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The Little Chinese Dreammaster is a fantasy set in the Qing Dynasty of China.
Although it was a maxim in her village that only nightmares became real, a young lucid dreamer did not believe that until she had a terrifying encounter with a dreammaster who lived two thousand years earlier. Morning Star’s dream was within Dreammaster Black Jade’s dream. That was a sentence of insanity or death. To avoid either of those fates, Morning Star had to become a dreammaster and something more.
The Little Chinese Dreammaster is a fantasy set in the Qing Dynasty of China. The first part (Morning Star) begins within the dreammaster’s dream. Morning Star escapes, but her efforts two years later to stop recurring nightmares lead to new attacks in both the dream and wakened worlds. In the second part (Blue Cloud), Morning Star’s father fights kidnappers, bandits, corrupt officials, and mercenaries in attempts to free his wife and daughter from slavery. With the help of an old Muslim dreamseer, Morning Star learns to manipulate the dreams of others both to lessen cruelty to fellow slaves and to help her and her mother become free. In the last part (Black Jade), Morning Star’s knowledge of dreamworld explodes with the aid of a dreamlord, her warrior father, her musician mother, and a Daoist monk. She defeats Black Jade in the fifth and ultimate dimension of dreamworld by becoming a new kind of dream being.
1 Terror in Two Worlds
My first lucid dream was full of colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches amplified to a passionate intensity. Why is reality so less intense? [Dragon Family Chronicles]
When Morning Star was ten years old, she woke within a dream. She was sitting in the stone chair in which she had fallen asleep while her father hunted nearby. Much was the same as in the wakened world and much was different. The great camphor tree was there and so was the vine-covered statue, but the ground was littered with stones instead of grasses and shrubs and was defaced by gaping holes and long crevices. Instead of castle ruins and a forest, she was encircled by stone walls of great height. Although she had fallen asleep during the day, it was night and everything that she could see was black or gray.
She climbed down from the stone.
“Can you imagine my surprise when I felt your dream spirit?”
Morning Star turned to see a shock of color emerge from behind the stone. Although not Chinese, the woman who had spoken was undeniably beautiful, with unblemished skin of a faint tan, eyes of bright emerald, waist-length hair of a brilliant auburn, and lips red and well-defined. On her head was a broad gold band. To match her eyes, she wore a gown of emerald-colored silk embroidered with a purplish-black raven over her heart and a black sash. In the sash was a dagger and scabbard of dark green jade known as “black jade.” She held a folding fan of black jade and emerald silk.
The young girl was enchanted by the emerald lady in her black and gray dream.
“Who are you?” the woman asked. She would have an answer this time.
When Morning Star continued to stare, the woman slapped her across the face with the jade fan. “Answer me!”
Enchantment turned to fear. “Morning Star!” the young girl cried out as she put both hands to her cheek. She wanted to run but the stony, perforated, and cracked ground was too dangerous, and the high walls hemmed her in.
The woman repeated “Morning Star” as if she were spitting out bitter sounds. The spat words hit all of the young girl’s senses.
“Do you know who I am?”
“I don’t care. I want to wake up!” It was the defiance of an unbeliever. She had never had a dream in which she wasn’t a simple observer or the controlling actor. Although her cheek hurt and she couldn’t wake herself, this was beyond her imagination as well as her experience and therefore couldn’t be.
“I am Dreammaster here!” the emerald woman said with a force that shook their mutual dream. After the quaking stopped, she continued, “Let me see if I can make you care, both for your disrespect and for entering where you don’t belong.” She demanded respect from everyone, but more maddening to the dreaming Queen was the fact that a child had accomplished what had taken her years of dangerous practice, that of entering another person’s dreams. The child’s dream avatar would die.
The Dreammaster sent a wave of choking heat and dust spinning around the intruder. The wind became cyclonic and scorchingly hot. For her malicious amusement, she threw in jagged stones and created images of repulsive fiends around each. The swirling fiends shrieked in unison. Killing the child’s dream avatar meant killing her ability to dream, and that meant insanity—humans needed to dream. The Dreammaster guessed that even if this extraordinary child was able to dream again, every one would be of that horrific cyclone.
The girl’s avatar shook violently and dropped to the ground. Now she believed.
Although the whirling stones tore at her clothes and flesh, they had no visible effect. Furious at the child for surviving and furious at herself for being unable to understand how, the Dreammaster stopped the wind. As the stones clattered to the ground, the wailing died out and the spectral fiends evaporated. She withdrew her dagger from its scabbard.
Before the knife struck, Morning Star again tried to wake herself. Although she failed, her avatar again survived. As had the cyclonic stones, the Dreammaster’s blade bounced off the girl’s clothes and skin. Stab after stab was accompanied by curses and spells from the Dreammaster’s great arsenal of curses and spells to no avail.
Dangerously close to exhausting herself, the Dreammaster stopped her knife attacks, cursing, and spell-casting. “Apparently I can’t kill you,” she said, “but I can throw you into one of these pits.” As she reached towards Morning Star, she changed her mind: She had to keep this enemy close. Only dreammasters could make their avatars indestructible, or nearly so. What she had to know was whether the child had any other powers that couldn’t be destroyed. What she wished to know was whether the child had any worth stealing.
