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Memory in Peril

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Joel was bored.

There was no other word to describe how he felt. He was bored.

Hermes was with Sausage for the week, and Sausage had told him that he wanted to take Hermes on a camping trip in the Jungle, and he didn’t want to drop in on them and ruin their time together. He could go down to his subjects on the ground and be worshipped by them, but he wasn’t really in the mood for it at this moment in time. He could work on expanding Stratos even further, flexing his artistic muscles to create something even more beautiful than what he had created last time, but he felt a little burnt out from thinking so much.

He glanced over to the pantheon of Peril, the farmer goddess, and his friend. Or at least… he was pretty sure she was called Peril. He couldn’t really remember, but that was his best guess.

“I should really remember her name,” Joel muttered to himself.

But Joel didn’t remember her name, he didn’t even remember what she looked like – the statue at the centre of her pantheon was just him guessing. He wasn’t even 100% sure that she was, well, a she. He was pretty sure she was a goddess, and not a god, but there was always that tiny bit of doubt in the back of his mind that he had remembered wrong.

He had mostly come to forget one of his closest friends, building the pantheon to remember her by far later than he should have. So many things about her that he simply forgot, and had been lost to time. So many things that he probably recalled wrong, and would remain incorrect forever. So many things he didn’t even know he was making up, fooling himself every time he looked.

He cursed his failing memory. He was a god, his memory should have been perfect. For millennia it had been. And for reasons Joel knew he would never know – he tried for centuries to find an answer – it had started to let go of him. He had tried to ignore it, tried to deny it, but by the time he decided to make monuments to those he knew he should never forget… well, he glanced at Peril’s pantheon.

He missed having friends that could truly understand him as a god, but they had long since died. Alone, for centuries. Never to meet someone like himse –

Joel flew off into the air. Away from the pantheons to his friends he barely remembered. Away from Stratos as a whole. Just… away. He didn’t have a particular destination in mind, not really looking where he was flying. Anywhere was better than a reminder of his failures.

The Greatbridge came into view through the valley.

Joel looked at it for a moment, before deciding that visiting some ancient ruins, ancient enough to be built while his friends were still alive. It might help him calm down, or it might massively backfire, but Joel didn’t particularly care. Joel didn’t really care about much beyond Hermes, Sausage, and to a lesser degree, Stratos.

He flew down the length of the Greatbridge, just above the road. He admitted to himself that the structure was incredibly impressive, especially given that it was constructed by mortals. Mortals who had aspired to build like the gods. Mortals who had succeeded.

That civilisation had long since fallen, collapsing from internal strife centuries before Joel had decided to settle in this part of the world. But their grand aspiring architecture lived on, even though it’s clear time will eventually win. Time always wins.

The dozen new empires that have sprouted in over the centuries, on the land once claimed by someone else, each took a pillar of the Greatbridge for themselves. They showed off their own building prowess, but it truly paled in comparison to what they were building on top of.

The ancient civilisation was greater than all of them combined.

But the ancient civilisation had fallen.

And some day Joel would fall too.

But it would not be today. Joel flew through the open gates at the end of the Greatbridge, the massive wooden doors jammed open, the hinges as big as he was rusted solid and unmoving. He flew up higher into the air, coming up behind a massive statue, before landing on the top of its golden wing. Joel felt the surface shift beneath his feet, and looked down to see the wafer thin gold plating on top of the stone come loose. He gently kicked it away, seeing the gold leaf get blown by the wind until it was just a spec in the sunlight, and then nothing. He looked back down to see plain grey rock where beautiful untarnished gold had once been.

He stepped off the statue’s wing, feeling a little more of the gold come loose. He would feel bad if there was anyone left around to care about it.

He landed on the ground in front of the statue, and turned around to look up at it.

It seemed… familiar.

It wasn’t the face, or it couldn’t have been. The face had been worn down by wind and rain, and was now mostly just a smooth-ish piece of granite. He could see where the nose had once stuck out, and just about make out where the eyes had been, and nothing else. But at the same time there was something about the shape of the face? Maybe her hair? It felt correct, even though Joel didn’t know why.

