The Right Track


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Scene Title The Right Track
Synopsis Hokuto Ichihara comes to warn Bao-Wei of the Nightmare man, and how to defend himself, but Bao-Wei finds his own way, and in that perhaps the Nightmare Man wins, but not in the way others expect.
Date January 28, 2010


Bodies of water are blue. Every three year old knows this. When they use crayons in establishing rivers, water is blue- never the green, brown, or muck that they might actually be. This is the same way that dreams make them; water is blue, the sky is blue, the grass is green, the leaves are green. That is, when you are not making everything in your subconscious into colors that they would never normally be unless they happen to be growing in Wonderland. The sky is green, grass wheat yellow, trees pallets of paint- but the rivers are still blue.

A phosphorescent blue what also happens to dot itself through the woodlands and grasslands down below, shimmering in the dusky light from behind mottled, yet puffy gray clouds.

A shadow creeps along the ground far below, seemingly slow until the source is pinpointed thousands of feet in the air, traveling at what might be an absurd speed- the creature, though lengthy, is as wide as some of those clouds as it plows overhead. Hues of green, cream, and orange flitting through the puffs, leaving trails of condensation through the air. Paws and hooves are tucked for wingless flight; without the girth, it would be a picture of those similarly wingless, soaring dragons out of Asia. The whiskers are always the same, though.

Normally in these states, amidst clouds of colors that are incomprehensible and yet perfectly correct all in one, the skies are empty. There are mountains of chalky shape that look like scraped dirt poking up at sharp angles towards the sky, there's forests of bristling testure that resembles the fabric of cashmire sweater when viewed from above, there's just the resplendant dreamscape lands and the dragon that plies them.

Never anyone on his back. No, never.

"The way is not in the sky." The voice is tired, melodic in quality but plagued with weariness like that of an old woman who struggles thorugh her days, "The way is in the heart." The words of Gautama Siddharta are perhaps befitting of this candy-colored landscape, but their meaning is more complex than viewed on the surface. The speaker herself, sits side-saddle across the back of this skyborne beast, one leg crossed over the other and devoid of any of the vibrant colors that belong here.

She is black and white and smoky, tight white cloth the color of bone pulled taut around her waist, flowing black muslin sleeves billowing around parchment pale arms. Her hair is like brush-strokes of ink changing in texture with the wind, eyes shrouded by a black blindfold of the same ephemeral material as her robe.

"You don't belong in the sky…" the guest adds, lifting her long-handled opium pipe up to her lips, resting its ivory tip against her upper teeth with a click. "What do you say?" Hokuto Ichihara is many things, as of late, tired and fragile are most of them. Perhaps that is why, like any good witch, she needs a dragon.

And, like any good dragon, the one acting as steed does not appear to be fond of being ridden. Scaly skin creases as he swivels his head to the side, one brilliantly orange eye searching for the source of words he has heard- and yet never quite understood. Bao-Wei's knowledge may be one thing, but his other conceptions of the world outside of his own have always been weak. Pliant lips pull back over ivory teeth that fill the dragon's maw. A glimpse of fat pink tongue is visible when a seething noise emits from his throat, barely caught in the wind. His tail, his rudder, gives a flinch at the air, roiling his spine in irritation while keeping upside right.

"I am not a taxi." That is what he says. But, for all that it is worth, he does nothing to simply dump her off; in fact, the air moves up from below as he descends marginally. "I belong where there is nothing to bother me." The sky is as good as any- but apparently in this world he will never quite be alone. The Nightmare Man, Logan and his mare- ah!

A glimmer appears in that one orange eye, suddenly full of both question and wariness of the female apparition.

"You're never going to find that place…" Hokuto offers in quiet consideration, her head quirkd to the side, one pale hand sinking into the fiery colored fur at the back of the beast's neck she's seated upon. "But if you do, I'd hope you'd share it with me, I could use a place like that." It's a wonder if the irony of her sentiments of sharing a place where one is not bothered is lost on her, or if it is some sort of clever statement meant to elicit thought and consideration.

