Authors: Keith Baker
“That’s enough,” Lei said, her voice cold. “I’ve had it with all of this mysterious nonsense. This isn’t the first time Daine’s ever been asleep. If his head was going to rot away, why didn’t it happen yesterday? All I see is you showing up, threatening Daine, and then this other creature joining the fight … A woman who looked rather remarkably like you, looking back on things. Why don’t you tell us exactly what’s going on?”
“Daine has been at risk these last few nights. You have been losing consciousness during waking hours. When did this first occur?”
“Four days ago,” Daine said.
“This is when they first found your dreams. With each night, the bond grows stronger, and if you let them into your dreams, they can track us … and then all will be lost.”
Lei said. “What ‘them?’”
“Il-Lashtavar,” Lakashtai said quietly. “The darkness that dreams.”
“Oh, well, that makes everything clear. Why didn’t you just say so in the first place?” Lei said.
Lakashtai looked at her, and as before the intensity of the kalashtar’s gaze silenced Lei. “We do not speak of this to those we do not know. This is our war: the battle of the kalashtar, the struggle we were born to. You and all those creatures who dream when the night comes—I would spare you from knowing of the horrors that await you.”
There was no trace of a smile on her lips, and though her voice was music, it was a cold and chilling tune. For a moment, no one spoke. Then Pierce’s voice filled the room, deep and calm.
“You may have chosen this battle, but we have been drawn into it, and a soldier who cannot identify his foe—one who
knows nothing of the nature of the battlefield—cannot expect to triumph.”
Daine nodded. “I can’t avoid making mistakes unless I know what I’m fighting, and damn it, it’s my mind!”
Lakashtai studied each of them, then turned and walked toward the far corner of the room. When she looked back at them, the light had faded from her eyes.
“You are correct, of course,” she said softly. “I cannot say what lies ahead of us, and you must be prepared. Please, Lei, be seated. This will be a long tale, and I know that you have had a trying day.”
Lei glanced at Daine, and he gave her a slight nod. Grumbling, she sat on the bunk next to him. Pierce stepped back away from Lakashtai, creating as much space as possible in the small room.
Lakashtai turned to face them. Despite her torn clothing, despite the dried blood on her skin, she carried herself with the dignity of a queen. Her beauty was breathtaking, but it was the cold beauty of a marble statue—human perfection, yet fundamentally unnatural.
“I am kalashtar, born of two worlds. Over a thousand years ago, my ancestor bound her bloodline to the spirit Kashtai, and I am a child of that union. Kashtai moves within me. Her memories come to me as dreams, and at times her voice whispers in the silence of my mind. As long as at least one of my sisters is alive, Kashtai will survive—and as long as she lives, she will fight il-Lashtavar.
“While I can tell you of this struggle, it is far better if you see it for yourselves. Relax. Let your thoughts wander. Open your minds, and let me show you the nightmare that lies within.”
Her voice was soft and lulling. She continued to speak, but her words seemed to blur together in a warm, relaxing song. Eventually Daine closed his eyes and dropped into another world.
A glowing halo lay before him, a wreath of light hanging in a field of utter darkness. As he studied it, he saw that it was composed of glittering particles. There must have been
billions, yet somehow he could see each and every one; his eyes were unnaturally sharp, and though each particle was no larger than a grain of sand, with every passing second they became clearer.
Where was he? He tried to turn his head and found that he couldn’t. It was then that he realized he had no body. He could sense his surroundings, yet there was no
there; he simply
what was around him.
It’s like a dream
, he thought.
It is a dream
. It was Lakashtai’s voice—or her thoughts.
But it is more than that. It is
dreams. Every point of light is a dreamer, drawn from the waking world into this realm of Dal Quor
Daine struggled to grasp the concept.
So this is … another world?
Your sages would call it another plane of existence. It is a shadow of the material world, a place that exists in the minds and souls of all living things. It is always there, always a part of you, but it is when you sleep that you open up that gateway, forming your own world in Dal Quor—the fortress of your dreams
You’re saying that when I see Lei in my dreams, it’s really Lei
, Daine thought.
No. You create your own dreams, shaping them from memories, hopes, fears. As does Lei. You are two different points of light, two different worlds, each as deep and rich as Eberron itself
What does this have to do with us? Or this Tashana?
Dal Quor is a mutable realm, a place where thought becomes reality, but the mortal spirit only has the strength to shape its outermost regions. Those lights that you see are the distant edges of the region of dreams. Look deeper
Daine directed his attention toward the ring of lights. At first he saw nothing beyond the glittering halo. Then he realized … the darkness within the circle of lights was deeper than the void that surrounded it. Both were jet black, but the darkness within—it was more than just empty shadow. There was something there … a presence.
Then he was falling toward the shadow, the ring of lights becoming larger and larger with each passing second. He now saw that each glittering speck, though they had seemed like grains of sand,
the size of worlds—that he’d been watching from an almost unimaginable distance. He began to see details within the central darkness. Textures. Shapes. A vast landscape
stretching out around him. A river of tar flowed through a wasteland of jagged black marble. An orchard of skeletal darkwood trees swayed to a ghostly breeze. Tendrils of dark smoke crawled along the surface, as if driven by a conscious mind, then it all changed. The marble plain dissolved into a desert of black sand, and the trees were consumed by flames that seemed to draw in the darkness instead of releasing any light. Faces emerged from the surface of the desert, visages of sand twisted in silent screams. Daine tried to look away, but he couldn’t; he had no eyes to close.
