I found myself in a small rowboat adrift on a gentle sea stretching to the horizon in all directions. The light was sufficient but dim; I couldn’t make out whether dawn approached or dusk receded. For a brief moment, I wondered how I’d come to be here. The last thing I remembered was a journey in the dark, a too-hot inn and the voice of the tavern-keeper.
Dawn came to my mind, at least. My body lay in the bed in the tavern, but I had come here. To the Sea of Dreams. Most folk never see it from this perspective. For them, and most of the time for we thaumaturges, theurgists and magi as well, we only see our dreams from the inside. We never see the beaches at the edge of our slumbering thoughts, the border between our own ephemeral created worlds and those of other dreamers, nor the sea that separates us.
The Art provides ways to sail the Sea, to find a particular dreamer and to enter into their dreamscape. The Temple priests say that this is how Sedhwe entered the minds of the Aenyr and corrupted them. I tend to think that they didn’t need any help in corrupting themselves, but some of the magi agree with the Temple teachings and I do not know the truth.
I’d not used any practice to enter this place, however, so I didn’t know how I’d come to be here. Never before had I simply gone to sleep to find myself free from the moorings of my own sleeping thoughts, unfettered and adrift wherever the Sea’s currents might take me.
So I sat there, bobbing gently up and down with the waves, until I spied a small island in the distance. With nowhere else to go, I put hands to oars and began to row. I looked over my shoulder every so often to ensure I remained on the proper course—I’m not much of a seaman, after all—and found that island covered in a dense forest so tall that it overshadowed entirely the thin line of rocky beach the met the Sea. As I came closer, a sense of foreboding arose in the bit of my stomach, growing outward until I felt it swimming in my head, twitching in my fingertips, drying out my mouth.
I reminded myself that this was but a dream, but I could hear my professors from the university warning that the Sea of Dreams is another plane, with rules of its own and consequences that touch the waking world full well. When a fellow student asked if that meant that dying in a dream meant dying absolutely, those professors would frown and explain that there is no single answer to that question. That was all the answer they would give, so I did the only sensible thing—I assumed myself as vulnerable here just as if I had come here in the flesh.
The boat slid gratingly against that gravelly shore until the oars no longer touched water. I heard the first peel of thunder in the distance and looked up to see the dark clouds of a threatening storm lazily but surely making its way toward the island.
I leapt from the vessel and onto my feet, where the grayish bark of the trees and the blackish shadows between them caused my eyes to strain to see anything under the great canopy of gathered leaves.
Despite my trepidation, I felt some unseen force tugging me by my very center, drawing me into that darkened labyrinth. I obeyed and wandered into those shadows. High above me I could hear the soft patter of rain punctuated by the booming percussion of thunder that shook my very being. Every time lightning flashed, I swear that I could see the shadows purposefully shift in position, reaching out toward me, sometimes seeming to point me in a particular direction. Sudden waves of intense cold passed over me, and I somehow knew that one of the shadows had touched me. They say that everything in a dream is a symbol. Much of it is simply a reflection of what we feel but do not admit to ourselves, but some of it touches the present or senses vibrations in the manifold skeins of future possibilities in ways that can only be described as prophetic. I know not how to sort which is which, but it did not take a scholar to know that something dark and threatening afflicted this dreamer. At least, I assumed that this dreamscape belonged to someone else. I could not yet be sure.
I cannot tell you how long I walked, for time does not flow on the Sea as it does in the waking world. It could have been minutes or days and I could never have told you which.
Worvo’s words whirled in my head as I maneuvered between the tree trunks, sometimes far enough apart that an army could have marched ten abreast, sometimes so close that I had to turn my body to squeeze through shoulder first. Always completed covered by the canopy overhead. I tried to sort the things that he had told me into some discernible organization, tried to develop some initial paths of inquiry I could lay out for Lord Aryden amn Vaina when day broke. But in that space the blurred logic of dreams seemed to have hold of me and the same thoughts passed through my mind over and over, as if riding a circle which occasionally took its course through my consciousness before leaving only to return again. That awful, inescapable loop from which I could not wake occupied me as I blindly made my way across the forested island.
Finally, I came upon a clearing pierced by that twilight blue-gray I had seen at the outset. It illumined a pond in the center of the clearing flanked by a few wayward outcroppings of dark rock. Kneeling at the pond, her hand cupped within it as if she might gather water to her mouth to drink, lay a pale woman in a white garment, her long auburn hair trailing out behind her in a wind I could not feel. She must have sensed me as I stepped into the clearing, for she turned sharply to look to me, the move so sudden it startled me and I rocked back on my heels.
Her face was no longer young, but neither had age yet wrinkled it full with worries and care. Comely features softened the sharp angles of that face, where pronounced cheek-bones and a sharp chin gave the woman an almost bird-like visage. Her gray eyes pierced me to the bone; they opened wide and wild as she observed me.
Staring at me with those eyes possessed of fear and uncertainty, her lips trembled, a barely perceptible movement, but I could hear her whispers as plain as if they were poured directly into my ear. “Why do you, too, pursue me? Is he not enough to hound me unto death?”
At those words, the skin of her face pulled tighter around her bones, giving her the visage of death itself until she had a painful rictus where her lips had been. She turned and ran in a single heartbeat.
Not heeding her words, I gave chase, stumbling over the underbrush and scraping myself against branches as I struggled to keep pace, lest I lose her in the maze of foliage and not find her again. Unlike my previous wondering, this pursuit passed in the blink of an eye, as if the world swept passed the two of us at the speed of thought itself. And yet I felt and remembered every misplaced step, every turn of ankle or knee, every movement, the shallow slice of every thorn or sharp branch.
We came to the mouth of a cave yawning from a rise in the ground, a stunted hill that could have had no more than a foot of stone between the top of its opening and the ground above it. Within were torches hung in sconces from the unhewn walls, the first real light I had seen since awaking in this place. Already, the woman had passed out of sight, swallowed by the darkness deeper in the cave, what vision in the dark I’d accumulated snuffed out by the flickering brightness of the torches.
I followed still, finding that each torch snuffed itself as I passed, leaving only artificial light that again made the shadows dance before me and the gray half-light of the outside world at the cave’s mouth behind me. Silence overtook all things. I do not mean that it became quiet. I mean that it became absolutely silent. The burning torches failed to emit the sound of their burning, my footsteps fell with no indication that shoe had met stone, and I could no longer hear the ragged breath or rustling clothes of the woman I pursued.
Another wave of cold washed over me, so chilling that it stopped me mid-step. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I felt the distinct sensation that someone behind me stared at me. I turned to see, finding nothing at first. But slowly, gradually and without any urgency, a dark form moved into the mouth of the cave, obscuring the entering twilight with its hulking form. I could make out no details, but fear took hold of me, the anger and malevolent intent of that creature buffeted me as if emanated in palpable waves. The creature charged, barreling at me on arms and legs both—if it had arms, which I could not tell.
Before its slavering maw wrapped teeth around flesh, I startled awake in my bed in the inn, sitting bolt upright and covered in sweat. Through the small leaded window next to the bed, that all-too-familiar twilight blue-gray pierced the window as the first light of the suns peeked over the horizon. Dawn had come, and I welcomed it. There would be no more sleep for me anyway.