Never breathing in from the pipe she carries, Hokuto is instead content to brandish it like a baton, trailing smoke behind its bowl. "You my not wish it, but you are needed." There's a certain level of urgency in the dark-haired woman's tone of voice. "Not so much for a trip to the ground, but… he troubles your sleep." The intention there is clearer than the skies. "You've met others, and I'm much their doorway… I'd hoped— wanted— to bring you to them, bring them all together. You though— he still haunts you does he not?"
The beast's skull tilts when hers does. A single blink of his dark eyelid is aimed at her before his head to reassume its place pointed onward. The horns on his head cast a slight shadow over his neck as sun filters past what cloud cover remains again, draping his shape across the grassland a second time.

"One of your others said that you would come to me; I would say that I have been waiting, though it would make me appear …impatient." In truth, he has been, somewhat. A lungful of breath escapes through the bovine nose at the tip of his face, and the hide under her shudders with the expulsion. The whiskers trailing from his head and face have been plastered flat until now, when they lift up and test the air from tip to root, stiffening like a fish in stillwater.

"Even though my visitor knew of a way to make it subside- he failed to teach me. Yes, I am still haunted. Every night." Which means, technically, that it could be only a matter of time before he comes to this one.

"I come when needed, when the pull is weak enough that I can move freely." Hokuto words are cryptic, allusions to things that she does not explain, as if assuming her audience is familiar with the terminology, or perhaps simply a byproduct of the abstract nature of dreams, is turning conversations equally abstract in the same. "The teaching is not as necessary as the understanding…" Hokuto opines, curling fingers in a tuft of orange fur before motioning down towards a clearing in the patchwork forest below. "There," she offers, leaning closer to the dragon's head, "land down there."

As the dream-walker straightens up to sit properly again, her head turns to regard the sight of approaching storm clouds on the eastern horizon, thick and black, filled with the flashes of lightning but no thunder, the undersides of the clouds tinged orange as if a fire was approaching slowly. "I can tell you, explain to you, but only if you understand will any of it matter, and only if you are willing to stand against your own insecurities…"

Hokuto's voice lowers a touch as she considers her next words. "We all have them, even if they are not readily painted for all to see— deep down, scars— " she regards the coming storm of dark clouds again, "deep scars."

It is not often that the dragon is on the receiving end of a lesson such as this one. Not for years. His understanding of things that he does not wish to actually understand is a flaky subject. But, when it boils down, this is all that he has left.

The fistful of fur is somewhat coarse, though it would take a great effort to accidentally rip any of it out; for this reason, he does not appear to feel it. His other orange eye swivels in its socket when the arm gestures nearby, whiskers floating limply at the sides of his head when it dips in the air. The dip arcs horns up, and his spine follows- the air rushes past as he begins the second descent. It is in seemingly slow motion, as such high flying is apt to be; but he can hear her, and she can feel the shudder of lungs as his sides expand.

He knows very well that the storm is rumbling on the horizon; it reflects off of the glassiness of both eyes before he dives down out of the air. The club on his tail knocks the tip of a dark blue pine into the canopy before he begins to circle around the sky above the clearing, front limbs unfolding once the vulture circling brings him to the grass. The grass here is mainly a pale wheat color, though there are bits of brush in a striking tone of royal purple. He notices only because a paw crushes one into the dust when it finds footing.

"My line of work …prays that I hide them." And at some point he may have lost the key to that particular safebox. Perhaps there is a spare hidden somewhere.

"I know how that is…" Hokuto offers in a hushed tone of voice, sliding down the mane to begin the drop to the ground. She lands with a crunch of the dirt and grass under her sandaled feet, crouching from the momentum, the loose black fabric of her robe trailing behind her in flowing accompanyment before landing flat on the ground and slithering along with her slow rise. Dark hair continues to swim as if held underwater as she takes a step along the Dragon's flank, one of her hands reaching up brush fingertips along a scaled leg.

