Reflections

Reflections

The castle settles down to sleep and the barrier between the worlds is touched by every dreamer. They offer their minds as bridges, stick-thin kindling we use to set fire to their fears and feed off the scraps. I remember once chasing a man through a maze of his own creation, given the form of a beast with slathering jaws and paws as big as his head. His imagination was lacking, but his terror was masterful. It flowed through me like a river, giving depth to the shadow of my form, clarity and focus as I grew in strength. It was as close to physical as the ethereal can grow. When his heart gave out and his presence vanished, I mourned the loss of what I thought would be the most fulfilling chase I would ever know. I thought that was nourishment, true and whole.

I was not aware that in our realm, fear is as much shadow as we are. It is a reflection, limited by the lack of physical form, and even at the most exquisite peak, it cannot match the sustenance, the substance, of simple pain.

It took reaching the other side of the barrier, stepping from reflection to source, to learn the difference. The discovery came at cost, with most of us too weak to make the journey, but it was worth it for the taste of even a scratch. That taste is just the beginning. There is no need for a chase when the greater benefit is in the capture, and moderation is of no importance after discovering you’ve existed on water for a millennia, when on the other side burst forth wine at the slightest urging.

If you had your way, Desian, we’d never taste anything other than water. I understand your reluctance, but we cannot both have what we need.

Still, I admit overindulged when I first came here. I am embarrassed to think of it now, though I still savour the memory of the begging man’s almost silent screams, the play of the precisely cut skin strips in the wind, and the smoke-tinged scent of charred flesh filling the barn. There is satisfaction when I think of the houses I emptied to fill my need. I was over-zealous in my art, and as much as I would like to blame the need to restore the energy lost in my conversion to physical form, I simply could not help myself.

I have no deep hunger now, no gnawing, aching starvation to eliminate my restraint and leave me savage as the animals you think we are. I can exercise control, precision, and you all can live far longer than you think when such care is take to support you as you ache. In the months I have lived in the castle, I have needed only a handful of you to keep myself well.

I wish that was a lesson I could pass to my kindred, but they are still lost in all-consuming need. There will be waste, when they come through.

It will not be long now. I’ve spent months analyzing the requirements of this form I have taken, to find the reason I can maintain it when so many others of my kind could not. My reports have given others success, and each day more come through the rift, come through and remain. We have taken over the Plains already, and as the knowledge is passed each and every one of us will soon be ready to make the crossing. Those who enter your realm now are already prepared to restore themselves. They know what they must do to you to keep themselves whole. They will not have to learn as I did, though I expect they will indulge regardless.

Your army would fight us here at the castle, if here they were. But the king has already reached the Plains of Aslinea, with all warriors in tow. They have set up camps on the farms surrounding the darkened field, banners raised as they prepare to face their fears made physical. You have learned enough to prepare them for that, at least. I expect they will do well on the battlefield, where your people are used to fighting and mine will have to learn skills I have not yet needed.

But there are no soldiers left in the castle, just servants, tradespeople, artisans, and children. All those helpless souls who wait for your army’s triumphant return, their security based on your message that the rift, the threat, exists only on the Plains.

Poor Desian, I should not have used you to relay that bit of misinformation, but you just could not resist the need to know. You could not accept not having an answer. If only you had expanded your search, taken it from far afield to close at home. If only you had hidden your distrust of me, instead of holding it out as a tool to be used.

How was I to resist such an offer?

I did not lie, exactly; I never have. I merely led you to what I once knew. All things known are true in different moments, and I picked a moment when the rift was the only entry available.

But there are weak points everywhere, Desian. They can be seen from this realm, though they are nothing more than light in the shadows of ours. Most have gone undetected, like the rift in the Plains, though it is the only one I have found that finally broke, giving way to the pressure and creating an access to your realm. Others are on the edge, while some are still forming. Still others have been discovered right before they broke, bolstered in those last crucial moments by those among you with magic in the blood they spilled to cast it. How would their sacrifice have tasted, I wonder? Would their willingness temper the fear and dull the flavour?

It might almost be worth losing this battle to know, to be here when the seal is recast, but I am not foolish enough to risk my master’s displeasure for knowledge that could be gained through other means.

Whatever they gave to create the seals, however it would have tasted, they did not repair the damage, only covered it. Beneath their handiwork, the barrier between the realms is ready to burst, and it can be allowed to do so if only one knows how.

I have you to thank for that knowledge, Desian. In your search, you have led me to the knowledge I could not find on my own. We do not kept records, we do not write books. There is no need in the ethereal where there is nothing in which to record a fleeting truth, even if we would wish to do so. But you keep your truths where others can find them, and knowledge is passed through paper and stone not person. It is passed, even when the one seeking is the last one the knowledge-giver would choose to receive it.

Sacrifice is needed to create the seal. Sacrifice is needed to remove it. The first must be voluntary, the second need not. Although, by now the servant I took to keep myself whole and healthy might very well choose to help me. It has been weeks, and he has more than once asked for it all to end. I will ask him, before I begin. If he agrees, I can fulfill my duty and still learn if sacrifice changes the flavour.

I wonder, Desian, if I haven’t been more affected by your need for answers than I thought. I would not have considered any of this had I been asked to break the seal right after coming through the rift. It wouldn’t have mattered to me what the difference might be. The only thing that would have mattered was the result, the gift of bounty to my brethren.

I am changed, but not changed enough. Whatever I wish to learn, whatever I wish to experience, whatever I wish for myself, it must come in the fulfillment of my duty, or not at all. My kindred are starving, chasing after what little they can eke out from the dreamers, fading to the edge of existence when they cannot gain enough. Your dreams are insufficient.

The rift on the Plains showed us the way from famine to feast. It taught us that we were surviving on the bare minimum of what you could offer. Breaking the castle seal will grant us another entry, with the heart of your city close at hand to give us strength. The dreams of your people will guide my starving brethren between the realms to enjoy the bounty. Even those unskilled in the chase will be able to capture someone inside the trap of the castle walls. While your army battles mine on the Plains, in their homes where they believes themselves to be safe, your people will be torn apart by mine.

All I have to do is let them in.

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