If you’re just now tuning in, you’ve got a little catching up to do! For a proper introduction to EclecticMasque, check out Ali’s home post. For the first entry in my adventures with the Masquerade, start here. But before we get back to me, a little side trip to check in on my favorite writing partner, Cait…
I was trying to find the door back out of the ballroom by the time the song ended. Zig was following me, still trying to convince me to play along.
I let go a small breath of relief when the song finally drew to a close. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the song, but it was a little weird being here and hearing it – knowing who should be singing it… Maybe I would have played along more if Lark had stayed…
But he’d run off and I knew that meant something wasn’t right. It wasn’t like him to just dump me off like that, especially without saying anything. Something was up.
I came to a complete stop when the song restarted. This was just too weird for me.
Zig caught my arm, pulling me back towards him. I easily pulled out of his grasp and he pouted. “Aw, come on, it’s not like I get the chance to really play the Goblin King everyday…”
I gave him a wry look. “Of all the angles, that’s the one you’re going to use?”
I shook my head and pushed past another small group of masked dancers. “It’s not a very good one, you know. Besides, don’t you have a wife? I mean, I know we’re alike, but…”
Alright, bringing up Jules was a low blow, but when he caught up and stayed at my side rather than trying to entice me to dance again, I knew it had worked. He hadn’t really meant the attempt anyway.
I shot him an amused look. “I’m a little surprised she’s not here in her Sarah getup.”
He shrugged, looking more wistful than abashed at the mention of his wife. “She wasn’t feeling it. If I’d known there’d be this kind of room… I might have tried to talk her into it a little harder.”
“I’m not going to think about where that would’ve gone.”
He grinned and I shook my head. “Seriously though, Zig, can you see the door? I feel like I’m completely turned around in here.”
He waggled his eyebrows, but then turned his gaze to the room at large. “Oh, it’s over there.”
Sure enough, when I followed his pointing finger, it really was just a few feet to our right. How I’d missed it… I had no idea.
“Alright, then I’m out of here.”
It was hard to keep a good purposeful stride going, between the crowd and the heels, but I managed. Zig followed.
“Soo… Where are we going again?”
“Well, I’m going to find Lark, I don’t know what you’re going to do.” Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed easier to breathe out in the hallway.
“I shall accompany yon maiden, of course. I’ll not leave my fair lady’s side, lest danger arise. Who knows what other rooms await?” I had to admit, he had a good Sir Didymus voice going. Shame he’d never been a favorite of mine.
If he started with the bird hand though, I was ditching him in the first closet.
I stared down either end of the hallway… I was pretty sure I knew which direction we’d come from, and I doubted Lark had gone back the way we came…
I was thinking so hard that Zig actually startled me when he spoke again, his voice right by my ear.
“Me? I wouldn’t go either way.”
He was lucky I didn’t punch him in the gut on reflex. His grin didn’t fade in the slightest, but it did strengthen my resolve.
I strode past him down the unknown half of the hallway. It didn’t take long before Zig was at my side again.
I was so focused on staying serious and ahead of Zig that I almost moved right past a recessed area that held a stone entryway. I paused, then stepped back to get a better look. There were people filtering out and I had to dodge a few of the more eager ones. Zig’s hand closed around my arm as the numbers increased and we quickly became ensconced in a proper crowd.
I couldn’t say why exactly… But I knew Lark was in there. It was just a sense I had, a slight weight at the back right side of my skull, a heaviness that I always associated with Lark’s presence. I’d never asked him about it, maybe being a little afraid of the answer, but I’d come to rely on it all the same.
I started forward, trying to press through the crowd where I could. Which would have been much easier if I didn’t have a Zig attachment pulling me back.
“So why are we trying so hard to get to where all these people are desperately trying to get away from? Seems kinda counterintuitive if you ask me…”
“Because this is obviously where Lark is. Maybe they’re running from his terrible drunken come-ons.” Even as I make the joke, I knew better. He wouldn’t have run off like that if he had simply intended on partying tonight. Something had caught his attention. He’d probably left me with Zig deliberately, had probably seen in some part of my mind that I knew him… But why?
I ignored that it was probably the same why that had this almost panicked crowd going in the opposite direction.
