Each footfall hit with a squelch unlike any puddle that Bliks had run through and even the ground under that rebounded like gristle. She rent the air with her gasps, uncaring if the sound attracted more trouble in this troubled land. And yet she continued to half run half stagger along the gully she had found herself in.
Above her the sky thickened with clouds taking the shape of screaming faces or bodies being torn to pieces. It seemed to threaten rain, but here rain was a remote possibility. More likely in the minutes ahead she would feel the spatter of something sticky or oily. So far she hadn’t experienced the pelting of something solid like teeth or bone splinters but she had heard the tales and despite her exhaustion, shuddered at the thought.
Seeing a hollow in the side of the gully, she stumbled into it to catch her breath. Time was a weird thing here and she didn’t know how long she had been running from the screams of the crusaders as they were being cut down by that demonic monstrosity that had boiled up in the middle of their camp. On a good day, in her home town of Outsea, she knew she could run from the shark like sahuagin bullies that liked to prey upon air breathers like herself for at least a few minutes, but with her degrading pace, she pegged it about half an hour.
Half an hour. That should have put her at least a mile, maybe two, from camp. Gasping, she tried to clear her head of the thundering sound her blood made in her ears. It was just before they finished breaking camp, she had completed her morning studies and while the crusaders looked cautiously around, they shared a few bright words of encouragement that Bliks only half heard. All she could think about, in that moment was the last conversation she had with her father.
“I am well aware of the state of your apprenticeship,” he had begun, still seated at his desk, but she had interrupted him.
“It’s done! Mistress Miammir says that I am her most promising student! Why won’t you let me go?”
Mahir al-Volgeling grunted and raised his voice a bit, “Because that woman is a crusading fanatic! I didn’t pay for your instruction with her for her to drag you into this unending war.”
“Mother would not have …”, Bliks began, but Mahir slammed a fist down on the desk, knocking over a stack of books.
“Your mother is gone. She went there, into that hell, and didn’t. Come. Back.”
Bliks’ blonde hair ruffled in an unseen wind, the streaks of navy coiling in patterns reminiscent of symbolic representations of wind in Tian, a strange land far to the east. “Don’t you think I know THAT? I’m not going for Miammir, I’m going for HER!”
The burning look he cast at her was a familiar one, when she sought to break from the safe, the known, the careful path. At heart she hadn’t been a rebellious child, but the constant striving for justice, for a fair outcome, often brought their mutual blood to boil. “Bliksemani, don’t make me call for the marshal to have you detained.” He grated, to which Bliks gasped, “It wouldn’t be proper for the Brigade if we’re seen to be quarrelling.”
“I am NOT one of your mercenaries dad!” The word mercenary stung the most to him and she knew it. While it was technically true, they participated in military actions for hire, they were mostly engineers. Siege engineers, but hardly front line soldiers fighting for coin and glory.
“Don’t treat me like one.” She continued, “And were I one, I would have a commission with penalties for desertion, but I don’t. If you want, the marshal can confirm it. AND I could call the guard, see what they have to say about a Kelshite holding his daughter against her will!”
The embers in her father’s eyes seemed to dim a touch. Far from his homeland of Alkenstar, the local Iobarians loosely held to their Ulfen forefathers views on gender, not seeing the women in their communities as Kelshites did, precious jewels to be protected from harm, but instead as fierce equals, often the fiercer the more favoured. Bliks could only imagine her father thinking of a burly guard teaching him about how women in Mendev ought to be treated. It was, in the moment, a pleasing vindication.
“You wait right here, young lady.” He said, standing and leaving the room. Despite his generally intellectual work, he insisted on all his men, including himself, to be capable of operating all aspects of their siege weapons, including loading. And so while his hair was streaking with grey, his frame could heft shot alongside his most junior labourers.
Bliks had half a mind to leave right then, taking what little supplies she would need, knowing the rest would be given freely by the Order of the Flaming Lance. What some nations could not provide in manpower they provided in goods, keeping the crusade flush with resources to strike into the Worldwound. She had already prepared her spells for the day and had breakfast, so it would only take her a few minutes.
But she waited. She busied herself by cleaning up her father’s desk; they might fight, but mainly about methods, not objectives. Plus she got a moment to look over plans he had been working on for a new system of locks in Outsea … he had been wrapping up their work here, preparing to go home.