The sword in her hand felt right to him, it would have looked wrong without it being there. It seemed to fit in her grasp perfectly – not that statues can grasp things, what a ridiculous notion – and it just felt to make the whole statue more complete. And for some reason he could also imagine a hoe in place of the sword. A completely different tool, and yet for some reason still the right one.

Joel started to feel bad about damaging the statue just a moment ago, the thin leaves of gold flying in the wind, never to be seen again. It was a silly feeling, there was nobody around to care about the damage, and time would inevitably destroy it anyway. Besides, Joel could fix it easily if he wanted to.

He raised up his hand and snapped his fingers, the gold leaf that once plated the wing had now returned, back to the state it had been before Joel had touched it.

He gave a quiet chuckle to himself. If he didn’t know any better, he would say the statue reminded him of Peril. Something about the shape, or the way the statue seemed to carry itself, it felt familiar to him even though he didn’t know why.

Joel then frowned. He didn’t know any better. For all he knew, he could have been looking at a statue of Peril. It was probably old enough to have been built while she was still… around.

His eyes trailed down the height of the statue, from the top down to the base, where he saw that it was open. A doorway in the foundation of the statue. It was strange, not something he’d ever design, so he went to take a closer look.

He went through the doorway, and soon saw what looked to be an oversized tomb pushed to the side, skid marks scrapping over the stone. Joel didn’t know why it was open, or for how long, but it revealed a staircase down into some sort of basement. So, Joel went down.

The corridors were cramped, Joel having to hunch over slightly to fit through, and be weary of his head hitting anything on the ceiling. Though he mused that they probably weren’t designed with an 11-foot-tall god in mind. The floors had inlays of interictally painted terracotta, and turquoise copper that Joel knew would flake if he pressed it too hard.

The air was damp, and small flows of water ran down grooves in the stairway that they themselves had slowly eroded into existence over the centuries. Moss and lichen overgrowth carpeted the walls, though they seemed to decrease in density the deeper and darker in he went.

As he walked further down the sunlight that trickled in from the outside faded away, eventually leaving him in a suffocating darkness. Or, it would have been suffocating had he not been a god. His magic allowing him to see clearly, as though the ceiling and earth above had been removed and the noon day sun was pouring in.

He then noticed that the walls started to be lined with stone coffins. Intricate stonework, covered in copper, gold, and faded paint. Some of the coffins were empty, lids missing, but most of them were covered.

He was walking through catacombs.

This didn’t particularly bother Joel. It was admittedly a bit strange to him that a catacomb was built under the statue of who he presumed was Peril, but Joel had seen many strange cultures over the millennia. He’d seen far stranger than this.

And so, Joel kept walking. Exploring further, seeing the beautiful patterns in the floor, walls, and ceiling that so few had likely ever seen. This was even giving him some inspiration for further expansions of Stratos.

Joel then saw a light.

The light was moving, and Joel sped up to catch it. He wasn’t scared, he was a literal god. He could collapse every tunnel with a snap of his fingers, crushing it under thousands of tonnes of dirt. No mortal could hurt him, and there was no god left who could either.

“Hello?” Joel called out, still walking toward the figure.

The person turned toward him, a torch in his hand shining onto Joel, and illuminating the hallway. He wore a worn and tattered dark blue shirt and khaki trousers, with thick brown leather boots on his feet, the laces tied perfectly, and a beige backpack on his back. He had a thick and scruffy brown beard, his dark blue eyes looking at Joel with confusion.

“Uh, hi?” The man said, unsurely. “I will admit, I didn’t expect any company on my trip down here... Especially not from a god.”

Joel pressed his hand against the ceiling, hunched over. The other man wouldn’t be able to reach it even if he jumped.

“And I didn’t expect to see anyone down here either,” Joel replied, looking down at the man. “I’m god Joel, though I imagine you already knew that,” He said with a small grin.

“Pixlriffs. Or just Pixl, for… short,” Pixl said, his voice suddenly becoming quiet. His eyes started to run down the murals on the walls, his torch slipping slightly out of his hand, pointing to the floor. The top of the walls were now dim, direct light no longer applied to them, but Pixl didn’t seem to notice. His eyes looking onto the dark walls.

