Phil could feel the iciness of Dream’s hand as it ran through his feathers. He shuddered into the ground, burying his face into it to try and ignore the feeling of feathers being pushed askew. They were delicate things, and the way the hunter dragged his fingers through them was upsetting their natural order.
“Hey, they’re pretty soft; ever consider making something out of ‘em? I mean, the ones that you shed at least,” he chatted idly. He paused. Phil dampened a cry with a hiss when his hand clenched a bunch, fisting around them. He thrashed, chains rattling with the movement of his wings. “or, these ones. Doesn’t matter anyway.”
“No—“ he coughed when Dream pressed his knee more firmly into his back, continuing to disturb the feathers. His hand was rising through his wings, ruffling them as he traced his way down the bones that made up their top edges. His hand finally pressed against the base of one of his wings, probing it.
“How far do you think these things go into you?” The small amount of concern made Phil nauseous. He deigned not to answer, focusing instead on his limbs falling asleep where they were held snugly to him. “Might need pots.”
“Wh’t…” he trailed off, eyebrows furrowing. His words were slurred a bit; a consequence of his face pushed against the ground, he was sure, and the blood slowly seeping out of his calf.
“I can’t just clip them,” Dream scoffed, like it was obvious. “I mean, I did that and you saved Tommy anyway. The lava would have gotten him; of course, I guess it was his last life. Still. It’s an unfair advantage. And against my rules.” He reminded him. “You’ve shown I can’t trust you.”
Phil felt his weight shift atop him as the world’s owner shrugged.
“I d’n’t und’stand.” He gritted out. A sense of dread was creeping up, starting from where the bolt in his leg lied and slowly rising to where he struggled to breathe, chest held against the ground.
“Come on, Philza.” Dream chided. “You’re smart. You knew the consequences. You know what’s going to happen.”
The hand that had been indecisively prodding at the base of his wing suddenly clutched around it. Phil wasn’t fast enough to stifle the yelp at the tightness of the icy grip. The cry didn’t startle the hunter, though. If anything, the grip became tighter, forcing him to still.
“I’d advise against moving.”
He felt something sink down into his wing, between feather and flesh. He choked on his next breath, jerking violently.
He heard a whistle, though it sounded distant.
“Man, these just go all the way in, don’t they? Sheesh.” The man hummed.
The thing shifted. Phil could only assume it was a blade, because when it next moved it carved around where he knew his wings lied, plunging into him again and again and again and when would it stop—
There was a ring of fire around his wing and it wouldn’t stop burning.
“Huh. I guess I’m just going to have to—“ he cut off with a grunt of effort.
The flame blazed.
“I really am sorry about this, Philza.” The genuine-sounding remorse made him cough into the ground, trying to curl up but failing, still pinned by weight and chain. “But you knew the rules.”
His wing stopped far before it was supposed to. Hr tried to flex his back muscles, open up his feathers against the chains holding them down like he had when he’d first been caught. He couldn’t. He stilled as he tried again. His right wing still didn’t respond to his call.
“Why c’n’t I…” he muttered, confused. He ignored the pain. He tried again. His shoulder blade flexed uselessly, no response from the limb.
“One more to go.” Dream reassured him. He’d almost forgotten about the man on top of him. He became uncomfortably aware of the same pressing sensation that had come before. “Sorry— don’t want to make them uneven!”
The second time the hunter stabbed his knife into his back, it felt cold. He gasped against the sensation, trying desperately to force some coherent thought into his stream of consciousness. All he could muster was blue fire behind his eyelids, burning so hot it felt like ice, blackening skin and crisping anything else that dared to touch it. His back felt wet; he could feel his robes plaster to him, dripping with a liquid that was quickly encompassing his body, soaking him to the bone.
He wasn’t sure how long it was before the pressure relented upon his back. He’d almost gotten used to it. He blinked at the strange sensation, trying to clear the dirt and tears from his eyes. They were wet; he vaguely recognized the trails of saltwater tracking down his face. When had he started crying?
“All done.” Dream sounded so satisfied, but Phil couldn’t think of why. He twitched, lying still. “You know; I really didn’t think silk touch would work on a blade. Guess I was wrong. Good thing for you, though!” He laughed. The wheeze it turned into was punctuated as the knife was dropped beside his face. The blonde blinked at it, at the blood coating it slickly. It was dripping with it. That was far too much to be healthy, for anyone. He felt a bit worried for whoever the blood belonged to.
The black chains were pulled off of him with only a small noise of effort from the hunter. Phil tried to push up against the soft ground with his hands, only for them to buckle beneath him. He gasped for air, lungs collapsing with the gargantuan effort of keeping him breathing. He’d stopped at some point, starving himself of oxygen. The sudden sensation of air rushing back into him had adrenaline weakly pulsing through his veins. It was dripping out of him though, part of the relentless waterfall of crimson he watched spread to his side from where he’d turned his head.
