In Somnis Veritas, Part I


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In Shadows:

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Scene Title In Somnis Veritas, Part I
Synopsis Venturing into the final mirror into Hokuto Ichihara's subconsciousness, her friends and allies seek out the Nightmare Man to end this conflict once and for all…
Date February 19, 2010

In the days following Hokuto Ichihara's disappearance, it had become plainly obvious that something was drastically wrong in that subconscious realm. The ability of the dream manipulator to draw others into alternate mindscapes had become blunted, like the tingling senses of a dead limb. Only one place, one dreaming realm — that hub to all others that she had created — remained. But ever changed by the events of that cold February night was the hall of mirrors, as it was called.

Twelve tall dressing mirrors standing in a circle facing one another are all shattered, each one of them broken as if by a single punch to the center of each mirror's mass, and curiously each mirror ceased to offer reflections as well, contrary to their silvery sheen. But now, the room of mirrors had been expanded, into some grand foyer of a massive skyscraper made from the rusted scaffolding and iron beams of a building not yet finished in construction.

A central column of concrete runs like a spine through its center, and on the outside of this mythic structure there expands an endless sea of burning ruins, choking ash and roiling clouds of black smoke, a dream world where Midtown happened everywhere.

At the top of a flight of stairs that ascends twenty-two steps from the ground floor of that lobby, there lay one singular mirror that was revealed within Hokuto's own subconsciousness by some of the dreamers, a single black mirror that reflected an unknown.

There within that mirror, within that smooth piece of black glass, Hokuto Ichihara had disappeared to hold the mind of the Nightmare Man in place. Days following her disappearance, it became obvious that only those few people whom had met her, the ones who had used her dreaming gateways to save not only themselves but others in the city, now had to turn back and inward, and save the woman who had helped protect them from the beast himself.

But this one mirror, this singular window into dreams, does not lead to only one place.

Or one thought…

The Nightmare Man's Dreamscape

The steady clicking of keys is the first thing any of them hear. It's hard to say exactly when they had all decided to cross the threshhold of sleep and move into that mirror together, when enough dreaming minds had been gathered to one side under the agreement of setting foot inside of the Nightmare Man's mind to rescue Hokuto, and find a way to end all of this. To some, it feels like they've been asleep for days.

The clicking, though, the typing why won't—

"You shouldn't have stayed up so late working on that file." The voice comes crisp and sharp across the confines of a dimly lit office. Standing in a doorway leading out into a concrete hall, there's the silhouette of an older, dark-haired woman in a black suit. "I know you won't listen to reason, dear, but if that report is a day or two late I don't think anyone will mind, terribly."

It's under pale fluorescent lights that Angela Petrelli makes her approach into the computer filled office, large monitors flickering and displaying the same identical star-pattern screen saver, except for one where a dark-haired woman sits working behind a desk. Four people awaken to this place, seach sitting at adjacent computer terminals on the opposite side of the room, seemingly not a part of whatever dreamscape this is entirely.

Two of them, Corbin Ayers and Meredith Gordon, recognize the concrete walls, fluorescent lights and the voice of the Petrelli matriarch. This is the Company's Bronx facility, records hall B-4 computer lab. "I'll be fine, really. I've just got a few more pages and then we can put the whole thing behind us… Besides," the younger woman typing at the desk looks up to Angela, her profile silhouetted from the glow of the monitor, "Eden deserves this much. A fully filed report isn't a whole lot, but…" the typist turns back to her computer, "it's all I can do."

Angela's focus is steady, level and quiet as she lays a hand on the secretary's shoulder. "Well… do at least try to get some sleep." The tension in the older woman's voice is, largely, difficult to discern the origin of. But this place— through the looking glass— it was Corbin and Hokuto's working environment.

Aaron and Daphne, both only now beginning t peel their faces from the keyboards their heads are stuck resting against, don't see quite the same similarities the others do.

Instead of having her face mashed into a keyboard, Meredith straightens, her neck stretched uncomfortably backwards as her head attempted to find a rest that wasn't there. Putting a hand on her shoulder, she rolls them and then cricks her neck from one side to the other. Then, she freezes, recognizing where she is and who it is that is in the room with them. This…this is a dream. Though she knows she should know that immediately, however waking up in a dream is disorienting.

With a start, the blonde pushes herself out of her chair and looks around her. It's familiar, alright. It takes her a few moments to realize that she went through a dark mirror and then woke up here. So, this has some sort of purpose. She looks around to the others here and frowns. No one she knows. Why is she not surprised? Curiously, she approaches Angela and the woman at the desk. Can they see her? With added caution, she moves to walk in front of Angela and cross her arms. "I've woken up here too often in the past few weeks," she mutters.

If not for the horrifying resemblance between the Hall of Mirrors and Silent Hill, Aaron would have thought this just an ordinary nightmare — well, as ordinary as can be when the Nightmare Man is involved, anyway. Unfortunately, he can't be under that safe illusion. This is definitely different. He lets out a stiff groan as he lifts his face off the keyboard, and he mutters something about this being precisely why he never worked clerical. He hears the two female voices, but finds nothing familiar about them or anything else about his surroundings. Well, there's this vague similarity, as the place looks strikingly familiar to what he imagines most faceless working environments must look like. Of course, there are the concrete walls. That's certainly unusual.

Finding himself in a chair, he slowly pushes it back, distancing himself from the keyboard that's left faint markings on his face. He looks around himself to try and gain some bearing, which is only helped when Meredith speaks up. It helps him pull himself out the half-daze that he finds himself in whenever he's unceremoniously tossed somewhere such as this. He quirks a brow as he slowly gets up and off the chair he was sitting on, "What is this place?"

