Consciousness was still lost to him as a light shone on his face after walking into it. The fading sunlight from dusk gave warmth to his skin slightly before it dimmed outside completely. Striker had found himself in a bit of a daze, walking through a vacant area near where he would soon patrol. He'd finished a rigorous workout after work, his mind going over an itinerary of the patrol ahead, and the full day that tomorrow would be, trying to work out the unexplained blank there, and becoming blank the more he tried to think of it.
And with that blankness was some sort of complementary compulsion, something pulling him gently, urging him. Absent-mindedly, he might've gone along with it, but instead he just stood there trying to analyze whatever wanted something of him. His senses weren’t hindered at all, just pleasantly sedated, which he had to shake off when on duty. He would rather take the night off instead of patrolling while sluggish, tired and exhausted, putting himself at risk, even if a peaceful relaxation permeated through him, the kind he'd become more intimate with recently.
It'd been a week or so since his run in with Scryer, the witch. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd been compromised. It wasn't far-fetched to think that any sense of feeling off, and feeling good about it was her doing. The night he met her was a passionate one where the most significant details left to comb over were the passion itself and the temptation of wanting more. Warning other heroes of her was on his mind, and yet, he still wondered what there was to tell. He believed her when she told him that she encountered the others, and sampled or examined them somehow. She was so forthcoming about it with him, and then the aftermath...Scryer was definitely someone to look out for. Her endgame was still a mystery, if there was one. It scared him more that all the red-headed sorceress was doing was just for fun. No aim except to hedonistically derive pleasure wherever and however she wanted. Perhaps he was over thinking it; a diagnosis Scryer would surely agree with.
As he headed home, he found three men in a back alley trying to rob an elderly couple. Typical of the city, yet surprisingly in broad daylight, and just perfect for his skills. There wasn't time to run to the apartment and change, but it's not like he needed to. Jon stepped right between the two groups, serving as a barrier. Playing defensive after confronting them led the first two to walk right into swift, neutralizing strikes to their necks. After the peons went down with ease, the third, the ring-leader armed with a switch blade, had to be handled with a little finesse, trying to keep his business suit unscathed. Grabbing the mugger's wrist, Jon put pressure on it and snatched the blade out of his hand, hitting him on the forehead with the blade’s butt, finally put the last man down.
“Are you two alright?” He asked, paying more attention to the assailants to make sure they stayed down.
“Much better now” a sultry, accented voice behind him spoke.
Striker turned to face the woman who’d replaced the elderly couple, and stared straight into her eyes. She was dressed differently, in a business suit this time, but it was unmistakably her. With a confident gait, she closed the distance between them and light tapped his forehead. Like magic, it illicted a strange compulsion made his awareness fade and consciousness dim...
Sometime later he sat tied to a chair, hands bound behind him, dressed as Striker without the face mask. Head bowed from sleep, until the sound of soft footsteps that approached woke him. Scryer wore a sweet, bewitching smile and stood in front of him. “There she is,” he thought. The source of this magic and the object of his suppressed desires. Anger and his will kept his resolve alive and in-check. He wasn't surprised at all that Scryer would use that kind of trap on him; it worked well enough the first time as a ruse, or so he theorized from that night. And his heroism wouldn't allow him to ignore it on the chance that it could be real thugs looking to harm innocents. Predictability was the price of being a hero like he was. On the one hand, he was glad it was an illusion, as it perplexed him why some of the most vulnerable people thought it was worth the risk, taking shortcuts through alleys were 3/4s of crimes committed happen. On the other hand, it pained him how foolish he must've looked fighting illusions only he could see. At best, it would've looked like a bout of street hypnosis, getting random strangers to do silly things. At worst, anyone who would've recognized him would highly recommend him to men in white coats.
He felt his bounds, but couldn’t find a weakness anywhere in them. Since he was almost certain she had a way to halt any sudden movements he could make, he stared forward, silently waiting for her to make the next move while contemplating any play he could make. What’s worse, the strange compulsion had come back, and now he realized that whatever it was, it seemed to be independent of Scryer, like a different energy; Scryer's mental touch was entirely different to this; much less character to it, and he never expected to be well-versed in discerning these kinds of things. He shook his head to drive the feeling out. Instinctively, his head turned to his left as if knowing which direction the compulsion's origin was coming from, and then he looked in the witch's direction, wondering if it was still all Scryer's doing. She looked at him, then in the compulsion's direction, and shook her head, as if annoyed.
"I know what you're thinking," she interrupted their silence, "but that's not me."
"What the hell is it then? And what the hell are you doing to me?"
"It's nice to see you too, pet," Scryer told him, stroking his hair with her hand. The only reason he didn't recoil reactively was because her doing that somehow interfered with the compulsion, like a radio signal lost while driving through a mountain tunnel.
"Someone else with mental powers is trying to draw you to them." She said without looking at him. "Their power is somewhat impressive. Had I not caught you on the street today, you might be in her clutches now."
"Someone you know?" curiosity urged him to ask.
