Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien
here are three forms of dreaming. The first is normal dreaming, in which the mind uses the imagination to create images while a person is asleep. Like sleep itself, we do not yet fully understand the purpose of normal dreams, but this much is certain. Nearly all mammals dream, as well as some rather "primitive" creatures like spiders. And humans who are deprived of the ability to dream degenerate mentally, becoming delusional and paranoid, experiencing hallucinations, and finally suffering a psychotic break. The second form of dreaming occurs when sensory stimuli, acquired either through the senses or psychically, causes the mind to interpret and display the information as imaginary images.
The third form is known as Dreaming (note the capital "D"). This is the phenomenon wherein the mind of the sleeper slips across interdimensional space to another universe known as the Lands of the Dreams of Men (more popularly referred to as the Dreamworld or the Dreamlands). The Dreamlands is not imaginary; it has an independent physical existence, which is demonstrated by the fact that it is sometimes possible to physically enter the Dreamlands through "gates" created when the Dreamlands and our universe come into physical contact. In fact it constitutes an entire alternate reality, or at least a series of parallel universes within our Level 1 Multiverse. However, the Dreamlands was also created by the minds of sapient beings, and its nature is constantly changing as our perception of the Dreamlands changes.
This may sound paradoxical, but this complementary nature is based on quantum mechanics. It is similar to the philosophical conundrum, if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make noise? The answer depends upon how you define noise. If noise is defined as physical sound, which is vibrations traveling through air, then the falling tree does make noise, because the act of falling creates the vibrations that become sound. On the other hand, if noise is defined as the way the mind perceives sound, then the falling tree does not make noise if there is no mind around to interpret the sound as noise.
According to quantum mechanics, however, the falling tree both does and does not make noise. There must be a mind to interpret the sound as noise, but there must also be sound for the mind to perceive. Sound exists independently of mind, and sound is the physical component of noise, but air vibrations are not themselves noise until a mind perceives them as such. In other words, sound and perception are interconnected: our perception affects the nature of sound but sound affects how we perceive it.
But quantum mechanics does not end there. It goes one step further and asks, if a tree stands in a forest and no one is around to see it, does it exist? The same answers apply. If existence is defined physically, then the tree does exist, but if it is defined perceptually, then it does not exist. But quantum mechanics asserts that both are interconnected, so the tree both does and does not exist simultaneously. There must be some physical form for us to perceive, but our perception determines the exact nature of that form. Our perceptions affect how we see the tree, yet the tree itself affects the way our perceptions work. What's more, according to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, the tree is in this simultaneous state of existence/non-existence until someone sees it; only then does it truly exist.
The concept of an object existing in two or more states simultaneously is known as superposition, while the process by which an observer causes one state to emerge while the rest collapse is called decoherence. The Dreamlands exists as a superposition of many different possible forms and natures, including non-existence, but when Dreamers enter the Dreamlands, only one of these states becomes real. Which state emerges is determined in part by which states are available and in part by the mind of the Dreamer, but both influence each other because both are interconnected. As such, while decoherence is almost instantaneous, it is nonetheless complex. Dreamers tend to perceive the Dreamlands in the same general way, regardless of their cultural background or species, due to the Lands being an independent reality. Yet each Dreamer perceives them in subtly different ways. A case in point is the fact that to Medb hErenn names are either Irish in form or are pronounced as if they were Irish. This is because Medb perceives the Dreamlands as being similar to the Irish Otherworld. Yet the people around her do not share this perception, so a name that seems Irish to her seems normal to everyone else.
The nature and features of the Dreamlands have also changed over time, mostly because which species of Dreamers that predominates has shifted, but also because individual Dreamers can alter the Dreamlands over time by their changing perceptions and expectations, and their fears and desires, through their normal dreams. Kuranes created the city of Celephais through his dreams before he died in the Waking World and became king of the land of Ooth-Nargai, while Randolph Carter created the city of Ilek-Vad in the same way. Medb has the power to alter the Dreamlands "in real time", but she does not yet realize this. This is possible because the Dreamworld is consistent with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, just like our own universe, wherein all possible outcomes of an event exist simultaneously. As in our universe, decoherence forces us to perceive just one outcome for any event. The difference is that in the Dreamlands it is possible to alter the probabilities inherent in the wave functions of objects and events, thereby changing their features and nature.