Lifting her head and turning it toward the voices she hears, Daphne's eyes immediately narrow, trying to figure out where, and when, she is. The fact she's in another dream is a nightmare enough for her — she'd considered running far, far away from Manhattan after the last dream. Paris? Australia? South America? She has a very real fear that if she gets trapped in the past again, with limbs that refuse to do what her brain commands the, she'll wake that way — a reality she cannot face.

She turns to look around the room, brows knit together as she takes in the others assembled there, though there is a sense of relief that there are — apparently — four of them. Last time there was just her and Prince Charming, who had no more answers than she did, even if he did have a sword. Her eyes fall upon Corbin — one of her reasons for not flying across the ocean to the welcome arms of Paris. She shoves a hand through her always-dissheveled locks and cautiously stands — mostly to see if she can.

The face smashing of some is the leaning back in chair with his feet up for Corbin. At least he just barely avoids falling out of said chair and onto the floor in a flailing of surprise. It would have been something that happened before. While he made fun of Hokuto for falling asleep anywhere back in the day, he often fell asleep at the desk as well, especially when it came to lots of paper work.

"It's the place I used to work a couple years ago." And some in the present as well. Though the archive computer rooms are less frequented these days. "With Hokuto," he explains, knowing well the only two dreamwalkers he dragged into this mess, and recognizing Meredith from elsewhere— however briefly.

Getting up, he looks over the stern older woman, and then back at the secretary— refusing to sleep and typing up a report. A report on Agent McCain? That— "McCain died after Hokuto left," he mutters quietly, finding this odd as he starts to 'wake up'. Which is funny, since he's technically not awake at all. "I think I'm the one who had to write that report…" And it probably was late— just because he always has more stuff to do, and he had to help write the news article for where they found her body, so it wouldn't tie in as suspicious. False articles had always been his job. Even after Hokuto left.

It's like they aren't even there. Neither Angela nor her young secretary — a young brunette woman named Aki Arisawa, whom Angela had been struggling to appoint as Agent Ichihara's replacement following her retirement— seem to recognize or even notice Meredith's subtle interactions. Petrelli matriarch offers a quiet smile to the young woman typing, then turns her eyes across the room to glance furtively at the computers the dreamers woke up in, as if for a moment realizing that something in this place was usnettled, but not able to percieve it. When the sound of a phone ringing emanates from Angela's jacket, a hand is slid inside one pocket, mild smile given to the secretary as she turns her back, phone held up to one ear.

"Yes?" Angela hadn't inspected the incoming number, perhaps out of habit. "Oh— Hello dear, well it's certainly been a while hasn't it?" Dark brows furrowed,t he elder Petrelli shifts her weight to the side and takes a few steps away from the secretary's work. "No, I hadn't heard anything from him actually. He did?" Angela tips her head to the side, looking blankly at one of the walls.

"Your father's a busy man, he's working on a few important assignments, but I'll be certain to let him know the moment I see him to call you…" there's a tentative smile somewhere creasing the lines at the sides of Angela's mouth. "Oh, you're always apologizing, stop it." Her eyes narrow a touch, anf Angela glances over her shoulder to the secretary.

"Well, Corbin hasn't exactly accepted a partner yet, but I've been trying to get him to at least consider the possibility. It's been seven months since you retired, I think it's high time he move on. Maybe he'd take the suggestion from you better, you know how he is." Lifting her chin up, considering her thoughts more so than her posture, Angela offers a nod to whatever's said on the other side of the phone, seeming content to carry on her conversation in complete obliviousness to the dreaming minds around the room.

At least Meredith is aware of the boundaries of what's going on here now. Just to make sure, she gives Angela a wave and then gives her the middle finger. If Angela could see anything, she'd certainly react to that. After a moment, she just crosses her arms again.

At Corbin's answer, Meredith gives him a sharp look, a narrowing of her eyes. He used to work here? He doesn't look familiar, but few of the newer agents do. Who knows when he worked here.

"It's a Company facility," she adds blandly. As she talks, she realizes that she's speaking over whatever is happening here and maybe they should be listening. The conversation doesn't mean anything to her, which is frustrating. Why are they all here watching a replay of something? It's got to have some sort of meaning, but she certainly doesn't know what it is. Frustrated, she starts to move around some more, looking around the room while keeping an ear pricked for anything interesting to be said.

Aaron watches as the two women completely ignore Meredith. Eerily, it reminds him of how Gillian seemed to ignore him when he unexpectedly showed up in her nightmare. He straightens his black canvas duster and moves closer to Meredith and the two phantom women, listening to the one side of the conversation. Even with Corbin's brief explanation, it's doesn't exactly help explain much. "Looks boring," he observes aloud in a soft tone, though he doesn't pick up on the fact that 'Company' isn't something generic but something incredibly specific and secretive — those sorts of things are totally beyond his knowledge, something he'd be proud of if not for his growing concern that he's let himself remain ignorant of one too many things.

But at least Aaron asks the most important question — possibly one that none of the dreamwalkers can even answer, but one they're all thinking. "OK, so this is some company facility of some sort…." Company rolls off his tongue with no particular inflection, since he clearly thinks it's just some facility for some company or another. "But why are we here?"

Daphne moves closer to look over the shoulder at the computer screen to see what the secretary is typing. This office certainly doesn't look like a newspaper, but what other sort of report would Corbin be working on. And what sort of newspaper uses a partner system. She shoots Corbin a confused look, then goes to peek out in the hallway, to see what lies beyond. At Meredith's words, she turns to look over her shoulder. "Company facility?" Her frown suggests she knows something about the Company, perhaps given her criminal dealings, though not the dealings. More that it is a whispered word, perhaps synonymous with DHS's darker side.

