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Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

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INV ONLY Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on October 24th 2018, 4:19 pm


This is a continuation of the Facade arc, following A Little Lady & A Big Cock




December 19th, 2018
Boston, Massachusetts


Cynthia shivered as she exited the car. The sun had set some hours ago, and the already cool air had become bone-chilling. With the waterfront so close there was little to break up the wind, making matters worse.
Her usual clothes would’ve made the cold more bearable; the invitation had specified semi-formal attire at minimum, however, leaving her wearing a cocktail dress and heels. Her jacket kept her from completely freezing, at least.
She left her keys with the valet and made her way to the venue.

The restaurant had a usual appearance for the area, clean metal-clad pillars bridged by high windows. The lighting was more colorful than most, a banner over front the giving the reason: “Masquerade Night.” There was a sizeable crowd, many patrons mingling outside despite the weather. A line had formed at the door, wrapping around the sidewalk.

Cynthia located her contact readily enough: even in a tuxedo, the man’s figure was easily recognized. She only knew his surname, Powell.

“Hey.”

He turned to face her, already wearing a mask that spanned from cheekbone to brow. It had an onyx appearance, with bronze inlays in the shape of lightning radiating inward from the edges.

“Hello. Glad you could make it on such short notice.”

“I’ve had a busy day, but not a productive one. I didn’t really have anything else to do with my night, and well, they say it’s better to do something than nothing if you’ve got the time, right?.”

“I wish I could say the same. One of my prior commitments canceled, freeing up time for this.”
He extended his elbow.
“You must be freezing, let’s go inside.”

Cynthia hesitated.
“I thought this was a job interview, not a date.”

“Exactly.” He gestured to the crowd. “Let them think it is. It’s all about appearances, really. Give them false hints to guess at, and leave the truth safe. Besides, would you rather wait in line?”

As if to reinforce his point the wind picked up again, and she shivered. She hooked her arm under his, loosely.
“Alright. Lead the way.”

The doorman let them in, eliciting groans of protest from those waiting. A hostess greeted them.
“Oh, one of our VIPs. The kitchen just finished your order, and your table is all set. Would you like me to bring you to it?”

“Of course, but first, my associate will need a mask.”

The woman looked Cynthia over.
“Blue, to match your dress?”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
The hostess handed Cynthia a mask, simple, save for its jewel-like finish. She put it on. Judging from her reflection in the window it managed to cover just enough of her face to make recognition difficult

“Now, if you would just follow me…”

They followed the hostess past the crowds of revelers and into a quieter section, where she led them to a booth by the wall. They sat down and the hostess let them be.

Cynthia started on her salad immediately. Powell played with his meal a bit, his focus more on her. They were close enough that she could see his eyes behind the mask, that same stare from earlier.

“Does it need energy?”

She looked at him, confused.
“Huh?”

“Your power, does take its energy from you? You ordered prime rib and a full salad, after all.”

“Uh, no. It’s just not often that a prospective employer offers to pay for dinner. I can get away with eating less tomorrow, now.”
She blinked.
“How did you know? I mean, I assumed you knew, after you messaged me. But how?”

“My power lets me see energy potentials. I can see something around you, faint, but clearly there.”

“So that’s why you were staring at me.”

He looked down, sheepish.
“My apologies if it made you uncomfortable. I’m something of a scientist by nature, and your power was quite the mystery. I would love to see it in use.”

“First I’d like to ask you some questions. Our mutual friend sent me an email with your name involved, but I’m guessing you don’t want it said aloud.”

“Good, good.” He sighed. “Good that you’re getting a handle on secrecy. Covering up that loose end might be a headache, though. Anyway, go on.”

“Who are you?”

He smiled, holding his left hand up with index and middle finger spread apart. There was a brief snap and the smell of ozone as an arc formed between the digits, lasting a few seconds.

“You’re Conduit. I guess the mask should’ve made it obvious. I thought you retired?”

“I did. You saw what happened in New York, though. The politicians say that adversity brings us together. I won’t deny that it does, of course, but there are always the darker elements in society, waiting for their chance to strike. I intend to stop them.”

“And you need people.”

“Yes. On a lighter note, I’m glad you recognized me. The media stopped caring within a year, and fame doesn’t last as long as they make it seem. There’s good and bad with that, though it still stings, to be forgotten.”

“They shouldn’t forget you. You helped a lot of people, it’d be wrong to forget that. Especially after what happened to Domain.”

He sighed.
“I suppose you’re right.”

“Were you two… close? There were rumors in the media, that you were dating.”

“She was my sister, actually. We’re twins.”

“Oh, oh. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. You remember what I said earlier? Let them have their false hints? When those rumors started it’s not like we could deny them, that only fuels gossip. Stating our real relationship would have made it easier to track us down. So we let the rumors go along. That’s the past, though. If your curiosity is sufficiently sated, I would love to see that power of yours.”

Cynthia shrugged.
“Here? Now?”

“Of course. It’s masquerade night, after all. Who’s going to know?”

“It’s just, I was fired for using it on the job. I’ve been trying to be more careful after that.”

“Doesn’t need to be spectacular. Something small.”

“Alright.”
She moved the now-empty salad bowl to the end of the table, reaching over to get her main course. As she slid the plate along she used her field on the cut of prime rib, neatly separating it into bite-size squares.
“That enough?”

“Fascinating. That was much clearer. And you can do this at will?”

“Yeah, all it takes is a thought. I can feel objects inside my field, which helps with imagining it.”