“Let’s get you up, old man.” Phil only turned his head blearily. Dream grinned, shifting his mask just barely so he could drag his sleeve against his forehead. He wondered why; he wasn’t the one covered in red, spreading liquid.
A stabbing pain shot through him when Dream hooked an arm under his, pulling him up abruptly. He scrabbled for purchase, somehow managing to clutch onto his cloak in his blind panic. And it was blind; his vision darkened as he was forced to stand. Phil wondered how he was managing to pick him up when he didn’t feel the barest amount of pressure on his wings. He stole a blurry look over his shoulder. He could see the forest.
“Wai’...” Phil muttered, turning his head over his other shoulder. No feathers. He extended his wings. They didn’t obey.
“Shh, it’s okay,” Dream hushed him. “they’re still yours. Maybe you’ll get them back sometime. Maybe you can prove yourself again. Until then, though, they’ll stay safe, with me.” He smiled like it was supposed to be comforting.
They were moving, somehow. He felt like he was being pulled; he stumbled along, limping. There was a dull ache in his calf, but the hunter didn’t seem to care, leading him towards where a horse nickered gently. He felt too heavy leaning forward, off-balance. He slumped against a tree as Dream let him go. His back touched the bark. He pressed a palm against it in wonder. He’d never felt it there before. It stung against two twin points on his shoulders, but the birch fascinated him anyway. Phil watched as Dream led the horse to him, and helped him atop of it.
It gave Phil a perfect view of the pool of scarlet that had spread where he’d lied before. It stained the grass, though it was soaking into the ground quickly.
Two blurry shapes, large and dark, sat behind the pool. He squinted, trying to make them out.
Dream had gone over to the puddle, tromping through it carelessly. He was far kinder picking up one of the objects, holding it almost reverently. It looked familiar, though it was folded and constrained by the heavy kind of black chains he’d seen in bastions and prisons alike. He brought it back to the horse, carefully attaching it so it lied gently against the animal’s side. Phil watched as he returned with the other, before climbing up behind him.
“Would’ve thought you’d be more talkative; not that I mind,” he added casually. “could just be shock or something, though. We should really get you a healing potion, what, with the one life and all.” He laughed, clapping a hand onto his back.
His vision screamed in white, some piercing yelp coming from somewhere around him. He flinched away from it; it sounded like a wounded animal. He barely registered it as his. Phil bent away from the hand and into the neck of the horse, hunching over and gripping at nothing.
“Oops.” He chuckled, almost bashful.
He stared down at the ground, trying to stem his growing nausea as they began to move. His gaze flitted from it quickly; the blades of grass whizzing past his vision did nothing to cure his sudden sickness. He was left looking back at the items secured on either side of the horse. He let one hand drift out to touch it gently. His hand had barely brushed a feather when Dream wrenched his fingers from it.
“No touching, now.” He tutted.
But he was shaking. Phil felt the tremors running down from the ends of his fingers to his very feet. Six limbs. No, only five. Four. The shudders did not extend past his back. Feathers weren’t bristling behind him. They were bristling, sure, but Phil could only watch, able to view it in a way he had never seen before. He flexed his back, experimentally, ignoring the white-hot flash of pain that shot through him.
His wings flexed on either side of the horse. He jerked. They shifted.
His mouth was so, so dry. He swallowed against it.
The birch forest was beginning to blur around him, though they stayed the same pace. Dream was laughing, talking to himself again. They jumped a hill.
The bolt in his leg was jostled with the impact. He jerked back. His back pressed against something solid. His eyes rolled back in his head.
He passed out.
The cabin was cozy.
It was nothing like the cold, echoing halls of his palace before, grand and empty. Instead, the spruce kept out the cold, heat tightly held within shuttered windows. Below him, he could hear the occasional familiar grunt and rattle of the two mobs he’d collected, followed shortly by a brief, cooing moo. The furnace in the corner hummed, stuffed to the brim with the overabundance of coal he kept. The warmth emanated from it, which is why he’d set up a chair next to it. Bookshelves, too, but a bit further away as to not catch the mischievously reaching embers of flame that teased the edges of the stone.
Retirement suited him well, he thought. He was relaxed, for once, tension leaking out of his body the longer he stayed away from the rest. Or at least, most of the rest. He was reminded of Tommy. He was down mining, though; hopefully making up for the dent he’d put in his supplies when he’d begun chowing down on golden apples.
The rosette stared out the window, arms hugging himself.
No L’Manberg, Pogtopia, no government, no Dream.
