I feel the malevolent cognition behind the impenetrable darkness as a constricting pressure, akin to a nightmare of breathless paralysis. As I shy away from the Anti-Dream, I have to wonder – is the Dreamer so mighty as to not feel it, or so confident he cares not? Either way, I wish to escape the presence, for the very idea that it may perceive me as I observe it terrifies me. I rein in my instinct to run, for such would surely avail me nothing in the Real Dream; rather, I focus on willing my view to recede and turn away, back towards the town proper.
I do not think that my sleeping mind functions quite like it does awake; the intuitions that the logical mind struggles to follow in the waking world are ever-more powerful here, forcing their way to the forefront of whatever passes for my consciousness in this dream-like state. Perhaps this is why it is so difficult for me to like the Dreamer when I encounter him; whatever the state of his humanity, his act has all too familiar overtones. Knowing what he wants of me is but a momentary relief when my mind connects his remarks with those of every huxter I have ever met. “Unique mind”, that is precisely what a fawning tutor futilely seeking my father’s approval would say, and likewise the earnest sophists and priests on the streets of Serene Scarlet, looking to recruit or swindle the foot-traffic swirling around the fruit temple.
I need to remember that despite what he says and claims, the Dreamer accosts me only in my sleeping moments, and seems to relish every opportunity to flatter me or display his arrogant superiority in this world. He may as well have planned the situation earlier, when he brought me to the Real Dream to be accosted by the psychic pressures. Besides, it is obvious that this Anti-Dream is not the true reason for the Dreamer’s interest: from what he says, he was intriguing to conquer me long before he rediscovered the Anti-Dream here in Tramellin. Either he lies about his discovery, or he’s playing the Anti-Dream off as a convenient threat to make me feel like he needs my help.
The Dreamer follows me away from the horrible rent in the dream world, and I have to admit that he seems relieved to be away from its presence.
― Does its bother you, the Anti-Dream? I ask him sideways, keeping my attention focused on the fleeting forms of people going about the town.
― It does, more so than anything upon this realm, he rasps, perhaps in exasperation. ― Since the Vacuous Triumph, only one other thing has so burdened my conscience, otherwise free of the mortal concerns.
I stand in silence, yet unable to drift away into dream sequences with his oneiric presence so close by. This is an issue that cannot be ignored.
― Show me my friends, I ask of the Dreamer and turn towards him. ― I will consider your request, but for now I wish to learn what I can, and that means finding out how Padav fares, and the girl Samet. I expect them both to be nearby, here in Tramellin. We shall see what good is this dream-faring.
The Dreamer looks at me with ill-hidden confusion – or is it contempt? However, he accedes to my request and gestures on, causing us to start moving towards the center of the town.
― You will need to concentrate on discovering these people, he says, amiably piloting us around town. ― It may be, however, that the task proves impossible, for the little minds are often not strong enough to leave an individual impression in the Dreamscape.
The Dreamer’s skepticism proves ill-founded, however, for to our mutual surprise I do find Padav: it is akin to no single waking sense alone, but rather the feeling beyond the senses, that draws her to my attention. The sense of empathy beyond the senses, the one that allows us to recognize each other as whole individuals apart from any fleeting sensory impression, that is the sense that operates fully and without mediating influences in this dream world. There is no words for it, but somehow she, of all the people of Tramellin, is not an anonymous shade to my eyes, but rather solely and indubitably herself.
― She is wide awake, for the sun is shining, the Dreamer remarks. It is somewhat unnecessary, for although I cannot quite comprehend everything I see, there is a certain sparkliness to Padav’s… mind? Soul-shadow? Whatever it is that she casts upon this simulacrum stage of the real world, it is focused and willful, sharp in line and, to my eyes, very much akin to my memory of her. Perhaps this is a trading house or inn where she is staying with her father, I think, remarking upon the building.
― Seeing her, I do not wonder how you found your friend; she seems somewhat vivacious, remarks the Dreamer. ― It is a life-force turned inward, however, on the circular dynamism of the world-that-is, ready to give and take; she, like all of them, would never have the wherewithal to look beyond and join with the worlds of a higher order.
As I try to approach Padav, however, ignoring the Dreamer’s prattle, he is there in an instant, reaching out to stop me.
― No! You must not touch her, awake as she is; for you it would be akin to touching a fire in its very pit. Be satisfied to know that your friend is fine, and apparently, if I am any judge, engaged in petty haggling with a man of the town.
