HoM: The Kick

March 05, 2018:

Dani and Owen's search for powerful telepaths, on Pietro's behalf, yields one Nate Summers. Together, he and Wanda are able to see the world for the illusion it is, and plans form to break it apart.

Castle Magnus, Genosha

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Well, dreams, they feel real while we're in them right? It's only when we wake up that we realize that something was actually strange. — Inception

In the end, though Agents Moonstar and Mercer conveyed Nathaniel Summers quite quickly to the palace, it is a few days before anything actually comes of his summons.

It's hard to say why there is a delay, given the issue at hand was apparently one of sufficient urgency to call upon a nineteen year-old boy who has not yet even begun his cadet training for the ranks of SHIELD. No one breathes a word of why, not even if asked — especially not if asked, in fact — merely mouthing platitudes and expressing congratulations on young Summers' apparent early recruitment into the great ranks of such an illustrious organization as SHIELD. Soon enough, it becomes apparent that this is meant to be Nate's cover story for being at the castle.

He is treated quite well, and under any other circumstances it would be a novel and interesting experience to see the little of Castle Magnus that he is permitted to see. He is put up in guest lodgings, and allowed to wander about to a degree to shadow the two Agents at their work. It would feel almost like an internship, like some sort of job shadowing, if not for the fact that over his head hangs that continual awareness: he was called here for a reason, and it wasn't his own career advancement, no matter what people pretend.

The entire time, from a distance, Pietro keeps close track of both the young Nate Summers… and of his own father, the king. His own father… the reason Pietro delays acting. Erik Magnus has been restless of late, itching for action after years of idleness and peace, and there have been some tensions with Latveria as of late. The prince knows his father well, and soon enough the king does as he expects; he takes himself personally to Latveria to put the fear of God back in Victor von Doom.

With "Dad finally out of the house," so to speak, Pietro finally stirs to act.

Such it is that on the morning of the third day, the two Agents are finally asked to escort Nate to a small conference room in a part of the palace he has not been to before. Here, the stately pretensions at splendid Greco-Roman architecture dissipate and fall away, replaced by the stern severity of utilitarian steel. Here, clearly, is a part of the palace dedicated to work and not glamour.


With a few days of idle time before needing to present Nate before the prince Owen has taken it upon himself to be sure and find an appropriate set of clothes for Nate as he requested. Now because it's Owen that set of clothes is the most basic version of the SHIELD trainee uniform, stripped of all insignia and decoration. If Owen had time it would have all been dyed gray to be as bland and prison-chic as possible, but alas he ran out of time. Is it petty to make sure that the would be recruit has the most basic vestments possible, yes, but have you met Owen?

Having retrieved Nate with Dani, Owen escorts the young man with polite curtness to the prince. He allows himself the briefest of side-eye glances at Nate in front of Dani in recognition that yes, he is responsible for Nate's 'uniform', but other than that he is on his best behavior. He does try to coach the young man.

"To be clear, when we picked you up you seemed to think that because we were asking this duty of you that it gave you leeway to speak freely. That is not the case. Neither your powers, nor your money impress the prince and you'd be best served by keeping your mouth shut and doing as asked without providing any opinions or comments that are not specifically requested. Understood?"

In it's own way, it's a kindness. Lord knows Owen received some version of this speech many times as a cadet. But because of his position and possibly because Nate got on his nerves by seemingly being aware of Dani's vision, it's delivered with a little extra vigor than maybe required.


Being on the job Dani's expression is quite closed off.

Her mouth is a tight line of seriousness as she and Owen escort the young Summers.

While her attention is forward, she keeps one ear upon the conversation Owen is currently having with Nate. Almost it ticks a corner of her mouth upward, but the reality of the situation (where Owen is quite correct in what he's saying) reasserts itself and her mouth barely budges.

As they approach the door the black-haired woman pauses before it. A look is sent to Nate and then a slightly softer one to Owen.

With that non-verbal warning given Dani raises her hand and raps her knuckles three times against the door. She waits a heart-beat before she then opens the door, ushering their little group into the jaws of royalty.

"Sir." Comes her greeting as she steps inside first.


Oh look, the Magnus Royal Palace, isn't this cool?

Just a month ago it would have been really cool. Now? Nate is just impatient. The palace feels pretentious and anachronic. (WRONG). A gilded cage.

Of course he can astral project, he can talk to people telepathically, so it is not much of a cage. It just feels like one. Sleep comes rarely and the nightmares are getting worse, just like his mood. Meditation is not helping anymore. Did it ever?