As he pondered his new existence, a stray inkling of his old bloodlust rushed out of him with his exhale — fingers clutching around the hilt of a sword, skin split raw on the edge of a weapon, the true, cutting power he wielded above the rest of them — but he released himself, concentrating on the village in the horizon.
The feeling passed, though it left him itchy and dissatisfied, a bit empty where instinct had once thrummed on every iron string running through his body. The voices had been quieter. Not yet gone. But quieter; more subdued. Their attention had even shifted to his family. Fond, almost loving thoughts that he had yet to have gotten used to hearing.
Techno stepped down from the small ledge under the window, retreating back to the floor. He’d added carpet, at some point, plush wool cut into squares and dyed a light blue that reminded him of Arctic scapes in times before. The soles of his boots sunk into it, though they left no dirtied or wet marks, cleaned off meticulously before he entered his humble base.
He’d shed his armor for the day, and the Netherite glistened on a stand in the corner. Instead he’d stripped down to comfortable blue pants, insulated against the cold, and a loose white shirt, long collar open. The stiff collar he’d worn before felt choking, more so than the golden band he wore around his throat. His jewelry stayed; though he wasn’t entirely kin with the piglins of the Nether, some traditions had kept within his blood. His few necklaces and ear cuffs showed that clearly. The only item out of place was the emerald stud in his ear, backed by a gold fastener.
That wasn’t coming off.
Family jewelry was uncommon in the Nether. It came from only the most significant bonds between piglins. The type of bonds he hadn’t formed there between anyone but himself and his twin; mostly due to being a hybrid.
Even in death, his brother wore a golden ring.
He had a piece waiting for Tommy, some little pendant. He was waiting, though, to give it to him. He trusted him; he really did.
But Dream had gotten into his head.
He couldn’t be betrayed again.
It was an instance of kin jewelry that reminded him of Phil; more specifically, his planned visit for the day. His visits were unscheduled more often than not, but always welcome. They’d promised to get together, though, after the chaos that had unfolded in the Nether.
Techno still shuddered when he looked at lava; if Phil hadn’t flown in to save Tommy, and if he hadn’t caught Phil… well.
Either way, Techno had been looking forward to his visit for more reasons than one.
Together they were unstoppable, unusually, positively productive in a way that the warrior didn’t often feel. The banter was easy between father and son, none of the stunted awkwardness that he was often enveloped by when talking to others.
They had an agenda for the visit, of course, written down in scratchy text in Techno’s notebook.
But he was silently nervous, pacing the floors of his cabin. It was far past due on his arrival. He had yet to miss a rendezvous; he supposed it wasn’t impossible, but the most he had been a few minutes late, apologetic and rushing to get inside. He had underestimated the time it would take to get to his home before, he knew; he had admitted as such when Techno had found out about his clipped wings.
His fury burned again.
Dream. The voices echoed, singular in a way they only became when waiting for blood.
He couldn’t do much at the moment, he reminded himself. Not when Phil had asked him to try and stay neutral for a moment, think about your actions please and he couldn’t say no to the pleading eyes of his father.
He glanced at the door again, stealing one of the looks that the voices insisted upon, double-checking out the window that he hadn’t missed his father’s arrival.
He glanced at the clock hanging on one wall. It was mostly useless, no defined hours. But it showed it was close to nightfall.
They were supposed to meet in the morning.
Lostza lostza lostza the voices chanted as he snagged his cloak from the hook it had been hung upon. He slung it over his shoulders with a little less care than normal, fastening it with the small golden chain that lied across its front. He looked down briefly only to button up his shirt to its collar, walking towards the ladder as he did. When the fabric was securely snug against his throat, he pulled out his notebook, scribbling a quick few words before tearing out the page and plastering it to one of the rungs.
Tommy would be able to figure it out.
He lamented leaving his brother behind; but he couldn’t take him. Not when he was looking for Phil, not when Dream would be restless, searching. Not when L’Manberg exiled him, setting out wanted posters for his family. The only even partially neutral one there was Phil, and maybe Wilbur.
Though he’d hung around more and more as tension built.
He took a second to pause and slip on his boots before he grabbed his sword and trident. After a moment’s consideration, he stole the shield hung on the wall as well. It bore a familiar pattern; the one he and his family were cloaked in.
He cast one last look towards the lower floor before he was whisked out the door by the wind, sidling up to Carl.
“Ready for a ride?” He asked him absently, stroking a hand through his mane. He nickered as if in agreement. “Good.”
He swung his leg up over the horse, barely pausing to close the gate behind him.
“L’Manberg.” Techno instructed. The directions were burned into his mind, the result of so much planning of its siege and first downfall.
Carl knew it well, too.
The snow swallowed them as they left the cabin behind.
