(Author's note: So, this is my personal interpretation of the canon lore of Hollow Knight of what happened after the sealing from the perspective of the Pale King. I don't enjoy the interpretation that he was a cold and heartless villain, the corpse in the White Palace for me looked like it had been died filled with regret. So I hope you enjoy my take on his character and my interpretation of the lore.
A huge thanks to Solara-Nightshade from tumblr who beta read this for me. )
The clicking sound of his claws and the soft thud of its footsteps were the only sounds heard as they walked to their destination. The whole way the Pale King hadn't turned around, knowing that the Hollow Knight still followed him, not only by the sound of its footsteps, but that it had yet to disobey a single order. The reason he dared not turn around to look at it, wasn't that he feared that it would stop following him, but feared the moment he turned to look he would falter.
He had told himself that no cost was too great as he let his own children be engulfed by the void, and in the end, only a single one had made the transformation into a Pure Vessel. The Vessel who would be able to seal the infection and free the kingdom of Hallownest of the Radiance once and for all.
This was the purpose and the task of the Hollow Knight. What he had created it for. What he had raised it for. So why was his heart sinking down further in his chest with every step they took?
Once they arrived at the Temple of the Black Egg, the Pale King turned around for the first time since they had started their journey. There was no turning back now. He looked at the Hollow Knight. The Pure Vessel. The being with an empty mind. It was standing there and waiting. Like it always did. Waiting for his order.
There was a sick feeling in his gut as he looked at the Hollow Knight. It had grown rather large since it had ascended the abyss. It was clothed in embellished armour with a long cape, and carried a marvellously smithed nail, and it knew how to wield it.
Seeing it standing there, the Pale King struggled with himself. He had come so far, he couldn't falter, he had sworn it to himself, that no cost was too great to save his kingdom and while this technically was his child standing there...
The Pale King felt himself shudder. Something deep inside him just wanted to walk over to the Hollow Knight and give it a hug, tell it that it would be fine, that the whole kingdom would forever remember it for it sacrifice, but... he knew he couldn't act on his feelings. If he did, the whole plan would be ruined, he would be unable to go through with it anymore. That being in front of him... it wasn't allowed to be his child, it was the vessel. The Hollow Knight. It had to fulfil the task it had been raised for.
The Pale King forced himself to turn around and walk into the temple of the black egg, hearing the footsteps of the Hollow Knight behind him. Now, there was really no turning back. He had to walk the path he had laid out in front of him, regardless of his own personal feelings.
The walk into the sealing room wasn't a long one, but for the Pale King, it felt like hours had passed. Once they arrived in the designated room, the Pale King gave the Hollow Knight a stiff nod. It was time for it to fulfil its purpose.
Like always, the Hollow Knight didn't say anything, how could it without a voice, and simply walked into the middle of the room. The Pale King braced himself, he had to be quick to get the bindings in place once the Hollow Knight had contained the infection. The Pale King's gaze didn't leave the Pure Vessel as it used their powers to absorb the infection inside of its body.
Once it was done, its eyes started to glow an ominous orange, the far too bright colour of the infection. It collapsed to the ground and seemed to shudder, as if it was in pain. They slightly raised their head and looked at the Pale King who almost physically flinched at this action. It looked like the Hollow Knight was looking directly at him, as if it... was asking for his help...
No, that surely couldn't be, how could a vessel without a mind of its own be asking for help? The Pale King unleashed the spell that would seal the Hollow Knight in this very chamber for all eternity. The ground rumbled, as chains were conjured and wrapped around the vessel's armour, turning the form of the Hollow Knight into a shadow. An emblem was appearing over its form, signalling that the spell had been successful.
The Pale King had no business in the Temple of the Black Egg anymore, but he wasn't able to move his feet. He had done it. He really had done it. He had used his own child to seal the infection... No, it wasn't a child, it was the vessel... But still... he had always been rather fond of it. However, the moment he left this room to signal the dreamers it really would be too late for second thoughts. He had to be sure.
No cost too great., he thought to himself and turned around to leave the temple, but couldn't help glancing back one last time at the Hollow Knight, not being able to forgot the look it had given him. Then, he took a deep breath and left the room, walking in silence until he was in front of the door. There, he unleashed the spell that signaled the dreamers to sleep, thus closing the door. Only their death the key to opening it again, and they all had made sure that nobody would get to them easily. Herrah was laying down in Deepnest, a most dangerous place deep below the kingdom. Monomon had unleashed the Ouma's in her archives, also stating that she had taken another measure that he would know about once the sealing was done, and Lurien had trained an elite squad of six knights who would fight off anyone trying to reach him.
While the Pale King was still lost in thoughts, the door behind him flashed and one by one, the masks of first Lurien, then a short while after Monomon, and at last Herrah's appeared. It was done. The infection should be sealed, Hallownest would live on, but the Pale King couldn't take joy in this fact. Instead, he broke down in front of the door, hugging himself, curling his tail around his whole form, shivers starting to wrack his form as his mind repeated to him No cost too great., over and over again.
He didn't know how much time had passed once he managed to get up. He extended a hand to touch the door briefly before withdrawing it and turning around, leaving the temple. While he walked back to the palace, there were bugs all around him, bugs that greeted their long-lost relatives and friends, bugs that were filled with joy, bugs that turned to him as if he was some hero, giving him bows even deeper than usual, expressing their eternal gratefulness.
The Pale King couldn't share their joy. He didn't feel like the hero they exalted him to be. He wasn't their hero. The one who should be worshipped and remembered? It was the Hollow Knight. It was the Hollow Knight who gave up its whole being for Hallownest. It was the Hollow Knight who had been raised for this purpose. It had been the Hollow Knight who had made it out of the abyss while thousand others hadn't... having died before they could even hatch or having fallen to their death on the way out.
He could try to convince himself forever that the Hollow Knight was just a construct of the void. That it didn't feel anything. That its only purpose was to seal the infection, but the Pale King knew that he had loved them. He had tried his hardest not to act on this feelings... but now that it was all over, knowing he would never see his Hollow Knight again, it was the Pale King who felt empty.
