No one's sure which other Aspect Blood has the most affinities with, so they do the summoning as generic as it comes. Between day and night, the sky a smear of photoshopped bright mauves and lurid pollution-pinks and on-fire oranges. (There might really be a fire over the West part of the city. Wouldn't surprise Dave too much. It's Roxy and Jake's lookout tonight in any case.) Between Earth and Sky, which means on the police station's helipad. (That big "land here" circle sure is convenient.) A full moon rising, because it facilitates almost everything.
Detective-Summoner Dave L. Strider surveys the elegant, glistening loops and pointed scrawls of the pentacle sprawling before him and feels strangely proprietary. He can be, took him five months to donate the three pints of blood that went into it.
"Now let's all have a good long laugh as we discover using blood to summon blood was like the one thing guaranteed not to work," he muses, hands in his pockets, as he waits for his twin-slash-colleague to do her thing.
Sitting on her heels, wrist dripping slowly down onto the activating point of the pattern, Detective-Summoner Rose Lalonde looks up. Her eyes sheen oddly red, though the detached, disdainful look that too many people would confuse with one of her own usual expressions speaks louder.
"Your flippant unconcern with the possible catastrophic results for all involved in this experiment is noted."
Dave teases at the hollow between two teeth with his tongue, spits over his shoulder, casually. The demon wearing his twin pretends he's shuddering in disgust and not in wariness. "Hey, Kankri. Here to tell your butt buddy 'I told you so'? Nice little first row seat, huh?"
The look he gets for the quip is all Rose, though. Kankri wishes he could look that effortlessly malevolent. "Dave, please desist from antagonizing my rider. He's been uncooperative enough as it is." On his right, opposite Rose exactly, Jade glowers at him, a cloud of ghost hair swaying and whipping around her frame like seaweed caught in a riptide.
Dave desists, hands raised in surrender. If Kankri hadn't been caught in Rose's nosy desire to learn everything about everything ever they likely wouldn't even know Blood affinity was a thing; there sure has been no human so far turning up with it, or if they have their potential is too low to do anything with. He's been real cagey about actual useful information, though, and they're low on test subjects to extrapolate from.
Also Dave is bored as fuck, because he's got nothing to do but stand there on the precisely marked spot and wait to see if this little experiment is going to kill him (who cares) and his two best girls (he cares.)
Hehe, what about me, boy?
"You're my fave grrrrrrl, of fuckin' course," he says under his breath, rolling the R like a low growl, and feels a ghostly dragon tail curl protectively around his legs before she wisps away.
"Everyone ready to roll?" Jade asks. John and Dirk and Jane are here to watch, possibly save them all from certain death if/when this little experiment backfires. They chorus a "yeah, yeah". Only John's has any real enthusiasm.
Dave shrugs, and thinks about how many candles and old wristwatches he'll give Aradia and her springtime warmth if she keeps Damara's soul-slicing blizzard presence away from him. He's going to have enough to deal with in...
The sun is a burning sliver, crawling over the horizon, three, two, one, gone. His heart beats in his temples, in his throat, one-two, three-four. Hair rises along his forearms.
He wraps himself in Latula's dragon-scale armor, sage and silver wisps, watches arterial red stain Rose's arms and face in wet blotches. Jade is standing back out of the first circle, so she won't taint the call, though her skin glimmers with little half-moon rainbow scales and a high school's worth of tentacles weave lazy nets behind her.
For the longest instant nothing comes, and he thinks, it was a mistake, there's no demon out there with this pattern and expression of power, not even standing next door to the hell gate.
And then there's rage, incandescent; he chokes on it, finds his hands fisting on their own, shaking with the need to -- he's not sure, run up to Rose, punch her in the face for another of her harebrained asshole schemes, if you don't do it then I shall, dear brother, tear off his own hair in frustration, kick a hole through the fucking roof --
Whoa grumpnut, back your tush off, this is my ride.
Thank fuck for Latula.