L’Manberg was empty.
Maybe his careful stealth had been for naught; the docks whimpered under his weight even as he stalked over them, planks wearing thin where they’d been traveled well before. The lights were off in nearly every home; the darkness was quietly engulfing the nation, the moon rising from the east, graciously lighting parts of his path.
He walked past the posters calling for his arrest with no real care for them. He’d entered the city many times before, and hadn’t come close to being captured nor discovered. He supposed some of that had to do with the invisibility potion he’d downed before he’d entered, though the particles still swirled around him, threatening to reveal him if anyone swept the city with a cautious eye.
Honestly, the prospect of getting caught didn’t bother him. His blade rested against his back, a comfort to him. Even without armor, he could take on one of the L’Manberg citizens; nether, he probably could without the sword.
The windows were dim and dark when he made it to Phil’s piece of property — not home, never home, Phil had assured him — but Techno knew it meant little. A lantern could be glowing inside and he wouldn’t be able to see it, carefully hidden by a piece of cloth. It was for that reason that he gently pushed open the door, peering inside. No sliver of light greeted him, so he entered further, careful of the telling creaks of the wood below him.
The house was easy enough to sweep over; junk shoved in chests, because as much as Phil wanted to organize it, he was always too busy with some other project; awkward potions set to rest on brewing stands, unfinished. Not uncommon either; he was always stocked on the brews, but it never hurt to have the base ready.
The upstairs laid silent and at rest as well; he descended the ladder as quietly as he had gone up, leaving and closing the door with a small click behind him.
That narrowed down one area.
Techno sighed, leaning against the outer wall of the house for a moment, digging another potion bottle from his bag. The glass clinked against another as he pulled it free, removing the cork and downing it in one swift go. It tasted dry; it almost dissolved in his throat like it was never there. He had no reason to be concerned about it, though; almost each and every potion had some kind of strange quirk to its taste. Invisibility was no exception.
His options were becoming limited, to say the least. Phil rarely ventured outside of his home while in L’Manberg; he had no other true association with the country. He spent most of his time at Techno’s own cabin, he mused with a small huff. His visits had progressed to the point where it might have been just as well to invite him to live with him like Tommy; although, truthfully, Tommy had less been invited and more squirreled away underneath his house. He’d minded less than he thought he would.
But since Phil wasn’t at home, and wasn’t in L’Manberg, it left far too much and far too little open for investigation. It was possible he could’ve been caught up in getting resources, but his web of mines could have extended anywhere. Still, even when in the depths of getting material, he hadn’t missed one of their meets. It would take far too long to search for him; he could be in any tunnel underground. But if he was getting more specific materials, it left one place for him to go.
Techno pushed off the wall, double-checking that he’d secured the door to its frame. Satisfied at least with that, he strode to the small cave he’d blocked off. Carl looked up at him and snorted, muffled slightly through his mouth of grass. He made a face back.
“Don’t look at me like that. I can be here if I want.” He defended himself. The argument was not effective against the horse, who simply walked forward and nudged up against him.
He wracked his brain as he saddled his steed again, trying to visualize the path in his mind. The voices cackled.
Technolost! E. Technolost!
“I know where I’m goin’,” he muttered to himself, stirring Carl into a canter. “Just gotta remember the route the real quick. ‘M a regular compass.” He reminded the voices. The birch forest wasn’t too far. He hoped he’d find Phil there; he wasn’t sure where he could look otherwise.
He gritted his teeth at the thought. Techno spurred Carl into a gallop; the quicker he found his father, the easier his mind would be for it.
The birch woods were beginning to cool as he rode through them, a sparse scattering of spruce trees blending in along the hilly scapes. The climate of the biome was colder than the flower forest that had preceded it; still, it wasn’t nearly as chilled as the arctic tundra where Techno had settled. He knew his father preferred it that way; a little less barren compared to the flat wastes of the plains. The trees rose far above the rolling knolls, shading the area.
Even through the darkness, though, he was able to navigate. Carl deftly stepped and leapt over the obstacles in his path, climbing inclines without so much as a hitch or whinny. The downhill slopes were a bit trickier; the speed at which they had to travel into the valleys between the rises disconcerted him somewhat despite his secure place on the horse’s back, causing him to tighten his knees where they lied against the saddle and armor.
It was in one of the shallow valleys that he found the puddle.
It was glistening dark, almost frosted over. Still, he could glean the substance from the red underneath it, only visible from its solid form and the stains it had left on otherwise dark green grass. A few feathers lied in it, light grey.
He pushed against the anxious feeling bubbling to his chest, swallowing down the knot building in his throat. It meant nothing. The frankly large amount of blood and the scattering of feathers could have belonged to any animal; a dark-feathered chicken, even.
