The Faustian Bargain


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Scene Title The Faustian Bargain
Synopsis In which Teo goes to the dreamscape and looks up the most dangerous creature he can find, and ultimately writes a blank check to an evil to destroy what it wryly regards as a lesser one.
Date September 17, 2009

An Astral Plane


This is where the responsibilities and the neurotic desperation of daytime bring him: (though after the Company. Not before.)

Not unlike sleep. He relieves his head of ceilings, numbered doors, telephoned voices, the summer heated stale through the locked window. Close your eyes and that all goes away, but you'd need to do a damn sight more to get from there to here. It is unwise. Walking in dreams is one thing, the natural function of an abnatural gift. Walking between dreams, now, a ghost should know better: what lives here could bring you a facsimile of death more convincing than the real thing.

The first time he'd done it, the ghost had made a joke at Peter. Shit, I won't come back to this dingy, old, meat soul condom. I won't ever come back.

Peter had to drag him back with his tearing nails wicking blood in against the grain but only because he couldn't tell which way was back or who (what) had ahold of him. Afterwards, he had tolerated the numb toes and the cold, fungal sensation he'd just extricated himself from a blight sicker than a stomach ache and longer than a fever with something nearly like relief.

Look at this. Look at all of this. The drowned dogs, reasoned arguments for drowning, fetuses shaped like fruit, the sex, the slayings, the mathematics, covert houses and Myron regurgitated from unflattering recollection, FANTASY clutched in the half of a hand, or spread out and licked and fucked like really bad porn, signal, noise, garbage (elegaic bo-ring tighthot spinning), causation extrapolated from effect, so much psychological karma turning a pinwheel's circular rainbow with the irreparable musculature of human nature crucified on its garish spokes. It doesn't really hit you until you're too far in to get back out. You can see too much from here. Force-fed. For every five geese out of which a successful pate is constituted out of the diseased liver, one dies of an exploded stomach. It is like that.

And it's like singing. Teo flies in the footless halls of a world that defies conventional understanding of the term, because it has no circumference, axes, no borders. All delirium, colors, unedited emotion— which motion is merely an inferior physical parody thereof, short an e— the immersing runoff of this, that, and all other sloughing down his face; he only has a face because his mind insists. The alternative being madness.


Even here, distilled, the voice of his psyche is smaller, weaker than either Ghost's two-toned draconic harmony or Teo's tactless shouting. He still doesn't know why.


He remembers to land.

A speck in a cloud, a fly on God's face, if God really is what this place invented: the most feasible of all your most sacrilegeous arguments over the cultural synthesization of holiness. We are all connected. Whatever made us didn't sink out of sight by concidence of nature; she left willingly. After she saw thissssss . ..


I know you're here.

Teo thinks he's out here. Arthur Petrelli doesn't catch and kill him until the year of 2013, makes sky-writing with the vapor of their blood or at least the high-definition neon projection of marketable, propagandaed hope, and Arthur Petrelli is dead as of 2009. A shudder scores over the surface of him, reminding himself that he is separate. Morphean space always absorbs and nurtures, wants to. Makes him wonder how many amputated sleepers waft suspended here, permanently dislocated in their idiot embryonic state of consciousness, feeding off this fat, suppurating teat to mass subconsciousness. Or worse, sent back sucked dry. It's happened before. It's why he shouldn't have come, but the storytellers wouldn'tve spun cautionary tales about summoning demons if temptation was pure fiction.

I'm sorry. Of course he's sorry. I know you don't generally concern yourself with this war, material or mundane.


But I need your help. People are trying to hurt us. Our people. Humanis First! is here. They've taken people, people like us. Their men are strong. Experienced, skilled, ruthless, hidden, funded and equipped, and sure of it. I can't find them. They don't make enough mistakes. I've looked. Nothing—

Nothing troubles their sleep.


And Then The Rabbit Hole

Nothing troubles their sleep.

