Promises, Promises by RavenoftheBlack
Word Count: 6349
Everything existed in a strange sort of hazy clarity, where the centers of perception moved slower than the shapes which danced on the periphery. It was neither warm nor cold, neither pleasant nor uncomfortable. The world was at once strikingly familiar and yet agonizingly alien, like a stranger’s artistic rendering of a place you’ve known all your life, but they’ve never seen. Even the colors of the trees seemed to bleed into the air around them. It was an eerily understandable contradiction of existence. It was the precipice between the sweetest dream, and the bitterest nightmare.
It was a dream they had both had before.
There they stood, staring at one another, across a small chasm. Small, pitifully small, but just large enough to exact its eternal cruelty. It was small enough that they could see one another perfectly, to study every contour of the face, and curve of the body, every heartfelt expression that crossed their features. It was small enough that sound could carry without being pulled below, allowing their voices to find each other and speak in conversational tones. It was small enough to believe that they were standing there together. But it was just wide enough that neither of them could leap to the other side. It was just wide enough to keep them apart.
They promised each other it would not keep them apart forever.
And they kept promising until the Dream ended.
* * *
Thatis awoke with a start, shivering under her crimson blanket while sweat streamed down her forehead. She was breathing heavily as her eyes stared, unfocused, into the imperfect darkness of her room. She forced herself to a sitting position, trying to shake her mind out of the delusion of her dream and into the reality around her. As a cool wind blew in through her open window and she could see the first rays of the Sertaria sun breaking in, she ran both of her shaking hands through her hair. All things considered, she preferred the dream.
Reluctantly, Thatis threw the blanket off of her and swung her legs around, stepping onto the cool floor. The sensation helped to wake her up a bit, and she shivered again. Leaning forward, she set her face in her hands, rubbing her eyes with the bottoms of her palms. She was tired. She had gone to bed early the night before and slept long and well, and yet still she felt utterly exhausted. The Dream always wore her out.
After sitting there, her face in her hands, for several long minutes, Thatis finally relented and, with a heavy sigh, forced herself to her feet. She looked around her room and scowled. Discarded and half-used pieces of canvas were strewn everywhere, along with half a dozen dried out paintbrushes and palettes. Thatis wanted to scream. They were the fossils of her failures. Instead, she just kicked at the nearest scrap of canvas and stormed off to the window, drawing the curtains back to let in the emerging Ameranian morning.
Thatis didn’t like to complain, but it all just seemed so unfair. All she had heard as a child was how much promise she showed. She had jumped from one Craft to another to another, always excelling at the basics and achieving comparative success early, but always failing to produce anything close to a master work. In sculpture, her forms were perfect, but uninspired. In dance, her movements were sharp and graceful, but her interpretations flat and unimaginative. The same was true with her glasswork, her pottery, and her composing. Even painting, a personal favorite of Thatis, seemed to keep her great work just beyond her reach. This was all her “promise” had brought her.
Thatis was still young, but far past her time to choose and dedicate herself to her Craft. Each day, she could feel the pressure build as the others in her small town looked on her with increasing sympathy, or disdain. Everywhere in Ameran, others with “promise” were excelling beyond their masters, creating great works that would last a generation or more, while Thatis floundered. It just seemed so unfair. She had, her entire life, been raised on the promise of her “promise,” and now that it was breaking, she could only feel betrayed.
And yet, despite being increasingly ostracized by the town, it was not her inability to create a great work that was truly bothering her. It was the Dream. When it came to her great work, she understood the problem. She had no subject. Her designs were bland and uninspired because Thatis herself felt uninspired. Once she found her subject, she knew she would succeed, or so she had always believed. That was only a simple matter of time. But the Dream was something else entirely. The Dream was something she could not grasp.
And she promised herself that she would, no matter what it cost. Even if it cost her sanity. Even if it cost her life.
The Dream was never entirely the same, but never completely different. The landscapes she saw as she slept were bizarre and unexplainable, completely different from the rugged and mountainous terrain of Ameran. Instead of sharp and jagged rocks, the land in her dream was all rolling hills and gentle slopes, covered in the grass of the lowland valleys. Yet even this was not entirely true. The grass she had seen on her few trips into the lowlands had always been rich, green, and short, but the grass in her dream was taller, longer, and a more sickly shade of white, and without landmarks. Every time she dreamt, the view was different, yet the same. It was maddening.
