Terrouge E-zine Archives
By: Saarh Jevsa
The Emperor sang.
His song was mild, sad, crooning and droning. His audience drowned in the warmth of the music. They soaked it in like sunlight, tension melting from their stiff muscles. Their eyes drifted shut as the magic of his voice beckoned to them. It invited them into warm, sweet darkness.
They followed, obeyed willingly - their pasts forgotten, the future a question that no longer needed to be answered.
For the Emperor … for his voice … they would sleep.
This was the punishment given to criminals in the domain of Emperor Alexei. There was no true penalty; not after the conditions of the prisons had been revealed to the public. No starvation. No prison camps where they worked criminals to death. There were no prisons. There were cells, yes. Tiny cells, only large enough to hold a cot and the necessary equipment to keep a human alive. Wires and machines to do work for the body.
There was only sleep.
The Dream King, as he was called, had this power. The power to lull his victims to slumber, using his voice and his magic. They would sleep until he died, and then the next ruler would repeat the process.
As the Emperor's song neared its end, one struggled against his bonds. There was life - a place of questions and answers … the thought vanished as he gave in once more to the Emperor's song and eternal sleep.
Swirling colors, black and white,
Dark contrasting scarlet light.
Thoughts of weaving rainbow threads,
Golden clouds that never end.
It would be amusing to most humans to dream forever and have a voice ever ringing in your mind: You are not dreaming.
Of course, most humans can wake up. Rarely is even a nightmare ever finished, because they are awakened and calmed. But when you can't wake up, and you're too tense to go back to sleep, you're caught in the dream world in between.
In the dream world you can think, sometimes. It isn't difficult; no more so than talking. The thoughts come in random form. When you wake, you gather the thoughts and organize them.
What is challenging is running. Running and screaming. Things that take more energy; they're too hard for most humans. Dream figures can do it easily, but they're not made of the same stuff.
The Dreamer had lived through countless nightmares all the way to their finish. He had learned to find the sense of his thoughts, if there was any to be found. He had even died a few times, mute and paralyzed.
He had never woken.
Once the Dreamer wished he could be a dream figure. The world was a never-ending mist and he couldn't escape. But the dream king refused his request. The Dreamer begged, pleaded and was at last allowed a day as a dream figure. One day as a shape shifting shadow. And, he found, a day to visit others in their dreams.
In a sense, people are more real in their dreams; you see only their mind, not their exterior. Thoughts that are hidden in daylight are more easily accessible. The Dreamer wasn't interested in finding thoughts. He just wanted to find someone familiar - but when he found them, they were beyond dreaming; too deep in sleep and far from the in between.
They were not lost in a dream world.
Dreamer returned to the dream king. Tears burned Dreamer's face as he told him what had passed. The dream king knelt beside him. Gently, he told the Dreamer, "I knew it would be so. Go to your meadow, Dreamer, and wait. Perhaps soon you can be granted a founding, and you won't be caught with us any longer."
So the Dreamer waited.
He may have waited forever …
But Aisling came.
She was wispy, like a dream figure. When he asked her why, she grinned. Her teeth were a cold blast of ethereal white.
"I am a dream figure," she said, flicking back a lock of hair. He never could figure out what color it was, and she never bothered to tell him. "I was once human, but I proved myself dream-worthy."
"Are there others?" He didn't long to be a figure anymore, but the waiting… the constant lost feeling made him sick.
"No." Bored, her gaze wondered, and then her eyes rested on Dreamer again and brightened. "Do you remember before the dream?"
He was in another dream, dark and chilly. It was wet. He couldn't feel it, because he wore a long coat, slick and black to blend in with surroundings. He could see the rain, however, shining on the black pavement.
He wondered if this was someone else's dream. Had the dream king had granted him his wish to be a dream figure? Was he like Aisling; a vision?
No. He remembered this now. He remembered the way he ached from running, the fear that burned his throat and made a bitter taste in his mouth. This was real terror, that of hunted quarry.
They were coming for him. If he didn't keep running they would catch him. He would be frozen again. Cold and numb, his thoughts would slow and time would tick away … he would lose himself in the cold, and this time he might never find himself -
He was tired. He felt as if there was a steel band around his chest, crushing him and restricting his lungs. And his mind was tired from disuse. It made him reckless, and it made him hate. It filled him with a joy at killing, it drove him mad.
He needed quiet.
But the quiet was gone - lost to the footsteps behind him. He fell to the ground in a broken heap as the steel band completed its art. He gasped for the air - such clean air; so beautiful, clear and warm. He loved this air, and if he went back to the freeze, the numbness, he'd never feel this air again. He would be too tired to attempt another escape.