“Pixl?” Joel said with concern.

Pixl suddenly snapped at Joel’s voice, raising his torch back up and shaking his head to clear his mind, having been broken out of his reverie. “Sorry about that, that just… happens sometimes. I can’t really control it.”

“What was ‘it’, and what are you doing down here?” Joel questioned, genuinely curious. A god drops in on him unannounced, and yet something is able to distract him.

“I’m a … I guess you could say I’m an archaeologist, of sorts,” Pixl said, before sighing. “And as for ‘it’? Well… let’s just say magical visions of the past you can’t control generally aren’t fun, though they can be very enlightening,” He raised his torch back up, shining it along the walls of the tunnel the pair was standing in. “This place used to have magical lights – you can see a few of the lanterns are still hanging – that kept the whole place lit up. The walls had beautifully vibrant patterns and murals all over, with stunning blues, yellows, and pinks. But now, well, look for yourself.”

Joel looked to the walls Pixl was shining the torch on, seeing dull and faded paint, flaking off onto the floor where the water destroyed them. Examining the colours more closely, he could tell that this used to be some sort of mural painted onto the wall, but the damage made it unintelligible, Joel unable to figure out what it was or represented.

“Have you seen anything else interesting?” Joel asked, turning back to face Pixl.

Pixl scratched his beard. “I’ve found what seems to be some sort of secret tunnel over there –“ Pixl turned around and shined his light behind him, revealing a small hole in the wall “– which is lined with murals of goddess Pearl. I haven’t been down there yet, though,” Pixl explained factually, then turning back around to face Joel.

Joel’s eyes had widened slightly, his movements slowed. “Did… did you say Peril?” He asked, his voice quieter than it had been a moment ago.

“Huh? No, I said Pearl,” Pixl replied, the torch in his hand moving as he spoke, causing the shadows to move from left to right, then back again. “She was the farming goddess these people worshipped. In fact, a lot of other ancient civilisations worshipped her as well. The people here also believed her to be a capable warrior, something some of the peoples that worshipped her also believed in. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been seen in well over 1000 years, and most theories about her disappearance are either lacking in substantial evidence or rely wholly on unsubstantiated faith,” Pixl then muttered something under his breath, though Joel couldn’t hear what.

Joel swallowed, his hands shaking. This couldn’t be, right? He can’t possibly be talking about… can he? He thought to himself. “And you’re sure her name was Pearl, and not… something else? Like Peril?” He asked tentatively.

Pixl considered his words for a moment. “That’s what all the civilisations I’ve come across that worshipped her called her,” He explained, taking some steps back and shining his light down the secret tunnel, revealing deeply faded murals of sunflowers. He then slowed his movements, the torch in his hand slowly slipping forward out of his grasp, until it clattered to the floor, snapping Pixl back to reality. He reached down and picked his light back up, smiling nervously at Joel, rubbing the back of his head while looking to the stonework below his feet. “Sorry about that, it’s not usually this bad, but when I’m in a place with so much history, well…” He trailed off, letting Joel interpret the ending of the sentence himself.

Pixl then raised his free hand and waved himself off, “Anyway, all the civilisations I’ve come across that worshipped her called her Pearl. Although… –“ Pixl grew a look of pensiveness and tapped his chin “– I suppose there could have been another farming god I’ve never heard about,” He said, though he didn’t seem particularly convinced. His voice didn’t sound like he thought Joel was lying, it sounded like he thought he was simply misinformed.

Why would he think a god was misinformed?

“Yeah, yeah,” Joel answered, a nervous tinge to his voice. “So, uh, secret tunnel?” Joel prompted, gesturing at the small tunnel in the side of the wall. He didn’t want this line of conversation to continue anymore. Did this archaeologist know Joel had forgotten? Why would a mortal not believe a god?

