Part Nine

    Farfarello turned sixteen in September, sometime in the two weeks after the formation of Schwarz. He didn’t say anything about it and he didn’t know the exact date; it was a stray thought Schuldich caught one day when Crawford made him go digging through the Irishman’s mind. Farfarello couldn’t remember his birthday. He just knew that his parents had always given him a cake in September. Schuldich passed the tidbit on to Crawford, who added it to his file. The day itself was irrelevant; the month and year was all they needed to keep track of his aging. The fact that he had aged was one of the only things Schuldich was able to pick up from him outside of what his mind twisted around. For several hours a day their gifts locked around each other. It was back to the barren wasteland, where Farfarello wanted to show him everything he could see and Schuldich tried to figure out what he could possibly do to fix things.

    The visions didn’t bother Farfarello, not like they always bothered Schuldich. The Irishman could watch everything he was showing Schuldich without blinking. It never bothered him. Sometimes he would ignore the torture and pain that laced around them, concentrating on Schuldich instead. Other times he watched with great interest, oblivious to the fact that his German Dream was trying very hard not to be sick half of the time. Farfarello was afraid of nothing his gift had to show him. He was, perhaps, a bit wary about whatever visions bled into his version of reality- for Schuldich and Crawford had seen him spaz out a couple times since that incident in the bathroom- but he didn’t fear his power.

    Well, that wasn’t quite the truth.

    Farfarello was afraid of only two things, Schuldich discovered that September. First and foremost, he was afraid of losing Schuldich. The only other thing he feared was the creature he referred to as the Shadows. The Irishman never voiced either of these things outright. Schuldich discovered them through offhand ways, through everything that happened in the first twelve hours of September 15th. The first two weeks of the ninth month were relatively peaceful when Schuldich didn’t have to slip inside the younger teenager’s twisted mind. Schwarz was adapting to each other. Farfarello’s dislike of Crawford was clear but he didn’t disobey the man’s orders, and as long as Schuldich didn’t randomly walk off and abandon him, the Irishman had no real issues with him, either.

    Schuldich was getting used to having a shadow. It had irritated him the first few days, that Farfarello went everywhere he did. Of course, he was required to go with Schuldich to the Chambers every day, where they would sit and tangle their gifts together with the Cabinet as silent witnesses. When Schuldich took his shower, Farfarello perched on the sink counter and waited on him. When Farfarello took his baths, he demanded Schuldich’s presence, so the German would sit on the sink and read a book. The team went together to eat their meals. Schuldich found sparring partners to keep himself entertained while he was locked in Rosenkreuz and Farfarello would watch the pairs fight each other avidly from one corner of the room. Farfarello went through three tutors of his own, as he killed the first two in their first lessons with him. It took both the Cabinet and Schwarz to keep him from offing the third, a man who had no desire to be anywhere near the Nightmare. Both of the elder two of the black team went along to his lessons to watch his progress and to give themselves something to do. The Irishman was a fast learner, to Schuldich’s relief. The faster Farfarello learned, the faster they could get out into the world again.

    Of course, their leaving also relied on him making some progress with his teammate, but Schuldich had no clue what he was supposed to be doing. He would slip inside Farfarello’s mind and instantly regret it as the Irishman shared with him all the nightmares of the world, and he left every time feeling queasy and disoriented. He wasn’t making any progress that he could see. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He didn’t know how he’d know that he was helping at all. It frustrated him because until he found out, he was stuck diving through Farfarello’s consciousness. Farfarello didn’t seem to care; it was enough for him that he didn’t have to face the visions alone. They did not scare him, but after sixteen years of watching them, he needed someone else to help distract him from them, needed Schuldich there so he was not the only one that had to see them.

    Schuldich’s thoughts were disgruntled as he lay in bed September 14th, glaring up at the ceiling. His failure to get any sort of work done on Farfarello was grating on his nerves. He was eighteen years old and had skipped ranks twice in Rosenkreuz. He was damn talented and everyone knew it. There were other empaths and telepaths with equal ranking, but they were older than him. By the time he reached their age, he’d be stronger than they were. They knew it, so they hated him. So he was this powerful, and he couldn’t do shit about Farfarello’s fucked up mind.

    He looked over at the Nightmare in question to see Farfarello sitting Indian style in the middle of his bed. A frown pulled at his mouth. The room was dark enough that he could mostly just see a silhouette of the other Talent. Farfarello sat like that every night, placing himself in the exact middle of a bed he’d never made up again. The blankets and pillows Schuldich had returned to him two weeks ago were right where the German had left them; the youth never touched them. He just sat there, alternating between staring at Schuldich and staring at the far wall. Schuldich fell asleep before the other teenager and when he woke up Farfarello was back in place. It was almost enough to think that the other boy didn’t sleep- which was ridiculous, because everyone needed to sleep.