"Doubtful. They would know better than to encroach on you."
"What?" he asked, though his face more specifically asked, "what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, dear Striker, I do have a bit of a claim on you. Obviously no one before me has delved that deeply into your psyche, and left a mark on you. And the special time we've spent together..."
Striker pulled his head away from her constant head-stroking, even if it meant more exposure to his compulsion, which followed immediately. The bound hero never expected to be fighting any mental forces that night, let alone two independent ones. "I wish they could battle for supremacy or something out of my head, or off it," he thought.
"I don't acknowledge your claim," his stern voice told her. "You can't say that after one night-"
"One night was all it took, apparently. And actually, you do acknowledge it. Though that pretty little head of yours puts up quite the impressive fight, it already knows the difference between my powers and someone else's. That's pretty sophisticated in my experience; not to mention in my presence, the further inward I go into you, the more I know your resistance isn't in concert with your desire. You assume that when you feel my power, it's just you identifying it. In reality though, you're embracing it, because you remember how good it feels."
If there was a wall to bang his head against to prevent flashes of that night together, he would've gladly used it.
"And hopefully it serves as some comfort to know that how fascinating you are leaves me to want to give more focus to little else but you. Despite my disappearance, I've never been that far off. You've been on my mind much more than I've expected; unique traits and talents that set you apart from millions of other people, even superheroes. I don't know what else to call that except for you having some kind of claim over me. In our situation, one could argue that we're exclusive..."
"And many would argue that one of us could be legally insane at this point."
"And thank heavens it is not me, Striker. Insanity wouldn't invalidate attraction. What I could do to you with no check, no restraint or self-control to you right now..."
Briefly, the difference between fear and lust blended and became the same as Scryer tempted him with bringing their faces and lips achingly close.
"But sadly, I do have something to attend to," Scryer's head turn and expression telling him exactly what that something was.
"You should be safe here while I'm gone."
"Bound and 'claimed'?"
"For your protection. And not just that."
Standing tall in-front of him, she rested both hands on scalp, closed her eyes and focused on something. It looked like prayer at first, but it was probably another spell. The longer her hands remained there, the drowsier he felt. He felt like fighting it, but her power knew how to get around his defenses easily with what she was doing.
His head leaned into her grip after she was done; she carefully let it rest forward. Before his eyes shut indefinitely, something phrased like an incantation poured like honey into his ears -
"Sleep well, and when you wake, drown in my eyes, and be all mine."
Scryer ran her fingers along his wrists, and Striker's hands became unbound from their hypnotically-suggested restraint. His arms fell limply as she continued to whisper to him, helping his body to move to the plush couch nearby where he would remain for a while, hopefully in enough time where she could finish her business.
She should've clarified that their exclusivity was more in sexual terms; she already had her sights set on a potential mental plaything.
* * *
Jesse lowered her hands from her temples in frustration.
"What the hell?"
She'd been concentrating for the last hour and a half just trying to find him, with no luck. After a second attempt, she located him deep in the city, but her power was effectively blocked. Psiana, as she was known to the majority of the public, and to her super-powered compatriots, didn't know of any other force that could block mental abilities like hers, but one thing she's learned in the hero line of work - expect the unexpected. She knew Striker preferred not to be summoned like that so she could talk, but in one of the hidden mental tabs she kept with heroes, something felt strange about the under-powered hero in recent days. It was strange enough how he seemed resistant to her psionic concentration.
In the past a miniscule number of people have ever put up any significant resistance against her power. Jon was different though; something about either his sheer will or his mental structuring allowed him to give her trouble. She could create compulsion in him, sometimes even when unaware, but he never stopped trying to resist. He might have found a way out of her power if not for some outside aiding force, shutting off access to his mind as easily as one would turn off a light switch.
This time of day, just before nightfall, she'd be getting ready to patrol the city like most heroes would. Unlike the rest, Jesse never had to leave home, and rarely had to dress up in her pink and purple lycra outfit unless she needed to be in the field. Psiana was hoping this evening would go smoothly, talking or meeting up with him and seeing if he could shed light on the obstruction. That seemed to be a big 'if' now.
"Some new psych-interfering tech maybe? Maybe his own psyche is that much stronger? Or is he in some kind of trouble?"
The possibilities ran through her head, and she couldn't rule out anything enough to narrow it down.
The heroine pulled her shoes off, rubbing her soles. Today had been a long day, but she knew it wasn't over yet. More than a nightly patrol, Striker was more of an immediate concern. She put on her costume, prepared to leave if need be. Her only hope was to find him already out, patrolling and not in the middle of a case, or fight, confirming her best-case scenario that his will was just that resistant to her. Of course, she knew the worst-case scenario was much more likely - someone didn't want him to be found.
She sat deeper into her loveseat and took a long relaxing sigh. "Hate to say it, but I actually do need more training," she told herself out loud. Only a chosen few knew that despite her current level of performance, there were higher levels within reach, but attainable through annoying, time-consuming exercises of self-concentration. Half a day could be lost with each one, and there was no telling how many she needed. Jesse preferred having a social life, and limited herself to "the mediation" as she called it in bed with a relaxation recording to aid her.
