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Watchdog's head turned towards Judy, suddenly taking rapid steps away from the door. "Wait, we need to-" 

The doors blew off their hinges. Because Leroy was standing closest to Judy, he heard her small, soft "No" at the scene of carnage within - the sounds of gunfire, burnt wood and charred bodies, and with a cry she raised her hands to shield herself from the sight within. "Ahhhhhh!" she screamed as she burned, an incineration that went beyond heat, beyond light, as clothes, skin, and hair burned away into an impossible outline of fire and heat and light. Watchdog caught her by the wrist and suddenly Judy erupted in a wash of celestial heat, blasting Watchdog away into the darkness around them as fire and a blinding light erupted over them all! 

 

When they could see again, the library doors were closed again - but they could hear the sound of weeping within; and burning

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The blast knocked Leroy off his feet, the inner light and fire snuffing out as if it had never been. Caught off-guard, the boy had stared into the very eye of the EM storm, and unlike a storm of water and air that was the most dangerous place to look. He floated with great care to his feet, arms out and moving slowly to where he now heard the flames and felt the heat Judy had complained about. He did not walk, but with eyes wide and wholly black he flew to the door frame, finding it with his feet and hands. He paused, his head bowed. Then he turned, face searching this way and that, and he called out

 

"Pan! If you are still here, if you can hear me, please forgive me. I had no notion that would happen. Would you and Mrs. Lupine look for Ashley? If I fail again you together might succeed."

 

Finding the handle Leroy began to turn it...then stopped. "Judy!" he shouted through the crack "Will you let me in?"

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What was this? Pan felt the danger just moments before it happened. That little nudge, the hair at the back of his head standing up. A shiver running down his spine, and then Judy positively erupted! He barely even had time to register the sound of gunfire, or the burnt smell from the room. It all happened so fast as Judy yelled. Pan was fast, at least. An arm shot up, covering his eyes even as his head turned. Even then, he could feel the heat. Was this what Judy was truly capable of? Was Ashley protecting everyone else just as much as she was protecting Judy, then?

 

Pan could hear a whistling sound flying by. Ashley? She had been close to Judy as usual, after all. And then, the light was gone, and the doors were closed again, with only Miss Lupine and Leroy remaining. Pan frowned. They had only just managed to find Leroy, and now this. "I am here, Leroy." He responded. His eyes looked... off. Like he was not really seeing things around him. Disconcerting, but if if this was a dream, it was hopefully merely temporary. "Could have happened to all of us, my friend. I will do my best to find Ashley." He paused briefly, looking at Leroy. His tone was a bit sterner, but ultimately still kind, for his next part. "Best of luck finding Judy. Remember it is but a dream."

 

With Miss Lupine with him, he turned to the darkness. He could but guess what kind of nightmare it would lead to. An illusion of light, a small glowing orb appeared above them. "I suggest we stay close. We are already too divided. Shall we?" he asked the teacher, making a small bow before starting to venture into the darkness, quickly giving a short shout once he had turned from Miss Lupine and Leroy. "Ashley! If you can hear me, make any sound! I will find you!"

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Sun Dragon 

 

There was no sound from inside except weeping, it didn't seem like Judy could hear him. When Leroy did enter, he found a scene of carnage. He didn't recognize the room, but he could tell it had once been grand - with fine furniture and beautiful art, all of it now carbonized to a cinder. There were bodies here too, curled in rictuses of agony; what might have been a man and a woman together, and two women. Ages and more than that were impossible to determine; most of their flesh had been blackened and burned away. It was easy to tell why. The thing in the middle of the room had once been Judy perhaps, but now was all fire and heat, a burning candle of pure light that glowed so brightly that it nearly blinded Leroy again just to glance in its direction. He could feel the heat on his skin, though, hot enough that it was uncomfortable just being in the room. He could hear the sound of distant explosions, and gunfire, echoing through whatever place this was supposed to be, through the broken round mullioned windows along the wall. 

 

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"I prayed, Leroy. Oh, how I prayed..." Her voice was like the fire too, deep, resonant, and inhuman. "But the God who sees the fall of a sparrow couldn't fix me! Couldn't keep me from becoming this...thing!" The light around her blazed hotter and brighter. "And now they're all dead! They're dead, and everything's gone because I'm an...alien thing! This isn't a nightmare! This is the future!

