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Broken Mirrors (Dead)

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Stunning Contemporary Oceanfront Home


The nightmares had been worsening of late.

For most of his adult life they had come and gone, seemingly at random. Sometimes he could go for months at a time without any of the terrifying dreams; only to find himself tormented with half remembered traumas from the past. Over the last few months he had woken up screaming at least a few times during the week; returning to consciousness in the arms of Mad Maw as she tried to soothe him. Unusually, the dreams were persisting. He always did his best to keep up a brave face, to appear as normal old Shikai, but it was getting harder and harder as the weeks went on. This wasn't something he could sustain long term.

Shikai was desperate, and it showed in his actions.

Phoebe was among the Dead members whom he got along with the best, and he always looked forward to missions with her. Smart, capable, and seemingly fearless, she always made things just a bit easier. He still wasn't sure how she felt about him though, and that was part of what made asking for her help in his personal matter so nerve wracking. When he'd gone to her, he figured there was a pretty good chance she would turn him away. It had therefore come as a surprise when she agreed. Whatever her reasons, he was glad to have the First's help. 

But he couldn't deny that the prospect of confronting his past was a frightening one. Putting his memories to rest would mean confronting them, allowing himself to gaze past the fog of trauma and see the unvarnished truth. Given how bad the things he did remember were, it wasn't an enticing prospect. 

That fear still weighed on his mind as he walked into the safehouse Phoebe had told him to meet her in. And what a house it was! The clean, polished look reminded him of the First quite a bit; and the view was beautiful.

"That is spectacular," he muttered.



If any of this needs editing, just let me know!


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It was daylight, hardly the time to meet such a notorious fiend as the First, yet.. 

The sun cut a muted warmth through high, wispy, clouds and the fog from the coastal morning had burned off.  The day was still new, but even the birds calling from their places nestled in the surrounding conifers were confident that a warm, clear, day lie ahead of them.  This was the sort of day that made it possible to slog through winter- to get up at the crack of a dark dawn and trudge into a foot of snow, the sort of snow they didn't see much in Last Chance, but here in the coastal mountains of Eridanus it was more likely.  A day like today recharged a person; it set a lightness in their soul and a sense of hope in the spirit.  It was a perfect day, in a perfect place, for a person like Phoebe to be anyone other than herself.

The way to her safe house was a wooded one- tall evergreens outlined a rocky coastline that overlooked the sea beyond.  Amidst the whistling wind and the silence of solitude Shikai couldn't see a single sentry- there was no visible gate, no checkpoint, no armed guards patrolling the invisible line which separated Phoebe from others.  Which was not to say the First was unguarded, but that those precautions were carefully set and particularly hidden so as to allow her to enjoy the serenity and tranquility the hideaway provided.  The view from outside Eden was as the view from within - unchecked and utterly wondrous- distant thin white clouds were the only interruption to an unending field of aquamarine sky, bisected by a faraway horizon line, before the eternal expanse of the open sea stretched without end.

A person could get lost in themselves, here.

Soon, woods gave way to a crushed stone driveway, and that driveway to a modern, many-windowed house which was surprisingly open- not unlocked, but with its large, double, light-wood doors, thrown open to let the breeze pass through an open concept first-floor to the settled ocean on its other side.  Inside, the General could see how remarkably clean the interior was; how little it looked lived in to any significant degree.  There were hints here and there- a rumpled blanket on one of the couches, a condensation ring on one of the glass tables.  There were pictures on the walls and a vase of fresh white lilies on the table by the low white couch on which Phoebe sat, one long leg casually thrown over the other, as she thumbed through a quarterly magazine whose headline announced the changing face of Lagrimosa.

In keeping with the stillness and ease, the First was out of costume- gone were the dark colors and sharp lines, the tight braid and the worn boots, instead she wore loose, light tan, linen pants over bare feet and under a simple white sleeveless tank top that was noteworthy only in its commonness.  She wore a simple silver ring wrapped around her right thumb, an extravagant ruby around her marriage finger, and simple silver chain around her neck.  As Shikai walked in, she turned toward him and unfurled her fingertips toward his shoes, then the mat by the door.

"I'm glad you made it, General.  It can be a bit of a trial trying to get here.."

And it could; among the numerous defenses lain upon this place was an unavoidable confusion that beset the traveler and lead them astray, always off target, unless they had been personally invited and Eden had prepared.  Even then, there was a difficulty that buffeted travelers; a sense that they were heading the wrong way, or lost, and should turn back.  Invitees could push through; others occasionally walked off the cliffs.