The sound of fire trucks passing nearby, shook Jesse out of concentration. She resigned to the fact that her energies could be spent elsewhere tonight, with people who may have been in danger instead of the "maybe" that Striker was now. Simultaneous searching and patrolling was too taxing at this point.
Another time," she though as she closed her eyes.
Suddenly Jesse found herself awake, only to realize something seemed very off. She noticed she was now in the opposite loveseat, across the room from where she was previously. A different view of the window showed the sun had completely set already. “How could that much time have passed already? I just remember I was about to...do something, and now I’m…” She stopped mid-sentence in her thoughts, realizing she was dressed in her super-heroine outfit.
“'Whom' would be a better question.”
Jesse’s head whipped around, searching for the voice's owner. With no lights on in the apartment and the sun already down, she couldn’t see much in the darkness of her living room. The female voice, she heard it clearly but couldn’t tell where it came from. What’s worse, her powers were also blind to the presence. Her head turned to the left when she heard the voice again. “So cold,” the woman said simply. Jesse's apartment being room temperature, she took the hint and began turning her head to the right. “Warmer,” the voice teased. Jesse kept her head turning. “Warmer.” She turned until she was facing all the way to the right. Still, nothing or no one was there.
“Boo.” The lamp next to the chair brightened the room, revealing the woman standing behind Jesse.
Scryer had a difficult time trying not to laugh at the undignified "eep" the heroine made, but the pitch to it was so high. Jesse on the other hand, was extremely flustered. In a better presence of mind, she could’ve remembered her powers and persona of Psiana and used them to slow her rapid heart rate. Unfortunately for her, she was going through a nightmare scenario no hero would ever want to face: being cornered by a villain in her own house. Though this witch wasn’t a confirmed villain, it was a safe-enough assumption for her. Confirming her a witch was too easy though; the blonde psychic almost laughed at how stereotypical she looked.
Seconds passed before Psiana re-discovered feeling in her own legs and stood up.
“Wh…who the hell are you?”
“I’m Scryer; sorry, I couldn't help the little trick I played there. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” The witch extended her hand out to greet the woman, trying to be cordial. Psiana’s expression showed how the feeling wasn’t mutual, and Scryer lowered her hand.
“What do you mean ‘finally?’” Psiana asked suspiciously.
“I’ve met quite a few heroes already, and was pretty sure I was bound to meet more. I don't mean you specifically, but psychics like you have always fascinated me. Psiana probably deserves much more notoriety than she gets for her powers."
“Well, if you’re some kind of fangirl, I don’t do autographs.”
“Such a common misconception,” Scryer thought as she shook her head.
“Sorry, no. I'm here about something else. Or someone else - a mutual contact of ours. Goes by the name Striker.”
Psiana stepped toward the witch in hearing that name. Of course, she was the obstruction to his mind. A small part of the heroine wanted to thank her for saving her the trouble of solving the mystery of the cause. The rest of her urged her to consider action of some kind; maybe physical, most likely threatening. Her mind would be doing most of the heavy lifting hopefully though. With any luck, with what she'd learned about magic from enchanted heroes who helped her develop some of her powers, their battle of wills would be over in mere seconds. But Scryer confidently held her palm up to the heroine signaling her to stop.
“Let's not be hasty, Psiana.”
Psiana's active muscles slowed to a crawl before coming to a complete stop. She looked down at her own body that obeyed someone else for the first time. She was so used to giving the same order that receiving it was a shock to the senses that were still hers. No magician had ever done this to her, and she was sure at least one had tried.
"What have you done with him?" the blonde demanded.
"Some of those details are private, but if you mean lately, I've helped him to relax a little bit. He should be sleeping now."
Eyes went wide at the implication of Scryer's and Striker's interaction thus far. This hadn't even qualified for the list of things she expected to learn if he'd really been in peril.
"You mean...you two...."
"Like I said, Psiana - 'private.' However, with anyone blessed with powers like ours, I can understand how privacy can end up being more of an afterthought."
Jesse glared at her as the compromising witch suggested they had anything in-common, even if it seemed to be true.
"You'll have to forgive me. I'm finding it really hard to imagine Striker, of all men, going to bed with some magical woman, probably one with not the best of intentions, willingly."
"Oh, but I'm sure your imagination is much better than you give it credit for. I don't have to look deep enough to see who's already been a part of similar fantasies."
Jesse's power stopped searching her own psyche for the mental command that prevented her from moving, and put all her effort in her mental shielding. She never even noticed the intrusion it took to get that information, but was hoping to purge it completely from her. She had developed feelings for Striker. The draw of his resistance, psychical and tactical smarts, and good looks hidden behind that mask earned him a few fantasies in her head, whether or not he seemed to show interest. And though she wasn't exactly good in relationships, he might've been worth a try.
