Where All Roads Lead

Into the Dreaming

May 24th, 2023
A large empty room had been prepared for the ritual. They had found a location closer to the residential parts of the city, where the supposed mara struck most often. Tall windows rose to the ceiling along one wall, long drapes pulled shut over them to keep out the bright moonlight, casting the room into darkness.Sybilla was working in the center of the room, and had been preparing it for several hours under the watchful eyes of Elisa and her creator Renard Aestling. Aurelio had only just arrived.

“Has she done anything suspicious?” Aurelio asked Renard as he stepped inside, Sybilla walking a slow path around her ritual circle, chanting under her breath.

“Can’t say this kind of magic is my forte” Renard said, leaning on his cane as they watched from the doorway “Albion’s better about anti-magic spells, but she hasn’t tried to curse us yet.”

“Small favors” Aurelio muttered, arms crossed over his chest.

“Nervous?” Renard asked.

“Why should I be?”

“Oneiromancy is tricky stuff” Renard said “And Elisa can’t dream, so it’s just going to be you and the witch in there.”

“I can handle myself” Aurelio frowned, even as he dreaded the prospect.

“You say that” Renard only smirked at his clear distaste “And it’s true out here. But in the dream? That’s her turf.”

“Well, not like I have much of a choice.”

“Nope” Renard smiled “You’re going in there whether you like it or not, huntsman. Though I can’t say I’m not a little envious.”

“Envious? Really?” Aurelio asked dryly.

“When people say they spent a dream with a hot witch, they’re not often this literal.”

Aurelio just shot him a nasty look, to which Renard responded with a broad grin as Aurelio left him to go stand closer to Sybilla and watch her work.

He examined the ritual circle she had drawn, it lacked the smooth lines, sharp angles, and old runes of magic circles the other mages had come to acquaint him with. It was merely a circle drawn in chalk, and one drawn crudely by hand at that, surrounded by four standing braziers burning some northern spice or incense he couldn’t identify. She was still chanting, taking slow deliberate steps around the perimeter, hands raised to chest –level with her palms facing upwards.

He knew better than to try and stop her now. Even if he didn’t trust her, interrupting a magic ritual was the height of foolishness. She might, after all, be calling upon some great and terrible power, and by stopping her now he could call its wrath down on all of them.

So he waited, arms folded over his chest and bow slung over his shoulder as stood silentl until she finished. When her chanting ceased, she turned to look at him, still walking her ponderous circuit, her hands now sliding in quick wave-like motions through the heavy smoke of the braziers.

“Good to see you came, huntsman.” She smiled at him, an expression he did not reciprocate.

“So what’s the process?” Aurelio asked “How are we going in?”

“It’s not too difficult” Sybilla said. “The two of us enter a dream, then I guide us out of that and into the dreams of others to track the Mara. The hard part is really getting both of us to share a dream, that’s what the circle is for.”

Aurelio’s mind rebelled at the thought of sharing a dream with the Witchbreed, but he swallowed it and his pride for the time being. “How do we track the Mara if it only strikes one person per night?”

“The same way one stalks a tiger through the jungle” Sybilla said “It might only attack once, but the dreaming is its habitat, and it moves through it like a predator. It will leave a trail for us to follow, the creeping touch of nightmare wherever it has tread.”

“If it leaves a trail” Aurelio said “Then I can hunt it, why do I need you”

“Because while the metaphor was apt” Sybilla said “This is not a tiger, and the dreaming is not a jungle. You do not know how to move between dreams with any semblance of skill. You will need me to guide you, but those hunting skills should come in handy when we finally find the thing.”

“Fine” Aurelio said sourly “When do we start?”

“As soon as you’re ready.” Sybilla said. Aurelio took a deep breath, looking at Renard and Elisa, nodding solemnly to them, and turning back to Sybilla.

“I’m ready.”

“Excellent” She said “Now sit down inside the circle, across from me.

Together they both sat down within the small chalk circle. Sitting cross-legged, there was barely enough room for them both, sitting almost knee to knee, and Sybilla needing to pull her long cape into the edges of the circle.

Here, closer to the floor, the smoke from the brazier seemed to have wafted downwards rather than rise up. The air was a thick haze of incense and other unidentifiable scents that seemed to surround him and cloud his mind.

“Sleep” Sybilla said softly “You can’t enter the Dreaming while awake.”

Even as his body fought off the influence, not wanting to make himself vulnerable so close to his enemy, the heavy scents in the air and whatever magical influence she was exerting swiftly took hold of him. His head began to bow inch by inch, and his eyelids grew heavy with each passing moment.

He wasn’t sure when the world slipped away, but it felt like only mere moments before he was standing alone in a field empty save for a dense and endless fog.

“Took you plenty long enough.” Sybilla’s voice echoed through the fog as she appeared from the darkness. She was somewhat different in appearance, altogether grander in the dream than she had been outside of it. The shadows of her cape and clothes were darker, her eyes brighter, her hair and jewelry shone with a particular sheen even in the fog and shadows. It made Aurelio wonder if he looked any different.

“So this is a dream?” Aurelio asked, looking around.

“That’s right.” Sybilla nodded.

“Seems a little…vague.” Aurelio said “Nothing but fog.”

“The scents you inhaled were meant to induce lucid dreaming so you’re more self-aware, and because both of our minds are sharing dream, neither of us has tried to exert too much control over the environment. Think of it as…a program that’s having difficulty loading. But the important thing is that it makes an ideal staging ground for dreamwalking.”