This is the heart of Dal Quor. It is a living thing, though not in a way we understand the word. It is a spiritual force that dwarfs worlds, a hungry god that yearns to devour the hopes and dreams of all mortals. It is the cradle of nightmares, and it lurks just beyond your dreams, just beyond the edge of your mind. This is il-Lashtavar
So this is what’s been attacking my mind
, Daine thought.
Not exactly. Il-Lashtavar is the source of all darkness. It is the force that shapes Dal Quor, but it is too vast, too alien, to focus on your mind directly; it is a whirlwind, and you are a mere mote of dust. So it spawned children to do its bidding. Look again
The dark desert rose up in a massive sandstorm. The sand turned to mist, which drifted away, revealing a citadel of black glass. Shapes were swarming around the tower, and as before, Daine’s vision grew closer and closer. The creatures were strange, impossible things—beings that could not exist in any rational world. A maelstrom of eyes and wings drifted by, equal parts human, insect, and avian. A circle of cloaked figures were engaged in conversation, but as Daine drifted closer, he realized that each creature was actually formed from a mass of fleshy tendrils, woven together in a crude approximation of human form.
These are the children of this dream. They are darkness incarnate—the worst aspects of the mortal mind made manifest. Fury, fear, the lust for power or pleasure. Every dark impulse lives among the quori. They are immortal, and their minds are beyond your understanding. They are pure, driven, unburdened by empathy or personal ambition. They exist to serve the Dreaming Dark, and that is all that they do
Even amid this darkness, there have been a few who have found a path to light. These rebellious spirits sought to incite the others against il-Lashtavar, to find a
way to transform this world. There in the circle, two of these agents of change are pleading their case, but it is a futile cause. They are the aberrations, and no amount of reason will persuade the others
A host of horrors emerged from the citadel, charging toward the unearthly council. There were creatures formed of dark fire, swirling clouds of raw emotion, and far stranger things. Daine spotted a serpentine creature in the mass, eyes and cilia running along its length. Two oversized arms extended from its headless torso, tipped with massive claws; a vicious stinger lay at the end of its long tail.
, Daine thought.
No, but one of her siblings. A tsucora, a spirit of terror that feeds off of mortal fear
Suddenly Daine found himself in the midst of the circle. Suddenly he
the speaker, trying to show the others that there was a cycle to existence, that the transition from darkness to light should be embraced, not feared. The shadowy figures said nothing. The army of terrors spread around the circle, the venomous clouds drifting overhead.
You are flawed. Embrace the gift of destruction, so your soul can be reforged in the depths and brought back to il-Lashtavar
The storm descended, and claw, tentacle, and raw hatred tore into his soul.
Daine’s eyes flew open. His breath came in gasps, and he could still feel icy tendrils of shadow sinking into his mind. Lei was pale, and she closed her eyes and slumped against the wall.
“This is what my ancestors faced,” Lakashtai said. “Those who sought the light were hunted down and destroyed, absorbed back into the core of il-Lashtavar. They were hopelessly outnumbered, and fighting was useless; those killed would simply be reborn. The only hope was flight, so they fled into mortal dreams, searching for some form of sanctuary. The forces of the dark hunted them through the borderlands, through the dreams of elf and dragon. When all hope seemed lost, their leader stumbled into the dreams of a human monk from the land of Adar, a place that offered sanctuary to those
in need. Together, monk and quori found a way for the spirits to abandon their physical forms—to leave Dal Quor forever and find refuge within mortal lines, so the first kalashtar was born. Kashtai lives in me and in my sisters, and should I have a daughter, Kashtai will guide her as well.”
Pierce seemed the least affected by the experience. “None of this explains the woman who attacked us or why she was interested in Daine.”
“Kashtai only touches my soul; she is spread throughout my lineage. Tashana—she
a dark spirit, utterly dominating the mortal vessel bred to hold her. The Dreaming Dark has agents spread across this world, and destroying the kalashtar is but one of their goals. In time, they hope to dominate the waking world as they do Dal Quor—to create a stagnant world where nothing ever changes, where there is no light to threaten the darkness.”
Daine massaged his forehead. “Yeah, and we all know I’m the key to conquering the world.”
Lakashtai did not smile. “I do not know what it is the darkness wants from you, Daine. Some secret has been locked within your mind. These memories are from the night before the Mourning, are they not? That alone should give you pause. Perhaps the secret of that terrible power is hidden within you.”
“Why me? Why now? Jode was with me; he must have seen everything I saw.”
“You have seen Dal Quor—the billions of dreams that swirl around the edges. Most likely, some spirit stumbled into your dreams recently and saw some hint of what was contained within. By that time, Jode was already dead.”
“I suppose,” Daine said. He thought about the blue vial hidden in his pouch.