Zig was saying something, but I didn’t hear it. It was probably another veiled protest anyway. I saw an opportunity, a slip through the crowd, so I took it, dragging Zig along with me.
Soon we were inside the hallway, lit vaguely by small wall sconces. Something about this place gave me the shivers, but I kept moving forward. The crowd was thinning again and by the time we hit the end of the hallway and had continued around the dark turn, there were only a few stragglers left to bypass.
By the end of the second hallway, we were completely alone.
Now Zig pulled on my arm more seriously, his gaze worried as he looked ahead of us. “I really don’t think we should keep going, lady…”
I glanced up at him with a frown of my own. I didn’t like the ambiance either… But if Lark were down there… Well, I knew I’d be safe.
“I have to.”
He sighed, but kept a firm hold on my arm. “Normally I’d make a joke about if this is the way we must go, but I’m more inclined to agree with the big stone heads. Beware, go no further and all that. I don’t know who this Lark fellow is, but if he’s here then maybe we should just head back and wait for him with the rest of the party.”
I shook my head. “No… I need to find Lark. I know he’s here…”
“Zig, I’m going.” Brave words for a girl whose heart was slowly beginning to pound. Once upon a time I’d loved the dark, but flickering light always freaked me out. “If you want to go back, you can.”
He gave me an annoyed look. “As if I’d leave my lady to go into dangers untold alone.” Zig glanced back down the hallway, then sighed. “Fine. What else would I do anyways, glamour you?.”
“You try to glamour this author and we’ll see how your story turns out.” I didn’t mean it, I was the one always dead set on happy endings, but damn if I didn’t have a sadistic demon at my call anyway. What good were these sort of things if you couldn’t at least make the threat sound good?
Of course, that only works if your target believes you. Zig clearly didn’t, if his scoff was any indication.
This is what happens when you let them know you champion ships and happy ever afters.
I sighed. “How about we just call it even and keep walking? I’m not going to let you Mexican standoff me to keep me here.”
He made a face that raised my eyebrow. “Wait, was that really your plan?” I started marching forward, letting my arm pull taunt until he caught up to me.
“Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying.” We turned the next corner and came to another stop.
There were shards of green glass scattered in the torchlight. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the stained glass windows, but now, I could hardly ignore it. The window to my right was almost completely gone, crushed to glittering bits along the floor.
What had happened?
I looked beyond the now open window, realizing for the first time that there was a room on the other side. Was that where Lark was now? Had Lark broken it?
Beside me, Zig tensed. “You’re uh… really going in there, are you? No, seriously. Please don’t tell me you’re going in. I really don’t recommend that. Then again, I wouldn’t have gone either way.”
I let my step forward answer for me.
“Welp, I’ve come too far to turn back now.” He followed me into the room. Everything was green. I didn’t know who their decorator was, but I’d be asking for a refund.
At the far end of the room was an open door, Zig followed me as I moved towards it, but not without a long suffering sigh.
The weight at the back of my skull was growing heavier – Lark was definitely down here.
We moved silently through a similar orange room, then a strange white room. As the weight in my head grew heavier, so did a small ball of dread in my stomach.
Maybe I had made the wrong choice.
I paused in the white room, glancing around nervously. There was a black cloak draped over a high backed chair and I ran a hand over its velvet when a flash of red movement caught my eye in the mirror. I whirled, but there was only Zig, looking equally unsettled.
Where had I gotten red? His outfit was black and blue.
He noticed my discomforted glance and came back to my side, hand taking my arm once more. Silently, we moved on to the next room. This one was much darker, still with a tint of purple though. I pulled Zig along, hurrying toward the next room.
In the doorway, we froze. There was Raev, in a fantastic red ball gown, an equally resplendent phantom…. And Zig in his Goblin King attire. Everyone seemed tense, which made me really wonder what the hell was going on.
As flabbergasted as I was, Zig’s stunned voice rang out into the room. “That is damned fine question—and even better, who the hell is this other me?”
I stared at the pair of them, but as the other Zig turned, I suddenly knew who it had to be.
The Zig that I knew had to be Lark gave me wide, innocent eyes. They almost completely hid the surprise I’d seen first. I’d surprised him? So he hadn’t known I was behind him…