The notion is absurd, but in the same desperate vein that Teo made his plea to whatever is listening, a response is called out across the twisting canvasses of sleeping minds. Where once indistinct forms and shapes hung like lanterns in the distance, glowing forms without shape or form that merely indicates the presence of thought and memory, there emerges a clear shape contrasting against the gloom of sleeping thoughts.

It's a door. Plain and simple, painted a peeling red with a brass knob and no knocker. The white wooden frame around it is faded, paint chipped off to reveal old and worn wood beneath. Black wrought-iron fencing flanks the door on either side, its two-dimensional form standing up straight against the lack of clarity between dreams. It's a hand held out, an offering, or perhaps more likely a test.

What troubles Teodoro Laudani's dreams, the door's mere presence seems to ask.

Come and see, come and see.

If you're Teodoro Laudani, that would seem like a superlatively bad idea, but Teo being Teo—

He falls onto the door, more or less. Walking is constituted by a gait more like slipping, sliding, an untangling of ropey limbs through the ashy slough and particulate of infinitessimal things, neon exclamations mixed with jumbled ellipses, trying to navigate terrain that by its very nature refuses to adhere to any internally coherent laws like physics or standards like organization. A gullet yawns by: a huge fish; applause from behind; a schooling miasma of an adolescent's half-formed literary theory paper propositions.

His palm bumps brass, though he doesn't actually recall growing a hand at any point during this exercise. Tightens, goes white despite the absence of anatomically correct knuckles. He swallows his voice along with his prudence and his fears (synonyms) and pushes through.

Seasalt and sleet all blend together to blur vision and chill skin. Everything is wet, cold and damp and tactile sensation feels suddenly more palpable, remarkably profound despite the nebulous sense of being detatched just a moment ago. Anything that could have made this scene on the churning deck of a ship ambiguous — faceless people, indistinct horizon — changes with the sudden addition of a familiar white light.

Thermite ignites in a brilliant flare of light, bright enough to be seen through the haze of smoke and swirling sleet. The chemical composition burns at a terrifying temperature, liquifying the aluminum canister in seconds as it burns white hot, sinking down into the deck of the ship as it begins to melt a hole straight through the deck of the freighter. In the moments following the thermite's detonation, Monica makes her way up onto the top deck of the Invierno, following the same route Teo and the Brian's had taken up.

When she gets out onto the deck, spotting the carnage all around, the brilliant and near blinding glow of burning thermite, like the light of a welding torch, it mixes with the whirring hum of a helicopter that is skidding on an ever-skewing deck. Amidst all of this chaos, the virus container bubbles and burns away, the superheated flame destroying the Vanguard's hopes for a bleak future — at least one potential chance for it, even before the thermite finishes burning a hole into the deck of the invierno, and vanishes into the dark recesses of the ship's bowels, but then there's a flicker of movement, just for a moment.

Staggering out of the smoke, blood running down in a thick trails of red smears against bright yellow, Mattias emerges on to the deck of the ship with a staggering and lurching gait. He raises his revolver, hissing out something in Portugese under his breath. The severely wounded Vanguard soldier, still alive, aims towards his closest target. "H-Hail — Lord Volken," his grumbling and rough voice proclaims with choking, wet breaths. Mattias squeezes the trigger with a flash of the muzzle and a single brass shell whirling through the air amidst the choking clouds of smoke and the brilliant glow of the thermite.

Time seems to slow, each snowflake falling in flurries from the gray clouds overhead able to be measured and counted before it dissolves against the wet ship's deck. The bullet departs from the gun, moving through the air, parting snowflakes in its path. The round buzzes past Flint Deckard's shoulder, spinning past his neck to travel beyond him before streaking towards its target unerringly.

It hits Teo in the head. He is already terrified when it happens, his stomach all knotted in and bent around the Escher's impossible stairwells, corkscrewed up through his guts and a straight shoot up his throat to a scatalogical scream that doesn't manage to depart the splay of his frost-numbed jaw before metal collides with skin, bifurcates flesh, punches a splinter-ragged ingress through the crown of his skull and tsumanis a warping flux of secondhand inertia through the soupy gray of his brain.