"There were two men who studied the mind once, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud…" Hokuto's blindfolded eyes stare vacantly towards the clearing in the forest, dappled light from the blue skies above casting a detailed array of shadows on her from the tree's leaves. "Freud believed the mind was divided up into three parts… the Ego, the you that is you in the world that is yours…" She keeps trailing her light fingertips down the side of the dragon's robust belly as she walks down his length, continuing to talk. "The Super Ego, that is your idealized self— everything you strive to be and wish for your life…" She taps a finger on the dragon's rib when she says that, as if emphasizing that point, "and the Id. The primal, the subconscious, the need and want and desire made manifest."

By now she's at Bao-Wei's tail, stepping under it when it lifts on a whim, as if having predicted the spastic motion of the massive appendage, then begins circling back around the dragon's other flank. "Carl Jung had a similar, but different vision. He believed that all people— regardless of their upbringing— create a Persona for themselves. An envisioned idealization— much like the Super Ego of Freud— of who they are and what they wish they could become. A mask that is worn, a perception of self that is not quite true, but reflects truth." When Hokuto finally makes her way around to the dragon's face again, she's reaching out to brush her fingertips carefully over one of the beast's long whiskers that dangle from its muzzle. "The Anima of femeninity in men, and the Animus of masculinity in women. It exemplifies four archetypes of personality traits considered gender-discinct that cross gender lines in the subconscious…" Squinting behind her blindfold, Hokuto hangs her head. "The last… is the Shadow."

Swallowing tightly, Hokuto looks up to Bao-Wei, one pale hand brushing across the side of the majestic beast's face. "The Shadow is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. 'Everyone carries a shadow,' Jung once said, 'and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.'" Dark brows furrow, and Hokuto considers the dragon… and says nothing more.

It is less in the teaching, Hokuto had said, and more in the understanding.

The dragon knows all about Jung and Freud- it is almost like telling an actor about Shakespeare. Redundant, but he listens regardless, scoop-like ears tilting as his muzzle follows the sight of her. AS Hokuto passes under his tail, the fifth limb sways above her head precariously before his spine follows it; the dragon does his best to keep her visible by stepping hind legs to where she had walked from. The hide under Hokuto's fingers is rough the higher it is, and over his tail and legs- but the lower she is, the more it becomes fine in scale, smoothing out just like a reptile.

Bao-Wei watches her as a dog might watch some stranger wander past his yard, orange eyes fixating and head tilted to keep them that way. The hooves on his back feet scuff into the grass when he shifts again to bring his head to see her. The longest whisker on the right side of his face twitches at the contact, coiling loosely at her palm like a miniature elephant's trunk. It has the texture of a vegetable, almost, but it is obviously built of muscle and nerve. Heavy eyelids blink down at Hokuto as she keeps her explanation going; though she barely gets a touch when trying to reach at his face itself. The dragon jerks his head slightly back like an equine perturbed by a bee on its nose.

He seems put off by something that she has said, his consternation fluttering between weak and purely affronted. Otherwise, he does know of his list of weaknesses- his shortcomings- though his instincts so far have found him well. This is wholly one of his weaknesses; Bao-Wei has never been kind to psychology, and in turn it has never been kind to him. Even now, he is finding cracks in this conversation that jump out at him all on their own. He would like to understand- but sometimes it isn't as easy as Hokuto might make it out to be.

"The point of the matter is that you— " Hokuto waves a hand towards the dragon's immense snout, "as the Super Ego, as the Persona, must come to confront the Shadow. If it is left to linger and langour for too long— you know what will happen. He will use it against you, he will torment you with it, and with the shortcomings that the Shadow sees in others. He— " Hokuto's words cut off, turning towards the sound of something in the distance, a rumble, or perhaps a growling, no— it is an explosion. Brigh torange light floods thorugh the trees, the black clouds that were approaching not merely a storm, but a blastwave, a shockwave of an explosion just massive enough to carry the sound of shattering concrete and twisting metal with it to—

Lazy!»" A slap comes firmly against Bao-Wei's back, one large cheek pressed to the open pages of a theoretical psychology book, drool affixing his face like glue to the pages. "«Lazy, Lazy, Lazy!»" His eyes blink open, the world blurry, glasses folded closed just within view of the blurred words on the pages. He recognizes the voice, smells the jasmine and sandalwood scent clinging to the air, feels the skinny arms coming to wrap around his shoulders afterward.

