The bargain they reached was thus:

The Dreamer had committed sins of untold ugliness and depravity, sins that could not be atoned for because the Dreamer could not regret them. Infernus was the only possibility should the Dreamer die.

It was offered this escape: an eternal dream of light and beauty, populated by beings that were the echoes of the souls the Dreamer had destroyed in one way or another and were thus bound to it. In this place, the Dreamer would be all of them and none of them, with none of its sins and none of its vices. Its body, wasted and twisted but immortal, would be but a vessel.

Naturally, there was another side to the bargain, as there often is. In exchange for this private heaven apart from the blistering embrace of Infernus, the Dreamer agreed that if ever its physica body were destroyed, or if ever it were awakened from within the dream, it would immediately die and go to its just reward. The deal was sealed, and the Dreamer secreted itself in a well-guarded, obscure place of hiding.

And the dream-specters inhabiting its visions? Why, that is us. All of us.

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The Gray Man, He-Who-Walks-Without-Walking. Some say he sustains himself on the fresh-born nightmares of the slumbering. Others that he is a harbinger of ill fortune borne on dark wings of refuse and shadow. But all who see him–faceless, ever-seeking, aloft in his trench coat and once-fashionable hat, are forever scarred by the sight.

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The dreamworm is named not for its physical form–for it has none–but rather for its way of tunneling through the subconscious and drawing its sustenance therefrom.

It’s often held up as an example of an utterly alien form of life, but there is considerable debate if it in fact is alive at all. Much like a virus, the dreamworm seems to exist solely to propagate itself and is entirely parasitic, unable to perform any actions without a host. Some have argued that dreamworms may in fact be using dreams to do more than sustain their reproduction, but because they are so difficult to isolate and study, this remains at best a controversial supposition.

All that’s known for certain is that the dreamworm takes the form of a recurring character or image in the dream of a sapient being. Dreamworms that exist in other animals known to dream, like dogs, have been hypothesized, but as animals cannot communicate their dreams, this presents a number of problems and remains an open question.

The recurring character or image can be anything: a setting, a prop, even a person. The only thing that is known for sure is that the character or image is never something the dreamer knows to exist in waking life. There are similarities, and it is theorized that the dreamworm draws upon existing dream-images and modifies them, but the actual images are always sui generis unique.

Dreamworm reproduction occurs when a sapient being describes the dream to another. This transmission can be verbal or through a medium such as art–anything that makes another sapient think about the image as presented will do. The infected will then begin seeing a dreamworm of their own, typically the same one they were exposed to. Over time, though, the dreamworms do have a tendency to mutuate based ont he usual content of their hosts’ dreams. They have also been known to arise seemingly spontaneously.

This mutable tendency makes classifying dreamworms a nightmare (no pun intended). There seems to be a number of quasi-stable families, and some dreamworms are not known to mutate at all. The Gray Man, for example, is a highly virulent dreamworm that takes the form of a faceless man in mid-century gray business attire. During some of the larger outbreaks, such as the one reported by Army psychologists on Tinian in early 1945, up to 90% of the resident populations were infected by the Gray Man.

Infections can result in loss of sleep, loss of restful sleep, and subtler psychological effects. The dreamworm infestation on Tinian was later blamed for a spate of 13 murders and 29 assaults at the military base there, for instance. Eventually–particularly once they have reproduced–the dreamworms disappear in 1-2 months. Whether this is due to some immune response of the sapient mind or simply the creatures’ natural life cycle is unknown.

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Maria Ramirez, owner and operator of Journeyman Travel Agency LLC, had helped people move all her professional life. Since she started the business in her garage just out of high school to the present day, she’d booked trips to Acapulco and Antarctica, to Zambia and Zanzibar, and all points in between.

But Maria never traveled herself. In all her years, she had left her state only once, for a wedding, and crossed a border only once, for that selfsame wedding. Most of her clients went further afield in their first trip than she had in her entire life.

Maria had a lot of excuses thought up to laugh the issue up when it was raised. She’d seen how ugly the industry could be, from jacked-up prices to stranded travelers, and that ugliness had turned her off ever leaving LA herself. She was prone to motion sickness and was afraid that any flight might make her violently ill, and the trains just didn’t run as far or as fast as they used to. She was waiting until retirement to unleash all her skills in a paroxysm of travel the likes of which few had ever witnessed.

She never told people about the dream, about the flames, about the cries hanging in the frigid air as bodies in motion tumbled, earthbound, end over end.

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In time, the armies of the Remaker arose in the far east. He had learned of the Silent Fortress during a half-finished apprenticeship as a Laconic Guard decades ago, before leaving for the Eastern Wilds (or being exiled thereto, depending on which version of the tale one hears). In the waning days of the Great Dynasty, the Remaker gathered to himself a remarkable number of followers and moved upon the Fortress with intent to take it.

The Remaker’s motives may seem insanity incarnate on the face of things: at the heart of the Silent Fortress lies the Eternal Child, the one who dreams the world into being, and to wake them is to cause the unraveling of the world. That is the very reason for the Silent Fortress and the Laconic Guard who stand vigil over it. Why would anyone, especially a powerful warlord, seek to make war upon it?

An answer can be found in the chaos and destruction of the Great Dynasty, when royal power was fading and the countryside was rent by bandits and brushfire wars. The economy was in shambles, a powerless and insane king held the throne, and the countryside’s many men-at-arms were more preoccupied with putting their choice for Regent on the throne than alleviating the suffering of the masses. It was, as the poet Crusander put it, “a time when the better angels of mankind slumbr’d deeply.”

Against that backdrop, the Remaker offered a powerful millenarian message: by awaking the Eternal Child, the would would be unraveled–but it deserved to be unraveled. A world such as theirs did not deserve survival, and the Eternal Child would soon return to slumber, dreaming a new and more equitable world anew in which all would be happy and healthy and there would be no death and no war.

Several people confronted the Remaker in private audiences, aghast at the audacity of his plan. What if the world was not remade? What if the Eternal Child remained awake forever? What if the new world was worse than the existing, or wholly alien, or did not contain any of the people who had brought about its end?

To these questions, the Remaker’s answer was always the same: “I cannot think of a more unjust world than the one in which we live, so we owe it to ourselves to fight and die for even the ghost of a chance at a better one.”

It was a powerful message, and by the fifth harvest since his rise, the Remaker’s vanguard troops could see the Silent Fortress from their forward positions.

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