- Lucie Martlet 12.12.2016
I shall begin. Behold:
- The Lunar Citadel 13.12.2016
The Lover’s score is 2.
By some, the Lunar Citadel was called The Thorn of the Golden Empress Hadracia. For she ruled a vast empire, and the only thing grander than her empire was her desire to conquer those who still were free from her rule.
So she came down with an obsession to conquer the Citadel for herself, and why not, as she already practically ruled the whole continent. And conquer it she tried, oh so fiercely, but to no avail.
Dozens of generations have passed since the times of the Empress and her empire is but a dust-trailed memory of grandeur. And for all that time, the Citadel has been no more than a myth. A dangerous myth indeed as the defeat made the Empress ban the whole notion of the Citadel from existence. Any person uttering its name was put to death and an order of devout fanatics was placed in charge of seeing to it that the ban was obeyed. The Order of the Lunar Heresy still exists, now passing their judgements in the shadows.
Thus every book that described the Citadel’s silvery halls was burned, every prophet that sung of its splendor put to the sword. Soon enough the name itself became a whisper, and then it, too, died away in silence and oblivion.
Only a few writings remained, passed from generation to generation among secret orders and cults of most extreme quality. One of the surviving manuscripts was the one written by Bungisngis, the One-Eyed Poet as he was called before the defeat of the Empire. He was the chronicler of the Empress, tasked with documenting the official saga of the conquest of the Citadel. After he returned from the failed conquest, he was called the Mad Poet. He was the first of those put to trial and sentenced by the Empress. In the end she took out his tongue, eyes and hands, but before his grisly fate he managed to write briefly of his journey to the Citadel. One manuscript was saved from the torch by a lucky acolyte who hid it.
This much can be easily gathered from the ramblings of the once-honored poet: The Lunar Citadel is, or was, a city state built as an enormous fortress, and it lies somewhere in the west, beyond the plains of the Magocracy and across the inland sea. Not much is spoken of the people that dwelt there, but the Poet often states that the Citadel was populated by a peculiar race of dreamers. Long before the time of the Empress, the Citadel cut all ties with neighboring cities and forbade foreigners from entering its land. The few adventurers that disregarded this order were never seen again. There were rumors, rambles the Poet. With hushed tones, the rumors spoke of rapture and sin, of unspeakable acts that bend humanity like a blacksmith would bend a bar of hot iron.
Nobody, not even the Poet himself, describes how the Imperial Army of one hundred thousand men could fail to conquer one citadel. But all historians agree that the destruction of Hadracia’s army marks the beginning of the end of the imperial era. This decline that led to generations of turmoil finally gave birth to the world as we know it today, the world of the independent city states.
- Let’s Begin with Murder Again 15.12.2016
My name is Lucie Martlet. Martlet is not my family name. I am being pseudonymous. Of course nobody cares this far from home, except I do. They say that martlet, the bird, has no legs but soft tufts of feather. It must flit to and fro, never truly landing in one place. Thence the name.
I do not like to talk of my past, but I shall a little. I gave up on a gilded cage in a rush of inspiration and became errant. Growing my pinions took time, effort and pain, but once I did, I went looking for my personal gresal with renewed vigor. I am ever dissatisfied by the conventional and limited, the safe and mediocre, the little pecks of the imperfect. I once saw the infinity brough immanent in the hands of a man. The spiritual yearning has not left me. It drives me to migration.
I have killed three times. Death becomes me in a weird unfit for a woman, but I do not obsess over it. These occasions were necessary, and justified in this lawless world we live in. Regrettable, but not truly lamentable if you knew the circumstances. Definitely not hallowed by any glory or bloodlust; if anything, my killing has ever been guided by human presumption.
The last time was just two days ago. I had been traveling with an overland caravan from the Marical Valley, across the entire magocratic Plainsdom and the coastal Karst Principalities. The caravan started large, but after the last of the magetowers dropped beyond the horizon, travelers have been sloughing off at every stop. I was one of the last twenty or so travelers sticking together out of habit, and so was Harsrat the Bully.
“Bully” was what we called Harsrat behind his back, me and some friends I made in the caravan, because he was big, loud and willing to force things to make his mark. He was a karst bogatyr, a minor knight or armsman landless and returning home with little but his arms and mount. He liked to boast of his importance and hint at secretive tasks, but I do not think that he was all that.
The reason I was with the caravan in the first place was simple: the route north along the coast would take us right past the Saur Rock, a great promontory overlooking the chill ocean, connected to mainland by little but the escarpment of the Rock itself. It was a bold sight, I was told, but of little other interest to the hardy people of the Karst; even if there were some pastures on the salty oceanside of the great cape, one could hardly herd sheep or goats up and over the Rock.
The importance of the Rock for me is simple as well: I am of the belief that it is none other than the legendary (as in, only mentioned in legends) Lunar Citadel that lays beyond the natural vallation. The sketches of the Rock that I saw in the Vicenza great library are suggestive, and there were other reasons besides, once I asked around. Being as how it should be simple to check, and one place being as good as another in the scheme of things, I made the Karst my next destination. Who knows, perhaps the True Magic could be discovered in such a place?
Regardless of my reasons, however, Harshrat had his own ideas. Over the weeks, as our caravan huddled together under the empty eyes of the magetowers of the plains, I witnessed him making overtures to our traveling companions, men and women. Loners and those he judged weaker than him, Harshrat would clumsily approach and attempt to ingratiate himself. Boredom drove him, I think, combined with a blind sense of self-importance. Of men he wished for admiration and camaradie; of women, physical intimacy. I did not see him find much luck with either.
As our traveling microcosm of a caravan made its way over the plains, I learned to know other people, too. Marna is an entouraged tailor in the magocracy, taking her family to visit her husband’s parents; Padav is accompanying her father on his trading expedition; Samet is alone like me, traveling to join a marriage contest with her relatives somewhere in Karst. We got along fine, as everybody had stories to share with new friends.
Around the time the plains were left behind and our troupe started thinning, Harshrat, at this point at full boil, turned his needy attentions to Samet, probably recognizing her to be practically vagrant compared to the families and crews making up most of the caravan. I noticed this, being something of an observer of human nature, and made a point of keeping Samet close by, always on the same cooking fire with some sensible people. Harshrat, in comparison, generally ate alone, right after setting up his small tent.
It is not like Harshrat did not notice what I was doing, given enough time. I think he decided to turn his attentions to me out of resentment, or because I laughted without reservation at something, and the glimpse of joy made him yearn. Either way, four nights ago Harshrat started addressing me; two nights ago he insisted that I talk to him. I complied with his wish for a private discussion.
Harshrat wanted me to account for myself to him as a local constable, having supposedly entered his county, now that we were deep into the Karst, and presumably close to his family home. My being curious to see the Saur Rock was hardly a secret to my traveling companions, so I patiently repeated my story to the man. I don’t think he had much reason for offense, but something in my tale aggravated Harshrat the Bully enough to make him raise his voice and loom over me, threatening.
All this had been a long time coming, and it seemed that nobody else in the caravan was willing to step up to the bully, which is why I did what I did: I asked him meekly what I should do, then, if the Rock was so “forbidden”. Unsurprisingly the brave knight offered me the use of his house and home, and in fact, his tent as well in the meantime, being as how I as a lonely woman obviously needed protection from the many and various perils of the Karst. (Yes, he used the world “peril”.) The idea of my accepting his wisdom on matters of the Karst seemed to calm the man down right quick.
Nobody saw us enter Harshrat’s little tent in the dark, and we needed little light either. There was barely room for two to lie down side by side, which made further excuses rather unnecessary for the snuffling Harshrat, now that he had me where he wanted, practically underneath him in the dark, far beyond any but token protestation to his mind. It also made it easy for me to stick a knife deep into his gut as he shimmied in between my legs. Made him jump up in a great roar, upending tent and all.
I do not hate men in general, and I was not choosing things to develop this way, but it was all as I expected: Harshrat, grievously injured, cursed and stumbled about in the dark, while I rolled away from him and got to my feet. We were camped far too distant from the precipice of the hillside road for him to simply stumble over, so what I did was taunt him a little. I couldn’t see either, but I could hear him, and he certainly couldn’t hear me, not with all the noise he made. It was no big thing to keep out of his grasp while slashing blindly, too, with my knife.
Padav’s father had a lantern, I knew, which meant that we had to be quick. I was waiting for Harshrat to tire out and quiet down, to realize that his bellowing made him dangerously vulnerable in the dim night. Once he did, there would be a moment as he concentrated on his hearing. I could almost see him against the skyline; enough to rush him as he stopped. Maybe his chin rose slightly as he focused to hear.
That was when I jumped at Harshrat, surprising him and knocking him down, maybe injuring him more with my knife. Once I had him down and disoriented I stabbed, missed, but stabbed more in quick succession, trying to meet the struggling form underneath me, pinning him.
As the light from the lantern finally approached Harshrat’s camping place, I stumbled to my feet in a daze, still gripping my knife. Harshrat still lived, I heard him cough. He was finished, however; superficial as my cuts were, he would succumb to the deep-punched punctures soon enough. I was glad to move back, and accept Samet’s and Padav’s support. Unfortunately for Harshrat, Marna the tailor had left the caravan already, and nobody else seemed to have much in the way of a needle for his wounds. He was probably glad as the darkness took him.
I was really in no shape to observe what happened next, but it all went roughly as I had expected in advance: Harshrat had no friends among the caravan, and his behavior had been detestable before. I did not really even need to explain anything to the others, they thought they knew well enough. In a certain sense, I had gotten away with murder. It had not even been that difficult. It was unpleasant, but I think Samet understood that in a way I did it for her.
Yesterday I was distracted by my actions, but it passed, as it does. Besides, we finally beheld the Saur Rock near to eve, and that at the latest blew away my worries. It was an amazing, craggy piece of a lump of rock right there jutting up in between earth and sea, with waves crashing and lots of birds and lichen! I think my traveling companions were bemused by my excitement, as they decided to set camp close by. I thanked everybody for their company, as they would be continuing on to Tramellin in the morning.
Today I am preparing for the climb. This would be so much easier had I real wings like the martlet, particularly with all the gear I’d had in Padav’s wagon all laid out before me. I’ve got food and blankets and more conditionally useful things, like writing and drawing materials, in case I really find the fabled Citadel back there on the cape beyond the Rock. I’ll need to say goodbye to Padev and Samet, too, before they leave for their own destination.
- A Riddler in the Moonlight 16.12.2016
The following morning opens crisp and cool, yet peering at the sea next to Saur Rock reveals a heavy fog that blurs all details to a grey haze. Come to think of it the landscape kind of reminded the one that you arrived at. No wonder the fishermen you talked earlier gave you only vague information of the land behind the rock itself.
Goodbyes are short, yet informal. You have gotten acquainted with your company of travelers and momentarily feel the tuck you always feel in your soul when embarking on some lone quest. And as always, that is the tuck of the normal life, of the cages and chains that men and especially women suffer from, you say to yourself and carry on.
You are left with a rope, a small tent and rations enough to last an arduous walk to the nearest trading town, should you not find anything worth spending time in here. And if things go desperate, your coins probably can deliver some food from the local fishermen or shepherds.
The climb to the rock is an arduous one indeed, but you push your body to the task with anticipation and vigor. When you reach the top it is afternoon, you are drenched with sweat and lacerated with small cuts and bruises, yet rewarded by a breathtaking view from the high rock to far towards sea and land alike.
Back from whence you came, you can still see the dustcloud the caravan left when it continued its leisureous pace towards the following trading town. From these heights you probably could still see the caravan also if the ground was level, but small hills and crags between the cliffs hamper the visibility.
You soon turn your gaze towards your destination, but find that it is still, even in the strongest daylight, covered in fog unpenetrable like a blanket. Through it you can see the silhouettes of another rocky formations and when you start your descent you hope that you do not need to climb too many of these to reach your destination … if there is even anything left to find.
The noon sun felt hot on your sweaty skin when you were up on the Saur, but descending brings with it the cold dampness of the fog. Even the sounds you make against the cliff are muffled in it so that they feel distorted and alien-like. Visibility is but a dozen yards, which makes climbing down a perilous and slow task. When you reach the bottom, the darkness is already slowly crawling in.
You make your camp in the foot of the cliff your curiosity broken down momentarily by weariness. You eat your simple rations and huddle yourself in your blankets. The humidity is ever-present and the night brings with it chillness that forces you to put on all the spare clothes you have. Hours of the night move slowly towards morning.
Huge rocks and crags are lit by an ethereal moonlight. The fog has cleared, and as you gaze towards the horizon you can easily see the enormous citadel. It is surrounded by cliffs from all sides, towering up hundreds of yards almost vertically. The outer walls of the thing are carved right out of the stone itself, an impossible feat of engineering by itself. As you step forward, you see that parts of it are crumbled down though, and the moonlight plays with pieces and shards of marble and stone that is littered everywhere.
As you step forward, you are taken by feelings of great melancholy. Idly you pick a piece of stone from the ground, it is a face carved from marble. The features are almost completely worn out.
A man steps out from the innards of the deserted palace. In your absent-minded ponderings you only notice him when he is next to you. Still, you feel no fright, but slight curiousness.
Man is lithe yet tall, almost girly in his features. His young face is refined and beautiful with unnaturally symmetrical features. His eyes are grey and mysterious, like sea and stone.
— From your childhood you have liked riddles, he starts without introductions. He is correct so you only nod.
— Then here is one for you: I am a king yet there is no kingdom. I am a ruler, yet there are only three subjects. I have infinite knowledge yet I have no books. I can do whatever I want, yet I can’t move.
Seeing you overwhelm he forms a hint of a smile.
— Come find me, but be quick.
- A Day on the Dig 19.12.2016
As I awaken, the first thing I do is look for my notebook to write down the strange dream. The second thing I do is impatient fidgeting as I wait for the sun to rise, followed thirdly by getting up and stretching out back muscles locked up by the cold. It takes some doing after the reckless climbing day and the cold camp on the rocks, but I’m more or less Lucie-shape once it’s finally light enough to write. Of course I’ve forgotten half of it at that point, disappointingly, but I do get down the strange riddle that I’ve focused on since awakening. Not letting that slip away into the dawn, could be important!
I am not so foolish as to take dreams seriously, but neither am I ignorant of their significance to the subverbal mind. I am being ab-gnostic, mindfully. I sketch what I remember of the imposing structures in the dream, and the riddler, but of the latter I remember little; what I get on the paper gets mixed up in my memories of the Wanderer, and after a few minutes I am no longer certain if it was not him I dreamed of. The subtle matter of dreams leeches out of the most ordered mind in the light of day, and what dregs remain get mixed up in real memories. His impatient yet uncaring mien, hurried explanations, even riddles.Parenthetically: I met the Wanderer over a decade ago, back home in Tolosa. He and his traveling companion were sophists, perfectants, sages seeking, or possibly finding, Ataraxia. His deed brought me my first inkling of True Magic.
But for the riddle, that I got, and it is a new one to me. What is the subverbal, instinctual layer of the mind trying to tell me? Omniscient, omnipotent, unmovable, three subjects? The only answer that occurs is the gresal apeiron, the absolute one-above-all, with its trifold manifestation into the apparent world. If this is the answer, there is no great mystery to the dream; it but affirms my commitment to seeking the True Magic.
Having satisfied my oneiromantic curiousity for the time being, I pack up my meager camp and begin a survey of the Saur peninsula in the light of day. The fog of yesterday is gone, revealing a narrow low-land rolling down from the Rock itself towards a coast perhaps a mile or two distant, ending up in barren beaches and the sea wroth with waves and foam. No sign of any great fortress here, nor anything that would attract the local fishermen as they journey around the cape. However, perhaps I will be more observant, knowing what to look for.
I walk all the way down to the shore in a wide arc, sketching a map as I go. There is soil on top of the hard stone, and consequently sparse grass, but rock still juts up everywhere, leaving the seaside meadow pock-marked. It does not take much to confirm that many of the rocks, half-buried and weathered as they are, have at some point in the past been hewn by human tools. I learn much on my morning walk, stopping to write and draw my observations.
It seems that there have indeed been buildings here long ago; the regular shapes of the walls may still be perceived, overlaid by the organic nature. Certain of the stones have been shaped by tools long ago, and some may be recognized as having been part of great arc-works by their shape. The residents probably collected rainwater in great catchments on the Rock itself, getting around the lack of ground-swell; observing the hillside in the sun, I can almost see the faint traces of aqueducts zig-zagging down from the Rock. Can’t have been too much water even then. Nevertheless, there must have been a great many buildings here, judging by the subtle outlines left in the ground; however, much of the loose rock has been scattered, perhaps sunk in the waters surrounding the cape. Closer to the shore it becomes obvious that the water is shallow while the reefs are many and treacherous, making a dubious prospect of arriving here by sail. I can imagine how throwing down the great towers in my dream could have brought about such reefs. It would certainly explain the mystery of the Lunar Citadel, were it torn down so thoroughly as to leave little but rocks and moss where it once stood.
Regarding the geography, it seems that most of the landmass on the cape consists of two areas: one is the long, narrow strip of beach and meadow on the western side, in between the Rock and the ocean; the other is what I shall call the “Citadel”, a wide square-ish plateau south of the Rock, well up from the ocean swell yet nowhere near as high as the Rock proper as it begins to rise towards its peak shortly to the north. Both areas show signs of habitation, but where the beach meadow is a place of grass and sand, the Citadel plateau has moss and large rocks bare of all but lichen and a few large bird colonies that squawk at my presence.
Satisfied with my overview, I start gathering grass on my way back uphill, intending to look for a better camping spot. The ocean winds are chill, the entire Saur Rock is cold, and I would rather insulate myself best I can, particularly as there is little to burn here. As I crouch among the tall grass, I also discover marble hidden by the undergrowth; there is a smooth yet fractured slab and some shapeless fragments, but also a half-intact piece of a statue. It is vaguely classical, probably a head, yet smooth and devoid of fine detail. Vaguely familiar, perhaps because it reminds me of the white robes of the Wanderer, or something from my dream this morning.
Around the noon-time I locate a reasonably sheltered nook on the south-eastern side of the Rock, high enough to get out of the worst of the fog should it rise again. The cliff leans over a bit, and the walls should limit wind as well. I put some effort into filling the nook up with dry grass and moss, and move my pack and blankets into the nest, too. The tent canvas goes in front, to trap warmth. Perhaps it won’t be too unpleasant for a second night. I perch the marble head outside, to watch out for me.
I spend the rest of the afternoon scratching about on the Citadel plateau, turning stones and drawing a map of the grooves and the great rocks, trying to get a sense of the architecture of whatever it was that stood here before. Something from my dreams tugs at me, but I merely make note of it to ponder upon later, when I have a more complete picture. I also take a break to collect eggs: the birds are puffins of some sort, nesting in a big colony all together, with nests side by side like hens in a coop. There are hundreds of nests, if not thousands altogether on the southern incline of the plateau. Their resistance is nominal, near resigned, as I stamp among them. I could probably catch some of the birds, too, with sharply thrown rocks or some sort of a string. Perhaps tomorrow, if I stay here another day.
Time for hypotheticals: given that the Lunar Citadel resisted imperial authority indefinitely; given that the occult secrets they usurped had to do with their preservation; given that this is indeed the location; what happened to the Citadel since then? Furthermore, is there anything left of their secrets? The thought that possibly the last inkling of real sorcery of the antiquities, of elevated craft beyond the mummeries and mageries of the present era, might have disappeared without a trace… it is unpalatably sad. Few even know and less understand what it means that at one time human craft was unlimited by toil, distance and age. To have such be the sum of us…
Assuming that the Citadel-dwellers did not turn into puffins or dig their way to sleep under the Saur Rock for the cycle of ages, it is likely that an unknown catastrophe took them. Something to do with the Lunar magistry of the late empire, perhaps, who might not have limited their activity to besieging and regulating contact with the Citadel. It is unlikely for the Citadel to have come to an end via imperial action, however, as such achievement against the Thorn of the Golden Empress would surely have been publicized widely and immortalized by the chroniclers of the time. Barbarians, ever the bane of civilized city-states, are a more likely explanation, particularly if the harbor was in better shape before the cape was seemingly scoured by devastation. Or, obviously, the Lunar magic, whatever its nature, might have turned against its masters.Parenthetically: the poor Calder was a stranger to me when we met in Vicenza, at a time when I hardly had any friends or credence in town. He helped me, perhaps against his better judgment, and paid for it terribly. Matters like this are why I prefer not to talk of my past.
Lacking concrete clues, I will at least spend the first half of the night usefully by attempting to observe the moonrise. One of the few reliable facts I learned about the Lunar Citadel at Vicenza was that the Citadel was supposed to be situated in a location that “draws down the Moon”– this is to say, it is known that the Citadel celebrated the city’s virtus every 18 years, in an obvious reference to the dragonic period of the Moon’s ecliptic movement, and furthermore the Moon was supposed to appear directly overhead at these times, which is not true of any Moonstill celebrations of other nations known to the literature. Thanks to the lunar calendaric tables that Calder Abersson copied for me at Vicenza, I should be able to figure out whether this is the place once I measure the angle of declination of the rising moon. Counting back with the tables should sum away the entire observed declination at Moonstill, leaving the Moon directly overhead. Or forward, rather; the next Moonstill is only three or four years from now, so less summing that way.
To get that far, though, I’ll need to get some rest now, and get up before the Moon. Luckily my new nest is not likely to be so comfortable as to become a problem in this regard.
The Match begins.
Rolled a ‘1’.
Hero dice: 1
- Dreamers and Rowers 22.12.2016
Sleep is an easy target that evening. Your new sleeping arrangements bring comfort and warmth that you were sorely lacking the night before. The last thing running through your head before slumber is a fear that you will sleep too long and miss the moonrise.
You arrive from nowhere but rather become conscious of your surroundings gradually. The huge pillars of marble and stone surround you as you step in the main entrance of the Citadel. The floor tiles are smooth and seem to alter their color from white to grey depending on the angle of your view and how the light hits them. Silvery light it is, and even though you can’t see the source you would bet all your money that it moonlight.
The companion of your last dream is with you, his tranquil eyes reflecting the gray shades of light. You focus and try to remember. Is he the Wanderer or not. For some reason you just can’t grasp with your own thoughts. Like so often in a dream, the solution eludes you.
— Aren’t the shades of light marvelous, Riddlesolver? You are not sure whether his voice is condescending on purpose or if this is the way he always speaks. You try to remember how it was in the last dream, but for some reason you can’t. This seems to irritate you immensely.
— Well, yes, dreams are often vivid. You try to hide the edge from your voice, yet what could he do, this is your dream.
He seems to undestand your thought. Perhaps it is natural as it is your dream anyway.
— Indeed, but this dream is not only of you. Let me show you.
You suddenly change place. As it happens in dreams, you don’t even feel it is anything out of the ordinary, you just notice new surroundings around you and get accustomed to it as best as you can.
You stand in a smaller chamber, very plain and made of grey stone and marble. There are ten beds of ascetic design and each of them are occupied. They are men and women of almost identical appearance and they bear a strong resemblance to the Riddler next to you. The beds are arranged in a circle, the heads of each occupant close to each other. Countless strands of thread, like white-gray silk, stretch from each sleeper to the next. Like vines, they grow out of the foreheads, eyes, noses and mouths of the occupants and doing so form a strange, web-like structure between their heads.
They are fast asleep, you realize. Their chests are moving comfortably and they are sporting soft features as calm as of sleeping children. The scene is utterly alien, yet filled with calm tranquility.
— They were the Dreamers, long ago. They formed the Dream, the Otherwere, the Paradise. The home of thought and delight. Now there are no one left but me.
He sighs and with his imminent sadness the room immediately starts to fade. You try to devour the details of the scene with your keen mind but it deteriorates quickly, frustratingly quickly. With the last ounce of your focus you notice people walking among the beds. They seem to feel out the strands stretched between the sleepers, tugging them, caressing them, perhaps re-attaching the disconnected ones. The people move with sluggish fashion, like automatons.
You wake up abruptly and peering out of your nest you greet the bright moonlight with an irritated sigh as your fear of oversleeping was indeed a reasonable one. But there is no time to sulk over the matter as you figure out what woke you. Creaking of oars and splashing of water warns you of the approaching rowboat giving you enough time to take cover before you are noticed.
It is indeed a small rowboat that you see in the bright moonlight. It approaches the sandy western beach and you can easily see it and the occupants from your high watchout. As the craft is beached, three silhouettes of man jump out and after they have pulled the boat higher on the sand they start a brisk trek towards the higher plateau in the east.
You observe the men from your hiding place, wishing that they do not come too close to see your sleeping nest. The tide is low and you figure that whatever they are doing, they must do it quickly as after few hours it will start to rise again and take their boat out to the sea.
Luckily for you the men won’t come towards you, but rather to a spot closer to the southern edge of the plateau. You dare to approach them in the shadows, drawing closer. They seem like ordinary fishermen from that distance, yet you notice a certain sluggishness in their brisk gait. None of them ushers a word, yet they seem to know where they are going.
Finally, they seem to reach the place they are after. It is a crevice, surrounded from the sides by stones of seemingly arbitrary placement. From the distance you are forced to observe you can’t see the details of their affairs as after they all stumble in the crevice they are out of your line of sight. Frustrated and as you hear them no more you dare a cautious approach.
There is a round, black hole that seems to lead straight into the rock below.
- Judicious Retreat 26.12.2016
I hesitate at the crevice, only barely perceiving the foreboding darkness of the grotto deep between the rocks. There is no flicker, no gleam of torches or candles; wherever those men went, they needed no light.
Of course I am now much wiser to the true nature of the Lunar Citadel, so much so that I find it needful to creep back uphill, back to my nest, to brood on what I saw. I take the marble head in with me to hide us better – and to use him as a basher, should it come to that. My pulse quickens at the thought, even as it is supremely unlikely that those men should find me tonight in my personal crevice.
More to the point, it would be outright senseless to descend into the grotto after those men now that I know the Dreamer for what he is: they are clearly his creatures, come to service their master, just as he revealed in the dream. As for that, I rummage for my notebook and write down what I remember of the dream, word for word, as best I can in moonlight. Doesn’t feel like I’ll be forgetting tonight soon, as scary as it was. I truly did not expect anything to be alive here… I am being introspective, but feel nothing to suggest that I were still under his spell, try as I might. If anything, I am wide awake, jittery even. What would a being such as him want of me? Is it just a wish to silence a witness to this place?
My difficulty now is that the night is still young, yet I am trapped on the Saur cape, between darkness and sleep; I dare not seize the boat, not knowing the way in darkness, yet it is hardly feasible to try to climb the Rock in the dark, either. I can wait for the servitors to leave, but sooner or later the warmth of the nest will lull me to sleep – and back to his realm, I assume. I wonder why the servitors did not simply come pick me up? Are they following prior commands, or worse still, are they procuring weapons from underground?
Too many questions, yet not enough answers. When in doubt, act: I open my bag and identify items by touch, piling most of them against the cliff at the back. The night chill bites as I drag down the canvas, which I wrap over the rest of the equipment. If my worst suspicions bear fruit, it is best for me to reach Tramellin tomorrow, and that means traveling light and fast.
After lightening my load I spy upon the shore and the slope, looking for the men. Seeing no sign of them, I shoulder my bag and move out, intending to circle around to the western side of the Rock; I’ll get well out of the way of their boat, and the place where I came down surely offers me the best chance of going over in the dark, too.
The moonlight is something of a two-edged sword for me as I prepare for the climb: on the one hand the bright paleness makes this climb borderline-possible at night, but on the other hand – do I know that the magic of the Dreamer is not transmitted by the moonlight? Maybe he far-sees by the Moon? Lesser arts do not surpass the limit of distance (despite claims and tricks of so-called seers), but I have never heard of hypnosis (dream magic, that is) such as his, so perhaps this is True Magic? Of the limits of such I know pitifully little, but for the First Law, which I hardly understand. For all I know putting myself out in the open on the Rock in pale moonlight puts me entirely in his power.Parenthetically: the First Law is something I learned from the Wanderer. He told me that “True Magic operates from meaning, not nature.” I do not pretend to understand fully, but I believe that the Law is less of a limit and more of a summation of what magic is.
Second-guessing myself out of ignorance would be even more foolish, however, and I do not desire to sleep upon Saur Rock, so no helping it: I stumble about in the western shadow of the Rock for a time, however long it takes to find the zig-zagging path I followed half-way down the day before yesterday. The moon peeks around the Rock by the time I come to the steep part, which is fortunate, as this would be completely impossible without that little light. Now it is just barely worse than coming down this way in the fog. I think to look back to the beach, but cannot see the boat; perhaps they already left, but I probably wouldn’t be able to spot the boat at this distance anyway.
The worst parts of the climb are the steeper slopes where one can’t get higher without leaning into it and dragging oneself up by hand. It is exhausting enough by day, but seeking for handholds at night is quite stressful. I stop once on the way to sweat, and dry my hands. A second time the Moon disappears behind a rogue cloud, forcing me to stop and wait for it to reappear. After that I start hurrying, because I need to get up there before the Moon sets. Not that it ever does; ever as slow as it moves, the Moon over Saur Rock seems near stuck in place, lingering until the morning.
The eastern horizon is already growing scarlet when I reach the top of the Rock. Looking back, the western sky is still eerily dark, and the hidden land of the cape remains wrapped in the grey glow of the setting Moon. It looks exactly like the kind of place that Serpina, the illicit moon goddess in my homeland, would favour. I drink the rest of my water and wait for the Sun to rise and bring clarity; the coming day’s journey has me already exhausted, yet I dare not stay here for the Dreamer or his servants to find.
Going down is fortunately much easier, and the dear Sun makes it near playful compared to the grim work going up. It is still early morning as I reach a narrow ravine fit for a careful jump off the Rock and back to soft grass on the landside. First order of business is filling up my water jug from the stream near our camp site, earlier; second is starting off towards Tramellin. I understand that it’s about ten leagues; quite a walk, but I can do it.
It is imperative for me to make contact with friendly, trustworthy locals, which should be possible in Tramellin; besides a traveler’s inn, it’s entirely possible that I’ll catch up with my caravan friends there; I understand Tramellin to be a minor trade hub, and end of the line for the north-bound route. Padav and her family will probably stick around for a week at least, just for the business, and I am sure they would aid me in trouble. Certainly they have not yet passed the Rock on their way back.
The road remains reasonably constant despite the hilly country, faithfully tracing the slopes as it draws away from the coast, through the occasional grove, yet mostly over bare meadows, perhaps pastures abandoned for the season. There are even little bridges over the streams characteristic of the Karst, complete with cute carvings of little gods or saints etched in red on the rails. Thinking of the road stretching forward towards Tramellin, and back, with the numerous potholes conscientiously filled in makes me think of the local knight constables, and bogatyrs like Harshrat. I do not know if meeting one on this lonely road would be a blessing today, or if a peon of the land would be preferable. Either might mean robbery, or worse, in such a forlorn land.This is where I realize that Harshrat maybe did not have enough imagination to invent the idea about Saur Rock being “forbidden” and “perilous”, even if he was patently self-serving about it.
Should I meet friendly locals, I should make it a priority to find out what they know about the “dreamwalkers”; if the Dreamer has slept under the Saur Rock for well over half a millennium, chances are that the people will have some inkling. Perhaps some conspire with him, or certain villagers simply suffer of mysterious sleepwalking as he draws humans to his lair to serve him, generation to generation. I could even find allies in investigating further, if the Karst people have any garou-hunting traditions, like back in Paisvien. Have to be discreet to be sure, in case they fear the Dreamer and would turn on an investigator like me.
As the day wears on and my plans start spinning in circles, it becomes obvious that I have been much too hopeful about my stamina. The night’s exertions drag painfully at my thighs and shoulders, and under the long hours of noonday sun my lack of sleep turns to stupor. I may not be at my shrewdest when I decide to take a short break, but at least I choose a shady spot in a copse off the road. Obviously, once I’ve decided to relax for a moment, I fall asleep. The assumption of safety once off the Rock proves unfortunately erroneous.
The Moon shines peacefully upon the little grove, the soft-leaven firs sway gently in a refreshing breeze. The Dreamer’s pale eyes fall upon my sleeping form. I can only stare at him as he crouches next to me, frozen in place. As always, the dim moonlight reveals his features only notionally, in a way that leaves one seeking in vain for natural blemish in the alabaster skin.
— You can actually get up, Riddlesolver. It’s just sleep paralysis on you, he says and leans back. — Such happens to inexperienced dreamers when they get stuck halfway into dream. Relax, embrace the reality around you, and it will pass.
I tense my jaw, actually feel it tensing in the dream, at the lecturing tone. Now, if only I remembered where and why I fell asleep; for some dream-begotten reason I can only remember that I wanted to avoid this exact situation. I suppose a human must sleep at some time.
— I acknowledge what you just said, I finally mutter and sit up, feeling my limbs lighten. — I assume that your familiarity is because you read my thoughts like a mentalist, and your not introducing or explaining yourself is because that’s how your people establish seniority.
He seems taken aback by my venomous tone, which suits me just fine if it means he keeps leaning away from me; he sat much too close to begin with, familiar to a fault.
— Are you angry at me, Riddlesolver? he asks, voice dripping in wonder. I cannot decide whether he is shaken at all, and do not care. It is true, I am angry.
— Do you have any idea how hostile your behavior seems? You act like a demented Filth Alley gigolo: coming into my dreams unbidden; pretending to know me; resembling an old friend; giving me nick-names and assigning tasks to prove my worth to you, as if I wanted to; ordering hapless people to fulfill your whims; being all mysterious about yourself while showing off your bachelor crib. I think you are trying to use me, and either you do not understand how scary it is to remember such dreams in the morning, or you do it to gain the upper hand on a person. The only mystery is why you have not enchanted me like your servants, and I can only assume this to be because I would have to “find you” first, like you asked me to, appealing to my curiosity and self-worth.
I stand up and get out from under the trees, unable to control my ardor. I see the Moon, but little else, for the surrounding meadow is overlain by grey mists. I actually feel for my knife, acutely aware of how unthinking such action feels in a dream; almost as if the whole modality of the dream hinges upon balance, and could tilt into something different by the choice of drawing steel.
He follows at length, clearly tense and unsmiling. The grey mists retreat and part as his attention approaches, yet my attention is on him only, as I gesture him to stop.
— I think that you are of inhuman origin, or so distanced from humanity that it may be the same thing. I do not trust you, and all the less because I think I tried to get away from you in the waking world, yet here I still am.
— This is actually how I look, or at least I think it is, he says, ignoring what I said just now. — I also do not read your mind. As for the rest, I would like to apologize, and explain myself, to the extent I can. And warn you, as you deserve.
- Interrupted Sleep 29.12.2016
You are surprised by his apologetic tone and demeanor. And not only this, but his words lack the condescence that earlier seemed to seep from them. Suddenly you are at a loss for words, something that rarely happens to you. Rarely, but often with the Dreamer. Still, after a pause he continues.
— For so long I have only talked to fishermen and shepherds. They are creatures of simple mind, yet I do not want to disturb their life more than is necessary. You can’t imagine how I have longed to talk with someone that shares my curiosity. It is true that I use the fishermen, three at a time I can use, but this I do for the greater good. If the threads are not maintained regularly I will die and with me the Otherwere dies. The Otherwere that has existed parallel to the cold world of yours for countless of generations. So now you know some parts of the riddles I presented to you, while others you yet do not.
His speech feels suddenly intimate and human, his words stagger to each other with high passion and anxiety behind them. Part of his mysterious aura feels gone and from the corners of your vision you see that the grey mists close in all around you, vanishing all but few details of the surrounding world, leaving only him and you. Your analytical mind connects the movements of his mind and and of your surroundings.
