Chapter 14 - Dreamer 101
When speaking of the Dream Realm, the words of famed archmage and explorer, Aveenan Millichance, come first to mind: "The Dream Realm is nothing more or less than the way one's mind interprets the unfathomable nature of reality. We close our earthly eyes only to see all that is, all that was, and all that will ever be, cloaked in an unending sunset."
It is a fitting and surprisingly accurate description of the Dream Realm; every town, every city, every landmark that exists in the mainstream is there, floating in the Twilight, the Dream Realm's sky. Floating islands and continents hang in the beautiful hues of a sunset that is truly unending. In the center of it all lies the Solarius, the sun of the Dream Realm. Flying high in the Twilight, the Solarius's warmth and light can be felt and seen across the Dream Realm.
Somewhere within the Twilight floats a single island with a single oak tree. The island itself isn't very big; maybe thirty feet in diameter, most of which is covered with grass that waved slightly in the slightly cool wind of the Twilight. Beneath the tree, One slowly opened his eyes and stared at the waving branches for a moment before rising to his feet.
"It never gets old." He said as he stood at the edge of the island, taking in the view. A large continent covered with blue trees was floating not too far from his island, a massive tower of ivory and obsidian jutting both above and below the trees and dirt. Another small island, this one adorned with a lighthouse, floated quite near his. He waved at the small mouse-eared girl sitting on the island's edge, her feet dangling in the air. She waved back with a shy smile.
She was a nixil. Nixils are native to the Dream Realm, and are an integral part to dreaming. When a dream-capable being first dreams, a nixil is born in the Dream Realm. It is through this nixil's eyes that the dream-capable being sees the Dream Realm. The nixil is only a wisp at first, but as the connected dream-capable being grows, so does the nixil. The interpretation of the changes on the nixil side are widely debated among Dreamers, nixils, and Sleepers like Millichance who gain enough realization to explore the Dream Realm.
One watched the lighthouse for a few moments before shaking his head. "I'd better get moving."
Without further preamble, he jumped off the side of the island. As he tumbled through the sky, he emptied his mind of everything except thoughts of the open Twilight all around him. It beckoned him to explore, to see all that there was to see. With that, he was no longer falling; he was flying. A thread of light shone from the tip of his ponytail, slowly swirling around his body in an unending spiral as the Dreamer soared through the Twilight toward the distant Solarius.
Manifestation is the most basic of Dreamer abilities, one that most Dreamers figure out on their own, regardless of whether or not they are part of the Elsewhere. While in the Dream Realm, there is an inherent energy present in emotion: it is collected and used as currency by nixils and the other beings that inhabit the Dream Realm, and can be used as raw building materials when properly refined. In its purest form, however, this energy can manifest in such a way to allow those skilled with such things to accomplish all manner of feats, such as the ability to fly. While the appearance of each emotion's manifestation varies according to the individual, the result is generally the same.
One flew through the Twilight unhindered; while even the Dream Realm has its share of dark beings and nasties, none would be stupid enough to assault a Dreamer without a considerable amount of forethought beforehand. Without the mainstream's limitations, a Dreamer's power while in the Dream Realm is not something to be taken lightly.
His path took him over Bridges; it wasn't the dilapidated city that Mikaen knew, however. Rather, it appeared as it did before the Devastation. One flew a few rings around the water tower before continuing along his way, several young nixils cheering as he zoomed by.
That was the way of the Dream Realm; bits of the mainstream existed there in an unusual state of temporal flux. To put it simply, people see the Dream Realm analogs of mainstream locations as they best remember them. Mikaen only knew of the city torn in half by the Rip, whereas One saw the city as the suburban town it was in his youth. Time was of no consequence; there were no doubt nixils who would see the town as it would be in the future.
The Dream Realm isn't only bits of the Mainstream, however; the nixils have built many a fine city for their own use. The grandest of all was Etheria, built beneath the Solarius in what is considered the center of the Dream Realm. The city itself is massive, easily bigger than the entire continent of Ircandesta and Ronisgald combined. The architecture ranges from mundane to fantastic, sometimes even to impossible. In the center of Etheria is a massive spire, known as Junction Point. The spire shares a special place in Dream Realm lore, as Junction Point's creation was intertwined with that of the Solarius.
