By Kris Kramer
A Rise of Cithria story
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I see everything now.
For eons, I ruled a domain void of light and color, consigned by my jailers to a place where darkness bred horrors too twisted to imagine. I knew no peace, because my subjects screamed and wailed in terror, begging for release from their hellish existence. I felt no warmth, for there was none to be had in a realm without soul.
My world was dark. Lonely. But it was my home.
Then the lights appeared. They came to me like distant stars twinkling through the veil of a night sky, a comparison I’d forgotten until a short time ago. They never lasted long, many times winking out of existence before I could reach them with my clumsy and overeager hands. But still I sprang at each new light, desperate to discover what treasures lay hidden beyond. Occasionally, I found one that lingered long enough for me to finally see what I’d so long been denied.
A glimpse into another world.
I exulted at the chance to stare through these windows into the minds of creatures who lived and breathed and died under clear blue skies, walking on soft green grass, surrounded by others of their kind. They laughed by roaring fires, the light gleaming off of their metal clothes and tools. They ate hot food and drank frothy cold drinks with each other, praying, crying, touching each other’s warm skin. They stopped to watch water running through a brook, or down a waterfall. They smelled colorful flowers and danced to cheerful music. They stared at the distant horizon, or gazed at the night sky, which reminded me too much of my own world, but also gave me a sense of camaraderie with people I did not know.
Through these windows I watched, and heard, and felt, and experienced what it was like to be part of this beautiful new world.
And I envied them all.
They call them dreams. As they slumber, they imagine their own world in their minds, but with a twist. Some things are less, others are more. They describe it as a warped mirror, an imitation of their own reality. Others believe them to be visions of the future, or lessons from the past.
For me, dreams are unadulterated joy.
I slip into those dreams, and I look around in awe, like a child watching a prism. But just like a child, I start to touch things, and when I touch things, they change. They grow black, diseased. They crumble. They twist into something that induces terror in the dreamer’s mind, and delight in mine. When I do this to their dream, they give it a different name.
I was clumsy in my first attempts, but after some time I knew what to look for, and I slipped from dream to dream with practiced movements and effortless grace. But still, they faded away so quickly that I never managed to truly know the people of this world.
But then, something changed. Thousands of new dreamers appeared to me, all at once, and they didn’t wink away after a few moments. I’ve learned much about these new dreamers. They come from all corners of an island called Caldera, though a few have different names for it. Andua. Sudmark. Elegant names, and fiercely espoused by the people who live there. I know the island well. I’ve seen its great cities – Corendar, Tan Arbrel, Casuuld – as well as its villages, where people live and work and farm. Some train their bodies to use weapons, so that they can slay their enemies. Others tap into The Remains, which they call magic, and they use it to reshape their reality, just as I reshape their dreams. But one thing common to them all is war. They prepare for it, fear it, embrace it, despise it.
These are not their dreams, though. Not dreams of their own making. Merely a facet of their thoughts that works to keep them docile in their reality. An interesting trick, and one I make sure to remember.
Some of them use their magic to create dreams for others, keeping them imprisoned in their own minds. They call themselves Nameless, although many of them have a name, a holdover from the laws of their gods who, strangely enough, do not dream. Ever. These Nameless learned the magic from an outsider, a trick called Domination, and they’ve cultivated it ever since.
I care little for their motivations, only that they are successful.
They do not understand the pleasure they’ve given me. I visit each one, careful not to touch anything. I only observe, searching for the handhold that lets me grab on and stay. The strong ones can throw me out of their dream, no matter how much I hold on. The weaker ones submit to my touch, but only if I come to them in a form they can accept. Then, I can do what I want, and stay as long as I choose, and the longer I stay, the more I learn.
At first, I wanted only to join them, to live amongst them in a world full of light and color. But would I have power in their realm? In their dreams, I can do as I wish. Would I be as powerful if I had substance? I did not know the truth of this question, though I suspected the answer to be promising. I needed to find a way into their world, and I would have to do so through the dreams. But people only dream when they’re asleep, or unmoving. Useless to me in my endeavor. But I did not give up, and after much searching, my persistence was rewarded.
I discovered a way to stay with them, even after the dream ended.