"The dream I had a few days ago, some Evo chick was trapping us and the Nightmare asshole in the past… she kept apologizing to us about it but I think that's all she knew to do. This is the past too — could it be her again?" she says quietly. "Hokuto was in that dream," she adds. "I think her mother was dying in it." This is said softer yet, in uncharacteristic respectfulness for Corbin's partner.

"Oooooh," the reporter-agent speaks up finally, rubbing his face a bit as things begin to settle into place. "I know her. She's— I guess I just wrote the article part. It was three years ago," Corbin says, rubbing at his hair for a moment, a little disturbed that they don't seem to be noticed. And hey, stop talking about him behind his back!

And— there's a grimace that's visible. He'd known it would come up eventually but… Scratching at his short cropped beard, he stands up, looking cautiously at Meredith, and then toward Daphne. "That must be Hokuto on the phone," he adds quietly, trying to avoid the question a little while longer. "After she quit I didn't really want to work with anyone else— I did eventually, it just… never lasted very long." Not at all his fault that! Except it had been. He'd sabotaged his ability to work with anyone else. "But they didn't have to be gossiping about it!"

Well, gossip is harsh. Hokuto was just worried about him, likely… "Hokuto's mom died just before she quit to go work at the bookstore." And he knows this obviously is not a newspaper office. "Daphne, I'll explain what I'm doing later, but whatever happens here— even if it looks like a memory, it— Well this isn't mine. Mrs. Petrelli would be talking about me while I'm standing right here." … "Actually maybe she would." Did she?

"I'll be sure to tell him to come by and see you at some point, maybe you can tell him that Agent Arisawa isn't quite as unfriendly as she seems on the surface, even if she is as much of a stubborn worker as you were." Angela's tone os only passingly affectionate, even if she does in some small way appear to be affording to ex-agent a modicum of familial kindness. "Yes, of course dear. I've got to go, though, I'm due to head home and… take care of a few things that have cropped up." Angela's dark eyes angle towards the open door she'd come in from.

"Of course, you too. Goodbye, Hokuto." When Angela flips her phone closed, the sound of the snap seems to disrupt this snapshot reality more so than any of the dreamer's efforts had yet.

The snap of the phone closing coincides with a jarring change of scenery, shifting from the interior of this concrete-walled facility to the burning wreckage of a building in the dark of night. They went from inside to outside in a matter of seconds, revealing a raging inferno on the outsirts of a darkened city. It's a brick apartment building that's on fire, flames roaring out the windows and thorugh the roof, screaming and crying people gathered in a half circle around the old tenement building. It looks like the desert, jusging from the distant mountains, flatlands and scrub grass all around. Meredith, in her awkward emergence into this place recognizes it as more than just a desert.

"Oh God, oh God did everyone make it out okay?" Someone in the crowd stutters the words out in shock. Meredith, shoulder to shoulder with other people in the crowd of escaped tennants recognizes this horrifying location with crystal clarity.

Kermit, Texas.

"Where's the blonde from apartment 36!?" A young man in the crowd asks, looking around frantically. "Oh God I hope she wasn't home." Apartment 36, Riverwalk Street, Kermit Texas. This fire, these people, these screams— it's February 28, 1992.

Of all the places for Meredith to be taken back to, this one hurts the most.

The pacing around the Company facility is nice and all, but it's not really doing Meredith any good. "Hokuto?" It's a name she's heard through other people, but she doesn't know the woman. The only thing she has to go on is her own Nightmare, a woman with a tarot card. While heavy in symbolism, it does little to help her at the moment. "What's the point in trapping us in a random facility listening to some news article?" It's boring, like Aaron pointed out and doesn't seem to do them any good.

However, with the snap of the phone, Meredith's complaint about boredom vanishes. Instead, Meredith finds herself in a place that is more than just familiar. It's haunting. It's a place that has haunted her life and her nightmares - normal ones, at that - for many years. She freezes in her pacing when she realizes where she is. The fire, the screaming, the street. Immediately, the blood drains from her face. The blonde from apartment 36. That's her. They're talking about her.

Her crossed arms fall away down to her side without thinking. She makes no sound, no scream, no cry of dismay to find herself here. There's only anger and pain that she quickly attempts to push down. A glassiness casts over her eyes, but there are no tears. She can't look away from the scene.
"Agent?" Aaron asks, looking strangely at Corbin. The only things he can think of where Agent might apply are CIA and FBI. He doesn't get to ask any further questions as things suddenly change. The place, time, and God knows what else. It's jarring enough to knock Aaron flat on his ass, despite knowing that gravity and other laws of physics don't exactly apply in the dreamworld. That's the problem with expectations. If you get disoriented from something like that, well…. what you expect to happen typically does.

"Ow…" he groans as he gets up and dusts himself off. The feeling of uselessness and futility wash over him. What's the point of seeing all of this stuff? It's not like they can do anything about it, and thus far, it hasn't seemed to yield and relevant information. His eyes drift to Meredith as her posture changes, but he doesn't say anything yet. He can't see her face from his vantage point.

There is a scowl at Corbin's "I'll explain later" but then they are looking at the building on fire. The heat is blistering, even at this distance, and Daphne takes a few rushing steps forward, as if to rush in and save whoever's in the building before she turns back. "This is still the past?" she asks, looking at each of them before her eyes land on Meredith — the look on the woman's face makes it clear. This is her past.

