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Alternia Shuffle

Chapter Text

The first thing that strikes you about her is that she’s a lowblood.

Not even in the green range either, judging by the dried-blood red of her gown and the sign embroidered on her sash. You consider yourself a pretty progressive sort and all, but it’s still a surprise to see a rusty in a classy gathering like this, especially one that isn’t one of the servers or the singers or hanging off some meteor baron’s arm. She swans around the guests and demurs offers of drinks and dance with practiced ease, and nobody seems to question that she’s here at all.

But that isn’t too much of a surprise, you suppose, because the second thing that strikes you about her is that she’s probably the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. She’s not beautiful the way a human would be, because trolls don’t do anything soft and gentle; the black around her eyes makes you think of tigers, and her white teeth look ready to tear out someone’s throat when she smiles.

Juxtaposed with the downright shy way she sidesteps guests and sticks to the corners of the party, well, it’s a wonder you didn’t spot her sooner. You have a knack for these things, or else you wouldn’t have your job, and a lowblood girl who looks like that in a place like this strikes you as a thing that should indeed be cause for concern.

Your name is Dave Strider, and while you’re technically not on a job right now, you’re the kind of man that gets an itch under your skin when you spot someone acting suspicious, probably due to the sheer amount of suspicious bullfuckery you’d had to deal with growing up. Normally you’d be content to leave well enough alone and let your partner handle it, especially regarding another troll’s business, but she’s slurping up the snack bar right now and you know better than to get between Terezi and the spicy dips.

Not that you mind leaving all that much. This art exhibit isn’t your scene anyway; you gave up on getting your photography in places like this a long time ago, and if it weren’t for Terezi and Jane knowing the artist, you wouldn’t be anywhere within a quarter mile of this many obscene depictions of equine musculature even ironically.

With that in mind, nobody else seems to have realized that this is a woman with a mission in mind, and despite all the bluebloods of both literal and figurative standing at this gathering, you’re entirely sure that securing a financially advantageous matespritship isn’t what she’s after. You see the mystery dame’s choppy curls at the edge of the crowd now, so you down the last of your champagne and set the glass aside.

“I’ve got something to do, try not to be too terrifying.” You mutter to Terezi. She waves you off as her only acknowledgement, still poring over her choices of colorful sauce like an oracle over bones.

You straighten your back and your lapels and look around, spotting your lady in red just as she slips through an unguarded archway and into the hall beyond. You might not be intimately familiar with the layout of the Ampora estate, but you are damn well sure that’s not the direction to the ladies’ room.

It takes you a while to catch up with her all the same. She walks faster away from the crowd, and the click of her heels even through the carpet is the main thing leading you to wherever it is she’s headed. The halls echo pretty loudly, too; it’s a wonder you yourself don’t make much of a sound. Or maybe you do and you’re too busy fixating on another one to notice. Sometimes you catch glimpses of her; her back to you as she hurries up some stairs, or the flick of her skirt around a corner.

The clicking stops and you hear a door open and close. Murmuring, too low for you to entirely make out; it’s only when you get closer that you recognize the weird, twisting sounds of it as Old Alternian. You don’t understand a single word and you’re surprised to hear it spoken at all, and you only know about two people who could feasibly speak it around here, too.

One of them, Eridan Ampora, is back in the hall housing the exhibit. This voice is lower, more of a growl, so it’s not hard to guess that it’s his ancestor speaking now.

You feel like a cheap paparazzo, following behind his apparent paramour; you definitely don’t want to be around when they do whatever it is they’ve rendezvoused to do, either.

You turn to leave them to their clandestine affairs and consider your time wasted. Maybe you should go outside for a while, have a smoke, chat up some of the midblood drivers that will no doubt give you looks for bothering them.

You think that, and then you hear a gunshot.

You’ve heard a lot of gunshots before, but never in a place like this. This one echoes off the walls and rattles your teeth, hanging around just a little longer than most gunshots do. You end up frozen, hesitating, hoping maybe you just imagined it. Then you hear a second, and a third.

Well clearly you can’t just stand here like an idiot.

You throw open the door to see book cases lining the walls, an open window behind the desk, and a body on the fancy rug. You look up a split second later and your eyes meet a pair in red-on-gold, so bright it takes you a moment to register what you’re looking at, and she looks just as surprised as you do when she pauses like a gory pinup, violet blood trailing from her dress to the floor. The body groans and she frowns.

You have just enough time to step into the room before she’s shot Cronus “Dualscar” Ampora one more time, right under the left horn. She smiles at a job well done and throws herself out the window for a fall at least two stories down.

That’s about the point where the spell is broken and you realize hey, someone was just killed here .

Shit, ” You jump over the body and the desk to stick your head out the window, expecting- something, anything, some sign besides Dualscar’s dead body behind you that this isn’t some crazy nightmare breakdown you’re having at a nice party. “ Shit, mother fucker , I cannot believe,

You see a car speeding away with what you imagine is a pair of catlike red eyes peering out the window at you, and then it’s gone through the gate at the edge of the estate, gone into the night.


You look down at the gore.

The rug is ruined, smeared with skull and brain and blood. The smell is something else entirely, like freshly gutted fish. One eye looks up at you accusingly. The yellows are full of violet where the veins burst behind the bullet’s impact. You pinch the bridge of your nose and force yourself not to kick something over in frustration. Then you look over the scene one more time before taking out a handkerchief and picking up the phone sitting on his desk.

It rings twice before you’re answered with a yawn. “Alternia City police department-”

“Jade, it’s me. Cronus Ampora just got shot four times by an unknown assailant in a party dress and Terezi’s busy stuffing her face downstairs, so I’m gonna need you to get everyone over here yesterday .”

