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Literature / The Red Monarch

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The Red Monarch is a horror short story by Scraggle and an entry in The Never Mythos. It can be read here.

Haunted by a series of inexplicable, persistent dreams, American man Charles Duncan flies into the Soviet Union and seeks help from an old Polish man who tells him that his dreams revolve around a film called The Red Monarch, a seemingly lost work of animation from the 60s that vanished — alongside its enigmatic director, Vladik Cardinous, and its producer, Brilliance Studios — seemingly into thin air. Determined to find some sort of answers to the mystery, Duncan rides into Newark to find the abandoned studio that created the film, and finds out there was a very good reason that film was never found.

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The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Apocalypse How: The story ends with Cardinous about to kick off a horrific apocalypse.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Flynn Wilhelm Lacey's journal is one big one, detailing the horrific occurrences in working on The Red Monarch, as it gets steadily more and more disturbing.
  • And I Must Scream: The other animators kept within the depths of Brilliance Studios have been mutated by a thick red fungus, and they've been kept alive and suffocating for decades.
  • Bad Boss: Cardinous kept his animators as practical slaves, threatening to feed them their own fingers and sending those who he disfavored to his ominously-named "No Rooms."
  • Body Horror: Flynn notes, towards the end of his journal, he and the other animators seem to be growing hyphae out the back of their neck. Flash-forward a couple of decades and their faces have been overgrown with a bloody, fungal moss that overtakes their noses and eyes.
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  • Brown Note: The Red Monarch inspires some terrifying things, to say the least...
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Steadily revealed that eldritch horrors are about to use an obscure animation film to overwhelm the world and nothing hints they can be stopped.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The old Pole doesn't exactly seem all there, casually forgetting his own name and letting his own house run into horrific squalor as he seems oblivious to it. Ironically enough, by the end of the story, the Pole seems the sanest character in the plot.
  • Downer Ending: The lead is killed, and Cardinous's plan is beginning, with The Red Monarch distributed and a plot to turn the earth into a twisted hellscape.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Vladik Cardinous is a particularly monstrous example, whose true form is barely perceivable to human eyes.
  • Faux Affably Evil: There's little denying Cardinous' sympathies are decidedly not with the animators by the end, but he at least projects an image of superficial friendliness as time goes on.
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  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Hinted to have been the eventual fate of Flynn from seeing one of Cardinous' cartoons, as well as the field trip of children that saw it as well. Duncan's mind, too, does not last at the end when he discovers what's beneath the studio, in true Lovecraftian fashion.
  • Gonk: The old Pole is very, very unpleasant looking, and his house is even worse. He's a pretty decent guy in spite of that, though.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Cardinous had one, with seemingly anything viable to throw him into fits of screaming rage.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The fate of the former animators: mutated into twisted lifeforms ripped from the reprieve of death.
  • Large Ham: Cardinous gives an epic, dramatic speech at the climax that's quite memorable.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The story's title is a shout-out to The King in Yellow, and the plot vaguely follows along the lines of some of the short stories featuring the King (up to a Shout-Out early in the story referencing "lost Carcosa".
  • Mad Artist: Cardinous is a deranged, erratic man who blends every kind of animation style one can name from the time — from stop-motion animation influenced by Vladislav Starevich, from traditional animation in styles pulled from America to Japan to Germany — into a revolutionary work of art the world has never seen before. The truth of The Red Monarch is far worse; Cardinous is a being of madness and mayhem who places such things into his animated film to spread them all across the Soviet Union, and after, the world.
  • Mind Rape: Flynn notes that Cardinous did... things to the minds of him and his other animators, casually altering their memory and perception of the world around them while hinting he could do worse by "editing" them, a fate that befell many of Cardinous' disfavored animators.
  • Mood-Swinger: Cardinous' temper was noted to have flown erratically, with vicious anger contrasted with serene pleasantness Flynn notes is even more unnerving than his rages.
  • No Name Given: The old Pole in the beginning never has his name revealed, and blithely states that he's forgotten when Duncan presses him directly.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Loads of it. What are the No Rooms? What is Cardinous really? What's in The Red Monarch? Very little ends up explicit at the end of things.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: To all mankind: "Enjoy the storm I've brewed for you."
  • Reality Warper: Cardinous may have been this on some degree. Flynn noted that he and the others awoke one day in Cardinous' studio pulled from all over the world, and both The Red Monarch and Brilliance Studios itself seem to have no place in reality except for the few who even recall it existed.
  • Room 101: The "No Rooms" as Flynn calls them, strange rooms that Cardinous took staff he was less than pleased by. Days later, those people would come back... different, more productive and enthusiastic but with something unspeakably wrong about them.
  • Sadist: Cardinous may be a horrific, unknowable Eldritch Abomination, but there is one aspect that is decidedly human: he relishes causing pain, referring to it as his 'eternal pleasure.'
  • Shown Their Work: Quite a bit in here on animation history.
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: Cardinous goes all out in the climax:
    "My name... is a foul, unutterable song to your kind. To you all, I am known as Vladik Cardinous, your preeminent author of youthful insanity. I send this as an announcement to the days that follow. The message will spread. The truth will unveil itself and come upon society in a wave of madness. The skies will become choked with blood; your streets will burn; your rulers will crumble and bend; your world will suffer so exquisitely. It is time for the king to reign once more among us. May our blessings be upon all of us; let the defiant be reduced to rubble; let the mighty towers of man be felled under the greatness of a divine, never-ending knowledge. May my servants walk forever and agony be in their steps, for it is their torment that fuels this future and empowers us. May we rise above the insignificant horizon. May the message never stop being spread across this sparkling little universe, the past be cleansed as well as the future, and may a billion lives be broken across the scarlet carpet before the worst agonies ever fall unto you. For our dominion; our influence; and my eternal pleasure. Enjoy the storm I've brewed for you."
  • They Called Me Mad!: The Pole's sole condition to letting Duncan know about what he remembers of The Red Monarch is to simply believe him as opposed to all of the others who've ignored his seemingly-mad ravings.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Duncan decides to pursue The Red Monarch despite having become aware something is very, very, very wrong. It costs him his life.
  • Was Once a Man: The fate of the twisted abominations in the old studio. They were once humans twisted into monsters by Cardinous. Whatever Cardinous truly is.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Everything revolving around Cardinous' cartoons in the end, as well as Cardinous' own true form.
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