“That’s all you need to do? No recharging? It’s always there?”

“It can be mentally draining if I try to do really complicated things with it. It’s never gone away, not since it first appeared.”

“How did you acquire it? Your power.”

“I, I don’t really know. It was a bad time for me: my mother was sick, and I was living with a friend’s family out in the midwest. I felt like my life was falling apart, that I didn’t have any control. I was desperate, and I guess something broke.”

“Hm. That must’ve been hard.”

“I hated it at first, I felt like I’d ruined my life. ‘Course, I adjusted eventually. By the time I started college I was confident enough to experiment with it. I realized I could use my power to my advantage academically. That’s why I switched to the double major. Which, thanks to my carelessness, I can’t afford now.”

“Never considered hero work?”

“You’ve seen the big names out there. Throwing buildings around like they’re nothing. Hell, you can shoot lightning out of your hands. I can pick up a car, maybe a truck. I felt like I could contribute more to society by living a normal life, get an education, get a good job.”

“I can sympathize; I wish I had that attitude when I was younger. My sister and I were born with our powers and they only got stronger as we grew, so being heroes seemed like destiny. Looking back, we were two dumb kids hyped up on power we didn’t understand. With everything that’s happened now, though, it feels wrong to be held back by regrets. To let myself be a bystander, when I could do more. Would you agree?”

“Well, when you put it that way, yeah. This is legal, right? The whole hero thing?”

“Completely above board. We won’t be law enforcement, exactly, but I know enough people to get us the right legal coverage.”

“Consider me interested then.”

“Excellent.”
Conduit opened up his briefcase, removing some papers.
“Let’s get to business.”


Last edited by REDSHEILD on October 24th 2018, 11:08 pm; edited 1 time in total
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on October 24th 2018, 10:34 pm

“--and a straw, please, if you don’t mind.”

He gestured toward the full-face mask he wore, by way of explanation.

“Of course, sir.”

As the bartender walked away, Isaac spun his stool a quarter-turn to survey the restaurant non-chalantly. From his seat, he had a nearly uninterrupted line of sight to the vast majority of the restaurant’s patrons. It was an ideal locale for people-watching, with high ceilings offering a glimpse of the upper levels and its open floor plan seating just over a hundred patrons in the main dining area alone. Opposite from the street facing side of the building, the wall was lined with semi-circular booths that offered the restaurant’s more discrete clientele some marginal privacy.

Judging from the glances he received here and there, Isaac’s tailor had been right: the suit was a good fit. With the help of his mask, he could see himself from a different perspective, from the eyes of others. He straightened his posture some, noticing his slight slouch as a businessman spared a look his way while traversing the dining room. His tie, too, needed some adjusting. The knot was too tight, ruining the texture of his shirt.

And as a well-dressed woman passed by the bar, he made sure to lock eyes with her and nod just right.

They were little insights, not quite coherent thoughts. Gut feelings, half-formed judgements. Rasmus couldn’t read minds, but with some concentration, what it could do was almost as good.

When the bartender returned with his drink, Isaac looked through her eyes, too. Sure enough, the mask’s shape was reasonably obvious to anyone with some amount of imagination, without being unnatural or out-of-place in the masquerade.

Rasmus was the face of an owl, almost in a platonic sense. It was a porcelain white mask, the only contrast on its surface formed by the way shadows played over the highs and lows of the mask’s shape. It was unassuming, high-quality without being flashy or pretentious. The only thing ‘off’ about it was the humming.

Isaac still hadn’t solved that mystery. It was a distant, high-pitched hum that was barely noticed by everyone when they looked at him, if only subconsciously. He felt it, too, when he took the mask off and set it aside at the end of the night. It would be maddening, if the mask didn’t provide the sort of relief that it did.

He couldn’t feel pleasure, or joy, or much of anything as he looked around. Without Rasmus, a rare steak was just a hunk of cow, slaughtered and seared. A finely dressed woman was just a member of the opposite sex in expensive clothes. And the drink in his hand didn’t make him easily humored or pleasantly relaxed, it just made his body feel heavier and made his eyes feel like they were a little loose in their sockets.

With Rasmus, things were different. He didn’t feel any happier, didn’t truly enjoy anything any more than without the owl-shaped mask. However, he could look at that same steak through someone else’s eyes and judge it as delicious and beautifully seared, judge the woman as beautiful and tempting.

He didn’t feel those things himself, couldn’t feel those things himself due to some fucked-up chemical imbalance in his brain. Even that determination, that his condition was fucked-up, had to be confirmed by looking at the description for anhedonia through someone else’s eyes.

It was addicting all the same. Despite every insight being so distant, so emotionally empty that it’d make a zombie weep, Isaac lived vicariously through them.

Isaac sipped his drink leisurely, barely managing to snake the straw under his mask each time he raised the glass. Slowly scanning the dining room, he could see that most everyone there was enjoying their meals and their dining partners. Those who weren’t looked like business men, stuck-up white collar workers who’d likely eaten better on their company’s dime a week ago in Hong Kong. Or something like that. At those tables, the patrons shot daggers at one another with their eyes. Petty rivalries, likely. Old Lincoln’s “a house divided” spiel didn’t really apply to corporate competition.

He waved to the bartender and gestured toward the second level’s bar, signalling that he was going to move upstairs. She nodded. He’d had to return for his card, but at least they’d know he hadn’t walked out and forgotten. Isaac held his glass carefully, mindful not to move too suddenly so as to avoid spilling its contents.

