The speaker stood at what seemed to the head of the table, a slightly larger spoke in the star that looked like the North point on a compass. Behind him was a stained glass window that showed five overlapping spheres converging in the centre to form a radiant explosion of white light, like some kind of cross between a religious symbol and an advertisement for printer ink cartridges. Cass recognised it as the description the kittens had given him of the Ideya, and wondered what they were considered to become when they merged together. The speaker himself was also globular, a silver spot of mercury, with several rings around it like a gyroscope, and two thin spikes leading from the top of the sphere. He wore no clothes but instead balanced a top hat with a blue silk band between the spikes. He should have been comical in appearance but he was four times Cass' size and projected an aura of something beyond his ability to comprehend, something that could delete him in an instant.

“He's been in contact with the Awakers, Lord Hauptmann,” said the AdvoCat, “A small raiding party of them invaded and destroyed the dream he was in, but he escaped. Six Clocks and two Awakers.”

“An unusually large force for a single dream,” commented a tall, spindly shape, spiked at both ends with sharp sides and flat disc shapes slowly moving up and down its form, occasionally passing through each other, like some kind of sword that couldn't decide which end was which, “They don't usually bother with dreams that don't have a significant Nightmaren or reformed Nightmaren presence at all. It looks like they really are spreading out.”

“With all due respect, I didn't just bring him here so you could have the Dreamer you were after. He's very lost, and he can't leave the dreamlands now his way in was destroyed, and he's lost his Spirit Guide.”

“The Awakers are targeting Spirit Guides, now?”

“Apparently, a Nightmaren attacked it, but we think it might have been allowed to happen because of the damage done by the Awakers,” said the AdvoCat.

“Destabilising the fabric of dreams causes a lot of trouble in ways you don't expect,” agreed a female shape in a pink veil-like scarf, “Dreamers getting stuck in the dreamlands… this isn't a good sign. It'll cause all sorts of wider problems. We don't know if the dreamers can survive in the long run, and even if they can, what they might turn into after a while!”

“So, you're going to help him return?” asked the AdvoCat hopefully.

“Wait a minute! For a start, we can't just let a dreamer go, when there are so many things we need to know about the Awakers' progress through dreams,” said Wizeman, causing the AdvoCat to glare at him, his hackles raising, “And secondly, what about the Nightmaren that was stuck in the dream? Nobody has raised any concerns about him, and I know for a fact he hasn't returned to report to me!”

“You can identify him for us?”

“Lysander, a Second Class Anti Red Ideya Nightmaren that patrols the area around Soft Museum under Jackle's command,” said Wizeman, “Highly competent. I've never had any failures from him until now!”

“You must wish to check up on this Lysander,” said Hauptmann, “We will not stop you. But you will return.”

With an acid glare, Wizeman winked out of existence as his panel went dark.

Cass felt uncomfortable at the entity that in itself scared him, describing the creature that plagued his nightmares as though it was an efficient worker in some kind of unfortunate industrial accident, so he interjected with, “So, are you people in charge, or something?”

“We are the Council, the shapers and administrators of the dreamlands,” Hauptmann introduced them, “We do not exist in and of ourselves, but are attributes of the Control Systems of the Universe. We keep order in the chaos, and make sure the dreams that are produced fulfil the needs of those who dream them.”

“Doesn't that happen anyway?”

“While the dreamer shapes the details, the underlying structure, that which dreams have in common, and the fact that dreams come to people at all, is our doing,” he said, “We created all that has structure in this world. The eight of us all have our own province - I control prophetic dreams and the art of clairvoyance through dreams, Kaufmann controls dreams that involve the body's involuntary movements during the unconscious phase, and how the mind interprets them,” he said, and the female pink-shrouded entity moved her hands to indicate she was being referred to.

“In other words, I get blamed for everything,” she said, “Sleepwalking, dreams of a physically intimate nature, bed-wetting… everything.”

“Fachmann controls mundane dreams that process information, and causes sleep to restore sanity and even heal the body, Gelbmann controls dreams that reveal the true state of one's Ideya, and also rules over the Spirit Animals, Eldrow controls inspiration through dreams and leads the Muses, Hartmann decides the geography and topography of the dreamlands and controls cultural shared dreaming, making sure people dream of their own homelands and their history, and Weissman… when he was actually on the Council, before he decided he was too good for us.. was in charge of Nightmares. Back then, nightmares were responsible, and fulfilled an important function, rather than simply rampaging around the dreamlands terrorising the Dreamers and breaking things,” said Hauptmann, “Dreams designed to terrify and shock dreamers, to make them feel uncomfortable, were meant to warn them away from a course of action, to let them know their own shortcomings - when a certain Ideya was dangerously low – and to help them face their fears and come to terms with the things they were dreading about the future, in an environment were they wouldn’t be harmed. Some dreamers still failed, because you don’t learn anything from a scenario without challenge, and some humans try to take on their fears before they are ready – and some dreamers are destined to madness – but Nightmares were not designed to drain Ideya or to harm dreamers.”

