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Like One Sundered Star

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By the time Karkat makes it to lunch, he's so thoroughly confused that he just agrees mindlessly when the source of his confusion asks if they can eat lunch together.

John Egbert isn't just in Karkat's biology and physics classes. Oh no. Karkat has weaseled out of him that, out of an entire seven period day, they somehow have five of the same classes. And the same lunch. And their lockers are in the same hallway, so Karkat can't escape even between classes.

If Egbert were a troll, at least Karkat would be able to say with some bewildered certainty that he's being hit on. Bewildered, because like hell would anyone court Karkat seriously. Ever. Like, this much unadulterated flirtation from a troll would be fucking embarrassing and any troll with a shred of pride left would at least make an attempt at not seeming so painfully desperate.

Egbert isn't a troll though, and so Karkat is faced with the key quandary that has plagued human/troll relations since the two species first met - how to interpret the difference between flagrantly pale come ons, and regular old human friendship offerings. If nothing else, Karkat's secret stash of embarrassing romantic comedies have taught him that the line between pale romance and the human disease called friendship is a line both subtle and variable, which can lead to embarrassing (yet comedic) shenanigans for all parties involved.

All things considered, it would probably be for the best if Karkat heads off any potential palemance or friendship off before the situation mutates into a giant tangled knot of inane antics and concentrated stupidity.

There's a major problem with that, though.

The problem is that when Karkat emerges from the serving line, a tray of questionable food in hand, he looks up to glare at John Egbert and gets a faceful of the most pitiful fucking puppy dog eyes ever worn by mankind. When Karkat then sighs and glowers and starts stomping toward Egbert, the kid's entire face lights up and he practically starts bouncing on his heels, grinning.

This is not normal behavior. Normal people don't smile and laugh when faced with Karkat's standard bitchy expressions. The entire reason he doesn't bother hiding his rage hardon behind a civil mask every day is so that people don't get too close to him, don't get curious about him or his eyes or his blood or any number of things that it would just be better for the entire goddamn planet if no one ever got wind of. Sure, Karkat has one persistently obnoxious pesterchum, but she's persistently obnoxious with everyone, not just him, and he'll most likely never meet her in person again, so he's pretty much in the clear.

Egbert, however, finds Karkat's best, most practiced rage masks entertaining. And when he laughs, Karkat doesn't get more irritated at what should feel like mockery. Quite the opposite in fact.

Which is a really, really ominous sign. Like wow, current Karkat, you need to stop being pacified by this nookchafing asshole right the fuck now. You've known this totally annoying dumbass for a grand total of five hours, get a fucking grip. He's some random guy who gets some perverse amusement out of being yelled at, that's all.

Karkat launches into a very nice rant even before he's finished walking up to Egbert, keeping his face in a nice neutral frown as his shoulders tense up. "Well? I can only assume you have a miniature horde of fellow buddychums waiting within this sea of uncivilized asshats ready to continue your work at trying to latch onto me like a parasite on an unsuspecting herdbeast. I'm warning you right the fuck now, it's not going to work. I'm only putting up with you because your looks of pathetic disappointment resemble a small animal after it's been caught stealing cookies from the pantry. If you think I'm going to be this disgustingly charming to every random wriggler you throw at me, you can think a-fucking-gain." He glances around the cafeteria suspiciously; he hadn't noticed Egbert plotting with anyone while he'd been in line for food, but it could have happened when he turned to grab the carton of milk from the freezer.

When he looks back at Egbert, irritated by the lack of immediate response, Egbert is fiddling with the strap of his backpack, and his grin has lost its lopsided earnestness, tightening into a perfectly constructed, apologetic grimace that can only nominally be called a smile. He's looking at something over Karkat's shoulder rather than at Karkat himself when he answers. "Oh, uh, no. No, I wouldn't just throw you to the wolves, Karkat! Ahahaha! I thought we could eat outside, since the weather is really nice today!"

Okay, wow. He's only spent half a day around this kid, and Karkat can tell something is up. It's like all that goofy sincerity got sucked out of Egbert, which yeah, Karkat has been trying to provoke the kid into revealing his ulterior motives all day long, but he didn't actually think he'd get a response like this? Egbert almost looks like he's in pain and trying to hide it. He's a horrible actor, of course.

"Fine. Lead on, Egbert," Karkat says at last, rolling his eyes at the exit doors of the cafeteria. At his old school in the middle of the city they hadn't been allowed outside during lunch, but that's apparently not a thing here - or at least, no one yells or moves to stop Egbert from pushing open the exit door and holding it open by leaning against it, some of the goofy tilt returning to his grin as he looks back at Karkat.

Like hell is Karkat going through that door then. For all he knows, it could be a trap, this whole morning an elaborate setup for some stupid prank by Egbert that involves dumping a bucket of water on his head or something. Karkat just has that kind of shitty relationship with the cosmic distributer of good luck. He shoulders open the other door, glaring at Egbert before he can protest, and walks out onto the grass, chomping on an apple in a satisfactory burst of irritated victory. Sure, choosing to open another door in a moment of all-consuming paranoia is a little fucking weird, but hey. As far as Karkat Vantas is concerned, he just gave a massive pair of middle fingers to the prankster’s gambit of the universe, and it's totally worth it.

Egbert matches his stride anyway, his slowly growing smile and the lack of disappointment over a failed prank probably a major hint that Karkat had indeed imagined that whole paranoid prank saga without any basis in reality. The kid is almost whistling as he strides to a tree wedged up on a hill, and there's an actual fucking bounce in his step. Karkat seriously has to find out what happy drugs they have this kid on, because they're clearly top quality and super effective.

A passing breeze runs through the tree branches, ruffling Karkat's hair as he slumps down against the side of the tree. He combs at it absently, then uses the same hand to adjust the apple in his mouth and take another bite. Then he looks up and realizes Egbert is still standing.

Which is really creepy. He raises an eyebrow and is about to say so (in much more elegant, vitriolic terms, naturally) when Egbert catches himself with a visible start and sits down, legs sprawled out in front of him as he pulls a brown bag lunch and a Tupperware container out of his backpack.

Egbert fidgets with his food, turning his brown bag to face the other direction for some bizarre reason before opening it up, while Karkat processes two major things:

One, they are alone out here. Yeah, it's a nice day, and the weather is fucking perfect, but no one else has decided to take the opportunity to claim part of the yard for themselves. Egbert has staked his claim on this spot under the tree, but the rest of the schoolyard is like a goddamn ghost town. All the social interaction is going on inside, which Karkat is totally okay with, except -

Two, yes, judging by Egbert's reaction to Karkat's quip about friendmobs earlier, and by the fact that the kid has literally chosen the most isolated spot on campus for this little friendship and feeding ritual, Egbert-

"There actually isn't a friendhorde, is there, Egbert?"

Egbert takes a massive bite out of his sandwich and blinks at Karkat innocently as he tries to talk around it. It's as disgusting a display as it sounds. "No! I told you, Karkat!" He swallows loudly, and Karkat is left to marvel at how one mere mortal can fit that much food in his mouth without choking as Egbert takes another impossible bite.

"So, for whatever reason, despite your looks, your hypothetical but as yet unproven swimming talent, and stupidly happy personality, you’re a social pariah who spends most of his free time socializing with a tree." Karkat feels that this is something that needs to be firmly established before he can move on with the conversation.

John stops chewing, and there's an almost painful pause before he swallows and looks down, smiling weirdly at the sandwich in his hands instead of Karkat. "Ahaha. Yeah, I guess?" Egbert rubs the back of his head, making his cowlicks worse as he closes his eyes and grins at Karkat, the smile once again dangerously balanced and symmetrical.

And Karkat realizes, with a sick twist in his stomach, that he could break Egbert. He could break him so, so easily, right here and now. It's so obvious.

All he has to do is ask why.

And -

He can't do that. He can't.

"I’m glad we covered that," he says instead, letting the apple drop onto his tray.

Egbert recovers in the space of seconds; it's a remarkable process to behold, as his smile creaks back out of line and he crosses his legs, leaning toward Karkat as he starts talking again. "Anyway, enough about me, Karkat! You keep ignoring me in class! Come on, I'm really curious - why did you move here?"

Karkat doesn't swallow back his reply and try to mitigate his usual abrasiveness. If he's going through with this friendship ritual, he thinks, he can't start pulling punches with Egbert. Just because the kid has some fucking issue where the subject of other friends are concerned doesn't mean Karkat is going to treat him like he's made of glass. "None of your business, you panshattered friend of trees. My lusus just decided to freak the fuck out and get us evicted from our apartment over something stupid."

Egbert just leans in further, eyes going big behind his thick-framed glasses with naïve curiosity. "Whaaaat? There has to be more to it than that!"

Karkat keeps eating on autopilot as Egbert bothers him until he tells the kid the story of the bank robbery incident in bits and pieces, rolling his eyes at Egbert's bright-eyed worry.

He doesn't know how or why Egbert has somehow ended alone. It's not his fucking business, and unlike Egbert, he's not going to go prying into someone's personal life. Especially not when it's clear that even barely mentioning the topic sets Egbert off like that.

But hell, if it isn't pathetic as fuck.

Karkat spends the rest of lunch fighting an internal battle with the sneaky tentacles of impotent pity trying to wriggle their way into his friendship ritual.

God fucking dammit.


He drives home and stops there only long enough to confirm that yes, Crabdad has somehow managed to transform their new kitchen into a warzone of tattered boxes and overturned chairs. The thermal hull appears to be upside down, and for reasons unknown an entire crate of untouched tomato soup cans has been lodged in front of the window, so that the only light in the entire kitchen is that which streams between the cupboards and the crate, and through the open front door when Karkat walks in.

