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Into A Nightmare (IC)


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12:00 noon

St. George's Cathedral

City Centre, Freedom City

Push idly leaned back, looking down from the bell tower of the cathedral at the streets below. It'd been a while since he'd had time to kick back up here; he liked this kind of place, it was...surprisingly calming. High up, way above everything, munching on a sandwich and watching the clouds go by. Only problem was when the bells rung, but they never did that during his lunchtime patrol break. He swept the crumbs off of his hands, pulling the scarf back up over his face and shoving the sub wrapper into one of his coat pockets. He'd eschewed bringing the hammer along on this one, a huge weapon probably wasn't the best way to make an impression on who he hoped was going to show up.

The kineticist looked up at the skies again, wondering for the umpteenth time whether this was a good idea. Sure, his dreams had been a bit...well...rough of late, and he'd been having a few episodes where old memories would go right to the fore, but it wasn't like he hadn't had to deal with this kind of stuff previously. He had too much on his plate to worry about some bad visions, stuff it back and get the job done. But... Well, he'd heard of the Scarab; it'd be hard not to living with a hero geek like Mike Sharpe. A mighty hero, fought with the Freedom League, and...apparently a psychic. At least, that's what he'd seen back on that alternate Earth. If it was an alternate Earth. That whole trip still confused him.

But it had honestly never occurred to him to consult a psychic before. He knew he had some pretty nasty memories up in his head, a catalogue of nightmares that always seemed to rise to the fore whenever he tried to sleep. Sometimes he could ignore them in favor of plain, dreamless sleep, but lately they'd been stronger. Nastier. Flattening them when he woke up didn't work, either. Truth be told, if he really looked at himself, he knew there were some...bad things in his head. Stuff he didn't want to see, didn't want to go even near. But...

He shook his head, standing up and sticking his hands in his coat pockets. A breeze kicked up his scarf and coat as he walked around the edge of the tower, keeping a weather-eye to the skies. He'd asked the hero...heroine...gah, he really couldn't tell under that armor - he'd asked him/her back there if she did psyche consulting. And that he spent a good deal of time between patrols up here. Now...he didn't know whether to hope he/she had listened. Or cared. Eh, if she showed up, he'd talk to her. Or him. Sound them out. After all, he had nothing to lose, right?

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Suddenly, the fabric of Reality as Push knew it tore open right in front of him. A bright golden light, like a miniature sun, shined through a hole in the sky in the shape of an ankh, an ankh almost twice Push's size. He heard a voice inside his mind. A voice which had become increasingly familiar of late. A hundred voices, all speaking in unison, words that he didn't really "hear" so much as he "remembered." He didn't "listen" to what they said. He just "knew."

[bg=#BF0000]Come inside. My facilities will serve our purposes better than an open rooftop in broad daylight. I suspect the task at hand is not for prying eyes.[/bg]

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Push leaned his head back slightly to look at the ankh, one eyebrow raised. The Scarab's method of speaking never failed to unsettle him; well, as much as he could be unsettled. Still, he had to respect someone who could, quite literally, fry his mind like an egg.

Shrugging his thoughts off, the kineticist calmly walked forward and through the glowing portal, keeping some energy loose in his system in case he needed it.

Hope this'll be more comfortable than some other teleportations...

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The golden portal led Push into a vast indoor chamber, apparently assembled from some kind of tan-colored stone. The arched ceiling rose several stories above his head. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and pictures were painted or etched into the walls on all sides. Several large silk cushions littered the floor, like couches and chairs without frames. Almost like a college apartment full of beanbag chairs, only for royalty.

One such cushion lay at the far end of the chamber, next to a goblet of water and a silver tray of fruit. A large throne loomed over it, and upon it sat The Scarab, resplendent in her crimson and gold armor. Her enormous cape lay both across her shoulders and beneath her, covering most of her body and trailing down to the floor, where it waved in the air as if blown by some wind Push could neither see nor feel. She beckoned him toward the cushion with a slight wave of her hand.

[bg=#BF0000]Please. Make yourself comfortable.[/bg]

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It was a testament to the Scarab's interior decorating that Push barely, barely managed to keep the flat expression he'd entered the portal with, and not facepalm as he looked about. Not that he didn't appreciate the hospitality, in fact he was quite pleasantly surprised and grateful, but the ostentatiousness of the room, given what he'd become accustomed to, well...it didn't exactly throw him for a loop, but it was a bit of a jolt. And unfortunately, while he managed to keep a straight face, the rest of him didn't quite accomplish such restraint.

