Chapter 1

Damage report:

One: Karkat Vantas laying in the middle of a forest marinating in his bodily fluids.

Two: supposedly haunted bridge covered in supposedly demonic runes kids had been scribbling there since the nineteen sixties when an axe murder took place off of the bike trail it was on.

Three: douchebag older brother of douchebag friend (who is somehow part of Karkat's immediate friend group despite being a bag of douche) probably five miles away with a virgin sacrifice hot on his heels and a new demo CD that is probably going to do very well.

Four: the aforementioned bodily fluids are blood.

Five: chest wound. Big. Fucking. Chest wound.

Six: knife in chest. Causing said chest wound.

Seven: "As far as rides home go, this one could have gone exponentially better." Fucking repeating. In Karkat's stupid head. Like the end of a comedy routine.

If Karkat had been a comedian or the kind of kid that liked to adopt a Dane Cook-type voice and narrate his life adventures to his friends (which he was not), that would have been the ending line of his "I just got straight-up Jennifer's Body'd by Eridan's older brother" routine. All things considered, it was a pretty lame ending to what could have been a hilarious anecdote:

"I got drugged at Eridan's party! And then I got dragged out into the middle of the woods where Cronus' band was waiting with a slaughtered chicken and a bunch of sigils and candles! They chanted some shit and stabbed me in the chest and this terrifying black goop welled up from my mouth and I vomited it out for ninety seconds straight until there was enough to coalesce into a giant half-spider girl and she laughed and promised them their CD deal! And then she climbed into the water and I watched her become black goop again and float away! And now I'm going to slowly bleed out as per the contract I watched them form! Adrenaline is the only thing keeping me alive right now! And the knife still lodged in my chest! Haha, I'm going to die! As far as rides home go, this one could have gone exponentially better! HAHAH FUCKING HILARIOUS!"

And everyone would laugh with their mouths practically unhinged like in a bad Adam Sandler movie and John would slap Karkat on the back and tell him to keep his day job or some other contrived comment and everyone would go back to hating each other in relative fucking peace. Everything would be dandy and Karkat would not currently be rolling onto his side and screaming in pain as he attempted to crawl to safety! Hilarious!

Karkat groaned as he safely shifted to his side, his sweater flaking away some of the already-drying blood. The sigils were still cooling after the eruption of the spider demon from Karkat's mouth, giving off a little bit of a bluish glow and powdery smoke of the same hue. Laying in agony as the cold bit in and the adrenaline finally faded away, Karkat began to laugh softly to himself, convulsing on every hiccoughing giggle as it twitched the knife in his chest. Cronus had tossed his cellphone out of his band's van while they were hurtling down the back roads, and—would you look at that—there were no nearby houses; they were all downhill, nestled snug in a little gated community where his dying expletives would be heard as no more than little fox shrieks. Perfect scene for a murder. That's probably why there had been one RIGHT FUCKING THERE fifty years earlier. Maybe someone should've gotten on that. Fucking nature reserves. Karkat wished he could see the look on the face of the jogger that found him later that morning.

He laughed again, disturbing the knife and making himself cough a little blood onto the runes. Idly he began to scribble a doodle where the one his sleeve had scratched out had been. Stupid shit he'd been learning in his astrology course. Jesus fucking shit was it taking an awful long time to die. The adrenaline had faded completely and Karkat was struggling to stay awake by this point, swimming in darkness at the edges of his visions and looking up at the late summer constellations as he rolled onto his back with a sharp shriek. Maybe—fucking maybe—goddamn Cronus had managed to miss hitting anything integral and the knife was just keeping all the blood in. 'Just don't wedge it,' Karkat told himself. 'Maybe if you stay alive until dawn you can make it out of this alive. Cronus never gets his demo CD to go Platinum. Tell your story in some trashy Lifetime movie and be on several episodes of those Investigation Discovery shows that Rose and Kanaya love to marathon on Netflix. Fucking—.'

But nope, that swirling darkness at the edges of his vision has other plans. The stars above Karkat begin to dance, but not in the magical Disneyland way. More in the 'I'm bleeding out and coughing blood and I'm probably going to pass out and then die' way caused by natural dizziness and vision twofold that Sollux liked to talk about when he would get migraines and hit Karkat for the sin of existing.

