Chapter

21

It’s raining again, coming down in a frigid torrent. John is a pallbearer this time around. Teen-Jade is so light, he and Jake alone carry the coffin with ease. Together, they trudge through the ankle-deep puddles while their friends line up on either side of the stone steps that lead into the cathedral.

It’s just them this time—Earth C’s very own dysfunctional collection of Old Gods. John can’t say he misses the clangor of a shameless press hounding them from the edges of what is supposed to be a somber ceremony. But the smallness of the congregation under the tall, gothic ceilings makes Roxy’s attitude at the pulpit all the more absurd. She leads John and Jake into the building and down the center of the nave, humming happily to herself the entire time. An equally effusive Calliope trails behind her, carrying a bouquet of purple flowers. Despite Roxy’s insistence that this sad event could only bring them all closer together, the group is sitting in chilly segments on either side of aisle, pointedly not interacting. Karkat is sitting all on his own about six pews behind Jade and Dave. Gamzee is hanging out by the door, having been banished there by Jane like a wet dog. No one in the cathedral can blame her, because he certainly smells like one.

Roxy, bathed in pink and gold light from the stained glass behind her, spreads her arms and begins to speechify. She practically has to shout to be heard over the roar of the rainstorm outside.

ROXY: thx everyone for joining us today

ROXY: we are gathered here to honor the memory of alternate universe jade

ROXY: alas we hardly knew her

ROXY: by which i mean we didnt know her at all

ROXY: cuz she fell out of the sky like a week ago and was already dead

ROXY: but i think that based on our long acquaintanceship with alive jade we can safely assume that she was totally rad

JADE: (ugh)

ROXY: so were all here to contemplate the vast cruelness of the universe that such radness was plucked in its prime

ROXY: psst callie the roses

CALLIOPE: oh, of coUrse!

Calliope begins plucking the petals off her bouquet and tossing them in a fluttery, uneven arc over Roxy’s impressively coiffed hair.

John facepalms audibly in the crowd. He’d spent the entire morning giving one more go at talking Roxy out of the entire affair, but she was stubbornly dedicated to her artistic vision. You gave it the old college try chap, Jake said to him earlier as he waxed his mustache in the mirror. But its better for a man to just let his wife do whatever she wants. I promise youll experience less pain that way old boy.

CALLIOPE: pUrple roses traditionally represent love at first sight, however these roses are actUally red roses that we prepared Using a blUe dye.

CALLIOPE: the blUe rose is the most elUsive and mysterioUs of all flowers.

CALLIOPE: the combination of red and blUe in this context is meant to evoke the dUal natUre of death, in that there is nothing more mysterioUs and impossible to comprehend than the vast void of the afterlife, bUt also there is nothing that makes Us appreciate the life and and love that we already have than the mystery of death.

CALLIOPE: while death is terrifying, there is always joy to be foUnd among the sorrow. each time we witness death, we fall in love with the important people in oUr lives all over again.

Calliope is gazing at Roxy with glassy eyes. She sniffs as she plucks the last petal from her rose. A breeze washes through the cathedral from the crack in the door at the end of the room, brushing the petal off-course and causing it to get stuck in Roxy’s over-sprayed hair. Calliope reaches out with a visibly shaking hand to remove the plant offal, but she does not draw back. Instead, she lets her hand graze down the side of Roxy’s face and cup her cheek. Roxy puts her own hand over Callie’s and holds it.

John tilts his head and squints at the image in front of him. Hmm.

ROXY: woah callie thats a beautiful metaphor

CALLIOPE: aw, thank yoU roxy. u_u

ROXY: dont sound so humble it is v v deep

CALLIOPE: i jUst can’t take credit for external inspiration.

ROXY: lmao cmon callie youre the literal muse

CALLIOPE: yes, bUt yoU’re...

This very tender scene is cruelly interrupted by the sound of the cathedral door slamming open.

Everyone whips their heads around to see, of all people, Aradia hovering in the foyer. Her wings radiate a soft, ephemeral glow that paints the walls around her pink and red. Sollux is with her, feeling his way into the church along the grain of the door. He’s soaked head to toe.

ARADIA: oh no did we miss the entire corpse party

ARADIA: i hope not

SOLLUX: yes that w0uld be *such* a tragedy.