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder, wrenched his bones with a painful grip. His stomach lurched and he stared into the pale face of his captor.
"You done running?"
He sobbed in the air, eyes watery. He wasn't crying. He promised himself he wouldn't. "I'm never done running," he whispered, too quietly for the man to hear. "If I can get away, I'm never done running."
The captor pulled him to his feet by the collar of his coat, joking to the other members of the hunting force, "Sure his machine was running? You'd think he hadn't eaten in years."
A female came forward, remarking dryly, "I'd believe it, too." She turned to another member of the force. "Got his record?"
"Yah. Had five years, tried to run twice. Made another offense. Lifetime sentence …"
He didn't hear the rest. There was a short jab of pain on his neck, and his ears stopped working along with everything else. The last thing he heard was, "Stolen coat."
For a long time, there was vagueness. A few flashes of bright light, snatches of voices - it all faded to black after a moment of pain in his neck.
And then - out of the dark, filling his empty mind, soothing his empty ears - there was music. It eased and stole away the pain. It keened and wailed, closing his mind. It made his eyes close. And the last thing he remembered was the feel of the clothing he wore, the overlarge, soft prison robe.
"Yes," he whispered softly, as an unexpected rain fell. Weather was generally passive in the dream realm, but occasionally someone dreamt a storm. Dreamer basked in the cold, so similar to the rain that had been on the ground …
Aisling spoke. "Before the dream, I was caged. Before the dream, I was nothing, and life went on without me. People dreamed their own dreams. Now …" She paused and smiled as Dreamer tried to shake the rain out of his hair. "I am the dream."
This seemed to please her and sadden her at the same time. Dream figures are known for their shifting moods. She vanished in silver light.
"I'll come back," she promised.
Dreamer gave the figure a parting wave and paced the meadow. He would wait some more. Maybe he would remember, but he didn't think so. Remembering had hurt, and pain can go forever in the dream world without stopping, without mending.
When Aisling returned years might have passed, or maybe minutes. Time is different that way. For figures, it doesn't matter. For a human, it drags. Worse, there is no way to pass it. Books are rare in the dream realm, and they behave oddly. It irked Dreamer, every now and again, that humans couldn't dream of normal books. He was getting tired of dreams, even if the waking dream made him ache with fear and hurt.
The waking dream could end. He'd thought about it more since Aisling had left, and he remembered more. The waking dream - his past self - had been marred. If he could get away somewhere quiet and cool, where there are books to read, where life can simply run its course, where there is silence…
Maybe, there, he could think.
Aisling doesn't think. Aisling has changed. She is more quiet. He wonders how long it's been. Dreamer wondered if Aisling hated her figure form now, if she wanted to wake up too. He asked her while they walked, his exile to the clearing over.
Aisling turned away. Her hair was more solid now; almost a dark brown, wavy and close to her head. Her eyes were becoming permanently blue. Dreamer wondered if all dream figures did that.
"Sometimes," Aisling whispered. Her voice was hoarse. "Sometimes I wish I could wake up and feel the wind. Sometimes I want to wake up and dance in the rain without ever stopping."
Dreamer's listening faded. "Sometimes I wish I could wake up. I want to sleep forever, without ever dreaming again."
Aisling was gone when he looked again.
She came that evening, her glowing light dimmed. She floated to the center of the clearing; her voice was half song. "I want to wake up, Dreamer."
He felt warm tears trickle down his face as he stood beside Aisling. He stared into the figure's glowing blue eyes.
"Wait, Aisling," he whispered. "Wait for me."
And so they sat on the clearing floor and looked at the burning stars of so many minds. They waited. In the darkness of the wood, they could distantly hear music, glimmering on the edge of the air, calling gently.
Stars set into velvet black,
Diamonds scattered from a sack.
Cold as stone and hot as fire,
Burning twisting, truth or liar?
The sea swept up against the shore, calling to Dreamer. He sat in the water with the frigid waves covering his shoulders. Aisling stood by the fire on the sand; at times, her figure would appear to become the fire. She danced under the burning cold stars that hung so close to the shore.
Dreamer ducked under the waves. He opened his eyes to the mild burn of salt. He saw the muddy sand under his feet. Slowly, he took in air. He could breath. A smile creased his face, and he swam, crawling along the sand. He pulled up handfuls of the sludgy stuff, feeling …
His hand touched a hard, smooth surface and brushed away the dirt. It clouded the water, and he waited for it to settle. A tunnel seemed to appear, a hole of light into the ocean floor. Dreamer peered closer and understood; he had found a mirror under the sand. He cleaned away the mud and dug to find the edges; it was a small mirror, lightweight. He held it up and searched for his own face.
