Once More, With Feeling


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In Shadows:

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Scene Title Once More, With Feeling
Synopsis The Nightmare Man confronts Else Kjelstrom in an unexpected fashion, and Cat is forced to play along to bolster Else's confidence.
Date February 10, 2010

Else's Dreamscape

More often than not, the reflections of nightmares in the hall of mirrors are faces, people and places that go by unrecognizes. Countless sleeping and fearing minds across New York City and outlying states that are touched by the Nightmare Man's presence. Whatever mental anguish it must cost Hokuto Ichihara to suffer these dreaming shores and find where He touches them seems to have been worth it. Beyond the reflections of unconscious minds, lie chances to save someone from his clutches.

But save them from what, exactly?


This particular reflection is a lightless one, a dark and somber structure barely illuminated by bright moonlight shining down from glass skylights overhead. It creates a latticework of shadows over tightly placed boards underfoot. The mirror that served as entrance doesn't exist on this side of whatever the nightmare is, just an old and crumbling brick wall where Catherine Chesterfield had stalked in through.

In the dark, either she can't see her panther Persona, or he hasn't yet manifested here. Each dream operates by its own rules, and depending on who's mind it is, there's always some semblance of risk involved, that the dreamer — or the Nightmare Man himself — will overpower the will of an invader or their Persona. Hopefully for the moment, it's just dream logic omitting the panther from the narrative.

In the dark of this expansive building, Cat can feel its size by the way her footsteps echo loudly off of the wooden floor, the way heeled boots click on the ground. Her clothing is as pitch black as the rest of this place, and she herself is something like a stalking shadow amidst the light of the moon. Coincidentially, it's her stage clothing.

I can't feel you…

A voice echoes in whisper all around the massive, darkened chamber, followed by the deep vibrating buzz of an amplifier being plugged in; a sound Cat knows well. To her right, she can make out the towering shapes of a wall of speakers towering from floor to warehouse ceiling, curtains tucked behind them— this is a stage.

I can't get up…

The voice whispers again to the empty room, and the moon suddenly makes a pop sound, and shines a single collumn of pale moonlight down on a blonde woman in a black sweater and ankle-length skirt standing barefoot on the stage in front of a microphone stand. Her tangled hair hands stringy in front of her face, brow slicked with sweat.

Sing it.

She turns her head, golden eyes staring out through the tangle of blonde hair towards Cat as another pop and a spotlight shines down on the brunette, and she can feel the weight of her guitar strapped across her shoulders, can see a cord trailing away from it plugged into the wall of amplifiers. The Shadow standing before her belongs to none other than Else Kjelstrom.

Once more…

She breathes out the words huskily into the microphone, one foot beginning to thump to a beat as an invisible chorus of base-line beats from a drum begins to pound across the stage, where Cat can see rows and rows of empty seats, save for one blonde woman with dark brown eyes seated front row and center, watching the performance; Else.

Once more, Cat. With Feeling.

This is different. Cat opens her mouth to speak, but finds her voice doesn't work that way in this place. Her head tilts, the expression on her face showing some mild amusement and surprise. That's new. But it quickly passes, the game face settling in as she concentrates and attempts to draw the panther out to pace at her side. Okay. Let's play.

She sneers at the Shadow and fingers go into motion on the instrument's strings and frets. "You're just a nightmare pussy," the panmnesiac sings with a growl to her voice, "and what's this? Borrowing from Buffy?

"You bore me with these games. What's your angle, she'll dance until she bursts into flames?" Cat's eyes roll and she yawns a bit.

A synthesized piano rolls in to the drum beat coming from a band that does not exist. Else's Shadow crooks her head to the side, one hand sweeping a lock of blonde hair from in front of those golden eyes as she cracks her lips into a smile. "You just don't— understand! She needs this help from he, she's treading water with no sign of land!" Unhooking the microphone from the stand, Else's Shadow wraps the cord around her arm, and the moon shines its spotlight down on her as she moves across the stage towards Cat, following in the exact same rhythm as the musician plays, seeming cooperative to the musical number.

