At level three, Pact of the Tome Warlocks get three cantrips of their choice. Our warlock player thought that just getting those spells would be a little dull, so he asked me to have his patron bestow them on him through visions.
A little context: Little Ice is a snow tabaxi warlock from the north. He was raised by two very talented mages, who expected him to follow in their footsteps, but Little Ice never had any real interest in magic. At some point, after failing again and again in his studies, he started having visions of the end of the world. He desperately sought for a way to prevent this; in his search, he ran across a tome that opened his mind to the voice of the Forgotten Lord, an ancient fiend lost to even the records of Hell itself.
I prepared three nightmares, one for each cantrip; I plan on having the player read one every long rest. Once Little Ice has suffered the nightmare, the cantrip will be burned into his consciousness, whether he like it or not.
Nightmare #1: Shillelagh.
“Hello? Spot? Are you listening to me?”
You hear your mother’s voice call out to you. You are alone with her, outside, on the tundra, far away from the tents and igloo’s. You feel chilly. You look up to your mother. She smiles at you.
“Your father doesn’t want me to do this, but…-”
O joy! you think, that’s how most fun things start.
“I think it is important that you remember who you are. Who we are.”
Your heart flutters with excitement. The day is young, and your strict father is at home with his books, frozen to his reading chair. But you’re here, outside, in the fresh air, white nothing stretching out in every direction, promising everything.
“We are predators, Spot. Hunters. Killers.” Your mother starts disrobing, her white fur, so much like yours, bristling in the pale afternoon sun. “Though we may now wear these silken robes and live in houses, studying our magic, know that our ancestors were predators, feeding off the land, living from kill to kill. As a girl, my mother taught me that a tabaxi should always be able to feed herself. Only eat what you can kill. That is the Ancient Way. It’s time you learn that lesson, too.”
Your mother smiles at you, inviting you to disrobe. You hesitate. What would father say?
Gently, your mother grabs hold of your robes and pulls them over your head, tossing them into the snow. She gets on all fours, beckoning for you to do the same. You feel cold.
“I-I don’t know,” you stutter,“Father says-”
“Your father isn’t here right now. It’s just us.”
It’s just us. Again, your heart flutters with excitement, but you’re still not sure.
“I’ve never hunted before,” you say. “What if I mess up?”
The last thing you want to do is disappoint mother. Your mother is cool.
She smiles at you. “Don’t worry,” she says encouragingly, “It’s instinct; something you’ve always known, since before you were even born, only to have later forgotten. You only have to remember.”
Remember. You mimic your mother, landing on all fours. Your mother starts running and you follow. At first, it feels wrong; this is how you learned to walk, but a proper tabaxi gentleman, your father always says, walks on two feet, not on four like some sort of animal. Yet, as you pick up the pace, your anxiety melts away like summer snow. This feels right. You go so much faster than you would on two legs. Why did you ever start walking like that, anyway? Because the humans do? Humans are stupid.
“Why is your fur white, Spot?” asks your mother.
“Because you and daddy both have white fur,” you say sharply.
Your mother laughs. “Yes, well, that’s true. But there is another reason,”
“What is it?” you ask, curious as always.
“So our prey doesn’t see us.”
You and your mother keep running until she signals you to stop. At first you don’t understand why; you want to ask, but your mother presses your face down into the snow, hard. As you lift your head you see why. Up ahead you see a herd of reindeer, lazily grazing on the spare plucks of grass not covered by snow.
You’re scared. You’ve never hunted before. You’re not sure what to do. And look at those antlers! What if they hurt you?
Your mother looks at you and smiles.
Don’t worry, you remember her say, it’s instinct, something you’ve always known since before you were even born, only to have later forgotten. You only have to remember.
Your mother leaps from the hiding place, roaring in a voice you’ve never heard before. You’ve heard her angry – the Gods know you’ve given her plenty of reasons to – but this is different. This is…exciting. You rise, roaring, too; louder than you’ve ever roared before, though not nearly as loud as her. You see the herd look up from their grazing, frightened; you drink deep the look in their eyes, the terror; it arouses you. Saliva builds in your mouth and you feel your claws come out, ready to pounce.
