Gotham's Dead End Bar

Step 1: Be a serial reincarnator. Step 2: End up in Gotham with Death of the Endless. Step 3: Open a neutral-ground bar for heroes and villains. Step 4: ??? Step 5: Profit. Don't go into this story expecting something serious or (grim)dark. This isn't that kind of story and that's not what I'm trying to do here. This is a story about a bartender telling crazy stories about his time in the multiverse to the villains and heroes of DC. It's practically crack, about two steps removed from a fix-it fic. There is a plot (eventually, the beginning chapters are pretty slice-of-life heavy) but it's never going to be some grand tale of tragedy. In the same lane, don't expect the same Batman/Bat Family that you might be used to. No paranoiax10, dark, and gritty 'Batman can't be/have fun!' Batman. My Batman is more in line with the 'Batdad' concept or the animated series Batman. Also, this is kind of an AU. Not in any major way but some of the story might not match up perfectly with the DC canon continuity. I'm going for a static DC universe. So characters and their backstories are set but I'll be avoiding the major plot points of the comics (Dark Multiverse, Infinite Frontier, etc.) Pat reon.com/dryskies_btb for early chapters. 370k words are already available there.

Daddy · Anime & Comics
Not enough ratings
66 Chs

48: A Long, Long Night

[AN: Prepare for a long, long, long fucking chapter lol.]

"Welcome. To Yharnam."

The reactions were about what I expected. Even from a distance through a mirror, Yharnam was an imposing, uninviting city. A place where you didn't walk around at night because the streets themselves were actively hostile to you, not just the people within them. A place that dragged in foreigners with its mystique, chewed them up, and DIDN'T spit out the bones. Heavy with smog and fog like the city itself was wearing a cloak, its spires stood tall as if stabbing viciously into the dark night sky.

"Looks like Gotham and Victorian London had an unfortunate baby at an HP Lovecraft-themed orgy," Riddler commented.

"Oh, God! Not the British!" Beast Boy bemoaned with blatant humor.

Scarecrow shook his head at Riddler, "You always did have a way with words, Edward."

"Tell me I'm wrong though," Riddler insisted.

"No, it's pretty accurate," Penguin agreed. "It's like what you'd get if you described Gotham to a blind painter from the 1800s. I think I've seen those exact same spires somewhere in Old Downtown."

"Man, I've never seen a city like that," David said.

"I'll be dimes to dollars it puts the Combat Zone to shame," Falco drawled in agreement.

"Dark, dark metal, choom," Becca nodded. "The Streets ain't got nothing on this place."

"You have no idea…" I muttered, my voice still ringing out clearly. "Yharnam was… one of a kind. Unique. Even for me. A crueler city than almost any I've known. Death was ever-present. And not in the form I've come to love."

Didi leaned into me at that, letting me hold her for support, "I'm not familiar with this 'Yharnam', I'll admit. It's certainly not within my remit here in this reality or in any adjacent."

"As I expected," I allowed, nodding. "Your domain certainly infested the city, even without you. As did some of your siblings. Delirious Madness was as unavoidable as Death. And I came to find that Dreaming was inextricably linked to Yharnam's reality."

"I feel like I'm going to regret this…" Barbara prefaced. "But are you going to give us the background context first for this world like you usually do?"

I considered the question for a moment, "… No, I think it'll be better for you to discover Yharnam's secrets as I did. My Hunt uncovered awful secrets and I wouldn't want to rob you of the experience for yourself. I suspect my lessons for Ciri and the rest of you will hit harder this way. All you need to know for now is that Yharnam was an old, old city of layers built upon layers, all the way down to rock bottom…"

"Somehow, that's worse than you just telling us upfront," Barbara shuddered. "I can already tell I'm going to hate this."

"If you didn't, there'd be something grievously wrong with you," I chuckled hollowly.

"I might not like it but I am very intrigued," Raven stated flatly. "Very."

"As am I," Ciri spoke up as well, steadfast in her desire to learn what I had to impart. "Tell us of your Hunt, Sean. Tell us of your monsters."

I obliged, "Prepare yourself for this next part. It's not for the faint of heart."

A tension settled over my audience as I let the scenes displayed on the mirror take the lead. Things picked up from where I'd left off. The pale, impish, child-like messengers that had crawled all over me were nowhere to be seen. The pool of blood and ash that the previous Beast had emerged from and become was similarly absent.

The past-me in the mirror stood from the gurney, lost and confused. We all watched as I came to terms with my particularly sudden reincarnation. I hadn't had any warning then. Just an abrupt awakening in Yharnam with strange Blood now flowing through my veins. We watched as I searched my surroundings, coming up with only a single note that read 'Seek Paleblood to transcend the Hunt'.

I added to the scene there, "That's my handwriting, by the way."

That little bit of extra information gave the scenes in the mirror much-needed and much-worrying context. Dread and understanding dawned on my audience. Several people paled as brilliant minds explored the implications of my brief hint.

"Oh…" Barbara made a little noise in the back of her throat.

Raven finished for her, "Fuck."

"That's some shit straight out of a slasher BD," Lucy agreed, hiding a full-body shudder.

Cyborg matched her shudder with one of his own, "Eugh… Fucking hate horror-movie stuff like that."

"I wasn't too fond of it in the moment either," I muttered, letting the scenes in the mirror continue.

Past-me didn't find anything else of note in the room I'd woken up in. So as if wandering through a nightmare, I pressed on. Through the door, down the stairs, and straight into the Beast from before. Only this time, the Beast was much more real than my waking vision.

The fur-covered THING snarled and lunged at me. I raised my hands to fight back… and found myself lacking. Bloodborne had been, what? Life… 13? I'd been far from a spring chicken at that point. But it didn't matter. Something about that life — that waking nightmare — dissociated me from my wandering soul's gathered power and abilities. And so I died there, to tearing teeth and claws.

"Fuck…" Someone croaked. I couldn't tell who it was.

Kara turned to me with big, watery tears in her baby blues and a quivering lip, "S-Sean…? You, you died…?"

"So, uh, short story, this time 'round, huh?" Scarecrow awkwardly joked, trying to relieve the horrified tension.

I chuckled at just how wrong he was but addressed Kara, "Yeah, I died. I tend to do that a lot, you know — even more so in that nightmare of a city."

"That-That's horrible~!" Kara cried. "Don't laugh about it!"

"It was," I agreed. "I don't recommend it. Not like that, at least. I lost count of how many times I died in that nightmare. More times than I've died outside of it, that's for sure. Other than in the Lands Between, of course, but that doesn't really count because I was kinda reborn undead there to begin with and-…"

I shook my head, setting myself back on topic, "Anyway. The point is that I got better. I always got better."

Sure enough, as I said that, the bloodied scene in the mirror faded and past-me found myself in the Hunter's Dream. A small church on a hill lay before me, the only way I could go. The rest of the world was shrouded by mist so thick I couldn't even walk through it. Compared to the clinic, this place was almost hauntingly idyllic, lit by a low-hanging MOON and seemingly only inhabited by grave upon grave.

