The Mind Vault (pt 1) by Jestina Michaels

Our adventurers make their way into the northern area of The Forest of Slaughter. The trees are scorched and gouged, the leaves on the edges singed. The turf of the ground is overturned and burned, piles of dirt and grass scattered about. The stone floor underneath the grass is visible.
“This is unlike any dungeon I’ve ever seen,” Cassia, the wood elf sorceress says, pulling the hood of her red and gold cloak over her head. She’d been swallowed into a shrouded peak on the side of a mountain, nearly flooded out and drowned by a bubble boiling hot and even fought a legion of snake people, but being inside a mind vault definitely took the lead as weirdest dungeon.
Terence, the Cleric of War, takes the lead. “The white gate is off to the east. That’s where we need to be. Let’s move quietly and carefully.”
At that, Sully Mistrider, a monk of the shadows, sprints for it. He makes no effort to stay hidden or move quietly. Terence and Cassia are left with no choice but to follow suit. Terence runs after Sully.
“Ugh, fuck it!” Cassia sprints with all her might. Being a wood elf, she can sprint relatively fast, but trying to keep up with Sully had her lungs burning and legs quivering. Damn shadow monks are too quick, she thought.
Within seconds, the earth starts to shake as the ground moves, dirt and grass over turning. The sound of many legs scuttling in the distance amplifies as it gets closer and closer. Suddenly, a large serpentine creature scaling the wall lets out a loud screeching sound and shoots lightning from its mouth. Terence and Sully narrowly escape the blast radius. Cassia is trapped within it. She’s instantly sprayed with a storm of lightning bolts, striking her in the heart. She falls to the ground, light drained from her eyes.
Cassia’s eyes flash open. She springs up in her bed. She looks around the room, her room. How did I get in my childhood bedroom? Wasn’t I just about-
“Hello, darling. It’s good to see you,” says a comforting voice.
Cassia turns her head toward it. She hasn’t heard this voice in well over 100 years. “Father?”
He nods. “I wish this reunion was under better circumstances.” He lets out a chuckle and walks toward her.
Cassia bolts out of bed to embrace him. She hasn’t seen her father since the incident. She suddenly makes sense of this whole situation and pulls back from the hug. “Father, am I-
“Dead,” he says calmly. “Yes, you are.” He places a reassuring hand on the back of her head and strokes her hair.
“But, my friends. They’re still trapped in the mind vault. They need my magic or they’re done for! I’ve gotta get back there.” Cassia tears out of the hug and scrambles over to the bookcase by the door. “Don’t you have any spells you can teach me to revive myself?” She reads the spines of several books and frantically throws them off the shelf, her breaths becoming shorter and more frequent. “Father, there has to be a way back!”
He crosses to her calmly. He spins her ahead to face him, places his hands on her shoulders and looks her in the eyes. He used to do this all the time when Cassia was little to help her steady her breathing and calm her down. “Darling, there’s nothing more we can do. Believe me, I tried everything I could after the accident. It’s been a lonely afterlife, but with you here,” he pulls her in again, moves her circlet and kisses her forehead, “this doesn’t seem so terrible anymore.”
Cassia quickly wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. “Father, I have missed you every single day since you’ve been gone. I still feel the weight of my guilt even now. I would give so much to stay with you now, but I can’t contently sit here knowing my friends could die at any moment. There has to be a way.” She pulls back, takes his hands in hers and gives them a gentle yet tight squeeze.
Her father chuckles again. “Just like your mother. So compassionate. I’m beyond proud.”
Mother. I wish I knew where she was.
As if reading her mind, he responds. “Cassia, your mother is-”
The room dissipates into nothingness. Her father’s voice fades away. She hears Terence’s distant voice say, “Shit, Cassia wake up!” and suddenly she’s back in the mind vault staring up at his face. She gasps and coughs as her life force has been taken away and restored in a matter of only 6 seconds. Terence picks her up and starts running with her over his shoulder.
“That’s my friend, you fugly fuck!” Sully screams as he punches the serpentine creature into the dirt, stunning it long enough for the three of them to escape through the gate, but not with ease. The gate just narrowly closes before the creature can get through. Terence puts Cassia down as the party attempts to catch their breath.
“What.. the fuck.. was that?” Cassia says through staggered breaths, shocked to be alive. She places a hand on her chest, feeling her heart beating, attempting to process everything that just happened. She feels as though she was hit with a defibrillator. What was he about to tell me about my mother?
Terence places a hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Cassia looks up at him, “I don’t know.” She rubs her throbbing temples and breathes in deeply. How would he know where she is unless she was-
“Well, you did just die. I’m sure it’s a lot to process.” He says.
“Yeah, it’s a bit jarring but-”
Sully, ever the wise guy, chimes in, “How’d it feel sleeping like the dead?”
“I don’t ever want to do that again,” she says, “but I swear I-”

