HoM: Garden of Forking Paths

February 19, 2018:

HoM. In punishment for removing Wanda from her room, Erik Magnus commands two members of Pietro's own Red Guard, Agents Moonstar and Mercer, to attempt psychic rehabilitation on Wanda behind Pietro's back. In the process the mad princess shows them something which none of them could have expected. AU-Magneto cameo by Pietro.

Castle Magnus, Genosha


NPCs: Magneto



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

There are parts of Castle Magnus to which no one goes, made to house things of which no one speaks. The easternmost tower of the castle is one such place. A sheer spire with only one way in and one small window at its pinnacle, it is perhaps the most restricted of all restricted areas in the home of the Magnus family… because it was wrought to hold one of their own.

No one speaks of the first Magnus princess. Not unless a member of the royal family speaks of her first.

Today it is King Magnus himself who shall, though his intention is not made immediately clear when he requires the presence of these two venerable agents of the Red Guard. Strange, that he would call them to him directly — their assignment is technically to the retinue of the crown prince, and it would make more sense for him to have Pietro instruct them as his proxy. That is usually how these things are conducted.

Yet, apparently over his son's head and behind his back, he pulls them from their ranks, to speak with him in his solar.

To those who saw him in the glory days of the Human-Mutant War, sheathed in armor and wreathed in power, his current state almost seems… diminished, like a lion gone to excess and idleness in the absence of prey to hunt. The great Erik Magnus takes less well to cloaks and robes and red silks than he did to bloodstained war-regalia. He is even seated, a chessboard before him, the steel pieces inert. His demeanor is bored… though for whatever reason, there is a spark of some cunning thought in his blue eyes as he contemplates the two.

"Medications do little for my daughter, these days," he tells them. "There is no answer for her in science. I would instead know the efficiacy of psychic intervention." His gaze turns to Agent Moonstar. Before him, the pieces move. Bishop to B2. Knight to C3. "She has been restless, of late, and it is no condition she can be left in for long. See what it is you can do for her."

They were summarily dismissed, to summit the tower and face the mad princess in her metal room. Danielle Moonstar seems an obvious choice, but why then her companion Owen Mercer? Perhaps his powers rhyme with those of the crown prince so well, that the soul-feel of them would have a calming effect on the princess. But then why not send the prince himself? Of course, these questions are not answered.

There is only the door that awaits them at the top of the tower. Normally it is keyed to open only to a very select few, though they have been added to the registry for today.

Summons are nothing new to Danielle Moonstar, veteran of the Red Guard. However, summons from Erik Magnus? That is.

That doesn't mean Agent Moonstar keeps the King waiting. She doesn't. Only fools would do such a thing and Moonstar isn't stupid. None of the Red Guard are, they are the elite of the elite, after all. So, while Dani feels a mixture of surprise and wariness at this summons, she keeps those emotions tucked behind a professional mask.

Her surprise only deepens to something akin to shock once Magnus reveals their 'new' assignment. Having seen much in her service with Pietro, Dani manages to keep her expression tightly neutral, though Owen might be able to pick up just how disturbed the woman is truly feeling. Her voice, however, is quite steady when she answers King Magnus. "Of course, sir. I will do my best to aid your daughter."

It's only after the two are out of that solar that emotion finally registers within Dani's one good eye, the other covered in a black patch.

"We need to be cautious. There's something else going on here." She states, her words quiet, even as her attention shifts to the doorway that awaits them.

A door that strives to protect the world from a very powerful woman.

This is fine. Owen constantly reminds himself over that there is nothing wrong with his sovereign commanding Danielle and himself to his presence. He does his best to not let on to Dani that there is any stress, but he is well aware that she can see right through him. He can't quite crack the right jokes or if he does, his smile doesn't quite reach his eyes.

"King Magnus is probably going to congratulate us on being so damn attractive and competent at our jobs."

Okay the joking actually does help Owen a little, though it probably doesn't really help Dani calm down at all.

Once they get their assignment, during which Owen does his best to appear placid and competent, though he is thoroughly confused as to why he's there, Owen shoots Dani a look of two eyebrows up. "Ya think? Seriously, I'm not so sure we're not about to get fed to the witch here darlin'."

Approaching the door Owen gets his game face on though, stopping most of his wise cracking (most, not all) and getting ready for a long myriad of possibilities that lie behind this door.

"Ready when you are Agent Moonstar." Calling her agent specifically to let her know he's focused and has her back here.

The only stationed guards are to the very bottom entranceway of the tower, their presence if only to discourage any curious servants further access up those endless, winding stairs. They offer the two of the Red Guard sidelong, sympathetic looks, but say nothing.

Upstairs, where the mad princess is kept, is startlingly empty. No heavy presence of security. They say there used to be posted men outside the princess's door, until her witch's whisperings drove them insane.

Quite possibly a silly story, considering the door itself is solid metal, inches thick, opened only by the keyed code offered, navigated by an automaton voice of warning that the hermetic seal will be breached.

When the door opens, it comes with a hiss of depressurization, the enclosure even air-tight — is the princess merely mad or feared to be diseased? — before it swings slowly open.

Inside is a room made of metal. Floor, walls, ceiling — a box of shining steel, and for one reason only: one needs only think of His Majesty's ability and not need to extrapolate further.

They ricochet endless, concussive echoes of a woman's low, haunting voice.

"Lies," she moans.

Inside those metal walls are a broken attempt to make a young woman's bedroom, with delicate, expensive things, a bed and small furniture — though some end tables have been overturned, some drawers opened and dresses pulled free and turned inside out.

There used to be paintings, some of cities, faraway scenes, most the ocean: but they've been coated over with thick, black paint in the shapes of someone's hands, forcing passing circles and circles and circles and ciRcLEs into the CENTER BLACK VOID. VOID in all of them. VOID, VOID, VOID.

"Lies," she begs, again and again on endless repeat, the princess at one end of the room with her black-stained hands on the thick, barred plastic of its only window, trying to catch her nails into the clawmarks she's been scratching into it. Her pretty gown is paint-stained and dragging tatters. Back turned, she doesn't hear the opening door. "Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies."

