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A claw slowly sliced a long line across her cheek, and Rose jerked awake with the sting of it. She could not twist away; she was hanging suspended from her wrists, her back against a wall. She looked up into darkness that was complete but for the small lantern hanging above in the center of the room. The skull-painted face of Gamzee Makara was inches before her own, and she stopped breathing the moment she saw his smile.

He cut a line on her other cheek. “Hey there, sister,” he murmured. “Welcome back to the motherfuckin’ waking world. You get a good nap?”

She was silent, panic gripping her throat. She heard noise inside her head: screaming and howling and laughter mixed up against the screech of alchemic lightning. Every nerve came to edge and toppled straight over the side.

“I asked you a question, you little bitch!” he howled. “Did you have a good nap?”

She stared at him with wide eyes. Her heart rattled around inside her chest. Her knees threatened to buckle. Her palms grew slick with sweat.

He bent down until their faces were level. He put his hand gently on her head. His voice pitched soft when he said, “Yeah, you probably did. You got some freak mutant blood in you, sister. You know that?” He ruffled her hair. His hand moved faster; he pressed harder. He gripped her hair and wrenched her head back to strike the wall.

“You don’t even have any motherfuckin’ horns, sister!” he roared. “What blasphemy are you trying to sell on my planet? Are you an enemy of the mirthful messiahs?”

Her tongue was thick in her mouth; she felt as though she would vomit as soon as speak, but she could not keep from stammering, “I don’t—don’t kn-know who—”

He let go of her hair and smoothed it down. He spoke quietly: “You made the demon, sister. You’re the reason my paints are getting wasted. I can’t paint, sister. Do you know how fuckin’ mad that makes me?”

She tried to push back and away from him; her heels slipped on the smooth stone of the floor over and over. She tried to hide behind her arms, barely feeling the pain of the shackles around her wrists. His eyes were wide, the deep indigo shade turned black amidst the brightness of the yellow around the pupils. They stared into hers, and her heart beat even faster. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m—”

Really fuckin’ mad!” he shrieked.

“I’m sorry! I wasn’t trying to create him! I’m sorry!”

Gamzee smiled at her; he laughed as she began to hyperventilate. He did not stop chuckling even when a great banging sounded behind him. Humming tunelessly, he turned and strode away. He opened the door to the room.

“Hey there, my motherfuckin’ justice sister,” he said. “What’s up?”

“I’ve come for the prisoner.”

He laughed wildly, and there was cheer in his voice when he shouted, “Aw man, I was just gettin’ into it! You should see how good she scares!”

A chuckle. “Oh, I can smell it perfectly well. The room is ripe with it. You’ve done an excellent job. However, you’re not very good at questioning prisoners, and that’s where I come in. I’ll need some time alone with her.”

“What’re you gonna do to her?” he asked.

A cackle. “Come now, Gamzee! You know exactly what I do to my prisoners!”

He began to laugh even louder than before. Rose let her head fall forward at the sound of returning footsteps; she could not look at him again. When a hand came under her chin, she barely managed to keep from screaming. She did not lift her head, no matter how hard the hand pushed. There was no stopping the gasp of pain or the movement of her head when the hand slipped into her hair and tugged back. She looked into Terezi Pyrope’s face, saw her sawteeth smile, and went completely limp. Terezi chuckled, releasing her hair to let her slump and hang from the shackles.

“Well, well, well,” Terezi said. “I told you that you were coming with me. One way or another, I’m always right.” She lifted a hand to wave over her shoulder. “I’ll take it from here, Gamzee. Go paint or honk your horn or something.”

“You got it,” he said. “Bring your pretty mirthful justice on her freak head, sister.” He closed the door behind him with a bang.

“So,” Terezi murmured. “The great Rose Lalonde. Best alchemist on all of Alternia. Perhaps the universe, unless there’s some planet out there Her Imperious Condescension has yet to decimate with alchemists on it. The only person with the knowledge of how to create alchemic catalysts, which would be capable of tapping into a source of perpetual energy. Also the only person with the knowledge of a formula intended to retrieve a soul, but actually opens a path between the alchemist and some very cruel Elder Gods. And finally, one of the people responsible for the creation of the demon known as Jack Noir. Is this information correct?”

