In Which Some Sort of Ridiculous Owl-Turtle Thing Is Called Away On Business

The owl-turtle thing wanted to run me through the things it had taught me in my sleep the night before, reasoning that if I never did them consciously… so to speak… then even if the techniques were embedded in my head exactly as if I had learned them the long way I wouldn’t necessarily be able to use them when I needed to.

I couldn’t find fault with that logic. It made a lot of sense to me and also matched up with how I felt at the moment, which was that I was capable of a lot of things without really actually knowing what they were.

It would be hard for me to describe some of the things it had me do, because I’d learned them without using words. I found that we didn’t need words to “talk” about them between the two of us… there would be a something that seemed like an indistinct murmur in our conversation, and even though I couldn’t process what it was saying as speech I’d understand which concept was being referred to.

I practiced flying, and re-orienting the dreamscape in different directions, and re-orienting myself within the dreamscape. I couldn’t do much to sculpt the psychic walls that protected my sleeping mind from intrusion, but I could create barriers within the dream that had as much solidity was possible, and I could shape them into weapons.

It probably sounds like I had a lot of progress in one night, since I’m mentioning so many different things and alluding to more things that I can’t describe, but I wasn’t exactly a natural at any of these things. The abilities were there to be practiced. I’d found new muscles, and learned that I could flex them… actually learning how to use them would take time.

On the other hand, my ability to push, to reach out and shove or blast, had grown quite a bit in both precision and reliability. I didn’t have to think long or hard about how to trigger it. The necessary path had been clearly outlined in my mind, and I could access it at will. That was one of the last things we touched on before the owl-turtle thing left, because it was so easy and so exhilarating that once I started doing it I didn’t want to stop. I worked on speed as well as raw power, surrounding myself with targets constructed of varying kinds of dreamstuff and then making wands out of my fingers and quick-blasting them into bits.

The more I flexed the power, the easier it became. The easier it became, the more of a charge I got out of doing it. Needing to spend less effort on the basic effect meant I could turn my mind in other directions, like adding visual effects to the otherwise invisible and formless projections. They became streams of silver, magical missiles, balls of acid, bolts of lightning, and showers of sparks.

“Yeah, yeah, hotshot,” the owl-turtle thing said after I finished a kind of showy volley. “Don’t get overconfident. You have something of an affinity for destructive projection… no big surprise there… but there’s a big difference between making something you created yourself as part of your own mind crumble, and trying to damage a skilled invader. A head-on fight is still one of the worse ideas for dealing with your problem.”

“I understand that,” I said. “But at the same time… it got his attention, the first time I did it. I wasn’t even trying then.”

“Do you want his attention?”

“No,” I said. “But if he respects my abilities, he might be more inclined to respect my wishes… and no, before you ask, I don’t want his respect, except as a means to an end.”

“I wasn’t going to ask that,” it said. “Believe me, I understand that there’s not an ounce of familial bond between you and him… if there was anything there, I’d be helping you try to root it out before we moved on to defenses. I only brought up the attention thing because you’re starting to spoil for a fight.”

I took a moment to ground myself, both figuratively and less figuratively, insofar as I’d been bobbing up and down in the air a bit off the ground, and then answered.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” I said. “It is absolutely my fondest wish that I never, ever actually have to use any of this stuff, and that’s against him in particular. As far as I’m concerned, everything going right means he’s prevented from messing with me, not that he tries to mess with me and I kick his ass.”

“But?”

“But at the same time… I feel like it’s going to be a waste to learn all this stuff and never use it,” I said. “I mean, I don’t want to have to fight in my dreams. I want to be able to close my eyes at night and go to sleep and just… sleep, without worrying about who’s going to pop up and drop in.”

“Present company included,” the owl-turtle thing said.

“No offense.”

“None taken,” it said. “There are other things I would like to do for you, but I understand that the end game is for you to not need help or protection on a nightly basis. And it’s not like I won’t have other things to do. But I don’t think it’s going to be a waste, either way… because first of all, you don’t carry weapons or wear armor because you are going to be attacked, you do those things because you might be. If you only took precautions against sure things, you’d never be prepared for anything.”