He still hated eating bird.
The coppery tang of pennies filled his mouth. He hadn’t quite realized he’d pierced his lip with a sharpened canine until the blood flushed his tongue. He spit it to the side with a grimace, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth in disgust. He hated how the voices rioted with it. They had been swelling ever since he’d spotted the glimmer of crimson, roaring against the carefully constructed boundaries of his mind. He shut them out with a wince.
Techno urged Carl faster, relieved his horse didn’t balk the same way he did at the scarlet. He pressed against his neck as they rode more swiftly to avoid the hanging branches, careful not to let his loosening braid tangle with the soft hair of Carl’s mane. He breathed, inhaling the scent of hay and animal. It calmed the bloodlust somewhat.
The path came into view soon enough. Trees were cleared near the front, a few logs standing stacked by the side of the hill. Phil had carved his base out of one of the hills; the grassy carpet of the mound hung over the birch and cobble frame, obscuring it from those who didn’t know the area. From the back it looked unassuming and natural, but Techno knew that under the surface lay a complicated set of machinery and farms, a few levels beneath the spruce and birch floors. His father was nothing if not efficient.
Snow covered the tops of the trees, a few flakes falling onto him as he dismounted and led Carl to a small overhang, tying him up around the thin waist of a young tree. A torch warmed the area, and Carl had slept outside his cabin in the midst of a blizzard. If all went well, he’d be out soon enough anyway.
There was no need to be quiet in the middle of the woods; it was far enough away from L’Manberg that Techno felt comfortable rapping the knocker that hung against the spruce door a few times.
“Phil?” He called; knowing that with the knock and without an identifier the blonde would probably be creeping up to the door with a blade in hand. He waited, only settling his hand on the knob when there was no response. He pushed the door open with less caution than he had the one in L’Manberg. The lanterns were lit, flames hanging lit on small pits of gravel, crumbled-up netherrack that kept the fire small yet unextinguished. The furnace was burning, idly chugging along and melting piles of sand into glass. It kept the upper levels of the house warm, a bucket of lava the source of heat.
He shut the door behind him gently, if only to spare his father the trouble of repairing a loose frame in the future. His boots came off, set on the mat by the door. The rule about shoes in the house was always made crystal clear by the blonde, and Techno made sure to carefully abide by them at the threat of having to deal with some of the less desirable tasks split between them. It had been that way since he’d been young. It hadn’t been hard for him; in fact, it had made things significantly easier by proxy of Tommy not catching on until a fair bit into being forced to do the least tolerable chores.
Shoes set aside, he walked further into the house, past the small kitchen and dining room into the foyer. Everything was a bit small, but it was cozy, reminiscent of his own home. The ceilings were a little short, but he was also a fair bit taller than his father. He was sure if Wilbur were to walk through, though, he’d knock his head against the lower door frames.
“Phil?” He called out again. Any echo was stopped by the wall before him, separating the main rooms from the back. He ignored it, stepping through the door and into the corridor. He peeked into each room before he continued down to the last door at the end. It opened up into a little hatch; Techno took the ladder down. He’d only been below once or twice, but he knew the spacing of the rungs, able to descend without much trouble. The walls were blackstone, same as the floors, framed and separated by birch, taken from the forest around the house. The stone was a bit cold, but he ignored it in favor of glancing into each of the segmented rooms. He gave a quick once-over to each, skipping over the walls. Techno continued down the long hallway, dragging his socked feet along the cool floor in some vain attempt to warm them with the friction.
A dry cough had him turning swiftly on his heels, freezing. His hand had shot to the hilt of his sword, gripping tightly around the bandages wound around it. He waited, but it didn’t come again. He almost thought he’d imagined it; the rasp of one of the voices constantly lingering in the back of his mind. Something shifted against stone.
His blade was unsheathed before he’d even started running, slowing only to press him against the side of the wall. He couldn’t help but be paranoid; Phil would have responded to his calls by now, even if he was in the depths of his work. Even the voices had quieted, silenced to allow him to strain his ears for the next sound.
He turned to push one of the doors open again. It banged open, revealing nothing but a farm. He swept over it more carefully, eyes narrowing to scan it. Nothing.
He left it ajar to mark his progress, moving to the next. It swung open as well, though he stepped inside, to better see. It was a storage room; furnaces and brewing stands lined the walls, all empty, cold, and dead.
That time around, his gaze was far more intense.
It caught on something.
A hunched figure lied curled up on the floor, tucked into itself. A lantern was burned out beside them, casting no light to show who it was.
Still, Techno could make out no outline of feathers against the stone.
He crept forward, eyebrows furrowing. Fury was slowly bubbling up his chest, mixing with the sour pang of paranoia and anxiety, the acidic solution battering his lungs.
