Part Twenty-One
July 1996

    Schuldich had developed a whole new level of hatred towards Rosenkreuz. He was stuck at the school with nowhere to go and nothing to do. His orders were simply to sit there and watch and wait for Farfarello's power to take another stab at him, and then to step back out of the way when that thing came for him and destroyed who Farfarello was. He had been born to protect the Irishman and he was failing at it. He was the only line of defense the Nightmare had and there was nothing he could do about what was coming. He spent a lot of time smoking, sitting in his room staring out the window. He and Farfarello didn't talk much these days, because there wasn't a lot they could say. Nagi had permanently moved into their room. The youngest two of Schwarz had finally come to an understanding: Schuldich was vitally important to both of them, and they were losing him.

    If Schuldich survived Farfarello's transition to full Nightmare status, he would be extremely, extremely surprised. The unadulterated power that had swallowed him in that icy embrace was what Farfarello was going to become when it touched him. Everything that haunted them was going to become real. He thought of the times they'd had to fight off what approached them, thought of the gaping wounds they'd both sustained that had healed miraculously- healed because they weren't real. The time was drawing near when they would become real, and Schuldich was remembering more and more Farfarello's vehement words that he wasn't sure he would be unable to control it. The power had killed his family; Farfarello was afraid that it would turn on Schuldich. And Nagi, whom Farfarello used to take so much delight in taunting… What was there to say that the boy wouldn't suffer from nightmarish beasts as well?

    There had to be a way out of this. He just had to find it.

    He stared down at the cigarette in his hands. There was an inch of ashes clinging to it and he idly shook it free, lifting his hand towards his mouth before slowly turning it to study his palm. His eyes traced his life line as he remembered that strange conversation with Crawford. After a few moments, he stubbed his cigarette out on the windowsill and ran his finger down the line. He turned the conversation over in his head slowly, picking apart the words Crawford had said to him. The talk had haunted him ever since, both because he hadn't understood it and because Crawford had touched him.

    "You and I have very different ideas of what constitutes as death," Crawford had told him.

    Death, by the general definition, was loss of life. Schuldich couldn't tell if that's what Crawford, with his power, chose to use. Going off the fact that he couldn't confirm Crawford's viewpoint, he had to examine his own. What was death? Simply, it was the first one. But Crawford didn't do things simply, so he sat there and stared at his palm and thought. The answer dawned on him just a few moments later. Death to a telepath… Death to a telepath wasn't a loss of life but a loss of self, forgetting who one was and everything about themselves to their gift. It was going insane with their power, mind scattered to the winds by those around them. It was ceasing to exist; living without really being alive. It was what he was slowly heading for, a madness he wouldn't be able to control or stop.

    Nausea rolled in his stomach and he let his hand fall to his lap, staring out at the window.

    Unbidden, Farfarello's words came to mind. "So how do you know?"

    And his answer: "I choose. I won't die until I'm ready to. It doesn't matter what Crawford sees… I'll die when I want to and not before."

    He took a deep breath and let it out. As things stood now, this wasn't his choice. It was a fate being forced upon him against his will. He didn't see how he could make a choice that could hopefully save his teammates and still destroy himself in the process. He struggled with it for a few moments, wondering at all the terrible things that could be coming.

    And he figured it out.

    He just sat there for a long moment, frozen in place, staring ahead as it twisted around his thoughts. It made him sick to his stomach, just the thought of what he was going to do and the consequences it would have for him. He thought he was going to lose his lunch as his mind twisted over it, and when he looked down towards his lap his hands were shaking. It was madness, he knew. He should just get over it. He should take a deep breath and forget that he ever gave a damn.

    But he was going to lose himself one day.

    And he wanted it to be his choice. He refused to go any other way.

