In Which Communication Is Key

The transition from sleep to awake was a lot more normal, by which I mean it actually happened this time. But even as I fought my way through the cobwebs made of fog to reach a state of actual consciousness, the thought was in my head that it could be a trick.

Some things were dead giveaways for a dream, but the absence of an obvious tell-tale sign proved nothing. The owl-turtle thing had said that there weren’t really any hard and fast rules when it came to dreams… even if it wasn’t possible for someone like my father to make me go through a convincing false awakening, I could still dream that I had.

Ian was asleep, more touching than on top of me, but nothing really seemed out of place. The bed-curtains were closed, which made it hard to tell what kind or quality of light was getting into the room. It was either the kind of lighter gray that usually came a bit before dawn, or just after it on a cloudy day.

Ian stirred a little bit as I shifted. I bit my lip and waited until we were both fully awake to say anything.

The act tested my patience, but it also helped sharpen my focus… gave me time to set the details of the dreams down in my head. They were more vivid than regular dreams and that helped, but if I’d had two very important conversations back-to-back in real life then some of the details might just as easily been lost in an attempt to describe them.

When I was sure that I was fully awake… or that I was dreaming I was… I gave Ian’s shoulder a little shake to move things along.

“Morning?” he said.

“Morning or close enough,” I said. He wriggled away from me and we both sat up.

“So…” he said.

“So?” I said.

“Did it show?” he asked.

“Did what show?” I asked.

“Mackenzie… it’s too damn early in the morning for clandestine,” he said. “So if you’re pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about so I’ll get the hint to act like there’s nothing to talk about in case somebody’s listening in, you’d better, I don’t know, learn MHC or something.”

“Do you know MHC?” I asked.

“No, but if you started making hand signs at me I’d understand that you’re worried about people listening in,” he said.

“I’m actually making sure you know what you’re talking about in case I’m still dreaming and you’re an impostor trying to get me to blurt out something useful,” I said.

“What are the odds of that happening?”

“Well, I’m working on figuring out if it’s one hundred percent or fifty percent,” I said.

“Oh,” Ian said. “Shit. He tried that?”

“I think so,” I said. “I kind of nipped it in the bud. As far as I know. So… what were we talking about?”

“The owl-turtle thing,” Ian said. “You wanted to meet with it. Did it not make it?”

“No, it did,” I said. “It was a busy night, though.”

“Sounds like it,” he said. “Do you want to wait until we can get together with the others?”

“No,” I said. “I’d rather go over it twice, as long as I can go over it now while it’s still fresh in my head.”

“Okay, but can you wait a minute or so?”

“I think, but why?”

“Because some of us have mortal bladders,” he said. “And it might be nice to check on how Dee is doing… and if she’s awake and feeling better, maybe we should invite into the room instead of inevitably talking to her through the walls.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

He slid himself out of bed and scooped up his clothes off the floor. I couldn’t help noticing that he threw his jeans on without the boxers. I assumed that was an efficiency-to-decency compromise to get him to the bathroom quicker, especially since he didn’t have the habit of re-wearing clothes two days in a row… but still, the thought of him going ranger all day was giving me thoughts.

“Get dressed, too,” he said.

“Yes, Ian,” I said.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, heading for the bathroom.

Exiting the bed confirmed that it was, in fact, a gray day rather than just gray light. I always felt cold when I first got out of bed, but I felt extra colder just looking at it. I had enough mastery of elemental magic and enchantment to cope with all ordinary varieties of weather, but that didn’t mean I liked contemplating it.

I heard a flush as I was getting dressed, and then a knock on the far door in the bathroom. I couldn’t hear any of the conversation that happened, but he came back alone.

“Two said she’s sleeping normally now,” Ian said. “Whatever that means. The potion wore off and she’s just asleep? Whatever it is, it sounds good, though.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Even if it means we’re on our own for now, I’ll call it good news if she isn’t like she was last night.”

“You’re not kidding,” Ian said. “It’s hard to think of anything scarier than someone as powerful as Dee brought that low.”

“I can think of something worse,” I said, remembering the time Dee had been possessed by a fragment of the entity in my pitchfork. It was unsettling how much influence mere mental figments clinging to existence could have in my life. “How about when someone that powerful goes out of control?”

“Do you want to play a round of Who Can Think Of The Scariest Thing, or do you want to tell me what happened when you were asleep?” Ian asked.

“Sorry,” I said, and I filled him in on the high points of what had happened with the owl-turtle thing, and then in the false awakening. A bit of existential confusion about the Ian figment aside, he seemed much more interested in the second dream.