The second level had a much better view of the restaurant’s more interesting clientele. The discrete diners, nestled in their booths. Mostly couples, though Isaac bounced the word around loosely in his head. The women were, by and large, attractive, intelligent, and witty. Escorts, as far as Isaac could tell. He was fairly certain that was the case, as most of the men could be best described as old, ugly, or sleezy. Pick any two.

These cadavers and douchebags were prime targets for Isaac’s experiential voyeurism. The women they bought the companionship of were positively gorgeous more than three-quarters of the time, and Isaac almost gleaned a hint of satisfaction by looking through their client’s eyes. For just the price of a gin-and-tonic, Isaac could almost remember how good it felt to be in the company of an attractive woman.

One booth held a more interesting pair than the rest. The man there was not unattractive, so far as Isaac could judge with the insight gleaned from the man’s companion. For some reason, however, the man made her feel some faint unease. Not the sort of threatened wariness of a potential victim, but the cynicism of someone who is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Isaac couldn’t read lips, but he could tell well enough that the man spoke with a level of practiced ease. No, not practiced: he was simply genuine. Some kind of negotiation? A job offer, perhaps?

Rasmus hummed louder, almost as if excited. Through the woman’s eyes, Isaac watched as the man raised two fingers in a V shape and an arc of electricity formed between his fingertips. Isaac nearly dropped his drink of the rail, stunned at the sight.

Parahuman.

The electric man began sorting through some papers he pulled from a briefcase, passing choice packets to his companion as he spoke. Contracts, perhaps. Likely more than few non-discloure agreements in the lot. That the man was so non-chalant about displaying his power to his company for the evening struck Isaac as odd.

Where there’s one…

Isaac refocused Rasmus’ attention, viewing the world through the electric man’s eyes rather than the woman’s. It took a moment, the world in the woman’s view fading as the man’s view overlaid and replaced it.

This time, Isaac’s drink fell from his grasp. A flood of alien sensory data overwhelmed him, made him loosen his grasp on the gin-and-tonic just enough for the smooth glass to fall from his fingers and to the ground one story below. It shattered loudly.

1173


Last edited by MissingAxis on December 21st 2018, 3:30 am; edited 4 times in total
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on October 25th 2018, 1:11 am

Two memories played in Aaron’s head, side by side, clear as the moment they were recorded. Not by him, of course. Human memory was lousy, more noise than signal in comparison, optimized for a bare minimum of information. The machine mapped to his brain was built to a higher standard.
Each memory was taken mere moments ago. The first spanned around a minute: he was talking to Cynthia, making eye contact as was polite, but his focus had been drawn to a detail that seemed out of place. An aura around each of her eyes, pale, conical. He’d almost missed it among the light gray fog of the woman’s potential field. The second was much shorter, barely a second long, essentially a still-frame: Cynthia’s power demo, where the faint gray fog had erupted into sharp white gridlines, neatly dicing a cut of prime rib.
They were different. He dismissed the second memory, calling up ones recorded earlier. For how worried she’d been about displaying her power, Cynthia had used it subconsciously several times that evening. A brief bit of force when she lost her footing in her heels, a slight push to keep her hair out of her face.
All different from the auras.

“I hope I’m not the only one you’ve talked with.”

Her voice broke his concentration, and his visual focus returned to his eyes. He looked up from the meal he’d been eating to see her paging through the first contract.

“What makes you think you are?”

“Well, like your email said, you’re looking for people without experience in the whole hero deal, who also have a good handle on their powers. Just seemed pretty exclusive.”

“I’ll be honest, you’re the second.”

She shrugged in response.

“Forgive me for asking, but, you don’t need glasses, do you?”

Cynthia looked at him, brow furrowed.
“Uh, no. Why?”

“You haven’t even marked off the first page.”

“Just doing my due diligence.”

“Ah. Carry on”
Damn. Not her.

“Must’ve been slim pickings, if your second choice is a broke student.”

“That puts you a few pay grades over my first, actually. I have yet to meet her, but she’s already exceeded my expectations.”

“Oh?”

“You heard of the attack on that mall in Marlborough? This afternoon? She managed to stop it, despite not having time to prepare.”

“I should thank her, then. A friend of mine was there today. Will she be meeting us here, or…?”

“You’ll meet her tomorrow. I’d like to have a meetup in costume; get familiar with each other’s powers.”

“Looking forward to it.”

Aaron reached out to a cluster of circuits in his thigh, a bluetooth antenna. A few connections later and he was mentally interfacing with his phone. Like the virtual machine in his head it ran faster than he could easily track, but the surface programs were meant for human input.
With a thought he sent out a text message.

Just confirming for tomorrow. Impressive as today was, I’m too busy to reschedule another meeting this week.

Fuck.
Shit.
Stop listening!
ugh
sorry
voice to text turned on
ill be there dont worry

Good.


A haze appeared in his peripheral vision soon after his focused shifted away from the phone. Within a second the haze expanded forward, dominating his field of view. The aura.

In that same moment there was the distinct sound of breaking glass. Aaron turned his head towards it. There were some gasps from patrons seated near where the glass had fallen, dropped from above.

Aaron traced the trajectory upwards to a man in a white mask, hand still out with fingers curled.
The man’s mask resembled an owl by the few contours on its surface, and it had a peculier glow about it when seen with his powered eyes.
More intriguing were the mask’s eyes, a conical aura poking out through them.
Another target? Or the source?