"Huh. I'm going to take a wild guess and say the word 'subtle' doesn't occupy a prominent place in your Webster's Dictionary..."

He caught himself on the word 'dictionary', and then proceeded to facepalm, the flat face starting to flush over the scarf. He walked over to the cushion, somewhat awkwardly sitting down on it.

"Oh hell...sorry, that was way out of line. I...thank you. For your hospitality. And for seeing me, period. I appreciate it."

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[bg=#BF0000]_You would be surprised at just how "subtle" some of my operations can be. But I digress, and so soon in the conversation, too. Besides, you may not want to think that one through. Most people find the idea somewhat uncomfortable. And what we are most likely about to attempt will stand a much better chance of working if you are as comfortable as possible._

_As a fellow vigilante, the least I can do is offer you what aid and hospitality I'm able. Now, exactly what sort of help were you looking for? You mentioned something about "bad dreams?" Did you suffer some sort of psychological trauma? Were you cursed or surgically altered in some way?_[/bg]

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"Yes, technically yes, and no. Frankly, if I started listing off everything that's tried to monkey with my head we'd be here all week."

He idly sipped from the water, placing the goblet down beside him as he ran through a few memories he'd rather have kept locked down; mentally condensing the whole story for the psychic's convinience. Of course, he didn't know how much she'd dug up already, and with the Scarab's resources...

"Uh...even condensed this is going to take a bit. Have you already dug up anything on my past history? So I know what to skip, I mean."

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[bg=#BF0000]My sources tell me that you clashed with a powerful sorcerer whom some refer to as "The Grey Man," a sorcerer who calls himself "Mister Scratch." I know that he framed you for the "Museum Massacre" in Gear City, and that AEGIS operatives are currently assisting you in clearing your name. And I know that witnessing the brutal murders of dozens of innocent people is an experience that would likely haunt anyone for a long time to come.

So it's possible that any nightmares you're suffering are a mundane, perfectly understandable reaction to experiencing firsthand the kind of naked horror most people are blissfully incapable of imagining. If that is an explanation you are prepared to accept, then I can give you contact information for several very good local psychiatrists.

However, I suspect that you would not have sought my aid if part of you didn't wonder if there was more to it than that. You want to know if this "Mister Scratch" cursed you in some way, and if so, why. That is the sort of information I specialize in uncovering. So if you want me to go poking around in the crawlspaces of your mind, I can, and with your consent, I will.[/bg]

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Push nodded at the Scarab's...'words', then shrugged.

"Heh, I really should be used to people knowing more about me than I do by now...eh. Yeah, that's pretty much everything I would've told you; anything more and you'd have to buy me dinner first."

A wry smile under the scarf, and he shook his head. Open mouth, insert foot. Nicely done, Gabe.

"Lately...the nightmares have been getting worse. I mean, they've always been bad, but they're just dreams, and I've got enough to deal with in the waking world to bother with problems upstairs. But when I say worse, I mean insomnia worse; it's getting so that three days out of five I go without sleep. And they're feeling a lot more...real."

He rubbed the back of his head, once again getting a distinct feeling that he was in way, way over his black cap.

"Honestly, I'm still a bit off on the idea; let's just say the bulk of individuals I've encountered who can poke into a mind are otherworldly and trying to turn my brain into mush. But you're pretty much the only psychic I know, and I...I need help. You have my consent, if you need it."

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"Heh, I really should be used to people knowing more about me than I do by now...eh. Yeah, that's pretty much everything I would've told you; anything more and you'd have to buy me dinner first."

The Scarab inclined her head toward the plate of fruit at Push's side. The plate wobbled. [bg=#BF0000]I believe I already did.[/bg]

The cushion Push rested upon suddenly jerked and slid across the floor, coming to rest directly in front of The Scarab's throne. [bg=#BF0000]Lay down, with your head toward me, and close your eyes. Try to relax. Get as comfortable as you can. Which should be fairly comfortable, as I spared no expense with these furnishings. But I digress. The kind of information you require, the kind that you do not know that you know, this is by far the most difficult kind of information for any telepath to uncover. The less conscious resistance you offer, the better our chances for success.[/bg]

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Push mutely did as requested, lying back and closing his eyes. His last words before Scarab delved into his mindscape were a warning;

"Just...be careful. There's a lot of things in there that...well, let's just say there's a reason I call my memories a catalogue of nightmares."

