Try, Try Again

YEAR ONE
you’re thinking too fast, you’re like marbles on glass

Piksel Delmirev was not used to it. Any of it. He was not used to lying awake at night. He was not used to hearing drunken singing outside his window, or sleeping aboveground. Then there was the matter of having someone else in his bed, of having to contend with Losk’s sprawling form hogging the covers. All of this was bad enough, in terms of things that kept him from sleep, here in Rodan.

But the worst of these was that he simply could not stop thinking. His mind raced if given a moment’s reprieve from more complicated tasks, pouring through dozens of memories and experiences and thoughts at unrivaled speeds, a gale over a plain. There was simply so much at once, always, constantly, and the only way to keep it at bay was to feed himself a steady diet of new ideas and new experiences. Keep himself so occupied he couldn’t multitask.

It didn’t work so well at night.

Not for the first time, Piksel crawled out of bed, leaving a sleeping Losk snoring in the sheets. He passed through the kitchen and thought about tea, but deemed it unappetizing. Not for the first time. And not for the first time, he found himself on the roof of the sloping porch outside the kitchen window, staring out at Rodan’s busy nightlife.

Here he let the thoughts bolt. Here he could try and fail to keep up with them, managing only to pick up the things they left behind: scraps of realizations, new meanings pieced together out of old sights seen, salvaged memories he’d rather forget anyway intermixed with the dozens of new and alarming things he had to get used to here on the other side of the world. Here he could let the stress melt out of him, ebbing down his face, two rivulets of misplaced ocean that clung to his jaw and soaked his shirt.

Not for the first time. Not for the last, either.


the night will have no stars

Eight months and he was already planning to leave. Losk was gone now, that was fine. He didn’t have time for Losk. He didn’t have time for most things, he was busy and in-demand and his projects were only getting more involved. Rodan wasn’t as big as he’d thought. Too small, actually. He needed somewhere else, somewhere bigger. Nicodemia would do.

Somewhere he could lose himself, he thought as he packed, and immediately kicked himself. Not lose. He wasn’t hiding. He was a big fish in a small pond. He needed more room.

Rodan was too small and had too many people for how small it was, and apparently there was a copper dragon with copper kobolds living nearby and if Piksel had to hear someone ask him about Clarendixia’s latest party one more time he was going to shove his mechplate down their throat and show them exactly how subservient he was.

Living in Rodan had done very little for his temper.

His temper as a whole was deplorable right now, he reminded himself idly. Sure, the racing thoughts and constant stress had died down, but they’d taken most of the rest of him with it, apparently. He spent his days working, eating, and sleeping, because if he stopped for too long he either found something to be angry about, or he found no feelings about anything at all. A void, Iaa themself yawning wide snake-jaws inside him and consuming whatever they found that wasn’t white-hot frustration. Every point of him that had been Piksel, a thousand stars in the sky, had been swallowed up. The only thing left was the raging heat of a single sun, too much even for the fallen god. Perhaps it was better this way. He could function like this, he could work, he could make his money. He was more efficient, not wasting time locking himself into unhelpful thought patterns.

I wish I was packing to go home, said a tiny voice in his mind. A moment later he had flung the suitcase off the bed, sending clothes and toiletries flying.


YEAR TWO
the water is taller than me

Nicodemia.

The city had panic in its veins, Piksel thought. Too many bodies, too many people occupying one space, all of them too close to each other. It was a still panic, a holding of the breath. Waiting for a reason to scream.

He walked as lightly as he could through his new neighborhood, in the nicer part of the city, the safer part. So he’d been told. He still saw beggars and hustlers, he still had someone ask him for coin as he passed. He still hunched his shoulders and scurried past, ignoring the pang of guilt as he did.

It was what he’d wanted. Somewhere too big, somewhere that felt like too much. Overstimulation. Exactly what he’d wanted. And, oh, he hated it. He’d known that he would, too.

The Tinkerer’s Den hosted elves and gnomes and humans and even a big dragonborn, and all of them, Piksel thought, had looked at him like a piece of meat when he’d arrived with his small suitcases and his crates full of materials. They’d assaulted him with questions about his work, about where he’d studied. Half the things they asked about were flawed in their very premises, something that confused him until he realized they were doing it intentionally. Because I’m a kobold, he thought, because they think I don’t belong here.

He corrected all of their carefully-coded misinformation, meticulously and mercilessly, pointing out every flaw in the same condescending tone he’d learned from Losk. He smiled at them with sharp teeth as he asked where his room was, and said that he was very tired, and he that simply couldn’t wait to talk to them more later on.