It would be almost hilarious if it wasn't so panmeltingly frustrating because Karkat has to clean this up. As far as Crabdad is concerned, it has done its job and it has enjoyed a rapturous success. The giant crab has taken up residence atop a nest of shredded cardboard in the corner, lording its lazy ass over a court of futile destruction and broken dreams. It even has the gall to skree in triumph when Karkat stares slack-jawed at the new levels of failure to which his lusus has sunk.

No doubt it expects a reward for this.

After a long day of pale confusion, Karkat doesn't have it in him to even argue. He strips the plastic wrapping off the iced roe he picked up from the store, mouth tight. His lusus lurches to attention, eyes fixed on Karkat as it clicks its claws. Feeling old beyond his years, Karkat wearily shakes the tray of roe as he kicks off his shoes and leads Crabdad through the house, clicking every so often whenever the lusus gets impatient and tries to snatch at the tray. Karkat yanks open the back door and flings the entire tray as far as he can. Tiny cubes of iced roe glint in the sun before landing a long line across the backyard.

With a war screech, Crabdad flings itself after them. It's fucking embarrassing, is what it is. Shaking his head, Karkat closes the door. He can't lock it or Crabdad will just freak the fuck out until Karkat lets it in. But hopefully the unwarranted dessert before dinner will keep the incompetent little shit occupied until Karkat has somehow restored the house to livable levels of cleanliness. Fortunately, he'd planned for this kind of unmitigated disaster, because Crabdad is getting fucking predictable in his old age.

Thankfully, the kitchen seems to have received the brunt of Crabdad's 'helpful' rampage, and the lusus didn't have time to upset Karkat's room. Tipping over a still-intact box in the entry way, Karkat starts sweeping everything on the floor back into the box. When the box is full, he takes it out front and dumps the contents into the already crammed trash can, and then heads back inside to repeat the process.

Soon he can actually walk on floor instead of a layer of ragged packing paper and cardboard strips, and he is in the middle of setting the fridge the right way up when the doorbell rings. Out in the backyard, Crabdad skrees once before scrabbling at the door, frantic to get back inside. Swearing under his breath - which for Karkat implied a level of volume most people used for shouting at the top of their lungs - Karkat slams the broom into the corner and stomps his way to the door. Much to his disappointment, when he swings the door open, his mouth ready to unleash the full force of his wrath upon the unsuspecting asshole beyond, he only catches the tail end of the UPS truck as it zooms down the street, its headlights flashing a merry 'fuck you' in Karkat's general direction.

He forgives the UPS asshole a moment later when he looks down and sees the package sitting on the corner of the front porch. "Yessss," he hisses, snatching up the parcel. He throws a suspicious look from side to side, and glowers at the world as he hunches over his prize and closes the door. Cleaning up the rest of the mess can wait until tomorrow - Crabdad is only going to fuck more shit up in the morning when Karkat leaves for school - and he feels only a small stab of regret as he goes to let the lusus in, the package occupying most of his attention.

He's so preoccupied that he makes it halfway up the stairs before he realizes that it's not just the sound of his footsteps on the stairwell. Freezing, Karkat rotates his head to stare at his lusus, which has decided to follow him up the stairs. It stares right back with big eyes, letting loose a short, trilling shriek as it clacks out a question with its claws.

"No. Absolutely not. Go back downstairs," Karkat orders, glaring. He runs the rest of the way up the stairs and darts into his room.

An enormous, meaty white claw catches the door before he can close it. Crabdad screeches and waves its other claw in a wide circle, nearly knocking a lamp over in the process.

Karkat kicks at the claw on his door, rapidly losing his shit. "Oh my god. No. I do not have time for this. Go the fuck to sleep. God dammit, what the hell have I been feeding you?!"

His kicks are having little to no effect on the lusus, who seems to think Karkat kicking at him is a hilarious game, clicking its claws playfully in return swipes. No, fuck no, this is not turning into some wriggler game of pseudo-strife with his custodian, not when said custodian is apparently of such unfathomable girth that its fat is serving as some kind of unnatural shield against damage. Karkat refuses to believe the crab's exoskeleton is this durable. No fucking way. Crabdad screeches with new volume, grating against Karkat's eardrums, and yeah, that's the last straw.

"No! Nononooo!" Karkat screeches back, his voice hitting a shrill note he'd thought he lost the ability to make back around his second pupation. "Sleep! It's time to sleep! In your own fucking nest! Yes! Sleep!"

Crabdad warbles out another high note and tugs at the fabric of Karkat's shirt. Karkat gives the lusus a swat with the empty delivery box and drives the custodian back until he can close the door on its continued shrieks. Eventually the sound of pincers scrabbling on the door dies away and the lusus clicks away down the hall, no doubt intending to gorge itself on whatever food Karkat has failed to nail down to the cupboards. Fatass lusus.

Crabdad is definitely overdue for a new grub assignment: its custodian instincts seem more overbearing than ever in the new house. Karkat is more than ready for some peace and fucking quiet in his life.

Now then. He rips open the package with his claws, and closes the blinds in a fit of paranoia before laying out the fabrics on his desk.

Seeing the dull crimson of the smaller roll of fabric brings home that this is actually happening. He actually ordered this stuff, he paid money for it, and now it's been delivered to his house and it’s all sitting on his bed, having the audacity to look like totally innocuous heaps of fabric.

Which means he can't put this off anymore. He made a resolution last week, before he'd been distracted by this sudden, inconvenient relocation to the 'burbs, and now - the nervous anticipation roiling in his stomach reads more like eagerness than terror.

He's actually doing this.

Looking down at the rolls of neoprene and other materials, Karkat decides to deal with that later, the nervy anticipation in his stomach riling him up for something else he needs to deal with, something more important than his costume. His plan is still in the beginning stages, and he's not even sure the half-pictured outfit in his mind’s eye will look anything like the finished product. He just wants to order material now, and at intervals, so that no one searching records for a large order of durable, hero-typical fabric will notice him purchasing a shitton of black, grey, and crimson. It would kind of be a dead giveaway.

No, what he really needs to do is to start practicing. Right the fuck now, before Future Karkat does something idiotic like changing his mind. He knows enough martial arts to defend himself, and he already has plans to take more classes so he can reach his maximum potential as a fighter. But there's one aspect to his plans that no one can help teach him, that no one can ever even know about until he has a mask between his face and their eyes.

He has to figure out his powers. Again.

He only has vague memories of his childhood, when he'd been a lot more lax about keeping his mutations secret - past Karkat being, as usual, the embodiment of sublime idiocy, the standard by which all other examples of stupidity are measured and found wanting. But he knows it's been a good thirteen or so years since he began suppressing his talents in earnest and covering himself in so many layers of baggy fabric that even when he does get injured, the unfortunate color of his blood can be easily concealed.

So he doesn't know if he still has that same control he had as a kid. But he knows what he chose to specialize in for his strife specibi, and he's fairly certain he can use his abilities to create a weapon that can never be left lying around where someone could find it and trace it back to him, as they could with the regular sickles he keeps for practice in his closet.

He sits down on his bed, rethinks it, and then goes to the ablutions block, pacing back and forth before sitting on the counter top. He's got a kitchen knife in case he needs it, but he doesn't think he needs to get too crazy here.

Hopefully. If his powers even still work at all. Maybe his long standing wish came true, and his freaky mutant powers have vanished, right when he needs them the most. That would be a pretty fucking typical comic plotline, and probably just the kind of luck Karkat has every day of his cursed fucking life. He's already been putting this test off for a full week, his ingrained wariness about seeing even a drop of his own blood driving him to make up stupid excuses to avoid doing this.

Fuck it. No more running. Only half believing this stupid stunt is going to work, Karkat pressed a claw into the pale grey patch of skin at the base of his wrist, just above the artery that runs a dusky maroon line down the inside of his arm. The maroon is, of course, misleading; the blood that wells up slightly around the yellow of his claw is a bright, searing candy red, and Karkat only realizes he's starting to hyperventilate and flail around reaching for a towel when he has already lunged for the towel hanging on the wall, clutching his wrist in a death grip.

Sucking in breaths, Karkat forces himself to look away from the trickle of red running in a line down his palm, staring at the ceiling as he backs away from the towel. Shit shit shit, this is such a stupid idea; he can't even handle the sight of his own blood, so how does he expect to use it as a fucking weapon?

Okay, no. Fuck no, he's not wriggling out of this one, not now. "Motherfucking fuck pissmaggot-eating cowardly sack of shit," he chants to himself, baring his teeth in a silent snarl as he forces himself to look down at the cut on his wrist.

As though all it needed was his attention, the blood stops trailing down his palm, and slowly, as he gnaws on his lips and pictures what he wants, it begins to reverse direction. Little globules of bright red trundle back up, a few drops even rising from the ground when he thinks to extend his focus to them.

He sinks into his veins, his awareness of the thrumming pulse of his own heartbeat overlaying the sound of his harsh breathing. Pressing in, he guides himself to his wrist, and the artery he tapped into. Instead of letting the blood pool back into his body and congeal with a scabless, unmarred surface, the way it wants to, he fights the healing instinct and directs more blood outward.

The blood emerges still wet and pulsing, his head spinning and dizzy as he leans heavily back against the countertop. The sheer amount of red is getting to him again, well-trained reflexes urging him to pull it back in because what if someone walks in right now.

Karkat grits his teeth, forgetting that his lip is still in-between his front incisors, and blood starts to trickle down his chin as he envisions the shape he wants.

A sickle. Give me a sickle, give me something to fight with. Do this. Do this because I will it.