He focused on his sight: as it grew sharper and more detailed the world began to darken, fading altogether. Now he saw a world of energy, from the faintest static buildups to the brilliance of the building’s electrical grid.

Even now the auras were faint; observing the others made worse by those over his own eyes.
He reached up to adjust his mask, his hand visible from the currents coursing across it. As his thumb obscured an eye he let loose a small shock. It traveled through the pupil and onto the optic nerve, filling the eye with light, an overload. Harmless, but blinding.

Aaron’s mind had barely registered it, the shock lasting under a millisecond, but the machine was faster. He let his real sight return as he shifted focus to the recording. In the moment one eye went blind, the aura flared in the other. Beyond it, the auras of the masked man flared as well.
His sight was meant for energy; fortunately, information was roughly the same. He could sense the connection now.

Cynthia’s voice interrupted his concentration once again. She held the contract, pen pointing at some portion.
“Should I initial here?”

“Just mark it, a check will do.”
Aaron glanced at the man in the owl mask.
“You never know who might be watching.”
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on October 25th 2018, 9:24 pm

Isaac turned on his heel abruptly, nearly spilling the drinks held by a waitress as she passed behind him. He apologized hastily, hurrying toward the staircase. His vision didn’t return to normal until he was halfway down the steps, the invisible line between Isaac and the parahuman severed by an intervening wall.

There was a sort of emptiness just behind his eyes, a feeling not unlike a blindspot caused by bright lamps or the sun, though his vision remained unimpaired.

The man had identified him, somehow. Not just as the source of the commotion, but as… well, as a spy, to use the term loosely. The way the man had looked at him, made the connection between the commotion, the auras that Isaac wasn’t even aware existed, and the mask. More than that, the man knew what Isaac had seen. The dull fog around the woman, the papers… Isaac knowing about the man’s sight alone would be cause for concern, no doubt.

He considered making a run for it. Slip out into the street, disappear into the night and never come back. For all he knew, Isaac had stumbled across a pair of so-called supervillains doing business, negotiating some kind of turf distribution or going into business selling some kind of mega-heroin or trafficking powered children or…

No, not productive. As much as accidentally running into a pair of powered individuals had not been on the agenda, he had to figure out something more realistic than trying to run for it. After all, the mask was pretty easily identifiable with the man’s sight. In a whole room of masked diners, only Rasmus glowed.

He could give it back. Track down Jason, shove the mask in his hands, and get on the next flight to the other side of the globe. Isaac would make a new life, market his skills in Hong Kong or Japan or fucking Siberia. Anywhere--

No. Not productive. Rasmus was all he had, after all. The doctors couldn’t fix his brain, but Rasmus could make it more bearable. He couldn’t give Rasmus up.

Isaac found himself in the men’s restroom, ground floor. After a check that the stalls were empty, he pull Rasmus away from his face and ran the tap. With the mask sitting on the counter beside the sink, Isaac rubbed at his eyes with index finger and thumb. The dullness in his eye sockets wouldn’t go away. He palmed his eyes, both hands pushing hard against the soft gelatinous orbs. He could almost crush them in frustration.

No. Not productive.

Whatever business dealings the parahumans out there had going on, he wanted none of it.

But…

There could be others. There would be others. In some capacity, every one of those powered… people? Mutants? Hosts of symbiotic magic alien crystals? Whatever. They all were part of a network, in some capacity. Maybe two or three parahumans they interacted with, in some capacity.

And maybe…

Just maybe one of them could help him. There were invincible men and women flying around shooting lasers from their eyes and shitting gold, so surely there was some kind of brain wizard out there.

Yeah. Maybe he was on to something.

Isaac stopped rubbing at his eyes and rested his palms on the countertop. He looked at his reflection, at the bags under his eyes and the shine in them. He felt dead. Hell, he looked dead. He was the modern version of a zombie, unsleeping and unfeeling.

Yet, somewhere in depths of his psyche, he could feel the faintest glimmer of something. Hope?

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Last edited by MissingAxis on December 21st 2018, 4:23 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : rewrite)
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on October 26th 2018, 3:15 pm

The minor commotion of the dropped glass had barely managed to get Cynthia’s attention. She was used to louder, more chaotic environments, thanks to her former workplace.
She checked off the relevant fields of the first packet; liability and legalese, mostly.
What did worry her was Conduit’s comment.

“Do you think we’re being watched?” She asked.

He seemed to hesitate a moment before responding. “No. Not us, exactly. Much as a place like this attracts those trying to stay hidden, it also attracts those prying for secrets. Better to exercise caution, just in case.”

Cynthia nodded, though it didn’t help her sense of unease. She opened the cover of the second packet. This one was financial in nature: pay, insurance, tax withholdings. Meatier subjects than the first one, with language that was only slightly more understandable.
As she gave the contents an initial read she picked at her dinner, grazing more than eating, hoping to extend the meal to last the evening.
The insurance portion seemed fairly standard, roughly equivalent to the plan offered to most full-time employees, combining dental and health. It surprised her a bit at first, but made sense upon reflection: a superhero team would be fairly useless if the heroes weren’t in good health. She winced, recalling the news of the mall attack: details were scarce, but the hero had to be carried out on a stretcher. Serious injury was a real possibility.
Next was compensation, which caught her eye. A hundred dollars a day for being on call, with an extra hundred for timely response and potential extra based on the scope and risk involved. In the grand scheme it wasn’t much, but it added up over time.