But not nearly so maddening as He was.
The first time she had the Dream, her sense of wonder and exploration led her in big, sweeping circles through the strange land, and while the Dream tried to pull her toward the chasm, she kept trying to move elsewhere. The Dream would shift, contort, and turn until she once again faced the ravine. Finally, Thatis sighed and moved to the precipice’s edge. That was where she saw him, standing as she was on the other side, staring back at her with his large and inhuman white eyes. His skin and hair were also as white as the mountain’s snowcaps, and below his mouth, which was hanging open slightly as he stared at her, two thick barbels protruded from his chin.
At first, Thatis had been afraid. She had never seen anything like this man before, in her life or in a dream. He looked like some sort of monster, but his white eyes spoke of something else entirely. They were calm, deep, and filled with an expression of wonder that Thatis hadn’t herself felt since childhood. They had stared at one another for a long, long time, neither daring to speak a word, neither moving to one side or another, both standing less than a step away from their edge of the chasm.
Then, suddenly, the dream world started to fade. Thatis looked around her, confused, and the strange white man looked like he panicked. Finally, he spoke, but he only managed one word before Thatis awoke. He said, “Promise…” Thatis didn’t have the Dream again for two weeks, and this time, she heard two more words before she woke. She heard him say, “Promise you will…” Then, a week later, she heard the entire sentence. “Promise you will return to me!” From that night on, Thatis went to bed hopeful, praying to whichever gods she felt like that day that she would see him again. Every time they met, the dream lasted longer, and she spoke back to him. Together they talked, and learned, and loved, but always that damned chasm stopped them from truly meeting.
And every day, she thought of him more and more.
Every day, she would look around the small town that seemed more a cage than a community. She had never before realized how incredibly stifling it was, how much pressure was being applied, perhaps even unknowingly, to produce a truly great work. When Thatis was young, Craft had seemed so beautiful, so expressive, so full of life. But this? This was not life. This was simply a prison of pressure and expectation, where skill and talent and “promise” kept her locked up, rather than freeing her. But the strange man in her dream represented something truly different, something truly unique. He was completely alien to her, and so his world, whatever and wherever it was, must be equally alien. And if it were alien, then it was different. And if it were different, perhaps it was more beautiful, more expressive, and had just a little more life than her cell of a reality.
Thatis closed her eyes tightly after she grew tired of looking out over her simple balcony onto the intricately engraved street below. She didn’t know how or why she knew it, but somehow Thatis understood that she could never reach that strange man’s world, or indeed the man himself. That chasm, though in the Dream only wide enough to barely keep them apart, was in truth an indomitable distance. And so, heartbroken but determined, she had decided to bring him to her world. But that was the greatest tragedy of all. That was the final, crushing blow. Because that was where her skills failed her. Even while awake, Thatis could see his eerie, inhuman, beautiful face. She knew every line, every contour, every feature, both human and otherwise. She knew his form better than any she had seen with waking eyes. But somehow, her skills abandoned her when she needed them most. She could not, in any medium she knew, capture the frame of the strange, eerie, alien man she had fallen in love with.
He was her great work, and he was just beyond her reach.
* * *
Symparu drifted slowly back to the waking world, trying with every measure of his mental strength to hold on to the Dream, even as it was fading around him. He failed. He always failed. The Dream was like smoke; it would twist and turn into any and every impossible shape, but it was impossible to grasp. Reluctantly, Symparu raised his back off of his bedroll, supporting himself by his forearms. Through the loosely secured flaps of the tent, he could see that only moonlight filtered in. It was not yet morning, but he knew he would not sleep again that night. There was no point, anyway. He never had the Dream twice in one night.
Arching his back slightly to shake off the night’s sleep, Symparu silently moved to stand. His mother and his father were still asleep on the other side of the tent, and his brother was snoring softly just a few feet away from him. His older sister’s bedroll was empty, and it took Symparu a few moments to remember that she had drawn the middle-watch that night, and was likely patrolling the camp. Glancing around at his sleeping family, Symparu just shook his head. There was no point in staying in the tent, silently waiting for them to wake up. So instead he quickly dressed, neatly folded his bedroll, and slipped outside, careful not to strike the bell hanging just inside the tent to warn of thieves.
