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August 2, 2008
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(Contains: sexual themes and strong language)
Back at the party, Pandora is standing, eyes half lidded and arms folded, on what she's claimed as her side of the table. She smirks across it at Ioann, who waits and watches through one of the projections the woman simultaneously maintains whilst conducting her external magic. He is secretly impressed, but of course, being as childish as she, doesn't show it whatsoever, less risk the upper hand.

She tilts her head a little, and one of her meticulously pinned up curls bobs at her ear. "Ball's in your court, Ioann," she purrs, lifting one of her hands to gesture slightly at the table projection, which swirls with activity. "I did my part in providing the little pawns."

"That you did," Ioann commends with a nod, peering curiously down on the table. He squints a little, trying to make sense of what he's seeing, before realizing that, within the game board, time is at a stand-still until the first dice are thrown. Or in this game's case, the roulette wheel spun and the ball thrown.

Readying himself at the wheel, the demonic party host throws the wheel backhandedly, having been placed on the side of the table that forces him to do so. But it's no bother to him, as it provides him a better throwing hand. He tosses the polished bone roulette ball onto the gargantuan, spinning wheel.. and waits. He drives his top teeth into his lower lip in anticipation for the first challenge and the fun that will no doubt come with it.

Hell, even with a lame theme, he'll find a way to make it fun.

Pandora watches her opponent excitement increase as the roulette's momentum decreases, unable to prevent herself from rolling her eyes at his vile primal male reaction.

Click, click, click.

The wheel slows to a stop, as does the ball, in a black pocket with an illustration depicting a crying man reaching out to a woman falling off a cliff. Ioann is slightly puzzled by the symbol, and rushes to the side of the wheel to read the inscription name carved into the outer edge.

"Grief."

Ioann says it aloud, so onlookers can too know what's in store for their first round of entertainment. A cheer erupts from the crowd, but Ioann doesn't seem to share their enthusiasm. Mental fuckery? But that requires thought and careful execution! It's not something one can do spontaneously, unless they are mad enough to pull it off in their favour.

"Something wrong, Ioann?" Pandora inquires with venom on her sweetened voice, leaning on her palms against the table as if concerned that Ioann still stares at the etching in thought.

He looks up and returns her serve with, "Oh nothing, pet, I'm just thinking."

She falls back onto her heels with a dual sound as they touch the ground again. Clasping her hands together, she brings them to her chin and smiles flawlessly. "Well? Best not waste any time, love, for we wouldn't want to damage the toys while they're still in their packaging, up on the shelf of the stooore~!" She clicks her tongue mockingly, her voice raised for the benefit of the audience. The next is said quieter, meant for his ears only. "Prolonged exposure to a state of in-between time can either strengthen them, or kill them, and I don't want to be around to find out which one is true, not when you promised all these people a grand show."

Lowering his head to her, he gives a snort down on the unclear swirling vortex on the table. He admires the woman for her sassy mouth and quick wit, but at the same time, it pisses him right off to have someone stand up to him, as sexy as she is to spat with. Still, he neglects to reply, simply delving into the depths of his powers, like stepping into a nice shower, only to, with it, poke cautiously at the vortex - he wouldn't put it past her to rig the thing to backfire on him - like stepping out of that nice shower and into a cold bathroom with the fan on, and too small a towel to sooth one's shivers.

He works quickly, creating the scene with his mind's hands, building the equivalent to people in this little game of dolls. Everything is set within a few heartbeats. The screens show the same thing now, and, at a quick confirming nod at Pandora from Ioann, the prey are dropped into their tabernacle of terror.

Grief begins separately for Dare and April, who have yet to know the other's part to be played in their own suffering, and who haven't the faintest clue what they've been forced into.

--

April awakens with her cheek squished against cold concrete. She's grateful for this coolness, almost willing to rest here longer if not for the fuzziness in her head that scares her into forcing herself upright. No sooner does she do this, though, than a searing pain strikes the base of her neck and into her ear, causing her to recoil with a scream.

She tucks her knees to her chest, unable to move her arms, or she'd be hugging them. Her arms are limp behind her, bound at the wrists, middle fingers, and underside of her elbows with globule modules on wires. They look sort of medicinal in nature, which should be comforting to her, as it would mean she's in some sort of emergency care after the accident. But the concrete floor and absolute solitude speak differently of the situation.

Curio, I'm sca- she begins to say. The pain returns to her, on the opposite side this time, and she chokes back a cry. Her heart aches in her chest in a way she's never felt before, and she closes her eyes, her chin dropping to her clavicle. To anyone watching, she looks to have passed out.

In truth, she is listening for a heartbeat, one so close to her own, just on a smaller scale, that she can find it anywhere she goes.

At first she cannot find it, and she panics, her breathing shortening, chest and shoulders heaving. But it rises from the darkness in tiny, faint thumps to her right. She turns quickly, stifling the pain she feels with every movement by biting down into her lip.

