Chapter 54: Conference Call

on December 20, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 3: Figments & Fragments, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Reaches Through The Wall

I awoke gradually. It felt like I should have been catapulted awake by the shock, but instead I had to surface the long way, clawing my way up through cloudy layers of consciousness while I clung to the details of the dream.

The pitchfork. I had won it in the school’s labyrinth, where it had been locked away along with a cursed and blighted cornfield in some earlier age. It contained… or maybe had contained… a fragment of the mind of an ancient demon. The fragment wasn’t a fully-formed being in its own right, but it had the power to influence people who held the pitchfork, and even possess them. Dee had described it as overlaying the host’s personality with a template. Basically, the possessed person had their own memories and personality traits but with an infernal gloss. This had made for some serous “oh, shit” moments, not the least of which had been when a remnant of it got a hold of Dee.

Dee was a powerful subtle artist, telekinetic as well as telepathic. She was a highly trained fighter, as the dark-skinned elves of the underworld had something like universal conscription. Fortunately, she was also a cleric… and while the remnant of the entity was able to use her physical and psychic gifts, that piece had been destroyed when it tried to invoke her divine gifts.

The real pitchfork was still out there somewhere. It had been taken off campus through the machinations of someone… according to Dee, not the pitchfork itself… and vanished. I had to admit that I missed it. The labyrinth was used to train advanced delving students, and I’d been dumped into it naked and totally unprepared. The pitchfork was the only thing I’d had to show for it, and according to the rules and customs of delving it had been mine. More to the point, it had felt like it was mine.

My father had hinted that he was keeping it for me before, as a way to try to keep my interest. There was no way of knowing if he actually had it or not, or if he would ever return it to me or keep it for himself… but I believed he would have held it out as a carrot regardless of what the truth was.

But if the owl-turtle thing really could infiltrate his mind the way it had moved into Dee’s and visited mine, there was a chance I could learn the truth.

It was the worst kind of temptation: the kind where you really, really want to do something that you know you’re not going to do. I didn’t want to give the owl-turtle thing any further license to poke around in my head, I didn’t want to get any more deeply involved with my father, I didn’t want to have any reason to not eject him immediately the next time he came around… if that meant the pitchfork was out of reach, it meant it was out of reach. Knowing for sure that he had it would only put me that much more in his power.

Ian’s body was a warm and solid mass beside me. He stirred slightly as I struggled awake, his semi-hard cock brushing against my bare thigh. I hadn’t necessarily been trying to wake him up along with me but we were pretty well-entwined and the more I wriggled, the more his body responded. Pajamas had been a requirement when I’d shared a room with Two, whose sense of social appropriateness was not overly encumbered by flexibility… but now that she slept in another room neither of us had the habit of sleeping in clothes when we slept together.

Still mostly asleep, he cupped my breast, his fingers idly playing with the lock-shaped piercing over my heart.

“…morning?” he murmured.

“No,” I said. “Well, maybe technically. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Is everything okay?” he said, slightly more awake.

“I’m not sure.”

“Mackenzie?” he said. He shifted off of me and sat up. “Don’t tell me it happened again…”

“No,” I said, once I took a moment to figure out what he meant. “Not exactly… it wasn’t him this time.”

“Someone new is invading your dreams?”

“Something old,” I said. I raised my voice very slightly. “Dee, are you awake and listening?”

“I am now,” she said. “Saying my name in an inquisitive inflection cancels my silence wards. Is something amiss?”

Her voice came quite clearly from a space in the air just ahead of us. This might have been slightly disconcerting, except for the fact that this meant it came from the middle of the bed… so it was extremely disconcerting.

I knew she wasn’t actually there, or even in the room with me. Elven voice magic was the flipside of their incredible hearing. An elf could whisper into an ear a hundred feet away, or shout something to a single person, or speak in a conversational tone that would be heard the exact same way by everyone in a crowded room. As a telepath, Dee didn’t use her voice magic often, but the infernal half of my mind meant it would not have been safe for her to respond to me mentally.

“Is it possible for your owl-turtle thing to have been in my dreams?”