ARADIA: oh shush you

ARADIA: the tragedy is what i dont want to miss!

Karkat jumps to his feet, eyes so wide they’re practically popping out of his head.

KARKAT: ARADIA?

KARKAT: HOLY SHIT... SOLLUX?!

SOLLUX: hey l0ser. it’s been a l0ng time.

KARKAT: IT’S BEEN A...

KARKAT: IT’S BEEN A “LONG TIME”?!

KARKAT: IS THAT ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY TO ME?! IT’S BEEN MORE THAN A FUCKING HUMAN DECADE!

KARKAT: I THOUGHT YOU GUYS WERE DEAD.

ARADIA: no i wasnt dead

KARKAT: NO, I MEAN LIKE

KARKAT: “GONE FOREVER”??

KARKAT: I THOUGHT THAT YOU TWO LITERALLY DIDN’T EXIST ANYMORE!

KARKAT: OR AT THE VERY LEAST WERE TRAPPED IN A DEAD UNIVERSE PERPETUALLY COLLAPSING INTO ITS OWN ASSHOLE.

SOLLUX: 0h. n0pe.

KARKAT: FINE!

KARKAT: WALTZ IN HERE WITH NO EXPLANATION WHATSOEVER. SOUNDS ABOUT FUCKING RIGHT.

KARKAT: IT’S NOT LIKE YOUR SUDDEN AND UNEXPLAINED PRESENCE IS ANY LESS OF A JOKE THAN THIS “FUNERAL” WE’RE HAVING.

KARKAT: I MEAN, WHY STOP AT SOLLUX AND ARADIA?

KARKAT: MAYBE FUCKING NEPETA IS ABOUT TO POUNCE FROM BEHIND THAT GROTESQUE STATUE OF THE HUMAN SUFFERER T-POSING OVER THERE.

KARKAT: NEPETA, ARE YOU THERE? COME ON OUT! THE CORPSE PARTY WOULDN’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU!

ROXY: SHOOSH everyone!

ROXY: there will be a reception with cake n candy after the service

ROXY: u all can have ur poignant reunions then

ROXY: before we unite in tearful togetherness we gotta unite in tearful loss

JOHN: wait... there’s more?

JOHN: i thought that nice speech callie made was, like...

JOHN: pretty much the funeral.

ROXY: lol no

ROXY: callie and i were just gettin started

JADE: oh my god...

ROXY: anyway where was i?

CALLIOPE: how the infinite mystery of death makes Us appreciate the love we have!

ROXY: right

Roxy starts giving the second act of her eulogy. Aradia glides to the floor and sets her feet on the stone tiling, elfin and weightless. She sidles up to Gamzee and jostles him in the ribs.

ARADIA: so i see you managed to get out of the fridge

GAMZEE: i DiDn’T jUsT gEt OuT oF tHe FrIdGe, I wAs SeT fReE sIsTeR!

ARADIA: i see

GAMZEE: wHeN tHe DoOr Of ThAt FrIdGe pOpPeD oPeN iT wAs LikE i Be AlL sEeIn ThE lIgHt AnD sHiT.

SOLLUX: well yeah

SOLLUX: that’s what happens when s0me0ne 0pens a d00r t0 a t0tally dark encl0sure.

SOLLUX: fuck, i can’t believe y0u’re still this stupid.

SOLLUX: 0h wait i can.

GAMZEE: nO bRoThEr, It’S a MoThErFuCkIn MeTaPhOr.

GAMZEE: A mEtApHoR fOr ThE mIrAcLe Of rEdEmPtIoN!

ARADIA: redemption

GAMZEE: yEaH cHeCk It ThE fUcK oUt.

GAMZEE: i DiD My MoThErFuCkInG rEdEmPtIoN aRc. :o)

ARADIA: is that so

GAMZEE: i BeEn DoInG aLl KiNdS oF gOoD dEeDs At ThE lOsT mOtHeRfUcKeRs.

GAMZEE: pReAcHiNg ThE hOlY wOrD. mAkInG oUt WiTh OrPhAns.

ARADIA: oh hmm

SOLLUX: isn’t it “kissing 0rphans”?