“So none of this is real?” Aurelio looked around, then down at his own hands.

“Not in a way you’d find meaningful” Sybilla shrugged “Though I will warn you, when it comes to the Mara, a dream can very much kill you.”

Aurelio was distracted by the dream, he imagined the fog lifting, and at his thought alone it seemed to disperse revealing soft green grass beneath, just as he had imagined it. Sybilla frowned, and with a look the fog returned.

“What did you do that for?” He asked, rounding on her.

“This isn’t your dream, huntsman, it’s ours.” She said “Exert too much control and you’ll kick me out. Then while I’m sure you’ll have fun alone in your little lucid dream, the Mara will have attacked someone else.”

“Fine” Aurelio frowned. “So how do we leave this dream?”

“Normally I’d need a hook of some kind, an anchor I could follow to another dream. In this case we don’t have one, so we’re going to have to travel a bit of a rougher road.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, concern growing.

“I’ll need to open a portal into the Untempered Dream…think of people’s dreams as little oases amidst a storm. In reality its just zones of unconscious influence in the gestalt human subconscious…but the storm metaphor is easier. We’re going to need to forge a path through the storm.”

“I’ll take your word for it” Aurelio said “I don’t need to know how it works, just that it does.”

“Of that, I can assure you” She said, and turned her attention away from him to focus herself. Within moments, where there had been only a fog a tall arched gate began to take form, the mist condensing into stone and wood as it took form. Soon, a thick wooden door stood alone in the fog.

“That’s our way out?” Aurelio asked.

“It is indeed.” Sybilla nodded, and she offered him a hand.

Aurelio refused, but she grabbed his wrist instead as she pulled him to the door.

“Hey-“ he began, but she cut him off .

“You don’t know where you’re going, so you’ll need a guide. If you get lost between dreams you’re not coming back, so stop behaving like a child and I’ll stop treating you like one.”

Aurelio’s face burned as he walked with her to the gate, pulling his hand out of grip before gingerly taking her hand.

Sybilla pushed open the wooden door with a groan, and they were met with a burst of wind from beyond it, the door opening into a twisting chaotic miasma rather than the fog on the other side.

“Close your eyes” Sybilla said as she began to pull him through.

“Why?” he stammered as the wind whipped at the pair of them.

“Because if you don’t you’ll throw up. Don’t worry, it’ll just take a moment.”

Aurelio hated being led like this, but he decided to briefly swallow his pride and shut his eyes as he was led inside.

A whirlwind whipped at him from all directions, buffeting him on all sides as it threatened to tear him away from Sybilla’s grasp. To her credit, the witchbreed kept an iron grip on his hand as she led him with confidence through the storm. The ground was hard and smooth beneath his feet, and he found it difficult to keep his balance against the wind with what little traction it provided.

When his confidence began to return, he cautiously opened one eye and looked at his surroundings, a decision he regretted almost instantly.

There was no ground beneath him, or anything else around. There was only an infinite expanse of warping color and flashing lights, a storm of chaos without beginning or end, soundless save for the whipping wind and formless save for Aurelio and Sybilla before him. It was a dizzying moment, causing him almost to lose his breath and his balance as his mind screamed for a horizon, anything by which to orient himself, his sense of balance completely lost.

He shut his eyes again against the chaos, trying to use the solidness beneath his feet to orient himself again, even as it slowed him down. He thought he heard Sybilla say something, but couldn’t hear it over the howling of the wind. His sense of tiem was all but lost to him as he walked, and just as he began to wonder when it would end or even if it ever would, the wind suddenly died away, replaced with the sound of a closing door.

“You can open your eyes now.” Sybilla’s voice came as she pulled her hand from his.

Aurelio’s eyes opened just as he breathed in the cold winter air. They were standing in a street, lit by old-style electric streetlights, and they stood behind the closed front door of someone’s home. Inside, visible through the clear window, was a family sitting down for dinner.

“Who are they?” Aurelio asked, seeing a husband, wife, and two children all having what looked like an enjoyable Christmas dinner by the decorations and weather.

“One of them is the owner of this dream.” Sybilla said. He looked at her, then did a double-take. She had changed from her somewhat sheer sorceress clothes into a long black cloak with a mantle of fur around her shoulders. With a shiver Aurelio realized how cold he was. He tried to will gloves onto his hands, but nothing happened.

“How did you do that?”He asked, looking at her.

“This?” She asked, glancing at her cloak “It’s easy. Don’t think about gloves, think of the memories of the time you wore gloves, imagine the warmth of them on your hands.

It took a few minutes, and it was difficult for Aurelio to imagine warmth in the cold air, but he finally managed to get his own somewhat patchy and worn gloves and coat over himself.

“We won’t be here for long” Sybilla said “But it’s a useful skill to have.”

“Where to next? Aurelio asked.

“From here we can enter other dreams more easily” Sybilla said “This dream can lead us to others via its characteristics. From here we can find dreams about family, winter, or Christmas without too much trouble. So we just need to be quick on our feet, traveling from dream to dream, until we find our trail.”

“And how do we find the trail?” Aurelio asked as Sybilla started off down the street.

“By finding a nightmare” The witch said with a grin.

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=27&sl=814

One thought on “Where All Roads Lead

  1. Pingback: Where All Roads Lead | The Cities Eternal

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