    Then again, Farfarello wasn’t everyone. He’d slept eight years of his life away easily. That didn’t mean that it didn’t creep Schuldich out that the boy never stopped to recharge his mental batteries. He finally decided to ask about it, bold from two weeks of having the Irishman as company and stupid to ask at such an hour.

    “Don’t you ever sleep?” he demanded.

    “Sometimes,” was the answer. Farfarello tilted his head towards Schuldich, the movement barely discernible in the dark. His eye was glowing when it turned towards Schuldich, and the German pointed his gaze away. It was an odd kind of glow; his eye was bright as a light bulb and almost neon yellow in the intensity, but the glow didn’t cast any light onto his face. It was just a little yellow glowing ball surrounded by shadows. Fucking creepy. “Never at night.”

    “Sleep’s kind of necessary, you know.”

    “Most of them come at night,” the teenager answered, turning his face away again. The bed creaked as the youth moved, shifting positions to get more comfortable. “I watch for them. I have to. They’ll come for me.” The bed creaked again- the Irishman was turning to face the bathroom, leaning forwards and up so that he was on his knees, staring off into the darkness. “They’ll come for you. I won’t let them have you.”

    “Glad to hear it. I’ll sleep better knowing I have my own personal security guard.” The telempath rolled his eyes up at a dark ceiling before letting his eyes fall closed. He wasn’t tired, and that irritated him. He wanted to go to sleep. He shifted, lacing his hands together behind his head, and gave a deep sigh in an attempt to breathe out the remaining tensions of the day. Good thoughts; he needed good thoughts to help him relax. But good thoughts were scattered these days when his mind rippled with Farfarello’s dark powers and he spent several hours a day lost in that black pit of the Nightmare’s soul. He couldn’t say Farfarello was pessimistic company…He was more like brutally and unmercifully realistic, and that was draining. Schuldich didn’t think he had ever appreciated Crawford’s company as much before; the man’s quiet voice and tolerant, patient amusement were the perfect things to balance off Farfarello’s high maintenance personality.

    “They’re coming…” Farfarello whispered. Schuldich cracked open an eye at him in time to have the other youth’s gaze bounce back to his face. His yellow eye was red now; it burned in the darkness like a demon’s, staring straight through Schuldich, seeing everything. “Go to sleep!” It was a harsh whisper, a desperate command. And before Schuldich could respond, he felt the ground drop out beneath him and he was yanked roughly to unconsciousness.

    September 14th marked the day Schuldich forgot how to dream.


    There was a soft skittering, the sound of little clawed feet running across a hard surface. He held his breath, tilting his head to one side to listen. Every nerve in his body was alert, every muscle tense. The sound lasted for just a few seconds as the creature ran from one perch to another, drawing closer to him. His knife was behind him, resting on the mattress by the headboard. He listened, straining his ear to hear the sound again. They weren’t using the floor. The floor was carpeted; it would have muffled the sounds of their moving. They were in the bathroom, maybe. They were on something- the furniture, the walls…

    The ceiling creaked as something heavy shifted its weight a floor up. His fingers curled tighter against the mattress as he struggled to figure out where they were coming from. No sudden movements, nothing to alert them to where he was…The air was growing colder and he could feel small tremors start on his slim frame. The outfit he had been given wasn’t enough to keep out the chill of the room as the temperature dropped rapidly. He blinked several times, his eye stinging from the cold, trying to adjust his vision to see better in the dark. He could make out the dressers but he couldn’t see anything on top of them.

    Metal clinked behind him- too close- and he whirled around. The chains hit him across the face, a length of thick links catching him on his cheek. He fell backwards onto the mattress, catching himself with his elbows, and stared up into the darkness. The attacker with chains was gone, but along the wall near the ceiling there were half a dozen furry creatures, long haired rats the size of terriers. Beady red eyes stared back at him and he could see their teeth glisten in the darkness. They shuffled forwards, moving down the wall to turn hungry eyes on the sleeping Schuldich. He lunged forward, grabbing his knife and leaping to his feet, weapon and teeth bared in a warning.

    They were gone.

    For a few moments, there was silence.

    A soft growling filled the air. He remained where he was, fingers tightening on his hilt. Multiple throats. They never rose in volume, another throat carrying on when one paused for a few moments. He placed them by the sound and slowly turned on his bed, lowering himself to a crouch on the edge of his bed. Peering down, he could see that the floor had given way. Ten feet down were silvery black stones, jagged and cruel. Lightning flashed in the distance, flickering off the stones. He lifted his knife to his mouth, holding it between his teeth, and started climbing down the side.

    The intensity of the growls increased as he let himself into their territory. He kept his head turned, looking over his shoulder as he moved, searching for any signs of an attack. The floor burned his bare feet; he could feel the skin of his heels starting to melt. He glanced down, eyeing the ground for a few moments, and finally lifted a foot to investigate. A little pale puddle was left behind, long, gooey strings stretching up to his raised foot. Bubbles rose on the surface of the puddle and popped as the melted skin boiled. He put his foot back down and started forwards. On every step his feet stuck, and he could hear a wet sort of squelch.