"Fuck. Okay, we're in the past… That Risa woman, she must have put the Oneiromancer in the past, like she said, and now he's using our pasts against us or something." That's her guess, and it frightens her, her arms wrapping around herself, as if to ward off the cold, despite the heat of the inferno before them. "We need to … we need to not be in the past," she says rather lamely. As she grows more frightened, suddenly taking shape behind her — a rather bad place to do so, given the contents of its form and the heat of the fire nearby — is the scarecrow that has become her sometimes less-than-helpful Avatar.

While Corbin is glad for the embarassing change of scenery— or revealing more like it. Now he knows he won't be ale to get out of a conversation with the woman he's been trying to date about having been an Agent. She might take it as the worst case scenerio. That he's some kind of Homeland Security agent who would be waiting for the right moment to snatch her up. "It's not what you think," he's already saying as the scenery switches, sticking close to the scowly person who doesn't want to be in the past.

"I really am a reporter, for the most part, I just have a second job… Sort of. I'm mostly a reporter, though, and my other job has nothing at all to do with us." He's tried to keep that part of his life apart from her, but both of their sakes.

But— here they are in the blonde's past now. He doesn't remember much about her, but… "If all it's going to throw at us is the past, that— I mean it's not great, but it already happened. We know how it ends." So that has to make it easier. Even if it's not. "It'll be okay." Hokuto's shadow was right, he does say that a lot.

Coughing up a lung full of smoke, soot and ash smudged across his face, a man in a dark colored suit comes stumbling out of a side entrance to the apartment, carrying a swaddled cloth bundle in his arms. Short cropped brown hair is singed in places, one eyebrow just missing, he squints back at the burning building, dropping to a knee and letting out another hacking cough. Behind and to the side of him, an older man with messier hair and a five o'clock shadow appears from nothingness, like inverse evaporation. "Well tha' was a spectacular blunder, eh?" He glances down towards the crouching man in the suit, one brow kicked up. "You save the wee one?"

Clearing his throat and looking down to the crying bundle in his arms, the younger agent nods his head twice, swallowing awkwardly before affording a look back to the flames. "Yeah," he murmurs, flames dancing in his eyes, "yeah I've got her, she's fine… Did you find Gordon anywhere?" He turns to look up at his partner, who shakes his head and scuffs one heel against the ground.

"No, I don' know where she ran off to. Frankly m'kind've happy, I'd 'ate t'ave t'be th' bloody invisible man all'a time 'cause I'm burned from head to toe, you know?" Shrugging his shoulders, the British man casts a look up to the apartment complex as the ceiling collapses down in sending a cloud of cinders up into the air.

"You know," he offers, "y'sure do know how t'make a dramatic exit though, Noah." His brows go up, crooked smile spread from ear to ear as his hands tuck into his pockets. "Erk," the Brit's eyes turn to the crowd, a few people having spotted the agents moving out from the side of the building, "time t'be scarce." Laying a hand down on Noah's shoulder, the smart-mouthed Brit turns the pair of them invisible just before another burst of flames rises out of the front of the apartment complex.

The flames shine brightly, too brightly, creating a flare of illumination that only ends when the clouds pass behind a sun. God it's warm out today, but at least here on the lawn the grass is still cool from the sun shower earlier. Laying shoulder to shoulder with Aaron, Corbin Ayers stares up at a cloud that looks distinctly like a bunny, blocking out the bright summer sun for a moment.

Admittedly Meredith's in a bit less comfortable of an environment, standing on the edge of a corn field about thirty feet from the seemingly lazily relaxing pair. Not far from either of the three, an old farm house is perched on the edge of that corn field, blue skies silhouetting its simplistic charm. The mailbox out front has it's little red plastic flag up, stenciled letters reading MILBROOK written on the side.

Daphne, perhaps least fortunately of all, awakens on the front porch on the swing seat. She can hear sounds inside the house through the screen door, the distant noises of an argument, her father's sharp voice ringing off the walls. His red pickup truck is parked in the driveway, her mother's car sitting and collecting rust next to it. She can hear her own voice, she can hear that screech she makes in frustration and her father's booming demand.

"Daphne go to your room!" The scream she will never forget, "Don't come out of there till you've changed your attiude! Don't upset your mother!"

This is the day she died.

Meredith's eyes narrow when she sees Bennet and Claude exit the apartment holding Claire. Before she can even stop herself, she's started to walk toward them. Then, she even runs, but it's no use. These men are shadows of her past and just as such, she can't do anything to affect them. The anger flashes in her eyes and she forgets about the Bennet she knows in the present, only the one in front of her, that has her daughter in his arms. Yes, they're still going through people's pasts, but the idea that it can't hurt anyone is false. Seeing this again cuts right to Meredith's core, and it shows.

The burst of flame interrupts her and her run tilts her off balance when the shift in scenery happens again. The third time this happens, she should realize what is going on. But, that doesn't stop her from tilting dangerously from one side to another when she suddenly stops running and finds herself standing at an edge of a cornfield. The jarring stop of motion almost topples her, but she catches herself and straightens.

"Oh, to hell with this." Once her balance is restored, she starts stomping her way up to the farmhouse, intent on throwing the door open. "Just get this over with, dammit. You ain't scary, you're just a prick." Yes, she's mad now.

Going from standing watching Meredith stalking off to the two coming out the apartment to suddenly lying down is not something Aaron's experienced before. He stares up from the ground at the fluffy white bunny. It takes him a moment to realize it's a cloud, and once he's made that realization he jumps up in time to witness Meredith's outburst. That outburst helps him to remember why they're here. They're trying to face the Nightmare Man. He'd almost forgotten with how frequently they've been jumping from memory to memory. Of course, he also realizes something that makes his blood run cold. He's next.

