At last! The Masquerade begins! This is where things get messy. 🙂
Our host, EclecticAlli, will be collecting the various adventures of her guests as she encounters them. This will undoubtedly be devoid of anything resembling chronological order for the evening, so I hope all your TARDISes are charged, cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. I myself will be posting several pieces of my ridiculously long tale, along with my favorite co-author, Caitlin, and anyone else who happens to drop by. I’ll do my best to keep the authorship and timelines straight on here, but I can’t promise what you’ll find if you follow the #EclecticMasque tag….
A carriage arrives, and Zig gives me a funny look when the tense shifts.
“Hey,” I say, putting my hands up defensively. “Don’t look at me- I’ve never actually done an author inclusion before, this feels weird.”
“Well of course it feels weird – first person, present tense? No one actually narrates their life like that…”
He trails off, and I debate teasing him, but I let it go when the more pressing matter of getting into the coach in this stupid dress demands all of my attention. Seriously, what was I thinking?
I’m not surprised when the coach and four is magically big enough for the small army of characters that demanded to go with me. Chris, of course, wouldn’t miss this for the world , and no one was surprised when Naj insisted on going, or when he insisted on bringing Nica, and Seth, and Kain, and anyone else from the nest that wanted to go. I’d honestly lost count, and it was hard to be sure of who everyone was under all the masks anyways. Without the shapeshifters’ edge of being able to scent everyone, I was stuck guessing by heights and skin tone, but honestly, it wasn’t all that important to me. People would come, I would see them at the ball, or not, and a good time would be had by all. Whatever cameos happened, happened.
I was a little surprised when more of the Spiders didn’t come with, and even more surprised to find Jules wouldn’t be coming with Zig, but once we were underway and everyone started chatting at a million miles a minute, I was suddenly grateful for every missing body I could get. It was so loud in the carriage, I couldn’t hear myself narrate, and it wasn’t until we stepped out onto the elegant dock that I’d realized I’d slipped tense again.
This was going to be an interesting night, to say the least.
I was the first out of the carriage, but I lingered as everyone else poured out and made their way to the boats waiting to take us across the moat. Why we’d approached from this side, instead of driving up to the obvious grand entrance, I’d never know. Zig waited patiently by my side, clearly worried about how quiet I’d been, but willing to give me my space. I reached out and squeezed his hand, smiling at the buttery smooth leather of his gloves.
“Any excuse to wear the self-fondling pants, eh Goblin King?”
He flashed me is favorite lopsided grin, raising our hands so that my grip came to rest on his forearm.
“And who else would be a proper escort for our Lady Author?”
He patted my hand with his free one, and I couldn’t help but feel that it was more to keep me on his arm than to reassure. I shook my head and let it go.
“C’mon, bozo. We’re losing the group .”
Actually, we’ve lost the group. Completely. In the time it takes me to figure out how to actually move with all these skirts and get tense re-set, a thick mist has rolled in off the water, and a bobbing light is drifting toward us. As it approaches, I see that it’s a lantern on a boat, though I hadn’t thought Zig and I were that near the docks. Everyone had seemed so much further ahead of us…
The boatman is a swath of darkness, shrouded in a heavy cloak. I pull my own velvet closer to my chest, but I doubt the sudden chill I feel has anything to do with the weather. At least as much as the sudden mist, surely.
The boatman holds out his hand, clearly waiting to help me in. Zig and I exchange dubious glances, but he steps into the boat with a “What the hell?” kinda grin. I shake my head, but join him in the boat, grateful to Zig for saving me from having to touch that specter. I can’t say what it is, but there’s no force on this earth that would have gotten me to step into that boat first.
The mist clears as we leave the shore, and my attention shifts from the silent boatman to the grand house spread out before us. It is imposing on the black backdrop of the inky night, rows upon rows of lighted windows winking out of the darkness. Three, maybe four stories? Maybe more. I have a feeling trying to get an exact count or layout of the place would be a fruitless task.
As we near the house, our boat veers to the side, rather than making for the main dock at the front of the house. We are heading for a darkened archway, and as Zig’s grip on my arm tightens, I am glad I’m wearing a mask to hide my own misgivings.
