Part Eighteen
March 1996 – April 1996

    Twenty-one years old.

    Schuldich considered this from where he sat on the stairs of the pool, his elbows propped on the tile that surrounded it. Nagi was further out from him, wandering slowly back and forth around the shallow end. He had never been in a pool before, and had been a bit wary of getting in until Schuldich had gone first. It wasn't really hot enough to be swimming, but why not? They were currently staying at one of Japan's fancier hotels, stationed in Nagasaki. They had just finished up work with their last client here in Japan. There were a few loose strings to tidy up but April was almost here, just under two weeks away. April signaled a brief loss of freedom when Schwarz was shipped back to Rosenkreuz.

    Schuldich wouldn't care so much if he could tell himself they would only be there a couple days. He wouldn't lie to himself, though. This wouldn't be like the other breaks he'd taken with his teams; Crawford wouldn't bother enlisting Nagi in classes if they were going to be there less than a week. That would be pointless. They had to be there long enough for the boy to actually learn something, long enough for the doctors to sate their curiosity about a Japanese Talent. More than long enough for the Cabinet to examine the Nightmare-Dream relationship. And even though Crawford had said that they would wait, that didn't mean they wanted to, and he hadn't made any progress. All he'd managed to accomplish these past few years was some severe injuries to his shields and a slide in his questionable sanity. They weren't going to be happy.

    He sighed, lowering his gaze from where he'd been studying the cloudless sky, and looked towards Nagi. The twelve year old was idly running his fingers across the surface of the water, thinking his own thoughts quietly. He wasn't looking forward to going to Rosenkreuz, either. He'd never been there before but he knew from what Schuldich had told him that it wasn't going to be a pleasant experience. They'd worked together for months to get the shields around his mind fixed. The shields couldn't hide things from Schuldich, not when the inner layers were made out of Schuldich's gift, but the outer shields the youth had managed to build and strengthen would make all the difference when he was turned over to the teachers and put within the range of jealous classmates.

    Nagi slowly lowered himself, sinking until just his head was above water. His hands moved beneath the surface, fingers flicking to create little waves and bubbles. Schuldich considered telling him that he was far too easily entertained, but he knew it was just a distraction. They would have their work finished completely within a week, and the final week would be for sending finishing reports and getting things organized for their return and stay. Crawford would be taking care of that; the younger three of the team would have nothing to do.

    Schuldich sighed, pulling his arms into the pull from the stairs, and shifted to find a more comfortable position. Nagi glanced his way at the movement, but Schuldich waited until he was resettled to look back towards the telekinetic.

    The water… looked wrong.

    Schuldich frowned, gazing past Nagi. The deep end of the pool was dark; what had been clear water was murky now. Shadows fell across the water, penetrating straight down to the bottom. Schuldich considered this a few moments, watching the waves carefully. Or rather, the lack of waves, because the deep end was still as glass. The waves stopped right above where the slope started, some five feet back from where Schwarz's youngest rested. As Schuldich watched, a large bubble broke in the middle of the deep end.

    Nagi turned and looked that way, curious over his teammate's distraction. Schuldich didn't have to touch his mind to know that he couldn't see it. A few more bubbles broke on the surface, and something in the darkness shifted.

    Schuldich held out his hand in a beckon to his teammate. "Nagi," he said, and the telekinetic glanced back his way. "Come here, slowly."

    Nagi didn't question him; he didn't understand but he would never question Schuldich. He carefully straightened and started towards his older teammate. Schuldich wasn't looking at him, instead staring past his shoulder at where the bubbles had started to move. They were heading towards the shallow end, moving faster than Nagi was. Schuldich didn't know if whatever it was could affect his youngest teammate but he had been hoping not to attract its attention just in case. The water of the shallow end suddenly broke into the deep, a line of waves streaking across the surface only to be broken by the bubbles. Nagi held out his hand for Schuldich's and the German grabbed him by his wrist, hauling the boy towards him. He stood even as he yanked the boy with him, and by some trick of Nagi's gift the boy weighed nothing. He lifted him easily, taking a few quick steps backwards out of the pool, and set him down again, pushing the youth behind him as he watched the bubbles.