You are running now. Faster than you’ve ever ran before. Mothe pounces on a small reindeer and forces it to the ground. The reindeer’s mother halts her retreats and rushes to her baby’s aid, but your own mother roars at the prey. The reindeer halts. For a single moment, you feel a twang of sympathy tug at your heart – the look in the mother’s eyes – but then you smell it. Something sweet. Sweeter than the sweetest candy. Your mouth runs over now, thick tendrils of drool running from you chin like waterfalls. What is it? What’s that smell?
You look at your mother, you see the red in her white fur, and you know. It’s blood.
The mother reindeer has no choice but to flee. The herd thunders off, leaving the babe behind.
“Cowards,” spits your mother. “Cattle is like that. They have no problem abandoning their young to save their own hides.”
“So what now?” you ask. “Do we let it go?”
When you go ice-fishing with Ingvar, you usually let the fish go. It’s the proper thing to do.
“No,” says your mother. “You hunt.”
“But we’ve already caught it,” you say, uneasy.
Your mother flashes a cruel smile. A smile you don’t ever remember seeing before. “Yes, the work is over. Now starts the play.”
Your mother releases her grip on the reindeer. Desperate, the wounded animal limps forth in the direction of the herd as fast as it can, which isn’t very fast at all. Again, you feel sympathy welling up inside of your heart, but then you smell it. That sweet smell. And you see it, too; the beautiful crimson spraying the white snow.
Before you realize it you are chasing the reindeer. Overtaking it is easy. Your dig your sharp claws into its hide and rake them across its soft fur, drawing blood. The babe squeals; the scream is like music to you, so sweet, so melodic. You withdraw one paw and lick the blood. The taste is exquisite. You’ve had raw meat before – plenty of stakes – but this taste is unlike anything you’ve ever had. It tastes of blood, yes…and something else.
You are not a cruel boy, but something cruel now enters into your mind, seeming like someone else’s idea, yet unmistakably your own. You withdraw your other claw and let the reindeer stumble a little. Just as it starts thinking it might get away after all, you dash after it and catch its antlers in your jaws. You hear that music again, the song of screams. Your mother laughs approvingly.
“That’s it. That’s the way to do it.”
Her voice sounds different. Deeper. But you hardly notice. You go for the kill, rending the helpless babe’s throat with your teeth. You feel the prey’s final spasms, the life-breath leaving the body. Ecstasy.
You look up and you see the giant ants swarm your friend Ingvar. You are bigger, now, as is he.You point your paw at one of them and release an eldritch blast. The insect’s head explodes and you feel it again, that very same ecstasy, only stronger, much stronger. Saliva floods your mouth and runs down your chin, wetting your fur.
That’s it. That’s the way to do it. Even deeper now, but distant. A rasp whisper.
Your mother looms over you. She pats you on the head with her giant paw. It feels good.
It’s instinct, something you’ve always known since before you were born, only to have later forgotten. You only have to remember.
You see their petty legions line up in front of you. Angels and treacherous demons alike. All prey.
You grab hold of your scythe, your great red fingers burning into the wooden handle, setting it ablaze. You swing it. Dozens, no, hundreds – maybe thousands – are mowed down, hay in summer, burning. Their tiny souls leave their bodies, wriggling pathetically, trying to escape to their deity’s domains, but you see them. You breathe in their spirits, drinking deeply their delicious terror. They taste like blood. Like fresh kill.
Something you’ve always known, since before you were born.
You only have to remember.
Your father doesn’t want you to do this.
That’s how most fun things start.
The last thing you want to do is disappoint your mother. Your mother is cool.
Your father isn’t here.
It’s just us.
Nightmare #2: Shocking Grasp
You are ice-fishing with your pal Ingvar, as you’ve done so many times before. You’re both children. Ingvar has made a big hole, but the fish aren’t biting. You suggest it’s because of the bait, but Ingvar insists that fish love nothing more than stale bread. You can’t imagine why. You hate bread. You like meat.
It’s a nice, clear day. The hard ice reflects the sun, stinging your eyes, but you’re both used to it. Suddenly, something tugs on your line.
“See! I told ya,” says Ingvar. “Fish love bread!”
The fish pulls, hard, and draws you closer to the edge of the hole. “Oof, this one’s real strong!”
Ingvar drops his rod and tries to grab you by the waist. Even as a boy, Ingvar was strong, much stronger than you. You push him away.
“I got this!” you say, unsure even as say it.
“You’re an idiot,” bites Ingvar.
