Mana of Mayhem: Magic School Blues
“Hey. Told you I’d be seeing you.”
The words disturb the peace of his slumber; he groans and reluctantly opens his eyes. He finds himself sitting in a chair, squarely in the middle of a room; wood paneled walls are visible in his peripheral vision, while a large mirror occupies the wall in front of him. For a moment there is confusion, then he remembers, faintly, the events of the previous few hours. Tokyo… I’m in Tokyo, he has time to think, but then a flash of movement in the mirror draws his eye.
A familiar figure paces in the shadows behind him; it’s as tall as he is, built like he is, and wears a long coat as he does. Its coat, though, is slashed by an elaborate pattern of black lines, and its face is neatly split down the middle—the right side is normal, whereas the left side is black as pitch, the eye on that side of its face a baleful, gleaming gold. “Sorry about the radio silence. I’ve been busy; you know how it is. Lots to do, never enough time.” The figure pauses in its pacing to grin; a second eye on its left cheek blinks sleepily open, then closes again a moment later.
He says nothing; he can’t speak, he can’t even move. It doesn’t really bother him, though; after today he doesn’t really feel like doing much. It’s easier to sit here, to watch the figure pace and gesture and listen as it speaks. Stylish coat, he observes; the black really sets off the white. Except… something about those black lines seems… odd. The way they glisten, the strange paths they take—here jagged, here smoothly curving—seems unsettlingly organic. Something, too, about the way the coat moves as the figure walks is… off.
“So, anyway. Last week, tonight. How’d you like your first installment of the Gift? I’ve been working hard to get it all set up. I’ve gotta say, though… Hotness is a pretty tough cookie. I have to admit, I underestimated her; not just anyone could dodge the Eye like that. Still, it was a good first shot. I think we can do a little better next time…”
As the figure’s words sink in, Isaac’s lassitude starts to evaporate, rage burning through it like sunlight burning through mist; the room starts to sway slightly. “You…” Isaac hisses, straining in his chair; slowly, he starts to turn, shifting his head around to face the… not-Isaac behind him. “You bastard! Haven’t you done enough?” he hisses.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa there, bucko,” not-Isaac says, suddenly standing directly behind Isaac’s chair; a hand presses against the side of Isaac’s face, and the feel of it is enough to send a surge of revulsion through him—cold and damp, with pointed nails like talons. Isaac struggles to continue to turn, to move, to face the thing behind him… but the hand is as inexorable as steel. Slowly, his head is turned back towards the mirror, and he feels a cold clamminess spreading through him from where it touches his skin, seeming to leech his strength away. “I like you, dude, so I’d rather you not burn your brain to a crisp trying to stare into the heart of the abyss just yet, okay? You no lookie behind the curtain; it ain’t healthy.”
“Ngh…” he groans, his strength and anger suffocating in the numbness that seems to be flooding into him; as his gaze is dragged back to the mirror, he sees that no fewer than four eyes are open on the left side of the figure’s face—one where it’s supposed to be, the other three arrayed in a vertical line down its cheek—all staring at him with wide-eyed intensity. As he watches numbly, the fierceness of their gaze slowly diminishes; one by one, the extra eyes blink closed.
“There we go. That’s better. Just… take a chill pill, alright? Jeez, man, I was trying to do you a favor. Aren’t you the one who’s all worried that she’s gonna see through your flim-flam and ditch you like yesterday’s newspaper?”
“That’s…” he mutters, doubt and uncertainty blooming from the ashes of his rage as he tries to find some kind of rebuttal for that, but fails.
“Come on, man; don’t try to fool me. The Dreamers see ten feet through you, and you’re not even three feet deep. Don’t you get it? I know you, bro, the whole sorry story, ‘cause I am you. When the Dreamers look at you… I’m what they see.”