    The bubbles went all the way to the base of the stairs and stopped, but Schuldich still couldn't see anything beneath the surface. Then, slowly, a head broke through the waves, and a woman pushed herself up. She was only visible where she was above water, and she stared up at Schuldich and Nagi. Her skin was rotting, decayed away. Plants were plastered against blue tinged skin, and the flesh on her face hung so loose that Schuldich could only see the bottom sliver of her eyes through her eye holes. Her hair was a mangled, knotted mess. She just stood there and stared at them in silence, and Schuldich stared back. At length her mouth moved, but her jaws and her lips weren't aligned right, so the bottom part of her face just bobbed limply where it hung off her skull. No sounds came, but water trickled out of parted lips, and a water bug fell with it.

    The talking was too much; there was a small sound, and then Schuldich realized her skin had torn along the top of her skull. Her flesh just slid down her bones in a limp pile, vanishing the moment it touched the water. Somehow the hair remained attached to the skull, and the eyes as well. They were rolling wildly in their sockets.

    "…Right," Schuldich said, reaching behind him to lightly push at Nagi. "We're done swimming for the day."

    Nagi headed towards the glass doors that would let them back inside the hotel, gift plucking up their towels. Schuldich moved backwards, keeping his eyes on the skeleton. At last the eyes settled down, staring straight over at him, and with a small grinding noise the jaws curved, bones shifting and teeth moving until it was smiling at him. It tilted forward, bony fingers taking hold of the edge of the pool, and dragged itself slowly out. Its skin had caught on its hips and it hung there like a sick sort of skirt. Blood spread out beneath it, as when the skeleton started moving, its feet broke through the rotted flesh.

    "This is where we move faster," Schuldich informed his teammate.

    Nagi had his hand on the waistband of Schuldich's swimming trunks, helping guide him because he was moving backwards, and he sped up. Shadows felt over them as they stepped under the awning and then air conditioning rushed over his wet skin and they were inside. Schuldich slid the glass door shut again and threw the lock into place. The skeleton followed all the way up to the door, managing to lose most of her body along the way, and just stood on the other side of the glass to consider him. Her jaws were clacking, opening and shutting rapidly with little click-click-click noises that carried through the glass. She reached up and drummed bony fingers along the door, eyes rolling again.

    "Mine," she said. Click-click-click. "He's mine."

    Schuldich was too busy paying attention to her to realize that Farfarello had moved up behind them, so when his lover spoke up it was a fight not to jump. "Thought I killed her," the Irishman mused. Nagi was watching them, looking back and forth between them with uneasy eyes. He'd been told what was happening to Schuldich, the bleeding of the gifts, and while he'd seen Farfarello spaz on his own, and Schuldich react to things he saw on his own, this was the first time he'd seen them actually working together. It was the first time he'd been around them when they both saw it, when they both could see and hear something that was lost to him, something that wasn't real.

    "Go away," Farfarello told the lady, leaning forward until his face was just a few inches away from the door. She'd turned her eyes on him and her jaws were clicking faster. Both hands were on the glass, ten fingers rapping eagerly against it, encouraged by how close the Nightmare had moved to her.

    Something exploded against the glass. Schuldich saw something dark moving behind her but before he could register what it was, it had thrown itself up against the door. The skeleton let out a wail, shattering to dust. The entire door rocked under the impact, and the collision- and what had hit the door- had both Farfarello and Schuldich leaping back like startled cats. Schuldich banged into one of the tables and had to grab at it for balance. Farfarello ended up on the floor, as he'd retreated right into one of the chairs and tripped over it.

    Just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. Schuldich stared at the door with wild eyes, his heart racing. The memory of red eyes burned into him and he swore, reaching up to run a hand across his face. With a final, wary look towards the door, he pushed himself up and helped his lover back to his feet. Once there, Farfarello made no move to approach the door. He was content to stay behind Schuldich, letting the German act as a barricade. Their sudden wild retreat had startled Nagi, and he was staring at them with wide eyes. Schuldich barely noticed him, eyes locked on the glass to make sure that thing wasn't coming back.