There is a tranquil park at the very top of Junction point. Streams of water run from the fountain in the center of the park, flowing across the grassy meadow like the spokes of a wheel. Several trees grow there, leaves glowing from constant exposure to the Solarius above. The fountain contains thirteen statues, each modeled after a famous dreamlander who represented a sign of the Dream Realm's zodiac. Their tale is a fascinating one, but has little to do with this particular story.
When Narrator Number One landed near the fountain, where Nixil the nixil was waiting. Nixil was One's nixil, and was a bit of an oddity as well; typically, nixils reach maturity at the same time as their corresponding dream-capable being, at which point the nixil will begin to grow and develop independently (typically gaining more humanoid traits).
It is a bit different with the Dreamers. When a Dreamer becomes a Dreamer, the connection with the nixil is cut. For the most part, this isn't a problem; most Dreamers only became so after reaching maturity, which left their nixils able to mature into humanoid forms as normal. One, however, had been only fifteen years old when he first became a Dreamer. As a result, Nixil was essentially left as a furry blue ball with comically over-sized feathered wings, two bird-like claws on his bottom, two surprisingly normal looking eyes, and three multicolored tentacles protruding from the top of his head.
"Hi, Nixil!" One said cheerily as Nixil flew toward him.
Nixil glared at One with surprising intensity for a flying blue ball. "Hello yourself, you lazy bum."
"Someone's a bit grumpy today. Do you need a hug?"
Nixil's eyes narrowed into thin slits of annoyance. "Kiss my ass, One."
One scratched his head, saying condescendingly, "Now there's a thought. Do you even have an ass?"
This was generally how One and Nixil interacted. Nixil blamed One for his condition, and did his best to make the Dreamer feel as guilty as possible at every possible opportunity.
Nixil clamped his vise-like claws onto One's shoulder and 'accidentally' thwacked One in the head with a large white-feathered wing.
Settling onto his new perch, Nixil asked haughtily, "So what brings Mister Big-shot Dreamer to Junction Point? Come to smell the roses? Well, I'd join you, but someone never bothered dreaming me up a nose!"
One ignored him. He had originally felt sorry for his stranded nixil, but after years of verbal abuse, he had learned that sympathy only made Nixil more irritable.
"We're training a new Dreamer today. Have you seen his nixil around here, by any chance?"
Nixil pressed a tentacle against his head in a vain attempt to look tortured. "The other nixils tell the newbies to stay away from me. Afraid that maybe they'll turn out wrong too, no doubt."
Shaking his head, One walked to the fountain and basked in the warmth radiating from the Solarius above. He relishing the feel of the focused dream energy infusing his entire body; it was like getting all the pleasant warmth from a thousand summer days all at once.
Nixil enjoyed the feeling as well, much in the same way a cat enjoys lying in a patch of sunlight, only much stranger-looking.
Hearing a loud cough, One reluctantly stepped away from the fountain.
Two and Wong were waiting for him, their nixils waiting close by. Zilch, a weasel that had recently achieved a slightly humanoid form (and a very snippy attitude) stood beside Wong's Nixil, a large chicken with disproportionately large wings. Much like Two, Zilch had a distinctly annoyed look on his face.
"Hey Two. Hey Wong. Hey Zilch." One patted Two's nixil on the shoulder. "Have any trouble getting here?"
Zilch snorted and looked pointedly away from Wong. Two opened his mouth to say something, but One beat him to it.
"No? Good." Clapping his hands together, he continued, "Now let's get started. Wong?"
Wong snapped to attention and saluted.
"At ease, soldier," One laughed, "We're just going to practice some very basic Dreamer abilities. We're doing it here so we don't have to worry about using too much dream energy."
Wong cocked his head questioningly.
Taking a deep breath, One said, "Right. Let's start with the basics. We are Dreamers."
Wong raised his hand, saying, "Ooh! Mister One! Should I be taking notes?"
One had to try hard to not glare at him. "Now, our powers as Dreamers come from where we are now standing, or more precisely, what's above us."
As everyone looked up, One said, "That crystal is known as the Solarius. Just like suns support life on planets in solar systems, the Solarius is what allows the Dream Realm to exist separately from the mainstream. When a dream-capable being dreams, he, she, or it creates a small quantity of Dream energy, which is channeled through the Solarius. The Solarius sends that energy across the Dream Realm, where it helps nixils grow and evolve, helps expand the Dream Realm, and most importantly gives us the ability to mess around in the mainstream … that is, the mainstream reality that norms live in."
