Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 14 - Healing

Chapter 14 - Healing


Before there was light, there was touch.

Mages prefer sight; but a touch is close and sight is distant. A healer has to know when to turn one into the other.

- Sense and Comprehension,
Dreamer's Handbook

Healing magic is in a unique position among the magical disciplines, as it has an additional, broader objective: to unify all the magical disciplines.

Skilled shamans, elementalists, symbol-weavers and other mages who insist on maintaining their human identities access the depths through compartmentalization and rely on selective knowledge as well as trained intuition to stay reasonably balanced. Healers operating at those depths do not have such luxury: they do not derive their skills from what they know, but from who they are.

- Magic Beyond Magic,
Dreamer's Handbook

"Pull the dagger out."

Rose shook her head. "I'd rather not. What if I mess up?"

Maeve turned to Eric. "You do it then." Maeve's hand rested on the patient's chest, almost touching the dagger that was lodged firmly in the boy's ribcage.

Eric gulped.

The wounded boy was floating above the ground, resting on nothing but thin air. His body convulsed now and then, following the rhythm of his quiet sobs.

"I... I don't think I can do it," Eric said.

A faint frown ran through Maeve's face.

"May I?" Lucy asked.

Maeve nodded. She withdrew her hand and stepped back. "Go ahead."

"Do I just yank it out?"

"Yes, just pull straight up."

Lucy approached and placed both hands on the hilt of the dagger. She took several deep breaths.

The dagger was of the same crude workmanship Eric saw goblins carry and use in battle. Uneven, possibly rusted blade, with a dirty and deformed handle. He could almost smell the unwashed odor.

"Go ahead," Maeve repeated, encouraging.

Lucy flexed her fingers, tightened her grip on the dagger as much as she could, and gave it a big yank. The dagger dislodged and shot out effortlessly under her guiding hands.

Lucy smiled in relief, but her smile turned into bewilderment as she watched the dagger turn into mist and reappear lodged deeply in the boy's chest.

"What... how-" Lucy muttered.

When the boy noticed the removed dagger reappear in his chest, his distant and resigned sobbing turned into manic crying. "Get it out! Get it out of me! Get it out! Get-" His body rocked violently back and forth as he tried to get up.

Lucy backpedaled.

Maeve acted swiftly: she moved in and placed one hand on the boy's brow. "That's right, just go to sleep." The wailing and the body-jerks stopped. With her other hand she yanked out the dagger and tossed it away in one swift motion - it didn't reappear.

Caressing, she drew her hand across the bloodied wound. The blood went away, and the t-shirt no longer showed tearing; Eric presumed the wound healed as well.

"There... No need to make a fuss. Just rest," Maeve said to the sleeping, floating boy. She drew one hand across his hair, and made an intricate hand gesture with the other. The boy vanished - not in reddish smoke, as defeated combatants did, but with the stretching, perspective-changing motions of a teleportation spell. Eric silently congratulated himself for spotting the difference.

"Fear of death and nightmarish clinging to life often produce a deformed ego-image. With time he would get rid of the blade on his own, but not before going through a valley-of-shadows experience of his own creation. Such a roundabout way to wholesomeness..."

* * *

After battling the goblin warriors, Eric expected the battlefield to be littered with dead bodies.

"The first three levels of healing are very similar, and they are, in order: prevention, patience, and preparation."

"Prevention is about not getting into a situation that would require healing in the first place. Avoid the speeding car and you won't get hit by it - easy, right?"

Eric understood early on in his life the difference between movie violence and real-life violence.

He remembered being whisked away from the site of an accident several years ago. Although he didn't see much, the image of the crushed car remained with him, and the concerned, frightened looks on the adults' faces made a lasting impression.

What he didn't get is why adults seemed to shelter themselves even from the idea of violence, only to revere it from a distance. Mortality and fear and pressures and thresholds... Eric caressed the back of his head. I should've paid more attention to war documentaries on tv.

"Time does not heal all wounds, but when time can heal a wound, patience helps you get there."