He closed his eyes, opening up his mind as best he could. Although for him, that pretty much solely consisted of visualizing an open door on a rather battered and beaten brick wall.

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[bg=#BF0000]You must let go of your desire to protect me, or you will unknowingly seek to bar my way with all the ferocity and vigor your unconscious mind can muster. Rest assured, I have been doing this for a very, very long time. There is probably nothing so horrible hiding in your memories that I have not seen its like before. Now just lie back, and relax....[/bg]

The Scarab leaned down from her throne toward Push's prone form. She cupped her open hands around the sides of his head, as if cradling it, but leaving several inches of air between her palms and his temples. After instructing Push to close his eyes, she shut her own as well, taking a couple of deep breaths to relax the muscles tensing up in anticipation. Immature psychics would strain with every fiber of their being, as if trying to force the flow of their blood up into their third eye. But seasoned psions like The Scarab knew it was ultimately more effective to ease off and let the mental energy pour into it, like a river dam lowering the floodgates.

[bg=#BF0000]Show me...[/bg]

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"Oh, there isn't?"

That voice didn't come from Push's mouth, but it echoed in the Scarab's ears. As she sought entrance into his mind, the door the kineticist visualized seemed to open wider, and what seemed like an easy entrance began to feel...easier. Too easy. A pair of flat eyes appeared on the other side of the door, and that easier sensation turned into a black hole; the ancient mentalist felt herself dragged through and into an abyss of black, the door slamming shut behind her mind.

Falling. That's what she felt; at least for a few seconds. Then 'ground' rushed up to meet her, a plain black landscape surrounding the Scarab, with a single spotlight, and winged armchair directly before her. In that spotlight stood, or rather sat a single person. He wore a charcoal gray pinstripe suit, and a top hat in the same color. His cravat was impeccable, as was the waistcoat below the suit jacket. Two immaculate white gloves were on his hands, and black spats polished to a shine were on his feet. Leaning on one arm of the chair was a diamond-tipped walking stick, with the handle made from ivory and pearl. His face, save for a smile, was obscured, hidden from view by the shadow of his hat. The Grey Man's head tilted to the side as he considered her. And then he spoke; both in ancient Egyptian, and in plain English.

" And good evening, Ms. Guererro."

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The Scarab's mind replied in a chorus of one-hundred voices. [bg=#BF0000]And you must be the infamous, and no doubt overrated, "Mister Scratch." Or a memory of his crimes, choosing to personify itself in his form. You know who I am, and you know my reputation. Which leaves me at a slight disadvantage. What are you, "Scratch?" A demon? An old god grown weak and bitter as the humans abandoned his teachings? Some alien horror from beyond the stars? Or just some upstart dabbler in forces he doesn't understand, with great power and petty ambitions? Did you turn this poor boy's mind into a conduit? Or did you just leave a trap in the shadows between his thoughts? Does tormenting a mind so much weaker than your own amuse you? Regardless, you are no longer welcome here. It is time for you to leave. Now.[/bg]

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The figure looked at the Scarab (at least, that's what he must've been doing, she couldn't see his face clearly enough to tell, but it was pointed in her direction...) for about a minute, his head cocked to the side. Then he let loose a peal of laughter, a sound of genuine amusement. The peal turned into a steady laugh, although he remained in a seemly position, not doubling over; keeping in thorough control of himself. The two white-gloved hands were brought together in a brief clap, and he held them there, clasped before him.

"Oh...oh, pardon my rudeness; if you'll pardon my metaphor, it seems I set a trap for a rabbit, and instead caught...well, calling you a bear would be a misnomer, perhaps a leopard or a panther."

He remained in his chair, a snifter of something golden-brown appearing from nowhere on the arm beside him. Releasing one hand from the other, he swept it up and took a sip, examining it critically, before turning that same cheshire grin back towards her.

"Your questions are numerous, and no doubt deserved, although your manners are atrocious. But, one must make allowances, yes? No, I am no demon. Or old god, for that matter; I know several, and you'd find them mostly crashing bores. And an alien horror? My dear, do I look like Cthulhu or his contemporaries to you? And are they half as charming? Honestly."

"And, in your terms, I am indeed a...how did you put it...upstart dabbler. At least, in comparison to the absolute wealth of years you have had to hone and develop your own abilities, I would be no more than a mere piker. That is, if my person were in your presence; which, while pleasant were you out of that ghastly armor, would not be condusive to my long-term health. As for my ambitions...."