With a thump the pack broke Bliks out of her study of the intricate mechanical details. It was a rumpled old thing, with plain iron buckles and oil stained leather, but it had always been at Mahir’s side. At the top a faded spiral symbol of the Riftwardens could barely made out under the grime. “This was your mothers.”
“And? I don’t need your backpack dad, I have my own.”
“What, did she leave me some kind of note, just for an occasion like this, something to keep her daughter in line?”
“Fine.” Mahir snatched the pack off the ground, opened one of the small side pouches and reached in. The compartment was only as large as his hand but he plunged his entire arm in, up to the shoulder.
“If you’re set on going, you’re taking this.” He dropped the pack back to the floor again. “Don’t show it off to the other crusaders, not everyone is as high minded as Miammir is. In fact, after a couple of months here, I suspect most of them aren’t.” He looked over her shoulder at the papers on his desk, straightened and laid out. “That’s why I want to get back home. The coin may be good and the challenges interesting, but this isn’t a healthy place. It hasn’t been for a long time.”
Then he opened his mouth again to speak, but instead a small white worm flopped out. Then another. Then his jaw broke open and the camp filled with a swarm of them. ‘No, no.’ Bliks thought, huddling in that hollow, ‘it wasn’t dad. It was the ground. The ground at the camp. Dad’s back in Kenabres. Dad’s okay. Dad’s safe. Dad’s safe.’
The first crusader had been swallowed into the tear in the ground like he had fallen into a pit, but a pit that was simultaneously spitting out pale worms the length and thickness of her arm. His screams were cut short and Bliks only hoped it was because he was no longer in pain and not because he simply couldn’t be heard anymore. Bliks was far enough away from the hole that no worm seemed to be making its way towards her, but she knew her duty, and tried blasting one of the creatures with a simple Acid Splash. It sizzled and started melting, but was quickly devoured by one of its compatriots.
Swords flashed out, but were mainly to kill those who got out of the killing zone even now being peppered with alchemical fire. The stench of their crisping bodies revolted Bliks, but disgusting smells had been just another part of the trek into the Wounded Lands, the worst but nearest territory of the Worldwound to Kenabres. When she had suggested some kind of perfume or nose plugs, her fellow crusaders smiled knowingly at a rookie mistake; in such a dangerous realm, they had to rely on all their senses, even if it might make them retch at times.
There had been no sign of that lost crusader, merely a now smouldering hole in the ground. Bliks knew better than to not ask if they were going to try to retrieve him. If he were dead they would be needlessly exposing themselves to demonic taint and were he alive, he would wish to be dead.
The pile of stinking slime then convulsed. Again the crusaders prepared their weapons, a few prematurely sheathing their weapons so as to prepare two flasks. Bliks stood outside this ring of steel, having expended her own spells, now cradling a light crossbow. Again the pile pulsed, then again, like a clenched fist, and then it burst open.
Out of the pile of Abyssal Larvae a winged creature slammed into the sky. The space around it seemed to be distorted, and Bliks started to lose sense of how far it was away from her, even though she knew it could only be a foot or so taller than her, so she should be able to judge its distance by its height. Dragonfly like wings furiously beat the air while it surveyed the temporarily stunned crusaders. With a cry that shattered the air, it plunged into their midst.
Immediately Bliks froze. She couldn’t shoot the creature for fear of hitting her fellows but it compounded that by not only flickering in place, but suddenly snapping from point to point around the camp, ripping armour plates off the soldiers that desperately tried to hack at its chitinous hide. The knight captain shouted for his men to fall back, to let him fight the beast, but when his sword came down on it, despite its holy enchantments, it fared no better than simple steel. In response the thing pounced on him, tearing into him with four claw like appendages that writhed on its torso.
Their holy man called for the aid of the followers of Iomedae, his holy symbol blazing in the still dim light of the early morning. A shimmering in the air called forth a stunning woman clad in a simple silver dress, pearl white wings extending from her back, and a flaming sword grasped by both hands. The cheer that the crusaders let out was horrifyingly matched by one from the shifting humanoid but insectoid demon, as a cloud of black fire formed behind the deva. From this mass came a hulking spider of monstrous dimensions, driving its claws into the angel’s back, forcing her to the ground.