Setting the magazine to the side, Phoebe straightened, then stood.  Her hands found the billowing warmth of her linen pockets and slipped inside as Shikai made his way in.  To the side of the low white couch was a similar chair, which she glanced toward by way of suggestion, before she too sat.  

"Have you been traveling overlong?  Can I get you something to drink?  I admit to being a bit curious as to the particulars of how I can help you, General.."  The woman's eyes lifted, a light and examining gaze cast through her dark lashes to his handsome face.  "I understand the generalities, of course, but to be frank this is somewhat new- my abilities are typically used to pull things apart, not put them back together.  Though.. I suppose it isn't much different." 

She smiled half-apologetically there, a rogue's grin on her pretty face, and spread her hands.

Edited by Noko

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Doing as directed, Shikai removed his shoes before walking into the main room. The shinobi always felt a bit under dressed around the First, and even in her casual clothes she managed to look effortlessly fashionable. By comparison, his black overcoat on top of a white t-shirt, black jeans, and black and red shoes had been chosen for comfort and ease of movement while walking the winding path to the safehouse. Comparatively he felt like he'd walked in wearing a trash bag.

And it was last years trash bag.

But he was glad he had dressed warmly, as a light dusting of snow had covered the path to the house overnight, and there was still a bit of a chill in the air. Though he had moved swiftly enough to ensure he would arrive on time, it had been hard not to stray and get lost. For some reason (maybe he would find out?) he had always enjoyed trees walking through forests; and the scent of the sea was more than pleasant. Of course, he knew that there were plenty of security measures hidden in the tranquil surroundings; but out of sight, out of mind, as they say.

The house itself was like something out of a homemaking magazine; yet there were still traces of those who lived here. For a moment he felt out of place; like a simple clay pot placed among ornate ceramic vases. He had to remind himself that Phoebe had invited him here; that he wasn't some intruder sneaking unseen into the home of a stranger. 

"I'm glad you made it, General.  It can be a bit of a trial trying to get here.."

Shikai smiled, hoping the expression didn't show too much of his nervousness, and sat where his host gestured, "Thank you for inviting me. This is a truly lovely safehouse."

"Have you been traveling overlong?  Can I get you something to drink?  I admit to being a bit curious as to the particulars of how I can help you, General.."  The woman's eyes lifted, a light and examining gaze cast through her dark lashes to his handsome face.  "I understand the generalities, of course, but to be frank this is somewhat new- my abilities are typically used to pull things apart, not put them back together.  Though.. I suppose it isn't much different." 

"A drink would be great, thank you," he replied, "And I actually quite enjoyed the journey. This area is beautiful, I love walking in the woods."

He took a generous sip of the offered drink before he replied to her main question.

"Have you ever tried to read a book with half the pages missing? Like you have the beginning, and the end, but a lot of the stuff in between is gone. And you can make an educated guess what happened in between, but unless you read the missing pages, you can never really know the whole story."

The Zombie's expression was oddly pensive, "That's kind of how I feel about my life. I know how it started, and where I am now, but there's so much about my past that I don't remember. The things I do remember are... bad. Usually I see them through nightmares; ones that I somehow know are real. I've tried to ignore it, but I think I need to see these memories. Put them to rest."

Shikai laughed, "I don't even know if that's possible, but I want to try."

Edited by danzilla3

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"Have you ever tried to read a book with half the pages missing? Like you have the beginning, and the end, but a lot of the stuff in between is gone. And you can make an educated guess what happened in between, but unless you read the missing pages, you can never really know the whole story.  That's kind of how I feel about my life. I know how it started, and where I am now, but there's so much about my past that I don't remember. The things I do remember are... bad."

Phoebe exhaled softly, letting her light eyes drift across the glass table that separated her from Shikai.  His pain in this was evident- even without delving, without touching the raw and ragged fringes of the General's thoughts, their black edges spidered out from his anima like a rot across an open wound.  She couldn't help but feel it; to let it feel her, and for it to recoil even as she dimmed in its shadow.  Lifting her eyes to watch the troubled expression sketch across Shikai's face, she nodded and listened.

"Usually I see them through nightmares; ones that I somehow know are real. I've tried to ignore it, but I think I need to see these memories. Put them to rest."  He laughed, but it dripped fear and doubt.  "I don't even know if that's possible, but I want to try."

