Rose lifted her head and screamed, and there was inhuman shrieking in the sound. It rolled in the clouds, beating out the thunder, and grew louder with each passing moment. It seemed it would go on forever, but Rose suddenly fell forward. She choked and coughed, and blood came from her mouth. She clutched at her throat. When she opened her mouth again, writhing shadows poured from her lips. They oozed up in the air, rolling over her face and surrounding her wide, pure white eyes.
Jade, hands covered in scrapes and blood, grabbed her from behind and heaved her away from the circle. Rose struggled against her, and the howl that came from her was not made of her own voice. Dave was there next, pulling both of them along by the backs of their shirts. Rose’s struggling grew more violent, her elbows striking Dave and Jade alike. She let out another scream, and the shadows flowed down her neck and over her shoulders. She twisted, and they were thrown completely off of her by black tendrils. When she tried to stand, John tackled her and grabbed her hands to pin her down.
“Rosie!” he shouted in her face. “Rose Lalonde, listen to me! Come back! Stop listening to them—you have to come back!” The tendrils slammed into his stomach, throwing him up and away. He landed on his back with a choked gasp; he rolled to one side, too winded to stand, and watched her rise.
The shadows fell along her body, staining her skin gray. Lightning had touched the sigils drawn in her blood when the transmutation started, searing them into her flesh, and they showed brilliant scarlet as the gray seeped down. She screamed again, and again she coughed blood from her shredding throat.
Vriska ran to her and swung her balled-together hands up hard to strike her on the jaw. She was lifted from her feet with the force of the blow and fell as though to land on her back. Before she hit the ground, the shadows swelled beneath her and kept her in the air. They lifted her slowly, tilting her upright. She hovered before Vriska, teeth bared and face twisted. Vriska hesitated; she faltered and took a step back.
It saved her. It gave Karkat enough space to run between them and deflect the Thorn Rose thrust at Vriska’s neck with his sickles. The lightning flew off into the sky, and she turned her furious gaze upon him.
“You stupid fucking witch-bitch!” he shouted. Diluted red tears streaked his face, and his voice broke in weeping. “What are you doing? Kanaya wouldn’t want you to do this! She didn’t die so you could go insane!”
Rose lifted the Thorns over her head, crossing them to drag them against one another. Lightning arced between them, thick and hissing, and cast green light on every inch of the city square. Before she could move, two gunshots rang out. The needles went spinning out of her hands, and she whipped about to shriek wordlessly.
“Karkat, don’t hurt her!” Jade cried. “You can’t hurt her!”
“The fuck I can’t!”
He lifted a sickle and aimed his swing at her back. The shadows swelled up under her feet, lifting her away from his blow and smashing against his face when he stumbled in. She turned her fingers and caught the Thorns in her hands, but stopped short. Her gaze had fallen on Kanaya’s body and, for a moment, fury left her face for pain. Her brow furrowed; her eyes clenched shut; and she let her head fall back to scream louder than she ever had before. When her breath ran out, her head rolled forward and she coughed blood down her front.
“Lalonde, get your ass down here!” Dave yelled. “Knock this shit off!”
She ignored him. She looked about, and stopped only when lightning crackled up her arms from the needles. Her gaze had turned to where Noir had flown away.
“Rose!” Dave shouted. “Rose, stop!”
She ignored him.
The shadows launched her through the air to land in far-off streets they could not see. They stood frozen for a long moment, faces pale with shock.
Jade was the first to move, and she hurried in the direction Rose had gone. She paused to turn back and say, “We have to follow her! Come on!”
“How the fuck are we supposed to stop that?” Vriska snapped. “It’s gone insane!”
Dave stormed over to her, grabbed the front of her coat, and shook her furiously. “Don’t call my sister an ‘it,’ you whackjob pirate! We’re going to get her back, and if you’re not gonna help us, you stay the fuck outta our way!”
“Guys, we have to go now before she gets too far away to track!” John said. “Stop fighting and let’s go!” He began to run after Jade, but stopped.