Lifts a wrist to his mouth, gnaws at the bandage until the knot comes undone, gnaws some more at the crusty cuts there (he's going to give himself an infection, awesome.) In the middle of the circle there is nothing yet so material that it's visible. He can feel it anyway, like a coming storm front through every bone he ever broke in his life, the two teeth he's got fillings in. Rage and frustration keep clawing at him, at Rose, though what's got him frowning the most is that nasty undertow of guilt and my-own-fault, I-let-them-down. He's used to it, but it's an even chance whether Rose will ignore it with a haughty snort or dive right the fuck in and embrace it like it's her long-lost daughter. Every inch of exposed skin on her is now dripping crimson, warm enough to smoke in the cooling evening air.
He spits some of his own blood and scabs into the circle.
He can feel its attention whiplash onto him, forgetting Rose entirely. Awesome. He shakes his wrist, spattering more warm drops before his feet.
"Come at me, bro."
It comes at him.
There's no words to be put on a fight where the battleground is his soul, but then again none are necessary. He knows what's up, he knows what's going on, it's only the exact same thing he went through the first time he called onto Damara. It's trying to burn him out, nest under his skin.
(Only Damara was never given a gap in the world so large to slip through, so much of her self to bring to bear.)
It tries to unmoor him from himself and Latula snaps shearing fangs and fastens him with chains of dragon steel, it chips away at his underpinnings and Aradia turns them unchipped anew.
It thinks they're going to force a contract on it, trap it in between Hell and Earth to offer its help in exchange for stolen glimpses out of Dave's senses, a handful of offerings. "You poor bastard, if you only knew," Dave mutters under his breath, as Jade steps boldly in the circle, wrapped in witchery and Life.
It takes Jade-Feferi exactly three minutes and forty-one seconds to weave and bind gray and red smoke and lashing suggestions of half-seen spines in whirling fog. It takes it exactly twelve minutes and six seconds to stop screaming its brand new throat hoarse.
By then the smog is gone in wisps in the evening breeze and there's nothing left in the circle but a creature of shelled limbs and stunted wings in a sad huddle on the roof, proportions off -- back legs too long to go comfortable on all fours but bending one time too many to walk upright like a human, a ridiculously short and chubby tail that won't balance it or be used as a whip, a hard segmented shell of dull lead gray giving way to smoky velvet right on the most vulnerable parts -- belly, inner thighs -- an awkward jumble of the idea of a demon and the reality of a human.
"You remember the next step, bro?" Dirk says from behind Dave. Dave nods. The ceremony is cobbled together out of wild-ass guesses and moldy mice-eaten tomes, but this part, yeah, he hasn't forgotten. It's the part where he might manage all on his lonesome to both get his fool ass killed and leave an unchecked, corporeal, fully-powered Class Four demon on the mortal plane.
He scratches the scabbed-over slices on his other arm open, and he sheds Latula and crosses into the innermost circle all on his lonesome.
The demon turns on him, mouth a mess of fangs. Its face is human enough, still that same sooty velvet, though the cheekbones are armored and two little dots gleam wetly on its forehead under a dark tangle of hair.
It's kind of pretty for a man, kind of handsome for a woman. Hard to say. The demon'll tell him later if it feels like either one, or none, or something else entirely. The chest is flat enough.
It flares its stubby wings, chokes on a throat-tearing growl. There's a line of blades along its spine, one per shell segment, all bristled up like a startled cat. It gathers its awkward legs under itself, tries to figure out how to use its new muscles. It's going to learn fast, all demons do, and then he'll be fucked.
Dave sits, legs crossed.
A rasping hiss. It gathers itself to pounce.
"Come to me, Knight of Blood," Dave says -- it's already in mid-leap, shit, it took less time than he thought to decide itself. He braces against armored collarbones as it tackles him onto concrete. It snaps hinged jaws that make its whole lower face look entirely inhuman; Dave grits out, "drink of me and be bound."
His blood is still dripping and making rivulets down his forearms, pooling in the crook of his elbows, it stings.
The demon freezes, nostrils flaring.