You hear a clatter on the other end, but bless her, she doesn’t waste any time after that. “Ampora Estate, Vicerene subdivision, got it. You’re already there so look for clues while you are, and get Jane and Terezi up to speed as soon as possible. Is he still alive?”

“Not after the bullet to the head, I reckon. Or the other three wounds he’s been bleeding out from.” You almost get some brain on your shoes as you walk around the desk, untangling the phone cable so you can get a better look at Ampora himself. “You want me to stay on the line or you think you’ll want updates tomorrow instead?”

“Do your job now, and I’ll do mine tomorrow.” She says, and hangs up. This leaves you alone, with the victim and the sobering knowledge that for once you’re the witness, and what a Hell of a thing it is that you’ve witnessed.

Twenty minutes later, the room is swarming with a forensics team and three guards have been brought up from downstairs to stop the reporters from getting too close and contaminating the scene. Terezi wipes a smear of melted chocolate off the corner of her mouth with a napkin, then hands you a pair of gloves. The look on her face would be exactly the same one she wears to every occasion if you hadn’t been working with her for three years now; with that kind of experience under your belt, the set of her shoulders and the tightness of her smile is irritable, but intrigued.

“Nobody who shouldn’t have been here got past the guards and into the gallery.” She says, sniffing noisily as you snap on the gloves. “We’re going through all the guards and guests now, and we’ll be checking in on the ones who left early. You said a lowblood in a red dress, right? Shouldn’t be hard to find on the list.”

“Someone who had a history with Ampora, too.” You mutter, finally turning him over on the carpet. The gutted fish smell is even worse like this and Terezi wrinkles her nose just slightly. You’re not sure if she’s disgusted or taking a deep, stinking lungful. You look down and kind of want to laugh, in a hollow sort of way. “A really special kind of history.”

“What’s that about history?” She asks, kneeling beside you. You point to a bright, cherry-red stain on his neck and she raises an eyebrow. “ That kind of history? That narrows it down quite a bit.”

“Here’s hoping.” You swab it with a bit of cotton and put the cotton in a bag. The lipstick looks almost like a dried bloodstain when it’s not in the shape of a pair of lips. “Don’t know how much Harley can get from someone’s choice in cosmetics, but anything helps.”

“You’d be surprised how much that can help in this day and age.” Her smile widens, and for once you’re not sure what to make of it.

“As you’re so fond of reminding me. But unless it can tell us who the killer is before they skip town, I’m gonna be less than enthusiastic about it.” You know as well as she does that it can’t, at least not yet. It’s going to take at least another week or two before this room, the body, and the records of everyone at the gallery- and it was a big gathering- turns up anything of use.

Longer still before you can pinpoint what among that is actually useful.

“Chin up.” She says, and hip-checks you very nearly onto the body with a cackle. “How many lowblood lovers can a man like Dualscar really have? Especially lowblood lovers that would be allowed to mingle with blues. Now that I think about it, are you entirely sure we should be looking for lowbloods?”

You rub your arm. “I saw her, Terezi. She had pretty fucking red eyes to go with that dress.”

“Exactly. You saw her.” She smiles like a straight razor, her own heels clicking dully on the carpet. It takes a couple tries before she feels the right shapes through her gloves, but she practically shoves what she finds in your face. It’s an elaborate steel frame, with monsters and masted ships wrought into the corners, and a faded black-and-white photograph of Dualscar with a lady troll on his arm.

“We should start somewhere simple, Dave. Who would have the simplest reasons to want Dualscar dead and possibly have a lowblood handy and want to be conspicuously hard to pin?” She steeples her fingers, and when you look at the portrait, you groan for good measure.

You say it the same time she does, albeit in an entirely different tone of voice.

Aranea Serket.

Chapter Text

The blood’s barely drying into the carpet back at the Ampora estate, probably, and you’re already in a car and driving over to Weaver’s Bluff. Processing this kind of thing usually takes forever, especially with trolls getting involved; though maybe the difference is that Ampora is so high up on their color-coded blood whatever.

You remember back at the station how the chief nearly banned Terezi from coming with you. She nearly chewed off his face, too, and likely would have if you weren't contractually obligated to hold her back. That was also her argument for being allowed to come with you to the Serket establishment, that you're more than capable of holding her back if need be. Honestly, you're not quite as sure about that as she seems to be.

Terezi also looks to have more dirt on the Serkets than anyone else in the country, which should come in handy when interrogating Aranea “Mindfang” Serket about the murder of her ex-kismesis. She has a file about the size of an encyclopedia in her lap next to you, fingers rapidly running over Braille print. There's pages with regular print too, which she sniffs at like a bloodhound memorizing a criminal's scent.

She absolutely looks like it too, like she's finally sunken her beartrap fangs into something she can really chew on for a while.

You really hope you don't have to hold her back.

The Serkets live a couple hours out of town, this coastal medieval-looking mansion that looks more like it belongs in Fairytale Germany from the photos. It's only a step down from the obnoxious pretensions of the Ampora estate. You've yet to see it in person, but if the clandestine (unfortunately slobbered on) photos your partner showed you have anything to say about it, it's massive. Terezi had informed you that all of it was paid for with stolen money, in that viciously gleeful tone of snarl only a troll could pull off.

The silence stretches onwards in the car, there’s no radio signal out here to distract from the tension rolling off Terezi in waves. She flips a page, shuffles the folders, and you imagine her shuffling imaginary pieces on the board of whatever mind games she’s playing. Mixed metaphors aside, you can practically see that grin of hers ready to tear her face in half.

And besides all that, you’re still trying to fit the redblood dame who actually pulled the trigger somewhere into the middle of this ex-hatelover affair it appears to be on the surface. The thing is, though, she doesn’t fit. Not that anything involving a troll and their quadrants is ever easy to begin with, but the Amporas have never quadranted with a redblood on public record. Not to say they haven’t, though you struggle to see why that would need to be kept clandestine. Troll politics, probably. You feel like you should've paid more attention during your briefings ages ago.

