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Nightmare (mara)

PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2018 1:35 pm
by Kappa
In the world I've called "Nightmare" for lack of a better idea, the basis of the magic system is a place called the nightmare realm, populated by creatures called mara.

The nightmare realm is not precisely a physical location. People visit it fairly regularly in their dreams, and despite the name, they don't always have nightmares there. It's not possible to directly create a physical portal to it from the regular physical world. But it's definitely a real place, and the mara are definitely a real phenomenon.

Almost all mara are nonsapient. They are difficult if not impossible to destroy, but can be banished back to the nightmare realm if they escape into the physical world. While they remain in the nightmare realm, they are comparatively harmless, only able to affect people's dreams; but sometimes, a mara travels to the physical realm, and that's where the trouble really starts.

It is possible for a person to call a mara out of the nightmare realm and invite it directly into their own mind. If the person remains dominant over the mara, they can call on its power to affect the world around them, including other people's minds but also including more concrete forms of magic like transmutation or conjuration. If, on the other hand, the mara gains ascendancy over the person, it will keep them locked in their own mind in an eternal nightmare and use them as a base of operations from which to capture and torment as many other people as possible, often leaving a trail of destruction across the countryside along the way. Someone who has lost such a fight with a mara is termed 'possessed'.

There is technically no bright line between a possessed person and one who has a mara loose in their mind but is successfully controlling it. If you have a mara and you want to be able to let your guard down ever again without becoming the first victim of its campaign of terror, you're best advised to learn how to lock it. Locking a mara makes it useless but also harmless: you can't use its power, and it can't affect your mind. You can unlock it again at any point, if you're willing to take the risk, and lock it again when you're done with whatever you needed it for.

However, the danger doesn't go away entirely even after the mara is locked. If someone bearing a locked mara dies, the mara will be freed, and able to possess the next person it meets.

Someone whose job it is to track down and capture loose mara is known colloquially as a 'dreamcatcher'. They travel the world looking for the telltale signs of a mara outbreak - it's usually not at all hard to detect one - and then deliberately enter mental combat with the mara so they can lock it and bring it to a place where it may be safely returned to the nightmare realm, or, if everyone is very lucky, destroyed.

It is technically possible, although not advisable, for a person to contain multiple mara. If left unlocked, they might merge in order to grow stronger, or one might eat the other.

Part of what a rampaging mara does is absorb information from people's minds in order to learn how to think. Although most nonsapient mara remain nonsapient even after doing plenty of this, there's some speculation that all sapient mara ultimately derive from mara who got loose and nibbled on lots of tasty tasty minds.

Approximately the easiest thing to do with a mara you have control of is send people to sleep and bring them into a shared dream with you. Shared dreams can be used to facilitate communication, since everyone in a shared dream can understand one another no matter what language they are speaking. The person with the mara can also absorb and transmit entire languages directly from the minds of whoever is in the shared dream.

Since these shared dreams are such a comparatively common use of magic, there are some social norms around them: for example, it's considered extremely rude and hostile to try to deceive someone about whether they are currently dreaming. After you've been in shared dreams a time or two, you tend to get a feel for what they're like, and can usually tell pretty easily whether or not you're in one; but there's still enough ambiguity about it, especially among people who've never done it before, that it's worth having the norm.

Someone who contains an active mara will appear to have sickly green sparks glimmering inside the pupils of their eyes. This light might become brighter or cover more of the eye if the person is actively using power, has lost control of their mara, or both. Someone with a locked mara bears no outward sign of it whatsoever.

Although it's very rare, it is actually possible for a mara to enter the physical realm without being directly called. In that case they tend to drift around until they encounter a person and then latch onto that person and possess them, much the same way they would if they had been cast loose by a previous host's death.