"Healing through preparation is mostly about making sure you give your body and subconscious the space it needs to restore itself - be it physical, emotional, mental, or any other kind of space. Rest, sleep, cut back on regular activities, and actively do nothing."

Instead of corpses, broken-off weapon and armor pieces lay littered on trampled grass. There were no dead bodies, but there were casualties: sometimes instead of reappearing at the glade, the wounded remained on the battlefield, lying in shock and pain. Dream violence was more emotional than tv violence, but its results less permanent than real-life violence.

"Next in depth is a trifecta of reinforcements: external, mental, and emotional. Healer-specialists operate at these depths."

"Doctors excel at external reinforcement - give a pill, excise a tumor, place a bandage - but they mostly focus on the dis-ease instead of the patient."

Eric, Lucy, and Rose kept up with Maeve's steady pace, walking across the battlefield to help the wounded. Most of them needed only reassurance that everything is going to be all right. Others just needed rest after the exhausting battle. Of course, there were exceptions, like the boy with the dagger in his chest.

"Mental reinforcement involves clarifying the mind, improving mind-body feedback, integrating the conscious and subconscious closer together, and so on... Psychologists seek to carve out logic from these depths."

"The goal of emotional reinforcement is to bring forth happiness and spiritual fulfillment. Choiceful action is preferable over unwilled reaction, but there has to be balance between being ruled by emotions and suppressing them with frigid discipline. For emotional reinforcement, there is rarely a better healer than a trusted friend."

There was also the girl with the wide gash on her upper leg - Eric didn't think he ever saw a person bleed so profusely. Right out of a horror movie. Maeve said she had control issues. They helped bandage the wound - it was weird with all the blood gushing around Eric's fingers - but it stopped soon afterwards and the wound healed fast.

"Going even deeper, we step into the domain of values, codes and attitudes - those things that knowingly or not, shape the core of a personality. There are no healer-specialists at this level, since it's no longer about fixing a broken part, but about deciding which 'whole' to realize. Symbolists occasionally dip down here to find and form archetypes."

And of course! There was also the kid with the severed arm. He walked calmly up to Maeve, carrying his severed arm in his other hand. In his head, Eric knew this was supposed to be scary and worrying, but after all that blood, the situation seemed morbidly funny rather than serious. Must be a mild shock. That boy healed quickly too - the three of them held the arm in place until it got reattached. There remained no marks of the injury and the boy regained full movement in his arm and fingers.

"Language becomes increasingly useless as we go deeper."

Then there was the berserker kid who chased others with an ax in his hand and a senseless glare on his face. Maeve handled this one on her own: she 'ported after the kid, touched him lightly on the shoulder, and made him collapse immediately. These things happen, Maeve said.

"We can talk about identity boundaries, identity contexts, core patterns and core integrals, but the dissonance between experience and verbal thought grows wider. The pressures of the collective subconscious become more obvious, and memetic motions more pronounced."

The goblins had casualties too, and they carried away their own. In few occasions, Eric thought he saw Mr. Smith finish off or heal goblins. I'm not sure which, maybe both.

Eric listened to Maeve's droning with only half his mind. They walked across the field at a leisurely pace, looking if they missed anyone still needing help. Maeve used this time to expound on the basic theories of healing magic.

"Going even deeper with a relatively fixed perception of self-individuality triggers the Hall of Mirrors experience. Horrid things can happen; it's not that you can get lost, but that it's so easy to lose yourself. If you become an NPC, you'll have to wait for someone to stare into the abyss so you can look back. There are generally two ways out from the Hall of Mirrors: escape back any way you can and forget you were ever there, or go through."

In Eric's experience, all teachers had the tendency to talk on and on about topics they liked and understood, and often forgot they were supposed to be talking to someone other than themselves. Even if they caught themselves going off on tangents, many of them wouldn't - or couldn't - change course. They don't get that the mindset of learning is different from the mindset of having learned. Some teachers were plain incompetent: How does one learn about history by memorizing dates?

