The Silver Kings Awash in Crimson
A Flood of Dreaming
The sun set, and the small savanna village grew gradually less active. Swift Wandering Comet, blessed of the moon and priest of the earthen court of Humboldt, wrapped up the daytime tasks that’d kept him busy- weighing the strengths and weaknesses of as many of the refugees as possible, sharing what survival and alchemical knowledge he could with whomever was willing and able to learn, preparing those that would go to Gem for their journey, seeing to the collection of containers of water for them to trade for their new lodgings and some basic things for their new life, and so on. It had been a decidedly busy day, just as the next few would be. And yet rest was not yet on the to-do list. No, now a new kind of work was about to begin.
As the villagers turned in for the night, banking their fires and snuggling close to what few loved ones still survived, the strange man from across the desert tucked himself away in a hidden chamber of a nearby cave that he’d set aside as a meditation chamber. Small wards against wild animals had been set at its entrance to prevent being disturbed- as well as some demon wards, for paranoia’s sake. As soon as he entered, he made himself comfortable in the middle of a circle drawn in the dirt. It was a small space, so he was able to lean against one wall while facing the other if he needed to. Not yet entirely ready to begin, he focused his mind by using some chalk to draw various symbols and absent-minded designs on the wall in front of him. This was not part of the rituals he would soon be performing, and only some of the symbols had any significant importance- for the most part, it was just a way of releasing stress and getting in the right mindset for the night ahead. At one point, he caught himself nearly entering a creative fugue to turn the wall into a small mural. Tonight was not the time for art, though; at least, not in the traditional sense. That would have to wait.
Once he had rested for an hour or two, certain that most of the villagers would be thoroughly asleep, he began the rituals. He tugged a couple pouches out of his pocket. From one, he retrieved a dried, multi-hued mushroom cap. From the other, several leaves so flaky and dried out that only experienced alchemists and naturalists might even recognize them. Normally he would brew tea, but there was no time for such slow luxuries now. After a brief prayer to Luna, thanking her for his many gifts and asking her for guidance on this trip through one of her more exotic domains, he placed the mushroom under his tongue and swallowed the leaves with a cup of water. The effect was nearly immediate, and he quickly channeled his essence through the appropriate chakras before his mind was too far gone. A glint of alien light briefly flashed across his eyes as he leaned back and narrowed them.
The waking world melted away. Once a dark nightscape filled with greys, blacks, and blues, his vision now filled with swirling colors and warped shapes never meant for the conscious, human eye. He could still see the imprint of mundane reality, but all around it and through it, there were cracks and wild flows of energy. Everything moved- no, everything breathed, and every single object had life. The world looked more alive than ever, despite being the dead of night. There were several worlds visible to him now- the real world, giving things shape and form; the projected dreamscape of numerous sleeping souls, which he’d been training for some time to recognize and interact with; the essence patterns that lay under both of these and gave them their associated substance; and of course the delerious haze that was a side-effect of the hallucinogenic materials he had ingested. However, thanks to lots of training and thorough mastery of his own mind, the last world was quickly and easily set aside so as not to be a distraction.
And to think, he considered for a moment, there are so many that would consider that to be the point of all of this, rather than one more distraction. If only they could see the way I see right now… although I suppose then there would be even more addiction problems in the world.
Dismissing this faux-philosophical line of thought, he picked himself up- or rather, the mental projection of himself- and drifted fully into the dreamscape. A flood of ghastly images surrounded him. He wanted to strike out and reshape all the monsters, but alas, even a young champion of Luna can only do so much in one night. Focusing instead on finding the dreams of the more prominent leaders in the camp, he set to work.
A little girl cowered in the underbrush of a swamp. Screams rung out in the darkness of the night. Blood spattered in the mud as lives were ended tragically, prematurely, and oh-so messily. Creatures that looked vaguely human, but with very inhuman eyes and exaggerated fangs and jaws ran by, grabbing people and viciously tearing them apart, laughing jovially as they did so. Other innocents were carried away, wailing in terror, to an unknown, terrible fate.
