Dreaming in the Real
David has been wandering for some time, a few months after his split from the NeverAfter, exactly is hard to say. The war screwed with the weather and it can be hard to tell the seasons anymore. For the last several days David is aware someone has been tracking him, he would get glimpses from a distance, male, probably human; but never there when you try to switch back on him.
After three days of this David comes over a rise to see the man in a small campsite. It’s well set up and the equipment is well made and in good condition, so whoever he is he’s connected. Now that you can see him close up you can see he’s shorter, mabey 5’8”, blond and slightly built if solid enough to demonstrate he hasn’t lived in luxury.
He waits patiently for you, you suspect he has been waiting for you. He has no visible arms and does not appear to be positioned to be aggressive, in fact by remaining seated as you approach he has given you physical advantage, although that might mean little if he were a strong sorcerer.
Once it is obvious you have noticed him, he shouts to you. “I apologize for the earlier survalience, I had to be sure it was you. I would be honored if you would share my camp, I have news that is of interest to you. My name is Delwin.”
David took an uncomfortable long time to speak, but just stood there looking around. Judging by the clothes this man could not possibly have been from around these parts. David had the best of all clothes, given to him by his followers, and yet these cloths seemed to pale in comparison to the outsider.
But more importantly, no man has ever tracked David. Non that lived at any rate. This man was not normal, and perhaps this had been the clue that David had been searching for all this time. David slowly removed the scarf from his face, so that his lips could be exposed.
David made a mental note that this man may be slightly too far away to steal his soul.
“They call me David.”“Yes, David…. I remember.” He pauses a moment. His voice and movements are deliberate and slow, the way you might act if you were approaching a wild animal. “There is no easy way to say this, so I will be simple. I am here on behalf of your father’s family. Not the man who raised you, he was not your biological father, your sire.” He pauses a moment, visible weighting what to say “I mean no disrespect to the man who raised you, he choose to accept your mother’s Destiny and did well to guide you through all that has happened in this place. But you of all people should understand that there is what there is, and there is what we would like to be. I am here to tell you what is, and to give you the option of choice.”
“You know…there isn’t much that is surprising out in the wastes. But I find that comforting I suppose. We learn to live with very little here, and we have come to accept the natural cycle of things. Not because we want to say goodbye to these things, but because we simply have no other choice. If what you are saying is true, then does my true father still live? And if so, why did he choose to abandon me…”
David raised a hand. “Never mind that last question. We all have abandoned someone. So then…did my father send you?”
Delwin pauses, seemingly a bit at a loss for words “No, he; ah, this is not simple. I am not here on behest of your father, and to be honest, I do not know his exact identity, only his family. I am not, technically, here on their request either. They are unaware of you. I am here because of you David, not because of them.” He doodles aimlessly in the dirt, marshalling his thoughts “You are a member of an important family, you are also a member of your mother’s family, and these two have traditionally not gotten along. Eventually you will have to choose between them, or perhaps you will choose neighter, the point is that life must be free to choose its own Destiny, this is the most basic rule the Dragon teaches us.
It would not be correct for me to teach you of your mother’s people, I have my reasons and I feel it better you meet your father’s first, and I can instruct you on your father’s. I ask you to trust me in this. Then when you are ready I would take you to them, and you can meet them and negotiate your place as an equal.”
He pauses and looks at you directly. “I offer you a possible Destiny only, should you decline I will respect the Destiny you have chosen and bother you no more. I will also do what I can to conceal your presence from others, but it is probably I will fail in this eventually. I can leave for a time, if you wish, to give you time to decide. But there is some pressure of time, the information I received will eventually be found by others. You would be best served by deciding quickly.
David scratched his head and looked around. Impulsive behavior always bothered him, his father taught him that. Or at least the father he had as of 15 minutes ago. Now his mother was suspect? What were this man’s intensions? Was he just mad? David decided to test the man in front of him, if he flinched he would know right away if he was mad. If he didn’t flinch, then this man could be a possible enemy or ally…but definitely one of chosen.
David cleared his throat as if to begin to talk. He wove the strands of necrotic energy and shadow about his feet. Not to attack, but to create an opening. To test the other man. Had this man seen magic before? The eyes will be able to show all. The shadows swam around David.