    He slid off of the window sill, seeking out his lover. The Irishman had gone to take a shower but he couldn't hear the water now, and when he stepped out of his bedroom he found Farfarello and Crawford standing in the hallway. He sent Crawford a wary look, wondering what he'd just walked into, but if they'd been speaking he missed what they had to say to each other. Both turned to face him when he appeared in the doorway to his bedroom.

    "It's my choice," he told Crawford.

    "It always has been," was the response.

    He took hold of Farfarello and pulled him back into the bedroom, shutting the door behind them. Farfarello let himself be dragged towards the bed, and Schuldich pushed him down onto the mattress before climbing on after him. Farfarello was confused and a tad bit alarmed, alerted by Schuldich's shaking hands that something was wrong. Schuldich didn't let him ask, because he wasn't going to answer. He caught Farfarello's mouth for a kiss, fingers going through hair still wet from the shower. "I need you," he murmured by the Irishman's ear, voice ragged. "I need you now."

    There was something desperate about it that time, something sharper and more painful than hunger guiding them. Schuldich took his lover for what he knew would be the last time, fingers running over flesh. Fingernails and teeth marked pale skin, trying to leave something there, trying to mark him as deeply as he had been pierced by Farfarello's gift. They lay tangled together for a long time afterwards, Schuldich buried against Farfarello's chest. He was shaking again. He was afraid, but he'd be stupid if he wasn't. He didn't want this, but it was all he had left to do. There was nothing else he could do. This was who he was. This had been coming for years. He could sit back and wait for it or he could accept it and go to meet it. He wasn't known for taking things sitting down. He had his pride and his arrogance. They'd schooled him for years but they'd never been able to control him completely.

    It was a lose-lose situation, except that if he was lucky, he could forever lock the gift they so desperately wanted away from them.

    "Do you trust me?" he asked. He couldn't get it out louder than a whisper, and it was a wonder Farfarello heard him when his face was buried against his lover's bare chest. Stripped naked, their bodies were lined with scars, scars that the rest of the world couldn't see, markings left by the monstrous gift that in the end had destroyed the both of them. He felt fingers run over his jaw and he let Farfarello lean away, let him tilt his head back so they were looking at each other. Something sharp ran across Schuldich's nerves- Farfarello's reaction to the look in his blue eyes.

    "Always," came the answer.

    "Then go to sleep," Schuldich told him. "Go to sleep, and don't wake up for the first month. It doesn't matter if you hear me calling you. You sleep for thirty days and after that, wait until I call you. Wait until I tell you that it's safe to wake up again. But sleep, and do it now." There was silence. Farfarello shifted, pushing himself up until he was over top of Schuldich. His yellow eye was searching Schuldich's gaze for answers the telempath wouldn't give him. "Trust me," Schuldich told him.

    And at last, Farfarello nodded.

    Schuldich sat up and watched as the man laid down, watched as the Nightmare tucked his power back away. Farfarello didn't understand but he trusted Schuldich, and that was all that mattered. He watched as the younger man fell asleep and sat there for several hours afterwards. When Nagi came back from classes late that evening, Schuldich was still there. The boy took one look at Farfarello's sleeping form and Schuldich's still form before moving over to him. He didn't know what was going on but he could sense that something had changed drastically, and he buried himself against his older teammate's chest. Neither of them went to dinner that night. Nagi fell asleep beside Farfarello, rolling into the space Schuldich abandoned when he went to take a shower. He sat in the tub for several minutes after he cut the water off, and Crawford found him there.

    "How long?" Schuldich wanted to know.

    "Three days," was the answer.

    "Good," Schuldich managed.

    It sounded hollow even to himself.


    Three days later, the Cabinet wanted to know how things were going with Farfarello. They called the oldest three of Schwarz before them. Farfarello, of course, couldn't make the meeting, so Schuldich and Crawford were the only ones in attendance. The Three noticed their prized Talent's absence immediately, and a small frown graced the First's lips.

    "Where is the Nightmare?" he wanted to know.

    "He's asleep," was Schuldich's easy answer.

