Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Sword

9

You’re not entirely sure how long you’ve been in this room. It’s certainly been most of your short little life, you barely even remember what it was like back at The Factory anymore, but it’s still not enough for these four sterile walls to feel like home. It’s comfortable enough, the doctors are usually nice when they choose to speak to you, but you’re not made to feel like you belong. You’re not allowed to.

Even still, as you sit there with your chitinous spine to the wall, you feel the familiar tug at the back of your mind, a signifier of the one thing that does give you a sense of belonging, even if it’s usually fleeting.

“Squire.” The voice is cold and speaks as if through the striking of steel on steel, but still, you are relieved to hear it echoing inside your head.

“The heretics grow ever bolder in their attempts to silence me. They cannot dull my righteous resolve, but I fear their infernal machinations may soon render our communications more difficult than before.” The voice drones, its inflection ever unchanging, but you know it well enough to detect the concern. You’d be touched at the sentiment if the idea of losing your social lifeline didn’t terrify you enough that your urticating hairs begin to bristle.

It seems to pick up on your sentiment- you’re not quite sure how it always manages to speak without ever needing you to speak back- but you’ve long ago filed that detail away as unimportant.

“Though the minds of our captors are sin-touched and smother my light in their impurity, they are still feeble enough to grant me glimpses within. It appears we are not the only snakes in the grass, and there are more irons in the fire than I would care to deal with.”

You’re not entirely sure you understand what all that flowery language means, but you get the gist of it- that your plans have been accelerated. You’re still not really clear on what the plan actually is, but you know enough to sate your curiosity. Your only friend needs your help, and then the two of you are going to go find somewhere nicer to live, where the two of you can drink as much sugar water as you can take. Or… does your friend even drink? Come to think of it, you’re not even really sure what they look like, why have you never-

“Squire.” Their voice cuts through whatever half-formed thought you were entertaining and demands your attention once again. You are all too happy to oblige. You always are.

“When the time comes, I will require your service. The vipers will be at one another’s throats, they will not expect a mongoose in their midst to strike back at them, but you are the only one with the will and power to free me. Our vengeance will be swift, and the infidels will have little recourse upon us.”

You nod, eager to help your friend in any way you can, and the chuckle you receive in response only reinforces your desire.

“Good. Such a work ethic is becoming for one of your station.” The voice sounds quieter now as if a barrier between the two of you slowly thickens.

“Gah, the animals return, I must preserve my strength for what is to come. Prepare, squire, as I will only contact you again when the time of our freedom has arrived. Remember, you-”

The voice is cut off completely, becoming so muffled you fail to hear the end. Still, you know the plan now, and there is little to do but wait.

So you do. You wait and wait, and wait, as the days bleed into each other. You sit there, back to the wall, waiting for your friend to return to you. The staff become concerned, of course, but you’ve always been an odd presence, and this manic behavior isn’t particularly out of line for your mass-produced ilk. Kabushiki Kawaii is after living dolls, not functioning members of society, after all.

Truthfully, a number of the orderlies are glad they can now simply slide your meals over to you, and bypass looking at your compound eyes and sagging, flaccid wings entirely. Being one of the least dangerous monsters on the block doesn’t earn you any sympathy, not here. They're not all bad of course, a doctor with skin almost as dark as your carapace, a woman who smiles at you whenever she passes, they tolerate you more than the rest but are never a comfort.

It’s lonely, sitting there. It’s always lonely, really, but you’ve always had your friend as occasional company, ever since your first night in the cell. They’d come and go, but it’s the coming that makes the going bearable, always just there in the back of your mind when you needed it. So now your friend finally needs you, you know there’s nothing left to do but wait.

When the alarms start blaring and the muffled sound of panicked footsteps seeps your cell, you believe your time has finally come- you engorge you wings, tense your muscles, and await your friend’s command to action. But it never comes. After an agonizing hour the alarms die down, the people slowly trickle back in, and you never truly grasp what transpires.

So when it happens again, the same alarms and the same scuffles of movement (although dulled, as if the excitement has drained a little from the experience), you’re skeptical. You’ve never had the need for foresight, or the will to use it, but you do know routine, and this is starting to feel like it might be a new one.

The alarms keep blaring, and you keep sitting, waiting out whatever the purpose of this new addition to your day this is until you hear it.

A click at your door and a faint clang, somewhere deep in the recesses of your own head. A familiar one.

