The Hollow Knight learns to knit. It is one of the most important things they ever do.
It is not something they would have thought to do, before entering the temple.
(They tried very hard not to think, before their sealing.)
Back, when they were surrounded by the blinding lights of the palace, their path through life was simple, straightforward, with a clear end.
Sometimes, they wonder if straying from that path, continuing on their wobbly trek towards some unknown future, had been the right thing to do.
On bad days, when they cannot pull their mind away from these thoughts, they will spend hours methodically winding thread through the loom their sister has made them.
It calms them, somehow.
The Hollow Knight spends its first few months out of the temple in the house in Dirtmouth. It is barely aware - the world of its forbidden thoughts is so fluid, so strange, after being all but boiled away by Her.
She is gone (destroyed? It does not know. Its mind is a haze of burning and pain. It is trapped in its own head more often than it is not, unable to distinguish reality from Dream), and it is no longer in Her Dream.
It knows that it is in pain. It knows that its task has ended. It knows it is now obsolete.
It knows nothing more.
(It knows more. It knows so much more. The forbidden thoughts it has are killing it, more than She ever did.)
The world is a haze of pain and a rustle of fabric against its shell.
(An even, repetitive noise brushes at its awareness.)
The first clear memory it has of the house in Dirtmouth is a simple one.
It is the sound of the steady clacking of needles, somewhere near its mask.
The sound is rhythmic and soothing - so far from Her screams and shrieks that it is briefly drawn out of the corner of its mind it has hidden away in.
Suddenly, it is awake.
It is bound - every part of it wrapped in silken bandages - but not so tightly that it cannot move.
(It has known being trapped, stilled in every way possible and a few impossible, many times longer than it has known freedom. The sudden lack of bindings is… disturbing.)
Its sister. Hornet. She is here. Sitting beside it, leaning on one of the many pillows surrounding it. Her needle - pale surface reflecting the soft glow of the lumafly lantern on a nearby table - lays beside her as she works.
There are other needles in her hands - smaller, shellwood, about as far from the namesake weapon as it is possible to get. The edges are dull, the points rounded, and the silk-yarn woven over them does not sing as she manipulates it.
It does not remember Hornet ever noticing its lucidity, nor does it recall how she stopped and scooted closer, to rest her mask against its own. It does not look back on the feeling of her hands scooping its chin into her lap, nor is it able to think of how she allowed it to nose at her cloak, wheezing and shaking.
It only remembers the soothing, mechanical sound of the needles, click-clacking it back into its ragged mind once more.
Most of its early memories revolve around needles, in one way or another.
(The sensation of flesh being stitched back together is one snippet among many floating in the clouded sea of its mind.)
It remembers when its sister first acknowledges that it is watching her.
(Not staring blankly, as an empty thing should, turning only towards noise and motion on blind instinct, but truly watching, with intent to see. )
“Are you curious?” She asks, leaning back to give it a better view. “I suppose you wouldn’t have seen this before. It is one of the easier weaver skills to learn, when you don’t have enough arms to properly weave without a loom. I never showed you, when I was younger.”
It does not react.
This is familiar to Hornet. She continues, knowing that it is listening.
(Or knowing that it does not matter whether or not it listens - it will learn, no matter what.)
“It’s a simple process-” she repeats the motion to show it. It is no more complex than the crafting of any of the soul-spells it knows, but the creation of something new, something permanent, through the mere manipulation of thread and needle baffles it. “-do you see?”
No. It doesn’t see, it realizes. This is the first time it has had to look at another’s direction since it was sealed, and it realizes that perhaps, with this much light in the room, its sister's hands should not be dark, mysterious blurs as she works.
It must bury this flaw, as it has so many others.
Still, something in the slight hunch of its shoulders must have tipped Hornet off. She shifts, settling before it and placing her hands as close to its eyes as she can get. The needles clack as she repeats the motion, and they find themself drawn to the strange quickness of it.
“My mother taught me a rhyme, when I was younger, to help me remember.”
The rhyme is a silly thing, about hunting mosscreeps, but Hornet hardly seems embarrassed to repeat the words for it as she works.
