Chapter 4: The Crypt of Hidden Pain
“Just…leave it by the door,” a voice called. Discordant. Hopeless. Broken.
“Wait, no, I’m not a mail -,” King Thunder started.
“Fine, then come in. The door’s unlocked.”
She turned the doorknob and stepped inside. The apartment was surprisingly organized, although it smelled musty, like a coffin. Boxes, books, and papers lay on the shelves in perfect order, but a layer of dust obscured every square inch of the living room. Even on the couch, there was no trace of wear. The whole scene reminded King Thunder of a crypt. Unlike in the living room, where not a single light was on, the kitchen lights flashed head-splittingly bright, nearly fluorescent. The kitchen had undoubtedly been used recently, as some wet paper towels littered the countertops. And then, in the center of the fray, sat a figure staring out the window.
“You can leave it on the counter,” the voice said.
When King Thunder didn’t move, the person absentmindedly turned around for half a second. Then she perked up for a moment and whirled around again, this time keeping her eyes locked on King Thunder.
Those eyes…they used to be so full of life. So full of life that they could change the course of a bad day in a single glance. So full of life that winter bloomed when she looked at all the dying plants. So full of life that at Thunder’s little sister’s funeral, they seemed to summon a fleeting spirit just for one moment to say goodbye. They were brown, so dark brown that they were nearly black. But now, the fissures of pain shattered her eyes like obsidian. One look at those eyes broke King Thunder’s heart. She was too late.
Lord Snail stared at her for nearly three minutes, then slowly started muttering, “No, stop, you’re not real. My mind is messing with me again. But…why now? I’m tricking myself into believing that you’re here when you can’t possibly be…”
King Thunder stood speechless, feeling every possible emotion at once. Finally, she said, “I’m real. I’m here. I’m here…”
Lord Snail stepped towards her, then reached out and touched her arm. “You’re real…”
King Thunder gently wrapped her arms around her like a burrito, and Lord Snail let herself sink into them.
They stayed in their embrace for what seemed like an eternity. When they at last broke apart, Lord Snail led her over to the island in the kitchen and sat down on one of the high chairs. “I have so many questions,” she breathed, “I don’t even know where to start. How did you find me? Why did you find me? Why now?”
King Thunder sat with her hands folded for a while. “Well, it’s a long story. I can explain if you want, but what about you? What’s…bothering you…” she said before realizing it was a stupid question.
Lord Snail’s face darkened. “I- I’m sorry, I’ll explain what I’ve been doing,” King Thunder stuttered.
“No, it’s alright,” said Lord Snail. They both knew that was a lie as soon as she uttered that word. Alright? What did that even mean anymore?
“Well, I’ll just, uh, talk about my stuff first, then,” she flushed, “After Operation: Butternut, I spent as much of my time as I could looking for you. I didn’t know where you were, whether you were okay, or even if you were alive. At first, I tried to find you in an Independent controlled town, but nothing came up. Then, I remembered all that stuff you told me about your past. I figured that you were probably in a Republican town, using your real name. I understand that, wanting to escape your present situation by going back to the past. It was a bit of a gamble, there are hundreds of Republican towns that you could have gone to, but since you grew up here, Coupon made the most sense. I looked up apartments and places where you could have stayed through your name, and finding you here was just pure luck. But, seems like it worked. You are okay though, right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve just been staying here this past year, not really doing much. In fact, I even have a childhood friend living nearby in one of those big houses down there, Dr. Thumbnail Nudibranch. I had no idea they still lived here. They’re an expert on poisons, and taught me some interesting science when I was growing up here. Don't try to talk to them, though, they're not an ally of any party. But anyways, I can’t believe you found me just through that. I never thought I would see you again…”
“Dr. Thumbnail Nudibranch…interesting. Trust me, I wanted to come much sooner. I didn’t because, well, King Amber gave me an important mission. It involved that mysterious person, Benedict Eggs. I can explain all the details later. But are you coming back to us?”
Lord Snail’s eyes widened. “You…want me to come back? I didn’t think anyone would want me back. Especially not…Awesome…”
“Oh, well, he’s still angry about all that. Lucius and Jeffrey want you to come, though. Or at least, they didn’t try to stop me from coming over here like Awesome did.”
“I don’t think I should come back. There’s no place for me there anymore. Even if I did and everyone said it was fine, my presence there will never be the same again. Nobody would trust me.”
King Thunder was about to argue, but then she remembered what McNugget Lucius had told her. “Alright. I won’t make you come back. But why not at least go for a walk or something?”
“I don’t know if you noticed or not, but it’s nearly one in the morning. I doubt that’s a good idea.”
“That’s true. Then, do you want to sleep? You look…tired…” her voice trailed off as she noticed the dark circles under Lord Snail’s eyes. She had been so distracted by the eyes themselves that she hadn’t realized how awful the eye bags looked. It seemed that she hadn’t slept in weeks.
Lord Snail looked at the ground. “I, uh, sure. I think there’s an empty apartment one floor up.”
King Thunder raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that? I can stay here if you’d like. If you really don’t want to share a bed, I can sleep on the couch. Of course, I’d have to clean it…”
“Uh, no, it’s okay, you don’t have to stay here. You probably have somewhere better to be.”
“Somewhere better than with you? I didn’t think that was possible.”
Lord Snail smiled sheepishly, but King Thunder could tell there was something wrong. If Lord Snail really was fine, then why were her eyes so fractured? Why was her voice so broken? And why wasn’t she sleeping?
King Thunder looked her in the eyes for a good 32 seconds. “Tell me honestly, are you alright?”
Lord Snail didn’t know how to answer. She stumbled around the room for some time, then tripped on the leg of a chair. Her sleeve got caught on the edge of the counter, exposing a swollen scratch on her wrist. It seemed to be fresh: the blood still glistened in the light.
Horrorstruck, King Thunder gaped at the wound. “How did you get that scratch?”
As Lord Snail attempted to get back up and hide the gash, a heavy metal object fell out of her shirt: a knife, just like the one she used during Operation: Butternut.