We fall silent after that. I look sideways at the Dreamer, who stares at the dream-moon of this memory landscape. This is all very real to him, in a way that makes one doubt the antiquity of the events.
I walk closer to the phantasm of the ancient Bungisngis. Nothing much can be divined of the inner thoughts of the exceptional mannequin, except for a mindless rage familiar to me on a different face.
― Bungisngis was no longer a dream disciple, I say out loud to attract the Dreamer’s attention. ― Even then, he was driven by a different vision. A more primal one, I think; something that gave little merit to your kind of magic, whether he realized it or not.
The Dreamer turns slowly and comes to inspect the old memory himself. ― That is so, Lucie. It is one of the ancient ills, the dominions we left behind in establishing the Otherwere. It has a name and a purpose, but I have long forgotten, and on this matter only the Otherwere, otherwise a peerless library of wisdom, remains silent. It was unanimous that we would not blemish the virgin soil with even the memory of the thing. Magical Truth is contagious, it is the very idea itself that needed to be ruthlessly filtered out of everything good and beautiful we used to build the world.
― You do know now that Bungisngis still walks the earth, right? I turn to ask him. ― I would have told you last night, but you had your own priorities. It was him who trapped us, or a close spiritual disciple perhaps.
― Yes, Bungisngis is at the heart of the Anti-Dream, I know it now. He is the heart. He, or it, cannot help it; being the soulless thing it is, an eroded hole in the shape of man, it carries the Anti-Dream wherever it goes. Wherever its influence reaches; it is but the humanity of the world around him that prevents the Anti-Dream from spreading. I have seen what makes his magic now, and it is his very bones, the ash of his hatred and nothing more.
― Then Bungisngis is truly not human? He does not have a soul? I ask the Dreamer, forcing myself to breathe evenly. ― He wants to make me like him, to take me over.
The Dreamer is staring at the Moon again. ― Perhaps it is your fate, horrible as it is. Bungisngis was ever a cunning man, the most cunning of us. In hindsight you being here may as well be his way of luring me out… When he was still a man, he would find deep satisfaction in using a person’s nature against him. Perhaps it was him who awaited for a suitable apprentice most of all, the better to bait me with my own loneliness. If so, he has deeply misjudged our remaining strength, thinking that he needs ploys where another army would well suffice.
― You presume too much, Dreamer! I correct him and let annoyment show in my mien. ― Bungisgan never knew where you were hiding, where the Lunar Citadel was. The lore was lost with his first death, I think, and whatever it is that lets him compel a man from beyond the grave evidently leaves them bereft of precise memories. If you must blame me for something, blame me for a surfeit of curiousity in discovering this place, and for a penury of suspicion in letting the knowledge slip into his hands.
― Very well, Lucie, he says with clear contempt on his face. ― You surely know best how that half-man thinks. If he wants to initiate you in the ways of Bungisngis, you must have what it takes to truly understand him.
I let his words descend a bit, then grab his arm to draw him close. Softly. ― I am not a child to be initiated, Dreamer. I am an adult woman, and I do not appreciate either of you lording your esoteric knowledge over me, when it is all little but an excuse for power. Not a power that belongs to you by the virtue of your magic, but one that you need to bolster with authority-plays and mysteries that might as well be lies. This much is familiar to me in the ways of power even in this age bereft of true magic, and let me tell you: Bungisgan far surpasses you as a manipulator of men, vile as he is. Your hypnotic trick has made you dull in dealing with humans on their own terms, it seems to me.
Once again I have unsettled the Dreamer, unused as he is to dealing with people. Good, it should help him take other people on their own terms. ― One more thing: don’t call me Lucie, that implies yet a gain a familiarity you have not earned. Spying on me, for however long, even through dreams, does not make you my intimate. Call me Martlet, a name I have chosen for the world.
I sit down on the sand in a meaningful way, looking away towards the sea. Leave him space to decide how to react. I think I already know, though; where Bungisgan may be insane, I think the Dreamer is… it is far away and a long time ago now, but he is still a lot like the Wanderer. Or what he would be like if he did not test himself and his wisdom against the world. If he chose to dream an ever-dream in some remote cloisterhouse until he was ripe enough to fall in love with the first skirt that came his way.