“The fact that he kept you from waking up…” Ian said. “That’s legitimately scary. I don’t mean ominous. I mean actual extant danger. I mean, that’s something to be worried about. You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m being matter-of-fact now so I don’t get distracted, but it’s definitely a thing. If Dee didn’t need her wake-up potion, we should find out if it’s… you know, all-purpose, or if it just counters the sleep one. It might be useful.”

“Or necessary,” Ian said.

“Anyway, I think it was a desperation thing… he must have been able to do it at any time, but he was holding back to maintain the innocent facade.”

“But he tried to keep that up anyway, it sounds like,” Ian said.

“Yeah, that’s why it seems like he didn’t think it through,” I said. “He couldn”t fully commit to the threat, he wanted to pretend he wans’t doing it even though it was obvious… but now that he’s done it, I don’t see what would stop him from doing it again.”

“So what do you do about it?” Ian asked. “We can pour a potion down your throat or go get help if you don’t wake up in the morning, but that gives him a lot of time to do… whatever else he’s been holding back on.”

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “It’s possible… well, judging by what the owl-turtle thing was telling me, and what it was able to do… I think that he might have been using my own mind to keep me there. It seems like that might be the shortest route to a lot of things, when you’re in someone else’s mind.”

“Make you dream that you can’t wake up?”

“Something like that,” I said. “So true lucid dreaming might be able to beat it. And if not, it would give me a way to fight him off while I’m sleeping.”

“Let’s go back to the part where you… pushed him away, or whatever, at the end,” Ian said. “Because I feel like I’m missing something. He was really impressed by that, after you’d already blown him through a wall or whatever?”

“I blew him into a wall,” I said. “I don’t know that it impressed him, but he found it interesting… I’m guessing it was more the fact that I did it at all is what surprised him, more so than how well I did it.”

“But what did you do that was so different?” Ian asked.

“Well, it wasn’t the same thing at all,” I said. “But I don’t know how to describe the difference. it felt more… well, I felt it. I can imagine an explosion in my head, and that’s what I did to send him flying the first time, but it’s just imagination. This was something else. It seemed more physical.”

“So maybe you’re straying into lucid dreaming on your own?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I didn’t reach out with my arm and push him or anything. It was more like… well, when I first learned to do anything with magic, it was like finding a whole new set of muscles, or an extra arm I had to learn how to flex. This was more like that… not the same feeling, but similar.”

“Huh,” Ian said. “Now I’m really really curious about what Dee would have to say.”

“Why?”

“Well, she might recognize the description,” Ian said. “If I understand what you said the owl-turtle thing told you, then it doesn’t take actual subtle arts talent to do the kind of manipulation a subtle artist does inside your own mind, right?”

“Yeah, but it also said that I wouldn’t be able to ‘feel’ what I was grabbing for,” I told him.

“Well, maybe it was wrong about that,” Ian said. “Or maybe you have just enough subtle arts in you to do that. I mean, isn’t one of the theories that everybody has some telepathic potential, we mainly just don’t have much?”

“I guess, but I’d think somebody would have noticed it,” I said. “If not any of the actual subtle artists I’ve dealt with…”

“Who can’t touch or look at your mind directly,” Ian said.

“But they talk about leakage,” I said. “So they’ve been exposed to it.”

“Which might indicate low-level power,” Ian said.

“Except they don’t act like it’s anything strange or particular to me,” I said.

“Okay, then maybe you’ve got the same not-quite-zero potential that everyone has and the owl-turtle thing doing stuff with it charged it up into what passes for a higher level,” Ian said.

“Again, I think it would have said something.”

“How many people do you think it’s tried this kind of stuff on, to find that kind of thing out?” Ian asked. “You’re probably the first. Anyway, you know you did something that he didn’t think you’d be able to do…”

“Okay, that is one possible interpretation,” I said. “But nothing to get excited about. I barely had any effect when he wasn’t expecting it.”

“You weren’t expecting it, either,” he said. He shrugged. “Like everything else, though: we really need more information about what’s going on.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And hopefully it won’t matter… I mean, I don’t want to ignore this because there’s always a chance my plan won’t have any affect on his ability to bother me on an almost nightly basis… but hopefully the delayed blast fireball I sent him goes off before I need to learn how to fight him.”

“On a related subject… if you’ve learned that the owl-turtle thing can hide things in your memory, why not have it hide everything?” Ian asked. “Like, everything that happens to you in a day?”

“I don’t want to rely too much on it,” I said. “And I don’t want to give it too much license to mess with my mind… I can remember the things I asked it to hide, but it’s like… second-hand. Like it happened to someone else, or like I only know I did them because somebody told me. I can’t imagine trying to function if my whole life was like that.”

“Okay,” Ian said. “Well… how about having it put random stumbling blocks in your memory just to fuck with the guy? If the only things he can’t see are things that matter, in terms of strategy or whatever, then he might be able to figure something out by… I don’t know, the shape of what’s missing.”