Fed to the witch. That earns a *sharp* look from Dani. A silent 'watch it' found upon her expression and within her brown eye.

Though it could also be for that darling. The Cheyenne woman isn't the type that likes pet names. Especially during working hours.

Not that it truly matters. Not when the two agents of SHIELD and the Red Guard find themselves at the door. Once Owen signifies his readiness in his own unique way, Danielle Moonstar only says, "Let's be about then." Then she's reaching for the keypad and entering the code. The hiss of escaping air causes the woman's mouth to pull into a flat thin line. A vague look of consternation flitting across her features, before she brings her expression back under control. While her steps inside the room are decisive and firm, there's a wariness to be found within the black-haired woman. It can be seen in the measured way she walks, the stiffness of her shoulders, and the immediate canvasing of the room upon entrance.

She looks to the walls, the furniture, the paintings … the paintings and circles again and then finally to the woman. A quick side-eye slants over to Owen for a brief second at what Wanda says, before Moonstar steps a few paces further into the room.

There's a beat of a pause from Dani as she waits for the best time to announce their presence, and when there's a pause between one lie and the next, the black-haired woman says, "My Lady."

The atmosphere in the room leaks out as the door opens. Can you smell crazy? Is that in Owen's mind? Is already going crazy? Keep it together Mercer. He side-eyes Dani as the enter the room, taking in the scene. They've of course heard rumors of the state of the eldest princess. But to see it in person is very different. Taking in the scene around him Owen forces his face to not show shock or the horror that he would normally like to have.

"This looks nice and cozy."

He's fast enough to stop her if she tries to hex them. Or eat them. Owen tries to sift through the rumors of what Wanda's actual abilities are, but they range so wildly from hex powers to crazy mind powers to reality warping to seductive hypnotic belly dancing, it's hard to sort through. And possibly eating people. Okay, fine that last one is a rumor that Owen started because it scared the crap out of the newer agents and made him laugh but what if he guessed right?!

He tries to adjust his stance as possible so that he can appear respectful while at the same time being as ready to move as possible.

Two new voices make her go very quiet. Her hands, stained black by her own oil paints, lock into perfect stillness.

And then, just like that, the princess looks back.

Can anyone confess to ever having seen the mad princess? The royal family destroyed every record of her likeness since her famous insanity of years ago — went out of their way to feign a reality where she is not a blight on the Magnus name, not a smear on their proud bloodline — barely something that even exists.

But now she looks, and both Moonstar and Mercer are awarded a look at her face. Wanda Magnus looks nothing like her two public-faced siblings, healthy and strong and pale-skinned like their father. She is small and frail and darker-skinned, thin with the atrophy of a person who is not allowed much movement, and her wavy dark hair in wild disorder, long and disguising her staring blue eyes.

They stare, back-and-forth, trying to parse two unfamiliar faces like words on a page.

Wanda has learned to expect only one thing when strangers admit themselves into her cage.

She shakes her head, minutely, feebly, then backs away, hugging one metal wall as she tries to keep space between herself and the two. "No," she pleads, "no no no nonono — don't. Don't!" She shrinks, folding on herself defensively, hands searching the steel for some imaginary seam that might be her fantasy escape. "Go away! I don't like you! You don't see it! You never see it!"

Only Owen would enter the room of the Mad Princess with such blithe words. Cozy. Indeed.

Stifling the sigh that threatens to push past her lips, Dani keeps her attention focused upon Wanda, versus another look sent to Owen.

The Agent can't quite stop the stare that occurs when Wanda looks back to them. After all, it's not every day a person gets to see the hidden Princess.

That stare of Danielle's doesn't last long, not when Wanda reacts so defensively. As soon as the other woman shrinks away, Dani holds her hands upward in as non-threatening gesture as she can. "We're not here to hurt you, My Lady." Dani says, trying to edge her words in-between that last stream of nos and the don't. "We've been sent to you to help." And while the thought is there to mention Erik Magnus, Dani doesn't. A small thread of subconscious self-preservation kicking in to stop her from saying that name out-loud.

Pivoting slowly upon her heel, Dani risks another look at Owen that reads 'got my back cause here I go', before Dani shifts her attention back to Wand and slowly creeps a step forward. "What don't we see?" She asks, her voice picking up a soothing note. The kind of tone she often uses with wild and skittish creatures. With cornered animals that want to lash out versus trust. "Tell us what we can't see?"

And with those questions of hers, Dani lowers those shields that encircle her mind, walling it off from both the casual and not-so casual psychic touch. With that small window to her mind open the Cheyenne woman stretches out a filament of psychic energy towards Wanda.

Looking for a connection with the other woman.

Owen might have pithy phrases and jokes to crack but he is assessing the situation. Trying to met out his speed to be able to catch the instant there is any energy gathered or finger-waving spell-weaving mojo happening so that he can hopefully intervene.

When Danielle turns to him to give him the look Owen barely nods, though the look in his eyes is definitely asking if she is sure about her next steps. He doesn't want to cause her to doubt herself but is trying to communicate just how likely things are to go south here. It's one of the benefits of their partnership, they can have those non-verbal 'conversations' at times like these.

As Dani moves towards Wanda, Owen tries to drift in her shadow. As smoothly as possible, his hands also raised with palms out, he slides a few feet behind Dani. He doesn't want to spook Wanda, but he also doesn't want her to be able to do something to Dani without him being able to intervene.

"We're here to help princess. We are your guard, here to serve you."

Unless you want to eat us, and then we're totally going to have to draw the line. That one's not negotiable.

They're not here to hurt her.

"Lies…" murmurs the princess again, her tiny hands making white-knuckled fistfuls of her once-pretty dress. Its fine red fabric stains again and again in matching shapes of her own handprints, telling a long and sordid tale of mad Wanda Magnus wringing on her clothes as she walks circles and whispers to herself.

Her blue eyes drop, she hugs on herself, and begins to shake her head — no, no, no — as Moonstar gently persists to speak on. They've been sent here to help.

