No point in keeping it a secret, I suppose.
I was beaten.
I played the game just like Nightscream wanted me to, and I lost.
And I couldn't even tell you where reality stopped and the game began, because I was there from the beginning. Like I always am. Emotions just... go away for the duration. It's not until after the fact that I finally feel what I was supposed to have felt then.
When I escaped from Morningstar, the panic I should have felt didn't come until that night, when I was lying awake in bed.
When I escaped from Christian, I didn't tremble with impotent rage until after I was already an hour down the highway, practically across the border.
But with Nightscream... I got taken completely by surprise. I never planned for that eventuality because it never occurred to me that it was a possibility. We weren't seeking anything. We weren't a threat to anyone. All we were doing was surviving, living from place to place.
Some people carry grudges, I guess. And not even against me, as it turned out.
Nightscream is... different than I pictured him, I guess. Or her. I always imagined the person as male, given the way s/he writes, but it was actually impossible to tell one way or another. The voice was generic, so were the clothes, and I couldn't actually see the face - for someone who sounds as suave as they do in text, Nightscream actually dresses like your standard proxy lunatic. Mask, hood, etc. Maybe s/he enjoys the irony, I don't know.
Nightscream was with me the entire time. At first I yelled and flailed and cried like I knew s/he wanted me to, keeping my defenses up as high and as strong as they would go. I tried to look around, find anything that I could use. Sometimes s/he turned the music off and talked to me for a while. I talked back because I wanted Nightscream interested in me - interest would keep me alive - but also because I was interested in Nightscream. It's such a rare thing when a proxy will speak coherently, with full reasoning faculties, and even rarer that someone like that is even interested in conversing. And, frankly, I had a lot of questions.
I'm almost scared of how fascinating s/he was, honestly.
But then the torture would start up again, and more often than not, my guard had slipped during the interval, struggling to put it back up against the handicaps placed on me. Against the very rhythms of my body, which I was suddenly acutely aware of, and that fought against me too. I couldn't steady my breathing to steady my mind, I couldn't breathe at all, I
I'm not going to talk about what happened. I'm NOT going to talk about what happened.
But... whatever it is that I'm not talking about... should sound familiar to you by now. There's only so much of a pounding a mind can take before it shuts itself off. That was my final defense mechanism last time, although it was taken to its logical extreme during the months I was... out of it. This was closer to the weeks just before I left home. Only it was still slightly different, because this time I had a target to focus the remainder of my thoughts on. That's something that happens automatically too, honestly, though I don't know why. I don't know why, when my own self is all but erased - even if the erasure is temporary, or even if it's voluntary - I sort of... fall into someone else.
I looked for an advantage. Anything. But Nightscream is nothing if not open and secure with his/her identity... and I guess I kind of respect him/her for that. But all those little weaknesses that I would normally exploit - Morningstar's impulsiveness, Christian's disconnectedness,
So the next time s/he put his/her little game on pause and we started to talk... I asked him/her more about his/her life as a proxy. I asked about the benefits of the job - the security, the travel, the immunity from the law. I asked about the sense of absolute contentment s/he goes to sleep with every night.
I indicated, slowly and carefully, that maybe joining Him wouldn't be such a bad thing.
I knew Nightscream wouldn't be able to pass it up. I mean... bar be it for me to abuse my title, but a fact is a fact - when a Sage goes down, community morale goes through the floor. This is something that Nightscream very much wants, especially after how long s/he's mocked me for being the so-called Hope Bearer.
It wasn't hard. Fighting exhaustion, keeping my head on straight enough to continue talking, that was hard. But we actually wound up sincerely agreeing on a lot of points.
We both know that nobody does anything they don't want to do.
We both know that lying is often the kinder option, even though truth is desperately necessary.
And above all... we both know full-well how to be self-serving, manipulative pricks.
When Michelle came for me, like everyone knew she would, there was this huge commotion outside. Nightscream paused in our conversation to check it out. The music had already been off for a good while. When I got up and followed, s/he didn't stop me, like I knew s/he wouldn't. I was shaking, soaked, barely able to stand, and merely a few kind words away from agreeing with absolutely everything Nightscream said. It was a virtual impossibility at that point that s/he would stop me from coming along.