"Your existence is loud," he'd say.

Karkat smiled into those dark swirls, watching them group and shutter back into smoke. He was thinking about his friends a lot, and for some odd reason, it was comforting to do so as his pulse slipped under and began to beat at a sluggish pace.

He closed his eyes and thought about Kanaya, about the way her lap felt below his head and her perfume and the way it smelled mixed up with her girlfriend's. He thought about John and their movie marathons and their constant trash-talking of one another. He thought about Dave and the way the nape of his neck was so vulnerable after a haircut and about how weird that was to think about when he was dying. The view from his dad's shoulders when he was a little kid. His brother's face screwed up and red as Karkat barked laughter. The sound of the cat bell hanging on Terezi's walking stick. Feferi's curls. The stickers of Tavros' wheelchair. Nepeta and Equius sitting on a park bench at the last Fourth of July, holding sparklers—

Karkat realized he was sobbing and opened his eyes, wailing a little in pain. No way. No fucking way. He refused to die there with all of his dumbass friends having to haul him into the grave.

But, even as his vision came back into focus, that dark smoke on the edge of his vision was still present. It was no longer the same shade of cobalt that it had been when it was smoldering after the summoning of the demon—it had turned shades darker, to plum. It was thicker, too, less of a fog machine smoke and more of an oil fire. Karkat scrambled up onto his palms, staring down at his chest in bewilderment. The knife still stuck out from the center, wet blood surrounding it and darkening his sweater—but the wound was void of pain. It wasn't the same white-hot blade of numbness that had taken over with the adrenaline, but it was simply void of pain. Karkat stared down at the sigils, finding them glowing a bright amethyst. The forked 'm' that he had accidentally erased and replaced with a random symbol from his mind was the most illuminated. Karkat's heart sunk.

"Oh fuck."

The plum-colored smoke, which was swirling around him clockwise began to twirl in the other direction rapidly, embracing Karkat in a tall cocoon before crashing down on the bridge below him. Karkat fell to his side, scrambling away as quickly as he could before the collapsed smoke gained depth, swirling at the edges to become a portal. What the cocksucking twink had he done? Even if he had managed to summon some astrological demon he hadn't even said any of that Latin horseshit—

A curse word.

A. Curse. Word.

Of all the fucking times to open his goddamn mouth—

A single hand reached out of the portal—though it was more like a set of five claws connected to a vaguely hand-shaped shadow—and hooked on to the wood at its edge. The demon lifted itself out of the portal, reaching out for Karkat with its other hand and grabbing for a handhold on the knife. The boy sat paralyzed, letting it happen as his mind recoiled in horror in his place. It didn't even hurt as the—thing hefted itself out of the portal fully by the hilt of the knife. And from the weight of the thing, that was impressive. Goddamn Cutco knives.

Karkat began to laugh hysterically at his own brain's fear-induced antics as the demon hauled itself up to its impressive height above him. Not that it was hard to be taller than Karkat—man his internal monologue was full of zingers when he was scared shitless and laying in front of a demon.

It was covered in a thick layer of the same dense smokey material that it had emerged from—or maybe it was made of it, it was hard to tell.

There seemed to only be several parts of it not made up of the smoke: its eyes glowing with the same intensity of the sigils, pulsating shades of scarlet and plum; its claws, black but definite against the rest of its foggy outline; a pair of terrible horns curling up and up, shining wetly; and perhaps most awful was the stark white rows of thin, sharp teeth stretching uncannily below its eyes.

It crumpled back down onto its haunches and began to crawl towards Karkat, tilting its head to the side. Curls of smoke—its hair, he realized—tilted to the side along with its movements and evanesced off of its head as it leaned forward towards him. Karkat began to backpedal, shrieking as a sudden pain ripped through his chest. The demon lunged towards him, securing its claws around his thigh and dragging him back towards him in a single, pants-shitting lurch. The pain instantly vanished.

"I wouldn't be up and leaving the summoning array, brother," the demon rasped. Its mouth of reptile teeth never moved, voice echoing behind Karkat's temple instead, "Not before the deal is set, you hear?"

Though the stark contrast between blurring consciousness and sudden, sharp awareness was disorienting, Karkat didn't miss the implications, "You—." He choked behind his typical, loud bravado, "You seem pretty sure about me making a deal."