When he got to his room, when the door clicked shut behind him, he dropped like a stone into the ocean on his bed. He should have known. Even among other artificers he wasn’t welcome. This place, this city, this knowledge, it was too much, too much at once. He couldn’t move.


all i can do is keep breathing

Things slowed down, after a while.

Routine, Piksel found, helped a lot. Steady work and income helped a lot, at least with some things. The outbursts of rage had quieted. He still wasn’t sure where the rest of his personality had gone; perhaps he’d forgotten to pack it in Rodan.

Make some friends, he’d told himself. It wasn’t like everyone in the Den was a jackass, like he’d first thought. Some of them had really taken a shining to him. The big dragonborn turned out to just be shy and so came off as aloof, and the twin humans seemed to come to him for technical advice at every turn. The woman who ran the bakery next door seemed to like him. It would be good for him to make some connections, put down some roots.

He just … didn’t care. He didn’t care if they liked him. He didn’t care if the baker was giving him the extra-large loaves at a discount. He didn’t care if the dragonborn stumbled around her words around him or if the twins followed him like puppies. He didn’t care if he worked for eighteen straight hours before passing out fully-clothed in his bed, as had become his habit. There was something almost soothing about it, about the sheer apathy. No more bursts of fury. No more crying at midnight on lonely porch rooftops. There was just him and the work, and as long as he could do the work, what did it matter if he cared or not?

Somewhere, deep, deep in the void still nestled like a coiled serpent in his chest, he was quite certain this was the wrong attitude to be taking.


it gets all right to dream at night

Piksel hadn’t had another living thing to disturb his sleep in over a year. He’d even gotten to be a heavy sleeper, in the Den, where artificers worked at all hours of the night. So, he thought ruefully from where he was slouched in the armchair in his room he never sat in because it was too big for him, staring at the moon through the dusty window, it had to be because he didn’t have his bed. He needed his bed to sleep.

Unfortunately someone else was in the bed.

Her name was Violet and she was … what, eight? Nine? Humans, he couldn’t ever tell. She didn’t have anywhere else to go, she said, and that had made him listen to her. Everyone had fired her for not being good enough to work, she said, and that had cracked something in him. She said, someone told me I could work at the Goosedown, a brothel so bad even Piksel had heard of it, and that had been the end of … something, for him.

Piksel wasn’t irritated, he’d found with considerable confusion, lying restlessly in the armchair. He wasn’t apathetic, either, and given that those had been his chief states of mind for the last year or so he was finding it all a little bewildering. Sure, he supposed, he’d felt sorry for the girl. That was just … being decent. He hadn’t done anything but try to be decent. Didn’t explain what she’d done to splinter the shell around his heart.

He felt raw and overfull with something, with some feeling. Tender, like new skin. He didn’t know how to be a thing that felt, right now; he’d forgotten how. He wasn’t even quite sure he wanted to remember.

Here he was, though, watching over a child as she slept, and even he couldn’t keep himself indifferent to that.


YEAR THREE
do you like the person you’ve become?

Maybe, Piksel thought, I’m not really the person named Piksel Delmirev anymore.

He twisted his wrench, once, twice. The sound echoed through the Den at this early hour, bouncing off the empty spaces and making it seem louder than it really was.

Maybe, he thought, I’m just the thing that ate all of Piksel’s emotions. And now they’re mine, and I have to figure out what I’m supposed to do with them. Maybe the real Piksel really is gone. Maybe that’s for the better.

His new mechplate prototype sparked at him, and he winced, cursing. It had burned his fingers, and he stuck them into his mouth as he darted his gaze around to see if anyone had seen him make an idiot of himself. No one. Just Violet there in the corner, playing with one of her toys, and Violet—

Violet couldn’t tell if he was making an idiot of himself or not, he’d learned.

No, he thought, that would be too easy. Nothing’s ever easy.

It was a train of thought he’d found himself circling lately, and he was more than intelligent enough to recognize that it was wishful thinking. Avoidance, really, to be frank about it. And that was what he’d been doing for two years already: look where it had gotten him. Short-tempered, constantly tired, King Bitch of the Den. He was even snapping at Violet, lately, and the kicked-dog look she got every time he did might well have been the only thing keeping him from going back over the edge into apathy. He felt things again, now, unevenly, and that ability to feel things hadn’t come back at the same rate. Anger had been the first, pissed-off and clawing its way out of the void in his being by sheer cussedness, and it was still the foremost. But others had followed; existential terror, for example, but better things too. His sense of humor. The powerful empathy he’d almost forgotten he had, that one he didn’t know what to do with. He was still waiting to see if contentment would join the group, but in hindsight, perhaps that was something he had to work for.