Knocks his corpse right off the listing edge of the boat, and down, ragdolled, to meet the invitation of the sea. Plummet. Wind beating at clothes and armor like mule-kicks— they say it's the atmospheric resistance that kills bridge jumpers not the length of the fall or even the hard, dirty bit at the end— but he's dead already.

Jesus fuck, man.

But not really. The body, or at least its Morphean contrivance of flesh and bone is swept off him like an ill-fit and untied smock, leaving a standing figure wraithy, out of breath, insubstantial, immune to the cloy of smoke and gale-force buffet of physical circumstance, if not the thrill of terror. His eyes are big in his head, his boots stuck at an awkward, coltish splay on the deck, his hands clapped over his head and his mouth huge open like he's in the middle of a migraine-induced hallucination and gasping at the hilarity of it. Gasping being the operative word. The air isn't real either but it tastes acrid, the gaseous runoff from the Invierno's disembowelment.


The snow cuts short, like someone had run a razor through the artificial curtain construction of its translucent drapery across the stage. The air clears, abrupt, and he voids his lungs of angry shock. Twists his head to look over his shoulder, as if he really, honestly expects the door to be there, still.

It was a door, at some point. Now it's just a doorway, a gaping opening in the crumbling brickwork of a shattered building, the black-red sky filled with cinders and smoke visible overhead. Screams and sirens sound almost the same in the distance, terrified animal-like howling that ehcoes down ashen streets dusted with chalk white powder. Cars are overturned, some peeled of paint and looking little more than molten hunks of broken steel. Blown out glass covers the ground, enough that Teodoro's bare feet prick with pain from the shards underfoot.

But the pain is minimal, less than it should be. Brown and dead ivy clings to the brick walls inside the hollowed out shell of the building. Skeletal husks of skyscrapers rise up from broken pavement into the burning skies, ash raining down from abovein snowflake sized clumps. The doorway is there, but the door is gone, only the inviting presence of red, glossy footprints leading out into the burning remnants of Midtown Manhattan, footprints Teo had to have made himself, but has no memory of, inside of someone else's nightmare.

Ow. This is a thought, not speech: is why it isn't thin and colored in watery dilution of blue.

Instead, it is red, and the brush that carries the medium is his own bared feet, the fibers shaped in the ragged segmentation of their tender soles. His toes splay. He leans forward instinctively, tries to ease the pressure off broken muscle strings, ruptured arteries, and the sticky, serous seams of surprised flesh. That doesn't help, of course; there's an extra gout of blood, a tottering stagger, sideways step, wincing more at the coppery scent and the sickening sight of himself shod in irony and injury than because of the pain.

Nightmares are built to remind a dream-walker why the burden of flesh is precisely that.

Cheap tricks. Easy torment. He ought to be insulted, and he would be if he weren't still in some obscure, ludicrous sense, afraid of offending his host.

In some slight and struggling sense, this is a good sign. He sinks his toes into the city's ashy molt, one foot before the other. Ivy salutes his audacity, or else flips a crudely scornful extremity at his idiocy.

It'll be worse than this. If there was something stupider or smarter he could've said, he doesn't know it.

New York burns, a nightmare within a nightmare, how many people must close their eyes and see this very moment every night? From the towering black skeletons of the gutted office buildings, to the piles of rubble and debris that were once whole city blocks. There is nothing but screams, sirens and flames to fill the choke-smoked air, the fine powder of fallout clinging to Teo's feet as he retraces those bloodied steps. At first, it seems like a labyrinth, round one corner, pass shakily through the torn-open side of a public transit bus, then out a broken window and onto the hood of a smoking car, off the vehicle and around a piece of fiery rubble and beneath a toppled scaffolding and church steeple, through a broken window and into a corrugated metal storage container.

Somehow the dream logic bends there, bends into the sound of thousands of screams turning into one. Pale feet thrash nearby against the rusted metal, green eyes glowing in the dark, whimpering and screaming joining the noise. It's illogical, that it should be Abigail Beauchamp screaming in this rusted nightmare of red metal lattice and stained mattresses, but it's John Logan who claws at the sky for help, with a tiny young blonde hunched over him, her face streaked with blood and a fork quickly thrust into his eye socket.