That’s when she ran. She clutched the crossbow to her chest for the first few minutes, forgetting that it was there but unwilling to let it go. The angel’s death seemingly came last, a piercing, sorrowful cry that somehow drifted across the torn land. Even then Bliks didn’t look back. If the brave and powerful could not stand against that horror, she had little hope. She could only run. The tears at her cowardice clouded her grey eyes, but she ran on.
Ran into this gully and now into this hollow. Her breath now starting to become regular, she instead was wracked with sobs. Her first adventure, perhaps her last, to die in this horrible place, under this tainted sky that now dropped squirming, malformed insects. It surprised her when their sound of hitting the ground was dim, like the rustle of leaves.
Then she heard a crunching sound. It was further back the gully, but was steady and getting closer. Not daring to look, she squeezed back into the hollow, feeling something she hoped were roots jutting into her back. She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and held its hems tight, disgustingly hoping that the shower of insects might just bury her enough to remain hidden.
Mahir had taught her well, having her listen to different sounds so she could identify what might be in the dark, even though she had inherited her mother’s supernatural ability to see without light. And Bliks could hear that these were boots. A mere foot had a certain solid sound to it, but a boot had a slightly delayed series of sounds, and the insectile rain wasn’t enough to deceive her. What got Bliks to look up and out of her cloak was not the hope that it was a surviving crusader, having somehow also escaped and miraculously followed her here, but instead a wordless song that started to ripple through the air.
It seemed to be a simple tune, starting with a low hum punctuated by a beat. It was droning, but not boring, and created in Bliks a sense of anticipation, that it was building to something. The something she had predicted was a sharp but still quiet whistle that spun about a few notes that reflected the beat that had been previously established. The whistle cut out and was replaced by the thrumming hum as the footfalls came to a stop just outside Bliks’ hollow. Feeling her fear rise again, Bliks tucked her head down again, hoping the cloak would conceal her.
“Now, I may be no tracker, crusader, but if I could find your little hole, you can be certain that at least that Beblith could, let alone that Katpaskir.” The voice was a woman’s, quiet and soft, sultry even. She drew out words like they were precious baubles to fancy and then moved onto the next and the next.
‘So that is what attacked us.’ Bliks thought. In the confusion she hadn’t even considered trying to think about what it was, only how to survive it. Now she thought about this stranger outside her hiding place, ‘A woman, alone in the worldwound, sultry voice … perhaps …’
The lovely voice of the stranger interrupted her train of thought, “Now we’d best get going. I’m sorry, but I think all your friends are dead and I wouldn’t want either one of us to join them.” The stranger stepped closer to where Bliks was huddled. There was a ruffle of cloth and leather, and now the voice was coming from just a few feet in front of her; the stranger was crouching down in this optimistically water slicked gully, just out of reach.
The stranger sighed. “We don’t have a lot of time for me to convince you that I’m not going to hurt you, so how about you take this trinket.” Into her downcast cone of vision Bliks could see a gloved hand holding a small, silver and turquoise butterfly in its palm. “Take it and think of your goddess. Or god. Or if you don’t have a personal one, think of one you’ve heard about. Being around crusaders you must have heard of at least a few.”
The brown glove moved forward, brushing against the folds of Bliks’ cloak but stopping there. “Come now. There’s no trick. I swear by the name of Lady Luck herself that it will not hurt you.” The glove playfully bounced up and down a bit, lifting the delicate holy symbol into the air for a moment. Taking in a breath, Bliks snatched it, and held it under her cloak.
Looking at the fine work of the butterfly, Bliks felt no force of compulsion wash over her or any assault upon her senses. She felt only the silvery threads start to melt in her hand, squeezing together first into a simple lump of metal, and then into a miniature bronze mask with a gear imprinted on the forehead. The Whisperer in Bronze.