Hearing this, I turn towards the Dreamer and accost him bodily, drawing him close. It is satisfying how the pompous man jerks in surprise.
― Every word out of your mouth hints at secret knowledge, I accuse him. ― That, or arrogant jabs at mere humans. I am convinced, however, that you know your secrets, and I wish to know them too, as well you know. If I help you, will you tell me of the True Magic, truly and witholding nothing?
― Certainly, Riddlesolver, he smirks in his mysterious way. ― Nothing would gladden me more than to share. I would reveal to you the secrets of the Dream and the Illusion, of how to work the law of magic, and the other law, to enrich your self. I offer the greatest of realities, beyond kenning, beyond entropy.
― What other law? I ask sharply, grasping at what seems to make sense in his facile wordplay.
― It is a law that needs be learned by heart, Riddlesolver, he admonishes. ― I will tell all in due time, but there is much that needs to be experienced rather than told. Initiated, rather than learned. You are well on your way, truly. Surpassing of many who have come before.
I let go of him, defeated for the moment. Why does my mind-within so detest this Dreamer, when he seems to offer precisely what I seek? For a moment I feel a strangely doubled perspective as I imagine the waking Lucie, for whom all this is but a vaguely remembered dream. Lucie, remember this, if nothing else: the Dreamer so very clearly wants to use us, to consume us, to shape us in his image. That is the price of his power.
― Why was your city called the Lunar Citadel? I realize myself asking without any conscious decision to do so. As so often, the dream merely proceeds seemingly on its own whenever my attention strays at all.
― That is what the townspeople called us, he replies. ― This place, Tramellin, was built up by our followers long before the Empire came and made an armed camp of it. Those who could not escape to the Rock for the great siege were taken and enserfed, oft killed for their traitorous beliefs. I was one of those who escaped from the town when they came for the first time, although I went back, only to retreat a second and final time when the siege became reality. It was hard, but soon we townies learned that there was so much more to the sanctuary than merely drawing down the Moon for festivities.
That was simultaneously obfuscating and revealing, perhaps more so than he intends. No matter, I am yet driven forward.
― Let us seek for my friend Samet now, I tell the Dreamer as I look once more at Padav’s imago, swirling happily in a twisted loop between the rooms of the house.
We continue on the way we did before, with the Dreamer moving us, and myself focusing on Samet and distinguishing her from the mass of humanity out and about in the dream-shadows of Tramellin. We seem to make little progress, however. Perhaps she is not here, I think as the Dreamer flits us from house to house with bare moments in between.
― I can sense the person you seek, the Dreamer finally says. He turns us away from our trajectory parallel to the town wall, annoyingly through the walls, and out towards the outback of Karst. ― We shall come upon her anon, I expect.
― How do you know where to go? I ask, only to realize the answer myself as I do; I can feel, all but see how he holds the fine gossamer strand of intent; plucked from where I do not know, when I was not looking, but yet connecting me directly to something beyond the grey horizon of the Real Dream. Perhaps it is a symbolic representation of my relationship with Samet. If that is the case, it is a relationship steeped in death and caring. Intimate, yet the Dreamer handles it more like the reins of a racehorse.
I have no way to judge the distance in dream-travel, but I know we are at our destination, somewhere deep in the Karst, when the terrain resolves into detail, marking a place of human habitation. It is a long house of stone and turf, a much greater one than even a prosperous peasant would need for himself. There are signs of habitation, shades of humans both inside the house and outside. At the beckoning of the Dreamer I look inside, am inside, and it becomes obvious that this is a barracks of sorts: there are beds for a score of people there, and little else. Beds for a score of girls with their best scarfs hung on the wall. Perhaps this is the marriage contest Samet told about.
I finally recognize Samet herself, as well. Despite the supposed daytime (I really do not know how the Dreamer tells the time of day here) she seems drifting and unfocused, slumbering in the dimness of the longhouse.
― Thank you Dreamer, for taking me here, I tell him with a mild smile, and move closer to look at the dreaming Samet. Her own little dream is an opaque thing, akin to a ball more than human, yet again it is unmistakably of her. I can see her body as a disinteresting lifeless lump on the bed, likely because of how she knows of it even while asleep. No way to know what she is dreaming, although I can only imagine that the Dreamer has his ways, should I wish to interrupt her.
