Our pure Vessel has ascended. Beyond lies only the refuse and regret of its creation. We shall enter that place no longer.


All Ghost can think about is falling.

The sensation of slipping metal lingers under their twitching claws, screaming out with all the struggling survival instincts of a creature that doesn't know it's already dead. The abyss's air should be perfectly still as the memory fades, but the rush of distant motion and the hollow thud of bodies hasn't ended.

What more is there to recall? What other pains does the past have in store for them? The picture is complete: the climb, the fall, the king's terrible declaration. Refuse and regret - that's all they were to him. The last image in the outside light is still printed on their mind: their sibling just ahead, the Hollow Knight they've met twice now, first in the city's stone memorial and now here in a stolen moment between the destined and the detritus, those round black eyes like a mirror staring down on their frantic efforts to ascend.

Were Ghost another sort of bug, they would call that stare pitiless, uncaring - or perhaps innocent in ignorance, curious but unaware of what it saw. Ghost knows better. The Hollow Knight's gaze was a mournful one, one Ghost has been reduced to more times than they can count, wishing fruitlessly for someone to read the invisible emotion written across their mask.

The memory, the dream - whatever this realm is - drags on. It fails to cease existing and enveloping them in the gentle quiet of the dark, filling them with the terrible dread of nothing ahead.

Ghost hasn't exactly done this before, but it seems like any moment they should startle awake on the floor of the abyss, still half reflected the mirror sheen of their broken egg, dream nail in hand. They know what matters now, not just the scraps of what's slipped between their claws like wasteland dust, but the present as well. There's no reason left to linger.

(Is there anything at all left to relive? Or will the dream simply force them to play out every endless lifetime they might have spent here, alone in a makeshift catacomb while the world above them burns? The time from their first memory of the wastes to setting foot in Hallownest's borders seems like split second compared to the length of the kingdom's decline. Dynasties were born and buried; generations begat countless generations. Hallownest had faded to literal legend, and all that time, they must have been trapped here. How long can the memory even last?)

If this is a dream, the air here should be thick with drifting motes of essence, Ghost notes. More than that, it should probably be someone else's. Outside rare occasions when the dream nail opens the door to another mind, Ghost does not dream. They have tried.

The only bugs Ghost encountered, with exception of a dozen nameless siblings who met them only as corpses, were the King and the Hollow Knight - if the dream originated from either, its boundaries should have shattered long ago, when Ghost lost their grip and fell. That's how it's always worked before. There's just no clouds to cushion their fall.

They shouldn't be here. No, they shouldn't be able to be here.

Unless...?

Slowly, laboriously, Ghost forces themself to sit amid the pile of shattered masks and leaking bodies. The other siblings have stopped falling sometime in the intervening minutes. It's a small mercy.

They recall no other survivors, though there must be at least a few - the traveler in Greenpath, the broken one in the Basin, the dangling corpses strung up together in the Nosk's lair. None can be seen now.

No time to think about that, they chide themselves. Take inventory first. Make a plan. Find answers.

A quick patdown reveals their equipment a mixture of familiar and not - their precious nail is gone (there goes three lumps of pale ore and all the nailsmith's careful handiwork, absolutely nowhere), as is the mantis claw they stole for climbing in the fungal wastes. More concerningly, the dream nail is missing, which means Ghost is even less sure how they'd leave even if they wanted to.

When they reach for their pouch of charms, they find nothing. The knowledge of soul and spellcasting, though, still lingers gut-deep, and when they tense the right muscles in their back, they can hear as well as feel the membrane of wings rustle beneath their cloak. Their possessions have not survived, it seems, but their body is still their own.

On one hand, it's good to know they don't need to get knocked unconscious and put on pest control duty again to regain some long-range options in a fight. (Honestly, that shaman could have just asked!) On the other, they're going to miss the acid immunity. And charm notches.

Speaking of notches, when they go to check (clinging to some foolish, ill-considered hope of finding their current set still safely in place), a new puzzle introduces itself. Though all the charms and notches alike have vanished, there's a space at the center of their chest, just over their heart, where the seams of carapace no longer meet. Something smooth and round has buried itself there, where their first ever notch had been carefully pierced into their shell.

An ordinary bug might be far more concerned by this development, but unfortunately, Ghost has gotten used to new powers changing their form in ways they never asked for.

