Like the stampeding hooves of horses or a never-ending line of soldiers all stepping in time, the rain drops streaked through the sky and thudded against the hard-packed earth. Alone they made but the tiniest of taps against the rotting wooden roofs and the slippery, muddy roads, but together they dominated to world of sound. They roared a battle cry as they swarmed down upon the earth, encouraged by the savage howling of the wind. The fog, however, was oblivious to the battle raging all around. It drifted where it pleased, covering everything in its eerie glow. It dulled the cry of the rain as it hunted through the dirty streets. Fog is always silently stalking a quarry it can never catch. But it searches all the same and nothing may escape its watchful glare. The quiet, dark, eternity of night surrounded the storm. It took neither side; merely observing with steely eyes as always. Night smiled silently and waited. It waited for many hours, but it was not disappointed…

Sigh; laugh; grunt; whistle; hum; silence; sniff… All scared and all excited and none sure… Trudge; dance; stomp; lope; stroll; tip-toe; stalk… The storm played with its new toys, tearing at their clothes and pelting their faces. It cackled in glee as it raced towards them. The savage wind whipped their hair back… coarse brown; shiny black; wavy red; curly blond; mousy brown; wispy, dull black; burgundy… The cruel rain drops attacked their skin… pale and freckled; smooth, tan and bright; rough and scarred; brown and fresh; peachy; sickly white and ghostly; callused… Some ignored the storm, others tried to fight it; a few cringed in fear. But all kept going; all made their way down the mucky road to the edge of the village; all pushed through the weeds and wild grasses, and all eventually arrived at the rickety, rotting barn. The seven paused, looking up at the black sky and contemplating what they were about to do, each absorbed in their own thoughts. And then, as if in a silent agreement, they eased open the squeaky door and stepped over the threshold… old, worn boots; ornamented bare feet; big, clomping shoes; sandals; soft, leather moccasins; tattered slip-ons; tough, brown feet.

Once inside, the noise ceased. The barn was its own world, separate from the raging storm outside. No matter how hard the wind screamed and how powerfully the rain drops exploded against the aged, shingled roof, they could not enter the old barn. The seven gazed about in the wavering glow of an oil lamp. Shadows danced upon the dusty floor and climbed up the faded walls. Silence slunk between the stalls and swallowed any noise that dared to threaten its tyranny. An old man sat on a stool next to the lamp. His hair was long and the color of new snow. His face was an aged piece of parchment, a spotted map that told his life's story in a million fine lines and creases. His eyes were light and they seemed to glow in the soft illumination of the oil lamp. In contrast, his pupils were black holes, bottomless and mysterious. The seven were drawn to those eyes and they could not look away. They crowded around and sat in a semicircle at the base of his stool. By the flickering glow of the lamp, he surveyed the eyes of the seven… stormy grey; deep mahogany; icy blue; lavender; tawny brown; black; dazzling green…

"Welcome," the old man smiled, and blew out the light.