The task of finding him is very difficult without the use of her hands. She becomes aware of the device on her head, to which her arms seem to be attached, but from which even more wires - and with them, questions - lead off into the darkness of the room. She feels the little pulses ripple against her skin now that her head isn't so clouded. Whether that's a good thing is yet to be seen, for she cannot tell, still, if this.. device is healing or hindering her.

"Curiosity," she calls to him hoarsely, wiggling her torso to propel herself in his general direction as determined by the sound of his little heartbeat. She speaks to him aloud, something she rarely does in general, never mind to him, with whom audible speech is, under normal circumstances, not at all necessary. Still, the reminder of the pain that flared up as she tried to talk to him mentally the first time is enough to change her mind about a second try, related or not.

She rolls a little to relieve the pressure of the dead weight of her body on her right thigh, shifting it and her legs to try and pull into a crawl. Without her arms, this proves foolish, as she goes straight forward with her jaw contacting the floor first. Tears spill down her cheeks. She gives up for the moment, lying there, partly paralyzed, and all together very alone.

Not completely. Never completely alone, she reasons with herself. She replaces her other half's mental voice with her own reassurance. Tilting her head back, the wires tickling her cheeks, April squints through the blanketed darkness for anything, a shape or a movement, to give her any idea of what's going on.

However, the room is engulfed in an unnatural blackness, devoid of anything but shadow. She can barely see her own hand lying limp at her side. She lets out a muffled whimper and gives up on holding her head up, resting her cheek down on the concrete floor once again, finding solace in its cold.

Do you really need me around to tell you to keep your head up?

The voice is so startling that the girl jolts quite visibly, if one were able to see it.

Honestly, I'm no spider spinnin' messages in her web, but do you really need my voice nagging you, chin up, chin up? the daemon's voice quips mentally with a very faint snort aloud.

April smiles into the darkness in the general direction of his noise and heartbeat. No, I guess not, she responds with a mental sigh, But it's nice to hear it sometimes.

Yeah, well.. grumbles the irritable turtle daemon, followed by an indistinguishable rustle in the same direction. I think that it's the part of the book where Wilbur learns that Charlotte can't always be there for him.

Her heart leaps into her throat, and its pounding is deafening in her ears. Wh-what are you saying, Curio? Where are you?

Nothing, April. I can't see a thing. He sounds slightly strange as he says this to reassure her, as if his words are hollowed by a lie. But to lie to the one person who has always known every truth about the other.. April brushes off this line of thinking before the daemon can have the chance to read her thoughts.

Can you come find me? I.. I can't use my arms, Curio. She closes her eyes, swallowing at her dry throat. I have something attached to me, and I don't know what it's doing to me.

Me too. It hurts something awful..

She chokes back empathy, trying not to remember the last time they were in such a similar situation. The details are all etched into her memory despite being an infant at the time, all thanks to a little device and a very cruel Council of adults whom time doesn't touch. She had been "on trial" for something she was born with, as far as she knows, but these Council people did not want to believe this.

Dare had taken the brunt of the blame, having been accused of giving her said ability. He himself had been not older than twelve, and yet had to represent himself against pretty much everyone of his race in a very unfair trial only fronted with the name of "trial" to make everything these monsters did seem legal.

What they did was far from it.

They had attached a crude device with a monitor on it to both her and Curiosity, fusing their spirits temporarily in order to interrogate their joined soul for the answers they hoped to receive. It had been an ordeal that completely violated the pair in ways one of their condition should never have to suffer through, and was so incredibly painful and degenerate that they had never spoken of it, thus never coming to terms with the experience.

Realizing that she's been listening to her own breathing for an extended period of time, panic flares up in April once more, and she shoots up into an upright position. "Curio? Curio, say something," she whines, pushing off with her toes and scraping her thigh across the ground in a direction she thinks he's in, though she's all twisted around now and everything looks the same in the dark.

There's a damp noise, like something slapping a thin pool of water. She twists, seeking it out, finding it more to her right than she'd originally thought. "Curio?"

I'm here, the rough, rumbly voice responds, sounding rather deflated.

Keep talking to me.

Too tired to talk.

April furrows her brow, her lower lip pushing out at her black surroundings. Don't be stupid, this isn't the time for a nap. We need to get out of here!

And where's here, exactly? he retorts, accompanied by another snort out loud. We can't very well leave when there's nothing to damn well tell us where we are.

She knows he's right, but is regardless put off by his lack of enthusiasm for their own well being. He is practical, where she is led by intuition, and right now, she wants out of this dungeon. Swaying where she sits, she suddenly feels the fatigue that hit her daemon moments earlier, and fights against the unconsciousness that pulls her down. Her useless arms act as nothing more than dead weight at her sides.

She's at a loss of what to say. Certainly, her voice of reason is in need of a pep talk of his own, but the precog can find nothing that she can say that she would believe, herself. being that the other is an extension of her, it is more than likely that, like her, he would rather truth than fabricated comforts.

If only I was stronger, she complains privately, bitterly evaluating how useless a person with magical talent such as herself is when lacking the will or control to wield them. I could have seen this coming, and done something to prevent it.

