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Blarghy

Psichology [IC]

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The sight of the bloody axe caused Sam's head to throb in remembered pain. He could feel the weight of it splitting his skin, the sticky warmth of blood coating his hair... he shook his head and looked around. It was a madhouse of activity, as plant-infected people assaulted Warne and his friend. "Starting to understand why you're so damn grim," he murmured. Then he felt bad about it, because even that little spit of sarcasm came across to him as cruel. "What does this do to a person?" he wondered, and then spotted the Id. His heart leapt in his chest and he ducked back, his fingers twitching to summon his wand. He stopped himself just in time. If he didn't use the magic, he was more able to conceal himself. "Okay, that's a problem. Have to..." He looked around, attempting to spot a way across, to the next destination, without alerting the attention of the monster.

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There was the dining room and kitchen behind Sam, and glass doors leading out to the backyard, but that probably wouldn't help him.  Closed doors were throughout the house; such exploration might be slow, though.

 

Meanwhile, the madness continued.  Warne launched another plant-monster away with the force of his mind and tried to get closer to his friend, but the creatures just kept coming.  Then it happened, as Becker had mentioned only briefly: the most deformed of these poor people, Private Reid's mother, coughed out a cloud of thick pollen from the remnants of her face.  Warne lunged back and swept much of the dust aside, defending himself, but in the thrashing pile of limbs behind the overturned couch, Reid inhaled and began to move in a different sort of way.

 

"Reid!  Come on, let's go!  To the door!  To the door!  We've got to get out of here!"

 

The monsters turned their attention fully to Warne now.  In seemingly-endless waves, giving the impression that this entire suburban neighborhood had been infected, they swarmed over him no matter how many he tossed aside.  Vines lashed around his arm, tearing apart the skin.  Another creature bit him with teeth both ivory and thorns.  For a moment the soldier wasn't even visible to Presto, and if he hadn't met this psychic as an older man, he might suspect that all was lost.  Then, in conjunction with an emotional roar and such energy that the remaining windows exploded and cracks ripped through the walls, the infected hosts were flung back in all directions.  Those who didn't smash into, or through, nearby barriers went soaring outside, across the street, and into the home across from this terrible place. 

 

Broken though they were, none showed any hints of pain, and many began to rise again almost immediately.

 

"Reid!" Warne shouted again, his voice desperate, blood seeping from many wounds. 

 

The other Private had been spared the psionic blast, but as he stood up from the wood floor, his eyes were glazed and his arms hung limply by his sides.  Until, at least, he raised them and began stumbling toward Warne. 

 

"Reid, come on man, don't!  Just...Mark!  Mark, come on, fight it!

 

Warne's face twisted in horror and sadness as he began to back away, his path to the door--now blown from its hinges--blocked by the very enemies he just threw.  He batted aside another one, looked over his shoulder, and retreated down the hallway that Presto emerged from earlier--mere seconds before his Id was to come rolling through the open front entrance.

 

Sam might remember what else Becker said: Warne made his stand in the basement.  Inward and downward. 

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Sam watched with increasing unease as the events unfolded. He wished he could turn it off, like a movie, and focus on something else. But this was real, or it had been, and there was no blocking it out. This younger Warne showed compassion and horror as his friend was consumed by whatever bizarre curse had afflicted him. Would the Warne of Presto's time feel the same way about anyone, or anything? Even the man Becker had mentioned, the one piloting the enormous chrome robot -- would Warne react in a similar way to see that man's mind erased, replaced by hate and hunger? Or would it be another day on the job for someone whose soul had been ground down to a bitter lump like a tooth worn to the gum? Regardless, it was time to go, to move on. Inward and downward, away from the seething black mass of Id that roiled like a living madness. Presto spared one more glance at the scene of carnage, shook his head, and made his way back down the hallway in pursuit of Warne.

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They both had good reason to move quickly as their enemies--screeching monsters for Warne, an eerily silent but no less threatening creature for Sam--pursued.  Warne blew the doors open with his mind as he passed, searching for somewhere with tactical value, and after two bedrooms with unacceptable windows that might be used against him, he located the basement, a place with only one entrance.  After Presto slipped through behind him, the psychic soldier hurried to the bottom of the steps, turned, and focused his moist-but-now-steely eyes on the door at the top. 

