This is a followup to my post on Getting Around. After a great deal of rewriting I think I have a mechanism for getting from the Midworld to Nightmare that is both vivid and clear, while being different than most descriptions of world-hopping.
From Chapter Four of Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts.
Human dreamstate, as near as I can figure it, is like being blind, staggering drunk. Something is very wrong with human minds—and I don’t mean any insult by that. I assume that’s because they have to sleep and usually they only leave their bodies when they are helpless. They get all tangled up in their own thoughts and memories, manifesting constructs without any real solidity, just wandering through a fog of their own making and waking up with only fragmentary memories of where they have been and what they’ve been doing.
It takes a lot of talent and a lot of training for humans to manifest enough of a coherent spirit form to project themselves beyond the Midworld in a conscious state.
Oneiroi, on the other hand, don’t sleep. We can’t become unconscious. Leaving my body is a deliberate act of will, not really much different than lying on the bed had been. With my body’s eyes closed I opened my invisible eye wide.
I was still lying on Karin’s bed. Jake was getting a wooden chair and pulling it into the little screened alcove. I couldn’t see where Marji had gone.
I didn’t bother with any pretense of falling asleep. I just lay there and said, “If I don’t get up after two hours or so, shake my shoulder. I’ll feel that.”
Very carefully I stood. I felt heavy, like I was wearing a suit of lead, but I knew that feeling would fade quickly. It was just my nervous system’s reaction to my moving my somatic body without my physical body. It lay on the bed, breathing but otherwise motionless. I could feel it, distantly, but I wouldn’t be able to move it until I was fully back inside it.
I got up and moved around Jake. He didn’t notice me, since I was a spirit now, a ghost. Mages who focused on me would be able to see me, and many of the non-humans who shared the Midworld were able to see spirit bodies, but I would be invisible to nearly all humans.
The Jake that I saw with my unseen eye wasn’t exactly the Jake that I saw with my flesh eyes. I was able to look upon his spirit. I could see the strength in him, and his deep concern, his aura was tinged with the shades of worry. I looked away before I saw too deeply, respecting his privacy.
The main area of the studio was walled with flame. What I had felt vaguely in the flesh glowed now, the images of Karin’s art dripping with magic. I glanced at the one that had been used to anchor the gateway that had been opened from Nivose and I nearly went blind. The afterimage of the spell was a throbbing blackness. I looked away, my head swimming.
Marji was laid bare to my vision. I had known her deeply, not just physically but spiritually. She glowed like a filament, achingly beautiful, terrible in her passion. I kept moving, on to the door.
It wasn’t the physical brick and steel that kept me from walking through the walls, it was the spiritual echo of those materials. Those walls had been designed to keep things out, and that intention was solid to my spirit body. I could have forced my way through it, probably, but the door offered no such barrier—doors were intended as openings. I walked through the wood easily.
The hallway was empty. I went through the brass gates as easily as I had passed through the door to the loft. I was moving fast now, quicker than my body would have gone. I was down the stairs and across the lobby, through the door out into the street in a heartbeat.
Around me the City was brilliant with spiritual life. The buildings shown with an inner light, the lives and passions of the humans who had lived and loved and dreamed within them left their marks. Even the gray and dirt of Pickmantown was transformed into a place of strange and savage beauty.
I stepped to the curb and called out silently. There were spirits still haunting the land that were older than the human occupation. I could feel one close by, swimming through the air above the buildings, riding the currents that rose up from the living earth below the empty streets.
I called to it and it came, eeling through the warm summer air. In form it looked like a sea creature, a long sleek body covered with sharklike skin in a rippling pattern of black and blue, with wide wings like a manta ray. It had no mouth, the front of its head covered with a dozen wide golden eyes. Like me, it would have been invisible to human sight.
I spoke to it softly for a few moments, gaining its trust. Such spirits weren’t very intelligent—as bright as dog or a horse, usually—but it would respond to my will. I reached to stroke its back and it settled down, hovering a few inches above the street. Carefully I got onto its back. Its flesh, immaterial as my own, felt warm and solid under me. I whispered my desire and it rose into the air, bore me with it into the sky. We headed swiftly over the tops of the buildings, following the river and out to sea. I was perched just in front of its great wings, gripping its barrel body with my thighs.
We passed by the lights of a loft where a party was going on and the music that came to me resonated in my spirit ears with the desire and joy of the revelers. Below a single car motored slowly down the street and its headlights were tinged with a bruised reddish color from an argument going on in the front seat.
My golden-eyed steed accelerated to such a pace that I would have been torn off its back by the wind of our passage, had either of us had a physical form. We left the City behind and raced out over the open sea. Behind us the lights of the harbor faded away. We were headed over a deeper sea with stranger tides than the human ships behind us ever sailed.
The mist that rose around us would have been transparent to waking eyes. It grew thicker as we left the purely physical sea. The dream sea coalesced around us, a spiritual realm that rolled in endless waves between worlds, timeless and vast, without the intrusion of the hard and alien shores of solid ground. One could sail these depths forever—in fact, some did. Human mages sometimes never found their way back to their bodies, leaving breathing but dead husks behind them as their spirits searched for some shore until their bodies, carefully curated in some sanitarium, withered away and died.
I did not fear that fate. I could feel the pull of my home realm, Messidor, and I followed it, urging the spirit beast I rode to greater speed. Soon the mist above my head reddened, and below me I could catch glimpses of the gunmetal gray of Messidor’s ocean.
Once again I was a ghost in the material world.
