Midnight on the Demon Patrol


Chapter 17


Dave shuffles his weight from knees to feet, straightens up. He tries not to move too fast; he's a bit dizzy. Blood loss, impacts with various hard surfaces, a severe case of emotional whiplash. His sister is at his back, a few feet away -- it's crazy how irrationally safe he feels -- so he keeps watching the rookies.

They're still dazed, but Grier doesn't need prompting to pull up a second wind barrier, just in case the demon on the other side of the street stops feeling like allowing them to chew the fat.

"Burnett's out, so is Crowbar. The rookies are mindfucked. Grier?"

"No injuries." Dave is pretty sure the man has a series of very nice, deep bruises, but he's not gonna feel them properly until later anyway, so they don't count. Dave agrees with this philosophy. Yep.

"And Karkat's got a -- at least adislocated wing and a probable concussion."

"Fuck you, my head's fine," Karkat mutters, which doesn't help; he sounds listless.

"You forgot someone, Dave," Rose says pointedly.

"... And lacerations on my arm." Which he needs to bandage the second he gets a minute, come to think of it, because it's not clotting fast enough and he's gonna get dizzy soon.

Anyway it was dislocated; it's not anymore. He'll whine about the swelling later. (What is it with his shoulders getting popped out all the friggin' time anyway, this is the second time since he summoned Karkat, it had better not become a thing.)

Claws tip-tap their careful way towards them on the pavement; Kankri goes, "Ah, Karkat, how are -- you're, um, are you aware that you're bleeding, perhaps you did not--"

"Move, asshole," Karkat rasps back, "I'm not allowed to shoot through you."

Kankri hurriedly scuttles to the side, between Karkat and Grier, who eyes him warily. Kankri looks disturbed. Dave doesn't have time to coddle his demon's demonbro, though --

"Do what Detective Strider tells you, Kankri," Rose orders.

Son of a bitch, she just saddled him with one more noncombatant. Kankri is going to be worse than useless; he's clumsy and ponderous, and those huge, ungainly wings are just one big Please Shred Here area.

Dave groans. If it's a way for Rose to make sure he doesn't wade into the fray himself while he's slightly dinged he's going to bite something.


"My apologies. Shall we dance?"

He can't help but glance over his shoulder. Rose didn't bother to hide her Kevlar, she just has it strapped on over her blouse; her knee-length skirt is slit up to mid-thigh on the side and her heels are flat enough for good footwork, Bro wouldn't kick her in the head even a little bit.

She has a rapier in hand, one of those little matchstick swords, blade not even a whole thumb's length wide.

"She's a seer, right?" Karkat mumbles, staring. There's blood drying on his face. "That's just about the least active class apart from Sylph--"

"She'll be fine for a while," Dave replies, cutting him off, because -- "We need to move out of this fucking pincer attack already. Ideas?"

"Detective?" Kankri asks Grier. "Would you happen to have a healer at hand?"

Grier is busy holding the wind barrier to keep the officers back -- and they're starting to test it again, eyes still disturbingly empty. He doesn't even bother with words, he just snorts. There are tufts of blue fur all over him, but it's going more and more translucent as Dave watches and the skin that shows through is covered in sweat.

"Kankri," Dave orders, "stop distracting him, that's the last fucking thing we need right now."

"If Karkat was healed--"

"Yeah well he's not!" Dave throws back, and ends it there. "Grier, I'm going to guide you to the corner wall."

It'll be shitty cover, but anything is better than thin air.

Grier grunts vaguely; Dave steps behind him, wraps his non-hurting arm around his waist. There's tons of shit on the ground; if Grier trips Dave wants to be able to hold him up. The dude looks like having to walk and cast would mean the ball got dropped into the nearest bottomless chasm.

His back tingles with how exposed he feels.

"Karkat, Kankri, on watch. Move with us. If we're in danger," he adds, for Kankri's benefit, "warn me."

"Soon enough for us to do something about it," Grier amends absently, and his hands shake. Dave repeats it, because that's a fairly good point and Kankri doesn't have standing orders to save Dave's life or lose his own.

They shuffle sideways like a bunch of awkward crabs. Dave's head is craned to look ahead; from the corner of his eye he sees Rose, vacillating like a flower in a gust of wind, dodging a rush of demon by mere inches. Her eyes are closed.

Dave says fuck it and picks Grier up entirely, takes four hurried steps across broken bricks, and (it hurts, it fucking hurts, his bloodied hand slips) deposits him almost nicely at the corner.

Then like an asshole he presses his back against the wall behind Grier to use him as cover, at least from that friendly fire problem.

The wind sputters some; Aguilar almost gets through. Grier slams her back into the alley, not very nicely, swears at himself under his breath. (It'd be so easy for him to blow them all through the wall instead.) Karkat and Kankri are crouched before them, bristled and tense. (Karkat's wing, oh hell.) Dave scans the street.

Rose's sword is ridiculously thin, ridiculously breakable against a thick-skinned demon. The asshole must weigh four times her weight, at least. It's huge.

She drops low, lunges, scores a scratch along its belly, where its upper thigh should be. A white glow crackles off its thigh and up the blade, over the guard, seeps into her skin, but it's barely anything before the demon sweeps its clawed paw at her and she has to throw herself back. Claws flip her hair up in passing. Dave can't see if it touched her, if she's bleeding.


"Ah -- she might still keep it busy another few minutes, I think, but--"

"--With me. Karkat, protect Grier."

He starts running down the sidewalk. Kankri splutters behind him and then bounds awkwardly after him. "No, wait -- what are you --"

Dave lost his gun. (Again.) Dave needs a gun. Burnett, being KO, doesn't need a gun.

(Dave also needs to make sure Burnett hasn't gotten herself killed on his watch for the second time this mission.)

To the side the demon flips around with no warning, tail buzzing low to the ground like a mace. Rose jumps over it like she saw it coming (she did.)

Then she crosses her arms before her face, and gets thrown to the ground when the demon's following backhand hits right into her block. She rolls, once, twice, lands in a crouch. (Bro would be proud.) (Her back is going to be a giant bruise. Is her wrist broken?)

Dave screeches to a stop near Burnett, drops to a knee to check her pulse. Kankri huddles behind a knocked-down garbage bin -- too small, half of him sticks out. He catches Dave's dubious glance and bristles. "It might surprise you especially but pain is not something I find enjoyable yet--"

"Oh my god, shut up." Burnett is alive. Breathing.

She still has her gun. Awesome. It'll probably be useless against the demon, seems like it always fucking is, but somehow he thinks a clean bullet wound to the leg is preferable to giving his coworkers gangrene or bone rot courtesy of Damara, if he needs to stop them again. He pulls it out of her holster.

She's face down on the pavement. "Can you see if moving her will aggravate a broken back or what?" he asks without too much hope. Kankri sniffs disdainfully.

"Her spine is intact. I may not be able to tell you where all the contusions are without a closer look, but I believe I would recognize blood flow being disrupted in such a major part of the body."

"Awesome. You get to carry her."

Kankri stiffens, then flares his wings meaningfully. "How? Not to berate you on your anthropocentric tendencies but I am a quadruped, which means I need my front limbs for locomotion, and my back and especially my neck spines do not exactly lay flat!"

Dave unbuttons and drops his (expensive, ruined) jacket, unzips his Kevlar vest. Snaps his fingers, points where he wants Kankri. (Something hits a wall hard on the other side of the street; long-broken windows rattle, let loose some more tinkling splinters.)

He drapes his open Kevlar vest down Kankri's back one-handed, steps across Burnett's hips, grabs her under the armpits to lift her up. (Ignores his shoulder. Prays she doesn't have internal bleeding. No, Kankri would know.) He settles her face down on his back, legs dangling on both sides of his hips, sides braced by Kankri's wings so she won't roll off. Her arms are pressed to her sides from shoulder to elbow.

One of her sleeves is pulled up.

