They tell you that this world is true, this life exists, and what happens when we sleep are dreams. They tell you that night will bring fantasies, conjured by your mind’s pacing and your heart’s desire. They lie.
True existence, true life, is beyond the veil that separates our world from the real one. We do not die, but simply awake into truth. Shades are creatures in comas; meant to wake up, destined to wake up, and yet unable to open their eyes. The Human Gods were the first to awaken, and as such control the dream left behind them. The Dwarves have moved into the Mists, attaining their race’s state of perfection. Every creature to fall underneath my mace has been released from this nightmare into a happier state of being.
Today I will kill a necromancer named Kyra, recently accepted into the Nightmare Court, who intends to sell her services to our twisted kin in return for sickening rewards. She is working on her initiation project, and I intend to slay her before she can finish it. I know I am not ready to go up against the full might of the Court, but I have no fears about killing one journeyman. The only thing that worries me is that I think she knows I’m coming; she has posted three guards outside of her beautiful twisting vine hut, and I’m alone. We are several hundred feet above the jungle floor, and while I am careful to watch my footing, I plan to use that to my advantage.
Her cabin is nestled in the lower branches of an ancient, massive tree—perhaps as old as the Pale Tree itself—but unfortunately; the ‘lower’ branches are still quite high off the ground. The shack blends in quite well against the trunk, and I doubt anyone but a sylvari would notice its presence. She uses a vine system to quickly descend into the depths of the Maguuma, as well as bring the corpses back up for her experiments.
My armor is completely silent as I climb up the tree, on the far side from my targets. I need no tools to help me, and my mind is sharp enough to know exactly how far I am supposed to climb. It’s difficult, especially with a shield on my back, but it’s nothing I can’t handle when I am determined to taste blood. I begin to climb sideways instead of up, making my way around the trunk to observe my kills from above. Three of them—maybe not such a challenge, after all. They looked tougher from a distance.
I drop down into their midst with a crash, my fall staggering them as I wrap a protective aura around myself. My mace and shield are out as soon as I hit the branch, but one recovers quickly and sweeps his sword at me before I can ready myself. My defensive magic slows his blade, and it catches in my woven armor without cutting far through. Before he can pull back, the spikes in my mace are buried deep in his throat. “Awaken,” I whisper.
Life and death are such broad, bland, misused terms. You see, I believe that when I sleep, the things I see are true; and what I ‘know’ with my eyes open is a carefully constructed lie. This is a dream, the ultimate dream, while we rest from our true lives and preoccupy our minds with day-to-day survival. A god does not worry about survival—is that not true life? I have found paths into the Mists, and I believe that when I am allowed to stay there for good, that is life. This is a shadow.
I knew so much before my Seeding. It was all so clear. I knew so much then, in what they title “the Dream”. I heard the Tree speaking to me, teaching me, and I felt powerful. In control. I knew so much. Everything was clear. And then I began to sleep, I was here, in chaos and destruction and a world too large for any one person to know of it. The only time I could re-attain my certainty was at night, when my mind left this world. In what you call “dreams”, so much can be made pure. This world is so filthy, so dark. Purity is all I strive for.
I do not mourn when another being crunches beneath the flanges of my club. I do not mourn when a life fades from what we know as existence. I am not killing; no. I am awakening.
This is a shared hallucination, with the potential to be a beautiful dream. And yet, every day, there lurks the shadow of a nightmare at the corners of our minds. I will crush those that would poison this world, and leave the more peaceful of these sentients to sleepwalk in peace.
I can hear rustling in the house behind me, even over the sounds of my battle, and I know the necromancer is scrambling to find her foci. In preparation, I drop a shining green ward over the door to her cabin. I don’t want her joining the fight while her henchmen still breathe.
Of the two remaining, one is heavily armored and the other nimble. They appear to have fought in conjunction before, and I’m using everything in my arsenal to ensure that they cannot gain footing on me. My shield is as much a weapon as a defense, battering and hammering forward, driving them back one step for every step they force me to take. My mace does not lash out, but takes measured strikes that gauge how aggressively I can fight before a sword slides into my chest.
The ranger’s dual blades are deadly. The warrior’s hammer I have been able to avoid almost entirely, ducking back far enough to escape its swing, rarely having to employ my shield in my defense. Yet the whirring sword and knife cause me much concern, raining down on my armor so quickly it sounds like a thunderstorm. I take a cut across the cheek before I am able to figure out how best to counter him. It doesn’t help that I have a constant drain on my energy from maintaining the ward that keeps Kyra locked inside her house.