The air was cooler than it should have been, and Symparu stiffened a bit. It would be raining by morning. The caravan had already delayed itself once to restock the stores of fresh water when they found an expected watering hole dried up, and they were intent on making the next settlement by the next nightfall. The forthcoming rain meant both that the search for water would prove unnecessary, and that they would be marching in the rain. Symparu had always hated the rain. To him, there was nothing better than a bright blue sky and a warm sun overhead, and often, the vast plains of Ikass promised just that. But every so often, Ikass broke her promise, and today was going to be one of those days.
With slumped shoulders, Symparu made his way to the edge of the Kor camp, where he knew one of the guards would surely spot him. He didn’t even make it that far. He had scarcely taken two dozen steps from his family’s tent when he saw the glint of a javelin’s tip flash before his white eyes. He froze, but the javelin was still safely in the hands of another Kor, and, as Symparu had hoped, it was his sister, Damkina.
“What are you doing wondering around, Brother?” Her voice was harsh and stern, but she wore a surprisingly warm smile on her face.
Symparu smiled back. “I couldn’t sleep, Sister.”
She looked at him sympathetically, and then suspiciously. Finally, she said, “The Dream again?”
He nodded. Naturally, he had told all his family about the Dream, but only Damkina had even entertained the notion that it was anything more than a dream. Even she doubted it held the importance Symparu placed on it, but she believed it must mean something, even if it was just to her brother. Damkina lowered her javelin and started walking away, tossing her head silently in that direction as an indication for Symparu to follow. He did, and within moments they were beyond the edge of camp. Damkina nodded to her left, and the two siblings began to walk the perimeter of the camp.
“No sense to wake the others,” Damkina said quietly. “And I’m supposed to be on patrol, anyway. So, why don’t you tell me about it?”
Symparu sighed. “There’s not much to tell. It’s the same Dream it always is. The same strange, rocky terrain, the same chasm…”
He trailed off, and Damkina finished her brother’s sentence for him. “And the same girl?”
Symparu nodded, and Damkina nodded back. “It’s just a dream, Brother. It’s probably just some girl in the caravan you’ve seen around, or from one of the others we’ve traded with lately. That’s all, Brother. You’re smitten.”
She grinned at him, but Symparu couldn’t find the heart to smile in return. “That isn’t all, Sister. I know I have never seen this woman before, outside of the Dream. I’m certain of it.”
Damkina sighed. “Well, then, what is it about this dream girl of yours that is so affecting to you? I mean, you’ve courted women before, and I’ve never seen you like this for any of them.”
Symparu nodded. “I know. I’ve never been like this before. I’ve never felt like this before! Whoever this woman is, Sister, she is someone special, someone amazing!”
“If she’s real,” Damkina warned.
Symparu hesitated, but shook his head. “She’s real, Sister. I don’t know how, but I know it.”
Again, Damkina sighed. “Fine. She’s real. But that doesn’t answer my question, Brother. What is it about her that has you in this, what would you call it? This state you’ve been in?”
“It’s everything!” Symparu said, his mouth curling upward into a smile. “It’s the way she speaks, the way she moves, it’s…” he paused, his smile widening. “It’s her smile, Sister. Her sweet, innocent smile. It reminds me of childhood.”
“Childhood?” Damkina said with a small smirk. “Which kind?”
Symparu laughed. “Both, I suppose. There is an innocence there, not necessarily in her any more than in me, but in the relationship between us. I know it’s in a dream, Sister, but it is so very real.” Suddenly, a low rumble of thunder sounded off in the distance. It would rain soon. Symparu motioned toward the sky. “When she smiles, Sister, it makes me forget about the storm clouds. There is nothing but a bright, clear sky for me.”
Damkina smiled, but there was a hint of concern in her white eyes. “That certainly explains why you’ve been sleeping so much lately!”
Symparu didn’t laugh, but rather simply nodded in agreement. “But the Dream doesn’t come every time I sleep. Usually it’s once a night, but sometimes it can be three or four nights until I have the Dream.”
“Dreams are like that,” she replied. “They are a promise that Sleep often breaks. I don’t think it means anything to your dream.”