 

He could hold it in place with the power of his brain, but the mind-controlled and mutated suburbanites didn't just push against that barrier.  Soon, the firefighter's axe that cut open his head made a reappearance, hacking through the wood, and more monsters used whatever weapons they could improvise.  Warne looked around desperately, settled his attention on a possible replacement, and let the nearly-shattered door fall to focus on something else.  He ripped the water heater up from the concrete floor, clamped its pipes to stop the spray of water, mentally tore the heater open so that its sides formed one large, flat piece of metal, and sent it shooting up the stairs.  It smashed against the incoming horde and thankfully pushed them back before they squeezed through the open doorway.

 

There he stood, this young, traumatized man, fists and jaw clenched, staring unblinkingly at his target.  Who knew how long he'd be here before rescue arrived, and as Becker said, this whole area was quarantined?  Presto certainly didn't have time to stick around for all that...especially since, in the soaked wreckage where the water heater once sat, was now a convenient hole in the floor.  It very likely wasn't part of the real memory, but then again, neither was that handy ladder leading down into the darkness of Warne's next mental level. 

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Samuel Steiner, Presto the Preposterous, took in the desperate attempt to create a barrier between a single enhanced young man and a horde of deranged, plant-infested... things that wanted to kill him. "If this was real," said the magician, "I'd stay to help. But you've already survived this, haven't you? I figure you'll survive it again." He looked at Warne, younger here, with a comparatively unlined face, and frowned. "It isn't fair what happened to you," he mused. "And maybe you're right to hate me in the future." With that, he pivoted on one heel and strode toward the hole, and the ladder that descended into the darkness. Were he anywhere else he would have activated the magic in his suit and simply flown down -- but that was a risky proposition in Warne's mind, hunted as he was by the amorphous black blob of evil that wanted to tear him limb from screaming limb. Instead, he gripped the ladder in both hands and swung himself down. Step by step, he fell into the dark.

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This climb wasn't as long as the last, thankfully, and when Sam's foot moved from the last rung to the floor, the memory slowly changed around him.  Shadows pulled back as he turned away from the ladder, and if he were to look back, he would only find a bare wall and a sealed ceiling above.  Now he was in an office that smelled heavily of cigarette smoke.  It was small enough on its own, but especially cramped with two men in black suits, twice as many NYPD officers, and a final, familiar individual who sat on the corner of the desk.  Repetitive dance music thumped in the near distance; Presto could more easily feel its vibrations than hear the notes.

 

"Is this going to take all night?" the last person asked, his voice slightly nasal.  Raul Berns looked just as Becker had shown him; the dangling lightbulb over the desk lit up his greasy black hair.  He fiddled with a gold chain on his wrist and moved his eyes from one law enforcement officer to the next.  "You already searched everywhere.  I have work to do, you know."

 

"Just be patient, Mr. Berns," the first FBI agent replied curtly.  The second almost blended into the background, so still and silent.  Warne was older now, but still in his twenties; he seemed content to let his superior do the talking.

 

The office door opened.  Rather than try to cram in with the rest, a third FBI agent and a fifth New York cop just spoke from the hallway: "We finished checking the changing rooms, restrooms, and the VIP areas.  Nothing.  But, at the back of the hallway coming off the kitchen and walk-in alcohol fridge, there's a door that was hidden behind a lot of cardboard boxes.  It's locked."

 

All eyes turned to Berns, who shrugged.  "Storage," he dismissed it.  "Or it was for the previous owner.  I don't use the basement."

 

"You will forgive us for not just taking you at your word," the lead agent said dryly.  "We have a warrant to search this premises--in their entirety.  If we have to bash that door down, then so be it...and if we then find that you had a key, then well, that won't look so good for you, even if we don't find anything down there."

 

The club's owner smiled nastily.  It had the perfect level of indignant distaste and a lack of concern; if it was faked, then the expression quite convincingly implied that Berns felt  upset merely at all the hassle and had nothing to hide.  Presto, knowing more, might suspect that he was annoyed, but not worried, for other reasons.

 

He pulled a ring of jingling keys from his pocket.  "If you insist.  I won't have anyone saying that I'm not cooperative."  And something dark, unnoticed or misinterpreted by all the memory's figures, slipped into his grin.

