468: Of Minds, Opened And Closed

on November 17, 2010 in Book 16

In Which Steff Finds Unaccustomed Support

Getting us out of the storm-wracked dorm room had been the extent of the planning we’d accomplished the night before, so we decided to just head over for breakfast. Ian was the one who actually put the idea forward… the hint about confidence seemed to be sticking with him.

I was trying to learn a lasting lesson from the night of the fish-beast, too… I hated to think that I needed the kind of questionable help of an extradimensional telepath to feel engaged with campus life. Yeah, it was only the first semester, but it could very easily end up setting the pattern for the ones that would follow it. I could probably spend all four years of college telling myself that next year… next semester, next month, next week… any day now things would click into place and I’d start fitting in, start finding my footing.

On the other hand if I tried to just up and change, it would probably end up all forced and awkward and horrible… so maybe the thing to do was ease myself into it a bit. Pick out small, simple things that I knew I could do. So when we got to the lunch room, instead of just quickly scanning the room for my friends I took a good look around.

That turned out to be a bigger and more complicated step than I’d anticipated… crowds had always bothered me before I came to MU, and the thought of people looking at me, watching me, had been enough to make me literally sick with anxiety. I’d had no choice but to get used to not only being around large groups of people but also being the center of attention. It seemed that hadn’t been so much an impressive act of personal growth as much as it was one of denial. I’d learned to block the crowd out the way I’d tried to block out my classmates back in high school. Taking a good, hard look at the others around the room was a bit like opening a window and letting a fist inside to punch me in the gut.

I stood there and let it hit me… there was nothing else I could do, except for shutting down, dropping my gaze and keeping my mind occupied on nothing larger or grander than itself. Or, to put it another way: keep doing nothing.

As soon as I’d steeled myself to keep looking… to really look, I realized that the cafeteria was pretty empty, which made the reaction seem silly. Was it emptier than usual? It seemed that way. Some of the students seemed a little on edge, but others seemed to be happy and relaxed. The fact that most of them just looked kind of tired and not yet awake definitely seemed a normal, everyday sort of thing. The problem was that I had no baseline to use for comparison.

The night before, I’d felt so confident of what I was hearing… it was frustrating not being able to read what I was looking at. But that would have to be a longer term goal. Learning how to look in the first place would have to come first.

“There’s Two,” Ian said, pointing at the buffet line. “Let’s go get some food and then we can go sit with her.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding.

I was having a bit of a meat craving, so I was kind of disappointed to see that bacon wasn’t on the menu… or in the big metal tub, rather… for the day. They had crispy brown sausage patties that didn’t exactly look great but didn’t look awful, either. I got a bunch of those and a load of cheesy scrambled eggs, then exchanged greetings with Two as she got her morning ice cream. She looked tired, unsurprisingly.

“Did you get much sleep?” I asked her.

“No,” she said. “I got some sleep before we woke up, and some more after that, but not much sleep. I did not would like to sleep until the dream-sharing effect had dissipated.”

“How could you tell?”

“I couldn’t,” she said, and very precisely stifled a yawn. “So I stayed awake as long as I could. I have had enough sleep that I am not asleep right now but not as much sleep as I would have liked.”

“You probably could have got a little more by skipping breakfast,” I said.

She shook her head, her face scrunching up in distaste at the suggestion. I realized that the lack of sleep bothered her not just because of the tiredness but also because it was an unwanted break from her daily routine… and then I considered the likelihood that breakfast was a pleasurable part of her daily routine. The love of food was where she’d first connected to her emerging personality. It was the first thing she’d learned to enjoy in and of itself… to enjoy for herself… rather than because someone had told her to do something.

Would she give that up for another thirty or sixty minutes of sleep? Not likely.

“How’s the room?” I asked her.

“It’s okay,” she said. “You will need to make your own bed up again. I dried it all for you but I am not going to do everything for you.”

“That’s fair,” I said, and then I realized that it really wasn’t… she’d still done a ton of work that she didn’t have to. “That you’re not doing everything. Thanks. I’ll… do something for you, in appreciation for how much you did.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I think you are getting better at being a friend, Mack.”

“You aren’t so bad yourself,” I said.

“Hey, Two. Do you have a table picked out?” Ian asked, coming up to join us. He’d taken a little more balanced approach to his complete breakfast, so it had taken him longer to get through the line.