    For as hot as the ground was, the air was still cold enough that he was shaking. He forced himself onwards, one hand reaching up to take the knife from his lips. Blood tricked down his chin when he cut his lip and he licked it away absently, using the back of one hand to wipe away what his tongue couldn’t reach. His feet were numb; a cursory look downwards showed that the puddles were starting to be tinted with red as his muscles disintegrated and his veins burst open to let blood into the mix. He didn’t worry about it. As long as he made it out of here alive, his feet would be healed by morning. It was a bit inconvenient at the time, but he would make do.

    The growls were echoing off the walls behind him, and the dark hallway was finally starting to get light. He turned a corner and found himself on a small perch. Lava was spread out in front of him. Scattered stones floated here and there along the surface, and the little lava dragons occupied most of them. They knew him and hated him. He didn’t care, because the feeling was mutual. He gave the lava a considering glance before peering over the stones. He wasn’t quite sure what was expected of him here. There were some empty stones, each scattered about four feet apart, in a broken bridge to the other side. The only thing he could see was another dark hallway.

    Above the sizzling of his feet he could hear the sound of flutes, twining with a girl’s scream. He peered through the air, studying the wavering images of the dragons through the rolling heat waves coming from the lava. Did he go or did he return? He looked back the way he’d come to see it had sealed up. It made his decision easier. He put his knife back in his mouth so as not to have one side weighted down more than the other and leapt forward. He almost didn’t make it, because his feet stuck to the ground at the last minute. It was a clumsy landing on the first stone and he rocked forward, arms going back to balance himself as he dropped to a crouch. Fingers grabbed at the edge of the rock to help keep him from tipping over. The dragons were growling worse, lifting their long necks to eye him. They were agitated by his presence here. Claws clicked on their stones as they watched, debating whether to leave him to the lava or attack him where he was.

    The fingers on one hand strayed too close to the lava. He pulled the hand back up quickly but it was too late. Melted skin ran down his fingers. The fingertips were gone and he could see the edges of bones sticking from it. He ran a thumb through the ooze that was pooling in his palm experimentally before wiping his hand off on the stone. His rock was hotter than the floor he had left; it took off the melted flesh as well as a few new layers. He eyed the next rock before springing, launching himself forwards. It rocked under his weight; the same hand slipped off into the lava. He snarled, trying to regain his balance, but his feet were melting beneath him and one hand was dripping all over the rock, completely ruined from the dip in the fire. Half of the flesh had been lost to the lava while the rest was like a gooey stream to form a puddle under him. His other hand was melting slowly where it was gripping the rock and he wondered if he could make it to the other side with a hand still in good enough shape to fight.

    Click-click-click. The dragons were growling again. He snarled back at them, baring white teeth around his blade. As a group, they took to the air. They spread their translucent wings and the heat waves coming from the lava carried them upwards. He watched them warily, lifting his better hand to get his knife. He started to shift, wanting to get in a better position for the coming fight, but his feet started sliding in the boiling puddle beneath him.

    The dragons tucked their wings in close to their bodies, dropping like stones towards him. He managed to slash the first but the second hit him with a force that almost sent him flying from his rock. The knife went flying, lost to the lava, and he was forced to grab hold of his stone. Claws tore gouges in his back and he clawed at them with a bare hand. One dragon took off three fingers in one bite as another rammed into him from the other side. The rock lurched to one side, tilting dangerously as his tight hold on it pulled him with it. He was forced to give up fighting and huddled on the rock instead, snarling hatred as he concentrated on keeping it from tilting over. Claws caught him in his ribcage and he felt the bones shatter as the dragon gave a vicious wrench of its foot. Teeth went for his single good eye and he ducked his head, lashing out blindly. Fangs sunk into his bicep and gave a ferocious twist; he heard the bone snap, felt the skin tear.

    And then, with shrieks, they were all gone. They spread their wings and vanished, letting the heat carry them far out of view. He remained as he was for several moments before slowly pushing himself up. His hands were useless. The broken one couldn’t support his weight and his other hand was missing at the wrist. He pulled himself up with his abdominal muscles, casting a look around to try and figure out where the dragons had gone and what had made them leave.

    Red eyes stared back at him. Something black shifted at the far end of the lava, twisted shadows through the wavering air. The eyes didn’t waver; they were sharp and clear as they stared back at him. His mouth opened and shut soundlessly and he struggled to get to his feet. He couldn’t move; his legs had melted enough that he was stuck to the rock.