    "Jesus Christ," Schuldich murmured, yanking at his hair in an agitated gesture. "See if I go outside again while we're here. God damn it."

    "Mm," was the quiet agreement from behind him. Schuldich glanced back at his lover, at the flat line of the Irishman's mouth. Farfarello knew more than he did what that thing was, and Schuldich took note of the unusually pale color of the teenager's skin with an uneasy feeling in his stomach. Schuldich took a deep breath, flicked a final look towards the door, and then beckoned for Nagi to move towards them. With a wary look towards the door, Nagi started over. He didn't know what had happened but he was aware that whatever the two had seen had shaken both of them. He'd seen Schuldich unnerved before by what Farfarello's gift showed him, but he had never seen Farfarello react in such a way. His hands wrapped around Schuldich's wrist in a death grip, wanting to offer some sort of comfort even as he desperately wanted some for himself. On Schuldich's other side, one of Farfarello's hands closed around his other wrist.

    Schuldich considered the situation, wanting something to take his mind off what he'd just seen. "Right," he said. "I'm going to order some food to be delivered to my room. We're going to go upstairs and watch a movie and we're going to take a break from thinking for a couple of hours. Any arguments?" His companions were silent. Schuldich took a deep breath and forced himself to turn his back on the pool door, leading his teammates towards the elevators. Neither let go of him until they were locked in their room.


    The next day, Farfarello kept his power away from Schuldich. When Schuldich turned to him to be let inside, Farfarello silently pulled out of his grip and retreated. Schuldich followed him, not particularly wanting to go inside after yesterday's stunt, but knowing that Farfarello going without it just took a toll on his partner's mind. He stood at the foot of the bed, watching as Farfarello sat down on it. The Irishman had been quiet since it had happened, still shaken twenty-four hours later. Schuldich studied him for a few moments, but Farfarello didn't look up at him. That yellow eye was fixed on his lap, where his fingers were loosely laced together.

    "There's nothing saying it's going to come back," Schuldich told him. "Keeping what you have locked in your mind isn't going to help you."

    "It's hungry," was Farfarello's answer. He flicked his gaze towards Schuldich, and the German studied his thin frown. "It's getting stronger. There's a chance it won't come back. There's a chance it will. It didn't get what it wanted. It wasn't coming for that. It was just taunting us."

    "Maybe that's all it's going to do. It's been hanging around here for a couple months and hasn't done anything terrible," Schuldich pointed out, and Farfarello was on his feet immediately. He found himself unconsciously taking a step back when Farfarello moved towards him. Something close to anger twisted on the Irishman's face, but before he could ask what was wrong, his lover spoke.

    "You've seen it before."

    Schuldich decided that this was a Bad Thing. "A couple times," he hedged. "It's never done anything before. Just looked at me." Something flickered across Schuldich's empathy, almost like panic, and alarm ate a hole in his stomach. The teenager turned sharply away from him, wiping the back of his hand along his mouth, and Schuldich could see that his fingers were shaking. He thought maybe he really didn't want to know what this thing was that could bother his teammate so badly, but he had to. He took a few steps towards the other man, reaching towards him, and faltered when the Nightmare flinched. "Jesus, Farf…" he breathed. "What the hell is it?"

    Farfarello turned towards him again, a haunted look burning in the back of his eye. Schuldich had seen that look in his eye only one before, and his blood ran cold at the memory. Two and a half years ago, now… Being startled out of sleep with the knowledge that if he couldn't get to Farfarello, the younger Talent would be lost for good. He still remembered the way Farfarello had clung to him that night, shaking and buried against him. "The Shadows," Farfarello murmured. "The Shadows. She said that it would find out about you, but I didn't believe her."

