• H.C. Mills

Chapter 101: The first rule of Goddess

I wake with a start, to find Kaitlynn lightly snoring in my arms.

[Emma!] Suri chimes immediately. [What happened to you?]

I blink and take a moment to gather my thoughts. ‘I had a weird dream,’ I subvocalize back while I yawn. ‘Why do you ask?’

[That was no ordinary dream, Emma. You were in a Dreamscape again.]

I frown. ‘Really? How did that happen?’

Pah pah pah poker face pah-stop it eh-ma, eh-mah mah mah.

[That’s what I’d like to ask you.]

I lick my lips and pretend to think about it. ‘I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s like an aftereffect from the Carriage of Dreams?’

I mean, it kind of is, in a way.

[Perhaps,] Suri chimes, but she doesn’t sound convinced. [Why don’t you tell me what you dreamt of? It might provide a clue.]

‘Ehm, sure,’ I send back, my mind racing a mile a minute. ‘Let’s see... it’s all a little blurry, of course, but I’m pretty sure there was this weird manatee, with a top hat. He wanted to drink tea with me.’

Sorry for throwing you under the bus, manatee-man! I hope this doesn’t get you in any kind of trouble, but the best lies contain a kernel of truth.

[I see. What else do you remember?]

I frown for a bit and finally shake my head. ‘Sorry, it’s all fading pretty quickly.’ It totally isn’t. ‘Does this tell you anything?’

[Not much, I’m afraid. You’ve placed me before a bit of a conundrum, Emma.]

‘How so?’

[I believe you may have conjured your own Dreamscape, using Espir.]

My eyes widen with fake shock. ‘I can do that?!’

[It would seem so,] Suri chimes, not sounding happy about it at all. [You also seem capable of finding your way back out, so that’s something at least.]

I blink and pretend to consider it for a second. ‘Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. I could get in some extra Skill-training done in my sleep!’

[No, it’s bad. I can’t supervise you when you enter a Dreamscape without me. And leaving participants unsupervised constitutes a breach of protocol. I’m supposed to report instances like these, however, that would bring down undue attention. And if these episodes of yours were to persist, that may be grounds for... disqualification.]

‘I could be disqualified for dreaming?!’ I send back, sounding more surprised than I feel. Seems like they’re pretty worried about participants entering the Realm of Imagination without supervision. All the more reason to keep going there! Though I definitely need to avoid being disqualified, of course...

[Yes, well, Dreamscapes are more than just dreams, and you’re supposed to pay Trial points for them,] Suri chimes. [Making your own could be interpreted as cheating... All right, I think it’s best if we keep this under wraps, so do me a favour and don’t tell anyone about this experience of yours.]

‘Sure. Whatever you want, Suri.’ Looks like Suri is invested enough in my survival to cover for me. Perfect.

[And please try not to conjure up any more Dreamscapes,] she chimes. [It really is dangerous.]

I shrug lightly. ‘I didn’t do it on purpose. Maybe it was just a fluke.’

[Yes. Let’s hope so.]

Since Kaitlynn is still napping, I take some time to organize my thoughts.

I actually succeeded in entering the Realm of Imagination under my own power! I’m still dependent on the little whistle Raindrop carries around, of course, but still.

Let’s just hope she doesn’t lose it.

Anyway, I’m definitely going back there to try and gather more information and allies. Clearly it’s risky business, with Suri breathing down my neck, but it’s worth it to visit a place—the only place—where I seem to be genuinely unmonitored. A place where I can learn things unchecked, without the threat of mind-control hanging over my head. If there’s any chance to escape this nightmare, I’ll find it there, I’m sure.

I mean, at the very least Goddess admitted that she could have provided me with aid, with useful knowledge, if not for the fact that she deemed it ‘dangerous.’ I still don’t entirely understand what she was so worried about, she seemed so powerful!

I let out a frustrated sigh. If only I could talk about her with Dave, he might’ve been able to help me convince her—

I frown. I cannot talk about her with Dave. What? No, I can not talk about her—damnit, why is it that I can’t talk about her?!

Is this like a fight club thing?

No, she did something. She told me I couldn’t talk about her. At the time it just seemed like she was stating the obvious, but—

My blood runs cold when the realization hits. My jaw drops open, but I turn it into a yawn, in case Suri’s paying attention.

Goddess used some kind of mind control on me! Did she Charm me? No, no I don’t think so. It’s like she overwrote what I consider true. Shit, that’s scary.

Did she do anything other than make it so that I won’t talk about her? Right, it covers Raindrop as well... other than that, I can’t be sure.

I go over our entire conversation in my head, looking for any statements of obvious truths that may not be as obvious in hindsight, but I can’t think of any.

Let’s hope it was just that one thing then. Anyway, let’s forget about trying to convince her to help us, I’m staying far away from her.

Damnit, now I definitely wish I could tell Dave—

I blink. Actually, I can tell Dave about the mind control. Goddess only restricted me from speaking about her, not about what happened to me.

Kaitlynn stirs in her sleep and turns over to face me.

My heart starts to beat harder, almost painfully so, as I study her peaceful, sleeping face, all thought of mind control forgotten.

The urge to kiss her nearly overwhelms me, but I hold back, unwilling to break the vision of serenity in front of me.

Shit. When did it start to feel all right to want to kiss her? It’s not all right!

Actually, no, wanting to is fine. But I was supposed to let her down easy regardless, because there’s no future for us.

Either we die in this screwed up Realm, or we make it back to Earth, where I will turn fully straight again.

Why have I still not told her about that?