“Hi, Ian,” Two said. “Not yet. My friend Dee was in the hallway and she said that she’d be here for breakfast so I was going to look for her, but she’s not here yet.”

“I hope her escorts didn’t interfere with her,” I said.

“Oh, she was alone,” Two said. “I do not think she will have to worry about supervision anymore.”

“Well, that’s good… I guess it’s a sign that things are going back to normal,” I said.

“Or a sign that the people in charge want them to,” Ian said.

I tried to give him a look that said that this was not the time or place to re-hash that whole argument again, but I wasn’t sure I managed to convey anything more nuanced or specific than general withering disapproval. There’s a difference between an expressive face and a talkative one.

Dee must have entered the lunchroom moments before, as she came gliding up to us, bypassing the hot food line to come straight for the fresh fruit.

“Good morning,” she said. “I am afraid I cannot answer your speculation, as the decision to return to normalcy seems to have been made internally among the Ceilos delegates.”

“Hello, Dee,” Two said, watching Dee selecting a plum, some melon slices, and some fresh berries.

“Hello, Two,” she said. She sighed. “I do enjoy the abundance of fresh fruit, but I could wish for a wider variety of offerings during the first meal.”

“I’m pretty sure the sausage doesn’t have any grains in it,” I said.

“I am learning that ‘pretty sure’ is insufficient when it comes to processed foods,” Dee said. “I prefer not to take any chances, particularly after one of my keepers found herself unable to take me at my word about my ailment.”

“If you would like to try some other breakfast foods, my friend Hazel says she knows how to fix your stomach,” Two said.

“Yes, she recommended an herbal supplement to me,” Dee said. “It is fascinating how she is able to string together words that she is aware are being called forth from nothingness while not being conscious that she is lying. It is a feat I’ve never observed outside the minds of small children or barracks novices.”

“Yeah, we call that ‘being full of shit’,” Ian said.

I was grateful that Two let that pass without comment… she was well aware that not everything her friend Hazel told her was true. Though she might have just been too tired to notice or respond to it… she looked like she was fading by the minute. Luckily there were plenty of open tables, so we were able to get seated without any difficulty.

“So, did all the Ceilos folks head back?” I asked Dee.

“They are making preparations for their journey,” Dee said. “I expect that a few days will pass before they actually depart. Traveling long distances in our realm is always a non-trivial proposition, so it will take many auguries and redundant preparations before they are comfortable making the journey.”

“Is that why the eyeless fish-beast was floating over campus last night?” I asked. “Some kind of divination?”

“Not exactly,” Dee said. “At least, not one related to travel. Before making the determination return, the other delegates asked the entity to perform a sort of ‘patrol’ of the campus last night in order to form a more complete picture of the state of things as they currently stand.”

“So… does the fact that they’re packing their bags now mean that it gave some sort of all-clear?” I asked. I had to wonder how refined its telepathic senses were… it seemed like it must have either missed Iona’s murderous habits completely or else picked up the whole truth about the cover-up and what plans were being laid behind the scenes.

“It could be assumed so, yes,” Dee said. “The sightless one’s motives are generally unfathomable, and I am given to understand that communication with its mind is far from straightforward.”

“Yeah, you could say that again… patrolling’s not all it was doing,” Ian said.

“Whatever do you mean?” Dee asked, and Ian explained in brief the effects of the psychic breakdown.

“That is interesting,” Dee said. “I wonder if it anticipated the effect, or if it was merely an unforeseen side-effect of exerting itself so strenuously on this plane of reality?”

“Don’t you think it would have said something if it knew anything was going to happen?” I asked. “Or not done it?”

“It is hard to say,” Dee said. “As I have said, the sightless ambassador’s motives are generally quite unfathomable.”

“You mean it could have been doing that maliciously?”

“Not so much maliciously as… casually, I suppose,” Dee said. “It is by no means certain that the consequences Ian described would have registered to the ambassador as important.”

“Oh, well, that’s… somehow even more terrifying than the idea of a malignant fish-beast from another dimension,” Ian said.

“I apologize,” Dee said. “I was attempting to be informative, not reassuring. I can understand how unusual the situation must have been for you, but psychic security concerns are nothing new to me, and I have done some small amount of dream visitation, albeit a self-initiated one.”

“Yeah, uh… the owl-turtle thing sort of mentioned you,” I said.

“I have no wish to speak of that.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I am just glad that it’s gone,” Two said. “My dreams are much nicer without it.”

