Distant thunderheads reared quivering against the electric sky and were sucked away in the blackness again. Beneath, all was velvety darkness without and beyond definition. When we dream, we become more in tune with ourselves, entering a world that is entirely our own. We walk pathways of imagination, and understand ourselves better. It takes sleep to see truths that were normally beyond our reach, to realize answers we could never find in the distractions of the waking world. So it was with Tsukasa Kadoya.

He was aware that he lay in a moment of perfect stillness, held where movement and sound were suspended. It was as if life, the world (which world?) and all that existed in it, held its breath for a length of time; elastic and finite. He was apart, insulated, away from the threatening reality that had confronted him.

He stood beneath that furious sky, on a dark plain, the jangle of chimes in his ear. He'd stepped beyond the reaches of his head, and into the land of dreams, waiting for one to be spun around him. He stared about, then found himself looking into the face of his grandfather. He started back, gasping, but there was nothing on that ruin of a face that showed familiarity, nothing but cold contempt and faint traces of disgust. That was how he remembered it best, red and gleaming wetly, all exposed bone and muscle. They'd only met a few times, but each one had been a fresh twist of the knife. It was painful to even think about him, and yet he was. He was the reason he even existed, he was the reason so much of his life had been suffering, his was the shadow he could never escape.

The apparition was dressed in a long leather coat and a black turtleneck, with the iron cross at his throat, a sidearm on his hip, and his arms folded over his chest, the clothes he'd worn that the first time they'd met. Red Skull's skinless lips had peeled back, revealing his white teeth, as the muscle shifted nauseatingly around, and his eyes had narrowed, as they did now. He had no eyelids, but his brows still moved enough to convey basic expressions.

Whatever his antecedents, he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. He simply was, a black mark on history that stretched on and on, refusing to fade or be reduced by time. Whoever would seek out his history would find themselves no more comprehending then before, for he was without terminus or origin and there was no trace of anything by which to reckon his commencing. He simply was, living evidence of evil that humanity was capable of.

"You're not my flesh and blood." He says, as he did that first time. "You're my genetic material, true, but that does not make you any more my son then any of the rest of my bodily discards. No, bearing my DNA is not through any particular achievement of yours. And the carrier she chose to conceive you was a likewise poor choice." No doubt he'd mostly spun the venom from the fact you took after your father far more then him. He'd wanted another Aryan, to witness superior genetic material at work, triumphing over inferior genes. It hadn't happened, you looked Japanese. So much so, it was a surprise to learn you weren't.

"You are, however, a potential. One that I intend to turn my hand to, and make of you what I desire." He remembered this. It had happened much the same way, he'd been young, and new to the armor, and he'd stood, trembling in fear and denial before the monster who had claimed him, and he'd spent his life since escaping his grasp.

Then Red Skull stepped forward, and gathered him in his arms, pulling him against his immense and terrible flesh, and whispered in his ear, his voice hoarse and dry. "I forgive you. I forgive your transgressions against me. And you will be of use to me yet."

He tried to pull away, grimacing in fear and disgust, but he couldn't break the grip. His grandfather had never touched him, never shown him any closeness or connection at all, for which he was profoundly grateful. He hated him, and the idea that some part of him still wanted, still craved the approval made him tremble with self-disgust.

Then the vision of his ancestor departed, leaving him in the darkness again, listening to the chimes. Nothing was forthcoming, so he decided to make his way forward. Anything was better then standing here and awaiting more visitations.

Then he blinked again. The darkness had lifted, enough for him to make out two ancient houses ahead of him, alone in the dark. He felt drawn to them, though why he couldn't say. They were both near identical, large, airy, with burgundy brick walls, a terracotta tile roof and a white stone trim, with rococo imitation stonework trimming them.

There was something vaguely portentous about them, something brooding and sinister, as though they both kept something he would be happier not knowing.

"L-l-look at th-th-that, brother. A visitor." Stuttered a rotund, short, nervous looking man, with an open face that spoke of terror and perpetual apology. The sort of person who would apologize for apologizing too much. He had a tufty beard and dark hair that comes to points above his ears, and was dressed in a dusty, ill-fitting suit that must have been fashionable once upon a time.

"I can see that, you fat idiot. I'm not blind." Came the reply, and to his right came a thin, long-limbed man with an angular, drawn face that put one in mind of a fox, glasses perched on his nose, a forked tufty beard, and hair drawn into two points above his ears. The family resemblance was uncanny, considering how different the two were. "Well? Aren't you going to invite him in?"

"Of-of course, Caine." He stuttered, then gave a half bow. "Wel-welcome to thu-thu-the housess of Myst-Mystery and Secrets."

"What the hell is that, and why am I even here?" He asked, when it became clear that neither of them were going to get to the point. This was all so surreal he didn't know what to do, but the apparition of the man who was, for better or worse, responsible for his existence, had put him on the defensive. His first impulse was to get ready for a fight, but there was nothing to hit, so he didn't have much choice but to blunder ahead and try to hit the right point. In his experience this was the way these sort of things went.

The slender brother stepped forward, and conversely this made him darker, so that he appeared to have no face. "If you take one, you cannot take the other. So which one is it? The way of fine lies, or of hard truths?"

"What's the difference?" he finally manage to say belligerently.
But if this got through to the slender man, he mad no sign, though the short one cringed a little. "Don't ask me, I'm just a cautionary tale. All stories are imaginary to me."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, answers are never as simple as that." He says, giving him a smile that he didn't trust at all. "So what will it be?"

"Alright. I've had it." he grumbles. "That's enough out of both of you. It's a stupid riddle anyway." he says, then closes his eyes a second. When he opens them, he's gone with his first impulse. He takes the right path up to the lonely path.

Unheeded and uncalled, Caine falls into step behind him, smiling to himself, and wringing his long, clever fingers together.