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Dream Trigger[]

Dream Trigger

Ipsilon Mountains - Northern Ridge - Walk toward the peak through driving rain.


Strong winds have always blown across this vast grassy plain.

Perhaps the area's topography has something to do with it, but the direction of the wind remains constant, irrespective of the time or season:

From east to west, from the horizon where the sun rises to the horizon where the sun sets. Swept by the unceasing winds, the misshapen trunks and branches of shrubs all incline to the west. Tall grasses do not grow here, and the grasses that do grow all lie flat on the ground, bending westward.

Caravans and herding folk traverse the single road that crosses the plain. They do not “come and go,” they only go, moving from east to west, using the wind at their backs to gain distance. Travelers heading west to east always use the circuitous route that snakes around the southern mountains. It is much farther that way, but much faster than crossing the plain head-on into the wind. The road across the plain is called the Wind Stream. Just as the flow of a great river never changes direction, the footsteps of those who use the road have not changed direction since the distant past, nor are they likely to change far into the future: from east to west.

Human shapes that appear from the horizon where the sun rises disappear over the horizon where the sun sets.

They never pass oncoming travelers—with only the rarest exceptions. The first time she passed Kaim on the Wind Stream, the girls was just an infant.

“So, my grandmother was alive then?”

In response to the girl's untroubled question, Kaim smiles and answers,

“She was. And I remember what a nice old lady she was, too.”

Looking back down the road, the girl points toward the line of hills fading off into the distance.

“My grandmother crossed seven hills on her journey.” “Is seven a lot?”

“Uh-huh. Grandma lived a long time. Most people end their journeys after five hills. The people they leave behind build a little grave where they ended their journey, and then they keep traveling...”

The girl points down at the ground where she is standing.

“This is as far as I've come,” she says with a proud, happy smile.

The religion of the girl and her family professes a pious believe that if they devote their lives to walking eastward, against the flow of the Wind Stream, they will arrive at the easternmost source of the Stream itself. People call believers in that religion, “The Upstreamers.”

The word carries a hint of fear and sadness, but also a trace of contempt and scorn.

The Upstreamers are devoid of worldly desires. They live their lives for no greater purpose than traveling eastward on foot. They are free of doubt. They give birth to children en route, and they continue their journey while raising their children. When they age and their strength gives out, their journey ends. But their family's journey continues.

From child to grandchild to great-grandchild, their belief is carried on. The journey of this girl's family was begun by her late grandmother, who began walking from the Wind Stream's western verge with her son, who was then the age the girl is now.

The Upstreamers do not walk for the entire year, of course. During the season when the winds are especially strong—from the late autumn to early spring—they take up residence in various post towns scattered along the road and earn day wages by performing tasks that the townsfolk themselves refuse to do. Some Upstreamers choose to stay in the towns, while others, conversely, take townspeople with them when they return to the road in the spring.

These are people who have fallen in love during the long winter,

Or boys who dream of travel,

or grown-ups who have tired of town life. Such are the reasons the townsfolk look upon the Upstreamers with complicated gazes.

The little girl's mother was one of those who joined the journey mid-way, and he girl herself, some years from now, might fall in love with someone in a post town somewhere. She might choose to live in the town, or she could just as well invite her lover to join her on the road.

She has no idea at this point what lies in store for her. The girl's father calls out to her: “Time to go!”

Their brief rest is over.

She seems sorry to leave and stands up reluctantly. “Too bad,” she says. “I wish I could have talked to you more. But we have to get to the next town by the time the snows start.”

Constantly exposed to upwinds, her cheeks are red and cracked, her lips chapped, but her smile is wonderful a she wishes Kaim a safe journey.

It is the serene smile of one who believes completely in the purpose of her life, without the slightest doubt. “Will I see you again somewhere?” she asks.


Kaim answers, smiling back at her, but he can never match that smile of hers. He is now in the midst of a journey that will take him beyond the western end of the Wind Stream. He heads to the battlefield as a mercenary, and by the time the western battle is over, a new battle will have begun in the east.

It will be a long, cruel journey, with nothing to believe in. When he meets he girl again along he way, Kaim's smile will have taken on even more shadows than it has now. Perhaps as a parting gift for him, the girl sings a few short lines for him:

This wind, where does it blow from?

Where does it start its journey here?

Does it come from where life begins?

Or does it begin where life ends?

“Goodbye, then,” the girl says, trudging on, one labored step at a time, hair streaming in the headwind.

Ten long years have flowed by when Kaim next meets the girl.

It is spring, when the grassland is dotted with lovely white flowers.

She has become the wife of a young man who does tailoring and shoe repair in one of the post towns.

“This is my third spring here,” she says, patting her swollen belly fondly.

In a few days, she will give birth to a child. She will become a mother.

“And your parents...?” Kaim asks.

She shrugs and glances eastward.

“They are continuing their journey. I'm the only one who stayed on here.” Kaim does not ask why she has done this.