My audience watched in understated awe, quietly taking in the dream-like scene in the mirror. Past-me progressed through the Hunter's Dream and the Messengers returned. Tiny, helpful, and oh-so mysterious, they offered me boons. A choice. Trick Weapons.

An unassuming cane. A gruesome Saw-Cleaver, more appropriate for Beastly flesh than mundane workmanship. A hefty Hunter's Axe, similarly suited and more than a match for any battle-axe I'd ever encountered. I chose the axe.

Then came the choice of firearm. Only two this time, both ancient, well-kept, and better-used. Not quite flintlocks but operated with percussion caps and firing round bullets. Cap and ball. A pistol and a blunderbuss. I chose the pistol.

Becca let out a low, impressed whistle, "Daaaammmmnnnn, that's some mean-lookin' hardware, choom!"

"I believe there's such a thing as 'too much' of the classics," Deathstroke said, his amusement audible. "But I suppose if that's the best that's available, you just have to make due."

"That saw blade is fucking HEINOUS…" Barbara shuddered in disgust.

"But very effective for hunting Beasts," I pointed out with a hint of morbid humor. "They don't give much thought to the Geneva Conventions."

"The cane's a little out of place there though, ain't it?" Harley 'asked'.

"It was also a whip," I explained. "But yes. It would have been my last choice. You need something with real weight to it to Hunt Beasts."

Past-me searched the rest of the Hunter's Dream until I was sure there was nothing more to be found yet. The Messengers continued to direct me to one gravestone in specific. Eventually, I obliged. Touching it brought me back to Yharnam, back to that damned clinic.

I found myself outside the door to the room I'd first woken up in. Now, there was someone behind it. A kind and gentle woman that I remembered especially well, even having only interacted with her once before *SHE* took over. Perhaps because of that… This Iosefka refused me entry to protect her patients but still gave me what she could and wished me well on my Hunt.

"Remember her," I said to my audience, a dark grimace twitching at my brow. "… She… will come up again later."

My instruction was met with curiosity but no one inquired for more information just yet. We watched as I once again descended the stairs to confront the Beast that awaited me.

Now with weapons in my hands, I was armed and very dangerous. The Beast lunged. I quick-stepped to the side around it, the movement taking me much farther than it should have. Even dissociated from the rest of my abilities by the nightmare, powerful Blood now flowed through my veins.

The Hunter's Axe in my hand Trick-shifted, the haft gaining length and power with it as I buried the thick blade in the Beast's spine. The Beast was cut in twain, still snarling even as it choked its last breath on its own blood. I paid it no further mind, leaving the clinic to take my first proper step into Yharnam's nightmare.

There was a brief my audience processed everything that had happened there. Then Becca whooped and cheered and the moment was broken.

"Fucking Nova! That's so preem motherfuckin' violence right there, choom!"

"Better than any XBD I've ever seen," David nodded eagerly, made to look surprisingly young in that moment by his enthusiasm for violence in a way that was somewhat disturbing but also entirely expected for someone from his world.

Ciri nodded as well, "A fine kill! Though I suspect it is only the first of a long, long Hunt…"

"You weren't taking any shit from those monsters, Gothboy~!" Harley noted in her usual special way.

"Fuck, why was that kind of hot…?" Barbara muttered, trying to keep the words to herself.

Raven's blunt, uncaring, deadpan reply made it clear Barbara hadn't quite succeeded, "Because you have eyes."

Kara clearly wasn't happy with my Beast slaying but she couldn't argue it was unnecessary either. She settled for a constant frown, a bit sad and uncomfortable but still resolved to stick around through my story.

I would have thought Kori's reaction would be in the same boat as Kara but she surprised me by completely ignoring the killing and furrowing her brow, "What is to happen with the nice woman behind the door?"

"Iosefka. She…" I sighed, trailing off. "She was different when I came back to the clinic. Perhaps it'll be best if I introduce you to just what kind of world this is sooner rather than later…"

"What d'ya mean?" Beast Boy asked, cocking his head.

"Yharnam was anything but a kind mistress. At one point during my Hunt, I was given a certain choice between two places I could send survivors I came across," I explained. "The Oedon Chapel and… Iosefka's Clinic."

The scene in the mirror skipped ahead as I spoke, showing me returning to the clinic and talking to 'Iosefka' for the second time. She wasn't the same woman who wished me well at the start of my journey. The way this Iosefka spoke was… off. Almost cruel. She asked me to send her survivors of the long night. To 'keep safe'…

Ivy cringed, her face scrunching up in a grimace, "She doesn't sound quite right like this."

"No," I simply said, allowing the scene in the mirror to continue playing. "No, she doesn't."

A slight shift, a jump ahead in my long Hunt. Past-me knocked on a locked door and was greeted by an old woman from the other side. She was rude. Somewhat entitled. She didn't deserve what I'd done, the mistake of trust I'd made.

"This old woman asked for a place to go. A place to last out the long night," I narrated solemnly. "I sent her to Iosefka's Clinic. Something about that decision ate at me. But when I returned to change my mind, the old woman was already gone. I resolved not to make the mistake again."

The scene skipped ahead again to me exploring a Forbidden Woods. The MOON phase had progressed, hanging heavy with Blood in the night sky. We watched in silence as I followed an out-of-the-way path. Through a cave and poison swamp, past a Mindflayer-esque Beast and a Giant Carrion Crow, I wandered forward until I found myself back at the clinic.

I entered through an open window. The feeling in the air was wrong. Even through the mirror, we could all feel it, tense and eerie. I trawled through abandoned hallways until I came across the first living thing left in the clinic. A bulbous-headed alien creature — docile, unlike the rest of the Beasts of Yharnam's nightmare.

"What the fuck is that…?" Cyborg breathed in dreadful awe.

"That… is no normal Beast," Ciri observed with a hard-swallowed gulp. "Nothing like the others we've seen."

"Something very fucking fucky is going on here," Harley muttered curiously.

"One of the uncovered secrets Mr. Barkeep has mentioned?" Riddler wondered aloud.

"You'll see," I hinted. "At this point in my Hunt, I'd lined the inside of my head with eyes that allowed me to see more of the Truth of the world."

"You fucking WHAT?!" Barbara suddenly shouted.

"Yeah, you know, Insight?" I half-joked.

She groaned, "Oh, fuck, that's a terrible pun."

I chuckled, "I did kind of have eyes inside of my head though. But not, like, real eyes? It was a whole thing. Sort of a way to represent knowledge and understanding in Yharnam. Anyway, it's not that important just yet. Just know that I wasn't as surprised by the little alien guy as you might think. You'll see why for yourselves soon enough…"

In the mirror, said little guy didn't attack me so I didn't attack it. It just calmly meandered as if mindless. Broken. I encountered two more of the docile creatures in the clinic. I identified each of them for my audience.