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This seemed wrong. True, Becker had warned him about Berns, but Presto wasn't impressed by the man now that he was meeting him in person. Or, rather, now that he was witnessing a memory so worn from repetition that it was frayed around the edges like a photo in a wallet. But, despite the relatively unimpressive appearance of the sleazeball, Presto kept his guard up. This was a deeper level of Adept's unconscious, which meant that whatever was about to happen was somehow more damaging to Warne's psyche than what had happened immediately above -- where a horde of bloodthirsty plant-zombies had committed indiscriminate slaughter. Moreover, Sam recognized that grin. He'd smiled similar "Who, me?" smiles before himself, usually only moments before triggering some trick or trap to confound his enemies and make good his miraculous escape. The magician sighed, gathered his wits, and pressed forward. "Inward and onward," he murmured.

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The nightclub owner indeed wasn't very imposing, nor did he look especially clever.  He went along peacefully as the crowd of law enforcement ushered him out of his office; the newest agent and police officer took the lead, Warne and his FBI superior stood to either side of Berns, and the rest of the cops brought up the rear.  None of these phantoms interacted with Presto, but they were still solid to his touch, so he'd have a little trouble squeezing in with them as they went down the hall. 

 

On the way, they passed an alcove where two college-age punk fans, decked out in leather, metal studs, and colorful Mohawks, were picking through a pill bottle.  They abruptly hid it when the stream of cops came into view.  Having bigger problems today, no one gave the patrons any trouble; Warne glared briefly, while Berns winked. 

 

Then, from a nearby door, a familiar SWAT-clad soldier emerged.  This time the patrolman didn't have a compact automatic weapon, but rather, a combat shotgun and a bandolier of nasty looking shells across its armored vest.  Perhaps Sam was starting to leave an impression.

 

Fortunately he was able to shield himself behind the stragglers in the crowd.  The mental guardian focused instead on the pair of memories in the alcove, looking them over suspiciously, and by the time it was satisfied, Presto was safely (much as he could be) around the corner.  They continued on until, as the FBI agent said, the hallway ended in a door and littered boxes, recently strewn to clear the path.

 

Berns didn't need to be told.  He looked through his keys for a long minute (maybe longer, to Presto, who knew what was behind them) and tried a few until the lock at last clicked.  The door wasn't easy to open, but once it did, there was a dark set of metal stairs.  Down they went, now in pairs, leaving Presto last...so that he could see, right as he closed the door behind him, the inky black Id skulking and sniffing its way around the far bend of the corridor.

 

Unsettling as that might be, sudden shouts from down the stairs would probably grab his attention.

 

By the time he rejoined the rest of the memory, all the police had their guns out, and Berns was smiling sleazily.  They stood on the concrete floor of a sizeable room, both sides lined with steel-link dog kennels.  Full of people.

 

A few looked relatively clean, but most of the prisoners here appeared to have been stuck for quite some time.  Worse than the dirt and old, stained clothing were their gaunt features and frightened stares.  Some, especially the fresher faces, began beating against the metal fences and shouted for help.  Most just shivered, or pressed further away, or locked their eyes on Berns.  Who kept smiling. 

 

"You monster," one of the cops snarled.  "Get on the ground!  Right now, get on the ground!"

 

"What did you do to these people?" another demanded.

 

Berns sat down obediently, put both hands on the back of his head, and replied happily, "I learned.  Ha ha haaah ha!"

 

The casual nature of his answer was hate-worthy in itself, but if Sam watched closely, he might detect more at work here.  The laugh sounded unusual.  As a performer himself, Presto should know that rhythm wasn't just for music, but that a good joke, or routine, or even oratory should ideally have a tempo.  He could watch the nearest police officer to Berns twitch his fingers in time with the laugh; at the end of it, she was still scowling as before, but some of the professional control in her expression had shifted to rawer rage.

 

And Berns smiled.

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Sam hated this. He possessed a grim foresight -- a forewarning of events about to unfold -- and that knowledge curdled his stomach. He had been a criminal, had interacted both in and out of prison with people who took the title villain with a sort of indulgent pride, but men like Berns were something else entirely. Not only sociopathic, they were gleefully cruel to their fellow man. Animals, wolves in men's clothing, they were a despicable breed. Steiner hated them, hated Berns, but not even the burning contempt that he felt could stymie his ongoing progress through Warne's subconscious. The mental defenses, man-like and monstrous alike, were on his tail.

 

He had to move, so he cast his eyes about the room in search of way deeper into the mind of his host, and the exit that waited for him at the center.