"«You sleep on the job like that again, and father will cut off your fingers.»" Resting her chin on Bao-Wei's shoulder from behind, Song Ye offers a delicate smile and wrinkle of her nose, embracing her tutor in a firm hug. "«You sleep so much. Is it really that boring here?»"

Was he— dreaming?

Like any good adult, the slap at his back elicits a sharp grunt of air as Hokuto and his otherworld fades out of focus in favor of a line of text proclaiming something about Jung's shadows. He sits up in his chair, using one cuff to rub tiredly at the corner of his face while that pair of slender arms drapes on him like the weight of a bird. It takes another moment before he seems to recognize where he is, habitually casting a look off to where he knew there to be a clock, near a window. It only brings the girl into focus this time, her face hovering there on his shoulder like it always had before.

The doctor- tutor?- reaches a palm up to both place it on Song's wrist and at the same time make an attempt to shift that affection elsewhere. As always. There is no way that he has dreamed going on years- that itself is a mess- and somewhere in there he is arguing with himself on plausibility. What he knows and what he thinks he does happen to be different this time. For now, he remains wary of this Real World, mismatched eyes studying the room around him. "«My hands are more useful intact.»" His voice isn't tired anymore, he can tell. "«I've been having …trouble sleeping, actually.»"

"«More like trouble waking up from sleeping,»" Song admits with a wrinkle of her nose, leaning back and away from Bao-Wei as she makes progress away from the desk in the study. It's been too long since he sat here in Chang's study, listening to the crackling snap of the fireplace behind him, teaching Song all there is about history and science and the world; She always was an eager pupil. "«Brother is coming home soon, you should wipe the drool off your face, Uncle. He'll think poorly of it.»" She was so much more bright as a child, so much more lively, so much more happy before her mother died. This is so long ago.

When Song begins backpedaling, she offers a heart-breaking smile with one missing tooth, and turns towards the door out of the study, left ever so slightly ajar, "«Don't forget the drool!»" She adds with a waggling wave of her hand over her head, slipping out noisily into the hall. It's only when she's gone that Bao-Wei can feel the warmth of the fireplace at his back, and yet feel so cold all in the same.
The heel of his palm moves to do as directed by the little girl. He watches her with a measure of wistfulness in his wariness, unsure of anything right at this moment. For a moment he almost stops her from leaving, and when he looks back at the room realizes that his hand was half-lifted to call after her. That palm finds root on his knee, knuckles bending fingers into the cloth of his pantleg.

It was very heart-breaking, that split second; perhaps more than he initially realizes. He said something once, in that dream(?) out of anger, he can remember it clear as day because he did not catch it until he had uttered it. That Song and her Brother were as close to a family as he'd ever have- through no real fault of his own. A seething breath comes out of his nose as he uses the arm still on the desk to lean on, his hand finding his face to rub tiredly at his temples.

Heartlessness only grew on him because he allowed it to; and because he thought it was the right thing to do. But now, in his increasing middle-age, it seems to be something that he does regret deciding on.

"She looks better then, than she does now." The voice comes with the crackling pop of embers, a voice like one carrying with it the merciless compassion of fire itself. The glow of hearth behind Bao-Wei increases, the sound of logs being unsettled as though someone were stoking that flame, and then the sizzling noise of the carpet in front of it burning. It's only when he turns towards the noise and the voice that any context is given. Nothing fell out of the fire, someone walked out of it. Standing there in a sleek suit, hair slicked back and dark glasses hiding his eyes, Bao-Wei Cong looks like the devil in dress himself, down to the red pinstripes gilding his Armani cage. He pinches his fingers at the bridge of his nose, staring down at himself in much the way he would stare down at Song or Liu.

