~ Edited and with an Introduction by Nominus Santorini ~
This story was one of the few surviving documents belonging to, and believed to have been authored by, Al’azzat Bashimeres, a high-ranking and often-controversial Psycian mystic and sage who disappeared at the onset of the Psycian-Frontacian War. Seeking to avoid the certain tragedies of the coming war, Bashimeres booked passage on Ria’s Dance, a Leuian merchant ship that was delivering goods to the Isle of Psycia before heading for other distant shores. According to eyewitnesses aboard the ship, an anxious Bashimeres asked Captain Sandar Graz to keep a large parcel in his own quarters. The captain agreed and early the next morning the ship set sail. When it arrived at its next port of call, the crew discovered that Bashimeres was not onboard. No one had seen him emerge from his cabin during the course of the voyage, but then none could say for certain that he was even aboard when they’d cast off from Psycia. To this day, his ultimate fate remains a mystery. Once he learned that the parcel he’d been given for safekeeping contained a number of books, Captain Graz turned them over to local sage. The collection changed hands many times over the years, and at present are catalogued within the Special Archives of the Library of the Free City of Junnet, famous for its grand fountains and its commitment to the preservation of all knowledge.
The story that follows was found in a tome entitled History of the Thrice-Born, and may have served as the basis for Bashimeres’ later work Of the Dreams of Gods and Mortals. Oddly, all the other pages in the History had been torn out, and a list of black-listed scholars, in a hand belonging to someone other than Bashimeres himself, was discovered in a secret compartment in the back cover. It is unknown who tore out the other pages and who wrote the list, though rumors have spread like wildfire. The truth, though, has been lost to the ages.
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The Eternal Grove of Elindale contains a great many wonders. One of the most extraordinary is the fabled Dreaming Garden. Within the Garden grow the Flowers of Dreaming which, unlike most known to mortals, bloom only at night, and each bloom is the living dreams of those asleep in other realms.
In those early halcyon days after the Creation, every flower in the Garden looked the same, grew the same way, and gave off the same perfume.
One day Elindale summoned the other gods to her, and showed them the Dreaming Garden. To them she asked each to give their blessing to the Flowers, to bless the very dreams of mortals. One warning she gave them: do not touch the Flowers of Dreaming themselves.
Rinanni the Beneficent stepped forward and bent her head to the Flowers of Dreaming and whispered soft, honeyed words that floated on the air like the down of ivory doves. As her prayer touched the Flowers, they seemed to fill with light as they reached towards the sunlight. The others looked on as the Flowers took on new colors and shapes, and gave off a sweet and calming fragrance.
Valiant Odarous then took his turn. The chivalrous god bowed his head and spoke to the Flowers in a firm voice in which rang the distant echo of just and honorable battle. His blessing wrapped around the Flowers like a shield, and they stood straighter and their leaves became as blades.
While this was occurring, a shadowy form sidled over to Taath, who stood apart from the others, and in cloying, sibilant tones he spoke to the god of chaos and pain.
“Great Lord of the Dark,” the shadowed one hissed. “Oh Prince of Sorrows, Oh Sublime Master of Hate, Oh Glorious Tyrant of Pain….”
Taath glanced down at the dusky form coiling about his feet. Speaking in a voice dry as bone, he said, “Enough of your puffery. What do you want? Speak plainly, and to the point.”
“Of course,” said the god of thieves. “And so I shall: You have heard we are forbidden to touch these Flowers, but what of the soil from which they spring? No such admonition were we given to avoid contact with it. If touching the Flowers is restricted, think of the glorious chaos that would follow by touching the soil. The others may be content to follow the rules, but what are they to us? They cannot be made to hold such as you or I. Rules are made to be broken. When it is your turn, will you do what is asked like a meek child or will you do what you wish, as befits a master of chaos?”
Taath looked, and the shadow was gone, but the question lingered in his mind. He approached the Garden of Dreams and bent his head to give his blessing to the Flowers. As he began to speak, an inky blackness appeared and covered the Flowers like a funereal veil. Thus hidden from sight, the talons of Taath’s eternally bloodstained hand reached forth and touched the soil. But before he could thrust his entire hand into the ground, the inky mist dissipated and Set cried out: “Beware! Take heed! Look out!” he panted like a wild dog. “The dark one betrays! He poisons the soil with his very hand!”
Taath cast a menacing look at Set that promised a future score-settling, but he drew back his hand. Too late, for the damage was done. Fear clung to the roots of the Flowers of Dreaming, and tinged them with darkness. Nightmares came to life in the world of mortals, who could not differentiate between waking and dreaming. Only the light of Rinanni and the vigilance of Odarous kept them from being overwhelmed completely.
Odarous, a thundercloud about him, immediately drew his invincible sword and stepped forward to plant it in Taath’s heart. His voice boomed across the Grove: “Say the word, and I shall run him through.”
Rinanni moved between them to mediate, but Elindale forestalled them. Neither Justice nor diplomacy are her priorities. Her concern is with the health of the Grove and all that is in it. She knelt among the Flowers, and carefully examined each one. After a time, she rose and said, “All is well. The Flowers have not suffered any lasting harm. Though he has done a great wrong, I would not have his blood be spilled here, in this place.”
Odarous reluctantly sheathed his sword, but remained wary. Elindale turned to Taath and said, “For your actions, blackheart, you are banished from the Grove.” A sudden wind howled through the trees and swept around Taath like a tempest. On huge wings like a vulture he labored to rise above the storm that surrounded him, but his strength finally gave out and he was carried away. The Grove was peaceful once more, but since then Taath has long sought to reenter the Grove, whether it be on this plane or another.
Elindale then turned to Set, and his self-satisfied grin withered under her stern gaze. “As for you, trickster, you have forfeit your turn. Step back now. There is one more blessing to be given.”
“What of the seventh?” asked Rinanni. “Its blessing should be given as well.”
“Indeed,” replied Elindale. “Yet it appears that it has already been given, perhaps while we were distracted.” And they looked upon the Garden and saw that each Flower grew in its own manner and at its own pace.
So the others moved aside to allow golden-bodied Sa to approach. The Dragon spoke over the Flowers in a resonant voice, in strange words that curled about and teased the ear, and just bordered on the understanding. The effect was not readily apparent at first glance, but then the Flowers appeared to shimmer, like a desert mirage or a reflection in a deep pool. And in the land of mortals, dreams became less real and more magickal, so that, upon waking, people could recognize dreams for what they were: the wondrous but fleeting gifts from the gods.
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