She could not speak, and so she nodded weakly.

Terezi grinned, showing even more of her fangs. “Would you like to know how I came to have all of this information?”

She remained still and silent.

“Your brother told me everything,” she said. “Every last word of it. He confessed readily.” Her smile could not grow any wider, and so she let out a soft chuckle. She leaned close enough that Rose could feel her breath on her cut cheeks. “Would you like to know something else?”

She let out a tiny whimper.

“I’m going to let you break out of here.” Terezi snickered, straightened up, and patted Rose on the head. She turned on her heels and walked across the room. She opened the door and slipped outside. When she closed and locked it, the clank of the lock was deafening.

Rose’s heart continued to pound painfully in her chest. She dangled there, knees too weak to stand. The freeze of the fear left her blank and perfectly numb: her mind did not work. She couldn’t think to look away from where Terezi’s face had been; her head fell forward naturally with the weakness of her muscles. There was no paying attention to how much time passed after Terezi’s leaving. It seemed forever, but for all she knew naught but an instant passed.

She dimly felt her fingers turn and catch a Thorn in them. Her hand flicked it, and the chains and shackles vanished with a flash of green lightning. She collapsed, but her body righted itself enough to turn the Thorn on the door. The lightning blasted a hole clean through the space where wall and lock connected, and the door creaked as it swayed on its hinges.

A small troll in a large coat pushed the door open and bounded inside. The troll took long enough in heaving Rose off the ground for her to recognize the catlike face of Nepeta Leijon. Though her legs moved as if to stand her up on her own, Nepeta simply bent over and pulled Rose across her back. She brought Rose’s arms around her neck, shifted her to settle with her knees against her sides, and set out at a run.

Nepeta carried her through empty hallways without hesitation and in complete silence. She turned corners with the confidence of a plan, and leaped down stairwells gracefully. Rose was unable to react to any of it. Even when Nepeta rounded yet another corner and John stood at the end of the hallway, she could do little more than blink. On their appearance, John turned about, summoned his hammer, and slammed it against the wall. It exploded outward to reveal the near-dawn sky, stained the faintest shade of pink. Nepeta came to a halt beside John, and they looked out and down.

A gunshot rang out, and the stone of the building swelled and flowed in the same direction as their gaze. They began to run down the bridge that was created, and Rose looked over Nepeta’s shoulder. Far below them was a great river separating the building they ran from and the sprawl of the city beyond. When she looked up, she could see the black ocean as a hazy smear in the distance. She grew dizzy with focusing on it, and her eyes slid down to where they were running. The bridge extended to a building just on the other side of the river, standing tall enough over the massive wall built between the city and the river to be reached. Three figures stood on the roof, and she felt a terrible falling in her stomach when they resolved into only Jade, Vriska, and Dave.

Jade was the first to run to them when the bridge fully connected, and she hurried to help Rose stand when Nepeta turned slowly to slide her off. She wrapped her arms around Rose and held her tight, holding her up while she trembled and wheezed. When she tried to move Rose into walking, Rose’s legs wobbled. They remained too weak to follow the command that swept in and caught her mind, and she pitched forward. Hands grabbed her shoulders and brought her back upright. Rose looked up to find Vriska standing before her. The vague burst of gratefulness died the moment she saw Vriska’s fangs; Gamzee’s smile flashed before her eyes. She tried to pull away with a scream building in her throat.

Dave was there in an instant, clapping his hand down over her mouth to smother the sound. He fought down her panicked squirming and wrestled her across the rest of the bridge with Jade and Vriska’s help. When they were all across, John destroyed the bridge with a hammer strike. Nepeta scurried across the roof and peered down. She gestured for them to follow before pointing at the roof of the nearest building, another three storeys down. Jade drew her rifle and cracked off a shot, and they bolted down the bridge with John destroying it behind them.

The frantic pounding of her heart had grown to pain; Rose could barely breathe. Her head ached and her vision swam. She still struggled against Dave, unable to keep down the panic of being bound by his arms. Eventually, her feet tangled in his and sent them down to the rooftop. He swore as they hit the ground, and they rolled apart in their tumbling. Rose stopped on her side, hands falling limp and legs twisted. She was rolled onto her back, and John shook her shoulders. She saw his mouth move, but his sound was lost in the noise that still sang inside her skull. With a last shaky breath, her eyes slid shut and her senses left her.

