At the dawn of the Elven race, when the world was young and the gods full of temper and exuberant with creation, they were unlearned as a newborn calf and naive as a mountain spring, freshly free of the ground.
Then, one of their number, Aius - the Sky - was his name, for they were few, and had little need for elaborate monikers, walked beside Raelis, the Green Mother, and drank deep of her wisdom. As spring came and her blood grew swift and eager as the swollen rivers, the goddess shared wine with her companion, then a bed of moss and flowers. There, basking in her divine essence, soundly asleep at her side, Aius experienced the first dream in existence.
Reverbererating across the minds of mortals, this very first figment opened doors in their minds, and paved the path for other dreams to follow and grace their sleep. Yet Aius was the one to be visited by the most vivid visions imaginable, and many beyond. Wishing to share, he invited others into his dream, to let their minds touch briefly, spirits brush against each other, and take part in his experience. And, in turn, his guest left behind threads of their own minds, experience, beauty and imagination, and they grew independent, liberated thought without an owner, without substance, alive with the pulse of dreams in Aius' mind.
When the first dreamer's time to Fade approached, and his body grew ever more translucent and ethereal, he did not notice - and stayed alive, as a realm of floating ideas and shared knowledge, a wallowing cloud of ephemera, to which every elf was linked. Diluted and scattered between swarms of others' thoughts, little of his persona remains, save the belief in dreams.
As sleep approaches, or in contemplation, Elves in all corners of the world will enter Aius' dreamscape, the Eternal Reverie, share each other's dreams, imaginations, fantasies and touch the wisdom of the ancients, and the vigor of the young.
Even though their bodies may fail, all Elves will live on in their shared trance, as images of whatever was the most charming, most imaginative in them, for all to see, for all to share.
In the Reverie, the Elven people found a powerful repository of knowledge, and in their communion, a fount of peace and understanding; for every one of their number, it is a place of learning, reflection, contemplation and rejuvenation, only the shutting of his eyelids away.
In time, the dream grew - and with it, the Elves. As is with growth, they vied for light and living space with other sprouts of the tree of creation. As competition turns to a fight for survival, so become methods more desperate - and learning of the Reverie's existence, those who would see Elvenkind brought low strove to glean their secrets from the dreamscape, to poison it or see it torn to shreds so that it may no longer serve its visitors. Yet, when it comes to walking dreams, what are first-time intruders compared to life-time guests? The first despoilers were repelled, their minds lost to the ephemeral reality. With their attempt, a need arose, and it was met - in those of the Shut Eyes, keepers of the Elven heritage, mighty not in might nor magic, but in wealth of spirit and imagination.
Maybe he suspected it deep inside, and was loathe to admit it - but Vlari-Shion was neither.
What the young elf had in abundance was a wish for recognition and resentment towards his elders, always chiding him to learn patience, improve, grow wiser, so that his thoughts would be worthy of sharing, things of beauty and profound truth.
He had thoughts aplenty - yet none of the ancients seemed to care. There was beauty in them by the wagon load, of that Vlari-Shion was certain. Yet all his peers had a perception of allure that seemed millennia old, and covered in dust! Not even the Elven damsels - at times when they cared about men - seemed interested in what he called the New School, his own approach.
Yes, he seethed, bubbled with resentment at being omitted, overlooked, belittled - and came to blame the Reverie in the end. "It holds back the Elven race!" he proclaimed, "makes us live in the past!" … and all laughed, their ridicule tinkling like bells cast down a flight of stairs. "It stifles uniqueness, drives us towards a normalized perfection!" the rebel preached - "Show us then a different kind of perfection in you!" they offered, yet he knew no answer.
Truly, rare was a creature more unhappy than Vlari-Shion in his dark brooding, shunned and avoiding others in turn, irreverent and disrespected, the sole follower of his philosophy.
