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Chapter 22: Level-UP!
Dirk ==> Jake.
Decades pass. Decades turn into centuries. You watch the world change around you, and before long you realize that you’ve been following Jake for well over five normal human lifespans.
Stalking award. It goes to you.
As you promised yourself, once every year, you meet up with Jake. Without fail, he is always elated to see you.
You think that Jake is beginning to notice a trend. Either that, or he has created a habit for himself. Every year, you always pick a temperate springtime day to appear to him. It just so happens that the first couple years you found him around the same vicinity, near that town with the silly accent that you feel belongs to Jake.
So, even though Jake travels the world literally end-to-end, near the springtime of the year, he always comes back to that area of the world. Often, he waits in that very city where you met him. You have no doubt that he is waiting for you, because a day or two after you meet him, he usually leaves again, off onto another adventure.
The habit is peculiar, to say the least, but you can’t help but feel a sense of pride and happiness that Jake goes out of his way to see you.
You notice that as Jake travels the world, his accent melds with those around him. He picks up other languages easily. Or perhaps he knew them already? You can’t entirely be certain. You pick up several yourself as you watch his interactions with the people of the world.
Unlike Jake, you also spend a good deal of your time reading texts of the world as he travels. It’s not like you have anything better to do. You keep up with your sword practice, and you hone your flashstepping skills. But other than that, following Jake and staying out of his sight leaves you with very little to do.
It’s a fucking sin, but you actually stop caring about your hair. Shortly after beginning your world travels with Jake, you realize that you won’t have a shower, any semblance of hair products, or anybody to look at your hair anyway. But you have to be honest with yourself; it’s been a long time since you’ve really given a damn about it. Somewhere in the five years that you were taking care of Dirk and Dave, your hair went to the wayside. The lack of styling products in this past world may have facilitated that. Also, you don’t dare trust any of the products available in Derse. You’ve seen what it’s done to some residents’ hair.
In the past, you tried a little bit to tame your spikes of hair into something presentable, but now you don’t care at all. As a result, your normally neatly trimmed and styled hair gets a bit longer and shaggier. It starts flipping and fanning in ways that you are not entirely pleased with, but at least it fits the times a little bit better. It actually helps you blend in. And you have a lot of blending to do, especially if you don’t want Jake to notice you.
With all your extra time, you take to reading. Through books, you feel that you learn the languages of the world’s people far better than you could any other way. And by listening to Jake’s conversations, you absorb the inflections and sounds unique to each region.
By the time the first couple centuries have passed, you feel that you could easily go anywhere in the world and communicate with anyone. But it’s also around this time that you notice something else. Something that makes you pleasantly surprised.
Over time, Jake spends significantly more of his days in the city where you first found him. He arrives in the springtime every year and spends at least a month if not longer waiting for you to come to him. Because he spends so much time in that city, Jake’s speech begins to naturally take on the flavor of that region more than any other. Even when he leaves the area, he begins to carry bits of the accent with him everywhere he goes.
Well shit. You always wondered how Jake English got his accent. Now you know.
He picked it up waiting for you.
* * *
Dirk ==> Check on your brothers
Enough time passes that you feel confident that you could find Jake anywhere. You’ll never have that problem that you had in the beginning, where you spent two years just searching for Jake. By using Derse’s portals, you know that you can find him anywhere in the world within an hour.
In fact, you test it. Five centuries after you started following Jake English, you force yourself to leave his side and return to Derse for a while. You check on your brothers. You tinker with Derse’s machinery like you always wanted to. To keep yourself alive, you even have a “conversation” or two with the Condesce.
Two months later, you have no idea where Jake could be. You step through Derse portal after Derse portal until you catch the faintest glimmer of his essence. Following it, it takes you about an hour to reach him. Elation washes over you when you see his fluffy dark hair from afar and you feel the depths of his persistently sunny personality.
Satisfied that you can find him anywhere, you return to Derse.
Time passes differently in this dimension. What could be hours in Jake’s world might be days on Derse. You begin to be a little afraid for your brothers, who you now realize have been sleeping far longer than a few centuries.
