Cynical Faith

by Cynus

Chapter 20

Time had little meaning in the world of dreams, a fact which Grim had still not entirely grown accustomed to. During some periods it seemed to move quicker than the waking world, and within others it moved at a crawl. Through all of it, however, he retained his connection to the living things in the world, and felt the passage of time through them.

The Chosen did not have that same perception, though some of them had begun to venture out into the waking world once again. They had marveled at the changes which were taking place. At Grim's insistence, the Chosen had maintained their anonymity, walking through the world as if they belonged to the current era.

Some had reported that they wished to interfere, and Grim assured them that this was normal, but must be subdued. In certain cases, he had allowed the Chosen to hold conversations, and ask questions which opened the minds of the mortal population.

Preaching, however, was completely out of the question. As was directly interfering in events. No amount of political strife or inequality was worth taking the matter out of mortal hands. Doing the job for them would've defeated the purpose, as it would've prevented them from learning from their mistakes.

But Grim felt the same frustrations the Chosen did, and in his period of insubstantial time he had formulated a plan. He did not know if it would work, but he knew from the history which Ghayle had imparted to him, that it had never been done before.

He had given the Chosen a task, to observe the world and meditate on its problems from their own perspectives. It had taken time to do properly, time Grim knew the world had. It wasn't all hopeless yet, far from it. Some of the old patterns were reemerging, and some had never left, but the foundation laid by leaders like Maxthane, Hount, and Alsha remained intact. The world in general was working together to solve its problems, though Grim knew it would not last without proper maintenance.

With any luck, the place before him had the answers to that. Inspired by the Elroks' ancestral grounds, the Chosen had constructed a circle of massive stones in the dream world. Instead of animals in tribal markings, Telzath was hard at work inscribing messages from each of the Chosen onto the surface of the stones. Each stone bore a unique inscription, which had been enchanted with powerful magic. Regardless of what language they spoke, any viewer of the stones would be able to read the words. To be understood was the point, after all.

Even now, Telzath was inscribing another message. This one belonged to Vinhkroludar, who stood hunched over Telzath's shoulder, apple in hand as he discussed word choice and meaning. Telzath had worked with each of the Chosen individually, believing that he needed to understand the words himself if he wanted to inscribe them properly. Grim loved him for it.

"You'd think he'd be sick of apples by now," Prism said from Grim's side. Grim glanced his way and noted the grin on Prism's face.

"Knowing Master Vinh, he's probably trying to analyze how each apple tastes differently from the others, so he can adjust his metaphors accordingly," Grim replied with a chuckle.

"As long as he constructs the metaphor somehow," Prism said, "I suppose I shouldn't complain. His words are worth a lot more than the teasing I give him for his methods."

"Let's hope so," Grim replied, unable to prevent his smile from faltering slightly.

Prism regarded Grim curiously. "You're worried that this will fail. Why?"

"It's only been a few decades since the end of the Trial," Grim replied. "Already, I can see the seeds of discord being planted. What if this doesn't work? What if I'm wrong, and I end up just like Naxthul and Ghayle, and I can only see one way out?"

Prism rolled his eyes and kissed Grim on the cheek, then sat down next to him and took his hand. "You're thinking too much. There is always a choice, and a different way of looking at things. Isn't that what this archive of yours is all about?"

Grim sighed, not quite convinced, but he nodded all the same. "I suppose I'm simply worried that no one will read these words. Or, if they read them, will they even remember them when they wake?"

"Everyone dreams, right?" Prism said. "That was your logic when you told us of your plan. Everyone dreams, and for brief periods they come here, traveling down foreign paths, experiencing things that their waking mind cannot explain. Of all of those, some are bound to remember. And of those, some are bound to retain."

"It sounds good in theory," Grim replied. "But will it actually work?"

"Does asking the question determine whether or not we're going to try?" Prism asked.

Grim laughed at that, knowing Prism was right. "No, I suppose it doesn't. We'll know if it works when it does or doesn't. If it does, that's wonderful, and if it doesn't, we'll try something else."

"The same as any other problem, isn't it?" Prism replied.

"I've said the same thing many times; I should learn to take my own advice," Grim said.

"Has everyone finished writing down what they want to say?" Prism asked. "And you're sure you want me to use both of mine?"