But the red, she bothers you. She didn’t look like a spurned lover; you’re no expert on troll romance, but she didn’t look like it brought her that kind of satisfaction, or maybe it did and you're not as good at reading people as you like to think. The look of it makes you pretty far from hopeful about this trip, sitting heavy in the back of your mind when the car stops and Terezi unlocks her door. You're long past the wrought-iron spiderweb gate, and somehow you hadn't noticed the looming palace right in front of you until now, manicured shrubbery and all.

Terezi steps out, but before she can get down to business, you grab her by the arm. You feel more than see her fingers curl reflexively, hooked claws getting ready to tear into flesh before she calms down. Despite that, you can hear the scowl in her voice; and to emphasize it, she even turns her head to narrow her eyes at you, even though you know she’s probably wrinkling her nose to get a better picture of your unease.

You gulp, tension building. You’re about to open your mouth when she pulls her arm out of your shaking grip.

“What’s the hold-up, Strider?” She's smiling softly , her voice eerily composed. She only calls you that when she’s pissed or making fun of you, and even with the way her face is almost permanently in some kind of disturbing grin, she doesn’t look like she’s in a joking kind of mood. "I didn't think you were the touchy-feely sort. Do you need me to hold your hand in the big, scary hive we're about to pay an unsolicited visit to?"

"I appreciate the offer, but I don't-"

"Then don't fucking touch me." She snaps, already turning around and beginning the short walk up the steps to the door. "If you feel the pressing need for a pale fling, save it for a prostitute, your drinking buddies, or your sister. Right now, we have work to do."

"Yes, ma'am." You've seen her like this a handful of times, sharp edges standing out more than ever, but not to this degree. Nothing funny about the situation, though her grin just gets wider as you catch up to her and glance at her from the corner of your eye. She's tense as a coiled spring and you don't want to make any sudden moves or you might get a faceful of whatever beef she's got with the Serkets, no sir, this barbecue is firmly on lockdown; but you're still her partner and you still find it in you to shut up and reach out for the heavy, brass knocker to give it a couple hard swings.

The sound reverberates through your bones. Is there a fucking hallway behind this door? Or one of those fancy foyers? You haven't been in many foyers; you're not entirely sure what constitutes a foyer. Whatever the case, Terezi stands straighter when you hear seven different kinds of lock opening up, and the door opens just a crack. One lock is still in place, a flimsy little chain that you're pretty sure is just there to be cliche, but also you're more focused on the eye- eyes?- peering out at you from within.

Also, there's shrieking. There is definitely shrieking and crashing going on in another part of this mansion. You entertain the thought of a haunted mansion for exactly a split second before you fish out your badge and pretend you didn't just think of that.

"Detectives Strider and Pyrope; sorry to interrupt your evening so late but we had to get a warrant first. Is Aranea Serket home? We have some questions for her regarding the recent murder of-"

"Cronus Ampora, yeah, yeah, I've been hearing nothing but that since he got fucking shot like, what, two hours ago?" The door closes and you think you might have to physically stop Terezi from attacking it, but then you hear the slide of the chain and it opens up for you. The woman inside looks like Aranea, but a lot smaller than you expected, for one, and also she's dressed like a drag queen got smushed together with a newsie?

"Well, what are you waiting for? Get in here and interrogate her!" She grins viciously, and you note that one of her long fangs has a little sapphire implant in it. She looks at you just as much as you look at her in passing, and then her eyes land on Terezi. She sidles up to her, throwing an arm over her shoulder like an old friend. "And what's this? You've come to pay a visit, too, Pyrope? Small world, isn't it?"

Another crash, and a shriek that sounds more anguished than anything else. Vriska Serket drops her faux-cordiality and ushers you further inside, and Terezi's been worryingly silent this entire time.

Vriska, by stark contrast, cannot seem to shut up.

"You'd think he wasn't her ex kismesis, with how much of a ruckus she's causing about it! I mean hooooooooly shit, I think she's gone through a whole bottle of rum and like five smashed glasses already, and she's not showing any signs of slowing down until she gets her hands on her own fine china. Gotta hand it to that tolerance of hers!" She goes on like that, seemingly unaware or uncaring of the growing tension radiating off of Terezi. You try to get a word in edgewise but somehow she manages to out-talk you every time, or bring the conversation back to her own suffering. "I guess she just doesn't have anything else to do but be dramatic about it! Sure is tiring for me , though, being the stable one in this household. I'd have sent someone to answer the door for you instead, but God, I just wanted to get away from her!"

Terezi finally speaks up, frosty as a cucumber in winter, though so low that you have to strain to hear over the ruckus. "I can only imagine what it'd be like having to listen to someone else's problems for an extended period of time when you have something you really want to be doing. Like an investigation, maybe, or an arrest."

"Woah, there." But neither of them seem to hear you. In fact, Vriska stops talking and her expression falls again, replaced by something like indignation, or even fury. She gets between the two of you and you have the startlingly vivid image in your mind of Vriska seizing Terezi by the lapels and giving her a couple shakes, not that Terezi would stand for letting anyone do that. As it stands, she just slings her arms over the two of you, like a drunk partygoer trying to get their reluctant friends to sing along.

"Of course, of course, you've gotten a whole lot less fun since you joined that human-troll police force, haven't you? You don't even answer my letters anymore. I sign them with eight hugs and everything, you cold-hearted bitch." She bumps horns with Terezi in a display that would have been moderately, contemptuously affectionate for anyone else, but from her just looks weirdly sexually charged. "But alas, a small world doesn't mean we're going to brush shoulders like this ever again, does it? Don't answer that."

Terezi looked very keen on answering that.