The blood forms a shaking curve, and he hardens it with a deft thought, letting out the breath he's been holding when the thought actually works. The blood sickle is rough and unbalanced, the point is duller than a pencil eraser, and it sticks out of his wrist at the worst possible angle.

But hey. He fucking did it. Angling it this way and that, Karkat stands upright, and catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

It’s a good thing he does. From the corner of his eye, he can see the bright candy red luminescence burning around the edges of his rust-colored contact lenses. Forgetting the sickle, he nearly stabs himself in the throat as both hands jump up to touch his eyes in horror. He swears loudly and uses one hand to remove both lenses, laying them out on the countertop.

Both lenses are limned with bright red blood, and he leans forward to inspect his eyes themselves. A shiver of old revulsion runs down to his toes at the unnatural red of his uncovered eyes. They don't seem to be hurt when he prods at them with a claw, and when he taps into his blood sense again, he can't detect any injury. There's nothing that his body registers as needing to be healed; apparently, leaking blood from his eyes is considered a completely fucking normal process.

Wow. What is the point total now? Universe, three million and fifty two, Karkat zero? Yes. It is official. He has been fucked over by the universe yet again. Now, suddenly, he can't even hide his eyes if he goes through with this stupid plan. It has been hard enough deciding to use his obviously mutant blood to its full potential, but now -

Well. Maybe it says something about just how invested Karkat is in this insane plan that no, not even the thought of running around with his eyes uncovered is enough to scare him off.

He studies his eyes for a long moment in the mirror, blinking several time as he adjusts to the unnatural sensation of having his eyes free of contact lenses. He brings the blood sickle up, and closes his eyes against the freaky reflection in the mirror.

He opens them again with a grimace, and begins the tedious process of transforming the dull sickle from a useless piece of shit to an actually useful weapon.

And in the back of his mind, he starts thinking of names.

Something to do with blood, he thinks, a crooked smile breaking across his face.


Rose finishes cleaning up a hostage situation on 48th Street with an unintentional bang.

It is one of the few situations she cannot predict the specifics of, due to the unpredictable nature of the crime. When she is near blinded by the flare of sunlight that directs her to the bank, she only knows the situation is serious, and has the potential to escalate quickly beyond her ability to control it. Rather than teleporting directly in, she summons a palmful of swirling orange stunning spells and appears across the street from the miniature sun pulsing around the bank.

She can see from the dim glow around a troll sitting behind the wheel of a black van that he is somehow related to the criminal activity, and she strides up to him to knock on the driver's side window. He rolls it down, fangs already bared in a snarl, and she gently pats him on the cheek, letting the stunner do its work. He slumps over, and she reaches inside to unlock the car door. She opens it and removes the gun from his lap.

It is a very unsafe place for him to have kept it; she is only doing him a favor by setting it down where the police can find it under the van.

Then she turns and stiffens when she realizes just how bad the situation within the bank already is. With an impatient jerk of her hand she turns off the early crime detection logo-thaumic vision (magical copyright pending) and the blinding brilliance of the robbery in process dims until all she sees is an ordinary bank, and she can observe the scene through the large glass windows that line the front of the building.

Several figures in masks walk between the huddled forms of civilians who are crouched or lying on the floor with their hands over their heads. Seer magnifies her vision by splaying her fingers across one eye and letting magic run through her hand. Judging by the shape of the specibi carried by each robber, these are professionals; they have specialized in assault rifles and the like, and she can predict with a good amount of certainty that these are merely the guards; they aren't demanding anything of the bank tellers behind the bullet-proof windows at the counter, merely keeping their weapons trained on key members of the crowd - the security guards, all of whom have been disarmed and lined up against a wall. This is not a good sign: it reads like a potential firing squad.

The best course of action is to knock as many out at once as possible, and disarm the rest. The priority is the firing squad goons; the men in the back stealing the actual money can wait until she has the security guards clear. Her method of approach must be immediate, and she will position herself within the security guards' bullet proof office, which will provide her with cover from stray gunfire.

Calmly, Seer sits cross legged on the sidewalk, blocking out the increased crowd volume and the sound of sirens as more people become aware of the hostage situation within the bank. Breathing in and out in a steady rhythm, Seer begins preparing the spells she will need: six stunners for immediate use, fast acting corroders for guns whose wielders she can't stun in time, and a mass shield spell for deployment over the people on the ground. With these three spell types carefully envisioned in her mind's eye, Seer rises and slides her wand into its holster. The wand is specialize for focused blasts of power; for this job, she'll need to spread her attention too much for it to be of assistance.

She breathes in one final time, and closes her eyes.

She opens them within the security guard's office. She stuns the masked troll standing beside the kicked in door with a tap on the side of his head, and then kneels to touch the floor, casting a dome of light with a height of three feet over the floor of the lobby. It is intangible to anything but bullets, a special design of her own creation, and protects most of the people on the floor. "Will the civilians please convey themselves to the doors and abscond in an orderly fashion?" she orders sweetly, smiling when all the robbers turn to gape at her.

Before they can recover she fires mobile stunners at the four criminals covering the security guards, dropping them. She hears the glass door of the bank open, and the sirens outside become near deafening in volume while people crawl out on their hands and knees. She gestures to the security guards silently, and all but one take up their strife specibi from the counter on which the robbers had stored them and begin to provide cover for the absconding civilians. The last one ducks past her with a grateful nod and answers a radio in the guard booth, responding to inquiries from the police outside.

However, in the time it took her to ensure the guards' safety, the sixth robber takes advantage of her priority on saving lives to run through the door into the back of the bank. She surveys the lobby one last time, assuring herself all potential threats here have been neutralized, and raises a small shield that only covers her body before teleporting into the back hallway.

She realizes her mistake when she opens her eyes to see a man holding a gun to the chin of a bank clerk. "Don't move, Seer!"

Seer freezes, mind moving rapidly to reassess the situation.

What she comes up with is...disturbing.

Because of course there are more bank tellers and workers at risk back here, trying to hide. Of course the second team of robbers would similarly take hostages in the event the lobby was compromised. Seer of Light is a very well-known New York City hero; any potential bank robbery would have contingencies in the event she came to stop them. Her hostage situation has always extended beyond the lobby, and she has been a fool not thinking of that.

But she is not a fool. So why? How could she have missed something so obvious? It doesn't make any sense, it's not the sort of thing the Seer of Light herself could fail to foresee, and now -

Now she is going to have to - to -

(kill them all)

It is not Seer but Rose who flinches and gasps, clutching at her skull as a sudden wave of colddamp seeps up into the folds of her brain, brine leaking into her sinuses and tendrils of darkness caressing the backs of her eyes.

(no other choice now you have no other option kill the fleshlings who stand before you rip them apart-)

"No," Rose gasps, tears streaming down her cheeks as she leans heavily on the wall. She can see the robber's mouth moving as he gesticulates dangerously with the gun, yelling at her, but she can't hear it. The roar of the ocean rumbles in her ears and the absolute whisper of the Void booms in her mind, both sounds she has only ever heard in the dark of night, in her meditation room. She closes her eyes, shaking her head, but all the action serves is to send water trickling icy cold down her spine, twining into her nervous system.

(do it)

This is impossible. The Horrorterrors can't reach into her mind during the day, and especially not at high noon, when her light powers should be at their peak -

(he's going to kill the fleshling you care about so kill him this is the logical choice we understand rose our rose the other fleshy thing is insignificant so you don't have to kill it rose just him justhim)

Breathing air feels unnatural. Rose does it anyway. "I won't," she says, voice cracking. "Stop this, stop, we had an accord!"

She can feel her hands moving against her will, the grimdark tendrils working through her nerves until she is standing and moving forward, some unspeakable spell on her lips.

(yes we are friends aren't we rose we are buddies we will help you this is only way now because you forgot about them forgot about the little landdwellers and now you have to kill him if you want to save them-)

"You made me forget." The insight blazes in Rose's mind like sharp clarity, and her heart beat is suddenly the loudest thing in the room. Louder than the grimdark. Louder than the robber with the muzzle of his gun pressed to Rose's forehead. "You made me forget the rest of the hostages," she whispers, the anger pounding a new tempo in her brain.

And then -

And then, she has control again.

Her fingers are still smoldering with black fire when she rips them away from the robber's throat, and she can't release the charge of the spell in her palm without blowing something up, without unleashing the concentrated grimdark into something. She doesn't have time to predict the blast radius, or how the robber will react to this turn of events. She spins away from the gun muzzle and slams her blazing palm against the reinforced steel wall.

Dark cracks appear across the wall, and then everything explodes.

Rose goes flying back, feeling the crunch of her spine against the opposite wall before that too is blown back by the force of the explosion. At the last second, she rips the last of her self-control free, and casts a cushioning spell just before she hits the ground in the lobby, tumbling over and over until she hits a counter in the center of the lobby and stops. Her back screams with pain and her ribs ache when she rolls onto her side, but aside from what feels like a scrape down one side of her face and slices where shrapnel cut up her gloves, she is relatively unharmed.

If that blast had gone off against human flesh, though, it would have torn that man apart from the inside out. It would have reached in and wrapped around his bones and organs and simply twisted -

Rose throws up. She hasn't eaten much today, so it's mostly bile. But there's also a tinge of black when she wipes her mouth off on her sleeve, and she shudders.

It is only when she looks up and sees that the rest of the robbers have appeared in the opening she blew through the lobby wall that she realizes she can't hear anything at all. Even the roar of the ocean has subsided. All she can hear is an intense ringing, her ears slightly bloody when she touches them.

But the Horrorterrors are gone. And at the moment, that's more important than anything else in the world. Suddenly, she can do anything.