"..well, you're in luck because I don't believe in impossible," Phoebe began, her smile slow blooming and veiled like a rose tucked in shadow.  "Just improbable."  Chuckling as she reached forward, Phoebe casually retrieved the glass of lemon water she'd given Shikai earlier and swapped it with its empty twin.  Taking up the second decanter, she slipped the crystal sphere off its mouth and lifted it fractionally toward Shikai.  "Drink this one all at once.." she instructed as she poured, letting the deep Spanish orange liquor spill out into Shikai's glass.  Its heady scent immediately filled the room- honey and spiced ginger, with a hint of tangerine, mixed with the faint smell of jasmine wafting off Phoebe.  As the liquid neared the glass lip, she pulled back, setting the decanter down uncapped and continuing as she waited for Shikai, "..but sip the rest.  It's easier if you've drank, but not too much."

Settling back, Phoebe centered herself and tried to herd Shikai's sorrow to the edges of her awareness where she could study it as it shifted through pain, and hope, and eventually settled in a no man's land of bitter, frigid, enduring. Slowly, carefully, she began to let her ministrations mingle with his - to pull him back toward hope, if she could.  

Emotion was catchy, you see- like a disease, it floated unseen from person to person and infected their hearts and their minds with someone else's will.  Hers, at times, and hers now.  She needed Shikai to find his resolve, take her metaphorical hand and walk with her in partnership, believing in his success and not shying away from the bits that burned and grated.  A stableness would do that for him, so Phoebe wrapped herself in the familiar persona of the First like a cloak and drew its myth into her presence- She was untouchable; a spectre only whispered about and wished afar, so encompassing was its reach.  Among the lower ranks, the First was a phantom, a legend, a being who, alongside the Architect, could accomplish world-breaking feats with barely a lift of a finger.  Now, Shikai was far from a rank and file soldier. Still, he had risen from them. Those beliefs were so pervasive it was easy to project them, bring them to stir, and use their familiarity to become the immutable, implacable, force he needed to succeed here.  

A push of her telekinetics sent the table and the second couch sliding to either side, and opened up a large, empty, space on the floor, which Phoebe lowered herself to, pulling her legs in and sitting cross-legged.  The stretch of her arm and flare of her fingertips suggested Shikai should join her.  "This is not going to feel normal," she began, confident but cautionary.  "Your mind will naturally try and expel me, which.."  A shrug moved her thin shoulders, and she leaned forward as if sharing a secret, "..doesn't matter, but I want you to stay calm and find me purposefully- not flail around at the strangeness like a child trying to swat a hornet.  

Do you understand?"

After his agreement, Phoebe offered him one last smile.  "Close your eyes, try not to move."  Her directions were simple to speak, but they would be much harder to follow.  Even now, Shikai could feel her at the edges of the wards the Dead set when he had accepted their contract.  She would negotiate with them there, at his perimeter- she would show her self and her blood and the way her shadows danced in the contract's blackness and they would embrace each other as wanton lovers did.  

The contract would let her in, it had no choice, but Shikai's iron core had all the choice in the world. Even at the periphery, he would feel her as a hunter feels the winds change with a coming storm- he could embrace her, walk in the torrents and seek out the ruins, or flee and find a cave to hide in until the rains had passed. It wouldn't take long for Phoebe to find her way across the desolation, over the tar-filled sinkholes and snatching brambles which sought, and failed, to bind her. His traps were limitless, sly and underhanded, garbed in fanciful promises of relief in a landscape that hadn't known the word in decades, but they wouldn't catch her.

The emotion of him passed quickly, but the memories- the memories battered her like the remembrance of a drug-fueled saturnalia. There were whole sections of the man's life that were just smears of ragged color dragged between unrelated points, blurred and disfigured past the point of recognition.  It was at the first of those defaced remnants that Phoebe stopped, settled herself, and with a deft and practiced hand began to reweave and reconnect the ruined threads until their color and truth began to take form.

Edited by Noko

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Shikai eyed the glass of the pleasant smelling liquid before doing as instructed and gulping it down in one go. It burned nicely as it went down his throat, a stream of liquid fire that pooled in his stomach. His frayed nerves were soothed as the heat radiated through his body; and as fearful as he was, the relief was almost a pleasure of its own. The General wasn't a habitual drinker, but he could hold his liquor when the occasion called for it. Familiar with his own limits, he knew that Phoebe was right, and downing another glass of the drink would push him from relaxed into tipsy.

As instructed, he poured himself another tumbler so he could sip from it as needed before lowering himself to the floor and sitting cross legged across from the First. Though slightly worried by her warning, he appreciated her being honest with him; and her candor reaffirmed the trust he had in Phoebe. Her confidence that this endeavor could succeed bolstered his own, and inspired him to summon up his courage and reaffirm his purpose. Once she was finished speaking, he nodded in agreement before closing his eyes and steeling himself for what came next.