The origin of the Dreamlands is a profound mystery explained, for now, only by myths. One widespread belief is that it was created by the Elder Gods as a refuge from the Great Old Ones, though the presence of Bokrug and Tsathoggua tends to caste doubt on this. Another belief is that it is the home reality of the Great Ones. The prevailing myth, however, is that it was created by Nyarlathotep as a refuge for the Great Ones from some unknown danger. Though why he did so is unknown, it would explain why he continues to protect them.
Only four species from Earth are known to possess the skill of Dreaming: spiders, cetaceans, humans, and domestic cats. Spiders were the first to inhabit the Dreamlands, and while they did not create it, they modified it considerably. By the time humans appeared, other creatures had successfully challenged the spiders' hegemony, including the Men From Leng, and had modified the Dreamlands for their purposes. Humans quickly became the dominant Dreamers, and modified the Dreamlands to what it is now. Cats are only just beginning to exert a modifying influence, so it is difficult to predict how the Dreamlands will change over time. So far as anyone can determine, cetaceans have only modified the Dream oceans.
Yet even as Dreamers modify the Dreamlands, the Dreamlands have modified Dreamers. It is perhaps no coincidence that the four species who are known Dreamers are also the only known species who are sapient (though spiders and cats have kept this secret from humans, and cetaceans seem to have interest in interacting with humans except for dolphins). It is generally believed that Dreaming helps sapience to develop. It is unknown to what degree it is necessary, but simplistically it can be demonstrated that the only known sapient species are also Dreaming species. Along this same line of thought, some have suggested that the Kraken are the Dream forms of Waking World giant squids, thereby suggesting that they too may be sapient.
Still, not all the inhabitants of the Dreamlands are Dreamers. Non-sapient animals exist as autonomous constructs created by Dreamers, which acquired the ability to reproduce on their own. These include camels, elephants, llamas, yaks, and zebras, though this begs the question as to why horses or dogs do not exist in the Dreamlands. Certain sapient beings, such as Zoogs, Merfolk, Goblins, Leng Men, Gugs, Gnorri, and the (presumably) extinct Beings of Ib, seem to have no Waking World equivalent (at least, that we know of). Either they are former Dreamers whose Waking counterparts are now extinct, or they are natural Dreamlands inhabitants who somehow acquired sapience. Other sapient creatures, such as Ghouls, Moonbeasts, Nightguants, Ghasts, and Serpent People, exist in both the Waking World and the Dreamlands, but are not themselves Dreamers. Ghouls and Nightguants enter the Dreamlands through Ghoul warren tunnels, Ghasts through the Great Abyss, and Moonbeasts and Serpent People through gates. Some non-sapient creatures, such as Wamps, Basilisks, Manticores, Vooniths, Buopoths, Magah Birds, Butterfly-Dragons, Haemophores, Bholes, and Fireworms, seem to be either naturally evolved species or constructs that have existed so long as independent creatures they have acquired a life of their own. Still others, such as the Minions of Karakal, Blubes, Lamp-efts, Cloudbeasts, and Shades, are creatures from other universes that are summoned to the Dreamlands or are able to arrive naturally.
Though the nature of Dreaming is not fully understood, it appears tied to normal sleep rhythms. All organisms that sleep go through regular 90-minute cycles in which they progress through the various stages of sleep. Non-REM stage 1 (N1) is the first and is often referred to drowsy sleep, since the sleeper still has some muscle tone and conscious awareness. Non-REM stage 2 (N2) is next, when further muscle tone is lost and conscious awareness disappears. Sleepers tend to spend 50% of their sleep time in N2 sleep. Non-REM stage 3 (N3) sleep is the deepest form of sleep, when muscle tone almost disappears. Research has shown that this stage seems to be essential, because individuals deprived of N3 sleep will experience greater amounts of it for a short time once uninhibited sleep is restored.