    Schuldich had no clue who 'she' was. "But what is it?" he wanted to know. Farfarello gave a sharp shake of his head, and Schuldich grabbed at his arm. "Farfarello," he tried, but his teammate was trying to yank out of his grasp. They fought with each other, a desperate sort of struggle. "Jei," Schuldich finally said, and the younger assassin froze. Schuldich took hold of his arms, turning the younger man to face him. "What is it?" he asked again.

    Farfarello was staring through him. "I don't know," came the answer at last, spoken on barely more than a breath. "I don't know…" Silence fell between them for several minutes, Schuldich staring down at the Irishman and his lover staring through his chest. Farfarello didn't know what it was but he knew something, and Schuldich waited for him to say it. At last Farfarello gave one final attempt to pull away, one hand lifting to press against Schuldich's chest. Schuldich let him move back but didn't let him move away. "I don't know. But it… started everything."

    A vision flickered between them at Farfarello's touch, something he'd watched years ago. A young boy, too young, waiting on his sister Caitlín to come back to the bedroom they shared. They roomed together because the boy had nightmares, because he seemed calmer and better when he had someone with him. Schuldich could hear a woman's voice in the background, murmuring about her poor, poor child. It ran over what he was watching and he remembered it, remembered being in the boy's place as he sat up- remembered what was waiting for him when he did. Red eyes and a wide smile, and a shadowy embrace. It wasn't a vision at all. It was a memory, the day Farfarello's power was strong enough to manifest itself outside of his dreams. It started everything; not the terror felt for the night but the way the nightmares started to bleed into his days and everything he saw.

    "Shit…" Schuldich murmured. "Now what?"

    "Now I sleep," was Farfarello's answer. He pulled out of Schuldich's arms. "I sleep, and try to lose it there."

    "How are you supposed to lose it like that?" Schuldich demanded.

    "The power resets itself," Farfarello answered, giving a small wave of his hand. He was still pale, still taken back by Schuldich's announcement that the German had been seeing the shadow creature for months, but his voice was firmer as he figured out what to do about it. "The dreamscape shifts. If it shifts enough, he'll be lost on the other side and it will take him longer to get back here."

    Schuldich considered this for a few moments. "We leave for Rosenkreuz in two weeks, Farfarello. We can't get you back there if you're asleep. Can you time how long you sleep?" Farfarello nodded. "Thirteen days, then," he said. "Time it right."

    He sat on the edge of the bed and watched as Farfarello laid down. The Irishman didn't bother to get comfortable, as it wouldn't matter when he shut himself down. The teenager took one deep breath and held it. Schuldich watched as his eye closed, and then abruptly, the teenager went limp. His body reacted first and his mind second; a few moments after he'd gone still he felt a wrench and it was gone, and Farfarello let his breath out. Schuldich considered him for a moment, reaching out to touch him, and winced at the cold feel to the other's skin. He remained there for a few minutes longer, studying the still form, before finally getting to his feet. He felt dizzy in the aftermath of such a sharp pull on Farfarello's power, but he moved towards the door anyway. Nagi and Crawford's door was unlocked and he let himself inside.

    "He's sleeping, then?" Crawford asked.

    "Isn't it rather pointless to ask things you already know?" Schuldich asked, voice weary, as he moved further into the room. He seated himself on Nagi's bed. His telekinetic teammate was stretched out on his stomach, fingers flying over the keyboard of his laptop computer, but he paused in what he was doing when Schuldich joined him.

    "I had everything figured out a decade ago," Crawford informed him. "I know exactly what's going to happen, but I decided the dates unimportant a long time ago. In something like this, the order of events is much more necessary to understand than exactly when they will take place."

    Schuldich considered this, then sighed and lowered himself to his back on Nagi's bed. "I still think you're an asshole."

    "Duly noted."


