Plague of Dreams

We've seen what lurk in the heart and soul of our neighbors, and we didn't like it.  
  Though Patala holds many dangers, from lurking predators that move like lightning and kill in darkness to exotic new ailments never before seen by mankind, humanity's greatest challenge emerged from within. The Plague of Dreams caged the city's slumbering citizens within a shared dream, where secrets were laid bare and psyches exposed for all. Every illicit affair, every murderous plot, every petty grievance and festering resentment were there to see for those who wanted to search their dreams. Once people understood what it was they saw in their sleeping hours, the city tore itself apart in a frenzy of vengeance and hurt.   At the precipice of a blood-soaked abyss of its own making, Vicitra was spared annihilation through the combined efforts of the Fearless Five, Aldara the Dream-Eater, and a cadre of brave citizens. Now, only nightmares linger, caused not by beast or disaster, but other men and women.    

Falling Asleep

Daemons came to Vicitra on winds of dreams and the wings of nightmares.
  The plague crept into Vicitra, borne by shipments of Thought-Metal and the unfortunate souls haunted by Shrikes. Night by night, the dreams of those within the city began to expand and entwine, first within households, then streets, but finally entire quarters. It was a slow, quiet disaster, with no great quakes or sweeping firestorms. One by one, the people of Vicitra began to share the same dream, over and over.  
It is unclear who was the first to bring the nightmares to Vicitra, though several have been punished for it.
  Inch by inch, dream by dream, the Plague crawled over the whole city and smothered it. In their dreams, people were unguarded - their innermost thoughts and fears becoming real and visible things, their anger taking jagged shapes. Complete strangers met each other within their deepest, darkest nightmares. Before anyone understood the truth, no one thought to guard their dreams, or even know how. Slowly, quietly, people began to talk about what they had seen in their slumber, and a panic began to spread through the city.    

Into the Nightmares

I thought you were my friend, I thought I could trust you, but you've been a monster this whole time.
  With the city in the thralls of a growing, gnawing dread, violence soon followed. It isn't sure when the first blow was struck, or who first realized the truth of their dreaming omens, but as soon as blood was spilled, it ignited a fire. Everywhere, seemingly at once, people took vengeance on those who had kept secrets, plotted against them, betrayed trust or any number of reasons. Truth was forced into the open, and it was bloody.  
by Midjourney
From the poorest of slum-dwellers to the city's wealthiest Merchant-Prince, everyone had something to hide. Once the killing began, people found it difficult to stop. Like frightened animals, they fell on their own, killed before they could themselves be killed, or fled the city for the dangerous dark of Patala.   As the city tettered at the brink of total anarchy, Shrikes swarmed from the dark. The nightmarish moth-beasts haunted the collective dream and city-streets alike, draining victims of every thought and memory. With any sort of cooperation disintegrating into a desperate brawl for survival, Vicitra stared at oncoming extinction.
Worse still, as people fled the city with either thought-metal or haunting shrikes with them, they threatened to bring doom with them to distant land.
Some attempted to ride out the storm by never sleeping, with predictably poor results. A handful of people now claim to be part of the Sleepless, and hawk tonics or elixirs that'll allow people to go without sleep forever.
  At the height of the plague, hundreds died every day, killed by roving horrors or fear-stricken neighbors. Explorers who returned from the Far Deep were sometimes attacked on sight, blamed for bringing some malady with them from the unknown. This was the city when Aldara arrived with the Fearless Five.  
Aldara was a local Kaia of little note, having arrived in the region only a year before and still inexperienced. She had lived in Patala long enough to consider it her home, and had been horrified to see the butchery and carnage. She sought out the Fearless Five, a band of veteran Kaia from the Seekers guild, and togther they vowed to do whatever they could.   Such oaths would be tested as soon as they arrived. Not only did they have to fight for their lives from fearful locals, but were no more immune to the dreaming plague than the rest of the city. Only days into their attempt, the Fearless Five almost fell apart when their dreams revealed one of them to be a traitor.   It would be the untried Aldara who kept the Five together, through a combination of wit, luck, and disarming naivity, she appealed to their pride as those who would go where no one else would, and survive what no one else could. This, she said, was something no one else could do.
by Midjourney
Though their name is no longer spoken among the Five, the traitor gave their life during the Plague, saving two of the Five and Aldara from the Abomination.
  Though it seemed impossible, the Five threw themselves into the five. They divided themselves to two tasks: to stop the Shrikes and other predators lured to the dying city, and to stop the people there from their bloody rampage. Aldara would lead the second task, though she would eventually become instrumental to the first.  
Though tested, the bonds between people were not completely severed. Aldara had been in the city long enough that she knew who she could plead with, who she had to bribe, and who she could not deal with. Every person she could convince to stop knew someone else that would listen, and inch by inch they created small zones of safety.   Scattered attempts had been made and some still lingered, so Aldara and her allies braved the worst of the city to find them and bring them into the fold. With the unexpected assistance of the city's wealthiest merchant-prince, Muradov the Merciless, hope rose within the city in the first time in months. The worst of the killing passed, and humanity found common purpose against the swarming Shrikes.
Whatever the Merchant-Prince's reason for helping might have been, when the Merciless joined the effort, so did many of the city's elite - however reluctantly.
  These became the darkest days of the Plague. As if spurred to a final feeding frenzy by the Five's success, the Shrikes attacked in such numbers and with such fury that it warped and twisted the fabric of reality. The city became an apocalyptic nightmare, of bodies merged into stone and endless halls. It was then, when two of the Five had fallen beneath the claws and devouring horrors of the Shrikes, that Aldara earned her epithet.    