"That one was the old woman. That one was a skeptical man who didn't trust me, even when I tried to help him. And the first one we saw… That was the real Iosefka."

"Oh, God…" Riddler's mouth fell open in horror.

Falco muttered something, stunned and mostly speechless, "Fucking… fuck, man."

"That's just cruel," Raven said quietly.

"T-Those poor creatures," Kara mourned. "It… It wasn't your fault, Sean. You couldn't have known."

"I couldn't," I shook my head in agreement. "But I still regret their fates to this day. Even the skeptical asshole. He didn't deserve this. No one does…"

"May Didi rest their souls," Deathstroke said, bowing his head in respect.

"I shall," Didi promised, her voice more simply sad than stunned, horrified, or anything else. "I shall find them and give them their eternities. Even if I must get my brother Dream involved."

The audience's horror only grew as past-me in the mirror continued through the clinic and came across Iosefka. The imposter that had taken on her skin. Alone amongst her atrocities, she kneeled on a gurney in a birthing position. Her voice rang out through the bar — a Mad, pained, ghostly wail of a thing.

## God, I'm nauseous… Have you ever felt this? It's progressing. I can see things… I knew it, I'm different. I'm no beast… I… Oh… God, it feels awful… but, it proves that I'm chosen. Don't you see? How they writhe, writhe inside my head… It's… rather… rapturous… ##

"That bitch ain't right/That bitch ain't right," Harley and Becca said at the same time, the humor of their synchronicity a distant thing before the abominable birth-in-progress.

"She's pregnant," Barbara realized with muted horror.

"With what…?" Riddler wondered, his voice filled with equal dread. "I somehow doubt she was pregnant at the beginning of this long night."

"Something horrible. Unholy. Mad…" Scarecrow muttered in something almost akin to understanding. "Certainly nothing human."

"I hesitate to call her a victim," I said. "But she wasn't free from the consequences of her actions either. Hopefully, with this, you'll be able to understand why I put her down there and then."

I let the scene in the mirror fade to black. They didn't need to see the details of my 'mercy' killing. Everything else about it was already enough to instill the proper amount of disgust and dread.

"Goddess, what a terrible night…" Kori shook her head in uncharacteristic melancholy.

"It was nearly over by then," I explained. "To truly understand what was happening there, we need to return to the evening before when my Hunt was just starting."

"Do we have to…?" Beast Boy asked, whimpering slightly.

Ciri answered for me, "Yes. I believe I need to see and hear this. I have not encountered a hunt like this. But if or when I do, I must be prepared to overcome everything put before me."

"Don't think you'd be facing this shit alone, Witch-Girl," David offered his firm support.

"Yeah, we'll see how these monsters like lead and chrome!" Becca agreed.

"No, if you ever encounter a place or a Hunt like Yharnam, you come to me first and foremost," I corrected. "I'll save everyone the trouble and glass the whole thing from orbit."

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but all-out orbital bombardment might just be the best course of action in a situation like this," Barbara interjected with a pained grimace.

"It really, really is," I continued, readdressing Ciri. "This story is more so you… so you know there are things even monsters are afraid of. So you can see the signs before you get too in over your head like I did. No one I know will go through a nightmare like Yharnam if I can help it."

The scene in the mirror returned to the beginning of my Hunt as I took my first steps onto the streets of Yharnam. Gothic architecture entangled and confused me, messing with my sense of direction. The scent of Beasts and Blood clung to my skin, just hints of it wafting impossibly through the mirror.

Hostility lay in wait for me everywhere I went. Beasts lurked around every corner. The Yharnam townfolk were even more present. They quickly proved they weren't on my side either. They gathered in mobs against the Beasts but more than that, lashed out at anything other than themselves. I slayed all who bore arms against me — pitchfork or claw, it made no difference.

Still, as I explored thoroughly, I found bastions of light in the dark city. A sick man confined to his bed, speaking to me through a window. A little girl who bid me to find her parents. A hunter of hunters, doing what she could to those who inevitably lost their way to the Blood.

Upon a Great Bridge, I found my first real fight. A great, horned Beast leaped down into my path. All scorched bone and ragged cloth for skin, it screeched like a demon straight from Hell. Past-me stared it down in the mirror, just as I remembered.

Until something odd happened. My memory was disrupted by a sadistic, wandering clown. The Joker's ghost waltzed into the scene like he was untouchable. The Cleric Beast didn't take kindly to his interruption, moving as if its memory still had a life of its own. It swiped him up with a huge, misshapen arm, crushed his body to a pulp, tore him apart, and threw the pieces 'off-screen' again like the inconsequential comic relief he'd become.

Harley cackled with visceral glee at that, "Hehehehehe~! Is it bad that I'm kinda rooting for the goat-monster-thing now~?"

"I'll admit," I chuckled. "I didn't see that coming."

"You mean that didn't happen the first time around?" Penguin joked.

The interruption brought a brief relief from the tension and horror. It was short-lived. Before anyone could get too comfortable, the memory resumed as I remembered it. The Cleric Beast lunged at me, reaching with mutated claws. Its unholy primal shriek shook the glass of the mirror.

Though I only came up to the Beast's waist, I fought back fiercely. A dodge-roll through its lunge. A step under and past its swiping arm. A leap backward to avoid ever-seeking claws. A shot from my pistol struck true center mass with a cacophonous BURST of smoke. The Beast staggered. I rushed forward, plunging my hand into its chest and past its ribs to tear at the Blood that pooled there.

"Daaaammmnnn, choom," Becca let out a low, impressed whistle. "That's fucking vicious."

"Jesus, I can feel my heart pounding and I'm not even standing up!" Cyborg exclaimed.

"And this is Mr. Barkeep at basically his weakest," Penguin pointed out with a smirk. "Let's all stop and think about that for a moment."

Falco shuddered. He wasn't alone, "Hell, I don't think I want to, partner."

"Shhhh~!" Harley shushed them. "This is getting good~!"

The Cleric Beast's tortured scream continued as I dove through its legs again, tearing into its mutated flesh everywhere I could with my axe. It swung its arm wild and quick, slamming me into the railing of the bridge when it connected. The air was driven from my lungs by the blow, a gasp mirrored on the other side of the mirror in my audience.

I leaped back into the fight as soon as I was able. The blade of my axe was buried in the Beast's gut. It Trick-shifted in my hand so I could tear it out with both hands. I spun in a vicious arc, making the monstrous Beast stumble to its knees. Another stagger and I reached for its heart, crushing it in my grip.

The Cleric Beast finally fell in a spray of Blood. Breathing heavily, past-me collected what I could from its corpse and moved on. There would be no rest in Yharnam. Only the Hunt mattered on that long night.

"Didi-damn, dawg~!" Harley exclaimed upon my victory.

"That was…" Ciri began in awe. "Almost beautiful. So fluid. And not a single step back. I believe I still have much to learn about the Hunt…"

"Fuck, choom, give the man some real guns, and let's see what he can do!" Becca cheered, practically vibrating in her seat as if from a second-hand adrenaline high.