They turn their head and crane their neck downward, struggling to get a good look, but their head has always been rather large relative to their torso, and their chin keeps getting in the way. Between that and the fact there's only the dimmest glimmer of light to see by, this deep, filtering down from the edges of the sealed door above, the most they can discern is a round-edged gleam half the width of their fist, as if some power had foregone the notches to embed a whole charm directly into their flesh.

The more they run their claws over the unfamiliar etchings, the more it seems that's exactly what it is.

Well.

It can't be weirder than growing wings.

As they start to stand, something crunches softly. Ghost tenses, freezing to listen, and for the first time since they've entered the abyss, they hear footsteps that are not their own.

The footsteps spill over from drops to trickle to a full cascade, and the air turns colder, a sibling's regret hissing and wailing like wind through cliffs in the darkness. Mask shards clatter on the floor, footsteps ever quicker and nearer, until a vessel, still alive, comes scurrying out of the darkness with a pair of shades in cold pursuit.

Ghost only has a moment to react before the vessel - their sibling, oh gods - darts behind them, grabbing Ghost's cloak like an anchor and swinging around them so fast the momentum nearly yanks Ghost off their feet.

There's no real time to think in a fight. Ghost has learned this lesson the hard way a hundred times over; it's only because they can split their shell and yet live again that they have ever had the chance to do better. Fights are reflex and reaction and split-second sparks of ideas, all driven by frantic emotion the first time and made more methodical with each passing iteration.

There's one thing they've gotten good at more than anything else, though, and it's not freezing on their feet.

Without a single thought passing through their head, Ghost's hand goes for their nail. The sudden stop when they remember they're unarmed transforms into a fluid new gesture, pushing forward and out like they've done countless times before to summon the dregs of their gathered soul into a focused projectile. The shade they aim for swerves unexpectedly at the last second, much to their frustration, and the shot goes wide to spatter harmlessly against the wall, spraying particles of void and soul like spores.

The shades seethe in harmony, gliding forward through the cold air, and the little sibling clutches Ghost's cloak a little tighter. Something about the shades' whispers sets Ghost's own shade stirring, shuddering beneath their mask.

They're angry, the shades. They're... resentful? Bitter? Spiteful, even, maybe vengeful, but not at Ghost. Not at this sibling, either. Ghost strains to sense it, trying to bring their own shade in tune with their siblings', to understand.

trapped, whispers one.

trapped, agrees the other. There's an impression of burning, of chains, of something closing in around their head, painful and tight. light...

The first shade leans forward, swifter than Ghost expects, and suddenly it's in arm's reach, bright eyes staring directly into Ghost's own. Something resonates between them; Ghost's shade pulses for a second like they've been beaten within an inch of their life, like it's ready to burst free of their shell again, to escape, and then it goes still.

The shade's head tilts. It's confused, Ghost realizes.

...not trapped? ...at peace?

Ghost nods, unsure how to communicate anything in return. They've never had to worry about it before. None of the shades in the abyss wanted anything but Ghost's shell in shards when they first came home.

peace, the shade repeats to itself, and Ghost's whole body seems to shiver with a feeling of strange resignation. unbroken. remain.

It's not so much the words as an idea: a prison, void writhing within, only to still into something like contentment. A strange decision, one the shades cannot understand, but the curiosity at their void's willing confinement holds the sibling-shades back from trying to free them.

Seeming satisfied, the shade Ghost missed with the projectile spell turns and floats away, somewhere higher into the shadows. The first one that questioned them remains, hovering nearby.

strange sibling, it observes. Its attention shifts to the living sibling still clinging to Ghost's cloak, who has not moved in all this time. another...

Ghost puts an arm out between the shade and their trembling sibling. It's mostly symbolic - the shade could slip past them in an instant - but it feels like something, at least.

free, the shade offers. It must think it's being kind. release. escape.

Ghost doesn't move, instead trying to project all they can that no, this sibling is under their protection, and this shade won't hurt them. The shade rears back, radiating surprise.

trapped, the shade insists again, sounding more confused than before. A sense of sympathy and sorrow washes over them, almost pitying. This sibling still lived bound inside a pale prison like the others, but their shade could not be at rest like Ghost's. It was still fresh and angry and beating at the bars of its cell; once freed, it would be grateful, however painful the escape.

Ghost shakes their head, struggling to force the concepts again into simple impressions. no. alive, they try to explain. no pain. no need.

... trapped... the shade repeats, but it sounds less confident. ... no pain?