She raises her hand, deaf to the low murmur of incantations on her own lips, and launches the corroding spells she'd prepared earlier, the pattern still fresh in her mind. In moments the robbers yelp soundlessly and drop their gun specibi while the metal corrodes hundreds of years in a matter of seconds. Now that they are thoroughly disarmed, Rose - no, she can be Seer again, she can be Light again now that the dark whispers have fled - Seer summons a trembling smirk and stuns them all, using as little power as possible. They'll only be unconscious for a few minutes, unlike the earlier robbers, whom she had put down for several hours, but better they wake up as the police arrest them than she risk something grimdark bolstering her spells unconsciously, amping the power up to the point that the robbers might not wake up at all.

No, she can't risk that. Not now. The burst of confidence subsides as Seer pulls herself upright, hugging at her ribs briefly before sucking in a breath and regaining her poise and composure. No doubt there are camera crews outside the bank by now, and she can't afford to look anything less than the serene, dignified Seer of Light in front of the camera. The Seer's reputation rests on her ability to foresee and head off major crimes and on her unflappable certainty.

So when the first police officer steps in through the door and turns to her hesitantly, his lips moving against the backdrop of ringing in Seer's ears, she simply nods at him, smiling enigmatically, and gestures toward the robbers. "All yours," she says, brushing her hair back behind her ear and adjusting her uniform so that the rips and smears of dust and debris are less noticeable. "Sorry about the wall. Things got a little out of hand. It will not happen in the future, I assure you."

Then, Seer takes the only logical option. She is not in a fit state to endure an interview with the media outside, primarily because she wouldn't be able to hear a word they were saying. Instead, she strides to the front door and steps out into the sunlight, smiling brightly and nodding to the crowd.

Before the news crews can rush the police line, she teleports out. She does not return to her base atop the Flatiron Building; instead, she reaches desperately for the comfort of home and finds it. She lands hard in a veil of light that is just a little too bright, the glow of the spell brittle and white-hot. The grass burns in a circle around her, leaving a smoldering ring of ashes when she stumbles forward and limps to the front door. She shoulders the door open and sucks in a welcome breath of the still, dusty air within the manse.

She does not know what happened today. But it is clear that she will need to spend far more time in meditation tonight. It is tempting, so tempting, to stop meditating altogether, but she has tried that before. Unfortunately, as unpleasant as interacting with the grimdark is, the consequences of ignoring the Outer Gods would be far more severe than what had happened today.

Swallowing another wave of bile curdling the back of her throat, Rose Lalonde strips off her mask and rubs at dry, aching eyes. Then she heads for the kitchen, and the wine cellar that lies beneath it.

She needs a good, strong drink.


Dave’s considering the merits of sitting on the Metro and riding it uptown a ways just to dick around when he hears gun shots. He automatically tags the sound and adds it to the beat he’s working on in his head, then races toward the origins of the booms.

Another shot rings out and he skids to a halt on the roof across from a gas station, just in time to hear a faint scream. He jumps off the edge of the roof in the next step and drops to the fire escape stairwell, falling with precise control until he hits pavement with bent knees. Then he takes off across the street, rolling over the hood of a car still in motion, and at the last moment falls into a slow pace, slouching in through the front door of the gas station with his hands in his pockets as though he’s got all the time in the world. No need to let the asshole with a gun think Dave is in a hurry to meet him.

“Hey, hands up! You too, asshat!” the gundouche yells, lowering her shitty pistol from where she shot three rounds into the ceiling to level it at Dave. Her partner in crime snaps her gum, looking bored out of her mind as she keeps her own firearm trained on the cashier’s nose. So it’s basically a hostage situation, except the hostage is strictly in an unofficial capacity, and neither girl realizes they’re about to experience justice slamming down upon them like a heavenly facepalm.

That said, why did it have to be girls? It’s stupid, but hell if it isn’t harder for Dave to hit girls than guys. It’s not like Bro is all about that southern gentleman shtick, so Dave’s not entirely sure how he developed this useless chivalry complex.

“Sup,” he says, obediently putting his hands up and wrapping them around the hilts of the swords.

He pauses time just as the trigger happy girl’s eyes widen with panic and she pulls the trigger on reflex. He steps neatly out of the way, checks behind him along the bullet’s trajectory, and lets time go again so the bullet buries itself in the wall beside the door. He knocks the gun from her startled hands during the obligatory pause between flashsteps, and punches her square upside the chin.

He halts time once more to lower her unconscious body to the floor and steps behind a row of chips and candy, so when the girl at the register reacts by whipping her gun away from the cashier to follow his random position, he knows any shot she fires will end the short, overinflated life of a bag of chips rather than that of any of the customers flattened on the ground. Then he jumps over the row and brings the flat of the blade to her throat between one second and the next. “Drop it,” he says, meeting her eyes with his red eyes narrowed and the hand on the hilt of the sword braced to flip and cut if she tries anything stupid.

She drops the gun. “I-I’m sorry!” she stammers. “We weren’t going to hurt anyone. Please don’t kill me!”

Yeah, he doesn’t have the patience for more than a few seconds of pretty subpar apologist whining. He pops her one in the chin as well, nods once at the cashier, and then kicks both guns away from their respective criminals. He puts the swords away, and stuffs his hands back into his pockets to leave.

“You’re not going to stick around until the cops get here?” the cashier stammers, eyeing the unconscious girls nervously.

Dave has to fight the urge to raise an eyebrow; with his shades off, it’s much more difficult to present an emotionless, unexploitable straight face to the world. Until they’d started taking off their shades as part of their disguise, Dave hadn’t realize just how much he and Bro expressed behind them, the little cues that only Striders could read behind them that become obvious tells in the light of day. “Dude, they’re down for the count. Just hit ‘em with something if they start to wake up.”

Having imparted the wisdom of the ages to the cashier, Dave walks out of the gas station. Fuck yeah. Mission accomplished. He can already hear the sirens as two police cars round the corner, drawn by whatever alarm the cashier had hit under the counter.

As the cops approach and skid to a halt, Dave sighs and flashsteps away. By the time the first officer shouts, “Freeze, vigilante!” Dave is already on the rooftop again, rolling his eyes to the evening sky.

Some goddamn lucky sons of bitches get cities who embrace their resident vigilantes; the Seer of Light is practically a New York City franchise, the Lady Cascade of Los Angeles has a yearly regatta in her honor, and the Meowrails over in Jacksonville are pretty much universally accepted as the most disgustingly adorable pair of heroes ever to make a living off terrible cat puns. Even Heir up Seattle way has a quiet policy of mutual non-interference with the police; as long as he’s in the air before they arrive, the cops report to the papers that Heir made several dozen citizens’ arrests in one night and conveniently ignore the whole vigilante aspect.

Then there’s Houston. Sure, Blind Justice has every Chicago legislacerator on the force clamoring for her blood, but they’re legislacerators – it’s pretty much standard operating procedure for them. For some reason Dave cannot fathom, the entirety of the Houston PD has openly named the Flashstep and the Puppeteer as their top priority for arrest.

It’s just so hilariously stupid that it loops right back around to just being fucking idiotic.

Knowing them, that entire squad will waste an hour pissing around trying to locate Dave, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that with his ability to stop time he’s halfway across the city in a few minutes. That’s part of the reason Dave and Bro go out during the day, just to show them how very few fucks the Striders have to give.

Sometimes, it’s the little 'fuck yous' in life that really bring a half-smile to a hero's face.

Dave stops for lunch and a badly needed water break at noon, eating a motherfucking chicken salad from Trader Joe’s on the roof of a parking garage, then loses track of time. This happens a lot; for someone whose power relates to time, he finds it easy to lose himself in the seemingly endless afternoon. Probably all the accidental time stopping when he was a kid did a number on his internal timer. He always knows exactly what time it is, down to the millisecond, but he just can’t bring himself to care about the time slipping away.

All he knows is that when he next blinks and looks up at the sun, it’s halfway to setting, the sky burnished orange and red, and his hand throbs with a dull pain from where he may or may not have broken a knuckle smashing it into a car jacker’s smug face. Yeah, he probably should have known better than to punch a troll head on. It’s harshing on his sicknasty beats.

Shoving the injured hand into a pocket, Dave starts jumping toward home. He should probably pick up some actual food from the convenience store – fuck, Bro going grocery shopping, even ironically, would probably be a sign of the apocalypse. Adjusting his course, Dave locates the nearest CVS-knockoff and lands noiseless on the fire escape. The ladder barely even rattled. Flawless landing. He flashsteps his way down the stairs and crawls down the ladder. He already knows he’s heading straight for a new case of AJ when he gets inside.

He turns around and only then does he realize there’s actually a crime in progress at the back of the alley and holy fuck how did he miss that.

“What,” he says, waiting for his brain to catch up while he stares at the five figures fighting in the shadows. A tall woman presses up against the shadows of the wall. A wide-brimmed hat obscures her face, and her body is wrapped in a tight black trench coat that makes about as much sense in the late Houston evening heat as Dave’s elaborate suit jacket does. The four assailants are ranged around the woman in a rough circle, each with strife specibi at the ready. It’s an even split between trolls and humans. The really weird thing is, they’re all wearing heavy black suits. All of them, even the female troll.

Four seems a little much for a case of robbery. Four people in suits in 85 degree heat is downright bizarre. But hey, not like Dave’s complaining. He keeps the fucked-up hand tucked into his pocket and draws a sword with the other. “Should probably leave the lady alone, asshats,” he says, kicking a rock out of his path as he strides toward the tense group.

“Stay out of it, brat,” one of the men spits, not even turning his head to look in Dave’s direction. “This ain’t business of yours.”