There was a pause, during which I wondered if she was coming over to continue the conversation face-to-face. But then her voice sounded again from the empty air.

“It seems that it is so. And for that I apologize… though I would appreciate it if you would refrain from labeling it as mine.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“You had the owl-turtle thing in your dream the night after the other guy visits?” Ian said. “That seems a little… iffy… to me, timing-wise.”

“Yeah, I think so, too,” I said. “Though according to it, the timing isn’t a coincidence… it came because of him. It was offering to spy for me.”

“How?” Ian asked.

“The mechanics of the owl-turtle entity are not fully known to me,” Dee said. “Nor, so far as I can ascertain, to anyone else. It has impressed upon me the desire to know more about its own capabilities, in the past… this is the one matter upon which the two of us stand united.”

I nodded, then realized Dee couldn’t see what I was doing.

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s what it was talking about to me.”

“Let’s not be too quick to take this thing at face value,” Ian said.

“Thus far, the entity has been remarkably straightforward in its dealings,” Dee said. “Even when I would wish for it to be otherwise.”

“I’m just saying… are we sure that this is the real deal we’re dealing with?” Ian asked. “Mackenzie’s father shows up, and critically fumbles… then the next day here’s someone or something or whatever you want to call it trying to earn her trust specifically by offering to see what he’s really up to. If the man can infiltrate your dreams and alter the environment, is there any reason to think he couldn’t change his appearance?”

“While I am not certain that the word ‘real’ fully applies to it, I can assure you that the ridiculous owl-turtle thing is in fact a construct with independent existence,” Dee said.

“Right,” Ian said. “But just because there is a ‘real’ owl-turtle thing doesn’t mean that any given owl-turtle thing is the real one. Right?”

“I cannot vouch for its whereabouts during the night, but I can attest that it was not with me,” Dee said. “This is not proof that it visited you, but it is at least suggestive of that. If this is not in fact the case, I will most likely know by later this morning.”

“Is there any reason to think that a man who can manipulate dreams couldn’t have somehow corrupted an entity made out of dreams?” Ian said.

“With the owl-turtle thing, there is no reason to think anything, one way or the other,” Dee said. “But… my instinct is that it would take an exceptionally clever mind to have learned about it and learned enough about it to make such an alteration, all without detection.”

“Ian might be onto something, though,” I said. “It knows about the pitchfork.”

“Not to undermine the whole being onto something thing, but you know about the pitchfork,” Ian said. “Maybe it just knows what you know?”

“That would be consistent with my experiences,” Dee said.

“Which isn’t much,” I said.

“We have never been able to ascertain the fate of it,” Dee said. “Amaranth unwittingly bore it outside the boundaries of the campus, and there it vanished in a manner that prevented me from tracing it further. The presence of a full demon exercising powerful magic would explain the burst of infernal power that I detected, and if that demon has spent years concealing itself in forests it would explain why my attempts to trace it via spider-speak never mushroomed.”

“I think hiding himself from prying eyes is one of his specialties,” I said.

“Okay,” Ian said. “So, going on the theory that the owl-turtle thing is real and not acting under any outside influence… what’s its angle?”

“It made it sound like it’d be doing it just to see if it can,” I said. “Except it won’t do it if I don’t want to hear about the results.”

“The owl-turtle thing considers itself something of an avatar of self-awakening,” Dee said. “It believes its presence to be beneficial, and its ultimate goal is to help its host. Although I am not certain as to the efficacy of its methods, I do believe it would not mean you harm. However, it does have its own agenda, of sorts: continued existence. During our… my… time in Ceilos over the summer break, it took pains to conceal the extent of its existence from the more powerful priestesses and telepaths.”

“The extent of its existence?” Ian repeated. “What do you mean?”

“It could hide its presence from telepaths but was not able to do anything regarding my memories of it, so it pretended to be nothing more than an odd recurring dream of mine,” Dee said. “Which I suppose might be a somewhat apt description, though it only tells half of the tale. I was already regarded as being a bit …silly… and that aided its deception, as well as making me unwilling to pursue the matter further. But in light of its fear of detection, I find it very odd that it would volunteer to spy on a demon of sufficient power and subtlety to have remained active on this plane for as long as your father has.”