Her eyes now cleared from her earlier crying, she looked at the stranger in front of her. Two kind brown eyes looked out from under a shock of short black hair, uncovered in the sprinkling of insects all around them, but clear of their bodies. On either cheek she sported the simple outline of a blue butterfly wing tattoo, starting at her ear and curving down to her jaw. The stranger smiled. “Brigh? You’re the first crusader I’ve met with her as your patron.” At first glance her garb and gear suggested she was a ranger, perhaps a guide. She wore leather armour with a relatively high collar, predominately in blue with gold and silver highlights, but wore plain leather thigh high boots with added additional strips of leather to cushion blows. Festooned about her waist was a row of dangling strips of blue cloth like a skirt worn over but complimenting her armour, and strapped to her back was a composite longbow.
“Let’s go then!” The stranger said reaching for Bliks’ hand. Her grip was strong and easily pulled the young wizard to her feet, and despite Bliks being taller than most human women, the stranger was just a little bit taller than that. And yet she looked altogether like a Chelaxian noble, wholly unlike her strength and stature suggested as a Ulfen barbarian. “We’re not too far from the border. Alas, not close enough for your friends.”
“Seven days.” She said as Mahir added supplies to her pack. “Dad. Dad! That’s too much!” The memory snapped back to Bliks as the stranger led her further down the gully to an indention that gave them access to higher ground. He had looked at her sternly. “Better to be prepared. And remember, don’t just grab what you need, make a show of rummaging.”
That morning had been day six. They had marched out for three days, slaying demons along the way, camped for a day, making notes on the changes to the local terrain, and were on their way back. By any standard she was just a retainer, providing for minor spells to make life on the trail more tolerable, as well as an extra pair of eyes and ears. Each crusader had carried a pack of their own gear, so they had no additional servants, ‘No fat in the Worldwound’ one of them had said. And it was a chance for her to see the Order at work in the field, perhaps to clinch her joining their ranks.
The rain of insects stopped an hour later as the sun finally fully crested the horizon. The ground the ranger steered them onto was less disturbing to walk on than that of the gully, but they still paused from time to time as the earth shuddered from some distant undulation or cataclysm. Mostly they walked in silence, with the ranger pointing out some danger here or there, but Bliks merely nodded or shook her head in response. She could feel a great burden weighing down on her, to return to Kenabres, to tell the tale of her lost companions. Too many had been lost in this vast wasteland without any word as to their fate for Bliks to die because she missed some important detail after lowering her guard.
By her reckoning, Bliks figured they must be close to the West Sellen, but still hadn’t spied it yet. Her crusader companions had come down from the vast plateau that made up most of the Wounded Lands the day before, but without their guidance and in the hands of a stranger, Bliks wasn’t sure where exactly she was headed. The ranger seemed to know her way intimately through this area, and the symbol had formed into that of Desna’s worshipful, but she could still be part of some offshoot cult. The idea of dealing with some madmen who had twisted Desna’s teachings into something more akin to nightmares than the dreams she was a patron of was too much for Bliks to handle at this time, so she pushed it aside in favour of blind hope.
Stopping for lunch at a copse of dead trees, the ranger first scouted the area as Bliks retrieved her supplies. Returning with a lightness in her step, the ranger grinned at Bliks’ offer of trail rations. “You might find this surprising, but I’m so … glad … that I found you. I have been travelling alone for so long, I thank Desna for allowing our paths to cross.” Bliks wondered at the pause around the word ‘glad’, thinking what other word the ranger had intended to use. “But neither of us has been open about who we are. Perhaps that too is Desna’s will, as travelers are often strangers.” The ranger unenthusiastically nibbled on the rations as if already satiated on something else. Had she been eating on the trail and Bliks had merely not noticed? Even still, the ranger’s voice was smooth and calming, unhurried even. “Somewhere in your tale you’ll have to fit me in, and a character should have a name.”
A mischevious smile crossed the ranger’s face again which made Bliks think ‘How can she be so happy, so unconcerned in this place?’
“How about you call me … Dreams in the Dark?”, the ranger finally concluded, “And in my telling of your tale I will call you … Little Breeze.” The taller woman reached out and ran a finger over a strand of Bliks’ hair, caught forever in an unseen wind. Looking seriously at Bliks, Dreams in the Dark said “Before today, I’d never met a sylph before. Your parents must be quite the couple!” At that Bliks averted her gaze, turning to look where she thought east was. The sun had been no help, having split in two and roamed randomly across the sky as she had been warned was common across the entire Worldwound.
