― Oh Dreamer, Abanir, I say warmly. ― Do not worry for on my behalf, please. It is true that I got something from the Unsurpassable Chamber lodged within my mind, but I can handle it. Besides, it is not really Bungisngis, but rather some phantasm of yours, is it not? I will dissolve it in due time. It is much more important for you to reserve your strength.
I can hear it in the Dreamer’s short and raspy breath, however: a crumbled lung, or perhaps sheer wilting from timeless sleep. Like aunt Marcheline, wasting away slowly in bed, becoming ever more frail until the body cannot support its own weight any longer. He takes hold of my hands, and I hurry to sit with him, for even as he looks horrible I understand well the soul beneath the flesh, and shy not away. We are not our flesh, a basic tenet of all creeds I have ever considered. It would be unbearably sad for me to spite him for how he seems.
― Call me Abanir please, Martlet. And listen to me well: this flesh is finished, and you know it as well as I. You are strong and a true riddle-solver, and can face the truth without grief. Time is short. You are special, in a way I have never witnessed, but here you need my help: I can see it in you, there is a kernel of the Anti-Dream within, and it is as real as a knowledge can be; the ancient evils are not material, the concept does not apply. They are patterns, and as such beyond your conception of real and unreal.
― Dear Abanir, I start patiently. ― I appreciate the concern, but you must believe that when it comes to this thing I know what I am doing. I do not know what you would call it, but what your chamber put in my head is a parasitic mental weave, a foreign… pattern of though. Like the weave of a mentality, yet unable to form into a cord of consciousness on its own. A mind, although that term is as imprecise as to be useless. I know how to handle it. I have more training for it than you could know.
He looks at me, and I expect him to reproach me bitterly for ignoring his advice. However, he does not; the old man shrugs weakly, almost imperceptibly, and moves to hold my hand with both of his.
― The long sleep changed you, did it not? I ask the Dreamer. ― When you did not awaken with the sun, as people do, your dream-consciousness grew and became. I have felt something like that myself over these last few days, noticed that my dream-self, lucid or not, is not quite me… I cannot now help but wonder: how much of that was you, in the end? Who was it that I have gotten to know?
― You are ever perceptive, Martlet, to have noticed such a minor discrepancy. It is true, we are different people in our dreams. The deviation is so small as to be meaningless when morning erases the night’s labours. However, over centuries of sleep… I hope you can forgive what I became, Martlet. I can well remember how selfish, how orgulous I had become in my never-ending dream. I was an ever-young master of all realities, a god above the mortal men. I took you for granted, and failed as a teacher.
I feel like crying, and let my eyes blur with tears. I realize now that I, too, carried much preconception with me to the Lunar Citadel. It is not like I had not day-dreamed about meeting a master of old magics, someone who could explain it all to me. But what I imagined had been false, not so different from some old book I could ponder over and piece together. The way Abanir came to me, I could not help but misunderstand him. The idea that he was a different person then does not faze me; it is the first flamine teaching, that we are not truly just “one person”, any of us.
― Please call me Lucie, I tell him and move my arm around his frail form to let him lean on me. ― And please, do not say that you could not teach. I have learned so much here, of things it is possible to do, in mere fleeting days. Of what I am, and what I can do. And it is not mere trickery; I never understood the First Law of Magic before meeting you, and had not even conceived of the Second. That is why I know I can deal with the dark crystal within; you have liberated my sense of the possible.
― That is you being intelligent, Lucie, he says, slowing down in his pronouncement of my name. ― Keen, and eager in an exceptional way. What are you, to surpass the Unsurpassable Chamber uninitiated? You are special, and if you have learned something here, it is because of what you are. I believe you could have even crossed the Moonscape beyond the dichotomy, but chose not to, for some reason I do not understand.
His mention of the Chamber brings out an inner roil in me, a strange spasm of feeling; I remember now how I yearn to be back there. The Speculum ignores my fear of the outside world, though, knowing perfectly well that it is merely a false emotion I created myself.
― Nobody is special, Abanir, I whisper to him. ― Please do not ask me to believe otherwise. Don’t keep praising me for my supposed virtue, when I have done nothing. I do not wish to be a mistress of the multitude, and blind myself to the dreams of others.
― You are too young to hold to immutable truths, Lucie, he says and coughs. It is so sad. ― That should be the last lesson, the fundamental law of magic… It is bitter to realize it only now. It is an obstacle you can only notice in the dark, by stumbling upon it. Beyond all dualities it lies.
― You do not understand, Abanir, I try to explain. ― I am not special, there is a… I suppose a cult, a magical tradition in my homeland. Low magic, trickery of the mind, not so different from what any street magician does today. I was trained by my mother, that is what you see in me. That is how I evaded the Chamber. Perhaps another would have been more suitable for you, a child not yet set to their ways… I wish you had just told me from the start that you wanted to teach. In a way I would have understood.
― Fond as ever of false distinctions, Lucie. Perhaps that is why you returned unchanged from that which erodes all distinction.
― I was afraid, it was nothing more. I wish you could tell me more of the Moonscape, the Veil. I was ever taught to fear it, dread the dissolution, the unraveling and occlusion of the mind… Yet now I have done the forbidden weaves, and wonder how much truth there ever was to the flamine creed.
He is silent for a long time. I cannot help but stray from the moment, letting my eyes wander over the walls. This place is so mysterious, and it is clear that its builders had a grand, penetrating vision. And here I am holding the last living heir of their world, dying in my arms.