-------

s p e a k e r
y o u n e e d u s
y o u w i l l a l w a y s n e e d u s
W E A R E H E R E S P E A K E R
S P E A K E R
Y O U W I L L B E G

She jolted back to consciousness with a strangled gasp. She was in a soft chair; her fingertips felt smooth leather when she shifted. Her eyes peeled open out of sync and she looked up slowly.

Terezi sat in a wooden chair not five feet away, legs crossed at the knees and hands folded over the head of her cane. There was no smile on her face, but Rose jumped at the sight of her regardless.

Terezi lifted a hand. “Stop that. You’re not in the Cruelest Bar at all. Gamzee won’t find you.”

“Where are we?”

“My city hive.” She snickered. “It’s not too far away from the Bar, but no one’s going to be looking in a legislacerator’s hive for fugitives. Which they really should, in my case. I’ve got three-fourths of the freak brigandrifts here, plus one Vriska Serket. Add Karkat and myself, and you’ll have a couple of traitors to the current empire.”

Rose stared. “You—you’re what?”

“Loyal to justice first, then Feferi Peixes.” She cackled. “I wonder how Karkles is going to react when he learns he has to team up with his kismesis to help the rebellion succeed!”

Rose did not speak. Her lips remained parted, brows low over wide eyes.

At the silence, Terezi stood up. She set her cane on her chair before advancing on Rose. She lifted her hands to her neck as she walked, and undid the clasp of a necklace. She held it out to display it and the small silver Cancer sign hanging on the chain.

“Why do you have Karkat’s sign on a necklace?”

“This isn’t just his sign. Haven’t you heard of the Sufferer at all?”

“No. Excuse my ignorance of troll history.”

She cackled. “It wouldn’t be in any history book, since the Condesce struck him from all the records.” She put the necklace back on, tucked it inside her shirt, and began to pace in front of Rose. “The Signless Sufferer was a preacher, sort of like what Vantas tries to be. But where Karkles preaches bloody rebellion, the Sufferer talked about all trolls being united and equal without threatening to cut off the head of the Condesce. The Sufferer wanted equal justice for everyone—which is why I follow his teachings while I enact the law.”

“And...was this part of the deal Dave made with you? You secreting me away to your hive to sell yourself as a righteous traitor?”

Terezi grinned. “Pretty much. When I got the order that you alchemists would be better off dead than screwing things up even more, I cut a deal with him. He helps me find you and helps me convince you to join Feferi’s rebellion, and I make sure you stay safe from the Bar and other highbloods. You didn’t let me explain before Vantas did an acrobatic pirouette off the rails—like he always does.”

Rose stared at her.

Terezi lifted a brow and sniffed hard. “Why aren’t you reacting? You smell so bland right now.”

“How exactly am I supposed to take this?” Rose asked. “Do I automatically trust you because Strider made a deal?”

“I did get you away from Gamzee.”

She let out a vague hum to acknowledge her. She closed her eyes and put her hands on her face. Her skull felt fractured; she could still hear traces of singing and hissing. Eventually, she said, “Please tell me where Kanaya is.”

“The woman who was with you at the Blade?” A pause. “She’s your matesprit.”

“Yes, and I would be more willing to listen to you if I knew where she is and if she’s safe.”

“Oh, good. She was there when I sent Nepeta to meet with Feferi and get information—Karkles is, too.” She snickered. “I don’t know if he’s been told about me yet, but I hope I can be the one who tells him we have to work together. He turns such a delicious shade of red when he’s mad.”

Rose looked at her blankly. “Is there a way for me to go to her?”

“Not alone. I want to get you and the other alchemists to Feferi’s location.” She paused. “And Vriska, I guess, since the John human likes her. But Feferi’s place is safer than mine is—highbloods are less inclined to attack her, even if she’s not the empress yet.”

“And where is her place?”

“Near the port. Almost completely across the city.”

“And what time is it?”