Ghost turns to look over their shoulder at the sibling behind them. A belated shock of recognition runs through them - it's the sibling from Greenpath, the one they found dead at Hornet's feet when they finally caught up to her. Even now, Ghost can't say if their sibling was freshly dead or already long gone, but they're alive now, and the thought hits them like a nail to the face.

The sibling from Greenpath is alive, right in front of them - alive, small, and trembling as they keep their mortal grip on Ghost's cloak. Ghost understood, on some level, that wherever they were now had to be some point in the distant past, but only now does the full weight of that concept settle in.

Their siblings are not dead yet. Ghost can climb to the top of the abyss all on their own. It'll be harder with only their wings and no nail, but they can do it, and with care and patience they could bring others along with them. The glut of small bodies in the Nosk's den means a route through Deepnest, at least; even without a map, Ghost remembers where most of the tunnels lead and how to negotiate the terrain. They've escaped this place once, and they can do it again.

The opportunity stretched out at their claw-tips is immense, and like their travels across the void sea, Ghost has only just begun to skim its surface.

no pain, Ghost echoes. keep safe. promise.

The shade makes a noise like a gentle breeze, and bobs in place. promise?

Ghost nods. The shade seems to finally turn calm, but does not leave like the other.

follow, it seems to decide, at last. protect.

A feeling hums in Ghost's shade, softly rippling beneath the charm in their chest. This time, it's more of an emotion, and it reminds Ghost of the way Hornet looked at them when she pulled them from the collapsing shed wyrm skin at the kingdom's edge. Unable to understand, perhaps, but fond, even curious of what Ghost might do next.

Ghost decides to take it as a peace offering, and nods again, before turning their attention to the sibling from Greenpath.

Technically, Ghost supposes, they're not from Greenpath yet. This sibling has never been to Greenpath at all, never even left the abyss or seen the bright and foreign world above. They're younger than the corpse in the clearing, body as small as Ghost's - with their low stubby horns, they're actually shorter.

The impulse to protect is overwhelming. Ghost offers a hand, and the not-from-Greenpath sibling lets go of Ghost's cloak to take that instead. Their clumsy infant grip tightens around Ghost's claws, giving the impression they've only exchanged one frantic lifeline for another, and the sibling glances over between Ghost and the lingering shade as if in question.

Can other living siblings hear the shades, Ghost wonders? Perhaps their little sibling hasn't observed anything but a silent staring contest until now.

can understand? Ghost asks, trying to direct the idea at their living sibling instead of the shade. can hear? Forcing out impressions grows easier with each attempt, even limited to what Ghost can distill into each brief, singular idea.

The living sibling startles, and their eyes meet Ghost's directly. Though no reply arrives, there's a ripple in the void, like a grub trying to form its first sounds.

connected. understand, the shade whispers. An image fills Ghost's mind: the void sea, full and deep and rich with many selves. The sea is many, and the sea is one. Great eggs and pulsing roots pull shades from its depths, stealing them away from the whole, but the hum and silence of the sea never ceases. The stolen shades resonate even from within their pale shells, still listening, and the charm in Ghost's chest beats like a heart.

The strength of the image takes a moment to shake off, and when Ghost can see again, their living sibling looks up at them with almost vibrant curiosity. Despite the lack of words, the emotions are almost as clear as Ghost's own, separated only by the vague curtain that might be their sense of self within the void.

hello, Ghost hums to the living sibling. going to climb. sibling comes too?

Their sibling looks up past Ghost to the twisting maze of ledges and overhangs that run the circumference of the central pit, lined with stone thorns and lifeless shells. Though none fall now, this little sibling cannot have missed the endless rain of bodies from before the door closed; they'd have to be blind to ignore the broken masks that line the floor like stripped shells outside a hunter's den.

They stare for a long, contemplative moment, then look back to Ghost. Their gaze wells up with grim determination, and Ghost counters on instinct with a nudge of offered aid, tugging their sibling's hand. Ghost tries to summon up the image of a crack in the walls, a tunnel, and the sense of cool breeze beckoning from some exit beyond.

They aren't actually sure where the exit they must have found is, but they'll find it. It has to exist somewhere, after all.

The sibling replies with something like a question, filled with glowing pale light and a door. Ghost shakes their head. The king has left already. The Hollow Knight, too.

