My mind was racing. My worst nightmare had come true… My mother’s killer stepped into the firelight in front of me, standing tall in the center of the semicircle of bards. My mind kept saying ‘run, run, run’, as my heart raced in accordance, yet my feet disobeyed; Quest’s hand held me down.
K: Welcome, welcome, one and all! My dear bards, it is my pleasure to be here with you tonight, as we stand united once again. It is with such pride that I look back at the roads we have roamed together. In these past years, you have accomplished more than any bards in history. [Possible cheers] You have brought songs and stories, joy and cheer to every corner of these realms. Which happy birth or wedding was not witnessed by your loyal eyes, or immortalized by your serenades? Yet today you stand as much more than mere observers. I see you for who you truly are: YOU are the shapers of the tales of this plane, the very moulders of the minds and cultures of those that hear your stories. Each and every one of you has become indispensable to your communities. People rely on you to tell history as it has always been written. From Veritas to Aerilon, toddlers dash toward adulthood with your hymns in their heads. Tell me, bards, who in this world does not aspire to make it into one of your legendary songs?
E: The bards around me were nodding, puffing their chests up proudly. I cowered.
K: Thousands of years from now, when the buildings and people you see around you are no longer, your songs will remain, for they are the relics that bind communities together. Your stories allow people to experience the emotions of others, to be transported to a new place, to strengthen relationships through the power of empathy.
My friends, this is only the beginning. For years, we have been writing the songs people want to hear. But can we trust their wants to direct the arrow of history? The Great Kings and Queens know how your voices have shaped the past and future of their realms. But what kind of future have these bloody princes bestowed upon their servants? A future where fighters in taverns endlessly wreak havoc upon fragile instruments… A future where children die alone on chapel benches, unknown and unloved! Is this the history we want to sing ? No — Now, it is our turn to decide. It is time we weave a new tale for humanity! We, as creators of the future, must decide: what kind of future do we want and deserve? If we want to do good, we can’t depend on people’s flighty wishes–not when we know what is right. We can take control of this world, and shape its events with our own life force.
(softly, sadly) A small squirrel, whose life was taken too early. A beautiful woman, whose golden voice still echoes in the dreamworld. A young girl, whose love is stronger than the doors of death. (stronger) The meek, the weak, those who have been wronged; we can bring them back with the power of song — and ensure they live in a world where they know they are protected. Their existence will bring joy to all those around them, as we spread stories of the triumphs of humanity. Together, we can shape a better world, one without pain, suffering, nor even the inevitability of Death — as your songs immortalize the great and small alike. With the power of our tales, the power of our minds, the power of our very life force, let us go forth, and reshape the world! Are you with me ?
[pause, then bards cheering loudly]
It will begin shortly. Wait for further command… but tonight, feast, love, and honor yourselves like you know you deserve!
The man bowed dramatically, flicking his cape behind his shoulder, a manic passion flickering in his eyes.
He stepped out of the firelight and looked around, nodding and smiling at each of his subjects. When his eyes alighted on me, he looked shocked, then confused. He quickly composed himself, and began to walk toward us.
My heart started to pound even louder. Quest glanced worriedly at me, but she seemed to think it was just the potion that had made me so anxious.
Q: It’s okay Eve; I can talk for us.
The man stopped and bowed before the three of us.
K: Karl Lieberman, at your service. Are you new here?
Q: We just came with Cheers for the night
K: Well, we’re always looking for new talent. He winked at me.
K: You’re welcome to audition! You … you remind me of … the greatest singer I’ve ever met
E: What … Me?
K: Yes, you!
E: Oh, um *gulp* I’m a writer, not a singer
K: We can always use more writers; after all, our songs can only shape history if they rest on a piece of paper–there would be nothing to sing if it were not first written!
E: Well, I guess that’s true
K: And you don’t have to know it all from scratch! What’s important about songs is their ability to connect with people. If it feels true, there will be someone out there who will love it.
I nodded. It sounded familiar, like advice I had heard before.
E: I’m very flattered, but it just doesn’t sound like it’s for me.
K: Well, if you ever change your mind, here’s a present for you.
He drew a cicada out of his pocket. There was a garnet circle implanted on top of the creature.
K: The stone is enchanted to be drawn to my location. If you press it, the cicada will lead you to me, wherever I am, so we can discuss. Just in case.
He winked again, placed the cicada in my palm, and walked away.
Quest, Cheers, and I walked back home together, through the moonlit forest on the southern edge of Tarquin.
C: Yo, Eve, what’s up with you? You didn’t seem to hear a word Karl said!
E: You guys are going to think I’m crazy
C: We already think that
Q: We would never think that!
E: *deep breath* That man, Karl? I’ve seen him before. I think he…. I think he’s the one who killed my mother.