Owen pettiness is pretty much ignored. He could switch his clothes appearance at will. It is just not useful. At least a real SHIELD uniform would offer some defense again… what? This is the most secure place on Earth. But it doesn't feel safe.

"To be clear, agent," he replies quietly. "I don't think what you think or what the prince thinks is important anymore." And I know Pietro, he wants to add. But it is not truth, so he finds himself again experienced cognitive dissonance. "I need to find out what is going on or I will end up in a padded cell in the same madhouse Quire is now."

He will wait and see this prince first, at least. He has seen Pietro on TV plenty of times, and learned about him in school and… no, cognitive dissonance is bad. At least he manages not to curse out loud when Dani opens the door.


Any number of things might be expected on bearding the Crown Prince in his den. He is one of the most public children of the King, if not the most public due to being the heir apparent, and the coverage on him… surprisingly, it's mainly positive. This is probably courtesy of the spin doctors in the media from out of Genosha. His service record in the war at his father's side is a matter of public record, and so is his subsequent service as his father's heir… both well-sanitized.

Of course the rumor mill hints furiously at an ugly underbelly. They say he shares all his father's most negative traits towards fanaticism and dominion. They say he harbors anti-human sentiments even stronger than the king. They say any number of things about his relationships within the family, too. But probably best not to talk about any of that, as the Agents caution.

Moonstar, wordless, ushers them all in to the room. Within, perhaps to everyone's surprise, Pietro waits quite alone. What kind of statement it makes, for the Prince to meet a stranger with no visible bodyguards, is left to the imagination, though he does acknowledge Dani and Owen with a curt, "Thank you, Agents." He does not ask either of them to leave.

He stands at the head of the long conference table instead of sitting, his back to the door and therefore to the group as it enters, his attention absorbed in a screen bearing a few updates on recent human uprisings. He is not dressed with any excessive splendor or ceremony, though he is decently put together; in fact, he's dressed rather indistinguishably from any other man prepared to sit down and discuss business, in dark slacks and a plain oxford so bland that he might actually be overlooked in his own palace up until someone noticed the highly distinctive shock of silver hair.

"I'd say something pointlessly pedestrian like, 'I hope you weren't too bored,'" the Prince says abruptly, without immediately turning around. "But I suspect very soon, we'd all prefer to be bored."


If the kid wants to get mouthy at least Owen warned him. Owen offers the barest hint of a smile to Dani before they enter the prince's chambers. His psy-shields are slammed just about as tight as he can get them, which is decent at least for a non psion. Dani can tell he's tense, and it has little or nothing to do with coming before the prince. It's all about what Nate is about to reveal or not. He has a lot riding on this, more than he's let on, even to Dani.

Owen steps to the side and lets Nate make his approach. He isn't concerned that the kid will do anything as foolish as try to attack the prince, but he's on guard duty so he's ready for anything, his quick hands idly feeling the weapons by his sides.


He is too old.

Of course Nate knows exactly how old is the prince. So no, Pietro does not look *too* old. It is just the first impression. "I was more anxious than bored," offers Nate, walking forward to take a good look to the prince. Right now both men are of the same height and build. He seeks some recognizement in his eyes, and steps back if finding none.

A glance is directed to Dani, his blue-green eyes narrowing sharply. "It doesn't matter," he sighs, "why did you bring me here? Which is this 'minor task' for which you needed a telepath?"


Pietro finally turns as Nate advances to meet him. If he seems offended by the brazen way in which the telepath approaches him, he makes no indication of it. His blue eyes study Nate sharply, up and down, but for all that scrutiny there is no recognition in his gaze.

His head lifts slightly as Nate eventually dismisses the delay. It doesn't matter, he says. "No," Pietro answers. "It doesn't." His eyes narrow slightly at the inquiries, though it's hard to say whether it's because he is affronted at being questioned in such a manner by the young man. He could simply be deep in thought.

"Not so minor a task," he says, "though it was framed in that way to avoid drawing notice. Mutants with powers like yours have been steadily going mad with increasing frequency over the years. I'd think that would be a concern of yours." Pietro pauses. "We may have a guess at why. I have seen it. My Agents," a glance between Owen and Dani, "have seen it. To confirm, we need telepathic abilities of your magnitude."

His eyes hood. "We'll speak elsewhere. …Don't freak out." Not a princely phrasing, but these are strange times.

Pietro glances towards Danielle, nodding briefly. It is her cue to generate, with her abilities, a connection… a psychic landscape in which they may speak without being overheard by the surveillance that blankets the castle. It is not dissimilar to the room in which they now stand, except it exists entirely on a mental plane.