The first thing he felt was Phoebe come into contact with the contract; the meeting between the two little more than a formality. Shikai had known that the First would be able to get past the contract, but it was still strange to see it yield so easily. He had little time to ponder this however, as he soon felt Phoebe's presence at the edges of his consciousness. It was a feeling akin to standing in a dark forest, surrounded by dangerous beasts he knew were there, but could not see. 

During his shinobi training, Shikai had learned how to protect his mind against mental attacks, illusions, and mind control. Feeling the First sliding into his thoughts triggered every instinct he had; urging him to mount a defense. Such an ingrained response was almost impossible to ignore, but through it all he remembered one thing. 

He was Dead.

Both he and Phoebe were members of The Dead, the organization that meant more to him than anything else in the world. Perhaps he could fight back, but there was no need to fight back. The First was trying to help him, and he would never do anything to intentionally hurt her. So even as his instincts urged him to revolt, he managed to hold himself still. Eventually his consciousness began to fade, and he could feel himself drifting away...

At first there were only whispers.

They seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere; near him one moment, but vanishing when he turned to look. Soon though, the whispers began to grow louder; and he could tell that the voices belonged to a man and a woman. Most of what they were saying was unintelligible; like trying to listen in on a conversation happening in another room. But if he focused, he could make out one word repeated over and over.


Now he could see them; a man and a woman whom he looked up at from the perspective of a child. He could hear their laughter, see their smiles, and feel his small hand held in theirs. But he could never see their whole faces. Flashes of blue eyes, long brown hair, and warm smiles, but never their faces. Still, as he felt the warmth of an embrace, and was sung to in a soothing tone, he felt like it didn't matter.

Then there was a scream; a shrill, terrified sound that pierced the heart like a blade of ice.

Suddenly he was on his knees; the man and woman sprawled out before him, their bodies mangled and motionless in pools of their own blood. Warm tears flowed down his face as he placed his small hands in theirs, the heat of their bodies already fading. Fear and grief warred for supremacy in his heart; leaving only a great, agonizing emptiness in his chest. As he looked at the corpses of his parents, he became aware of their killers, still in the house, and arguing with each other.

"What the fuck did you do?!" yelled one, a middle aged man wearing a battered military uniform.

"Husband pulled a knife, I put him down, and the bitch went crazy! I didn't have a choice!" replied a younger man, wearing the same uniform as the other man, but bare from the waist up.

"We can't sell a fucking corpse, you dumb shit!" 

"Already got like a dozen from this shithole village, we can afford to lose one!" scoffed the shirtless man.

The middle aged man glared at his younger counterpart for a few moments before sighing, "Whatever. Get a fucking move on."

"What about him?" the young man asked, pointing at Shikai.

Shikai glanced up to see the middle aged man regarding him with a cold, dispassionate gaze; the kind one might use to judge a piece of meat in a market. Then, something cold and ugly gleamed in his eye.

"Put him with the rest. I know what to do with him."

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The unfolding narrative was familiar to Phoebe- it was as common as hookers in Last Chance and as worn as prayer books in Muhir's alleys.  It was a story of power- of who had it, and who didn't, and the consequences of that imbalance.  It was the story of how Phoebe came to be Dead- and now the story of how her General did, as well.

Every moment of the Shikai's life bloomed in the fertile soil of Phoebe's mind before sprouting slowly around him; each carried the skew of her thoughts and the slant of her experience.  There was a malice woven into the remembrance that came unintentionally, but solely, from the blood-stained hands which summoned them.  It was all high contrast, deep blacks and glaring whites, sharp lines and razored edges, with not a muted or undefined color to be found.

First, Phoebe conjured the soldiers- the brutal dispassion in their faces, the way they loomed over Shikai like shadows come to life and set their will upon him.  The scene took on an almost hellish cast as the edge of the soldiers' eyes, the whites of their teeth, their angles and hollows sharpened and became as pronounced as a mob of torches on a moonless night.  Their ears stretched, elongating and pointing to a knife's edge, ghastly with its ugliness.  Rot crept; it crawled along the desert tan uniforms with tiny spider legs that slunk and slithered like the chemicals the Dead used to disposed of their victims.  Above its blackness, their bloodless, nightmarish faces, shone like corpses in the night.

His enemy was upon him, but Shikai was not alone- in the shadow, the First wove ghastly, grinning, skulls, and vicious blades, and they gathered around Shikai like family.

"You're my General."

Phoebe's voice was all around, resonating within the perceived world as if she were its omniscient, omnipotent, god.

On the floor, Shikai's father's knife glinted in the flickering light.

"You have all the power here."

Edited by Noko
Rework for rhythm and repetition.

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Posted (edited)

So much fear.