Light floods the whole street, making him flinch, close his eyes; he's almost blind. "God damn it, Rose, a little warning?" he protests, blinking, fingers running down Burnett's arm. Kankri is already starting to move, to slink back toward the relative safety of Karkat and Grier; it's awkward, Dave's fingers are stiff and tacky with half-dried blood.

The Rage demon is standing still, chin tucked in, arms spreading in cautious arcs to feel its surroundings. Rose crouches right in the loose coil of its tail, two inches away from contact. She tilts her head Dave's way, without looking.

Dave closes the fingers of his good arm around Burnett's nice little wind-up watch and throws like he's playing baseball.

There is no fucking way in hell Damara will resist that.

I wish much your male parts rot, Damara says pleasantly, and explodes the watch into glass and metal shrapnel just before it touches the demon. The explosion rocks it forward, shreds a handful of holes in its wings; blood splashes along its back. Rose dives out from under it just as it pitches forward and catches itself on the ground with both hands. It feels her pass, she can't help touching it, but she stumbles to the side and out of reach.

The damage from the exploding watch will be too shallow to be a real bother, Dave knows, but it's good enough for now. His sister stabs at its unprotected side, retreats out of range fast; still blinking black spots out of his vision, Dave runs after Kankri.

The officers are still puppety-mindfucked when they get back, of course. Like anything could miraculously unfuck itself while his back was turned. Shit only rolls downhill.

He's just glad nothing's gotten worse.

"If Karkat were healed," Kankri is saying as they come to a stop next to Karkat and Grier -- again, as if Dave were hiding a healer up his asshole just to spite his own motherfucking injured demon; "--then I would feel comfortable suggesting he may go to them to -- ah, thank you -- to fix the problem."

Dave lays Burnett down as close to the wall as he can, to provide a minimum of cover, and then he pulls his Kevlar off Kankri's back. There are a few slices in it, but it's still more protection than his shirt gives him; it goes back on. (It almost doesn't. His arm hurts.)

"--but as it is they would only injure him again."

Karkat growls and his back spines flick and rattle in annoyance. His eyes are still on Rose, though. Good demon, best sentinel. Dave hears slithering noises and feels the edges of some disturbing voodoo shit brushing down his metaphorical spine before Latula bites it off, but this time he adamantly refuses to turn and look. He trusts Rose. He trusts her with his life, case in point.

"What do you want me to do, taintfuck, channel Latula? Yeah, that's really fucking useful, when it stops the second I take my hands off their gross fleshy--"

He goes brutally silent. Kankri huffs, long tail lashing nervously. "We've been gone this long -- have you only just caught my point?"

"Oh, fuck you, I'm concussed." But Karkat doesn't look back at Kankri, or growl; he hunkers down, like he's trying to make himself smaller. "I just--"

Dave is pretty much lost. But if they have anything that might work --

(Rose grunts. Impact. Something hits the ground.)

(She's laughing. He doesn't turn around.)

He opens his mouth to order Karkat to talk, forcing his mind to bring up the shape of his demon's soul, and he knows he'll hate himself because he's going to take Karkat's secrets from him, but he'll hate himself later, if they're still alive.

"Hey, nubwingz," is what comes out instead. Latula is coiled tight around him, steel all the way through. He could shove her off but he's startled enough that he lets her. "You took that badge, din't ya."

Karkat twitches, almost looks up at Dave/Latula.

"Those are your brother officers now, you dig?"

"--Oh." A pause. And then he flips around to face the men (must hurt, careful with that wing, fuck) and he snaps; "Master!"

Huh. "Yeah?"

"Permission to inflict mild harm?"

Dave can not fucking figure out what even is the plan, but he pulls on obsidian ruins and boiling blood and ancient rage all the same and says "Granted."

(If he wastes time defining "mild" and "this time only" they will die. Bro is still going to tan his hide.)

Dave doesn't have time to say anything else; Karkat grits his teeth and leaps, mostly over Grier's barrier. The wind catches him and throws him ahead faster than he planned for; he rams Welch down (tears streaming down her blank face, so creepy.)

Then she tries to push Karkat off her, and he -- oh fuck, he sinks all his teeth through her uniform jacket and into her forearm. Dave didn't expect -- he's bouncing off her next, snatching O'Dell by the ankle -- pulling him down on his ass, jaws clamping onto the meat of his upper arm, and then Maguire turns to him and tries to grab him.

The idiot tries to grab Karkat by the hair, which ends up with a lot of surprise prickle holes on his hand, and then of course Karkat snaps his fangs closed on his leg just above the knee -- dude, when Karkat said mild harm he wasn't kidding on the actual harm part -- Maguire's leg goes out under him, he lands on his ass. And then --

The gun is in Dave's hand and aimed before he can think. "Karkat!"

Aguilar lands on Karkat's back before Dave can aim, and Karkat yowls. Fuck, his hurt wing -- fuck, fuck, mild harm; the way she jerks, Dave has visions of Karkat cutting her open down the middle. Karkat throws himself on the ground and to the side to crush her under his armored weight, kicks himself free. He rolls off her, shakes his head, stumbles up; her thighs and arms are scratched up and the cloth over her own Kevlar is in tatters. Dave can't believe her guts are still in.

Karkat dives for her throat, pins her under his weight, and she's been the most active of the mindfucked but if she were entirely herself this would be a really bad plan, even if Karkat has no dick to knee up into his abdominal cavity. She's not; his head comes down--

He looks back up at Dave and he has blood all over his mouth, his cheeks are splattered; his eyes shine like lamps at night.

"Take down the barrier!" Karkat snaps even as he charges it.

Grier does, wind scattering and dying in sad wisps. The officers behind Karkat are stumbling back up on their feet, zombie style. Aguilar's shirt collar is torn half-off, there's a bleeding bite mark high on the side of her neck -- Karkat bit her (Karkat has only ever bitten him) and what the fuck is he even--?

He leaps like a cricket, lands almost on Dave's feet, grabs his wrist -- the one that hurts.

"Let me feed!" he yells through Dave's pain, even as Grier stumbles back to dodge O'Dell's sudden lunge.

"Yes," Dave says, gun dangling unused in his other hand, mind blank with hurt.

A hot tongue presses against the claw marks the demon left down his arm; oddly, it burns. The shreds of his sleeve soak up blood on Karkat's face and he wastes a vague, fleeting thought for the potential contamination. Hope the officers are up on their shots.

Aguilar stumbles to a stop as he's raising the gun to kneecap her.

Latula is crooning, wound all tight around his bond to Karkat, his bond to...

There are flickers in his mind, one two three four, too faint and too muddled for a Name and he can't pull on them, there's no demon energy to get at -- but the more blood Karkat licks up, the clearer they get.

Karkat has their blood. Karkat has them.

Holy fuck yes.

"You can do that?"

Upper eyes narrowing in warning, Karkat nips him in between two hungry licks. Okay, so the question was stupid.

It really was. Wowzers. This is the bomb . So many mad tasty brainz!

Latula, grrl, if you nibble on them even just a little I'm gonna get pretty unchill on your hellacious tail end.

Haha, just jerking your chain, peace. She purrs in his mind, coils around their unaware presences like a snake around its eggs. Dave represses a smile.

Kankri is looking past the two of them and all his eyes are wide with sheer essence of oh fuck.

At first Dave doesn't even register it's a car. He sees huge and flying at us.

His hand rises up.

Something that's both blood and lava rushes through veins he doesn't truly have, comes out shrouded in blizzard ice and decay and destruction, comes out in nothing his eyes can see.

He sees the car unravel into bare struts and curling plastic, panels dissolving in the blink of an eye. It rains rust on his face. A half-eaten engine lands before his feet and topples toward his toes.

(Karkat's mouth comes off his skin with a little wet pop.)

"Back!" one of the officers yells, and "Dave!" Rose screams, and coils and coils of bruise-colored skull demon fall at him from the sky.