The demon shrugged—a silky movement of smoke riding to the sides of his head despite the fact that he remained on all fours, and otherwise completely stationary, "I don't see why the fuck not. You didn't mean to up and summon me, but you ain't got no reason not to get your deal on."

Karkat sat for a moment, attempting to puzzle out the double negatives before speaking.

"Oh?" His breath cracked a little despite himself and the demon laughed, its low growl of a voice rattling in Karkat's chest.

"Brother, your death wasn't a necessity in that other bro's plans," it—he?—began, "You bleed out and die here, you donate your fluids and be on your merry way. Doesn't matter. He's got what he wants. A bit of virgin smeared on the old bridge."

"What the fuck does that have to do with anything?" Karkat demanded, scooting as far away from the creature as humanly possible without exiting the purple glow of the summoning circle. It sounded to Karkat like he was biding his time.

"What I'm saying is," it slipped closer towards him in an elegant plume of smoke and suddenly Karkat could see the little imperfections on its white teeth—see them shining with saliva and smell the maw behind them stinking with carnivore breath, "We won't be impeding on spider sis' contract if I make a bad deal with you brother—what I'm saying is, you shake this motherfucker's hand or your life up and runs out." He shrugged again, this time bothering to move his arms instead of just manipulating the smoke his body was made of, "What. I'm. Motherfucking. Saying. Is. Either way, I'm going to make a mad meal of your soul bits once you die."

Karkat's stomach roiled. Perfect. He was demon chow either way—unless it was lying of course.

"What if," he licked his lips, "What if I don't want you to eat my soul."

The glowing portals of the demon's eyes swelled from slits to perfect circles, making it—if possible—even more inhuman and disturbing, "Clever brother I've got here," he mused more to himself, "Not many think to ask. But yeah, since you asked: you got three choices." He raised one of his giant paws, holding up three black claws. He wriggled the first, "Best way to screw a brother over is giving up your soul to me when you die. Second," he flicked his middle finger up and down in an unsubtle gesture towards the first option, "You give me your mind. Soul and body stay intact, but they're my motherfucking puppets to play with. And third," his round eyes contracted and expanded, grin actually, literally curling at the edges as he moved the last finger in a 'come-hither' motion, "You give me your body."

Karkat felt his pulse drop into his stomach, "Body." He repeated with as little fear as he could muster, "And if my soul gets eaten, and my mind controlled, my body would be—."

"Mine." The demon hissed licentiously, lunging towards Karkat just a bit, "I'd up and have you brother, spill myself into you, get myself all good and curled up in those wicked little limbs—up in you so deep and fully that there's no end to me and you."

"Oh." Karkat repeated flatly.

"Tick-tock brother." It chirped back at him, one of its fingers jabbed towards Karkat's chest and he looked down to see the knife wrench itself from his chest and fly out of the demon circle. It caused him no pain, but the torrent of blood that it had been holding in sent a phantom slice of horror through his chest all the same. "Pretty soon you'll bleed out and your soul's mine for the eating either way. What's it going to be? Gonna die as food?" It crawled even closer, leaning down so that the literal orbs of purple light were lined with Karkat's eyes, "As a poppet?" It lunged, almost closing the distance between them—Karkat could feel its hot breath on his face as it rasped in his mind: "Or mine?" It leaned back then, eyes scrunching up into joyful little slits. "Better make your decision brother, time's on my side."

With each dimming pulse, the hole in Karkat's chest issued forth a little torrent of blood. The demon literally had him trapped—soul was no-go, since it was just going to eat him either way—why was he even considering the bargain, it could have been a lie—mind was just as good as being a living corpse—and body was—

Karkat looked at the hulking creature made of smoke, trembled and thrust out his hand.

Body was a temporary thing—just lay back, think of England and—

"You can have my body." He said with far more clarity than he was certain he could muster in the moment.

"In exchange for what?" The demon hesitated, perfectly still.

"In exchange for my life! For keeping me alive!" Karkat shouted hysterically, all but lunging towards the demon. Its maw finally opened to reveal a shining purple tongue that slid over its top row of teeth like a cannibal inspecting its prey and it lunged forth.