    The shadows pulled themselves away from the wall, starting towards him, and faded out. He could hear his breath in his ears, sharp and rapid. He tried to get up again, lurching upwards only to find his legs unresponsive. He twisted, searching the darkness with a wide red eye. He found the gaze behind him, drifting off to his right. The shadows had materialized there, floating above the lava. He could almost make out its face; in the darkness of its being he could see a wide, wide smile that chilled him to the bones.

    “Go away,” he managed to get out.

    He struggled fiercely, trying with everything he had to get up. On the fifth try his legs separated from the stone with a sucking sound. Thick trails of liquid flesh went from what was left of his shins to the rock and he turned on unsteady legs. The rock tilted beneath him and his feet were slowly sliding in the mess on the rock. The flesh on the soles of his feet were gone, so that it was the bone sinking into the thick puddle of melted flesh and muscle, a puddle large enough that it was trickling down the sides of the stone to dissolve in the lava lake.

    Run, his mind told him. Run, run, run!

    The creature was between him and his exit, which had opened again. It wasn’t directly in his path but there was no way it wouldn’t be able to intercept him, not with the speed it could move at. His lungs burned inside of him; the air he was breathing was burning him from the inside out as he drew in short, ragged breaths.

    It was a blur as it raced towards him, fangs bared and red eyes a gateway straight to the lowest depths of hell. He leapt, almost overshooting the next rock. It lurched forward under his feet and he had to jump as soon as he touched it. He didn’t make the next rock, not with a faltered beginning to the jump. He caught the rock with one knee. The other leg fell into the lava, sucked under the fiery liquid from foot to thigh. He pulled himself up, sliding on the stone but forcing himself to continue onwards. His leg was melting out from under him but he could not be caught, not by that creature, not again not again not again never again!

    Icy fingers skimmed across his throat before racing down his arms. He leapt clear of the touch for the walkway he’d taken to get here, but his leg gave out from under him as he touched the stone ledge. He landed heavily, unable to catch himself with his arms. The wrist he tried to use to stop his blow just skid under him and he cracked his chin against the ground, rolling onto his side. He could hear a light sizzling, could hear his cheek melting as he lay on the floor.

    Red eyes stared down at him; that cold, cold smile…The shadows spread and thickened, a blanket of blackness in the air. One hug and he was lost forever, tucked inside a chilled embrace to rot away where not even Niklas could save him. It dropped towards him. He could not get up. He curled up into a ball on his side, leaving layers of his face behind as he moved.



    When Crawford came in the next morning, he found his younger teammates on the floor between the beds. Schuldich’s bed was a mess, the covers kicked roughly aside, the pillows scattered on the floor, evidence of a quick exit. He was sitting with his back against his bed, blue eyes staring forward dully. One knee was bent and the other leg outstretched; Farfarello was sitting between his legs, sprawled backwards so his back was to Schuldich’s chest. His head was lolled to one side as he stared in the same direction Schuldich was, his arms folded tightly over his chest as if hugging himself. For several moments, neither of them moved. Finally Schuldich turned his head to regard his leader with tired eyes. Farfarello didn’t budge; he made no sign that he’d noticed the precognitive’s entrance.

    Schuldich couldn’t remember what had woken him up, but whatever it had been, it was enough that he’d been out of bed and over by Farfarello before he even registered he was awake. It had taken a rough shake and a fierce slam of his gift to get the youth to respond; he had known somehow that if he didn’t hurry the teenager would be in serious trouble. Farfarello had been sprawled on his back on the bed and had come to his senses with a ragged gasp. His yellow eye had been blank with a terror Schuldich had never seen before. As soon as the Nightmare registered who was standing over him he had bounced up from the bed, latching onto Schuldich. The force of his lunge had sent them both crashing to the floor and Schuldich’s snarled reprimands had died on his lips when he realized the younger child was shaking badly.

    They hadn’t moved for two hours. Schuldich didn’t have the strength to get back up and Farfarello had trembled for almost an hour, buried against the German. He’d tried to get some answer out of the other Talent but all he’d gotten was a hoarse whisper of “Shadows” as an explanation. Schuldich had given up trying, rocked as he was by the lingering panic and fear that had turned the crackle of the other’s mind into a desperate hum. That had been three hours ago. They had been sitting here together since, though once Farfarello stopped shaking he’d loosened his death grip on his older teammate and shifted positions. Schuldich had been unable to fall back asleep. Whatever had woken him had cut deeply enough that his gift was too agitated to calm down again, and Farfarello hadn’t helped. Once he had settled down enough to move he’d gone back on the alert, yellow eye scanning the room for intruders.

    “I need some coffee,” Schuldich informed Crawford, “very, very badly.”

    “Apparently so,” was the precognitive’s answer.

    Schuldich nudged the Nightmare. “Get up,” he told him. “It’s dawn and I need a hot drink.”