Once he arrived at the palace, the royal retainers gathered around him and started to chatter. The Pale King barely listened. He didn't want to hear anything today. He only wanted to go to his Root and sleep in her embrace. The royal retainers quickly got that he wasn't up for talking and stopped following him soon after.
The Pale King found the White Lady sitting on one of the balconies of the palace, a cup of tea held in her branches, Dryya at her side as usual. He just wanted to run over to her and drown in her embrace, but... one look at her eyes stopped him. She looked so sad. Even though she had agreed to his plan, he was convinced that she held a certain form of resentment against him. If he would go to her right now and hug her, would she even embrace him back? The mere thought of her sorrowing face with rage or hatred at his sight made him stay glued to the floor, and after a few minutes of only looking at her, he turned around and retracted to his own chambers.
He told the Royal Retainers that he didn't want to be disturbed and sat down on his bed, his hands resting in his lap. He knew that technically he should go out there, talk to his citizens, make sure that the infection really was gone while working on getting the shaken kingdom into a functioning society again, but he couldn't. Not yet. Not now. He needed some time to himself. He needed some time coming to terms with the sacrifices he had let happen to save his kingdom. Needed some time to sort out this whirlwind of emotions he was feeling.
Eventually, he must have fallen asleep, for he awoke the next day a mess of manged blankets and crumpled robes. Not even remembering when he had laid down, unsure if he had even eaten anything since coming back to the palace. The realization that his Root hadn't even checked on him drowning the already heavy feeling in his chest.
Despite the prospect of staying in bed the whole day sounding very inviting to him, he eventually kicked off the blankets and changed into new robes, leaving his chambers. The Royal Retainers bustling around the palace halls were very delighted to see him and to give him updates on the situation if he wanted to hear it or not.
The good news was that the plan had worked. The infection was gone. His entire kingdom was working to get society moving again. The bad news being he would need to approve off all kind of stuff, sign paperwork and talk to the nobility directly to get things sorted out. Despite having slept the last night, the Pale King suddenly felt very, very tired.
There was also a letter handed to him, he could recognize Monomon's seal on it. He could only guess that it probably was about the added protection she wanted to tell him about once she became a dreamer. The Pale King stored it in his robe and went to take care of his duties for the day.
It was in the afternoon that the Pale King realized that he had been so caught up in work that he still hadn't eaten something. Normally, it would be his Root to remind him to eat, but she was nowhere to be seen. While he was ordering one of the royal retainers to get him so some food, he also asked for her, and was told she had decided to spend the day in her garden. Normally, she would have told him about it, but the Pale King assumed that she most likely needed some time away from him. He would have to wait until the evening of her return to try and speak with her.
Once his food had arrived, the Pale King more nibbled on it instead of actually eating it while he opened the letter of Monomon that he had crumbled into his robes. She had written the following words:
Once these lines have reached you, my duty as a dreamer will have begun. Like I have already said, to make sure the seal would not be easily broken while I lay down within the archives, with the largest of Ouma's to be my last defense, I have also applied a protective seal to my mask. This mask I have given to my personal assistant, who I have sent away from the kingdom. I made sure he learned how to wield a nail so that he may protect himself and my mask. He left the kingdom a master of his blade. I also made sure he was aware of what it means to leave the kingdom, and he assured me of his willingness to fulfil my last task for him.
I told him that he should deliver the letter to the palace before he leaves, so you reading these lines means that everything has fallen into place.
You may ask yourself why I rely to such a drastic measure, but while I completely trust into your ability to construct a plan that succeeds, the whole situation was still untested. If, and the emphasis is on if, something should not work out as planned, the inability to break the seal of the temple will give us some precious needed time.
Of course, I hope that my caution will not be needed and that I am simply overthinking things, but better safe then sorry, right? I am proud that I can be part of the sacrifice that makes Hallownest last eternal."
With the best regards, Monomon."
After he had finished reading the letter, whatever little appetite the Pale King still had left had ceased. The permanence of his decision once again seeping in. Nobody would be able to open the Temple of the Black Egg, not when a vital piece of entering a dreamers mind was irreplacably gone, and the Pale King was all too aware the effects of leaving the Kingdom had on a bug's mind. Monomon's assistant soon would forget why he was even out there, just fighting for his survival. The chances of him ever coming back to the kingdom were more than slim.
Pushing away his plate, the Pale King continued his work and once he was done with the load of the day, it was already late in the evening. He left his office to retreat to his chambers, stopping by his Root's chambers on the way, hoping that she had returned from the garden.
On the way, he ran into the five great knights, minus Dryya, who first stared at him, and then cheered at his sight.
"Your majesty, you've done it! The infection is gone!", Ogrim was the first to speak.
"Finally, we Won't have to worry anymore that it will affect our loved ones.", Isma added while Ogrim gave her a suggestive glance. The whole palace knew the two of them were a thing.
"Che would love to have a relationship like the both of you.", Ze'mer chimed in. "When will 'che find the one who will capture mine own heart?"
"You are a wonderful lady, Ze'mer. Surely, there will be someone who will recognize your merits. Perhaps sooner than you believe.", Hegemol said.
That they all were so cheerful and exuberant felt odd to the Pale King. The Hollow Knight had trained with them. Should they not be a bit more devastated because they lost a comrade?
"Aren't you sad about the comrade you lost?" He was the most surprised about having spoken out his thoughts aloud, and in return, all four of the present knights moved their gazes to him. Confusion prevalent in their faces while an awkward slience spread through them.
Isma was the first to break the silence: "...Are you talking about the Hollow Knight?"
The Pale King only nodded curtly at her words, still wondering why he had even said that.
"Your majesty, you have told us time and time again that the Hollow Knight is a construct that should be trained to contain the infection. It was similar to a kingsmould, but better.", Ogrim said and the Pale King felt like someone had stabbed a nail in him and twisted it around.
