☦The dreams are dying.☦
October 10th, 2167
Things are getting desperate in the land of dreams.
The Oneiroi Collective has gathered in a secluded space of a dream fragment, like a crowd of seals clamoring for a single ice flow in an otherwise empty ocean.
In the small sliver of a surreal forest landscape, the Collective discusses the few options they have left and the situation they are in now.
They have all seen their share of struggle. However, this time they've met a foe that no wiles or whimsical trickery could outsmart. No friendships could help them. More destructive than any abomination, worse than the nightmares that are the shadow to their light.
The dreams are dying. They have run out of people to dream them.
One woman opens her grey mouth, spilling forth the knowledge she has gathered in dreams before.
The woman was there, on a lonely bridge in the nothing. The railings were chipped red and the floor below cracked in gold. She leaned over, waiting for the dreamer to show itself. It was hard work finding a dream these days, harder than she remembered in all her time traveling them. She didn't care for the flavor of it, but these times were lean and she had learned to adapt to chewing on these scraps.
A man sidled up to her in the dream. If this was the kind of dream she preferred the flavor of, he would push her into a plush bed and they would share some endless moment of passion. But it was not, and so this dreamer simply leaned on her. He sighed out into the darkness and in his deluded perception saw the dream as a memory.
"It's been so long, Eleanor. Is it peaceful out there, in the land of the dead?"
She was no Eleanor. But she was old and wise and used to adopting whatever masks the dreamer asked of her. She snaked a long arm around his waist, only just remembering to keep the facsimile of having bones. Color bloomed across her dress and skin. Her hair escaped her tight bun and curled into a frizz of brown. She looked to him, smiling like the Eleanor he so loved, the one that showed Eleanor's gap between two front teeth.
"What has happened out there, honey? Please tell me."
The dreamer's face grew filled with shadow as his sleepy mind drew from memories he had hoped to escape from in the land of dreams. She took time to gaze over his body. Clothed in rags. Skin burnt from something. So, so thin. Only one sock. All the dreamers looked something like this these nights. The dream shuddered as he took his shivering breath to speak.
"Ellie, it's terrible out there. It's not getting better. Tom's gone, too. Sam, his boyfriend Alex. They're all gone, eaten or killed or worse. I don't know where all the big groups have gone, even that fucked up Charity. The only thing playing on the radio anymore is the Factory."
She struggled to hold in her sneer. Of course, the Factory would prey upon the dreamers in their time of need. The Factory, no better an abomination than the ones they fought on this side of existence. She tried to push for more information, but the dream had begun to melt. Her dreamer clung to her, sobbing. He didn't want to go. She didn't want him to go, either.
"It'll be okay, my love." It was still her duty to reassure and share love with the dreamers, even after all these years. Even in this time of fear for the both of them. "You and I will be together soon. I'll be here for you. Don't go to the Factory. Live, live so we can see each other again."
He sobbed 'I will' and 'I love you' again and again as everything melted around them.
The memory floods the Collective as she shares it, washing over like a desperate tide. Their voices crowd the air as it ended. Tendrils flailing. Tongues lolling. Yipping and baying and howling. Meowing and hissing and purring. Speaking and shouting and whispering. A gong thunders over their voices to smother the panic in its crib.
A mass of tendrils and eyes sprouts mouths all over the tips of its tentacles. In chorused harmony, it begins to sing to its companions.
The mass sidled into a tiny dream. So small was it that the mass had to fold itself again and again, hundreds of times to fit. But times were desperate and even the smallest bit of sanctuary was precious with no equal. As tiny chipmunk in the city block, it crawled up onto a bench.
The dreamer sat at the bench a moment later, thin and starving. She was starving. She was dying. This was her final dream.
The little chipmunk hopped onto the dreamer's lap, chittering as cute as it could muster itself. She laughed and kissed the entity again and again. Inwardly, it was disgusted with this abject display of affection.
