There are terrible truths in this world. The unknown things that--perhaps--we are simply better off knowing. This is especially true if the things that call themselves Awakened are speaking the truth.
It seems that any sentient creature can become an Awakened, simply by staying awake for an extended period of time.
Sleep is poorly understood, but nearly all creatures have some form of it. The druids tell us that even ants sleep. However, the best theories that purport to explain the necessity of sleep sound like disingenuous bromides. "Sleep is a way to reset the brain." or "Sleep is how memories are sorted and filed." Or "Just as the body needs rest, so does the brain." These answers are shallow responses to a much deeper question, all of them ultimately unsatisfying. What lies behind the veil of sleep?
There are certainly some reasons to believe that it may be something inimical, or even sinister. The barbarians of the Fangolian wastes believe that sleep is brought by Gemmon, who sleeps on a bed of black feathers and is the twin brother of Thaskalya, who is also called Death.
The amount of sleep deprivation necessary for "onset" is 3-4 weeks in humans. This has been confirmed in experiments carried out with certain forbidden drugs and magics--I will not print their names here lest someone think of imitating this most dangerous experiment. Thesophar the Gilded--rest his soul--did the most research on the subject, and in both of his experiments the elf and the dwarf were murdered before they evinced anything beyond the normal characteristics of sleep deprivations. Demihumans may be immune, but it is more likely that they simply require longer periods of sleep deprivation before becoming Awakened.
Thesophar's interviews with Awakened showed a startling similarity in their personalities and speech patterns. The Awakened--while they have the physiology of the person they once were--are completely alien things.
They retain all of the memories they had when they were alive, as well as considerably more. They seem to know a great deal about anyone they speak to. Thesophar recounts how they knew details of his childhood, education, and even things that no other soul should know. However, they never use this knowledge for any great purpose, only to antagonize, insult, embarrass, and taunt. Attempting to get one to reveal anything useful (such as a forgotten spell or the location of a lost child) were met with the most vulgar jeering and invectives. Their speech is filled with vilest blasphemies and explicit sexual narratives: their own, their victim's, and all manner of obscene postulations. Thesophar described them as "vile and unrepentant. . . the naked gutter of the human psyche."
Surprisingly, they are completely immune to all forms of coercion, including torture. After a few unfortunate incidents, Thesophar finally constructed a restraint device strong enough to hold one and brought in a professional torturer. Although the man had years of experience pulling confessions from heretics and traitors, he resigned after one night, and even turned down an offer for three times the payment. The mind reader that was brought in had a much more painful experience; she fell unconscious for three hours, during which her eyes bled constantly. When she awoke, she had no memory of the prior week and had developed permanent (but mild) insomnia.
The Awakened do not seem to feel any emotions except for two: contempt and rage. When they are not mocking someone, they are attempting to kill them.
They speak of bizarre, almost nonsensical things. However, several phrases and ideas are common enough to warrant a mention here: "the world behind the sun", "dreamers/sleepers/sleepwalkers" (referring to humans), "the coldness that birthed us all", and "the place between". The best narrative that Thesophar was able to piece together was that all sentience--NOT "sentient creatures" but sentience itself--was once a thing very similar to an Awakened, or at least from a similar origin. Sentience is them. . . or they are sentience. They are our own consciousnesses--the thing that says, "I think, therefor I am"--but from a horrific, external source that we have all forgotten. It is only by sleep deprivation that the "mind of the flesh" falls away and our naked consciousness is allowed to see the bare truths of the universe, the cosmic underpinnings of all things. . . and to remember what we were, each of us, before we were conceived.
Thesophar once compared them to souls: ". . . but if these things are of soul-stuff, then it must be that our souls have forgotten what they once were, and what place they came from. Perhaps it is no great Nirvana that imbues our bodies with the divine spark, and there is no Great Wheel that washes the memories of our past lives, but things such as these that comprise our consciousness. Perhaps this is our forgotten history, before we were conceived in the womb, before we forgot, and before we entered this waking dream called humanity."
Of course, these notions are false for reasons that are so apparent that I will not reprint them here. Even Thesophar himself said as much, prior to his crucifixion for the crime of blasphemy. The Church acted rightly--Thesophar's experiments were taking on the dangerous edge of obsession.