The fear of being alone, separated from the people he loved; a more intense version of the kind he felt when he had strayed from his mothers side at the market. But as he looked upon her mutilated form, he knew that he would never find the relief, the joy of being reunited. Where his parents had gone, he could not follow. Knowing that he would never see them again left him with a horrible void in his heart; empty, yet painful. He closed his eyes, feeling hot tears run down his face as he desperately wished he could wake up from the nightmare his life had become.

But no such reprieve would come; and as the older bandit spoke, a new fear descended upon Shikai like a blanket of snow. Such a young boy couldn't possibly know what horrors the man had in mind for him; but instinctively he knew to be afraid. He didn't want to go anywhere with these people; yet he knew he would be given no choice. His legs refused to obey him as he desperately tried to will himself to get up, to run away. Yet in his heart he knew one inescapable truth.

There was no escape.

As the men crept forward however, he felt another presence; one that was completely unlike that of the bandits. Unseen, but undeniable, this new force felt familiar. It filled him with the knowledge that he was not alone, that he was not helpless, and that he would not be going anywhere with these bastards.

"You're my General."

Three words that shook the world with their authority and power. It seemed to echo through the small home, and even inside the boy's own head; a sound that reverberated throughout his bones, and filled his body with a heat he'd not felt before. Memories of the future flooded his mind, all of them reaffirming her words as the truth.

"You have all the power here."

Suddenly, the boy rose to his feet; heedless of the threats and expletives hurled at him by the two bandits. A scream tore its way from his throat; a great roar that began in the high pitch of a child, and gradually deepened into that of the man the boy would become. In mere moments his body seemed to age from the small, terrified child he once was, into the strong young warrior he would become. Anyone who knew Shikai would never have seen the kind of rage that was now etched upon his features. With a flick of his wrist, he called his fathers blade to him, and fixed the bandits with a glare.

"I am NOT helpless."

The words had barely left his mouth before the shinobi flew forward at the men who had taken so much from him. Screams were cut short as blood flew, and bones snapped with sickening crunching noises. Once he was done, there was little evidence left to indicate that the piles of torn flesh at his feat were ever human. Never before had he fought with such brutal cruelty. Never before had he ever felt the need to. 

But it felt good.

Shikai looked up, knowing that technically Phoebe was everywhere, but it just seemed appropriate, "Thank you. I'm ready for the next one."


Edited by danzilla3

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As Shikai tore through his ghosts, his memory ripped at Phoebe's control like a wolverine on a field mouse.  It raged, tearing and rending, shredding, screaming against the insult levied upon it by Phoebe's continued re-weaving of its threads.  The effort was substantial, and as gore thrown by Shikai's blade slapped against the floor, she felt its edge rip through her reality.  Momentarily, Phoebe struggled; the small apartment's interior shook as if the world were a snowglobe in her palm, and a discordant hum ascended from a whisper toward an untethered, primal, shout.

Phoebe grit her teeth.  A thin sheen of sweat broke out across her forehead as she forced her jaw together and pinned the memory's threads in place.  The work was hard; Shikai wasn't a drunken barmaid who needed not to see Phoebe, nor was this an insignificant memory or a recent one; the threads were bound and tangled in the foundations of his personality and the choices he made.  Every adjustment she made, every new yarn, every bleach and clean that scrubbed the memory and propped it up with strength and determination, threw waves across the tapestry of Shikai's life and dragged its edges into her mind.

The shout stretched out, sharp and dissonant.

The world Shikai saw began to take on an overlay, a blending, of a sort, where his childhood's crumbling home began to shift and bleed into a similar, but different, one.  This kitchen table was solid, if worn.  An unfamiliar religious icon hung on the wall above a small half-open window, and a pot sat on a wood stove in the corner.  For a moment, he could almost smell the stew, before the entire overlay cracked and splintered as Phoebe slammed boundaries down through their minds.

Bound within the shifting memories, the chaos may be terrifying to Shikai- the edges of his memory bent and fractured, lengthening into blackening oblivion as their pieces were plucked apart, mended, and re-woven at the Psion's direction.  Her thoughts shot after their edges, wrangling them, exerting an effort she didn't foresee needing to expend.  Without thinking, she tapped the Mindgorger; she dragged the PRIME out of his box in the back of her head and drank the strength she'd stolen from him, and only then did Shikai's memory snap into focus and sear itself into being.

Abruptly, the house disappeared and blackness, and silence, reigned as the Psion sorted through the General's memories to find the next chaotic, throbbing wound in his mind.

It came into view like a dream- rain first, cold and angry, and the distant suggestion of trees...