And her name couldn’t Pearl, could it? It sounded very much like Peril, and – Joel sighed to himself – if anything, Pearl sounded more right. Despite the fact that he’d been calling her Peril for the better part of 100 years, calling her Peril suddenly now sounded completely wrong. It was as though a switch had been flipped in his mind.

Her name was Pearl, he was sure of it.

Pixl began to make his way down the secret tunnel, shining his light ahead of him and made his in, having to crouch down slightly to avoid hitting his head on the low ceiling. Joel followed behind him, but quickly realised he’d have to practically crawl to fit through the tiny passageway. For a brief moment Joel considered stopping, not letting a mortal see a god on his hands and knees, but he squashed such a thought down almost immediately. He had learnt more about Pearl in the past two minutes than he had in the prior hundred years, he couldn’t afford to let this opportunity go to waste. And there was something odd about Pixl, he seemed far surer of things than an archaeologist should have been, but Joel didn’t think it was down to arrogance. He had to know what he knew.

“Did you know the big statue above us is also of Pearl?” Pixl asked, turning his head around to face Joel, carefully feeling his way down the steps.

Joel slowed his crawling for a moment. “I sort of assumed, it did look a bit like her,” It looked exactly like her.

“It did,” Pixl replied with a small smile, before it quickly fell away and he turned back around, “It really did,” He whispered, the strained tone in his voice barely making it to Joel’s ears. Joel never claimed to be the smartest god – well he did out loud, though he never believed it – but even he could tell Pixl was hiding something.

After far more crawling than Joel was happy with, the passageway finally opened up into a dimly lit room. He stood up, the space tall enough for him to stand up straight, and dusted himself off. He then looked up to see –

Pearl

A mural of Pearl. It was worn, the paint flaking, but the air was dry, and it was unmistakably her. It had her long green dress that gracefully fell to the floor, that would gently drag along the ground but never get caught or dirty. Her characteristic sword held firmly in her hand, the golden hilt with petal engravings, and green handguard shaped like leaves. Her sunflower crown that never wilted and was always as vibrant as the day it was made, over her long blonde hair that curled gently at the ends. Her soft and welcoming sky-blue eyes, that never failed to put him at ease when he needed her.

For the first time in centuries, Joel could genuinely say she knew what Pearl, his friend, looked like. It made him want to cry.

And it seemed Pixl had the same idea.

Pixl sniffed and brought a hand up to wipe at his face. He stared at the mural, his eyes wide and unblinking. “It’s been so long,” He whispered to nobody. He took slow steps towards it, and carefully raised his hand up, then gently touched the dress of the Mural. His head was craned all the way up, looking at her face high above him, where he then muttered something to himself.

Joel slowly followed behind him, looking up at the Mural as well. He felt smaller and weaker than he normally did, having to put in effort to keep his breathing steady. Reconnecting with someone he thought he never would see again made his heart twist in his chest. Joel couldn’t remember the last time he felt like this.

The pair of them stood there, looking up at the mural in relative silence, broken only occasionally by a sniff, or a tear falling onto the floor.

“Did you know her?” Joel eventually asked, but not breaking his eyes away from the image in front of him.

Pixl glanced behind him to Joel, before turning back around to look at Pearl. He didn’t say anything for a while, simply looking at the mural, eyes gently flowing over all the details.

Pixl was probably seeing it in its original beauty, unlike Joel.

“I did,” Pixl eventually answered. “I’m not… a normal human – even ignoring my magic. Parts of me are normal, but parts of me are these machines made of metal. As far as I can tell I was made by someone else. I’ve not got parents, or siblings. I just… woke up one day in some kind of vault in the middle of nowhere. That must’ve been about 2000 years ago, I’m not really sure, and I’ve spent most of my time simply… wandering.”

Joel didn’t say anything, letting Pixl’s words flow into his ears. It seemed unbelievable, but he knew he was telling the truth.

“About, I’m not sure, maybe 1500 years ago I decided to settle in a desert. Burrowed into this big formation of rock that was sticking out of the ground, digging tunnels and rooms, and soon people joined me. Eventually it became a bit of a maze, and we decided to call it the ‘Anthill’ since that’s what it felt like. I soon learned of other empires that were in the region. Mythland, Rivendell, Mezalea… and the one Pearl ruled over –“

“– Gilded Helenthia,” Joel interrupted, the name flashing into his mind. He looked down at Pixl, who turned to look back up at him and gently nodded, turning back around. Joel then began to furrow his brow at Pixl, his name suddenly sounding familiar for some reason.