    Schuldich saw nothing for those thirteen days, and his sleep was the easiest it had been in years. He still had the occasional nightmares, but they weren't directly influenced by being too close to Farfarello's mind. With Farfarello's power shut down, it couldn't touch him. He kept an eye on his teammate those two weeks, noting the growing chill to Farfarello's skin with an uneasy feeling in his stomach. He'd forgotten how cold the Irishman was before, and he made sure the man was still breathing before leaving him to hang out with Nagi. The days ticked by slowly. Once things were finished with their employer he and Nagi had nothing to do for a week, so he ended up roaming the city with the telekinetic in their spare time. It was the first time since Nagi had first joined their team that he spent time with the youth like this. Farfarello had been sleeping then as well, so his power wasn't stuck in Schuldich's mind, and after Farfarello had woken back up it was rare that he didn't go where Schuldich did.

    Nagi didn't mind the Nightmare's absence at all, rather pleased to have Schuldich all to himself. They wandered wherever they liked, did whatever they wanted, and attracted stares everywhere they went. There was nine years of age difference between them, but Nagi was not a child and who and what he was made them understand each other. It was away from the other two of their team that Schuldich realized just how badly the boy needed the break. Nagi had no real problems with Crawford and did what was expected of him, but the relationships within the group had been shifting since last September, when Farfarello and Crawford had gone toe to toe. He knew Farfarello's violence and fury that night were over Schuldich, and as he began to understand in the recent months what happened that infuriated Farfarello, he worried more and more about the German's wellbeing. He wasn't stupid, and it hadn't taken him long to realize that Crawford wasn't going to do anything about it. The American couldn't stop what was happening, but he didn't even take the time to care.

    It was Crawford's team, but Nagi would listen to Schuldich first. If the team divided itself, if Schuldich were to pull himself away from the American, Nagi would go with him and nothing could keep him at Crawford's side. But Schuldich supposed it would never come to that. His opinion of the other man had changed sharply several months ago, but in the end that wasn't enough. He still trusted Crawford's power, and even on the rare chance that the Cabinet would actually reassign him to another team, he knew they weren't what he needed or wanted. He was used to Crawford. He was used to Crawford's power, his shields, the way he acted and worked. And he knew that Crawford was the best. He would be wasted anywhere else. Dislike him or not, Schwarz was where he stayed. But today he idly contemplated the idea, knowing that his call would completely shatter the group and leave Crawford with nothing.

    It satisfied him, even if it had a bitter aftertaste.

    It was after dinner that they headed back to the hotel from their last day on the city. Tonight Farfarello would wake up, if he'd timed his gift right. Schuldich didn't know yet what time their plane left, but he supposed Crawford would tell him to go to bed early if it was early enough the next morning. He dropped Nagi off in his room and went next door to the one he was staying in with Farfarello, tugging the door shut behind him and flicking one of the lights on. He stopped at the foot of Farfarello's bed, reaching out to touch skin where it showed at the base of one pants leg, and winced at the chill. He was hoping that it would fade when Farfarello woke up, but memory told him it would take a while for the Nightmare's skin to warm up to healthy levels again.

    He had his books with him but for once he wasn't interested in them, and instead stretched out on his back beside Farfarello's still form. He could feel the Irishman's breath lightly brushing over his cheek from this position, the only sign that the man was indeed still alive. He didn't like how thin it was, just the barest minimum the assassin needed to stay alive.

    He was starting to doze off when he felt a roll of heat against his mind. It brought him awake again, and he rolled onto his side to watch as the first signs of life returned to his lover. He'd never been present before when the teenager roused himself from his death-like sleep. Color returned first, not a lot but enough to take the ghost edge from his skin. His fingers twitched first, his lips next, and then his legs moved slightly. Another brush of Farfarello's power, and he could literally feel it growing, pulling itself out of the nothingness to which it'd been cast. Finally Farfarello's eye slid open, red for a few moments before it faded to yellow. And he took a deep breath, the first real breath since he'd fallen asleep thirteen days ago, and when he let it out his breathing was regular once more.

    "He lives," Schuldich said.

