Posted on Tue Mar 21 2017 -- the-wake
"What's your story?"
I've traveled to mountain keeps and plains cities. That's often the first question I hear, no matter where I go. The locals want to know about my dreams. Dreams are our weapon and armor, or power and strength.
The sad truth is that I travel because my dreams are nothing special. I want to see sights and wonders that spark my imagination. I want to experience things and meet people that will live forever in my memory. I fill the hollow void of my heart with color and music, then move on before the the taste of joy turns to ash in my mouth. If my dreams were worth anything, I'd stay home and sell them to the local Dropsmith.
Sometimes, though, a memory stays with me.
The town was called Oden Eminence. It sat atop one of a series of low forested hills, looking across a valley with an unusual geology. I've seen caves, and recognize stalagmites and stalactites. Imagine tearing the top half of a cave off and tossing it away, and you'll understand something of what I saw in the valley. The Odenites would spend their days harvesting limestone, mapping the valley's lava tunnels, and chopping wood to keep the forges burning. Their main export was lime concrete for construction.
Peoples' familiar animals were all utilitarian: riding animals, beasts of burden, forest hunters, and the like. They say that the familiar you get is a reflection of your nature, and if so the Odenites were a practical but boring group. Their fused hybrid forms stood a good seven or eight feet to my five, and my neck got sore from looking up so often.
I told my story when I entered the gates, and showed the good folk the wares I'd brought with me in trade. My bag was packed with medicines, herbal cuttings and seeds, prismatically colored powders, unctions and elixirs, and weird chemical concoctions harvested from floral abstracts in the Wake. I bought seven days of food and shelter from the local tavern, plus two dream drops: one unknown, the other simply labeled "Guardian". I shrugged and pocketed them.
When I told them of my military experience, the Odenites glanced at each other. Abstracts had been raiding the village recently, they said. What were they like, I asked? Big, ugly things, the villagers said. No two descriptions agreed. There were a few people wounded, so my medicine was immediately useful. One villager's familiar had sacrificed itself to save his life, so he was being treated for shock and would need to repeat the binding ritual soon. The current situation demanded that everyone be fully functional. A human without a familiar was dead weight.
I set out to the spot the Odenites had shown me on their maps. I was armed with bow, spear, and a pair of crimson crystal knives that fed on blood and expanded into the wound when they stabbed somebody. Immediately lethal, but you could only use them once. I spotted a small pack of abstracts — five individuals, down to two with a few well-placed arrows. The survivors screamed and bellowed and thumped their hairy chests. A dozen more rose out of the ground on all sides of me. I tried to run, but they boxed me in.
In desperation I fished out the "Guardian" dream drop and swallowed it dry, feeling for its power. The familiar bolt of white light lanced down from the sky to strike me, then arced away a dozen feet to strike the earth. Where it hit, a man rose out of the ground. He looked like a veteran soldier, with graying hair and a warm smile. I knew him, though he wasn't any living or dead person I'd ever met. It was Dad, the Father, the dream-conjured archetype of one's protective and loving parent.
Dad looked at me with love in his eyes, and compassion, and steady assurance. He was telling me that things were going to be okay. I'm not going to let you down, my child. We'll do this together. I knew the words without hearing them.
Dad strode purposefully, decisively, toward the biggest group of abstracts, arms out in a grappling position. They lunged, and he caught one in a headlock and threw it back at the others. They fell, but the others closed ranks. The creatures were indeed a motley bunch. Unfinished, incoherent, the product of dreams brought to life by the Wake. The Guardian drop might not be enough. I readied my spear and went to work, fighting grimly and proudly beside Dad. He would grab, and I would stab.
I returned to Oden Eminence after dark. My spear was broken, and my arrows were exhausted. Both crystal knives had found their marks. Dad had long since faded back into a memory. He had admirably acquitted himself. I had great respect for whoever had dreamed up such a potent guardian. I was alone, and limping, but victorious. I thought. I crossed the gate and made it as far as the well before collapsing from exhaustion.
A few surviving abstracts had tailed me back to the village. As they came loping through the gate, claws and fangs bared, I froze. I felt fear, and horror, and shame that I'd led these things back here. I could do nothing.
"Hey stranger!" The voice unlocked my heart, made me turn, seek the source amidst the confused screams of villagers. It was a pair of kids. They were holding up a tree branch, the twigs and leaves stripped away, and motioning at me. "Take it! It's the Legendary Sword!"
One of the kids hurled the stick at me. I remember looking down at my hand, seeing it grasping one end of the branch, and not recalling how or when I'd actually caught it. But I looked back at the abstracts — the biggest, meanest survivors of a tribe of monsters — and remembered that the Wake surges most strongly in the strongest of them. Maybe it would work.
I pounded down the hill, screaming a battle cry to get their attention. Plus, their fellows' blood was still on me, maybe they could see or scent it. Whatever it was, it worked. They charged at me.
I nimbly slid under one roughly muscled arm and plunged the stick at the creature's skin. Ordinary wood, if sharpened to enough of a point, might go through ordinary skin. This leathery hide had been enough to deflect my arrows and break my spear. I had nothing but my skill at arms and faith in a pair of children and their toy.
The branch went a foot and a half deep. I could feel the Wake surging, swirling, responding. What I pulled out wasn't wood, but a jewel-encrusted steel blade, shining with its own inner light. The Legendary Sword lived up to its name.
The abstracts were throwing themselves at me, but the Sword was their equal. Blood sprayed and severed limbs fell. The guttural grunts of anger were replaced by howls of pain. Single-handedly I slew the last of the abstracts, and the Odenites gathered around me to catch me as I collapsed in the aftermath.
I woke up the next afternoon in my room at the inn. The village elders were called, and they stumbled inside to offer effusive thanks. They praised my skill at arms and determination, and I smiled weakly.
"Is there anything we can do for you?" one asked. "Yeah," I responded. "Bring those two kids in here."
The children duly reported to my bedside, and I tousled their hair. Still too young to have full-time familiars, both were fully human. I asked about the Guardian, and the older one nodded. "That was our dad, from before he died. I hope… I hope he could help you." Oh, you blessed child, he did indeed.
They spent the next hour telling me about him. They spent three hours after that regaling me with the adventures of the Legendary Sword, and how they'd wielded it in their imaginations to avenge their father. They spoke of a Secret Society in the cave system in the valley, of winged riders and conspiracies with turban-wearing potentates in faraway lands. They told of a gigantic stone hand thrusting itself through the ground to grasp at the heavens themselves. All dreams and fantasy, to be sure, but dreams had very recently saved my life. I wanted to hear more.
I left Oden Eminence two weeks later, with a stock of fresh dream drops in my pack. The Legendary Sword is sheathed on my back. The kids let me keep it: "it belongs to Dad, and he's your ally now". Behind me, the village hums along, safe and secure. The Wake has long since subsided in the region. There'll be no more abstracts to trouble the village, at least for awhile.
My dreams are nothing special. But I can fight, and I can have faith in the dreams of others. Somewhere, there are people that need me. And when I find them, I'll ask them:
"What's your story?"