Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Journal Entry: The Bae’ull

Lastrygone was more of a leftover than a town: a severed limb of the old world left to rot beneath the dwindling shadows of the Great Darkness. But such bygone shadows must be cared for, nurtured, so to speak, if they are to endure beyond the nighttime’s reign. In that sense, Lastrygone had become something of a saprophyte, as it subsisted exclusively off the dead, dark past. It was this strange relationship (and the prospect of finding Ms. Patience, of course) that drove me to explore every filthy corner of that crumbling town. But it wasn’t until I traveled beneath the cannibal city, into the cavernous tunnels below, that I gained some idea of the darkness that nourished it.

Deep under the earth, I found the people (if they can be categorized as such) of Lastrygone busy with strange labors, as they seemed to be packaging and transporting crates of spoiled human meats. It was only when I pushed further into the tunnel’s gullet that I saw why these “goods” were being boxed and shipped at such a manic rate. You see, the flesh eaters would only carry their cargo so far, hefting and dropping it at the edge of some strange opening that seemed to drop into oblivion. The mouth of the chasm seemed to brim with a deeper kind of blackness—a kind from which I would hesitate to borrow a shadow—but the stench wafting from its entrance was, by far, it’s most preternatural feature. The odor was hot and putrid, like the rancid, after-dinner breath of a ghoul. (To be honest, I would have left then and there if the prospect of seeing something magnificent hadn’t been so high, for the smell was as offensive as the wretched things that came to greet it.) But after a few minutes, and a nauseating battle with my olfactory senses, I was rewarded for my patience: out from the subterranean depths shambled a host of things both terrible and nightmarishly majestic. They were humanoid in basic shape, and although my vantage point did not grant me the best view, I could see that the creatures’ skin was coated in the palest shades of moonlight, and was segmented like that of a gigantic earthworm. As they moved closer, engaged in the apparently rote task of dragging away their fetid cargo, I also noticed that the strange beings had no eyes (which was not altogether surprising given that many subterranean species lack them). However, when the face of one of the creatures caught the glow of a cannibal’s stray lantern, I saw its mouth, which, like the caves they dwelled in, was filled with stalactite-like teeth.

I watched the cannibals and mysterious under-dwellers for quite some time, and it wasn’t until the two parties concluded their business that I decided to make my way back into the lit world. But even as I emerged from the dusky labyrinth of Lastrygone’s underground tunnels, my thoughts were still wandering the shadowy crags and hollows of that wonderfully stygian cave. And while I was certainly not foolish enough to spelunk a foreign darkness—for not all species of darkness share the same loyalties—I did wish to discover the secrets it hid. As a result, I carefully skulked through Lastrygone’s graveyard of houses: I plundered and desecrated the innards of every wood rotted home I could find, hoping that I might discover some semblance or morsel of knowledge within their dusty, planked skeletons. I stole house to house, careful not to be seen by my would-be captors, and combed through volumes of mold-covered books and scattered ledgers. It was by sheer luck that I happened to enter a house that possessed something of value. Carefully walking the shadows of yet another ramshackle abode, I happened to step on a loose floorboard that creaked-out the location of a secret. I pried the rotting thing from its more sturdy brethren and found, living beneath it, a small journal bound loosely with old twine and tangles of black hair. I grabbed the lonely thing and found a place to sit; I knew that a book secreted under the floorboards of an abandoned house, especially in a town like Lastrygone, would certainly merit reading.

The book seemed to be a diary of sorts, and although much of its content had been rendered illegible, I was able to find a juicy little tidbit concerning those things dwelling below the earth:

“We weren’t sure if it was the stench that attracted them, or if it was the incessant digging, but something roused them from their dusty darkness. We first saw them in the deeps of the western caves, stealing our winter supply of bodies. I don’t know if it was bravery, hunger, or simply stupidity that compelled Theo to attack one of the beasts, but we quickly learned that a more peaceful approach would be necessary in future encounters (for although the creatures’ tastes distinctly lean towards the flavors of rotting meats, we learned that day that they were not adverse to eating live prey).

For several months we tried storing the bodies in various places on the surface, but, inevitably, the bodies would go missing, with only a deep and gaping hole in the earth to remark on their absence. After several more failed attempts to relocate our food reserves, Our Mother finally determined that peaceful cohabitation was the wisest path to take with the strange creatures. A small group of us was selected to greet the underground fiends, and so we set out into the western cave—this time, bearing a peace offering of fruiting human meats!