Maybe.
she adds gloomily. But, probably not. These time people are much smarter than that.

Her heart begins to ache as her rapidly processing mind inadvertently makes the natural leap from thinking about her possible captors (their identities soley based on them being the only people in her short life span to ever wish her harm) to the unrequited item of her affections. Although it is through him that all pain her life can be blamed, all is forgiven tenfold for the love and affection he's shown her, even if he's only ever protected and cared for her in a way one might do for a younger sibling.

For all this, she forgives him.

Still, the young girl can't help herself in wondering why these people continue to plague her life with horrors and scandals. Mentally sorting through reasonable possibilities - the questionable circumstances of her birth, her relationship with one of their own, her own albeit differing affinity for time magic - April is too distracted at first to notice the very slight and very gradual adjustment of light in the room. in her blindness, she may as well be closing her eyes, but now, gradually, she can see more of herself - and with it, the horrors ravaging her body.

She studies them, and her naturally pladic face hardens over with grim realizations. She can see now why her arms remain paralyzed; at her shoulders are clamps she can barely feel save for a slight ache in the depth of the joint. More importantly, there are dual intravenous needles planted into the base of her wrists, and another, thicker one in the soft underside of each elbow. She cries silently, letting her head succumb to teh overbearing weight of the cranial device and rest against her shoulder in an overall defeated stance.

Her bangs tickle across her nose. She sighs, and the idle, fleeting thought of, what if I died in that crash..? whomps her in the gut as the final blow. April continues to cry silently, her exhaustion getting the best of her.

She is silenced by her eyelashes fluttering involuntarily at the pulsing of light. Sight has become so unnatural for the girl that she is startled at being able to see clearer. And with this new pulsing light, she forces her puffy eyes wide open to adjust faster in a renewed desperation to be able to see anything that will provide her answers.

The light originates from a machine. She sees this first, as it's right at her eyeline and is the source of most of the little pulsing lights. She squints and follows it up with her eyes, shuffling forward for a closer look.

She immediately wishes she hadn't.

Atop the machine sits a sort of aquarium like enclosure. The bottom has two spouts out which water slowly flows. And suspending above it by a strap around his middle is her daemon, her other half, barely conscious. His limbs, similarly to her, are monitored and stuck with needles, but worse still is the contraption around his neck and head. His throat is clamped just tight enough that breathing is still possible, but not much more than that. A wire runs through it and out from under his chin, above his head, and back into the thing through the base of his neck. Above him are a dozen live wires, sparking and wiggling with life of their own.

A death trap.

--

The party is bustling with action and restlessness with the mostly uneventful start. Ioann, however, doesn't appear to be discouraged at all by this reaction to his slow beginning, or is just too deep in concentration to take notice. Regardless, he keeps pushing his mind's fingers around the Ranger and precog, inviting himself into their memories, so far, skimming them as quickly as possible for what can be of use to him in the present and near future.

He lifts out bits and pieces about the pair's edgy life together the year previous, and of Pandora's latest encounter with Dare, drudging up, with it, much resentfulness toward the woman for using April against him in an admirably unfair "bargain". He also revisits what he found first atop the girl's memories: the torture inflicted upon them in a process that forcefully tinkered with her and her daemon's bond. He is genuinely impressed the layers of scars this has left behind, and most certainly decides to take what has already proven to work, and just improve upon it with his personal touch.

Seeing straight through his strategy, Pandora pointedly rolls her eyes and half-smiles viciously, her tapered fingers slowly fanning her face in succession. "What, is that supposed to be your best idea for grief?" is her snide and condescending comment. "Oh please. I did it much better originally. And recycling an old idea is hardly going to win you the advantage of this one."

Ioann brushes off her comment, but not without annoyance tainting his demeanour. Still, he says nothing, (though this probably only feeds the woman's ego)  as he figures that for once, his actions will speak louder than his words.

And so, with that, Ioann hushes her, his fingers dancing like a puppet master over the tabletop apparition, bringing with it the blood curling scream bursting from both magical voids at once.

--

Collapsing in a heap of limbs and managing to land square on his tailbone, Dare groans and rubs his brow with his palm. Never ever in as far back as he can remember had his teleportation ever hurt. When he'd learned, he was very reluctant in case a part of him were to be left behind or something, a natural fear to be sure, but it had done nothing more than relax him completely, and maybe tickle once or twice.

Remembering the aforementioned fear, he quickly remembers the ordeal with his leg so recently falling off, and scrambles frantically to find it. He pats his calf to reassure himself of its renewal. He sighs a deeply wrought breath of relief; he can't imagine hobbling around with a nub and a cane for the rest of his life in this body. He pats the leg and then extends it to test its use, finding it more or less the same as before the ordeal.

Good. Now he can forget the whole thing ever happened, and-

He looks up. It's a pretty natural reaction that, when someone is staring at you, you eventually find yourself feeling their eyes on you, and are then compelled to stare back.

Granted, he isn't expecting to see her looking down on him.

