Nightmare Within a Nightmare
by Lynn Long and Arcane Venom
Contact info for Lynn Long
Contact info for Arcane Venom
In an ordinary town much like any other, filled with quite ordinary hopes and dreams, there lived a creature who was anything BUT ordinary. The older townsfolk called the demon “Mara”, though that wasn’t her true name.
Mara was a dream demon, who fed from nightmares. The very nightmares that Mara herself inspired. Quietly, she would invade dreams, appearing as visions of desire. Whispering intimately, she lured dreamers into grandiose horror. It was only then that they would realize, much too late, a truth: their dreams were not always their own.
And Mara gleefully spent her nights ruining ordinary dream in extraordinarily twisted ways. She reveled in chaos, but Mara was more excited by the nourishment she received after sowing enough mayhem.
It was on an especially gloomy night that Mara’s cravings stirred. She made quickly across the town– one nightmare, then a second, and a third meal of despair– before she arrived at the bedside of a young man already in a fevered cringe.
“My, how fortunate,” Mara whispered joyously. “All his mind needs is a gentle nudge further into gloom, and his dreadful dreams shall make a marvelous dessert!”
So, with cruel intent to satisfy her insatiable hunger, she quietly slipped into his thoughts. Prepared to allure and conquer, Mara was taken aback at the severity of the dream at hand. Visions of strife filled the young soul’s life; stress and depression reigned king and queen within the dream. Mara could not compete, but was fascinated to observe.
What utter chaos she beheld! A waltz of scathing words, specters of furious neighbors and strangers, loss after inexplicable loss… the wraiths of his persistently troubling years all danced incessantly in his head. Memories of
sharp tongued teachers and scorning parents proved to fearsome beasts of their own. Traffic misery. Illogical bosses. All that was discomforting to the
young man thrashed about to and fro, past Mara’s intrigued eyes.
And yet, though he tossed in his sleep, Mara’s prey remained unbroken.
‘What madness am I witness to?’ she wondered in disbelief. And Mara knew,
for all the creatures and shadows at her fingertips, that there was nothing she could conjure that would fracture this young morsel’s spirit.
“Such strength in this soul. To withstand this amount of dread and darkness. How is this possible? Ah but fascinating as this is, there’s no gain here for me,” Mara lamented, preparing to leave the dreamer’s mind. ” Such dreadful luck after all! “Well, to the next- ” Her words caught. The anger, sadness and woe swirled together, quivering into a grotesque form.
Larger and larger it grew… and it was aware of Mara’s presence. A strange sensation overcame her, one she had never experienced before, but one she recognized fully.
The creature loomed, a gruesomely vicious beast full of all the agony and desperation filling the dreamer’s mind, all swishing and swooping within its murky black body.
‘It cannot be’ Mara thought, yet she knew it to be true, for she had inflicted enough fear and terror to know it was real. ‘What is this creature that dares to intimidate me– Mara, the Demon of Dreams, Nightmare within the Nightmare?’
Mara’s bewilderment began to push the fear aside. And in her arrogance and self-righteousness, a new feeling emerged… anger!
At that moment, as this creature who threatened to take all that was rightfully hers, reared to strike, Mara knew that turning away would mean that this realm- her realm- would be lost to her forever. If she turned her back, this creature would reign, leaving Mara to hunger instiably and wither into nothingness tonight.
And so, Mara decided: She would defeat this creature, whose name was unknown!
A slimy black tendril lashed the ground before her, but Mara spun away with ease and grace.
“You flail with your immense power, newbor,” Mara mocked as she planted herself. “I will not be ended by such clumsiness.”
The Unknown, as she now called it, quaked angrily, its body rippling from anger. Fists, tentacles and other appendages, all formed from the myriad nightmares within it, whipped at Mara left and right. She dodged each assault with little effort, but she knew this would begin to take its toll on her strength eventually.
Mara retaliated with everything she could conjure. Hordes of ghouls, shadow unicorns, obsidian titans whos bodies crackled with veins of flame, and even a pestilent dragon with rotted flesh torn and hanging from its gargantuan frame. She drew from every ounce of anguish and sorrow, fed from the well of woe around her, and turned it all into any and every manner of creature and horror within her power.
The Unknown, however, would not be so easy to defeat. Though Mara could draw from the pain surrounding her, the Unknown was a bleak power greater than the mightiest beast, darker than the darkest shadows, a malefic entity of profound evil. Mara withdrew from the nightmare, and she knew then that it would take more than horrifying creatures and malevolent shadows to fight.
Mara was enraged, but knew she was left with few options. To fight the monster in this manner meant she was merely feeding it more. Mara considered leaving, allowing the Unknown reign over this one mind. There were other nightmares, and she didn’t understand why she was so adamant about having her way with this particular heart.