It takes a moment to put the abrupt scenery in place, even if it's a scene that she knows by heart. She glances at the door, and then out to the yard, seeing her dream comrades there with her. It's still a dream. But then Daphne hears the shouted words, her own voice like a razor to her wrists, cutting jaggedly and deeply.

"N-no," Daphne cries out, stumbling out of the porch swing and toward the screen door ahead of Meredith — even if she can see her mother one last time, even if it's to be there, even invisible, it's more than she was the first time around. She knows it's not real, but it's better than nothing; she might at least see her mother one last time, be able to say that she was sorry, that she didn't mean it, that her mother was right. Even if her mother can't hear her, at least she can try.

The bunny rabbit cloud over the sun and the cool grass are not something from any of his memories. Not that New York City doesn't have grass and sunlight and bunnyshaped clouds, occassionally, they just rarely look like this— and there were no corn fields where he lived. As Corbin sits up— he'd been standing a moment ago— he rolls his shoulders and looks around. Milbrook? A farm?

The sudden yell and the name attached to the yell draws his pale blue eyes, and he gets to his feet quickly, moving toward the porch and the pale haired woman, as the fiery woman starts to yell at it. And Daphne's moving inside. He's not far behind her, but not to challange the nightmare himself, but trying to get close enough quickly enough so he can be there for her. This must be her dream.

"And it may be a little inappropriate that the investigative reporter in him wants to smile over the fact he now knows her last name. Finally.

With Daphne zipping into the apartment in a blue of colors, Meredith is left in a downdraft from the super-speeded young woman. The screen door is still flung open when the blonde moves in, and Corbin's soon to follow her. They're only in the downstairs foyer by the time Daphne is ripped up the stairs, skidded across a hardwood floor and come barreling in to the doorway of her parents' room.

Outside, Aaron's the first to hear an incongruent sound to the serenity of a farmland, a crackling buzz, buzz, buzz, booooooop that echoes behind his eyes. The noise is obnoxious, aggrivating, and somehow eerile familiar. He can't figure out the direction it's coming from, and from the tinnitus in his ears the feeling is as though it's coming from inside his head.

Up at the top of the stairs and in the door of her parent's bedroom, Daphne catches the exact scene she had in real life. The grieving expression of her father on his knees, clutching Daphne's mother in her arms. Corbin's barely made his way up the stairs behind her, barely made it up to look over her shoulder with Meredith on his heels when he sees the dark-haired woman that Daphne's father holds to his chest.

She's dead.

buzz, buzz, buzz, booooooop

Frozen there in horrified recollection of these moments, Daphne stares out at the corpse of her mother held in her ftaher's arms, and the helpless, panicked look on his face as he cradles her head to his chest, one arm limply hanging down to her side, rocking her body back and forth slowly.

buzz, buzz, buzz, booooooop

The loud, obnoxious beep breaks through the walls of reality, a grating noise followed by a high pitched digital whine. Th ebeeping begins again, and it's just loud enough to make Corbin lean up off of the sofa he'd been sitting on. Staring at the radio on the table in front of the sofa, he recognizes the sound from a few nights ago. Sitting cross legged on the floor in front of the table, Aaron Michaels stares at the battery operated radio as a pre-recorded message crackles over in the pitch black apartment.

This is the State of New York Emergency Broadcast System, this is not a test. An explosion in Midtown Manhattan has severed power to the city of New York and instated a city-wide state of emergency. Fires are currently running out of control in the neighborhoods of Chelsea, SoHo, Tribeca, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the Bronx. Small fires in outlining buroughs and neighborhoods have also been reported…

The pitch black apartment is only lit by the warm orange glow coming in thorugh the fifth story apartment windows and the sliding glass door that goes out onto the balcony. Meredith's out those open doors, exposed to the crisp November air. The sky should be light, it should be daytime out, but the thick cloud of dust, ash, smoke and flames up above has left it choked an abusmal black. Flames are burning wild across half of New York City, screams are echoing up from the street below, honking horns, sirens, pillars of smoke rising up from demolished buildings, and a column of flames, smoke and cinders is still cork-screwing up from the ground where Midtown burns.

Daphne's not far away, seated in a tattered old flannel-upholstered armchair, listening to the sounds of the radio. Residents are encouraged to seek emergency shelter and evacuate their homes if they are in one of the mentioned neighborhoods. Residents who are not directly affected by the fires are encouraged to stay indoors. Cell phone and electrical services are likely to be iunavailable due to stress on the power grid. We repeat, this is the State of New York Emergency Broadcast System, this is not a test…

Staring out that sliding door, past Meredith's slender frame silhouetted in it, Aaron Michaels is given a full, panoramic view of the vista that serves as a reminder of the day he lost everything, and the day New York itself lost everything.

Each time, the change in scenery jars Meredith. Though she knows to expect it, it always seems to happen at times she is not concentrating on that. Luckily, this time she had slowed to a stop when she saw the scene in Daphne's bedroom. Having been taken back to her own worst nightmare, she can identify with Daphne's and stops where she entered. It's a private moment.

One that turns into a terrible view of New York City after the Bomb. She was nowhere near the city when it happened, but she's seen pictures and videos of the aftermath. It holds nothing to what she sees now. She can see it, smell it, feel the panic. Involuntarily, she takes a step backward toward the apartment. The last place she wants to be is outside during this.