A face stared back at him, but it was not his own. It was Aisling. She smiled at him and then turned away. The mirror went dark.
The stars sang that night. Their voices were shrill, bell-like and silver. Dreamer sang softly with the stars, his voice breaking. He couldn't sing in dreams. And he couldn't remember if he'd ever sung.
He slept. Lost in the world of dreamers, he dreamed.
A dream-catcher was suspended over the bed, as if hanging on the air… It swayed in a breeze, and he saw it hung from a string, nailed to the ceiling.
Dreamer opened his eyes, and the scene remained the same. He lay on a raised mat. A cot? There was no blanket. His robe was dark, soft from use; a prison robe, with a rope as a makeshift belt. He sat up, and his bones hurt with the effort. His strength was gone.
An empty rocking chair creaked in the corner.
It was open on three sides, a solid wall to his back. The air tasted old, and fields stretched out where the hardwood floor ended. He could see water in the distance. The ocean, maybe?
Cat-soft footsteps came, and a whispering voice with them. It keened and sang, shaking in his ears.
"You have slept long, Dreamer."
Dreamer's eyes watered with the voice. He had heard it before, he thought. But this wasn't a waking dream. He'd never been here.
A chill wind sprang through the room, if it could be called a room, and ruffled Dreamer's hair. He grimaced when the voice came again.
"Sleep is best, Dreamer … sleep and dreams." The sharp edge to the voice cut like a blade.
Dreamer's ears ached.
Aisling was gone. No, she was in the ocean, still dancing. The water didn't restrict her movements. The fire still burned. The bright orange flames leaped high as if they still danced with her. The fire had a voice too, low and cackling.
Dreamer stared at the sky, at the seven suns that graced the blue bowl. Ahead of him was desert; within lay the Dream King's palace.
Silver sand stretched for days when they began walking. Aisling smiled, and her hair reflected white. Blue grass bent in wind, wind that Dreamer couldn't feel.
They reached the palace at night. The sky was dark, but the suns hadn't set. Stars wavered and the desert night was cold. Dreamer climbed the steep stone stairs with Aisling three steps ahead of him. He climbed forever. When he reached infinity -
A lake, built into blue marble stone. Moonlight shimmered on the surface as Aisling knelt by the water and wept.
Dreamer's eyes slowly closed as the lake turned him to stone.
He woke in a library. Empty shelves glittered into oblivion, and the air hummed with chaos. Dreamer flexed his hand, peering at it. Flesh once more. He rose from the floor, carpeted with moss, and breathed in the air. The chaos eased, and Dreamer stumbled to a table. Two vacant chairs stood on either side. He sat down. A window appeared to his right, revealing a garden outside. The air was still and clean. A sound of purring reached him.
An orange cat took the chair on the other side of the table. It winked a hazel eye at Dreamer before pouring tea from a floral teapot into matching cups seated firmly on saucers. Dreamer breathed in and smelled the tea; some type of herb.
The cat bared its teeth in a grin and offered Dreamer a cup, the cream pitcher, and a small pot of honey. Dreamer took the tea and honey and returned the cream. The cat shrugged and emptied the pitcher into his own cup.
Dreamer watched. The cup didn't overflow.
"Do you like my library?" The cat purred, sipping at the tea-flavored cream. Dreamer wondered absently why he wasn't surprised. He shrugged.
The cat shook with silent laughter. "You haven't often been in libraries, then?" Its eyes flickered blue.
"It's…" Dreamer looked about. The stillness in the air remained. The shelves were neat with books stacked in tidy piles. Box-like tables were arranged so the dream figure - for the cat could be nothing else - could easily reach the upper shelves. "It's peaceful," Dreamer nodded.
The cat took another long sip and nodded its head regally. "It's an old library," he informed Dreamer. "It's been here for ever so long. Ever since Tamir - the dream builder - built it for my grandmother." The cat paused a moment, then continued. "He made the lake, too. It keeps away unwanted visitors."
Pleased with this, the cat was silent for a while, finishing his tea, rumbling with satisfaction. Dreamer drank his own tea, the sweetness of the honey lingering in his mouth.
"You keep statues…?" He trailed off. The cat spluttered.
"Certainly not! They'd clog up the hallways. No. No, no. It wouldn't do. Once they're taken away from the lake, they thaw. Everything buzzes a bit, but they wake up fine." He helped himself to more cream from the pitcher that had previously been empty.