Symparu doubted that, but he didn’t say so. Instead, he continued. “But when I do have the Dream, Sister, all I know is that I want it to last as long as I can keep it. When I see that beautiful face, and I’m away in that strange, foreign world, I just want it to last. And the longer I stay, the closer I come to weeping in joy, because it feels so right to me. Does that make any sense to you, Sister?”
Damkina considered telling her brother the truth, but she thought better of it. She cared about him too much for the truth. “Yes, Brother. I believe I do.” She paused for a long time, looking intently from side to side to make certain there were no intruders attempting to breach the camp. Finally, she continued. “But Brother, I do think you need to try to think about it less. It’s becoming an obsession with you. If she is real, that doesn’t help you find her, does it?”
Symparu hung his head. After a very long pause, he spoke. “No. No, Sister, it does not. I swear she is real. And somehow, I can get to her. That is the promise of the Dream.”
“And if you can’t?” Damkina asked, concern lining her voice.
Symparu stopped walking and looked up at the darkened sky. “Then it’s yet another broken promise.”
Just then, the sky began to rain.
* * *
Night had fallen on the small Ameranian town, and it was just starting to get cold. Thatis sat on her balcony overlooking the road, and frowned. She was alone, as usual, as she contemplated her latest artistic failure. She had spent the morning painting, and for a while, she felt like she was nearly where she wanted to be. The strange man’s basic shape had come along nicely, if not perfectly, and she had set her mind on capturing the face that night. Then, however, her afternoon had been taken away from her.
That afternoon had been the unveiling of Forfortian’s great work. Forfortian was an eccentric young designer whose Craft was a unique blend of golem work, sculpture and dance, and he had been working for nearly a year on his project. Finally, the time had come to reveal it, and the entire town came out for the presentation. When Forfortian had pulled back the curtain, the town was silent, and then perplexed, and then astounded. The young prodigy had crafted thirteen nearly identical statues, each made to resemble the great god-kings of the storybooks. Yet despite being much smaller than the golems who fought in the Arena, these statues were animated in a similar way, and as they were revealed, they started to dance.
Even Thatis had to admit that the strange, intricate dance of the animated statues was, put simply, genius. Each motion of each automaton was perfectly choreographed with the others, and the dance only grew as the moments passed by. The statues were remarkably life-like, and they moved with the precision and balance of a grand master in the Craft of dance. There had been times throughout their young lives that Thatis and Forfortian had been rivals, but even she could not cast a doubt on his genius here. The only fault she could find was the loud whirring of the statues’ internal gears, but it did little to detract from the effect of the dance. The town applauded loudly and earnestly, and it was decided that the statues would dance for thirteen days straight, up and down the streets of the small town, in celebration of Forfortian’s accomplishment.
By the time Thatis had returned to her home, it was already growing late, and she found it nearly impossible to concentrate. Perhaps it was a sense of wonder at Forfortian’s triumph, or perhaps it was a twinge of jealousy that he had accomplished what she seemed unable to do. Whatever the cause, her painting that night was horrendous, and Thatis ripped up her canvas in a fit of frustration. It seemed so unfair. She could see his face so clearly in her mind. Why couldn’t she recreate it? Why was she suddenly so incapable of bringing her subject to life? She had seen the looks from the other masters that afternoon, felt the weight of their silently accusatory stares. She knew what they must have been thinking. So much promise, so little success.
Thatis felt like she could scream. Or cry.
And so now Thatis sat alone, waiting for sleep to come and bring her a life that she actually wanted. On the streets below her, she could hear the statues of Forfortian dancing by, their internal mechanisms and magics whirling and crashing like the ocean against the shore. Thatis had been to the ocean a few times in her life, and she had always found the sound irritating. She never understood how others were soothed by it. To her, it was nothing but a surging and retreating din that in no way served the aesthetic of the view. She felt the same about those blasted statues. All she could hear was their noise, and it drowned out their beauty.
Thatis closed her eyes as the sound of the dancing statues disappeared down the shadowed streets. She was getting desperate now. She had tried and failed too many times, watching her work evaporate in moments of amateurism that made her doubt her own ability. And those moments were coming more and more often. Suddenly, in her desperation, she thought of him. Through her closed eyes, she saw his sweet, pale face, his amazed smile, his stark-white eyes. She felt her heart skip as she remembered him, and then felt a sharp pain in her chest. He was so close. He was always so close! And yet, even in her dreams, she could not reach him. It was the most painful sensation Thatis had ever felt.