    Farfarello slowly unfolded his arms and pushed himself up. Schuldich took hold of his bed with one hand, using it to help him get back to his feet. His legs were asleep and his ass was numb from sitting there for so long. He wasn’t entirely sure why he had allowed the Nightmare to stay with him for so long. In the end he decided it was because of that fear in Farfarello’s gaze, because anything that could scare the Nightmare that badly after all of the things he’d seen in that Talent’s fucked up mind had to be something truly horrendous. He didn’t think he wanted to ask what he’d woken Farfarello up from, in case the youth decided he wanted to share.

    ~Well?~ Crawford sent him, smooth voice washing across Schuldich’s shields.

    /Something he saw,/ the German answered, wincing as his legs started to wake up with a rush of hot prickles. He rubbed at a thigh, reaching out to push Farfarello further away so he had room to stretch. /It scared the bejeezus out of him./ Crawford didn’t respond; he just accepted the answer and catalogued it for later. When Schuldich thought his legs were awake enough that he could walk safely, he stepped past Farfarello and headed towards the door.

    Six in the morning was generally too early for Schuldich to eat anything real. He usually settled for coffee and some fruit, and the real food would come later when he’d been awake longer. Seeing as how he had already been awake for five hours, however, he was very ready to eat. Crawford turned as he approached and Farfarello followed behind him silently, a three person train heading for the stairwell. A door was open down the hall and they could hear voices; a team was settling in for a few days of rest. Schuldich did a lazy mental scan. They had decent shields, all four of them. He didn’t care enough to press deeper against them to see who they were or what gifts they wielded; he was too hungry to care about such little things.

    He didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, however, because someone stepped out of the room as they passed and almost ran Crawford over. Crawford didn’t bother looking his way. There was no reason to- the other man had taken a quick step back to avoid collision so Crawford didn’t see any need to acknowledge him. Crawford didn’t give ground and he didn’t waste time on fools. Schuldich glanced at the other Talent as they passed, offering a wide, cold smirk. Right behind the blonde in the doorway was a redhead, a tall, willowy man with sharp green eyes and shaggy hair.

    He was familiar, but Schuldich only got a glimpse of him before he was past the room. There was a low snarl from someone in that room and as they reached the stairs, a voice stopped them: “So it’s true. The mighty team has shifted once more.” Crawford stopped at the top of the stairs, turning around and leaning against the railing in a languid move. Schuldich looked back to see who was addressing them. Farfarello didn’t really care. He took another step up to Schuldich’s step and stopped, but only had a small glance to spare for the one behind them. Schuldich reached out, touching the redhead’s mind. He was so familiar, with those angry eyes and that sneer on his mouth. That gaze turned on Schuldich, locking eyes with him. “I see you actually kept the brat, though one has to wonder for how much longer before you decide you don’t need him, either.”

    Recognition hit and Schuldich sent a sharp command towards Farfarello. It was Owen, the redhead Irishman whose brother Schuldich had replaced in Nacht. /Don’t kill him,/ he sent at the Irishman, hiding a wince when the telepathic message let more of the Nightmare’s gift into his mind. /He’s mine. Don’t you dare kill him if he touches you./ Farfarello frowned at him for such an order but didn’t protest.

    “So what sort of child did you choose to replace Aeris with?” Owen demanded, turning his glare on Farfarello.

    Schuldich felt Farfarello’s power uncurl, felt it lash out to meet Owen’s inquiring brush halfway. He didn’t kill the other man but Schuldich felt Owen’s shields shudder, felt them crack in places. The blow was enough to send him staggering backwards and he had to grab at a watching teammate for balance. His breath came in ragged gasps as he struggled to get the feeling of that dark, hot power out of his mind. Schuldich knew firsthand what it felt like but he had no pity for the other man. A cold smirk curled his lips as he forced his telepathy through the cracks Farfarello had made, twining hooks where he liked. It was a quick movement, in and out before Owen could gather his wits enough to slam his shields shut.

    Farfarello looked to Schuldich for his approval of the attack, his single eye silently asking if he’d watered down his gift enough. Schuldich bared his teeth at him in a grin as a response, and the crackle in the back of his thoughts was pleased. Schuldich laughed, tugging at the sleeve of Farfarello’s pajama shirt, and started up the stairs once more. “Don’t touch him,” he called to the other telepath. Crawford was already several steps ahead of them. He had given Owen a few seconds of his time and headed away when the other telepath bored him. His teammates followed after and Schuldich sent the still reeling telepath a final look over his shoulder. “He’s the Cabinet’s chosen one,” he said, “and they don’t care who he kills as long as he’s theirs.”