The Dreammaster summoned demons. Although the whole courtyard was mutilated with pits and crevices, the creatures emerged around the tree, statue, and stone chair.
What crawled out of the holes were the vilest of demons. The Dreammaster had collected them for use against subjects as well as enemies. All were chimera of men, women, and animals, but they were more than simple mixtures; they were exaggerations and distortions. Some had swollen horse heads and hoofed limbs on men’s bodies; some had long whiskers, great canines, and clawed hands on women’s bodies; and so on. All spat or drooled and howled, whined, or shrieked. And each oozed his or her own stink and reeked of his or her own kind of malice.
Morning Star fell to her knees, lowered her head, and covered her ears. Her immunity to the Dreammaster’s attacks had not lessened her fear of what was happening or could happen. As the demons poured onto the surface, the visible world also changed. It began to take on color. Because intensely lucid dreams require great energy and the wakened Queen hadn’t prepared for a dream of this intensity, the sleeping Queen conserved energy by letting many elements of her dreamworld—the sky and vegetation—revert to their natural states. An owl hooted and flew across the face of the moon as her mind filled in what she had so often seen in the wakened world. Morning Star knew that dreams could be strong or weak, and the hoot of the owl told her more than anything that this nightmare was weakening. That gave her the smallest of hopes.
Although the Dreammaster could neither kill Morning Star nor throw her into a pit, she could trap the child within the dream. She had no need of dream slaves except demons and warrior avatars who could become the nightmares or killers of her enemies’ avatars. But she could question the child and if she felt like it torment her further.
When the demons approached, the Dreammaster signaled for two to hold the child in front of the stone chair. As the demons touched Morning Star, they let out wild howls of pain. Again, she was protected. Only with a combination of shrieking and sticking their grotesque faces near hers were they able to keep her in place. Although it was something else she didn’t yet see, they were afraid of her.
With Morning Star standing in front, the Dreammaster ascended her dream throne. There she hesitated for a moment while considering whether to pull her hated half-sister into the dream. Her half-sister would plead and cry for the child, which would be enjoyable but soon tiresome. She decided against it.
Bending over in her high seat, the Dreammaster looked down. With the flick of a finger, she forced the girl to look up. “I know that you entered my dreamworld through my stone chair, but that doesn’t tell me how you were able to use it. Many women and men, girls and boys have sat in this chair with no effect—except judging from your strange features and clothes you’re from another time. How did you come here?”
“I don’t know,” Morning Star said, though to herself she guessed it had something to do with the recent vividness of her dreams. On the previous night, she had had two of her most exceptional dreams. The first had been about flying, which would not have been unusual except that she flew on the back of an immense butterfly of brilliant colors and great vitality. The magnificent creature talked of deeper dreams. In the second, she was enveloped in a rainbow of butterflies of many species that bounced and flitted in wild delight at touching her. Her father had told her that it was natural for someone who lived in a village through which butterflies migrated to dream of these colorful creatures. He had also told her a wonderful tale of migrations in ancient times that were so great that villagers who stood still along the migration paths became coated with resting butterflies. Despite her father’s logical explanations, Morning Star believed that there was a greater reason that she dreamt of these wonderful animals, though she didn’t know what. She told none of that to the woman peering down at her.
“Stupid girl,” the Dreammaster hissed. “You must have done something.” In succession, she asked Morning Star whether she had performed any spells, eaten any special herbs, or used any dreamcatchers before falling asleep that night.
Morning Star answered “no” to each question.
Exasperated, the Dreammaster ordered the demons near the child to shriek at her until she was ready to confess the truth. Morning Star curled up on the ground and again tried blocking the sound by covering her ears. She closed her eyes and prayed to the Goddess of Mercy that she would wake. When the shrieking stopped, she opened her eyes and moved her hands away from her ears. She was still in the dream.
The Dreammaster tried a new approach. In a soothing voice, she said, “My dear child, tell me about your dreams.”
Seduced by the first pleasant sound that she had heard since entering the dream, Morning Star gave the simple answer, “I dream of butterflies.”
What happened next shocked the young girl even more than the slap with the jade fan. The Dreammaster jumped down from the stone chair and begin choking her. This time the Dreammaster’s murderous attempt appeared to be succeeding. The greater the dreamer, the stronger the dream avatar; and although Morning Star’s avatar withstood the stones and dagger, she could not withstand direct contact with the Dreammaster. “Why?” she asked, barely able to get the word out.
With their faces nearly touching, the Dreammaster replied, “You speak of dreamlords and yet would have me believe that our meeting here is simply the collision of exceptional dreams, or some other nonsense.”
Even if Morning Star had had time to think about it, that answer would have made no sense to her.
The instinct for survival is greater in dreamworld than in the wakened world because danger is always closer. Prompted by that commanding instinct, the child hoarsely whispered her own name. This time she used it to flee.
Although Morning Star escaped to the wakened world with her sanity, the Dreammaster was able to follow her long enough to know when the child lived.