“Get up.” He choked out. The man was blonde, he recognized. But he didn’t have wings. Couldn’t be Phil.
He shifted his sword to one hand, crouching beside the body. With his free hand he grabbed a shoulder, forcing the person to uncurl and lie against their back.
Phil convulsed, eyes going wide and white as he clutched at Techno’s sleeve. He jerked back, wrenching his sleeve from his grip. A strangled sort of yell left the man as he seized, managing to turn on his side where he’d been before.
His body stilled, though it continued to shudder.
Techno dropped his sword with a clatter, dropping to his knees and inching forward. His hands hovered nervously, unsure of where to touch, if at all.
Phil. The voices were so, so quiet. They barely hummed. It was only a whisper of his best friend, his father’s name, horrible and echoing.
“Phil—“ he repeated, barely a croak. He shut his mouth with a snap, staring at the damage.
Catalogue it, he reminded himself.
Techno looked to his legs first; one undamaged. The other had a crossbow bolt through it, but wasn’t bleeding; the skin had healed around it, probably due to the pockmarked, glass-shard shaped marks on his calf that were indicative of a splash potion. Instant healing, if he had to guess. Whoever had thrown it hadn’t cared about the hassle it would be to break and remove the crossbow’s arrow; it had been meant as a quick solution.
Careless in a way Phil never would have allowed.
He supposed he knew it wasn’t Phil’s doing anyway; his heart stilled against its cage when his gaze traveled upward. Two long, thick gashes were carved into the blonde’s back, deep and wide. Similar pockmarks as the ones on his calf had been scattered around the site of the wound as well, though the flesh hadn’t healed. Tacky blood spilled from the epicenters; the potion had to have only stopped the bleeding, nothing more.
He felt sick.
His vision blurred, wet, as he coughed and retched to the side, nothing coming up despite his churning stomach. He’d seen so much blood and viscera, but nothing could have prepared him for the bloody stumps set far into his father’s back. They were small, but jutted out of the cut-into area anyway, the very base of his wings set far into his muscle. They’d been severed, but small, downy feathers sealed tightly to the muscle still quivered, exposed to the air when they shouldn’t have been.
His wings were gone.
Techno knew they were his pride and joy; he could think of few things his friend enjoyed more than flying. That had already been taken from him. But even the wings themselves had been a comfort against that stolen piece of him. And they’d been ripped from him too.
He shuddered, resisting the rising nausea. The rosette’s ears had been ringing; he phased back to being aware of the voices clamoring in his thoughts when he shook his head, trembling in shock and fury.
Phil. Dadza. Friend. Protect. Wings wings wings they’re gone. Stolen. Taken. Take blood. Blood. Blood. Failed to protect. Find. Avenge. Revenge. Take like they’ve taken. Destroy. Shed blood. Blood for the blood god. Blood for Phil.
“Phil first.” He spoke aloud. He wasn’t dismissing the voices, and they recognized that, becoming quieter, but more intense, fervor increasing.
Phil first. They agreed vehemently. Then blood.
He removed his cloak from his shoulders, grateful for its plushness. The fur and the thick lining had initially been Phil’s idea; something to ward off the oppressive cold of their respective biomes. He wasn’t sure where his counterpart’s was; it was missing, obviously, the blonde left to shudder and shake on cold stone floors.
His rage bubbled.
Carefully, he tilted his father, wincing at the keen that escaped him as he rolled into himself, tucking the cape beneath and around him. Even more gently, he wrapped the fabric over him, snaking his arms around his neck and knees to pick him up in the hopes of not stretching his already red and angry wounds.
He considered himself partially successful when only a low whimper sounded rather than the yelp from earlier.
He ascended to the top floor agonizingly slow; the ladder was difficult to climb with a second person’s weight. Even if that weight was far lighter than he remembered. The wings had added to his father’s mass significantly, Techno had come to realize. Without them, he looked and felt smaller, more vulnerable.
He hated it.
The missing cloak was discovered almost as soon as he’d stalked into the kitchen. The rosette wondered how he missed it; it wasn’t exactly inconspicuous, slouched on the floor.
He picked it up gently, shifting the weight in his arms.
The bottom of it was splashed with crimson.
Techno clutched it tighter in his fist as he left the home, bracing himself so that he received the brunt of the chill, side-stepping to where Carl was grazing at the few blades of grass poking out from beneath the snow.
He propped Phil up on his steed first, carefully keeping him upright so he could wrap the second cloak around him as well, cushioning his father further. With a light jump, he mounted the horse as well, scooting forward so the blonde’s covered back could slump against him. He knew it couldn’t have been comfortable — even with the two layers of fabric, they were bound to rub against his wound, and his head would be jostled where it lolled against his shoulder — but he had to bring his father back home. There, he could help him.