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Shikai was still riding the cathartic high of wreaking bloody vengeance on the two men responsible for the deaths of his parents when one memory began to shift into another. At first it was difficult to differentiate one modest home from another; but slowly the images began to diverge. The broken bodies of his parents and the murderers disappeared, along with the blood that covered the walls, floors, and ceilings. From a kitchen stove, the scent of stew tinged the air as the coppery tang of blood all but vanished. On one wall some kind of symbol the shinobi was unfamiliar with hung above an open window. He began to walk to the window, desperate for some kind of clue as to where he was.

Then the image shattered, and a realization hit him.

Somehow, his mind and Phoebe's had become far closer than had been intended, and he'd been allowed a small glimpse into her memories. Now he felt like an intruder; a voyeur witnessing a private moment not meant to be shared. Of course, that hadn't been his intention; but he couldn't help but feel a measure of guilt for the unexpected glimpse into the First's mind. He was about to apologize when his world descended into chaos.

While he had never encountered anything quite like it before, Shikai could best liken what he was experiencing to being dragged along by a fast-moving current. Long stretches of chaos interspersed with moments of perfect clarity when his head would break the surface. Just when he was sure he would drown, that sensation was replaced with the feeling of falling unfettered through a deep, dark void. For an unknowable amount of time, all he could see was darkness, and all he could hear was the wind rushing past his face. Then, as abruptly as a car hitting a concrete wall, everything went white...

When he came to his senses, he was cold and wet.

The first thing he saw was the rain-soaked path he walked; the dirt road now little more than mud that pulled at the feet with every step. Walking was a struggle; compounded by the fact that he wore nothing on his feet but a few loose scraps of cloth. Soaked through by the constant deluge, the oversized rags he wore as clothing clung to his body in an icy embrace. Raising his head to look around, he saw that he was but a single figure in a line of other prisoners that stretched on in front and behind. There was little around them but muddy fields; nowhere to hide even if one had the courage to try and run. 

Before he could take in anymore, he felt something heavy impact the side of his head throw him to the wet ground. Dazed, he managed to look in the direction the blow had come from, and saw a young man in some kind of military uniform. The man's mouth was moving quickly, and the veins in his neck and forehead were bulging out; but Shikai couldn't hear what he was saying over the ringing in his head. His hand went to his head instinctively, feeling warm blood trickle from a shallow wound right above his hairline.

Obviously furious, the soldier moved in to hit the young boy again; but was intercepted by an older man who shoved the angry guard back. For a moment the two soldiers squared off with each other before the younger man stalked off. The older man regarded Shikai with something akin to pity before he roughly dragged the boy to his feet and gave him a shove forward. The boy kept walking. There was nothing else he could do.

Suddenly the scene jumped forward like a record skipping; and Shikai found himself crammed into a metal cage with far more people than it was meant to hold. The prisoners used this to their advantage; huddling together against the damp chill in the air. Many of the prisoners wept; careful to keep their voices down lest they attract the attention of the guards. But even when they were virtually silent, the soldiers would still come to the cages to pick out a few of the younger women. At first they screamed and struggled when they were dragged off towards the soldiers camp.

After awhile, they simply went without protest.

Occasionally the convoy of prisoners would be stopped by small groups of well-dressed people; most often men, but there was the occasional woman too. The prisoners would be lined up, and the well-dressed people would be allowed to inspect the ragged lot. Almost always the buyers would take a prisoner with them. If the newly bought slave tried to resist, they were beaten until they couldn't move, and then dragged off. Their loved ones could do nothing but scream and cry as their family and friends were taken away.

Shikai experienced all of this through the body of his younger self. All the fear and helplessness he felt then were still there, but he experienced them as though they were emotions inspired by scenes from a movie instead of a terrible memory. He knew that he could assume control of his younger form if he wanted to, but he didn't dare do so yet. Somehow he knew there was more he needed to see.

For now he would continue to play his part; though he hoped he would see whatever it was he needed to witness soon.

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Where Shikai's first trauma was a contained wound, ripped at its edges and seeping puddles of pain through his consciousness, this second one was a spreading burn that seared broad swaths of his memory to blackened ruin.  Phoebe sat by it, surrounded by the weight of the Shinobi's essence, and sought her bearings.  His focus was fading; her strength followed.  Across the wild and unseen plane of thoughts, she could feel the distant shards of his defense gathering to mount their resistance.  A fraction of her concentration split off to intercept the mounting rebellion.

She didn't have long.