Her name was Alayna. She was the last one I tested before finding my true way into their world.
My journey had taken me through a large number of soldiers and their holy men, Calderans who called themselves Esteran mostly. Some of them were priests who worshipped a goddess with no name, and learned magic that let them heal and strengthen their fellow warriors. They came from other areas, lands with names like the Red Hills, Venria, Brinwall.
Alayna was a priest from a place called Breakwall, the name for both a town and the castle that lorded over it, in a county called Artora. Breakwall was close to Corendar, the gleaming white city I’d seen in so many other dreams, the city that lured me like a moth to a flame. Alayna had visited there, and she dreamed of it again when I found her. That’s what drew me to her initially, the chance to revel in the glory of Caldera’s magnificent capitol city.
But it was Breakwall that made me stay.
“You’ll never amount to much out there. The Didachs will treat you like a commoner.”
The words of Alayna’s friend, Violet. She was angry, and she showed it through insults and derision. A common trait of these people. In her dream, Alayna walked through a garden in Corendar with her friend, sharing last words before leaving to join the Church that was ever-present in the dreams of many Calderans.
“How I’m treated doesn’t matter to me as much as how I treat others. That is the way of the Church and its healers.”
“Pathetic.” Violet’s anger grew. She craved power, and control. Alayna did not. Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by her. “The Church is the refuge of peasants and lesser born. Why would you associate with that?”
“Because I enjoy helping people.”
Alayna blamed the other girl for her troubles. They were friends once, but no longer. Violet had become distant and petty once the carefree days of childhood left her. Alayna, meanwhile, had seen the horrors of the world and wanted to mend the scars her people scratched upon it. The enmity between them drove Alayna away from their home, to this cavern, where she healed the soldiers fighting their war against Andua and a place called Bergmark. I reached out with my hand, caressing the tension between the two girls as it writhed between my fingers.
“Helping yourself, I think.”
“Violet! How can you say that?”
“Who’s really benefitting from this, Alayna? People who deserve to die already, or you, who gets to think she’s saving the world? The Goddess Reborn.”
Alayna’s eyes somehow grew larger, and she saw her friend in a new light, one that revealed every dark spot in Violet’s heart. Something about that look intrigued me, and in my race to understand it, I became Violet. I wanted to see Alayna’s eyes on me, and feel her wretched disgust with what her friend had turned into. Humans despise that feeling, but to me, every emotion they experience is the sweetest dessert.
“Who are you?”
At first, I think she’s asking the question of Violet. But then I realize the truth. My touch has corrupted the vision, and Violet is now something less than human. Alayna has seen through the illusion. Few people are so quick to sense my intrusion. She’s much stronger than I thought.
I am Violet, I told her. I am your friend. Love me, as you do her, and you will see the truth.
Alayna backed away, and the garden around her disappeared. Suddenly, she was back in that cave, only now the torches on the walls rage, spewing torrents of flame all around us.
“No,” she says, reaching for the sword that suddenly appeared at her side. “You’re lying. You’re not Violet.”
My touch is now toxic for her. Stone rises from the floor between us as her will pushed me away. She’s exceptionally strong in this realm. I break it apart as fast as it comes, but we both know the effort of taking her is too much. Not when there are so many who will embrace me far more willingly. The image of Violet fades away, and as I drift off to my realm, I show her my true form. Her panic is palpable.
“You’re a-a-a monster!” she screamed. “A nightmare!”
Yes. Nightmare. That is not my true name, but it is a name I embrace, for you have given it to me. You and your people, who perform for me, and provide the only light in my world, have bestowed upon me a title reserved only for the most fearsome of things.
That is what you think of me. Therefore, that is what I will be when I find my way through the dreams and into your world. Where I will stay. And where you will know me as a new god.
“No! You’re not real. Your words are lies!”
I am not real. But your fear is. The terror that claws its way into your heart is no less true than my words. I am not in your world, but I will be. All I must do is find a suitable host. And now I have.
“What?” she asked. “What does that mean?!”
I left her, retreating back into my domain slowly, so I could hear her screams as she begged to know who I would take next.
She would figure it out soon. But by then, she would be too late.
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