Chasing the Shadow

We chase the shadow to its den,   We hunt the nightmares and strike again.   To the heart of terror,   To its throne of strength,   We chase the shadow to its lair,   And there we strike again, again, again!
  First a desperate gamble to strike at beasts that dwelt in nightmares, Chasing the Shadows has become a rite of passage, one that change prey into predator. Those who undertake it invite monsters into their dreams, trap them there, and then slay them - or are slain in turn. Once the gates of dreams are shut, only death can release them.   Though no less desperate or deadly, it has slowly emerged as a deliberate strategy for a brave few souls in Patala to prepare for a reckoning they know will come, as inevitable as slumber.    

Preparation

If you don't control your thoughts, the Shrikes will do it for you.  
  Chasing the Shadow is still an informal process, half experiment and half trial. With the Plague that made it a desperate necessity less than a month old still, people are trying to figure out what works and what doesn't - sometimes at great cost. With every death or nightmare maiming, every mind lost to whatever lies beyond the veil of dreams, a new lesson is learned.  
Those preparing to chase the shadow don the title of hunters, wearing the confidence it lends them like armor.
 
by Unsplash (Jaroslav Devia)
Through painful trial and error, control over one's own thoughts have emerged as the most important aspect. Hunters meditate on their thoughts and dreams to prepare, engage in experiments to see if they can change their mood or perspective by thought, or challenge themselves with difficult puzzles.   Others engage with elaborate mental constructs as a way to fortify themselves. By repetition and deliberate practice, they imagine their dreams and ideals as castles and battlements, dressing their weakness in imaginary armor and turn their anger into weapons. Some hunters instead create models of thinking, something to fall back on when under the strain of a nightmare duel, or even try to lock certain helpful or strengthening thoughts behind mantras or actions.
As every hunter finds out, no practice or imagined duel compared to the stark terror of the real fight.
  No matter their method, concentration and focus are key to any hunter. Many test theirs by engaging in complex thought experiments, reading, or following along recitation to remember and recite back while under strain. From hanging upside down to being covered in spiders, every new hunter tries something else to give themselves just a little bit of an edge. Some even imbibe concoctions like the chalice of dreams to place themselves in stupor, determined to defeat the intoxicant with only their will.   Nindra, once a minor settlement and waystation to greater depths, have become the center of all this training and experimentation. Deep within the tunnels there, hunters and dream-eaters train together, concoct new experiment, or brave the Singing Pit to harden their mind. It is there most of them put their training to the test, drawing Shrikes to the chorus of thought-metal to finally prove themselves.    

Panoply

Use what works, discard what doesn't. Too much of anything will slow you down.
  Hunters are afforded few tools to make their trade easy. The most common are instruments to help them focus; incense, chimes, music played by aides. When it is time to finally chase the shadow, most drink a sedative that put them to sleep - and calm their nerves.  
Thought-Metal has emerged as both boon and bane for the hunters. The singing metal seem to attract Shrikes when collected in great number, perhaps by amplifying the call of human thought.   But things made from thought-metal travel with a sleeper into their dreams. Weapons, armor, even trinkets that remind them of their purpose give hunters an edge otherwise unavailable to them.   Even for veteran dream-eaters who conjure what they need from the depths of their dreams, thought-metal can act as a channel that augments their will. But the metal is hard to work, easy to warp by distraction, rare and valuable. There's never enough of it, and most hunters make due with either very little or none at all.
Some find the telepathic song of the thought-metal to be soothing - a meditative mantra that allows them to unlock gates in their mind otherwise inaccessible.
  The chief aid of any hunter once they take the final step are other dreamers. Through trial and error, the first dream-eaters noticed that people bound by communal dreams or connected through touch could face the Shrikes together. Even among those who lack the talent to become a dream-eater, there are those whose courage compel them to help in any way they can. Most such aides travel into the dream with the hunter to help in whatever way they can, usually by distracting the shrikes, supporting the hunter or giving their lives to allow the killing blow to find its way.
Dream-Eaters   A title for the very few who have braved the nightmare realm of the Shrike and bested them in their own homes, Dream-Eaters are those who have chased the shadows and triumphed.   With perhaps less than a dozen Dream-Eaters in Araea, they are a rare breed, wounds still fresh from the Plague of Dreams   Read More About Dream-Eaters
by Midjourney