    "Maybe," was the response, and Schuldich grinned. Farfarello slowly pushed himself upright and Schuldich echoed the movement, listening to the roiling of the other's mind at the back of his thoughts. Farfarello turned towards him and Schuldich knew what he wanted, knew it before he even saw it in Farfarello's eye. It didn't surprise him; Farfarello had needed an outlet for his gift every other time he'd woken up from this sleep.

    "Now," Farfarello said, and Schuldich didn't protest. He did wince as ice cold fingers touched him, though, and then Farfarello's mind was pressing up against him. He fought not to instinctively pull back at the forceful shove of power against his shields, gritting his teeth and letting them go. Farfarello's power seared through him, fierce after being shut down and held back for so long. The bite of it against his thoughts hurt but the pain was there every time, so he accepted it and reached out with his power, touching Farfarello's mind in return.

    He wasn't all that surprised to find himself getting sick in the bathroom upon his return to reality a few hours later. Farfarello stood behind him, holding his hair out of his way, silently watching as his lover tried to throw his stomach up into the toilet. After years of working together, it wasn't so much what Schuldich saw that made him sick, but the lingering feeling of having his gift mashed about by a power that was stronger than his would ever be. He let Farfarello pull him upright and wandered back towards the bed, pushed down to the mattress by hands that were barely more than blocks of ice, and waited as the teenager went and fetched him a drink from the kitchen.

    Farfarello settled himself down on the mattress again, not sitting close enough to touch, but close enough that Schuldich could feel how cold he was. "You're cold," he pointed out, leaning away from the other man. "Go take a shower or something."

    "It never helped before," the other man pointed out. "It won't this time."

    "I could hope," was Schuldich's weary response.

    That night Schuldich slept under the blankets and Farfarello on top, but the cold still seeped through, and he woke up the next morning chilled to the bone. He took a long shower, working the heat back into his muscles, refusing to leave the hot spray until his skin was red. When he left Farfarello was still sitting on his bed, staring off into space. He didn't budge as Schuldich dressed, and finally the German moved to stand in front of him.

    "Earth to Farf," he said, and the yellow eye slowly focused on him. "Daydreaming?"

    Farfarello considered this and then gave a small shake of his head. "It feels wrong," he said simply. At Schuldich's frown, he elaborated. "The dreamscape feels wrong. It's out of place."

    The German considered this, wondering if they had enough time to look around before they had to leave. Finally he reached out, touching his fingertips to his lover's cold forehead. "Show me," he said. He didn't think there was anything he could do about it, but he was curious as to what Farfarello meant. He found it odd that the Irishman found a problem with his power.

    Just a breath later, the scenery changed.

    Schuldich frowned as he found himself in a wasteland. It wasn't the same he was used to. The stone pillars and altar were gone. The sand was a different color, and the ground was littered with rocks of varying sizes. Farfarello was standing beside him, arms folded over his chest as he looked around. Schuldich studied the frown on his face, and after a moment Farfarello looked towards him. If he didn't know the Irishman better, he would say that the younger man was confused.

    "This is the Valley," Farfarello said.

    Schuldich looked around again. He didn't understand the name; there was nothing to justify the name. It was flat, all the way out to the horizon. But at least Farfarello knew where they were, and he took that to be a good sign. The younger man started moving then, and Schuldich trailed behind him as he set off. He didn't move in a straight path, instead wandering this way and that- moving in the same direction always, but meandering like a drunk. Schuldich chose to leave out the weaves and followed in a straight line, deciding not to ask why the Irishman was walking in such a way. He was sure there was a reason. He wasn't sure he wanted to know why.

    "What's wrong with being here?" he asked, coming to a halt as Farfarello suddenly stopped. The man leaned over, picked up a rock the size of his fist, studied the ground where he'd gotten it from, and put it back just the way it had been. He straightened, looked around, and set off again.

    "It's wrong," came the answer. Twenty feet ahead he stopped and checked under another rock. "Something's missing."

    "Anything worth missing?" Schuldich wanted to know.

    "There's nothing here." Farfarello turned towards him. "It's empty."