“So, how are you funding this? Sponser?”

Conduit had been looking at the crowd, having already finished his meal. He turned his focus back to her.
“Do you doubt I can provide?”

“Well, it’s just, this seems beyond the means of…” She caught her tongue, having nearly said graduate student. “…Of someone coming right out of retirement.”

He smiled.
“Our mutual friend mentioned the paper I’m working on, yes?”

“He did.”

“That’s the most exciting one, since it relies on my talents almost exclusively, at least for the initial design work. But it’s only one in a series of published work. I’ve been selling patents for a few years now, nothing that’s hit markets yet, but enough to invest. When the team goes public I’m going to look into contract work for us for some real income, like I used to do.”

Cynthia nodded, looking back at the papers. Her thoughts dwelled more on Conduit’s words, though. She hadn’t been wholly truthful earlier about her reasons for opting out of cape life. She’d fantasized about it before, and one summer those fantasies became something more material. Using her employment at the scrapyard to pick up several hundred pounds of steel for cheap. Building a costume, a suit of armor; testing it, refining the design. She’d almost made the leap, but ultimately held back.
Being a hero meant living a double life, having a reputation that wasn’t built on visible foundations of personality and history. She hadn’t been ready for that then. She wasn’t sure if she was ready now, but she didn’t have other opportunities either.

Conduit stood up, drawing her attention.
“I’ll be back shortly, just need to use the restroom.”

“Oh, sure.”

He disappeared into the crowded restaurant. Cynthia took out her phone which she’d kept tucked into a fold in her dress, held in place with her power. She opened the calendar and turned to the availability section of the packet, marking down her on-call times and preferred off days. On a weekly basis she filled in every day except Sunday, adding notes about what remained of her daily routine for completeness. For the year she looked back and forth at her calendar, marking off important dates and times she would be unavailable: certain holidays, appointments. She looked it over for any mistakes. Her eyes settled on the block for Sunday; after some consideration she marked it as available too, save a block of time from five to eleven in the morning. Enough time for Church with her parents after her morning run.

The phone buzzed, a text message appearing, from Alyssa.

heyyyyyy
cindy can i use your kitchen

I thought you’d be sleeping. Did you get your car and your stuff alright?

yeah
took forever
kitchen please though
took a nap now im hungry

Okay, just clean up any mess you make, alright?