Vriska continued to flap lips until she'd led you to the front of another set of doors. The carving is impossibly intricate, and also stupidly abstract, so you don't pay much attention to it until the door swings open with a slam and suddenly it's very, very interesting because now you might have to look into the room if you don't look at the door. You hear Vriska groan, and hear the low, husky laugh that Terezi saves for the metaphorical kill.

Inside is a cowering gaggle of servants with various cleaning implements and a very drunk, very angry Mindfang. She looks terrible, a far cry from the wickedly elegant photographs in Terezi's case files; her eyeliner is running down her cheeks and the yellows of her eyes are stained green with all the crying she's been doing. Or the alcohol, which you swear you can smell from where you stand.

"Do you hear me down there, Cronus!? Do you hear me where the dead lie dreaming?! " She shrieks, taking another gulp of her rum straight from the bottle, and then she realizes there's no more than that gulp and she hurls the bottle in your general direction. It misses and crashes into the far wall, and she collapses to her knees, still swaying, and then lies prostrate to point accusations at the floor. "All this time I thought I'd be the one to be the end of you, and you die to a fling with some redblood floozy!? "

"And you thought I was the dramatic one." Vriska drawls in a stage whisper, and Mindfang lifts her head off the hardwood to glare at her. Her evening gown is falling off one shoulder, and her hair looks like she's been ripping curlers out of it.

You look at Terezi and she sniffs a little at you. It's like you're thinking the same thing; what kind of sources does Mindfang have if she knows exactly what happened down to the redblood mystery dame?

Though you see the beginnings of Terezi's grin and you're pretty sure she's already thinking of how to spin it so that Mindfang or Vriska is the guilty party, somehow.

When Mindfang's eyes land on you, and then Terezi, she gets her knees under her and gestures for one of the terrified servants to clean up several piles of broken glass scattered around the study. They nod and scurry to work, putting things in order around her while she stands and undergoes a striking transformation from wailing drunk to a sultry hostess in about the amount of time it takes her to straighten her back. Like damn, if she were the one visiting you, you'd be making observations about curves in all the right places and legs that go on for half a year.

She wipes her face on her evening gown, though, and leaves smears of black and blue makeup along her cheeks as she does so. It's a good thing the gown is black, but you imagine it probably costs more than your entire office building. She has the same smile Vriska does, but something about it comes off as less obnoxious and more vaguely threatening, though in a less immediate way than Terezi's.

"I'm sorry you had to see that, I wasn't expecting visitors. Vriska, my darling sweet pea, why didn't you send someone else for them?" She doesn't even look at Vriska, though she arranges her hair a little with a swipe of her gloved hands. Chunky, gaudy rings set with sharp, blue stones gleam on her fingers, perfect for using as knuckle dusters in a pinch. Something about her gives you the impression that that is exactly the reason she wears them.

"Doesn't matter now, they're here to talk to you ." Vriska answers, and you feel a chill go up your spine as she pushes you forward, though when she moves to do the same to Terezi, she finds her already walking into the room, tapping her cane as she goes along (not that she really needs to). Vriska looks a little put out by this, but then winks at you and leaves the room with a flourish of her jacket, swung like a cape.

"Talk to me, was it?" Mindfang asks in mock surprise, blowing her nose into a tissue presented to her by a servant. Another servant replaces the first, holding up a tray of cosmetics, while a third, fourth, and fifth hold up a mirror and start fixing up her hair and face. All the while, Mindfang is moving while they follow her. She looks like she hasn't been crying at all when she reaches the other side of the study, dispersing her servants with a wave of one hand. They all rush out and you can't help but want to follow them.

She pours herself another glass of rum, her hands shaking slightly, as she settles into a chair. Her eyes are still green-rimmed, but her voice is steady. "Have a seat; if you saw all that, then I want you to know, I'll do whatever you want as long as we destroy whoever was responsible."

Well, at least that’s promising.

Chapter Text

After three hours, you're nursing a headache larger than the overinflated ego sitting in front of you.

You're pretty sure Mindfang is actually trying to be helpful, but she has exactly the same problem that Vriska has. That is, she makes everything about herself if you let her go on for maybe a little over five words, and when she's not making it about herself, she's making it about how everyone is out to get her. 

You can see the twitch in Terezi's smile that lets you know she's almost had enough of this, and you're a little amazed at how she can keep it together the way she does despite how much you yourself want to put your head through a wall. Terezi is still taking notes, but you've just about given up on listening, despite any professional inclinations you might have towards making sure things go as smoothly as possible.

It sure is amazing how something as little as a drunk highblood's come-ons can test that, though.

Mindfang huffs and slumps back in her seat after her latest attempt at coming onto you and then Terezi and then both of you at once, her painted lips curled up in a sneer of contempt. Terezi manages to look completely neutral despite how you're sure she's just as relieved as you are. Hot, crazy troll mom or no, you have a job to do.

"I appreciate your interest in my partner and I, Miss Serket-"

She barks, her laugh echoing around you. "I haven't been called Miss in a long time, that's for sure! Please, call me Aranea."

"... but for professional purposes, we really can't be doing anything like going out for drinks with you while we're on the job. Also, not to be rude, but I asked you about how you knew the victim, not how intimate you were getting with him on a semi-regular basis in explicit detail." Terezi's pen scrawls across the page as she speaks. You're not sure if it's some kind of code or not, considering she writes entirely in Alternian, but it'd be incomprehensible even in English you're pretty sure, and not just because she's blind.

For your part, you're really not looking forward to when you have to go review your tape recordings with everyone else back at the station. You're tempted to edit them of the grisly details of Mindfang's exploits, but that's considered tampering the kind of tampering that could get you fired.

(Someone's bound to get a kick out of it. The thought actually makes you cringe, not the least of all because you considered it for maybe a half moment before she opened her mouth again.)