    "Considering the things your imagination has chosen to spit out at the both of us, I really don't think you should be concerned. I say good riddance." But Farfarello shook his head at the words, looking around again. "You said your power rearranged things. Perhaps it moved them out, and nothing lives here anymore."

    Farfarello crouched, picking up two rocks. "No," he insisted. "They can't leave the Valley. I know."

    A flicker of an image; something Schuldich never wanted to meet in a dark alley- or anywhere, for that matter- prancing up and down at the edge of their land. A bleeding and heavily injured Farfarello, many years younger, sitting just a few feet away from them where it was safe, breathing heavily from exertion. He shook his head to clear the image away, silently reaffirming his belief that the Valley was better off without those… things. He didn't really know what looking under small rocks was supposed to do to let Farfarello know whether or not they were around, but figured he was happier not knowing. "Do tell me you're not trying to find them." Silence. "Right. I'm getting out of here. If you manage to provoke them into showing up, you can deal with them by yourself."

    "One more," Farfarello said, setting the rocks back and straightening. He absently dusted his hands off on his shirt, looking around. "Just one more. That one."

    Schuldich looked where he was pointing. A boulder had appeared out of nowhere back the way they'd come, just fifteen feet away from them. He studied it and then arched an eyebrow at Farfarello. "There's no way in hell you're going to be able to pick that thing up," he informed the young Nightmare, "or even push it over."

    Farfarello turned to face him, that familiar coldly amused smile playing on his lips. "Then perhaps," he started to say, but he choked on the rest of his sentence as he stared over Schuldich's shoulder. The German watched, startled, as the blood drained from his teammate's face. The sight of it stopped his heart in his chest and he knew that he didn't want to- and really shouldn't- turn around. But he found himself moving anyway, turning halfway to see what Farfarello had spotted. His first thought was that it was going to be the Valley's missing inhabitants. He was wrong, very wrong.

    There was a black patch of something floating above the ground. After a moment it shifted, and two intense blood red eyes appeared in the black mist, glowing with an unholy light. Farfarello made a soft sound in his throat and took a step back. Schuldich's blue eyes bounced back to teammate at the Irishman's retreat. He sent another wary glance towards the shadow thing, struggling to think rationally. He instinctively knew that this was a very bad thing. It was one thing when the shadows had taunted them outside of Farfarello's mind. Here, they were locked in the Nightmare's power. He remembered how Farfarello had reacted the last time he'd seen it in his mind, the way Schuldich had woke knowing he was just breaths away from losing the other man.

    Farfarello's hand snagged in the sleeve of Schuldich's shirt, fingers curling so tightly that his knuckles showed through the skin. He took another step back, dragging Schuldich with him, and the German was all too happy to retreat.

    After a moment, the shadows started forward. The waves of black spread out in the air, twisting amongst itself like a six foot tall spread of black mist. The eyes were unwavering even as the rest of it was constantly in motion, rolling in and under itself, and when they locked with Schuldich's he felt something sharp twist in his stomach. He couldn't look away; all he could do was stare back at the shapeless creature and wonder exactly what the hell they were up against. He couldn't breathe through the pain in his stomach, and the power that was rolling off of it was so strong that he could feel it in his bones, could taste it in the bile that rose in his throat. This thing had triggered Farfarello's power, knocking it up to the next level. What the hell could they do against something so strong?

    "Niklas…" It was a hoarse whisper, and Farfarello gave an insistent tug at his sleeve as he took several more steps back. Schuldich let him pull him, turning so that he could walk backwards as well. Farfarello's other hand lifted to Schuldich's arm, fingers digging in tight enough that there would be bruises for weeks, but the physical pain was hardly noticeable under the deep ache starting in Schuldich's bones. They made a steady retreat as the shadows drifted towards them. It seemed in no hurry to catch up to them- confident that they wouldn't get away, Schuldich thought acidly. "Niklas, get us out of here."