“A beautiful lady in distress is always my business,” Dave drawls, raising an eyebrow at the dame when the brim of her hat angles slightly in his direction. “These guys giving you trouble, just say the word and I’ll help you kick their asses.”

The brim of the hat raises, and he has a direct line of sight on her face. For an instant he wonders if he’s seeing things, if the summer heat has finally cracked his brain open to fry like a yolk on the pavement, because the lady is black as night with slitted eyes as pale as bone, and that’s not skin, it’s a carapace. He sees her hands flowing in a series of motions that are definitely not ASL, but the words bloom in his mind like black, cold ink skimming over his brain.

??: Oh, do feel free to jump in if you wish. But I can more than take care of ones such as these.

“You get one last chance,” another of the assailants begins, and that must be the cue for the battle music to start, because the carapacian dame reaches out and quite calmly grips his hair and slams his face into the wall three times.

By the time she lets go, the guy’s face is a bloody pulp, and he slides to the ground unconscious. The other four black-suited assailants flinch away, clearly taken aback by the sudden violence, which Dave can totally sympathize with because damn. The carapacian draws a long, thin-bladed knife and tilts her head to the side, beckoning the others on.

??: Come on then, if you think you’re hard enough. I will rend you like the benighted worms that you are.

The male troll flips the fuck out and lunges at the carapacian with a hoarse roar. And maybe the lady can take care of herself, but the troll has probably a hundred pounds of pure muscle on her, so Dave stops time with a twist of his injured hand and darts in close, cracking the hilt of his sword against the guy’s temple.

The carapacian is staring right at him. Even as he watches in that breath before time restarts, she blinks and smirks.

She moves.

Time rushes back in. The force of the blow catches up with the male troll and he goes crashing sideways into the wall, slumped over just as unconscious as the first man. Dave then lashes out with his sword to ward off the third assailant, who turns to attack him with a small cudgel in hand. One time stop later and the guy is on the ground with a slash down his left side and a stabbing hole in his palm, gritting his teeth against the pain as Dave wipes the blood off his sword. These guys are dressed weirdly, but they’re not really a challenge.

While Dave is occupied, he can still see the carapacian dame as she whirls in a fluid circle to knock the last troll’s glancing blow aside, kicking out with a slim leg to yank the troll’s legs out from under her. She stabs the thin blade into the girl’s side before kicking her unconscious, inspecting the upwelling of teal blood soaking the troll’s suit with clear disdain.

“Don’t suppose you’re gonna want the police called,” Dave says, trying to judge just how serious the troll girl’s wound is from here. Bro drilled him on how to inflict nonfatal but debilitating sword wounds all through his childhood because killing people is the opposite of cool, but the carapacian clearly has no such qualms.

Fuuuck. Is she a bad guy? Did he just help the bad guy take out four possibly totally innocuous passersby in the heat of the moment? Logic is telling him the four had drawn their weapons first and were clearly threatening the carapacian about – something – but Dave’s mind does this thing where it gets stuck on a tangent and won’t shut the fuck up. It’s great for coming up with nonsensical raps, but awful when he just want it to stop winding itself up in knots of confused, morbid fascination and fucking focus.

??: No, I do not.

The carapacian seems to have noticed his mental disarray, her hollow eyes crinkled perhaps with a silent chuckle.

??: They are the heavy-handed efforts of a foolish man trying to convince me to join him in a business venture of questionable legal repute. Naturally, I refuse to negotiate with such lowly pawns.

“Yeah. Of course. Naturally,” Dave deadpans as he puts his sword away. If this lady was going to attack, she’d have tried it already.

??: Your assistance is appreciated.

??: I am glad to have met you at last, Dave.

The hair on the back of Dave’s neck prickles and he rips his sword back out. Fuck. Fucking fuck. “What the fuck did you just say. Who the fuck are you?”

The carapacian isn’t concerned by Dave’s fighting stance or the high-strung tension he’s giving off in waves. She has put away her own knife, but he’s seen how fast she can move. Not as fast as Bro, but with enough skill that she could take him off guard.

??: An ally, perhaps.

??: An answer for an answer, Dave. Why did you stop time that way? It is…inefficient.

“How do you know my name?” Dave grits out, the metal collar burning against his throat.

??: That is not how an exchange works.

She shows no sign of answering the question, waiting with a talon on her hip for a response. A bead of sweat drips down the side of Dave’s face, stinging his eye, but he’s too tense to wipe it away, keeping his sword leveled at the carapacian’s throat. When the pause lasts long enough, tension growing a pulsing headache behind Dave’s ears, he answers. “Because – fuck – because that’s the only way to stop time. At least for me. That’s how the powers work. How do you know me? What do you want?”

??: I have always known your name, Dave Strider.

And that…is just weird enough that Dave lets the sword fall, completely and utterly dumbfounded. “Okay that’s a great answer except for how it answers nothing at all and fuck, you know my last name.”

The carapacian chuckles.

??: I’m sure you can figure out the answer on your own, in time. But for now I have other matters to attend to. Meeting you at last has been most fortuitous, but I am afraid it has happened at a bad moment.

??: But I give you this last boon – some advice, as a token of my gratitude. Your power is more than you know. Stopping time is merely the first step, but it is an unnatural step. Time will most likely fight you if you attempt to hold it too long. If you truly wish to attain your full strength, I advise you to stop pausing it at all.

??: Time is not meant to be stopped. It is meant to flow. And you, Dave Strider – you have the ability to flow with it. To alter the course of the flow itself.

??: I do wish you all the best.

??: Now then. Tah, love.

“Wait, seriously, what,” Dave gets out. Then there is a swishing sound and the shadows behind the carapacian rush forward holy shit. The carapacian smirks as she falls back into the darkness, completely unconcerned about the fact the wall has just decided she’s the main course of one fucked up buffet. “Who are you?” Dave says, but the shadows finish swallowing the carapacian whole and settle back against the wall.

“What. The. Actual. Fuck.” One of the assailants still on the ground moans and stirs, and Dave kicks him in the temple to keep him down, not taking his eyes off the shadowed wall.

She never had told him just who the fuck she was. But there’s no doubt in his mind that this mysterious dame is a total Badass. A Badass Quandary, if you would.

Shuddering and sheathing the sword in one motion, hunching his shoulders defensively as he does, Dave scans the pile of criminals one last time and leaves the alleyway, looking for another fire escape to climb that isn’t attached to a people-eating shadow wall. He walks by the convenience store, pauses to deliberate with himself for a few long minutes, and then trudges back, edging his way inside. The old guy behind the counter has been working there as long as Dave can remember. His name is Gerald and he barely rolls his eyes at the sight of Dave in costume. “AJ’s in a new place by the coffee, Mr Flashstep,” he says before flipping his paper open once more.

“There’re some assholes beaten up in the alleyway. You might want to call the cops.”

Gerald grunts and pulls the phone off the receiver without looking, unfazed by Dave’s news. Dave can’t remember how many time he’s reported the unconscious bodies of criminals to the people behind the counter here. Apparently the novelty factor of having a hero visit your store once a week runs out after a few years.

Dave grabs his juice and a couple frozen pizzas and pays with cash before trudging back out, significantly more laden down. It’s officially night now, and he forgoes the rooftops until he’s almost back to the apartment, using the time to mull over the weirdass encounter with the carapacian. Then he flashsteps wearily up the fire escape of an adjacent building, feeling the mental strain that’s built up over nearly twelve hours of crime-fighting and time-stopping sap at his strength.

When he reaches the roof, bags in hand, he ducks under the AC and retrieves his sunglasses, his whole body slumping with relief once he has the protective shades between him and the world. He sees that Bro’s glasses are still underneath. Whatever. He’ll show up when Dave has finished heating up the first pizza just to fuck with him and eat all the crust and then hog the bathroom for one of his marathon endless showers.

As luck might have it, this is pretty much exactly what happens. Bro is unscratched and looks completely unaffected by the day’s work when he finally shows up, yoinking a pizza slice out of Dave’s hand without even looking at him. Lil Cal appears atop the refrigerator, as glassy eyed and smiling as ever.

Dave grimaces at the puppet. He’d been down with the puppet when he was a little kid, but in recent years he has realized that Cal is just plain creepy, the kind of creepy that smiles down on you with unblinking eyes while you struggle and squirm through life like the miserable little fleshcreature you are.

He should probably mention the carapacian now. Usually the Striders don’t talk about work – hell, they don’t really talk much at all, with good reason – but something as huge as a random alien dame knowing Dave’s real name and vanishing into the shadows should probably be stated for the record. It did not mean that actual conversation had to take place. Just a quick, offhanded mention –

Dave swallows his AJ too fast and nearly chokes. The words are on the tip of his tongue, the metal collar around his neck tight as a noose, and when Bro gives him a sweeping, bored-but-curious look, Dave swallows down what he had been about to say.

Bro ruffles Dave’s hair as he walks to his room, and Dave is left sitting alone at the shitty kitchen table. He tries to imagine finishing the piece of pizza in his hand, but the thought of all that grease just makes him feel kind of nauseous. Food does that sometimes, when he hasn’t eaten in a while and he’s past the point where the hunger actually hurt. He crams it in anyway and swallows, reaching up and unclipping the collar from his throat. He tosses it on the table and scrubs a hand through his hair, trying to figure out why the fuck he had just not mentioned the Badass Quandary. At the very least he should get Bro’s opinion on how to deal with such a massive breach of their secret identities.

He doesn’t. Instead, he shoves the leftover pizza in the fridge for later and slouches into his own room, stripping off the last of his costume as he goes. He gets into the same sleep clothes from that morning and sits down at the computer, staring unseeingly at the screen and ignoring the little flicker of a Pesterchum window at the bottom.