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"Get his keys!" Warne's boss ordered.  "Get those cages open!"

 

The agents set to work as Presto did, and soon it became apparent that they were all equally unlucky: as far as Sam could tell, he had entered a room with only one exit, and that one would only take him back up, not any further down.  Could there be some kind of secret passage?  Would Berns have the foresight for that?

 

As for the FBI, Warne and his companion tried every key on Berns's ring, on multiple cages, without results.  By now, the prisoners were banging against their metal walls and shouting so loudly that it was hard to hear Berns hum a rhythmic tune.  Easier for Sam to watch its results: the police guarding him became increasingly agitated.  Their teeth clenched and ground together.  Knuckles popped.  Every gaze was full of dark, righteous fury.  When the lead FBI agent demanded to know where the cage keys were, and Berns just giggled at him, one of the cops lunged forward and backhanded him onto his side. 

 

"Answer us, you piece of s---!  Give us the keys or I swear to God I'll--"

 

"Get hold of yourself!" the agent demanded.  "You're an officer of the law; act like it!"

 

For just a moment, this seemed to shock some sense back into them, but from his prone position, Berns hummed again.  Warne reached down to lift him back upright, and the police turned their simmering anger onto him, too.

 

"You're taking his side?" one said incredulously. 

 

"Don't be stupid," Warne's boss snapped. 

 

That pulled them to the edge.  The cops began to subtly fan out, making a semicircle around Berns and the three agents around him.  Warne swallowed hard; fear flickered through the eyes of his fellow rookie, and when Berns's tune shifted subtly, that concern turned to yet more anger. 

 

"F---in' Feds," another officer growled.  "You come in here, all high and mighty, taking over our case..."

 

Berns shook with mirth as the two groups began shouting over one another, gesturing first with their hands, then even with their drawn and loaded weapons.  Presto, however, would find that his problems were more than just tragic observation: behind the enraged voices was a soft rattle from the door at the top of the stairs.  The knob shook back and forth for several seconds until it finally turned.  Through the opening came that awful, shadowy blob, sniffing at the air curiously. 

Edited by Blarghy

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Samuel wished, and not for the first time, that he had the ability to detect the presence of magic. As it was, he couldn't tell whether was Berns was doing was somehow mystical in origin, or the result of some natural or otherwise unnatural ability. The issue vexed him -- it was so subtle, so dangerously unnoticeable. Who would suspect that Berns, the slick, giggling little pervert, could have the power to turn men against themselves in an irrational rage? Then he heard the knob twist and turn, the door open, and he looked up apprehensively at the stairwell. "Damn," he muttered. And then, glancing at the fight that was about the break out, he swore again. "Damn!" He glanced this way and that, looking for an exit, feeling as powerless now as he had locked inside his prison cell with a power-dampening field buzzing incessantly around him like a hive of hornets in his head. He drew his wand and considered his next move. If he couldn't leave, and he couldn't hide, the writhing black clot of psychosis would find him. And if it found him, it wouldn't matter if he used his magic or not -- it would be a matter of life and death regardless. Strangely enough, the thought of it pleased him. He was getting tired of running. He was Samuel Steiner, Presto the Preposterous -- a former criminal mastermind! Well, maybe not a mastermind, but he'd plotted his way out of tougher circumstances than this more than once. That was, until a cocky speedster had laid him flat, clapped him in cuffs, and stripped him of his dignity. The magician bit his lip and looked around once more. "Has to be a way out," he hissed. Desire to fight aside, to prove his worth, he didn't want an errant spell to crash through Warne's subconscious and result in yet another neurosis. Or worse. He looked at the memory of Berns. "Okay sleazeball, if I were you where would I hide the exit?" He hugged the wall and moved around the room, searching for hidden doors, a hatch in the floor, the ceiling -- anything.

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Presto still couldn't see more to this room, but at least he was able to take cover behind the row of cages to hide as the Id slowly loped down the stairs.  It seemed either agitated or excited by the budding violence below, watching these figments roar at each other.  The FBI agents screamed for the police to drop their weapons; they, in return, demanded Berns, who continued to hum and giggle on the floor.  Then a gun went off, and it all turned to full madness. 

