same space as herself, in Hallownest, none of whom were infected or aiming to kill her. It was a novel experience, particularly since she'd stopped making trips up to the withering old town on the kingdom's back.

(Strictly speaking, the vessel did not count as a bug. But it behaved as though listening when she spoke to it, and it didn't reek of rotting light and dream, which apparently made most of the difference.)

"You two know each other as well, then?" said Quirrel, as the vessel's attention shifted to Hornet. It made a single advancing step, gaze fixed upon her as though in challenge, edging unsubtly nearer to the far arm of the bench.

"We've had... encounters," Hornet explained. Quirrel nodded, as if this told him all he needed to know. Considering his own encounter, she supposed it did.

When Hornet made no move to run it through with her needle, the little vessel climbed onto the bench in a few cautious movements, sitting as far from her as the armrest allowed. Its short, stubby legs dangled limply in the air, hanging stiller than any grub's would, the sopping-wet fringes of its muddy cloak contrasted by the softer damp of her own, slowly drying.

Neither it nor Quirrel made any move to leave.

(She wasn't going to get to rest alone after all, was she.)

With a bitten-back sigh, Hornet shifted in place on her end of the bench, watching beads of water slide down the window in the corner of her vision. Beside her, the vessel's head began to droop, as if falling asleep, while Quirrel, at long last, seemed to make up his mind about sitting, settling into a comfortable cross-legged pose by the window.

The rain rattled on, as it ever did, the unending murmur of water and slow, gentle ruin. The pillars and roof would take ages longer to erode, Hornet knew; she'd seen them before the rains began, and were it not for the rot and slumbering husks, she wouldn't have known the difference. Beneath the raindrops' lullaby, in ways neither decipherable nor deniable, the silence had grown into something comfortable, a paradoxical respite in stillness she dared not break.

Perhaps she could tolerate company. Just this once.