[author’s note: Please see this post for some background information on anything tagged “AoA.” This was Jethro’s second haunting vision and was a fun writing experiment. Marcus, Jethro’s player, and I wrote this collaboratively back and forth via Facebook Messenger.]
Jethro Vermillion stepped forward hesitantly, blinking and confused. He took in his surroundings.
The cleric stood at one end of a long tunnel that seemed to be made of hardened lava, long ago scorched and melted. Tiny cracks and fissures lined the walls, within which an orange glow flickered and gave the tunnel a soft, fiery illumination. The air was uncomfortably warm and smelled of smoke.
An archway just behind him glowed with gold and silver mist, and it seemed to Jethro that humanoid figures moved within it. At the far end of the tunnel, perhaps a hundred feet, an identical archway shimmered with mist.
“What manner of place is this?” Jethro asked aloud.
Just then blasts of fire and smoke poured out of the tunnel’s walls. Jethro flinched from the sudden explosion of sound and heat. Within moments, the burning form of a dragon coalesced mid-length of the passageway.
The fiery creature was so large that it had to crouch, its head laying between claws and staring directly at Jethro with burning eyes.
“So…” the dragon croaked, and smoke billowed from its maw. “Here is the newborn of the Dawnflower. You think you are prepared to defeat my followers, newborn? To confront the Eternal Destruction itself?”
“I… I… I am not ready. I know not of what terrible fate you speak. I know not of your followers. You call me newborn of the Dawnflower–I follow the Goddess yes, though I claim no such title. But I know this, foul creature: I am willing. I am willing to play my role to the world’s end, whatever the cost. And if you are that lover of oblivion called Dahak, as I suspect you to be, I know that I will serve my goddess and do all in my power to bring you–and all who name you lord–to the light!”
The dragon squinted, looking irritated. “Light. Bah. I serve no one. Not your goddess. I will bring destruction to all, and you, little one, will help me.”
“I would sooner die a thousand deaths than serve your purpose.” Jethro seemed to lift his head taller, his stammer forgotten as he stood on familiar theological ground. “In the end, we all must serve, beast. But the morning comes each day, and if it is indeed my help you seek, I offer you this: It is never too late to repent. The true destruction you wreak is of your own soul. May you find a true spark of wisdom before your own light is extinguished for good.”
The dragon blinked, clearly surprised. Then a slow chuckle bubbled from its throat, filling the tunnel with smoke that burned Jethro’s eyes. “So young. So naive. Your doom is all but guaranteed. You are nothing. Those with you are nothing. Your dreams and plans merely ash in the wind. Proceed on this path, and each step brings you closer to me.”
After a pause, it asked, “What do you hope to accomplish in Breachill? Beneath Asmodeus’ barren citadel?”
Now it was Jethro who blinked, unsettled by the change in tone. “I know not what purpose this citadel or what lies beneath may serve, only that it is right that I am here, that whatever part I have to play starts here. Know this, breather of hot air: where I find good, and those who serve fires of hope and truth, I will provide succor. And where I find evil, and those who would cast this world into endless darkness, I shall bring the flaming sword of redemption. And while we may be inexperienced, the companions who have found me and I, we will only grow stronger, as we have already, and more prepared to stop you!”
“By all means, then, grow stronger. But you will fail,” the dragon sneered. “You and anyone with you will die, flayed and dragged into the Great Darkness to feed me. And then I will rise, finally free of this prison. Your utter failure will unleash me upon your world.”
It inhaled deeply. “Now… Burn, little dragon hunter. BURN!” and the fiery beast opened its maw wide.
Flames filled the tunnel, washing over Jethro and turning him to ash.
Tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Jethro Vermillion screamed into the morning darkness, the dragon’s roar still echoing in his ears.