    Silence followed that announcement. At last Amalthia spoke. "Why?" she demanded. Her voice had usually been warm in the past, a false warmth that was never friendly. Now it was cold, sharp. Schuldich shifted his gaze towards her desk, picking up on the irritation she allowed him to feel. It prickled across his nerves.

    "I told him to," he said simply.

    Truth hurts. In this case, it had him on his knees, gasping for breath, when the First's power cut through him. All three of the Talents were leaning forward, arms folded on their desks. Three pairs of cold eyes were fixed on Schuldich, who forced himself back to his feet. He was dizzy but he refused to fall again, defiantly holding his ground. "For what reason?" the Third demanded.

    "I think you know," Schuldich answered.

    It was a lot harder to get back up this time. He was dimly aware of the First's voice; he couldn't make out the words over the roaring in his ears. He heard Crawford's calm assent and the man moved towards the doors. Schuldich struggled to get breath back in his lungs, wincing at the way every breath hurt. He pushed himself back up from the floor, swaying a bit as he leaned over, and then managed to straighten. He was there for a moment before he stumbled, but he got his balance back before he fell.

    Silence fell in the Chambers. Schuldich waited, knowing what was coming. A few minutes later the doors swung open, and Nagi stepped in. Farfarello's sleeping form was held up by his power, and laid down in front of Schuldich. The German glanced over his shoulder at his confused teammate, who'd been called out of class to deliver the Nightmare. "Go back to class," he said simply. Nagi opened his mouth to protest, not knowing what was going on but knowing instinctively that it wasn't good. "Nagi. Go back to class. We'll talk later."

    It was a lie, but he couldn't tell the boy the truth. Nagi couldn't stay here for this. When the Cabinet reacted to what Schuldich had done, there was the chance that Nagi would try and defend him. The Cabinet would kill him on the spot. A tense minute passed, and then Nagi took a few steps back. The doors closed, a barricade between the telekinetic youth and his German teammate. Schuldich turned back to the Cabinet, arms folded lightly over his chest, waiting. The First jabbed a finger at Farfarello's form.

    "Wake him back up."

    "I don't have what it takes to wake him up," Schuldich lied.

    "Zimmermann and Crawford have seen you wake him up before. You will wake him up now."

    Schuldich obediently dropped his gaze to the Nightmare, hoping silently that his lover would follow what he'd told him just a few days ago. "Farfarello," he said. "Farfarello, wake up." There was silence. The man didn't stir. The sharp edges of relief touched Schuldich's veins. He hadn't known how long it would take the Cabinet to figure out that their Nightmare was sleeping, but he had been betting it would be under a month. And after that month, when Farfarello would finally shift a small bit of his gift to listen for Schuldich's voice, well… Schuldich's voice wouldn't exist anymore. Neither would he. He kept the relief from his expression, trying again for the Cabinet's sake. "Farfarello, I want you to wake up now."

    But Farfarello didn't wake.

    It took a while for the Cabinet to react, for it to sink in that their Nightmare was asleep and his Dream couldn't rouse him.

    Their reaction was ugly.


    When Schuldich woke two days later, he was in the medical ward and Zimmermann was standing over him. The instructor's face was closed off, and he watched as Schuldich slowly pushed himself up from his bed. It was only when Schuldich was on his feet that the older German reached out and took hold of his arm. His grip was tight enough to leave bruises, and his voice, when he spoke, was hoarse.

    "What have you done?" the instructor demanded.

    "Fucked over the Cabinet," was Schuldich's easy answer. "Why?"

    "They're demanding you to be brought before them." The instructor hesitated, eyes searching Schuldich's. "You do know what's coming, don't you?"

    Schuldich's smirk curved into a humorless smirk. "I'm not stupid."