"Nobody listens, nobody cares, I'm trying to do this world— a— Service!" Her blonde hair flies as she takes a few steps back, gold eyes lingering on Cat as the drums pick up tempo. "She doesn't want her gift, doesn't want her life, doesn't understaaaaand where she is in all of this!"

"I'm just heeeeere, trying to make the best of it, trying to help her find her way!" The Shadow takes a step up into the air, and a black iron spiral staircase begins to appear under her feet with each step up, forming a piece of scenery on the stage in line with the industrial warehouse interior.

"Nobody listens, nobody cares, I'm trying to do this girl— a— Service!" Rapidly plucking bass lines from a guitar rumble in the silence after Else's words, her jaw tilting up and her head angling back,, staring down at Cat from the first two steps.

"A service?" Cat's head shakes. "The only service you provide is to fill graves. I'm sure you'll understand why your performances aren't exactly getting raves." Her feet move, the stage act starting. She prowls and circles the Shadow as if she herself were a panther.

Suddenly Cat's eyes are on the Else seated in the audience area all alone, being addressed directly. "What you sang before, the shores of the Empire State, didn't come to pass. Because you saw it, it was known where to go. There'll be no flood."

"Now show the spine I know you have, don't be an ass!"

In the audience the skinny, blonde frame of Else pulls her legs up to her chest, resting her chin down on the backs of her knees as her arms wrap around those drawn up legs while she watches the show. There's a gold-eyed look from her Shadow as she ascends a few more of the iron stairs. "You're still not hearin' it, the reasons I'm doing it, the ways I'm seeing it!" She sings from the midway point of the still appearing spiral staircase. "It doesn't matter what she's thinkin', it doesn't matter what she hears! She doesn't want to see the future, she doesn't want to have thoe fears!"

Finally reaching the top of the spiral staircase, a metal catwalk appears over the stage, and Else's Shadow stalks across it with the microphone held in hand, the cord coming from it seeming to trail off into smoky nothingness after about six feet. "Catherine can't you understand her crisis, Catherine can't you feel her pain!? She doesn't want to see the future, she doesn't want to bear that strain!"

Moving to the middle of the catwalk, the Shadow tilts her head back and cracks a thin smile. "All the people who went and died, they never gave themselves a chance. They took the easy way out cause they wanted to, they never tried to take a stance!" Her nose wrinkles, golden eyes narrow behind blonde bangs. "Take a look at yourself! Take a look at yourself! Look at the people who came out stronger for what I did! Look at the ones who never ran and hid!"

She makes her way to the end of the catwalk where a spiral staircase resides, breaking out into the chorus again. "Nobody listens, nobody cares, I'm trying to do this world— a— Service! I'm just heeeeere, trying to make the best of it, trying to help her find her way! Nobody listens, nobody cares, I'm trying to do this girl— a— Service!"

The real Else is looked over for a moment, Cat's face and eyes showing disappointment. "Else, everyone has strain to bear. Some more than others. Handling it, having grace and dignity, is what makes us great. I won't accept you being weak. Never tell me you don't really care!" She launches into a smoking guitar solo then, the tune to Shores Of The Empire State played in Cat's metallic tastes, notes and chords called up from impeccable memory on demand. It lasts a few minutes, being segued soon into segments from other tunes the precog wrote.

In time, her eyes come back to the Shadow, looking bored. "A service, yeah, yeah, yeah. A service, yeah, yeah, yeah. With service like that, you know you're just so sad."

Afterward, her fingers still and the voice goes on singing a capella. "Tell me how it's a service, that the world is better with so many people taking their own lives because you tortured them?"

Crooking her head to the side, Else's brows furrow as she watches from the single occupied seat in the middle of the empty warehouse theater. Brown eyes move back and forth between her Shadow and Cat, as if weighing the opinions of both of the singers and their musical accompanyment. Though admittedly, there's a look of scrutiny on her face too, as if she's trying ot read between the lines— or verses as they were.