The girl’s eyes were flooded with teats, but she covered her mouth and desperately kept quiet, so as not to give away her hiding spot under a large, gnarled tree- even as strange and frightening insects began investigating the new guest in their home. Just when things seemed to be calming down, a horrid, demonic face filled her vision- she’d been found. A gnarled, skinny yet inhumanly strong hand grabbed her and tore her, screaming, out of her hiding place. The creature laughed at her feeble attempts to break free, then hoisted an impossibly huge and twisted machete to begin a new stage in its torment on it.
Suddenly a voice whispered in her ear. She wasn’t sure what the exact words were, but it drew her attention to her own arm. Time slowed down. Her screaming subsided. There, in her hand, was a stick. Not a large one, but sharp at one end. In desperation, she jabbed it for all her might into the monster’s hand. It screamed and bled green ichor all over the ground, releasing her from its grasp. She turned to run, but a strange spirit blocked her way. It was a shadow, somewhat humanoid, but with pointed ears. Normally she would have feared some new monster, but something felt different about this one. It didn’t seem hostile.
The rest of the world faded around her. It was just the two of them. The entity was dark and indistinct- the only features she could make out were it’s vaguely animal-like head and the fact that it was taller than the average fully grown man. Yet despite this, it gave off an aura of calmness. A shadowy hand reached out and grasped her shoulder.
“This is not who you are. You are stronger than this.”
The girl was confused. She didn’t understand what the strange whispers meant, but somehow she knew it was right. The demonic man that attacked her before reappeared, angry and nursing its hand. Spotting her again, it growled and lifted his wicked weapon again, determined to teach her a lesson.
“But… I can’t…” the girl whimpered, backing away. The spirit stopped her again with its hand.
“Yes. You can. You are no child.”
The monster lunged, but the child found herself grasping its wrist out of instinct. It looked surprised at her strength, and tried frantically to pull away, but to no avail. Suddenly memories flooded back to the little girl. Her hand grew, as did the rest of her body. Some wrinkles appeared, her skin hardened, especially on her hands- toughened from years of work and hardships. Though the murders on that fateful day made her feel like a helpless little girl again, that is not who she was.
She was Arienna Nog, matron and one of the only surviving members of the Nog clan. Her father had passed away when she was in her teens, leaving her to help her struggling younger brother take over the family smithy business. Her own marriage ended in tragedy when her husband was caught in a housefire, leaving her mostly alone to care for her half dozen children, though fortunately half of them were old enough to mostly take care of themselves. And yet even after surviving such tragedy, she insisted on being involved in the lives of each of her own children’s children.
To make matters worse, when the Realm came and took their home from her and many of her neighbors and friends, she persevered. Her family dwindled from then on- from the trip to Meliora Posi, to the strange days living amidst those bizarre creatures that lived there, to the perilous journey to the coast, to finally settling a new home there, only to have it mercilessly taken from them by the vicious pirates and monsters that filled her dreams since. The few that had survived were slowly dropping away from disease and starvation.
Too many times had she seen the glimmer of hope, the promise of a better tomorrow, if not for herself, then for her family. And for a long time it had broken her, made her feel like a helpless, thrashing babe, powerless to affect the world in any meaningful way. It made her sad. it made her afraid. But now… now she’d bled all that sadness and fear out. Now she was angry.
Demons, pirates, disease, realm soldiers and bureaucrats, all of them kept taking things from her. And she was about out of things to take. Well, no more. Enough was enough.
“Take it back,” the spirit whispered, then faded away. The landscape returned. For once, the monster she still held in her hand looked worried. Despite all its efforts, it couldn’t pull away from her determined grasp. Her thoughtful look transitioned to a steely, furious gaze that drifted over to meet its own.
Its bones snapped in her grasp. Where once the demonic being snarled, it now yelped in pain, and she snarled in its place. There was a lot more blood that night- but now, a lot of it was green.
It might only be a dream, and in the waking world she would have arthritis to contend with, and would certainly not stand any chance in a fight against experienced demon-tainted pirates, or monsters of the Wyld. But in her dreams, at least, Arienna Nog was able to punish those that had so wounded her. In her mind, justice could be served, and she could once again be the proud leader of a small, but tough-as-nails family, ready to break the hand of any who would take take cookies from her family’s cookie jar.
