Summary: After the Pure Vessel has transformed from their child stage into an adolescent stage, something seems to be wrong with them. Not only this but the Pale King has to face his feelings regarding the Pure Vessel.
(Author's note: Hooray, it's my first fic for the Hollow Knight fandom!
In a small Hollow Knight Discord I run someone drew a fanart of a teenage Pure Vessel and then was like: "Look at this horns, how do they keep their balance?", which sparked the idea to this fic.
I wanted to write a redemption fic for the Pale King anyway and this was just perfect for a start. I hope you enjoy.)
It had become his morning routine to visit the Hollow Knight in their chrysalis.
And like usual, the chrysalis was still untouched. It just stood there with its blackish silk colour, the Pure Vessel growing inside, waiting for the moment to hatch from it.
They had pupated shortly after they had finished the Path of Pain. And the Pale King had been so proud. It was the moment he knew that he had chosen the right vessel. It was the moment that brought him a step closer to acquiring their goal and get rid of the infection once and for all.
...But it also was the moment for him to get doubts.
Just as proud as he had been about the success of the Hollow Knight, a name the knights hard started to give the Pure Vessel, mainly because of their inability to emote and speak, they had looked back at him and even though he knew better, it looked like they were happy.
This of course couldn't have been the case. The vessel was pure and therefore not able to feel anything. He surely only had projected his own feelings on them. After all, he had convinced himself that no cost would be too great. After countless experiments which made his wife retreat shedding silent tears, he finally had managed to find the one who would safe them all. And all time they spend together only served for them to get stronger.
The Pale King had just turned around and intended to leave, having made sure that the chrysalis was untouched and they wouldn't hatch today either, when he heard the distinct sound of silky threads made of void being torn.
As he turned around, there was a certain feeling of excitement. After all, that was the first time he would see a vessel grown up from their child form. He walked closer to the chrysalis and waited.
It took the Pure Vessel a good while to hatch out of the chrysalis, all the while the Pale King watched, ready to interfere should he spot any troubles. Gladly, the Pure Vessel managed to break out of the chrysalis on their own, their hollow eyes focusing on the Pale King before them.
The Pale King let his gaze wander over them. They had managed to grow a good bunch while being in the chrysalis (granted, the size of it had already hinted at it) and were now around the same size as the Pale King. Their cloak like wings enveloped their body made of void, shaped to arms and legs, being kept in shape by the mask they were wearing. Out of the mask came two rather large horns. They were almost half the size of their entire body and the Pale King wondered briefly why they hadn't poked out of the chrysalis when the Pure Vessel walked their first step after having hatched...
...and promptly stumbled and fell.
Before he knew it, the Pale King had been at their size and caught them. He... actually didn't knew why he had done that. He knew how strong the Pure Vessel was. He knew they would be able to get up easily after having fallen down. So why...
He quickly let go of them and they fell to their knees, seeming to struggle to get up. It had to be the aftermath of spending all these weeks in the chrysalis. Even a being mainly made of void needed some sustenance and so he should get them something to eat. Perfect that he had intended to get his breakfast anyway, like every day after he had checked on the chrysalis.
"Come.", he said. "Eat something. Then resume your training."
He could see how the Pure Vessel shivered a bit, their head was lowered towards the ground. They managed to pull themselves up and walked a few shaky steps before they fell again.
The Pale King frowned. Their time in the chrysalis must have been more taxing than he thought. He walked over to them and helped them up, feeling the cold sensation of the void on his exoskeleton. Once they had a steady grip, he supported them with his own weight and started walking to his chambers without saying another word. The Hollow Knight just let it happen, their feet getting more and more secure with each supported step.
As he reached his chambers, the servant for this day already was present and said: "Your majesty, your breakfast has prepared like usual. Please let us know if you need anything more." At the sight of the Hollow Knight their eyes grew wider. "I see that our Pure Vessel has joined us once again. I will get a second serving right ahead."
The Pale King nodded to them and led the Pure Vessel inside his chambers, sitting them down on a chair before taking in his own place. He stared at the food in front of him. Technically, there was nothing that would prevent him from eating besides... besides the Pure Vessel staring at him. Or his food?