"I know you probably don't mean to be hypocritical dear, but it's a bit late for you. Womam-to-woman, you're very attractive, and there's a world of men who'd have great interest in you. This one though - off-limits."
"Well, that's very generous woman-to-woman advice, and I thank you for it. Now allow me to extend some your way - the next time you shop for your evening clothes to wear in public, avoid the children's Halloween costume section next time."
Psiana gestured with her eyes to Scryer's pointy hat that completed her ensemble.
"The advice is appreciated, especially from someone who has vintage wear from that section dating a few decades ago. I had no idea Power Rangers were still in fashion."
The blond psychic wanted to fire back with something, but knowing it was inspired directly from the Pink Ranger of the original series (a guilty pleasure she couldn't explain), she took the verbal jab.
"Just to be clear, you expect me to believe that you can just barge into my home and make demands to stay away from a man you took without consent, while expecting me to believe that your intent with him is nothing sinister."
"First of all, I didn't barge in here. You let me in," Scryer said with confidence, letting her immobile host digest the implication and filling her own thoughts with unanswered questions and disbelief.
"Second, I only took what deep down, wanted to be taken. And third, my intentions with him are none of your business, but I can understand your concern for his safety, so I have no problem informing you that not only will I not be harming a hair on his head, he's more or less under my protection."
"Protection from what? Tricker-treaters?"
"That and jealous women who seem to see love triangles where there are none."
"There is no goddamn love triangle here."
"Of that, we're in total agreement. There's Striker and I, but I don't really see a Striker and you. And as my name implies, I'm pretty good at seeing these kind of things."
"You see relationships that could be, but obviously not mirrors," Psiana fired back.
"I'm...confused. Is that you referring to me as a vampire, or another attempted insult toward a classic look?"
"Meaning you flew over here on a broomstick?"
"It wasn't up my ass like your thoughts of me display with juvenile glee."
Psiana smirked as she tried pushing the thought outward into Scryer's mind for a better mental picture. The witch just shook her head as if dealing with an immature adolescent.
"Ok psychic, I know this comes down to you having a problem with me overall. I've stated my case as plainly as I could, and don't wish to drag this on for long, so I have a proposal - if you really want to move, you'll shake my hand. Your arm is allowed to move in order to do that. But if you shake my hand, you're also agreeing to leaving Striker be, or at least understanding that trying to separate me and him is out of the question."
Scryer extended her hand to be shaken, Psiana stared at her like she was just offered a deal from the devil.
"If I don't shake it, I'm just going to be frozen this way, until I collapse from exhaustion, or starve to death?"
"Nothing so dramatic; but I can promise you that choosing unwisely means that things will only go downhill for you."
Psiana tried to force her way out of the spell, but it held her as firmly as the second it took her, only serving to an amused Scryer who still held her hand out. Her options were limited as she knew them, from either accepting her offer to letting the witch hold out her hand until it fell off, out of spite. In the end, she took a long breath of resignation, and felt herself moving, her body knowing she intended to shake her hand. She walked up to Scryer and shook her daintier hand.
Psiana gripped it tightly with her stronger hand. Scryer winced, then frowned as she snapped her fingers and literally disappeared before Psiana's eyes. Still able to move her body, she brought her hands to her temples and focused every last ounce of her energies to her psychic shields, trying to create a special mental force field that no one had penetrated yet, even another high-level magical practitioner she knew.
"I see you like to do things the hard way," Scryer told her from somewhere in the room.
"And I see you like to put on a good show, witch. You wouldn't be doing all this if you thought I wasn't some sort of threat to whatever plans you have. I know a good scare tactic when I see one, and you almost gave one tonight."
"Better than any I can imagine you trying to make, with the exception of some of the men you end relationships with. You can be quite cold at the end of them. A woman like me would hopefully, eventually come along for Striker's sake to help pick up the pieces in the wake of your mess."
"You know what, maybe you're just stalling at this point. Trying to figure out a way to deal with me now. I'm ashamed of myself in how long it's taken me to remember a few tricks and pointers about magic that I've been taught. Pretty sneaky, with the way magic like yours can work, but unfortunately for you, there are ways around it."
"In the same way that there are ways around psychic shields, no doubt. And what do you know of magic, really? I'd swear your instructors were magicians for kid's birthday parties. It's much more than slight-of-hand, as I've already demonstrated."
"So you say. And good luck with 'getting around' my barriers. After your disappearing trick, you should've left my apartment for good. There's a barrier around the entire place, meaning no escape and that it's only a matter of time before I get to you. From there, pray that I'm merciful."
"It's interesting to see a heroine behind closed doors. The standard differs greatly from what the public expects. And I'm here because I choose to remain; what do I have to fear when whomever showed you magic intentionally left some key details out, or at best rates as some sort of under-achiever. Psychic powers have occasionally beaten mages and witches, if said mages and witches lack creativity."
A finger snap sounded nearby, and Psiana opened her eyes to see a huge pink elephant standing in-front of her. The sight shocked her into almost backing into the coffee table in the center of the room. She felt a touch on her scalp, the feeling of a whole hand covering it. Quickly she brought her hands back up to concentrate on her shields.