Red thorns bloom, tight and focused; the demon barrel-rolls out of the way. Dave shoves the gun into his holster, searches his pocket for watches he doesn't -- oh, Welch, face still streaked with tears, slapping an electronic watch into his hand, and her cell phone; "It tells the time, right?!"

He's never tried it. (New smartphone; he hopes Expenses pays her back.)

Rose is running at them, sword shorter by three inches. The blade snapped jagged; doesn't mean it'll be useless now, though it might need a little more effort to do the stabbity thing. But when she's not against an opponent, she can't -- he sees her stick a thumb under the blindfold that cuts across her face, lift it to watch her footing. (He hadn't even noticed she was fighting blindfolded, but how else, with Terezi.)

The demon feints at Karkat again, is kept at bay by a burst of slick red vines (it occurs to Dave that they're made of blood. Huh.) He uses the second it gives him to look back; Detective Grier is barking orders, an arm around Welch's neck for support. O'Dell and Aguilar are hauling Detective Burnett's limp body back to the alley, where Crowbar is still lying unconscious. Dave doesn't have time to check what Maguire thinks he's doing, standing there dumbly.

Kankri is crouched half behind Maguire's legs and staring at the fight, pupils blown huge, expression odd in a way Dave doesn't have time to define, because then the skull demon makes another pass and Dave flings the cell phone at him.

Damara scoffs -- until Dave reminds her, "Hey, calendar function," and by then the demon is already flying over the cell phone, clattered harmlessly to the ground, and it detonates right under its long grey belly.

Dave dodges to the side as Skull flips over in mid-air and almost knocks him and Karkat down. It lands on its back hard -- it's not floating now, huh, fucker. Dave cocks his good arm to throw the watch, and Rose rushes by him, eyes closed, eyebrows knit, elbows him hard in the side, and that snake-dolphin tail comes swinging down as the demon does a very improbable backflip, missing his head and her side by less than an inch.

"What does it take," Dave starts, and Rose yells, "Karkat now!"

He's on the other side of the demon from them; for a heartbeat he hesitates, but Rose glares at him with red burnt-out eyes and he attacks. Dave watches the vines rushing straight at them.

Karkat pulls it, of course, wary of hitting Dave -- and the demon does something weird, tilting its head into it, and then holy fuck unfair the vines aimed for its head and torso glance right the fuck off its skull hat instead of gouging tunnels through its fucking smug face.

Blood flies anyway -- tail and shoulder, the already useless arm. The demon's body swings back.

Rose is there. The blade finds a fleshy hollow between spine and shoulder blade; she puts her weight into it.

Bro would be so fucking proud.

It should die. It should let itself be impaled through the heart. It twists; the blade skips aside, rips through drowned-gray flesh, snaps on a rib.

The ghostly spider legs that were winding in a string of white light along the blade flinch, curl fast behind Rose's back.

Dave has Rose by the Kevlar and is hauling her off on blind instinct, but the string doesn't break, even as ink and night-mist come pouring along the length.

"Master!" he hears, and he can't even tell if the horrified cry comes from Kankri or Karkat's throat.

Latula! he yells; he knows he needs Karkat too but he's all the way around and what if Dave could suck that hideous stain out, like some people imagine they can do with snake venom; it's bad, it's wrong, it's a spreading stain on his sister's chest and he can't -- no.

Don't! Dave, don't, oh shit, Karkat!

WELCOME, SISTER, it purr-laugh-rasps right through Dave -- right through Rose, and her eyes snap open wide and Terezi's red is nowhere in them.

Son of a bitch knocked them out of sync.

(Son of a bitch did worse than that.)

He lobs his last watch at the demon, makes Damara make the pavement crack open under it, so the long-abandoned sewer hole breaks open and it falls ass first into it, clawing at the edges to keep from dropping all the way down. Then he grabs his sister by the waist and hauls her back.

She's still and quiet and her eyes are mild. She's smiling, barely, dreamily.

(He's seen her smile like this once before. She promised him it would never happen again.)

Only about a hand's length of blade left on that sword; he leaves it in Rose's hand.

He picks up the tire iron.

He's starting to get really fucking sick and tired of the skull mask and the way the asshole uses it to smirk behind and almost as much of the way he uses it to deflect Karkat's attacks, sick and tired of the strained look on his own demon's face (Karkat's attacks have less and less spines every time and there's his own dry blood on his face, on his little horn.)

The metal is heavy, but the balance is workable, so long as Dave keeps the bend aimed back. He grabs the end of the tire iron with both hands, thumbs set just right, and he sweeps in low.

It feels the first swipe coming somehow, turns ahead of it to face him, and the bend of the iron whistles past its face. Dave steps into his attack, reverses his momentum. Crack. It's not a proper pommel but it is a proper cheekbone and they impact gorgeously. The demon's head flies back. Dave turns his straight thrust along the length of the (not a blade) into a swing.

It's heavy. It's perfect. Bone breaks, explodes on impact. Shards fly. Dave brings the iron back into position for a fourth go.

It does have a face underneath!

He wants to beat that thing to death.

Get your grimy claws out of my goddamn ride already! Latula roars.

Dave was not minding the rage so much, actually. Boo.

Whatever; calm is better. He leans his mind into Latula's grip, lets her armor his resolve, wind numb steel down the screaming nerves of his injured arm.

It recoils from him (like Dave scared it, like it couldn't have lazily danced its way out of this one), propels itself out of reach. Karkat lands all claws out on the crumbling edge of the hole, hissing, and they both pivot on the spot to give chase.

Aguilar pops out of the alley behind it, catches Dave's eye, and flings her handful at the demon. "Sir!" Damara locks onto the cell phone with resentful eagerness; Dave explodes it, rocking the demon forward, herding it into Karkat's attack.

More blood flows. The fucking thing is still moving, still floating with no wings involved, like gravity is for plebes. Dave hefts the tire iron.

Its cheekbones are high and sharp and its lips have something weird going on. It looks blank, removed, thoughtful, not in pain. Fucking irritating.

And then it smiles a close-mouthed, slow, sinuous smile. THAT'LL DO.

It flips itself around and rushes the alley.

"Fire!" Grier yells, his own gun up. Even as Dave and Karkat dive to the side for cover Dave can feel the demon scratching at the officers in his mind, a sick feeling rising to smother the small glows of them, but Latula snorts and burns it all off them. It has to twist in the air to dodge the barrage of bullets, and fuck yes, if it relied on mindfucking people's aim off that means bullets will do something --

Kankri is huddled there by the mouth of the alley and he's staring straight past the other demon, past Dave and Karkat, and he looks -- Dave doesn't have time to tell, because the enemy demon swoops down and grabs two handfuls of his folded down, too-big wings and snatches him right up.



Kankri screeches, body twisting, tail lashing like a snake -- but they're up to the first floor and then the second, and no one can shoot without risking hitting his bared, unarmored underbelly.

Karkat is a hissing, crackling noise factory beside him; Dave himself just -- there's no way they can race up the fire escape in time to do jack shit --

Kankri's blindly flailing tail hits the fire escape, making it clang all the way down, where Crowbar and Burnett are hidden. He winds and wedges the spiny end of it around a railing, yelling in pain when the enemy demon gives a good yank to dislodge him, tries to grab a better hold with his toes.

"Keep doing that, Kankri Vantas," Rose orders from behind them, in a voice that makes the hair rise up on Dave's neck.

When he glances back over his shoulder he finds her on her knees, chalk in hand, a circle sketched on the asphalt around her.

"Master!" Kankri screeches, as the demon gives him another shake. At least it's got Kankri by the wing joints, not the membrane; they'd be long torn off otherwise, but -- shit, his wings would be even easier to break than Karkat's. "Master, it's trying to -- ow!"

Dave finds a parabola hanging off the edge of the roof, crushes the screws still holding it up to nothing; it lands on the tip of the demon's long horns, jarring them, and Kankri yanks one of his own wings free and beats it frantically to get himself closer to the fire escape landing. Clinging with all his limbs, he manages to pull himself over the railing and tumbles headfirst into it.

