Raven tossed and turned in her bed, her billowing silk sheets rolling over her like waves over the endless sea. She wasn’t quite awake yet, but something in the back of her mind was bothering her. Some intangible concept that was just wrong. Something she could almost reach out and feel… Wait. That was it. Raven gripped the sheets tightly. She’d fallen asleep on an old mattress in a damp museum attic. Where had these come from? She sat upright, eyes opening, and instantly began to regret it. The amber-tinted darkness of the attic was gone, replaced by the harshly lit angles of her bedroom. How? She thought she’d escaped the tower for good this time. How was she back here again?
A horrible thought rushed through her mind. Zahara might have never even come back to her room to spirit her away. She’d seen Strat’s bloodstained shirt, heard the story of how he’d crashed his bike off the cliffs. What if she’d just dreamt up a world in which he could still be alive, where they could be bonded by blood as well as by love, a world born out of her culpability in his death?
But no, that just… Didn’t ring true to Raven, and despite her lack of experience with the outside world, no-one had ever said she was a gullible girl. She didn’t believe everything she was told, whether it was her mother’s fairy tales about the Lost, or the numerous tutors that had quickly resigned from trying to teach her the state-approved versions of history. They’d always give her just enough to work with, and she’d take delight in picking holes in their logic. She was quick enough to keep up with Strat’s mercurial mind, they had no chance. So what was the hole here? What detail didn’t sit right?
Instantly the problem manifested itself to her. If she’d never left the tower, how could she possibly have dreamed of Strat’s survival? She’d have been taking her regular dream suppressants! Ha! And what she remembered, her reunion with Strat, the revels with the Lost as they’d returned to the Deep End… It was more than an idle flight of fancy, it was real. So then if that was real, what was this? Was this new status quo forever, or would it be over tonight, as quickly as her time with Strat? Would she be trapped in a loop of escaping and returning to the tower, night after night?
Her thoughts percolating, Raven climbed out of bed, preferring the chilly Obsidian wind howling through her open windows to burning up beneath the covers. What could it be? Had her flight with Zahara led Falco to the Museum – and to the Lost? Maybe. And it’d be all your fault. But no, that couldn’t be it. Like her father would leave her alone in her room without so much as a guard after she’d ran away from home twice. She could muse over the possibilities all night, but it was getting her nowhere. She sat down in front of her mirror, rubbing her tired eyes.
It took her a few moments to realise that the face in the mirror looking back wasn’t hers.
She tilted her head, watching as the face echoed her expressions. It looked like her, yes, but it almost reminded her of someone else. Wait, there it was. It was like she’d been crossed with one of the Lost girls she’d met when her mother had first taken her down to the Deep End. What was her name? It didn’t help that they barely ever seemed to refer to each other by name when she was around… Was it Valkyrie? Or Scherzzo? And wait, hold on, had she ever actually been down to the Deep End before Zahara had taken her to save Strat?
She gazed into the equally befuddled reflection, trying to sort through her thoughts. This was surreal. Then it struck her. She smiled, and the mirror smiled back. “That’s it. Everything that doesn’t make sense… Of course it doesn’t. This isn’t real. I wasn’t dreaming before, I’m dreaming now.”
And then, to her surprise, the reflection nodded. And its smile got even larger.
Raven reached out to touch the glass, and the surface rippled like a pond as her fingers grazed it. She recoiled away from the nightstand. The reflection pushed up to the edge of the glass, unable to chase her beyond its undulating borders, but it started to talk in an echoing tone.
“Come on… Let me tell you all about it. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
But Raven had heard enough, and she rushed through the door. This was vaguely terrifying, but also exciting. She hadn’t dreamt in so long, and it was almost intoxicating. Sure, it wasn’t exactly real, but equally, it was something she could reach out and feel. So that meant that Strat was alive. She hadn’t endangered the Lost again… Well, no more than she had before the dream had begun. She hadn’t been woken up, so presumably Falco’s guards weren’t storming the Deep End yet.
And yet, as her feet carried her down the ancient hallways of the tower, the fact that she was exploring a dream wasn’t quite as comforting as she might have thought. Her parents had warned her about dreams, ever since she was a kid, ever since they’d started her on the course of Hypnocil. They’d told her that dreams were a dangerous place, and that a child with a dream needs luck if they stood a chance of getting back home. And getting back home seemed as good a plan as any. Not the tower, that’s not home any more. But if she could get back to the Deep End, fall asleep on her mattress… Maybe that’d let her wake up in the same place? She wasn’t used to dreaming, but it seemed to add up to her.
