In Somnis Veritas, Part IV

Participants:

s_angelina_icon.gif s_bao-wei_icon.gif cat_icon.gif s_corbin_icon.gif s_daphne_icon.gif s_helena_icon.gif hokuto_icon.gif s_kaylee_icon.gif s_logan_icon.gif s_meredith_icon.gif molly_icon.gif mortimer_icon.gif nightmare_icon.gif

In Shadows:

s_cat_icon.gif cameron_icon.gif hokuto2_icon.gif s_hokuto_icon.gif

Also Featuring:

julie_icon.gif luis_icon.gif

Scene Title In Somnis Veritas, Part IV
Synopsis The identity of the Nightmare Man is revealed in the final battle.
Date February 19, 2010

The Nightmare Man's Dreamscape


In the ongoing search for self…

From thigh high up, the world resembles little more than a sea of black smile backlit by flames. Beyond where the metal scaffolding and framework of this dark tower rises up there is nothing but concrete stairs spiraling endlessly towards a luminous pinnacle of this ominous spire. But without the rusted steel and twisted metal in the way, the true size and scope of the Nightmare Man's realm is revealed to the eyes of the dreamwalkers traversing it.

there are days when we learn something genuinely new.

A carpet of fluffy black clouds encircles the lowest visible point of the tower nearly a half mile below, black ashen clouds that bloom with fiery orange light from continued eruptions of explosions on the surface of New York City below. The thick cloud cover has blocked out view of a burnt orange sky, a perpetual twilight realm where the sun is a crimson globe hovering over the pinnacle of the dark tower and the world is a burning ruin below. But in those black clouds, in that expanse of incindeary nightmare below, tiny pinpoints of vibrant blue light shine like beacons; the minds of sleeping Refrain users, glowing like candles in the dark.

Something uncovered

Soon in the ascent, the pinnacle of the tower draws nearer. The wide concrete stairs give way to a flat top of the two hundred foot wide spine of the tower, emerging out onto the "roof" of the structure, where a massive seven-sided emblem is engraved into the floor and inlaid with ash in the deep grooves. It resembles a Hindu mandala, with a spiral at its center and an elaborate connection of interlocking lines and patterns. Standing around the mandala seal on the top of the tower, are thirty-five small marble statues of children, each of them standing with their hands clasped together and heads bowed, eyes closed.

hidden

Opposite of where the spiral staircase emerged on the top of the tower, a single set of twenty-two stairs, each engraved with a Roman numeral starting at XXI at the bottom of the stairs and ending at 0 at the top extends out to the heavens, ending at a hovering archway in the sky with a pair of weought iron doors flanked by a pair of statues of long-haired women in traditional Japanese kimono. One has her hands covering her face and her head bowed, the other has her hands cupped and palms held up, but a blindfold covers her eyes. As the dreamwalkers emerge onto this rooftop, there is a low, sonorous rumble in the air that causes the tower to vibrate and those metal doors to creak noisily.

that we never knew was there.

"I deny you." Comes the booming male voice from the doorway, followed by a brilliant flash of light as the doors fling open and a concussive wave of force blasts across the roof of the tower. Cat is sent tumbling off of her feet, caught in mid-air by her panther's careful grip of his jaws around her ankle, swinging her back around to the tower's peak. Helena stumbles back from the blast as Cameron throws himself in front of her, creating a whirling shield of fire over one arm. The shockwave parts around Corbin, strangely, but impacts against Meredith as she tries to raise her hands to shield herself from the blast. The blonde goes flying over the edge of the tower, well past the stairs to plummet into the fiery clouds below.

Something that surprises us.

Emerging from the now open doorway at the top of the stairs, a towering masculine figure is backlit by the brilliant golden glow of nothing but flames beyond the archway. As the fires die down, his form becomes visible in clear detail to those still clinging to the top of the tower. He is a twelve foot tall statue of green-gray stone, slicked as though constantly wet. In one hand he clutches an enormous book and over the other is draped the trail of a carved cloth wrap that covers portions of his wizened but muscular body. He has the appearance of an athletic old man, furrowed brows and deep socketed eyes with a hawkish nose, like some ancient Greek scholar.

And on that day of self-discovery, the question remains:

"So you come, in the twilight hour, to where this all began." One colossal stone foot comes crashing down onto a step, sending a shockwave through the tower. "Rising to pound fists on my door, persistant on discovering the answer you will not want." Another step comes crashing down, and the gigantic man of stone begins to descend to the roof of the tower, even while howling winds swirl around the pinnacle, and flashes of lightning begin to erupt from the clouds below to track up to the orange sky in some mockery of physics.

What kind of person are we?

"If this is the answer you so desperately seek… I will give it to you. Perhaps this is my reward, for having pushed so many of you to strength. This is my thankless task." One stone hand reaches inside the book, removing an actual paper card from within, depicting a young blonde woman carrying a stick and bag over her shoulder, with a fiery orange bird tagging along at her heels. At the top of the card, is the number 0 and at the bottom is written, THE FOOL.

Does the hero…

"You must already know. What people fear most, what they try to ignore… That is what I am." The Nightmare Man holds up the card, and there is a hurricane of electricity and clouds that surge forth from Helena Dean, drawn into the surface of the Tarot card, before the Nightmare Man's eyes crackle with lightning, and a bolt launches outwards from the card, slamming into the dark-haired form of Mortimer Jack. The young man lets out a pained scream and is blown back off of the roof of the tower, electricity crackling over his body as he vanishes from sight. "The Arcana is the means by which all is revealed."

or the villain inside us…

Moving down another stair, the Nightmare Man withdraws a second card to hold up from the book along with the Fool. This one, marked with a I and depicts a brown haired man with silver eyes holding up a soldering iron in one hand standing over a workbench, with an infinity symbol formed from two interlocking gears and chains over his head. Below the depiction is listed, THE MAGICIAN. "Attaining one's dream requires a stern will and unfailing determination…" The statue's eyes turn to a mercurial silver color from the matte stone finish they once had. "I will show you the answer."

…win the day?

Eyes dart around wildly as she's almost blown off the tower and set right by the panther's quick action, moving to steady her footing and take in what proceeds from here. Cameron's fire, Helena's lightning coming after the first tarot card is shown, the huge man of stone who looks Greek. "Okay," Cat muses, "so the entity wants us to think it's a giant statue of Plato or Socrates now?"

Angelina doesn't look that impressed at the theatrics from the Nightmare Man. More she just looks…well, like she wants to blow something else up. "Oh why don't you just the hell up, man? You haven't done anything. /We/ made ourselves strong. Not you. You're just another bad guy with delusions of grandeur," she mutters, disgust dripping from every word.

A surge of white and gold, the unicorn's golden hooves slip and clatter against the stony ground of the tower top, Logan desperately gripping onto the creature's flowing gold locks as if fearing not only getting thrown off the back of the creature, but over the side. He's already seen that happen at least once on his way up. The mare he rides on shifts to the side restlessly when Mortimer Jack is cast off by the whip-crack fast bolt of lightning, and in truth, he might feel better on his own feet — but he doesn't risk it, bent over the long neck of the unicorn and legs clamped on either side of her shining bare back. He casts his eyes out to the view, recognition reflecting in cat-green for all the shining blue specks on the horizon. He'd seen that before.

He's different since the last some of these faces saw him in the waking world, his eyes the colour of cut emerald and clothing that of princely, fairytale costuming. A cape of golden silk twists in the wind, the same colour as an immaculate, embroidered waistcoat over white silk. White trousers tucked into black riding boots, and a golden sword rests in a sheath at his hip. He's everything he imagines a hero should be, and the clothes make the man.

In theory. "Blimey." There's a silky hiss as the sword is extracted from its sheath, jewelstones set into the hilt and perfect reflections bouncing off its precious metal surface. "Anyone come up with a plan yet?"

There were so many who stepped foot on the roof, finally. Of all the things there, one thing gained Corbin's eyes the most, the blindfolded figure. He immediately began moving closer, pale eyes wide. But then their numbers start to dwindle, and quickly. First the fiery woman who'd been with him, then a man he only passingly recognizes. He whips back to lookw here they fell, noticing the fact that the blast didn't touch him, but hit Meredith instead.

The agent is dressed in dark clothes for a change, mostly browns and grays, rather than his usual hints of color. Even then, his clothes look exceptionally ruffled, from all the movement, and the running. He's even winded. Not everyone can be like the white-blonde girl nearby, who he actually gets closer to. Seeing them get taken out one by one isn't good. They just got this far. "We should probably stay close to each other…" That appears to be the extent of his plan at the moment.

"Meredith!" is cried out, a blurred form speeding toward the dreamwalker. As the concussive blast throws the firestarter over the side of the tower, Daphne's blurred hands reach out, catching nothing but air as she watches the woman fall into the clouds. Her form now becomes still and static, revealing her to the others as she turns; her face is contorted with fear and pain, having seen the unfamiliar woman fall seemingly to her doom. Dark eyes seek Corbin's pale ones. That's two down of their merry lot of four, and her guess is that if only one survives, it will be Corbin — given that the shockwave moved around him like the red sea parted for Moses.

Daphne's eyes flicker to the others, unfamiliar but for the dream in Hokuto's classroom, except for Logan on his fairy horse. "I'm not sure. We seemed to piss him off just by being stubborn last time. Maybe that will work… strong wills to defeat his." She lifts her chin, as if to muster her courage and her will — she can be stubborn, to be certain.

"They say be careful what you wish for," she calls ahead to the statue-like entity.

With her powers temporarily gone, Helena must depend on Cameron to protect her. She stands behind him, but that doesn't mean she's out of things to offer. "We've got a plan." she declares. "Protect Kaylee. She's the telepath, she's the one who can keep shredding away all the lies until there's nothing left. We keep her safe, she works her whammy, blueberry pancakes for breakfast." There's a pause and she lifts her voice. "If he takes your powers, he can't push back against your avatar. If he removes your avatar, he can't push on your powers. And there's enough of us that this has got to be straining him."

Bao-Wei does not so much to take the stairs as he simply has to avoid being struck by reversed lightning or getting accidentally gulped up by the coal colored clouds. The dragon alights on the top of the tower hooved hind feet first, claws scraping at the floor to bring the rest of him to a halt. That clubbed tail soars precariously out behind him, whistling past statues as it slows second. The long whiskers on his face hang curling at the air, those above his eyes lifting as his pupils do, up to the statue of a man speaking quite down to them.

Logan and his mare are on one side, whereas Bao-Wei's form takes up a great chunk of the opposite. The peanut gallery in the Nightmare Man's head offers him some choice words, and in some way he has his own, but it stays in his head. No good deed goes unpunished. He knows it, he is sure that this nightmare knows it too. The dragon's mouth opens into a gutteral growl up to the air, the short ridge of fur along his spine raising, as does what hackles are along his shoulders.

"Not much of a plan." His horned head tilts towards the others, eyes narrowing at them in question.

Having arrived with Cat and Helena, Kaylee gets front row seats to see both attacked. Maybe it's a good thing she's behind them both as they are almost thrown from the roof, taking the brunt of what the Nightmare Man sends their ways. As the first booming step is made by the Nightmare Man, Kaylee is straightening from where she fell to the roof to avoid it. Climbing to her feet slowly, her dress is a bit more of crisp white then it has in some times, the tears and rips gone from the light and airy fabric, the leaves in her hair seem to have gone back to their green, a thick tendril of it seem to curl through her hair and rests around her neck lightly.

Helpless, the young telepath can only watch Meredith and Mortimer Jack blown off the roof, a worried look crossing her features. Helena's words catch her attention and she looks at the other blonde with raised brows. "What?!" Wide blue eyes go to the descending figure, she's here… but what the hell now? Her eyes shift to the statue and she bites her lower lip. "I… don't want to hurt Hokuto though.. We can't just risk muscling through.. you heard what he said. I don't think he'd lie about that if he needs her alive." Glancing around her seeing who all is still there. "Not to mention.. I'm not the energizer bunny."

"What does not kill you, will make you stronger." Comes the proverb from the Nightmare Man as he descends the steps further, bald head tilted back and chromed eyes gazing out over the tower's roof. "Where would you all have been were it not for me? For what I showed you, and this is how you repay me!?" Those mercurial eyes settle on the blonde atmokinetic, and from the pair of cards in his hand, the Nightmare Man generates a howling torrent of winds that swirl over the roof, followed by a rumble of thunder from below the tower.