This endeavor was so much more than she had ever attempted; it was the wholesale unearthing, repairing, and rewriting of some of Shikai's foundational memories.  The bits and pieces of him which made him the man he was.  Every scene revealed beneath the Psion's ministrations reverberated. Shooting across his essence, they spidered out, ricocheting, and spliting, racing along the paths of Shikai's tangled memories.  Inevitably, they lead to other related remembrances and through their dynamics began mutating the Shinobi's foundations- a reforming which Phoebe scrambled to contain, to bound within influences she found agreeable. 

She wasn't here to transform her General, but she also wouldn't allow his memories' treacherous and shifting ground to overwhelm him.  Where they fractured, she mended; where they underminded, she supported.  If there were instances in which they stamped hopelessness or malaise, she would write him grit and determination; she would underscore his survival, persistence, loyalty, and dedication. 

Shikai would be the unbowed hero of his story, not its broken victim.

The effort lodged like a knife against the back of Phoebe's neck as she worked.  Its point was a slow spinning drill at the base of her skull that ground and drove into her mind, slowly shredding her will.  In life, she began to bleed; warm rivulets of blood trickled from her nostrils and crept along the curve of her lips, eventually dripping from her chin onto the white carpet.

In the torrent of rain and anguish, Shikai's world grew markedly darker.  A deep, tangible, shadow descended over the memory like the fog of war as Phoebe drew her efforts inward to this single trauma and its immediate manifestation.  Still, it began to fracture and bleed into her weakened barriers- the edges of the forest leaked into Muhir's alleys, shadows lead to dimly lit rooms instead of fields, while the broken bodies they left behind lost familiarity and shifted to men and women in Shikai no longer recognized. 

It was a horrific funhouse- disjointed, chaotic, and growing more terrifying at its edges, while the Psion set all of her considerable, but flagging, strength upon maintaining the stable core which Shikai existed in.

Edited by Noko

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The realization that he may have made a miscalculation set in slowly.

At first, he had felt a kind of insulation from the events that played out around him; the fear and pain his younger self would have been feeling more like an echo than a roar. But as he forced himself to endure the horrors of his past, the more anger and frustration began to build inside him. He knew there was something more in this segment of memory that the shinobi knew he needed to see; and it kept him from altering the events as he had before. But watching the terrible cruelty perpetrated against people with whom he felt a sense of fondness and familiarity was becoming unbearable. He wanted to rip these men, these animals to pieces; but he dared not. All he could do was grit his teeth, clench his small fists, and feel his rage grow.

But then the rain-soaked wilderness began to morph into dark alleys and strange rooms he knew he had never been in. The faces of those around him began to shift back and forth between those familiar to him and utter strangers like a flickering light. It didn't take long for him to realize that his memories were once again blending with Phoebes. Suddenly it hit him that as his anger grew, the memory became more and more unstable. Working from there, he could infer that his heightened emotions were putting a greater strain on The First as she guided him through his memory.

Get a hold of yourself.

With considerable effort, he forced himself to calm his raging emotions. He focused on his goal; to see whatever it was his instincts were guiding him to with each step. Nothing else mattered; the jeers of his captors, the screams and sobs of the captives, all of it had to be tuned out. Just keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. This wasn't a sightseeing tour damnit. He was here for a purpose; to do what had to be done and leave.

Slowly the world seemed to stretch, and time flowed faster. The event was coming into view...

They had been traveling for days; though he wasn't sure exactly how many. He was dimly aware of the rising and setting of the sun; but only because of the unique miseries that came with each. By day they would march endlessly; stopping even for a moment would result in vicious beatings by the slavers. Sometimes they would accidentally beat their victim to death; though they didn't seem to care much. None of them were ever subjected to any punishment worse than a verbal dressing down. Once he'd heard one of the bosses mention that they could always get more slaves, so it didn't matter if they lost a few in transit.

Nighttime brought with it the worst of the captors cruelty. That was when the slavers would stop to camp and eat dinner; which was when copious amounts of alcohol were passed around the men. Once they had imbibed enough, they would desire entertainment, and that was when they would turn to the prisoners. Women were the ones most often taken. Sometimes they were merely made to dance or sing for the amusement of their captors. Other times it was worse... far worse. Men were not spared by the slavers though; and one of their favorite after-dinner activities was to tie a slave to a post, and take turns throwing knives or shooting arrows at them. They even had a point system, though Shikai never managed to figure out how it worked.

Through all of it, the rain never stopped. Though the guards had cloaks and coats and other gear to help keep them reasonably dry through the constant deluge; their prisoners were afforded no such protection. Constantly soaked and freezing, it left them with little energy to consider resistance or escape. 