Grim nodded. "As far as I'm concerned, you can write as many as you'd like. We can set up hundreds of stones. Thousands, even. As long as what you write is true from your perspective, it's welcome here."

"Some bits will be left out," Prism said. "As it is, it's unlikely anyone will retain all of it. There's far too much to be said."

"Hopefully, the more we learn about people, and the more often they come here, the more they'll learn," Grim said. "After all, the stones are just a summary of the experience. The stories will be what they retain above everything else; it's much easier to remember an experience than to internalize the wisdom contained in a few lines of text."

"Have you decided what will go on the central stone?" Prism asked.

Grim reached into a fold in his clothing pulled out a sheet of paper. "Even better, it's ready to go as soon as the others are inscribed."

"Can I read it?" Prism asked.

Grim smiled and handed the paper to Prism. "Of course, you'll always be first."

Whatever dreams brings you here, you are welcome to stay for as long as you need. Linger. Contemplate the results of your intuition. You already know the path to take; trust yourself.

If you are reading these words, then it is likely you have heard our stories. Every story is as much about those receiving it as it is about those telling it. We have lived our lives in pursuit of ambitions, causes, ideals, and understanding. What we gained from our experience may not be the same as what you gain from learning about it. This is expected, and is the most likely outcome.

This is a dream. Like all dreams, it was constructed by the process of minds trying to understand the world. If it feels familiar, that's because it is. If it feels strange and cryptic, that's because it is. Dreams provide us with the opportunity to confront the unknown through the lens of our subconscious experience. You have been here before, and you will be here again.

Prism spoke to you about the fear of death, but I must speak to the root of fear. It is something which lives within all of us, motivating us to escape perceived danger. In many ways it keeps us alive, and perhaps is the single greatest force preventing our destruction.

But it can become cancerous and prevent us from developing into something greater. It was fear which led to the wars of my people, for they feared a loss of control. Oligan feared that we would regain it over them. Had we mutually accepted individual sovereignty, not for our nations but for our people, there would've been no need for that war.

I feared a lack of purpose, and I fear it still. It may always be a part of me, but I'm working to overcome it. I lost myself to obsession, so that I wouldn't have to face the emptiness of my own motivation. I became the Guardian of this world as much for myself as for all of you. Naxthul knew I would be unable to resist the allure of a life with purpose.

If I accepted my own sovereignty, would I have made that choice? Was I selfish for accepting this position, or would I have been selfish to refuse it? Fear is the most selfish emotion of all, but it exists on both sides of my dilemma. It exists in every moment where we face change, regardless of the source. Change threatens existence, fear's most prized possession.

But there exists an opposite to fear—acceptance. When we can see change or the unknown and accept that it has as much right to exist as we do. Courage is not opposed to fear; it is the willingness to accept difference.

Acceptance serves its purpose as well; we are able to learn from acceptance, to embrace new concepts and grow. But it, too, can become cancerous. What happens when acceptance allows too much destruction? How much change can occur before the self is lost?

A balance must be struck between the two, and that is the crux of this endeavor. Fear and acceptance must exist within a single emotion if we are ever to escape the cycles which lead us to destruction and hatred. Love accepts the other but retains fear within it. We fear the loss of loved ones, and so we fight for them. Through love we accept that they are distinct, and we open ourselves to the change and growth they bring.

Love does not conquer fear. It accepts it and seeks harmony. It invites the other into itself and gives of itself to the other. It is the balance of the selfish and the selfless.

The world is both singular and plural at once. It is the combination of all of us, each part distinct, yet important. When it is balanced, it grows to fulfil its potential, and allows its parts to grow with it. Each system within it must work to achieve that balance, or it is forced to balance itself.

That balance is a yet unrealized ideal. It is a dream, constructed by a mind trying to understand this world. It feels familiar, because we all long for it. It feels strange, because we have not yet achieved it. This is the opportunity to confront the unknown. We have given you our experience of it. We await yours with acceptance.

We exist in division. We draw lines with borders and labels, each one confining us to a smaller world than the one we already share. Does it have to be this way? What if we could change that? What would you do, if you could wake up tomorrow in a world that knew you, accepted you, and feared losing you enough to fight for you?

What if?

There exists a better world across this divide between us.

You've been here before, and you'll be here again. This is the end. This is the beginning. Choose your path.



The End.

Author's Note:

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