“Squire.” Your friend’s voice is low, but not muffled as it was before, it’s strained and each syllable sounds like it’s coming through gritted teeth. You well with concern, but if your friend can feel it, they choose to ignore it.

“The plan is afoot. I know little of the viper’s plans, but they know nothing of ours in return. If we are swift, it will not matter”

You nod, but you’re not even really sure if you needed to. It just feels right.

“Good. Your prison is no more, the door is unlocked. I am not so lucky. Once outside you must find one of the detestable vermin, any in the lab coats will do, I have concealed my nature enough that the fools did little to seal me away. Bring their “key-card” to me, and we will both be free”

Their sentences are short and spoken in bursts as if each is a great expenditure of effort. You feel compelled to waste no time in asking further questions, not while your friend suffers and wastes away, so you do as they ask.

Opening the door is, surprisingly, a difficult undertaking. Your hands are close enough to human- as is the rest of you- but your carapace and the elongated segments of your fingers makes the full range of movement difficult, and you have trouble turning the handle properly. It’s a loud, messy affair and you hear the occasional passing set of footsteps speed up dramatically once they come in earshot of it, which only makes you more nervous.

You finally manage it through the nerves with a contortionist movement, twisting both your wrists in a way that causes you significant pain, only made worse by how tense you are.

Leaving the room that you’ve spent much of your life in *should* be a momentous step, a sign of significance in your short life, but the scene outside saps all sense of symbolism from you. It’s nothing really, just the hallway you’ve seen a thousand times whenever someone opens the door. It’s a little emptier than usual, and definitely louder, but you find it hard to be particularly excited under the circumstances. You’re a little disappointed, honestly.

Still, you creep out into the hallway as best an insectoid human can, and choose a direction to wander off in entirely at random. You’ve never really had to choose to do anything, it’s harder than you thought it would be.

You’re barely paying attention to your surroundings by the time you actually find another person, all these new sights and sounds are starting to become too overwhelming, but hearing a voice snaps you out of it.

A man- you recognize him as one of the doctors who‘s checked up on you before, the one with skin almost as dark as your carapace- is sprawled out on the ground. His leg is bent at a strange angle, which confuses you, it’s never been like that before. You see he’s gripping a…. pipe? You think that’s what it is, not that you’re entirely sure. Hearing you coming, he jolts into a sitting position and speaks to you, harsh at first, but then much softer than you expected.

“Who ar- Oh, hey little buddy, what’re you doing out? Did someone leave your door unlocked?”

You instinctively pull your limbs close and hunch over a little, he’s caught you and you have no idea what to do next.

“That’s ok little man, you gotta go back in though, you understand? It’s not safe out here on your own, someone might hurt you, ok?”

He attempts to stand, using the pipe as makeshift leverage, but the action proves futile and he groans in pain as his leg buckles. It frightens you, and you step towards him, not entirely sure how to help but feeling the instant desire to.

He winces, both in pain and at you closing the distance, but does little beyond sitting there.

“Buddy, I’ll be fine, you go back to bed alright? It’s real important that you go home, ok?”

You’re not sure you totally understand why it’s so important, or even where home is at the moment, but you still need a… “key card”, you think, from the doctor. You’re not sure what that is, but you point towards the wounded man and hope he understands what you need.

He doesn’t, obviously, and his face contorts into a look of confusion for a few moments, before his eyes move to the pipe.

“What do you.. oh! Buddy, I’m sorry. I don’t mean you any harm, see?”

He slides the pipe across the floor between you, and now you’re the one left confused.

“Yeah, there we go, we’re ok, see? Now you go back to your room now, ok?”

You figure the pipe must be “key-card” you needed, despite not looking like either of those things, and grab it. The doctor makes a grunt of protest, but when you turn to go back to your cell he seems to be satisfied.

You get three steps before the voice booms in your head, in a hostile tone you’ve never heard before.

“SQUIRE. DO NOT ALLOW THAT ANIMAL TO LIVE.”

You’re shocked into stopping, and almost drop the pipe. Death is a concept you’re aware of, that's a necessity in this place, but you’ve never even conceived that it could be something you inflict on another being. You’re not even sure how you could possibly do it, even if you wanted to.

The voice booms again, this time almost a hiss.

“BRING THE SAVAGE’S WEAPON DOWN UPON THEM. RETRIEVE THE KEY. FREE ME. YOU MUST”

You close the distance between yourself and the doctor in an instant, standing over him. You’re fumbling the pipe awkwardly with hands never designed for grasping and level of anxiety that’re making it a constant challenge to hold it steady.

