s_elisabeth_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title Cadenza
Synopsis Cadenza: An extended solo in a concerto. In this case… an attempt to help.
Date May 26, 2019

In Dreams

One thing Teodoro has noticed: she is always running.

It is both strange and heartbreaking to watch. Sometimes it's dark, and she darts through trees, bleeds against thorns, and ducks under the raking beams of flashlights. Other times it's bright. Sunshine lifting motes of dust off the ground, the wake of a recent explosion still making quiet of the world, before the sputter of gunfire interrupts again. For awhile, the ground was flat tarmac and the sky an impossible, ashy shade of grey; but next time, they were inside a building, a labyrinth of corridors, the cries of children bouncing off the ceiling and reverberating through the walls.

He saw her roll down the surface of a listing ship, her shoulder strike the rusted railing. He felt her flinch when a crewmate slithered past her, screaming, before his neck snapped with an elastic crack over the iron post next to the one that she had caught with her hand.

Sometimes she's running from burning flames. Other times, toward the flash of semi-automatic firearms, muzzles discharging rounds into soft targets. Teo has made a study of this, knowing his power to be far more unreliable, far less precise, and significantly less powerful than that of true dreamweavers.

But sometimes that's all right. Sometimes, Teo's limits make him patient out of necessity, like he so rarely is in his own real life. He has watched, taken silent notes, searched for the pattern. Edged ever closer to the beating heart of her nightmares, where sordid symbols flushed through the artery of her imagination circled back weakened by fractured memory. He's gotten nearer and nearer; these days, he's so close he can even think, sometimes, that that's the heat of Richard’s arm over her, in the backdraft that burns her legs— or the sound of her heart breaking, when her daughter's voice wakes her in the morning.

And tonight, Teo thinks they might be ready.

The building around her is concrete. Subterranean. No windows. Red emergency light. The cage stands empty beside her, the scorched remains of children stuck and blackened to the bottom. Something's coming; there's no time to mourn.

It's exhausting to run so much. And then sometimes she simply vanishes into the stronghold deep in her dreamscape, one that Teo has visited before. It's a bit worse for wear these days — it was never intended to withstand long-term sieges, it was meant to be a haven to allow the dreamer a little rest while she dealt with her nightmare of being tortured. It's done its job and then some, and other dreamwalkers have been helping shore it up since she returned home. But she's not retreating there as often… many of the nightmares she's simply come to accept and though she flees through the dreamscape from them, they are expected and don't wake her. Some leave her dream self crumpled to the ground sobbing, such as tendrils of shadow that creep from the darkness into the soft light, reminiscent of a beloved shadowmorph but somehow darker, more inky and viscous, speaking in Kazimir Volken's voice to taunt and deride in a sibilant hiss more reminiscent of … well… maybe the Entity?

And then there's the burning/burned children. As this imagery picks up, Elisabeth is already shying away from it, unable to look at it. And something is coming. A certainty builds. Whatever is coming, it will destroy her to see it. And she pivots on a heel to keep fleeing into the concrete halls, this terror nameless and deep enough that once more in the real world, her power flares to a high-pitched keen.

This again. Teo watches the shape and blur and darkness of her dream, the clip of her feet starting again.

Disembodied still, he follows after her, into the red light and concrete building.

And as Teo does so, he starts to take shape, like a pink cloud of cotton candy forming around a stick at the carnival. But he isn't pink. In fact, he starts as black too, like so much shadow given sentience, influenced by the content of her habitual dreams. Not as powerful as a true dreamweaver, or even the relative finesse of the ghost, this Teo lacks the prowess to choose his own form. The next instant, he almost has four cat paws and a cat tail, copying the shape that Ghost often defaults to. And the next, there's a brief whisper of wings, but those fade into nothing, too. More like Tam-Lin, in the stories, when he should be playing the role of Janet.