That was if this version of Obsidian was the same as hers. She didn’t remember this many mirrors lining the walls of Falco Tower’s hallways and staircases. And now, as she paced quicker and quicker towards the bottom of the tower, the army of mirrors were becoming occupied, each one filled by the face of her father… Faces, rather, for there were different versions of him that seemed to crop up with each one she passed by. Some as unlike the face she remembered as her own had been, but still unmistakably Falco. And they all spoke to her in that same distant, echoing tone.
“Let me tell you all about it. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
Despite their reassurances, Raven had the distinct feeling that time was running out.
* * *
Strat glanced at Raven with a tender smile on his face as she shivered slightly in her sleep, looking at her concerned expression. Had the dream suppressants worn off? And what could her beautiful brain come up with free of their shackles? He’d waited so long for someone to share his dreams with. He’d always been cautious of losing control, of exposing his soul to someone who wouldn’t understand. But he had a feeling that her imagination was just as wild and untamed as his own…
* * *
Raven finally reached the bottom of the tower, bursting through the front door and out into the streets... This time, there were no sounds of protest, of battle. Everything was eerily silent. She paced cautiously across the main square, remembering Strat’s words of a killer on the streets, of men in the shadows… All of it was probably some kind of allegory, but what was the difference between matter and metonymy in dreams?
And then she noticed him. A lone figure standing in the distance. As she came closer to where he was stood, she realised she was approaching the part of the city that held the lake. It wasn’t a real lake, in the traditional sense. It was once an entrance to the city’s subways, but that had long since succumbed to the endless pressure of the seas, and flooded. So many of the tunnels were submerged now, it was no wonder the Lost called their few refuges the Deep End. The lake had been small when she was young, but as more water pushed its way through the tunnels, it had burst its banks numerous times. Each time, Falco would send more money its way, building up more advanced flood barriers, higher walls, but each time, it would flood further. It was all gradual enough that it would never seem like a huge change, but every time, it would grow larger, and hungrier...
As Raven came to the edge of the water, she could see that the figure was standing in the middle of the lake itself, floating just slightly above the water. She watched as his long hair blew in the breeze, trying to determine whether the figure was dangerous. At last, the figure seemed to notice he had an observer, and turned around, bright eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses.
“Let me tell you all about it. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
Those same words. And with each word, the tide seemed to surge further outwards towards the barriers. And yet despite the tide and the wind, the surface of the lake itself impossibly remained as steady as ever, perfectly reflecting the glimmering lights of the skyscrapers of Obsidian. She remembered looking down at it from her window as a child, naive enough to think that was what the sea looked like.
She suddenly remembered her child self frantically telling her father about a dream she’d had. It might have been what started him giving her the suppressants, even. The dreams that had hurt so much that she’d been willing to take them. The wind was whipping around them faster now, spray flying around them as raindrops started to disturb the perfect calm of the lake.
“You’d been dreaming up a storm, over and over again... Been dreaming about mirrors. Millions of mirrors. An endless army of mirrors, reflecting people to death. To blindness and then death...”
She remembered it all now. She remembered every little thing as if it happened only yesterday. The nightmare of an all encompassing storm that swept up the city, taking her family with it. The nightmare that had made her mother come up with that little prayer, a mantra to tell herself. The sea is watching the sky. The sky is watching the sea. Nothing will ever happen.
She can no longer see the city reflected in the surface of the lake. It’s being tossed around her, foam and surf and rain combining, swirling around her like a tornado. And there are new reflections in every single drop of water. Some have the faces of her friends, morphing and changing with the chaos of the churning seas. She can see Jagwire, his mohawk turning blue before it’s slicked back into longer hair, his features blurring between black and white, until it barely seems like his face at all. No, that can’t be Jagwire still. That’s the face of Blake, the one who’d comforted her when they had a moment alone, and asked her softly if she wanted to talk to him about her father. Did he have short, spiky hair or long blond braids? She could barely remember now.
“The mirrors kept getting larger. They kept growing... Swelling… They kept spreading out, and you couldn’t seem to stop them. They're still growing, and you weren’t here to stop them!”
It wasn’t just faces she was seeing, as the waves crashed against her body, soaking her clothes and chilling her to the bone. With each wave she could see whole memories that might not even exist. She could see herself in the Deep End, getting a sneak peek at what it meant not to be a good girl any more. She could see her mother standing on her bed with a pillow on her head, before being pushed cruelly to the ground by her father. She could see herself dancing and singing to herself in the night, unable to go to the Deep End but still feeling like Strat was there, dancing with her.