A complete turnabout was then his decision to join the Shut Eyes, to safeguard the Reverie and be a gardener to the flowers of dream. With raised eyebrows and twitching ears he was allowed this chance for correction, for with challenge does a man grow, and all agreed: Vlari-Shion should.
His service was dedicated, dutiful and flawless - for all of fifty-three days. Intending to drive what he hated so much to ruin, to topple the emphemeral tower of the Elven collective dream, he led dark sorcerers within, to wreak corruption - all to liberate his people, to allow them a chance for a tomorrow free of the past, a fresh start and a choice of paths to walk.
What he failed to realize was that none were forced to accept anything from the Reverie, and the attention paid to thoughts within was based solely upon their worth, not a dictum of the majority, not a calcified unliving ideal.
For his folly and hubris, Vlari-Shion was forever severed from the living dream, and spirited away into the endless expanse of the Limbo, to contemplate his transgression. Forevermore.
Bereft of the need to eat or breathe, locked away in a bubble floating in the midst of nothing, Vlari-Shion was a welcome treat and easy prey for madness, muttering to himself and finding but layers of wrongs perpetrated by his kin upon him, who wished them only freedom, never realizing his folly in his self-absorbed nature - for how can one be wrong, if only the whole world and then some are telling him so?
After seething rage came fervent plotting, then weeping self-pity, then brooding depression, then pleading - and finally, a half-awake state of catatonia.
What he knew not was that his prison was flawed, for a part of his head, a scant few square inches of scalp, were not locked inside his enchanted oubliette, and upon those sat an ether moth, innocuous name that may be for a horrid creature whose larvae burrow through the souls of the mad and the lost, taking a thousand or more years to consume their prey and mature.
Time flows differently in the vastness of the Limbo, and while a hundred years may have passed in the lands of the living, the gray clouds of emptiness experienced a longer timespan by far, giving Vlari-Shion ample opportunity to probe the depths of his insanity. Having found such ample fare, the larvae were not able to consume the endless fount of lunacy, and instead grew bloated, reverberating with the pulse of the Elf's delirium and feeding his aberration with the constant agony at growing through his flesh and soul; from the apex of his skull, they protruded as paths of silvery eldritch ooze, growing for feet, then yards, then miles; entwined with his never-cropped hair, they snaked through the nothingness and branched, forming serpents of billowing mane with argent strings, searching, adopting shapes from Vlari-Shion's fevered dream...
Until they finally touched the world.
Growing from the Limbo and thus shifted against reality, they were unable to touch it, just observing as a fish could from below a pool's surface, his tendrils writhing amongst the living like umbral serpents, immaterial and unobserved. Yet dreams reach across worlds, and inside them, he could become manifest, sending the dark tendrils of his hair and the parasites' bodies inside, finally able to do more than observe. At first, he just wrecked dreamscapes and raged across sleeping minds, a nameless terror born of nightmares. Kicking over the gossamer sand-castles people erect in their sleep was soon not enough for Vlari-Shion. He'd attack the dreamers themselves, rending their psyche until they managed to wake, venting his anger and frustration at his imprisonment.
His exile was but an educational anecdote to the Elves then, and none would expect the horrid thing Vlari-Shion had grown into. He, in contrast, forgot nor forgave nothing of the wrong inflicted upon him, and as his tendrils wrapped around the dream of a junior Shut Eye, Eldanis, the exile first overcame her soul and then ripped her away from her body, away from mortal dreaming, to suffer nightmares within his tenebrous confines forever more.
Wrapped within his serpentine coils was an endless world with no escape, illuminated only by the silvery sheen emitted by the soul-eating larvae; the exile would torture the captive dreamers until their nightmares came alive; as precious pets would he coddle those beasts of warped dreaming, and feed them the refuse of the larvae within lairs woven within his hair that spanned the nothingness. The horrors spawned by one captured dreamer he would send against another, providing a stream of fresh abhorrent hallucinations to drive his prized captives even deeper into madness. The choicest creatures, fed by the fears of a hundred victims, Vlari-Shion reserved for Eldanis, whispering honeyed words into her ears even as the phobias of a thousand descended upon her.
