Crawford had Schuldich go through the Chamber doors first. It meant he knew what was coming, because as soon as the German telempath was five feet in he realized they were not the Cabinet’s only guests and immediately retreated. The move was instinctive, quick steps back the way he’d come, and he collided with Crawford in the process. The precognitive was waiting on him, his feet keeping him from budging under Schuldich’s weight. The German wasn’t entirely aware of the orchestrated barricade that kept him from backing all the way out of the room; Crawford and Aeris were both forgotten and the Cabinet meant nothing to him.
A slight form was stretched out on his back on the stairs to the Cabinet’s desks, propping himself up on his elbows on the top step. One leg was bent; the other was stretched out in front of him. The shoulder length hair he’d had the last time Schuldich had seen him had been chopped off somewhere along the years so that it was spiky and messy around his head. His left eyelid was sewn shut and the lines his fingernails had dug in his face were scars now. A single yellow eye was pointed at Schuldich, and the German realized that having lost an eye didn’t make the stare less intense.
A familiar cold smile curved those lips and Whitey pushed himself to his feet. The First made a gesture that Schuldich missed because he was staring across the room at the Nightmare. Touching his mind had been bad enough, and now the Cabinet and Crawford had willingly and purposefully put him back in the same room with the thing. He dug in his feet when Crawford started to push him forward, sending him a quick glance before looking up at the First. The Cabinet’s faces were smooth, expressionless. Aeris was waiting off to one side, watching with confusion and interest. The First gestured again, and Schuldich realized it had been an order to move closer.
Whitey moved as if to meet them halfway, and Schuldich refused to budge under Crawford’s pushing. He didn’t care if the Cabinet was ordering it; he wasn’t going near that white freak. His eyes were glued on the lean form that approached them. The boy had grown in the two years. He was still shorter than Schuldich but he was almost frighteningly thin, like a pale skeleton with death in his eyes and thoughts. His smile was like ice as he took lazy steps across the room, and he stopped several feet from them to wait for them to come to him.
“Blue-eyes…” he greeted, lolling his head to one side. Schuldich kept his stare on the man’s forehead; he wasn’t stupid enough to look him in the eye. Crackling was burning at his own thoughts; the injured shields he’d just put up again were aching under the force of the other’s mind. “You left me.”
Crawford again gave Schuldich a light nudge. When Schuldich started to slide forward he reached back behind him, latching his fists onto the sides of Crawford’s jacket. It was his way of telling his leader he refused to move, and Crawford’s hands lowered from the small of his back. Whitey got the message as well and took a few more steps towards them. Schuldich’s fingers tightened in Crawford’s jacket, putting permanent wrinkles into it. Whitey stopped just in front of him, and the air surrounding him was cool. A yellow eye stared up at Schuldich, and at length a pale hand lifted to touch Schuldich’s face.
Schuldich twisted his head away. He would smack the boy’s fingers away if he thought he could unknot his hands from Crawford. As it was, his hands were not his to control. Blue eyes bounced to the Cabinet, demanding to know why they had brought him here to see the Nightmare. “You should have killed it,” he managed to get out.
Amalthia leaned forward against her desk, propping her chin on her hand and her elbow on her desk. Her free hand gestured to the Irishman that was giving Schuldich a head to toe inspection with a glowing yellow eye. “He went catatonic on us when you last dropped him off here,” she informed Schuldich. “He slept for twenty-six months, and none of our Talents could rouse him. No telepaths could reach his mind, no empaths could find his aura, no touches or pushes or anything the others could do would wake him. He had no survival instincts in his sleep; a fire got close enough to burn him and he didn’t wake to move away.”
“He woke today, not even an hour ago.” That was from the Third, who was watching the freshly wakened Nightmare with obvious interest. “He woke when Nacht returned.”
“Coincidence,” Schuldich bit out, not liking what they were implying. There was a sharp tone to his voice and no sign of respect for the three, but only later would he realize that they weren’t chiding him for being so frayed.
“He asked for you by name,” the First said calmly, flicking his fingers to dismiss Schuldich’s guess.
Whitey was fingering Schuldich’s clothes, and the German finally got enough control over his hands to pry one loose and push the boy away, planting his palm to that lean chest and shoving. Whitey let himself be pushed back a few feet, smile widening as his yellow eye returned to Schuldich’s face. Schuldich glared at him even as he was wondered if he would make it through the Chamber doors before anyone stopped him. Crawford would probably see it coming and snag him, the bastard. Schuldich wanted to bite his head off for making him come here, regardless of the fact that it had been an order to show up. He should have warned Schuldich, or something.