― You misjudge me, Martlet, he finally says and makes to sit down next to me. I turn a bit towards him in welcome; I want him for ally, not to drive him away.
― You are a clever thinker, he continues. ― This is not ingratiating, it is fact. You are clever and experienced, and that makes you disdain ancient forms. Yet the forms exist for a reason: I was attempting to teach you magic, and magic is the most perilous thing there is in this world. There is a law to magic, a principle where true magic cannot be grasped and held by an everyday human being: there has to be initiation, a transformation to a higher level of consciousness. There is no alternative to that, none except futility or utter annihilation in the Moonscape.
He hesitates a moment before adding: ― I am sorry if I was clumsy about it. It has been a long time since the Citadel fell. I wanted too much from you, too quick in my eagerness to have you join me in the mystery. It was an error to treat the Anti-Dream as a mere teaching opportunity. An error that may spell the end for us both.
― The Other Law, I whisper, brushing his apology and embarrassment aside. ― Before I released you, I found you by following a silver cord. The cord, that I found in an utterly horrid place of desolation. It was like the Lunar Citadel, except there was no air or warmth or space or time. The Citadel was like a temple, upheld by people who were statues or pillars or caryatids, devoid of life. I think it was the Veil, and I think that Bungisgan sent me there for a purpose as I fell into slumber. He wanted me to be annihilated.
I look at the Dreamer, eager for his insight on my experience. His grey eyes skitter, and he hesitates in telling me. ― You may be right. The particulars of the experience are strange to me, and I am loathe to tell you of the inner mystery. Be not angered, but I am the last master of the Citadel on this plane, and the responsibility is solely mine. You would surely misunderstand in a grave way, were I to tell you all.
It is obvious that the Dreamer does not like holding onto his secrets. I say nothing, leave him room to fill. He does: ― It is remarkable, however, that you survived experiencing the Veil, the Moonscape. I never would have taken you there before you had completed an inner world travel sequence and witnessed the self and anti-self that construe human nature. It is said that who shies away from the true nature of human awareness will be necessarily annihilated by an attempt to cross the Moonscape.
― It is a paradox, he mutters now to nobody in particular. ― On the one hand, I would ever have expected you to be able to cross, as you have the spark for it as much as any. But then, you were not ready, and thus would surely face annihilation. Perhaps Bungisngis knew you better than I, if he dared to put you to the Moonscape, trusting that you would not simply pass through beyond his reach. But then, clearly he knew nothing, for here you are still, merely frayed by the experience, if that.
I have had several days to put the puzzle together, but only now I realize that while the Dreamer evidently has some kind of extraordinary knowledge about me, he does not seem to know anything about my childhood and upbringing. He does not know about the uterine burden, yet in his arrogance he still thinks to understand me. Perhaps his understanding has ever been mien-deep, seeing little but the reflection of his own hopes.
― You were, of course, fortunate, he finishes his thought. ― That you found my cord is once again exceptional, particularly knowing as little of me as you know. It takes great spiritual insight to be able to follow the cords, and even then only a true master can divine them for somebody they do not know intimately.
― Your silver cord extends beyond the Veil because you have been there, I state, with a mien of wonderment. ― Is that the Otherwere you have been hinting at?
― To be precise, I am Beyond still. But that is part of the mystery, the Second Law, and it is only allowable to say that the Beyond is where one must go, should one desire true liberation. Yet to try is to face destruction. There must be going without leaving.
I struggle with a deep skepticism. More importantly, deep exhaustion at the mere thought of facing the Veil anew. Whether it is possible to survive occlusion or not (and if it is, what about my aunt Marcheline, ever-helpless in her bed?), it may well be that I personally never will. I need but think of going back to the Veil, to be shaken by utter revulsion at the ego-death. It may be that I have had my one opportunity in this life. The one choice that truly matters.
― We need to stop Bungisgan, I finally state into the unnatural silence of the frozen memory. ― He has sick designs on the both of us. There is still time, and he is not as mighty as he thinks. I think he has merely been lucky, playing me as he has. It is not like I could not slay him, in the proper time and place.
― That is merely what he wants you to think, the Dreamer interjects, but does not deny the premise. ― Bungisngis is a liar, he feints weakness while wielding the seven securities and hidden tricks besides. He serves principles that are facilely turned against you.