He had done that... He had told them that the Hollow Knight was a vessel, the Pure Vessel. A being without feelings or thoughts, simply there to fulfil the task it was created for, but... the Pale King couldn't forget the last glance the Hollow Knight had given him. It had looked like a cry for help, even though he knew how impossible that was. The Hollow Knight was unable to think, it only could follow orders. At least... he had convinced himself that this was the case. No, he couldn't have second thoughts, not after he already acted on his plan. He simply knew that the Hollow Knight didn't have a mind of its own.
"Besides...", Ze'mer interrupted his tram of thoughts . "'Che always found them a bit creepy. 'Che never could say what they were thinking. If they were thinking at all."
"I think it was our majesty here that once stated that they are unable to think.", Hegemol added. "I have to be honest, I share Ze'mer's feelings. They felt like a statue that could move a and fight, never making a face, or letting through that they felt anything. It was off putting to say the least."
"And their body was ice cold.", Isma spoke. "They are a void construct of incredible power if I remember correctly. Seeing that this palace is a place of light, it is probably better that they aren't here anymore." Ogrim looked a bit sad, but nodded at her words. He then spoke again: "...Or is there something we don't know, your majesty?"
The Pale King felt a shudder going down his back. What they didn't know... what only his Root knew, that the Hollow Knight was his child and that it was the only of thousands of children that had climbed out of the abyss. That he had used it as sacrifice for his kingdom. His own child. It didn't matter how often he tried to convince himself that it was an empty being, he surely had developed feelings for it. He felt himself shivering as he spoke: "No, it's nothing... We wish to not speak about this further."
He got a collective glance of the four present knights, after all, he had been the one who brought the topic up, but they knew better than to speak against their king and let him go in peace. Even though peace was the furthest thing he felt.
As he arrived at his Root's chamber's, Dryya was there and bowed to him: "Your majesty." She then spoke further before he could ask a single question: "I am afraid the queen has already retired for the night. I must ask that you come back tomorrow."
"We see... thank you, Dryya.", he said and left, glancing back at the chamber one last time with that heavy feeling in his chest.
The next day the Pale King had ordered a sculptor to the palace. He had an idea that his encounter with the knights the day prior had only cemented it. He didn't want the Hollow Knight to be remembered as the creepy void construct that never uttered a single word (because he hadn't given it a voice) and never expressed any thought (because he had made it without a mind). He wanted that the bugs of Hallownest remember the Hollow Knight as the hero it was.
"The fountain shall have the form of the Hollow Knight at its centre, surrounded by the dreamers.", he spoke, all while the sculptor made notes.
"What should the inscription on the fountain be?",the sculptor asked, after the Pale King came to a decision on the fountain's design. The Pale King wished that Monomon was still awake, because she was f far better at poetry than he could ever be. Instead, his mind wandered back to the last she had written him, an idea composed itself within his mind.
"Memorial of the Hollow Knight. In the Black Vault far above, through its sacrifice Hallownest lasts eternal."
The sculptor nodded to his words and, after they discussed the last details of the fountain, left to get his team to work on erecting the memorial fountain as soon as possible. Luckily, it only took a few days for the fountain to be completed, days that were made full by the Pale King's busy itinerary. Of course, this also left him too busy to visit his Root, with every attempt at visiting her in his spare seconds proving fruitless. Each attempt foiled by Dryya's message that his Root was either asleep or had left to visit her gardens.
Once the fountain was finished, the Pale King commissioned another work, a shrine for the dreamers in the Resting Grounds, For their willingness to lay down and dream had been equivalent to agreeing to die, as they would never wake up again. Once this was done, the Pale King, whose public appearances were few and far inbetween, left the White Palace to see the Memorial Fountain with his own eyes.
It looked even more beautiful than he had imagined, illuminated by the lights of the city, the inscription clear for everyone to see. Once he had arrived, the bugs who had curiously gathered around the memorial around the memorial quickly bowed, before quickly scattering to get back to their other business. It had only been a few days, but the city already felt closer to the bustling place it had once been.
It made the Pale King feel like he had made the right decision, that no cost could be too great, but if that was true, why did seeing the memorial make him feel so empty inside? How could it be that he mourned the loss of a construct so much? A construct that he made for the very purpose of containing the infection? A construct that he knew could not have feelings or a mind of its own. A construct, but a construct that had once been his child. Still was his child. A child that he had grown to love dearly
While he was fighting his his inner turmoil, he finally registered the droplets of rain hitting his body, causing him to notice the ceiling leaking. It had only been recently that rain started to pour down from the lake above. Even though many attempts were made to reinforce the ceiling, another crack would form, and the rain would continue once again. In any other instance the Pale King would have gotten upset that he gotten thoroughly soaked, it took ages to dry his wings, but in this moment, he was grateful for the rain, for it hid the tears that had started to flow freely down his face.
It was that evening, After spending an egregious amount of time on the balcony with his wings spread out, still attempting to dry them out, when he finally managed to encounter his Root.
Both of them stopped dead in their their tracks, staring at each other through an uncomfortable air, an awkward silence sitting between them.
Finally working up his nerve, he finally decided the speak, and to his suprise so had his Root. Words blending together.
"How are you feeling?", he asked her.
"Have you been eating right lately?", she asked him.
Her question caused the Pale King to look down at the floor. The answer was no, he certainly hadn't bean eating right lately. He had been locking himself up in his study and barely held any appetite, however, he didn't want to worry her, so he answered shakily, „Y- Yes."
He could tell that hadn't been very convincing and he could see his Root stare him over with disapproving eyes: "Of course you are. And of course you haven't standing for who knows long outside in the rain."
The Pale King flinched at her words, muttering, "...How did you know?"
The White Lady sighed and gestured at him, "Your wings. You only keep them spread out when they need to dry."
"I could also have taken a bath...," he muttered.
"I doubt this. You usually make sure that they don't get too wet then." She sighed again and rubbed a branch over tired looking eyes. "Make sure to take care of yourself, my Wyrm. The kingdom needs you. You can't afford to get sick."