"You follow the blind advice of a woman who refuses to attain the strength I have granted to each of you. Time and again I challenged your perceptions of yourself to give you the opportunity to find your own self and salvation from this cruel world we have been forced to live in. Yet you see me the enemy? How very much like a Greek tragedy."

The cyclonic winds whipping around the tower join together to form a serpentine funnel cloud over the tower's rooftop, moving out like a mockery of a serpentine dragon towards Bao-Wei, coming crashing down on his scaly form, buffeting him back and away through the burnt orange skies, only to have the flying dragon roar back against the clouds and claw his way thorugh the skies back to the tower. "I will defend this place with every ounce of my being. Your misguided attempts at righteousness born out of her fear will not dissuade me."

With a thunderous crash of his stone feet, the Nightmare Man descends the next pair of steps, discarding the tarot cards in his hand to float up around his body, glowing with warm fiery light, orbiting him like moons to a planet. First from the book, he removes a card depicting a matronly old woman with dark hair in a black fur coat, red lips pressed together ina stern thin line. At the top of the card is the Roman numeral II while at the bottom of the card is the title THE HIGH PRIESTESS."Years ago they realized that I am not the enemy they thought I was, you will learn…" The card glows in a soft, radiant shade of light and conjures forth a change of the scenery around their conflict. Gone now is the burning clouds and churning sea of flames below, replaced instead by a whirl of snow and ice, towers of concrete covered with frost and snow blanketing New York City as far as they eye can see. The Hudson and East Rivers frozen completely solid, ice burying skyscrapers up five stories, in the distance the Statue of Liberty is windblown with icicles and frost.

"The Arcana is the path to the answer." The Nightmare Man reaches in for a second card inside of the book, "Fear of the life you lived, gives way tof ear of the life you wish you could recall. What you hide draws out your strength and turns it against you. Only in confrontation of the truth is strength achieved." The card removed depicts a waifish young woman laying back on a chaise lounge in a field of wheat. One of her hands is lifted with wrist bend to the air, and a black bird has perched — wings outspread — on the back of her hand. At the top of the card is the Roman numeral III and at the bottom is reads THE EMPRESS.

The moment that card is lifted, a horrible and shrill sound fills the air, as countless black forms begin to emerge from the cloudy and snowy skies of New York City. Flapping wings sound like the thundering beat of war drums, and the cawing cries of thousands of ravens swirling down like a tornado from above begin to descend on those fighting on the rooftop, clawing talons, beating wings and snapping beaks all in one. Worse yet is that the air temperature keeps diminishing, creating a bitter cold and driving wind that is only growing more profound.

He's getting stronger.

Her head turns toward Helena, and a quiet commentary is offered. "You may have to back me up and fill me in too," Cat states calmly, "if it suppresses me I won't know what the hell is going on. The panther too may be useless then. If I can't remember, she can't either." For all that, she's not backing away or showing any kind of fear. Cards are watched as they're used, she sees the effects of them. "So the blonde woman with the sack is you. I don't know who the next one, the magician, is. But the birds, that seems to represent someone who isn't here." Maybe Helena will get who she means.

"Can't muscle through? Oh screw that!" Angelina calls as she tries to remain right where she is. "If I can't touch him, I'll damn well do /something/!" she mutters, eyeing the cards that are circling around the Nightmare man. She may not know what the deal with the cards is exactly, but things flying around? Never good! So while she grabs onto some part of Dragon-Wei to keep herself in place, and she focuses on Magician card. And, in the nature of a hot-tempered woman with a hot-tempered power, she focuses her ability on it, and does her best to blow it up!

Logan cries out at the sudden onslaught of birds, sword abruptly slashing through the air in an effort to protect himself. A piece of wing is lopped away, even as one black avian body descends to tear steely claws into his cape and unceremoniously yank him off the back of his unicorn, who whinnies in obvious irritation, head ducked and horn gleaming against the onslaught. His sword skitters away, marred with the blood of ravens.

Silk whipping with the icy wind, he shudders, turning pale eyes up at the Nightmare Man with some kind of comprehension alighting there. He knows what to do with strong people, after all. In the same moment that his hand winds around the hilt of his sword, his eyes flare bright, lambent green.

The effect is immediate, if late.

Birds lose organisation and killing intent around the same time that the bitter cold and the driving wind both begin to deplete as abilities are sealed off from the entity's resources. The effects of negation sinking in. Getting to his knees, Logan draws himself up. He gives a bark of laughter— it's always that easy!— as he backs up a step. "Move," he tells the group, keeping his focus squared. "Do something while I've got 'im where I want 'im."

"Ray." No, not that Ray. A scarecrow suddenly takes form behind Daphne, looking more ominous and foreboding than the simple burlap and straw entity of her childhood home. "Make yourself useful and scare those fucking birds away or something," she tells her rather ridiculous Avatar — only she knows its true significance — the one time in her youth she did something productive and helpful, the one time she stopped thinking about herself and her problems. Much like now.

Leaving the golem scarecrow to do its work, though Logan has already begun to work on the birds, Daphne's dark eyes dart from one card to the other, before she sees the Magician card begin to glow, thanks to the strange Dreamwalker's concentration. Without a word of warning, and perhaps a shock to those around her, her form seems to lose solidity and blurs as she speeds toward the statue as it descends the steps, jumping to snatch the floating card depicting the blond wayfarer. If she succeeds, she'll speed back down out of the grasp of the Nightmare Man.

No really. The scarecrow seems to help Corbin out, cause he ducks down to avoid the bird attack. He has no sword, and his avatar seems to be a ghostly black and white misty thing on his back that doesn't seem to be taking a real form. In fact he doesn't even seem to notice it. No powers of his own, he might be willing to sit back and let them take the brunt of the damage and deflect most the attacks, but…

As Daphne wisps past him, disregarding his request to stay close, he would be more worried— but she's so fast he hopes she will be fine. And it doesn't stop him from doing the same. Just like she ran up the stairs, he leaves behind the protective scarecrow, and the rest, and makes for the stairs, taking them much slower than Daphne, but trying to get up as many as he can anyway.

"It's a plan," Helena says to Bao-Wei. "You come up with something better." She then adds over her shoulder to Kaylee, "You may not be a battery, but it's up to you to decide whether this is worth pushing yourself for."

In the meantime, Cameron considers the Nightmare Man. "Here goes nothing," the reckless part of Helena goes, and a fireball forms in his hands, then slung in the direction of the tarot cards.

Bao-Wei didn't even know who Kaylee was until she spoke; he is more than ready to catch her attention when he is scraped- not lifted- from the tower and into the air. His claws extend from both paws to slash angrily at the cyclonic serpent surrounding him, breaking it apart like ribbons and diving back through the dusky cloud cover to return to the tower. It comes off as a weak attempt- a weak attempt to brush him off.

He comes closer as the wind chills, and the world around the tower blinks into the cityscape; the coldness sprouts a secondary layer of rusty orange across green scales, short, coarse, and keeping his warmth close. When he lands this time, long ivory claws dig into the substance of the floor, rooting the dragon there. He has landed virtually in front of Kaylee, offering her a place to duck in the interim, giving her precious time to hack something out- Helena's plan is really the only one they do have. Angelina proxies his grip by latching onto one of his trunk-like forearms, but somehow it only feels like a mouse holding onto one's foot. The birds come next, filling his ears with that raucous noise of beaks, wings, and throats- it scratches at his hearing like pulling a needle over a record, and really only serves to anger him a step further. Logan does something- but the birds seem to be causing him some inordinate irritation regardless.

A handful of them know what's coming when the dragon tenses the muscles in his back and neck, a silent inhale escaping in the form of a fan of scorching flame high into the air, catching idling ravens ablaze and sideswiping as Bao-Wei swivels his head- arcing for the statue of Morpheus as it descends, likely even swinging wildly enough to take out a short span of those childlike statues surrounding the mandala.

A smile sly smile touches Kaylee's lips as she stands watching, the vine around her neck darkening slowly, shifting like something alive. Though as the dragon drops in front of her, blocking her view the young woman, jumps, staring up at the large dragon for a moment. Until a diamond shaped head separates from the now midnight darkness of scales around her neck. Unblinking red blood eyes look up at the dragon for a moment eerie as there is no emotions in the snakes features. Then the head turns to the blond woman.

"//You know what you have to do… //"

Those closest to her hear the hissed words from the black creature. The words like silk over the skin, tempting all around the telepath, even though he only speaks to her. The black head, tilts as the blonde's cheek touches the snakes head.

"Make him weak…"

Feet bare of anything, carry her forward, until she can see the statue past the large dragon. A hand rests on green scales, in thanks as she let her ability unwind from her, moving to try and sink itself into the mind of the Nightmare Man, trying to press the tendrils of her mind into his. Her chin tilts in defiance as her hand lifts and makes a little flickering gesture. Her own voice seems to take on that same silken feeling as it's raised above the sounds of the birds.. at least for the Nightmare Man. "You may think you have strengthened us.. «But you are weak.»" The words almost sound hissed out like the snake. "«Weak against us all. Feel it!»"

Radiant gold light surges over the image of the Magician tarot card, patterns of white hot heat mottle against its surface, and then with the concussive power of a hand grenade the card explodes by the side of the Nightmare Man's face. Stone cracks and shatters, sending his head jerking to the side as shards of green-gray rock erupt from his face and a spider-web cracking of his facade spreads down his neck. The instant that card is destroyed, the silvery color of the Nightmare Man's remaining stone eye fades back to it's normal granite gray.

Smoke rises from the side of the Nightmare Man's face, where a small portion of flesh is visible beneath the shattered stone, and one wide golden eye staring out from beneath the shattered mask of his stony form. There is a person beneath all of that rocky exterior, the facade of the Nightmare Man, hiding himself from the world. A growl of pain roars in a deep and bellowing voice as a stone hand comes up to touch the exposed flesh.

Cameron's fireball impacts the Nightmare Man while he's distracted by Angelina's attack and Logan's negation of his active abilities. "No!" The Nightmare Man screams as the Empress tarot card is incinerated by the roaring ball of flames, causing the depiction of a frozen and snow-buried New York City to fade away like smoke blown away on the wind, revealing the burning skyline of the Nightmare Man's realm once more. As he reels from the fire blast, the Nightmare Man angles a look up towards the red blur headed towards him as the Fool tarot card is snatched up by the speedster.

As Daphne roars through the air in a wild blur of hastened motions and bounds back and away from the Nightmare Man, she feels a sudden and inexplicable surge of energy within herself, as lightning crackles over the outside of her body and a torrent of howling winds swirls up around her body with tiny snowflakes dancing within. Somehow, she has attained the power of atmokinesis from Helena Dean, as if it had always been hers, as if the intimate connection to the world and the weather were now hers to command.

With his current cards suppressed, the Nightmare Man discards the Empress and the High Priestess cards, letting them float around his body like the other two had. Instead of reaching for new cards, he turns back, grasping one of the statues and snaps off one of the arms of the blindfolded one, turning back to glare at John Logan as he hurls the severed stone arm like a Roman Legionairre would throw a spear.

The sudden improvised weapon comes careening towards the green-eyed man, and as his majestic steed rises back on its haunches, the stone hand smashes into Logan's shoulder, knocking him from the saddle and sending him crashing down onto his back and causing the green of his eyes to flicker-fade from the pain of his now dislocated shoulder. The white steed of his unicorn lets out a snort and a neigh, twisting around to look at the dismounted logan, then canters backwards to stand protectively in front of him.

In that instant, the shrieking birds come back to life, but the psychic impression of Daphne's Persona Ray causes the flesh-reaping swarm to descend down on the strawman, swarming his hay filled form, lashing holes in his flannel and sack-cloth body, but keeping them at bay as a scarecrow should.

The blast of flame from Bao-Wei's massive jaws rolls over the stone forms of the child statues, darkening their figures as the living snake of flames spat forth from his mouth impacts with the Nightmare Man's book, held up like a shield of stone in one hand to spread the flames out in a domed arc around his body, charring the back of the stone and sending wisps of smoke up from its etched cover.