Dare looks left to right and realizes he's sitting on the ground of an almost featureless ten by ten room, in the company of his least favourite person and essentially the evil overlord of his people, Pandora, who has chosen to sit on top of the table as opposed to at it.

"Uhm." He looks back up at her, his naturally half-lidded eyes squinted in perplexity. And that's exactly all that comes to mind to say in this situation. Because either he teleported himself in on her presumably solitary situation, or his transport was somehow intercepted. And, really, does he want to know the answer, when Pandora is involved? Most likely not.

"Nice of you to drop in on me, sugar." The temptress leans on her elbows, her thinly veiled dress dipping very low across her cleavage. She is a stark contrast in this very white room, her dark skin and black hair creating quite the opposite impression of an angelic apparition above the dazed Ranger. She giggles at his dumbfounderment, leaning further to touch her fingertips to the underside of his chin.

"How are you feeling, gorgeous? You look a little pale 'round the edges," she muses in a dancing tone of voice, light and joyous and, precisely because of this, very dangerous. In his experience, this woman has two modes - self-serving indulgence, and destruction of anything that comes in the way of the previous.

Dare turns away abruptly, refusing to look directly into the sun, so to speak; no matter how bright and tempting it may be, he knows the consequences of being blinded. "I was doing much better a'fore m' leg fell off, but I betche already knew that," he snaps, pushing her hand away unceremoniously.

Pandora straightens up into a kneel atop the table, giving her practiced innocent pout. "Why, Dare, darling," she responds incredulously, "You look perfectly whole to me! A delicious little specimen of male aesthetic, even."

--

"This has to be against the rules!" spits Pandora, the real one, in interruption, pounding her palms down on the game table.

The party goers flip their attention between the jumbo screen made for their convenience, and the live version; some are all too excited at Ioann's portrayal of the woman, while others with more self control (or who, perhaps, already have similar experiences with their self in Dare's place) are more curious as to how the woman will dispute this exaggerated portrayal of herself.

Ioann finds this all too amusing. His fingers are poised over the swirling game viewfinder like someone mid-pluck of a harp. "Rules?" he echos in a mockingly similar tone to the one his Pandora puppet had just used. "When did I ever mention those?"

--

Dare looks at her with disgust emphasized by a wince. "Jus' stoppit, Pandora Yer embarrassing yerself."

He's surprised to hear the woman meet that with a laugh. Still, stubborn as he is, he keeps his eyes on the featureless white floor and clenches his teeth. He doesn't know what he's done this time, or if even the woman is just bored and decided to corner him with the intention of having some fun, nor does he want to find out.

Dare gets to his feet and wobbles slightly with the onset of vertigo. He blinks furiously to rid his eyes of white fuzziness that accompanies his lightheadedness, unfortunately leaving himself momentarily vulnerable.

Being the little predator she is, Pandora takes the bait, and attacks. Long fingers wrap around his tie and tug, inviting themselves to walk up further with every advance. "Darling," the woman croons up at him, her eyes half lidded; Dare idly wonders when the seductress had started using pet names. "You should come and let yourself get comfy. I plan on keeping you here a while."

She tilts her head back, and loose locks of hair dance around her shoulders. Her clavicle leads the eye to - no! Dare pointedly looks away again, angry with himself for letting himself get taken in by her trap.

But she's caught him, and smirks wickedly because of it, her pointed canines slipping into view across her lower lip. She jerks the tie roughly so as to force his face, and his attention, on her.

Dare has no choice now but to look into the eyes of a woman who has stopped at nothing, ever, to get what she wants. These are the eyes that have lured decent, honest men to bed with her, that have with but a glare churned stomachs, chilled bones, and stopped hearts dead. He looks, despite himself, into the face of ill-fate herself, whom he has miraculously escaped the clutches of countless times in this lifetime and last, only to come full circle to the inevitable.

Luck, as it seems, no longer smiles in his direction.

She keeps him within her clutches with a tight grip around his tie, held there with one hand. The other she brings to his chin, where she thumbs his facial hair with a thoughtful smile.

So it's to her surprise that he jerks backward and manages to free himself, the tie slipping out from between her fingers. Being not the most agile of men, he stumbles backward and barely catching his footing before falling back to where he started off.

He works at loosening the choking tie, pointedly keeping his eyes anywhere but up. Very quietly, he mutters, "I've been more than compliant in up keeping my side of t' 'bargain', miss. So I dinnae understand why you insist on keeping me punished." He sounds absolutely miserable, and tugs on the cuff of his sleeve to have something to look at and to keep him occupied.

The Pandora controlled by Ioann takes an appropriate pause as he, back at the party, raises his eyebrow at the real Pandora at the mention of such a bargain. His thoughts leap to the most scandalous of things behind such a bargain as this, and quickly sets things in motion, acting upon these assumptions.

"You're right, you have," Pandora says thoughtfully with a finger to her lip and a tilt to her head, though the latter might just be to get a better view of his lower half. "But that's not at all why you're here."

Dare throws up his arms with a roll of his eyes. “Fine, I’ll bite. Why am I here?”

