Henry is minding his own business, hanging out on the streets, panhandling and passing time, when everything in Pittsburgh goes (literally) insane for about ten minutes. A wave of intense, strange energy washes over the entire city, and almost everyone in town exhibits some sort of psychotic break from reality. He manages to hold it off, though just barely. It’s this urge overwhelming him to use his magic in vulgar and horrific ways, for no other purpose than to terrify and torture people. It horrifies him as much as it tempts him, and he can feel the magic welling in him of its own volition, a visible halo of energy around his clenched fists. The Essence signature is unlike anything he’s ever felt. It’s not Taint. It’s not Sadicas. The only way he could describe it is madness incarnate.
In a blind effort to control his powers, he finds himself hiding as a riot erupts in the street. People are simply assaulting each other, committing wanton acts of murder, violence and terror, often while laughing maniacally. He witnesses one Gifted sorcerer screaming, “BURN IT! BURN IT TO THE GROUND!” and casting fire spells at buildings. Henry steps in to fight back, but the sorcerer is more experienced than Henry, and despite his immense natural power, Henry is outmatched…until the maddened sorcerer loses control of his own magic and sets himself ablaze, then runs off screaming into the night.
Henry just stands there, in the middle of sheer chaos and anarchy, and then, as quickly as it started…it just stops. People clearly remember what happened—everyone looks confused, scared and uncomfortable, but almost like a hive mind they all decide to pretend it didn’t happen and just go about their business.
He staggers back to the homeless shelter where he’s been staying, as confused as anyone, and collapses on a cot, exhausted. Megan, the woman who runs the shelter and a supernatural herself, is utterly relieved to see that he’s okay and works to make sure he’s comfortable. Henry is, as always, glad that there’s someone out there looking out for him.
Sleep, mercifully, takes him, but he character has a horrible nightmare about Darrek Tinsley, the man he’s been tracking ever since Henry witnessed his parents die. Darrek had been there, had seen it all happen, but like Henry, had arrived too late and been powerless to stop it. Henry’s wanted answers for two years, but thus far has only brought himself to stalk Darrek, who is a professor at Duquesne University.
In the dream, Darrek is in some sort of ghostly realm, something like the Threshold between life and death, but made of that same kind of maddening Essence. It’s pure madness but not Taint. It’s pure pain and death and suffering, but not Sadicas. It’s somehow the sheer stuff of both, and Henry, for a moment, understands synesthaesia as he smells dark red, hears sickly yellow and feels diseased shades of green.
That’s when he sees Darrek there, trapped in it, struggling futilely against it, and hears the voices of two others in the darkness, begging and screaming for help. One of them, Henry recognizes after a moment, as the voice of Darrek’s best friend…it takes him a minute to recall the name…Daniel.
Darrek, too, is screaming in desperation as he is torn apart by gray, rotted and desiccated hands. He’s trying to use his magic to escape, but failing. Instinctively, Henry stretches out with his own considerable natural magical powers, lending power to Darrek, bolstering him. He doesn’t know how he’s doing it—he just starts throwing defensive magic at the things holding Darrek. The pressure builds, the conflict of Henry’s and Darrek’s Essence in conflict with this insane energy, until Henry thinks his head is going to explode from the strain. Suddenly, there’s an explosive sound, a blinding white flash…and then Henry wakes up, absolutely certain that what just happened was not a dream.
The sun is shining through the windows of the shelter. Henry rolls out of bed and ask what time it is. Another resident guesses it’s around 9am. You leap from the cot and rush out—the shelter is in East Liberty, and it’s a long walk to Darrek’s office at Duquense University. When Henry arrives on campus, he checks all of Darrek’s usual haunts, only to discover that Darrek has not shown up on campus this morning for his morning lecture…