Somehow, it realizes it can picture the terrifying Herrah the Beast, with her venomous words and razor-sharp eyes, gently teaching its sister to knit and sing a song about it.
It realizes it cannot picture its father doing the same.
This disturbs it.
It does not have time to dwell on this, for its sister is already moving on.
“Are you well enough to stand?”
Is it well enough to stand? Why does she ask it? That is a decision she is meant to make.
Perhaps it is an order, then? It can follow orders. It is good at that.
(It could not follow the most important orders, the ones ingrained in it at the time of its choosing. It is not good at following orders. It is not good at anything. )
It gathers its arms under itself-
It is missing an arm.
Its sister wants it to see, then? Despite its blindness?
A fitting reprimand. It understands, as much as a mindless thing can.
(Is not damaging a tool the best way to punish a bad one? Tools are made to work, and if a tool cannot work, or is rendered useless, then it is best to discard it.
It will work, until its body gives out on it. If its body is aided in the process of giving out, there can be no blame placed anywhere but on its lack of use.)
It flattens its palm against the ground and pushes.
The blankets around it shift, and its chest erupts in an explosion of agony. It shudders, silently retching.
Hornet catches it before its arm gives out. She lays it down, gently, and perhaps she is saying something, but it cannot make it out.
The rest of this memory dissolves into a haze of pain and darkness, clawing at what little awareness it has left.
Faintly, it can recall the feeling of its sister running her claws down its horns and speaking softly to it in an attempt to soothe it, as though it was a frightened child.
(As though she is not just as frightened as it, as though she is not a child herself.)
It remembers the first rain.
Pounding, pounding against the window. It could not see it, but oh, it could hear the relentless, all-consuming noise . It could feel the vibrations in the floor, it could smell the heavy scent.
It could feel how easily the rain washed away the world outside. It remembers stories of rain, told to its sister while she was at the Nest. It remembers how she would come, and whisper to it, of a world cleansed and borne anew through eroding, tearing rain.
(It visited the crying city, once. It was small, but it still remembers the feeling of looking up and seeing nothing but endless water coming from the gloom. It remembers the feeling of being small, so small.
It remembers wondering, in its dull, thoughtless way (for it was never truly pure, it was never right, and it was never good enough ), if the rain would be able to hollow it out, to erode the strangeness that had begun to fester within it.)
(It remembers how She tried to make it smaller, pare it down until it was nothing but a shadow at Her feet. It remembers how she wore at it, exhausting it in both shell and mind. It remembers how she tried to make it nothing.)
(It wishes it were nothing. It wishes She had succeeded. Nothingness cannot be torn at. Nothingness cannot be washed away.)
The rain pounds against the ceiling, and in its nest, it is drowning.
Clarity, not just scattered, vague memories, comes to it when it is well enough to sit up on its own and watch its siblings go by.
It learns the routine of the house fairly quickly. Hornet rises before dawn, tends to its wounds and changes its bandages, before starting on some kind of morning meal. She may leave some time in the afternoon, or she may spend some time at its side, but she is always home in time for an evening meal. She changes its bandages once more, and sleeps long after the sun sets.
Its sibling never gains a routine. They are chaotic and wild, awaking at different times every day, and sleeping whenever they feel like it.
It is introduced properly to them when Hornet is sure it will not fade back into its own head again.
Its sibling is too big for their small shell, but they seem content to diminish themself with it.
(It has never known a god to be content with so little. Every god it has ever met takes, so far past what it ever thinks is possible to give.
Its sibling refuses to take, refuses to do anything a god should do to an empty vessel.
Its sibling is strange. Very, very strange.)
Its sibling’s name is Ghost, they learn. Given to them by Hornet, as… a reward? A punishment? It does not know.
All it knows is that Ghost is far too gentle with something that has failed so deeply.
(Sometimes, it wonders if its sister will give it a name. A horrible thing for a pure vessel to bear, proof that it is not hollow. To designate it as unique, a person, an individual, more than an empty shell. A cruel, cruel reminder that it is not what it should be. It would deserve that.
It would spear it through its core, for its perversion of its father's craft to be so known, but it would deserve it.