The sleep cycle continues as sleepers rise up out of N3 sleep through N2 sleep, but rather than re-enter N1 sleep, they instead experience REM sleep. REM stands for "rapid eye movement", because REM sleep is characterized by rapid movements of the eyeballs under the closed lids. Brainwave activity also increases, but muscle tone is lost, resulting in near-complete paralysis. Normal dreaming occurs at this stage, and like N3 sleep it also seems to be essential, being as individuals deprived of REM sleep will experience greater amounts of it for a short time once it is restored. Some conscious awareness is also present, since sensory stimuli can affect dreams, and sleepers can be awaken at this stage by sharp noises or pain. However, this is also when Dreaming occurs. Research has shown that at some point during the first REM cycle, the Dreamer experiences a lucid dream in which he is present in a familiar or recurring dream setting. If he wishes to enter the Dreamlands, he wills into existence a flight of descending stairs. These are known as the Seventy Steps to Lighter Slumber. They symbolize the descent of the Dreamer from somnolence to deeper sleep. If he goes down, he arrives in the foyer of the Dreamlands known as the Cavern of Flame.
However, it is at this point that Dreaming departs from normal sleep. Research has shown that while a Dreamer is in the Dreamlands, his body continues to cycle through the sleep stages, including re-entering REM sleep numerous times. Yet the Dreamer's experiences in the Dreamlands are continuous, indicating that Dreaming is not tied to the sleep cycles or normal dreaming. Meanwhile, the Dreamer's brain continues to experience normal dreams, of which the Dreamer has no memory, and when the body awakens, the Dreamer will return to it, often instantaneously. In fact, if a Dreamer is awakened during a non-REM sleep stage, he will still report having "dreamed" even though his brain waves indicate that he was not having a normal dream at the time. This has led some researchers to speculate that the mind somehow separates itself from the physical brain and travels to this alternate reality. Others have suggested that Dreaming is a form of astral projection or soul transmigration, while more materialistic theories suggest a combined form of clairvoyant and psychokinetic projection or a collective unconscious fantasy realm, sort of a psychological virtual reality. Whatever the truth, the research so far seems to support the belief that Dreaming is a non-physical, possibly even a non-material, process.
Once the Dreamer arrives in the Cavern of Flame, he is confronted by Nasht and Kaman-Thah, the guardians of the Dreamlands. These priests of the Great Ones guard the Dreamlands against evil, corrupt, or greedy men, and they protect the normal dreams of men from the dangers of the Dreamlands. They will not permit anyone they consider unworthy or too weak to enter the Dreamworld, and they have nearly infinite powers to enforce their decisions. Though they have never been known to harm anyone, Dreamers who attack them simply wake up in their own beds, while other beings are teleported out of the Cavern. And the priests block them from ever finding the Seventy Steps again. All Dreamers arrive naked and alone, even if they descended the Seventy Steps as part of a group and while clothed. This is believed to symbolize the ability of the priests to examine the Dreamer's very soul, as well as the need to judge each Dreamer by his own character. This stipulation has only been violated once in the entire history of the Dreamworld.
If a Dreamer is deemed worthy, the priests welcome him and permit him to descend the Seven Hundred Steps to Deeper Slumber if he wishes. He is also given clothing and supplies, whatever he might want or need within reason. The nature of time in the Dreamlands prevents the existence of any item invented after the 15th century, however Dreamers may have whatever they can carry, no matter how rare or exotic, with the exception of magical items. As well, some necessary but ubiquitous and harmless modern items may be provided if they are so intrinsic to a Dreamer that they can be thought of as being part of his physical nature. For example, an extremely myopic Dreamer who has worn contacts all his life may find a pair waiting for him in the Cavern. Other items, however, such as a pacemaker or a futuristic insulin pump, will not be provided since the Dream body, while identical in appearance to the Dreamer's Waking body, usually does not share its deformities or handicaps.
If the Dreamer decides to descend the Seven Hundred steps, he emerges in the Enchanted Wood. At this point he is in the Dreamworld proper, and may go wherever he pleases. Ulthar is the closest settlement of any appreciable size, and it is where the vast majority of Dreamers head for. Most live there, or use it as a base of operations, and the town has grown large and prosperous catering to Dreamers. Dreamers generally remain within the Dreamlands for as long as they are asleep in the Waking World. Time in the Dreamworld is fluid, but generally a Dreamer will be in the Dreamlands a week for every hour his Waking body remains asleep. When it awakens, the Dreamer returns to it. This usually happens when the Dreamer is asleep in the Dreamlands; when he next awakens, it is in the Waking World. However, it is not unusual for Dreamers to simply vanish, often in sight of others, especially if their Waking body has been startled awake. You can tell if someone is a Dreamer by the fact that he or she will disappear every four to twelve weeks for twelve to twenty weeks at a time before reappearing.