    “Crawford?” the man steadying Owen asked. Schuldich rolled his eyes as he followed the precognitive. Crawford was pretty high in the ranks of Talents. He was damn good and the Council liked him, and so many of the other teams would look to him to see what he was doing. They wouldn’t take Schuldich’s word but they would take Crawford’s. It was such a pity that the American never exploited his position. What a waste…

    “He’s already killed three,” was Crawford’s calm answer, referring to the two instructors and the telepath Farfarello had destroyed their first meal together. Then he was through the door to the dining room, and his team followed him. Even as the door swung shut behind them, Schuldich could feel Owen’s hatred and anger radiating through his empathy. A smirk curled his lips and he raked a hand through his hair. The last time the two Talents had met, they had parted with the promise of a fight. As long as Schwarz had nowhere to be- which, with Farfarello on the team, they didn’t- perhaps the two could finally test their gifts against each other. The thought pleased him.

    Breakfast was a relatively peaceful affair. Schuldich stuffed his face. He hadn’t been hungry until Crawford showed up, and now he was starving. Farfarello ate a potato, ignoring the fact that potatoes were not breakfast food. The cooks for the teams always insured that there was some sort of potato present at every meal after Farfarello had taken to them so readily. Sometimes there was only enough of it for him, and it hadn’t taken the other team long to figure out not to touch it. Schuldich wasn’t sure if the younger teenager ate them because he liked them or because he’d given one to the Nightmare that first meal.

    After breakfast they had a small break, and then Farfarello was to go to his sparring lessons. Schuldich was planning on skipping the tagalong business and napping while the Irishman was away. It was just after six and he’d gotten two hours of sleep and been away for five. If he didn’t nap this morning he’d end up napping mid-afternoon and then his sleep schedule would get thrown all out of order. Schuldich sipped at his glass of juice, bringing the cup back to their rooms with him. Owen’s door- marked Arglist- was closed. Schwarz continued down the hall to their quarters and Schuldich set his coffee on the nightstand before letting himself fall to the mattress.

    Something landed on his back, and he turned his head to peer towards the side of his bed. Farfarello was calmly picking up the pillows and blankets that had been scattered last night and was dropping them on top of the German haphazardly. One pillow landed on his back, then the blanket was dropped to cover half his back, and the other pillow ended up on his calves. “Very helpful,” he drawled.

    The Irishman didn’t answer but retreated to his own bed, taking up his usual crossed legs position to guard over Schuldich. The telempath let out a weary sigh, shifting so he could rearrange what his teammate had draped over him. He sighed, stretching out on the mattress when he was comfortable. Farfarello’s mind was calm and he could feel himself relaxing quickly. He wondered how long Crawford would actually let him sleep. The American didn’t know what had happened this morning or when, unless his gift showed him that something would happen that wasn’t overly detrimental to the unit. He’d kick the precognitive if he got him back out of bed before nine.

    The man in question showed up as Schuldich lingered between dozing and full unconsciousness. Blue eyes were mostly closed and he was only dimly aware that the older Talent had shown up to get Farfarello. He let his eyes fall shut, let their words wash over him as he slowly fell away.

    “It is time for your lessons. Where is your weapon?”

    “I lost it,” was the easy response.

    A flash of liquid fire and searing red eyes had Schuldich bolting upright with a strangled gasp on his lips. His teammates were gone. A quick glance around showed him that it was after ten; the numbers glowed cheerfully on his clock. He took a deep breath, lifting his hand to rub at his chest. He could feel his heartbeat racing against his fingers, beating so fast it was painful. He took another deep breath and let it out shakily, letting the fear fade. By the time the last traces had disappeared, he couldn’t remember what had woken him up. Frowning, he raked his fingers through his hair and pushed his blankets aside to get up. Had he really slept four hours already? It felt like he had just closed his eyes for a moment, and he was more tired now than he had been before.

    He figured a shower would wake him up, so the bathroom was his first stop. He took a quick, hot shower, and it burned away the last bits of his exhaustion. It wasn’t until he was toweling dry that he realized Farfarello hadn’t shown up when he woke. He searched outwards for the Nightmare and found that both men were still out of the quarters. Crawford and Farfarello were walking the grounds with two old instructors who had been around when Rosenkreuz had had their last Nightmare. A touch against Crawford’s shields let the precognitive know he’d woken up and the American passed on what the teachers were telling them. Schuldich listened as he dressed, tugging on khaki cargoes and a form fitting black shirt. A rubber band kept his wet hair off his back and boots finished the outfit. Satisfied, he stepped out of the room.

    He was in the mood for a fight.

    /Bored, Irishman?/ he cast at Owen’s shields.

    /What do you want, brat?/ came the acid response.

    /Just saying hello,/ Schuldich answered breezily. He felt the other man’s gift wash over his mind and kept his shields firmly in place. He rather disliked the feeling of another’s telepathy testing his shields, but it was better than Farfarello’s gift had been. /I believe we have some things to settle./ He let an image of the sparring rooms filter from his mind to the other’s.

    /Perhaps,/ was the telepath’s answer.