"That was only my first real Beast," I intoned solemnly. "My second did not fall nearly as smoothly."

The scene behind me faded quickly and came back changed. A man, a fellow hunter, lost to Bloodlust in the middle of a cemetery. Performing the same hunt over and over again, even long after his prey had been slain. Father Gascoigne caught my scent.

## Beasts all over the shop… You'll be one of them. Sooner or later. ##

He came at me hard, more like a Beast than a man. The hunter he'd been was no more. He'd lost his wits but he kept an all-too-human sense of danger. The Bloodlust of a Beast with the direction of a hunter.

He hunted me. As if I was the Beast. In his eyes, that's probably all he saw. I fell before his hunt that first time, carved in twain from shoulder to hip by an axe that matched mine.

"Oh, God, man, this is too much," Beast Boy gagged, looking quite green even for himself.

"I won't blame anyone if they feel the need to excuse themselves from this story," I said. "I know I wish I could have at the time."

No one took me up on my offer. I almost wished they had. The scene in the mirror faded back to the Hunter's Dream. There, I found allies. Friends. Old Man Gehrman. A friend to us hunters. The Plain Doll. A gentle, artificial soul who never hesitated to show me comfort at my lowest points of that long night.

Too soon, I returned to the waking nightmare of Yharnam — returned to being hunted by a Bloodied hunter. I died that second time too. To the first true Beast I'd seen in a man's skin. Still, I pressed on, returning for round three with almost suicidal persistence. On that third go around… I played the music box given to me by the little girl who asked me to seek out her parents and bring them back to her.

"Oh…" Barbara made a little noise of pained realization as Father Gascoigne staggered from the familiar music of the box.

"Oh…" Ivy matched her forlornly. "That poor little sapling…"

"Does this city only have absolute fucking GUT-PUNCHES in store for us?" Lucy wondered, shaking her head in something akin to sickened disbelief.

I stayed quiet, simply letting the scenes in the mirror play. I was experiencing a gut punch of my own. Or at least, the distant memory of one, brought back viscerally by this moment in the mirror. Didi leaned into my side, pulling me out of it. Concern and care in her eyes, she wordlessly asked if I was okay.

My arm around her shoulders gave her the answer she was looking for without any words on my part either, 'I am now.'

When I finally managed to slay Father Gascoigne, it was barely a triumph. Partway through our final fight, he'd succumbed to the Beast within. We all watched as he shed what remained of his humanity and transformed. All so he could better claw the Blood he so desperately desired from my veins.

We watched as I bowed my head over his corpse and said a few words. Not for his sake. But for the innocent daughter he'd left behind. I found the girl's mother as well, slain by Gascoigne in his Bloodlust. I took the mother's broach to return to the young girl and pointed her toward the safe haven of Oedon Chapel.

The girl stopped responding after I handed over the broach. Past-me went still in the mirror. I remember having a dark premonition at that point. That, even if she said she would stay inside, the girl would still wander off. I didn't let that happen.

I spoke to her again. This time, I INSISTED, bucking fate in that nightmare. The nightmare stuttered as if confused by my resolve to save at least one person in that damned city. It gave in the end and I personally escorted the girl to the chapel.

She was adorable. Innocent. A spark of light and goodness in the dark night that I shielded from the chilling, nightmarish wind. Even with a mournful, quivering lip, she held strong with the tragic hand she'd been dealt. I saw her to safety and changed the way I approached the nightmare I'd found myself in, vowing to save everyone I could despite what tragedy that horrific city threw at me.

Kara sighed in relief when she saw I didn't leave the little girl alone, "Oh, thank Rao. Good. That's finally a good turn of events for this story."

"Yeah, I wasn't the only one who had a bad feeling about that before Mr. Barkeep insisted, right?" Riddler asked, somewhat rhetorically.

"You were not," Damian agreed.

Kori did as well, "Yes, something of the terrible nature would have happened. Without the doubt!"

"God, this city sucks…" Falco sighed, shaking his head.

"That's for frickin' sure~!," Harley nodded emphatically. "And fuck that dad. No idea how that fucker lost his humanity when he had that bundle o' cuteness waiting for him at home~!"

Ciri smiled — somewhat sadly — at her Edgerunner friends, particularly David, "Having something to return to does do wonders. It's just a shame it wasn't enough for that hunter."

"That's what the chapel and the Hunter's Dream became for me in that nightmare," I said. "Something to return to. Places to see the fruits of my labor and seek comfort from those who knew what I was going through. Without them… I don't know if I would have come out of Yharnam the same…"

"The one who runs the chapel is… unfortunate looking," Kara commented uncomfortably.

"Creepy. He's creepy-looking as Hell," Raven deadpanned.

Kara immediately jumped to defend herself and the Chapel Dweller with her trademark sweetness, "But he seems nice! Looks can be deceiving! If he's willing to take people in and protect them from the Beasts, he can't be as bad as he looks at first glance!"

"*Cough* Iosefka *cough*," Penguin 'subtly' reminded.

I chuckled at the distraught look on Kara's face and quickly soothed her worries, "No, the Chapel Dweller was one of the good ones. He really was as kind as he sounded, though not looked. He safeguarded everyone I sent him without complaint."

"Oh, thank goodness," Kara let out a relieved exhale.

"Yharnam wasn't all bad. Just the vast, vast majority of it," I murmured, barely audible as I thought back to tragic friends in a dying nightmare.

Some in my audience shifted awkwardly as I trailed off. Others gave me compassionate and empathetic looks. No one — not even Harley or Becca — found it in them to interrupt my reminiscing. I suppose I'd earned that much consideration with this story. Their company was enough to dull the memories anyway. With Didi at my side on top of that, I almost didn't mind reliving Yharnam.

Eventually, the scenes playing in the mirror resumed. The atmosphere in the bar and among my audience had taken on an almost hopeful tint. Or at least, as hopeful as anything concerning Yharnam could be. A comfortable silence settled as we watched past-me delve farther into the gothic labyrinth that was Yharnam.

The silence wasn't to last. I stopped outside Cathedral Ward to admire the scenery. The buildings there were impressive in both scale and design. As I leaned against a wrought iron fence to catch my breath, a sudden chill ran down my spine. I tried to dodge. I wasn't nearly quick enough.

Something invisible snatched me up. I struggled helplessly against a monstrous grip. It crushed down on me as I was raised higher and higher into the air, almost half as high as the grand cathedral in front of me. Right before I succumbed to the invisible grip, the culprit flashed into existence as if it had always been there. It had. I just hadn't had the Insight to see it until it bulled its way into my world and seared itself into my mind.

The hopeful aura in the audience went up in so much smoke. The creature that snatched me revealed itself to quickly dawning horror, gaping mouths, and more than a few startled sounds, shrieks, and shouts.

