Entering the portal feels like walking through a film of gasoline. The oily nature clings uncomfortably to the skin and refuses to let go. Not that it necessarily is their skin. Each time the group wills themselves to move, their legs moves, but it feels like someone else's leg entirely. This only compounded by how fast they move as they squish in the river of blood they're standing atop of, the current of crimson guiding them. Things are slow when they don't move and too fast when they do. It's not unlike walking with a moving floor. Color itself is off-center, as if someone had broken the axel on the color wheel. Words are only sometimes intelligible.
At first their journey is surrounded by buildings of stars and sinew, empty pustules of life lining the riverbank. This fades into a deep black emptiness pressing in on all sides, seeping into the brain and invoking apathy. EXILE the voice shouts in their heads, dispersing the fog and hanging an albatross upon their necks. The Eye blinks in sorrow, rising to become the sun - glowing, but providing no light. A scream skitters across the blood, now merely a stream's trickle, and causes the albatross to flap and kick itself free, flying into the air and blotting out the sun. The stream's flow fades, their own steps carrying now, each one a heavy clack upon a hardened lab floor.
"...sh you would get rid of that thing," says a silvery, feminine voice from within the room they find themselves staring at.
"But, honey she likes him," replies a familiar voice.
Everything becomes more still, as if mirroring the sudden stiffness of the monster of shadows. There's a sharpness here that draws the scene into focus more than what they've experienced thus far. Yet still it flits at the edge of consciousness, the knowledge remaining that this couldn't possibly be real.
Before them is a laboratory packed the brim with chemicals, beakers, bunsen burners, and copper tubing. The most prominent feature lay towards the back. Surrounded by the glow of carefully placed candle lights, a spherical containment unit rest atop a pedestal, connected to unseen apparatus via a network of small, thin pipes. Within the unit, darkness, roiling against the viewing glass.
"Fiiiine," concedes a dark skinned woman fading into existence in front of a beaker as if she was always there. Despite her protests, a small smile dances on her lips as she looks across the room. There a small girl, roughly three years of age, faded into view, defiantly holding the thing in question. A long, many legged instectoid creature with a split tail. Roughly half the size of the small girl, it squirmed in her grasp. Despite the wriggling of its sharp legs, however, it never seemed to harm the girl.
Turning back to her work, the scientist fiddled with the equipment in front of her for a moment before glancing around looking for something. "Where are the empty test tubes? Why do we not have empty test tubes?!"
"Because you used them all. Again," says the man fading into view, hunched over microscope. He looks and sounds very much like the owner of Purgatory, except a decade younger.
Undettered, the woman frowns. "Well I'm going to the supply room to get some. Need anything?" She waits a second, but when the man doesn't reply, she shrugs and heads out the door.
The man finally looks away from the microscope to scribble something down on the notepad next to him. "Uhh, yeah, actually. I could really use-" The man pauses as his head swivels back and forth. Realizing she already left, he sighs and gets up quickly to hurry after her. He could probably still catch her.
By this time, the multi-legged creature had escaped from the young girl's grasp and was skittering away from her, stopping every once in a while to turn its head back and ensure she was following him. Which she happily was, giggling away. It scurried behind the containment unit, twisting around its base. The girl tried to catch up, but soon got caught on the pipes that connected to it as she tried unsuccessfully to crawl through them. A brief struggle made it worse as she got more stuck than she already was. So she pushed harder. She pushed as hard as she could.
The pedestal rocked. One of the thin pipes snapped. The apparatus fell, crashing loudly with the sound of breaking glass. A few candles tipped over and a gentle blaze steadily roared into an inferno. It was the darkness oozing free, grasping, clinging to her body as it inched up her skin that caused her to scream the loudest. The insectoid creature scampered back and forth between the girl being engulfed and the fire raging around them, finding no paths to the door.
Both scientists arrived to take in the state of the lab, looking disheveled, their hair slightly mussed. Spotting the girl within the blaze being devoured by the dark, the woman starts to rush in, but the man grabs her hand. "It's too dangerous!" Another wail, a plea from the endangered child crying out for its parents, and the woman rips her hand free from the man, giving him the most withering glare he's ever received before dashing headlong into the room. The fire reaches the largest concentration of chemicals.
And everything explodes.
The heat rushes over the group, causing no damage as time itself seems to slow. The man is tossed backwards from the doorway, head smacking hard against the wall in the hallway. The woman's body incinerates, grotesquely disintegrating in front of them. The child plunges downwards outside of the bounds of the reality that should constrain such flippant disregard for its rules. Falling like a star into a sea of dark shadows, the child is engulfed entirely by the void.
And the insectoid? It peels itself off the frozen explosion, dragging its very nature from the dream like an image crawling from its portrait. It grows on sustenance unseen, drawing strength time's stream. Slightly larger than Karuna, it has become as real as any of the four of them, its tails flicking back and forth, sensing their invasion in its world. Yet its focus is upon the Doctor's pet as it takes a few steps closer. The minion of shadows raises her arm towards the Dreamcrawler. No, not an arm. She has no arms. A tendril of darkness, wavering uncertainly.
But a flutter of wings catches the Dreamcrawler's attention. Lirrey was here. Here. If Lirrey was here, it could not be. Not for long. The insectoid turned and skittered away some before stopping and turning his head back to ensure she was following him. She was not. He waited as long as he dared before lowering his head down low and leaving for good this time.
It was all too much for the little shadow girl. This day had been very bad indeed.
So she cried. Long. And hard. And loud.
And for a moment. For a very brief moment.
She almost sounded human.
Nothing else of interest happens in the short remainder of their trip through the portal. As they exit, they will Doctor Xeyal himself tutting around the portal on his end, scratching notes away on his notepad and mumbling to himself. He is gleefully surprised when they step out.
"Ahhah!" He exclaims in that familiar voice, a huge, smug grin on his face. "So it did work! I was afraid when the portal opened and nothing came through that the expedition had actually been a failure. Success! SUCCESS! YESSS!"
"Welcome back to Inns'th."