You slide even closer to the edge, but you won’t let go. Ingvar is strong, but you’re strong, too. He’ll see.
“Let go of the rod, Spot!”
You won’t; you can’t.
The fish draws you under.
The cold rushes at you, attacking you from all sides, knocking the breath out of you. The shock makes you let go of the rod. You see the fish swim away with the hook still in its cheek. You want to pursue, but Ingvar grabs you by the collar and pulls you out.
“You idiot!” he snaps at you.
You breath deep. You’re cold, so cold. You want to thank Ingvar, apologize, but he’s gone. And so is the hole.
“Ingvar? I’m sorry! Please. You’re right. I’m an idiot.”
“This…this isn’t funny, Ingvar! I’m sorry, all right! Please.”
You hear a thud beneath you.
You tilt your head downwards, but you don’t need to look to know what’s making the sound.
Ingvar is banging on the ice, deseperately, looking at you with big, frightened eyes.
“Hold on! I’ll get you out!”
You bang on the ice, but nothing happens. You scratch at it with your claws, but it’s no use. The banging is louder now, on the ice and in your head. Ingvar is turning purple.
You remember your magic lessons. Burning Hands is a simple spell, father had said, your mother had mastered it at your age. We except nothing less of you.
You try to remember the incantations, but the words won’t come. Why didn’t you pay more attention in class? Why didn’t you listen to your father?
You’re an idiot.
“Burning Hands!” you scream in desperation, but nothing happens. No heat. Only the cold.
“Burning paws!” you try. “Firebolt!”
Ingvar bangs one last time and starts sinking.
“Please! Help! Anyone!” you shout across the ice, but there is no one to hear you. Only the uncaring sun.
“Ingvar! No! Please! Anyone! Help!”
You hear a voice. A low, quiet whisper.
Help. No, I won’t help. Why should I help.
“I’ll do anything!” you shout at no one. “Please! Just break the ice!”
You’re cold, so, so cold, colder still.
Do it yourself. You already know how.
“I can’t! I…I can’t remember the words!”
No words. Instinct.
Suddenly you feel a heat rush through your body. Your fur is no longer wet, but bristles with energy. You can feel an intense warmth in your paws. It doesn’t hurt. It feels good. Natural.
You only have to remember. You’ve always known how. Since before you were even born.
You press your searing paws against the ice. At your touch, it begins to melt; it’s easy to make a hole. You reach into the ice and grab the sinking Ingvar, rescuing him from the water. You press an ear to his mouth. He’s not breathing.
“Gods!” you yell, “Please! He’s not breathing…help…help me bring him back!” You start sobbing. “It’s my fault he drowned…if only…if only I hadn’t-”
Gods, No…No gods. Only me.
You feel your fur bristle with static. You look at your paws and you see the lightning spark in your claws. You can resuscitate him! You press your electric paws to the your friend’s heart. With a sudden shudder his chest jumps up and he resumes breathing. You embrace him.
“Ingvar! Thank the gods!”
Your paws are still channeling electricity. Ingvar spasms, foam pouring from his mouth. You let him go, but it’s too late. He falls to the ground with a few last jerks before going silent. His head is burned; his face is seared and there is only charred meat. It smells good. Like roast pork. You start salivating.
For the first time in your life, you wonder what your friend Ingvar tastes like.
“No! Stop it! This isn’t me!”
Stop it? I’m not the one doing it.
Ingvar is dead, and you are eating him. He tastes delicious. You try to stop yourself, but your paws and jaws are moving on their own, stripping the delicious meat off your friend’s carcass. The dead are no friends. The dead are food.
You will never forget the taste of your best friend’s flesh.
Nightmare #3: Guidance
You are playing some human board game with your father. Your mother is out hunting. Your father is wrapped up in many blankets, but still shivers, even though there is a fire roaring in the center of the tent, sending columns of smoke drifting upwards. You’re not cold. You don’t get cold easily.
“Did you know, Spot?” asks your father as he moves a piece, “People used to communicate messages across long distance using smoke. By blocking the flow and unblocking it you can send out simple messages.”
You study the board. As usual, your father is winning; you have never known your father to show mercy, not in a game, not while tutoring, not ever; but you don’t mind. Someday you’ll beat him.
“What kind of messages?”