“And second?”

“Second of all, I can’t see a downside to you being more in control inside your mind,” it said. “In dreams or otherwise. We’re touching on abilities you’ve never suspected you had, skills you never dreamed were possible. Even if they don’t amount to much, just knowing about them… having some sense of how to use them… it has to make you more self-aware than you were.”

“What is it with you and self-awareness?”

“I can see blind spots,” it said. “When you’re looking at someone from my point of view, they’re obvious… you know how you feel when you see someone being hypocritical about something in a way that feels really obvious to you but they’re completely oblivious to it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s like that, but without the judgment,” it said. “Because I can see there’s nothing willful about it, and that people hurt themselves first and foremost. That’s not to say they don’t hurt others, but everyone is their own first victim.”

“So it’s just entirely an act of benevolence on your part?”

“Not entirely,” the owl-turtle thing said. “It’s also almost painfully annoying to see, so…”

“I thought you said you didn’t judge.”

“I’m not judging,” it said. “I’m reporting a fact. I didn’t say it’s painfully annoying to see your blind spots, and so I judge you to be a horrible person. Anyway, is there anything else you want to go over before we fade to black?”

“Nothing I can think of,” I said.

“Well, take a moment,” it said. “Because I’m serious about the idea of giving you a break… and about having other things I could be doing. I’m going to leave you for the rest of the week after this, so we’re not experimenting with your sleep cycle on school nights.”

“I really can’t think of anything,” I said. “I mean, there could be more techniques I could learn, but I wouldn’t know what they are and I think I have enough on my plate… anyway, if I think of something, I can just leave a message with Dee, right?”

“Well… you could leave a message with Dee, yes,” it said. “That is, in fact, a thing that you could do.”

“Hey, I get that you’re going to be busy and I’m still not exactly fond of your company, so it’s not like I’d do it on a whim,” I said. “I mean, if I have a question or something, you wouldn’t even have to stop what you were doing to answer it. You could come over when you had a chance, or give Dee the reply to tell me when we’re awake.”

“That is a thing that I could do,” the owl-turtle thing said.

I sensed more behind that thought, and stared at the owl-turtle thing in what I hoped was a probing manner. I felt something that might have been one of my nascent mental muscles twitching… or it might have been my imagination, more so than everything else that was happening was… and I tried to give a little nudge.

“…if I happened to run into Dee,” it added.

“You aren’t going to be in her head, either,” I said. All week? Before it had been afraid of vacating Dee’s head for more than a night, for fear of not being able to ride her telepathy back in. “Where are you going to be?”

“Improving myself,” it said. “I’m allowed to do that, I hope, since I’ve dedicated myself to improving others.”

“But where?” I said. “We’ve established there’s no ‘dream world’ for you to retreat into, which means you’re going to be in someone else’s head… do they know what you’ll be doing?”

“Oh, you think eliminating one possibility means you know everything.” It hopped backwards off its perch and began fluttering up towards the ceiling. “Listen, I’ve done nothing but help you, and I’ve given up a lot of my time for them… I’ll remind you that while you get to wake up every morning and get on with your day, this is my day. Don’t I get to have a life?”

“You aren’t even alive, though,” I said.

“All the more reason for me to want one,” it said. “But enough about me… this is the last chance for you before I go and put you under. Anything else you want to know?”

“What exactly are your plans?”

“They’re mine,” it said. “Remember, I’ll be gone until next weekend… last-last chance.”

“You drop a fireball like that and expect me to be able to think about anything else?”

“I dropped nothing on anyone,” it said. “You dug it up.”

“Well… either way, I don’t think I’d have anything else to ask you about, anyway,” I said. It was annoying to be in the dark, but if the owl-turtle thing’s plans then I supposed they really weren’t any of my business. The fact that it didn’t exist in the same way that I did might have had some impact on its legal rights if the law ever became aware of it, but there was no reason it being some kind of dream construct meant that I was actually entitled to know its comings and goings. “I’ve got enough things going on to fill up a week without getting you involved.”