Something grabbed his tail. Piksel jumped, involuntarily, and peered behind himself to see Violet sitting herself on the ground and wrapping it around her shoulders like a scarf. Just as involuntarily, he smiled.


there’s no logic in your sadness

Sometimes he thought about Losk.

When they had broken up—when Piksel had broken up with him—Losk had gotten … angry. In hindsight, he’d clearly been expecting his harassment and complaining to result in Piksel giving in to what he wanted, not in being evicted from both the house and the relationship. Losk had flipped a table and tore a hole in the wall with his claws. He hadn’t touched Piksel, but Piksel had been terrified that he would, and that terror had continued to sit inside him for a time: he still found himself a little nervous around lizardfolk.

So of course he was better off without Losk. That was just adding two and two.

The return of his personality had brought with it unwelcome feelings of loneliness, of isolation. Most kobolds his age were mated already; some even had hatchlings, or at least eggs. And at night he would remember the good times he’d had with Losk: the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants they’d shared drinks and thoughts in; the charming way his face would wrinkle up when he laughed; the sense of security Piksel had gotten, first of its kind, when Losk had picked him up in both arms from where he’d nearly fallen asleep over his workbench and carried him to bed.

Losk had been—on the good days—sweet, and funny, and Piksel had treasured and intimate memories of how Losk’s hands felt on his body. From them came an ache that left him awake at horrible hours of the night, staring vacantly at the wall and wishing there was again someone else to share his bed. From them came the fear that Losk, sharp of teeth and cruel of tongue, would be the only person to have ever been there.

Sometimes he thought about asking the dragonborn if she’d like to get coffee, or flirting—trying to flirt—with that repeat client of his, the big half-orc. He never managed it.


what good do what-ifs do

“How have you been?”

Platitudes. Piksel heard them every day, especially from the more complicated clients. He knew the script, he knew how he was meant to respond. But it was with surprise, that day in late Crux, when he took the client’s profferred hand and said, “I’m well, thank you”—and meant it.

There was loneliness, yes, but he could swap banter with his fellow artificers a little these days. He had Violet to mind, and her tutor was a very intelligent and good-hearted young woman who actually liked to listen to the answer when she asked Piksel what he’d been reading lately. He was laughing more easily, and he’d actually spooked the twins the first time he’d done it within their earshot, because apparently they had never heard him laugh before. He had put away a tidy sum of gold in the last year and felt he could breathe a little easier, though he wasn’t certain what he was going to do with that much coin on his own. You were meant to use coin to support your family.

And sometimes he still thought about home, and sometimes his nights again became dreadful circular logic: thinking himself into loops and anxiety attacks, wondering if he’d done the right thing, wondering if he should abandon everything he’d worked for here in the name of fixing what was broken, wondering when everything would once and for all go completely, utterly wrong.

But it was only sometimes. It was only sometimes, and he would fall asleep quicker, and he would wake up to Violet tugging on his horns and sleepily asking for breakfast. And the twins would yell at him from across the Den, some days, or the new person, the impossibly tall drow, would trip on him by accident and then on themself apologizing for it. He would work and read and learn and, sometimes, he would go to bed content.

Nicodemia was getting to be a friendlier place.


YEAR FOUR
i am alive, what can go wrong

“Auction this afternoon.”

Piksel glanced up from his oatmeal, eavesdropping again. The stand-offish reputation he had gained in his first year here still kept him from most small talk, though he didn’t mind it too often. He’d just learned to listen carefully.

“Yeah? Anything good?”

“Aye, heard there’s some Guild material going up. The good stuff, too, blueprints and the like…”

Piksel listened. Extra-light metal, the sort of stuff that would not only let him charge twice as much for security work but would make his mechplate pet project twice as viable. He listened to his denmates argue idly over a fair price, only for one of them to produce a brochure and check it, quoting a ridiculous starting price for the diagrams. He did a bit of quick math in his head. Ridiculous, yes, but worth it.

He finished his oatmeal, washing up the bowl and chugging enough coffee to snap him all the way awake. He tracked down Violet and extricated her from yet another place she was not supposed to be in, and sent her off on a busywork errand to keep her occupied until he got back. From there it was a trip to the bank, and hailing a carriage. Belmundo wasn’t too terribly far. He tipped the cabbie, and made his way up to the front doors, and when the guards asked the name of his dragon he felt a bit of his good mood dissipate.

When a tiefling cut in from nowhere, vouching for him, Piksel wasn’t entirely sure whether to feel grateful or patronized. But he opted for grateful, and worked his smile back onto his mouth as he walked through the door.

Things weren’t all that bad, after all.