But oh, it craves something more than an empty title, shortened to make it easier to refer to. It shoves this horrible forbidden want deep within itself, but it cannot destroy the desire to be named .)
One day, Hornet offers it her needles.
“Would you like to try?” she asks it.
It is surprised, for a moment.
Knitting was never something it had needed to learn, so it had never learned it. A sacrifice does not need to know what it is being sacrificed for - it must only know what is necessary to carry out its duty.
(Its father had said that to its mother when she suggested lessons for it.
It is not its place to judge the hypocrisy of its creator, but such a statement confused it greatly, for he would spend hours telling it of things most unnecessary.
Once, it had wondered if its father was as lonely as it, sealed away from all of his people in a cold palace that echoed too much.)
“Hollow? Do you want try?”
A hollow thing does not want.
But if she wishes it to, it will try.
She helps it clamp one of the needles between its knees and assists it in winding the yarn through its fingers, and then shows it how to hold the needle. Its hand is clumsy, and so, so shaky, but Hornet is patient with it.
It is guided through the stitches and the motion does not feel less awkward by the time Hornet grows bored of it. She stands and stashes the needles away in her cloak as some other task calls her away from it.
Its hand flexes.
It is tired.
(It should feel nothing, but it feels better. )
It tries again.
Its sister is more patient that it deserves, helping its trembling hand learn the motion. Even when its fingers spasm, and it drops the needle, she does not give up on it, as she should.
(So determined to get use out of something so broken… Hornet was always stubborn like that.)
Somehow, as time passes, it is aware of progress. It is able to work on its own, now.
Hornet grants it its own pair of carved needles. They are easier to grip - made for its large, unwieldy hand, and not its sister’s precise and clever ones. It is granted its own thread as well. Silk-yarn, woven from its sister’s hands.
Every waking moment, often falling asleep with its needles sprawled beside it. Its wrist aches, its shoulders ache, its back aches.
It aches, down to its core.
The simple motion silences its mind, makes it hollow, makes it pure.
(It will be useful. It will be useful.)
Its sister shows it how to make a slipknot, when it begins to start its own projects..
It is simple - form a shape like a pretzel and slip the needle through.
(It remembers pretzels - they were a favorite of its sister, and she would often share her spoils from kitchen raids with it. It does not need to eat, and Hornet was told that, but she ignored it, as she often did with things she did not want to hear. She wanted it to eat, so it did.)
The knot is functional, although so terribly fragile until it is wrapped around the needle.
It unravels so easily, always one step away from uselessness.
Its sister will stop it, at times. She makes it rest, or calls for its attention. This is to be expected - it did many tasks while it was preparing to be sealed at the palace. The simple act of knitting is far from the only thing that can be expected of it.
When Hornet leaves it alone, it winds and unwinds the yarn. It must learn to do this perfectly , despite its flaws.
This must be perfect.
It must be perfect.
It clamps the needle between its knees. They tremble, slightly. Everything requires so much effort now, even the simple act of holding something. It is so tired, but the alternative is worse.
Its hand hurts. Its back hurts. Its eyes are burning, from squinting for so long.
It does not stop. It cannot stop.
Stopping has never been an option for it.
(It wants to stop. It wants to stop. It wants to stop, so badly, but when has it ever been allowed that?)
It. Wants. To. Stop.
Its hand trembles.
No more, it thinks, and before it can realize it is thinking, before it can realize how perverse the action it is performing is, it slices.
Its yarn is parted, right at the base of the latest stitch.
It cuts. The world stills.
Hornet and Ghost are looking at it.
The cut end of the yarn is mocking it.
The end it had cut, the penalty it brought about though its own deliberate actions, is mocking it.
Its hand spasms.
The needles clatter to the floor.
Its careful stitches, an effort of frantic, wobbling work, unravel before its eyes.
“Hollow?” Hornet sounds alarmed.
(Of course she is - her time has been wasted on a hopeless venture. It is so terribly, deeply flawed. There is no fixing it.)
It sinks down in its chair. It does not allow itself to slouch, for surely the despair rising in its throat will pour out of its eyes if it tips its head forward.
“Hollow, are you okay?”
It does not respond to her voice for the rest of the night.