Indeed, they refused to believe that dreaming was to their detriment, to be shunned and feared when he attempted to convince them with words, then deeds, he would show them through the very products of their phantasy that only waking moments do not hold terror and undoing.
His braids interwoven with glistening worms writhe amongst us, yet you cannot see them, black serpents with insane insect eyes, searching, feeling their way forward just next to reality, on the lookout for Aius' dream, probing dreamscapes they slither across for victims to entertain his malice. Inside them, lunacy reigns all, as the existence within responds and reshapes according to Vlari-Shion's psychotic fits, constantly subject to flux, shifting slowly in associative steps, and at times with sudden leaps of fancy - for it is only the stuff of thought.
When a sleeper simply does not awaken, it may be that the Nightmares' Keeper has taken his mind, to be his plaything in his realm of dark dreaming; some, he returns when he grows bored - which may be a day in our world, yet ten years in their account, ten years of torment without relief. Suffice to say, the Keeper of Dark Dreaming usually breaks his toys.
Some especially weak and flawed souls will forever remain bound to their tormentor, even if they awaken, but vessels for his dark thoughts and channels for his malice.
What does Vlari-Shion wish for in his madness? Certainly, he has changed too much to desire freedom from his entrapment. A mirror of pain, he wishes to inflict it a thousandfold; forced into insanity, he has plenty of it to share.
Alas, his prime prize, his focus is the dream of Aius, the Reverie, from which he was forever banished. Into it the outcast wishes to sing his hair-tendrils, to tear it apart; a little, muted piece of him though yearns for the peace he knew inside the dreamlands when he was young.
From the Elves' Reverie he was banished, though, and is incapable of entering it; therefore, his agents and appendages are constantly searching for a way to break inside.
Having lost the capacity for real interpersonal interaction, he expresses affection and interest by devising especially creative methods to traumatize and 'test' his victims, delving through their psyche and unraveling that which fascinates him so much until it is irrevocably broken.
In the midst of a nightmarish convolute of tresses, glistening larval bodies and living nightmares floats a sphere in the nothingness of the Limbo, holding an inconspicuous emaciated elf, unkept and clad in non-descript rags, wide eyes staring off into space, right through you, seeing things just behind you which you cannot, may you turn as fast as you want. From his head grows the whole dark branching nest of black serpents that wafts through the emptiness and penetrates into reality. Other than that, he is not too distinct from the other trapped souls within his body, enveloped in constraining light with an expression of catatonic terror - for the prisons of his victims are reflexions of his own, though of different make, with larvae poking their bodies inside, to delight at the despair and angst within.
At first, a would-be-opponent will be faced with the consequences of Vlari-Shion's works - people lost to madness, deprived of their reason the the middle of their sleep, or just vacant wrecks with absent souls.
The next level are his pawns, disturbed creatures with broken psyches who see the Keeper of Dark Dreaming as a god, having been tortured into submission. They are his hands in the world, trying to glean what their master's agenda may be, for Vlari-Shion is not certain on that point himself at times, when his fits and hallucinations become overwhelming, or when a particularly interesting prisoner distracts him.
While the pawns may usually be meek in their own right, through them, the nighmares spawned by the prisoners' suffering may manifest, living horrors and terrifying landscapes; usually, channeling the birth of a powerful nightmare breaks a pawn's fragile mind entirely. Not that Vlari-Shion cares, for he cackles in glee at every new horror spawned by the abused imagination of his captives, looking forward to releasing it upon "them" who have wronged him so.
A direct battle with the Keeper may take inside a dreamer's mind, fighting to preserve his sanity and preventing the outcast from snatching his soul; indeed, most confrontations with him will be in dreamscapes, whether to free prisoners or to assault him directly.