Once we are upon it, the archway does not seem so dark. There are sconces along the walls, and candles all around, though what they are perched on, I cannot say. We pass under the stone, and the night is suddenly silent, save for the lapping of water against stone. As my eyes adjust to the dim light, so too do my ears. I can hear music, faint but growing louder as we sail on, a single, steady note, like a heartbeat… I feel I know the tune, but no… no, it can’t be. Zig turns to me with questioning eyes, and I nod. He hears it too, as there is no doubt in my mind once the organ begins.
A huge grin splits my face, music chasing away my dread. I knew tonight would be special, but I’d never have guess… Zig and I each crane our necks to try and get a better view of our boatman. But he stays completely hidden in the shadows of his cloak, even as the tell-tale whispers of an impressive aria float down the waterway from some distant room.
Before I can gather the courage to speak, we arrive at our destination, and our guide flees up the stairs. Zig lingers long enough to help me from the boat, but at my insistence, he takes off after our cloaked boatman. If it really is him, I cannot let this chance get away. Besides, it’s only a dim and dank stone hallway- surely I can manage that on my own.
In spite of tempting fate, nothing eventful happens on my journey up the stairs. The door at the top opens into a small powder room, and I have to laugh at the idea that I’m in a house with a powder room. This ought to be interesting.
I leave the room quickly, and the sitting room beyond that, hoping that Zig and You-Know-Who aren’t too far ahead of me. I’m starting to really regret the full ballgown, like I knew I would. But it’s hard to resist Liza’s tailoring, and where else would I get to wear something this yummy?
As I exit the sitting room into the main hall, I am quite glad I let everyone talk me into a proper shindig dress. The ballroom is a mad riot of color and splendor, with costumes ranging from the grotesque to the grandiose. Antlers and feathers, leather and latex, full body paint, or maybe not paint but simply skin, lace, sequins, spandex, silks, furs and finery of all kinds. Ace of Hearts, face of clown, and everything in between. A figure dressed all in red races through the crowd, pausing only long enough to see that my glittering escort is still hot on his tail. A flash of porcelain white glints from beneath his wide brimmed hat, and then he is gone, lost in the press of the crowd .
It’s him! I knew it, it’s him! He’s here, the-
A hand closes around my arm and whirls me around, catching me up in the waltz. The world spins around me, and I struggle to block out the mad riot of color and find my feet. I cling to his arms as he twirls me through the crowd, trusting him not to let me fall. Wait, what- since when do I ever trust a stranger? I try to focus on his face, but abruptly, he releases me, spinning me back out of the crowd. I stumble out of the throng, making for the wall and the row of velvet seats that line it. My mystery partner has danced me to the far side of the room, and I am grateful not to have had to fight my way through that mess alone.
The crowd hurts to look at, glints of light catching on every little shining thing, color and motion blinding the senses. I let my eyes slide upward, to the grand sweeping staircase- and there he is! The red cape flares behind him as he runs up the stairway, dashing down the length of the second story, lost in the crowd filling the balcony. I leap up, and push my way to the stairs, knowing he is playing cat and mouse, but I must catch him. My inner fangirl would never forgive me if I didn’t at least try.
I reach the top of the stairs just in time to see the red figure ascend another set of stairs at the far end of the room. Of course. I take a deep breath and move more slowly down the second story walkway. The dancers below are less maddening from up here, and I let myself take in the sight as I move towards the stairs. I have a feeling that my man in red will be waiting for me at the top of the stairs before he dashes off again, so I may as well enjoy the party along the way.
Here and there, a door opens up and guest spill out onto the walkway. I catch glimpses into the rooms beyond, all impossibly large, but somehow, I’m not surprised. I even managed to take it in stride when I walk past a full wooded grove, and a room full to the ceiling of water, with what I think is the wreck of the Titanic. Stranger things have happened in literature, right? Can’t take anything for granted.
And with that, I find myself at the far end of the balcony, and sure enough, my red-garbed figure is disappearing at the top of them as I begin to ascend. I knew he’d wait for me.