Ten more steps. He looks up at her face, fraught in the shadows. He feels himself changing again, her subconscious pulling at him. He wills her to choose something positive; something that will make her strong. (He has an instantaneous second thought about, 'It sure would be weird if she made me into Richard,' buT IT'S FINE, what are the odds —?) And suddenly

He's not a he anymore. Not to be cis-normative about it, but he is most profoundly not a man. Instead, he's a girl, slender and blonde, hazel-eyed. Not entirely unlike her mother, her steps running fleet beside Elisabeth. For a split second, her legs are too short; she's too young a child, too small a body. It's not going to work, and Teo touches something, a strand of reason running through her dream.

Abruptly, Aurora turns sixteen. Cartilage piercing at the top of her ear, Doc Martens on her feet, but pastel. The rubber soles squeak against the cold floor as she moves, fast, apace her mother. Away from this thing that follows.

The more usual reaction happens, of course — that the dreamer isn't (at least initially) in control of a dream or even aware that it is one. Elisabeth's dreamed these horrors enough to peripherally be aware that it's a dream though only sometimes in control of them or lucid within them. In this case, simple acceptance of her companion brings her focus to a slightly more lucid state.

"Aura, move," she demands, as if it's perfectly normal that her daughter should be a teen and running from the horrors in which they live. Of course… given the worlds she's traveled already with the child, why wouldn't she expect more of the same? A hand on Aurora's elbows is perhaps a little harder than she might intend, but it serves to change their direction down a hall to the left.

Aura turns with her mom, like wolves accustomed to running in a pack, flanking their prey. Or, as the case may be, fleeing a hunter. All wild things know fear. Sometimes, for creatures of fang and claw, death comes from the bottom of its prey's stone-hard heel, antlers as long as swords. Being the apex of the food chain doesn't mean life is easy.

"Where are we going?"

Despite the emphasis on the last word there, Aurora fails to sound like a whiny teenager who doesn't want to get out of bed early Sunday morning. There's an urgency to her voice, tight and sharp, wise to the situation, like the glance she throws back over her shoulder. A flicker of movement emerges around the corner, but then they round a corner in turn, her shoulder banging into her mother. "I've seen that before," she hisses, which is the sound of Teo racking his brain, even as he races his unlikely body along, parallel to the grey pipes. The new hallway is funneling them forward, forward, toward a

vanishing point that seems increasing like

a solid wall. But three of the pipes to Aura's left are bending upward, ten feet ahead, a telltale cue.

"Seen what?" Elisabeth gasps as they jostle making the hard left. She manages not to bounce off the opposite wall, but only because her hands fly out to keep her from hitting it. When they reach the pipes, she has to stop. A glance over her shoulder holds less terror than one might expect… there's some fear, but there's a deeper determination. Her breathing is labored — even in good shape, it is still a lot of exercise. "Climb, kiddo."

In the moment that she takes to catch her breath and inspect those pipes, she realizes Aurora asked her something. Where are they going? She knew. …

She thought she knew. And now she's uncertain, with that sense of something coming. The nameless pursuer brings nothing good. And the answer escapes her lips. "Home. We've got to get you home. Your father will protect you." While she faces the darkness that chases them. Elisabeth points. "Grab there, I'll boost you."

Aurora complies before answering, of course. She knows the world she's been born into, and she knows her mother.

(Teo doesn't fully understand this place, but he has an idea; Liz isn't his mother, but he knows and loves her.)

She reaches up, spreading her arms to balance herself. Places her foot on the stirrup formed by her mother's own hands. The first boost is enough; her youthful gaze, fast reflexes, limber body, they all orchestrate the movement together, as sleek as a panther leaping streams. She snatches the metal rod overhead, pulls herself up. Chin-up, no problem. She grabs for her next handhold before she's found her feet, knowing her mom will support her as she grabs up, up, up, until she's high enough to bend her knee, up nearly high enough to reach her own sternum.