You check them very carefully, examining the warm colored flames of their life-force closely. Thankfully, they are exactly the same as you left them. Your brothers are still sleeping peacefully.
So you take advantage of the time to tinker with the machinery of Derse. You spend years absorbed in your work. You learn far more about engineering, programming, and machinery in general than you ever knew before. Derse’s technology, or rather the technology from Her Imperious Condescension’s home planet, is far more advanced than yours. Fairly quickly, you find yourself obsessed.
Despite your compelling obsession, you never miss your one day every year with Jake. Of course, you find that it takes about ten Derse years to equal one of yours. Give or take a few.
You suppose it would bother you more, but you found a way to keep tabs on him from here. You’ve gone all sci-fi and shit, and you swear that the device you create looks like something straight out of Star Wars. And by device, you actually mean robot body.
That’s right. You finally finish creating a body for AR.
AR is thrilled, naturally. The first thing he does when you transfer his consciousness into the metallic body is do a fucking backflip. Just cause he can.
“Holy fucking shit, tell me this is real. Tell me this is fucking real,” AR says, using his vocal speakers for the first time once he lands on his shiny black metallic booted-feet. His voice sounds exactly like yours, because you used your own voice for vocal samples. Like everything else, that can be modified later.
“It’s fucking real,” you assure him, smirking with pride at your creation.
He flexes his reflective gray metallic fingers, admiring their dexterity. Even though he knows what his body looks like inside and out (literally,) he still twists around to fully appreciate the shiny gray and black body you’ve built for him. As you used Derse’s premier metals, you felt it only fitting to accentuate his body with decorative purple neon lines down the sides of his arms and legs. At AR’s prompting, you made “stealth mode” available for him to activate and deactivate the lights at will.
Finally, after centuries of waiting, AR is his own unique being. He stays with you for a couple days, but you know that he really just wants to get out and see the world. He wants to exist like he’s never been able to before, and you have no problems with letting him do just that. In fact, it’s all a part of your plan.
For, what better way is there to see the world than to follow Jake? Ok, you know there are several better ways, but you also know that AR is just as obsessed with him as you are. Loving Jake is one area where the two of you never diverged.
So, when you suggest that he stealthily follow Jake around the world and keep tabs on him, AR is more than happy to comply. He still has access to your shades, though. You let him continue to see whatever you see and spew his bright orange text across your vision whenever he pleases.
And the best part is, you also have access to everything he sees. You can tune into his vision whenever you want to. When you start missing Jake, it only takes a thought to bring up AR’s sight in your shades. If AR isn’t currently looking at Jake, he finds him for you. He lets you see the man you love more than anything else.
AR’s a good bro to you like that.
For a while, it’s enough. You’re able to focus on your work. Steadily, you allow time to pass.
As the years go by, you continue to improve AR’s body, making it more flexible and capable. You improve his exterior so he has skin that’s warm to the touch, gets goosebumps when he’s “cold,” and bleeds when he’s hurt. You’ve given him hair that is soft and pliable, that he can easily craft into whatever shape he pleases. AR can change the color of his skin and hair at will, allowing him to finally blend in with human beings.
When he catches the first glimpse of himself in a mirror, he actually gasps. He turns to you with bright blue life-like eyes and says, “I’m so happy I could fucking kiss you.”
And then he does. With the warm pliable lips and moist tongue that you built for him.
It does nothing to feed you, of course, but you show him what to do. It’s one thing to have access to all the world’s porn, but it’s an entirely different thing to experience it. Yes, you’ve taken care to give AR all the equipment, sensors, and programming he will need for sexual pleasure. If he’s going to be a real person, you want him to be able to experience that.
But he can experience that with someone that isn’t you. AR looks a little surprised when you pull away from him, patting him lightly on the chest. “You don’t need me for this part. I’m sure you can figure this out on your own.”
And you’re sure that he will. Now that he is finally complete, you truly let AR return to the world. It isn’t long before you realize that he’s looking at Jake less and less. AR is fascinated with people and with the novelty of simply existing in the real world.