Her wicked smile returns to her at winning him over. She swings her smooth legs across the tabletop and over the edge of the table, pushing off in a smooth motion and landing perfectly on her ridiculously masochistic heels.

She approaches him with the determination of a starved bear. He back-pedals to avoid her path, but instead, being that he’s trapped in a small enclosure, he backs himself up against a wall, making her pursuit all the easier. She grabs hold of the back of his neck and pulls up against him, making the Ranger even more uncomfortable with her advances by eliminating all proximity between them in one fell swoop. The woman has lost all decency and control that one of her superiority should be able to maintain, though the man has known this of her for quite some time.

She brings her free hand to his cheek and traces down, slowly, while maintaining eye contact with her source of enjoyment. Batting heavily shadowed eyes at him, she continues to help herself to his body by letting her fingers explore down his neck and collar. He stiffens his back and sprawls up further against the wall. She takes advantage of this by letting her finger trail down his front, zigzagging between buttons, to land on his belt.

Dare’s wide eyes rapidly move between her face and hand incredulously.

She brings herself closer to his ear, performing a balancing act on the front ridge of her heeled shoe to pull this off. “Compensation,” she hisses tauntingly, her fingers sliding in past the buckle and moving lower south. “.. for good behaviour.”

In an unusual display of antagonism, Dare thrashes against Pandora, throwing her careening backwards at the violation to his self-control. “Fuck you,” he breathes in a heavy pant, giving a visible shudder.

Pandora, though initially surprised, catches herself with her magic, cushioning her fall with little sonic blasts that push her upright again. Undeterred from her goal, and having known many men who are into this sort of thing, she is on him within another heartbeat.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" comes her reply in a deep tone. Dare gives her another shove, albeit less of a provoked one, at that. This time she stumbles back a step, but this dual rejection is enough to flip her mood like a switch.

She stomps a foot and locks her hands at her sides in a claw-like position. "How many times were you dropped on your head when you were small?!" she snaps, temper flaring. She grabs her own breasts and storms forward a full stride. "Because there has to be something royally fucked up in that head of yours to turn this down!"

--

Pandora is halfway across the game table with her hands out in attack mode. Self restraint kicks in as far as her getting one leg up and her leaning forward, ready to throttle Ioann for his portrayal of her. "You sick bastard!" she screams, silencing the rowdy, thoroughly entertained guests. "Don't touch me like that, pervert!!"

She breathes heavily in her anger, her shaped brow furrowing. Ioann gives her a laugh and touches the underside of his opponent's chin with a single finger, aiming to piss her off even more by enacting the same sort of scene setup they just witnessed.

"Petal," he can barely contain himself from laughing, "Thousands of others have done the same. And they're your own hands; I can't feel a thing."

--

Pandora holds him against the wall with an unseen force of magic. He chokes a little at the impact, his fingers clawing behind him at the white wall.

"Our bargain is hereby suspended, for disobeying direct instruction from a superior," the royally pissed temptress booms, "And under suspicion of foul play."

The Ranger struggles against her magical claws, knowing the fight is futile, but doing it for show, anyhow. He isn't half of the violent or threatening person his brother is, but that doesn't stop him from trying to at least appear like he can fend for himself if need be.

"The only foul thing here," he snarls at her, "is yer entire entity."

To his disappointment, Pandora is hardly phased by his comeback. She merely waves a hand near her ear, gesturing behind her at the blank wall. An area across, like the viewing window of an interrogation room, melts away in the same manner as grease eats through thin surfaces; it's semi-transparent around the edges, fuzzy as its opaqueness is destroyed, but is clearer in the centre while still being a solid wall. Dare's disappointment twist into horror at what he can see through this makeshift window.

"I'd thought you'd get grouchy over this," she explains coyly, strengthening her magic grip on him, satisfied with the sound of another choke. "So I brought along our little bargaining chip, my little casanova."

Dare squints a little at the dimly lit window, through which the light in their room doesn't appear to spill over in to the next room. He can barely make out the shape of someone on the ground, and the speck in a weird machine.

"I don't believe you," he barks, trying to pull at one of his wrists. She could easily be bluffing, but just as easily not be. From the shoddy lighting job and the bad Saw-like situation, he feels better thinking the woman's just seen too many movies, or that the window is not a window at all, and is instead a screen or a magical projection.

Anything but believe that something is happening to little innocent April.

Pandora rolls her eyes exaggeratedly. "Seriously, are you always this annoyingly defiant, or am I just lucky?" she says oddly, almost out of character. Ioann slips too much of his own influence into the doll, which he quickly corrects with one sassy movement of her hips. That doesn't erase Dare's "what the fuck?" face, however.

She scowls and drops her hand and with it the magical hold. Dare collapses forward, catching himself with a very attractive flailing of limbs. Before he can recover to counter, a wave of emotion chills him to his core, washing over him with pure grief and sorrow in a way that makes him gasp only once it passes. A sense of dread accompanies this strange emptiness, in realizing the truth of the matter is that, to his knowledge, the only one capable of such an ability is, actually, his beloved little friend. Bitterly, he makes a note that Pandora is completely unaffected by the miniature blast, and chocks this up to the woman's soullessness and lack of compassion for anyone but herself.