It snarls at him and snaps its bear trap jaw and accidentally knees him in the thigh with a spiked shell segment trying to make his arms give. Dave laughs, giddy. "C'mon, I'm offering so nicely too. Drink of me and be bound!" He feels like a dick, saying it like that, and not like "hey, trade your freedom for my sweet hemoglobin" but apparently there's power in being formal and shit.
There's even more power in tying a nice catch-22 to its pretty neck. Either it kills him and it's bound, or it lets itself be bound and... it's bound. Or it could kill itself, Dave supposes. He doubts it. Demons don't reach that level of power and self-awareness without a positively feral drive to keep on existing.
"You diseased son of a bitch," the demon rasps, and, trembling, flicks the very tip of its snake tongue at the blood decorating his arm.
Bingo. Like the wild addict eyes weren't a hint.
"Knight of Blood," Dave repeats. The demon shudders over him, manages to tear itself from the blood long enough to sneer. Its eyes are glossy red.
Dave lets his hands fall off its collarbones. It's startled enough not to grab onto the chance to dive for his throat.
It sits. Thank fuck. It sits with eyes wide (oh hey wow there's a second, smaller set of eyes on its forehead under those bangs, weirdness), plops on its tush between Dave's knees, unthinking and stunned stupid and it's never going to be that surprised, that unresisting ever again.
A few drops aren't going to form a lasting contract. Dave offers his wrist.
"Drink," he orders, his skin brushing black lips. He knows how much the demon must crave it but it still tries to flinch back, still shudders, bites its own lip. It can't look away from his wrist. Dave thinks of all the tendons and nerves there are in there and how glad he is Jane will be able to heal him afterwards; fair bet he'd come out crippled otherwise, hasn't got enough pull yet to force so many little caveats alongside his orders...
It leans in, thick eyelashes fluttering dazedly.
It sets its searing-hot mouth on his skin and it sucks, without teeth, it tongues at the knife slit in his skin and it purrs.
Dave has left all his summons outside the innermost circle but somehow he still feels like Aradia is laughing in his ear. He stares, suddenly just this little bit breathless, as it flicks its snake tongue at the blood tracks over the back of his hand, and then back down the inside of his forearm. He finds himself lifting his arm obligingly when the demon can't crane its neck farther to get at the crook of his elbow.
It's got these small dull-tipped horns and that mass of oddly human-looking hair, just there under his nose as it feeds. He wants to see if it feels human, too.
"Ow, what the fuck." Dave glowers at the demon's hair as the demon blinks at him, glowering somehow right through its blood-high haze. "You've got spines in here? Who thought that was a good fucking idea, seriously."
He goes to suck on his prickled fingers. The demon snatches them in its mouth before he can. They're almost nose to nose, breathing each other's air, Dave's fingers surrounded in wet heat. He stares at black lips.
Demons demand different sacrifices to call on and appease them, but the staple diet is blood, and sex. Unless they're Kankri, in which case it's a total absence of sex. Dave suddenly finds himself hoping guiltily it isn't a peculiarity of the Aspect, just a peculiarity of Kankri being Kankri.
No, fuck, it's one thing to rub one out alone in his bedroom while someone rides in the back of his head and giggles along. He's not going to order a corporeal demon to suck his dick.
Especially not while his teammates are watching holy baby jegus. Urh. Yeah.
"Got it, got it." His heart is still racing a little bit, first from adrenaline and then from, yeah, moving along. He pulls his fingers out of the demon's mouth (dear lord that wet pop, that displeased pout.) "With my blood I bind you," he mumbles; it's clear enough for his and the demon's ears, who else matters. "So long as I live on this plane, you will live. So long as I feed your magic and your life, you will obey me."
The demon is still staring at him sullenly, but it doesn't move away, kneeling with its hands on the floor between Dave's thighs, leaning into him almost despite itself.
"So what's your name?"
Silence. The small upper eyes blink, and then the normal ones. It's a bit creepy, but weirdly cute too.
"C'mon, tell me."
"Is that a fucking order," it rasps, and rustles its stubby wings. There's claws on the joints and claws at the tips, all look, I'm a murder machine! and they're not even long as its arms.
