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The mask looked at her. A roiling sea of fathomless depths in a solid form. Perhaps there was a slight blue glow, the merest aureole. Stormy brought her hand up to touch her temple, wincing. The aura vanished.

Then she close to threw the mask at the ground. The hand that had been holding the semblance began stretching and clenching, the other rubbing that hand's wrist. Blue looked up from the grass, tillers and blades cloying around - eager and envious. Was it frowning now?

“Xi?” Stormy asked the ground, before turning to Koda, running her slender, branching fingers through the tangled nest on her hand, “Is that its name? I don’t quite understand you, sugar.”

The whole circus was performing, but Stormy’s spotlight was focused only on Koda. She let out a deep sigh, and seemed to deflate, her small frame almost vanishing inside her clothes.

“Sweetie pie, you look like you need to lie down, do you want to take five and clear your head?”

The azure puddle hid in the grass. The unseen pull of it made her hand twitch, but she either didn’t notice, or ignored the tic.

The ghost girl’s voice was frosty iron and she became a sheer cliff-face. Stormy seemed to flinch at her own name. Shrivelled breaths filled her lungs, frail, withered things. Her chest rose and fell faster, almost imperceptibly, but not quite.

Stormy looked down at her blue boon. Her face became a canvas for her emotions to paint across; thick oils sculpting her brow, tremulous water colours detailing her quivering lips, everything running across in a fluid, technicolour medley that reflected her tumultuous heart.

When the Rebel spoke, a smile toyed at the corners of Stormy’s lips, and she watched her, with head titled to one side. Stormy remained silent, during the back and forth, following the dirt road with her eyes until it vanished.

Then the changes came. She watched as the tearful Rebel put on the mask, and then… then Stormy was not sure what happened, but she watched aghast all the same, fingers hovering over her slack mouth. The crying was replaced by laughter, but it didn’t seem any less sorrowful, and Stormy could feel a dampness of her own face now. She wiped the tears away without looking away; the neon green hair and ridiculous garments brought a concerned frown.

Almost immediately, another transformation. This time in a blinding light. The previous tension apparently dissolving as people decided to put on their masks for a paltry promise.

The Brazen Boy, or perhaps he was a Zealot, since his attention was a skittish and ephemeral thing, scarpering off at the merest hint of his enthusiasm. Stormy watched as he was born anew, bathed in the light that had drawn her attention, her eyebrows arching impossibly high as her eyes drank in the feathered wings.

Stormy’s body visually relaxed, her shoulders slumping and hand dropping, when the boy proved to still be himself, still the Brazen Boy, cementing his given name in her mind.

The bloodied man scrubbed his face, and reached out for Stormy. Together they rose to their feet, as she cooed gently.

Any words that she might have spoken were torn away as perhaps the most horrifying sight unfurled its charnel circus before her. Tristan’s transformation scorched Stormy’s mind. She was struck into a horrified paralysis, unable to wrench her gaze from the viciously churning mess that he was becoming, from the rending metal and machines-out-of-time that replaced what had once been a living boy. With peaceful meadow as a backdrop, the horrid juxtaposition made such a macabre event that much worse, as it was tarnished further with blood and black. Her mouth worked as she looked upon the aberration, but no words came out. Once the twisted birth was over, and Tristan spoke, Stormy turned away quickly. Her face was pale, a thousand-yard stare fixed in place.

She patted Koda’s shoulder. Her thumb rubbed gentle circles in the fleshy nook just underneath his bone.

“It’s alright,” she intoned, her voice hollow. After a moment, she shook herself, and looked up at the bloodied mess of a face, trying to meet his gaze with her own. Tears brimmed in red-rimmed eyes, but did not yet fall, and a brave smiled found its way onto her face. Koda would feel her hand on his shoulder shaking, too.

“How are feeling sugar plum?” Then, after a pause, she shook her head and gave a curt laugh, “How can I help?”

The hand that held her mask shook most of all.

The oncoming train had been a falling star in the corner of her eye.

Tristan lay there still.

It was an odd sensation, knowing how you were going to die. You can come to terms with death itself, but knowing how, and when… it’s an unwelcome revelation. The Ghost Girl’s words did little in the way of comfort. Stormy’s lantern watched from the bench. The candle had sputtered out, now a cooling puddle of black wax. The station grew brighter. A girl was running towards them. Stormy looked down at her feet. They weren’t moving.

“Huh,” she tilted her head to the side, “I guess this is it then.”

She closed her eyes.

