Baron’s face came as close to a smirk as I’d seen, his pale eyes like carrion birds, grey and ravenous, seeking death. The explosion that followed was typical of him—his most conspicuous movement was mere diversion for his least observed and deadliest. His ineffectual haymaker served to conceal the explosive his left hand stuck to the monster’s side. As the room rumbled to the sound of thunder, the giant murderer melted into darkness while the monster disappeared in a fountain of fire.
Predictably, the creature was considerably less than dead when the smoke cleared, beaming hellishly at the now empty space formerly occupied by my lethal companion. I deduced the attack had been meant only to assassinate the creature’s calm and playful repose, focusing its attention on surrogates for its hatred of Baron, creating a logical trajectory for its next move—killing me.
Disarmed of its arrogance, the monster resorted to glowing rage, though I took solace in the realization that it was dancing to Baron’s carefully prepared tune. Taking a moment to cement the creature’s commitment to kill me, I offered a well-timed burst of laughter, pointing at it and yelling, “Sucker!” But alongside my confidence in my ally’s intervention, the music in my right hand was growing at a rapid pace, demanding a larger audience.
Just as the nightmare’s claws nearly closed upon me, Baron struck. His massive punch dagger erupted from the monster’s yawning mouth like a serrated metal tongue, drenched in steaming black blood. The thing’s eyes only burned brighter for the violent intrusion, but our offensive was just getting started. Wicked had overcome his fear of swine and fat grandmothers, joining in the fun with his lovable smile. Covered in the blood of butchered pigs, my favorite madman rode high atop Rover’s back, slamming the creature to the ground. My loyal dead dog used his considerable weight to momentarily pin the demon on its back while Wicked went to work with his blades, carving the creature’s face into a reasonable facsimile of fresh hamburger.
The fiend wasn’t the least bit impressed, chuckling as it forced the pile of murderers and monsters away, hoisting Rover up by the nape of his rotting neck. It took a moment to stretch its enormous limbs before seizing me with its furnace eyes. Wicked stood at my side, smiling fire and defiance, blades at the ready.
The nightmare matched smiles with my defender, his eyes settling on me. “So, this is all about you, eh? A matron of murderers and undead mastiffs?” He tossed Rover into the darkness behind me. The legless doll crawled across his feet, mewling like a dying cat, black button-eyes staring holes into my distant past. A quivering mountain of abusive Grummy shambled to the monster’s side, eyeballing Wicked with a sickening eagerness.
My answer was as weak as it was truthful. “I guess.”
A rich tar of guttural laughter poured from the creature, the sound of gravel grinding meat in a thunderhead. His eyes bore deeper into mine, tunneling into every fear I’d ever known. “Well, little mother, I am Gloomhest. And while I am a great admirer of both murder and undead beasts, I am no friend to interlopers. Especially those who refuse the good gifts of my sleeping father. What value do you creatures possess beyond the occasionally impressive content of your deepest dreams? What else could matter?” Gloomhest knelt on huge knees, still looming head and shoulders above me. He lowered his head until his eyes were only inches from my own. “Your kind are only tasty little nightmares swaddled in sticky skin. We are the eager past, come to peel you open and gaze inside before swallowing you whole, skin and all.” His breathy words smelled like smoke and rot, evoking a vague childlike dread in the pit of my stomach. “But you’re far too small a morsel for me to bother with. I think you’re much more their size.” He returned to his full height, gesturing at the growing army of nightmares behind him. “They’ve been cultivated from some of your tastiest dreams. And as anyone with a dark past knows, memories are forever hungry.” Gloomhest faded from sight, leaving behind a horde of nightmares and a wet rumble of laughter.
Wicked still stood at my side. I could feel Baron at my right and Rover sidling up to my left. Most of all, I could feel the music in my right hand. The mass of terrors began to circle us, their collective drool creating puddles that washed filthy and warm across our feet. Wicked, God love him, began to giggle and taunt them. Baron’s knuckles popped like firecrackers. Rover’s saliva mixed with that of the nightmares, causing it to hiss and bubble. Yet I barely registered any of this—the music was deafening.
Suddenly the room went red, broken only by the bodies of the countless murdered, adrift in the cold blood that cultivated them. I knew each of their names, felt all of their pain. She was opening up to me, finally. I could feel the endless sea of blood entering me, becoming me—through the vehicle of a single composite scream folded into the most beautiful music. I took them all in, the slaughtered masses and their dead music, gave them shelter beneath the red shade of my broken soul. They were all within me, crowding out my air, clawing and singing at the singular salvation I held in my hand. I struggled to break the surface of the sea, my hands slicing through scarlet waters. When air and life seemed all but gone, the waves solidified within my grasping hands, becoming warm and wet, dimmed in the music of murder. I snapped out of the vision, surrounded by the destruction I had wrought.
The droves of drooling nightmares lay dead, their riven corpses encircling me in a dying spiral, unwinding into the peerless void. The tool that had brought all that death was still clutched firmly in my bloody hand, its music fading to whispers. My deadly caravan of killers stared at me with eyes like saucers. After a few moments of silence, their wonder gave way to celebration. This was my family, and there was no length to which I wouldn’t go to protect them. My soul swam in their adoration, and my heart burned for their preservation. That’s when I knew.
I am the Red Mother.
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