A second question, more curious and surprised - the sibling echoes back an impression of the Hollow Knight, immortalized tall and regal in the fountain in the square, Ghost standing at the plaque as rain collects at the bottom rims of their eyes. Ghost flinches, very slightly, realizing their mistake. This sibling doesn't know the Hollow Knight the way Ghost remembers them, if they've ever met at all.

In for a geo, in for a hundred, Ghost supposes. They share the image again: the memorial, the empty city, the message on the plaque. future, they explain, to the best of their ability. far away. not yet.

Ghost pauses again, thoughtful.

maybe never.

A burst of understanding and something like delight from their sibling, and suddenly a new impression: a sibling with clustered thornlike horns, eyes bright and distant; a claw pointed above as the door begins to open. Ghost struggles to make sense of it, but their sibling seems sure of the connection, pointing above as though imitating the memory.

another sibling? Ghost asks, as their mind works at piecing together the babbling stream of ideas. sibling... of future? knows future?

More abstract concepts, this time - knowledge, soul, a sense of admiration. This new sibling knows things the others cannot; they knew the door would open before it did. A dim past concept of frustration and restraint flickers through their connection. The other sibling... held the little one back? Kept them away from the climb?

I am not a wyrm, that great big creature in Kingdom's Edge had told Ghost, none too long ago. Too small... too many limbs. No foresight like those old things. The strange markers in the Fungal Wastes had spoken of it, too: Its prescience shields us.

(What good to foresee a demise unavoidable? the corpse of a long-dead fungal god had whispered.)

A kernel of a new idea begins to form; their sibling prods at it in wonder. The wyrm, the Pale King, had some knowledge of the future... could he have passed down that foresight to some of his children?

Ghost decides not to dwell on it for too long. They have a climb to make.


Jumping, as it turns out, is a lot harder with a second sibling weighing them down. Ghost has to stop more often than they expect to survey the platforms ahead, carefully mapping routes to the top that they and their tiny sibling can both manage. More than once, Ghost has to revise a path to account for their shortened jumping distance; other times, they hop to the next ledge alone, then hold their claws out to bridge the gap into something the little one can cross. The shade sibling hovers just below them and projects a vague sense of helpfulness, offering to help break their little sibling's fall. It's a small comfort amid the frequent leaps of faith.

A clattering sound grows louder near the top of the pit, echoing from somewhere up above. Ghost almost mistakes it for another falling sibling, something in their chest freezing in horror for a long, awful second before they notice the lack of new bodies cluttering the platforms and floor. The harsh, irregular sound bears little resemblance to falling, once they listen, but still carries the timbre of a broken mask on impact.

The little sibling seems unconcerned. Whether this means the sound is safe, or that the sibling is just particularly unobservant, remains to be seen. The body in Greenpath looked like an explorer, something curious and well-traveled, but their past self is more difficult to gauge. Were they born with that wanderlust, or was it cultivated by a lifetime trapped in their coffin of a nursery, clawing at the walls until something broke free? Ghost can't tell, but prays to no god in particular the latter need not play out for them to learn.

Within two or three jumps from the top, the source of the sound comes just barely into view. A lone sibling seems to have reached the metal platform at the top, and swings at the door with a length of broken horn in stubborn, measured strikes. The door gives no sign of budging (and Ghost doubts it ever will), but this does little to deter the new sibling from bashing away in vain, tiny shards flying from their improvised weapon with each blow. As Ghost clambers up over a ledge, they hear the new sibling's club shatter in half - the remnants come raining down from the edge a moment later, and in the next, the sound resumes.

hello, Ghost calls, wondering if the sibling will hear them from this far away. leaving, too? They try sending that image of a tunnel and breeze again, hoping the new one will understand.

The clattering cuts off in an instant. Ghost sense of a ripple of surprise; their new sibling was startled from their task, not expecting the approach of further survivors. The sibling's mask appears in reality a moment later, looking down at them over the end of the precipice, and Ghost has to fight down a full-body shock at the sight. The little sibling's mental image didn't quite capture their appearance, but now the resemblance is unmistakable.

The vessel in the Ancient Basin had lost half their horns to injury, a gaping hole in their head where swollen light ballooned in a bright oozing mass that bent their neck at angles only a corpse could manage. Ghost forces the image down, smothering the thought in void, but the little vessel squeezes their arm tight enough to say they don't completely succeed.