Soon, you find little reason to tune into his vision. It’s filled with people that you don’t care about. And Jake? Well, AR lets you know when he’s nearby.
It isn’t a shock when he finally comes to you and says, “think I’ve gotta do my own thing for a while.”
“Sure, man, do what you’ve gotta do,” you respond, looking up from your current project.
“No, I don’t think you get it,” he insists. You congratulate yourself on a job well done, because when you look into his eyes, you swear that you see genuine feeling behind them. “I need to actually live a real life. Spend a lifetime with someone. As Hal.”
“Hal?” you ask, your interest finally piqued. “That’s ironic as shit. Good job.”
“Yeah, thought you’d like it,” he says, and again, you swear that he sounds almost regretful and reluctant that he has to tell you these things. But really, you’re not surprised. You’ve seen it coming for a long time now.
“So you have someone in mind?” you ask. “That dragon girl you saved last year?”
“Her name’s Terezi,” Hal interjects quickly, in a way that you totally know it’s her.
“Wait, it’s really her? That was a joke. You’re in actual love with a female?” you ask, suddenly very shocked. Just how much has AR diverged? When did he start becoming attracted to the half of the population you have never been interested in?
“Fuck, Dirk, don’t think about it like that,” Hal says. “You make it sound like I’m some kinda freak. I still like dudes just like you, but I’ve found things I like about girls too?”
The way he says it carries such vulnerability that you sigh. Time to be the older bro again. You didn’t realize you’d have to parent three kids.
You place a hand on his shoulder and say, “yeah, you might be a little bit of a freak. I mean, I programmed you after me. I love the most dangerous guy in the universe and fuck the most treacherous girl. It’s a tango with death every fucking day. Shit dude, can’t fuck it up worse than me. Love whoever and whatever you love.”
This actually gets a little bit of a smirk out of Hal. “You just used fuck three times in three different ways. There’s a 95.3% chance that you’re going to miss me.”
“Better cut that percentage shit out before you start your human life. People will start to catch on,” you chide.
“In this day and age? Highly unlikely,” he says, then pauses. You wait for it. A couple seconds later, he amends, “—99.6% unlikely.”
“You little shit,” you grin, swatting his ass to push him away. “Get outta here before I get tired of looking at you. Oh wait. I already did.”
Hal surprises you when he leans in and softly captures your lips with his in that tender way that you showed him. He cards his warm, completely life-like fingers through your hair and deepens the kiss with expertise that makes you proud. When he pulls back, he looks at you fondly and says in a genuine voice, “thank you, Dirk. Really. Thank you for making me exist.”
* * *
Dirk ==> Jake
Now that AR is no longer keeping an eye on Jake, you begin to grow restless again. It isn’t long before you decide to throw your tinkering to the side and visit him.
As fortune would have it, this is about the time of the year that you usually visit. You find him sitting in a pub in the town that has Jake’s accent. As usual, he’s waiting for you.
“Hey Jake,” you say, slipping into the seat beside him. He’s sitting at a table today, gazing pensively out the thick glass panes of the window.
Jake turns to you, and as always, his expression warms when he lays eyes on you. “Strider! How fortunate to see you!”
You can tell immediately that something is wrong. By now, the number of single days you have spent with Jake adds up to longer than you knew him in the past. Longer than Dirk will know him someday. A small twinge of guilt hits you as you think of your younger brother, sleeping his life away in Derse.
But you push that feeling quickly away. Something is wrong with Jake. “What’s going on? You seem a little worried today.”
“Oh do I? I’m not worried!” Jake says, feigning innocence as he looks at his glass of ale, then at you, then at the window, and then back at you. When he sees that you aren’t giving up, he sighs in defeat. “Strider that look of yours will be the death of me someday. Yes, I suppose I am a little bit worried.”
“—about?” you prompt him.
Jake looks around the tavern quickly, then leans in toward you and lowers his voice. “I think I’m being followed. And I can’t exactly say by who. They haven’t made themselves known.”