“I am simply pleased to have been able to help,” Dee said, a little more stiffly than usual, and I got the feeling that she really did not wish to speak of it.

“Though they do not change as much as they did before,” Two added. “But that is okay. I do not need my dreams to keep changing around on me. There is enough change going on while I’m awake.”

“It was interesting,” I said to Dee, trying to drive the conversation away from Two’s dreams and the weird owl-turtle. “After learning what direct contact with my mind does to people, I would never have expected something like that to be possible.”

“I believe it’s a matter of the medium being used,” Dee said. “My people are not as… rigorous… in their study of the application of arcane arts as the humans are, but in the area you call the subtle arts we are fathoms ahead. We conceive of ordinary telepathic transfer as happening across something not unlike the element of air. The sightless ambassador is from a realm that is conceived of as being similar to a psychic sea, and its communications happen across a similar medium. A noxious substance, diffused in water, may be rendered benign… or it may be more than that. I do not know.”

“Do you think a mortal telepath using a different kind of communication… something more ‘watery’… could establish contact with my mind safely?” I asked.

“It is within the realm of conceivability,” she said. “That is, I can conceive of such a thing. This does not necessarily translate into an actual measurement of probability, of course. Why do you ask?”

“I’ve considered talking to mental healers before, but I don’t know what they could do with me that doesn’t involve mind-mind contact,” I said. “And also… well, it was kind of neat. I don’t just mean the dreams, or… the more intimate aspects… but the whole experience of being open and, you know, receptive. I don’t know how much of what I experienced last night was because of the fish and how much was just me paying attention to stuff outside my head a little bit more, but I think it’s possible I was picking up surface thoughts of the people around me at one time. I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be you.”

“Well, outside of intrusive telepathic techniques, it is impossible to compare the qualia from one mind’s experiences with another’s,” Dee said. “I cannot imagine that your experience and mine would prove identical, but perhaps you could have gleaned something about the difficulty of living among a large number of thinking beings who have never learned how to shield their thoughts. Though from experience, I can tell you that if you had experienced it for a longer period of time, you may have found it growing tedious.”

I nodded.

“I don’t think I’d exactly like to repeat the whole experience, but if it did happen again I like to think I’d pay a little more attention and be more aware of what was happening,” I said. “I’d probably spend less time eavesdropping on strangers… which I wouldn’t have done if I’d realized I might be getting things they weren’t actually willing to say in public… and more time in private with the people I love.”

“I’m… not so sure I’d want to go through that again,” Ian said, blushing slightly. “The… intimate aspects, I mean.”

“Why not?” I asked, surprised. “I thought you liked it… I mean, you said it was intense.”

“It was intense… and incredible,” Ian said. “I’m just not sure I liked where it was leading.”

“A sharing of minds in an intimate moment can be a transformative experience,” Dee said.

“Yeah, I got that,” Ian said. “But what does it transform you into? I mean, if we were just sharing each other’s thoughts it seems like we should have ended up with something halfway in-between us, right? I can sort of see where the stuff that was going through my head was coming from, but it seemed more… extreme… than what I think either one of us would have come up with on our own.”

“It’s less a matter of averaging out and more one of addition, to employ a mathematical metaphor,” Dee said. “Or even multiplication. The thoughts that are in your head trigger more thoughts. If those thoughts are from another’s mind, the chains of thought that they provoke will be different from those that followed in the originating mind. If the flow is going in both directions, this can have a cascading effect.”

“Have you experienced that before?” I asked.

“Not at a serious level,” Dee said. “My bond with my lovers was strong, but none of them possessed my talents. There was no chance of such a loop feeding back into itself… while I could experience everything my partners were feeling with very little effort, it took my conscious will for feelings to propagate across all of our minds.”

“I’m still not clear on how we got from Mackenzie’s sub stuff and my… issues… to… the place we ended up,” Ian said.

“A collaboration often produces more impressive results than what the individual participants could have accomplished if they were each working on their own,” Dee said.

“I’m not sure ‘impressive’ is the right word,” Ian said.

“I was pretty impressed with it,” I said. “I thought you enjoyed it, too.”

“I did… I just felt like I was out of control,” Ian said. “I didn’t enjoy that.”

“I still think it felt like you were extremely in control,” I said.

“That’s the weird thing,” Ian said. “If we were sharing thoughts, how’d we come away with different ideas about what happened?”