"They did it to themselves, took their own lives! I showed them who they were, what they wanna hide!" A second spiral staircase at the end of the catwalk begins painting itself into reality as the Shadow descends the metal stairs back down to the stage. "Take a look at yourself! Take a look at yourself! Take a look at everyone that persevered! Take a look at yourself! Take a look at yoursefl! Take a look at the ones who didn't fear!" She leaps off the last two stairs, booted feet slamming onto the hardwood floor as she approaches where Cat plays her guitar.

"One day you'll understand, that everyone just needs a push! Here I am lookin' out, helping everyone find that rush! I can make them happy and I can make them strong, and everyone who's fighting against that's struggling to prove themselves wrong!" A hand is waved out towards Else in the crowd, and the two spotlights have merged, shining down on both musicians.

"She's just afraid, she's just a wreck, she wants to deny the future she's going to get! She's denying herself, denying her fate, and one of these days she'll re-gret it too late!"

"Nobody listens, nobody cares, I'm trying to do this world— a— Service! I'm just heeeeere, trying to make the best of it, trying to help her find her way! Nobody listens, nobody cares, I'm trying to do this girl— a— Service!"

"I've seen you work, I've heard your spiel," Cat sings with an edge remaining in her voice, the defiance remaining. "but this is what you don't get. You don't explain to them they have the power, the strength inside. You don't tell them about the works of Carl Jung;, of shadow, anima/animus, and personae. Don't tell them they can end the torment by simply demanding you leave. You never present any option other than death. You could at least reveal the whole deal!"

And she's facing the audience of one again. "It's all up to you, Else. Give in to fear, to weakness and the strain of your talents, the things you see. Or gather yourself up and press on like you and I know you can. Call up your strengths, and kick your shadow in the can!"

The lyrics are followed by a scorching guitar solo improvised on the spot, fingers flying over strings and frets in a sort of speed metal style, as her eyes rest on Else. Her expression is intense, it basically asks what she's waiting for. Concentration is applied again as she plays, seeking to dig deep and make the panther appear by force of will.

Somewhere between now and then and the tricky logic of dreams, Else got her hands on a microphone. "It isn't as easy as you say!" She calls out from her seat, hands cradled around the mic as she rises up to stand on the seat of the chair, then step forward onto the back of the one in front of her, straddling the rows. "You don't have this kind've pressure, you don't know what it's been like! Everything I see is always so grim, and all I'm feeling isn't riiiight!" She steps forward again, boots clunking on the back of each chair as she walks across the rows towards the front.

"I neeee-ver asked for this ability! I neeee-ver asked to be this cursed! All I wanted since I was a liiii-ttle girl was to be in the spotliiiight… now that's reversed!" From the front row, Else leaps across and onto the edge of the stage, stepping forward towards her Shadow and Cat.

"All I can ever see coming up, is disaster and inhumanity! All I could ever really hope to want, is just a little peace and tranquility!" She turns around, facing the theater seating where a sudden sea of people sit and listen to the performance, faces filling the crowd. "Isn't it hard to find a reason, to move on when all life hands you is sadness…" She whips around, pointing at her Shadow. "You wanna push me and shove me 'round, I could wind up broken down and stuck in this mind madness!"

"You neeeeee-ver wanted this ability! You neee-ver asked to be this cursed! All you wanted since you were a liiii-ttle girl was to be in the spotliiiight… now that's reversed!" This time it's the Shadow singing Else's lines, as the twi lean forward towards each other and sing into the other's microphone. "We neeee-ver wanted this ability! We neeee-ver asked to be this cursed! All we wanted since we were a liii-ttle girl was to be in the spotlight… now that's reversed!"

They break away, microphones tilted back at each other as Else's Shadow narrows her golden eyes. "How do you think the world's gonna' treat you, when they find out you only bring bad news? How do you think your friends' are gonna treat ya, when they find out what they've got to lose?" There's a snide bitterness in the Shadow's voice. "You've hid the worst of your songs from everyone that trust you! You've hid yourself from everyone who cares! All you think about is your li-ttle self and how hard you think it is!"