"You think you are helping her?" The Nightmare Man growls in a guttural voice to Corbin, reaching into his book to remove a card that depicts a broad-bellied and dark-haired man with shining glasses seated upon a throne, holding up a glowing blue vial the way a king might hold a scepter. At the top of the card, the Roman numeral IV is displayed, and at the bottom, THE EMPEROR. "All you know how to do is think of yourself, and what you want. Never others. You desire to save her, because you fear being alone without her…"

The Nightmare Man's one revealed golden eye peers down at Corbin, then narrows angrily as he withdraws a second card from the book. This one shows a pale man with fair eyes and a kind smile seated upon a throne, holding up a paper crane in one hand and a book in the other. At the top of the card, the Roman numeral V is displayed, and at the bottom THE HEIROPHANT. Corbin recognizes the man on the card, up this close, it's Hokuto's former co-worker— Darien.

"The Arcana is the path to the answer." The Nightmare Man bellows, as paper pages appear in his book, flipping one by one past in rapid succession until the sheets of paper begin folding in an Origami fashion. One collection of pages turns into a massive spear some eight feet long and hurtles through the air towards Bao-Wei, batted aside by his mighty tail to break apart into a cloud of loose sheets of paper. Another collection of pages form into a volley of arrows as though fired from a bow, launched out towards Cat, but the pamnesiac's Panther exhales a loud roar and jumps into the air, catching the paper arrows with her flank, black inky blood spraying from her body accompanied by a yelp as the creature crashes to the ground and skids on one side. Cat can feel a pin-prickling tingle in her side matching that of the panther's, but as the great cat weakly gets up onto its paws, its head turns around, buting on the haft of one of the arrows to rip out of its body, spit down to the ground. "You will not hurt her." The panther growls, ears folding back and muzzle curling back to reveal gleaming white teeth.

"Move." The Nightmare Man demands of Corbin, as paper tears from the book and folds into another floating parchment sword, angling down to point in the air towards Hokuto's ex-partner. "You will not…" The Nightmare Man's voice trails off, his one revealed golden eye staring up at Kaylee, then down at the snake— her manifested Persona— the tempting serpent of the Garden of Eden. He makes a strange noise, almost a keening sound, and a rumbling breath as though momentarially fearful.

Maybe they can win after all.

Seeing the panther struck and fall, feeling the tingle in her side mirrors the impact of arrows, Cat looks at and touches the spot, rubbing it briefly before setting her jaw and focusing on the now wounded statue. The birds no longer seem a problem, and she opts to think for a moment. Arrows. Props have been summonable into her appearance before, and perhaps can now be again. Her desire is to have a bow appear in her hands while she moves to take up the missiles which impacted the great cat and start firing them back at the massive Greek statue. If at all possible, to impact the one revealed golden eye.

Angelina continues to cling to Bai-Wei to keep herself where she is, and let's face it, he makes a good meatshield! "Oh just shut up you jackass. Villains and their monologuing are /so/ cliched," she snaps to the Nightmare man. And as she looks utterly disgusted by the bad guy, and tries to ignore all the freaky people and things around her (though she's not doing a GOOD job at that), she again focuses, this time on a card in the Nightmare Man's hand, the Heirophant. Her eyes narrow as that becomes the center of her universe, at least for the moment. It's safer than the others, and more productive, since she's trying to Make Things Go Boom once more.

Logan will just. Stay down here. For a while. The scarlet that lines his cape makes a very dramatic representation of pooling blood, as much as it's just not that kind of injury, and he grips onto his useless arm with his good hand. The clip-clop of hooves sounds like thunder to him as the mare paces restlessly in front of him, and the horse has never had a voice— not even when she turns into Marilyn Monroe— and so can only allow edginess to communicate that her owner should really think about getting up.

With hissing cuss words that would make a sailor blush, Logan gets to his knees and eyes the sword lying on the ground, and then back up at the chaos unfurling in the center of the tower. He doesn't try that trick again, doesn't want to provoke again.

Staggering a bit as the lightning engulfs her body but does not hurt her, Daphne gives a cackle to accompany the crackle of electricity. Narrowing her eyes, she focuses, to bring a whirling eddy of wind up around the Nightmare Man, hoping to throw him off balance as they do their work. "Like a weak bully who picks on small children," she agrees with Kaylee. She hands the card in her hand to Corbin, giving him a wink. She knows he will enjoy the rush of electricity and power that comes with the possession of the Fool card, and she doesn't realize the rightful owner is right among their midsts.

Again without warning, hoping she has unsteadied their foe, she rushes up the steps in a scarlet and white streak. Her target this time is the book the statue holds in his hands.

The cards are people!

It finally seems to register when Corbin recognizes Darien from the store. He didn't really know the others well, but looking back the High Priestess did kind of look like Hokuto's idol and that woman who gossiped out him on the phone not too long ago. …In a dream.

No, he's not bitter about that vision at all…

"I want to save Hokuto because she's my best friend. Because she shouldn't have had to go through all of this alone. She shouldn't have had it all locked away in the basement where no one could see. She hid it away. She was alone. And she shouldn't have been."

People are fighting and burning and destroying, and he stands on the stairs— and gets handed a card. Wait, what? "Daphne, what— " The electricity roars through him, the lightning flails down in random areas in the sky, luckily not seeking out anyone directly, but a few bolts may hit the tower they stand on. It is made of metal and tall…

The wind picks up as well, perhaps piggy backing on his emotional state. At least it's not snowing. "I'm not leaving without Hokuto," he says, as the form weakens, moving further up the stairs, not seeming to mind the sword pointed at him. He has a card now! …That he doesn't know how to use. But lightning crackles to emphasize his words.

Helena can't do anything right now beyond stand and give her own avatar a bit of support. Encouraged by the results of his first volley, Cameron starts whirling fireballs into existence and begins more or less hammering them at the Nightmare Man, or more pointedly, the Nightmare Man's cards. Sometimes Helena's dogged stubborness is a good thing, and embodied in this form of Cameron, he gives the being who killed those children and so many others no quarter.

Exactly like how Helena wouldn't, either.

Perhaps he expected it, and perhaps he did not- the sight of himself on a tarot card, even from a distance, is enough to cause Bao-Wei to narrow his eyes purely out of suspicion at first. Scaled eyelids flick open wider, teeth baring in a wide smile that is so very poignant with his dragon kin. The ivory pearl that is dug into the flesh under his bottom jaw shines downward, flickering in the corners of both Angelina's and Kaylee's vision, and a flinch runs through the muscle underneath of scales.

Though it does not seem to have done a damn thing for the Nightmare Man- the dragon seems to obviously want the card. If its importance is overrated, so be it- just that he has been assuming the cards bequeath some sort of power, and just maybe his own should be at home with him. Speculation is all well and good, right?

Bao-Wei waits there in the wings for an opening of some kind, keeping literal watch over Angelina and Kaylee like some bizarre and equally huge guard dog.

There is some satisfaction in her face as she sees the fear in his uncovered eye, her smiles slips into one of seduction, she slow strides echoing the twist of her lips. Her blue eyes are only for the stone figure. The hissing laugh of the snake is full of amusement, as it pulls itself further out it's head weaves slightly.

"He fears us."

"Chip away the stone." Kaylee says to the others, her head turning especially to Bao-Wei. "Tear it from what is inside. I would bet he's weak beneath it all." She grins back at the stone goliath, her ability searches for a weak spot, a flaw in his armor, her head tilting to the side. "«Feel your weakness.»" The words are whispered softly, even ass she gives another push, before going back to the search. Fingers lifts to unwind the snake from her neck, which curls around her hands, red tongue flickering out.

A smile goes to Daphne as she supports Kaylee's claim, her eyes going to the statues. "How can you not feel the guilt of all those young lives?" She asks curiously to the stone figure, trying to get him to slip up in his mental defenses… She knows there must be a weak spot somewhere.

"The guilt…." The snake repeats with a hiss. "There must be some guilt in there. Young lives… all those young lives."

The search is only falters when lightening strikes around her, making her duck her head and start to crouch. Her head turns to look at Helena, but notices the flicker of something Corbin's way. There is a nod of her head, and the assault on the enemy begins again. "«Weak… and full of guilt.»" Kaylee says sweetly, her ability giving a shove at his mental defenses. She looks so relaxed, even planting a kiss to the top of the black serpent's flat head, but there is moisture starting to bead on her forehead, it isn't as easy as it looks.

Swirling strings of shadow and smoke whirl around Cat's hand as a jet black bow manifests itself in her palm, fingers curling around it, accompanied by not only an arm brace but a smoky quiver of jet black arrows forged from slithering strands of inky darkness that move and churn in the same ephemeral quality as Hokuto's hair and robe do in the dream world. One of the paper arrows she picks up turns black, slithering as if covered with ink and turning steel hard. When Catherine notches it back into the bow, recalling the archery lessons of her youth— recalling the day when she was forced to kill a man with the same skill— she releases the arrow into flight towards the Nightmare Man.

The arrow impacts that small space with a stunning accuracy, accompanied by a deep and bellowing roar as the jet black arrow sticks into the fleshy socket of the creature, only to dissipate into a whirling mote of shadows and smoke. The eye is intact, but the iris looks shattered like broken glass.

The Nightmare Man raises a hand, directing paper to begin folding, only for the card in hand to glow violently bright and hot, and with a quick flick of his wrist he hurls the glowing card towards Angelina, guided on the power of papyrokinesis that had been manipulating all the other paper, streaking like a star-light missile towards the dark-haired young woman.

The card impacts the ground in front of her, exploding like a grenade and launching the brunette off of her feet, sending her careening back into one of the statues of the children, shattering it and sending the young woman backflipping over the edge of the tower, only to find a burlap sack glove grab her wrist as she dangles helplessly over the edge, blood streaming from her nose and mouth and pain lancing up her back from where she hit the statue.

The eyeless sack-cloth head of a scarecrow stares down at Angelina, yanking her back up onto the tower before the lashing talons of a great black bird ripe the strawman's head off, and three more birds descend on his body, shredding his stuffed form and tearing him apart, breaking the sticks that make up his form and sending stuffing flying in every direction as the birds of the Empress card now turn their attention to Angelina and Logan, a cloud of flapping black wings, shrieking cries and slashing talons.

When Daphne rips away from Corbin and goes for the book, there's a horrible wracking of orange light that gleams out from the pages as she lays her hands on it. A surge of energy pulses from the book into the speedster, almost like a feedback from something, and she's blasted back from the stone tome, sailing thorugh the air leaving a smoking trail behind herself as she crashes to the ground on her back, sliding across the stone to lay near where Logan just had gotten up from when the birds began to attack again. Her mind spins, the world swims, and it feels like she was kicked in the brain.%r "So noble, Corbin… and yet so misguided." Releasing the Emperor into the air to float by his side with the Empress, the Nightmare Man reaches back inside of his book. "Love is such a misguided emotion, a chemical imbalance of the brain leading to a reduction of judgement, and inevitably… pain." Withdrawing the next card from the book, there is an image of two familiar people to Corbin on the card, Li and Akado Ichihara, their hands held together over the silhouette of a heart. At the top of the card is the Roman numeral VI and at the bottom THE LOVERS. "If you love Hokuto so much, then do as I command." Those words come with a powerful psychic shockwave that explodes from the Nightmare Man's mind, and Kaylee can feel it rocketing up through her mental battle with him, a strange sensation of sadness, regret, loathing, fear and lonliness that pushes past her mind and reaches out to Corbin.

"Defend me." The Nightmare Man demands of his newly dominated mind-slave, as Corbin Ayers turns around, eyes glowing a radiant gold as he raises Helena Dean's Fool card up with one hand, and creates a bolt of lightning that strokes down from the sky and blasts the top of the tower near Kaylee, sending her off of her feet and severing the mental link. The blonde crashes down onto her side, pain throbbing in her extremities as a few sparks of electricity dance over her, like the aftershock of a taser.

"You are all— " The Nightmare Man lets out a scream as the Empress tarot card bursts into flames from one of Cameron's lobbed balls of flame, and the birds that were rapidly descending on Logan and Angelina suddenly disappear in hissing puffs of black smoke and thread-like shadows. "No!" The Nightmare Man bellows, legs buckling as his focus breaks, and Bao-Wei's opportunity arises. The massive, waiting Dragon is able to lunge out and snatch the Emperor card from the Nightmare Man, and as he turns his tail swings out like a bludgeon, smashing against the stony exterior of the oneiromancer, shattering a fissue in his shoulder and sending more stress fractures down his rocky carapace. The card, once out of the Nightmare Man's hand, causes a crumbling of one layer of his mental defenses, where the power of masculine authority is stripped from him. Bao-Wei likewise feels a resurgence of his own mental defenses, a power and confidence and bravery that rises inside of himself; a sovereign's will.