His smile turned very cryptic, and he raised his glass in a quiet salute to the psychic hero opposite his chair.

"Well. My real self is indeed ambitious; to a point. And he's also taken great care that shadows, like myself, are not knowledgeable of his plans. A simple security measure, if you'll pardon my saying; you could rend me to flinders if you so chose, and I could not tell you any more than what I have been given. A shame, really. I could offer you some fascinating trivia in regards to some particularly unpleasant demonic entities, but beyond that..."

The phantasm of Scratch shrugged, and he sipped from the snifter again, sighing in contentment. The Scarab was a foe numerous villains would have quailed to even consider seeing, and yet this shadow seemed considerably unconcerned about it.

"Hmm...a good vintage, for all it's metaphysical uselessness. Indeed, I am a trap in the shadows between Mr. Quinn's thoughts. And...somewhat more, perhaps. But my manners are remiss, and I have completely forgotten the basic civilities."

He stroked his shadowed chin, the Scarab feeling 'it's' eyes looking at her beneath the umbral cover and brim of his hat. A wave of his hand, and a comfortable armchair appeared beside the Scarab, the mental copy making a hand-motion towards it. He seemed to ignore her last comment of leaving, merely settling back to wait.

"Please, sit; surely you are curious as to why I answered your questions so swiftly, and there is more we should discuss. I would not have my guests uncomfortable."

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[bg=#BF0000]You speak of manners. And yet here, you are the uninvited guest. The parasite I am here to remove. The cancer I came to cut out.[/bg]

The Scarab glanced disdainfully at the leather armchair Scratch had summoned from mid-air. An invisible blade fell from the sky to slice it cleanly in half, and the two halves went flying to either side. The empty brandy glass in Scratch's hand shattered as if crushed between a hammer and an anvil.

[bg=#BF0000]I am not here to play games, or to suffer fools. State your purpose, and then prepare to be destroyed. Your host has suffered your presence enough.[/bg]

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Although the Scarab couldn't see his eyes, the amiable feeling she felt emanating from him switched drastically; she could almost feel a pair of stone-cold eyes, the same ones that had sucked her into this dreamscape, boring right into her. He spoke calmly, but his voice was flat and toneless as he placed the hand embedded with glass shards onto the arm of the chair, seemingly ignoring the 'pain'.

"Lord Heru-Ra, I find your lack of respect for the laws of hospitality quite disturbing. Quite disturbing indeed. Referring to me as a parasite and a cancer, oh, I can quite accept that; that is, in essence, what I am. But a fool? For shame, my dear. I am a creature of thought and synapse, to call me a fool is...well...I suppose you would be calling the mind I reside in a fool, wouldn't you? Oh, and I should note regarding that mind, while I mentioned that you could rend me to flinders if you so chose, I really should comment on the fact that if you do you will likely do considerable damage to Mr. Quinn's psyche; more, perhaps, than I have managed during my lengthy period as a tenant in his thoughts."

The smile turned shark-like underneath the hat, and he raised the glass-sharded hand, now devoid of wounds and holding another snifter.

"After all, you of all people should know how hard it is to exorcise one's personal demons. And he has obsessed over me for two years. Two. Years. Frankly, I believe I've collected far more personal power and more true influence than my original self initially envisioned, which, to me, is immensely amusing. So I call your bluff, sirrah. Destroy me, annihilate me utterly, crush me within your mind-vise, madame! Surely that would be the most expedient and...satisfying...conclusion, yes?"

The shadow of Scratch placed the glass down upon a handy end table, steepling his fingers and smiling; nothing more.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The Scarab's mental projection of her own self-image sighed with a mixture of contemplation and exasperation. She clasped her hands behind her back and slowly paced a circle around Scratch's chair, glancing back and forth periodically between him and the ground in front of her. [bg=#BF0000]I need not debate Quinn's status as a fool. His AEGIS file establishes it as a well-documented fact. Which probably factored into the relative ease with which you were able to set up shop in his mind. But he is also a hero in the making, and he will be plagued by your games no longer. There is no "hospitality" here. Your pretensions are a vain attempt to obscure the simple truth that you are an intruder. But to what end? What do you stand to gain? Does Quinn know something you wish to learn? Or something you wish to suppress? Is he a puzzle for you to decipher, or a pawn quietly edging his way to the other side of the board?[/bg]

As she spoke, The Scarab diverted part of her attention away from the avatar of Scratch's influence, seeking out instead the grasp upon Quinn's mind he bragged about. Instead of imagining a cancerous mass to be carved out, she imagined both Quinn's mind and Scratch's presence as a series of intertwined threads, not woven together but tangled haphazardly. She imagined running her fingers slowly down the length of each thread, taking its measure in relation to the others, finding the places where she would have to tug and slide to loosen the knots without tearing the strings.