He’s…not going to tell Bro. It takes him a minute for his brain to really process the thought, and then he knows why.

Because he maybe, just once, he wants something in his life to be completely his own. He wants to investigate the Quandary by himself, independent of Bro Strider, and maybe he wants to take her advice about the whole time travelling thing, and maybe he’s actually more intrigued by her knowledge of his name than rightfully worried, now that he’s had time to process the shock of it all.

Having settled that in his mind, he smiles and plugs in his headphones, setting up a playlist of his own mixes and zoning out as he settles in to draw some shitty comics and answer his one chum.

Hell yeah, secret shenanigans. Hell fucking yeah.


The rest of the day passes in a pleasant blur; none of John's classes are doing anything more strenuous the first day of school other than going over the syllabi, and Karkat shares all but two of his class periods. Sure, Karkat isn't exactly much of a talker when he's intently reading ahead in the textbooks instead of listening to the teacher, but that doesn't stop John from sitting next to the troll and passing him notes from time to time just to see Karkat's exasperated glares of impotent fury.

The thing is, John is learning to catch the faint hints of amusement that barely touch the corners of Karkat's permafrown, the way he doesn't just stand up and walk away despite how outright annoying John knows he's being. When John suggests they eat lunch outside together, Karkat has every opportunity to say no and sit with another group of people; instead, with another faint not-smile, he agrees, and they spend the lunch break outside under John's favorite tree, chatting about nothing important at all.

If this is a friendship, it's going to be an odd one, one that builds in the spaces between classes, in the oblique smiles that don't quite make it to Karkat's face.

It's wonderful.

John walks home in a better state of mind than he's had in - too long. The breeze actually billows up through his shirt at one point, sensing his ridiculous excitement and tugging in an attempt to get him to celebrate in the air, and he has to flail madly to flatten his shirt back down, glancing wildly from side to side in a search for possible witnesses. Thankfully, no one seems to have noticed the wind's slip up.

However, the brief lapse in John's control dampens his mood a little, especially as he turns the corner and his house comes into view. His dad's car isn't parked outside yet, but he should be home in a few hours, maybe sooner. Dad had talked about coming home early in case...the first day hadn't gone well.

And yeah, John is totally grateful that his dad cares about him that much! Of course he is! But now, when his dad comes home, John is going to have to tell him that he's made a friend in Karkat Vantas, and John is just a little nervous about how well his dad will take it.

This has always been the price of the good John does as Heir. He’s never been able to make time for friends outside of school, not even during the summer months. No conceivable excuse can explain away how John occupies nearly 90% of his time with training and duties he can never share with anyone. He’d been friends with Rose, back in middle school, before his dad had really picked up the pace of his training in anticipation for John’s fighting debut, but then she had moved all the way to New York and John had found himself in a limbo, all of his friends made through Rose gradually dropping away, with no time or opportunity to reach out on his own.

By the end of last year he’d only had people from the swim team he could sit with at lunch, not because they were really friends, but more out of a sense of team camaraderie. He'd ended up eating outside on his own, because it was just easier than dealing with the hesitant dance of glancing over an entire cafeteria full of people he barely knew. And at least outside, he'd had the breeze to fluff up his hair in comforting gusts of sympathetic understanding.

And. Fuck. John can’t go through another year like last year. He can’t. The very thought makes his stomach lurch, and bile rises up in the back of his throat.

He can’t handle being so alone anymore.

So if his dad says it isn't safe to be friends with Karkat - John doesn't know what he's going to do. It's going to royally suck, okay? The worst part of it all is that John already knows and has had the reasons why having a close friend is a bad idea drilled into him since he was five years old. Rose had been a pre-approved potential friend, who knows why. But Karkat will definitely be a potential target if John's heroic secret identity is ever discovered. And John doesn't want Karkat to be in danger, but on the other hand, he wants to be friends with Karkat a whole lot. Enough to take that risk.

He's just going to have to convince his dad of that.

Piece of cake!


Oh god this is not a piece of cake this is the opposite of cake this is spinach quiche or something why did John think he could do this -

"John. You've barely touched your meal. Do you have something you need to talk about, son?"

John looks up from his bowl of chicken salad and accompanying plate of whole wheat pasta, sure that the haunted expression on his face has been more than enough to tip his dad off to his troubled state of mind. "Uh, yeah. I do," he says, fiddling with his fork. He stops himself from gnawing on his lip, and settles himself inwardly. Focus. He can do this.

He meets his dad's eyes. "I made a friend at school today."

The silence over the table lasts just a fraction of a second too long. John can feel his stomach collapsing in on itself in hollow despair even as he watches his dad for any reaction. Samuel Egbert doesn't look angry or stern, just thoughtful, but that only means his logic, when it comes, will be well-thought out and irrefutable, and then John's first friendship in two years will be over -

"I see. I'm sure you put a lot of thought into this kind of decision, John. I trust you." His dad smiles at him, his eyes crinkled reassuringly.

John's mouth falls open, and for a long moment he has to slam down on his innate connection to the wind and grip the edge of the table with both hands shaking, because otherwise he's going to go flying out the window and start doing some celebratory cartwheels a few meters above his house. That kind of thing is a no-no, for obvious reasons.

"I - yeah." John smiles back, his grin so wide his lips feel like they're tearing a bit at the edges. He starts eating in earnest now, chattering about Karkat between huge bites. "His name is Karkat! Karkat Vantas! We're in a lot of the same classes together, and we have the same lunch period. So, I can see him a lot every day, and I don't think I have to worry as much about not being able to meet him after school, because he seems pretty busy too. So. I think I can make it work."

His dad nods throughout all of John's sometimes stuttering, sometimes too-loud rant, and keeps smiling. A little more of the nervous tension eases out of John with every passing moment that his dad doesn't shoot this idea down. "That's good, son. I'm glad you've found someone you can connect with."

"Yeah. He's new at school, and he seems kind of angry a lot of the time, but I think we get along okay. Or at least he didn't try to run away when I kept talking to him." John smiles when a memory of one of Karkat's many furiously despairing frowns returns to him.

There's a note of hesitation in his dad's voice when he speaks, and John understands why when he hears the full question. "Son...will this help you? Do you think this will prevent something like last year?"

That...yeah. John should have been expecting that. He shovels the last of the salad into his mouth to keep from responding, chewing and swallowing deliberately while he tries not to feel guilty about being the cause of that solemn, anxious look on his dad's face. "I don't know," he says at last, because he's learned after last year that he has to be honest about this. He can't lie to his dad; it just lets things build up until John can't handle them anymore. "I think so. I didn't feel all that claustrophobic today after I started talking to him. I hope I just needed a friend as an outlet. But one day isn't enough to judge by, I think."

Thankfully, his dad just nods in response. "I understand. Thank you for being honest with me, champ."

By the time they finish dinner and start cleaning up the dishes, John feels a lot more even-keel. Now that he's not freaking out over the whole Karkat thing anymore, he can let himself relax into the usual rhythm of their father-son dinner routine. When there's nothing on John's mind, there's just something inherently relaxing about being around his dad.

John fills the sink with hot water and dish soap and begins scrubbing on autopilot, handing the cleaned dishes off to his dad by his side to dry. In these brief moments a pleasant buzz fills his head instead of the usual swift analysis and careful self-censorship necessary to maintain his secret identity every minute of the day, and he can think of nothing at all but the clink of dishware and the warm awareness of his only family standing beside him.

Part of him still has to focus beyond the quiet calm on keeping the air around him calm and still; more than once in his childhood the sheer happiness of being around his dad had led to unfortunate mishaps in public playgrounds. The wind likes it when John is happy, and wants to frolic and tug at him to express that joy with action. John is so used to curtailing the instinctive rush of wind that it barely registers anymore when he’s around his dad. He’s had to learn how to manipulate the wind for battle and flight mostly on his own, not just because flying isn’t exactly in a Marine’s repertoire, but because he’d been so unable to focus properly around Samuel as a kid that training proved impossible.

Not that he could really remember those early attempts, of course, but the sheer number of near misses and barely-avoided accidental sightings of a kid flying ten feet off the ground because his dad had been proud of him had been significant enough – and amusing enough, in retrospect – that Dad has shared the stories numerous times, particularly around birthdays.

“Go ahead, son. I’ll finish up here,” Dad says as the last of the light leaves the sky. He reaches over to turn on the kitchen’s overhead light and takes one of the last uncleaned dishes from John so he can take over. John feels the pleasant buzz leave his mind, and grins, drying his hands and running up the stairs three at a time. His heart pounds dizzyingly in his chest, little wisps of breezes slipping around his wrists and tousling his hair in reaction to his excitement.

Once in his room, he carefully removes a worn but loved poster of Captain America – one of his favorite fictional heroes – from the wall, laying it gently on the bed. Behind its usual position on the wall sits a metal safe, and he fishes out the two keys from their usual places. One he has hidden in a careful pouch underneath the bedside table drawer; the other he wears around his neck beneath his shirt. Even if one is ever taken – say when he has to remove the shirt key for swim practice – it would be useless to any potential thief or snoop without knowledge of the second key and the seven digit key code known only to John and his dad. Sliding each key into their respective locks and thumbing in the key code, John swings the safe open.

He’s been wearing variations of this same basic costume for so long, he takes him mere moments to change into the plain neoprene suit, check and recheck the Kevlar weave for holes, buckle on the arm guards and pouches, and pull on the steel grey boots and gloves. He pulls the goggles on over his head with a pop, barely needing to adjust them, and then yanks the thin nylon mask up over the bottom half of his face. By the time he slings Casey across his back, the heavy weight of the war hammer barely registering as a light thump, John thrums with anticipation, the wind practically a gale force dragging him toward the window, stirring the carefully pinned posters on the wall and ruffling the pages of his textbooks.