We sat and waited for hours. I won’t lie and tell you I wasn’t terrified; the possibility of being torn apart by one of those things was very real, and the memory of Theo’s screams kept cycling through my thoughts (while our own slaughter houses were no stranger to human screams, it was the sound of snapping bones and tearing flesh that haunted my memory). Eventually, the foulest stink drifted up from the cavern’s depths, overpowering the already noxious stench of the rotting corpses we had carted along with us. When they finally appeared, Jonas—the only one of us who wasn’t frozen beneath the things’ crawling shadows—pointed to the veritable buffet of decaying flesh we had delivered. They seemed to understand the gesture. However, Jonas’s courage bought him the unenviable position of being perceived as our leader (which was fine with me); as a result, one of the creatures signaled for him to follow, and then waved the rest of us away. We, of course, obeyed, and watched Jonas descend into the fathomless dark with an entourage of subterranean monsters.

Weeks passed and we all assumed the same thing: Jonas’s death was a regrettable, but necessary, sacrifice for the good of the community. But we were wrong. One night, while we were all gathered at Opie’s restaurant, a frenzied and wild eyed Jonas suddenly came crashing through the doors. It took a number of us to calm him down. After about 30 minutes of ranting, we were finally able to discern a coherent story (relatively speaking).

Apparently, Jonas and his entourage of subterranean monsters traveled miles into the earth’s innards before they reached their destination. He told us that these creatures—now known to him as the “Bae’ull”— lived off of the spoiled meats of the dead, and cultivated great “rot gardens” that stretched as far as the eye could see. Further describing the place, he said, “At first I thought the caverns must have been filled with bonfires, as I could see great plumes of rolling, black smoke, but then I realized I wasn’t watching smoke at all, but only millions of buzzing gadflies. They were everywhere, crawling and flocking around huge piles of the rotting dead!” He even claimed that the awful creatures could “walk the dead,” animate them, so to speak, like the bodies were nothing more than fleshy marionettes (this claim may not be altogether unfounded, as several of our people claimed to see a number of walking corpses shambling into the tunnels at night).
Jonas’s story went on and on: he talked about a place called “The Vaults of Kryth”; claimed that the creatures’ deities had “dead-walked” the corpses of fallen gods; and swore that he saw monstrous Gadflies the size elephants. (It was unknown to us, and quite frankly still is, how he knew so much about them; After all, we didn’t even know if the things could speak). However, he did tell us that the creatures promised to protect our town from invaders, provided we continued to supply them with corpses. Exposure and discovery had always been a concern of ours, as the world was still recovering from the Great Darkness, and it was only a matter of time before civilization would rediscover our town. While our Mother had always kept us safe, she ultimately decided that the proposed pact with the creatures was to everyone’s benefit.

It wasn’t long after when we began to hear about the mysterious sink holes that destroyed the surrounding roads, functionally cutting-off all but one entrance into our city. Occasionally we would encounter empty vehicles on the outskirts of town, and what was left of their occupants made it clear that the Bae’ull were more than capable of keeping their side of the bargain. So we made sure to keep ours…”

The rest of the entry was illegible, but I was thankful for the small glimpses it afforded me. I only wished I could dream so that I might catch a peek at a giant Gadfly, or perhaps gaze upon a dead god, stumbling at the behest of a collection of hungry corpse-eaters, buried deep beneath rotting, divine flesh.
(The pictures below were included in the journal entry. Apparently, the author included Jonas’ sketches of the things he claimed to see while down in the caverns.)