“The mirrors have become vast and beautiful, and very, very hungry. Hungrier than you've ever been. Too hungry.” says the man, though his shriek sounded like barely a whisper to Raven now behind the chaos around her. “You no longer have any control over what they show you or what they see. They decide themselves what they would like to reflect, they won't obey you!”
Raven felt like she was drowning, catching short, sharp breaths before the water enveloped her, trying to drag her under. She could see whole worlds now, not just glances of scenes. So many reflections. She could see realities where her father never became the ‘commander in chief’, where he kept the rock and the roll in his heart and his love for Sloane never died... She could see a world where the Lost came together to her room to take her away that first time, each of them bursting through a separate window, tearing down her curtains, and even Tink had a grin on his face… She could see the Lost engaged in a great battle, a ritual of violence, the ground spinning beneath their feet like a giant record as they fought against- against nuns? The image seemed so ludicrous that it almost brought her back to her senses. She pushed herself forward, taking a deep breath of air as she pushed herself free of the wall of water.
Raven crawled through the tempest, repeating her mantra to herself, trying to calm the waves by sheer force of will. She could still hear the man speaking in the back of her mind – probably the only place he’d ever existed, in the back of her mind, or just maybe she was in the back of his – talking about how she needed to feed the mirrors, lest they devour her. If she couldn’t get away from the lake now, maybe it really would devour her, sending her body to the bottom of the Deep End. Maybe one day another version of her would look below the water and be confused at the strange reflection beneath the surface.
But then it struck her. What were these reflections if not... Possibilities? Maybe this storm would continue even if she never woke up, she doubted she could satisfy it on her own. But she knew who could. With that thought in mind, she strode through the storm, ignoring the crashing waves as she made her way towards the Museum of Natural History.
If possibilities were what the mirrors wanted, she knew what they needed. Ah, if it were him, she felt that they would be satisfied, as she was. What was he if not the personification of that very ideal? In reality, he was maybe nothing but a lonely boy looking for something new, but in her mind? He was chaos, and music, and life. He was possibility incarnate, giving her new worlds to explore, and not just in brief glimpses. He was a storm that could dwarf the maelstrom she was making her way through. He was rock and roll, striding through the world like he had his own orchestra backing his every word, life choreographing itself to follow his every movement.
And when she made her way through the doors of the building, shutting them behind her and sealing the storm and the cascade of reality outside, Strat was there waiting for her. Or rather, Strats.
Four of them stood there in a neat semicircle. As she stepped closer, they moved with her, turning her motion into a dance. She looked at the one in the middle, the one that seemed closest to how she envisioned Strat, with his messy waves of blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. But as she glanced from Strat to Strat, the less certain she was of whether that was the real one, the definitive article, or just part of the whole. She tried to reassemble his image in her mind, but it wouldn’t come back. Because that wasn’t where he was. It wasn’t his face or his appearance that mattered. It was something about the way he moved, about the look in his eyes as he gazed back at her. And as she paced around the room, the Strats seemed to get closer to each other with every step, until they began to merge. And soon enough there was just the single figure alongside her.
She stepped forward once more, and this time he stepped forward too, embracing her. She looked up into his eyes, the perfect thing to say on the tip of her tongue, and-
Raven woke up.
* * *
They lay there together, a stray sliver of moonlight passing through a gap in the attic’s roof, illuminating his features in the dark of the room. As their bodies slid against each other, the thing she’d thought about saying slowly came back to her mind.
“You have such a beautiful reflection. Don’t ever waste it.”
And with that, he’d looked at her with something like astonishment. She really had been dreaming up something magical. But soon, it faded into memory like dreams do. And she forgot about her dream, forgot about the storm. And in the six lonely months that followed, she even tried to forget about him.
* * *
The memory of the dream only came back to Raven once after that, just moments after her reunion with the man she’d fallen in love with. Zahara had her father at gunpoint, the haunting memory of Tink’s death in her eyes as she backed the dictator further and further back… Right towards the edge of the lake. Falco was trying to talk her down, hardly taking his eyes off her, taking each step in a measured way, trying to remember how far back the lake stretched… But it had grown larger. And, as it seemed from how quickly he disappeared beneath its maw, even hungrier.
Even that wasn’t quite enough to stir the memory of a childhood dream that had reared its head just once more for Raven. But when he reappeared above the surface, she remembered the vision of Falco she’d once seen in the crashing waves. The version of him that had never been corrupted by power. The beautiful reflection that came first…
And as she left behind Obsidian on the back of Strat’s motorcycle, leaving her place of birth for new shores, she felt confident the storms wouldn’t follow. That the mirrors would retreat. For there were far more possibilities in their future than any reflection they could ever produce.