He needs to be gone, needs it, a bone-deep desire that’s as close to terror as it is to desperate longing. Dragging his hood up over his head at the last minute, John plants one boot on the window sill and kicks off.

And finally, finally, for the first time in nearly fourteen hours, lets go.

He’s never known what it feels like to fall, but Rose had described it to him once, how the fear of heights and falling worked for those who felt it. She said it is because when a normal person falls, they have no control, no way to stop themselves from feeling a lurch in their gut that says gravity has them, and no chance of surviving a fall from anything higher than perhaps twenty feet without severe injury. She had described the sensation of having one’s stomach drop out from under them, and John had experienced it for himself one blisteringly hot day years ago, at an amusement park during the summer with a parasol-toting Rose at his side, when they had decided to ride a rollercoaster.

But he just can’t associate that half-remembered, sickening drop with flying. All he feels as the night wind wraps around him and he shoots up into the sky is joy. His hoods rips off in a flurry of wind as his speed increases, the breeze responding to the ecstasy singing through his veins with renewed energy.

The drive from Maple Valley to Seattle is forty minutes on a good day; John makes it in five. As he hovers over the glowing city, he begins to pull the wind back in, using calming breathing patterns his dad had taught him to slow his racing heart and bring the irrepressible joy of flying back under control, until it is barely a niggling hum.

Within moments, John is in hero mode, the winds streaming around him in sleek, controlled waves that do no more than support him in midair. He has a job to do, duties to attend to. He can’t just let the breeze run wild while he’s on patrol; it would be unprofessional and distracting.

Having settled down, John begins his patrol, drifting over the city in a grid formation with his eyes scanning the ground intently. He pays close attention to dark alleys and other trouble spots whenever he passes over, but he pays more attention to the gentle pressure of the wind as it wafts him through the air. Nine times out of ten, the breeze alerts him to criminal activity before he even sees it himself. It can be difficult to interpret the wind’s will, but it almost always leads him where he needs to go.

For example, right now. A faint curl of air tightens around his wrist, a murmur of urgency brushing up against his ears. John focuses, letting the sense of unerring direction guide him as he urges a little more speed from the winds pulling him along. The breeze tugs him over to an alleyway near the center of the city, and he lands on a cushion of air atop the roof nearby, peering over the edge to assess the situation.

It looks like a fairly standard mugging; three men with strife specibi in hand have a single man backed up against the wall. The victim is shaking his head, most likely in some stubborn, foolhardy attempt to deny the muggers whatever they're asking for. He's going to end up shanked if he isn't careful.

Bluhhhh. As though Heir would actually let that happen! Grinning, Heir checks to make sure his hood is in place and then steps off the edge of the building. He floats down, arms crossed as he comes to a halt hovering just a little above the ground. "Hey, guys?" he says, clearing his throat. All three muggers spin to face him, and he waves, still smiling. "Sorrrrry, I can't let you do this. I just don't condone this kind of criminal activity. I don't suppose you'd be willing to give up now and come quietly? Turn yourselves in, and no one gets hurt."

The mugger on the left tries to shoot him. The blast echoes in the enclosed alleyway, loud in Heir's ears. Between one second and the next the wind rushes forward in his defense, howling as it wraps around the bullet and halts it, the bullet flattening out against a solid wall of dense air just inches from Heir's forehead. Heir flicks his fingers to the side, and the spent bullet falls to the ground with a clink. "Wow. Rude. Not okay, guys. Not okay," he tells the muggers, all of whom have gone pale.

Apparently, these guys missed the memo on what happens to criminals who cross the Heir of Breath.

Heir cracks his knuckles and sets to work. The moment these guys threatened one of the citizens under Heir's protection, they earned a nonrefundable ticket for a righteous asskicking. He disarms the one with a gun first, ripping it from the mugger's trembling hand with ease and sending it flying into the dumpster nearby where no one else can grab it. The man tries to pull a fistkind next, but he's clearly not well trained in hand-to-hand strife; Heir dodges to one side, swaying easily around the man's very obvious pattern of attacks, then darts around to hit him in the back with a broad swathe of wind. One last kick to the temple, his strength carefully adjusted so as to not break the guy's head open, and the mugger falls forward on his face, unconscious.

Heir ducks under the next mugger's swinging blow, and palmheels him in the chin with an accompanying blast of air that tosses him against the wall. By the time he rounds on the last mugger, one eyebrow raised, the guy is sweaty and pale, his knife almost slipping out of his grasp.

And then he turns and runs away.

Heir scratches his head, and put his hands around his mouth to amplify the sound. "Uh, running away wasn't an option! Hey! Hey? Mister?"

The mugger just keeps running.

"Seriously, man, I'm not letting you just abscond from justice!"

...Still running.

"Soooo rude," Heir huffs. He twists his hand and clenches it in a fist. The air around the fleeing criminal's feet lashes in a sudden gale, knocking him off balance. The mugger hits the ground hard with his chin and doesn't get up, even when Heir floats over to nudge him in the side and make sure he's breathing. Whelp. That was...kind of anticlimactic.

Oh well. Heir shrugs his shoulders and zipties the mugger's hands together, then floats back over to the mugging victim, trying and failing to calm himself down enough to just walk. He gets that the whole flying thing can weird people out, but he can't help it sometimes, honestly - when his adrenalin is up and pumping, the wind doesn't want to let him go.

Thankfully, this guy turns out to be a fan. A major fan. "That was awesome!" he yells when Heir gets close enough, all of his fear vanished now that the muggers are unconscious. He continues to babble as Heir cuffs the other two muggers and dumps them all bodily in the dumpster, and is absolutely euphoric when Heir asks him to stick around to wait for the police and make sure he testifies so they'll be arrested and not just released immediately.

Normally Heir would stick around until the police actually arrive in person, but after the first five minutes of nonstop, fawning chatter, he's just plain uncomfortable. "I'm just going to wait up there. You'll be totally safe," he assures the almost-victim, and then he takes off in a single bound, not really waiting for an answer. He settles down on the edge of the roof and sits with his legs swinging over the void, his chin resting on his hand as he observes the scene below. He replays it in his head a few times, a play by play looking for any mistakes he might have made, any fighting stances that could use some extra practice. He thinks he did well, but there's always room for improvement, right?

Anyway. When the cops arrive, the guy below flags them down, and Heir waves at the one cop who thinks to look up and check the skyline. He gets a stern nod in return, which is always cool, and then he lets the wind whisk him up into the air, tugging him up gently until he's high enough that the city spreads itself out beneath him, a glittering array of glowing lights, moving cars, and dark shadows.

A faint grin still playing on his lips, the Heir of Breath guards his city.

And if he indulges in a few midair cartwheel and backflips, well, it's not as though anyone can see to judge him.


Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, off the coast of Eastern Russia

A pair of Russian fishermen sit, mostly apathetic to the cold as they keep watch and huff quietly on cigarettes. When later questioned, they would state that they were busy cleaning the last of the previous day’s work off the deck. Instead they chat between cigarettes and rub their gloved hands together to keep warm, the flickering gleam of the lighter casting their faces in half-shadow.

To say that they are unprepared for the boat to suddenly jolt and tilt dangerously to one side in a sudden upswelling of water is an understatement. They both roll off their perches and crash against a strapped down stack of equipment. The entire boat – not in the best shape to begin with – groans in protest, and the two men can only cling to the railing, the dark belly of the ocean yawning beneath them until, at last, the boat settles back in the water, uncapsized.

One makes the sign of the cross against his chest, his cigarette still clamped between clenched teeth, and mutters a belated Lord’s prayer. The other, his coat hood fallen back, gets to his feet and stares up at the fifty-foot tall, pure white squid that has just emerged from the sea. Its heavy mantle hangs slightly to one side, unsupported by the water. The enormous lusus opens its beak, screeches loud enough to rock the boat, and begins slowly drifting through the water, heading south.

“как это могло опять случиться?” one man says, shaking his head as the mutant lusus slouches away.

“Ceрьёзно. удачи, Япония.” The other spits out the ruined cigarette in his mouth, takes out another, and lights it up. There is no doubt in either man’s mind where a giant sea monster from the Pacific could possibly be heading, and so they contemplate the lusus’s sluggish trek south in a companionable silence until the irate captain stumbles up on deck to demand to know what the hell just happened.


Tokyo, Japan

"You've got to be fucking kidding me!" someone in the crowd yells. "Why am I even surprised?!" Another man sighs and walks over to the nearest public bulletin board, and swaps out the number under "Number of Days Without a Giant Sea Lusus Invasion" from ten to zero. Nine tenths of the crowd simply whip out their smart phones and begin recording as the enormous pale squid paddles its way through Tokyo Bay and onto dry land. It flails a tentacle, and then flops over onto a street, writhing weakly when someone crawls up onto a lightpole and begins filming it from a safe distance.

"Yes, we have a squid-morph lusus naturae encroaching on sector 4," a police officer says over the radio. "A possible rogue from an aquatic retirement preserve. Yes, please see if we can request a violet-blood's presence as soon as convenient. Thank you." The officer walks in closer and watches the squid's frantic motions, sighing and shaking her head. Aquatic lusii are harder to keep contained in their retirement preserves, but for a lusus of this gigantic size to have escaped, it could only have come from the poorly maintained Dalni Vostok preserve off the coast of Russia.