Then, Corbin's golden eyes settle on the dragon, and storm clouds brew overhead, crackling with lightning as a torrential rain begins to fall. "I obey you…"

Her shot is tracked into the target, producing that roar before turning to smoke and leaving the shattered iris behind. "Well, then," Cat murmurs darkly, "this seems effective." And not being attacked, or responded against, a second shot is prepared. Corbin with Helena's power, turned to aiding the entity, invoked by the Lovers card the statue holds? Maybe something can be done about that.

The string is drawn back, she holds breath to keep steady, and the bolt is loosed. This time her target is the Lovers card, objective to make it be dropped and free Corbin.

"Oh shit," Angelina mutters as the card flies towards her, but she can't move quickly enough to avoid the impact. She screams in rage as she goes flying, and grunts when she connects with the statue. When she's dangling over the edge and grabbed she tenses, but doesn't fight once she sees it's not the Nightmare Man, but the scarecrow. The approaching birds have her ducking down, until they disappear. "Thanks!" she yells, without really knowing who she's thanking. Then she straightens, eyes showing a heated anger, the back of her hand rubbing at the blood on her face. This time she leaves the last card for Cat, not bothering with it herself. She's TICKED, and it's the stone that's protecting the Nightmare that she gives her attention to. Her head lowers and pale blue eyes fix unblinkingly on her target, before she shoves her power towards that stone armor. People she can't blow up, but stone? Oh, she can do stone. And what's a little nosebleed when she's already bleeding?

The descent of birds had mostly left Logan cowering, an aspect the Nightmare Man has inflicted on him before, ripping him apart from the inside out. Crouched on the stony floor of the tower top, with the lithe arms of Marilyn Monroe wrapped around his shoulders, throwing her body over him as protection, her mouth opening in a wordless scream as talons and beaks come away with white silk, blonde hair and flesh. By the time they've disappeared, her arms, her back and face all bear the marks she's saved Logan from, and she goes tumbling away once it's over, a hand up in an attempt to fix her dishevelled blonde curls.

Logan, meanwhile, grasps his sword as he unsteadily gets to his feet, pale eyes regarding where Daphne's collapsed just in front of him. Rubbing his shoulder, snapped back into place, he stalks past the fallen speedster with a flutter of silk, coming up on where Corbin has lifted his bright golden eyes towards the pendulous sky.

Nightmare Man and Logan can agree on one thing. Love is just a chemical imbalance. Corbin is granted a numbing flood of euphoria at exactly the same time the golden sword is coming up to puncture its shining sharp tip into his ribcage.

How fitting that Daphne is sent tumbling onto her back and crashing her head into stone trying to help Corbin, as that's exactly how she met him weeks ago. The wind knocked out of her, it takes moments for her to force oxygen into her lungs. Blurred vision makes it difficult to understand what is happening. "Corbin… no!" she cries out, finally sitting up and then scrambling to her feet, wobbling crookedly just as she did when her first meeting with Corbin left her concussed. A hand comes to the back of her white-blonde locks, feeling for the bump there that may or may not exist in real life.

"Corbin, he lies. Don't listen to him. Listen to me. Hokuto wants you to fight him. Hokuto wants us to fight him. She needs you to fight with us, not against us!" she shouts, her words making her aching head spin with each word. She edges closer to Corbin, then tries to snatch the card she gave him so stupidly a moment ago.

It's difficult to know what's going on when you're being controlled. But the world breaks with lightning that tries to slow them down. The wind howls. The rain beats down. The lightning aims poorly, though. Only the metal they're standing on really making it much of a threat at all… Blue eyes turned gold seem to be taking on a different mindset. He's smiling, as he often is, but this time it seems darker. Less happy and humored, less hopeful. But Corbin won't be much of a threat in a moment.

The card gets snatched away, breaking the lightning spell and the winds and rain. The euphoria seems to overwelm him, changing the cold briefly to a greenish tone, golden green, old gold. Then the sword slams deep into his rib cage, knocking him down onto the steps he'd been climbing, a little blood coming from his mouth as he coughs.

But his eyes are starting to return to their pale blue color.

Cameron is like a fireballing machine, slamming them out with rapidity. He's practically laughing at being able to cut loose this way. Is this a secret yearning of Helena's? To cut loose with her power like that? Well, at the very least she wants her power back, and she makes a beeline for the person holding her card. "Thanks," she says, as it passes from her to Daphne. A crack of lightning goes off above her, but it does not seem to hurt her a bit. No, as the wind starts to raise her hair and the sky above her darkens, the weather witch cocks her head as she gazes at the Nightmare Man a moment.

CRACK! Lightning, not from her hands, but the sky itself, arcs down toward their antagonist, hopefully to strike him at his very crown.

It's like taking a breath of fresh winter air- stepping outside into the sun and just letting it fill the lungs. The waiting paid off, as did a mote of greed; Bao-Wei slams his tail into the statue as he whirls away, not bothering just yet to glance back at what damage he had done. The dragon kicks off into the air, hovering up and into the cover offered by the clouds for just a few moments, seeming to wind around the crackle of lightning- moving with it, a single beacon of ivory bounding around in the dark.

When the cover breaks to let him through again, the dextrous paw that had snatched his own card has allowed the tendrils off of his chin to grab it up, tucking it safely under his mouth with the pearl. He was right. It gave him something- something that he did not realize he needed until it sprouted in his chest. It empowers him to a degree that he wills onward. A bellowing roar rumbles through the very stone the others are fighting upon just after Helena calls down a powerful lightning strike. For the length of the sound, Bao-Wei hovers there in the sky, teeth flashing groundward, paws raised, poised to lunge.

Only he does not. The persona that the doctor had taken up at the very beginning gives a visual shudder, and soon his features begin to sharpen and build with a craggy layer of darker scales. Under the shade of his deepening brows, both orange eyes brighten wildly, before narrowing with a swell of confidence. His horns and tail lengthen, the latter thrashing at clouds and the former curving gracefully to long points, the bone connecting them to the dragon's skull thickening and sprouting a third ridge of horn. The change over the rest of him is immediate as well; not only the sharp-edged scales, but the orange fur that sprouts manelike around him, parts of it grabbing lifelike at the air as if it were some sort of anemone under the water. His jaw opens again to show more teeth, some curving like that of a boar from the edges of his mouth. His claws turn serrated, blacken, and come off as almost wicked things, similarly blackening hooves kicking back at the air.

The kick sends the dragon plummeting, jaw setting as he lowers his skull and braces for a tremendous impact with the animate statue of Morpheus.

Thrown aside with a scream of pain, the snake in her hands tumbling a short distance away, Kaylee is dazed as her body jerks a little. After a moment, she rolls on her back, spine bending with the pain as the sparks play across her body, a pained sound in the back of her throat. Then her body goes lax with a groan, head lulling to one side.

Like a smooth river of inky blackness the snake slithers his way back to Kaylee. "Get up." Is the silky command. "Get up… Do not let it defeat us."

The snake's words, make the woman roll to her side, last of the sparks dancing away. "Get up…" The snakes hissed words take on a sharper tone, which makes Kaylee's limbs twitch. Her world is pain right now… what happens around her dulled by the struggle to get control of her limbs back. So she doesn't see Corbin go down under Logan's sword.. or Daphne's crash. "You are stronger then him."

Slowly, the telepath rolls to her hands and knees with a pain filled sob, head lowering to ground while she waits for the world to stop spinning. Kaylee can feel scales sliding roughly around her wrist as she finally moves to stand. Blue eyes, lift finally back to the world around her, noting the conditions of everyone. Her head jerks over to the stone figure at the sound of the lightening strike.

Her concentration is wavering at best as she tries to start to reestablish her assault on the mental defenses even as Bao-Wei plummets. The wedged head of the serpent tucks against her ear, the flicking forked tongue brushes her cheek as it whispers, "Be ready."

Arrows streak out from Catherine's bow, but this time the Nightmare Man is prepared, raising his book to deflect the arrows with the stony cover, loud clicks and snaps coming from the volley as they break on the heavy tome's surface. But when the book is moved aside, the Nightmare Man's focus comes down onto Corbin laid down on the stairs, blutching that bleeding wound. Distracted, an arrow lances through the Lovers card, shattering it like glass and breaking the mental domination over Corbin's mind.

When the Nightmare Man prepares to move on Logan, there's a large spot of glowing yellow-orange radiance surging outwards from his shoulder as Angelina focuses her ability on a portion of his body. That single gold eye snaps wide in shock, before the shoulder of the statue explodes in a shower of stone that blasts upwards towards the sky, causing cracks to spread down the chest of the construct shell. The Nightmare Man drops to one knee, a thin and bare shoulder of pale flesh revealed beneath the shattered rock, seemingly unharmed by the exploision several inches inside of the statue, as if there is a person wholly encased within it.

A rumbling growl rises up from inside that stone body, and the Nightmare Man's one golden eye narrows with furious anger. The statue takes a few thundering steps down the stairs, "I did not wish to take your lives… but you leave me no choice. I will defend what is mine!" When the book opens again, this time the Nightmare Man waves a hand rapidly over the surface, conjuring forth six cards from the interior like a cyclone around his body, some elaborate card-trick to get them to fan out from one another in the air.

The first card to slide out from the book depicts a brunette woman standing astride a chariot pulled by a pair of black panthers, her dark eyes focused and determined. VII the card is numbered, THE CHARIOT. The moment Catherine sees that card, her mind is awash with static and confusion as her panther dematerializes in a haze of smoke and her recollection is fired back to the USS George Washington just prior to the mission in Antarctica. The following card depicts a blonde woman with her hand on the muzzle of a great white lion with blue eyes. The card is numbered VIII* and Abigail Beauchamp represents STRENGTH. That very card draws forth further mental strength to the Nightmare Man, and Kaylee can feel that card giving him a further boost of confidence and willpower against her mental intrusions.

Kaylee feels a wall of memories rise up to protect the Nightmare Man's mind as that card begins to hover nearby. The next card that swirls past depicts a statue holding a lantern, the very statue that is now battling the dreamwalkers atop the tower. It is numbered IX and it is THE HERMIT. When the card appears, there is a rumble inside of the nightmare Man's form, and the stone that one revealed a portion of his face begins to regrow like fluttering time-lapse photography, along with the mission piece over his shoulder, reforming with a crack and a snap.

Then comes card X, depicting a great roulette wheel marked with many numbers, and the silhouette of a man trapped upon it like some torture device. THE WHEEL of FORTUNE is a card that transfigures the Nightmare Man to a living body of ephemeral shadows, a wholly insubstantial creature made of darkness with nothing but glowing golden irises.

Then comes a card from the dark, bearing a blonde woman holding aloft a sword made of raw fire. XI is the card belonging to Meredith Gordon, JUSTICE. When that card is made manifest, the Nightmare Man turns his insubstantial form towards John Logan, "I warned you." Is bellowed out, as a cone of jet black flames explodes from the Nightmare Man's body. Marilyn throws herself in front of Logan, her arms spread out and eyes wide as she tries to protect him from the scalding heat. The flames blast over the pair, scoring away Marilyn's skin from her bones, blasting ash and soot back at Logan, and he can feel that all-too-familiar sense of his body being afire.

"Shit!" Comes a scream from nearby, as a lightly dressed young man with tanned skin comes leaping away from Helena, hands held out to part the flames around Logan. Cameron Spalding's persona stands beside Logan, trying to divert the flames as best as he can, breathing heavily as sweat beads down his forehead. "H— Hang in— there…" His hands fling skyward, and the remainder of the jet black flames are wrapped in more normal orange tongues of fire and diverted away from Logan, leaving him singed but alive.