Karkat had gone to Kanaya’s body and dropped down beside it. His sickles lay on the ground for a moment before disappearing. His hand rested on her forehead, and he swayed slightly where he kneeled.
John went to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you going to come with us?”
“I can’t leave my moirail here,” he whispered. “I can’t—I can’t.”
Terezi went to his other side and touched his shoulder lightly. “I’ll send Nepeta to get Feferi. She’ll help you move the body.”
“Her,” Karkat whimpered. “Move her.”
Terezi nodded, once to him and once to Nepeta. Nepeta nodded in turn and bounded away. Taking a deep breath, Terezi turned to the others. Though she opened her mouth to speak, she was interrupted. Something exploded in the distance; the sound of screaming came afterward. They bolted, sprinting through streets and alleys to chase the noise.
Tavros was certain he was ready for anything. He had studied hard under Jade’s tutelage, and harder still after making his catalyst. He was ready to use alchemy outside the caverns, ready to stand with the rebellion and fight. So when people rushed into the caverns screaming that the demon was in the city, when he and Aradia emerged from underground to hear explosions and screaming, he was ready. He ran side-by-side with her to hunt the demon, and he was certain he would help slay it.
When they rounded the final corner and came to the source of the chaos, however, he lost his certainty. Trolls were running from a figure shrouded in shadows, but it was a figure he recognized.
Aradia reached out to grasp his elbow. She whispered, “Oh no. Tavros, look at all the blood on her. All the jade.”
Rose threw lightning in every direction, blasting troll and city alike. She screamed noise so piercing it made others wail in pained response. Her head turned this way and that, and she roared nonsense that could have been a name. Tavros and Aradia moved in unison, sprinting in an arc around her. When she turned her needles upon them, they struck the ground with their catalysts to bring up shields of stone and asphalt.
“Rose!” Tavros called. “Rose, can you hear me? You have to stop what you’re doing!”
In the moment Rose’s attention was directed at Tavros, Aradia lashed out with her whip. It wrapped around one of Rose’s arms and she pulled hard. Tavros charged in while she was unbalanced, catching her in his arms. She howled and fought, dragging her heels down his shins. He did not release her, instead holding her tight enough that she could not draw breath. The shadows around her swelled in response, swarming up to close around his neck like a noose. He gagged and let her go. She spun about to aim a Thorn at his forehead, but Aradia rammed her head into her back and threw her clean over Tavros.
“I don’t know what happened,” Aradia said, “but you can’t do this! You have to calm down! We’ll help you find Kanaya! We’ll help her!”
Rose shrieked as she got to her feet. But while her mouth moved in speech, her words were lost in a language they could not understand. Blood oozed down her chin as she screamed. Her gestures were quick and violent, fingers curling and uncurling. They could only stare at her, and their eyes widened when she lifted the Thorns. Her attention was drawn away by a troll rushing in with a knife drawn. She turned the Thorns on him, and he disintegrated down to his black bones.
Glowing blue dice landed at Rose’s feet. She looked down, and was forced to her knees by the weight of the stocks that appeared around her hands and neck. She struggled to get her feet back beneath her, but was knocked to the ground by the fist that slammed into the side of her face. Tavros and Aradia stared again as Vriska stormed forward and grabbed Rose by the back of her shirt.
“Gog dammit, get a hold of yourself, alchemist!” she snarled. “You’re scaring the shit out of everyone!”
Rose twisted about and spat blood and black ooze in her face. She snarled back in turn, but her words remained lost in a different language. Her hands turned too quickly for Vriska to catch them, but she was still quick enough to dodge the lightning Rose fired at her. The shadows ripped the stocks apart, and she aimed at Vriska again. She dived out of the way, snatching up her dice as she went. She would have thrown them for a roll had John not burst from the same alleyway she’d emerged from to grab her and pull her out of the way of another shot. Jade, Dave, and Terezi came through when the explosion passed, and Jade lifted her rifle.
“Rosie, don’t make me shoot you!” she said. “Please don’t make me shoot my best friend!” She choked, and her voice broke when she said, “I’m so sorry Kanaya died—but please don’t do this! Come back!”
