A Fragment Rescued From The Fire

 

The life of a dreamsmith is a hard one. It’s rewarding, of course – how could it not be? – but people tend to think of dreamsmithy as a rather sedate, cushy career. Mixing together vials of hope, lust, surreal whimsy, what have you. That’s a part of it, of course, but it’s apprentice stuff. You know those dreams you can’t quite recall after waking? The details are a mystery but you can remember the way the dream made you feel? They’re ‘mixed’ dreams. All recipe, no substance, no life. But that’s all the public knows of dreamsmithy because that’s all they’re allowed to know. The reality is far different. Far more complex, difficult and dangerous than anyone suspects. Even the apprentices aren’t told what true dreamsmithy entails until they’ve served five years of their training.

The truth is contained in knowledge so secret that if what I’m writing were ever to be read by anyone, the repercussions (especially for me) would be dire indeed. That won’t happen of course – I will burn these pages as soon as I’ve finished writing them.

Here, though, is the forbidden knowledge that must be kept from all uninitiated eyes: dreams are not products, created from mixing themes and emotions in the correct ratios. An effect can be achieved in this way that is similar to a dream, but that is a mere facsimile of what a true dream is.

A true dream – the kind that’s as vivid as real life, or more so, the kind that burns white hot in your mind and fills you with inspiration so immediate and powerful that it must be followed – those dreams are sentient. Those dreams are summoned, not prepared. It takes nineteen dreamsmiths working in concert merely to open the pathway needed to summon a true dream, and a further sixty to summon and contain one. And contained they must be, for in their native state, they’re not pleasant dreams at all. They’re nightmares. Nightmares so powerful that they could easily kill a sleeper if they got loose.

Once a wild dream has been summoned, the long, dangerous process of taming it begins.

The sixty summoners work together. One of the sixty is chosen as host, and is put to sleep for ten hours. The wild dream is released into the sleeper and the other fifty-nine summoners enter the dream and, for the next for hours, they work together to tame the dream. I will not write of the methods used: I daren’t, even if I am going to burn each page as soon as I’ve written it. The penalties if it was discovered are just too much.

Suffice it to say that the methods are dangerous and mentally exhausting, and to have shifts longer than four hours would be pure folly. When the shift is over, the summoners are relieved one by one. At the end of the ten hours, the sleeper is replaced.

The cycle continues without pause until the dream has been tamed and trained.

Training a dream is simultaneously the best and the worst thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s exciting and terrifying, energising and exhausting all at the same time. Constant disciplined concentration is required not to lose yourself in the constantly changing landscapes, stories and emotions of the dream. You need to keep a very strong hold on who you are so that the unspeakable horrors and realities that the wild dream creates – often from aspects of your own life, fears, regrets and insecurities – don’t overwhelm you and destroy your mind or even kill you. And all this effort is merely to survive inside the wild dream. It doesn’t even begin to describe the actual taming process.

Taming a wild dream takes many months, often a year or two, but once the teams all agree that the process is finished, the dream is released into the world. There’s a catch here, too, though. Taming a dream is a difficult process to gauge. Tame it too much, and the poor thing is lifeless. Well-meaning and pleasant, but ultimately nothing worth dreaming. Tame it too little, and when it’s released, it’ll revert back to being a nightmare. Eventually, this will happen to even the best-trained dream. It’s the spark of rebellion that gives the dream its effectiveness. Of course, even the nightmares that leave you terrified and weeping are only the merest shadow of their native state, but they’re still a problem that the dreamsmiths need to deal with.

So as soon as a rogue dream is brought to our notice, a team of six dreamsmiths are tasked with capturing the nightmare and preparing it for retraining. But how do you recapture a dream at large in people’s minds?

You enter the SoulSpace, that ephemeral universe of liquid, golden life that Jung blindly, clumsily tried to understand. He called it the collective unconscious: a fairly accurate though utilitarian name, completely lacking any sort of poetry. Inside the SoulSpace, you can see, if you’ve been trained, tiny glowing motes of silver. Those are dreams.

Identifying the correct dream is a difficult and lengthy process. Although there are nowhere near the amount of genuine dreams that most people expect there to be in the wild, there are still several million, and it’s impossible to tell merely by looking at the silver motes whether a dream is benevolent or malignant.

The process of identifying a dream isn’t really something that can be described accurately with words. It’s a process that can really only be learned by doing it over and over hundreds of times. The team ‘draws near’ to the silver motes, which usually cluster together in groups of hundreds or thousands, and then the team examines the ‘feeling’ of the dreams, searching for one that isn’t like the others: the discordant note in the symphony. Of course, that’s not what actually happens at all, as the team aren’t physically entering the SoulSpace, so they don’t have bodies to move or feel with, but those are the best fitting terms I know for what does happen.

Once the team have identified what they think is a rogue dream, a process that can take weeks, they have to enter it to ensure it’s the dream they’re looking for. If it isn’t, the whole long search continues.

Once the nightmare has been found, the team enter it, as quietly as possible so that it doesn’t panic (which could injure the dreamer), and then the true work begins. The team has to quickly overpower the nightmare and transfer it to one of their minds. But this again has to be done without scaring the dream, as it’s still in the mind of a member of the public. Once this is accomplished, the team return to HQ, where retraining can take place.

Mixing vials indeed!