CHAPTER ONE | In which she is reborn.
As she gazed into the mirror, the mummer congratulated herself for arranging such a lovely costume. Beneath the black corset was a nearly black rust-colored gown with an inviting metallic sheen. The silk wanted to conform to the contouring of her legs, but thin support wires held the material rigidly into the graceful shape of a narrow bell. She made this garb herself, just for this year's Halloween. But of course, no mummer is complete without their mask. It had to conceal one's identity, and should she be identified beneath it, then the mask would be removed. And if one were to address this mummer as Dahlia Rhodes, then off the mask would come. A concept that may have bothered her in the far past, but one that she was no longer fearful of.
Eight months ago marked the most horrific experience of her life. The experience in which a madman able to contort himself into dear friend. A harsh, cruel, but well-learned lesson. But between that period and the present, he had been imprisoned and taken into Arkham Asylum. And the first domino fell that allowed her to grasp hold of a living and allow herself to become a part of society; whether this was because others now viewed her with fear or for genuine like was up for debate. But either way, the results were the same. She was no longer bullied, she was no longer harassed, and she certainly felt like a much more wholesome human being with a sense of future and motivation.
Regardless of the means, she was at peace with the ends.
"Dahlia! Hurry up and touch up your war paint, Girly!" Lou called to his beloved daughter. His experience with Dahila's recent past didn't change the man much, granted he was far more appreciative of his life and the lifestyle of his girl. Strange new friends of Dahlia's were prone to be scrutinized more closely, but he knew through the doubt that Dahlia would make good decisions with her social circles. Hell, she at this point in time had only kept one person around long enough to call "friend." He figured her pickiness would pay off, so long as she was happy with it.
Clad as the mummer, Dahlia hurried out of her bedroom, calling with a large smile across her dark lips, "I'm done, I'm done! And don't call me Girly!" She gave Lou a playful punch to the shoulder as she passed through the front door being held open for her. "I could have walked on my own you know. I'm sort of almost an adult, after all."
"No need, Pop's home and willing to chaperone, Girly." Lou replied, triggering a smirk and furrowed brows from Dahlia. With a gloved hand she adjusted her simple white mask over her eyes.
The Halloween party was in fact one week before the 31st of October and was being thrown by Dahlia's only real friend, Diedre, four blocks down from where she lived. As Dahlia and Lou walked, a conversation was struck beginning on a subtle hint of concern: "Pumpkin … Are you alright?" Glancing towards him, Dahlia replied with a nod, an eyebrow quirking at the outer corner.
"Yes. Well … What do you mean, Dad?"
Lou's eyes didn't leave the street. He shook his head nonchalantly. "Nothing really, Sweet Pea. Just concerned for your well-being."
"I feel fine. I'm not sick or anything."
A pause. Dahlia stuttered for a moment before clearing her throat and starting with a nervous half laugh. "That was a long time ago already. I'm fine." He certainly had become a bit more protective since then. She felt bad that he felt insecure for her.
"I know. But, those kinds of things don't just go away. What about those recent nightmares you told me about?"
She scoffed. "Purely by chance. I can live a normal life without any side effects, though. I know it won't ever go away, it was … bad. But, all we can do is keep going forward, right?"
Lou found himself unable to argue. He smiled, and nodded to her positive point. "Yup. But still, can't help but worry. Long as you're okay."
The two stopped outside Diedre's building. High up on the fourth floor, a row of windows were glaring with changing lights and music loud enough to just barely be audible from the street. A fluffy black bow was tied to the handle of the building door, a beacon for guests to enter. The two exchanged glances before Lou kissed Dahlia's cheek and squeezed her close. "Love you, be safe." She smiled and repeated the same to her father before entering the building. Lou waited several minutes before heading back home.
The party was something like a dance club, but with a lot more clothing involved. Loud house music, flashing lights, and a crowded dance floor. Dahlia wasn't expecting something quite so energetic. She wondered if Diedre's landlords would allow such a boisterous gathering, especially considering her large apartment was right smack in the middle of the building. Just as she was making mental note to warn Diedre of the repercussions, Dahlia's mind was distracted by the mood as soon as she entered:
Complete strangers greeted her, everyone speaking at once, and several nearby guests acknowledged her entry with a wave or smile. Had she not been masked, she would have assumed they were merely musing her for pity or guilt. But the greatest part was, she didn't have to bear that concern even the slightest mind. It didn't matter. Here, there really were no names. Just, costumes. Just, fun. Cowboys, Indians, mummies, witches, demons, ghouls, cops, robbers, vampires … and Dahlia was pretty sure one guy was dressed as a Vegas showgirl.
Diedre wasn't in the crowd, that she could see at least. After a quick scan of her immediate vicinity, she began to weave through the crowd, pushing deeper into the dance floor, where the music decided to be chiefly unbearable. Her knee-jerk-reaction was to leave, questioning why she came and why she ever thought this would be even slightly entertaining. But, Diedre was dear friend, and was genuinely concerned about getting Dahlia more social. And it's not like she was opposed to the idea, it was just a stubborn and slippery slope into being more outgoing instead of such an artsy hermit …
A sudden piercing cry from nearby sent dagger-like chills up her spine:
"I AM THE MASTER OF FEAR!"
As she turned to face the owner of the voice, a tall figure with talons raised loomed over her. Red eyes glowed evilly, and its stitched grin spread wide across its face. From within its tattered jacket, it retrieved a small spray can, aiming it towards Dahlia. Could it possibly be happening again? GOD, not again!
Dahlia emitted a piercing shriek and jerked backwards, and would have fallen flat on her back had it not been for the blocking torso of a stranger. A protective, strong arm wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her to the side to shield her from the ragged demon, booming voice rising above her whimper, "Knock it off, asshole! That's not funny!" Confused, frightened, and about a thousand more shades of every emotion in-between, Dahlia shot her eyes towards the Scarecrow, whose features suddenly became so more much fake. There was nothing more than a sack over his head with a mouth and eyeholes cut, with no attention to creative detail or accuracy. Looking at him now, he didn't look anything like the Scarecrow. It must have come as such a relief that her eyes released tears against her strongest wishes to remain un-phased.
Having enough of a brain, the fake Scarecrow put his spray bottle of water away, defensively replying, "Sorry, man. Lighten up, it's just a party."
The man yet still holding Dahlia barked back sharply, "You don't know what people here have gone through with that maniac. Beat it!" The fake Scarecrow backed away defensively, muttering an insincere apology again, and the other dancers resumed after a few moments. The man finally released Dahlia, and when she turned to see him, she only saw a bulky Egyptian mask concealing his entire head, neck, shoulders, and part of his bare chest. The gold tone shone brightly under the various lights that streamed down, illuminating him vividly.
"Dahlia Rhodes, right? Hate to say, everyone knows about you."
Her eyes widened slightly, surprised that this stranger knew her identity. She slowly removed her mask, feeling more vulnerable now than before. The Egyptian gently clasped his hands in front of his chest and leaned slightly forward. "Forgive my rudeness.
"My name is Kek."