Entry 1:
Entry 1: “The Bae’ull dead walking a behemoth.”
Entry 3:
Entry 3: “The Bae’ull (Mature).”
Entry 2:
Entry 2: “The Bae’ull.”
Entry 6:
Entry 6: “Bae’ull stages.”
 Entry 8:
Entry 8: “Bae’ull (Various stages).”
Entry 4:
Entry 4: “Bae’ull (larval transitions?)”
Entry 5:
Entry 5: “Bae’ull notes.”
Entry 7:
Entry 7: “Bae’ull face.”
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 12: Playing With Fire

The calm that replaced the killing was deep and satisfying, framing the moment for easier recollection and washing the cries of the dying from the air. An unusually warm breeze made its way into the red rooms of the restaurant, where bodies lied in piles, and the distribution of spoiling blood and flesh made for a confusing portrait of the moments preceding the gathered ruin. I drew a deep breath and readied myself for reprisal as I opened the front door to the eatery, and stepped outside. The city was almost fused with the night and seemed to grow out of the silence, as nothing remarked on the presence of a population, much less a population waiting to avenge its fallen citizens. The breeze continued to play within the calm, invisibly dancing across severed bodies and rolling in the scent of the dead; it also carried with it the smell of smoke. I looked to the north. The smolder of deepest red twirled in the distance, and a great column of smoke lifted into the night. They had set the barn aflame. They were burning my art.
My father stood beside me, wearing the dead flesh-eater. He directed his gaze to the distant fire and laughed like wet thunder, further destroying the face he spoke through. “HAHAHA, SHE’S CALLING TO YOU, BOY! DON’T MAKE HER WAIT!” My father placed himself into my outstretched hand, and the corpse of the long dead cannibal collapsed to the ground. My forbearer’s laughter still traveled the night, rattling the windows of the silent city, and no doubt rattling the courage of the things that hid behind those windows. I would give them more than fear. Much more.
My art had always been dismantled, redistributed, cremated, buried; and its meaning was always feared if not respected. But never had it been burned in spite. Never. My hands turned white as they gripped my father, and for the first time I felt him retreat from the fire growing within me. I would give these wretched things to oblivion, beyond the whispers of myth—where memory could never find them again.
I would not be baited like some dumb animal so I bypassed the field leading to the barn and disappeared into the darkness, far beneath the silence, where the scurry of a draft can sound like a blast from hell, and I made my way into the caverns beneath the city. There were many entrances into the great hollows scattered all around me, beneath broken statues and secreted away into basements, to name only a few. I chose a yawning hole that opened up from the bottom of a dry creek bed. As I descended into the earth I found the darkness to be old and untroubled by the sun, but it was stained by an unfathomable degeneration that caused it to flow sick and slow, as if it had become a corpse of its former self, having sheltered too much debauchery than was healthy. But its shortcomings were to my advantage, as the slothful pitch was slave to no one, and felt no obligation to alert the under-creatures to my presence.
As I traveled the spaces beneath the world I encountered entire caverns filled with machines designed for the preservation of dead bodies, and thick, electric cables unraveled from the devices, moving up the walls and disappearing into the many cracks of the ceiling. Other rooms were occupied by a more completely degenerated form of cannibal, a type which apparently had no place even among the filthy comforts of a ruined town, spilling over with mold and rot. They were ungainly things, mouth-heavy and blind, as nature had perfected for them a body that was meant only for hunting and gorging. Like plump vermin, overstuffed by a limitless hunger, they squirmed and croaked from the cave floors where they lied, belly-up and wet with gore. They wore only the blood of many meals upon their bodies, and were too full from their eating to feel the heat of my gaze as I looked upon them from hidden places. Their mindless indulgence was painfully offensive, but I did not wish to spill so much as a drop of my rage upon the unwholesome things, preferring to conserve my indignation for more deserving causes.
As I suspected, many of the caverns were not natural at all, but had been the products of carefully placed explosives, as I could see piles of blackened stone distributed liberally around the mouth of freshly created caves. The new hollows seemed to travel in directions that would eventually bring them beneath nearby cities, almost paralleling the route taken by the train that I had recently traveled by. I began to suspect that not all of Miss Patience’s victims were killed by her own hand, however they were almost certainly collected on her behalf; for many times, as I skulked around and within the cannibal city, did I hear the creatures refer to their “great and hungry mother under the earth.”
The caverns were every inch a maze, and it took me no small amount of time navigating to my destination, and at one point I encountered something that nearly stole the breath from me: a gigantic stone archway covered with beautiful reliefs and carvings, all of which depicted what I could only imagine were some kind of titanic alien beings, all of them thick with rot and filled with strange worms that wore crowns. The cave beyond the archway was large enough to admit several aircraft carriers, side by side, and the darkness that rushed from the mouth of that terrible entrance was of type that had never known light, or it might have been ancient when light was but an infant. The structure was clearly not the work of the cannibals, as they were neither intelligent enough nor sufficiently ancient to have wrought such a magnificent thing. Also, and in direct proportion to the painful beauty of the archway, there was a hideous odor spilling out from the cavern, as if the whole of the earth’s dead had been collected within, to spoil and reek, and if not for my strong constitution I would have most definitely been forced, retching, from the cliff where I stood. Undoubtedly, this was the passage where the inhuman clients of the cannibals came and went, and from the smell of things, they were repeat customers.
After I forced myself from the sight of the monstrous archway, I made my way through another collection of rambling tunnels, past crowds of lumbering dead-eaters and the mounds of corpses they ate from. I don’t know if it was day or night when I finally came upon what I was looking for; I was just happy to see that the cannibals were in fact thoughtless enough to store their explosives in one central location.