Rose began to swing her arms in; Jade took aim and fired. Rose roared when the bolt pierced her shoulder. The shadows kept her from falling, and she brought a needle up to the wound to close it. Though Jade fired another shot to stop her, the shadows moved again to catch the bolt, and it disappeared in the black. When Rose fired a shot back at them, John swung his hammer and knocked the lightning up and away into the clouds.
Tavros ran forward with his lance aimed at her back. The shadows reacted for her and lifted her up off the ground, and Tavros charged straight through them with lightning cracking a way through the dark. Rose leaped to a rooftop and her attention left them. She screamed the lost-language noise and fired into the clouds. Dave and Terezi ran to the building she alighted on, and Dave swung his sword into the bricks to form a staircase up. Terezi ran up first, and she thrust her swords at Rose’s hands. Rose turned in time to sidestep, but Terezi stepped in to follow and began to fence with her, needles against swords.
“Don’t fuckin’ cut off my sis’s hands!” Dave shouted. “Will you trolls stop tryin’ to fuckin’ kill her already?”
“If we incapacitate her hands, we can stop her!” Terezi barked back. “We can deal with little injuries like that later if she hasn’t blown our heads off! Now get in here and help me!” She yelped when a strike from Rose snapped one of her swords, and again when she dodged the lightning flung at her face.
Dave ran in and swung his sword to knock the needles from Rose’s hands. When she tried to summon them again, he threw his sword down and caught her hands in his. “Sis, stop! Cut this grimdark shit out now!”
She rammed her head against his nose, and he released her with a shout of pain. The shadows lashed out and struck him across the chest, and Terezi caught him as he stumbled and tripped. Rose caught the Thorns again and made to lift them, but a whip wound around her torso and pinned her arms to her side. Aradia pulled hard and fast, dragging Rose off the building entirely as she leaped from the rooftop. Though she landed on her feet and pulled Rose down to crash on her back, the shadows caught her before she hit the ground. They wrenched the whip away from her body, and Rose took to her feet with another blood-filled scream.
Karkat did not acknowledge the noise in the distance. He kneeled in silence and stroked the line of Kanaya’s brow with his thumb. He knew he was crying quietly, red tears on display, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He stared at Kanaya’s smooth face because he could look nowhere else. He didn’t know what would happen if he looked at her body and all the blood upon her.
Fingers came to his shoulder and rested there gently. “Karkat?”
He sniffed. “Look how bad I fucked up,” he muttered. “I let my moirail get killed.”He glanced over as someone kneeled beside him and discovered Feferi. As she pulled down the hood of her cloak, he looked back to Kanaya. “And now I’m letting her matesprit go on a grimdark city-slaughter-spree because I can’t stop her without killing her.” He choked and closed his eyes. “But I can’t do that. I can’t make Kanaya sad like that, even if she’s dead.”
“And you know Rose isn’t dead?” she asked.
“She didn’t get her spine ripped out, but I don’t know what the others have done by now.”
“Okay.” She brought her arm up to her mouth and slit her wrist. She opened Kanaya’s mouth and let her blood fall inside. After a few moments, she said, “Karkat, I need you to knock me out. It’s easiest if you hit my gills.”
He opened his eyes, jumping at the sight of the blood flowing into Kanaya’s mouth. “Peixes—what the fuck—”
“I need you to knock me out right now.”
“Because I can get Kanaya’s soul back into her body, but we need to do that before she turns into a zombie.”
“Before—” His eyes widened. “You’re going to—”
“Karkat, I’ll explain later, this will be the only time I let you hit me, and I need you to do it right now!”
He slammed his fist into the gills on the side of her neck. She seized a moment before slumping over Kanaya’s body, and he was left in silence once again. He went to pull Feferi off of Kanaya, but stopped short of touching either of them. He stayed where he was and waited. The thunder made his head ache, and the explosions in the distance were suddenly far more piercing. He clenched his hands into fists tight enough to cut his palms with his fingernails. His throat was too tight to let him swallow, and he barely breathed.
Kanaya’s throat moved.
He started, jaw going slack.