 

Forever Boy

 

Forever Boy followed the sound of gunfire and stepped out into the Nicholson playground - and into another scene pulled from the pages of nightmare. There were bodies here - Children. Teachers. Soldiers. And, from their costumes, superheroes. Some had been shot up against the wall, others torn to pieces by super-strength, others caught in the burning remnants of what had once been a large, people-moving truck. Watchdog was here, standing with guns drawn between a child he recognized as the little Russian girl Jack had befriended and something else a black phantom shaped vaguely like a person but towering some ten feet high, eyes glowing red and voice oddly resonant. 


"All your lies exposed - two worlds in collision! Deceiver - what will you do then?

 

Watchdog raised her guns and fired on the creature's midsection. "The best I can!" 

 

 

 

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Another horrible scene of death and carnage. It looked like a playground, but with bodies everywhere. Pan frowned at the sight. Dream or not, it was not pleasant sight in the least, and if the previous dream had been Leroy and Mardo's nightmares, then who was the owner of this particular horror?

 

He floated through the scene, noting the bodies that surrounded them. Children, teachers, soldiers and colorful heroes. Curious, in its way. Horrible, yet curious. It seemed too real to be the nightmare of a child, did it not? The wounds were too clear, the effects of what had happened to the victims too visceral. At least, unless they had been in warzones or something of the like.

 

And there he found them, in the middle of the carnage. Watchdog, doing her best to live up to her name and keep the little girl that Jack had befriended safe. Despite the scene unfolding around him, Pan could not keep a little smile from his at the sight. The creature that stood before them quickly removed that, however. A dark shadow, a phantom of a hero that Pan recognized from his classes, or in stories from the other heroes. The Raven. The second one, it seemed, in how it at least vaguely resembled a woman. It was towering above them, speaking to them, talking of lies exposed, deception and worlds in collision. And from Ashley's response, clearly it was speaking to her.

 

She fired on its midsection, and Pan dove forward. This was not a scene he knew how to solve with the wave of his hand and an uplifting speech. He would need more. "Watchdog!" He called out, fireworks already burning in his hand, shooting out at the phantom before them. Fight darkness with light, no? "Is that the Raven? What is this place?" He had boasted his affinity for the dreams. Time to actually put that to the test.

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"Yes." Leroy nodded, his eyes barely opened enough to take in the scene around and before him. "This is the future." He carefully picked his way across the floor, following the unbearable pain coming from the star that spoke with Judy's voice. As he approached he looked curiously at the bodies closest to the door. "My brothers died by fire in front of me when I was a boy, so the horror of this should be the keener. It is unseemly that I feel nothing at the sight of these, Dee." He stopped well before reaching her, raising an arm to shield his face from her radiance. Leaning into a sudden gust of super-heated air, Leroy gritted his teeth at the faint hiss of his searing flesh.

 

"But this has not happened. And this is not the only future. I love you because you stand for yourself, Judy, beca-NGH!" Stumbling back from a lashing tongue of fire, Leroy panted for breath. "You have so many fears and no hope, but care for everyone! You and Ash can never truly go home, but you never let that distract from the good you can do here and now. You know not the strength I draw from you, Judy." He lowered his arm, burned and cracked and bleeding, smiling at the weeping firestorm "If you want your powers gone, we will find a way. Tamed? There is a way. Awakened to the full and under your hand? You have but to reach out and seize them, Judy! You are magnificent, you are strong, and nothing is beyond you! God made you like this because it is good, to be and do good."

 

He reached out his own hand, adding gently "Come here. We still have to find the other children, and I might have flung Ashley into her own deepest terror. You know her, you of all can help her best."

Edited by Ari

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Sun Dragon 

 

"You love me?" The light and heat guttered like a candle, but didn't go out. Judy made a sound was like a sob. "You don't even know me. Ah never wanted any of this." The light was going out now, and so was the room around them, gradually revealing the Nicholson library. "They will do no wrong, they will tell no lies..." Judy looked up at Leroy, sitting beneath a short bookshelf for kindergarteners. "Ah just wanted a normal life. But I guess that decision got made for me too." She looked down at herself and made a small noise, seeing herself wrapped in clothes of fire and light that clung to her like a second skin. "And this is not how Ah wanted you to see me...Ah think Ah need my jacket back," she said, laughing weakly because she was too tired to cry. "Ah can't go help Ashley looking like this..." She didn't sound too worried about her sister. 

 

Forever Boy 

 

"My worst nightmare!" exclaimed both Watchdog and her ward, the former snarling it and the latter crying in terror adding tearfully that everyone was dead they killed everybody and she just wanted to go home! 