Yet he continues without a pause, not giving time for you to reply.
— But you are not my servitor and I don’t want you to be one. I can’t read your mind, yet I feel your dreams and thus I can feel your motives and the movements of your thoughts sometimes. I have felt them from afar, perhaps all the way from your home. I have felt your passion, your desire to find new …
The Otherwere goes dark, the Dreamer and moonlight vanish as you snap awake. For a moment you are in stupor, wondering what is real and what is not. Your mind clears quick enough though.
It is the sound of incoming horses that woke you, five of them to be exact as you instinctively peer at the road from your hiding place. They ride from Tramellin you guess, at a leisureous pace and as they come closer you can see the myriad of armors and weapons shining in the evening sun. Bogatyrs, you figure out, fighting-men with mis-matched equipment and stern looks.
To your horror they stop but a hundred paces from your camping site but you soon realize that they haven’t noticed you. You hear shouts and clanging of weapons as they start to make a camp right there beside the road. Seems that they are not trying to hide at least. You crawl closer so you could hear what they have to say. The plan you quickly formulate is to wait for the cover of the darkness and then sneak away. Revealing yourself to them feels utterly pointless at least.
They have barely finished their chores when a rider approaches from the direction you came from. When it becomes evident that he is of the same stock as the rest of them, a hairy giant of a man steps out from the bunch and on the road. He motions the rider to stop and he cautiously does as he is bidden. Even from this distance you can spot his insecurity though. Perhaps bogatyrs rob each other in regular intervals?
The hairy giant calms the man quickly with a bellowing voice.
— Greetings to you. It is your lucky day today. A man has come from abroad, who has hired us all for a task simple enough for a child. Join us! He stated that if we should meet fellow armsmen, we can hire a few.
The man seems a bit relieved and dismounts.
— What is the task then, he asks, a bit of suspicion left in his voice.
The big man laughs whole-heartedly and continues. He seems to blabber words as a constant, non-stopping current.
— We need to go to Saur Rock and capture a young woman of foreign origin. We can kill and loot anyone else with her but she is to be taken alive to Tramellin. The man who hired us, Bungisgan he said his name was, what an odd name that is. Well, odd is the man himself as well. Old and looks like he hasn’t slept in a hundred years, if you know what I mean. But he has coin and he came in with a band of warriors of his own. Didn’t know the exact location of Saur so he decided to trust the locals with this task, he said. I don’t know why we need five men for this job but I am not complaining as long as the coins keep flowing. My only fear is that there is no woman there at all. I can’t see a bloody reason for a foreign woman to be alone at Saur Rock. Piles of bird-shit and lichen.
— What about the legends?
The giant laughs mockingly.
— Yeah, sleepwalking fishermen and shepherds, right. Forbidden, haunted ruins, ha. I remember the stories that my mother told me. But I grew up and stopped believing in fairytales long ago. Come join in, we have mead and good food with us. This Bungisgan-fellow sure is a queer man but we rid him of his coin-purses if he so wills even without staining our swords.
Hero dice: 1
Monster dice: 3
- My Second Kill 02.01.2017
Having heard all that the noisy men choose to share with the world, I retreat to wait for the sunset. There’s no way I am sneaking out before then. It seems I shall again ally myself with the night, no matter how reluctantly. It is now all the more imperative that I reach Tramellin, for that is where this Bungisgan has quartered, and that is where I shall confront him. This is not a difficult choice for me; it is better to be the one who acts than to be acted upon, and anybody who would follow me all the way here over the plains will not give up so easily. Particularly not if I am any judge of the man in question. I am being far-sighted.
As I settle down well out of sight in the grove, it takes me a moment to remember that I haven’t written down my dream, which is already frustratingly vague in my memory. I do know that the Dreamer caught me again, and I accosted the entity in some manner. It seems more and more certain that the Dreamer is what I am seeking for in this forlorn land, the secret of the Lunar Citadel… I will have to confront him again, and may in fact have no choice about the matter, for not only is he my best chance at the mystery of the old magics, but he also might be in danger from the bogatyrs. Fearsome as he is, his demise in the hands of some ruffians would be a loss to a world yearning to rediscover old wisdom.
More likely that the bogatyrs will come up with a loss tomorrow, of course; they may not even find my camp site, and they do not strike to me as men who would trawl every inch of the cape over several days to find the entrance underground in such an innocuous location. Thinking of their kind, I am not at all sorry at the thought of their frustration and curses as they sweat their way up and over the Rock, only to have to come back again empty-handed the day after tomorrow. Even with horses they likely won’t be back in Tramellin before three whole days pass. Plenty of time for me to get the lay of the land, and perhaps confront this Bungisgan before he is warned of my movements.
I have a good idea of who the dissipated old gelding may be, though I do not understand the reason he would be after me. Thinking back, it is obvious that he learned of my destination from Calder, with whom I shared my plans openly. This would have been last winter in Vicenza, in Marical valley, where I was furthering my studies of ancient history. I had been attracted to Vicenza by the reputation of the Mercers library after landing shortly in the nearby Scarlet City, a place much greater in trade and vice, yet poorer in wisdom than its humble in-land satellite. Where Scarlet is the proving ground of every new religion and philosophy under the sun, Vicenza benefits of a more sedate intellectual environment, respectful of its long heritage as an imperial city. Bitter, of course, and jealous of its position as the elder Marical city-state.In hindsight, knowing Vicenza better, it is obvious that the usher would refuse me entry to the library at my first outing: I was dressed for the Scarlet cityscape, with but a bare chest bodice and gauze for a slip under my cloak, the tattooed plumes on my arms in full view. I think the Vicentines have a distinct tendency to think whores of all Scarlet women visiting their town on the best of days, and I must have looked the part that day.
I am being reminiscent. At Scarlet I had proven to myself that I could handle the oligarchic chaos of Marical urbanities, and made some real money of my own. My confidence was higher than ever, so when I swooped down to the Mercers library with my fee in hand and a scribing basket on my back, being refused out of hand was a rude surprise. I didn’t even get inside the vestibule! Having admired the Mercers library from afar for years, the rudeness of the doorman upset me enough to make a little scene of it. That did not help matters any, of course, but it did attract the attention of Calder Abersson, who was visiting the library that day and happened to intercept a head-on collision between myself and one of those animal statues they like on public buildings in Marical towns.
Calder was treated as a free scholar by the Vicentines, despite being a foreigner from beyond the Ridges, thanks to his great skill in the cartographic arts; he was making good money in the map making business as I met him, or so I thought. He had his pass to the library, the rent of a modest hostel next to the city wall, and apparent curiousity for what a woman wanted out of the library, anyway. I know I am somewhat pretty – a thing to downplay most of the time – and assumed then that Calder was interested in courtship, but now I think he really just was that curious at first. Something we had in common, a certain preoccupation with human nature.
I had long adopted my policy of openness with future friends (and enemies, by implication) at this time, so Calder had no difficulty fishing out my story, or at least the immediate parts, then and there. I bought us both some pazzine from a water vendor, and he shared his cloak to sit on. I would learn later to carry a a cushion in my scribing basket while in Vicenza; they build nearly everything from terraces to stairs to benches of cold marble.
It was natural for Calder to help me gain access to the library starting the very next day; such was his nature, impetuous in a good way. First he smuggled me in furtively as his assistant in the morning rush, but later he helped me to buy my own pass, when I’d wised up to the Vicentine manners. It didn’t take me long to decide to move into Vicenza myself, as this was where the library was, and I didn’t really have any pressing interests in Scarlet at that point. I shared an apartment with two others who were, ironically, emblematic Scarlet women, in Vicenza for sex work.
Over the winter months I established my own reading regime, but I never stopped talking with Calder, who spent almost as much time in the library as I did. He was curious about my work, and I shared much with him; I was reading up on elder magic, what there was to know, and although he did not know much about the occult sciences himself, Calder could still be useful with his vast geographical expertise. I visited his hostel a few times to look at the etchings for an atlas he was drawing, and only left in the morning when the library opened. I often saw Calder’s manservant, an ugly old eunuch who would haunt his rooms day and night, only leaving his master’s side when Calder was at his studies, or with me. I learned to know Calder, and liked him, even if he was moody at times, and frustrated by the plodding nature of his work.
I did not know it at the time, but Calder must have made inquiries of me in Scarlet, as I never made a point of my career there while in Vicenza. I went by “Martlet” in both cities at the time, so it wasn’t difficult by any means, but it does show the extent of his interest. I knew he was interested, of course, from the way he went out of his way to spend time with me. He was trying to understand what drove my research, why I was attempting to piece together a complete picture of the history of magic. I never quite got around to telling him about the Wanderer, and my brother, and what made a bird of me.
It was in the late winter, in the intercalary before the Juvenalia, when I made my big discovery. By then I had largely pieced together a picture of the vast gulf between what even professional priests and magicians of today consider the acme of their craft, and the strain of mythic narrative that is the history of True Magic – a history that peters out with the end of the imperial age. Accordingly I had moved on to consider practical exploration, which of course is the real institutional strength of the Mercers library with its codified exploration logs and up to date maps; if any prospect of finding the knowledge out in the world would still exist, surely there would be some hint of it in these stacks.Parenthetically: The citizens of the Serene Scarlet like to think that they are the big post-imperial cosmopolitans of the Inland Gulf, embracing all three corners of the world in their trade quarters. I think that in reality it’s the Vicentine Mercers and their exploration companies who really knit the world together over the last ten generations, even when there were safer and more conventional choices to make. They were heroes.
As it happened, the discovery was something that could not be made anywhere else in the world. Where else would natural history in the old fashion be collated in this way, with all the best authors available for consideration? It was I who stumbled upon the resemblance between the the Mad Poet’s description of the Lunar Citadel, and the unrelated survey of the Karst coast by a free scholar, but it was the Mercers who owned those books. Also, it was Calder who helped me learn more about the Saur Rock, so he found out about my discovery right away. I did not mind at the time, and he was clearly interested in the idea that I could have a clue to the location of the fabled Lunar Citadel; that is the kind of thing that makes the name of a free scholar, after all.
With Calder’s help I was quick to pull my references together over the next few weeks; I knew I’d want to present an expedition to the Saur Rock, to participate – to lead such, should that be possible for a foreigner. I would go alone if necessary, such was my zeal to get out there and step beyond the horizons drawn by other hands. It was a powerful compulsion, strong enough to draw me on a long and dangerous journey, yet it was the only way to reach what the mummeries of the sophists in Scarlet evidently failed to capture. Calder encouraged me, although he seemed to think that the Mercers are on their way to stagnation, the household fractured between quarrelsome heirs, and unlikely to care of new adventures while surrounded by old glory.
Before I got too far in drafting my presentation for the Grand Patron, however, my plans were waylaid by Calder Abersson, my faithful ally. He wanted, needed my help in a most fantastical affair concerning that manservant of his, the eunuch. I was honored to think that he would come to me.
“Martlet, I am in desperate need of help,” he began his tale in whisper while seated next to me in the library atrium. “Without mincing words, truth of the matter is, my body man holds a terrible threat on me, worse than a sword upon my brow. It is like I was the slave and he was the master. Exactly like that.”
Hearing something like that, I would obviously put down my reading. What could he mean, and how could I help him?
“My sad secret is that I am in thrall to a poisonous medicine, a drug brewed by the man. It is a masterful ploy, for I know not what secrets go into its making, only that it is most fearsomely effective, and by denying me his infusion he holds the power of life and death over me.”
“That… is one unlikely tale, you have to admit,” I reacted with a wry smile to the distressing news. “However could this state of matters persist? Wouldn’t you call upon the magisters, or the expertise of healers in Scarlet, the Leper Corporate even, to aid you against such a blackmail scheme?”
Calder was entirely serious, impatient, as he explained further: “I will have to tell you the full truth of it, Martlet, for you are too perceptive for anything less: although to the world we are master and servant, him and I, in reality it is he who is the master, and I a mere slave. He is a master of evil, an influential secret magister, who prefers to use my humble self as a public face in his everyday dealings, obscuring both his status and mine. He is safe under the law, as honorable men will swear in his favour should he need them. I can even show you the chattel mark on my flank, cunningly hidden by his crafts from the exploration of your nimble fingers through this winter.”For what it is worth, I never asked Calder to show me his slave marking. I should have, as the possibility of having missed that in his bed all winter long beggars belief.
Understandably mulling that one over took me a while; I still count at least three exceptional claims in Calder’s story. At length, however I decided to accept his story for the truth, as I was beholden to him from before, and this being the case it did not actually matter how much was true; what mattered was that he wanted my aid.
“Very well, I won’t bore you with exclamations of surprise at your story in a world full of wonder.” I said quietly and looked at him sideways. “What is it that you need of me, then?”
“Why, to steal away the medicine, of course! The man is a tireless stalker, and never have I gotten close to surprising him; I do not know when he sleeps. However, his system has the singular fault of simplicity, for I know where he hides the poison, and as he follows me constantly outside of the library hours, I also have certainty of where he is at any time. It would be a simple thing for a trusted friend to go pilfer it for me, and hold onto it until I could come reclaim it.”
“And once you had the medicine and could ascertain it, you could strangle the man, and escape abroad with his wealth,” I mused in whisper, drawn in by the problem presented. “The stock would likely keep you until you got proper medicinal assistance. As a learned man, you could even seek to replicate his recipe.”
Calder looked at me guiltily, near shiftily, forcing me to sigh. I never got around to telling him of the horrible thing I had done, so perhaps he thought me distressed by the audacity of his plan. Were a shred of his story true, however, that old eunuch was a stain even by the shoddy standards of the Marical oligarchies. In Calder’s story there was far too much of myself and the hidden morbidity of life in the Paisvien for me to be anything but eager to get involved in his enterprise.
The allotted time came two nights later; Calder and his man would both be out of the house on account of the eunuch’s business, whom serving whom I know not, leaving the place empty. Having a good sense for the layout, a key for the door and Calder’s word on the hiding place of the stash, I should be able to get in and out with no difficulty nor delay. I prepared carefully nonetheless, as the whole affair reeked of the unknown, and the coincidence of Calder asking something like this of me buttressed my suspicions, for such life had never been discussed between us.
I was justified in my fears when, after nightfall, I sneaked upon the service entrance of the house and slipped into the side yard. Four men were waiting for me there, four thugs. I did not notice them immediately, for my attention was on the house itself, and particularly the drawing room window where Calder would leave a sign for me to proceed. When the shadows moved, however, and a lone lantern took light in the hands of their lookout, I realized my predicament and betrayal. I darted for the gate, but one of them cut in leisurely, and I had to shy away from the invitation of his embrace.
“Wha- who are you men, lurking so in the yard of my paramour?” I twittered, so as to stall them. I have ever been a calm and collected thinker, which served me well that night. Not to say that I was not afraid – it was the most fearsome experience of my life, being alone in that yard with those four bravos. I could read confidence in their stance and iniquity in their gestures; they had long knives, yet sheathed, and I knew their kind well from Scarlet, which is rapidly coming to resemble the fabled City of Rats, Merrakush, in its worst parts.
“She makes as to be a mistress in the house!” hollered the lantern-keeper jocularly. He was the sort to enjoy himself, bullying the second sex.
“More like a thief, if I am any judge”, rumbled the man between me and the gate. “The master of the house warned us of such, and she’s dressed right queer for an honest tart.” This one was conscientious, and clearly had initiative. I stumbled unwittingly while leaping out of his reach, yet he grinned not.I was not prepared for a straight medley with ruffians: I wore my “martlet mantlet” over a simple bodice, the black satin chaperon I got from the guildsters in Scarlet on my head, and I had no sword, merely my old rondel from back home. I did have some cord around my wrists, though.
I was in trouble, that was clear enough: the side yard was narrow in between the gate and the house, and three of the men were in between me and the front, closing the cul-de-sac into a trap. I had no doubt of their motivations, and spared little thought to it, being focused on gauging their reactions and sorting my options. Or I should have been, but in truth I was most concerned for Calder and what private armsmen on his property purported.
“Let’s bag the lady”, the lantern-man finally gestured his companions forward. “No steel, mind; the master will want to a word with this one.”
I retreated towards the back wall in a suitably hesitant fashion, assuming that the lantern-man would be slower to follow than his companions, reducing visibility. This also got them all on one side; at this point I was mostly concerned about the man by the door, he seemed solid and calm in a way that marks a real soldier – or a real bitch, as they were to discover. The thugs couldn’t see my hands under my cape, which meant that I was the only one brandishing a dagger for the moment.
Unfortunately my composure was broken by Calder, sliding around the corner of the house and into the light. The lantern-man looked at him sideways, but instead of flinching, he merely nodded. They were in this together! I stomped forward angrily, practically giving myself up to the men grabbing at my arms. Regretted that immediately, I have to say.
“Why are you here, Calder?” I spat at him venomously as the men forced me forward into the light. “Your flesh trade friends surely don’t need your help to subdue a single woman! Did you come help them prep the merchandise, or what?”
“It is not as you imagine, Martlet,” he said in the sorrowful tone of the truly conflicted. “You went too far, and the master, he found out. He knows everything. We cannot help our lot.”
“That is exactly what you would say, is it not, to make me come along calmly! You just want me disappeared to get my discovery for yourself!” I heaved myself a bit, forcing the thugs to tighten their grips. I was angry, but as the once before when I was truly angered, it was a mordant hatred, poisonous and willed towards hurt. I saw myself clearly while struggling, and kept my dagger hand stiff, the blade pointing down the breach-seam. Stiff and hidden despite the wrestling.
I let out a constricted sob and relaxed, gave the men holding me just short of a moment to realize that I was beaten. Just as they relaxed in turn, one might even be about to say something, I twisted and slashed with the rondel in my hand. Shallow slicing over arms and torso, half-turn and then back, not slowing down, the way I was taught. Get away, try to swipe at the lantern, but it’s too far. Calder’s in the way, but I jump at him and drive him to stumble, falling, and I leap over to try for the darkness of the front yard.
The thugs shouted, screamed rather in surprise, cursed and ran after me in confusion. I had no plan, but I knew I had to get distance, and I had some rough idea of the garden’s shape, so I dived into the dark, did my best to avoid obstacles, and tried to get out of the light enough to hide. The thugs were light-footed as well, the three less disciplined at least, and they didn’t fear to run for me after I’d stung one of them. I considered a surprise turn to stab at one of them, but they would overpower me in an instant; I needed to avoid wrestling, not initiate it.
At first it seemed that I could make no distance in the constraints of the yard, but the bushes and gazebo at the master flank of the house slowed my pursuers enough to give me a slim chance at momentary obfuscation. As I turned sharply around the gazebo to the master flank, I knew what to do once I’d get to the narrow back garden. I sprinted as fast as I could.
I knew that the well of the house was at the back, but it was pitch black there for the moment, stumping me; there was too much household junk stored here to risk running, especially as I had needed to quickly find something heavy and not break myself running into things. My pursuers approaching helped at the last moment, as their light shone around the corner a good ten seconds in advance to my night eyes.
When the three thugs rounded the corner, they couldn’t but help hearing the loud splash from the well, made by an empty water jug I set up and dragged over with the well rope. It may have created the fleeting impression of a human body hitting the water, but of course such wouldn’t last – surely it is a decoy, and she’s trying to distract us from something. She wanted a distraction because she’s trying to escape somewhere else… And yes, there is a ladder here against the wall, that must be it!
I was, of course, neither in the well or futilely scrambling on the wall, not even inside the house when they checked the door; I crawled instead behind the window winter screens stored against the back wall of the house. The confusion over the well, and their willingness to engage in guessing games, helped me get past the men and back around the corner without being seen.
I hurried back towards the main gate to get out, and almost ran right at the fourth man. The damned reliable one had of course moved to check me here, just in case the three half-wits fell short. My eyes were barely sensitive enough to see the reflection off his blade. I still can’t decide if I’d rather had some more light when facing somebody like him; on the one hand he looked like just the sort of man who knew how to use his weapon, and liked it, but then if I could see what I was doing I could at least try something more than just barreling at him and wrestling down a man thrice my weight.
In the event I ran, of course – the service gate would be my way out. It wasn’t neat at all, as I’d only realized the danger mere paces before him, and he’d heard me in advance, calmly waiting as he was. As I twisted around I could feel him reaching, just like he did earlier at the other gate. He got a firm hold of my mantlet, but it tore off, as it should, leaving him holding the tatters as I ran away again.
“Martlet, I can’t let you leave!”
Of course Calder was there at the other gate, leaning against it in the dark. I took a quick look back, saw the jaunty lantern in the garden still looking for me; not much time, but Calder I could take in a fight. I know fighting men, have known since I was a child, and Calder was no fighter. Right that moment, I did not stop to think whether I wanted to fight him, or if he deserved it.
“Let me through, or I will hurt you!” I commanded him with all the authority I could muster. He was a weak man, I now realized. I could overpower him by sheer presence. “You lied to me out of greed, you worthless cur! You are meat unpure / fit for the blades / blades of the saints / pray for your life!”
Calder shrunk away from me then, and I could see the whites of his eyeballs in the dark, but he did not move an inch. In hindsight I am not sure how much he understood anyway, I might have shifted to a high Paisviennese dialect in the heat of the moment.
“No, no, all that I told you is true! The drugs, and he is the master. You know too much, know what does not belong to you! Let him take it away…”
I did not, in fact, have time to listen to Calder rambling. I looked back and saw the four bravos and their nightlight coming in fast. What may be worse, I saw a light in the drawing room window, and the unmistakable shape of the wretched eunuch therein, looking on; at that moment, between the man and the eunuch, I had no doubt whatsoever which was which.
Calder was not moving, was in fact too scared and confused to move, I think. I grabbed at him, but he held onto the gatepost with two hands. I still had my rondel, stabbed him blindly in the dark. Missed, threw sparks off the gatepost, but then struck flesh on a second try. I pushed the dagger in to the hilt, rose to tip-toes to do it, and heard him cry. Finally he relaxed his hold and I threw him down to the dust. Got the gate open. Escaped on to the dark street, and to the nearest guard station at the gates, to hell with appearances. Needless to say, next morning I was out from Vicenza, and soon I would be on my way away from the Marical Valley altogether.
And that is how I know Bungisgan, if it is indeed him; a twisted old slave seeking revenge for his greedy and treacherous master, or the cunning mastermind who exploited Calder my friend and put him in harm’s way. I truly do not know. Calder was either covert slave to a deadly habit, or a conspirator driven to betray me most foully, perhaps to steal my research. To not know is unbearably sad, but not as sad as knowing that Calder was a coward and a weakling at heart.
Rolled a ‘4’.
Hero dice: 1|4
Monster dice: 3
- Solitude, Tramellin, a mystery 04.01.2017
The evening passes slowly as you observe the loud endeavors of the men camped near the road. For a moment you think that you should doze off a little, but dare not to risk it as dealing with the Dreamer might make you sleep straight to the morning. You catch yourself from the thought, is it granted that he will always appear when you close your eyes? How far from the Saur can he still reach you? What is it that makes you so special?
The dusk falls and sounds of the camp grow silent, save for the lone guardsman who is chosen to pick the first watch. You used the evening hours to plan your route, when it was still light, so that now in the approaching darkness you manage to crawl and sneak without falling into crevices or stick to thornbushes. You give the camp a wide birth, and manage to leave the area without any greater incident.
You decide to use what light is left and find your way back to the road. It is a gray thread crossing the dark landscape, clear enough for you to follow even in the darkness. You walk noiselessly with your senses keen, even though you do not believe anyone would be traveling the road at this hour you do not wish to leave it to chance. The recent dealings and revelations have touched you profoundly.
Moon soon rises to accompany your nightly travel, painting the scenery with its silvery hue. The road is even more visible now and you make good progress along the route that goes through this broken landscape. You are pretty sure you will reach Tramellin before the dawn at this pace, perhaps giving you even a small time for rest.
Your assessment is correct as you spot the silhouette of the trading town between two rocky hills, hugging the sea. The landscape around the city is rocky and uneven, and it has forced the dwellers of this town to build almost everything inside its protective walls. Not only sheer size separates this trading town of the metropolises you have accustomed to but also the way of building, as large cities tend to spill over their original borders and fortifications.
The walls are made of stone, and are not very high considering that this is the largest trading town nearby. Your days spent on the Mercers Library serve you well as you know that the wealth of Tramellin does not rest too strongly on the locals but rather is moving with the caravans and ships coming and going. The officials of this city have always had the need to keep things practical, rather than to build a glorious city-state with strong taxation. Following this way Tramellin has saved itself from raids and conquests for few generations, a remarkable deed for a city in a frontier like this. This limits the lavishness of the local elite, but for a peace this seems to be the best price to pay. It is not that there is no power and influence in the city, but rather it has spread over for so many rivaling factions and the overall cultural implication is that the trade and ease of it especially are still valued and a source of pride among the townsfolk.
You decide to take the initiative immediately, during the last hours of the night. You feel surprisingly fresh considering you must have only slept for few hours before the bogatyrs prematurely ended your dreaming and you are not the one to wait and ponder after you have made up your mind.
Examining the outer walls of the city reveals that there are guard towers built from the same, boringly gray rock that seems to surround this city and cover this vast landscape, but they are far apart and the guardsmen you manage to spot from your hiding places seem tired and unfocused. This is a natural side effect of having peace for a long time, you dictate as you move forward with your plan.
Climbing atop of the low wall requires a rope, but you are no stranger to the climbing equipment and compared to your recent activities in the Saur this seems like childs play. You pick a spot opposite of the harbor and far away from the main gate and road leading to town and get at your sneaky task.
Up and then down again, you spend but a few seconds in this endeavor, and as far as you recall you have just entered the town unnoticed. You land safely between few simple-looking houses which seem to be made of stone. Plenty of this material lying around, you figure as you cautiously step from this small alley of sorts and look around. For a moment you think that perhaps your presence here at nighttime could be considered suspicious as the small, crudely paved paths between the houses seem empty and dark, yet there is no turning back now so you head to the center of the town with haste. A dog starts to bark violently in one of the yards you pass by, but you leave it behind by picking up your pace. It seems that either you are in luck, or the comings and goings of people are not so keenly observed here. Nonetheless your walk soon takes you to the center of the town.
Few things mark this to you. Firstly you see the great marketplaces, roughly open squares of more or less level ground where the traders come to show off and sell their wares. They are crude as is expected of a frontier town, yet large compared to the size of the town. Secondly, the houses grow taller and the usual rock-made buildings are neighbored now and then by houses made of partly, or completely from wood, Imported timber, from across the inland sea, you figure. Thirdly there are oil-lamps here and there bringing a shady-sort of light in the small courtyards and curved, narrow streets.
While the houses you passed before were more or less silent, the center of the town is more lively even at this hour. You even see few drunkards, definite marks of the spreading of civilization. They are sprawled in their filth and sleeping off their luck-earned stupor. Here you start to see other people as well. Women of profession, sailors, bogatyrs and whatnot and by the looks that you get you realize that you must find a shelter soon, or risk generating an encounter of ill-wanted consequences.
It is an inn of sorts, you figure out as you are followed by a bunch of bogatyrs, shouting their randy suggestions. Made of wood, but very worn it is painted green and a tall sign in the front just reads plainly “Green House”. The door is open though and you step in with haste to avoid meeting with the bogatyrs.
It takes but a moment for your eyes to get used to the dim light of the oil-lanterns, yet in your gut you feel a sudden tug. A sensation that something in this house is terribly wrong. Everything is silent, but this is not abnormal, you reason as you step forward. Yet, when you see a man, thin, rugged, bearded, sprawled in abnormal posture across the floor boards in front of you you are certain that the feeling is indeed not without a cause.
- A New Acquaintance 09.01.2017
I hesitate for a moment before moving to examine the body on the floor. This “Green House” may have been a house of hospitality at some time, but its glory days are clearly long in the past now: the once-luxurious viridian of the walls has largely flaked away, and the furniture is sparse and broken. However, there are two oil lamps alight here, on the doorjamb and another one sitting on a table near the body. It is a strange tableau.
I move forward carefully, but when I realize that the man is still warm, caution has to be set aside. I feel for his pulse and listen to the breathing, straighten the limbs and examine him for wounds. There are contusions, and he feels cold, as if in shock. There is a striking, alchemical stench to the man, and he is obviously poor. Has he been mugged?
I have no immediate means of helping the man, and staying here is dangerous; I seem to have inadvertently stumbled into an abandoned house in some ill part of the town, and at least some drunkards saw me come in. My opinion of the town drops even lower as I consider the odds of stumbling on something like this, although in honesty the darkness played a big part in it.
Just as I am making up my mind to try to sneak out and find a safer resting place, I hear the man cough and feel him stir under my hands. I still have some water in my flagon, so I hurriedly splash it on him, and slap him to full wakening.
― You have been frightfully beaten, do not try to stand up yet, I speak to him, trying to smile reassuringly as he jerks awake. For a moment I am not sure if he understands my Argestic accent, considering the tortured form local Basal takes, but then his eyes focus on my face and he nods, remaining on the floor. The man breathes, coughs, drinks, and recovers his strength as I peer anxiously at the door.
― Who are you? he finally asks in a powerless mutter.
― I am a stranger to the town, traveling on business, I explain. ― Call me Martlet. I was looking for an inn, but merely found this abandoned house, and you lying here. Who are you, and what happened to bring you to such straits?
― I… I was accosted by Kryfis thugs, Miss Martlet. I am named Besnik, and I am but a poor soap-maker and scoursman.
― It is not good for us to stay here, I intone seriously. ― It is not safe here for either of us. Do you have a safe place for rest?
Besnik seems to agree with me, and with my help he does get his feet under him. The man takes one of the oil lamps with him to the dark streets, which would not be my preference. However, the street is seemingly empty, and the night is dark as can be, as the Moon has already set, so perhaps it is just as well.
― I would be happy to put you up for the night, Miss Martlet, Besnik says as he glances to make sure I am following him. ― It is the least I can do for your concern. The night seems to be almost over. How did you get into the city at this hour, anyway?
― I climbed over the wall.
― This is a crafty thing for a woman to accomplish, Miss, even as it is something that agile boys do to little consequence as they come and go. Getting caught at it would not be good for you, however; it would be safer for you to be less foreign, and wear a shawl at least, to avoid drawing undesirable attention.
I would have many questions to this unassuming man with his little lamp (for instance – where did the lamps come from?) and calm patter, and it seems from his pace that we will be some way yet on the empty street; best I can discern, we are returning to the walls, and going down towards the docks. For now, the most pressing question.
― Why were you assaulted, master Besnik? Who are the Kryfis you mentioned?
― I will tell it shortly, Miss, he sighs with the tone of a man for whom there is no mystery to the story. ― It is a story of no great import. The Kryfis are thugs, criminals sworn to each other over any lord or council. They make their living extorting whomever they can. I do not have anything for them to take, not really, but they can’t let it go because of what happened to my brother: he disrespected Natric Kryfis, a particularly vicious man, and was slain for his trouble. The house you found me in used to be my brother’s tea-room, but now it is merely a place they like to use for beating people.
― Won’t they come for you at your home, then? I ask in horror at the powerless mien of the man. In fact, I will move to support him as we continue onward, he doesn’t look so stable as to be walking around like this after his ordeal.
― Not today, they already delivered their message. There is little sense to our little encounters with them; I think that Natric simply cannot believe that I would not plot revenge for my brother, and thus he returns to pick at the boil in the only way he knows, again and again. They will likely return when he grows bored again and remembers my existence.
We finally arrive at Besnik’s house, a place that seems shabby even in the dark before the dawn. The smell of the man originates, as I already suspected, in the articles of his craft — the house reeks of lye, potash, the musk of the wool, even from the outside. I am too tired to mind, however, as long as it is safe. My judgement is that Besnik is safe, safer than the many bogatyrs and thugs of this benighted land, anyway.
There is little ceremony to Besnik’s hospitality, and I want for none; we are both tired and in dire need of rest, if for different reasons. He brings me to the small bedshack beyond some sort of trough-yard and points me to a spot on a bedding platform covered in straw and warm bodies. Of course our arrival alerts a woman, evidently Besnik’s wife, clearly worried about his whereabouts tonight; I opt to disregard the resulting noisy exchange in favour of stashing my bag under the platform, on the principle that Besnik will tell me if he wants something from me. In fact, I am bold about my sleeping arrangements and crawl up in the dark to the place vacated by the woman, warm next to somebody — whoever it is, they insist on sleeping through our arrival, which only makes this place seem safer. That’s about as far as I get before I tune out, exhausted by the exertions of the last couple of days.
Of course, that is hardly the end of the night for me. I think for a moment I actually get to have a normal dream, something about being a bird and flying around chirping, but that doesn’t last. It is, perhaps, that experiencing the presence of the Dreamer has made me conscious of the dream state, and once I realize that I am dreaming, being a bird loses its luster. What is this dream, anyway? Also — have I lost my ability to enjoy sleeping?
It is interesting that the Dreamer has not accosted me yet. Maybe he has a limit to his range, and I finally got far enough away. As he clearly was not limited to the Rock, and said something about having followed me from afar, I would not expect the few leagues of distance to foil him. Maybe it’s the crowding, there are too many people here for him to find me…
By Serpina’s tits, I swear to myself; I think I will have to try to contact my stalker myself. There is still the matter of the bogatyrs, who knows what kind of danger they might put him in by traipsing around the Saur Rock. Besides, to be entirely honest to myself: I need him to answer questions if I am to get anywhere regarding the mysteries of the Lunar Citadel. Maybe he has a magical grimoire somewhere that I could look at, perhaps I should ask him about that.
Thinking during dreaming like this is strange, because I sort of lost track of the tree I was nesting in as a bird, and slipped instead into a sense of the room I am sleeping in. It is a most vague sense of the room, mostly just an intuitive knowledge of being the room. Not really a visual impression. Perhaps it is because I know on some level where I am, even when asleep.
I have to leave the comfort of frivolous dream now, however, and attempt a dream journey of a sort I would have not imagined possible. I have met oneiromancers in Scarlet, veiled priests claiming to have magical dreams of prophecy, but nothing I heard from them has prepared me for this.
Rolled a ‘2’.
Hero dice: 1|4|2
Monster dice: 3
- Dreams Deconstructed 12.01.2017
Your dream-self moves with the speed of your mind and thus the moment you realize you have made a decision to leave the room you are already moving. Conscious as you are, still your surroundings are fuzzy and incoherent to a point where you only vaguely recognize a scenery you are passing through.
It is not linear even. One time you feel the scent of the Flower Markets just the way they were back home when you were a child. All the while you can hear the bell-gong of the great library of Vicenza. You drift with the waves of knowledge and memory without control. A soft voice penetrates the haze.
— You wander off from the Real Dream, Riddlesolver. Stay focused, forget your past. Overtake the heart with the mind.
Maybe he helps or maybe you just do as he told you. Regardless the blurry visions pass and you are back at the road towards Saur, alone and in the moonlight again. He appears as always and walks at your side.
— The Real Dream is the collective dream-knowledge of all the dreamers of the world. This is why your surroundings look clear now, they are not only from your mind and memory, but from the minds and memories of all the dreamers of the world. This is one of the realms of Dreamscape and this is how I found you … and in some extent how you found me.
He walks there next to you tranquil as always. A thousand questions rise in your mind and stumble to reach your lips.
— Can we go anywhere then?
— I can. You can also, perhaps, someday, when you have learned the principles and rules of the Dreamscape. For now, we have to stay relatively close to the Citadel. You have only taken your first steps.
— You spoke of Otherwhere, what is it then?