ARADIA: let him talk sollux

GAMZEE: i EvEn GoT a HeAlThY mUtUaLlY fUlLfIlLiNg kIsMeSiS gOiN oN wItH tHaT fOxY hUmAn BrOaD uP fRoNt.

Aradia turns to look in the direction of his lecherous ogle. She observes the bored-looking woman who she recognizes to be Jane. Aradia looks her up and down, and arches an eyebrow in approval.

ARADIA: its so nice that you believe all that gamzee

ARADIA: i think i can honestly say

ARADIA: im reasonably happy for you?

ROXY: omg quiet in the back already!

ROXY: were tryin to have a beautiful and solemn proceeding up here

ARADIA: oh im sorry

ARADIA: i do agree that its a beautiful corpse party

ARADIA: but i think it would be even MORE beautiful if we could you know

ARADIA: actually see the corpse?

KARKAT: OH MY GOD ARADIA, WHY ARE YOU STILL LIKE THIS?

Roxy smacks herself in the forehead, like this is the most obvious thing in the world. Of course, how could she forget the fucking corpse?

ROXY: oh lol ur right i cant believe that slipped my mind

ROXY: hey jake a lil help?

ROXY: im like hella pregnant here and shouldnt be doing any heavy lifting

Jake leaps from his seat, very enthusiastic to be freed from the ice-cold grip of Jane’s perfectly manicured hand. He jumps onto the stage and begins unlatching the coffin while Calliope throws more rose petals for some reason. Living-Jade slumps in her seat a bit, beginning to look green.

JADE: ughhh...

DAVE: yo babe its ok

JADE: easy for you to say! youve got practice with this kind of thing!

DAVE: just remember its not actually your corpse

DAVE: i mean technically it is

DAVE: it both is and isnt your corpse at the same time

DAVE: which yeah the longer you think about it like that the more fucked up it gets

DAVE: but also when you objectively think about it the combined multiverse is a huge tangle of interrelated but totally random events and its only chance that this specific life is the one you ended up living

DAVE: you and that corpse could have just as easily switched places

DAVE: but also that would never actually happen because its not how paradox space works

DAVE: anyway my point is that nothing really matters so chill out

JADE: um, i love you with all my heart dave but youre REALLY not helping right now

With a grunt, Jake pries at the coffin. The lid creaks open and hits the side of the pulpit with a loud crack. The noise reverberates through the entire cathedral, shaking dust off of the unused pews and rattling the iron in the stained-glass windows. Outside, a clap of thunder follows.

Aradia vaults into the air and flits over the pews to get a better look at the body. Teen-Jade remains in the bloody Space outfit she crashed to Earth in, since nobody was willing to dislodge the huge, otherworldly shard from her chest in order to change her. But Roxy has done the corpse’s makeup beautifully, and fashioned her a lovely flower crown. If not for all the blood caked down her front, and her conspicuous impalement, she’d look like she was merely sleeping.

ARADIA: now this is more like it

JADE: i cant look...

DAVE: oh

DAVE: here

Dave slings an arm around her shoulders. She starts to snuggle in, but Dave is absolutely not initiating physical contact here for the purpose of getting his cuddle on. Instead of cradling Jade in his arms, he uses his hands to cover her eyes.

JADE: uhh... what... are you doing??

DAVE: emotional support yo

ROSE: Dave.

DAVE: what

DAVE: id like to see you do better

KANAYA: Me Too Actually

ROSE: I’m sorry, but I’m not the one whose questionable consolation tactics are on trial here.

CALLIOPE: this isn’t a trial! it’s a fUneral!

JOHN: haha, they’ve got a point rose, you gotta admit.

ROSE: A point about what?

JOHN: um...

JOHN: you’re not great at consolation? just saying.

KANAYA: Oh You Dont Know The Half Of It

ROSE: Excuse all of you, but I’m an excellent advice giver.

JADE: umm nobody said anything about advice giving rose...

JOHN: oh yeah, the advice is top notch.

JOHN: but you’re kind of a weird person to like... cry in front of?

JOHN: no offense.

ROSE: What??

JOHN: the first time i ever got upset in front of rose irl, she put her arms around me and it was so awkward that i had to ask her if she was hugging me or reaching for something on the shelf behind me.

CALLIOPE: everyone, we’re getting rather off track...