“We became good friends over the centuries we knew each other,” Pixl continued, solemnly. “Of course, she would leave to go to other parts of the world to visit her other followers, or see the other gods, often for years at a time, but she’d always come back to Gilded Helenthia eventually. I’d go on my own travels as well, leave for months, sometimes a year or two, then come back to Pixandria. Whenever one of us left, the other would be waiting for our return.”

Pixl then fell quiet, raising his hand back up against the mural, then leaning his head forward until his forehead rested against the painted stonework, cushioned only by his hair. He released a deep breath, and Joel could hear the sadness from it.

“…What happened?” Joel prompted, curious as to what happened next. He knew he wouldn’t like what he’d hear. Pearl was dead, so Pixl’s story could only end in tragedy, but he had to know.

“… I went out on another one of my travels, left for about a year, but when I got back…” Pixl trailed off, not really knowing what to say. “There was so much destruction. Some of my friends were still alive, I managed to find Joel in the ruins of his empire – I believe his parents may have named him after you, in fact.”

Joel simply nodded. Normally he would be delighted to know a mortal was named after him, but this didn’t feel like the time.

“Joel… he didn’t seem to be in a good way. Just going through the motions of life. I know I probably should have stayed to help, but… I don’t really know what I was thinking at that time, honestly. I never went back; I don’t know what happened to him,” Pixl sighed and closed his eyes. “I actually managed to find Gem again after decades. She was old, I think she was in her 80s when I found her, but I at least managed to speak to her after so long. Her brother, fWhip, had died a few years prior unfortunately. They created a new magic school and were apparently happy by the end, so it wasn’t all bad news I suppose.”

Joel didn’t know who any of these people were, but he could tell they still meant a lot to Pixl, even though this had happened over 1000 years ago.

“I never did find the rest. Katherine, Shrub, Sausage –“

Joel perked up.

“– Jimmy, and Lizzie. It was so long ago, but I still wonder what happened to them,” Pixl then released a sad and tired laugh to himself. “I mean Jimmy and Lizzie could technically still be alive, they’re both immortal – or they should be – and Lizzie was Goddess of the ocean, but… I’ve not heard or seen a word from them for the past over a thousand years.”

Joel’s thought process hit a brick wall. Lizzie? That name is so familiar. And goddess of the ocean? Does that mean… Surely not. Joel hadn’t heard from Lizzie in even longer than Pearl. Pearl had told her what happened to Lizzie, or at least he thought she did, he didn’t remember. If anyone else would know it would be Pixl.

“The rest of my friends died… including Pearl. I don’t know how or why, and I suspect I never will, but sometimes I still go out and look for answers, and this place…” Pixl looked up through the ceiling, to the destroyed civilisation above. “… this place has some answers.”

“You said you met the goddess of the ocean?” Joel asked, backtracking the conversation slightly. He hadn’t seen her in far longer than even Pearl. She was one of the first gods to disappear, but if Pixl’s story of events were to be believed, then that meant she hadn’t really been gone.

“Hmm? She ruled an empire close to mine, and in fact we became friends and allies,” Pixl said, reminiscing on the past. He paused for a moment, looking down to the stonework below. “She’s had quite a tragic past. She had to leave the ocean to stop an invasion of salmon that was killing her brother, Jimmy, but in doing so lost her power and godhood.”

I swear I remember something about a salmon invasion. Joel thought to himself.

“She ended up becoming indistinguishable from a regular human, barring her immortality. Stayed that way for, as far as we could figure out, hundreds of years, maybe even coming up on a thousand. Eventually she regained her godhood and powers, but… less than a year later the Rapture happened, and I’ve not seen or heard from her since,” Pixl finished sadly, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to steady himself. “I still wonder if she and Jimmy are still out there. It’s possible, but…” Pixl didn’t finish his sentence, instead slowing pinching the rough fabric of his shirt, taking his mind off of the heavy subject.

