In Which Mackenzie And Teddi See Eye-To-Eye

Thank you for your patience, and a happy 4th to my U.S. readers! –AE

I was starting to feel fairly comfortable as I gave Teddi what passed for the quick version of all that had happened since our last session… both the relatively mundane goings-on at the market place and my father’s continued interference in my dreams, the surprising turn when I somehow managed to knock him back a little bit with an angry thought, and the training regimen the owl-turtle thing had devised based on this.

I found some little threads of misgivings creeping in as I got into the more esoteric parts. I watched her face carefully for any signs of reaction when I explained the owl-turtle thing’s theory that I had a very very small amount of telepathic potential myself, curious as to how she would respond to it.

The idea that had seemed so plausible in my dream and in the early morning… well, it didn’t exactly ring false by the light of the day, but I began to worry about cracks around the edges of it. It wasn’t that I no longer believed it. I would just have really liked to have some way of proving it.

So I was really looking for some reaction from her that would confirm it, but I ended up getting momentarily flustered when I realized that I was basically maintaining eye contact while I was talking to her… or at least would appear to be doing so. It wasn’t because I wanted to or felt some kind of confidence… well, I felt confident enough to do it, obviously, but there were other reasons.

I didn’t feel self-conscious about the eye contact, exactly. I was more stunned to realize I’d been doing it without being self-conscious.

“It’s not entirely impossible, or even a very radical suggestion,” Teddi said, misunderstanding the reason for my hesitation. “The idea that everybody has telepathic potential is hotly contested and wildly misinterpreted in the fringe media, but there is a large body of thought that believes that small amounts of psychic potential might be present in far more people than will ever be in a position to realize it.”

“But… do you think it’s true?” I asked, deciding to come right to the point instead of fishing around some more.

The owl-turtle thing might have been considered an expert on mental matters by being a purely mental being, but its expertise was rather untested… and who knew how susceptible it might be to the wishful thinking or misapprehensions of its hosts?

“It could be,” she said. “If I could enter into your mind safely instead of just picking up traces passively, I could verify it in the space of a few moments, given your permission and cooperation.”


“I’d need you to try doing a few things,” she said. “There would have to be some activity for me to pick up on. Just reading your mind would only tell me if you thought you were telepathic or not… even memories of what seem like genuine psychic experiences aren’t always definitive. Does your family have a history of subtle artists that you know about?”

“My grandmother has pretty much the definition of an iron will,” I said. “But if she has any telepathy I can’t imagine her using it… at least, not on purpose. I’m pretty sure she’s still not over the pontifical ruling that abolished subtle arts as a category of witchcraft.”

“Well, the most powerful telepaths will have strong wills, but a strong will and telepathy don’t carry any implication towards each other, in either direction,” Teddi said. “There are telepaths with weak wills and people with strong will and not the least bit of psychic talent. Still, even if she never consciously used or developed any telepathic abilities, having a strong latent gift would be useful for a demon hunter and exorcist.”

“I guess I could see that,” I said. “I’ve been told that my mind can be disconcerting to be around when I’m worked up, and I’m only half-demon… so a demon or demon-possessed person might just feel ‘wrong’ to her and she’d never know why. She’d never even ask why, though… the answer would always be Khersis.”

“It would also be helpful in resisting mental invaders,” Teddi said. “Really, it would be a strong boon to anyone who goes toe-to-toe with demons, spiritually or physically, though mostly spiritually.”

She glanced around the room in what I took to be a shorthand gesture for the thing I’m about to tell you is a little bit scandalous, but I trust you enough to say it in front of you. As a telepath, she would have other senses to rely upon to spot anyone who’d managed to wander into the session room… and she’d be aware of many other ways that someone could overhear something.

“Okay, this is not a theory that gets bandied about in public very often,” she said, “but some subtle arts theorists believe that a lot of what gets chalked up to the gods is actually subconscious subtle arts. Not actual displays of divine power, but the little bursts of ‘divine inspiration’, the million-to-one flukes of chance that involve small things that could have gone one way or another, the injuries that might have been mortal but weren’t…”

I could see why that theory might be popular with subtle artists, who had been branded… sometimes literally… as witches for centuries, so the idea that their powers had been mistaken for miracles or divine intervention all along would be the sweetest form of irony.

I could also see why it wouldn’t be discussed too loudly in mixed company. Religious types didn’t like anything that elevated mortals to the levels of gods, or implied that their gods were less active or powerful than the official literature suggested.

“As a theory… I guess it fits the facts I know, in the case of my grandmother,” I said. “But it doesn’t prove anything or explain anything that needs explaining.”

“Yes,” Teddi said. “Basically, interesting but not conclusive… the most I can tell you is that there is no reason to believe you aren’t a very limited telepath, so if you have any reason to believe it’s true, then on the balance, it probably is.”

