Ceaselessly exhuding steam and malcontent, the black Dragonkin’s face is torrid with an unnatural fury and unease at the shackles which bind her wrists in-front of her. Restless, the towering figure of obsidian scales paces, scratching her claws along the cave floor as she does so. The acidic venom which froths from her mouth leaks it’s scalding ferocity into the beast’s very vernacular as she spits her words at the figure unfortunate enough to be shackled beside her.
Modestly dressed by comparison, the clearly Dwarven figure interrupts his thoughts to gaze upon the font of rage at his side. Adorned with trinkets and reflections of the God of Thunder known as ‘Thor’ in the mortal tongue, not to mention similarly metallic shackles, the bearded mountain-dweller rises the short distance to his feet, standing magnanimously in-front of the shackled Dragonkin. He is unperturbed by the creature’s size, choice of language, or even the venom which flies forth from her lips – both literally and metaphorically – which sizzles the ground around his feet. Calm resonates from the Dwarf so deafeningly with every move that he makes, that you would almost be forgiven for waiting with bated breath for the disarming, diplomatic speech that would quell the incensed Barbarian.
“What the hell did ya call me you talking leather knapsack? I ought ta turn you into a pair of slippers ya slimy slitherin’ piece a-.”
An audible groan draws attention to the eastern wall upon which a solitary human, almost unseen until now, is perched. His features are neutral and black, groomed well but no further – nothing defines his visage, and the thought crosses the mind that perhaps – possibly – this is not unintentional. He scoffs as the Dwarf headbutts the Dragonkin’s lower thigh as the heated dispute turns physical. As he turns, he double takes before settling his eyes on the far wall. What has he seen to make his eyes falter so fleetingly?
The horned figure stares back eerily.
A manifestation of despair, the form lurking in plain sight is that of a Tiefling – a horned, demonic creature resulting from a mortal forging a pact with a being beyond understanding and comprehension. In this case, the spite of the High Heavens – Asmodeus, King of the Nine Hells – granted this boon to a desperate and dying human. His kin already slaughtered in-front of him, it was this fiend of utter darkness that lent his ear where others would not. By granting this twisted blessing which saved the wretch’s life, the two are now inextricably bound to one another far beyond the chilling aesthetic which now haunts those unfortunate enough to catch his crimson stare.
The recollection swirls and fades in your mind, speeding through the events of the past few weeks with haste. Discerning the events from disjointed allegory is taxing, and a profound sense of nausea washes over you. Glimpses of a wicked Drow Queen flood your thoughts, and although you have never had the misfortune of meeting this powerful creature, you see fleeting scenes of whips, chains and terrified screams. At once these images create a feeling of crippling apathy as you witness a plethora of mortal creatures toiling without response, but not without reprimand – the harrowing slash of a tentacled whip makes you wince, almost negating your focus entirely. The echoing of the name ‘Ilvara’ and a sudden reaffirming of this slave-queen’s haunting visage suggests that she has had a part to play in the events that have led to this unruly band of adventurers finding their way in this subterranean hell.
No sooner than you question what this cavernous citadel could be, your mind is whisked away on another sickening journey through darkness and earthen rock. Like a bird erratically dodging through pulsing storm clouds, you fight hard to keep a firm grasp on your consciousness as you weave your way through mushroom-laden tunnels and expansive planes as wide as any city you’ve ever laid foot in. Terrifying beings appear so close that you recoil at the possibility of them striking you in such a vulnerable state – towering mollusks reinforced with rock swing their chitinous tentacles in an arc at the adventurers. You believe you see a horned figure in their grasp and question why the human is speeding past with such disregard, not even a fleeting glance at the despair at his side, and just as quickly the scene in your head mutates and changes. Two gigantic winged-demons locked in a cataclysmic battle tumble from stalactite to plateau as they claw at eachother’s throats, finally losing all grip on their sanity as they plunge towards the ground below. As you brace yourself for their impact, the vision muddies and evaporates once again.
The preceding vision places you facing the adventures, and a cursory glance sees you vastly outnumbering them despite the addition of companions that you have not yet met, and perhaps are never destined to encounter. The lifeless walls are illuminated by torchlight, dancing spirit-like luminescence revealing just enough to spark overwhelming doubt in your mind. “Run!” you squeal from the depths of your very self, urging the escaped prisoners to action, but no sound escapes the mouth that you quickly realise you do not possess in this realm. Suddenly the eyes of the Tiefling glow a macabre shade of red as this forsaken creature steps forward. As seconds pass in what feels like a lifetime, you notice another set of red eyes appear in the darkness at the back of the miniature cavern behind the adventurers. And another. Suddenly, like a wave of blood washing over pearly-white stones, crimson-stained eyes awaken for miles in the darkness, and the creatures below your vision recoil in horror. As the Tiefling begins to step forward, your sight is suddenly pulled into the wall and your consciousness is subjected to another bout of madness.