"Belly up!" Karkat yells at Kankri, who stares back dazedly at him for a whole second before he flings himself onto his back with a screech and O'Dell and Aguilar open fire. Dave is prepared to hear bullets dinging off the fire escape, off Kankri's shelled back, but the officers aren't ready to aim that close; the demon flows to the top of the fire escape and winds its long body down the stairs, so Kankri will be between it and the guns.

Dave watches Kankri kick frantically with his long murderclaw toes to keep it at bay, and he tries to find something he can destroy to give him a chance but won't crumble the fire escape on his colleagues. But he's too far away to throw a watch he doesn't have and there's nothing else in range; his own phone is gone from his pocket, lost somewhere in this mess.

Behind him the words tumbling out from Rose's lips are the cool, weightless void of space overhead, majestic and immense, and underneath a planet tumbling, storms and wildfires and the sea swallowing wide enough swathes of land to be seen from orbit.

"Master, it plans to disincarnate us!"

The planet turns and a trail of rocks turn with it like a wedding veil, rising from a crater that chews through the crust to the lava underneath.

Jesus tapdancing fuck. What the hell did she just call up?!

What the hell does Kankri mean by "us" -- oh duh, only two other incarnate demons here, only one Kankri might feel himself belonging to an "us" with.

Yeah, like fuck that's going to happen. "Oh, like hell you will--"

"Break off the top of the staircase," Rose says. Dave jerks; she's standing just behind his shoulder. Electricity runs up and down her body in deceptively slow waves and her eyes glow weird colors.

And it'd be fine, it'd be whatever, it'd be good -- this demon seems ridiculously overpowered -- only the expression on her face is cold and empty and her power feels wrong when it brushes against him in a way he cannot explain.

He just -- there is no wry humor in this Rose, there is no teasing, no secret insecurities about how much she means to the people she loves. There's just cold rage and premeditated murder and possessiveness.

"Do it, Dave."

He does it. Heart in his throat, he does it, Karkat crouched low beside him, all spines up.

She lifts her hand and then slices it down and the mess of broken-off metal bars plunges down like a rain of spears and holy fuck they still have people underneath!

He shoulders her aside, disrupts her hold, crushes it all to fine dust one floor over the ground. Maguire splutters out a protest, rust in his mouth. Dave turns on his sister.

"What's wrong with you?!" (Like he doesn't know.)

"It's escaping," she says, and doesn't even look at him with her weird flashing eyes, like his words have as much importance and meaning as a mosquito fart in the breeze.

He looks up and sure enough it's grabbing Kankri again, yanking him off the now roof-less landing.

It's going to kill him. (Disincarnate him. Not very much of a difference, is there.) And then it'll go for Karkat.

Karkat, who's crouching there shivering faintly, with his twisted wing and bleeding skull, with his cracked shell at the joint that reminds Dave of a crab in the process of being dismembered and eaten.

"That chimney," he tells Rose, pointing at one farther down the alley, and crumbles the lowest layer of bricks from the roof so she can lift it and try to brain the skull demon with a sweep of her hand when it tries to escape with Kankri down that way.

It twists in the air, banging Kankri's legs against a wall in passing, rushes back straight at them, at the street where it'll have more space to dodge. Rose's crackling intensifies -- the street breaks around her, an old fire hydrant goes clang like something broke inside and it's about to come loose; power zaps Dave's leg, dances along Karkat's horns and makes him flinch. She's still staring up at her target, still chasing it with the chimney separated into individual flying bricks, and Dave isn't surprised when they start raining.

"Stop her stop her stop her," Kankri is screaming at the top of his lungs, even as a brick narrowly misses his forced-open wing. Dave waits --

A brick hits the Rage demon in the shoulder blade, hard; Kankri screams and struggles some more, and the demon loses his grip entirely.

They're still two stories up.

"Wings, dipshit!"

Kankri's wings flutter at Karkat's yell -- he has no clue how to angle them, how to hold -- and he drops a whole story before the breeze catches. After that he's gliding at an angle instead of plummeting straight down -- bit of an improvement, Dave guesses -- and trying desperately to slow himself down before he hits the wall. Dave cranes his head to follow him as he passes over their heads.

Rose is still methodically stoning the shit out of the other demon.

Which might be fine, if she did it any other way. The bricks are too small to finish it fast, the damage piles up too slow on it and too fast inside her; not worth it, even if he could calculate that coldly.

He hears the impact of someone running flat into a wall, glances back to see Kankri screech down the last meter of brick, all claws out, and then land on his ass.

"Ow, ow, ow--"

Not badly hurt. Okay.

"Karkat, bite Rose!"

He has to yell it fast, to throw power into his words in a way he hasn't really done before because they can't even afford the half-second it would take Karkat to hear and understand the order.

Karkat lunges, eyes wide open, startled. Rose's hand is already raised, crackling, bleeding reality-rending power; Dave slaps her wrist back (ow fuck) and then Karkat's teeth find her forearm; he brings her down under his weight, almost knocks Dave down in passing.

Dave stuffs the tire iron in the back of his belt and raises Burnett's gun to cover Kankri, eyes on the twisting, flowing figure in the sky.

He also steps on Rose's sword to keep it pinned down. Because, yeah, no, no stabbing his fucking demon, Karkat is injured enough as it is, okay, and he does love his sister but he will be so very fucking cross with her. Not talking until next Christmas level of cross.

He is a tool for you to use, something says blunt and cold and not-Rose (except for all the parts that are so Rose they hurt.) He is a tool for you to use and you are misusing him and stopping me from using mine.

He blinks and black ruins and blood are pooling in craggy hollows like a tide sped up ten times, cutting off the -- tower? That was a tower, is a tower, with dragons hovering who cannot land (only one of them is Latula) and they're in space and okay yeah never mind trying to make sense of fucked up demon landscapes, what was he thinking.

At least whatever Rose called up can't also fight them in a mindscape. Can it?

Not paid for this bullshit, something says, can't be bothered.

Not when he'd lose! something else cackles, almost affectionately.

Like hell I would, Teezee. I would basically ruin the shit out of you. No hard feelings.

There's a dizzying rush (falling from the sky, the broken tower growing huge until he can see nothing else but the shadows at the bottom of the shaft) and Latula says Sorry Dave, I'm gonna have to go pretty deep, and then Terezi laughs and everything goes black, everything goes quiet.

It's damp and cool like a cave on his metaphorical skin, water plinking off far away and the rasp of scales on rocks as something huge crawls closer to him from no angle he can figure out.

Shh, coolkid, you do smell delicious but if I ate you she would destroy me. Even if I only nibbled a little!

If I didn't get there first, Karkat says from right behind him, only when Dave looks back it's a puddle of blood-red lava, flowing on his footsteps.

(Its glow is so weak though, it's cooled down to black stone in so many places.)

(I'm fucking fine, I am a towering figure of fine, mind your own fucking business.)

So what are we even doing? it occurs to him to ask. Because yeah, Dave trusts Latula, no problem, but he's got a situation going on outside his head to keep track of too...

Latula answers him, distracted; It was harder last time but it's about the same, and then at his raised pseudo-eyebrow S'okay if you don't remember, I know trauma does weird shit to your fleshy hardware.

Oh. Right. Yeah.

'Oh right yeah' what?! Spit it out! Fucking shit, I hate being thrust blind into a clusterfuck and then ordered right and left by a brain-rotten moron who has no clue how to best deploy me, and I don't even get enough intel to figure it out myself!

Dave would blink, if he had eyes right now. Oh. Right. I think she means how I met her.

Karkat would bite if he wasn't just as limited as Dave, he's sure. As it is the lava bubbles irately.

I remember Rose fiddling with spells she should have left alone, mostly, and then I think I tried to get in the middle and then things got hella dicey and I ended up trying to haul her bodily out of her pentacle mid-summoning. Yeah, he muses, that part is pretty clear.