— Otherwhere is a realm inside a dream, built by the citizens of Lunar Citadel over the centuries we dwelled there. It is a paradise without war, injustice or need. All the citizens were equals. We only obeyed the rules of knowledge and delight. Knowledge of all of the old world combined, and delights that the real world doesn’t even begin to experience or undestand. Knowledge was always superior but when not crossed, the delight was a highly praised as well. Two basic needs of a human soul, wrapped in a world of our own creation.
You feel his presence closer to you as ever. He seems to have dropped the act of mysteries and riddles, and you wonder what has caused this sharp difference in his demeanor.
— You will yet see that the Real Dream is a vile place, compared to the Otherwhere. Yet one needs to be accustomed to it to know what is happening in the world. And to interact with it, as the Threads need to be maintained or else I will follow my race to oblivion and the Otherwhere disappears. And you will notice that the more you spend your time in Otherwhere, the higher you will praise its value.
— If it is that fine and dandy then, what happened to all the other dreamers?
He is silent for a moment. You think whether you got him angry, but you can’t detect it in his voice at least.
— I … I will tell you someday.
You swallow the angry response. This man, this Dreamer always seems to give answers that just raise new questions.
— What can you tell me then? Why have you contacted me? What do you want of me? Why suddenly give me information after all the rituals and riddles? You couldn’t mask the irritation from your voice, even if your life depended on it.
– As I said earlier, you have a unique mind. This is our fourth meeting, and already you can master the basics of conscious dreams, by instinct. It is not much, but it is a start, and something that most of the minds of your world couldn’t even begin to comprehend. And from the moment I sensed you, I have been following you, following your dreams and desires. You can say I have lured you here, but the truth is that you done most of it yourself. You are a seeker and I can deliver the prize, there is no way around it.
– What about the bogatyrs, do you know they are after you? Or if not you then what are they after?
– I don’t know. They don’t know, or at least they can’t dream about it.
He grows silent and gazes at the horizon. His face has always lacked expression or so you remember. Still, you are pretty sure you sense a bit of fear from him.
– But you are afraid, right? This is why you ended the guessing game?
– Fear is the opposite of knowledge, the opposite of delight. You must help me. I’ll show you.
You are not stationary anymore. It’s like you suddenly stepped on a boat moving in fast current. The moment catches you and even though you can’t feel the movement, you feel this irrationality in your bowels, like when one goes seafaring for the first time. You hover ethereally over the dry landscape, crossing the meandering road once and then. You guess that your route will take you straight towards Tramellin.
Here and there you can see faint shapes of men wandering around, doing things, seemingly oblivious to your presence. You can hear their faint voices also, like coming from a deep well in the distance.
– Those are the single dreamers of your kind. They can’t detect us unless we want to contact them. But you are not ready for it yet. We’ll let them pass as ethereal beings of this reality.
It is near the city, when the shapes become numerous, and the voices grow louder and louder. Finally the individual voices and shapes disappear and the sounds boom in your head, uncontrollable and overwhelming. Instinctively you cover your ears and eyes, but it doesn’t help.
Dreamer steps close to you, shouting, or you think he is shouting. At least you hear him, faintly, over the constant noise.
– Focus on my voice. Look at me. Overtake the heart with the mind. Filter them out, do it now or they will rip you apart.
– I can’t, you slip out in distress. – I can’t.
– You can, you must! Focus!
Your head booms like a gong for few agonizing moments. But then, slowly, the intensity lowers. The forms weaken and diminish. You are not sure whether you somehow reduced them, or just get accustomed to it, like a hard body developed from arduous labor. Only faster.
– I can’t believe it. You can hear and see them already that well. I am sorry, but I didn’t anticipate this. The combined pressure of the Dream is high when density of people is increased. It is a good thing we didn’t meet near your Scarlet, or Vicenza.
– You know of the Scarlet? Ah, of course, you feel the dreams of the inhabitants.
– Yes, this is how I know the ways of the world. Your languages and ways…
– You were about to show me something, you interrupt him.
– Well, yes.
You notice that you have reached the gates of Tramellin and just flow through the solid walls of the town. Your gut again informs you that it doesn’t like the unreal aspects of your journey.
– The details and density go hand in hand, as you see. He points out the dirt in the crude pavements. The minds that traverse these paths paint a picture on top of picture, making it sharp and steady. I guess it can be almost indistinguishable from your world.
You hover through the town towards the harbor passing through walls, going in and out of houses in rapid succession making you grind your teeth and close your eyes from time to time. Finally your speed slows down as you approach a largeish wooden manor that is hugging the sea. It seems to be one of the most lavish buildings of the town, with a large garden and a courtyard, circled by a high fence made of iron.
But you observe these minutiae details with a passing interest only. Your focus is on the house itself. Your previous feelings of unreality, felt when passing through objects or moving without momentum are now surpassed as you observe a hole in the world. A dark patch of nothingness that just exists there in the wall of the building. For some reason you feel a repulsion to approach it and this time your companion seems to share you feeling visibly, he shudders even though the dream world is neither hot nor cold.
He starts to speak with a forced calmness.
– It is the Anti-Dream, a hole in the Real Dream. I have seen it, generations ago, yet when I enter the Otherwhere I lose track of it and it is incredibly hard to find. It has never been this near the Citadel but I can’t believe this is a coincidence. Not that you and it both arrive here at the same time.
– What is it then, do you know?
– I know not. I know only this: the dreams and dream-worlds are made by men. Then the Anti-Dream must be also made by men. But my world shudders of mere thought of it. Men without dreams, soulless, blasphemous beings. I just found it again this night, and my plans of slowly introducing myself to you were torn asunder. And now and here we come down to this: Can you help me, please? Can you find out what it is as you can now traverse both the real world and the dream world, yet I can only wander through the latter and thus am incapable of solving this mystery? I sense you want knowledge and I can give it to you if you just help me. Please.
What started calmly has reached a high-pitched crescendo. Momentarily you doubt his sanity and his humanity in the middle of this all.
Watching the spot of nothingness again fills you with dread. It is almost as if you can feel the calm and calculating will, reaching out from the distant past of the generations. You feel that it now knows you, knows exactly where you are. Standing there you realize that the feeling for you must be more concrete than it is for the Dreamer. There is almost a hint of horrible familiarity in there.
Rolled a ‘2’.
Hero dice: 1|4|2
Monster dice: 3|2
- The Promise 16.01.2017
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
- A Monstrous Introduction 19.01.2017
The day is short and halfway gone already as you start your chores. You have plenty to do as you hurriedly write the first entry to your planned dream diary and at the same time you try to ponder how you should approach the problem at hand, Bungisgan and figuring out who he is.
After your quick scribblings you go on to thanking your hostess, the apparent wife of Besnik, for the warm hospitality you received under their wing. It comes to you as no surprise that the bleak woman is cold, yet not actively hostile towards your presence. Besnik must have told her to behave towards me, you figure out as you go through the routine of thanking her and leaving the humble house as fast as you can manage.
Your plan now opens in front of you two-fold. First, you decide to seek out Besnik, who, you figure, can be found in some market of the town. He is a local man, strongly seeped in the ways of this town and could be helpful in your endeavors. After meeting with him you will go and find Padav. Together with the intelligence of these two you hope that you can formulate some kind of a plan to investigate of this mysterious Bungisgan.
You put your plan to action and hurried steps take you through the now daylit streets of Tramellin. Where during your nighttime travels you found a somewhat bleak and dubious city daytime brings more upbeat tones. You think of a while why is that; the streets are as winding as ever, houses as crude and roughly built. But it is the people that bring the positive. Thugs and ruffians are probably still sleeping off their hangovers and the honest, hardy folk has now taken over the streets and marketplaces. Even if there must be pickpockets, fortune-tellers and hustlers about, during the day their actions are of the minority and hidden, covered in the realms of honest interaction.
It takes a while for you to locate the helpful soap-maker, but finally you catch a familiar tone in the crummier part of the main marketplace. Low class craftsmen have no business going to the central stages of the marketplace, yet currently there seems to be enough people around to trade in the side-alleys as well.
You work your way slowly through the crowd and as you make yourself ready to throw a cheerful greeting to your benefactor, you suddenly realize that the stern-looking men ahead of you are not there for soap. There are three of them, in varying equipment, yet you do not see their faces as they approach the soap-maker doing his humble business. They do not seem like Bogatyrs, yet they are in the soldiering business as surely as you draw breath.
You sink down behind their broad shoulders and your mind works in a frenzy. Are these men of Kryfis? Why are they there to harass Besnik, even though the man thought they would leave him in his peace for a while.
Still, as you ponder, the crowd ahead of the men slowly dissipates.
― Are you Besnik the soap-maker, one of them asks with a raspy tone. The voice gives you an eerie feeling of familiarity, yet you can’t remember ever meeting the man during your stay here in Karst.
― Yes I am Besnik. What can I do for you?
― You must come with us, now.
― Sorry, but I can’t leave my wares here, they are surely stolen and I lose many days worth of labor. Maybe I can help you in the evening, when the markets have closed down.
The large man puts a gauntleted hand on his shoulder.
― That is the least of your worries, little man. Come now and we don’t need to hurt you.
The pattern is familiar to you, so familiar and frustrating. How the men wielding power excercise brutality over the ones that are weaker than them. You can catch this in every corner of the world, and in every corner it makes your blood boil.
Without thinking you grab a large ceramic vase from the hands of a elderly woman walking past you. She is so astonished of your act that she hasn’t a time to yell before you smash the vase full on the head of the man bullying your newest friend. While mailed, the men have no helmets and the struck one goes down without making a sound.
Chaos ensues as the crowd panics and tries to run everywhere from the scene. The two remaining men draw their swords and from their looks get ready to murder anyone in their path. You are not there, however as your blow landed you immediately started your escape. Tight and panicked crowd makes both your escape and your pursuit equally difficult and you pick a side alley so you could move more freely.
Luck deals you a bad hand today; as you advance you soon notice that the once true alley is now blocked completely because of a demolished house. Nobody has cleared the construction material of the house, made from all too familiar grey stone and in the process of demolishion (or contruction failure, you do not know which) the narrow alley next to the house has been completely blocked. You search frantically for an escape, yet there is none to be found. Eaves of the remaining houses are too high for you to jump and you can already see two men approaching you.
You still decide to go for it and make a desperate attempt to jump atop of the rubble that is blocking your way. You fail few times, but finally manage to grab the edge of a crude rock, its jagged edge sinking into the flesh of your palm. You grind your teeth and start to pull yourself up regardless, but then a heavy hand grabs your calf and yanks down with a mighty effort. Your landing is heavy, clearing your lungs from air and your mind from possibilities of an escape. A rough canvas sack is pulled over your tortured head and you are barely conscious as they tie your hands firmly behind your back.
They jerk you up and your journey through the darkness starts, pushed and manhandled by your captors. Yet your wits come back soon to your aching head and you figure out the details of your capture. You are still bothered by the familiarity of one of the men, yet you didn’t manage to see them properly at any moment of your hasty escape. They did take away your knife, but didn’t touch your other belonings, not even your money, or your diaries, something you now hold more dear than the coins.
The trek is short and your senses reveal that you are taken inside a house of some sort. You are forced on a sitting position with your hands still tied behind your back. Someone refastens the knots, without trying them you figure out that he is tying you down to the sturdy-feeling chair.
The world clears as the bag is removed from your head. You are greeted by wooden, well laid walls painted in reddish. Few oil lamps that burn in the corners fill the room with vivid myriad of red leaving ones of blackness where shadows fall. Few tapestries are there to create comfort and there is a largeish desk as well, now unoccupied. All in all a room that chills your spine, yet your mind tells you it is not used to torture people. A small comfort, but something at least.
The man who took the sack from your head smirks at you coldly. Now you can see him more clearly and as you do, your eyes widen of disbelief. He is one of the men that were there to capture you in the night you made your second kill.
He leaves the room, and you are left momentarily alone, your mind full of horrible guessing games without answers. Your torment is soon ended as a man slowly walks in your field of vision. Small and old he is, bent almost ninety degrees on top of his pot belly, yet familiar to you from the moment you lay your eyes on him.
― Martlet, Martlet, he rasps. ― You are a difficult bird to catch.
You respond with a stare of your flaming eyes only.
― No words, ‘eh. Well I am too old for guessing games and there are things to do so I’ll tell you a story. But first…
He sniffs the air his disformed nose pointing upward. You don’t catch what he is smelling, yet you catch his smell all right. Old man sweat combined with herbs and spices combined with something you can’t really catch.
― You have seen The Dream. I can smell it, do not bother to deny it, it is pointless. I saw you this morning, dreaming, I extracted from your whereabouts in that crubby cabin, like a butcher extracts a mutton from a carcass. There are powers that one can have when he loses sleep forever you know, yeah you will, you will know them soon.
He lets the threat of the words sink in and sits behind the desk and opposite of you. You feel that his small, piercing eyes protrude deep in your skull and make you shudder involuntarily.
― But yes, a story. You know the legend of the Bungisngis yes. You must know as without it you wouldn’t have found the ruins of the Citadel. Oh I do envy you, as I can’t read nowadays. My mind can’t stay with me in parchments or papers. I guess it is the price to be paid when you stop sleeping. So I need the likes of Calder … and you. It took a long time for me to realize that a woman could make such a discovery, something I at my prime couldn’t do. But one has to broaden his horizons eventually it seems. But a story yes, Bungisngis was the Poet and the Chronicler. But do you know that he also was a Dreamer before that. A Dreamer banished from his land. And not only banished, but also cursed with an Anti-Sleep. His flesh couldn’t find the bliss of rest and though through the use of exotic herbs and ailments he could still live, he harbored a great hatred towards his kin. So he formulated a plan. A plan which moved power-hungry Empresses and fates of empires alike, yet he failed all the same. As long as the Otherwhere exists, the curse stands.
He speaks rapidly and monotonously as a man driven with some unknown puppet-master. His sentences, although coherent, burst out with a hint of the irregular, sparkle of madness. Froth forms on his twisted lips as he continues.
― How do I know all this you ask? Well, in time I was a seeker just as you are. I seeked and then I killed and when I had killed most of the members of the Lunar Heresy, I found this.
With short and deliberate hands he reaches down to the drawer and pulls out a small and decorated urn. It is made of gold and inlaid with symbols and decorations your knowing eye recognizes originating from the Imperial Era.
― The ashes of the prophet Bungisngis. With secret writings and instructions of the ritual. And when I put him in my mouth and devoured, I lost my sleep forever. Or at least, until the last Dreamer on this earth is destroyed.
You watch in horror as he slowly opens the lid of the vase, red gleam in his tiny eyes. He takes a sample of whiteish-grey powder in his fingers and drops it in his rotting mouth. After an arduous swallow, he continues.
― As I ate him, I became Bungisgan. And now as you will eat him your quest joins with mine. Together we will destroy the Dreamers for good and Bungisngis will be free. Free to sleep and conquer in a world without the curse of the Dream-folk.
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2
Monster dice: 3|2|6
- Lies and Illusions 23.01.2017
I heave myself conspicuously, tensing my arms and then drooping my shoulders powerlessly; it is very important for me to be small, be defeated and helpless now. Humans desire affirmation, and it is clear from every gesture, the very presence of Bungisgan, that he is much too occluded to read any but the most blatant of signs in other people. He will be fooled. Must be fooled, if I am to survive.
― Master Bungisgan, I speak timidly when I get my voice under control. ― I am so very sorry about your troubles, but it is also a great triumph, is it not? You must have learned so much from your experiences, become a true magician the like of which this age has not seen. A veritable ipsissimus. I would love to hear more. How did you learn to read those glyphs, the likes of which I have never seen?
The old man carefully replaces the vase lid and turns to me like a befuddled crow, yet his eyes are those of a snake. ― You try to sweet-talk me, little bird, he whispers in his sickly sweet way. ― You try, yet I am not fooled, for I have seen both the forward and the backward of you. I saw it then, when you frolicked with my man Calder, and I see it still.
Bungisgan leaps, stumbles forward. He crowds me with his morbid presence, pulls cruelly at my earlobes, pushes me until the chair teeters and falls. I stiffen myself to protect my neck, but that is all I can do as I fall.
― You are an user, Martlet, he says, towering over me. ― Just like I am. And I know you, better than you would, for I have seen what bits and pieces go into a human. You play at being adept, mastering the cold read and other little tricks of the lesser magic. Oh yes, you do. Yet nevertheless, you have no inkling of the Other Law. Let me teach you, then, the simple truth, and why you will never play me: a man is by his very nature well fit to his skin; so well, in fact, that within there is no room to turn, not unless you make room. Real magic destroys, and by the act makes possible real transmutation.
Bungisgan stops, evidently satisfied that he has shared with me a most profound truth. I struggle to not listen – in fact, I struggle to not cry, for now is not the time. I have to think, and do what I can. I believe in the human soul, and I believe that Bungisgan may, indeed, possess a magic to take away something indescribable.
― This is however a mere of words, he continues cawing and leans closer to me, prone on the floor. ― True illumination comes from the exercise. We still have time, time before the rites, so waste it not. Be useful, my Martlet: tell me of the Dream. Tell me where you found it. Tell me of the last Dreamer! Tell me of the Lunar Citadel!
He descends upon me like a nightmare perching on your chest at night, breathing dusky spittle, grains of a dead man’s ash. I know what to do now: I scream in terror, and trash wildly, kicking at Bungisgan. He coughs and drips slime, but retreats as well. Angry, well convinced that I am in terror of him, as so many must have been before. I can see him consider the fireplace poker, but he is an old man where a younger one would suit better. I keep my eyes open, staring at him in wild terror, tearing at my own shirt the best I can.
― Castelmore! he shouts reedily. ― Get in here and kick some sense into the bitch!
The moment he says that I quiet down. The man from before opens the door and comes in all business, evidently eager to please master Bungisgan. He is the lantern-man from Vicenza, an evident leader in his own lowly way. No backbone of a knight in this one; I realize now that Bungisgan is hardly one to master the respect of the rough bogatyrs of Karst, no less in their bravery than knights of Paisvien. He is much too unfocused and impatient, bereft of the steel of character that a warrior would trust and respect. But perhaps he can master lesser men, such as this, and they in turn may act as the face and hand, paymaster to his local allies. This Castelmore may be more important than he seems, being as how Bungisgan has brought him here from the far away Marical Valley.
Castelmore looks at me and smiles in an eager way as he closes the door, confirming my suspicion that he enjoys being a bully. This is going to hurt. I turn my head away to not provoke him further.
― I should kick her then, master? he asks to confirm. Bungisgan moves behind the desk, likely to stay out of the way, and perhaps he nods assent.
― No, please don’t! I shout. ― I will tell you everything!
Bungisgan looks at me curiously, and now I have the distinct feeling that he sees my inner movements in some manner. Soul-reader, “seeing the backward” of people? I consciously do not look at Castelmore, but rather speak towards Bungisgan. Rapidly, as if to avoid a beating.
― It is true, just as you said master Bungisgan, I spin my tale. ― I have seen the Dreamscape, and the last Dreamer. There is but one of them left, you know. He lairs in a limestone grotto nearby. I heard of it from a local informant, she tells me that there are stories, all kinds of stories of the Dreamer. He was moved into his last hiding place under the hill, they say, by men from Karst, lured by his song. They took him, and they took his treasures, gold and jewelry, everything that the Golden Empress went to war for, and it is all hid down there. Childish stories, but then I slept on the Rock, and it really happened, I saw the Dreamer in his underground lair, lone and forgotten. Nobody knows the place, but I saw it and it is most distinctive; I would surely find the place if I could but seek for it.
― Rubbish all, Martlet. You cannot deceive me, Bungisgan says, again looming over me. ― Get her up Castelmore, I tire of this. The bird will sing a different tune once she, too, becomes Bungisgan.
The old man pets his vase as I am lifted up from the floor. Then he continues: ― Did you know Martlet? I don’t see Moon at all, not since I became Bungisgan. It is a most curious thing: not the Moon, not its light, not as it reflects and refracts; it is as if it does not exist, even as other people claim it does. Who is to say the truth of it, perhaps it is the Moon that is the illusion. Nevertheless, the Moon is precisely what we need for you, my dear blackbird: draw it down and swallow its ashes, that does the trick. We shall make the attempt tonight.
I think he means it as a threat, but hearing that this is all going down hours from now is actually an immense relief, one that I make a point to show as a mien of defeat. What he said, though, it reeks of the First Law; not arbitrary nor vague, not exotic even, but rather pure meaning put to ritual action. What does the Moon represent to Bungisgan? I think I understand what the dead poet’s ashes mean, anyway.
Be that as it may, Castelmore loosens me from the chair at his master’s orders; I am to be taken to the cellars of the house, to await the nightfall. One of the other men, Fere, is to come bring him his repast. Castelmore is eager to please, yet he is cunning, and takes good care with my ropes; this is a man I have humiliated before by being better of him, and I think that his cunning is his pride. I can only hope that his greed matches that cunning.
As he walks me out to a hallway, a second man joins us. I think he was there as well that night, a conscientious shadow to his friend, with an intense squint to his eyes. I make it a point to stumble and leap towards a doorway, to test our relationship. Not unexpectedly, Castelmore has me well in hand and doesn’t let me stray.
― Shush now, he mutters as he twists my hand painfully. ― A strange bird is what you are, Martlet. Do you not understand your position at all, to be so difficult to everybody? What do you think happens to women like you in a situation like this? My friend Herblay would be delighted to show you, you know; it is his one true weakness, teaching stray women. Never could get into Sectarian Lyceum, being that way.Parenthetically: the Sectarian Lyceum is a Tolosan ecclesiastic school. Famous for its masters, infamous for its religious quarrels, but not famous enough to be a clever turn of phrase for Maricite thugs for no good reason.
Admittedly Castelmore has a charm all his own, when it comes to intimidation. Not that his master Bungisgan is a slouch, either, but with Castelmore and Herblay I see it plain as day that the former does not lie about the inclinations of the latter.
That aside, Herblay is from Paisvien? I file that away in case it will come to matter. Castelmore himself is native Maricite, I think.
The two escort me to the cellars of the manor-house, down a hatch and steep stairs into the darkness. My temporary jail is hewn into soft rock with little finish; it is a dark, damp and cold place. Surprisingly Castelmore loosens my ropes, even if he does not go too gently about it. I start talking to distract Herblay from whatever it is that he is thinking.
― So there is Castelmore and Herblay. Do you still have the big guy with you? Is his name Fere?
― Don’t get uppity, bitch! Castelmore shouts and throws me roughly on the stone floor. ― We are not your buddies; if it weren’t for Bungingan’s wants, you know what you’d be up for. And what are you laughing at, Herblay?
― Hey, you have to admit that it’s funny for somebody to confuse Vallon and Fere for each other.
He kneels and touches my chin gently. I raise my eyes obediently.
― We are the Three Bravos, you know; Herblay, Vallon and Fere. Famous brancos in Scarlet. A dumb girl like you would do well to know us.
― Three? I can’t help but ask, even as I see the glint of displeasure in his eye.
― Yeah, we don’t really count Castelmore.
― Bite a dick Herblay, Castelmore interjects tiredly and pulls the man up, leaving me on the floor.
“I thought you’d never ask…”, I can hear them continue their banter as the hatch closes and leaves me in the dark.
What do I do now? I feel the true panic swelling in my gut for the first time in years, the kind that takes control from you and makes you cry without meaning to. It feels nostalgic, like when I was still a child. Not expected to hold an adult mien, crying for the purity of it. Here, alone I could indulge. However, that would be sloth. I get up and take a thinking stance. I am being conscientious, even if out of habit.
Could I craft some magic of my own to escape? The question is obvious in the light of my experiences over the last few days. I have seen much, yet understood frustratingly little. Could I sleep, and call for help in the dream, the way I contacted the Dreamer last night? Would he come to this place? I remember now… the Anti-Dream, and it is obviously Bungisgan. I knew last night that he had perceived me, yet forgot it in the morning. Horrifying thought, to become one with the entity of despair I saw in the dream last night.
But sleeping, could I do it here? There is only cold wet stone in this darkness, and I am merely mentally exhausted. I try to settle down, feeling my way to a dry spot on the cold floor. Support my head on the arms, curl into a ball. Think calm thoughts. Think of last night’s dream. I turn the other way around so my pocket-book is under my hip; even it is warmer than the stone. I get up, stumble a few paces in the dark to take a piss, then try again.
The Dreamer told me about magic, and Bungisgan did as well. The first law, and the other one… layers of the Dreamscape, the Real and the Otherwere… realities beyond entropy… magic of illusion? It was the Dreamer who mentioned that. Is it part of his dreaming magic, and if so, could it aid me here?
I shift again, trying to be more comfortable. Illusion magic could have something to do with seemings, mirages, visions. Bungisgan is blind to the Moon; blind to illusion? How would the Dreamer go about imposing his own reality upon the waking world? I guess much but know little. He would do it asleep obviously, as he sleeps constantly, but are there other ways? How does one apply the First Law to crafting illusions? Furthermore, would I need to turn within my skin, as Bungisgan says, to do it? Would I want to?
Today I fail two-fold: not only don’t I fall asleep, but I also fail to become a magician lying in that cellar. My failure becomes obvious when the hatch opens again, letting in light from above. How long has it been? There are men up there, several.
― Come up, little bird, one says. It is Herblay’s soft voice. In this place it is near seductive.
Not much choice to it. I climb up. All four are there, and I can see how it would be difficult to confuse Fere for Vallon; the former is old and the frailest of the four, while Vallon is, well, simply formidable. It is barely afternoon, which makes me wonder: did my desperate string from earlier carry me through after all? Are they here in the hopes of stealing the march on their master, the crazed Bungisgan, to claim the fabled treasures of the Lunar Citadel for themselves? If so, I am very much willing to join the bullies and rapists, if that means being far away from here when the night falls. Castelmore may think that he has the best of me, but his kind I can handle.
Rolled a ‘1’.
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2|1
Monster dice: 3|2|6
- Counsel of the Bravos 26.01.2017
― Bird has possibility to keep her wings at least for a little while, Castelmore snarls. ― But make haste, and if you make so much as a whisper I’ll cut you in half myself. Come!
The quartet moves swiftly with but a little noise. They are used to working together, you realize as this kind of shady business is surely a bread and butter for them. They surround you from fore and aft with unsheathed daggers, while your hands are still tied. They seem to take no chances with you, even though you wouldn’t dream of causing a scene in here. Not while they are apparently taking you away from Bungisgan.
Your noiseless sneaking takes you through the silent mansion. For your relief you do not cross paths with the old eunuch. On through the nicely decorated, wooden halls and hallways you go until they make a sharp turn and enter a narrow corridor and through it into the empty kitchen. You wonder, how Bungisgan has had possibility to get his hands on a house like this, this is probably one of the finest in the whole town. It might be bit smaller than the large mansions of the local guildmasters but still well over the average.
There are no servants or workers there, which also seems odd. Mansion like this could house perhaps a dozen people and equal amount of the household. You think that maybe the Bravos have made a pact with them to be elsewhere or something. But how can they, and where is Bungisgan, not that you want him there but still? Questions without answers, at least for now.
Kitchen has a small, and quite modest exit which you take with haste and continue your walk. Garden is large and a comforting sight in the afternoon sun for you during all the distresses. It reminds you of Paisvien, even though this garden is largely used for growing hardy plants suitable both edible and usable, rather than ones for splendid decor. A typically practical fragment of the culture of these hardy folk, you guess. But even with such hardy specimen, the garden wouldn’t flourish without maintenance, so at least somebody has been doing chores in here. Perhaps Bungisgan has some strain of local influence that has empowered him to remove the residents of this house for a while.
Bravos don’t seem to mind the garden, but instead focus on the task of bringing distance between them and the house. After a little while they break the silence and as you noticed before, they seem to continue some never-ending chatter-banter.
― This is a bad idea, says Vallon. For the first time you notice now that he has a bandage around his head. Your vase left a mark all right. And from the short glances he throws at your direction you are assured that the feeling is mutual.
― Shut up, Castelmore snaps. ― No talking before we get to the shack.
The men take you to the town and around few corners. Then they take some side-alley to the left and continue. The shack fits the descriptive name all right. It is made of greyish wood, most of it rotten. A stone building next to it has collapsed partially on top of it at some point, causing it to lean drunkenly, but like by a small miracle of the mundane it still stands.
The broken doorway is low and you all have to crouch to get there. In the dim light the first thing you see is a small man, hands tied behind his back, gagged with a piece of dirty cloth. There are pieces of broken fish-nets littered over the floor. An old fisherman’s hut, perhaps. But abandoned for so long that you can’t detect the stench anymore. But when you get closer you focus on the captured man.
― Besnik, you exhale involuntarily. ― Why have you captured him?
― To ensure you listen carefully. Castelmore purrs as he sits down next to the man. ― And answer. You talked about a treasure yes. You realize we now have a problem. If it is indeed true, we would most certainly like to get our hands on it before any filthy bogatyr skulks around and finds it. But if it is not, we have betrayed our man Bungis for nothing and it would be a bloody shame. So far he has delivered adequately enough.
― It is true, there is a treasure, you blurt lying with conviction and grace. Unfortunately they have been around as well.
― But we do not know for certain, little bird, he continues. Should we let Herblay here have some fun with you first? We do not need you to be completely intact, just enough to help us get there?
The threat is heavy in the air. You can feel it, smell it, almost touch it. A quick glance towards Herblay ensures to you that he can definitely feel it as well. You force your eyes out of him, to not give him more energy. Must focus on being the cool observer.
― Well, what say you? Castelmore glances his comrades. ― I know the opinion of dear Herblay here, could probably see his dick protruding from his pants if I would care to look down there. But there is lot at stake here so we decide together, three votes. I vote yes.
Vallon seems as pessimistic as before.
― I don’t like this idea at all. The old bat will gut us before we get any treasure, if there even is any. This bitch says whatever just to get a chance to slip from us. Might as well cause Herblay some itch and discomfort while we wait to be skinned. I vote no.
― When I was a young knight under baron Hermnesse, we never…
― For old whore’s ass, Fere. I swear that if I have to hear one more “when I was a knight” -story, I will cut my own throat. Just yes or no will do.
Fere is calm even now, stroking his greying mustache. You suddenly notice that he is the most enigmatic of the quartet. From what you can tell, his eyes have seen it all, but give almost nothing. He looks at Herblay.
― No, Herblay. That is my answer. we don’t have time after all if we are to make it out of the town and get a head start before those herbs Bungis drank wear off.
You keep silent, and draw in the information these men are sharing with such eagerness. They do not seem to think speaking freely in front of you does them any harm. A mistake you plan not to correct any time soon.
― I wonder, if he really doesn’t sleep, how did the plants incapacitate him. Vallon scratches his head next to the bloody bandage.
― I told you I saw him. His eyes were wide open, yet he didn’t react, Castelmore replies with a slight irritation in his voice.
― And why, for everything that is holy, didn’t you stab him when you had the chance, Castelmore. If we are to deceive him, why let him live, Fere interjects.
― We hadn’t voted for whether we would betray him or not.
― Rats, what good is voting after you drugged him.
Castelmore’s irritation bursts out finally.
― What difference does it make anymore. I saw the chance and I took it. If I would have waited for your counsel we would still be debating of the issue. You all know how crazy he has become lately and the closer we came to this town, the madder he seemed to become. I say now is the time for it.
― This is pointless, Fere continues. ― We have voted so it is no Herblay-show for now. But we have to get going if we wish to get anything done.
― You are right. A habit you should have more often.
Castelmore pulls out a dagger and strokes Besnik’s features with the point playfully.
― So little bird. You say there is a treasure and now you will lead us to it, plain and simple. And if there is nothing, if there is any funny business, if you so much as sneeze the way I dislike then you will see what this man is like from the inside, slowly. All the while Herblay here plows you like a good old farmer he is in his heart. And then before your own guts spill, you shall see the purple entrails of this rat’s wife and children as well. We take him with us just to remind you of this promise. Vallon, go and get the horses.
- Chasing the Golden Herring 31.01.2017
Castelmore just might be the second most ruthless man I’ve ever met. There is a tinge of old bravado in him, but the wit is a dull blade pushed in by the blunt force of excessive brutality. His is the mien of a man who has opted for force so many times that an old flair for the dramatic has dried up into a mere petty affectation.
It seems that my casual attempt at manipulating Castelmore succeeded over expectations, for he has taken a considerable risk to pursue the supposed treasure; his dissatisfaction with Bungisgan’s employ must have been quite real. I adopt a submissive posture, for these are men who fear to commit, and react to setbacks by burning bridges. Better they think me cowed, to feed Castelmore’s fading confidence. He is liable to slay me on the spot, should I continue flouting his preconceptions of how people should think and act around him.
― Please do not hurt master Besnik, I entreat Castelmore, turning my eyes away in a fearful manner. ― I could not bear the thought, and there is no need for it.
Twist my hands impotently for effect before continuing. Peddle the story: ― I will do whatever you ask, dear man. I never wanted any part of Bungisgan’s insanity, I just wanted to find the old ruins of the Citadel for the Vicenza library. Add to our historical wisdom, don’t you see. It was an ill accident for me to sleep upon the Rock and suffer augury, writhing in the moon-light. I don’t think that Fate, or the old Dreamer itself, intended that dream-sending for me, yet nevertheless I saw it plain as day: a rocky cliff, not far from here, is where the body is buried, the body and the gold of the dream-witches of old. It all fits with the tales, does it not? The silk, the gold, the jewelry, the Empress never got her greedy hands on it because the serfs of the Citadel took it all away. Hid it away in the caves, hid it so well they must have forgotten it altogether.
I spy upon the reactions of the other men while speaking. Vallon leaves to care for the horses, as impassive as ever, almost making me doubt whether he understands the proceedings; I fear that the only way for me – or anyone – to truly influence this man is with a whip in hand. Herblay retains a slight, beneficent smile over a set of rowing eyes; I do not know what is truly going on with him, but it is clearly important to Castelmore to paint him a reprobate. My intuition is that unlike Castelmore’s paranoid suspicion and Vallon’s implacability, Herblay does not consider me a threat. Does he consider my words at all?
Fere, however – I fear that a mistake has been made. Something in what I said caught his attention, and it was not the circuitous implications of easy wealth. He can hardly wait to interfere.
― I am onto your game, woman, he exclaims in a reedy voice the moment I stop talking. ― You are Paisviennese born and bred if I am any judge. Furthermore, you are…
― What’s it with you now, Fere? Castelmore turns towards the man in exasperation. Clearly Fere holds little esteem among his fellows for whatever reason.
― She’s cult-blood, Castelmore! Fere exclaims directly to the other man. ― I can hear it in everything she says, it’s all “bear to think” and “dear man” with the ancient nobility.
― So what, Castelmore scoffs. ― It’s clear as day the bitch’s manor-folk, but that’s got nothing to do with this. I am too, well enough, and you don’t see me making up airs about it. What if she’s from Paisviennese, it’s not like she’s here to take you back to the seminary or something.
― You don’t understand, Fere continues patiently. ― She’s not just noble, but I think she’s of the uterine nobility, the old peoples. They’re weird ones, let their women tell them what to do. The old baron was smitten by them. They sing, and lie, and look-see she has the mirror eyes, the Mien.
― So perhaps the little bird is not so innocent after all? Herblay interjects softly. ― Maybe we recount the vote, yes?
― Not likely! Castelmore shuts him down. ― Fere, you’re exaggerating again. I know the bitch is cunning, but I have it under control. She knows what any wrong move means, don’t you little bird?
And that is that: Castelmore is convinced by the lies I spin, and that suffices, for the other three will ever follow him, I suspect, no matter their constant fraternal bickering. They think Fere a dullard, yet the old fool may be the wisest of them all, for he seems to be the only one familiar with the ways of the Flamines. Or perhaps he’s merely the one able and willing to look beyond the surface: Herblay and Vallon are Paisviennese as well, it seems, yet the one treats me like a pet, the other merely as luggage, and neither seems to have any ave to spare for my heritage.