You feel like you are drowning. A single spark of light illuminates the surface which you desperately claw your hands towards, but control of your extremities eludes you. Despite the vision, you cannot help but feel like your death is nigh, until a familiar face plunges into the water and arrives inches before your sight. The human you saw in the earliest recollection of these visions, cheeks puffed out in a frantic attempt to reserve his last breaths, seems to be wrestling with the water itself. Infact, as your focus travels past the struggling man back towards the surface, you can see that the water appears to be almost sentient – an upward firing dervish of liquid with a set of brilliant golden bands encircling what can only be classed as it’s wrists. The bracelets are clearly magical in nature and seem to be giving power to this elemental terror as it strikes its balled fist at a silhouette on the surface a few feet from it’s center. A boat, perhaps?
You turn back to the human whose actions are turning more erratic in his struggle, only to see his disposition soften slightly as his gaze passes yours. Can he see me? The suggestion is fleeting, however, as a stream of light equally as liquid in form as your surroundings dives unchallenged into the depths. A valkyr, wings streamlined by its side and hands outstretched, grabs the human authoritatively on the shoulder and, as quickly as it had arrived, kicked it’s feet as it ascended back towards the silhouette above from which it had spawned. Shocked, you feel a hand grasp you from behind and drag you the other way, your consciousness fading as the battle above turns to twilight.
You turn, still expecting yourself to be fighting for your life in the freezing water, to be greeted with an even more terrifying realisation – a hag, eyes ablaze with horrors and wretched melting flesh adorning the decayed construct of her face looses a shrill scream in your direction. The sound is sharp enough to pierce your eardrums – were your current form so predisposed as to have any – but is quickly marred by a look of terror which almost seems to mirror your own. Despite your fear, you feel the witch staring through you and, against your better judgments, turn to see what could be inciting such emotions in a creature as dangerous as this.
Your ears are the first to register the enraged opaque half-Dragon risking itself in every sense to storm towards the witch. Sensibilities damned, the creature holds back nothing as it’s battlecry stirs a tentative mixture of panic and courage in your mind, eliciting memories of the stories of Dragons you would hear as a child – their brutal screams often as dangerous as the enormous claws which slew so many who stood against them. The claws of this barbarian instead grasped a maul of incredible design; spiked in several places and emanating an almost monochromatic glow, pulsing between all of the reds and oranges and golds which reflect the unabashed fury of the being that wields it. It leaps suddenly, clearing you without issue, raising the weapon above it’s head as it flies majestically through the air. Such majesty is short-lived, however, as you see the maul – now glowing a slaughterous shade of red – crush its target with all the grace of a landslide.
You look away from the near-certain deathblow into the eyes of the Dwarf you recall from your earlier visions, his unflinching gaze locked with your own. You wonder how this creature’s stature has increased enough for him to hold court with your eyes on such an even plane, only to realise that you are kneeling.
The peripherals of your vision start to pulse.
Sense floods back suddenly and all-at-once, and the overwhelming return to your own temporal form causes you to vomit. Shaking and drenched in your own sweat, you reach out to your surroundings for comfort as Druids of your kind often do. You are met with silence – an unnatural selfishness which causes you to recoil, sliding from your crouched position onto your behind. Gasping for breath, the familiar sensation of inhalation seeking to steady your nerves, you finally take stock of where you are.
Except, you have no idea.
The nausea resumes. This is no forest. The animals do not seek to commune with you, and you cannot divine the musings of the trees or the motives of the beast which you tracked for so long in defense of the clearing you once called home. The same familiar, creeping darkness and lifeless stone from your visions – the catalyst of which is still unclear – is no longer in your mind, but now close enough to touch. The Underdark is no longer a nightmare for you, but a reality.
A jarring cry heightens your sense of danger. Succumbing to this land is not an option, you think, drawing your trusted quarterstaff and descending the rock towards the noise. Gigantic toothed spiders, bigger than any you have seen before are firing blasts of almost liquid-state webbing at what looks like humanoid figures. An audible curse in Draconic revives the nausea in your gut, only for its resemblance to similar insults you recall from the outskirts of your mind.
The vision. The adventurers. They are here.
And now, too, so am I.