“I don’t like surprises. Tactically it means that I have been defeated. You bring many surprises with you. I don’t know if I can trust you. My world is one of death and disparity. And you come to me with abundance and light. Forgive me if my ways may seem strange to you, but I am a creature of my environment. What words could you offer that would settle my need for flight? What act could you demonstrate that would put me more at ease? You have not ambushed me, and so this is your first act of peace. But you come here with a fantastic story, which I very much would like to believe. But how can I? I am a one of a kind here on this world. I have never met another like me before.”
Delwin watches you as you talk and you see his eyes shift to the shadows gathering around your feet. He doesn’t look surprised or frightened, but oddly saddened. His voice, when he speaks is not filled with anger, but sympathy, “Oh David, for a child of the Dragon to be brought to this. The Vitae is not a poison, it is the essence of life itself.” As he speaks a radiance fills the campsite, not emitting from him but from everything. For a moment you can see the vital energy that makes up everything around you, shining through the cruel chains of form that bind it. Your shadows flee and dissipate, reduced to insignificance before this boundless font of energy that appears to come from every point at once.
In that moment you can feel a bond between you and that force, you sense it is the link you use when you draw energy for your spells, that the souls you drain are a dark parlor trick performed through a sacred bond to creation, and somewhere in the back of your mind you feel a great, serpentine presence acknowledge you.
And then the glow fades, and the shadows return and the glory of standing in the font of creation is just a memory; tattered as an old photograph but still somehow the most real thing you have ever known.
“I do not ask you to trust me David. I ask you to learn from me. There are no others like you here, it is to others like you I would eventually take you. I do not offer promises, or guarantees, I offer choices and those truths I am allowed to give you.”
“I have been alone in the dark for a great long time. This world is dust, and yet it is all I know.”
A tear forms in David’s eye. “Who will cry for the shadows that linger here? Am I not their Sheppard? I have not yet encountered someone of your skill this both brings sadness to me, and much joy. I can let go now can I not?”
As an act of peace David recalls his shadows, bends over and picks up a scoop of sand. Slowly he walks over to Delwin and hands him the sand. “Where I come from it is customary to bring the soil of our homeland as an offering of peace. By taking this sand you agree that no sinister designs are planned, and you vow to never raise arms against me so long as we both agree.”
Delwin cocks his head, clearly processing the ritual. “I can agree that my plans are not sinister, although such things are often relative. And I certainly have no desire to raise arms against you; and I supposed if I am somehow forced to do so in the future then we will no longer be in agreement, so this is a Destiny I can accept.” He takes the sand and closes his hand around it, there is a moment of radiance again and when he opens his hand there are two perfect spheres, clearly constructed of powerfully compacted sand. “A symbol then, of our agreement.” He says as he hands one of them to you.
“As for the land you leave, you take them with you in your heart and mind. Should you decide this Destiny calls back to you, you may once more return. But you will be armed with knowledge and wisdom that may allow you to restore where now you can only sustain.” He smiles ruefully “If there is one constant, it is change and growth, this is Vitae’s gift to us, even if it may not always seem as such.”
Assuming you are willing to travel with him. He will lead you into the wilds for several days. Into lands you are unfamiliar with, the terrain (the plants, animals, etc) are right but the area he is taking you into seems far less affected by the war. By the time you reach a small cabin on the side of a mountain, the land is positively verdant. He walks into the cabin and shows you a place to set your belongings, it is well stocked with food and equipment.
“Now, you learn.”
I place the class marble in a pocket and rub it with thumb and forefinger.
I assume he is shadow walking? I know how to do this, though I usually only do it to procure food, supplies and alcohol for my people.
I gaze In wonder at the cabin…it has been so long since I’ve seen something of such fine construction. “Most of my people are nomadic you know….it is rare to find such a great structure. One without spines of rusted metal and chunks of concrete strewn about the place.”
“You have taken me through shadow then. I do not normally use it for these purposes. Where might we be now? I am often afraid of not being able to return to my home.”
I clear my throat and look around some more. “I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of belongings…only that with which I can carry.”
Yes, he is shadow walking, but slowly. You would can conjecture he does not realize you know about this and might be trying to make it seem like a normal journey.
When you mention shadow walking he turns and stares at you, clearly surprised. “How do you know….”, he focuses his gaze on you and you see a flickering representation of the design Alicia had you walk shimmer in the air between you, as though reflected on non-existent water. It holds for a moment and then ripples out of site, as his expression grows grim.