That was promising, but I’d been hoping for something more solid. I told her some more about the things the owl-turtle thing had led me into doing, and the way it had felt.

“From what you’re able to describe, it all sounds to be very much in line with solid telepathic techniques,” she said. “Which isn’t surprising. I mean, it’s surprising that a self-aware thoughtform would be able to lift the necessary skills out of one mind and transplant them into another, because that’s pretty unprecedented, as far as I know.”

“That’s one of the owl-turtle thing’s favorite topics,” I said, nodding.

“But given the donor, it isn’t surprising that the techniques work. The d… deep elves are really on the cutting edge of all this, at least from our point of view. From theirs, it’s all a very staid and stable situation without much room or need for innovation. They’ve had hundreds of thousands of years to refine their techniques, and individual practitioners can take decades and centuries to learn them.”

“I think we’ve managed to speed up the process,” I said.

“Possibly, as far as acquiring the basics,” she said. “But the fancier you try to get, the more subjective it all becomes. There’s a reason guided meditation and suggestion are huge parts of subtle arts teaching… you have to get the student into a frame of mind the teacher understands before the student can understand the teacher.”

“Which would make bestowing the secrets of higher-level processes by dream teaching a little tricky, I guess,” I said.

“Exactly,” she said. “The same method could possibly be used to induce the necessary mental perspective, but… some things are best done gradually.”

“I worried about that,” I said. “The owl-turtle thing told me that any new idea is bound to change a person, which made sense to me… but didn’t leave me completely reassured. And I know we looked in the mirror, but if who I was on the inside could be changed, wouldn’t that new me still show up as me?”

“Well, this is an outsider’s point of view, but while you’re leaking less, what’s getting through is a bit, for lack of a better term, sharper… and it still looks like you, to me,” Teddi said. “Does that help?”

“It does,” I said. “It really actually does. There are probably lots of situations where outside confirmation that I’m being true to myself would probably not be helpful, but in this… well, between that and the mirror, I think I can just accept that I haven’t had my brain scooped out in the middle of the night to be replaced with someone else’s that think it’s me ”

“I’m surprised you’re worried about that,” she said. “I mean, it’s not a completely irrational fear, under the circumstances… but you don’t seem very worried?”

“Well, I suppose I’ve been avoiding thinking about it,” I said. “Without any outside frame of reference, it seems like the sort of thing that could get very… circular. Not that I don’t do my share of circular thinking. Well, that’s kind of the point, I guess. I’ve done more than my share of that, and I want to move forward a bit more often.”

“But you want to be sure.”

“Yes. And when dealing with things that exist in my mind… and in dreams, especially… the possibility is always there that I’m fooling myself. The owl-turtle thing was also guarding against that, but… well… that’s the sort of detail I’d add if I was fooling myself.”

“I think we can count the reduced leakage as evidence of something real,” Teddi said. “So unless you’ve been doing anything else to try to shield yourself…”

It had sounded like a statement, but then she left it hanging there like it was an actual question.

“No,” I said. “Not a thing. Why?”

“Just curious,” she said. “You seem to have been moving really fast in the last few days.”

“You know me, I hate to sit still,” I said, and it was such an obvious joke that she laughed. “In all seriousness, though, know that I’m letting myself worry, that does worry me a bit… I mean, even if it’s me doing it, I’m still not sure it’s a good thing.”

“Why’s that?”

“If there was a big moral lesson to my freshman year it was that real change happens gradually and on its own, whether you’re trying to stop it or trying to make it happen all at once,” I said. “So when I find myself kind of standing on the brink of something big… am I forgetting that? Was I wrong in learning it? Am I mistaken about what’s happening now?”

“Have you considered the possibility that this lesson being right and true and necessary isn’t necessarily in conflict with the possibility that a bigger, more dramatic change could be good for you now?”

“…no,” I said. “That seems contradictory.”

“Yes, but that’s not the same thing as being impossible,” she said. “Reality is full of contradictions, if you’re reductive enough. Before lunch you were hungry. After lunch you were full. Last night you were tired. This morning you weren’t.”

“That depends on your definition of ‘morning’,” I said. “If you mean when I actually got up out of bed for good, then no, I wasn’t tired. If you mean any time before noon…”

“Well, of course it depends,” Teddi said, laughing. “Perspective counts for a lot in this world. You can watch from a distance while two wagon trains are approaching each other on a two-lane road and it might absolutely look like they’re going to smash into each other, but if you were just a little bit closer or a bit to the right or left and you’d see that even though they’re heading in opposite directions along this one stretch of road, they aren’t actually in each other’s way.”

“So the fact ‘big change bad’ doesn’t, in fact, mean that a big change would be bad for me.”