 

The Raven-thing took the light and shrugged it off, writhing with an unholy inner energy. "Look at you," it taunted Watchdog in a growl that was almost familiar to Pan. "How many more like this boy? Daddy would be so proud of you!" Then something else in the language Pan had recently heard Ashley swear in - "When everything falls down, you'll know it was all your fault - just like it always is!" And then it whipped out shadowy claws - and went for them both. 

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The worst nightmare of both? How curious, that they just so happened to find themselves in the same area of this dreamscape, then! But the language that the Raven phantom spoke at the end made it quite clear that it had some special enmity towards Ashley, at the very least. A cold chill ran down his spine at the growl in the Raven's voice. It sounded too much like the Hooked Man. Did he have an effect on this dream as well, or was it mere coincidence? In any case, he did not like it.

 

Pan's mind raced. The rules of each dream had to be followed. The last one, with Leroy and Mardo, that had been easy. They were scared, but it was a situation that could be easily managed. Beat fear with bravery and laughter. This was something different. Yes, there were fear. The small child that Ashley played watchdog for was crying, scared out of her mind. But this seemed to be Ashley's nightmare too, and she was defiant. The rules were clear, then. A confrontration! Best the source of the terror!

 

"Everyone can fail!" he shouted at the Raven-Thing, but obviously meant towards Ashley as well. He was already in between Ashley and the phantom, but if the fireworks had not been enough, then... "Who cares? Rise up, try again! Be better! Is that not what being a hero is?" His tone was as playful as ever, a confident grin on his lips, despite the situation. A brilliant blade of light and Pixie Dust appeared from Pan's heads, grasped tightly. A quick feint towards the creature's side, one that would never connect, then moving swiftly, he pulled back to strike at the creature's face with a quick stab.

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"Listen to you,laughed the thing as it swiped at Forever Boy with spiky black tentacles that seemed to come from nowhere and go just as fast. "Child! Alien! Outsider! If you hadn't told Victoria how beautiful everything was, she wouldn't have fallen into nightmare!" The creature hissed as Forever Boy's blade cut at its flesh, dodging deftly as Watchdog's laser fire blasted past its head. 

 

"Where's...Judy?" Watchdog demanded of Pan. "I got blasted in here and this thing was about to eat this little girl!" She figured this was probably an acceptable breach of duty. Probably. 

 

"Hah!" The Raven-thing laughed again. "So many lies! Do you kiss your father with that mouth?

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"You love me? You don't even know me. Ah never wanted any of this."

"Oh? Common ground? we might have a future yet, Dee." Leroy said it drily, but a smile crooked his lips all the same. Kneeling beside Judy he swept off his robe, settling it gently around her. Underneath he only had on an extremely short and close-fitting pair of black silk trousers embroidered with yellow flowers. Gently, but very firmly, he drew her to her feet. "I should like nothing more than to sit and rest a while, but there is work to do." He nodded into the darkness, and Judy could see him trying very hard not to pause and look uncertain about which way to make the gesture in; "Our friends are out there, the other children too. Even if you doubt the odds we have to try to rescue them."  The sound of gunshots and shouts made him freeze and swallow hard. "She needs someone who knows her. At least a little. As little as I know you." The faint, awkward smile again. But behind it Leroy's mind was whirring, weighing something carefully, eyes skimming again over her hair, her face, her hands. Whatever the conclusions, he kept them to himself.

 

"I doubt it will make any difference, but..." Leroy met Judy's eyes with his, still warm and brown but with an inner ring of gold breaking through, "...I could fly us there. Smaller target, less risk of being sidetracked too." As he spoke, the black armor of frozen light enclosed his forearms and his legs below the thigh, a thick collar growing to guard his neck and reaching up with slitted fingers to protect the eyes. The shins and heels grew spurs, while the gauntlets became like Dio's vicious claws.  

 

"I doubt Ashley's dread will go down without a fight."

Edited by Ari

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The Forever Boy deftly moved back, just inches out of reach from the black spiked tentacle. He looked to Ashley, a grin on his lips, despite the situation. "Do not worry, Leroy is with her. We decided that he had the greatest chance of entering her nightmare, while I would follow you into yours." Yes, this might be the child's nightmare, but not alone, was it? There was something more here. The Raven was not known for having child sidekicks, were she? Pan had to admit it was not his area of expertise, but perhaps the story here was closer to Ashley than it was to the child. "What is this?" There it was, an almost unnoticeable change in tone in Pan's voice. Less jovial, more focused and serious, the smile slowly fading from his lips. "What is your history with the Raven, that you fear her so? Face it. I will buy you some time."  