Oh, Abanir. If only you knew. ― That may be, but this is not the world you knew, Dreamer. We are less, particularly in magic if not in other ways. Bungisgan is not as mighty as you think, even if he may have tricked you once by surprise. Have faith, surely your magic is the better of his.
― Is it, what do you think? he asks me, gesturing at the dark shape of Bungisngis’s still image on the shore. ― Whatever it is — and I believe it to be an unutterable chirurgy — it has made him a soulless being, beyond all hope and promise that influences human spirit. The way he is, I cannot even see him but for the exclusion of his presence. I doubt that there is a wisdom or enticement, an illusion or glamour of the Lunar way that could touch dead stone.
We fall into silence once again. I wonder how much there is left of the night. It seems probable that the Dreamer can somehow stretch time in this dream-scape, and he does not appear to be in any hurry. But then, his life experience has made him… stupid in some ways. And he speaks as if readying himself to give up.
― Can you escape to the Otherwere, then? I ask the Dreamer. ― It sounds to me like you could just leave this world behind and join your departed fellows. What little I know of Bungisgan tells me that he may still believe you trapped by his fetch — or is it as a fetch — so you may be well on your way long before he even thinks to check. Of this I am quite certain, that whatever he has in mind for you involves utter destruction of not merely your body but your soul as well, and perhaps this Otherwere is something he hates the most, if only he were aware of it and able to touch it. It would be the sensible thing, to evacuate beyond his ken.
The Dreamer does not answer my suggestion. He sits straighter and then falls back to recline on the sand, but in a way that has the air of practice to it. It’s slow, how he flexes his spine straight, and the head is at an odd angle as he goes down smoothly. Perhaps it is some habit one picks up at the Lunar Citadel. I can imagine the acolytes in a row, training falling asleep on command.
― The truth is that I would rather see this through, he finally says as he watches the stars. ― It is not just that happiness in the Otherwere requires utter calm and freedom from entanglement, though that is a part of it. Neither is it that I still hope to maintain the connection between the worlds, to retain the fragile opportunity this world has, though this as well is part of it. The whole of it, Riddlesolver — Martlet — is that it pains me to leave you to face Bungisgan alone. Even as I know that you are not to be my acolyte, I still care of what happens to you.
Ah, that must be as honest as he gets with his feelings, this enlightened little monk. I lay back next to him, and take hold of his hand.
— Adults can be friends without being lovers, I tell him gently. — I would rather have you with me than not, facing Bungisgan. He is the most terrible thing I have ever encountered; he reminds me of my mother, had she not a creed and a responsibility. If she killed with anger.
— Interesting comparison, the Dreamer notes, his voice choking.
— What is the Otherwere like, anyway? I continue without embarrassing him. — I admit to curiousity over this plane that you seem to prize as the greatest achievement of your cult. If it is beyond the Veil, is it the whole of the sum, or merely a part of it? Why value it so? Assuming you can tell me, of course.
— Oh, he smiles at the question. — I cannot tell you the foundation of it, for there are no words for the pure experience of creation. However, I can show you something of the end result. Let me…
This time there is no mistaking the feel of him pulling out of the memory and into a different one. I wait relaxed, and the sky does not seem that different in this new dream, yet I lay on grass rather than sand now.
— Beyond the Veil is, well, Beyond. You must have heard of it, the One or the Limitless, or however one terms it. It is beyond the Lunar sphere, the unreal world we live in. There are aspects to it, meanings, that one cannot phrase except in meaningless simile for those who have not experienced the crossing themselves. For our purposes it suffices that it is emptiness pregnant with potential. Potential that we took and made into a new world.
The Dreamer sits up and pushes himself up, turning to help me to my feet. I accept his hand and stand up, looking around me. We are on a green riverbank in the middle of an unfamiliar city. There are bridges with arcs of stone sunk into the wide river, and lamps hanging on regular intervals over the cobblestone street. On the other side of the river the city continues, the distant shore seeming like a sea of light over the dark water.
— Time has little meaning in the Beyond, but we made our own, and the Otherwere has prospered. It is nothing less than an entire new world. A better world, for we took everything that makes this one beautiful, and everything that is necessary to it. Yet there are certain things we did not take; ancient evils that will ultimately tear this world apart, inevitably as rain falls to wash away the land.