“It does not.”

“And you think it would be good for me?”

“As your healer… I’m all in favor of decisive action and taking control of your life,” she said. “There is a danger of biting off more than you can chew, taking on too much and burning out… but you’ve been making enough incremental progress in the time that I’ve known you that I’m not too worried about that. If you do fly too high and too fast, you’ll have a soft landing. That’s my general opinion as a mental healer. As a student of the subtle arts…”

“You’re worried, too?” I guessed.

“More intrigued than worried,” she said.

“Which isn’t the same as being not worried,” I said.

“I don’t want to blow anything out of proportion. We really are learning new things about the mind and its powers all the time, and the important thing is that a lot of it is benign. Most of it, even,” she said. “Remember, in the absence of telepathy, every mind is its own little self-contained being floating in a self-contained universe. It peers out at the world we know through tiny little cracks and makes contact with other minds using a set of codes that nobody quite agrees on. The existence of telepathy allows for more direct contact, but the default state of the mind is disconnection.”

“You’re talking about minds like they’re separate from people,” I said.

“Not separate,” she said. “Just not always synonymous. The mind as an entity is a part of what makes up a person. You don’t think of yourself as an isolated point of view peering out through the lenses of your eyes, do you?”

“No,” I said. “That’s not how I see the world.”

“It’s not the way the world looks to you,” she said. “But it is the way in which you see the world… sorry, talking about this sort of thing with people who don’t have any telepathic training or steeping in subtle arts culture is not something I usually do in the course of my job as a healer.”

“There’s a subtle arts culture?”

“Sub-culture, maybe,” she said. “Any group of people who’ve been driven underground in the recent past are bound to have one. Anyway, I was planning on talking about your goals for the semester but it sounds like you’re doing fine in that area for now, so instead let’s talk about our goals. What we’re going to be doing here.”

“…you don’t think that I don’t need you anymore, do you?”

“I know you don’t think that,” she said. “I also have a theory about what you need most, in the long term… immediately, highly pressing needs like the potion aside.”

“What’s that?”

“A place to worry,” she said. “A specific place, I mean. You are learning how to move with confidence, how to make decisive actions… and the difference between ‘decisive’ and ‘impulsive’, I think. You can count on your friends for advice and reassurance, but reassurance can feel like it’s an argument against worrying… or you might feel like you’re becoming a burden. I can give you a safe place to let your doubts out so you don’t have to dwell in them all the time, or keep them buried. Does that sound like something you could use?”

I nodded. That was it, exactly.

“Yeah,” I said. “I could use that.”

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20 Responses to “Chapter 97: Shadows of Doubt”

  1. Eleanor says:

    Whoa, accidental first. And first time commenting EVER.

    I have nothing to say, aside from that everybody really should have their own worry place. Even more so if you’re the extreme introvert type, like our dear Mackenzie.

    Current score: 2
  2. Alex says:

    Continuing to love the story. Great writing! Thank you.

    Current score: 0
  3. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “In all seriousness, though, know that I’m letting myself worry, that does worry me a bit… I mean, even if it’s me doing it, I’m still not sure it’s a good thing.”

    That “know” was obviously meant to be “now”.

    “So the fact ‘big change bad’ doesn’t, in fact, mean that a big change would be bad for me.”

    Not sure if this is a typo or not. It struck me awkwardly when I was first reading it, but upon rereading it I was able to piece together a certain logic to the passage that kind of works. It’s just a really oddball way of putting things that would probably work better spoken out loud than read in text format.

    Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      Also: someone else’s that think it’s me ”

      Should be “thinks” and it’s missing a period after the “me”.

      Regarding the story, for a moment there I thought you were going to delve into the problems of thinking “amazing coincidence therefore gods did it” instead of “amazing coincidences would happen even without gods, so why assume gods did it?”, but it was more like a “maybe collectively we did it using telepathy instead of gods” idea. Sounds like it would be pretty hard to tease those things apart in a universe that thinks the scientific method doesn’t work. Still, it’s kind of weird to be arguing against the influence of gods in a world where gods manifest themselves on “television”.

      There’s some interesting material there, though I’m not sure how easily one could delve into it.

      Current score: 0
      • OhPun says:

        I think your first description was what Alexandra was trying to get at, “amazing coincidence therefore a god did it.” All large actions (according to the story) are obviously divine actions. Teddi has a different belief about the small, seemingly random “divine interventions.”

        I agree with you that it would be hard to tease apart, mostly because some small divine interventions might actually be an act of a god, depending on the god.

        Current score: 0
    • Gruhl says:

      Typo Report

      “In all seriousness, though, know that I’m letting myself worry, that does worry me a bit… I mean, even if it’s me doing it, I’m still not sure it’s a good thing.”

      That “know” was obviously meant to be “now”.