Whitey started forward again and Schuldich bared his teeth at him in a snarl. “Get away from me,” he threatened, though he didn’t think there was much he could do to stop the demon brat. “Go back to sleep and leave me alone.”
“I’ve been sleeping.” The familiar soft voice was laced with a second tone, slightly deeper. He reached towards Schuldich once more, tangling his fingers in orange hair. Schuldich reached up, grabbing his wrist, and Whitey gave his head a savage jerk to bring their faces closer together. Breath hissed through clenched teeth as Schuldich almost got a gigantic bald spot on the side of his head, and blue and yellow locked together, just a breath apart. “I’ve been sleeping for two years because you left me.” His free hand reached up to Schuldich’s face again, icy fingers dancing over his cheekbone. “Why did you leave me?”
“Because I hate you,” Schuldich snarled back, trying to pull his head free. Whitey’s fingers tightened, fingernails digging into Schuldich’s face. His fingernails were as sharp as Schuldich remembered, just a step away from being claws, sharp enough that two years ago they had been enough for Whitey to claw his face open and destroy one of his eyes.
“You’re mine,” Whitey reminded him with savage heat. “You hate me but you’re mine, and I’ll have none other.” It was what he had said two years ago; the memory of Whitey tossing aside a decapitated head and wandering calmly out of an Irish gas station flickered through Schuldich’s thoughts. “You aren’t allowed to leave me.”
Hate need want loss despair the broken dreams of a world gone mad…
Schuldich clawed at Whitey’s face, moving his hand from the Irishman’s wrist to his face in an attempt to shove that heated yellow glare away from him. Whitey tilted his head back to avoid getting his good eye gouged out and his fingers loosened on Schuldich’s hair. It was enough for the German telempath to jerk free and he found himself pressed up against Crawford once more. He couldn’t retreat any further, not with the man standing right there. His breathing was ragged in his own ears; the crackling had flared under the attack and a half lidded yellow eye was cold as it turned back on Schuldich.
How was one supposed to fight such a beast when using his gifts would only leave him open to get shredded by the other’s mind? He had never before wished so fiercely that he had a different gift, like telekinesis or pyrokinesis, anything that would make it possible for him to even consider an attack on the younger Talent. He had nothing. Telepathy and empathy were both out; that left him with speed and unless he wanted to dance a battle around Whitey with lightning physical attacks, it would only be useful for running away. Considering that he didn’t have to touch the younger teenager’s mind to get attacked by it, he was pretty much defenseless and he didn’t like that at all. He liked that cold bit of knowledge even less than he liked the boy himself.
“Why did you call me here?” Schuldich asked the Cabinet, keeping his eyes on Whitey’s throat in case the boy started moving forward again. For now, Whitey seemed content with the small space between them, his head tilted to one side once more. His stare was burning a hole in Schuldich but the telempath stubbornly refused to meet his gaze. “Why did I have to come?”
“You don’t know what a Nightmare is, do you?”
“No one would tell me,” was Schuldich’s flat response.
They ignored it. “You don’t know how they work…The last Nightmare Rosenkreuz owned was here three decades ago, and it was useless to us because it was incomplete. We called you here because it is your presence that woke him up when none of our other gifts could reach him.” The First considered this for a moment, cool eyes studying both teenagers. “Touch him.” Schuldich’s eyes flew up to the First’s, locking with the man’s gaze for the first time in his life in his surprise. He couldn’t read anything in those eyes. They were guarded better than Crawford’s and his mind was blank. The First pointed at Whitey, and Schuldich looked back at him, a small bit of horror and nausea curling in his stomach. “Touch him,” he repeated.
Schuldich couldn’t get the denial out verbally but he could shake his head, and he shook it frantically. Whitey’s gaze caught his but for now that eye was just waiting, the youth’s face calm and expectant for what he knew was coming. “Touch. Him,” the First ordered again, a harsh edge to the order. Crawford said something by his ear but Schuldich didn’t hear it; it was lost in the irritation the Cabinet was letting him feel because he wouldn’t obey their order. He didn’t want to; he didn’t want to see what was inside that mind. There was no guarantee that he’d be able to get back out. It was one thing to send him a message like his earlier command to get away, or the search in Ireland, to try to figure out where the power had come from. It was quite another to willingly push himself inside that chaos, and Schuldich wanted no part of it.