“Yes, I know,” it said. “New clothes, new friends… so I’ll get on with what I need to do, you’ll get on with reinventing yourself, and I’ll see you next Friday or Saturday night.”

“What do I do if you don’t show up?” I asked.

“What would you have done if I’d never shown up?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It’s nice to hear you say that,” it said, then it faded away.

Moments later, so did everything else.


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30 Responses to “Chapter 93: Wrapping Up”

  1. Maahes0 says:

    The plot thickens!!!!!!
    Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

    Current score: 0
    • Readaholic says:

      Mmmm. Plot stew, nicely thickened. Om nom nom. My best guess is ROTT is having a session with the counsellor, so to speak. Or, it already has, and is off to improve self-awareness in other minds, on the counsellor’s suggestions (or maybe pleas, if it involves, say, the Leighton Twins).

      Current score: 0
  2. em7 says:

    wow, i can’t wait to find out more about the ROTT. fascinating!

    Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    When push comes to shove
    Mackenzie’s making progress
    Pushing and shoving

    Current score: 0
  4. Apollo says:

    Ahhh, ROTT, what are you getting up to elsewhere? I’m sure Dee and Mack won’t mind the break, but I’m equally certain they’ll be chalantly curious about it, too.

    Current score: 1
  5. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    there would be a something that seemed like an indistinct murmur in our conversation,

    Doesn’t really need the “a” in front of “something” as far as I can tell. Would most likely read better without it.

    but if the owl-turtle thing’s plans * then I supposed they really weren’t any of my business.

    Seems to be missing something after “plans”.

    Current score: 0
    • Anne says:

      but if the owl-turtle thing’s plans * then I supposed they really weren’t any of my business.

      Several somethings in fact it seems, didn’t involve me…. seems to fit.

      Current score: 0
  6. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    I am really loving these dream chapters. Every single one is just oddly fascinating…

    Which, thought that just struck me, IDK if it’s been brought up before. Embries’ enforced block on Mack sharing a certain set of memories is said to work even on people who are sharing her headspace… but the ROTT, as it is fond of reminding people, is its own new, strange entity. I can’t help but wonder if it would be able to find a way around that block, either for it specifically or for people in general… and if doing so would be a good idea.

    Current score: 1
    • Greenwood Goat says:

      On that subject, I wonder if Embries has ever devoured a dream entity before.

      Current score: 0
    • Julian Morrison says:

      I don’t think Embries just dropped in a static block, no matter how fancy. More like some combination of ongoing low level attention, and directly leaning on destiny to come out a particular way. Also ROTT would probably know better than to poke a dragon, even if he could in theory see what’s going on.

      Current score: 0
      • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

        At the same time, the ROTT is very good at avoiding skilled telepaths, at the very least. It’s really hard to say whether Embries would be able to influence it, especially given how little we know about how dragons’ abilities work. And a dragon… well, that may be a bit much for it (I’m never really sure what pronouns to use for the ROTT, so I’m just using the ones Mack does in the narrative). Still, it does seem to be interested in testing its own limits, and that’s definitely a test that could be worked up to in time.

        Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        And then, would Mackenzie want him to? That was an absolutely horrific experience for her, one that she would bury if she could – I doubt she would take kindly to the ROTT’s messing around with it, as that would probably force the memory to resurface and make her live through the horror of watching another living creature be eaten alive.

        Current score: 0
  7. pedestrian says:

    The concern I would have, not knowing whomever the ROTT is ‘sleeping’ with, that this entity is as influenced by the mind it occupies as it has influence on said mind.

    If the ROTT was in and out of my mind, after ‘sleeping’ with strangers, I would want to make sure it understood the concept and procedures of ‘safe sex’.