Too many arms. Too many eyes. Too many tentacles extending like whiskers from the… THING'S 'mouth'. It was massive. Overwhelmingly, world-shatteringly so. It took up the mirror's entire view with its uncloaking. An Eldritch abomination clung to the side of the cathedral like an innocent spider in the corner of a room. Only so much bigger. So, so much MORE… And I'd stepped right into its web.

Ciri rocked in her seat, stunned nearly speechless by something MORE than a Beast, "M-My word…"

"What the actual fuck…?" Lucy said, her voice stolen to a whisper.

Scarecrow — the poor guy — was hyperventilating, "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck…!"

"Jesus, fuck!" Cyborg squeezed his eyes closed. "That thing hurts to look at. I'm pretty sure half of my visual sensory programming just crashed and corrupted itself outright."

"Sean…?" Barbara asked, her voice strained. "What. Is that…?"

"That," I answered. "Is the first hint I got as to what was really going on in Yharnam. It's a Lesser Amygdala. One of the Great Ones that inhabited Yharnam alongside the men and Beasts."

"That thing's fucking 'Lesser'?!" David exclaimed in horrified disbelief.

Barbara sucked in a breath through her teeth and hung her head in defeat, "This is the day I've been dreading… I just knew you'd bring Eldritch beings into your stories eventually."

"I'm flattered you have such faith in me, Babs," I gently teased.

"Faith in you to give me conniptions and heart palpitations maybe," Barbara grumbled.

"We are likely going to have to be quarantined and scanned for mental contamination after this," Damian stated, his voice flat and sure.

"Yeah, that's knowledge that shouldn't be known if I ever saw it," Penguin agreed with a nod. "And I already regret seeing it."

"You'll all be fine," I waved dismissively. "Unless you're particularly inclined or susceptible to this kind of horror, the Dead End will keep you from growing eyes on the inside of your head."

"Oh, Didi, the Insight," Ivy gasped in realization. "I can't help but feel you were being entirely too literal about that now."

Still breathing hard, Scarecrow giggled somewhat Madly to himself, "Hehehe~… I can see the dark light within my soul!"

"Ah. Like that," I said sheepishly. "Scarecrow does seem a touch, uh, 'inclined'. Let me just… Yeah, let's just put a little screen there over his perception before he makes his mind accidentally explode."

"Thank you for that," Riddler deadpanned.

"Fascinating…" Raven muttered to herself, deep in thought and much more able to devote processing power to the darker mysteries of Eldritch Truth than the others. "Absolutely. Fascinating."

"Sooooooo~…" Harley dragged out her words with a lilt. "That, uh… That 'something more' going on~…? It's something straight out of HP Lovecraft's nightmares~?"

"That's about right," I chuckled. "From here on, I began to see the Eldritch Truth behind the Hunt — behind the Nightmare. I no longer merely hunted Beasts. Great Ones fell before me just as freely."

Scenes flashed in the mirror, a montage of my Hunt. Against the Beasts, and later, against the Great Ones. We watched past-me evolve as the night went on, wielding different weapons against everything that stalked the darkness.

An ever-useful torch. A simple wooden shield. A rifle — acting more like a shotgun — that once belonged to a Church Hunter, the massive thing wielded in only one hand. And my personal favorite. A Flame Sprayer fueled by warding incense, exactly as effective as one would expect for what was essentially a proto-flamethrower. Beasts and mobs fell before the fire of its tongue — burned to ash and 'cleansed' straight into an unholy rest.

"Oh, Hell yeah! That's what I'm talking about, choom!" Becca cheered at the showcase of deadly firepower.

"Gotta admit, the guns there do have a certain sense of style," David nodded approvingly.

More and more Trick Weapons came into my hands as well. Every so often, I switched out my trusty axe for something new. I picked up a variation of the Saw Cleaver offered to me at the beginning of my Hunt. More of a spear than a cleaver but somehow even more vicious than the weapon I'd originally turned down. Flesh and Blood parted like water before its serrations.

A katana — Chikage — that could be sheathed and soaked in my own Blood for an extra punch and kick. Even dangerous and unreliable with its requirement for self-harm, the Chikage slashed through Beasts like nothing else. Another katana — Rakuyo — with an objectively impractical dagger stuck to the bottom of the hilt. Despite the impracticality, the fluidness of motion to be found with the Rakuyo made it a favorite of mine.

Then came the almost unexplainable. A blade of Guiding Moonlight, casting 'magic' that was practically unheard of to the rest of Yharnam. It glowed with not-so-subtle power, a pale and ghostly green that drove away the dark. I was still unsure how it fit into Yharnam's nightmare but it simply… did. As if resonating with something deeper than Dreams themselves.

Then, a simple spiked mace. Seemingly nothing special. Until —that is — it was locked into the circular saw on my back. Once connected, the Whirligig Saw spun up to speed, carving through everything put in its path. It was a ridiculous weapon with a blade as large as my torso. And ridiculously effective at slaying Beasts as well.

But even after every weapon I tried, I found myself returning to two in particular. My trusty Hunter's Axe. You couldn't beat the classics. And the Church Pick — a sharpened and blessed spike that could be wielded in one hand as a sword or fashioned into an exaggerated war pick. Both weapons were simply too reliable to pass up. They handily saw me through the long night of the Hunt.

"Melee, melee, melee~!" Harley chanted excitedly, practically vibrating in her seat. "Yesssssss~!"

"What the Hell is that Greatsword?" Raven asked flatly.

"I'll be honest, I have no idea," I admitted with a wane smile. "It was somehow magic when magic didn't truly exist in Yharnam. A paradox in the form of a blade. There was no denying it worked like a charm though."

"Phooey to the Sword of Greats!" Kori exclaimed. "What is with the Saw of Chains~?!"

"The Whirligig," I clarified with a chuckle.

Kori cocked her head, "The Gig of Whirls?"

"Yeah, that thing was fun," I grinned. "The best part was that I could just hold down the trigger and walk into Beasts until they died."

"'Tis certainly a formidable arsenal for a Hunter," Ciri nodded, impressed. "I prefer a simple sword but I can see the need to experiment when facing diverse monsters such as these."

"You must have spent a lot of time with each of them to get as skilled as you appear to be," Deathstroke observed.

I simply shook my head, "It was a long, long night…"

The montage-like scenes in the mirror picked back up and switched their focus. From me and my weapons to the greatest opponents I faced on my Hunt. A Blood-starved Beast of skin and rags. A vicar transformed into a terrible, blind Beast and set to rampage through the main hall of the church she once presided over. An ancient Darkbeast THING of twisted, electrified bone.

My audience watched, enraptured as past-me faced down Beast after Beast. I was never once given the advantage from the start. Each time, I clawed my way to victory through sheer tenacity and persistence. I showed only my victorious runs, sparing them all the trauma of my many, many deaths.

Even through the mirror, you could practically FEEL the Blood pounding through my veins. The almost agonizing adrenaline of every fight, every Hunt. My shots staggered. My blades bit deep into flesh, bone, and Blood. And my hands tore out hearts at every chance I got.