"I can't tell you much about going through; this 'me' that's talking to you doesn't know. Your individuality shatters, the anthropomorphism of your identity dissolves, maybe even taking with it whatever context the elementality of the realm offered you."

The teachers in Dream Camp were nowhere near as bad, but Eric felt they tended to talk over their students' heads - like Maeve did now. What Eric wasn't sure about is if they were doing it on purpose. He could feel the pressure of her words, prodding at his mind.

Sometimes, when he tried too hard to understand something, he would understand some small part and skip out on all the rest. Of course, when he didn't try at all, he understood nothing.

But, somewhere in between, when he didn't try too hard to control his own mind, he wouldn't get much of it at first, but after sleeping on it and thinking about related stuff, it was easier for all to just 'click'. Like, if I just let it, my mind does most of the thinking for me, and I can just pick the ripe fruit from the low-hanging branch.

He hoped this was one of those times - he just let his thoughts loose and hoped all that complex theory would make sense later.

"Mystics say it's all a big circle; massive regeneration, rebirthing or ressurrective capabilities are the boons of master healers and archmages - they are experts of what we call 'doing nothing'."

"They also say a society is advanced only if the collective subconscious is purified and reintegrated with the individual. Humanity has much shit to clean up, and most of it will fall on you..."

Like now, when he followed the trail of his own attention: some words he understood, some he disregarded, others came together and formed strings of light in his mind. He recognized thoughts and ideas behind some of the words, and could put them into words of his own, while with other thoughts and ideas it was like he could see their glowing shapes, even if he couldn't re-assemble them into words.

When he looked at the world this way, it wasn't only words that became light... Everything seemed to have light glowing around and above - himself included.

His own light he felt more than saw: wings of light, supporting him and lifting his spirits. These wings didn't help him fly - he already knew how to do that - but helped him assert his presence. I am here. This is my domain.

Eric felt powerful.

When he observed closely, he saw the light wasn't just above things; it was the things. When he looked farther within, he saw his thoughts, emotions, and features of his humanness he took for granted - fly into and away from him as rays of light.

Don't go, he vocalized the thought with concern, only to watch it shine away as a single ray of light.

He became scared. Where's my fear? All he could see was light; shiny rays bouncing and reflecting off of... What? Other light? He located the jumble of confused light that was his fear. I may not like you, but you're mine! He tried to pull his fear back into him. Pull into what?

With big parts of him visible outside, he dared not look in the inner direction he felt the remainder of himself was, lest that too would turn into light. Nothing would remain... no one to observe.

"Anybody there? Snap out of it!"

A shattering sound in front of his eyes broke his vision. A clap. Eric opened his eyes, only to realize they were already open. He saw a hand waving in front of his face - it was Rose's.

"Are you all right? You haven't said anything for some time."

Eric cleared his throat. "I'm fine. Just daydreaming, I guess."

"Daydreaming? Again? You do that a lot." Lucy turned to Maeve. "How does it work anyway? Dreaming in a dream, I mean?"

Maeve shrugged. "Depends. Can be iterative, recursive, coincidental... like a fractal or kaleidoscope, with varying levels of overlay. Awareness being fixed to an ego-consciousness is the exception rather than the rule."

"But, can you like, dream in a dream in a dream in a dream, and so on?"

"Sure, you could say such movement forms the basis of any reality. In practice, if you operate based from an anchor reality, that which is 'real life' for us, there are dangers and difficulties associated with going too far. Not all identities and ego-structures can handle the pressure, especially if untrained."

Maeve paused. "Or, looking at it another way, none can, and death is inevitable. You could say death is a way of life."

Lucy digested the words in silence.

"Come, let's go back to the others. I'll have a few words with Joe, and you should prepare for the second wave of attacks."

Eric walked on with the others, enjoying the inner and outer silence, paying attention only to the renewed trampling of grass.

Chapter 13 - Nightmare Combat   Dream Magic   Chapter 15 - Demonology


Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 14 - Healing