The assault does not end until the final card of the six is removed, one depicting a brunette woman hanging upside down by one leg from a tree, her leg locked in a figure four. XII the card is numbered, and Kayla Reid's tarot is THE HANGED MAN. When the card appears, a shadowy hand clutches it out of the air, while another lays down upon Corbin's chest. There's is a warmth, a light that spills forth from the shadowy palm, followed by a scream of excruciating pain as the sword wound on Corbin's rib cage slowly seals shut from some sort of healing energy.

The shadow-formed statue glides over Corbin, moving to stand in front of him, allowing all six cards to whirl about his form. "The Arcana is the path to the truth…" He reiterates with a rumbling cadence of his booming voice, looking like the shadow of some grim giant with glowing eyes, a true monster out of a storybook come to life.

The swell of lightning in the sky strikes the Nightmare Man square in his shadowy body, and the brilliant radiance, heat and electrical power of Helena's summoned storm bolt is exactly the physical weakness that Richard Cardinal's less than tangible body possesses. With a scream that seems to echo from one end of the dreamscape to the other, the Nightmare Man's shadows are peeled away from him like a skin peeld back from an orange. Smoke rises from his back, and cracks are everywhere on his stone body, more so than just the lightning bolt could have caused, one particularly large one at his ribs.

Stumbling forward with heavy steps once more, the Nightmare Man's statuesque form begins to reach for his book, until he is plowed into by the descending form of Bao-Wei Cong's great reptillian form comes crashing down on him. The two titans collide with one another, sending the Nightmare Man's stony body down to the ground, splintering the rock beneath him before his body shows signs of harm. One stone fist comes up, grabbing on to the lower jaw of the beast and forcing it open to try and keep them from clamping down on his body.

Turning his head, the Nightmare Man watches as another ball of flame comes hurtling towards him from Cameron, but this time the pyrokinetic card of Justice fizzles the flames before they arrive. Struggling with Bao-Wei, the Nightmare Man brings up his heavy stone book and smashes it against the side of the dragon's head, shattering one horn entirely into a shower of broken bone, splitting through armor-like scales and drawing luminous golden blood from the magestic beast.

But harm is not the only thing this great dragon has sought to do here. His jaws open again once he's been reeled back, but this time Bao-Wei is not snapping down on the Nightmare Man's prone form, but some of his cards. Justice, the Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune are swallowed up like some sort of great snack and sunken down into the dragon's gullet, as wisps of orange flame rise up over his body and his shadow seems to come to life. An Emperor, after all, craves power.

She blinks, raising a hand to her temple, with confusion showing on her features. One moment she's standing there on a ship talking with Claire and Rene under negation, reading instructions she wrote to herself so bases can be covered if Wagner hijacks her memory, and now she's… wherever the hell she is. Eyes dart around wildly, taking in her surroundings as bearings are sought after. Most of these people she doesn't know, can't recall seeing before. The only one she recognizes is Helena, and this is who she addresses.

"Um… Helena, how I'd get from the George Washington to here, who am I supposed to be shooting arrows at, and… what the fuck is going on here?!"

"How am I supposed to blow him up when you're in the way?" Angelina yells towards Bao-Wei, seeming irritated. She shakes her head then focuses on the remaining cards. She doesn't seem picky about which she blows up, so long as they blow up. Only with her getting a wee bit angry, perhaps the explosion this time is a wee bit bigger than before. Bye-bye Chariot?

Silk blackens, curls, falls away in smoke and ash even as the patronus of Helena Dean redirects the worst of the flames from Logan's self. "NO!" he cries out when Marilyn gets the brunt of it, before he's cowering back to protect his face, his eyes, feeling rolling heat flood over his form until it's all over, skin smeared with soot, hair dusted with it. His princely clothes have fallen away in tatters, revealing shabby charcoal pinstripe beneath it, as if the fairytale veneer were scrubbed away to reveal the mobster underneath, eyes bright, wide and pale. Scared, too.

He's crying, he realises somewhat distantly, smearing tracks through the ash on his face, furiously wiped away with the sleeve of his suit before his hand ducks inside, searching around for that everpresent shoulder rig. It's a gold plated Glock that he finds there, the memory behind it making his right hand twinge most perculiarly, which is currently wrapped in scruffy bandaging at some unknown interval.

Changed, again. Sniffing and still on his knees, Logan checks the clip in the pistol, before pointing it grimly at one of the cards. It happens to be the one with Abby in it, something he notices just before pulling the trigger.

"He's… he's healing you…" Daphne murmurs, taking a step back with a perplexed look for Corbin. Is he somehow allied with the thing they are fighting? Or is the thing they are fighting split in its desires? "I don't understand." Maybe it has something to do with the memory the Nightmare Man showed them. Or… "Hokuto's helping you, somehow. She must be here — somehow. Trapped." Either that, or he's on the Nightmare Man's side but she doesn't have the time to figure it out.

The petite speedster takes a deep breath. She has to shove aside the pain that feels like a taloned pygmy clawing into her brain. Again, her form melts away into a streak of light and rustling wind, toward the statuesque foe, grabbing for the last card — The Hermit, peering at its face to see whose face graces the illustration, now that she's caught on to the fact the cards represent them.

Healed or not, it still hurts! Corbin coughs a few more times as he struggles to get seated. There's fire, confusion, and a big fucking dragon. And from the way he's looking around, touching the blood stain on his shirt, the blood coming from his mouth, he's not entirely sure how this all happened. Pale eyes flicker from place to place, before settling on Daphne at her words. Hokuto's helping him.

"We need to find her— we have to…" he pushes himself back up to his feet, even if he's reluctant to do so with all the fire throwing around. Heroism had never been his thing. Battle neither. He's the agent that would hide behind the other agents if he had a choice!

"Hokuto!" he yells, as if saying her name might bring her out to help them again.

Cameron is busy, and with the dragon on top of the Nightmare Man, Helena's not so confidant as to whether or not she can hit him again with any accuracy. And Cat's in crises! "Get behind me, aim at the stone man if you have a certain shot, and I'll explain later — " Helena abruptly cuts off as something comes to her attention. Staring in silence for a moment she then lifts her hand, waving it at Angelina frantically, "Hey!" she calls out, and then lets her finger point the way.

"Blow up the BOOK!"

One taste was not enough for him, it seems. Bao-Wei lunges for the cards that he can fit inside of his giant maw, clamping down over them and absorbing, at great contentment, the trio of cards that flood him with the individuals they happened to represent. In the back of his mind, far below the fight to rid the world of this nightmare creature- there is a pause, wherein his core smiles to itself.

This is exactly why he has been hacking and grinding at the formula. Exactly why his proxied children supported the natural poise of the evolved in mankind. This is exactly why, in the real world, that an ability is something that Bao-Wei Cong has purely desired for years upon years upon years. Possibly the only thing that he ever has, in the most consistent of ways.

Will-o-wisps of flame sprout wildly around the tower, streaking in quick patterns across the air and popping into place dutifully around the other figures on the tower. Bao-Wei's shadow licks wildly across the clouds, lit by the orange of the flames and causing all of their shadows to dance chaotically over the mandala underfoot. Fire catches along the air over the dragon's spine, flowing down over his tail, the spiked club turning white hot.

When his mouth bellows wide again, so are his fangs and tusks, and his claws follow suit before digging into the statue and the floor, scrabbling for a grip while his jaw bears down for the arm clutching onto the tome that had smashed into him moments before.

There is a hiss of frustration from Kaylee and the snake both as the statue's mental defenses strengthen. The white dress shifts lightly around her legs as she shifts her stances, hands curling into fists at her sides. The snake of Eden settles on her shoulders, like some lazy thing. Pressure behind her eyes builds as she presses into that extra defense. "Break you, bastard." The words growl out softly.

Daphne's words, has the telepath glancing at Corbin, brows dropping in confusing, then eyes narrow before she glances at the statue again, suspicion flitting over her features. Teeth press tight as she continues to press, pushing more… words whispered by snake and woman alike.

Break»"

Show us who you really are.»

As the great dragon resumes his attack, Kaylee's hands lift making a motion as if trying to break and tear at those barriers of her adversary. «Break!»" The pressure behind her eyes brings spots behind her eyes. "«Let us in»"

The card representing Catherine Chesterfield glows a vibrant orange white coloration before exploding between Bao-Wei and the Nightmare Man. The flames from the blast simply roll around Bao-Wei like water parts around a stone, but the concussive blast explodes so close to the side of the statue's head that a large portion of the face is shattered away, revealing a different side of the face, where a brilliant golden eye peers up from within the prison of stone. With the card destroyed, Catherine's memories and ability come flooding back, along with a howling mass of shadows and smoke that forms into a growling ink black panther with golden eyes.

A gunshot sounds off, gold-plated Glock sending a shiny silver bullet inlaid with gold gilding and simply extravagent engravings, the most pretentious and ostentatius bullet ever made. It strikes Abby's card dead center and shatters it like a piece of glass, and the Nightmare Man's back arches beneath the dragon, mouth opening into a gasping breath as deep and rumbling scream echoes from within, and two layers of mental protection are destroyed in an instant of one another.

When Daphne snatches the Hermit card from the Nightmare Man, the world warps around her, like a heat distortion on the ground, and corn stalks and wheat begin to sprout from the ground around her, along with grass and other vegetation. Then, rising up between the corn stalks, the sack-cloth body of Ray, her scarecrow Persona emerges, much larger than before, made of whole branches of trees for his body, hulking shoulder span and grain sickles in a row of three at the end of each massive straw-filled arm.

On the card, Daphne sees the same statue that Bao-Wei is fighting, it's the Nightmare Man's card.

In sudden frantic terror, cracks spreading over his stone body after Daphne has stolen the card, the Nightmare Man furiously pages thorugh his book, each motion of his hand shaking out one card after another from within. The image of a blonde woman riding atop a pale horse in black armor appears. XIII is the number at the top of the card, and upon a pale horse rides DEATH.

When the card appears, just as Kaylee felt like she was about to break through the weakened mental defenses the Nightmare Man has left behind, her ability disappears with a shrieking howl of feedback inside of her mind. The screeching wail comes before the ability completely shuts off and she is trapped into the silence of a normal mind. Confusion sets in on Kaylee, before the Nightmare Man offers one gold eye in the dragon's slitted ones.

The moment Bao-Wei's jaws clutch around the Nightmare Man's arm, the stone cracks and crumbles under the force of the titanic jaws, crushing and squeezing the stone before a powerful mental command batters at the fore of his mind, RELEASE ME, but the psychic scream of the Nightmare Man is simply not powerful enough by itself to penetrate the mental defenses of the Emperor, and when Bao-Wei's jaws release a fraction of the way, they then crunch down on the stone arm, severing it entirely as the stone arm crumbles within his powerful mouth.

An entire stump of shattered stone is all that is left, but no sign of a human limb beneath, just cracked, wet stone that drops from between his tusks and fangs before one powerfully clawed paw rakes deep grooves in the Nightmare Man's chest, and his spiked tail smashes down ont he body, sending shards of stone up into the air.

The book flaps open wildly, and the next card depicts a winged angel of blonde hair pouring water from one cup into another, Daphne's face on its surface. Card XIV is entitled TEMPERANCE, and for the Nightmare Man is means a reprive from the assault as he disappears in a black-brown blur of super speed, moving out from under Bao-Wei and re-appearing halfway in the air after a bounding leap, plummeting down towards the dragon with his book held out like some massive bludgeon.

Bao-Wei's body discorporates into a fluttering hiss of shadows, and the Nightmare Man crashes through them harmlessly, shattering the floor beneath him once more. Shreds of black shadow swirl around the Nightmare Man's legs before reforming in the shape of a glowering dragon behind him, and one sweep of Bao-Wei's spiked tail sends the one-armed statue skidding across the tower's floor.

Feeling a tingling in her legs, there is a pained yelp as Daphne's legs give out entirely when her ability is stolen by the card, and her fingers slip on their hold of the Hermit, sending it fluttering thorugh the air and sliding to a stop nearby to Corbin. Daphne collapses on her side, paralyzed, but Ray's massive body moves to stand in front of her, sickle-bladed fingers twitching, as if waiting for an opportunity to strike.

When the Nightmare Man pulls himself up from the floor, he shakes the book open with one hand, and three cards quickly spill out to circle around him— one depicting a scraggly bearded man with luminous blue eyes seated in a gigantic throne with two naked figures in chains at his feet, one male and one female. Card XV depicts Flint Deckard as THE DEVIL, and the Nightmare Man's stone eye glows a vibrant blue as he peers through layers of flesh and bone with his X-Ray vision.