your not my mom
but yeah fine
bye bye

Cynthia regretted the text right after she sent it. Alyssa had never been the most careful or attentive person, nor a good cook. Her kitchen had fire extinguisher, at least. And the fire department was nearby. She shook her head and went back to the papers.

~~~

Aaron used his sight to navigate the crowds beyond the quiet dining area. It couldn’t quite see the future, not with movement at least, but it helped picked out the patterns in the way people moved about.

He’d used it to try and track the owl-mask’s wearer, but the man had gone out of view. Aaron could see through objects somewhat, if an energy potential was nearby or particularly power, or the object unsubstantial. The mask, however, looked fainter than it should have been, as if it were concealing itself. The man had come down the stairs, only to be lost in the crowd.

Aaron made his way around the ground floor, scanning the area. No sign of the mask or wearer among the tables, nor outside. With how packed the restaurant was, it was doubtful the man had managed to leave already. Which, ironically enough, left the restrooms.

As he pushed the door open he scrutinized the room, his sight again at its full extent, adjusted enough to make out the shape of the environment, more like a thermal image than true vision.
He saw the aura of the mask, sitting atop the sink counter. A mass of heat next to it, tall, masculine in shape. The wearer.
From his sight he could tell the restroom was free of interlopers: the stalls cold, unlikely to have occupants. He leaned up against the door; though he wasn’t particularly built, it would delay anyone who may enter unwary.

“Enjoying the sights?”
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on October 28th 2018, 2:07 am

Isaac turned his back toward the intruder as he snatched Rasmus from the countertop, placing it on his face. Not totally under his control, Rasmus once again thrust Isaac into a world of alien signals and sensory overload. When the second bout of shock settled down, Isaac turned to face the man. As expected, it was the parahuman.

The man stood leaning against the restroom door, effectively trapping Isaac in the room… Unless Isaac wanted to get physical, at least. He still didn’t know the extent of the stranger’s abilities, physical or paranormal. That, coupled with Isaac’s dubious hand-to-hand ability, made it difficult to justify the brute force route.

The world was more interesting than Isaac had previously believed, and it was already more than interesting enough. As far as he was aware, the man’s sight-based powers were perfect replicated. As a result, Isaac could see as the man did, just as he could with everyone else. Though, nobody else he’d borrowed the eyes of before could see this.

A faint haze overlayed his vision, apparently from a source just in front of his eyes. Additionally, though it was hard to make them out, two cones extended out from his eyes. They faded out into wisps, and those wisps trailed a thin, smoky line to the parahuman’s own eyes. As with Isaac, there were two barely-perceptible cones there. Even Rasmus left some signs of its influence on the world.

Elsewhere, the visual artifacts were less obvious in their connection the real world. Ghost-like objects slowly swirled in and out of sight, like afterimages or eye floaters in black-and-white. Over the top of it all, a faint static. Isaac didn’t know what to make of it all.

He tensed periodically, as the anomalies shifted unexpectedly her and there. Isaac did his best to restrain himself, to avoid making it obvious how startled and confused and out-of-place he really was. As he calmed himself, he considered how best to answer the man.

Isaac held his hand out, fingers spread and palm to the ground. He rolled his wrist back and forth, a little ‘so-so’ gesture for his new acquiantance.

359


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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on October 28th 2018, 10:35 am

Aaron saw the conic auras appear again as the mask met the man’s face. The wearer’s hand gesture was somewhat difficult to make out, but the message was clear enough. Aaron dialed his sight back, the world brightening and sharpening as his vision approached something normal. The mask’s aura seemed to solidify in the process, remaining as a haze around it, as if the mask and aura were one.

“You dropped your drink, earlier. Right in the moment these-” He gestured to the auras around his eyes. “-appeared.”

“I’d guess you weren’t expecting what you saw; which does put my mind at ease. However, it makes me wonder: what were you expecting, and why?”
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on October 30th 2018, 3:43 am

Rasmus’ hum seemed to Isaac more like a momentary whine, like that of a small animal, as the world faded to something approaching normality. Some minor visual artifacts lingered, but now Isaac could at least see, even if it did seem like the world went all film noir on him.

He gestured, waving his hand vaguely as if to address reality itself.

“Not… this.”

Though his voice was quiet, it seemed unimpaired by the mask. The acoustics of the restroom helped to carry his voice, as well.

“I didn’t come to make any trouble with you and yours. Believe me, I wasn’t expecting any of this.”

Isaac was still tense, and he realized he was clenching the his fist at his side, the knuckles no doubt as white as bone. He tried to relax it, but it didn’t do much good. The list of chemical reactions in his brain that Isaac could still consider reliably functioning was short: fear, fight-or-flight, adrenaline, those instincts of survival. The last few minutes had leveraged nearly all of them.

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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on October 31st 2018, 1:04 pm

The stranger seemed uneasy, unwell. As Aaron looked at the man, vision tinted by the auras around his eyes, he realized why, at least in part. His sense of sight had never been normal, though he could imagine what others saw. To him the world was built from two overlapping images that remained distinct: able to magnify one and diminish the other, but never remove either. This would be truly alien to the masked stranger.

“You understand I can’t ignore this?”

In spite of the mask covering the stranger’s face, Aaron could tell the man was tense, cornered. He couldn’t be sure if the man had other abilities; some were invisible to his sight until the moment of action.

“Many use this place to do business openly while protecting their private lives. Some are like me, others are more mundane. What you can do, what that mask lets you do, threatens this delicate balance. And while I don’t want that, I don’t want a confrontation with you, either.”

“So I’ll ask you again: why are you here? I doubt you’re a spy, but I’ll need a good reason to believe your answer regardless. Otherwise…”
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on November 2nd 2018, 10:48 am

“I didn’t come here for material gain. It’s…”

Rasmus glowed a little brighter, the conic auras flaring. He couldn’t be sure if he or Rasmus had made the decision, but he was looking through the parahuman’s eyes now rather than merely duplicating his power. From that point of view, the tenseness of Isaac’s stance was even more obvious. As the man looked him over again, Isaac could feel the subconscious assessment the parahuman made. Anticipation. Isaac was like a feral animal, cornered and wary. The man saw it, he was judging Isaac, trying to predict his next action.

“I’ll leave you to your business, but… I’ll be back. Not to bother you, or spy on you. It’s just… This is important to me. I need it.”

Isaac hesitated.

“It’s an ideal location for… voyeurism, you could say. It’s personal.”

Not enough. And what about that network?

“We could meet again. Here or elsewhere, wherever. Work out something more comprehensive, for the sake of your… privacy, as you say. But I need this, I need this place.”

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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on November 2nd 2018, 2:10 pm

Aaron hesitated, considering the stranger’s words. They didn’t sit well: this man could subvert the ultimate precaution of eyes-only, easily skim the crowd for all manner of sensitive information, and yet he used it to get his rocks off?

Reaching into a pocket of his suit Aaron retrieved a business card. It was black with a bronze border, decorated with electrical patterns similar to the mask he wore. The only writing on either side was a phone number in plain font, matching the border’s color.

“I believe you, much as I’d rather not.”
He sidestepped, clearing the door, then held out the card.
“If you’d like to arrange a deal, call this number. It will go to voicemail, leave a message, I will respond when I can.”
With his other hand he gestured towards the auras around his eyes.
“Until such a deal is made, I don’t want to see these again. Understand?”
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on November 2nd 2018, 4:46 pm

Isaac stepped forward, nodding in acknowledgement.

“They,” he said, waving at the wisps dancing in the air between their eyes, “will go when I go. Then you’ll know I’ve left.”

Isaac crossed the remaining distance between himself and the parahuman, stopping just outside of arm’s reach to take the business card.

“What sh-- Do we? Pseudonyms? Or…”

Rasmus pulsed again, and Isaac saw the world from his own eyes again, though the black-and-white filter and ’film grain’ still covered everything. The mask seemed to have a mind of its own, which was nearly as troubling as the situation Isaac was in.

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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by REDSHEILD on November 4th 2018, 1:03 am

“Conduit. I don’t need a name from you now: I’ll recognize your voice when you call. However you wish to be addressed, include it in your message.”
Aaron left before the man could reply. Briefly he considered reporting the man to the management despite their tentative deal, but there was so little he could prove on the spot, and with how disruptive the accusation would be… the hassle wasn’t worth it.

~~~

Cynthia had gotten somewhat lost in thought, staring at the final signature page, when Conduit’s return snapped her out of it.