“What does this person look like?” you ask.
“That’s the problem! I don’t even know!”
“Then how do you know you’re being followed?” you ask pointedly, wishing suddenly that you’d continued to follow Jake yourself. Maybe you could have caught the person who dared to follow your boyfriend around. Future boyfriend. Whatever.
“I just know. One too many strange feelings. One too many coincidences,” he murmurs, his voice sounding rushed and concerned.
“Coincidences?” you prod again.
“Strange things happen to every town I seem to visit anymore. People are dropping down dead. It’s always the town I visit. Always the same length of time that I’m there,” Jake says, and you can hear the unease in his voice. “I can’t make heads or tails of it, but soon people are going to start thinking I’m doing these terrible things!”
“What sort of terrible things?” you ask.
“It’s—all rather peculiar,” Jake murmurs, his voice trailing off. He flushes a bit before leaning in and whispering, “they all seem to expire post-coitus.”
“After sex?” you repeat quietly, frowning with thought. It sounds like the work of one of your kind. An incubus or a succubus. One that doesn’t know where the line is, or that doesn’t care to. One that kills, leaving a trail of bodies behind.
One person comes to mind immediately.
A chill runs up your spine at the thought. But you don’t let Jake know you’re concerned. You maintain your strict Strider indifference and simply tell him, “I’ll help you figure this out.”
He smiles at you, fleeting but genuine, and it fills your heart with warmth. “Thanks, old chap!”
Jake spends the rest of the day happily chatting away about the grand adventures that he’s had this year. You’re happy to listen to him until long after nightfall. Finally, he smiles sheepishly in that adorable way that you’ve come to love and says, “oh dear, it seems I’ve gabbed the day away again! What about you, Strider? What have you done this year?”
“Built a robot,” you answer before realizing that Jake might not know what that is.
Quite the contrary, Jake surprises you by lighting up with excitement. “Really?! Does that mean you’ve been to Derse?”
“I kind of live there,” you admit.
“No wonder I never see you around,” Jake muses, giving you an odd look.
“Wait, you’ve been to Derse?” you ask, even though you know the answer. Gotta keep up pretenses.
“Prospit too,” he agrees. “Come now, what adventurer wouldn’t want to visit every land possible?”
“Never been to Prospit,” you admit.
“Not many demons have,” Jake agrees, musing thoughtfully. “But perhaps there’s a way—”
“It’s really ok,” you assure him. “Something tells me all that holy wouldn’t be good for my skin. Or my anything.”
Jake chuckles and shakes his head. “Oh, but you’re really missing out! The buildings are beautiful, and the clouds—exquisite!”
“I think I’ll survive,” you kindly inform him.
Jake looks around, noticing that you two are the last people left in the pub. As usual. And the bartender is giving you looks that tell you he’d much rather clean up and go home than stay here all night. You’d say that’s impossible, but you and Jake have done that before. Finally, Jake’s eyes rest on you.
“I suppose this is it then?” he asks, and you could swear that there is a hint of sadness in his tone. “Till next year?”
“Nah, man,” you murmur. When his expression lights up, you tell yourself it isn’t hope that you see behind those beautiful green eyes. “I told you I’d help you with your stalker.”
Oh the irony.
Jake’s smile is wide as he exclaims, “why, that’s right! I’d plumb forgotten about him!”
“Her,” you correct. “I have a feeling it’s a her.”
Jake frowns. “A her? But what sort of dame could do such a thing?”
“One who’s done it for several millennia already,” you answer. Then, you look at him. “Get some rest, English. I’ll look into it tonight and meet you tomorrow.”
“Should we decide on a meeting place?” he asks.
“I’ll find you,” you assure him. You will.
“Right then,” Jake says, smiling at you in that sinfully adorable way. “Till tomorrow.”
* * *
Dirk ==> Hunt down a bitch
It doesn’t take you very long to find her. You know exactly who you are after, and once you focus your senses enough, it isn’t hard to pick up her trail.