ROSE: I was doing both for your information.

DAVE: the first time rose hugged me it was such a disaster we didnt make eye contact for like a week after

KANAYA: Jade Come Here I Shall Hold You In My Arms

JADE: thank you kanaya at least ONE of you knows how to treat a lady in distress!

JANE: Agreed. I’ve always felt that Kanaya has done an exemplary job of providing a model for compassionate, empathetic behavior, which others of her kind would do well to follow.

KARKAT: WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY?

JANE: I’m sorry, Mr. Vantas. Do you have another unsolicited political opinion you’d like to share with everyone?

KARKAT: CONSIDERING THE SHIT GEYSER THAT JUST SHOT OUT OF YOUR IGNORANCE CANNON, I’D SAY MY OPINION IS PRETTY FUCKING SOLICITED RIGHT ABOUT NOW.

CALLIOPE: EVERYONE!

CALLIOPE: be qUiet!!!!!

Calliope yells so loud that her voice becomes a hollow, howling shriek. The glass in the candelabras above her shatters, snuffing out the candles and filling the choir with blue smoke. She gasps and covers her mouth with both hands, shrinking beneath the startled looks she’s receiving from the rest of the funeral-goers.

Slowly, she lowers her arms, staring at her hands in shock. This time, she whispers:

CALLIOPE: please. roxy gathered yoU all here for a reason.

CALLIOPE: at least listen Until the end.

CALLIOPE: after that yoU can argUe all you want.

Roxy comes back to the pulpit and wraps an arm around Calliope’s shoulders.

ROXY: look everyone im not dumb ok even tho i act like it sometimes

ROXY: i know whats goin on here

ROXY: that were all drifting apart

ROXY: and i know thats just a normal part of growing up and making new families

ROXY: and i guess learning that some people have unbridgeable divides on political stuff

ROXY: i can accept that things arent gonna always be the same as when we first met

ROXY: specially with dirk gone

ROXY: damn...

ROXY: even though its been more than a year i still feel it like he died yesterday

ROXY: what callie said earlier about death being mysterious and full of love is true

ROXY: i dont know if i ever would have gotten up the courage to marry john if dirk hadnt died

ROXY: sometimes i think about what it would have been like if he was still here

ROXY: i think we can all agree that if dirk didnt kill himself there would be some big differences in the lives of people here in this room

ROXY: i cant say if theyd be good or bad

ROXY: maybe when it comes to this kind of thing... like

ROXY: infinite probability and multiple universes and shit

ROXY: good and bad dont matter

ROXY: theres no better or worse just different

ROXY: even with dead jade here whos to say that the world she came from was actually worse than ours?

ROXY: she probably died a heroic death doin something incredible

ROXY: we probably only have the great lives we do right now because of her sacrifice

ROXY: the universal odds of us all being alive and healthy and together like this are so infinitesimally low that its literally impossible for us to understand with our limited linear consciousness

ROXY: isnt that amazing??

ROXY: so even if this is the last time were all ever in the same room like this

ROXY: i think its just incredible we could be here in the first place

ROXY: out of a sempiternal number of possibilities we are the only incarnation of this exact specific moment in all of existence

ROXY: i think that we should all look around and be super grateful for what we

ROXY: wh... what we

ROXY: wh... wha...

ROXY: whoah fuck

Roxy’s voice starts to crack. She staggers off the podium, clutching her bloated stomach.

CALLIOPE: roxy? are yoU okay?

ROXY: of course im not ok i just WENT INTO FREAKING LABOR

JOHN: oh my god!

John scrambles to his feet.

JOHN: oh my god!

JOHN: it’s happening, oh my god!!

JOHN: ...

JOHN: oh my GOD!!!

ROXY: omg john are you just gonna keep shouting oh my god or are you GONNA HELP YOUR WIFEY OUT

JOHN: OH MY GOD!!!!!

John stumbles up the stairs to the pulpit, holding his head with both hands. It’s actually Jake, still dutifully standing next to the corpse, who catches Roxy under the armpits when she topples backwards. He passes her off to John, who whips up a cushion of wind for her to recline on.

JOHN: doing ok there, sweetheart?

ROXY: ugh whyd i let you put this thing inside me

JOHN: don’t worry roxy! we’ll get it out as soon as we can!