The Dream-Eater

My mind is a blade. I can cut any foe.  
  As the Shrikes made the world into a waking nightmare, Aldara took a gamble to fight them in her dreams. Flitting between reality, the Shrikes were hard to fight and even harder to kill; maybe, the young Kaia reckoned, that they would have nowhere to hide if hunted in their own domain. Despite the danger and risk, and vehement disagreement from both the Five and Muradov, Aldara and six volunteers put themselves into a deep slumber, to chase the Shrikes to a place they could not hide.   Only three would awaken again. Two died, from fright and with blood foaming from their mouth, and one who remains asleep and absent to this day. Aldara and the others had apparently done enough to give the swarm pause. Peace, at least, returned to the Vicitra - fragile as a dream, with darkness lurking beneath its surface.  
Dream-Eating
Though Aldara has not spoken about what happened within that nightmarish battle, it has marked her forever. Much of the cheer has left her, and the wounds she suffered there has been as real as any other. She earned the title of Dream-Eater for her deeds, and it is a banner others who fight the Shrikes within their own nightmarish realm adopt.   The story has since warped, with some claiming that the name is literal, and that Aldara scared the swarm from the city by consuming their leader.
 

Aftermath

With its fury spent and caged, Vicitra is a flayed city and its wounds are raw. Countless have been killed, maimed, or wounded, and countless more still nursing terrible grudges. Shikei are still busy with countless skulls and burials, and hungry beasts lured by such a bounty of flesh still lurk in the city. Entire sections of Vicitra have been abandoned to the darkness - already there is fighting over who will reclaim them.   Although some are keen to forget the Plague ever happened, even with the blood still fresh upon the stone, others look to the future with dread. The Shrikes have found Vicitra once, and know that prey are there. Once widely displayed as symbols of power and wealth, thought-metal is now kept under lock and key. It is still too valuable to simply discard, even against protests that to sell the metal further afield is just to draw the Shrikes gaze into the rest of Araea. Tensions simmer beneath the blood-stained surface, and the dark stands poised to swallow all of Patala whole once again.  
The predators have tasted blood. They're not about to give up now.  
Vicitra   The first thrust of civilization into the unknown Patala, Vicitra is a city of ambition and grand designs. It began as an collection of campsites and sanctuaries, far enough from the dangers below to be safe, but not so far to make braving them ardous.   Since then, the city has swelled to cover the perch upon which it is seated, but still far too small for the ambitions within.   Read More About Vicitra
by Midjourney

Thought-Metal

A gleaming, iridescent metal unique to Patala, Thought-Metal bends to thought and dream instead of hammer and anvil. Beyond novelty, it has allowed artisans to create art of breath-taking beauty and impossible intricacy.   Now, the people of Patala look at the glowing metal with suspicion. It sings when held, a tuneless and telepathic noise that grows in volume and complexity the more of it is near. Though many believe it to be the cause of the Plague, it is much too profitable to give up and so people make excuses and ineffective, superstitious wards to keep themselves safe. Surely, it can't happen again.  
Sama - Thought-Metal
Material | Jul 27, 2022

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

Shrikes

Nightmares made manifest, Shrikes live between dream and reality. They haunt their victims by hiding in the shadows and gaps of their conscious thoughts, making their lair in the minds of those they feeds on.   With the Plague came Shrikes in untold number. The once rare terror claimed victims every night, flitting from victim to victim in the city-spanning dream. Everyone knows of the Shrike now, and the thought-eaters grow in strength from their fear.  
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.