"LIES!" Wanda snaps, before she collapses, venting out a weak, pained moan as she slides down into a little knot of woman and skirts on the metal floor. Hitched up against the wall, looking between Danielle and Owen with wary eyes, she looks every bit a cornered animal, hit and abused and mistrustful.

"Stop lying! Just stop lying! So many dates. So many lies. Lies after lies, one into another. Beginning and end. Around and around. That's how they walk. Around. Around. Around. Don't see, no one sees, no one sees the lies, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts —"

Her head sways until she stamps it between both grasping hands, and her words splinter into uneasy whimpering. No, Wanda seems to speak on, not with words, but simple no-no-no shaking of her head, and as Owen speaks of serving, her blue eyes lift and lock on him.

SERVE. She remembers that word. What it means. How could they serve her?

"Then let me go," she urges him, voice pin-drop quiet. Her eyes search, something in them almost hopeful —

Until Danielle decides to reach out. Not with hand or body, but something else, and Wanda senses it immediately. The one-eyed woman lets down psychic walls and reaches out to the mad princess. The princess rumours say has made people lose their minds. She stares for a moment.

Then Wanda's eyes switch red. She grasps down.

The first thing that comes is the PAIN. Pain of existence. Pain of being. Like every atom is formed wrong — puzzle pieces pounded into place, nothing where it must go — and all of reality sings like the screams of women. Constant, wretched noise, as heat bakes down off a black sun, and there is ITCHING under Danielle Moonstar's flesh, because it is all ON WRONG, and she should PULL IT OFF.

At this very moment, Pietro Magnus is quite unaware of his sister's distress. Shut up in a planning room with a few aides and advisors, he is pacing back and forth, dying inside as they speculate different ways to present the prison attack to the press and the world at large. The human rights groups, it seems, are up in arms about the prisoners having been summarily executed in their cells without due process. An order, as it happens, the crown prince gave himself.

All the people in the room, except Pietro, wear their best Damage Control expressions. Carefully, one aide ventures, "Your Highness, if we were to frame it as an accident — a flux of someone's powers gone wrong — that would allow us to spin it back onto the rebels, for creating such a dangerous situation that — "

"Are your memories so short as to forget what they did to us when it was the other way around?" Pietro hisses, turning around. "Would I have had to kill them all if they didn't flout our laws, trying to break those terrorists out before they could stand trial? And they were about to, I might remind, because my father is generous." His features coil in a sneer. "We've spent years being conciliatory, and they've done nothing but spit on our grace — "

A familiar cry rings through his head, and a twitch of shared pain flickers across his face as his sister's agony travels across their link. He doesn't pause, doesn't question, doesn't wonder why; he just disappears, gone at such a high speed that all the very important documents the advisors are holding fly into the air, in a storm of paper.

The chief advisor sighs, as a few descending pieces of paper hit him in the face. "I hate when he does that."

It will only take Pietro half a second to arrive, to start keying open the lock himself. But in that half a second, Danielle Moonstar touches Wanda's mind, and that time stretches into an eternity. The mad princess's mind is as terrifying as rumored, for all the reasons one might expect — and for one Danielle might not expect at all.

It's not just Wanda in there.

As Danielle makes contact, something threaded throughout the princess's mind, in webs of silver and blue tangled through her scarlet, stirs immediately, turning tidally like the sea rolling up on shore. There is the sudden, sharp impression she is being watched, stared down on by something which doesn't appreciate her intrusion.

Those silent questions of Owen's are answered.

Yes. She's sure. Mostly. Well, perhaps not, but they've been given a directive.

With one last look at Owen, Dani turns her attention back to the Witch. Those words of hers - let me go - brings a look of regret from the one-eyed woman. Her own response of 'we can't' hovers there unspoken, almost ready to be said, up until the world stills and Wanda's powers flare.

Like a fly pulled into a spider's web Dani's psyche is caught and drawn inward. That touch upon her mind is enough to cause Dani to stiffen, a gasp of surprise and shock leaving her.

Then Dani falls to her knees. Her hands move to head and her fingertips dig hard into her temples. "Ow-en." She calls out to her partner, his name cracking thanks to the onslaught of pain that now scitters throughout her body. "R -" That word never finishes, not when Moonstar's hands suddenly drop from her temples so that she can bring her short blunt nails to the skin of her arms. "It's wrong." She rasps, and even as she says those two words her fingernails try to bite deep into her skin - to pull the skin free from sinew, muscle and bone.

And while that sense of Pietro is felt along side the red, Dani can't quite remark upon that yet, or really put two and two together.

The madness of the red outweighs all currently.

Watching Wanda's eyes light up as Danielle just begins to reach out with her powers consists of excruciating milliseconds for Owen as he speeds up. Maybe this is part of Danielle's plan? He doesn't want to intercede too soon, but at the same time he is haunted by the fear of being too late. He's not a telepath, and has no psychic awareness to know what Dani is doing, but eyes turning red is /generally/ not what one is hoping for.

And then Dani drops to her knees. Okay. We're good here. Owen launches a boomerang at Wanda, but it's not just going to hurt her, no this is a fancy ass future tech enabled boomerang that splits into three. The three boomerangs link up with an electric energy and swirl around Wanda, a protect field hopefully to keep her in place while Owen rushes to get Dani away from her. He doesn't try to take her out of the room yet, but once she starts clawing at herself, Owen pulls her hands away and goes with the tried and true method of yelling in a person's face.

"Dani! Snap the fuck out of it Sweetheart." The calculated use of a pet name she would /hate/ to be called during a mission is fully intentional. Owen can barely spare a glance over his shoulder as he feels Pietro's approach, he's a little busy with the cray-cray right now.

The princess's red eyes never flicker, never move, never blink. They hold Danielle's gaze, and in that drink of scarlet, offers the one-eyed woman a simple taste of the world in which Wanda Magnus lives.

Maggots and centipedes under the flesh. A thousand crawling legs. It HURTS and it BURNS and it ITCHES. The mind SEES the wrong and the body feels in itself the morbid abberation it is. It must pull itself apart. It must destroy the wrongness in the blind hope it can be remade. It cannot survive this way.

And beneath the agony, beneath the screaming, beneath the urgings, beneath the madness, there is a lonely woman's whisper. A plea barely heard, lost in the storm.