“Primitive ones, mostly. You might warn a another village of impending danger, but you would be hard pressed to describe what kind of danger. Sending and scrying spells are much more convenient, wouldn’t you say?”
“Father, do you know how to make smoke signals?”
“Why, yes – as a matter of fact I do,” your father says, rising from his chair. “But don’t think this will distract me from the game, son – we’ll finish it later.”
“Busted,” you say with a sly grin.
Your father explains the basics of smoke signals to you. A single puff tells other campers where you are; two puffs tells all is well; three puffs calls for help. Your father hands you a wet blanket – “We don’t want it catching fire” – and goes outside.
You hear his voice. “Alright son, show me where you are.”
You throw the blanket on the fire, and quickly pull it off.
“Ah! You’re in the tent!” your father says in jest. And, after a while: “Well, well…what do you know? Someone’s responding.”
You rush outside to see. Your family’s tent is quite high up in the valley, offering a good view of the many tents below. From one of them a single puff can be seen climbing into the sky.
“Cool!” you say, impressed.
“Why don’t you tell our new friend how you are feeling?” asks your dad with a smile. You know that smile. It’s a teacher’s smile – but you don’t mind learning this. This is fun.
You rush back inside and send up two puffs. As soon as you are done you head back out to see the results.
“Nothing yet,” your father says. “Be patient, Spot.”
You both look out at the village. Finally, you see puffs rising from one of the tents. One puff…two puffs…
“There must be some mistake,” your father says with a hint of worry in his voice. “That’s the Steelclaw tent, I can’t imagine-”
Your father goes quiet, and you immediately see why. It’s not just the one tent sending up three puffs. There’s another…and another. And another. More and more. And more, still. Before long the whole valley, every single tent, is sending up three puffs…again and again…over and over…
“S-say S-spot, let’s h-head b-back inside, it-it’s cold..a-and we have a game to finish…” your father says, shivering all over. You’re not cold. You don’t get cold easily. Besides, you can’t go inside. Not with that many calls for help. What could be going on?
You turn to your father, eager to hear his opinion. Your father knows everything.
Your father is frozen.
You rush to your father and grab him by the waist. Solid ice. His eyes are wide open, stuck in an expression of terror. Your father is frozen, but you are not even cold. You try and shake him awake, but nothing happens.
The wind starts howling, taking the many puffs and blowing them away. You look at the valley and you see a surge of snap-frost overtake the tents. One by one, they all freeze, like your father did; but still, you are not cold. You don’t get cold easily.
“What’s going on?!”
This is how it ends.
Snow starts barreling down, covering the whole valley in a thick blanket of nothing. Behind you, your family’s tent is frozen. The tribe’s tents are frozen. Your father is frozen. But you’re not even cold. You don’t get cold easily.
This is how it ends.
Not in flames, not in fury,
Not in darkness
But a great white silence
A blanket of snow
And a mother’s song
Lulling the world to sleep.
“I don’t understand!”
You will soon.
The snow covers everything now. Where there was once a valley, there is now only snow. Your family’s tent – snow. Your father – snow. But still, you are not cold. You don’t get cold easily.
“Why not me?” you ask in desperation. “Why don’t I freeze?”
You know why.
You look at your paws. They are glowing with bright fire, a scarlet beacon in a world of white.
You know what to do.
Something you’ve always known, since before you were born.
You only need to remember.
In desperation, you press your glowing paws against your father’s chest. The warmth spreads to his body and melts away the ice and soon your father moves again, shaking the water out of his fur.
“Thank you, son! You saved me!”
Like you’ll save everyone.
“Dad! I…I was so worried…”
You embrace your father. Two warm bodies in a freezing world.
“Son…Could you… – could you turn it off? I’m starting…I’m starting to feel hot…”
You disengage from your father. He’s seething, his fur now wet with sweat instead of thawed ice.
“Please…? Could you turn it off?”
“I don’t know how!”
Your father glows scarlet. As his fur catches fire, he starts screaming.
“TURN IT OFF”
“I don’t know how!”
“TURN IT OFF!”
You reach towards your father and touch him, but you only make the flames worse. They rise, enveloping his whole bod. The crackle of flames is deafening, drowning out even your father’s shrill screams.
Your father burns. Soon he is nothing but a pile of ash. Ash the arctic winds take.
You’ll save them.
You’ll save them all.
…but don’t think that will distract me from the game.
We’ll finish it later.