“Almost done?” He asked, sitting down.

“Mostly. That guy in the owl mask give you any trouble?”

“You noticed.”

“I kind of put it together a bit late, but yeah. What was he doing?”

“The mask lets him see through other people's eyes, I think. I was worried he was skimming for financial or other sensitive information, but his motives were more… personal, to put it nicely.”

“Personal?”

“Voyeurism, or so he claimed.”

“Oh.” Cynthia couldn't help but think of her dress. While it wasn't that low cut, despite being more of a party dress than proper evening wear, she had been looking down while working through the contract.
“Creepy.”

“Quite.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Sorry you had to go through that experience twice in one day.”

“I’m a bit numb to that sort of attention by now. I worked in a very male-dominated environment for a few years and there wasn’t a premium placed on manners, you know? Stares are easy enough to brush off; worrying about where I’m looking does add an extra dimension of weirdness. But trying to control that hurts me more than it hurts him, so it’s better to not worry. I’m alright.”

“Good to hear. Getting back to our project here, it looks like you've been on the signature page for a while. Having second thoughts?”

“Some. The gravity of it kinda caught up to me.”

“It’s quite the commitment, not to be taken lightly. I'm glad you're aware of that.”

“Well, it's more…” She smiled, nervously. “I could get hurt, or worse, die. I've worked in dangerous places, with equipment that could tear your arm off if your shirt snagged on it, been around machines that grind cars into an oily pulp. But this is different. Capes fight, and more than a few fight to kill.”

“Too true. Another thing I wish I'd realized when I was younger.”

“Oh, sorry, I didn't mean-”

“It's fine. Do you have any other pressing concerns, questions?”

“What's in the cards for tomorrow? Just a meetup and power demos, or something more in-depth?”

“I’d like to get a proper assessment done. Powers, skills, knowledge, whether we can stand working together. Should take a few hours at the least, though I made sure to have the entire day open. I hope to have some fun while we’re at it, too. The exercises I have planned will give you a taste of what it’s like to be in the field, as well. When we’ve wrapped up here I’ll text you the location.”
He reached over to his briefcase at the far end of the table, popping it open.
“Given the evening’s circumstances, it’s probably best if you hold off on signing. I can bring the papers with me tomorrow, if you want to review them.”

“Sounds good.” She gathered up the packets, stacking them neatly. When they had all been put away, she held out her hand.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Conduit.”
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INV ONLY Re: Bound In The Gaze Of The Abyss

Post by MissingAxis on November 8th 2018, 5:52 pm

Isaac followed the man out of the restroom, barely maintaining the connection between Rasmus’ eyes and the parahuman’s in the process. As Isaac left the building, he could almost feel the wispy ‘tethers’ snapping as he stepped out onto the street and slipped into the crowd.

The world felt… empty, to put it simply. It was emptier than normal. An evening with Rasmus’ always left a sense of lack in the end, when the power faded and all that was left was Isaac. Yet, this was a stronger sensation, almost emotional in magnitude. The sight of the electric man -- of Conduit -- had made the world seem almost on fire, cluttered and chaotic. It was overwhelming, something Isaac couldn’t be sure he’d ever have adjusted to, but it was ultimately more alive.

Rasmus had been tucked away now, slipped into an interior breast pocket Isaac had ordered for to be specially tailored specifically for that purpose. It wasn’t totally hidden, by any means, but it beat being a weirdo carrying a porcelain owl mask through downtown. He’d just be the weirdo with something stuffed into his suit, instead.

Isaac Bell walked quickly, his brisk pace building up some slight measure of warmth in the cold Boston night. A cab would have been warmer, and quicker. The chilly night air and the slight burn of pumping muscles triggered some baser chemistry, however, and a cab didn’t. Chemistry over convenience.

Chemistry over convenience. That’s what he told himself every time he went to his psychiatric appointments, taking time off work and interrupting his weekend schedule. If they figured out what was wrong with him, if they could whip up a chemical cocktail to fix him, it would be worth the sacrifice, right?

They couldn’t fix him. The nights got longer, the world became more gray. Sex stopped providing any pleasure at all, food taste like bland, soggy oats, and he couldn’t even sleep to pass the time.

His last visit to the psychiatrist was months ago. Isaac walked out in silence after the answer to have you got any idea what’s wrong with me was well, we’re not really sure.

---

“They can’t do anything about it, huh?”

There was a man loitering outside the clinic, just far enough from the entrance to be outside the zone dominated by ‘no loitering’ and ‘no soliciting’ signs. He was short, with dull copper-colored hair neatly parted. Isaac couldn’t put a finger on it, but there was definitely something off about the man.

“Mind your own business and read the signs,” Isaac said, walking past the man.

“A man doesn’t walk into a clinic and leave less than half an hour later. Especially not when the paperwork takes most of that.”

Isaac ignored him, but the man continued to follow him.

“You know, they told me the same thing once. That they weren’t entirely sure what was going on. I made my own solution.”

“Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying.”

The man chuckled nervously, falling a few steps behind Isaac in the process. Then a few more. He had stopped following, and Isaac was relieved. He stepped out onto the main road, turning to follow the sidewalk.

Then he heard the man speaking again, though he hadn’t heard the man’s steps as he hurried to catch up.

“Have you got any idea what’s wrong with me,” the man said, in a deeper, mocking voice. Then, in a higher pitched but equally mocking voice, he continued: “Weeell, we’re not really sure.”

Isaac wheeled on him, fists clenched at his side.

