Chapter 1: Monsters in the Darkness
At 3:30 AM the morning after freeing Muriel’s mind the previous day, Hannibal Smith woke with a gasp, bolting to a sitting position in his bed. Sweat drenched his t-shirt and dripped from his brow as he panted, catching his breath. “Ugh...what the hell was that?” he wheezed in confusion. “Where am I?” It took a few moments for him to calm down enough to recognize his surroundings. His Lynxian wife Selina lay sleeping next to him in her silver nightgown on their bed. Her wheelchair sat next to her side of the bed. Looking towards the spare bed, Hannibal saw Rachel sleeping peacefully under her blankets. A wheelchair her size sat next to the bed with her prosthetic limbs sitting in them. Rubbing his face with his hand, Hannibal groaned softly. “I hate this,” he whispered. “Why don’t they just leave me the fuck alone? I didn’t ask for this.”
“Didn’t ask for what?” Selina answered sleepily as she woke up, grasping his hand. “Another bad dream, my prince?”
“I’m not sure,” Hannibal replied quietly. “It was so bizarre, and to make matters worse, I can’t quite remember it. I woke out of a sound sleep not knowing where I was for a moment.”
“Calm down, my prince, and lie with me,” Selina purred, pulling him down beside her. Not resisting her advance, Hannibal laid down with her. She pulled him close, turning on her side to face him while wrapping her arms around him. “There we are,” Selina cooed, looking him in the eye with no more than two inches between their faces. “Now relax and tell me what you remember of the dream. Remember, you cannot fight the Darkness alone. You don’t need to. That’s why the rest of us are here. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Hannibal wrapped his arms around Selina and touched her forehead with his. “You’re so beautiful when you do that,” he chimed. “I’m so lucky to have someone who truly understands me.”
“So do I,” Selina purred, “Now tell me what troubles you about the dream.”
“That’s just it,” Hannibal whispered. “I’m not sure I can. When I try to remember it, it slips through my fingers like smoke. It’s infuriating.”
“Hmmm,” Selina murmured, stroking his arm. “Curious; maybe something or someone is keeping you from remembering it?”
A deep chill raced down Hannibal’s spine. “Oh, man,” he moaned. “Why would someone be blocking me from remembering it? That can’t be good.”
“Maybe,” Selina purred softly. “Since you can’t remember it, what do your instincts say about it? What’s your gut telling you? This kind of reminds me of that premonition you had at Kaal Bek just before the killer storm the Cadre unleashed there.”
“My gut says something very dangerous is coming,” Hannibal stated, “...something lethal and it’s not the Emperor or his minions. A dark power unlike anything I’ve yet encountered is moving in the shadows refusing to let itself be seen, but somehow, it feels familiar. Shit, why can’t I get a focus on this thing? It’s been lurking in the background, teasing me since I first sensed it just before the storm hit me with that gravity wave. The thing won’t let me see it, nor will it leave me alone. It lurks in the shadows like a malignant specter. Why won’t these bastards just leave me alone? I didn’t ask for any of this.”
Selina kissed him gently on the lips as she embraced him. “I wish I could tell you,” she replied. “But we both know the Lord put you in this position, and He’s giving you insights no one else has. Maybe the Lord is keeping this dream locked up. Maybe it’s not time for you to remember it.”
“Hmmm, could be,” Hannibal admitted. “Regardless of that, I have the distinct impression the dream was a warning of some kind. What kind of warning it is I’m not sure. However, I’m starting to recall glimpses of it, just flashes.”
“What’re you remembering?” Selina asked.
“There’s a creature unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Hannibal stated softly, “It’s a tentacled monster larger than three semi-trucks put together that resembles a cross between a giant squid, octopus, and some other species unknown to me. The creature has at least eight eyes like a spider and a mouth with multiple circular rows of teeth like a T-rex along with at least twenty tentacles over a hundred feet in length. Its tentacles are spiny with barbed suction cups on it. Four of those tentacles are over two hundred feet long with large barbed suction-cup pads just like the giant squid. I’m sure they’re for reaching out and ambushing prey at a distance. The pads are at least ten feet long by four feet wide. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the end of the other sixteen tentacles have the ability to open like a hand to snare prey. The fingers of these tentacles hand are at least three to four feet in length with a toothy mouth in the center of these tentacles, which are three to four feet in diameter except for right on the end where the graspers are. Each finger, if you can call them fingers are lined with hooks or barbs to prevent its prey from escaping. I don’t know if the beast uses these tentacles to just hold its prey to bring it to its enormous maw or if it uses those tentacles to actually eat things.”
Hannibal shuddered while describing the beast. “It sends icy chills down my spine,” he admitted. “The creature is so alien to anything I’ve ever encountered I can’t help but think it may be an Old One, maybe even an Ancient One of legend. It takes a lot to shake me, but this thing really shook my monkey cage. It can’t be of this planet. I’m not even sure if the one I saw was even full grown. It’s really bothering me that something like that may be real. It reminds me of what I saw when Jeff tried to kill me in the haunted house when I was thirteen. Something so grotesquely hideous and alien could not be of this world or maybe even of this universe.”