"Lemme see her!" the Ranger demands, charging forward toward the makeshift window.

Exhibiting rapid reflexes, Pandora catches Dare's wrist in her clutches and holds him back by it. He swings in his place, stumbling enough to turn him at an angle that faces her. "Won't you reconsider?" she suggests with a single remaining shred of politeness, which only reflects the oddity of character that Ioann doesn't seem to be able to wrap his head around completely.

Dare turns his captured hand into a fist and pulls away roughly, continuing the motion to storm toward the window like he'd intended. He presses his nose to what would be the glass, if it was made from any sort of Earthly substance, and shades his eyes with both his hands at his brows. He can make out the slightness of her body, her loosened pigtails, and a flash of her little skull hair clip catching a pulse of light from a machine at his left side.

The machine is where his eyes logically examine next. What he sees makes him sick to his stomach. The taste of emotion he received is absolutely nothing in comparison to the horrors of the next room over.

--

April has thrown herself to the ground, facing away from the machine. Though even facing away into the darkness, the thing she now considers friendly, in that it concealed from her the truth, she can't erase the image from her mind. Those wires, that poor pathetic twitch of Curiosity's hind leg under a jolt from one of the electrodes..

Oh, love, is it really that bad, that you won't look at me? the daemon pipes up, attempting to be funny and lighthearted. It falls flat.

He curls the tip of his tail up out of the rising water, shivering against all of the restraints and wires. He decides a different approach will be the only way to keep her focus, and if these are his last moments, he sure as hell isn't going to go out with fluffy feel good jokes while waiting around for something to happen.

Love, have you ever considered that you've just been talking to yourself, your whole life through? Curiosity's voice is distant, reflective, and very unlike himself.

April can suddenly feel the temperature of the floor so much more intensely, and wishes for her other half to be pressed against her breast, as he's been her entire life. Now, she can only feel a chill through the fabric. Tears are pooling on the floor around her face, dampening her hair and sticking it to her nose and cheek.

I've been talking to you, Curiosity. I know I have.

Do you have proof?

Don't be like this! she yells at him, struggling to pull her legs to her body to warm herself. Pain rips through her left side, originating from her hip. Crying relentlessly now, the precog squirms her body into a ball, minus her lifeless arms. I'm scared, Curio! I need you!

She can hear him clearer with her eyes closed, though it makes no difference to her sight to have kept them open, anyway, with her back against the source of light. He heaves a sigh, as if burdened by weights twice his weight and aged far beyond his years because of it. But you don't need me, love. That's what I've been telling you.

Of course I need you. You're part of me! My better half! Curio, C-

"Curio!" she sobs, slipping her speech aloud in her loss of self control.

He gives another snort, sounding furious. Why? She should be the one angry at him, for saying such awful things! She trembles terribly, her emotion getting the better of her. A slight aura, invisible to most, slips from her body; it sucks in close to her body while filling out in size, but very rapidly bursts in a circular radius and dispels, riding with it the strongest emotion she is experiencing.

With it, the water in the tank rushes in faster.

She crawls to him, cutting up her knees through the fabric of her capris, sobbing hysterically at the sight of him. The water is up to his feet now, sloshing over his toes and his ankles.

You're strong, April. You just don't know it yet, but you've always had it in you to stand on your own. The daemon turns his head as much as he can manage, looking at her sorrowfully with his enormous, cat-like eyes. Love, you'll be fine without me. I've just been the devil's advocate on your shoulder, and no one really needs one of those to make them happy.

She shakes her head furiously, ignoring the pain in her legs as she sits to bring her face to his. I don't want to do it alone! I want you with me forever, Curio! It's always been you and me! she cries harder, her hysterical sobs helping to fog up the glass. You're me as I'm you, so if you d-die..

Hush, April, the gruff voice in her head snaps. She squeezes her eyes shut, wishing to be able to obey him, but finding it very difficult to stop crying once she's in this sort of fit.

In this position, slumped against the machine with weakness ravaging her body, April can't possibly imagine feeling any more useless. She almost continues to ignore the wire that presses annoyingly against her temple. Wires.. She twists, eying her dead arms and the needles that keep them remaining useless. If she can only pull them out, then she can free her other half from harm's way.

If not completely desperate, April would have had enough sense to know that this.. is a bad idea. But in light of everything, and now struck by a frame of mind somewhere between hysteria and desperation, April decides to remove them.

She swoops down, catching one of the IVs in her elbow's underside between her teeth, and pulls. Not only feeling the pain in her arm, she receives a sort of electric shock as if she's bitten down into a shock therapy gadget and not a tube of unknown liquid. But worst of all, the daemon begins to convulse and scream, which shocks her more than the snip of electricity does.

"CURIO!" she screams, throwing her shoulder into the machine. The tiny horned turtle's convulsions slow to a stop, but the water continues to rise with every tear that rolls down his other half's cheeks.