    "You let it come to this," was the older German's harsh words. Schuldich said nothing, and they studied each other in silence for a long moment. Something twisted on his instructor's face; something hot danced along Schuldich's gifts. The instructor let him see it, let it slip through his shields for Schuldich's empathy to pick up: a tangle of disappointment, disbelief, and disgust. And then the man let go, turning sharply on his heel. "They require your presence now."

    Schuldich followed without argument. They left the medical ward and approached the Chambers. The halls were deserted; classes would be over soon but right now they were in session. The doors swung open for them and Schuldich followed Zimmermann in. He forced a smirk on his face and kept it there by sheer will power alone. Crawford was waiting off to one side. Schuldich hoped he enjoyed the show. All of the telepathic instructors were present, waiting in a line in front of the Cabinet's desks. Their faces were carved into impassive masks as Zimmermann and Schuldich stopped in the middle of the room, but Adeline's eyes gave her away. Liquid fury ran across Schuldich's empathy, courtesy of the Three. They were pissed at him, to put it lightly, but he didn't care. He didn't let them see his fear, didn't let them see that he wanted to bolt. He kept his chin high and that devil-may-care smirk on his face.

    "You know what's going to happen," the First said.

    "Yes," was Schuldich's easy answer.

    "Take them down," Zimmermann told him.

    Schuldich was distantly amused that this had all begun in a psychiatric ward, and that that was where it would all end, but it was a sick sort of amusement. His instructors were waiting to see if he would fight them on this. Schuldich considered it and knew it to be foolish; fighting that many would not only obliterate his shields but destroy chunks of his mind. It wasn't like he would have much of a mind left soon, though… The thought brought the taste of bile to his tongue and he glanced back at where Crawford was standing. Their eyes met and held for just a moment before Schuldich turned away. He looked up towards the Cabinet, calm blue eyes meeting the First's cold gaze.

    "You ordered me to be his Dream," he said simply. "And that is what I have done. I've taken him away from you, and you won't get him back. The power you craved is lost to you. And I… I don't regret a thing." His smirk curved into a smile, an expression that was colder than ice. "I'd do it all again."

    With that, he turned to face Zimmermann. Schuldich fought not to close his eyes, fought to keep his face calm for what was coming. The idea lit terror in his heart, and while everyone knew he had to be afraid, he would not let them see it. He lifted a hand to his face, noticing as he did so that his fingers were trembling faintly, and brushed his bangs out of the way.

    "Let them down," Zimmermann said again, quieter.

    Schuldich hesitated for just a moment, just the barest of instants, forcing away the violent urge to fight, to flee. The moment passed, and he tore down the four shields he and his instructor had struggled to make just a month ago. He ripped them down and let them fall to pieces around him until it was just his core remaining. He didn't notice when his fingers tightened on his arms in preparation for the blow.

    When it came, it was solid and sharp, and like several times in the past, a fierce power cracked through the inner shields that kept him safe and sane.

    This time, they could never be fixed again.

    The room was shielded enough that he could not tell at first that they were gone; he felt the raw pulse of power against his unguarded mind but the shields of everyone present were strong enough that he wasn't swallowed by their thoughts. A pity that he actually had to leave this room. The line of telepaths started forward, breaking into two as they approached. Zimmermann turned and led the way towards the door. Crawford watched from the sidelines and Schuldich could feel the Cabinet's cold looks on the back of his head as he turned and followed the head instructor. The doors swung open for them and he stepped through, fingers clenching tighter on his arms when the rush hit him. There were a couple hundred students in this school, and their shields were various strengths. None of the students had strong enough guards to keep all of their thoughts from him and it hit him like a vicious tidal wave. The blast of tangled thoughts and emotions almost made him physically ill right there, and it was a fight to keep his expression unchanging. The students were in the halls now, and they froze at the sight of the instructors, eyes wide as they took in the small procession.

    They knew what had happened. Apparently word had got out while he was unconscious that Rosenkreuz's strongest and most troublesome had finally fallen.