During her more youthful years Stormy had known a man that had rather haplessly fashioned himself as a poet, Howard, his name was. He was prone to diatribe and mournful ruminations. One thing he said that Stormy would have remembered, in that window after the train struck, if only she could, was this: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents”. It was quite true; had she been able to recall the passage, her mind would have snapped easier than the driest of frail twigs.

So it came to be that a lazy breeze bumped into and over Stormy.

She opened her eyes.

Gradually, her senses would return. Above was an expansive pool of furtive blue, stretching from horizon to horizon to horizon. The sun chased idle clouds across the sky. She lay there watching for a time, a little stunned. Underneath her she felt the soft bed of grass, damp still from morning’s dew. It stretched off in a sea of shimmering emerald, with dirt brown surf breaking the waves as the path wound away out of sight.

A deep breath entered her lungs. A grin split her face. Tears brimmed at the corners of her eyes. She rubbed the earth with her hands, feeling the sodden clay and delicate blades, and then brought her grass-stained hands up to her face and inhaled again deeply. It was late-spring sweetness and loam eager to grow new life. She sighed, and stretched her branches, splaying her fingers and toes wide in the meadow.

What a joy it is to live.

Other voices cropped into life, and suddenly she noticed the figure silhouetted in the sunny day. The Ghost Girl’s painfully singular in her meagre and dispassionate way. Stormy nodded slowly to herself, lying there in the grass, only a little way from them. It was obvious she had just been privy to some rather powerful pixie magic, but it was far more charnel than had been expected; toadstool rings and waystones were more her speed.

Rolling onto her side, away from the kerfuffle, Stormy frowned as something dug into her hip. It was the gift, the deep-blue mask. Her hand snatched it up, and held it close to her chest as her gaze flitted to a flower. It was a dark and bold damsel, flecked with white-bright stars from the night sky.

“M’lady,” Stormy curtseyed as best she could, given she was lying on her side, “You are a looker, aren’t you just?” She reached forward, touching the petals, and then trailing her thumb and finger to its lower stem. “Excuse me.” And with that, she snipped the flower between two nails. “There.” She put the flower in her hair, by her right ear. “Now, we’ll see this new world together.” Stormy beamed.

Retching from somebody in the orbit of the main group drew Stormy’s dream-dazed attention. She saw a man, sitting, clutching his stomach. Rolling to her feet, she began to make her way over.

“How now, brown cow?” But as she sauntered closer, she saw the red puddle spreading at his knees. She closed the last few steps with uncharacteristic haste, mask in hand. She crouched at his side, but was careful not to touch him.

“There there Sugar, it’s alright,” she poured her words slow and soft and sweet, like crystal honey, “Just try to take deep breaths, it’s alright now darling.” It was then she noticed the tendrils of oily black smoke rising from him. She looked at the others, to each of the main group, still caught in posturing, to the brazen boy, to Tristan, and then, slowly, to the Ghost Girl, impassive as ever.

“Hey buttercup,” She called, waving a hand curtly at her from her crouching position, “Do you know what’s wrong with him? It’s not quite right that he’s got blood in his sick, y’know?”

Masks were removed, showing for some of those precious moments their faces, their true nature, as the masquerade continued, albeit, dancing to a different tune. And their hostess was becoming increasingly unnerving. Yet, somehow, Stormy had not fully committed to her decision.

The bassoons and oboes of the fathomless blue only she heard soothed – no – subdued her mind. It was a surreal change to the routine Stormy had allowed herself to slip into, coddled by comfort and familiarity, and somehow she could not quite grasp the cold, grey instruments of pain and murder that were postured before her. Stormy rubbed her temple. She watched her feet shuffle and squash dirt and dust that caked the slabs of stone floor.


These words had no voice, rather, they appeared in her mind as a deep and yawning understanding, a sentiment transferred to her across the ephemeral veil. There was a flash of the octopus, but something was different now…


The thunder-crack was near deafening. Stormy whirled her attention towards it. In such a hard and flat space, the sound echoed and rang, fading eventually into a harsh ringing, and then into silence. Except it wasn’t silence; everyone began moving and acting, dancing to a new song of panic replacing that quiet string interlude of the ever-mounting tension.

Stormy saw two bodies crumple, one onto the tracks, and the other into a corner. The police officer, that much she had gleamed even during her feverish state, quickly received help. Seeing the other man struggling to his feet, bleeding, and sweat pouring from his brow, Stormy felt obliged to aid him in some way. The world was uneven as she rushed over to him.

Yes, this was surreal, but now it was mortally so; reality was now a frozen knife-point, pressed into the small of her back.

“Darling,” She began, once in front of him, her arms flapped at her side, her hands reaching, and then shying away from him, “Uhm, I think you should lie down dear. You don’t look so great.” She looked around and gave an empty laugh, “Or maybe I can help you?”