I impulsively hug Samet, again acting without conscious thought. It is her globe I hug, rather. The Dreamer gasps at the forbidden touch, yet it does not feel awry. It is a fundamentally Samet-y experience to touch her dream, and I wish her well in her contest.
― Move away, Riddlesolver! the Dreamer stutters at me. ― You will scramble her with your willing, tap her strength, or worse. She could even harm you! This is most unbecoming of a neophyte!
What happens, though, is that Samet’s bubble pops. I think she wakes up, animates and flits out of her bed. I don’t think she was hurt, but it is still embarrassing how I did this thing without consciously willing so. I am being chaste about my actions.
That doesn’t last, though, for I cannot help but realize that I have felt the mirror image of this feeling before: last night, when I was climbing the wall into Tramellin, after spending three days in hard exertion, and hardly sleeping for two. Why was I not tired then? I resolve to remember this when I awaken: the Dreamer must have touched upon me then, either in the afternoon as I dreamed of him, or later in the night as I was awake, the way I touched Samet right now. I suspect he did it to give me strength. It is most disconcerting, yet most like him, to not admit as much.
The Dreamer moves out, and I follow his inexorable gravity out of the house, away from whatever it is that the girls are so abuzz over in the meadow. The terrain again grows vague, yet never so much so that I couldn’t tell that we are crossing hills, rivers, stone and turf. As something attracts my attention, I touch the Dreamer’s back to make him stop.
― Why is it that these cliffs are so much sharper than the rest, I ask him, pointing towards a band of hills breaking into a river gorge. ― I can see the cliffs, and even caverns beneath, yet no people.
― Oh, that is one of the memory nodes. There are places in the Real Dream that are well-remembered by the common people. Reading those is one of lesser arts. This place appears to be the site of some great battle of yesteryear; one of the barons would hide his household in the caves, only to be smoked out by his enemies and slaughtered in the meadow.
― It is beautiful. The way the hilltops meld into the caverns underneath, the underlying grottoes showing through the green pastures as a stronger reality hidden under the surface.
― It is just countryside. Land better remembered, yet mere land all the same.
It appears that the Dreamer has little curiousity for the unique landscape so vividly drawn before us. I wonder what the real thing looks like, out there somewhere in Karst. Either way, still he teaches so much even in his indifference.
The Dreamer takes this pause in our journey as an opportunity and turns to me with new intensity. ― Well, Riddlesolver; you have seen some of the dreamwalking craft, and we have looked upon your friends. Will you help me, and share in further revelation? It is for the sake of true humanity and our noblest dreams that I ask, and no lesser cause.
I don’t know what I will remember when I wake up, and the worst thing is that the Dreamer probably has a better sense for that than I do. Still, despite my dreamy misgivings, I owe this to who and what I am. No choice, really.
― Yes, Dreamer, I will help you investigate the Anti-Dream, I tell him, looking him in the eye, touching upon his palm to grab it. He does not understand a handshake. ― Please call on me when I next slumber. There is so much for me to learn here.
It takes me a moment to understand where I am as I awaken. The sun is bright and shines through an open door into this small hut, mostly filled by a sleeping platform full to stuffing with woolly hides and blankets. I tense, but then realize that I am at Besnik’s, the place of the kindly soap-maker I met last night. It must be noon already, and I feel rested; the housefolk must have decided to allow me to sleep my fill here. Well-chosen, for I were so exhausted yesterday.
I tarry under the warm wools a moment more, thinking back to my exciting, vivid dream. It takes me a moment to realize how happy I feel, how fulfilled; not since the Wanderer have I felt this sense of wonder, of belonging in a magical world, a story worth telling. I remember well what the Dreamer showed me of the Real Dream, an entire mysterious world, and there were further secrets to come. I think back to what all I know of lucid dreaming and dream divination from my studies of lesser magics, only to belatedly realize that I should be writing things down again, if I am to remember anything worthwhile as the day intrudes upon my focus. A dream diary will have to become a part of my daily routine from now on, no exception, unless the Dreamer can help me remember better.
I will need to thank master Besnik for his hospitality and be on my way; I remember as clear a divined impression as any of Padav, and I am sure she will be able to help me once I find her. I will need all the help I can get to discover more about this town, and about the Bungisgan character looking for me. Besides, I feel a vague sense of unease, probably not to do with my empty stomach; my instincts are telling me to be wary.
Rolled a ‘4’ on Goal die.
Rolled a ‘2’ on Lover die.
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2
Monster dice: 3|2