— How could you make all this? I ask with a mien of respect. I walk onto the cobblestones and see glinting glass windows on every house to the end of the street. I also see higher buildings, towering above the two- and three-storey ones nearby. Lights in their windows like stars. There is precise lettering on signs everywhere, written in some unfamiliar alphabet. There are certain signs that this city may be very large, larger even than the Serene Scarlet.
— We could because we knew: the world is ill, and to help it is to get out of the shade entirely, he says with a smile. — But that is not what you meant. At first we set up the foundations, the time and space and other things with no name in this language. Then we walked upon the New Earth, as we called it. For a long time we were like gods, but that pales, and there are… compromises of design one has to make for such power to last. Compromises that make it more difficult for the reality to emerge over time. Now we mostly observe and learn, and live in the Otherwere. Many have felt that there is nothing that Otherwere needs anymore from this world. Even to die in it is joyous, for it is the best of all possible worlds, and nothing ever is wasted.
We walk to a corner and turn to yet another street. There are beautiful carriages with brass fittings, and people both rich and poor, all on the street for a celebration. They are all quite pale, yet human nevertheless, and even the poorer ones are well-fed. Women are with their men, but I see no collars or chains of slavery.
— The thing to understand about the Otherwere, he continues eagerly in his explanation, — The thing to understand is that it is an immense, nigh-infinite font of knowledge and wisdom. There are people living here, countless generations of our inheritors, and they have made the world their own. Never, ever could any being, no matter how enlightened, learn all this on his own. I lived a lifetime in this city, Rouen is its name, and they have such miracles there. They are building flying machines, and dreaming of visiting the Moon. The Moon is a real physical thing on New Earth, of course. And Rouen is just one city upon the face of an immense continent, one of hundreds equal to it in size. There are books on this world, their total number is probably in the billions by now; they make them by machine. You cannot possibly imagine how True this world is compared to our shadow existence.
— Don’t they ever wish to visit our world? I ask him.
— The New Earth does not know about us, Martlet, the Dreamer says shaking his head. — For it to be otherwise would risk contamination by the ancient ills. There is no True Magic in the Otherwere at all, in fact; no way to pierce the Veil known to the Creators. Once the last cord running between our worlds has been cut, there shall be no more contact. It will be sad, for I feel compassion for this world; however, perhaps it is inevitable as well. We used to hope that the New Earth could heal the Old, yet as the Otherwere has grown, the thought has turned out differently: perhaps we do not need the old world at all.
I wander a while more among these people from another world, and I can feel it, how this Rouen indeed is a true place, and worth saving. I do not know if it is truly the paradise the Dreamer thinks it is, for I see beggars and drunkards, and what must be pickpockets as well, but then I do not know if I would believe in his paradise if this were not so; what world could be True without such things? It is difficult to say whether there is anything fundamentally different to this “pure” world, for it is so different and strange: their horses seem bigger, the people in fact seem bigger, and healthier, and even their foods are only vaguely familiar. But then, I do not know my own world either, from end to end; perhaps there is something in it that has no place in this other one. Perhaps it has magic, and perhaps that magic is the doom of the world.
The dream image fades slowly, leaving me alone with the Dreamer. I go close to him and hug the poor man, pet the back of his head in acknowledgement of our mutual terror towards the Anti-Dream.
— Perhaps I will visit your world after we deal with Bungisgan, I tell him to encourage him. — Stranger things have happened, and you do not understand me as well as you think you do. To live a lifetime in that place, perhaps it would be worth it to brave the Veil a second time.
I let go of Abanir Loth. Now I need him to help me, for tomorrow night we are upon the Saur Rock, and Bungisgan will force me to swallow the Moon unless I can surprise him first. Harsh as it is, it is better if the Dreamer accompanies me and does what he can for us. Perhaps it will all be over quickly; I will have to awaken with care and pretend to occlusion, as that will surely be what Bungisgan expects of me…
The Climax choices are finished:
- Bungisgan will hurt me severely.
- I shall save Besnik the Soapmaker and his family – costs a pick.
- The world of the Dreamers shall be forever lost.
As well as the following choices made earlier:
- I shall discover the secrets of presence and becoming – achieved by winning the Match.
- I shall kill, imprison or transform Bungisgan – costs a pick.
- The Dreamer shall be destroyed.
The choices are done, let’s bring this home.