“The sun set a little while ago. You’ve been sleeping and crying in that chair the entire day.”

She closed her eyes and sat there for a long moment. She pushed herself out of the chair and locked her knees against the wobble of her legs. “Then we should go and not waste any time.”

Terezi grinned. “I like you humans. You’re always so eager to throw yourselves into danger for the dumbest reasons. It’s really entertaining.”

“Getting back to the woman I love is hardly a dumb reason to throw myself into danger.”

She cackled. “It doesn’t make it less entertaining!”

-------

There was comfort to be had in pulling on all her things, Rose found. When Terezi returned her hat, scarf, coat, guns, and bag, she felt safer. It didn’t stop her from constantly looking over her shoulders as they made their way through the city. Nepeta and Terezi led them on, walking hand in hand. When she looked back to Vriska and John, their hands were clasped; Jade had grabbed hold of Dave’s hand and ignored his exasperated look. She put her own hands deep inside the pockets of her coat to hide their continued trembling. She still heard singing, and her throat was closed so tightly she did not think she could speak.

The buildings closest to the Bar housed bluebloods and those bordering on purple and indigo, and there was almost no carousing and brawling for it. Those who were outside with the early hour moved away naturally at the sight of Terezi; some bowed as they went. No one questioned them, or even looked askance.

The moons and stars were hidden so thoroughly behind thick clouds that the streetlamps were alight throughout the city. When they left the highblood areas and set into those of the middlebloods, the noise of fighting was subdued. They were more reluctant to step aside, but quick bursts of the Mindgrip made everyone move. They kept to the main roads, traveling quiet and direct.

Thunder rolled along the bottom of the clouds, but there were no flashes of lightning to be seen. The first great crack of sound made Rose flinch and duck her head down. Ahead, Terezi began to walk faster.

“Come on,” she called over her shoulder. “It doesn’t smell like rain, but my nose’ll get all messed up if we’re out in a storm.”

Fewer and fewer trolls were on the streets as they continued on. Eventually, they were left completely alone, their footfalls sounding loud between the thunderclaps. Nepeta clung tighter to Terezi’s hand; Vriska looked up into the sky with narrowed eyes. It was some time before any of them spoke, and it was Nepeta, then, who broke the quiet. She took her hand from Terezi’s to run to the center of the wide, empty city square they had arrived at.

“I know this place!” she said. “We’re almost there!”

Rose barely heard her over the shrieking inside her head. She stopped walking entirely and put her hands on her face. Pain lanced back and forth between her ears; she kept her jaw slack and her eyes closed lightly. A hand came down on her shoulder, and she brought down her hands to see Dave standing before her. He opened his mouth.

Their catalysts appeared, unbidden, in their hands. When they looked to them, sparks had begun to crackle along the surface of the catalysts. Just as tails of electricity snapped at their arms, a bolt of green shot down from the sky.

Jack Noir stood before them.

Nepeta had the good sense to turn around and run back to the rest of them. Her body bristled; all the trolls stood tense and with their fangs bared. Terezi swung her cane up from the ground and pulled it apart to reveal two short swords; Vriska drew her dice. Dave and John reached out and grabbed them both, pulling them back.

Vriska reacted first: she snarled, “Fuck you, John—let me help—”

“You’re not an alchemist,” he said through clenched teeth. “The Octet won’t work, even if you get all eights.”

“Go to Feferi’s place and get Karkat and Kanaya,” Jade said. “I’ll cover you.”

Vriska opened her mouth to argue further, but John cut her off with a brief, hard kiss. When he pulled away, she stared at him with wide eyes. He swallowed hard and pushed her gently. His smile was strained, and Vriska felt her breathing stop. Terezi grabbed her wrist and wrenched her to the side, and she did not resist. She, Terezi, and Nepeta sprinted away into a side street, and Jade kept her rifle trained on Noir’s head.

He did not chase after them; he kept his white eyes on them. He smiled, lips peeling back along his muzzle to show his fangs.

“Hello, parents,” he said.