Also, except for the fact that where there were previously four, there are now five people in the room.


In that shared psychic plane, created and maintained by Danielle Moonstar's vast powers, the air is thick, obscure — like a rolling morning mist settling in the bowl of a great valley. There are few features of this land, none unless Moonstar's shifting subconscious wills them into being —

But for now, a new figure seats herself among the fog. The hard, regnal lines of her red robes make her look larger than she is, but all a lie, as the ends of very small fingers emerge behind the hems of her sleeves. She sits straight-backed, though her head is slightly bent forward, with waves of her dark hair pooling at her shoulders, running a black river down her back.

A headdress conceals all of her face, its beaded, golden accents revealing only the point of her chin, and her mouth. There is an emptiness to it as if she's long forgotten how to smile.

"Agents Moonstar, Mercer," is what she says first, her voice soft, demur. "My apologies from last time. I am far more calm, this time."

Her head lifts with a chime of beads. It inclines, and though her eyes are unseen, it seems to be inclined towards Pietro, some covered look angled his way.

Then, finally, her head turns — towards Nate. As if the woman can see him still through her blinders. "I am Wanda Magnus." The mad princess. It is as likely she is known this way as she is possibly not known at all. The royal family quietly avoided mention or record of her these past many years.

"I need you to tell me if I've lost my mind. Or if you simply shall lose your mind to the truth with the rest of us in this room."


The low whispered cussing of Owen Mercer precedes the shift into Dani's psychic plane. His head snaps to her just in that moment, as if to ask if she knew this was coming, because it's obviously a surprise to him. But he goes along with it, as he has little choice to do otherwise.

Once in the different realm, Owen is dressed slightly differently. His uniform is now the dress uniform used for parades and official events, the one Dani always compliments and he rolls his eyes at. He attempts to hang back, to stay off the radar as much as possible but when addressed, he steps forward to bow appropriately and reply "Of course princess, no apology is needed." Especially if she doesn't repeat whatever the hell it was last time.

With that done, he attempts to fade into the background, willing himself to quiet his mind and not allow the tension and the fear in his emotions to spill out in this place of the mind.


Of course it was not a 'minor task'. If SHIELD needed a high-power telepath and coincidentally so many high-power telepaths have been rendered useless in the last few weeks, there is a serious problem.

Nate can almost feel what it is, but not quite. It is a maddening sensation of wrongness that has been increasing the last few days. He nods to Pietro, but when he is about to answer, he feels Dani pulling him into a mindscape. He lowers his psychic shields with some hesitancy, letting the woman drag him into the psychic plane.

And "Wanda," he murmurs.

He studies the woman with the same intensity he gave to Pietro. "Yes, well… and sanity has always been overrated." Beat, "princess." He steps closer, "so is this it? You are seeing something we can't. That is… right," his left eye shifts from blue-green into gold, and then solid, glowing yellow. And then scars appear around his left eye. Those weren't there in his physical body a minute ago, but those feel *right* too.

He pushes through Dani's mind-link, pretty much taking over it. The room grows brighter, sharper almost immediately. The young man's psychic strength is overwhelming here. And then dives into Wanda's mind. « Hit me. I/we need to know. »


The young prince moves immediately to his sister's side in this mindscape. Physical closeness is perhaps not so relevant on a psychic plane like this, but Pietro doesn't like to be too far apart from Wanda. His hand comes to rest on her shoulder, a grounding gesture… though she does not appear to need it today. This is one of her better days… perhaps because soon she may receive confirmation she is not so mad after all. That, in fact, it is the entire rest of the world which is mad.

She speaks to Nate, and his own eyes turn to the young telepath as he willingly accepts to view what she has seen, beyond the curtains of this world. "Show him," Pietro murmurs.

The change that comes over Nate Summers doesn't escape Pietro's quick perceptions. The sudden scarification is particularly interesting, but he does not comment.

He just shoots a glance to Owen, in the backdrop. A wordless warning to be prepared to help him, in the event one or both of the powerful mutants present needs to be incapacitated. Pietro can feel Nate's psychic presence in this landscape, and he is wary about all that power directed at his sister's mind. Yet there is probably no more reliable way to see the truth than to join Wanda's ability to peer beyond realities, to the power of a telepath. They will have the truth of what is REAL or FAKE.


Beneath Pietro's hand, the princess — his twin sister — feels thin and hollow under his hand. Tired from too much of this. Atrophying under her imprisonment. And for so much of her, ready to just be given her diagnosis — she has lost her mind, and there's nothing more to it — and let the rest of her just give up and waste away.