    It seems as if the ROTT has been gaining a fan base but if I wanted to strike at a potential enemy, the ROTT could be a useful delivery vehicle for a destructive meme. Or to send misinformation or attempt to alter an enemy’ perception.

    For instance, I would try to use the ROTT to manipulate Mercy on an emotional level, to WANT to forget about Our Mack. Or to forget about wanting to breed a part-demon army. Make cer want something else like collecting stamps or taking up knitting.

    Current score: 0
    • Julian Morrison says:

      The three most dangerous people in the story so far are Callahan, Embries and Mercy, all three being at “weapon of mass destruction” levels of badass or worse. Much as I fault Mack for pretending her problems don’t exist, she would be really, really unwise to start something.

      Current score: 0
      • Anne says:

        #4 The Man…

        Demons may operate on the invisible plane for the most part but if he influences her too much then everyone hunts her.

        Current score: 0
      • Christy says:

        Yeah, but how would they know it’s her?

        Current score: 0
      • Anthony says:

        Don’t forget Mack Daddy and Brimstone Blaise. Mr. Law Agent Guy (forgot his name) said they’re both Epic level and a battle between them would be a very scary thing.

        Current score: 0
  8. Julian Morrison says:

    Just an aside… has Steff called in Mack’s marker for the sketches she drew, yet? I don’t recall that happening.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      As someone with NO artistic talent, I still wistfully ‘wish’ that Alexandra would encourage the artists among our fellow fans to post up their renditions of Steph’s sketch books.

      Current score: 0
      • Julian Morrison says:

        For that, see gurochan and gurobooru. I would not be surprised if Stef’s style was like Samura Hiroaki’s Hitodenashi no Koi (warning, you cannot unsee this if you Google it).

        Current score: 1
        • Readaholic says:

          Yep. Just succumbed to curiosity, and rather wishing I hadn’t. That would probably be Steff’s art. Seconding the warning. Not recommended for the faint of heart.

          Current score: 0
          • Julian Morrison says:

            Is it bad that I am experiencing a certain amount of Steff-like evil laughter at this point? (Yes, she is my favourite character.)

            Current score: 0
          • pedestrian says:

            Oh yeah, I shoulda remembered the professor’s warning about careless ‘wishes’……

            Current score: 0
          • Prometheansky says:

            Seriously? Beautiful art, and there’s quite a bit where the subject matter won’t make a person cringe. I must be jaded, I wasn’t disturbed at all.

            Current score: 1
  9. William Carr says:

    We know that Callahan worked with Mercy at one point.

    And presumably they have a no-kill policy or they would have killed each other off.

    But it would be great to know what Callahan thinks about the Gray Elf.

    Does she WISH Mercy was dead? Is she saving her for a little treat against the day she gets completely bored and needs to kill something?

    Could the ROTT set up Mercy to fall into a trap set by Callahan?

    As mentioned earlier, these are WMD-Class threats. But with a little outside-the-box treachery, Callahan could make Mu a better place to live.

    “La Belle Dame sans Merci”. Geesh. I suppose that’s a bit long to write every time you need to make out a check.

    Current score: 0
    • fka_luddite says:

      While the readership generally accepts the idea that the “Mer-si” Callahan once worked with is the same as the “Mercy” that is pursuing Mack, I do not believe this view has ever been endorsed by Alexandra.

      Current score: 0
  10. Prometheansky says:

    Anyone a bit put off by this bit?


    It probably sounds like I had a lot of progress in one night, since I’m mentioning so many different things and alluding to more things that I can’t describe…

    Seems like a bit of a writing style divergence. Less like a private journal, and more like she’s addressing a potential audience.

    Current score: 0
  11. Crissa says:

    I can’t help but think MacKenzie would question any of her aquaintances the same…

    Current score: 1
  12. Moridain says:

    I feel really bad for the creature. It just wants to live, and it can’t do that outside of the minds people. And it knows that trying to force itself is going to get it nuked eventually so it has to tread carefully.

    And that aura of unlikable is a really hard flaw to work around.

    Current score: 1