Above the Iter Itineris, lightning split the sky. Bolts of lightning that stretched from one horizon to the other, sometimes leaping from cloud to cloud as if it were sewing the sky together with its white hot thread. This lightning did not just appear and flash out of existence, this lightning lingered. It gripped the clouds, wringing more rain from the sky, which sizzled and hissed against the branching forks. Lightning was the flash of Reason, telling you why things happened like they did. A flash of lightning, and you could see it written in the sky, You didn't want to become like him. Telling you why you set sail on this ocean. Then came the thunder, and with it came the Doubt.
"You are not brave enough."
"You always get lost."
Before every thunderclap was a moment of silence, as even the rain smacking against the sails held their breath, then the Doubt would come crashing out of the storm. Each one was a miniature explosion, and only the steadfast held their ground without the slightest flinch.
"You will lose your footing."
On the bowsprit, the narrow pole extending out in front of the ship, a young man stood dangerously far from the ship. One foot planted firmly in front of him, he leaned forward against the fierce wind which tugged at the edges of his clothing, plucked at his arms, tried to find purchase on his legs to pull him down into the water. The young man grinned, the kind of smirk that challenged even fate itself. He never lost his footing.
The storm became silent again as another clap of Doubt swelled above them. In the brief silence, he heard his name shouted from the deck.
"Somnium! Captain! We-" The rest of the words were overruled by the Doubt, (Your ship will sink), but it got his attention. He turned and saw his First Mate, Dougan, gripping tightly to the bow of the ship, leaning as far forward as he dared to make himself heard. Dougan was the second oldest crew member at thirteen. Somnium was the old man of the crew at about one year older. Somnium tilted his head to one side and cupped one hand around his ear, the other waving Dougan to repeat himself, "We need help with the sails! They are starting to falter!"
Somnium looked up, watched as the silver sails fought against the wind, the harsh rain. They weren't driven by wind like normal sails, these were Dream Sails. They were filled not by the currents of the trade winds, but by the trade of desires and hopes. Somnium frowned; they were struggling. Maybe that last thunderclap - No, couldn't think like that.
Somnium adjusted his tricorn hat, which was always secured on his head. Then three quick steps down the bowsprit, and with a mighty leap he flew towards the ropes and rigging above him. His feet took him on a lofty glide upwards, and he held out one hand as the foremast approached. Once he reached it, he held on with one hand and set his feet against the wooden shaft, and examined the scene below. Launching from this new vantage point, he quickly alighted on the mainmast.
On the deck, his crew scurried like ants, each one with a mission or goal in mind, working in silent unison. Above him in the crow's nest, Sara was being jostled at her post, bouncing like dice in a cup during a particularly heated game of Liar's Dice. Sara managed to look over the edge of her nest, wiping her long golden hair out of her eyes, and saw Somnium waving up at her from halfway down the mainmast. He grinned, and touched one corner of his hat.
Turning to his crew, the captain took a deep breath as his chest puffed up. When he shouted, his voice was clear, cutting through the rain and the rough wind like a flashlight in the darkness, "SHARE WITH ME YOUR DREAMS!" He reached his hand down the collar of his shirt, and drew out a silver chain that hung around his neck. On it hung a glass sphere, which was so clear and so pure it looked like a drop of water forced still.
Each member of the crew stopped, and each one pulled out a similar glass orb. Each had something different inside. Some had swirling images of animals, others a copper badge or a fire hose. Several had spaceships. They were dreams, each one the manifest of your inner desires, your hopes. They held them high above their head, and everyone closed their eyes, noses wrinkled in intense concentration. The wind roared in their ears, the rain redoubling its efforts to beat them down into the deck.
As each held their dreams in their mind, the sails began to respond. The roar subsided, and the sails swelled suddenly, pushing back against the wind as the silver turning from a dull, brushed metallic to a shimmering, shining gleam. The ship rose about an inch higher in the water, and began to crawl its way up the waves. As they crested the next wave, however, Somnium realized it had gotten quiet. Too quiet. Standing on the boom, the horizontal bar of the sail, he looked out past the edge of the wave and into the dark skies beyond. The wind pulled back for just a moment, and the sails quickly drew dim. Reason shot out across the sky in jagged handwriting, and Somnium saw his message. You just wanted someone to follow you.
This time, the Doubt didn't even wait for the lightning to finish, it crashed headfirst into the Iter Itineris, a deafening explosion so loud and so strong it knocked Somnium back off the mast,
"They do not believe in you!"
Somnium hit the deck with such force that it fractured the wood beneath him, splitting all the way down the beam. The ship was thrown back, its bow reeling back from the force of the blow. Somnium started to slide back against the deck, but he gripped the wood planks beneath him and held fast. Most of the crew were not so quick; they fell and slipped, sliding down the deck that was swiftly becoming vertical. The deck was now a wall, push back at such an angle. Most of the crew smacked into the door and surrounding ledge that housed the Captain's quarters, and a few tumbled down into the open hatches to the decks below. Others were caught in the ropes, clutching for dear life to anything they could grab onto. The boat was pushed so far back it threatened to fall back mast first into the ocean. The water rose up and surged around it, only threatening further to tip the boat onto its back.
Gritting his teeth, Somnium gripped his Dream Sphere, and held it close to his chest. It glowed and grew warm, and the rain began to streak away from him, as if pushed back by an unseen bubble of force. He ran up the wall that was only a moment ago the deck, forgoing any concept of gravity or falling. The steep angle paid him no mind; somehow his feet found purchase on the wet, slick surface. He ran towards the bow and jumped, holding his Sphere out in front of him. Inside the glass, a tiny version of the Itineris sailed on calm waters, with the sun reflecting brilliantly off full sails of quicksilver. His leap cleared the bow, but one hand shot out and grabbed the foremost railing at the very edge of the ship. White-knuckled, the full force of his momentum hit him and shook his arm, threatening to dislodge his grip. He held on, and ever so slowly the ship began to fall forward.