The figure pauses for a moment, running one hand through its hair; the hand looks perfectly normal in the mirror, contrary to the memory of its touch. “Anyway. Like I said, I was trying to do us both a favor,” the figure says. It chuckles, shaking its head in derisive amusement. “Had to test the hardware sometime anyway, and I figured that was a pretty good time for an opening shot; make a clean break of it, rather than let things fester. I was pretty happy with how things came out, too; even if Hotness managed to slip the barb, I was pretty sure I got the job done. But then you pulled your ‘traumatized’ act and managed to turn it around.” The figure sighs. “I mean, look. I’ll admit it, I’m impressed. It’s just… it seems kinda like prolonging the inevitable.”
“It… wasn’t an act…” he groans, managing to recover some measure of strength.
The figure snorts. “You really were traumatized? Oh, come on. Shocked, I can see… but don’t you think you played it up a bit? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was a clever move, won you some points back. Bravo; if I had a hat, I’d tip it to you. Like I said, I respect how you play the game, it’s just that your goals are… silly.”
He can’t muster any sort of response to that; the figure shrugs. “Well. Whatever. Ball’s in your court, for now. Anyway. The good news for you is that you should be able to open the Eye yourself, now.”
“The… Eye?” he asks blearily.
“The Eye. The Dreaming Eye. The Eye of the Event Horizon,” the figure explains, then, seeing his look of incomprehension, it sighs. “Ugh, maybe I sapped you a little too hard there. The spooky hoodoo gaze. You should be able to use it now—to open the Eye and look right into someone else’s head."
The walls tremble again, and the figure’s expression twists into one of annoyance. “Ugh, looks like our time is running short. Anyway. Basically, you can open the Dreaming Eye and look into someone, see their foundation, their pragma, but it’s kinda like Sauron’s eye in the Lord of the Rings movies—it’s both eye and spotlight. Looking at it will make them aware of it, too, pretty much to the exclusion of all else. Using it should just be a matter of finding the right mental state—remember how you felt right before the Eye tried to look at Hotness.”
“Insane?” he groans, anger beginning to smolder again as memories of his gibbering fit of madness come back to him.
The figure laughs. “That is what we call ‘going too far’; you want to step into the shallow end of the pool, not throw yourself into the sea. It’s like maintaining self-awareness in a dream—something you suck at, by the way—or, better yet, like balancing on the edge of the sidewalk,” the figure says, making a walking gesture with its fingers. “So long as you keep your balance, you can go places, but if you just throw yourself willy-nilly into the street, you’re gonna wind up stuck underneath the five o’clock special to Albequerque.” The figure’s smile takes on a nasty edge. “Not that I really mind that much; just means that I get a little more space I can remodel.”
He growls, making a huge mental effort to focus, to regain self-awareness. “Don’t… get too comfortable inside my head,” Isaac snarls. “You’re gonna get the bum rush.”
“Ahahaha!” not-Isaac laughs incredulously, one of its extra eyes opening. “That’s rich, bro! You’re the one who opened the Gift; you invited me in! You had your choice. You could’ve walked—there would’ve been a price, sure, but you could’ve done it—but that time’s long past now. You opened the door, and I’m here now. I see your every move, bro, and I’m watching close. Anything you try to do to get rid of me, I’ll fight.” Not-Isaac grabs Isaac’s shoulder with one hand, squeezing hard enough that Isaac can hear bone creak, can feel talons puncture his flesh. “Let me make this plain: I am not going anywhere,” not-Isaac says, grinning madly even as the room quivers a final time and dissolves—
—as Isaac’s eyes snap open. The wood-paneled walls of Haukke House are unchanged, but no mirror hangs on the far wall of this room. There is a chair in the center of the room, though, and there is someone sitting in it… Chun-wu. Her eyes are closed, and her breathing is slow and regular. Isaac closes his eyes again, something bitter twisting in his chest.
She sleeps… but I suspect she would wake easily. Better not to speak aloud. Dreams again?
Isaac closes his eyes. Right… he says, even his mental voice sounding drained. I… I’m sorry, old friend. I don’t feel up to talking right now. I think I’m going to go back to sleep. Hopefully the next dream sucks less than the last one. Or the current one. Good night. Isaac sighs and rolls over, laying facedown and putting a pillow over his head.
Isaac? the shadow prompts. Isaac?
The only answer is silence; after a moment, the shadow sighs and fades back into the darkness.