And then you died gruesomely, oh wait, I forgot logic and the laws of natural selection don't apply to you.

He really should have. No idea why he didn't.

And then it hurt like a bitch which I've mostly blotted out and then I vaguely remember summoning blind while playing a whole Name Your Price fanfare at top volume in the ether, and somehow I won the jackpot and Latula popped out. Now where's the fucking exit in this messed up labyrinth -- no offense, Terezi -- and where are we even going?

Oh, I think we'll be there soon, Latula says, vaguely ominous, and then adds, ostensibly for Karkat's spluttery, disbelieving benefit, What Firetruck kicked out of his brainspace was that due to the mad tangly action he and Rosy-Posy got going on at the soul level, she can't invert her alignment without flipping him along.

Dave arches a theoretical eyebrow. Maybe even both eyebrows. ... What, seriously? Of course he knew that a pair of twins' auras are naturally a bit more entangled than what's usual for family, but to this point?

Thing is, he hasn't got the right brain setup for it, so she'd just do a lot of shattering.

The labyrinth cracks and a shaft of light blinds the fuck out of him.

Finally! he hears from afar, a new voice. Can you even imagine how long I waited here like a chump for you to come through? Laaaame!

Yet another broad, goddamn, he is buried in broads. Terezi is apologizing insincerely to the voice around a snicker.

They come out and it's a desert outside, arid and flooded with painful light, spangled with incongruous spider webs. Ruby drops bead on silk strands like bloody dew.

In the middle there is a wrong, so wrong crack of not-Roseness, the cold of space watching the end of the world from orbit, wrapped in ragged swathes around -- around...

You probably should not attempt to memorize her Name, Kankri says, dryly apologetic, flesh interferes so dreadfully with such things, and nudges him away. Up and... out, and... There is still one thing you must do, which I cannot advise you about. Good luck, Detective.

Down/inside there, lava is burbling onto dry sand and seeping in, melting holes through it, acrid smoke everywhere. He blinks and he's still in the street with his gun out tracking the demon flying lazy loops overhead and Kankri is still shaking himself and climbing back onto his feet.

He flicks him a glance, but Kankri just said he couldn't tell him what he needed to do. Why would he -- as a Seer isn't it his job to give them heads up?

Unless he's ordered not to -- oh.

Kankri takes a couple of hesitant steps in their direction and then starts running as fast as he can across the broken street, and Dave waits for the son of a bitch up there to dive, but it doesn't. It's not leaving either, no matter that it got hurt, so it still has business with them (it's planning to disincarnate us!), but--

"Strider!" one of the uniforms calls from the alley. "Crowbar's going into convulsions!"

... Shit. The demon's draining him dry. Poor stupid asshole, what kind of ridiculous loophole did he leave in the contract for that to happen?

Kankri screeches to a stop and the weight of his tail and wings almost upends him ass over head; he stares up at Dave, eyes burning with impatience and mouth pursed pointedly closed.

What is Dave supposed to do? Kankri can't tell him, but wants him to know, so it's not a demon secret, so it's a Rose secret?

A Rose order.

Rose ordered Kankri to obey Dave, too.

Her absolutes, he can't countermand, but the rest --

But what should he --

(Let me feed!) (Karkat has their blood. Karkat has them.)

"Kankri, stand still, let it happen," he says, because he's not sure Kankri will be able to obey anything more aggressive toward his Master, and then -- should he use his fingers? No, he can't, he needs to keep targeting the demon.

Okay then. He hopes Kankri doesn't bite Karkat's fingers off.

"Karkat, feed him Rose's blood."

"Oh good jolly chucklefuck, I'm kind of holding onto someone here, but never mind!" Karkat snarks, as he pulls his blood-painted mouth off Rose's forearm, and immediately pins her wrist down with all his weight when she tries to go for his eyes.

He considers his busy hands for a second, and then he grunts and says "oh well," and he leans in and tilts his head and licks Rose's blood into Kankri's mouth.

Dave tears his eyes away, though he can't tear his ears away from the little wet noises he -- holy shit.

... Unf.

Latula, grrl? This enough?

She laughs through his mind, voice floating in from far away. Double-trouble blood and Blood and Mind on top? Bro, I'mma anchor that shit so tight it ain't ever gonna budge again.

Oh. Yeah, do that. I am in favor of that plan. That plan is now the favored child, all other plans are now redheaded stepchildren and banished to the cupboard under the stairs. The non-wizardly one. Okay where was this metaphor going again.

Karkat has broken the -- does it count as a kiss? was it even more than licking? -- the blood transfer thing and is now fussily licking his own lips clean. Kankri wipes at his own face with the back of armored knuckles, delicately.

Rose has gone still on the ground. Dave tries to stop cursing the fates that gave him such a bad angle of view on the Vantascest cannibal-fashion make-out session.

"Sis? Back with us?"

"This is where I go 'But I never left you' in a sepulchral tone, isn't it?" she replies drily, blinking at the sky. "What's the Prince of Rage doing?"

Oh, it's a Prince of Rage. Cool. No wonder they've been fucked over so deep. Princes are all utter dump trucks full of assholes, case in point: Bro and Dirk. "Charging its lasers outta Crowbar's battery," Dave replies laconically, and switches his gun to a one-handed hold so he can rest his other arm. Keeping them aimed up for long is harder than it seems it should be.

Rose sits up gingerly, massaging her temples. "And we had better not rely on my luck, I am being informed that flipping alignments and then channeling a Doom demon, I quote, pissed it all back out, you dumbass, end quote."

"... That was Sollux?"


"Remind me to be glad he keeps it to consulting usually." Fuck. He's the kind of demon who doesn't even like to leave a summoning circle. As a rider he's mildly terrifying; what would he have been incarnate?

Moot anyway, because Dave got Karkat instead. He's never going to be sorry.

The Prince of Rage is still hovering up high, out of bullet range. Still not leaving, though.

"So," he says. "What now?"

Rose has no answer for him.

He offers his hand to pull her to her feet as she climbs back up. She wobbles.

When Dave calls out for an update he's told Crowbar's shakes have started dying down, in a tone that means they would have preferred he kept it up. Wordlessly, Rose pulls a little mirror out of her skirt pocket, catches the light with it -- a patch of it dances around the demon's face; it doesn't even deign to squint -- and shatters it under her foot. Dave wishes he had a watch left.

Hey, Damara, would you take life expectancy like Aradia did that one time?

Out of the Knight of Blood I would not. Yours or fuck off.

Welp. Alright then.

Up there, the Rage demon floats slowly to a roof and lets itself rest on it, the first hint that floating around costs it any power at all. It's still staring down at them, barely sparing a little glance here and there for the group in the alley.

Karkat picks up what's left of the rapier by the handle and offers it up wordlessly. Rose blinks down at him.

"Thank you. What will you want in exchange?"

"You not to get my master killed. Fuck but for such a supposed smart person, you're slow."

Rose snorts, pushes a lock of displaced hair out of her face. "Bear with me, this has been pretty tiring."

Dave nods slowly. "Yeah, huh, we're all pretty exhausted... It's gonna have to be a one-shot KO."

Alright, maybe a two-shot. All of Dave's limbs are still on. It's pretty hard to plan for loss of limb and-or severe magical exhaustion, which is the next step down the road they're on. Or they could misstep and roll all the way down to whoops dead. That could also happen. Mmh.

He vaguely wishes he'd let Rose keep syncing with Sollux.

He'd never have gotten her back, though. Not his Rose. Inverting, after all, means breaking off everything of yourself that doesn't fit.

"Heh. We're so fucked."

Karkat bumps his side into Dave's thigh, pointedly rough.

"This is where it's going, isn't it," Kankri mutters from where he's hunkering down behind them.

He shakes himself, looks up, brows pulled down, upper eyes narrowed into slits.

"Very well! Master?"