Q: What? Really?
C: No way, Karl’s just a normal dude!
E: Yes! He’s the one who’s been haunting my nightmares. At first, I thought it was just the FEA potion giving me illusions, but he’s real. I… I think he’s the one that killed her… I mean, I’m pretty sure. I saw him come to our house a few weeks before she was killed, and they got in a fight, and now he lives there. What else am I supposed to think? Maybe he killed her so he could have the house? I don’t know – I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. But you have to admit it’s a little suspicious!
C: Man, I’ve known Karl for years, he’s not a murderer! I mean, he’s got a bit of a temper, and he can be a real jerkhead when you disagree with him. And he’s super moneygrabby, especially when I don’t pay him on time. Hoo-hoo, that man enjoys the finer things in life! But, he was the first person to give me a shot when I left my parents, so he can’t be all bad.
I looked at Quest, but she was nodding along with Cheers. They just didn’t believe that a man like Karl could also be the man who killed my mother. At that moment, a small squirrel shot across our path, tripped, and fell. Its left paw drooped down at a bizarre angle. It looked injured. Quest bent down to help it, then screamed as it turned itself over. Its face looked up at us, one of its eyes cut out, a stitched-up gash looping across its torso.
E: A squirrel… Do you remember Karl talking about a squirrel?
Quest nodded, grimacing. Even Cheer’s purple face was tinged grey.
The next part of Karl’s speech came back to me. A woman with a golden voice… that must have been my mother! Everything about her was golden; her name was Ashley, but people called her “Goldie” since she was a kid… Another thing he said he could bring back. I had thought he meant metaphorically, like keeping alive the memory of those who had been lost. But what if he meant it for real?
E: … Do you remember what he said next? A woman, a girl… do you think he plans to reanimate them, like the squirrel?
C: *scoffs* He’s not a psycho. It could’ve just been a coincidence
Q: But… what if she’s right?
E: Is it worth waiting to find out?
I opened my palm. The cicada glittered in the moonlight. I pressed the garnet inscribed on its back.
E: I have to go find the man who killed my mother.
Quest grabbed hold of Cheers’ hand.
Q: We can’t let her go alone
C: Ugh, fine. But I will be complaining the entire time
The cicada scuttled through the forest, across the rocks. It took us to a road on the eastern edge of the town, a road that was mostly empty at this hour.
C: By Loki’s left butt cheek, he must have taken his carriage home. He could be there within the hour
E: An hour to get all the way to Lethoria?
C: Horses are fast, and they don’t have to stop for breaks. He won’t even be tired when he gets there.
E: It would take too long to walk – they’d be risen by the time we even got there.
Q: Unless… I think he’ll be too tired to do it tonight. At the monastery, if we ever had to do death magic, the monks would wait for sunset. That’s when necromancy is most powerful, as night is just beginning to set in.
The sky was just beginning to lighten at its eastern edge. Dawn would come soon; we had just over eight hours to get to Lethoria and stop the ceremony.
*yawning, let’s go to bed sound effects*
We were all exhausted. The three of us decided to sleep the rest of the night, and try to catch the first carriage to Lethoria the next day. To make sure we didn’t miss it, we decided to pitch camp right where the carriages came and went.
The sun was high in the sky by the time we woke up. A man was loading a carriage full of grain nearby. *grain loading sounds*
We asked him where he was headed.
“Goin’ to sell this wheat in Tarnstead, by way of Lethoria… ya lookin’ for a ride?”
We were on our way by mid-afternoon. I glanced anxiously at the sky, willing the sun to move more slowly. It did not care to oblige.
We arrived in town just as the sun was beginning to caress the horizon. I sprinted to my house, Quest and Cheers running behind me. Golden light reflected off the windows. I could hear a faint chanting from within, growing louder as we drew nearer. I flung open the door.
Candles flickered around the edges of a five-point star, with intricate symbols linking one line to another: a crescent moon, a cross, an open eye. In the center of the configuration sat Karl, his dark hair blowing wildly, an ancient tome open on the ground in front of him. Karl was hunched over the book, his eyes focused, chanting and praying ancient words. In front of him lay the body I had longed for, and now feared.
Her hair had been washed, her skin cleaned, her clothes changed. Her hands were crossed over her stomach, her eyes closed peacefully; she could have been asleep. A diamond rested on her chest. It flickered in the candlelight, seeming to shrink as the voices got louder.
E: I knew it! [angry]
Karl looked up, but the chanting was not altered.
E: Killing her once wasn’t enough, huh? You decided to bring her back from the dead so you can kill her again?
His eyes filled with anger, but his mouth continued to form the ancient words that were starting to take form, condensing into swirling tendrils of magic cocooning my mother’s body. I needed to get him to talk; it was the only way to stop the ceremony.