The second card to come shows a great office building being struck by a bolt of lightning. Logan recognizes it as the Linderman Building, and one of the figures falling from the shattered building is himself alongside another man he can't recognize at this distance. Card XVI represents John Logan, THE TOWER, a card representing destruction.

"I will not yeild my control!" The Nightmare Man bellows as his blue eye turns a sudden sickening green, and a nauseating wave of debilitating chemical imbalance spreads like a haze around his body, a sea-sick distortion of light and color that saps the poweres from Bao-Wei, feeling his manifold abilities robbed from him, and as the greatest threat it seems the most reasonable use of such an extreme power.

But then, the book opens of its own accord, followed by another card. showing Corbin kneeling over a mirror still lake, pouring a decanter of water into it, while a constellation of stars over his head glow brightly— this constellation of seven stars, the Big Dipper has a distinctive Japanese name — Hokuto.

The moment the card comes out from the book, there is a flash of radiant light from it, and the Nightmare Man staggers backwards, bare stone heels scuffing along the rooftop. Three more cards make their way out of the book, but these ones are radiant and flying away from the Nightmare Man.

To Corbin flies a card depicting a dark-haired young woman with tanned skin howling up at a moon, and as the card circles him, he recognizes her as the young hypsy girl Hokuto had taken in like a stray cat and offered a job to. Card XVIII, belonged to Tzigane, THE MOON and it represents illusions, or in Tzigane's case— phasing.

As Corbin's body turns insubstantial, like a ghost, and is protected from harm, another card comes leaping towards Cat, circling over her head depicting a young blonde man atop a horse, with a burnt orange sun at his back casting warming rays of light. Card XIX is Aaron Michael's card, and it is THE SUN, and the moment this card's power is imbued onto Cat, she can feel negative emotions being drawn towards her like a sponge; fear, resentment, hopelessness, loathing, sadness, all drawn into the woman who can compartmentalize and protect those emotions behind her own strong countenance, leaving only confidence, hope and assurance behind.

But the last card to come from the book goes to Kaylee, a gleaming white card depicting an armored angel with a square jaw, dark eyebrows and brown eyes, holding up two fingers as if

But the last card to come from the book goes to Kaylee, a gleaming white card depicting an armored angel with a square jaw, dark eyebrows and brown eyes, holding up two fingers as if in salute, or perhaps in a threat.

Card XX is entitled JUDGEMENT and with Gabriel Gray's card in hand, Kaylee understand the mechanisms of the Nightmare Man's exterior, she understands her own power, she sees everything like a clockwork machine ready to be disassembled and reconstructed.

If she can get her power back, she can end this.

Blam. Blamblam. These bullets go wild after the accurate hit smashing through the card that represents Abigail Beauchamp, until Logan simply lowers the weapon and takes a breath in an effort to get back some form of control, and stop panicking. He's on his feet and reeling back, gun pointed towards the ground, scuffing back and back and feeling relatively on the back foot with only a pistol in his grip and no unicorn at his side and no power to call his own, his eyes a useless watery pale while the Nightmare Man's gleam the poison green.

Fucker. Impulse has his feet flying as he flings himself forward, leveling his gun at the stone statue and pulling the trigger with the philosophy that if you fire enough bullets, it's bound to hit something, and fortunately for him, his clip doesn't seem inclined to run out. It's a long legged lope, tie coming loose from the clip at his black shirt and whipping past his shoulder as a streak of indefinitely shaded grey silk.

He's moving to snatch back his own card, open fire more of a cover than intent to kill. Doing to it what he did to Abby's sounds like bad karma.

It takes a moment for Daphne's scrambled brain to catch up with the situation, as suddenly the wheat and corn of the landscape of her childhood sprouts through the dark stone of the tower they fight upon. Ray looms high above her crumpled form, a guardian to the now-crippled speedster. "I'm getting sick of this…" she growls to herself, wincing as she begins to drag herself on hands, belly-crawling one painful inch at a time toward the Hermit card she fall flutter out of her grasp. The scarecrow protects her space, sickle-fingers glinting in the fiery light, ready to stab, slice and gouge any enemy that might be so foolish as to come into Daphne's path.

She grabs the Hermit card again, this time concentrating on it — another power she's never had, and perhaps more dangerous than that of being a storm caller, a weather witch. She concentrates on the card, thinking of the Nightmare Man and what the oneiromancer has done — pulling their pasts out to haunt them, digging at their weaknesses, making them face their own skeletons in the closets and the monsters that reside within their skins. What is it that the Nightmare Man is most afraid of? When is the Nightmare Man at its weakest? What is the worst nightmare of the king of nightmares? She wishes for that, unsure if it will work, clutching the card to her chest.

The sight of a card with his face on it draws his eyes, though Corbin doesn't imagine people will get much of an ability when they touch it. A ready smile, maybe! The card he gets his hands on isn't his own, the Star, but another card, one that causes a fit to slip through the stair he's standing on as he misses it. All his years in the Company make him aware of certain abilities that those with abilities can command. He wasn't so great at calling down lightning and controlling winds, but not getting hit with swords anymore?

Oh yeah, he can do that.

Stumbling up the stairs, he makes his way through the attacks on the giant statue, and through part of the giant statue himself, making his way all the way up to the open doorway, and the statues on either side.

Whatever he sees on the other side seems to make him stop. For a moment it seems he would step through, but then he turns and does, looking from one statue to the next. A phasing hand reaches out to touch the form on the cheek, even if his fingers slide through, and then he looks down to see what all is going on down the stairs.

The young blonde drops to her knees as the sounds hits her again and then goes silent. She's begun to hate that silence. That horrible hateful silence. A hand presses to her head, eyes close as she tries to hear anything, she feels a card hit her hand.

Eyes snap open and the card is snatches in long thin fingers, Kaylee stares at the figure on the surface of the card, brows dropping before she looks up. The snake slides down her arm to wrap around her wrist as it studies the card. Blonde brows now rise slowly on her head as she studies the stony figure, her head tilts slightly.

"Ahhhh… yes. See the truth in it now."

It's not the telepath that says it… it's that silken temptation of the snakes voice. "You need your card…." The words hissing softly. "We can finish this."

Blinking Kaylee glances around her at everyone, she would need their help in getting back what is her's. Gripping the Judgement card tight in her hand, feeling the edges slice into the tender flesh of her palm and fingers, she holds it to her stomach to protect it. "I need my card!" There is almost excitement in her eyes, because… "I know what to do now!"

Almost too impatient to wait or ask for help, Kaylee moves while so many have him busy and try to snatch the Death Card with her other hand. This has to end.. no matter what!

Having moved behind Helena and raised the bow to fire arrows at the giant statue, Cat was quick to obey the instructions given in her lack of remembering state. The confusion still reigns, acting is the easiest way to dispel it. To not dwell upon the situation. But her first bolt didn't come, the destruction of the chariot card restoring full function to her mind.

"I remember now," she murmurs. Before she can resume the mechanics of archery, Aaron's talent is bestowed upon her and she commences to draw out the negative from them. "But this… this is new. Very new."

The stone book, the source of the Nightmare Man's cards begins to glow a brilliant orange white color, a slow escalation of demolition charge within this object. But the one armed statue has so many other external sources of conflict to contend with. Gunshots ring out, bullets ricocheting off of his stony body, shattering a piece of rock off of one shoulder, another bullet shatteres a piece of stone off of his jaw, one more flattens against his chest and sends a spiderweb of cracks thorugh the rock.

When the book's glow no longer can be ignored, the Nightmare Man's attention goes to it, golden eye growing wide where it is revealed, but then Logan is running past and snatching his own card out from the air by the massive statue. The Nightmare Man turns, following Logan with his cyclopean stare, until Corbin threatens the sanctum at the top of the stairs. "No! Stay out of there!" The Nightmare Man bellows, shattered stump of an arm moving as if trying to reach out with it. Again he is distracted from the book, but the rising glow in it makes his eyes wander to it again, right before Daphne does something remarkably unexpected. The Nightmare Man can feel it, the moment she concentrates on that card and reality begins to bend and warp around him. His scream, his horrified scream comes flooding out in a wail that echoes from one side of the dreamscape to another.

Taking advantage of his opportune moment of disatraction, Kaylee moves towards the Nightmare Man, closing the distance to his towering form, even as John Logan's gold-plated gun firing bullets of raw beauty shatter over his stone form over and over and over again, pock-marking the titanic figure with cracks in his shell.

When her fingers wind around the card of Death, and telepathy is robbed from him, Daphne can feel the single layer of defense keeping that nightmare out of his mind break away like a rice-paper sheet. A sudden inundation of images comes flooding over as the Nightmare Man's mind is swolen by terror, one gold eye beginning to well with tears as that deep, bass-filled voice croaks out a pathetic and pained sound.

The book explodes in the Nightmare Man's hand, blowing his other arm clear off of his body and sending a shower of cracks up through his right side. The stone on his flank pops and shatters, revealing a folded arm curled inside of the Nightmare Man's chest, wrapped around what looks like another body inside of the stone shell— how many people are in there?

The stone colossus comes stumbling backwards, the stone of one leg fracturing and shattering from the explosion's damage under the statue's impressive weight. It crumbles onto its knee, then falls backwards onto the ground. When the Nightmare Man is at his weakest, something seems to be going on inside of Kaylee's mind, something plucks and tugs and pulls at her subconscious. Despite having the card, there is a sensation of negation that rolls through her, and Logan's vibrant green eyes aren't the cause.

Her mind becomes clouded, foggy, and on the fringes of her senses she can hear someone with a concerned voice, calling out her name. At first it's distant, hard to focus on, but as her telepathic powers come back, she can hear the voice clearer, Doctor Brennan. The horrible stink of smelling salts come next, Kaylee's head reflexively jerks away and for a moment she gutters like a candle in the wind, almost disappearing from the dreamscape entirely, but her powerful mind keeps her rooted in place.

Clutching the two cards and with the serpent coiled over one shoulder, Kaylee moves in towards the Nightmare Man's crippled form. Corbin can see the one legged figure prone on the ground, and when Kaylee comes moving over to kneel by his side, cards tucked into one hand, the look of terror in that one golden eye seems so strangely familiar, he's… oh no.

Kaylee's hand plants down on the Nightmare Man's stone forehead. She knows what was wrong about all the other times she's tried to combat his mind. Her fingers scrape against the stone, and she reaches out not towards a single mind that is trying to combat her— but three.

The moment she makes contact with that mind, a flood of psychic impressions come swarming over Kaylee from within and then floods out to warp the surroundings of the dreamscape around her, changing the rooftop and the tower into the nightmare that Daphne has thrown the very nightmare man himself into.

What does the Nightmare Man fear most?

Run in the shadows

Dim light filters in thorugh the high and narrow basement windows. Seated in a rocking chair, a dark-haired woman has her face hidden in her hands, legs curled up to her chest and shoulders trembling from the shuddering sobs she breathes out. It feels so real, like a memory come to life, and the emotions of loss and grief that come flooding with it. Loss not only of a loved one, but of hope and sanity behind the stress fractures put forth in an already troubled mind.

Damn your love, damn your lies…

A familiar song plays on a record player on the table in the basement nearby, her father's favorite song. Her neck muscles tighten, and as Hokuto Ichihara drags her palms down her face, she leaves streaks of black makeup in their wake. Tears wet her cheeks, and reddened, puffy eyes do little to hide her emotional break. Across from her, standing up in the dark of the basement, a full body mirror shows her reflection in the chair.

Break the silence

But when she stares at her own reflection, it is not as she sees herself, but a scowling and angered depiction of her own deceptively youthful face. Golden irises stare back at her, and the figure in the mirror moves of its own accord, rising up to stand tall and approach the glass, bare feet scuffing on the floor as she rests a palm flat against the other side of the glass. Hokuto's brown eyes go wide as she watches the vivid hallucination, knowing full well what that kind of vivid hallucination means for her own fragile psyche.