Stop, he groans in a pain ridden voice, Don't.. get upset, love.. You're just making it worse..

April misunderstands, and begins to cry harder. How can you say that?! she shouts internally, crashing her shoulder into the machine's base again. Curiosity, you- you're just selfish! You always wanted to get away and be your own person from me, didn't you? Y-you just, you just..

She goes limp against the machine in exhaustion, her eyes swollen from the continued tears. The aquarium is filled almost to the daemon's neckline, now, and he gravely realizes his time is severely limited if he wants to clear things up before.. well. Just before.

Love, you're too upset to know what you're saying, so I'm going to forgive you for thinking such awful things of me. He snorts aloud, raising his head as the water touches his chin. But if you think for one moment that you can't do without me, I want you to give yourself a slap upside the head on my behalf. Or maybe just a little nip on the finger.

April brings her knees up to her chest and presses her shoulder into the machine, trying to steady herself to stand without the use of her arms. You can't leave me. We're one person! she insists with a squeaky tone. I- I just won't be the same without you..

She falls over, unsuccessful in bringing herself to a stand. She's undeterred, however, and with a few grunts and pushes, she's back to trying. Curiosity moves his limbs as much as possible in the liquid and rids himself of just one of the wires, from his right arm. It floats down to the bottom of the tank and rests just centimeters from the daemon's long, striped tail.

--

"You bitch."

Dare whips around, his arms poised, ready to crush the woman's vile windpipe. Only a single white square table hinders his direct path toward his presumably satisfying goal.

She clicks her tongue and pulls forward onto the table, crawling across the smooth surface into a kneeling position much like the one she'd been in when he had dropped in originally. "Darling, I've been called the entire spectrum, in various languages and dialects. So," she notes carefully, combing her fingers through her hair to have something to occupy her hands. "You're really not going to impress me with any of them."

"The fuck are y' doing tuh her in there?" he demands heatedly, stepping forward with a hand in the air.

She glares at his hand in a way that dares him to strike her with it, just to have an excuse to show him what would happen if he lays a finger on her again. To her disappointment, she doesn't get to act on her impulses, as he reclaims his hand to his side.

"Nothing you haven't seen before, sparky." She holds her left hand up, cupping the air with it, and brings her right, poised to mimic scissors, just beside it. She purses her lips and speaks up at him in a sing-song voice. "Ohhh, just a little snip here-" she demonstrates, snapping her cupping wrist back after the snipping motion, "- and that disgusting orange horned appendage is removed."

Dare throws himself against the window and desperately casts out his magic like a net, tugging it around to see if anything snags and can be made useful. He finds himself coming up empty. The walls are far too thick, or just made to prevent magic usage within them. He pounds a fist on the transparent surface, trying his best to ignore Pandora as she continues to bait him with her explanation.

She straightens up with a sickeningly bright smile, enjoying her role as doctor far too much. "Oh but, don't worry, the patient will be good as new in no time! The voice in her head will be gone!" She brings her hand around her mouth to help project her voice as his pounding gets louder. "Isn't that splendid? Some people pay out the nose to get rid of the voices, and I'm doing her a service for free!"

"Yer fucking twisted!" Dare screams, thrashing once more against the wall and only succeeding in bruising up his arm. He swings around, grabbing Pandora's hands and holding them together in front of her face. "Lemme go to her!"

Pandora's cheerfulness is unwavering. "You can go to her," she says after a thoughtful pause. She takes another as Dare releases her and starts toward the wall again, like a dog waiting to be let out for a walk. "But you know what's expected of you now," she adds.

He says nothing. His face is drawn, and he looks to have aged ten years in the last ten minutes out of worry. With his forehead pressed against the window, he can make out more details of the horrific, ongoing torture session. He feels another radiated flow of sorrow wash over him, weaker this time, and his desperation grows. If the separation goes through, he doesn't know if only one, or both, die from the effects. And he can't bare to have the blood of this girl whom he's put through so much, unintentionally, over her short life span, to suffer through either fate.

"Lemme go to her," he repeats with a growl, dodging, or perhaps inadvertently giving his answer to, Pandora's final bargaining tool.

To his left, a door melts away in the wall, very similar to the process which created the window, but this time actually eating through to the other side. Of course, Dare realizes gravely, she would use one of the Ranger facilities, where she has unlimited control over the building and its resources. He breaks into a run as soon as the door made big enough for him to step through.

Pandora sighs and lies down on the table, sprawling across it as Ioann's fingers of control begin to leave the puppet. "He wants me bad~.." she half moans, left with a satisfied smile and closed eyes.

--

The daemon turns his head, able to see just the top of his other half's pigtail. He smiles oddly, ironically, with a crinkle of his large eyes, at this awesome view he's never gotten to see: from above. He opens his thoughts to her, sharing this small final happiness with April, even if all he can find in her mind in response is panic and grief. Her body radiates emotion, sending it out in bursts and waves without her consent.

And to think! I'll get to look down on everyone from now on! Curiosity muses, ignoring the water that reaches his nostrils. Imagine that. Well I guess you don't need to, you're tall as a tree, you are. I've always been pocket sized.

