The funny thing about the next name on the list was that it was already known to me, as it was to most people. Tom Hush lurked the labyrinthine hallways of darkest folklore and had done so for as long as I could recall. My first inclination was to assume that some clever killer had taken the name for himself, spreading nightmares behind a mask carved from skin and bones. Yet of the many killers I knew to be roaming the countryside, I could think of none brazen enough to take up the name. Of course, the title could simply belong to a man with a wonderfully folkloric name, having nothing in common with the antlered daemon at all. But the chorus of whispers that purred behind my thoughts said differently.
I had long shrugged off the lean shadows of Lastrygone, leaving it to the silence I had fashioned for it, and was making my way westward. My hope was to learn more about the myth of Tom Hush, as my dreams had been disappointingly absent of any meaningful signposts, merely consisting of the wonderfully dark subject matter that typically populated them.
As I passed town after town, deliberately avoiding large cities and their inherent loathsomeness, I analyzed the arrangement I had (perhaps rashly) entered. I was now killing on a mystery’s behalf, hoping that dreams would flood from the wounds I inflicted upon the Deadworld. But after the many deaths I’d fashioned with my own two hands, I could only feel the world congeal, ever-hardening for its absence of liquescent dream.
The Crucifier, The Mad Mercenary, a nameless wolf, untold numbers of living nightmares, an entire village of degenerate cannibals and their loping beasts, and the near-legendary Black Molly Patience herself. All of them, my beautiful bouquet of dead flowers, handpicked.
And now the Shepherd of Wolves would have me slay what appeared to be the living embodiment of one of the happiest, darkest myths known to me. Through it all, I had only the reddest dreams to assure me of the righteousness of my path. And while dreams have never misled me—despite what the Queen of Cannibals may have suggested to the contrary—I was growing more and more leery of nightmares dripping with the skin of wolves.
After many days of wandering, I finally came upon a circle of trees, bent in stature and sallow of color, completely denuded of their fall coats. I immediately realized nightmares had routinely traveled through this small leafless space, and that some of the dark visions may have become entangled within the grasping limbs, awaiting picking like dark ephemeral fruits. It was plain to see that if I was to receive a proper dream, it would be in this place, though I had to be careful not to allow my excitement to offset my fatigue.
As I entered the crooked circle, I could feel their cold shadows playing across my skin, trying to find a handhold upon my soul to lift it from my flesh and use it to cover their naked, emaciated frames. But my soul was anchored by shadows far darker than theirs, and their mad grasping proved futile. I selected a location suitable for sleeping, and quickly passed into dream.
I walked through a dimly lit hallway, passing figures whose shapes were too wild to describe even by their own shadows. The darkness abandoned any attempt to represent them—only obfuscation resided where there should have fallen at least some semblance of obstructed light. When I reached the end of the hallway, I found a giant window far larger than should have been permitted by the trim dimensions of the corridor. The window was focused on the entrance to a massive and feral woodland—it was one of the most spectacular forests I’d ever laid eyes on, inside or outside a dream. The trees were like an army of leafy monsters that had paused mid-march.
I gazed through the window for some time, searching the dense tree line, following a wide beam of moonlight that moved among the treetops like a spotlight. After a time, something began to draw close to the edge of the forest—it was gigantic and terrible, older than the light that tried in vain to penetrate the thick canopy of trees. The lesser creatures of the woods fled its approach, followed by the lean and ferocious barons of the forest. Even the moon seemed to retreat from it. The forest inhaled and held its breath, waiting. Something stepped from behind the curtain of silence, and—
I awoke violently to the sounds of gnashing teeth and throaty growls as something ripped the dream out of me. I jumped up from where I lay, the hot light of the blazing sun pouring through the empty arms of the circle of trees. Not a single merciful shadow fell across me. I was in full view and covered in the sick warmth of unfettered daylight. I had been left like the debris of a wolf-kill—scattered, ravaged, exposed. Far behind my temples that thundered with so much pain and fury, I could hear the wet sounds of my dream being devoured.
I had yet to completely grasp the logic behind the game of dream-swapping, but it was clear something had eaten the dream right out from my skull. I was equally sure the event was nothing less than another killer who had come to that point on his list where appeared my name. Yet this was no average killer, but a true wolf. And from the sense that I got, it was a big one.
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