Thatis stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes before stepping back into her bedroom. All she could do now is try to sleep, and see him for as long as she could.
* * *
It had been a miserable day for Symparu. The skies were dismal and eternally gray, and the rain had continued on into the evening. Mercifully, the rain was not terribly heavy, but persistent and unwavering, and it made the paths through the plains of Ikass that much more difficult. As he knew they would, the leaders of the Kor caravan had ordered them ever onward, intent on reaching the next human settlement before nightfall regardless of the slow progress. As always, Symparu travelled with his family as they walked, but conversation was minimal, and the hours passed slowly.
Every clap of thunder made Symparu shudder, though he was neither afraid nor startled. All he could think about with each strike was the loss of his beloved, pristine sky. When the sky was clear and blue, it reminded him of her. The woman of his dreams. Every time he saw her eyes, he was captivated by their vibrant, blue color, something entirely foreign to the perceptions of the Kor. Symparu had met any number of humans before, of course, as the Kor traded with them constantly along the never-ending trade routes throughout the continent. But none of them had ever captivated him the way her eyes did.
Symparu found himself thinking about her eyes, even as his own now-gray sky poured rain down on him. He found himself hoping her eyes were not themselves thinking of raining. In their time together in the Dream, he had never seen her cry. He had seen her sad as she told him about some of the strange aspects of her distant home, about the pressure she felt to be what they wanted her to be, but mercifully, he had never had to see her cry. The very thought of seeing those beautiful eyes darken made Symparu flinch. It was a sight he never wanted to see.
“Thinking about her again, Brother?” Damkina whispered to him suddenly.
“What?” Symparu managed, surprised. When he recovered, he lowered his head slightly. “Yes. I wasn’t hiding it well, I suppose.”
“You weren’t hiding it at all,” she chided softly, a small laugh in her voice. “So, Brother, I’ve been wondering. You’ve told me a lot about this dream girl, but you’ve never told me what she looks like.”
“Looks like?” Symparu repeated. “Well, it’s sort of hard to describe.”
“That’s alright,” Damkina laughed, dancing around to Symparu’s left. “We’ll use visuals.” Damkina pointed to a woman walking with her family a short distance away. “Does she look like her? Tall, hair drawn back, barbels long and thin?”
“Uh, no,” Symparu said nervously. Damkina was clearly in a playful mood, but she was playing at a game that neither one of them would win.
“Oh, I see,” Damkina said. “Don’t like the tall ones, eh, Brother? Then she must look more like her!” She pointed in another direction at a different woman, this one shorter in stature, hair, and barbels. When Symparu shook his head again, Damkina groaned. “Okay, fine. Let’s do one thing at a time. “Is she tall?”
Symparu shrugged. “Sort of tall, I guess. Just a bit shorter than me.”
“Hmm,” Damkina said with a vague smile. “Okay, how about hair? Was it like hers,” she asked, pointing to the first woman, “Or like hers?”
“No,” Symparu said simply.
Damkina looked at him suspiciously. “No? Well, how many different ways can a girl wear her hair?”
Symparu swallowed. He knew his sister, and she wasn’t going to let the issue drop. Finally, he looked over at Damkina and locked eyes with her as they walked. “Sister, do you remember when we were young, and it would rain like this? Do you remember how I would hide while the caravan moved?”
“Yeah,” she said, narrowing her eyes slightly at him changing the subject. “You would hide in the storage shelf mounted under the wagons. But I don’t see…”
“It was safe under there,” Symparu interrupted her. “It was safe, and warm, and dry. I would just ride there, hoping the storm would pass, while staring at that dark, brown wood. Sister, whenever I see her hair, that’s what I think of.”
Damkina scoffed. “Well, why would it…” she stopped suddenly, realizing what he was actually saying. “Oh, no. Oh, Brother…”
Symparu nodded. “And her eyes, Sister? Her eyes are as blue as the sky when the rain is nowhere near.”
Damkina leaned in close and whispered to him, her voice barely audible above the rain. “She’s a human?”
Once again, Symparu nodded, but this time said nothing.