April raises her head, barely able to see anything between the fickle light and the bleary water beyond an orange blob. Still, she can feel his closeness, like intertwined heartstrings overgrown between both their hearts into one another; and now, this precious and delicate connectivity is being snapped and snipped. Though my pockets might be filled, they'll never be full again, in your absence, she adds poetically, her tear stained cheeks shimmering in the faint glow from the machine.

She can feel him smiling. Thank you, love, he responds slowly, with finality.

She and he scream in unison as their last act together; the severity of the last connecting sinew being severed is unexpected, abrupt, and intensified by the sheer amount of electricity that attacks the tiny daemon from all angles as the tank swallows him and the wires up in a single gulp. She continues to scream, but there is nothing further from the little turtle daemon.

--

Dare hastily uses his magic to activate the melting of a door into the wall, his impatience making the process seem unreasonable drawn out. Once the door is big enough for the six foot one Ranger to duck into, he bolts forward and looks left and right in the dim room.

He starts forward at the sight of her, his sneakers skidding on the floor as he makes an abrupt, last minute turn for the death machine first. Shaking his arm out of one of his sleeves, he tears off his jacket and throws it on top of the aquarium containing the dead daemon. The separation is done.

April is collapsed, slumped against the base of the machine, sobbing so hard that her body convulses with each hard intake of breath. He falls to his knees beside her, pulling her away from the machine and instead into his lap and hushing her in a choked voice. The man drags his calloused fingers through her hair, petting her, holding her, squeezing her to his chest. He's desperate to continue to maintain this proximity as long as possible, knowing that their future is far too fleeting and more uncertain than ever. Selfishly, in her time of sorrow, he wants her dependent on him just as she has been one long year ago.

Dare leans into her and kisses the top of her head, murmuring reassurances to her in a strained tone while rocking her gently. He tries not to break down, himself, through a mixture of her unsteady emotive projection and his own sympathy for what she's going through. He has no conception of what she has lost, and for that, he's even more heartbroken for her.

"It's gonna be a'right, Turtle-baby, I'll getche through this," he coaxes, rocking her against his chest. He winces at the nickname, something he's been calling her since she was handheld, and now he's unsure if it's at all appropriate, in light of the situation.

April is unresponsive, drained of the ability to sob and cry and make any sound. Just tired. It's as if she's lost a limb, one that wasn't under her control to flex or hold objects or stand on, but all the same causes a horrible sense of disorientation that it sickens her to even remain conscious right now. She sighs a little, falling limp into Dare's chest, succumbing to sleep.

He feels her body relax beneath his arms, and his heart skips a beat in his panic. His first instinct screamed fears that she just joined her other half's fate. He turns her over, fumbling to find a pulse or to see her breathe. To his relief, he finds both.

She looks very peaceful in his arms, like a worn out little ragdoll. He idly notices that, in his absence, she's grown up a fair bit. She's longer than he can recall, and her face has lost some of its childlike roundness in favour of still curvy, but more adult traits. He smooths her bangs from her closed eyes, admiring her sleeping form in an innocent way. In his incessant petting of her hair, his fingers eventually find the smooth surface of her skull hair clip. Previously pure white, the clip is now stony, textured, and cracked. The expression of the charmed skull is stoic.  

Willing himself to not think about the implications of this, or any other side effects, he instead pulls April back against his chest and rests his chin atop her head. He hums to her a tune he invents as he goes along.

--

Ioann slips the polished bone roulette ball into the woman's fingers. Pandora, the real one, whips around incredulously, looking as if she's forgotten about the game and her role in it. She opens her mouth to say something, but thinks better of it, closing it just as fast.

Rolling the ball between her palms, Pandora takes one more look at the empathetic scene she'd gotten caught up in, before kicking a handle on the roulette wheel to get it spinning. The grand thing takes off, clicking ferociously. Licking her lips with a suddenly wicked smile, she thrusts her hands forward and releases the ball.
Part two! Technically, my official entry pertaining to the first category for :iconvert-is-ninja:'s Nine Levels of Hell contest, <3. Lots and lots of writing for this entry. I don't plan on doing so much again, especially not when I go back to school, D:. Hopefully I'll replace that with art, instead! Wish me luck!

Hope you enjoy. I'm willing to answer any questions and hear any comments, <33.

Introduction can be found here: [link]
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:iconcesca-specs:
cesca-specs Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Whooo, that was intense. O_O Oh man, I can't wait to read the next installment.
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:iconph00:
ph00 Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Professional Filmographer
Can't wait to start writing it! <33

I hope one of the levels provides me with the chance to use Ink against them. Hehehe..
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:iconcesca-specs:
cesca-specs Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Heheh, I'm excited to see Ink in action. XD
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:iconph00:
ph00 Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Professional Filmographer
The sad part was struggling through this entire segment while being SUPER inspired to write Ink. BAD INK. Stop being a jealous, self centred dick, XDDD!

[But if you are curious, a little further back in my gallery there's Dare's death scene, o0o..]
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