      I disagree with this typo report, I don’t think it’s obvious that it meant to be “now” when it might just as well have been “knowing”.

      But I agree that just having “know” in that sentence was probably a mistake (Or my english isn’t as good as I hope it is).

      Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      The “big change bad” phrase reminds me of the way characters on Buffy would speak.

      Current score: 0
  4. Gible Fog says:

    yes…obviously…. I though it was supposed to be knowing that I’m letting myself worry

    Current score: 0
  5. Elana says:

    What I’m wondering is, how does persecution for witchcraft develop in a universe where magic is practiced widely? What is this universe’s definition of witchcraft, anyway? I’m hoping there will be later worldbuilding chapters that explain this.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Historically, once a religion has gathered enough temporal power and wealth to dominate a society it evolves a bureaucracy.

      As in any organism, this organization is compelled to expand and entrench, reproduce but only sterile clones, dictate and enforce social norms while simultaneously providing an outlet for upper class debauchery through selling them indulgences.

      Religious institutions form coalitions with the ruling class by equating treason with heresy and dissent with insurrection.

      Through careful analysis it always comes down to the economic system that a society is struggling with. The butchery of countless women accused of witchcraft throughout Western societies was about depriving them of their inheritances and other property in addition to giving barbers the medical monopoly.

      If you want to understand why East Asian governments are so repressive towards new religions, look up how the introduction of Buddhism to Japan almost annihilated their society. How the civil war between adherents of the Buddhist and Muslim Faiths brought down the Mongol Empire. And for sheer grotesquety it would be difficult to overlook the Taiping Rebellion.

      Current score: 0
      • Anvildude says:


        I think, related to this, that “Witchcraft”, in really any setting, is simply a word meaning “The use of power that cannot be controlled or monitored by those in power”.

        Essentially, even if you’re using Khersis-powered Faith magics, if you’re using it for something the greater Church didn’t like, or against the Church itself, it doesn’t matter that your power comes from the same place, or is meant in a ‘good’ light- it’s Witchcraft, because it hasn’t been officially sanctioned by the Church.

        Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      If I had to guess, witches get extra powers from some other supposedly-evil source? As opposed to divine, elemental, or (only in some religions?) psionic sources, I’d guess. Or possibly it has more to do with the type of magic or how it is used.

      Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Even the mostest
    Circular thinking can go
    Off on a tangent

    Current score: 0
  7. Null Set says:

    I do think of myself as an isolated point of view peering out through the lenses of my eyes.

    Current score: 0
  8. Apollo says:

    Aaaah, Buffy-speak, how I miss you. ‘Big change bad!’

    Speaking of Big Bads, how soon will we be meeting Mack Daddy again? I’m certain he’s not going to be awful pleased with his kid squishing his little mental copy, or putting a hit on him. And how well will Mackenzie’s mental barrier stand up against The Man without the ROTT there to assist, I wonder?

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Apollo, I was wondering the same thing. My guesstimate is that Mackenzie, with the ROTT as a spirit guide has been making it difficult for the ol’bastard to project?/manifest? into Our Mack’s dream-consciousness.

      If he is continually blocked out, several possible scenarios come to mind. Demon Daddy had previously intruded physically into Mackenzie’s and neighbors rooms. Or, he either possessed or corrupted someone with access on the MU campus to do his dirty work for him.

      Then again if Daddy Dearest launches an all out assault against whatever mental defenses Mackenzie/ROTT are capable of, I would think that such an attack would be detectable by Dee and Teddi and probably other sensitives in the immediate area. The question for any such ‘Forlorn Hope’ assault would be what would he have to gain by taking such a extreme risk?

      Nothing that I can remember reading about this character would convince me that he would willingly stick his neck out for anything less then a truly major prize. Patience and skulking have done him so well for six centuries, It would take a major character development?/revision? by Alexandra to set up such a confrontation.

      Current score: 0
  9. Miss Lynx says:

    “Remember, in the absence of telepathy, every mind is its own little self-contained being floating in a self-contained universe. It peers out at the world we know through tiny little cracks and makes contact with other minds using a set of codes that nobody quite agrees on.”

    I really like this part, even though it makes me feel a little sad about the state of our own, non-telepathic world.

    Current score: 0
  10. Arkeus says:

    Teddie is just awesome.

    Current score: 0
  11. Darthbeandip says:

    I may be mistaken on this, but isn’t Mack unable to say Khersis? Hearing it harms her, and speaking the name of a god destroyed the demon fragment in Dee. Of course her father once implied that she could learn to overcome or at least gain some resistance to her demonic weaknesses.

    Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      Faith harms her. Words, even divine names, don’t. The pitchfork demon was destroyed, not for saying the name of a goddess, but for trying to *invoke* it.

      Current score: 0