Joel took his words in. He wished he could truly remember what had happened. He thought he remembered Pearl telling him about Lizzie returning, but that could just be his current mind making up a plausible sounding scenario in his head. Plausible sounding scenarios he made up had become increasingly common to him over the past century, simply to fill in the gaps in his memory with something.

A silence filled the air, filled on by the sound of his and Pixl’s gentle breathing. Pixl had turned back to the mural, having nothing more to say, wanting to take another look at his friend he hadn’t seen in so long. Joel had nothing more to ask, not right now at least. He had plenty of questions, but down in this mural room, with the image of their deceased friend on the wall, it didn’t feel like the right place.

Joel took the opportunity to silently look around the rest of the room having not yet had the chance, both of their attentions having been rightfully dominated by the artwork in front of them. The rest of the walls had murals of sunflowers and, for some reason, wither roses. Wither roses felt like a strange flower to have depicted down here, but Joel wasn’t going to question the religious beliefs and practices of a civilisation that no longer existed.

He looked to the other side of the room, where his eyes cam across a… coffin? So, this is a tomb, Joel thought to himself. It certainly seemed like a strange one, though, why have a farming goddess on the wall? He slowly walked up to the coffin, seeing a perfectly preserved gold plaque on the side. The fine lettering had stood up to time surprisingly well, and though it was covered in dust, Joel could still lean in and read the words:

“Here lies Mythical Sausage”

“What?” Joel and Pixl said simultaneously.

Pixl turned his torch to shine on the coffin, quickly stepping up to it and reading the words on the plaque for himself. His eyes widened, and he gasped while taking a step back in shock. “It can’t – how could – it’s not… possible. Is it?” Pixl muttered in an almost frantic fashion, eyes scanning over the plaque again and again and again.

“But Sausage is still alive, why does he have a coffin here of all places,” Joel spoke aloud to himself, trying to make sense of the situation. Sausage was alive and well with Hermes, he’d seen him just a few days ago. There was no reason he should have a coffin here. Sure, he worshipped a farming goddess, … called St Pearl – but that didn’t excuse him having a coffin here.

“What do you mean Sausage is still alive!?” Pixl said with a frantic desperation, shining his light straight into Joel’s face.

“Mythical Sausage. Leader of Sanctuary. Other father to our child. I saw him just a few days ago, he’s fine,” Joel explained, concerned for Pixl with the sudden strong reaction he was giving.

Pixl gave Joel a look of shock. “The Mythical Sausage I knew lived over a thousand years ago, ended up becoming a friend of mine, and was… –“ Pixl shined his light back on the mural of Pearl on the wall “– the best friend of Pearl,” He swallowed, the light he held shaking in his now unsteady hand. “Is that why the depictions of Pearl I’ve seen here are always far more accurate than anywhere else?” He muttered to himself. “Is that why I’ve seen such personal references to Gem and fWhip – it wasn’t a coincidence or someone that went to their new school? Is that why, after sunflowers, wither roses are the most common flower imagery present… Could it really be? Surely not,” He slowly turned to shine his light on the coffin again.

Pixl slowly walked up to the coffin with trepidation and placed his hand on the lid. He wiped a thick layer of heavy dust that had settled over the millennium. Beneath the dust revealed detailed and intricate engravings in the stonework. Sunflowers, wither roses, and… sheep. Pixl swallowed. He didn’t know for sure who was beneath the lid, but he held a very strong suspicion. He also held enough respect for the dead, and Sausage especially, to not open it. “You said you know a Mythical Sausage?” Pixl asked, keeping his eyes and hand on the coffin. “I don’t suppose he’s said something?”

Joel didn’t say anything, thinking to Sausage. Sausage was hardly an ordinary man, Joel would never gift him Hermes if he were, but he was also pretty sure he wasn’t over a thousand years old. He couldn’t have been the same person Pixl knew, and he definitely didn’t have a coffin in the middle of a long-abandoned crumbling city. But…

“Sausage recently told me he had a few flashbacks to ‘past lives,” Joel said, bringing his hands up in quotations. “I don’t suppose that could have something to do with it?” Joel finished, tone rising unsurely at the end.