They started in unison. Jade’s mouth fell open, and Dave hissed a curse. John brought his hammer behind his back and swung it down two-handed. The ground shattered at the strike, and a great swell of dagger-ended spikes erupted beneath Noir’s feet. At the first stab of the points into his feet, Noir howled and leaped away. Jade fired, aiming for his chest. The edges of his body blurred, flickering as green lightning wound around him. The shot went straight through him without touching him, smashing into a far building and exploding.

As he landed from his jump, his body shifted, arms lengthening. He hit the ground on balanced hands and feet and began to run with the gait of a wolfhound. Each shot Jade fired was dodged with leaps and bounds, and when he had circled the square to come near them, he leaped bodily at her. His body shifted back, and his sword appeared in his hands.

Dave darted in, meeting blade with blade. The steel met with a great shrieking, lightning arcing around the both of them. Where Dave shouted with pain, Noir barked laughter. A hard shove knocked Dave to the ground, but Rose was there in an instant to catch Noir’s blade in the cross she made of the Thorns. The instant after that was all John needed to come in on Noir’s right with his hammer swinging.

Again, Noir’s body blurred. John’s swing went right through him, but when he stumbled from the force, Noir was solid enough to fall against. He turned his head, jaw opening to let his fangs drip onto John’s face. So focused on John, he barely reacted in time to Rose thrusting a needle at his face. He rocked his head back, but not enough. The needle, covered in electricity, slashed through his left cheek and eye, and bright red blood spurted from the wound. He stumbled back with a raged snarl, clapping a clawed hand down over his face. When he drew his hand away and saw the blood, he let out a roar that rattled the sky.

“You little bitch!” he screamed.

They all flinched, but Rose stopped breathing. Her instincts were the only thing that drove her in that moment, and they made her flick both needles at him. The bolts hit him on his shoulders, rocking him back with the explosions they made. Dave ran in as the explosions faded, swinging his sword at Noir’s neck. The strike was parried; Noir made to stab at Dave’s face. A shot from Jade knocked the sword back enough for Dave to slip aside and bring his own blade up once again.

It was a dirty duel, feints and parries and thrusts bringing sharp slashes bearing lightning through flesh. Though Dave did manage to give Noir a few wounds, most of the injuries were Dave’s. With a curse, he rammed his foot into Noir’s gut to drive him back half a pace and rent a gash across his chest. The next hard swing down from Noir made his wrist tingle, and in the moment where his arm was still, Noir raked his claws across the back of his hand. He shouted with the pain; the sword slipped from his hand.

John let out a bellow as Noir lifted his sword once again. He charged in and slammed his hammer against the sword, knocking it clean from Noir’s grasp. He swung again and again at Noir’s head, almost dancing to follow Noir in his retreat. A sudden shot from Jade tore a hole through one of Noir’s ears, and John turned on his heels to spin about and smash the hammer against the wound Dave had made on Noir’s chest while he was occupied with howling in rage and pain. Noir flew back through the air and crashed down at the far end of the square. When he sat back up, they saw vivid white cracks spreading from the cut on his chest.

Jade fired off another shot. Though he tried to blur out of the world, he was not quick enough; the shot pierced his right shoulder and rocked him. The pain quickened him, and he was able to dodge the next shot and hurry back to his feet. He glared at them with his remaining eye, blood leaking down his frame. His body seemed to vibrate with the snarling coming from his throat. The twitching of his canine ears to the beat of the thunder overhead sent flecks of blood flying from the ruined one.

In the stillness of the moment, running footsteps sounded off. They all turned as one to see trolls spill out from the side street. Karkat and Kanaya were at the front of the group, catalysts in hand; Vriska and Terezi were behind them, weapons drawn. Everything fell back into stillness for a long while.

Dave broke the quiet: “Pyrope, you gotta dust outta here. You ain’t an alchemist.”

John was next: “Vriska, go!”

Noir began to laugh.

Karkat sneered and dropped down to stab his sickles into the ground. The pillar of stone that erupted at Noir’s feet was unexpected, and it hit his chin so hard he was flung off his feet. He flipped over in the air and landed upright; his remaining eye was wide, his face twisted with rage.

“Get lost!” Karkat snapped, rising to his feet. He turned back to look at Terezi and Vriska, and shouted, “I said go!”