Do you feel it too?

Wanda Magnus looks on as Danielle reacts, committed to seeing the Cheyenne lose her mind to the end. If anything does break her focus —

It's the caging field of electricity that intercepts the mad princess, and sight blinks back into her red eyes — letting Danielle go as she cowers against this new prison. She cringes, as if able to feel electromagnetic frequency up through the atoms of her body, and seems to detest it, shrinking back until she brushes one side and receives a shock. Wanda cries out, twists away, and shocks herself again. If she calmed, it would not hurt — but she can no longer even do that, mindless in panic against all this pain.

Lost into broken weeping, tears on the face, hands making fistfuls of her hair, scarlet light begins to seethe violently off Wanda's skin as she doubles over, moaning in despair. Her eyes glow.

All the objects in the room go inside-out.

In his solar, King Magnus contemplates his next move against himself. Silence wreathes him, as he eventually determines: white rook to A4.

A moment later, there is the distant sound of a sonic boom, as something breaks the sound barrier somewhere else in the castle.

The king cocks his head. Then he laughs to himself, for the first time in a week.


Only the fact that Pietro can't open the door without 'blasting it off at hypersonic speed' keeps him at bay for the few precious seconds it takes for everything to go pear-shaped. And things do go incredibly pear-shaped… such that the first thing the crown prince sees when he finally gains entry is —

— his royal sister, losing all of her shit, penned up in electrifying… boomerangs? Mercer?

"What is the meaning of this?!" Pietro snarls, immediately at his sister's side. He moves through the field, fast enough to slip between its flickering arcs, bearing her out the other side in a blur of silver. His arms slip around her, pulling her into a braking embrace, and his mind clamps down more strongly on hers — so much so that Moonstar can feel his presence burning her psychic senses. Can feel his soothes for his sister: Peace, Wanda. I am here. Peace.

His hard, blue-eyed gaze swings towards the two agents. "Why are you both here?! I didn't send you here!" he demands, his voice drawn down to a razor-edged quiet, though the thoughts flickering in his eyes tell plainly enough that he's already got a suspicion. A suspicion he could confirm with a single pointed question:

"Who sent you here?"

Everything is wrong.

This place. The people. Her body. Her eye.

Owen. Their relationship this life. His responsibility and sobriety.

The world. The Twins.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It stretches Dani's minds and pulls at her psychic powers, much like the crawling of her skin. It stretches her awareness and self outward until finally, like a rubber band it snaps backwards. Owen will likely be the first to realize that sanity returns to Danielle Moonstar. Her hands grip his hands hard - an anchor in the psychic storm that recedes. It's only after a few seconds of that harsh grip that Dani's good eye focuses upon the man's face, horror echoed within its brown depth. "I do." She whispers raggedly, an unspoken question answered, before she blinks as realization of what's going on filters through her. Like waking from a dream. "Owen." His name brings a sway to her form, as she comes dangerously close to leaning upon Owen. To take comfort in his physical presence, his nearness, but duty and responsibility stops her.

Straightening, Dani will disentangle her hands from Owen's own and then slowly turn upon knees toward Prince and Princess. Pity might be glimpsed in her good eye, but when the inanimate objects within the room turn inside out, all Dani can mutter is, "Jesus." Self-preservation causes the woman to reach out with her psychic abilities again - probably another mistake, but in life or death situations sometimes you don't always make the right call - instead of an open window within her mind a shutter exists and from between the slats of those psionic shutters a tiny filament of power extends outward.

It offers an image to that poor fractured mind. Sunlight across a green field. The grass, flowers and ground below warmed by the brightness held within the sky.

And while Pietro's demand is heard Dani doesn't answer. It looks like it's now up to Owen to deal with the Prince and his questions. Good thing they both get hazard pay, right? Right.

Knowing that Pietro is coming, sensing him outside the door while all of the these dominos fall horribly awry makes it so much worse. Owen can't be bothered by the fact that Wanda is being shocked as she panics in her boomerang prison. Owen can't be bothered by the fact that Pietro might just take his damn head off as soon as he's in the door. He is aware of both, but he can only focus on the fact that Dani is losing her mind in what seems like the most painful process possible.

Holding her hands by the wrists, trying to stop her from digging at her skin, Owen tries to maneuver his face in front of hers.

"Moonstar. You gotta fight back. You got this." Gone are any taunts or jokes. Now it's dead serious, as Owen realizes this might not be a temporary thing if Wanda gets her way.

Speeding up as soon as he becomes aware of the entrance, Owen watches in near real-time as Pietro weaves into his prison and retrieves his sister. Super. This is going to be really easy to explain and might end with them dying anyway.

It's then that he feels Dani's grasp tighten against him. Screw it, he's turning his back on a Crown Prince and possibly psychotic princess as soon as he hears Dani say his name. He so badly wants to comfort her, to tell her it's okay but instead he opts for a single, slow nod. Again trusting that they understand each other enough without words.

He stands to address the prince, readying himself for a likely unpleasant and difficult bit of questioning. The world then turns inside out before Owen can even start to address Pietro. He falters with his words "Your high-fuck! Wow. *cough* Your highness. We came only on orders to help the princess. Agent Moonstar is hoping to be able to reach her." Owen manages to get that sentence out after it's trainwreck of a beginning despite the changes around him. His eyes involuntarily track to his poor prison boomerangs, now three piles of spare parts sparking on the floor. Aww, sad prison-rangs.

Who? Yea, Owen is not exactly eager to answer that.

Scarlet flickers and licks off her skin like coronal flares — like a living, burning fire cooked inside her brittle body. That red pours free from her sightless, open-highway eyes, begging the world for something it can no longer give her, and it breathes noxiously out through her opened lips.