"Are you in need of sustenance that badly...?", the Pale King asked, looking from his plate to the Pure Vessel and his plate again.
Even though they would get food soon, the Pale King had the feeling that he was the one who could wait a bit more. He hadn't spent the last month in a chrysalis. He remembered how taxing a transformation could be. Softly sighing, he took his plate and offered it to the Vessel, who stared at him with wide eyes.
The Pale King sat back down and observed the Vessel, who examined the food in front of them before gazing at him, as if wanting to get confirmation. After the Pale King nodded, they began to eagerly eat.
The Pale King often asked himself how they even ate, it wasn't like the Hollow Knight had a mouth or mandibles, with their faze mostly frozen in the same expression. He assumed it was the void that had to be fed directly. They just figured out a way to eat that looked "normal" for the other palace residents.
Strange... the Hollow Knight shouldn't possess a mind. It shouldn't be possible to figure something like that out.
The Pale King shook off the thought and turned his attention to the door when he heard a knock. He raised from his chair and walked over to it, opening it himself, seeing the servant with the second serving.
"Thank you, you are dismissed.", the Pale King said and took the serving right out of the hands of the astounded servant, closed the door and brought it back to his table, where he sat down to enjoy his own breakfast.
In the meantime, the Hollow Knight had finished their meal and their gaze wandered through the room, along with frantic movements of their head, it looked like they were searching for something. They stopped this behaviour however when they fell off the stool.
The Pale King had to frown a second time this morning. Now they had gotten some sustenance into their body. They shouldn't be that weak anymore... Ah well, their hatching hadn't even been an hour ago. He should give them some time.
The Pale King continued to indulge in his food watching as the Pure Vessel climbed back onto their chair, this time staying still. As if they feared they would fall a second time.
"Take your time.", the Pale King said once he had swallowed his current bite. "You just hatched. You may need a while."
From the Hollow Knight came another movement, a tiny nod towards the Pale King. It was a tiny gesture but for him it felt like his food got stuck into this throat.
He had made sure that the Vessel was a tool, the perfect soldier, the perfect empty being to contain the infection. He wasn't supposed to feel anything towards them!
He averted his gaze from them and finished his meal without looking into their direction one more time.
Once he was finished, he stood up and gestured for the Pure Vessel to follow him. Now that they were out of the chrysalis they needed to resume their training as soon as possible. The Pure Vessel carefully stood up from their chair, swayed a bit before they got a hold of themselves. They, however, only managed to walk a few steps before they fell again.
Had something gone wrong during their time in the chrysalis? Just why was it so hard for the Pure Vessel to walk? The Pale King had planned anyway to visit his Root, but maybe she also would be able to shine some light on the issue. For now, the Pale King walked over to the Pure Vessel, who was struggling to get up and offered his arm to them. They stared at him with their big eyes before taking the offered arm and letting themselves help up to walk with him.
A short while later they were in front of the White Lady's room, her faithful knight Dryya standing guard, raising her nail but lowering it once she recognized the ones approaching her.
"Your majesty.", she said, bowing and once the Pale King gave her the permission to move, she noticed the Hollow Knight and added: "And I see our little Hollow Knight is blessing us with their presence once again. Though they have grown."
As Dryya turned around to inform his Root about the Pale King's arrival, he noticed that the Pure Vessel's gaze followed Dryya. Maybe they were eager to resume their training? No, it couldn't be. The Pure Vessel didn't had any feelings. They weren't possessing a mind. He was probably just seeing things.
Dryya returned shortly after, stepping aside the door so that the Pale King could enter. He could feel how the Pure Vessel stumbled behind him, it felt like they were still focused on Dryya.
Once the Pale King had entered the room, he could see his Root in all her glory, letting go of the Hollow Knight to walk closer to her and embrace her. "My Root, it is wonderful to see that you are well this morning too."
"My Wyrm.", the White Lady said in response, lifting him up into the air to return the embrace, closing her eyes as her branches closed around him. "The pleasure is all mine. I trust that you had a good night's rest."
"I can not only assure you that, but I have truly fantastic news.", the Pale King said and the White Lady opened her eyes, gasping as she saw the second being in the room.