Her throat moved again, and he realized it was rising and falling to swallow the blood in her mouth.
He reached out a hand, but held back. Her skin was growing pale, turning white. As it began to glow, her brows twitched. Her body shuddered, torso rising as though a line was pulling her from the center of her chest. Feferi sat up abruptly, and she put a hand on Kanaya’s forehead when she began to tilt forward. She put her other hand low on her back, over the ragged rip in her shirt, and made her sit with her back straight.
“Open your eyes,” Feferi said gently. “You’re all the way back now, no more dream bubbles. Open your eyes.” She took her hands away.
Kanaya’s eyes opened as she drew in a deep, shuddering gasp.
Karkat screamed; Feferi held him where he was.
Kanaya turned to look at the both of them. She turned away to look at her body. She scrabbled at her shirt, pulling it up to touch her stomach. She pulled her hand away to stare at her glowing skin. With a suddenness that made him scream again, Kanaya snatched hold of Karkat’s shoulders.
“Rose,” she gasped. “Where’s Rose?” She shook him, eyes widening, and said, “What has she done?”
“Holy fuck, you’re not dead,” he said. He reached out to touch her shoulders in turn, and tears welled over in his eyes when he felt her move with her breathing. “How did—oh Gog, Kanaya, he ripped out your—”
“Karkat, I know what Noir did to me!” she snapped. “I don’t know what happened to Rose! You have to tell me what’s going on!”
He faltered. “She—made this weird alchemy circle around you and—the other humans were screaming at her to not do it and that it wouldn’t—that you were dead and it wouldn’t bring you back.”
Her eyes widened further, and she looked down. When she saw the epicycloid painted in her blood, her mouth fell open. Her eyes pinched shut as a grimace twisted her face. “Oh, Rose.”
“We can still get her back,” Feferi said.
“She’s gone completely shithive maggots!” Karkat said. “We couldn’t even fucking touch her! She’s got this grimdark shit blocking all of us, and she’s better at alchemy than anyone! How’re we supposed to stop her?”
“We have to get her soul away from the Elder Gods and into a dream bubble.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” he shouted. “I just said we can’t even touch her! How are we supposed to get her to dream?”
She opened her mouth, but said nothing. She closed her mouth and looked away.
Kanaya opened her eyes. “Karkat, did she do anything other than paint this symbol on the ground?” She turned back to him. “Were there any other things she used my blood for?”
“No—she used her blood to paint some weird symbols on herself. Why?”
“Her bag—Karkat, did she take her bag with her?”
He turned to point. “No, it’s over there.”
She got to her feet and went steadily to the pile of Rose’s things. She returned with the bag in hand, sticking her arm in as she walked. She pulled out the notebook and tossed the bag aside. Flipping through them quickly, she scanned the pages until she found what she sought. Crouching down, she turned the book and held it out. “What symbols? Were they the symbols here?”
He stared at her a moment before looking at the book. He looked at the epicycloid, shook his head faintly, but stopped short when he spotted the diagram of the smaller circles positioned around the greater circle. He tapped it and said, “This! She drew all these on herself!” He shifted to crouch beside her and took the book in hand. “But she split them up.” He gestured to each symbol in turn, saying, “This was on her chest—this was on her arms—and these she made in her hands.”
“And she drew them in her own blood?”
“Yeah.” When she was silent, he turned to look at her. “Kanaya?”
She remained quiet, eyes wide with thought. She blinked once and said, “I have an idea.”
None of them wanted to admit it, but they were losing. They had long since grown tired physically, and then bordered on complete exhaustion. Beating out Rose’s speed had never happened, and it had become a struggle to match her and deflect her attacks. She remained constant, still a wraith screaming with fury. Her screams were punctuated more and more with bloody coughing, but they did not stop pouring from her mouth.
They did not want to admit it, but they were losing. Hope was leaving them, even as they fought against its departure. Each shot from Rose that shattered the city around them left them shouting, begging for her to stop. Their cries grew more desperate, more raged, more tear-filled, but Rose did not hear them. She did not focus on them unless they stood before her, and the less they were able to do so the less she looked at them. Dave tried once again to grab hold of her, but with the shadows flinging him away and into John, there was little left in any of them to continue standing.