"Don't worry, I can't hurt you here," Bao-Wei's shadow offers with a murmured tone of dishonesty, relieving his hand from the bridge of his nose, "you hurt us more than enough for me to need to lay any additional damage." His head turns slowly, regarding the door to the study that Song had only recently vatated.

"I feel ashamed…" The utterance comes with a downturn of large lips into a frown. "We could have raised them better, especially after she died." There's no need to bring up the name of Chang's wife, no need to speak ill of the dead. "We failed them so miserably, didn't we?" A look is given down to Bao-Wei's seated self from his Shadow. "Our track record… is not very impressive."

Now he knows this is still the sleeping world. But it hurts just as badly, in most ways. He regards himself with the same look that is now vibrating between them both. And he cannot help but admire the suit- though part of him wonders if it is even plausible. Already lamplight reflects off of the dark glasses on his shadow, making it seem far more devilish in the biblical sense of that word.

"Indeed." Is all that the first Bao-Wei has to say about that. Usually the term of agreement, for him, is filled with derision and likewise- but this time it sounds as honest as he can manage it to be. It's sincere, this time. "Sometimes I wonder if it may be best to simply start over. However you take it." He turns himself away from facing the shadow, fingers drawing over the page he had looked at upon opening his eyes.

"We were never very fast runners…" The shadow concedes with an incline of his head down to the floor. As he walks, the soles of his shoes smolder the throw rug underfoot, leaving sooty black footprints that smoke in his wake. "Never good runners— it always meant things would be catching up to us one way or another." As he's walking, the Shadow's footsteps take him on a smoldering course towards a large and out of place series of metal cabinets in the back wall of the study, morgue lockers that should not be there— were never there— to begin with.

turning his back to the sheen of the metal walls, the Shadow arches one brow, regarding Bao-Wei in silence behind the dark lenses of those glasses. "What would we run towards, at any rate? What do we even have left to go on?" The question is rhetorical, the Shadow knows the answer before the question was even asked. He reaches out, popping open the latch on the locker, a cold mist rolling out from inside, frost beginning to collect on the metallic edges.

"The Dragons are gone, our family is dead to the last one. Zhou Wenzou stole Hao-Tung from us, stole Refrain from out from under us, and allied with the guilao pricks." Rolling out the tray inside of the locker, Song Ye's practically frozen corpse lays frosted over with a glittering haze of ice crystals, blue pallored lips still having droplets of fresh red blood on them.

"All we have are corpses at our back, and thieves at our front." The Shadow adds, looking up from Song's body to Bao-Wei. "What point is there?"

Bao-Wei observes the metal lockers with apprehension and curiosity, watching himself cross the room, speak, take the latch and roll out the tray that mists out over the sides when it clicks open to the air. Though he has little reason to do so, the doctor lifts himself to his feet, crossing slowly and deliberately across the floor opposite of the burnt footprints made by the Shadow. When he stops, it is again opposite of himself- eye to eye from either side of Song's stretcher. His hands rest on the side, holding onto the hollow where the wheels turn to slide the compartment out.

"I am the last one, if you wish to argue semantics." Knowing himself, he might want to when there isn't something more important; but, there could be. Not that Bao-Wei can think of it past simmering anger that flares slightly in a moment. Both eyes find the reflection of the glasses across from him, chin tilting just enough to appear contradictory.

"There is always the option of paying back what was given- taken- from me. Though even with that, I would no longer gain a thing. Tangibly, there is only that blasted formula left. My work gets me nothing, in this day and age. What point? There is very little point remaining at all."

"What point," the Shadow echoes, tongue clicking in a sharp tsk as his head shakes. "Science has always been the failing point of our heart; cold and analytical." Brushing one hand across Song's frozen cheek, the ice begins to creep out further from the locker her body is kept in. The ice slithers, cracks and snaps, frosting over the other lockers and then up to the ceiling and portions of the walls. "If the point is to be made, of what point, I am as bereft of answers as you are."