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The tangle was...quite elaborate. Not so much mashed together, as with a bad fishing line, but deliberately entangled in a mess of knots and meshes, showing that for all of Scratch's pretentions, the shadow had not been idle. Curiously, as the Scarab began stroking at the lines and making her slight tugs here and there, she noted that another influence seemed to also be fighting back against the strings; the cords she sought to unwind were, half the time, untangled or cut through what could only be sheer stubbornness, or brute force. The influence elsewhere, however, was far more insidious, strings like Quinn's nightmares were bound within almost impossible knots, Scratch's torments slipping in where that unconscious effort was unable to fight back. Still, the Scarab was an immortal master of the psychic arts, and finding the right spots to tug would only be a matter of time.

The simulacrum, for it's part, either was unaware of her efforts, or simply chose to ignore it in favor of the battle of wits. He took another sip from the snifter of brandy, smiling somewhat cryptically as he replied to her inquiry.

"Now, didn't I say earlier that I had very little idea as to my genuine counterpart's schemes? I know not what he plans, but I have my own instructions, which I do not believe I should give out so cavalierly. I will say he is an individual that, while foolish at times, does have considerable potential; he is as subtle as a bull in a china shop, yet has a remarkable ability to act as a spanner in the works with or without pre-existing knowledge of what he's disrupting. And quite easy to...manipulate at times, for all of his stubbornness. You simply need to know where to...aheh, push. Perhaps he is a puzzle I am meant to decipher, or a pawn I am edging to the other side of the board. What do you believe?"

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  • 3 weeks later...

[bg=#BF0000]"I believe, Mister Scratch, that you played the hand you were dealt as skillfully as was possible. And that you have finally overplayed that hand."[/bg]

The Scarab stopped pacing and turned to face Scratch head-on. [bg=#BF0000]"As you so thoroughly enjoyed explaining to me, it is well within my power to merely tear you out from Quinn's mind. But if I do, then you will destroy it on your way. But you forgot the logical corollary...that it is also within my power to keep you in."[/bg]

The lining of Scratch's chair tore in several places at once as The Scarab imposed her will upon the landscape of Push's mind. Dozens of steel shackles and cables erupted from the chair, wrapping around Scratch and pulling taught, pinning down every part of his body. Tiny claws swung down around his eyes and squeezed, pinning his eyelids open. His brandy glass transformed into an I.V. bag suspended from a rack beside him. The needled hose pierced the flesh of his forearm.

[bg=#BF0000]"Do you feel that? That is the weight of my will. The accumulated discipline of one hundred lifetimes bearing down on you. The comfortable suite you worked so long to build and furnish for yourself is now a prison. The windows are now barred, and you will watch helplessly from them as I slowly but surely undo all you have wrought."[/bg]

[bg=#BF0000]"If you had a will of your own, and any sense, then you would have fled this place the moment I arrived. I am not trapped in Quinn's mind with you, Homonculous. You are trapped in here with me."[/bg]

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False-Scratch's response was swift but ultimately fruitless, and he hissed sibilant words of lore and blasphemy as he sought to free himself from the chains. Some fell away, erased by what eldrich sorcery the mind-simulacrum could muster; but for everyone one he destroyed, two hemmed him in. For all of the creature's power, a mere shade of the genuine article, the weight of the Scarab's experience and power was simply too much. The false Gentleman Warlock struggled fruitlessly for a moment, then stared daggers at the psychic heroine as he settled back into his prison. His next words were just as calm, but they carried an undercurrent of malice heretofore not heard in the man's voice.

" And your confidence great, Miss Guererro. But my talons are deep within this man's mind, my contingencies for this situation numerous and varied amongst the weave of thoughts and memories; and I am just one piece of my alter ego's far greater scheme. Your success here will only be minor victory at best, of that I can assure you!"

The copy fell silent, accepting his probable fate. Yet he still stared harshly at the heroine, as if murderous thoughts would be enough; perhaps his destruction would be greater than a minor victory after all...

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