“Perhaps we should take a rest,” Terence says.
“Oh, by the gods, please.” Cassia says, putting herself into her elven rest trance. Maybe I can channel my father during trance. He can make sense of all this. Try as she might, she cannot contact him. Sleeping is different than being dead, after all.
Cassia is jarred awake by the sound of Terence screaming, “We have company!” She jumps up to standing and looks for Terence. He’s face to face with a purple blob monster with electrified tentacles trying to shock him. Thankfully, he has think enough armor to defend against them. She sees Sully scaling the wall, attempting to grapple the monster. He gets a few good swings in before the creature is set on fire and falls off the cave wall.
“What the?” Sully says, confused.
“Oh, sorry, were you trying to kill that?” Cassia says smugly, fire still glowing on her hands. She may be severely weakened after narrowly escaping death, but she does not like her slumber to be disturbed. She’s a feisty one. Maybe now I’ll get to contact my father.
“Alright, since you’re awake, Cassia, your turn to watch.” Terence pops a squat against the wall and shuts his eyes, Sully climbs down and lays on the ground next to Terence, and Cassia, rolling her eyes and letting out a disgusted sigh, begrudgingly agrees to take watch.
“Fine,” she says, attentively listening for a disturbance of the silence in the cave. It’s not hard to be attentive with elf hearing. She can hear things twice as far and as well as Terence and Sully could.

“Hm, I could’ve died today. I did die today. Wow.” Cassia ponders these thoughts for a while, thanking the gods for keeping her alive and her father for watching over her. I just wish he started with my mother. If she was dead, he wouldn’t have mentioned being lonely, would he? Cassia rubs her temples again. She would never desert him, not in this life or the next. So she must be… “Alive,” she says out loud as the thought hits her. She’s taken out of it when she hears the sound of dozens of distressed whispers and moans, growing increasingly louder and more unbearable. “Oh, come on. I just want to heal and rest.” Briefly, the sound stops. “Distressed,” she says to herself. A red form starts creeping around the corner. Cassia throws fire at it. It absorbs the fire. Well that can’t be good. She gets up and heads toward it carefully. This thing is the stuff of nightmares, with dozens of screaming mouths and blinking eyes that look around frantically. The mass attempts to form a humanoid shape and Cassia frantically throws more fire at it before this ooze monster spits on her. She wipes her eyes and lets out a gasp as the thing swallows her whole.
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t. Panic. Cassia, putting her hands down onto the walls of this thing’s stomach, casts Witch Bolt and shocks the monster until it spits her out. She rubs the gunk from inside the creature out of her eyes. She sees the creature lash out to bite Sully.
Sully dodges the bite and counters with a roundhouse kick, dealing the final blow to the monster. “That’s for eating my friend!” He drops an elbow on it. “That’s for blinding my other friend.” He jumps up and kicks it with both legs. “And that’s for looking at me funny!”
With that last statement, the creature flops to the ground, lifeless. The whispers slowly fade out as the creature dies.
“I want to get the fuck out of the Underdark,” Cassia says, casting Mage Armor on herself, creating glowing armor around herself as an added defense. “I’ve almost died twice in the span of a few hours, there are spiders everywhere, there are giant monsters that can communicate telepathically… I’ve over this.”

“Technically, we are out of the Underdark.” Sully says smugly.
Asshole. The Mind Vault is in the Underdark. Cassia shoots him a glare.
Sully laughs. “I believe the black gate we’re looking for is…” he pulls out his direction stone and watches the needle flick back and forth before centering itself to their left. “It’s that way.” He takes point, leading the party toward the trees.
Cassia follows quickly after, green eyes flickering blue as her circlet lights up with magical energy, surging through her to her fingertips which light up with fire. She’s ready for anything that may come her way. I dare any of you bastard creatures to try me. I just hope I get more answers, Mother. I haven’t stopped looking for you. By the Gods, I swear I’ll find you.
The party reaches the black gate. Terence pulls out the glyph key and turns it in an invisible key hole, which once it’s turned, it becomes visible. The force field drops and the double doors slide open as the key whispers, “Forest of Death.”

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