“At a guess?” Dee said. “Neither one of you felt as though you were in control… Mackenzie was not looking for control so she did not miss it. She assumed that if she was not pulling on the strings, then you were.”

“It wasn’t an assumption,” I said. “I mean, I’m not claiming any kind of factual basis for it, but… there was no moment when I went, ‘Hey, I’m not in control… who is? Must be Ian.'”

“Forgive me, Pax lacks the words to deal with certain concepts,” Dee said. “I do not mean a conscious assumption. There is a gap, your mind fills it in before you notice it… or rather, as part of the act of noticing it. This is a regular occurrence, especially prevalent in dreams but also in waking life. It’s part of how we interpret half-heard sounds, half-remembered conversations, simplified pictorial representations of things…”

“This is reminding me a bit uncomfortably of the thing with my pitchfork,” I said, shifting a little in my seat.

“Well, yes, the principle is similar,” Dee said. “But that does not imply anything sinister.”

“I don’t know,” Ian said. “I think having someone else’s thoughts inserted into my head to the point where I can’t tell them from my own is pretty dang sinister, even if the source isn’t.”

“I am surprised that you find it so distressing,” Dee said. “Given how little attention is paid to mental security in your society, I couldn’t imagine that it rates very highly as a concern.”

“Yeah, well, imagine how the first burglary victim felt coming back to his place and finding all his stuff was gone,” Ian said. “It’s a lot more disconcerting if you have no idea it can happen.”

“How much could any of us done to prevent it?” I asked.

“I could not say,” Dee said. “This was not the form of telepathy with which I am familiar. But it is possible for those who lack any measurable psychic gifts to learn rudimentary shielding techniques that prevent most casual or unintentional contacts and overlaps, and with a little more diligence, even some defensive techniques to make deliberate intrusions more difficult.”

“Are there any classes like that in the subtle arts program here?” Ian asked. “Because I’d be very interested in learning that kind of thing.”

“Why?” I asked. “You don’t even know if it would have made a difference, under the circumstances.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “And those circumstances aren’t likely to come up again… but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to run into any telepaths… or semi-intelligent cursed weapons, or whatever. It’s a crazy world… I like knowing where the thoughts inside my head are coming from.”

“And here I was thinking the lesson of last night was to keep a more open mind,” I said.

“Hey, you do what you want with your mind,” Ian said. “I’ve got plans for mine.”

“There is an introductory mental defenses and discipline course,” Dee said. “I am uncertain what the entry requirements are, as most of the subtle arts classes call for a degree of measurable talent. I could make an inquiry with one of my professors, if you wish.”

“I think I can look into it on my own, thanks,” Ian said.

“Oh, there’s Amaranth,” Two said, perking up a little bit and craning her neck.

I didn’t exactly have to try to follow her gaze to see where she was looking… Amaranth would have stood out just about anywhere, and not just to me. Like Dee, Amaranth had gone straight for the fresh fruit, which let her bypass most of the line. She spotted us and waved, then turned around and caught the eye of Steff, who was working her way through the hot food.

“Hey, baby,” she said to me, as she came up to our table. “Hi, Two. Good morning, everyone.”

“Hi, Amaranth,” Two said. It came out mostly yawn. “Good morning.”

“Do you mind if I scoot between you?” Amaranth asked Ian, and he got up to let her slide in next to me. “Thank you,” she said. “I hope you two had a nice night, wherever you ended up sleeping… you missed out on a really interesting time in Harlowe.”

“Yeah, actually, we didn’t… we caught the early show,” Ian said.

“Oh?” Amaranth said. “That must’ve been before Puddy fell under the spell… as far as she knew, she was the first one.”

“She said that?” I asked. “And you just believed her?”

“Well, I couldn’t see any reason she’d lie about it,” Amaranth said, frowning. “I guess she just wanted to feel special… were you first, then, baby?”

I was first,” Two said. She sounded half-asleep. “Tied. With Mack and Pala.”

“And we were all before Puddy,” I said. “Well, most of us,” I added, giving Ian an apologetic look. “She only just barely beat you in.”

“You know, I’m really not that concerned with establishing my primacy in the field of telepathic fish dreams,” Ian said. “Really.”

“Steff looks well-adjusted,” Dee said.

“Yeah, I’ve been practicing saying that, too,” Ian said. “I don’t think I could pull off ‘she was always so quiet’ with a straight face.”

“Ian! She can hear you, you know,” Amaranth said.

“I know,” he said.