Else wrinkles her nose and narrows her eyes, the crowd cheering, but for which of the two isn't clear. "I neeee-ver asked for this ability! I neeee-ver asked to be this cursed! All I wanted since I was a liiii-ttle girl was to be in the spotliiiight… now that's reversed!"

Her eyes move from one to the other, Cat not letting on anything about the panther not showing up on force of will and effort to bring it out. She simply observes the two Elses as they sing at each other, listening. Her voice comes again only when they're silent, having seemingly yielded her the floor, with metal music from the guitar coming out to match the words as she sings them. "It's not just a curse, Else, it's a blessing too. A gift. You've not seen what I've seen, been where I've been. I've fought the Vanguard twice, the second time after being alerted there was trouble brewing by your song. Because you sang it, a lot of people are still alive and they owe you more than they'll ever know.

"//So dump all this self-pity. Letting it rule your life is unbelievably shitty!"

Else's Shadow casts a look over to Cat, then narrows her eyes at Else as the blonde pushes forward against her Shadow, backing her up across the stage. "You wanna push me! You wanna test me! You wanna see how far I'll go!?" Else swings her head back, slinging sweat-slicked blonde hair aside and from her face. "I'll show you just what I'm made up, just what I can do, just what I'm mean-ing!" A popping bass-beat rhythm follows the more aggressive and electronic hip-hop change of rhythm to Else's music as she reaches out and grabs her shadow by the collar of her back turtleneck, yanking her forward.

"You wanna fuck— with me? You wanna fight— with me? You wanna try— with me? I'll show you what I've got!" She shoves the blonde echo of her own doubt back and walks backwards, seeing the bewildered look in the gold eyes of her Shadow's face.

"The panther's right about this bein' the only thing I know, she's got the answers got the reasons I learned long ago!" Her head angles to the side, brown eyes closing as she sings. "I've sung the song that sings the end of all our little worlds, I've seen the bombs and the waves and the comes and goes. I know the measure of the future and its coming soon, I've seen the dark side, watched the bright side, put it to a tune."

Marching forward across the stage, there's a look of confidence in Else's eyes now that she's back under the literal spotlight. PA speakers in front of her now line the front of the stage along with upward aiming colored lights that bathe her in a bright red illumination that contrasts the pale colors of the moon above. One boot is planted on one of the speakers, and Else is singing out to the crowd.

"I won't be hiding, won't be lying, won't be acting out! You wanna listen, wanna hear me let me spell it out!" The blonde turns sharply, pointing two fingers at her Shadow. "I'll say it like I mean it do it like you want, but not be-cause you tried to make me now! I heard you plan, I know your level and you're speakin' true, but you know I know the way this' gonna' go like a miracle!" Thin fingers rake her hair back and Else's head snaps to the side. "So what's it gonna' be shadow faker, face taker, gonna tell it now? How you wanna' spin me, try to frame me, make me doubt myself!//"

Else's Shadow opens her mouth to sing, but only a croaked noise comes out as if she's lost her voice. The crowd breaks out into cheering and stands up, some sharp whistles from the crowd. Her Shadow tries to speak again, mouth open and a loud feedback whine coming from her microphone before out of nowhere a black panther comes leaping across the stage, snatches Else's shadow in its jaws and tackles her down off of the stage followed by a crunching snap.

The crowd goes absolutely silent, Else stands with brown eyes wide, and after a moment a gold-eyed panther lifts its head up with blood smeared across black fur, one ear perked up and whiskers twitching.

Else glances side-long to Cat, brows furrowed and when she wakes up covered in sweat and staring at her alarm clock showing 11:30, her brows furrow together, throat moves up and down as her fingers work over her neck, and she looks towards the bricked up window of her bedroom at the Brick House.

"What t'fuck was that?"

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