 

Warne brought up his force field--apparently he had learned this skill sometime since the last memory Sam relived--and not only deflected the bullets directed at him, but also threw one of the cops across the room into a heap.  They were too far gone in rage to be surprised, but this certainly got Berns's attention; he fell silent for a moment, looked at Warne with renewed interest, and began a different tune.

 

"Hmmm-mm-mm-mm-mm-hhhhhmmm..."

 

"Everybody get down!" Warne demanded pointlessly.  His eyes were darkly vengeful, but he seemed to be fighting the effects...at least, for a little longer.  Only his supervisor paid any attention, and now, that man turned on him bitterly.

 

"You don't give orders, freak!  If it wasn't for that trick, you wouldn't even be here!  You're barely even human!"

 

Warne's teeth ground together, and when he twisted around to face his boss, the other agent's expression crinkled with pain.  He slowly lifted off his feet into the air; with a horrible crack, the fingers holding his gun bent in all directions, and he dropped the weapon even as his forearm broke too.  Warne gave him an evil, vicious grin.

 

"You're right," he agreed.  "I'm better."

 

He crunched more bones with the power of his mind, while in the background, the police were turning on one another now too.  The only other FBI agent was on the floor, bleeding from multiple gunshots.  He still lived, however, and reached shakily into his jacket as he watched Warne torture their commander.  Just as Becker had said, his hand came back out clutching a grenade. 

 

It bounced off Warne's force field without even drawing his attention.  Berns noticed it just as the round object clattered to the floor; his humming became a quick squeak, and he scurried to get clear, his path taking him right through the Id, which leaned its "head" back in a mournful howl.

 

"OoooOOOOOOOOOOooooo!"

 

The explosion didn't harm it; Warne was another story.  His force field absorbed most of the force and shrapnel, but Sam was hard-pressed to tell that, from the shape he was in when he landed in a heap of blood and torn clothing, motionless.  But there was good news, too: in the floor was now a sizeable gap leading down, and Warne's mind supplied a helpful ladder to navigate through it. 

 

Of course, reaching that path would take Presto into the inky monster's view. 

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The savagery on display turns Steiner's stomach, and his averts his gaze from Warne's gleeful use of his mind's more destructive potential. That man's hand would never function properly again, and based on what Samuel knew of Warne it was likely the agent would never forgive himself for what he'd been forced by Berns' strange power to do. The explosion shocked him back to reality. He wanted to stay, to help, but was able to remind himself that what he was seeing had already happened. Warne survived, likely scarred but alive, and there was nothing Presto could do to change the past. Then he saw the hole, and the subconsciously conjured ladder leading down. Unfortunately, it was being guarded by the liquid-black monster. Convenient and inconvenient, respectively. "Can't risk running for it," the magician grumbled to himself. "Have to distract it somehow." Being able to use his magic would make this a much simpler thing, but of course that would bring Warne's other mental defenses down on him like a ton of bricks, defeating the purpose. Thinking quickly, the former criminal cast his eyes around for something to pick up and throw to the other side of the room. Hopefully the creature would go chasing after it, allowing Steiner enough time to make a break for the ladder.

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Looking down, he did indeed see something, so cruelly ironic that it was very likely a quirk of Warne's mind rather than part of the memory: his FBI badge, apparently thrown free by the blast.  A red smear partially obscured Warne's face in his picture. 

 

Even as he drew back his arm, Presto had another reason to hurry: with his host's unconsciousness, the recollection began to collapse.  The walls of the basement were turning dark and fuzzy, then vanished as the sheets of black closed in on him, just as they presumably did for Warne.  His evil-looking Id thankfully fell for Sam's trick, at least; as the badge clattered somewhere in the dark, the monster twirled at this unfamiliar sound, recognizing its wrongness, and vanished too into the spreading obscurity.  Wherever Berns had escaped to, or the fate of the other agents and officers, or even the caged prisoners, Presto couldn't say.  In the short time it took him to race to the ladder, it became a dim island surrounded by gloom so thick that it was nearly a physical barrier.  Beside the hole in the floor, Warne continued to twitch for a little longer until he went entirely still, lying there in a larger and larger pool of blood.  Some of it dripped onto the upper rungs and made Sam's grip slick as he climbed. 

 

He made it several steps down into the tunnel before a shadow among shadows appeared above him.  So impossibly dark that he could see it move against its lightless background, the Id looked right at Presto and sent down a murderous scream--and an inhuman, grasping hand. 

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