Castelmore is, of course, keen to interrogate me on the details, and I answer his questions glibly: yes, the tomb of the Dreamer should be nearby; no, I do not know the country around here, but the place is very recognizable, and it lies along the big river; yes, we should take rope and shovels with us. Yes, of course Besnik the soap-maker confirms the sleepwalker stories, and of course everybody knows that there is treasure buried in the hills, buried by the elves they say, yet we know better, don’t we?
I’m sorry for Besnik, but at least he seems to be keeping his poise. Perhaps this isn’t so dissimilar to his encounters with the local thugs.I should have at least attempted to write a letter to Padav in that dark cellar; it would have been easy to drop it in a visible place while moving about town with the bravos. Properly crafted, the letter would find its way into the hands of either Padav, or perhaps the Kryfis robbers; either would have worked in terms of providing an outside distraction to our kidnappers.
Now that we’re leaving I realize a major mistake I made earlier: I should have foreseen this sequence of events, for I set it in motion myself, yet instead of preparing a message I wasted several hours meditating on magic of all things. Well, no matter – errors happen, and now I will have to make do with my wits and poor Besnik. We will need to string the bravos along until an opportunity for escape comes along.
The four bravos make short work of the travel preparations once they learn that we are going in-country. Herblay takes one of the horses to procure supplies, yet the others do not really wait for him, expecting him to follow along as he might. To my dismay Castelmore starts tying my hands and feet together.
― I can’t ride this way, my lord, I remark, going for a deferential tone of the sort he would be used to in a brothel.
― That is very much the idea, little bird, he sneers. ― I would rather keep you immediately at hand. Make any trouble, and I’ll trade horses with Herblay.
The horses look like such decent Palfreys that I have to conclude that the bravos probably got them already in Marical at their patron’s expense. Hopefully it rides as smooth as it seems, considering how Castelmore hoists me sideways in front of the saddle before following me up himself. Smoothly, like a horseman.
Besnik gets his own horse, perhaps due to his greater stature, although Vallon makes sure he does not stray far. I wouldn’t mind being larger myself if that meant getting a horse. We start down the street and towards the town gates, with the saddle and the horse’s backbone chafing at my midriff as we go. I admit that this is humiliating, but even worse is the blase reaction from the townspeople of Tramellin; here we are, a group of horsemen with a bound person hoisted like so much luggage, and if anything the people seem to conscientiously ignore us. I think the market guards we pass on the way to the gates actually nod at Castelmore’s cheerful wave as we go. I am not stupid enough to try shouting for help.
― You can’t really expect to get anywhere like this, I huff to Castelmore once we get to the outbound road. ― I can’t even see where we are going, how do you expect me to lead you anywhere?
― Follow the river, wasn’t it? Castelmore answers, clearly enjoying my discomfort. ― In the meantime, you can gather your wits. I would hear more about this treasure and the Dreamer, as much as you know.
At least the pace is sedate enough, although I do not know if it is because of our riding arrangement or because the bravos are waiting for Herblay to catch up. We actually stop after getting out of sight of the town, so perhaps it is the latter. Castelmore puts me down on the ground while the bravos gather to talk together. About Bungisgan, I think. It is not too long before Herblay arrives, horse loaded with equipment for the expedition.
At Castelmore’s insistence I point out a direction for the group to advance. Although it would be tempting to simply lead them back towards the Saur Rock in the hopes of encountering the bogatyrs from earlier, I realize that Castelmore probably would not end up in a catastrophic clash of arms with them. Chances are that he hired them for Bungisgan in the first place. Better to stick to my prior inspiration.
Problem is, I don’t really know the country, and all I have is a vague sense of the direction, and a clear picture of the rocky hill from my dream in the morning. Not that it matters much for our errand, but it adds verisimilitude to my lies to speak of a place that I have actually seen, and it is better if we have something definite to look for. I make it a point to describe the green pastures on top of the hill, and the way the ravine descends into the river, hiding the entrance to the cavern below under an outcrop. Not likely to find any treasure there, but at least it is a place that we might conceivably discover by traipsing upcountry along the river. Just hopefully not too soon; there is not much daylight left, and I would rather spend the night with the Herblay than explain to Castelmore why there isn’t any treasure.
To my misfortune Castelmore insists on continuing our seating arrangement as the journey resumes. The man really loves his greasy jests, and now that Herblay joined us we all get regaled by a stream of ribaldry regarding my perilous position. Interestingly, mostly from Castelmore to Herblay. At least it lightens up the men’s mood, and words don’t hurt; I’ll take street braggadocio over murderous threats any day. I could do without Castelmore’s pawing my bottom as we ride, although I can probably use this development if it comes to that. I am being brave, but I also get the sense that Castelmore is the kind of man who lets his guard down for the act of copulation. Like Harshrat, the man I killed five days ago. I need to be compliant, leave myself room to act when I must.
The ride is uncomfortable in the extreme, but at least it does not last too long; we must have gotten only a league or so from town when the night falls. Far enough to avoid any pursuit, surely, unless the pursuer knows where to find us. Fere remarks upon a suitable place to camp, and for some reason or other the bravos accept his judgement without bickering.
― Won’t Bungisgan come after us, my lord? I ask Castelmore as he lifts me off the horse. I need to keep talking to him, even if it becomes painful.
― Not in the dark he won’t, Castelmore grunts as he hoists me outright over his shoulder and carries me away, presumably to avoid my getting stepped on by a horse.
― Won’t you loosen the ropes? I ask him plaintively as he turns to return to the horse. ― I need to pee, and eat, and I can help.
Castelmore looks me over, and clearly I have won something from him in the hours we have been together, for instead of threatening or slapping me he strips the ropes off my wrists.
― Your friend stays roped up, Castelmore remarks. ― Vallon, tie him to a tree or something.
Interesting choice from Castelmore, to free me instead of Besnik, or both of us. I feel quite timid thinking of what unexpected wickedness these men might unleash in the dark of night. It is not difficult to project a mien of chastity, the sort that will hopefully convince Castelmore that I will be no use whatsoever tomorrow should he take his pleasure tonight. Or at least that he should hold onto some decorum in pressing his suit, rather than just having his gang hold me down for him.
Maybe something else for everybody to think about is in order.
― I do not know how close we are to the hill of entombment, I speak raising my voice so that everybody can hear. ― But if we are, and the Moon remains clouded, we could conceivably see the treasure flares on top of the hill. After all, the lares of the Citadel are obligated to burn the mold off the hidden gold.
― Foolish fairy tales, Castelmore scoffs at once.
― But it is after a fairy tale we are here, isn’t it? asks Herblay jocularly, and that gets the four bickering again. Belief in the household elves, the lares, has stuck around in Paisvien since the imperial times, so at least the conceit of what I suggested is familiar to three of the four men. They probably remember same sorts of myths I do, too.
As little as I like it, quite a lot rides now on the Dreamer. I dearly hope that I have not simply become delirious and that he is real, for I have precious few friends I can reach now. At least I will have no trouble falling asleep, assuming the four bravos let me…
― Do you actually spy on me day and night? I ask the Dreamer. It takes a moment for the self-awareness to hit: I am dreaming, and have apparently been for a while, yet only just now did I realize it. What was I talking about with him just now? Why are we in… we are in my dream, are we not?
― Riddlesolver, I think you finally lucidified, remarks the Dreamer, sitting primly on the bed. My bed.
We are in my bedroom back home.
― Why are you in my dream? I ask the Dreamer, suspiciously.
― You should pay more attention to how you sleep, the Dreamer continues non-chalantly. ― Try an exercise if you would, from now on: fall asleep by conscious choice, and never slumber by accident. If you are to continue truly living in both worlds, you need to get out of the regrettable cycle of mental regression that so plagues human sleep. It used to be that we could all fall asleep just like that at a single sounding of a silver bell.
― Once again, I repeat myself patiently. ― Why are you in my dream? I mean, here instead of wherever?
― I already explained that, you just forgot it, goes the disconcerting reply. ― Surely you would agree that it’s your own fault if you cannot hold onto your thoughts.
I look around in my room, remarking upon the water-powered metronome and my harp, both items from a past long ago. Having the Dreamer here feels like the utmost loss of privacy. This is a past I rarely ponder, and never share.
― Do not grow agitated, the Dreamer suggests, for once seemingly understanding something. ― We are meeting here because you are sleeping among some rather disturbing beings. They are husks, twisted by the Anti-Dream. You would not want to see the dream realia of theirs.
What… He must mean the four bravos. It would make sense for Bungisgan to have done something to those four.
― What do you mean by twisting? What has been done to them?
― It is difficult to say precisely without visiting their dreams, the Dreamer explains. ― But the tinge of it is clear, and I can see how its barbs have hollowed them out. Whatever dreams they had are sure to have been twisted; strength of the spirit ebbed until it becomes its own antithesis; virtue subsumed into vice. Who knows, or can imagine, the kinds of people they were before their encounter with the Anti-Dream.
I fall quite silent at that. I almost feel sorry for them.
― Nevertheless you have escaped unscathed from the Anti-Dream, the Dreamer says, raising a hand towards me. ― Your shine is as beautiful as ever.
― I was not worried about that, I say, tilting my head at him.
I sit down on the bed, side by side with the Dreamer. ― You should know that I have learned much about this Anti-Dream of yours, perhaps more than I would prefer. I have learned the Other Law as uttered by Bungisgan the Mad. I shall tell you, but I also need your help: is there not some type of dream magic, moon magic I could use to save myself and my friend Besnik from our waking peril?
― Do you want me to teach you, Riddle-solver? he asks eagerly.
― If there is something, anything. Or barring that, anything you could do to deliver us. Take word to my friends, or mislead our captors. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in serious trouble, and in need of help.
Rolled a ‘5’.
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2|1|5
Monster dice: 3|2|6
- A Plan Emerges 06.02.2017
― There are few things we could try, every one of them dangerous and uncertain, answers the Dreamer finally to your question.
― Well, our fate is sealed if nothing is done so I accept the risk.
― I understand what you say, but perhaps you do not comprehend completely the step you are about to make. You are a rare flower among your folk. A blossom of a shine I haven’t seen before. If something goes wrong…
The Dreamers comes closer. His presence is overwhelming, his anxiety the most real thing you have ever felt. He touches your dream-hair all so lightly but you do not commit and the moment passes. You nod, eyes radiating with almost fanatic certainty.
― All right. The easiest form of dream lore we can use is to affect the lives of others through their dreams. Something I do to keep my threads in working order. But to accomplish this you need to delve deep into the dream-world of the subject you are trying to alter. And doing so you risk losing part of yourself, becoming intertwined with the dream-presence of the subject. With practice you could eliminate this threat, but there is no time for it now. But before we can even start, we have to get out of your old home and back to where you were. Close your eyes.
You do as he says and immediately feel a familiar tug in your innards. You experienced the same sensation before when you moved together in the Real Dream. Instinctively you open your eyes. You find yourself moving slowly through some patch of thick forest near Paisvien.
― Keep your eyes closed Riddle-solver, that way we can travel faster.
― How do I slow us down? Isn’t it possible to travel instantaneously in a dream.
― It is, when your subconscious guides you. But then *you* can’t really control where you are going. Normally it takes years to understand the freedom of the dream when sleeping in a lucid state. So just bear with me, close your eyes and stop controlling and we can travel faster.
You do as you are told. Even though you are bit irritated of the lack of control you have, this is still something. A concrete fact, piece of knowledge that you perhaps can master one day. A deep feeling of passage fills your soul as you focus on letting go of your own will and just following the powerful, guiding desire of the Dreamer.
― You can open your eyes now, he says. ― And brace yourself. As soon we will see what you are made of. Unfortunately soon.
You do so and notice that you are besides the campsite of the bravos now, basking in the so tender moonlight. It is an eerie feeling to notice your own, sleeping body lying there, curled next to a big rock, like instinctively seeking for shelter in vain.
Fere seems to be on watch at the moment, and the other three twitch and mumble in their restless sleep. Their forms are clouded in a black haze, like an unnaturally dark fog that blocks the light of the moon and makes their features almost unnoticeable. A primitive, crawling sensation fills you when you observe their features.
― Why can’t you guide them? You suddenly realize. ― You have done so before, as you stated.
― I can, but can’t you remember, I can only guide three people at a time in this fashion. And there are four of these wretched men here. I can make that one fall asleep but you will have to choose, which one of them will you take. They have all been soiled by the Anti-Dream, as I stated, so it will be dangerous. You will probably have to fight to stay yourself regardless of the choice you make, yet it might bear some significance as you will be digging deep inside his past and who he is to make him your puppet for the time being.
― But how am I to accomplish this? You have taught me nothing that could prepare me for any of this.
― You are wrong, Riddle-solver, we’ve had many lessons already. This will be your first Dive, a journey to the deep realms of dream without anyone guiding you. I guess you feel small and unprepared and I would lie if I would say that this is not the case. But still, this is one of the natures of dream itself. It can be controlled, reasoned and dissected to a point, but in the end the element of the subconscious and the innate Shine is always present, always unmeasurable, random and surprising. You must trust your instincts and remember what I have told you in these brief moments we have been together. And, if this is our last meeting I would like to say …..
His voice trails off as you suddenly feel his insecurity. It is just a moment, and then he is again calm and distant like a dream-god.
― Who will you choose?
- Yeah, No, Don’t Think So 09.02.2017
There is a certain dream-like inexorability to the Dreamer’s words, yet I cannot help but fall back on self-scrutiny, a drilled habit that does not seem to leave me even in dreaming.
― If you can make them all fall asleep, then why not just do that and let us escape that way? We could be long gone come morning, and they could not pursue without their horses.
― Riddle-solver, you ask so many questions! the Dreamer admonishes me. ― Where is your willingness of moments ago?
― Well, then I did not know that you could just put them to sleep.
I think that I am being reasonable. The Dreamer seems impatient with my concerns, however.
― Hush now, Riddle-solver, he gestures and turns to stare at me. ― It is apt for us to make sure that these men bother us no more. Furthermore, we need to learn more of the Anti-Dream and how it has set its mark upon them.
― And what about the dangers of Diving that you spoke of?
― Oh, I am confident that you will persevere, clever as you are. And once you do, you will have the capability to journey to the Otherwere with me as well. This is a fine opportunity for us.
In this fleeting moment I fully understand the Dreamer: his loneliness, clumsiness and yearning for companionship. Insofar as my intuition can be trusted in this foggy dream-realm, he is a man to whom Bungisgan and his revenge are mere peccadilloes of passing curiousity. He has not even asked me of what I have learned of the Anti-Dream and its origins, not when I offered him the perfect excuse to draw me further into his web instead. Perhaps, for a timeless being of eternal slumber, mere matters of survival are paltry next to the pursuit of love.
― I fear the Anti-Dream, my Dreamer, I tell him to prevaricate. ― Also, I have to know: I spied bogatyrs on the road two sunsets past, intent on exploring the Saur Rock to apprehend me. They should be on the Rock right now, yet here you are helping me. Are you not worried about them?
―Oh, they will never find me, the Dreamer brushes away the concern. ― Nobody ever has, and there are defenses. As ever, the petty knights of kings and emperors are irrelevant to seekers of true wisdom. Surely you can see that?
Oh, I can see well enough. Before I can tell him off, though, the Dreamer gestures, and I feel the dream advance regardless of my will. I move closer to the dream-shapes of the three sleepers, through the dank mist that unmistakably smells of Bungisgan and his ashes. They are similar to Samet’s dream-entity that I saw last night, similar enough to recognize them for what they are despite the darkness strangling and puncturing those dreams, pulling them down and tying them tight on the chests of the sleeping figures.
― Please pick one of them, Riddle-solver, he asks me as I look upon the sleepers. ― The dream demands it, I am sure you can sense so yourself. The eternal moment of dream-logic, stuck to place unchanging until you make your choice.
I can sense it, yes, but I can also understand that it is the Dreamer who shapes the dream, frames the interaction. I need to get out, this is much too similar to what my brother would say.
― My dear Dreamer, I say, closing my eyes so as to not accidentally interact with the oppressive picture before me. ― I am afraid that you have never told me, how would one wake up from a dream? I think it is easy when the dream ends, but what about when there is a master such as yourself present?
I do not hear him move or speak, so I hasten to lay out my plan: ― I will, nevertheless, atttempt to awaken now. I will try to surprise the lone guard quietly, and escape with the poor soap-maker. I will leave it up to you to decide whether you wish to use your craft to help or hinder. If you still wish to know of the Anti-Dream, the revenge of Bungisngis set against you, I am sure that there will be another opportunity.
When I open my eyes, I open them to reality – I had half-feared that the Dreamer would stop me from rousing, but if anything, I wake up clear-headed and cognizant. Perhaps it is because I chose to wake up consciously?
I look at the cloudless night sky and breathe calmly. This is not going to be easy. I can see the shape of the guard in the dark, sitting on a rock. It is Fere, I remember from the dream: old and cunning, yet morose and, if I am any judge, prone to drink. The one who recognized my old family upbringing. Perhaps his wits are now dull from the drink, I saw him mirthlessly partaking earlier. Even then, he would need barely a word to rouse his comrades. Nevertheless, it is better to try to escape now than to explain the lack of treasure to Castelmore tomorrow.
The question is, will the Dreamer cast his spell in my favour after I defied him so. He should, if I understood his desire at all. And if he does, perhaps I can free Besnik and we can take the horses without alarming the camp. Even if he does not, I at least have the satisfaction of liberty.
Rolled a second Lover die for ‘4’.
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2|1|5|4
Monster dice: 3|2|6
- Consequences 13.02.2017
You wait, prone and unmoving, all the while keeping your eyes fixed on Fere for signs of anything that would indicate that the Dreamer is doing his magic. Your silent breaths follow each other as nothing seems to be happening. Your eyes wander to find poor old Besnik, and they do so, still tied to the same tree he was earlier.
Yet when your eyes go back for Fere you are suddenly alerted as he is no longer there. A surge of panic rushes to your throat as you try to find him, yet slowly your heart calms as you notice a lump of a man stacked two-fold on the ground. The Dreamer did as he promised, despite of your rebellion!
But there is no time for slow heartbeat, as you start agonizingly slow sneak towards Besnik. You do an adequate job and the men continue their restless sleep while you reach for the hands and feet of the poor man. You motion for him not to speak as you start to open his ropes. There is no knife and the knots feel painfully well-tied but finally you manage to loosen them enough for the man to be set free. You point towards the horses and he seems to understand immediately.
Now there are two of you sneaking across the rocky terrain towards the horses. Besnik creates a moment of horror by stepping on a loose stone, causing it to crackle against others. For few heartbeats you both freeze to human-statues in the moonlight, yet when nothing seems to happen you continue your perilous journey.
After reaching the horses it is just a matter of time before you are free and riding slowly. The moonlight gives some visibility, yet you do not dare faster speed as the crags and holes might be perilous for your steeds. After reaching a distance you feel safe, Besnik opens up a conversation. His face is twisted by anxiety:
― Who are you, woman? I’d hate to scorn you as you saved me there before, even though you could have walked away alone. Yet, without you I would be better off. I feel that you owe me some kind of an explanation! How am I to protect my family now, as the men surely know their whereabouts and the threats they made chill my soul? I am just a simple soap-maker.
I invoke conversation at this point.
- The Soapsman Dialogue 16.02.2017
I recorded the dialogue:
― Who are you, woman? I’d hate to scorn you as you saved me there before, even though you could have walked away alone. Yet, without you I would be better off. I feel that you owe me some kind of an explanation! How am I to protect my family now, as the men surely know their whereabouts and the threats they made chill my soul? I am just a simple soap-maker.
I look at him a moment in the dimness of the night before pulling the reins. ― Please, master Besnik, let us stop for a moment. You deserve answers, but this ground is perilous for the horses during the day, and worse at night. Truth be told, we should dismount altogether and continue on foot, for we cannot afford either of us falling off a stumbling horse.
― But wouldn’t they come after us if they wake up? It was a miracle the guard fell asleep like that. Some luck even for this poor soul, it seems, as the past few days have been awful.
― I think that the sinkholes are a greater risk, I say softly as I dismount. ― As long as we keep low and away from the ridges, the four bravos cannot see us in the dark. We will need to be well away before morning, but for now we are in the clear unless they can see in the dark.
Besnik seems to doubt me for a moment, but finally he concedes the point silently by dismounting as well.
― You have to know, master Besnik, that I am terribly sorry about what those men did to you, I start as he comes down. ― Far as I know, they kidnapped you strictly out of malice towards my person; they knew you for a prior acquaintance of mine, and believed they could use you as a hostage for my behavior. Had I any choice in the matter, I would not have mixed you up in any of this.
Besnik seems to calm a bit from your words, or is it your wish only that he does as in this half-darkness it is almost impossible to see anything but the most obvious signals not spoken.
― All right then, he says and dismounts as well, even though he eyes suspiciously your surroundings constantly. When getting close you can see that his hands are shaking. That’s that of calming and all. This has been something that a poor soap-maker will probably never get over entirely. If he survives through this ordeal.
― I will listen to your story, as this is the only thing I can do at the moment.
I go silent for a moment before touching Besnik’s arm.
― There is no treasure, I begin in a low whisper, leaning close to Besnik’s ear. ― That was all just something I invented to get out of captivity. The master of those men, Bungisgan, is a mad priest of sorts who tried to force me to lead him to the hiding place of the Dreamer. The thugs betrayed him out of greed.
I realize that I do not really know what the locals actually know about the Dreamer. Better ask: ― Do you know about the Dreamer? He’s a sleeping magician, the source of the sleepwalking curse that apparently plagues people of the Karst at times.
― There are folk-tales of Dreamers who take over the minds of the men when sleeping. Mostly they are told to children as bedtime stories … or to frighten them. Some hags sell blessings they say prevents the Dreamers from doing their work. Are you telling me they are real? This is a tall order for me to believe. No treasure you say! He suddenly jumps up. ― This means my family is doomed!
He holds his head with two hands, like trying to keep it from bursting. The rope-marks in his wrists shine blood-red in the moonlight.
― Calm down, Besnik! I cry somewhat more forcefully than wisdom would dictate. I step toward him and wrap my arms around him so as to prevent him from going anywhere. ― Take it easy, we will save your family. We will save everybody. There are just four of those men, I know this for a fact. Four, and their crazy leader, but he has fallen out with those four, and is now their mortal enemy.
Besnik seems to be on the verge of panic in a most saddening way. I hug him and talk at him in an unhurried way, waiting for him to work himself out of it.
― You do not need to fear them so, Besnik. We are well ahead of them, and men like that always have a bark worse than their bite. They are strangers to Tramellin, rude and foolish. What do they know of Karst and its people? I would bet that you could just let Kryfis know that they kidnapped you, would they just take that? I should think not, bold broncos like them, they would show those four that nobody but them gets to kidnap and extort Tramellines.
I don’t really have time to think of what I’m saying, but it’s not like Besnik is necessarily listening that hard, either. Mostly it’s important that he’s not alone in the dark hills with murderous thugs at his heels.
― Besides, you have me at your side, good master Besnik. Do not think that I cannot take care of myself, or my friends. I am Paisvienese born, best of the Flamine breed. Taught to kill with kindness. You need to trust that I know what I am doing, trust that I will guide us to safety. You have never had a friend like me, I can tell, but now you do, and we are going to survive this together. We will just need to get back to town, and we surely will before those bravos, and everything is going to be all right.
Besnik seems to calm down a bit under your embrace. Perhaps your overflowing confidence has assured him at least for the moment. He clears his throat audibly, perhaps swallowing some tears. Like in so many places, men of Karst are taught to bottle up their weakness and not use it as a weapon as you learned in your youth.
― I understand and am grateful. Maybe there is a way for us to survive then.
As he is calmed you let him go and you continue your slow and careful journey among the crags and boulders.
― But what about the Dreamers then? You spoke of them as they were not just folk-lore.
― The Dreamer is real, very real. He has appeared in my dreams every night since I arrived in Karst. He is a formidable being, wrapped and enclosed in an inhuman way. I think he is the last one left of his kind, and he is very lonely.
I fall silent for a time, and Besnik lets me. It is difficult to construe the Dreamer in words, he feels like such a private phenomenon.
― The Dreamer, I think he wants me to join him in his ephemeral world. That is why I am stuck in between him and this Bungisgan, a man ever-sworn to destroy the Dreamer. Theirs is a dispute of esoteric nature, of no consequence to everyday people. It is a matter of citadels and moonlight, empresses and poets. What lesser people want and need seems to hold no meaning to them. In that regard they are both as blind as the four bravos, all of them running single-mindedly after their own dreams.
― Bungisgan must be the old man who I saw shortly after they captured us in the marketplace. I truly hope I won’t need to see him again, I think that the short times of rest I’ve had since then have been filled with his nightmares. It is like I can see his eyes even if I close mine.
The man shudders involuntarily.
― What are you to do then? Surely you could leave Tramellin and abandon their evil desires.
― Well, I start, keeping my tone light. ― I could hardly leave now and have the bravos rampage through town in their gold-greed. I am responsible for them, whether I desire it or not; our fates have been intertwined by our choices. Besides, the same holds true for the Dreamer and the Madman, in a way: they deserve recognition, and I cannot shirk from my destiny. I shall not.
― You are a braver soul than I, but let’s see if I can do some deeds of heroism for my family before the end. At least I am going to try if you are true to your word.
Obviously the soap-maker has gained some comfort and encouragement of your overwhelming confidence. He asks no more questions and turns his focus to the uneven terrain, basked in the moonlight. Somewhere ahead is Tramellin, and Bungisgan as well, your instincts tell.
I have had my fill of dialogue. We shall resume in the regular way.
- Tempering a Soapsman 20.02.2017
It takes us until the morning to reach Tramellin. I do not begrudge the time, though, as the terrain really is dangerous: the stone in the Karst is soft, and the ever-present waters have taken their toll. Even the seemingly plain pasture-lands are dotted by treacherous holes and crevises, and there are spectacular signs of land shifting and crumbling apart, forming those cliffs that define much of the landscape. A careless horseman could easily lose a horse or more in a moment once off the road.
Care on the way means that we do not have much time, however. I get us both back in the saddle when the sun breaches the horizon, and in no time we have found our way back to the road and to the gates the town. I have had the tail-end of the night to think over the challenge ahead of us, and I fear that much now depends on the four bravos and their timing. I have no doubt as to their intent, for they are creatures of street honor who will no doubt go to great lengths to fulfill their terrible promises; however, I have no way to know how quick they will be in crossing the distance after us.
As regards Bungisgan, I have consciously set him aside for now, for two reasons: one is that I believe the breach of trust in his organization to have been near-fatal to his ability to actually accomplish anything in the short order; the other is that insofar as he has some awful magics at his disposal, I know too little to prepare for them in a meaningful way. I am being practical. If we survive today, and if I must, I can confront Bungisgan some other day.
For now, however, my task is redemption: a thorough consideration has convinced me that the only way forward for me and Besnik is for him to grow three notches in one day. Best get on it while Castelmore and his faithful companions are still on their way back from the pastures.
― Master Besnik, I ask him as we come to the town gate. ― Do the guards at the gate recognize you by sight?
― They might. It’s a small town.
― In that case, please ride next to me and nod attentively, but keep your face even. I will be planting a clue for our pursuers to follow. It is very important for us to disappear from the public, because we are being hunted.
As I talk, we approach the gate, and I continue our one-sided conversation. I turn to make eye contact with the guard as politeness dictates, but continue talking to Besnik.
― If what you say is true, we will be safe at the Green Room. They will never think to look for us there.
We pass the guard without further comment, though I imagine he will remember the horses and the woman rider, should any queries be made. I better explain myself to Besnik: ― It is better if we control the beliefs that our rivals harbour. In this case, their beliefs about where they might find us.
― Rivals? Besnik asks. He has this habit of getting stuck on the minutiae.
― Foemen, I meant to say. More importantly, we need to hide the horses. I suggest we take them to your home and let your wife deal with them; we will not need them further, and whatever comes next, two good palfreys will sell for a considerable amount of money should she be able to hide them for today. However, it is very important that we do not tarry there: can you get in and out quickly, or should we stay away altogether?
Put like that, Besnik promises to be quick. We ride through the town and down the hill towards their his home. The soap-making craft needs its space and deters close neighbours, so there is a chance that we can get the horses there unobserved this early in the morning. Nothing we can do about that, though, so I let Besnik go console his family while I put the horses in his sheep corral. Perhaps they’ll figure out what to do with them.
As soon as the horses are out of my hands, though, I waste no time going after Besnik. As may be expected, he’s stuck explaining himself to the wife. Not something we have time for.
― Madame, I interrupt the two. ― It is up to you, but four murderous men are after us, no better than the Kryfis. They are sworn to slay not only myself and Besnik, but all of you. Our only chance is to go now and seek for aid from powerful friends.
That wasn’t very diplomatic, but at least it got the message across. Looking at Besnik’s family, the wife and four children, I remember a detail:
― I will need a shawl of local make, too. Master Besnik, it would be very helpful if your family could loan me one. You shall have it back after sunset, if not sooner.
Back on the road with a colorful shawl and a soapmaker full of questions:
― What powerful friends? he asks, following me out of habit as I hurry back uphill towards the market district.
― Why, the Kryfis of course. Who else would help us with murderous thugs, but other thugs? Didn’t we talk of this earlier? What was the name of that Kryfis fellow you’re acquainted with, again?
That was admittedly wicked of me, but it’s time for the soapmaker to start catching up. Before Besnik has time for any more panicking, I take his hand and pull him off the road, against a cliffside.
― You will need to show me how to wrap this, I tell him as I corner him against the wall with the shawl. ― I assume it goes over the hair and around the neck, but the less conspicuous you can make it, the better.
As I might have expected, touching a woman’s hair is illicit here. I encourage Besnik by guiding his hands with my own until he starts following some rote, probably learned from his wife. Besnik’s probably never going to be an adulterer, friendly as he is, but a dash of illicit attitude is something he will sorely need where he’s going.
― Besnik, I say to him as he touches my throat with the shawl. ― What is that man’s name? The man who beats you?
― Nat- Natric, miss Martlet, he coughs clearly embarrassed. ― Natric Kryfis. You cannot be serious about going to him!
― I am perfectly serious Besnik, I tell him and encourage him with a smile as he continues to wrap until only my face is visible of my head.
I step even closer to Besnik to make sure he does not escape the truth of the matter. Put my hands up against the cliff-side around him.
― Besnik, today you will have to discover your hidden strength. I say this as your own daughter would, were she here: you will need to set womanly wailing aside and act as a man when you go meet with Natric Kryfis. No fear, no weakness; no sublimation of your desires under a guise of virtue. You are a good man, a practical saint for accepting what you do from those men, but this is not the way to save yourself and your family. Men like that do not see the inner strength that lets you take a beating and get up; they only see someone whose life is cheap, where the truth is that yours is infinitely more valuable than theirs. And the only way to show that to them is for you to be brave and let them see what is inside.
― But, but you must be out of your mind, Martlet! Besnik spits out a protestation while looking away. ― Natric will kill us as soon as look at us. He is no better than those bravos.
― Perhaps not, I say softly and grip Besnik’s arms to reassure him. ― However, we do not need him to be any better, we just need him to be himself: a big man, a man who knows his worth. What Natric wants, and I think this is something you do not truly understand Besnik; what Natric wants is respect, and you cannot give him the respect unless you treat with him with honor. You have to ask him: tell him of your trouble, tell him how foreign bravos kidnapped you and threatened your family, and ask him for his help. I promise you, he will be only too happy for this, as what you bring him is a dual gift: not only are you finally accepting his authority, letting the death of your brother go, but you are also providing him with the opportunity that every true ruffian desires: the chance to defend his turf. Beating you, kidnapping you, these should be his privileges and his alone.
I am clearly saying something that reaches Besnik, for he looks at me with eyes abulge.
― How do you know that? How could you possibly know all that about Natric and me?
― As for Natric, I shall tell you a secret, I say to him, leaning closer to whisper for effect. ― I know his kind, for I have run with them myself; in the far-away Scarlet City I was once a bagsman and a counsel to a gang not that different. Considering your circumstances, I hope this does not cause you to mistrust me.
I smile sweetly at Besnik, hoping that the pieces realigning in his head are turning out favorably for us both. If I am to judge, and I generally am, then Besnik is a man who has to learn quite quickly that he cannot afford a noble’s moral scruples in his choice of friends. Living in a town like this, he truly is a remarkable man to not have come to this conclusion himself. I can only imagine the depth of anger he is bottling inside over his brother’s fate.
― If you are tight with them, miss Martlet, he finally asks me. ― Why can’t you ask for his help?
― Me, a woman? I say, stepping back. ― Do you think that this would work? I do not have an invitation here, and I wonder, does Kryfis respect women speaking their mind? I am in your hands when it comes to negotiating with the Kryfis, master Besnik: where does Natric hold his court, I know not; whether I should accompany you or not, I know not. I only know that if you encounter him without sniveling, bearing him honor, he will help you with the one thing he is good at: violence.
Earlier, in the dark of night, Besnik was resolute about doing his part for his family. Today we shall see the mettle of the soapsman. Is he willing to set aside his pride and hatred if that is the price of safety?
- So it begins 23.02.2017
The room is smallish, yet it is clear with one glance, that there are not many like this in the whole town of Tramellin. The wooden interior is filled with carvings and the walls decorated with heads of both real and imaginary creatures, hacked into the wood with a talented, if rough hands. Expensive carpets cover the floor and the massive dining table in the end of the room extends the formidable view. The decorator of this particular room must think that more is better when dealing with details of importance.
The men sitting in crudely chiseled stools around the room are at home in here. Large and loud they are, with bolstering egoes and dangerous eyes. And a great specimen among them is the man behind the table, Natric Kryfis.
He is a bald man, nearing his fifties yet age has not softened the hard lines of his limbs or the sharp, dangerous look in his grayish eyes. Where the townspeople favor clothes mostly made of wool, this man seems to be infatuated with furs and fur-decorations. The skull-shaped belt buckle is bit too much, though there are not many who would dare to point that out to him.
The lamb dish in front of him is lavish, yet he gnaws at it absent-mindedly, his eyes turned inside to some past deed of misfit to be sure, or a question of crime. He is brought out of it though, by a loud knock at the door.
― Open, Natric shouts impatiently and a man nearer the exit hurries to do his bidding. In comes a group of men of the same breed, forcibly walking between them a smaller man and a woman. The man’s skin forever bears the smell of lye and other ingredients that are essential to the craft of soap-making. The woman is plain, wearing a typical wardrobe of Karst, from long-sleeved skirt to shawl. She looks like a gray mouse in a house of hungry cats.
Seeing the man, instant recognition brings a crooked smile on the face of Natric.
― Besnik, you are up and in good strength. Have you come back to get some more what we last gave you?
The two men escorting the soap-maker push him violently forward, causing the man to drop down to his knees. His whole form is shaking visibly, yet with a vigor he stands up straight, drawing a deep breath between clenched teeth.
― No, master Kryfis. I have come to deal information. You know there is a group of foreigners in the town that take…
― I know everything that is going on in here! Natric yells in sudden contrast to the calm discussion he threw before. The man stands up from behind the table and steps near Besnik. His formidable presence seems to overwhelm the poor soapmaker, who tries vainly to hide his nervousness. Still, with an effort he casts a short glance towards the woman, collects himself and continues bravely.
― Still, do you know they beat and kidnapped me and took me out of Tramellin in ropes. You would think that…
― Indeed, good old Besnik, indeed. And did there happen to be this woman with you in this forced journey of yours? Take away her shawl! One of the men does as he is bid and reveals your foreign features.