Dreamer waited before his next question. "What happened to Aisling?"
"The dream figure that accompanied you? Right now, she's approaching the lake again… Don't worry, it doesn't work the same with dream figures."
Dreamer was silent.
Aisling sang weeping lullabies of tears that turn to ice. She sat half immersed on the edge of the lake. Her wide blue eyes shone as if she wept still. The lake - there was something wrong with the lake. Footsteps approached. Aisling didn't turn to look. It would be Dreamer. Perhaps he would still made of stone.
"He dreams of you," a voice echoed.
Aisling turned, eyes big with fright. There was no one.
"And when he stops dreaming of you…"
"Go away," she whispered. "Go away and leave me alone."
"There will be nothing left."
"I'm not a dream!" She screamed and pulled herself to her feet, searching in vain for the commander of the voice.
Only laughter could be found, mocking and beautiful.
They left the lake and the cat, with the knowledge that they had yet to find the Dream King's castle. Dreamer walked for days without knowing time was passing; the sky changed, the stars moved at an exaggerated speed.
They walked the desert and found nothing.
Dreamer went to sleep on the sand and woke in his clearing. His head ached. A voice echoed in his head, like music just out of earshot. It didn't stop, and Dreamer felt like screaming at it, making it stop. He would crush the voice, kill it.
When he stood, he faced the Dream King's palace.
He had searched for weeks, months, and here it was - after he'd stopped trying. Anger burned at the back of his mind as he stepped into the king's court.
Nightmares danced along the two walls on either side of him. Before him, after a long blue carpet stood the throne. And Aisling. Aisling stood there, clothed in a blue dress. Her eyes … He could see her eyes from so far away. They were clouded.
He walked down the carpet. The nightmares jeered at him and danced in their cages, slamming against the bars. Their distorted figures were warped and wrong. Dreamer turned away, eyes forward, hoping …
"You are found, Dreamer."
The words hit like a slap in the face. Dreamer stared, bewildered. Was it over? The voice in his head grew in volume to a screech. Dreamer screwed his eyes at the pain. They watered.
"Choose, Dreamer. You can stay forever."
Forever was too long. Aisling …?
"Or you can return." The king's voice seemed to speak in his mind, rather than his ears.
"Aisling," he ground out, the world growing dark at the corners. It hurt. Dreaming hurts. "I can't do it."
"You're waking up, Dreamer."
I can't leave.
Aisling came forward, her eyes streaming. Dreamer reached for her hand and wished. If he could just hold on long enough …
The world went into oblivion. The nightmares danced around him, their screaming loud. A voice; the voice that tortured him.
"You have slept long, Dreamer."
There was music… no, voices. Just one voice. Dreamer opened his eyes, and was hungry.
"And so you awake," the voice said. The song ended. "It's been a long time."
"Who are you?" Dreamer's eyes flickered in all directions.
"I am the one who has the power to make you sleep forever."
Dreamer sat up. His eyes burned. He would break the voice. "It's not sleep," he hissed. "It's nightmares, it's losing…"
Aisling was gone. He'd held her hand, and she was gone. The voice would pay his debts.
"You think," Dreamer continued, "You think you're being kind. They're gone! Everything is gone, and you stole it all!"
The voice came again. "The thief accuses me of theft? I stole nothing, Dreamer. I followed you in your dreams, and I took nothing."
"Aisling." Her loss was like a hole.
"I stole nothing." A pause. "She was Your dream."
He'd wanted a companion - someone who understood. Who dreamed as he did… The mirror. His dream.
"What happened?" he whispered. "Where is everyone? There were thousands, when the music came."
"They're gone, Dreamer." There was no real sympathy in the voice. "They died years ago."
I'm the only one. "You killed them."
"On the contrary. I prolonged their lives."
"In which they never lived." He had to get out. It was all coming back; the arrest, what he'd though of as the waking dream. The ice, the escape … and the escape that would come. It had to come - whether he had to die for it or not.
"They were my friends," he said. "They were all that I had."
"No," the voice whispered. "You had a dream."
They let him live alone, all that he'd wished in his dream. He was given new clothing, adequate to the winter cold. A soft jacket.
Dreamer leaned his head against the window of the transport. His eyes were hot with unshed tears. The Emperor woke him with his song, and now he had emptiness to face. They were gone. All of them.
He hadn't slept since then. It frightened him. His eyes hurt, and he couldn't stay awake.
He closed his eyes and slept, dreaming of the ones who had gone.