She seemed to decided that this conversation was over and turned around to leave, but stopped when he called after her, "W..Wait."
She turned around and her face told him that she awaited what he wanted to say. "Y.. You haven't told me how you feel yet.", he said, fidgeting with his claws.
„I believe you are already aware of the answer to that question." The White Lady answered, and left him alone
That night, he barely managed any sleep, and the following day his Root's concerns seemed to prove true as he felt the signs of sickness invade his body. Deciding to ignore the signs, he continued to tackle the massive workload that only seemed to pile up. His kingdom needed him, and the only force that finally managed to get him to stop, was the worsening of the sickness itself. He collaped two days later, becoming bedridden for several days while his body fought high fever.
During this time, he had a myriad of strange dreams and nightmares, unsure of which were a fabrication of imagination and of which were his foresight going haywire.. Many of the dreams revolved around the Hollow Knight and the Vessels, even going so far that he could see a tiny little Vessel that must have just hatched picking a fight against the Hollow Knight, despite it easily being five times its size. He briefly awoke from this dream when the Hollow Knight used its own nail to stab itself in the chest, infection gushing out of it, and thought he saw his Root sitting on his bedside, before falling back in his uneasy state of semi consciousness.
The moment his fever had died down enough that he could see clearly again, his Root wasn't at his bedside, making him wonder if he had merely hallucinated her presence. Even though he wanted to go back to work right away, mostly to escape having to think about these nightmares, but his physician forbade him to work right away. While his physiology resembled that of normal bugs, having been a wyrm once, there were still differences that would make it hard for the physician to help should the illness worsen. Therefore, the Pale King gave into having to rest a few days more, surrendering to his turbulent thoughts.
Technically, he should be happy, the infection was banished and the kingdom was on the path towards recovering to its former glory. Yet, he only felt empty. He felt a sharp sting of guilt every time he thought about what was locked away in the abyss. He felt horrible whenever he thought about how the Hollow Knight had looked at him once it contained the infection. He felt a low pain in his stomach when he thought about how the Great Knight's had talked about the Pure Vessel and most significantly, he missed his Root. Since he had awoken, she hadn't visited him once. While the kingdom was happy and healthy, its king was unhappy and sick. The contradiction leaving him disheartened.
After his full recovery, the Pale King picked up his workload again and started to visit the memorial fountain of the Hollow Knight regularly, making sure not to stay too long in the rain. He checked on his Root every night, but never managed to initiate a conversation conversation, and before he even realized it, several years had passed and Hallownest was back to being the bustling kingdom it once had been. Everything was as it used to be.
No, that wasn't exactly right, there was a difference and it was the relationship he had with his Root. Since he had delivered the Pure Vessel to the Temple of the Black Egg, there was a certain distance between them. She would often retreat to the garden, sometimes for days, and every time he wanted to try and talk to her it only took one look at her to make the words die on his tongue. Her tired, sad eyes that prevented him from walking over, saying more of her assured resentment towards him than words ever could. That even if he did walk over, she wouldn't embrace him. Would sooner push him away that have to do anything with a man who would use their own children to keep their kingdom safe.
Part of him felt like he was unreasonable, that ignoring his Root because he feared rejection would make matters only worse, but he couldn't help it if his brain seemed convinced that she didn't want him at her side. Those feelings had only gotten stronger when Hornet, the result of the dalliance he had with Herrah in agreement to have her be a dreamer, visited the Palage again as an acting diplomat of Deepnest.
When she encountered him, despite her talking calm and collected, he could see nothing but contempt in her eyes. Of course, he couldn't blame her. He had taken away both her mother and her sibling. It didn't matter how often they told little Hornet that the Pure Vessel wasn't able to feel or think, she had adored it and often spend time with it, telling it all the different kinds of adventures she had experienced through the day. She wanted, no, she needed someone to take the blame for her losses and the Pale King knew that he was the right person to blame.
Sadly, this didn't make it hurt less. Here was his own child standing in front of him, well, the only one still alive and well, and she resented him. He knew he would never be able to make it up to her. He started having to direct his gaze to the ground when talking with her, being unable to look directly into her eyes, which seemed to make her even more furious.
It had been those encounters that had convinced him that his Root was the same as Hornet. She needed someone to blame for the loss of all her children and she had settled on him, rightfully so. Over the next few years, they seemed to grow only more apart, only talking now and then when they met in the hallways. Eventually they stopped talking altogether, only giving each other a tired and sad glance when they met before going back to their individual duties.
It was during these years, where it only seemed to get harder for the Pale King to get out of bed every morning, that something concerning happened. He got reports of a bug that suddenly had gotten aggressive and attacked their family, and when the sentries had taken them out they reported of orange goop coming out of the corpse.
"But... it can't be.", the Pale King had the face of the sentry very clearly in front of his mind. "The infection… it's gone. It has been sealed. It couldn't have been the infection, right?"
The Pale King thought the whole day about the incident. Could it have been an infection born of the Radiance? No, that couldn't be, she was locked away within the Pure Vessel. There was no way for her to break out of a mind with nothing in Radiance needed thoughts, dreams, a will to infect bugs. The Hollow Knight should have none of this. Unless...
The Pale King shook away this thought. No, that couldn't be. If it really did have feelings, all of the sacrifices, his sacrifices, would have been in vain. He would have left the corpses of a thousand vessels behind and forsaken the only living child of himself and his Root for nothing. It couldn't be the infection. Surely, there was some other explanation for it, perhaps this was the doing of a different sickness, or it had been an emotional response. Still... his mind wandered back to the last glance the Hollow Knight had given him.
Unfortunately, this bug didn't stay the only case. Soon, even more cases of bugs suddenly getting aggressive were reported, and every case involved either the leaking, orange substance or eyes that glowed orange. It did not take long for rumours of another infection to spread throughout the kingdom, bringing the citizens to gather at the entrance of the White Palace, seeking the Pale King's help. After all, if he had gotten rid of the infection once, he would be able to do it a second time, right? If only the bugs knew just how great the cost had been the first time.