Until one day the rain turned into a full-on storm; lightning splitting the sky, and thunder sending shivers through the earth. The rain was so heavy that it was hard to see more than a few feet in front of one's face. During this chaos, a young man who often walked next to Shikai seized the moment to attempt to escape. He bolted out of the line and off to the side. The guards shouts could barely be heard over the sound of the storm. For a moment, the young man stopped, looked the boy straight in the eye, and beckoned for him to follow.

Shikai knew what had happened that day. A mere child, he had been too scared of what would happen should they be caught to even attempt to escape. The young man had disappeared into the storm, and the shinobi had never seen him again. Though he probably died, Shikai couldn't help but ponder the possibility that he survived. Even if he had died, maybe it was better to die free than live in bondage. It was a question that he had no answer to, even now. 

But in this place he could correct the mistakes of his past. This time he chased after the young man, following him through the rain until the world was swallowed up by brilliant white light.

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The steady patter of blood drops marked the time, seemingly infinite.  In front of Phoebe's folded legs, the once-white carpet was soaked, stained a rapidly spreading crimson.  She was fractured; at the end of her strength, she'd split her consciousness in a dozen different ways in her effort to simultaneously blunt Shikai's primal war against her mental invasion while rapidly revealing and rewriting the memory.

In Shikai's memories, the darkness permeated- his world began to get smaller, narrower, mimicking the path he ran as he unknowingly was funneled back toward reality and out of the swiftly collapsing recollection.  He ran, the shattered, terrifying darkness shifted to light- from recollection to reality- as he fed into his mindscape, welcomed, as his defenses charged to its edges with the ferocity of an invading horde.

Phoebe retreated, patching even as she pulled back- reinforcing, splicing, strengthening the bits of Shikai which were advantageous to his success- to their success.  Where she found loyalty, she replicated; where she found grit, or determination, or drive, she highlighted them, polished them and brought them to the forefront like the jewels they were. 

Weakness?  Melancholy?  Malaise?  Pity?  All crushed, trampled underfoot as the First walked her way out of Shikai's mind.

Phoebe's eyes opened to the white carpet - now, far too white for comfort - and the grotesque puddle of blood matting its fibers together.  She bared her teeth against it all, scrunching her nose up until her eyes were shut tight against the light and could find some respite in the dark behind her lids.  Raising her right hand, she brought her thumb and forefinger gently to the arch above her eyebrows and massaged tiny circles against her skull.  

The blood could wait; the carpet could wait; it could all wait.  

The headache came first.

As she sensed Shikai regaining consciousness, Phoebe remained quiet, only hissing a whispered plea, "...Shhhhh."

Edited by Noko

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Shikai didn't know how long he had been floating through the featureless white void of his mind; nor did he have any inkling of when it might end. Many people would find such an experience disorienting, or ever terrifying; but the shinobi was completely at ease. At present he was idly wondering what he would liken this experience to. It wasn't the same as sleep, though he felt that he probably could drift off if he really wanted to. A better fit would probably be the trance-like state he entered into during meditation. Either way, he wasn't too worried about it.

Hell, would it really be so bad to just stay like this awhile?

That question would remain a mystery as he abruptly stopped floating and started falling; plunging towards some unseen end below. Shikai thought he might be screaming, but couldn't hear himself over the sound of the wind rushing by him. A few seconds later a bright light appeared below him, and he plummeted toward it. Just as he was about to hit, he refused to close his eyes; determined to face death with open eyes if now was his time.

Falling into the light; for some reason he couldn't help but feel as though he were flying.

Pain was the first thing to hit him.

Judging by the stiffness of his muscles, Shikai would have guessed that he had been sitting in the same position for a few centuries instead of a few hours. Attempting to stand had the effect of sending him sprawling to the floor; limbs twitching as he tried to move. None of this was helped by the cataclysmic headache that was raging in his skull. It was like the worst hangover he'd ever experienced had teamed up with the hardest blow he'd ever taken to the head and birthed some unholy abomination formed of pure cranial agony. Glancing down he could see blood marring the pristine white carpet; which puzzled him because he didn't feel any blood. Then the scent hit his nose, and a single word broke through the fog of pain.


Finally he glanced up to see The First; blood flowing freely from her nose as she tried to massage away what must have been a terrible migraine. He was about to speak when he heard her shush him, and he kept his mouth shut. Struggling to sit back up, he stared across at his superior with a concerned expression. Pulling a handkerchief from his pants pocket, he placed it on the floor between him and Phoebe. Then he retrieved a syringe from another pocket, and promptly injected himself with it. Almost instantly the soreness began to subside, and it felt like he could breathe again.

Taking a syringe of the same type, he placed it with the handkerchief; there to use is she so desired, and waited in silence.

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