She could just run.
She should just run.
…but what then?
Mara pondered this with dread. Even if she retreated now, there could be another Unknown elsewhere, and another, and so forth until the Unknowns lorded over the nightmares of the entire town. To run would mean losing, and losing here could eventually mean losing everything. Eternally.
She could not lose.
She would not lose.
In that moment, she understood what needed to be done to overcome the Unknown.
A knowing laugh slowly escaped Mara, as she once again invaded the young soul’s tormented dreams. As she plunged toward the dream, a warm light surrounded her being, drawing the shadows in from around her. The glow transformed the anger and darkness within her, changing Mara into something else. Something… different.
Instead, Mara returned as an Angel of Dreams, intent on turning the horrendous nightmares into dreams of wonder and pleasure!
The Unknown shook violently as it felt the subtle changes within. Immediately it began to flail out to her with all of its might, lashing and whipping at the newly-strengthened Mara. But she was not fazed; each strike dissipated into a cloud of inky smoke before it could even reach her.
Mara, feeling newly empowered, began to bend and transform the dreamscape. Unsure of her new power, she tried conjuring small vignettes of happiness, memories from dreams she had once ruined.
Twinkling stars illuminating mountain peaks.
The golden hue of a sunset.
Moonlit skies overlooking tropical beaches,
as ocean waves gently caressed the shore.
The Unknown thrashed about in a fit of rage, rallying for more darkness to surface within the dream! Every stressful thought the young man kept in the deep recesses of his mind began to ooze outward.
Mara felt the young soul slipping back into the realm of nightmares. Beauty and light and…and…utter niceness! These things were not Mara’s forte! Yet, she needed to embrace all that was light and pure if she were to push the Unknown out.
Visions and rainbows swept through the dream.
Love’s first kiss.
Each tender vision embraced the dreamer’s soul. Mara dug deeper into her mind for all the was considered “joyous” or “blissful.”
The light of each dream assailed the Unknown, and it released a primal, guttural sound from deep inside. In a last attempt to defeat Mara, it reared, gathered tightly, and once again lashed out with all its might!
But Mara would not be stopped. A new energy, stronger than any she had ever known, emerged from her being as a wall of light and turned the attack into nothing more than a black haze.
The notion of bringing hope and happiness to dreams filled Mara with a new understanding, and the more light she conjured into the dream realm, the more strength it returned to her.
The Unknown would not relent. It pushed everything it had into Mara, forcing its way toward the barrier. Mara could feel the intensity of all the stress. the sadness, and the anger that the creature encompassed.
Mara clenched her fists, pressing the barricade of light forward. She called forth more and more happiness.
The gentle breeze of spring rustling treetops.
The innocent joy of childhood.
Raindrops falling amid moonbeams.
The Unknown tried to press further, but its strength began to give way.
Mara however was running out of ideas. She was no expert on light and happiness. Mara usually ignored such things, because it hindered her goals. She only remembered glimpses into the joys and triumphs of a dreamer before she destroyed it all.
And it dawned on Mara.
This young slumbering heart. All of the dark and dreadful thoughts that made the Unknown, it all existed in the youthful dreamers heart, but he was still able to fight. The world around the dreamer had become far more frightening than any creäture or thought Mara could conjure, yet, he still woke up each day. For weeks, months, years.
This heart found strength to keep going. Because, like Mara… her heart swelled. She found a source of light, greater than all things. The heart’s pursuit of joy itself. Of the passions that made one happy, despite what may cross one’s path.
Mara found her joy in feeding from chaos. The Unknown proved an obstacle to her happiness. For the Unknown was chaos incarnate.
“You’ve worked up the appetite in me, creäture,” Mara grinned, and thrust the wall of light into the Unknown, wrapping the light around its body. “Now you leave this dream… as my dinner!”
Mara squeezed the Unknown into a ball of light, clenching it tighter and tighter. The Unknown gurgled within, pushing against the compressed orb that was its prison. But Mara kept squishing it further. With a last bubbling warble, the Unknown fell silent.
Mara chuckled as she drew the light back into herself. She felt winded, but the energy from the defeated Unknown was enough to fill at least three unwholesome nightmares’ worth of a meal. Mara sighed as she exited the dreamers heart, and saw that he no longer tossed in bed.
And from then on… in this ordinary town filled with ordinary hopes and dreams, the extraordinary Mara spent her time feeding only from small nightmares. Which she would not create herself.
Because Mara needed every bit of strength for her fights with the Unknowns, lurking in other ordinary dreams awaiting the moment to destroy all hope.
Mara would not let them have the dream world. She learned a simple truth that day in the young dreamers heart, which became a mantra of hers during her angelic phases.
Never let the fear of the Unknown get in the way of finding your happiness…