Their lost kin stares at them for a slow, solemn moment, and then fills Ghost's mind with a sense of cautious querying.

sight? same? The concept from before, of knowledge and soul, but now mingled instead with the weight of responsibility. A flash of vision and an echo of reality. The prongs of the king's crown, silhouetted in the bright doorway; clinging to a smaller sibling and hurrying them away from a light that meant death, in success and in failure alike.

close enough, Ghost tries to communicate, hopping to the next platform and beckoning their little sibling to follow. of future. will help.

help with door, their lost kin replies, with a feeling like a scoff. A knowledge passes between them that the lost one has been bashing at the door nearly since it closed, probing for any weak points, and they are rapidly running out of things to hit it with.

Ghost considers trying to break down the door with another projectile spell, but a quick test of their reserves reveals they're all but out of soul. What little remains can't even heal them. Unless they're willing to go searching for shadow creepers, they have no more power to open the door than the others do.

Securing their smaller sibling in their arms, another jump and a carefully-timed boost from their wings brings Ghost and the little one to the end of the highest platform in the abyss. Their lost kin stands in nail's reach, a small pile of still-usable mask shards and broken stones at their feet. A few resemble the arms of statues from the depths and near the lighthouse, but most are snapped-off horns of siblings' corpses, repurposed as a child's idea of a battering ram.

The little sibling wriggles free of Ghost's arms almost immediately, rushing their lost kin with such speed Ghost could almost forget their cloak is their own and not the mothwing one Ghost found (would find? will find?) on their corpse. Joy and concern washes over Ghost in equal measure; they can't identify which sibling it comes from first, but it spreads to both immediately.

climbed, their lost kin hums, chastising and not a small degree annoyed, and pushes a mental image of the little sibling waiting at the floor of the pit, and the lost one descending to gather them, a path open above. dangerous.

The little one replies with a cheeky air, pointing to Ghost and the shade. Something like a loophole, then. The lost one didn't want them climbing alone, but did not specify who should be climbed with.

Their lost kin jumps as if noticing the shade for the first time, and levels their splintering weapon in something trying very hard to mimic a fighting stance. After training with the nailmasters, the mistakes stand out like plague pustules, begging to be exploited, but that's beside the point, because Ghost is not about to let any of their siblings try to kill each other if they can help it. They raise a protective arm in front of the shade instead, feeling like they've come a strange full circle from the scene before at the bottom of the pit.

peaceful, Ghost explains. follows. watches. Glancing back at the shade, they add, as a precaution: at peace. no pain. whole.

The shade burbles a vague sense of agreement and something like a shrug. Their lost kin relaxes, shoulders slumping slightly as they seem to dismiss the shade as a threat.

Now that they're on the platform, Ghost can size up the door properly. Light fills the cracks at the rim, the brightest they've found yet far other than the shade's glowing eyes. In the dim silhouette of the door itself, they can just trace out the patterns of the king's symbol imprinted into it, like the pressed mark of a wax seal. If Ghost had their nail, they could beat at it like the lost kin had, but even their strength and their channeled blade, they suspect, would not have been enough. A pale power emanates from the core of the symbol, and...

Wait.

The king's symbol.

Ghost squints at their own right hand in the light of the door - they couldn't have seen it before by the dark of the depths, but sure enough, it remains: the king's brand, like a permanent stain of soul-white ink in their palm. Behind them, the shade hisses and recoils; Ghost sends a pulse of comfort, but receives mostly wariness in return.

symbol, the lost one states. light? There are questions beneath it, but too many and formless to pick out, an impression of connections between concepts that goes unexplained - the crowned silhouette in the light from above, the clouded whispering of the door's seal, the brightness that fills the sibling's head when they see - and a stifling of resentment so faint Ghost doesn't hear it at first, until the moment stretches and their lost kin can't quite hide it any longer.

found, Ghost explains. stole? They pull all together all the strongest impressions they can of the cast-off shell and the brand and seal within, the flaking ash and the sense of desperation. Their lost kin probes at the vague presence of Hornet, carrying their body from the aftermath, and then seems to do a double take.

king? wyrm? red sibling? The demand for more knowledge is almost physical, the void's hungry tongues lapping at its shores, but it barely registers as the image of Hornet replays in Ghost's mind, again, and Ghost's heart aches horribly at the sudden reminder of what they've lost.

There are not many things they will miss about the Hallownest of before, but Hornet is perhaps the greatest of them all. It hadn't set in until now, but the realization sends Ghost's shade shuddering, wracking their nonexistent windpipe like a choked-back sob: Hornet is gone, in the future past, and Ghost might never meet her again. Even if Herrah's deal holds this time, Hornet the protector, Hornet the sentinel, the Hornet who tested them and named them and carried their body from the collapsing grave of ash, will be as if she has never been at all.