"What -- have you Seen something?"


She lets out a short sigh. "So then--"

The demon uncoils from its huddle on the roof. Back in the alley someone starts swearing, a low, endless litany of fuck, fuck, no, come on, fuck.

"Do you remember that time you were wondering if as a Seer I had any ability akin to Karkat's merging of other magic with his own, within certain parameters?" Kankri says, so fast and breathless that at first Dave doesn't even understand the words.

But Rose goes still beside him. Oh.

"You weren't either incarnate or riding at that time," she says, spine gone tense -- not with nerves, with adrenaline, Dave can feel it like an echo in the way his own heart kicks up, in the way Karkat's head jumps to stare at his demon bro straight on.

The rage demon flows lazily over the edge of the building and starts wafting down.

"It did not mean I was not keeping track of you -- listen, I wouldn't share if I saw any other way out, for you or for us, so will you accept already?"

Dave shoots at the demon (he thinks he sees a tear open in its small, useless wing membrane.)

"Yes," Rose says, tense and excited (how the fuck can she still be excited now, Dave just wants to crash and sleep for three weeks and too bad if he's missing the learning opportunity of the century.)

The officers have dragged half of a rusted-into-pieces dumpster to the mouth of the alley as a crude barricade and they open fire in a nice rolling pattern when it banks for them. Dave hip-checks his sister toward a doorway. (They're cut off, but there's no need to stay in the middle of the street either.)

"Good, now Vriska and Terezi--"

Rose stutters -- Dave almost blinks and looks back, wondering what the fuck -- but then, in quick flickers, "You will owe me sooo much! But I guess you'd be lost without me, so why not," and then "Tssk, tssk, Vriska, not even asking the terms first, hehehe -- I accept!"

He doesn't see what happens next; Karkat hisses a warning as the Rage demon flips around to stare at them and arrow straight toward them, razing the ground. Dave opens fire.

It doesn't turn back until Karkat has burst out another bush of bloody thorns around them, but the branches are so sparse now that soon the holes will be wide enough for it to fly right through. Karkat is panting, jaw set, one wing folded tight against his spine (the other one hangs and only twitches a little bit.)

"Did you just," Rose asks, and then she starts laughing quietly behind Dave's back. "Oh. Oh."

She's close enough to his back that he can feel the warmth off her skin through his clothes, and it feels weird, not like when she tried to invert her alignment -- almost too warm, almost too Rose. He can't turn to check.

"Yes, well," Kankri grumbles, and tucks himself deeper in the doorway sulkily. "Now can you see a--"

"Undo it."

Dave pauses in the middle of mentally counting his bullets. "What?" he sputters. "You haven't done anything yet!"

She laughs, bright and free, and the demon whirls under a flurry of thrown bricks and stares at her from the other side of the street.

"I've done everything."

"What the fuck is going on! Karkat?" he complains, but Karkat looks up from where he's hunkering down at Dave's side and he's frowning in irritated bafflement.

"How should I know?" Karkat yells, even as he raises a (sluggish now) barrier of thorns.

Behind them Rose calls a name that feels like a sunny stretch of turquoise sea with not a wave, not a gust of wind for miles, and in the shadow of the ship things are rising from the deep.

"Oh! It'll be a pleasure to participate in this endeavor, yes, if you'll mind my Price--" a pause for breath, and the voice changes inflexions completely, becomes Rose's again. "--I will. Kankri, again."

Dave steals a glance over his shoulder, in time to see Terezi's hard white scales go spangled with glittering spider web. One of Rose's eyes is solid red and the other one has something seriously fucked going on with her pupil and she is showing both effects at the same fucking time, what the holy shit even is that.

She raises a hand and the demon flips around and charges again and Dave goes fucking blind even through his shades, even though he'd turned around again to watch the demon coming. Karkat snarls in startled pain. (Kankri's eyes were probably closed, that asshole.)

A woman's hand touches Dave's hand, angles it. "Shoot."

He does.

Something heavy lands on pavement with a meaty thud, rolls to a stop; pebbles clatter.

"That was your last bullet," Rose tells him, and pushes the grip of another gun against his hand; he holsters Burnett's without a thought to take it.

Dave grimaces. "Not done?"


Dave grimaces some more. "Not done."

"Oh, no, show tunes," Rose says, and giggles. "Whatever shall I do!"


Con of the situation: Dave is still pretty glare-blind. Pro: The demon is getting pissier and pissier. Con: Rose is getting it pissier at her.

No idea if pro or con: did Kankri dope her up on mood uppers or what.

"Someone isn't getting enough fiber in his psychopomp diet. Have you considered switching to creative energy?"

Dave blinks; looks like he's getting back some vision but so far it's mostly blotches. "Hey, Rose, hey. Rose. Rose, hey. Could you have maybe warned us."

"It would have warned him," she replies just as quietly. "Sorry I didn't unblind you, I don't have any more mirrors on me for the small stuff."

If Dave had one it's now in pieces, and he doesn't think either of their demons carries one, what with being so tragically pockets-impaired.

She takes and aims his hand again.

"Dave. Trust me?"

What the hell is that question. "'Course?"

"Shoot in..."

Space crackles, warps -- Kanaya all over. In his gun's sight, a dark shape -- Jade?! But she was --


His trigger finger slips into place and tightens without thought. Bang. One of the two shapes falls, writhes.

"Evac the other group!" Rose yells, and space crackles again.

"I'll be right back for you!" Captain Egbert shouts across the street. (Holy shit Dave almost shot his boss. Meep. At this distance, too, and they were almost on top of each other -- what kind of witchy aim is that?)

"No need, sir!" Rose replies. "Kankri, undo."

When Dave glances at her she's still blurred, but the effects on her skin are strangely not. Aranea's dew-spangled webs fade and then she's only in Terezi's armor, Terezi's burnt-out eyes.

"I will not be able to do this many more times," Kankri warns them. He sounds winded. "I didn't expect it to be so--"

"You won't need to. Last time for me," she says just as Vriska's giant spider legs rise from her back.

Terezi's armor blurs and then stabilizes -- and then spreads onto Vriska's extra limbs.

And then just -- orange and gold and light.

He can't look at it straight on, it doesn't make sense. It refuses to be interpreted as anything his brain can wrap itself around -- only as filigrees of gold along/through/instead-of Vriska and Terezi's effects.

At his side, Karkat chokes. "Kankri what the fuck--"

The Rage demon uncoils itself, lunges at the alley right through the cover fire Welch and Aguilar were laying like it doesn't even give a fuck anymore about being shot -- and space tears again. It lands with a thud in the empty alley and then there is a howl in Dave's mind of thwarted fury, trying to dig its way down his mind with brute force alone, all finesse and smooth control gone.

Rose jars Dave's elbow and grins at him, eyes way too bright for the situation. "Say, Dave."



Her gun in hand, he takes off after her as she turns around and rushes down the street, Kankri hopping on her heels. "Holy fucking shit, did you get her spelldrunk or what?" Dave asks him. "We do not get Rose drunk! Any kind of drunk!"

A few steps before them Rose rams her shoulder into a jammed door and disappears inside. The screech-buzzing in his brain is getting worse, like the demon is gaining on them, so Dave follows.

Office building. Out of order elevator, claustrophobic staircase, and of course that's where she goes, racing up and around the bend. Dave swears watching Karkat grit his teeth and bounce up after her. If he had a minute to bind that wing, keep it from flopping around --

It's only for a half-floor before they're following Kankri's long tail into a side-door, and where is Rose going, is this a seer thing, even though there is no person to read the decisions off of? Does it fall into Kankri's domain instead? Doesn't seem like it should.

Twisty corridor, doors everywhere into what, no one knows, and Rose points Karkat to a door and Dave to another one and he almost says fuck no, why, and then Latula hisses, Close! and he has to go.