Continuing he journey is one way to live, and staying in a town is another.

Neither can be judged to be more correct than the other. The only answer for the girl can be seen in her smiling face. “But never mind about me,” she says looking at him suspiciously.

“You haven't changed one little bit from the time we met so long ago.”

For the thousand-year-old Kaim, ten years is nothing but a change in season.

“Some lives are like that,” he says, straining to smile.

“Some people in this world can never grow old, no matter how long they live.”

He looks at the girl, now grown into a woman, and wonders again, 'Living through endless ages of time: is it a blessing, or a curse?' Kaim's remark hardly counts as an explanation, but the girl nods with a look of apparent understanding.

“If that's the case,” she says, “You should be the one who goes to the place where the wind begins. You'd be the perfect Upstreamer.”

She could be right: after all, the lifespan given to humans is far too short for anyone to travel against the Wind Stream as far as the starting point of the wind. Still, Kaim responds with a few slow shakes of his head.

“I'm not qualified to make the journey.”

“No? Anybody can be an Upstreamer. Anybody, that is, who wants to see where the wind starts with his or her own eyes.”

Having said this, however, the girl adds with a touch of sadness, “No one has actually seen it, though, I guess.” The place where the wind begins: that place is nowhere at all. Even if, after a long journey, one were to arrive at the eastern end of the Wind Stream, the wind would be blowing there, too. And not just an east wind. West wind, north wind, south wind: winds without limit, without end.

Human beings, who cannot live forever, daring to take a journey without end. This might be the ultimate tragedy, but it could just as well be the ultimate comedy. Kaim knows one thing, however: one cannot simply dismiss it as an exercise in futility. “How about you?” he asks the girl. “Aren't you going to continue your journey soon?”

She thinks about this for the space of a breath, and caressing her swollen belly, she cocks her head and says, “I wonder... I might want to go on living the way I am now forever. Or then again, I might feel that desire to reach the starting point of the wind.” All the Upstreamers without exception say that you can never know what might trigger a return to the journey. One day, without warning, you slough off the entire town life and start walking.

It is not always a matter of running into an Upstreamer and being lured back to the road: plenty of people set out on their own all of a sudden.

The teachings of the Upstreamers say that all human beings harbor a desire for endless travel. They probably are not aware of the desire because it is stashed away so far down in the breast that it is deeper than memory.

The instant something brings it to the surface, a person becomes and Upstreamer. “Even if you have the desire,” the girl says to Kaim.

“I wonder...”

“It's true,” she says. “No question.”

The look in her eyes is as straight-on and free of doubt as it was the last time he met her.

Fixing him with that look, she points to her own chest.

“I haven't completely lost it myself.”

“But I'm sure you're happy with your present life?”

“Of course I am.”

“Do you really think the day will come when you will want to set out on the journey even if it means giving up that happiness?”

Instead of answering, she gives him a gentle smile. Many years flow by, but every now and then, something reminds Kaim of the girl's words—that everyone harbors a desire for endless travel.

For Kaim, living itself is a journey without end.

In the course of his journey, he has witnessed countless deaths, and he has also witnessed countless births. Human life is all too short, too weak, and fleeting.

Yet, the more he dwells upon its evanescence, the more he feels, inexplicably, that words such as “eternal,” and “perpetual” apply more properly to life, finite as it is, than to anything else. Traveling down the Wind Stream for the first time in many years, Kaim spies the funeral of an Upstreamer.

A boy in mourning dress stands by the road holding out wildflowers to passing travelers, and urging them to “offer up a flower to a noble soul who has made the long journey this far.”

Kaim takes a flower and asks the boy, “Is it a member of your family?”

“Uh-huh. My grandma.”

The boy nods, his face the image of one Kaim knew so long ago.

The old woman lying in the coffin must be the girl. Kaim is sure of it.

“Grandma traveled a long, long time. She brought my daddy with her when he was just a little boy. See that hill over there? She started walking from way, way beyond it, and she got all the way here.”

So, the girl must've set out on her journey after all.

Turning her back on the town life, leading her child by the hand, she trod her way along the endless journey.

Her wish to aim for the place where the wind begins would be passed on to her child, her grandchild, and on through the succeeding generations.

To head for a land one could never hope to reach, and to do so generation after generation: this is another endless journey. Is it a tragedy?

A comedy?

Perhaps the serene smile on the face of the old woman in the coffin is the answer.

Kaim lays he flower at her feet as an offering.

The family members who have traveled with her join together in a song for the departed:

This wind, where does it blow from?

Where does it start its journey here?

Does it come from where life begins?

Or does it begin where life ends?

The wind blows.

It sweeps the vast grassland.

Kaim takes one long, slow step toward his destination.

“Have a good trip!” calls the boy.

Red and cracked as the girl's were so long ago, his cheeks soften in a smile as he waves to the departing traveler.