 

The Abomination

Grotesquely bloated and crowned with the still screaming faces of its victims, the Abomination is a Shrike of great and terrible size. The still struggling, kicking body of the man responsible for its transformation hangs from the center of its body, broken and bloodied, but never allowed to die.   The Abomination is unique among the Shrikes, remade when a Theurg turned his magic directly to the Shrike. Though his intentions were noble, the raw infusion of thaumaturgy caused the Shrike to swell and mutate into a new kind of horror.  
No one or nothing reaped as great a toll of misery as the Abomination during the Plague. When the Plague ended, it escaped somewhere - into the dark or deep into the mind of some unwitting victim, waiting for its time to come again.
 
by Unsplash (Jaroslav Devia)
 

The Fearless Five

Hardened and experienced Kaia from Mharaji, the Fearless Five have been there and done that. They've hunted unspeakable monsters through darkness, blazed trails into the Far Deep, survived perils that would doom even other Kaia.   Though only three of the original five still live after the Plague, they remain undaunted. Together with Aldara, they search for the truth of Patala's ancient ruins and forgotten charnel pits, and if such doom can be averted.  
The Fearless Five
Organization | Jul 27, 2022

Although they are no longer five in number, nor fearless after what they've seen, the Fearless Five stand as a guard against an extinction that Patala doesn't even know it faces.

 

Aldara the Dream-Eater

Young and naive before the Plague, Aldara lead the Five and later the city through its darkest period of slaughter. Charming, cheerful, and indefatigable, Aldara remains a popular, celebrated figure in the city - perhaps a more dangerous place to be than the heart of any nightmare.   Since the Plague, Aldara has withdrawn from the city to heal and to explore. Doom has come to Patala once in its ancient past, and Aldara fears it has been Plague has awakened it again.  
Aldara the Dream-Eater
Character | Jul 27, 2022

My mind is a blade. I can cut any foe.

by Jennifer Martin (Unsplash)
 



Cover image: by Midjourney

Comments

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Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
12 Jul, 2022 17:51

This was so cool! I didn't think people would be able to fight against the shrike with how you presented them, but I love the idea of them being able to fight back in their dream. Is it because they can till have some control over the dream and basically wield their will against the shrikes? I think you were a bit vague on that point :p   I love that Aldera and the other are investigating the ancient civilisation and what happened to them! Lots of fun things to learn from that XD

To see what I am up to:WE list of articles and goals.
12 Jul, 2022 18:25

Thank you :D   And yes... That's coming soon to some of the other articles! It's all mysterious and fluffy rignt now, not at all because I haven't figured it out.   Yes, they figure maybe everyone died before for a reason that suddenly seems really relevent. Who would've thought!? ;D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
12 Jul, 2022 23:55

Well, this is horrifying. Remind me to share with you some FFXIV lore sometime, there's something in that that this reminds me of.   Love how much fun you're having with Midjourney!

14 Jul, 2022 08:57

Horrifying is my middle name! I think. :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Sage eccbooks
E. Christopher Clark
15 Jul, 2022 15:30

You had me at "a frenzy of vengeance and hurt" and then you went and introduced "Thought Metal." This is one hell of an article, and very inspiring as I get ready to write my own response to the Military Conflict prompt.

Check out my progress on WorldEmber 2022
17 Jul, 2022 06:48

Glad I could be of service! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
16 Jul, 2022 00:11

This is an excellent subversion of the military conflict! I admire Aldara's courage a lot. I bet this victory cost her a lot!

17 Jul, 2022 06:49

Oh, definitely. It wasn't an easy fight!   Thank you! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
15 Aug, 2022 11:41

Wow, this is so good. The use of MidJourney and how well you describe the events, I love all of that. I'm astonished that you could pull out that many articles of high quality this Summercamp and still remain sane.

I gathered some awesome articles in my Reading Challenge, want to take a look? There's also a Reading Challenge Big List combining all mentions of authors for the challenge, maybe you're in there too!
15 Aug, 2022 19:29

Aw, thank you so much :)


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
23 Aug, 2022 23:55

I didn't think this could get any creepier than the Shrikes, and then I read this. The header, first of all, is nightmarish by itself, and then the story of the Plague unfolds. I can't imagine how awful it would be to share dreams with every single person in the city, and how traumatic the Plague must have been to everyone involved. One thing that stood out to me was the merchant-prince Murdov and the mystery of his motivations. Nice job!

Lilliana Casper   I don't comment much, but I love reading your articles! Please check out my worlds, Jerde and Tread of Darkness.
24 Aug, 2022 07:32

Thank you! :D   And stay tuned! That mystery continues in other articles, and is explored more in the article about him, as he is the Monstrous Person prompt subject :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.