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Have a group discussion at the library

 
Don't freak out.

Do not. Freak out.

"Cici," you begin. "You have a key to the library, yeah?"

"Yeah," she says.

"And there's no cameras there?"

"Nope!"



The ride to the library is dead silent.

You consider pitching the name Cherry to the bus, but are too busy being glued to your seat with existential dread. How many times did you discover the back door? How much more of the house aren't you seeing? How much more of the house have you already seen and just don't realize it? How capable is the house of scrambling your memories? Is it only affecting memories of the house itself? It had to have erased at least several conversations, one involving an anecdote about your ex--how many other conversations have you forgotten?

Cici forgot the back door after you personally showed it to her.

What other conversations has she forgotten?

Could the house make her forget you entirely?





"This is too fucking much."

"Breathe, Plaire."

Kate hands you a Brainsate, which you immediately down.

"The problems are multiplying faster than we can FUCKING COUNT THEM," you blurt out, "it's too much, I can't--"

"We have three problems," Kate states firmly. "Three big, interconnected problems, but everything else falls under them--the house, the dream, and Mondol. Think about it: the concert getting shut down, the attack at Harv's shop, the fire at Maria's, Franklin getting busted... we can't prove it but we KNOW it's all being done by the same assholes. They started picking up the pace this week--doing this shit in the open, rushing to shut down and put away everybody and everything in their way. Why the hurry? Why the fucking... flagrant disregard for optics, why now? They started turning up the heat like as soon as you moved in."

Cici, who has picked up and begun to pet Meatloaf, gives a slow blink. "You think all of the craziness in town is Mondol... and they're doing it because of Plaire?"

"I think they know something," Kate says. "I don't know what. They don't know jack about the house or they'd already be beating down the door, but--Plaire's been shaking things up in the dungeon, and Mondol's acting like they're shook. That can't be a coincidence."

"Parsons and MondolGroup are both working with incomplete information," you conclude. "Rill Parsons wasn't in any hurry to buy the house, she assumed I'd bumblefuck my face against the first trap over and over until I give up like all the other owners did. She didn't come knocking on my door, she patiently waited for me to get tired of the house."

""...Are they different nightmares? Or have they been the same nightmare?"

 

"She has a vague idea how the house works," you state, "but she doesn't know exactly how the house works. She wasn't sure I was able to "use" the house until I accidentally confirmed it for her. Meanwhile, the fire and the masked beating and the police running stings for Mondol--"

"It feels like a reaction," Kate fills in. "Like something's going on and they're panicking."

"Yeah." You nod slowly. "...Yeah. They don't know it's me doing it or how but they know someone's doing something and I think that something's in the dream. I think--like us--Mondol and the mayor are only seeing little pieces of the whole picture. The mayor was afraid of letting us OR Mondol know what she knows... because I think she knows they know and we know something she doesn't. Or something."

Cici gives a big shrug. "So... what? Killing your Dream Dad lowered Mondol's stocks? I'm not following how they know anything going on in the dream."

. . .

She makes a fair point. While this does provide a clear motive for Mondol's actions, you really have no earthly idea what tangible affect your dream antics have had on the real world. Like, it's feasible that killing a boss or awakening the tradesman could release detectable energy or impact the local environment in intangible ways that someone on MondolGroup's staff could freak out about, but without being able to pinpoint any--

wait

Wait wait wait.

"Our memories," you blurt out. "We saw the door, we forgot about the door, we're remembering the door. We're breaking through whatever memory barrier is on the back door."

"Yeah?"

You hesitate. Just a little. "Nobody can remember the witches, either. What if it's the same effect? What if the same phenomenon keeping people from seeing or remembering the backyard is what's stopping Marlow from remembering the old librarian's name? Maybe Mondol has control of the... memory spell or whatever, and they know it's breaking down so they're scurrying to put all their plans in motion before we solve the witch murders."

"I figured that was just Marlow Tuck being Marlow Tuck," says Kate. "Dude's old. Wait, are you saying MondolGroup killed the witches?"

Cici squints. "...And was hiding level behind your house?"

. . .

Again, Cici makes a fair point. MondolGroup doesn't really have much incentive to memoryhole your backyard.


"I've got it," Kate suddenly says. "The backyard's where they hid the bodies."

"Ohcomeon," Cici blurts out, "we're just making stuff up now!"

You give a sort of half nod. "Yeaaah I don't know if this line of speculation is getting us anywhere." According to the creepy gentleman next door, there weren't any bodies because the owner of the house exploded. "I do agree with Kate, though--I think it might be easier to approach our situation as like... the big three issues, instead of trying to solve all of these crimes and police fuck-ups one at a time. ...Also I am a little curious if taking the night off IS going to calm down Mondol somehow."

"What IS the deal with the backyard?," Cici asks. "Why could Kate remember it, but not us?"

So at least Cici remembers it now.

"I mean..." Kate shrugs, and smirks. "Obviously, I have the most mental fortitude of anyone in the group. Followed by Plaire."

"I think it's the drugs," you admit outright. "Kate's been taking more Brainsate and taking it longer, plus all the level she smokes."

"I..." Cici begins, "I think it's something else."


You and Kate both wait for her to continue.


She clears her throat. "Kate gave the house blood, and Plaire owns the house. I think it might just trust you guys more."

Kate snorts. "It's a house. Like, it's a magic house, but I don't think feeding it blood made it like me enough to let me keep my memories."

Hmmm.

Kate's right. The house hasn't exhibited much in the way of... reactions, or sapience. It wouldn't completely surprise you if the house is secretly alive somehow, but it feels too early to be assuming emotional bonds with your place of residence.

That said, though

The house is more than a structure--it's a device, or a program, some sort of gateway or connection to whatever the hell the dream dungeon is. If it's the console and demonshells are the controllers and Cici's bird form is her avatar in the it's-not-a-game-but-it's-totally-a-game that is the--

what did he call it? The alcazar?

...The idea of arcane security features isn't that outlandish, taken with everything else. Kate letting the house have her blood could be like the wizard equivalent of signing over your fingerprints, or verifying your cell phone number for social media. Maybe that shortcutted her to backyard access, whereas you had to prove you weren't there with ill intent the slow, old fashioned way (by being there almost a week and not blowing the house up). Not... trust, per se, just a little something extra in place to verify that you're good people.

(And somehow not being a cop is just, like, in Kate's blood)


You take a breath, and you explain all of that.

. . .

"Well," Cici says, "that's as good a theory as I've got! I guess the house being ALIVE would be kind of weird anyway."

"Yeah," Kate laughs, "THAT would be weird. Just that, and nothing else about this is fucking insane."

"Plus," Cici adds, "if the house were REALLY alive, then not letting me remember the backyard after I brought it a damn couch? I'd be judging, I'm not gonna lie."
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Morgenstern

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