"I had the feeling that another being had been present.", she said, lowering the Pale King back to the ground. As she looked at the Pure Vessel, taking in their new form, her light glowing even brighter, the Pale King couldn't miss a certain sadness in her eyes.
"As you can see, our Pure Vessel has hatched from their chrysalis and they have quite grown.", the Pale King said. "Unfortunately, not all news I have today are as fantastic as this one, because something seems to be wrong."
The Pale King gestured for the Pure Vessel to come closer and like earlier in his chambers, they could only walk a few swaying steps before they fell.
"Ever since they hatched they weren't able to walk properly.", he explained.
His Root observed the Pure Vessel as they struggled to get up, managed and fell down only a few steps later again. Then, she started to chuckle, one of her branches covering her mouth. The Pale King only stared at her dumbfounded. He clearly didn't get what was so funny about this.
"Oh my Wyrm, cannot you see what is troubling the Pure Vessel?", she asked. "Haven't you told me of a similar problem of yours once you had transformed into your current form?"
The Pale King looked from the White Lady to the Pure Vessel and to the White Lady again but it took his Root lowering a branch to his crown like horns to make him understand.
"It's the horns.", he blurted out. "They are off balance because of them."
It had been a thing the Pale King hadn't noticed at first. At their child form, the horns of the pure Vessel hadn't stood out particular. All the Vessels did have horns in some sort of size and shape. But now that they had hatched and transformed into an adolescent form, their horns had grown a good deal. In fact, they had gotten so long, that they had to add a good portion of weight onto their head.
And like his Root had mentioned, once he had given up his godly body of the wyrm to transform into one that would make it easier for him to interact with the bugs of Hallow's Nest, now walking on two feet instead of flying through the air and slithering along the ground, his crown like horns had caused him quite some trouble, leaving him a few days stumbling and falling around until he had learned to balance his body with the added weight on his head.
"I must have been blind to not spot this.", he said, a robed arm wiping over his forehead. "Once again you are the wisdom I clearly need, my Root."
"As someone who faced the same struggles, shouldn't it be the most wise that you are the one who helps them regaining their balance, my Wyrm?", the White Lady said as she retracted her branch from his crown.
Something in the Pale King froze at this suggestion. He knew she was right. He knew she just acted out of a feeling of general kindness, but... the Pale King had already spent the whole morning pretty close to the Vessel. He knew their fate. He knew what they had been created for. He couldn't... he didn't want to get attached like this. That is why he mainly had let the five great knights letting handle their training, mostly watching their improvements from afar.
He had the feeling that it would be the best not to change anything about it. He would deliver the Pure Vessel at their training, explain their current problem with the balance and then could attend to his duties as the king of Hallow's Nest.
"I dearly thank you for your insights, my Root.", the Pale King said, giving her stem another embrace. "For now, we have to retreat. We will see each other later."
And with that, he took the Pure Vessel by the arm, pretty much yanking them out of the room, not looking back at the reaction his Root could have to this behaviour.
Once they were out of the room, the Pale King saw Dryya bow to him once again and noticed that the Hollow Knight's gaze was on her again. Or more precisely, on her nail. Where they asking themselves where their nail was? Of course they hadn't took the weapon with them in the chrysalis and the Pale King had left it to the five great knights to store it until they would hatch.
Though with them barely able to walk straight it felt like a waste to give them back their weapon, the Pale King had the feeling he wanted to at least offer them some comfort in this new situation and led them to the weapon storage.
Before they even had arrived, the Pale king knew that it was Ogrim hanging around there this morning, simply because of the overwhelming stench, stemming from his nature as a dung beetle and his... less common fighting methods. The Pale King had the impression that the Pure Vessel also tensed, still having his arm around their back to support them with walking. Apparently they very much possessed a sense of smell.
As the Pale King came closer, Ogrim noticed him and his companion and gave him a bow: "Good morning, your majesty." Once he had risen again he added: "And I see our little one has decided to join us once again! Though we shouldn't call them little anymore, they have quite grown." He finished his sentence with his signature jovial laughter. "But!", he said "Is something wrong with our Hollow Knight? It appears that they need your support, your Highness."
