And in my ongoing "examples of characters.."
This one's vastly more high concept and power than the Knight-relic of WWII, to note:
He had been different, in the time before, and though he remembered it well, it felt as if it was not simply a lifetime ago, but a lifetime lived by someone else completely. He had been a nightmare then, born from dreams of terror and fury, of looming dread. A tangible monster in the days when it was natural for such things to be, a darkly glorious example of his kind. Strong, fast and fierce, wise and cunning and keen. Insightful, that he might draw out greater horror from those subjected to him in the dreamscape, by knowing them to greater depth. He danced with a terrible grace to the appreciation of lords of fear and the unspeakable powers they held dominion with.
But he was wise. And he was cunning. And he was keen. And he was insightful. It set him as a breed apart from his more workaday fellows, and it would undo him. For he was curious. It was the screaming, really. Sometimes it wouldn’t just be to plead to him, sometimes it wouldn’t just be the pure, wordless, soundless wail that drove to terrified frenzy in a need to make some noise, any noise (oh, what high art). Help me, they would cry to… something. Save me. Please. Intellectually he knew they were calling to.. a friend, a parent, a hero, a god. But he couldn’t possibly work that effectively into his twisted art unless he could understand the feeling itself they were trying to reach for, cloak themselves in, protect themselves from him with. The underlying power they seemed to feel this friend, this hero, this parent, this god would have. Once he understood it, he could make it his, even make it another implement of his performance. Though his fellows praised him now, oh how they would praise him then, for such a triumph.
And so he pulled at the edges of dreaming pleas now and then in his ruinous dances. A piece here and there was all he could grab of a sensation they could not quite reach. But soon enough he had gathered sufficiently to weave into a greater whole, to behold what had been outside his grasp and comprehension, and… oh. Oh, how could no one have ever told him of this. Radiance and wonder, glory and courage and love. And hope! Hope! It blazed, but it did not consume. It invigorated, but not by causing suffering in another to enjoy. It was not that he had been unaware of these ideas, it was simply… he had never felt them himself, never considered them truly possible, never regarded them as embodied as that which he could actually feel himself. Oh how could he have been so cruel, to deny anyone this feeling. How could he have thought himself beautiful. He had to choose then, but truthfully it was no real choice at all. He embraced what he had wrought, and he was changed.
And so it was that he was still a presence in dreams. But one that turned back the terrors of dreamers, that guided them through them. And where he encountered his brethren as the principle hands in bringing out such fear, he drove them back too. With children particularly, for theirs were the purest, strongest of dreams, and thus with them the strongest of fears and hopes both. His heart could not bear to think of them now, suffering from the kinds of attention that were once his to inflict. And his heart needed for them to feel what he had, for everyone to feel it, even if just once. To know and be bettered.
It was not that he was in all dreams to do this. All in all he moved in just somewhat expanded portions of psyche and spirit that he had moved before. But it was enough for a story to spread in the way that stories do among children, a legend set aside with that childhood, like Peter’s Never Never land, but held all more firmly for that during. A red shield with sunburst device to draw on a bedframe just so, and a hero would come, strong and fast and fierce, wise and cunning and keen, and he would keep the terrors away, he would guide a child to overcome them at his side. And in the reds and golds of the dawn, of the fire of courage, he will arrive triumphant, strong enough to snap the jaws of dragons, brave enough to stare down armies and laugh. His wings (or cape, or long, explained to him when he asked as “badass looking”, trenchcoat and matching sunglasses) resplendent, his sword (or spear, or axe, or gun, or a bazooka, or a staff, or occasionally, soccer ball that the opposing team can never keep hold of and always finds its way into their net) unwavering and indestructible, formed of the purest dreamed hopes, his shield a bulwark through which horror cannot pass (he finds it soothing that generally speaking, a shield is almost always a shield. Though there was this one time it was a test paper with all the correct answers on it with which he held back a stream of dunce caps. Dreams, you know.)
It was not a legend that pleased his former kind, nor their immediate masters, and there was a time where they brought him low for his betrayal of his original purpose, for the reason of his making at all. They found him impossibly, frustratingly, infuriatingly willful in a realm where many contests inside the dreams of specific beings were decided by such. Driving back even more potent beings through sheer blazing force of personality. And they were sick of it. But his defense has been a clever thing. For has he not, in his opposition, driven them to greater heights of creativity in their fear and phantasmagoria? Would they ever reach them, keep to hold to them without challenge? Without heroes, how pale and lifeless and banal would villains be. Without a reminder of hope and a better world, how could the fear of taking it away exist? (He does not mention that in his heart, this defense is a lie, however creative they get, he will simply defeat them still, that if he was one of their best, and hope bested him, they have no chance) It was an appeal to vanity and ego, and successful enough, for most creatures involved in his work are ones of vanity and ego, to demand emotion be shaped to reflect their will. For those who regardless would not bring themselves to a grudging acceptance of a point, he shrugged his shoulders before their annihilating intent and told them he did not care, that though it might sound selfish, this was his story. And that they had to accept. To bring him down now, before their collected number, would only add to that story the fate of a defiant martyr, and they had seen the power of /that/ dream. Better to fight him over time, to wear him down slowly, and degrade him back to what he should be.
And so it has been. He still walks his warder’s path, inspiring hope and strength in his wake through dreams. He is summoned and sought beyond this now and again by mystics as one of the more benign guides to the Dream Realm, or far more simply as a warrior spirit (though this last gives him some annoyance. “I am no Free Lance” he says with an archaic umbrage). And he remembers the ways of tangible shape, and there are times when he makes use of it, when what he sees as having shaped a dream being a foulness born in the waking world that must be addressed however he can, in the name of his charges. And so he does. His power and skill making for a form most potent, his strengths, qualities and shifting weapons alike made manifest. And he has taken a certain enjoyment in and of the waking world. A being who has seen and moved through the fantasies of it, to feel them real and vibrant and with passionate fire is a singularly heady sensation. He takes his due of pleasure when he chooses, but more importantly, he has taken up placing his shield over those that would be used and ruined for pleasure. For every time he has been the lone warrior pulling back with all epic drama the world from falling into the eternal grip of the King of Nightmares, he has also been the alleyway patron saint of abused and enslaved children, of prostitutes who have nothing left but the occasional tattered dream, of drug addicts needing to feel the hand they reach for to grip back and help them up.
The times where this has involved battle most vigorous have given him a cachet as superhero in both the mystical world and the wider one. He lingers inbetween dreams, to try and change things here and there within it, in the name of the people he has developed so fierce an affection for. Whether that has meant battling supervillains and occult forces, or shattering the limbs of a child abuser. He knows and remembers much from his countless time as a dreamwalker, giving him a remarkable depth of insight, though this can lead to an occasional disappointment when he recognizes a child grown up as an adult in a way he would not have preferred. And here and there, a man or woman might recall an old story from their childhood that they just.. /knew/.. but never felt a need to repeat. Draw his shield just so where you sleep, and the Crimson and Gold Knight will come, and the nightmares will run from him.