After one particular bad day, with dozens of reports and bugs pleading for a solution, he retreated to his chambers to sort out his thoughts. Where... where had he gone wrong? The plan was perfect. He created a Vessel, a vessel made of god so that the Radiance wouldn't be able to break its shell, and of void, a natural enemy of the light, to weaken her power. A Vessel that wouldn't speak, think or dream. The perfect empty container. A Pure Vessel to seal the Radiance one and for all. It had been a perfect plan, unless...
...unless the Hollow Knight never had been hollow in the first place.
That realization came crashing down upon him. All the subtle hints he had chosen to ignore. The way the Hollow Knight had cocked its head when he called for it. The way it would come over to him and wait for his approval. The way it had looked at him once it had mastered the Path of Pain. The way they had looked at him once they had sealed the infection, like a cry for help.
They... they never had been empty in the first place. They simply had repressed their emotions to please him. They had tried their hardest to be the Vessel he wanted them to be and he had been so blind to never see it, too convinved they were, had to be, the Pure Vessel. That if he was wrong, that it meant he had forsaken his own child to an angry god. He couldn't even begine to fathom what the Radiance could, no, would do to their mind. How had they felt when he had left them to their fate the temple? How had they managed to hold on for all these years? Before he could even register it, he had left the palace running. Not caring when a few bugs, all with glowing, orange eyes, fell victim to his magic caring when his body started to ache from exhaustion. He didn't stop running until he was in front of the Temple of the Black Egg.
Staring up at the door, he felt any sense of love for his Kingdom wither away at the sight of only wanted to free his child from the torture he had imposed on them. However, the sight of the three masks only reminded the king of the obstacles he would have to overcome to break the seal.
Lurien, Herrah and... Monomon.
It was impossible. It was impossible for him to break the seal. Even if he were to take out Lurien and Herrah, he wouldn't be able to get into the mind of Monomon. Even if only one dreamer remained, the seal wouldn't break. The seal was probably the only reason why only a few bugs had gotten infected as it was. If not for it, the whole crossroads would have been riddled with the pus of the infection. ... Even and the Pale King was certain of it, the Hollow Knight still fought against the infection inside of them.
The image of his fever dream so many years ago came to mind. Of them stabbing themselves in the chest, as if as if they were trying to end their own life, end their suffering. With that thought, he sank down to the ground, shivering and hugging himself, wrapping his tail around his frame. He had deserted his child and there was no way for him to ever fix his mistake.
He eventually went back to the Palace and had to face the truth. The infection was back and the citizens wanted a solution, only he didn't had one. He couldn't do it, not another time. He was unable to create another Vessel, not only emotionally, but also physically because him and his Root hadn't touched each other in years. This day he fell asleep with only the feeling of guilt pervading his mind and chest, the guilt that he had failed his kingdom, and the guilt that he had forsaken his child.
"How often do we have to say this? Soul is for higher beings and ordinary bugs shouldn't meddle with it."
The Pale King tiredly rubbed his eyes with his robed arms. The bug who called himself the soul master had once again asked for an audience to ask if he could study soul. He was just one of the beings who had gotten a handle at soul magic, a side effect of him having given free will to the bugs. However, unlike the Pale King, who had tight control over his soul magic, the Soul Master seemed to only want more and more of it.
"But your majesty, soul could be the answer to combat the plague." The Soul Master said. "I am sure of it. I have seen it. I just need your permission."
"We can't remember having shared our birth gift of foresight along with soul magic." The Pale King murmured, but simply assumed that the Soul Master had just been waxing his words with prose.. Though... he had to admit, he still had no idea how to combat the infection anew and was getting desperate. "You are allowed to study soul then."
"Thank you, your majesty. You will not be disappointed by our studies."
After the Soul Master left, and what a pretentious name the Pale King thought, he retreated to his study to experiment with the void he still had there, even if it wasn't going anywhere. One day he found himself designing another gauntlet, similar to the path of pain on the board and asked himself what he was even doing. That was the moment he remembered the Soul Master. Despite weeks having gone by, there hadn't been any reports of the so called Soul Sanctum, where the Soul Master and his students had retreated to.
The Pale King went to the Soul Sanctum in person, to see if there was any progress on them combatting the infection, but what he saw made his heart sink deep into his chest. He knew, he just knew that he should never have allowed ordinary bugs to meddle with soul, because what he saw reminded him far too much of his own mistakes. He couldn't believe that he had let this happen a second time and once he found the Soul Master, the normally so calm and collected king yelled at him and forbid him to ever study soul again before leaving in a fury.
His fury ebbed away once he reached the city and the memorial fountain. As he stood there, staring at the still statue of the Hollow Knight, his chest stung again. What would he give for even a glimpse into the sealing chamber, to see how his child was doing? Of course, he could have used his foresight, but once he had seen how the Hollow Knight had stabbed themselves in his fever-induced dreaming, he hadn't dared to use it anymore. Too afraid of having to see if this dream had been real or his imagination.
This evening the Pale King wandered the hallways, restlessly, not wanting to go to sleep but also not wanting to be left alone with his thoughts. Trying to distract himself until he encountered one of the statues that would provide himself with soul... one of the statues that was built in the image of the Hollow Knight.
He fell down on his knees in front of it, putting his hands together, tears glistening in his eyes, as he muttered: "My child... I am so sorry... I failed you..."
He flinched at the voice. That was Ogrim and from the tone of his voice, he had heard everything the Pale King just had said and started to connect the dots: "What are you talking about? Your child? The Hollow Knight... was your child?"
The Pale King turned his head around, feeling himself starting to shiver, but didn't answer right away.
"Your majesty, answer me.", Ogrim demanded, his normally cheerful face filled with shock and confusion, before twisting with suppressed anger.
"...We needed a being that was born of god and void...", he finally replied.
The next thing he knew he was forced up against the wall,, a furious Ogrim staring at him, one of his claws ready to strike. "Your majesty, how could you even think about doing this to your own child?", he asked, his tone a mixture of disbelief and anger.