Visceral violence was the only language I knew on that long Hunt. In a way, it was a language the Beasts and I shared. We spoke it well, 'conversing' at great lengths until one of us simply couldn't go on any further.

The air on this side of the mirror was electric. We watched and cheered as I triumphed again and again over terrible Beasts, the many other outcomes unseen and conveniently ignored for the sake of montage and progress. It was better this way. My audience certainly needed the pick-me-up after the first half of the story. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves now… until we got to Rom the Vacuous Spider and Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos…

"Oh, Hell naw~! Kill 'em with fire~!" Harley exclaimed.

"Fuck 'fire', choom!" Becca 'disagreed'. "Those things need a fuckin' nuke!"

"More Great Ones?" Raven asked curiously. "They're… certainly something, alright. Something terrifying. But I can't help being truly intrigued at the same time…"

"You aren't alone in that compulsion, Raven," I shook my head sadly. "The Great Ones became… an obsession for certain men in Yharnam. Powerful men, as is always the case. Scholars who were inevitably driven Mad with arrogance and the pursuit of their 'ascension'. Most if not all of Yharnam's problems could be traced back to the Great Ones. Perhaps it's about time I show and tell you all the true story of that nightmarish city…"

My audience leaned forward slightly at that informational tease. They wanted to know, wanted to make sense of the impossible city and impossible night. The mysteries of Yharnam hung like a heavy fog. Only I could truly shed light to lead them to the truth.

"Go on…?" Raven said leadingly.

"We certainly don't seem to lack interest in the story behind all of this madness and tragedy," Penguin commented.

"Yes, please, Sean," Ciri requested, her tone ever-polite and undemanding. "I wish to learn more about these monsters. May Didi let me never encounter them… But if I do, I hope to be prepared."

Barbara groaned, "We're going to regret this… But what else is new with Sean?"

"Be nice, Babs," Kara pouted in my defense. "I'm sure Sean's not trying to be so… Sean. He just can't help it."

Barbara shot her a look flat enough to cut, "Like that makes things any better."

"Go on, Dear," Didi encouraged. "I shall keep watch to ensure no one 'sees' more than they should."

"Very well," I sighed. "Listen close. Some things should only be mentioned once. Yharnam was an old city built atop an even more ancient one. The civilization that came before was known as the Pthumerians. They were the first to discover the Great Ones, worshipping them and aping a portion of their Eldritch Truth to great effect."

As I spoke, I used the mirror to aid me with visuals. Twisted undead Pthumerians with limbs just a touch too long to be human snarled in the mirror's view. A regal queen dressed in pure white — Queen Yharnam, who gave the city its name. And of course, Ebrietas. A true Great One that was left behind on that plane of existence and the source of discovery for the Yharnamites that came after the Pthumerians.

I continued, "The Great Ones were an 'ascended' race dreaming on a higher plane of existence. 'Ascended' in power and name only. I found nothing truly great or divine about them. They merely won the pseudo-evolutionary lottery and grew past their purely physical limitations.

"In truth, they were something of a failure of a race, as far as I could tell. No uniformity of shape or form, each Great One was different from the last. And they certainly weren't populous or good at breeding either. it was said that every Great One loses its child and then yearns for a surrogate…"

My audience listened intently, hanging off my words. That last hint was enough for a few of the brilliant minds there to put two and two together, remembering a disquieting detail from earlier in my story.

Damian frowned, "Hnn."

Barbara and Riddler both paled, murmuring in realization as one, "O-Oh, Didi…"

Kara gasped, showcasing her usually understated intelligence, "The fake Iosefka…!"

"She was pregnant with a Great One," Raven said, flatly verbalizing the rest of that thought.

"Oh, ewww~! Fuckin' ick~!" Harley's face twisted in a grimace.

"That's fucked," Lucy deadpanned.

I nodded, "And unfortunately, somewhat common in Yharnam, it seemed. From their higher plane of Dreaming, some Great Ones would descend to impregnate human women as their surrogates. Whether the infant Great One would survive the process and ascend to their true potential, well, I'm unsure. But the mothers certainly didn't. Turns out that the human body isn't meant to incubate and birth utterly inhuman Eldritch beings."

Cyborg barked a laugh, a harsh, incredulous thing, "H-Ha! Who'd have fucking thought? Jesus, man, I need a drink. I don't even drink and I need a drink…"

"On this one occasion, I'll allow a bit of underage drinking," I said, smiling slightly. "Feels like the least I can do with everything I'm putting you all through this time."

Cyborg let out a relieved sigh. He and every one of the Edgerunners quickly requested a drink. Kori did as well but I think that was more for fun than for coping. After everyone was served or reserved in the case of the adults, I resumed my story.

"Eventually, the Pthumerians faded and Yharnam as I knew it came to be established. With it, there came a college. An institution for learned men and women led by one Master Provost Willem. Very quickly upon exploring the ancient ruins beneath the city, the college discovered a mysterious miracle substance called the Old Blood. The Blood of the Great Ones…

"This inevitably led the college to the Great Ones and their ultimate goals shifted soon after. They still sought knowledge. But now, all efforts were centered around the Great Ones, communing with them, and eventually ascending humanity to their plane of existence."

"Why the Hell would they want that? Fuckin' dumbass gonks sound worse than corpos…" Becca asked, her face scrunched up in confusion.

"Fuck if I know," I answered with a sigh. "Still, that became their goal. And the Old Blood became their method for ascension. They experimented with it and found its miraculous healing properties. But Master Willem feared the Old Blood. Rightfully so. His students didn't fear it enough.

"There was a schism in the college. Willem believed the key to ascension lay in Insight, in lining one's head with eyes on the inside. His student Laurence believed in the Old Blood. And so they went their separate ways, with Willem maintaining the college and Laurence founding the Healing Church."

I paused slightly, my voice turning dry and sarcastic, "… Now, this is widely regarded as a 'bad idea'. By me. I regard it as a bad idea. Because I'm probably one of the only ones who found out that the Healing Church's Blood Healing was directly responsible for the Beasts of Yharnam."

"Oof," Beast Boy winced comically. "Yeah, that's gotta suck."

"I suspect that all of you have figured out by now that the Beasts I was hunting weren't always Beasts? That they used to be people before they mutated so drastically?" At the general round of nods from my audience, I continued. "Yeah, the Healing Church released the Beastly Scourge upon Yharnam. So obviously, they tried their best to cover it up."

"Obviously…" Barbara groaned in exasperation and disgust. "Because why would they care about a silly little thing like holding themselves accountable or maybe — just maybe — just stop?! Fucking?! Giving people Eldritch Blood!?!?"

I chuckled despite the dark topic of conversation, "Because that would take them being responsible for their mistakes and admitting that they were wrong in the first place. Not to mention giving up the power they'd acquired in Yharnam…

"No, instead, the Church founded the Hunters to keep the Beasts in check and kept on doing exactly what they were doing. Right up until they failed and fell victim to yet another schism."