"It's really best if you don't ignore the elephant in the room Psiana," the witch chuckled from an unknown position. "You can be gotten to; we don't have to continue like this."
"I guess it would be some cheap illusion rather than you that will try to bring me down."
"If it's me you want to see..."
"All you have to do is ask," Scryer spoke, just a foot away from her face. Psiana opened her eyes and tried to focus on where the witch stood, to incapacitate her.
Scryer disappeared again before she could be reached. "That was close," the witch told her standing against the wall several feet behind her.
Psiana's energies diverted to behind her, but Scryer snapped to escape and re-appear in-front of her again.
"That was closer."
She was close enough that Psiana reached out with one hand to grip the witch's shoulder.
"Not so close," Psiana heard from behind her.
"Are telepathic powers usually this slow?"
Instead of trying to pinpoint her location, Psiana tried to create outward, mental walls in the room, hoping to block the path she thought Scryer was using to phase or teleport herself. The witch was unaffected as she effortlessly snapped and reappeared at will. 'Expect the unexpected' took a temporary backseat to trying to comprehend the impossibility of passing through the walls like they weren't even there.
"I'm sensing that you're not enjoying this back and forth," she taunted.
"Is that one of your powers, terrible quips?"
"I rather liked that one, but maybe you’ll appreciate this little trick."
Scryer folded her arms diagonally across her chest and snapped with both hands.
Now Psiana was faced with about 11 or 12 clones of her opponent. All of them moved and sounded independent of each other. Worse for Psiana, they all surrounded her now. The one closest to a chair sat down in it, continuing to toy with the heroine.
"Don’t tell me, you’re trying to figure out which one of us is the real Scryer. Here’s a little hint: the real one is wearing the pointy hat."
Every clone began to giggle or chuckle of her own volition.
However, this didn’t faze Psiana much as she inhaled a deep breath, closed her eyes, and began to focus as deeply as she could. Instead of focusing on the one sitting down, she spread her power out throughout the whole room, trying to dissolve all the clones and the mind of the original. All of the clones save for the one directly to her left had disappeared. The real Scryer brought her hands up in defense of Psiana aiming an outstreched arm in her direction, trying to push back the telepathic assault.
"Very clever my dear. You are smarter than you look."
"We’ll see how smart you are when I get a hold of your mind. It’s only a matter of time before that happens, too."
"Don’t worry Psiana, I’ve <em>hex</em>pected that this may happen."
"Did you seriously just intentionally missp....sp..." Psiana tried to say, but she was distracted as a feeling caught her attention. She couldn't readily identify what it was, so she brought herself back to facing Scryer.
"Well, I’m glad you didn’t miss my spell. I wonder if you've noticed its intended effect."
“You misspoke that word on purpose. Your spell was obviously meant to assault my ears with more wizardly nonsense.”
"A less than <em>hex</em>cellent deduction; wizards pertain to men, and aren't often as gifted as women. But if you haven't figured it out yet, it’s a key word that weakens. A harmless little enchanted word, spoken through my voice, that hangs in the air and will latch onto anything significant in the immediate area, or a target of my choosing. Right about now, the word has descended on your precious shielding, coating it, dampening the force of the field. It works wonders with a variety of matter. Sometimes technology, natural elements, psychic powers, other magical powers, even something as basic as willpower. No matter what it touches, its meaning becomes quite literal in effect. And every time I use it, your defense begins to fade little by little. Maybe you're body and mind will also respond."
"You seriously mean..."
"<em>Hex</em>actly," Scryer finished.
Psiana winced at the modified wording, able to confirm that it was subverting the foundation she created in the room. Her uninvited guest watched with great pleasure as the heroine became more and more affected by the most annoying wordplay that Psiana ever had the displeasure of listening to. It was really more what it did than the word itself, but Scryer smugly, casually weaponizing the word made her want to reach out and throw her to the ground by her red hair. But that would require moving, and a tingle that suddenly ran down her spine told her it would have to be a last resort. All the effort and concentration it took to bolster and compensate for the weakening barrage to come meant she was staying still.
“Listen, I know this is a very new <em>hex</em>perience you’re going through. Tonight, you've found some magic that <em>hex</em>ceeds your <em>hex</em>pectations, and I'm sure that must be a shock to the system. Tonight, maybe you shouldn’t take this as 'good girl losing to bad girl,' nothing like that. This is more like an impromptu lesson, showing you that you have much to learn, not only of magical forces, but yourself. You have not been shown anything truly impressive, nothing <em>hex</em>travagant. Nothing you wouldn't be able to combat easier if you put more time into your own craft."
"As for Striker, I think I've proved my point well enough there. It should have been the two of us coming to a rational agreement, like reasonable adults always can. I can see how my words are a little <em>hex</em>tra on top of what is already a <em>hex</em>emplary <em>hex</em>ample of what happens to those you might argue about and or interfere with affairs that are not theirs. It really is a shame that it has come to <em>hex</em>essive claims of parlor tricks and <em>hex</em>acerbated psychic shields and psychics instead of understanding, discussion, the <em>hex</em>pressing of congratulations of a budding relationship, <em>hex</em>cetera, <em>hex</em>cetera...”