The suddenness of the situation takes Besnik for surprise leaving him stuttering for a moment. The man is relentless though, and continues.
― No need to answer, Besnik. You know, when I saw you I was puzzled of your presence. A thought of your brother came to my mind for a moment. But seeing that woman clears it up and confirms a story I heard just yesterday evening. This time, I am not going to beat you Besnik. I give you my word. And I am going to help you against these foreign kidnappers. Let’s go for a little walk, shall we?
The last words form a question to which a clear answer is given with both tone and action alike. Enough men grab you and Besnik as you leave the “Guildhouse”, the miniature manor of the Kryfis, gained through extortion and violence.
The gloomy troupe travels quickly through few corridors and alleyways. Pale morning has passed and day is warm. Good weather doesn’t rise your spirits though as you are filled with dreadful precognitions. The lack of sleep and arduous nightly journey don’t really help.
The manor you finally arrive to forces you to take a step backwards. Step that is halted by a sharp point of a knife tucked against your back.
― No, escapes from Besnik’s lips. The moment of power has left him. His trials of escape are but feeble nudges under the strong arms of your captors.
― Oh yes, Natric replies.
You are greeted with reddish walls as you blame yourself. Bungisgan has played this game before. How can you be so fool to trust a simple plan to thwart your enemies. Calder’s words flash in the torrent of your mind.
“He is a master of evil, an influential secret magister.”
Hero dice: 1|4|2|4|2|1|5|4
Monster dice: 3|2|6|6
The match ends. Monster’s Score is 4.
Monster total: 17
Hero total: 23
Hero wins the match.
The climax begins.
The hero has 4 good dice equalling 2 picks.
Choices that must be made:
- Achieve your goal ‘make your place in the world by the occult lore’ – achieved by winning the Match.
- Avoid being injured or deprived by Bungisgan | Otherwise Bungisgan hurts you severely.
- Kill, permanently imprison or transform Bungisgan | Otherwise Bungisgan continues unimpeded upon his path.
- Save the Dreamer from Bungisgan’s wrath | Otherwise he is destroyed or worse.
- Save Besnik the Soapmaker and his family | Otherwise they are left to carry the burden of your sins.
- Save the legacy of the Lunar Citadel | Otherwise the world of the Dreamers is forever destroyed.
Whatever you do not pick, the contrary must happen.
- The Man from the Sand 27.02.2017
The following choices are made:
- 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.
One pick is left, with three choices:
- Avoid being injured or deprived by Bungisgan | Otherwise Bungisgan hurts you severely.
- Save Besnik the Soapmaker and his family | Otherwise they are left to carry the burden of your sins.
- Save the legacy of the Lunar Citadel | Otherwise the world of the Dreamers is forever destroyed.
I reserve these choices, for I require more information on the legacy of the Lunar Citadel. The pick shall be made later.
Why was it again that I thought Bungisgan incapable of acting in Tramellin? He was supposed to be sleep-deprived to the point of insanity, dull in his maliciousness. Could I have judged him wrong? Natric Kryfis is precisely the sort of man I imagined (though I expected him to be younger, perhaps a son of the great man instead of the master himself), yet here he has apparently formed a relationship with Bungisgan, a mad foreigner with little but insanity and wealth to him. What makes a man on the power seat take such a risk with the unknown?
Natric and his men escort us to the master study as if they know the place. Perhaps they do, it is a possibility that Kryfis have some history with the estate. We find Bungisgis there, as if a day and night had not passed in the meantime. He is as he ever was, loathsome to the eye; it would take a truly blind person to not see him for a creature exhausted beyond even the common wretchedness of toil and poverty. Yet a power is there anyway, in that crooked frame, to be feared and repulsed.
It seems that Bungisgan has not been idle, either. A great table now fills the left hand side of the room, where before was naught but the red walls and unassuming tapestry. The table seems too large for the frail Bungisgan to move around himself, particularly with the sand amassed upon it in great piles. The conceit is most curious, my eyes dart between the different colors of sand and the wooden brims keeping the sand from spilling to the floor. Bungisgan himself puttering about alongside the table as we arrive.
― I see that you have found my bird, good Natric, Bungisgan crows in a familiar and worry-free manner to the glowering Kryfis men. ― As you can see, yes you can, I have what we discussed right here.
Bungisgan grasps a small purse or bag to his talons. I spare a glance to the thugs behind me, spy their discomfort and uncertainty, but the man holding me tightens his grasp as I turn, forbids my movement. Bungis croaks to himself a sort of a hum as he fills in the bag with sand off his tableau. Mostly black, but he is not a meticulous by any means, and does not seem to mind. Natric Kryfis, somewhere behind me, does not speak a word as Bungisgan works.
Bungisgan finally turns to us, holding the bag. He brings it, and himself, right in front of me. ― Lilyspice, Martlet, it is all about the yulily, he says, jangling the bag in front of me. ― In this far brim of the world, what do you think the cost of a wench? Nowhere near your weight, little bird, not in lilyspice.
Isn’t yulily a flower? I know of it from the Scarlet City, but only by reputation, for it is a stupendously expensive drug, one of the many patrician privileges. A medicine of dreams, except that Bungisgan dealing in it makes me think of poison first.
― This is the same as your sample, old man? Natric Kryfis asks over me, reaching for the bag. Is there no caution in the man?
― That it is, my good man. Spare it wisely, for there is no spice as valuable around the inner shores. It is for the great and the bold, those you choose to allow and enable. A more civilized treat, eh, for a stultified backcountry town seeking to take steps a-more towards civilization.
― We shall see about that, Natric mutters in my hair. ― But you can have the woman all the same, and I shall be back soon enough. To talk business or other things, that depends on the spice.
― That’s the spirit, good Natric, says Bungisgan, and he is a man who does not fear the robber king a whit. ― Come back for more of the lilyspice, and ours can be a beautiful business. There is no reason you could not be a king, a veritable sultan of this town, not with the yulily by your side.
Natric turns to leave, ignoring Bungisgan’s prattle, yet the old wretch dares to grab his arm. ― One thing more, Natric. Be kind and leave me two of your men. You understand, the woman can be feisty. It’s better for me she not get any ideas, eh?
Now the men have left me loose, but I dare not try anything. Before Natric can answer, the rowing eyes of Bungisgan latch onto one thing more: ― And that man, the soaps-and-wool-scented one, let me have him as well. I see his measure, and he is a fit handsman for the lady Martlet. We have lack of service staff in the house, ever since the recent unpleasantness.
Natric considers silenty but a moment, then nods. ― Make it so, is all he says, and so it is done: two of the Kryfis thugs stay with us, as does Besnik, while Natric returns to his den with his vile price. Bungisgan croaks contentedly, makes to return to his sand table, but then apparently remembers us: the thugs are shooed out with near kindly gestures, remarks of food and wine in the pantry, suggestion to take a nap while waiting for the call. Besnik he minds not, and neither does the soapsman dare draw attention to himself. Rather opposite, he leans on the wall and ever so slowly falls down, until he is sitting miserably on the floor, not knowing what to do.
I stand in balance and wait silently, expecting more abuse from the erratic man. Even knowing that he has now out-maneuvered me twice, I still have difficulty doubting my eyes: everything about Bungisgan’s mien, his stature and behavior, screams befuddlement and impotent madness. I have no doubt that I could take him in a fight, yet I hesitate to attack still, for surely he would not leave himself so insecure, so helpless. Bungisgan has made me doubt my instincts. What does a flamine of Tolosa even have, if I cannot have my instincts?
― You have forced me to make hard moves, Martlet, Bungisgan finally says, revealing that he is in fact still in the room with us. ― Moves that twist and break men.
― What do you mean, master Bungisgan? I ask him brightly, not knowing if sullenness would provoke another tantrum, instead.
― You know it Martlet, you have the moves. I see it in you, the confidence game. You pick your mark, dig in, and collect your chips slowly. You make the right faces and invite them further and further with you. And when you have to, you know how to trade in your chips – for time, for love, for betrayal… even for bravery.
I am so, so bothered by what he says; he is describing the flamine arts, the mien. Yet the way he says it, it is horrible and dirty, most lowly. And the worst thing: now he is looking at Besnik, all the time as he talks at me his eyes stare beyond me to him against the wall. I look at Bungisgan, and he sneaks a peek at me under his prominent eyebrows, and he knows that I know that he knows what I did to Besnik. All so he could come here and never trust me again.
I think something gives in inside of me. I am being… I don’t know what I am being, the inner speculum does not speak to me. What I did to Besnik, that was exactly what I wanted to never do again. Why I left home in the first place and went to the Marical Valley. I know the mien is still there, for I do not feel tears in my eyes – or maybe I am just not saddened? Logically, I should be afraid, but am I? Bungisgan can surely read me, as he has, even as I cannot.
― Yes, yes, Bungisgan says, almost friendly as he steps back to his sand table. ― You know what it is all about. But you do not know all, not by a long shot. Do you not wish to know more, little bird?
― Uh, I start, and that certainly terrifies me, for I have not uttered a filler grunt since I was eight. ― Where did you get the lilyspice? I only saw sand going in that bag.
Bungisgan looks at me with a diseased grin, like I was finally asking the right questions. ― Well, of course it isn’t no lilyspice. Where I would get that all the way here? But it will serve.
Seeing my incomprehension, the twist: ― It did for Calder, didn’t it? The man would do anything for a dose, and knew it. Keep up Martlet, I know you can think beyond a corner.
I flinch, and it is unintentional, as if I did not have a mien at all. I look towards Besnik, but turn away on instinct, not wanting to see him see me like this.
― Now your turn to answer a question, Martlet, Bungisgan says pleasantly as he takes a little spade to his sandbox. ― I could ask you about the Dreamer, and I will, but I feel the need to know something else first, for hav’ta admit that you did surprise me yesterday. Where’d you learn the confidence game?
― It is, it is not a game, is all I can say, but as Bungisgan jerks his head sharply in my direction, I cannot help but answer, like the flutter of a pinned bird. ― I was taught by my mother. It is the flamine arts of Paisvien, the mien and the speculum… always be cognizant, of yourself, of others. Lead and guide…
Bungisgan seems satisfied, and gestures me towards his sands. I go forward, yet my limbs are hesitant, and perhaps I am as well.
― It is becoming clear to me why it was you, Martlet, he says as he cleaves into a pile of sand and divides it into two. ― But don’t you forget this: I learned the tricks in the City of Rats, long ago, and petty tricks as it may, it is the oldest craft of my magic. You have no surprises for Bungisgan, little user.
I need time to get myself together. I breathe deep, ragged breaths, but of course Bungisgan notices. He actually punches my midriff, taking advantage of my approach. It’s just a finger, really, but it is enough to surprise me and cause me to stumble back in panic, breath hitching in my throat. That is something I would never have done myself, but I dimly recognize the familiarity of it: he wants me unbalanced, and where the means may differ, he knows to cleave as well as mother does.
― What, what are you doing with the sand, master Bungisgan? I ask, trying to keep him talking.
― Oh, the sand holds many secrets, he says, gesturing pleasantly at the table. ― Did you ever think to consider how all sand has at a time been stone? Yet nevertheless it flows, divides and recombines, in a way stone can not, becoming something new with inescapable erosion. This is a common factor of life and unlife. I like sand. Had you been to Merrakush, this might be familiar to you as well as it is to me.
― Are you making magic? I cannot help but ask. Let him talk, give me time.
― Constantly. But with the sand, it has its uses. Shows the dreams, like when I saw you and touched you ever so slightly in your dream. Soon I will touch those men Natric left. Mostly, however, the sand expands my sensibilities. Perhaps it could do that for you as well, once you become. There is not much left to learn, but the Last of the Law may yet remain hidden within the sands. Perhaps there is naught to it, no limit but the Will.
He rambles, perhaps to my advantage, as he scatters the sands about the table. But what can I do, against a man who surpasses all of my meager talent?
I suggest a dialogue here, should you desire it.
- I shall discover the secrets of presence and becoming – achieved by winning the Match.
- The Job Interview 28.02.2017
I recorded the dialogue:
― Are you making magic? I cannot help but ask. Let him talk, give me time.
― Constantly. But with the sand, it has its uses. Shows the dreams, like when I saw you and touched you ever so slightly in your dream. Soon I will touch those men Natric left. Mostly, however, the sand expands my sensibilities. Perhaps it could do that for you as well, once you become. There is not much left to learn, but the Last of the Law may yet remain hidden within the sands. Perhaps there is naught to it, no limit but the Will.
He rambles, perhaps to my advantage, as he scatters the sands about the table. But what can I do, against a man who surpasses all of my meager talent?
Bungisgan twists his face when looking at the sand pile. You think that perhaps he sees something in it, something unpleasant for him. Or is this just another manipulation, to mislead you.
― Ah little bird, now that, now that we have cleared all this we will talk about the Dreamers. You shall do the talking and I shall do the listening. There is good time still, before the four pawns you set in motion circle back to their doom.
He approaches you, his filth and power enveloping you like a dark, suffocating blanket.
― I know very little, Master Bungisgan, I prevaricate and turn my face away. At least I do not stumble back from him now. ― The Dreamer has accosted me when I sleep, as he does with the people of this land. In the under-conscious realm of dreams he reigns supreme, doing what he wills to the unsuspecting. His attention on me persists, perhaps because I am foreign and my dreams strange to him.
He gets closer and for a moment you think he could get angry and physical again, but then he speaks, not changing his tone a bit.
― So he is alone he is, that is fine. Did he tell you where he is, where is the vessel of his life?
― N- no, I don’t think he ever did, I answer unthinking. ― It was all very confusing, with him in my dreams. He would take me away from my own dreams and into strange places. I met him first at the ruins, the ruins of the Lunar Citadel. I slept there before I came to Tramellin, and there he was.
Immediately after stopping I remember the men and the hole in the ground, but then it’s too late to correct myself, so I let it go. Better not think now. Be calm and try to ignore the presence of my interrogator.
Suddenly he clears away from you and goes for the little table that you remember seeing earlier on your “visit” in this place. Again he picks up the urn of the Prophet from some cabinet and lifts it onto the table, his talons caressing the lovely, decorated surface. A wicked glance towards you, timed just perfectly to your racing pulse.
― I know you are afraid of our prophet. Desperate enough to meddle with the Four. But you know it is inevitable now. I need you to tell me everything now. The Prophet yearns for a new vessel, he yearns yeah. But I have to deny him still a while, if you can tell me more as this is all so fascinating. Perhaps, if you do not wish to have our Lord just yet we can postpone it a little, to do a small task, to catch the fly in the web. To stop the meddling.
He comes closer again, leaving the urn to sit on the table.
― But I need you to tell me everything you know. Before pretty flesh is given to the Prophet.
I understand what he is doing at some level, but that does not help me. He is not even saying anything I did not know already, yet I still tremble. I have never felt something like this without my inner detachment, my oculum. Is this bitter churning what fear tastes like?
― The four bravos, they are, they are dangerous, I hear myself babbling. ― More dangerous than they seem. They draw strength from each other, strength of will and wisdom. Their camaradie, the fellowship – I have seen it, how not one of them has the will and the wit, but together they scheme and vote and surpass any binds you place on them. I could not truly control them, and the more you break them, the heavier they lean against each other.
That was not what master Bungisgan wanted to hear about, was it? I am not thinking straight.
― I understand, not ready for it yet are you. I would hate to spoil the new flesh of the Prophet. Or let the men of Kryfis do it. They are blunt instruments, inaccurate, wieldy. Might give me what I need but break you in the process. Fresh would be better. And for the time.
He comes closer still, brushes your hair oh so lightly yet heaving his spirit over you excruciatingly. But his pressing is suddenly stopped. You both hear it from across the room. Besnik the soap-maker has sneaked from the corner he was collapsed in and lifted the urn on top of his head.
― Back off, monster! Back off, or I’ll crush this vase and whatever is in it to the floor!
Oh, it’s Besnik. I am not sure if ever I needed somebody to interfere on my behalf so much. Dear man. He’s going to be split in twain by Bungisgan’s fury, though, unless I do something.
― Master Besnik, do not worry! I force myself to say rather than choking on a sob. ― That vase is very important to master Bungisgan. You should not let anything harm the ashes within, lest he lose something irreplaceable.
I take hold of Bungisgan’s arm as he turns towards the man. I am being myself again, despite the pain it might cause. I can be of little help to Besnik otherwise.
For a moment, you see the intense rage on Bungisgan’s face. And it is a huge revelation to you. For the first time you see a glimpse of bare him, behind all the curtains. And thus, you realize that all you have seen before this moment, has been somewhat controlled. He is mad yes, he is strained to the hilt yes, but he is in control. And again he is as he whispers to you.
― Deal with the man, little bird, or I will have to. You understand, right.
My best ingenue affect: ― Oh, but master Bungisgan, I would so love it if you showed us your magical might! It must be so large!
He would realize anyway in a moment that I have my feet under me, so might as well seize the initiative. I don’t know what he would call the oculus, but nobody could play me like that without being able to read under the mien.
Just as Bungisgan’s face turns a deeper shade of purple I sweep around him to approach Besnik. I hope he plays along.
― Master Besnik, I am ever so grateful for your concern, but truly, do not worry; we have come to an amiable understanding with master Bungisgan. It seems that he merely needs us to help him trap the dream-king, which is an affair I am certainly not opposed to in any way. I can only imagine how difficult this would all be for him, were we not so cooperative.
Besnik looks at me strangely, evidently not understanding that I am talking for Bungisgan’s benefit.
― You should let me hold the vase, dear man. You will need to go prepare our supplies from the stores of the house. We will be travelling to Saur Rock with master Bungisgan to smoke out the Dreamer, and the sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll arrive.
My gentle smile freezes as I steal a peek at Bungisgan. I still have no idea if he is thinking quicker than I am, or cheating somehow, with some magic. But my intuition tells me that I would rather take Bungisgan out of the house than have him here, in a place of power of his own devising.
It seems at the moment that Bungisgan complies to your plan of action. Besnik, bewildered for the turn of the events first seems to freeze, then works as an automaton, leaving, apparently to search for the supplies. Bungisgan turns back to you.
― You catch on quick, little bird. And for what you did I shall do as you ask. I shall show you some of my might.
He is quick, too quick for you to react with reflexes from this world. The taloned hand raises, the disfigured mouth blows. You feel the powder on your face and immediately start to sink to a dark hole. Not before you can hear his words though.
― Don’t worry little bird. We will go to the Saur soon enough. But first we have a fly to catch. We need to catch his spirit, tie it to you so he will not bother us through the weaker minds that sleep the sleep of the innocents. Catch the fly we must, you are the bait and I am the spider.
I have had my fill of dialogue. We shall resume in the regular way.
- My Life as a Dreamcatcher 02.03.2017
I am a bird, once again. A lark in a trap, or a cage. I flutter in confusion. It is all so familiar that I do not notice as the scene changes: I am home, a girl put through my paces. I have a bird whom I train, and it is to my merit when the bird, a lark, sings as it should. I also have a dog, but he is not apt, and therefore not really mine. The bird I do not want, yet nevertheless she is my responsibility.
It takes me a long time to become self-conscious of the dream, and myself as the self-aware dream-actor. It happens, however, inexorably, and the arbitrariness of the dream dissolves. It may be this dream-moist land of the Karst, or perhaps something has changed in me to extend my constant ocular awareness of myself even into the dream-state. Or the nearness of the Dreamer himself, perhaps that is what pulls me into lucidity once more.
This dream, it is different somehow… it is not the shared near-dreamlands of the Real Dream that the Dreamer has encountered me in, and neither is it mine in an intimate way. For one thing, I perceive two others here with me. Bobbing gently and glowing in an opaque way, two dream-spheres unmistakable as those of human dreamers, here with me.
I cannot perceive bodies associated with those sleeper souls, however, and nothing else resembles a reality I could recognize, either: the ground below me is soft and sun-warmed sand, yet there is no Sun above, no Moon either, but mere darkness that extends to all directions but one. In that one direction, as if bisected by a great plane, the reality is split in two, the dark half and the light. I am on the dark side, in the warm sand, with my two fellow… captives? And the light side, from whence comes all illumination in this dark place, it is separated from us by great pillars gleaming of metal. The pillars are truly massive, rising up to infinite heights and dwarfing my own size, yet they are numberless, for the plane of bisection continues to an infinite distance on either side. Numberless and regularly placed, showing a vague view of light beyond.
As I approach the light, padding in the sand, it becomes evident to me that it is an impassable barrier: in between the great brass pillars there are lesser ones, all regularly paced, and yet closer there are still thinner ones, as if metallic monochord strings set in great tension. The closer I come, the more the great open spaces between the pillars of brass are revealed to be enclosed by ever thinner bars, perhaps to such perfection that there is in fact no gap at all where such seemingly exist; only ever-thinner strands of brass, near translucent bars that form a brass panel infinitely thin, visible only up close. A brass panel firmly rooted in sand and reaching up to infinite distance.
I turn back to take a closer look at my fellow captives. Perhaps I could awaken one of them? I can pretty much piece together what has happened now that I have had a moment to figure things out. I try to wake up, but whatever muscles one would use for such are not in operation; Bungisgan’s vile drugs must be keeping me under by force. This place is probably something of his devising, and I can grasp at a certain sense of dream-like logic in it, though the particulars elude me still. Unless I misplace my guess, those two sleepers are the Kryfis thugs left to help Bungisgan earlier.
Before I get to interact with the sleepers, however, we are all plunged into shadow by a great shape moving in the light side of this dream world; it comes in between us and the light, and though its vague shape is cast sharply against the light, it is much too great to recognize. Even as I realize that it is not the entire world being cast in darkness, the shape moves and the great brass bars shift and bend – no, they move in fact, yet it is difficult to perceive the difference without perspective to this world. It is a frightening sight.
All too quickly a shape much too massive for me to perceive moves in the shadow and plucks one of the sleeper spheres out of the air. And while I still stare slack-jawed, the bars and shadows and light all move in a confusing manner, everything returning back to the way it was; everything except that where there were three of us here, now there are only two.
I probably do not have the luxury of waiting for patterns of perception to build up into inescapable truths; there is no way to know if anything I do here matters much, but that is all the more reason to act decisively. I am not stupid, I don’t need to see more to figure out that whether somehow literal or merely metaphorical, I am witnessing the way Bungisgan indirectly works his magic on the elusive mind-scape. I do not know if this is even analogous to how he perceives it; I do not need to know whether he knows that I can dream lucidly. I just need to act, in whatever way, before he gets around to doing whatever it is that he plans to attract the Dreamer here.
Odds are that the Dreamer does not dare to approach the Anti-Dream on his own, anyway; he does not strike me as the heroic type, and surely his sophomoric crush for my purported inner beauty matters not in the big picture. Whether Bungisgan has some way to sweeten the deal or mislead him matters not to me, either; I cannot worsen the situation by doing the unexpected.
And yes, whether what I do actually is unexpected does not matter, either, for ineffectuality could not possibly worsen my situation. I don’t have that many options, anyway. I start running away from the light, and then settle for a quick walk in the soft sand. Perhaps I can find something in this darkness, or hide here and thus frustrate Bungisgan. This could all be pointless, but until I can think of a better course of action, I might as well look for a metaphorical sandpit to hide in.
- The Blunt Trap of Hatred 05.03.2017
You keep on walking through the desolate darkness and the soft sand under your feet feels the same as always. There are no landmarks, no perspective and you figure you might as well be standing still rather than moving. Still, you keep going nonetheless, towards a direction opposite of the light that still shines brightly as ever.
Whether it is the coloration of the sand or some other elusive feature, somehow you know that the envirnoment is changing. Still there is no sun, and nothing in the horizon yet when you continue, small objects start to appear as if drawn in front of you from thin air, or materializing from thick fog. First it is only rocks that lie in the sand, dark, porous rocks lying here and there but you still keep on going. Following them are odd objects of no great interest. It is like somebody has just littered the beach with random artifacts of common life.
Suddenly you walk straight in a middle of a war zone of some kind. Endless army of soldiers is camped in the beach and you can hear the waves of the sea, yet see it not, as everything, besides the soldiers themselves is just the same, monotonous unreality.
You go closer as you soon figure out they can’t see you and you find that they seem completely detached from the reality you inhabit. They warm themselves near fires that are invisible to you. They put food in their mouths that you can’t see. They brandish equipment that is unreal to you. Still you see them very plainly in their armors, similar in every way and familiar to you from pages of books depicting the imperial era.
You raise your eyes and see the lunar citadel. The image is strikingly similar to the one you saw when you first encountered the Dreamer but a few long days ago. Yet the coloring is bit different. Where the earlier image had a splendor created by the moonlight, this dark place casts an immense foreboding to your searching mind.
But there is no time to examine this view as something changes again. Long tendrils fly towards you from the light that you tried to keep behind you. You wouldn’t have noticed them at all without the ominous humming sound they make when they approach. In this witch-light they seem made of brass, but when your eyes focus on them they shift and weave, their color changing from brass to gold.
You try to evade of course, but in this reality there is nowhere to hide and they seem to know where they are going. Two latches themselves to your back and to your horror they sink into your flesh easily. The feeling is not painful but extremely unfomfortable, as the irrationality of the situation penetrates your mind.
When the cursed things have attached, you feel them pull you with tremendous force. In reality, such a pull would rip the muscles of your backside wide open, but this doesn’t happen here. Rather you are being dragged like a doll pulled by an absent-minded child and the sight of warriors and citadels vanish from your sight immediately.
Soon you’ll find yourself again near the endless brass pillars, yet the tendrils do not quit but rather seem to accelerate their speed as they hurl you with full force against the mysterious borders of your dreaming prison. Perhaps it is the tendrils, or the speed, but the walls seem to give away and you find yourself standing in the Real Dream, near the mansion your physical body is now laying in. Behind you you can feel the pulsing darkness of the Anti-Dream, now sickeningly familiar to you.
A quick reach ensures to you that the tendrils are still there, fastened deep in your flesh, yet now they are invisible and seem to let you move for now. Deep down inside you know that they are growing out of the Anti-Dream behind you.
The trap is set, you figure and the catch is close by as well. You soon notice the familiar form of the Dreamer manifesting itself near your presence.
— Lucie, where have you been? I haven’t felt your presence in a long time.
You notice that he uses your proper name for the first time. You try to yell a warning, but as you open your mouth, dark tendrils spur out of it in numbers. Visible now they are black in this world and make their attack against the man in front of them. He is caught off-guard as they envelop his lithe frame (they do not penetrate his flesh, you figure out in the middle of it all) and pull him close to your now forcibly outstretched mouth.
His calm and calculative presence breaks for the first time in your presence, as his delicate features distort in panic. Not only that, but you now can sense his rushing thoughts. He broadcasts them in a frenzy making your head throb under their weight. The tendrils in your back have started to pull you both back inside the bowels of the Anti-Dream, like a black tongue of some hideous monster.
You are both sucked in, apparently the Dreamer can’t resist it or he is unable to get a hold of himself. It is a sensation of a short snap, like a moment of disconnection, lack of consciousness. Still in the end both you and the Dreamer are both lying there in the darkness, warm sand smooth under your skin.
You get up, and a dark figure moves in front of the light again. As it picks you up from the prison, the last thing you see in this dream is the Dreamer running against the irrational pillars of the prison, making the whole world under you shake and tremble.
The first thing you see is Bungisgan’s ugly face. Your head still spins from the strong imagery, and perhaps from the vile drugs as well.
― Wake wake, little bird. Now we’ll get to the Saur Rock as fast as we can. Maybe I let you visit him in the way, to make his stay more comfortable.
A half-wit could detect the mock in his words as they seep with poison and hate swelled over the centuries. Yet the man seems exhausted, it is so plainly evident that no amount of mien-games can hide it.
The sand on the table behind him is carved full of strange patterns and elaborate formations. You have lost your sense of time, but deep down you know that Bungisgan couldn’t have possibly done all of them by hand.
- One More Clash of Wills 07.03.2017
It takes me a moment to realize that I have been lifted off the floor and onto the desk, whence my elevated viewpoint. My eyes have trouble focusing, but I move to sit up nevertheless. Bungisgan putters with his sand table again. I notice that my clothes, the Karstite goodwife costume Besnik helped me put together, are completely disheveled: the scarf and blouse discarded on the floor, the belt loosened, skirt bunched up to the waist, my vulva in plain sight.
Bungisgan smiles wickedly and observes me off the corner of his eye, and turns to explain as I flinch in surprise: ― I took the liberty of checking your body for certain marks while you were out fishing, Martlet. You have a mirror-mind, just like many elders of Merrakush, and I used to have enemies there. Even if they wouldn’t hesitate to teach their tricks to a Basalite slave, they never would without initiating you, and that always leaves a mark.
I muster a mien of injury as I stumble off the table to straighten my skirt. Bungisgan merely chuckles, of course. ― You doubt me, yet it is the truth. Do not flatter yourself by thinking that I would be roused by your body; it is miracle enough that this old flesh moves at all, and my prick certainly does not.
I say nothing, merely stand there impassively. This displeases Bungisgan, who desires my submission. ― Do not think I would not, if I could, he spits at me, lunging closer. ― We are beyond whatever courtesy you expect, Martlet, and it behooves you to understand that. There are other men I can put on you. This town’s full of them, in fact. Thin is the veneer of custom keeping them in check, and less so for one such as you. A rebel.
I am getting used to the rhythm of Bungisgan’s patter, and for once I resist his assault completely; my mien is not shaken, and I witness myself in my speculum, curb my natural reaction to this fearsome man. Better that he get the message once and for all: I am not to be shaken by coital brutality. Any brutality, in fact; Bungisgan should just seek for an altogether different means of control. Or better yet, court my compliance instead of this constant harassment.
It is only afterwards that I understand to rejoice for this accomplishment, for being able to stand my ground against the force of his cutting remark. Earlier he got to me, but if he thought to cow me completely by his display of druggery, then that was a miscalculation on his part. I would smile, except Bungisgan is now watching me as he gets back to his sands. Perhaps, just possibly it is because he is now not so certain where precisely we stand.
Why can we, us humans, ever turn our backs to each other? This is something I figured out for myself a long time after I left home, although the principles are there in what I was taught: inside every one of us lives a small reflection of everybody we have ever met. This phantasmal homunculus provides us with insight, and all the more so if you are clear-seeing, if your inner speculum is without blemish to show you; to understand yourself is to understand others as well. It is thanks to this inner sense, observing that small reflection, that we can understand what others think and intend, and thus may trust exist between men.
Bungisgan understands all this, I think, in some twisted lowlife manner, and perhaps that is why he is reluctant to turn his back to me now: whatever he thought he knew yesterday, of the “forward and backward” of me, as he said — perhaps he is not so certain of it now. What has changed? Is it merely that before he did not know about the mien, and now he is not so sure of his ability to read me? If that is the case, perhaps it is possible to mislead him, after all. Maybe all he has behind his bluster is simply months of opportunity in observation, from when we lived in Vincenza and I hardly paid any attention to him. Maybe he exaggerates his own mastery of the flamine arts. I am being optimistic out of desperation, and should stop. Will stop.
Unfortunately I have great difficulty reading Bungisgan as well. It could be a masterful mien on his part, changing fluidly from moment to moment in an immaculate picture of the disturbed mind. Or, it could be that he genuinely is mad, but in a way that nevertheless allows him to keep functioning. It is as if there are rails keeping him on the trail, the way he meanders and jerks back to whatever is his business at hand.
Were I in a courteous situation, I would have the moment to meditate upon my speculum in regnal silence. As it is, these thoughts flash through my mind, leaving little conscious mark as I focus on the moment. Not understanding Bungisgan, not having a good reflection of him, I am forced to assume that he will act akin to how I would — an ill measure of the man, to be sure. I dare not turn my back on him, either.
As Bungisgan seems content to work on his sand table, I crouch to collect my blouse and scarf. He seems unhurried, even humming, but the head moves more than would be natural, signifying covert observation, maintaining a sense of my presence. Not a good time to try to surprise him, particularly not with the way my head spins as I move.
― Do not worry so, Martlet, he finally says in an even tone. ― Cover yourself if you don’t wish to excite the natives. And wait a moment, little bird, before reckless flight wrecks your wing. I would show you a fine reason to not get any ideas, a better one than before.
As he speaks, Bungisgan crouches inside his cabinet and produces what must be yet more tools of the magician’s trade. I hesitate to, but finally shrug myself into the blouse and tie it down. Despite everything, the knowledge intrigues me, and the threat dissuades me from committing to action this very moment. I wrap the scarf around my neck, and high up on my face, in case he tries the trick with the dust again.
― Do you know how well I treat you, Martlet? Bungisgan asks me as I carefully approach his workspace. ― I have hopes for you, and the less you hide from me, the more my hopes rise. There are so many ways I could go to bend and break you, yet I prefer to keep you intact for now. For our prophet.
I ignore him. Aside from the sand, now forming a complex, expansive vortex of many colors over the table, Bungisgan has a set of small caskets or cases. Curious they are, with intricate filigreen of beads swirling upon them. Of Kihonite craft, judging by the beads and the dense, dark wood of their construction.
― What is it, master Bungisgan? I ask him as I come upon the table.
― Nothing much, he croons with a gleam in his eye. ― I have merely captured some fetches, and as they feature so heavily in what is to follow, it is perhaps best if you learn something of them now.
So saying, Bungisgan flips open one of the boxes and leans over his table, grabbing a handful of the sand from the center of his sand mandala. It is a rough action, as is all the man does, scattering sand all over. Nevertheless Bungisgan displays care when he trickles the sand from his closed fist into the hardwood box. The box creaks as he closes it.
― Fetches? I ask him over the strange word. I have heard the term in my study of the occult arts, but any depth of meaning escapes me.
― Souls, Martlet. Or rather, the backsides of souls, if you will. I have something of a collection here, and it is important for you to realize it. I have come to understand that you do not respond very well to compulsion. You simply do not have too much to lose; like your namesake, your freedom is just about all you have to your name. There is, nevertheless, weakness to your stoicism.
Seeing that I listen to him, Bungisgan continues crowing: ― You care about other people, Martlet, though you hide it well. There is a weakness to the way you were raised, one that would have gotten you killed in the City of Rats. We will use this, and perhaps finally a balance will be discovered.
― You mean Besnik, the soapsman, I state baldly. ― Do not overestimate the sentiment, master Bungisgan. He is a grown man, responsible for himself. In this town, they would say that if anything he’s responsible for me, and not the other way around.
― Yes, but that is not all, oh no. Little bird, let me introduce you to my fetches first. There is of course the dream-king, Abanir Loth unless I miss my guess, in the case I just closed. He is coming with us. But then these four, you will guess surely? They are, one for each, for that rascal Castelmore and his men. Their fetches in my hands, you will surely understand that they pose me no serious danger; they are mine, body and soul, and have been ever since I ripped those souls out one by one.
― Do you plan to add me to your collection? I ask. Betraying my terror of the prospect would be counter-productive here. I am being in control.
― Oh no, that would be in neither of our interests, Bungisgan says, picking the last box. ― Rather, I will show you something that I believe you will wish to possess. Go on and open it, let us see whether you might recognize it.
I take the box, expecting more sand. However, what I see is vastly more horrible. It is Calder Abersson, the man and my past lover, crushed into a tiny box. How can this be? My mind reels at the sight of him wrapped within a space hardly large enough for my fist. Nevertheless, it is his face, elongated, crushed against the side of the casket by his own kneecap, itself twisted in an impossible angle. It is like an eldritch medallion made of the flesh of a familiar man, a medallion with a single eye that blinks as it stares at me. I blink back, where any but a flamine would surely scream.