After a long pause, Dreams in the Dark broke the silence, “Alright. I’ve had enough, are you ready?” offering to help Bliks up again. It had become a bit of a pattern, with the ranger striding confidently ahead, tackling rises and elevations with ease, then pulling Bliks up after her. Dreams was remarkably strong for her stature and Bliks considered that she might use that to great effect, if not to throw her enemies off balance, but to perhaps merely get drinks from easily shamed overly masculine men.
At what appeared to be mid-afternoon, Dreams increased their pace without explanation, and Bliks struggled to keep up. Something seemed to be driving the ranger forward, but whether it was something ahead or behind, Bliks could not be sure; her furtive glances backwards showed no pursuit or activity that was unusual even for this cursed place. The idea that Dreams had planted in her that the demon that had scourged her camp might be on her trail still lingered.
“Come, come!” Dreams urged Bliks on from a small rise. The ranger had marched Bliks to the point of exhaustion without showing any sign of fatigue herself. It seemed to Bliks, that they had reached the end of this day’s journey, so she pushed herself to make it up this last little hill. It was quite a view Dreams had found for them, looking assuredly to the east as a thin ribbon of river, the West Sellen, could be seen several more hours march away. And at the edge of her vision, she could make out a sharp rise and needles on the horizon, which must have been Kenabres. Seeing her drink in the distant hope, Dreams added, “That isn’t the best part. Look to the north, as far as you can, just to the right of the dark clouds.”
Bliks strained to see what Dreams was referring to, but could only see a distinct line in the sky where the pollution of the Abyss ended and the free air of Golarion began. She looked back at Dreams, who only smiled and pointed, adding “Just wait.”
Then the unnatural suns slipped below the horizon to her left, and there was a sudden flash of light. The final rays of sunlight touched the far shore of the Sellen, which glowed in a wide band of glittering light. In all the months she had lived in Kenabres she had never seen its like. “The crusaders rarely see it, but for us, on this side of the river, it is a reminder of the persistent power of the wardstones, long may they stand.” Dreams said with some satisfaction and joy. “Now you MUST be exhausted! Rest and I will prepare camp.”
Bliks gladly turned over her pack, but Dreams seemed to be oblivious, setting up a small tent, bedroll, and blanket from her own low slung pack, then left shortly to gather firewood and expertly started a campfire. This shocked Bliks as the crusaders had had a strict no open flame policy lest they attract undo attention, but to this point she had put her trust in Dreams so another dollop was a willing gift, especially to get the warmth and comfort of fire. Using a mixture of their supplies, she put together a palatable gruel, which filled Bliks’ stomach and spirit. The ranger finished her outpouring of generosity by offering to take the first watch, “For rarely have I had anyone to keep watch for nor to keep watch for me while I slept.”
Before she slipped into sleep, Bliks could hear Dreams pacing outside of her one person tent. To that point Dreams hadn’t shown any kind of nervous energy before, she had been very calm but focused on guiding Bliks to the border of the Worldwound. For some time, this worried her, as if something could be upsetting Dreams, perhaps it was a threat to Bliks as well? Then the fatigue of the long day and its painful beginning took the last of Bliks’ willpower, and she faded into unconsciousness.
That night Bliks dreamed that she was a great bird, born from her own chest. Looking at her wings, she could not tell if they were feathery or leather, but that didn’t seem to matter, only that they let her fly. She flew about a hill on fire and then dove into a giant iron keep. Next she found herself in the middle of a great plain, with winds blowing her in every direction, like she was feather in a gale. Her only escape was to fly up, into the sky, where she saw Dreams by the fire, stirring the gruel, then stopping, her chest opening like a set of doors, and inside was a small bird, just like Bliks was, flying around a vast space.
Dreams lightly shook Bliks awake, quietly calling out “Little Breeze … Little Breeze? Time for your watch.” Bliks pulled on her robes and crawled out of the tent. The fire was out, whether Dreams had put it out or it went out on its own accord, she could not tell. But her darkvision would hardly have been helped by the addition of mundane lights. “Did you sleep well?” Dreams asked, loosening the straps on her armour. Many of the crusaders also slept in their armour, but Bliks merely nodded in response to Dreams’ question. After entering the tent Dreams added, “Did you … dream? No, please don’t answer that. Best not to risk Lady Luck’s gifts.”