Even though she's largely disguised, hidden under her robes and headdress, fatigue etches into every ounce of her person.

Show them, commands her brother, and Wanda bows her head obediently. A pang crosses their twin-link: please don't let her hurt anyone.

"I will show you as I see. As I feel," promises the princess, one small hand appearing from her sleeve to reach up and cover Pietro's on her shoulder. Her fingers tigthen down, seeking him as her anchor. And as Nate's considerable psychic force takes command of the plane, and presses into her mind —

Wanda closes her eyes and surrenders.

The first sensation that comes is the pain. It hurts. It hurts because Wanda hurts, hurts every moment of every day — hurts for years now, since the morning she awakened as a girl and felt something wrong. This arrangement of reality is like a torture, a constant, unrelenting agony, like being burned by too-hot hair, like having needles poking the skin. She's holding it back, as much as she can, on a good day like this — enduring it, breathing through it. But it is there.

Her head lifts as those scars flicker on Nate's face, as if Wanda through her blinders can see. Her own clothes blink between two permutations, and her royal robes disappear into a more modest red dress, made for a woman and not a princess. Memory fills every empty space:

Danielle Moonstar's missing eye has come home, staring into the dark behind her eyepatch — there, and healthy, and whole. In Owen Mercer's hands flickers, in and out, a boomerang he's never seen before — but knows his whole life, it's shape and weight. His father's. Dried with blood. Used to murder. And with Nate — memories of worlds beyond this. Apocalypse. A ruined, gutted landscape. The last stand of mutants fighting against each other, corrupted by a terrible force —

That headdress disappeared, Wanda's face shows clearly, her eyes glowing red, her fingers twined with her brother. The world opens among them. Genosha does not rule: it barely lifts itself free from the ashes made by old masters.

It is a world ruled by humanity, the dominant species, who look down their noses and sneer on mutants. It is an ugly world for their kind. But it is right.


Pain is like an old friend for Nate. Physical pain. The twisted aching of a wrong reality is novel. For him it has been only two, three weeks of feeling disjointed. Perhaps mercifully, he was chained into the illusion more tightly than Wanda. But by whom?

Someone *very* close to him, no doubt.

Because Nate has walked between parallel Earths. He knows the rules, and he rejects changes to his own reality shifting between instants of time and space. Not this time. This time it was a different, smoother, wrapped his perception more than his reality.

The pain makes him clench his jaw, and take a step back. He doesn't scream. Although he wants to. The memories of violence and death overlap his quiet childhood, her mother having hidden him away effectively from the warfare caused by the House of M rise into power. The good years in New York and Alaska are erased by nearly ten years of fighting. Against Apocalypse first, against super-criminals later. His psychic self changes, like Wanda did. But not for the better. He is older, taller. No longer a fit and handsome college student in his late teens, but a powerfully-built and scarred soldier five years older, and he wears a black and grey armored uniform.

"Who did this?" He growls. "Magneto," he decides. Of course he would, he is the king of the world.


At least this time when the vision comes Owen is prepared for it. It's a slight variation on the nightmares that have plagued him every night since the original encounter with the dread princess. Every night a continued unfolding of a life he knows but hasn't lived in this world. The boomerang, that boomerang, perhaps the ultimate symbol of the pain and regret that the other life holds for him. And so he is able to be more measured in his response this time. There is no dropping to his knees, no shaking or sign of weakness. Instead there is fierce resolve in his voice when he speaks, it's not loud and it's for no one else's benefit.

"No."

And by sheer force of will, the Owen doesn't change. The mental projection of the man flickers, but remains the Owen of this strange world dressed in ceremonial garb of a SHIELD agent.

This is who I am. I am an agent of SHIELD. I am a goddamn hero. A mantra that runs through Owen's head, forcing himself to focus on the here and now.


By now, Pietro has seen this many times. Wanda has whispered it into his head, with distance no barrier to the bond between twins. THe pain of her existence is a familiar thing, now. He helps her bear it, much of the time, splitting the agony between their two bodies so it can be endured. Now they both watch, as they share that conduit into the truth of things with Nate Summers. Nate Grey.

Wanda's psychic self changes. So does that of Nate, reflecting who he truly is. Pietro is last to let go resistance to the truth — perhaps some last leftover sentiment towards this reality, false as it is — but he too changes, though not so substantially as the others. The mantle of royalty is gone, but not the anger in his eyes, nor the hardened face and stance of a man who fought, every year of his life, to get to where he is today.