She sets the needles on the table beside its chair.
It does not acknowledge this. It is already too deep in its own mind, trapped in clinging, ravenous thoughts.
(It has been feeding them for some time.)
The needles are not touched.
It sits and sits and sits and sits in the chair, hand twitching and clenching as it stares at the wall.
It spends a time like this. It moves when its siblings ask it to. It sleeps when its body forces it to.
It is as hollow as something so cripplingly flawed can be.
Hornet and Ghost never stop testing it. It passes each time, but it must fail in some way it cannot see, for their distress only grows each time it does not respond.
The world shuns it. The wind that blows through the open window evades its shell, turned away by its mere presence. The sunlight skirts the chair. The little corner of the house it has holed up in falls into a permanent, still shadow.
It stifles its reactions. Its breathing is slow; its mind is slower. It is as close to inanimate as something so disgustingly alive can possibly be.
(Although it cannot realize, for it is too wrapped up in trying to crawl out of the no-man’s-land that are the thoughts it should not have, the world is sadder for its absence.)
One day, it rains again.
Rhythmic, steady, consistent. Everything it should be, everything it is too weak, too flawed to be.
It is torrential, eroding. Each droplet claws at its mind.
Do not think.
Its mind is blank. It is hollow. It may not deserve the title of knight, for any ounce of service it might have provided to its lord has been washed away, but it is hollow .
One day, the stain of its existence will be wiped from the world by rain like this.
One day, its siblings will realize they cannot make use of it.
One day, it will be left alone in this house. The ancient, crumbling shell of the roof will wash away. The rain will come in, beating against its mask, smoothing out every flaw like stones in a stream, and then it will be crushed by the weight of the world’s tears.
Its fate may have been wrenched from the original path it was made to walk, but its silent suffering, its slow, drawn-out end?
That has always been an inevitability.
There is a lake. A lake, with a too-thin crust between it and the cavern underneath. A lake draining, slowly, endlessly, onto a city.
And there was a city too, once. Perhaps it still stands. Perhaps the streets have been washed out. Perhaps the buildings have crumbled under their own weight. Maybe the eternal rain has drowned every last bit of evidence of the existence of such a work of art.
Maybe its failure has destroyed more than lives.
It was the rain, the washing, eroding, destructive rain that took Hallownest down, and one day it will destroy itself.
Its shoulders hunch, slightly.
The day of the rain is a bad day.
(It does not know yet, but the day of rain is the worst day it will have for a very long time.)
Hornet sits on the floor by its chair the next day.
From the sound of it, she brought something with her. She does not hold it to its face to show it, nor does she try to grab its attention in any way.
It is not meant to look, then.
It does not. Eventually, its sister leaves.
She cannot spare the time for broken tools.
(Not even to dispose of them, it seems.)
She returns the next day.
Ghost is there, this time. They help her, measuring the length of yarn for her to cut. She is weaving. A tapestry of some sort, perhaps?
Its neck creaks as it turns to look. Shockingly, it does not collapse inward from the motion, from this display of revolting sentience.
Its siblings do not seem to mind that it has failed this test.
(Were its eyes not damaged from being forced to stare directly at the fury of a goddess going supernova for nearly four centuries, it would have noticed Hornet’s shoulders slump with some relief when she sensed its eyes on her.)
It continues in this manner for some time, watching its siblings work near it.
The wind brushes its cloak, and the sunlight warms its dull shell. The world welcomes it back as an observer: removed, yet aware.
(The world hopes it will return in full. Its absence has been deeply felt.)
Its sister is starting something new this morning. Her hands are still slow with sleep - the slipknot doesn’t come easily to her.
The yarn falls off her lap when she reaches for a needle, and she groans. The knot has unraveled, slipping back into blank, useless yarn.
“Today is not my day,” Hornet says irritably, tapping the needle with one of her claws.
It waits for her to leave, to bundle up her worthless thread, to realize the pointlessness of her venture.
She picks the yarn back up and makes a new knot.
(It does not know why this is one of its few memories from the darker times, but it is one of shocking clarity.)
“Ghost, will you cut this for me?”