Precarious as our environs are, I have put extra effort this fight into maintaining my footing. We are straddling the halfway point of the branch, with our backs to the open air. For the first time, I give ground—in truth to avoid the ranger’s blades, but I again take special care to dodge the hammer, as if I fear it will burn me as well as crush my bones. I back up until there is perhaps only one more step to take before falling; and then I redouble my defenses, using my mace only to block instead of strike.
Eager to see me done with, the ranger falls into my trap. Knowing that I “fear” the warrior’s hammer, the ranger attempts a double-thrust low; a deadly but risky maneuver seeking to open my defenses for a final blow. In response I duck low to the vine, parrying both blades on my shield, and roll diagonally past him in the same maneuver. As I come up, I spin in a quick circle, crushing his ankles with a swift strike. As he collapses to the ground, the warrior charges me, expecting me to back off once more. Instead, to his surprise, I finally catch his hammer on my shield and throw it to the side. The maneuver pushes him slightly off balance, and I use the opportunity to turn back and smash the ranger’s head into mulch. “Awaken.”
My name is Dryetn Kyrantel, of the Cycle of Night, but I call myself the Dreamless One. It amuses me to see the confusion on others’ faces when I tell them that. “What does he mean,” the sylvari murmur, “did he not experience the Dream of Dreams?” Their curiosity charms me, and I am never quick to explain the title.
The Firstborn call our shared experience the Dream. It was not. It was the Transition.
The Asura see me as an oddity, taking my title literally, wanting to poke me and prod me with their fool contraptions. “What kind of creature never dreams?” they ask. The Norn interpret it another way, thinking I have no aims or goals. They think I do not serve a purpose. Humans simply do not understand me, though they try, and the Charr do not care to understand.
I was born with a shadow in my mind, a shiver in my spine, and a chill in my heart. I alone see through this façade, see what it really is. And so I know I was called for great things, by whatever powers may be—by the Pale Tree, by the Alchemy, by the Spirits, by the Gods, or by nothing at all. It matters not. Until my dying breath, I know that my purpose is to crush those that would turn this dream into a nightmare. These are the shadows that I seek to destroy.
Kyra has been pressing against my ward the entire time, hoping that my concentration would be broken enough to let her out. Tired as I am, I will never allow that to happen. My ward still stands against her pressure, and it will not drop until the last body does. The warrior will not take long to finish.
My earlier dive around the ranger had put me back on the thicker area of the vine, and I had trapped the warrior near the edge. I grin as I whisper an incantation under my breath. As he nears me, trying to press me back, I don’t attempt to dodge. Instead, my shield begins to glow with a sickly green aura.
Then it expands and throws him backwards.
The guard had been lucky. He had ducked low when he had seen my attack, and the aura had forced him down instead of back, saving him from being launched off the tree branch entirely. He was scrambling for a handhold in the bark as gravity slowly dragged him towards his doom.
I sped the process up for him. Fingers, even Sylvari fingers, are incredibly fragile. I waited until I heard his body hit the jungle floor. “Awaken.”
There are a few I have tried to explain my theories to, though they are not quick to listen. They want their dream to be secure, unworried about the prospect of awakening. I do not blame them. This is a crusade that I alone can understand. And yet, a few of them—humans, mostly, because of their understanding of the Gods and the Mists—have asked me questions. If this is a dream, what will happen when you kill the Dragons? What will happen when they truly awaken, as you say—beyond the Mists?
I tell them it is none of my concern.
I take a moment to collect myself. I am sure that if I could, I would be sweating as the other races do, and it takes longer than I would like to catch my breath. But my work isn’t finished.
As I approach the hut, Kyra stares at me from beyond my ward. I tilt my head to the side as I study her from a distance. She is a strikingly beautiful creature, and for a moment I am pained at the thought of killing her. It doesn’t take me long to remember, though, that she is only as beautiful as nightshade.
I take another step forward, wanting to be within striking range the moment I drop my ward. I never get there. The world around me erupts in a shower of black smoke and blue ice, and pain racks my body as the sap in my veins begins to freeze. I am forced down onto my knees, and look up in time to see my ward vanish and Kyra step out onto the branch. She swings her right arm towards my face, and two giant claws materialize in front of her before they carve into my body, throwing me through the air.
The ice covering me shatters as I hit the bark, and I cry out in pain as I begin to cough up murky sap. I struggle to regain my feet, but the necromancer isn’t done; she runs towards me, her focus spinning like a top before her hand. I’m not even standing before a vicious flurry of invisible blows are tearing me to pieces—it feels like a pack of wild animals are on me, biting and clawing whatever they can reach.