“Not a terrible idea,” I said. “Keeping him off balance is probably a good idea no matter what happens with the Law thing.”

“Here’s a thought,” Ian said. “Could the owl-turtle thing… plant memories? Ones that you would know are fake, but which he wouldn’t?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “My best guess? Yeah, it could. I mean, we can remember our dreams, right? I’m not fully comfortable with the idea of having fake memories… I mean, if I know they’re not true but I remember them anyway? I could see that getting… weird. Badly weird.”

“I guess so,” Ian said.

“But… I guess I wouldn’t throw the idea out, outright,” I said. It was partly because I wanted to be able to give him something after disagreeing with him so much, but as I said it and thought about the idea more, I could see some potential. “Like, I wouldn’t want to have a bunch of false memories, or competing timelines for a day or something… but I could see how one false memory, the right one, the right message at the right time… I could see it doing some good.”

“The question is, what would that be?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I’ll be watching for an opportunity.”

Neither of us said anything immediately after that. On some level I felt like maybe I was overreacting… or maybe it would be more accurate to say reacting in too many different directions. Sending my grandmother after him… lucid dreaming… memory tricks.

“You know you’re going to have to talk to the owl-turtle thing again, right?” Ian said. “Because otherwise he might be able to pick all this out of your head the next time you fall asleep.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Damn it.”

“You want my advice?”

“Of course I do,” I said.

“You’re not going to want to hear it,” he said.

“I just said I do.”

“Don’t talk to us about this stuff,” he said. “About your strategy. I mean, talk to Dee about lucid dreaming and setting up stuff with the owl-turtle thing, but you need to separate out your waking life and the dream stuff. Otherwise you are going to end up having to block out whole days.”

“You’re right,” I said, nodding, and he was. I hadn’t wanted to hear that. I was true, though. “I hate to go back to keeping secrets… isn’t communication supposed to be key?”

“Yeah, and right now we want to lock something up,” Ian said. “Don’t think of it as secrets. I mean, you won’t be hiding anything from us. Okay, you will be, but there won’t be any deception about it. You won’t be hiding the fact that you’re hiding things. It’s just… strategy.”

“That does make me feel better,” I said. “It’ll be hard to explain to Amaranth, though… and I am going to need to talk to Dee.”

“Let me be the go-between,” he said. “I can explain what happened and what you need to Dee, and any advice or tips she has to give you can be… short and to the point. Or she can pretend it’s general advice or pertaining to something else. And anyway, Amaranth will worry, but she’s already worried. This will just make her embrace a less hands-on way of coping with it.”

Ian sounded less worried the more he talked. I knew it made him feel better to be helping… he’d wanted to take charge, and I couldn’t really argue with the way he was handling it.

“It sounds like a plan,” I said. “A good one, I mean.”

He kissed me on the forehead.

“Anyway… you won’t necessarily have to handle anything alone,” he said. “If anybody has any ideas, we can tell them to Dee, and the owl-turtle thing can relay them in… person? That way it won’t have to go out of its way to cover the tracks up. So today, you focus on… today. Let me focus on last night and tomorrow night.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Not only was it the right strategic move for dealing with my dream problems, but it was also the only way I was going to make it through the quarter.

Today was my day to prove myself in Coach Callahan’s class… if I could impress her with what I’d been practicing, she’d give me a chance to salvage my grade. Doing well in her class mattered for multiple reasons, not the least of which was the chance that I’d face battles in my life I couldn’t fight with my eyes closed and my head on a pillow.

I’d dropped the fireball in my father’s lap so I wouldn’t have to deal with him any more, but until it went off I’d have to maintain my own walls… in my mind, and in my life.


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22 Responses to “Chapter 74: Night And Day”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    Well, that’s a thing!

    Current score: 0
  2. C8H9NO2 says:

    “he wanted to pretend he wans’t doing it even though”

    s/wans’t/wasn’t/

    [edit]oh, and earlier in the same paragraph you have a duplicate apostrophe as well.

    Current score: 0
  3. Dani says:

    “Figments and Fragments” isn’t working for me. The problem, at the end of the day, is that it is structured as a series of introspections and expositions. So we are being fed information in disguised expository lumps, or we are being gifted with the introspections of a Sophomore. Either can be effective on occasion, but we have now had several occasions in succession.

    I’d like to see Mack really impress Callahan next.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Dani I agree with you about the importance of Mackenzie impressing Callahan. I hope Alexandra is willing to devote the time and her creative energy to render a descriptive donnybrook. Even if it means making us suffer mass apoplexy of impatience waiting an extra day or two for her to polish it up.