Mindfang sneers again, but sits up. "Fine, but only because you asked so nicely, and it'll bother my descendant if I tell you anything of use. We were ex-kismeses, yes, that's absolutely true, but more than that, my darlings, is how that came to be." You could almost imagine the lights dimming as she talks, for dramatic effect, but it's a brightly lit room and you've still got Terezi seated next to you.

"Well?" Terezi urges her on.

"Hm. No sense of dramatic timing." Mindfang blows a little hair out of her face and rests her chin on the palm of one hand. She looks away from the two of you, as if remembering something. "We met in, well, less than squeaky-clean circumstances. Back when he was still wreaking havoc on pirates, and I was still smuggling drugs out of China, and when both of us would do anything to get at a life better than we had."

"Uh-huh." You mutter. That would make her, what, about three, four hundred years old? You knew trolls lived a long time, but the idea doesn't sit right with you anyway. "Can you skip ahead a little?"

"Honey, if you're not going to appreciate a little storytelling, then you're not going to get anything out of me, are you?" She's got you there, and she knows it. She continues anyway, and you consider dipping out, but you stay seated. "So you can imagine we got in each others' way a lot. It felt like every time I was about to make my big break, finally get enough under me to start clean, he'd find some way to throw it back in my face. I did the same thing, wrecking his reputation every time I got the chance, and then the both of us realized it was... well, fun. Exhilarating. Exhausting. But we kept at it, even when it got to be too much. I have genuinely tried to kill him before, I'll give you that."

Terezi sniffs, loudly. Snorts, really; you don't know what it means, but the sound sends a horrified shudder down your spine. If Mindfang's spinning it like this, telling you this...

"I wanted to be the one who killed him." She leans back, steepling her fingers. "I wouldn't have sent some petty little assassin to do it. I would've wanted to see the life go out of his eyes, and then I'd follow right after him. I had it all planned out, and they took it from me."

She slams her hand down on the arm of her chair, loud enough that it sounds like a slap. She moves so fast you and Terezi actually stand up at the same time, reaching for weapons you didn't have, not anymore. Slowly, she smiles, and slowly, the two of you sit back down. Terezi readjusts her shades.

"You realize, of course, that we aren't inclined to believe you didn't kill him just because you told us you didn't do it so dramatically, right?" Terezi's lips make a thin, brittle line, like they were drawn on in ink. Her hand goes over the folder she'd brought with her. "I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt for now, but we'll be back to check in on you again after we go over your records. What else do you have for us?"

"Of course." Mindfang nods. "At any rate, I was getting to that part. I know some people that he might've gotten a little mixed up with, more recently, and more importantly, that knew him back when I was still harrying him on a boat." She runs her tongue along the points of her gleaming fangs, sharp enough that you expect them to draw blood "So here's the deal. I'll tell you who I think it is, and you at least try to confirm it. If it really was them, well, then I'll take care of the rest. You make your reports. You go home knowing you've cleaned up this town better than anyone in the past whole centuries since its founding has ever managed. And whatever happens next, I'll make sure it's out of your hands."

There's a silence that drops like the noise after a bomb. 

Then you speak up, your voice shaking a little, before Terezi can stop you.

"Know what? We'll fucking take it. You just tell us what you know."


Mindfang keeps her word and tells you about The Felt, and more importantly, about Doc Scratch and his Handmaid. But while this is useful information, you can tell that after you've excused yourself and been led outside of the mansion, it's going to be the least of your problems for a little while.

You aren't even really out of the premises yet before Terezi rounds on you, grabbing you by the front of the shirt and slamming your back against the car door.

"I can't believe you fucking agreed to that!" She shrieks in your face, thumping you against the window again. She snarls, her teeth on full display, her ears flattened back against her skull like a furious animal. "She's Marquise Spinneret Mindfang, Dave, or did you forget that during the briefing? Did you forget that I've dedicated the past couple decades of my career to bringing the Serkets to justice? Did you forget all of that?"

She lets go of you, and you slide down the side of the car, watching her pace and run her hands through her hair. She grips her horns as she growls, grimacing every so often when she looks at you, like she wants to yell some more but she's all out of words to yell, or at least words she can yell that you'll understand the gravity of. You stare after her as you rearrange your clothes, smoothing out your lapels and tucking your shades into your collar. You don't really want her to punch you in the face, but if she does- and you wouldn't be surprised if she did- you don't want her wrecking the shades.

She doesn't punch you, though, and you're not sure if that hurts more or not; she breaths deep and faces your direction with the most honestly betrayed expression you could possibly imagine, and you know that's entirely for your benefit because she doesn't have to look your way to tell where you are. You can't just sit here and be quiet, not with her facing you like that; you realize she expects you to explain.

"It's the best shot we have right now." You say, smoothing your lapels of now-nonexistent wrinkles. You can't look at her. "The Serkets might be bugfuck insane, or criminals all the way down, or whatever it is that you have a grudge against them for. But they aren't what we're after right now, and if she isn't the one who killed that Ampora guy, then we have no business dragging her name through the mud right now."

"She's done plenty of dragging her own name through the mud on her own, believe me." Terezi snaps. Her smile comes back, though, widening slowly, like a winding trap. "And what if she's sent us on a wild honkfiend chase? Or worse, to get ourselves killed in getting involved with a completely unrelated gang? She might just be trying to get rid of us, after all, and if we die in pursuit of the Felt, then she gets off the proverbial hook while someone's busy scraping our spongematter off the concrete, at least until someone less qualified tries to go after her."

You open your mouth to say something, but catch yourself. There's nothing you can say here that will fix this in the slightest, so you shake your head. She hisses, but calms down just enough to get herself to the other side of the car.