    Schuldich smirked, letting himself down to the first floor of the west wing. The other telepath would come; he knew it. At the other end of the hall he went down the stairs to Rosenkreuz’s main floor. Right now the students were in classes, so the halls were abandoned. He made his way past the library, drinking in the tangled thoughts and emotions of the young Talents as he passed the classrooms. An arched doorway led to the sparring rooms, and the teacher sitting at the desk looked up when he stepped through. Blue and brown met and held, judging each other. Teachers saw no reason to pay respects to the teams; most of them rather resented those that made it into fieldwork. Schuldich turned his gaze away after a bored inspection of the Belgian, eyeing the rooms. The entrance walls were clear, made of thick plastic. All of the rooms were occupied by at least four people. The teacher in charge of this clump was rotating between rooms, teleporting from one chamber to another to judge the students and to beat up anyone who was horsing around.

    Schuldich looked back at the first teacher, a telekinetic, and offered him a chilling smirk. It didn’t impress the man, but he wasn’t aiming for that. It was just a show that he didn’t respect the other man. “I want a room,” he said simply, lifting his hand to point at one. “That one will do.” He didn’t wait for a response but headed for it. There were students inside but he didn’t care. He’d kick them out and divide them up among the other rooms.

    “Do you have a partner?” the teacher demanded.

    Owen chose that moment to show up. He was taller than Schuldich by several inches despite the German’s growth spurt. Cold green eyes flicked to the teacher before turning on Schuldich, and the scowl on his lips deepened. He was wearing black jeans that were snug on long legs and a green long sleeved t-shirt. It didn’t take an empath to pick up on the hostility radiating off of him and the teacher finally looked interested in what was going on. Schuldich turned away from Owen, closing the last few feet to the chamber’s doors. The telekinetic let up the bolt and the telepath and telempath stepped inside. The students looked wary, stopping in what they were doing when they realized they had company.

    Schuldich wiggled his fingers at them. “Scat,” he said.

    The teacher teleported in behind them when they hesitated, giving one a sharp smack upside the head to get her moving. “Get out,” he ordered the child flatly. The five scurried towards the exit, sending curious looks towards the older men as they passed. The teacher left on foot, flicking them a considering glance, and divided his students up again for new rooms. Owen shut the door behind them. Schuldich crossed to the middle of the room, stretching his arms lazily above his head before turning to face the older man.

    Owen moved first, taking a few quick steps forward. Schuldich tucked aside his speed for later, moving to meet him. Most of the fight was mental, telepathy brushing telepathy, mental fingers digging into shields to try and pry them apart. The fight they wanted could be done without any physical interaction at all. The sparring was used as a distraction, testing each other’s abilities to keep all of their shields in place when busy. Telepaths had core shields that were permanent once they had them in place; the outer levels could come up and down at will. Whenever Schuldich spoke to one of his teammates with his gift he had to peel two layers down to reach out towards them. Entering Farfarello’s mind so deeply for the Cabinet required him to take down everything but his core shields. He knew his shields weren’t in the best shape they could be, as they had been shattered multiple times in the past by Farfarello’s gift. Core shields could only break so many times before they couldn’t be put back together again, and he couldn’t remember how many times Farfarello’s gift had overpowered him.

    So he was entering the fight knowing he was handicapped, but he had a trick of his own. The strings he’d scattered in Owen’s mind earlier helped him pull at both sets of Owen’s shields as he alternated between prying at the outer layers and beating against the core guards. It didn’t take Owen long to realize what was going on and a snarl made his face even uglier than it normally was. His gift hit Schuldich’s mind with a brutal slam, and Schuldich could feel the shudder in his bones. Owen felt it, too- there was a glint in his eye as he realized the younger Talent’s shields were wounded.

    Schuldich threaded his empathy through the cracks he’d managed to make, forcing pain down into the other’s aura. Fists flew and were blocked, kicks were dodged, and the two danced around each other as a deadlier dance went unseen by the staring students. There were telepaths in the bunch and they could sense what was going on; they watched with a bit of horrified fascination as the older two tried to destroy each other. Schuldich got through two of Owen’s outermost shields right when the other shattered one of his. He felt it crumble around him. Whereas he was breaking the other man’s, Owen had completely taken his out. It must be something the man had learned at Rosenkreuz in one of the advanced years Schuldich had skipped. He didn’t like it. Broken shields could be put back together. He had to rebuild that one from scratch.

    With a blur he was behind the other man, and a vicious kick to the side of the Irishman’s face from behind had him crashing to the ground. He was back on his feet quickly and Schuldich blurred to meet him, using his gift so that it seemed he was phasing from one side of the room to the other. Mentally, they had never let go of each other. Double fists sank into Owen’s stomach before the man registered that he was there and a ram from his shoulder had Owen slamming into the wall. The heel of Owen’s hand caught him on his jaw, snapping his head back and to the side painfully. The other fist came towards him and he caught it, tearing at shields that should have been equal to his, that were stronger because of Farfarello’s interference.