He cast another scathing look to where he knew the wounds lied.
Help him as best he could, anyway.
Carl stirred to life instantly, carrying them into the woods. Techno ignored the sting of the wind against his neck and face. It was nothing.
Nothing. The voices agreed. Suffer the cold for Phil. The world for Phil.
“For Phil, the world.” He grunted back.
The mantra kept him warm even as the snow thickened upon his shoulders.
“Where the fuck were you?” Tommy demanded. Techno sighed, pushing the teen back with his foot, uncaring about how the sole of his boot left a wet mark against the blonde’s shin.
“Out. I left a note.”
“Yeah— I saw the fucking note, real specif— what is that?” The blonde’s curiousity quickly overtook his irritation. Not that Techno could blame him. He’d walked in the door with a person-sized bundle in his arms. Phil still hadn’t woken up yet; he wasn’t sure if he should have been relieved or worried. The journey hadn’t been so long as to warrant the concern, but he’d been jostled a few times that should have dragged out at least a noise. But nothing had come of the trip.
Techno chose to let the contents of the two cloaks do the speaking for him. He walked up the stairs, ignoring the complaints of his brother so he could set his father face-down on the bed that had, somewhere along the course of his visits, ended up being recognized as his. He was aware of Tommy lingering in the doorway, but he couldn’t afford to be distracted by the presence.
“Is that…” The youngest faltered.
“Yes.” He grunted, preoccupied with removing the capes. He’d tucked them tightly around the eldest, something that had helped on the ride but made removing them without causing any more damage difficult. They were thrown over the chair by the bed when he’d taken them off, draped over the rest to be dealt with later.
“Where—“ a strangled cough. “—but what about his wings?”
Techno spared a glance over his shoulder. Tommy was wringing his hands, fingers pulling at each other anxiously.
“They’re gone.” He forced out, averting his eyes. He couldn’t deal with more than that at the moment. He was already categorizing, cataloguing. That was just another thing to add to the list.
Tommy stepped forward, once, twice, before he all but collapsed into the chair, curling against the cloaks. Techno watched out of the corner of his eye as his younger brother tucked his knees to his chest, wrapping lanky arms around himself.
He looked away with a shaky exhale.
He needed to pack the wound. That big of a gash wasn’t going to just heal over; especially not with a stump within it. He grimaced as he went to wad up the bandages he’d grabbed from his bag. He’d deal with the bolt later.
Techno pressed the bandages against the bottom of the wound, ignoring how the man’s back arched.
“Ggh—“ the groan turned into a cry. Techno winced. There was still another left, but the yelp was ringing in his ears like a bell, mixing with the voices.
“One more to go.” He muttered; almost assuring himself.
At those words his father stilled, gasp stifled with his sudden intake of breath. The rosette paused, bunched bandages clutched in a clawed hand. His brows furrowed.
“Dad?” Tommy ventured, speaking up for the first time since he’d suddenly quieted.
“Plea’—“ Techno nearly had to strain to hear the gasped pleas, though he barely kept his balance as he registered them. “—no, no’ aga—“
“Fuck,” He almost begged aloud. He had to do it; one was already done, and the bleeding would begin again when the potions would surely stop taking effect. “Tommy—“
The blonde slipped off his chair only to settle near the top of the bed, one hand tangling in the dirty hair of his father and the other gripping his arm.
The first choked scream had both of them flinching back.
Techno only gritted his teeth through the second.
A third never came; his brother only looked up through teary eyes and a firmly set scowl when he finally lost consciousness.
He would never admit it, but he felt like crying as well.
The bolt was far easier to take care of. He snapped it in half and bandaged the calf. Simple enough. Something Phil could have taken care of on his own, if not for the circumstances.
Exhaustion was settling bone-deep in him. He glanced at the youngest blonde, expression still creased with concern and fury.
“I’m going to bed.” The command wasn’t lost on his brother. Tommy looked between the unconscious man and the rosette, clearly torn.
“I— I don’t want to be—“ he paused, struggling.
“Yeah. You can,” Techno motioned to himself, feeling awkward. “stay with me, if you want.”
“I don’t need that.” The blonde scoffed.
“... but, if you’re scared.” He finished, standing with one last wayward glance.
“Yeah, yeah— come on.” The rosette slung an arm over his shoulder, tugging him along with a bit more force than was probably strictly necessary.
Techno pinched the flame of the lantern out between his thumb and forefinger, leaving the door open behind him with a resolute promise to himself to check on the blonde as soon as possible.
He had another person to take care of too, though.
“Go get dressed for bed.” He instructed, with a gentle shove towards his room. “You’re sleeping at the foot of the bed.”
