Julian tore the mask from the collapsing old man's hands. The gray hair came away with the mask, revealing a bald scalp and the upper edge of another mask. The old man paused, for a second, and stood straight suddenly and with precision to a height Julian hadn't thought the crumpled man could have achieved in perfect health. The second mask was deep red and worn to the wood around the edge. Its painted lines and round, exaggerated features reminded Julian of long ago and outdoor fires and theater at night. The old man no longer seemed old. He grabbed Julian's throat with a large slippery hand and squeezed.
August sat in the orange light of the afternoon, sewing a quilt over her knees. The breeze blew gently across her thoughts and hands, calm and automatic.
Octavius shouted over the roar of the waterfall. The limping, merrily clad figure at the other side of the river shrugged its shoulders in cruel glee and scampered away. Octavius stood there for a while before he stooped to wash the blood from his arms and to rest.
They say what else could he be but a creature of the deep, amidst swirling sediment and tentacles, beak tearing the soft body of a struggling seaslug, and eyes, even in those darkest depths, searching always. He is the thousand arms at the bottom of the world. What lives down there---things whose names have been rotting beneath the countless tiny crustaceans sedimenting the seafloor for a very, very long time.
Years ago now, when still her eyes held water, she sailed across the airsea. Ialiom, queen of laughter and joy, roamed the world to find a new home. She chose first the forest of pines, for a house in the trees, expanding an inch a year. But the trees soon grew too large for her house, and afraid that she would upset them, she set sail again. Next the mountains for a world of mist which blew cold with the ice of space, but she found it too distant and lonely. So she sailed to the town below, for a life among folks and evening meals with friends. And as much as she loved them, she needed some peace, and so went down the river. At a bank she stopped, chose a quiet seat on a rock, and became fluent in the language of water. Bidding the river thanks and goodbye, she sailed on forever, into the bluest sky.
August turned her face upward into the wind, seeing the trees' upturned leaves and feeling the sudden change in the air. The wind was preparing the land for what was coming, and August was putting her needles into a basket, heading inside, lighting the lamps, and shuttering the windows.
Octavius emerged from the forest to find the eerie oncoming storm of a dark sky behind a sunlit field of wheat in front of a farmhouse. His thoughts spun with unreality and confusion. How long a sword walked makes a wound miles can't be escaped? What does a non-identity seek?
An old man writes a letter in a dank room. He signs it,
Malleus, King of the Sea