Madness leeches any lingering mercy out of the broken princess, who holds herself tightly, frightened and shocked too many times: she reacts unconsciously, defensively, nothing left to her but to curl her shaking hands, tremble, and begin screaming —

And a blur or someone breaks her free from that electrified field. All objects — her furniture, the bed, the boomerangs, the paintings — distort and fold in on themselves in morbid origami, atoms reshuffling themselves into disfigurement. Even reality seems to distort when it comes to close to her —

Save for one place, the veritable eye of the storm, a single spot of immunity that is Pietro Magnus. As he holds his sister close, she seems to sober enough to wrap her arms around him, clinging tightly with a shivery ferocity not to let her go. One rock to cling too against a current that will take her under. "Pietro," murmurs free from her, and the sound is pure despair. She hugs to him in broken panic. "It hurts," she weeps, "it hurts, it hurts —"

But her twin speaks into her mind, and she shudders, but calms, some of that scarlet gentling off her flesh, retracting in —

As into her mind, a third joins the psychic-linked twins. Wanda goes still, unsure, before she tightens up, presented with something placid and warm and soothing — but not right. Not right, the urging still tells her.

Her hands tighten on Pietro, and she inhales sharply as she tries to fight it back.

The world turns itself inside-out, and Pietro walks straight into it. There is no fear in him. His sister has never hurt him. He is incapable of understanding a world in which she would hurt him. Should such a thing ever become possible, he would likely sooner die anyway than continue existing in it.

For now, his confidence in this absolute seems fully justified. Her power parts around him like the Red Sea, refusing to touch him even in her madness. He takes her in his arms to soothe her, and after a moment she recognizes him enough to cling to him. It hurts, she begs him, holding onto him in terror not to be swept away. His mind soothes hers, and he leans down to kiss her panic away.

"I'll make it stop hurting," he promises, before he lifts his head and turns his regard on the two agents. He demands answers, with all the peremptory command of a young man with prince's blood.

Moonstar doesn't answer him. Even worse, Moonstar doesn't answer him because she's still in Wanda's mind, a foreign third party amidst their link.

Pietro lets go of his sister, straightens, and rears to stand his full height over her, a stance of pure physical defense. Mentally, his presence mirrors that, seething against Moonstar's intrusion. OUT, his mental voice roars through every fiber of that mental landscape. OUT, until I have the truth of this.

As for Mercer? The man only half-answers him — and that's after he turns his back, a severe affront that really doesn't help Pietro's temper. Maybe Dani should leave tact to Owen less often. His aspect, so like his father's writ years younger, weighs Owen's reply and clearly finds it lacking in one very crucial respect —

"WHO sent you?" Yeah, Pietro isn't letting this go.

Sunbeams and grass, dirt happy flowers and trees, and maybe even a nice little butterfly -

That psychic illusion doesn't last long, not when Wanda struggles against it or when Pietro adds his psychic 'voice' to it as well.

Those two factors quickly toss Dani out of the Twins link and back to the real world around them. There's a vague sort of startle from the Cheyenne woman, the Agent of SHIELD, as she blinks back to awareness. A faint crease might be seen between her eyebrows as she looks from Pietro to Wanda and then back again. That look shifts slightly to calculation as Moonstar finally rises back to her feet.

Subconsciously she pivots herself closer to Owen at the raised voices.

A look is given to Owen then, a silent message for the man, before Dani's attention shifts back to Pietro. And while inwardly she may feel wariness, fear even, her years of service within the Prince's retinue allows her to answer that last question of his with some sort of calmness. "The King did." She states, her voice holding a note of certainty to it, even as she braces for the reaction to those three words of hers.

And yes, she purposely left out what mission they were given. Definitely on purpose.

Oh? So at least one rumor is proven true. Owen to his credit doesn't react in the slightest when things get super cozy between the twins. He has been around royals enough to give spectacular game face in indiscreet situations. Granted indiscreet is slightly different from incest, but close enough.

Dammit. Pietro steps towards Dani and Owen feels time slow down to a crawl. He agonizes over the decision to either step in front of Dani or allow Pietro to implicitly threaten her. The milliseconds stretch out and he thankfully is relieved of having to make a decision by Dani herself. He sees her begin to startle, and he relaxes, slipping out of his speed burst.

When Dani pivots closer to him and gives him a look, his mouth flicks in the smallest of smiles at just the corners. They have faced more than one wraths of Pietro's together, this one might just be a bit more personal for the prince than most though, especially judging by the kissy facing. And then Dani answers the question. That's probably for the best, between the two Dani is the favored and Pietro probably didn't love the fact that it was Owen's toys shocking the princess.

So instead of talking, trying to add anything or smooth something over, Owen opts to keep quiet and give silent nod to what Dani says.

Looking every bit the mad princess of rumour and legend, Wanda Magnus curls inside Pietro's arms, her heavy head leaned where his one hand bears it up, her half-shuttered eyes lost in him. Drugged, devoted, besotted — all words that are flimsy attempts to describe the way she looks up on her brother.

She looks on the Crown Prince as if he were the last scrape of sunlight in her dark skies, before her eyes lash shut when kissed.

It seems to at least calm her, though the woman cannot seem to exorcise her constant, frightened trembling — which twists into a cringe when Danielle crosses the psychic bridge and sings songs of paradise into Wanda's head.

The princess makes a murmur of distress and confusion, unable to push it back with any strength — but with enough bearing to sense the falsity of it. The shape of it that is not true, not right — until it can attach to her mind so strongly Wanda may fail to notice. She cringes against Pietro, crying through his thoughts at this intrusion — so many intrusions on her, please make it stop —

And he does.

Slowly, but surely, Danielle yields Wanda some of her cognizance, enough that the princess opens her eyes, brought back from that sunshine field to — here. The cage of metal. Pietro stands now before her, and she presses up against his turned back, her pale, spidery hands twisted into his clothes, and her red eyes gleaming at the rise of his shoulder.

It's hard to say what intelligence Wanda has to listen, as both Danielle and Owen speak, and how much she understands —

She hides at mention of the King. She shakes her head at Pietro's back. "No," is all she begs. "Not right, not right, not right, stop stop stop — "

She begs him to make it stop, and so he does. Pietro has always made whatever distressed Wanda stop — by any means necessary.

He puts a stop to that caging electric field. He puts a stop to Moonstar in her head. And from the look on his face when he finally lets go his calmed sister and stands back up, he means to put a stop to whatever was the reason behind this intrusion to begin with.

