Atros dreamed for the first time in many weeks. It had taken a great effort of will to break the bonds of the nepenthe still tainting his blood, but Atros had succeeded. Still, there was much more to been done, much more to experience. Atros should not relax now that he had overcome the first, and possibly the easiest, barrier.
In spite of this, for several moments Atros hesitated to open his eyes. He needed more time to solidify his resolve. Atros let his attention turn inward. He knew that he was dreaming. Something deep in side him sensed it, but he also knew that this was a dream unlike any other. His mind was clear, unclouded by the fog of uncertainty or forgetfulness. Not only could Atros remember his identity as a rogue scholar in Dargon, but Atros could also recall in detail a hundred other lives that he had led in previous dreams. This terrified him. He remembered the pain and loss, but he also experienced a sense of detachment that helped support him against the pull of insanity. His mind was very clear, his thoughts precise. From a solely inward inspection, Atros could be certain that he had arrived where he had wanted to go. It was very difficult to believe that this was only a dream.
Atros slowly opened his eyes. He lay on a vast floor composed of huge, gray stone blocks. Above him was a high vaulted ceiling sloping gradually down to the floor on two sides. The stone ceiling bore criss-crossing arches whose shadows gave the chamber an eerie organic feeling. There was a distant light in one direction and darkness in the other. Atros raised himself to his feet before noticing his clothing. While he bore the same body that had settled to sleep in Pravo’s house, he now wore a soft white robe belted with a thick black ribbon. He felt very healthy and strong. There was no trace of the fatigue or wounds that he had received in the street fight only hours before.
Atros’ course seemed obvious. Though he was suspicious of being led, he set out in bare feet across the coarse stonework toward the distant light. After several hundred yards, Atros could dimly discern a figure standing before the light source. Impatient to finish this destined meeting, Atros quickened his pace.
The figure was that of a healthy old man. His face was ridden with the wrinkles of age but he stood tall and straight. He too was dressed in purest white with a belt of black. Atros took a long look at the man’s smiling countenance then glanced down as he approached, unwilling to face him.
“You have found what you have sought. Though you don’t know what that is,” the man spoke mirthfully. His voice was deep, fatherly.
“I thought perhaps you were gods?” Atros suggested rather weakly.
“No, Atros, we are not gods. We are something other than that,” He pronounced and then lapsed into quiet contemplation for long moments. “Do you remember reading Fendle, Jung, Carstoe, Van Keltii, Reinhelm, and the others?”
“…yes…” Atros replied in a hollow whisper.
“We are a fraction of Siger’s world-soul, a splinter of Byron’s oversoul, an isolate disembodied collective subconsciousness. We are a collective entity which germinated in minds such as your own but has grown to surpass such boundaries,” he paused for a moment. “Well, at least partially. Your and our mind overlap in a region of your subconscious, though only a small part of ourself is yourself and vice versa. You understand that I use the pronoun ‘we’ only because such constructs as ‘I/we/you’ are very awkward in your language. I am an individual, a collection of individuals, and a portion of your own mind. I am empowered to speak for each of these entities. You have many questions which I now will attempt to answer.”
“What are you called?” Atros’ mind was struggling with these ideas. He cast out this question to buy the time he needed to adjust.
“We could ask the same of you. At this instant you could rightfully answer to half a thousand names, which you remember bearing during some part of your existence. Yet none of those names adequately describes the individual that you are now. We are much the same. We have both too many names and no suitable name, but if you prefer, you may call us Morpheus as that might best describe us from your point of view.” Morpheus’ tone seemed almost too friendly.
“What is this place?” Atros asked. He had decided that if he had to meet his maker, he did not wish to show weakness. And yet, he was still confused. Too much seemed to be happening too quickly to follow. Perhaps, he should have waited until he was better prepared for all of this.
“A creation based on patterns deep within your own mind. We have gone to the trouble of making everything appear as closely as possible to the way you inwardly expected it to appear. Even my own appearance is drawn from your own imagination. We chose to craft forms that would be meaningful to you, literally and symbolically. We wished to convey our message with the least amount of confusion or fright.” Morpheus spoke without gestures.
“Then you can eavesdrop on my thoughts?” Atros asked suddenly feeling vulnerable. He sought to conceal his fright by straightening his shoulders, raising his head, and peering deeply into the black eyes of the man/enigma before him. In the long verbal pauses, Atros could hear only the sound of his own breathing.
“On that portion of your mind that is part of us already, yes. With the rest, let us just say that we can do a fair job of anticipating your mind,” Morpheus answered meeting Atros’ glare.
“What do you want of me?” Atros asked trying to sound defiant.
“Very simply, we would like you to join us. To allow us to experience a greater portion of your mind and to allow you to explore our being as well. We wish to live with you, teach you, and work with you. We have need of you and we have much to offer in return.” Morpheus’ tone was even and his voice smooth. He portrayed no emotion except fatherly concern and fatherly strength.
“What do you offer?” Atros was tempted to sneer but he realized that it probably wouldn’t be convincing.