“Schuldich.” Amalthia’s voice was flat.
“Touch him,” the third snapped.
“Niklas,” Whitey beckoned, and abruptly everything in that other mind gave out, the power sucking backwards quickly enough that Schuldich found his gift instinctively following after. He hesitated right outside the other boy’s mind, blue and yellow locked together. Schuldich thought he felt Crawford’s hand at the small of his back and, telling himself that Crawford wouldn’t let him go mad just like this, not if two years ago Crawford had come to Rosenkruez for him specifically, he took a deep breath and reached out, closing the distance between his mind and the Nightmare’s.
The first touch was cold. Whitey was keeping his gift back for the moment, watching him, feeling the way Schuldich’s gift brushed up against him. One hand was still clenched on Crawford’s jacket, and Schuldich twisted his fingers in a silent declaration of hatred for everyone in the room that was making him do this. With that, he pressed forward, through the first layer of the other’s thoughts into the swirling chaos beyond. It took a few moments to make sense of things; Whitey’s voice and several others slipped together and against each other, music played in the background, and the taste of blood was thick on Schuldich’s tongue.
Then Whitey’s gift rose to meet him, surrounding his gift and pulling him deeper. The German’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.
Whitey was stretched out on a long piece of elevated rock, sprawled on his side. Schuldich looked around at the barren wasteland he’d been brought to. The dirt was gray and rocks of all sizes were scattered all over the place. It stretched as far as the eye could see. The air was harsh and dry, tasting of dirt and death. When he looked back at the youth, he saw two men sitting on rock pillars, one to each side of the youth. One wore white cloth, the other black. They had paper fans and they were trying to waft cool air towards their faces. Their cloaks were torn around the middle; they had both been disemboweled. They were sitting Indian style, facing each other and the teenager between them, and such a position let their spilled innards rest between their legs. Schuldich took a slow step forward, flicking them each a glance before looking towards Whitey. He was staring at Schuldich, but within his mind, lost among the tangled thoughts and the power itself, his gaze was much softer and easier to meet.
The two men were grumbling but Schuldich didn’t recognize the language they argued in. He took another step, and another, carefully and slowly closing the distance between himself and the Nightmare. The one in black cloaks swat at Schuldich with his fan and the German looked up at him. He only had one eye; a spider web rested in the other socket. A glance towards the coils of spilled intestines showed them to be crawling with all sorts of bugs. Schuldich looked over at the one in white. His skin was rotting away; in places, Schuldich could see bones. A spider crawled up his cloaks to his mouth, sliding between his lips as he spoke and reappearing out his nose just moments later.
Schuldich fixed his eyes on Whitey once more. The boy pushed himself up to a sitting position, reaching out for the German with both hands. It was as much a demand as an entreaty. Schuldich didn’t offer his own hands in return, but he was close enough that the other’s hands could touch him. His fingers were warm, and that surprised Schuldich; he had expected the icy touch of reality. Whitey’s fingers tangled in Schuldich’s hair, guiding him forward until the German stood between his legs. The Irishman’s perch was high enough that Schuldich’s head came to his chest only. Hands slid free of his air and two pale arms wrapped around the German’s head instead, pulling his forehead to rest against Whitey’s chest.
“Let me show you…” the fifteen year old murmured in his ear. “I want you to see…”
Schuldich wanted to say that he didn’t want to see, but the words wouldn’t form. His head was tilted back again and soft lips touched his forehead. Hot blood trickled down from the kiss, running down Schuldich’s nose and dripping off the end. The youth was suddenly bloody, and Schuldich could see where skin was missing in places. Whole strips and chunks were gone to reveal bloody muscles and bones. His white clothes were stained crimson with his own blood, and the heat from it radiated off him in a sickening wave.