The scream is animalistic again, a wailing cry if pain as clear fluid mixed with blood oozes out from the gelataneous orb that is now skewered on the end of the fork. Abby leans forward, dirt, grime and blood tangled in her hair, opening her mouth to reveal a cauterized stump that was once a tongue, which she brushes wetly over Logan's cheek to lap up the congealing fluid.

At least now Teo has shoes.

He would trade the shoes. Instantly: he would give up the shoes, to put them all back the way they should be. He'd been in China when Kirby Plaza visited the heat-flare, radioactive energy burst, the concussive wave of the exploding man upon the radius of the city. He'd been above-ground while Abby nursed the stump of her tongue in the Dagger's basement, and he'd been quiescently, uninculpably indifferent as Logan wept vitreous from his quarried eye socket. His experiences had been limited by perspective: even the ghost's. It would have been nice to keep it that way.

Really— his fingers have found wall, nails grating in to the mortar between bricks. Desiccated vegetation taps his elbow, and a can rolls steered by the same wind, skirting the scuff of his shoes in ash, coming at Abby in a halting sort of desperation, automated instinct. As long as there have been Teodoro Laudanis and Abigail Beauchamps, Teodoro Laudani has been compelled to come to Abigail Beauchamp's rescue, even if he wouldn't know where to put his hand to stay hers and protect her from herself. You can stop.

I'm not that hard to impress. He is hastening, almost to apologize: a cringing supplicant at the giant stone foot of whomever's sufferance he exists at. This is a joke. He's the punchline, subject to the bemusement of a cosmic eyebrow in its skeptical arch. It was stupid to think that retracing those footsteps was going to take him back out the way he'd come.

Transitions in dreams are things of an awkward and jumbled nature, usually spurred on by some conscious connection between sights, sounds and events. The blur of one man's nightmare to anothers take the initiative of similar shapes juxtaposed against one another like celluloid reels overlaid atop one another. At first it's Abby hunched over Logan with a fork in his eye and blood in her mouth, and then Logan's legs are bare, skinnier and more femenine.

It's an abrupt change, light to dark, as if someone clicked on a flashlight. Sunlight spills in through open windows, a door is knocked off its hinges, a couch is toppled over, and Eileen Ruskin is struggling on her back, fingers clawing up at Gabriel Gray as he hunches over her. The bandage on her cheek is still wet with blood, and Gabriel carries a silver-capped cane bearing the countenance of a wolf's head in one hand, his other squeezing Eileen's cheeks together with gloved fingers.

"Kazimir— " Eileen's voice is low, hoarse — frightened. "Wait." He's a sight to behold, and if she weren't so preoccupied with trying to keep her heart from leaping up into her throat, she might pay more attention to the details: the discolouration of his skin, the rips in his clothing and the unique pattern the spatters on his face make, all telltale signs that point to what might have happened.

"You." Kazimir's fingers squeeze her cheek tighter, brows furrowed and blue eyes wide, wearing Gabriel's face in a way that drills the look of sheer anger on his face into her mind. "I let you live," His teeth gnash together, practically spitting mad as he leans in closer towards the girl, "I leave you here where someone will care for you… " His hand moves down, now squeezing around her throat, his body close to hers. "Then, just when you think I'm vulnerable, you send your birds after me!"

Bringing the cane up over his head, Kazimir sends the steel wolf's likeness down to her forehead with a yelp and a crack as skin splits and blood pulses from her brow. She thrashes wildly, and he raises the cane up again, smashing it down onto her head with more force than before. "You spit in my face after all I've done for you! Time and again!" He's absolutely blind with rage, and with the third strike of the cane to her forehead, Eileen's legs stop spasming, but he keeps shouting, keeps hitting her. "You would have been raped and killed by whatever filth you associated with if it were not for me. This is the thanks I am repaid with!"