The Family Man as he appears in the nightmares of his opponents.
The Family Man as he appears in the nightmares of his opponents.
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Bio: The Cannibals of Lastrygone

Little is known about the Cannibals of Lastrygone. On the surface, the creatures seem to be a devolved form of humanity that pledged loyalty to the serial murderess, Black Molly Patience. Specifically, the flesh-eaters seem to regard Ms. Patience as some kind of mother figure. However, it is unknown if the existence of this degenerate population preceded the arrival of Molly Patience, or were somehow created by her.

The Family Man also witnessed a strange interaction between the town’s people and a race of subterranean creatures living beneath the earth. It appeared that the town was providing the bizarre creatures with corpses, and in exchange, the creatures provided the cannibals with various forms of protection. The specifics of this relationship remains largely unknown.

Cannibal in the dark
Cannibal in the dark
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A Look Back…

Upon entering the outskirts of Lastrygone’s borders, the Family Man was attacked by a pack of bizarre wolves, and a blind woman who claimed to serve the serial murderess known as Black Molly Patience. Despite their clear intention to kill him, the Family Man was hesitant to reciprocate; their existence was a dark miracle that he felt should be preserved, not destroyed. However, after having a lengthy conflict with the group, the Family Man was forced to eliminate his would-be killers. And while the passing of the wolves was certainly upsetting, the infamous murderer lamented killing the woman the most; to him, her presence was a testament to the idea, that one day, the dead world could be defeated. Saddened that he had stripped the earth of such a magnificent creature, the infamous killer erected a great and terrible monument to honor her transition from this world to the next. The great she-monster had many ferocious heads, each one grinning with staggered lines of eager teeth, but the primary head was beaming with beautiful, blind eyes that were filled with the soft patter of spring rain, and stared into places where sight failed to heft the visions that only dreams could bear. The Family Man placed her at the rim of the forest, where her sightless eyes could stare down the sun without wincing.

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Family History: Victim 30, the “Angel of the Pines”

Art Piece: Angel of the Pines

Victim 30: Skye Aguirre, age 25, Murdered in January of 2007

Skye Aguirre had always been a very social and outspoken person. When she returned from college with a degree in political science, she ran for office and became one of the youngest members of the Dante City Council. After proving herself to be a valuable member of the city board that year, she was selected by her fellow council members to place the angel atop the town Christmas tree during the city’s annual Christmas celebration.

Somewhere nearby, the Family Man basked in the shade of gigantic pines, where the prevailing hands of the forest sheltered his darkest dreams. At some point, his slumbering mind found itself shrouded beneath a trembling canopy of dead branches, which cast creeping fingers of shadow across the woodland floor. Upon drifting into a clearing the killer discovered a lone, towering tree that stabbed into the exposed underbelly of the night sky. As he slowly lifted his gaze to the top of the tree, allowing his eyes to fully absorb the sights of the silver bones and radiant skulls that hung from its branches, his eyes finally came to rest upon a glistening “angel,” a being dressed in moonlit skin, raven hair, and a pair of fleshless wings that doubled as skeletal perches for crowds of silent crows. The songs of night creatures fell silent in her presence, and before he was pulled back into the reality he so despised, he watched as a swarm of sickly fireflies formed a yellow halo above the dark seraph’s head.