I take a deep breath and force myself to look closer at the impossible sight. My eyes must surely deceive me.
― What is it that you see in there, Martlet? asks Bungisgan leaning forward curiously. ― You should know, I don’t really see the fetches myself. A peculiar side-effect of my condition. It is there, however, as sure as I snipped it out myself from a dying man. A finger-bone, you know; makes it easy.
I rattle the box discreetly to hear the rattle of the bone, although surely Bungisgan notices. The form within spills, and starts flowing out, expanding as it comes. Clammy to my hands, and I drop the casket in alarm. Bungisgan is unflinching, and hesitates not in picking something up off the expanding fleshy monstrosity. The entire mass follows, ethereally, and perhaps I can finally see something of its translucent spirit nature in the dim light of Bungisgan’s enclosed studio. Yet it still grows, unfolds, but not truly in the shape of a man as it should.
― Impressive art, is it not, little bird? Bungisgan asks me and walks the casket to his desk. ― I know that you were quite taken by the good Calder; perhaps you recognize something of him still? He was a faithful servant, and is such still. I was thinking of letting him guard the house as we leave. There are things here, things of mine that I would rather not be disturbed during our little trip.
Bungisgan sets the casket down on his desk and turns back to me. ― So that there is no misunderstanding, Martlet: you can have Calder once our task is done. I will even show you how to extinguish him into final oblivion, should you still desire such then. Or you can keep him as a lover, if such things still entice you once you become Bungisgan. Either way, you should remember that there is only one way for you to ever hold the fate of Calder Abersson in your hands, and that is to do exactly as I say.
- Observation, realization, misinformation? 08.03.2017
The demonstration of this grisly art is quickly finished and you are left contemplating on what to do next. Bungisgan, on the other hand starts to organize the expedition towards Saur at best possible speed. You are again struck by his ability to organize things, besides his obvious ailments. Perhaps his ability to function is of a supernatural origin.
It was morning when you arrived to the manor and things progressed rapidly after that. You find out that your dream prison experience only took an hour and late afternoon pushes the shadows ever-longer when Bungisgan has organized things to his will. You are accompanied by ten men, most of Kryfis but you can’t help but wonder wether there are bogatyrs as well as their varied equipment and bolstering behavior is all but the same.
You follow Bungisgan with your best ability when he performs this as your inability to read him almost drives you mad of discomfort. Any attribute of behavior, anything that would give you some clues would soothe your mind. As a starving man after the breadcrumbs, but there is nothing more to do at the moment.
You do notice that in midst of all of the action, Bungisgan secluding himself into the room of the sand table for half an hour with strict orders of non-interference. When he comes out he seems bit more refreshed, bit more on top of things. Could this be due to his usage of herbs and exotic ailments he mentioned earlier? Or has he some way of pumping energy into his foul being?
Your expedition mounts and breaks away from the city at best speed possible. You and Besnik are being guarded heavily of course. Bungisgan doesn’t seem to take any risks with you, you guess he has watched you as much as you have of him. And he knows that you escaped from the clutches of the four bravos, not a task of a trivial nature however he might downplay their prowess in his monologues. It is still a fact that they have followed him as his trusted allies from across the known world.
You make good progress during the short hours of the evening as your horses endlessly trot the uneven curves of the road towards Saur. You can’t help but wonder where the bravos might be. Surely they have known of the Saur, as it was probably Castelmore who sent the bogatyrs on their way to search for you. And speaking of the bogatyrs, they must be still there, turning rocks to find you. Could they locate the secret entrance that must lead to the Dreamer? Can you? Do you wish to?
The all-encompassing darkness finally forces your party to make camp near the road. It is a peculiar place, there is a shallow gorge next to the winding road. The bottom is level enough for you to make camp that is more or less comfortable. There is even a little pond in the center of of it. The water is crystal clear and cold as hell, probably due to some underwater springs feeding it. In any case it offers a nice spot for resting and relaxation, even if just for a short while.
Your guards are relentless as usual, and tie your wrists and ankles for the night. Besnik’s as well, even though the small man has been an image of succumbage. For few short times you have gotten near him to strike a conversation, but found him lacking of words, and in contemplating mood.
When you are ready to sleep, Bungisgan approaches you for the first time on the trek. His features look totally alien and wicked against the flames of the campfire. Is it nervousness that you feel in his presence when he looks at you?
― Come on, little bird. Sleep strongly, sleep alone.
He brushes a disfigured finger across your forehead. An incantation of some sort, perhaps? But then he is on his way again, chattering around with the men, dividing something from his pouches to the willing that are going to sleep and patting the backs of others that are taking the first guard duty.
He is so strange, so dualistic. Why do the men follow him so, it is a mystery to you. Do they not see what you see?
Once again you catch yourself falling asleep without a conscious thought and it takes a long while for you to get awareness of your surroundings. At first you are back home in Paisvien, but your wild thoughts seem to throw you around the dream world like a ragdoll. Your head spins and you feel that you are ready to pass out – pass out to where?
One thing in your thoughts seem to resonate above all others: the Lunar Citadel. You notice that thinking of it seems to gravitate your thoughts and soon you find calm again. You open your dream-eyes and see that you are back in the moonlight where your dream quest started. You see the Citadel, just as you saw it when you slept on the Saur, yet there is one striking difference.
Nobody comes to greet you on the majestic moonlit entrance. A feeling of utter loneliness fills you in this desolate place, as you feel the world crushing down on you like the immense stone pillars above. Few things pound into your consciousness in the middle of it all over and over like a drum. You can’t tell whether it is your overloaded subconscious or some malicious, supernatural entity.
- You are alone in this world.
- Never again, will you sleep the sleep of the unknowing.
- This dualism will destroy you without a guide.
- You are alien, a snowflake among sand grains.
- Crossing the Abyss 13.03.2017
I am being frozen in place. A single image pulses in my head, and try as I might, I am too tired to escape its gravity. My wandering mind tries to grasp at something new, something different, but I am too tired or constrained, and whatever I scramble for, the thought soon falls into a familiar rut and brings me back to the image: loneliness, alienation. I count grains of sand compulsively to avoid thinking it again. I am, yet in this place being is illusory. Whatever it is that is air and breath and life to a Self; this place, this vacuum of inner space has none.
I am being slow, but it is possible to cogitate in a way despite the trap, at least for a trained mind. Human concision is not quite real, this I know well; an unitary identity is a necessity to avoid confusion and chaos, and thus all humans learn at an early age to suppress and unify their inner processes. We, who are but a web, pretend to be a rope.
I was, however, taught a second thing when I was barely a girl: to polish a mirror inside, an Inner Speculum. It is all a metaphor, but what it means is to have two sets of eyes: ones on the outside, and ones on the inside. You learn detachment, and ultimately, to observe yourself observing yourself. All without unraveling your ego, as sometimes happens. You can understand yourself, your own feelings, and thus come to master both the internal and the external.
This training helps me now, at least a little: I am being crushed by the merciless dualism of being and not-being, this is true, yet at the same time I am observing myself struggling, and learning of it. It is unusual for the Speculum to think actively, for usually it merely observes, reacts and instructs the outer self. But it is possible. It is me.
Why is it that I am here, the Speculum wonders. Is the Real Dream collapsing somehow because the Dreamer is captive? I should expect not. Rather, this is the working of old Bungisgan. He did something to us – to me – and trapped us in this strange trance or dream. Perhaps he seeks to soften us up. Is this a part of his initiation? What does he expect?
There is a howl of wind. The Lunar Citadel is impossibly majestic. Impossibly lonely. Nothing could live within. Wraiths of meaning float in the breeze, scattering into ash as soon as the impossibility of self-cognition occurs. Yet insistently, the arbitrary scraps twist together, knot into strings, only to fall apart again. There is no true being. There is no true time. There is no true distance.
We know this place, the Speculum thinks. Or rather, this state. It has been described to us in the temples of Scarlet City; we have read of it in the great library. It is the Veil, what separates Gresal Apeiron from the perceptual world. We never understood before, but now we do: a great stasis, an utter dissolution of the ego, an impenetrable barrier between the unreal and the real. The Veil is the dissolution, the great Unraveling that threatens every practitioner of the flamine arts.
― You will not be like the people, Lucie, mother tells me. ― You will come to realize this in time. Wine will not intoxicate you. Love will not blinden you. Fear and anger will neither stay nor force your hand. I will teach you, and it is the better part of the heritage, no matter what your brother will have.
― But there are dangers to the flamine nature. Look at your aunt Marcheline: she lives with no honor, supported by her sister, unable to care for herself. She barely recognizes night from day, and is in no way fit for society. She is irrecoverably occluded, and all for failing to heed the danger. You will be the same if you try to form the Speculum before you are ready; if you believe in things that are not true; if you cross beyond and unravel the cord of being in ways beyond that prescribed in the creed.
Suffer Lucie, cry out. This is the one thing that she never wanted for us. The Veil is the Unraveling, the Occlusion, and thus all is futile as regards your quest for the infinite. Only in death may mankind pass beyond; in death or insanity. All ever said, ever written of the Gresal, lies. There is no True Magic. Not in a world with the Veil.
We have to get out of this trap before it’s too late, the Speculum thinks. Before we are utterly unraveled and the mirror breaks. Already Lucie is straying, losing herself. Move! If not back, then forward into the Citadel!
Lucie stumbles forward out of habit, ever obedient to her Speculum. The airless air makes her skin crack and bleed. The entrance to the Citadel is devoid of obstacle, it is large and inviting, yet nevertheless to reach the entrance is a fundamental act of crossing in a place with no space and no time.
Within the Citadel, confusing shapes. Like pillars, except they are people. Unmoving, all alike. Much higher, towering above Lucie. They are the keepers of the dome. They want not. Free of false existence, safe from the wind that is not wind. But one is recognizable; the Wanderer towers as still as all.
― Young Heiress! he calls to me. He wants me to acknowledge him. Obey him.
No. I am being unfair, I hear my new second self. He is a deep thinker, and does not want my obedience. He wants me to choose: respect him, or not. What he wants me to acknowledge is myself.
― It is a grave injustice, he says as I do not react. ― However, it is also a gate; you said that you desire the Gresal, yet did you mean it? If so, you must let it go. It is the only way I know. You must let him go.Lucie falters, falls to her knees. It is not that she cannot go any further, the Speculum thinks; it is that we are being afraid. We are no more able to let go now than then. There must be something else, or we are lost. To go forward now is to go apart.
Lucie scratches blindly at the unliving ground of this dead place, long devoid of thought. The Speculum blurs. We cannot see; if there even is a we.Lucie has something in her hands, a silver strand. There is no cognition in it as she grips the strand. It runs from the Citadel, floating across the impossible space. Guiding her.
However, a line can be traversed in two directions: Lucie turns in place, stands and ever so slowly pulls herself along the line, away from the Citadel.
Away from the Citadel and away from this horrible midway state, this spiritual annihilation, it seems; every step becomes easier as Lucie follows the silver cord. As I follow the silver cord. I dare not look back, for the peril of being drawn into the Veil anew. I only look forward, and focus on moving along the cord. It is the only safe thing to do now, as I know so little of what happened and where I am.
I soon arrive at the end of the cord. It is a different realm, a dream or dimension I know not; there is sun, and the sand makes me afraid of Bungisgan being near. The cord goes into a casket, one that I recognize.
I waste no time flipping open the casket and letting the Dreamer out, as apparently there isn’t even a metaphorical lock on whatever it is that Bungisgan did to trap him. These dream vision quests are often not that difficult to interpret, perhaps because there is actual meaning in such dreams instead of mere fragments of memory. My experience of the Veil is more of a mystery, as is the silver cord connecting the Dreamer through the Veil. As is the fact that I can now apparently see his silver cord. Ever more questions.
There is, in fact, only one question I dare ask him right now: ― Dreamer, is your name Abanir Loth, or is that one of the other dreamers?
- The Dark Past 14.03.2017
― I am Abanir, I was Abanir. Dreamer seems to feel the old words like a winetaster, testing whether the product has gone sour or not. ― That name no longer means anything to me.
His stature changes quickly, his gray eyes now piercing your skull. His presence wraps around you like an embrace of cold fog.
― But this is irrelevant now, Lucie. You didn’t want my path. You are afraid of it. Even though you yearn for freedom, you are unable to attain it. Be it so, I will still show you more, even though you didn’t become an Acolyte of Dreams, there is hardly anyone left to punish me of my crimes now. And if you let the Bungisngis go forward with its plans, I shall pass from this existence to my brothers and sisters and the Otherwhere will go with me.
Your surroundings ebb and weave, until you again see in front of you the Lunar Citadel. Missing is the feeling of solitude and moonlight and you quickly realize that you have seen this version before. Soldiers are camping at the entrance to the structure. Harbor is filled to the brink with boats of imperial design and further on the bay are the great war-galleys that bore them.
You walk among the men as the crimson evening sun is descending into the ocean. They do not see you because this is a dream, or perhaps a memory of one.
― This is the imperial army, that has come to subjugate the Citadel, right?
― Subjucate, destroy, whatever to make the Worm-Empress pleased in her whims. She and her Poet. Bungisngis, as he was known in the Empire. But once he was one of us, perhaps the greatest among the Weavers. Yes, my friend as well. It was him who told you my name isn’t it? I guess the blame is on me, perhaps if I would have been soft and understanding, rather than harsh. I didn’t see the depth of his hatred. How he still lives, I can’t tell as my view of your world is vague.
He grows silent and the scene changes. The camp of the soldiers is there still, but moon is again present. With cold and bright light it illuminates the scene of thousands of soldiers that walk eerily towards the sea. Their eyes have the blank stare of the unconscious, limp hands have dropped the sword and the shield. Legs function like strings of an automaton, play the rhytmic tune of the puppet-masters that are in control.
As you watch, the first ones reach the lapping waves and on they step right in until they vanish beneath the dark surface. But when rows and rows of soldiers follow, you start to see them afloat, the corpses of the drowned men. After a while the shallow waters are filled with the dead, so that new rows of men have to crawl over the dead bodies of their comrades to reach their own, watery graves. But the ocean has enough water to drown a million empresses with their high dreams of conquest. The view is alien and shocking in the extreme.
― This was our sin, our burden. It was done to save us, save the Otherwhere. The Vacuous Triumph, Ha! Do you know how it feels to dive into a mind of a dying man, Lucie? Perhaps a thousand years in the Otherwhere might wipe it out of my memory. This was the deathstroke for Emperor Hadracia, but equally to us also. Some of us couldn’t dream after the ordeal and they left the Citadel as broken men and women, outcasts from paradise. Some entered Otherwhere without concern of their Threads, their mortal bodies, and they withered away. But there were the likes of me, who could continue even with the burden of our past. As Hadracia wiped out the memory of us, we diminished, until, finally, I was the only one left. Pirates and looters came, but we never liked expensive things and they smashed the beautiful carvings of marble and stone they couldn’t take with them. Empires fell and barbarian kings sat on our worn out thrones of marble, they fought against each other, fought and destroyed our beautiful Citadel.
He speaks softly, his voice dragging with heavy burden. The men of the army have all gone now, the camp is empty in the eerie moonlight. No, there is one man left still. He stands facing the Citadel, lean and tall, his eyes are as gray as Abanir’s, yet his features are alien and distorted in rage. Yet you know those eyes, you have watched in them.
― Bungisngis couldn’t sleep, you think aloud. Abanir nods slightly.
― He wanted to harness the power of the Dreamers to be used in your world. Such an irony. Through this deed we did. But it destroyed us as much as it destroyed them. Now you must choose: you must kill Bungisngis, if it is even possible. Or then you have to help him to find my body and destroy me. It is in your hands now.
― What happens if you die, does his curse end?
He is about to reply instantaneously, but then withdraws. Yet, after a while he does:
― I do not know.
- An Adult Conversation 18.03.2017
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.
- Bungisgan will hurt me severely.
- Towards the Hidden Sanctum 19.03.2017
The morning arrives with a promises of rain. Clouds hang ominously low as your travel companions start to break camp at a brisk pace. Bungisgan seems to be at stupor at first, but catches himself quickly, even as you sneakily observe him. Could it be an act, or is his consciousness so varied, between utter incapability to mastermind executioner of plans.
You execute your plan of occlusion-faking and just sit there watching all around with little effort towards your morning chores. It is a task more testing than you would think, as the breakfast that is warmed quickly on the fires makes your mouth water, yet they make little effort of giving you the food to where you sit. You silence your belly aching and focus on sitting and watching with distorted eyes.
It gets worse still, as Besnik tries to approach you as well and you do not risk it telling him of your plan. So the anguished man is left to his own problems. It colds you to see his eyes, complete surrender mixed to the fanatic. You hope he doesn’t plan on doing anything rash.
It is not long when the men have finished their chores and few come to your aid. They walk you to your steed and, after a watchful eye make you ready to travel. One man is set to guide your horse with a loose rope, while another rides behind you. No problem there, once you get to the road as the horses are so familiar on traveling there they could do it unguided and blindfolded.
During all of this Bungisgan doesn’t approach you, but you can spot him making furtive glances now and then. You make no mistake about it, you are being watched, constantly.
Bungisgan discusses with three men and they set off in a brisk pace, quickly vanishing behind hills and corners of the winding road. The day progresses without great events, the low-hanging clouds decide not to give you water after all, but are pushed towards south driven by a brisk north-wind. You meet few travelers on your way, lone merchants mostly with few sleepy-looking bogatyrs securing their travel. Once though, you meet up with a larger caravan. Normal road-courtesy is given and received and for a moment you figure out whether you should take this opportunity to create something. But as you inspect the stern looks on the Kryfis men and the lesser number of the caravan guards you steer away from that path. You let the moment pass, sliding along the road with your company and as quickly as that the chance is gone.
The day has been long. When the sun starts to approach the ever-present inland sea in the west, the silhouette of Saur Rock appears, glooming out above the lesser peaks and hilltops. You have had plenty of time to think it over. How to get rid of Bungisgan without getting killed yourself or worse? Where are the bogatyrs that were sent to the Rock to search for the Dreamer? Are the four bravos nearby as well, and do they have a part to play in this tragedy before it unfolds? No easy answers emerge, so you do what you must, wait for the situation to change, somehow, to your advantage.
The role of the three men sent forth earlier now comes apparent as they approach you before the main party reaches the Saur. Your group is herded towards the shore, where two large boats await. It is only natural, as Bungisgan would never survive the climb, unless his magical powers include levitation.
The locals that await on the boats are tall men, with calloused hands and wind-worn faces. They greet you with an eagerness that suggests that the men of Kryfis have probably paid them rather than used intimidation. It is indeed wise not to threaten people in whose hands you put your life in, as the reefs and currents around the Saur can be deadly.
Bungisgan makes you hurry as the sun is about to set and a cloudy night will be pitch black. Three men are left on shore to tend the horses and the others are hurriedly pushed to the boats. Men row as the local fishermen stand on the bows as lookouts.
After just an hour of perilous rowing between the twisting currents and submerged rocks you manage to find a spot to harbor at the peninsula and you go ashore as the last rays of the evening sun are washing over the desolate place. Familiarity of your surroundings fill you. So much has changed, since, only few days ago you dreamed your first lucid dreams in this god-forsaken place.
Bungisgan now starts to act with a frenzy, making the men ready torches and lanterns, and others to bring his equipment for him. He now arrives and talks to you for the first time in the whole day.
― Little bird had a rough night and day right, right. But you must brighten now, as you are required, and for you to see little more of magic.
You hold onto your wild-eyed state, which seems to irritate hurrying Bungisgan now extremely. Without a warning he comes close and bites you in the base of your neck. He is relentless and pierces your skin, his rotten teeth hurting like hell. But even more you are taken back of his vulgar barbarism and invasion of personal space.
You let out a sharp yell and step backwards. Instantly he lets you go and watches keenly of your eye for any signs of the movement of your consciousness. He seems to be awarded with something he sees as a pleased grin decorates his face for a moment. Then he drops the issue, like one might drop a used rag. The bite-wound in your neck burns and pulses, but you do not give him the satisfaction of putting your hand to it. You hope it doesn’t bleed too profusely.
― Look at this Martlet. I figure you wouldn’t want to show me where the Dreamer is hidden, but my sands will tell us. They will.
He picks a small sack of sturdy-looking canvas and pushes two eager hands inside. They come out filled with red sand. He proceeds to speak, apparently to the sand in his hands with low, guttural voice. The language seems alien to you, yet you catch some phrases, perhaps from your vast studies. They tell of extreme hate and sand and blood.
Suddenly he tosses the handfuls squarely in the air. Where normal sand would now be scattered in the high north-wind that still blows through the region, this sand forms a tight thread in the air. Like a pet snake would swim in the garden-ponds of Paisvien, the sand-thread slithers through air with an unnatural drive. Bungisgan orders all to follow it and even you do so with eagerness that leaves the man of Kryfis who is supposed to push you around to catch up.
On the way you try for a moment to extract the logic behind Bungisgan’s actions. If you were truly oblivious to this world, biting would not snap you out of your state, yet if the man spoke the truth he needs your presence here and now. His mind games have worked so far, but now you do not see any logic on his behavior here.
Soon you’ll wash that aside though, as the target of the sands is familiar to you. In the southern edge of the plateau, there is a crevice well-surrounded by rocks from all sides. Yet when the sand slithers in like a living thing and your enthustiastic gaze follows, there is again the dark hole that took the fishermen earlier inside the rock. Perfectly camouflaged, perhaps by nature, from every direction, you now see that the hole can be seen only if you walk right next to it.
― Aahhh, red sand, good sand, Bungisgan mumbles and proceeds to collect the now grounded red sand as well as it can be under the circumstances. Kryfis men look one another, yet is it perhaps due to some magic or unspoken agreement that they do not speak or act but rather wait the commands of the eunuch. Surely this kind of open supernatural act would cause great concern over normal men.
― Bring the torches and the lanterns, Bring the ropes and handles. Bring the bag with my notebooks. This will take a while, but we’ll have all the time in the world and nobody is sleeping until its done.
The men do as they are told, rest waiting as comfortably as they can in this windy shoreline.
― Now little bird, we shall see how good you really are. As you might know, the lair of the Dreamer is not easy to penetrate. There must be traps waiting for us down there. So, here are my notes of this area, the ones I made long time ago, before I gave my vessel to our Lord. Many a lifeblood was spent when I collected this knowledge, as it was scattered among the cultists and secret orders and I wasn’t really gentle when extracting them. Some I remember, but some you have to read from the books. No no, little bird, first you read and then you’ll go first, I’ll follow. And if you fail, your soapman here will be the next volunteer.
The men, focusing on this play in front of them in this desolate beach fail to notice a little rustling of the rocks somewhere higher from the plateau. A hawk’s eye could have noticed a well-groomed moustache of Castelmore and a set of keen eyes, watching from a shelter among the rocks.
- The Art of Intrigue 22.03.2017Parenthetically: A “mien” is what the Paisviennese nobility calls the bearing of an individual, with its assorted style and expression. A mien does not need to be perfect, and it does not need to be untruthful; it usually is neither when courtly behavior is affected. However, the “earnest ladies” of the uterine nobility are considered perfect in this regard, by creed as well as long practice. We — I — am a consummate liar.
I disregard Bungisgan for now and continue staring obliviously in a mien of occlusion. It should be impossible for him to distinguish the ploy through my mien, but it is still likely that he has some kind of insight that enables him to read me at least in part. I would rather continue weighting my options for a moment more. After the near meditative peace of the morning I feel near to some sort of insight.
Bungisgan, certain factors:
- He has preternatural insight combined with terminal lack of sleep, which makes him unable to concentrate.
- He has a primitive theory of the mind; possibly none at all, despite his pretension to cunning. His insight — mind reading? — may help him compensate. It is notable that Bungisgan has been surprised several times by third party actors when he has been focused on me, indicating a possible weakness.
- He is spiritually blind: he may know about the dreamscape, the Veil and human souls in the abstract, but whatever extraordinary perception he has, I believe it is not of the soul. He works his magic through tools; it feels right to assume that despite his great skill he is working essentially blind when it comes to the spirit world.
- He threatens and bribes me in various ways, probing to see what might give him a handle. He wants something, that much is clear.
- He is frightfully experienced. We respect and fear our elders for this precise reason.
I have summed up the other pieces on the board as well, but I am running out of time to enact a cunning ploy. Dear Besnik is fearful yet brave, and may jump at a desperate gambit were he to see one; the Kryfis thugs follow Bungisgan’s lead, probably due to some soul-rending magic of his; the Dreamer is probably unable to act meaningfully in the presence of Bungisgan. I have not forgotten the four bravos, either; they may have fallen prey to Bungisgan’s magical trap at the mansion, but if not, they could still have a role to play here. If they do make an appearance, I know exactly what to say to turn them. I’m almost hoping for it.
Experience would suggest that what the other actors see and experience matters: Bungisgan will disregard their internal experience and assume that once out of the center of his attention they will continue upon the course he set. I would only need to influence that course to surprise him. For somebody as experienced as he, this has to be a core flaw; he is unable to account for independent initiative in his tools. I saw this when he let me beguile Castelmore right under his nose, and again when witnessing his treatment of me turned Besnik against him. It may even be seen in the techniques he employs: drugs and sorcery make for pliant and mechanically predictable tools, not willing allies. Mother would call it tyranny, and disdain the fragility of the web.The creed says that a person’s sanity, their core identity, consists of formative experiences that they cannot give up without unraveling into occlusion. This is how you drive a person mad with the forbidden cleave. If Bungisgan is already insane, could he nevertheless survive giving up his refusal to acknowledge other people as real?
Unfortunately I have once again failed to set up an intrigue in advance. That may be just as well, considering Bungisgan’s style: he might just as well have abused me the whole day today just to try to keep me out of balance. At least I am as centered now as ever. The prospect of going into the ground with Bungisgan’s notes to guide me comes as a surprise, but I will sort it out.
I can see Bungisgan eyeing me the way he does; when I do not take the bag from him, he draws a handful of loose sheets of paper from inside, as if to entice me with them. Next will be sharp threats, perhaps physical blows.
A proposition: the entire idea of expecting me to go graverobbing for him is a sham. He knows I am a scholar, and that his notes on the Lunar Citadel are of incalculable value to me. He is merely gauging the depth of my occlusion. He bit me earlier to get a reaction, but he is still uncertain about the truth. He needs to know whether his experiment last night succeeded, and thus he tests my mental state. Should I betray myself by showing interest, he will know that he failed, which may have implications for his moon-swallowing rites tonight.
A deeper insight still: the ritual initiation he has been threatening me with may have been just that, an empty threat. Like a bright light in a dark room, the sheer awfulness of the threat would focus my attention — has focused my attention, and thus allowed Bungisgan a measure of control in terms of what I think and fear. Focused as I have been on the danger in the relatively far future, and plotting to avoid it, I may have made it easier for him to take small steps towards his actual goal. This would explain why he has been putting the actual rite off ever since he bragged about it, bringing up ever-grander requirements of time and place, and why he is now sending me underground instead of preparing me for some awful rites of initiation.Even if Bungisgan never intended to have me share his twisted enlightenment, I am left convinced that the rite itself is real, and the origin of his insanity. Constructing lies out of truths, a basic proposition.
However, if digesting the ashes of his prophet is merely a theatrical ploy on the part of Bungisgan, then I am at loss as to what he really wants from me anymore. Why did he send me to the Veil? Was it him at all? The idea of the Dreamer’s tomb being so trap-riddled beggars belief, and even if it was, Bungisgan seems the sort to send his thugs in first, not me. Does he hope to teach me some point by sending me in first? Even if he has a way of tracking me, that would surely go for anybody else he might send.
― You are testing my patience, Martlet, Bungisgan intones, pushing the bag at me. ― Don’t mistake a courtesy for need, I can just have your ankles broken and leave you here instead.
I know too little still to choose between the hypotheticals, but at least I can choose a course of action unlikely to play into his hands. I raise my hand slowly to grab the strap of Bungisgan’s bag, letting my eyes wonder around lazily, fumbling to take hold of the weight proffered to me. The moment I have a good hold, when Bungisgan lets go and opens his mouth to order me further, I break mien and throw a sudden palm at his face. I still do not know if the mien is misleading him or if it is timing, but I manage a surprise: Bungisgan stumbles back at the contact with his nose, leaving me room to rush forward and stumble into a sudden sprint that leaves him falling to ground.
I try, of course, for the grotto. A leap takes me on top of a rock and it takes all my concentration to not slip into a crevice between the rocks, yet somehow I stumble forward and get to the narrow hole leading down below. I am still gripping Bungisgan’s bag as I unhesitatingly slip down into the dark, dragging it with me. It is possible that I am doing exactly as he expects me to, but I refuse to entertain the idea of such omniscience; far more likely that I am depriving him of both myself and whatever is in the bag.
I actually fall a few feet down onto a stone floor as I clear the hole. The only light comes from the outside, and not much of that. There is loose rock and rubble suggestive of a cave-in, as well as a few half-buried stairs leading in the general direction of the hole. I do not waste time waiting for pursuit; the only chance is to get deeper into the dark, get lost and win the time it takes to set up light. There is only one direction to go, deeper into the shadows.
I start at a jog, but soon slow down to a walk, and then as the light recedes, a careful creep. The tunnel so far has been straight, but I do not want to hurt myself running into a wall, or worse still, a stair. It is not entirely impossible for there to be traps like Bungisgan said; even a simple pit would be deadly in the dark. I take an occasional look back, confident that I will notice pursuit long before they could possibly see me in the dark.
I am still thinking as I go, weighting the strategic problem. No second-guessing my escape, though. Bungisgan will not do anything to Besnik, at least not before he can do it in front of me. By forcing Bungisgan to follow me I put him and his men to disadvantage, assuming I do not kill myself in the immediate future by falling and breaking myself. He will probably come sooner rather than later, or he will decide to wait me out, in which case the Dreamer might be able to do something when the men sleep. If only I had a decent weapon, I could even entertain outright fighting this out; darkness is a great force equalizer, and the thugs are no warriors.
Thinking such thoughts, I am rather surprised when a sudden light flares in the darkness. I actually stop to blink. A whole corridor has lit up to the right side, revealing a floor of slick marble and walls in red pattern relief. The light comes from low-burning sconces set regularly on both sides of the new corridor, seemingly stretching out into far distance. The light reveals that the corridor I have been walking is the same, except unlit, continuing on in darkness.
Intuition draws me to examine the sconces more closely; the light comes not from burning oil, but rather a vaguely familiar-seeming ethereal ball partly covered by the sconce. It takes me a breath’s time to remember the impression: what I am seeing is kin to the vague ambient lightning present in dreams. A witch-light of dreamstuff! I touch the light itself carefully, only to experience my hand passing through the entire sconce as if it was not there at all.
I am still in danger of being discovered, and the light may lead any followers to me, so I get into the illuminated corridor and start running. The corridor seems infinite in length, but I have some sense of the name of what is happening: I am experiencing a true illusion, a dream-phenomenon brought into the waking world. Looking back, I notice that the end of the corridor has disappeared from my sight. It is possible that most if not all of the defenses of this place are figments of lunar magic, phantasmal reality brought down by the acolytes of dream.
There is good reason to stop for the moment: I may be out of sight of any pursuers here, being as the only thing I see myself is the infinite corridor to either direction; it is not even a given that I am in physical space here, or alternatively I could be still standing a mere few steps beyond the entrance. No way to know. I have light, which would allow me to examine Bungisgan’s notes. I have yet to encounter anything truly dangerous; perhaps I am already in an unassailable trap, being in this corridor, but that doesn’t sound so bad if the alternative is spending another moment with Bungisgan. If the illusion is preventing me from realizing that I am currently choking to death due to lack of air, then I am already lost and might as well discount the possibility. I am being calm in the face of the unknown.
I sit down facing the way I came. I am being thoughtful: if the defenses of the Dreamer’s resting place are illusory in nature, will they confound Bungisgan at all? I can immediately see how an illusion-blind intruder could be misled into deadly danger by their very inability to perceive the illusion, but did the designer of this crypt account for the possibility? Do they have phantasmal bridges necessary for crossing real chasms, or phantasmal walls holding back real dangers? No way to know yet. Either way, I would assume that Bungisgan, leading a troupe with ordinary perceptions, would stand a good chance of being separated from his followers by the differences in experiencing the environment.
Of course, it is possible that both I and Bungisgan are mistaken on the nature of this place: who is to say that it has been built with defense in mind?
The truth of the matter is that I do not know enough to make truly useful plans. I do realize one thing that I have to try, and that is contacting the Dreamer. He could tell me all I need to know about this place, and whether there are any means of turning the tables on Bungisgan within. If nothing else, perhaps the Dreamer can modify the illusory defenses to make the best of it.
As to how to accomplish that, I have an idea. I continue sitting and staring at the infinite distance of the corridor, sorting through my thoughts. What I need to do is engage in deep self-reflection: I should be able to put myself into a relaxed trance state similar to sleep, without actually falling asleep. I could even conceivably force myself into sleep by direct weaving if that is what it takes to get into touch with the Dreamer. But if I do this right, I should be able to talk to him without losing consciousness.
I correct my posture. I am being hesitant about doing this, and I know why: I have not self-reflected at all since I left home. Once it was a daily routine, and at first it was mandatory to maintain the cohesion of my Inner Speculum, but it is nevertheless something that I have not really done since then. Since I started killing.
- The Unsurpassable Chamber 23.03.2017
The procedure comes to you quickly. You can almost hear your mother as she talked to you so long ago.
― Focus on here and now. Empty your thoughts. If you feel yourself attached to a thought just acknowledge it and let it go.
It was incredibly hard to do as a girl, you remember how painful the first times were. Mother was relentless and required the utmost rigorousness in the practice.
You try to remember the later times, when it was as natural to you as breathing. Oh yeah, breathing, it starts from the breathing. Being centered. You adjust your weight so that you sit absolutely vertical, your spine upright. Let shoulders drop, feel the pull of an imaginary string attached on top of your head, pulling every vertebra open and at ease.
― To be centered means to be centered. You can’t be centered in your mind only. You must find balance of the internal and the external, of the spine and the heart. Breathing is the pulse of the mind. Start from there.
Your bones and ligaments support your structure, muscles relax. The thoughts run wild. They try to take you with them, try to force you to observe the impossible corridor. They pull you here and there, try to break your balance.
― You can’t pull back when you feel a thought pulling you, if you do you’ll break your balance in the opposite direction. Ignorance is the key. Ignorance of the outside and the inside. Only presence and perceiving remains. Only that way it will appear.
It, being the calm and tranquil state of being that lets the inner speculum surface. Later on, when you were experienced, the speculum talked to you, interacted with you even in the direst of circumstances. But first it was like a rabbit, scared of every thought, and emotion. With the meditation you gave her courage to emerge and stay.
The tranquility comes so easily. Not even in the best of times, when you meditated every day, you could shut off the outer world as quickly as you do now. For a moment a thought enters you, that it is suspicious, as the stresses of the last days should make it more difficult. Even if you had kept up the practice, which you haven’t.
But it is the horrified yell of the Dreamer that ensures you that something, indeed, is wrong. You turn to his voice and see his outline, like through a veil or mist of vast thickness. You hear his voice, highly distorted. At times it feels like a low boom coming from underground, only to be changed and twisted into high treble.
― Martlet, no! Wake up! Do not sleep in the Chamber.
You hear him pounding something, like an invisible glass wall but it is obviously useless.
― Martlet, hear my voice. Try to wake up. Try to wake up now. The Unsurpassable Chamber changes nightmares into…
His voice trails off as you see Bungisgan stepping into the light. He is holding a dagger in one hand and a vial of some sort in the other, his eyes flashing redly in the witchlight.