While entering dreamscapes of an entity of such malevolence may appear suicidal, two factors play into the hands of such daring adventurers: first, Vlari-Shion has a hundred tendrils slithering through the places of the world, but only one attention and one mind (a mad one at that) and second, a sufficiently resourceful dreamwalker may be able to shift small aspects of the nightmare landscapes into his favor - and the dreamscapes are entirely real to the Keeper, especially the aspects created by himself. In that regard, he is very much like a liar who believes his own lies.
Whether he can be redeemed, or at least brought back as a very disturbed but peaceful elf who will live out his days tended in a peaceful garden by caretakers, that is up to the GM. He may be too far gone down the path of madness, and the sole way of disposing of him is shattering his soul and casting the pieces into the four winds.
*Dark Lullabies: once a waif of unknown origin, Melissa holds the whole orphanage captive with her cruel games; none can escape, and falling prey to her shadow-born minions or no-escape scenarios is only a matter of time. In the young girl, the Keeper of Dark Dreaming found a perfect channel, one that has few limits on manifesting his nightmares in the real world.
Can you stop her, free the other children, and restore her to her former harmless and adorable self?
*My Brothers' Keeper: Vlari-Shion has managed to funnel the first nightmares into the elven collective dream. You, as a band of young elves who were exploring the dreamscape for insights, are all that stands between him and the destruction of your most precious legacy. By your creativity, wits and insight shall you prevail.
*A Rare Soul: the Oracle was to speak the Truest Prophecy in a week's time, but the Keeper snatched her soul away in a dream. You must venture into the contorted nightmare lands inside his body to seize her, for with each passing minute, the Dark Dreamer learns more of the truth, the same bit which is forever lost to all of you.
*The Heart of Darkness: you have been seized by the Keeper of Dark Dreaming, and are subject to his sadistic game. While alone none of you stands a chance, each horror scenario can be escaped with the cooperation of your companions.
*The Greatest Nightmare: what if a god's mind was to fall prey to the Keeper? Look no further than to the cursed city of Assalvani, where its protector goddess sleeps fitfully, her divine mind giving substance to horrid creatures thought up by scores of tortured souls. Not only must you venture into the damned city and face the horrors as well as its insanely desperate inhabitants, but you must find a way to wake a god.
*Sleeper Agents: your king is in danger, for the Keeper wishes him dead - apparently, his support of the Elves and founding of effective mental hospitals shielded from outside intrusion have not gone unnoticed. You know that in this celebration, several of the guests are the Keeper's unwitting thralls, believing the traumatic dreams to be just that; it is necessary to ferret them out before they can get close enough to the ruler to unleash their nightmarish cargo. Additional difficulty arises from the fact that while they feel an urge to approach the sovereign, preferably in private, they know not of their lethal load and will react unfavorably to being apprehended. Creative ways of delaying and disabling them are advised.
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? Responses (5)
Hm, intended this for the last quest, but did not post it in time.
There are so many aspects of this sub that I like. Being a big fan of mythology, I love the description on how the Reverie came to be. I like the idea of the Reverie being a shared reality and it gets my mind thinking of all the ways that it would influence Elven society. The progression of Vlari-Shion's story is riveting. The language is wonderfully evocative. Truly a different take on monsters and it would have worked well for the quest.
I have racked my brain to come up with something that could use improvement, but I got nothin'.
Wow in depth, with enough info to base an entire campaign around. It's nice to see an unusual enemy that has a fresh approach to achieving their goals, and really make players struggle to get a grasp on their capability and motivations.
A couple quick ideas to improve the appearance/presentation:
Putting the headers such as appearance, confrontation etc.. in bold would help a bit to highlight the different sections of the article and make it easier to find a particular area when skimming during a game session.
Also, putting a line break in between each plot hook and bolding their titles would make the last text area a bit easier to read/navigate. (as it is it's a bit of a wall of text towards the end)
Update: Update Freetext
Wow, EM, this is really damn good. The visuals of the hair and stuff extending as vast extraplanar tendrils is just awesome.