The sky was the color of sunset, roiling red-gold clouds from horizon to horizon. The water below us was thick and leaden, gleaming with reflected light. Before me was The City Of Dreadful Joy, my father’s capitol. The docks thronged with the bone-pale ships of Messidor’s merchant fleet, dreamships that sailed to all of the realms of Nightmare. My fathers people, the norns, excelled at the construction of fabrics and tapestries woven from fragments of human dreams and the fields beyond the city yielded grains that grew nowhere else. This was traded for other goods—elixirs from Pluvoise, metal goods from Ferose, mind-warping vapors and powders from Nivose, silks from Ventose.
I grounded the spirit beast just past the docks in the warehouse district that the locals called the Tannery. I could have compelled it to take me farther, but I could sense that it was weary and longed to return to the Midworld, so I released it from my will. I could travel the rest of the way on foot.
The Tannery district, like Pickmantown, had seen better days. Better times, I should say. Day and night had no place in Messidor, it was always dusk. The buildings around me were white stone, like all of my father’s city, but these were grimy and cracks ran through the stone, furred with the clinging vines that looked black in the reddish light.
The norns who moved silently through the twisting streets were of the lower castes, their wrappings cheap cloth, often dirty, and tied in simple knots rather than the elaborate twisting displays of the aristocracy.
Their eyeless heads tracked me as I walked the narrow streets that snaked between the asymmetrically angled buildings. They could perceive me and my spirit form appeared human, though obviously not a projection from a sleeping mind. Probably they took for a human mage—I had no desire to be recognized as the son of their liege. In theory I could command their obedience, but in this neighborhood I had no desire to draw attention to draw attention to myself. Even within his own dominion my father had his enemies, and the Tannery seemed like the place to find them.
I moved fast, my feet skimming the cracked marble streets and my eyes scanning the mad skyline for landmarks. Messidor, like all of Nightmare, was the Midword seen through a shattered mirror. The logic behind the layout of the buildings and thoroughfares was not human logic.
There was an order to it, though, and as a child I had played with my father’s subjects, the guides and the watchers and the harvesters, around the great rendering vats where human ectoplasm was separated into its essential ichors, during those hours when my human parents thought that I slept. I recognized the Way Of Black Mirrors and headed towards it. It led into the City’s center and my father’s palace.
I saw norns leading human spirits through the city, speaking to them softly those words of voiceless comfort that no human remembered upon awakening. My father’s subjects sought out the fever dreamers, the plague-ridden, those who slept in the shadow of death. The dreams of the sick, the wounded, and the dying had a particular essence, and it was that spiritual essence that formed the backbone of Messidor’s industry.
The heart of my father’s city was a dark forest of thorn trees, and in the center of it was the Citadel of the Fellmonger, my father’s house.
Even though I was incorporeal the thorns would have the power to tear at my spirit body, to torment my soul, so I kept carefully to the center of the paths. They formed a twisting, branching maze, but it was a maze I knew by heart. Close by, I knew was a deep black pool and a faceless guardian.
The Pool of Unmemory. When human souls reached the clearing—and some did, although not often, and almost never without aid—the guardian would allow them to drink from the pool. One sip, and all of the past was washed away. The human would awake from sleep a blank slate, with no memory of anything that he had done or had been done to him.
Some humans would pay a very great price to be guided through the forest to those waters.
Above the forest of woe, I saw the vast block of white marble, nearly a cube, ablaze with windows. The light from the windows was a harsh white, and the trees cast sharp edged shadows. I did not.
I slowed as I reached it and regarded the door of my father’s house.
If you jacked up a three story townhouse and put wheels on it, you could have rolled it comfortably through that door. It was parquet, made from what must have been hundreds of slabs of polished wood, and it hung on hinges thicker than my body. An enormous knocker, brass and cast in the shape of a grinning face, hung thirty feet above my head.
I walked up to the door itself and knocked. Being insubstantial, I couldn’t feel it under my knuckles and there was no sound. That didn’t matter. My intention would be signal enough.
And sure enough, the ponderous door swung back a few feet and I was face to face with an ape dressed in a white jacket and his own sleek fur, banded in purple and green. He bowed to me.
“Master Samhain,” he said, smiling. “A most unexpected pleasure.”
I bowed back. “Good to see you, Timtomtim. You’re looking well. Is my father available?”
“I shall inquire.” He gestured me inside. “If you will come in?”
I bowed again and followed the majordomo inside. The front hall of my father’s citadel is a six story atrium, the walls studded with dozens of small balconies. Doors led off the ground floor in all directions, and in all shapes and sizes. The floor is tiled in slabs of black and white, like a huge chessboard, and in the center of the hall is a large irregularly shaped pool, surrounded by palm trees, like a desert oasis.
I waited while Timtomtim hurried off to one of the smaller doors. He ducked his head to go through it and I waited some more. I looked around the room. It had been years since I had been here, and it looked strange to me. I was seeing it through Midworld eyes, I realized.
Human built structures have an inevitable symmetry. Human minds look for regularity, for patterns, and make patterns where they don’t occur naturally. Oneiroi don’t process information the same way, probably because Nightmare doesn’t have the same kind of regularity as the Midworld—no pattern of day and night, no seasons, no natural law that can’t be overridden by the whim of the Lords. They don’t expect regularity from their environment, and so they don’t create it.
They? We? Looking around my father’s house I realized that I had learned to think like a human. I thought of myself as human, most of the time. I was able to see the dreamworlds clearly, in a way that only very rare and talented humans could, but I did not feel at home in my father’s house.
Eventually Timtomtim came back and waved for me. I rose up and floated quickly to meet him.
“Your father will receive you in the vivisectorium, Master Samhain,” he said, opening one of the doors.