Wet hands left burning streaks Schuldich’s cheeks, and Schuldich tried to pull out of his grasp. But then there wasn’t a Whitey anymore, and there wasn’t really a Schuldich, either. The barren wasteland was gone, replaced by fields of grain. Huge crowds were at work, trying to harvest their crop. Songs drifted through the air; it was a time of celebration and joy. The crop had been better this year than any year before it. The winter would pass well; their children would not starve. The children in question were alternating between helping out and running up and down the banks of the river that wound its way past the fields. It was them that spotted the approaching shoulders, pointing them out with the curiosity and interest of the young. The celebration was over and the mothers screamed, running to collect their children. Arrows shot down a few as they tried, and the children fled screaming towards the fields at the first sign of death. Their parents met them halfway and vanished back into the grain.
The soldiers were riding horses, and there were enough of them that they surrounded the field. Those that had broken free and were racing towards their homes were shot down on their way. The villagers were huddled in the middle of the field, clinging to their fearful children. One man moved his horse closer, a lit torch in his hands. Up the ranks he walked, and the other men drew their own dry torches from their bags for him to light. The edges of the grain were lit and the torches were cast inwards. The only way out of the blaze was to enter the river, and everyone who dove out that end was shot down by handfuls of arrows. The children were wailing as their parents hurried them further away from the wild blaze. It was burn or die, and Schuldich watched as the parents began to cast their children out to be fired upon, as in their minds it was better to die by arrows than to burn alive. Child after child thrown forth to death by his and her own parents…
Fire licked across the vision and ragged rocks replaced the landscape. A cliff was in the background, and lava trickled down its sides. The ground was a pillar of ebony stone, lifted high above a lava sea. A man had chains from his wrist to the ground and was watching as a beast of some sort crept towards him. It was a creature straight from someone’s imagination, a thick brown body with scattered long brown fur. Lips pulled back to show fangs that glistened from saliva, a black tongue snaking out to lick its nose. Eyes were a bright yellow and they were hungry as they studied the man in front of it. Claws clicked over the rock as it stopped a few feet away, long tail lashing. Then it jumped, and the man had no defense against it. Claws ripped chunks from his legs, peeling the muscle free to create holes several inches deep. Bone showed and the man kicked his legs frantically, trying to get free. The ground grew slick under his blood as teeth found his middle. Ribs cracked under the bite; some were caught between the teeth and pulled free from the ribcage to dangle across his chest. He was screaming and the beast moved his mouth to his stomach, shredding the skin easily to bury a muscle deep inside. Harsh, harsh screams, the sound of a man being eaten alive from the inside out…
Schuldich fought to get free; he could feel the struggle in the way pain laced through his head. For a moment he found himself back on the barren landscape, pulled into Whitey’s embrace. Then things were gone once more as he lost the battle. He found himself in a dark bedroom, tucked into his sheets. He didn’t know where he was or who he was supposed to be; there was a slight detachment from the body he was in that made him wonder if he was watching someone else. The hands curled on the sheet in front of him were too slight to be his; they belonged to someone much younger than him. The shape of the hands told Schuldich it was a boy.
There was a creak, and the view changed as the other pushed himself up. Schuldich peered out into the darkness of the bedroom with him. There was a crack of light on a far wall. It spread, then vanished again- light from a door. The two of them crawled down to the end of the bed, eyes straining in the darkness. “Caitlín, is that you?” the child asked. There was silence. He felt a frown pull at their shared mouth as they tried to see into the shadows. “Did you get your drink…?”
Still no answer. There was a rustle off to their right and they shifted their gaze across the room, peering into the darkness in silent question. Another rustle; papers falling free of a desk. The boy hesitated, wondering whether to speak again, and eventually lowered himself back to the bed. Fingers pulled at the covers, tucking them back up, and Schuldich caught the threads of irritated and jittery thoughts. The words were inaudible, leaving him with just the thoughts. The covers were pulled up to his neck and he closed his eyes. For a long moment there was silence.
There was a tapping; fingernails on the wall. “Caitlín…” the boy warned the other. “You aren’t funny. Come on and get in bed.” The two must be siblings to be sharing a bed, and the boy had to be younger than Schuldich had first thought. The boy received no response. Something skittered across the wall high above him, close to the ceiling, and his eyes opened again. The boy didn’t have the best night vision; through his eyes Schuldich could see only lumps of other things. The boy was young enough that his imagination twisted him. The shadows moved, changed shapes. Something on the other side of the room shifted.
The bed creaked under someone else’s weight, and the relief the boy felt was fierce. “Caitlín,” he said, throwing back the sheets and sitting up.