Damn the dark, damn the light

"You have to move on…" The voice in the mirror states flatly, her golden eyes staring Hokuto down through the reflective pane of glass. "Grieve, let them go, and move on…" Hokuto's breath hitches in the back of her throat as she hears that voice, and she rises up from her chair, tears streaming down her face as a strangled and emotional scream rises up in the back of her throat, fingers balled into a fist as she lashes out and punches the mirror with bare knuckles, shattering the glass and fracturing the reflection into several different shards of the same woman. Blood wells up from cuts in her knuckles, and she exhales a pained scream— more from emotional rather than physical trauma— and collapses to her knees in front of the mirror, choking out a ragged sob.

And if you don't love me now

In the reflection of the broken mirror, one gold eyed woman stares down in different reflections, watching Hokuto curl up into the fetal position on the floor of the basement, pounding one hand against the concrete, dark eyes wrenched shut and a ragged wail croak out from the back of her throat. Whimpering, pleading noises croak out from behind her lips, and she paws with one bloodied hand up at the mirror, breaking down into sobs once more.

You will never love me again…

Her fingers leave red streaks on the glass, and where her hand touched one of the larger fractures, her reflection closes her eyes, and draws up a piece of black cloth to bind her eyes, while the remaining fragments in the mirror take steps back and away, receeding into the reflected shadows of the basement, disappearing save for their yellow irises burning like hot forged metal in the dark.

I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.

Herself.

The stone around the Nightmare Man explodes in a shower of rocks, each piece of stone disintegrating into swirling motes of shadow and smoke as they do, and Kaylee is thrust backwards from the psychic release of energy and onto her backside. The cards in her hand glow violently in this moment, and a single card is silhouetted behind the glow, coming into view to depict a pale and naked dark-haired woman with closed eyes standing on an infinity symbol over a vibrant blue and green world. The top of the card is numbered XXI and the bottom simply reads, THE WORLD.

It is a card of completion. It is Hokuto Ichihara's card.

When the light fades, three unclothed female forms lay on the floor where the Nightmare Man once was. The central female, meek and frightened looking, has dark circles under her reddened eyes near tear-stained cheeks, brown eyes staring up pleadingly at Kaylee.

The Self.

To her right an identical woman in build and form, inky threads of dark hair flowing like they were trapped underwater, a black blindfold covering her eyes and lips an ashen gray color. She wraps one arm protectively around the crying woman, her expression neutral and her body tense.

The Persona.

Lastly, a third doppleganger sits with arms wrapped modestly around herself, vibrant gold eyes staring up at Kaylee, jaw trembling and dark hair wild and untamed. She can feel the psychic energy emanating from this figure, and she knows exactly what it is…

The Shadow.

Seated there in silence, with the paper of the last tarot card coming to flutter down onto the ground at their feet, Kaylee can see all three woman bear the same tatoo at the center of their chest, the very mandala emblem on this tower roof. It had been there all along, the answer to what was happening, the answer to who and what the Nightmare Man was. He said they would not like the answer, he said they would not find the conclusion to be one that made them feel empowered.

But the ugly truth of the matter is…

…Hokuto Ichihara's Shadow was the Nightmare Man.

Feverish gunshots have long since settled, Logan having tucked the golden pistol into the holster beneath his jacket. It's the hand at the end of his aching arm that clutches the card he'd stolen back, and now, good hand lending support at the elbow, he studies its surface now with dull green eyes, feeling secure on a rather chemical level for having won it back. Even if, right now, there's no particular need to use it, even if the card doesn't represent it anymore. He presses the card to his palm, hidden with the other, fingers lacing as he stares, now, at the three Hokutos with a look of disbelief and—

Recognition. A small breath of a chuckle escapes him, wet sounding, and he casts a glance towards where he can see Daphne. They should have guessed. He tucks the Tower card primly into a pocket, and from the same thing, extracts a silver cigarette case and sets about patiently lighting up. He needs a smoke, and badly, easing out a breath of dreamworld nicotine.

"You," he says, jabbing the embered end of the cigarette at the golden eyed version of Hokuto, "have been very naughty."

The feeling creeps back into Daphne's dead legs — there is pain, from all the falling and flailing, but it is a welcome ache that means she can walk again. She gets to her feet slowly, moving closer to peer at the three versions of the woman she has only known in dreams. "Hokuto," she says softly, glancing at Corbin to see how he is handling the revelation that his best friend, and clearly unrequited love, is the Nightmare Man. Make that Nightmare Woman.

She still holds the Hermit card, glancing down at it uncertainly, then back to the scene before her, taking uncertain and uncharacteristically slow steps closer. "What do we do now — she's… she has a body, in the real world. We thought we were fighting some bodiless monster, but she's not all bad. She's somehow split — she obviously wanted us to help her fight off this other part of her," she murmurs, brow knitting with the new dilemma presented to them. "Corbin — talk to her — see if you can help her… wake her up or something?"

All the clues seem to fall into place. Stunned would be a good way to refer to his face, as Corbin's eyes settle on the shattered and broken statue. He doesn't move til the question of the dark haired woman who had been blowing things up processes, until the man who was shooting things moments ago tells the Hokutos what bad girls they've been. Luckily he doesn't recall the stabbing incident while he was being controlled. The whole moment is a blank in his memory.

But suddenly he's bounding down the stairs he just ran up, getting closer as quickly as possible. Though nowhere near as quickly as Daphne could. "Don't— she's— we're here to help her, not…" Kill her. Daphne's words follow, encouraging him to encourage her, and he skids to a stop beside the forms, beside the telepath that he hired to work at the same woman's store. He reaches out to try and gain the attention of one of them. Any of them. All of them.

"Hokuto. You won't be alone. You won't have to lock everything away in the basement. You— you are strong. You pulled us in here, you… please. It's not that I'm afraid of being alone, I'm afraid of losing you…" He wouldn't be alone if he lost her… Part of him knows that. But it wouldn't be the same without her. "I still haven't taken you to the Statue of Liberty, or the flower district— you haven't read any of the new articles I pinned up while you were asleep. There's new workers at the Bookstore, even… It hasn't been closed more than a few days…"

There's tremors in his voice, and he's not sure if this is even the right thing. This is exactly what he joined the Company to stop. Dangerous special people who could kill hundreds, who did kill hundreds. But at the same time, it's Hokuto. It shouldn't make a difference, if he was a more proper agent, maybe it wouldn't… But it does.

"No." Helena holds a hand out to Angelina, even as Cameron makes his way back to her side. She's staring at Hokuto in trinity, not sure what to say, not sure how she can help. She remains in place, watchful, letting the people here who know Hokuto best do what needs to be done.

He was right, is what pains the dragon the most. The shadow was right. This is not something that he foresaw, and now that it is obvious, he is hesitant to believe it. The pieces click into place as with Corbin, and still, he hesitates to absorb the fact. For once in possibly a long time.

But here it is.

The sheer evolution offered by The Emperor card dissipates as the dragon picks up his feet and moves closer, but does not fully secede until he has had time to make it closer; his figure looms just above and behind the others, the dragon, now like he was before, peering down at the trio of women with a mixture of several emotions playing on what parts of his face are moldable enough to do so.

Head pounding from the attack and the impact of being blown back, Kaylee gives a little groan. "Oh god…" She rolls onto her side and peers at the women through squinting eyes, concentrating through the migraine that's started thanks to not just fighting Hokuto's mind…. but staying put on the dream world.

Pushing slowly to her feet, Kaylee sways a bit. A hand pressing to her head as it stabs sharply. Stumbling over to the woman that is clearly the original, Kaylee drops to her knees. " Your… what I almost could have become…. thanks to your meddling." Her gaze cuts to the shadow as she says that. The snake on her shoulder, drops into the lap of the telepath, and slides off slowly into a pool of black. Then it slowly heads to the Self of Hokuto. Head rising off the ground, the head gently sways in a hypnotic way.

"Look…. look at ussss.."

The silken words pull at the mind of the dream walker.

"Ssshe… embraced her darkness. Accepted it was there… and controls me."

The head of the snake turns to the shadow, head lowering it moves to her, as Kaylee continues. "She is you, Hokuto." Blue eyes watch her carefully. "Both of them are as much you… as you are them." She reaches out to grab the hand of the Self and the hand of the Shadow.

"Had you nnnnot fought each other…"

"If you had accepted that there was darkness in you… "

"Ssso many livesss would not have been losst."

"If you learn to live with what is within you, you don't have to die." There is power in Kaylee's next words as she pulls the the hands together, laying one on the other, clasping them there with both of her own. "«See the truth.»" What little of her ability presses this home, the her voice straining… Blood seeping from her nose. "«Accept this other part of you.»" The telepath sways dangerously, but she manages to glance at the Self, her voice soft and filled with pain as pain threatens to rip apart her skull. "«Know that it will be okay.» Her head droops down some, eyes sliding shut, as she feels the weariness of using her ability so much. "Everyone has darkness within them… It's not the end of the world."

The black snake returns to Kaylee's lap and coils there, proof that the woman and her shadow are at peace. "If I can learn to to handle my darkness… my temptations… then you can handle your own darkness." Her hands then drop like dead weights away from the two, leaving them suspended there.

"Mother said the entity's psych profiles were of a child throwing a tantrum," Cat murmurs as her eyes wander over the three iterations of Hokuto. The panther pads up behind her and crosses in front, moving to stare at the Shadow Hokuto and snarl at her under breath while looking as if she might leap out and seek to rip her apart at any moment. "Told me the Company first began to face the entity so long ago, it sounded like two decades ago or more. It… It couldn't have been any earlier than 1984, though, I think. The serum…" She stops short of outing Hokuto as a formula child in so many words, but some present might get what she was referring to. The rage is mounting, along with other emotions she's finding it harder than normal to hold in check.

"How could you lead us all to come together and battle the entity," Cat asks in turning to face the other two iterations, "and not manage to realize the truth, to chain it down yourself?" Her head shakes, then she turns away. "I'm interested… but maybe you can explain yourself to Tamsine Whitaker first."

Each of the three fractures of Hokuto react differently to the revelation. Her true self curls her legs up towards her own body, knees hiding her chest, face buried in her knees, dark hair in a tangle that sticks to her wet cheeks. She swallows, tightly, looking up at Corbin with tear-filled dark eyes and the pained whimper of a terrified — and more prominently — mortified Hokuto.

Her Persona wraps an arm protectively around her weaker self, brushing hair from her face, coddling the inability of the self to reconcile what has happened. The blindfolded figure angles her head to Kaylee, the one who still holds the cards of Judgement and Death in her hand, quite fittingly. "She chose you for this task, Kaylee…" the Persona states in an affirmed voice, "because you have the power to do, what Angela would not before." Dark brows furrow behind the cloth of her blindfold, cradling her emotionally damaged half without so much as a concern for the Shadow.

"Hokuto asked you to kill her, because she feared what would happen if you did not." The Persona states to Kaylee, logically and emphatically, but then the blindfolded figure nods her head down to the tarot card at her feet, The World. "…but you also know what could be, you have been where we are, and perhaps somewhere inside we three knew this. Completion, reconciliation… such things are the power of The World. The end, a definitiveone ." Moving her arms away from the more timid and frightened form of her own Self, the Persona brushes the crying woman's hair back from her face, brows furrowed.

"Kaylee is right. Death is not just the end, it is transition, that is why you associated her with it… Too long have we been hiding from the truth, and too long have you been using me as a shield to hide yourself from all of the problems and pain in your life, forcing them on her." The blindfolded Persona angles a look to the Shadow, who has remained silent.

"She— she isn't me…" Hokuto hiccups out the words in a sob, swallowing back an emotional noise, and the Shadow's expression is one of dejection, hurt and disappointment. "She— I'd— I— I didn't… mean to hurt anyone." There it is, the worst truth of it all. Hokuto Ichihara is responsible for the deaths of the Thirty Five, of so many people, she caused all this hurt and pain from her own selfishness and inability to face her problems head on when combined with her ability.

"She is you… and she has been bearing the burden of all your pain your whole life…" The Shadow's head turns at that sentiment, when her golden eyes meet dark brown ones. The three figures watch one another silently, and there is the ghost of a smile— sad and painful, as though realizing what she has done— a she reaches out to embrace her Shadow self, wrapping her arms around the golden eyes woman before breathing out a sob. The moment she lays her hands on the Shadow, the moment she— like most of the dreamwalkers here— have come to terms with herself as she has been helping them to do, does the end come.