Its sibling’s claws are surprisingly dull. The thread slides right over their stubby fingers. They stand, to go to the kitchen and grab a knife.
Hornet sighs. Both of her hands are completely occupied; weaving is a much more difficult task when you only have a third of the limbs required.
It moves before it even realizes it still can. Its claws, although worn and brittle, are dreadfully sharp .
The thread is neatly sliced in two.
It cuts. The world stills.
Both siblings look at it.
It wants to hide. It was not asked to cut. It should not have done that-
“Thank you,” Hornet says to it
It falters, slightly, hand still extended.
Ghost pats the back of its hand, before taking it in both of theirs. Their hands are so small, so tiny, and its hand is so large, that their fingers disappear entirely in its grip.
They walk forward, pressing its arm to its chest as they stand on the tips of their toes. Gently, their rest their forehead on its cheek.
missed you, sibling, Ghost says to it.
The needles remain untouched. It is stiff and sore, and it cannot-
No. No. That is incorrect.
It does not want to pick the needles back up.
Hornet says that is okay. She says there’s other ways to do things.
She shows them - a loom, a tool for weavers missing arms. A crochet hook as well, for shaky, imprecise hands.
The hook is clumsy in their hand. Hornet helps them file their claws into an appropriate shape. They don’t need to be sharp anymore.
They find themself comfortable in this.
It is raining again.
It is sitting, resting in its chair as it works. The gentle thrumming of the rain prickles at its shell, digging underneath it.
Its sister is asleep in its nest, with Ghost curled on top of her.
(She made the mistake of lying down with them, and was asleep before they were.)
It can see the lashing of the rain against the window.
It thinks once more of the city, the crying city beneath an endlessly draining lake.
It wonders if a work of art can be just as beautiful in its sorrow and decay.
It remembers a statue, a statue of The Hollow Knight, pure and perfect. Rain beats down endlessly on the flawless stone.
The statue will outlast the city. The statue will outlast the bug it was modeled after. The statue will outlast the endless lake. Its empty eyes will witness the last drop of rain that ever falls.
But still, one day, the statue will crack in two.
Its hand traces the scar on its mask, and it realizes it has stopped working.
It cannot bring itself to start again.
It stands, using the arm of its chair and then the walls of the house for support as it moves through the living room, into the kitchen, and out the front door.
This house is one of the few in Dirtmouth with a proper porch. It feels the brushing of a few stray droplets, but it is otherwise protected from the downpour.
The night air brushes its ragged cloak. It tilts its head up, looking at the dark clouds of the midnight sky. The porch roof blocks its view of them, but it can catch hints of the dark blur.
Its sister tells it there are stars. It cannot see them, but it believes her.
(She has not lied to it yet.)
Its hand trembles. It clenches it into a fist, dull claws pressing against (but not piercing) the flexible shell of its palm.
It breathes once, deeply, and steps out from under the overhang.
It tilts its head up, beholds the pouring sky in its dull glory.
It is no longer small, but it still wonders what judgment the rain will bring upon it.
The storm is not gentle or kind to it.
The water lashed against its shell, and the wind buffets it, forcing it to shift its weight again and again.
The rain drowns the perfect, pure vessel.
The rain washes away The Hollow Knight.
The rain cleanses it .
The rain erodes it.
The rain makes it nothing, but then the rain heals them.
The rain drips down their mask, pooling in the corners of their sockets like tears.
They are okay with this.
They are happy , stripping themself of the things they never were. Hollow, pure, perfect, unbroken.
The rain reminds them of all their flaws as it trickles through the cracks in both them and this simultaneously ancient and young town.
They remember the crying city, but they know Dirtmouth. They know the way the sun shines, they know the idle chatter of the people. They know this place, more than they have known any place but their own mind and the Temple.
(There is not much to know, in the Temple of the Black Egg, other than an age of suffering)
They know this town. They are learning of themself.
The rain helps them, because the rain, for all it tears and erodes, for all the beauty it has seen and destroyed, frees them.
(And all they have wished for, since the accident of their choosing, is to be free of their burdens)
Their hand fumbles through too-loose stitches.