“You have walked the Pattern. You must tell me everything.”
I squint. “Where are we? You haven’t answered my question yet. Forgive my rudeness but for me this is uncharacteristic. I dominate my world, but clearly you can do the same. So I’m not operating on the same playing field.”
I remove the scarf around my neck, revealing my facial and head tattoos on my bald head. I take off my sunglasses so he can see my eyes. I wipe the sand from my sweaty creases in my skin. “I was taken to an Amber world. Long time ago now. I recall being disappointed that this place was actually not made of amber. But that was the first time I had ever been inside a building before. A building that wasn’t destroyed I mean. A palace of sorts, I don’t know. We didn’t stay long. I had no idea what was going on, still don’t. It was never fully explained to me. Someone of great importance to me showed me this place…a place of wonder. I wish I hadn’t had that much to drink, or I could have remembered it better. I trusted this person with everything, but things were secretive then. I didn’t ask why. I was young and trusting. Impressionable. Not fully in control of my faculties.”
I test a chair before I have a seat. “I’m afraid there isn’t much to tell you. I didn’t know you could die doing such a thing, so I’m glad I didn’t know that going into it. We were in a rush however, that I do know.”
He sighs, clearly not pleased but not willing to alienate you. “You are in a Shadow of your world, a dimension close to it and similar in many ways, but in this case with no human populace. I felt it would be a safe but familiar place for to be while I explained things to you. I had no idea someone else had beaten me to the punch.”
He sits, thinks for a moment and continues “David, you are accustomed to thinking in terms of your immediate surroundings, your immediate world. But who you are makes that kind of isolated perspective impossible. The fact that someone is even aware you exist, much less has taken you to Amber just makes that all the more apparent. And means I must move all the faster. “ He pauses and looks at you directly “I am trying to give you the ability to make choices, my goal is not to control you or manipulate you other than opening your awareness…. Obviously I could be lying about all this, but I have no way of convincing you of that, you will simply have to observe and make your own choices. The more relevant point is that this is a rarity. What you did, walking the Pattern, has put you in a very small group of individuals, all related by blood, who are able to control that power; in your case your father. You can no longer be anonymous, others will attempt to curry your favor if you are strong, control and use you if you are weak.”
He gets up and moves through the cabin, unpacking and giving his body simple tasks, he is clearly still upset about discovering you had already encountered the Pattern; although you feel his distress is no longer directed at you. “There are things you must learn, starting tonight. Then, when you are ready, I will take you to Amber again. But this time not in secret. You must present yourself to the King, the Pattern you bear makes your lineage impossible to deny, they will have to accept you as part of the family. From there, well, you must make your own way, but at least you will be able to start from an even footing.”
“This person, this person of great importance. Did they tell you anything about why they brought you, why it was done in secrecy? Have they remained in contact with you? You do not have to answer if you are not comfortable telling me, but I am concerned that I do not know their motives or capacity, it may not be safe to stay here.”
“Well this is all very confusing to me. So I don’t exactly know where to begin. The person that took me to Amber I trust 100%, though I fear that the sands of my home world took her.”
I look away as the memory of Alicia is still too painful, even after all of these years. She had to be dead right? Why would she abandon him? I bite my lip, I have already said too much, now he knows it was a woman.
“That was a long time ago.” I change the subject, “So am I to believe then that my life is in danger? From people with capabilities similar to my own? I’m afraid these politics are very foreign to me as I am accustomed to always winning. Hrm…that sounded arrogant. I didn’t mean it to. Tell me…what else should I know?”
Suddenly I remembered something that had always puzzled me. I roll up my sleeve on my left arm, and show him a tattoo that Alicia had given me, but she vanished before she could finish it. She said it was of great importance, and called it my little trump. “Perhaps you can tell me what this means….it isn’t finished…”
Delwin moves quickly to examine the tattoo.. “It… I have my suspicions, but this is not a field I have skills in. To tattoo a Trump, the arrogance… “ he sighs heavily. “I can’t tell you why this woman may have left, although I find it unlikely she has met with her demise. Such events with our sort of people are rare and generally well publicized. Unless it was Patternfall, the timeframe on this Shadow is extreme, but why would Dierdre… Eh, I can’t say; and it serves you no purpose for me to conjecture.”