"Oh, how cute! I haven't seen one of you in so long, you know? I figured you all had been eaten by the anomalies, when we had been overrun trying to contain them all. Maybe we would've lasted longer if we had followed the GOC route and tried mass extermination. But then again, they didn't last much longer."
Ah, information. It bled from dreamers so easily.
"The world is ending. I guess I couldn't blame you for running away. I want to, too." She rubbed the creature's fur, made soft just for her. Just to get her to keep talking in her dying moments. Disgusting humans.
The creature chittered, licking at her skin and bulging its eyes in some strained attempt at cuteness. The woman was surely delusional in her dying, as this caused her to laugh and kiss the chipmunk again. Or perhaps she was so desperate that even this poor facsimile was enough for her.
"Do you know what started it? I'll tell you a secret, ok? I heard a rumor a long, long time ago. Someone had killed God and now we are all being punished. It isn't like in the bible, because this is no rapture. Hell has come to us."
Then she was gone.
The Collective doesn't believe in religion. Gods come and go in dreams like everything else. Religious dreams were just dreams like every other dream, except for when some powerful being from the other side hijacked a dream to deliver some message. Regardless, the dying woman's explanation was thrown out in a heartbeat. But it did give them some knowledge that something had triggered this. It let them know that it's not going to get any better.
The entities, all of them in their many shapes and tastes and colors and textures, lay together in the sliver of forest. In their collective writhing bodies, ideas could spread easier. Lines from one individual and another are beginning to blur. It is desperate, but they are surrounded by desperation on every side.
One of them arrives late. He hails from a place a bit away from dreams, known to the collective as the realm of knowledge and serpent scales. He is their ambassador to that land, one of their finest companions. But he is babbling. He is panicked. The man in his sharp business suit retches, then collapses on hands and knees. He vomits the memories out, shuddering. The Collective watches him fall apart in a brilliant shattering of the dream fragments they are all made out of, leaving only the pool of vomit as a memento.
The Library was once a great and proud creature. In some respects it still remained as such, home to wanderers and wandering knowledge alike. In this time of need, those who knew how to get there were using the Library as one last sanctuary. The Library had become a refugee camp, a single ray of light in the rat's nest of the world.
Times were lean. Things were getting unstable. Most of the Ways have long since collapsed under the weight of the rats. The Serpent had abandoned its garden, coiling over its precious Library as a protective mother python over the last nest egg she will ever have. Every open window revealed nothing but its scales, littered with bite marks. Not a single unharmed patch remained to be seen.
The Serpent's Hands were long severed. It was the search parties. The attempts to clear the Ways. The desperate sacrificial rituals to keep the rats at bay. More than anything, despair severed the Hands. They had lost too much to the madness. Many had lost themselves.
The man had sat and watched this collapse. The Serpent would be dead soon and with it an era would close. Before death, the Serpent bowed with its great Library still clutched in its coils. It still demanded respect, even as the rats have come to behead it. The rats will have the Library over the corpse of the Serpent. Death relieved the Serpent of its duty, gentle and respectful of all it had given to the world.
The shattering of violin stings were heard throughout the Library as the final collapse came. The land plunged boldly into darkness, stripped of the final Ways. The Wanderers have settled into their graves. It was over. They were done.
The man escaped to run home as soon as he tasted the collapse. It was a flavor he had hoped to never know. A knowledge he had hoped to never have to share with his kin.
So, even the Library is gone. The Collective nestles together tighter, shedding their memories into each other's minds. There was one last trick they have, hidden away in a pocket of their collective subconsciousness. Basking in the sun, the frankenstein sea of dream creatures drift off to their own sleep. The forest expands as they do so, welcoming all the last surviving dreams to dance in the dappled light.
The rats cannot reach them here. They will wait for the world to rise from the ashes. For dreamers to once more breathe life into this barren land. They will wait for eternity if they must.
The dreams make their final stand here, in this, their last sanctuary.