After studying her spells, Bliks thought about her travelling companion. Dreams was perhaps even just that, a dream made manifest. When she most needed guidance, she got a guide. And the rest of her characteristics: impressively strong, remarkable endurance, unflinching in the madness of the Worldwound, beautiful in body and voice, all seemed to be outer worldly. Then there were the small things, like she hardly touched her food at either lunch or dinner, and seemed to sense what Bliks was worried about. ‘Perhaps she’s just a figment of your imagination’, Bliks thought to herself as she found a less uncomfortable position to sit in on the only comfortable rock she could find. ‘Something you’ve conjured up to give you the confidence to make it back home.’
Then the paranoia set in, something all crusaders were drilled about. ‘Perhaps she’s not a godsend at all, perhaps she’s a demon. Perhaps she wants me to slip her into Kenabres so she can corrupt the crusade from within! Demons can read minds, don’t need to eat and … don’t need to sleep. But does that mean they can’t sleep?’ Bliks glanced towards the small tent. ‘What should I expect, to see Dreams lying there with her eyes open? Or closed and just pretending? How would I know?’
“Breeze, be very still, they’re almost at our camp.” Bliks could barely hear Dreams’ whisper, but froze in place nonetheless. “I wish I could have led you all the way. When I draw them off, make for the crusader encampment.” Then the tip of an arrow slid out through the flap of the tent and Bliks could hear the tightening of a bowstring behind it. Dreams muttered something in a guttural language Bliks didn’t understand, spat, and then let loose the arrow. It flicked past Bliks’ head and was followed by a sharp tap, a quiet gurgle, and the collapse of a body. Turning about, Bliks could just make out a half naked figure with a pentagram tattooed on his forehead and an arrow jutting out of his throat.
“Let me give you … Desna’s blessing.” Dreams said with some urgency as she climbed completely out of the tent as Bliks tightened a strap on her backpack. Laying a hand on Bliks’s forehead, Dreams whispered a few words that sounded like the snippets of Celestial she had heard priests using, and then unexpectedly hugged her close. In that moment Bliks could feel a strength rise in her, a clearer sense of purpose and direction. Then Dreams held her at arms length, smiled into Bliks’ worried face, and said “Don’t fret Little Breeze, I know these lands well.” She reached into her quiver, quickly selecting a flight arrow, and steadied her aim. “Now run.” And so Bliks ran, hearing once again the screams of battle fading behind her.
She slowed her pace to a jog once she couldn’t hear anything else, and so carried on until just after sunrise. The crusaders holding that small landing spot across from the city of Kenabres said they had seen a figure in silver, rising into the clouds, raining fire down into the Worldwound. They said it was a good sign. Bliks didn’t say anything.
With a start she woke, her bed unexpectedly soaked with sweat. She hadn’t had that nightmare in years, long before she ever came to Numeria for any real length of time. But it felt so real … so unlike the usual snippets of running, screams, worms, sickening smells. Then she saw a blue luminescence outside of her window. Ghartone’s former chambers in the Palace of Fallen Stars hadn’t included a window or a balcony, but the place had been built more as a fortress against a rebellious population than for comfort. Bliks had made a few adjustments, something easily accomplished with a grasp of engineering and access to both Stone Shape and Wall of Stone spells.
The air outside was still cold and her gown did little to keep her warm, but she felt the chill focusing her thoughts and keeping her alert. The source of the luminescence was no surprise to the wizard, as she looked up at the massive translucent moth perched on the edge of her balcony. “Longdreamer. What WAS that?” The great creature tilted its head to one side, seemingly pointing to its long tail tipped with what looked like peacock feathers. Gracefully they floated towards Bliks before she roughly snatched them out of the air.
‘How DARE you.’ Then flung the feathers away, breaking the telepathic connection. “Guardian of dreams indeed.” She spat at the beast, as it recoiled slightly. “Have you any idea, ANY idea, how long it took me to get over that? And then here you come, and make me relive it in every detail. I may no longer be that overzealous young woman, but you have no right to force a NIGHTMARE on me.”