“Unless it thinks a demon is really in need of some enlightenment?” Ian suggested.

“That doesn’t explain why it would insist on asking for my cooperation,” I said. “Maybe it wants to learn from him, though. The way the man talks about getting inside my head, it sounds like he knows some special back way in… maybe the owl-turtle thing wants some help getting around.”

“This is a possibility,” Dee said. “I believe it is already learning from the man’s example. In the time it has occupied my dreams, it has never… to my knowledge… spontaneously visited the mind of another without drawing on my telepathy in a rather obvious way, barring the night when the walls of reality were weakened. I know there was no connection between our minds last night, so I must surmise it somehow ‘watched’ your father’s coming and imitated him. It could be that it desires a closer look.”

“It could be,” I said.

“Or perhaps its interest is in the pitchfork,” Dee said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It is all supposition,” Dee said. “But as Ian said, the dream entity knows what the dreamer knows… I have held a fragment of the pitchfork entity in my mind before. It is possible that this is what has attracted the owl-turtle thing’s interest to your father.”

“What would it want with the pitchfork, though?”

“I do not know,” Dee said. “Again, I believe its intentions are benign… but so were mine when I took on the pitchfork entity. I believe the best thing to do would be for me to confront it directly and ask it about its motives and what interest, if any, it has in the pitchfork. I do not believe it is capable of lying.”

“That would be a really convenient thing for it to let you think,” Ian said.

“I am aware of the possibility,” Dee said. “If it tells me nothing I will not conclude that there is nothing to tell, but if it has anything interesting to say on the subject of the pitchfork and its aims I see no reason not to believe it.”

“Doesn’t the fact that we’re talking about it mean it’ll know what you’re up to?” Ian asked.

“The rate at which new information I take in filters through to it seems to vary somewhat, but there is a good chance it will be aware of my intentions,” Dee said. “This is why the straightforward approach is the best. If you will excuse me, I will restore my privacy spell and return to sleep… the connection between the actual passage of time and the apparent duration of a dream is always somewhat chancy, and I would like to have sufficient time for a long conversation, if necessary.”

“Okay,” I said. “Goodnight, Dee. Thanks for the help.”

“You’re welcome. Goodnight.”

No one said anything for a few seconds. There was no sense of a withdrawal, because of course Dee had never had a real presence in the room… but we’d been sitting up talking to her for so long that it felt like she had been there.

“Do you think she’s gone?” Ian asked after a while.

“I’m pretty sure she is,” I said. “I mean, she’d be correcting us if she could hear us assuming that she couldn’t.”

“So what now?”

“I guess we wait to find out what she learns,” I said. “If the owl-turtle thing is after the pitchfork… or even inordinately curious about it… I’m going to be even more inclined to say no.”

“I guess you’re getting over your attachment to the damned thing, then,” Ian said.

“It’s not that,” I said. “I just… well, imagine if it uses the owl-turtle thing as a conduit to Dee’s mind. And that’s not even getting into the possibilities just with it merging with the owl-turtle thing.”

“What possibilities are those?”

“To quote the song of the day: I don’t know,” I said. “No one knows. But how badly do you want to find out?”

“I get your point,” Ian said. “Anyway, what I really meant was what do you want to do now… try to get back to sleep, or something else?”

“I’m actually feeling pretty wide awake now,” I said. “But I can’t really think of anything constructive we could be doing.”

“I’m pretty much awake, too,” Ian said. “But there’s a thing about waking up next to my naked girlfriend… it gives me all kinds of ideas, and not all of them are necessarily constructive.”


Tales of MU is presented this month by Amy Amethyst.




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20 Responses to “Chapter 54: Conference Call”

  1. To folks waiting for the newsletter and who don’t read my blog (which has, I confess, been pretty boring of late): due to technical difficulties with the earlier one and the holidays between now and the next one, I’m going to be doing one good solid one later in the month rather than two slapdash ones.