“Fool. To think you could begin to stand the might of the Court,” she sneers as she moves to stand above me. “Any last words, my paladin?”
I am shivering at her feet, coughing up more fluid and unable to feel my limbs. “Let me die on my feet,” I croak. “Don’t kill me like this. I want to die standing.”
To my surprise, Kyra nods. “As you wish.” Surprisingly strong in spite of her thin form, she grabs me by the neck and hauls me upright, showing no effort at holding up my heavy armor. She finally knocks the mace out of my iron grip and stares me in the eye for a full two heartbeats before raising an axe to carve off my face. In response, I grin through a mouth tarnished with sap.
Before the axe can descend, I open wide and roar at the top of my lungs. Kyra staggers back as my cry summons a cloud of green mist between us, enveloping me in its beautiful folds. I sigh audibly as the magical aura rebuilds my bark and returns the sap to its rightful place in my veins, and bend down to retrieve my mace. Kyra cries out in pain as I lunge forward and smash the axe out of her hand.
She spins away from me and, with her good hand, motions towards the house. I hear several small cries as a wave of undead roll out to meet me, as their summoner takes refuge in the hut behind them.
I roll back along the branch to gain distance from the little ones. Normally I wouldn’t fear them, but without a shield as so close to an edge, I don’t want to give them a chance to explode. I chant one word and as I swing my mace, a glowing green orb of light flies out and blasts through one of the tiny minions. I swing again and again, dropping them before they can reach me. I roll to the side to avoid a glob of acid spit by what appears to be a floating torso before sprinting forward to crush its ribs and smash it into grounded meat.
I take the time to scrounge around the battlefield for my shield before following Kyra into the house. After underestimating her initial volley, I saw no reason to take risks by leaving it behind. I kicked through the flimsy door and stalked through the house. There was only one floor, and I’d hear her if she tried to escape. She would not risk trying to run past me, but set more traps.
I was right.
As I step inside a cramped hallway, I am greeted by a massive flesh golem, strung together with parts, it seemed, salvaged from Norn. My eyes widened in fear. This was her journeyman project. I had come here to try and stop her from completing its summoning. I had been too late.
Its scythelike arms sweep at me with abandon, and it is all I could do to dodge in the tiny quarters. The hands cannon into the walls around me, splintering them, and I wasn’t keen to test my shield against its power. I couldn’t get close enough to crush its head with my mace, either—and I didn’t know if destroying the head would stop it.
It would have to be a war of attrition, then; neither of us able to move, neither of us able to land a single killing blow. I whisper yet another incantation under my breath, and as the golem’s arms arced in again, my mace rises up to meet it. Metal met bone and neither gave way, but a green flame erupted from the mace and spread across the friend’s body in a heartbeat. The heat did not slow the beast, and it felt no pain, but I knew that its flesh was being eaten away like kindling. It would not last much longer.
Each time the magical fire seemed like it would die, I murmured the same incantation and spread it over the golem again. Each time, I felt a drain on my energy that slowed me down and let the scythes get a little bit closer. And still I burned it away. If I were to die, so would it.
Finally, when it seemed like I had no spare power left to feed the flames, when I thought I would die in the next exchange of blows, the monster collapsed to the floor in front of me. I breathed a sigh of relief and let myself slide to the floor beside it.
Rest, my entire body screams. Rest. But I will not. I have so much more to do. It is not time to sleep yet.
I stand and step over the corpse, walking into the room behind it. It is Kyra’s bedroom, and I fully expect it to be marked like the entrance to her house was. It is not. The golem had been her last line of defense, and she was as spent as I was. The edge in my favor was that I had steel in my hand.
She is crouching near her bedpost, tending to her crushed hand. “Don’t kill me,” she says, without a single quiver in her voice. She is not pleading. “The Nightmare Court can use someone like you. They can—”
“Awaken,” I hissed, slamming my mace heavily across her face. Even as she flies across the room, I follow her body, taking a second swing to ensure that my work is done.
They ask me what would happen if I am right, and I am simply waking up those I kill. What would happen to the Nightmare Court? What would happen to the Dragon Champions you seek to slay? What about the Dragons themselves? It is none of my concern, I say.
I know what would happen, though, even if I do not tell them. If I am right, and killing the Dragons simply moves them from here to there, there is only one thing to be done. I will simply go beyond the Mists and destroy them again.
Never forget that this world is an illusion, a vision we conjured to avoid reality—a vision whose sole purpose is now to prove ourselves in a crucible of fire. Never forget that the world is that simple, that black and white.
By all that has ever been held sacred, I hope that I am right.