The Shrikes

Nightmarish moth-things that live on the edge between dream and reality, Shrikes haunt the gloomy halls of Patala and the minds of those within it. They make lairs in nightmares, feast on the terror they spread, leaving only an empty husk behind.   These are the foes that that the Dream-Eaters chase, the shadows chased into their lair to be battled, least they devour and devour until nothing remains.  
Shrikes, the Thought-Eaters
Species | Jul 28, 2022

Hungry things that live in the gaps and shadows of the human mind, dwelling and feasting and spreading through fear.

Plague of Dreams

A terrible, quiet curse that nearly brought humanity in Patala to their doom, the Plague of Dream started as collective dreams but soon invited nightmares.   On the wings of terror, Shrikes emerged from the dark to take part in the carnage, gorging themselves on the misery and minds anyone who fell within their grasp. The wounds of the Plague are still raw, entire sections of Vicitra still abandoned and corpses left to rot.  
Plague of Dreams
Military Conflict | Jul 26, 2022

A plague of collective dreams that soon turned into a living nightmares and invited monsters into the minds of every dreamer afflicted by the Plague.

 
Though the plague has withdrawn, the Dream-Eaters known it will return. The predators have found a feast and will not abandon it so easily.
 

Thought-Metal

Also called Sama, thought-metal is a iridescent, gleaming metal that emerges from the Far Deep beneath Patala on howling winds. It sings in the mind of those who touch it and warps in response to thought.   Many blame thought-metal for spreading the Plague, now. They believe the metal acts as a beacon for the horrors that came to Vicitra, and that the song from within the prismatic metal is what first linked dreams together.   Even so, the Dream-Eaters are finding new uses for the metal, experimenting on ways to make blades that blades that cut nightmares, spears to skewer thoughts, and hammers that can crush unreality to a bloody pulp. The same metal that brought doom to Patala may still prove its salvation.  
Sama - Thought-Metal
Material | Jul 27, 2022

Gleaming, iridescent metal, shaped more by thought and memory than by a blacksmith's hammer.

In the end, when every preparation has been made, the hunter takes the step. They lure a Shrike to their dreams with thought-metal or find someone already haunted, then watch the signs. Once the Shrike is near and the veil of dreams begins to flit uneasily, they begin their descent.   Alone or with allies put themselves into a deep slumber. Just as every dream is different, so is every battle. Some find themselves lost within vast Labyrinth or dead cities, replaying old memories or horrors.   The first step down is to awaken within the dream, to remember who they are and where they are. The second is to become the hunter, before the Shrike can hunt them. Last, in the very heart of the dream, is to find the beast and slay it.   Many hunters find the theories, constructs, and daydreams they've had about the moment fade away in the unlight of terrible nightmares. There, they're stripped of all pretense, every preparation they've made tested, every belief they've come to hold about this moment proven true or false. They fight a battle with will and imagination, against their own fears and weakness, against a predator that weaves nightmares into weapons and phantasms.   When - if - the hunter awakens again, they do so with the corpse of a Shrike following them into the waking world and the scars of dream-battle fresh on both body and mind. From wounds sprouting with crystals to memories carved out by nightmare claw, hunters are marked forever. With this mark, they became Dream-Eaters.
 



Cover image: by Midjourney

Comments

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16 Jul, 2022 13:04

Their curiosity knows no limits! At least they'll be prepared when the plague of dreams comes back, right? RIGHT?

17 Jul, 2022 06:52

....Rrrrriiiiiiigggghhhhhhttttt :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
22 Aug, 2022 11:55

As always, well thought out and gripping. I always love your articles.

Come see my WorldEmber 2022 page!

22 Aug, 2022 13:29

Thank you :)


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.