Little Ice, the Warlock of the Whitehorn Corp, gets his powers from nightmares caused by his patron. The following nightmare is for Mirror Image.
First, you can catch up on LI’s nightmares here:
Little Ice’s Nightmares: 1-3
Little Ice’s Nightmares: Darkness.
There are several characters in this nightmare that my players have encountered during our campaign. Snow of Mountain is LI’s father; I yanked him from the PC’s bio. Terry is short for Terpischore, a half-elf bard that antagonized my players. Eldon is the party’s rogue who has picked up the Arcane Trickster specialist. His prodigious talent is causing LI to feel insecure, since him failing in magic is part of what lead him to become a warlock in the first place. Akane is a red dragonborn student of magic and Eldon’s tutor. Finally, Spike is a warlock our group met whom Little Ice idolizes to some extent for his confidence. O, and Euphemia is an innocent girl who got killed at a wedding my players were supposed to protect from demons. Yikes.
With that you have all the information you need to enjoy this nightmare. Happy reading!
You are back at the university, listening to your father, Snow of Mountain, teach a class on illusion magic. The large hall is nearly deserted, and completely quiet apart from the voice of your father and the scratching of his chalk on the board. There are rows of empty seats behind you, stretching upwards like the levels of an endless pyramid.
There are only three fellow students, sitting on the front row next to you. To your far left is Terry, the class clown; next to him and to your left is Eldon, the star pupil; to your right sits Akane, the quiet exchange student that always gets good grades but doesn’t say much.
You shift uneasily in your seat, the splintery wood chafing your butt and back. You have dutifully taken extensive notes of your father’s lecture, but your version of it doesn’t make any sense; when he explains it, it seems perfectly obvious, but for some reason you are unable to replicate that clarity for yourself. You stare down at your notes. You see the letters, but they refuse to merge into words. They mean nothing to you. And it’s almost time for the practical.
“Mister Gelgis,” your father calls. Terry slams the table, pushes himself up by his arms and walks towards the lecture stand on his hands. In spite of his stern teacher self, your father smiles. “Without the theatrics if you’d please, mister Gelgis.”
Terry lunges forward and tumbles into a normal standing position with the grace you’ve come to expect from him. “Sorry Prof,” he says casually, “Can’t help it.”
“If your magic proves to be half as impressive as your acrobatics, we are truly in for quite the show.”
“Don’t worry, Prof, I always deliver a show. Check it out!”
Terry begins his incantations. You lean forward to hear, so you can copy him, but you can’t make out what he is saying, or singing – Terry always sings his spells. For him, music and magic are the same.
You asked him for advice on learning magic once. “It’s easy, Little Ice,” you remember him say, “every spell has its own rhythm. Its own cadence. If you can read notes, you can read magic. You just have to develop an ear for it. Do you play any instruments?”
“No,” you admitted gloomily, “I don’t.”
“Surely you sing?”
Terry smiled encouragingly. You always hated that smile. “Anyone can sing.”
“Just like anyone can learn magic?”
He was wrong, of course – not everybody can learn magic. You can’t. And you can’t sing, either.
You watch as Terry splits into four different shapes: Eldon, Akane, your father and himself. The whole troupe produces juggling pins and begin to pass them around, like acrobatics in a circus. There’s no copy of you.
“Very impressive, mister Gelgis,” your father admits. “But didn’t I ask you to forego the theatrics?” Your father’s mage hand leaves its stump and slaps Terry on the back of his head, breaking his concentration and dispelling the illusion. “You have the makings of a great wizard, Terpischore – if you can get over your vanity. The idea of the Mirror Image spell is to confuse your enemy by creating duplicates, so they do not know which to target…but you made the real you quite obvious. Perhaps you should disguise yourself as someone else next time. That might actually work.”
Terry smiles apologetically. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Prof. There is no illusion that can cover up this handsome face.”
Akane giggles next to you and averts her eyes, hiding behind a book. Eldon laughs as well, and even your father lets out a chuckle. “Back to your seat, mister Gelgis.”
“Mister Thorngage,” your father calls. Eldon is up next, and after that: You. The halfling boy gulps and gets up quietly. He looks nervous, which pisses you off; what’s he got to feel nervous about? He always aces every test. Today won’t be any different.
“Well. Here goes,” says the halfling. He doesn’t even come up to your father’s knee. How can such a tiny thing be so good at magic without even really trying? You asked him once.
“I have great teachers,” Eldon said. His humility always infuriated you.
“We have the same teachers. Like my dad.”
Eldon flushed. “W-well, yes. Your father is a great wizard. And a great teacher.”
“O yeah? So why can’t he teach me? Am I just that hopeless?”