What's worse, though, is that this must be the last nightmare. There are four of them and now they've reached the end. Whirling around, she looks at the others and turns her back on the tableau behind her. "This is the last of it." Her voice is curious, annoyed. "What's next? Is all we get a goddamned replay of our worst moments?"

And Aaron does stare. He stares in silence at the sight. It's something he recalls quite vividly, since it's what he woke up to. Well, he woke up before the sky was quite so blackened by smoke and debris, actually, but it's still a sight he'll never forget. He was evacuated — or perhaps a better wording would be that he evacuated. He can still smell it, if he tries — the smell of the air after the Bomb. It was the Bomb that sent Aaron's life spiraling downward. He saw nothing but darkness around him thanks to his gift, as nobody was happy. They were all miserable, depressed, horrified, scared, shocked, suicidal. And he was all of those things too, all of those things in one.

Although he certainly doesn't notice the movements, he moves forward past Meredith to the edge of the balcony, staring at the columns of ash and flame and smoke in silence. He makes no motion after that, he just stares, completely ignoring what Meredith asks. Not that he does so intentionally. He just doesn't hear her.

Daphne's face is streaked with tears as she lifts her head to take in the new surroundings. Mascara apparently runs in dreams as well as real life. "Fucking great," she mutters, as she curls up into a fatalistic fetal ball, arms wrapped around her legs, chin on her knees, retreating and withdrawing like the younger Daphne she just heard in the last 'scene.'

At Meredith's words, the speedster bristles. "You want something worse?" she snaps, not looking at Meredith. "This is worse than a nightmare… trapped in the past… reliving all this? We can't change it."

Her eyes sweep from Meredith to Corbin to Aaron, then back to Corbin, perhaps blaming him in this moment for her existence in this nightmarish hell, or hellish nightmare. "What the hell are we supposed to do? We can't change the past." She knows — she just tried, in the most bitter kind of vain.

"Grab him and make sure he doesn't fall off," Corbin says to Meredith, trusting the older woman to take care of that one. He's the youngest of the group, and obviously lost someone important in the bomb. In a couple ways, this could be one of his personal nightmares too. But no, he got people gossiping about him. In some ways it seems so much tamer than what the others were put through, and he knows it. Kneeling down beside curled up Daphne, he puts his hand on her shoulder and squeezes.

"You're right, we can't change it, it's already happened, and things like this made us who we are. For good or bad."

Hokuto quitting changed him quite a bit, and he knew people didn't take him very seriously in the Company. He's the one who likes to show up at Company get togethers unarmed and dressed like a tourist… "Come on. We've already been through these things. You're not going to get us out of here by replaying old news bites."

"You can leave." The voice comes from inside the apartment, a tiny little girl with mousy brown hair and a round, youthful face. Daphne and Corbin recognize her from the Dreaming instructional that Hokuto had put on for them, but her irises weren't golden back then. Dressed in a hospital gown, Molly Walker comes slowly tottering out from Aaron's kitchenette, a glossy black monolith of a mirror behind her. Those terrible yellow eyes stare up at Meredith, glance over to Aaron's distant form on the balcony, sweep to find Corbin, and then finally settle on Daphne.

"Leave here and never come back, and you'll never have to experience your nightmares ever again." The young girl's lips creep up into an inviting smile, small hands folded behind her back. "You just walk away, and you'll never have to see any of this ever again. If you stay? If you try to fight me? You'll never find your way back, and I'll keep you trapped here in your worst fears forever."

The Nightmare Man, in the visage of that tiny girl, angles her look back to Aaron, and when she squints, there's a faint blue glow that coruscates beneath Aaron's skin through his veins, and the subtle mental urge.


The emotional rant from Daphne is met with just a tilt of her head. The woman just had to deal with her own worst nightmare and so it's not like Meredith completely faults her for her reaction. The pain of seeing her apartment go up in flames is still fresh to her - but that's a pain she's dealt with almost every day. Her own reaction to what happened is anger and pain, not sadness. "No, I want something different," Meredith tells Daphne, her tone sharp. "This is old news." While her tone is almost flippant, the edge is still there.

Regaining the steps she lost when they first arrived here, Meredith regains them and puts a hand on Aaron's shoulder. While she's not exactly used to being comforting or all that selfless, she does attempt to make the youngest member of their group step away from the edge of the balcony. "It's not real," she tells him. "None of this is real." While it may hurt like it is, that doesn't mean a thing.

The girl that appears to them is creepy, but no one that Meredith recognizes. And the offer that she holds out to them is not at all appealing. Nightmares she can deal with, backing down from a creepy girl who's trying to play them? That's not something Meredith's pride can handle. "You know what? Screw you."

He's not entirely sure what went through his head at the time. The constant hopping around from nightmare to nightmare seems to have addled his brain some, and he becomes rather confused. The sudden appearance of the Walker girl does nothing to drag his attention away from the rising pillars of smoke. Aaron can practically see faces in the warm glows of the flames that have yet to be put out. Friendly faces. Nevermind the fact that the smoke obscures so much and the fires are almost completely invisible. He's used to seeing in two ways, seeing people as they are and as his ability shows them— their darkness. Though there was the black hole of negativity, whose physical form he never could see beneath all of that. He imagines that's a lot like how the Nightmare Man might look.

That little thought, that imagination drags him back slightly. Through selective hearing he only hears muffled voices. Some people have tunnel vision, Aaron has tunnel hearing. He's totally not listening to his surrounding, but only the silence of what's going on inside his own head. He hasn't even noticed where he is yet, where the Nightmare Man brought them for this craptastic show of horror. Perhaps to one person it doesn't appear small, but when you're crammed into it with six other people, it's small.