Who did this, indeed? Nate names his first suspect.

There is a moment of hesitation in Pietro, that hesitation of a son who will always yearn for his father in some way — but it is brief. His fingers tighten where they twine with his sister's, and he recalls that in no world or reality was Magneto ever truly a father. "My father would have reason enough," he says. "This was his dream. If anyone could find a way to warp the whole world to reflect his desires, it would be him."

But what to do? Pietro ruminates, the habit of command that he wears much the same between one reality or the next. "He is in Latveria at the moment," Pietro says, "and I wonder at how productive it would be to confront him. What must happen is that the world must be put back to rights. More and more, lately, I can feel it trying to fly apart at the seams for how wrong it is. My sister could do this," he wagers, "…but more power is needed."


"So it is true," whispers Wanda, her voice thin and tight like a pulled wire. Her hand tightens on Pietro's, forced to depend on him for a few dangerous moments as she gives into a pang of emotion. It runs her with scarlet light, forking off her skin, as she thinks —

True. True. She's not mad. Not mad as they told her. Not mad as her father declared her. Not mad, but right, always was right — and so much wasted time. So many years, kept away, kept in solitude and loneliness, with only the memory of Pietro from far away and the pain.

Her entire life, a ruination, and all along she was right.

Tears streak from her blinking eyes, as the false-princess breathes in, trying to keep composure, hold in the emotional barrage. Nate asks a very good question: who did this? And he gives them all an answer.

It drains the colour of Wanda's face, her glowing eyes dimming back to a shocked red. She looks up at Pietro's reluctant, but ready agreement. "He did this?" she asks, stricken. "He knew this? Knew what I was saying? Kept me here? Kept me here?!"

Red light sparks from her hand, holding onto her brother's. It's his touch that holds her together, keeping her from unravelling completely on the spot. "He would do this to us? Do this to the world?"

Her weeping eyes turn down, staring down into her lap. "Pietro is right," Wanda concedes. "I can… whisper to the fabric of this world. It has always spoken to me — I saw long through its lies. I could help try to pull it down… but I'm not so strong to do it alone. The pain — we need help from you. I can see the breaks in reality better in chaos. I need this world in chaos."


Confront him! Nate snarls like a caged beast. "I'll get the truth out of his head before I kill him." But Wanda's words give him pause.

He remembers Wanda fondly. Except… not Princess Wanda. Or terrorist Wanda. Previous iteration, erased by the Omega Shift. "Changing the whole world back is… not even we have that kind of power. I don't know…" well, yes. He does know. The Phoenix could do it, but they don't have the Phoe… "Madelyne." His 'mother'. Oh. My. God.

"I need to find my sister," he blurts out. "We need to… wake up more people."


That anger Nate expresses against Magneto, so familiar, gets Pietro hackling quickly. "If anyone is to kill my father, Summers," Pietro says icily, and for a moment he resembles his father far too starkly, "it will be me." For what was done to Wanda. What was done to him. What was done to all of them, over the years.

But the topic passes, of necessity. They have to do something about this, and fighting over kill rights will not solve their problem. The name Nate mentions brings Pietro to glance at Dani and Owen, a look that suggests he will want them to Investigate.

"Wake them," Pietro says for now, to Nate's outburst. "The more forces we have working to set things to right, the better." He pauses, thinking. "There's a gala upcoming. Dignitaries from around the world will be in attendance. If we were to gather enough force, of awakened individuals — even human resistance — it would be a perfect time to create the chaos my sister needs to do her part. And my father would be there, to answer for what he has done — or not."


Owen doesn't flinch at the look from Pietro, despite the fact that he willfully remains unchanged. He accepts the implicit command to investigate and only a slight narrowing of his eyes gives anything away when there is talk of waking others. Wake them.. but why? This world is like a dream compared to the brutal pain of the other world. The Owen of this world may not escape into drugs and alcohol, but when offered a chance at happiness and purpose, well how can the others so carelessly say no?


The four of them now know the truth.

This world, this place, is a lie. They're a lie. It shows as some of the reality of their true form is revealed upon the psychic plane. For Dani it's two eyes, something that brings her hand to her 'restored' eye.

Both of her eyes turn to the Prince, the Princess, the telepath and finally Owen. They linger on Owen and her eyes narrow slightly.

Her gaze doesn't stay on Owen long, not when Pietro sends a look their way, and not when this particular session is over. With a sharp bow, Dani dissipates the psychic box around the four and while she loses her sight once again, she knows now - it won't be forever.

None of this will be.

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