“Hell no— I take up more space than you!” The complaints followed him even as he stepped into his own room, barely stopping to kick off his shoes as he collapsed onto his sheets.
Technosleep. Technorest. Techno sleeps. Regains strength. Hunts. Sheds blood. Blood for the blood god.
“Bl’d for the bl’d god.” Techno muttered, words muffled by his cheek against the mattress.
Techno simply let his arm fall atop the blonde who had wormed his way beneath the covers, letting sleep take him far under.
He blinked awake, frowning at the lingering taste of blood in his mouth. He swiped his tongue over his bottom lip and tusks, barely wincing at the sting of the split he’d caused himself the day prior. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, stretching against the stiffness sleeping in full regalia had settled over him. The thought of checking on Phil had him moving much faster than he usually would have in the mornings; he hurriedly changed his shirt, sending a quick look to his gently snoring brother splayed on the bed, allowing himself a quick exhale of relief. At least he was alright.
He stepped out of the room as quietly as he could manage, sneaking into the next over.
The morning was still dark, though a few rays shone through the partially-closed curtains. Enough light came in that Techno was able to make out a figure sitting up against the headboard, hunched over itself. With how quiet the cabin was, the labored, harsh breathing was all too audible to his sensitive ears.
He walked in slowly, as to not startle the man.
“Phil?” He asked, cautious. It reminded him far too much of the venture to his father’s house the day before; he walked more quickly, crossing the room to the bed.
The blonde’s breath hitched as he came closer, knees pressing against the mattress. Steadily, he extended a hand, carefully turning the man’s head to face him.
The wetness beneath his fingers shocked him, like the out-of-breath laugh that escaped his father.
“Hh a,” Phil gasped, burying his face in one hand, wiping underneath his eyes. “I—“
He coughed, breath rattling.
“They’re gone,” he chuckled. Techno watched in horror as the strangled laugh turned into a sob. “Tech’—“
The hybrid could do nothing but climb on top of the bed, throwing his arms around his father’s neck, carefully avoiding the gashes. He pretended, for the sake of both of their prides, to not notice the way he shook violently, or the growing wetness against the front of his shirt.
He’s hurt. Help him. Get them back. Return them. Avenge him. Dadza. Dad. Phil. The world. Blood. Blood for the blood god.
“I’m going to get them back.” He vowed. “Don’t care what it takes.”
A shuddered laugh puffed against his chest.
“Can’t.” His father choked out, nearly hysterical . “Dream has them— the End— it— it’s closed.”
Icy dread froze the blood running through his veins. His fury felt just as cold, freezing in a pool at the bottom of his lungs.
“I’ll kill him.”
Phil just laughed, again. He hated how it pitched up, sad and a little broken.
“I broke the rules. Saving Tommy. And I’d do it again.”
Techno just clutched his father closer.
The morning sun was breaking.
It felt like his father was, too.
Techno clutched the eye of ender so tightly he was almost wary of it popping in his grasp. The frame had been filled in entirely. His gear rested heavily on his shoulders, weighing him down. He’d left Phil and Tommy at home; he wasn’t sure who was watching who, anymore. Phil was relearning to walk, for gods sake. The counterbalance of his wings had been suddenly taken; he kept stumbling forward, too used to adjusting.
He was frighteningly human.
Techno knew that he was still a hybrid; still had that sharp eyesight, that unnatural speed. But he couldn’t save himself, anymore. Not like he could’ve even with his clipped wings.
Which, he reminded himself, was why he was af the stronghold anyway.
He took a breath, hand clenching around the hilt of his sword. He crouched to firmly slot the last eye against the portal’s frame, waiting for it to blink to life.
The lava bubbled below it, roiling like a taunt.
He removed the eye slowly, placing it back down again.
It still stayed empty.
His roar disrupted the bats from where they hung in the hallways.
The warmth that hit him as he opened the cabin did little to quell the guilt and fury nauseating him. Tommy grinned at him over the couch, pausing in the middle of what he presumed to be some grand, exaggerated story he’d been telling Phil.
Said blonde was sitting straight in a chair, carefully keeping his back from pressing against the rest. His cane lied over his lap, balanced between where his legs were crossed at the ankles. The piece of wood had been whittled as soon as Techno had found out about the trouble with balance; it was pretty, details carved into it by Phil’s careful hand, but he never wanted to see it again.
It reminded him too much of his failure.
A wave of fresh guilt caused tears to prick at his eyes. Phil met them with an understanding little smile.
He dropped his armor by the door, uncaring of the dents he knew he’d have to hammer out later.
He couldn’t fix it, yet.
But he would.
One way or another.
If he couldn’t give Phil the world, he’d destroy it for him.