She swept back inside her apartment and began dressing for the day, even if only to address this one guest. Without looking she slipped on the holy symbol of Brigh, only to notice that it felt differently against her skin. Instead of the feminine mask, it had taken the form of a butterfly. She looked towards the window, where Longdreamer still sat.
This time she took a seat in one of the chairs on the balcony, and offered her hand to Longdreamer’s telepathic touch. ‘I’m sorry for that, for it, but I was sent. I resisted, but I was told it was necessary. Ours is not the kingdom of nightmares.’ To which Bliks couldn’t help but resist replying ‘It certainly felt like a nightmare’ Longdreamer paused to let Bliks finish, then continued, ‘What could have been a nightmare for you was a dream for another. And all the dreams are our responsibility.’
Bliks stood, keeping Longdreamer’s feather in her hand, walking to the railing and looking out over the mostly quiet streets of Starfall. ‘Who would consider that a dream? People died. GOOD people. Needlessly. I lived, but as a coward. And then I hallucinated a perfect protector.’
When Longdreamer rested one of its claws on Bliks’ shoulder, she jumped slightly, then patted her free hand on top of its. As much as she had hated that experience, Bliks knew Longdreamer didn’t have a cruel organ in its body, and she was glad at least to have it here, for someone to talk to, and Longdreamer was a great listener. ‘What hallucination?’
‘Dreams in the Dark of course. Obviously I had had a trauma and created a surrogate mother figure, one who went missing in the Worldwound before I ever really knew her, and then came to my rescue when I needed her most.’ She fingered the still butterfly shaped Lesser Malleable Symbol hanging around her neck. ‘I even picked this up, giving me a reason to carry onto Kenabres. The clerics of Iomedae said it must have been an angel, sent to guide me back, but why wouldn’t it have just carried me or done something far more impressive than walk with me for less than a day?’ Bliks looked back out over the city. ‘I gave up on mystical even magical solutions to the Worldwound that day. I saw what little even holy priests could do in the face of evil. That’s when I started looking for alternatives, which led me here.’ It felt like a confessional.
‘Are not all dreams hallucinations in the dark?’
Puzzled, Bliks looked at the creature. Was its thinking so alien as to have missed what she had just told it? ‘Yes. No, I meant the person, my guide, the ranger. What are you getting at? And, I’m sorry, but truly, what WAS that? It wasn’t like any dream or nightmare I’ve ever had. It felt too … real.’
‘We need the hope that this dream existed, even if it was not yours.’
‘Need? As in present tense? What do you need it for?’
‘We need the dark dreamer. We took you to the Dimension of Dreams. You were safe, but it was real.’
‘What was real? The nightmare I just went through? Or the memory?’
‘Dreams in the Dark. Beyond our power, but not yours.’
‘Wait wait wait.’ Bliks started pacing, still holding Longdreamer’s feathered tail, ‘Our power? You’re talking about divine intervention, aren’t you? Desna, that’s who sent you. That’s why it was so real, so beyond any spell I could imagine casting. Wait. Back up a second. You said you ‘need the hope that this dream existed’. How in the world could you …’
When Bliks had gotten up, she hadn’t taken full stock of her room. Letting go of Longdreamer, she raced back into her chambers, going beyond the partition between her sleep and work spaces. There she found markings on the floor, carefully laid out ingredients, and could even sense the lingering power in the air. It would take her some time to decipher it fully, but a quick glance reminded her of a preplanned Imprisonment spell, but inverted, like some kind of ritualistic Freedom spell. A powerful one.
She stepped back from the evidence of her sleep casting a ritual of some sort. Focused, then lifted herself slightly off the ground, and drifted back outside. Reconnecting with Longdreamer’s telepathic touch, Bliks waited for it to say something. When it only stared at her, she asked ‘Let me get this straight. You needed me to experience that hallucination in the Dimension of Dreams so that someone else could experience that specific dream, which would give them hope, which you would in turn use, through me, to free them?’
‘We could not use a hallucination, we could only use the reality. Yours was the reality. Yours was the nightmare. Hers was the reality. Hers was the dream. Hers was the hope. Yours was the means.’
Bliks shook slightly, dropped the telepathic connection, held her arms close around her chest, and said quietly to Longdreamer, “Dreams in the Dark, my guide, the ranger, the woman I’ve believed for the last decade was a figment of trauma, is … real?”