    He felt the rake of power against his mind; the telepaths couldn't resist clawing at such an open target. Fighting to keep his face smooth, he lashed out with his gift, hitting them with everything that he had. It was enough to make them back off some, but he could still feel the fingers of gifted minds brushing against him, finally given a chance to see how the flame-haired one everyone talked about thought. Then the lines of the professors drew even with him, their shielded minds making it hard for the students to get at him. He could still hear everyone clearly through them, however, and the sheer volume and intensity made his vision spin. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, moving within their ranks as they made their way towards the door.

    He could hear someone screaming, and a glance to one side showed that someone was restraining Nagi. The boy's expression was broken, and his pain crackled brutally against Schuldich's empathy. He turned his face away, listening to the screams fade as they reached the door and stepped through.

    He made it all the way to the cars before he threw up, and he was dimly aware of a hand on his shoulders as he sagged against the nearest car, his arms tight around his middle. Frau Adeline was holding his hair out of the way as he heaved helplessly, blood and bile mixing. When he got his nausea under control, she opened the car door for him. Two professors would take him to the ward; the others stood back to watch as he was taken away. Adeline leaned forward, pressing a small kiss to Schuldich's forehead. He could feel her compassion and sorrow; he could taste her regret.

    "I won't come," she told him. "I can't watch."

    Schuldich almost managed a thin smile. "Go back to your classes, Ade."

    She tucked his bangs behind his ear and stepped back, retreating towards the line. Schuldich slid into the passenger seat and Zimmermann closed the door for him before taking the wheel. Herr Rivers sat in the back, and the gates opened for them. Schuldich let his head fall to one side, resting his temple against the glass. His eyes slid closed, and his breathing was ragged to his ears. He couldn't control it and didn't try.

    So many years ago, he'd stood in the halls of Rosenkreuz and watched the teams go by.

    ~That'll be me one day,~ he'd thought to himself. ~That'll be me.~

    This wasn't at all what he'd expected or wanted. It took fifteen minutes to get to the town that would be his new home. Ten minutes out he felt the first whispers curling against his mind. Five minutes, and chaos reigned. The two teachers weren't enough to block it all. His eyes squeezed tighter shut and his mouth thinned to a hard line as he swatted frantically at the noise with his gift. He could feel his thoughts getting tangled in their minds; they were so open that they were magnetic. He thought he might be sick again. When the car stopped and he opened his eyes, black sparkles danced across his vision. It was hard to see through the darkness that was seeping across his vision, a sure sign that his mind was about to give out. He couldn't tell his thoughts from theirs, and now raw, broken minds rocked against his. He was absently aware that he was being pulled from the car, and one part of him registered that he was staring up at a white building. There was a hand on his elbow, guiding him forward, and he let it because he couldn't move on his own. He stumbled on the stairs and fell, but he didn't feel the pain of concrete biting into his knees. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to think- it hurt to exist. He struggled to suck air into his lungs, fought to keep breathing against the hoarse, agonized whisperings in his mind.

    There were hands on his arms, pulling him back up. He wanted to fight them but his body wasn't listening to him. The order was getting lost somewhere along the way. He fought instead to hold onto himself, fought to find the bits of himself that were being scattered so brutally.

    But in the end, he felt them slipping away, lost in a whirlwind of madness. After a few desperate tries, he gave up, and his vision gave out under the weight of his mind.


    He was distantly aware of someone shaking him, only distantly aware of someone's voice trying desperately to rouse him. He was slowly pulled out of his deep sleep at the sound of it, his instincts latching onto the words that were begging him to get up. It took a few moments before his mind resettled where it was supposed to be and then his eyes were sliding open. Nagi was standing beside his bed, cheeks stained with tears. His fingernails had drawn blood on Farfarello's shoulders where he was holding him and shaking him, and when Nagi saw Farfarello's eyes open, he collapsed against he older man with wild sobs.

    Farfarello just stared at him.