― Now, little bird, we will finish what we started. No one here to bother us no no. Nothing to prevent you from a metting with the Prophet!
You start to back off, but your legs work sluggishly. You try to crawl away but he reaches you quickly. You throw few punches in his way but he is ready and dodges them with surprising agility.
You feel his cold, sharp blade pressing against your throat. A trickle of blood emerges from the small wound he inflicts. He drools profusely.
― Open wide now, open so I do not need to cut it open. Things don’t heal proper when with the Prophet oh yeah, they don’t. No need to cut if you open nice now.
You are paralyzed with fear. It is like a nightmare, yet the pain of the blade is there, his red eyes and stench as well. Suddenly the voice of the Dreamer, like an echo, reaches you still.
― The Unsurpassable Chamber kills everyone who comes without my guidance. It kills them by manifesting their worst nightmares. No one can survive their own nightmares. Wake up! I can’t come there, the way is blocked.
You can’t stop your own nightmares. You can’t survive your own nightmares.
The dust of the Prophet flows in your mouth. The taste is horrible, and tangy. It mixes with your saliva and the resulting ooze fills your gut oh so slowly. The world spins. You close your eyes and scream.
A dull sound of a dagger penetrating flesh snaps you from your hysteria. The distorted face of Bungisgan towers above you.
A second stab, a screech of metal against bone. Blood gushes out of his mouth. The vial of Prophet falls and breaks from his clutches, he grabs your shoulders with his talons. They rend skin, yet are convulsions of a dying man.
Third stab, he yelps. For a moment he presses his obese body to yours, then starts slowly to sink down to the ground. You raise your eyes from him.
Behind him you see your mother. Blood dips from her dagger.
― You must slay the Dreamer now. It is the only way!
- Facing My Fears 25.03.2017
I adopt the mien of the deferential daughter, just to be on the safe side. ― Lady Mother, thank you for your help, but ―…TENEBRIAL REALITY…INFINITE SPACE, TIME…INSTILLED PRESENCE…
I hear it coming from inside my own mind, not that dissimilar to my own inner voices, except for how it fades in and out. I tilt my head in a gesture of listening. It is not difficult to understand that it is the voice of the Prophet, Bungisngis the Mad, whispering in his shadow realm. Screaming, rather, except as if it comes from a great distance away.…FUNNEL CONVERGENCE…ETERNAL FORM…
I feel ill to my stomach, but of course that does not show as I inspect my limbs for damage from the scuffle. Mother, or rather her figment, waits patiently.…ENGRAMMATIC…ENGRAMMATIC…CONSUMPTION CONSTRAINT…
I bow to mother and sit down again. ― Lady Mother, I have ingested an extraordinary manner of soul-ravaging poison. I observe it attempting to seize and shut down surface consciousness as I speak. I suggest that you wait patiently while I reflect upon the matter.
I do not really have a choice in this, as I already feel dangerously disassociated when I slump to the floor. The Speculum does, I should say, as Lucie’s primary consciousness is slowly shut down by Bungisgan’s invasive poison. The voice is growing louder, perhaps because the ash I was forced to ingest just now is assimilating to my body. I — the Speculum — have to count on mother being a predictable nightmare.
― It is not going to kill you, I hear mother say, as she so often would. The Speculum pays her no mind, however, as it turns inward to reflect on the threat. Lucie has never been possessed by a foreign spirit, or whatever it is that the Mad Poet is, but she should be able to reweave herself, retain her identity and purge the invader; it is the flamine art, the indelible pattern that perceives itself and returns from dissolution. In this world of magic there are no rules but the First Law, and this working must work for Lucie to remain herself and only herself.
The inner impression of the Mad Poet’s curse is immense. It is akin to a crystalline structure that drinks up all light, encoding patterns that resemble psychological weave, the strands of Lucie’s own cognition. Yet these strands are inflexible and hierarchical, more akin to stone than yarn. The cascades are fixed and one-way. It is inhuman, and if ever the Mad Poet was a person, they would be trapped by this weave like an insect caught in amber. A dark crystal of concision, as far from the flexibility of sand as stone can be.…GIVE IN…TUNE OUT…SUBSUME WILL…FORGET PRESENCE; BEING; BECOMING…
The presence within Lucie’s mind does not seem conscious or thinking; it is more like a potential for consciousness, yet one that is unable to flex itself without integrating into the living weave of her mind. Parasitic. Being aware of it, Lucie’s flamine mind is well able to deny it attachment; the Speculum slowly untangles what is Lucie from what is not, and together the twain cord of her being turns against the invader.
The monotonous litany of the Mad Poet recedes as I detach it from my consciousness. Finding myself in the weaving trance again, I make particularly certain that the crystalline presence is detached from non-conscious mental cascades as well, the parts of the mind that are obscure even to the Speculum when I am in my waking mind. Without such connections this inflexible lump of cognition is helpless.
All this is quite new to me; I can only wonder if this is anything like the spirit duels that tribal shamans and competing priests are storied to engage in. What do I do with this dark crystal, the spirit of Bungisngis attempting to unravel within my mind? Could I expel it somehow? “Destroying identity strands” is one of the forbidden weavings in the creed, but does that count for foreign objects within the weave? And how does one cut something unitary and hard like this? Could it be strangled or crushed instead of cut?
I realize that there is little time for speculation here; I am in a very dangerous situation still on a more external level of reality, perhaps something akin to the Real Dream. I shelve the Bungisngis shard in my memory palace for now, double-checking that it is inert, and then reconnect to my body and return to consciousness. Real consciousness, too — I make sure to brush my cord into sharpness, out of the sleep-like trance state in which I apparently triggered the trap now. This might even cause mother to disappear, as I return to full waking consciousness.
Was that really it, the parasitization of the soul that Bungisgan has been threatening me with for the last three days? That’s what I was afraid of? Maybe it was weak and slow because of the lack of ritual, or was Bungisgan supposed to distract me while it was taking me over, to prevent me from self-reflecting properly? Or was it because this whole experience is all illusion — but then, why would my “nightmare”, presumably based on my own fears, be anything but perfectly terrible?
I finally open my eyes, uncertain of how much time has passed. I am in a featureless, cubical room a dozen paces wide, with its walls made of uniform grey marble that shines softly to illuminate without shadows. Perhaps this is the true form of the space — the Unsurpassable Chamber — into which I stepped earlier in my exploration, although I am at a loss to explain how I would have entered it without any openings.
Unfortunately it seems that Mother is still here, as is the wretched body of Bungisgan that she seems to have straightened to proper funerary form. Perhaps the realized nightmares of the chamber are truly real, whatever that word means in this mausoleum of dreams. She does not miss my return to consciousness, but I take the initiative for now.
― So, Lady Mother, I ask her as I stand up, hiding the weakness in my limbs. ― What is it that you want from me?
Another thought follows immediately. ― Also, can I have the dagger? I am unarmed.
― You can have the knife that wretched man was threatening you with, dear, she replies. Of course she makes no move to point it out or give it to me, but eventually I notice it on the floor. Disturbing how she sounds exactly like her; I am self-cognizant and it does not surprise me that mother is a “nightmare” for me in a certain sense, but I would perhaps have expected her to be less… real. More dream-like, exaggerated and strange. She is even dressed in an entirely self-typical way, with an expensive gown, understated bodice, an uncharacteristically bloody yet nevertheless impractical petticoat, and careful coiffure. I assume that this has to do with my not actually having vivid nightmare dreams of her; seeing nightmares is not in the flamine nature.
I do not see the Dreamer anywhere; perhaps I could only perceive him earlier due to my trance state.Yes, this is perhaps my greatest fear, to return home. I do not even know if mother would really want me to. It is my fear to carry, and I do not need to explain it to anyone.
― As for what I want, surely that much is obvious, Lucia sur Sarenom? she continues. ― I desire you to return to Tolosa and do your duty. First you must slay the Dreamer, for it is he who is trapping you here; afterwards, little will prevent you from starting a journey home.
― What of Bungisgan and his thugs, Lady Mother? I ask to gauge the phantasm. If she is everything that I believe mother to be (or even worse, what I fear her to be), then she is dangerous.
― Dead, evidently dead, she answers, glancing at the body between us. Interesting. ― Do try to keep up, dear.
― In that case, Lady Mother, I need to get out of this chamber to do your bidding.
― Certainly you have already concluded that one or more of the walls has to be illusionary, dear? I have, and it was no difficulty.
― That is remarkably keen of you, Lady Mother, I immediately answer, delivering my line with a mien of sincerity. ― I forget your flexibility in the face of the unknown.
Her eyes are cold, and she refuses me an abashed mien. ― Let us not fence, Lucie dear. You do not have the time, and I am perfectly aware of my being a figment of your imagination. It is fortunate for me that you fear my intelligence, perceptiveness and ruthlessness so; you shall not mislead or confuse me, child.
I see no need to say anything more for now. I move to touch the wall behind me, to ensure that it is solid and I could not simply walk out of here through it. Perhaps the phantasm of my mother is no more dangerous to me than Bungisgan proved to be; it is possible that the trap here is simply not very efficacious against a balanced person in control of oneself.
― You shan’t simply walk out on me, Lucie, she says as I examine the wall. ― You will not make it in time without my help. You should listen to your mother.
― Why do you wish the Dreamer dead, Lady Mother?
― Because you’re besotted with him, obviously. The man is keeping you from your duty, dear. It is hard, but we all have to make sacrifices. You have to sacrifice him, to be precise.
Interesting, the way she fails cognitively in certain matters, such as in thinking that the figment is the real Bungisgan, and now this. Perhaps I cannot quite imagine mother in this underground crypt, and thus this “nightmare” interpolates poorly. Or, maybe part of what I fear is the fact that she understands me so little.
The wall seems solid on its entire length, so I start on the next one. ― Why do you think that I have to hurry, Lady Mother?
― Why, the next nightmare, of course. I assume that there are more forthcoming. In fact, I can already tell what it is going to be: strong men keen on putting you in your place. Perhaps your uncle, or brother, or some nameless riffraff. Do you think they will not come? Do you think that they will not abuse you in the way you deserve, a wayward girl like you? Make you learn your place the hard way?
Based on my self-knowledge, that guess is… not entirely improbable. And I should know myself, at least a little bit. I do not know if there is a woman on this Earth who does not have that fear somewhere deep within. Maybe mother.
But then again, who’s to say that there are going to be more nightmares; I am awake now after all. At least I think I am.
― How can I get out then, Lady Mother? I ask her as I finish the third wall. Checking the last wall would take me uncomfortably close to her; I leave that for now, it is not likely to prove fruitful.
― I know the way, my dear, she claims with a neutral mien. ― And there is just one thing I want from you in return.
― It is some kind of guarantee that I return home when I get out, is it not? What will satisfy you, Lady Mother?
― That is the conundrum, is it not? she says with a decorously malicious mien. ― I do not know. You will have to invent a way. You are a smart girl, Lucie. But be quick, we do not know when the next nightmare starts.
This is an ominous nightmare, all things considered. My speculum can easily keep a rein on the uncomfortable familiarity and nostalgic terror, but I still do not know how to get out of here. Overpowering the mother-phantasm does not seem useful at all, and besides she has the longer blade, even if she is likely not proficient with it. Also, if I get openly hostile she may possess forbidden flamine arts; I do not know if mother can really unravel another person with a well-placed word, but this is my nightmare, so perhaps the phantasm can?
I look at her, and it is clear that she knows what I am thinking, and that I know that she knows. She also seems confident that I do not have a choice. I sit down to think, my back against the wall, while she remains standing straight and statuesque. Always so proper.
What I need is more magical thinking, I cannot limit myself to the conventional. How does the Chamber work, exactly? What I have seen of the Lunar Citadel to help me understand its magic? It is “lunar”, magic of dream and travel. The Dreamer seems helpless against his own trap, so perhaps it is something that was created communally when the Citadel was still a functioning magical school or temple. It is far from certain that there is anything to be done to directly foil this trap.
It occurs to me that I could try to reweave my non-conscious mind to manipulate the nightmare manifestation. The trap probably does not expect that. I could even try to make myself temporarily “fear” the very things I need now — such as “having to leave this room”. If the trap really gives me such abstract dangers as Bungisgan’s soul-sucking initiation and mother’s overbearing commitment to familial duty, then it evidently has no sense at all of urgent danger; it only cares about my fears, not their lethality per se.
The problem is that this is precisely the type of weaving that the flamine creed forbids as a dangerous path that leads to occlusion. It is the easiest thing in the world to break your own mind, once you unravel it; only the traditional ways lead to a stable identity construct, innovative weaving leads only to permanent unraveling and occlusion.
Which reminds me, mother dear may be wrong about my third greatest fear: I would not be surprised if the very next thing that this chamber tries is simply occluding me, if it can. For the longest time in my childhood I was terrified of the idea that aunt Marcheline’s illness was a special burden of the family line; learning since then that it is merely a side effect of wretched magical secrets passed from mother to daughter has not really helped. Experiencing the Veil last night brought that all back.
― Lady Mother, I have an idea, I finally speak aloud to attract her attention. ― Will you be satisfied if I self-reflect right now and weave myself a geas to return home? You know that I can, and it would surely be an oath of iron make, if I also ensured my own unwillingness to change it later. Such a compulsion could not be denied, for is it not written that none can deny their own true self.
Her eyes grow wide, and though I know it is merely the mien, it is so fitting that I doubt not that she truly is surprised. ― That is abomination, Lucie! she hisses at me. ― You would occlude yourself and bring shame to the family. No, think of some other way.
I look at her. Nobody can read through mother’s mien, but I know that she knows that she can read through mine. If I tell her that I have geased myself, she will believe it. The contract works.
― I can think of no other way, Lady Mother. It is this or death by nightmarish abuse. It will be your victory, or death either way.
― I will prevent you, she claims, deadly serious. ― You cannot reflect here if I will not allow it.
― I do not believe you. Mother would choose this, because if I occlude here, nobody will ever know, and she has lost nothing.
With that I start going under, and as I expected, she does not try to stop me. She takes on a conflicted mien, but it’s probably not even a hard choice for her. She believes most firmly that innovative weaving causes occlusion; to think otherwise would be to believe that her sister occluded through lack of skill and sense, and not because she deviated from the creed. It is a core belief for her, yet she lets me do it anyway.
- The Dreamer 27.03.2017
Breathing again, centering again. You feel the depths of your bowels sinking in. You pull up and shut your cavities down there, closing yourself, making the energy pathway clear and concise. On the other end the crown of your head pulls gently up, separating these two extremities of your being. The mental self, that is up there and the emotional that is down in your belly.
You visualize the centers of your thought and emotion. As is it in your tradition, the thought is yellow and the emotion gray, thought is flute, emotion is harp. In Flamine meditation, you maintain the superiority of the yellow aether and the flute, the tight control over the conflicted and the raw self. But this time, it will not be enough.
You have to let your emotions roam, just enough to let them have an effect but still being able to control them, guide them to the direction of your will. What will happen if they will roam free? Will you occlude as your mother thinks, or do they just flow all over the place filling the Unsurpassable Chamber with horrors unimaginable? To succeed here is to ride the greatest surf of the Green Sea without getting wet. Can it be done?
Thus, when you have centered your mind, body and breathing you let go of your control. You focus only on your being and things start to come up immediately, like objects released from an unleashed spring. For a moment you try to hold your mien, your poise and posture just like your mother does, and her mother before her. Immediately you feel the raw power of the emotions as they try to break free. You are like a weak barrier facing a flood. You bend, every fiber of your conscious being screaming in fear of their self-preservation. You feel an additional strain and to your horror you realize that the Chamber has arrived in for your torment. Like a hound that sniffs a whiff of blood it howls and joins the chase.
A traditional Flamine saying dictates, that when choices are narrowed down to one, person has a magnificient ability to survive it. This is the wisdom of women, of the ones who bring new life into this world. This is the philosophy that distills these raw truths, boils them down slowly over the centuries, like simmering of a great sauce. So do you too, find a way in this dreaded state. No wonder that your Lady Mother recedes from this path, not in a thousand years could she have solved it. Perhaps in the long line of your family, you alone could, because you are an outsider.
You let go. You stop being a barrier but instead become a driftwood. A feeling forces you to twitch your arm, you do. Another makes you babble inconsistently, you let it. Your mien breaks, no, it doesn’t break actually, it bends. Bends like a young branch in a wind that brings down everything that tries to maintain a form and clings to dignity. You dance, drooling, babbling, ferocious, like a woman gone mad around the chamber, barely noticing the surprised mien of your mother.
You are fluid, and when the torrent starts to diminish, you immediately take control. You transform the driftwood-you into a guided boat and from all the possible waterways of your fears, feelings and emotions you pick the one you yourself created, the artificial fear of leaving this place. This requires great effort, a unique mind, perhaps there is only one of such in this wide, exotic world.
The change is instant, like a snapping of a cord with heavy weight attached. Your surroundings disappear and you are again on a hallway lined with extraordinary ethereal lights. But this time it is not impossibly symmetrical. You can see the dust lined up in the little breaks and crevices of the floor. You can see footprints even, someone has gone through here.
Are you awake or asleep, you do not know, yet you feel a presence in your mind. It is slow, weak, silent, and you have to focus your inner self to hear his message. He is the Dreamer in fact.
― Martlet, come quickly, come quickly.
The urgency of his voice bids you to hurry and you start your advance in the corridor. It is easy, as you focus on following the footprints set on the heavy dust on stone floor. While you run, your mind works as always: are you asleep as the Dreamer can touch you with his thoughts?
Suddenly you stumble into a doorway that opens into a large hall. The room is large, perhaps a hundred paces long, wide and high, and from your standpoint it could be a perfect cube in shape, all surfaces made of gray, marble-like substance.
The walls are heavily decorated, yet there are no precious stones or minerals, just a mass of splendid shapes, men set in both celebration and chores alike, depicted in almost aching symmetry and grace.
The level of craftmanship beats everything you have ever seen in your vast studies, yet the motifs are common and humble. There are no beasts or gods or heroes, not even kings. All the people depicted have distinct features and clothes, yet none seem to govern or extend power over each other.
This you get from a glance and you note absent-mindedly that you should spend a month in this chamber, just to catalogue everything of these extraordinary carvings. Your immediate notice is in the center of the hall.
There is a large sphere of silver, like a small, artificial moon that emits cold light to every corner of the hall. It is hovering impossibly in midair, precisely in the center of the great structure. A dozen tendrils, like strings of silver and white come out of it, their attached ends being of brilliant white, while the other ends, lying unattached in the floor, are milky and matte in color. As you follow, the threads move and twitch, like living beings.
Below the globe, in the corner of a simple dais made of stone sits a man, or a being that has once resembled one.
His frail frame looks more like of a mummy than of a man. His naked body is covered in innumerous wrinkles and crevaces, so much that it is obvious that this flesh should not live in its natural state, it is past anything a normal human would ever get to. Here and there in his whiteish body there are red circles, like sucking-marks of some alien life form. They are fresh, you see and slowly oozing blood. His chest heaves, like of a man under great extertion, yet he is still, only sitting upright.
As much as this unnatural apparition makes your skin crawl, the emotion changes when your gaze reaches his eyes. They are gray and watery, yet you recognize them instantly. If the body of the Dreamer doesn’t resemble the image you saw in the dream world, his eyes do and now they shine with anxiety, pain and fear.
― Martlet, he hisses with a raspy and weak voice. ― Come closer. You obey, almost feeling sorry for him.
― I am dying in this world. It is how the Chamber works, when it is breached, we are wakened to defend ourselves. But, but, I haven’t been awake in aeons, it has …. consequences. Come closer so I can see you, my eyes grow dimmer by the minute.
You advance and he grabs your arms with hands resembling one of skeleton’s. Yet his dry skin feels hot to touch.
― He is in you, Bungisngis, he is. Yet you have conquered him for now I see. I was right about you, I was right. You are special. You breached through the Chamber. I am glad, even though I soon pass from this world to the next, whatever it means to this thing living inside this flesh. You know, we are not completely ourselves when we sleep, it is like a person similar to you, yet slightly different. I am afraid, Martlet, yes, I can admit it. I am afraid of death. I who have escaped it for so long. Will you be with me when it comes, it is all I ask.
Your heart is filled with pity for this creature. Yes, pity, even through his vast powers, he is so lonely. You nod, unable to say anything.
― Then my heart rejoices. But first, we have a thing to do. We need to purge Bungisngis from you. You have blocked him, I feel, you have. But it works only when you are awake, when your inner self, whatever it is, can hold it at bay. He never sleeps, and he is there to take you over, whenever he has the possibility. I will take him away from you, I will take him with me, but I admit it, it is dangerous, he might take something with him when he leaves. Something you love. Are you ready?
- The Death of a Discipline 29.03.2017
― 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.What would an actual “battle meditation” be like, I wonder? Maybe the Speculum is already such, the way it distances me from emotional frailty and double-checks my every move. I know I shall be a merciless blade, should it be necessary. Make my knightly brother proud.
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.
- Awake and Asleep 03.04.2017
The chamber of the dead Dreamer grows silent in the dual light of the globe that is still hanging in midair. Gently you lower the head of Abanir back onto the stone dais. He seems calm under the eyes of your double vision, an empty shell now so you’ll leave him be where he is.
You stretch your limbs and stand up, noticing the subtle differences of your perception in this state of being both asleep and awake, and also in some way neither. Your coordination and balance work just fine, once you get used to the mild sensation of preoccupance and slight nausea.
For a moment you are like a child with a new toy and the Speculum rewards you with endless stream of questions: how long can you maintain this state? What good does it do? What will your own dreams be like after this event, after Abanir now forever gone? Can you learn to utilize the Real Dream further, perhaps controlling it like Abanir could? Your inner self luxuriates in the opening of these doors, even in the face of your possible inpending doom in the hands of your enemies out there, perhaps just few paces from you. Forcibly you snap out of this dreaming of the future and focus on the task at hand.
The hall is empty, devoid of anything you could use as a weapon, so you start your journey back whence you came. A slight sadness fills your heart as you do so, you hope that one day you could return to this hall, to marvel the wall-carvings and to deduce more of the nature of this ancient civilization. You sweep the emotion aside and focus on the immediate future.
You have no way of knowing whether the Unsurpassable Chamber still works or not. Would it catch you a second time if you enter its designated area. Still, devoid of choices you continue and decide to handle things as they come. Either the Chamber unravels after breached, or perhaps it recognizes the soul who has triumphed over it. Regardless the corridor is just as you earlier perceived it, without illusionary corridors reaching impossible distances. There are still the small globes of light set deep in the sconces set in the walls. Now they seem even more familiar, as you instantly realize that they are smaller sisters of the large orb, that seemed to sustain the life of Abanir.
The lighted area of the tunnel ends and as you step into the dark you can only faintly see a patch of gray somewhere ahead. It must be night, you figure as you start to sneak warily through the darkness. An ominous feeling of helplessness washes over you, perhaps there is a knife waiting you somewhere in the dark. It takes every ounce of effort not to curl into a ball in the dusty floor and then it hits you, the first aspect of this dual existence: you are much more emotional in this state. You can still hear and obey the Speculum, but somehow it lacks teeth, it is covered in a haze just enough to dampen it a bit. Perhaps you can lessen this defect with experience.
As you are about to reach the end of the tunnel, you see a silhouette of a man dropping headlong into the crevice, just like you yourself did a while ago. You draw back into the shadows as you can’t figure out who he is in all this darkness. So it is a weird sensation when you actually hear, and also see him fall the second time, just a few moments later. It takes a moment for you to realize what this means, but then it hits you that the first shadow of a faller must have been a premonition, a manifestation of his will and desire that proceeded him. Now that you know it, it emitted no sound, and probably had no color even. Now that it is gone, you have a difficulty of even thinking about the image. It is like a dream-memory, opaque and fleeting.
Still, the sound of his falling ensures you that the person falling there is quite real and you prepare to act immediately. If you are ever to gain a weapon from him, this is the moment to get it, after he is dazed from his fall. You slid forward and attack the figure with a hefty kick aimed to his temple. Unfortunately due to his body twitching you catch the back of his shoulder instead. The man lets out a squeal, yet immediately shouts.
― Ms. Martlet, is it you, its me Besnik. Stop kicking me.
You let out a sigh of relief. In retrospect you would never let yourself release such an emotional, bodily sign without control. But you are glad, its Besnik.
― Sorry Besnik, I didn’t recognize you in this darkness. Come here into the dark, tell me what has happened.
― No, no, you must come with me. I dashed here to get you, we must escape. Come quickly.
Besnik wouldn’t be as enthusiastic as he is without a real chance of escape, a fact that makes your blood boil. You rush quickly to the entrance of the cave and peer out cautiously.
The wind has cleared all of the clouds and the moon seems to lit the landscape again with its ethereal light. No one seems to be close by so you climb out of the crevace, silently as ghosts.
― The men are around the campfire over there, Besnik whispers. ― Can we not sneak and climb over the rock or get to the boats.
― I’m afraid it is impossible. The climb is arduous at daylight, but deadly in the darkness. Besides we have no equipment. The boat is even worse, not even the fishermen could survive that trip.
― I know, but there must be something we can do.
― Lets spy on them, perhaps an opportunity of some kind presents itself.
You know that it is a longshot at least. There are ten men of arms there, and Bungisgan in addition. There is no way two of you could dispose of them, even if you had weapons. You again force the morbid emotions back and continue sternly―better to see what comes and deal with it rather than to curl to a ball and wait for death. Besnik seems to be content with your answer. Poor soul for placing such trust on your confidence. These alien thoughts seem to come to your mind one after another. You consider for a second of an option to stop this meditating between two worlds.
― Something happened just a while ago. Bungisgan suddenly started to scream, out of blue. It created a fuss in the camp all right. I took the opportunity and fled.
― Did you take a weapon with you, a dagger at least?
― No, I didn’t have time.
― You fool! Why didn’t you… You catch yourself in mid-sentence. ― I am sorry Besnik. Something has come up, I am not myself.
You can’t read his impressions in the shadows, so you continue your slow crawl towards the flames that mark the campsite of the thugs. It burns arduously in the night, probably because there is not much but twigs and moss here to burn. Nonetheless, with the moon and stars helping, the lighting is good enough to spot the men. Most of them are sleeping, yet three are on guard with Bungisgan who walks all over the place with jittering pace.
Suddenly a feeling passes over you. An ominous one, like a sudden breeze of north wind, except for the mind and for a moment it preoccupies you, fills you with terror. Long enough for you to be preoccupied for a wrong time.
A blade is pressed firmly against your back. Besnik holds up a cry of terror, and looks with widened eyes behind you. You too turn, slowly, to see the face of Castelmore, twisted in menacing look. He is here to take your life, you think for a moment, horrified. But no, he doesn’t slash you, he only grabs you by the shoulder, pushing the blade painfully next to your throat.
― Come now, harlot. With you as leverage we are going to get rid of that old wretch once and for all.
True enough, he steps up with you and starts casually to walk towards the bonfire. He is different, you notice right away. It is like he isn’t strained anymore, burdened. But angry he is, murderous.
What can he possibly have up his sleeve? You don’t know, because you can’t read minds. Yet, you can foresee some things in this dualistic state, of that much you are certain. You just have to learn to use it, and there is not much time to do so if you wish to see another sunrise.
- Unus Pro Omnibus 06.04.2017
So, it is to be Castelmore then. This is a development I have been expecting and planning for ever since Bungisgan recaptured me, leaving the four bravos to twist freely in the wind. It is unfortunate how late they are in reaching us, and it is not a given that I can do this, but I am still happier to have Castelmore here than not; I think I understand him now, and know what to do with him.
― Beware, brave Castelmore! I whisper theatrically and stumble in the darkness, slowing us down so I get a chance to say my piece. ― Bungisgan is a wizard, and he holds onto the fetches of the four bravos. He has a hold onto your souls, and will cast his spells against you if you dare confront him directly.
― Quiet you! he hisses in a half shout, punching me in the shoulder powerfully enough for my arm to grow numb. ― Beware yourself, and tremble in thought of what we shall do with you once we are finished with Bungisgan.
He leans down and grabs at my neck, forcing me around to look him in the face.
― You lied to us and led us astray, and all in favour of that old coot. You shall rue the choice when we are finished here. Whether you walk away with your life depends solely upon your performance.
― You shout threats, Castelmore, to hide the distress upon your own soul, I pronounce to him calmly. ― You are a fractured vessel, incapable of holding onto anything but the dregs of your virtue. Soon, when the wizard breaks you further, remember this: four trees, falling properly upon each other, may still remain upright should they lean on each other.
I am certain of my words, and that certainty apparently reflects in my mien, despite the difficulty I am having in maintaining it. He ignores me gruffly, but no matter; Castelmore has the kernel of an idea now, whether he desires it or not. The oracular prosody of my words will be familiar to him from traditional cultus of his childhood; it will stick with him.
As we stand up, I see the brave Besnik — I see him assaulting Castelmore from behind, the mouse surprising the distracted lion. It is his shadow double, and I quickly gesture upon him with my palm, to kill the thought, to keep him back. I do not know how aware Castelmore is of the possibility, but he has no time now for Besnik, and neither do I, however well-meaning he is. The four bravos need to fall just right for us to end up on top here.
Castelmore drags me forth towards the well-lit campsite, and pushes me ahead, and now I can see the thread of his concentration, the shadow double of his intent preceding us forward. There is an inherent contradiction in me following Castelmore’s shade in the dark, balancing footholds upon the treacherous rocks picked by his shade, only for the real Castelmore to follow me, painting the path that I somehow follow ahead of him. I well remember how this kind of paradox would fascinate in a Lyceum lecture, yet here it is something that merely occurs to me, coherent without flaw. Proof of Fate if anything is in this world.
I can see the camp guardsmen in the darkness, well away from the campfire. I can even see others moving in the dark, and I know them to be the rest of the bravos; Castelmore intends to attract attention to himself, and thus pave way for the others to surprise the camp. The darkness seems to little impede my spirit sight; if anything, the grey light of the moon seems to bring a shine to the human spirits embroiled in the darkness of this lonesome cape. Perhaps there is something to the Moon — to Serpina — being the mighty spirit lantern the Dreamer seemed to believe in.
Castelmore starts shouting, attracting the attention of the entire camp. ― Bungisgan! I have your new page girl here, and I want my share of the treasure! Come talk it out!
Bungisgan says something to the Kryfis armsmen, and of course they hurry to more opportune positions. And of course the guards join their fellows, to fan out and control the ground around Castelmore. Castelmore’s ambush is perfect, as in mere moments, without a signal, the first bolt shoots from the darkness above, and then more from different directions. Castelmore laughs and capers, throwing me aside, attracting attention even as two easy targets fall; it takes several seconds for the Kryfis men to realize what is happening, and their reaction is as Castelmore must have expected: he draws his sword, and out there in the dark reigns confusion as some of the armsmen hurry back towards the light and leadership, and the smarter ones scatter to seek hiding places or hunt this sudden foe in the dark. The bows shoot again, targeting the slow ones still letting themselves be seen against the light.
But they do not target Bungisgan, who is left alone in the camp by the ensuing skirmish. I can see his true nature as a dark nimbus around the man, roiling and struggling against the light of the campfire in my confusing double-vision. He seems to stare into the darkness, likely blind to what exactly is happening. Oh, to have a crossbow myself here, I could use it on him! I get to my feet and look around, blinded by the campfire yet nevertheless perceiving the men scattered on the cliff turf and beyond into the ruins as silver shadows. I cannot help but smirk spontaneously, and once I’ve looked around to ensure that none of the combatants are immediately upon me, I sneak forth. Bungisgan is the one that truly matters, I feel.
He, however, is ready now to act, and he does. It is something of the sort I expected, more on intuition than any real knowledge of his ways; there is a natural logic to the First Law, to how magic shapes out in the act. Bungisgan straightens out, he spreads his hands and shouts. It is a broken howl, issued from a weak throat, yet piercing in a disturbing manner. It is a scattering of words, a chant, and I think it is not grammatic; rather, words of power, words of names, words of command, in an unstructured litany. “Yazara Behezant!” he shouts, and “Burz! Burz!” and more, and common names, “Ogier Castelmore!” he chants, naming his target.
― Break your legs, sprain your wrists, Castelmore, I can hear Bungisgan shouting his curses reedily. ― Separate your shoulder blades, wider ever, throw them out, spread out as a bird opens up her wings! Open up, inside out, break apart, fling aside! Castelmore, Fere, Herblay, Vallon; all true names I name thee! Spread out, stretch out, come to my hand; as I held you once, I hold you forevermore, know you for ever, to twist and to turn!
Horrible curses, but I do not quite have the wherewithal to follow whether they are efficacious, for a twisting pain assails my own head as Bungisgan continues his litany. Lucie momentarily shuts down from the pain, leaving the Speculum to register what occurs; it is the words, the cartas of the daevas that Bungisgan utters that distress her so. Likely not by intent, yet a terrible blooming occurs within her mind; the dark crystal hears, and responds to the words. “Ab-Zohr!” entices a terrible rising as it rings out; “Ghata Thoa!” a savage assault upon Lucie’s mind.
The Speculum does quick work shutting down the mental contamination, the crystal engram. I recover myself, and it does not take long. The Speculum is in distress nevertheless, and I realize now that whatever it is that I carry within my memory palace is not so safe at all. Perhaps it is as the Dreamer said, that information transcends the binary juxtaposition of real and illusion; perhaps the illusion of the ancient ill is the same as the real thing, if that ill is a mere secret and not physical at all. A secret equation.
I am fine for now, though, and there is no time. Did Bungisgan put down the four bravos? Aside from my own troubles, all is progressing precisely as I have expected. My understanding of the true principles of magic is superficial at best, yet it is there, and I do understand humans. If my intuition of what Bungisgan’s magic does to a man holds true, then…
I hear it from my back, to the left — sounds of a scuffle, and a shriek as a well-placed dagger finds its mark in the darkness. ― Fere! he shouts, Castelmore is still alive and his old confidant is there. I stop to listen, for there is pain in Castelmore’s voice; he was marked by Bungisgan’s litany, or perhaps a chance encounter with the Kryfis armsmen still scattered in the dark. The question now is whether he stands up to my expectation.
― Fere, go check on the others, he says in a hush, not realizing that I am rather close still. ― Let me rest a moment, there is something wrong in my gut… like he twisted my spleen with his witchery. But we can take them if we keep low and act quick, these headless chickens. Hurry, brother, and don’t miss a chance if one comes in the dark!
― All for one, Castelmore, says Fere, standing up in the dark, not waiting for any reply. I know then that they will make do; it is unlikely for Bungisgan to be able to turn them to his bidding anew, for the more he breaks these men, the more they will lean on each other. They will be back to cause further trouble, persistently.
I look around for Besnik, but fail to recognize him in the dark, if he isn’t simply hiding in the ruins. It is up to me to take out Bungisgan now, before his men come back or the four bravos finish their bloody work. Or, as is more likely should I not intefere, Bungisgan brings out some more terrible witchcraft into the lull. I can already see him at his bags, and it is the nature of the True Magic to be flexible and limitless; the gresal apeiron brought to earth. I get the idea of a demon, an invisible stalker conjured out of his fetches, stalking the night in his stead; perhaps I come to understand his magic, to so foresee how the First Law cascades from application to application. I would rather not wait and see how correct my expectations are.
- The Heat of the Battle 07.04.2017
Things progress now with an unstoppable force. Your eyes search frantically the battlefield-turned campsite and soon find what they are looking for: A Kryfis man, downed by one of the bolts of the hidden Bravos’ bows.
