Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
He stands alone, on the top floor of a skyscraper, peering down over the rails at the world below. It is a familiar place; many a time during those dark hours when board meetings ran long into the night and the wheels of commerce had to be greased and tended and watched, he would come here while the old man conducted the business of managing his empire.
The view is recognizable, but seems strangely distorted. The buildings in the distance seem bizarrely warped, the angles not quite right. Above, the stars look down, brilliant and unblinking, seeming far closer than they ever have on any city night he’s ever seen. The moon, too, is unnaturally large and vivid; a strange black spiderweb runs along one side of the disc, looking almost like some sort of massive impact scar. Below—far, far below—light runs in rivers of shining mist along the empty streets. He idly wonders if maybe the blurry streams of light are the dreams of others sleeping on this strange night—when behind him someone clears his throat. He can’t seem to turn around, but the chrome safety rails show a clear reflection—behind him stands the white-coated figure that has come to haunt his dreams so much of late.
“Hey there, champ. Rough day, huh.”
He tenses as the figure advances, watching the reflection carefully… and now he notices something he hadn’t before. Behind the white-coated figure, a bizarrely constructed tower stands in the middle of the roof, reaching still higher; shadows swarm over it, chains connecting them as they work to finish it. Surely the roof was never this big, he thinks, puzzled; behind that thought, he sense some kind of epiphany, something fundamentally important about where he finds himself… but whatever it is, the figure’s voice gives him no time to reflect.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong. The day on the town idea was great; best idea Sparkles ever had, outside of trusting you on the chili,” The figure laughs, apparently enjoying the memory. “Gonna get fat if you keep pigging out like that, though. Still, probably a good idea to pig out a little, after all that crap over breakfast. The old man’s been holding out on you, big time. He’s actually some kind of old school master brainbender? Who’da thunk it? All these years, you thought you were running the long con on him… but it’s starting to look like he was running it on you, instead,” the figure laughs mockingly.
His hands tighten on the handrails; that laughter cuts worse than a blade.
The figure chuckles at that, too. “Heh… remember what you said to Sparkles? ‘You are who you choose to be’… gotta admit, it’s a good line, even if it is, uh, ‘borrowed’. But at this point, I’m kinda wondering if you’ve actually been choosing anything at all… or if you’ve just been a piece on the old man’s board, getting played all day long. Oh, and hey. Speaking of nasty surprises and/or getting played… how about that whole rescue op? You’ve been all but climbin’ the walls, you line up and spearhead not one but two raids on enemy hotspots… and the whole time, he’s sitting tight while the bitch squad is batting straight zeroes,” the figure laughs. “The Filth wouldn’t even touch him! Tell me, how’d that one feel, champ?”
He makes no response to that—canmake no response to that. He remembers exactly how it had felt, and that memory surges through him like bile, like poison.
“Don’t wanna say it? Alright, that’s fine. I can do it; what else are friends for, huh? You hated him right then, didn’t you? After everything you risked… the old man barely even needed your help! Oh, sure, you probably moved his schedule up a bit, but how long would it have really been before he just hulked himself right outta there? All he needed was an opening…”
The rooftop beneath his feet begins to smoulder, phantom sparks flickering through the air around him. He grips the handrails tighter still; his hands ache from the pressure, but it gives him something to hold onto, a point of reference aside from the figure’s mocking voice. “Shut… up. Get… out of… my head…” he groans, trying desperately to find… something. Lucidity, he thinks, but the meaning of it escapes him.
The white-coated figure only laughs. “Nope, ain’t happening. You opened the door, remember? I’m nice and comfy here now… and things are only gonna get better. We’re growing together, pal. Every day I see a little more, hear a little more, become a little more. Ain’t that grand?” the figure asks, laughing. “You know, though… it’s too bad, in a way. If the old man had been your actual dad instead of a nutjob piece of shit arsonist, maybe you’d have been sitting pretty when that demon barfed on you, too. Sucks that you’re adopted, huh?” the figure leers.
Flames roar beneath his feet, his rage seething within him like it wants to claw its way out of his chest and rip this thing’s liver out through its nose. Something tells him, though, that losing it here would be a terrible idea; he manages to maintain his limited grasp of himself through sheer force of will. Slowly, with an enormous effort, he raises his head, forcing a pallid smirk of his own to return fire. “If I wasn’t… you… wouldn’t be here. Self-loathing much?” Isaac chuckles, for a moment managing to find his mental footing.
The figure’s expression twitches, and for the briefest of moments there seems like there might be something of humanity behind that oh-so-familiar grin it wears. “I told you before, champ. I’m you. I’m what the Dreamers see when their Eye falls on you. It’d be stranger if there wasn’t an element of hating myself in me, don’t you think?” the figure asks quietly. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; I know you, bro, the whole sad story. I know you… I know why you used to come up here all the time. Long way down, isn’t it?” the white-coated figure asks softly, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
Then that flicker of… whatever it was… is gone again, and the smile is all sardonic mockery. “I see you clear… unlike Hotness and Sparkles and Dayglo-Death and the rest of your party squad, who care about someone who’s nothing but a walking PR piece. Here’s something to think on. The guy your friends like to hang out with, or that feeling in your gut when the old man was talking about how the Filth wouldn’t even touch him… which do you think is closer to the real you? Because I’m pretty sure which the answer is,” the figure leers. “Sooner or later, they’re gonna find that answer out too, and when they do… how do you think they’re gonna feel? How do you think they’re gonna feel then…Isaac?"
Then Isaac feels a fierce blow to the back and suddenly he’s tumbling over the rails, falling and falling and falling and falling forever…
…and mocking laughter follows him all the way down.