Dreamers live fairly normal lives in the Dreamlands, even those who become adventurers. They must eat, drink, and sleep just as in the Waking World. They must have clothing and shelter, all the material goods needed to furnish their home, and armor and weapons if they plan to go adventuring. And for all this, they must have money. Many Dreamers become adventurers as the quickest means of acquiring wealth they can turn into money, but many also ply some trade or open some form of establishment instead. There is every sort of professional and craftsman in the Dreamworld that one can think of, provided they need no modern equipment to operate, and every sort of business one might need or want. And since few vices are illegal, depending upon local law, liquor, prostitutes, and drugs are all readily available. Unfortunately, this also means that crime is fairly rampant, even in places with a strong civil authority and a militia. Also, Nasht and Kaman-Thah exercise no authority over natural-born inhabitants, dreamers who become permanent residents, or those that enter the Dreamworld via gates or by other means. As such, there are persons and beings in the Dreamlands that are corrupt, greedy, even evil, and that will not hesitate to commit atrocities and use torture, or traffic in slavery and human livestock.
Many Dreamers use the Dreamlands as a refuge from a disappointing or hard life, and many use the Dreamworld as an opportunity to start over or live the lives they want. Some will even marry and start families, and because of the fluidity of time, many can live for many decades or even centuries. However, the Dreamlands is far from a paradise. In addition to the need for money, the presence of criminals, monsters, and wicked beings makes it a dangerous place. Dreamers can be injured and become sick, they will grow old if at a slower rate, and all die at one point or another. A Dreamer whose Dream body dies can never return to the Dreamlands. Still, one advantage is that the reverse is not true; a Dreamer whose Waking body dies can elect to live in the Dreamlands for the remainder of his Dream life, provided his Dream body is still alive. What happens to such Dreamers, as well as natural-born inhabitants, when their Dream bodies die is as profound a mystery as what happens when a non-Dreamer dies in the Waking World.
The ability to Dream usually begins with the onset of puberty, but it can appear later or in rare cases even earlier. Certain drugs and poisons can trigger latent abilities while certain magical and religious rituals can direct a non-Dreamer to find the Seventy Steps. Anyone permitted to enter the Dreamlands by Nasht and Kaman-Thah may return on subsequent nights, even if they have no Dreaming talent, but they must learn how to find the Seventy Steps on their own.
Child Dreamers are a special case, because they are particularly vulnerable. If necessary, the priests can bar their ability to enter the Dreamlands until they become older, but in the only known time when they have have dictated their will to the Dreamworld as a whole, they have declared any Dreamer who has not yet come of age to be sacrosanct. This means that they cannot be harmed, or allowed to come to harm, in any way. To enforce their ruling, they declared that if any Child Dreamer were harmed, they would bar all Dreamers from entering the Dreamlands for an entire Waking year. Since that would translate to 168 Dream years, it was taken as a credible threat. Nonetheless, many people were prepared to ignore the ruling, until Nyarlathotep himself declared that he would enforce it personally. As a result, many beings that would not have hesitated to exploit such innocents, such as Zoogs, Moonbeasts, and the Men of Leng, instead go to great pains to protect them. And since there are many non-sapient animals and sapient creatures that cannot or will not heed even the Crawling Chaos himself, they will not hesitate to defend Child Dreamers even at the expense of their own lives. The cats are the primary defenders of Child Dreamers, and together with the Zoogs do whatever they need to do to ensure their safe arrival in Ulthar. There they are housed in special dormitories until they awaken, taken care of and educated until they come of age. At that time, all protection is removed and they must take their chances like any Dreamer. When this happens is decided on a case by case basis, but once Nasht and Kaman-Thah have declared that a Child Dreamer has come of age, their decision is irrevocable.
It should be noted that the prohibition against harm does not apply to children born in the Dreamlands, who presumably have families to protect them. Nonetheless, King Kuranes of Ooth-Nargai has declared that he will extend the prohibition to all children under the age of eighteen and that he will use the full might of his kingdom to enforce that prohibition if necessary. So far, only the High Queen of All Cats and the city-state of Karchedon have declared their support of his proclamation, but that has been sufficient to convince many others to abide by it, at least in principle.
Back to the Dreamworld.