"We... we told ourselves that no cost would be too great.", the Pale King said. He really had believed it. He really had been certain that he was doing the right thing. It had to be the right thing. If it wasn't, then he knew the guilt would eat him alive.
He saw Ogrim raising his claw and he closed his eyes, fully ready to accept the judgement of his knight, but then Ogrim spat out: "You disgust me." before letting go of the Pale King, who fell face first on the ground, feeling a sharp pain as part of his exoskeleton broke open.
He could hear Ogrim's footsteps fading into the distance, but didn't made an attempt to get up. He had fully accepted that Ogrim would strike him down, and he seemed to be unable to get off the ground, feeling a bit of blood seeping out of the wound on his forehead.
Not long after Ogrim left, some Royal Retainers found and immediately came running over to assist, treating his wound despite being able to heal the wound easily with soul magic.
That evening, when he silently went to check on his Root, still hoping that one day she would talk to him again or even just him getting the courage to speak with her, he felt her eyes gaze at him. Upon spotting the injury on his head, her eyes grew wide, but she did not ask what happened nor did the Pale King bother to tell her.
Ogrim wasn't seen the next day, nor the one after that. After days of his absence, the Pale King was sure that he had abandoned his duties and the palace for good. He couldn't blame him for it. The Pale King wasn't even able to forgive himself.
Ogrim was not the only one of the knights who had vanished that day. I Isma also hadn't been spotted anywhere since the time of Ogrim's departure. The Pale King assumed that Ogrim had told her of their encounter, they were a couple after all, sShe probably had decided to leave the palace alongside Ogrim. However, the other three knights were still there. Ogrim either hadn't told them about what happened, or they had decided that their loyalty still laid with the king.
Thinking about loyalty, Dryya always had been more the knight of his Root, and that meant that she normally would escort her most of the time. W,ith his Root being in the Garden so often, he noticed the lack of Dryya's presence as well. Sometimes, he saw her training some of the sentries, but most of the time only Hegemol and Ze'mer were around.
And Ze'mer... she had also started to act strange. Well, stranger than usual. He often saw her accompanying his Root and Dryya to the gardens. He was sure that Dryya was strong enough to protect his Root on her own, so why did Ze'mer feel the need to escort her too? She also bore a look of distractedness every time he saw her, as if she had something completely different in mind. Despite his concerns, he knew she would still fulfil her duties as a knight and so he didn't pay much attention at her. His days were busy enough trying to find a way (and failing) to deal with the infection.
He wouldn't come to understand Ze'mer's odd behavior, until one day he located Ze'mer in a corner crying with Dryya comforting her. The Pale King felt baffled at what could have lead one of his knights to cry, and with his own turmoil hounding him through each day, he left Ze'mer to Dryya knowing she would be of better help than he could ever be.
It was a few days later when Ze'mer came to him, asking to be relieved of her duties as a knight. She had lost someone dear to her and her mind wouldn't rest until she could properly grief. The Pale King, knowing very well how it felt to loose someone dear, even though he was the one to blame in the first place, allowed Ze'mer to retreat to the Resting Grounds to grief the loss of her friend. Even if that meant only Dryya and Hegemol would remain to combat the infection.
It was during this time the reports from the Crossroads became steadily worse. A large amount of bugs had caught the infection all at once and the road wasn't deemed safe for travellers anymore. It was a day where Dryya had accompanied the queen to the garden again, so Hegemol was the only one of the great knights left in the Palace.
"I'll go.", he said without hesitation.
"On your own?", the Pale King asked. "We know you are strong, but the infection is unpredictable. Wouldn't it be better to request Dryya's presence?"
"Your majesty, I admit there is a certain truth to your words, but there is simply no time to wait for their arrival. Besides, Dryya has her own duties in protecting the queen. I vowed to protect the citizens of this kingdom and that means that I can't forsake the ones who are in need of my help."
There was it again, the familiar sting in the chest of the Pale King.
"Then we won't stop you, just...", he took a deep breath before continuing, "...please stay safe."
Hegemol briefly looked at the Pale King, he could see a certain surprise in his face. As if Hegemol never had expected him to express concern for his well being. Thinking about it, the Pale King acted rather distant to most of his subordinates. It was certainly the first time that he ever had openly expressed his concern. He, of course, fully trust into the abilities of his knights, but the thought of them not returning, especially after Ogrim and Isma had left, filled him with dread.
Evening came and Hegemol still hadn't returned. The Pale King didn't feel like he wanted to eat or sleep, instead, he waited. Waited for the figure of his knight in the distance, telling him that the threat was taken care of, but he didn't came back. Instead, one of the city sentries came to him, delivering the message he had feared to hear.
Hegemol had fought bravely against the waves of infected bugs and managed to protect a large amount of innocent travellers, but he also had gotten overwhelmed by their sheer numbers and had fallen. The few sentries who who had braved bringing the message of his failure, hadn't even been able to retrieve his shell, too hasty in their own retreat to save their own carapace.
The Pale King could only find solace with the thought that Hegemol had died doing the thing he loved the most, protecting the kingdom, but knowing that he was responsible infection once again impacting the lives of his citizens, that it was basically his fault that Hegemol had fallen, robbed him of sleep that night.
Just like that, four of the five great knights weren't around anymore. Only Dryya was still active and she would forever hold loyalty to his Root, and his Root... she rarely came back to the Palace anymore, and even when she did, neither of them could start a conversation. He was absolutely certain she resented him, that she she loathed the idea of speaking to him, that even if she would, it would only be out of obligation and politeness. He had taken their children. Experiment with them to create the pure vessel, watched them die in the process and the moment one of them had made it and had grown strong enough, he had delivered it to the Radiance where it had to suffer for all eternity. How couldn't she resent him? He even resented himself for his actions.
The Pale King wasn't suprised when his wife left and didn't return for a whole week. Except, one week became two, two weeks became three, and after a whole month had passed, he became certain, that she had left him for good. Of course, she had taken Dryya with her, and even though the palace, filled as it was with Royal Retainers and various servants, felt as hollow and empty as the Pale King's chest.