― Perhaps this is something you need to hear, Lucie, the Dreamer whispers then. I lean closer to make sense of his words. ― I think you must have heard this from other teachers, yet not understood it yet. I do not know if you will misinterpret the words, so take them with care: the mind itself, our only tool for perceiving the world, is illusory. That-which-is is in this manner split between the real and the unreal, the world of the sun and the moon. The world of dream and illusion, of the mind, is ours to mold as we will. Yet beyond the lunar sphere even this distinction proves without foundation. Everything is one. This is the true nature of being.
He believes what he says, and of course I sense familiarity in this well-trod paradox of mystical expression. Perhaps it is because I have experienced the Veil that I think I understand something of what he says. Most importantly, I understand that this is knowledge to be experienced, not deduced.
Abanir starts shaking, and I would like him back on the dais, except it is cold stone and he is impossibly frail. I move to lift his feet up and lean his head on my lap. I am being helpless in the face of his impending death.
― You should hate me, Abanir, I say, without knowing if he hears me. ― I have brought ill fortune upon you, and now I have killed you by breaching through your defenses. My quest for the Lunar Citadel has brought ruin I am unable to repair.
― Shush, little bird, he mutters dreamily, not knowing what Bungisgan has been calling me. ― You can look around and see it for yourself; our time has long gone in this realm. I am a hideous relic myself, am I not, and only here still out of stubbornness. I am glad that you awakened me once more before the end, for I doubt now that my dream-self would have chosen such annihilation of the self. I am better unburdened so, truly able to pass through the Moonscape one more time. I am younger for it, in a way.
I feel unclean for thinking it, but the discipline of the Speculum does not really know rest, and it arrays for me questions that I should ask while I still have the time. How do I deal with Bungisgan, how do I survive him without the Dreamer’s help? Is there anything in this crypt of use up on the surface? I ignore my mirror-self now, however, for a man is dying.
― Will you truly be able to pass beyond the Veil, Abanir? I ask instead, delicately touching his brow to attract his attention. ― What of the Otherwere, will you return there? Or will you die as everybody else?
― Do not worry, Lucie. While I was asleep, I would have done much to have you worrying so for me, yet now I see clearly how meaningless such distinction is. I am already beyond, as is everybody to ever cross the Moonscape. Even as we speak, I near to Otherwere. It is a fit rebirth for us, the creators. I shall live countless lives still, and hopefully learn more of humility and wisdom as I travel again in Rouen, and Wallonia, Frisian islands and beyond. The only regret is that I am unable to help this world against the ancient ill of the Anti-Dream, yet even this regret I am able to let go; I know that you will be here even as I go.
There is so little for me to say to that. Even if I could fetch him, nail him down and prevent his soul from passing Beyond, as Bungisgan would, I never would. If ever I understood anything, it is freedom I knew, and imprisonment.
I do not know how long we remain in silence then. I fall into self-reflection right there, with his head resting on my lap. It seems like the natural thing to do, and not only because I have staved it off for years now. I need to brush my mental cord in, ensure that I know precisely how awake I am after my strange experience in the Unsurpassable Chamber. I need to get rid of the compulsion to be back there; it is nothing I cannot suppress, but holding onto it is an unnecessary tax on me. Besides, I realize in self-reflection that an artificial emotion like this makes me uncomfortable on some deeper level, in a way that has nothing to do with fears of occlusion; I want to live my life, not falsify my own feelings. It is as the creed says: an you have to lie to others, never lie to yourself, for that is the way of unraveling. I have taken risk enough in that regard.
As I reflect, I can feel the distant impression of Abanir’s weight upon me. It occurs to me to try something, and it is not difficult in the end: I relax again the cord of my consciousness and bring myself into a state between worlds, a half-aware trance, the way I did in the Chamber earlier. As I expect, it is not difficult to slip into the Real Dream here, with a master right next to me. This is where I desire to be, for I want to witness his passing in the only true way.
To the dream-sight Abanir’s body seems lifeless, and it is easy to see why, for his consciousness is practically dreamlike; perhaps he fell asleep again? His mindscape, a floating presence near his body is bright and great; I never saw his inner world like this before. I could touch him, I know, and talk mind to mind; perhaps visit his dream the way he visited mine earlier. However, I know I can hear him in either world, should he wish to say something more. I should respect his privacy.
As I wait, I can again discern the silver connecting Abanir to the Beyond. As the moment comes, his being — soul for the lack of better word — leaves the body effortlessly behind. I reach out a bit, and consider following him, at least part of the way, but it occurs to me that I might fall off the dais were I to fall fully asleep here. I let him go, and with him my last chance at a guided, easy passage through the Veil.
I am alone but for the strange device of the dream acolytes, lighting up the room still after its last beneficiary has passed. As its light flickers I see dual shadows, for it is a tool with existence in both worlds. I know not how long its light lasts, but there is no sign of it dimming, however momentous the passing we just witnessed.
I feel reluctant to move yet, and instead take the time to check on the dark crystal in my memory palace. It is inert, as it should; I do not believe it capable of changing, growing its own mental strands or anything like that, not unless I bring it to contact with my consciousness. No sign of it deteriorarting on its own, though. Time to worry about that later.
I meditate still, for now is as good a time as any to equip myself for one last contest. I need every edge I can get when I go out again; I need to deal with Bungisgan, and I need to do it alone, my own way, for I do not believe him to be simply satisfied by the passing of the Dreamer. He will probably be furious, in fact, for I think what he really wanted here was more fundamental than merely sending the last dreamer to a final journey long due. I might as well try retaining my half-trance when I go, so as to see both the waking world and the Real Dream at once; perhaps there is something I can use in such extraordinary perception, to match Bungisgan’s strange insight.
What I really could use now, though, would be a weapon. The phantasmal figments from the Unsurpassed Chamber do not seem to serve beyond its walls.