The person on the other end of the bed wasn’t his sister. There was a dark form crouched there, and he lunged forward at the boy’s sudden movement. Red eyes glowed with a fierce flame and dark hands grabbed the boy’s face, pulling him into the shadows of his cloak before he could scream.
The return of color and light was so sudden that it left Schuldich disoriented. He found himself on the rocky wastelands, and tried to pull himself away from the youth that was holding onto him. He was too dizzy to retreat far and fingers on his arms kept him from falling. Whitey was studying him as he got his balance back. Schuldich was struggling to adjust, blue eyes looking from side to side. The two men were still there, but they were much farther gone in their rotting now. The white one had half of his face missing so that the skull showed. The one who had been wearing black had his robes pooled down around his waist. Bugs and rats wandered up and down his chest and arms, chewing on the flesh. The two men ignored their ruined state, still waving torn fans at their faces, still mumbling on in a gibberish language.
“The world is dying,” Whitey murmured, lifting his fingers to run the back of his hand down Schuldich’s face. “The world is being lost to madness. One day there won’t be humans anymore…The earth will be ruined from our sickness and will be close to lifeless. We will be long gone and everything we are proud of, everything we have built and achieved, will be faded to dust. No one will mourn us these many thousand years down the road…Everything that is so important to us will be gone and there will be no one to remember it, no one to remember that we’ve come and gone, no one to care what we’ve done…” Schuldich could see the world he was talking about in his thoughts. The sky was torn from years of pollution, buildings crumbled and eroded to near nothing. Small rodents and insects wandered the plain, searching for food. Man was gone and even if some things still lingered to show they’d come and gone, in time these artifacts would be gone and while they still survived there was no one to study them and wonder about the race that had risen and fallen so long ago.
“You’ll learn,” Whitey told him, pressing his lips to Schuldich’s forehead once more. “In time, you’ll learn. In time, you’ll see…”
Schuldich had gotten his strength back enough to jerk away with a heated, “I don’t WANT to see!” The moment he had pulled free of the other’s hold, the ground gave out beneath him and he found himself tumbling through darkness. The jagged rocks cut him as he passed; he could feel hot blood and sharp pain. He realized he was dying and wondered what to think of that, wondered what to think of the blood that was filling his mouth and choking him. Above his own death he could feel a million other dying minds, their thoughts giving way under their imminent passing, a million hopes and regrets and fears lacing through him.
Then he hit the ground and everything faded away to oblivion.
When Schuldich woke he was stretched out in bed. His entire body ached, his head most of all. His skull felt like it had been fractured in no less than a dozen places and he was pretty sure someone had stuck a knife through one of the fractures to cut his brain up a bit. He didn’t move for a long time, mostly because he didn’t think he had the energy to. He wondered if he was free from the Nightmare’s mind or if this was just another twist inside that damned gift. As the drumming in his head slowly subsided he could hear someone’s voice, a familiar murmur in the background. He dragged his hand painfully up the sheets to his face, fingers touching his chin to see if blood still decorated his skin. There was none, so his hand moved to his hair instead, tangling in the orange locks.
There was the soft sound of footsteps at the doorway. It was a struggle to tilt his head in that direction, and he felt almost relieved to find himself facing Crawford. The precognitive crossed the room towards him, carrying a towel, and Schuldich accepted the offer. Fingers curled around damp terry cloth and he held it up against his forehead, letting it cool off skin that felt like it was on fire. Crawford studied him in silence for several more moments before turning and leaving the room.
Schuldich couldn’t hang onto consciousness for long; for the next several hours he wandered in and out of uneasy sleep. It wasn’t until four hours later that his head felt well enough that he could stay awake. He gazed at the wall opposite him, seeing through it as his mind went back over the events that had taken place inside the Chambers. The Cabinet had made him touch Whitey’s mind, and he hadn’t liked what the Nightmare had to show him. A scowl pulled at his lips and he pushed himself up on unsteady arms. He’d like to see them tell him to do that again; he refused. It was the combination between the images and the cloying feeling of despair and death that he didn’t like. It was being inside of a twisted mind that didn’t seem to have a single happy thought to offer that his gift resented. That mind choked his gifts and burnt the air from his lungs.