"They aren't used to their new horns yet.", the Pale King explained. "And they fall down every few steps when not supported."
"Then may I allow myself the question why you decided to bring them here? Shouldn't they learn to walk properly first again before they resume their training with us?"
At this words the Pure Vessel tensed again, making the Pale King question just which training Ogrim had unleashed on them. Thinking about his nature as a dung beetle, the Pale King could only assume it was something rather... smelly. He normally hadn't watched when they trained with Ogrim, because of said smell. Some people even had given him the nickname Dung Defender instead of the official White Defender.
"I know, but for some reason, they want to have their nail.", the Pale King said. "So I decided to get it for them."
"Oh, if this is all.", Ogrim said and entered the weapon storage, coming back out a short while later handing the Pure Vessel their nail: "Here you go, little one."
Once they had their nail back, the Pure Vessel walked a few steps forwards, releasing themselves from the support of the Pale King who watched with narrowed eyes. They only would fall again. What he didn't expect though was that the Pure Vessel started to do a few practice swings with the nail, kneeling down as if going for a dash but before they could act on their plan falling down again, their horns clanging hard on the ground.
It looked rather adorable and Ogrim apparently couldn't help but express his joy at this sight with a hearty laugh. It even infected the Pale King, who had to raises his robed arm to suppress his chuckle, all while the Hollow Knight only looked confused from Ogrim to the Pale King and then at their nail. Stared at it, as if they had some disdain with it.
"I think the nail is too small for you now.", Ogrim said once his laughing fit was over. "Not even to mention that you surely can't fight when you are off balance like this. Shall we work on them being able to walk straight again, your majesty?"
"No.", the Pale King said, to his own surprise. "I'll do it myself."
Ogrim had the same surprise on his face that the Pale King was feeling at his own words. "Of course, your majesty.", he said. "Just tell us once our Hollow Knight can join our training sessions again."
The Pale King nodded and helped the Pure Vessel up. This would be some work. But, he had the feeling that he would be the one who could teach the Pure Vessel how to regain their balance the quickest. After all, his Root was right. He had been in quite a similar situation once and knew what to do.
The next few days a good part of the Pale King's day was always dedicated to help the Pure Vessel with their new growth and more precisely, managing to regain their balance because of the increased size of their horns. The first day consisted mostly of him showing the Pure Vessel how to stand straight, not letting the weight of their horns get them down, but more than once their head fell forwards again which would make them inevitable fall down. It was a good thing the Pure Vessel possessed the gift of healing their shell with soul power, because some of the falls looked rather painful and even cracked their shell a bit and the Pale King didn't want to unleash the being that was restrained by the mask on his kingdom.
Three days later the Pure Vessel had to learn how to walk quite a few steps without falling down, but they still swayed now and then, needing a moment to regaining their balance. The Pale King asked himself if they already were ready to resume their training with the knights.
He had noticed a concern during this time. He enjoyed being in the presence of the Pure Vessel.
That was a thing that wasn't supposed to happen. He had made them hollow. He had made them pure. There was no room for feelings in that being that was born of god and void. They had a task and this was their only purpose.
So why was he feeling concern whenever he saw them fall down? Why did he feel proud whenever he saw that they picked themselves up without his help? Why was he feeling warmth whenever the Pure Vessel looked at him as if they were expecting something and when he told them they had made great progress and they looked so happy despite having an expressionless face?
It made the Pale King question what he even was doing. How often had he told himself that he did the right thing, that he would save the kingdom of the infection? How often had he tried to himself to convince that the Pure Vessel was merely a tool and not his own flesh and blood?
No, he couldn't give this all up. Not after the atrocities he had done that always made his Root look so sad. He should test if the Pure Vessel was fit enough for a fight and then give them back into the care of the five great knights, it was the best he would forget that this days had ever happened.
He rustled his wings and flew up, landing on a construction a bit higher up, only giving a small warning to the Pure Vessel: "If you are able to dodge this, then you are ready to resume your training with the others."
