If I think back to the first sensation that I know is real and true, it’s the sound of a pickaxe spiking stone as it strikes to clear a fallen shaft. I remember the scrape and tumble of broken rock lifted into carts and hauled away. Dwarven voices belted out an anthem to their bride mountain. I remember the tune but not the words. I didn’t know dwarven then. In fact, we Dreamers didn’t know any living language, only our own.
Sound was the first sense that returned when I realized the dream was over, that we were rescued from our slumber. After ages buried in a tomb, I woke and there it was, the source of the sound; dwarves moving earth in hopes of discovering something. Discovering us.
We’d slept for… no one knows how long. Even the elves only have legends of us. When we left, buried in a tomb and asleep, the world was in its winter and dying. But there is a cycle and when we were disinterred, it was into a new autumn. Our slumber had passed the restoration, spring and summer, and brought us back in time to see the end again.
Every time I hear rocks scrape or dwarves sing, I remember the first moments of my second life, and I weep. I don’t think I wanted to wake up into a world that was still dying. Some days I wish the dwarves tunneled a different direction and never chanced upon us.
They dug deep. I woke.
My second life began.
Cry, for the dreams are done.
Why are you upset? Being a dreamer makes communication with wakers; the humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, ogresh… difficult. In dreams, ideas are communicated effortlessly. In reality, ideas take effort to convey.
Wakers have a beginning. Most have memories of early childhood. The gaps in their minds can be counted in hours and days. The gap in a dreamer’s mind may be longer than a whole kingdom’s existence. Appreciate that for a moment. No elf alive today can recall my people, no orcish runes references us.
We know we existed. We shared a dream about empire that spanned every land and rose before the other great peoples ever clawed their way out of the dirt. But a dream is not real, and we shared many others. We have no history. When I awoke, I had to form my name for the first time. I dreamt that I had many names. I dreamt that I had many shapes. So when I woke into this one, I had to recall the name it had been given. Yet that still doesn’t feel right when I hear it spoken.
While I laid undisturbed, my mind blended the trappings of my prior life with fleeting dreams until I could not tell fact from fiction. I dreamed I had wings and flew beneath the sun. I dreamed of a child that was mine but could not recognize them from my fellows when we woke. I dreamed that I sang epic poems, but I can’t remember the words. I recall the splash of warm blood on my face when stabbing my foe, but I don’t remember why we fought.
In my dreams I have travelled through countless worlds, been called by countless names, and followed countless creeds. I have believed in gods I didn’t think ever existed and been a god to countless worshippers. In my mind exists a millennium of dreams and I cannot tell you for certain if any of them are real.
Am I making sense? I tend to drift. It’s hard to be awake and focus after so long with the logic of dreams. Some part of me wants to concentrate and change this world into the existence I imagine it can be. But that isn’t how reality works. Bitter, that. When I get too far from this reality, I think of that song that awoke me. I learned its words after the dwarves taught us their tongue.
You know the worst part of being a dreamer? When I go to sleep and return to my dreams I remember dreaming, a dream within a dream, thinking of what epic reality I might explore next. Then there’s the sound of rocks breaking and a dwarf cracking open my casket, and my lungs twitch and I breathe.
A dwarf named Kezen helped me up. My second sensation on returning to this world was touch. It was the dwarf’s rough hands pulling me, the soles of my feet on the cold stone floor, the soft brush of my fine clothes, now rags, shedding off me. There was even the feeling of blood and air pumping through me. It was overwhelming.
Elves speculate that a calamity wiped out our empire, which all have accepted as certainty. It makes sense, I just don’t remember it. I don’t know whose idea it was to lay down in that tomb. What horrible catastrophe took us to that dark place? In the time we were gone, the gods died, yet that wasn’t apocalypse enough to inspire others to follow our example. No, they stayed awake through that horror.
Surely what we ran from was worse than the fall of the gods and who is to say what that could be? In my dreams, I can almost sense the nature of our doom. Something dark and ominous enough that none could withstand it, but so unknowable that no record of it survived. I wake and puzzle at the logic of it yet cannot see a solution unless I close my eyes.
None of the Dreamers have clear memories of the last time we were awake. Can you imagine it? I must have lived a full life, for my dreams are adventures so grand this waking world cannot contain them. Did I say I wept? I cry often at the conjecture of what I might have left behind. If you woke up tomorrow, with only your dreams to anchor you, no home, status, people, or culture, just vague images, and you found yourself in this broken world, what would you do? I have found solace in tears.
When I think of waking that first time, the most important memory is the slow restoration of my five senses. As I stood, hearing and feeling the world, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I perceived the stout, hairy dwarf that assisted me.
Kezen was peculiar, bearded and sweaty, and barking foreign commands. Yet he was gentle and kind in his manner toward me. I wasn’t the first they freed. They’d already ascertained that we were not the undead, merely sleepers. This was before they dubbed us The Dreamers.
Kezen asked a question. I could hear the tone and knew it was a question even without understanding the words.
I replied in Dreamer speech, “Never have I seen one as you. When I return to the clouds I shall tell of your kind.”