E: So this was your great plan, to bring your most successful bards back from the dead, so they can pay you monthly dues forever? To conquer Death itself for your own financial gain?
Quest and Cheers stood tall on either side of me, watching, ready to follow my lead.
Karl clenched his teeth and continued to chant.
E: And to think I almost trusted you. You’re a monster.
K: [breaks] You know nothing about me
E: I know that I used to have a mother, that this used to be my home. I know I once had a family I loved. I know that it’s because of you that I don’t anymore
K: I loved your mother
E: So much that you killed her?
His eyes turned down.
K: I… I didn’t mean to! She wasn’t listening to me! I had to make her understand!
E: And you think that if you bring her back from the dead, she’ll finally understand? She’ll finally take your side? The side of a greedy, heartless, murderer?
K: [pained] No!
His eyes met mine, but this time it wasn’t anger that swirled within them. It was pain. A pain that reached back as far as he could remember, his skin stinging from blows given by the ones he trusted most. The numbing of the fear that bled into every breath, every moment of what should have been a carefree childhood. Deeper still, there was an unbearable sadness, a sadness I recognized; a moment when the only thing he cared about in the world, his very reason for existing, was taken away from him. I saw years of struggle as he tried to overcome his past, tried to make something out of himself. I saw the disgust he felt now, having watched himself become the thing he most hated. This was his chance to undo all of that.
Karl hung his head.
K: You don’t understand; you’ll never understand. Only Ashley did. She’s the only one who ever cared about me. I need to bring her back.
He looked at me again. His eyes shone with guilt, with hope. He was pleading with me, asking me to tell him that what he was doing was okay. Asking me to forgive him for taking everything that had ever mattered to me. Asking me to help him bring back my mother.
My mother, back again. Our family, reunited; our home returned, my life, gone back to normal. The same fantasy I had had just a day ago, that had led me here in the first place; it could become reality.
The diamond had shrunk to a quarter of its size. My mother’s body started to shake, a silvery substance seeping into it. A ghostly apparition materialized, floating above my mother’s body. Her spirit looked as she once had, young and healthy, shining with love. My heart swelled as her eyes met mine.
M: Eve, my love. I’m so proud of the woman you’ve become. I did everything I could to love and care for you, and you’ve made a life for yourself now. One where you don’t need me anymore. You are strong and kind; you are everything I have ever wanted you to be. I love you more than you’ll ever know.
As she said those words, I realized – this place wasn’t my home anymore. I had found my family, but it wasn’t made of people who shared my blood.
My mother turned to Karl.
M [to Karl]: Karl… you fascinated me. You were charming, funny, different than anyone I had ever known. Yet you did not understand the sacrifices it entailed to be a parent. You said you wanted a future for us, yet you weren’t willing to accept my life as it was in the present. I was angry with you for taking me away, furious that you believed your wishes to be more important than my own and those of my daughter. I do not harbor any malice towards you, but I will ask of you this: Learn to trust and respect others, to put their needs above your own, for that is the only way to build a loving relationship. I have faith that you will become a better man. I forgive you for what you did, but I do not wish to return.
My mother looked back at me, speaking her final words to the both of us.
M: Your paths are meant to continue without me. I wish to rest in peace. It’s time to let me go.
E: *sniffles* Karl… I wanted her back too… but this place isn’t right for her anymore. If you really care about her, if you really love her, you need to let her go.
He looked up, tears welling in his eyes, and whispered.
The shimmering form of my mother evaporated, leaving us… alone.
// outro music
Magic of the Mind is a podcast set in the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons and Dragons that communicates topics in cognitive science. If you want to learn more about the theories of relationships written into this episode, keep listening for the science behind the story interview with Amy Gregory, a relationship researcher at mcgill university.
If you liked this show, let me know! By leaving a review on apple podcasts, podchaser, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you’d like to get some cool swag, we do sell magic of the mind stickers on our website, magicofthemind.ca, but really, the best thing you can do is get the word out there, whether that’s sharing us on social media or telling your friends & family; it all makes a difference.
This podcast was made with support from Building 21, a McGill space for innovative and collaborative creation. Thanks to Emily Sheeran for reprising her role as Quest, Haidee Pangalinan as Cheers, Yves Abanda as Karl, Anita Parmar as Ashley, and Thomas Barrett as the grain loader. Huge thanks to Florestan Bruck for composing Eve’s themes and the ~spooky climax music~, and Dorothea Stefanou for creating our beautiful logo. Additional thanks to Thomas Barrett for scripting and early draft edits.