And then she's climbing on her own, fast as you like.

"Mom!" shouts Teo, who incidentally does love his mom, but speaks from concern. His friend is absolutely and without question the kind of person to sacrifice herself for her daughter, and his control over this scenario is badly limited. He doesn't mean to lose her, not now.

Willing to sacrifice herself for her child — or for any number of other people, if that's what had to happen — doesn't mean she wants to be dead. Elisabeth looks back toward the nameless thing. She's so goddamn tired of running, the weariness is evident even in her dreams. But she squares her shoulders, backs up a few steps, and takes a running jump toward the pipes. She manages, barely, to grab hold of the same bar Aurora used and hoists herself upward.

So much of her past couple of years has been spent underground or underwater, she can't shake the dream itself to wake. It's too real. When she gains the foothold that brings her the rest of the way up to the teen's position, she pauses and prompts, "What have you seen before?"

Their respite is momentary, but looking for answers is really what dreams are, right? The subconscious processing all the things you've seen or experienced. Knowledge might not always be power — it brings a lot of nightmares for certain — but seeking information (being very nosy) is a trait both of the dream-teen's parents share. And awake or asleep Elisabeth asks questions. It's what she does.

Aura scrambles as fast as she can, nearly missing a foothold once— but she catches her balance. She has strong arms; it's not like her parents would ever let her slack off on conditioning. "That thing. I've seen it before."

But is she sure? Is Teo sure? This is a dream, you know, and that's the problem; it's not about what you see so much as what you know. The symbolism of things. The girl and the dreamer hesitate simultaneously, and the next instant, she's made it out of the tunnel. Aura throws her arm over the edge and drags hereslf out, springing out of the way with her lanky legs the moment she has her knees out of the way. She tucks and rolls, spry as a cat, lands in a crouch. Looks left and right, assuring herself that there are no enemies up here, before reaching to grab her mom's arm.

They're at the ground floor of a building. No windows still, but the wall has a giant, bold font, serif 1 painted on it. The next hallway stretches out. There's an EXIT sign but it's wrong, spelled backward, a bastardized mirror of itself glowing green in the still-Hellish red light.

"Don't you notice that?" Aura urges, hoisting her mom's arm into the open air. She is still confused, of course; Teo isn't sure what it means. But he is sure about one thing. "It sounds like…"

And that's it. That's exactly it, that she means, which is all the more obvious when Elisabeth's last ringing step on a rung gives way to the fabric slide of her knee across the floor. It doesn't sound like anything.


As she's hauled upward the last rung to join her daughter, Elisabeth pauses in the dream and looks around. In the real world, her physical reaction lessens as her dream self slows down. "It's all wrong," she whispers. "Where are we?" It's backwards. Does that make sense? It's just discordant enough to draw her toward awareness that she's dreaming. Her brows furrow and glances back down the access ladder.

It's so quiet. Is it ominous or peaceful quiet? She can't tell, and that in and of itself worries her. "Where did you see it?" Elisabeth asks slowly. The sense of urgency, the fear… it's still there but not as bad.

There's an odd instant where Teo and Aura almost split, almost blend, almost forget that they are in that moment the same person. But they remember, hazel eyes blinking at Elisabeth's face, though everything here is rendered wrongly in the color of blood.

Where did she see it? Teo sifts through the chaos of dark and silent fury, because it's not about what he saw. It's about what the dream means, half graven from lived experience and real memory, but entirely shaded and colored and textured in interpretation, the meanings she's made, the symbolism, the endings that did happen and the ones that have yet to. They say that the things we have feared most have already happened to us, but in Teodoro's life, that has not always been true; there are always new and more unimaginable terrors for us to face.

But certainly does life always repeats. Invert. Hail back and roll forward. Mobius strips placed inside of mirrors set inside of shadows laying inside of rhyming couplets.

In dreams, more than most.