Terezi smiled, but grimly. “You’re in no place to give orders to a legislacerator, Karkles.”

“You want to die? Then fucking stick around! Otherwise, leave! And that goes double for you, Serket!”

“Make me,” Vriska said with a scowl. She turned the scowl on John and lifted a brow. He looked back at her with a frown of his own, but he did not order her again.

Rose stared at Kanaya, eyes wide. The singing inside her skull had returned upon seeing her, and her chest was tight. Kanaya gave her a small smile tinged with fear; she nodded once in return.

Noir howled to shake the sky, and all attention returned to him. Rose stepped forward with a one-two slash of the Thorns. The first blast missed Noir’s head by inches; the second he cut in half with his sword. John and Karkat moved in tandem, bringing their catalysts down to the ground in the same moment. Stone spikes erupted on either side of Noir, rushing in at him. He jumped straight up to avoid them, but they exploded into a bolt of lightning when they crashed together. He roared with the lightning winding around him, but twisted free and landed on the hands and knees of a shifted, wolfen body.

When he vanished with a whipcrack of sound, they froze. Another crack sounded, and Terezi yelled as he fell upon her from above. She got her swords between them and stabbed at his chest. The blades slid cleanly into and out of his body; he laughed and did not bleed. He opened his mouth, more than wide enough to rip off her face in one clean bite, and made to lunge. He paused when eight dice bounced off the side of his face, and turned to see them fall. Upon their falling, a torrent of blue fire poured from them and struck Noir with enough force to throw him off of Terezi.

He stood and shook the flames from his body; he took the blades from his chest and threw them aside. He growled, lightning of his own arcing around him. While his bleeding slowed, the wounds did not disappear. With a renewed snarl, he disappeared again. He reappeared in front of Kanaya, sword held high. The panicked cry that left Rose’s mouth did not make him falter, but the way Kanaya’s chainsaw caught his blade without the engine dying did. He stared; she revved the chainsaw.

With each new revving, more lightning grew between the chainsaw’s teeth. It snapped at Noir’s sword, and a metallic whine began to grow. Kanaya pressed forward, revving the chainsaw even more. The sword began to vibrate. All at once, the blade snapped. Noir’s jaw dropped, and Kanaya swung her chainsaw. She lopped his left arm off just above the elbow.

Noir screamed, dropping his sword and stumbling away with blood pouring from the stump. He grabbed at his shoulder, pressed at the gunshot wound that was already there. Rose, Jade, John, and Dave stood frozen in shock. Karkat and Vriska laughed aloud. When Noir tripped on his own feet and hit the ground, Kanaya advanced on him. She went quickly, revving the chainsaw again to catch more lightning in its teeth. He sat with his head bowed.

Rose began to run.

Noir lifted his head to show his fang-filled smile.

Kanaya hesitated.

Rose reached out.

Noir’s hand punched a hole clean through Kanaya’s gut, and her jade blood shone bright on the claws wrapped around the piece of her spine he had ripped out.

Rose didn’t have time to scream before Noir threw Kanaya at her. She hit the ground with Kanaya atop her, and she frantically sat up on her knees to gather Kanaya in her arms.

“No no no no!”

There was terror and pain in Kanaya’s eyes. She stared up at Rose with blood leaking from her mouth.

“Oh God no Kanaya don’t go wait wait please!”

She tried to speak, but her lungs would not let out the air they held. She could not move, even when Rose kissed her desperately and cut her lip on her fang. All she could do was try to lift her hand when Rose pulled away. She managed to make it partway up, and she clutched at the collar of Rose’s shirt when her strength failed her.

“Kanaya!”

Her head settled against Rose’s chest.

“Kanaya, no!”

Her eyes drifted shut.

Kanaya, please don’t leave me!”

She died.

Rose couldn’t breathe. She kneeled there and stared at Kanaya’s face, at the smooth and calm expression of death. She felt something brush against the end of her nose and looked up.

Noir stood before her. In his hand was his sword, repaired and still sparking with lightning. He brought the tip of the blade to the side of her neck and cut a line through her skin. He made no further movement.

“Just fucking kill me!” she screamed. “What are you waiting for?”