"Dude, I don't want to order you to do every single thing, but if we start this kind of pissing contest I am damn well going to end it, okay?"
More stubborn silence. Only he can't leave the circle as long as he hasn't got the demon's name. Knight of Blood is a descriptor and it only works because there's only one of those in the circle. Might as well yell for a redhead guy in Ireland.
The demon hisses at him, and draws back, tears itself out of that little zone of shared body warmth. It paces on all fours, back and forth. The way its back legs move has this weird kind of insect staccato to it. Creepy thing. Dave could watch it for hours.
Which is good because he's probably going to end up watching it regardless.
Evening is falling fast, clouds on the horizon. His friends are waiting, some more patiently than others.
"Do you have it?" Jade mouths at him, bouncing in frustration.
"Yeah, 'course. No worries, babe."
"How does it feel?" wants to know Rose. Dave has no idea.
"Not... really... like anything? It's not inside my head."
"Well of course not, it has its own to inhabit. That wasn't..." A sigh. "Never mind. We'll study the results later."
It flicks a quick, assessing glance at her as it walks past, and her eyes sheen red and for a second Dave's twin sis and his pet demon sneer at each other in disturbingly identical ways. Rose shoves Kankri back down and the demon keeps pacing along the edge of the circle, eyeing Jade next, who stares back, unimpressed, and John who walks right up to the outside of the pattern to ogle it back and grin. "Kind of awesome, really! Man, if you kick even half as much ass in combat as we hoped for, I might ask one of mine if they wanna try it."
"Fuck you and your hideous face," Dave's demon replies very intelligently.
Dirk clears his throat pointedly. "Hey bro, the blood is going to flake off eventually. You're gonna be in deep shit if the circle breaks and you haven't got its name and the fundamental laws laid down first."
Dave sighs. "Okay, okay. Demon, heel. That is an order."
The demon digs its claws two inches deep into concrete to keep itself from obeying. "Go fellate your own mating parts and choke to death on spunk. That's an order too."
Blargh. "Knight of Blood," Dave says, stern. He was tempted to laugh a bit, but if he doesn't make himself respected now the demon will just keep testing him forever and ever amen. Even when they like you, they test for fault lines and surprise weaknesses pretty much constantly, only if there's resentment behind it there'll be a lot more intent brought to bear, and it's not like they need to sleep; they can be relentless.
"Come to me," he says, and presses a few more droplets of blood out of his other arm.
It comes, growling all the while. It bows its head, humiliated, angry, and licks it off his forearm.
Dave can almost feel his power, his self, drip down its throat and diffuse through its body. It's weird, and so subtle he almost thinks he's making it up. "Give me your name," he asks again, quieter; he doesn't like how the demon won't meet his eyes anymore and it bothers him to make a spectacle out of breaking it.
The demon gives it.
Dave doesn't think he'll ever forget it, a soul of fire and acid and red-hot torn steel and desolate ruins, but when he tries to repeat it, the sounds merely come out "Karkat Vantas," sort of interesting but just meaningless noise in the end. Karkat shudders from head to toes nevertheless.
It's such a pale copy, what Aradia and Damara and Latula have given him to use to call on them, the same weird effect where you use their name and from you it's half sound and half knowledge and memory and for everyone else it's all plain banal sound, only with Karkat Dave thinks the sound of it is at best fifteen percent. If he's feeling generous. The sheer scope and detail of Dave's awareness of its self dwarfs it. He knew the contract to keep a corporeal demon would have to be stronger, but wow.
Dave looks at the demon, but it's staring at the ground between its armored hands, smoke-gray chitin gauntlets ending in vicious claws. He doesn't think telling it he has no idea how to decipher that map of its soul would help much.
Dave reaches out to poke Karkat's shoulder. "C'mon, let's finish with the house rules here and then we'll check if you can eat meat and stuff now. We got barbecue sauce and everything, you'll like it."
His friendly gesture gets hisses and fangs snapped at his hand, but it's nothing he wasn't expecting.
 -- [Chapter 2]