Chapter 1: Arrival
The asylum was a big, strange place. I had seen no pictures of it when investigating; its name had been enough to convince me that it was the right one. Lady Azath's Strangers Asylum; well, I was a stranger indeed, having only arrived the day before.
Still, the oddness of the place was palpable, even from the front gate. There was just a strangeness to the geometry; the architecture was slightly odd in a way impossible to describe. It just seemed to emanate the very core of strange.
Mind you, I am a strange girl no matter how you look at me. My parents were, well, unique, to say the least, and I was raised in a very unique fashion, but still… there was something in the place stranger than me.
This is starting to sound like some of those cosmic horror novels, or like something Mr. Lovecraft might write; nothing farthest away from the truth than that. Strange things are not scary; not always, at least. I'm a very unique human in that aspect: I don't fear change, so I don't fear strange things. I understand things extremely quickly.
Which is why I wasn't fazed when a smiling girl in gothic clothes came to me, her head, hands and every inch of exposed flesh a mass of straight scars. Okay, maybe I was fazed a little. I just hope she didn't notice.
–Hello, hello! –the girl screamed, her blonde ponytails hopping wildly as she ended her stroll with a cheerful jump–. My name's Millie, I'm the asylum's receptionist. You must be the new girl, right?
She had such a bright smile I couldn't help but smile too. It seemed she was one of those happy-go-lucky girls, and pretty young too: below the scars, she had the appearance of someone not a year older than twenty-four. Still, for a girl to undergo such a horrible accident as to cause that many scars and still be able to smile like this, she must certainly be optimistic. Or foolish. I can't rule out anything right now.
Anyway, I had to answer, or my first human contact in a new country would be rather awkward.
–Yes, yes I am! –somehow, I thought answering in the same cheerful tone was the right thing to do.
–Right, I knew it! Miss August, right?
–Oh, sorry, no. My name is June.
–Oh. Oh! –I don't know what was wrong, but Millie became very upset all of a sudden–. Ohohohohohoh –she then totally lost her confidence. It was like seeing a balloon burst, actually–. Oh my god. Oh MY god. OHMYGOD –I remember thinking "Why is she making such a fuss about my name?" at the time. She was shuffling through her papers quite quickly, but it she wasn't really paying attention to them. Was I right with the foolish thing?–. Lady Azath is going to kill me!
–It's not that big a deal, right? –I tried saying this in the most calming tone I could muster. To be honest, I was starting to get scared too. What if this was a mental asylum? I should have paid more attention to the website–. I mean, it's just a name, isn't it?
–Oh, but Lady Azath pays a lot of attention to names. June's not the same as August, and Millie is not the same as Millia, and… and… *sob*.
"Oh my god. She started crying. What do I do?"
–Just… just don't worry, okay? Everything's going to be fine; I'm still me no matter my name, right?
Things were getting thoroughly out of hand, and I had only been here fifteen minutes.
–It's not the same! Millie is not the same as Millia! –it seemed like the cute girl was gone, replaced instead by a sobbing, angered girl. She was practically screaming now–. Millie is not the same as Millia! It's just not the same!
–Millie, please! –a voice thundered through the courtyard. At first it sounded female, but then the same strangeness that permeated the place could be found in it. I could tell instinctively that the voice owner was none other than Lady Azath herself.
I was not wrong. A tall woman, clad head to toe in a strange, undulating dress of a brilliant blue, came towards us. Her skin, her hair, her mere presence was indescribable, like she was impossible to correctly perceive or understand. One second her skin was pale as a vampire, the next you could see a faint trace of a tan in it, then it shifted again and was bright green, alien style.
Despite all this, one could find nothing wrong with her. Or rather, everything was so wrong in her, that it seemed normal. It could be said it was normal for her to be strange. Actually, the whole strangeness I kept feeling around seemed to emanate from her, like it was a part of her. Like she was it personified.
Still, her presence had managed to keep Millie calmed. She was back to the happy state she had displayed when I first encountered her, but a faint trace of anger could be seen in her face.
–Millie, this is Miss June –said Lady Azath, calmly. She had taken instant control of the situation–. Miss June, please forgive Millie. She sometimes gets nervous, but she's a good girl –her tone held no reproach, and I was happy the blond girl hadn't got in trouble because of me. Lady Azath then addressed Millie–. Millie, please, would you be so kind as to go and prepare Miss June's new room? She must be tired from her trip.
–Right away, Lady Az! –answered Millie, now fully recovered, and instantly ran off at a briskly pace.
–So, Miss June –Lady Azath's full attention was back on me–, I was expecting you.
–I've been wondering, though –I interrupted, talking to myself–, how did you know I was coming? I didn't send an email nor called.
–Never mind that, dear. But tell me, and this is very important: what makes you strange?
–Excuse me? –I was seriously taken aback by that question. I was sure she was going to ask something in the lines of "What's your family name?" or "Will you pay in cash or with a credit card?" "What makes you strange?" certainly wasn't the most common of questions.
–Everybody here has something that makes them strange –Lady Azath continued, paying no attention to my interruption–. It's in the name of the place, even. Lady Azath's Strangers Asylum. So, what makes you strange, Miss June?
–Well, I… –the best thing I could do was answer honestly, so I did that–, I'm new to this country, so I thought, well… I'm a stranger, right?
–That's not what I'm talking about, Miss –Lady Azath's tone had changed completely, it was now cold as iron–. I guess you just don't know. *Sigh* This will make things more difficult. Still, you are welcomed to stay –her eyes became more piercing and her tone, colder–. But let me warn you, until you figure out what makes you strange, you'll have to pay our fees. And they are not cheap.
That being said, Lady Azath turned around, her flashing red dress following her like a shade. Then I noticed what was odd about the dress.
–Wasn't your dress blue when you came outside?
Lady Azath abruptly stopped and slightly turned her face towards me, the faint trace of a smile barely visible from the distance.
–It seems you are stranger than you think, Miss June. For some people, it takes years to discover the obvious; you did it in a few minutes. Let me just give you a piece of advice, then: ask the same question you can't answer to those that have already done so. Perhaps you'll find a hint you can use. But don't ask Millie yet; you have seen yourself what might happen.
As Lady Azath continued her walk across the asylum garden, her dress slowly changed color again, becoming green.