The Pure Vessel braced themselves. It was rare for the Pale King to fight himself, but that didn't mean that he wasn't capable of putting up a fight. He was a Wyrm after all. The only distaste he had about his fighting style was how similar it was to that of the accursed Radiance, mostly consisting of projectiles he could conjure at will and throw at his opponents.
Granted, he had given up a lot of his original power as he had transformed into a regular bug and used his powers to give the bugs of Hallow's Nest a mind of their own, but that didn't mean that he was an easy foe.
The Pale King chose a rather easy to dodge pattern at first and watched as the Hollow Knight didn't had trouble avoiding all the projectiles, not even coming close to fall over. His lessons about regaining their balance had worked after all.
The Pale King smiled and conjured a new row of projectiles, which encircled the Hollow Knight so that they had to react quick to find the opening. They also managed to overcome this challenge, though as they jumped out of the way this time they didn't land on their feet. They quickly scrambled up and awaited the next attack.
The Pale King's gaze darkened as he noticed how easy he had been on them. He wasn't supposed to getting attached. He was supposed to raise a Vessel that was able to stand up against the Radiance, to stand up against the infection. The Radiance would never go easy on them.
With these thoughts in mind, with him trying to convince himself that he was simply raising the perfect weapon and the thoughts of his mortal enemy in his mind, the Pale King unleashed his strongest attack, with the projectiles raining down on the Pure Vessel in a truly unpredictable way.
They still managed to avoid a good deal of them but when the inevitable happened and they fell again, not being able to get up before the next projectile would hit, they curled themselves in clearly awaiting the hit. And they... looked so scared.
In an instance the Pale King had cancelled the attack and was down on the ground at her side. That wasn't a weapon down there. That was his ichild/i.
"I am sorry.", he said, embracing them. "I shouldn't have done that... All of this..."
The Pure Vessel raised their head and stared at him with these eyes filled with void. They looked like they had a thousand questions for him, but the Pale King knew they couldn't ask, because he made them without having a voice.
All of a sudden the Pure Vessel wriggled out of the Pale King's embrace, he felt a sting in his chest, but what did he expect, after what he had done...
Though instead of walking away, they just staggered the few steps to the wall where they had placed their nail. The nail that was far too small for them, but that they still had hold on. That he hadn't taken it from them, wasn't that the proof that the Pale King had taken them into his heart?
They walked back to him and put the nail on the ground. It looked like they wanted to write something. They quickly grew frustrated about the stone floor of the White Palace not being able to depict any words and threw the nail onto the ground, then, tensing, picking it back up in an instant, staying straight, as if nothing ever had happened.
"I made a mistake.", the Pale King said. "I wanted a being that was pure, that was hollow. A being that would be able to contain the infection. I should have known better... that a being like that can't be. And you...", he gently took the Hollow Knight's mask in his hands and looked into their eyes, "you tried so hard. To be what I wanted."
A small nod came from the Pure Vessel. How could the Pale King have been so blind? He had wanted to sacrifice his child. He almost had gone through with it. He almost had put endless pain and suffering on the shoulders of his own child.
"You must have a thousand questions...", the Pale King said. "Let's get back to my chambers. So that you can ask."
Back in his chambers the Pale King waited as the Pure Vessel wrote something on a scroll. He didn't knew who had taught them to write. He wouldn't have been surprised when they had taught themselves. It looked rather clumsy and they seemed to take quite some time to get the words right.
When they finished writing, they pushed the scroll to the Pale King who picked it up to read. The first word already hit him as hard as one of Ogrim's dung bombs.
"Father...", they had wrote. "I am sorry, I couldn't be pure. I am glad you still accept me. But what about the infection?"
He had underestimated his Vessel. Underestimated them so much. They knew. They understood everything. They perfectly had known what was their purpose. And they also knew that they had been the latest plan.
The Pale King walked around the table and laid a hand on his child's shoulder, rubbing a soothing circle in their back: "I don't know...", he said truthfully, "...but we will find a way."
(Author's note: I originally had planned for this to be a oneshot, but I have the feeling I want to add a few more chapters for this scenario, I just have to figure them out first, so I let it open for the time.
If you are still here reading this note, I would be honoured to hear what you thought about my story. Thank you very much in advance!)