Creaking, groaning, his body weighed on the ship like an anchor, and it started to level out. He pulled himself back onto the bow as the ship landed back onto the water, the impact sending the ocean flying up around them on all sides. Briefly, you could only see the sky directly above them, as a sheer wall of water surrounded the ship. Then the moment passed, and the water fell like so much rain. The moment of terror had passed, and the crew began to cheer.
"HOW DARE YE DREAM?!"
This was the strongest Doubt yet, a symphony of explosions, and each syllable hit the crew like a physical blow. It dragged Somnium back across the deck. He stayed on his feet this time, but from the bow of the boat all the way to the stern, two deep grooves were drawn in the deck, and behind each of his planted feet was a pile of wood shavings.
The clouds were swirling above them, and they began to descend upon the ship. The water sloped upwards around them, as the sea beneath the ship bowed down, forming a sort of bowl in which they were at the bottom. The sails had lost all their shine, and were beginning to wrap up and retract, shrinking away from the ferocity of the storm.
"Som! What do we do?!" One of his crew members, whose Sphere held a doctor's stethoscope, asked from the crowd.
"We need a bigger dream. We need a stronger hope." Somnium turned to his crew, as the daylight from his own sphere flickered and sputtered. The water around them continued to rise, and started to reach towards itself over the ship. In moments it would form a dome of water over the ship, enclosing it in a bubble. And from there, it would collapse, as Reality overtook the Dream.
"Someone here must a desire stronger than steel. A dream bigger than the sky, and so full of heart. Who among you can step forward, and face this ravaging tempest?" It was a plea, they knew, and if their Captain couldn't do it, their Captain who feared no storm and would stare down any tidal wave, who could?
One boy stepped forward. Sam was his name. He was six years old, and the youngest member of the crew. He had dark, curly hair that was flattened to his forehead by the rain. He approached the Captain, and in two small, trembling hands, he held his Sphere.
Somnium knelt down in front of him as the rain subsided. There was no way for the rain to get in now, for the water had closed completely above them. They were in a bubble beneath the surface of the water, and the bubble was getting smaller.
"What do you desire most?"
He told him.
Captain Somnium planted his tricorn hat on Sam's head, then grabbed the youth from under the arms, and lifted him up above his head. He planted him on his shoulders, and tilted his head to share a sideways look up at him, "Hold on to that tight, kid. Here we go."
The Itineris began to rise up, slowly, out of the water. Sluggishly at first, lifting a few inches and then falling almost back to where it began. Eventually, though, it lifted completely out of the water, revealing the barnacles of Fear that clung to the underside of the ship. Even as they muttered their dark musings, the Fear barnacles fell from the ship, suddenly unable to find purchase on the hull as Faith swelled from within the ship. The cracks in the ship mended themselves, the rigging and ropes all attached to their appropriate moorings. The sails unfurled, and hung idly at their posts. Somnium stood at the bow, and shouted back over his shoulder, "DREAMERS! SHARE WITH ME YOUR DREAMS!"
All along the ship, the crew held their Spheres to their heart, closed their eyes, and focused on their dreams. To become a doctor, and help people. To become a world traveler. Make my parents proud. To reach the moon and touch the stars. To sail the Fantaseas and remind us why we hope.
Sam touched his Sphere to his forehead, then clasped his hand over his heart. To see my big brother smile again.
Suddenly, the sails whipped forward, and the whole ship flew up and away from the water's surface. The sails were not just silver, they were woven from pure light. Along either side of the hull, pure white clouds swirled along the ship, and they gave way to the shape of massive wings.
The bubble distorted, thinning out the water above them as they approached, the whole void they were in swelling and expanding, forcing the wind and the lightning back and away. Doubt after Doubt came hailing down upon the vessel, but no one on the ship heard them. The thunderclaps were muted before the ship, the lightning sparking and blinking out, and the dark clouds evaporating, retreating before its approach.
They breached the surface of the water, and punched a whole in the dark clouds. For a moment, all that was around them was darkness. The storm tried once more to force itself in on the ship, but as they flew higher and faster, they knew the battle was decided.
The Iter Itineris broke the cloud cover, and suddenly piercing sunlight dazzled them. The ship leveled out, and after a few moments of blindness, they recovered enough to see what lay before them. An endless landscape of fluffy clouds, like so many balls of cotton. In every direction, as far as the eye could see, was an endless white. An ocean above the sky.
The crew broke out into cheers, everyone hugging each other and slapping one another on the back. They made it through the storm. Somnium reached up and lifted Sam off his shoulders, placing him back on the deck floor, "That was quite a Dream there, little one. A lot of Love behind that."
Sam smiled, and started to take off the tricorn hat to return to the Captain. Instead, Somnium smiled, and placed his hand on Sam's head, "Keep it. It suits you."
Stepping past Sam, the Captain stood on the bow and looked out onto the horizon. Beneath them, the storm of Reality raged on. Reason, Doubt, and Fear would keep many a traveler at bay. Those who let Fear or Doubt control them would stay near their home port, never venturing far into the Fantasea for fear they would not make it safely home. Somnium knew better. To reach any dream, you had to go far beyond the reach of your home port. It required Hope, a little Luck, and a lot of Faith, but you would always find smooth sailing if you weathered the storm.
How dare I to dream?
Dare you try to stop me?