"Get in." She mutters. But before she slides into the passenger side to leave you alone in the backseat, she pauses. "We'll go over what we've got back at the station. Separately, because I need a clear head, and your bright, red human blood is very distracting right now."

Then she locks the door, and you sigh. Cool. Fine. You can work with this. You get yourself into the backseat while she tells the driver where to go, and you turn the recorder you'd brought with you over and over in your hands.


You have a cabbie drop you off at your usual, shady, lowblood-operated bar. Anything to get you away from the office. Who the hell are you kidding now, you ran from Terezi as soon as she left the room and you didn’t even try to say bye. You just need to be away from highbloods for the rest of the month.

After ordering your drink, you scan the dwindling bar patrons for someone familiar. When you spot them, you slide into the seat next to him. He scowls at you like you just pissed on his dog when you do. “You’re here way too late even for a wreck like you. What the fuck happened to you?”

You shrug, sipping your drink, “So are you. I got held up with work. My partner’s working me ragged for fucking up an interrogation.”

Not that you can really blame her. Karkat raises an eyebrow, glancing up at the crackly television sitting in the corner for a moment before looking back at you. He looks as tired as you feel, but he’s still got it in him to look judgmental. “Care to elaborate, or do I have to wait until you’re completely pickled and spilling the latest update in your life’s story onto the floor?”

You snort into your drink. “Not that you would be the type to understand, but right now I’m up to my neck in crazy broads; and I’m pretty sure one wants to chew on me, the other wants to shoot me, and the third is a cougar keen on tying me up.”

There’s maybe a second’s pause before he laughs in your face. “The only woman that would want you is Kankri’s milkbeast Beatrice, and I’m pretty sure I’ve told you she’s gone blind recently.”

Ouch, okay, a little more vicious than you need right now. You lean back in your seat and have another sip; at least the warmth of the alcohol can soothe your wounded pride. “Alright, fine, tell me why you’re here so late. Don’t you have little old ladies’ dogs to bark at tomorrow?”

“It might surprise you to learn I’m not a pinnacle of responsibility, and sometimes I actually like to relax.” With that, he downs the rest of his drink and waves down the bartender. “Not that hanging out here surrounded by con-artists, hookers, and other assorted lost souls is relaxing, but I can at least feel better about my circumstances around them.”

“Wish I could say the same.” You sigh. When he only acknowledges you with a grunt into his glass, you sigh a little louder. He rolls his eyes, but the tone he takes is a little more serious when he speaks up again.

“Do you want to talk about it or what?” He grumbles, nudging you with the cool glass in his hand. You run your hand through your hair and bury your face in your arm on the stained, linoleum countertop. This close you can practically count the cigarette burns in the plastic sheeting, and smell the spills seeped into the wood. 

"I don't even know." You answer, but you obviously do know, because then you keep going. "I think we got lucky, because we've at least got someplace to go with this investigation. That’s already more than I can say for a lot of the others we’ve been on. But I can’t help but feel like I’ve fucked up before we’d even started, you know; I saw the killer, and I saw her pull the trigger, even. I watched the fucking brains splatter across the carpet.

Karkat leans against the counter as you go on, barely even taking sips from his drink now. You wonder if he’s had enough already or he’s doing it as a courtesy to you, but you go on anyway after another gulp from your glass. It burns on the way down.

“I don’t know.” You say, staring into the slowly-melting ice like you might divine some meaning from them, some bullshit solution to your problems manifesting itself from the shitty, watered-down remains of your beer. “There are lives on the line. I like to talk about how I’m hot shit and nothing bothers me, but…”

Karkat cuts you off. “You’re entirely too drunk and tired for any kind of conversation if you’re spilling your guts to me like this.” He mutters, and checks the watch on his wrist. It looks new, which surprises you; he’s never been the type to spend on himself in your recent memory outside of penny dreadfuls and booze. “It’s practically tomorrow. I’ll call you another cab, we’ll call it a night.”

You smile. “Come on, I only just got here. You saying I can't hold a single pint? I'm not that far gone yet.” You say, and you gesture towards his wrist. “At least tell me what the occasion is. Are you just cranky because I forgot your hatch day or something?”

“You insensitive fuck. It's a death anniversary.” He snaps. You blink, and his grin shows too many teeth. “I got this watch to honor and celebrate the death of my old life. I moved out of the Signless Commune this time last sweep. Every tic is another extra second I’ve been out of there, and I’ve been drinking all night to celebrate that.”

He raises his glass to you and knocks the last dregs of his drink back, crushing the ice between his teeth and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Then, he fishes some crumpled bills out of his pocket and slides them across the counter to the bartender. There’s a little too much there for just him. He catches your look.

“I’m also paying for you, because you’re pathetic. Now come on, I’m sending you home.”

“Fine, fine.” You wave him off, but you stand, and you’re so, so tired; you’re so fucking tired that even without the buzz of alcohol, you’re wobbling on your feet. He catches you and drags your sorry ass outside into the unforgiving night.

He hails you another cab and you get your ass into the back seat. Before you forget, you roll down the window and make a grab for him; you miss, but it’s nice of him to turn around when he hears you thump the car door. 

“I’ll be earlier tomorrow night.” You say, and he grunts in response before the cab drives off, towards your apartment. 

You watch him slowly disappear into the distant dark, standing outside the warm glow of the bar’s window, and then you get back to thinking about your bed, and how you’d better get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow, you know Terezi is going to make you break that promise.

Chapter Text

Tomorrow comes a lot faster and a lot more violently than it should, to the sound of a door slamming open and Terezi Pyrope shrieking furiously, triumphantly, into your apartment.

"We have a lead!" Your head feels like it's going to split like an overripe peach as her buzzsaw voice grinds through your skull. You hear a thump and a swear as she trips over your pants and right into the door frame out in the livingroom. Much to your chagrin, you hear her scuttle towards the door and the knob shakes in its socket anyway. "Wake up, Dave! We have the best lead and justice waits for no man, troll, or hangover!"