JOHN: er, by “it,” i mean our child.

JOHN: we probably shouldn’t be talking about him in dehumanizing terms before he’s even born, huh?

JOHN: seems like kind of a bad omen?

ROXY: omg.......... john SHUT UP

ROXY: i need like six gallons of demerol STAT

ROXY: lets GOOO

JOHN: right! going!

John swoops his wife up in his arms and starts scrambling down the aisle.

CALLIOPE: wait! i...

CALLIOPE: i woUld like to be there as well!

JOHN: hurry up then!

Calliope begins sprinting after John and Roxy but doesn’t make it two steps before something stops her in her tracks. A feeling that crawls under her exoskeleton. She stands deathly still for a moment, and then turns to face the coffin. Something about the corpse has transfixed her. She curls her fingers around the rim of the casket and leans in, studying teen-Jade’s peaceful face.

Suddenly, the corpse bolts upright. Calliope yelps and falls on her butt. Adult-Jade screams.

JADE: AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

JAKE: By jove!

DAVE: jesus fuck

Hair veiling her face, teen-Jade sets her hands on her chest and dissolves the shard bisecting her ribcage. The wound does not heal, but it doesn’t bleed either.

CALLIOPE: jade! yoU...

CALLIOPE: yoU’re alive!

CALLIOPE: or, Um,

CALLIOPE: yoU’re not dead!

It takes the corpse a while to reply. Everyone waits for her to speak. When the words leave her mouth, they send a chill through the cathedral air.

JADE: i am not jade.

Slowly, Jade raises her head. The stage makeup Roxy applied earlier is running down her face in dark rivers. Her eyes are solid black. Even more than black, it seems. They are hollows penetrating deep into a field of absence so profound, it’s hard to imagine a single photon has ever crossed through its infinite expanse. Meeting her gaze is like peering into a realm where light goes to die. Calliope finds the sensation disturbingly familiar.

CALLIOPE: then who...

CALLIOPE: who are yoU?

JADE: you know who i am, calliope.

JADE: we met once, years ago.

JADE: you were dead, and so was i.

Calliope now understands exactly who is speaking to her. She tenses up, scuttles backward, and begins tumbling down the stairs into the aisle. She starts running before she’s even up on both feet, clawing the carpet ragged in her desperation to escape the cathedral. The congregation watches her go, but no one moves to help her, or even looks in her direction. In her wake, she leaves a primal, echoing wail. The door closes thunderously behind her. Her scream can be heard beyond the doors, growing quieter as she recedes into the distance.

Kanaya adjusts the buttons on her very fashionable mourning gloves and sighs.

KANAYA: This Certainly Is A Turn Of Events

ARADIA: ill say

ARADIA: at first i was underwhelmed with the proceedings i have to admit

ARADIA: but that was quite the twist

ARADIA: this may be one of the best death related celebrations ive ever seen :)

SOLLUX: t0p five at least.

Teen-Jade floats out of her coffin with measured grace. Adult-Jade shudders as her reanimated duplicate passes by. She slides back into Kanaya’s comforting arms and hides her face in the crook of her neck. Teen-Jade directs her pitch-black eyes toward the arched marble ceiling, and gazes skyward with a sort of intensity and purpose nobody in this crowd has seen in years. It’s as if her glare is passing through the roof of the church and continuing unimpeded through the partitions of this very plane of reality itself.

JADE: you’re undoubtedly surprised.

JADE: but these events were not unpredictable at all.

JADE: this is exactly what i have been expecting to happen.

She spreads her arms and speaks in a voice as deep and dark as the void.

JADE: and while i cannot say the same thing for the rest of you,

JADE: i, at least, am exactly where i am meant to be.

Jake meekly raises his hand, now treating the botched funeral as something closer to a classroom setting.

JAKE: Hey uh.

JAKE: Not to come off as a total idiot here but...

JAKE: Who were you supposed to be again?

She directs the powerful vacuum of her hollow glare towards the total idiot. She regards him for a moment, radiating a sense of disdain for what may very well be the greatest living source of ignorance she has ever encountered in her many eons of existence.

JADE: my name is calliope.

JADE: i am the muse of space.

JADE: and i have entered this body to protect your world.

> ==>
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