He swayed a little once he got to his feet but he managed to stay up. His bruised gift reached out, searching for his teammates’ minds. Crawford’s was nearby. Aeris’s was missing completely. He frowned, stopping in the doorway to his bedroom, and searched again. She was gone. There wasn’t a trace of her left. Frowning, he stumbled into the second bedroom to confront Crawford. The precognitive was waiting for him, seated on the end of the shape-shifter’s former bed. Schuldich eased himself down onto the second bed, blue eyes demanding an answer. “Aeris?” he wanted to know.
“She made the mistake of stepping between the Nightmare and you,” came his response. “She did not react well to what happened when your minds touched and stepped forward to challenge him. He killed her on the spot.” He spoke of her death easily and it was a chance for Schuldich to confirm that there had been no emotions in their relationship. It had been easy to tell that Aeris had no strings attached, but Crawford’s behavior had been all he’d had to go by for his side of things. He didn’t seem bothered by her death at all and Schuldich wondered for a moment about what really went on in that head. He thought about the kiss in the dining hall and thought that there was a good chance Crawford had known it was coming. That was two teammates now that Crawford had allowed to die. He wondered if the man would abandon him next and told himself that he didn’t need Crawford’s visions and warnings to keep him from dying. He was a damn good Talent and he could survive on his own.
A damn good Talent whose head still hurt from touching that demon’s mind.
“Did they kill it yet?” he wanted to know, voice dark.
Crawford knew who he was talking about and gave a slight shake of his head. “There is no reason for them to. They’re quite happy to have a Nightmare in their grasp, especially one who looks like he could survive his own gift. They’ve been waiting for you to wake back up so that they could speak to you once more.”
“About what?” Schuldich demanded, voice sharp. “If they want to know what I saw they can go investigate it for themselves; let them lose themselves in that black pit of a soul.” Crawford didn’t answer but rose to his feet, starting past Schuldich towards the door. He moved with the certainty that he was going to be followed and obeyed, but the German reached out and snagged his wrist as he passed. “Tell me if he’s going to be in that room again,” he said. Blue eyes were harsh as he stared up at the older man. He didn’t want to go anywhere near that mind again anytime soon. The thought that the Cabinet could be calling him back to rummage around some more made his stomach twist in dark loathing. “If I walk in there and he’s waiting there I’ll turn around and slit your throat where you stand.”
Crawford didn’t move to pry Schuldich’s fingers free, probably because he knew he’d never manage to get the death grip off. “He won’t be there,” was his reassurance. Schuldich stared up at him, wondering if he could trust him. He’d trusted him for two years but trusting him with assassination work and trusting him about the white haired freak were two very different matters.
Finally he let go and got back to his feet. He followed Crawford out of the wing silently, down the stairs to the first floor and then down the second stairwell to the main floor of the school. The halls were empty; a dead silence had descended upon the place. Schuldich didn’t know what time it was, if the students were in class or at lunch. He stared straight ahead, blue eyes fixed to Crawford’s back, as their shoes seemed to echo in the halls. Whitey’s mind crackled in the distance but was subdued, either because his gift hadn’t recovered enough to sense it completely or because the other was keeping it quiet. He figured it was the first.
The doors were open and for the third time that day Schuldich found himself before the Cabinet. He half expected to find Aeris’s body here, or perhaps some sign that the younger Talent had murdered her. There was nothing; the Cabinet had had ample time to bring in a cleaning staff. Crawford stopped a short distance from the stairs and Schuldich came up alongside him, fixing his eyes straight ahead because he had no interest in speaking to the Cabinet after they made him do such a thing. He had no greeting for them, letting Crawford speak instead. The three accepted his respects with just a murmured return, and Schuldich could feel their eyes boring into him. He refused to look up at them.
“A Nightmare,” the First started, and Schuldich had to bite back a scowl because this was not a subject he wanted to discuss, “is a very rare find. We were most pleased when you brought us one from Ireland, and we intended to make the most of such a catch. However, after you left Rosenkreuz, he slipped into his deep sleep. That broke when you returned.” Schuldich wanted to point out that he was repeating himself and was almost mad enough to do so; only the light touch of a shoulder brushing against his in warning kept him from speaking.
“A Nightmare is born to a world full of death and visions of the end. Their days and nights are full of dreams of pain and despair, and the sleep you found this one in and the sleep he returned to when you left us is the untrained Nightmare’s only self-defense. They go mad from the world that surrounds them, from the visions they can’t recognize as fictional. To escape it, they shut themselves down and can do so for a handful of years at a time. It is just a means of slowing down the madness, just a temporary break from the gift. When they wake things are as they were before and they must gather strength before dropping out again.”