The shade and the little one both surge forward in concern, while the lost kin watches, stoic, appraising. Ghost waves them away. They can't afford to cry about this now.

future. explain later, Ghost tells them, somewhat sobered.

promise, their lost kin insists. escape, explain.

Ghost silently sighs and nods. ... promise. later.

The little one projects impatience to them both, underlined with eager, blossoming anticipation. They grab Ghost's other hand, tug twice, and point to the door.

Ghost stares it down for a moment, then squares their shoulders and raises their hand. Now or never, they suppose. Either this will work, or it won't.

Though they only entered the Abyss a matter of hours ago, it feels like a lifetime already. In a sense, it already has been - there's a lifetime, at least, separating the two events, only ordered the wrong way around.

Ghost reaches out and sets their hand against the door, feeling out the spellwork that binds it. The seal is the lock, and the brand, the key; they only need to find the keyhole. Their first attempt consisted largely of fumbling about until the key slotted into the lock, and then puzzling far too long which way to turn it, but Ghost knows the motions now, and all they have to do is push and twist.

They hear the door split before they see it. Unlike the door of the far future, which crumbled into dust without the spellwork to support it, this one opens along a central seam like double doors, sliding smoothly forward and out to reveal the blinding light of the Basin.

And the Basin is bright.

Ghost has to shield their eyes with their arm at first, and their siblings both do the same, the shade wheezing its displeasure as it hangs near the back of the group. The little one's heart lights up a moment later, twirling up a spiral of giddy excitement, while the lost one sits somewhere between disbelief, blind glee, and a faint murmur of jealousy Ghost politely pretends not to notice.

Instead, they step forward and beckon. follow. seen before. know path.

Truth be told, Ghost doesn't exactly know where they're going next. They've never been much for planning so far as a step or two ahead, not in the wastes where the winds threatened to rip away even the present, and not in any other kingdoms, where every new step was a surprise, and not now when even their recent half-formed plans have been cast aside for something better. The layout of the Basin should be familiar enough to traverse without their maps, though this far in the past, that might not matter as much as they'd hope.

They should stay out of sight, at least. The palace grounds lie just east of here, practically next-door. If the king, already returning with his chosen Hollow Knight, learns of their survival...

Wait. The Hollow Knight. In all the business of leaving the abyss, three siblings in tow, Ghost had nearly forgotten their presence. Could they be saved, or would it only doom Hallownest further? Ghost knows enough about the plague now to know it's from a god, and they're about ready to give it a piece of their mind all by themself. It won't be the first god they've challenged, if they do.

And if they do... if they defeat it... the Hollow Knight won't have to be sacrificed.

Not that their sacrifice ever worked in the first place, or was anything less than stupid, but it was a desperate kind of stupid. An understandable kind of stupid, and from what Ghost remembers now, from before the climb, they're not sure their sibling's part in it was so unwilling.

The greater question, of course, is how. Without the dream nail, there's no way to enter a dream where the Old Light might be hiding. But the seer's still around in this time, and more moths besides, if the light hasn't gotten them all yet. Maybe... maybe they can ask. Maybe there's a way through.

Ghost leads their little party between the tall grass and cracked stones, ignoring the inscribed half-shell by the doorway. Their little sibling pokes at it, curious, but the lost one pulls them away before they can hear the king's voice captured in the seals.

careful, the lost one chides.

harmless, Ghost contributes, but they're ignored, which is fine, because they really should get going before something (someone) notices the broken door. At least the chamber around it is blessedly devoid of other bugs - off-limits by decree of the king, no doubt.

what? asks another mind, less familiar. Ghost's stance jerks and drops into fighting form, but when they spin around, there's nobody but their siblings.

heard too, murmurs their lost kin, glancing side to side.

A cloud of confusion twists somewhere unseen, reaching out tentative claws to poke at Ghost and the others in turn. The presence grows closer to frantic with each pass.

siblings alive? escaped?

Affirmation comes from the little one, tinged with a mood of playful secrecy. The lost one nudges them with an elbow to be quiet.

different, the newcomer frets. wrong... error? The feelings turn panicked at the edges, then collapses into heavy, terrible resignation. no. falsehood. dreaming. of course.

again.