“What the fuck did you just say?”

“I said, I made my own solution and I’d like to see if it works for you.”

The man was holding something white and gently curving. Some kind of mask, it looked like.

“If you’re wondering how I knew what was said, the answer is this,” he said, hefting the mask in his hand as if attempting to judge its weight.

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s enchanted.”

“What?”

“You know all those people flying around with magic powers? I can do something like that.”

“Because you have a magical mask?”

“Because I make magic masks.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Easy now. I’m not the one who just walked out of a mental clinic.”

“You’re talking like you’ve escaped from one.”

The man sighed. “Suit yourself.”

As he turned and started walking the other way, the man offered a parting remark: “The world is only going to get more gray, Isaac Bell.”

---

Isaac was nearly home when his phone began enthusiastically buzzing in his pocket. Unknown number. Eight o’clock at night. He stared at the display another moment before answering hesitantly.

“Hello?”

“Isaac?” He felt a wave of dread wash over him. The voice was familiar. Jason.

“Yeah.”

"We-- I'm calling in that favor. Bring Rasmus and meet me."

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

"Okay. Where are you?”

---

The warehouse was decrepit, one of many that was abandoned in the economic downturn following the incident. With the lack of human activity in the area, city pests had turned it into a shelter from the elements. Pigeon and rat dropping littered the concrete floor, cobwebs built up in the rafters. The man, Isaac noticed, didn't seem to mind.

Isaac didn't remember him so twitchy and restless. The man paced in circles, murmuring to himself as he completed endless laps around the pile of garbage bags and shopping carts that evidently belonged to him. Isaac simply watched, standing silent with Rasmus in his hand. Unprompted, the man raised his voice.

"It's not right. It's not right!"

Isaac flinched as the man was thrown inexplicably through the air, hitting the ground and rolling a short distance with a dull thud.

"What the fuck!?" Isaac's voice was raised this time. He began to take a few steps back as the man slowly and painfully brought himself to his feet.

"Richard!" Then, lowering his voice, the man continued, "We have a guest. Rasmus, come closer."

Isaac stopped his slow retreat, and held out the porcelain mask. The man beckoned him closer. Hesitantly, Isaac complied.

"I know, I know. But he's the only option I have. He doesn't need to know. Fine!"

Jason suddenly jerked his head up, making eye contact with Isaac.

"Put it on."

Once again, Isaac complied, nervous. He brought Rasmus up to his face and let go, the mask effortlessly hovering just millimeters from his face.

"Rasmus," the man said. "Go ahead."

Unprompted, Isaac's sight changed. Suddenly, he could see who the man was arguing with. Or what.

A hulk of a man, his head replaced by a rooster's and his legs receiving like treatment below the knees. He was covered by nothing but sparse feathers and blood. His hands, Isaac saw, were some chimeric form between a human fist and a rooster's talons.

Beyond him, a massive hare standing upright, built not too dissimilar to a kangaroo insofar as it had uncannily human features.

And a gigantic pigman resting on its haunches, head disproportionately small. It was chewing, but made no sound.

Two more figures were present, but Isaac couldn't focus on them. They flitted around quickly, barely making an impression in his sight before disappearing. After a few seconds, he gave up tracking them, noting that they always hung around just out of the corner of his eyes.

"Richard is upset, he was bested--" Jason was once again thrown across the warehouse, and this time Isaac could see how. The rooster-man -- Richard -- moved with incredible speed, crossing the distance between himself and the man with a mere stride and backhanding him with enough force to send the copper-haired man through the air. As before, Isaac flinched and began to retreat backwards.

Jason continued to speak as he picked himself up from the floor, brushing pigeon shit and dust from his clothes.

“Ignore him, he can’t touch you.”

“What the fuck is going on, Jason?”

The man chuckled nervously. “It’s getting harder to control them. They’re trying to break free from my power.”

“What are they?”

“Fey. They’re not from around here.”

“Fey? Fairies? Jason, quit with these half-answers--”

“I need to find them hosts, Isaac. It’s the only way to control them. The masks aren’t enough anymore--”

“The masks-- Are you saying--”

Jason shushed him and moved closer, his voice lowered to a whisper.

“Yes. Rasmus is one of them. But Rasmus is under control. I didn’t understand it before, but I do now. A like-minded host bonds with the mask, keeps its power under control.”

Isaac ripped the mask from his face and tossed it to the ground.

“I don’t want any part of this, Jason. I didn’t ask to get involved with monsters from other dimensions or whatever the fuck.”

Isaac Bell turned and began to walk toward the exit, carefully stepping around the green-and-white smears on the concrete.

“You’re the only one who can help me, Isaac!”

He kept walking.

“If we can’t control them-- If they kill me, they’ll kill others! It happened today!”

Isaac stopped, hesitating to turn and acknowledge Jason’s statement.

The mall attack?

“If I can’t keep them under control, they’ll kill others. They’ll keep killing because that’s all they know how to do. You can help me stop them! We can keep them contained!”

Isaac turned and walked back to where he threw Rasmus onto the concrete. Picking it up, he finally faced Jason.

“How?”

“I made a list.” Jason hurried toward Isaac and shoved a crumpled scrap of paper into Isaac’s free hand. “If we find people like this, if we give them the masks, they’ll be bonded with the mask and the fey, and it’ll all work out. Like with you. They’ll be simple, enchanted masks then. No one else will have to get hurt.”

No one else will have to get hurt.

1673


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