    Crawford had told him Schuldich was going to send him to sleep; he'd said that Schuldich would order him to wake to no voice but his own after waiting a month. And Crawford had warned him that he couldn't afford to listen. "Wake for Nagi," he'd said, just an hour before Schuldich had watched him fall asleep. "Schuldich is going to need you, but he won't be able to wake you. Wake for Nagi when he calls, or you'll lose Schuldich forever."

    Farfarello didn't like Crawford.

    But Schuldich trusted the man to some degree, so Farfarello had listened, and when Schuldich had made him agree and fall asleep, he had kept the American's orders locked alongside his Dream's words. Now he pushed himself up in bed, taking hold of Nagi's arms and pushing him back. The telekinetic buried his face in his hands instead, still crying hard enough that Farfarello was waiting for him to fall to pieces.

    There was only one person Nagi would cry for.

    Farfarello let go of him, rolling off the other side of the bed. Crawford moved into the doorway before he could reach it, his expression smooth. "Where is he?" he demanded.

    "The Cabinet took him away and destroyed him this morning," Crawford answered, and a sick sort of fury twisted in the Irishman's veins. Farfarello moved as if to shove past him and Crawford reached out, planting a hand against his chest to stop him. "They won't let you to him," he told the younger Talent, calm in the face of Farfarello's almost violent anger. "You cannot kill them as you are now. Your gift cannot touch their shields. You know that, and you know what it will take to be strong enough."

    Farfarello just stared at him for a long moment, and then threw himself backwards into his power. He appeared in the Valley and whirled around, yellow eye searching wildly. "WHERE ARE YOU?" he screamed out, voice strangled with hate.

    The shadows answered immediately, appearing in front of him. A smile curved the face that was hidden in the darkness. "Now you call to us…" it murmured. "One is curious about such a change of heart, when you've been running for so long…"

    "I want him back," Farfarello snarled at the mists. Fear was weaker than anger, and he was shaking in his white rage. "I want them dead. Give me the power to get him back."

    The shadows shifted, and the face that had so long been hidden in the mists finally leaned out of the shadows. He saw himself, red-eyed and pale. From the abdomen up, an image of himself stretched out of the mists. Two long arms reached out, wrapping around Farfarello's neck. Icy cold lips touched the Irishman's forehead, and then he found himself jerked forward into that black embrace for the second time in his life.

    It hurt.

    Farfarello had stopped noticing pain a long time ago, but the feel of his power shattering against him hurt like nothing ever had. He thought he yelled at he pain but there was no sound here. Everything swirled around him in a hot rush and he could taste it, could taste what he had just been given access to. He saw all of the dreamscape and all of its inhabitants, watched all of the creatures that lived in his mind. He saw everything in a flash of light and he reached out to them, touched them, pulled them closer. His. He was their lord and master, and they were his. They turned towards him as he swept through them, yanked along by his power, and the sheer strength and fierce hunger in them ate through him. They were his if he called on them. The misery of the world was his if he wished it to be.

    And as quickly as they came, they were gone, and reality reinserted itself in front of him with a sick lurch. He staggered a little under the weight of his gift. It had always haunted him before, there to hunt him and mock him. Now it was his. What had danced alongside him for years existed within him now, thrumming through his veins. He lifted his hands to study them before looking up at Crawford, and he saw his eye reflected on the lenses of Crawford's glasses, glowing a violent red.

    "Go find him," Crawford said, and he stepped out of the way.

    Farfarello slipped past him, quick strides carrying him down the hall. There were two creatures waiting for him, the missing Gryns of the Valley. He spared them just a glance, stalking off towards the stairwell. He could hear a gleeful cackling in his mind as his power rejoiced at this freedom. The doors and walls around him melted, a fierce heat rolling across their surface as he passed. There were two people on the stairwells. He swept past them, leaving them to the Gryns to eat. He heard their screams of horror and pain but ignored them. He didn't care about them. He cared about two men and a woman who had dared to think that they could take Niklas away from him.