With their falling, the shadows lifted Rose up and set her atop a low rooftop. She screamed into the sky, howling incomprehensible words. When she received no reply, no answer, she fired lightning into the low clouds again and again. Her noise was so loud she heard nothing around her, and so she did not hear the pounding footsteps coming from behind. She roared as she was slammed into from behind, and could do nothing as she and her assailant fell from the rooftop.
Even when the shadows loomed and caught her, she was not released. It was only when they dropped to the ground completely that she was let go, and she twisted about with a snarl. She turned directly into the punch delivered to her cheek and was thrown back to the ground for it. She had no time to react before she was grabbed by the front of her shirt and heaved up and off the ground. For a moment, when the glowing face before her came into focus, Rose was completely still.
“Give me back my Rose,” Kanaya hissed. “I know she’s still there—and I want her back.”
The moment passed and her fury returned even greater than before. The shadows swarmed around them, snatching hold of Kanaya and flinging her away. She twisted in the air to land on her feet, and summoned her chainsaw as Rose took hold of the Thorns and fired. With speed that blurred her form, she knocked the bolts away and brought her chainsaw back to slash the ground. Even the shadows could not react fast enough, and Rose was struck in the back by a pillar of stone.
She hit the ground wheezing and coughing blood. The shadows lifted her upright and brought her arms to bear. Before she could fire, Kanaya had darted in. Hands free of her chainsaw, she plucked the needles from Rose and skipped back. She dodged the shadows’ tendrils as they lashed out and held tight to the needles.
Rose screamed at her, and even in the lost-language the vehemence of her cursing was clear. She charged forward, swiping at Kanaya’s hands. Kanaya continued to dodge aside, slipping her hands away with time to spare. It was only when the shadows threw Rose at her that Kanaya halted, and she caught Rose in her arms. She pulled her head back as Rose lunged in with her teeth, twisting just enough that the bite landed on her shoulder and not her neck. Blunt though her teeth were, the force of the bite was enough to pierce Kanaya’s skin, and she tore away a piece of her shirt when Kanaya pushed her back.
On Kanaya’s chest were sigils that mirrored the ones on Rose’s chest, drawn in her jade blood. She tapped her shoulder with a needle to close the wound, and wiped away the blood that had already flowed down her skin to keep it from the mark. She did so with her blouse, and when she let go of the needles, she lifted her hands to show her palms. There were the same sigils as the ones in Rose’s hands, and her arms carried the last mirrored set. The sight of them made Rose roar, but her moment of fury kept her where she was a moment too long. Kanaya turned about and sprinted away, vanishing down an alleyway within seconds. Rose followed with the shadows pushing her faster; she knocked aside the troll that had come forth from the alleyway, and she vanished in the dark.
Karkat picked himself up off the ground and slapped the rubble-dust from his clothes. He turned to shout, “Fuck you, too, witch-bitch! I hope Kanaya beats the shit out of you!”
“Karkat?” John asked. “Karkat, what’s going on? That was—that couldn’t have been—”
“It was Kanaya,” he replied. “Look—even I don’t know what the fuck is going on. Peixes did something weird that brought Kanaya back and she’ll explain later. But right now, Kanaya can move a lot faster than us and she’s leading Lalonde back to the transmutation circle.”
“What? What is she planning on doing?”
“Getting Lalonde’s soul back.”
The rage was burning her body. It was the rage that made her run as hard as she did, but it was the rage that made her scream hard enough to shred everything in her throat. It was the rage that made her fire blasts of alchemy aimed to destroy everywhere, but it was the rage that made her see everything as an enemy. It was because of the rage that she chased after Kanaya with howling in her bloody mouth, and the rage multiplied with every shot that Kanaya dodged. And because her body was burning, it was the shadows that had to make her run. Kanaya was still faster, and she put distance enough between them that Rose lost sight of her.