"History does have a tendency to repeat itself like that," Deathstroke chuckled darkly.

I continued with a nod, "This schism split two new groups off from the Healing Church. The Choir and the School of Mensis. Both were still technically part of the Church but they were essentially given the autonomy to pursue their own avenues to ascension. The Choir believed in looking to the stars and experimenting on children. Because of course, they did. Assholes…

"And the School of Mensis believed their path to ascension would be paved by directly communing with a Great One via — get this — a partial umbilical cord of all things. One that was originally looted when the college desiccated a Great One's washed-up corpse and then split up between the various schools of thought dedicated toward ascension."

"Everyone in that damned city was a braindead fool," Barbara deadpanned.

"Eh, I think it's more appropriate to say they were all Mad with a capital 'M' and high off Eldritch power and knowledge," Penguin allowed.

Harley nodded along with his conclusion, "Madder than the Hatter~!"

"Still doesn't make any of this better," Cyborg scowled.

"In the end, all of the schools of thought were partially right," I explained. "Other than those callous assholes in the Choir. You needed a combination of Blood, Insight, and Communion to truly ascend.

"The School of Mensis got the closest to ascension when they did their Ritual of Mensis. Even then, they were far from successful. The entire school fried their brains and trapped themselves in a made-real Nightmare puppeted by the Great One spawn of the Pthumerian Queen Yharnam."

The scenes in the mirror reflected my journey through the Nightmare of Mensis. My 'battle' — if you could even call it that — with Micolash, the leader of the School who was trapped in the Nightmare after Death for his hubris. Then we watched as I confronted the Nightmare's true host. The not-infant Great One Mergo, formless in his crib.

I dueled his Wetnurse there in that Nightmare. A formless Eldritch THING of shadow, wielding numerous scythe-like blades. Though the Great One's protector wasn't quite real, my weapons still found their mark. Shadows fell before my sheer will to HUNT. Soon enough, the protector was slain and Mergo's anchor was destroyed, heralded by the ghastly false cries of an infant. The ghost of Queen Yharnam thanked me as the Nightmare faded.

"Fuck, choom," David shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "That's some real psyop shit…"

"It… wasn't actually a babe, was it?" Ciri asked hesitantly.

"It never was," I intoned grimly.

Riddler shuddered, "Somehow, that makes it worse…"

"'Never was' monsters are my favorite kind," Scarecrow commented helpfully. "They're usually much more inspired than 'not any more' monsters."

"What is the difference?" Kori asked, cocking her head curiously.

Scarecrow 'cheerfully' elaborated, coping with the horror of my story in his own special way, "Something that 'isn't' a deer 'anymore' implies that it was a deer at some point. It brings to mind themes of corruption or change."

"Something that 'never was' a deer…? Well, it obviously was never a deer at any point. But it sure looks like one. Until you get a bit closer and notice something's off. That its limbs are a bit too long. That it doesn't quite move right. That a deer's eyes should never be that intelligent… Wonderful stuff!" Scarecrow finished with an excited chirp.

A visible shiver ran down Beast Boy's spine, "Thanks, dude. As if we needed even more nightmare fuel tonight."

"I returned to the Hunter's Dream to find the workshop in flames," I continued the end of my story with little fanfare, the mirror reflecting the events as I told them. "The Doll was eerily silent when I tried to talk to her, simply pointing me toward Gehrman. As I approached him, weary and worn from my journey, he seemed to match me. As if every moment of the long night was catching up to him all at once. As with the young girl's fate, I had a premonition then…"

The scenes in the mirror stuttered, splitting into three. The swing of a scythe and I awoke in the real world, the nightmare of Yharnam nothing more than that — a nightmare. A pitched battle and then the continuation of the status quo, with me now taking Gehrman's place. Finally, something impossible to describe. A rush of sensations, of 'ascension'… and the scene of the Doll holding something beyond mortal ken.

My premonition gave past-me a moment of pause. The partial umbilical cords I'd gathered reacted and resonated to something unseen. Insight raged in my mind. With barely a stutter in my steps, I walked up to Gehrman and initiated the end of a dream…

Gehrman spoke to me, tired and resigned to what came next. As if he'd been through it more times than he could count.

## Good Hunter, you've done well. The night is near its end. Now I will show you mercy. You will die, forget the dream, and awake under the morning sun. You will be freed from this terrible Hunter's Dream… ##

In my audience, Riddler gasped in realization, "The Hunter's Dream is like the Nightmare of Mensis. Another realm. A dream. Something. And if those realms need to be created and hosted by a Great One…"

He trailed off. The realization and warning set everyone on edge. We watched as I refused Gehrman's mercy. Watched him sigh and begin to stand from his wheelchair, far too used to all of this.

## Dear, oh dear. What was it? The Hunt? The Blood? Or the horrible dream? Oh, it doesn't matter… It always comes down to the Hunter's helper to clean up after these sorts of messes. Tonight, Gehrman joins the hunt… ##

"Gehrman was the first hunter," I intoned softly. "The beginning of this resistance against Beasts and Great Ones alike. The leader of those who fought back against the long night.

"He was a man who'd seen everything fall apart around him. Nothing he built was enough. It always came crumbling down on him eventually. The graves that inhabited the Hunter's Dream? They were hunters once. Those who accepted Gehrman's mercy. Eileen and Djura, the hunters I met who remembered the Dream? They lay to rest there somewhere, both dead in the dream and alive in the nightmare at the same time…"

The air as we watched the scenes in the mirror could have been struck with a match. Gehrman and I faced off in an idyllic field of white flowers, the pale MOON hanging overhead. Gehrman stood as if I hadn't only seen him in a wheelchair so far. He moved with powerful ease befitting the First Hunter.

He raised his scythe — a wicked thing with a curved blade nearly half as long as he was tall. The movement was deceptively slow. Up until he sprung into motion and brought it screaming down upon me. Enhanced by the Old Blood of a Hunter, he moved in a flash. Blink and you would have missed it.

The first scything lunge caught me off-guard. I couldn't escape without a vicious line of blood drawn across my chest. It immediately became clear that he wouldn't go easy on me. He was intent — dead set — on giving me his mercy even though I refused.

With pain in my heart, I raised my own weapon — the Church Pick to rival his scythe — against the old man I'd come to call a friend over the long night. We began a deadly dance, stepping in and out of each other's guard.

His blade whistled as it sliced through the air. My blood pounded in my veins. My vision and focus narrowed down to Gehrman and Gehrman alone. With a somber expression on his face, Gehrman chased me, pressing ever forward and not giving me a single moment to rest.

I stabbed out with my Church Pick, thrusting straight through my friend and mentor's side. He didn't even flinch. A sweeping strike threatened to remove my head in response. My instincts screamed out in time for me to barely duck and roll out of his way.

He was relentless, quicker than anything I'd fought on that long night. Always a threat. Always reaching with that deadly blade of his. I didn't falter — couldn't. Not after coming this far. Not with the end of the Dream and Nightmare so close at hand.