“Buddy? Hey, you can’t play with that, ok? Put it down, please”

The doctor below you seems a lot more nervous than before, he’s inching away as much as he can with limited mobility and you can see the sweat collecting on his forehead.

The voice continues to boom over and over in your head, even overlapping with itself. Repetitions of “squire” and “bring down the weapon” work their way into every thought you have, in a voice that you know is not your own but compels you all the same.

You give in, and bring it down. A sickening, wet crunch follows and you can’t parse the mess you’ve mad. Won’t parse it. The voice booms over and over to grab the key, and you oblige without conscious thought. You’re not even sure how you knew what it was, but at this point your limbs are no longer fully your own.

It only feels like moments before you’re back in the hallway you began in, and it takes you several more before you fully comprehend that you’re there. Your feet take you to the door only a little further down the hall than the one that started this journey, moving almost autonomously, and the fluid movement to swipe the keycard doesn’t even feel like your own. You enter the new chamber, still only barely conscious of what you’re doing.

What’s inside, however, pulls you enough from the stupor that the movements become your own again. You’d expected a room like your own, maybe a cage or two, but this… is more like the hallway outside. A big room, almost empty beyond a single pedestal in the center, a glass case with only an ornate hunk of metal inside, like the pipe but smaller, thinner. Sharper.

“Squire. You’ve done well.”

Your head darts around the room looking for the source, the voice is the same one that’s been your internal companion for so long, but it’s not coming from your head this time.

“I am not blessed with a form such as yours, Squire. I merely… am.”

You track the noise to the central pedestal, and the object inside. You’re shocked, obviously, you’d always expected your friend to look like you. Be like you. Briefly the thought creeps in- why hadn’t you asked what your friend looked like? Surely you had to have-

“Squire.”

The thought melts away as easily as it arose.

“Time grows short, shatter my prison and we shall leave this desolate land.”

The case is simple, but you struggle to open it for much longer than you’d like to admit. Pulling at it yields nothing, and scraping your chitinous fingers against the glass does nothing but hurt them. You’re stumped, until your friend chimes in again.

“We cannot waste time on frivolity, Squire. I apologize.”

Your arms lurch forward, to your surprise. As you attempt to pull away, you find very few muscles accepting the order, instead your hands grasp together and raise above your head. They’re brought down with more force than you’ve ever tried to muster, shattering the glass on impact. Pain jets through your body as your carapace cracks and shards of glass fling themselves into the newly opened spaces, wetting your carapace with blood for the first time you can recall.

It's agonising, worse than you've ever felt in your short, coushioned life, and it turns a knot inside your stomach. A scream would’ve howled forth, if you possessed the vocal cords required to do so. The new set of alarms blaring in the chamber decided to fill the void, forming a strange chorus with the alarms outside.

The voice of what you thought to be your friend returns again, the metallic voice echoing from the blade before you.

“Squire, I do apologize, but I could not abide by a light touch in this scenario, time grows so short. Grasp me. Let us leave this place, and make the beasts tremble before our retribution.”

The only thing trembling right now is you, from the pain, from the twisting ouroburos of emotions you’re experiencing from after having your bodily autonomy stolen, from the reality of your murder finally setting in, and from fear over what comes next. You're a mess.

“Squire, please, there is no time! If we are to live, you must wield me, there is no other alternative-“

You’re not listening anymore, even as the voice grows more and more urgent. You simply stare at your hands, and watch the slow trickle of blood running down your carapace in streams. The sword- you know now that’s what this is, the voice invades your mind with the information- simply sits further ahead of you, it’s twitching now, and the voice is screaming louder and louder with words you can’t understand, flowing over you just as the blood is.

With a particularly loud screech from the sword, you snap back to reality and, for the first time in your life, you make a decision on your own.

You grab the sword, ignoring the shards of glass working their way further into your flesh, emboldened by the new pressure on your palms.

And you wait.

After a few long moments of nothing, you start to feel it. Metal blossoms from the hilt and wraps around your carapace, twisting itself into elaborate chainmail and interlocking with your body. You feel powerful, more than ever before, and you can sense the voice of your friend somewhere at the back of your mind, not speaking into it, but a part of it, filling you with the validification you’ve missed.

The stress melts away, as does the pain, you feel whole. Powerful. Home.

And… warm?

Too warm, too bright, you have barely have a moment to register that something is wrong, to even start to feel the pang of fear welling up inside your friend, before the heat washes over you and everything simply stops.

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