Their sister says it is okay. They are still learning. Hornet assures them that she started the same way, and that she’s had four hundred years to hone her skills.
Such a reminder of how their failure impacted the person dearest to their carefully hidden heart does not send them spiraling down to the depths of their mind as it normally would.
Instead, they lose themself in the simple pattern of hooking the yarn, over and over again.
The monotony lulls them into a comfortable thoughtlessness. They are broken out of it by a sudden, stabbing pain.
Their hand hurts. It does not matter -
No. No, they are hurting, they should stop.
Stopping is an ugly feeling. It makes them uncomfortable, and they almost shake with the urge to continue.
They sit up, and the movement makes them realize how stiff they are.
Hornet says to stop when it hurts. Hornet says to stop when it hurts. They should stop. Their sister would want them to stop.
They feel almost lost. They pick the loom back up, settling it in their lap and moving to wind the yarn through their fingers again-
No. No. They are stopping.
With somewhat more firmness than necessary, they set the loom back on the side table. Resting their hand on the arm of their chair, they push themself to their feet.
They stagger - they really have been working for too long, they think.
(How strange it was, thinking, after so long of being so empty)
Their steps lead them not to their nest, but to the kitchen.
Hornet is there - she went on a hunt, earlier, when they started their latest project. They remember pausing to watch her leave.
Now, she is working at some type of dough, kneading at the counter. She looks up as they enter the kitchen, ducking through the doorframe and barely avoiding knocking their horns against it.
Their sister greets them with a nod, stilling her hands for a moment.
They almost wince in sympathy for the dough - they remember the feeling of her thorn-sharp claws kneading at them when she was younger.
(Not that that is an altogether unpleasant memory - they love their sister very much, even though she is quite sharp most of the time. Her sharpness makes her their sister - she wouldn’t be the same without it.)
“Do you want to help me?” Hornet moves her claws away from the dough, and shifts to the side, making space for them.
Their wrist twinges. They should not do anything more today - they will only hurt themself further.
Their siblings do not want them to hurt themself.
Hesitantly, they sign a negative.
(It still feels so terribly wrong to refuse an order, but their siblings have yet to punish them for saying no.)
Hornet tilts her head. “Are you ok?”
Communication is another new thing. A nuance of existence they are only just learning how to explore. “Hand hurts. Will be fine,” they sign.
“Are you sure?”
They nod. They are sure. Pain is not unfamiliar to them - they are well aware of how this ache will fade.
“Would you like to watch?”
They would, in fact.
They pass the rest of that afternoon sitting at the table, listening to Hornet work. They do not idly slip into their own mind, nor are they forced to occupy themself to keep from being dragged there.
(It is good to be in the presence of family, as family. For they are alive, and real, and loved and loving.)
Later that day, Hornet manages to wrangle the dough into something pretzel-like. They are not perfect - they are not even good, but she is so fiercely proud of her creation, they cannot help but eat some for her.
The taste is far from what they can remember, but the most important parts are there. The pretzel is made of salt and love, although they could not understand the latter flavor for a long time.
“Do you like it?” they ask. Signing is still difficult, but their siblings are patient with them.
Ghost nods, jittering in place as they flap their hands. yes! yes!
Their sibling can forget, sometimes, that they can also speak with their hands.
Ghost tugs at the carefully knitted hat on their head, careful not to pull at any of the loose stitches. love it! love it so much! love you! thank you, sibling!
love you too, sibling, they say.
(Sometimes, they do not need to be clear to all to say something worth hearing.)
They may never knit as well as their sister. Their missing arm greatly slows them, and their sun-scorched eyes force them to hunch over their work. They must often take breaks, and their projects sometimes sit for days on end, when their back protests all but laying as flat as physically possible.
They still knit, though.
They like it. It comforts them. A steady, repetitive motion they can lose themself in.
An art they can find themself in.
They look up. That is their name - their favorite stitch, the first one they’d learned to do on the loom.
(Hornet had suggested it, once she’d understood they were dissatisfied with the shortening of an empty title. They love her for it. Their sister is always kind, even though her claws are sharper than most.)
Their name is one of their favorite things about themself.
Purl learns to knit. It is one of the most important things they ever do.