“Obviously I would like to know more, but you have no reason to trust me with this and that is an instinct that will serve you well where you go. So we will leave off with this for now. As for the tattoo, do not spend too much time with your attention focused on it. If it is what I believe it to be, items like this can create links between you and other people or locations; to focus on it too heavily could leave you vulnerable.”
“And I answer your questions, including many you do not know enough to ask.”
At this point he will spend several weeks basically explaining the information in the Amber pamphlet I handed out earlier. He will also spend some time with you in weapons practice and sorcery. His weapon practice will focus on hand to hand, melle weapons, as he will explain that guns and similar weapons will not function where you will be going and he wishes to reduce your reliance on them. He is also, clearly, a sorcerer of increadable skill and power. His magic seems almost inherent, instinctive, the structure of his spells like a complex work of music; simple, almost obvious when complete but with levels of subtly that astound when you begin to examine them deeply. He is also obviously very disturbed by your affinity, seems to find it instinctively repellent although he never says anything and you sense he is attempting to conceal his reactions.
Socially he is friendly, but not particularly gregarious. He answers questions when asked, but doesn’t volunteer speech often. Although he has skill as whenever you attempt to delve into his motivations for helping you, the conversation somehow always seems to move on to other subjects in a way that seems perfectly sensible and logical at the time but it’s not till later that you realize the question was never actually answered. He strikes you as a man who has worked hard to know what it is he believes and has come to peace with that, he is never unsure when it comes to what he feels is right or wrong and you have never observed him to act contrary to his word or stated belief, at least in the short time you’ve been around him.
I have a large bowie type knife, but what I primarily use for melee weapons is souls. Though I have no stored souls at the time. I’m assuming this would freak him out, but I try to explain that my affinity is a reflection of my homeworld. And that I do not look at necrotic energy as evil, but rather a necessity and that all things die and this should not be something that is feared, but rather accepted. I have a bullet proof vest, and a pistol, but these things are primarily for show rather than for actual use. Those in the wastes would see plainly that I was armed (guns are rare because ammunition is scarce).
I learn all that I can, and I keep quiet for the most part. I try not to ask too many questions, but when he mentions that Alicia may still yet live I would probably have a meltdown of sorts, and would have to excuse myself for a time.
He listens when you talk about using necrotic energy, but you can tell behind the polite mask he’s not really hearing it. But he does what he can to assist you with your technique, if a bit mechanically.
He leaves you alone after the Alicia conversation and does not bring it up again, but you catch him glancing at the tattoo from time to time and you can tell he’s worried. There is a sense of haste in his preparations.
Eventually, when you are able to respond to his quizzing you on the information to his satisfaction he tells you to pack your things. He has gifted you with a small wardrobe, similar to your current clothing but new and well made.
“You know enough to hold your own now, and I am not comfortable taking any more time. We will leave for Amber today. You will do the Shadow shifting to get there, I will give you the necessarily information, but you can use with the practice. I will present you to the King, Random. He is an interesting sort, as we have discussed, and I believe a good thing for Amber. Oberon was, well, he was a despot and Amber is better rid of him.”
“I do not know Random well, he is aware of me and will see us based on my name, but he has no reason to love or hate me. He will have to accept you because of your Pattern imprint, but I think he will do more than that if you give him the chance. He will spend time sizing you up, they all will, but if you are respectful and stay true to your convictions I think he will come to respect you; and possibly you him. He is a man who can be worthy of that I think.”
He turns to a table and grabs a hand sized leather pouch. “There is one more thing. This….. this was your mother’s. It is strong with her Destiny. That is all you need to know for now, now is the time for your Destiny and that of Amber to interact. I just thought, well, I thought you might want something of hers from before this place. I may not have agreed with her, but I always respected her.”
He turns and heads for the door, the conversation on that clearly closed.
“Come along, it will take us several weeks to get to Amber with your shifting, but I think the scenery will be worth it.”
“Thank you for your kindness, your candor. I do not understand your motivations, but I do understand kindness and that is all that matters to me at this point. I feel a bit of shame now for my sorcery, and I’m hoping that this will pass in time.”
I hold the leather pouch tenderly in my hands. “Strange isn’t it? You don’t know that you’ve missed something until you are suddenly reminded that you should. Again, thank you for your efforts. Let us be on our way.”
I strip down in front of him and change clothes quickly. I take my old clothes with me and I make sure not to leave anything behind.