With all of the knights gone and no ideas how to stop the infection, the Pale King ordered that the city gates should be closed. Nobody could get in, nobody could leave. He knew it was only a short reprieve. The Radiance didn't need a door to infect bugs, she needed dreams, minds, wills. Sooner or later, the infection would also affect the city and there was nothing he could do about it. At least it would keep the already infected bugs out of the city.
Since his Root had left, the Pale King had spent most of his days staring out the window or sometimes in his workshop, trying to come up with a solution, but ultimately never finding one. The Palace felt so big and lifeless to him. He missed seeing the five great knights knights pulling shenanigans with each other to pass the time, and he missed his Root. He missed the form of the Pure Vessel, who would quietly follow him through these hallways. Now the palace only had the royal retainers, bugs that he gave a mind gave a mind to, but who ultimately lived to fulfil his every desire, feeling more like a hive mind, and that made him feel worse knowing the Radiance had operated her domain the same way.
There was only one being with a mind of her own, which still chose freely to visit the palace, probably only due to her connection with him. She would ride the tram from Deepnest to the Ancient Basin, trying to connect to the only family she had left. However, everytime she found him staring, distant, and eventually her frustration grew into furiousness.
"Are you proud of yourself?", Hornet asked, her needle over her shoulder, eyes dangerously narrowed. Before he had a chance to answer, she went on: "This kingdom is done for and it's all your fault."
He finally raised his head and spoke: "My child, I am so sorry-"
"Don't call me your child!", she screeched, cutting him off. "There is nothing between us, even if we share the same blood. I don't want to have anything to do with the king who can't even help his own people!"
His gaze fell back to the ground, unable to even look her into the face. He knew that she was rightfully upset, but hearing his own daughter denying their connection, hurt worse than he could have imagined.
"...I am trying...", he whispered.
"Right, locking yourself in your palace and hoping that the whole situation somehow resolves itself counts as trying.", Hornet's voice was practically dripping with sarcasm. "You had a plan and it failed. A plan that my mother gave herself up for. For me."
He shuddered at Hornet's voice. Hornet was the reason why Herrah had agreed to become a dreamer.
"She trusted you. She trusted that you would keep the kingdom, and me, safe! But now that the inefection is everywhere and your sittin here doing nothing about it, my mother lies in her chamber dreaming for nothing... Give me my mother back!" He could see the tears streaming down Hornet's face when she stopped speaking. The Pale King didn't say anything. He couldn't. It was impossible for him to ever wake up a dreamer.
"Of course you can't...", Hornet murmured, wiping the tears off her face. "All you ever do is hurt other people. „Nobody would even be sad if you just vanished.", she growled before leaving.
The Pale King stayed on his throne, too shaken to move. He knew she was right. He knew that he had failed his kingdom, but mostly, that her last words had been nothing but truth.
And over the span of the next few days a plan formed in his head.
His plan started with him visiting his old shell in Kingdom's Edge. There, at the very ends of his territory, where he had taken new form within his old shell, he gave up his King's Brand and laid it upon his birthplace. "Whoever manages to come here and claim this brand shall be the new ruler over Hallownest.", he murmured, nobody there to hear him as he gave up his status as King.
The next thing he did was was take one final visit to the Queen's Gardens. Even with the city gates closed he knew he knew all the alternate ways to find it, and once he was there, he saw Dryya standing in front of a building where he could see his Root's crown stick out.
"Leave.", Dryya's word were crisp. "She doesn't want to see you."
"We know.", the Pale King said. "We just want to lay our eyes on her one last time. We won't come back."
Dryya's eyes grew wide at his words and the stepped aside: "Make sure she doesn't see you."
The Pale King nodded and glanced inside the building. There she was, as beautiful as ever, but there were bindings erected around her own body. He recognized his Root's own magic in them in them, and understood the reason why she had never returned. She had decided to seal herself in her favourite place.
How he wished to just walk over to her, to embrace her, to apologize to her. The only thing he wished for now was that they could have back what they once had, but he knew it wasn't possible. He had hurt enough people and his Root deserved far better than him.
After a minute more he turned around, and silently thanked Dryya before leaving the garden.
The next step of his plan was the most complicated one. First, he would need to get all the Royal Retainers out of the White Palace. That would be easy, as they would do anything he wanted, and once he got them to leave, he could do what he should have done far before this point.
Putting the last things necessary in place, he could finally implement his plan to throw him and his palace into the dream realm, freeing this realm of his influence. The realm would need a tie to this one in order to stay stable, and he would do this by connecting it to one of his kingsmoulds. It would take a lot out of him, especially if he wished to transport his physical form into the dream realm as well, but he had decided that this would be the best.
He had decided that he would exile himself. Leaving Hallownest so that he never would be able to hurt others again. For what better way to lock himself away than through a supposed empty mind? Nobody would ever find him there.
The chosen Kingsmould stood as it always did while the Pale King concentrated, summoning all of his power. Once he could feel the soul within him practically flaring up he murmured the spell and felt his consciousness shift, his body being pulled forwards and flung onto the floor of the White Palace.
Once his world stopped spinning, spinning, he struggled with pulling himself up just enough to confirm that it had worked. The palace was in the dream realm... and himself...
He raised a claw and cut himself, seeing a few droplets of blood falling to the floor. Good, he also was in the dream realm with his physical body. However, the spell had taken a lot out of him and so he collapsed again and only regained consciousness after a long period of rest his body needed to recover.
Once he was fully awake again, the Pale King inspected the Palace, hoping that the seal he had put on the Kingsmould was strong enough to keep even a being with powers over the dream realm from entering. He allowed himself a moment of respite, knowing he had actually succeeded. He and the whole palace had been thrown into the dream realm. Technically, he had thrown him and the palace in his own dream realm, using the Kingsmould as a catalyst. It was impossible for a Kingsmould to dream, so it had been the perfect vessel for his dream.
