Chapter XXVII: The Cost of Dreams
The Hunter stood in a vast oasis at the base of a white temple that resembled one that might be found in the Sandsea.
There was a sort of strange feeling of comfort in being in the oasis as though it and the very sky above were carefully manufactured and curated to be as comfortable as possible despite the otherwise harsh conditions barely visible through the flora.
But just beneath the surface of that comfort was a sense of danger as the Hunter could feel the gazes of various others staring at and through them.
"So nice of you to make it," came an almost bored sounding voice from the trees. "Your summoner awaits just up ahead."
The voice rolled its r's much like the cat from outside Swordhaven, the Hunter trying not to roll their eyes at the idea of being in a sort of cat realm.
"Best not to linger for too long," the voice began. "Some of those here don't take too kindly to outsiders even if they are special guests."
The Hunter began to walk towards the temple, their hand going to their waist, stopping at the sound of a hiss.
"Don't do that either," another voice said groggily. "At worst you'll be torn apart before you can do anything."
"At best, a single gaze is all it takes," the first voice said.
As if to affirm the warning came a low growl that ceased when the Hunter moved their hand away from their weapon followed by a low rustle as whoever that growl belonged to slowly stalked after them.
Climbing up the steps of the temple, the Hunter could see a number of cats of various sizes basking in what appeared to be the sun. Some were alien in appearance with multi-hued coats and long ears almost like that of a rabbit and some with multiple tails.
Some cats looked at the Hunter curiously while others looked at them dismissively or just ignored them as they continued to bask in the light.
Inside the temple's sanctum more cats lied about, some acknowledging the Hunter, others ignoring them and among them sprawled out on sofa that showed evidence of scratching was a humanoid yet also feline figure in attire that was strange yet sensual like a dancer, watched the Hunter approach with gold cat-like eyes, her ears adorned with gold earrings twitched as she stretched out then arched her back before sitting up, her long, spotted, lion-like tail hanging off the sofa, the tip brushing against the floor.
"About time you arrived, Hunter," she said, rolling her r's as the cats did. "You would be wise to not keep the divine waiting."
"Perhaps, those who feel the need to summon me should explain why."
The goddess yawned, revealing her fangs and waved a hand dismissively.
"I was operating under the idea that someone had already done so, if not Nodens then perhaps Hypnos," she said. "Or someone else for that matter."
"I've not spoken directly to Nodens."
"He must still be standing watch over that old asylum in your world then," she began. "Then maybe his envoy or whatever it is her position or role is then. And if not, it's not my fault the others can't be bothered to communicate with you despite wanting you to..."
The goddess trailed off as she let out another yawn.
"Wanting me to what exactly? What could the gods of another realm want with a mortal that they can't do themselves?"
"Personally, I'm curious about that myself which is why I've called you. As for the others, if I had to guess, Hypnos is as unsure as you are as to why you've been summoned to this world, but they probably hope to use you to their own ends and those ends can't be good for me," the goddess explained.
"And Nodens? What is it they want?"
"Well, you've placed your faith in them much like all these darling felines placed their faith in me," she began. "And so you've been brought over to this world. Or perhaps you always could traverse the borders between sleep and this world. For what purpose though...I bet it has something to do with the one they've been hunting for a very, very long time."
"And who might that be?"
The goddesses ears twitch and flatten as she shrinks back into the sofa.
"I would not dare speak any of their names and should you ever learn them, neither should you," she said, shivering. "What I want is to not be dragged into this millenia old conflict and should you agree to assist, I will assist you to the best of my abilities."
"How can a goddess be so unsure of her own abilities?"
"I'm not going to traverse into your world that's chaotic enough as is without the appearance of those from other worlds. It wasn't that long ago before it almost came to an end because of such an incident," she said. "I will assist you the same way I summoned you, but I can't guarantee they'll always be so compliant."
The Hunter tried to suppress their irritation. The goddess was more helpful than either Hypnos or the mysterious woman, but there were still more questions.
"For some, the ability to dream is free and welcoming," she began. "Unfortunately, you're not in that group and have to bear the cost of that ability. It might even seem like a curse and for that, I'm so sorry," she said sadly.
"You didn't start any of this, you have nothing to apo-"
The Hunter awoke in their room, the moon's light shining in through the window and with it the temptation to take to the streets for reasons they did not understand.
Looking out the window, they basked in the luminescent light feeling a sort of warmth like what the cats who pledged their faith to the goddess may have felt while basking in the light of what could have been a sun.
If basking in the sun's light was something typical of cats, what did it make them who basked in the moon's light?
They thought about their meeting with the goddess and she had said about the summonings to the Dream Land, Nodens, and the cost of dreams.
What was the reason they were being called? Was there even a reason or was it indeed a curse?
Sasha sat up in her bed having abruptly woken up. She did not recall having a dream, but she found herself unable to fall back to sleep.
As she gazed about the room only partially illuminated by the moon shining in through her window, she thought about the Hunter in the Great Lake of Mud and how they were captivated by it for reasons that continue to be unclear to her.
Were they in Falconreach right now entranced by the moon's light or were they somewhere beyond the town's walls?
Sasha got out of bed and walked to the window, the view of the moon shining high above the Guardian Tower was a sight to behold as though it too watched over the town alongside the home of its defenders.
She was reminded of seeing the moon over Oaklore Keep which was similar, but also lesser than the sight she currently gazed upon.
Still feeling as though she is unable to return to sleep, Sasha dressed and departed from her room.
The Hunter departed from their room, Sasha having left her room at the same time, the two meeting in the hallway.
"Do you insist on continuing this journey?" The Hunter asked.
"Yes," Sasha said firmly.
"Very well," the Hunter began. "We're going to find a place called Moon Lake."