Drawing her Shadow self closer, Hokuto pulls the woman into a tighter embrace, and eventually the pair begin to glow brightly, shining with an inner radiance that glows out through her skin and turns them into silhouettes of human form made of a luminous white energy, with only that mandala tattoo at the center of their chest standing out sharp and black.

The Persona looks blindly to Kaylee, then to Corbin, then around to the others. "We are so sorry…" she breathes out behind those ash gray lips, "for everything we have done, to all of you. We do not deserve your mercy…"

And yet…

"Perhaps this is what Angela wanted all along." The Persona of Hokuto Ichihara states in a quiet tone of voice, and then turns to look in the direction of Catherine. "Our— " Hokuto's Persona begins to glow "My life and future is in your hands. You are the only ones who can prove my crimes, and do with them as you will… you are the only ones who will ever know who the Nightmare Man was…"

Her pale arms wrap around the other luminous forms, and as the Persona buries her face against her Self's back, she whispers, "Judgement comes to everyone eventually."

When the three join together as one, their bodies merge into a radiant silhouette of a woman, golden eyes shining out from behind the sun-white silhouette of her face, and then as Hokuto begins to crumble and fade away from view, pieces of glass begin to drift from the archway, shimmering and bright, coming to form a circle of mirrors atop this dreaming tower. Here, there is one mirror for each dreamer within her mind, and each mirror reflects the interior of their mind. "Go home…" Hokuto breathes out, her light fading as she— for the first time in months— begins to rose from sleep, "and wake."

The cigarette tumbles down before he's had time to finish it, a good inch left but regardless — wingtip heal reduces it to an ashy smear. Logan's expression has gone severe throughout the last minute or so, icy eyes gone cold, worn down to hard edges and sharp lines as he picks at the bandages on his right hand. Looking up towards the mirrors, it's the one circled with gilt gold, of course, that is just for him, and the inner mind looks very much like the place Hokuto had first encountered him — beyond the glass is a hallway made of mirrors, flashing lights, as if someone took the Happy Dagger, crumpled it into pieces, and created one long tunnel out of it.

He doesn't look happy to be going back there. Not even a little. But staying doesn't seem like an option or a brighter alternative. Back to senseless dreams with no meaning, an ego reflecting back in on itself like twin mirrors showing themselves infinity. No where to go but his own head.

"I'll see you on the other side," sounds more threat than promise, grave disappointment making weak his usual sneer. Logan turns his back on them and stalks for the mirror, pressing a hand against the surface, cracks spiderwebbing out like ice cracking as he steps on through. The glass frosts over, healing itself, and leaving only a smear of blood in its wake.

Daphne listens, face contorted with fear, confusion, and other mixed emotions as she watches the woman grapple with the consequences of her abilities. Her dark eyes flit to Corbin, knowing that in the waking world, he will be headed to Hokuto's bedside. What happens after that to the woman who has tortured the slumber of so many sleeping souls, she isn't sure. She turns to look at her scarecrow, still standing sentinel behind her, offering a slight smile before following Logan toward the mirrors.

Then, glancing down, she sees the Hermit card is still in her hands.

In a solely a symbolic gesture — for the Nightmare Man has already fled the realm — she tears the card in two, letting go and watching them flutter over the edge of the tower into the fiery sky beyond. Her eyes follow them for a moment before looking at the others in her dreamscape once more, and she steps into the mirror which swallows up her small, bruised form immediately.

Unknown to most, Corbin's actually been sleeping at the bedside that he put the young woman in most nights since her birthday. In half so that he'd possibly be there if they managed to get to her and bring her out of it. There's a fearful tone to his breath at any mention of death and killing. It's a scary thought to him, that it would have been an option. Is this what Angela wanted? He's if it is, cause it makes him take in slow breaths.

The telepath was needed to save her, and he'd managed to save the telepath. He'd been pulled into this mess to do it the first time. In a way, they all saved her. They all chose not to stop fighting. And…

"I'll be there when you wake up," he says, as the voice and light fades away. He had never been far, just like she'd never seemed to be far from him. Even if they've never quite been able to come together as they might both want.

His mirror is far more simple than some, just a plane one, with only one thing visible on the frame, a small key, like one that would open a normal door, painted over with color lacquer to give it a simple, yet colorful design.

"That's it."

Helena stares for a few more moments at the trine united, clutching the card marked as 0 — THE FOOL to her chest. But her words, they are for her avatar. She looks up at Cameron wistfully, "I'm not going to see you again, am I?"

"Maybe not," Cameron says gently, "But I'm always there. I'll always be there for you could. I'm you." He smiles, and reaches out to touch the young woman's hair. "I am you. In the most awesome package you could put the best of yourself in." Abruptly, Helena's own avatar - her patronus, darnit, hugs her tight. "Now go home, Helena."

She casts a final look at Hokuto, and then gazes at the others, musingly. Some are familiar. Some are new faces. But she'll remember them all. With the last of her sweeping gaze taking in Kaylee and Cat, Helena turns, and races for an oval standing mirror. It's just like the one she had in her bedroom, growing up. And then she's gone…and so is Cameron. Maybe forever, or maybe just for now.

Having returned to his previous state, the gash left by the book, and the missing horn have respectively healed over and grown back; when he is of the few left to face Hokuto, he is simply there to peer solemnly down at her. There is nothing that is plain as day on the beast's face, other than the commonplace steel in his orange eyes. Curled in one of the long, hanging whiskers coming from his muzzle is the card he had first stolen from Hokuto's Shadow. The Emperor card is as stalwart as it ever was, without crease nor scratch.

"We are all imperfect." And she has nothing to fear from Cong in the waking world; Bao-Wei speaks, his low rumble coming easily as he says his piece, glancing towards the mirror that Logan had disappeared into before his gaze returns to Hokuto's final disappearing act. A heavy exhale leaves his nose as he turns to go, finding his way into a tall, wide mirror, its frame of dark, heavy wood surrounding a picture of Chinatown, covered head to toe in the red and gold of the Lunar New Year.

It's hard to really show anything but pain on one's face, when your head feels like it'll split open. Kaylee watches it all when a thin lipped smile, a hand pressed to her nose, thin lines of blood sliding from it over her hand…. Not a pretty sight, but she feels the relief that the woman would not have to die to stop it all.

Her head turns to look up at Corbin, hearing his words. There is a touch of sadness in her eyes, as she watches him step through the mirror. She somewhat understands him. His problems make her think of her own, which has her glancing at the snake in her lap, her jaw works a bit. Embracing it is one thing… trusting it is another.

There was still a long road ahead for this telepath.

A hand is held to the snake and it curls around her wrist as their mirror starts to appear, growing out of the ground, cradled in the branches of an apple tree. Her blood covered hand drops from her nose to help lever her to her feet, she stumbles a bit towards her mirror, hand gripping the frame to steady her, red ripe apples hang close to her head.

Unfortunately, Kaylee never gets to willingly walk through the mirror. The blonde haired woman's back suddenly straightens with a gasp. The snake on her arm writhes and suddenly wisps away like smoke. "Oh.. god…" Her head is suddenly thrown back, eyes wide, before her body disappears with a puff of smoke. The mirror she would have walked through slowly fades out of existence, only a red apple laying on it's side is left behind, but then it too fades slowly out of existence.

Hokuto's fading form is studied for some long moments, the brunette working to hold in her normal displayed reserve and having more trouble than normal. Cat's eyes show so many things. Maybe she's going to say something, maybe not. Maybe she'll tell Tamsine and others. Maybe she won't. "How you make amends and move forward is up to you. Farewell, Hokuto."

She turns away from the woman and approaches her mirror, which seems to be guitar-shaped. Stepping through, she mutters "I've got people to see, Russian nazis to hunt down and kill."

And as the search for self continues, we look for answers everywhere.

As the dreaming minds all find their way back home, one by one entering the mirrors that will take them back to their waking minds, or in Kaylee's case violently forced into waking by the actions of Doctor Brennan out of concern for her well being, the tower stands alone and silent. Hokuto's luminous form disappears, leaving nothing but the tattered remains of tarot cards situated on the shattered stone.

In nature, in God, in tiny tragedies that may never be understood.

The tower too, begins to fade away, dithering from sight as the mirrors one by one disappear. But from that doorway, the one where Corbin had gone to look, a single tiny form steps out from the archway, dirty blonde hair swept to one side away from her face, eyes nervously exploring the top of the tower. Black shoes carry her down each one of the steps, until she reaches the middle of the tower, her hands folded behind her back. When Molly Walker lifts her eyes up to the crimson sun hovering over the top of the tower, there's the faintest hint of a smile on her lips.

But still, we are driven to it, single-minded on one goal:

"I knew you could do it…" Molly whispers, her brows furrowed as she stares up at the sky, speaking to the ghostof Hkuto's memory. With that one bit of confidence, she turns towards the last mirror present, a simple silver wrought mirror that reflects an older and heavier-set man waiting for her on the other side. Staring at Matt Parkman's visage in her own subconscious, Molly turns to look back over her hsoulder, smiling more honestly now. "Now, I can finally sleep."

To find our purpose on this earth. No matter what the ramifications…

As she steps through the mirror, the dream world slowly begins to boil away, and as tired eyes flutter open there is a weak, shuddering noise of a sob. Staring up at the ceiling of a hospital, hearing the beep of a a heart rate monitor at her side, Hokuto Ichihara opens her eyes for the first time since this began, looking tiredly at Corbin's sleeping form in the chair at the side of her bed beginning to stir. She reaches out with one hand, lacing her fingers with his as the tears welling in her eyes finally roll down her face.

…the friendships that may be hurt…

Judgment comes for everyone in the end, her Persona had said to her before waking, and with the guilt of those deaths settled squarely on her shoulders, Hokuto Ichihara knows better than anyone else does now how lucky she is to have the people in her life that she does. She knows how fortunate she is to be alive, when they had every right to kill her for what she had done. But now, here, comes the hardest part to any of this.

…or the deals with the devil we need to make.

Redemption.

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An array of green lights flick on one by one in a strip, and the whirring of a series of test tubes in a centrifuge stops. When the machine beeps, a tired old man leans his eyes away from a microscope, offering a pleased smile the way someone might to the sound of a microwave beeping to let them know their dinner was ready. Smoothing out the front of his labcoat, the gray haired old man moves to pull the one vial out of the centrifuge, looking at the jet black liquid inside.

"Mmn, it's ready." There's a somewhat doddering smile on his face as he shakes the vial, then turns to look over his shoulder. "Julie, dear, it's ready." Beyond the scientist, a large examination chair with soft white padding rests beneath the glow of an enormous circular lamp lined with several halo-shaped bulbs. Sitting on the table, an exceptionally young blonde girl in white clothing offers a cheerful smile.

Swinging her legs onto the table, she lays back and rests her head up against the padded back of the slightly angled examination chair. "All ready Doctor Luis!" She chirps happily, rolling up the long white sleeve of her shirt and reaching down to her side where a medical tray is seated, very quickly picking up a cotton swab and a bottle of alcohol, cleaning the inside of her arm just like she's been taught to. "What're we going to try this time, Doctor?" There's a wide-eyed innocence in Julie's expression, teeth toying excitedly with her lower lip.

"Ah, yes… what a good girl you are, Julie." Picking up a syringe, the gray-haired doctor inserts the black liquid tube inside, screws it into place, and then begins walking over to the chair that Julie is seated in. "We're going to try a different addative mixture today, so I just want you to lay back and get comfortable." There's a warm smile on the Doctor's lips as he brushes a lock of hair from Julie's face.

"Okay, Doctor Luis…" The young girl agrees, watching without fear of the needle as the doctor brings it to her arm, hesitates, and then levels his tired old eyes up at her. Julie's brows furrow, a precicious level of understanding in her eyes when she sees Lius' nervousness. "What's the matter, Doctor?"

Lius nervously smiles, then shakes his head. "Nothing, dear. Just— this is a bit more potent than the last batch. Lay back," he assures her, "lay back and think of something calming, and remember that I'm right here by your side, and I won't ever let anything bad happen to you." Julie's brows furrow for just a moment, before she lays her head down and nods once, offering a reassuring smile to the generations older doctor.

"Like snow?" Julie asks with one brow quirked as Lius slides the needle into her arm, barely even flinching. Lius looks up to Julie and manages a nervous grin, then nods his head distractedly.

"Yes, like snow dear."

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