Moving his hand away from Song's forehead, Bao-Wei's Shadow furrows his brows disapprovingly behind the lenses of his glasses. "Failure as a guardian, failure a a teacher, failure as a scientist and now— " he motions to the desk, then around the room, "wallowing in the self-pity of the life you once had. It is obvious, we cannot ever move forward. All we do, is take two steps backward, for every step ahead."

It is a frightening dichotomy, the way the Shadow's footsteps burn the floor, keeping the ice watery and melted around each footfall, despite the frost following him across the room as he makes his way back to his other self. "Perhaps…" there's an earnest tone to his voice, "perhaps, it might be best— best for everyone involved, if we just… gave up?" There's a harmless rise of the Shadow's eyebrows. "We're rather useless, and if I do recall, we're of the opinion that things without use are unnecessary…" Squinting, Bao-Wei's gold-irised eyes are barely visible behidn the smoky lenses of his glasses.

"The pain would at least be gone," the Shadow adds enticingly, "if you just… gave up."

"If you do recall, we also have a very burdening degree of self-preservation." And so far, that seems to be the only thing keeping him detached from the Final solution. Bao-Wei turns his head to follow his shadow as he moves nearby, knuckles tucked still against the side of the slat that has begun to freeze under his hands, the iciness sticky on his skin. His glare bores back at himself, hunting for something in which to find him false.

But there is nothing. For the most part, the shadowman reigns as the man in the room running the show; there is little arguing with the facts he has so presented.

"…I think that you may be right."

Like a snake slithering in on a field mouse in the tall grass, Bao-Wei's shadow offers a nod of his head, coming to stand by his side, lay a too-warm hand on his shoulder. "That," he offers in firm consolation, "is the most level-headed thing anyone has said in a very long time I believe." Somewhere nearby, the distant sound of something screeching— like metal on metal— is heard but it's so far away. "Walk with me," the Shadow states, moving his hand off of Bao-Wei's shoulder so the other can rise up from the chair. "Walks with me and.. we can talk about this some."

Pausing, it's not the briefly heard screech of metal, but something in the way the fire crackles and pops that distracts him from the conversation. When the Shadow looks back, his attention is wrested solely on Bao-Wei again. "We're inseperable…" he admits with a crooked smile, "We've… had to deal with enough in our lives, aching bones and the painful slide to sixty do us no good. What worth is science if we aren't there to see the fruits of our research? Let us leave the looking to younger men…" Motioning a hand up towards the door to the study, the Shadow raises his brows. "Come."

Bao-Wei cocks his head at the faint noise, curiosity briefly winning out. What wins out in the long run is his joining his shadow in preparing to walk with him. For the second time, his attention is drawn somewhere else, eyes examining the fire. "Science is not about fruit- it is about immortality. I have done nothing to have made myself immortal, save in rumors that mothers in Chinatown use to make their children behave." And actually, that is not how he'd like to be remembered. Can't blame him.

"We are not quite at conventional retirement age, come to think of it."

"Nothing about us is conventional." Bao-Wei's Shadow asserts, resting a hand on his better half's back, and then slipping past him to walk to the study doorway. When he pulls it open, the juxtapositioning of dream architexture seems odd. There's just a large concrete walkway, like an enormous stone porch, and then stairs descending to darkness. All around this strange structure is black, like a starless night's sky and the dark of a forest, but sounds echo as if they were underground.

"Those stairs lead to the answer…" The Shadow states rather plainly. "The answer is always the final step. But I can assure you, once we go past that threshhold, we'll have the answer we seek."

When the door is opened, a reflection in the panes of glass that divide the door up seem odd. Bao-Wei's reflection is there, but the man standing at his side looks more earthen, more stony, like some scowling bald gargoyle of rock. Looking back at Bao-Wei, situated as if on the other side of the glass, is the blindfolded dreamseer— Hokuto. She presses her hand to the glass, but then the door keeps moving open, and the light that it caught for reflection is at a bad angle and she's gone.