      I am not sure if I agree with you about these introspective chapters. I think they are mighty fine writing. And provide us fans a richly detailed exposition of motivation and possible consequences. I suspect this chapter is giving us important hints and clues as to how the storyline is evolving.

      I would like to be able to foretell future events. Too bad my weak ass psychic ability only randomly works in the immediate present and only if I am distracted enough to be headed in the wrong direction. As my wife accused me, numerous times, “You’re Mr. Oblivious!!”

      Current score: 0
  4. sliversith says:

    So… here’s an interesting thing I noted… at the very very end of the last volume of Tales of MU, right when Mack first started visiting Teddi- She learned how to wake up. She did it in normal dreams, and then again, But with Difficulty, when the man showed up again. But she DID wake up, despite feeling his resistance. Also, up to this point, The Man has never flat out lied. Misdirected, sure, but never said flat out he wasn’t at fault… at least not where it would be easily proved otherwise. My question is… does anyone else think that it’s possible, albeit admittedly somewhat unlikely, that he really DIDN’T have anything to do with her not waking up? O.o

    Here’s the section I’m referencing:

    “He didn’t come back into my dreams for some time after the night where he’d said he would leave me alone for a while. I figured he was afraid that if he pushed me I’d get serious about shutting him out. He didn’t know that I already was… after Teddi’s suggestion, I started working on waking myself up whenever I realized I was dreaming. Well, not quite every time… some dreams were worth staying in. But his dreams were always very lucid, so I figured that as long as I had some practice flexing the right “muscles” I’d be able to break out of them.

    It took some effort, but when he showed up a couple of weeks after midterms I was able to throw him out, or throw myself out. The fact that I could feel him actively resisting my attempts to wake up only underscored how little regard he had for me and my wishes. It made it that much easier the next time.”

    From 496: Postlogue and Epilude

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      As I posted in the comments last chapter, my guess is that the Owl-Turtle tracked over the essence of Dee’s sleeping potion when it brought the defensive construct with it. That would be why neither Mack nor the Man had any real clue why Mack couldn’t wake up. Mack was just jumping to the obvious conclusion, what with demons being so completely untrustworthy and all.

      Current score: 0
      • Jennifer says:

        I like this theory. It’s true the Man tends to be, at least, LITERALLY honest for the most part.

        Current score: 0
        • anon says:

          I would like to further support for this theory based on the idea that shortly after when checked Dee was sleeping normally(in theory the potion effect wore off both at the same time).

          Current score: 0
    • Lyssa says:

      I still doubt it. I think it’s more likely that he “resisted” before and resisted now.

      His reasoning being, if I am correct, that now he had more pressing reasons to stay than he did before. Earlier on, I suspect he was trying to give her a fake idea of his potential to control her. Now, he actually has some cause to control her (his concerns over what she’s doing in secret).

      Current score: 0
  5. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    and if she’s awake and feeling better, maybe we should invite * into the room instead of inevitably talking to her through the walls.”

    Missing the word “her” after “invite”.

    “He couldn”t fully commit to the threat, he wanted to pretend he wans’t doing it even though it was obvious…

    Double quote instead of single quote in “couldn”t”. Also the “n” and “s” are swapped in “wans’t”.

    Current score: 0
    • Andrul says:

      Yeah, that first one set off a bell in my head at first since the figment Ian was dropping pronouns.

      Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    “Communication
    Is key” begs the question:
    “What does it unlock?”

    Current score: 2
  7. tigr says:

    What is “MHC”? I guess it’s an acronym for some sort of signlanguage, but what does it actually stand for ?

    Current score: 0
    • Lyssa says:

      Miming Hands Communication! 😀

      Current score: 0
    • fka_luddite says:

      The “HC” probably stands for “Hand Communication”. While the “M” is likely to be “Magisterium”, it could be for the person who or institute/school where it was developed.

      Current score: 0
  8. Renshan says:

    Typo report.

    I was true, though. “I hate to go back to keeping secrets… isn’t communication supposed to be key?”

    It was true… or am I missing something

    Current score: 0
  9. anon y mouse says:

    “I always felt cold when I first got out of bed, but I felt extra colder just looking at it.” – extra cold or even colder, maybe?

    Current score: 0
  10. atk says:

    American Sign Language -> Mageisterian Hand Chant ?

    Current score: 0
  11. DarkSage says:

    Upon re-reading this one ….. Mack,is finally making mature and thought out choices. Not just bending to peers and going with the flow. Seems she’s finally working toward self-preservation,plus defense of her extended family.

    Current score: 0
  12. Apollo says:

    Loved the planning out here – and how ‘going ranger’ = ‘going commando’. (I had to think about it for a minute!)

    Current score: 0