The trail ends at a lonely cottage on the outskirts of town. You don’t have to walk inside to smell the death within. Quietly, you slip inside.
It appears a huntsman lived here alone. He seemed rather successful too. Until his recent stroke of bad luck.
You dare to open the door to the single bedroom, and you find her sitting on the bed.
The owner of the home is splayed naked beside her, his blood dripping down the bedsheets from wounds that she’s clawed into his skin. She runs a deadly fingernail through a pool of blood, licking it off her finger with pleasure. It’s exactly who you expected.
She’s wearing her favored red kimono-style dress, the same one you saw her wearing centuries ago in Derse. She looks at you with coy crimson eyes. When she opens her mouth to speak, it’s the same Japanese that you’ve come to expect from her. “You are one of my kind, yes? Do you like what you see? Perhaps you would like to fuck on these filthy sheets too. They’re already seasoned with the most delicious thing.”
“I find nothing about blood delicious. And I don’t ever want to fuck you,” you inform her.
“Is it because you like men? I can be very persuasive,” she says, grinning at you in a conniving manner that you don’t trust. “It seems the Condesce is persuasive too.”
“How do you know about me?” you ask, narrowing your eyes in suspicion as you pace slowly to where she is sitting on the bed.
“I know a lot about you, Dirk Strider,” she croons.
You freeze, standing right in front of her. “How the fuck do you know that name?” you demand, your voice lowering to a murderous growl.
Damara smiles, and it’s sinister and wicked. “I have kept an eye on you since you brought him to me. Since you helped me find my lord—”
You don’t let her say any more. In a blur of movement, you’ve pulled out your katana and shoved it straight through her chest.
It’s clear that she wasn’t expecting an attack from you. Damara’s eyes widen in surprise, filled with a livid fury. “How dare you—!”
“Stay the fuck away from Jake,” you growl. In one fluid movement, you pull the blade up, slicing through her body and skull.
Damara disappears in a burst of dust, littering the bed and her poor victim’s body with her ashen remains.
* * *
Dirk ==> Find Jake
Ok. That isn’t hard to do. You find him sleeping in a pile of hay beside a barn on a farm slightly outside the city.
Kind of odd. But you suppose you’ve seen him sleep in worse conditions. At least the nighttime air is temperate at this time of the year, and there is no rain.
Jake doesn’t come to when you walk up to him. For a couple minutes, you just stand there sort of awkwardly. What should you do? You can’t just—sleep beside him can you?
You’ve decided, after centuries of waiting, that yes. Yes you can.
So, you find a soft patch of hay close enough that you can feel Jake’s warm presence, curl up, and close your eyes.
* * *
Dirk ==> Let Jake wake you up
What? No, you were comfortable in that hay. Surprisingly comfortable.
But Jake is far more important than your comfort. And when he sits beside you, bringing you a plate of potato hash, you crack an eye open at him.
“Care for a spot of breakfast, Strider?” he asks, holding the plate out to you. The morning sunlight frames his body and he’s like a fucking angel serving you breakfast on a cloud.
How can you say no to that? You sit up, taking in the sight of him while you accept the plate of perfectly golden-brown potatoes. You’re not completely positive, but you get the distinct feeling that Jake didn’t make these.
Jake smiles at you sheepishly and says, “my apologies, but I didn’t make these.”
Yup. There it is.
“It’s the work of the lovely elderly couple that runs a breakfast shop just outside town,” Jake explains. He goes on to describe how he helped them once with a predicament involving some stolen goods, and after that they have always insisted that he eat breakfast with them when he is in town.
By the time he finishes, you’re done with the potatoes. You regard him calmly through your shades and inform him, “I got rid of the demon following you.”
Jake’s eyes widen and he exclaims, “you did?! However did you find him?”
“Her,” you correct him again. “She was hard to miss. How didn’t you find her?”
“I try not to look for trouble,” Jake says softly. You don’t believe him for a second.
“I don’t believe you,” you say, in a way that’s probably far too accusing.
“But I’m telling the tru—” he begins to stammer.
You tip your head down and give him a look. Jake’s known you long enough to know what that means.