“All kinds of dreams have a light and dark side to them,” added Kaufmann, “My dreams are the most embarrassing and shameful to humans, the ones that make them lose control the most, but they are the ones that anchor the Dreamer to the waking world, so that they don’t get lost, as well as helping with some processes that are vital to the survival of the human body. Think of it like this – would you rather occasionally pee the bed because you had a dream about peeing, or would you rather your bowels stopped working entirely whenever you were asleep? Similarly, Hartmann ensures that nations remember their history well and that people have some of the same similarities to each other when they are in their dreams, so they can recognise each other, but he also means that the worst events in history are never forgotten, and some of the extreme examples of this has created enough negative psychic energy to actually damage the fabric of the dreamlands.”

“Talking of Dreamers going back to the waking world…” prompted Cass. He was incredibly fascinated by this description of the way dreams worked and he was impressed that there were such organised forces behind a process he had always thought of as the most chaotic of all, but he was a little nervous about all the mention of bed-wetting via autosuggestion while he was still asleep, he didn’t like the way Wizeman was looking at him like he would look at an ant while planning to phone the pest control services, and most of all, he was worried they had actually forgotten that he needed help returning to the waking world, in the passion of describing their work, like a lot of extremely boring people did.

“Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you,” said Hauptmann, as if reading his mind, “We can bring you back to your own world right now, but be warned: it won’t be a pleasant experience for you. Being woken up artificially by an artefact of the system is much more direct and less subtle than waking up naturally.”

“Like a computer being improperly shut down because it crashed, you mean?”

“Indeed, although I am personally not up-to-date with human technology. Our own has evolved very differently to match our forms. I would struggle to tell you if it is in advance or behind,” he said, “Although it does not crash very often. Yes, it would not be the correct way for a human to wake up. And the bigger problem: we suspect that the world may not be the same as it was when you fell asleep.”

“What do you mean?”

“The reason we were looking for a dreamer in the first place,” he admitted, “Especially one that had come into contact with an Awaker, is because we wanted to see if they were able to access the waking world yet.”

“What, those things really exist? As in, I could go and see one in the shopping centre?”

“Assuming it hadn’t already destroyed the shopping centre,” said Hauptmann, as if he were slightly nervous he had used the word ‘shopping centre’ in the wrong context, “We believe the Awakers would be able to do the same damage to your world as they would to ours. I realise this sounds difficult to believe, but they would be able to do the damage in the same way: by waking people up.”

“Are you trying to tell me that my world is a dream, too?” he asked. He assumed ‘waking people up’ didn’t mean the same as it did when the crazy political party with a stall outside the shopping centre said it, before the security guards found them and threw them out.

“Not exactly. Think of it like this: your world is exactly like it is, a place where beings exist with vivid imaginations and vibrant intelligence, who can take ideas given to them in dreams and flights of fancy and turn them into music and art and inventions, giving them physical bodies. However, the word ‘awake’ doesn’t have quite the same definition to the Universe as it does to you. Imagine that you have always lived in this world of dreams, that this world feels the most real to you, matters the most to you, and your physical body was here. Do you think you would call this world the dreamlands, or would you assume it was your waking life?” he asked, “Okay, so I know everyone here calls it the dreamlands, but we’ve always had full access to and knowledge of both worlds. The third-class Nightmaren – they’re also a bad example as they aren’t as intelligent as humans – aren’t aware of the existence of dreamers, they only know that there are trespassers who they must attack. They see their identity here as permanent and concrete, they resist attempts to transport them to the other worlds as though it would destroy them…”

“I get what you’re saying,” said Cass, “To a Nightmaren, it would mean a different thing to be dreaming or to be awake. And to a dreamer, they look wrong. But we look wrong to them. And to these Awakers, we both look wrong, so they’re trying to kill us.”

“Actually, their form of existence is such that, in the world in which they are awake, the rest of the Universe in its entirety does not exist. It is the ultimate level of awakening. All the other levels of dream and awakening will always perceive it as a layer of awakening. Think of it in a different way,” said Hauptmann, “Humans can dream that they are dreaming. The dream-within-a-dream can be just as vivid as the dream, and they can have the same thoughts of being in a dream and wanting to wake up, and they can be as confused as to whether they are awake or asleep. Now, imagine that your own world is an extra level of dreaming, and the level below yours is the world of the Awakers. Except that they are the dreamers, and you are the Nightopians. And imagine that, instead of gently waking up the people who are confused about whether they are awake or asleep, they are physically dragging the entire dreamspace back into their waking world. And, if they find themselves in another level of dreamspace, they’ll go straight through that one as well.”

“So, what’s their own world like?”