"Goddamn it is ass o'clock, please get an indoor voice." You attempt to drag yourself out of the sheets and instead feel a sudden, horrifying chill as she yanks your blanket off your prone body.

"Fuck!" Immediately your system is flooded with enough adrenaline to have you jumping roughly three feet sideways and reaching for a sword before you remember that this isn't Texas and also, you left your swords in Texas, and have your dick out in front of your partner. You're still groggy, but not groggy enough that you aren't immediately ashamed when she cackles right at you. You grab your pillow off the floor and try to save a little face and modesty. She snorts.

"Jesus, woman, this is exactly the reason why I've sworn off dating lady trolls." You mutter, still holding a pillow in front of your privates while you grope around the bedstand for your shades. The world is a lot less unforgiving on the eyes when you put them on, at least, though you probably can't say the same for your lily-white ass, which Terezi is going to just have to deal with looking at while you hunt around for your clothes. "How in the damned Hell did you get in my apartment without a key, anyway? This couldn't have waited until I actually got to the station? And how the fuck did you get a lead so quickly?"

The sun has a personal vendetta against you, you're pretty sure, because it shouldn't be this bright at any time of the year, ever, and you're so out of it your accent is slipping all over the place. You give up looking for your clothes and instead thump your head against the papery surface of the wall that's only marginally cooler than your morning breath, while praying that this is some kind of heinous hallucination brought on by dehydration or heatstroke or something.

"I got in because you don't know how to hide your keys, and also because I broke one of the locks, but that doesn't matter because you need to put some clothes on and come with me." No such luck. The air still feels like soup on your skin and Terezi's cackle still feels like steel wool to the ear canal, with about as much mercy on the inside of your skull. You have to pick through every word individually before it clicks together and then you just want to pass out again.

She snaps her fingers next to your head and it rings through your cranium, forcing you awake. "This wouldn't have to be at ass o'clock in the morning if you'd helped me organize files and make phone calls last night."

There's vindictive, fiendish glee in her voice as she jabs you in the chest with a claw. You regret everything you've ever done, or at least everything you've ever downed in that bar with Karkat, as she finally turns around and clasps her arms behind her. "I'll give you two minutes and my back turned for modesty to get presentable, but only because then we're headed to the residence of one Doctor Nicholas Scratch."

Dr. Nicholas Scratch. Doc Scratch, like Mindfang had told you. You stifle a yawn, trying not to look unprofessional, but you don't think there's much hope of that when you're still pulling your underwear on anyway. You sigh, readjusting your shades. "Is there at least a chance of us getting breakfast on the way?"

"There's a thermos in the car. I didn't check what was in it or who it belongs to, but it made liquidy noises when I shook it."



As it turns out, the thermos was filled with Alternian-style chicken soup. You don't actually know if it's real chicken, but it's spicy enough to make your eyes water when you have a couple sips, and the thermos makes sure that it metaphorically and literally burns on the way down.

"Jesus fucking Christ." You mutter, coughing into your fist before you try to cap the thermos one-handed. You've said it so much this morning that you might have to consider joining a church group. Your nose is watering, you're pretty sure. "This shit is potentially caustic."

"Don't be such a baby, you've had it before." Terezi snorts, sniffing loudly in your direction. She's poised much like she was on the way to the Serket manor, but without the grim edge of vengeance underlining it all. It feels almost forced, as if she's still looking for a way to pin it on Mindfang or Vriska, or whoever else is unlucky enough to share a sign and a bloodline between them.

You wheeze as you try and get the last of the burning to subside with some water. It feels like all that's doing is giving you more sweat, snot, and tears to secrete from your anguished face, of course, but you're trying anyway.

Dr. Scratch lives downtown, in an old-timey green building on a row of old-timey buildings that make you think of Bourbon Street down in New Orleans. The whole setup is considerably tackier, though, either which says something about either Dr. Scratch's taste in living arrangements or the architects trying to rip off Bourbon Street.

You can imagine it's garish and neon and crawling with cheap Splenda-gentleman sorts in the muggy evenings. In the daylight, though, it's mostly coffee shops and antique stores setting up, with nary a tired hooker in sight. If you were more prone to having free time, you might take a stroll here and see if you can find anything good; this looks like the kind of place that'd have some killer cinnamon rolls hidden in a secretive corner cafe.

But you're here on business, and so you stop the car and pocket the keys, and step out onto the slick stone steps. You've got a fist raised to the door when it swings open on its own.

"Uh." You look to Terezi, but she looks as confused as you do until you hear a small ahem-hem from somewhere around the height of your middle. You look down.

"Hello, hello, doc's been waiting all morning, right this way! Lady, gentleman, scrape your shoes on the doormat please; green felt isn't a great fabric for getting mud and grit out of, let me tell you! Might be able to see everything but the doc doesn't much have an eye for fine decoration, if I do say so myself." You're almost certain you're looking at a child, except for the car-dealer goatee and the matching voice.

His eyes twinkle as he doffs his bright yellow hat at you, the only thing he's wearing that isn't the same shade of eye-straining green as the rest of the interior. You get the distinct feeling that if you look away for a second, this weirdo is going to disappear, but you and Terezi follow him inside all the same. What else can you do? If the doc's been expecting you, and that should be downright impossible for how little time has passed, it's not like you can just turn around and leave without investigating him and whatever bullfuckery he might have going down.

You blink at your surroundings once the door closes behind you when you see nothing but green. The walls are green, the floor is green, the curtains are green, the glass windows are stained green, and the whole place is looking a lot bigger than it has any right to from the building you saw outside.