“I’ve been concerned,” Dee said. “When I gave her the potion, I had expected to be able to give her more support and guidance following it.”

“Oh, believe me, she and her newly enhanced body are getting very well acquainted with each other,” Amaranth said. “We were having a pretty amazing evening even before we fell asleep.”

“It didn’t get really amazing until after you fell asleep, Amy-Doll,” Steff said, slipping into a seat. “Thanks for the concern, Dee, but you’ve done enough… and that’s, like, ninety-nine percent sincerity and one percent biting whateverness. I’m fairly happy with my body, I appreciate what you did for me, but I have my own plans for my life and I don’t think they’d exactly line up with whatever you’d ‘guide’ me into.”

“I have no interest in controlling your life,” Dee said. “Merely showing you a path that may lead to greater happiness than you could find for yourself.”

“Oh, right, because your life is so overflowing with happiness and fulfillment that you just have to share the wealth,” Steff said. “You’re a regular ray of shadow. A breath of cave air.”

Steff…” Amaranth said, warningly.

“So, what happened… did everyone in Harlowe get pulled into the dream eventually?” I asked, before anyone could say anything else.

“Oh, I don’t think it was everyone, but it’s hard to say… people sleep all over the place, and some of the students are pretty nocturnal, you know,” Amaranth said. “It seemed like the top two floors were more strongly represented. You know, I got to meet a lot of people from the girls’ side that I didn’t really know. And I feel like I’ve seen a different side of Puddy… she actually kind of seemed to be in her element.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, she was having a good time,” Amaranth said. “Explaining the whole thing to people as they showed up, stopping people from freaking out, convincing everyone to just go with it and have fun.”

“Watching her enjoying being the center of attention wasn’t a new side,” Steff said. “Two seconds after meeting her I could have guessed how she’d act if she were hosting a party. You have to judge her by how she acts when things aren’t going her way.”

“I don’t think judging her is going to be helpful,” Amaranth said.

“It’s helpful in deciding how much of your time and energy she’s worth,” Steff said.

“You weren’t saying anything to her during the dream.”

“Yeah,” Steff said. “See above. Reference time, and also energy.”

“Well, it seemed like she made some new friends last night, and I can’t see that as being anything but good for her,” Amaranth said.

“I can’t see that as being good for anyone but her,” I said, and Amaranth gave my hand a squeeze that might have been meant as a reassurance, or as a warning. I was inclined to take it as the latter, if only because of the stabbing pang of guilt I felt after I said that.

“Baby… I know you’ve got your reasons, but please at the very minimum try to follow Steff’s example and don’t waste time on negativity,” Amaranth said.

“Oh, I spend time on negativity,” Steff said. “I just save it for worthwhile targets.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I saw a slightly different side of Puddy last night, too. I just don’t know what it means to me. Maybe she feels guilty about what she’s done? I guess, she wouldn’t be so defensive if she didn’t… but feeling bad about it doesn’t exactly cancel out the things she does, the things her defensiveness are going to make her keep doing to prove to herself that she’s not actually in the wrong. I don’t want to have a whole grudge thing with her or anything, but I’m not going to be the prize she wins for learning how to be a halfway decent person.”

“Well, baby… it’s obvious you’ve given this some thought,” Amaranth said. “I’m proud of that.”

“More thought than she’s worth,” Steff said.

“Honestly? I’m just opening my mouth and letting words fall out,” I said. “I have been kind of introspective lately… I mean, always… but I’m still kind of processing last night as I go. I haven’t thought about Puddy since I woke up, and I rarely think about her when I don’t see her.”

“My remark stands,” Steff said.

“Reluctantly seconded,” Ian said.

“It’s a remark, not a motion,” Steff said.

“Whatever,” Ian said. He turned to Amaranth. “Mackenzie’s got something she needs to tell you about, by the way.”

“Oh?” Amaranth said, and I was thinking much the same thing.

“In private,” Ian said, and I realized he was talking about Iona’s ultimatum. He was right.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“Nothing serious, I hope,” Amaranth said.

“It’s not… bad,” I said. “Immediately. Or in the long term… um… really, we should talk about this later.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “Oh, Two, honey… you look like you’re going to fall over. You should be in bed, sweetie.”

“I have classes,” Two said. It wasn’t a refusal, and her eye twitched upward like she was thinking it through.