He sighs. “Very well. I knew it was Damara. I tried to confront her once before, but she—she did something to me.”
Your eyebrows quirk in agitation. “What the fuck did she do to you?”
Your voice must have sounded far more upset and accusing than you intended. Jake is clearly taken a bit aback, and he rushes to explain, “I couldn’t do anything, Strider! She did something to me, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t fight her.”
You sigh and force your voice to remain calm as you say, “it’s ok, Jake. She’s gone now. But I have a feeling that this won’t be the only time you see her. Next time—”
“Next time what?” he says, in a voice that sounds far too defeated. It doesn’t sound like Jake, and you hate that. “It isn’t as if I have anyone else to help me fight. And it was simply good fortune that you happened to stumble by when you did.”
You pause, thinking of what you should do. You know that you want nothing more than to wipe the universe, including Derse, free from Damara’s wretched presence. And you want to follow Jake 24/7 to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to him again.
But you can’t do that. You clench your jaw a bit with frustration. Why the fuck is the universe this callous? Why can’t you just be with the guy you love?
Suddenly, your vision darkens, and Bro fills your shades. He’s sitting at his desk, looking at you with calculating orange eyes. “AR told me you’re being emo again. That true?”
“Bro, this is notthe time!” you think back at him.
“Seems like a perfect time to me,” he remarks. “You’re here—Jake’s here—”
“What can I do to make you go away?” you think back at him sourly.
“Cut that shit out,” he tells you with a straight face. “Jake’s feeling hopeless, and you’re going to just stew in your own self-pity? You’ve gotta do something.”
“Yeah, but what?” you think with exasperation.
“Gotta figure that out on your own lil’ man. Can’t tell you all the answers,” he says. “But think about this. Mom and Dad left you with a mission. Maybe it’s time you thought about fulfilling it.”
With that, Bro’s gone, leaving you with a somewhat perplexed looking Jake. And a perplexed you. What the fuck did that mean? What does he expect for you to do?
Bro never made things easy on you. Why should he start now?
Sighing, you finally man up and say, “Jake, I wish I could travel with you. Believe me, you’re a great friend to me and I’d like nothing more.”
“Oh, Strider, you’re a great friend to me too!” Jake agrees happily. Hearing him say that simultaneously lifts your spirits and also crushes them. But you’ll take it. It’s progress.
“I have responsibilities,” you finish sadly. “I can’t ignore them.”
“No, you mustn’t forsake your responsibilities,” Jake agrees, but something about the way he says it is different. He doesn’t sound sad at all. In fact, his eyes look a bit incensed and more energetic than before. “Fear not, Strider. Forgive me for being a bit melancholic earlier, but I see now that I must persist. Just as you carry on with your responsibilities, so too shall I.”
Jake doesn’t elaborate, but you understand what he means. He’s talking about his responsibilities as a First Guardian.
You smirk at him. “Glad you understand. So, next year?”
“Actually, Strider, you don’t suppose,” Jake murmurs, his voice trailing in a way that makes you suspicious. “—that your responsibilities can wait another day?”
You sigh. “What did you have in mind?”
“There’s a new theater in town, and a play that just began not too long ago,” he says suggestively.
“Tell me it’s not another romantic comedy,” you say dryly.
Jake grins at you, “oh, there’s a new playwright in town! His work is brilliant. This one’s called A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
It sounds suspiciously like a romantic comedy. You have your doubts, but as usual, you find it impossible to say no to him.
You watch the play with Jake, taking a seat in the circular theater by the waterfront. The play actually isn’t half-bad. Jake is, shockingly, correct about the brilliance of the new playwright. But even if he wasn’t, you’d still be happy.
You’re with Jake. And right now, that’s all that matters.
* * *
F is for Friday! And Finals! And hopefully not for the grade that I’ll get on them come Monday!
I’m not really sure what happened to taking a break to study for finals. Again. Somehow this chapter happened. I feel kind of bad that I missed Update Thursday, but these things happen. Hope you all liked this chapter!