Psiana's head was on the verge of hurting. She couldn't support the effort anymore for shields being eaten away at by Scryer's words.
"This is all wrong," she thought. "Magic shouldn't be this potent, but just that word is demolishing everything I've put up."
From the barrier supposedly keeping the witch trapped in her apartment to her own personal protective mental shell, it was all coming down. The tingle that Psiana felt in her body also grew stronger, though not nearly as accelerated as the rest. Psiana was tired, but still had enough fight in her for one last gambit, and prepared herself to use it.
Scryer smiled as she watched the effects of her wording, until she saw her opponent open her eyes and give a very determined look. Instead of speaking more weakening words, she curiously waited to see what the blond telepath would do in retaliation. After shutting her eyes quickly, Psiana threw her arms out to her sides, shattering her own shields and Scyer's 'hex' effect completely, exposing herself fully, but following up with an offensive move.
Psiana aimed her arm quickly at Scryer, focusing on piercing the witch's mind. She was quite sure that this wasn't a clone, and left the witch no time to react as the red-head seemed carelessly content to watch what she was going to do. It seemed less careless as Psiana realized Scryer aimed an arm in her direction too, just half a second slower. Had anyone been in the room to witness, they would see two women holding arms out at each other like gunfighters, waiting to see who would pull the trigger first.
"You knew..?" Psiana
"I guessed," Scryer admitted. "And I guess I'm not the only one who enjoys showdowns like these."
For the first time that night, it looked like witch was on the defensive this time. Her brow twitched, and there was a tinge of effort and maybe worry on her face, almost masked by her smile. The blond had found a thread and planned to pull it to see the other woman unravel.
"Feeling something interesting now, witch?" Psiana asked with mock-interest.
Both women paused.
"And yes, I could have used that word to my advantage, but it's more thrilling to me when it's a fairer fight. The 'last stand' as they say, where only one leaves here standing."
"I think you're mistaken; it's more a matter of who's leaving, and what I allow you to leave here with."
Scryer blinked, as if trying to hide a wince, and Psiana gestured more firmly with her own arm, feeling she'd reached something of importance in her.
"I'd hate for you to have to leave your own apartment then," Scryer countered, moving her fingers as if to send a wave of invisible force across the room.
"No more talking," Psiana suggested, "I'm rather tired of hearing you talk, and so are you. You've spoken so much, it's time to rest those vocal cords. And lower your arm, honey. You're going to tire yourself quicker than you think. You look rather ridiculous that way anyway."
Scyrer breathed gently, watching the psychic press on her biggest advancing thus far, even though she knew she was searching blindly in her psyche for a weak point. After a deep breath and closing her eyes, Scryer refocused her herself and prepared to give better than she got.
"Holding your hands at your temples was very befitting a telepath; you look like you're trying to imitate a witch now, often known for extending their hands toward things they cast spells over. And why should I stop speaking when you react to my voice as if it was honey? Positively too sweet to say no to. And I like speaking; it's what witches do. We don't necessarily need to talk to make things happen, but there's some inherent bliss from watching people, things, even reality and the perception of bend to our words, and how we use them. The tiniest whisper released into the night creates the strongest ripple effect. Even you heroes that actually have some means of opposing magic and words, you eventually find yourself bound to the same words we weave. In your case, no matter how much you choose to disbelieve, your powers make you a prime candidate for my power."
Psiana's brows furrowed, some of her mental effort rerouting to figure out what she meant by that. Scryer was happy to explain.
"Concentration. The basis of your powers is to reach out with an extension of yourself, to have that extension find someone, examine them, understand them on a deeper, personal, intrusive level, and even make changes if possible. In our little stand-off, everything you're trying to do with me, maybe instead of giving your attention to me, you should try giving it to the magic itself. Concentrate on that. Think hard on how the magic can usurp all of your efforts, of what it can do, is doing to you without your knowledge. You think you know enough about magic to stop it, yet you've done little to prove that you've even scratched the surface. You even have trouble believing in the breadth magic still, despite everything you've been shown. Most likely you don't want to believe, and that's why you will fail. Every person I meet who concludes magic to be nothing more than parlor tricks, in each one I see something in their future where they are disproven, regrettably so, sometimes not even in my hand. I'll let you in on a little secret - magic can sometimes have a mind of its own. It will do little things to let you know that it exists, and will aid people who take it seriously. It believes in itself, I believe in it, and maybe your only hope is to start believing it to be formidable."