“You can afford some absences,” Amaranth said. “You won’t get sick, you won’t miss days due to laziness or partying, and your professors are bound to understand that you wouldn’t skip for casual reasons.”

These would have been good, solid practical arguments for anyone else, but knowing she could get away with it wouldn’t be a factor for Two.

“I think the reason you stayed up qualifies as an emergency,” I said, hoping it would help her with the conundrum the situation presented: just being sleepy wasn’t something she would recognize as a valid reason for missing classes. She looked unconvinced, but the fact that she was still thinking about it suggested to me that she really did have a preference for going back to sleep.

“Two… I order you to think about the pros and cons of a few hours sleep when you’re too exhausted to hold your head up versus going to your morning classes and risking falling asleep in class, or injuring yourself somewhere along the way,” Amaranth said. “And then make a decision based on that.”

I’d jumped at the use of the word “order“, but she’d taken it in a different direction than I’d expected, and it seemed like it might work.

“Okay,” Two said, sleepily. “I’ll think about it.”


Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!


Characters: , , , , ,





40 Responses to “468: Of Minds, Opened And Closed”

  1. Krista says:

    great update AE. Keep them coming too, I really do love your work.

    2<3

    “Yeah,” Steff said. “See above. Reference time, and also energy.” LOVE Steff! You go girl! 😀

    Current score: 0
  2. Alashara says:

    Hehe gotta agree with steff, dont waste energy on small fry, save it for tormenting the ones that are worth it. ^.^
    And I love how technical you can get with thing, like the subtle arts. I had to reread and then spend a few minutes thinking bout it before it actually started to make sense. The best part is, it does kinda make sense, so many authors just go with the basic straight forward psychic and never bother looking at different possible variations.

    Current score: 0
  3. N. says:

    I really liked this chapter.

    Current score: 0
  4. Oitur says:

    Couple proofreading items:
    “As I hav said,”–note ‘hav’

    “Before making the determination return,”–I have made the determination that Dee forgot a ‘to’.

    Been missing Dee.

    Current score: 0
  5. Daxx says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter. In reference to your announcement, I have to say I really look forward to seeing a recap and resurgence in this story; I’ve noticed you’re quantity has decreased in the past few months, but that means i appreciate your updates that much more when i see them.
    keep up the interesting work.

    Current score: 0
  6. peter says:

    well done, Amaranth. You’re learning too.

    Current score: 0
  7. Damn, Ian’s got a mouth on him. Reminds me of me, heh.

    Also:
    “Soon: Callahan. Puddy. Pala. Embries. The Man. Only not all at once or necessarily in that order.”

    Oh hells yes.

    Current score: 0
    • BMeph says:

      “Damn, Ian’s got a mouth on him.”
      …wasn’t that Mackenzie? ;þ

      Current score: 1
  8. Coyle says:

    It’s always great to see Mack learning thing about herself. Huzzah for personal growth!

    I also love the Steph/Ian dynamic. I just hope that their banter gets less hostile as time goes by- they could team up and use their snark for good.

    Awesome work, as always.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Maybe the boobs will make him see her more as a girl, and thus he will be less opposed to her being with Mackenzie.

      Current score: 0
  9. excellent chapter. Love how you touched on the subtle in the subtle arts in a way that usually doesn’t get tackled.

    Current score: 0
  10. Brenda says:

    Missing half a sentence!

    “I had to wonder how refined its telepathic senses were… it seemed like it must have either missed Iona’s murderous habits completely or else picked up the whole truth about”

    …about Iona?

    Also, that’s the best order Amaranth has EVER given Two. She doesn’t even need to translate it into Mackenzish.

    Current score: 0
  11. Rey d`Tutto says:

    That’s some fairly sound and realistic character development on the parts of both Mack and Ian. I order you to think… I wish it were that easy when one or more friends are drunk/tired and planning on getting stupid (or when I am).

    Current score: 2
  12. hueloovoo says:

    I get a little conflicted at time sover Steff, because she’s awesome, but so much darker than I am that it’s unsettling at times. But I totally agree with her sentiment in this chapter. Sometimes, some people just aren’t worth your energy.

    It’s nice to see more of everyone again. I look forward to the next chapter!

    Current score: 0
  13. anna says:

    You are such a great write, and i really appreciate everything you’ve written so far. will you ever finish the story and publish it in book form?