Pixl turned away from the coffin to face Joel, and looked up to him with an expression Joel couldn’t quite place. It felt like hope, but at the same time not.

“… Did he say what he saw in these flashbacks?” Pixl asked.

“He said his most recent one happened when he held a wither rose. He saw flashes of a group of four people, though he couldn’t properly make them out,” Joel answered, shrugging his shoulders. He couldn’t really make sense of the flashback at all. But he could quickly tell Pixl could. He was stood completely still, eyes wide and barely breathing.

“D-did…” Pixl swallowed, trying to steady himself. “Did he give any details?” Pixl asked with a shake in his voice.

“A few. He said he saw someone who looked like him, someone who he thought was St Pearl, someone with a big purple hat, and someone else with ginger hair and a red sca –“

“– The Wither Rose alliance,” Pixl whispered with shock, his face noticeably paler.

“Who?” Joel asked, only growing more confused by the second.

Pixl brought his hand up and wiped his forehead, removing a bead of sweat that was starting to roll down. “The Wither Rose alliance was, well, an alliance between four different empires, including both Sausage and Pearl. If your Sausage is having flashbacks to it, then…” Pixl slowly turned around to shine his light back on the coffin behind him. “Do you believe in souls?” Pixl asked, staring unblinking at the coffin.

Joel crossed his arms and rolled his eyes as if he asked the simplest question in the world. “Obviously.”

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

“For mortals, yeah.”

Pixl fell silent again, placing a hand on the coffin lid again. He held his hand there for a few more moments, before turning around to look at Joel firmly.

“I think your Sausage is a reincarnation of mine,” Pixl declared.

Joel’s eyes widened slightly. He knew that most people he met had been reincarnated at least once, and he assumed Sausage was too, but he had never met a past iteration of a person. He looked the coffin, where the… old Sausage lay. He knew he had probably come across reincarnations of people he had already met before, but this was the first time he knew, and it was one of the very few people he actually held close to his heart. Joel didn’t know what to think. How similar was this old Sausage to the one he knew? Would they have got along well? Was he as kind and caring? Just as funny? He didn’t know, and he knew he never truly would.

“Do… Do you think I could meet your Sausage?” Pixl asked, a nervousness clear in his voice.

Joel looked to Pixl, the words snapping him out of his introspection. He blinked a few times, quickly running Pixl’s question through his head. “Not right now,” Joel replied. “He’s on a camping trip with our son, though he should be back in three days. When he’s back then… you can, yeah. Maybe help him with the flashbacks he’s having as well.”

Pixl smiled genuinely at Joel, with a layer of excitement behind his eyes. “Thank you,” He said appreciatively. Pixl then turned to look around the rest of the room, shining his light on the murals he hadn’t yet looked at.

Joel looked at Pixl, and thought back to what he had told him before. He knew Pearl, he knew her personally. He probably knew her better than anyone else left alive in the world. And he knew Lizzie too, a friend he hadn’t spoken to in about 2000 years.

“Pixl, can you tell me more about Pearl and Lizzie?” Joel asked. He would never get a better opportunity to learn about his friends, he had to ask. He had to know what they were truly like, and not simply believe in the made-up stories he told himself.

Pixl looked back to Joel. “Oh, well, what would you like to know?”

“How about… how you first met.”

“Okay. I met Pearl some 1500 years ago. I was exploring the land around the desert I had settled when I saw…”

Pixl continued to tell his tale, and Joel listened unwaveringly, not letting a single word slip him by. He asked questions to Pixl, and Pixl happily obliged him. Pixl finally getting the chance to tell his story to someone who honestly cared made his eyes and mind light up, not having had the opportunity to do so for so long. Pixl continued to tell tales for hours, and in those hours, Joel learnt more about his friends than he had in centuries.

For the first time in so long, Joel could claim to be happy beyond the sight of Sausage and Hermes.