"Now, we can access the energy while we're in mainstream reality, but the more we use, the more strained the barrier between the mainstream and the Dream Realm becomes. The more you use in an area, the harder it is to play around with reality. However, while we are in the Dream Realm, our power can never run out. Dream energy saturates the air, replacing any that we use. That's why I thought it'd be best to train you here."
Wong bowed his head respectfully. "I'm prepared to learn way of the Dreamer, sensei!"
Smirking, One said, "We'll start simple. Now, you don't need to use your rune hand, the hand with the Anti-ka Maru imprinted on it, to do any of what I'm going to teach you. Still, feel free to do so if it makes you feel better. Now I'm guessing you've already figured out how to manifest your emotions."
"Yup!" Wong held out his hand. With a flash of light, he summoned a glowing beam of energy that took an a shape presumably of some significance to him.
"A rubber chicken?" One raised an eyebrow at the young Dreamer. "That's your Defiance?"
"Yup!" He took a few swings with the dream weapon, the rubber form of the chicken flopping in a very unintimidating way.
Shaking his head, One said, "Fair enough, I suppose. I hear Alan's is a pickaxe. Okay, if you've got that, let's move on. Now watch this."
One held out a hand and created a baseball in his outstretched palm.
"Basic creation," he said, tossing the ball to Wong, "Making something out of nothing. The very idea drives scientists bonkers, but conventional logic has never had much to do with the Dream Realm. All you have to do is focus on what you want to appear and imagine it in your hand. Give it a try."
Wong closed his eyes, and screwed up his forehead. One and Two dove aside just in time to avoid the sudden deluge of baseballs that fell out of the sky.
As Wong poked his head out of the pile, One said, "Okay, you concentrated just a little too hard just then, but good job nonetheless. Anyway, to make 'em disappear, imagine that they're gone."
With a loud 'smack', the balls went flying out of Junction Point in all directions. A few moments later, a chorus of angry shouts came from the city below.
One winced. Glancing at Two's nixil, he asked, "Zilch, would you mind?"
"Sure, man. Zilch ran over to the nearest wall and hopped up on the ledge.
"Sorry!" he shouted, leaning so far over it was a wonder he didn't fall, "New Dreamer!"
Despite the distance, One could just make out someone shouting back something vaguely derisive.
"What?!" Zilch retorted angrily, "You come up here and say that!"
Another vaguely insulting reply came from below. His furry face quite red, Zilch shouted, "You just wait right there!"
Without another word, Zilch leapt over the side of the wall.
One looked over at Two. "He's certainly got spunk."
"A bit plucky, I know, but he can handle himself, trust me." Two shook his head, "Just like me when I was a kid."
Shaking his head, One walked back to Wong. "Okay, new exercise; this time, you make something appear."
"Something?" Wong asked innocently.
One shrugged. "Anything. Make something you want."
Wong held out his hand. After a moment, a single white egg appeared in his hand. Apparently he had some practice at using his Dreamer abilities before being picked up by the Elsewhere Incorporate, much as One had during that business with the Sorceress Ackibar and Teria.
One held a hand to his head, a small ache building as part of another memory resurfaced. It wasn't much, just the knowledge that the necklace and ring had come from the Sorceress Ackibar. The name was familiar in more ways than one; One and Elduran had faced a mage named Ackibar back when Elduran was just on the cusp of adulthood. Still, One was pretty sure it wasn't the same one, given what had happened to Ackibar in the end.
Two nudged One, asking, "Memory surge still buggin' you?"
"I'm fine." One told him. "It's just a little headache, that's all."
Wong held up his egg, saying with obvious glee, "Look! Look! Look! I wanted it, and it appeared, just like magic!"
Two rolled his eyes. "Ooh, an egg. How useful. Just what do you plan to do with that, anyway?"
Without a moment's hesitation, Wong smashed the egg against Two's head. A cloud of confetti burst forth from the egg, spreading across the whole of Junction Point like a big, colorful cloud.
As the confetti began to settle, One was able to make out two shapes struggling. It took a minute or two, but One managed to pry Two's hands from Wong's throat.
No worse for the wear, Wong straightened his shirt and brushed some of the confetti from his pants before looking at One expectantly.
With a wave of One's hand, the confetti vanished from the square. He didn't want to say it in front of Two, but he was rather impressed with the level of control Wong had displayed so far.