    Owen wrenched at his hand, twisting it to one side painfully, and slammed his head forward to crack their foreheads together. Schuldich snarled at the pain, reaching up with his free hand to grab hold of Owen’s shaggy red hair. He yanked the man’s head back even as he twisted, bringing his knee up into his side with a savage force.

    The second shield shattered under the Irishman’s steady press. The feel of it falling to dust was disorienting and he forced himself forwards, dropping every outer shield he had to push everything his gift had against the other’s mind. It was a dangerous and stupid thing to do but combined with what he already had tangled through Owen’s mind, it was enough to break cleanly through what the man had left. They were both down to their core shields and the hits were deeper, more savage. Gifts tangled together with hot anger. Schuldich tasted blood but couldn’t remember being hit in the mouth. They were barely aware of the physical things around them as they struggled for dominance.

    He felt a creak beneath him and shoved forwards, forcing himself towards the weak spot. It was giving-

    Hot pain and hotter blood sent Schuldich stumbling back, and he struggled between giving up what he had in Owen’s mind to investigate or pressing forward. His gift warned him not to retreat; he would lose his chance and concentrating on something else would make it easier for Owen to get inside of him. His body was yelling warnings however, and with a snarled curse he threw Owen’s mind away from him, blurring back several feet to examine the slash across his abdomen. The fucker had a knife; his blood dripped from the jagged blade and he pressed both hands against the wound.

    The weak spot Schuldich had felt was from Owen abandoning the fight long enough to get his knife. Now his full concentration was back and Schuldich felt the man’s full gift shatter up against his shields, sending him stumbling backwards. He clawed at his shields, tucking his gift in to protect them as well as he could under the ferocious onslaught. Hot blood on his fingers warned him that he needed a doctor, that he needed stitches. He ignored it; the injury would be far, far worse if Owen were to get inside.

    Owen took another step forward, knife raised, and something rammed into his shoulder. He went stumbling to one side and his concentration was shattered. Schuldich felt the telepathy retreat from his mind as Owen turned to face the new threat and he dragged together what he could of his remaining shields, building up a defense around his core again as blue eyes tried to figure out what was going on. Farfarello- the younger Irishman was inside the chambers. His yellow eye was red and his teeth were bared in a silent snarl of hatred. Owen turned on him, swinging the knife to cut Farfarello’s throat open.

    The Nightmare caught his wrist and gave it a fierce jerk. Schuldich heard bones snapping, cracking like a bag of popcorn except many times louder. Owen yelled at the pain and Farfarello yanked him closer, driving his fist forward.

    Owen gave a gurgled gasp, sagging against Farfarello, and it took Schuldich a moment to realize Farfarello’s hand was buried in the telepath’s middle. They stood this way for a long moment, blood running down between them to pool on the floor, and then Farfarello let go of his wrist to grab his shoulder, pushing him backwards. The hand he’d sunk into Owen’s stomach was completely covered in blood and his fingers were curled around a length of the man’s intestines. He pulled his arm back, tugging more free from the hole he’d made. Owen’s breath was wet and he gave a slight moan; green and red were locked together and from the flickering of Owen’s mind Schuldich realized the Nightmare’s gift had him.

    The intestine was looped around Owen’s neck and Farfarello’s hands closed around his throat, fingers digging in before jerking free in two directions. Schuldich looked away as blood exploded everywhere where Farfarello’s thumb tore the jugular in two, and Farfarello lifted his leg between them, his knee to his chest and his foot planted against Owen’s chest. He lifted his hands free of the man’s neck as he gave him a fierce kick backwards, and Owen hit the ground roughly and slid, leaving bloody streaks behind him.

    Farfarello eyed the fallen body for a few moments before lifting his hand to his mouth, licking a few fingers clean. He turned to face Schuldich and his eye was yellow once more. Blood covered his clothes and was spattered on his face and in his hair. He pointed his clean fingers at Schuldich’s wound. “He got you.”

    “I didn’t notice,” the telempath answered dryly. He cast a final look towards Owen’s dead body before sighing and starting towards the door. Farfarello reached for him again and he shot him a Look. “Don’t touch me when you’re all gooey and stuff,” he warned the other man, and Farfarello obediently let his arm fall. Crawford was waiting outside the room when Schuldich stepped out and the German raised an eyebrow at the precognitive.

    Crawford lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “He didn’t mind watching until you were cut. He wouldn’t be restrained.”

    “Feh.” Schuldich glanced down at the mess he was making on the floor. “Whatever. I need a band aid.”

    “Maybe something more than that,” was Crawford’s response, and with a hand on Schuldich’s elbow the three started away. Schuldich wanted to shrug him off but got dizzy when he started to and decided maybe he should just accept the help this time. Two dozen students and two teachers watched them go, the former with a bit of stunned horror over what they’d seen- as they were too young to have killed anyone yet- and the latter with weary resignation that the chambers would have to be cleaned.

Part 10
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