“Into this madness,” Amalthia said, starting where the First left off, “they are offered one Dream. It can be anything, and it is the one good thing they have to hold onto, the one key they have to their own sanity. Once they find it, it is easier for them to rein in their gifts and they have a much better chance of survival.”
“What’s the point?” Schuldich wanted to know, folding his arms over his chest and tilting his head to one side. “I don’t see what use they could possibly be. Nothing I’ve seen from him gives him a purpose for being alive.”
“A sane, trained Nightmare can turn his visions to reality,” came the easy answer. “The things that plague them can be turned on others, and Nightmares are lost to the cycle of life and death anyway. You found him when he was thirteen. Do you remember the deaths in Ireland?”
A floor covered in blood, a body ripping free from its head with a tearing sound not unlike Velcro… Schuldich’s mouth pulled into a frown. It was Whitey’s gift that Rosenkreuz would have to train; he already knew how to kill. Of course they wanted another killer, another little pet to send out on the world to destroy things. He thought about the things he had seen inside of Whitey’s head and wondered what it would be like if they became a reality. Did the Cabinet mean the strange creatures included, that brown dog and the red-eyed phantom?
“The only way we can have his Talent, however, is if he himself can get a hold on it. He cannot do that alone. Therefore,” the First leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers together in his lap, “we are going to assign him to Schwarz alongside the two of you.”
For a long moment, Schuldich didn’t breathe. For a long moment, he couldn’t have even if he wanted to; the air froze in his lungs. He tilted his head back to fix a disbelieving look on the Cabinet. They gazed back calmly, knowing that the idea horrified him and simply not caring. Schuldich wanted to refuse; the denial burned on his tongue but all that came out was a flat “What?”
“You are a powerful telempath,” Amalthia said. “You’re ranked among our strongest and will only get stronger as you continue training. You’re still young; there’s a ways left that you could grow. A strong mind is needed to help calm the chaos of the Nightmare’s gift, which is why on many levels it’s very good news that you’re his Dream.”
He was shaking his head at them for the second time that day. “I’m-” he started to say, but the sentence failed him. He tried again. “I’m not his Dream. I can’t work with him, not with that gift.”
“You may not want to,” the Third said, arching an eyebrow at the German, “but you can and you will. You will learn how to. You have no choice in the matter. His gift picked you to be his Dream the day he was born; it is something neither of you decided and there is nothing either of you can do about it. He has been waiting for you to save him, and that is what you are going to do. We want his gift, so you are going to do it.” Schuldich looked at Crawford, blue eyes swirling with an unvoiced plea to argue with the Cabinet, to tell them that this simply could not be done. “If you let him die because of your own feelings on the matter, we will be most unhappy with you. Failure to make progress will have you placed in the nearest mental ward, because this is an order and you WILL obey.”
Either way he was going to go stark raving mad. He didn’t want that Nightmare to come back. He didn’t want to see him ever again. He hated him more than he hated anyone else alive. He didn’t want to work with him; he didn’t want the boy to live with him as part of their team. He thought he would choke on the bitter despair. He realized that his eyes had fallen shut but he wasn’t sure he had the strength to open them again. Damned, he was damned- cursed to live and work with that Nightmare. The Cabinet was off their fucking rockers, assigning someone like that to him. He couldn’t live with that mind; he couldn’t live with a power that could shatter his shields with barely a thought. That gift was going to eat him alive from the inside out and they didn’t care. Schuldich had never been stupid enough to believe that the Cabinet cared for any of the students in their school but he didn’t think they’d just condemn him like this when they had told him that he was one of their strongest, when they had gazed upon him with approval just a handful of hours ago…
Now he wondered which way would be better to die, to be trapped in an institution to watch himself slowly go mad or to work with that freak and see the same thing. The end result was the same; having the other man on his team meant it would be a faster road to insanity and there was the slightest chance that he could slip up on the job and get one of them killed if he got too sick of it.
The past two years suddenly seemed far away; everything he’d worked for and fought for was ruined because he’d found this creature in Ireland. This was not what he’d ever thought of when he dreamed of making field rank. This wasn’t what he’d had in mind when he’d stood in the halls with the other students and watched the ranked Talents go by. This wasn’t it at ALL. Fuck Ireland and fuck its damn Nightmare.