What separates dream-walkers and lucid dreamers is not unlike the difference between sentience and its absence. The ability to discern reality from fiction is not a specific function of anything so lofty and easily lauded as intelligence, or logic, but the sophistication enough to admit the confusion where one ends and the other lays its roots. Nostalgia as a metaphor. Subconscious as a trope.

Surprise turns to anger, the dichotomy between a friend bested by an enemy easier, more recognizable, less utterly perplexing than the monster banana-peeled out of a friend. It's not that different, mind you: it'd only take a little bit of lucidity to remain detached, but he's in already, he walked, the door closed, his body terminated, the city burns, Abby's lost her fucking mind and this dialogue was never formatted in words, anyway. God, oh God. You know what? It isn't even that: not Eileen versus Kazimir, friend versus foe, ejected brain matter (though her throat isn't slit), stringmop frailty versus remorselessly brutal odds,.

He knows that fucking cane.

"Ferm— stop!" He jams himself into the pattern of the weave, hauls himself through with the wrenching force of a needle dragging thread.

"Leave her the fuck alone—" Somewhere along the way, he had been horribly, naively, stupidly misinformed: as if fantasy was the worse of it. As if. "Give me that." Ashes mushroom up under the kick of his feet; he doesn't stop to check the walls stay. Charges, reaches to intercept the cane's whistling shaft, fingers hooked, yelling something else, now, his best guess at Volken's home language.

Nothing makes sense in the jumbled collection of memories, only the sting of the cane's haft slamming into Teo's awaiting palm, the struggle of two men over a motionless body, and then finally the way incorrectly remembered blue eyes from Gabriel look up piercingly to Teodoro. But there, in that look, it isn't Gabriel staring him down anymore. The face belongs to a shorter, older man with weathered features and swept back gray hair with threats of black still weaved into it. His voice, like honeyed sandpaper, growls out a welcome as his tension on the cane relaxes, bequeating it to Teo over Eileen's motionless body.

"That's more like it." A smile creeps, then a belly laugh erupts, and Kazimir Volken moves his hand away from where Teo clutches the bloodied cane, rising up from Eileen's prone form with blood darkening the knees of his suit. His gloved hands are held out, palms open, "I was wondering what it would take." Pleasure crosses the face of the man wearing Volken's mask. One grayed brow rises, a wordless question, what is it you want.

The boat is capsized. The axes of the world rotated around the fulcrum of some freakishly dark intelligence's whim. Teo stares up through the surface of water and sees the world from the side reverse of the one he's supposed to be on. The awareness doesn't help, much. Eileen's still dead. He doesn't know why the fuck it was Volken beating her head in with the cane, this time, when it was Logan last he remembers, except of course: that he does know, understanding germinated in the recesses of his subconscious, this— inadmissible, inconceivable coincidence of preferred stage props.

He pulls the sword out and tries to get over it. Wills Eileen's body away by not looking at it, keeps his eyes on the razor-edged flat of the blade, and its point angled like a compass magnetic rose, at the old man's throat. True North, base and source. It isn't a threat, as no gnat ever stormed a castle keep, but it's a gesture in a world that revolves as such.

"If you would be so kind as to break their spirit," he manages, when he's finally located his voice somewhere in the addled tar pit of his stomach, "I can promise you their bones."

"They fear," the old man says without much derision in his voice, more neutrality, almost ambivilance. "But what difference do bones make," Kazimir states as his face changes, warps and shifts to an older, thinner, balder man in emaciated form, skin as green as corroded copper and dark as wet metal, "yours or theirs?". Streaks of water run down his stone face, cloth wrapped around his body and a chipped marble book held in one rocky hand. A heavy footfall comes next, blade scraping against stone throat and leaving little more than a dry notch for the effort as it is forced along the curve of his throat.

"Appealing to my humanitiy," the skies behind him are choked with ash and fire, and from where the Nightmare Man and Teodoro stand atop the crumbling top of a burned out skyscraper, it's clear that the reality of minds bend and flex with his thoughts, "is a novel idea." What should be latticework of metal instead the slicked forms of interwoven bodies, their screams the ones Teodoro had heard earlier. Glossy, clear fluid coats them, sometimes stained with watery streaks of red. They're indistinct in the irregular light spilling through of choking black clouds and distant fire.