After a while, Damkina spoke again, her previous excitement replaced with concern. “Brother, this is no good. We cannot trust humans, any more than they trust us. If this dream girl of yours exists, she’s nothing but trouble for you. You’re from different worlds.”
“I can’t explain it, Sister,” Symparu began, “but I believe I can trust her. I can feel it. No one I’ve ever met is more of a Child to me than she is.”
Damkina winced slightly as she heard her brother use the most profound of Kor terms of endearment. “But you haven’t met her, Brother.”
“I know,” he said, sorrowfully. “But someday, I will. I promise.”
Just as Symparu was speaking these words, the rain seemed to stop, and a sharp whistle sounded from the front of the caravan. They had reached their destination. Symparu smiled. More than anything, he wanted to sleep.
* * *
The Dream was the same as always, and yet, as always, it was different. Instead of the endless fields of long, dull grass and rolling hills, Thatis saw the strange outline of houses, and yet they seemed false, as if they were only painted on a backdrop of flapping canvas. Their design was completely foreign to her, just barely recognizable as houses, and nothing like the tall, elegant structures of Ameran. She also saw bizarre creatures pacing around, some she recognized, many she did not. Of those she thought she knew, she saw dogs, and chickens, and large, flightless birds, and even a tiger, who was resting casually at the edge of the chasm. Thatis eyed the tiger suspiciously, but it seemed tame enough, and Thatis sensed no danger from it, and so, instead, she gazed across the chasm, hopeful and expectant.
The strange man was not there.
For a long time, Thatis was confused. She had never once had the Dream without the man waiting for her at the ravine. After what felt like hours of waiting, confusion began to give way to panic, and then to terror. She had never considered the possibility that he would ever not be there. Thatis suddenly wondered what it meant, as if an extension of her failure at producing her great work had somehow taken him away from her. This thought, however, made her pause. As her face paled, she realized that she didn’t care about her great work. Reproducing the man’s image meant nothing if she couldn’t have him in the Dream. It wasn’t his image she cared about, it was him.
Just as she was about to weep for her loss, a voice cut through the stillness of the Dream, caressing her softly like a caring lover. “Please, please don’t cry!”
She looked up and saw his beautiful, alien face and almost wept once again, but this time out of relief. “It’s you!”
“Why are you crying?” He asked, his own voice wavering.
“I…” she began, stopped, and then began again. “I thought you weren’t coming. I thought I’d lost you forever.”
The man lowered his head. “I’m so sorry, Child. I was delayed getting to sleep.”
“Child?” Thatis said. “I’m older than you are, if you told me your age truly!”
The man looked confused, but then laughed. “Again, I’m sorry! I forget sometimes that you are not Kor. We use the word Child for those who can trust us completely. Those we will never intentionally hurt. Those we care for above all others.” He paused here, looking away from her sheepishly. When he looked back, his eyes were quivering slightly. “Do…do your people have a word for that?”
She laughed. “I’m sure poets have thought up many, but I like the beauty of simplicity. I would just call you ‘My Love.”
“Would you?” He asked suddenly, his white eyes staring at her unblinking.
She paused, realizing what he was asking. Finally, she nodded. “Yes. My Love.”
He closed his eyes, as if the feeling of the words was too much for him to take. Eventually, he opened them again and grinned, the barbels at his chin shaking slightly as he did. “And…may I call you…my Child?”
“It will take some getting used to,” she said, before matching his grin. “But I would love it, my Love.”
Suddenly, the Dream around Thatis began to fade. She was waking up.
“No, wait!” The man called.
Thatis began to panic, and the Dream started fading faster. “I…I can’t”
“Just relax!” He screamed. “Please, be calm! You can hold on to the Dream, I know you can! Please!”
Thatis tried. She tried as hard as she could. With every possible reserve of will she possessed, she tried to force herself back into the Dream, to hang on just a little while longer. And, for the first time in a long time, Thatis succeeded. The world of the Dream suddenly became clearer again, and after an exhausting struggle, she found herself once more standing on the edge of the chasm, looking across at the man she loved.
He smiled, and her heart pounded. “I did it,” she said quietly.
He nodded. “You did it! Maybe if we try, if we remain calm, we can make this Dream last all night.”
Thatis grinned. “I’d like that.”
“So,” the man said. “Where do we go from here?”