“Do you understand, Schuldich?” the First asked.
Blue eyes slid open once more, his gaze settling on the desk in front of him. “Yes, sirs.”
He was sitting in the middle of the room they’d sent him back to, waiting for them to come find him again. They would come eventually; Niklas was out there with them and they would come for him. The man was his. The man could not deny that he belonged to him. He may not like it but he couldn’t do anything about it. A smile crept across his mouth, cold and satisfied, and he lifted his fingers to trace his ruined eye before stretching out his hand to the girl who knelt in front of him. A gaping wound in her middle was killing her; she was bleeding to death slowly. He’d been watching her die, watching her struggle for breath as her small hands tried to stem the flow of blood. Her eyes were dull now; the moment was close at hand. He touched her wound, long fingers brushing her weak hands aside to feel the hole. Hot blood covered his fingertips and he slid his hand in deeper, burying himself inside her to the wrist. She gave a sick shudder, mouth parting in a low moan of pain, but she didn’t have the strength to push him away.
Fingers felt her insides, poking at her intestines and stomach, finding her kidneys next, before straying upwards to feel her heart. It was beating dully, throbbing weakly against his fingers. He leaned forward, sliding his hand in a bit more and ignoring the way tears tracked down her cheeks at the pain. He took her heart in her hands, closing his fingers gently around it. Cloudy blue eyes begged him for everything and anything, for the pain to go away, for him to stop hurting her, for peace…He closed the distance between them, pushing himself to his knees and using a hand against the floor to steady himself. His mouth touched her neck, lips resting over the weak pulse of her artery.
A savage pull yanked her heart free. Another shudder and she collapsed backwards, sagging to the ground. Unseeing eyes stared up at the ceiling. He considered the heart in his hands. It was hot, almost hot enough to burn him, and he touched it to his mouth. Blood ran off it and out of it, sliding out of the chambers and broken veins and arteries to drip all over the place. He squeezed it like a sponge. Some of it tore, rupturing under the pressure. It fascinated him and he ran his tongue up his arm, drinking up the blood. This was death; this was pure. This was the only truth in a world like this…
There was a fluttering behind him and he frowned at being interrupted, turning to look back at the far wall. There was no one there and he curled back bloody lips to snarl at the empty room. Just because he didn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t there. There was always something there. He was never alone. The barest of sounds to his front and he whirled around again to find a spindly creature on the other side of the girl. He was holding her up by her hair, chewing on her neck and glaring at the white haired boy. The Irish youth glared back, lunging forward to knock the other thing away. It let the girl fall to the floor and caught him, long fingers grabbing him around his throat. Claws broke through the surface of the skin and the other hand caught his wrist. He found himself pulled across the girl’s corpse and a breath hot with death and blood washed over his face.
It pulled him again, letting itself fall onto its back. Its legs were long and skinny like its arms, and claws decorated its bare feet. These claws lifted to his shirt, tearing through the material easily and ripping the skin underneath. He had to release the heart to fight back, but it left him with just one free hand against eight claws. They struggled with each other, snarling and clawing. He eventually won, because the creature was just trying to defend its meal while he wanted to kill it for chewing on that girl’s body. He managed to get his hand around its throat and held on with everything he had, strangling the life out of it and ignoring the blood that ran down his own throat and front.
An extra shove broke its neck. It went limp beneath him. He fell on top of it before sliding off to the ground. When he pushed himself up on bloody hands, both the girl and the thing were gone, leaving him temporarily alone again. He considered this for a long moment, fingers straying up to his neck to check the wounds there.
Footsteps outside the room. He looked that direction, settling himself back onto his rear as the door opened. There. Niklas was there, along with that tall man. The two stared in at him for a long moment and he lifted his hand to his face, running the back of his hand across bloody lips.
“Jesus, somebody up there hates me…” Niklas muttered.
A cold smile curved his lips and he pushed himself to his feet, fingers sliding through the holes in his clothes to check out the abdomen gashes. He could feel them healing under his fingers and it satisfied him, torn skin and muscle pulling back together and sealing up as good as new. He crossed the room towards the two, his eyes on the man who was going to save him. There was a struggle on the other’s face but with a bit of willpower the man did not retreat before him. It satisfied the boy and he reached out, taking hold of that hair. Orange, like fire. Like life, like death. Like freedom.
“Let’s go,” he said.
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