"I beg your pardon, Generalissimo," said Donbalon, "But I have heard rumours that the famous Madame Puffy practises in the vicinity. Do you think it would it be possible for me to meet her? Could you perhaps arrange an audience, using your new found influence? I am a great admirer of her performances. I have been to all her concerts, you know... I believe I have even seen her at one of my own..."
The glass of wine in his elongated fingers sloshed around a little as he bounced towards the table where Reala hovered, discussing strategy with Queen Bella. Reala was surprised to learn that anyone at all appreciated Puffy's music but was unsurprised to hear that it was her counterpart in the new Nightmare realms. Lord Wizeman, in his infinite wisdom, must have designed him to have the same musical tastes as her, as well as a similarly distasteful physical appearance. Maybe he sang like her as well. He looked more like a clown than an opera singer, but then Puffy looked more like an overfed rabbit than an opera singer. Maybe their voices cancelled each other out. He hoped they did, as the only other consequence he could imagine of their duet would be the orchestral equivalent of antimatter colliding with matter.
"Very soon," said Reala firmly, "You will all have your chance to meet your counterparts. The meeting is over but we will not be allowed to leave until Lord Wizeman gives his word. Then I will direct you to Madame Poufille's domain, and you, Bomamba, may search for the rest of your kittens..."
As it turned out, Bomamba did not have an inexhaustible supply of kittens stowed away in a pocket dimension somewhere. Although there were, at Reala's last count, 255 of them, they were individual creatures that existed permanently, if a little incredulously, somewhere in the folds of Bomamba's robes, and the demonic cat-lady boasted that she knew all their names and could tell them apart by sight. She would, or so she claimed, be heartbroken to lose even one of them. She reluctantly agreed to leave off the search for them until after the meeting – after all, they couldn't have gone far if the entire building was locked down and they were practically indestructible anyway. She was a little worried that certain of the kittens would pine for the others. Reala had made a polite excuse and left the table when she began to try and explain the complex social structure of the various kitten families.
"... and, Queen Bella, I wish to speak to you more about this Cerberus," ordered Reala. Self-satisfied glee lit up in the arachnid's eyes and she rubbed two sets of hands together. Reala liked Queen Bella and not only because spiders were a good choice of mental imagery for nightmares. She was cunning and intelligent. She had a good scientific and strategic mind. Sensible conversation was something that Reala sorely missed. Of the Nightmaren who could actually speak, he had a choice between a traitor, a madman and a woman whose voice had a tendency to shatter glass when something displeased her.
"I will show him to you, if you like," she said, "I must warn you, though, he is very dangerous, even when he is on his leash and inside his cage. We can barely control him."
"I trust that he will be controllable in battle," he said, "I have no use for a weapon, even the most deadly weapon, that is as much a danger to me as to my enemies."
"We make progress every day. By the time we are called upon for our first battle, I promise you, he will be fully under our control."
Reala liked the idea of Cerberus in theory but was unconvinced that such a grand scheme would work. They had a Second Class Nightmaren based on a creature from human mythology once before. It didn't work. After several thousand more years of studying the vast shared dreamscapes of the irritatingly complicated animals called humans, Lord Wizeman realised that the dragon was simply too ambitious and vague an archetype to work on. Gilwing was like an empire with overstretched borders – he was a mish-mash of too many different types of Dragons, a creature that appeared in legends all around the world and that had wildly different properties and implications, resulting in a floating spiky blob with a tail. The Cerberus was different. A gigantic, ferocious three-headed hound that guarded the gates of the Underworld was something a lot simpler to work with, made an excellent guard dog and, most importantly, there was no such thing as a lucky hellhound.
"I simply must show you the Girania as well," announced the spider-lady, helping herself to a glass of wine with one of her hands while clapping two more with enthusiasm, "I do hope our little experiment worked!"
Gulpo and Girania had already been introduced into the same environment. Once it had been established that they would not attempt to attack or mate with each other, the plan was to lower the barriers between them and teach them to synchronise their attacks. Reala wasn't sure how this would work, seeing as Gulpo's memory lasted for three seconds. He was a little worried that Clawz had already found and was even now trying to eat both fish.
"Donbalon, I forbid you to drink any more wine, you are beginning to tilt!" hissed Queen Belle as the obese clown almost collided with her, "If you cannot stand still for so long, go and find Charmelan! You know how I worry when it has been a long time since I last saw him!"
As he swam his third circuit of his bowl (he was fairly sure it was his third, anyway), Gulpo had the ever-familiar nagging feeling that there was something very important he was supposed to be remembering.
The shadow passed over him, a heavily armoured conglomeration of small blobs that seemed eerily piscine in its shape and movement pattern, and he suddenly recalled what it was that he had forgotten. There was another fish in here with him! At least, he assumed it was another fish; it looked and moved enough like a fish, so he couldn't really think of anything else that it could be, and the strain of trying to overstretch his limited imagination was bringing on another migraine.
He waved his tail in annoyance, sending ripples across the surface of his bowl. Why had he been trying to think of things that looked like fish anyway? Why was he even thinking about fish? He realised that he had completely lost his train of thought again.
Suddenly, a shadow passed over him...
Hello. Who are you?
The telepathic message took him by surprise and he darted forward instinctively, veering off course from his patrol of the outer perimeter of his bowl. Who was talking inside his mind? It had to be a fish – other life-forms could not intercept the psychic channel that fish used to communicate with one another and send bad vibes to humans. Was someone else in the bowl with him? How had he failed to notice them?
I am Gulpo! I live here, he communicated in reply, Who are you?
After a few seconds, he received a confused reply, Um... what were we talking about again?
Seconds later, another shadow flitting across his field of vision made him dart off in the other direction. He wondered if he was ever going to complete a full circuit of his bowl. This shadow looked like the dangerous one with the big teeth that enjoyed staring at him with a hungry look in its eyes, except that it did not stop, but ran past him, making odd noises and leaking small versions of itself that chased after it. It wasn't long before the shadow entirely disappeared. Gulpo knew there were still things in the room with him. They didn't cast shadows but he felt them on a deeper level even than his primal instincts, at the core of his essence as a dream-being. They felt very wrong.
He relaxed only when they, too, went away.
Excuse me, said a voice in his head, Is anybody there?