"There," One said, dusting off his hands, "Now the next most important skill for a Dreamer is teleportation. To teleport, you just need to choose a focal point; a person, object, or specific place. Just remember; it can be a bit wonky sometime. Crossing realms is kinda tricky, so let's stick to the Dream Realm for now, okay?"
"I'm ready!" Wong said, hopping from foot to foot excitedly.
One nodded. "Good. Tag, you're it!"
With that, the world around One shifted to Bryenton Street, a somewhat shaded neighborhood not too far from Junction Point. One kept a house there, modeled after his home before the Devastation. The suburban home looked oddly mundane between the three-story shell house and the plot of giant mushrooms, but that just made One like his Dream Realm residence all the more.
A plaque by the front door read: "409 Bryenton Street, The Cherry House". One ran his finger along the top idly, as though inspecting it for dust. He hadn't had much opportunity to use the residence of late, though truthfully he only kept the place for the memory. After hundreds of years, his memories of Earth before the Devastation were a bit spotty.
Wong came stumbling out of a nearby bush, Two following suite moments later.
"Nice job." One said, applauding the young Dreamer's success. "And just so you don't think distance figures into this ..."
One had to admit that the next few hours were quite fun. From the citadel of Paena to the middle of the wind-swept Wanderlands, to the very heart of Sanctus (where a group of solicien scientists were very startled by the appearance of not one but three Dreamers), Wong managed to find One every time, though not always at once. That too was an important lesson; just because a person or object is your focus doesn't mean that the teleporting Dreamer would appear right next to them.
In each location, One told Wong more of the Dream Realm. Wong paid rapt attention as One told him of the lingering distrust between the solicien and the nocturi, and of the formation of the Shining Force. He was quite inquisitive regarding the Shining Force, particularly regarding the Circle of Twelve, a group of nixils widely regarded as the most powerful in the Dream Realm. He even clapped with delight after hearing the tale of Wander, a scarecrow who according to legend saved the Dream Realm from the Nightmare Terael.
They ended by returning to Junction Point. By that point, everyone including Wong was fatigued. Even his chicken seemed a bit winded; its feathers were drooping down all over.
Clapping his hands, One said, "Okay, good job Wong. There's more to learn, of course, but you've made a good start. Go get some real sleep, and meet me and Two at the Lobby tomorrow morning, and I'll show you some tips on the whole assignment thing."
Wong nodded sleepily and floated away into the sky on a puffy-white cloud, his chicken resting at his feet.
Two watched as his student flew away into the sky. "Thanks, One. You're a pretty good teacher, you know that?"
"Thanks … I think."
Laughing, Two patted One on the back. "Well, I'd better go check on Zilch. I'll see you tomorrow, buddy."
As Two flew away, One turned back to the fountain. Without the others to distract him, his thoughts returned to his recently returned memories.
"Ackibar, Ackibar." he muttered to himself.
Something about the name seemed strange. The Ackibar from the memory wasn't the same one he had encountered in Longshore, he was sure of it. Still, there was something, some connection he couldn't quite figure out.
The Ackibar he did remember had been a petty mage trying to trap a demon to gain more power. He had kidnapped several young women for sacrificial purposes, including Killer Katy. That was where One had come in; he, Elduran, and the current Cygros of Ircandesta had quite the adventure rescuing the ladies.
To be fair, it was Ackibar's presumption that the ladies were virgins that led to his downfall. It was an odd twist of fate that left One and the others only capable of watching as the demon dragged Ackibar back to whatever nether dimension it called home.
"Hey! Are you listening to me?"
One looked at Nixil for a moment before his brain could process what his nixil had said. "Oh, sorry ... you were saying something"
"Yes, I was! I know you're a Dreamer, but would it kill you to focus a little?"
"Sorry; I had a memory surge earlier."
"I know." Nixil shuddered. "Nasty bit of business."
"You're telling me. I'm still sorting it out. Anyway, you needed something?"
"Just wanted to talk about the new kid. He's got promise." Nixil paused a moment and added, "A bit on the weird side, though. Are you going to tell Two about that patch of pink hair Wong put on the back of his head?"
One snorted. "I'm sure he'll figure it out. As for being weird, you're hardly one to talk."
Nixil's curses followed One into the sky as the Dreamer flew back to his floating island. One curled up beside the tree and watched the clouds and continents float by his island until he fell into the blissful silence of dreamless sleep.