“I d-don’t know. But hey – I’m sure you’ll get it eventually. It’s easy.”
“For you, maybe,” you snapped. He can’t understand. His kind never does.
Of course Eldon casts the spell perfectly; his images are flawless, exact copies of his person that follow his every movement. They even blush the same infuriating way when your father compliments him. “Excellent job, Eldon. You may return to your seat.”
All four Eldons climb the bench, but only one sits down. He leans in to whisper to you. “You’ve got this, Little Ice. It’s easy.” For you, maybe.
You get up even before your name is called. You desperately try to recall the incantation, but all you can think of are Terry’s smug face and Eldon’s whisper.
Once you climb on stage, your father gives you his most reassuring smile. “Little Ice. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” you lie. You rub your paws together and pray for a miracle. You shut your eyes and recite some nonsense incantation, random magical words you know; you rub your paws together until the palms hurt, but nothing happens. The silence that follows tears at your heart.
“That wasn’t quite right,” your father says, “let’s go over the incantations again.” You follow his mage hand to the board, but what’s written on it might as well be Draconic. It means nothing to you. “Shall we go through it word by word?”
“Or would letter by letter be better?” Terry quips. Akane giggles again, but Eldon stares daggers at him. “That isn’t funny, Terpischore; it’s not Little Ice’s fault that he’s a little slow.”
“Why don’t you come up here and say that to my face,” you suddenly blurt out, “and we’ll see how slow I am.”
All the color drains from Eldon’s face. Good. Enough blushing. He needs to shut up. Mocking you can handle; it’s the patronizing ‘helpfulness’ you can no longer stand.
“Now, now,” your father says soothingly, “calm down, everyone. Gelgis – easy on the sass. Thorngage – if you volunteer to tutor-”
“No,” you growl. “I don’t want him tutoring me.”
“It is unkind to refuse the help of your peers,” your father says strictly, “and you could use-”
“Use what? More private lessons? You’ve been tutoring me since I was a kitten – and a fat lot of good that did! Why don’t you just admit that I’m hopeless?”
Your father looks at you with such hurt in his eyes that you can no longer stand to be in his presence. Is it pity he feels for you? Or disappointment?
You storm out without hearing or saying another word. You push open the heavy wooden doors, entering into a snowy night. You suck your lungs full of cold air and immediately feel better. It’s way less stuffy out here; you are always more at ease when there is no roof over your head. You think back to your youth spend in tents, never staying in one place for too long, with the tundra as your home.
You notice music playing; enticing, rhythmic thumping. Your heart carries the beat. You feel like dancing, drinking and forgetting all about your father and his stupid classes. You turn to the source of the music and see a familiar club. Outside stands a hulking half-orc smoking a cigarette. His green skin is so dark it might pass as some shade of blue, or even purple. His mohawk is combed to one side. He wears a leather jacket over his muscled chest, and matching jeans.
“Good to know I’m not the only on with daddy issues,” Spike growls at you without a trace of humor.
You are confused. One moment you were in class, listening to a lecture – the next you are at the Dark Raven Club, talking to Spike the Warlock. It doesn’t make any sense, unless-
“This is a dream,” you say, realizing the truth of the words as they escape your mouth.
“So it is,” Spike agrees.
Relief washes over you. Only a dream! And a lucid one, now. You can take control.
“That wasn’t real. I never actually took any classes from dad, and I certainly never sat next to Eldon during a lecture.”
You laugh. It’s all so absurd. “It’s the Forgotten Lord. He’s messing with my memories.”
Spike exhales smokes and stares at you with amber eyes. Did he always have a lip piercing? Or a pin through his left eyebrow? You don’t remember.
“That wasn’t Eldon,” you explain to him, though you’re not sure why. “And that wasn’t my father. They’re just copies, based on my memories.”
Spike lets out a slow, hollow guffaw; a deep belly-laugh, resonating through his whole body. “O yes, how convenient. That wasn’t my father; all the hurt he made me feel wasn’t real. To be sure.”
“You’re a copy, too.”
“I am who I am,” Spike growls. “You think I am some kind of puppet, to be used by a nameless devil in his charade? I am Spike. I serve no one but myself.”
“Even as a figment of your imagination, I only serve me. Is that clear?”
You laugh again. “This is absurd.”
“What is absurd is that you suffer these slights willingly,” Spike says. “You say some devil is messing with your memories, and you allow this?”
“When I wake up, I know a new spell. I guess this time it will be mirror image.
“Pah!” Spike flicks his cigarette. “He gives you spells so in turn you suffer some farce? Pathetic. Let me give you a piece of advice, worm.”