"Then you will not mind when I say this answer is the most conventional of bullshit. There is no answer by simply scaling a stairwell." He is too smart for this nonsense; pride is already bubbling up, having been alerted underneath by that vision of the woman trying to reach her way in. Not many reasons present themselves for explaining her attempts, other than what she had tried to teach him what seemed like hours ago.

"If you know me, then we both know that there are never any simple answers." Stalling may be a decent word for this. Or perhaps he is searching out a way to expel this problem; the trouble is, what his shadow says is all correct- about him, about what he's done. So perhaps in that, rightfully, he wonders where this creature's fodder is kept. He knows what this vision of himself is, for certain now.

So close.

Curling his fingers closed tight into fists, Bao-Wei's Shadow turns his back to the stairwell that descends from the stone platform. Somewhere in the back of Bao-Wei's mind, he hears an odd noise, like a very distant rumble of murmuring voices, like many people gathered together, but they seem so far off as to not even be real— but then again, he is talking to himself right now. Anything further from this may be more real than what he is very well experiencing.

"Men of science…" The Shadow intones, shaking his head slowly, "destroy everything around themselves for the lofty pursuit of progress. I refuse to believe that you will do anything with your research other than continue to ruin the lives around you. Can't you see how much damage you've already done. You're a cruel and worthless little man." His tone has completely changed, and as he speaks, Bao-Wei's shadow removes his sunglasses from his eyes, revealing the golden irises and slitted pupils of something inhuman.

"I have seen your heart, and it is without value." The sunglasses fall from his hand, clattering to the concrete floor. "What could you possibly have to contribute to this world— that your death would not overshadow in use and benevolence?"
"I may be a blackhearted beast, and I may destroy everything around me-" Bao-Wei narrows his eyes back at the yellow pair, trying to decide if he is unsettled by this instance. "-but my research is unfinished, and what I have here-" He taps his skull with two fingers. "-will change things. You have no idea whether or not I could change the world for the greater, and you know it."

"Progress needs sacrifice. And?" The doctor lifts his eyebrows with a rising level of cynicism, turning back towards the desk to set himself back down stubbornly into the seat, facing his mirrored self. "I've still got a couple of decades in me, you see. And only now have the most interesting pieces developed. For example, do you realize what could happen if I cracked that formula? …I don't either, but hopefully I will find out. Now, get out of here. I have work that needs to be done." Bao-Wei Cong reaches over the book for his reading glasses, tapping them over the pages.

"Nice suit, by the way. Don't let the door muss it on the way out?"

Tilting his head back, the Shadow of Bao-Wei offers a knife-like smile, one he knows himself not as one of frustration, but appreciation. "Dust yourself off…" the gold-eyed Shadow offers, "and pick yourself up again." There's a low, roaring howl that comes from the shadow as he explodes into a swirling morass of flames that leap and rise and lash around on that concrete platform, and then coalesce into the form of a seven foot tall mirror with a rich darkly-stained wooden frame. There, reflected where Bao-Wei should be, is his Shadow self, which then fades into the image of the dreamwalker who was present in his dreams once before.

Her hand is pressed to the glass of the mirror, with a piece of card-stock beneath her palm, pressed flat out against the glass. The card depicts a regal man in cloak and crown holding aloft a sword from a throne. At the top of the card, is the roman numeral IV and at the bottom in equally bold typeface it says THE EMPEROR.

Hokuto's blindfolded figure says nothing, save for dithering away and turning into the reflection of Bao-Wei himself, before a few leaping tongues of flame rise up over him and then disappear, snuffed out entirely. Then, just as before, there is a shriek of metal, this time louder, and the susurrus of voices come back full-bore.

When Bao-Wei blinks, he finds himself standing not in the doorway of a study looking out at a conspicuous stone landing, but rather standing just beyond a turnstyle looking out at the edge of a subway station platform as one of the trains goes screaming past towards another station. The echoing voices of a few other subway goers comes from the people standing by the platform edge, waiting to catch the train.

At least he'd fallen asleep in his work clothes.

At least he didn't follow.

At least he knows how to get home.

And a subway to take him there.

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