Just outside the doors, in the lobby, we saw them: Michelle trying to get in, and a man in a black coat trying to stop her.
I saw Nightscream grin. S/he had told me that Michelle was his/her real target. Not for any business-related reason, but just because Morningstar had asked him/her to.
Morningstar, whom Michelle believed she was fighting just outside the door. I could hear them talking, hear her call him "Twinkle", hear him chuckle at her in response. It might have sounded affectionate if they weren't both carrying knives.
Nightscream moved forward. I knew what s/he was going to do - s/he was going after Michelle - and I reacted. But... fuck, s/he knew I was going to do that. The move was bait, just like I was bait. S/he whipped me around, shoved my bad arm up backwards, whipped out a knife to my throat, and there was nothing I could do about it after a day and a half treading water with no food and no sleep and concentrating so hard on not breaking I might burst.
But I would be an even bigger idiot than I seemed to be if I hadn't expected Nightscream to see through me. If I couldn't peg a regular mental weakness on him/her, then there was no way s/he'd fall for something as transparent as a fake defection. I mean, I hoped s/he might, but I sort of knew s/he wouldn't.
So I put someone else's weakness to use instead: I yelled for Michelle to save me.
That was always the plan, the point is always to keep her focused, pointed in... in the most constructive direction, if not always the right one. She thought she was fighting Morningstar, or maybe Morningstar's ghost, but I could see it was clearly someone else. The only one who couldn't was her. So I had to get her away from him, away from his voice in her head, away from the increasingly large possibility that she'd do something we'd all regret.
And it worked, like I knew it would. As soon as Michelle heard my voice, as soon as she saw me being held at knifepoint, she was up in an instant, all her attention focused on getting me out of danger. That was where I wanted her attention to be. She ran towards us, knife in hand, eyes clearer than I've seen them in weeks...
And then the fake Morningstar got up. And he was faster. And he placed himself between Michelle and her only goal.
Just... it's wrong. It's so wrong, what happened. And it's probably my fault.
The illusion faded once the deed was done, and Michelle knew instantly that she had made a mistake. Her mind... just... continuous record-scratches, screeching, whynowhynononono
I heard Nightscream chuckling in my ear.
It was all I could do to keep from following that dark spiral. I was barely keeping my own darkness at bay, full of ice and silence and horribly fulfilled promises.
Because there was something else I had sensed in Nightscream. Something damp and ragged and harsh, deep in his lungs. Nightscream was sick. S/he coughed a significant amount during my captivity, and tried to play it off as a cold, but I remembered. I could taste the spark of nervousness each time s/he cleared his/her throat. I knew there was more to it than that.
I reached in. I pulled. Fluid where there shouldn't be fluid sloshing around as the trachea contracted, gag reflex tickled just a little bit, stomach acid burning and choking further, and, oh look! Were those bloody tears and gashes in the tubes of the bronchial tree I saw?
Oh yes, I could do it. I could manipulate any which way I chose, for good or for ill. I was desperate. I was angry. I was literally and necessarily out of my own mind.
Nightscream staggered, and s/he wasn't laughing anymore. I tried to pull free, and got shallowly slashed a few times, but s/he was still stronger than me, and I was suddenly on the ground with Nightscream pulling a gun on me. Bastard knew where the pain was coming from, didn't take a genius to figure it out. But I pulled harder, and it wasn't long before s/he was on the ground with me, wheezing and groaning and hacking up blood.
And then I was suddenly on my feet, Michelle pulling me away. Focused again, as long as I was there. Unlike me - that took all of what little energy I had left, maybe more. I did hear gunshots. One of them went through Michelle's bad arm, we realized later, but but it missed the bone, so it really didn't do much more damage than she's already done to herself. Keep moving, through the doors, and we were out.
Michelle had our car. Neither of us were in any real shape to drive, but she wound up insisting on driving anyway, which I guess was okay.
No one followed us.
I don't think anyone could follow us.
I know what Nightscream wanted from me.