    Through the empty halls, straight to the Chambers. The doors were thick; they required a strong power to open. Farfarello planted one hand on each of them, never slowing, and shoved them open with enough force that they slammed against the walls. The Cabinet sat up straight, surprised, as he moved into the room, and he stopped in the middle to turn a slit eyed glare on them.

    They were stupid enough to look pleased to see him.

    "Where is he?" he asked.

    "Ahhhh," the one on the far right breathed, sounding pleased. He pushed himself to his feet, a delighted expression on his face. Farfarello didn't even look at him. The ground melted beneath him and he had time for one startled sound before he fell through it. It sealed up again over him, solidifying around his body.

    "Where is he?" he demanded once more.

    "He was taken to St. Bartholomew's Psychiatric Ward," the First answered.

    That was all he wanted to know. He turned sharply on his heel, heard the First take in a breath as he was about to ask a question. It never got voiced. The lava dragons came flying out of the wall, latching onto the remaining two. The woman was shrieking, using her gift against them. Farfarello didn't stop to watch. They wouldn't be able to kill the dragons. All it took was a simple twitch of his gift. Not everything people came across in their nightmares could be killed; he transferred that bit of immortality to the dragons and slammed the doors closed behind him, leaving them to feast.

    Niklas, Niklas, Niklas…

    The Gryns caught up to him at the gate. He felt a brush of power against his mind- the Watchers checking to see what was going on. The instant they touched him, they were dead. One of the beasts butted their head against his shoulder as he stalked towards the metal gate. It didn't matter that last time they had seen each other they had wanted to kill him. He owned them now. They were a part of his power and he was that power now, and they were his. He pulled himself up onto it as the second beast charged against the gate, its body weight sending it flying open, and they were away. Claws dug into the ground as they flew over the dirt, racing down the road. Farfarello reached out and touched Niklas' mind, using that to place him, and turned the Gryns that direction.

    Everyone but Niklas died the moment Farfarello stepped through the front doors of the ward. He found Niklas on the third floor. His Dream was screaming long before he stepped into that room and he flinched back at the sound. It took him a moment to realize that it was his power, ripping at the German's mind. He struggled to force it back but whatever it was that had let him quiet it before was gone. Niklas was chained down to his bed but he was arched against the straps as the Nightmare's full fledged power hit him, and Farfarello crossed the room towards him, shaking hands trying to push the older man back against his bed.

    "Niklas," he tried desperately, but the man couldn't hear him. He struggled to figure out what to do. He needed to get him back to the school. Back to Crawford- to those shields. But Niklas wouldn't survive the trip. Those screams were tearing Farfarello straight down the middle, cutting him to the core.

    "Go to sleep," he finally said, a breathless plea.

    He knew as soon as he said it that it was the wrong thing to say- the only thing he could have done in a situation like this, but the worst thing he could have said to Niklas. He tried to call his power back but it was too late; already it was rolling across Niklas' mind. It pushed at the older Talent's mind, forcing it under.

    But Niklas was a telempath, and it wasn't his own dreams he fell into.


    When he woke, he was stretched out on cool rock. An arm was around his waist and he was tucked up against an ice cold body. He blinked, struggling to figure out where he was. Slowly he looked this way and that, taking in his surroundings. There were two stone pillars, one to either side of the rock slab he was stretched on. He thought that perhaps there had been people there once, but he couldn't remember for sure. After a moment he pushed himself up. The arm around his waist slid free to let him move, and he turned around to face the one stretched out behind him. A single red eye was searching his face. He had the feeling the younger man was looking for answers, but he didn't think he had anything to give him.

    He studied the pale youth for a few moments in silence, struggling with his memory. "Jei," he managed to say at last.

    "Niklas," came the soft answer.

