Though I still had more mysteries to explore, my calendar told me it was time to move on to the next district. Regio conchae was next; I could proceed down to regio luti from there and then loop around to regio ignis dei, which was perhaps the most interesting district of the city, one devoted not to a god by most mythologies, but an angel, deified and worshipped only here, in this city of gods, alongside the others.
The "kingdom of shells" – the coastal district where Venus is worshipped. Streets paved with calcium white seashells, and delicate metalwork in copper tarnished by the ocean air to a beautiful sea-foam green.
Showing how honored pilgrims like myself are in this city, the "hostel" here could barely even be called such – it's a beautiful row of cottages along the water, with a beautiful view. I'm told that if more visitors show up during my stay, I may be required to double up with another traveller to make room, but for the time being I have the whole building to myself. The bedroom is on the top floor, with a balcony overlooking the beach, and the downstairs has living quarters and a full kitchen. I may even be encouraged to use some of my saved allowance to buy stuff from the market and cook a meal.
I've got to say, though, that the place feels incredibly empty. It's clearly been built for a whole family – there's three bedrooms, three bathrooms – what am I going to do with all this space? Part of me hopes that the place does fill up. It's June, so I wouldn't be surprised if visitors do decide to treat their pilgrimage as a vacation. What better place to commune with the goddess of beauty than beachfront property?
Our time last week was cut prematurely short , as my contact's parents (he was only 16 at the oldest, as far as I could tell) gave him a call requesting his help at home. He agreed to meet me at the same time the following week.
When I arrived, he was already waiting. I asked him to continue where he'd left off.
"So as I was saying, every couple years or so, tops, a monk will travel around and catalogue other people's dreams. They usually stay in the city, but not always.
Anyways, a few years back, one of these monks came through my part of town. I guess he met with some students – older than me, college age – and they were really interested in him. Usually, these guys'll just ask people to remember their dreams, and they'll write'em down. They don't ever talk much, except to get more information. Seems they're really good at drawing out the details, even stuff you normally wouldn't remember. But these kids, I guess they were prodding back. One of'em, I've heard, was having really wild dreams at the time, so the monk played along.
So they were asking all these questions about lucid dreaming – you know what that is, right?"
I assured him I did.
He continued, "so yeah, all of the people who live in this part of the city, that's all they do. That's why they don't have any windows, and everything's painted the same color. It's so they don't have anything for their conscious mind to grab on to when they wake up, and they can slip into and out of dreaming like nothing. They wake up periodically through the night, transcribe their dreams to that point in the dark, and then go back to dreaming.
And well, a bunch of these kids were studying neurology in school, and were wondering if it might be possible to go the other way – rather than tricks to stay dreaming, what about ways to bring it on at will?
The monk, so I'm told, viewed this as pretty much sacrilege, and wouldn't discuss it any further. But these kids were fascinated by the idea, and eventually built the prototypes you see us wearing."
So today's the day. I spent some more time discussing the philosophy of the followers of Morpheus w/the owner of the hostel over the week. Now it's time to find out what the connection is w/the group of kids over in urbs speculorum. Assuming he doesn't stand me up. I overslept. Normally if my alarm doesn't wake me up, after a while the sun coming through my window will. But I have neither – for that matter, alarms aren't allowed in the hostel. Makes sense. In any case, it's not like I have a time. So I head over to the school.
It's empty today, being the weekend. But no sign of my contact, either. Was this whole thing a waste? No way to know just yet, I suppose. May as well look for clues.
After about 5 minutes or so of waiting around, the kid finally shows up. He apologizes for making me wait, but points out a small camera hidden in some weeds at the side of the parking lot. He explains that since we didn't have a time set up to meet, he'd been monitoring the area and left as soon as he'd seen me.
I notice immediately that he's not wearing any of the hardware his clique is known for. Recognizing my curious glance, he tells me that he and all the others share data constantly – if he was wearing any of his sensors, the others would know immediately that we'd met. He tells me that the only reason he'd agreed to meet me was that he could tell I wasn't native – he wouldn't have risked the meeting if I weren't a pilgrim.
I ask him about how the whole thing started.
"Well, as you may know, the residents here in via dormiens are pretty... reclusive. They all stay inside most of the time, cataloging their dreams and practicing dream travel and whatever else it is they do. I don't know. I live in the glass city; the only reason I came here today is because I know the streets are always empty. No one's gonna see us.
Every now and again, though, they send out a monk who travels the city, meeting with people and writing down their dreams. Sometimes they even leave the city, and travel the world, looking for interesting dreams.
I did find the hostel without much trouble after that. As I was told, the buildings were unmarked, but the streets were laid out in a regular grid pattern so there was no worry of getting lost. When I knocked on the door, a woman in thick gray robes greeted me, carrying an electric candle. She bid me follow her down a dark hallway, lit by a few electric candelabra similar to what she was carrying.
The room was bare. Just a bed and a desk, the same amenities I was used to. Surprisingly, however, despite appearances the bed was very comfortable. And though bare, the desk was sturdily built and pleasant to write on. But everything was the same gray. No natural light anywhere, just electric candles – assumedly because there were no windows, thus real ones would eat up all the oxygen and fill the air with smoke.
After taking a short nap, I found the woman who had let me in sitting in her office. She told me how to find the temple – it was only a few blocks down from here, on the main road. It was the only building in this district with any decoration; specifically in place of a street number, it had the sigil of Morpheus wrought in bronze above the door handle. That's it.
And so I asked her what had been on my mind since I got here – why would the followers of the god of dreams live in such a way? Why was everything gray? No ornamentation, no art. No one out on the streets, no windows. According to her, this was because followers of Morpheus believe that only dreams are really real. As they devote their lives to the study and practice of dreaming, their dreams are far richer than normal folk, and the environment is designed to help them break their ties with the physical world. If their waking world is devoid of stimulation, it's only natural that dreams will seem more "real".
Via dormiens was actually a street that ran from the northern part of the city where I was staying, in urbs speculorum, down through regio ignis dei and then east to regio luti. The area in the center of the city surrounding the temple of Morpheus eventually took on the name of that same street. So I did the natural thing and simply followed the street down, until I reached the temple.
And, well, I'll be honest, I was pretty surprised by what I saw. Now, every other district of the city wasn't that far off from my expectations of what a city would should look like. The city was beautiful, no doubt, but it had clear points of reference to other cities I've seen. The lively bazaars of regio serpentes to the skyscrapers of where I'd just come from. The comforting, quiet regio lunae that reminded me of the nicer parts of Boston. But here... The streets were barren. One or two people on the main road, never looking left or right, and that's it. Not a single person on any of the side streets. And the buildings were all flat, stone gray. No molding, no character. Most importantly, though, no windows. Just a single door, painted to match the stone, and the only splash of "color" anywhere – a small brass number above the handle, presumably the address.
At first, I merely thought it odd, but the further I got in, my unease grew. It was incredibly disconcerting. What was going on here? I decided I may as well continue looking for the temple... But would I even be able to find it? I hadn't taken down the address, assuming I'd be able to find it without much issue, given that I knew it was on the main road. For that matter, I had no idea where the hostel was in this district. I resolved to find that first, and then work my way to the temple after I'd settled in.
Asking around, it became clear that none of the few people I'd seen on the street lived in this section of town – they were all just passing through. Where were all the residents? There weren't even any shops, as far as I could see. Eventually I did meet someone, a courier who'd finished his routes for the day, who was able to point me in the direction of the hostel. He gave me the address, and warned me that it, like all the other buildings in the area, was unmarked otherwise.