Karkat squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself for impact, instead finding himself brushed by what he could only describe as a fog rain before being seized around the calves by twin clawed hands and yanked forward. His eyes snapped open and the last thing he saw was the portal engulfing him before he was drug down into velvety blackness. And then, a second later, he made impact with a surprisingly cushy surface.

As he opened his eyes, Karkat dimly realized that he had been holding his forearms in front of his face—body gone rigid in terror and expectation. Hesitantly, he lowered them and blinking in the hazy half-light pouring down on him from a conspicuously familiar lamp in the corner. Karkat whipped his head around, looking at the dresser next to it—a black IKEA model dinged up and covered in old soccer trophies and attendance awards. There was a corkboard on the closet door caddy-corner to it displaying photos of his friends, fortune cookie papers, and ticket stubs. The sheets and pillows of the bed below him were contorted into an awful nest. It was his bedroom.

Karkat's hands flew to his chest, finding it surprisingly dry and hole-less. Taking a deep breath he flopped down onto the pillows and pulled himself into the fetal position. Even as his mind worked to convince him that the whole ordeal had been a dream, Karkat knew that it most certainly had not been. The sensations had been too real—the glowing sigils and the demon's eyes, the chill still worked under his flesh, the sensation of the knife in his chest—he was absolutely certain of everything that had happened. But where was the demon?

"Nice room you've got here, Karbro."

Karkat nearly launched himself off of the side of his bed in horror as a form made itself present beside him. It had the same rumbly voice that had sounded off in his brain moments before, but it was sounding off from the throat of a very solid presence on his mattress. Karkat heaved several deep breaths as he glanced over the demon. It had—apparently—settled into a human form: a spindly-limbed young man hardly older than he with a dark shag of curls falling around his inhumanly plum-colored eyes. His horns still jutted from the crown of his head, however, and the claws were still present at the tips of his fingers—though no more than avian hooks rising out of the nail bed. Besides that, he was dressed inexplicably causally in a pair of jeans and a dirty hoodie. Karkat nearly hit him for having his sneakers on his bed, but thought better of it as soon as the demon opened his mouth and began to pick at the (thankfully more petite) set of razor-thin teeth.

Karkat's mouth opened and closed several times, attempting to produce something of value before he finally ground out: "Are we really in my fucking room?"

The demon looked at him lazily, and Karkat nearly felt stupid for being afraid of this thing moments before. His eyes were slightly glazed over, giving him an almost animal absentmindedness—the sheen of a stoner who'd seen a few too many pipes in his day.

"Huh? Naw, this is hell." The demon responded as if he were remarking on the weather. This week in hell, expect fire and brimstone raining down on the souls of the damned for a solid twenty-four hours. Next week, its great weather to take the wife and kids to the plutonian shore for fun and fried remains of animal abusers!

"Oh." Said Karkat, finding himself absent of all his usual mouth-foaming rage in the face of his eternal doom and impending loss of virginity. "Uhm. Forever?"

"Naw brother, just until we get the parameters set. This not your dig for hell contracts?" The demon arched his hands backwards and stretched them out before him, cracking the knuckles wickedly.

"I'd," Karkat licked his lips. Meulin would love to smoke a bowl with a chill-ass stoner demon like this—oh look, the wicked stress-induced zingers had been back for a while, how about that? "I'd really not want to associate my room with—what's going to happen." 'With the unholy reaming my stupid ass is about to get from a hell demon in like three minutes.' His brain filled in helpfully.

The demon hopped off of the bed and shrugged once more—suddenly, its constant inhuman-looking shrugs from earlier seemed much lazier than threatening. He raised a clawed hand and snapped, causing the room to take a violent lurch. The colors around Karkat spun and the bed around him expanded, the sheets snaking under him to form another preposterous nest in black and deep purple. Four wooden posters swathed in dark silks erupted from the edges of the bed and the light of the lamp gave way to dark red candles flickering with deep purple flame. Something told him that whatever gave off purple light when burned probably wasn't healthy to breathe in. Regardless, the mirrors swathed in purple gossamer and creepy candlelight lent much more into the hell theme than Karkat's dirty bedroom and soccer trophies that he'd earned when he was nine—though the atmosphere seemed more Rose-worthy than something he'd expect the stoner demon to conjure up.