 

He turned towards the Raven-thing, the monster of darkness before them, Forever Blade shining in his hand, held out towards the monster. "Yes, listen to ME!" Pan all but roared back at the Raven-thing. His voice was different still. Age and experience normally kept hidden, a hint of his true nature. It was not something he kept hidden, not a secret as most would understand. If asked, he would share. But it was something that he had yet to share with the Blue Squad. Something he would have to rectify soon, if the creature's shouts of lies were any indication. Ashley would probably be able to hear the change in tone. "The world is beautiful! It is full of adventure and wonder and magic!" 

 

The Forever Blade danced around him as he shouted at the Raven-thing, swinging, shining, glimmering all around him. Its movements fast and unpredictable, preparing for another strike. "Who cares about your threats and your accusations, monster? Ashley is stronger than you!"

Edited by RocketLord

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Watchdog pulled the trigger on her pistol and a shot zinged past with a sizzle of burning air, blasting a hole in the side of the creature's torso. "You shut up about my father." She fired again and blasted another hole on the other side, big enough that Forever Boy could probably have put his fist in there if he'd been so inclined. It didn't sound like a tempting prospect, though, not with black ichor oozing from the wounds. She stalked forward, pulling back on the slide atop her pistol to charge its internal batteries. "My father was a good man who died because of people like you. You're nothing but a miserable b-" She took a breath and called through her helmet to Pan, "Now!

 

-

 

"Y-yeah, Ah guess not," said Judy as she moved into position. "Ah guess we got to go flying anyway!" As they headed towards what Leroy was fairly sure was Ashley's position, Judy said, "Listen, uh, Leroy, a lot of what we saw in here isn't real, right? Lahk stuff you see in nightmares, it doesn't have to be real, it's just the things yer afraid of. So if you see anything strange in there, there's nothin' you have to worry about." 

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Well, this made it clear, at least. Ashley did have some history with the Raven, with the way she was shouting at it. This was not the child's imagination run wild, this was something else, something focused just on Ashley, it seemed. She actually blasted holes in the thing! It was magnificent! "As you wish!" Pan called back to Ashley's command. However surly or annoyed she might seem to be at pretty much the entire student body save Judy, Pan could not fault her skills or tactical abilities. He grinned widely as he stepped in close to the shadow for but a moment.

 

Taking the chance, Pan whirled his spinning Forever Blade in a quick cut towards the creature's chest, or whatever would pass for its chest at least. He was not quite sure if it had chests exactly, but it did look vaguely like a woman, at least. Whether his hit connected or not, Pan stepped back slightly, still spinning his sword around him, moving in erratic patterns, the falling Pixie Dust from it creating an almost hypnotic effect.

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The blade cut deeply, knocking the creature to its knees and seeming to take It fixed big, segmented eyes on Watchdog and hissed, "When they all die because of you, what will you say, hero?" 

 

"There. Are. No. Heroes," growled Watchdog before pulling the trigger and blowing the Raven-thing's head off in a spectacular shower of black, inky gore. And the kid behind her screamed and ran! "Oh jeez!" said Ashley, losing her persona as her would-be protectee bolted into the darkness behind them! 

 

Luckily, someone was there to catch her; Miss Lupine all but knocked off her feet as she swept her student up into her arms. "Ssh, ssh, Olga, it's all right...what happened here?" she mouthed over the little girl's head, her familiar presence seeming to briefly calm the little girl. 
 

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"I understand." As they sped through shifting, grey uncertainty towards the shouting, flashes and gunfire, Leroy was tense under Judy's touch. "Image is not reality. I am not a baby in a cradle, you are not a wandering star in a palace. You are radiant, but not literally, and even this darkness is just absence of attention." He shifted her weight a little further up his shoulders, lapsing into silence for an actually unguessable amount of time.

 

"Nicole...she has some expertise in energy control and regulation. And ties to major resources like Archetech. I could talk with her about this, or introduce you two if you like." He glanced up his oassenger, his eyes a kaleidoscope of gold, black, white and brown "Or not. I do not know your mind." He turned back to the chaos ahead.

 

Emerging from the darkness just as the giant fell, Leroy landed, let down Judy and regarded the battlefield. "I am sorry you got flung out here thanks to me, Ashley," he said, eyes drifting across the bodies and wreckage, "but at least you found Olga. And overcame without harm, remarkable." He nodded shortly to Pan, the armor evaporating off his dream-body, "Glad you found her as well, after what happened to me the last time I was sure we would all be lost."

 

"Who else is still trapped here?"