There has to be some kind of trick to it, like maybe it's built into the building behind it, or the ones around it, or all this green is getting to you. It's cluttered with furniture and texture, patterned drapery and embossed pottery, embroidered tapestries, elaborate rugs, even wooden clocks ticking all over the walls and a massive grandfather clock dominating the room you're standing in, all the same shade of green. Even the lighting is green, coming from a glass chandelier overhead the exact color of a bottle of absinthe.

Where the Hell did they even get most of this stuff, and why the fuck? This is some Emerald City shit. You don't even want to look at salad or pond scum or grass after this.

"Just wait right here and make yourself comfortable, monsieur, mademoiselle, I'll be right back with the good doctor in no time!" With a click of his heels- really, who does that- the little man who greeted you is gone around a corner.

You lean in to murmur in Terezi's ear, hopefully out of earshot from- who was he, a butler? You're going to say butler.

"Is this guy one of the phonecalls you made without me? You didn't tell me where this lead came from, and I'm a little wary about it, especially if Scratch knew we were coming in the first place." Your headache is threatening to topple you over you need all the help you can get. You lean against a table by the wall and pick up a jade figurine of some kind, heavy in your hands. It looks like a snake, but with the face of a particularly ugly, scraggly dog; even has a ball in its mouth. "How do you know we can trust that lead? Or if Doc Scratch will even tell us anything we need to know. I don't think he's going to admit to murder right off the bat."

"You don't say." She sniffs, and then sniffs again, and then sniffs one more time for good measure before growling and whipping her cane out to its full length, tapping the ground in front of her with it as she takes small, halting steps. It's kind of painful to watch her like this; normally she can navigate better than you can, especially in the dark, and you're reminded that her color-tasting "sight" still has its limits in places like this. "Ugh. Nothing but sour apple and watermelon rinds. This is a terrible place to wait. But, to answer your questions; I spoke with one of the doctor's regular patients over the phone and they told me that the doctor was in during the time of the murder."

"I'm sensing a but here." You put the figurine down and rub your temples. "Fuck. I hope Mindfang's right about something here. But seriously, what's the catch here? You wouldn't bring us here if you didn't think what Mindfang said held any water."

"That's just it: The doctor was in. But we're not after the doctor himself." She grins. "You said you saw the killer. Well, his assistant matches your description nicely- about five foot four, slender but muscular, curly hair, wears heavy makeup. Her name is Damara Megido, so we at least won't have to worry about asking after her. I haven't seen her myself, and you didn't mention her horns, but I have a pretty good feeling about this."

"Huh. I wouldn't say a good feeling." You mutter. But you wouldn't really have to say much, would you? You feel a little like an idiot for not telling Terezi what her horns looked like- what horns you sort of remember- but whatever. Just pick her out of a lineup. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.

That turn of phrase would probably sound a lot less horrible to you if all this green wasn't oversaturating your eyeballs right now.

At any rate, you don't have to critique the decor much longer. The butler comes back with the good doctor and Terezi rises to her feet, tapping her way over to him with a few well-placed huffs, like he's a beacon to her. Which he probably is: Besides the acidic green of his button-up, everything about him- including his hair, his shoes, and even his face- is papery pale, practically translucent. His white suit is immaculate.

Moreso his teeth, which hardly even reflect the green light around the rest of you as he smiles, and the effect is overall probably more unsettling than welcoming. "Dr. Nicholas Scratch, at your service, detectives. What can I do for you?"

"We're here on official business, regarding your assistant Damara Megido." You say. You frown as Scratch eases himself into a chair and tries to look thoughtful, feeling an itch in the back of your head that has nothing to do with the decor, more like being watched. "Do you know where she was two nights ago, at approximately eight P-M?"

A smile plays across his thin, bloodless lips. "She was with me, taking her English lessons. She's doing quite well, actually; just about conversational, though she's still prone to lapsing into East Alternian out of frustration when she can't find the words she needs."

Something about that makes your skin crawl. The way he speaks about her- the way he looks past you- it shouldn't bother you or even matter. But you can't focus.

"Fascinating I'm sure, but not what we're after." Terezi grins sharply, feeling her way around the couch again so she can sit in front of Scratch while you kind of just loom behind her like a weirdo. "Has she had any kind of contact or relation with the Amporas? A friend of a friend perhaps?"

He hums, and shrugs. Eyes gleaming with something you can't place, he rubs his chin but his eyes focus on you despite Terezi doing the talking.  "Not that I can think of. She's never been the sociable sort, really; she stays here with myself for the most part, and keeps herself very close to her work."

You find yourself leaning in a little over the back of the couch. "And the man who met us at the door?"

"Mister Clover." He says, pauses, then adds. "An associate of mine. A friend, rather."

"Does he have anything to do with her?"

"Oh he's doing me the favor of helping Damara learn English." Another pause wherein he makes a face, somewhere between amused and annoyed. "I suspect he's also teaching her to cuss in French, but that's neither here nor there."

This is getting nowhere and even Terezi knows it. She's growling, very softly, and tapping her claws against her cane.

You cough into your fist. "Being that Mister. Uh. Clover, was the one who met us at the door, I assume Miss Megido is here, too?"

"Of course." He smiles this time, and his eyes focus on you at last. You gulp while Terezi stops tapping her cane and gives it a little twist, the gleam of the blade edge facing her as it unlocks, though she doesn't draw it yet.

You look up to Scratch. "Is she too busy to meet us?"

"Rather not. Damara, if you please? It's rude to skulk around when we have guests."

Wait, what? You turn your head in the general direction of where Scratch was looking, and you don't know how you didn't notice her. Or maybe you do, the beetle green of her dress matching the walls entirely too closely as she steps into the light proper. You have to squint a little, but immediately, you notice a few things.

Red lips and red nails, for one, and eyes the color of old blood.

That's about where the details stop being helpful, though, because she is entirely the wrong lady in every other sense.