She looked back across the ravine. He was so close, and yet so very, very far away. Then Thatis looked around her, their shared Dream stretching out for an eternity in every direction. She found herself smiling. “This is our place, my Love. Why go anywhere?”
Together, the two of them talked for what seemed to be hours within the Dream. They spoke of everything, from her great work to his family to their worlds, and everything in between. It felt to both of them as if they had known one another all their lives, and perhaps, within the Dream, they had. It seemed too magical a thing to deny the possibility. But finally, after a very long time, the world of the Dream began to fade away from her again, and this time she could not maintain it. As it was fading, however, the man yelled to Thatis.
“My Child, make me a promise!”
“Anything, my Love!”
“Promise me that when you know you truly love me, and when you know with all your heart that I truly love you, promise me you’ll give me your name!”
Thatis smiled. After everything they had seen and spoken about, they had never exchanged names. For some reason, that simple act always seemed like it would make everything too real. That action would mean it would cease being a dream, and it would become something else entirely. Thatis didn’t know what, but it would be something else, something more. But love was love, and she could no longer deny it. “I promise.”
“My Love?” she asked, even as reality was closing around her.
“Yes, my Child?”
“My name is Thatis, from Ameran!”
His mouth hung open for a long moment, but as her vision began to fail her, he called out. “My name is Symparu, of Ikass!”
Thatis grinned. Suddenly, she noticed the tiger, who had been watching everything lazily. The tiger climbed to her feet, stretched her back, and then sprang easily across the chasm. Thatis was momentarily terrified for Symparu, but the tiger simply yawned and laid back down. Thatis was confused, but she managed to catch one more glimpse of Symparu’s face before the Dream vanished completely.
* * *
Thatis woke up, and she was instantly as awake as she had ever been. She glanced over at the window. Judging by the light streaming in, it was nearly midday. She had been asleep for a very, very long time, but she felt incredible. She felt more rested, more satisfied, and more alive than she had felt in years. She glanced around the floor of her room and almost laughed at the torn and tattered canvas she had thrown there. They seemed silly now.
“Symparu,” Thatis said out loud, smiling widely at the sound.
Suddenly, she was moving, a new blank canvas on her easel and a paintbrush in her hand. She had no worry anymore, no pressure. She already knew how the portrait would come out. She knew how the statue would look when it was done, and how the glass sculpture would appear, and she could even envision the dance she would do with and around them when she was finished.
“Symparu,” she said again as the white paint made contact with the canvas. “You are my great work, my Love. Now that you’re real, there is nothing that can stop me. I promise.”
* * *
Symparu bolted awake in his empty tent. It was morning already, and the rest of the caravan would probably be trying to make their deals with the townsfolk. He had no idea why his family hadn’t woken him, but he suspected Damkina had convinced them to let him sleep. She had probably told them he was becoming ill, and a part of her likely believed it. But whatever the reason, Symparu was grateful. It was only in his Dream that he could see her, and only while sleeping could he dream.
“Thatis,” he said, whispering the name to himself, and smiling.
Still, he couldn’t help but mentally repeat his question from the Dream. Where could they go now? They had pledged themselves to one another, and Symparu knew he could never love another the same way again. And his trust in her was absolute. There was no doubt there. She felt for him what he felt for her. But regardless, they lived on different sides of the chasm, two different worlds. Symparu could search Ikass for the rest of his life, but there was simply too much undiscovered. She could be anywhere.
“Thatis,” he said again, his hand clenching into a fist. “I will find you, somehow. We will be together, my Child. I promise.”
* * *
Jade had gone to sleep on Sertaria, but she awoke on Ikass. She rose quietly and stretched, wincing internally as her stone skin creaked and complained. She had been on Sertaria trying to track down an old tome for the Infinite Library, and while there, she had happened upon one of the strangest dream phenomena she had ever felt. Two lovers, separated not only by distance, but by worlds. She had no idea how their dreams could have possibly bridged the Blind Eternities, but their connection was strong. So strong, in fact, that even in her dream state, Jade had been able to use it to planeswalk from one world to the other. Never in her life had Jade ever planeswalked while dreaming.
“Thatis and Symparu,” she purred softly. “I shall find you, and if I am able, I shall bring you together. I promise.”
She looked around at the vast, empty plains and sighed. “I wonder if Raleris knows anything about Ikass.”