It was then that another bolt of lightning split the world, and left Stormy’s ear throbbing. Turning from Oedipus, she almost gagged at the carnal amalgam that stretched from the body: globules of parietal and occipital lobe mingled with other viscera, blood, and shards of skull. Stormy stared, her hand slowly rising to cover her wide-open mouth. Tears fell freely.

Drowning was a painful sensation. The overriding panic. Water everywhere. Your lungs hurt, but it was your chest that exploded in pain, as if huge, invisible hands crushed it. Every neuron would fire. You would try to find escape. Random memories would flare into you brain. You would have to fight the very instinct to breathe. But, eventually, the sheer will to draw breath would overpower you, and then it would be over.

That was nothing like what Stormy experienced. She was floating in a warm ocean current, and thousands of tiny bubbles were massaging every inch of her skin, but there were none to be seen. Near-weightless, she drifted, slowly rolling on all her axes, breathing the water as easily as air. Sunbeams did their dappled dance upon the seafloor, and the sands sparkled and gleamed, uncountable tiny diamonds. Distant whale song called out, heard and felt in equal measure, and then, closer, it was answered. Apart from the slight, trundling flow of water in eardrums, that mournful bass was the only sound in the serene blue world. Stormy drifted at peace.

It was odd, but the octopus was heard before it was seen. After untold aeons, the sweet resonance, like a wet finger running around the rim of a champagne flute, pervaded Stormy’s mind. Then, wishing to be seen, it bobbed into her vision. Inquisitive eyes met her gaze, the horizontal-oval pupils dancing jovially over every feature, drinking them in deeply. Stormy smiled back. It was quite beautiful; a deep blue thing, flecked with black patches, which were encircled by thin rings of glowing gold. It bobbed up to her face, glowing brighter and brighter. Tentacles toyed with the edges of her face, at her chin and cheeks.


A bright cloud of marmalade ink spilled over her.

The world came back into focus, like an unwelcome dream.

"What's your name? I'm Anni."

Memories took their time to recollect, dusting themselves off and straightening their collars. Anni had an arm around Stormy, and her hair was bright orange, like a…

“Pumpkin,” Stormy smiled dreamily, “I’m Stormy Jeans. In the flesh.”

It was then she realised the whispers had vanished now, silenced or replaced, that remained uncertain, by the swishing of bubbling surf, the faint whistle of a buffeting breeze, and was that the occasional gull crying overhead?

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit a little longer,” she sighed in the barest of whispers, and Anni might feel her lean in slightly, tired. Eyelids drooped down until they were almost shut. Something warm and tingling was now in her grasp, so she glanced at her hands, resting in her lap, and saw a cephalopod visage staring blankly up at her. She frowned, those wrinkles unfamiliar to her face.

Then everything escalated quite dramatically, rending her attention from the mask and suddenly there were guns out, and a tension so thick and heavy that Stormy daren’t move, save for the deep sigh that escaped her lips. Quite why this all happened, Stormy was unsure, but the catalyst was not in question. This had been foolish, but now it was also dangerous.

“‘Bullseyes and Targets,’ say the Bells of St. Margaret's”

Yet this was a night of halves, and so she hoped the hidden half would reveal itself soon.

The station was large and grim and oppressive, squeezing at all sides with slime-slicked walls, dirty floors, worn smooth from the passage of a million million footsteps, and sagging ceilings, ablaze with electric iridescence from piteously humming lights.

Stormy squeezed the iron on her finger. Each step forward into the belly of the earth was hard, as if she was striding through treacle, her limbs growing more and more leaden, more resistant to her will. Once she was at the bottom she must have weighed a tonne and one, and life passed by in a dream-like lethargy. An unfelt sweat was beginning to bead upon her brow, and small hairs clung to her neck and nape. The whispering voices were harsh here, spitting venom and red-hot coals. Stormy’s eyebrows gathered in a tight knot. She watched herself carry on forward. Shadows danced in defiance of the lights, and deep crimson afterimages played across her vision. Brown mosses and dead leaves fought for space in cracks and crevices. Wasted grey shapes skittered in darkness. Everything here seemed ill.

There were others gathered in the station. It made sense. Grand events didn’t happen in isolation. Some of the faces she knew; Zoe, who she waved meekly at, Will, and Tristan. Others hid their names. Yet the gazes of all were like oil slicking across her. Brimming in their eyes she saw hatred and distrust. The whispers had risen to a grand crescendo now. Her heart was pounding. Her ribcage would burst. Sweat was a river, rushing down her face. Malice-tipped words sung into her flesh, as tangible as the world around her. Knees quivered. She fell onto a bench; cold steel and chipped paint.