"Magic is all around us, and as it is my ally, even if I happen to fall to your power, magic will still assist me. Maybe it takes the role of a formless extension of myself, another clone that you can't see, but maybe feel, maybe even hear. Your powers of concentration become the means to which it affects you. Maybe she's there next to you right now, whispering in your ear, lightly touching your outstretched hand. Concentrate hard enough, and you'll feel a tingle travel up your arm, and the breath of a whisper on the side of your face. Can you hear that voice? It speaks in compelling whispers, as sweetly as I would. It would ask you to believe in magic, to realize its power, my power. It's so hard to fight magic itself and me as I talk to you. It's hard enough to keep that hand raised, as there are goosebumps on the surface of your arm from magic's touch, and the stronger tingle. That sensation is probably your arm telling you it is tired, and doesn't want to stay raised up any more. Does that whispered voice speak my words verbatim, or does it say different words that still assist me? Does it really matter for how intensely you listen?"
"And maybe you tell yourself you don't want to concentrate, to believe, but magic won't stop until it proves itself with your surrender. Your last chance is to give it your full concentration. Don't resist, all of your attention on magic. If you concentrate, you can access it, understand it, try to find some way to counter it before it's too late. Focus your concentration on everything Psiana. Every word I speak, every word magic speaks, search for the weakness in the way it touches your arm, coaxes it. There is vulnerability to find if you expose yourself to the meaning of the words you hear, or even the waving of my fingers, the light of the lamp glinting off my deep red nails. Such a draw to get lost in, which what you should be doing after all. Concentrate, focus deeply, find the weakness. It is there, I can feel it. You will too, soon enough."
"If it get too difficult to take in, if it all becomes too overwhelming, I would recommend narrowing your focus to one thing. Since it's closest to you, let it be my shiny red nails. Everything else can fade into the background; your concentration will properly sort out how to take everything in. Let your eyes rest into the motion of each nail. Follow to see if the pattern they weave is random, or if there is some rhythm to decipher. Something useful is there, you will find it. Just follow the nails, let them lead you to where you want to go."
Psiana had lost herself in the effort to do much but listen and follow. The phantom apparition standing behind her, whispering in her ear, touching her arm, was more or less the only thing keeping her up-right. Scryer submerged her mind in a convincing barrage of being riveted by every gesture and word, looking for the weakness that she failed to discover in herself. Scryer's long, enticing nails gestured further downward, more and more until the blond's neck craned downward, somehow missing what Scryer had in mind.
"Follow, Psiana. It's so easy to do at this point. Trust me, I'm an <em>hex</em>pert in these matters."
The slight tingle Psiana defended against earlier surged through her, a peaceful emptiness went down her spine, and settled in her knees.
"And you're so <em>hex</em>ceptional at following; it's like second-nature for you."
Another intense surging and Psiana finally succumbed to gravity and Scryer's spell. Psiana rested on her knees, arms limply at her sides and eyes half-open, floating in the limbo of sleep. Scryer towered over the kneeling heroine, as she did her hero.
"Now, repeat after me slave. Magic is powerful."
"'Magic is powerful,'" the heroine muttered.
"The mind is vulnerable."
"'The mind is vulnerable.'"
"Magic is irresistible."
"'Magic is irresistible.'"
"The mind is helpless to magic."
"'The mind is helpless to magic.'"
"Mind over matter, but magic above all."
"Mind over matter, but....but..."
Scryer waved her red nails, drawing her deeper into obedient thrall.
"Mind over matter, but magic above all, slave."
"'Mind over matter, but magic above all.'"
"Magic enslaves the mind."
"'Magic enslaves the mind.'"
"Stop repeating. Now take deep breaths now. Breathe in the words you repeated, hear them over and over in your mind. Believe them, and never doubt them."
Psiana closed her eyes as she took air into her lungs slowly as if savoring them. What she did savor was not only the breaths, but the commands given, enough to bear a sleepy smile in the process.
"Such a good super-slave."
Scryer looked down at her new captive, wondering what should be done with her. It didn't take long for her to realize that humbling the blond had been satisfaction enough for one night.
"Psiana, listen very carefully. Concentrate on these important words I have for you. Soon you will wake from this trance, aware of everything that has taken place tonight, yet so very drowsy. You only have the strength to carry yourself to bed and drift into a much-needed rest. You'll know very well that you have been humbled, that I have shown you how powerful magic is. But once you sleep, you won't let it weigh on your mind. You'll let yourself accept this, and then sink into sleep a wonderful, dreamless sleep. Do you understand me?"
She only nodded gently as Scryer brought her hand to her face.
Psiana sank to the floor, unable to hear her guest depart and tell her "Thanks for playing."
A few hours later, Psiana woke up feeling wiped out, like she'd just ran a marathon. As the details of before ran through the night, she whispered "you...bitch..." But as she was told, she crawled into bed and let drowsiness wash away the day, even the eventful evening.
* * *
On Jesse's street, outside her apartment building, Sabrina hailed a cab to take her back to Jon's place. Had she driven her own car there, she would've been screaming in joy for how well her game with "Psiana" went. Instead, she sat quietly, unable to stop smiling as she went over all the details of that night.