You advance rapidly and notice that he is down, mut not dead, his gut viciously penetrated by the bolt. He doesn’t seem to throw an aura of pre-emptive actions around him like the ones you’ve seen before. It is logical to you, as a grievously wounded man does not have hopes for the future, he just wishes to draw one more breath to his quivering lungs.
To avoid the struggle you approach silently from behind. He seems to be preoccupied with the excruciating pain so he misses the sounds you make until it is too late. You kick him squarely in the head, as hard as you possibly can and feel the blow in your leg when you connect. The man goes down immediately leaving you to your task.
Your frantic search rewards you with a shortsword of a crude design. Still, feeling the keen blade against your probing fingers you feel reassured. Surely now this is the time to dispatch a monster from this world.
There is really no further planning there to be done. You stand up and run towards the shadowy foe, filled with cold determination, hand grasping the broad hilt.
Often between fighters you might see a squaring off of some kind before the blows start to rain. This is not the case here as you just dash in. He is there of course to meet you, a dagger in one deformed hand and a croked grin on his flame-lit face.
― Come, little bird, come, to your doom.
And you obey, slashing murderously with your blade towards his throat. He is no fighter, but you keep an eye on that dagger of his. He backs away from your blade and performs maneuvers that are proper enough to keep you on your guard instead of just dashing madly in with your weapon.
You can’t read his intentions the way you have been able to do before with others. On the other hand, they have been random incidents, unable for you to control any more than you control the flickering of a flame. But for some reason you get an eerie feeling that Bungisgan is not actually fighting you. He is only keeping you at bay and his focus, his intention, seems to be somewhere else. As much as is possible when one is avoiding to be butchered.
― Their flesh is mine to control. You can’t dispose of them.
He chants with voice that starts with a surprisingly high pitch, but soon drops to a low guttural. For your horror you feel strong hands grasping you from behind. You turn the blade in your hand and stab backwards. The blade connects and you feel it sliding between bones into his ribcage. Yet, the hands do not release, but tighten actually. Frantic looks reveal to you that the man holding you is the one you kicked just moments before. His mouth is filled with bloody froth and you stab him the second time without any significant effect. He grabs your arm and twists it with horrible force. The pain sears through you and you gasp for air like a fish on a dry land. From the clanging sound you realize that your blade just dropped down on the ground.
Bungisgan approaches your helpless figure with a relish.
― Now you shall pay for what you have done.
His hideous form closes and he evades your feeble kick attempt when he does. If something it just amuses him as he leans closer to you with his dagger.
― I am going to do this properly now. Properly and slow as this friend of mine is keeping you company.
He presses the end of his dagger against your left shoulder and pushes the blade in while all the time keeping a strong eye contact with you. Pain is white-hot iron as the dagger penetrates. Everything flashes in red.
― Keep fighting, it is not a lethal blow! Normally the Speculum speaks, but now it shouts with a commanding voice. Nothing less would penetrate the haze.
Suddenly Bungisgan flinches. He starts to speak, more to himself than to you.
― How can you be there already My Lord? I haven’t performed the ritual yet. I am sorry … I should have … but … she can’t be saved, not anymore! They are gone, the Dreamers are gone, yet you never sleep.
Vallon comes in from behind Bungisgan, like a God-King-incarnate, moonlight flashing on his reddened blade. In middle of all the pain you recognize the shadow-image of his intention that comes in and stabs the man in the back.
Bungisgan turns quickly as a cat to meet the giant before he is able to do the deed. He throws a handful of sand to the face of the storming bull of a man. Immediately he goes down with a hoarse cry. Before he is downed you can see how blood spurts from his eyes.
You feel the grip of the man holding you getting lighter. With a desperate twist you are now free from his grasp. Your left arm is next to useless, but you do not need two arms to do what you must.
- My Little Wizarding War 11.04.2017
I stumble to my feet. Where’s the sword? Bungisgan is clearly judging the merits of finishing off the helpless bravo with his dagger. I better interfere with a ploy, worst case he’ll just see through it like always.Yes, I make bold assumptions in the detailing of my play-acting; that comes as second nature to me. Boldness gains the mien more in credibility than is lost by minor off-notes. If even one of the wild guesses hits home, its credibility chases out any mistakes.
― Desist at once, fleshling! I shout, relying on intuition as I quickly establish my mien. I am Bungisngis the Mad, the way he would reflect through the unique lens of Lucie-ness. It’s an easy role, which is good, as my mien-work does not feel natural in this half-dream state. ― Desist, water-slave, subsume thyself, think with like mind: we need to make haste and enter the Citadel, to close the Gate, to quench the flow from Beyond. This vessel has witnessed it, the infernal device of Dream bridging the gap to the Unreal. There is no oblivion as the furnace yet glows!
Bungisgan is… he is convinced, I am sure of it! Of course nothing shows in my mien, except an intense stare, a flinch as my eyeballs turn inexorably towards the direction of the crypt entrance. I raise my hand to sweep my hair, and it jerks as if Lucie were still struggling futilely with the dominant spirit. Bungisgan is laid bare, here; as he gazes towards the rocks, it is the face of a man given sudden hope in the face of utter damnation.
I take quick, confident looks around, trying to get a sense of the dangers around us. The man Bungisgan conjured earlier seems lifeless. I would see little beyond the fire, except for my spirit sight, showing me a living person hurrying towards us; probably one of the four bravos. The others are still further away. I even stoop down to collect the sword, making sure to seem confident, ruthlessly efficient, and ultimately disinterested in what Bungisgan does; I have the madness in me now, I know what to do and do not need the older, weaker, more tired Bungisngis host to take the lead.
Bungisgan follows me away from the campfire. I slow down and prepare to jump on him as he draws closer. The left arm’s still useless. Seemingly taking care with my steps in the dark, of course.
― You seem to have received the Prophet, bird, I hear Bungisgan say. I sweep around, but he is too quick. One word, something like “Abzhor”, and my mind tilts again.
― Too bad for you, he says. ― Things have changed. You are too powerful, and I would rather not share after all. Already you are twice-full, overcoming your own limits.
Lucie resists the mind-tearing activation, but slumps visibly. Bungisgan moves to exploit the weakness, but the Speculum seizes control and lifts Lucie’s sword to threaten. It is hardly ideal, for the Speculum is unsuited to dealing with the external world. Clumsy and slow.
― Abzhor! Bungisgan shouts again and laughs. ― I do not know why you are so vulnerable to the words of power, Martlet, but I will end you now, and once the Gate is closed I shall inherit it all, alone.
He walks as he speaks, gauging the distance. The Speculum tries to keep up. Lucie fights the dark crystal within her mind to a standstill by sheer willpower. Bungisgan fires more magic words, seemingly at random. Some few renew the struggles of the dark crystal, but most miss. Bungisgan tests it, but the Speculum guards clumsily, and Bungisgan does not dare the sword’s edge.
― You don’t seem to be entirely here, Martlet, Bungisgan taunts me. ― It is overpowering, is it not? It took me years to recover my sanity, our sanity, with the Prophet. It is no less than a melding of the minds; he needs you to exist. You should let it go, easier to just give up. Prophet, iztaem sham abnir, no need to struggle; I will finish your work soon. We don’t need her.
I am feeling better, and Bungisgan has misjudged the situation completely. I let the Speculum fight for us for now, as Bungisgan seems content to mostly wait for something; time to plan… I realize that Bungisgan’s spell words just now were not primarily for me, but for his revenant. Probably called it again. Strange feeling, to be inside running the gut-check while the Speculum’s dealing with the outside. Need to switch back, the Speculum probably can’t deal with the next bit that’s coming.
I swing clumsily towards Bungisgan, correct my posture on the recovery and take a covert look back — I was right, the revenant is shambling for us. I keep feigning weakness, and Bungisgan does not seem overly concerned. My instinct tells me that there is some other reason for Bungisgan’s care… the Speculum gets it this time, he’s essentially blind this far from the fire. Might not benefit from the moonlight, either, if it is true about the moon being illusionary. I can use this.
I jump for Bungisgan before the revenant reaches us. Seriously now, I follow up as he scrambles to avoid me, blade reached before me, sweeping strides to break inside his footwork. He tries to jump back and shouts “Abzhor” again, but the Speculum is ready for it and I hardly falter. I lunge and he actually throws his dagger at the same time, but I am focused now and see it, and actually shift my wrist to catch it with the blade just before I strike home. The sword takes Bungisgan weakly in the chest — the block robbed me of strength — but he cries nevertheless and goes down.
I pivot in place then and swing blindly, for the revenant must be just about there. I miss it, but the body seems to falter anyway; it must need Bungisgan’s focus to force it forward.
I glance at the campfire; Vallon’s there, and another one of the four bravos with him. Nothing to stop me making sure of Bungisgan, except conditioned doubt. Ignore it, says the Speculum; Bungisgan breeds that fear in others, makes them second-guess themselves. I could have taken him any time. He’s a trick-maker, not real power.
I step in sword lowered to pierce Bungisgan and make sure he’s dead, but there’s a sparkling flash around his hips or chest. I kneel-slash, best I can with one hand, no hesitation, but the blade is repelled by the streaming mass of smoke or flesh pouring out, as if pushed through a narrow funnel. I scramble to my feet and back, away from its form.
― One more lesson in magic, Martlet, he sneers at me. ― You befoul this flesh at a price, little bird. You will not see your death as it comes!
Although his lesser in power, I do not need Bungisgan to tell me that this is one of his fetch-demons. He thinks it invisible,but I can see it nevertheless, a bright silver glow of a true spirit nature; a horrid sight, towering inhumanly high, sleek and featureless bipedal shape, yet with an elongated canine skull.
I can’t think of a way to take advantage of Bungisgan’s misconception, so as he calls for his invisible creature to slay me, I react by backing away and turning to run. It proves a mistake, the creature is powerful while the ground is rocky; I turn and slash at it, then throw myself forward to try for a surprise blow. Of course a fighting demon is too alert and strong, it catches me in a side-swipe with a claw and I fly to the ground
Bungisgan gaggles despite him probably seeing nothing of my peril in the moon-lit night. The gaggle turns into a shout of alarm, and I am saved from sure death as the demon turns back to defend its master. It is Vallon again, I think, for he is larger than the others. As the demon was killing me, he is now on Bungisgan with bare fists.
― Vallon beware! An invisible demon! I shout, knowing how little chance the big man has even then. He looks up, however, alert to danger.
The demon throws itself at Vallon, and he keeps his footing despite not foreseeing the moment of impact. For a moment the two struggle in what seems an even way in the dark, but it is just for the moment. The great head of the demon freely swoops down on the man and bites his neck in its jaws.
― Still alive, Martlet! Bungisgan shouts, and I do not know if he means me or himself. ― Worry not, the invisible stalker will remedy it for you!
Even as I get back to my feet, the demon drops Vallon and leaps with an untiring mien towards me. This time I have the measure of its speed and strength, which alone is a cause for despair. It does not even have a fore-shadow as the humans do, perhaps due to its single-minded spiritual nature.
My best chance is still to get back, but that’s conventional thinking: truth is that I cannot hope to outrun this inhuman beast. I would rather take my chances in a spirit duel, if I only knew how.
As I do, my decision is as swift as the thought: I drop the reins on the Speculum, let it drive the body again, while I try to get to sleep and into the Real Dream, to resist the fetch-demon there. I only have ten seconds at most — absurd — so I will have to forcibly unweave my own consciousness, without the Speculum to check me. I pace myself to my breath, give it one in-breath, and try to force it.No time now to fear occlusion. It will come as it may. Better occluded than dead.
I feel something rip, and cannot think right now about what that may mean in the weaving trance. I am asleep, and I am lucid, and I can see the beast come. It is massive, and entirely visible in the dream realm, black fur gleaming upon the tortured frame of something that may have at some point been human. I will it to stop, the same way you move you perspective in the dream realm.
It is actually not that difficult. I rush towards the beast, and I feel the contact — it is like the pure sensory essence of touching a dead thing. The monster is lighter than I in this twilight realm, as on some level I knew it would be. There is no momentum, it merely stops as I catch upon its jaws with both hands, whatever the significance of that in the dream world. Were its eyes not rowing wildly, I would think it frozen in place.
― What’s going on, Martlet? I hear Bungisgan somewhere far away. ― Are you dead yet?
I suppose I can hear him because half of me is still awake, in the form of the Speculum. The beast heaves and I jump up to bring my armpit over its muzzle, forcing it down to its knees. The Speculum lowers my body towards the ground, I can see, perhaps to stay more hidden. It is a strange sight, as I am now connected to my own body with a visible cord, and the body is… quite not awake, yet not asleep either. It is precisely the way I imagine a person with half a soul to look like. Disconcerting that the body is my own, but I trust the Speculum. It is me, after all, even if it can be clumsy. The part I do not trust is the dark crystal I can see so clearly embedded within her — me — but I know the Speculum can handle that if it has to.
The situation seems funny, and I laugh there in the dream world, with no Speculum to keep my amusement for me. I do not quite know what to do with the beast, so I continue holding it in a sort of an arm-lock around its jaws, ready to kick it if it gives me any trouble; the evident size difference between us does not seem to be a concern here. I think it is afraid of me, now.
Really, how exactly do I think myself different from these wizards and acolytes? If Bungisgan’s Second Law is “self mutilation”, what is this, then? I just split myself in half, and as I look by, my second self crawls forth as I continue to hold the demon in place. Perhaps she’s going to murder Bungisgan for us, I don’t know. I should probably figure out the magical reasoning for unsummoning the thing. That’s all there is to True Magic, true reasoning on the precepts of magical thinking.Does the Lunar Citadel actually exist in the Real Dream, just like that? Even now?
As I look around me, the view here in the Real Dream is somewhat disorienting; I do not really see the campfire, and to my consternation I actually do see the Lunar Citadel towering above us. If it weren’t for the people, painted clearly for me, and the Anti-Dream aura of Bungisgan’s, I couldn’t say where anything is. My best navigation aid is the Speculum — the flesh-Lucie I should say — as I can hardly lose her, what with the cord between us.
― Stay back Castelmore, you treacherous cur! I hear Bungisgan shout. ― Gazal marek on you Castelmore, fear me! I own you still!
I make my decision and kick the loathsome fetch-demon back. I would rather get closer to what is happening, even if it means going near Bungisgan and his Anti-Dream again. I check sideways on the monster as I go, but it seems content to stay where it is for now. Perhaps I hurt it somehow?
I think I might be getting some visuals from flesh-Lucie, too, as I float closer. Several of the bravos are there near the camp fire, which might mean that they have settled with the Kryfis. They are respecting Bungisgan’s threat, now, though, and I am not there to break the spell for them. I need to get back to my body, the Speculum can’t handle the last leg of this confrontation.
Except… I do not know how. Waking up does not seem to work. I will need time to untangle this state I have gotten myself into, it seems.
― Oh, is that you I hear sneaking there, Martlet? I hear Bungisgan now in a conversational tone. Flesh-Lucie is much too close to him!
― You are a bad man, Bungisgan, she says of her own accord. Annoyingly childish intonation, too, but if this does not get Bungisgan off his stride then I do not know what will.
I truly have very little idea of what the Speculum is going to do now, but I have a creeping feeling that she may not be equipped to handle the outside world in adult terms. The speculum is not intended to, nothing of this sort is intended by the flamine creed. She’s been my inner voice ever since I split us apart, and I was still a child then myself. I try drawing myself in by the silver cord, but although I can sort of draw on the cord, this only serves to move my viewpoint closer to my body; clearly waking up is different from simply moving coterminous with myself.
I cannot really see anything of what Bungisgan is doing, and I cannot touch him; he genuinely has no presence in the spiritual dimension. If you can hear me, Speculum, beware — Bungisgan can’t see us in the dark, but he can still hear you!
― Bungisgan, stop! I hear a new voice. It’s Besnik, I can see him wide awake among the rocks. He must have hid when the battle started.
― Don’t come close Besnik, I hear flesh- Lucie say, but her attention is distracted, and Bungisgan was ready to strike. I feel the dagger tagging me, distant as it is, and we go down under the choking Anti-Dream. It is cold and burning, and I have to scramble away even if it means leaving the Speculum alone to struggle with Bungisgan. It still burns somehow, and I fear that Bungisgan might cut our cord, or throttle it with his immediate presence.
But Besnik runs there, and jumps unafraid into the black fog. I cannot see what happens, but I can hear through flesh-Lucie. Struggle? She crawls away, and she is actually sobbing as she gains space in between herself and Bungisgan.
― Ho, soapsman, I hear Bungisgan’s venomous voice. He’s winded. ― We were wondering where you got to. Good show for courage, as always, am I right?
― Just, just shut up, you monster, Besnik mutters in a choked way. ― You are the most horrible thing I have ever met. You deserve to die.
― You dare not touch me, loser, Bungisgan growls. I think they are both standing upright now. Does either have a weapon?
I can actually see it now, how dark threads reach out from Bungisgan’s Anti-Dream aura towards Besnik. There is a magical element to his magnetic personality, and I feel sick thinking of how those threads must have worked me over in the past. Besnik is surely lost, unless we do something.
I move to his side and do my best against the threads. It is painful, and I think there must be a better way, but for now the only thing I can think of is to swat at them. I don’t even have a weapon here. The threads burn coldly to my spirit skin, same as Bungis himself, and I don’t think that I can stop them all this way.
I hear distant voices. “No Fere, do not interfere! Do the surgery on Vallon now, I’ll stand guard!” No reprieve from that quarter.
Besnik, though, is still standing and he actually has his arms up. Some sort of wrestling stance. Still fighting.
― You want to die so much, wretch? Bungisgan growls as his aura surges towards Besnik. I have to give way, the Anti-Dream is absolute in this realm.
― It is simply stupid, he continues cleaving on Besnik verbally. ― Utterly stupid, just the way you are. Your every decision is in doubt. Following the bird-girl was the stupidest of all, and that is counting you laying hand on me just now. You always make the wrong choice when it counts.
I am uncomfortably aware of how what he is doing is something that I, too, have within my power. I believe Mother could kill with her words, and perhaps I could as well. It is an application of reading, and forcing them to listen by moving quicker than they can formulate the decision to stop. Once you identify the core beliefs and shatter them, the cord of the self has a chance to unravel. Bungisgan must be at the end of his rope to choose such a slow way, though.
― Don’t listen to him Besnik, I hear her now. It’s the Speculum. At least it’s trying something. Bungisgan boldly talks over her, but she pointedly raises her voice, and hers is stronger than his anyway. She will have her say.
― We are foolish, us people… we are weak and vain, and come upon necessary decisions with incomplete knowledge. We fail to fill in the syllogistic forms, and instead are compelled to move forward, ever onward, in a state of uncertain grace. In a word, we make mistakes, and furthermore: we must make them, for doing otherwise would not be living. You cannot shame me with the errors I have made, Bungisgan.
It is beautiful, what she is saying. What I am saying. It is true, of course, for she believes in the same things I do. I thought she had stopped, but she gives the conclusion, too: ― What’s important about our choices is not how correct they are, but the principles they’re based on. Being mistaken is no big deal as long as you were right in making the choice. I do not regret my choices, and the one I particularly don’t regret is trusting in Besnik there.
The part I cannot wrap my head around is that us not being together must mean that she is being sincere — I do not believe that the Speculum could lie that well, the tone is so empathetic that she couldn’t do the mien without me. Disconcertingly so, considering where we are, and how she just decided to engage in a debate fight with a dark wizard.
But perhaps I really do trust in Besnik, and for a reason, as I can hear him growl now. If I am any judge of character, and I am, it is frustration and anger that he is determined to release. The man has an iron discipline in his own way, for he has ever been willing to trade his pride for his duty, no matter how humble. I shall be sorry if breaking his code breaks the soul as well.
Bungisgan clears his throat, as if to give a retort to flesh-Lucie, but Besnik chooses that moment to leap. He dives again into the Anti-Dream, and I cannot say what is happening, except for the wild shouting, and the Speculum joining in the noise. It seems to go on for a long time, but I suppose the outcome cannot be in doubt, as ultimately Bungisgan is an old, frail man, while Besnik has a wool-washer’s fingers.
- Changes 16.04.2017
An overwhelming feeling of helplessness washes over you, and you double your efforts to end your dualistic state. You pull on the silver cord with all of your might, so that it sinks burninginly in your imaginary flesh. You ignore the searing pain and pull savagely. No matter if you occlude completely, this state of half-being must stop.
When your halves finally merge, there is no sensation of snapping, but only of a transition of a kind. For an instant you feel as living in your own flesh as a passenger, but it quickly diminishes leaving you as a master of your own senses.
Still, the feeling is not something you would call normal. You are like one who stands on a bar of soap and tries not to fall over. The intricate threads of your being seem extemely fragile. One strong tug, and they would separate again, leaving you out. But for now, you can act and sense, and you don’t hesitate but leap in to see what has come of Besnik and Bungisgan.
For a moment you wonder what happened to Bungisgan’s demon, but your frantic gaze meets just empty air where the monster loomed just before. You quickly shift your focus back to the duo in front of you.
Besnik and Bungisgan both lie down among the rocks. Besnik is down, holding his side yet breathing steadily. Bungisgan has obviously been stabbed multiple times in the chest. He coughs blood and guts between raspy breaths. It can’t be but a few minutes that he has left.
― Mar-Martlet, you little bird, he rasps, drawing you closer. You keep an eye for his hands for a surprise stab or some other mischief. None comes, though. He is finished. ― Well played, little bird, well played. I will finally sleep and no prophet-bastard will prevent me from doing so. But before I sleep I have a gift for you. Perhaps it can help you against Him.
Somehow, on his deathbed of rocks he seems different. You can sense the Anti-Dream in him, but it is only a thin veil. Perhaps this is something that real Bungisgan would be, without the prophet. Between coughs he croaks on.
― It is the third rule, the final rule. A rule to surpass all others. Hear me now, little bird, as after this my lips will seal for good. Everything changes and evolves. New must replace the old until when times change, the new again becomes old and thus must be destroyed in the never-ending cycle. This has taken the Men of the Sand as well as the Dreamers and it will consume Him as well, eventually. Such a tragedy, as we learn we only dig ourselves deeper into…
A convulsion shakes him, until after vomitting spray of black blood he lies still.
You feel the Anti-Dream dissolve and when it does, it emits wordless rage. You feel caught in it as the dark crystal inside you resonates with the primitive expression. Speculum takes over, and saves you, though it feels different, more independent somehow until the moment passes leaving you with his empty shell. Bungisgan the Eunuch and conspirator is dead, and most of the Mad Poet must have gone with him.
You struggle to keep your footing, to keep yourself centered in your own body. But there is barely time for you to recuperate as you feel a cold blade pressed against your neck.
― So, the old harp finally caught the end of his rope. I should probably thank you for disposing him, except that you did cheat your way out of his grasp through us. And now, as I promised, we can properly thank you for it. Kindly remove those clothes, won’t you dear, so that we can get started.
It is Castelmore, bright and witty of course. It seems that the bravos have managed to dispose most of the Kryfis men, save the few that might be crawling between the rocks somewhere.
― Wouldn’t it be nicer near the campfire, you jest even in the heat of it all. Or is it you, perhaps it was the Speculum? No way to be sure. You are still grabbing your shortsword, yet you do not believe for a second of your possibility of using it against him. Your gaze quickly goes around to find something that would even things out. You see Besnik lying on the ground, yet breathing evenly still. Perhaps the clash with Bungisgan has dazed him somehow as he hasn’t spoken.
Castelmore smacks the back of your head with the blunt side of the sword, making you momentarily see stars. The deep wound in your left shoulder burns and the world blurs for a moment, until you get a grip of yourself again.
― Strip! Castelmore yells.
You grip the hem of your blouse with your working hand and slowly start to lift it up. An ovherwhelming urge to drift off fills you. Why not let your spirit wander free. Cut the silver cord completely and let the pain and fear and misfortune finally end. What Castelmore can do to your body, he can’t do to you if you are not here. Both of you are interrupted, though.
― That is enough, Castelmore. Back off.
Vallon is up, though leaning very unwarriorishly on his sword. You can clearly see a fresh bite-wound on the side of his neck. For some miracle it missed everything vital and has been ruggedly sown together, apparently by Fere just few moments before. It still bleeds a little with every step.
― The girl tried to save my life. You will keep your dick in your pants tonight.
- Parliament of Fools 26.07.2017
How is Vallon even standing with that wound? Amazing vitality in that man. I sway uncertainly myself, still gripping my shirt. Truth is, I feel entirely naked already, in a way: I feel the Speculum within me, but it — she — is moving and out of apposition, leaving me bare to the world. Anybody can just look at me and see everything, and I am powerless to stop them.
― Shut up, Vallon! Castelmore snarls at the other man. ― I’m in charge, and the field is ours. See, Herblay’s already coming to join us. It’s a matter of discipline now. You just sit down and rest yourself.
Herblay does indeed appear in the firelight, approaching us from the other side. His dandy-ish coat is positively painted in red by blood. It makes me shiver.
― Really now, Castelmore, Fere steps in to defend Vallon. ― Don’t we have more important things to do? What about the demon that bit Vallon, where is it?
Hearing them bicker is too much for me right now, I sit down next to Besnik. Let them decide what they want, I don’t really have any fight left in me. I feel for the second stab wound I distinctly remember receiving, yet can’t figure out where it is now. The blood-loss is probably part of why I am so light-headed…
― You stick to caring for Vallon, that’s all you’re good for! Castelmore puts Fere down cruelly. His anger’s clearly bested him. Why ever so much anger, is it really that he cannot move on without paying me back for former humiliation?
Fere and Castelmore glare at each other when Herblay steps in, seemingly full of vim yet. ― Castelmore, where’s the respect due your mentor? Fere has done much for you, as he has for us all!
I weight interrupting them, but I can see Vallon there, sitting and listening quietly as he ever does. He looks at me. I can anticipate how he would rebuke me, were I to try to finesse this showdown to my advantage. Vallon may have turned Castelmore for now, but it is for the sake of his own heart, not mine. He is akin to a bailiff, concerned first and foremost with the propriety of the proceedings here. He will stand by the fellowship, however may they choose.
― Fere is a drunkard! Castelmore finally snaps rather than relinquishing the ground to Herblay. ― Now he deserves nothing but…
― Drunkard! Fere screams and stumbles to his feet. ― Thus spake a man gone mad over an obdurate cockcradle!
Vallon grunts, akin to a crashing piece of crockery, and stretches to press a cloth pad against his injury. The others turn to observe, but the big man says nothing more. They recognize the message, they do; it is to forbid the savage tempers in the air tonight.
Castelmore prepares to take the floor again, to repeat his demands, but it is Herblay who speaks next. ― Why are we even here, brothers? Should we not repair to Tramellin and seize what we can? Is that not who we are?
― We’re here for the treasure, of course, Fere says and points vaguely towards the darkness.
― Of course for the treasure! Castelmore practically shouts. ― The treasure yes, but also redemption from disgrace. We promised her this, and we keep our word! Just look at us, our doubts: the practically senile Fere, his blade long dull. Makes Herblay doubt his, when it is him who most of all desires to rape and humiliate the wench! Like women yourselves, the lot of you!
The Speculum stirs now, and all starts swimming for me. I can feel her struggle to my feet in indignation; she is provoked by Castelmore’s madness. She is afraid of the man’s vigorous aggression, the way he slathers himself over the others until nothing exists but his passion. He must be a man the others follow to seeming death. They are probably used to it.
I stumble, however, and see everything double. My head feels like it is breaking apart, and I see nothing clearly. I feel my spirit departing, and Castelmore notices me. He shouts something, facilely kicks me so I stumble back down.
I can hear the three now, their argument is noisy and vigorous. I lie and bleed. I think Besnik is there, but truly he concerns me not as the occlusion seizes upon me. Is this it? Ever so fragile, the balance of my placement. The mirroring subego below me stirs in heretofore unseen ways, and we are like two balls stacked one atop the other. An impossible configuration waiting to tumble down at the slightest provocation.
Still, no matter how she bucks and jibs, the Speculum and I are one and yet is our silver cord intact. I don’t think we can truly occlude irreversibly like this, not if I keep calm and retain her in my embrace. It is so very fearful, her movement within, but perhaps there is some hope for us to remake what has been torn asunder, given time. I can already chart some future progressions of our relationship, for I am Lucie sur Sarenom, daughter uterine to Johanne sur Stressam, and I understand the human mind. I can set aside my fear of the foreign, for she is me and not some shadow of Bungisngis within me. Perhaps we can realign in the future, and open up to each other anew to work as one; or perhaps she needs to become herself solely. Either way, we can live with this. I cannot conceive of her as an enemy, and that should become our salvation.
I am drawn from my reverie, and I know not if it is the pain of Besnik bandaging my injury that does it, or Vallon’s voice rising above the rest.
― Castelmore! he shouts, and then wheezes in a way ill befitting the man. But he continues. ― Impugning the names of Fere, and of Herblay, and mine as well does not make for respect. I may not know everything there is to know, but that much I understand.
Castelmore tries to interject something, but Vallon raises his hand and continues. ― And this thing about Herblay rutting to rape every cunt that catches your attention, it needs to stop. If you want to rape the wench, that’s one thing, but say it as it is. Herblay’s a skirt-chaser, and likely after boys in their britches if I am any judge, but he doesn’t have his heart in the raping game. Own up to it, if it’s you who wants to do her. I would rather you slay her outright, if that’s what need be done.
Vallon looks directly at Castelmore, and perhaps he is disappointed in the latter. Castelmore certainly looks stricken. ― You will now let the others speak, Vallon continues. ― You first, Fere.
Vallon seems weak, but I get the sense that he relinquishes the floor simply for lack of anything else to say; perhaps he truly cares no farther than this.
― Thanks Vallon, you’re a fair fellow, Fere says as he visibly straightens. ― What I want to say, and it’s not an old story, it’s what we are supposed to be. Are we really rapists for sheer terror of it? I do not think so, or at least we did not use to be. I don’t want to drag up old things, but I think Castelmore’s gone wonky. He has started hitting me, too, and that he never did before.
Castelmore still says nothing, for it is now Herblay’s turn in the peculiar round-table of the bravos. He is an easy read, quiet and defensive as he stands there under the scrutiny of the others: Castelmore is a man whose authority is crumbling rapidly. I catch myself smiling at the thought, which could be absolutely ruinous were Castelmore to look this way. I need to be careful, for whatever the Speculum is doing, she’s not maintaining the mien in the way we used to.
― Hey now, don’t be like that Fere, Herblay says. He advances to touch Castelmore, tap his shoulder boldly. ― The last two summers been tough on all of us. You’ve been drinking yourself black, you know, that’s the Coinbiter’s truth. Castelmore’s not that bad, he’s just stressed by this whole gig. Don’t forget, he’s the one who dared to go against Bungisgan. Fuck that’s brave, you ask me, I never would have dared to make the first move. Needed to be done, too, looking at it now, right? Well worth riding to and fro for a few days, ain’t it? Could still find that treasure, too.
Vallon stares at me. ― No treasure here, I reckon, he says, and I find myself nodding a little. ― But that’s the game, the wench hooked us on that one fair.
― Fair, yes, Herblay is quick to interject. ― Would have done that myself in her stead, if I could sucker Castelmore like that. If we took offense to everybody looking out for themselves, that would be, well, everybody, wouldn’t it?
Besnik moves to stand, and I follow his example. The bravos see us, each in their own way. Herblay’s eyes dart while Vallon’s stay. Fere I could almost think does not look, yet he still does, from the corner of his eye. Castelmore — I do not know in the dimness, perhaps there is some fracture in the mirror of his hatred now. Headstrong, but he listens to his companions. It is Fere’s turn to say something, and then Castelmore’s, if I am any judge of this affair.
I try my luck and take a few steps further inland. Besnik does not let go of my elbow, drifting with me. I look at Vallon, and he looks back, but the judgement seems to truly have been stayed. Let the four bravos argue, work out their next move. I count it a victory if they let us go, battered as we are.
― What happened with them? Besnik asks me when we get far enough to be neither seen nor heard. ― I thought their leader would kill us both. He is full of wrath.
― Castelmore is not their leader, dear Besnik, I explain to him and lean heavier on his arm. ― I would put it to words thus: the four bravos may have been thoroughly ravaged by the spiritual ills spread by Bungisgan, but together they have a strength that he accounted not. They would not become his creatures in the full.
― How so?
I take my time answering. I can see the form of it in my mind, and some of these concepts have flamine words, but explaining them intelligibly is difficult.
― A man by the name of Calder was my lover, I finally say. ― I knew it not, yet he was carefully groomed by Bungisgan as his slave. The outcome was a work of art, flawless on the outside yet utterly hollow within. I was truly fooled. This was to be his crafting on the bravos as well, for I can see only too well how useful such men could be to someone like Bungisgan. Tonight his old servants proved themselves against what he could gain from the Kryfis…
― Why would they betray him, then? Are they so good men?
― Is there such a thing? It was not because the four bravos are good, although I believe them to once have been more glorious. As the demimonde measures such things, anyway. Rather, it was that while the four were being slowly cut into shape by the dark surgeon, they each presented a different side to their master. He could break what backbone each man had, and take away what they gave him, yet together they are still something approximating a man. You saw it yourself, how they hold each other up. And in letting us go unmolested they did what a true man would have.
We climb in silence then. I know where I am taking us, too: my old camp site, with the main part of my supplies, may still be hidden in the crevasse of the Rock. It will serve us for a resting place until the morning, if only I can find it in the dark. Safe and hidden from the four bravos and whomever else might still be prowling this gloomy place. I am exhausted, and Besnik must be as well.
In my dream we are also at the Rock, in the Rock, inside the crevasse that shields us from sight and cold winds both. There is barely room for us both between the rocks, under my blankets. As I look up along the cliff faces above us I can see the ghostlights upon them, lights from the Lunar Citadel. As ever it stands in the dream, even if I cannot see it from here. It is in no way disconcerting to sleep and to dream of sleeping like this, in a recurring cycle; it is such a calm and lonesome dream, and we are so very safe wedged here at the back. I know that we are safe in the real world, so it is fine to be safe in the dream, too.
You don’t need to decide anything in dreams, things just happen. I move to press myself on Besnik’s warm body in the dark place. My dream-self breathes upon his face. Can’t really see him in the dark, but he is there, and I feel such endearment for the humble yet brave man. This is how a man should be. I breathe his scent and touch him in the dark, and kiss him a little.
I do not feel like sleeping, but I certainly do feel like getting under Besnik’s shirt and against his skin. Touching him. Work on his pantaloons and grind against him just a little.
― Wha? Besnik jerks under me. His arms move to fondle my shape in the dark. I move to kiss him more. Carefully in the dark.
― What the eitagon is wrong with you, Martlet? I can hear him exclaim. The dear man struggles away from under, leaving me momentarily confused.
I supposedly say something to him, but as happens in dreams, I do not really register the words. I move closer to his warmth, though. Not like Besnik has any room to avoid me here in our nest.
― I am married, Martlet, he says and holds me back. ― And you are injured. What is the matter with you?
I whisper something, but he holds me down. ― You are delirious, Martlet. Not making any sense.
I am, of course, truly mortified in the morning, when I realize how little of that was dream, and how much was the Speculum acting of her own volition. That was such a thoughtless thing to do to Besnik, who has been nothing but friend to me. Why would she hurt us so? Why would I hurt myself so?
It is such a cliche, that power supposedly demands sacrifice. It’s not even one of the Laws of Magic, not any one I have learned. Yet here I am, paying for the gelid touch of the gresal apeiron with a battered body and a broken mind. It hardly seems a fair trade.
- Lucie’s Mirror 27.07.2017
The episode ends.
I add a new location: “Fair Paisvien, courtly and gay”
You add a new location: “Beyond the Veil, beyond the reach of Magic”
The pen shall sit still, until called forth again.