The hand on the shoulder from Meredith seems to snap him out of whatever daze he was in, and he turns around and follows her away from the balcony edge. Of course, that's when he notices the apartment. It's the same one the Nightmare Man had him in, the same horror. He can practically hear that infernal song skipping in his head, see the blue lines, the Refrain pulsing through their bodies. The addled and weary mind of Aaron Michaels seems to stop working then, and he turns quite suddenly and walks right off the balcony.

Dark eyes lift to Corbin's pale gaze as he tries to shake her from her pity party. She gives a very slight nod. Yes, she hears. Yes, she understands. Her past made her what she is — but is that a good thing? About the only thing she likes about herself is her power — what she does with it may be exhilarating, but it's hardly something to be proud of. There's too much in her life she's not proud of. Those dark eyes follow his gaze to the child and she shakes her head, uncurling from her ball to stand.

"I'm not leaving either," Daphne says somberly, taking a step forward toward the yellow-eyed Molly, and then another. She isn't sure what she'll do when she reaches her, but it's better than cowering. "Risa said she trapped him in the past, so maybe that's all he has left to fight us with… or her…" she frowns, looking at the little girl, who seemed so frightened in Hokuto's classroom with them all. "It's not this… Molly-Mathilda kid, is it? That doesn't seem right. She said the Nightmare Man tortured her every night."

"Great, evil children now? You're really losing your touch." Corbin says, despite being disturbed in many ways by many things. Oh yeah, he didn't like hearing what thd old lady that Hokuto so respected had to say about him. He wasn't a bad agent! He just— was a different one, okay! Different isn't bad. Eden had likely appreciated him in her time, with her girl-next-door approach to Agenting.

"We're going to get you out of Hokuto's head and get rid of you…" That almost comes off as brave, and determined— until he looks back at the other, the balcony.

The balcony that has a blur, but no sign of the young man whose personal moment had been crafted here. He's going to hope the boy just fell off his bed.

"He's dead, how many more of you do I have to kill?" The Nightmare Man offers with a furrow of the young girl's brows, golden eyes staring up at Corbin. "Leave this place and you will never see me again. Leave Hokuto and I alone." When the little girl makes the demand, the whole house rumbles, and despite Molly's tiny voice, it feels like an earthquake just shook the tiny apartment building.

Golden eyes divert to Meredith, then over to Daphne, "Do I have to take your legs away again? How many times do you have to helplessly watch your mother die because of your own selfishness," gold eyes flick to Meredith, "how many times do you have to watch your failed attempt at motherhood come burning down around you," gold eyes angle at Corbin, "how many times— how many times do you have to be shown that she doesn't love you?"

Molly steps aside, motioning to the black mirror with one hand, her lips downturned into a scowl. "Leave us alone."

When Aaron steps off the ledge, Meredith gasps and turns around. He's gone. She had her hand there, she was trying to coax him back. That shouldn't have happened. But, even with her precautions, she didn't actually think he was going to do it. Surprised and now angry that she couldn't save him, the blonde slowly faces the golden eyed child.

Her eyes narrow at the girl's words. "For a little kid, you're a big bitch." The anger is readily there and she advances on Molly. "You're the one that invaded our heads in the first place." This Nightmare Man is the reason she no longer has a safe house, why she's here even now. "So, how do you like a taste of your own medicine?" There's no need for fire here, this kid is much shorter than her, she can be menacing by just towering over her. "I can show you what'll come burning down around you." The malice is clear in her voice.

"Hokuto doesn't want us to leave her alone. If she did, we wouldn't be here, would we, now, Wednesday?" Daphne says, still approaching the small girl, until she stops a couple of feet away. "Obviously you're… he… it… whatever the fuck is doing this is scared and running out of tricks and ideas. If all you have is the past to throw at us — We already survived it, like Friday there said." She only needs five more days, and she'll have the whole week.

"It isn't enough to break us, but I think it's enough to break you. Or maybe it already did…" Her voice trails off. Risa trapped the Nightmare Man in the past — and Hokuto said it didn't exist as a body in the present.

She glances over her shoulder, a scowl of uncertainty at Corbin. "If this was some show on television, we could destroy him by finding his bones or something, but what the fuck do we do now? I don't think that will work here." Only now does she realize Aaron is missing. Well, shit. Maybe the past was enough to break that one. At least there are still three of them here.

"I'd see her again even if I did leave. And you won't change the fact that she's my best friend, no matter what you show me," Corbin says, stubbornly, hoping that the thing happens to be wrong, that the young man isn't actually dead. People have known about this long enough, surely they still are taking precautions.

"You're not getting rid of us. Hokuto left us that one mirror for a reason, and we're going to find her and help her." It helps that he's being called Friday. It helps that the two women are still present, telling the little girl she's talking crap.

Even if they've never gone beyond friendship, he knows that she appreciated him, and that was enough for him.

"I already saw it all burn." The Nightmare Man states flatly in a child's voice, "I will not let you take her away from me…" the yellow eyes drift over towards Corbin, "we're inseperable. She never left that mirror for you, you were never supposed to find that one, buried as deep in her subconscious as it was. She's misguided, she's sick and she needs help— just like I helped so many of you— pushed so many of you into coming out of your shells, realizing just how strong you are…"

The Nightmare Man's golden eyes level back at Daphne from Corbin, and little Molly Walker lifts up a card to hold in her hand, revealing the image of an angel pouring water from one goblet into another, deep red wings and a halo of light behind her blonde head. At the top of the card is a roman numeral, XIV and at the bottom, TEMPERANCE.