    Current score: 0
  14. Matthias says:

    I worry about Ian sometimes. He seems to be dealing with this weird stuff fairly well and he has made progress with his own issues as well but I just wonder about his ability to stay in a relationship where he obviously cares about Mackenzie but has little care, or even an outright dislike in the case of Steph, for her other lovers. I am a little surprised he doesn’t have a second lover of his own as a sort of “if you can do it I can do it too” mentality. I don’t think he would actually care about this person the way he does about Mackenzie but that he would almost feel he had to as a sort of evening the playing field. Maybe that chick he always hangs out with that has the laugh Mack hates. I don’t remember her name right now. for the record I don’t think this is a “good” idea. It just seems sort of inevitable to me. what do you guys think?

    Current score: 1
    • bramble says:

      I think it’s possible, but if he does, I think it will be something that radically shakes not only his relationship with Mack, but probably also Mack’s relationship with Amaranth. Ian has made it fairly clear that while he’s doing his level best to be supportive of his girlfriend’s poly lifestyle – and to be fair to Ian, his level best is usually pretty damn good – he himself is monogamous. As he’s established himself as a one-woman man, I don’t think that he’d be comfortable being open about taking a second lover; in such a situation, he’d consider himself to be cheating on Mack and act accordingly. Of course, this would hurt Mack deeply. On the other hand, I suspect that Amy would be pleased as punch with the view she sees through her sex-colored glasses, of Ian loosening up and exploring a part of his sexuality he hasn’t in the past, and decide that Mack is being childish for being upset that the guy who had previously claimed he’d be exclusive to her was now sleeping around. The whole mess would feed on Mack’s abandonment and self-esteem issues and on Amy’s inability to admit when she’s wrong, and could potentially either destabilize their relationship, or undo a lot of the progress Mack has made in thinking things through for herself.

      Current score: 1
    • BMeph says:

      Ian would likely not go the polyamorous route, since it would remind him even more of how he resembles his dad than he already does…and dislikes.

      As far as Ian’s development goes, I’m going along with Mack’s observations of him – I see him as harnessing his “inner demons” to a carriage of command. I’m also hoping he throws a bridle on his mouth…

      Also, “… that chick he always hangs out with that has the laugh Mack hates” is better known as Ceridwen “Winnie” Champlain. I agree with your assessment on getting so involved – to exploit the opportunity for mixed metaphoric punning, “there is no sex in the Champlain room.” ;þ

      …of course, this is all a half-year after you wrote this, but no matter; I’m writing it for myself, of course.

      Current score: 1
  15. Sindyr says:

    Yay for updates! I feel almost like I did when my husband and I first started reading together–I had a lot to catch up on, since he’d been reading it for a while before he told me about it. 😀 Thanks, AE.

    Current score: 0
  16. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom nom nom. Ah, yummy fiction. My MUppetite is satiated – for now 🙂

    Interesting update, and fun. Poor Two, she did tire herself out. Hope she does get to bed.

    Current score: 0
  17. Zathras IX says:

    Dee considers the
    Ridiculous owl-turtle
    Thing unspeakable

    Current score: 0
  18. Dea_al_Mon says:

    A solid chapter 🙂 I like that Two is starting to relax.

    One thing I did notice during all this conversation, though:
    Ian said… I said… Amaranth said… Dee asked… Two said… I said… Amaranth asked… I said… Ian said…

    “Said” and “asked” seem to be the two most commonly forms used during conversation. As interesting as the subject matter was, I think they would come to life more if “added”, “questioned”, “implored”, “commented”, “interjected”, etc were used, too.

    Just my nickle’s worth, though. 🙂

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      Funny, because that’s something that’s often given as a “what NOT to do” when writing. Overuse is a lot worse than underuse.

      Current score: 0
      • Kevin says:

        Maybe someone should tell my high school English teacher that. I used to get marked down for using said or asked or etc… I just went with it since he had a published novel and I didn’t but then again I don’t have the stamina to keep up a story.

        Current score: 1
    • BMeph says:

      I’d say something about what your mom could do for a nickel…
      .
      .
      .
      …but I get plenty enough of that from the “Shortpacked” crowd.

      Besides, Mike’s got dibs on your mom…. ;þ

      Current score: 1
  19. DeNarr says:

    I re-read the sex chapter, and I still don’t see anything about “where it was leading”. Is this something that wasn’t actually told, and we just have to pick up on? Because I didn’t read anything that could have been construed this way. There was the intense, very well described deep-throating. And then there was the vaguely described “lots of sex, different type of sex”. Am I missing something?