“I’m not here to kill you, mother,” he said. He smiled. “I’m going to make you suffer.” He chuckled. “And I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.”

She watched as great black wings manifested from his back. She did not lift her gaze to watch him leap up and fly into the black clouds. Her head dropped down and her eyes returned to Kanaya. She stared and remained still and silent. Kanaya’s blood was cool against her body; it soaked through her jeans and spread beneath them on the ground. She still could not breathe.

“Rose?”

She didn’t know who spoke. She couldn’t recognize voices.

“Rose? I’m...we’re...”

A hand touched her shoulder.

She set Kanaya’s body down gently before summoning up the Thorns. With touches of their tips to the ground, the others were knocked from their feet by swells of stone striking them. Another touch, and their hands were bound in stone.

Rose was deaf to the bellows of confusion Karkat, Vriska, and Terezi let out. She was deaf to the shouting John, Jade, and Dave made. She pulled off her bag, her scarf, her coat, and her hat and set them all aside. She swept a needle through the pool of Kanaya’s blood, drawing it up and into the deep, broad bowl she created with the other needle. She took the bowl in hand and stood up. She walked some distance away, set the bowl down at her feet, and dipped her hands to the wrists into the blood. When they were coated, she crouched down to paint the ground.

Amidst her refreshing the blood on her hands, she caught sight of things she did not acknowledge. She saw Jade screaming so loudly she was red in the face, and pulling so hard at the stone around her hands that her arms were bloody for it. She saw John writhing in silence, arms as bloody as Jade’s, but his face was streaked with tears and his eyes were massive with panic. She saw Dave with his sunglasses lying broken in the dust, and his red eyes blazing with rage as he roared and tried to free himself.

Rose painted a perfect epicycloid. She moved the nearly empty bowl of blood slightly before standing up and returning to Kanaya’s body. She lifted the body up and brought it to the center of the transmutation circle. Carefully, she swept a Thorn through the remaining blood and brought the needle to the hole in the body. With a flash of lightning, the blood had rushed back to the body and the wound was closed. Rose stood again and took the bowl with her as she moved outside the circle. She cast it aside and lifted her hands.

After she undid two buttons of her shirt, she brought her fingers to the wound Noir had made. She coated the thumb, index, and middle fingers of each hand with her blood. The first mark she made on her neck: a one-sided arrow pointing down to her chest. The next mark came below the first: a circle struck through by two angles that formed a diamond in the center. More lines pierced the circle beside each point of the angles, and two small runes were placed within the circle, just outside the diamond the angles made and at twisted positions to each other.

She coated her fingers again. The next marks were made on her arms: two thin, parallel bands of blood. She drew more runes close to her elbows, and bisected the second band with a streak of blood down the center of her arm to follow her veins. A final coat of blood on her fingers allowed her to draw the last marks in her palms. A great circle housed a triangle, and the triangle housed a smaller circle.

As Rose dropped to her knees, all she could see was Kanaya’s body. All she could hear was the singing in her head.

She set her hands on the transmutation circle’s lines and closed her eyes.

-------

She opened her eyes to darkness and forms made of inky shadows. She looked up until she could look up no further.

s p e a k e r
y o u n e e d u s

“Give back her soul!” Rose said. “I’ll give you whatever you want—just put Kanaya’s soul back in her body! Let her live!”

o h
s p e a k e r
h a h a h a

“I’ll be your speaker!” she said. “I’ll do whatever you want me to! Just don’t eat her soul! Give Kanaya back to me!”

s h e i s n o t y o u r s
s p e a k e r
s h e i s n o t y o u r s

“She’s not yours! I’ll be yours! Give her back!”

h a h a h a
s p e a k e r
y o u u n d e r s t a n d n o t h i n g

“I don’t care anymore! Don’t eat her soul! Take mine—take me instead!”

o h
s p e a k e r
w e h a v e
a l r e a d y
d e v o u r e d h e r
b u t

Pressure wrapped around her limbs, her body, her throat. A great swell of singing and screaming echoed around her. Rose stopped breathing and stared up into the darkness. Uncountable glowing gold eyes opened and stared back.

B U T
W E
W I L L
T A K E
Y O U
A N Y W A Y
S P E A K E R