It'd taken weeks of prep time and mental conditioning to get Jesse to becoming and acting out her role perfectly. Choosing her was born out of opportunity. She'd been conditioned so thoroughly by Sabrina already, it became feasible for her to take her in a more fun direction. Like with Jon, "Psiana" was more or less an extension of who Jesse really was, just with the added trait of psychic powers, and a pink and purple jogging suit that Jesse truly believed was an elaborate, form-fitting lycra outfit of the same colors. She thought about giving her telepathic and telekinetic powers, but she wasn't sure that would go well this time. Taking her down like she did was almost even more fun than how she took Striker down. Almost.
Sabrina wondered if there was some kind of business potential there. "Hypnotic roleplay - turn your beau's ex into a nemesis guaranteed to lose to you." A sound idea, and probably very, very profitable, but still needed some tweaking to perfect things. Instead of sticking to an iron-clad scripting, Sabrina had given Jesse's character many options to concede and yield earlier in the game. It couldn't be as vast and as detailed as "choose your own adventure," but it did keep the game fresh and the players on their toes. Jesse, programmed to act on her own prowess, took the game to the fullest extent, and though Scryer intentionally displayed it, Sabrina had trouble keeping up. It was much easier with Jon, but Sabrina wondered had an audience been present, would her performance seem artificial. The material she gave herself to work with was cheesy, but deliberate, as if reaching back to playing out Saturday morning cartoons with friends. She couldn't help but live it up the way her heart wanted.
The cab pulled up in front of Jon's building, and she paid the driver and smiled at him generously. He smiled back but finally noticed the witch's hat she had; it would've went well with her dark dress, but that was hidden beneath her trench coat.
"A prop for a play. I was practicing at a friend's house."
The driver shook his head in understanding.
Sabrina walked away laughing, knowing that she'd told the truth more or less about dressing as a witch for fun, and it made sense.
Using her key to Jon's apartment, she entered and discarded her coat at the door, wanting to emerge like the triumphant enchantress of the night. She was looking forward to celebrate with her hero in various ways, only to the couch she'd left him on vacant.
The question of where he was came as soon as she asked it.
With the speed of a vicious snake, Sabrina was taken from behind. Her arms were tied behind her back, an arm wrapped around her waist to hold her steady, and her mouth was covered with a tough fabric of some sort. Momentary panic set in that left her frozen, but began to dissipate as she realized who her assailant probably was. Nothing was said between them, but the way he held her firmly, recognizing what bound her hands was long piece of velvet, and the way he just held her, but didn't speak, as if he had no idea what to do with her once she was caught, spoke volumes.
"Awake early, and unsure of what to do with me now that I'm the one who's caught, I presume."
She said it casually instead of seductively, letting her genuine annoyance flow freely.
His breath paused at the correct claim, and she got her breathing under control.
Both of them were left thinking, "what now," but Scryer was the first to come up with an answer. Knowing exactly where they were in the apartment, she used her body to turn them toward a mirror near the entrance, with Striker reluctantly turning with her. Light from inside the apartment revealed to Scryer that it was her hero that held her captive, and it gave an opportunity to see her.
Scryer took a step closer to the mirror, pulling Striker with her, uncaring as to whether he wanted to follow or not. She took another step, looking intently at him. In the mirror, he looked at her, and found that the only thing his hand didn't cover gripped him, the pull of the suggestion she'd left him with clearly at work.
She took another step, and he was all but willing to follow, to get closer to what he was looking at. A voice echoed softly in his mind.
"...and when you wake, drown in my eyes and be all mine."
He'd only woken up about a half hour before she returned to him. Aware of what she'd done, tired of being toyed with yet again. All he knew is that he'd wanted to act this time, and acted while hoping a good plan of what to do came to him as he went. When she arrived, no plan had formulated for him yet. The best he could do is maybe interrogate her under duress, despite the fear of what she would do in return when he unbound her, or she unbound herself.
None of that seemed to matter as they moved closer and closer to the mirror, so he could gaze into the her almost lazuline depths, and remember what she bid of him. They stepped directly in front of the mirror, and Striker's grip loosened greatly, despite his surfacing desire to hold her close. She turned into his arms to give him the full effect of her eyes. She stared powerfully, stunning him, pressing their foreheads together. She moved her hands to see if she could slip out of the velvet binding herself, but he'd sufficiently trapped them.
"Untie me," she spoke with authority.
His hands reached behind her, still staring into her eyes, loosening the bonds in seconds.
"Naughty little hero, up past his bedtime, and trying to harm your Mistress. Tsk, tsk. It seems I still have much to teach you, like who is in charge."
She opened her eyes wide and used the velvet binding to caress his cheek, plunging into her eyes and pure pleasure. The remainder of the evening was spent with Scryer using that velvet and her powers to bind him, trapping his erroneous spots, binding him from reaching a climax, while he got her off more times than she could count. Somewhere deep into the night though, she took mercy and let him release loudly, and they fell asleep wrapped in the covers and themselves.
It was hard to judge which night was better between their first, or the night she just had. It would be harder if she could find a way to escalate things.