She sprinted into an open city square, stopping without stumbling only because the shadows kept her upright. Being still was not something she had done in so long, and she panted as she looked about. When her gaze fell upon a circle painted in green blood, she stopped completely. She could hear nothing beyond her own rasping, burbling breath, and again she could not hear the sound of footsteps pounding up from behind. She turned, but Kanaya grabbed her wrists and launched herself up from a crouch as she pulled Rose in. The head butt was enough to rock Rose off her feet and hang from Kanaya’s hands in a daze.
Before the shadows could catch her, Kanaya pulled Rose along to the transmutation circle. She pushed her down in the center and, summoning her chainsaw, bound Rose’s hands in stone to block the Thorns and pin her down. Though Rose’s senses came back in time to let her scream, though the shadows were already rushing to shatter the stone, Kanaya was quicker. She dashed outside the circle, dropped to her knees, and slapped her hands down on the lines.
She could not remember closing her eyes, but when she opened them again, she was no longer in the square. She stood in darkness and felt the air squirm around her. She cast her eyes about, and spotted a form in a white shirt and a black waistcoat lying slumped on a floor that did not seem to exist. Smiling, she hurried over. When she reached out to touch the form, it was pulled away. Rose, eyes open and unseeing, was pulled off the ground, and a wall of black shadows formed before her.
d r e a m e r
y o u a r e n o t w e l c o m e
“I’m afraid I don’t care if I have your welcome or not,” Kanaya said. Her smile grew brighter. “I’ll be taking Rose back now.”
y o u c a n n o t
i t i s o u r s p e a k e r
Y O U C A N N O T
“Oh, but I can and I will,” she replied.
W E H A V E N O N E E D O F A D R E A M E R
Y O U W I L L N O T T A K E H E R P L A C E
“I didn’t say I was taking her place. I said I was taking her.”
Y O U C A N N O T
“I intend to live out the rest of my life with Rose,” Kanaya said. “And when our lives end, I’m still going to stay with her. You will not take her away from me. Our souls are our own, and you may not have them.”
D R E A M E R
Y O U C A N N O T
She smirked. “Watch me.”
Golden eyes opened all around her as the world itself screamed, but she dashed through the noise and the darkness to catch Rose in her arms. She held her and ran, ignoring the howling and shrieking. In the distance was another form, clad in a dress with a bright purple Pisces symbol on its chest. Kanaya reached Feferi in seconds, and took the hand she offered. They began to fall, gaining speed with every second. Below them, something shimmered and glowed, and Feferi guided them down into the dream bubbles that waited for them.
“Rose? Rose darling, open your eyes.”
The world was too wrong to want to open her eyes. She knew if she opened her eyes the rage would swell up in her heart again, and she was so tired. She was so tired of breathing and existing and trying to think.
“Rose, I’m here. You don’t have to worry anymore.”
The gods were lying to her. They were trying to stir the anger in her heart, but she was so tired. She could not be angry anymore. Her limbs were too heavy to move, much less propel her to destroy the city as they wanted.
“Rose, I promise it’s all right. Just open your eyes.”
Her head was empty. There were no thoughts to be had. There was nothing to listen to, and she was grateful because she was just so tired.
“You won’t hear their singing anymore.”
There was nothing to listen to—nothing but the voice that was speaking from a living being.
“You’re safe from them. I’m alive, Rose, and so are you. Just open your eyes.”
All she heard was a familiar voice. All she felt beyond her weariness and pain was a familiar pair of arms. She was cradled in someone’s lap.
“Rose darling. Rose.”
She opened her eyes.
Kanaya was above her, smiling broadly. Her skin was glowing white and there were green streaks of tears on her cheeks. Kanaya was above her.
Rose stared up at her. She opened her mouth, but there was no voice left to use amidst the damage and blood. She could only say her name in silence, but Kanaya’s smile widened anyway. Rose reached up to clutch at Kanaya’s torn blouse, trying to pull herself up. There was no strength left in her to rise. Kanaya gathered her to her chest and shushed her, stroking her hair gently.
“We’re both here, darling. We’re alive. We’re safe.”
Rose closed her eyes, buried her face in Kanaya’s chest, and sobbed silently. A tiny smile had curled her lips.