“Calm down, Hannibal,” Selina urged, purring for him, “Relax; the creature is not here. It may not even exist physically in our reality. We don’t even know if it exists at all in any dimension, so just calm down. This thing has you so wired you’re almost in a panic. Relax; calm down.”
“That’s the understatement of the year,” Hannibal replied hesitantly. “That thing is as alien and dangerous as Grimm is. I know it down in my bones. If that beast really was part of the dream, then why is it there? What does it portend?”
“I don’t know, my prince,” Selina purred, stroking Hannibal’s side with her hand. “I hope it isn’t a real creature we’ll have to deal with. We have enough trouble with the Emperor’s minions, not to mention those giant spiders and the Azhidakar the Emperor has locked up. We don’t need any more monsters, especially one like the squid monster in your dream.”
“I agree,” Hannibal replied, soaking up Selina’s purr and massage. “But I can’t discount it either. There’s a reason the Lord showed me this abomination, but what it is eludes me. It’s a form of life completely alien to us. Of this, I’m certain. I must be prepared to confront it if necessary, though I’d rather not. Besides, that’s not the only image I’m recalling from the dream.”
“What else are you remembering?” Selina asked with growing curiosity, “Don’t tell me there are other monsters.”
“I’m afraid there are,” Hannibal admitted. “But it’s Mondo strange. I saw both Triaskus Spiders and Basilisks in a megalithic temple of some kind on an island. They were fighting to the death and it was all I could do to stay out of the way. For some reason, neither of them seemed interested in me. They were exclusively attacking each other as if one side had invaded the other’s territory.”
“Oh, dear,” Selina declared in a worried tone. “That doesn’t sound good. Was that incident in the same place as the tentacled squid monster?”
“No,” Hannibal stated. “It wasn’t. Wait a second. I’m starting to remember a little more of the dream now. It seems the dream took place in a series of locations. Where I saw the tentacled monsters was in a deep cave with a lake and bizarre cyclopean ruins. A strange stone tomb or temple of some kind sat in the middle of the lake. The place felt very familiar, though the monster didn’t. It felt out of place in that lake. The place I saw the basilisks and Spiders fighting is unknown to me, though the feeling I got from the place was that of gruesome grisly death.”
“Was there anything else?” Selina queried.
“Yes, there’s a third location. I vaguely remember a ruined megalithic city at the edge of the sea consumed by both the desert and sea,” Hannibal whispered. “Half the city is buried in gigantic dunes while the other half is drowned in the sea just offshore. I could see the ruins of colossal temples, pyramids, and other structures sticking up out of the water with the waves crashing against them. I have the feeling the beach I was standing on is near the city center. My back is to the water, and I’m completely unarmed...not even a pocket knife. I’m also practically naked. All I have on is a pair of knee-length shorts. The surf is washing up around my bare feet and legs. I can feel the Sea Rex watching from the sea, lurking among the drowned ruins. I somehow know he’s there watching. A couple hundred yards from my position on the beach are several giant worms that defy my imagination. They’re impossibly huge and unlike any worm I’ve ever seen or even read about. They have surrounded me from the desert side of city. Some of them are up to seventy feet across. I had no idea worms could get so big. They have a peculiar odor about them too. It’s the odor that I remember the most. I want to say there were other creatures present, taroks or gerats maybe, possibly saber cats or giant wolves too watching from the buried city, but I cannot be sure. It’s as if there’s a haze over that part of the dream. When I try to remember anything else, an impenetrable fog descends on my mind. I know there was more there than just the worms and Sea Rex present, but I can’t seem to get to it. It’s like trying to catch smoke. But it’s the worms and their smell that stands out the most. Something happened in the dream at that place, something phenomenally important, but I just can’t seem to remember.”
“Well, that’s more than you remembered when you first woke,” Selina cooed, continuing to stroke Hannibal’s side. “What can you tell me about these strange giant worms and their smell?”
“Not much,” Hannibal stated, “Just that the worms a beyond enormous and I’m sure could demolish anything they want. I also get the feeling they’re extremely territorial, very old, and incredibly intelligent, but not necessarily evil like the Spiders. As for the smell, it reminds me of a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, honeysuckle, and hot antifreeze. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, and is sickening sweet. These worms, whatever they are, I’m sure are the undisputed masters of their domain...obviously the alpha predator of their territory. Their skin is armored somehow, broken into large segments that flex with a multitude of strange little protrusions like fingers all over the segments. It may have something to do with their means of locomotion. I doubt that even the most potent artillery could puncture that hide. That much I saw. I wonder if the worms I saw in the dream are what Horace calls the god-worms.”
“You might ask him,” Selina suggested. “I’m sure he’ll tell you what he knows about the god-worms of Tartarus.”
“I think I might just do that,” Hannibal murmured, yawning. “Oh, me...I’ve gotten sleepy again. Your purr has once again sedated me. Thank you for helping me calm down, princess. That dream really wired me, even though I don’t remember most of it.”
“You’re welcome, my prince,” Selina chimed, touching foreheads with Hannibal. “Now, why don’t you go back to sleep; it’s not even four in the morning.” She then kissed him gently on the lips.
“Okay, princess,” Hannibal whispered, cuddling close to Selina before falling asleep a few minutes later.
“Sleep well, my prince,” Selina whispered in his ear before nodding off just after Hannibal did.