“We aren’t sure,” admitted Hauptmann, “And, to be honest, we were hoping someone else would find out for us. We almost certainly can’t survive there. We don’t have any probability of existence there, so we would be erased upon arrival. That was the other reason we were so anxious to find a dreamer. Your world is much closer conceptually to their world than ours, and you are a species that has always bridged gaps between worlds. When our world was threatened by the apostasy of the Nightmaren, it was dreamers that stopped Wizeman from capturing the Ideya, with the help of NiGHTs, the first ever and strongest reformed Nightmaren. This brings me to the third reason why I do not wish beings from this world to leave. We are still fighting the Nightmaren, and we have to mostly keep the borders closed as far as we can, without making it too difficult for dreamers to get into their dreams. Sectors such as Nightmaren-occupied territory, safe havens for those pursued by Nightmaren, administrative areas like this, and areas too badly damaged by Awakers to be hospitable, are blocked off. Seeing you like this was far too dangerous for our liking, especially as Wizeman saw you coming. It is only because of the AdvoCat that you were allowed entry. We should not be interacting with the rest of the Universe at all. We should exist behind the scenes, administering everything. We should not even have physical form. It is because the situation has become so grave, and because Wizeman already rebelled, that we do so.”

“It sounds like I’ve wandered into something much bigger than I was expecting when I went to sleep,” he said, “I think I’m in over my head, just a little, and I still have no idea what’s going on, but I’ll try and help if I can.”

“Good. We thought that a human dreamer would be the best bet, for taking up stupid and impossible challenges,” said Hauptmann, “Your arrival was a blessing. Although the Awakers are the antithesis of everything we are sworn to uphold and protect, we have them to thank for damaging your dream in such a way as to prevent you from leaving, so we could even have this conversation.”

“We cannot prepare you for what you may or may not find once you return, and we won’t be able to protect you once you wake up,” said Hauptmann, “But we will try to shield you while you make the transition. When you next sleep, you will automatically be redirected to our chambers. There, you will tell us everything you saw. If possible, I want you try to find out something about the Awakers, go as close as you can to their world, without putting your life at risk.”

“Won’t I be more at risk approaching them from my world, if mine is closer to theirs, and theirs is hostile?”

“You are more likely to be dragged into their world but it is less likely to damage you,” he said, “But I would still advise against it. Take photographs, record their conversations, throw objects into the portals to see if they burst into flames on contact, and, if you can run fast enough, throw objects at the Awakers to see if it hurts them.”

“I have one more question before I leave,” said Cass, “Do you have any way of finding out if my spirit Game Gear is alive or dead, and telling it where I am if its still alive?”

“AdvoCat, you have my permission to journey into the territory of the Spirit Guides,” said Hauptmann.

“I wouldn’t think of asking your permission first, Lord Hauptmann,” he replied, and continued before he could figure out what the cat had just said, “If it left the dream alive, the Game Gear will have gone back home to report what happened. If it didn’t, another Spirit Guide will have been send to find out why it never returned, and so they will be tracking it down right as we speak. They have their own ways of communicating with each other.”

“Thank you,” said Cass.

“Don’t blame yourself for what happened,” said Fachmann, the first time he spoke up, “I created the Spirit Animals personally. They will do anything to protect their dreamers, put their lives in danger without a thought. Nothing you said or did would have persuaded it to do otherwise. It would have been excommunicated forever if it failed, and it will be remembered as a hero in the annals of Spirit Guide history.”

“It was an unnecessary death,” said Cass, “It was my fault that I was in so much danger. I… I should have stood up for myself!”

“Lysander is a War Nightmaren. He is designed to be the enemy you know you can’t defeat in battle,” said Hauptmann, “You aren’t even a warrior, and your red Ideya is far lower than it should be for a human – something that most likely isn’t your fault. What concerns me most is that the Game Gear decided you were in mortal danger. It would only have done so if you would have really died if Lysander killed you in the dream. That shouldn’t be the case. Either Lysander was aiming to capture or completely wipe your red Ideya – meaning Wizeman is overtly attacking humans or stockpiling Ideya for another invasion of the waking world – or the damage done to your dream had an effect of binding you to the dream world too securely.”

“That could be why I didn’t wake up!” said Cass.

“Exactly. Why makes it even more likely. And it means dreamers are in even more danger than we realised. It might be good that you are about to wake up. Whatever happens in your world, you may at least be slightly safer there than you are here.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Cass, “Our world sucks, frankly. You haven’t seen the sort of things that happen there. There’s a reason we’re inspired to have such terrible nightmares. But I still don’t like the sound of those nightmares running around, real and intelligent, trying to eat my soul. And I’m worried about my Saturn. I can’t remember if I switched it off before I fell asleep.”

“Then, think about the things you’re worried about in the waking world. They’re a good focus, so you’ll have less difficulty waking up,” he said.

Cass closed his eyes and thought about all the reasons why he needed to wake up: his physical body would be hungry, cold and he had a sneaking suspicion he may have wet the bed. He may have moved in his sleep and dropped the Game Gear somewhere. He may have forgotten to switch the Saturn off and shortened its lifespan. He was wasting time here when he could be playing games. A homicidal alarm clock from Hell might be trying to eat his soul.

The last thought seemed to clinch it. There was an abrupt, sickening lurch as though he was on a rollercoaster that had just started up and decided to propel him backwards and upside down at high speed, causing him to almost black out. Seconds later, he fell out of bed, was violently sick for several minutes, then realised his left leg was dangling into thin air, something that shouldn’t happen when he wasn’t in bed.

clockwork7.txt · Last modified: 2012/11/12 20:48 by doan
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