Every drop of blood I spilled from his old frame stabbed at my heart. I still pressed on. Persisted. Falling back on my will to HUNT. Gehrman seemed to lose himself during the duel, whimpering and sobbing barely audible lamentations to himself and anyone who would hear him out.

## Oh, Laurence… Master Willem… Somebody help me…! Unshackle me please, anybody…! I've had enough of this dream. The night blocks all sight. Oh, somebody, please…! ##

"The pain in his voice… My word," Ciri whispered, tears welling up in her eyes. "He's all alone. He's been alone so long. Trapped and lost to a dream…"

In the mirror, Gehrman's words hit past-me just as hard. My determination was reaffirmed and redoubled. I would free him from this dream. I danced between swings and slashes as quick as lightning. My will to HUNT equally a will for mercy. To put an end to my friend's suffering, even after his 'betrayal'. He had no choice. He was truly lost at that point.

With patience and persistence, I wore the old hunter down. Wounds collected on his body began to grind away at him. But even to the end, he never slowed for a second. Never stopped fighting, as futile as it might have been, until my blessed blade pierced his heart.

An almost relieved expression dawned on his face at the fatal pain. Free and dulled, he fell to the field of flowers below, staining white petals with red. He sighed, a long-borne weight lifted clear off his shoulders. Deceptively simple final words laid the First Hunter to rest.

## The night, and the dream, were long… ##

My audience reacted with sorrow and emotion, tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats, "F-Fuck…"

"That…" Beast Boy croaked. "I know it's for the best… But damn. That hurts, man."

Ciri bowed her head reverentially, "May you find a more peaceful dream."

"R.I.P. old timer," David paid his respects as well.

In the mirror, I barely had time to mourn or pay respects of my own. The night turned blood-red with Gehrman's passing. The MOON descended from the sky. A presence descended with it.

"God dammit, gonk!" Becca shouted at the mirror. "We were having a fuckin' moment here!"

"Yeah, get its ass, past-Gothboy~!" Harley encouraged violently.

"A terrible thing," Kori shook her head sadly. "It is the one responsible for the suffering of Old Man Gehrman."

Raven's lips quirked slightly, "I have a feeling Sean has this well in hand."

A floating THING of writhing tentacles and whip-like tails made itself known. The Great One that hosted the Hunter's Dream. Beyond comprehension in motive and form. It landed before me and reached out. I resisted its Eldritch 'blessing'.

It screeched and lunged at me like nothing more than a mere Beast. Compared to Gehrman before it, the Great One posed an almost laughable challenge. It had none of his human cleverness. None of his hunter's experience. Just pure power packed into an unholy frame.

Past-me practically kited the thing, stepping under it with every attack where it couldn't easily reach. My blessed blade still hurt the Great One. Despite its 'ascension', it could still bleed. I bled it dry shockingly quickly as a result. As it fell, my vision faded to black.

I let the mirror play out the final moments of that life of mine. The last third of my earlier premonition came true. The Doll cradled a tiny, alien thing in her arms. The dawn finally came to Yharnam. The infant Great One Dreamed and I was freed to reunite with the rest of my True Soul and move on, to resume my karmic cycle in another world and another life.

"Huh," Penguin 'said'. "So what actually happened at the end there?"

"I 'ascended'," I answered dryly, making quotation motions in the air with my fingers. "Yeah, turns out humans can't actually become Great Ones. Honestly, It'd be kind of weird if they could. I probably could have managed something similar if I tried but it wouldn't have been the same process. And, like, why bother?"

"Power? Ascension? Surpassing your limits and becoming something greater than you are?" Raven flatly prompted.

I raised a single, imperious eyebrow at her, "Do any of those things seem like things I have trouble with anyway? Besides the Great Ones were a flawed approximation of 'ascension'. I could do better if I really tried."

"… Point," Raven sighed.

"So what's with the little tentacle dildo thing then?" Becca asked.

I barked a startled laugh at that before settling to explain, "Oh, a true, new Great One was born, sure. But it was a sort of parasitic birth that took my life in the process. The new Great One copied my memories though so it 'thinks' it's me. Kinda. I'm also pretty sure it retroactively created the long Nightmare of Yharnam.

"It 'trapped' me there so I would eventually lead to its birth and the cycle could continue. Like a safe juvenile Dream for the new Great One to grow within. It Dreamed of 'itself' — me — and the Hunt that led to its birth. The lifecycle of a Great One is really fucky but I'm almost certain that's about what happened."

"Oh, fuck, paradox stuff," Barbara groaned. "I don't even want to try and make sense of that."

I smirked, "That's probably a good decision on your part."

"Oh, thank God, it's over," Beast Boy exclaimed before pausing and glancing at Didi. "Err… Thank Didi…?"

Didi's lips curled into a bit of a smile at that. She tittered behind her hand, "There's no need to worship me, Garfield. Even if some of our regulars seem to have taken to invoking my name in such a way. That's their personal choice."

Riddler shrugged, "I've always been agnostic anyway. I can't think of a better form of proof of a higher power than meeting Didi."

"Cool, cool," Beast Boy nodded. "I'm just glad that horror story is over now. It was a real freakin' doozy, dude."

"Sorry if I scarred any of you for life," I said, sheepishly scratching the back of my head.

"I do not regret the trauma one bit," Ciri claimed firmly.

Raven muttered a single word in agreement, "Same."

"I also found the worthiness in your story, Friend Sean~!" Kori SMILED, quickly regaining her usual energy now that the conversation was moving away from Yharnam. "It was terrible… But great! A true tale of epics for the ages~!"

"Still, we might need something to raise the mood for the rest of the night," I considered. A grin grew across my face, "How about we go down to the Colosseum and watch little Damian put the moves on his declared intended~?"

Damian cleared his throat, "Ahem… I do not mind volunteering myself for the morale of the night. But I will ask that you all reserve any laughter and amusement to me alone and leave my partner out of it."

Ciri blushed a brilliant shade at his defense of her, "T-That shouldn't be necessary. I-I believe I can take the jokes and jests in good humor…"

"Good!" Becca giggled maniacally. "'Cause there ain't no way I'm not going to be losing my shit at Witch-Girl being seduced and wooed by Little Mister Moves here!"

Harley joined her with a wicked grin, "It'll be frickin' great~! I'm already planning a line of merchandise to pitch to the Bats~! We gotta capitalize on little Robin, the Ultimate Ice-King Ladies Man~!"

"Pfft-!" Barbara stifled a laugh. "Oh, God, I can see it already! B's gonna flip!"

"… I am interested in making Father… 'flip'," Damian said after a short pause, his voice utterly serious.

Harley quickly roped them all into her orbit as they began planning a grand prank to make Batman's protege into a worldwide, merchandized casanova. I watched with amusement, glancing at the time on the clock. It was only about 10 o'clock. It would be another long night… But at least this one would hardly be a Nightmare.