    I suppose I could be using the newsletter mailing list to tell you this, but I feel weird about sending announcements with it. I’ll probably do it anyway. It’s a legitimate use.

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      Some might find it boring, but I always enjoy seeing your to-do lists because I don’t really have your posting schedule in my head, so it lets me know what to look forward to!

      Current score: 0
  2. Burnsidhe says:

    I like that. Mack’s more on the ball about peoples and things interest in her. I particularly like that she’s being selfish about herself and her safety, instead of flinging into bargains with inscrutable entities. Plus, there’s the whole privacy thing; sharing your mind with something that has no sense of boundaries means no privacy at all.

    Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    The best way to find
    A pitchfork is using a
    Trident-true method

    Current score: 3
    • N'ville says:

      OK groan,
      however there is a problem with that, the trident is not a pitchfork, a standard UK pitchfork only has two tines, the trident has three, hence tri-dent

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        I’ve never heard of a two-tine pitchfork! The ones I’ve seen usually have four, I think. Of course, I live in a suburb, not a farm, so I haven’t seen much actual pitchfork action, except in turning over the compost pile…

        Anyway, I’d been picturing Pitchy with four. Two seems like it wouldn’t be enough to hold much in place while pitching hay or whatever…

        Current score: 0
      • Ack, no. You’re right that a trident is not a pitchfork, but by the same token, it’s also not what you call a pitchfork that has three prongs. Whatever you’re picturing as a “standard pitchfork”, if put a prong in between the two, it’s still a pitchfork.

        A trident by definition has three “tines” (though they’re technically spear-tips). A pitchfork by definition has tines. No specification on the number, except the implicit plural.

        Current score: 0
        • N'ville says:

          Thank you AE for that. As a child, I spent many days camping with my parents in various parts of northern England(UK)on many different farms, the two tine pitchfork was the most common at that time for moving hay in the north. As per the picture linked to in my answer to Brenda above.

          Current score: 0
          • I’m not doubting that they’re common, I’m just saying there is no actual standard. The most iconic image of a pitchfork for Americans is from the painting American Gothic, and you can see it’s three tined. The devil’s traditional implement originated as a pitchfork but is stylized as a trident, so I think we can assume it was also widely portrayed with three tines. If you do an image search for “pitchfork”, they’ve got two-tined, three-tined, and things with so many tines that it looks like someone straightened out a rake.

            Current score: 1
      • anon y mouse says:

        I think this is more about wordplay than precise definitions; and ‘tried-and-true’ would work just as well, but it would lose some of the humor.

        Current score: 0
  4. Month says:

    Hmm, naked girlfriend.

    Current score: 1
  5. wocket says:

    “I guess you’re getting over your attachment to the damned thing, then,” Ian said.

    I see what you did there.

    Current score: 1
  6. Bilbo says:

    I miss Two; she’d be correcting Mack pointing out it’s full name is “Ridiculous Owl Turtle Thing”.

    Current score: 1
    • Zergonapal says:

      So its the ROTT then?

      Current score: 1
      • Bilbo says:

        Hm.

        Is there such a thing as a reverse anagram engine ?

        Making a proper name out of a set of initials…

        ROTTher Smith ?

        Current score: 0
  7. Havartna says:

    Love it, and I have to say that your character development and progression has been very interesting lately.

    On a (presumably) unrelated note, in the 9th race at Tampa Bay today there was a horse running named “Aiden’s Lil Devil” which made me think of you, even if the spelling is off. Alas, she did not win.

    Horse details, in case you are interested, can be found here: http://www.equibase.com/premium/eqbHorseInfo.cfm?refno=8292034&registry=T

    Current score: 0
  8. Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

    You know, I love your attention to detail, even little things like Dee referring to something ‘mushrooming’ where a surface-dweller would have said ‘blossoming’.

    Current score: 1
  9. lunchbox says:

    Typo:
    “This had made for some serous “oh, shit” moments,”

    Should be: “This had made for some serious “oh, shit” moments,”

    Current score: 0