It was only a few nights later when the Family Man stole into town and observed Ms. Aguirre—crowning the top of a Christmas tree with its ceremonial angel. The young woman could never have known that only a few weeks later she would be standing sentinel over a cold forest, dripping shadows and blood across the dead leaves of a green Christmas, as the “Angel of the Pines.”

Angel of the Pines (Victim 30: Skye Aguirre, age 25, murdered in January of 2007)
Angel of the Pines (Victim 30: Skye Aguirre, age 25, murdered in January of 2007)
Part 3: The Beauty Beneath

Chapter 11: Mouths to Feed

After several days of fruitless searching the creatures finally decided to relax their guard, thinning the numbers of their patrols, and once again renewing their apathy towards the occasionally displaced shadow. But make no mistake, I was far from inert during this time, as I took cares to better understand my pursuers, stealing into their guarded chambers and slipping away with increasingly weighty insights. One of my more profound discoveries concerned the caverns beneath the city that were filled with the industry of cannibals. All of them were busily sectioning hundreds of preserved corpses into isolated and type-specific parts, which they then proceeded to package in a variety of ways, ranging from the ornate to the industrial. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the flesh eaters passed their bundles into the hands of strange beings apparently called up from the very guts of the earth. It seemed that these cannibals had transformed their rancid hunger into some kind of trade, distributing the meats of humanity to those brooding things that hunger beneath the world. I was immediately curious as to the specific coin of remuneration such inhuman things might use to compensate the cannibals for their productive labors, for besides human flesh, what could such creatures want for? Of course, my principal wonder regarded the enterprise of flesh-eaters and its association with Miss Patience, as the murderess seemed a considerably less purposeful creature than was suggested by all of the frenetic and subterranean commerce.

Another discovery concerned my dreams, or lack thereof. Strangely, my many attempts to conjure dreams from sleep failed, again and again, as each effort summoned only the stinging absence of memories, of this or any other world. I began to interpret the void as a possible indicator of my quarry’s proximity, as no further nocturnal hints were needed to bring the two of us together. If my theory was correct than she was certainly nearby, likely abiding in the darkness that lived under the city, and while I couldn’t be absolutely certain, I highly suspected that the mantis-like creature that I spied days earlier may have been nothing other than the being I sought.

As for my latest piece of art, it had been hoisted upon a large flatbed truck and deposited inside of a barn that lurked the outskirts of the city, where the ramshackle structure seemed to float amidst the golden breakers of rolling, unkempt fields of grain. I’m certain it was placed there to lure me into some kind of trap, which of course did more to cement my low opinion of the creatures’ intellect rather than stimulate my curiosity. So, naturally, I decided to reprimand the beings for assuming me so foolish, and, ultimately, to avenge my fallen tears, as they had been wasted on creatures barely worth the flies that played at their slack, reeking mouths. Still, there was something behind the soft, blind eyes of a particular and bygone woman—perhaps an echo of something that forgot how beautiful it once was—that made me wonder how these entities went wrong.