Aura's hand closes on her mother's. She has rings on her middle and fourth fingers, punky but sharp. When she punches people, it'll tear them up. "I've seen it a hundred times before," she says, slowly. "It's not an 'it,' mom. It's her. She's just like you."

Dreamers with so many horrors already in their past are capable of imagining such diabolically twisted things, making connections where none exist out of paranoia and fear, and in this Elisabeth is no different. The roiling mass of darkness that chases them takes on a whole other interpretation… perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst possible one. And it sends her terror into the stratosphere. The pulse of sound off her in the real world sends her bedroom rumbling and things falling to the floor, glass cracking.

"Then she won't stop," she tells her daughter. Lifting her free hand to cradle the girl's face, Elisabeth smiles just a little at her. "Because no one fights harder than when they're keeping their family safe. Run, Aurora." She never expected to make it this far, after all. She never does.

Well, Teo thinks.


Aurora's voice is loud as a whipcrack. "No fucking way, mom." As we are not in Age of Ultron, she does not anticipate her language being the biggest problem they get into here. She snares her fingers tight around her mom's arm, so tight that her knuckles go ghost-white and pain shivers through the small bones of Elisabeth's arm, even in her dreams. Maybe when her daughter was eleven, she might have listened. Twelve. But she's well into her teenage rebellion, even without the particular DNA combination of her parents. "I'm not leaving you. You might as well knock me out and stuff me in a fucking pipe."

Maybe Elisabeth should only enlist the help of dream-manipulators who swear less than Teo does. "We're going together or we're staying together."

She could tell her daughter that she'll be right behind her. But in this instance it would probably be a lie, and it never even occurs to Elisabeth to lie in here. Oddly, the girl's response makes her mother smile. Maybe because she swears just as much and it makes total sense that Aura's language is liberally laced with profanity. "As if that would even help," she retorts. "C'mon, kid… it's a long way home."

She tugs the wrist that's being squeezed, using Aurora's hold to urge the girl into motion again. And they are moving once more. It's going to be another of those nights where it's all about the running and never actually arriving at a destination, the dreamer waking in a cold sweat and still tired.

That would be the tiresome and inescapable truth though, wouldn't it? You can never escape yourself. But Aurora is her mother's daughter, and Teo is Elisabeth's friend; they're willing to try.

And for long, grinding minutes in the crimson darkness, they do try. They run. The backward EXIT sign takes them to a staircase that leads them inexplicably to the sixth floor, no door to the outside world, only windows stretched clear and glassy over the featureless darkness of the night beyond. Roof? Fire escape? Where can they go? Aurora doesn't know, or rather, she knows that the safest haven here is temporary reprieve at best; a single sleep cycle, a single night; maybe even a good week. Always temporary. Is that good enough?

Mom and daughter crash through open doors, the EMERGENCY - ALARM WILL SOUND IF OPENED signage across the bar. No alarm sounds. There are

no sounds

at all.

Because she is on the other side. Standing there, bathed in the reddest red. Elisabeth Harrison's broken mirror, dressed in functional trousers and a vest with neither SCOUT nor any other logo emblazoned across the black velcro, her blonde hair pulled back into a tactical ponytail. She holds no weapon. She doesn't need one; the air ripples around her, soundless yet, unfelt except by the other Elisabeth, but profoundly unnatural.

Elisabeth pulls to an immediate halt, instinctively shoving the teen behind her. She can't backpedal through the door without stumbling over the girl, so she simply stands face to face with that mirror image. Her heart beats in heavy thumps in her chest, the weight of her dread a physical ache behind her ribs. "Go back, Aura," she bites out. She doesn't want the teen to see what happens next. She is choking on the feelings of rage and sorrow that flow over her at the sight of 'herself'. She knows that woman… far better than she can verbalize. And that woman is not someone she wants Aurora exposed to.