Upon inspecting the palace for any inconsistencies from the conversion process, he quickly learned some bits had translated worse than others. There were many noticeable gaps that hadn't been there before. It couldn't be helped, however, that while he had some powers over the dream realm, it never had been his domain. Of course he would mess up a bit trying to throw something as big as the palace into it.
He visited a few rooms of the far too large and far too empty palace and started to cover the furniture with white sheets, vowing to himself to never use these rooms anymore. After he was done with inspecting the palace and covering every room he didn't want to return to with sheets, his exile could begin.
It quickly hit him, how truley big and empty his palace was in this dream realm. Despite the few Kingsmoulds and Wingmoulds, that had gotten thrown into the dream realm with him due to their void nature, he was alone. With no interaction, if he didn't do anything, it would drive him insane.
The Pale King decided to first replenish his soul reserves. After all, there wasn't any food in the dream realm. He could survive on soul alone. However, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as food, but in his exile he couldn't afford to be picky. On his way to a statue that would provide him with soul, he came across the Path of Pain.
He remembered this. A gauntlet which had been made for the Hollow Knight to test their abilities. He remembered how proud he had been when they had mastered it and... maybe that had been the moment they had realized they had feelings...? Whatever it was, he only had himself to blame. He had told himself over and over again that no cost would have been to great and in a sense, he still held on to that belief... the belief that he did everything he could regardless of the cost. It was the only thing that kept him still sane.
Looking at the Path of Pain also reminded the Pale King that he had rather enjoyed building this gauntlet. Perhaps he could do something similar to the jumbled mess the white palace had become.
And so the Pale King spent his days in exile building gauntlet that would span the whole palace. He spent his days building traps, placing kingsmoulds and wingsmoulds, and adjusting buzzsaws. Sometimes, he would spend extra time on a certain part of the gauntlet, making sure that it was hard, but also fair. He didn't even knew who would ever run this gauntlet, it wasn't like he was suspecting anyone to come into his own dream which he had sealed in a kingsmould. He just wanted to have something to do, to keep his mind and hands busy.
He usually would spend most of his time working on the gauntlet, sometimes even starting to talk to the kingsmoulds and wingsmould, going as far as to give them numbers to distinguish them from each other, even though they never replied. If he became exhausted, he would sleep or replenish his soul. It was like this that, slowly but surely, the guantlet took shape. Continuously getting longer and larger.
One day when he woke up, he realized that his subconsciousness had let the royal retainers appear. Why them? He asked himself. Why the mindless bugs who just existed to serve him? Even in his dream, they would bow to him. Did he still wish to be worshipped as king, even though he had given up on his kingdom and his title when he exiled himself?
He wondered why his subconsciousness hadn't created his Root or the Knights... or the Hollow Knight, or even Hornet, but he knew that it was fear. They all had been beings with their own feelings, goals and dreams, even the Hollow Knight. He knew, internally, that he didn't want a version of them made only by his desires. Perfected versions to make him feel less lonely.
So the Pale King worked on the gauntlet until it was finished. He had arrived at the last room in the palace, which ironically was his throne room. He turned around to look at his gauntlet before turning around another time to look at the throne.
Surely, he could sit on it just one last time for old times' sake.
However, the moment he sat down on the throne, it seemed that all the feelings he had suppressed inside came crashing down and he buried his face in his robes when the tears started to spill. He had failed. He had failed everyone. His kingdom, his Root, his knights, his citizens and worst of all, his children. They had counted on him, had expected him to find a solution, that he would save them, but instead he had decided to exile himself. No, it was even worse, he had run away like a coward instead of staying with them until the bitter end. All because he couldn't bear to she the kingdom he had built falling.
The Pale King stayed on the throne even after his tears had dried, limbs feeling incredible heavy. He probably would just have to wait for the feeling to disapate, so he stayed on his throne, waiting... Yet the energy he waited for never came, even when he felt his soul reserves getting dangerously low.
Come on, get up., he thought to himself. You need to get up. You need to refill your soul or... Or he knew he would be done for. He knew his body wouldn't be able to sustain itself without soul, but he just couldn't convince his body to move. He didn't deserve to get up. He had forsaken everyone by running away, leaving a mess of a kingdom to his only living child, one that would most likely resent him forever, and his Root. His loving Root that had only wanted a child to love.
He stared at his half of the King Soul, wondering if his Root still had the other half. She hadn't ever given it back to him, so perhaps she had taken it with her? Did that mean that she still loved him? There was nothing he could do now. Only wallow in the regret that, if he had only gone to talk to her instead of ignoring out of fear of her resentment to what he had done to their children, that things could have been different. Now it was too late. It had already been too late back when he had formulated his plan and had his Root agree to take part. Too late when it failed and the crushing weight of what he had done finally hit him. Too late for a kingdom that had relied upon him for help. That crushing guilt now chained him to his throne, just as he had chained the Hollow Knight to its fate.
This kept the Pale King right where he was, even when his body started to show signs of withering away. He knew he had to get up, he knew he had to get more soul, but he couldn't. Maybe he just didn't want to get didn't really know. He just wanted the pain to end. For the suffering to cease.
Looking at his half of the King Soul, the thought that had started this whole mess crept into his mind.
A thought that embedded itself into the Pale King's mind as he went to draw his last breath, his body going limp upon his throne:
"No cost too great."
(Author's note: I want to explain that I don't think the White Lady ever resented or hated the Pale King, she speaks quite fondly of him in canon. The problem here is that the Pale King convinced himself that she resented him. After the sealing they both were weighed down by guilt and handled it rather poorly, making them slowly drift apart, still hoping that their partner would be the first one to finally break the silence.
The White Lady retreated to her garden and sealed herself to get away from her desire to breed and she found it would be the best to seal herself far away from the being she wanted to breed with.
But she always hoped that he would come to her and that they could make up for a fight that hadn't even happened between them.
Dryya's reaction? Well, she took it all a bit wrong and jumped to conclusions.)