The moment the card is held out to Daphne, her legs buckle beneath her and she finds herself robbed of her ability and send collapsing down to the ground in a crippled heap. Molly's lips smooth out from a smile into a flat line. "One last chance…" she threatens, holding the card aloft, "leave. I don't want to have to hurt you."

"You sure as hell sound like you want to hurt us," Meredith glares at Molly. With the three of them feeding off of each other's own convictions and viewpoints about the child and about the woman they are after - or at least the man they are trying to stop - it's easier to build up some strength.

Instead of answering about that last chance, the blonde leaves Daphne in the care of Corbin and instead calls a crackling fire into her hand. The last nightmare she was in, he was vulnerable to it. It took a combined effort of different abilities, but her fire was a part of it. After she has it built to the proper heat, she tosses it onto the ground in front of the creepy Molly. "You leave."

Daphne gives a shake of her head as the child holds out the card, an insult forming on her smirking mouth — but then she feels that dreaded sensation — or lack of sensation — in her legs and falls into the heap. She gasps, wind knocked out of her. "This didn't work last time," she manages, looking up with fury in her eyes, cheeks flushing with the indignity of losing her ability to walk in front of Corbin and Meredith. "I'm still not leaving. In fact, it's harder for me to leave now. Good job."

"Daphne!" Corbin says in concern, closing the distance to hold onto her arms and help her stay on her feet as much as he can, as much as she'll let him, at least. She's a speedster, not being able to walk doesn't come off as a shocking fear— but he doesn't know her past, either. Or how she got this way.

"You know what, you're right. You're such a great humanitarian, helping people become stronger, even if it kills them." Oh, that's a little bit of sarcasm there. "Maybe we're here to do for Hokuto what she's done for all of us. We're here to make her stronger. You went after us against our will, we'll go in for her against hers. And yours."

Gold eyes go wide, Molly lets out a throaty hiss, and the little girl backs up from Meredith's image, lowering the temperance card and switching it out for another depicting a red robed figure wielding a sword, but it fumbles from shaky hands and lands on the floor. Molly backs up, her eyes wide at the fire, breath hitching in the back of her throat, swallowing dryly and tightly. "You— You don't have any idea how much this world needs me! How much she needs me! She can't do anything on her own! None of you can!"

The words are shrieked out, fearful and scattered. The golden eyes visage of Molly Walker backs up through the kitchen, bumping into a cupboard and then jerks her arm away before standing in front of the black mirror.

"You'll all regret this…" The Nightmare Man growls in a deep, baritone man's voice from the tiny girl's body, "You will regret this." When she steps back into the black mirror, its surface ripples like water and clears as though an oil slick were being remove from its surface, black slimy muck cleared from the mirror's once dark appearance to reveal the base of an enormous stone staircase that looks to spiral up along the interior of a stone column.

It's not where they came from…

Meredith stops approaching Molly, the fire slowly dying out on her fingertips at the delusional rants she spouts. "That's what they all say," she snorts at Molly. It's creepy, sure, but then she's been dealing with creepy for awhile now. Though she winces at the shrieking - mostly because it's high pitched and hurts her ears - she stays right where she is. "I don't hear her telling us how much she needs you."

When the Nightmare Man turns back into an actual Man, she takes another step closer and looks through the mirror. It's certainly not where they came from. But, that seems to be the only way back out. She looks over her shoulder at the smoldering New York City visage and then down at Daphne and Corbin. "Well, it's either off the balcony or through the creepy mirror. I can't fly, so my vote's the mirror." To Daphne she adds, "Do you need some help?"

"We're doing something right," Daphne manages quietly, though her face is a contorted with fear and anger at being helpless again. Clinging to Corbin's hands, she tries to put her weight back on her own two feet, and manages not to crumple to the ground in a heap again. "I'm… I'm all right now, I think." Her heart is pounding in her chest from the momentary loss of her ability again. "Thanks," she adds to both Corbin and Meredith, before moving forward to peer at the spiral staircase. "We follow?" She doesn't sound overly thrilled with the concept, except as she said — they're doing something right, if the Nightmare Man is scared.

"We'll get through this— and we'll get Hokuto through this too," Corbin says, though there's worry that's creeping into the attempts at determination and optimism. It's hard to stay optimistic sometimes. "I'm not planning to go off a balcony, though I'd love to try flying— I don't think it's going to happen today." And with the way the city looks, where would they go.

"We go through the mirror," he decides, reaching to take Daphne's hand. "This Bad Dream Dude…" (Dudette?) "…needs to see there's other ways to find strength."


He's gone, just, gone like Teodoro was back on the weekend. So many terrible things are all happening at once, and when Meredith, Corbin and Daphne move thorugh the newly cleared mirror, they find themselves emerging on a massive set of concrete stairs winding around a central stone column. Rusted metal scaffolding and metal beams form a framework all around them, and woven in and out of the metal like insulation would be in a real skyscraper, there are the bubbling and charred bodies of Midtown blast victims, burned cars, shattered glass and crumbling debris. Screams, pained wails and all of the mixtures of horror that were present on that day in New York City are so very rampant here. Through the spaces in this macabre insulation, Corbin can see a familiar burning wasteland vista all around him.

They're inside the tower at ground zero, the impossibly tall skyscraper of rusted metal and stone that stretches up towards the blackened skies, the place Teodoro had tried to //warn/ him about before the Nightmare Man silenced him and sent him pitching out a window.

They're here, and from the sounds of shouting and screaming and fighting higher up the tower…

They're not the only ones to have arrived.

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