    "Me?" Schuldich asked, casting the Irishman a look. Farfarello didn't look at him; his attention was glued to the thing that was stalking him. He had changed, and the sudden shift in appearances startled Schuldich. He was no longer the eighteen and a half year old man that had been there just a second ago. In his place was a child. He looked like he had when Schuldich had first met him, complete with two yellow eyes and shoulder length white hair. His eyes darted up to lock with Schuldich's stare. There was a frantic, terrified in plea in that gaze that took Schuldich's breath away, that took his thought that maybe they could escape and completely shattered it. "It's your gift. You get us out of here."

    Farfarello gave a sharp shake of his head, taking a small step sideways so that he was half behind Schuldich. "I can't. If I shut the power down, you go down too. You're in here."

    That, Schuldich decided, was not good news. At all. He considered his options, studying the thing that was starting to pick up speed, and went for the first thing that came to mind: he ran. He grabbed Farfarello's wrist and tore off, dragging the white-haired youth behind him. Farfarello didn't have Schuldich's speedy gift but he managed to keep up somehow, stumbling now and then but clinging desperately to the telempath with his free hand. He heard an inhuman cackle and spared a glance back to see that the shadows had vanished.

    His first thought was that maybe it was just having fun and would be happy with just frightening them. Even as he thought it, he knew that he wasn't that lucky. And then Farfarello yanked backwards, uttering a sharp cry of warning. He managed to wrench out of Schuldich's grip and the abrupt lurch of his weight backwards sent them both sprawling different directions against the sand and stone. The impact took the breath right from Schuldich's and he lay where he was for a few moments, dazed by the fifteen foot roll. He forced himself to lift his head, blinking rapidly when the world spun before his eyes, and saw that the shadows had reappeared right in their path. It hovered between the two scattered Talents, red eyes studying Schuldich a moment before disappearing as it turned away to regard Farfarello. The child-Nightmare was sitting up, propped up on his arms, and wide yellow eyes stared up at the monster in sheer terror. It was the only emotion Schuldich's aura could pick up from him, and it screamed against his nerves.

    He pushed himself up on his arms, one hand straying to where his head was throbbing. His fingertips found blood and he wiped it off quickly on his shirt. The shadows were drifting lazily closer to Farfarello, who was retreating across the ground. The shadows threw themselves- itself?- at him and he threw himself off to the side, rolling once and scrambling to his feet. Schuldich was there already, grabbing at him and racing away. He could hear Farfarello's ragged breathing and he struggled desperately to figure out a way to get them out of here. It had always been Farfarello to release him before. Their minds were locked together, and Farfarello's was surrounding his. How the hell were they supposed to get free if Farfarello was incapable of doing it.

    He cast his gift outwards, searching for something real to hold onto. Farfarello's mind burned against his; he could feel the black power rolling over his thoughts and it was all he could do to keep from getting sick. He forced himself onwards, forced himself through it. He couldn't get all the way out, but there were just enough cracks that he could get a slip of power, and he stretched out, needing to find something, anything.

    What he found was Nagi. The second he managed to get the boy's mind, something cold exploded across his skin, and he let go of Farfarello. It wasn't a conscious decision; the pain of such a chill knocked his breath from his lungs again. The Nightmare stumbled and fell to the ground again at such an abrupt stop from Schuldich's sonic gift, and the German turned around, already knowing what he was going to see.

    The shadows were right in front of him. A small breeze was created where it was shifting in upon itself and it toyed with his bangs. He stared at the red eyes and they stared back, and he saw the shadows stretching out to either side. He heard Farfarello's hoarse shout but it was too late. He couldn't move, couldn't tear his eyes away from the red ones holding his. Those eyes-

    Then his world exploded into darkness as the shadows wrapped around him. It was so cold it burned, so cold it tore his skin apart. The power hit him with a savage force he'd never felt before and he could dimly hear himself scream as everything flew to shreds around him. A second impact hit, but it was a different power. Sharp, sharp pain and panic and denial- but none of it was his. The world swirled around him; he was dimly aware of the discolored glow of artificial lighting and the hot red of blood, and then everything slid away.

Part 19
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