And then she arrived. The world was silenced. Her presence was galvanising. Yet the whisperers teetered in crystalline hush. All but one. The voice that had been heard, even in the cacophony. The one that told her that this was where she needed to be.

The train is coming, after all."

At any other time, this revelation might have spurred a degree of excitement. Now, however, it didn’t do so. Stormy had always suspected the pixies or elves to be responsible for the urban legend that had sprung up around the very tracks no more than ten feet away. The human form was somewhat… disappointing.

Not that Stormy cared much at that time. When the others spoke, it was as though they were trapped in a far-off cave, wrapped in cotton wool. She clutched her stomach. Tears gathered in bulbous droplets at the edges of her eyes. Breaths raked their way through her teeth, desperate to get into her lungs. The world spun. Everything seemed to shrink and grow, as if reality was made of rubber. Darkness encroached at the periphery of her vision, icy fingers reaching in…

Then it all went into a blinding white light.

There was a dim awareness that she was still in the station, or at least, seated. Her head lolled to one side as she through the floor with glassy eyes that had pinpricks for pupils.
I'm good, thanks though. ;)

Stepping outside, Stormy stretched like a tree, breathing in deeply, her hands splayed wide to the heavens. The night was a cosmological menagerie, obscured by the greying opalescence of cloud and the raking fingers that clawed up from the earth. The moon was perfectly divided, caught between gibbous and crescent. A night for mischief, for losing and getting lost, but also one for finding secrets and hidden hiders; it was a night of halves.

It was important, therefore, to follow the rules. Looking town from the twin-torn moon, Stormy locked her door, and checked it thrice, hiding the key underneath the welcome mat; she had to be proper about this. Before she had left, she had politely asked the spider, which lived in the dusty corner never to be cleaned, to watch for sprites, pixies and feyfolk.

The chill air toyed with her flower garland, tussled with the hem of her orange-gold dress, and tickled the hairs of the back of her neck to attention. Pulling her patchwork cardigan tighter, she checked her bag, and began walking. Each step was well placed, avoiding any cracks; she didn’t want her mother’s back to break.

A heavy lantern swung from her right hand, throwing out light from the thick, black-wax candle ensconced inside. This was the first of her three items. As she walked alone under the bustling buildings she intoned, almost in ritual:

“How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You may get there by candle-light.”

The signs all pointed to it: she would find Babylon. A life is made up of a great number of small incidents, and a small number of great ones. Tonight might be the greatest of them all; it was a tangible weight upon one’s shoulder, and if you stuck out your tongue you might taste it on the air, leaden and electric, or if you listened, you could almost hear it whispered under the tinkling silver bells of pixie-laughter.

It may have seemed, to the outside observer, that Stormy was staring too intently at the ground. On any other night, this would have been true. She was, in fact, paying close attention to the unseen path the starlight tried to hide but the candle flame revealed. To stray from the path would be disaster. She had to find the true voice amongst the thousands trying to lead her astray. So, Stormy listened to, but ignored, the whispering folk that danced in twilight, and let her feet follow the path.

Upon reaching the great black river of tarmac, Stormy stopped. Cars and people were few and far between at this hour; the night life bustled further up the thoroughfare, closer to the centre. The path was hidden here, but she had come prepared. It was a simple enough thing to cross a river, for you only needed a bridge. From one pocket she produced a lumpy piece of milky stone, and placed it on the curb. A deep breath was pulled inside Stormy’s lungs, and she strode across the river, brazen and defiant. One step. The another, and another, until she was across. At the other side, she gulped down air greedily. From her other pocket she pulled another piece of milky stone, and knelt to place it on this curb, the twin halves of moonstone longing to be whole again. Stormy watched with bated breath, and then nodded, straightening up. It had been done as was proper.

Furtively, Stormy crept along, seeing nary another soul, save for the prancing beings forever at her periphery. Unnoticed to herself, her slender fingers rubbed the ring on her wedding finger, a band of iron to keep her safe, whilst her diamond-bearing promise sat sequestered in a box underneath her pillow. This was the last of her items three. Despite her slow steps, her heart beat with furious anger, her ears rung with blood, and her breath came in deep and left uneven. So, it might not be a surprise that another rhyme slipped from her lips:

“‘Gold is for the mistress - silver for the maid’ -
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade’”

She stopped and placed her hand on a wall.

“‘But Iron - Cold Iron - is master of them all.’”

The path was at its end. Before her, stretched wide, was the maw of the subway station. C-Route. Stormy nodded, having suspected, but never quite wanting to believe.

She entered.
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