One day, the government is really going to have to petition Moscow to start paying for these fiascos. Between the exorbitant cost of tranquilizing each near-feral giant sea lusus and the additional expense of then housing it in the Tokyo Aquatic Reservation for the rest of its natural life, Russia must surely owe Japan trillions.

But of course, no one asks a lowly police officer how to handle foreign relations. They just send her in to clear the area around the giant monster incursions and wait for backup.

That's when a small fighter jet lands on the roadway, barely twenty feet from the white squid's mantle.

"No you fool, you don't have room to taxi!" the earlier irate man in the crowd screeches, sounding nearly hysterical. The plane proceeds to prove him wrong, the thrusters in the back flipping around to face forward and bring the entire machine to a near-silent halt. The green flames die down and the plane taxis to a calm standstill just a few feet from the police officer, the whole braking procedure having finished in a mere fifty feet. "THAT'S NOT EVEN FUCKING POSSIBLE!" the man protests before he breaks down into sobbing tears.

"Yeah, Control? We have an unidentified retrofitted British fighter plane that just landed next to me." The police officer listens to the questioning response over the radio. "Looks to be nuclear powered, sir. Probably unrelated to the lusus incident. Please send for the British ambassador and the Sailor Senshi squad, in the event the pilot self-identifies as a villain. Thank you."

The dome of the pilot compartment slides back, and a girl in aviator glasses and a green headscarf pops up. "Hey there! Do you need some help with that?" she asks, grinning, her teeth bright against her dark face. "You have a giant monster on the road!"

"We are aware of the situation, yes. You get used to it after a while." The officer takes out her notepad and clicks open a pen. "May I ask for your name, country of origin, and whether or not you have any intent to commit acts of villainy, mass property destruction, and/or grand larceny during your visit to Tokyo?"

"Ohhh! Sharpshooter, none, and no, hopefully not!" the girl chirps. "That's my codename, you know! Having a hero name is still a thing, right? My grandpa said having one was important if I wanted to be a hero, but he also thought the Internet was a newfangled instrument of German propaganda when he was having a bad day."

"Ah, you identify as a hero. Excellent." The police officer nods. She takes out her radio and cancels the order for the Sailor Senshi. Then she bows politely to the hero. "Unfortunately, I must ask you to remove your unregistered aircraft from Japanese soil before our lusus naturae task force arrives. You have parked within one hundred feet of a major aquatic lusus incursion, and we will need the road you are parked on in order to position the cranes and the tranquilizing tanks."

"Why do you need all that? I bet between me and Bec, we can move Mister Squiddle back into the water, no problem!" The girl whistles, and grins as a large white wolf sticks its head up beside hers, sticking its nose into the side of her neck.

The police officer has to squint at the wolf, slightly thrown off. "Is - is that a lusus?"

"Nooooo~" the girl says, pursing her lips. "It's Becquerel! He doesn't have a code name yet. He still hasn't decided on one he likes."

"Of course not."

"Anyway, yeah! You just need the big guy back in the water, right? We can totally help with that!"

"While we appreciate heroic assistance in the event of any violent lusii incursions, it would appear this lusus is merely senile, rather than actively violent. The lusus naturae task force ison its way, and then this lusus will need to be tranquilized before it is taken to the deep sea preserve, located several hundred meters offshore. Unfortunately, unless you have mega-elephant dose tranquilizers and a very strong propulsion system on that plane, you would be unable to manage it."

"Eheheh, don't worry! Definitely not a problem!" The girl vanishes back down into the pilot compartment.

When she emerges, the aviator goggles and headscarf are gone. She's in a skin tight black and dark green body suit, with a white lab coat over top that doesn't quite fit her right. She has a set of noise-deadening headphones on, presumably to block out the sound from the massive rifle slung over her shoulder, and a pair of thick glasses with an attached telescopic lens on the right eye. A spiral pattern combined with a duplex crosshair sniper scope pattern is sewn into a patch on her right sleeve.

She's also floating in midair.

"Great. We've got a flier over here," the police officer mutters into her radio.

The wolf hovers up to fly next to her, crackling with green fire, and for a moment the police officer isn't sure if it is just that the wolf's fur covers its eyes, or if the wolf is, in fact, eyeless.

"She also has a flying wolf sidekick," she adds, and then she ducks down behind the guard rail, because like hell is she getting between a flying super hero, her possibly radioactive blind flying wolf, and a still flailing giant sea monster.

"Ready, Bec?" Sharpshooter calls. The wolf lets its tongue loll out of its mouth, then vanishes in a flash of bright, caustic green. When the police officer next locates the canine, she sees it has taken up residence on the mantle of the giant squid, tongue still hanging out of its mouth as it pants and tilts its head to the side, awaiting further instruction. Sharpshooter brings the rifle - no, not a rifle, it's a massive dart gun, where did she even get that? - the dart gun up, bring her telescopic lens down over the right side of her glasses, and takes aim. She pulls the trigger and the recoil sends her floating back a bit. She just laughs a little too loudly, occasionally snorting and clapping a hand over her nose when it happens.

The dart hits the squid dead on and disappears in the mantle. Presumably, Sharpshooter manages to hit the mantle artery, because within a few minutes, the squid stops trying to feebly raise a tentacle to brush off the white wolf and just passes out, the mantle deflating even more than it already had when the lusus heaved itself out of the water.

Up above, Sharpshooter pulls out a handheld computer, tapping at it thoughtfully with the dart gun slung over her back. "You said you wanted Mr Squiddles in a deep sea preserve?"

"The lusii preserve, yes," the police officer shouts back.

"The one called Tōkyō Suisei Yasei Dōbutsu Hogo-ku on the Google map?"

"Uh. Yes!"

"Okie dokey! I have the coordinates right here. Bec! 35° 0'13.85"N and 142°27'12.83"E!"

Sharpshooter makes a rectangular box with the thumb and forefinger of each hand, squints through the box with her tongue sticking slightly out between her teeth, and then gives the wolf a thumbs up. She floats down to land beside Becquerel and there is a pause. The air hums and vibrates after a second, and the police officer feels her ears pop as a large amount of air is suddenly displaced.

The squid is also displaced, along with the girl hero and her wolf.

"Oh dear," the police officer says. After all three fail to reappear after nearly five minutes, she removes her radio from its holster and prepares to cancel the lusus naturae team and contact the deep sea preserve in the faint hopes that the squid lusus actually made it there in one piece. If they've actually lost a sea lusus on her watch, it is coming out of her yearly review, she can feel it.


At the coordinates 35° 0'13.85"N, 142°27'12.83"E, somewhere a good ways away from the Tokyo coastline, Jade Harley lands with a splash on top of a tranquilized squid-type lusus in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She whoops loudly, laughing when a wave of saltwater crashes over the side of the lusus and splashes Becquerel. The wolf glows a faint green, and dries itself off with a thought, not even moving to shake itself.

"Awesome job, Bec!" Jade says, even as the squid recovers from its drugged sleep and begins sleepily rousing itself. Water is already lapping at her boots. "Now, let's head back to the plane!"

The world warps away in a portal of green light as Bec obliges. Jade catches herself on the back of the pilot's chair in her plane, wiping her damp boots off on the floor. "Awesome first job!" she repeats, stretching an arm over her head and taking off the dart gun to hang it on the rack on the wall. "We saved the city from a really depressed giant Squiddle, and no one even got hurt! Grandpa was right, going on a Grand Tour of the world is a great idea!"

Becquerel pants in silent agreement. Then it tilts its head to the side, listening and smelling something Jade can't. "Something wrong, boy?" she asks.

Bec vanishes, but Jade can see the slight greenish glow of its luminous fur through the open hatch to the hold. That's funny, though. Jade could have sworn the hold had been closed when she and Bec left; it had been locked down for the duration of the flight, so that nothing went flying out of the hold when Jade got creative with the flight controls and practiced some midair death-defying loops. She stomps back and kneels beside the open hatch, looking down into the mess of boxes and eccentric antiques that she had rescued before imploding the Harley residence. "What's up, Bec?"

Down in the hold, Bec maintains its usual silence. Having searched the entire hold in a matter of milliseconds, the wolf has deduced that the third passenger on the plane, who had been quiet and relatively nonthreatening throughout the transoceanic flight, has vacated the premises.

Becquerel is, of course, well aware of who and what the stowaway had been. But at the moment, it is no longer relevant. Bec's duty is to guard Jade Harley, and nothing else.

For now.


The police officer will return to where she parked her vehicle to find it gone, and she will be forced to call in backup to pick her up and return her to base, where she will then have to explain to the irritated violetblood troll, who swam in specially from Okinawa to deal with the lusus, that said lusus has been detected within the deep sea reserve by the motion sensors within the preserve. This will end her day on an overall unpleasant note.

Spades Slick could care less, okay? He has places to go and people to stab, and the police vehicle had been the closest thing with the keys still in the ignition. He needs wheels if he's gonna get where he's going, and he doesn't have time to fuck around with that crazy dame and her enormous dog. Fuckin' thing gives Spades the heebie jeebies.

Eighteen years he's spent trapped on that godsforsaken island, five of which he'd spent locked up in the joint being interrogated by that ancient geezer before he kicked off and got stuffed by his own daughter.

Humans. Fuckin' lunatics, the lot of them.

Spades floors it. He's the only carapacian around for miles, and he has to take advantage of that fact for as long as he can, because there's a certain Bearcat Quaintrelle he'd like to avoid for as long as possible.

Yeah, he's running scared. But what can he say? That dame is damned good at what she does, and he still has nightmares about the last time he crossed her.

Better he keep his nose clean, and stick to the shadows.

Anyway. Yeah. Places to go. People to stab.

And a certain Crew to deal with...