Who Doesn’t Love a Good Dismemberment

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

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One thing Fabiana’s dad had taught her was that tortured people’s dreams were like needles on broken records, stumbling over and over the same jagged scars in a hellish loop.

Fabi’s own most frequent recurring nightmare was of the day the Auctoritas Magicae had taken her parents. There was no mystery to be unraveled there. That was the day that had wrecked her life, and she knew it.

Rory was a different story. He had a few things going on, to the point it was all kind of hard to tease apart.

There was some really early childhood stuff—deeply buried, didn’t seem to come up too-too often, and Fabi never went digging for it. One thing in particular she refused to touch—the one time it bubbled to the surface, put it right back where she found it and sealed it off tight, in her own mind as well as his (she unfortunately couldn’t erase her factual knowledge of the thing, but she could ban it from her dreams). If she were being practical, it was almost surely something she could have used as part of the campaign to win Rory over. But Fabi had her limits…had a sensitive stomach when it came to certain kinds of things.

Besides, there was so much else in Rory’s dreamscape she could play with.

One thing often on his mind was Shut-In Girl. Rory’s nightmares frequently featured his mousy maiden covered in filth and gore, her nude chest gaping open like a maw, pleading for Rory to fill her, telling him it was all his fault so he owed her that. Some codependent shit if Fabi had ever seen it. She didn’t feel inspired to play much with that specific image, but at least Rory’s chronic guilt was always something she could use.

More interestingly on the guilt theme, something else that popped up a lot was Rory’s hexing of Jason Cheong—but Fabi had guessed early on, and later developments bore out her suspicions, that there was something way more significant going on underneath this. Nothing in dreams was discrete. Things bled into one another, shifted moment to moment. Settings, contexts, identities were in a perpetual state of flux. And the more a dream morphed and glitched, the more you could be sure there was some deeper truth underpinning it. This particular dream always started out with Jason Cheong as the victim, but almost every time he ended up turning into someone else. More often than not, it was one of Rory’s bandmates; sometimes his mother or father. But there was always another face lurking underneath the rest, one that refused to manifest. Fabi couldn’t see it well enough to tell if its owner was male or female. (Sometimes she thought one, sometimes the other.) All she knew for sure was that it was someone young, Rory’s age or younger—and beautiful, at least in Rory’s unconscious perception.

Of course, the identity of this person was just a matter of idle curiosity to Fabi. Any info on Rory was helpful, but fixing his shit wasn’t remotely her goal. He was infinitely more useful to the cause just the way he was:

Broken.

So with that in mind, for tonight’s dream session, Fabi was getting hands-on. She’d hung out as more or less a spectator in probably dozens of Rory’s dreams. Now it was time to start planting things in them—things that, with a little luck and some focused guidance, would gradually condition his mind to his higher purpose.

She started with a simple image, one necessarily plucked from Rory’s subconscious, where it was readily accessible right now thanks to their adventure in the electronics store the other day: 

Bryce Archer. The campus rapist from the news.

Archer surfaced from the depths with a girl in his arms—not Fabi’s creation, but something Rory’s unconscious had thrown into the picture. She was a tall, wispy thing, probably just a kid, her face hidden from view behind long sheets of dark hair. She couldn’t be Catherine Doe, the victim in Bryce Archer’s rape case. No details of Doe’s appearance had been made public.

“Get your hands off her.” Rory glared at Archer.

The locker-lined halls of Arcanus Academy melted into view as the backdrop. Archer’s face blurred and shifted, a surface layer sloughing away. He wasn’t Archer anymore, but someone else—though he remained blond, dark-eyed, well-dressed, unwholesomely handsome. Fabi thought this new face might be familiar somehow, but she couldn’t place it.

“She was asking for it, wasn’t she?” grinned the stranger, in the distinctive cadence of the Old-World elite. He stroked the girl’s hair almost tenderly. “The little traitor. The whore.”

Rory cast a hex that made the man’s flesh boil. As he collapsed, the girl squirmed free of his grip and took off running.

“Come back!” Rory hollered after her. “Please! I made it safe for you!”

But she kept going till she was gone, and, as Fabi looked on, the blond man regenerated. Pushed himself to his feet.

Rory stared in disbelief. Bared his teeth in a grimace. “Why won’t you die?!”

The man laughed as another layer fell away. Coiffed blond gave way to disheveled mahogany, ivory-pale skin to tawny light brown.

It was Rory’s own face grinning back at him now, an inhumane glint in its eyes.

Rory let out a hair-raising scream, shot forth his claw.

His doppelgänger shattered in a spray of gore.

But when the blood-mist cleared, it was standing there still, unharmed.

Hex after hex failed to kill it. Rory gave up finally and doubled over, howling from the bottom of his gut, clawing his own face and hair.

Fabi intervened—transformed his target back into Bryce Archer. “Rory—now!”

Rory rallied himself, sent forth another hex.

Fabi made sure the bastard stayed dead this time.

“You get it, don’t you, B?” She pointed at the bloody stain that had been Bryce Archer. “This one’s the problem you can solve.”

Fabi jarred awake on her mattress to find Rory hyperventilating next to her. “Hey, hey, hey, hey. It’s okay, B. It’s okay!” He stared at her wild-eyed, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. Fabi rubbed his shoulders, stroked his forelock, kissed his head. “You’re good, dude. You’re good. It was just a dream.”

Rory clung to her, shivering.

She took a chance—kissed him on the mouth.

He froze, then kissed her back with a desperate energy before suddenly rolling away, springing to his feet. “I gotta go.”

“Wait—hey! Are you okay? It’s, like, super early, dude!”

But he was already gone, shoes in hand, the bedsheet-curtain fluttering in his wake.

Fabi sighed, settled back on her mattress, stared at the ceiling.

At least I know I hit a nerve.

Just needs more time…

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER THIRTY
PREVIOUS CHAPTER: CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
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