When the night sank into its deepest darkness, I proceeded to follow a particular cannibal—who had once thought to stalk and insult me—to a diner that sat lightless yet heavily attended near the center of the city. After I had entered the building through the backdoor, I was delivered the unwholesome sight of a man-eater’s kitchen. Human corpses, wrapped in plastic bags filled with sweet-smelling marinades, swung from stained hooks; and piled atop stained trays were the raw tubers and organs of the human body, sliced into cold cuts. Now, there did seem to be some lingering conventions of the human condition still clinging to the degenerate things, as there were several recently used ovens and stovetop burners where meat had actually been cooked, if only to the most halfhearted of temperatures. However, there was one article of ‘food’ that seemed out of place: A pile of decaying bodies lying in the corner, all of which showed enormous bite-marks. Initially I believed the cannibals to be ghoulish creatures, preferring their food rotted and fly-covered, but from later insights I learned that only their breath, and not their appetites, concerned the spoiling dead; also, none of the creatures that I had so far witnessed possessed jaws large enough to leave such enormous and ragged teeth-marks. It was at that moment when the answer to my previously posited question—concerning the compensation of underground customers—was made apparent. A massive creature hauled itself into view, emerging from a distant hole in the floor I had failed to notice. It was something far afield the beings that occupied the town, and formed no visible relationship with even the darker features that the citizens seemed to share, in varying proportions and extents. The beast was an alien among monsters, and was most likely one of the ‘remunerations’ I had earlier wondered about, gifted to the cannibals for services rendered. I had no idea how, but the creature found me almost immediately, wrapping its titan arms around me even as my sister was burying herself in the abomination’s thick, stinking flesh. It hurled me into and through the saloon-style doors of the kitchen, and after nearly scraping the ceiling I crashed down into the middle of the dining room, which of course was filled with feasting cannibals. For the briefest moment all was silent, as hungry eyes looked up from plates piled high with human meat. The next moment was a frenzy of monsters, teeth, and talons. Teeth made for man-eating entered my arms, legs and back; fists smashed into my face and ribs; and an alien behemoth leapt upon my back, where its razor-sharp claws sank into my flesh, steadying itself as it attempted to wrap its jaws around the back of my head. I rose to my feet, bearing the weight of the toothy mob and the beast that fed upon rotting corpses. Inopportunely, one of the cannibals produced a large chair and smashed it into my face, causing me to topple to the ground. The mob was crushing me beneath its collective fury. My bones would soon fail me, and my blood would be nothing more than spoil and stink upon the floor, but I wasn’t finished. I would not fall to the degenerate dreams. They weren’t even proper monsters, after all; but only manikins of meat and bone stuffed with the souls of pigs. I had to get to my feet. I had to kill them all. I managed to roll to my back, flinging a number of the hungry patrons into the wall and over tables. The great beast-thing descended upon me. I locked my hands over the creature’s monstrous fore-claws, stopping the serrated things just short of my eyes. Dirty boots slammed into my temples, and greasy hands wrapped around my arms, hands and fingers, trying to derail my strength and allow the beast to fall completely upon me. I could feel the bones of the creature’s paws slowly beginning to crack beneath my strength. The monstrosity tried to end our contest prematurely by attempting to tear the flesh from my face with the forest of teeth that sprung up from its mouth. Its jaws yawned and shot forward. I pushed the creature upward, fully extending my arms, disallowing the creature access to my face. Then I quickly tucked my legs beneath its torso and kicked the beast into the ceiling fan. My sister flashed her deadly smile, grinning in all directions, opening arteries and exposing innards, and sending a number of my attackers backpedaling. One of the cannibals launched at me with red-dimmed steak knives clenched in both hands. My fist removed his lower jaw, and my sister freed his bowels. I began to rise up a second time. The gigantic creature was upon me again. I seized its jaws, prying them open. This time it was something heavier than a chair that smashed across the back of my head. I reeled. They piled atop me, again. I began to sink down. “Take his weapons!” someone yelled. The alien creature was occupying both my hands when I felt my father lifted from my back. My anger cracked the monster’s jaw as I threw the beast into the mob, and my succeeding blow broke into a cannibal’s head as if the creature was made from cardboard. More cannibals were entering the dark eatery, brandishing guns and machetes. A bullet tore through my shoulder. My sister retraced the path of the projectile. A stray silence amplified the one, single sound the gunman made when my sister entered his eye. Something like a club struck my head and neck, over and over again. I felt hands and claws pulling me down. The world was becoming blood and indignation. The man-eater I had followed to the restaurant was holding the great axe above his head, as if to bring my own father down upon me. But as my father was raised into the air—and just as my final and greatest rage was taking me from the floor—I watched the cannibal’s lean shadow, visible only by the shard of moon hanging in the sky, swell monstrous and gigantic. The creature’s face twisted into a knotted mask of engorged arteries and inhuman wrath; the very next second Its mouth literally exploded open, sending rotten teeth spinning through the air, making way for the hellish laughter of my father as it poured out from the despicable thing’s ruined throat. The cannibal that cast my father’s shadow swung the great axe into the inhuman beast, opening its brains to the darkness. My father’s gaze burned out from beyond the possessed creature’s eyes and seared my face with a fury beyond calculation. And while the flesh-eater’s mouth was merely a portal to endless, monstrous laughter, I could hear my father’s words clearly: “TO YOUR FEET, WHELP! KILL WITH ME! KIIILLL! HAHAHA!”

The Payment of Deep Horrors.
The Payment of Deep Horrors.
The Family Man comes to LASTRYGONE.
The Family Man comes to LASTRYGONE.