Violence, mayhem, and desecration are their only imperatives. Pain is a joke. Death holds no fear. The afterlife is no mystery. They seek to cause as much tragedy as possible before their violent deaths, which they revel in. Those that escaped, or those that occured "in the wild", wade through carnage, reveling in bloodshed, pain, and terror. When they are struck down--usually by cadres of armored knights or battlemages, their last words--crackling out through the howls of laughter and broken lips--are always the darkest secrets of their destroyers, often to the shock and shame of those around them.
If you are ever called to kill one of these beasts in the streets of one of our fair cities, I pray that you are sinless, and that you harbor no secret shames in the corners of your heart. Rest assured that the Awakened will laugh out any secrets as you cut them down.
They are strong. About ten times stronger than they should be, by all accounts. Thesophar recounts an event where one escaped its bonds and punched an armored guard to death through his helmet, even though the Awakened's hands were shattered, pulpy masses of bloody bones by the end of it. They can--and have--broken down heavy prison doors simply by throwing their bodies against it hundreds of times, even though they break their arms, shatter their ribs, and even fracture their necks. Thesophar quickly learned that he could never get any writing done in the same building as them, simply because of the constant noise of them hurling themselves against the door, constantly screaming.
They never sleep, of course.
They are difficult to kill. For years, Thesophar was convinced that they were some form of undead, only becoming convinced to the contrary after several vivisections. They laugh at injuries. Thesophar tells of how they started removing the hands of the Awakened, simply as a safety measure, but ceased the practice when the subjects learned to gnaw off the flesh of their arms below the elbow in order to use the bones of their forearms as stabbing weapons. Those who would fight them are advised to break their legs first, in order to limit their mobility. In once instance, an Awakened that jumped from a great height intentionally fell on its chest and face in order to prevent breaking its legs. The brain must be completely destroyed (down to the brainstem) in order to halt them. Disemboweling or exsanguination will not kill them--they seem be to able to hold themselves together by sheer willpower for several hours. But then, several hours are all they need. They seek death, and they are quick to find it.
While they know everyone intimately, they cannot read minds. Whatever otherworldly sight they possess does not allow them to peer into our thoughts. (Or if they can, they are adept at hiding it.) This is an important distinction to make.
Lastly, their gaze causes insomnia. Blindfolds are no barrier--it is transmitted by their glance, not yours. Sleep is impossible for at least one night, and as many as four. Thesophar learned to work with them for two days out of the week, then spend three days writing, and then spend two days sleeping.
Sleep deprivation carries the same risks for everyone. In order of severity, the symptoms are: irritability, forgetfulness, inattention, paranoia, and hallucinations. Sleep deprivation seems to have no long-term risks, and all symptoms completely disappear after enough sleep.
Up until 1193 TFM, there was a known drug addict in Clansbrad by the name of Simon Westermar. Although the circumstances are not fully understood, Simon became an Awakened (although Thesophar would say that he died and was replaced by an Awakened). Rather than seeking the usually murderous path to a gory death, Simon kidnapped members of his family and fellow students at his Artist's Retreat (to which he belonged), and held them captive for several weeks. During this time he physically abused them while keeping them awake by staring at them for several minutes every day. By the time they were rescued, some of them had been awake for over two weeks.
Westermar was eventually caught by the authorities and hacked to pieces at the end of a bloody, two-hour battle. The delirious captives were found and allowed to sleep. They made full recoveries (save for the trauma that would be expected from such a event).
Still, the event is chilling because it suggests that we do not know all there is to know about Awakened motivations. If one of them has the patience to create more of his number, what else are they capable of doing and towards what end? And given what mayhem a single Awakened may cause, what could a dozen of them do?
Additionally, there are the many reports that the drug cult known as the Wind on the Marilanth Petal includes several Awakened in their ranks. While I would like to dismiss these rumors as exactly that, the crime scenes that the Wind leaves behind do share a certain resemblance to the acts of an Awakened (or so I'm told). I would, of course, pay a handsome fee to anyone who could confirm or disprove this pernicious rumor. I'm afraid I cannot shake the notion that there might be some truth to these rumors, simply because of how sinister the proposition is.
But I'm not losing any sleep over it.