Kezen assures me that I stood up on my tiptoes, spread my arms, and tried to jump on weak legs. I must have still believed in my reality from before I awoke when I soared on feathered wings. Fortunately, the dwarf caught me. This wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a nightmare. It just was.
Despite all of this, there are moments where the dream haze dissipates, and a thread of history gleans among the fantasies. Sometimes I can grab hold of that truth and reveal it. Once, I spoke the truth about a forgotten metal. Once, I remembered a name of someone that was important to me, or important to the end of us all. Once, a lyric to a song sung by a dwarf about his bride mountain bubbled up to the surface. Wait. No, that was what I was telling you before, about first waking up. A dwarf, Kezen, sung that song as he freed me. I did tell you that? I didn’t know their language then.
After Kezen stood me up, I remembered another sense. It was smell. The dwarves had been underground for years. They brought stale sweat and staler air. It smelled like breath and salt. After so long of not smelling anything, their rank scent was a liberation. I inhaled deeply through my nose and, though I can’t truly recreate Kezen’s aroma anymore, it was intoxicating because it was a real odor. It was the dwarf’s smell that shattered my dream state. For the first time in a period longer than eternity I knew what was happening. I was being disinterred deep underground and it was not a dream.
Folklore suggests that I was a member of a great society. Were we tyrants or teachers? Who is to say? But we knew how to cheat the apocalypse, and that suggests god-like power unseen among the rest of Etharis’ citizens.
I question how great our civilization was because I cannot form the hollowest afterimage of its grandeur. Were we great? Were we horrors? It is those moments when I weep. Leaning on Kezen, I did just that, I wept again. This time, the tears rolled down my sunken hollows to cheekbones, passed my lips, and I tasted the salt. No matter how much I meditate, pray, or dream, no solid memories of importance resurface from my prior life. Yet, the tears I tasted after Kezen helped me to stand, those I cannot forget. Because that is the taste of all my waking life, bitter tears.
But, enough sad dreams, let me tell you the larger than life fantasies I hold dear, the ones that inspire my day to day. These are the dreams that feel like memories. More importantly, I’d like to learn if these dreams are memories.
In the Stillborn Forest, there is a lake. I stood on its shore and skipped a stone. One, two, three skips. Then it slammed into the clear air, bounced off, and plunged beneath the water’s surface. The air it impacted rippled. In that dream, for an instant, I thought I saw a structure, something like a cathedral. But not made by human or elven hands. Something older that might have been orcish or even my people. In the dream, I knew that within that invisible cathedral there would be the holy relics of a dead god. Yet I dare not travel there, for in the dream a great serpent swam in those waters like the citadel’s guardian. Inside the tower were a series of deadly traps. If it’s true, there may be great treasure inside. If it’s a dream, nothing more than a wasted trip to the lake.
In the land of Charnault I slept beneath a great tree. In its shade I dreamed of fire and rebirth. When I awoke, I found this unhewn walking stick. It is a good sturdy stick. I dreamed of it pointing me in a direction. If I follow the walking stick’s direction, I get to where I am needed. If you are in the Charnault Kingdom, dream beneath the trees; for if they’ll give a Dreamer a magic walking stick, think of what they might gift to you.
In my dream, the obsidian-black granite dam Gräffendam had another, older name. Its engineers were not holding back water, but something else. They were holding back something in the water and the glacier it thawed from. Is this a memory or a dream or both? Were they reserving the magical waters for themselves or imprisoning them? Could whatever hibernates in that ice have something to do with my people’s fall? I would like to sleep upon those waters and see what dreams come. Would the source of those magical waters be revealed? Would they be of an ice age primordial so awesome even its condensation holds true power?
In a dream, I watched as black stones turned crimson from blood blanketing over them. The lords of shadow whispered dark desires to me so that I may better understand their will. When I awoke the nightmare had not ended, and the vampires had followed me to Etharis from my dreams. I could not imagine these creatures were true to this reality when I first awoke. Yet I survived the apocalypse and slept through the end of the world. The vampire could have survived the end as well in their dark City Below. Or perhaps they were the apocalypse that drained the whole land pale, and retreated into their shadowed halls when there was no blood left to drink.
Yet another dreamed memory surfaces. I stood at the southern gulf swelling with roaring sea lions. I cast my boat among them and sailed to a sandbar. There, I stepped out and walked the sandbar until I found the buried mast of a great and ancient turtle-shaped vessel. Its armored hull intact despite the sand and many sea lions. Inside, the crew is dead and awaits a command. I asked a laneshi about this and they knew of my dream, naming the ship the Cungar, an undead war vessel. If it could be found, it might transport those aboard to anywhere, perhaps as far as the land of the dead?
Once there was something that fell from the sky. Another dream metal that the dwarves seek. A stronger and deadlier metal of greater value. I could recall where it is if you trade me one of your memories. You answer my questions and tell me a true tale. In exchange, I share what I have seen: A mountain that has fallen, a campfire’s last embers, the death of magic, scaled people, and a vein of metal far below their deepest dungeon, only the bravest could hope to unearth.