Because I don’t want to, I realise. Because part of me doesn’t want to lose her—this—whatever’s going on between us, even if she’ll end up hurt worse in the end because of it.

Even if we’ll both end up hurting worse. Guess I’m a masochist after all.

I’m not sure when the tears first well up. I just suddenly notice a wetness dripping down my nose.

God, what am I turning into?

A tear drips on Kaitlynn’s wrist. She frowns and murmurs in her sleep.

I freeze, instantly panicked, then carefully extract myself.

I throw one last glance over my shoulder at her, taking in my blue angel, before I flee the hut like the coward I am.

Dinner is almost ready by the time Kaitlynn dashes into view with wide eyes. Relief instantly floods her features when she spots me, before she quickly schools her features. “Don’t you know better than to leave a girl to wake up alone, Emma?” she teases, shaking her head as she walks over.

I freeze momentarily at the subtext behind her words, but the boys seem oblivious, so I relax.

It’s weird; I was always kind of flirty with her, but now that there’s actually something brewing between us, I’m suddenly far more self-conscious about it around them.

Guilt washes over me, and I shoot her a wan smile. Of course she’d be worried after waking up alone, when I was planning to do something arguably quite dangerous during naptime. “Sorry Kait. You looked too peaceful; I couldn’t bear to wake you.”

Dinner is a relatively quiet affair, with everyone tuckered out from the hunt. Kaitlynn is relatively energetic after her nap and tells us all she intends to practise Heat Vision during her tempering, because she hopes the Skill will lead to that ridiculous Heat-beam ability Frogzilla had.

Naturally, the guys all go nuts over the idea of shooting laser-beams out of their eyes. Dave even starts to speculate about there possibly being a Cold version of the Skill as well for the Yin. Damn, maybe I should branch into Cold Vision at some point.

Alec’s fish stew is amazing. Definitely worth putting up with his antics for.

Regardless, I find myself nearly biting his head off minutes later, when he’s stalling for time instead of heading for the Giant Oysters like he should. Kaitlynn eventually drags him off, giggling at his woeful expression.

This leaves me seated around the campfire with Jacob and Dave.

I consider my options for a bit. On the one hand, it would be nice to involve Jacob in these discussions. On the other hand, the more people involved, and the more of this style of communication goes on, the more we risk getting caught.

Moreover, from what little I know about Pseudo, it seems like she’s way too paranoid. If any AI is keeping tabs on everything, it’s her.

No, we should leave him out of this, for now. He’ll understand. I hope.

However, I do really need to communicate with Dave, which means I need a good excuse for physical contact.

I have to stop myself from smirking when I hit upon a winning idea.

Even just Dave’s surprised look when my bare feet plop down onto his lap seconds later, would have been worth it.

I blink innocently and wiggle my toes.

Dave chuckles when he gets the hint, and begins to rub my feet.

Damn, Dave’s pretty good at this. I am a genius.

I lie back with my eyes closed and continue to make small-talk out loud like this is all normal, even as Dave and I start sending each other surreptitious messages through my feet.

It’s a little difficult to explain to him what went down without mentioning Goddess and Raindrop—especially whilst making distracting small-talk out loud—but he eventually catches on.

As expected, he’s most intrigued by my first-hand account of mind control.

‘Truly fascinating,’ he rubs into the heel of my left foot. ‘The ability to overwrite what you consider true, to the point that you cannot defy it even after you’ve become aware... I guess whatever being you came across is no pushover.’

I find myself unable to respond to that and let out a frustrated sigh.

Dave switches to the toes on my right foot. ‘It sounds like this might be the same kind of mind-control that was used on you back when you intended to take out your eye-crystal. You suddenly believed that it had been a prank after all. Tell me, are you still unable to take it out?’

I ponder that for a moment, before wiggling back with my little toe, ‘No, I feel like I could. Not going to try, since it would give us away, but it’s not like I feel compelled not to.’

Dave moves to the rather ticklish arch of my right foot. I do my utmost to refrain from kicking him so I can make out what he sends. ‘Mmm. That’s good I guess, though it’s hard to say what that means. Perhaps the compulsion fades with time, or the truth that was overwritten in your mind was simply that you were serious about doing it at the time. Either way, I’d say it’s high time we started training our Mental Fortitude.’

Right, we’d been planning to do that. It’s a little scary how easily that dropped down on the list of priorities...

We soon have to cut our conversation short, as Dave’s been rubbing my feet for more than long enough.

We wait by the campfire for Alec and Kaitlynn to return, and then head off to bed.

As the big spoon, it’s very easy to get Kaitlynn up to speed as well.

A minute or so after I finish filling her in, she turns towards me with a hesitant look on her face. Her eye flickers up and down my face, and it seems like there’s a question burning on her lips.

Butterflies erupt in my stomach when her eye drops down to my lips. I swallow.

However, all she ends up saying before she turns around again is ‘goodnight.’

I return the phrase with a sigh, and pull her closer against me, trying to suppress the disappointment and the guilt that comes with it.

It fades soon enough, but something still keeps me tossing and turning for a bit.

It’s one of the last things Dave sent.

‘First-hand experience of what it’s like to be mind-controlled, with such loose terms... It’s almost like this being did you a favour.’

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

Had a weird day today. Final goodbye's at the school where I've worked for several years. I'm officially writing full-time from today onward.

Shoutout to my Patrons for helping to make this all possible: you guys rock!

All in all, it's exciting, but scary; I'll have to see how far I can make it like this. Guess I'll find out more once the e-book comes out!

Don't forget to hit that big green button and drop a vote on your way out! ^^

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