Aurora takes a step back, but just one. Teo frowns at Elisabeth through her daughter's eyes, the reflective prism of her daughter's spirit. He knows a thing or five about what it's like, to love Elisabeth Harrison.

Maybe Teo should have picked a different body. But it's too late now.

Aurora stares at the macabre woman coming through the hallway. This specter, this doppelganger, shows no hurry. Her steps are slow, measured. Purposeful. There's a neutral ease to the way she carries herself, her shoulders square and her jaw even. Not exactly confidence, but something colder. It fragments slightly when her eyes turn to find Elisabeth. The real Elisabeth, you might say, standing before her daughter. A line between the dark woman's blonde eyebrows, the faintest glint of teeth.

Sneer? Smile? It's impossible to tell. Her lips move, but no sound emerges. Her teeth and tongue curl around the word: children, but there is no speech to hear. The silence is thicker, heavier than darkness, a smothering hand over the screaming noise of their heartbeats.

"She just can't hear us," Aurora says, suddenly, on an impulse that isn't quite an impulse. She holds her ground, gripping her mother's shoulder. "Mom. What's that song? The one that you and dad, you always—?"

It's funny how simple words can bring up such vivid and distinct memories. There isn't a song they 'always' anything, but there are certain things that Elisabeth has put in her mental treasure box, held there as beacons against despair, lifelines against giving up.

Soft chords of a melody line swell around them. Johnny Reid is not a particular favorite of hers, but Richard sang for her that night. It's not Johnny Reid's voice that slips through her mind but his. 𝆕Dance with me…. Don't say a word, just dance with me….𝆕 Though there's no way to know for certain, she's often thought that could have been the night he gave her the beautiful child she's fought so hard for.

It is a single moment in time, but he always told her… there is no happily ever after. Not for people like us. There is only happy for a while. It is one of a mere handful of moments that burn bright for a lost soul trying to find her way home.

The shrill pitch of her power in the waking world eases instantly into the same chords of sound.

Teo is accustomed to thinking he's good at hope. And he is, but being good at hope is like having a talent for kissing or cooking. You have to be careful to avoid excess. Too much salt does not a good meal make, nor does a lot of spit. And to hope things will turn out okay is very different from true certainty.

But sometimes, in absence of actual certainty, pretending makes it true. And all the best pretends are based on something true enough.

Inside the dream, dark Elisabeth has stopped in her tracks. She stares at the other woman, her expression inscrutable. She's still too silent to be heard, herself; no push of breath, no rustle of clothing, her pale hair nearly motionless over her shoulders, her bubble of silence as heavy as death. At the point where the silence meets the music, there's the faintest ripple of distortion in the air, a blurring of rebound, eye-watering, a line so fine you can't see it except for the opposite halves on either side. Stalemate.

But fuck that, thinks Teo. And Aurora agrees.

The girl closes her eyes. She takes a long, slow breath, the light glinting from the subtle movements through her earrings and pointy rings. And then, all of a sudden, Aurora disappears.

Into thin fucking air.

Only, Elisabeth knows that isn't true. Because she can feel her daughter there still, in the dark shadows and the red light, in the substance of the music. Instead of flesh and bone, she has decorporealized, and the cadence of her bodyrhythms has reverted, expanded, deepened into something else: raw sound itself, the exact center point between her mother's ability and her father's. Johnny Reid's song crescendos in the air, reaching deeper into sound, so they not only hear it in their ears but feel it in their bones.

It's strong. More than it was. The other Elisabeth cuts her eyes to the side, tracking Aura's presence in the air; she takes an involuntary step backward, toward the reversed EXIT sign, her field of silence trembling.

Dissonance is what rattles the dreamer — that is not a sight or a thing she's ever imagined, and the 'knowledge' of what the teen just did shakes the foundations of the dream. Elisabeth comes awake, adrenaline sky high with the world of her bedroom filled with music that suddenly dies away in a discordant jangle of notes and a rumble of sound well familiar to those who know her.

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