The two agents are long veterans of dealing with the crown prince and his violent, erratic moods — his demanding, arrogant nature. This is certainly not the first time they've had to explain something through his 'fire first and figure it out later' rages, though he has never truly harmed or oppressed them — mostly been a real trying asshole to deal with, at times. His gaze swings towards Moonstar as she finally answers him.

The King sent them.

Wanda starts to rock in distress behind him again at mere mention of their father. Pietro's hand lifts in a silencing gesture, but he doesn't turn to physically soothe her this time — his eyes just flicker red, a hint that whatever he spoke to her was straight into her mind. His mood turns again, twisting down from that shouting fury into a sort of silken silence that is worryingly similar to the quiet the King evinced earlier, when they were given this mission to begin with. Sly, malignant, thoughtful.

"The King sent you," says the prince calmly, concerningly amiable now. "Touched what is mine, did he? Well, we must all obey his dictates. I take the message, father." His expression bares bitter sarcasm like the edge of a knife. "If he means you to assist my sister, then assist her you shall. Yes — I will permit it." He takes his sister's hand, a wordless anchor for her.

"That is," he says acidly, "If it is still me you obey." The perceptive won't miss it. That's a flicker of betrayal in his blue eyes, underneath the coldness.

With her attention focused mostly on Pietro, Dani misses that nod from Owen, but she knows he has her back. He always does. That's something she can always count upon.

Though even with that thought a small whisper pricks suddenly at her conscious - 'no, this is wrong, it's not right'.

And while that idle thought brings the vaguest of frowns to her lips, it's easily ignored in the face of Pietro's anger and then that sullen silence. She bites back a sigh and her good eye closes, though not for long. Not when she hears his next words.

Touched what was his.

Dani's gaze shifts between Pietro and Wanda now, spying those red eyes peeping over Pietro's shoulder. A flicker of pity might be seen in the brown depths of Moonstar's singular eye, but that pity is soon chased away with the Prince's last words.

A stiffness settles into the line of Dani's shoulders, "Sir, of course, we are your guards." She states, and while another might offer some type of excuse, or excuses, Dani doesn't. The four of them have some inkling of a game being played here and any excuse at this point would simply make it worse - or so it seems to Dani.

'Touched what is mine'

Okay, that took a turn for the creepy that even Owen wasn't prepared for. Though Agent Mercer's impressive poker face shows no sign of trouble or agitation at the words, inwardly he's wondering how many unstable progeny the king has because it's looking an awful lot like that number is more than one. Now would be a wonderful time for Dani and Owen to share some sort of convenient psychic link so they might exchange WTF thoughts, but sadly no such link exists.

But even without a link he knows that they are on the same page. You play it out. Not agreeing now would be pointless. If things get crazy, they will improvise, like they always do.

"Of course your highness. How can we be of service?"

It's not overly obsequious, but rather business like and rote. Inwardly Owen knows Dani is just as furiously trying to see where this is headed, but not particularly looking forward to find out.

Mere mention of King Magnus breaks Wanda into panicked shivering. Cowering behind her twin brother's taller shoulder, she folds her arms around herself, forearms crossed to better protect her face, and climbs her hands into her dark hair, clinging uselessly as she rocks on her feet.

"It spins, it spins, empty seat at the center — thrones cannot be full, no, no —" she moans to herself, each word twisted like a plea — until Pietro lifts a staying hand.

The mad princess goes quiet. Though she doesn't settle, unable to with strangers in her cage, her behaviours calm to Pietro's bidding. She looks towards the guards, then away, speaking soundless words to herself, comprehension lapsing between moments —

And then Wanda is borne back, pulled, in her way, back to the forefront, by Pietro's hand. She is docile to his touch, trusting. She looks over at him, head tilted, trying so hard to understand through the madness —

He says he will permit it.

Permit, permit, permit.

Wanda seems to understand far more than appearances let on.

"No," she begs, that trust making war with a pang of terror. "No, no, I don't want it. I don't want it! I don't want this! All wrong, it hurts, it hurts —"

It seems as if King Magnus didn't just sire one mad child. Perhaps they should begin to call Pietro the Mad Prince, next. It is worrying, given he is the heir apparent, that so much of what he does seems dictated by the whims and needs of his insane twin sister —

— though, is she quite insane?

At the least, the young prince seems to be mollified by the answers he receives from both Dani and Owen. The rage breaks out of his features, moderating down to a simple sustained anger. "No, that was graceless of me. You did as you were commanded. What can you say, if my father decides to use you to get at me?" Very little, indeed.

The bitterness has not abated from his features, however, and it only sharpens as he continues, his tone that of a man washing his hands of whatever game is being played here. "Well. Go on, then! You were sent here to perform a task. Do it. Clearly my presence or word has very little to do with whether it is performed or not."

Wanda doesn't like that, of course. And Pietro gets a front-row seat to the way her trust for him shatters. Something in Pietro breaks to see that, too.

His jaw tightens. His father thinks he can just reach into the ranks of his guards, issue them commands, send them to meddle with his twin without his knowledge? Is this a punishment for what he did with her? Some sort of test? Well, the king can take his tests and —

"You will do nothing with Wanda," he says, very quietly. "You will not carry out this order. If my father takes issue, then tell him I countermanded it." No doubt this will have painful repercussions for the prince, but what else is new between father and son?

He turns to his sister, taking her by both her hands to soothe her. "What is this you keep saying? That it's 'wrong'? What do you mean, 'wrong'?"

There are days when being one of the elite Red Guard has massive advantages and then there are days like today.

This eveninng it's hard to say whether it's more advantageous or disadvantageous. It seems to be leaning towards the latter in Dani's eyes.

Once more Dani watches the interactions between the Twins. The trust between Pietro and Wanda seems absolute, or close to it. Even as Wanda protests her brother's decision still there is trust. A subtle look is transitioned to Owen, even as Dani shifts slightly so the two Guards are standing more next to one another, versus one in front or behind.

The overflow of bitterness from Pietro pulls a wince from Agent Moonstar, but still no words. It's only with his words for her to try again, that the Agent allows herself a silent nod. She gets far enough to where those psychic shields of hers are lowered, but before she can extend any sort of illusion outward, she's once more commanded to stop.