Spike moves closer and balls his fist at you. You can see the steam coming out of his nostrils; his breath must be warm. “Power that is given to you isn’t real power. Power that is given can be taken away. Now, power that is taken…taken by you. That is real power. Power made your own.”
Spike opens his fist and summons a small ball of flame on his palm. You can see his greedy eyes flicker in the flames, a wicked grin framing his face. “You do not bargain with devils, Little Ice. You take from them what you need, for yourself.” He lights another cigarette.
“I’m not interested in power,” you explain to him. “I only-”
“Want to save the world, is that it?” Spike says mockingly, “Spare me the tale; I know of it, or have you forgotten that I am a figment of your imagination?”
“But you said-”
“Don’t interrupt me,” Spike growls. Something about the way he says it makes your blood feel cold. He’s right; even as an illusion, Spike is still Spike. “It’s a pretty story, but that is all it is: A story. A lie you tell yourself to justify using magic you know is forbidden. You know is dangerous.”
“I don’t have a choice,” you try to explain. “I’ve seen it, the end…”
“So? Let it come.” Spike says, sounding excited, cracking his knuckles. “The strong will survive, as they always do. I do not fear the end of the world, Little Ice; and neither should you…if you manage to become strong, like me.”
“I told you, I’m-”
“Not interested in power. No. Of course not.” Spike exhales smoke and grabs his battle-ax, giving it a casual swing. “Still…when you cast your spells, when you fire your eldritch blasts, when you enforce your will on others with Suggestions…doesn’t it feel good?”
“No,” you lie. “I only-”
“Use it as a means to an end, is that what you will have me believe? Pathetic. You deny yourself. Power is never a means to an end…it’s only ever an end. The only end. You are weak, Little Ice, but not in the way you think. You may think you are weak because you lack talent, magical aptitude…but that is not the reason for your weakness.”
“Yeah? Then what is?”
“You are a coward.”
That, you did not expect. Being slow, maybe; stupid, or frail, but a coward?
“I’m no coward,” you protest.
“O but you are. You accept this devil’s powers, yet you deny them; that is not the path to power. Rather, you should take the devil’s powers, but reject him.”
“I will demonstrate.”
Spike heaves his battle-ax on his shoulder and heads into the club. You follow him, but when you enter, the club is gone; you are back in the lecture hall, where your father is teaching Terry, Eldon and Akane without you, only now Spike is there, too. He calmly strides towards Terry and grins at him.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” says Spike right before planting his battle-ax in Terry’s smug face. The clown screams in pain as he falls to the floor, writhing and clutching the maimed remains of his funny mouth.
“No! What are you doing!” You scream, much too late.
“Have you forgotten, coward?” Spike spits at you, “This is your dream. And they…they are not the people you know; not even your memories of them.”
Spike plants his boot on Terry’s chest. As he presses his heel down, the body beings to change, shrink…until it is nothing but a little imp. “Shape changers. Very clever cretins,” Spike lectures, “but cowards. Like you.”
Spike finishes his prey off with a swift decapitation. “Now, this one used a spell you want…this is how you take it for yourself.”
A thin light emerges from the imp’s corpse. A soul, you know, somehow. Spike snatches it from the air and bumps it against his chest, where it disappears. Grinning, Spike changes into four perfect copies of himself. A flawless Mirror Image spell.
“And now his spell is mine to use,” Spike boasts. “A power taken by force. A power made my own. Now it’s your turn.”
Spike points his four axes at Eldon.
“Please,” Eldon begs, “Little Ice…we’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Pathetic,” says Spike. “Begging to the very end; that proves its an imp.”
He’s right; you can see the imp behind Eldon’s eyes. You remember the imps at the wedding, slitting that young girl’s throat…Euphemia. That was her name – you mustn’t forget.
“That wasn’t your fault,” Spike says, somehow answering a question you hadn’t even asked. “The weak die. The strong survive. Now be strong.”
He’s right again. You bare your claws and attack the imp, tearing its throat open. As the soul drifts upwards, you snatch it and slam it into your chest, like you saw Spike do. Immediately you feel it. The spell. You know just how to do it, or maybe you’ve always known. It’s instinct. All you have to do is remember.
You split into four perfect copies of yourself, and all four tear at the remaining two imps, with four Spikes at your side. You feast on their souls and make their powers your own. The taste reminds you of fresh kill. Raw flesh and warm blood. It sticks in your fur.
The dream is almost at an end; you can feel the waking world pulling you back. The last thing you see are Spike’s amber eyes; the last thing you hear is his gravely voice.
“Remember: Power that is given to you isn’t real power. Power that is given can be taken away. Now, power that is taken…taken by you…That is real power. Power made your own.”