Swift drifted out of that particular dreamscape with a small smile, his spirit-visage fading in the process. “Remember who you are, miss Nog. The universe will always tell you otherwise, but you don’t always have to listen,” he whispered into the ether.
Turning away, he sought out his next target.
Young Lin Ha was lost. The landscape was strange, and constantly changing. Sometimes he thought he was in the desert, then trees would erupt from the ground and black out the sky. Sometimes it was day, then the stars would come out. He occasionally caught glimpses of the path that would take him home- back to his peaceful, simple life with his family. But deep down, he knew that that life was gone. Still he stumbled about, trying to navigate the alien, hostile landscape. Tree limbs grew claws that lashed out at him, narrowly missing his legs or arms. Baleful eyes stared down from the distant mountains, some pitying and others menacing.
He was frightened. He was tired. He had no idea where to go. At times, he fell to his knees in hopelessness and begged for the end to come. At last he collapsed and waited for it all to end. But then he felt a soft touch on his cheek. He opened his eyes again to see an apparition of his dead mother. She smiled at him and stroked his head softly. Her lips moved, though no sound came from them. But he knew what she was trying to tell him- get up. Keep going. Don’t give in.
Hesitantly, he sat up. “But w-where do I go? I’m so l-lost! There’s nobody left, no place to go!” he cried out softly, clinging to her hand.
Another figure appeared- his wife’s spirit stepped out of the mist. She took his other hand and cupped it between hers. More hands joined it- his brothers, his best friend’s, his neighbors from before that great exodus. They had all perished at different points along the journey, yet here they were. None of them made a sound, and they only felt half-there. After much silent encouragement, he stood back up. They pulled him into a field, at the other side of which were distant, unfamiliar silhouettes, staring at him.
He protested at first, but they pushed him onward and he cautiously approached the strangers, who were all in hooded robes. When he got close enough, he called out to them. They slowly turned. One removed its hood. They had no face or noteable features that he could see, yet somehow he knew they were just as human as he was.
“How can I help you, friend?” the stranger said in a soft, welcoming tone.
“I.. I-I’m lost. Please, I just… I just want to go home! Can’t you help me?”
The stranger rubbed their chin thoughtfully, then sighed. “I am sorry, I cannot help you get home.”
Lin was dejected. The ground rippled threateningly under his feet. He nearly fell into despair again, but the stranger reached out a hand.
“I cannot take you to your old home, or your old life- but I can help you find A Way.”
“A… a way?” Lin asked curiously. “To… to where? Or do what?”
The faceless monk chuckled and took his hand. “No, that would be a destination. That, ultimately, is for you to decide. But my brethren and I can help you find a way. A path. That path will lead to other paths. There are many possible destinations. But to reach any of them, you need to find a way to get you started. You lost yours, so we can help you find it, or give you a new one.”
Lin looked back to see if the spirits of his loved ones were still there, but the stranger gave a slight tug on his hand.
“No no, silly fellow. Not back there, that’s where you were. That won’t help you. They’re still with you, but now you must take them with you instead of following them.” The other hooded individuals chuckled quietly and nodded in agreement. Another walked up and clasped an arm around his shoulders. Though they were strange, something about them seemed… welcoming.
Though wary, he followed them into a valley that began to look less and less threatening with each step. They talked to him at length about his family, and they told him about their own families and experiences. Slowly, they developed faces. Though they were new to him, they seemed less and less unfamiliar. A monsterous creature rose up from the shadows nearby and lunged at them, but a giant stone fist burst from the mountainside and crushed it decisively. It startled Lin, but his new friends just laughed and told him he had stranger and larger friends yet to be made, and they would be happy to introduce him.
Swift discarded the stony facade and chuckled inwardly. “I hope Humboldt approves my little homage to his spirit. No reason I can’t help these people sleep better and encourage a little spiritual growth as well,” he thought to himself.
Metaphysically, he dusted himself off, cracked his incorporeal knuckles, and whisked off to another dreamer. This one would be a tad different, however.