Almost there's a sense of relief from Dani. Something that might be noticed from the subtle tick that bends a corner of her mouth downward. One touch with Wanda's mind was apparently enough for Danielle Moonstar.

And while she could offer something to that question of what might be 'wrong', protocol has her keeping her mouth shut. The only thing she does is shift her eye to Owen for a moment.

Barely trusting himself to make eye contact with Dani, lest the mask of seriousness slip even for a fraction of a second in front of the royals, Owen dares one look. And in the slight widening of his eyes manages to communicate the craziness of the night they are having.

Owen tenses when Danielle is instructed to try again. The first time turned the objects in the room inside out, Owen's not super psyched about what round two will bring. But thankfully the order is belayed and he breathes a barely audible sigh of relief, the only slight show of emotion he's allowed himself.

"Understood your highness."

And Owen allows himself the briefest hope that they will be dismissed. But instead the crown prince turns back to his sister. Oh good. Owen is well aware the longer they stay in this cursed place the more likely it is that something will go horribly, HORRIBLY wrong.

She senses the bitterness, too.

For a moment, Wanda truly believes as Pietro says. He invites his guard to his twin sister so they can fulfil the king's orders, and she hollows out cold.

The possibility that he thinks it too, of her, thinks her mad — in that instant, it changes the princess's bearing. She doesn't fight, doesn't pull on their linked hands, doesn't resist, but in her sinking hopelessness, she begs. Eyes down, voice weak and stuttery, soul snuffed out of her, she begs Pietro the same way she once begged King Magnus not to be locked in this cage.

Mercifully, and fiercely, Pietro's heart changes. Looking up, tears on her face, Wanda stares through the Crown Prince's new order. She sways on her feet, crippled momentarily a swoop of relief, her thoughts trying to run through the current of all the noise to wonder why —

Pietro's two hands on hers are an anchor, and Wanda's fingers tighten on his. Her eyes cross between Moonstar and Owen, then up on her twin. When she finds Pietro's blue eyes, hers are red. Red light smokes up from their joined hands.

"No one believes me," she whispers. "No one sees it. Spins and spins. So fast. Took years to count. It spins in the black." Those paintings. CIRCLES and CIRCLES. "Now I found the seam. Everything. Everything is wrong."

She will show them.

Her hands tighten reassuringly, as atom by atom, the metal walls begin to peel away, shedding like scales off a serpent's back, streaming away past this world and opening up into the gaseous arms of a moving void, a black hole opening up to suck all light from the blue sky. Her scarlet light reaches for it like an arrow aimed to a heart: and shatters it, breaking it up like shards of glass. A reflection. That's all it is. That's all THIS is. A reflection, and not real —

The world flickers and statics both around Moonstar and Owen, and to look at their own hands are, at times, to see mirror images between them — their body doubled between eyeblinks, before changing entire something else. Their hands, but not. Hands that have lived different lives. Hands that have done things, good and bad.

And memories to accompany them.

A snarling bear howls through Danielle's mind. Her parents are lost, and the terror courts her like a shadow drawn over her life. She serves no one, lonely and free, and can see the way light flares along the feathers of opening wings — wings of a horse that bows his proud head to her in thank-you. Her eyes want to water. Both of them. The one behind the eyepatch strains to see.

His father's voice rumbles through Owen's mind. His dark laugh, wet with alcohol, and then even wetter with the blood that welled up from his throat, choking on himself as he died on that last job. He serves many, not a King, but the state, and he wakes every fifteen minutes on the dot, trained by the guards' schedules and the constant grinding-slam of prison doors. His freedom comes in the bottle and needle both, and though both are wrong, so wrong, dead ends — his LIFE is dead ends — there is something crushingly right. What was supposed to be. No distinguished job. No Danielle Moonstar. The crushing loneliness, and the dark —

And through Wanda's eyes, through their mind, through the unravelling world, Pietro beholds a life of no one. He rules no nation, has no servants on his retinue, but he turns his back on his father's tired voice and cedes only to the stronger thoughts in his head. His sister murmurs to them sweetly, and her voice is in his ear, promising all will be true. They live as nothing in a world conquered by humanity, and are hunted by them, but they are together — and he takes her to dance on the top of the Eiffel Tower as her laughter sings free.

The glimpse ends. Her power shudders, and cannot hold. Reality comes back, its lie, and Wanda can no longer hold it back. It reassumes in a thunderous clap, and the princess collapses.

Pietro holds Wanda's hands through it all. The reassuring tighten of her fingers on his is not even needed, even as the world strips apart around them; that trust she showed for him earlier, he returns in equal measure. There is nothing about his sister's powers that he could possibly fear; after all, the day they turned on him to hurt him, is the day he would no longer want to live at all.

He looks up, calm, as the world reflects in different shapes off all those shards of reality. In another universe entrely, he has nothing and is no one — but he has his freedom, he has his sister, and his father is nothing but a faraway voice he does not heed.

There, he is no prince, no heir, no ruler… but he is free, and his sister is free. They do as they please, they fight the oppression of the humans who still rule the planet… and she does not suffer.

It passes, and Wanda collapses — but not far. Her brother catches her before she hits the floor. He is shaky after that taste of changed reality, but that he will always catch his sister is immutable absolute.

Lifting her into his arms, he seats himself on the edge of her bed, cradling her. He makes a brief attempt to rouse her, but does not persist if she won't wake.

Only once his sister is settled, does he turn his gaze to ensure the status of his guard. "You saw…?" he asks. The prince, never known to waver or doubt from his peremptory confidence, for once speaks with a shaken voice.

When the walls peel away Dani can't quite stop the flare of nostrils as she inhales sharply.

Then she's pulled deep into the visions -

The howl of the Bear brings a widening of her eye - eyes. Her head tilts upward sharply and for a moment in time her hand curls around a bow, the weight of a quiver sits upon her back. Both eyes see, they see the battle with the Bear before her, they hear the echo of a neigh, and spy the defined edges of feathers upon wings. A name hovers upon her lips for that fabled creature -

But before the pegasus' name can be said reality comes crashing back upon the four. This reality redefines itself with a sharp bang, the walls return, and so does the awareness of where they are, who they're with.