    He guessed that was supposed to be his name. It didn't sound familiar to him. He looked up from the younger man's face and looked around. "My memory's a little jagged," he said, which roughly translated to almost nonexistent. "What the hell is this place supposed to be?"

    The other man sat up, looking around for a moment before turning his gaze back on the one in front of him. If Niklas didn't know any better, he'd say that the younger man was rather upset. His expression was guarded, so he wasn't sure where the idea came from. He pulled his gaze away from the horizon to return the stare, sitting still as two cold hands reached up to touch his face. He could feel pain at the touch, a deep, deep pain, and he knew instinctively that it wasn't his. Curious. "I didn't mean for it to happen," Jei said, the words coming slowly.

    "Where am I?" Niklas insisted.

    There was a short pause. "You are back in Rosenkreuz, resting in the Chambers. The wards and his shields are helping keep what's left of you intact."

    "Rosenkreuz," he said, trying the word out. He had the distinct feeling that he was supposed to know what that was, as well as what the Chambers was. He struggled with it for a moment and his mind just laughed at him, refusing to clue him in. "Who is 'he'?" he asked, looking around. "I don't see anyone, and this doesn't look like chambers to me."

    "He is the new Cabinet," was the response. "Crawford." The name didn't ring a bell. Niklas shook his head, and he thought he saw his companion flinch. "Your body is in the Chambers," he elaborated at last. "Your mind is here."

    "And here is…?" Niklas asked, arching an eyebrow at him.

    Jei reached up, touching two fingers to his temple. "Here."

    There was silence for a long moment. Finally Jei tilted his head to one side, listening to something that only he could hear. "I have to go," he said quietly. "I need to tell them you woke up. I'll return. Don't leave this spot. They won't hurt you," and he tilted his head towards the empty landscape, "because I'll kill them if they do, so don't be afraid of them."

    Niklas considered that. "How do I get out of here?" he wanted to know.


    After a few minutes, his companion offered up, "You don't." At Niklas' small frown, a thin smile curved Jei's lips. It was the most broken expression Niklas had ever seen, not that he could remember much to compare it to. Something about it cut him straight to the core- not the expression itself, but the pain it meant the other was feeling. He struggled for a reason to feel such a thing, but it evaded his grasp. "You can't," Jei said at last, and just a moment later, he vanished from view. Niklas stared at the spot he'd been in for a moment before turning his blue eyes towards the horizon. There was no wind here, no sounds. He sat by himself for several minutes, turning over his companion's words, puzzling over them. He didn't really understand- not what Jei meant about where he was, not where Jei had gone. He struggled to remember where he'd come from but it was a blank. All he knew was that this place was distantly familiar and that he knew what the other man's name was. Everything about the other man was in some way intimately familiar, enough that he reassured himself that in time he would remember who the red-eyed one was. If nothing else was returned to him, he was sure his memory would return for Jei.

    A girl appeared out of nowhere as he was thinking, settling down beside him uninvited. He considered telling her to bugger off, but took a moment instead to study her. She was chewing on something, some sort of odd fruit, and white eyes turned on him. A wide smile curved her lips and she held the fruit out in offering to him. "Eat up," she said.

    He took it from her, eyed it, and nibbled on it. "Where did you come from?" he wanted to know.

    "I live here," she answered, a little too cheerfully. He had the distinct feeling that she was pleased to see him. Around them, the air shifted, and all sorts of creatures melted into view around the rock. They were staring at him and he stared back. What had been an empty land before was now packed, and the wind started up then, carrying to him the sound of screams. The girl gave a dramatic wave of her arm to indicate the crowd, a mix of monsters and people, and then leaned towards him with a cold little smile on her face. Fingers danced over his cheek and he looked through her, staring through her. For a moment he almost remembered blue eyes, a dark head buried against his chest as someone slept between him and her. When he blinked, the image was gone. "We all live here," she said. "And now, so do you. Make yourself comfortable. You're never going to leave."


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