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No heroes? As magnificent as Ashley's final shot was, and no matter how well it was placed, the growl and the brutality clearly frightened the child. Pan let the Forever Blade dissolve into Pixie Dust, his eyes slowly turning to Ashley. And then she completely changed for a moment, as she seemed to realize what she had said. Intriguing. Pan had a sneaking suspicion. The Raven, the madness around them. This could hardly be just the child, could it? What was the cause of all this? Why was this Ashley's nightmare. Was there more to her than appeared? More than just her sister's keeper? Intriguing, yes.

 

Pan was just about to say something when Leroy and Judy appeared from the darkness, Judy in Leroy's arms. He gave a last suspicious look in Ashley's direction, before turning fully to Leroy and Judy. He made a quick bow, left arm bent under his body, before standing fully upright. "Ah, Judy and Leroy! You are alright, I hope? And yes, Ashley managed to find her and protect Olga. Really, this was all Ashley. I merely provided assistance." He looked at Ashley. He wanted to know more about this. The look in his eyes probably made that more than clear, but not now. There were children trapped. They were the priority. "Nice work." He echoed Ashley's own compliment after he had helped Leroy and Mardo.

 

He turned to Miss Lupine and the child, kneeling down beside her with a reassuring smile, and a hand held out. A stuffed toy, like the one he was sure he had seen Olga carrying while she had been talking with Jack earlier, appeared in his hand. It might be a simple image, but it could feel real, he hoped. He offered it to Olga, while he waited for Miss Lupine to answer Leroy's question. "You were very brave, Olga. A true hero." His emphasis on the word hero was, of course, no accident.

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"But what if they come for me again? What will I do?" whispered Olga through tear-streaked eyes. 

 

-

 

Wrapped in flame and light that didn't leave very much to the imagination, Judy crossed her arms in front of her chest unhappily as she walked up to Ashley. "Are you all right?" 

 

"I should be asking you that," said Ashley, resisting the urge to reach out and give the young woman a hug. Even if she couldn't actually be permanently hurt here, she could feel the heat still rising from Judy's skin and didn't want to take any chances. "I'm fine." 

 

"I'm fine, just...just ready to be awake. This is a pretty bad nightmare," said Judy, looking down at her hands, then all around them.  

 

"Yeah. Yeah, it is...thanks, Pan." 

 

-

 

"All the heroes of Freedom City will help keep you safe," promised Miss Lupine. "The bad people aren't going to find you anymore." And with that, the little girl smiled and faded away as she left the nightmare behind. There was only one place to go now. They needed to find Victoria - and as the dark skies overhead began to fade to a grey twilight, they could all hear singing from inside the school they'd left behind. Victoria couldn't be far away now...

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Pan agreed with Judy, of course. This was a bad nightmare. Dead and destruction all around them, and that Raven thing. It was strange, it was horrific, and it had known Ashley. So, if little Olga's nightmare was that all the heroes of Freedom City could not protect her, then what was Ashley's? The first nightmare had been both Leroy's and the little girl's, a mix of both. So, the Raven had to come from Ashley. It was intriguing. Ashley had never made any mention of a connection like that, not that she was the kind of person that tended to overshare.

 

But, later. Now the focus was on Victoria and any other children.

 

And then the world around them disappeared as Olga woke up, dark skies gave way to Twilight, and the school. And singing? Was it one voice or many? Pan smiled at the others. They were already in Miss Lupine's nightmare, but they had already encountered that of his friends. What about himself? Was he next, then? Should that stop him in his tracks? No, of course not. "Let us find the children, then! Same plan as before, Ashley?"

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Leroy had lapsed into silence, staring out at the indistinct, shifting horizon that stood perpetually both well within sight and far out of reach. His hands clasped behind him, they suddenly tightened at Pan's words.

 

"What a fool I am." he murmured, a bitter smile twisting at his mouth "Such an obvious solution, and I never once considered it. I truly am his son." Turning to the group, he began much more loudly and briskly "Wait. I just remembered: I share a mental bond with my dragon. Have for years!" He had to laugh, though it came out strangled. Marshalling himself, the tall boy went on rapidly "In here thought is geography, so by that logic establishing a connection will reunite us all. Dio would have turned immediately to digging deeper into this dream, likely ending up at the source." He shrugged his broad shoulders "Anyway, worth a try."

 

Letting out a long breath, Leroy closed his eyes, face growing smooth and expressionless as stone as he concentrated, reaching out one long arm, the fingers waving like antennae, while the other closed over his face. 

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