    Current score: 0
    • bramble says:

      I’m pretty sure that Ian is freaked out because they were much, much deeper into the Dom/sub dynamic than the two of them usually are, and he’s not entirely comfortable with his dominant tendencies at the best of times, for a variety of reasons – he (perhaps correctly) believes himself to have poor impulse control and anger issues; he associates that kind of behavior with his father, who is strongly implied to have abused his mother to some degree; he firmly believes that a Gentleman Does Not Hit A Lady. Even with constant reassurance from Mack (who is qualified to tell him that it’s what she likes) and from Amaranth (who at least believes herself to be qualified to tell him what HE likes), Ian is often hesitant to initiate rough sex or powerplay of any kind. The idea that when in an altered mental state (but, he believes, not necessarily a /distorted/ mental state) his desire to control and degrade his girlfriend is only intensified scares him. I suspect that in Ian’s mind, “where it was leading” was real, lasting harm – physical, mental, or emotional – to Mack.

      Current score: 1
  20. Miss Farrower says:

    Regular updates, real character development, and engaging story? It feels so much more like ToMU was when I first started reading it and got hooked, and I’m loving it!

    If there’s more like this, I’ll have to make more friends just so I can share links to the story again!

    Current score: 0
  21. barnowl says:

    Nice analysis, bramble. I think you’re on to something. I too was confused because the night of sex under sightless fish influence didn’t seem any more out there than anything they’d done before, like the night Mack lost her virginity.

    Current score: 0
    • bramble says:

      Yeah, I think the main difference is the state of mind he was in. Ian usually has to make a significant effort to drop his inhibitions to the point that he is willing to be actively aggressive about anything physical, whether it’s sex or combat, and I think he kind of depends on having those inhibitions in place – kind of a “I’m /capable/ of doing that, but I know I won’t unless I consciously decide it’s appropriate” kind of thing. It’s hard to tell exactly what he experienced during sex-under-the-influence-of-eyeless-fishbeast, as the scene wasn’t from his point of view, but I think it’s safe to say that it didn’t involve much in the way of conscious decision making.

      Current score: 0
  22. O'Braun says:

    I think something else was driving Ian. It could have been related to the pitchfork, but I think it was more likely Daddy. He already has an in to Mackenzie’s mind — how easy would it be to jump into an ordinary sleeping human’s mind when that mind has been opened by another extradimensional thing?

    Current score: 0
  23. NatalieF says:

    More bodhrán and firecrackers with a side of Irish pipes!

    Current score: 0
  24. Aethelwulf says:

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    Alexandrea- You’ve made a magnificent world, and I would be saddened if you were to ever cease to let it develop and expand. My favorite chapters have always been the classes, where we learn about how magic works, combat lessons, and the history of the world. I love exposition!

    Your characters each have their own minds, and I rarely (if ever) notice any sort of unnatural direction being taken by narrative. That’s wonderful.

    Please continue to dream and imagine, and then deign to show us what you’ve seen.

    Current score: 0
  25. Oni says:

    ““Hi, Amaranth,” Two said. It came out mostly yawn. “Good morning.””

    As an interesting aside, that made me yawn. Usually I have to see a yawn for it to be “contagious”.

    Current score: 0
  26. Darkon says:

    Dear ALexandrea Erin

    This is my first comment ever on your writings, and I enjoyed them all from the first one, since a link was sent to me and I started reading. Then I started to read the story from the start. It took me quite some time. And it was worth every second.
    I am usually not one who comments on everything, but if people diminish your flame by saying you suck, let my voice be heard. “You are creating something awesome!”
    Please do not give up on this story and the characters.
    Please do not allow your fire to be extinguished.

    Let Mackenzie blaze

    Current score: 0
  27. pedestrian says:

    my hypothesis, that the events of the preceding night was deliberately caused by the eyeless fish, is looking better.

    Current score: 0
  28. Jechtael says:

    I wonder exactly how far Amaranth and Steff went once they ended up in the dreamscape, considering it was a shared dream rather than anything involving bodies. You know what they say, you can’t spell “fatally destructive reaming” without “dreaming”.

    Current score: 0
  29. zeel says:

    “It is fascinating how she is able to string together words that she is aware are being called forth from nothingness while not being conscious that she is lying. It is a feat I’ve never observed outside the minds of small children or barracks novices.”

    I love this line! People who can do that are fascinating.

    Current score: 0