Also a huge thanks to all of you who are still listening! in the SBTS, I’ll explain a little bit why it’s taken me so long, aside from the current state of our world; if you have any questions or just want to talk to me, you can find me @magicofthemind1 on twitter, or join the email list on magicofthemind.ca
Check back in 2 weeks for the season finale, where Eve explores identity in the aftermath of trauma.
I’m Morgan; thanks for listening.
Hi! It’s me! I’m back! I missed talking to you. I’m sorry it’s been a little while, life has been crazy – between the global pandemic, civil rights movement, graduating college, and finding an adult job; I’ve been doing my best to engage & show up for the things, and especially the people that matter to me. And it’s been a little while since I’ve felt like I could show up for myself and you and this podcast that really means so much to me. But I’m back, and I don’t plan on going anywhere soon. But enough about me– let’s talk about the thing YOU came here for: relationships.
In Karl’s opening monologue, when he’s telling the bards about how important their work is, he talks about binding communities together through the power of empathy. Empathy is a really hot topic, bandied about by business people and politicians alike, but scientists are a bit more precise with the term. Empathy is typically broken down into a two-part process: Cognitive empathy, where you recognize the way someone is feeling, distinguishing their emotions as sadness or excitement, and affective empathy, which is when you literally feel someone else’s emotions, like when you start crying at the end of a sad book.
That’s the power of empathy. And empathy is really important in relationships. Empathy puts you in the position of someone else, which often allows you to support them better, strengthening that bond. Relationships are what bind communities together and keep us strong during times of hardship.
As you may have noticed, the center of this episode is relationships. And the key theory in relationship research is attachment style. The center of attachment style is that the care you receive from your primary caregiver, which is whoever takes care of you when you’re really young, gives you an expectation for what relationships are supposed to look like after. There are two main attachment styles: secure and insecure If your primary caregiver is really caring and dependable, you probably have a secure attachment, and are able to trust that other people in your life will be there when you need them, too. Eve’s mother was always around when she needed her, so Eve has a pretty secure attachment style: she is quite trusting and open to building new relationships, even with people she just met. On the other hand, if your primary caregiver was not consistently there when you needed them, you might develop an insecure attachment style, making you anxious or avoidant when it comes to relationships. Karl’s mother abused him as a child, which made him avoid relationships, as he assumed he would just get hurt. The good news, however, is that your attachment style can change over time, and Karl can build healthier relationships moving forward.
The last topic I wrote into episode 5 was the connection between relationships and identity. Toward the end of the episode, when Eve’s mother tells her how proud she is, Eve realizes that her old house, her mom, doesn’t feel like home to her anymore. Her new friends, Quest and Cheers, have become her chosen family, and she’s made a new home with them. These relationships Eve has built have become a part of her identity, and there’s a lot of research that suggests relationships are a huge part of everyone’s identity. The people in your life play a huge role in making you who you are, probably bigger than you’d expect.
To explain more about these different theories and give some fantastic relationship advice, here’s Amy Gregory, a researcher at the McGill Laboratory of Affiliation and Prosociality, to explain what all of this means!
American culture likes to romanticize independence and self-reliance. While this can be useful in certain contexts, the dark underside is that asking for help or relying on other people is stigmatized as “weak”, and it makes relationships seem like an afterthought rather than an essential need. People have always lived in communities, and we cannot survive without each other. Like Amy said, we have a psychological need to belong that’s as fundamental as our need for food and water. Crises like COVID remind us how much we need one another, but grouping together and helping each other should be something that’s constantly encouraged, not only in times of crisis.
And the selfish mindset sometimes instilled by self-reliance is really not good in relationships. Every person we build relationships with is a complex human being of their own, with their own emotions and opinions, and if we’re constantly focused on our own needs and emotions, we don’t support others nearly as well. We’re lucky to have other people in our lives, and we build better relationships when we remember to take other people’s emotions into account, (which is where empathy comes in!)
If you only remember one thing from this episode, I hope it’s that relationships are important. Not only do they make you feel better, more safe, secure, loved, but they can also make you a better person if you surround yourself with others who uplift you.
It’s also important to note that not all important relationships are romantic/sexual. Emotional intimacy is really meaningful, whether with a friend or a partner. My friends, family, and loved ones are what has gotten me through this insane summer. Material things like where I am, what I’m doing; these are important. But the emotions I feel when surrounded by other people, loved and happy and important; these are what I remember and hold onto. The person I am is largely built by the people I spend my time with, and it’s worth taking the time to thank them for how important they are.
Huge thanks to Amy Gregory for talking to me about relationships, not once, but twice! She did a fantastic job explaining everything and I learned a ton in this episode. As always, huge thank you to Florestan Brunk and Dorothea Stefanou for Eve’s theme & our podcast art! If you’d like to support the show, you can find all the links on our website, magicofthemind.ca. Be notified for the season 1 finale!