However, Karkat wasn't about to push his luck by asking for another adjustment in scenery. The demon seemed busy, walking over to a black podium and picking up a piece of parchment paper. He turned to Karkat—who was still sitting awkwardly in the sheets like a child awaiting an adult to scold him—and handed him the paper. On it, inscribed in Chaucerian calligraphy, was the contract:

On This Day, 13 September 2014, KARKAT VANTAS does give his FLESH to GAMZEE MAKARA ARCHEDUKE OF THE FIFTH CIRLE OF HELL in exchange for THE CONTINUATION OF HIS LIFE AND REPARATION OF HIS MORTAL FLESH until natural death at the hands of outside forces*.

Signed on this date by

gAmZeE mAkArA

and

*Including but not limited to the attacks of other demons, vehicle-related accidents, various hell shenanigans, equine stampedes, faerie circles, cancer, and green M&Ms. Refer to complementary pamphlet 'Faustian Contracts and You' upon completion of contract for full list of terms and conditions.

Karkat stared down at the blank space where his signature was supposed to go, up at the demon—who was apparently named Gamzee and who had horrible handwriting, and back down at the odd list following the asterisk.

"What about green M&Ms?" He asked.

"What do you think, brother?" Gamzee rumbled, leaning down onto the bed over Karkat, supporting his weight on the palms which fell over either side of him, "Sound good enough for you? Can't keep you here long without you signing this bad motherfuck—time's on my side and you still got your lifeblood down and hanging on a string, right over that brook."

He snapped and Karkat's vision went black. For a moment he could see himself lying dead in a puddle of blood on the bridge. His insides clouded with horror as his current reality came back into focus, along with Gamzee's face. He was smiling at Karkat—eyes half-lidded, lips closed, but the tips of his fangs poking out over them in a small but strong reminder of the situation at hand. Karkat swallowed.

"Where's a pen?" He croaked, voice sounding as chapped as his lips were going to be after all this awkward lip-licking on his part.

Gamzee shifted, grasping Karkat's chin between his cool finger and thumb, "Ain't got to need for one."

They kissed in what was more of an awkward press of cold-on-dry closed lips, and Karkat heard the paper crackle in his hand. They pulled away and he glanced down, only to see his name fanning out in his handwriting over the provided line in glossy red that-definitely-isn't-ink.

Out of nowhere, a shiny pamphlet plopped down on Karkat's chest as Gamzee rolled back up to stand. Karkat grasped it and held it out in front of him. The cover bore a picture of a conservatively-dressed, smiling middle-aged woman next to a handsome young man with what had to be the most generic red devil horns money could buy. 'Faustian Contracts and You' was emblazoned over them in loopy white letters. Karkat flipped open to the first page of the pamphlet, displaying a girl with glowing red eyes and a mouth full of braces: 'Welcome!' the text read in a chipper font, 'Congratulations on your first Faustian contract!'

Karkat skimmed the brochure, flipping through the pages of the dead-eyed contracted and their sinister guarantors until he found the appropriate page: 'Contracts of the Flesh'. Gamzee plopped down beside him roughly, resting a cheek on Karkat's shoulder. He almost shook it off, but knowing that a veritable mouth full of razors was a hair's breadth away from his jugular did not help him feel any more comfortable with pushing the demon away.

'Contracts of the flesh (more commonly known as contracts of the 'body') are the rarest form of contract due to the undertaking both demon and charge are required to submit to. On the eve of the contract's formation, the two will bind to one another—flesh, body, and soul—for all eternity. However, if the charge is below the age of consent, the binding will not take place until the time that they come of age.

However, if you're over eighteen—look out! You've got a wild night ahead of you. Here are some tips and tricks for making your entrance into eternal damnation a more pleasurable experience for you and your partner:'

Releasing a hysterical laugh, Karkat flipped to the next page and was met with what he could only assume was a detailed medical-grade chart of demon anatomy. He promptly threw the booklet over one shoulder and himself into the pillows of the bed, disturbing Gamzee's perch upon his shoulder. The demon released a muffled bleat into Karkat's pant leg, making him laugh even harder as he ran his fingers through his hair, trembling violently.

"Oh my fuck," he laughed, "Oh my pus-licking anus fuck."