Ghost's grip loosens on the imaginary nail they hadn't realized they were reaching for, and a swelling sense of delight replaces it.

remember? Ghost asks. old light, temple, dreams. future. familiar?

Their guess is correct. The images they send earn a ripple of shock in return, and sudden urgency, desperation.

to the past. from future. real? present?

yes, Ghost answers. Though the void gives them impressions of a place - pillars and arches, vines and white steel - they don't need it to know who they're speaking to.

... intentions? asks the Hollow Knight, uncertain in a way Ghost has never chanced to hear from them before. opportunity. advantage. Beneath the hopeful words, their shade's mournful cries hum failure, deep and terrible. Ghost wonders if their shrunken shell might struggle to contain the size of it now, swollen with all their regrets.

plans. Ghost may not know what those plans are yet, exactly, but they do exist.

A stray thought occurs to them. If the Hollow Knight has somehow returned to the past as well...

still small? how?

The Hollow Knight offers up a hapless sense of don't know and why?. Ghost replies with a sense of their own memory, getting their bearings in the abyss, wings and a single charm still intact - they're really getting the hang of that part, now.

small in past. small in memory. Another layer of the thought suggests the Hollow Knight has relived this memory many times over; if anything, they would assume Ghost is the outlier. Ghost concedes the point. The weird charm in their chest is new, anyway.

another knows? the lost one interrupts, sounding a little miffed at being excluded. more of future?

Ghost nods, and flashes a memory of the Hollow Knight reaching the platform, leaving with the Pale King. Their lost kin bristles with a jolt of betrayal.

abandoned. chose light, they spit. Ghost winces, and feels the Hollow Knight do the same.

called, murmurs their smallest sibling, and Ghost almost jumps in surprise. Compulsion and need washes over them, bathed in gleaming pale light, beckoning like the center of the world itself. The lost one pulled them away, but others were not so lucky. The feeling fades into wistfulness and sympathy, slow and steady and remorseful.

needed, the Hollow Knight builds on this, reminding them of the temple's chains. Failed, but the only means. Better their failure than another's, or worse, nothing at all.

Ghost has some things they could say to that, but they bite their comments back in favor of letting their sibling be. If clinging to this keeps them together, Ghost will live with it.

new plan, they declare instead, projecting an air of confidence. no chains. no vessel.

The Hollow Knight offers only blank confusion to this, but Ghost proceeds.

know of old light. higher being. god. Ghost provides a brief, flickering memory of their nail in Grimm's heart. can bleed. The dream nail. Brumm's warning. in dreams, can die.

The image of the void, vast and cavernous and always aching to envelop, to devour. A determined, stubborn will exerted upon it. A charm, an echo of the Kingsoul, dark and trapped inside Ghost's flesh.

void. light. ancient enemy.

strength, united.

A rising rush of hope fills their shell, from their horns to the tips of their claws.

challenge. defeat. They pause. and then...

and then? their lost kin repeats. pale light remains. siblings. danger.

They're not wrong. The king... Ghost doesn't know what they're going to do with the king. They have no love for him, even if the Hollow Knight might.

He could want them all dead. He could declare war on the void itself. Many things, many possibilities, more than Ghost can possibly count. They only know one future, after all.

The words linger: no cost too great. The vessels' sacrifices were a cost to him. The corpse left withered on his cold stone throne knew the full, terrible weight of his crimes. Not a kind place to start from, but a place nonetheless.

decide then. The choice will have to wait. The future, like any new land, is unpredictable; Ghost will adjust the details as they go. go together?

The Hollow Knight sends the motion of a quick, Ghost-sized stride, carefully poised as though perfectly confident in their destination, retainers nodding without comment and window after identical window passing by. possible. needed?

later, Ghost decides. They project to the others a loose path: along Deepnest's borders, skirting the bordering gardens and cutting through Greenpath, then the outskirts of the Crossroads, and a route east through Crystal Peak to the Resting Grounds below. A wide arc around the palace and the capital city, careful of the rulers' eyes.

Maybe they don't know what the future will hold after that. Gods, they don't even know if their plan will work; they could be caught at any point, and their goals would change in an instant. But fighting the plague before it's truly begun is still a chance a thousand times better than fighting the plague in Hallownest's wreckage, the soon-to-be sole survivor of their creator's plans.

It's not what Ghost expected, but they'll make it work. They'll have to.

They step forward, and possibility as wide as the horizon stretches out in front of them.