"But though I am not wont for their deaths…" the remaining pieces of the skyscraper behind him are broken into a jagged frame of twisted, rusted metal and the partially visible, screaming figures are affixed to — growing out of. An archway of sorts, it's up a flight of stone stairs, incongruent with the rest of the scenery, roman numerals etched into the stairs, zero to twenty one from bottom to top.

"Then I am still owed in return, for your favor." Lifeless stone eyes of the statue peer at Teodoro, mouth not moving in his speech, voice no longer Kazimir's but a man's that does not quite fit in any familiar tongue. "I do not benefit from their deaths." Some of the figures behind him, statues, are children, locked in horrified posture with hands covering their faces, thirty-six children in all, each in a uniquely tormented posture like some macabre art gallery, formed in a half circle around the base of the stairs. "What can you possibly give me, that I do not already have?"

The sword turns in the hand that wields it. Honed edge scraping an oblique tangent down the cut and sculpture of malachite-smutched stone, swiveling its long shadow down, the tip retracted from pointless tactility with object that lacks even the remotest semblence of life. The hilt stays in the grip of his hand, but the weapon points downward now, into the roof of the skyscrape, withdrawn with the same deliberate agility with which it had been raised. It is kind of pretty to look at. There's enough light here, to set off the tortured children and the statue's visage, that the folded steel draws a coruscating arc, glitter in the air.

It's really just pretty to look at, though. Teo is kind of stumped, and the putrescent erosion of the terrain around him lends no inspiration even when he looks— is made to look, in that jolt of panic. Zero. Twenty one. Thirty six. No numerical quantity can be assigned to this— favor that he wants, has led himself to believe he needs.

"You'll think of something," he answers, finally. The easy answer, one of the more dangerous ones he could think of, coincidentally, also, the only one he could fucking think of. "You're better at this than I am. Dreams. We have time."

"Plenty of time," the rumbling stone voice affords, one heavy hand raised with fingers spread in some sweeping gesture. "They may fear, they may scream, but in due time. I will consider this, your open offer…" one wet brow rises slowly, "a black check writ in conscious understanding that I will come, and you will pay." The wind picks up on the rooftop, blowing cinders and ash around with the flecks of glowing embers amidst it all.

"But for now, little dream," the gustof wind grows stronger, pushing Teodoro backwards with skidding digging of his heels to the edge of the building's crumbling crown, "share her fears, and understand." The nightmare man's hand is thrust outwrads, and the wind turns into a baleful howl, lifting Teo up off of his feet and sending him careening down along the skeletal sides of the structure, where bown out windows and crumbled concrete whip past with the fleeting glimpse of tangled rebar threatening to catch one of Teo's flailing limbs in the descend.

A column of smoke catches him, swallowing him in choking back and stinging flakes of fire. But when the smoke clears, the sensationof falling does as well. Laying tangled amidst wreckage of twisted metal and jumbled bodies, the wheel of a bus spins just in the periphery of his vision. Sunlight shines bright and hot from above, loose rocks, gravel and broken boulders are strewn with flames, smoke and debris.

Cursing in a language foreign enough not to be understood and familiar enough to be something he's heard licks his ears; but the words are pained. His muscles ache, back is sore, and the hollowed out husk of the bus gives perfect view of the cliffs above, where the mangled guard rail bends outwards towards open sky, scrapes along the sides matching scrapes on the hull of the bus.

But that isn't how the nightmare ends, or begins. It's the young girl, no older than ten, laying bloody and broken next to a shredded seat that catches his eye. Chocolate colored hair spills down the side of gentle features, eyes closed, too much crimson to stain her skin— familiar skin.

It's only when the licking tongues of flame pass by, and when the shrieking of wounded passengers of the bus is understood as either Arabic or Hebrew that the pieces start to come together.

At least when he wakes up this time, he and Hana may have something to talk about.

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