“Power, knowledge, a near infinite number of new experiences, and an end to your loneliness,” Morpheus offered smiling. His mention of loneliness struck Atros as a blow.
Atros spoke before he was fully recovered from this, “You must know that what you imply frightens me. The alienness of it…the loss of individuality.”
“Individuality will still be possible in a fuller, more integrated sense,” Morpheus pronounced with a glistening polish.
“Integrated individuality? How can that be possible?”
“You are accustom to thinking of life and consciousness in discrete organic units. The separation between souls is much less distinct. Yes, your consciousness would lose its boundaries but the center of your consciousness, its seat, can preserve its individuality untarnished,” Morpheus replied.
“After all that you have done to me…the torment…the anguish, do you seriously believe that I will join you willingly?”
“Perhaps we know you better than you know yourself. In time, you may see things differently. Until then, you need not commit yourself.”
“But why? Why have you led me into cycles of love and loss, fear and hatred?” Atros’ shield of cool intellect was cracking.
“We have tried to explain that. You remember the dream of the forge?” Atros confirmed this with a nod. Morpheus’ voice took on a lecturing quality. “Pain and suffering are the only true sources of wisdom and strength. Think of what you have undergone as a necessary, if painful, initiation.”
“An initiation I did not chose to undergo,” Atros accused.
“No one truly chooses their role in life. We believe free will to be be even more of a fallacy than it obviously appears.”
“You believe? You do not know?” he said with a touch of mocking.
“We are not omniscient. Not nearly so. Proof of the existence of absence of free will is far beyound our means. We accept our beliefs, and in fact all our knowledge, as provisional. Interestingly, though we doubt the existence of free will, we recognize the force of will as the source of our power. If one considers it, this is not contradictory. But even if it were, we are not above a bit of hypocrisy if such a stance is the only pragmatic solution.” Morpheus remained unresponsive to Atros’ jibes.
“How do I know that everything you’ve said isn’t a lie and your proposals a trap?” Atros proposed.
Morpheus’ expression suddenly changed. He burst into a heavy, haunting laughter that echoed through the hollow chamber. Atros’ anger grew with this obvious mocking, but he kept silent until Morpheus abated and spoke more, “Excellent! We have crafted you well.”
“You desired cynicism and distrust?” Atros asked angrily.
“No, we desired that you be wise enough to continually question and doubt, so you can be an independent thinker. We do not need slaves. We have enough of those and we can always fashion more Gilmans. We need equals…partners.” Morpheus used his eloquence in an attempt to soothe Atros.
“You could still be lying to me,” replied Atros.
“Yes, Atros, we would delude or misdirect you to obtain own desires and we have done a bit of that in your past, but now we are truthful. Though we realize that what we say might frighten you, truthfulness now is best in the long run.”
“You can see the future?” Atros asked incredulous.
“Only its possibilities. But that is usually enough.”
“You still have not given me sufficient reason to join you.”
“You are already with us. You have been so since birth. Your subconscious has always been with us. Much of what your consciousness is comes from your association with us. We are lodged deeply in your being.”
“Then I can escape you only in death,” Atros stated in a whisper.
“No, Atros. We will go beyound that barrier with you. There is no escape. What happens between us is destined to be. It cannot be avoided.” There was just the slightest hint of sadness and regret in Morpheus’ voice.
“I could keep increasing my dosage of nepenthe. I could evade the dreams,” Atros suggested clutching at faint hopes.
“But surely you realize that these are more than just dreams. Already it intrudes on your waking life. How long will you be able to withstand attacks like the one you experienced last night?”
“What do you know of that!?!” Atros’ anger flared. Only reason prevented him from bodily attacking Morpheus.
“Calm yourself, Atros. Remember that it was our servant Gilman, whom we sent to watch over your safety, that came to your rescue.”
“Yes, that is true,” Atros admitted.
“Many more such attacks are possible. It seems your connection with us has been discovered by an enemy of ours. It seeks to hurt us through harming you or perhaps converting you to their cause.”
“What is this enemy?”
“It is a collective consciousness much like ourself but slightly weaker and younger. We are rivals for the same resources.”
“And it has attacked me and Darla because of you?” Atros accused.
“Our enemy is a bit irrational and blood thirsty. It will continue harassing until you until it succeeds or grows bored. It is a threat to our continued existence and growth as well. We need your help in combating it as surely as you need us.”
“How could I aid you in fighting such a thing?” Atros asked.
“We will teach you how to use your undiscovered talents. This instruction comes with no obligation. Do you consent to let us teach you to defend yourself against our mutual enemy?”
Atros hesitated a long while. But his mind kept returning to the a single question: How else could he protect Darla and himself? Finally, on this basis he decided, “Provided that I may withdraw from these lessons at any time I choose.”
“Of course. Even if you will not join us now, we have no desire that you be killed or enveloped by our enemy. Go now. Rest. Prepare your mind, your lessons will begin in several days.” With Morpheus’ pronouncement, the scene began to quickly fade. Atros began the slow return to wakefulness.