He thinks he hears noise on the landing just as his door swings closed behind him. Kankri is hurrying before him, wings clenched tight and claws almost delicate, tail held off the wooden floor. Secretarial office, another door to a bigger boss office, and he pushes that door open a tad and scurries back to the desk Kankri is huddled under.

"Really hate hide 'n seek," he breathes as he backs up against Kankri's armored side, the tire iron cautiously held against his hip so he won't drag it on the floor.

He has to trust that Rose knows what she's doing. He has to. She wouldn't have sent him off with her demon if she didn't have a plan. Right? Right.

Something rasps against the doorjamb. Inside his head Latula has gone still and quiet and cool, like her armor is now clear ice, like she pulled him underwater and froze off the surface after them, shh, the bear is walking by.

A heartbeat, two, ten, and he lets himself breathe out.

"What's the plan," he breathes at Kankri, because if Kankri doesn't know then neither one of them knows and they are spectacularly fucked. Fucked in, like, magical ways.

Kankri is wedged up in the foot well, more on his back than sitting because his wing fingers don't have enough articulations in them to bend that far. His legs are curled up like he thinks he's a cat about to murderkick a petting hand; maybe he could even lift the desk into someone's face, who knows.

"My apologies for the lack of time to present all relevant information necessary for informed consent," he starts. Dave accidentally-on-purpose elbows him under the armpit, where the armor is less big solid plates and more edges of interlocked smaller plates and exposed tendons.

"I consent, it's that or dying, keep going!"

"Conceding in the face of threats to survival is no consent at all!" he hisses back, puffing up in offense. "That is the basest of coercive--"

Dave plants a hand on Kankri's face. "I'd consent anyway out of pure curiosity, dude, move along! You got my permission."

He breathes in when Dave takes his hands off, scowling, then nods. "Ah -- Latula...?"

Dave lets her have his mouth. "Yeah, yeah, mad consent happening in here, hurry!"

Kankri hesitates, like he wants to ask more, and then shakes his head (one of his horns grazes the wood and they both stiffen, waiting, but nothing else comes.)

"Is Aradia...? No, right, she will not be free yet. Very well. Damara? Damara Megido."

Urgh. Dave tugs on their bond. He doesn't even know what the fuck she'd be saying yes to, and like hell his Witch of Time is going to cut him any slack. "I don't know if she'll -- What do you want. No-good broken shit pieces."

Kankri's upper eyes twitch, narrow to slits. His lower eyes stay mostly calm and steady, faking boredom almost perfectly. "Passing on this hurtful and unfair descriptor --" In another room, a desk is overturned; Dave tenses up. Shit, he needs to -- Kankri's hand is on his arm, and he's still staring right through him, though his whispers speed up. "You know what I am, Damara. Do you consent?"

Dave is sure she's going to say no, being unhelpful as possible is her shtick and ain't no teaching an old dog new tricks; he sends out a ripple of thought toward Aradia's spring warmth and the turning wheel of her seasons and hopes (not much) for a response.

"You may," Damara says instead, Dave's voice coming out raspy like he's forty years old with a thirty-year-old smoking habit. "Tangle in the core of me. Thief. Rape me hard--"

She's said enough to establish consent so Dave closes his mouth on her voice and clears his throat of her. He doesn't need Kankri being thrown into another tirade about consent and rape being oxymorons now, there's noise in other rooms and there can't be hundreds of offices in here, the Rage demon will find Rose or Karkat eventually, fuck.

But Kankri just grits his teeth and reaches to touch Dave's shoulder where he got injured.

The crusted blood streaking his arm uncrusts, gone wet and drippy anew. Kankri brings it to his mouth. Dave inhales hard through his nose so he won't swear.

And then he

And then they

Wind hissing on scales, hitting his face, free fall. Time running out, it's too late, too late, just enough seconds to see it coming and not enough to dodge, you're fucked.

Falling. Diving. Diving at prey down below, too far, no, yes, we'll get there in time, just in time.

Oh. Wow.

Latula and Damara are coiled together around his soul but it's not, they're almost not here, or not as much, he -- it's strange, it's. He feels them but. He feels their magic, the ways they can and do twist the world along the ways their souls run, but it's.

It's more.

Karkat could lend his magic to other demons, help their spells. What Kankri did --

A massive crack of broken wood rings through the walls. Dave is rolling onto his feet in a second, racing through the other door and the big office behind. He knows this kind of building and -- yes. Connecting side door.

It's open. He flattens himself against the wall and glances out. He sees a long conference room, two rows of desks face to face though a lot are overturned.

Behind one of those he sees Rose, crouched low, out of sight of the other end of the room. She's watching Dave's door; she signals him to stay put, so he does.

"'S it look like there are any other stupid monkey fucks in this room? You do actually have working eyeballs and not pits of blackest despair, right? Jus' checking."

... Okay, that's Karkat's voice. (Slurring just a bit. Shit.) Coming from the left.

From the right nothing is coming back, but that's what Rose is hiding from, so.

"Is it a trap? Is it not a trap? No, you got it wrong, you dunderfuck, the trap is next room over, what a dummy, you ruined the surprise -- you touch him and I will kill you with my teeth."

Dave shivers as something like a laugh screeches at the very edges of Latula's defenses. He doesn't know if Karkat is talking about him or about Kankri. (Not that it matters, if Karkat's talking about him then it's purely contract-motivated.)

Rose has gone tense, eyes narrowed. Her body is still threaded in faint gold lines and Dave can't tell if they're the edges of dragon scales or spider exoskeleton.

They're still active magic, and Dave isn't sure why the Rage demon isn't feeling them, except that Karkat is down that way and he might be pouring out enough to drown them --

Or he play little game, Damara says right in his ear, and laughs. The Seer of Trash told you. This is his target.

Dave grits his teeth.

Cracked half out of the shell already. So easy to violate.

Stop putting fucking sexual innuendo everyfuckingwhere, Dave snaps back without thought. Dude wants to kill him, not tap his ass.

That is better! She snorts. I say violate, you see impaled spread out for your little penis to spit through. So much worse to be done.

Shut up, shut up--

Damara, Latula growls, and then chairs and tables go flying past toward Karkat and so does the Rage demon, and Dave is out of the door and it's too late already--

It is not, Damara says, and shows him how.

He's in mid-step when the blond man appears -- metal bar in hand, bloodied, red spell light what's the summon --

He's taking the next step when the blond man dies, stabbed through with red vines and then impacted straight on by the Rage demon, body thrown back over its shoulder like a rag doll. Karkat starts screaming.

Dave stumbles back, almost falls on his ass, looks down at the corpse in his arms and it's his face.


Karkat narrowly managed to dodge behind a heavy oak desk in the corner and the demon is digging its claws into it to drag it off the wall but Dave sees his face off the side, staring in -- in disbelief and --


Dave lets go of the spell Damara was building.

Coward, she purrs, satisfied enough with the last dregs of life she got off the corpse. (Right. Psychopomp. How much power did she get off getting him to off himself--)

Dave has dropped himself at some point; it makes a sound like a bagful of potatoes tumbling on the wooden floor. He's stepping over himself, and it disappears. His body. Other body. From the floor. The fuck.

No, actually, he gets it.

"Dave, now!"

Dave goes. He goes and he doesn't even know exactly what the fuck happened, he'd love some time to think it through and he'd also love some time to swing and hit the demon and not have it float up to dodge, the fucking son of a bitch, but it doesn't matter if his head doesn't know.

Does it?

It doesn't.

"Karkat, to Rose," he orders as he narrowly dodges a tail swing. The Rage demon's smug face has gone slit-eyed, mouth turned down (holy fuck are those sutures.) It's going to chase and kill Karkat but first it'll have to kill him.

Karkat scrambles out and past him and it uncoils hard to do just that. Bullet train, not two meters away. He's fucked.

He's not.

The other Dave appears already in motion, leaping off the desk, bright metal in hand. Lands feet first on its spine.

Dave jumps back, gets his arm scratched but who cares, it was fucked up already -- steps back in, tire iron raised.