The black-haired Cheyenne sways for those first few initial seconds before she finds her balance. Immediately when her eye refocuses she looks first to Prince, then Princess and then over to Owen. There's a modicum of shock hovering in her one brown eye that can be seen. This second brush from Wanda's mind can no longer be brushed off as simple insanity of a broken mind. There was an echo of truth in that vision that Dani's heart reverberated with for a handful of seconds.

"You okay?" Those first quiet words for Owen only, before her gaze moves back to Pietro, when he speaks in his shaken voice. "Yes." She says, voice rising slightly when she addresses the heir to this world's throne. "There was so much difference -" Is the only other thing she can add for the moment.

The look from Wanda sends chills down his spine. It feels like she is looking through him, even before any of the real fireworks begin. The wariness now shows directly on his face, when the smoke starts to form between their hands Owen is flat out reaching for a shock boomerang. He realizes pulling a weapon in the presence of a royal is not a wise move, but if he has to face prison or death, let's talk about jail.

But then what comes isn't an attack per say. It's knowledge. Awareness. A whole other life. A whole other Owen. And the worst part isn't seeing the failure, the sadness, the horrific twisted version of his father and his own past, oh no. The worst part is how right it feels. How reasonable the reliance on drink and drug feel to just get through the pain. Of course he doesn't deserve Danielle. He doesn't deserve any of this life.

It's a weight. A crushing realization that his charmed life is nothing but a sham. That he is in fact, the worst version of himself. And just as alone as he could ever possibly imagine. Owen drops to his knees. His face a mask of shock and his breathing heavy and ragged. Trying to shake this illusion off, to get his mind back to 'reality' he can feel the pull of wanting to hide in a bottle, to escape with a pill or needle. It all felt so reasonable, but thankfully it holds no sway here.

It's just a waking nightmare. Owen forces himself to focus on that thought. Like Dani's fear casting. But Wanda's crazy. Obviously. She just warped his head, that's all… right?

"Yea… Dani. I'm.. fine" The shock on his face echoes in his voice. It sounds small and far away, and in no way convincing.

The electric boomerang he pulled earlier clatters to the floor, an echo of the prison boomerangs earlier.

The boomerang clatters tinnily on a floor smithed of pure, cold steel — one side of this enclosing box. Reality continues on as it once was.

As if nothing happened.

But Wanda hangs heavy on her feet, no more power even to bear herself up — and heaps where Pietro reflexively catches her. Her body, birdbone-hollow and light, curls where he arranges it, her head slung to her brother's shoulder as he sits them both to her bed. Her hands hang open, dry of all that red light.

The mad princess is terrifyingly still, looking more like a corpse than someone alive and dreaming — until that gentle rouse from Pietro makes her inhale, and her eyes flicker. Under her lashes, they are blue. They filter up on him, their look distant and glassy, pleading with the words she has little present strength to say.

Her free hand tightens in his stately, Princely, false clothes. Her eyes half-lid.

The world drifts on routinely past her plastic-sealed window, blue skies and a narrowed look down on the royal courtyard below. There are no calls from other in the palace, no one standing and staring at something that must have gone on in the princess's forgotten tower.

The world goes on as if nothing happened. But did it?

"Wrong," whispers Wanda, one last plea.

If nothing else, Pietro recovers his aplomb quickly. He does most things in his life quickly, and with the assurance and command that comes from royal blood —

Royal blood? Lies, whispers something from the back of his mind. Lies indeed. Here he rules heir to the throne of the world, yet for all that, he has never once felt any happiness to compare to what he felt in that other place, the one Wanda just showed them. He should forbid the two to speak of this. And yet…

"Different," he agrees, his voice quiet. "Something is wrong…"

Around them, the steel of the metal cage in which they sit groans. The metal shivers, just a bit, as if by the contemplative tightening of some mental hand upon it. Pietro's head lifts, his blue eyes staring off into the middle distance. They are wide in the way an animal's are, when they hear a man take down a whip which has been used many times before.

The event does not repeat. But it doesn't really need to.

"You may go," Pietro finally says, blessedly. "Leave us. Don't concern yourself whether you have fulfilled my father's command." His head lowers, his eyes turning back inevitably to Wanda as she makes that last plea. He touches her lips in a hushing gesture. "I will handle him."

Those four last words are brave ones, on the part of the prince, but it is plain not even Pietro really believes them.

The clatter of a boomerang brings Dani back to Owen who can be found upon his knees.

That brings the woman back around to him and she reaches for him. To help bring him back to his feet, or at the very least, to help center him in the here and now with her touch. Whether the here and now is a false reality or not.

There's a hollow ache behind her eyepatch from the brief glimpse of true-sight again, versus not, or cybernetic. The ache, for this moment, is ignored as she strives to get Owen up.

And even with that, Dani's gaze flicks to Pietro, Wanda too, as the Prince speaks again. Dismisses them even. And while those brave words said there's a flicker in Dani's good eye. Concern for Pietro and Wanda, for all of them really, but obedience is drilled into the Guards and so, "Of course, sir. Call us when you are ready."

Usually kneeling before the prince looks a lot different than what Owen is currently doing on the cold metal floor. He slowly realizes what's going on, and remembers where he is. He stands, likewise slowly, to his feet with Dani's help. He quietly thanks her, having come around enough to be embarrassed for being the only one so affected by the visions it seems.

"Of course your highness."

With a disregard for protocol that he knows Dani will hate, Owen takes her hand in his. He's desperate for this to feel real again, to shake off whatever that vision was. The looks he gives her communicates just how out of sorts his mind is.

As soon as they are out in the hall, Owen pulls her to him and kisses her. Something he would never do while on duty, and certainly not where people might see the display of affection. But right now, Owen could care less about any of that. Breaking from the kiss but still leaning his forehead against her he says, "I'm sorry. I just… " he trails off, unable to explain.

Instead he straightens, resumes his professional demeanor, "We should go. Before anyone changes their minds. Or ours."

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