He's sure it didn't need that working shoulder.

Or this collarbone. Or that grasping blade-fingered hand.

It's screeching in his mind, digging its power's claws in and Latula can't shield him quite as well with Damara pressed so close, with that weird thing Kankri did to the three of them, but he's in until the end now, he and other Dave who's still crouching on its back and pushing the last inches of Rose's broken blade between its ribs down to the pommel.

It convulses under them, forces Dave and other Dave back (the sword stays behind) but it can't fly now, it's grounded and behind it is a wall, no windows anywhere, it's trapped.

"Karkat," Dave says, and Karkat snorts and says "No shit," and erupts red thorns right through it.

Only three. Massive, though. One takes the demon's tail from the knees down off. One lops off a horn. One pierces it through the thorax at an angle.

They're not stab wounds; the flesh is gone, gone in tunnels. Dave could see right through to the gore-drenched floor if he tried.

He takes the sword Rose hands him, steps forward. Steps onto the desk. Steps back in time.

Gets to take it down again -- to see it stabbed through again, from a slightly different angle.

To see himself. Previous Dave's body shimmers with slithering squareish zigzags, like a castle's battlements or the teeth of a clock's gears in bright red, and when Dave gets a flash of his own eyes over the shades the irises are almost Aradia's gears except that they're red-hot.

Karkat's breathing is loud -- it's the first thing Dave really hears, afterwards. Karkat still holds himself up, ready to spring, but his arms are shaking.

"Rose?" Dave asks. (She's still gleaming like gold in sunlight.)

"It's over," she confirms, and walks to the nearest window, breaks the glass with a well-placed elbow to wave her hand outside. Karkat takes in a shuddering breath and lets himself fall on his ass.

Dave is kneeling beside him in the next second. (Kankri watches them from the doorway, face oddly tight, leaning his weight on the doorjamb.)

"Aw, shit, shit, let me see, where's it hurt worst?"

"I don't even fucking know," Karkat grunts, and closes all his eyes at once. Dave is very sure to gentle his hand when he curves his fingers around the back of his head, guides it to rest on his shoulder.

"Your horn doesn't look cracked," he says after a few seconds. "I'm not touching your skull to make sure, we'll send you straight to a healer. I'll blackmail Jane if I need to, it'll be fine."

"I can't feel my wing," Karkat says very quietly against his skin. Dave inhales long and slow, and tries not to clench his fist onto anything that might hurt.

"It'll be fine," he tells him anyway. "I can't feel my arm either but no worries."

That's cuz I'm mad holding on, firetruck.

Yeah, I know. How long can you still...?

Well at this point it's really a choice between I let go now and you crash for a week, or I let go in five minutes and you crash for a month.

... Fuck. "You wanna lap up any drippy bit, be my guest," he tells Karkat. At this point he might well need a transfusion later anyway he slices it, so...

The Rage demon moves.

"Holy jesus monkeysuit it's not dead!"

Rose limps her way to Dave, who has managed somehow to stumble upwards. His hands are empty, he dropped the tire iron, when the fuck was he stupid enough to do that shit?

"Is it immortal? What the fuck?"

She leans against his shoulder -- for balance and comfort more than to tease or stop him, but it stops him anyway. His heart is hammering in his throat, his temples.

"It's done," Rose says, though Dave notices that while she gives it a clinical look she doesn't move closer.

Its eyes are cracked open and blood seeps out of its sewn mouth, out of its nose. Dave can't see the sword; must have been vaporized with the rest of the several pounds of flesh Karkat carved out.

It feels like... Latula? Is it talking?

She harrumphs in his head. Kinda-sorta. Feelings, mostly. Lotsa lamer bullshit.

Dave hesitates, glancing around quickly for the tire iron, or a solid enough chair or desk leg maybe. Is, uh, is it asking us to finish it off?

Space tears before she can answer, and Captain Egbert pops through. Roxy and another man have a hand on each of his shoulders, standing at an angle so they're covering his sides and back. It takes Dave a second, crouching on the floor, to recognize his brother's back.

"Yoohoo, the cavalry," Dave says, and doesn't even manage to sound deadpan; he's too exhausted.


He lets Rose speak to Egbert; Karkat is leaning on him and Roxy is hurrying to crouch before them, surveying the damage on both of them with an alarm that Dave is not sure is entirely... yeah no okay it's totally deserved, he is going to hurt so much when it really sets in.

He doesn't like to even think about Karkat's damage, it makes him sick. He wishes opening a vein for him to drink were in any way a sane option.

"Oh shit, guys, you look so bad, wow. Either of you need a stretcher? I'll have 'em here in a jiffy--"

"I can still walk," Karkat rasps. Dave snorts.

"Yeah but you're not gonna, bud."

Karkat's eyes narrow. "Then you'd better let them evac you the same way, asshole, because I don't care -- no, shut up -- I don't care your legs aren't broken, your arm is fucked to shit and you're three drops of blood away from fainting, and going down the stairs will finish you."

Hell, Latula says, me letting go will finish you first. Better give Foxxxy the heads up. Only got another two minutes in me at most.

Roxy is looking at them, sort of, but her hand is on her chest, just under her throat, and she looks distracted. Dave groans. "Oh jesusfuck if you or Dirk and Cap' get mindfucked by that asshole I am going to flip all the tables in this room." It's a lot of tables, though most of them are flipped already.

It's too weak now, Latula reassures him. I'mma let some more through, less of a full faceplant, yeah?

"Don't tell me your contract with Crowbar isn't full of holes," Dirk is saying. He's talking to the demon, what the fuck.


It laughs. Dave twitches, Roxy winces, Karkat growls. Cap's glow intensifies, like he's about to teleport the lot of them out of range. Dirk just sighs.

"Kurloz. Stop being a bag of dicks. No demon your level wants to die."

Oh fuck no, he wants to save it. No. Nonononononono. Demons are amoral and Dave himself is using Damara, who would send him down the way Crowbar went if he gave her the slightest chance, but still, fuck no. "I'm objecting the fuck out of this," he says out loud, but no one seems to be listening.


Dirk lets the snark slide off, eyebrows knitted in his classical Fix-It Man face, the face where 'should we' is not even a question anymore, we're already onto 'how'. Shit. "Roxy, come on, we need to start tracing the disincarnating seal we used for Erisol -- ah, if you'll permit, sir."

Dave can't see Captain Egbert's face; he's standing with his back to them, between them and the demon.

"I am not convinced this is the best place for the attempt," Egbert says, measured and stern, skin still glowing white.

"He'll die before we can move him," Dirk shoots back, and then makes himself add a "Sir" that Dave is sure makes him somehow not sound like he's trying to boss his boss around.

"Detective." Yyyyep, the sirring totally worked. Egbert hasn't gone into stern mode at all. "There has been a lot of activity with the hell gate today and the ether will be problematic enough to--"

The sky rips.

Dave thinks it's the sky. Maybe just reality.

Maybe they're in the hell gate area now, maybe it spread again, this is it. This is when he turns inside out and his soul is rent in two, this is when he can't feel time anymore and eternities pass within each second, both at once, all at once.

Damara is crooning.

He clings to her, clings to their bond. Latula screeches -- she's in pain -- she's blind and lost and she's tied to him with Kankri's bonds and can't escape and he -- what's happening.

It's over in a flash, it's never over, it's over three times in a row and then Dave blinks open eyes he thought he had stopped having and he's staring at the floor and the puddle of vomit he just left on it.


Dirk is swearing (never swears) and Kurloz is dead (dead with a laugh, torn apart with a sandpaper purr) (killed by -- by --) and Karkat trembles endlessly against his side (is time still wrong, time is never wrong) and Rose's tush is on the floor and "Kankri!" Latula is saying from his mouth, "Kankri, let go now, I can't--"

Welp. Checkout time. She warned you, bro.

[Chapter 16] -- [Chapter 18]